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Braille Monitor

Vol. 53, No. 10                                                            November 2010

Gary Wunder, editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind

Marc Maurer, president

National Office
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland  21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: nfb@nfb.org
Website address: http://www.nfb.org
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subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the National Office.
Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also
be sent to the National Office or may be emailed to gwunder@nfb.org.

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year.
Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover
  the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to
National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

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

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES

ISSN 0006-8829

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Contents


Vol. 53, No. 10                                                             November 2010

 

Lead Photo

Whose Child Is This if Mom and Dad Are Blind?
by Gary Wunder

Parenting Without Sight
What Attorneys and Social Workers Should Know about Blindness

The Interface that Touches the Mind:
Advancing Beyond Autonomous Vehicles
by Dennis Hong

Are Braille's Days as the Great Equalizer Over?
by Kenyon Wallace

Disability Policy from the White House
by Kareem Dale

Gearing Up for Greatness
by the Education Team at the NFB Jernigan Institute

A Practicing Blind Physician
by Dr. Tim Cordes

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards  
by James Gashel

A Season for Counting Our Blessings
by Barbara Pierce and Gary Wunder

Jacobus tenBroek and Thurgood Marshall: Two Giants in American Civil Rights
by the Staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library

Recipes  

Monitor Miniatures

 

Copyright 2010 by the National Federation of the Blind

 

On November 1 the 2011 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest officially began, though students and adults can decide to enter the competition at any time during the two months of the contest. During the spring a number of affiliates across the country will take part in or host presentation ceremonies and parties to honor contest participants. In 2008 the Maryland affiliate conducted such a party in the Harbor Room at the National Center for the Blind. Pictured here, Rogina Melvin receives her Braille Readers Are Leaders packet and certificate from Jill Lewis. Sharon Maneki congratulates her while Barbara Cheadle looks on smiling. This party was for student contest participants from the Maryland School for the Blind.

 

Whose Child Is This if Mom and Dad Are Blind?

by Gary Wunder

In May of 2010 Blake Sinnett and Erika Johnson rejoiced as they prepared to celebrate one of life's most blessed events, the day they would become the parents of a healthy baby girl they would joyfully name Mikaela, which means “one who resembles God.” The couple who arrived at the hospital were blessed with youth, good health, and brains. The only unusual thing about them was that they were blind. The birth of Mikaela was routine. She came into the world weighing six and one-half pounds and was nineteen and a quarter inches long. When she had been cleaned up, she was brought to her mother to be fed.

As she struggled to help her baby latch on, Erika felt that something was wrong, so she called her nurse, a woman identified as Nurse Dixie, to ask if Mikaela was actually nursing. The nurse reported Mikaela was starting to turn blue and helped Erika reposition her. Nurse Dixie showed Erika how to position her fingers above Mikaela's nose so Mikaela could breathe while nursing. Noticing that Erika was upset by problems with her first attempt to nurse, Nurse Dixie assured her that new mothers often need help mastering the technique and that now she and the baby were doing fine.

Imagine the couple's shock and dismay when, some four hours after their daughter's arrival, they were met by a social worker from the Children's Division, Protective Services Unit, a woman named Tia Wilson. She had been summoned to the hospital when Nurse Dixie reported Mikaela's birth to parents who were blind. Ms. Wilson first wanted to know how well each member of the couple could see. Hearing that vision was minimal, she next wanted to know how they would keep track of their newborn daughter; how they would know when she was hungry, wet, or dirty; how they would know if she had a temperature; and, last, how they would transport her if she needed medical care.

The parents answered these questions respectfully and as thoroughly as they could. The couple would know where their daughter was, at least while she was very young, by remembering where they had put her; later they would know where she was by sound. They would know if she was hungry because she would cry and because they could both tell time and would know when she had last been fed. The question about how they would know if she was wet or dirty seemed too obvious to explain, but courteously they addressed the issue. They would know if their daughter had a temperature by using their sense of touch, and for more precise measurements by using a talking thermometer. They would decide on how to transport her for medical care depending on the reason for that care. If the doctor visit was routine or for treatment of a cold, they would go by cab. If she had suffered an injury or life-threatening illness, they would call an ambulance. The bottom line for the social worker was that the answer to the first question was the only one that mattered: How much can you see? Before Erika was discharged, that one simple question became two: How much can you see, and will someone with sight be present to supervise your care of this baby twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?

Given that there would be no sighted supervision of the child, when it came time for Erika to be discharged, she was told that her baby would not be going home with her but was being taken into protective custody by the state. The social worker's reasoning: "I just can't, in good conscience, send this baby home with two people who are blind."

Erika was discharged on Sunday, two days after Mikaela's birth. By Monday I was seeing messages from our NFB parents’ list and a note of concern from Mrs. Maurer. The problem was that no one was giving me a name, a city, or a phone number I could call. I do not know whether this reluctance came from Erika and Blake or whether some of our folks fell into the trap of believing we labor under the same rules of confidentiality as state and federal agencies. It wasn't until late Tuesday afternoon that I received a telephone number and could actually talk with the blind couple directly. The delay was regrettable because they had a hearing scheduled for the following day.

In our first conversation Erika and Blake were very appreciative that I cared enough to call, but they weren't at all certain they needed our help. They seemed to believe that what had happened thus far was so outrageous that anyone in authority who had to deal with the issue would see the foolishness of the social worker, and their child would be returned. In their minds there was no need to cause a big fuss, involve a bunch of outsiders, and risk rocking the boat. "We just knew someone would look at what the social worker had done and would give us back Mikaela," Blake said later.

I had doubts about these two young people’s going it alone against a social service agency that had already taken their child, but experience has taught me that the worst thing an advocate can do is take control from those whose lives are the most affected. When the advocate decides he knows more than the people he's trying to help, he has given them yet another reason to believe someone doubts them and wants to take things out of their control.

My fear was that the social service agency that had taken Baby Mikaela would present its action to the judge as a prudent exercise of caution and that the judge's initial response would be to defer to the experts until more facts were available on which to make a decision. This is, in fact, what happened, and Blake and Erika called me the next day to say that they were ready for our help.

The outrageous behavior of the hospital and of Children's Protective Services seemed so bizarre that our first job was to see if blindness was really the issue or whether it was being used to enlist the help of the NFB. For every case brought to us in which blindness is the central issue, in at least five more blindness has next to nothing to do with the action the caller is complaining about. Shelia Wright, our first vice president in Missouri, and her husband Jeff visited with Blake and Erika. Her report was that they were normal, intelligent people and that there was no reason to believe they would have any unusual problems in parenting their baby daughter. Next came the hiring of Amy Coopman, a Kansas City attorney who worked with us in winning two other cases. In the first case she helped Larry Murphy when the Missouri Highway Department passed him over for promotion because he was blind. In the second she helped Grace Haner, who was fired after twenty years of service because her new supervisor thought having a blind person working around patients was too dangerous.

The first task we assigned Amy was to look at records from both Centerpoint Medical Center and the Children's Services Division to see what they said about Mikaela's birth and Erika's stay. Amy also visited with the couple so she could hear first-hand what had happened to them. The records from the hospital confirmed the birth, the problem in the first attempt to breastfeed Mikaela, and the subsequent progress after being shown how to nurse correctly. Records from Children's Protective Services also revealed nothing other than blindness as a reason for removing Mikaela from her parents and placing her in protective custody with a foster mother.

Since Rehabilitation Services for the Blind (RSB) in Missouri is under the same department as the Children's Division, we contacted the head of the agency, Mark Laird, to enlist his help. He was surprised and angry and offered to assist in any way he could. He said he would start by talking with the director of the Children's Division, which gave us some hope that we might be able to avoid the legal system. Like Erika and Blake, we were wishfully thinking we could get a reasonable person to take a look at this situation and say, "This outrage will go no further," but such was not to be.

In cases involving child custody and the Protective Services Unit, the people deciding cases are called commissioners, not judges. On June 18 a hearing was held before Commissioner Martina Peterson, but its purpose was not to determine the placement of Baby Mikaela but to review the existing placement to ensure it was safe. Though the commissioner could not solicit or admit evidence, she did listen and ask questions as our attorney, representatives of the Children's Division, and Rehabilitation Services for the Blind discussed Mikaela and her parents. The commissioner appeared to be angered by her inability to review the placement decision and made comments such as "Certainly these aren't the only blind people who have had children," "I can't believe this is the first case in Kansas City where we have had to deal with blind people raising their kids," "Who are we to tell these people they can't take care of this child simply because they are blind?" It didn't hurt that the teacher assigned by RSB to help Blake and Erika address any parental skills the Children's Division might question was herself the blind parent of sighted children.

Much to our distress the commissioner reviewing this case said she had a vacation scheduled. We had the option of waiting for her return or transferring the case to someone else. The call was a hard one, but the commissioner had seemed so perplexed and angered by Mikaela’s seizure that we decided to wait for her return. That decision would add almost a month to Mikaela's separation from her parents, so the question we had to answer was whether we were better to suffer this delay or risk drawing a judge who might be less sympathetic to the injustice that had befallen this family. Given the commissioner's reaction, uncertainty about how long it would take to transfer the case, and no assurance we would save any time by reassigning the case to another commissioner, our attorney’s recommendation was to wait for the current commissioner to return, and this we did.

Before her vacation the commissioner wrote an order requiring that Mikaela see her parents at least three times each week and that Erika’s milk be used for Mikaela's feedings. Although it did not appear in the written order, the judge also suggested that the Children's Division, Protective Services Unit, provide some unsupervised visitation.

Interest from Federationists continued to build as we approached the national convention. People wanted to know what they could do to stop this outrageous behavior. Most wanted to know why they hadn't heard about this disgusting incident in the press and offered their help to see that the story was picked up. Again we had to make a hard choice. We were either going to follow the procedure outlined in Missouri law and look for justice from that system, or we were going to go outside it and hope that the press didn't harden the stance of the Division or cause the commissioner to believe we were trying to exert undue pressure. We decided to work within the system, but this case was so outrageous that we would talk about it in the blindness community and would prepare for a full-court press for media attention if Mikaela was not returned by the legal system.

By the time of the national convention we had received over one-hundred inquiries and offers of help. The board of the NFB of Missouri had already voted to take the case with President Maurer’s support. The Board also decided to discuss the case openly at the convention and to ask those wanting to help if they would donate to a fund specifically to bring Mikaela home. As Federationists would expect, the membership responded, and we raised nearly $3,000 while in Dallas.

At the convention the buzz about Baby Mikaela was everywhere. I was approached by seasoned members of the Federation who were saddened by the thought that we were still fighting the battle to be parents--one they thought had been won years ago. Young people were almost desperate in their plea that I tell them this was all a big misunderstanding. Most who approached me had their own suppositions about what had really happened. One group conjectured that what they had heard and read was little more than an urban legend created on the Internet and somehow linked to my name. A second school of thought was that this was a real incident but that it had been recirculated from early Federation history. As some of the young folks said, “When we first heard about this, we thought it had happened a long, long time ago--you know, like back in the eighties." I couldn't help reflecting that the eighties, that long-ago time in their lives, didn't seem so long ago to me. Back then we were fighting for the right of blind parents to adopt children, and I was the young guy waiting for his first child and trying to answer those questions about how a blind man could take care of an infant. It is easy to understand why the young people who approached me were so upset. Some were engaged and others newly married. Children were definitely on their minds, and they were rightfully afraid.

For Blake and Erika times were hard. Erika tried to use a breast pump to provide milk for Mikaela, but, when Mikaela was brought for the ordered visitation, Erika would learn she had just been fed and their time together would be spent watching her sleep. Without the stimulation of a nursing baby, Erika's milk stopped flowing. Visitations were supposed to occur at least three times a week, but Blake and Erika were told by their new social worker, Tara Perish, that she had other clients who also needed her attention. "You are not the only parents I serve, and you are getting way more than any other parents I see," she told the couple. Mikaela's foster mother was more helpful in seeing to visitations than the social worker and openly expressed surprise at why she was caring for Mikaela. As grateful as Blake and Erika were for the visits made possible by the foster mother, the experience was painful. "The most hurtful thing was to hear someone else report to me about the progress of my child,” Erika said with sadness. “Someone other than me saw her first smile and heard her first little laugh."

Erika and Blake said that during Mikaela's absence one of the most disheartening things was the reaction of friends and neighbors. “I was really criticized because people kept saying to me that there must be more here than meets the eye,” Erika said. “They said The baby must have been born with drugs in her system. Some said accusingly that I must have something wrong that they just didn’t know about. A few even asked if I had mental problems I hadn’t shared.”

Between the national convention and the day of the trial, we wrestled continuously with the issue of publicity. With the passage of almost six weeks since Mikaela's birth, people started asking if the story we were telling was really true, and, if it was, why wasn’t it being covered by the press? Why were we waiting so long? Why didn't we organize a protest, call on political officials, and expose this shameful event for all to see? Under Missouri law the path for resolution of protective custody cases is clear-cut, and there is little opportunity to do anything beyond following the prescribed procedure.

The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, July 20, at 3:00 p.m. when at last we would be able to argue for Erika and Blake’s right to parent Baby Mikaela. On Monday our lawyer Amy received a call from Protective Services indicating an agreement might be in the works. She waited for the text to be faxed, but nothing arrived. On Tuesday all of us prepared to attend the hearing. Shelia Wright and her husband Jeff traveled to meet us at the airport and join us at the trial. My wife Debbie and I caught an early van for the Kansas City Airport, and just before arriving we got two pieces of news. One was that a fax had been received at 11:00 a.m. saying custody would be granted to Blake and Erika. The second was that at 9:00 that morning the social worker had delivered Mikaela to Blake and Erika along with the message that, though she couldn't say for sure, she thought the division was dropping the case.

Since we would not have our day in court, we thought it was now time to talk with the press. Coverage on two television stations as well as two days of exposure in the area’s major newspaper, the Kansas City Star, was uniformly positive. All of the adults had plenty to say, and we were widely quoted, but what won the hearts of readers and viewers was the picture of Mikaela peacefully sleeping in her mother's lap.

Mostly members of the press understood, were angered by, and reported the injustice which took place when a baby was taken because her parents were blind. The one question we all had trouble addressing civilly was "Isn't there a silver lining here in that Children's Services returned the child without having to go to a hearing?" Our polite but firm response was "No way." By law, cases of this type must be addressed within sixty days. Fifty-seven of those went by while Mikaela lived with someone other than her parents. The Children's Division did not take advantage of the resources we offered to teach them about blindness. They did not turn to their sister agency, Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, which could have provided countless examples of blind parents successfully raising their children. They did not expedite this case to encourage Mikaela’s bonding with her parents. They waited until the very day they would be forced to justify their actions to an openly skeptical commissioner before returning Baby Mikaela to where she should have been all along. They have never apologized to the family for the disruption they caused and have never offered one cent to compensate the blind of this nation who came together to defend Blake and Erika's right to be parents. Silver lining: hogwash! The bureaucratic process moved at a snail’s pace while two capable parents missed the first two months of their baby girl's development.

"Once we had Mikaela back home, the same people who had questioned our fitness as parents began reminding us that they had supported us all along and what an outrage it was that someone would take our little girl," Erika says. "Some of them have suggested there might be money in this for us and have reminded us that they were with us all along. They ask us to remember how often during Mikaela’s absence they had said the hospital and the agency were wrong. I’m so tempted to confront them about what they really said before--like the issues that just hadn't come out or my own mental fitness. Instead I just smile and let them admire our baby and listen as they tell us how beautiful she is,” she says.

When asked what it is like to have Mikaela home, Erika says, "You know, I've heard some mothers complain when their baby cries at night and gets them up every two hours, but my first thought when Mikaela cries in the night is that she's crying for me, and now I'm the one who gets to take care of her. I don't mind getting up. It's a lot easier than it was when I was lying awake worrying whether she would ever get the opportunity to know us as Mom and Dad. Now we see the things she does. We'll be the ones to see her crawl, to hear her first words, and to watch as she learns to walk."

Now that Baby Mikaela is home, where do we go from here? Getting her home has cost $10,000, but nothing in the law has changed to prevent something like this from happening next week or next year. The staff at Centerpoint Medical Center needs training. The Children's Division needs to learn much more about blindness, not only to protect other blind parents and their children, but to ensure that the agency can spend its time dealing with the real social needs it was created to address. This case needs to be considered by the state and federal agencies charged with protecting the civil rights of blind people, and their findings need to be a matter of record. The constitutional rights of Erika and Blake must be asserted and be reflected in case law. Finally, the statutes of Missouri must be changed so that the presumption is not that blind parents are incompetent until proven otherwise, but that they are presumed capable until some event demonstrates them to be abusive or negligent—the same standards we would apply to parents with sight. Our legal options are clear. We are firm in our resolve to do more than just bringing Baby Mikaela home. We want history to record that the outcome of this struggle not only returned a little girl to her parents, but set the stage for changing the way blind parents are treated throughout the land.

In case the narrative got a bit confusing, here is a note from Amy Coopman and the actual work files listing the chronology:

The documents I received from the Children's Division reflect the following chronology of events:

May 21, 2010: Mikaela born; Nurse makes hotline report to DFS at 3:15 p.m.
May 24, 2010: Mikaela discharged from hospital and placed in foster care.
May 25, 2010: Petition filed by juvenile officer.
May 26, 2010: Protective Custody Hearing (initial detention hearing); note that caseworker informs Johnson and Sinnett of hearing, but does not inform them of right to be represented by an attorney; court order reflects that attorneys will be appointed for mother and father.
June 16, 2010: Pretrial Hearing; I attended with Johnson and Sinnett; we denied the Petition allegations and requested immediate removal of Mikaela from foster care and placement with parents; no other evidence or testimony allowed for submission; case set for adjudication (trial) on July 20, 2010 (by law, the adjudication must be set within 60 days of when child is removed from parental care; here it was scheduled on the 57th day).
July 20, 2010: Adjudication set for 3:00 p.m.; at 11:00 a.m. the juvenile officer faxed me the Voluntary Dismissal.

 

Parenting Without Sight
What Attorneys and Social Workers Should Know about Blindness

From the Editor: In the preceding article one can't help being sad about how differently the Baby Mikaela story might have been had hospital and children's services personnel known something about blindness. Our Blind Parents Interest Group has a new brochure that should be distributed to every hospital and social service agency in the country. You can order it from the Independence Market. Ask for “Parenting Without Sight: What Attorneys and Social Workers Should Know about Blindness.” It can also be downloaded from our Website at <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/brochures/blindparents/parentingwithoutsight.html>. Here is a snapshot of what we in the National Federation of the Blind have to say about raising young children.

Kids Come First!

Nothing is more important than keeping kids safe and giving them the best possible start in life. That's why you became a child protection social worker or a lawyer in the family court system. You fight for kids. It doesn't matter if keeping them safe requires you to step on toes or to be politically incorrect. No matter what, you fight for kids.

No one ever said it would be easy. You're expected to do the work of at least three people. Pressures come from everywhere--from families, the press, advocacy groups, and politicians.

Then there's the issue of social justice. You must protect children in a way that respects religious, cultural, and ethnic differences. You must not discriminate on the basis of race, disability, or sexual orientation. How can you balance the needs of children against your commitment to be respectful of differences? When is "different" broadening and enriching? When is it dangerous? With all of these pressures and dilemmas, how can you win? What's even more important--how can the kids win?

Like you, the fifty thousand members of the National Federation of the Blind are determined to protect children. Many of us are parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, or grandparents. We come from all ethnic backgrounds and from every state in the nation. We are teachers, lawyers, laborers, and secretaries. Some are electricians, computer programmers, machinists, or social workers, and some of us live on public assistance. In other words, we are a cross-section of society. What brings us together is our belief in the absolute normality of blind people.

We in the Federation have a particular interest in reaching out to child protection workers and other professionals concerned with the well-being of children and families. Our experience has taught us that blind parents are scrutinized far more closely and judged to be unfit more frequently than sighted parents in similar circumstances. Interventions often occur, not because of documented problems, but because caseworkers and judges fear that problems may arise in the future. Federation leaders estimate that as many as one in four households in which the parents are blind have been visited by workers from child protection services. Furthermore, blindness has often been argued as grounds for terminating parental rights in custody cases. We believe that these interventions and decisions stem from a lack of understanding of blindness.

We believe that anyone, blind or sighted, who harms or endangers a child should face the consequences of that behavior. But we insist with equal vigor that blindness in and of itself should not be considered a risk factor. Here is a quick test for a child protection worker to apply in assessing any case involving a blind parent: ask yourself, "Would any action be necessary in this situation if both parents were sighted?" If the answer is no, the answer should be no in a situation involving a blind parent.

Busy as you are, you don't have time to conduct research on blindness and learn all of the things you think you ought to know. Fortunately it isn't necessary to know volumes about blindness in order to assess a blind parent's capacity. It is necessary to begin with an attitude of optimism and belief. Thousands of blind parents have raised happy, healthy children who have grown into responsible, productive adults. Given the positive track record of blind parents, it's reasonable to start with the assumption that blind people have the same capacity for parenting as sighted people do and that they are competent unless and until proven otherwise. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Keep an open mind, and listen to what we tell you.

Our Way

"How can you manage?" Most of us who are blind have heard this question over and over throughout our lives. Sighted people find it hard to understand how blind people go about the tasks of daily life. As a sighted person you may think that you couldn't possibly prepare meals, cross streets, buy groceries, or hold down a job if you couldn't see. You may have heard that blind people do all these things and more--a blind man even climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. Nevertheless, you may find it hard to believe, deep down, that the things you've read and heard are true.

It's hard enough to imagine how someone who is blind can hurry down a flight of stairs or light the back burner when the pilot goes out. How then, you wonder, can a blind mother keep track of a rambunctious toddler? How can a blind dad take his preschooler to the park or teach his daughter or son to ride a bicycle? How can blind parents keep their children safe in our dangerous world?

At every stage of our children's lives, from infancy to young adulthood, blind parents use the basic methods and strategies essential to parents who can see. Clear, consistent rules and a reasonable degree of organization usually keep the home front from getting out of hand. On those unforgettable nights when the sink backs up, the cat goes missing, the computer crashes, and Megan's science project is due the next day, we do some creative re-planning and clutch at a few shreds of humor, as all parents do when the going gets tough.

To accomplish some tasks, blind parents use "alternative techniques." These techniques are variations on the methods we use to handle other aspects of our everyday lives and are based on touch and hearing rather than sight. There are no absolute right or wrong ways for blind parents to do things; each of us chooses the methods that suit us best. We each bring our own set of skills and deficits, and what is simple and obvious to one blind parent may seem tricky to another.

Though our adaptive techniques might surprise and even amaze you, try to keep in mind that to us they are generally unremarkable. If you catch yourself assuming that some problem is too daunting for us to solve, stop to give it careful thought. Try not to draw conclusions before you discuss the situation with us and listen to what we have to say. We have extensive experience living without sight, and most of us have developed excellent problem-solving skills. In addition, through support networks across the country, we can draw on the expertise of thousands of other blind parents who have gone before us. Be willing to learn from us and with us.

A number of blind mothers and fathers have contributed their time and ideas to the preparation of this booklet. In the pages that follow they share their child-raising experiences and describe some of the alternative techniques that help them be effective parents. We know we cannot answer all of your questions here, but we hope to demonstrate the resourcefulness and enthusiasm, playfulness, warmth, and wisdom which blind women and men bring to the challenge of raising children.

On Your Mark, Get Set...

Whether we are birth parents, adoptive parents, or parents in the foster-care system, children seldom drop into our lives unannounced. We generally have nine months to prepare, and, by the time a baby arrives, we have the basics in order. When the due date rolls around, most blind and sighted parents have acquired a crib, a changing table, and an assortment of charming outfits for newborns. We may have had a baby shower and received a host of toys, clothing, and gadgets, both practical and impractical. In eager anticipation we set up a room to welcome the newest member of the family.

For the most part friends and relatives are delighted by the news that a baby is on the way. However, blind parents occasionally run a gauntlet of skepticism and even dismay. One blind mother reports, "When Tim and I told my mother-in-law that we were expecting, she was horrified. She turned her back on us and walked away. Till then she'd always been very friendly to me, and I thought we had a good relationship. But she just couldn't get her mind around me taking care of a kid when I can't see." Such interactions can twist what should be a joyful time into a time of stress and apprehension. For all parents-to-be the support and encouragement of loved ones is invaluable. If our families doubt our abilities, we as blind parents turn to others who can give us the unqualified support we need. We have to remember that the doubts of others are in no way a reflection on our actual capabilities.

Some prospective parents, blind and sighted, have already logged years of experience taking care of babies and small children. They've babysat, cared for younger siblings, or worked in day care facilities. Others, however, are total novices. Blind parents-to-be, like our sighted counterparts, can catch up on baby care skills in a variety of ways. We might spend a day with a friend or neighbor and practice changing her baby's diapers or feeding him a bottle. We might get a relative to show us how to dress and swaddle a life-sized baby doll. We can also enroll in parenting classes at a local hospital and ask the instructor to give us hands-on demonstrations of diapering, bathing, and other baby care tasks.

From the beginning it's important for us to establish comfortable, open communication with the healthcare professionals who work with us. We try to be clear about our needs and expectations and to ask and answer reasonable questions. If we find that our obstetrician or midwife has unalterable negative attitudes about our parenting abilities, we may be wise to switch rather than fight. We want and deserve the same respect accorded to other parents in prenatal care and during the birthing experience.

"Emphasizing your blindness will often make other people focus on it," warns Dena Wainwright of St. Paul, Minnesota. "My husband and I drew up a birth plan that did not say anything about my blindness. I had an absolutely phenomenal hospital experience. Not a single person questioned my ability to care for Elyse, and no one made any issue of my asking to be shown how to do things. Even when I sent my husband home for the night to get some good sleep, no one freaked out about `the sighted parent’ leaving me alone with our newborn. No one insinuated that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed or treated me any differently because of my blindness. The only thing they did to accommodate me was that they had each nurse introduce the nurse for the upcoming shift to me when she left for the day so I would know that the person coming into my room was a hospital employee."

And Baby Makes Three

Because babies are so helpless and dependent, people often assume that infant care is especially difficult for blind parents. Actually, most of us find that blindness presents very few extra challenges when we take care of babies. Like sighted parents we become experts at interpreting our baby's cries, gurgles, and babbling. When we hold her, we can read her moods through her body language. We feel her reach her arms toward some enticing object, stiffen at the sight of a stranger, or droop her sleepy head against our shoulder.

Changing diapers is a way of life for parents of babies. Diapering is easy when we get the hang of it, but it doesn't come instinctively. Like any other first-time parent, the blind parent must be shown how to perform the task and given the chance to practice. We use our hands to make sure the clean diaper is positioned properly. Some blind parents buy cloth diapers with snaps in order to avoid using safety pins, but others handle pins without difficulty. Like sighted parents many of us choose to use disposable diapers.

Nose and fingertips tell us when the baby needs a diaper change. We can easily feel the dampness and heaviness of a dirty diaper--and of course the sense of smell provides a major clue. When cleaning the baby's bottom, we try to be systematic, working carefully from one area to the next with cloth or baby-wipe. Diaper rash can easily be detected by touch, because it produces raised bumps and causes the skin to feel unusually warm. However, the mild redness that may precede a full-blown rash is not so discernible. In this instance, as in many others, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Debbie Stein of Chicago explains, "After my daughter was born, a nurse in the hospital suggested that I dab on some A&D Ointment each time I changed her diaper. The ointment soothed any slight irritation and prevented diaper rash from developing."

Like sighted mothers, blind mothers who breastfeed position the baby by touch and judge by her behavior when she has had enough. Blind parents can make up formula by using measuring cups of the necessary sizes. A funnel is helpful for pouring the formula into the bottle. Latonya Phipps of Baltimore recalls, "I would use my carefully washed hands to guide the nipple of the bottle into my daughter's mouth. I'd check with my fingers now and then to make sure she had a good hold on it."

When introducing solid food, the blind parent usually guides the spoon with one hand and locates the baby's mouth with the other. Babies as young as seven or eight months sometimes lean toward the oncoming spoonful of peaches or sweet potatoes or even reach for the spoon to bring it closer. Babies can be just as proactive, however, when they're not hungry or when they take offense at the cuisine. Ample bibs for parent and child are almost a must. Some blind parents also find it helpful to spread newspaper or a plastic tablecloth on the kitchen floor at mealtimes. No matter what the precautions, spoon feeding is bound to be hit or miss for a while, whether or not the parent can see. Sponges and towels work miracles; they are a boon to parents everywhere.

For blind parents transportation is a major issue, and it begins presenting challenges as soon as the baby arrives. At home and in other familiar places we can carry the baby in our arms or sling her onto a hip as most sighted parents do. In other environments, however, we rarely have both hands free. We always need one hand to hold a dog-guide harness or a long white cane. The remaining hand has to open doors, examine merchandise, fish for change, pull out a credit card or ID, and carry packages. How to carry a baby as well sounds like a crisis in logistics, but the strap-on baby carrier provides a ready solution. Baby carriers such as the Snugli or GeriPack enable a parent, blind or sighted, to carry an infant safely and comfortably while leaving the hands free for other chores.

Our alternative techniques come into play when we turn to baby strollers. The conventional method--pushing the stroller along the sidewalk--simply doesn't work for us. A cane or dog guide can't warn us of steps and obstacles as far ahead as the stroller's front wheels. Fortunately, a few strollers on the market are designed with a reversible handle and can be pulled as well as pushed. The cane or dog guide works fine when we take the baby out for fresh air, pulling the stroller behind us.

The Jingle of Little Feet

Nothing is more delightful than to share in a small child's discovery of the world around him. Every new toy, each leaf or stone, every bird or butterfly is a fresh surprise. To a toddler furniture seems made for climbing and bouncing. Drawers and cupboards are meant to be opened. Every object cries out to be touched, prodded, tasted, and--given the time and opportunity--taken apart. The possibilities are truly wondrous. From a parent's point of view, however, the possibilities include poisons, precipices, and a host of other perils. A thousand worst-case scenarios lie in wait. Blind or sighted, the parent of an inquisitive small child must be constantly vigilant.

How, you may ask, can the words "blind" and "vigilant" go together in the same sentence? The very idea of a blind person in charge of a toddler's safety may make your heart plummet. Here again good organizational skills, alternative techniques, and common sense enable blind parents to watch over their children, even through that exhilarating, exhausting into-everything phase. As soon as a baby begins to crawl, most blind parents attach small bells to her shoes or clothing. The jingling of little bells lets us know where the child is as she runs and plays. "Just before my daughter was able to walk, I started figuring out how to place bells on her shoes," says Jeff Altman, a blind dad from Nebraska. "The final design consisted of two of the mid-sized jingle bells on a small key ring. With a key ring at the bottom of the laces of each shoe, she could not get the bells off. Whenever I didn't hear the bells, I knew she was into something." Some parents put bells on plastic fishline and thread it through the eyelets on the shoes along with the laces. Others prefer to pin bells to sleeves or pants cuffs. Squeaky shoes, popular with toddlers and preschoolers, also give excellent sound cues.

A sighted parent can be vigilant from a distance. For blind parents keeping tabs on a small child is up close and personal. In many situations we may be much more hands-on than parents who can see. We physically follow or stay with the child. When visiting a friend's home or yard, we explore and ask questions to learn about possible hazards. "I had to feel very comfortable with the layout of the area before letting my little ones loose," explains Judy Jones of Vancouver, Washington. "Even then I kept my ears alert. Blind parents can't afford to sit on their backsides and watch their kids. Most of us find that this contact is a major plus for us and our children. We spend lots of time together, playing, talking, laughing, and enjoying one another's company.”

Safety First

Most parents, including those who are blind, try to avoid accidents by child-proofing their homes. Outlet covers, cupboard locks, and stair gates are a tremendous help and comfort. Sometimes extra creativity is needed to solve a particular safety problem. Jeff Altman explains, "In our living room we have a stairway to the basement with an open spindle railing. We could not find a gate that would securely block the top of the stairway, and there was the problem of the open spindles, so I made a gate and a barrier for the railing out of foam core-board from the local hobby store. I used Velcro to hold the pieces in place, and it worked great."

Being well organized is a help to all parents, certainly to blind parents. If we're careful about shutting gates, locking up household cleansers, and keeping small, indigestible objects off the carpet, we go a long way toward creating a safe environment.

Once the child outgrows the stroller and backpack, we work out new ways for traveling together. On the street or in the shopping mall most of us maintain physical contact with a small child at all times. A simple hand-holding device, consisting of a light wrist strap, can help keep the child within easy reach.

If a child is taught from the beginning to hold a parent's hand, the habit can last for years. "I made a rule that any adult, blind or sighted, had to hold my kids by the hand when they went out somewhere," says Deborah Kendrick of Cincinnati, a blind mother of three. "I didn't want my kids to get used to running wild when they were out with a babysitter or relative and then think it was boring to hold hands when they went places with me."

Taking small children to a park or playground presents some special challenges. Sarah Merrick of Michigan explains how she handles outings with her four-year-old twins. "I waited until my children were old enough to respond when I called them," she says. "I'm careful to choose parks that are safe—I only go to parks that are fenced. I try to arrange trips with friends who have older children. You can hear all the giggling and shouting, and it's easy to identify your child that way. I also institute the rule that they come when I call them or we go home for the day."

Like sighted parents blind parents are extra careful around water. Naturally we follow the array of precautions that sighted parents take—making sure that lifeguards are present, having kids wear appropriate life jackets or water wings, and drumming in rules about staying at the shallow end until you can really swim. Again, close contact is the bottom line. We tend to play a lot of games with our kids when we go to the lake or the pool. We keep our children within reach until we know they are good swimmers. Even then we are careful to maintain voice contact.

Sick Days

Even with the best safety measures, all kids have accidents now and then, and occasional childhood illnesses are inevitable. As blind parents we learn to recognize signs and symptoms, bandage cuts, and administer medicine. Most rashes are discernible by touch. With our fingers we can detect heat, roughness, or swelling of the skin in affected areas. "Our pediatrician explained to me how chicken pox would feel, so I would know what to watch for. Sure enough, his description was accurate for both girls—at the same time! What a week that was!" recalls Judy Jones.

With the help of an inexpensive talking thermometer, a blind parent can take a child's temperature independently. The plastic cups that come with many bottles of medicine have raised markings on the inside, and these are a great help when we have to measure doses. Also a syringe can be marked with tactile lines. In some cases we may arrange for a sighted person to fill several medicine droppers to the desired dose. These can be stored and used as needed.

Like all parents a blind parent knows his child better than anyone else does. We quickly learn to distinguish an ordinary demanding or uncomfortable cry from the cry that means real injury. By touch we can examine the child for cuts and scrapes and apply the needed ointments or Band-Aids. However, children sometimes don't want to be touched in the region that hurts. "One thing that helps is to give a child who is old enough a cold compress and have him place it on the affected area," one blind mom suggests. "It numbs the area a little, and you can remove it in a minute and examine the injury." We can generally make a rapid assessment about the seriousness of the problem and determine when it's time to get a doctor's help.

 

Giving a Dream

One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.

Seize the Future

The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:

NFB programs are dynamic:

Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer.

 

The Interface that Touches the Mind:
Advancing Beyond Autonomous Vehicles

by Dennis Hong

From the Editor: On Thursday afternoon, July 8, 2010, Dr. Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, addressed the convention. He is leading the group of Virginia Tech engineering students who are working with the NFB to develop the blind-drivable car. Here is what Dr. Hong said:

Driving—sighted people like me, we do it every day, and we take it for granted. When you need to go to the grocery store, you just get in your car and start driving. You drive to school, pick up your dearly loved children, and then take them to soccer practice. You hit the open road and enjoy a road trip with your friends and family with freedom and joy. Well, in modern society driving is really a necessity. It takes you from point A to point B. It’s a means of getting you to your destination whenever and wherever that may be. At the same time driving is fun and exciting. Some people even consider it an expression of power. However, most important, driving is really about freedom. Driving is really about independence. Unfortunately, however, not everyone has the privilege of driving, mostly because of physical challenges, blindness being one of the reasons affecting people the most.

We want to change this. We want to give the blind the ability to drive. So in 2007 Virginia Tech accepted a challenge proposed by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute to develop a car that can be driven by the blind safely and independently. It was called the Blind Driver Challenge. As far as I know, we are the only group in the nation that has accepted this call. A lot of people thought we were crazy. Some people still do, and, as a matter of fact, to be honest, half the time I actually think we are crazy myself.

But the real story behind the challenge goes like this. At the time when NFB announced the Blind Driver Challenge, we already had a very active research program in autonomous vehicles at Virginia Tech. For example, we won third place at the DARPA Urban Challenge and won a half-million-dollar award. This competition was about developing a fully autonomous vehicle that can maneuver a sixty-mile course in the urban environment. The vehicle had to obey all the California traffic laws, merge into moving traffic, navigate traffic circles, negotiate intersections, avoid a variety of free-standing obstacles, and even park itself--all with no human intervention. So we thought we could tackle the challenge proposed by the NFB. We had already successfully developed an autonomous vehicle, so we thought, "How hard could it be to develop a car for the blind?" Well, we couldn't have been more wrong. We quickly realized that what the NFB wanted was not a vehicle that could drive a blind person around, but rather a vehicle that a blind person could actually operate by making active decisions.

Realizing this, we had to start from scratch; we had to go back to the drawing board and rethink how we could pull it off. Sometimes we doubted whether it was even possible, but, when we realized the importance of this mission for the blind community and the huge positive impact it could have on society, we understood that the potential for the technologies we'll be developing along the way would have more far-reaching impact than just driving. So in 2008, with thirteen very talented and hard-working, smart undergraduate students and only $3,000 in funding, we started developing our first vehicle for the blind.

Let me tell you a story. I still remember when the folks from the NFB first visited my lab, the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech, and the stupid mistakes and awkward situations I created due to lack of experience and understanding of blindness. At the time I did not know anyone personally who was blind, and I do not have any blind members of my family, so I had all those stereotypes in my head about blind people and erroneous assumptions about blindness.

Though we are good friends now, I have to confess that I felt very uncomfortable when I first met Mark Riccobono, the executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. He was the very first blind person that I had a true conversation and interaction with. When he first visited our lab a few years ago, actually I was not at all prepared. I didn't know what to do. We have so many visitors through our lab from high-profile sponsors to K-12 students, so we are always ready and prepared to greet visitors and give tours. However, that day, when Mark came to our lab in the basement of Randolph Hall, he was sharply dressed in a suit and tie as usual. First I tried to grab his arm to guide him. I was giving a tour of our laboratory, and I constantly said, "As you can see," then I quickly remembered and thought to myself, "Ahho, I just said, `As you can see' to this blind man," which then created this awkward pause. I know better now. Then in the afternoon I remembered the movie, Daredevil, with Ben Affleck, this heroic blind guy. I wanted to be polite and actually brushed my teeth twice after lunch, remembering from the movie that blind people have a heightened, almost super-hero-like ability to smell. You might laugh, but that was how I thought of the blind at the time. You would be surprised how many people in our society still think the way I did.

Then, as I and my students constantly met with the folks at the NFB Jernigan Institute, visiting the NFB headquarters in Baltimore overnight, interacting with students from schools for the blind, and working together with blind engineers, we started to learn more about all the misunderstandings about blindness. One of the biggest among them is the ability of the blind to perform at jobs. I have learned and personally witnessed that, contrary to general belief, there are really very few jobs that blind people cannot do well. Throughout my work on this project I've been talking and emailing back and forth with blind people from all over the world and was surprised at the jobs these people have. They range from office managers, farmers, IT specialists to auto mechanics. Some ride horses as a hobby, and I even talked to a hobbyist who is a drag racer. Gradually I understood that with just a little technology the blind can really do almost anything that a sighted person can do.

We need for the rest of society to understand this, and what better way to deliver this message to society than for a blind person to drive a car? At the same time, if this vehicle becomes a reality, which it will, and is available to the general public, the impact on the blind would be huge, opening even more doors to new jobs by providing a safe, independent means of transportation.

What is this car for the blind? How does it work? We don't have a lot of time, and the vehicle is very complicated, so I will give you a very quick overview of how it works. There are three parts to the system: part 1, perception; part 2, computation; and part 3, nonvisual user interfaces. So in the first stage, perception, this vehicle has different kinds of sensors all around it, from laser range-finder sensors to cameras. The laser range-finder sensor shoots out a laser, and, if there is an object in front of it, it bounces back, and a computer measures the time of flight. So, if you know the speed of light, which you do, then you can measure the distance of objects. The laser shoots around, scans the environment, and makes a map around the vehicle. The camera system looks all around the vehicle by use of some very sophisticated computer vision algorithms, to identify and classify objects so that the vehicle knows, oh, a tree is over there; a rock is over here. These are the lanes. A vehicle is to the left, and it's going at such-and-such speed and direction.

The second step is computation. This is a vast amount of data from the sensors, and that sensory information is fed into the computer, and the computer tries to generate a world model. This is essentially a map around the vehicle that the computer can understand. Now the challenge is the third stage--nonvisual user interfaces. How do we move or channel these vast amounts of real-time information to a person driving the vehicle without using vision? This is a challenge, so during the past three or four years we've been working on many, many different types of nonvisual interfaces. I'm sure you've probably heard some about the vibrating vest, the AirPix device, and the glove. By the way, some of my students were here. They left yesterday, but they brought some of the interfaces and did a demonstration. Did anybody have a chance to play with those? [applause] We also brought the vehicle that will eventually become the next generation Blind Driver Challenge vehicle. It is a Ford hybrid Escape, very exciting.

One thing I want to point out is a more philosophical approach: what really is this Blind Driver Challenge vehicle? You know, we already have a fully autonomous vehicle. Is the challenge just to put a blind person in it? Is that the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle? No. We want people actually to drive the vehicle, so we have two types of interfaces. One is called the instructional cue interface. The other is the informational cue interface. Let me explain a little more, because this is a rather important concept. The instructional user interface includes the drive grip, which is like a glove, that has five ring motors on the knuckles and tells you how to turn the steering wheel. With this device the computer makes the decision: turn right, turn left, stop, go, push on the brake. So this information or instruction is transmitted to the driver through these interfaces. We call this the "backseat driver problem." This is not really driving. You're driving, but you are really following orders from a computer. You can call that a "Blind Driver Challenge" vehicle, but it is not our vision.

We started from there. Now we are moving towards the information cue devices. The AirPix is a good example. AirPix is a small tablet-like device that has holes on it and compressed air comes out and forms an image of the map around the vehicle. You put your hand over it and feel, "Oh these are the roads. That's a tree over there; there is a moving vehicle to my right." The computer provides information about the vehicle so that it is you, the driver, who make active decisions. That is the concept.

We started with instruction cues and are moving toward information cues, and the future is great, and it’s looking good. Let me give you a brief timeline. In 2008 we started a feasibility study. We started with this low-cost dune buggy that we bought on eBay for $2,000. We only had $3,000, so we used two-thirds of it. Then we got a bunch of donations of equipment from companies, and then we generated these first-generation interfaces, which included vibrating chairs and vibrating vests, a click-wheel interface, and other things.

In 2009, last year, we had our first successful test run in early summer, and, as Mark Riccobono mentioned, we brought the vehicle to the Youth Slam event at the University of Maryland and had two hundred students from all over the nation who came. Some of them had the chance to drive it, and the experience was tremendous. When I think of it, I get tears in my eyes.

This year we are developing the next-generation vehicle. The red buggy demonstration that we had last year was really a feasibility experiment; it was run in a parking lot. The lanes were defined by red traffic cones. It was a very controlled environment, but now the next-generation vehicle is going to be running on real roads. This is a real car, and this is going to be the real Blind Driver Challenge vehicle. I am very excited about this.

As you have probably heard, this has been all over the news, even internationally. It has been on the cover of several magazines, on TV news, everywhere. I am literally getting hundreds and hundreds of emails, letters, and phone calls from people all over the world. Most of them are positive: "Dr. Hong, this is great. Thanks for doing this." Some of them give us advice and feedback. But from time to time this is a controversial project, and I do get letters, most of them from sighted people, saying, "Dr. Hong, are you out of your mind? We already have teenagers texting while driving, which is dangerous. What do you think you are doing putting blind people on the road?" To be honest with you, it is rather a valid concern, so this is good news, bad news, good news, bad news, but I get a lot of questions from the community saying, "When can I buy this vehicle. When can I drive the vehicle?" Well you will be able to drive the vehicle soon in a test track, in a controlled situation. When will you be able to buy it? That's the bad news. This vehicle will not be a real product for the general consumer until it's proven 100 percent safe, at least as safe as a regular vehicle today. The good news is that I truly believe it can be done. [applause]

Now again, the bad news is that, aside from these technical difficulties, a hurdle which we really can tackle, there are many, many other issues. How is a driver's license going to be issued? How is insurance going to cover this? The social acceptance. A lot of issues need to be addressed; nonetheless, this is a very exciting project. You will actually have a chance to drive this vehicle. January 29 at the Daytona International Raceway, we will have the first sneak peek, public demonstration, and next year at the national convention we will have the full demonstration and it’s very, very exciting.

When I talk to my students who work on this project, I always ask them, how many chances in your lifetime do you have an opportunity to change the world? This is actually that moment, so we are the Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge Team, and we expect to see spectacular things coming in the next few years. Thank you. [Applause]

 

Are Braille's Days as the Great Equalizer Over?

by Kenyon Wallace

From the Editor: The following story appeared in the National Post, Friday, August 6, 2010. It is interesting because it discusses the current plight of Braille from a Canadian perspective. Here it is:

The publication in 1829 of a small booklet explaining how a series of raised dots arranged in a line could teach the world's blind to read is one of modern history's great, if often overlooked, turning points. Once hailed as the great intellectual equalizer, Louis Braille's development of a new alphabet that could be read with the fingers is now at risk of being consigned to history, overtaken by the rapid pace of changing technology.

Only 10 percent of blind school-aged children are taught Braille today, compared to about 50 percent in the 1960s, according to the U.S. National Federation of the Blind. The statistic is roughly the same for Canada. The prospect of Braille’s becoming obsolete has sparked a polarizing debate between advocates, educators, and individuals over the causes of the code's decline and what to do about it.

Advocates blame funding shortages, not enough qualified teachers, and decisions by administrators to deny Braille instruction to children with low vision because of an emphasis on encouraging these students to read print. Educators say this assessment couldn't be further from the truth and argue that today's diagnostic tools have honed the art of identifying those who truly require Braille instruction and those who don't.

Others still—including many blind people—say advances in assistive technology, such as audio books, voice-recognition software, and computer screen-readers, have rendered Braille unnecessary in daily life. They say its cumbersome nature—a single Harry Potter book printed on Braille paper will fill a moving box—makes it impractical and unaffordable.

"Braille is not necessary to have a full and complete life as a blind Canadian," said Edmonton resident Keith Gillard, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that rendered him legally, but not completely, blind at birth. As a child he was encouraged to use what vision he had to learn print, but not Braille. "They taught me how to touch type rather than learn Braille."

By his mid-twenties, the blurry fog obscuring his peripheral vision began to creep toward the centre of his eyes as his condition worsened. Mr. Gillard gauged the severity of his increasing blindness by his ability to see the lines on the ice at his local hockey rink each winter while playing on a blind hockey team. Now forty-nine and completely blind, he says he has contemplated learning Braille but probably never will, given the plethora of technological aids he uses at work as a federal civil servant and at home.

"Adaptive technology has opened up the world of education and employment for blind Canadians. Braille hasn't done that," he said. "I recognize the benefits. Would I be better off as a blind Canadian if I was a proficient Braille reader? I think I would be. Is it necessary for me to be successful? No."

Up until nine years ago, Sarah Empey, thirty-five, had full eyesight. When she was twenty-six, the Type 1 diabetic suffered complications due to high blood pressure and started to go blind. Despite several operations, she now has only 15 percent vision in her right eye. She intends to learn Braille one day but hasn't found the need for it yet and has learned only numbers. "It's not something I would use at this point," says Ms. Empey, a Calgary resident and short film director. She uses a program on her computer called ZoomText, which magnifies text and uses an audio device called a Victor Reader to listen to books. "Some people are fine with technology doing everything for them. I do see Braille as slightly dying off, but for me Braille still means more independence [in the future]."

Twenty years ago the predominant philosophy governing education of the blind was to maximize the efficiency of whatever vision students had in a regular classroom with their sighted peers. This required partially blind children to use a myriad of tools such as monocular telescopes to see the blackboard, magnifying glasses, bold markers, and large-print books. These tools evolved through the 1980s to include small cameras students could roll over text that would be blown up on a closed-circuit television.

"Braille was never given to them as an option because, if you had vision, you were supposed to use vision," said Dr. Carol Farrenkopf, coordinator of the Toronto District School Board's Vision Program. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that teachers began using a tool called a "learning media assessment," using observations and timed readings to determine if Braille should be introduced.

Another factor driving down the rate of Braille use is the fact that those who go blind later in life due to medical conditions, such as diabetes and macular degeneration, already have literacy skills and are therefore less likely to be inclined to learn a new writing system. "A sixty-year-old woman working who already knows how to read and write and then loses her vision, why does she need to learn Braille when she can keep going with technology?" said Ms. Farrenkopf. She stresses that not all blind children need to be taught Braille.

"Legal blindness is not the same thing as being totally blind," said Ms. Farrenkopf, noting that 20/200 vision—legal blindness—is still functional vision. (Someone with 20/200 can see a letter at twenty feet while a person with normal vision can see the same letter from 200 feet.) "Kids with 20/200 vision don't need to be reading Braille."

That opinion is not shared by all Braille advocates, who wonder at the logic of not teaching the system to children when many eye conditions are degenerative. "They're in the school system where people are being encouraged to use the technology and their remaining vision at the expense of learning Braille that will prepare them for vision loss as they get older," said CNIB spokeswoman Ellie Shuster.

Advocates also say the integration of blind children within the regular school system means less one-on-one time between teachers and students and therefore less consistent Braille instruction. The result, they say, is that many students end up being functionally illiterate.         "School districts across the country, in general, don't adequately support Braille instruction," said Betty Nobel, president of the Canadian Braille Authority. "In the primary grades kids should have daily Braille instruction, but they're not getting that."

Forty years ago Canada was home to several residential schools for the blind, where all students were expected to learn Braille. There is only one such school remaining today: W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind and Deafblind in Brantford, Ontario. The Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, which provides educational services to students from birth to twenty-one years of age with sensory impairments, has also established several successful short-term, intensive Braille courses that can be taken during the regular school year.

But it's not enough, says Ms. Nobel, who is also department head of the Program for the Visually Impaired at Vancouver Community College and a CNIB library board member. She says teachers in the regular school system may not have blind children in their classes every year, meaning they lack the opportunity to stay proficient in Braille. "If this means lowering the workloads for teachers that have blind students, that's what we need," she said.

The implications for an illiterate blind population are profound. A study by Dr. Ruby Ryles, a blindness researcher at Louisiana Tech University, found that visually impaired people who learned Braille at a young age were more likely to be employed, financially independent, and better educated than those who relied primarily on print—this in a world where blind adults already face an unemployment rate of over 70 percent.

Diana Brent, a teacher of visually impaired students, and her husband, Doug Brent, a University of Calgary communications professor, are the authors of one of the only studies comparing the writings of blind people who learned Braille at a young age and those who didn't. NonBraille users were asked to type stories on a keyboard using audio software. Their findings were alarming. The Brents described the prose of the nonBraille group as "jumbled and confused." "It's as if all of their ideas are crammed into a container, shaken, and thrown randomly onto a sheet of paper like dice onto a table," the authors concluded. "The process of making connections, linking one idea to another is tenuous at best."

While preliminary, the results suggest that blind children relying solely on an oral education have virtually no means of literacy in the sense that society has come to understand it. "It's still well worth teaching children Braille, even if they choose later to drift away from it," said Mr. Brent. "To not have access to a way of organizing thought that depends on a system of written record, to not be formed by that arguably makes people think differently and puts them at a significant disadvantage."

Who was Louis Braille? Louis Braille was born fully sighted on January 4, 1809, in a small town near Paris, France. He lost his sight as a small boy after accidentally stabbing himself in the eye with a stitching awl in his father's shoemaking workshop. An infection in one eye spread to the other, rendering him completely blind. A creative and intelligent boy, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris when he was ten. While there, he learned to read using a system of raised letters by pressing shaped copper wire onto paper. But this cumbersome system made it impossible for blind people to write by themselves.

In 1821 French army captain Charles Barbier de la Serre visited the school to share his invention, which he called "Night Writing." The invention was a series of twelve raised dots combined to form words that soldiers could use to communicate in the night without talking. The code proved too difficult to understand, so Braille modified the system to a series of six raised dots, with characters representing each letter of the alphabet. In 1829 he published his system in the booklet, "The Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Song by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged by Them." This new system of reading and writing—Braille—did not catch on immediately. Braille, who eventually became a teacher at the Institute, died of tuberculosis on January 6, 1852, before even his own school adopted his code.

The French government officially recognized the Braille system two years later, and it eventually became the world standard for written communication for the blind.

In 1952 Braille's body was disinterred and reburied in the Pantheon in Paris to lie with the remains of other distinguished French citizens.

 

Disability Policy from the White House

by Kareem Dale

From the Editor: Late Thursday afternoon, July 8, President Obama’s advisor on disability policy, Kareem Dale, addressed convention delegates. President Maurer introduced him by mentioning that Mr. Dale created his own law practice before he was named to the White House position he now holds. He was recognized in the November/December 2001 issue of Ebony as one of the thirty leaders of the future under the age of thirty. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in advertising, and he received his JD in 1999 from the same university, graduating cum laude. Presenting the final agenda item before convention adjournment is not an enviable task, but Kareem Dale did an amazing job of keeping the audience’s attention by delivering his report with liveliness and efficiency. This is what he said:

Thank you so much for inviting me to join you, Dr. Maurer, John Paré, the entire NFB family, for asking me to join you all today. It’s my great pleasure to be here. We stand on the brink of a historic anniversary. Nearly a quarter century ago, indeed even longer, advocates like many in this room fought, advocated, protested, demonstrated, and demanded that all our civil rights be protected and indeed honored. And twenty years ago this very month, America passed the landmark civil rights legislative act of our time, the Americans with Disabilities Act [applause], an act that, for many of us in this room, put into law and demanded openness and accessibility and inclusion where there had been none in the past. Whether it was requiring that hotels place Braille numbers on their room doors so that we could independently find our own damn rooms; demanding that restaurants and other public facilities make them accessible and inclusive for all; forcing employers to provide reasonable accommodations so that blind people could have an equal opportunity to excel in employment; or forcing cities and states across the country to make their services, including parks, facilities, transportation, and other facilities, accessible and inclusive for all so that you and I could participate just like everyone else--these advances, this mission of inclusiveness, of accessibility and openness for all are hallmarks of this administration. These are the ideals that we share with each and every one of you. This is our common purpose. And, over the first eighteen months of his administration, President Obama has delivered on his promise of leveling the playing field for all people with disabilities, including those who are blind. [applause]

From education to technology we are steering a new course, a course of independence, of excellence, and of opportunity. That course includes a commitment to education for people who are blind. An equal opportunity to education can only begin with Braille literacy [applause], because, if our young blind children can’t read, they are already at a severe disadvantage. It is unacceptable that a vast majority of blind children are not literate by reading Braille. President Obama has signed proclamations stating unequivocally that this administration is committed to Braille literacy. Secretary Duncan has met with your leadership and many members of the National Federation of the Blind to echo President Obama’s commitment, and the Department of Education just recently committed to including a Braille-reading component of a new “Let’s Move, Let’s Read” campaign so that Braille reading will begin right alongside print reading, demonstrating our full commitment to Braille literacy and equality of opportunity for those who are blind.

Of course our commitment also extends to include Braille technology, both in the education context and in all other contexts, for we know that accessible technology equals independence. Just a couple of weeks ago the Department of Education and the Department of Justice joined to send a letter to colleges and universities across the country. That letter stated in part, “It is unacceptable for universities to use emerging technology without insisting that this technology be accessible to all students.” [applause] So let me be crystal clear: this administration will not stand by while educational institutions use technology that is not accessible and that violates the law. To be sure, every change will not happen overnight. We have a long-standing, entrenched problem with failure to have accessible technology and many other things, but we are going to stay vigilant and root out the problem.

As I said, technology is critical for education and in all other contexts as well, and perhaps there is no better example than the Internet. The National Federation of the Blind has been engaged in this epic struggle to make sure that Websites and the Internet are accessible for people who are blind, and there are all sorts of thoughts and opinions, legal rulings on whether the ADA applies to Websites. Well, no more. [applause] The Department of Justice is preparing to issue rules that the ADA applies to Websites, [applause] and those Websites must be accessible. And the Department of Justice isn’t stopping there. They are exploring issuing rules regarding video description as well as accessibility of kiosks, ATMs, and other machines. Simply put, we’re turning our Department of Justice loose, and they are acting like a real civil rights division. [applause] I grew up as a blind person in Chicago (I have retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, and keratoconus—a plethora of incurable diseases, so pick one.) I used to see very well. As those of you who have RP and macular degeneration know, your eyesight gets worse as you get older. I can tell you there is no bigger thrill than walking down the street and going to an ATM yourself and getting your own money or going on a Website or Googling something and finding it for yourself. That independence is immeasurable. It’s priceless. So, when we have folks here who just received awards like Apple and Blackboard, that is just priceless. You can’t put into words how important that is. In this administration we remain committed, not only to looking at the private sector, but to cleaning up our own house as well.

While the Access Board is in the middle of revamping and refreshing its standards on Section 508, we are not waiting. We are working on initiatives on Section 508, and announcements will be coming soon. But I can’t preempt those announcements, so stay tuned and pay attention, because I am sure that Dr. Maurer and John will send you notice when we send out our announcements on Section 508. We all know that this is critical for government employees. Those of you who work for the government know it’s critical so that you can access Websites and use the technology in federal agencies to do your work and be productive.

That brings me to employment because we know without jobs people cannot support themselves or their families and be independent. The president has made an extraordinary commitment to employment for people with disabilities, including those who are blind. I was humbled when the president chose me, a blind person, to lead his efforts on disability at the White House. The president also appointed a blind woman, Kathy Martinez, to serve and lead employment efforts at the Department of Labor for the Office of Disability and Employment Policy. We also appointed a blind person, a person many of you know, Mazon Bassory, who has been in the trenches with the NFB in many different Website litigations. He is at the Department of Justice in the Department of Civil Rights, hoping to lead our efforts in the many things that I mentioned earlier.

I should also mention that one of tonight’s scholarship awardees is Deepa, my intern. Is Deepa here? So Deepa, I am so proud that at the White House we are including people who are blind and hiring people who are blind and people with disabilities in our intern program. Deepa is doing a phenomenal job this summer, working on ADA plans and really doing some outstanding work in representing the blind community and NFB very well. The president also placed a person with a disability in the number two position in the Office of Personnel Management, which is a critical position for overseeing federal employment hiring at the career level.

As we look to make a difference in employment, on Randolph Sheppard, and on all employment efforts, we have the team in place to make a difference, and we are going to do so. To be sure, we have accomplished many things over the first eighteen months of the president’s administration. Have we done everything that we need to do for our community? No, probably not. Have we been perfect? Surely we have not been perfect, but I can proudly stand before you and say that we have made a difference for the blind community and the entire disability community. We have much more work to do in the upcoming six years—six years. [applause]

We need to continue to work on improving Braille literacy. We need to work on employment, and we need to solve the book famine around the world. Let me make a comment about that before I wrap up. I want to be clear. I’m sure that many of you, probably everybody, is familiar with the recent meetings at the World’s Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) dealing with the exchange of books across borders so that we can exchange books with other countries around the world. Let me set the stage. Prior to the president’s coming into office, the administration, the federal government had no position, was completely and totally uninvolved, uninterested in dealing with the issue of access to books for blind people and those who have other print disabilities. There was no activity.

When we came into office, we made it clear that access to books is a fundamental right, and access to books for people who are blind is something that this president is absolutely committed to. [applause] So that in and of itself is an extraordinary leap, to go from no position, not caring, to saying that this is a right and saying that we are supportive of access to books for people who are blind.

We didn’t stop there, though. We have engaged with the World Intellectual Property Organization. We have put forth possible potential solutions to the issue. We have been willing to engage with countries. We have been willing to negotiate treaties or other potential solutions. Our doors of negotiation are open. We are willing and ready to come to the table and find a solution to the issue of access to books for people who are blind. Now, if you look at the WIPO meetings that just took place (I am not sure how many of you have read about them). I went to the WIPO meetings. I was in the private sector before this job, and even after working in government for eighteen months, when I went there, I thought, this is just a morass. It is a very complicated process. When you are dealing with 140 other countries trying to come to an agreement, it’s an amazing, amazing process. But I want to be clear, and I want you all to leave with the understanding that the United States proposed one sort of instrument, and other countries proposed other sorts of instruments. But our goal, and you can take this to the bank, our fundamental goal was, let’s make a difference as soon as we can right now for people who are blind to have access to books and materials. We put forth a solution that we thought would make a difference today or very soon for access to books, and we did not close the door. In fact we were ready and willing to put down on paper that we are ready to move and talk about next steps for fundamental, binding law for access to books and materials for people who are blind.

We stand committed to this issue, and things were not resolved at WIPO because 140 countries were trying to negotiate, but we are going to keep at it, and we’re not going to stop until we find a resolution. As we move forward, you can be assured that we will approach these critical tasks of education, employment, access to books, Braille literacy, and on and on with the same sense of urgency, commitment, and purpose that we have demonstrated over the first eighteen months, and you will have a voice in that process. You will be included, and we will stay committed. Thank you for having me. [applause]

 

Gearing Up for Greatness

by The Education Team at the NFB Jernigan Institute

From the Editor: In a country that thrives on innovation, competing in the American workforce will depend on our readiness to tackle the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The Junior Science Academy (JSA) has made this a priority, and what follows is a report of our 2010 summer event.

The NFB Jernigan Institute has been buzzing with activity this summer. As part of our continuing initiative to promote access for blind youth to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects, the NFB hosted the second Junior Science Academy in Baltimore Maryland. This year a record-breaking 130 applications were received from elementary-school-age children across the country. Thirty elementary students and their parents were selected to fill the two sessions.

This year's Junior Science Academy theme, Gear Up for Greatness, introduced the children to hands-on learning in physics subjects, while participating parents learned how they could help their children be successful. The four-day program was jam-packed with learning and challenging experiences. Though the lessons in the student and parent curricula looked different, the learning objectives were closely related. By the end of the program participants of all ages recognized the potential greatness of a child and that he or she need not be limited by blindness.

Over the four-day session students expanded their knowledge of simple machines, gaining knowledge about the mechanical advantage provided by each through practical applications. Students used levers to lift refrigerators and launch goalballs across the classroom. Rubber-band cars were assembled to demonstrate the usefulness of the wheel and axle. Students also investigated the mechanical advantage of the wedge by hammering dull and pointed nails into scrap wood.

Equipped with a better understanding of simple machines, students learned how Rube Goldberg machines combine the mechanical advantage of multiple simple machines to make much more complex devices. After exploring a Goldberg machine built by the staff at the NFB Jernigan Institute, each pod (three children and a blind mentor) took a diverse collection of household items and created its own Goldberg machine. Students turned old door knobs and earbud cases into pulleys. They stretched balloons over cans to create trampolines. Each pod created a machine that moved an object at least three feet. The methods for moving the objects varied greatly, but each device the students created incorporated multiple simple machines.

The student activities culminated in a field trip to a local amusement park. The students had a blast visiting all of the attractions and simultaneously learned about the physics involved in each. At one point the students used multiple pulleys to rescue an instructor from an orchestrated emergency on the ropes course. They learned about the application of Newton's laws of motion on the go carts and roller coaster. The students even discovered physics concepts in a game of laser tag.

While the students were busy building confidence in their ability to do science as blind people, their parents got instruction from leaders of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and from blind adults. This happened in a series of panels in which parents were shown how to foster independence in their children. One panel explained that, when they were growing up, they wished their parents had known about blindness. The parents really opened up to the panelists and even asked important questions like how they could get their children to be more social and how a blind person could be a parent.

The parent instruction became more intense as experiential activities were introduced. During the discussion of orientation and mobility, parents participated in hands-on stations, where they learned nonvisual methods for travel. It was exciting when all the parents chose to don sleepshades during the entire session, rather than just at their stations. Parents practiced using canes and nonvisual techniques to walk around the building, carry trays to tables, climb stairs, and stow their long canes in both a car and a minivan. The sleepshade activity challenged the parents. At first they were hesitant about wearing them, but most confessed that they did it because they knew it would lead to an understanding of how to help teach nonvisual techniques to their children. This session was one of the most meaningful of the week.

Parents also had the opportunity to share their experiences with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. During a session designed to help parents advocate for themselves and their children's needs, they discussed the problems in getting what their children need into the IEP and then in seeing that what is written is followed. Of course Braille was also an important topic of conversation. Parents learned about the benefits of enabling low-vision children to use Braille and learned about some of the research supporting this practice. They participated in experiential learning activities related to the literary and Nemeth Braille codes. During this session one of the parents who happened to have low vision himself and was not a Braille reader realized how valuable this skill could be for him in his own success and how important it is for him to learn Braille so he can be a role model for his low-vision son.

The parent sessions concluded with a cooking activity under sleepshades. During this session parents made Jell-O salads because the recipe incorporated a variety of skills: using a knife, measuring, pouring, and cooking using a stove. The children found this exciting and loved hearing that their parents were doing challenging things under sleepshades. They even enjoyed being the taste-testers who judged their parent's hard work.

Overflowing with excitement about their new-found knowledge of blindness and science, the students and parents shared their experiences with each other at the closing ceremonies. The children were charged with the task of creatively expressing what they had learned during the program. One of the most original ideas came from a group with two boys who used their bodies to show what they had learned about simple machines. To do this, they performed summersaults to represent the wheel, and one student lay in a push-up position while the other rolled a cane down his back to demonstrate an inclined plane.

Before the closing ceremony concluded, we sneaked in one last learning experience for the students. A large machine sat at the front of the room, inviting children and parents to ponder its purpose. Though participants developed theories, no one figured out why a crazy contraption was next to the podium. Finally, Professor Matt Maurer answered everyone's questions when he announced that one lucky pod would get to use the combined mechanical advantage of multiple pulleys to hoist President Maurer several feet in the air. Excitement rose at this announcement. The selected students took their position behind the hoist (a lift used in installing air ducts in large buildings), where they found a crank. Dr. Maurer sat in the chair in the front of the hoist. The students started cranking, and Dr. Maurer's feet left the floor. As the students cranked and Dr. Maurer's feet dangled over everyone's heads, the students wondered, "Can we raise him all the way to the ceiling? How many pulleys are in this hoist?" After raising him over twelve feet in the air, the students brought him safely to the ground, and everyone got to examine the pulleys hidden in the machine.

When it was the parents’ turn to share during the closing ceremony, one remarked that within the first two hours of their coming to the NFB, the staff of blind mentors had solved a problem she feared it would take her son some time to overcome. She had been worrying about how her son was going to learn to carry a tray in the cafeteria at his new school and whether the paraprofessional would be qualified and willing to teach him how to do it. Another empowered mother rejoiced in saying, "I came to this program with a visually impaired daughter; I am leaving with a blind daughter!"

Special thanks go to all of those who served as mentors and instructors during the two sessions of the program. We would like to recognize them for their hard work and dedication in helping to make our program a success:

Student Mentors: Mika Baugh (IN), Candice Chapman (MI), Mary Fernandez (NJ), Ashley Ritter (IN), Garrick Scott (GA), and Joe Shaw (TN).
Student instructors: Dr. Matt Maurer (IN), Nathanael Wales (CT), and Henry “Hoby” Wedler (CA).
Parent instructors: Kim Cunningham (TX), Denise Mackenstadt (WA), Dr. Ruby Ryles (LA), Carlton Walker (PA), and Laura Weber (TX).

We loved getting to know the thirty families who participated in the NFB Junior Science Academy, and we are anxious to see all the great things they will do in the coming years. To read more about this program or view pictures from the recent sessions, visit <www.blindscience.org>.

 

A Practicing Blind Physician

by Dr. Tim Cordes

From the Editor: One of the things that makes the Dr. Jacob Bolotin story intriguing and worthy of the recognition we give it through our awards is the thought that a blind man could, almost a century ago, overcome the attitudinal and physical obstacles that stood between him and being trained and licensed as a doctor. Some people are amazed by what he did with very little technology, while others see the lack of medical technology in his time as a distinct advantage. In Dr. Bolotin's day making a diagnosis depended primarily on talking with the patient, conducting an examination by touch, using the doctor’s sense of smell, and listening to the patient's heart and lungs. Implied in the observation that it might have been easier then than now is the concern that today a diagnosis is made based on quantifiable results delivered by machines. Are the pictures, graphs, and numbers presented in a form a blind person can use? Stated differently, we love to hear about pioneering blind people like Dr. Bolotin, but what about today? Can a blind person still become a medical doctor?

To answer this question, President Maurer invited Dr. Tim Cordes, a practicing physician completing his last year of residency, to appear on the agenda immediately preceding the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards. Dr. Cordes was a recipient of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship in 1995, and in the presentation that follows he speaks not only to the pioneering spirit of Dr. Bolotin, but to our current generation of blind pioneers who explore the new frontier in the twenty-first century. This is what he said:

I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here today and maybe set the stage a bit for the Jacob Bolotin awards, coming next. Now Jacob Bolotin was the first blind physician here in the States, and they asked me to come to talk as someone who has benefitted from his trailblazing ways. So they asked me to talk about how I do what I do and perhaps a little about how I came to do what I do.
So I’m a psychiatrist, meaning I specialize in the brain: disorders of thinking and feeling in the organ that is connected to everything else in the body. In order to do that, I went through medical school like all the other physicians. I can still recall that first day at medical school. We had done a little gross anatomy, where we dissect cadavers. I had the smell of preservative on my hands, although I had washed as best I could. I sat down in the corner of the lounge to eat my sandwich, and a senior student came up to me and said, “Why are you here?”

I mumbled something like, “Well this is where I thought you were supposed to eat lunch.” That wasn’t quite what he meant. It was a reminder to me that, when you are doing such things, resistance is real. The way I like to think about resistance is that, if everybody likes what you’re doing, you’re probably not doing anything worthwhile.

Winston Churchill put this best perhaps when he said, “A kite flies highest against the wind.” The unchallenged life is boring. It leads to stagnation, and it leads to complacency. Just as we build our muscles through careful resistance training, we build ourselves in the same way. Although the resistance may say more about the other person than it does about us, the way we rise to it says more about us. And I am grateful for those who have systematically chipped away at resistance before me.

Why are you here? The question still remains, though. What is your purpose? There was a psychiatrist, Victor Frankel, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, who came up with a type of therapy which boils down to, if you can come up with a “why,” you can survive nearly any “what.” So when we seek to push limits, we have to have our why in hand for ourselves, and it is very hard to convince others if we don’t have that why straight. So my purpose and my why kept me going on those 4-a.m. mornings rounding on surgery.

But a purpose alone is not enough. It requires tools, so I use the fundamentals. I used Braille for mathematics for biochemistry and one of my anatomy texts; solid mobility skills so that, when they plop you down in a new hospital, you know how to get from A to B (it actually reached the point where the new interns asked me the shortest distance between two points when I was a medical student); and, these days, computer skills. When the tools weren’t there, I made them. I’ve written software that describes proteins through sound. So the tools provide a basis. They provide a point for confidence. The way I like to think about it is: “Confidence without competence is of little consequence.” So confidence is an attitude. What are other attitudes that have helped me in this journey? One, I think, is a sense of humor. I was interviewing at a residency in the northeast, and the chair of the department wanted to meet with me. After some pleasantries he said, “You know, I just don’t get it. How are you going to know what’s going on with a patient?”

I paused, and then I said, “Well I know you’re reading your email right now as you are talking to me.” That opened a door, surprisingly enough, because I was able to use some humor to challenge the preconceptions that all people bring to bear.

So along with humor the other tool I’ve found helpful is a sense of certainty. Now this goes beyond confidence and is in a way about humility. It’s the commitment to a goal that you right now may not know how you will reach, but you know you will reach it. Once you decide something will be done, it then just becomes a matter of how.

So let’s talk about the how. I did anatomy by touch, feeling the nerves and muscles, doing some of the dissections. I was the guy who reached into the chest cavity up to my elbow to pull out our cadaver’s lungs. When it came time for testing, I had the same test as everyone else and felt and identified the muscles and nerves that way. We used raised-line drawings to describe cellular concepts, things that are done with microscopy, also to explain physiological relationships: curves and charts. Much is made of the visual nature of medicine, and, although we would love 100 percent accessibility, the vast majority of information is easily accessible with speech software, electronic documents, CDs, and the Internet. They don’t tell you that, but it’s true. And, when it came time to do things like a physical exam, I learned that some things were quite easy. Listening to hearts and lungs: I was used to using my ears. When it came time to adapt certain things, I found I could study how someone’s joints moved by putting my hands in certain places and asking them to move. I picked up ideas here and there. For example, there is a blind rehab doc on the West Coast who studied how people walked by walking behind them with his hands on their hips. I’ve also learned that you can detect certain eye movement problems by placing your fingers over closed eyes. So my radar is always on for ways to add, to adapt, and to expand.

With these tools in mind, I did the med school rotations. I was in the operating room. I scrubbed in, holding that retractor for hours on end. I reached into live people’s bellies and identified organs and blood vessels. I caught babies. In pediatrics I examined kids. One of the children’s parents was a guy I knew. He said, after they finished the exam and walked out, his son said, “That was fine, Dad, but who was the dog for?”

One thing you might think is challenging is that on our anesthesia rotations we’re asked to put breathing tubes down people’s throats so that they can be on a ventilator for surgery. It’s a two-week rotation, and I arrived, and one of the physicians enthusiastically said to me, “You know, Tim, I know how you’re going to intubate.” This was great news to me because I didn’t have a clue. This was one of those why-not moments--those moments when your decision to say why not take a risk, taking a chance can make all the difference.

Our society tends to isolate us from risk--air bags in cars, wearing helmets for everything. But that chance to reach for the next handhold can open a lot of doors. So this physician had a tool. It’s called the Fast Track, which is sort of two right angles as a scaffold for a breathing tube. You can insert a tube through it, so I used that. Our anesthesia monitors can play musical tones to indicate the carbon dioxide level in the tube. So I got the patient ready. I had the mask over the face, breathing 100 percent oxygen. I put the Fast Track in place, snaked the tube through while the musical tones confirmed I was in the right place, and then I think I took my first breath. The experience was only slightly marred by the surgeon’s saying, “Can you shut that thing off?”

So I paid my dues. I was an intern and a resident; I am still a resident doing thirty- and twenty-four-hour shifts, caring for sick people with pneumonia, heart problems, and pancreatitis. I used an Opticon. Some of you may have heard of this tool. I had originally come across it to use for line spectra in organic chemistry, but it became invaluable for electrocardiograms. So I’ve done that, and now I have one year to go in my residency. I see psychiatric patients. I am already licensed by our state as a physician. I have about a hundred or a hundred-twenty people that I follow in my outpatient clinic. I’ve cared for the uninsured, people with schizophrenia, people with psychiatric problems from age seven to seventy, in the legal system, where handcuffs and x-ray machines are the norm.

Let me just tell you about how one of these experiences might go. On our consult service, we see people with acute psychiatric problems either in the hospital or the emergency room. So I would be in our consult room, my pager would go off, I would hit a button, and it would read the text message. I’d pick up the phone. I’d dial the ER, and it might be one of my buddies. If it were two in the morning, he would apologize. He’d say, “I have a patient I need you to see, Tim.” And he would tell me a bit of the story, and I would think about it, suggest some laboratory studies he might need to order. Then I would log on to the computer, where our medical records are now electronic, and read through the chart on my own. If a medical student was on the rotation with us, I would introduce a teaching point and get him or her thinking about the case too. I’d grab my knfbReader, my cane, or my dog, and I would lead the team down to the emergency room.

So it’s nice that after that much experience my presence there is commonplace. I might get a warm greeting, a comment on how I haven’t gotten a haircut yet, and then I’d probably walk into the security guard who is outside the room. He would say, “Dr. Tim, what’s the story?” And he always does better and watches your back if he knows what you’re thinking about and what’s going on, so I would fill him in because this might be a case where his help is needed. So, as I step through that door, I think about what could be going on. It could be a person so depressed that she can hardly move or talk. It might be someone bouncing off the walls with ideas of conspiracies or his super powers. He might be high on something. She might be confused because she’s really medically sick, and it’s my job to tell the emergency room doctor that this is not schizophrenia, and they need to figure out why this person is so ill.

Regardless, I step through the door. Now the patient may be surprised to see a blind physician, but with all that’s going on in her head, she may not notice. So I begin, and I take the time to listen. You know, maybe your mother told you to put on a happy face. They don’t tell you to put on a happy voice. So I listen to the voice. I listen to where it projects. I listen to how the body moves, to the sound of clothing, to jewelry. I notice perfumes or odors, and I build a picture. With that picture I transform from the physician with the cane or dog to the physician who can help. We make that profoundly human connection that enables us to help people get what they need.

Now as a resident I still have a supervisor who needs to pop in from time to time. In one such case that I recall, the supervisor and I walk in, my patient says to the supervisor, “Get out of here. He’s my doctor.” Not wanting to agitate the patient further, my supervisor turned on his heel and said, “Dr. Cordes, do what you think best.” So, if the patient needs to be examined further, a physical exam for admission, I’d do that. I put the orders in the computer and add my note by typing it or by using the telephone as other people do. There are places where I work with a sighted assistant in our old-school paperwork: tracking, billing, and the like, and paper charts. But, as one of my supervisors says, “The day goes on, patients are seen, and the job gets done.”

So with the people we have heard from today and we will hear about with the Jacob Bolotin awards, they are no strangers to getting the job done. I am honored to be a part in some small way in this process of their recognition. [Applause]

 

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

by James Gashel

From the Editor: James Gashel is secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and chairs the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards committee. Here is his announcement about the 2011 Bolotin Awards program:

The National Federation of the Blind is once again pleased to announce our acceptance of nominations for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. This recognition of Dr. Jacob Bolotin award winners has become an important part of our annual convention and includes a substantial cash award made to each recipient. Given in his memory, the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are a way to recognize individuals and organizations working in the blindness field that have made outstanding contributions toward achieving the full integration of blind people into society on a basis of equality. Dr. Bolotin was a pioneering blind physician who practiced in the early twentieth century, and the awards which now bear his name are made possible through the generosity of his late nephew and niece. Their bequest, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, allows the National Federation of the Blind to provide direct financial support to individuals and organizations that are improving the lives of the blind throughout the United States.

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

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

Award Description

The National Federation of the Blind will again recognize individuals and organizations that have distinguished themselves in accordance with the criteria established to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. While the Dr. Jacob Bolotin committee will determine both the number of awards and the value of each award presented, the total cash amount of the awards made in 2011 is expected to be approximately $50,000. The Federation determines the total amount to be distributed each year based on the trust income received. Each year one or more awards will be presented to individuals and one or more to corporations, organizations, or other entities. Both blind and sighted people may apply. The committee may also accept nominations made by third parties.

Who Should Apply?

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

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

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

Procedures

More information, including an online application can be found on the National Federation of the Blind Website at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Bolotin_Award.asp>

Online submission of nominations, letters of support, and other relevant materials is strongly encouraged, though paper applications will be accepted. The 2011 deadline for application submission is March 31. Candidate recipients will be notified of their selection no later than May 15. All decisions of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee are final. The awards will be presented in July during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind.         Individuals selected to receive an award must appear in person, not send a representative. Organizations may send an individual representative, preferably their chief executive officer. Recipient candidates must confirm in writing that they will appear in person to accept the award at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention. Failure to confirm attendance for the award presentation by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the award.

Ineligible Persons

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

 

A Season for Counting Our Blessings

by Barbara Pierce and Gary Wunder

In the United States Thanksgiving is traditionally the season for taking stock and being thankful. Regardless of political persuasion or religious inclination, this is a time for looking about us and counting our blessings for what is best in our lives. These days it is easy to find plenty of bad news and rotten luck: homes or jobs lost, health or relationships compromised, even violence and personal danger for ourselves or those we love. Notwithstanding such problems, Thanksgiving is the time when we concentrate on the good, the healthy, and the generous in ourselves and in those around us.

In the past few days the two of us have been thinking and talking about the special blessings that accrue to those in the Federation who have learned to give spontaneously and to give back to others. Leaders at every level have experienced the gratification and even joy of extending help to someone who accepts it and then turns around to ask what he or she can do to help the organization or someone else in need. We rejoice because the NFB has just become a little stronger and more effective and because we have found a new friend and colleague. That is always something for which to give thanks.

In such situations we count ourselves lucky and blessed, but have you ever stopped to consider that such people are also among the very luckiest in our society? Sometimes, for the first time in their lives, they know the joy of giving, the feeling of self-worth when they are needed, and the cleansing of spirit which comes when they begin to believe they are repaying a debt. That debt is never totaled, never demanded, but always present in the conscience of those who are willing to admit to ourselves and others just how much we have been given to get where we are today. Sometimes it is the good will of others expressed through a kind word, the name of a passing bus, or the name on the next street sign. Sometimes it is the lunch we were bought when we came to convention on a hope and a prayer and with just enough money to get home. Sometimes it is money set aside by our fellow citizens for our vocational rehabilitation. At last we have hope that we can assume our places in the world as givers--grateful for what has been given or loaned, but equally grateful for the chance to pay it back. This is the one time in life when we're willing to pay interest because that interest means we are not only giving back what was loaned but adding to the treasure available for helping our fellow human travelers.

Consider for a moment those folks whom we reach out to help but who, after receiving the assistance, subside back into apathy or actively withdraw. Their actions are often cloaked in self-justification: I can't get to meetings; I don't have the skills to help others; I am too old to take an active part in things; my family wouldn't like for me to go out on my own; I did my part when I could see; I'm just not a joiner; I'm not a causist like you people. Then there are those who benefit in a substantial way from our help and with sincere-sounding words that make your heart want to burst, proclaim their allegiance to giving back to the people and the organization that has done so much to help them. It hurts when, after these promises, their names appear in a presidential report at a state or national convention, and you go to congratulate them on their victory, only to realize they have disappeared. The excuses vary, but the motivations are pretty obvious and depressing: insecurity, laziness, self-absorption, and passivity; the world has dealt me such a dirty hand that I just can't find it within myself to raise a finger in the service of others.

Blind people find it temptingly easy to fall into such habits of mind. The people around us usually don't believe that we can do the things they do, so their instinct is to protect us from failure by discouraging us from trying. If one's impulses to try new things are stifled long enough, it is no wonder that one eventually begins to believe that holding up one's end, returning favors, even talking about the interests of another person are social rules that do not apply. Down this road live the blind people who assume that they deserve free services, a place at the front of the line, and representation by the NFB when they are denied what they want or think they deserve.

Such shriveled souls are exasperating and frustrating, but mostly they are to be pitied. One of the most vivid pictures of such folks is the statement making the rounds that they play the game of life wearing catcher's mitts on both hands—always ready to receive but unable to throw the ball back. These are truly blighted souls, and we should pity them, for they have deprived themselves of a joyous feeling words can't begin to convey. They have missed one of the most fundamental components of the contented life—giving. Whether it is enabling a blind child to get the Braille instruction she needs or offering a stranger a listening ear, giving blesses both the recipient and the giver. It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also much more fun and more rewarding.

We who are members of the National Federation of the Blind can count among our blessings this Thanksgiving that we have the opportunity to give to each other and to our communities. We know the satisfaction of helping others and improving the world. By the grace of God our capacity to commit to others and to reach out with understanding has not been smothered by society's conviction that we have nothing to give. For this and for very much more, this Thanksgiving we are thankful.

 

Jacobus tenBroek and Thurgood Marshall: Two Giants in American Civil Rights

by the Staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library

From the Editor: For some time now the staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library has been writing reviews of books in our collection. I asked Director Morman if he would alternate book reviews with important letters found in the archives of Dr. tenBroek’s papers, and he enthusiastically agreed. Here is the first installment in what I hope will become a popular column for Monitor readers.

All Federationists know that Jacobus tenBroek was the founder and first president of the NFB, but many are unaware that he was also a towering figure in the field of constitutional law. In fact, tenBroek’s scholarship helped establish the legal underpinnings of the civil rights movement by demonstrating the applicability of the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment to matters of racial discrimination and segregation. Though it is now fundamental to American civil rights law, previous to tenBroek’s groundbreaking work the equal protection clause was often regarded as “the last resort of constitutional lawyers.”

In his 1949 California Law Review article, “The Equal Protection of the Law” (coauthored by Joseph Tussman), and in his 1951 book, The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment, Jacobus tenBroek provided lawyers and judges the tools needed to determine when a law improperly discriminates by excluding or including a class of people. A letter in the Jacobus tenBroek papers illustrates this important service.

In August 1953 Thurgood Marshall, then the director and counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, wrote to Dr. tenBroek, “As you know, we are trying to get together as much material as possible for our rearguments of the school segregation cases in the Supreme Court this fall. We have taken full advantage of your book, Anti-Slavery [sic] Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment, and many of our research people have been using it.

Marshall’s letter went on to request a meeting with Dr. tenBroek to discuss some of the ideas and conclusions the NAACP lawyers were developing. This letter may be viewed by visitors to the Jacobus tenBroek Library in the NFB Jernigan Institute, where it is archived as part of the tenBroek papers collection.

The meeting between Thurgood Marshall and Jacobus tenBroek never took place, but on May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared that segregation by race in the public schools was unconstitutional. Specifically, in Brown v. Board of Education, the high court held that the separate but equal doctrine failed to meet the requirements of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. TenBroek’s scholarship had led to a new era in race relations in the United States.

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, the first black person to serve in that position. Marshall died in 1993 at age eighty-four, two years after retiring. Jacobus tenBroek died at age fifty-six in 1968. In a relatively short life tenBroek achieved a huge amount for the blind, all disabled people, and indeed all Americans.

 

Recipes

This month’s recipes have been contributed by members of the NFB Seniors Division.

Noodle Pudding
by Judy Sanders

Judy Sanders is a longtime Federation leader. She is president of the Seniors Division.

Ingredients:
3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 package custard (or vanilla) pudding
1 1/2 cups apricot nectar or orange juice
1 stick butter
12 ounces egg noodles

Topping Ingredients:
1 cup cornflake crumbs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup sugar

Method: You will probably not find a twelve-ounce package of noodles; buy a pound package and use remaining noodles for another recipe. Cook noodles according to package directions and drain. Place noodles in the bottom of a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Combine contents of custard pudding package and remaining pudding ingredients and pour over noodles. Make sure the whole surface is covered with liquid. Combine topping ingredients and spread over liquid. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Serve as a side dish with roast beef or chicken or as a dessert.

Homemade Ice Cream
by Ramona Walhof

Ramona Walhof is secretary of the Seniors Division. She says, “I made a discovery that makes homemade ice cream very easy and better than using raw eggs. The Monitor carried a recipe for ice cream years ago, but this is an improvement. I am sending the basic recipes for the three kinds we made here recently, but imagination can turn this recipe into virtually any flavor. I have a feeling a lot more seniors remember how to do this than young folks.”
 
Vanilla Ice Cream for a One-Gallon Freezer

Ingredients:
1 package instant lemon pudding
1 pint half and half
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract or pure vanilla if you have it
1/2 cup pasteurized egg substitute

Method: Combine all ingredients and fill the can of an ice cream freezer to the mark that is about three-quarters full. The ice cream will expand as the dasher puts air into it. Stir mixture well. Add the pudding after the container is at least half full so that it does not begin to set too soon. Put the dasher in and fit on the lid. Attach the motor or crank assembly on top, and be sure it is tight. Layer crushed or chunked ice and plenty of rock salt around the can. An electric freezer should take twenty to twenty-five minutes to freeze the ice cream. With a crank freezer, it will take up to twice that long. Use at least half a cup of rock salt for each eight cups of ice.
 
I make this on my kitchen counter next to the sink so that I can pour the excess water directly into the sink. I also make it on a plastic patio table outside. We made three gallons for our recent ice cream social for the Treasure Valley Chapter.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Ingredients:
1 pint half and half
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 cup chocolate syrup
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1 package instant chocolate pudding

Method: Fill the ice cream freezer to the mark with ingredients combined as above with pudding toward the end so that it does not thicken too soon, and follow the freezing instructions.

Hawaiian Ice Cream
 
Ingredients:
2 cups canned pineapple, drained and shredded in a blender
1 cup shredded coconut
1 pint half and half
1/2 cup pasteurized egg substitute
1 package coconut cream instant pudding

Method: Fill freezer can to the mark with ingredients as above and freeze.
 
Ramona says, “You can leave out the instant pudding and double the amount of egg substitute if you like. I almost quit making ice cream because making custard to cook the eggs was a trouble, and I don't believe using raw eggs is safe. Now that I have figured out two ways to solve the egg problem, I am back to making this wonderful dessert. You don't have to use egg substitute at all, but the ice cream is better if you do.

You can use all cream, all milk, even skim milk, or any combination of the three. If you don't finish it and store the rest in your refrigerator freezer, the more cream you use, the softer the ice cream will be later and the easier it will be to serve. Of course some people just like rich ice cream, but many prefer the milk or even the skim-milk versions. At our ice cream social we served forty-five people, and most of the three gallons was devoured. I used mostly skim milk in all three flavors.”

BLT Dip
by Bernie Dressell

Paul Dressell is treasurer of the Seniors Division, but Bernie, his wife, is the chef.

Ingredients:
1 pound bacon, cooked crisp, drained, and crumbled
1 8-ounce jar mayonnaise
1 8-ounce container sour cream
2 tomatoes, diced.

Method: Combine cooked bacon, mayonnaise, and sour cream in bowl. Add diced tomatoes and mix well. Serve with toasted white bread or chips.

Peaches and Cream Salad
by Bernie Dressell

Ingredients:
2 3-ounce packages lemon Jell-O
2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup orange juice
1 1-ounce packet cream cheese
1 24-ounce can peach pie filling
1/2 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
 
Method: Spray bowl with cooking spray. Dissolve one package lemon Jell-O in one cup boiling water. Pour into bowl, add cream cheese, and beat with mixer. In another bowl whip the cream and sweeten with 2 tablespoons sugar. Fold orange juice and whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture and beat with electric mixer. Add pecans and refrigerate until set. Dissolve second box of Jell-O in the other cup of boiling water and add peach pie filling. Let cool. Pour over first layer and chill to set. This recipe can serve as a dessert as well as a salad.

Oatmeal Cake with Topping
by Diane McGeorge

Judy Sanders says: "Diane McGeorge was my first cooking teacher. I was twelve years old at the time, and Diane was ____!" She has been drawing door prizes for over thirty years at national conventions. Her late husband Ray was first vice president of the Seniors Division until his death in June.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 cup flour, sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick oats
1 cup boiling water

Method: Cream together the shortening and brown sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, spices, soda, and salt. In a separate bowl pour boiling water over the oatmeal. Allow to stand for a minute or two and then stir to mix well. Add oatmeal alternately with the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Bake in a well-greased 9-by-13-inch cake pan at 350 degrees for thirty to forty minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
 
Topping Ingredients:
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup nuts, chopped

Method: Mix all topping ingredients together and spread on warm cake. Place under the broiler for five to ten minutes or until topping is bubbly and browned.
Makes a great coffee cake or cake for dessert any time.

Chocolate Sheet Cake
by Margot Downey

Margot Downey is the newest board member of the Seniors Division. She is also an excellent cook.

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened powdered cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
 
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle flour across pan, shaking off extra. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt and stir together. Combine water, cocoa, and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent the cocoa from lumping. Remove from heat and pour into flour mixture. Beat with a mixer until blended. Add the vanilla, buttermilk, and eggs and continue beating until batter is smooth. Pour into pan and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting with the following:

Frosting Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Method: In a saucepan combine butter, sugar, and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate chips, continuing to stir until chips melt. Spread over cake and allow to cool for at least one hour before cutting.

Chili-Mac
by Don and Pam Gillmore

Don Gillmore is a division board member, and his wife Pam is an active participant.

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 16-ounce can red chili beans with liquid
1 cup water
1 8-ounce package macaroni, cooked according to package directions
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Method: Brown meat and onion in large frying pan and drain excess fat. Add all other ingredients except cheese. Cover pan and simmer fifteen minutes. Add cheese just before serving. Serves six.

Tuna Jack-Straw Bake
by Don and Pam Gillmore

Ingredients:
1 standard can shoestring potatoes
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can tuna, drained
2/3 cup (small can) evaporated milk
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

Method: Set aside 1 cup of potato strings. Combine remaining potatoes, soup, tuna, milk, and mushrooms and gently mix. Turn into a 1.5-quart casserole. Top with reserved potato strings. Bake for twenty-five minutes at 375 degrees or until hot and bubbly. Yields four to six servings.

Note: Art Schreiber, division second vice president, says that he is no cook. However, he is in the market for a good one. The Seniors Division will screen all applicants.

 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Register Now for the Braille Reading Pals Club:

Club Registration is now open for the year beginning January 1, 2011. The Braille Reading Pals Club is the NFB’s early literacy program encouraging parents to read daily with their blind or low-vision children (ages infant to seven). Participating club members will receive:

The program’s mission is to introduce young children and their families to Braille; to provide parents with literacy strategies to use with their children; to direct parents to essential resources for promoting success for their young blind children; and to help parents promote early literacy skills, a love of reading, and a positive attitude about Braille through daily reading with their blind children.

To learn more about this exciting program or to register, visit <www.nfb.org/readingpals>, or call (410) 659-9314, ext. 2295. Sponsored in part by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF)

Elected:

At its September 11, 2010, meeting, the Old Capitol Chapter of the NFB of Iowa elected the following officers: president, Priscilla McKinley; vice president, Donna Prime; secretary/treasurer, Jonathan Ice; and at-large board members, Intesar Duncan and Darrel Kirby.

Elected:

At its convention held September 17 to 19, 2010, the NFB of Iowa elected the following to serve two-year terms: president, Michael Barber; first vice president, April Enderton; second vice president, Darrel Kirby; secretary, Scott Van Gorp; treasurer, Curtis Chong; and board members, Ted Hart, Priscilla McKinley, Miranda Morse, Tai Blas, and Randy Walker.

In Brief

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

Fragrant Candle-Like Warmers Available:

Scentsy is a line of flameless, wickless, fragrant candle-like ceramic warmers. Scentsy Warmers are a decorative, safer alternative to traditional candles and use a low-watt bulb to melt a special wax slowly while maximizing fragrance time. They are safer around animals and children because there is no flame and the melted wax does not get hot enough to burn. Scentsy bars are available in over eighty fragrances, and the warmers are available in a variety of styles and colors.
Visit the Website at <www.scentsy.com/indy>. To discuss product selection, contact Jywanza Maye at (347) 878-6293.

NFB Pledge

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


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