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]