Vol. 54, No. 8 August/September 2011
Gary Wunder, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 54, No. 8 August/September 2011
The 2011 Convention Roundup
Presidential Report 2011
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2011 Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2011 Bolotin Awards
by James Gashel
Meet the 2011 National Federation
of the Blind Scholarship Class
Opportunity, Danger, and the Balance of Risk
by Marc Maurer
The Spirit of the Journey: The Blind Driver Challenge
and the Direction of Our Movement
by Mark A. Riccobono
No More Subminimum Wages: The Time Is Now!
by Fredric K. Schroeder
Conditions in the Sheltered Workshop
by Damashe Thomas
Report on Disability Employment Policy
from the Department of Labor
by Kathleen Martinez
Valuable Work and Valuable Workers:
A Report from the Chicago Lighthouse for People
Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
by Janet Szlyk
Changes in Policy and Programs for the Blind
by Jim Kesteloot
Addressing Inequities in the Workplace:
The Promise of Equal Opportunity
by Jacqueline Berrien
The 2011 Resolutions:
A Declaration of Independence for the Blind
by Sharon Maneki
National Federation of the Blind Resolutions 2011Convention Miniatures
Copyright 2011 by the National Federation of the Blind
On this page is a collage of visitors from Disney’s Magic Kingdom who welcomed the blind to Orlando during the opening ceremony of the National Federation of the Blind’s seventy-first convention. On stage are the mayor and first lady of Disney’s Main Street USA. The Disney Volunteer Marching Band makes its way down the center aisle, serenading convention attendees with Disney favorites. A man in a Disney uniform featuring the colors of the American flag walks on stilts as the band moves through the crowded hall.
Highlights of the welcoming ceremony at national convention on July 6, 2011
by Gary Wunder
Orlando, Florida, is a busy city. Quality facilities like the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel always find people on the move with the sounds of tapping shoes, swishing dresses, and excited chatter. Add to these sounds in early July tapping canes, clicking claws, and the jingle of guide dog harnesses, and it is clear you are at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This movement of and by the blind, both physical and organizational, was spirited and intentional: it was the movement of blind people who had come to the Southeast to tackle the business of changing what it means to be blind. The 2011 convention brought people from every state in the union and sixteen foreign countries to witness history being made. Nearly three thousand of us came to look back at the past, rejoice in the present, and plan for the future of blind people in the United States and the world. It had been thirty-two years since the National Federation of the Blind convened in Florida. Federation veterans came with their memories of 1979; those with less tenure came with great expectations of the memories they would make in 2011.
Activities began on Sunday morning, July 3, when parents, rehabilitation professionals, technology enthusiasts, job seekers, and artists gathered to begin their work. President Maurer addressed the rehab professionals and emphasized how crucial their work is in making the dream of full participation real in the lives of blind people. He visited with the children and tried to convince a young girl named Jessica that her unsuccessful struggles to read print probably meant that she should be concentrating on Braille. "Sighted people should use the techniques of the sighted, and blind people should use the techniques of the blind," he argued. The exchange was spirited, and it was evident just how much this little girl had been taught that the only path to praise would come through what she could see. A young man named Drake wanted to know how a blind man could invent a time machine. The president seemed a bit surprised by the question so early in the morning but opined that, if a time machine could be made, he was certain that a blind person would be as likely to come up with it as a sighted person. Lindsey asked what he had done in his time as president, and for a moment he was uncharacteristically silent as he considered how to address the many challenges that have characterized his presidency in a way this little girl and the rest of his young audience could understand.
For a very long time our parents have been innovators in providing quality fun and education to diverse groups: the little folks who are interested in having a good time; the older children who aren't quite teens but who demand more than care; and of course the teens, who are always on the verge of being bored, a fate they consider almost worse than death. Then there are the parents who are interested in programs to cover everything from how to stimulate their toddlers to how to handle the transition to college. All of this planning has to take place knowing that most of the people coming will be taking vacation time from work and school to attend and will want some of the benefits of a vacation, even as they come to learn about blindness.
Activities covered by the NOPBC under this year's title "When I Grow Up ... A Conference for the Families and Teachers of Blind/Visually Impaired Children" included the right to literacy for young blind/visually impaired children; technology and the IEP; IDEA is over--but life for your adult child with additional disabilities is just beginning; get a life--a social life, that is; age-appropriate expectations; behavior--who's in control here anyway?; preparing for college; issues in standardized testing; an independent life--equipping your child with skills; and out and about--independent mobility for your child. And after all of the work NOPBC Family Hospitality Night enabled parents and kids to get to know each other and catch up with old friends. Meanwhile, teens and preteens enjoyed youth track sessions in which playing modified board games gave them a chance to discuss issues of blindness. They even had a chance to discuss such matters as resolution writing, the frustration of subminimum wages, and the ways in which the Blind Driver Challenge™ has altered expectations of what is possible for blind people to accomplish. So moving and insightful were the comments of NOPBC President Laura Weber, when she convened the Sunday morning session, that they will appear in a future issue of the Braille Monitor.
Fred Schroeder, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and a former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, provided the keynote address for the tenth annual meeting of the rehabilitation professionals. His topic was structured discovery. Dr. Schroeder stressed that structured discovery is not just another technique used in the rehabilitation process but the very philosophy that guides it. Traditional rehabilitation has too often taught the blind set tasks and routes in much the way a computer is programmed for a specific function. The assurance that a blindness professional can be consulted, if ever the blind person decides to tackle something new, is constantly stressed. Structured discovery teaches the blind how to explore the world using their own God-given talents. Its foundation is the belief that blind people can investigate and problem-solve just as sighted people are expected to do and that nothing less is acceptable in a world that requires flexible and adaptable human beings.
The Jernigan Institute hosted sessions on the accessible iPhone, how to take advantage of the popular Android operating system, how to get the most from eBooks, and how to create accessible Websites.
For those who stopped by, one of the most interesting and unusual Sunday activities was the art exhibit and experience hosted by artist Ann Cunningham and art enthusiast Debbie Kent Stein. Visitors could try their hand at sculpture or examine artworks created or adapted for tactile exploration. Concepts like style, perspective, and composition began to make sense under one’s fingers. The entire experience was engrossing and revelatory.
Beginning on Sunday and continuing throughout the convention, Federationists could visit the blind driver test track, a simulator providing the tactile experience of the blind-drivable vehicle debuted at the Daytona Speedway. A car equipped with nonvisual interfaces was at the convention to give rides to some of those who had raised substantial contributions for the Imagination Fund. Our blind drivers also chauffeured the owner of the Rosen properties, Mr. Harris Rosen, and the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland, through the course of barrels and cones that had been randomly positioned in one of the parking lots. "I liked the ride, but it was so cool when the blind driver cracked his window and turned on the radio," said Pat Munson, a longtime Federationist and teacher in the public schools of California.
Knowing that being a responsible part of a community requires giving back, Federationists met on Sunday afternoon to explore opening the doors to community service by the organized blind. The response to this call was everything we had hoped for, and the planners are actively working on forming a division dedicated to getting blind people involved in volunteer service.
The events continued nonstop into Sunday evening. Some of the items covered were learning about new technology and how blind telephone operators, receptionists, customer service representatives, Braille transcribers, proofreaders, and other office workers solve problems and challenges in the office setting; a meeting of the Living History Group dedicated to capturing oral history; and the showcase of technology, featuring vendors in the exhibit hall.
Monday morning began with registration, and again this year the process of preregistering made the experience faster for everyone. When the exhibit hall opened at 9:00 a.m., those companies that had made financial contributions to sponsor the NFB convention were the exclusive exhibitors for the first few hours. Companies lending their name and financial support to us were Title Sponsor: eBay Inc.; Platinum Sponsor: HumanWare, and UPS; Gold Sponsor: Oracle, Market Development Group, Inc., Ingram Content Group, and VitalSource Technologies; Silver Sponsor: Freedom Scientific; Bronze Sponsor: IBM, National Industries for the Blind, and Research in Motion; White Cane Sponsor: GW Micro, Inc., Toyota, HIMS, Sendero Group, LLC, Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic), LevelStar, Independence Science, Chris Park Design, En-Vision America, and Perkins Products. This sponsor-only event lasted for two hours, then other exhibitors, including NFB affiliates and divisions, were open for business. Throughout the day sessions were presented demonstrating NFB-NEWSLINE® and the recently enhanced accessibility of the eBay system. People wishing to become certified as literary Braille transcribers could take the Library of Congress test developed and administered by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. If something a bit more physical was of interest, the Sports and Recreation Division offered a self-defense class.
As experienced conventioneers know, registration day is also resolutions day, and in the early afternoon the committee met to consider eighteen proposed resolutions that would help to define and articulate the policies of the National Federation of the Blind and influence our direction in the coming year. Many resolutions for 2011 address the imperative that devices, from household gadgets to products used in the workplace, be made so they are usable by the blind, and, if they are not, they not be purchased by public institutions and responsible private entities.
At 9 a.m. sharp on Tuesday morning, July 5, the gavel fell, and the board of directors began its preconvention meeting. Many regard this as the first general session of the convention, but, unlike general sessions, no microphones were in the audience because the meeting is solely board deliberation and discussion.
President Maurer began by acknowledging prominent Federation leaders who have died in the last year. Those mentioned were Wayne Davis, Andy Virden, and Larry Streeter. The president asked that we rise in memory of all of our worthy comrades who have been taken, and the assembled crowd reverently observed a moment of silence.
Board members whose positions were not up for election in 2011 were all the officers and at-large members Amy Buresh, Patti Chang, Mike Freeman, John Fritz, Carl Jacobsen, and Alpidio Rolon. Positions to be filled were those held by Dan Burke, Parnell Diggs, Cathy Jackson, Mika Pyyhkala, and Joe Ruffalo. Dan Burke called for the floor to announce that he would not stand for reelection due to personal and professional changes in his life. He explained that dealing with these will not allow him to devote the time necessary to maintain the workload of a board member, but he has been honored to have served for the past five years, and he plans to remain an active and committed member of the movement. President Maurer commended Dan for serving with honor and distinction, said it was a pleasure to have served with him, and expressed his full trust that Dan would indeed continue to be a worker in the Federation, regardless of his position.
Dan Hicks welcomed the assembly to Florida with an introduction he would use throughout the convention. When he said "knock, knock," he received the expected "who’s there?" His response was "orange," and the expected "orange who?" was asked in unison by well over two thousand voices. His answer: "Orange you glad you’re in Florida." The reason for his introduction soon became clear when he announced that the Florida affiliate was selling T-shirts with these very words. Dan went on to suggest that, since it had been thirty-two years since we met in Florida, it might be well if we all lowered our expectations. This was quite a contrast to the usual speeches about getting prepared for the biggest and the best convention ever, and the crowd was stunned into silence until Dan explained that what he meant was that we should lower our expectations for a restful time and a good night's sleep. "Rest and sleep is what you do when you are at home or at work,” he said, "but this is Florida and a convention of the National Federation of the Blind." The crowd cheered with relief, recognizing that the host affiliate was planning one fine convention.
With registration having been open for just under a day, President Maurer announced that 2,767 people had registered, with fifty-four from fifteen foreign countries. By the end of the convention that total would climb to 2,970, with sixteen foreign countries represented. Some who registered did so for the first time; for others registration is an annual event. 2011 marks the fiftieth national convention for Jan Gawith. For Betty Capps this was the fifty-fifth, and for Dr. Donald Capps it was his fifty-sixth. "I would have been there with him but I had to miss one because I was pregnant," said Betty. "We've been to a lot of conventions, don't you think?"
Parnell Diggs, the chairman of the Imagination Fund committee, addressed the assembled to talk about the purpose of the fund and to give members some important facts about the 2011 Race for Independence. Thirty-eight Federationists raised $1,000 or more in the 2011 contest, and to make the top ten required donations of at least $2,000. The Imaginator who brought in the most money was John Paré, raising $11,240. The Imaginator with the greatest number of donations was Denise Avant of Chicago with sixty-five. Denise was presented the Imaginator of the Year Award, and in her brief remarks she said, "My goal when I started was just to double any contribution I had gotten in the past, so I thought I would raise around $600. But, as I began to ask and ask and ask, people just gave me money. So all of a sudden I found myself at a thousand dollars. Then I found myself at thirteen hundred, so I just kept going and going and going." At the time of the presentation, Denise had $1,907 and counting.
At the close of Parnell's presentation, President Maurer noted that Parnell was the person who had contacted people at the Daytona Speedway about having a blind driver featured on their track. Parnell was shocked when they said yes, and we were shocked when he brought us the news.
Future conventions will find us in Dallas for 2012 and in Orlando for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Conventions in Orlando will occur on the Rosen properties, a series of five-star hotels, and, by the time 2017 rolls around, we should all have had a chance to experience many of the sights and sounds of Orlando.
A group wishing to create the National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education has asked the national board to approve its constitution. The president finds it in all ways to be proper, but, unlike most divisions in the Federation, this constitution contains no provision requiring that its president, vice president, and a majority of its members be blind. Given the desire to attract anyone working in the field of education, the board was asked to suspend this usual policy, and the board accepted the new division.
Chairman Cathy Jackson presented the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award and a check for $1,000 to Dr. Dean O. Stenehjem, the superintendent of the Washington School for the Blind. Chairman Jackson's presentation and Dr. Stenehjem's remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
Much of the Federation's work is done through committees appointed by the president. Members were asked to indicate their desire to serve by sending their names and the committees on which they would like to serve to the information desk. Alternatively, the president will gladly accept offers of service by electronic or postal mail.
Sandy Halverson, chairman of the Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) Fund updated the board on the committee's efforts to increase its ability to help the Federation. The SUN Fund is a program established to ensure that, should we ever have problems in funding as we did in the late 1970s, we will have a savings account to see us through. Currently the fund has just under 1.5 million dollars, and each year affiliates, divisions, and members try to increase this total to ensure the financial well-being of the NFB.
The Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) Plan allows members to make predictable monthly contributions to support Federation programs. Coming into the convention, members were contributing $384,000 annually. The goal of Chairman Scott LaBarre and his committee was to increase contributions to well over $400,000 by the end of the convention. As the work of the Federation was demonstrated again and again through the reports of its officers, leaders, and members, Federationists went to the PAC table in a steady stream, allowing us to finish the convention with an annualized total of well over $409,000.
Since access to information and the ability to read is a fundamental human right, one of the projects of the National Federation of the Blind has been to enter the international arena to press for a worldwide agreement allowing copyrighted materials to be put into formats that blind people can read and to see that these accessible materials are shared worldwide. An exemption in the copyright law permits this in the United States, but blind people in many other countries have no such access. Further, current law forbids the cross-border sharing of books in specialized formats for the blind. A book Brailled and available in Canada may not be shared with a blind person in the United States, and a book created in the United States may not be shared with a blind person in France. If the United States endorses and signs the proposed treaty, our own law would be strengthened by recognizing the enhanced importance of electronic books, which were far less prevalent in 1996 when amendments to the United States copyright law were passed. Members may be called on in the near future to write to Congress and the president to support this treaty and to oppose international recommendations or "soft laws" which simply encourage rather than mandate information in specialized formats for the blind.
Because convention sessions are conducted in English and a number of Federationists and foreign visitors are more proficient in Spanish, the Federation provides real-time Spanish translation during the convention. Special receivers are loaned for the duration of the convention. Similar equipment is provided for attendees who have trouble hearing convention presentations.
Dr. David Ticchi presented the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Angela Wolf of Texas. More about Dr. Ticchi’s presentation and Angela's remarks can be found elsewhere in this issue.
Patti Chang, who was chairing the scholarship committee for the first time, next introduced the 2011 scholarship class to the convention. The remarks of each student and a full report of the committee’s work appear elsewhere in this issue. The board then approved a similar scholarship program for 2012.
President Maurer acknowledged states that have made significant financial contributions in the past year. The Colorado affiliate and the Colorado Center for the Blind have jointly presented more than one million dollars to the national body. The Nevada affiliate was recognized for contributing more than $390,000 and the Kansas affiliate for its contribution of $150,000.
To bring the most talented, dedicated, and energetic teachers of blind students to our movement, the National Federation of the Blind created the Teacher of Tomorrow program. Twelve members of the 2011 cohort introduced themselves to the convention and then treated us to their top ten list of things they have learned through their association with the National Federation of the Blind. Their top ten list was: “10) Given me an opportunity to change my unknown beliefs about blindness; 9) Taught me how to use a chainsaw blindfolded; 8) Given me a chance to meet so many people willing to help me with my journey to become an even better teacher; 7) Provided me a chance to see the power of advocacy at the Washington Seminar—DC was awesome, but leave your high heels at home; 6) Witnessed barriers falling down and possibilities being created through collaboration at the Daytona Speedway; 5) Meeting and watching blind O&M instructors; 4) Connected me with wonderful NFB leaders in my state; 3) Affirmed the belief that Braille literacy leads to success; 2) Taught me to say blind kids and knowing that it is not only okay but important to say the word “blind”; 1) The eyes of the National Federation of the Blind see us as the wonderful teachers we are and the exemplary teachers we can become. We know the organization is going to stand behind us as we work to change what it means to be blind and as we work to spread a positive philosophy about blindness."
The board meeting concluded with a brief demonstration of the BookSense from the HIMS Corporation. This DAISY, audio, and text player, which includes a clock and a radio, is the first in the industry to feature a speech-recognition feature, meaning it can be controlled by voice. "Play music," "play NFB-NEWSLINE," and "play radio" were a few of the commands the system can recognize. The HIMS company has given a BookSense to each affiliate, and President Maurer expressed appreciation for the company's support of the National Federation of the Blind.
Tuesday afternoon was filled with meetings of committees and divisions. No fewer than thirty-eight separate events vied for the attention of members, with some groups holding concurrent sessions, making the choice of what to attend even more difficult. Whether you wanted to talk about the law, religion, social service agencies, computers, buying books, getting or providing a good education, being a blind performer or a blind business owner, these and many other options beckoned for your attention. Reports of some of these meetings will appear in this and future issues of the Braille Monitor.
When the gavel fell on Wednesday morning and official sessions began, the crowd roared its approval. After the invocation Fred Schroeder called for the floor and reminded the delegates and members from every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico that this organization has had three long-term presidents: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. President Maurer was elected in 1986 and is therefore in his twenty-fifth year of service. Fred presented the president with a sterling silver gavel, which rang out in the convention hall as Dr. Maurer thanked his Federation family for their confidence, the opportunity to serve, and the chance to change the lives of blind people for the better.
Dan Hicks, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, began his welcome to Florida by introducing, all the way from the Magic Kingdom, the mayor of Main Street USA, who welcomed the convention to Orlando this way: (sound clip 1) "Hello fellow dignitaries. It's good to be here today, and thank you Mr. Hicks. I'm so happy to be here with you today. I'm Christopher George Weaver, the mayor of Main Street USA at Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom. I am joined up here on the dais--is that what you call it?"
"Well I call it a platform, Mayor," was the response from the first Lady of Main Street USA, Ms. Hildegard Olivia Harding. After a bit of welcome and levity, the manager of Disney's Worldwide Accessibility, Bob Minnick, was introduced. He thanked Dwight Sayer and other members of the Florida affiliate for helping Disney tackle accessibility and specifically the audio-description service they offer blind visitors.
The convention was next treated to a medley of Disney tunes performed by the Main Street Volunteer Marching Band. The selections being familiar Disney classics, the hall was filled with song, and every delegation gave a special cheer as the band passed by.
Dwight Sayer, president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, was introduced to lead us in the celebration of our country's 235th birthday. The MacDill Air Force Base Honor Guard posted our colors, and they were joined by the Honor Guard from American Legion Post 286 from High Castle, Florida. As our veterans made their way to the stage, the convention rose to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. All of the fifty veterans on stage introduced themselves to the convention with names, the branch of the service in which they had served, their ranks, and the states in which they now live. The National Association of Blind Veterans Distinguished Service Award was presented in memoriam to First Sergeant James Lee Worley. Jim retired with twenty-four years of service to the United States Army. He served overseas in Korea, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, with two tours in Vietnam. He was decorated with many commendations, including the National Defense Service Medal with gold leaf cluster, the Army Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and the Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster. Jim provided the seed money used to form the National Association of Blind Veterans, and he will be missed by us all. Jim's award was accepted on behalf of his family by Kevan Worley, who said (sound clip 2) "I am humbled to stand here, and I know Dad would have been surprised, shocked, and profoundly honored. He loved the United States of America, his family, Vietnam veterans, and the National Federation of the Blind. God bless you all, God bless the United States of America, and God bless the National Federation of the Blind."
President Maurer addressed the convention on the subject of pending legislation that would occupy a prominent place on our agenda. The legislation is the Workforce Investment Act and within it the reauthorization of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act. This act has been amended many times, and it is where landmark reforms have come to be the law of the land. Antidiscrimination against disabled people in programs receiving federal financial assistance was written into this act in 1973. Later amendments expanded this law to apply to the federal government. Nonvisual access in the procurement of technology also became federal law as part of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has introduced language that sanctions the payment of subminimum wages to the blind and others with disabilities. The proposal is found in Title Five, Section 511, just eight sections from the antidiscrimination language so boldly affirming the rights of blind Americans. Section 511 references Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938. It reflects the perceptions held more than seventy years ago about the capabilities of blind people to engage in gainful and productive work. There is no place in the language of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act for such outmoded thinking, and a petition was circulated throughout the convention demanding that Section 511 be removed from the reauthorization of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and that Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act be repealed, and the practice of paying subminimum wages to the disabled along with it.
The roll call of states found all fifty states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia represented. Those answering the roll took the opportunity to celebrate significant events in their states and in their delegations. Georgia announced that it had fourteen first-time attendees at the convention. Seventy-five first-time attendees were assisted to the convention through the money raised for the Jernigan Fund. More than sixty staff and students came from Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, including the director, the chairman of the board, and another member of the board of directors. Missouri will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, New Jersey its thirty-fifth. New York has been looking for stable funding for NFB-NEWSLINE®, and this year the legislature unanimously passed a bill granting it.
Given that employment is and has always been a primary focus of the National Federation of the Blind, efforts are ongoing to create greater opportunities in government service, business, and self-employment. One of our initiatives has focused on eBay, and the senior product manager for accessibility, Jonas Klink, came to the podium to discuss advances in the accessibility of the eBay system. Mr. Klink said: "It is our true pleasure for eBay to be here this year, not only as the title sponsor, but also as the continued partner with the National Federation of the Blind as well as a friend of this community.... Over the past year I have personally been very excited with the progress we have made by combining forces to make a difference for a community where technology should not be an obstacle; it should and must be an enabler to overcome and overpower obstacles." Given the high unemployment rate of the blind and eBay's fifteen-year history of job creation by helping entrepreneurs grow and start their own businesses, Mr. Klink said it was fitting that eBay and the National Federation of the Blind connect and asked, "Why be dependent on others who will not take advantage of your skills, when you can create a job for yourself?" Last year eBay tackled accessibility for the buyer. This year it has worked to make its system accessible for the seller. More about the partnership between eBay and the National Federation of the Blind will be found later in this article.
The Presidential Report began the afternoon session and was everything we have come to expect in an annual review of the challenges facing the Federation and our progress in meeting them. President Maurer's report is reprinted in full elsewhere in this issue.
"Getting an Education for Blind Children and Adults: How to Survive with Proper Expectations and Accessibility" was the title of a panel moderated by Anil Lewis, director of strategic communications for the National Federation of the Blind. He was joined by the honorable Alexa Posny, assistant secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the United States Department of Education and by Gaeir Dietrich, the director of the High Tech Center Training Unit for the California Community Colleges. She is also the chair of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities, which has been convened by the United States Department of Education. Presentations made by this panel will appear in the October issue.
Harris Rosen is the owner of the Rosen properties used in 2011 and the facilities that will host our conventions in 2013 through 2017. He addressed the convention on the topic "The American Spirit in Action: Creating Opportunity, Responsibility, and Faith." His is the story of immigrant parents who came here with nothing but the dream of something better, passed that dream to their son, and saw it realized through his initiative, his willingness to take risks, and his commitment to the hard work of making a dream come true. His remarks are available at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention_highlights.asp>.
After Mr. Rosen's presentation President Maurer prepared to introduce Mark Riccobono, the first blind man to drive a vehicle independently, before tens of thousands of spectators. Before introducing Mark, President Maurer asked Mr. Rosen whether he might like to take a ride with a blind driver. He said he would, so, when Mark came to the platform, he began by apologizing to those with whom he was to have dinner by saying that he had some driving to do and would have to find his keys. The title of his presentation was "The First Blind Driver on the Daytona Speedway: A Program Initiated by the National Federation of the Blind.” His remarks tell the story of what it felt like to be the center of attention at the Daytona Speedway, how it felt to carry the hopes and dreams of so many in his mile-and-a-half journey and how he came to understand that, though he was the driver, it was all of us driving with him who were breaking new ground for blind people. His remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
Mark was followed by Dr. Dennis Hong, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech. Dr. Hong acknowledged that, for all we are doing to develop a car a blind person can drive, we have valid questions to answer, criticisms to address, and future work to accomplish for our project to have meaning in the lives of the average blind person. Dr. Hong's remarks will appear in a coming issue.
President Maurer told the convention that we will soon begin conducting blind driver training so we may learn more about how best to teach blind people to use the interfaces we've developed and to increase the number of people who can advise us on what we must do to make the interface more responsive to the needs of a blind driver. The first class is likely to take place in Baltimore in the spring of 2012. The course will include time on the blind driver simulator as well as driving time in the Blind Driver Challenge™ vehicle. Applicants must be blind, must be members of the Federation, and must be willing to take the risks involved in testing experimental technology. The fee for the class will be $500, and applicants are free to raise it or pay it out of pocket. Applicants must be endorsed by a Federation leader in their state, must complete an online application by the end of November, and must write a short essay explaining why they believe they should be admitted to the program.
Convention adjournment did not signal the end of convention activities for the day. The Deaf-Blind Division, the committee on research and development, and the Krafters Division met well into the night. Sessions for those wanting to learn more about eBay were held, and those interested in learning how to use new features of the NFB-NEWSLINE® service were invited to an open house. If the nineteen activities listed in the convention agenda weren't to your liking, the Florida affiliate hosted an indoor beach party.
Morning came early, as so many convention mornings do, when President Maurer gaveled the convention to order and the chairman of our resolutions committee read Resolution 2011-18 opposing the inclusion of Section 511 in the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act and asking Congress to repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which currently allows payment of less than the minimum wage to blind workers. The committee moved its adoption, and the convention adopted the resolution unanimously. The texts of all resolutions passed at the 2011 convention can be found elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer reviewed the Federation's financial statement, discussed procedures used in authorizing the spending of Federation funds, and outlined the checks and balances to ensure that the donations we receive are used to provide maximum benefit to the blind.
In the elections that followed, the Convention elected Sam Gleese to fill the position vacated by Dan Burke. On being elected by acclamation, Sam thanked the Federation for the trust shown in him, thanked Dr. Maurer for his leadership, and expressed gratitude for the leaders who have come before. Sam said, "Today I pledge to you, my Federation family, my total support and resources to accomplish what we need to accomplish on behalf of all blind people. Thank you again for your vote."
Parnell Diggs, Ever Lee Hairston, Cathy Jackson, Mika Pyyhkala, and Joe Ruffalo were all returned to the board with the enthusiastic support of the Convention, and each pledged to continue to give generously of their time, talent, and resources in recognition of the trust placed in them by the blind of America.
Mary Ellen Gabias, director of online entrepreneurship for the National Federation of the Blind, moderated a panel discussion which began with an address entitled “Developing Entrepreneurial Opportunities Online Through eBay.” In her address, which focused on the concept of intelligent entrepreneurship, she said: "In 1995 a group of people in California connected the idea of training, goods, and services with the power of the Internet and created a company that now has ninety-five million registered users. If you think of intelligent entrepreneurship and apply it to the National Federation of the Blind, you think of sixteen people from seven states who gathered in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940. They combined blindness with concepts that most of the world thought were unconnected--concepts like ability, creativity, promise, hope, and great accomplishment. And what has been the result?--This organization, the National Federation of the Blind. So it is not surprising, and in fact it's very fitting, that the world's largest marketplace and the world's largest organization of blind people should combine to make changes in the employment status of blind people."
Mary Ellen was joined by several successful entrepreneurs who have learned to use eBay with their access technology and are now engaged in successfully marketing products and services on eBay. A recording of this presentation can be found at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention_highlights.asp>.
As the world's information technology gets ever smaller and more powerful, products and services are moving away from desktop and laptop machines and toward handheld pocket-sized devices. As the hardware changes, so too do the software and the operating systems that are used to run it. Android is the operating system that is experiencing the fastest growth in popularity in the world. It is free and can be modified by anyone with the ideas and the ingenuity to improve it. With more and more cellular telephones and other smart devices moving to this platform, it is essential that blind people have devices that can take advantage of its flexibility, popularity, and low cost.
One company that is bringing a product to market using this operating system is LevelStar. Marc Mulcahy, the president and chief engineer of the company, addressed the convention and demonstrated a prototype of the Orion Eighteen. He said that this device, expected to be available in the fourth quarter of 2011, will serve as a Braille notetaker, calendar, calculator, eBook reader, and telephone and will perform a host of other functions that portable data assistants do for the sighted. It will have a high-quality camera that will allow it to be used to read printed documents. It will provide access to the Internet using traditional wireless systems when available and cellular internet connections when they are not. He said that too often blind people must choose between blindness-specific software with limited functionality and off-the-shelf software that may be accessible but not very efficient or usable. The hope is that, by using an operating system that can be modified to maximize our experience, the blind will no longer have to settle for compromises in our use of state-of-the-art portable devices. Mr. Mulcahy's remarks and a demonstration of the company's product are available at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention_highlights.asp>.
"Quiet Cars, Pedestrian Safety, and Protection for the Environment: A Panel Discussion" was the next item to come before the convention. John G. Paré Jr., executive director for strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind, was the moderator. He began with some history of the issue of cars too quiet to hear; described our resolutions, presentations, and legislative battles; and told the assembled how the bill became law when signed by President Obama in December of 2010. The task now is to write regulations defining acceptable sounds that will be used to indicate the presence of nearly silent vehicles, and addressing this issue along with Mr. Paré were David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Douglas B. Moore, vehicle performance owner, General Motors Corporation; and Kevin Ro, national manager, technical and regulatory affairs, Toyota Motor North America. Doug Moore and Kevan Ro both related the experience they had in Baltimore when traveling under sleepshades to understand travel better using hearing. Mr. Ro, in commenting about his experience and about our demand that something be done, said: "That's the kind of advocacy group you have here that really tries to listen and to teach us, and I want you to know you are probably the best group of advocates I've ever dealt with in my nineteen years in the field." The remarks made by the presenters will be printed in an upcoming issue, and the audio featuring sounds currently being developed and tested by the auto manufacturers will be made available in the recorded edition.
Thursday afternoon began with a report on our legislative efforts. After an eleven-year delay, the reforms that have been proposed legislatively to the Social Security Disability Insurance program have resulted in a pilot program to see whether changes to eliminate the earnings cliff and replace it with a two-for-one reduction will result in the employment of more blind people, which will in turn increase the revenue flowing into the Social Security Trust Fund.
Our Technology Bill of Rights faces real challenges from members of Congress who believe that we need fewer regulations and are opposed to adding more. Rather than pursuing legislation to mandate the accessibility of all consumer products, the Federation will pursue the more limited goal of mandating access to all home appliances. We will introduce a Home Appliances Accessibility Act, which will call on the Access Board to develop nonvisual standards for home appliances that require interaction with a digital display or touch-screen interface. The Act will give the Federal Trade Commission enforcement powers to hold companies accountable. The U.S. Access Board approached us and said they wanted to work with us on this initiative, and, after speaking with Democrats and Republicans, we believe that the Home Appliances Accessibility Act has a real chance of passing.
For years Congress has been concerned about the number of presidential appointees who must be confirmed by the Senate. They have repeatedly tried to exempt the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration from this requirement, and the National Federation of the Blind has consistently argued that the RSA commissioner is so important that the position deserves the same scrutiny as other crucial governmental positions. This year, when Senate Bill 679, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, was introduced, it contained a provision eliminating the need for Senate confirmation of the commissioner. When this bill went to the House and was passed on June 29, the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration was not included in it.
“Equal Access to Technology and Programs in the United States” was the title of the presentation given by David M. Capozzi, the executive director of the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. As one would infer from the title, this presentation spoke forcefully to the issue of access and the role of the federal government in ensuring it exists. The remarks of Mr. Capozzi will be reprinted in an upcoming issue.
The convention next discussed the Braille Monitor and the need to discontinue producing the magazine on cassette. President Maurer entertained suggestions about how we might make the magazine available to those who now rely on the cassette version. A brief notice about the migration to other formats and media is found in the Monitor Miniatures of this issue.
Sharon Maneki came to the platform to preside over the passage of sixteen resolutions. Eighteen were presented, but one had been passed earlier in the convention, and one was rejected by the membership. A complete report from the chairman and the resolutions adopted by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
The afternoon session ended with some interesting trivia. When last the Federation was in Florida, the number of people registered was 1,507. Our room cost in 1979 was $11 per night. The source for this information was Mrs. Jernigan, who has been attending and helping run conventions since 1966.
Shortly after adjournment of the Thursday evening session, members could visit the exhibit hall; attend a workshop sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind on accessible cell phones; participate in a seminar to train advocates to participate in the creation and modification of Individualized Education Plans for blind students; learn about the Social Security, SSI, and Medicare programs, what to report, and how to appeal adverse rulings; review products from Pearson to make math instruction more accessible for people using personal computers; listen to and participate in a session by representatives of Oracle on the impact of Oracle products on the workplace; and, if all of this was just too serious after a long day, there was always the Showcase of Talent, where one could enjoy a little music, or the student division’s Monte Carlo Night to play cards.
Dr. Fredric Schroeder began the Friday morning session with a moving presentation entitled "No More Subminimum Wages: The Time Is Now!” The question those who provide specialized employment for the blind should be asking is not whether a blind worker can do a given job, but as service providers they should be asking what job this person, with individual strengths and abilities, can do. Dr. Schroeder was joined by Damashe Thomas, a worker at Georgia Industries for the Blind; Kathleen Martinez, assistant secretary, Office of Disability Employment Policy, United States Department of Labor; Dr. Janet Szlyk, president and executive director, the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired; Jim Kesteloot, member, Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled; and Jacqueline Berrien, chair, United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. All of these presentations are so timely and informative that they will be found in their entirety elsewhere in this issue.
"A Blind Chief Executive of One of the Largest States in America" brought the crowd to its feet as Governor David A. Paterson talked about the America that was and the America that can be if only we continue to be the kind of advocates blind people need in becoming first-class citizens of this great nation. Governor Paterson has recently joined the New York City chapter of the Federation and is working collaboratively with us to promote access and independence for the blind. A copy of his moving remarks can be found at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention_highlights.asp>.
"Building Accessible Tools for Knowledge: A Commitment by a Computer Giant" was delivered by Dr. Alan Eustace, senior vice president, knowledge, from Google. Google is the most popular search engine in the world and is generally credited with being quite accessible to the blind. Google Books offers access in numbers never available to the blind, but other offerings by the company are quite inaccessible, and the threat of their widespread adoption can deal a serious blow to our timely and effective access to information.
Google offers to colleges and universities a suite of applications that handle everything from email to word processing. They work well if you can see; they offer almost nothing if you cannot. President Maurer and Federation members who know technology met with Dr. Eustace and his team. Here is how Dr. Eustace characterized that meeting and the relationship that has come from it. "Dr. Maurer gave us a pretty clear picture of where we stood in terms of accessibility.... You know that friend of yours who, when you have just finished dinner and there's a big piece of spinach hanging between your teeth and somebody walks up to you and takes you aside and says, Alan, you've got a problem. That friend was Dr. Maurer in that meeting. Specifically he was talking about our apps products and the fact that these products are getting deployed widely in businesses and schools--and there are issues. Not only did he say there were issues; he actually demonstrated the issues in front of me. Then he sent me videos of the issues. You can't say he is not thorough.... We did not try to explain ourselves at that meeting. We did not try to come up with excuses for what was wrong. What we did is assemble that group of people and say, `Hey, what went wrong?' And what was interesting to me was that it was not an impossible technical problem that was holding us back.... It was because we had a thousand little problems and it turned into a complex people problem and a logistics problem, but it was not an impossible technical problem.... At the end of this session we kicked off what we call a back-to-school program, and we'd like to make sure that our apps products are accessible by the time that school starts."
At the end of his remarks Dr. Eustace said, "I want to say right now that we won't get everything right. We have a ship and iterate mentality; we try to fix things as they come up. But what I can say with complete confidence is that we will become a very strong partner of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you very much for inviting me; thank you for inspiring me to build better products that are accessible for more people." President Maurer followed up by saying, "Two things, Alan: (they use first names there a lot): One is, we're delighted to have you as a partner; that is to say, we wish to be a partner of yours too, and, as we find and think of things that would be helpful to make your products more saleable to more people, which is to say usable by the whole world instead of just this limited sighted group you've got, we'll tell you about it because we want you to sell everything everywhere." He went on to say that we want the interface that will let sighted people operate the autonomous vehicle Google is developing to be accessible to the blind. Dr. Eustace agreed we would work to make it so.
Dr. Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress, came to speak about "Library Services to the Blind of the Nation and Access to Digital Material from the Library of Congress." She began by taking note of and commending Frank Kurt Cylke on his thirty-eight years as the director of the program for the blind and physically handicapped and spoke admiringly of his leadership through two major audio technology revolutions: from the Talking Book disc to the Talking Book cassette and then to the Digital Talking Book.
Dr. Marcum promises several changes in the coming year. Plans are to upgrade the BARD (Braille Reading and Audio Download) site in order to improve its speed, its searchability, and its performance. WebBraille will be incorporated into the site. This will mean that patrons can go to one place for materials available through NLS instead of having two sites with two different user identification codes and passwords. The Library will move magazines from cassettes to digital cartridges, and books and magazines will be uploaded daily rather than weekly. NLS also hopes to develop apps for use with iPhones and devices that use the Android operating system.
In 2010 NLS produced sixty Spanish titles and in 2011 will produce seventy-five. A number of other books will also be made available in other languages. Making more locally produced content available is a priority since many regional libraries have content available that could be of benefit to readers nationally. In addition to the Braille music scores featured by NLS, five-hundred audio files are expected to be added to BARD. Additional audio magazines and instructional materials for music will follow. NLS has written a job description for the director's position at NLS and hopes to hire a new director soon.
The final general session of the convention began Friday afternoon with an exciting report by Dan Goldstein, a principal in the law firm of Brown, Goldstein and Levy. His topic was “Equal Access to Information: the Urgency and the Law.” Two years ago he stood before the convention and made a promise. He said that, because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, we would have something we have never had in our history: same books, same time, at the same price. We have made substantial progress toward meeting that goal. Mr. Goldstein's remarks will appear in full in a future issue.
"The Accessible Campus in California: An Example for the Nation," presented by Peter M. Siegel, chief information officer and vice provost, information and educational technology, was introduced by President Maurer with these remarks: "This is a very important item. We go to the college campuses, and they say we're with you in spirit; the trouble is it can't be done. Impossibility is always a great argument. If they're wrong about that, the argument goes away immediately, and we have something to discuss. The reason we have invited this gentleman is that he has worked to make sure that the campuses in California are accessible one-hundred percent of the time. Here is Peter Siegel."
Mr. Siegel began by saying it was a pleasure to be addressing a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, especially since the founder of the NFB was both a student and a professor at the University of California. He believes we must take issue with the idea that vision is the best way to learn. We must reject the idea that certain fields are visual. Given the profound role of information technology and the substantive remarks presented, this presentation will appear in a future issue of the Braille Monitor.
For too long the enforcement of civil rights for the blind has been hampered, either because no law existed to confirm the right, or little to no enforcement was done to affirm it once a law was on the books. The Obama Administration has significantly increased the enforcement of civil rights laws, especially for people with disabilities. It was in this context that the item "Civil Rights for Disabled Americans," was next on the agenda, and its presenter was Samuel Bagenstos, principal deputy assistant attorney general, in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. Mr. Bagenstos said that, as a young attorney interested in civil rights, he knew little about how the law might apply to people with disabilities. Central in his learning were the writings of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. From 2002 to 2007 the Civil Rights Division lost two-thirds of its attorneys, and of these most were senior litigators. The result was that civil rights enforcement dropped dramatically and particularly was this so for people with disabilities. The commitment of Mr. Bagenstos, the attorney general, and the Obama administration is to get back into the race for civil rights enforcement, especially where it applies to access to technology. Mr. Bagenstos’ remarks will appear in a future issue of the Monitor.
A longtime friend of the National Federation of the Blind, Ray Kurzweil, president and chief executive officer, K-NFB Reading Technology, addressed the convention on the topic "Transcendent Ideas, the Man to Make Them Current, and a Partnership Expanding Access for All." He came to talk about the progress of technology and a new book he is writing on the brain and described how the plasticity of this most fantastic organ will adapt to use the senses it has. Our protests notwithstanding, our brains may indeed be different as they adapt to accommodate our individual circumstances. This is why a person reading Braille from a young age will cultivate more extensive and faster pathways in the brain than a person who learns Braille later in life and probably explains the differences in reading speed we observe.
How we read is much the same as it was thirty-five years ago when Ray Kurzweil and the National Federation of the Blind began our collaboration, but how we get the material to read has changed significantly. Today Amazon sells more electronic books than print, so there is less emphasis on converting shapes to letters and words and more emphasis on converting electronic formats into materials usable by the blind.
Ray Kurzweil's latest contribution to making books available involves a collaboration between Baker and Taylor and K-NFB Reading Technology. The software that allows these books to be read can run on a desktop, laptop, personal data assistant, tablet, or cellular phone. Blio, this magic software intended to run on any hardware and any operating system, is free. So are some three million of the books it makes accessible, but the project's success will be in selling books that people want to read, no matter the device they use. Blio may be the beginning of the transition from blind people as book borrowers to blind people as book consumers as we join the public in buying commercial books.
Jim Gashel, vice president of business development at K-NFB Reading Technology, demonstrated Blio using a laptop PC under Windows and on an iPhone. He searched for books, downloaded one to his library, and did some reading, which featured going through the table of contents, finding the chapter he wanted to read, and going directly to it, at which time the narration commenced. Whether one prefers the responsiveness of a computerized voice or the more lifelike voices on the market, Blio supports both and can easily alternate between them.
"A Partnership for Access: Comments from the Major Distributor of Books in the United States" was presented by Robert Nelson, president of the digital group at Baker and Taylor. Mr. Taylor said he was proud of the relationship between Baker and Taylor and K-NFB Reading Technology and that the largest distributor of books sees this as a way to make a major part of their business digital. Agreements to preload Blio have been made with Dell, HP, Toshiba, and LG. The company has also reached an agreement with T-Mobile so that content can be downloaded from any area served by this wireless provider. By the end of the year Blio will be preloaded on twenty-five million devices, and it can easily be installed on pre-existing devices through the company's Website.
In addition to selling books directly, Baker and Taylor is partnering with libraries so that patrons can download library materials without ever having to go to the facility. Agreements are also in the works with colleges and universities so that the books they use can be made available to students without regard to the device they choose to use to read their books.
In an exciting change of pace, Ron Brown, the second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, came to talk with the convention about one of the passions of his life. His topic was "Baseball, Hall of Fame, Blindness." Just as some people have their dream job, this is Ron's favorite pastime. Until he found baseball, something was missing. That something was sports, a way to be competitive, not just with his mind, but with his body. He wanted exercise and competition, and baseball was the sport that tied these together.
In 1964 an electrical engineer created the first beeping ball. Today the ball is sixteen inches in circumference, a little larger than a softball, with a pin inside. As familiar as this device is to the people who love baseball for the blind, it is less familiar to the security screeners at our nation's airports. When Ron found himself delayed at the checkpoint on his way to convention, he overheard two Transportation Security Administration employees discussing an object in his luggage. "It looks like a baseball," one said. "But it has a pin in it and some metal," the other said with obvious concern. Ron decided he had better intervene. "This is a beeping baseball for the blind, used to play organized sports. Would you like me to show you how it works and pull the pin?"
"No, no, no, don't pull the pin," was the nervous reply.
Ron has played baseball for twenty-five years, and in 1990 he was interviewed by Joe Garagiola on the Today Show. Although he has had a long and illustrious career, the mind is willing but the body feels different. He will retire from the sport, having been on eight all-star teams and having one world series trophy under his belt. This summer the World Series of Blind Baseball will be held in Indianapolis, and Ron has it on good authority that he will be inducted into the hall of fame. “I'm passionate about four things in life: God, my biological family, my Federation family, and baseball; but I have to say that, when baseball season rolls around, the order changes a bit."
In honoring a pioneering blind doctor, Jacob Bolotin, the National Federation of the Blind once again presented the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. James Gashel, the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, chaired the committee and made the presentations. His remarks and the responses of the recipients appear elsewhere in this issue.
The banquet of the National Federation of the Blind, chaired by our first vice president, Fred Schroeder, began with an invocation by our longtime leader, Donald Capps. The meal and fellowship were supplemented by door prizes, drawings, and an announcement that we had increased our annual PAC pledge from $384,000 to $409,541.88. At the close of registration all of the top ten states had over one hundred in attendance, with 2,970 people having registered.
We soon moved to the highlight of the evening, the banquet address presented by our president, Dr. Marc Maurer. This was the twenty-third time our national president had come to remind us of our origins, to review life for blind people today, and to help us dream of what it will be like in the future if we keep the commitments we have made to the blind of the nation and the world. In broad outline he spoke of risking to really change the public's perception of us, no longer to let the image society has of us and we have of ourselves be determined by others, and to act boldly to tell people the real story of what it means to be blind. President Maurer's speech appears elsewhere in this issue.
John Paré came to the stage to present a much-deserved award to Congressman Cliff Stearns for his part in helping to pass the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. John's remarks and those of Congressman Stearns appear elsewhere in this issue.
The national board of directors decided to expand the awards given by the Federation by creating the Kenneth Jernigan Award. It is to be given to a person who possesses at least one of the characteristics that made Kenneth Jernigan the teacher, leader, and administrator we deeply admire. The first recipient of this award was Frank Kurt Cylke. The presentation of this award is found elsewhere in this issue.
Ray Kurzweil came to the stage to say that one of the reasons he joins us every year is that our message is so similar to what he was taught by his family: "If you can define a problem, you can solve it; if you can define a challenge, you can overcome it."
Patti Chang came to the dais to present scholarships to thirty of the best and brightest blind students in America. The list of scholarships presented and the remarks of tenBroek Fellow Kyle Shachmut, the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner, are found elsewhere in this issue.
Ramona Walhof is the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Award committee. She came to the platform to bestow the highest honor this organization can award to a Federationist. The recipients this year were Fred and Cathy Schroeder. Ramona's presentation and the remarks made in accepting the award appear elsewhere in this issue.
The final door prize given at the convention was provided by the Florida Affiliate in the amount of $2,011. It was won by Margo Gray, and, with President Maurer's lowering of his sterling silver gavel, the 2011 convention was adjourned.
Every year a theme dominates our convention. Sometimes it is clear and often repeated; sometimes it is evident only by analyzing the consistency in the remarks of the presenters and the hallway discussions of members. This year our theme was access and a full day's work for a full day's pay. If we demand quality training and insist on equal opportunity, access to information cannot be negotiable. If we believe that blind people, given the proper training and opportunity, can be as productive as people with sight, what we demand of Congress and the public cannot be negotiable. The blind deserve to be fully productive and participating citizens, and America, in her time of significant economic need, deserves no less than the best from her most willing patriots. This was the message of the 2011 convention, and, having affirmed for our leaders their belief in us and given them their marching orders, this will be the direction of every program of the National Federation of the Blind in the year ahead.
An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2011
The past twelve months have been a time of unprecedented growth for the National Federation of the Blind. The challenges facing us have been at least as great as they have ever been, but our capacity to meet them has increased from former times. The scope of our programs, the nature of the undertakings we have pursued, and the depth and breadth of the solutions we have sought to achieve are the greatest that the Federation has ever known. However, our determination has been equal to the task we have set ourselves, and our progress is accelerating.
An astonishing document that has come to us indicates our expanding influence in the United States and the world. Slate magazine, an online publication owned by the Washington Post, carried an article on April 15, 2011, which commented about the opprobrious remark Kobe Bryant made on April 12, 2011, which was offensive to the gay and lesbian community. Slate magazine listed the people to whom apologies must be offered after offensive remarks have been made about groups protected by civil rights legislation. In part the article said:
Group offended: the blind
Sample offense: In 2009, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said that then New York Governor David Paterson was "blind and can't read Braille, and doesn't know what's going on."
Sample apology: Murdoch apologized to Paterson, who said the conversation was "cordial."
How to apologize: Contact Dr. Marc Maurer, the president of the National Federation of the Blind, via the NFB's director of public relations, Chris Danielsen. His number is 410-659-9314, ext. 2330.
What to say: Blind people are just as capable as people with perfect vision.
These are the words of Slate magazine, and although we might quibble with some of the language, their point of view is correct. They should know better than to belittle the blind, and their apologies are to be made to the organized blind movement.
I believe that the first lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of blind people occurred in 1954. We sued the Civil Service Commission, and we lost. However, the rules of the commission changed as a result of what we did so that certain blind applicants could apply for federal jobs. This case initiated a practice that we have been following since that time. For the past quarter century we have been fortunate to employ the services of Dan Goldstein and his law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy. Dan Goldstein, a sighted lawyer, has comprehended the civil rights nature of the work we do, and he has wholeheartedly joined in our effort to bring equality of opportunity to the blind. His work in supporting our efforts has been sufficiently great that we have won dozens of lawsuits, and the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law has decided to give the 2011 Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights to Dan Goldstein and to me. About Dan Goldstein they say, “Goldstein is one of the country’s top disability-rights litigators, having most recently represented Stephanie Enyart, a low-vision law school graduate, in her suit against the National Conference of Bar Examiners for failing to provide her proper accommodations to take the California Bar Exam.” The presentation will take place at the American Bar Association meeting to be held in Toronto on August 8. I note that the 2004 recipient of this award is a blind person well known to the National Federation of the Blind. That year’s honoree was our own Anil Lewis.
Over ten years ago we began talking about the perceived limits of independence. We speculated that an automobile could be built in a way that would permit a blind person to drive it. In 2008 we began actively working with Virginia Tech, and its world-class robotics scientist, Dr. Dennis Hong, to create nonvisual interfaces for driving. On July 2, 2010, we announced that in January 2011 we would make the first public demonstration of a blind person’s piloting a street-legal vehicle independently using nonvisual technology. Working with Virginia Tech and TORC Technologies, we developed a research vehicle and began testing the first nonvisual interfaces with blind drivers.
On January 29, 2011, more than four hundred members of the National Federation of the Blind, along with tens of thousands of other race fans, were in attendance at the Daytona International Speedway. I rode to the starting line with Congressman John Mica, representative for Florida’s Seventh Congressional District and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in the modified Ford Escape equipped with nonvisual technology. Although he did the driving, he did not use the nonvisual interface because he had received no training in the methods required for driving without vision. We handed the car off to Mark Riccobono, the blind driver, who navigated one and a half miles of the Daytona International Speedway, beginning with the official starting line, where the track is banked eighteen degrees. He navigated a number of turns, successfully avoided a series of barrels in the road, honked his horn at Federation members in the stands, steered around boxes randomly thrown in front of the car, and passed another moving vehicle on the race course at twenty-seven miles per hour. This year the Daytona racing season kicked off with the National Federation of the Blind and an historic demonstration which was almost universally thought impossible. Those who doubted us may continue to wonder how it was done, but they can no longer say that it can’t be done. We did it. Mark Riccobono, a blind man, drove at Daytona, and he and Anil Lewis, another blind man, are offering people rides here in Orlando.
We now have a base research vehicle that we can use to encourage further development of nonvisual interfaces. At this convention we are conducting the first ever research project on blind drivers by gathering data from driving simulators connected to the nonvisual interfaces. We will continue to seek university and technology partners to explore this uncharted territory, and we will apply our energy and imagination to expanding the horizons of independence.
News coverage of the Blind Driver Challenge over the course of the year reached the largest audience that the National Federation of the Blind has ever had. On July 8, 2010, Mark Riccobono and Dr. Dennis Hong appeared on CNN. On January 28, 2011, the Associated Press released a wire story that was carried by dozens of news outlets. On January 31, 2011, Mark Riccobono and Dr. Hong were interviewed by television stations from across the nation. On February 15, 2011, Wired magazine carried the story. On March 6, 2011, Mark Riccobono appeared on the Today Show. At about the same time the television program Motor Week featured the event. On April 4, 2011, Popular Science magazine printed its version. There has also been coverage in Japan, Brazil, and Korea. Within the past year this effort has brought us 923,317,095 media impressions in the United States.
We have used the Blind Driver Challenge to expand the concept of accessibility of elements of our environment for the blind, but we have also used it to instruct and inspire. Last fall we began the National Federation of the Blind Teacher of Tomorrow Program. We selected sixteen of the most talented and motivated individuals who are preparing to teach blind students and immersed them in a series of experiences that would forever change the way they understand blindness. They have listened to us, worked with our blind teens at the NFB Youth Leadership Academy, and come to understand the urgent need for Braille literacy. They joined us in Daytona for the Blind Driver Challenge, and they walked with us through the halls of Capitol Hill. They traveled to Louisiana to learn about instructional strategies for the blind, and today they are here at our national convention. These teachers are not simply friends of the Federation; they are members; they are part of the Federation family. Here are excerpts from a letter that I received from two of them:
Dear Dr. Maurer,
We would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the NFB for the most incredible professional and personal experiences we’ve ever had. We feel so fortunate to have been selected to participate in the first ever Teacher of Tomorrow program. It has been an amazing experience for us on so many levels. The Blind Driver Challenge was like watching the first moon landing. The Washington, D.C., trip was incredibly powerful—to be a part of the legislative process and participating in civil rights activities. We feel as though we have forged lifelong friendships and lifelong professional relationships, and we will definitely have much higher standards for our blind students because of the exposure we’ve had through the National Federation of the Blind.
We also can’t say enough about the Jernigan Institute. The accommodations, food, and staff were incredibly wonderful. It was hard not to go back for thirds on those breakfast potatoes!
Kina Blackburn and Kathy Michielsen
Teachers of Tomorrow
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act became law on January 4, 2011. The National Federation of the Blind first contemplated action with respect to silent or near-silent cars at our convention in July of 2003. The change was initiated because Debbi Kent Stein, one of our leaders from Illinois, had observed that silent, or near-silent, cars pose a threat to pedestrians, particularly the blind. This new law requires the Department of Transportation to establish a minimum sound standard for all new hybrid and electric cars. The manufacturers must comply with this standard within a thirty-six-month period. We have notified the Department of Transportation that we expect to be involved in establishing an appropriate regulation for the implementation of this law.
In the meantime we have asked the Working Party on Noise of the United Nations to adopt worldwide regulations to implement similar protection for blind people in other nations. In 2008 I travelled to Geneva to speak with the members of the working group, and John Paré has returned to Geneva to continue the effort whenever his presence was needed. Ensuring safety for blind pedestrians is not a matter only for the United States, and a uniform world standard will help to ensure the safety of blind people here and in other nations.
Within the past year we have consulted with many of the major auto manufacturers, and representatives from some of these will be at this convention. It is worthy of note that our members have taken primary responsibility for this legislative effort. An email from one such member, Sheri Albers, dated January 6, 2011, says, in part, “I have been going to Washington Seminar for four years now, and this is the first time that I feel that I really made a difference in the world. I was there when this was first introduced; I was there giving my corny illustration of trying to cross a completely silent busy intersection; and I was there when the congressmen scratched their heads and said, 'Gee, I never thought of that!’ I describe the feeling I have as empowerment. I am one blind person from the state of Ohio, and I made a difference for the whole country and the future for all blind Americans!”
The National Federation of the Blind continues to support full funding for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. Although full funding for this program is unlikely in the present legislative environment, it appears that the cuts to the Library budget will not be severe.
We continue our contract work with the Library of Congress, administering the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. Since taking on the project, we have forwarded the names of more than one thousand individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
Since the launch of NFB-NEWSLINE® Online, our NFB-NEWSLINE service provided over the Internet, we have been continuing to increase service to our subscribers. Our newest online access method for NFB-NEWSLINE is the NLS Digital Talking Book Downloader, which allows subscribers to download their favorite publications to the book cartridges used in the new NLS digital players. Another recent addition to NFB-NEWSLINE is the job listings feature, which offers subscribers access to hundreds of thousands of job ads. Subscribers can request that job listings be sent to them via email, which will contain a link to the application form for each job. Some of the newest publications on NFB-NEWSLINE this year include Vogue, Vanity Fair, New York Review of Books, ESPN Magazine, Fitness, and Better Homes & Gardens. At this convention, effective this afternoon, we are initiating advertising from the Target Corporation, which will include specials offered at Target, grocery products available, and the most exciting new technologies. As we test this advertising medium, we are hoping to interest other companies in selecting NEWSLINE as the advertising medium to the blind of the nation.
In addition to the legislation we have shepherded through Congress, we are seeking additional legal provisions to protect the interests of the blind. In 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act became law, it included an authorization to pay blind people less than the federally guaranteed minimum wage. To write into American law a provision which declares by implication that the blind are incompetent and inferior is intolerable. This exploitation has lasted long enough, and we have decided that we will seek members of Congress with courage, who will support legislation for the elimination of the subminimum wage provisions. Senator Benjamin Cardin has indicated that he agrees with our position opposing subminimum wages. We expect to have the same rights that are accorded to anybody else, and the least we should receive for our labor is the federally guaranteed minimum wage. This is a priority for the Federation.
Access to information for the blind is fundamental to equality. The NFB was successful in getting the 2008 amendments to the Higher Education Act to include the establishment of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities. The Commission is charged with conducting a comprehensive study to assess the barriers that affect the timely delivery of books and other instructional materials that we can read. It is required to make recommendations to Congress about accessible books and materials for blind college students. Mark Riccobono has been serving as the Federation's representative on this commission, and we expect its report to represent a reasonable point of view. Technologies used in college must provide equivalent ease of use for all students—blind or sighted.
The 2011 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, Bridging the Gap between the Disability Rights Movement and Other Civil Rights Movements (the fourth of these symposia we have conducted), took place on April 14 and 15, 2011. The purpose was to examine ways to overcome the misconception that disability rights is not a civil rights issue. Over a hundred fifty people from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe attended, representing eighty-five academic, advocacy, corporate, and governmental organizations. Later this year the proceedings of the symposium will be published in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.
We continue to build the most comprehensive research library on blindness. The complete Braille Monitor has been digitized and is available in our library. It will be accessible through our Website in the near future. In our oral history project, this year we interviewed several people who knew our founder and first president, Jacobus tenBroek. We have received the papers of Dr. Isabelle L. D. Grant, blind teacher and school administrator, who served as the Federation’s unofficial ambassador to the blind of Asia and Africa in the 1950s and '60s. We have also received the Dorothy Tombaugh collection, which is material from a sighted high school biology teacher who developed many innovative techniques for teaching laboratory science to the blind.
Education remains a high priority for us. Over the past year the NFB Braille Reading Pals Club has provided books and small plush animals for 318 young blind children from forty-six of our affiliates. One hundred sixty-one were first-time participants. Families receive monthly newsletters containing Braille literacy tips, quarterly Braille activity sheets, and Braille birthday cards for the children. Furthermore, these families learn about the hope and inspiration of the National Federation of the Blind.
In July 2010 we offered our second Junior Science Academy, providing instruction for thirty elementary-school-age children. In April 2011 twenty-four students and their chaperones came to the NFB Jernigan Institute for the second annual NFB LAW (Leadership and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.) program. The participants learned how blindness legislation is passed and met with members of Congress. This summer eleven NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) programs will take place in seven of our affiliates: Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Utah, North Carolina, and Colorado. Our BELL programs provide two weeks of intense Braille instruction to blind children. If the public schools will not teach Braille to our children, we will do it ourselves. We are continuing to drive change in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math to blind students with the third biennial NFB Youth Slam, which kicks off July 17. One hundred fifty blind high school students from across the country will come to Baltimore to study various subjects from nanotechnology to geosciences. The students will live and learn on the Towson University campus, getting a small taste of college life.
Access to digital information is a necessity for us to gain equality. Making course management software, online books, digital-book reading devices, electronic kiosks, and other digital information systems usable by the blind is one objective we have been pursuing. Part of the process involves making presentations to the people who control the technology. Sometimes our access technology experts represent us, sometimes our legal experts do, and sometimes I join with them to make the presentations about the need for equal access to information. This year we have appeared at the Bb World conference, the biggest convention conducted by the Blackboard Company; the Educause conference; the CHI conference in Vancouver, Canada; the Learning Impact conference in Long Beach, California; the Business Forms Management Association in Baltimore, Maryland; Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and other places. We have also worked this year with Desire2Learn, Instructure, Quantum Simulations, and others to assure that their technology is accessible to the blind. Travelocity, one of the largest and most popular online travel agencies, and Ticketmaster, the largest online event tickets retailer, agreed to make their Websites accessible to the blind.
Last year eBay agreed to make its Website accessible to the blind and to sponsor the blind entrepreneur initiative. The first training group in this initiative came to Baltimore in February of this year, and many of the sixteen blind entrepreneurs from the class are at this convention. The NFB and eBay are committed to working closely with one another. EBay is the title sponsor for this convention.
Pearson Publishing is one of the largest producers of books in the world. We have provided advice to Pearson on creating accessible instructional materials, eBooks, and Web applications.
When Google developed applications for managing course material and other matters on college campuses and in public schools, we reacted with alarm. We asked Google to discuss with us what it was doing because the applications it was distributing were inaccessible to the blind. We did not expect a positive response because there had been many requests for conversation in the past, but the conversation had never occurred. We were invited to the Google headquarters. I traveled to California with John Paré, Dan Goldstein, and Anne Taylor. By the time we had concluded the meeting, it appeared certain that Google was getting the message. Not all of the details have been determined, but the senior vice president, knowledge, for Google is appearing on our program later during this convention, and preliminary indications are that accessibility for the blind to Google applications and information is a priority for Google.
We have pursued a number of international efforts. The World Blind Union has sponsored an international treaty that sets international standards declaring that the blind have a right to access published works in a number of alternative formats including Braille, audio, and electronic text. Currently it is illegal in most countries of the world to import or export these published works in accessible form. We support this WBU proposal. We expect the right to get the same book, at the same time, and for the same cost as anybody else!
We have joined the DAISY Consortium, an international organization dedicated to promoting access for print-disabled people to books. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I traveled to Helsinki, Finland, to participate in meetings of this organization. One of the most important objectives of the DAISY Consortium is to create an international standard that can be used by publishers to produce books in accessible form in the process of publishing them for those who read print. It is expected that the international standard to do this will be published early this fall and that work will begin immediately thereafter to create the electronic technology that can be used to implement this standard without substantial amounts of human intervention.
We have pursued a number of legal cases this year. In November we filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against Penn State University for using inaccessible technology in virtually every phase of campus life. Electronic clickers used in the classroom to verify attendance or respond to questions on pop quizzes, learning-management software used for obtaining assignments or receiving grades, the programs for obtaining student account information, software used for the clinical psychology graduate program, the system for searching for documents in the library, and even the on-campus ATM’s are all inaccessible to the blind. Beyond all of this Penn State had entered into a pilot program with Barnes & Noble to use the inaccessible Nook Study, even though the university had been told that the pilot program with the Kindle violated the law. The Penn State complaint is being mediated. This university must stop adopting policies that permit procurement of inaccessible technology, must conduct an assessment of program elements to assure that equal access to all parts of them is built into the educational experience, and must stop permitting third parties to deploy inaccessible systems on campus. We expect all of this to come from the negotiations at Penn State.
Nick Hughes is an NFB member from Pennsylvania and a student at DeVry University. When he learned that he could not access online learning provided by the university, he filed a complaint, which has now been resolved to his satisfaction. The university is working hard, in collaboration with the NFB, to become a leader in accessible educational technology.
In February 2010 the Michigan Commission for the Blind fired Christine Boone from her position as director of the Michigan Training Center for the Blind, purportedly because of a marksmanship class she had authorized for blind students the previous year. She asked for our help, and after a four-day arbitration, the state has been ordered to reinstate her with full back pay.
Aaron Cannon is blind and a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. When he applied to Palmer College of Chiropractic, he was first accepted then rejected on the grounds of blindness. We filed a complaint with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, and we won. However, Palmer appealed, and a hearing occurred before an administrative law judge, who decided for Aaron Cannon. Palmer appealed to the full Civil Rights Commission. In December of 2010 the Commission issued its decision; the Palmer School must accept Aaron Cannon as a student, it must pay him damages, and it is responsible for our attorneys’ fees. Once again (not a great surprise) Palmer has appealed to the courts. We will fight them wherever they appear; we will demand justice; we will demonstrate the capacity of the blind; and we intend to win. Aaron Cannon will become a chiropractor, and we will not let prejudice stop him.
As I indicated last year, Outlook Nebraska, Inc., in Omaha, is an employer organized under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act—in other words, a sheltered workshop. At Outlook Nebraska blind workers are laid off before sighted workers; machinery is not adapted so that the blind can run it nonvisually; sighted workers receive promotions, but the blind do not; workers are subject to retaliation for reporting safety violations; and the temperatures in the factory where the blind work dip into the forties during winter and over one-hundred in the summer. Management has spent over $300,000 in renovation for its office space, which is reported to be quite comfortable. Outlook Nebraska is attempting to have the case we have filed in the Federal District Court dismissed on the grounds that we in the National Federation of the Blind are not entitled to serve as representatives of the workers who have suffered discrimination, and the management of this sheltered shop is seeking to intimidate us by asking the court to charge us with sanctions—a kind of civil penalty. These officials also want to charge our attorney with sanctions. I will let you know just exactly how well this kind of tactic works, but in the meantime, I have a question. The lawyer on the case is Scott LaBarre. Do you believe that the managers of a sheltered workshop can frighten Scott LaBarre? Do you believe he will be intimidated? Do you believe that they can intimidate the National Federation of the Blind?
The Law School Admissions Council has a monopoly on the application process for individuals who are attempting to enter law schools. Those who wish to apply must visit the LSAC Website, which, as I reported last year, is not accessible to blind applicants. It seemed only fair to me that we attempt to change this discrimination. Lawyers are expected to know the law, and lawyers are expected to be leaders in enforcing it. When we sued the Law School Admissions Council, they said that the law schools had made them use inaccessible Web technology. We notified the law schools that we might be seeking to add them to our case. We filed several complaints with the Justice Department against law schools, demanding that the inaccessible application process be changed. We have now reached a settlement with the Law School Admissions Council on the subject of its Website. The LSAC has agreed to make its Website accessible by September of 2011, the Department of Justice has reached a number of settlements with law schools based upon the complaints we filed, and LSAC is paying to us legal fees amounting to $320,000.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners denied Stephanie Enyart the opportunity to take the bar exam using the access technology of her choice. We won a preliminary order, directing the Bar Examiners to offer the test in the form that she had requested, but the Bar Examiners appealed. In January the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Bar Examiners to provide the test in a manner that would “best ensure” that Stephanie Enyart would be tested on her abilities to pass the exam rather than her abilities to understand unfamiliar testing circumstances. She was allowed to use assistive technology to take the test. The Bar Examiners have filed a petition with the Supreme Court to have this case heard there. We do not yet know what the highest court in the land will do. The Supreme Court is not required to take the case. However, if we are called upon to defend our right to equal opportunity, we will speak about the capacity of the blind in that exalted chamber. We who are blind have a right to be there as respondents, as petitioners, and as lawyers authorized to practice law.
In the meantime the Bar Examiners are following the orders of the court in California, but they have declared that equal access for the blind to the Bar Exam will not be available anywhere else. You can be absolutely certain that other actions are being planned, other avenues being explored, other lawsuits being prepared by the National Federation of the Blind. We will not let the Bar Examiners tell us that equality is for everybody except the blind.
We reached an agreement some time ago with Amazon that it would make its Website accessible to the blind and that it would modify its Kindle for accessibility. However, new access barriers have appeared on the Amazon.com Website. Furthermore, the modifications that Amazon has made to its Kindle are completely ineffective for use by the blind. Amazon has created a Kindle computer-based application that appears to work, but the inaccessible features on the Website and the inadequate modifications to the Kindle make us wonder whether Amazon is backsliding. We in the National Federation of the Blind have a program for backsliders. When we make an agreement that requires technology to become accessible, we intend that it shall stay accessible. This is required by law, and, if Amazon has not yet come to understand this reality, we will do our best to make them realize what is required. We will also do our best to get them to pay for the education.
The right of the blind to equal access to the Internet is not secondary, and we will not permit it to be an afterthought. We continue to press companies to make their Websites accessible. Unfortunately, federal Websites are among the worst offenders. A recently published study shows significant accessibility barriers on more than 90 percent of the government home pages examined. We have been urging the federal government to abide by the standards it has promulgated, but we will also be filing complaints against a number of federal agencies. Building Websites so that they are accessible to the blind is not hard, and we expect government agencies to know enough to obey the law.
Chris Toth and Jamie Principato are blind students at Florida State University. Florida State requires that every college student complete a college-level math class before the end of the sophomore year. Moreover, Chris Toth, a talented computer scientist, wants a degree in computer science, but he cannot take any computer science classes until he has completed certain math prerequisites. FSU’s entire math program—homework, quizzes, and tests—is online and inaccessible to the blind. FSU repeatedly refused to consider accessibility, even after Chris Toth told them how it could be done. FSU required Chris Toth to use a human reader to try to solve calculus problems and to take tests. FSU would not let Jamie Principato use ZoomText to take tests. FSU refused to let them take their exams at the Student Disability Resource Center. FSU made Jamie Principato take a paper-and-pencil test in a poorly lighted room. FSU made Chris Toth take his test with a human reader in the math department kitchen, while faculty ate lunch and chatted. Did the faculty look over his shoulder and offer commentary during the test? This certainly would have been possible. When the math professors were required by the university to give these students class notes, they provided image PDFs, which cannot be read by screen-reader software. When Chris Toth requested a Braille version of the math book, FSU refused.
As might be expected, Jamie Principato and Chris Toth have not completed the math course. FSU has now refused to let them register for any class other than math for the fall semester because they did not complete the required math by the end of their sophomore year—and FSU refuses to pay for them to retake the class. On behalf of Jamie Principato and Chris Toth, the National Federation of the Blind has filed suit to challenge the discrimination and seek recompense for the intentional harm caused by this university. Sometimes discrimination occurs because the people involved are unaware of the actions they should take. However, in this case officials at the university meant to discriminate. They do not want blind students in their classes, and they have decided to bar the door to keep us out. However, we know the law, we know our capacity, and we will not permit them to keep us from our rightful place. This is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.
McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, has installed kiosks known as CUSS, for Common Use Self-Service. These CUSS kiosks permit any traveler to print a boarding pass, check an itinerary, or change a flight on any airline, as long as the traveler can see. The kiosks are inaccessible to the blind, and we have filed suit in Nevada to make them change. Some people tell me that these kiosks are the wave of the future. If so, they can’t make a wave without us. Furthermore, I am told that there is a lot of money in Las Vegas. I expect to have full access for the blind to information, and I expect that the officials in Las Vegas who have installed these kiosks will pay the bill.
We offer educational experiences to tens of thousands of people a year in many different ways, and we look for partners. When we established the Reading Rights Coalition, and when we decided to picket the Authors Guild in New York, we found a man with us on the picket line from the Xavier Society for the Blind. Father John Sheehan, chairman of the Xavier Society for the Blind, spoke to our convention last year. During the winter he took two weeks from his busy schedule ministering to the blind Catholics of our country to become a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He learned a great deal during his time at the Louisiana Center, including a substantial amount of Braille. Father John has become a colleague in the movement, and he has returned to be with us at this convention.
We continue to operate the day-to-day business of the Federation. We distribute our publications to hundreds of thousands of people each year; we give thousands of free white canes to blind people in the United States; and we send free Braille books to more than a thousand children each month. Our scholarship program provides more stimulation for those seeking higher education than any other program of its kind in the nation. We distribute more products and more Braille through our Independence Market than anybody else. Our literature contains the most upbeat portrayal of blindness that can be found anywhere in the world. Many thousands of visitors come to our headquarters each year to work with us, plan programs and activities with us, and learn of the promising future that we are building for the blind.
This is a summary of some of our activities for the preceding year—of the things we have done; but it is also a statement of who we are. We are the people who expand the possibilities for the blind. We are the people who build imaginative new technologies. We are the people who have enormous difficulty in imagining a world that does not want us to be full participants in its activities. We are the people who force the limits to expand.
Sometimes the need of a blind person is to have a book in Braille or some other accessible format. Sometimes the need is for a training program that teaches the alternative skills of blindness and the positive philosophy of the Federation. Sometimes the need is for a technology that provides equal access to information. Sometimes the need is for legal assistance. Perhaps most often the need is for a measure of hope and a helping hand to those who have met discouragement so often that keeping the dream of equality alive is an enormous challenge. Whatever the need, we have the capacity to meet it. Whatever the requirement, we can fulfill it. This, too, is a statement of who we are.
Some people do not believe in us, but we have come to know our strength; we have come to be articulate in expressing our capacity; and we have dared to dream of a time when equality will be within our grasp. In the National Federation of the Blind, we are on the move, and nothing can divert our determined effort or slow our progress. The commitment is too firm, the concerted action is too widespread, and the spirit is too irrepressible to let it be otherwise. This is what I have learned from you, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, and this is my report for 2011.
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.
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors, one was presented during the Wednesday morning convention session, and three were presented during the banquet. In addition the Bolotin Awards were again presented. A complete report of those presentations appears elsewhere in this issue. Here are the report of the educator awards; a special tribute to President Maurer; and from the banquet a service award, the first presentation of the Kenneth Jernigan Award, and the tenBroek Award:
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
by Cathy Jackson
Once again this year I am pleased to be the chairman of the committee to identify our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children. My committee members--Allen Harris, Carla McQuillan, Mark Riccobono, Laura Weber, and Mary Willows--were wonderful to work with. Believe me, they put their hearts and souls into this process. Thank you, guys. [Applause]
We have some really wonderful teachers out there working with our blind children; not only are they teaching them Braille and orientation and mobility and the other blindness skills, but they’re teaching them appropriate social behavior. They’re teaching them to advocate for themselves, and they’re showing them by their actions and attitudes that blindness is nothing to be ashamed of. Every essay I read by our candidates reflected their belief in their students and in their expectation that their students can compete with their sighted peers. This is the norm, not the exception. They believe in all of their students. I certainly wish that I could bottle this attitude and pass it to every itinerant teacher of the blind in the United States because we would certainly have a much better world for future blind citizens of this nation.
The gentleman chosen to receive this year’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award has a lengthy and impressive résumé and has many colleagues and friends who respect him as a person and as an educator. As many of our schools for the blind are closing across this country, one of them by all accounts appears to be flourishing. The buildings and the landscaping are in good repair, but what’s going on inside the buildings on this campus is what we need to look at. Have you ever heard of the 24/7 IEP? I was really intrigued by this concept. Traditionally we think of the Individualized Education Program as the outline that lays out all the goals that the student needs to achieve, the period in which they should be accomplished, and the means by which we should accomplish them. But the 24/7 IEP reaches beyond the classroom. It encompasses life in the dormitory and employment settings and even teaches the students how to administer their medications when appropriate. The forward-thinking individual who is using such ideas is none other than our distinguished educator of blind children, the superintendent of the Washington School for the Blind, Dr. Dean Stenehjem. [Applause]
Now, Dr. Stenehjem, I am going to present you with this lovely plaque, and, if you will hold it up for a picture, we’ll take that. I am going to read what the plaque says, but also I want to give you this check for $1,000. That’s pretty important also. The plaque reads:
The National Federation of the Blind
Dr. Dean O. Stenehjem
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
For your skill in teaching braille and other alternative techniques of blindness, for generously devoting extra time to meet the needs of your students, and for inspiring your students to perform beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement; you strengthen our hopes; you share our dreams.
July 5, 2011
Here is Dr. Dean Stenehjem:
Thank you very much, Dr. Maurer, board of directors, and NFB members. I am deeply honored to receive this award, this Distinguished Educator of Blind Children. I happen to work in a wonderful school full of wonderful people who share specialized training and a common goal to promote high self-esteem, confidence, self-advocacy, academic excellence, and independence. The mission and value of Washington State School for the Blind have been shaped by many stakeholders, some of whom are with us today. These folks also deserve recognition for being great partners in the work that is done in Washington. I would also like to thank the NFB of Washington for the support of WSSB and blind children throughout our state and would like to thank Noel Nightingale and Mike Freeman for nominating me for this award. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Thank you, President Maurer, for the privilege of chairing this committee. I would like to thank my committee: William Henderson of Massachusetts, Sheila Koenig of Minnesota, Judy Sanders of Minnesota, and Ramona Walhof of Idaho. Today I will say a bit about this award, tell you something about the winner, present the award of $1,000, and read the plaque.
This award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators to pay tribute to a blind educator for outstanding classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the National Federation of the Blind. In 1991 it became an award presented by the national organization because of the impact good teaching has on students, faculty, the community, and all blind Americans. It is presented in the spirit of the great Federation educators who have led the NFB: Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and President Marc Maurer.
The word “education” comes from the Latin ducere, which means to lead. The prefix “ex” means out of, and what has the National Federation of the Blind done but to lead blind people out of second-class citizenship into lives with security, equality, and opportunity. So I am very proud to present this award and all it symbolizes to this year’s recipient, but remember that each day and in every way we are all educators of the public in changing attitudes and changing what it means to be blind.
This year the Blind Educator of the Year Award goes to Angela Wolfe, and I would like for Angela to make her way up here. [Applause] In 2002 Angela graduated with honors from the University of Texas with a degree in humanities. She was a Brittingham Scholar at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was a lecturer at the University of Texas, College of Education, and she was the supervisor of programs at the Texas School for the Blind. She holds three certifications as an education generalist, teacher of the visually impaired, and teacher of English as a second language. In her free time she has been a volunteer with the Austin Children’s Museum. Since 2008 she has taught elementary students at the Discoveries School in Austin, Texas. She has tutored in math and reading and in 2004 and 2005 she interned in three elementary schools.
Angela attended three different programs at the Louisiana Center for the Blind: the Buddy Program for middle-schoolers, the STEP Program for high school students, and the adult program. She coordinated the summer LCB program and serves on the center’s board of directors. She has served at the local, state, and national levels in the NFB, including as president of the NFB of Texas and chair of the ambassadors committee at convention, keeping traffic moving and solving problems before they become serious. She is steadfast in her commitment to this organization and is already an outstanding national leader. Angela, here is the plaque, and it reads:
The Blind Educator of the Year
National Federation of the Blind
In recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the teaching profession
You enhance the present, you inspire your colleagues, you build the future.
July 5, 2011
[PHOTO CAPTION: Angela Wolfe holding her plaque
Angela, I am also going to give you an envelope with a check for $1,000. I would like for you to say a few words, but first I want to mention that she is married to Jay Wolfe, and, on top of everything else she does, Angela has a seventeen-month-old daughter named Abigail. Angela, congratulations for your career, your family, and your commitment to the NFB. Here is Angela Wolfe, our Blind Educator of the Year:
I had no idea. I just want to thank the NFB because I would not be nearly the person I am today had I not grown up in the Federation with my Federation family, who taught me everything I know. I wouldn’t be able to advocate for myself in the community and for my students, and I wouldn’t be able to be the person I am today without everybody in this organization who helped me along the way. I thank you so much, and this is such a great honor. Thank you so much. [Applause]
Federationists, as you know, we have had three long-term leaders in our organization: Dr. tenBroek, of course, was our founding president; our second long-term leader was Dr. Jernigan; and Dr. Maurer has been, and continues to be, our third long-term president. As a matter of fact, Dr. Maurer has served as president of the National Federation of the Blind longer than any other president in our history. Dr. Maurer was elected president twenty-five years ago in 1986. It may interest you to know who was on the board in 1986 when Dr. Maurer was elected. In addition to Dr. Maurer, we had Diane McGeorge, Peggy Pinder (who became Peggy Elliott), Allen Harris, Richard Edlund, Steven Benson, Charles Brown, Glenn Crosby, Robert Eschbach, Joyce Scanlan, Frank Lee, Sid Allen, Donald Capps, Terry Herron, Betty Niceley, Fred Schroeder, and Gary Wunder. That was the board in 1986. Given that this represents twenty-five years of Dr. Maurer’s leadership, his wisdom, his dedication, his tireless advocacy changing what it means to be blind, it seemed that we could not let this day go by without its being recognized. I have a box here that I will present in just a moment. The inscription on the box reads:
Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
Changing what it means to be blind
I will pass this item to Dr. Maurer. Inside the box is an item that is made of silver representing twenty-five years. The item bears the same inscription, but in choosing this item, we wanted to make it clear that you still have many miles to go before you rest, so this is not an item thanking you and sending you on your way. This is an item encouraging you to continue in the leadership that you have brought to this organization. Let me then present this box to Dr. Maurer. [Applause]
Marc Maurer: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.” I have opened the box, and I am taking from it--this beautiful silver gavel. [Applause] Now I know it is silver. Some silver is a little delicate. I’m going to try it anyway. [the sound of a substantial gavel striking a podium]
Fred Schroeder: Dr. Maurer, on behalf of the entire Federation family, I want to thank you for twenty-five years of service and to thank you for your continued leadership. [Applause]
Marc Maurer: I much appreciate the warmth of the welcome and the spirit of the gift. The poem of Robert Frost about the miles to go has always been one of my favorites and has to do with all those promises to keep. I came into the Federation back in 1969, so it’s been a goodly number of years. I met some exciting people and they were fulfilling the promises that they had made, and they showed me that promises were good to make. Dr. Jernigan was our president then, and he was our leader, my teacher, my mentor, my friend. There were some others; Jim Omvig is here. He attended his first convention in 1961, fifty years ago. [Applause] Don Capps is here. He attended his first convention in 1956 in San Francisco, and he is sitting under the standard of South Carolina right now. [Applause]
Dr. Jernigan showed me what we could do, demonstrated to me that, when you get a lot of blind folks together, you can create things that never existed. I said to him that I would do my best to keep that spirit alive and growing. He died in 1998. I was in church later, listening to a mass, participating in it. Dr. Jernigan had made some religious vows himself before he died. It was a sad time for me. He came and sat by me in the church; his spirit was there, and he said a thing to me which I have repeated to hundreds, maybe thousands, of you. He said, “You’ll be fine.” It was as simple as that. He said, “You will find the spirit. You will have the friends. You will make the progress. Have faith, believe in the spirit, in the principles that we have talked about so often, and so long. You’ll be fine.” That was thirteen years ago, about half of the presidency for me so far, and I believe Dr. Jernigan was right. I believe that the spirit is there. I believe that the Federation is alive, and I believe that we will make the progress that we need to make.” [Applause]
Fellow Federationists, I would like to talk to you a little bit about Congressman Cliff Stearns. He was elected in 1988 to the United States House of Representatives, his only elected office. He was born in Washington, D.C., attended Woodrow Wilson High School, and then went on to attend the College of Washington University, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering. Following his graduation, he served for four years in the United States Air Force as an aerospace engineer doing satellite reconnaissance during the Viet Nam War. He left the service with the rank of captain and then went on to start work in private industry. He started his own business by purchasing a motel. He sold his first property and moved to Florida, where he started a successful motel/restaurant business in the Ocala-Gainesville area. Active in his community, the Congressman served as the president of the Kiwanis Club, on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club, on the board of directors of the Monroe Regional Hospital, and on the board of the Ocala Chamber of Commerce. Because of his community activities he was urged to run for Congress.
Congressman Stearns is the chairman of the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He was the lead originating cosponsor of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. He worked tirelessly to build cosponsor support in both the 110th and the 111th Congress. When it was time to offer an amendment to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act by adding the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, the Congressman worked skillfully to build bipartisan support and to win acceptance of the amendment.
The streets of this nation would not be as safe as they are had it not been for the hard work of the Congressman. On behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, I want to thank you Congressman Cliff Stearns. Now we have a plaque to present to you, so, if you would please come up. [Applause]
First let me read you what the plaque says:
National Federation of the Blind
Outstanding Legislative Service Award
Representative Cliff Stearns
For your leadership in championing the pedestrian safety enhancement act.
Your hard work and dedication have made the roads safer for all blind americans.
You champion our movement. you share our dreams.
July 8, 2011
Congressman Stearns: John, thank you very much, and I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be here and to support you and to hear the fine speech from Dr. Maurer. In fact, I think his speech could be summed up in this short sentence, “Give us free and equal access.” The fact that you are here today as this organization shows why America is an exceptional country. You’re willing to take the risk. All you want is an opportunity to succeed, and that’s why there are five million people today registered with the National Immigration Service to come here to the United States legally. All they want is opportunity, and that’s all you want too—the ability to maximize everything that you have. And in my brief understanding of some of the background of talking to some of the people here about Jacobus tenBroek and what he did, this very skillful, this very far-sighted man, then also meeting one of your people, Mark Riccobono, who actually drove a car at the NASCAR Speedway using a drive-grip speed strip, whatever that is. I’m going to look it up tonight on the Internet. By interpreting vibrations on the steering wheel and vibrations on his seat, he was able to drive a car. These are the type of things that could happen only in America--technology advancement through Apple’s iPad, iPhones, and others is going to create this opportunity for you, but again, Dr. Maurer, you’re going to need a friend in Congress to help out, and I can be that friend.
I’ll tell you a story. I was at Publix shopping center on the phone and walking, and a car almost ran over me. I was startled. It was a hybrid. Where did this car come from? That made me think: my goodness, what am I doing here? This car is such that it is absolutely quiet. Now I have a hybrid today. You don’t need a key to start it. You have a chip in your pocket. You walk to the car and push a button, and it starts. You can’t even hear it. So, when John and others came to me and asked about trying to introduce legislation that would make it so it would be safe, not just for people that are visually impaired, but for Cliff Stearns, I didn’t want to get hit by a car that I couldn’t hear. I don’t want my son, my children, or my grandchildren to be hit. So I was more than willing to do it, and I think it’s almost divine providence that happened to me because I became a strong advocate for you. We passed this bill, and there were a couple of times when it got a little shaky, but, as John pointed out, we got the amendment and we got bipartisan support, so I’m really pleased to receive this award and also to tell you how glad I am to be an advocate for you in Washington, D.C. [Applause]
Almost 2,000 years ago in the City of Alexandria, they had a library of 500,000 scrolls. This library was created by 200 B.C., and it lasted to about 250 A.D. before it burned down. But did you know that in that library for the scholars, they had a section set aside for the blind? I don’t think anybody in the world knows that. The Rise and Fall of Alexandria points out specifically that, even back then, more than 2,000 years ago, the scholars and the people in this magnificent city of Alexandria had an understanding that they needed to allow scholars who are visually impaired to have the opportunity. And to think that here we are today still struggling with this problem, yet it was clear to the greatest minds back then, who even at that time were able to determine the circumference of the Earth. Eratosthenes did this, so I think as pointed out today, that you have a right and you should have access to use your abilities to their full significance. I’m here to tell you that I think we can do that.
Now there are several issues that the doctor mentioned, and one is the subminimum wage. Now this is deplorable in America that not-for-profit centers would hire people with disabilities, visually impaired, and pay them less than a dollar an hour. This is outrageous! Now I think that this is in legislation, but obviously this should be, if nothing else, a moral equivalent for this organization to eradicate that from the books. [Applause]
When we moved to the technological explosion we’re seeing across here, it is very appropriate to ask manufacturers like Apple, like Motorola, like the people who do the Blackberry in Canada, across the board to give them the incentives so that you can use this information. If you cannot get access to broadband, to the convergence of high definition, the convergence of a mobile phone…. The convergence of broadband is going to create one exciting device, something like the iPad. We in Congress need to give business the incentives so that they will provide this access to you. It’s not just the people here today; there are thousands of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan who are visually impaired. Don’t we have a moral responsibility to allow them to have full use of their abilities? As touched upon, there are people like those at Apple that have the prescience to use technology through dictation and verbal commands to make technology accessible. But I think that anybody that is visually impaired should be able to pick up and use a mobile device as easily and as quickly as I can. If you can’t, we should make sure you can.
Before I came down here today, I went back and did a little history reminder to myself about how Braille came about. I think many of you know that it came about in the Napoleonic age in which an officer set up a little cardboard so that people wouldn’t have to use lights or fire to see the codes. From there Braille developed. I am here today to say, as important as technology is, I think it’s important that the American public understand that Braille and the skill of writing Braille are still important today. [Applause] We need to continue to give all visually impaired Americans access to it and learn it so that they can use it. It’s like my son who plays a lot of video games and he watches TV. I say, “Son, someday you’ve got to read. You’ve got to write, because life is not all video games and television.” So again, I think it’s very important that we and the National Federation of the Blind encourage people to read and write in Braille and understand how valuable it is and that it is a legacy. [Applause]
I think I’ll close by quoting Helen Keller. And I think your president today gives you your vision. She said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” [Applause] By God, you’ve got vision. I’m here to say that you have a friend in Washington. I’m here to support you. God bless you, and I always like to close by saying may the good Lord take a liking to you, but not too soon. [Applause]
John Paré: Thank you very much, Congressman, and I will simply say that blind people from coast to coast and from north to south thank you for your advocacy, for your leadership, but most of all for understanding that what we want is opportunity, not charity. We want participation, not passivity, and we count you as a friend. Thank you very much for all of your work.
The National Federation of the Blind has some awards that it gives people. The board of directors, however, got together and thought that, though we have an award for people who are internal to the organization and though we have an award for those who are external to the organization (you might think this covers everybody), we might consider an award of a slightly different character. The board voted to create the Kenneth Jernigan Award. The board said that this award would not be given annually but would be given only as often as someone deserving the award might be discovered. The board also thought that one of the important criteria for this award would be that the person who is the recipient of it would have had at least one, maybe more than one, of the characteristics possessed by Dr. Jernigan. Dr. Jernigan found a way to touch the lives of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe more than that. So this is an important characteristic for the award. The officers were appointed to serve as a committee to determine a recipient.
The officers have met and have determined that such a recipient does exist. I met the recipient of this award, I believe, in 1974 when he attended his first convention of the National Federation of the Blind. He was a public official then, and for the next thirty-seven years, he served as a public official in the Library of Congress. [Applause] What he said to us in 1974 was that he wanted to work with us. He wanted to have a relationship that would build together, that would look for opportunities to help blind people, and he said it in one way or another in every convention thereafter. He has spent his fourth of July with us during all those years, and he has touched the lives of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. He has made an enormous difference because he has given literacy to hundreds of thousands of people. And he has believed in us. So, Mr. Cylke, if you will step this way. [Applause]
I have here an engraved glass portion of a cylinder, and I am going to remove its cover, and I’m going to present this to Mr. Cylke. He’s got it now. I’m going to read this inscription on the engraved glass:
Kenneth Jernigan Award
National Federation of the Blind
For your dedication to the highest ideals
For your commitment to extraordinary service
For your imaginative leadership in bringing information to the blind
We, the organized blind movement, confer upon
Frank Kurt Cylke,
The Kenneth Jernigan Award
Your hand assisted in every challenge
Your heart responded to every need
You’re a trusted colleague and a valued friend
July 8, 2011
It is only right that I give him, not only the award, but the Braille copy of the award. Here is Mr. Cylke.
Kurt Cylke: Thank you very much, Marc. For the first time in thirty-eight or thirty-nine years that I’ve been coming here, I can address you in the following way. I’m delighted to be here, fellow Federationists. My first act following retirement was to join the National Federation of the Blind. This was something I could not do when I was employed at the Library. I will be very, very brief; all of you, I am sure, are familiar with that book, Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. Well everything I learned, I learned at the NFB. [Applause] I appreciate every single one of you. I appreciate your critical questions. I appreciate your softball questions. I appreciated every act. I appreciated the offer of becoming a blood brother with Dr. Nyman. I’m just going to list a few people, and I can’t list 2,900, but I think you’ll understand that. Kenneth Jernigan and I came to be very, very close friends. It wasn’t that way when I started. It was that way through the years. I appreciated Mrs. Jernigan’s cooperation, Marc Maurer, Mrs. Maurer. For years I sat at the table here, the head table with Mrs. tenBroek, and you can’t imagine what that was like for me. Jim Gashel, Dr. Z, etc., etc. It’s been a wonderful experience. I believe the experience was a very synergistic one between the Library of Congress, National Library Service, and the NFB.
Now I want to leave you with something. I fronted for the group, but behind me was--is perhaps the most talented group of people I believe I have ever experienced. I want to mention their names because I want you to know that it’s they who really did it. Again I can’t mention the 125 employees of the Library of Congress, but I can mention some of the brightest and the best. You have in Michael Katzmann, the head of our engineering section, one of the brightest engineers in the country. He is a winner of seven Emmys, and he, together with John Cookson and Michael Moody, brought you the digital reader. I think that you should thank him. [Applause] John Bryant, our production control person, is absolutely superb, and he’s the fellow who is working to coordinate the production of two million audio and Braille books every year. Dawn Stitzel, who worked here at the National Federation of the Blind as your librarian, is now our reference librarian. And she should, I think, absolutely be recognized. Two people, actually three people, two who are currently employed and one who was employed with us before his recent retirement, should be recognized. I’d like to recognize Lloyd Rasmussen, our senior engineer; Debbie Brown, our Braille specialist; and Tom Bickford, who was a QA man and never let a book out that was bad. You have a newcomer to that group working with you, who I think will in the future certainly be a leader in the field of library science, MaryBeth Wise.
Now I’m going to go off a bit and say without Gilles Pepin we could not have done the digital machine, and I want to say without Rudy Savage, who’s come here year after year, we could never have produced the books. So thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate it, and fellow Federationists, I will always be with you. [Applause]
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
by Ramona Walhof
The Jacobus tenBroek Award is the highest honor we can give to a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Named for our founder, this award was established in 1974 and was presented sixteen times during the twentieth century. This honor is given only as often as one of our leaders deserves to be singled out for exceptional appreciation. During the twenty-first century we are proud to have a leadership core that makes selecting an honoree for the tenBroek Award increasingly difficult. We have presented this honor eleven times during this century. I was humbled in 2007 to receive the award, and humbled was the principal thing I felt, for serving this organization you don’t do for recognition.
This year this selection committee includes Joyce Scanlan, Barbara Loos, Jim Gashel, and me. We have chosen a couple whose accomplishments are both impressive and familiar to all of you. But let me review them. These two people joined the Federation in two different states, both as college students--one in the 1970s, one in 1980. They were married in 1981. Since that time they have lived in two more states and raised two children, who are now successful young adults. These two Federationists have been leaders in different ways wherever they have been, and you will all agree that they deserve our top esteem. But who are they? Tonight it gives me real pleasure, it’s a privilege to present the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Dr. Fredric and Cathy Schroeder. [Applause] Fred sounded a little surprised here. They don’t have far to come.
After receiving a master’s degree in special education, Fred was enrolled at San Francisco State University and became the first blind person to complete all the requirements for certification as an orientation and mobility or cane travel instructor. However, he was denied certification because he was blind. Years later he was the first to be certified by the National Blindness Certification Board. Many students testify that he is an excellent travel teacher. Fred first taught cane travel in Nebraska, where he met and married Cathy Nusser. After moving to New Mexico, Fred taught children and improved education for blind children in the Albuquerque schools so that the program received national recognition and was featured on the Today Show on NBC. Soon he was also elected president of the NFB of New Mexico, and led the efforts there to persuade the legislature to create a separate agency for the blind, the New Mexico Commission for the Blind.
In 1986 Fred Schroeder was appointed by the governor of New Mexico to be the first executive director of the new agency, and rehabilitation services for the blind improved dramatically. Under Schroeder’s direction New Mexico became the state where blind people entering employment earned more than anywhere else in the country. By 1994 Fred earned a PhD in education administration, and that same year his success was acclaimed when he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Education. In this position Fred was responsible for managing a 2.5-billion-dollar budget, which was used throughout the country to provide assistance annually to a million people with disabilities. Again he emphasized better jobs with higher pay. He is remembered for his ruling to end the practice of placing blind people in sheltered employment when they could better enter the competitive job market.
In 2000 Dr. Schroeder joined the faculty of the Interwork Institute at San Diego State University, where he continues to work today as the research professor specializing in leadership and public policy in vocational rehabilitation. Fred Schroeder was first elected to the NFB board of directors in the 1980s. In 2005 he was elected president of the NFB of Virginia. In 2006 he was elected first vice president of the NFB and has been reelected to that position twice. He led efforts of the NFB to sell the Louis Braille coin across the country and raised approximately 2.25 million dollars for the Federation. Dr. Schroeder frequently travels to other countries and continents, carrying the message of the Federation around the world. And he holds numerous national and international positions representing the blind. He was president of the International Council on English Braille. He served as delegate to the World Braille Council in the World Blind Union. He co-chaired the committee that finalized the National Literary Braille Competency Test, which is being administered at this convention to teachers by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. Fred Schroeder is now a member of the standing committee on copyright of the World Intellectual Property Organization and Agency of the United Nations. You wonder what he does in his spare time.
Cathy Schroeder’s leadership is of a different kind. She has worked consistently for more than thirty years in whatever local chapter and state affiliate she happens to be. Most recently she has been in Fairfax, Virginia, and has been both chapter secretary and chapter vice president. She has been active in the NFB in Computer Science division, and for some years she has been the information specialist for the PAC plan committee. She has worked for perhaps twenty years to assist first Dr. Jernigan and then Mary Ellen Jernigan in her suite at the convention. Cathy is consistent, creative, and reliable, the kind of Federationist every state and chapter values immensely. Whenever possible she is at Fred’s side when he appears around the world and travels.
I know that many of you could add other Federation activities that these two people have participated in to those I have mentioned, and many of you could tell stories of how Fred and Cathy have helped individual blind people. Therefore, tonight we are proud to congratulate you, Fred and Cathy, and to honor you with our highest honor, the Jacobus tenBroek Award. We give it to you with appreciation and respect, but most of all we give it to you with love.
Now, I’m going to give them this plaque. First I’ve got to take it out of its Idaho Chico bag. I will read what the plaque says.
jacobus tenbroek award
national federation of the blind
dr. fredric k. and cathleen schroeder
for your dedication, sacrifice, and commitment
on behalf of the blind of this nation.
your contribution is measured not in steps but in miles.
not by individual experiences but by your impact on the lives of the blind of the nation.
whenever we have asked, you have answered.
we call you our colleague with respect.
we call you our friend with love.
july 8, 2011
At the bottom is the NFB logo, Whozit.
Fred Schroeder: I am trying to get Cathy to say something, and she is declining. I will say to all of you I am overwhelmed, and I know that Cathy is as well. We have had the great privilege to live normal lives because of all of you and because of the many Federationists who came before us. You know about our work in the Federation, but Cathy in particular lives a very rounded life. As we were standing there and Mrs. Walhof was talking about our children, I thought she was a regular mom and a good mom. She did a few things differently. I remember when she grounded our daughter, and she was not allowed to watch television. Cathy thought that our daughter might turn the TV on without the sound, so she went and put a towel over the TV, which highly offended our daughter. Cathy is a skilled computer programmer/systems analyst and so respected that, even though she is on call on a rotating basis, regularly we get calls from whoever is on call when they cannot solve a problem at 3 o’clock in the morning. So a rounded life, a normal life, and that has been a tremendous gift, and we are both very honored to be able to give back in any way that we can. Thank you very much. [Applause]
by James Gashel
From the Editor: On Friday, July 8, Jim Gashel, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and chair of its Bolotin Award selection committee came to the platform to make the 2011 presentations. This is what happened:
Jim Gashel: This afternoon it is my privilege and honor on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind to present the 2011 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards to four recipients who have all distinguished themselves as leaders of excellence in the field of service to the blind in the United States. As the first person born blind, then to practice medicine, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Dr. Jacob Bolotin was a pioneer, because that is exactly what he was, and that’s why we remember him today. As chairman of the Bolotin Awards committee I can tell you that we work very hard to find recipients and potential recipients who demonstrate pioneering spirit, pioneering vision in their programs and activities along with inventiveness and creativity because these are the principal factors that give continuing life to the legacy of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. According to our published criteria, the Bolotin Awards may be conferred upon blind or sighted individuals or organizations. However, regardless of whether we’re talking about an individual or an organization, the entity must have demonstrated a record of performance or service to advance opportunities for the blind consistent with the test of excellence, which I have mentioned. Funds for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are made possible through the Alfred and Rosalind Pearlman Trust, which was made possible through a bequest to the Santa Barbara Foundation and to the National Federation of the Blind by Dr. Bolotin’s niece, Rosalind Pearlman.
This year we are awarding a total of $50,000 to two individuals and two organizations. Each award includes an amount of money, which I will specify in the case of each award, and it also includes a commemorative plaque with a medallion suspended above the plaque, which I will now describe. Here’s the text that appears on the plaque: “Presented to [name of recipient] by the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation, July 2011.” Now for the medallion: text actually appears on both sides. The text on the obverse side reads: “The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award.” Immediately below that is the logo of the National Federation of the Blind. Below the logo it says, “Celebrating achievement, creating opportunity.” On the reverse side of the medallion is a bust of Dr. Bolotin. On the left and right of the bust are the years of his birth and death, 1888 and 1924. His name is at the top, and below that it says, “Celebrating his life. The Alfred and Rosalind Pearlman Trust.”
Now for the 2011 Jacob Bolotin Awards. For our first recipient, representing the category of sighted individuals whose demonstrated performance and continuing service merit the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award, we selected an award winner who will be known to anyone with blindness and diabetes. That is Jerry Munden, for an award of $10,000. This award is given in recognition of Jerry Munden’s pioneering work, responding to the needs of blind diabetics, with accessible blood glucose monitoring technology. Jerry Munden first became known to the National Federation of the Blind as vice president of business development at Prodigy Diabetes Care in Charlotte, North Carolina. Several years ago at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind we passed a resolution calling upon glucose monitoring manufacturers to make their devices accessible for independent use by blind diabetics. Jerry Munden heard our voice, but he did more than that--he made our cause his cause. Prodigy Diabetes Care led the way in creating the world’s first accessible technology for use by diabetics. The product known as Prodigy Voice Care first came on the market in 2008. It is a fully accessible blood glucose monitoring technology. Jerry has done more than that throughout his association with the National Federation of the Blind. When you think of independence, when you think of self-management, when you think of dignity, think of Jerry Munden. Here to receive the award is Jerry Munden.
Jerry Munden: I was really quite humbled and honored when I got a call from Jim Gashel recently, and he told me of the committee’s decision to select me for this prestigious award. I think my level of humility just went up more than a hundred times what it was. That is very humbling. I’m very grateful for this great award. In my work with Prodigy, I am privileged to work on a regular basis with over seven hundred blind association leaders across America. Oftentimes we talk about the needs of the blind and vision impaired, and then we do something about them. I’m privileged to have many friends with the Blinded Veterans Association. Oftentimes they’ve given their eyesight in fighting for our freedom. What a privilege for me when I am able to tell them and others about new accessible products that will enable them to achieve greater independence. At the NFB convention last year Dr. Maurer announced NFB Resolution 2010-21, asking manufacturing companies to make products more accessible. Prodigy listened, and we’re actively pursuing, not only what Jim talked about with the voice meter, but other new accessible products that we’re working on as well. One of these is the Voice Rx, which will enable distribution of a talking pill bottle at no extra cost to people who get their mail-order pharmacy products filled using Voice Rx. [Applause]
I’m blessed to have work that I am passionate about, which allows me to make many new friends and bring new accessible products to market and to receive this prestigious award. Continuing in the footsteps of Dr. Bolotin is an honor indeed. Again, I am very grateful to receive this award, and as always I am here to help. Thank you very much.
Jim Gashel: Now for our second recipient: representing the blind individual category, we recognize Dr. Cary Supalo, with an award of $10,000. [Applause] Dr. Supalo is a member of a very select club of professional blind chemists. He’s also a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Now, while neither of these achievements would be enough to win him the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in and of themselves, there other things about Dr. Supalo that would. Rather than simply being satisfied with conducting his experiments with the assistance of sighted students, Cary Supalo decided to develop the tools needed in chemistry to do his own measurements without having sight. Having done that, he won a National Science Foundation award to develop his measurement tools and to field test them in eleven public high schools and five schools for the blind disbursed widely throughout the United States. [Applause]
Based on Dr. Supalo’s research and his experience with these measurement tools, he found that using these tools makes independent laboratory participation more possible for blind students, gives them a more positive view of scientific study, and makes them more likely to pursue careers in science. When you think of inventiveness, creativity, pioneering spirit, pioneering vision, not to mention giving back, think of our blind chemist, Dr. Cary Supalo. Here to receive the award is Cary Supalo. [Applause]
Cary Supalo: Access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses is a priority of the blind. We need to empower the blind in these technical fields. Through the work of the Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind (ILAB) project at Penn State University, we successfully developed and field-tested what we call the JAWS Logger Pro Interface, thus making accessible more than two hundred science probes sold and distributed by Vernier Software and Technology (now Independent Science). It is the mission of ILAB and Independent Science to develop scientific instrumentation that is fully accessible to empower all blind people in science laboratory classes. We field-tested these tools in more than fifteen science classrooms across the United States as Jim just said. The course content consists of chemistry, physics, biology, and even Earth science courses. Through this effort we are empowering blind students as well as science teachers to allow full integration of the blind into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, thus increasing their interest in STEM professions. Thank you very much.
Jim Gashel: Our third recipient, representing the organizational program of excellence category, we recognize for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award this year the Braille Challenge, with an award of $10,000. Starting in 2000 as a Braille outreach program of somewhat modest size, if anything is of modest size in southern California, the Braille Challenge has quickly grown to attract blind youth participants from all over the United States and Canada, building on the experience of and sharing values with the NFB’s Braille Readers Are Leaders Program. Participants in the Braille Challenge compete at five different levels, beginning with the apprentice level for first and second graders, going on to the juniors and sophomores, and to the junior varsity and finally the varsity level for high-school-age students. The skills tested include reading comprehension, speed reading and accuracy, writing, proofreading, spelling, and reading charts and graphs. The competition begins at the regional level and ends at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles.
We have many, many glowing accounts of what the experience at all of these levels has meant to blind students. Many from all over the country and many of them from members of the National Federation of the Blind are really too numerous to mention here, so I won’t. Besides, the time wouldn’t permit me. What I do want to say is that, when you think of creative programs of pioneering vision to promote Braille education for blind youth, think of the Braille Challenge. Here to accept the award is Les Stocker, president of the Braille Institute of America from Los Angeles. [Applause]
Les Stocker: Thank you, Mr. Gashel, Dr. Maurer, and NFB leadership and delegates. It is a distinct honor to receive this award on behalf of countless people who make this program possible and organizations that have joined with us, including the NFB. This year we had thirty-four regional challenges around North America, all produced by separate organizations that have become a huge team. Thinking of the baseball story we were just listening to, I’m reminded of the sagacity of Casey Stengel, who once defined management as “getting rewards for other people’s home runs.” That’s kind of what I do at Braille Institute as president: I get to receive the awards from the work of all these other people.
Braille Challenge continues to grow. This year we attracted contestants, almost 1,600, from thirty-six states and Canadian provinces. We’re especially appreciative of the partnership with technologies, specifically Freedom Scientific, providing some really cool prizes for the winners, because it points to technology as being associated with Braille, not Braille looking backward, but Braille looking forward. Braille literacy is a key to technology. I believe that literacy, whether sighted or blind, is the key to the future for any child growing up in America. We are especially appreciative of the partnership that we have with NFB not only promoting Braille literacy, but helping make it happen. It’s a point of action. I only have seconds. There are lots of things coming out of the knowledge that’s being generated. Again, we are so very appreciative and, on behalf of so many children, families, and others, I thank you very much. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: We started with $50,000 didn’t we? We’ve given away $30,000 right? This is the final award, an award of $20,000. Chosen to receive it is the professional development and research institute at Louisiana Tech University. Remember only a few years ago when having normal sight was considered essential to receive professional certification to teach the blind? Blind people were systematically excluded from the rewarding profession of serving the blind. Remember when all of the research done to understand and document the problems of the blind and develop solutions that would advance the blind―and all the researchers were sighted? Remember when the number of certified blind orientation and mobility instructors in the United States was zero because the certification system withheld its approval from blind people? They said that they didn’t discriminate against the blind, but they did say that you had to be able to observe students from a considerable distance in order to teach them. There was no discrimination; we just had to be able to see, that was all. The problem was that the blind couldn’t see. It wasn’t discrimination. All of this has been documented in our history.
That was until the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness came into being to tear down the barriers of ignorance and discrimination and to throw open the doors of opportunity forever so that blind people can now teach the blind. [Applause] Finally there was a graduate program, not just willing to admit blind students, but actually going out and recruiting blind students to participate. Now in the beginning of its second decade, the Institute administers three masters’ degree programs: one in orientation and mobility, and two in education-curriculum development and education of blind children (none of this “vision programs”). The Critical Concerns in Blindness book series is one of the best-known components of the Institute’s research publications, along with the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research published in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.
With all of this programming and lots, lots more, in the beginning of its second decade, the Institute has clearly achieved a place of recognition and respect in the field of work with the blind. Today we bestow on the Institute a place of honor as well. When you think of innovation and tearing down barriers with pioneering spirit and pioneering vision, think of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness. Here to accept the award is Dr. Edward Bell, executive director. [Applause]
Edward Bell: Thank you Dr. Maurer, Mr. Gashel, the Bolotin committee, and all my Federation family. Thank you very much. This is a distinct privilege and an honor to be given such a prestigious award. On the stage up here with me as well is Dr. Ruby Ryles, coordinator of the Teachers of Blind Students Program; Darick Williamson, who helps coordinate the orientation and mobility program; Deja Powell, who administers a master’s certification in literary Braille, Natalia Mino, who assists in research and development of assessments; and Dianne Seilhan, administrative assistant and right hand, without whom no work would be done. Together the six of us constitute the staff of the Institute on Blindness, and, through the continued support of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, we remain the only university program in the country that embodies the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. And with that spirit and philosophy we’ll continue to move forward and change what it means to be blind in education and rehabilitation of the blind in this country.
On a personal note, I need to say “Hi” to my beautiful wife Maria and my two beautiful children, Victoria and Samantha, who are at home in Ruston, watching this on the Internet. What a wonderful system we have here! We have accomplished a lot of work in the last ten years. Even more remains to be done. As with the survey invitation that you all received this morning, we need your participation. We need to help do the research that helps tear down those barriers, tear down those walls, help us to deepen and broaden our understanding of blindness and the discrimination against the blind to help change those processes for the better in this country. We need all of your support, your information, your participation in our research. Most of all we need your continued support and guidance in the work that we do. Thank you very much to all of you for this honor. [Applause]
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do with their lives in the future.
One of those who introduced himself was Christopher Fountain, a junior marriage and family counseling major at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Chris had to miss several convention sessions because of dialysis, but he was a bright and active member of the scholarship class and a promising young leader in the Virginia affiliate. We were shocked and grieved to learn following the convention that on Monday evening, July 11, Chris Fountain died suddenly. The news was devastating to his family, his fellow scholarship winners, and everyone in the Federation family who knew and had come to love and respect him. Happily during the convention no one had any idea of the tragedy that was immediately ahead for all of us.
On Friday evening, July 8, toward the close of the banquet Patti Chang, the new chair of the scholarship committee, came to the podium for the first time to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships they had been awarded. This year each winner shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before they took their places across the back of the platform. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each winner also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, a brand new knfbReader Mobile, presented by Ray Kurzweil himself, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems.
The final award was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Kyle Shachmut, who then spoke very briefly to the audience. His remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-seven 2011 NFB scholarship winners and three tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving their second NFB scholarships, came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Patti, who announced the home and school states after each name.
Yasen Angelov, Florida, Florida: Good morning, everybody. I currently reside in St. Petersburg, Florida. I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for the last seven years. What brought me to this organization was the enormous resources about blindness. I have congenital glaucoma, and the fact that I am blind didn’t stop me from becoming the top student in my class. I was nominated as an outstanding accounting student by the faculty at USF, St. Pete. I was also awarded a scholarship by the CPA scholarship fund at the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. During the last tax season I was a volunteer with the IRS VISTA program, helping low-income people file their income tax forms for free. My goal is not only to become a CPA and earn big money, but also to support NFB because I know how important NFB is for all the blind people in the United States. Thank you.
Jessica Beecham, Tennessee, Tennessee: A wise man once said that the creative and dedicated minority almost always changes the world. Since the 1940s the National Federation of the Blind has embodied the truth of this statement. Standing before you today, a member of the scholarship class full of future leaders in law, education, human services, and so much more, I can truly say it is respectable to be blind. We this week are sponges here to soak up the knowledge from our mentors of leadership, advocacy, and success. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take the lessons from this week and transform them into a lifetime of leadership in the movement to change what it means to be blind. Thank you.
Mary Billington, New York, Massachusetts: Good morning, everybody. My name is Mary Billington. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. In December I graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University, where I got a degree in economics. At Barnard I also received my New York state certificate in childhood education. I currently work at an education advocacy group, where I advocate on behalf of students with disabilities as well as students who are English language learners in the New York City public school system. In my free time I also serve as research assistant to the president of Barnard College—yes, my free time. In the fall I will somewhat reluctantly leave my hometown of New York and travel to Boston to begin a master’s program in education policy at Harvard University. Thank you.
David Bouchard, Mississippi, Tennessee: Good morning. I’m David Bouchard. I am from Starkville, Mississippi. I am a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I’m also a Braille instructor and summer counselor for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland’s Independence 2011. This August I will be attending Sewanee, the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee. I plan to receive my master’s degree in orientation and mobility from Louisiana Tech. I wish to use this degree to help change policies and help instruct blind children and adults to allow them to receive quality training in structured discovery. I would like to thank everyone for giving me this fantastic opportunity. Without you this would not be possible. Thank you.
Christine Daniels, Colorado, Colorado: Thank you very much for having me here. It’s an honor. I am also a recent graduate—well last year—from the Colorado Center for the Blind. The skills were very pivotal for helping me be able to start my journey as a blind person. I am currently a second-year PhD student at the University of Denver, where I am studying cellular and molecular biophysics. My current research is with the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for aging and aging-related diseases. We are studying Lou Gehrig’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s specifically. I’m also a mom of two children, and I just thank you for this opportunity.
Roberto Diaz, Connecticut, Connecticut: Good morning. Let me begin by saying that I’d like to reiterate a thought I had yesterday when reflecting on the enormousness of this experience. I cannot express or overstate how massive this is—when you come into contact with a group of people, a body such as yourselves that collectively represent the absolute magnificence of what humanity can bring. I’m a former Marine. I was a firefighter for twenty-two-and-a-half years before a line-of-duty injury cost me my eyesight. I volunteer at a burn camp for children who are the survivors of traumatic burn injuries, and they also include from time to time children who were blinded by their injuries or from birth. I was the counselor in that capacity as well as the director of archery. Last year I became the first legally blind state-certified archery instructor in the state of Connecticut. I have a wife and fourteen-year-old daughter. Once again, I just can’t say enough. I plan to teach American history with the focus on the American Constitution to inner city youth who are at risk or in dire need of staying out of the system. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I thank you from my family, and semper fidelis.
Aleeha Dudley, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everybody. I’d like to thank you so much for this humungous opportunity. I plan to take this opportunity and run with it. I want to become more active in this organization. Some of you might know I want to be a veterinarian. I’ve always been determined to be a veterinarian, but I just got more determined. I was at a vet’s office doing an interview, and I sat down with him, and he said, “I don’t want you to pursue this goal. You can’t do this; that would be like me blindfolding myself and walking through a minefield.” I was angry. I was not a happy girl. I walked out of that office, and I am determined now with the technology and resources available that I will become a veterinarian because it’s about time that someone with a visual impairment became a veterinarian and showed the public that we can do this.
Heather Edwards, South Carolina, South Carolina: Good morning. I hope you are all having a good convention. My name is Heather Edwards, and this fall I will be a junior at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, where I am studying psychology and minoring in Spanish and women and gender studies. I currently work as an early interventionist with children with Downs Syndrome, autism, and intellectual disabilities to help them get a jump start before they start kindergarten. I hope to transition this to work in the field of disability coordinator to help children with disabilities transition from living with their parents and going to high school to being independent and going to college, because I didn’t have such a great disability coordinator. I would like to take that experience and help someone else so that I make sure that they get the help they need. Thank you.
Christopher Fountain, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning. This morning I would like to share a lesson that I’ve learned throughout my years, and I can best relate it to the poem “The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost. As you know, at the end of the poem the hiker takes the path less traveled. I relate to this because, like the hiker, I believe I took the path less traveled. Now this path has been filled with sorrow and happiness, failure and triumph. I’ve had opportunities to get off this trail, but I’ve chosen to stay on it. Through my journey I’ve earned the rank of Eagle Scout, learned to read Braille, and learned how to use a white cane. These have been very helpful. One day I stopped, took a look around, and noticed that the path is very different than when I started. The path was a little better defined, and there were little, warm lights along the trail, not yet bright enough, but just bright enough to suggest that here is a little help. So out of curiosity I examined one of these lamps, and on the bottom was etched the National Federation of the Blind and a whole bunch of names. As a good Scout and a good person, I decided to scratch my name along with the others and take care of this trail and these lamps in the hope that like those before me in the NFB I could be a guiding light for those who follow. Thank you.
Brenton Fuchs, Connecticut, District of Columbia: Salve omnes, my name is Brenton Fuchs, and I am currently attending American University, where I hope to receive a degree in marketing. I know it’s no great surprise that employers continually underestimate us as blind people and don’t think we can function as well as our sighted counterparts and work as efficiently as them. However, what’s not as readily apparent is that, not only do employers continually underestimate us, but they also think that hiring a blind person would incur additional expenses on their behalf and require many additional accommodations to help us perform at our full potential. This fact became apparent to me while working at a nonprofit organization last summer. To that end I hope to use the skills in marketing that I acquire in college and that I am acquiring currently on the job at MetLife in New York this summer to market us as a people, as an organization, and as a group, to the rest of the nation and to potential employers to let them know that, yes we can in fact function just as well as our sighted counterparts, and to let them know that we indeed do not need thousands of dollars worth of equipment to successfully complete a job but have acquired a set of skills throughout our lives to enable us to accomplish this goal. Thank you.
We have in this class three tenBroek Fellows. This means that they have already won National Federation of the Blind scholarships in previous years.
The first of these is Diane Graves, Indiana, Indiana: Greetings, fellow Federationists. I am honored to be a recipient of the 2011 scholarship and doubly honored to be elected as a tenBroek Fellow. I have been affiliated with this great Federation family since I joined in 1995, which makes this gift especially meaningful because it is like receiving a vote of confidence from my family. I am currently employed with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission as a mediator. I have served the Civil Rights Commission in various capacities and have served as a mediator for about eight years now. Several years ago I decided I wanted to play a larger role in the administration of the civil rights and other social services laws. Civil rights has always been my passion, so I decided to go back to school and see if I could get the credentials I needed to make that happen. I am currently enrolled at Kaplan University, working towards a bachelor’s in organizational communication, which I hope to have completed by March of 2012. I will then be going on to receive a master’s degree in sociology, and hopefully after that I will be going on to receive a doctorate in sociology as well. I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.
Michelle Hackman, New York, Connecticut: Hi, everyone. My name is Michelle. I’m a recent high school graduate and first-time convention-comer. I am really enjoying fencing with all of you guys with our canes. I’m going to be starting as a freshman at Yale this fall. I’ll be majoring in behavioral neuroscience and political science and doing a couple of things that people have told me repeatedly throughout my life that I can’t do. I want to be a staff reporter where I can chase people down with a microphone, and I’m going to be working at a brain-imaging lab come September. Professionally my real interest is in technology and human behavior, something you guys are very familiar with: cell phone addiction and Internet addiction. I hope to become a behavioral researcher and policymaker in that area; so, if any of you have an interest in that, the next time we fence, please feel free to say, “Hello.” Thank you.
Shafeka Hashash, New Jersey, New York: Hi, everyone. I can’t express how thankful I am to actually be a scholarship winner this year. I will be attending NYU this fall as a freshman studying political science and international studies, and I would then like to transition into law school. My ultimate career goal is to work in the United Nations. In working in the United Nations, I would love to create an international network between the U.S. and the Middle East to spread disability rights and the NFB philosophy of what it means to be blind in America in countries where being blind is frowned upon and hidden away. So my ultimate goal is to create this network of advocacy and learning together.
Carry Joanis, New York, New York: Hello, everyone. My name is Carry Joanis. I just want to say thank you for this opportunity as one of the scholarship winners. I am finishing a master’s degree in business administration with a co-major in finance and entrepreneurship. I will be starting a post-graduate program in leadership in the fall. I’ve been hearing a lot about the NFB since ’08, which is the same year I first came to the United States. I didn’t know anything about the NFB before. I left my country on March 31, came here, didn’t have any skills, and did not speak English. I landed in Denver, Colorado. I went to the Colorado Center for the Blind, where I received living skills and learned English at the same time. After that I moved to Rochester, New York, and got a scholarship to start a program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and it’s a real pleasure for me to be selected. My dream is as an entrepreneur to open the possibility for other blind people to be employed. I am very thankful to be here, and I identify my own philosophy with that of the NFB. Thank you very much.
Kathleen (Kate) Katulak, New York, New York: Hi, everyone. I am a graduate student at Teachers College of Columbia University. When people ask me why I want to become a teacher of the blind, I often think back to some of my own experiences--a time when I went blind and did not receive the services that I deserved. I think back to interviews and instances when I received discrimination and many people who told me that I could not … and would never.… Once I got past the negativity, I said to all of them, “What is stopping me now?” Because it certainly wasn’t my blindness. I want to make a difference in the lives of my students so that they can make a difference in the way that many people view blindness. I feel that I’ve had many opportunities in my life. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in psychology and got a wonderful job at Yale University working in research. Now I’m a graduate student, and I plan to go on and do wonderful things. If anything, going blind empowered and encouraged me and enabled me to become the person I am. I thank all of you, and I hope you have a wonderful convention.
Catherine Lei, California, New Jersey: Good morning, everyone. My name is Catherine Lei from Elk Grove, California. I am deeply honored for this great privilege of being here before you today as well as at this, my first-ever convention. These first few days I have already met so many inspiring people. I’ve had so many new experiences. I’ve learned so much. As this week progresses, I hope to continue learning all that you have to teach me. I just this year graduated from high school, and this fall I will be a freshman at Princeton University. I intend to study physics and then go on to law school in order to blend the field of science and law to become a patent attorney. Thank you.
Ma’ayan Malter, Illinois, Illinois: Hey, NFB. So this is my first convention, and I am loving it. I just graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago, and this fall I will be a freshman at the University of Chicago, where I plan to study economics. I want to study economics so that I can learn to make the economy work for everyone, especially for people with disabilities, because subminimum wages are not acceptable for anyone. I am also very interested in economic research. A project I’d like to tackle in the future is to prove that laws like the ADA and social services are actually beneficial to the entire society and not just those they directly affect. So if anyone is interested in talking about anything, I’d love to talk to all of you, and I just want to thank the board for letting me be here this week.
Daniel Martinez, Texas, Texas: Hello, Federationists. It is an honor to be a part of the 2011 scholarship class. I am currently a sophomore at the University of Texas at Brownsville. I am studying to receive a bachelor of arts in education so that I can then attend Louisiana Tech and receive a master’s as a teacher of blind students. I hope one day to be an NFB distinguished educator. This summer I participated in three internships. I’ve gotten the opportunity to teach eight elementary students and two teachers of the blind. Thank you very much.
Ryan McBee, Oregon, Oregon: Hello and good morning. My name is Ryan McBee. I am a sophomore at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. I am majoring in political science and minoring in communications. My goal is to be an elected official or political consultant. My goal is to work as an elected official for blind individuals, so that subminimum wage deal we are all talking about?—I would make sure that it’s dead on arrival when it came to the floor of the House or Senate. This subminimum wage bill is not acceptable, and as an elected official I would like to stop that bill and many others. Please give me five years, because in 2016 I will be eligible to run. Thank you.
Julie McGinnity, Missouri, Missouri: Hello, everyone. I am going to be a junior next fall at Webster University. I am studying vocal performance and German. I am a musician. I am a performer, and I want to get my master’s one day and possibly teach at a college. I would like to teach Braille music, because I believe it is the most under-taught form of Braille that there is. I would also like to work with blind musicians on performing techniques, and I would just like to inspire people through song, because I believe that, not only can scientists and mathematicians and people who invent things inspire people, but music inspires as well, and you can learn so much from music. I would like to prove to all that blind people can be professionals and can be accepted in the field of music and performing as well.
Terence Meehan, California, California: Good morning. I would like to thank everyone for the opportunity to be here. It has been a wonderful convention. My name is Terry Meehan. I am currently pursuing an MD and a PhD from the University of California at Davis. My PhD work is going to focus on the neurodegenerative causes of various diseases that cause disability in children. While I was applying to medical school, it was crucial for me to present my visual impairment, not as a weakness, but as a strength, as a source of empathy and encouragement and a way to relate to patients in a unique way. As a physician I intend to treat patients in a clinical setting, children with disabilities, in a way that encourages them to take control of their lives and view the strengths that their disability has afforded them. Thank you.
Sylvia Modesitt, Missouri, Missouri: Hello, everyone. I’m Sylvia from Missouri, and I am thrilled to be a freshman this fall at William Jewell College, where I will be studying molecular biology in the Oxford honors program. After that I intend to earn my PhD and conduct research while teaching at the college level. I could talk for quite a while on the subject, I’m sure, but, keeping it pretty short, I’ll just say this: I’ve been a member of the NFB for eight years now. The main thing it has taught me is this: though we all have things that handicap us, it is up to us whether we allow those things to handicap our dreams. Studying the sciences has always been my dream ever since I can remember, and I will never let my blindness hinder that. Thank you.
Justin Salisbury, Connecticut, North Carolina: I am completing a degree in mathematics and also quantitative economics at East Carolina University. I hope to go on to a PhD in economics and teach at the university level. I am super excited to be a mentor at the Youth Slam this summer. I want to tell you a little bit about my experience with finding the Federation. Loss is something I grew up thinking was something to be mourned. When I had a friend die this fall, I was mourning that, and I found myself in a good southern Black non-denominational church for what I thought was going to be a funeral, but they called it a home-going ceremony. They were singing and screaming. They had a band. They had a choir for two-and-a-half hours celebrating her life. It was a very positive experience, and I didn’t cry in the entire thing. I could not believe it; they had such a positive philosophy. When I was a senior in high school, I applied for every single scholarship I could find, and I got a scholarship from a blindness organization. They took me to their national convention. They had a sighted person meet me at the airport and take me to the hotel. They took care of me. They didn’t really let me out there on my own. They told me about the Federation. They said, “The Federation is this really extremist, militant group, and they are going to plan the next 9/11. Just be ready for them.” I was really kind of scared by that. I knew that I had applied for a national scholarship from the NFB of Connecticut, and I won it. So I thought, I’m just going to put on this mental hard hat and not let their philosophy affect me. I’m just going to take my money and run. Well, I got there, and it was a whole bunch of happy, positive people. I said, “Wow, this is not what I was expecting.” So I’m thinking, extremist militant? Where is that coming from? Then Parnell Diggs gave his banquet speech. I understood where the militant came from, and I loved it. I loved it. So I just kept my involvement with the NFB, and I’ve loved it ever since. Keep it up, guys.
We have our second tenBroek fellow next, Kyle Shachmut, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning. Thank you to Dr. Maurer, the board, and the scholarship committee for bringing us here. Thank you to all of you who raised the funds for all of these programs that bring us here. It is very much appreciated. I study educational technology at Boston University. I love what I do. I get to work with some outstanding teachers to help make sure that they give great technology experiences and solutions to their students, not just blind students, but all students. Then I get to work with them to make sure that the solutions are accessible. I also get to work with universities to make sure that projects they roll out to all their students are accessible and useable by everybody and that they select good technology. I absolutely love what I do. I hope to get to meet many of you this week, and thank you very much.
Amber Sherrard, Louisiana, Louisiana: Hello, everyone. My life changed tremendously at age fifteen when I joined the National Federation of the Blind. At the time I did not consider myself to be blind even though I used many alternative techniques every day. I began to associate and get to know a lot of the members here at the National Federation of the Blind, and I saw how their lives were so positive, how they were all so confident and independent. I craved the freedom they all had. I wanted more of it. I strove to be just like them. Later I made the decision to attend a national training center. I went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and there I learned a positive attitude about blindness. It changed my life forever. Now that I have completed my adult training, I will be going to Louisiana Tech University to study nutrition and dietetics. My goal is to be a registered dietician and to help people eat well and live long. I would like to thank the scholarship committee for giving me such a wonderful opportunity. This is an experience I will cherish forever and never forget. Hello, I am Amber Sherrard, and I am proud to be blind!
Sandra Sommers, Ohio, Ohio: I am one of the old people she is talking about. I am a nontraditional student. I am basically a soccer mom from Ohio. I have a seventeen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old, and a thirteen-year-old, and my husband is my hero this week, because he is home alone with them. Five years ago I was handed a piece of paper by my ophthalmologist that said I had RP. I didn’t know what it was. He said nothing to me but handed me the piece of paper. I went home and Googled it, and imagine my surprise. Then I realized that all three of my kids could have it. So I ignored it for a couple of years, thinking it would go away, but it didn’t. My vision continued to deteriorate. I came to realize that I couldn’t live the way I was living. I started making some phone calls, looking for some resources, and I found someone who would listen to me. Most people were telling me that I could no longer cook, I could no longer clean, I could no longer care for my family, or I would never have a job again. Even my state rehab counselor told me that nothing would ever happen again; it was time to file for disability. I finally got ahold of Barbara Pierce from the NFB, and it changed my life. I had a BA from before having children—time to refresh my skills. I am now working on a physical therapy degree in between making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m honored to be here. I’m thrilled to be here, and I’d like to thank the scholarship committee for this opportunity.
Mikaela Stevens, Idaho, Idaho: Standing one very important inch over three feet tall with blindness makes life an adventure. It is not always easy. In fact, when I was younger, I had a hard time accepting my differences. But through a series of trials and growing opportunities, I have learned to rise above and relish life in all its beauty and am committed to helping others do the same. I have attended three Idaho state conventions and two national conventions and have seen the power and impact of the National Federation of the Blind. I look forward to contributing to future conventions and giving back to this organization. To me this scholarship is an opportunity to further challenge myself, improve the cause of equality, and help others rise above and relish life no matter the circumstances.
Kristina Vu, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everybody. This August I am going to be starting my freshman year at Rice University. I am majoring in political science and plan to be a prelaw student. This is my first convention, and I have to say, in the couple of days I’ve been here, I’ve learned a lot more than I ever expected to. Unfortunately some of these things were not exactly happy experiences to learn. I found out about the possible authorization of subminimum wages for disabled people, and I learned about the alarming rate of illiteracy among blind students simply because schools refuse to meet their duty to provide lessons in Braille. It’s things like these and laws of similar nature that destroy the ideal of equality that America was built on. It’s these kinds of laws that have stirred my passion to become a lawyer, but beyond that I also want to be an elected politician because, rather than just arguing about the law, I want to be in those committees shaping them. So, hopefully, ten years from now, or maybe a little later than that, depending on when I can get elected to Congress, I hope you will all vote for me. In the course of the rest of this week, I hope to meet as many of you as I can and learn as much from you as possible. Thank you to the scholarship committee for this opportunity.
The third tenBroek Fellow is Henry Wedler, California, California: Good morning, everyone. I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in 2004 when I participated in the first-ever high school Rocket-On! science camp. While there I met blind people who were engineers, mathematicians, chemists, physicists, scientists--which was what I wanted to be. That was so inspiring to see these successful blind people doing well in their careers. My favorite aspect of the National Federation of the Blind, of the people I met at science camp and of all the people I have met at conventions, is that they quite literally exude inspiration, success, and excellence. I think we are all learning as a scholarship class so much from these people. The inspiration that I have gained from the National Federation of the Blind is what allowed me to graduate recently with degrees in chemistry and history from UC Davis and go on to receive a PhD in theoretical organic chemistry starting in the fall. More important than receiving from the National Federation of the Blind is giving back to it, and I was a mentor at the 2009 Youth Slam. I was a co-instructor at the 2010 Junior Science Academy, and one of my favorite life experiences was this past April when I put on a chemistry camp with the California Association of Blind Students and the National Federation of the Blind of California for ten students who were in high school, much like the Rocket-On! Science Academy, interested in chemistry, interested in science. These kids came in terrified of a stove, terrified to touch a pipette, and absolutely mortified at the thought of touching and transferring chemicals as a blind person. They left wanting to be scientists. Thank you for everything, and I say from the bottom of my heart that I am committed to the National Federation of the Blind and all it stands for.
Matthew Yeater, Indiana, Indiana: I’m in awe right now. I was walking through the hallway with Tom Page, my mentor, when I got here Sunday. I am in the process of writing a book, and I am wanting to get in touch with publishers and editors. I need help. He was talking to me about Sharon [Maneki]. Sharon wrote a book on World War II, and I’m fascinated with World War II, especially General George Patton. He was a four-star general who served on the front line. His enemies hated him for it, and his soldiers loved him for it. When I was at the Bosma Center, I was in the process of going to Indiana Bible College, knowing that a blind person before me had failed and did not make it. I met Ron Brown. He invited me to the NFB meeting. I was overwhelmed with what went on. I was so impressed. I was part of the college leadership program. I came here, and I am no longer overwhelmed. I didn’t think that I had it in me to do what you guys do. With tears in my eyes I poured out my heart to him, and he encouraged me. What I am doing right now is that I am going to trade my accomplishments for his. Ron, I am going to take advantage of this opportunity to honor you publicly. Thank you for what you do for this organization. Thank you for what you do for Indiana. Thank you for what you have done in my life. I am not comparing him to General George Patton, but I’m not alone, I’m sure, in saying that he wouldn’t be what he is if it wasn’t for this organization pouring into him the way he poured into me. I need this organization in my life. I need it in my ministry. I need it in my school. Thank you for being there for me.
On Friday evening, July 8, Patti Chang presented scholarships to all the winners. The final one was the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. This year it went to Kyle Shachmut of Massachusetts. This is what he said:
Thank you. I’d like to thank very much the scholarship committee, Dr. Maurer, and the leaders of the Federation for this award. It’s truly a humbling honor. I’d like to thank my wife, Laura. Without her support there’s no way I could be involved in this organization the way that I am. She’s attending her first convention event tonight, so welcome and thank you. I’d really like to thank my parents. My parents and my siblings never knew the Federation, but they were Federationists. Their philosophy of blindness was truly amazing. They treated me equally with all my siblings, and it was just amazing. They never let me settle. I’m here tonight for two reasons. Two years ago I had my first contact with the NFB, and I was really amazed and inspired by the leaders here. Their imagination, their determination--but that is not really what kept me here. What kept me here is finding out that the leaders and the members are really people of action. We in the Federation do things. We do big things. We do important things. We are really changing what it means to be blind.
Earlier this semester my school was trying to enact inaccessible technology across the university, and I was inspired by the leaders I have met in the Federation to speak up against that. If you notice, I said “trying.” I’m very grateful to say that they’ve inspired me to help make change in my day-to-day life and for others. So I encourage all of you to do the same, to get involved, follow the great leaders that we have, and make a difference in your world.
The second reason that I’m here is because of the outreach of some great Federationists. Two years ago, when I won a scholarship, I had never had any contact with the NFB. The outreach of my great chapter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, particularly Dr. David Ticchi's constant outreach--he is truly the reason that I’m here and involved in the Federation, so thank you very much to Dr. Ticchi.
This is not an end for me, it is a beginning. I really look forward to continuing to work with the leaders of this organization. I hope to get to meet many of you and to work with you as we continue to change what it means to be blind. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Here is the complete list of 2011 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Mary Margaret Winifred Billington, Christine Daniels, Roberto Diaz, Aleeha Miakell Dudley, Heather Edwards, Brenton Fuchs, Diane Graves (tenBroek Fellow), Michelle Hackman, Shafeka Hashash, Carry Joanis, Catherine Lei, Ma'ayan Shira Malter, Daniel Martinez, Ryan T. McBee, Julie Ann McGinnity, Terence M. Meehan, Sylvia Lane Modesitt, Justin M. Salisbury, Sandra J. Sommers, and Matthew C. Yeater. Christopher Fountain would also have received this scholarship.
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owens Memorial Scholarship: Kristina Vu.
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Yasen Angelov, David Schilling Bouchard, Mikaela Stevens, and Kathleen A. Katulak.
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Jessica Beecham and Henry “Hoby” Wedler (tenBroek Fellow).
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Amber Sherrard.
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Kyle Shachmut (tenBroek Fellow).
An Address Delivered by Marc Maurer
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
Orlando, Florida, July 8, 2011
The difference between the concept of danger and the concept of risk involves opportunity. Danger is exposure to harm. Risk is an exposure to harm that may provide advantage if successfully overcome. Twenty-five hundred years ago Thucydides expressed what is still commonly held to be the concept of risk. He said, “...[O]ne side thinks that the profits to be won outweigh the risks to be incurred, and the other side would rather avoid danger than accept an immediate loss.” The often-expressed belief is that risk is an exposure to danger that may offer opportunity but that can involve disaster. The English Antarctic explorer, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, said, “We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint....”
Often risk is thought to be an exposure to danger that may be accepted or rejected. Those who reject it are doing so to avoid danger—to be safe. Thus it is thought that a continuum exists with safety at one end and extreme risk at the other. However, on this continuum safety requires acceptance of the status quo. The attitude of mind for those who accept the status quo is, “Leave everything alone; things will only get worse if you try to make them better.” This acceptance manifests stagnation. In dynamic systems the choice is not security or exposure to danger but development or decay. The riskiest course of action imaginable is the search for absolute safety. The rejection of all risk makes decay a certainty. Thus the task before us is not to avoid risk but to decide how to assess the opportunities and to determine which risks to take. Our future is fraught with risk, and this makes it one to be anticipated with abundant enthusiasm.
Will the infrastructure of our nation and the world be constructed in such a way that we can gain access to the opportunities it offers? Will the legal system be adequate to assure equality of opportunity? Will the educational system welcome blind students? Will employment be available? Will the attitudes of the public about the blind be altered so that full participation in society becomes a practical possibility? Will we take the necessary steps to ensure that high adventure is an element of our future? Will we have enough energy, enough imagination, and enough guts to insist that we not be forgotten or ignored as the structures of our society are built? These are the questions that must be answered if the equality we seek is to become ours.
The public attitudes about blindness determine, to a large extent, the kinds of opportunities available to the blind. If teachers believe that blind people will be part of their classes, if school boards believe that blind teachers will be offering instruction, if newspaper publishers believe that blind reporters will be writing the text they sell, if entrepreneurs believe that blind customers will be purchasing their products, and if filmmakers believe that blind actors will be portraying dramatic roles, the public attitudes that permit equal opportunity will begin to prevail. If, on the other hand, blind people are expected to remain at home or to be segregated in isolated enclaves, out of harm’s way and out of public view, the attitudes created through this set of expectations will result in deprivation and discrimination.
Where are public attitudes about the blind created? Sometimes government officials claim to be expert in this arena, and sometimes it is the authors of some of the most boring treatises on the nature of blindness who claim to set the standard for the way the public thinks about blindness. However, in many instances the filmmakers tell us that they will decide how we think. A number of years ago, when I was speaking to a vice president of the Disney Corporation about the depiction of blindness in one of its less successful movies, this vice president told me that he would decide what Americans think about blindness. At the time I thought, “You are not entirely correct; you are not the only one to make this determination, although I recognize that you do hold certain elements of power.”
When it comes to blindness, the filmmakers express their version of reality without comprehending what blindness is. Blind people are often complex, interesting, subtle, romantic, fascinating, or boring, but the filmmakers do not show this. Much of the time the depiction concentrates on one factor, blindness. If the principal character in the movie is blind, virtually anything else that the filmmaker wants to throw into the mix is regarded as believable. The filmmakers are using their image of blindness rather than blindness as we know it. They wish to have the advantages of the disability without having to suffer the indignity or disfigurement that they perceive as part of it. One of the risks we face is that we will not find the means to demand that blind people be represented as we truly are.
Actors love to play blind people because they can behave in strange ways without having to look strange, and an astonishing number of awards have come to these actors for portraying blind characters. The role of a blind person invokes an automatic sympathetic response from the audience, and the actor does not have to undergo disfigurement—even the actor’s eyes can remain as beautiful as they have ever been—a distinct advantage. The charm of being a largely non-repulsive object of pity is played for maximum effect—not by a blind actor, of course, but by a sighted person pretending to be blind. Many actors look upon such roles as prized opportunities to gain fame and fortune.
A movie made in 1992 entitled Scent of a Woman exemplifies the idiocy of Hollywood filmmakers’ dealing with the subject of blindness. Al Pacino, a sighted fellow, plays an irascible blind retired lieutenant colonel. The military man is mired in self-pity and despondency because of his blindness. The despair has become so great that he wants to kill himself. Nevertheless, he also wants to get out of his current surroundings near Boston’s Logan Airport to enjoy the pleasures of New York City. In order to achieve this objective, he accepts the proposition that he must be under the care of a so-called babysitter, who is hired to supervise his activities over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. The babysitter, a prep school senior seeking to earn three hundred dollars, is told by the woman who hires him that he should try to limit the lieutenant colonel’s drinking to no more than four drinks a day.
While these two characters are on the plane heading for New York, the lieutenant colonel tells his young companion that the ultimate pleasure for a man is being with a woman but that a distant second place pleasure is that of operating a Ferrari. Before the movie has concluded, a police officer stops Pacino for exceeding the speed limit on the streets of New York driving a Ferrari. Part of the unbelievable nature of the movie is that the officer does not discover that the driver is blind.
The despondency, the thrill-seeking in the Ferrari, the search for the pleasures of the big city, and the necessity for the helpless character to employ the services of a babysitter all come together in this unbelievable portrayal. Blindness is the element that holds it all together as a coherent picture. Without the blindness it wouldn’t make any sense, and the only reason that people think it makes sense is that they are willing to attribute astonishing characteristics to a blind character.
Al Pacino won an Academy Award for telling people that this is the nature of blindness. He lied about us, and millions of people loved to hear him lie. He twisted the truth, and he received honor for doing it. Those who made the film did not have the guts to show blindness the way it is, but part of the reason that they decided to depict it the way they did is that they don’t believe blind people can be dramatic. When they say that our lives require the services of a babysitter, they believe the reality they have created. But we know better, and we will not let them speak for us. We will help to write the scripts, and we will take a hand in the portrayal of our lives. In the future we will accept the risks that come with helping others know who we are, and we will not permit the twisted screen scenario to represent our identity. Our lives belong to us. We will not be subjected to the ministrations of a babysitter, on the screen or off—not now, not anywhere, not ever.
Another movie about blindness, scheduled for release in 2012, is entitled The Blind Bastards Club (BBC). Unlike Scent of a Woman, this movie about blindness actually has a few real blind people cast in supporting roles. Moviemakers would not want real blind people to be observed on the silver screen as we really are in anything other than supporting roles.
The planned film is described as a black comedy. Inasmuch as the film is not yet complete, how black the comedy is may not be entirely decided. However, there will undoubtedly be jokes about the blind. On the other hand, it is contemplated that blind people will jump out of airplanes, visit the shooting range, engage in fights at bars, and amuse themselves by pretending to be sighted, which causes consternation to sighted people who learn of their deception. Perhaps this kind of portrayal is better than insisting that we accept the ministrations of a babysitter, but what a choice! Is it better to be saddled with an inept supervisor or to be forced into the role of pretending to be what we are not because a false sense of values has asserted that the reality of what we are is inferior? These are the alternatives presented by these two filmmakers.
The leader of the club is depicted as a romantic character who falls in love with a sighted woman. Other club members become uneasy with this relationship because they are suspicious of the sighted. This woman decides to save her man from his blindness. She engages in criminal behavior to raise the $90,000 required for a newly discovered operation to give him vision. The pre-released description of the movie does not tell us how the other club members react when they learn that their leader is to become sighted. If his dating a sighted woman causes suspicion, his undergoing an operation to gain vision should create deep-seated hostility.
Is it necessary for me to say that having vision is not a bad thing and that members of the National Federation of the Blind do not look down on sighted people for having sight? Neither do we spend our lives thinking about how deprived we are because of our inability to see or how much we want to gain sight. We do rent it. I myself have hired hundreds of readers and thousands of drivers, and I use electronic substitutes for sight whenever I find some that work adequately to serve my purposes.
In certain realms people who possess disabilities are expected to have the attitude that values their particular disability as an expression of culture, distinctly different from the norm, and valuable because of its difference. In the National Federation of the Blind, we have never adopted this position. We have never said that we embrace “blind culture.” We have very distinctly said that we value blind people and that we expect blind and sighted people to participate in the same culture, although sometimes in different ways. For a person who has possessed sight to become blind can be enormously disheartening and quite frightening. However, this alteration does not fundamentally change a human being. The coming of blindness, the loss of vision, does not rob us of our charm, decrease our intellect, lessen our imagination, or diminish our ambition. Blindness is one characteristic among many. To assert that there is a culture of blindness would be to argue that this one characteristic alters an entire pattern of thought and behavior, which is to overstate the case. Sight is often useful. However, we do not believe that it is necessary for the magnificent, joyous life that can come to a human being, and we think that the films which solve the problem of blindness by providing an operation to offer sight are simple-minded.
Why do the filmmakers persist in offering us these miserable alternatives? Why do they insist that they know enough to make these films without encountering the lives we live? The reality is much better, much more interesting than they know. We demand that we be portrayed, not as they have imagined our lives to be, but the way we are. We are not strange or obnoxious—or at least most of us are not—and we insist that we be a fundamental part of the description they create about us. We who are blind can better portray blindness than any sighted person pretending to be blind, and we can tell better stories on this topic than anybody else. We don’t have to pretend: we know about blindness. What we say to Hollywood is this: “Put us on the silver screen, and we will show you the reality of blindness. And, if you want us to display our irascibility, tell us that blindness connotes inferiority. Irascibility is the least you will get.”
In the National Federation of the Blind, we distribute specialized aids and appliances relating to blindness or of particular assistance to blind people. White canes, Braille watches, slates and styluses, color identifiers, graduated measuring spoons and cups, and hundreds of other items are available. People who think they have special items of use to the blind ask us if we would be interested in distributing such material. A number of suggestions have come to us this year. An e-mail from one person, written in 2011, said:
My mother was visually impaired and attended Sight Support Groups. In these meetings she met a blind woman wearing a bib because she dropped food on her clothes constantly. Mom asked me to make her some, then she asked me to make some for the men and women in her retirement community and so on.
My daughter and I are still making Dribble-Its (bibs) for infants, children, and adults. We make Lap-kins too. Please visit our Website [www.dribble-it.com]. Our bibs are functional, fun, and made in America.
That is what the e-mail said, and there are parts of it that I believe. The bibs are functional and made in America. But fun? How much fun can a bib be? All of us spill things now and then, but, contrary to the arguments we sometimes encounter, blind people are not sloppier or messier than anybody else. Furthermore, we are not children, and we will not be treated as such. In examining the documents written about blind people over the decades, I find it astonishing to recognize how often is emphasized the importance of napkins for the blind.
More than two decades ago, when I was preparing the first of the banquet speeches I was to deliver, I commented upon a brochure issued by the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. In it rehabilitation officials gave instruction to people assisting the blind. Three of their instructions were: “8. Use good-sized napkins. 9. Don't make unnecessary comments when food is spilled. 10. If food is spilled on clothing, mention it casually so that it can be removed at once.” These are instructions from a brochure distributed by the South Carolina Commission for the Blind many years ago. The instructions are not directed to the blind but to caregivers offering assistance to the blind. In other words, the officials at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind also believe that blind people need babysitters. The Dribblets, supplying Lap-kins and bibs for the blind, have an opinion about blind people very similar to the one that came from these government officials. We decline to play the role of the sloppy incompetent. We reject this image, and we will not be limited by this mischaracterization.
Dr. Robert Porper, a retired oral maxillofacial surgeon, sent me a special toothbrush for the blind. When I got the package, I was startled. Are the teeth that blind people possess different from those of other people? Are the brushing capabilities of blind people restricted or inhibited more than those of others? Why would a special toothbrush for the blind be needed? How could such a brush be constructed to provide assistance to the blind in ways that are different from those provided by the ordinary toothbrush?
Dr. Porper has created a company called Twinbrush, LLC, which manufactures a toothbrush with a particularly wide handle and a head containing two brushes that are at a ninety degree angle to each other. The bristle ends of the two brushes come together to cradle the teeth in a complete brushing environment. Not only that, the bristles on the two brushing heads have multi-diameters so as better to provide the cleaning action. Dr. Porper says that this brush will be especially useful for those who cannot see. Though the brush was originally designed for other disadvantaged populations, Dr. Porper sent me samples, thinking that the National Federation of the Blind might like to distribute them to those who need especially clean teeth and who cannot see. According to Dr. Porper, with this special brush the blind person with teeth will always have the porper alignment.
Then there are the magnetic shoes. These have been designed for “children (aged one to six), the blind, or special needs people.” Each pair of shoes has magnets mounted at the instep. These magnets easily permit the owner to align the shoes in the same direction. Therefore, according to the inventor, it is easier for the blind to put the shoes on the feet. It is also easier to be sure that the blind person has one left shoe and one right shoe. The magnets will not line up unless there is a left shoe and a right shoe.
It is hard for me to imagine how such ideas come to mind. I find myself constantly astonished to learn just how stupid some people think we are. We can’t get our teeth clean without special brushes; we need magnetically enhanced shoes to let us know that we have both a left and a right shoe; and we need Lap-kins and bibs to prevent us from being smeared with the sticky, sloppy ingredients of our plates. With this kind of public relations, is it hard to understand why the unemployment rate for the blind is above seventy percent? Is it difficult to comprehend why the high school graduation rate is only forty-five percent? Yet the progress we create is as real as the slights we encounter. The opportunities being generated are as many as the belittlements we must refute.
In the spring of 2010 the Department of Justice and the Department of Education sent a letter to colleges and universities telling them that they could not deploy technology on college campuses that discriminate against the blind. In the spring of 2011 a similar letter was distributed by the Department of Education to school districts throughout the United States. These letters declare the policy of the United States, incorporated in law, that the blind shall be welcome in educational institutions. These letters were written because we asked that they be written. This policy was emphasized and reiterated because we asked that it be emphasized and reiterated.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have spent millions of dollars and enormous amounts of time and energy in attempting to gain equal access to electronic information. Books in digital form are being distributed on college campuses and in grade schools and high schools. We expect to have equal access to these books. Book-reading devices are being manufactured. Some of them do not incorporate methods for the blind to gain access to the information being presented. We have urged manufacturers to make their readers so that we can use them, and some of the manufacturers have done this. We have also worked very closely with the K-NFB Reading Technology Company to develop a method for making books accessible to the blind. This accessible-book technology is helping to demonstrate to the publishing industry that accessibility of print material to the blind is a viable option.
Knowledge about transportation and coupons essential to gain access to the transportation system are being distributed through electronic kiosks. In former times the information and the tickets could be obtained from people who distributed such things from behind counters, but the kiosk is now the access point, and the people are becoming rare. Most of these kiosks are inaccessible to the blind.
Some people would have us believe that building electronic devices in ways that make them accessible for the blind is enormously difficult, dramatically expensive, and a tremendous burden to industry. Our experience does not confirm this assertion. In the 1990s the regulatory system for banks demanded that automated teller machines be built in a way that would let the blind use them. We asked the banks to deploy such technology. They responded by telling us that they would do it but that no manufacturers were creating such products. To provide equal access to the blind through electronic teller machines was impossible, they said. We asked the manufacturers to build ATMs that the blind could use. They said they would do it, but no banks were ordering them. Because the banks had not asked for such technology, it had not been invented. Providing such machines was impossible, they said. A number of complaints were brought; a number of lawsuits were filed; a number of arguments were made; and a number of settlements were reached. The National Federation of the Blind spent enormous sums, but the result is evident. Today all manufacturers of automated teller machines in the United States build them with accessibility as an incorporated feature. The cost is negligible. I have been informed that the cost for hardware modification is less than one dollar per machine. Some banks do not enable this feature, but all of the ATMs have it.
While we are on the subject of blindness and ATMs, I note that the late-night comedians have found it humorous that bank machines in the drive-through section of the bank have Braille on the buttons. They keep wondering out loud how many blind people are driving up to the machines. Perhaps they have not considered the reality of what we are and what we do. I get into a taxi, and I tell the driver to drive by an ATM so I can lean out the window and operate the machine. The Braille is helpful to me, and I avoid the necessity of giving my bank card and personal identification number to the taxi driver, a circumstance involving risk I would rather not take.
When we learned that the Apple company was using iTunes to distribute college course material, we asked the company to make this material accessible to the blind. For a period of time Apple seemed to think that this would be difficult or impossible. However, we did not give up. When Apple discovered that we would never give up and when it learned that there could be substantial legal trouble, it decided to look at the matter seriously. Now the Apple iPhone, the iPod Touch, the iPad, and Apple computers all incorporate nonvisual access technology. This change has enhanced the marketplace for Apple, and it has demonstrated that flat-screen technology can be used nonvisually with essentially the same ease of use as is offered to sighted people.
Home appliances are being manufactured with visual displays that must be manipulated visually to make them work. Office equipment incorporates the same visual access design. Websites are being deployed by government, by private business, by educational institutions, and by the entertainment industry that are unusable by the blind even though the law requires otherwise. We have managed to get the attention of hundreds of Web designers and technology manufacturers, but the speed of development of new technology is so great that many thousands of Websites are created every day and new technological applications are being created by the hundreds. The Apple Company says that it has more than three hundred fifty thousand applications for its iPhone in the iTunes store. Although the iPhone itself is built to be accessible to the blind, many of the applications created to run on it are not.
In the information age lack of information is a severe disadvantage, and denial of information when it could be readily made available is discrimination. If we cannot gain access to information, we will be prevented from participation in education, employment, commerce, politics, and many leisure activities. Construction standards in the United States require physical facilities to be usable by the disabled. However, access to information is at least as vital as access to physical facilities. In 2002 we asked Congress to incorporate a requirement in the Help America Vote Act that voting machines be accessible to the blind. Today all voting machine manufacturers incorporate this technology in their devices, and the blind enjoy the advantages of being able to cast a secret ballot.
Information is presented in digital form in almost every instance today, and this type of presentation can be readily made accessible to the blind. We who are blind must be a recognized element of the process of building the intellectual infrastructure of the nation and the world. Until we accomplish this objective, we will continue to battle for our right to full participation. This will be good for the blind, but it will also serve others. Some people wonder if this dream can come true, but we do not. The achievement of full participation is not a matter for speculation but for decision, and our minds are made up. Equality will be ours, and nothing on earth can prevent us from gaining it.
The founding president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, began writing about the position of the blind in the legal system of the United States in the 1930s. He said that welfare payments should not be denied to blind people on the ground that they were seeking an education at the university level. He argued in the 1950s that the blind had a constitutional right to adequate rehabilitation. In the 1960s he drafted the white cane law to secure the right of the blind and otherwise physically disabled to full participation in the activities of American communities. His extensive survey and analysis of the policies of the United States regarding disabled individuals was published in 1966, and it helped to generate the disability rights movement.
Dr. tenBroek pointed out that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution declares that no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Blind persons are just as much persons under the Constitution as anybody else. The right to liberty guarantees the right to move about in the community without being subjected to extraordinary danger and the right to pursue employment in whatever trade or calling a person chooses. However, his survey of judicial decisions revealed that the liberty of blind people has sometimes been severely restricted. In the past some of the courts have argued that it is dangerous for a blind person to be abroad in the land, especially without a sighted supervisor. The blind person knows it is dangerous to be abroad in the land. Consequently, being out in the world is evidence that the blind person is engaging knowingly in risky behavior. Either the blind person has assumed the risk of injury, or the behavior that puts the blind person in the world is evidence of a kind of negligent disregard of that blind person’s safety. Any injury that may occur to a blind person is attributable to that blind person’s risky behavior; it is the blind person’s fault. Blind persons should know better than to leave their homes unescorted and unsupervised. With these judicial decisions liberty for a blind person ceases to be a right protected by law, and the interminable interference with the lives of blind people on the grounds of safety is the inevitable result. Sit still; wait here; don’t move until I get somebody to help you. These are the orders that we receive constantly. They mean: turn your life and your independence over to me because I know more about what you need than you do. I can see; you cannot. I am in charge of you. This is often the shape of the denial of our liberty.
In the spring of 2011 a group of blind people in Baltimore seeking to participate in the activities of a paintball sports emporium were refused admittance on the grounds that they are blind and their participation would be unsafe. They might be struck by flying paintballs, the proprietors said, or the blind people might fall down. The flying paintballs might injure the blind people. Perhaps the proprietors had gained special knowledge about blind people, knowledge that we who are blind do not have. Perhaps the proprietors had come to know that blind people are injured by flying paintballs more easily than the sighted. Perhaps the proprietors had come to realize that the skins of blind people are thinner, that the nerve centers of blind people are more susceptible to damage, or that the chemical composition of paint is more emotionally challenging to the blind than it is to the sighted. Or perhaps the proprietors just did not want blind people in their place of business. No matter how they structure the argument, the basis for the decision is prejudice against the blind. They may want to rob us of our liberty, but they do not know us; we will not tolerate this custodialism. We have the same right to participate fully in the activities of our community as anybody else, and we intend to exercise it.
In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. The objective of this legislation was equality of opportunity for disabled Americans. Eleven years after it was adopted, the Supreme Court issued a decision written by the then chief justice. In that decision the chief justice said that it would be rational, and constitutional, for states to refuse to hire disabled people because they are more expensive to hire than nondisabled people. How did the chief justice know that it is more expensive to hire disabled people than it is to hire nondisabled people? Had the court conducted a survey of all disabled employees and all unemployed disabled potential employees to ascertain the costs involved in employing them? Had a comparison been made of these costs to the actual costs involved in hiring nondisabled people? Had the court considered the disabled Americans who are employed today at subminimum wages? Had the court considered a comparison of the costs for people receiving subminimum wages to the costs associated with those guaranteed the minimum wage? The answer to these questions is “No!” The court violated the standard expected of judicial decision-making. Decisions are expected to be based on fact, not fiction—on evidence produced in the record, not prejudice.
For the past ten years this decision of the United States Supreme Court has remained in effect. It has been criticized by many, but it has not yet been criticized by the Supreme Court. However, although the court rarely admits it, it does sometimes change its mind. In the long run it is our task to ensure that this decision is changed. Justice in America is to be based on fact, not fantasy. The facts are with us, and we will demonstrate them whenever we get the chance. Prejudice dies hard, but it does die, and we are here to hurry it on its way.
In assessing the position of blind people in the United States, it is necessary to consider the image that we have in the minds of others, but it is also useful to reflect upon the thoughts we have and the actions we take. Within the past few months we have taken an automobile modified for use by the blind, and we have placed it on a race course. We have demonstrated that we can control this technology. We are a long way from possessing the capability of putting a machine operable by the blind on the streets, but the initial demonstration has been made. Our imagination and our ambition have not been diminished by our blindness, and our belief in our capacity to manage complex technology has carried us a long way. The time will come when the blind-drivable vehicle will be manufactured, and other technologies will follow. When this occurs, modifications to the legal system will be needed. Some of us have speculated that this will be the difficult part in getting blind drivers on the road. I am told that building an airplane the blind can fly is easier than building a car the blind can drive.
We who are blind are expanding the frontiers for us, and in doing so we are expanding them for others as well. Where can we not go, and what can we not do? These questions have been with us forever, but the answers have never been comprehensive. This is so because the frontiers expand with our imagination. If there are limits, we have not reached them. Taking advantage of this type of technology requires the establishment of trust in the technology. More important than trusting the technology is trusting the people who operate the technology. Without the establishment of this form of trust, the laws permitting use of the technology cannot be adopted. Creating public attitudes that will help people come to trust the capacity of the blind is a vital part of what we must do. Although today the image seems far-fetched, we must create in the minds of employers the notion that they want blind people to drive their trucks, fly their planes, and do other tasks that they think blind people cannot do. We must expand the number of places where we have the ability to demonstrate excellence.
When I came to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind more than forty years ago, our opportunities were more limited than they are now. Many of the arguments about the capacity of the blind that we encountered in those days have not changed, but some of the laws are better than they were, some of the programs are more productive, and some of the public attitudes about blindness welcome us as full participants. More of us are working in a wider variety of occupations than ever before in history. Some blind people have never been faced with a comprehensive pattern of discrimination and denial which was once almost universal. Some of them think to themselves, “I’ve never faced discrimination; what is all the fuss about?” However, the achievement of full equality for us all is still not within our grasp.
The progress we have made is tremendous, and I am proud of what we have done. However, if we were to cease our efforts today, the promises we have made to ourselves and to the blind of this generation would not be fulfilled. We always keep our promises—especially the ones we make to each other. The need is as urgent as it has ever been. The communications from blind people continue to tell the stories of deprivation. Although blind students are frequently welcomed in school, they rarely receive education equivalent to their sighted colleagues, and learning Braille is rare. If it were not for our presence, such deprivation would be largely unchallenged. We are as necessary to building hope as when we came into being more than seven decades ago.
A risk not taken is an opportunity missed. Not all of the risks are worth the cost, but many of them are. To observe the far country, to reach beyond the limits of present expectation, to create methods of understanding that are currently unknown, to imagine a time when full acceptance of our capabilities will be a part of the public mind, to dream of making contributions that will help to build a better world, to offer hope where none has existed—these are the opportunities we are seeking. Can we reach these lofty goals? Can we muster the courage to believe in ourselves? Will we have the dedication, the leadership, and the energy to gain equality?
The Supreme Court tells us it is rational for the states not to hire us. The inventors would foist upon us special shoes, toothbrushes, and bibs. The governmental officials and filmmakers urge the public to believe that we require babysitters. Who are we to tell them all that we know better than any of them? Who are we to contest the assumptions and considered decisions of the highest court in the land? Who are we to insist that the creators of the international images that emanate from Hollywood are too limited in their imagination? We are the blind of America, organized and on the move. We are the blind leaders who have examined our hearts and found them strong. We are the blind people with the courage to tell it like it is.
We have known isolation and poverty, but we have sometimes found ways to reach beyond them. We have encountered closed minds, but we have often found ways to open them. Many of us have felt despair, but our friends in the movement have shown us a future filled with promise. I have traveled the country, and I have met with members of the National Federation of the Blind. We have often said that we have capacity, and I am convinced that sometimes we do not know just how much. My experience with Federation members gives me enormous confidence. I am absolutely certain that the equality we seek must and will be ours. Nothing can keep us from it. Our heritage demands it; our experience requires it; our lives proclaim it. Nothing, nothing on earth can keep this dream from coming true. The risks are monumental, but we will take them together. Of such strength is made the future for us all; of such spirit is fashioned the National Federation of the Blind.
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: Late Wednesday afternoon, July 6, Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute and the blind driver who made history at the Daytona International Speedway on January 29, 2011, came to the platform to place his accomplishment that day in perspective and challenge us all to continue our journey toward new understandings of freedom and independence. This is what he said:
It has often been said that success is a journey, not a destination. Equally true is the observation that independence is a journey not a destination. It is also worth noting that the essential element of the journey is the spirit with which it is undertaken. We in the National Federation of the Blind have undertaken a journey to expand the boundaries of independence. In the process we have had to grapple with the evolution of our own philosophy about blindness and the way it applies in the world around us. Without the journey, can the destination of independence ever be reached? With our experience can we define the characteristics of that end point? Within our journey have we arrived at our final stop?
Over the seven decades of the Federation we have established an empowering philosophy that articulates what we know to be the truth about blindness. By putting that philosophy into training programs and testing the limits of our beliefs about blindness, we have created a tremendous knowledge base about the possibilities for our own future. That knowledge base has always included some fundamental and pragmatic notions about blindness. We said that with proper training and opportunity the blind can compete on terms of equality with the sighted in any aspect of life, except for driving a car, of course. We confidently declared that the average blind person was able to perform the average job in the average career or calling, assuming that it was not driving a vehicle around. These are the things we said in the past, and they demonstrate our optimistic understanding of the possibilities and our pragmatism about the disadvantages of blindness. This is why some have felt the Blind Driver Challenge™ is a misguided effort that runs counter to our philosophy about blindness—after all we have achieved by finding alternatives to driving, and any difficulty we have in this area is a mere inconvenience. Is independence a destination we have reached, or is there more to the spirit of the journey?
What would happen if we drove beyond the comfortable zone where we believed our independence stopped? If we can begin to demonstrate that the practically impossible might practically be possible, it would shatter our understanding of the destination of independence and expand the limits to a new, undefined place. The power in this idea has been seen many times throughout history both within our movement and through the rest of society.
Take for example the mathematical laws of motion and the formulation of the law of universal gravitation that Isaac Newton codified in the seventeenth century. The Newtonian framework theorized that space and time are absolute, universal, and independent of motion of bodies in space. The science of centuries was constrained by Newtonian principles. Yet Albert Einstein dared to be imaginative and concluded that there was an alternate way to perceive the possibilities for time and space. He dared to innovate even though virtually nobody took his notion seriously. He went where his heart and mind took him rather than choosing the dogmatic approach of his scientific colleagues. Einstein’s persistence led to the establishment of the theory of relativity, founded on the idea that only relative motion can be measured. The consequences of this notion were profound and shattered the Newtonian conception of the world—both space and time are no longer absolutes.
The same is true for the classical absolutes of blindness. We have been shattering well-established concepts of blindness for seven decades. At the same time we have been refining the newly established patterns that we have created. We began by teaching ourselves to have high expectations and to go beyond the false limits of the classic view of blindness. We quickly began testing our own assumptions and learned that our own perceptions also had limitations that might not be true. We learned that, by challenging each other about our own independence, we would find new opportunities. This is the spirit of the journey.
We took a major leap forward when we established formal training programs based on our understanding of blindness. This tested the limits of what we knew about blindness, established a new confidence in our capacity to direct our own future, and created some vigorous dialogue about what it might mean. Those early students left the training programs and challenged the Federation’s notion of independence. As those students grew into leadership in the Federation, they established new programs that taught others the confidence and skills to further test the limits and, most important, fueled the spirit of the journey. Each generation of the Federation has passed to the next an empowering understanding of blindness as well as an obligation to keep pushing the limits. This is why, to keep faith with those who came before us, we imagined and built the NFB Jernigan Institute—the physical expression of our commitment to do the same for ourselves and future generations.
We have also learned that the journey is not entirely defined by what we do. Society continues to evolve, and advances in technology have changed the means of interaction with everyday systems and with each other—the final destination has not been achieved. We have been successful because we have embraced the spirit of the journey by testing the limits of our own independence within the evolving world around us. This is why we choose to undertake the development of new technologies that have the potential to expand our independence beyond where we thought was possible. This is why we insist that the technologies built today be built with access from the beginning. This is why we demand that the educational system be available to us to apply our unique talents to the acquisition of knowledge. This is why we are no longer willing to wait for somebody else to get around to us. We know well the spirit of the journey, and we intend to participate fully and lead in the drive to the future.
On January 29 I walked towards the starting line of the famed Daytona International Speedway. Surrounded by reporters, I shook hands with the president of the National Federation of the Blind and United States Congressman John Mica, who handed me a key. Nearby a Ford Escape equipped with nonvisual technologies was parked. At that moment I believed myself to be a successful person, who happened to be blind. I believed I understood the nature of independence. I believed that a defining aspect of my independence as a blind person was the degree to which I accepted the responsibility of being a driver rather than a passenger. Driver meant taking charge of my own life, internalizing the truth about blindness, and seeking the skills necessary for success. Later that day “driver” had an expanded meaning in my life.
I climbed into the vehicle, buckled my seatbelt, and attached the nonvisual interfaces I would use to receive information I needed to drive the car through 1.5 miles of the road course. As I sat in the driver’s seat waiting for the all clear to begin our historic drive, I knew that ten minutes later the world would be different. However, certain aspects of the experience I had not anticipated. Chief among these was the stream of dialogue for days and weeks afterward about what “Mark Riccobono” (or, if they were really intense, “Mark Anthony Riccobono”) did or did not do on the track at Daytona that sunny day in January.
During the weeks after the drive at Daytona, I spent considerable time talking with members of the media about the work of the National Federation of the Blind and the impact of our Blind Driver Challenge™. Meanwhile, listservs and other forums were hot with debate about how real the drive was and what it meant to us. “He could have easily memorized the track.” “Sure he could drive that route because he practiced on it; let’s get him in an unfamiliar place and see how he does.” “If this is so good, let’s take it out on the street and try it.” And “Google is already developing an autonomous car; I have a lot more faith in Google’s technology than I would in myself as a blind person.” It was hard to read some of the correspondence and not respond—after all, I was the Blind Driver, and I could set the record straight about what happened on the track at Daytona. Many Federationists did respond, and they did so with very thoughtful articulations of independence and the spirit of our journey.
There is something significant to be learned from the dialogue that persisted after the drive at Daytona. I do not mean the chatter from the skeptics that never wanted us to succeed in the first place. These are the people who sit on the sidelines and criticize the work of the Federation without putting their energy into making progress with us. For that group the criticism was about protecting their sideline status when we actually did something they never believed we could do. They will continue to find fault with this and most of the rest of what we do because they fail to have the imagination and energy to engage with us in the journey, even though they benefit from our efforts. I am thinking about the rest of us who have struggled to understand how this moment in history fits into our philosophy and shapes our progress. For us this is a continuation of the conversation we have been having for decades regarding the journey of independence. In fact I believe that the current dialogue is a demonstration of the strength of our movement and the unity of our purpose.
One of the compelling benefits of our Blind Driver Challenge demonstration is the wide reach of the media coverage and the positive images of blindness distributed all around the world. The image of blindness that we have gotten into the mainstream this year is some of the best work we have ever done to shatter misconceptions about the capacity of blind people. While we have changed the perceptions of millions—at least causing them to pause and take notice—I would contend that the most significant lesson is the change in our own thinking about the limits of independence and the direction of our future.
I now have the distinction of being “the blind driver,” and I have read what has been suggested about the meaning of that drive at Daytona. I reject much that has been speculated about our work and our motives. I have been in the middle of the project, and I have a great sense of what is fact and what is fiction. Just to set the record straight, Mark Anthony Riccobono did drive a car on the track at Daytona. I sat in the driver’s seat, pushed the accelerator, used information from the gloves on my hands to make decisions about how to maneuver the car, and reacted to static and dynamic obstacles in real time. I observed the reaction of the vehicle to my movement of the steering wheel, made adjustments, and monitored the surrounding environment. I drove the car safely while actively deciding to acknowledge or ignore spectators. This included ignoring spectators who yelled out false directions in an effort to shake my confidence in myself and the technology we had built—you have probably met some of those same people while traveling on the streets of your local community. I felt great joy when I drove past the four hundred members of the National Federation of the Blind who were cheering loudly as the car approached, and I applied the brake slightly and acknowledged the moment with a honk of the horn. I approached and successfully avoided boxes thrown out in front of the car. To avoid those boxes, I used new and old techniques that we have developed. The new nonvisual interfaces were used to gather information needed to make adjustments to the car’s direction. At the same time I listened for the change in the tire noise caused by coming close to and moving past an object—an old technique I learned from a blind cane travel instructor during training at the Colorado Center for the Blind. As I pushed on the accelerator and maneuvered the car past a van that was also driving on the track, I again honked the horn (this time without slowing down). I carefully guided the car through an opening in a line of barrels, brought the car to a stop, and shifted into park. Throughout the entire experience I sat in that car all alone, but, when I was done, our journey of independence had a new direction.
That drive did not make me more independent. That drive did not suddenly make it possible for thousands of blind people to achieve a greater level of independence—at least not immediately. However, that drive that we took together at Daytona is symbolic of the spirit of the journey that we have chosen to pursue. That drive shatters the comfortable understanding we thought we had about our own independence—an independence that some of us thought was a destination. Our drive at Daytona injected uncertainty into our journey—an uncertainty that will challenge us and the rest of society. If the challenge is met with the spirit of the journey, we are certain to stretch our imaginations farther and venture forward on roads yet untested.
I went through the same internal struggles regarding the Blind Driver Challenge™ project that have been expressed in conversations across the Federation over the past year. What does this mean, how does it fit in to where we want to go, what will the outcome be, and how will it advance our work? If we stopped asking these questions, we would be neglecting the spirit of the journey and failing to keep faith with the Federationists that have made these questions possible. My understanding began to crystallize as I observed and participated in the testing of the blind driver technology. Dr. Maurer started the pattern of thought that has brought the Blind Driver Challenge to life. We began with hardly anybody believing that he was serious. When it came time to start testing the technology on the road, he was at the front of the line prepared to test his own vision for the future. He was interested in what he could do with the technology as well as what others could do with it. Dr. Maurer challenges us, but he also expects that we will challenge him—this is how we advance our movement. This example challenged us to work hard, ask hard questions, and urge the engineers to make changes based on our experience with the technology. Our progress was accelerated by the spirit of the journey we observed in Dr. Maurer’s desire to test the limits of independence. While we started out believing that the destination was the goal, our blind driver work taught us that the journey is the essential element of our organization. We understood this well by the time we got to the cold day in January when Anil Lewis and I told the engineers that it was time for them to get out of the car. I will never forget the feeling of that first drive with the radio on, the windows down (even though it was the middle of January), and nobody else in the car. It did not matter if there was a particular destination for that drive or any drive that has happened since. History may note that there was once a blind driver at Daytona, but, if we continue to keep faith with the history of the Federation, the future record will mark that occasion as a first rather than an isolated incident—a beginning to a journey. Where do we want to go next? Let the spirit of the journey guide us.
The day after our drive at Daytona, my family and I prepared to go to breakfast. My son turned to me with love and sincerity and asked if I would drive today. I don’t know when the next family road trip will happen with me at the wheel. I do know that the Blind Driver Challenge has taught us more about the spirit of the journey than anything else we have experienced. I do know that, if we are not part of the team engineering tomorrow, then our participation in the future will only be an afterthought. I do know well the faith we must keep with each other in continuing to challenge ourselves to find new heights of independence. And I have witnessed that same understanding in Federationists across the country in the correspondence that has come since our drive at Daytona. My brothers and sisters, we have pledged to each other that we know who we are and that we will never go back. Let us now also promise to drive forward to the future and pass on the spirit of the journey.
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: Friday morning, July 8, NFB First Vice President and former Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration Fred Schroeder keynoted an employment panel with a fiery speech laying out the injustices of subminimum wages for people with disabilities. This is what he said:
On Tuesday, October 29, 1929 [Black Tuesday], an unprecedented freefall in stock prices rocked the United States to its very foundation. Without warning the nation found itself in the grip of an economic disaster, later to be known as the Great Depression. Literally overnight millions of Americans lost their life savings and millions more lost their jobs. Unemployment rose to 25 percent, and no one knew when or if the economy would recover.
From the depths of unemployment, hunger, and despair, Americans looked to the 1932 presidential election for a change in leadership, a change in direction, and a ray of hope. That year, in his Democratic presidential nomination acceptance speech, Franklin Roosevelt said, "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people." Thus began an aggressive series of reforms to get America's economy back on track and its citizens back to work. But as desperately as Americans needed jobs, they needed jobs that offered a living wage--what Roosevelt called, "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." Accordingly President Roosevelt--as a centerpiece of the New Deal--undertook sweeping reform of the nation's labor laws.
In 1938 the Congress adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Act included numerous reforms; however it is best remembered for establishing the federal minimum wage. President Roosevelt characterized the Fair Labor Standards Act as "the most far-reaching, far-sighted program for the benefit of workers ever adopted in this or any other country." But the minimum wage was not for everyone: not for the blind and not for others with disabilities. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act permitted blind workers and others with disabilities to be paid less than the minimum wage, meaning that for the blind and others there continued to be no minimum at all.
The Fair Labor Standards Act, with its subminimum wage provision, reflected society's beliefs and assumptions about the impact of disability on an individual's productivity. While others were guaranteed the minimum wage, people with disabilities had to prove their worth. That was the thinking in 1938, and, given the attitudes of the day, it is not surprising. What is surprising is that today--seventy-three years later--the law continues to countenance subminimum wages for blind people and others with disabilities. But that must end. As we call for in Resolution 2011-17, it is time to pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. No more subminimum wages: the time is now!
Defenders of the subminimum wage system argue that some people have such complex disabilities that they truly are incapable of working competitively. They say that, in spite of their limited ability, they deserve the chance to be as productive as they can. And, we are told, the subminimum wage system enables those individuals--people with the most significant disabilities--to work and to be paid according to their productivity. Besides, they say, no one is forced to go to a sheltered workshop. It is an option, a choice—but is it really?
Prior to 1938, with crushing unemployment, Americans were so desperate for jobs that they would work for essentially any wage under any conditions. They did not choose to send their children to work in factories. They did not choose to work in sweatshops. They did not choose poor wages and long hours. They did not choose unsafe working conditions. They had no choice. They had to take what they could get. The same is true for today’s workers with disabilities.
With a 70 percent unemployment rate, far too many people with disabilities are faced with the Hobson's choice of sheltered work or no work. As with the Depression era workers of the 1930s, today's workers with disabilities cannot simply walk away because there is nowhere else to go. They must work for any wage under any conditions or have no work at all. As we know, President Roosevelt contracted polio as a child and, as a result, had limited use of his legs. Ironically, had he not been born into wealth and privilege, he might well have ended up working at a subminimum wage--paid according to someone’s assessment of his productivity--instead of becoming president of the United States.
The question is not whether there are people with complex disabilities that impair their productivity; the question is whether it is equitable and just to require people with disabilities to prove their worth and to do so by performing mind-numbing, repetitive work. People with disabilities are not given menial, monotonous work because it is the only work they can do but because it is work that fits society’s low expectations. There is no justice in requiring people with disabilities to prove their worth while others are guaranteed the minimum wage. The time has come to pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. No more subminimum wages: the time is now!
Years ago I knew a blind woman who worked in a sheltered workshop. In addition to blindness, she had cerebral palsy, giving her limited use of one side of her body. Her job? She worked assembling large heavy rubber mats, a physically demanding job. She was paid on a piece rate based on the number of mats she could assemble each day. She was paid according to her productivity, taking home less than $6 for two weeks’ work. Oh, and by the way, she had a college degree. Clearly, the job was a poor match. It did not reflect her ability but her physical limitations. Yet no one asked if it made sense for her to be making large, heavy rubber mats. No one asked if another job might be a better fit, given her education and interests. The sheltered workshop made mats, and that was the work she was given.
In 1986 I became the first executive director of the newly created New Mexico Commission for the Blind. One of the programs that was transferred to the new Commission was a sheltered workshop. As the new director, the first policy I issued was to eliminate the payment of subminimum wages. I was told that my actions were irresponsible, that the workshop would go broke and have to close its doors, leaving the workers out in the cold with nowhere to go. But the sheltered workshop did not go broke, even when we began paying better wages, even when we began paying into the Social Security system, even when we began providing vacation and sick leave, even when we began providing retirement benefits.
So how did we stay afloat? How did we remain profitable? We started with the assumption that blind people could be competitive. We assumed that it was the responsibility of management to find profitable contracts and to phase out those that were not profitable. We looked at whether the jobs available in the workshop--mostly industrial sewing and assembly--were regarded by the workers as suited to their skills and interests; and, when they were not, we helped the workers find other jobs, jobs in the community. We assisted the woman who worked assembling large, heavy rubber mats to set up a home-based telephone answering service business, a much better match with her skills and ability and one at which she could earn a good wage--a competitive wage--not some piece-rate subminimum wage.
But, you may ask, how big is the problem really? How many people with disabilities are being paid below the minimum wage? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of November 10, 2010, approximately 2,552 employers were holding special subminimum wage certificates. But that does not mean that there are only 2,552 people being paid below the minimum wage--disgraceful as that number would be. The actual number is much larger--much, much larger. A certificate is not required for each individual. Many individuals can be paid below the minimum wage under a single subminimum wage certificate. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that under the 2,552 subminimum wage certificates approximately 368,106 individuals with disabilities are being paid below the minimum wage--over a third of a million people. And there is essentially no oversight. Last I knew, only three federal inspectors were assigned to monitor the payment of subminimum wages to the 368,106 workers with disabilities.
So is the answer to hire more inspectors? No. The problem has been and continues to be that the subminimum wage exemption is based on the unquestioned assumption that blind people and others with disabilities must prove their worth--prove their worth--while people without disabilities are assured the minimum wage. The subminimum wage system is rooted in low expectations. It operates with little oversight and even less accountability. When deciding an individual's productivity, no one questions whether the individual has received adequate training. No one questions whether the individual has been given the needed supports and accommodations to reflect his or her ability fairly. No one questions the accuracy of the time study used to determine the individual's wage. No one wonders whether other jobs might be better suited to the individual's strengths and interests. And no one wonders if there might be a conflict of interest--whether it is fair to entrust the same entity that stands to benefit from keeping wages low with the job of deciding the individual's productivity.
And the federal government supports and encourages the system by granting noncompetitive federal contracts under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act. To work on these contracts, an individual must be legally blind or must have a physical or mental disability that "constitutes a substantial handicap to employment and is of such a nature as to prevent the individual under such disability from currently engaging in normal competitive employment." But who decides that an individual is incapable of engaging in "normal competitive employment”? The workshop does. And who decides the individual's productivity? The workshop does. And who decides how many hours an individual can work each week? The workshop does. And who oversees the subminimum wage system? Essentially no one.
It is time to end subminimum wages for blind people and others with disabilities. It is time to end the abuse, time to end the exploitation; and it is time to end the custodial attitudes that perpetuate low expectations, the idea that the blind and others with disabilities must prove their worth. It is time to end the economic enslavement of the blind and others, and it is most certainly time to end the federal government’s protection of a flawed and failed system that operates in the name of charity and kindness. It is time to pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. No more subminimum wages: the time is now!
by Damashe Thomas
From the Editor: Following Fred Schroeder’s rousing speech, a sheltered shop employee and NFB chapter officer was scheduled to speak. Because of serious illness in his family, he was unable to attend convention, so at the last moment Damashe Thomas stepped in to do the job. Mr. Thomas has worked for Georgia Industries for the Blind for five years. In addition to his high school diploma, he has two years of college credit toward a degree in computer information systems. He spoke from personal experience of sheltered workshop working conditions. This is what he said:
Good morning. My name is Damashe Thomas. I would like to make apologies for Stancil Tootle, who is not able to be here. His wife had to have surgery, and he is with her.
I began working at Industries for the Blind in Bainbridge five years ago. When I initially started working there and heard about the Industries for the Blind, I thought it was a great idea because, the way it was explained to me, they give blind people the opportunity first, not that we were forced to work or that the program excludes sighted people, but, when it comes down to blind or sighted employees, we’re going to look at the blind employee’s qualifications first. If the two are equally qualified, the blind person will receive the job.
As Dr. Schroeder described unemployment in the blind community, it sounded like a great opportunity to me. I went down. I took the job. I was told that there would be opportunities for me to have upward mobility, the possibility that, if I worked, learned, with the education that I had at the time and would continue pursuing, I could end up some day working in management, helping to make decisions that affected the other employees.
About two years into this job, I started noticing that there were quite a few openings for supervisor positions, and it wasn’t so much that I wasn’t being considered for those positions, but people that had worked there for ten, fifteen, twenty years were not being considered for the positions. At the time I met Stancil Tootle when I first moved to Bainbridge, Georgia, he was working under the BEP program in Georgia. About two and a half years after I arrived, his contract was closed out, and he looked around for work and found that he had to go back to the Industries for the Blind. He had worked there previously for about twenty years. I can honestly say from getting to know Stancil that the decision to go back to GIB kind of depressed him, and I was beginning to understand why. During my attempts to finish my degree there in Bainbridge, all sorts of roadblocks were put up, not only by VR, but surprisingly enough by the people at Georgia Industries for the Blind.
Me and Stancil would sit and talk, and a lot of times before he came back to GIB, he kept my spirits up because I started to get frustrated. People work at the Industries who have been there for ten years or more making file folders, which is a process of sitting there assembling a folder. This is what they do eight hours a day. Like I say, some of these people have worked there ten, fifteen years and still have not reached the required production rate. It became obvious to me after a short time that, if they had been working there ten years and still had not reached production, then maybe they should be doing something a little different. [Applause]
I was fed a lot of talk about open-door policies--if there is anything wrong, we have a process for improvement. Fill out a piece of paper. Let us know what you think needs changing, and we will consider it. If it’s feasible, if it’s plausible, we will make every attempt to do it. So I went to management. I spoke with management many times and spent time in offices behind closed doors, not realizing that, when promises were made to me behind closed doors, I had no witnesses. So, when I would call them on the agreements that we had made, it was always my word against theirs. I was labeled a troublemaker, not because I’m actually, in my opinion or anyone else’s, a troublemaker--I’m just not allowing them to continue to do what they’re doing. [Applause]
About two years in, me and Stancil got to be a little closer because of the Georgians Empowering through Mentoring Success (GEMS) Program, which was a pilot program of the National Federation of the Blind. Georgia, Utah, Texas, and Ohio were selected for that go-round. That actually is the time when the National Federation of the Blind helped keep me going, not because I necessarily reached out to people or let them know how bad I was feeling or let them know this job was starting to push me down (I was actually starting to question my self-worth), but simply because I was able to leave Bainbridge every two to three months and spend time with other blind people who were not working for Industries for the Blind. They were doing what they wanted to do with their lives, or they were going to school to pursue what they wanted to do with their lives. That kept me going a lot more than I myself could have done.
Going through that program, I did make a lot of contacts in Georgia and around the country that were National Federation members. I had joined the organization early on because of Stancil Tootle, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until that mentoring program. I saw the difference I was able to make just talking to younger people about my experiences even though I was a mentee just like them. I was older, and I was able to steer them based on my life experiences. Go to school; do everything you can. Fight for your education because you don’t want to end up at Industries for the Blind. [Applause]
One of the biggest issues we have had with the Industries for the Blind is that, during the process of making file folders, you are required to press a counter, which keeps track of how many folders you have made at the end of the day when your supervisor comes around and takes your count As a blind person I’m not able to see that count, like most of the employees there. They are not able to see their counters. So it’s a good-faith system; we are relying on them to tell us accurately what we made and to pay us by what we made. We addressed this issue and wrote a letter to management asking them to work with us to come up with a better process. We had found accessible counters that would talk, that would read out the information that was contained on the counter. About a month after receiving our letter, management comes down and lets us know that, “Well, we’re going to fix the problem for everybody. We are going to count your folders for you. We’re going to come up with an equation. It’s going to take us a few months to get it together, but we’re going to come up with an equation where we can just weigh out the folders you make. We’ll pick them up, and we’ll tell you what you made at the end of the day.”
I’m going to be honest; I wasn’t happy about that at all. Basically you are already going from me not being able to keep track of my money as it is. At least at the end of the day you are telling me how many I made so I can somewhat try to keep an eye on you. Now you are just going to weigh them up and give me a paycheck every two weeks.
We tried to talk with them. We tried to work with them, and they were adamant that their way of doing it was going to be the best way. We got a lot of the blind people together and tried to talk to them. Most of them, as I said, have been there ten years or more. Some people are close to twenty-five years. Well, they’ve been dealing with Industries for the Blind for so long that all the fight has gone out of them. So they just give it up--if that’s what they want to do, that’s what they’re going to do. There is nothing we can do about it. That is their attitude.
It’s frustrating to me as a young person. It is frustrating to me as a blind person to have anybody feel that way, let alone to know that a job that is supposed to be there, that is touted by management and by workers in the state government of Georgia as one of the best things they could do for us, to be responsible for the attitudes of so many blind people. I thought when I went to Bainbridge that I would be meeting a lot of blind people because, where I had been living, there weren’t a lot. I sometimes felt like I was the only blind person in the world. I thought I was going to meet blind people. We would talk. We would learn a lot, and I ended up down there, as one of the youngest people at the Industries, trying to be a leader, simply because all the fight had been taken out of them.
Well, I’ve got to be honest: they almost took the fight out of me too. I was given an opportunity to go work at the Colorado Center for the Blind summer youth program. [Applause] (I didn’t think that many people came from Colorado.) I was given an opportunity to go out there and work in the summer program teaching technology, and I quit my job at the Industries just to go do that because I felt that spending my summer teaching younger students, younger blind students, would be a better use of my time than continuing to work there. Now, as life has a tendency to do, once I arrived at Colorado, a curve ball was thrown at me. They said, due to changes in things, you’re going to be teaching mobility. Wow, are you serious? Really? I am very confident of my skills, but I am not very confident in my ability to teach someone else. I spent the first two weeks bugging the heck out of the mobility instructor who worked full time at the center as well as my fellow travel instructor, Dezman Jackson, because I wanted to make sure what I was doing was right. Those are the first phone numbers I acquired when I arrived there, and I called them all the time. “How do you do this?” “Would I teach them this way, or would I do it that way?” “Ray, let me follow you around for the day.”
I can actually say, after about a month of teaching the students orientation and mobility, I’ve grown to love it. I’ve grown an interest in it. It’s something I’m actually considering going to school to get certified for. [Applause] I would like to thank Garrick Scott, who recommended me to the CCB staff, and I would like to thank the CCB staff for allowing me the opportunity to learn and also to give me the opportunity for a job in a field that I would never have considered had I stayed where I was. [Applause]
I would like to close by saying I encourage everyone to do everything you possibly can. Go to <www.nfb.org>. Find a link for the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. Place it in your Facebook. Put it on Twitter. Email it to everybody. Those of you who are in NFBnet mailing list, forward Anil’s email to everybody, anyone in your contact list. Call your Congressman. Call your Senators. Do everything you can. If it takes us getting out and marching--we have to stop this!
by Kathleen Martinez
From the Editor: The next panelist was Kathy Martinez, who is assistant secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy in the United States Department of Labor. She was appointed by President Obama and confirmed on June 25, 2009. She is responsible for managing disability employment policy in all Department of Labor agencies. She has been blind since birth. She comes to the Department of Labor with a background in international disability rights law and leadership. She specializes in asset building, independent living, international development, diversity, and gender matters. Before her current appointment she was the executive director of the World Institute on Disability beginning in 2005. She addressed the convention on Friday morning, July 8, 2011. This is what she said:
Good morning, NFB. You guys are all rock stars in my view. Sometimes they let us out of DC, and, when I asked to come to the NFB convention, there was no question they were going to say yes. I spent time here yesterday, and I am so impressed with the program. I told the secretary that, no matter what happens, next year I want to come to the whole convention. [Applause]
I want to thank Dr. Maurer and so many of you who have shaped my life. I want you to get to know me a little bit, so I’d like to start off with a little bit of my personal story. Then I will talk about the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Like many of you, my life has been profoundly affected by my blindness, but it’s merely one of the factors that have shaped my identity and the person I’ve become. It certainly is not the only factor. I grew up in a very large Latino family. For those of you who may not know, I also have a blind sister, Peggy Martinez, who is pretty famous in the blindness community. Is anybody here from the state of Washington? Well, Peggy now resides in Washington, and we’re the two middle of six children. As of yet there is no diagnosis for why we are blind, and frankly who cares? We’re here; get used to it.
I want to say that we owe a great deal to our parents for the expectations they instilled in us early on. The Olympian Scott Hamilton said, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” I would say that my parents imparted that same sentiment as they raised all of us six kids. My father would make us mow the lawn. Now, hands on, child welfare people, we were asked to take our shoes off so we could feel which grass had been cut. No, it wasn’t an electric mower, so no toes were severed. But we were basically asked to participate and expected to participate in the family at all levels of family activity, whether it was cleaning the barbeque, picking up after the dog, whatever. We had to do it too.
When it was time for me to begin kindergarten, my parents were told that I would have to attend the school for the blind, which at that point was over five hundred miles away from our home in California. They didn’t really want me to do that, and they fought hard for both me and Peggy to be able to attend public school. I am so glad that they did, because that really did impact my life--although I never was able to learn how to play the piano. That was one thing about the school for the blind that I think I probably would have learned had I gone. I also didn’t have much of a blind community, which was another thing, I think, that the school for the blind offered. But I did have my sister, which was a blessing. After the initial discomfort of starting mainstream school and what seemed like hundreds of questions from the kids, we were gradually woven into the fabric of the lives of our peers without disability at our school.
That experience has served me very well, I would say, throughout my life. It wasn’t always easy, ‘cause kids can be mean sometimes. But it was worth it because I began to gain a sense of how to survive in a world that really wasn’t designed for me. But again blindness is just one of my defining attributes, and throughout the years a variety of experiences really helped me identify with many populations as a Latina, a woman, and a civil rights advocate, to name a few. Even though my parents were both U.S. citizens, I have vivid memories of the Immigration Service pounding on our door demanding that my parents produce their birth certificates. I remember going to meetings at my school, where the administrators would speak louder and louder to my mother because her English wasn’t great at the time. Those certainly were very impactful moments in shaping who I am.
We lived very close to strawberry fields and orange groves in Southern California. At an early age I became aware of the farm workers who worked in those fields. I wanted to find out more information, and I was blessed to have a student teacher in the eighth grade who read a book for me onto tape called, Sweatshops in the Sun, which profoundly influenced my awareness of working conditions in those fields. We’re talking about the same thing today. The issue is no different--fair pay for fair work.
So I became very involved in the youth farm worker movement. They really didn’t know how to use my skills, so I thought, well, I’m a woman; I’ll get involved in the women’s movement, and they kind of didn’t either. They liked me, but they didn’t utilize me very well. So one day in 1977 I was at the orientation center for the blind working out my mobility instruction, and a man came over to the center who profoundly influenced my life. He gave me a flyer and said, “Come to a demonstration in front of the Federal Building” in 1977. For those of you who knew him, he was a change maker. I’m speaking about Muzzy Marcelino. Muzzy completely changed my life. He really was a master at getting young people involved. At that time it was not just the blindness movement; it was the disability rights movement. He played a significant role in teaching me how to organize, about when to work in coalition and not work in coalition. He profoundly impacted me. It’s so clear that he was schooled by folks like Jacobus tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan. One of the things that he asked me to do, because I was kind of a rebel kid, so I was an avid Braille reader. I had read all the books in the orientation center library, so I was kind of bored. He brought over some discs of Jacobus tenBroek’s speeches, and I listened to disc after disc--the same situation we’re talking about today. I was so impressed that Chick tenBroek really talked about us representing ourselves, and people still speak for us. It’s just amazing. I was on the plane yesterday, and, walking with an assistant, I still got “Where is she going?” It’s so insulting.
I often travel alone because, as blind people you probably know, though plenty of staff would like to come to these types of conferences, but, if my assistant is sighted, people end up dealing with the staff. So I very often travel alone a lot. When I do, we get in conversations about what I do, what my job is, and I tell them. Of course people always assume I’m going on vacation. They never assume I am coming to work. But I tell them, and they don’t believe it. They don’t believe it. I say, “I’m working for the Department of Labor.”
“What do you do?”
I say, “I am an assistant secretary.”
So I have just decided that I’m going to have fun with this, and I make things up. Somebody asked me the other day, “What type of work do you do?” I told him, and he didn’t believe me. So I said, “Okay, I am going to tell you what I really do. I’m Michelle Obama’s make-up artist.” [Laughter] I mean, you’ve got to have fun with this, right? Anyway, I just want to acknowledge that Muzzy changed my life as have folks like Fred Schroeder. Joanne Wilson―I hope you’re here because I love you. I was also a Bush appointee. I will say that I was on the National Council on Disability. I was the bi in the bi-partisan, because I was the only Democrat. I was very honored to be able to work with someone like Joanne Wilson and Fred Schroeder, both the previous RSA commissioners. Joanne is a role model and a mentor and just the most courageous person I have ever met in my life. I don’t mean that in a patronizing way. [Applause]
I want to talk about the Office of Disability Employment Policy because we are in a tough spot when it comes to this subminimum wage issue. Our sister agency down the hall, the Wage and Hour Division, is the enforcement agency. And they’re aware of the statistics that were given out yesterday by Anil and the ones Fred cited. But ODEP is doing what we can about it. As you know, we are a policy shop. So one of the things that we’re doing is we’re developing policy through tool kits, through what we’re calling Quality Work Environment--which I will explain later. Basically we develop information pieces and strategies for folks to change what they do. So the tool kit that we’re developing provides street-level, practical resources that will facilitate a person-centered, integrated employment model, effectively improving the employment outcome (wages and benefits) for folks with disabilities, especially the most significant disabilities.
What’s exciting about this tool kit, which will be launched in the fall, is that it will have universal applicability to many audiences, with tools to insure that integrated, community-based employment is the primary employment outcome at the federal, state, and local levels for all folks with disabilities. We’re using practical information based on real people. One of the people we’re using is this young man out of Kansas City. His name is Joe, and Joe was written off by everybody, but he refused to go into a subminimum-wage workshop. He had very significant cerebral palsy--uses a communication board, and Joe now has his own business. Fred talked about the concept of customized employment. What’s wrong with developing somebody’s work around their skills and talents? People do that all the time. It just doesn’t happen for us. So Joe is now running a small business. It’s called Poppin’ Joe. He makes popcorn and sells it to county fairs. He’s off benefits, and he’s employing other people. We have a number of examples in this tool kit of how to do it.
We’re also working with community service-provider folks to increase choice and career advancement opportunities. I know the brother before me was talking about that, and there really are rehabilitation providers who have turned themselves around, who are now paying minimum wage. If you talk to the ARC, the Association for Retarded Citizens, they’re working closely to help community rehab providers turn themselves around and basically do what our trailblazer Fred Schroeder did in the eighties. [Applause]
One of the things that the Office of Disability, actually the whole Department of Labor, is doing to walk the walk instead of just talkin’ the talk is that we were a pilot project for a model of employment titled Project Search, and it is a program that provides work experience opportunities right in our own federal agencies to high-school-age youth with significant disabilities. Every single one of these kids that we brought in--I think we brought in twenty at Labor--would have been written off, and probably their counselors would have said, “Okay, you get to go to a sheltered workshop” because they have very significant disabilities. This is now a project; it is no longer an experiment. We did the pilot, and now the Department of Education has brought people on and the Department of HHS, and next year, I think, NIH is. So the participating young people gain part-time work experiences within federal government agencies doing nonstereotypical jobs. That’s very important. They gain hands-on experience while being supervised by managers and mentors, and they also spend time in the classroom at their host federal agency, where they learn career skills, soft skills, to improve their employability later. At the end of the school year they graduate from the Project Search program, and either they are offered jobs at the federal agency they worked in, or their job coach assists them to find other jobs in the community.
This year I want you to know several students participating in the program reported to the Labor Department every day. Many of these students had never taken public transportation. Many of these students didn’t even have an ID. When we first started this program, we had to get everybody a Washington, D.C., ID because they all came from the Washington, D.C., school district. You know, work does amazing things for people. It provides us dignity and respect; it gives us a purpose. It really can fulfill our lives. To see these young people, many of whom have gotten jobs--they didn’t just disappear into the abyss; they actually got jobs. I still see a lot of them around the Department of Labor. They were not only hired by ODEP, which is critical, the whole Department of Labor, with the leadership of the secretary, is hiring these young folks with disabilities or at least providing them internships. This is a good thing; it’s an excellent thing.
I know it’s time for me to end. I just want to say one other thing. We have a grant, a request for proposal that is coming out, and I want everybody to know about it. Hopefully it will be out sometime near the end of July. Look in the Federal Register. It’s called Add Us In. It’s very important to me and to the secretary that, when we look for employment, our opportunities aren’t only with big companies, but they’re also with small businesses, who are really the engine of this economy. So these programs are to help design ways to work with the small-business community, focusing on minority-owned businesses, to hire folks with disabilities, because a lot of times the things that we develop both in the government and in the private sector in advocacy groups like NFB never get to small business owners. We don’t want them to have the excuse that they don’t know where to find people with disabilities or that there are not qualified people with disabilities out there, because we’re out there. So check it out. It’s coming. It’s going to be available, and I hope your states apply for it.
I want to say that we know fear, misconceptions, and antiquated stereotypes still remain our biggest barriers, but you all are at the forefront of change, and I want to say, keep pushing us since I am now a government person. Keep pushing us. Hold us accountable. Don’t let up. Thank you very much.
by Janet Szlyk
From the Editor: The next speaker was Dr. Janet Szlyk, executive director of the Chicago Lighthouse.
It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here. I’d like to thank Dr. Maurer, Patti Gregory Chang, and Anil Lewis for inviting me and arranging for me to be here to talk to you about my favorite topic: employment opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired. I’m happy to share with you my perspective on employment and how we have implemented our program that we are very proud of at the Chicago Lighthouse. Before I do that, let me provide you with a brief background on myself and the Chicago Lighthouse that will put this all into perspective.
First I would like to mention why I have such a passion for serving in my role as president and executive director of the Lighthouse. My first cousin, Carolinn White, six years my senior, was born premature, and is totally blind due to retrolental fibroplasia or retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Given that we are a close-knit, large family— Carolinn has three siblings; I have four--we spent a good deal of time growing up together on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Summers in Cape Cod were full of fun, swimming in the ocean, and biking. Carolinn is an excellent swimmer that none of us could keep up with, and we all fought to ride with her on the tandem bike to achieve top speeds and beat everyone else.
Growing up, I saw my cousin as a role model, an intellectual woman who embraced everything she ever did to the fullest extent. She graduated from the Perkins School for the Blind, went on to a top high school, graduating with honors, and received a master’s in fine arts from UCLA after graduating with a BA in music from Boston University. She is one of the few people who can read and write Braille music. She is now a professional musician, which included a long stint working for the city of Philadelphia. She continues to epitomize to me the notion of being self-sufficient and in complete control of your life. That is the main tenet of our philosophy at the Chicago Lighthouse.
When my predecessor at the Lighthouse, the beloved champion for the blind, Mr. Jim Kesteloot, who is speaking to you next, announced his retirement in 2007, I was a professor at the University of Illinois in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences with secondary appointments in psychology and bioengineering. I had a laboratory that was dedicated to the development of techniques for the early detection of eye disease and the evaluation of functional vision. I was also interested in designing training curricula for the use of adaptive technologies. Having followed the activity of the Chicago Lighthouse from afar in my university position for almost two decades, I witnessed its expansion under the administrations of Milt Samuelson and then Jim Kesteloot. I knew that I could not miss this tremendous opportunity to make a difference.
The opportunity I saw was to fulfill a mission of enhancing the lives of members of the visually impaired community and, to do so, by empowering individuals with broadened skill sets and more opportunities, which leads, of course, to greater independence, confidence, and self-esteem. I’d like to talk about how the Chicago Lighthouse does this.
To do so I will start by describing our activities at the Lighthouse and how broad-based our services are. I will then speak more specifically about how we are involved in employment. One way to think about the Chicago Lighthouse is as a service provider to the blind and visually impaired community. I think we provide these services in spades. We served over 65,000 people last year across our twenty-eight programs and services. For children we have programs from birth (in our early-intervention programs and therapeutic day school) to elementary-age kids and high school students (with our instructional materials center which provides Braille textbooks and technologies to over four thousand students who are blind and visually impaired in the state of Illinois) to our scholarship program (next week we’ll be handing out $100,000 in scholarships to college and graduate school participants who are blind or visually impaired) to our summer paid-internship programs (which are always a great opportunity to learn about employers and have employers learn about you).
We serve the adult community with our employment program, which I will speak about in just a few minutes, with our adult living-skills program for adults who are blind as well as having developmental disabilities, and with our seniors program, which provides socialization and technology training to hundreds of senior citizens who are blind or visually impaired. We have also provided clinical care for these populations. That includes our Pangere Center for the diagnosis, management, and treatment of inherited retinal diseases, which provides state-of-the-art ophthalmic care. It also includes the Forsythe Center for Comprehensive Vision Care that provides optometry care, occupational therapy, orientation and mobility training, and adaptive technology incorporation. It is a comprehensive rehabilitation program for people who are blind and visually impaired. It includes the Bergman Institute, which provides psychological counseling for patients experiencing emotional distress.
We also have the only community-based program for deaf and blind individuals in the state of Illinois. We have a host of other offerings, including our Tools for Living Store, our free legal clinic for visually impaired clients, our radio station, and much more. As you can tell, we strive to be a comprehensive service provider to the community, and I am proud of how much we accomplish in these activities. As I said a minute ago, one way to think about the Lighthouse is as a service provider, but to think of the Lighthouse solely in this way misses what I believe is the essential theme of our services. We work toward enhancing the lives of our clients, and where possible we assist them in gaining a sense of self-determination. We work toward helping our clients help themselves.
One example of this perspective in action is our senior citizen technology training, where learning how to use a computer, the Internet, and email opens a whole new world to many clients. But the area I see as most significantly empowering in people’s lives is employment, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Work provides, not only a source of income, but for many that income is a key to independence. Beyond the income, having gainful employment provides many with a sense of self-worth and purpose. As we all know, the visually impaired community is impacted by an extremely high level of unemployment. We heard that today from Dr. Schroeder, 70 percent. Some estimates are currently at 75 percent. So a key mission of the Lighthouse is to assist our clients in gaining and being successful in employment.
There are three broad ways in which we accomplish this. The first way is to ensure that our clients are properly prepared for the workplace. We have a job-skills training program within the Lighthouse that covers office skills, the use of adaptive technologies in jobs, customer service training, as well as work etiquette, such as the value of showing up on time and communicating freely with one’s colleagues. Our clients who have gone through these training programs say that they are invaluable in helping them keep and thrive at their jobs. These training programs are funded in part by the state of Illinois, but these funds aren’t sufficient for the training that we provide. We see them as important enough that we cover the remaining costs of the programs through vigorous fundraising and development efforts. We are well supported by the Chicago community.
The second way that we assist in employment is in job placement. We have a staff of four counselors who are dedicated to providing employment for graduates of our training programs, depending upon the capabilities and desires of our clients. We have found employment, including jobs at all skill levels in a number of restaurants and restaurant chains in Chicago, and administrative and specialized executive-level positions at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Exelon, the energy company, to cite a few examples. In the three years that I have been at the Lighthouse, we have placed about 450 clients in jobs through our employment services department. Let me say, though, that this process is not easy. During this three-year period we have gone through a deep recession, as we all know, and the job market has been and continues to be particularly difficult. In addition, we constantly need to be educating employers about adaptive technologies. Finding employment for our clients is a challenge that we take on with fervor. Our board is extremely helpful in the hiring process as well, hiring in their own companies many of those seeking employment. Our board certainly understands blindness. The board consists of thirty-six individuals who are leaders in the field of business, civic service, education, finance, human resources, law, marketing, and medicine. Fifty-six percent are blind, visually impaired, or have a close family member who is blind.
The third way that we assist in employment is by hiring internally. Of the total staff at the Lighthouse, which numbers 219 people, over half, 51 percent, are blind or visually impaired. This percentage increases to 60 percent if you consider those staff members who have a family member who’s blind or visually impaired. Some of these new employees come from the outside, and some clients come directly through our job-training skills program. Beyond hiring in our service areas, we also have a fully functioning industries program, all under one roof, that is designed both to provide gainful employment to the community and to generate funds that can help in our other service programs. One of these industries is one of the last remaining clock manufacturing facilities in the U.S. It produces wall clocks and wireless clock systems to the commercial market and to the federal market under the Congress-enacted AbilityOne program. Our major U.S. competitor in the commercial market closed its doors two years ago, and we have gained significant market share. Made in America has a strong appeal. [Applause] And we produce over 200,000 clocks per year to meet the demand.
Our industries program also supplies computer accessories: data calendars, wall planners, and banners--we have quite an extensive printing business. This business employs forty-one blind or visually impaired individuals, which I am proud to say is 97 percent of the workforce in the industries program. We currently operate a communications center that provides recipient identification numbers to those receiving state-funded health services in Illinois. The program employs eight individuals, all of whom are blind or have other disabilities. The program boasts an unmeasurable error rate. We also run a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warehouse in Urbana-Champaign; provide contract management services for the U.S. Army (both under the AbilityOne program); and have a call center that processes sales for a medical surgical products company, as well as for our Tools for Living Store Website and for a VA assistive devices contract. We also staff two convenience stores and run a Lighthouse novelty store in a tourist area on the City of Chicago’s Navy Pier. These programs employ another forty individuals with visual impairment.
As it should be clear, we have embarked on a number of business opportunities that can both benefit the workforce and make financial sense for the Lighthouse. These two goals do not have to be mutually exclusive. We can and do provide meaningful wages to all of our employees while still requiring fiscal responsibility for each of our businesses. The Lighthouse firmly believes in compensating people for their hard work and efforts. At a minimum we pay above minimum wage. While our agency’s overall pay rate is $23.48 per hour, in our AbilityOne programs the average pay rate is $11.21 per hour in manufacturing, $21.85 an hour in our service contracts, and $27.74 an hour in our contract management service program. All of these jobs include the 25 percent or more benefit package earned by all Lighthouse employees, including health insurance, pension, Social Security, Workmen’s Compensation, and generous vacation. A third of our executive management staff are blind or visually impaired, where the average pay rate is $35 per hour. [Applause]
You might ask how this pay model of fair incentives is working for us. With a low turnover rate and high morale even in a recession, I would venture to say it’s working quite well, thank you. We also hope that we are serving as a role model for how these external companies should treat their employees who are blind. In sum, the Chicago Lighthouse is committed to improving the lives of its clients, and one crucial way we do that is by facilitating employment. I am proud that we are able to have these important services, and I hope that other organizations can learn from our successes and those employers that follow a similar model. We fully support the two resolutions passed yesterday. It is the right thing to do. Thank you. [Applause]
by Jim Kesteloot
From the Editor: The next speaker on this panel was Jim Kesteloot, who is a member of the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, now named AbilityOne.
Thank you. I am going to start off my comments by doing something different than I planned on. I hope it is no secret here that I support the payment of at least U.S. minimum wage to people who are blind. Based on that, I personally have to support the two resolutions that were passed yesterday here at this convention. [Applause] Further, I believe going right to the root, right to the legislation, is really the way to do this and to put this to rest once and for all. Normally I am introduced these days as the past executive director of the Chicago Lighthouse, but, to tell you the truth, I never really saw myself as president or executive director of the Chicago Lighthouse. I always saw myself first and foremost as a person who is blind. I’ve been blind my whole life.
In 2010 I was appointed by President Obama to the United States AbilityOne Commission, which was formerly known as the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. I was appointed as a private citizen to represent the interests of people who are blind, and that’s how I see my role. That’s how I see my responsibility. It was an honor to be appointed by President Obama, because I know he is a strong supporter of the AbilityOne program. And I also know he is aware of the National Federation of the Blind. [Applause] I know that because just a few years ago I took him on a tour of the Chicago Lighthouse. He came specifically to see our AbilityOne programs. He came with some of his staff, and after the tour we had a chance to talk with him and some of his staff. At that time I learned he was aware of the National Federation of the Blind and its advocacy in the area of minimum wage.
I’ve been in this business a long time, forty-five years, so I have had a chance to develop some historical perspectives, but, before I do that, I’d just like to take a few minutes to explain the AbilityOne program, to describe it a little. The landmark legislation was originally known as the Wagner Act, and it was passed in 1938. The Act set up a method whereby a not-for-profit organization that employed people who are blind could manufacture and supply a product to the federal government. In 1971 the Act was amended and became known as the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JWOD). Two changes happened back then. The first was that they added that not-for-profits that employed people who are blind could supply services as well as products to the federal government. The second change was that the Act included other not-for-profit organizations that employed people with other severe disabilities.
The Act established the independent federal agency known as the United States AbilityOne Commission with fifteen members appointed by the president. Eleven are executives from federal agencies. Two members represent the interests of people with severe disabilities. And then there are another two members who represent the interests of people who are blind. I’m one of the appointees that represents people who are blind. The other is James H. Omvig. [Applause] And Jim Omvig is also the vice chairperson of the AbilityOne Commission. The commission has the power through casting votes to place a product or service on a special procurement list. Once that product or service is listed on that special procurement list, federal agencies must buy those products and services from designated not-for-profit organizations that employ people who are blind or people with other severe disabilities.
There are two associated national not-for-profit agencies under the AbilityOne system. One is National Industries for the Blind, and the other is NISH. National Industries for the Blind helps local not-for-profits develop products that will eventually go to the Commission for a vote and hopefully placement on the procurement list. And NISH does the same for not-for-profits that employ people with other severe disabilities. Through this process of casting votes, agencies for the blind manufacture and supply writing instruments and all kinds of office products. They manufacture U.S. Army T-shirts and Coast Guard sweat suits and supply switchboard operations to veterans hospitals and army installations--all kinds of products.
As I said, I’ve been in this business a long time; I have sort of an historical perspective. I’m basically an optimistic person, but I do remember as Dr. Maurer said, in the early 1970s, '73, '75, the mentality and the generally accepted practice in which agencies for the blind were paying piece rate without guarantee of minimum wage. As I see it today, the vast majority of agencies for the blind truly accept that the best business practice is to pay people who are blind at least the U.S. minimum wage. I was on the board of National Industries for the Blind when we voted that its members were as a policy to pay at least U.S. minimum wage to blind workers. NIB set up a system in which rehabilitation engineers would help local not-for-profit agencies use the best manufacturing methods, equipment, and technology to make sure revenues were maximized so at least the U.S. minimum wage could be paid to blind workers. Yet even today, as we’ve heard from the previous speaker, we still have a long way to go.
Some agencies still pay subminimum wages. You know, paying at a piece rate is a nineteenth-century concept. That’s how people were paid in the 1800s. That’s how people were paid in 1905 and 1910. When you’re paid on a piece-rate basis, an unfair burden is put on your blind labor. They are unfair burdens that really don’t belong on the blind worker; the burden belongs on the employer because some of those burdens will affect the blind person’s ability, anybody’s ability to produce higher quantities of work, which means higher income for the person. For example, if the employer has poor supervision, that can affect the blind workers’ piece rate that they are producing, so it’s going to result in their earning less money. If the employer has poor supply techniques, that isn’t the problem of the worker. That’s the problem of the employer. If the parts are defective, that shouldn’t affect the worker’s wages through lower production. They’ve got to get the right parts there. If you are not using the right, most efficient, effective machinery to do your production, that’s not the blind worker’s fault. It should not affect that person in the form of lower wages. If you’re working in conditions that are hot or cramped or cold, that can affect production. That is not the responsibility of the blind worker; that’s the responsibility of the employer. If you have generally poor industrial engineering techniques, that is not the problem of the blind worker; that’s the problem of the employer.
A guaranteed minimum wage means that, when those negative factors are in place, they don’t affect the blind workers’ wages. They still get paid the guaranteed U.S. minimum wage. They affect the employer that is not doing things right. Paying on a piece rate is a nineteenth-century concept. I believe paying U.S. minimum wage is a twentieth-century concept. We’re in the twenty-first century; we’re not in the twentieth century. I believe that we should be paying a living wage greater than U.S. minimum wage. It should be a wage that workers could support their families on, a wage that enables people to purchase a home, put their children through school, and have all the other American dreams that everybody else has the opportunity to access.
I mentioned earlier that I’m kind of an optimistic person. I’m probably the newest appointee on the U.S. AbilityOne Commission. I honestly see that paying a living wage is the direction that the U.S. AbilityOne Commission is going. I have no doubt that this is because of the National Federation of the Blind’s advocacy over the past thirty-five or forty-five years. [Applause] You have done it single-handedly, without help from anybody else, put this major issue in front of everybody to the point where it is, in my view, changing, and the actual best business practice is now accepted as paying U.S. minimum wage. As Janet Szlyk mentioned, we have contracts and wages that we’re paying our manufacturing workers $11.21 an hour, our service workers $21.85 an hour, and our contract management staff $27.74 an hour. As I see staff and leadership at AbilityOne up through Tina Ballard, that to me is what they want to do, and the direction that they’re going is to pay a minimum wage.
Dr. Maurer mentioned his first time at the Chicago Lighthouse in 1975. I recall those days very clearly because the National Federation of the Blind advocated all these years not only for good wages, but also for good working conditions. I remember in 1975, when we were picketed, we weren’t doing things right; we were paying on the piece-rate basis, not necessarily with any kind of guaranteed minimum wage, and frankly our working conditions were substandard. The National Federation confronted Chicago Lighthouse on those two issues. I look back at that, and that was the best thing that ever happened to the Chicago Lighthouse. [Applause] The reason that was the best thing that ever happened to the Chicago Lighthouse was that shortly thereafter the board changed management. Shortly thereafter management instituted the U.S. minimum wage. Shortly thereafter we instituted a guaranteed minimum wage that was higher than the U.S. minimum wage. Shortly thereafter management and board vowed to build a facility that was a model—that people who were blind and everybody involved would be proud of.
Shortly after that confrontation the board relooked at its board of directors and wanted to make sure that there was significant representation on that board by people who were blind or perhaps family members of people who were blind because that was a good way to ensure that good wages were paid and that the working conditions were good. Those three things have kind of become part of the culture at the Chicago Lighthouse, and I have no doubt that that has influenced many agencies across the country to do the same thing--to pay minimum wage, to have a quality work environment.
I think the changes I see, and I am optimistic, definitely result from inspiring leadership, leadership from both national and state NFB people, people like Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, James H. Omvig, Jim Gashel, Fred Schroeder, Anil Lewis, Patti Chang, who heads up the Illinois Federation of the Blind. When you first walk into the AbilityOne offices, there is now a display that you can’t help running right into. It features Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. A quote on that wall says, “It is respectable to be blind.” [Applause]
I see the staff and other Commission members, and I have great confidence in Tina Ballard and the staff moving the program in the right direction—higher wages. The jobs that are coming out of the AbilityOne program today are knowledge-based. They exist in federal buildings, federal facilities--federal military facilities--and they have a principle of quality work environment. A subcommittee in the AbilityOne Commission on quality work environment is chaired by James H. Omvig. There are three or four principles: paying competitive wages, making sure that worker satisfaction is monitored, that there is a clear career path for people who are blind, and that there is ongoing training that could help people in the program move up in the system. NIB has a training program that leads to all kinds of leadership jobs in NIB. They offer graduate training to folks in the program, supervisory training, internships, and fellowships. People have moved up to CEO positions at not-for-profit agencies, vice president positions, and supervisory positions. This is what I see as AbilityOne today and where it’s going. Thank you. [Applause]
by Jacqueline A. Berrien
From the Editor: The final panelist was Jacqueline Berrien, chair of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is what she said:
Good morning, NFB. I have to say that I get many speaking invitations. I’ve been privileged to get speaking invitations throughout my career, but there is nothing like a convention--the energy, the enthusiasm, the commitment, when people who work on issues across the country have the opportunity to come together in one place at one time, is really exciting. As you heard, before I became chair of the EEOC, I spent more than two decades working in a range of organizations. I worked for the American Civil Liberties Union in the Women’s Rights Program and national legal program. I worked with lawyers to make civil rights into law. But I spent more than half my career working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. In that context I had the opportunity many times to attend the NAACP’s annual convention, which, like this one, is such an exciting opportunity to share even briefly with people who are doing the important work across the country of activism, organizing, and advocacy in support of human rights and civil rights and advancement of human rights and civil rights.
So I want to start by saying congratulations and thank you to all of you for being present today. Thank you, President Maurer. Thank you to Kristian Kuhnke, to all the staff and volunteers of NFB, who have invited and welcomed me so warmly to this event. This is my first time attending an NFB convention, and I am really delighted to be here. I’ll say that’s true professionally, but it’s also true personally. I think the professional aspect is obvious—among the laws that the EEOC enforces is the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clearly it is part of my charge as the chair of the EEOC to work on behalf of the interests, the membership, the constituency of NFB to promote workplace equality for all workers across the country.
But personally it’s also a privilege to be here because, as I traveled here and stand here and throughout my time here, I feel a very strong presence. My maternal grandmother, my mother’s mother, died not long after I was born. Unfortunately I don’t have any memory of her myself. What I know of her is what I’ve seen in a few pictures and what I’ve heard over the years from my mother. One of the things that I do know was a very important thing about her was the fact that as an adult she was diagnosed with diabetes. Unfortunately, as a poor black woman who lived in a small town in rural Kentucky, she didn’t have access to preventive health care, so her diagnosis came at a very late stage in the disease. Not long after her diagnosis she developed many complications, and one was the loss of her vision.
So I can’t tell you whether my grandmother ever had the chance to see me when I was an infant, but I do know that I very much feel her presence with me as I stand here today, and as I carry out my work. One of the many things that has touched me throughout my life and inspired, encouraged, and preserved the work that I have committed my life to in advancing civil and human rights in many different forums is that memory, that knowledge, the awareness of some of the challenges she faced, not only because of her race, not only because of her sex, not only because of her lack of wealth in the rural South in the pre-civil rights era, but also because of her blindness. She did not have the opportunity that I do to be with you here at the NFB, so I am glad that I am able to stand before you and with you today with her in my spirit. So thank you. [Applause]
I also want to acknowledge Assistant Secretary Martinez from the Department of Labor and, I’m not sure if he’s with us yet, but Sam Bagenstos from the Department of Justice. As Assistant Secretary Martinez said, we occasionally get out of Washington. Well, for me it’s turning out to be quite frequent; it is a very important part of what I do. But I do also have an opportunity to work in Washington with colleagues from the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice, all of whom are tremendous allies in the work of the EEOC, so I am delighted to share part of this day with them as well. And I certainly want to acknowledge the EEOC presence today: Millie Rivera-Rau, who is with us in the front row, I know is no stranger to you at NFB and is a critical part of our staff in the Office of Federal Operations. And in absentia I bring greetings from Chris Kuczynski, also well known to you in NFB. He was not able to make it, but I recently went to a meeting of our state and local fair employment practices agencies, and I got a standard introduction, but the person who introduced Chris ended by saying, “He is the rock star of the EEOC.” So we are very, very privileged to have staff like Millie and Chris, who contribute to our work in many respects.
Finally, I want briefly to acknowledge Governor Paterson. Before I went to Washington, I lived twenty-three years in New York, so I was his constituent when he was serving as governor. My husband and I have had the privilege to have the opportunity to get to know and to work with him over the years. There’s something you won’t see in his bio that I think is a profound testament to who he is and the fact that he not only talks the talk, but he truly walks the walk. About ten years after I finished law school, my law school roommate, who is now a professor of law at Northeastern University, developed diabetes and lost her sight as a complication. As she was making the transition--she had practiced law for ten years and worked as an advocate with sight--she had to begin to make the transition to practicing law now with limited vision. Governor Paterson immediately came to mind, and I asked her if she would mind if I reached out to him to see if he might talk with her about how he had been able to practice law, how he had been able to use his legal education and what kinds of adaptations and assistive devices might be available. I reached out to him. He immediately agreed to do it. To this day--and I saw her, Hope Lewis, about two months ago--she not only remembers it, but appreciates that immediate response. So Governor, I hope I have not embarrassed you in sharing that, but I think it’s important for people to know it’s not just the things that make it into your résumé that matter, it’s the work you do, very quietly at times, that is truly a testament to your commitment to the principles and values of the NFB.
I am a biography buff, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the life of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek in preparation for this convention. I noticed that one of the authors who wrote about Dr. tenBroek said that, to her as a member of the NFB, his work as a pioneer in the disability rights movement was well known, but she knew less about his legal scholarship. The interesting thing for me is that, because of my background and work as a civil and Constitutional rights lawyer, I had just the opposite appreciation for Dr. tenBroek’s contributions. I knew very well that some of his work and legal scholarship had contributed to part of the architecture of the cases and briefs that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. And I knew that through his legal scholarship he challenged the Supreme Court’s initial endorsement of the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.
So, when I think about that and now have the privilege because of this opportunity to learn more about his life of activism, his founding NFB, his vision for what NFB would become and what the disability rights movement would become, I think he is truly an example of a person who lived a life that demonstrates the truth of what Dr. Martin Luther King called the “inescapable web of mutuality.” Like other giants of his generation, people like Bayard Ruston, Dr. Dorothy Height, and we could name many others, he challenged injustice on multiple fronts, and he must truly be defined as the human rights activist and leader whose work and whose scholarship and whose leadership continue to inform and guide many, many movements in this country. So I am really delighted to know more about his work in the NFB. I hope that someone will soon write a book about his life because certainly the pieces that I have learned through your Website and publications were fascinating. I had a hard time putting it down when I was preparing.
Let me say something about what the EEOC is doing and particularly issues--I don’t want to say issues that will be of particular interest, because, just as Dr. tenBroek’s life teaches us, human rights cross boundaries--human rights and the human-rights framework do not look at just one aspect of identity. Everyone here has multiple aspects of identity and may therefore be subject to multiple forms of discrimination in the workplace and in other settings. My work has always focused on issues of rights from a coalition perspective, appreciating, as Dr. King said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As chair of the EEOC in this first year we have recognized that there are multiple aspects of our work that may touch on anyone in the workplace. Certainly we have done some significant things concerning the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act. If I had been standing here this time last year, I could not have said this--the first one to say that we have implemented final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act. [Applause]
That was long awaited, I know. That was one of the first orders of business for the commission, which, as you may know, was without a quorum for some time and could not take action on important regulations until the recess appointment and then eventual confirmation of three new commissioners last year. We took up the unfinished and long-delayed regulatory business, and we all recognize that one of those issues was to pass final regulations implementing the very, very important legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act. We also passed regulations that for the first time implemented the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, all within our first year of service. We have returned to a regular schedule of commission meetings focused on examining and addressing emerging issues of workplace discrimination or that may require further action or guidance from the commission so that workers and employers understand fully the laws that we enforce, and what they require. So in the past year the commission has held meetings on a range of topics, some of them directly related to Americans with Disabilities Act enforcement, but others not directly related. We have nevertheless made sure that the testimony received and the records that we have built before us as a commission have addressed the impact of different practices by employers or different policies or different sorts of treatment in the workplace--how those policies, practices, and types of treatment may impact all workers, including workers with disabilities of all kinds.
So, for example, in February the commission held the first-ever meeting on an emerging practice by employers: advertisements and other efforts to exclude unemployed people from pools of job applicants. I will say that again. I think sometimes people believe they didn’t hear that right. We learned in the past year that some businesses, some search firms, some search engines, some online sites were posting ads that specified that unemployed people should not apply or that only currently employed people should apply or that only recently unemployed people should apply. After we received these reports and took a closer look, we wanted to get a better sense of whether this was an isolated or recurrent practice; then we began to assemble a panel of witnesses who could help to inform the commission about, not only the prevalence of the practice, but also the impact of the practice. And we heard from representatives of the groups that were immediately identified as possibly affected in a disproportionate way by this practice. Many people know that the unemployment rate for African Americans, for example, is substantially higher than the unemployment rate overall. But we also recognized that that practice had the potential to discriminate against people who might have been absent from or taken voluntarily from work in order to assume caregiving responsibilities, child-rearing responsibilities, or for medical leave purposes.
We heard testimony about disabled workers as well. We heard testimony about the impact on women workers as well, and we’ve been able to explore and to consider how the practice would affect workers with disabilities or their caregivers. We have worked closely with the Office of Personnel Management to address the issue of discrimination in the federal workplace and to ensure that eliminating more and more barriers to the full employment of people with disabilities, including people with targeted disabilities, advances as President Obama’s executive order requires all of the federal government to do. You know that Millie Rivera is a tremendous resource from our agency on these issues.
We’re working closely with the Department of Labor and Department of Justice in enforcing laws that prohibit pay discrimination, and particularly we’re part of the national Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force in working very closely with our federal government partners on those issues. We work with our state and local Fair Employment Practice Agency partners on a very broad range of issues, including enforcement of laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Significantly, just this week the agency entered a settlement with Verizon. It is the largest settlement in the history of the agency in an ADA case. We settled for 20 million dollars on behalf of employees who were terminated or disciplined when they took leave for medical reasons.
We are busy. We have an active and broad agenda. I’ve been able to touch on only a tiny bit of it this morning, but the most important message I want to leave you with is: the EEOC is excited about what the next years hold because we have done much to advance the promise of equal employment opportunity in our first forty-five years of existence, but we know that the work is unfinished. We know that the agenda is still full. We know that there is still much to do, and I am excited that the National Federation of the Blind is one of our partners, is one of our allies, and one of our very, very important sources of information and support in the field as we carry out that work. So I look forward to spending some time with you and your leadership today, and I trust that in and through my tenure I will have more opportunities to work with you as we advance the promise of equal employment opportunities across the nation. Thank you. [Applause]
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the NFB’s resolutions committee. Each year she explains and categorizes the resolutions for us. This is what she says this year:
The U. S. celebrates the Fourth of July each year because the Declaration of Independence represents the willingness of the colonies to take a stand and sever their ties with England. Although the U.S. did not achieve this goal until the British were defeated at Yorktown in 1881, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence because it articulates our stance or position.
Does the National Federation of the Blind have a declaration of independence? In a speech entitled “Within the Grace of God,” Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the National Federation of the Blind, described the aim of the Federation as follows:
“We do not want compassion, we want understanding; we do not want tolerance, we want acceptance; we do not want charity, we want opportunity; we do not want dependency, we want independence.”
Dr. tenBroek’s words demonstrate that independence is a longstanding goal of the Federation. Our resolutions are a declaration of how to achieve that independence. Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind can be compared to the Declaration of Independence by the colonies because these resolutions elaborate a stand on issues that affect the independence of the blind. While the U.S. has only one Declaration of Independence, the National Federation of the Blind has many.
This year the thirty-five-member resolutions committee met on the Fourth of July to debate eighteen resolutions. I was honored to chair the committee again this year. Marsha Dyer served as committee secretary. As usual she did an excellent job. The committee brought all eighteen resolutions to the Convention for its consideration. After a lively debate the Convention, the supreme authority of the Federation, defeated resolution 2011-04. This resolution took Apple to task for giving its prestigious awards to industry developers even when their products were not accessible to the blind. While the majority agreed with the principles of the resolution, they felt that the language which condemned and deplored Apple was too harsh in light of the company’s other accessibility accomplishments. Now let us examine the 2011 declaration of independence by the organized blind movement as outlined in the seventeen resolutions passed by the Convention.
There are numerous descriptions and definitions of independence. Voltaire, the famous French philosopher who wrote during the Enlightenment, stated: “Injustice in the end produces independence.” This is an apt description of resolutions 2011-17 and 2011-09. Paying disabled Americans subminimum wages is definitely an injustice. When this practice is eliminated, disabled workers will gain greater independence.
Congress is currently considering reauthorization of The Workforce Investment Act, which also contains provisions reauthorizing vocational rehabilitation services. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is proposing a new section, 511, providing for the payment of a subminimum wage. In Resolution 2011-17 this organization calls on members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to remove Section 511 of the proposed Rehabilitation Act. Anil Lewis, the director of strategic communication for the National Federation of the Blind and one of its longtime leaders, sponsored this resolution. As Lewis explained, placing subminimum wage provisions in the Rehabilitation Act will lead to less rehabilitation and less meaningful employment for disabled Americans.
Conchita Hernandez, a 2010 national scholarship winner who is also an active member of the Spanish translation committee and chairs the salsa dance event at convention, introduced resolution 2011-09. Investigations conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office informed Congress that the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, is incapable of enforcing compliance with existing subminimum wage provisions. Therefore Congress should replace the current law, which exploits disabled workers, with a Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. As stated in resolution 2011-09, “This organization condemns and deplores every entity that continues to exploit people with disabilities through the payment of subminimum wages.”
Edward Gibbon, an English historian who wroteThe History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, described independence as “the first of earthly blessings.” Education is often the first step to independence. Gibbon’s description of independence fits well with the four resolutions about education passed by the Convention.
Eric Guillory, the director of youth services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the newly elected president of the National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education, a division of the NFB, proposed resolution 2011-07. The U.S. Department of Education nullified the presumption of Braille stated in the 1997 Amendments to IDEA by considering Braille a special education service. In this resolution we urge the Department of Education “to correct its regulations and specify Braille as the presumed reading medium for blind students.”
The U.S. Department of Education also developed poor regulations concerning orientation and mobility services for blind students. In resolution 2011-18, we “call upon the secretary of education to take immediate and affirmative action to clarify and reinforce the spirit and the intent of IDEA” as it applies to these services. Denise Mackenstadt, a longtime Federation leader and an education expert who received the NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award in 2001, sponsored this resolution.
Candace Chapman, president of the Mississippi Association of Blind Students, proposed resolution 2011-11. The purpose of the new Common Core State Standards being developed by a number of states is to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn so that teachers and parents know what steps must be taken to ensure that students learn effectively. In this resolution we commend the developers of these standards for including strong language that sets high standards for blind students and requires schools to use accessible technology.
On May 26, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education in a Frequently Asked Questions document emphasized that programs for students in grades K-12 are required to procure and use accessible education technology. In resolution 2011-15 we commend the Department of Education for this action and urge all schools to follow these new guidelines rigorously. Isaiah Wilcox, treasurer of the Georgia affiliate and a scholarship winner in 2008, sponsored this resolution.
Since the convention took place in Orlando, Florida, it is appropriate for this article to include a description of independence by Walt Disney. Walt Disney stated, “To me Mickey Mouse is a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end.” Two means that lead to independence are employment and accessibility. The Convention passed four resolutions regarding employment and seven resolutions regarding accessibility.
Two of the resolutions dealing with employment call for the creation of more opportunities for blind Americans. The other two employment resolutions call for the elimination of barriers to employment. Kevan Worley, who currently serves as treasurer of the National Association of Blind Merchants and as first vice president of the Colorado affiliate, introduced resolution 2011-05. In this resolution we urge Congress to introduce and pass the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act to increase entrepreneurial opportunities for Americans with disabilities
Bill Packee, president of the NFB of Alaska, sponsored resolution 2011-14. In this resolution we commend eBay for creating opportunities for blind entrepreneurs to manage their own online businesses by making its platform accessible to the blind.
Brian Buhrow is a respected computer expert who is a member of the board of directors of the NFB in Computer Science and the Science and Engineering Division. He proposed resolution 2011-06. A recent study found that “over 90 percent of the federal agency home pages tested do not comply with Section 508 accessibility guidelines and likely cannot be used by people who are blind or have other perceptual or motor disabilities.” In this resolution we demand that federal government agencies eliminate these barriers to accessibility by fully complying with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. More federal jobs would be available to blind people if Section 508 were truly enforced.
One of the greatest barriers to employment is the failure to provide proper accommodations to blind candidates who must take licensing exams, certification exams, or other tests to gain entrance into a particular profession. The National Conference of Bar Examiners is one example of an entity that refused proper accommodations to blind people by not allowing them to use computers with screen-access technology when taking their tests. Tim Elder won national scholarships in 2006 and 2008. He is currently a Disability Rights Fellow at Brown, Goldstein & Levy. Tim proposed resolution 2011-12. In this resolution we explicitly endorse the use of computers with screen-access technology as an accommodation for blind test takers. We also recognize that other technologies, now available or to be invented, may also be appropriate for blind test takers. Testing accommodations must be appropriate to ensure that the examination measures the candidate’s aptitude or achievement rather than his sensory impairment.
Two of the seven resolutions concerning access deal with transportation. The remaining five resolutions are about access to information. It was most appropriate for Mark Riccobono and Kimberly Flores to introduce resolution 2011-01, concerning the Blind Driver Challenge™. Mark Riccobono, the director of the Jernigan Institute, was the first blind person to drive a car independently in public. Kimberly raised over one thousand dollars for the Race for Independence and earned a chance to ride in the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle. She is also the president of the NFB of Texas. Kimberly won a national scholarship in 2000. In this resolution we “call on universities and technology manufacturers to partner with the National Federation of the Blind to implement innovative initiatives like the NFB Blind Driver Challenge” to enhance opportunities for the blind.
Blind air travelers are unable to perform numerous tasks because airlines provide inaccessible equipment. This trend not only affects planning and boarding information, but also denies a variety of inflight services to blind people. Michael Hingson, a frequent traveler who traverses the country to sell knfbReader products and is first vice president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, introduced resolution 2011-02. In this resolution we “strongly urge the United States Congress to amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include a private right of action, permit compensatory and injunctive relief for violations of the law, and permit courts to award attorneys’ fees to prevailing parties.” These remedies will encourage airlines to eliminate their discriminatory practices.
Blind people are losing independence because it is becoming increasingly difficult to operate basic home appliances such as washers and dryers by nonvisual means. Traditional knobs and buttons are being replaced with touch screens, visual displays, and menus. Sachin Pavithran, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Utah and a scholarship winner in 2007, sponsored resolution 2011-08. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact the Home Appliance Accessibility Act to preserve the independence of blind consumers.
Resolutions 2011-03 and 2011-10 urge Apple and Google to continue to work with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure the accessibility of their products and associated applications. Both companies have made important strides toward accessibility, but they need to do more. Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science and treasurer of the Iowa affiliate, and Michael Hingson introduced 2011-03. This resolution states that Apple must “create and enforce a set of requirements for accessibility that will, at a minimum, compel application developers to label buttons, menus, icons, selection lists, check boxes, and other controls so that VoiceOver users can identify and operate them.”
Everette Bacon, president of the Salt Lake City Chapter and a member of the board of directors of the Utah affiliate, proposed resolution 2011-10. The resolution states that “this organization reaffirm its demand that Google make a serious, identifiable commitment to accessibility in all of its services and avoid the future release of services that are inaccessible to its blind users.”
Reading is definitely a means to independence. The last two resolutions for discussion in this article will lead to greater reading opportunities for the blind. Noel Nightingale, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a longtime leader in the Washington State affiliate, introduced 2011-13. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped maintains the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) Website. In this resolution we “urge NLS to enhance BARD by including such features as adding a link to the site on the NLS homepage for more convenient patron access; making obvious the has-had function, which allows patrons to refer to materials they have previously downloaded; and adding a reserve list function that allows patrons to tag books for later download.”
In resolution 2011-16 we urge the U.S. government to continue its leadership in creating an international treaty on copyright law for the print-disabled that will permit “the production of published works in accessible formats and allow for cross-border sharing” of these materials. The Federation has been working on this issue for many years. Scott LaBarre and Dr. Fred Schroeder represented the Federation at the June 15 to 24, 2011, meeting of the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. They were the sponsors of this resolution. Fred is first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the Virginia affiliate. Scott is president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the Colorado affiliate.
This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By longstanding tradition the complete texts of all resolutions passed by the Convention follow. Readers should study the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects and our 2011 declaration of independence.
Regarding the Blind Driver Challenge™
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute leads the quest to understand the real problems of blindness and to develop innovative education, technologies, products, and services that help the world’s blind to achieve independence; and
WHEREAS, at the opening of the Jernigan Institute the National Federation of the Blind established the Blind Driver Challenge™ initiative to spark the development of innovative nonvisual interface technology that conveys real-time information about the driving environment to make it possible for a blind person to drive a car safely and independently; and
WHEREAS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), represented by Dr. Dennis Hong in the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (ROMELA), was the first and remains the only university to establish a Blind Driver Challenge team; and
WHEREAS, Dr. Dennis Hong, a team of Virginia Tech graduate and undergraduate students, and engineers from TORC Technologies, in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, made history on January 29, 2011, preceding the Rolex 24 at the Daytona International Speedway with the first-ever public demonstration of a blind person’s driving a street vehicle independently using nonvisual technologies—an accomplishment that forever shatters misconceptions about blindness and raises expectations for future technology developments; and
WHEREAS, through the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, we are committed to working collaboratively with universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to establish NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ teams to advance the development of other nonvisual access technologies that will expand the independence of blind people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call on universities and technology manufacturers to partner with the National Federation of the Blind to implement innovative initiatives like the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ in order to spark the development of new technologies, education, and resources that improve access to educational environments, enhance employment opportunities, and create understanding about the real problems of blindness.
Regarding the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and Air Carrier Discrimination
WHEREAS, for several years air carriers have been deploying automated kiosks as the primary means for passengers to access information about flights, check in for flights, print tickets and boarding passes, select seats, upgrade to business or first class cabins, check baggage, order meals if available, and perform other transactions relevant to their air travel plans; and
WHEREAS, virtually all of the kiosks that have been deployed by airlines to date are inaccessible by nonvisual means, denying blind people access to the benefits and features available to sighted passengers; and
WHEREAS, air carriers are also increasingly deploying sophisticated in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems that passengers access using seat-mounted touch screens to select music, movies, or television programs during flight; order drinks, snacks, or meals; and even call the flight attendant, making the IFE system the primary means by which passengers are expected to request and obtain in-flight products and assistance; but these IFE systems and their functions are also inaccessible, making their benefits and features unavailable to blind passengers and severely limiting their ability to obtain timely assistance from the flight crew when needed; and
WHEREAS, other technology solutions used by air carriers, including but not limited to Websites; mobile phone applications (providing the ability to obtain and display a boarding pass on one’s mobile phone); and gate information systems through which passengers can monitor flight status, seat stand-by lists, and the like are also inaccessible to blind passengers, with most airlines making little or no effort to make these technologies accessible to their blind passengers; and
WHEREAS, tools such as text-to-speech software, tactile keypads, and guidelines for designing accessible Websites and mobile phone applications exist for air carriers to make kiosks, IFE systems, and other technology accessible to blind people, and such methods are easily and inexpensively implemented when incorporated into the design of the kiosk, IFE system, or other technology from the outset; and
WHEREAS, manufacturers such as IBM have developed accessible kiosks using EZ® Access that are commercially available to air carriers, and EZ® Access technology has been successfully implemented to make Amtrak train kiosks and United States Postal Service automated postal-center kiosks accessible to blind users; and
WHEREAS, air carriers’ refusal to develop, procure, purchase, and use accessible kiosks, IFE systems, and other technology discriminates against blind passengers by forcing them to use separate and unequal means of carrying out travel-related tasks; and
WHEREAS, these inaccessible kiosks, IFE systems, and other technologies add insult to injury, given the long history of discrimination by air carriers against the blind and others with disabilities and the countless indignities that blind passengers suffer virtually every time we enter an airport and interact with air carriers; and
WHEREAS, Congress enacted the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA), 49 U.S.C. Section 41705, to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in providing air transportation, but did not include a private right of action for individuals to enforce the law and instead allowed passengers only to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT); and
WHEREAS, in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Section 12101 et seq., Congress specifically excluded air transportation from the scope of the ADA because the ACAA was supposed to prevent air carrier discrimination; and
WHEREAS, DOT has thus far failed to enforce the ACAA effectively, particularly with respect to the accessibility of kiosks, IFE systems, and other technology, as evidenced by the lack of any regulation or enforcement action requiring accessible technology since DOT’s November 2004 acknowledgement in the Federal Register that kiosk accessibility issues existed; and
WHEREAS, on October 25, 2010, the National Federation of the Blind and three individual plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit, National Federation of the Blind et al. v. United Airlines, Inc., asserting that United Airlines’ inaccessible kiosks violate California civil rights laws, but a district judge ruled that federal law preempts the NFB’s state law claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will now decide whether California state law provides a remedy; and
WHEREAS, even to the extent that state law claims may be permitted to remedy air carrier discrimination, a federal private right of action under the ACAA will finally give meaning and force to this currently wholly ineffective law: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the United States Congress to amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include a private right of action, permit compensatory and injunctive relief for violations of the law, and permit courts to award attorneys’ fees to prevailing parties; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the U.S. secretary of transportation to issue a regulation requiring air carriers to make their kiosks, IFE systems, and other technology accessible to blind passengers so that they can access the same information and engage in all of the same transactions as sighted customers.
Regarding the Lack of Accessibility Requirements in Apple Products
WHEREAS, Apple has made VoiceOver, a free and powerful screen access program, an integral part of many of its products, including the Apple Macintosh, the iPhone, the iPod Touch, Apple TV, and the iPad; and
WHEREAS, VoiceOver has the potential of offering unprecedented nonvisual access to thousands, if not tens of thousands, of applications that are today available for these platforms; and
WHEREAS, through presentations at developer conferences, specific guidance issued through programming guides, and application programming interfaces that are simple to implement, Apple has made it relatively easy for application developers to incorporate basic accessibility features in their programs for VoiceOver users; and
WHEREAS, Apple has clearly stated its desire to provide accessible products to blind people and has even received an award from the National Federation of the Blind for its work in making its products accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, despite Apple's efforts to encourage accessibility by such examples as publishing a wealth of information providing clear and unambiguous guidance to application developers to help them make their software accessible to VoiceOver users, too many applications are still not accessible to the blind because of buttons that are not properly labeled, icons whose meanings cannot be understood, and images of text which VoiceOver cannot interpret; and
WHEREAS, one example of an application with controls that are not accessible to the blind is the AT&T Navigator, which contains several screens with buttons that VoiceOver identifies only as "Button"; and
WHEREAS, labeling buttons, menus, checkboxes, and other controls so that VoiceOver can identify them is neither a technological impossibility nor an unreasonably costly effort, and even the most visually intensive application should have menus, buttons, and other controls that can be operated nonvisually; and
WHEREAS, Apple is not shy about placing requirements and prohibitions on application developers: for example, developers who use their applications to sell products must turn over a percentage of their sales to Apple, and application developers cannot display an application-specific desktop; and
WHEREAS, regrettably Apple does not require application developers to make their applications accessible to users of its VoiceOver program; and
WHEREAS, accessibility to all users of Apple products should be as important as the other criteria on which Apple bases its decisions to accept or reject applications: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization express its frustration and deep disappointment with Apple for allowing the release of applications that contain icons, buttons, and other controls that cannot be identified by the blind user of VoiceOver, thereby rendering them nonvisually inaccessible; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Apple, in the strongest possible terms, to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create and enforce a set of requirements for accessibility that will, at a minimum, compel application developers to label buttons, menus, icons, selection lists, checkboxes, and other controls so that VoiceOver users can identify and operate them.
Resolution 2011-04 did not pass.
Regarding the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act
WHEREAS, a great deal of America’s economic success is tied to the freedom to engage in entrepreneurial activities and create one’s own wealth; and
WHEREAS, it has long been the policy of the United States to promote the economic well-being of traditionally disadvantaged populations by creating a variety of business incentives that allow such populations to participate in the mainstream of the nation’s economy; and
WHEREAS, these incentives have not been extended to Americans with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, census data, national polls, and other studies have documented that as a group people with disabilities experience discrimination in our society and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally; and
WHEREAS, the nation's goals for people with disabilities should be to assure them equality of opportunity, full participation in society, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency; and
WHEREAS, despite these goals two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are unemployed or significantly under-employed; and
WHEREAS, strong and innovative initiatives are necessary to remedy this problem and put Americans with disabilities to work; and
WHEREAS, the ability of Americans with disabilities to secure entrepreneurial opportunities would be expanded by amending Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act to include persons with disabilities as presumptively socially disadvantaged, and by changing federal procurement law to provide that businesses owned and controlled by individuals with disabilities be included on the list of preferred small businesses to which subcontracts may be awarded; and
WHEREAS, the purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act is to increase opportunities for blind Americans by amending federal law to reflect these needed changes: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to introduce and pass the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act to increase entrepreneurial opportunities for Americans with Disabilities.
Regarding Federal Government Compliance with Section 508
WHEREAS, in 1998 Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require federal agencies to make electronic and information technology used, procured, or developed by and for the federal government accessible to people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act includes both technical standards and functional performance criteria to provide guidance to federal agencies and to explain clearly their obligation under the law; and
WHEREAS, every federal government agency has a Section 508 coordinator, who is responsible for ensuring that his or her agency is Section-508-compliant; and
WHEREAS, examples of electronic and information technology covered by Section 508 include emails, video and telecommunications products, software, Intranet information systems, and Websites; and
WHEREAS, on May 19, 2011, a study entitled “Accessibility of U.S. Federal Government Home Pages: Section 508 Compliance and Site Accessibility Statements” was published online in the journal Government Information Quarterly; and
WHEREAS, the study, coauthored by doctoral student Abiodun Olalere and Professor Jonathan Lazar of Towson University, found that over 90 percent of the federal-agency home pages tested do not comply with Section 508 accessibility guidelines and likely cannot be used by people who are blind or have other perceptual or motor disabilities; and
WHEREAS, results of this study and other research indicate a systemic problem of inaccessibility among federal government Websites and widespread violations of Section 508 within the federal government; and
WHEREAS, noncompliance with Section 508 puts federal agencies in violation of other provisions of the Rehabilitation Act: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore federal agencies that willfully host Website home pages that are not Section-508-compliant; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that all federal government agencies use, procure, and develop accessible electronic and information technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization urge all Section 508 coordinators to implement the necessary best practices and recommendations put forward by the National Federation of the Blind in order to achieve full accessibility and compliance with the law.
Regarding Braille as the Presumed Reading Medium for Blind Students
WHEREAS, in 1997 the National Federation of the Blind successfully persuaded Congress to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to specify that Braille should be the presumed reading medium for blind children; and
WHEREAS, the intent of Congress was to require instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team determined otherwise; and
WHEREAS, when the Department of Education issued regulations implementing the 1997 amendment, the Department nullified the presumption of Braille by considering Braille a special education service; and
WHEREAS, under the instituted regulations the instruction and use of Braille is no longer mandated if the IEP team cannot reach an agreement on the appropriateness of Braille and the student is not currently receiving Braille instruction; and
WHEREAS, disputes among IEP teams can last for several years, allowing school districts to withhold the instruction and use of Braille from blind students despite the statute’s clear requirement that Braille be the presumed reading medium for blind students; and
WHEREAS, nearly 90 percent of America’s blind children are not learning to read and write because they are not being taught Braille; and
WHEREAS, there is a direct correlation between the ability to read Braille and a higher educational level, a higher likelihood of employment, and a higher income level: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge the Department of Education to correct its regulations and specify Braille as the presumed reading medium for blind students, upholding its obligation under the law and protecting blind students’ right to literacy.
Regarding the Home Appliance Accessibility Act
WHEREAS, digital technology has advanced rapidly, with touch screens, visual displays, and on-screen menus replacing traditional tactile methods of operation such as knobs and buttons on products and appliances used in the home; and
WHEREAS, this major shift in technology has rendered most emerging home appliances inaccessible nonvisually, creating a digital divide between blind people and their sighted peers; and
WHEREAS, the ability to operate equipment primarily designed for use in and around the home, including temperature controls, alarm systems, kitchen appliances, and washers and dryers, is fundamental to personal independence; and
WHEREAS, in spite of the close relationship between blindness and diabetes, glucose meters and other essential medical devices have no standard of nonvisual access; and
WHEREAS, these growing threats to the independence of blind people are unnecessary because home appliances and medical devices can easily be constructed with user interfaces that are not exclusively visual; and
WHEREAS, Panasonic, a manufacturer of home appliances, has demonstrated that text-to-speech technology can easily be integrated into products during the design phase rather than retrofitting, resulting in full accessibility for blind users; and
WHEREAS, despite this available access technology, few manufacturers are creating accessible home appliances for blind consumers; and
WHEREAS, access to appliances and medical devices for use in the home is surely a civil right for all blind people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to introduce the Home Appliance Accessibility Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization urge both chambers of Congress to pass this legislation as swiftly as possible in order to protect the rights and preserve the independence of blind consumers and to ensure that blind people have access to the devices that are necessary to home life in today’s society.
Regarding Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities
WHEREAS, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed in 1938 to provide workforce protections to American employees by establishing a federal minimum wage prohibiting employers from exploiting workers through the payment of wages below this specified minimum; and
WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act permits the secretary of labor to grant special wage certificates allowing specified employers to pay workers with disabilities at rates that are lower than the federal minimum wage, eliminating those workforce protections granted to every other American citizen; and
WHEREAS, the practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wages stems from the public misperception that people with disabilities cannot be productive employees; moreover, this exploitive standard for employment is patronizingly considered a compassionate opportunity for people with disabilities to receive the “tangible and intangible benefits of work”; and
WHEREAS, when provided effective rehabilitation services, training, and tools, employees with disabilities can be as productive as nondisabled workers--even those considered most severely disabled have obtained jobs paying minimum wage or higher; and
WHEREAS, though some employers possessing special wage certificates claim to provide rehabilitation and training to their disabled workers to prepare them for competitive employment, the fact that such employers can pay their workers less than the federal minimum wage gives them an incentive to exploit the cheap labor provided by disabled workers rather than to prepare those workers for integrated employment in the mainstream economy; and
WHEREAS, National Industries for the Blind (NIB) agencies for years exploited blind employees by paying them subminimum wages, claiming they could not otherwise maintain profitability, but today, because of the advocacy of the National Federation of the Blind, NIB states that “All NIB-associated agencies are committed to the NIB board policy of paying employees whose only disability is blindness at or above the federal minimum wage or their state minimum wage, whichever is higher”; and
WHEREAS, in addition to NIB, other employers holding special wage certificates recognize that the payment of subminimum wages is in fact exploitation and are now paying the federal minimum wage or higher to employees with disabilities, without reducing their workforces, while still maintaining their profitability; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is charged with the responsibility for oversight of regulations pursuant to Section 14(c), but the results from thorough investigations conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office—“Stronger Federal Efforts Needed for Providing Employment Opportunities and Enforcing Labor Standards in Sheltered Workshops, Report to the Congress, Comptroller General of the United States” (HRD-81-99) and “Report to Congressional Requesters, Special Minimum Wage Program: Centers Offer Employment and Support Services to Workers With Disabilities, But Labor Should Improve Oversight” (GAO-01-886)—demonstrate that WHD is incapable of enforcing compliance with the subminimum wage provision; and
WHEREAS, the only method of ensuring that this regulation is not abused to the detriment of workers with disabilities is to repeal Section 14(c) of the FLSA and to revoke every special wage certificate granted under that provision: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the United States Congress to introduce and pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011, which would provide an incentive for employers to adopt a business model that pays employees with disabilities the federal minimum wage or higher by phasing out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and by revoking the certificates issued under that provision so that workers with disabilities are guaranteed the same workforce protections afforded nondisabled employees; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization condemn and deplore every entity that continues to exploit people with disabilities through the payment of subminimum wages.
Regarding Inaccessibility of Google Services
WHEREAS, Google is the leading Internet search engine used by both blind and sighted people in the United States and throughout the world; and
WHEREAS, in addition to its powerful search engine, Google offers an ever-increasing number of digital and electronic services, including a suite of cloud-based applications collectively known as “Google Apps” designed to provide traditional desktop functions such as e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, and calendars, which the company is aggressively marketing to businesses, educational institutions, and government entities as an alternative to suites of similar desktop applications; and
WHEREAS, though Google’s basic search function is accessible to and usable by the blind, Google has promised accessibility to some of its other services, many of which, including the Google Apps suite, are either not yet accessible or not fully accessible; and
WHEREAS, as Google increasingly markets its services to businesses and educational institutions, the inaccessibility of these services threatens the educational and employment opportunities of blind Americans; and
WHEREAS, because of the inaccessibility of Google Apps, the National Federation of the Blind has filed complaints with the United States Department of Justice against colleges and universities that are using or planning to use this suite; and
WHEREAS, in response to the complaints filed by the National Federation of the Blind and the repeated requests of this organization for a high-level meeting with Google to discuss these matters and to demands from universities to make its Google Apps suite accessible, Google has met with officials of the National Federation of the Blind and appears to be engaged in an effort to make most or all of the Google Apps suite accessible; and
WHEREAS, while the National Federation of the Blind is encouraged by the meeting with Google and Google’s efforts to make Google Apps accessible, we remain concerned that other Google services still remain inaccessible, and even where accessibility solutions are available, as in Google’s Android operating system, blind people cannot independently access these solutions out of the box or must rely on inferior alternative interfaces to those used by the general public: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Google for its efforts to make Google Apps accessible while at the same time closely monitoring Google’s progress in this area and stand firm in our resolve to hold the company accountable; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirm its demand that Google make a serious, identifiable commitment to accessibility in all of its services and avoid the future release of services that are inaccessible to its blind users.
Regarding Accessible Testing and the Common Core State Standards
WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop Common Core State Standards that provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn so that teachers and parents know what steps must be taken to ensure that students learn effectively; and,
WHEREAS, these robust, real-world standards, voluntarily adopted by forty-two states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, define the knowledge and skills students should have in their K–12 education careers so that they will graduate from high school with the ability to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Race to the Top assessment funds to two consortia—the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Summative Multi-state Assessment Resources for Teachers and Educational Researchers (the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium)—for the development of a new-generation, K–12 assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics (CCSS); and
WHEREAS, the new assessment systems will be designed from the start both to assess students with disabilities accurately and to provide appropriate accommodations so that all students with disabilities are able to take the new assessments, greatly improving the quality of education by making it possible for blind students to be assessed on the basis of equality with their sighted peers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers for incorporating application to students with disabilities within the Common Core State Standards and for publishing strong language that sets high standards for blind students and incorporates requirements for access technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the two consortia, PARCC and SMARTER Balanced, to work diligently to ensure that blind students have the same opportunity to access the assessment tools as their sighted peers.
Regarding Examinations Related to Applications, Licensing, Certification, and Credentialing for Secondary and Postsecondary Educational, Professional, or Trade Purposes
WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires entities that offer examinations related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary educational, professional, or trade purposes offer such examinations in a place and manner accessible to people with disabilities or to offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals; and
WHEREAS, federal regulations interpreting the ADA require that examinations be selected and administered so as best to ensure that, when the examination is administered to an individual with a disability that impairs sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the examination results accurately reflect the individual’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factor the examination purports to measure, rather than reflecting the individual’s sensory impairment; and
WHEREAS, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) issues two national multiple-choice examinations used by the vast majority of states as part of the licensing process for aspiring lawyers, namely the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE); and
WHEREAS, while state bar examiners or their contractors are technically responsible for both the administration of the examinations to candidates and the provision of accommodations to blind candidates, the NCBE controls what accommodations may be granted to blind candidates taking the MBE and MPRE insofar as it (1) determines in what accessible formats these examinations will be produced, and (2) issues specific instructions to contractors and state bar examiners how these examinations are to be administered; and
WHEREAS, currently the only accessible methods by which the NCBE allows its examinations to be taken are in large print, with a CCTV, in Braille, or on audio CD with a human reader selected by the test administrator permitted to mark the answer sheet and/or read the examination questions to a blind candidate; and
WHEREAS, although state bar examiners appear willing to allow blind candidates to take state bar examinations using computers equipped with screen-access technology and in fact do grant this accommodation for the portions of the state bar examination that they control, they cannot grant such accommodations for the NCBE’s examinations because the NCBE will not offer the examinations in an electronic format; and
WHEREAS, other entities that offer professional licensing, certification, or credentialing examinations likewise limit the formats of their examinations and restrict the accommodations available to blind candidates; and
WHEREAS, while these limited formats and accommodations are appropriate for some blind candidates, they may not be appropriate for those who have used computers with screen-access technology as their primary reading medium throughout law school or their professional training and who have taken most or all of their law school or other professional examinations using computers equipped with screen-access technology; and
WHEREAS, to the extent that blind candidates are permitted to use human readers selected by the testing entities, these candidates all too often find that the reader is an untrained volunteer with insufficient education or experience to read questions containing professional terminology or to respond appropriately to the directions of the candidate; and
WHEREAS, the use of a computer with screen-access technology will allow many blind candidates to read autonomously and deal more efficiently with the examinations because reading the complex text of problem-solving questions requires the ability to read, reread, reference, and skip between long passages of text quickly; and
WHEREAS, in a court case brought by a blind bar candidate with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind, Enyart v. National Conference of Bar Examiners, both district and appellate courts rejected the NCBE’s interpretation of the ADA and its regulations and instead held that the NCBE must provide an electronic copy of the examinations to be taken using screen-access technology if that accommodation is requested; and
WHEREAS, rather than modifying its outdated and legally untenable position as a result of these rulings, the NCBE has instead sought relief in the United States Supreme Court—a course of action that is extremely unlikely to result in a reversal of the lower court decisions, since it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will hear the case; and
WHEREAS, rather than tilting at legal windmills, the NCBE could have used its time and resources more effectively by working with blind Americans to craft a set of guidelines that would protect the security and integrity of the NCBE’s examinations, while allowing blind candidates to take the examinations in the manner best suited to their needs; and
WHEREAS, in making its spurious legal arguments to the courts, the NCBE has attempted to use resolutions previously adopted by this organization approving the use of Braille, large print, and recorded audio as accommodations for blind test-takers as evidence to support its position, ignoring the fact that these resolutions are at least a decade old and do not and are not intended to set forth an exhaustive list of acceptable accommodations: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization explicitly endorse the use of a computer with screen-access technology as an accommodation that is acceptable and indeed necessary for many blind test-takers and should be granted if the test-taker requests it, and explicitly recognizes that other technologies, now available or to be invented, may also be appropriate for blind test-takers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization condemn and deplore the adoption by NCBE and other testing entities of an outdated and legally dubious stance on the provision of accommodations to blind candidates seeking professional licensing, certification, or credentialing; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the NCBE and other testing entities immediately to cease this quixotic legal campaign and work with us to craft policies and procedures that will provide blind candidates with the accommodations that best suit their needs while protecting the integrity and security of professional licensing, certification, and credentialing examinations.
Regarding Enhancements to the
Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) Website
WHEREAS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), which is part of the United States Library of Congress, maintains the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) Website, which permits patrons to download books and magazines produced in specialized audio media; and
WHEREAS, as of the middle of 2011, some 22,131 book titles and forty-seven magazines are available through the BARD Website, and about two thousand books and 650 magazine issues are added each year; and
WHEREAS, other than the unfortunate reality that fewer materials are available to BARD patrons than are available to the sighted, the BARD Website provides the blind with access to library materials comparable to that available to our sighted peers because blind people now have virtually instantaneous access to a collection of books and magazines without having to await delivery through the mail; and
WHEREAS, NLS patrons are served locally through a network of cooperating regional libraries, which currently consists of 113 libraries throughout the United States and its territories; and
WHEREAS, NLS has informed its cooperating network libraries that by the end of 2011, NLS will enhance the BARD Website by adding books locally produced by those cooperating network libraries, thus providing access to reading material that would be otherwise unavailable or inconvenient for patrons to obtain; and
WHEREAS, NLS has expressed an intent to continue to enhance or improve the BARD Website and has sought consumer input through its various committees and outreach activities about how such enhancements might be made; and
WHEREAS, the BARD Website patron experience would be enhanced by increased transparency, more obvious access points to the Website, and a function that allows patrons to tag books or magazines they may want to download in the future: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly encourage NLS to continue its policy of seeking and using consumer input to improve its program and to increase dramatically the quantity of library materials available through BARD; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge NLS to enhance BARD by including such features as adding a link to the site on the NLS homepage for more convenient patron access; making obvious the “has-had” function, which allows patrons to refer to materials they have previously downloaded; and adding a reserve list function that allows patrons to tag books for later download.
Regarding Accessibility of the eBay Website
WHEREAS, with over 70 percent of blind Americans either unemployed or underemployed, increasing employment opportunities is critical to promoting the full participation of the blind in society; and
WHEREAS, Americans are increasingly obtaining gainful employment by becoming entrepreneurs and using the Internet to offer goods and services to the public; and
WHEREAS, eBay Inc. connects hundreds of millions of buyers and sellers globally every day through the eBay platform; and
WHEREAS, eBay.com was previously inaccessible to blind computer users but now includes enhanced features that increase a blind user’s ability to buy, bid, and sell using the keyboard alone, as well as improved ways to navigate content using access technologies such as screen-reading software; and
WHEREAS, the blind can now more easily connect with eBay’s ninety-two million users, as buyers and sellers, and shop from 200 million live listings, creating more entrepreneurial opportunities for blind Americans to develop e-commerce businesses; and
WHEREAS, eBay and the National Federation of the Blind have partnered in conducting the NFB/eBay Entrepreneurs project to provide a group of blind people the training, resources, and support to empower them quickly to build their online e-commerce presence; and
WHEREAS, the NFB/eBay Entrepreneurs project has a component that also helps blind people become eBay trainers who will continue to train other blind entrepreneurs on how to take advantage of the eBay platform, allowing for an exponential exposure to this entrepreneurial opportunity: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend eBay Inc. for partnering with the National Federation of the Blind to make the eBay buyer and seller platform more accessible and create opportunities for blind entrepreneurs to manage their own online businesses; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the partnership between eBay and the National Federation of the Blind continue so that we can work together to resolve any remaining accessibility issues, helping eBay to become, not just accessible, but truly user-friendly so that specialized eBay classes for blind people will no longer be necessary.
Regarding Emerging Educational Technologies
WHEREAS, the ability to read and access information is critical to education, career advancement, and living a well-informed personal and professional life; and
WHEREAS, without access to proper tools and techniques, blindness and some other disabilities pose challenges to accessing all available written information fully and efficiently; and
WHEREAS, text-to-speech and Braille technology has helped to remove these access barriers for approximately thirty million blind and otherwise print-disabled people living in the United States; and
WHEREAS, many schools at all levels from elementary to postgraduate school have explored or are exploring the possibility of electronic textbooks, mobile access to electronic book information, online education and collaboration tools, and other emerging educational technologies; and
WHEREAS, the civil rights offices of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter dated June 29, 2010, reminding higher education institutions of their legal obligation to procure and deploy accessible educational technology; and
WHEREAS, in a Frequently-Asked-Questions document issued on May 26, 2011, the Department of Education emphasized that K–12 schools are also covered by federal nondiscrimination laws and thus required to procure and deploy accessible educational technology, and provided specific guidelines regarding the evaluation, procurement, and deployment of emerging educational technologies to ensure that they are accessible to the blind and other students with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, while a few e-reading applications and devices, such as Apple’s iBooks application for its iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad devices, take advantage of text-to-speech and Braille technology to deliver the content of commercially available e-books to the blind and others with print disabilities, and other providers of e-reading solutions are promising to provide access, many such devices and applications, such as the Sony Reader™ and Barnes and Noble NOOK™, are still inaccessible to the blind and print-disabled; and
WHEREAS, other electronic, online, and cloud-based tools being marketed to educational institutions, including the Google Apps for Education suite of cloud-based applications, are wholly or partially inaccessible to students who are blind or cannot read print: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization reaffirm its demand for accessible e-books and educational technologies; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon schools to follow rigorously the May 26, 2011, guidelines issued by the United States Department of Education, Civil Rights Division, regarding emerging educational technology.
Regarding the Right to Information, the Worldwide Book Famine,
and the Need and Urgency to Adopt an International Treaty Thereon
WHEREAS, access to information through published works and otherwise is a fundamental human right; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has led the way in advancing the rights of the blind to gain access to published works and other information on the national and international levels; and
WHEREAS, the Federation’s national efforts resulted in passage of the Chafee Amendment to United States copyright law, which permits authorized entities to reproduce published works in accessible formats without permission from the copyright holder, for the benefit of the blind and others with print disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the vast majority of the countries of the world do not possess similar laws, or their laws are much weaker; and
WHEREAS, international copyright law does not currently permit the sharing of accessible texts across international borders, with the result that blind people and others who cannot read print due to a disability cannot in the United States get access to hundreds of thousands of works in accessible formats produced in other countries, and blind people and others with print disabilities throughout the rest of the world cannot get access to the United States collection, creating a worldwide book famine, in which less than 1 percent of all published works are available to the blind and print-disabled in accessible formats; and
WHEREAS, the Federation worked with the World Blind Union (WBU) to develop the text for an international treaty that would create exceptions and limitations to copyright law throughout the world, permit two accessible versions of published works to be produced, and allow them to be shared across all borders; and
WHEREAS, this effort led to the introduction of an official international treaty proposal sponsored originally by the nations of Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay, which was then tabled before the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) in 2009; and
WHEREAS, intensive international negotiations have taken place including introduction of several written proposals that have been tabled at several meetings of SCCR; and
WHEREAS, the NFB adopted Resolution 2010-24, which reaffirmed our support for the WBU treaty proposal and called upon the United States government and the international community to work vigorously and swiftly to adopt binding international norms addressing the book famine faced by the blind; and
WHEREAS, the past year has seen wide-ranging international discussions aimed at the creation of a single text, which would form the basis of an international instrument on this topic; and
WHEREAS, at the twenty-second session of the SCCR, held in Geneva June 15–24, 2011, these efforts culminated in the introduction of a single text sponsored by dozens of nations, including the original treaty sponsors and the United States; and
WHEREAS, the member nations assembled at SCCR 22 agreed that they will complete work on an international instrument at SCCR 23, to be held in November of this year and recommend the instrument for adoption by the international community; and
WHEREAS, many questions remain regarding the ultimate language of the draft text and what kind of international instrument will carry the text; and
WHEREAS, it is critical that binding international norms be created now by a treaty, rather than the adoption of some “soft law” solution first carried by a nonbinding international recommendation, to be followed by a treaty process to take place at some unspecified date in the future: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly signal our ongoing, absolute, and unequivocal support of binding international norms creating exceptions and limitations to copyright law that would permit the production of published works in accessible formats and allow for cross-border sharing of them; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we applaud the United States government for its leadership in creating a single text for exceptions and limitations to copyright law for the print-disabled and keeping this complicated process moving forward; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the United States government to use all efforts and resources to push the single text introduced at SCCR 22 toward the convening of a diplomatic conference in which an international treaty concerning exceptions and limitations of copyright law for the print-disabled can be adopted and to engage in this effort with great dispatch and with no further delay; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we pledge to the WBU our continuing support on this issue and our continued, unflagging effort to end the book famine faced by the blind of the world and thereby secure our right to access information on terms of equality.
Regarding the Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization
WHEREAS, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has distributed language for the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act including a proposed Section 511 of Title V (the Rehabilitation Act), which would provide for employment of people with significant disabilities at wages below the federally mandated minimum wage; and
WHEREAS, the proposed language of Section 511 would be a tacit endorsement of the subminimum wage provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and its antiquated contention that people with disabilities cannot be competitively employed; and
WHEREAS, this language links the Rehabilitation Act, which was established to assist people with disabilities in obtaining competitive integrated employment, with Section 14(c) of the FLSA, which is based on the false premise that people with disabilities can not be competitively employed and therefore can be paid subminimum wages; and
WHEREAS, the language in Section 511 that defines what steps a vocational rehabilitation counselor must take before steering a client into subminimum-wage employment is intended to prevent youth with disabilities from being tracked into subminimum-wage jobs, but is likely instead to track them into such jobs; and
WHEREAS, language in Section 511 asserts that employers holding a certificate that allows them to pay subminimum wages can also serve as training facilities for people with disabilities, a claim that ignores the fact that job training services provided by an employer holding a special wage certificate are likely to reinforce the low expectation that workers with disabilities cannot be competitively employed, since the incentive is for the employer to continue exploiting their labor rather than prepare workers for other employment; and
WHEREAS, the Section 511 documentation and review process, which is meant to provide safeguards against inappropriate use of subminimum-wage employment, does not take into consideration the fact that state vocational rehabilitation programs do not have the resources to ensure effective compliance with the various documentation and review requirements, including the six-month review period in the proposed language, creating an opportunity to expand the exploitation caused by Section 14(c) of the FLSA; and
WHEREAS, the good intentions motivating the development of Section 511 are likely to result in enormous negative consequences, especially the validation of subminimum-wage employment as a viable outcome for people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the language does not provide an effective procedure for workers to challenge improper placement in such employment: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call on members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to remove Section 511 of the proposed Rehabilitation Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon all members of Congress, not to address the unjust law of Section 14(c) with ineffective measures, but to take direct action to abolish the reprehensible practice of subminimum-wage employment forever.
Orientation and Mobility as a Related Service
WHEREAS, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations state in Section 300.34(c)(7) that, under related services, orientation and mobility is clearly defined: “(i) Means services provided to blind or visually impaired children by qualified personnel to enable those students to attain systematic orientation to and safe movement within their environments in school, home, and community”; and
WHEREAS, the delivery of orientation and mobility services to blind children is essential to their successful transition to a full and productive life as adults; and
WHEREAS, it has come to the attention of the National Federation of the Blind that some special education service delivery districts have interpreted the delivery of “related services” narrowly, denying blind students the opportunity to receive orientation and mobility training; and
WHEREAS, the section of IDEA referred to is Section 602(26)(A): “In general…The term ‘related services’ means…services designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education as described in the individualized education program of the child, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, … as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children.” And,
WHEREAS, the assessment of need for these services is often provided by staff who know nothing about orientation and mobility; and
WHEREAS, these service-delivery education districts have interpreted the as-may-be-required language as an excuse not to provide qualified professional orientation and mobility training for blind students; and
WHEREAS, this narrow interpretation of Section 602(26)(A) is in direct conflict with the spirit, intent, and language of the other sections of the IDEA, which promote the delivery of orientation and mobility training for the betterment of blind students receiving special education. Now therefore,BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the U.S. Secretary of Education to take immediate and affirmative action to clarify and reinforce the spirit and the intent of IDEA and its regulations concerning the delivery of orientation-and-mobility-related services to blind students in special education programs.
Cassette Production of the Braille Monitor to End in December:
For over forty years the Braille Monitor has been produced as an audio recording. One of the ways this audio is currently distributed is on cassette, but digital recordings have now made the cassette obsolete. Cassettes are increasingly hard to find; the equipment to duplicate them is becoming scarce; parts to keep existing equipment operational are no longer available. The December 2011 issue will be the last to be placed on cassette. Alternative ways of getting our magazine to those who now receive cassettes are being considered. Placing the Monitor on NEWSLINE® is likely to happen. Having the Monitor available from BARD is also likely. If we can figure out a way to do it economically, we will put the Monitor on compact discs or on thumb drives that can be played on the machines distributed by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Options for cassette subscribers will appear in the October issue. After carefully considering these, please contact us to let us know how you wish to receive this magazine. We value you as a reader of the Braille Monitor and want you to continue receiving your copy of the magazine. You will not, however, automatically be transitioned to a different format; you must contact us to let us know your format preference. Otherwise your name will be removed from the mailing list.
2011 Division Election Results:
We have received the following results from the elections conducted at the Orlando convention. This is not a definitive report since we can pass along only the results we received.
Diabetes Action Network
Elections were conducted during the 2011 business meeting of the Diabetes Action Network during the Diabetes Seminar, which took place on the afternoon of July 5: president, Michael Freeman (WA); first vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (MD); second vice president, Minnie Walker (AL); secretary, Diane Filipe (CO); treasurer, Joy Stigile (CA); and board members, Mindy Jacobsen (NY), Wanda Sloan (OH), Maria Bradford (WA), and Travis Moses (MT).
The Writers’ Division
The following officers and board members were elected to serve two-year terms: president, Robert Leslie Newman (NE); first vice president, Chelsea Cook (VA); second vice president, April Enderton (IA); secretary, Lori Stayer (NY); treasurer, Atty Svendsen (NE); and board members, Bob Gardner (IL), Allison Hilliker (AZ), Eve Sanchez (UT), and Myrna Badgerow (LA).
National Association of Blind Students
The student division officers and board members for the coming year are president, Sean Whalen (VA); vice president, Karen Anderson (NE); second vice president, Darian Smith (CA); treasurer, Shelby Ball (GA); secretary, Cindy Bennett (NC/MN); and board members, Candice Chapman (MS), Meghan Whalen (WI), Briley Pollard (VA), and Domonique Lawless (LA).
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
On July 5, 2011, the NOPBC conducted elections at its annual meeting. The officers were not up for election this year and remain president, Laura Weber (TX); first vice president, Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (GA); second vice president, Carlton Walker (PA); secretary, Andrea Beasley (WI); and treasurer, Pat Renfranz (UT). The following board members were elected: Jean Bening (MN), Jim Beyer (MT), Wingfield Bouchard (MS), John Fritz (WI), Pamela Gebert (AK), Amber Hall (IN), Zina Lewis (VA), Barbara Mathews (CA), Holly Miller (NJ), and Trudy Pickrel (MD).
National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education
The officers of the newly formed National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education (NOPBE or PIBE unofficially) are president, Eric Guillory (LA); first vice president, Denise Mackenstadt (WA); second vice president, Michael Fish (VA); secretary, Emily Gibbs (MD); and treasurer, Krystal Guillory (LA). Congratulations to our newest division, and good luck in your important work.
National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith
The following officers were elected to serve until July 2013: president, Tom Anderson (CO); vice president, Rehnee Aikens (TX); secretary, Linda Mentink (NE); and treasurer, Sam Gleese (MS).
NFB Krafters Division
Officers in the Krafters Division are elected in even-numbered years, and board members in odd. Because the secretary has resigned, the division elected Ramona Walhof (ID) to a one-year position as secretary. Board members elected were Cindy Zimmer (NE) and Linda Anderson (CO).
Travel and Tourism Division
Elections were conducted during the Travel and Tourism Division business meeting. Officers and board members for the year are president, Cheryl Echevarria (NY); first vice president, Maurice Shackelford (GA); second vice president, April Scheppe (WI); secretary, Mary Donahue (TX); treasurer, Milton Taylor (UT); and board members, Nelson Echevarria (NY), Jamal Powell (IL), and Anahit LaBarre (CO).
2010-2011 Race for Independence
The 2011 Race for Independence contest year ended on July 31, 2011. By that date the following Federationists had raised $1,000 or more for the NFB Imagination Fund:
Don and Betty Capps
Ever Lee Hairston
William O. Jacobs
Carl and Mindy Jacobsen
Mary Ellen Jernigan
Jack and Pat Munson
C. Edwin Vaughan
Gary and Debbie Wunder
The 2012 contest began August 1, and already some people are hard at work. It’s time for you to enroll as an Imaginator. Go to <raceforindependence.org>. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!
Highlights of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science
Division President Curtis Chong reports that Caroline Ragot, managing director of Code Factory, talked with the group about Code Factory's work to develop a suite of nonvisually accessible applications for the Android platform. Because the accessibility API (application programming interface) provided by Google was not sufficient for the task, Code Factory decided that the most effective way to solve the problem in today's environment was to develop a set of fully accessible applications for the blind--hence Mobile Accessibility, which consists of a suite of fully accessible applications that enable the blind to make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages, send and receive email (through Gmail), browse the Web, and determine one's physical location (through GPS). Mobile Accessibility also comes with a generic screen-reading program that provides access to some Android applications. Inasmuch as the Android platform is used by every cell phone provider in the United States, Mobile Accessibility offers a solution that can work regardless of the cell phone provider.
Adobe is known primarily for two things: the portable document format (PDF) and Flash. Nonvisual access to these two formats requires that Adobe software work well with screen-access technology for the blind and also that publishers of PDF and Flash content follow the specifications that Adobe has published. Matt May, an accessibility evangelist from Adobe, told the division that Adobe has been working hard to ensure that it is easy for people using its software to produce accessible documents and information. This has taken years to achieve, but according to Mr. May the end is nearly in sight. Some listeners expressed skepticism, and some communicated more than a little frustration with Adobe because, by and large, there are more examples of software and content that are not accessible to the blind than examples of accessible content and programs. For example, from time to time Windows users have been presented with the Adobe Flash Player Updater, which presents the nonvisual user with a number of unlabeled buttons. Mr. May assured us that a new, more accessible update program would be released soon.
For the first time in the history of the NFB in Computer Science, the division had an opportunity to hear from a representative from Yahoo!, in the person of Victor Tsaran, senior accessibility program manager. Yahoo! has a team of people working full time on accessibility, but not too many people seem to know about it. The team is working on a new and improved Web email interface that uses ARIA, the Accessible Rich Internet Application specification. If things go according to plan, this interface will feel to the blind person as if he or she is operating a desktop email client. Mr. Tsaran did point out that best results will be achieved if the blind computer user is running the free NVDA screen-access program and the Firefox Web browser. The group pointed out that it would be extremely regrettable if Yahoo!'s good work in this area is not recognized because the majority of blind computer users today are running the JAWS for Windows screen-access program and Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser. After the meeting Curtis and Mr. Tsaran had dinner together. He was engaging, insightful, and dedicated to his work. Although he never said it directly, apparently Victor Tsaran is himself blind--or at least has limited vision.
Mike Calvo and Joe Steinkamp from the Serotek Corporation talked with the group about the cloud. Serotek has a number of cloud-based applications used by the blind--including its DocuScan product, which performs optical character recognition in the cloud instead of in a local computer. Mr. Calvo expressed a conviction that future advancements for the blind are likely to take place in the cloud. Witness Google's Chromium computer, which has a very small electronic footprint. All of its functions are executed over the Internet, and there is the beginning of a talking solution for the Chromium computer, which should be of interest to the blind.
Overall the 2011 meeting of the NFB in Computer Science demonstrated in microcosm the current state of affairs with respect to nonvisual access for the blind. A number of positive efforts are under way that promise to be quite exciting in the future, but in the main the struggle for full access will never completely end.
NAGDU Launches Hotline:
On July 3 at its annual business meeting, the National Association of Guide Dog Users announced the launch of its new hotline. The NAGDU Information and Advocacy Hotline not only offers information about the legal rights of individuals who use service animals, it offers the option to speak with an advocate who is trained to resolve access denials. According to the new federal guidelines that took effect on March 15, 2011, a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” (28 CFR Part 35.104 & 28 CFR Part 36.104).
“We find that most access problems are the result of a lack of information,” said Michael Hingson, the Association’s vice president, who serves as project manager for the hotline. “This hotline is an excellent resource for accurate information.”
The NAGDU Information and Advocacy Hotline currently offers general information about service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as specific guidance about restaurants, taxicabs, and health care facilities. Callers needing immediate assistance can connect directly to a live trained advocate. Future plans for the hotline include summaries of each of the state laws concerning service animals, more industry-specific information, and guidance in a variety of languages, such as Mandarin and Arabic. The hotline is available anytime by calling toll-free 888-NAGDU411 (888-624-3841).
The NAGDU Information and Advocacy Hotline was created by a grant from the National Federation of the Blind’s Imagination Fund, as well as with contributions from the California and Florida Associations of Guide Dog Users. The National Association of Guide Dog Users is a strong and proud division of the NFB. NAGDU conducts public awareness campaigns on issues of guide dog use, provides advocacy support for guide dog handlers who face discrimination, supports effective legislation to protect the rights of service animal users, offers educational programs to school and civic organizations, and functions as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind. For more information about the National Association of Guide Dog Users or to support its work, visit its Website at <http://www.nagdu.org> or send an email message to <firstname.lastname@example.org.
Report of the Newsletter Publication Committee:
The NFB newsletter publication committee met Tuesday evening, July 5. The major accomplishment was the making of an instructive documentary designed to aid any affiliate, division, or chapter contemplating the creation of a newsletter or needing a boost to keep the existing publication fresh. The meeting began with a keynote speech by Gary Wunder on the purpose of a newsletter. Following was a panel of editors who discussed how to create, where to find material, and how to construct a valuable publication.
The second half of the meeting covered how else our organization communicates our message and information. Websites, Facebook, Twitter, and email lists were discussed and encouraged. A copy of the audio recording is available by request from Robert Leslie Newman at <email@example.com>; a written transcript is also being developed.
Report of the 2011 NFB Writers’ Division Meeting:
The division met Tuesday, July 5. Business was conducted, the 2011 writing contest winners were announced, a panel of new authors made presentations, and elections were held. The panel participants were Beth Finke and Linda Goodspeed. Both have recently published new books. Both use their writing skills to make a living--Beth is a radio journalist for National Public Radio, administers a blog, and authors articles and books. Linda is a free-lance writer, authoring articles for magazines and books. They were both inspiring. A recording of the panel is available on the division Website <http://www.nfb-writers-division.net>.
2011 Employment Seminar Recordings Now Available:
On July 3, 2011, the NFB employment committee hosted its annual seminar during the 2011 national convention. We had some great presenters, and for the first time the seminar was recorded. A number of people have requested copies of the recording, so here is how to get one.
Copies of the seminar are available for $10 each on audio or MP3 CDs sent to you by surface mail or in zipped files sent by Internet. If you want your copy of this dynamic seminar quickly, Internet delivery is the way to go. If ordering the seminar on CD, be sure to specify whether you want standard audio CD or MP3 files. Audio CDs will play on any standard CD player, and MP3 files can be played using a wide variety of playback devices and software. If you request Internet delivery, be sure you have software that will allow you to unpack the files, which will be sent as a single zipped archive.
Both CD and Internet copies are available for $10 each. Please specify the number of copies you are ordering. If you submit payment by mail, make checks payable to Peter Donahue and send to him at 8800 Starcrest Drive, Apt. 226, San Antonio, TX 78217. Payment may also be sent using PayPal with the following email address: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Save the Date--Web Accessibility Training Day:
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and the Maryland Department of Disabilities’ Technology Assistance Program are delighted to present the second Web Accessibility Training Day. On Monday, September 19, we will offer a day-long, in-depth look at how accessible Web content that complies with federal and state regulations is created. Compliance with these regulations and with W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is especially relevant in light of the Department of Justice’s recent confirmation that the Americans with Disabilities Act covers the Web. We will have a variety of general topic sessions, with afternoon breakout sessions on policy and technical topics: the business case for accessibility; how to evaluate and implement accessibility; mobile accessibility; easy accessibility fixes; opportunities to network with developers, vendors, Web accessibility consultants, and experts in nonvisual access technology.
Exhibitors will present their products during session breaks, and participants will have an opportunity to learn more about their services. For more information or to register, please visit <www.nfb.org/webaccessibility> or contact Clara Van Gerven at the NFB (<email@example.com>, (410) 659-9314, ext. 2410). We hope you can join us for this exciting event.
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.