_______________________________________________________________________________

Braille Monitor

Vol. 54, No. 3                                                            March 2011

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
NFBnet.org: http://www.nfbnet.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300

Letters to the president, address changes,
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

____________________________________________________________________

 

Orlando Site of 2011 NFB Convention

The 2011 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, July 3-8, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort at 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Rosen Shingle Creek staff only. Call (866) 996-6338.

The 2011 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins, $63; and triples and quads, $67. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $75-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2011. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2011, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.

Guestroom amenities include thirty-two-inch flat screen television with NXTV; two telephones; laptop safe; coffeemaker; hairdryer; and, for a fee, high-speed Internet access. The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort has a number of restaurant options, including two award-winning restaurants, and twenty-four-hour-a-day room service. It has first-rate amenities and shuttle service to the Orlando airport.

The schedule for the 2011 convention will follow the dates of last year’s:

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

 

2011 National Convention Preregistration Form

Please register online at <www.nfb.org/preregistration> or print all requested information legibly on this form and mail to the address below.

Registrant Name ___________________________________________________
Address _________________________________________________________
City ____________________________________________________________
State ___________________________________ Zip ____________________
Phone __________________________________________________________

___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Pickup Name ______________________________________

Please register only one person per registration form.
One check or money order may cover multiple registrations.
Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration form(s).

Number of preregistrations x $15 = ____________
Prepurchased banquet tickets x $40 = ____________
Total ______________

All preconvention registration and banquet sales are final (no refunds).
Mail to: National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Registrations must be postmarked by May 31, 2011.

 

Contents

Vol. 54, No. 3                                                            March 2011

 

Lead Photo

Blind Driver: Ultimate Insult or Statement of Fact
by Gary Wunder

The 2011 Washington Seminar
by Gary Wunder

Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans:
Priorities for the 112th Congress, First Session

A Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind

Ensuring Equal Education for Blind Children:
Setting Standards That Promote Excellence

Americans with Disabilities
Business Opportunity Act

Blio: A Formative Technology
of the Twenty-First Century
by Marc Maurer

Creating Future Leaders from Scratch
by Garrick Scott

Winter in the North Woods
by Ron Schmidt

Science and Philosophy
Guided Learning versus Structured Discovery
by James S. Nyman

Making the Ask
by Parnell Diggs

When Disability Is Just a Special Skill in Disguise
by Lori Rottenberg

The Ties That Bind
by Barbara Pierce

A Misguided Question from
a Student Gets an Interesting Response
by the staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library

Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2011 by the National Federation of the Blind

 

This spring-themed bulletin board features 26 large, colorful butterflies. A hefty tree trunk made out of corrugated cardboard anchors the left side of the board. Two green egg-crate caterpillars climb the tree trunk side by side. The caterpillar on the left has the numbers 1, 2, and 3 going down his back, and the one on the right has the numbers 4, 5, and 6. The caterpillar segments represent the layout of the Braille cell. Two-thirds of the way up the trunk, a hollow provides a resting place for a small print/Braille board book. A few inches further up the trunk a tree branch juts to the right with a small stuffed cardinal resting on it. At the very top of the bulletin board, just above the bird’s head, are leaves made of felt.

The display title in tactile print letters—Catch the Literacy Bug!—extends across the middle of the board in a wave pattern. Four circular pictures of blind children reading Braille fit snugly between the waves. The Braille title of the board appears twice: once superimposed on the word “literacy” in the center of the display and again in the bottom left corner. Twenty-six butterflies flit above and below the title. Each features one letter of the alphabet. The spots on the butterflies’ wings form jumbo Braille letters; with dots 1, 2, and 3 on the left wings and dots 4, 5, and 6 on the right. For example, the “R” butterfly has dots 1, 2, and 3 on her left wing and dot 5 on her right wing. The butterfly wings are made of craft foam, and the dots are made of textured paper. The Popsicle-stick body of each butterfly bears its print letter once and the standard-size Braille letter several times, embossed in a column. Each butterfly is secured to the board with Velcro. Interspersed across the board are smaller, three-dimensional butterflies made of soft fabric. A real butterfly net continues the line created by the title and extends past the right side of the board. A few of the smaller fabric butterflies are caught in the net. Visitors are invited to catch the literacy bug and move the alphabet butterflies to the Velcro strip at the bottom of the board to spell a word in Braille.

 

Blind Driver: Ultimate Insult or Statement of Fact

by Gary Wunder

Being blind presents many challenges for the person who intends to live a full and normal life, and getting where one needs to go when he or she wants to get there is foremost among them. Ask any blind person to tell you what is most difficult or irritating about being blind, and transportation is likely to be number one on the list. Whether a person has been blind from birth or had vision before becoming blind, the desire to have the independence that most people who drive a car enjoy is universal. So too has been the belief that there is nothing we can do about it short of the restoration of vision.

In 2000 President Maurer asked us to dream about what we might do as together we built the Jernigan Institute, the nation's first and only research center run for and by the blind. He suggested two possibilities. One would be a handheld reading machine portable enough to let us read print wherever we might go and wherever we might find it. The second was a car that a blind person could drive. While the possibility of a handheld reader seemed remote to many of us who had scanners and desktop computers, and even more remote to those who couldn't afford the technology available at the turn of the century, at least we could envision how the device might work and the technology it might use. But this blind-drivable car was a stretch--a very big stretch—and, while we all wanted what it promised, we were reluctant to commit to the dream. We had many reasons for applauding the change it could bring in our lives but held tight to our reservations. For one thing many of us knew what it was like to be told that one day, in the not too distant future, science would come up with a way for us to drive.

For as far back as I can remember, my parents called me to listen to news stories they had just read in the Kansas City Star promising vision: a device to convert images to audio; a device with a TV camera and vibrating pins to make a picture on the back of a blind person's neck; and, most promising, an implant that would connect directly to the brain with nothing more intrusive than a pair of glasses. Our discussion of each new device would conclude with the confident assertion that "By the time you turn sixteen, there's no question that science will find a way for you to drive." That was easy to believe at six; it was exciting at eight; when ten came around, I was still anxiously waiting; when twelve came, I was still optimistic but nervous; at fourteen I knew something had to happen in a hurry, but those fellows were going to the moon, so perhaps there was still a chance. But sixteen came, and the technology did not. Eighteen came and with it the right to vote, but the car was still for someone else to drive, and it was hard to watch my younger brother getting an opportunity his big brother was supposed to have had first. Twenty-one came, and with it the lectures about not drinking and driving, but the cautions meant nothing to me except that I should not ride with someone who was drinking.

Most blind people who lived through my experience looked at the technology available and gave up on the dream. Driving might be possible someday, but we weren't making any of our plans for the future contingent on it. Driving, that special dream we held so dear, soon became the example of the very few things a blind person couldn't do, taking its place alongside jet pilot and art critic. Some of us even thought piloting an airplane or recasting a painting so it would be understandable through touch would be easier than the act of driving a speeding vehicle down a crowded street.

So, when President Maurer asked us to consider a car that blind people could drive, we cheered his can-do attitude, gave him credit for believing in us as blind people and trying to expand the frontier of possibility for the blind, and said to ourselves that we had to be realistic. Our experience said be cautious. Our hearts said don't do this again. Our left brain said the challenge of driving was much too difficult to take in all of the parallel information required to stay on course, watch other drivers, and be on guard for the pedestrian; so we told President Maurer that we shouldn't devote a lot of time and energy to this work and that our time would be better spent on things that seemed more achievable. As long as we could identify problems in education and equal access to technology and an unemployment rate of seventy percent for blind people, we could avoid saying that we didn’t think the blind would ever be capable of driving and that we doubted that the organized blind could bring about the invention to make it possible.

So we built our reading machine and watched as it was transformed from a three-part handheld device to a reader in our pockets. With its success we once again found ourselves talking about a car the blind could drive. We had done what people said was impossible: we helped to invent a machine that could go where we wanted to go and read most of what we wanted to read, but the confidence gained from that venture went only so far. Holding a camera above a printed page was not nearly as challenging as directing a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds at speeds that would demand split-second reactions.

Once again President Maurer asked what we thought about developing a car blind people could drive, and again we said we thought other things were more important. When he assured us that anything we did to create a blind-drivable car would not come at the expense of the efforts we were making to secure better education, better technology, and increased employment, we thought to ourselves that we had reached a good compromise and ducked a bullet. We didn't have to tell our strongest advocate and the man we deeply admired that we thought this well beyond the capabilities of the blind and our organization. Instead we could argue to the public that this was something we were working on, certain this little nugget would get us some much needed press, but most of us felt sure that so little resource would be devoted to the idea of a vehicle that it would die a slow death.

People who lived through and can remember the most famous decade of the twentieth century, the 60s, saw clear parallels between the challenge to send a man to the moon and the challenge to put a blind driver behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Before the technology was the dream, and before the dream could move beyond the musings and fantasies kept safely inside, it had to be publicly articulated by someone brave or foolish enough to think the far-off possibility could become reality. Like the dream the technological advancement continued, and so too did the message that we were going to develop a car that the blind could drive. Though the blind-drivable car didn't always make the presidential reports and the banquet speeches, we were all aware of efforts to interest other groups who wanted to see a change in the way the world drives. Insurance companies want cars that can help their drivers avoid collisions. The military wants a car that can drive itself through dangerous territory. Every car manufacturer would like to be the first to boast new technology to make the driving experience easier and more enjoyable, and for every competition aimed at changing how America drives, we were there and pitched our idea that one day there would be a car that the blind could drive.

Eventually we realized that, while the convergence of these technologies could contribute to a blind-drivable car, it would take our direct involvement to create it. That effort couldn't be an unintended spin-off of something someone else wanted; it would have to be something we created because the blind wanted it and were determined to make it happen. We started looking for partners who knew about the state of the art in auto safety and navigation and challenged them to learn about us and join with us to build the car of our future. Virginia Tech answered the challenge, and with the work of its innovative students under the guidance of Dr. Dennis Hong, we began work on developing the interface that would let a blind person drive a car.

Eventually that work turned into a promise: one we made to ourselves, and one we made publicly and without equivocation. We were going to develop a car that the blind could drive, and we were going to demonstrate it before a crowd of tens of thousands. With a date certain and our intentions broadcast on the Internet, the cable news channels, and newspapers across the country, the question was not would the blind really try to do it, but would they succeed. The time for talk was over; the test was at hand, so the blind, hundreds of us, came to Daytona, daring to dream, daring to believe, and daring to put the integrity of our organization on the line to send a message to all who cared to listen: we, the National Federation of the Blind, are prepared not only to identify the problems faced by blind people, but we are prepared to lead the way in developing the technology to solve them.

On Friday evening, January 28, approximately three-hundred-sixty people gathered at the Plaza Ocean Hotel to prepare for our time on the track, which would happen in sixteen hours. Who would drive? How had he or she been selected? How would we get to the event, where would we sit, and how would we know what was happening as the demonstration progressed? President Maurer, John Paré, and the real celebrities of the evening and the weekend that followed, Mark Riccobono and Anil Lewis, answered these and other questions. President Maurer explained that, in the weeks preceding this event, five blind people had been tested with simulators and in the two modified vehicles with the technology we had developed. He was one of the people who learned and was tested using the technology. He was not, however, one of the finalists in the competition to drive the car because this decision was based not on politics but on skill.

There were a number of theories about who would have the advantage in learning to drive using this nonvisual technology. Some speculated that, because they had once had sight and had driven, they would have the advantage. Others thought that, having been blind since birth, they would have the advantage in learning and using the interface. It turns out that neither of these factors seemed to be significant, though youth may have played a part. Mark Riccobono was chosen to drive on the 29th in Daytona and Anil Lewis was selected as his backup or, as Anil liked to say, our insurance--ensuring we would get press coverage, ensuring things would go smoothly, and ensuring we had a willing and able driver should Mark be unable to maneuver our vehicle through its victory lap. When Mark addressed the group, he told us that what would happen tomorrow was not because of the competence of one but the competence of many. "I am not the focus: I am the representative of the thousands of blind people who believe enough to make this happen." Bringing a bit of levity, Mark said, "Since the announcement people have asked me if I'm nervous, and I've said no, but today it occurred to me that I'm the one person here who can really screw things up. Now that makes me a little nervous."

On Saturday morning seven buses headed for the Daytona Speedway, and the excitement was evident in every conversation. "What do you think he's feeling right now?" "In one way I'd love to be Mark Riccobono, and in another I wouldn't have his job today for anything."

So that we could be sure not to miss the event, most of us arrived by 9:00. In the Sprint Fan Zone Federationists took front-row seats, which we commissioned the NFB Grandstand. Once we knew where to sit, most decided to use the two and a half hours before the Blind Driver Challenge™ to explore. This was Daytona, one of the racing capitals of the world; what were the chances we would ever come back to see it again? Wasn't the whole point of this adventure to show that the blind were on the move? A carnival had been set up just outside the speedway featuring rides; games; and, of special interest to yours truly, a stand selling funnel cakes, though I passed them up for a healthier breakfast.

The mix of people was exciting. It was not the traditional one-blind-guy-in-a-crowd, but neither was it an NFB convention, where everybody used a cane or a dog. Some visitors were fascinated by what we were doing at the speedway and were excited by our vehicle, while others were clearly there because their thing was racing, and the sooner it began the better. The buzz among the blind people present was not only the demonstration to come, but what they had heard on Friday evening. As a breakfast companion said, "I came because I’m a team player and because I support what we do, but I don't think what we are doing really connected with me until I heard Mark Riccobono talk about the feeling he had when he buckled in his children, kissed his wife as she sat in the front seat, and took his place in the driver's seat to take his family for a ride. I know it's not tomorrow or next week or even next year, but I think at that moment I began to see the real possibility this initiative has to change my life and those of other blind people."

As 11:30 approached, we returned to the grandstands to listen as Kevan Worley addressed the crowd to explain some of the technology. He told the crowd about the seat strip which is used to indicate whether to accelerate, slow down, or stop, and the gloves, or Drive Grips, used to provide information for directing the car. If the car should go left, there is a vibration in the left drive grip, and the extent to which the steering wheel should be turned is communicated by the intensity of the vibration and how many fingers are stimulated.

Finally the event began when Mark Riccobono was driven to the track in the lead van, and Congressman John Mica of Florida’s seventh district drove the blind-drivable car onto the track. Mr. Mica chairs the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. President Maurer accompanied Congressman Mica, and, when they got out of the car and Mr. Mica handed the key to Mark Riccobono, the adrenaline began to flow and the long-awaited event was at hand.

In the booth with Kevan Worley were two announcers employed by the Daytona Speedway, Larry Henry and Jim Mueller, who helped by telling us what they saw as Mark got in the car, put on his Drive Grips, and checked out the technology he was about to debut. As Mark readied the vehicle for its historic trip, Kevan and his announcing crew talked about the difference between a vehicle that drives the blind and a vehicle driven by the blind. Kevan clearly explained the difference, but the astonishment of the Daytona announcers captured the fascination of sighted people at the thought that a person without sight would try to drive safely through a slalom course of barrels; poles; and, later, boxes thrown at random from the lead van.

When Mark hit the gas and began his historic journey, the emotions we felt were mixed. We were elated that one of our own was behind the wheel of a car that we had brought into being, but at the same time we all knew we were dealing with new, experimental technology. What if it failed? Yes, we could tell the world that for its first debut it had done pretty well, but what footage would be shown if Mark brushed a pole or knocked over a barrel? Could we really expect and would the public demand a perfect run? As the car got moving, Federationists in the crowd were torn between cheering and hearing. The announcers provided our view as the car progressed through the horseshoe turns and around obstacles and eventually arrived in front of the grandstand, where most of us could no longer contain the roar within us. When the lead van started throwing boxes and our car moved to avoid them, cheers from other parts of the speedway reached our ears, and the feeling inside each of us was beyond the ability of words to convey.

When Mark accelerated passed the lead vehicle and crossed the finish line, the crowd went wild with cheers and applause. We all knew we had witnessed something historic, and the joy and relief we felt created a special bond that few experiences in my life have been able to match.

When we gathered for the press conference, reporters from Orlando and as far away as Tokyo, Japan, were there to hear from our president, the blind driver, and members of the technology team who worked with us to make all of this possible. The press understood the technological accomplishment and marveled at how a person without sight could drive on a track and avoid striking fixed and moving obstacles, but it is doubtful any of them could really understand what this first step might mean to the blind in education, employment, and greater integration. As we read the comments about this event, it is clear that even some blind people fail to see the significance of this step: what it means technologically and what it means for the blind as we struggle to redefine what we had thought to be the fixed and immutable limitations that would be our lifelong companions. The struggle of the blind to guide our own vehicles is nothing more or less than the struggle of the test pilots who, when they became astronauts, demanded to fly their spacecrafts and refused to be Spam in a Can. They were not content to be mere passengers and were convinced that, if that was all NASA wanted, it could keep sending monkeys into space.

Driving a car is a powerful symbol, and in the end it matters very little whether we are licensed to drive generation twelve of the blind driver vehicle, Google 26.2, or something none of us can yet envision. The most popular science fiction writers of the last century failed to anticipate the personal computer, email, and the cellular phone. They saw taxi cabs with automation that could bring them to passengers and whisk them away without their ever having to turn a wheel or push a throttle, but those cabs were called by landline phones housed in phone booths. The blind can't expect to fare any better in predicting the future than the writers whose business it is to pull us into that future, but we certainly can and should be expected to act forcefully in the present to address problems as we find them and look hard for solutions that might one day consign those problems to the history books. Might this event have begun the process of changing our language so that the term “blind driver” might one day move from insult to statement of fact?

More immediate than the car we may drive on the streets and highways of our nation are a host of applications waiting for technological solutions our pioneering work might address. Virtual tours are becoming popular for the sighted. If our technology can provide a platform to let us navigate through virtual reality, think of the possibilities that open for the blind. Imagine being able to tour a house listed by a local realtor as sighted people so often do now. Imagine using a version of the handgrips to explore the texture of the shag carpet or the smooth, aged feeling of a wooden floor. Imagine being able to wear headphones, walk into one of the rooms, snap your fingers, and instantly know its size the way we do when we visit new places now. Imagine going on safari and romping with lions and tigers, never having to fear the loss of life or limb because you want to touch them as they run and play.

I have had more than a fair shot at conveying to you my impressions of our Blind Driver Challenge™, and, in bringing our coverage to its conclusion, allow me to give you a direct link to audio-video coverage of the event and to reprint what others have thought, felt, and taken the time to send.  Watch the blind driver in action by going to <http://tinyurl.com/4qyd2tp> (provided with assistance from Blind Bargains).  For more videos, go to <http://www.blinddriverchallenge.org/bdcg/Video_Highlights.asp>.

"To me it was an important day because we moved from wishing, hoping, and praying that one day we would be able to drive, to knowing that one day in the foreseeable future we will be able to drive.”

Another writer said: "For the blind this event represents so much more than just being able to drive a car. The Blind Driver Challenge not only shatters misconceptions about the capabilities of the blind, it provides a means to develop new technologies that will help the blind become more independent on and off the road and make the world safer as a whole. GPS was a technology originally developed for the military, but now hardly anyone can live without it in some form. Many of the technologies used to make a car accessible to the blind could have this same ripple effect, and I was excited to be a part of this momentous beginning and also cover it for Blind Bargains."

Another writer said: "Maybe one way to explain this to Monitor readers is to describe what it was like to listen to the audio of the Blind Driver Challenge over the Internet. When I heard the announcer describe what was happening, I experienced the same thrill I did when listening to radio broadcasts of rocket launches at the beginning of the space program. We hadn't landed on the moon yet, and we didn't have the space shuttle, but still there was this incredible sense of excitement and looking forward to the future."

Another thoughtful observation is found in this extended comment: "While I'm in favor of having a vehicle that can drive around autonomously, I take exception to the notion that a computer is smarter than I am and that it can drive better than I can in all situations. The problem with blindness in almost all cases is that it presents a barrier to information. Given enough information in a timely manner, there's no doubt in my mind that blind people will be better drivers and make better decisions on the road than any computers we can dream up today. The challenge is how to circumvent the information barrier that blindness presents. The notion that a car can drive itself better and with greater dexterity than a person can is similar to the notion that guide dogs take their owners to where they want to go. This is not true. Guide dogs are a very sophisticated and highly individualized tool that blind people use to enhance their travel skills.

“The purpose of the Blind Driver Challenge is to foster the creation of tools and information systems that will make it possible for a blind person to drive a vehicle among their sighted colleagues. The key word here, for me, is 'information systems.’ If tools and techniques can be developed that give blind people enough information so that they can drive a vehicle independently, those same information systems can be used to get blind people jobs, a better education, and a host of other things.

“Our philosophy is that, given the proper training, tools, and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a mere nuisance. If we can get around the information barrier that blindness presents, I believe all the other issues related to blindness will be much easier to resolve. The Blind Driver Challenge is about much more than driving, and, by the time this project is done, we will know a lot more about how to drive, yes; but we will also know a lot more about how the blind gather and use information and how to get more information into a blind person's head in a timely manner. The Blind Driver Challenge is as much about education and expectation as it is about technology. Eyesight is a very high-bandwidth informational medium. Technology for the sighted is using increasingly greater percentages of that bandwidth. As it does, blind people's ability to get at that data in a timely enough manner to remain competitive with their sighted colleagues falls behind. We need to do what we can to close that information gap. The Blind Driver Challenge™ is an attempt to address that issue. For that reason I believe we should support the Blind Driver Challenge so that we can continue to change what it means to be blind even as the world changes what it means to be sighted."

As a final quote I leave you with this: "For my part, I have seen history, real dramatic history, made only a few times in my life. I remember President Kennedy being shot. I watched in awe and was enraptured when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. I was in the World Trade Center and was a part of all the events of 9-11. For blind people the event on January 29, 2011, was just as dramatic. Never in history has a blind person independently driven a car, much less in public. We all were in the car with Mark Riccobono, and we shared his joy and triumph. The success of Daytona was for every blind person because we had the dream and we made it happen. Teamwork doesn't get better than this."

 

The 2011 Washington Seminar

by Gary Wunder

When the weather is brisk, the snow is flying, and the blind converge on our nation's capital, the signs are unmistakable—it is time for the Washington Seminar. There is always a lot of energy and enthusiasm as people arrive at the hotel, meet old friends, and catch up on all that has happened since the national convention, but the excitement this year was even greater, for everyone knew that something wonderful had happened two days earlier in Florida when a blind man independently drove a car while thousands breathlessly watched from the sidelines.

Activities started the day before our 5:00 p.m. great gathering-in. Some have become tradition while others are new. The National Association of Blind Students, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and the Teachers of Tomorrow conducted meetings and seminars.

When the gavel fell at five o'clock and President Maurer called the meeting to order, more than five-hundred Federationists filled the Columbia and Discovery rooms at the Holiday Inn Capitol. This year, for the first time ever, representatives from every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were present to take our concerns to the Hill.

President Maurer began by talking about the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which was passed and signed by the president late in 2010. Much of what we do is life-changing, but this effort was life-saving. Passage of this act required a massive education effort to change the expectation of Americans so that instead of demanding that a car be manufactured to operate as quietly as it can, we now want cars to be manufactured so they operate as quietly as they safely can, and no quieter.

As John Paré reminded us, at first no one wanted to hear our message: the car companies wouldn't return our calls, and the regulators said they needed data, which meant show us your bruised and maimed. Once we got so many cosponsors that everyone realized this bill, if brought to the floor, had enough votes to pass, many different interests came together to craft not only something they could live with but something they could really get behind. Though it is hard for those who once couldn't get the automobile industry to take our calls to believe, once this group realized something was going to pass, they encouraged us to act before someone was hurt. In a time when people decry the lack of cooperation and civility in our public dialog, the National Federation of the Blind brought together the blind, the auto industry, the regulators, the Congress, and the president, who joined hands to pass a law enhancing the safety of all pedestrians, blind and sighted alike.

To recognize the hard work of the Senate sponsor of this vital act, we presented to Senator John Kerry the Distinguished Legislator Award. That award reads:

National Federation of the Blind
Outstanding Legislative Service Award

Presented to

Senator John Kerry

For your leadership and championing of the
Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.

Your hard work and dedication have
made the roads safer for blind Americans.

You champion our movement; you strengthen our hopes;
you share our dreams.

January 31, 2011

Shifting from the blind pedestrian to the blind in the driver's seat, President Maurer talked about the creation of the first-ever blind-drivable vehicle and the demonstration that had been held at the Daytona Speedway the previous Saturday. Parnell Diggs, the person who persuaded officials at Daytona to let us rent the track and conduct our demonstration, was introduced to talk about the Imagination Fund, which is the vehicle through which we are making this and so many of our dreams come true. Anil Lewis, the man who coordinated publicity for the Daytona event and who was the backup driver or, as he said, our insurance, told us that this was the beginning of something historic and that one day we would move from the development of an experimental vehicle to the legislatures of the land demanding our right to drive. The crowd responded enthusiastically with the chant "NFB to the DMV."

Finally Mark Riccobono, the man behind the wheel in Daytona, addressed the gathering and said how wonderful it had been to be a part of making history as he drove for all of us on the road to changing what it means to be blind. More about the Imagination Fund and the Blind Driver Challenge can be found elsewhere in this issue.

A longtime friend and supporter of the National Federation of the Blind, retired Senator Christopher Dodd, spoke about our long and fruitful relationship, beginning with his work to lift the ban on blind people’s becoming foreign service officers in the State Department, helping to make textbooks accessible, helping to promote the teaching of Braille by supporting the striking of the Louie Braille commemorative coin, and supporting the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. The Senator has often been a major sponsor of our effort to eliminate the barriers for blind Social Security recipients who wish to work.

Senator Dodd said that, not only are we changing the lives of blind people, but through our example we are enriching the lives of all Americans through our hard work, perseverance, and absolute determination to change the world for the better.

He ended by noting that his sister Carolyn is a former president of the Hartford chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut and that he will continue to be one of our strongest admirers and supporters.

Jim Gashel, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, chairman of the Jacob Bolotin award committee, and vice president of K-NFB Reading Technology was introduced. He urged that individuals and organizations doing good work for the blind be nominated for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award and reminded us that the deadline for nominations is March 31. He asked that nominations be made online at <www.nfb.org/nfb/bolotin_award.asp>. Although the committee prefers online submissions, applications will be accepted by regular mail and should be sent to the national office.

In his capacity as vice president for business development for K-NFB Reading Technology, Jim announced that Blio is no longer a demonstration program but a product which is now available to all of us. More about Blio can be found elsewhere in this issue.

Kevan Worley took the floor to introduce Senator Michael Bennett, who was just elected to the United States Senate. Senator Bennett was appointed two years ago by the governor of Colorado when Senator Salazar was appointed as secretary of the interior. The senator congratulated us for our seventy years of work and for the strength of our belief in one another even when many were willing to discount our capacities and contributions. "Many come to Washington asking for special consideration, a loophole or a handout, but I can tell you that, when your Colorado affiliate comes to visit me and my staff, they come asking only for a pathway to inclusion and armed with solutions…. As the president told us last week, we must win the race to educate our kids, and I tell you that blind children must be part of our national race to the top. If we are going to prepare 100,000 new teachers, let us prepare at least some of them to be proud advocates for and proud teachers of Braille and the other important skills for the blind. My staff and I will be working with you to craft the kind of legislation that will bring literacy to blind kids all across the country…. We cannot let the United States Senate forget about blind Americans when we take steps to support the creation of more and better jobs; we must consider the blind. My staff and I will work closely with the National Federation of the Blind to make sure we create opportunities for the blind, and this includes promoting entrepreneurship and making sure that small businesses have the resources to create jobs and hire workers. It also means making sure the blind have the type of workforce training opportunities to be competitive in a rapidly changing economy. In addition I will work to make sure we pass a technology bill of rights so that a blind person can go to an airport, walk up to a kiosk, and print a boarding pass just like everybody else.

"Before leaving you I want to publicly acknowledge the leadership of your great president, Marc Maurer. I know that I don't have to tell you of his passion and extraordinary intellect. Without a doubt he is this generation's civil rights leader of the blind. He's a man of unparalleled vitality and great vision, but you may not know how highly regarded Dr. Maurer is beyond your NFB family. You are lucky to have such an eloquent spokesman, who, more than anything, believes.”

While organizationally we do not endorse candidates or parties, Senator Bennett publicly credited NFB members Kevan and Bridget Worley with helping him stay in the Senate, and he regards Kevan as an important advisor, not only on issues of blindness, but on other important challenges facing our country.

John Paré, director of strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind, then introduced Lauren McLarney and Jesse Hartle to outline the issues we would take to Capitol Hill. Lauren reminded us that the change in the composition of the House of Representatives may alter some of the arguments to be confronted in the passage of our legislative agenda, but the fundamental principles at the root of all of our proposals cross party lines and are as basic as individual responsibility, equality of opportunity, and the right to pursue the American dream. Technology the blind can use, educational standards to prepare the blind for competitive work, and opportunities for the blind to start our own businesses and to extend to us the opportunities afforded other minorities make up the proposals presented to the 112th congress. At the end of Jesse Hartle’s remarks he said, "This is our week on Capitol Hill. It is time to move away from political correctness; it is time to move towards political action. Together we will change what it means to be blind."

The third and newest member of our legislative team was then introduced, to the surprise of most of us in the room. He served in the legislature in New York, came to be the minority leader in the New York Senate, became the lieutenant governor of his state, and went on to be its governor. Governor David Paterson began by thanking the president of our New York affiliate, Carl Jacobsen, for recruiting him. He said how grateful he was that he and President Maurer worked out a way to work in the service of this organization, noted how thrilled he was to be working with Lauren McLarney and Jesse Hartle on our legislative issues, and said how proud he was to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind.

Governor Paterson reminded us that Dr. Maurer was not the first to use vehicular travel to highlight civil rights, that Dr. King did so in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, where he spotlighted a woman who refused to sit at the back of the bus. Governor Paterson asked who the first woman was, and the crowd confidently responded with the name of Rosa Parks. We were wrong. At least two women before Rosa Parks were removed from busses and interviewed by Dr. King but were not used in bringing the famous civil rights case because one was an unwed mother and the other punched the policeman who tried to remove her. Both would have distracted from the case, and it was important to bring the right case at the right time so the issue would be clear. So too was it important that we bring together the right technology at the right time to advance our desire that one day blind people enjoy the right to drive.

One other point the governor made in his presentation parallels what former President Jernigan observed in his banquet address in 1979 entitled "That's How It Is at the Top of the Stairs." The governor said that, when he was elected a state senator, people wrote about how great it was. When he became the minority leader of the senate, that was great too. When he became the lieutenant governor, the papers celebrated how wonderful it was that he had reached such high office and noted that since the lieutenant governor doesn't do much of anything, why not have a blind man occupy the office? Then one day he woke up and became governor, and all of a sudden he was the object of ridicule: a blind man occupying a real position of power. Soon he became the poster boy highlighting the absurdity of a blind man trying to govern New York State. When Governor Patterson confidently told an audience that we would completely rebuild on the property referred to as Ground Zero, press accounts suggested that, because he was blind, he must be unaware of activities already underway there and should be taken to the site so he could get close enough to see that building had already started.

His ability to read his important documents received press attention when a staff member who reportedly did much of his reading quit and the press opined the governor would no longer be able to do his job. The governor wryly observed that he had many ways to read his material and that, with 200,000 people working for him, surely he could have asked one of them to do it. All of the negative publicity about this blind governor culminated in repeated skits on Saturday Night Live, and the governor noted that, of all the disabled and blind groups he had addressed in his career, only one (the National Federation of the Blind) came to his defense, and the result was the first-ever apology by Saturday Night Live in its thirty-six-year history, which he received in person when he was invited to appear on the show.

After the great gathering-in, five-hundred Federationists moved to the Discovery Room for a reception to celebrate the success at Daytona. The food and drink were first rate, but they were not the reason for the spirit that filled the room and made us all feel we were part of history in the making.

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Federationists went to the Capitol with the message that we want to learn, to work, and to use the technology of the day to enjoy all of the benefits available to us as citizens of America. The legislative memorandum and fact sheets we carried appear in full elsewhere in this issue. On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we gathered to make reports about those who were interested in sponsoring our proposals, those who were willing to help as cosponsors, and those who had questions that needed to be addressed before they could tell us where they stood. When Thursday evening came and we boarded airplanes for home, our bodies were tired, but our hearts were full of joy at what we had accomplished. We know the problems facing blind people; we have solutions to address them; and we know how to get the attention of the leaders in our country who can help us move ever closer to first-class citizenship. The future for blind people in this country rests with us, and we left, confident that it couldn't be in more capable hands.

 

Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans:
Priorities for the 112th Congress, First Session

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the United States. As the Voice of the Nation’s Blind, we represent the collective views of blind people throughout society. All of our leaders and the vast majority of our members are blind, but anyone can participate in our movement. There are an estimated 1.3 million blind people in the United States, and every year approximately 75,000 Americans become blind. The social and economic consequences of blindness affect not only blind people, but also our families, our friends, and our coworkers.

Three legislative initiatives demand the immediate attention of the 112th Congress in its First Session.

Initiative 1

We urge Congress to work with blind Americans to create a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind which mandates that consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology and software provide user interfaces that are accessible through nonvisual means.

This legislation should:

Initiative 2

We urge Congress to work with blind Americans to establish an independent commission within the Department of Education to set uniform nationwide standards for the education of blind students in grades K–12. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other existing laws and regulations do not currently provide objective standards to measure the educational progress of blind students.

This legislation should:

Initiative 3

We urge Congress to increase business opportunities for disabled Americans by enacting the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act.

This legislation should:

For more information about these priorities, please consult the attached fact sheets.

Blind Americans need your help to achieve our goals of economic security, increased opportunity, and full integration into American society on a basis of equality. Enactment of these legislative proposals will represent important steps toward reaching these goals. We need the help and support of each member of Congress. Our success benefits not only us, but the whole of America as well. In this time of national economic insecurity, these measures will contribute to increasing the tax base and encouraging the purchase of consumer goods.

 

A Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind

Purpose: 

To mandate that consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology provide user interfaces and software that are accessible through nonvisual means. 

Background: 

In recent years rapid advances in microchip and digital technology have led to increasingly complex user interfaces for everyday products such as consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology. Many new devices in these categories require interaction with visual displays, on-screen menus, touch screens, software, and other user interfaces that are inaccessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Settings on the stove, dishwasher, or home entertainment system are no longer controlled by knobs, switches, and buttons that can be easily discerned and readily identified. Inaccessibility of these devices is a major barrier to a blind person’s independence and productivity. If a blind person cannot operate the interfaces of basic office equipment or software such as copiers, fax machines, and basic word-processing programs, that person’s opportunity to join the workforce or maintain an existing job is in great jeopardy.

Many popular, cost-effective mechanisms are available for manufacturers to create interfaces usable through nonvisual means. For example, text-to-speech technology is inexpensive and more prevalent than it has ever been—it is used in everything from automated telephone systems to the weather forecasting service broadcast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Apple has incorporated VoiceOver (a text-to-speech function) into the touch-screen iPhone, making it the only fully accessible wireless handset on the market. The key is to build in nonvisual access at the design stage. Despite these available accessibility solutions, the majority of manufacturers have continued to design interfaces that do not include nonvisual means of use. This trend of inaccessibility will continue to grow as technology becomes more advanced and accessibility solutions are ignored.

Need for Legislation:

No enforceable mandates currently exist for manufacturers of consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, or electronic office technology to make their products accessible to blind consumers. There are also no accessibility standards to provide guidance to manufacturers on how to avoid creating barriers to access for the blind.

Congress should enact a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind that:

The legislation should not mandate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for all consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, or electronic office technology. Rather it should mandate regulations setting meaningful accessibility standards that allow manufacturers to select from a menu of potential solutions or create new ones. This will not only give manufacturers the freedom and flexibility they desire, but will also encourage innovations that make consumer technology more usable for everyone.

Proposed Legislation:

Congress should enact a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind that:

Requested Action:

Please support blind Americans by sponsoring the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind to ensure that blind people can fully participate in all aspects of society. Increased access leads to increased independence, increased employment, and increased tax revenue.

Contact Information:

Lauren McLarney
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2207
Email: <lmclarney@nfb.org>

 

Ensuring Equal Education for Blind Children:
Setting Standards That Promote Excellence

Purpose:

To establish an independent commission to set uniform nationwide standards for the education of blind students in grades K–12.

Background:

Blind students have been integrated into America’s public schools since the 1960s, but educators have never made an attempt to quantify or measure the quality of their education consistently and effectively. Although school districts are required by law to provide a “free, appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities, current regulations and practices only establish what services and accommodations blind students will receive individually and do not measure or attempt to measure the effectiveness of these services and accommodations. All too often this means that blind students are burdened with low expectations and inferior educational services.
To the extent that a blind child’s performance is poor, too many educators incorrectly believe that this occurs because of the child’s incapacity due to blindness rather than because of the inadequacy of the services and accommodations provided. The real problem, however, is what former President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The low expectations of educators for blind children become self-fulfilling prophecies when blind students receive inadequate Braille instruction; are not provided textbooks and other educational materials in specialized formats on time; or are not given adequate instruction in the skills of blindness including the use of access technology. Materials supporting the Common Core State Standards recently developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers state that students with disabilities “must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers” and must receive appropriate accommodations to achieve academic excellence. In order for this goal to become a reality, however, uniform national standards are needed to ensure that blind students have the skills they need to perform at age- and grade-appropriate levels throughout their educations. Such standards will finally put an end to the vicious circle of low expectations and inadequate services that has condemned far too many blind children to lives of frustration, illiteracy, and ultimately poverty.

Existing Law:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides that every student with a disability must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), agreed upon by a team that includes the student’s parents, teachers, and school administrators. While the IEP sets out what services and accommodations a student will receive and sets goals for the individual student’s progress, the effectiveness of the IEP itself is not measured against objective benchmarks in order to determine whether the blindness skills being taught and services being provided are allowing the student to perform to the same standards as other students of the same age, grade level, or level of intellectual functioning. Procedures exist for a child’s parents to object if they believe that the IEP is not being followed or needs to be changed, but the process is onerous and puts the burden of proof on the parents to show that the child is not receiving an adequate education, rather than on school administrators to show that the IEP is producing good results. Uniform standards outlining the services and accommodations that must be made available to all blind children, as well as the specific blindness skills the students need to acquire in order to succeed, would solve this problem by establishing benchmarks against which each child’s performance would be measured, providing a clear and unbiased assessment of whether the child is being educated effectively.

Need for Legislation:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other existing laws and regulations do not currently provide objective standards to measure the effectiveness of the education of blind students against accepted standards like the Common Core State Standards. Such standards must be set by a regulatory body that consists of and receives input from all stakeholders, including educators, blind Americans, and parents of blind children. Congress should enact legislation that creates an independent commission within the Department of Education to ensure representation of all stakeholders in order to set educational standards for blind children and to promulgate regulations providing for the enforcement of the standards throughout the United States. Only through the establishment of objective standards by such an independent body will blind children in America finally be freed from the chains of inadequate instruction, lackluster educational support, and low expectations.

Requested Action:

Please support blind Americans by sponsoring legislation to establish an independent commission to set standards for the education of all blind children in America.

Contact Information:

Jesse Hartle
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2233
Email: <jhartle@nfb.org>

 

Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act

Purpose:

To unleash the entrepreneurial capacity of Americans with disabilities in order to reduce the staggering unemployment rate among these individuals and welcome them into the mainstream of American business.

Background:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are unemployed or vastly under-employed. Strong and innovative initiatives are necessary to remedy this problem and put Americans with disabilities to work. To a substantial degree America’s economic success is tied to the freedom to engage in entrepreneurial activity and create one’s own wealth. It has long been the policy of the United States to promote the economic well-being of traditionally disadvantaged groups by creating a variety of business incentive programs that allow these groups to participate in the mainstream of the nation’s economy. These programs have not, however, been extended to Americans with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act (ADBOA) would greatly expand the ability of Americans with disabilities to secure entrepreneurial opportunities by:

Need for Legislation:

Each of the four components of the ADBOA would enhance the ability of businesses operated by Americans with disabilities to be fully integrated into the mainstream of the American economy. Together these components would reduce the unemployment rate among Americans with disabilities and make them fully productive members of society.

1.  Tax Credits: One effective method of encouraging and enticing business entities to subcontract with, or purchase goods and services from, businesses owned or operated by Americans with disabilities is to offer such entities tax credits. These tax credits would allow traditional businesses to realize substantial tax savings and also promote the goal of integrating businesses owned by people with disabilities into the economic mainstream.

2. Amendment of Section 8(a): Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act is a powerful program allowing businesses owned by racial, cultural, and ethnic minorities or women to secure federal contracts. Anyone seeking Section 8(a) certification must prove that he/she is socially and economically disadvantaged. Individuals who are from a racial, cultural, or ethnic minority or women are presumed to be socially disadvantaged. It is currently possible for individuals with disabilities to secure 8(a) certification, but such individuals must prove that they are socially disadvantaged. It is onerous to establish such a disadvantage under current laws and regulations. Placing people with disabilities on the presumptive list of those who are socially disadvantaged would create a much easier path to 8(a) certification for such individuals and therefore to the opportunity to secure federal contracts.

3. Changes to Federal Procurement Practices: Under current law business entities attempting to secure large federal contracts must guarantee that they will subcontract a portion of the work to small businesses that are owned by traditionally disadvantaged populations. Businesses owned by individuals with disabilities are currently not on the list of disadvantaged populations. ADBOA will permit for-profit business entities attempting to secure large federal contracts to meet procurement requirements by subcontracting with businesses owned by individuals with disabilities.

4. Establishment of Technical Assistance and Training Programs: Through the award of federal grants, ADBOA would establish technical assistance and training programs allowing business owners with disabilities to acquire the technical expertise to secure federal contracts and otherwise maximize entrepreneurial opportunities. The purpose for these federal grants will be to increase substantially the number of individuals with disabilities capable of operating successful businesses. The emphasis in federal disability policy in the past has not been on providing people with disabilities the tools and training necessary to support themselves. Rather many governmental programs for the disabled have been based on a welfare model. ADBOA would emphasize economic independence for individuals with disabilities by training them to run their own businesses. ADBOA grants would also allow entities to create tools to assist individuals with disabilities in running a successful business.

Requested Action:

Please support blind Americans by sponsoring the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act, legislation to increase business opportunities for disabled Americans.

Contact Information:

Jesse Hartle
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2233
Email: <jhartle@nfb.org>

 

Blio: A Formative Technology of the Twenty-First Century

by Marc Maurer

As members of the National Federation of the Blind know, I serve as president of the organization and as a member of the board of directors of K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., an organization created by Ray Kurzweil and his associates and the National Federation of the Blind. Their original purpose was to build a portable reading machine for the blind. The first version appeared in 2006, and the technology is now software that operates on a cell phone.

The K-NFB Reading Technology company subsequently developed an e-book reader which it calls Blio. This is an innovative technology used to find, acquire, and read books in print and audio.

I began hearing about Blio some time ago. Electronic books may well become the primary method for distributing publishable work, so the Blio became for me a matter of fascination. I wanted to know what this new technology would do, how it worked, what books I could read with it, what machines (computers, cell phones, and the like) would let me run the program, how much it would cost, and how soon I could get it. In discussing Blio with K-NFB Reading Technology board members and staff, I learned that what I had suspected about digital books was accurate. In the 1990s we in the National Federation of the Blind had been working on documents produced in PDF (Portable Document Format) or prepared through a publishing program called Quark. Transforming these documents into forms that could be read nonvisually was either difficult or impossible. The print form of the book could be made readable through optical character recognition programs such as those created by Ray Kurzweil, but a simple and easily usable program to give access to these documents didn't exist.

Eventually the programs were modified so that a number of PDF documents today are accessible, but the inaccessible kind still exist. Blio was being created so that books read with this eReader could be viewed visually or presented nonvisually. In designing this technology, a mechanism had to be created that would make it practical to alter books automatically and quickly for presentation. The task of converting inaccessible digital information into accessible form was tremendously demanding.

During its development I was able to experiment with Blio from time to time. Visual presentation of digital books and nonvisual were being constructed simultaneously. Occasionally developments in the visual presentation interfered with the operation of the nonvisual. Occasionally the nonvisual portions appeared to exceed the visual presentation in simplicity and ease of use.

In September of 2010 the company announced the debut of the Blio. Apparently an early release date had been selected for the first public, widespread distribution even though the Blio did not yet work nonvisually, which caused disappointment and substantial negative comment from people in the blind community.

The second public release of Blio occurred on January 31, 2011. Jim Gashel, vice president of K-NFB Reading Technology and a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind, now serving as secretary of the corporation, demonstrated Blio at the NFB’s 2011 Washington Seminar. He said that this new reading technology, available without charge, would give the blind access to sixty-three-thousand books for sale, along with a library of free books estimated at three million titles. The number of books offered through the bookstore and the online library increases by about a thousand books every day.

I loaded Blio on my computer and bought a book called The Informant that had been recommended to me by Dan Goldstein, a lawyer often used by the National Federation of the Blind. I also bought a second book, Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James. I had wanted to read this book for some time, and I had not found it in an accessible form on the Internet before installing Blio.

Shortly after the public release of Blio in January, I traveled to New York on a train with Jim Gashel. I recommended a book to him that I had previously found in recorded form on Audible.com. While riding on the train, he looked for the book in the Blio bookstore, and, when he found it, he bought it and began to read. He, a blind person, now has instant access to books.

The original, inaccessible release of Blio caused negative comment and doubt among the blind. However, I am now impressed with the current release, so I thought I would learn what my colleagues thought about it. I have asked Jim Gashel and Anne Taylor, director of access technology for the National Federation of the Blind, for their comments. Much of what follows is what they told me. Jim Gashel describes how to use the Blio in more detail than I could offer. However, when my own experience gives illustrative detail, I have added that.

  Several e-book readers are currently on the market. Amazon makes the Kindle; Barnes and Noble makes the Nook; and Sony offers the eReader. Blio is accessible to the blind, but the others are not. Amazon has made a halfhearted attempt to build accessibility into the Kindle, but, if this is the best that Amazon's engineers can do, they are in need of serious help. Apple has an accessible e-book reader on a number of its products. So far I have been most impressed with Blio.

According to the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 275,232 new books were published in the U.S. in 2008, the most recent information available. A survey of major audio and Braille book producers indicates that only about 16 percent (or an estimated 45,000) new books are made accessible for the blind annually. The remaining 84 percent of books, about 230,000, are not accessible.

How do you find a particular book that might be interesting or useful? If you can find the book, is it available in a format that meets your needs? The books from the library for the blind are generally accessible to blind people, though some blind people cannot read Braille well enough to make this medium useful, and some blind people have sufficiently limited vision that large print titles are of no use. Then too deaf-blind people can easily use only the Braille versions. Even with adequate funding and the best efforts of the professional staff at the libraries for the blind, only a small number of books are available to us. Because the libraries have done such yeoman service, because they have often been the only substantial source of reading matter, and because they respond to our needs and welcome our thoughts, they have been the most vital source of reading matter for the blind for the past eighty years.

Now comes Blio, which brings to one place the processes of finding, browsing, choosing, obtaining, and reading books. All that is required is a personal computer or other device able to work with Blio. More about platforms, present and future, in a moment.

Blio is much more than software; it is software and access to well over three million books and growing each day. Blio can make more books immediately and conveniently available than may be had at even a very large bookstore or public library. Although Blio is still quite new in the emerging e-book industry, its growing popularity and public use as a mainstream e-book reader assure that books are likely to be promptly available. The price for the blind and the sighted is identical. When Blio makes books available for the sighted, they are available for the blind, and the blind have the same content. This is the access standard we have dreamed would come true--same book, same time, same price.

Notice the use of the term "mainstream." In the past all books prepared for the blind were special, hence rare. Manufacturing techniques for books for the blind did not take advantage of mainstream technology. With Blio this has changed.

Once published only in print, a growing number of popular books are now being published in one or more digital formats. In 2010 it is estimated that 10 percent of all books published were produced in electronic editions. This number is expected to grow to 50 percent by as early as 2014. Meanwhile the capacity of personal computers and other portable handheld devices is growing to meet the expected demand.

While the demand for conventional printed books will almost certainly remain, both publishers and book sellers also have strong incentives to go digital. Printing, binding, shipping, and warehousing costs can be saved with digital publishing--not to mention the costs from copies not sold. Digital books, consisting of bits and bytes, can be updated easily and at low cost--saving much of the expense of producing new editions and discarding the old. Digital editions can include direct links to references, resources, and supplemental content.

Enter Blio, an e-book technology designed to be both flexible and accessible--attractive to the sighted and the blind. For readers who want electronic books to look like the printed version, Blio offers a double-page view and a 3-D view, incorporating pictures, graphics, and other visual characteristics such as pages that flip and curve inward at the spine to separate the page on the left from the page on the right. Blio offers large print, very large print, or exceedingly large print. The two-page layout can be changed to show just one.

Blio is mainstream technology designed for everyone to use, and the software itself is absolutely free. Those using JAWS as a screen reader have instant access to every book available with Blio. Blind people who use other screen readers such as Window-Eyes, System Access, and NVDA will soon have the same access. Braille access for users of refreshable Braille displays can also be expected, making it possible for every book to be a Braille book.

Same book, same time, same price--that's been our dream, and the dream is coming true. Bookstores connected with Blio are accessible from the largest urban area to the smallest rural community. Buying a book using Blio is an experience available to everybody, because with this technology being blind is not a limitation.

What about books for free? Coming soon, the local public library will have the opportunity to purchase and offer books for time-limited use with Blio. The free books section, which is part of Blio itself, provides the opportunity to find and read a vast collection of free books, estimated to consist of more than three million, assembled by Google through a partnership with the world's largest academic and research libraries.

Those who need to know more about robotics for a science class project can check out the Blio bookstore. Robotic Micro-assembly by Michael Gauthier and Stephane Regnier, Killer Robots by Armin Krishman, Wired for War by P.W. Singer, or perhaps Gearheads, by Brad Stone are all available. Here are just a few of the books offered in Blio's free books section dealing with the founding of the United States: Readings In American History by David Seville Muzzey, Original Narratives of Early American History by John Franklin Jameson, The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789, by John Fiske, or Great Debates in American History: Civil Rights, Part 1 or Foreign Relations, Part 2, both by Marion Mills Miller.

Sounds good, you say, but how does Blio work? No problem. Access to Blio is available right now by using a desktop, laptop, notebook, or Netbook, running with Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7. Coming soon Blio is expected to be available on even smaller, more portable devices starting with the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, iPod Touch, and the Apple iPad as well. New computers from Toshiba, Dell, and HP are even being sold with the free Blio software installed, along with a convenient desktop icon. Otherwise, to use Blio on your Windows-based computer, just visit Blio.com and download the software free. The installation options are presented with the standard Windows interface and use standard keyboard commands such as Tab, Shift-Tab, Space, or Enter to complete the process quickly.

After installation you can launch Blio from the icon on your desktop and wait a few seconds as the program opens. A customary software licensing agreement, including options to read, accept, or decline, appears the first time you start Blio. Other options, including read, buy books, account setup, or sign-in are offered on the next screen presented. Note that this second screen, called the welcome screen, also includes an accessibility checkbox so Blio will work optimally with the JAWS screen reader, along with another checkbox telling Blio to bypass the welcome screen and open directly in your library in the future.

Aside from getting started as described, the actual Blio experience begins with your library. This is where the names of books you have chosen will always appear, whether the book was purchased in the Blio bookstore or downloaded from the free books section. While your library is empty the first time you start Blio, a few sample books provided free immediately appear in your library books list as soon as you establish your Blio user account by entering an email address and selecting a password. Billing information needed to purchase books is filled in at the time of your first purchase only and is not required for your user account to be active.

A menu available by pressing the alt key anywhere within Blio provides options to go immediately to any of the major views—library, free books, reading view (provided a book is open), and store view, which shows books available for sale. An application submenu includes options to enter or change account information, change your password, or review and modify other settings like page layout, speaking rate, sources used for reference lookup, etc. All options and controls can be accessed with simple-to-learn keyboard commands, and a list of keystroke shortcuts is available.

The names of all books you can read are listed in your library and can be sorted alphabetically by author or title. The option "press enter to download" will be offered for any book just purchased or chosen from the free books section. Otherwise, the option will change to "press enter to read" once any book has been downloaded to your computer. While the length of time for downloading varies according to the size of the book, an average book of about four-hundred pages takes only a few seconds. Free books take somewhat longer since the text is converted to the Blio format during the download process.

Press Enter on the name of any downloaded book in your library and within a few seconds the name of the book will be spoken by your screen reader as the open book displays on your computer screen. Press Page Down and notice that the page advances forward through the book. Press Insert plus Page Down to hear the page number. Page Up moves page by page toward the front of the book. Press Control plus t to get the table of contents, Down Arrow and Up Arrow to locate the chapters or sections presented, and Enter to jump to the chapter or section you want. Arrow keys have their traditional functions and allow reading by character and word in either direction, adding the Control key to read by word, using the Alt key and the up- or down-arrow keys to read by sentence, and the Control with Up- or Down-Arrow to move and read by paragraph. Use Control plus c to jump forward to the next chapter or Control plus Shift plus c to jump to the previous chapter. Press Control plus j followed by a specific page number and press Enter to go to the beginning of the page chosen. If you use JAWS and press Insert plus Down Arrow, the text will be read continuously from the cursor; it is stopped by pressing the Control key.

Although many books can be read aloud with an internal read-aloud function available within Blio, use of this feature may be restricted by the publisher. However, the speech provided by your screen reader will always work on any book you choose without restriction. Done reading? Just press Alt with the F4 key to close Blio altogether or press Alt followed by Right or Left Arrow to cycle through the options on the menu, including close the book and go back to your library or just go directly back to the library, the free books, or the bookstore, while the book you have been reading still remains open in the background.

Regardless of what you do, you can be certain that Blio will remember your most recent reading position in any book you have opened, and your reading can begin from that point the next time you return. Need to use a different computer? No problem. The books remain in your personal book vault and are always yours to keep. Your books can be used on up to five separate devices at any time. Just run Blio on any other computer you need to use and sign in with your email address and password. Then any book in your personal book vault can be downloaded again because the book belongs to you.

For blind people Blio means having the opportunity to join the mainstream of book consumers with libraries of our own, not to be simply beneficiaries of specialty services. This is the power of the Blio experience, and the power can be yours right now on a computer near you.

 

Creating Future Leaders from Scratch

by Garrick Scott

From the Editor: Garrick Scott is president of the NFB of Georgia. He often serves as a mentor in our programs for young people because he has a way of communicating with them in terms that they understand and respect. In the following brief article he offers some suggestions to those who would like to attract young people to their chapters and affiliates. This is what he says:

All NFB leaders over the age of forty raise your hands. Yes, that includes you. It is not a bad thing to be forty, but it is an age when we should consider those who are substantially younger than us. Why should we be giving them special consideration? Because they are the future of our organization, and we should do all we can to make them into leaders.

In this article I hope to give you a recipe that will help you recruit and include young people in your chapters and affiliates. Unlike traditional recipes, I'm going to list ingredients that you should avoid as well as those you should include. I am by no means claiming to be the Wolfgang Puck of working with young people, but I have found a recipe that works for me. Now here are those ingredients:

Avoid:

1 cup condescending talk: No matter how much experience we have, we must remember that people who are younger than we also want to be treated with respect. Many are already adults in the eyes of the law. We may have experience from which they can benefit, but being condescending in the way we present whatever wisdom the years have given us will repel rather than attract young people.

1 cup nostalgia: Young people aren't interested in hearing that you knew them when they were toddlers clinging to their mothers’ pant legs or recollections of their participation in their first Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, Junior Science Academy, or Youth Slam. No way. These people are now young adults, and recollections of those years are as interesting to them as you would find a discussion of your receding hairline or expanding waistline. There will be time to reminisce, but now we have work to do, and they want to be a part of it.

Ingredients:

2 cups openmindedness: They will have thoughts and ideas that you may find a little risky or time consuming. Sometimes we just have to allow them an opportunity to fail or succeed on the merit of their ideas. Either way they will grow in confidence or wisdom, depending on the outcome of their endeavors.

2 cups friendship: Engage in activities and conversation that have little to do with what you want them to learn but lots to do with what they want for themselves and what experiences you have had that might relate to it. Avoid asking questions only about what they are going to do with their future. Concentrate on what they are doing now. Don't act like their grandfather. Students want your friendship more than your advice.

2 cups interest: Find out what they like to do. Most of them are on Facebook and Twitter, things that may be foreign to you. But we get excited when people show an interest in the things we like. These young people are just the same.

1 cup foreign language: Some may assume I mean Spanish, French, German, or one of the Asian languages, but no, I mean pop culture as in Hip Hop. Just as you want young people to have some appreciation for the terms used by your generation, you should know terms such as the following to get you started:

"Get sick widit"—you did a great job.

"Trippin"—you're not following the plan or are acting silly,

"Going hem (pronounced ham)” —going crazy or getting extremely angry. This phrase is taken from the word “mayhem.”

“Stacks on deck"—you have a large supply of money, or you have money to burn.

"Rents"—Living with parents.

5 cups philosophy and history: We want our students to understand and appreciate the time, energy, and money that have been contributed to this organization. If we are to make the most of these gifts given us, we must give back with equal generosity. We are an organization built on paying it forward. Thanks to those who came before us, we now understand that it is respectable to be blind. To quote Dr. Jernigan loosely, “They know where they came from, and they won't go back."

This recipe involves a lot of my grandmother's style of cooking: you measure with guestimation. Some students will need a little more of one thing than another. But if you use the recipe thoughtfully and carefully, the result will be a nice batch of future leaders.

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.

 

Winter in the North Woods

by Ron Schmidt

From the Editor: Ron Schmidt grew up on his family’s farm near Springport, Michigan, where he managed the cows. He has a lifelong interest in the outdoors and astronomy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Michigan. He has raised twin daughters as a divorced father and has written a personal memoir and three children’s books based on his experiences.

Ron has always enjoyed pushing himself beyond his own notions of what was possible, and he likes reading about other people’s adventures. He credits his parents for expecting him to do everything that sighted kids could do, and he hopes that his experience in the North Woods in winter may inspire other blind people to challenge themselves to stretch beyond the expected. Here is his story:

I am awakened by a cold nose nuzzling my right ear. It is Groundhog’s Day, 2011, and my yellow lab Patti wants breakfast and a walk in the woods. I tell her the groundhog was frightened by his shadow and didn’t take the time to leave her any ham this year, just a few crackers and an extra slice of bread--her favorites.

Six weeks ago, we spent our first Christmas together at my rustic cabin in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We have no neighbors, and the logging road that ends at the nearest highway, three miles distant, is not snowplowed in winter. I wear snowshoes to pack down the snow and create a half-mile trail for Patti and me to use on our twice daily walks.

Once a foot of snow falls, we are isolated until mid April. That first foot fell on December 10, and I’ve been shoveling paths to the well, the outhouse, and the wood pile ever since. Yes, I said “outhouse.” I have no indoor plumbing or bathroom. I keep warm by loading my woodstove each day with two-hundred pounds of firewood my brother and I cut and split in June. I get my water from an outdoor hand pump like you would find in campgrounds. The pump freezes when the temperature falls below thirty degrees, so I have filled several storage containers ahead of time to prepare for the weeks when it’s usually twenty degrees in daytime and ten at night.

I have a propane tank I filled before the snow fell, and propane gas powers my kitchen stove and refrigerator as well as some overhead lamps I light with a match for visiting friends. I myself don’t need lamplight since I have been totally blind since age three from a disease I inherited. I heat up water on the stove for bathing and doing dishes. I have a cell phone I rely on for keeping in touch with my friends and family. When the batteries run low, I re-charge them using an electrical system I made from a couple of golf-cart batteries, an inverter, and a generator. With this system I can also listen to movies on my TV and keep my radio and Talking Book player running. That way I can enjoy favorite books, music, and news.

Since retiring from my job nine years ago, I have spent six months of every year here at my cabin. May through October has found Patti and me walking in the woods while listening to the many kinds of birds that also summer here. I feed them sunflower seeds and love to hear their varied songs and beating wings as they fly to and from the feeder. Ruffed grouse live in the marsh west of my cabin, and they drum with their wings in the spring. Loons and sandhill cranes live at the end of my small lake, and it’s thrilling to hear them call. In July and August I enjoy picking wild raspberries and blackberries that grow along the two-track roads Patti and I walk between my cabin and the highway three miles distant.

You might think I would get bored out here alone, but nothing is further from the truth. In summer I canoe, build campfires when the mosquitoes aren’t too ferocious, and entertain friends who drive north from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to visit. When I need my mail and more groceries, I ask a friend to pick me up, and we drive nine miles to the nearest town, where we have a fun outing with pizza or sandwiches I don’t have to prepare.

Now that the road’s impassable except on snowshoes, skis, or snowmobiles, this friend comes once a month on a snowmobile to bring me things I want or need, such as fresh produce, snacks, and chocolate. In the fall I stockpiled lots of canned goods, fruit, and soup, as well as pasta, frozen fruit, and meat, not to mention the Diet Coke I am lost without. I had to plan ahead to stock a myriad of other essentials, including dog food, toilet paper, paper towels, and other daily items we all use. My brother brought a pickup truck full of these things a week before the big snowstorm blew through.

Now I’m cozy and really like taking care of my basic needs without modern so-called conveniences that rely on power from electric lines, which all too often go down in storms and leave people without water, heat, and the ability to use their bathrooms. I never have these worries, and I feel great about that.

So this is my first winter at my cabin. I had thought about staying here through the winter for many years but chickened out when snow was imminent. I had always gone south and lived in a rental home with all of the conveniences we take for granted. I did like getting out with my friends for dinners, movies, and concerts but always wondered what it was like at my cabin. In the Snowbelt, where I am, the usual snowfall is 150 inches. I worried that a tree might fall on the roof and also wondered what birds and animals would be spending their winters here. I finally decided last fall that I needed a new adventure while my health was still good.

I’m gratified to know that I was encouraged in my adventure by my sighted friends, who have known me for years and years and have no doubts about my ability to function and enjoy the cold season without the need for sight. Many who do not know me well think I am foolish and bound to fail and to need rescuing. But they don’t know what a determined, competent blind person is capable of. They will be more educated about what people who are blind can do after this year. I hope they will no longer see blindness as an inability to do what one wants to do. As with all things we accomplish as blind folks, our own satisfaction is coupled with showing sighted folks that we are normal people. As a positive consequence, blind kids growing up now will have an easier time living and finding jobs they want to do and are skilled in doing. A very happy 2011 to everyone from Patti and me in the North Woods outside Grand Marais, Michigan.

 

Science and Philosophy
Guided Learning versus Structured Discovery

by James S. Nyman

From the Editor: The following article appeared in the winter 2011 newsletter of the Orientation Center of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. It describes what we mean by the structured-discovery method of teaching cane travel and contrasts it with the more traditional method of instruction provided by the education and rehabilitation system. Here are the article and the headnote that accompanied it:

Dr. James S. Nyman is the former executive director of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. His career also included a time as a professor of political science and philosophy at UC Berkeley. His life has always been driven by his belief in people, especially blind people, and a desire to make a difference. For Dr. Nyman the opportunity to be the director of a state agency serving the blind led to much more than a dramatic change in the nature of services provided to blind people in Nebraska. His influence led to the convergence between a consumer-driven approach to rehabilitation and the emerging scientific framework of cognitive learning theory. This approach to blindness rehabilitation is now known as structured discovery.

This essay explores the distinctions between two approaches to providing training to blind people: the structured-discovery and guided models. Both approaches are familiar to education theorists, and each has its adherents. Elements of both are involved in actual practice but can be distinguished from each other. The guided model is underpinned by an academic education that claims scientific status in university programs. Cane travel instruction (generally called orientation and mobility) most fully exhibits the characteristics explored below, but other areas of blindness skill training are related. A more philosophically based approach emphasizes the role of the blind person as a learner. While each approach has its friends and its critics, neither can claim exclusivity in the field of blindness rehabilitation.

Out of the night: In 1875 the British poet William Ernest Henley composed a poem titled “Invictus.” In the poem, whose title is Latin for “unconquered,” he gives voice to the despair he feels over a medical episode in his life. He had had his left leg amputated below the knee and was threatened with a similar fate for his right leg. He captures the essence of his reaction to this drastic event in the opening lines of "Invictus":

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole.

By the end of his struggle, in the concluding lines he declares victory over his despair in these defiant words:           

"I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." Even though he found himself "in the fell clutch of circumstance" the spirit that freed him is that he has "not winced or cried aloud" and his "head is bloody but unbowed."

Henley portrays the dark and frightening world he sees before him as he confronts his disability, but blindness is often portrayed in even darker colors. In his poem he voices the admiration he feels for his own brave defiance of an unkind fate. Those who are blind will recognize a similar admiration that society heaps on us for the courageous way we are believed to deal with this dreadful condition. It is difficult to see how this admiration could rescue us from that “fell clutch of circumstance.” However much courage and defiance may ease the impact of blindness, they are, at best, only the first step back to normal life. They do little to help the transition. The true path lies in persistent effort guided by philosophy. No preaching, please:

What is this philosophy, and how does it guide our return? To begin with, it is easier to say what philosophy cannot do. Preaching the truth to the newly blinded can ring hollow at this stage. Perhaps I can illustrate this point with a story that purports to be true. Here's the story:

Once upon a time a long time ago in a faraway place, a rhinoceros and a butterfly fell madly in love. Unfortunately they found that they could not express this love in the ordinary way. After some discussion they decided that rhinoceros should consult with that well-known philosopher, Wise Old Owl. After waking Owl from his nap, Rhinoceros said, "Wise Old Owl, Butterfly and I have fallen madly in love but find we cannot consummate our love. What can we do?"

"The solution," said Wise Old Owl, "is very simple: you must become a butterfly."

"But," moaned Rhinoceros, "how can I do that?"

"I haven't the slightest idea," said Wise Old Owl. "I only propose the solution; it's up to you to implement it."

Mr. Henley, and the rest of us I suspect, would find the butterfly solution difficult if not impossible to implement.

Perhaps more helpful is a statement in “Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic” by Kenneth Jernigan, former president of the National Federation of the Blind: "It has been wisely observed that philosophy bakes no bread. It has, with equal wisdom, been observed that without a philosophy no bread is baked." So how do we become bakers?

More than courage: To begin with, we should not disparage courage. We will often find it necessary to encourage the blind individual to initiate even modest steps toward an understanding of blindness, a chore that, we hope, may not prove as difficult as becoming a butterfly.

The first step may be recognition that blindness does not occur to each person in the same way. Differences of age, sex, culture, family, education, economic situation, personality, and visual status affect the range of responses. A butterfly solution rarely works. A more modest step based on a firm conviction that blindness can be managed by practical steps that can be learned will suggest itself. The key concept here is "can be learned." This concept immediately places the emphasis on the blind individual as a learner and casts the counselor in the role of the trainer.

The science model: Medical science has a well-documented claim to successful intervention in cases of physiological problems. Surgery can remove an offending growth or a bodily part to effect a cure. In these cases the patient need only submit to the procedure, often under anesthesia. This is a tempting model for the counselor who has been educated in behavioral and other human sciences. Those who are educated in the psychology of blindness have generally regarded their intervention as the decisive factor in returning the individual to a semblance of normal existence. This orientation governs their practice.

The loss of sight is thought to present professionals with a set of known limitations stemming from diminished visual functioning. They believe that their scientific knowledge equips them with the diagnostic tools needed to devise a rehabilitation plan for the client. Knowledge of training techniques and technological devices provides the instructor with the necessary tools to effect specific compensations for the particular functional limitation. Training based on the science model is devised and controlled by the professional. The blind individual is expected only to be responsive, carefully guided by the instructor, who will correct or reinforce behavior by extrinsic feedback as the process continues. Thus, confronted with a client who is blind, the counselor need only take charge of the individual's behavior and with patience and skill effect the equivalent of a cure.

The expertise of the training counselor may also extend to devising modifications to the individual's domestic environment or more generally in the wider world. Each modification is designed to enable the person with known visual limitations to live in the world. Accountability for performance on this model parallels that of the medical profession. The health care industry has been criticized in recent years because its method of accountability has been based more on procedures than on outcomes. Medical services, in the form of sophisticated diagnostic tests, can be readily documented. Similarly, the services provided by the specialist in the blindness field and the results obtained are recorded in the case file. Accountability is assured by reference to the record maintained by the provider. Thus even the evidence of effectiveness is under the control of the professional.

When we adopt the commonplace distinction between guided and discovery learning, the roles of the instructor and the blind student become clear. In the guided model the instructor, academically educated in the science of blindness, designs and delivers training. The student learns it either well or poorly, and the instructor measures success by some appropriate test, scoring the student on a scale of achievement. While it may have been experimentally shown that guided instruction can be more effective for initial training and testing for specific technical skills, performance based on the guided model tends to be limited to those specific skills. The skills are liable to degrade unless reinforced by regular practice. It is not necessary for the student to know the science behind the training, only to execute the acquired skills to a prescribed standard.

The philosophy model: The characterization of the science model presented above almost certainly does not describe the practice of any given professional in the field. I have deliberately exaggerated some features in order to emphasize certain tendencies. Nevertheless, control of the process through expertise is a standard feature of academic education. When the training is deemed successful, how does the counselor relinquish control and transfer it to the blind person? In practice the locus of control may have gradually shifted to the increasingly competent individual. But relinquishing control by case closure when training has been completed is ending the process where it should have begun.

A more philosophical approach would be to initiate steps to center control in the blind person. How can this be done? I said earlier that preaching the well-known verities is much like proposing a butterfly solution, as, for example, when we declare that, "With proper training and opportunity blindness can be reduced to a mere physical nuisance." However valid this assertion may be, it is more like the conclusion of a philosophical argument than the starting point of an inquiry. In this essay we treat philosophy as an activity of encountering the world. The encounter occurs when the nonvisual senses are actively engaged in exploring the world and reason is employed to solve problems that confront us. Philosophy is not a set of doctrines that can be proved by argument; it must meet the test of experience. That experience is not merely passive reception of impressions but active exploration of the world as we pursue our goals and activities.

Those who possess normal or near normal vision from infancy learn to rely on visual feedback as they live and move in the world. This intrinsic feedback forms part of a complex interaction with their surroundings. In the ordinary course of maturing, the curious child frequently seeks guidance from others. By contrast, those who are blind from childhood or become blind later in life typically acquire some alternative nonvisual methods for interacting with the world. Acquisition of blindness skills will vary, depending on the initiative of the blind person and the quality of guidance from others. Methods for actively gathering limited auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile information can be readily learned by the enterprising individual. For the rest, the person who has been blind from childhood, or who has been sheltered and protected from the reality of blindness, is likely to rely on vital knowledge of the environment communicated by others from their visual standpoint. As a result, information gathered and interpreted by those others becomes the basis of his or her interaction with the world. When the counselor reinforces this reliance, the control of environmental knowledge remains with those others. A counselor who understands this danger will soon introduce the blind person to more systematic nonvisual techniques for obtaining and processing information about the environment.

Most of this knowledge is derived from reflection by generations of blind people on their shared experience in developing alternative techniques for accessing relevant information. This is the foundation of the philosophical approach known as structured-discovery learning. It is the theoretical basis of an approach that guides the practice of those who are committed to this philosophy of teaching. Its core belief is that people who learn how to access and process information about the world independently will retain the ability longer and apply it over a wider range of situations.

Accessing information by sensory means is, however, only the beginning of a process that leads to interacting with the world. The information must be interpreted in order to guide behavior. While a person who gains his or her knowledge of the world visually may appear to respond naturally and automatically, in reality some mental activity has occurred between reception and response. In the case of blind people this process must be learned by conscious attention until it has the same habitual status as that involving visual contact with the world. Learning the most efficient methods of reasoning on tactile, auditory, kinesthetic, vestibular and—in a limited way—even olfactory and gustatory sensory input requires a systematic effort. Effectiveness can be improved by conscious attention to the methods of reasoning. It is this reasoning activity that constitutes the philosophical approach.

The method called structured-discovery learning starts by putting the learner in charge of acquiring information about the situation that the instructor has initiated. The student is expected to make discoveries through the sensory information that he or she has consciously gathered. Conclusions based on reasoning about the acquired information will enable the individual to identify the nature of the problem being confronted. Memory of past encounters with the world and general knowledge of physical environments enable the person to make decisions on the best way to solve the problem that the situation has posed.

Reflection on the experience of solving problems that have been deliberately constructed or confronted in the course of activity can lead to useful generalizations. This process of generalization from the solving of practical problems can be enhanced by the counselor or other blind people by means of a well-designed strategy of follow-up. This should always begin with the student’s being asked to identify how he or she has discovered the information. Solving the problem may be guided step by step by others but must never be decreed by the instructor on the basis of extrinsic feedback. On the other hand, intrinsic feedback generated by active probing leaves the student in control of the process. Conscious attention to the methods of problem-solving and decision-making is the key to the development of the cognitive tools that are essential for coming to know and act in the world. Confidence in these tools and reliance on intrinsic feedback are the core of this philosophy of blindness. In the end it is this philosophy that helps us bake the bread that nourishes our conviction that blindness can, indeed, be reduced to a mere physical nuisance.

 

Making the Ask

by Parnell Diggs

From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is president of the NFB of South Carolina, a member of the NFB board of directors, and chairman of the Imagination Fund. This is what he says about this year’s Race for Independence:

On a Tuesday afternoon I stepped off the bus (long white cane in hand) at the end of another workday and began to make my way along the familiar path to my home. A man who might have been in his early twenties passed me on a bicycle heading in the opposite direction.

"Praise God," he exclaimed over his shoulder. "You'll see soon." Realizing that he had gotten my attention, he turned around and headed back toward me, stopping at a respectful distance. "Just praise God." I could hear the smile in his voice, and I surmised that he was sincere.

I smiled back. "What if God wants me to be blind? It's not such a bad thing."

"Oh no,” he countered. “He doesn't want you to be blind."

"How do you know?" I asked.

Rather than answering, he simply turned the bike around and headed off, assuring me that everything would be all right if I would "just praise God.” "Actually, I would rather have a million dollars," I called after him as he peddled away. But I don't think he believed me.

With my blue suit and briefcase, I looked like a typical businessman who might have been heading home from the office; however, the young man on the bicycle observed my white cane and made an assessment of my life's ambition. His repeated assurances that I would "see soon" suggested that he thought I wanted sight more than anything in the world.

Of course, those of us who know better realize that blindness is no big deal. But how do we communicate this message to those who don't know? Our programs of Braille literacy, technological development, quality education for blind children, and employment opportunities for blind adults are creating a new reality of blindness every day. In 2011 we are continuing what has been perhaps the biggest research initiative in the seventy-one-year history of the organized blind movement: the development of a technological interface that will capture the imagination and inspire innovative methods of approaching the issue of access to technology for the blind of today and of generations to come.

Since its inception the Blind Driver Challenge™ has garnered one billion audience impressions, saturating the world with the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Our efforts to encourage blind youth to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math have replaced feelings of hopelessness and futility with dreams of opportunity and achievement.

The Imagination Fund is the point of origin for all programs of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and many of the initiatives launched among the affiliates across the nation. It is the mechanism by which we ask Federationists to generate financial support from beyond the organization for programming that is shifting the focus of rehabilitation of the blind from basketry to rocketry.

Let me draw a distinction, at this point, between the Imagination Fund and the PAC Plan. It may seem obvious to some, but in reality it seems that some Federationists participate in one program or the other, but not both. Our participation in the PAC Plan gives us the chance to make monthly contributions to the National Federation of the Blind out of our own financial resources. In my case I have participated in the PAC Plan continuously since 1990. I was twenty-one, in college, and on SSI and had a limited income. I started at $10 per month, and I have increased my PAC pledge steadily through the years as my income has risen. But I also participate in the annual Imagination Fund campaign.

By registering to be an Imaginator, I am making a commitment to ask others, outside the movement, to help me reach my fundraising goal. I have a friend who happens to be a multimillionaire. On more than one occasion he has said that "There is a lot more money out there than there is in here."

The meaning of his advice is clear. Simply put, we can raise more money by seeking support from others than we can raise by drawing only upon our own resources. Most of us would agree with this logic. Nevertheless, more Federationists are on the PAC Plan than are registered for the Race for Independence. Why?

I would hazard a guess that, generally speaking, we are more comfortable just making a donation ourselves than we are asking others to do so. Moreover, I would suggest that some of us register for the Race for Independence, or choose not to do so, because we figure on simply writing a check before the end of the campaign. But this is not the purpose of the Imagination Fund. The Imagination Fund is intended to build the Federation using resources from outside the movement. "There is more money out there than there is in here."

A fellow Federationist registered for the Race for Independence about two weeks before this writing. A few days ago he called me to say that he has already raised $410 without donating a penny of his own money. How did he do it? He registered and made the ask. You can do the same thing. Now is the time to register for the 2011 Race for Independence. But don't plan simply to make a donation to the Imagination Fund. Instead, make the ask, and be quick about it!

Because the Imagination Fund is designed to raise money outside the movement, we have created tools to aid you in soliciting donations from others. There are online tools at <www.raceforindependence.org>. Brochures, solicitation cards, and Text2Give cards are available upon request. Use them, and you will raise more than you could ever donate yourself.

Each year 50 percent of the amount we raise is used to fund programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Twenty-five percent is divided equally among the fifty-two affiliates, and 24 percent is awarded in the form of grants to affiliates and national divisions. Over sixty thousand dollars in grants was awarded in 2010.

We can award more in 2011 if we register and make the ask. If you take nothing else from this article, I want you to realize just how easy it is to ask someone for a donation. Not everyone will say "yes," but you will be surprised at the amount of money you can raise if you ask ten people outside the movement using email or simply by distributing ten brochures.

But let me show you in a more practical way how easy it is to ask people outside the movement for donations. Here is a text that I have used:

I am participating in the 2011 National Federation of the Blind Race for Independence, and I need your help. Did you ever think a blind person could drive a car without sighted assistance? During 2011 we are debuting a car that I will be able to drive. Don't worry, you won't see me on the road just yet. But I do want to emphasize the urgent need to make technology accessible to the average blind user and prove how easy it is to do it if we try.

While our progress through the decades has been tremendous, I have been thinking about what life will be like for blind people in the future. Will blind people live in a world of opportunity? If I do nothing, less than half of all of the blind children attending school in the United States today will earn a diploma. Fewer than three in ten will get a job, and only one in ten blind children will even be able to read when they grow up.

This is why I am writing to you. I too am making a donation, because I would not ask you to do what I am not willing to do myself.

Feel free to borrow from my letter, create one that is entirely your own, or any combination thereof. But whatever you do, please do something. The only wrong way to make the ask is not to make it at all. Some fabulous incentives are being planned for Imaginators who reach the $250, $500, and $1,000 levels. We will talk more about these incentives between now and the time we arrive in Orlando for the 2011 convention. But it all starts with registering and making the ask.

To register for the Race for Independence, please visit <www.raceforindependence.org>, or simply call the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2371. The suggested goal is $250 for each Imaginator. There is plenty of time to reach and even surpass your fundraising goal, but you need to start now.

If I can help you in any way to reach your full potential as an Imaginator, please do not hesitate to contact me directly in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at (843) 492-7411, or drop me an email at <pdiggs@nfb.org>. Please join me in building the Imagination Fund and supporting Braille literacy, quality education, access to technology, employment opportunities for blind adults, programs for seniors, and more. Come on: sign up today, and let's race!

 

When Disability Is Just a Special Skill in Disguise

by Lori Rottenberg

From the Editor: After 9/11 I got a number of letters asking if the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri was interested in identifying our members in various cities so they could be helped in the event of a disaster. These same letters invited suggestions from our organization about what emergency personnel could do to meet our needs most effectively. Never in any of the correspondence was there the suggestion that blind people could be a part of helping ourselves or others in times of emergency, so it is refreshing to see that a blind person is an active participant in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) which is a part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Department of Homeland Security. This article is taken from the CERT national newsletter for January 2011:

One of the most challenging moments of CERT Basic Training in Greenbelt, Maryland, comes when participants have to find their way in complete darkness during a maze-like search-and-rescue exercise. But for CERT coordinator Ken Silberman finding his way in the dark is no big deal.

Silberman, an engineer and patent attorney who works for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has been blind since birth. He first read an article in his local newspaper in 2005 that advertised the formation of a new CERT program in his area. “The article said everyone was welcome and that there were no age or physical requirements, so I went because I was interested in learning disaster skills that would help me and my neighbors.”

Silberman said his instructors were nervous at first about having him in the course but did allow him to participate. To prepare for the class, Silberman downloaded the participant manual from the national FEMA Website ahead of time and arranged transportation to the training site with some friends. Once he got to the class, sighted classmates helped him read any handouts that were not covered in his downloaded materials.

Silberman said the rest of the training posed little problem for someone without sight. During the fire extinguisher exercise, for example, he simply pointed the extinguisher at the heat he felt from the fire and swept it back and forth. The shutoffs for circuit breakers and gas and water valves were also easy to distinguish by touch alone, he said. Even real blood would be warm and sticky through the gloves, so he felt that not being able to see a victim’s injuries would also not be an issue.

Nonetheless, Silberman said he "Wasn’t accepted that much" until the search-and-rescue activity. “Blindness skills proved invaluable in the search-and-rescue phase of the training when we had to traverse a pitch black, multi-story maze and apartment, looking for victims. There was a lot of panic due to disorientation. However, it was business as usual for me. So I ended up leading the operation. The instructors and students accepted me after that.”

Silberman so enjoyed the CERT experience that he continued to take more advanced training as well as leadership roles within the group. During an advanced training session on helping with emergencies in the Washington, D.C., underground Metrorail system, Silberman’s special skills again proved invaluable. “I had no trouble and used sighted assistance when near the power rail,” he said. "Blindness skills were critical during a fire simulation in a Metrorail car. I was able to cut right through the smoke, grab the emergency kit from under the seat, and direct people to the door at the end of the car. The transit police were very supportive after that.”

Silberman’s commitment to and enthusiasm for CERT paid off. In August 2010 he was elected by his fellow CERT members to be the new coordinator of the Greenbelt CERT, making him the nation’s first blind CERT coordinator. In this position he deals with the same issues that other CERT coordinators handle, from marketing the program to new members to providing ongoing training opportunities for existing members to practice their skills. However, Silberman also hopes his work will help transform the way people with disabilities are perceived.

“It’s an opportunity to change people’s views,” said Silberman. “I hope that my experiences will expand the discussion of disabilities and disaster preparedness to go beyond caring for persons who have disabilities.” He would like to see people with disabilities viewed as potential service providers rather than just service recipients in times of disasters. "This will prevent responders from diverting their attention from victims to persons with disabilities who are quite capable of taking care of themselves," he noted. "Second, a pool of talented and capable volunteers who have disabilities shouldn’t be ignored or underused. In a real disaster, all hands will be needed on deck."

 

The Ties That Bind

by Barbara Pierce

For some time now Ramona Walhof has been working on a possible book highlighting the life and work of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. While longtime Federationists are familiar with his work as a leader, teacher, and mentor, many members of the general public do not know his name and cannot appreciate the wisdom and inspiration found in a thorough review of his work, philosophy, and commitment to others.

Ramona Walhof has graciously given the Braille Monitor some of the articles contributed for this book, and we hope that, by publishing them, we will enhance the possibility that a commercial book chronicling the life and work of this great man will be published. We also hope that bringing some of these articles to the attention of younger Federationists and new members will ensure that Dr. Jernigan’s work will continue to inspire others in the same way he inspired those of us fortunate enough to have known him during his life.

What follows is a splendid article by the former editor of the Monitor with a moving introduction by Ramona. She has captured in her remarks everything I try to bring to readers to let them know how lucky we are to share a common bond and commitment in the National Federation of the Blind. Here are Ramona’s introduction and Barbara’s reflection on the influence Dr. Kenneth Jernigan had on her life:

Note: Barbara Pierce has worked tirelessly in the National Federation of the Blind for more than thirty-five years. She is an articulate, thoughtful, and charming spokeswoman for the organization in Ohio, where she lives, and throughout the country. Here she describes her relationship with Dr. Jernigan while he lived. After his death she has continued to move ahead with the NFB under President Marc Maurer’s guidance. She is perhaps best known as editor of the largest and most influential magazine in work with the blind, the Braille Monitor. However, she has also worked actively for decades as a member of the NFB scholarship and resolutions committees; assisted parents of blind children; served as president of the NFB of Ohio; and represented the NFB president at conferences inside and outside of the Federation. Pierce has handled press relations at national conventions, Washington seminars, NFB demonstrations, and numerous other events.      

Barbara and her husband Bob raised three children, spent Bob’s sabbaticals in England, and held positions of leadership in their church, and they are well known as contributing citizens in Oberlin and beyond. In the following pages Barbara describes herself and her relationship with Kenneth Jernigan. Her comments demonstrate how and why she is one of the people who learned from him to continue to build and refine opportunities for the blind around the world.         

I consider that I knew Dr. Jernigan from January of 1974 until his death. That January was the first time I listened to recordings of his speeches, and doing so gave me the feeling that I had met the mind and spirit of this remarkable man. It was not until that June that I actually had direct contact with him. I had written him a letter. I am not sure how I expected him to respond, but it was certainly not the long, thoughtful, prompt letter I received. I could not have been more surprised or delighted if the letter had come from the president of the United States or the queen of England. That was always my experience of Dr. Jernigan--a man who gave and expected more of himself and me than I did.

Part of his genius was challenging the people around him to do more than they thought themselves capable of. For example, he told me fairly early in my life as a Federationist that he wanted me to begin representing the NFB in media interviews. This was unsettling news, but, since he had assigned me the job, I began reading the Braille Monitor even more carefully and listening to presidential releases with great attention. Then I went out and did my best. You always wanted to do your best for him because he always gave his best to all of us, and that best was very good indeed.

Living as he did on the public stage, every evolution in his thought, every change in a lifetime of behavior became public property. I remember his reflections in print when he concluded that he must walk a picket line. As one who came of age in the sixties, I found nothing perturbing about picketing, but I was powerfully impressed at Dr. Jernigan’s willingness to rethink his long-held values and to reveal his conclusions with everyone who read the Braille Monitor. When I became the Monitor editor, I tried to draw on his example as I found myself telling thousands of readers my personal and professional struggle to grow. I have come to understand that such honesty and openness help to strengthen the ties that bind this movement together as a family whose members genuinely care for and respect each other.

His courage, humanity, integrity, and leadership notwithstanding, the most wide-reaching impact that Dr. Jernigan had on my life was his teaching me to use and appreciate language. I was an English major in college, so I already had a working knowledge of grammar and correct punctuation when I found the Federation. But I hated to write. I suspect that, even in my earliest days in the Federation, President Jernigan recognized that I could write a literate sentence, and he ensured that I would have plenty of opportunity to use that skill. He appointed me to the public relations committee and saw that I was invited to a PR seminar. I began helping to write press releases at national conventions and even coauthored a PR handbook. I was far from comfortable carrying out these assignments, but the NFB has always challenged its members to reach beyond their knowledge of themselves and their strengths to see what more they can accomplish.

By 1987 I had been chairing the PR committee for about seven years and had been president of the NFB of Ohio since 1984. I was working full time for Oberlin College—a job that I had found the courage to apply for, accept, and succeed in largely because of what the NFB had taught me about my ability to compete on terms of equality with my sighted colleagues. My husband and I had three growing children, a son at Yale and two daughters in high school. I was busy and happy and felt that I was doing my best to embody the Federation’s philosophy.

I was sitting in a 1987 convention session when Dr. Jernigan called me to the platform to speak to him. To my astonishment and dismay he asked me to try my hand at writing that year's convention round-up. He told me to study what he had written the year before and then give it a try. I was dubious about my ability to produce anything that would save him time, but again I did my best, and with a bit of first-aid he was able to use it.

In 1988, when Dr. Jernigan asked me to write the convention roundup for the second time, I should have been suspicious. After all, he had been telling the world that he had to find a Monitor editor because after ten years he could not continue to do that job along with all the other responsibilities he was carrying. I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking, but I had only a nebulous sinking feeling in my stomach when he asked me to come to Baltimore in August. His invitation in that visit to leave my job in order to become associate editor of the Braille Monitor made me a bit sick. I had never before done anything like editing. I did not think of myself as a writer, even though much of my Oberlin job was writing everything from letters to brochures. Deciding to accept his invitation was one of the braver decisions I have ever made. Looking back on it, it was also one of the best steps I have ever taken.

For almost ten years I had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Jernigan. Watching him write was fascinating. He usually began an article seated at his desk, his secretary in the chair across from him with a steno pad on her knee. After thinking a moment, he would dictate a title. He might throw out two or three suggestions before he got it right, but he never began writing without at least a working title. Then the sentences began coming, word by word, complete with correct punctuation. Soon the phone would ring. He would stop and deal with whatever the call brought; then he would ask to hear the last paragraph or, more often, everything he had written so far. He might well make changes or even rewrite or insert an entire sentence or paragraph. Eventually he might get up to pace around his office as he dictated or corrected text. I often marveled that his secretaries could decipher the layers of correction. So it went, interruption after interruption, hour after hour. Sometime late in that first day of observation he turned to me and said: "People think that those who write well throw long touchdown passes; they don't realize that we have to grind out our progress yard by yard on the ground, just like everybody else."

When he completed a draft or a day's work on a draft, he would ask for the text in Braille. That's what he took home to read over. The next day he was back, draft in hand, to read the text aloud and make the changes he had decided upon so his secretary could pencil them in on a print copy. He would listen carefully to his own voice as he read. His ear told him when a subtle alteration in the text would improve the work. "That will have a better ring," he would comment as he substituted a word, and, when you thought about it, he was right.

That was how he began teaching me to shape my own writing. Gradually I learned to avoid word repetition, the passive voice, and jargon words like "utilize" or "usage" instead of short, vigorous words like "use." Having seen the merciless rigor with which he edited his own writing, I found it exciting rather than depressing to watch him tinker with and rework my text. The process was always instructive.

Not until I began to train my successor did I fully appreciate how much faith, tact, and patience I had received at Dr. Jernigan’s gentle hands. He never tried to alter my voice. In fact he warned me that I must find my own voice and outlook. I could not, he warned, make myself into an imitation of him. I could only succeed as Monitor editor if I made myself independent. Then he had the discipline to keep his hands off my writing enough to let me find my own way, and gradually I did. He was so subtle and sure-handed that I was hardly aware of the training that was going on. Only once did he insist on a prohibition. He told me that I was forbidden to use the word “desperately” for an entire year. I realized that I was overusing the word, thereby undermining its impact. Even today I hardly ever use that word in my writing.

Then there were the Braille lessons. I mastered the Braille code as a teenager, but I never bothered to work on reading speed. Decoding those little dots was slow and hard, and I never saw anyone read quickly. Not until I listened to those speeches in 1974 did I realize that it was possible to read Braille at speaking speed and faster. And not until I began working closely with Dr. Jernigan did anyone suggest that there was any point in my trying to make up the deficit in my education rather than complaining about it.

As usual, Dr. Jernigan didn't just suggest that I do something about it. When I hesitantly asked whether he thought I could increase my speed, he offered to help. That was the beginning of a remarkable period of investigation and discovery. Dr. Jernigan undertook to analyze how he used his hands when he read. He taught me to anchor my left hand and read the first few words of each line with that index finger while the rest of the hand marked the place and held on to the page--a handy skill when reading standing up. Meanwhile he explained that the right index finger reads the right two thirds of the line, and the middle and ring fingers travel lightly across the space at the top of the line, keeping place and gathering information about the tops of the letters. He would often interrupt his own proofreading to point out some detail his ring finger had discovered.

Unfortunately I don't think I increased speed as rapidly as Dr. Jernigan expected, but he was always optimistic and encouraging. Despite the important matters constantly demanding his attention, he regularly inquired whether I was continuing to read every day and how my speed was coming.

I can attribute many, many of the skills I use every day without thinking about them to my years of close observation of Dr. Jernigan. When I conduct a meeting efficiently and fairly, when I comfort a newly blind person or give hope to the parent of a blind child, when I write a difficult letter or quickly turn a mediocre article into one that may inspire readers, when I wend my way through political mine fields to help rescue a chapter or affiliate—I recognize that I have my mentor and very dear friend to thank for these skills. But mostly I treasure the memories I have of watching him work and write so that we can all continue to share in his wisdom and commitment to helping blind people.

My work in the Federation under Dr. Jernigan’s guidance and after his death included several kinds of activity. In 2000 and 2001 we devoted a good number of pages in the Braille Monitor to the activities of Erik Weihenmayer, the amazing blind mountain climber who finally summited Mt. Everest on May 25, 2001. The Monitor story that recounted the final stage of the adventure was “Weihenmayer Reaches the Top,” which appeared in the July 2001 issue. I wasn’t at Base Camp, but I was linked by email and satellite phone to the climbers and helped to keep them in touch with the thousands of people around the world who were following their adventure. NFB President Maurer assigned me to work with the team, the PR firm marketing the climb, and those working on the Website. In my memory I can’t separate the various components of that responsibility. I only know that the relief and pleasure I felt when I learned that nineteen members of the team had made it to the top and had all returned to the highest camp in safety was like nothing I have ever felt before or since.

Preparing the January/February 1999 issue of the Monitor was the hardest editorial work I have ever done. That was the obituary issue for my beloved friend and mentor, Kenneth Jernigan. I wanted it to capture the essence of the man, and nothing that anyone could have written could have done him justice. For me, as for many others of my generation, he represented the best in us. He embodied our highest ideals, our most determined and principled positions. He was my friend and the blind person whose good opinion has meant the most to me. He taught me to think politically and to write with clarity. I wanted that issue to represent all of that. I am certain that I fell short of my goal, but I also know that reading that issue will give anyone who did not know the man the best understanding of who he was and what he stood for.

The last letter I wrote to Dr. Jernigan, September 11, 1998, just a month before he died, contained my heartfelt promise to him and to myself. I have done my best to keep that pledge.

“We who love you will continue to nurture and build the organization you have given your life to define and strengthen. The time and thought and love you have poured into shaping me, I promise I will pass on as best I can to those who come after me. You believed in me at a time in my life when I hardly dared believe in myself. I promise you now that I will do my best to pass on what you have given me—the love, the commitment, the wisdom, the patient concern, and the dedication. To whatever degree I possess these things, I will offer them to the movement you have built and taught me to cherish.”

 

A Misguided Question from a Student Gets an Interesting Response

by the staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library

From the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library. While exploring Dr. TenBroek’s correspondence files in search of a document that could answer a reference question, the staff chanced upon this amusing and insightful letter, written in 1960, to a recently blinded college student. Known as a powerful and intelligent public speaker who happened to be blind, tenBroek was asked how he prepared for and delivered his speeches and addresses. Using a quotation from 1936 Olympic gold medalist, Jesse Owens, tenBroek's response is witty, forthright, and a great example of NFB philosophy. Here is what he wrote:

October 31, 1960

Mr. Richard Norton
Ouachita Baptist College
Arkadelphia, Arkansas

Dear Mr. Norton:

I have your recent letter and shall do my best to answer it, although I have very little to say about methods of delivery of any significance.

In many ways I would adapt to my case the famous speech of Jesse Owens when he was asked his technique for breaking the world record in the broad jump—"I get back to about here, move forward to about there, and then take off."

Formal speeches for state occasions I write out in Braille. Sometimes I read them; other times simply use the manuscript as an elaborate system of notes; still other times I prepare a few short notes on a card; and often I use no notes whatsoever.    

I do a tremendous amount of public speaking, frequently in connection with my function as president of the National Federation of the Blind, or chairman of the State Social Welfare Board. Much of this speaking is extempore or impromptu.

A blind person who acquires facility with Braille has no problems in public speaking that are not common to speakers with twenty-twenty vision acuity. If you can't read Braille, or can't read it rapidly, I can see that you would enter a range of very considerable problems.

You might write to Kenneth Jernigan, John Taylor, Professor Kingsley Price, and Professor Mumford Boyd. All four of these are totally blind, all are excellent speakers, and all use Braille with facility. Kenneth Jernigan and John Taylor can both be reached at ______. Professor Price may be reached at the Department of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Professor Boyd may be reached at the University of Virginia Law School, Charlottesville, Virginia.

You should, by all means, join the Arkansas Federation of the Blind which, in turn, is affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. Why not get in touch with Richard Nelson, who is the President of the Arkansas Federation of the Blind? His address is _____.

Cordially yours,
Jacobus tenBroek, Chairman
Department of Speech

 

Convention Scholarships Available

by Allen Harris

From the Editor: Allen Harris chairs the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund committee. He has an important announcement for those who would like to attend this year's national convention but find themselves short of funds. This is what he says:

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund is looking for individuals who can use some financial assistance to attend our national convention in Orlando, Florida. In 2011 our convention will begin on Sunday, July 3, and run through Friday, July 8. The convention ends with the banquet Friday evening.

Who is eligible to receive a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?

If you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind, you are eligible to apply. Preference, however, will be given to first-time convention attendees. The scholarship selection committee is able to make an occasional exception, but first-time convention participants are the target group.

What do I have to do to apply for a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?

You must do the following and are responsible for these application requirements:

1. Find out who your state NFB president is and get him or her to write a letter of recommendation for you, or you may have a chapter president or other officer write a letter of recommendation, but we must have a letter from a Federation leader who is familiar with you.

2. You must write a letter to the Kenneth Jernigan Fund committee expressing the reasons why you want a scholarship. Describe your participation in the Federation and what you think you would get and give to the convention. Please send all information to Allen Harris, 5209 Sterling Glen Drive, Pinson, Alabama 35126, or email the information to <allen.harris@dwx.com> or <joy.harris@dwx.com>.

3. You must register for and attend the entire convention, including the banquet.

What else must I do to insure that my application will be considered?

We must receive all of the following:
1. Your full name
2. Your address
3. Your telephone numbers (home, business, cell)
4. Your email address (if you have one)
5. Your state president's name and the name of your local chapter, if you attend one

All applications must be received by April 14, 2011.

How do I get my scholarship funds?

You will get a debit card at the convention loaded with the amount of your scholarship award. The times and locations to pick up your debit card will be listed in the notice you receive if you are a scholarship winner. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist by advancing funds you can pay back when you receive your scholarship.

When will I know if I have been selected as a Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner?

The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:

1. You must make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel your reservation.

2. You will receive a letter with the convention details which should answer many of your questions. It is also helpful to find a mentor from your chapter or affiliate to act as a friend and advisor during the convention. Although you will not know officially whether or not you have been selected until mid-May, you must make plans to attend and then adjust your plans accordingly.

This past summer in Dallas the Jernigan Fund scholarship committee awarded seventy Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships. The average grant was $600. You can include in your letter to the committee any extenuating circumstances which the committee may choose to take into consideration. Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention and join several thousand other blind Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world.

If you have questions or need additional information, call Allen Harris at (205) 520-9979 or email him at <allen.harris@dwx.com>. You may also email Joy Harris at <joy.harris@dwx.com>. We look forward to seeing you in Orlando.

 

Recipes

This month’s recipes have been provided by Robert Kelly, treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama and president of its Montgomery chapter. He operates three dining halls on a military base. These dishes are personal favorites that he often takes to family gatherings.

Rainbow Salad

Ingredients:
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 small carton sour cream

Method: Combine all ingredients and mix gently. Chill for one to two hours before serving.

Three-Vegetable Dish

Ingredients:
1 can French-cut green beans
1 can lima beans
1 can English peas
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
Dash Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, chopped
2 to 3 boiled eggs, diced

Method: Combine green beans, lima beans, and peas in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for fifteen minutes and drain. Combine remaining ingredients to make the sauce and toss with the vegetables before serving.

Twenty-Minute Spaghetti

Ingredients:
1 pound thin spaghetti, uncooked
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Method: Cook spaghetti according to package directions and drain. Meanwhile brown meat in skillet, breaking it into small chunks with the back of a spoon. Add tomato sauce, water, and spices. Simmer over low heat for five minutes. Transfer cooked spaghetti into a large bowl and add the sauce to serve.

Baked Chicken

Ingredients:
2 whole chicken breasts
1/2 stick margarine
1 can condensed cream of celery soup
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken, skin side up, on large piece of foil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dot with margarine. Pour celery soup over chicken and wrap it tightly. Place on broiler pan and cook for forty-five minutes. Open foil to expose chicken and bake another thirty minutes. Serve hot. Serves 4

Mexican Cornbread

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups self-rising cornmeal
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup cream style corn
2 small jalapeno peppers, chopped

Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and cook in a greased baking dish for thirty minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center. Serve hot.

Pound Cake

Ingredients:
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method: Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until smooth and light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk and flour alternately a little at a time. Add vanilla and lemon extracts. Fold in baking powder last. Grease and flour an angel food cake pan. Carefully pour batter into pan and place in a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for one-and-a-quarter hours. Do not open the oven during this time. Let cake cool in the pan. Before removing from pan, run a knife around center post and outer edge. Invert cake on a rack or cake plate. When completely cool, wrap tightly till ready to serve.

Fruit Punch

Ingredients:
2 3-ounce packages cherry Jell-O
4 cups water
1 46-ounce can orange juice, chilled
1 46-ounce can pineapple juice, chilled
1 32-ounce bottle ginger ale, chilled
1 cup sugar

Method: Mix hot water with Jell-O and sugar. Cool mixture to room temperature. Just before serving, mix liquid Jell-O and juices. Pour the ginger ale into the punch bowl slowly along the edge. Gently stir to mix well.

 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Elected:
The Omaha Chapter of the NFB of Nebraska has elected a new slate of officers. We have large dreams, strong intentions, and great talent. Our new board consists of president, Robert Leslie Newman; first vice president, Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter; second vice president, Carol Jenkins; secretary, Sandy Alvarado; treasurer, Ross Pollpeter; and board members, Bob Burns, Debbie Jensen, Chad Weber, and Henry Vetter.

Braille Books Available:
Ever go to a store and see the children's book you wanted and find yourself wishing that book were in Braille? Well, wish no more. Beulah Reimer Legacy, (BRL), has many of the most popular children's picture books such as Clifford, Corduroy, Curious George, Disney Princesses, Dora, and the Berenstain Bears in Braille at affordable prices. BRL's mission is to increase Braille literacy and reading opportunities by placing Braille in the hands of eager readers. Whether you are a child who wants Braille books that she doesn't have to return to the library; a blind parent, grandparent, or other blind adult who wants to share a book with a child; or a teacher of the visually impaired, BRL is dedicated to meeting your Braille needs.

All of our books are Brailled with clear plastic strips placed on top of the printed text. Our books are shipped free of charge. Please allow two weeks for delivery. BRL accepts checks, money orders, and purchase orders. We also accept payment online using PayPal.

To request the most recent booklist, place an order, or receive more information about BRL, contact April Enderton, 7758 Southeast 36th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50320; phone (515) 282-0049; email <endertona@wildblue.net>; Website <www.beulahreimerlegacy.com>. Happy reading in 2011.

New Chapter:
Larry Keeler reports that Ann Arbor, Michigan, now has a new chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan. Elections were held on January 8, 2011, at Pizza Pino’s. The officers are president, Terri Wilcox; vice president, Nick Wilcox; secretary, Larry Keeler; and treasurer, Morry Nathan.

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.

2011 Hall of Fame Nominations Now Being Accepted:
Who should be the next inductees into the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field? If you are interested in learning more about the easy electronic process for submitting a nominee to join the forty-six inductees, visit <www.aph.org/hall_fame/nominate.html>. The nomination process closes Thursday, March 31.

The Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is dedicated to preserving, honoring, and promoting the tradition of excellence manifested by the specific individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame and through the history of outstanding services provided to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Visit the Hall of Fame Website and learn more about the Hall and those honored there <http://www.aph.org/hall_fame/index.html>. If you have questions, contact Jim Deremeik, chair, Hall of Fame Governing Board, at <jderemeik@jhmi.edu> or Bob Brasher, Hall of Fame curator, at <bbrasher@aph.org>.

Coming This Month:
HeartSight Cards are handmade, print/Braille greeting cards using layers of patterned and textured papers and decorative buttons, ribbons, rhinestones, and other embellishments so that they can be enjoyed with both fingers and eyes. Each card has a simple, occasion-appropriate inside greeting that can be personalized with your own message. Current categories include birthday, thank you, kids, thinking of you, love and friendship, and all occasion. At present there are seventeen different card designs, and new designs will be added regularly.

At HeartSight Cards, owner Haley M. Dare believes that everyone deserves a beautifully designed card. Her cards are appealing to the blind as well as the sighted and are more than just a tactile shape on a monochromatic background. The artist combines patterned papers and other card-making supplies that used together create a lovely, tactile card. A detailed Braille description is included with each card. HeartSight cards are mailable and affordable, costing $2 to $3 less than the competition. Your card order will be sent directly to you or to your special person, usually within one to three days of order receipt.

HeartSight Cards was inspired by a special friendship. This friend, along with others in the National Federation of the Blind, encouraged and supported Haley when her young son was diagnosed with vision problems. Therefore she intends to help the NFB further its training and advocacy services by making a donation of 5 percent of the sale of each card.

To order, contact HeartSight Cards at 4794 Geneva Avenue, Portage, Michigan 49024 or phone (269) 779-2216. The email address is <heartsightcards@att.net>, and the Website address is <www.heartsightcards.com>.

Because you don’t need sight to see into the heart.

Cofounder of Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation Dies:
On February 2, 2011, the New York Times carried the following obituary:

Charles Kaman, Helicopter Innovator, dies at 91
by Motoko Rich

Charles H. Kaman, an innovator in the development and manufacture of helicopter technology and, following a wholly different passion, the inventor of one of the first electrically amplified acoustic guitars, died on Monday in Bloomfield, Connecticut. He was ninety-one. Mr. Kaman, who had suffered several strokes over the last decade, died of complications of pneumonia, his daughter, Cathleen Kaman, said. He lived in Bloomfield. Mr. Kaman (pronounced ka-MAN) was a twenty-six-year-old aeronautical engineer when he founded the Kaman Aircraft Company in 1945 in the garage of his mother's home in West Hartford, Connecticut. By the time he retired as chairman in 2001, he had built the Kaman Corporation into a billion-dollar concern that distributes motors, pumps, bearings, and other products as well as making helicopters and their parts. Within the aerospace industry Mr. Kaman is best known for inventing dual intermeshing helicopter rotors, which move in opposite directions, and for introducing the gas turbine jet engine to helicopters. The company's HH-43 Huskie was a workhorse in rescue missions in the Vietnam War.

Mr. Kaman, a guitar enthusiast, also invented the Ovation guitar, effectively reversing the vibration-reducing technology of helicopters to create a generously vibrating instrument that incorporated aerospace materials into its rounded back. In the mid-1960s he created Ovation Instruments, a division of his company, to manufacture it. The Ovation allows musicians to amplify their sound without generating the feedback that often comes from using microphones. It was popularized in the late 1960s by the pop and country star Glen Campbell, who played it on his television show, The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour, and who appeared in advertisements for the company. A long roster of rock and folk music guitarists began using it as well.

With his second wife, Roberta Hallock Kaman, Mr. Kaman founded the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, which trains German shepherds as guide dogs for the blind and the police. Since 1981 Fidelco has placed 1,300 guide dogs in thirty-five states and four Canadian provinces, said Eliot D. Russman, the foundation's executive director.

“It came down to the helicopters, guitars, and dogs,” Mr. Kaman's eldest son, C. William Kaman II, said in a telephone interview. In addition to his daughter Cathleen, an artist who is known professionally as Beanie Kaman, and his son William, Mr. Kaman is survived by another son, Steven; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Born on June 15, 1919, in Washington, Charles Huron Kaman was the only child of Charles William Kaman and Mabel Davis Kaman. As a teenager he loved building model airplanes from balsa wood and tissue paper and flying them in indoor competitions. He had once hoped to be a professional pilot but abandoned that ambition because he was deaf in his right ear. He received his bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the Catholic University of America in 1940. After graduating, he went to work at Hamilton Standard Propeller Corporation, a unit of United Aircraft. He soon met Igor Sikorsky, another pioneer in helicopter design, who ran United's helicopter division and who inspired Mr. Kaman to begin developing his own parts. One of his first inventions was the servo-flap, which could be added to the edges of a rotor blade to help stabilize a helicopter. But one of his greatest contributions was to introduce jet engines to helicopters. “It gave them more power,” said Walter J. Boyne, chairman of the National Aeronautic Association and the author of numerous books on aviation. Helicopters really moved into their own.

Terry Fogarty, who worked closely with Mr. Kaman for nearly a decade developing the K-MAX aerial truck, said Mr. Kaman, who developed the first remote-control helicopter in 1957, envisioned an unmanned cargo helicopter that would take over the “dull, dirty, and dangerous missions.” The company is developing such a helicopter, based on the K-MAX, and has a contract to deploy it to the Marine Corps for use in Afghanistan.

Mr. Kaman married Helen Sylvander in 1945; they divorced in 1971. Later that year he married Roberta Hallock, who died last year. Ms. Kaman recalled her father strumming different versions of the Ovation in a studio at home, trying to figure out how deep or shallow to make the rounded back to produce the best sound. “That was his big gift to the three of us,” she said. When he would come home, he would play guitar.

Free Home Fire Safety Booklets Available:
We have large quantities of our free large-print, regular-print, and Spanish editions of “Home Fire Safety For People who are Blind/Low Vision.” If state conventions or other organizations would like copies in quantity of any of these versions, please email Jan Lavine at <JLavine@osufpp.org>.

Summer Camp Sessions for the Blind:
Announcing the twenty-ninth Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind four one-week adult vacation programs and four-day family get-away. Mark your calendar: Adult High Adventure I: July 16–22, Adult Adventure II: July 25–31, Adult Friends and Alumni: August 5–11, Adult Moderate Adventure: August 15–21, and Family Get-Away: August 25–28. The Oral Hull Park's twenty-three-acre campus is located in the foothills of Mt. Hood, Oregon. The average summer temperature is in the low eighties. The costs are adventure I or II, $450; moderate adventure, $425; and friends and alumni, $395. Free round-trip transportation provided to the Portland Airport. Payment plans are available.

If you are new to the Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind or are a returning participant, feisty or shy, artistic or athletic, an adventurer or one who just wants to sit in our formal gardens or fourteen-seat spa and relax in the company of friends, you do not want to miss our 2011 season—a summer of excellence.

Registration is now open for all of our 2011 summer vacation programs. Oral Hull's four one-week adult sessions provide high-quality programs and activities that appeal to a wide array of tastes. This summer participants will dine on fine cookery, enjoy ideal weather, and have a choice of participating in traditional summer experiences with plenty of opportunities for exciting adventure activities, including whitewater rafting, windsurfing, skydiving (additional fee), horseback riding, archery, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, and more. Last year our participants came from across the United States and beyond, enjoying a few weeks of activity, peer support, and personal growth. As described by one participant from the Midwest, "An Oral Hull is something all blind individuals with an interest in living life to the fullest should experience." For information about Oral Hull's summer programs, year-round weekend retreats, and other special events, contact Jeff Lann, executive director, (503) 668-5195, email <oralhull@teleport.com>, Website <Oralhull.org>.

Refurbished Braillewriters:
In an effort to promote Braille literacy, AT Guys is pleased to offer refurbished, like-new Perkins Braille writers. All Braillers are thoroughly examined and refurbished by an experienced technician and come with a one-year warranty against defects. The cost is $299, including shipping by Free Matter. Money orders and all major credit cards are accepted. For more information or to place an order, call (269) 216-4798 or visit <http://www.atguys.com>.

Descriptive Videos Available:
Now you can enjoy 150 movies with added audio information on the soundtrack making it easier for visually impaired people to know what is going on in the movie. The movies are on VHS and DVD. Call Ken Mann at (972) 530-2949 for information and a print or audio-cassette list of the movies available. A contribution of $25 gets you started on years of enjoyment. This service is provided by the Texas Center for the Visually Challenged, 3101 High Plateau, Garland, Texas 75044; (214) 340-6328.

Music Lessons by Ear:
Learn to play your favorite musical instrument without having to read printed or Braille music. At Bill Brown's Music for the Blind there are beginner courses for over a dozen instruments, including piano, guitar, harmonica, violin, banjo, saxophone, and flute. These courses are taught totally by ear in all-audio format so there is no print or Braille to read. Each course contains at least four tapes or CDs and costs as little as $39. As well as these beginner courses, over eight-hundred individual song lessons are taught in the same all-audio format. These individual lessons start at only $11.95 each. For more information go to the Website at <www.MusicfortheBlind.com> or call (888) 778-1828.

Frank Kurt Cylke Honored:
In a tribute to the advent of digital Talking Books and players for blind and physically handicapped readers--and to the man who ushered in the new medium—Braille Institute Library Services (BILS), Los Angeles, presented the first Frank Kurt Cylke Digital Platinum Awards during its annual open house on October 22, 2010. BILS director Henry C. Chang and Open House Committee Chair Tina Herbison presented Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, with his own Digital Platinum Award "for thirty-seven years of unwavering leadership and commitment to the blind and visually impaired communities throughout the United States."

The new award recognizes the NLS transition from cassette books and machines to digital Talking Books on flash memory cartridges and two models of digital player. "I thank Dr. Chang and the Braille Institute Library Services for the recognition," says Cylke. "But the real reward is seeing the joyful reception of this new equipment by blind and physically handicapped readers."

The Digital Platinum Award, which replaces the BILS Golden Cassette Award, is given to individuals and organizations who are standouts in the library community. Congratulations to Kurt Cylke for this well-deserved honor.

New Website for Disabled Travelers:
People with visual handicaps can now plan their trips while exploring a broad range of travel opportunities at <http://www.i-can-travel.com>. The site is designed to serve a huge and growing American market. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures, 51.2 million people report some level of disability, and for 32.5 million of them the disability is considered severe. This number will only rise as the US population ages. But the numbers alone do not explain the impetus of the new site. Marlene Wechselblatt, who has MS and uses a wheelchair, put it this way: “There’s a common belief that people with disabilities can’t do very much, but we know that’s simply not true. We created this new site to promote creative thinking, expand travel options, and live as free from our disabilities as we can. All visitors will receive up-to-date information about all aspects of traveling with disabilities, including a directory of resources. Members will discover exciting ways to enjoy the world and will share their own experiences and knowledge to help others make their travels easier and more meaningful.”

NFB Members can join free of charge when they sign up for a free eBook, 10 Hidden Gems. Among the sites listed: a small fishing village in Ecuador, a town in Nova Scotia near the Bay of Fundy, an ancient mountain resort town, and a university town in the midwestern US guarded by a black angel. NFB members are also invited to contribute guest posts to Steve Wechselblatt at <i-can-travel.com> about their experiences traveling or advice for other sight-impaired travelers. An ebook on mini-vacations in the US in 2011 is also available on the site.

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.