Vol. 54, No. 9 October 2011
Gary Wunder, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
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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. 9 October 2011
Continuing Conflict and Strife in the
Michigan Commission for the Blind
by Gary Wunder
Getting an Education for Blind Children and Adults: How to Survive with
Proper Expectations and Accessibility
by Anil Lewis, Alexa Posny, and Gaeir Dietrich
The Evolution of Braille: Can the Past Help Plan the Future?
Part two of a three-part article
by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA)
When I Grow Up
by Laura Weber
My Adventures with the iPhone
by Michael Freeman
Report on the 2010-11 Braille Readers
by Natalie Shaheen
Promises Kept, New Promises Made
by Dennis Hong
NFB Math Survey: A Report of Preliminary Results
by Al Maneki
The Secret to Winning a National Federation
of the Blind Scholarship
by Patti S. Gregory-Chang
Youth Leadership Program
by Brianna Lillyman
Triggering a Wave of Emotion
by John Cannon
Legally Blind VT Law Student Wins First Big Case
Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library
Helen Keller: Sketch for a Portrait
Reviewed by Ed Morman
Copyright 2011 by the National Federation of the Blind
This bulletin board display in the Betsy Zaborowski Conference Room in the Jernigan Institute pays tribute to the legal scholarship of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founding president of the National Federation of the Blind. The white letters of the board’s title, “The Right to… Live in the World,” pop off the black background. The title is divided into two segments: “The Right to…” left-justified across the top of the board, and “Live in the World” right-justified across the bottom. The board’s trim depicts a city skyline with craft foam cut-outs providing tactile representations of the buildings. Six white containers are affixed to the board, three on the left side and three on the right. They are classic cigar boxes with the flat lid swinging upward to reveal the contents. They are mounted with the closed lid of each box facing the observer. The words “The Right to…” appear in raised print and Braille on the outside of each box. When you open each lid, you find additional text, including a quotation outlining one of the rights Dr. tenBroek claimed for the blind as people who live in the world. Inside the boxes are tangible objects that represent the right described on the lid. A few of the box contents are lighthearted, illustrating Dr. tenBroek’s sense of humor.
The first box focuses on Dr. tenBroek’s fight for academic freedom. The second features an issue Dr. tenBroek began working on in the 1940s and one that the Federation is still working on today, the right to organize and earn a decent wage. The third discusses the right to due process in law and quotes Dr. tenBroek’s thoughts on the internment of Japanese Americans in relocation camps. The right to equal treatment regardless of race is the focus of the fourth box, including a quotation from Dr. tenBroek’s Law Review article, which was cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. The fifth box addresses the right to have a funny nickname. It provides the back-story on how Dr. tenBroek acquired the nickname “Chick.” The last box is the most lighthearted of them all. It features a quote from a letter Jacobus wrote to his parents while he was a student at the California School for the Blind. In the letter he talks about sitting around in his underwear on a Saturday morning. So the right to sit around in your underwear is the focus of box number six.
Centered near the top of the board is a picture of Dr. tenBroek superimposed on a tactile map of the world. To the left of the map is the following quotation from Dr. tenBroek’s Law Review article “The Right to Live in the World.” “The right of access to public accommodations and common carriers is a civil right. It is a basic right indispensable to participation in the community, a substantive right to which all are fully and equally entitled.” Below the map a quotation explains to passersby that in addition to rights Dr. tenBroek believed all people had responsibilities. Cards in primary colors and shaped like four of the seven continents, print and Braille writing instruments, and push pins are available near the bottom of the board so that visitors can write out the responsibilities they think we have and then pin their cards somewhere on the board.
by Gary Wunder
In the roll call of states in 1978, Allen Harris, reporting as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, proudly announced the passage of legislation establishing the Michigan Commission for the Blind (MCB). The convention was excited; people from Michigan were elated. We had long known that the best services for blind people are most likely to be provided by agencies run by a supervising board appointed by the governor with the input of the blind, who can go directly to the legislature and the governor to make their case for the programs they need.
In Michigan the legislation that passed wasn't everything the affiliate had hoped it would be. The commission was not a free-standing agency but a bureau. Employees, including the agency's director, would still be a part of Michigan’s merit system. Unarguably positive, however, there would be a five-member commission board that would supervise and evaluate the director and make policy for the agency. In a time when many agencies for the blind were being consolidated into larger governmental bodies and losing their ability to present their budgets to the general assemblies of their states and finding they could no longer speak directly with the governor and legislature, Michigan's progress was important for the blind of Michigan and a reason for the blind of America to cheer.
One fear of the Michigan general assembly and governor was that passing the new commission bill would turn the agency upside down. Promises by the act's proponents for a smooth transition, jobs for workers in the agency who still wanted them, and as little disruption to service as possible meant that the commission came into being and functioned much like its predecessor. The commission board perhaps for too long continued to function as an advisory body. The agenda was still set by the agency; things it wanted placed before the new commission board came to its attention while those the agency chose to handle itself did not.
Much has changed in the thirty-plus years since Michigan got a commission. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended in 1998. Consumer choice and empowerment and consumer-directed programs have become a part of our everyday language and expectation. The federal Rehabilitation Act mandates a rehabilitation council in every state. For Michigan this council is the Michigan Commission for the Blind. The role of the rehabilitation council as defined in the Rehabilitation Act goes beyond communicating the programs of the agency to its patrons and acting in an advisory capacity as former state councils and advisory committees once did. State councils are to be partners in determining what programs their agencies conduct, evaluating the success of those programs, and actively soliciting, reporting on, and trying to implement consumer feedback.
The extent to which these councils function as true partners varies. Some appointed members are so flattered at sitting at the head table and rubbing elbows with higher-ups in the agency that they are content to assent and pass on everything the agency proposes. They take no assignments and gratefully agree to pass on any work between meetings to agency staff. Some who are more active soon have to decide how much of their time outside agency meetings they are willing to devote to finding out what consumers want and learning enough about the law to determine which changes are possible and which are not. Those who come with an agenda and the intention of bringing about real change soon learn that their zeal must be tempered by an appreciation for the people who have made their careers the helping of blind people and by how long it takes to develop a consensus. The terms of effective advocates are often characterized more by constructive change than by drama. The challenge is to ensure that one doesn't win a public battle while in so doing making so many enemies among those who will implement the change that the war is lost.
The personality of the agency director, the strength of the agency’s traditions, the vitality of the consumer organizations, and the way the state rehabilitation council is composed and views its role all contribute to how involved consumers are in shaping agency policy. A director who sees his governing board as an asset and a board that believes its members are partners in carrying out the agency's mission find their relationship rewarding and productive. When the director regards his council or governing board as removed from the real work with the agency and considers board meetings a burdensome reality he or she must tolerate in working for a social service agency, the relationship is poor. Meetings are not events in which constructive dialogue and sound public policy are demonstrated. When the council or commission is constantly at odds with the agency administration, the agenda is a battleground where the administration fights for time to be used in reporting and the governing body or council fights for policy evaluation and change. Meetings are endured rather than enjoyed, and the positive consumer-driven process intended by the drafters of the Rehabilitation Act and its amendments is thwarted.
In June and July of 2010 the Braille Monitor published articles about the Michigan Commission for the Blind and serious conflicts between consumers of the state, the commissioners of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, and the director of the commission, Patrick Cannon. Because that coverage was so detailed, this article will summarize only those items relevant to understanding the activities which have occurred since.
In February of 2010 Cannon fired Christine Boone, the director of the residential rehabilitation training center, alleging she had started a marksmanship class without his knowledge or consent and that she had violated state law by allowing firearms to be purchased and brought onto state property. Cannon initially said he had learned of the class at the 2009 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan. Later he testified that he remembered having discussions about the class with Boone, that those discussions involved looking into instruction offsite, and that never had he given his approval for the class. Allowing blind people to do things normally considered impossible for the blind is a well-established practice of rehabilitation centers in trying to reshape the way blind students think and feel about being blind. Rock climbing, skiing, and other challenge activities are well-accepted strategies that are key to changing a student's perception of what it means to be blind and are found in some of the best training centers in the country. Sky diving was even conducted at the Michigan training center in recognition of the importance of such challenge activities.
With the help of the National Federation of the Blind, Christine Boone appealed her dismissal. A four-day hearing was held before an arbitrator in January of 2011. In arguments supporting Boone's dismissal for violation of civil service regulations, the state alleged that she might have discussed the possibility of training with her supervisor, but never had she gotten his approval to proceed with it. To the extent that he understood such training was being discussed, it was Cannon's understanding that the class would be taught offsite at a local firing range. The state also alleged that the guns used in the marksmanship class were firearms as determined by state civil service regulations and, as such, were not allowed on state property.
In presenting her side, Boone argued that she had told Cannon about the students’ desire to do target practice as part of the center's adventure activities, that he was supportive and told her to research how the class might be conducted, and that he emphasized the need for safety. Boone assigned one of her assistant directors, Karen Cornell, who was very involved in marksmanship as a recreational activity, to research how and where the class could be conducted. While a target practice facility was located in the area, it seemed safer and less disruptive to hold marksmanship training on the center’s property. Given that the center has more than twenty acres and is making an effort to use that land fully, Cornell suggested this solution as an alternative. She next went to the state police and then to the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department in the Kalamazoo Police Department to determine whether the spring-loaded guns she was considering were firearms. The police concluded that they were not; the guns were purchased with a state purchasing card and without a background check. The purchase rang up as general merchandise. State purchasing paid the bill, questioned the purchase several months later, and was answered by Assistant Director Bruce Schulz, who explained the role of adventure activities at the training center as the reason for the purchase.
Classes were held, and the success of the training was indeed a topic covered in Boone’s report at the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan convention. Boone testified that Cannon's preference for oral rather than written communication explained the lack of written approval and that, indeed, no written approval for the sky-diving program conducted by the center had been granted, though clearly the program had been authorized, supported, and even publicized by the agency. She argued that the need for Cannon's approval was questionable given her job description and the discretion given to her as a high-level manager. Boone admitted that she had not initially been aware of a civil service regulation when she authorized the commencement of the marksmanship class but quoted the rule which clearly defines a firearm as "A weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be expelled by explosive, gas, or air." She presented evidence that the guns purchased by the Center (and approved by Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth purchasing officials) did not use any of these three methods to expel the pellets. The guns use a spring cylinder, and the owner's manual warns that the markings on these units say, "Warning: Do not brandish or display this product in public--it may confuse people and may be a crime. Police and others may think it is a firearm. Do not change the coloration and markings to make it look like a firearm." The civil service rule used as the basis for Boone's firing also spells out numerous exceptions, including specific approval by an appointing authority, which can be the CEO of an autonomous entity that is headed by a board or commission. She further argued that Cannon had no concern about the legality of the pellet guns on state property because she was ordered to bring them to his office for his personal inspection when he raised the issue of not knowing about the training. Finally she argued that Cannon's understanding of where the training would take place was of no consequence since the regulations do not distinguish between firearms on state property or in the possession of employees while on state time.
Prior to the Commission meeting on June 17, 2011, an arbitrator from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth, who is also a member of the American Arbitration Association, ordered Boone's reinstatement. In the thirty-six page decision, the arbitrator found that there was agreement that the marksmanship class was well received by the students and staff of the training center; that no one believed they were violating either the spirit or the letter of the law or the regulations of the state of Michigan; that personnel of the state of Michigan charged with interpreting the regulation had difficulty in determining whether the BB guns were firearms; and that the regulations were too ambiguous to justify Boone’s termination. In its summation the finding reads:
The Appellant makes a cogent argument that Ms. Boone's termination for her alleged violation of the work rule and regulation at issue violates her due process rights because the policies, as they are applied to the specific facts and circumstances in this case, were impermissibly vague. The regulation and work rule relied upon for the termination of Ms. Boone's employment are so complicated that it took both Jason Nairn and Patty Gamin hours of research to determine whether the rule was violated. Mr. Cannon wasn't sure and relied on their opinions. Automatically terminating the employment of an employee for violation of a rule where the application of such rule is not clear and readily understandable violates the concept of just cause. Due process requires that noncompliance with a rule can only be relied upon in administering discipline if the rule is clear and accessible enough to be readily relied upon by the subject of the discipline.
After careful review of all the facts and circumstances, it is clear that Ms. Boone performed her work in good faith and with reasonable diligence. It has not been shown that the Appellant purposely violated any of the rules or regulations with which she is charged. There is not just cause for discipline or discharge in this matter.
For all the above stated reasons, the grievance is granted. Ms. Boone shall be reinstated to her former employment and made whole as to lost wages and benefits.
There you have the concluding remarks of the arbitrator and the order to reinstate Boone. Director Cannon announced this decision to the staff in a memorandum entitled "Wishing Sherri Well," Sherri Heibeck being the person appointed by director Cannon to run the training center following Christine Boone's firing. In the same way Director Cannon announced Boone's return to the board of the Michigan Commission for the Blind under the agenda item entitled "Training Center Report," which he began by introducing Sherri Heibeck and complimenting her on her many years of service to the agency and her more recent work with the training center. He told the commission board and those in the audience that Sherri had to leave work with the blind because the agency had been ordered to reinstate Christine Boone. The clear implication was that a loyal and dedicated employee was being forced out by Boone, but at no time that day did anyone mention the facts on which the arbitrator ruled, the injustice to Christine Boone, or the anxiety of training center staff that resulted from the firing, absence, and return after eighteen months of their former boss.
Much to Heibeck’s credit is her own handling of Boone's return as the director of the training center. In remarks to the training center’s staff on learning she would be leaving the director's position, Heibeck assured them that their good work would not go unnoticed, that they should not be anxious about Christine Boone's return since most of them already knew and had worked for her, and that quality programs would continue and expand at the training center. The same cordiality was shown when she met with Boone prior to her return.
The Christine Boone case is not the only one in which the Michigan Commission has been involved in the last year. Dave Robinson, also a member of the National Federation of the Blind, was dismissed after ten years with the agency. Although highly rated by the Michigan vendors he served as a promotional agent (in other states this position is known as a vending supervisor), his dismissal was based on being behind on paperwork, a problem shared by many promotional agents in Michigan. Robinson notes that he was the agent for more vendors than any other, being responsible for serving thirty-one facilities. The promotional agent with the second-highest workload has twenty-four.
Robinson appealed his dismissal, and an arbitrator ruled in his favor. The arbitrator found his termination was based on his membership in the National Federation of the Blind. Robinson was on paid leave from February to August of 2011. The state appealed the decision of the administrative law judge and won, so Robinson says he now plans to take the matter to court.
Robinson says his firing had less to do with paperwork than with a conflict with Director Cannon. Michigan law spells out that blind vendors have preference on state property, including catering for special events. When state workers began routinely to bring in food from the outside without giving the onsite vendor an opportunity to compete for the business, Robinson says he insisted the vendors had the right to complain and defended them. He says that, when Director Cannon was contacted by the heads of offices that had hired others to do the catering, he did not like the conflict, and he suggested Robinson stop raising the catering issue.
The Monitor has learned that one other issue involving blind vendor complaints about outside catering cost Hazell Brooks her facility and income. In her career Brooks had filed and won four grievances against the agency prior to the catering dispute. We are told that, after complaining about a catering event for which she was not allowed to bid to officials in the building in which she worked, she was visited by Cannon and a staff member of the vending program. Contrary to state and federal rules, Hazell was removed immediately. She fought the removal and since has been awarded a better facility--the claim is that the location she has now is the second best in the state. The commission board has also ordered the agency to negotiate with her to provide compensation for the lost income she sustained. By our count this makes her five for five, a great day for a hitter in baseball and a quarterback's dream in football.
All told, it appears the state of Michigan has had to pay more than three quarters of a million dollars in grievances and lawsuits from customers of the business enterprise program, grievances by consumers and employees, and lost wages and benefits over the last eighteen months. One must ask why? A partial answer is the failure of agency director Cannon to resolve internal conflicts within the MCB, leaving it to hearing officers, administrative law judges, and arbitrators to settle matters that have arisen from agency disputes. The experience of one former blind vendor illustrates this problem.
Terry Eagle worked as a vendor in the Michigan program for ten years. Then successful surgery gave him substantial vision. So significant was the increase that he withdrew from the Business Enterprise Program and made his living for fifteen years in other pursuits. Eventually his vision deteriorated to such a degree that, when he again became legally blind, he applied to reenter the program. Vending staff at the commission said he could not compete for facilities until he took vendor training, with no allowance for his previous training and experience. He holds a BA in hospitality management, which includes certification in hotel and restaurant management. Training in the Michigan program costs $2,900 a week, lasts for eight weeks, and is then followed by nine weeks of on-the-job (OJT) training. The rehabilitation counseling unit of the MCB said it had no intention of paying for someone with Eagle's training and experience to go back for such instruction. Eagle said he would retake the vending classes, if required, but agrees that he does not need such training. According to Eagle, so too did John McEntee, at the time the trainer for the Business Enterprise Program, who said he could give Eagle any refresher training he might need in two weeks. Management declined the offer and recommendation. Clearly Eagle was caught in an internal agency dispute that should have been resolved by Director Cannon or his designee, but the case has been taken to federal court. The court has decided it does not have jurisdiction, and Eagle promises to take it up in state court. The result has already cost the state money to defend, and the likelihood is that, if properly filed as Eagle promises, will result in another settlement against the commission. It is one thing when an agency for the blind and a consumer disagree and the assistance of a third party is required to resolve the impasse; it is quite another when disagreements within the agency require the consumer to take action outside the agency to receive service. Eagle says that, to be fair, he was given one other option for entering the program: paying for the training and OJT out of pocket. Conservatively this would have cost at least $30,000.
As Fred Wurtzel, the former president of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan and the former head of the commission's Business Enterprise Program, says: “Most of the time when we are involved in an appeal, we win, but statistics don't explain how it feels to be the victim of these tactics. It is hard enough to face discrimination and misunderstanding based on blindness, but to face the mistreatment by our state agency when all that is wanted is a livable income and the respect of the community is almost impossibly difficult and stressful. BEP operators have been seriously harassed after the board or an ALJ have ordered their return. The object lesson is that, even though you may eventually get your job back, Pat Cannon can disrupt your life, take away your income, tarnish your reputation, and reduce your influence with others. One need only remember the removal of Mark Eagle, a twenty-two-year-old who was removed from the commission board based on charges of ethical conflict because his father was involved in helping other vendors with their grievances. This is a totally inappropriate way to manage a public agency. Only people like us, Federationists whom Pat cannot affect, are in a position to fight back effectively for blind people."
To the commission's credit, a real attempt to make the proceedings of the board available to the public was evidenced by the work that went into broadcasting the June 17 meeting on the Internet, making it available by telephone, and accepting comments from people not in the room, whether they wished to respond orally or using email. Commission staff went into great detail about how to listen and participate in the meeting, and it was clear that the effort represented a good deal of time to research and implement. Participation from around the state was evident as offices of the commission and consumers in their homes heard and spoke to the board.
Within days of the meeting, members of the commission board and staff were surprised to learn that, in addition to the audio, the session had been videotaped. The failure to mention this when the recording and live audio coverage had played such a prominent part in the meeting was not well received. Just as participants had the right to know that what they said was being recorded and broadcast, those in the room had the right to know that they were being photographed. Many who were disconcerted by the videotaping said it reminded them of the pictures taken at demonstrations in the sixties and used as a reason to create FBI files on patriotic citizens who chose to express their concern through peaceful protests. An apology has been issued by Steve Arwood, who heads the larger agency which houses the MCB.
The tension between Director Cannon and the commission was obvious both before and during the meeting. According to the commission's current bylaws, the board agenda is determined by the chairman and the director, and thirteen items recommended for consideration from the board were not included. An agenda item involving a forty-five minute presentation from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan that had not been covered in the previous meeting of the board was reduced to twelve minutes without apology or explanation.
Since the meeting the chairman of the commission, Jo Ann Pilarski, has resigned. This means that the five-member commission board is now functioning without a chairman, and two of its five positions are vacant. By the time this issue goes to press, the next quarterly meeting of the commission board will have occurred. From time to time there is talk of combining the MCB with the state's other rehabilitation agency. Whether this is an attempt to bring the blind to heel or represents the recognition of the commission's many blunders and their cost to the state is debatable. What is beyond debate is that Michigan Federationists believe that Pat Cannon is a bully who has very little professional knowledge and lacks a real understanding of the rehabilitation process, the rehabilitation law, and the art of personnel management. He continues to usurp the authority and role of the commission board and muffles and blunts all serious consumer involvement. While most feel compelled by their most personal values to refrain from judgment, to respect the humanity of their adversary, and to separate the sinner and the sin, they truly believe that only after Director Cannon is replaced can the process of building trust and a positive process for serving blind people begin.
by Anil Lewis, Alexa Posny, and Gaeir Dietrich
From the Editor: Anil Lewis is one of the most charismatic and enthusiastic people I know. This may be one of the reasons he currently serves as the director of Strategic Communications or the reason he has been a member of the national board of directors or perhaps the reason he was elected for several terms as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia.
In the panel presentation that follows, Anil speaks frankly about his personal struggle with education, the key to his success (the success he wishes for all blind people), and the way he thinks we can build relationships to increase the chances of achieving it. He then introduces Alexa Posny for her remarks. The third presenter is Gaeir Dietrich, whose first name rhymes with fire. We begin with what Anil says:
Good afternoon, my Federation family. Dr. Maurer talked briefly in the introduction to this panel about my history--about where I come from--but I want you to know that I now have my dream job. I hope that everyone has an opportunity to hold a dream job, a job that you would readily do free, but one that you get paid for: a job that you can wake up to every morning, recognizing that the things you do that day are going to change the lives of thousands of people across the country. Thank you guys for the privilege of serving in this capacity. (Applause)
Today my responsibility is to moderate a panel about education. Before I bring the presenters up, I'd like to share a personal story.
When I was asked to do a bio as a member of the board, I decided to disclose something I had never shared before. When I was a third grader, I was diagnosed as educably mentally retarded. My mom, God bless her, could have done one of two things: she could've argued with the diagnosis, or she could've passively accepted the diagnosis of the professionals, who supposedly knew something about this disability called blindness, and accepted their misconceptions about my ability. And the result of the second would have been that I would not be standing before you today. But my mom did something wonderful: she said, "Okay, I accept this, but now you have to provide services for my son so that he can overcome his disability as educably mentally retarded." My mom was able to get her children into free summer school; we had tutoring and afterschool programs. The bottom line is that I had to work harder than all the other students just to stay even, but my mom didn't make any excuses for me. She made sure that I understood that it was my responsibility to work longer and harder to be where I needed to be, and I thank God that she did.
After only a few years of this intensive education, I went from the diagnosis of educably mentally retarded to gifted. (Applause) My point is not to say that I'm no longer educably mentally retarded, but that labels mean nothing in this context. If we focus on providing the services that students need in order to learn, they will learn. We must set high expectations for learning, regardless of the diagnosis, if we intend to achieve success.
You might be asking right about now, "What does all of this intellectual disability have to do with blindness?" I’ve told you my story about having to work harder than the other kids because I believe it is relevant to students today. Most blind kids have to work harder than other students. I had to get additional services that other students didn't get. Like me, most of our blind students have to get additional services that other students don't need or get. We need Braille; we need O&M instruction; we need training in the alternative skills of blindness. But this doesn't make us inferior. It is simply a recognition that we need intervention to make us competitive so we can be successful. We in the Federation set high expectations for success because we intend for blind students to achieve nothing less than success.
I was lucky to have had this experience when I came to be the president of the NFB of Georgia because one of the things I recommitted myself to was programs for youth. Many of the things we did in Georgia revolved around young people in the education environment. When I started going to IEPs for many of our students, my eyes were opened to the blatant discrimination to which our blind children are being exposed. I remember specifically going to one IEP where I learned that many blind students were being encouraged to pursue a special-education track. They were being discouraged from seeking regular high school diplomas they could use to extend their careers into areas where they could obtain competitive wages. I had the pleasure of being on an IEP team--you know the kind of team I'm talking about, in which you have me, the student, the parent, and about twelve people from the school. This isn't much of a team if we're supposed to have democracy and are going to vote. Given the system, I was always tempted to try bringing in about twenty members to balance the scale.
I remember in one IEP meeting a young lady pursuing the special-education path was told, "If you pursue the special-education track, as you are now, you won't have to take algebra."
The student's immediate reaction was, "Oh, I don't want to take algebra. Sign me up for this special-education track."
At this point I interrupted and said, "Oh no, you're going to take algebra, and you're going to be successful." I'm pleased to tell you that the young lady graduated with a high school diploma, and she did pursue a college education.
I remember another instance in which I served as one of two advocates. The other was not affiliated with the NFB but knew a good deal about the Americans with Disabilities Act. we were joined by the student, her parents, and the rest of the IEP team. In this discussion the parents were complaining that their daughter was staying up until 10:00 or 11:00 at night because she had to finish her homework assignments. They said the homework consisted of fifty mathematics problems and that doing them was so time-consuming that they were asking for an accommodation. The other advocate said, "Yes, as long as the homework is a representative sample of the things that the student is supposed to demonstrate the ability to do, then you can reduce her assignment to twenty-five problems."
Again I found myself saying, "No, no, no. You cannot, because we don’t want the world to reduce its expectations for blind people and then deny us jobs because we can’t compete." I made some enemies during that meeting; the parents were really upset with me because I was able to convince the school system not to lower its expectations. I got a call a month later from those parents because they finally understood exactly what I had been trying to do. Their daughter was able to be successful and competitive with her sighted peers, and no longer did she labor under the false expectation that the world had to change for her.
I think it's important to recognize that, contrary to what some people would say, this organization is committed to our membership. Our strength does not come from legal expertise; our power does not necessarily come from the money we raise. The real power of this organization is love: the love in this room, the love that motivates us to succeed, and I'm glad I'm able to participate in this loving family of Federationists.
In order for us to be successful in our efforts to educate, we have to make sure that we become partners and influence those who must make quality decisions for our blind students. It is a pleasure for me today to introduce two individuals who are committed to our effort of setting high expectations for our blind students. Before I bring them on, I want to do one thing. My Federation family, I charge you to get active in the way I just described: be active in IEP meetings; be a part of the team; operate from a position of respect and knowledge. You don't have to know everything about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to be a viable proponent in making sure that students receive a quality education. All you have to realize and understand is that it is respectable to be blind.
The first person I want to introduce on this panel is Dr. Alexa Posny. I would like to refer to her as Alexa, first, because I think the name is very pretty, and, second, because I want to establish an informal relationship so that from this point forward we can positively influence the educational policies affecting our blind students across the country. So, my Federation family, the first person I'd like to introduce to you is Alexa, who is the assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services for the U.S. Department of Education. She was formerly the commissioner of the Kansas Department of Education, and what I find even more impressive is that she served in 2007 as the director of the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. The reason I think this is so spectacular is that, not only is she currently working in the Obama administration, but she previously worked in the Bush administration. This is the kind of collaborative person we need to have on our team. This is the type of person we need to be sure embraces the philosophy of the Federation and comes to know us as a collaborative partner and, even more, a power to be reckoned with--a partner who can help her push the administration's policies that are going to affect the lives of our blind students positively. My Federation family, please welcome with love and respect my new friend Alexa.
Good afternoon, and yes, Anil, I consider you a good friend. Thank you for that very kind introduction. And thank you Marc for inviting me to be here today. I am honored and grateful to be part of this distinguished panel. Before I begin, though, I’d like to congratulate the National Federation of the Blind as you successfully advocated for the U.S. Treasury to produce a commemorative Louis Braille silver dollar, the very first coin printed in readable Braille. [Applause] Let me also say that it’s wonderful to know that the proceeds from the sale of this coin will be used to promote Braille literacy programs. Great work!
It is such an honor and privilege to serve with Secretary Arne Duncan. He has said over and over again, “No belief is more damaging in education than the misperception that children with disabilities cannot really succeed and should not be challenged to reach the same high expectations as all children.” I think everyone here today agrees that the issues of access and high expectations for all children and adults, including those who are blind or visually impaired, is not only a moral obligation, it is critical to the success of our nation. [Applause]
Anyone who has heard President Obama speak about education during the past two years or has listened to Arne speak since he became secretary of education knows how important education is to this administration. Early on, President Obama made it clear that education is a top priority. He made it his goal that by 2020 America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. But to get there we need to start early. Secretary Duncan has said, “Too many children show up for kindergarten already behind, and many never catch up.” I couldn’t agree more. We must insure that all children, especially infants, toddlers, and young children with disabilities are identified early, begin receiving services as soon as possible, and have access to high-quality learning options so that they do not start kindergarten at a disadvantage. Toward this end Secretary Duncan and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a new, unprecedented 500-million-dollar state-level grant competition as part of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund. This competition will reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clear learning standards, and meaningful workforce development for all students, especially students who are blind or visually impaired.
Please also know that, as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 budget, the authorization of IDEA is probably the only part of the agency that did not receive a decrease for 2012, but they have asked for an increase: 200 million more for IDEA and 50 million dollars to fund Part C. There isn’t any other part of the agency that can speak to the same level. That is the commitment that Arne and the president have towards working with kids with disabilities. We know this as well: students must have the tools needed to obtain a world-class education that prepares them for success in college and careers. For students who are blind or visually impaired, this includes early mastery of the alternative skills of blindness. Those of you who have visited the great state of Kansas know that it is a very rural state. Because of this, often the best place for a student who is blind to access the skills he or she needs is the Kansas State School for the Blind. As commissioner of Kansas, I visited KSSB a number of times and observed students as they learned and mastered the alternative skills of blindness such as Braille, orientation and mobility training, and the use of technology; I remember experiencing orientation and mobility training for a three year old, and I remarked how natural and easy it was for him to walk with a cane to navigate his environment. Let me tell you, I was humbled as I watched him. He was so comfortable. I then reminded myself—it wasn’t remarkable; it was expected. [Applause]
The Kansas State School for the Blind expected the acquisition of these and other skills early in their students’ lives. The bottom line is this: no matter the educational setting, be it the school closest to home or a specialized school for the blind, we must consider paramount the individual needs of each and every student and concentrate on providing strong, high-quality instruction and skills training so that students who are blind or visually impaired will achieve true independence. Of course learning doesn’t stop after early childhood; it continues in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary school. Indeed we need to do a better job making sure students with disabilities, including students who are blind or visually impaired, complete college because, as with all other students, not having a college education will prevent students with disabilities from getting that great job with a good salary, buying a home, supporting themselves and their families.
What we know is this: in 2008 almost 60 percent of students with disabilities graduated from high school with a diploma. This is in comparison to 67 percent of all other students who graduated with a diploma. According to the national longitudinal study, the second version, about 39 percent of high school graduates with disabilities enroll in some level of post-secondary college annually, typically in a community college setting. While the percentage of youths with visual impairments enrolling in some form of post-secondary education (78 percent in 2005) is higher than most other disability groups, barriers remain that prevent students with print disabilities from keeping up with their classmates. These roadblocks continue to frustrate and discourage students who are blind or visually impaired, pushing them further away from their post-secondary goals instead of helping them to reach them. If we are going to reach President Obama’s 2012 goal, we need to do a better job making sure that more students with disabilities graduate from high school, enroll in a post-secondary institution, and complete their degree program.
In today’s world access to technology is critical in this effort. According to the 2006 IES (Institute of Educational Sciences) study, post-secondary education is now a goal for four out of every five students with disabilities who are exiting high school with a transition plan. We know that, for students without disabilities, technology makes things easier, but, for students with disabilities, technology makes things possible. [Applause] It’s so nice to be talking to the choir. So we must ensure that each and every student going to college can access academic material once they get there. It’s as simple as this: students who are blind or visually impaired must be given meaningful access to comprehensive assistive technology instruction. So, when particular groups and individuals are denied access to technology, it’s important to take a stand. Last June the Department’s office for civil rights issued guidance to elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher ed on their legal obligation to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of technology--the infamous Kindle letter. This guidance is a critical step in the department’s ongoing efforts to ensure that students with disabilities receive equal access to their educational benefits and service provided by their schools, colleges, and universities.
The bottom line is this: technological devices must be accessible to students with disabilities, including students who are blind or have low vision. [Applause] Toward this end you have probably heard of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities. We really refer to it as the AIM Commission. I am proud and honored to serve as a member with people like Geair [Dietrich], who will follow me and who chairs the commission, and Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute. Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” I believe that this commission has the potential to open doors and break down barriers for students with print disabilities. It is the first commission in history charged with examining accessible instructional materials for post-secondary students with disabilities. I know Geair will go into more detail about the commission shortly, so I’m not going to say much more, but I want to assure you that it is my intent to use the principles of universal design for learning as the commission’s work progresses.
We know that many learning problems are resident, not in a child, but in the medium of instruction. For example, for students who are blind, who have physical disabilities, or who have reading disabilities, textbooks impose barriers rather than opportunities for learning. UDL (Universal Design for Learning) enables, motivates, and inspires all students to achieve, regardless of background, languages, or abilities; and I am happy to say that UDL is a cornerstone of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan.
In addition to ensuring the technologies and content are designed for universal access, we must also ensure that assessments are properly designed so the opportunity to learn is maximized for all students. We must improve our assessments so they measure what matters and improve students’ learning experiences and to connect teachers so they can learn from each other and to meet the needs of all learners--students with special needs included. With that charge forty-three states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core Standards, internationally benchmarked standards that reflect the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. But the potential of these standards will not be realized unless assessments measure whether students are reaching them. That’s why the next generation of assessments being developed under the department’s Race for the Top competition will be a game changer. When these new assessments are used in the 2014-2015 school year, millions of children and parents will know for the first time if students truly are on track for success in college and careers. And many teachers will finally have the assessments they have longed for--tests of critical-thinking skills and complex learning tasks that are not just multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills.
Legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers Vince Lombardi, once said--and yes I was born and raised in the great state of Wisconsin, so I know him well--Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort-- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” I happen to agree totally and completely with Coach Lombardi. I truly feel that, through better technology and access skills, we can and we will absolutely improve access and accountability for people who are blind or visually impaired, mastering alternative skills of blindness, guaranteeing access to technologies, implementing appropriate assessments--all of this is vital to ensuring that all students, including students who are blind or visually impaired, have access to a complete and competitive education from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. If we can do this successfully, we will be sure that all students are contributing fully to the president’s goal for America to graduate more young people from college in 2020 than any other country in the world.
Before I go, I would be remiss not to take the time to acknowledge one of the most successful programs providing employment to business owners who are blind, and I wish a very happy seventy-fifth anniversary to the Randolph-Sheppard vending facility program. [Applause] For seventy-five years this program has fostered many talented and creative individuals who are blind who acquire the management training and business skills necessary to realize the American dream and a lifetime of economic opportunity, independence, and self-sufficiency for themselves and their families. With proven ability approximately 2,500 blind and visually impaired entrepreneurs have challenged preconceived notions about disability and have provided exceptional customer service to federal and state employees, the armed forces, and the general public; so happy birthday, Randolph-Sheppard.
In closing, I would like to share a quote from someone you’ve probably heard of. I had the great opportunity to fly on a plane with him to Athens last week. Stevie Wonder once said, “We all have ability; the difference is how we use it.” Use yours wisely. Thank you very much.
From the Editor: Gaeir Dietrich chairs the Federal Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Post-Secondary Education. She is the director of the High-Tech Center Training Unit for the California Community Colleges.
Thank you, Anil. My joy in being here is the fact that I am absolutely passionate about Braille literacy. [Applause] I like to joke that I learned Braille before there was dirt. [Laughter] But after the dirt came the dinosaurs, and some of those dinosaurs are still saying that we don’t need Braille, to which I respond, “Ah, so then why do the sighted kids need to learn to read print?” [Applause]
I developed a three-day training for the California Community Colleges because, when I started ten years ago, we were training alternate media specialists to create Braille with a wonderful program called Duxbury, which essentially allows someone who does not know much Braille to produce it. I had a commitment that not only would I train my system to be able to create the Braille, but I wanted these sighted individuals who were not Braille transcribers to be able to read what they were creating. So I put together a three-day training course for sighted people to learn to read Braille. We refer to it as Braille boot camp. In those three days they learn uncontracted Braille (Grade I Braille) and Grade II (contracted) Braille. I’ve trained over 250 sighted people now working in this field to read Braille. But what I really train is a passion for Braille because it’s a beautiful system, and I am vehemently opposed to creating an illiterate society.
So, as I said, even though I was invited to be here for other reasons, that is what gives me great joy in being here. I have to say on another personal note, when I am at home in my state of California, I know so many of the blind people there that, whenever I see a cane or a dog coming my way, I always look to see who is at the other end because I probably know the person. But, within about five minutes of arriving at the hotel last night, I found myself completely overwhelmed. Suddenly I am surrounded by hundreds of people I don’t know, and I really wish that I could. I’m so glad that Anil is referring to me as his friend, because I would like to be a friend of the Federation. [Applause]
Before Dr. Maurer pulls out his cane to shoo me off the stage, let me actually start talking about what I was invited here to speak about. I am the chair of the Federal Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Post-Secondary Education, and, as Alexa said, we refer to it as AIM, or the Post-Secondary Commission because it has the unfortunate acronym of AIMPE. Some of you have worked it out--so we don’t refer to it as AIM-PEE. Instead, we refer to it just as AIM. As Alexa said, under the Higher Education Opportunity Act, we have been charged with reporting to Congress on the barriers to access for individuals who have print disabilities and to recommend a systemic strategy for changing that.
Our first meeting was at the end of September 2010, and we have exactly one year to complete that report. I’m told it’s a very short time frame. Since this is the first time I have ever done anything like this, I don’t have any basis for comparison. But I can say that getting a nineteen-member commission from diverse backgrounds and differing desires and agendas onto the same page to write this report has been an interesting challenge. I want very much to thank Mark Riccobono for the support of the National Federation of the Blind because the NFB staff has made some really wonderful suggestions that will get incorporated into the final report.
In particular the commission has been asked to look at the issues of timely delivery and quality. I worked for a number of years in publishing before I took the job that I am currently in. In publishing we always knew there was this tradeoff between the amount of time you spent on something and the quality of whatever you were working on. I’m now speaking with my publisher hat on. We knew that we could make a perfect product, an error-free book, but the amount of time it would take for us to do that was prohibitive. Given that trade-off, you can do it quickly and inaccurately, or you can do it completely accurately and take a long time. So we have decided to try to provide instructional materials that are as good as those the publishers themselves are providing in print.
This means that colleges need help. We can’t do it all on our own. At least we have strategies for dealing with hard-copy books. If we can’t get a file from the publisher that we can use as a starting point, at least we can scan it and use that as a starting point. But when the colleges are confronted with digital materials that are completely inaccessible, there is nothing we can do because we are not able to get inside the technology and create something that is equally effective—which is what the law requires. The law doesn’t guarantee success, but it does guarantee an opportunity for success. Unless digital materials are created with accessibility in mind from the beginning, there is no way for us to retrofit them. We can’t do it. That’s the issue that people like Chris Toth [plaintiff in an NFB lawsuit against Florida State University] are facing. It has to be designed with accessibility in mind. That is not a technological challenge; that is a human consciousness challenge.
The work of the Federation is so important because you raise awareness. The general population has the perception that digital equals accessible. Every person in this room knows that’s not true, but, if you talk to the general public, they just assume that, if it’s on the computer, blind people can read it. So a lot of education needs to be done here, and, when we come out with this report, I intend not just to have information specifically about the materials and how to deal with them, but the fact that we need to change the way that we educate engineers and computer scientists. We need to make sure that accessibility is not some small branch of rehabilitation engineering, but that in every engineering course and every web design course people are taking this into consideration. It’s not hard. It doesn’t take a long time. What is hard is retrofitting. That’s why those of us who are on the commission are going to take a really hard stand on digital materials and recommend to Congress that they must be made accessible from the beginning. There is no other option. It has to be that way, and the only reason it is not is that people are not making it a priority. It won’t cost more; it’s not harder. It just has to be done from the beginning. Only when that happens will you have the same quality text that the publishers provide the sighted.
One of the things that the commission was charged to look at is whether there should be a standardized electronic file format like that used in K-12 with the NIMAS format and the NIMAC repository. At this point the commission is saying, “No.” Let me tell you why. We don’t want a line drawn in the sand that will become a position around which there is a lot of fighting. Those of you who have been following the NIMAS and NIMAC debates know that, even though we have had this in place for a while now, our blind kids are still not getting their materials. It’s not working because there is so much focus on creating a certain thing rather than a standard for how to create accessible materials. So the commission is going to propose that we establish standards for formatting, headings, page numbers, and navigation. We don’t care if it’s called DAISY. We don’t care if it’s called EPUB3. What we care about is that it is as easy for blind college students to access their materials as it is for sighted students. [Applause]
When we looked at the idea of the clearinghouse, the repository, again we made a decision that this was not the best choice. A better choice was finding some way of having a federated search, where you would be able to go online and search across all the current repositories to find the materials that you need in one place. That would mean going to one place to search and being able to search Learning Ally (which used to be RFB&D), Bookshare, APH, Project Gutenberg, and Access Next repositories so that you know whether the materials are already out there or you have to create them yourself. We’re also looking at possible market-based solutions. The reality here is that, as Alexa was saying with universal design, until you design something that is useful for the mainstream market, it’s just not going to happen. So what George Kerscher is doing with helping to combine the DAISY and EPUB standards is really crucial in this effort Because it will mean access to these books from the beginning in a format that will work for everyone. When I do DAISY 101 presentations, sight-dependent people come up and say, “When will we get to have this?” That’s what we want them to be saying, because that’s what’s going to drive the market.
That’s part of the idea of universal design. I think sometimes there is some confusion around universal design. One of the things that I like to remind able-bodied people is that those elevators, those automatic doors in the grocery store that let you go in and out without worrying about the cart, those wonderful ramps that you use when pushing baby strollers aren’t intended for you. Those are available because of the ADA and Section 504. The needs of the disabled are the needs of all of us. [Applause]
Finally, the commission was asked to look at issues around low-incidence, high-cost materials. Braille certainly falls into this category, but there is another class of instructional materials for college that falls into this category. That is those obscure works that graduate students need, for which only one person in the entire country may need an alternate format. That’s an area where we’re going to recommend that subsidies still be appropriate.
Anyone who would like to contribute anecdotes, particularly at the higher-ed level: about challenges you have, your students have, your friends have in accessing materials at the post-secondary level, I want to give you the website. It’s pretty easy to remember. It’s <[email protected]>. We don’t want this to be a dry report for Congress to read. We want this to be full of your stories so that, when a congressman or congresswoman reads this, they will get the flavor of what it’s really like to have these barriers, and they will want to help solve the problem.
In conclusion, following what others have said this morning, disability rights are civil rights, and, taking a line from civil rights, separate but equal never is. [Applause] Last, I want to quote from the dear colleague Kindle letter, “Requiring the use of inaccessible technology is discrimination.” I don’t want to live in a society where we’re discriminating against people based on their ability or disability. I want us to have an equal playing field for everyone with the ability to play on that field. Thank you. [Applause]
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
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by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA)
From the Editor: In the May 2011 issue we published part one of this article prepared by the Braille Authority of North America. Here is part two:
Part one of this article gave an overview of the vast changes that have occurred in both print and Braille in the last few decades. This installment provides background on the Braille Authority of North America as well as a glimpse into its deliberations. The article also offers perspectives on the challenges of producing Braille today, given current codes and current production methods.
The mission of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) is to assure literacy for tactile readers through standardization of Braille and/or tactile graphics. BANA's purpose is to promote and facilitate the use, teaching, and production of Braille. It publishes rules, interprets those rules, and renders opinions pertaining to Braille in all existing and future codes. It deals with codes now in existence or to be developed in the future, in collaboration with other countries using English Braille. In exercising its function and authority, BANA considers the effects of its decisions on other existing Braille codes and formats, the ease of production by various methods, and the acceptability to readers.
The board of BANA and all of its committees are made up of educators, transcribers, Braille producers, and Braille readers. More than a hundred people are involved in BANA's work.
As language changes, the need for new ways to represent things in Braille continues to require new symbols and new uses of current symbols. Braille readers need access to the same information as do their print-reading counterparts in this age in which the norms for printed material are evolving rapidly.
Despite the need to respond to the changes in language, making changes in Braille is not easy. BANA must deliberate very carefully before making even small changes to Braille. It is essential that BANA consider the impact of any changes on readability, writeability (that is, how easy it is to write the code using various tools), computability (how accurately it can be translated and represented electronically), space considerations, familiarity to current Braille readers, and so on. There are many goals to balance, and not all of them can be achieved effectively all of the time. The benefits of making any change must be shown to outweigh the drawbacks. For example, when the term and icon for the euro were adopted in Europe in 1995, a Braille symbol had to be invented to represent that new print symbol. In 2007 BANA adopted new symbols for copyright and trademark; before that, the practice had been to spell out the word, even though a print symbol was used in the original text. BANA cannot ignore the changing conventions of print without putting Braille readers at a significant disadvantage. The current process of keeping up has been to add new symbols as they come up, but, with each new symbol and each new rule change, more ambiguity and more conflict are being created in Braille. An example of this is given later in this article.
The following case provides a look into the workings of one of the BANA technical committees and the process through which decisions are weighed and made. Each technical committee of BANA works on various charges regarding changes and clarifications to a particular Braille code. The committees work via email and teleconferences and provide written reports of their progress to the BANA board for each of its semi-annual meetings. The Literary Braille Technical Committee was working on the seemingly simple task of deciding how to show emphasis of a part of a word. Partially emphasized words—that is, using indicators to identify bold or colored print or other font changes—are appearing with increasing frequency in elementary school textbooks, as well as in other materials that include challenging text such as product brand names, as is discussed later in this article. The committee’s report to the board in the fall of 2006 included the following informal narrative as an illustration of the process by which the committee members approached this task. Read along and follow their thinking as they attempt to resolve this issue:
First: We decide, following our principles, not to add a hyphen to signal the transition between regular print and italic or fully capitalized print, giving the Braille reader more accurate information about the print text. Of course we all want to do that.
Second: We decide to use the termination indicator as necessary to end italics or all caps. That looks good. All is going well. This is going to be easy!
Third: Someone points out that, following these rules, an italic indicator could come before an e, n, s, d, or t, causing confusion between the italicized letter and a contraction.
Fourth: We then consider the letter sign to fix the problem; no, that won't work. It's not clear to the reader.
Fifth: OK, we'll require uncontracted Braille in partially emphasized words. That's consistent with the current Braille Formats guidelines.
Sixth: That would solve the problem, but how is the reader going to know that this is uncontracted Braille? Sometimes a contraction not used early in the word will be a tip-off. Maybe the problem contraction will be the only one. Then the reader may have to stop to think a minute, but, if reasonably well educated, will probably be able to figure it out. It will be even easier if the reader happens to know the rule about use of uncontracted Braille in this instance. How often will one find the word "uses" with the final s in italics? I guess even then the reader could probably tell whether "uses" or "useless" were intended. Sigh . . . Not a perfect fix—especially in textbooks for children in elementary grades.
What number are we on now? Well, maybe those hyphens weren't so bad after all. Now, why was it we wanted to get rid of them? Oh, that's right, to give the Braille reader accurate information about the print. How about making a symbol meaning "uncontracted Braille coming”? That would solve the problem completely. Wow! Let's do it.
Now what symbol should we use: a. Double letter sign? We could, but then we'd have to change the non-Latin passage indicator. b. Three letter signs? Too long—it will never fly. c. Letter sign followed by dots 2-3? That's kind of nice, but we'll have to be sure we don't want to use the letter sign for out-of-place punctuation. That will take a long time.
Are we having fun yet? We thought this would be so easy to solve!
Code building is a more challenging task than it first appears; even simple fixes become complicated given the complexities of our current codes. The literary Braille code was not designed to be "extensible” – that is, there are no clear and specific rules for building and changing symbols in a logical fashion. Right now every proposed change to the Braille code has to be considered individually in an ad hoc fashion.
As discussed in the first part of this article, Braille transcribers often use Braille-translation software to make their work more efficient. Braille-translation software converts the text in an electronic document into characters that can be embossed in Braille onto paper or that can be shown on a refreshable Braille display. The software is written so that, as much as possible, it follows the rules for correct usage and placement of Braille contractions and symbols. While this software can often do a very good job of converting print characters into Braille symbols, there are still some situations in which a transcriber must intervene in order to produce accurate and comprehensible Braille. Charts and tables, descriptions of pictures, and transcription of spatial arithmetic are some obvious examples. However, other instances may be less obvious. Currently, human intervention is often required for such details as ensuring correct use of single and double quotation marks, proper displaying of acronyms and web addresses, handling of long passages written in all uppercase letters, removing excessive emphasis indication, correct use of dashes and hyphens, to name only a few. The intervention is largely required because the way these items are handled in print can vary greatly from document to document, and the rules for their use are far more restrictive in Braille than they are in print. Transcribers may need to follow additional steps to change an electronic file into correct Braille in other situations as well, such as changing decorative letters into text because the software does not recognize these images as letters.
A transcriber can produce Braille that can be read either on paper or on a refreshable Braille display. However, as Braille readers gain greater access to refreshable Braille displays, the more common scenario is that they are using the displays to read directly from the screens of computers and mobile devices, and no transcriber is involved. Using this on-the-fly translation without transcriber intervention, the texts are often displayed incorrectly. Here are three examples:
Example 1. According to current codes, email addresses should be Brailled in Computer Braille Code so that each character in the address is clear to the reader. Yet, when reading in contracted refreshable Braille from a computer screen, an email address will display in contracted literary Braille, making the characters ambiguous. The user can take steps to view the address with no translation applied, but then the surrounding text is also displayed in uncoded characters. Special symbols often display incorrectly. For example, both the tilde and the caret display as dots 4-5. The underline character displays as dots 4-6, no matter where it is, creating confusion with the print “dot” that appears in virtually every electronic address. These ambiguities can make for garbled translations and incorrect information to the reader.
Example 2. There is often a great deal of confusion among single quotation marks, apostrophes, and accent marks. Because of the various ways these symbols are used in print, sometimes inner quotation marks display in refreshable Braille as apostrophes (dot 3), and sometimes a mark that is intended as an apostrophe or accent mark is shown as an opening inner quotation mark (dots 6, 2-3-6).
Example 3. When the sentence “H2O = water” is displayed in refreshable Braille, the fact that the 2 is subscripted is usually ignored, and the equal sign may display as a full cell. If, as in this example, it is spaced away from the formula, the sentence reads instead as “H2O for water.” What's more, the way these situations are handled varies depending upon the screen reader or translation program being used; for instance, some programs simply display the = sign as the word "equals" instead of the symbol. Therefore the Braille reader is not getting the same information as the print reader of this text.
Changing print conventions further complicate the job of accurate Braille translation. In some situations it is unclear how to Braille something correctly at all, according to the current BANA codes. For example, a dollar sign most often comes at the beginning of a string of numbers, and the Braille symbol for the dollar sign in the literary code (dots 2-5-6 when placed before a number sign) seems to have been chosen with the assumption that this would always be the case. Unlike the print dollar sign, the Braille symbol is dependent upon its placement for its meaning; in other contexts dots 2-5-6 has numerous possible meanings. How, then, should we handle the name of the pop music sensation that is pronounced "Kesha," but who uses a dollar sign instead of an s in the middle of her name?
According to the literary Braille code, an out-of-place dollar sign should be Brailled as dot-4, 2-5-6, that is, dot-4 dollar sign. This seems to work when the dollar sign is by itself or when it follows a number or is in a context that refers to currency. Since the dot 4 also can stand for some kind of accent or letter modification and is also used as a “print symbol indicator,” the Braille reader might be quite puzzled to have dot 4, dots 2-5-6 turn up in the middle of a person’s name.
For clarity, should the name Ke$ha simply be Brailled with an s instead of a dollar sign? That solution might work for readability, but it does not provide the Braille reader the same information that the print reader has. A transcriber encountering this name may spell it “Kesha,” but include a transcriber's note indicating that the s is shown as a dollar sign in print. Of course, this solution is clear, but it requires the involvement of a transcriber rather than the name automatically and correctly displaying on a Braille device.
"But there is an easy fix," the astute Braille reader may say. "There is a perfectly good symbol for the dollar sign in the math code—BANA should just use that in the literary code, too." The dot-4 s may work because it is unambiguous and is associated with the shape of the print dollar sign. However, a change of the literary dollar sign to the one used in the Nemeth Code would require use of different rules from those that apply in the Nemeth code. In the literary code a number sign is required after the currency symbol if it precedes numbers and the numbers are in the top of the cell. However, in Nemeth code, there would be no number sign following the dollar sign, and the numbers are Brailled in the lower part of the cell. Even with this approach, consistency still has not been established.
The example above of the out-of-place dollar sign is not an isolated instance. There are countless other examples of words written in ways that make it difficult to apply some of the context-based Braille rules developed many decades ago. For example, brand and company names, such as the sports store FanNation and the online service Bookshare.org, use creative punctuation and capitalization to make their names stand out, but also make an exact representation in Braille more complex. If a company uses nonstandard symbols in its name and a blind person misspells the company name on a cover letter for a job application because she did not get accurate information from the Braille, what are the chances that person will get the job? Should she have to check the spelling using audio or relying on a sighted person to tell her how it is spelled, or should Braille, the primary literacy tool for people who are blind, be capable of giving the most accurate information?
Aside from the difficulties in literary contexts, it is becoming increasingly problematic that a completely different code is used for mathematical and technical materials. These materials do not currently translate correctly with the use of software that does not include transcriber intervention. The need for a solution to this issue is ever more urgent as mathematical and computer code expressions increasingly appear in everyday contexts.
To be clear, at this moment no known solution would completely eliminate the need for a trained transcriber to intervene in order to verify that the format of an embossed Braille document is clear and conveys enough information about the layout of a print page or document. This is especially true in educational materials. Transcribers will likely always be needed for creating tactile graphics, complex mathematics and science materials, and other complicated written matter. It would be much more productive, however, if their work could be focused on these difficult materials rather than on ensuring that each and every dot in the text is correct. The more frequently human intervention and judgment calls must be made, the more likely Braille production will be delayed, costs will be increased, and the Braille will be less accurate.
Another area of concern is backtranslation, the process by which software converts contracted Braille materials into print. Backtranslation is most often used when a person creates a document in Braille on a computer or other electronic device and then either prints the document, emails it, or simply saves it into a mainstream file type. This process can be especially useful for Braille-using students who need to write in Braille to support their developing Braille literacy, but who also need for their work to be readable by their non-Braille-reading teachers and by fellow students with whom they may collaborate on projects. In the workplace Braille readers can also benefit from the ability to type text using the computer keyboard as a sort of electronic Brailler by using six keys or by attaching other Braille devices, thus producing text readable as print by someone who does not read Braille. The software and hardware exist for this need to be met in a seamless way, but sometimes problems occur during the process of backtranslation—even when the person who typed in Braille followed the rules of the code perfectly. Many of the examples given in this article are also problematic when dealing with backtranslation.
When a Braille reader reads a document that has been translated from a print original, reading itself is a form of backtranslation. The Braille document gives the Braille reader information about the print original. Ideally that information is both complete and accurate. The more print changes, the greater is the inability of the current Braille codes to do that job.
It is, without question, desirable for users to have independent access to Braille materials. The proliferation of Braille-translation software, of Braille embossers, and of refreshable Braille displays has given Braille readers more access to Braille from more sources than ever before. With this greater access has come the need to consider multiple factors in the development of new rules and symbols for Braille. In order to meet the needs of today, which are different from those of past decades, Braille needs some systematic changes that will allow for the following:
It is clear that BANA cannot continue to adjust the codes on a symbol-by-symbol basis. Our community needs a flexible code that can grow with the English language and the changing ways it is represented in print. Braille needs to translate into and from print with complete accuracy. To keep up with growing demands, Braille needs to be produced more quickly and with less human intervention than is currently required. BANA is considering solutions that will permit this. The third installment of this three-part article will outline these potential solutions.
by Laura Weber
From the Editor: One of the recordings I listened to after the national convention was of the parents' seminar held on July 3, 2011, in Orlando. I thought the introductory remarks made by Laura Weber, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, pointedly and concisely summarized what we do for blind people and how extraordinarily important it is. Dr. Jernigan used to remind us that what we do is serious business. Most of us are volunteers. Often we find it hard to make time for the work that needs to be done. Sometimes, when we look at all the work to be done, it is easy to be overwhelmed and to refrain from taking the small steps that will further our progress toward redefining what it means to be blind.
I thank Laura for briefly articulating what it means to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind and communicating our responsibility to young people, our duty to their parents, and the challenges we face in making the world what we want it to be for all of us. This is what she said:
Good morning, and welcome to Orlando. My name is Laura Weber, and I’m the president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the parents division of the National Federation of the Blind. On behalf of the NOPBC I want to welcome you to our annual conference for parents and teachers.
Our theme this year is "When I Grow Up," and I believe that it really captures what the NOPBC is all about. My daughter Lindsay is eight years old. We found out that she was blind due to Leber’s congenital amaurosis when she was three months old. Unfortunately, a diagnosis was the only thing the doctors gave us. We weren’t referred to early childhood intervention services. We weren’t referred to a parent group. We weren’t given books, brochures, or a list of references. We were just sent home.
I started searching the Internet for support groups and information, and for the most part it was scary and depressing. I read articles about blindness that reported the low employment rate and high illiteracy rate among blind adults. I met other parents of blind children, and the message I got from them was how hard things were going to be. They talked about IEPs and ARDs and TVIs and O&Ms--and lots of other acronyms that flew right over my head. They told me that I would be in a constant battle with the school system and with insurance companies to get Lindsay the services she needed. They told me that my daughter would be discriminated against and that I’d need to become an expert on the law and on advocacy. I got a lot of information but no real answers and certainly no positive support.
Then I got in touch with the National Federation of the Blind. I requested information from its parents division, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and I can’t explain what it meant to me to hear—for the first time—positive things about blindness and about what Lindsay could accomplish. I read information packets and Kernel Books and presidential addresses, and all of it hammered away at the same message: blindness is respectable. The NFB says: The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance.
I found that message to be incredibly powerful. But the real power of the NFB isn’t the words, it’s the people. When you come to a convention, you have the opportunity to see what blind people can do, and that can give you hope and high expectations for what your child can do and become. This conference is about your child’s future. We always need to be thinking about what we want for our children when they grow up and, even more important, what their dreams are. “When I Grow Up” is about what’s possible and how to get there.
Throughout this week we’re going to hear from successful, independent blind youth and adults who can show us how to reach our goals for our kids. I hope you take full advantage of all that’s available to you at convention. Listen. Ask questions. Go to sessions. And, most important, meet people. You are with a giant family of people who want your child to succeed. I know that you’ll leave this convention more inspired and better able to handle what lies ahead.
If I can leave you with one thing, I hope it’s this: what you believe about blindness affects everything. You can be a loving parent. You can be a skilled teacher. You can sincerely love blind children and want them to succeed. But, if you don’t truly believe in your heart of hearts that it’s okay to be blind, your child won’t either. The NFB’s philosophy is what I want my daughter to learn and live. The NFB helps me stay focused on my goal to raise Lindsay to be a happy, healthy, independent, successful adult. I want for my child what all parents want for their children. My desires and expectations aren’t different or lower because she’s blind. Yours shouldn’t be either.
by Michael Freeman
From the Editor: Many of you will remember that the National Federation of the Blind presented Apple with a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for its pioneering work enabling blind people to use the ever-present and popular touchscreen. The strategy employed to make touchscreens usable by the blind is featured in many Apple products, and arguably the most popular of these is the iPhone. In the article which follows, Mike Freeman, member of the national board of directors, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, and president of the Diabetes Action Network of the National Federation of the Blind, describes his initial reluctance to become involved with anything that used a touchscreen, buying the device, and undertaking the learning that now makes his iPhone an invaluable tool in his arsenal of technology. Here is what he has to say:
I first heard about the iPhone shortly after it was introduced with much media fanfare in the spring of 2007. Given its touchscreen interface, I was not surprised that the iPhone wasn’t accessible by the blind, and this was soon confirmed by numerous complaints on blindness-related email lists. I first observed an iPhone in use on my way to the NFB convention in Atlanta that summer when a boy across the aisle from me was using one and was obviously enjoying both the device and being lucky enough to have the newest whiz-bang technology.
For the next two years I didn’t give the iPhone another thought except to manifest the same contempt for it that most of my blind colleagues had and to rejoice in hearing of all the glitches, failures, and problems Apple was having with the device. I was vaguely aware that NFB leaders were having discussions with Apple about the inaccessibility of various flavors of Mac computers and the iPod and iPhone, but I didn’t think much about it.
Things changed in the summer of 2009. By that time Apple had introduced the VoiceOver screen reader for Macs as part of its newer versions of OS10, and just before the NFB convention I learned that VoiceOver had been made to work on the iPhone. I remained skeptical that any touchscreen interface for the blind could be made that would be both functional and efficient.
During the research and development committee meeting at the 2009 NFB convention, however, I observed a demonstration of the iPhone by Sarah Cranston. It was obvious that, while there would be a substantial learning curve before one could be proficient using an iPhone, the task was by no means impossible and that, if one persevered, one would end by having a smartphone that would be as accessible as any other phone on the market using the specialized screen-reading software developed for these phones. This was confirmed when I got to play a bit with an iPhone during the November 2009 meeting of the NFB board of directors. I played with some of the controls and discovered, to my immense delight, that I could actually get the phone to do what I wished. But I still was reluctant to take the plunge. After all, I was happy with my inaccessible cellphone; I could make and receive calls though I couldn’t access a contacts list. However, if I couldn’t remember the phone numbers of those with whom I wished to communicate or get numbers from my notetaker, I thought myself in pretty bad shape.
In June 2010 Apple introduced the iPhone4. My wife Connie began to make noises about getting an iPhone. I figured that, if she got one, I’d take the plunge and get one also. (Connie tells the story differently: while she admits to thinking about getting an iPhone, she says that she wanted to support a company putting major emphasis on accessible technology for the blind and that I was the one who first broached the subject of iPhone-acquisition.) In any event, after the NFB national convention we went down to the AT&T Store and bought two iPhones. The clerk was able to begin setting up my iPhone for accessibility, but my wife assisted in getting all the accessibility features going (she is sighted). If one loads iTunes on one’s PC or Mac and masters the somewhat quirky interface (more on this later), one can independently set the iPhone up for use with VoiceOver without sighted assistance.
I approached learning to use the iPhone with a can-do attitude. In other words, I wasn’t going to tolerate failure. I figured that, if Sarah Cranston could use an iPhone, so could I. I was not going to let myself become frustrated, nor was I going to give up immediately because the iPhone was doing all sorts of things I didn’t want it to do.
The first thing I did was to bring up the VoiceOver-gesture practice screen that tells you what gesture you are making, according to the iPhone. The iPhone requires a different touch than do other devices with membrane control keyboards such as microwave ovens, and this gesture practice screen gave an excellent opportunity to get the feel of the iPhone and get the touch right.
I next explored all the application programs--apps for short--that came with the iPhone. As part of this process I went through the Settings application, exploring each menu, and in the process set up my email accounts. I had done this many times on other computer systems so did not find this overly burdensome. Having to enter the names of accounts, user-names, incoming and outgoing mail servers, and other such data introduced me to entering text using the iPhone. Once I discovered the various character entry modes and set the iPhone up for what Apple calls “touch-typing,” I was off and running.
What cool apps! I could look at the weather, surf the web, get my compass heading, enter notes and voice memos, set wake-up alarms…what fun! Next I discovered the App Store and the iTunes store. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I had listened to many radio stations on the Internet, but it was often a somewhat esoteric process--at least in the beginning. Now I discovered many Internet radio apps that allowed me to listen to Internet radio stations by simply looking them up and hitting play. I finally settled on two mainstream broadcast apps--TuneIn Radio and ooTunes. Did I wish to hear the many police and fire channels available on the Internet? No problem: many apps allow the iPhone user to listen to these channels. Did I wish to listen to air traffic control channels? Again, no problem: I found several apps to let me listen to them. I discovered apps that allowed me to use my iPhone as a metronome, look up the nutrient content for my favorite fast foods, listen to major league baseball, hear and read more news than I could handle, have access to a dictionary and thesaurus, have access to WebMD content, read famous quotations, look at all my bank and credit card accounts, identify colors, play several sound games, determine my location by using the global positioning system, and even identify paper money. Then there are the navigation utilities that tell about points of interest in the immediate vicinity or give directions for navigating a route.
I discovered the iBookStore. If one downloads the iBooks app, one can purchase and read books from this store--and the books are fully accessible. Now there’s Blio for the iPhone, so one can read books from the Blio bookstore. Bookshare has also come out with Read2Go, so one can read Bookshare books on the iPhone. In short, I discovered the meaning of the rather pat phrase heard everywhere nowadays: “There’s an app for that!” As people much younger than I would say, awesome!
This spring my wife took me to a Portland Winterhawks hockey game. Naturally I brought along a radio and, of course, my iPhone. When I tried to tune in the game on the radio in the arena, the signal was very faint. When I was finally able to tune it in, I discovered (much to my chagrin) that the station wasn’t covering the Winterhawks game as it normally did but instead was covering a University of Oregon baseball game. Not to worry, though: I grabbed my trusty iPhone, fired up ooTunes, and found the Internet stream for the opposition team, the Seattle Thunderbirds. I was able to follow the game, albeit thirty seconds behind the action and from the perspective of the opposition team (they lost badly to the Winterhawks).
I now have a lot of music on my iPhone (the iTunes app is very easy to use), and, if I want more variety, the Pandora Radio app for the iPhone is accessible. I am amazed at what this little device can do.
If you’re wondering whether you should take the plunge and buy an iPhone, I have this advice: if you’re willing to put up with a learning curve to use the iPhone and are willing to do a little reading, I say go for it. At this writing the iPhone is still the only smartphone that’s virtually fully accessible right out of the box. While you’re in the throes of self-pity and frustration as you are learning the touchscreen interface, just remember that there’s a learning curve for sighted people; it’s just that the sighted have had access to touchscreen devices for a few years longer than we have so are a bit more familiar with them than are we. Persevere and you shall succeed.
There are a number of things I wish I’d known when I began learning to use my iPhone. Some of these were explained in the user manual that’s available using a bookmark in the iPhone’s Safari web browser, but I somehow didn’t understand their significance or realize their implications. I’m going to set some of these down, but, before doing so, I’m going to recommend some resources that will tell you more than you wish to know about the iPhone and iTunes. I consider these to be must-read material for new iPhone owners. The best of these is the book Getting Started with the iPhone by Dean Martineau and Anna Dresner; it is available from the National Braille Press in many formats. This explains virtually all aspects of using an iPhone, including working with VoiceOver, using the many apps that come with the iPhone, connecting and using the iPhone with a Braille display, buying and using third-party apps, and trouble-shooting iPhone problems. Although I discovered much of the material covered in this book by trial and error, I wish I’d had the book when I bought my iPhone, and I still learned a thing or two by reading the book.
The next iPhone-related resource is a website: <http://www.apple-vis.com>. This website for blind and visually impaired users contains tips and tricks for doing various iPhone-related tasks as well as evaluations of many third-party (that is, not produced by Apple) apps for accessibility. There are other such sites, but this one is the one I’ve used the most.
Another great resource is the website <http://www.AllWithMyiPhone.com>. That is pronounced “All With My iPhone.” On this site are wonderful demonstrations and reviews of iPhone apps by Cory Ballard. The reviews are also available as podcasts.
Sooner or later most people using an iPod, iPhone, or iPad will need to use the iTunes program. An excellent tutorial that will get one started on using the PC version of iTunes can be found in Episodes forty-nine and fifty of Freedom Scientific’s “FSCast” podcasts. These are available for streaming or download by going to the Freedom Scientific website, <http://www.freedomscientific.com> and putting “FSCast” in the search box then looking at the search results. While the explanations are JAWS-oriented, most of the iTunes controls and the method of navigating iTunes are applicable for other screen readers as well. (I have verified this by using the NVDA screen reader with iTunes.) Since these podcasts weren’t available when I bought my iPhone, I spent an exasperated weekend trying to figure out iTunes until I called up AppleCare and worked with a person who actually fired up a PC on her end and was able to talk me through navigating iTunes. In truth, it isn’t very hard, although the interface is not quite what one is used to in Windows apps.
Now to the tips, tricks, and observations. These are in no particular order.
1. One of the first things to do when setting up the iPhone for access by the blind is to turn on the “Triple-click Home” feature. When enabled and the Home key is pressed three times quickly, VoiceOver is turned off if it is on and on if it is off. Being able to turn VoiceOver off temporarily comes in handy when using certain games or when using certain alarm clock and radio apps that have alarms that sound with radio broadcasts, sounds, or music chosen by the user. These alarms don’t always work properly unless VoiceOver is turned off. Yet being able to turn VoiceOver on easily is necessary for a blind person to use the iPhone effectively.
2. Wearing earbuds or a headset while making phone calls when much keypad entry is required will make things a lot easier. The iPhone has a way to make the speaker available during telephone calls using VoiceOver by tilting the phone horizontally, since one would have trouble finding the Speaker button. But this sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Wearing a headset disables this mechanism, and one can hear both the phone call and VoiceOver through the headset.
3. As one moves one’s finger across the iPhone screen, one hears various names of apps or fields spoken. The screen for the sighted looks exactly like this with little squares for the icons; what one hears is in the exact physical location on the screen where one places one’s finger.
4. The one-fingered left- and right-swipe gestures move one between fields; one doesn’t need to touch them on the screen if one is supposed to do something with that field. For example, to double-tap it, one can do the double-tap gesture anywhere on the screen; one doesn’t actually have to find the field.
5. The three-fingered triple-tap toggles the screen-curtain feature. This is VoiceOver’s nomenclature for turning the screen display on and off; with screen curtain on, the display is turned off as it is when the iPhone is locked, so a blind person can operate the iPhone with the screen darkened, saving a bit of battery power. When turning the iPhone on, as soon as one hears “VoiceOver on” and perhaps other information, one can do a three-fingered triple-tap to turn screen-curtain on from the get-go, even before unlocking the iPhone.
6. If VoiceOver is yammering away and one wishes to shut the iPhone up, doing a two-finger single-tap will do the job.
7. If the option is enabled, typing two spaces rapidly (within a half second) causes the iPhone to enter a period followed by a space into the text being typed. When the unit is in touch-typing mode, doing this may seem daunting at first. With a bit of practice, however, one can learn to hold and release the spacebar (thus entering the first space) followed by another hold-and-release of the spacebar within a half second, resulting in a period followed by a space being entered into the text one is typing. Likewise, if one hits the Shift key four times in quick succession (two double-taps)--for example, four times within a half second--the iPhone can be set in Caps Lock mode so that subsequent characters typed are all in uppercase. Of course double-tapping the Shift key again will release the Caps Lock.
If one isn’t actually holding an iPhone, these tips may seem overwhelming, but they will make perfectly good sense when one has the unit and tries to start making efficient use of it. While I emphasize that using the iPhone has a steep learning curve, if one wants the power of a smartphone, this investment of time and energy is well worth it.
by Natalie Shaheen
From the Editor: As blind people we know that Braille literacy is one of the keys to success for blind adults. The annual Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest embodies our commitment to literacy for blind children. Contest organizer Natalie Shaheen reports here on the 2010-2011 competition:
For almost three decades the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) have encouraged blind children across the country to be proud of their ability to read Braille. The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest challenges them to improve their reading skills. The children who participated in the contest back in the early years have grown up to be adults with careers and families. Many of them have assumed leadership roles within our organization.
For the past several years the program has followed the same basic timeline. Students preregister for the contest in October. The reading period--the portion of the contest when the students put their Braille skills to work--runs from November 1 to January 4, Louis Braille's birthday. Throughout the reading period the participants keep track of the number of Braille pages they have read. At the conclusion of the reading period the judges review the reports that the students submit. They determine the top three winners in each category and the winners of the special awards.
Last fall over six hundred students from forty-two states registered for the contest. Between the categories, special awards, and Team of the Year Award, twenty-eight contestants won prizes in the K-12 competition. These twenty-eight students come from twelve states, and many of them have been winners in previous years. Here is a full list of the winners in the 2010-2011 K-12 contest and the number of pages read by each one.
Andrea Cordero-Perez, AZ, 1,638 pages
Camille O'Neill, NE, 1,356 pages
Aunya Anderson, GA, 1,112 pages
Christian Adams, IN, 18,584 pages
Alayna Hall, IN, 15,425 pages
Taengkwa Sturgell, IN, 9,469 pages
Ahbee Orton, TX, 14,051 pages
Noah Mondor, IN, 12,073 pages
Rosanna Scott, AR, 11,393 pages
Lucas Leiby, PA, 9,846 pages
Vejas Vasiliauskas, CA, 9,655 pages
Julianna Reala, NY, 6,595 pages
Jonathan Wong, CA, 15,754 pages
Daniel Dintzner, MA, 14,254 pages
Destiny DiMattei, MD, 11,304 pages
Community Service Awards
The Community Service Awards are presented to participants who performed a service within the community with the help of their Braille skills. Johnathan Welscott served as an announcer for the athletic department of his middle school. He used Braille notes that included game night rosters and the names of game officials. Chris Mossberger researched local businesses that he could ask for donations to help families of blind children attend the NFB national convention in Orlando. He composed a Braille letter requesting donations and transferred it to the computer so it could be printed.
Johnathan Welscott, MI, eighth grade
Chris Mossberger, IN, ninth grade
Jennifer Baker Awards
These awards are given to contest participants who have met special challenges in order to learn and use Braille.
Christian Adams, IN, third grade
Andrea Cordero-Perez, AZ, first grade
Taengkwa Sturgell, IN, third grade
Twin Vision® Awards
These awards are granted to students who are learning to read both Braille and print.
Bryanna Daniels, CA, seventh grade
Amber Steet, TX, twelfth grade
Danielle Sturgeon, MA, seventh grade
Jessica Vaughan, IN, third grade
This year six teams competed for the title Braille Readers Are Leaders Team of the Year. The Chinese Phoenix Readers rose above all of the others. This team consisted of four fourth-grade girls from Texas, Arkansas, and Michigan, all of them adoptees from China. The team's original goal was to read 20,000 pages. The Chinese Phoenix Readers blew right past their goal, reading a total of almost 34,000 pages as a group. Through a Facebook page and frequent phone calls, the girls kept each other and their fans up to date on their progress throughout the contest. As Team of the Year, the Chinese Phoenix Readers become the spokespersons for the 2011-2012 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.
Chinese Phoenix Readers
Ahbee Orton, TX, fourth grade
Rosanna Scott, AR, fourth grade
Jenna Scott, AR, fourth grade
Calli Bowman-Tomlinson, MI, fourth grade
Team's Total Pages: 33,828
National Convention Trip
In addition to the standard contest, an essay contest was conducted to select twelve students to win a trip to the NFB national convention. Each of these twelve winners, along with a parent or guardian, had the opportunity to attend the convention. They were recognized at various meetings, and some of them even got the chance to speak publicly. Best of all, the students met thousands of other blind people, young and old. They formed friendships and mentoring relationships that will last for many years.
The following students attended the national convention through the Braille Readers Are Leaders program:
Aunya Anderson, GA, grade 1
Andrea Cordero-Perez, AZ, grade 1
Bryanna Daniels, CA, grade 7
Noah Mondor, IN, grade 4
Ahbee Orton, TX, grade 4
Julianna Reala, NY, grade 7
Rosanna Scott, AR, grade 4
Taengkwa Sturgell, IN, grade 3
Danielle Sturgeon, MA, grade 7
Jessica Vaughan, IN, grade 3
Johnathan Welscott, MI, grade 8
Chris Mossberger, IN, grade 9
We are approaching the thirtieth anniversary of the start of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. We are looking for feedback from current and former participants, as well as their teachers and parents. We want to know what you love about the contest, what you wish could be done differently, and what you would like us to add to the program.
It is of the utmost importance to us that our programs serve our members. Your feedback can ensure that we meet this goal. Please sign up today for the 2011-2012 contest, and send us your feedback at <www.nfb.org/BRAL>.
by Dennis Hong
From the Editor: Dr. Dennis Hong is an associate professor in mechanical engineering and director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech University. He and his staff and students have been working with us to develop the blind-drivable car, and he has become a steadfast friend and colleague in our ongoing fight for independence. Following Mark Riccobono’s stirring convention address about the Blind Driver Challenge™ and its place in our struggle for first-class status (See the August/September 2011 issue of the Braille Monitor for the full text of his report), Dr. Hong reviewed the progress he and his team have made in the past year. Here is a slightly edited version of the report he made on the afternoon of July 6 at the 2011 NFB convention:
Good afternoon. Exactly one year ago, at the NFB national convention in Dallas, Texas, I had the honor to speak to you at the convention. I trust most of you here today were there and listened to what I promised you, exactly one year ago. I spoke to you about the Blind Driver Challenge: why we decided to take on this challenge despite all those who told us that we were crazy, how we might be pulling off this seemingly impossible task, and that this is something I truly believe in. I also promised you that we would complete our first prototype vehicle and demonstrate a blind person driving it safely and independently--not being driven, but driving it by making active decisions. And we have kept our promise. On January 29 this year, on that historic day, Mark Riccobono drove the 1.5-mile course on the famed Daytona International Speedway, dodging obstacles and even passing a vehicle, in front of a huge crowd and media representatives from all over the world. What an exciting day it was!
However, I think the real excitement begins now. I have kept my promise of a year ago to develop a vehicle, and today I promise you that this is just the beginning.
When we first announced that we were going to accept this challenge, many thought we were crazy, most of them doubted that it could be done, and even some of my colleagues challenged us on the whole idea, asking why we had decided to develop a vehicle for the blind. Setting aside the ridiculous claims that this technology and the demonstration were all fake, there are actually some genuine arguments, legitimate criticisms, realistic concerns, and valuable questions worth thinking about. Let me mention a few of them.
First, many voiced their concerns about the safety of this system. Some of these concerns arose because the critics did not trust the technology, some because they do not trust the capability of the blind. I won’t comment on the latter since you know better than I what you can and cannot do. But with the right nonvisual user interfaces, once we can deliver all the information the driver needs to operate the vehicle safely, I believe that the blind can perform equally, possibly better than the sighted. As a matter of fact, we were surprised to find that our initial testing showed that the blind performed better with this vehicle than the sighted! So officially Mark Riccobono is a better driver than I am, at least in this vehicle.
Regarding doubts about the safety of the technology, this concern has some validity. No system is fail proof. However, this is where true engineering comes in. I would like to ask those who worry about the system’s failing--when was the last time you doubted the autopilot that most likely was flying your plane during your last flight? But to reassure those who doubt the safety of the system, I would point out that the vehicle won’t be on the public roads until proven as safe as, or safer than, today’s vehicles for the sighted, and I believe this can be done.
Second, some worry that, even when the technology becomes mature enough and safe enough, the vehicle will be too expensive for people to afford. This is another reasonable concern and an important one. We started this project to give freedom and independence to the blind, but, if only a few people could afford it, what would that accomplish? This is actually a common problem for consumer products that use cutting-edge technology. But we believe that mass production will lower the cost, just as with personal computers, mobile phones, and the standard automobiles of today. Still, this vehicle will be more expensive than a standard vehicle, so maybe a government subsidy program would be needed to make it more affordable for the masses.
Third, Some people doubted the type and amount of information being received by the driver from the nonvisual user interfaces we developed for the vehicle. Some said “We (sighted people) don't trust the safety of the technology. Driving involves so many things beyond what the other senses can handle that this approach is inherently dangerous.” Others said, “With DriveGrip and SpeedStrip it's just a blind person doing what the electric motors and actuators are doing in an autonomous vehicle. This is not freedom for blind people.”
Who is the best person to answer these questions? Just ask Mark Riccobono! (I always delegate the difficult questions to Mark, anyway.)
But seriously, as Mark mentioned in his speech, so much more of the other senses is needed than is required by those nonvisual user interfaces. Mark made active use of his other senses such as listening to the sound the tires generate rolling over the roads, exactly as sighted drivers do. He used the sense of angular and linear acceleration perceived by his inner ear to make judgments and adjustments to his control of the vehicle, exactly as sighted people do.
If you think about it, it is really just that the blind cannot receive information using sight. Other than that, blind drivers are in exactly the same situation as sighted drivers since they can use all of their other senses, and, most important, use their brains to make decisions just like all other drivers, and what’s wrong with that?
As for the type and amount of information transferred to the driver, we are now researching and developing the generation of nonvisual user interfaces beyond DriveGrip and SpeedStrip, which we hope to demonstrate on the vehicle in the near future.
If one can believe that we will have fully autonomous, driverless cars in the future, which most people do, there is absolutely no reason why one should doubt the possibility of a car safely driven by the blind on public roads. If someone does doubt this eventuality, that means that person doubts the capability of the blind and needs a serious kick in the butt.
Last, some argued that, by the time this technology becomes mature, we will have fully autonomous, driverless vehicles driving us around, so we don’t need this technology. Interestingly, I also got some emails from blind people saying that they do not want this technology, that they would rather have better public transportation and wish we would put more effort and money into fully autonomous vehicle technology instead because they don't want to drive and cause an accident and prefer being driven safely.
This is probably the most difficult and controversial question to answer, but it is an argument worth thinking about. If we will have driverless cars in the future, why are we spending time, money, and effort in developing a car that a blind person can drive? Well, I can think of many reasons. Wouldn’t you like to experience the freedom and independence of driving your own car like the sighted? But maybe equally important is the potentially huge value of the spin-off technologies we develop through this project. The nonvisual user interfaces we develop can be used for applications other than for driving--home appliances, office equipment, and educational technology. The possibilities are endless. We would also like to show the world the true capacity of the blind through this groundbreaking project. Let people know the truth about blindness just as I have learned while working with the NFB on this project. I also have a personal reason for pursuing this--as an educator I want to inspire other scientists and engineers to develop new technology to help the blind, and I believe we are succeeding in these areas.
Now for a few of my thoughts about developing technologies for a driverless, autonomous car verses a car for the blind. Surprisingly, the two cars share many of the same technologies. The sensors we use for the blind driver challenge vehicle are almost identical to the ones we use for autonomous vehicles. Moreover, in this project we used many of the technologies we developed for the autonomous cars we used in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. But the similarity ends there. The focus of autonomous-vehicle research is developing intelligent vehicles (AI) for cars, artificial intelligence in some sense, while the focus of the Blind Driver Challenge™ vehicle is developing methods to convey a vast amount of information to the driver fast enough and accurately enough for safe driving using nonvisual means. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons we chose driving as the application is that driving is an activity that uses and relies on vision the most; so, if the interfaces work in driving, we believe that it can be used for almost any other application for the blind as well.
For those who think we should focus our efforts only in developing technologies for driverless cars, remember that, even if you ride in an autonomous vehicle, you will want and sometimes need to switch to the manual mode from time to time. This will be true for both blind and sighted drivers. In some situations the computer won’t be able to handle the demands, and setting aside necessity, the sheer fun of driving requires this interface. I am sure that some day in the not too distant future I will purchase an autonomous car for my family. Even though it will be capable of driving me to my destination, I will want to take over the wheel and drive it from time to time, just for the love of driving. Thus I believe both kinds of research are important, and we can all benefit from both.
As you may already know, this groundbreaking project has generated a huge buzz in the public media. The story has been featured on magazine covers, in newspapers, in hundreds of blogs on the Internet, and on television news programs, both national and international. Reporters and TV crews from Germany, England, Korea, Russia, and China have been following us. It has been dizzying. Just yesterday a TV crew from the largest network in Russia was here to interview Mark and cover the story of the Blind Driver Challenge project. Diane Sawyer from ABC News will be coming to the NFB Youth Slam in 2 weeks to cover the story.
However, the single event that has had the largest impact on this project was probably a talk I delivered in March at a conference called TED. This conference is relatively new. It covers topics on technology, entertainment, and design. It is considered one of the highest-impact talks one can give. Previous speakers have included Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Al Gore, and many of the technology movers and shakers, including our own Ray Kurzweil. As a matter of fact, I was originally invited to give a talk about my other research work on humanoid robots, but I decided to change the topic to the Blind Driver Challenge just two weeks before the conference because I wanted to seize this opportunity to share this important work with the world. I actually ran into some big trouble because of this decision, but it was worth it. Since my talk was posted online on <TED.com> just a few weeks ago, it has already received more than 250,000 views online. This is important for our mission to spread the idea and to let the world know.
So where do we go from here? What is the future of the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle? What is our next step in developing technology for the blind? What is the next challenge that we will accept?
As for the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle, instead of the car itself, we will be focusing our efforts on developing new types of nonvisual interfaces. We have decided to take this approach for several reasons. First, we believe the vehicle itself is mature enough to be used as a research platform as is for many years to come. We have developed two identical vehicles and want to share the technology with other researchers and invite them to join in collective efforts. Second, we would like to leverage the work of other researchers working on autonomous-vehicle technologies because we can use the results from their research instead of duplicating efforts. Third, by the time the system is mature enough, we believe that the infrastructure for public roads will have changed. For example, even though our current vehicle cannot see the traffic lights or read traffic signs, we believe that intelligent roads are coming soon, so communication between traffic signals and vehicles will become a reality relatively soon. Last, we believe the highest impact will come from the development of such interfaces, which can be used not only for driving, but also for other areas as well.
So what is our next challenge, a difficult challenge that we accept? I talked to many of you at last year’s NFB convention, and many people expressed the need for an indoor navigation device. I have seen a number of good solutions available today for outdoor navigation using GPS technology, that I assume you already know about. However, since GPS relies on satellites, this approach does not work indoors. To gain true independence, one needs the ability to navigate challenging environments such as shopping malls or airports. At a mall how do you find where you are and where to go to find your favorite pair of jeans at the Gap? In a grocery store that you have not visited before, how do you find the aisle that has your favorite brand of cereal? Even at this convention, if you need to go to the restroom and return to your table at the banquet, how do you find your way back? We have already been quietly working on this technology for the past few months, and we have developed a very early proof-of-concept system that has the potential to make this a reality. We still have a long way to go, but I am glad to tell you that our initial results are very promising. Hopefully we will be able to demonstrate this technology within a year or two.
I have kept the promise I made exactly a year ago of developing a car for the blind. As a matter of fact, this was really NOT a demonstration of the cutting-edge technology we have developed, but rather a true demonstration of the capacity of the blind, what you can achieve with a little help from technology.
The Blind Driver Challenge™ was not about the car, not about driving. It was about the interfaces and technologies that can change the world, and, more important than that, it is about shattering false perceptions of blindness.
As I have already mentioned, I promise that this is just the beginning. Expect to see amazing things and technologies coming soon that can change the world. Dr. Maurer’s vision is closer to reality than you might think. Thank you.
by Al Maneki
From the Editor: In the February 2011 issue we published an article by Al Maneki containing a survey, the results of which Al reported to the parents division in July. Because we know how many jobs, both current and future, require proficiency in math and in order to provide some context for Al’s report, we are again including his survey. We strongly urge everyone who can do so to complete the survey now so that we can understand more clearly what separates those who succeed at mastering mathematics and those who have concluded that it is simply beyond them. Here is the survey, followed by Al’s report based on initial responses to his original request:
Who Should Complete This Survey?
We would like to hear from any blind or visually impaired person who has taken or is taking at least one math or math-based science course at the secondary or post-secondary school level. We would also like to hear from any parent or teacher who has advised or assisted a blind or visually impaired child with at least one math or math-based science course. Furthermore, we are interested in students' experiences learning geometry or elementary school arithmetic.
There is no restriction on when or how long ago you or your child took a math course. We want to learn about the methods of handling math that worked best for you. We are equally interested in methods that were not particularly successful or useful.
If your child or you are considering taking math courses at any level, you should read these survey questions. They may help you get the information you need to complete your courses successfully.
In your responses please provide contact information (name, address, email, phone) so that I can reach you for possible clarification and follow-up interviews. Please also include your age (closest to 5-year multiples, i.e., 20-25, 25-30, etc); the highest level of education you have completed; your primary reading medium; your current employment status and job title.
You need not answer all of the questions, since some of them may not be relevant to your experience. You do not have to answer questions separately. You may provide a narrative summary as your response to this survey.
If you require additional information about these questions please get in touch with me. You may contact me by email, phone, or snail mail. My contact information appears at the end of the survey.
You may submit your responses by email or snail mail (Braille or print please, no audio) to the addresses shown below. Please complete this survey by April 15, 2011. Those taking courses after this date may respond later, since I anticipate a continuation of this survey.
Your answers will not be used to judge your mathematical strengths or weaknesses. Any personal information you may reveal in your responses will remain confidential. Names, mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers will not be distributed.
Here are the questions to consider:
1. What math or math-based science courses have you taken (elementary, secondary, community college/university, graduate school)? Specify the level of each course, and describe the subject matter that was included.
2. Were classroom lectures useful to you? Since mathematics is generally communicated visually, tell us as specifically as you can what you actually learned from these lectures. If lectures were not helpful, tell us what you did to compensate for the missing information.
3. Were you able to take classroom notes? If so, tell us what method you used: large print, hardcopy Braille, electronic or live notetakers, audio recordings, etc.
4. How did you handle reading assignments? Tell us about your use of Braille textbooks, recorded textbooks, large-print textbooks, or live readers or tutors.
5. How did you do homework assignments and take tests? Describe your use of large print, notetakers, hardcopy Braille, mental arithmetic, or dictation to a live reader. If you used Braille, describe your method of translating Braille into a medium accessible to instructors who do not know Braille. If you used Braille/print reverse-translation software of any kind, describe how this worked. In your answer to this question, tell us about any additional devices and technologies you have used, i.e., older devices such as the Taylor Slate, Cube-a-Rithm Slate, Circular Slide Rule, and Cranmer Abacus; and newer devices such as talking calculators or specialized learning software.
6. Have you written papers containing mathematical content in an academic or professional setting? Describe how you did this, especially the use of human support.
7. How did you work with line drawings, graphs, or charts? Explain how these were described to you or produced in accessible formats. If you had to construct these items, tell us how you accomplished this task.
8. How familiar are you with the Nemeth Braille code? Describe the extent to which you use it for reading or writing.
9. Are there any tools/devices/aids that you wish you had had that would have enhanced your mathematical experiences?
10. How satisfied are you with your mathematical experiences? Would you like to make other comments about how blind and visually impaired people may read and do mathematics?
This is an informal survey. I am conducting it with the intention of using the results to help others who will be taking math and math-based science courses in the future. The results of this survey, after they have been compiled, may also prove useful to people who are accustomed to doing math in their own ways. These folks may find new ways of working more productively. It could further turn out that these responses will suggest altogether different ways of doing math, either by refining methods already in use or by suggesting the development of new techniques and technologies. I fervently hope that over time this survey will make it possible for blind and visually impaired people to learn and do mathematics more efficiently and with greater ease.
I plan to compile the first set of responses (received by April 15, 2011) into an article, ideally for publication in the newly established Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. It is also my hope that this survey will be a continuing investigation. Additional articles pertaining to this survey will be published if they are warranted.
In preparing this article and survey, I received valuable help from Deborah Kent Stein, editor of Future Reflections, and from Mark Riccobono and Judith Chwalow of the NFB Jernigan Institute. Although they have left their marks on this article and survey, I assume responsibility for all shortcomings, errors, and omissions. I thank you in advance for helping me with this survey. I look forward to hearing from you.
Email: [email protected]
(443) 745-9274, cell
9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, MD 21045
Now here is Al’s preliminary report to the parents:
As I said in my article which appeared in Future Reflections and the Braille Monitor, the seed for this survey sprouted from the workshop “I Survived Math Class,” which I moderated at our convention last year in Dallas. I’m pleased to come before you today to report that the responses I have received so far have been most gratifying. We received messages from several people saying that this survey was much needed and that, even though they were not part of the survey population, they were very interested in the results. We heard from a few teachers of visually impaired students, and we are keeping track of their responses. We even heard from a sighted professor of mathematics who expressed an interest in what we are doing.
Dr. Abraham Nemeth was kind enough to respond to my survey. He listed his age range as 90-95, is obviously retired, but went into some detail about his work experiences. Although he did not directly answer the question concerning familiarity with the Nemeth code, I thought that it would be safe to include him in this category. I understand that he is attending this convention.
So far we have received fifty-three responses. Of these
Thus far we haven’t heard from very many people who had unsatisfactory math experiences. While it is often embarrassing to reveal one’s unsuccessful experiences, we need to hear about more of these to gain an accurate picture of the state of math education for blind people. Whether your math experiences have been successful or unsuccessful, please continue to respond to this survey. We need to hear from more of you.
While we must be wary of drawing conclusions from small samples, I want to share some of the impressions I have gathered up to now:
Some of our responders were fortunate enough to have Braille textbooks. Those lacking Braille, used recorded textbooks or live readers. With recorded texts, they had to cope with the inconsistencies in which mathematical material was read and the ambiguities of having diagrams and charts described orally. The most successful responders did not hesitate to seek clarification from their instructors and to get help from classmates, live readers, or tutors. The most successful responders were keenly aware of the way they used class time to ask their questions and the creative strategies they used to communicate their solutions in homework assignments and tests.
Responders commented about the significant amount of extra time required for their math classes. If they did their homework assignments and tests in Braille, time had to be spent on transcribing their work into print. If they received assignments and tests in print, these had to be read to them, and they had to read their solutions back to their readers.
A disconnect often develops between the functions of math instructors and TVIs or DSS staff. Some responders complained that too many instructors ignore the needs of their blind students, making the assumption that it is the job of the TVI or DSS office to teach the math, even though it is not. We want and need a true partnership here. The math instructor should creatively think of nonvisual ways to teach because these methods could also help sighted students. TVIs and DSS personnel should know enough math to ensure that materials are properly transcribed.
The vast majority of Braille readers claimed a degree of familiarity with the Nemeth code. I gained the distinct impression that Nemeth code has been taught as it was needed. This is as it should be. Some of the responders said that, given rudimentary knowledge of the code, they proceeded to invent Braille symbols for their own use. This practice should be encouraged because writing correct code can be cumbersome in note-taking. For personal notes we should use any shortcuts we like. For reading textbooks produced for general distribution, we must use correct Nemeth code.
More important than reading math texts is the need to work on exercises and problems to firm up one’s mastery of the concepts. This area proved to be most difficult for the responders. Electronic Braille notetakers don’t work because math solutions require the simultaneous examination of multiple lines of calculations and expressions. Writing with slate and stylus was also unsatisfactory. Most Braille readers have found the best success with mechanical Braillewriters, such as the Perkins, because embossing is right-side-up and paper can be shifted from line to line without disturbing the position of the embossing mechanism. Large-print readers, even the few who know Braille, used large print to write their solutions. Anyone who has developed sufficient mental abilities may simply dictate solutions to a live reader. None of the responders, except a few large-print readers, expressed confidence in their ability to construct diagrams and charts.
Technology, no matter how good, can only go so far in helping blind students learn math. By itself it will not make learning math easier. It will not turn any of us into brilliant mathematicians. But I think technology has a place in education. The people who responded to my survey share my belief that:
I hope to get more responses very soon, and I hope these responses will shed more light on our experiences with math courses. I’ve not yet decided how best to display a summary of responses while maintaining individual confidentiality. I’m thinking about editing the more substantive ones and posting them on my own web page with links from the NFB website. I also believe that with additional responses other articles will be forthcoming.
To conclude my report to you today, I want to quote the response from Sandi Ryan, a retired dietitian from Ankeny, Iowa, to survey question 10, giving her comments about how blind and visually impaired people can read and do mathematics.
I have her permission to quote her answer in its entirety. Here is what Sandi says:
I feel that, as I approach my sixties, I understand a lot more about math and science than I ever thought I would. I had always been given to understand that blind people couldn’t do math and science. I was fortunate to know a couple of blind electrical engineers, and they obviously had to do math. If I’d known, going in, how difficult my college career would be, I’d have backed out before I started. But I am glad I didn’t know. I learned a great deal from surviving math and science classes. I learned the concepts, of course, but I also learned that I can be pretty creative and innovative when it’s needed, and so can some sighted people who agreed to tutor me and used solid objects and hundreds of drawings to make sure that I understood what I needed to know. Incidentally, my tutors were always students—not in my class, but in the discipline I was studying—and they took their valuable time to do things, for which my payment was meager, to ensure my successful education. Several of them bought into my education as much or more than my teachers, and I am grateful that they believed in me when I wasn’t sure I did. I have had a wonderful career as a registered dietitian and look forward to the future because I have been successful.
A woman at my university who ran the Handicapped Student Office stated, in a talk during Woman’s Week, that not many disabled people are interested in math, science, technology, or engineering. I challenged her, and I still believe she is absolutely not right. I think many disabled people avoid these disciplines because they fear they cannot succeed. And I believe their well-meaning advisors and instructors encourage them to go another direction. I would love to be around when there are so many blind and otherwise disabled science, technology, engineering, and math professionals that we aren’t even pointed out as unusual. I doubt that will happen in my lifetime, but math and science are rewarding, and blind people shouldn’t miss out on the reward because they lack tools and education.
With thanks to all of you here today, and with thanks to our collective efforts in the NFB and the Jernigan Institute, we are turning Sandi’s vision and our vision of a brighter math and science future into reality.
by Patti S. Gregory-Chang
From the Editor: Patti Chang is a past NFB scholarship winner, president of the NFB of Illinois, and a member of the NFB board of directors. She also chairs the National Federation of the Blind scholarship committee. Since the application will be on our website <www.nfb.org> November 1, it’s time for her annual article about the process. This is what Patti says:
Let me begin by announcing that we are developing a new interface for scholarship applications. The web page stays the same, but new features make it easier for applicants and the committee. For example, applicants may now work on applications in several sessions before submitting a final product. Numerous improvements are in the works. Please contact me with your comments and feedback.
Each July at our national convention the National Federation of the Blind gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. We offer thirty scholarships ranging in value. Our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest. The NFB scholarship program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply. I am sometimes asked what the secret is to winning an NFB scholarship. I am going to tell you the secret.
First of all, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships must be legally blind; must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time post-secondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall of the 2012-2013 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time; and, if chosen, must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship activities.
Many think the key to becoming a winner is a high grade-point average. Others believe it is based on participation in extracurricular activities. Still others think it is one’s level of commitment to the NFB. While grade-point average is important because it demonstrates the ability to learn and be successful academically, it is not the only attribute that influences the scholarship committee. Participation in extracurricular activities is important in portraying oneself as a well-rounded person; it is not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Committed members of the organization recognize the attributes that are important to committee members when determining who wins a scholarship.
The scholarship program is a tremendous tool for us to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are not restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind people. To that end recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships. When you check the records for past winners, you will see that students of all ages and in widely differing fields have won over the years. The class of 2011 included students entering their freshman year on up to older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. The winners of 2011 are currently working toward credentials for employment as diverse as recreational therapist, equine veterinarian, organic chemist, molecular biologist, and teacher.
There is truly only one way to win an NFB scholarship, and that is to apply. Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the web at <www.nfb.org/scholarships> along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The online application form for 2012 will be available from November 1 to the contest deadline on March 31, 2012. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can download a print application from the site. Any students who do not have access to the website may contact the scholarship office to request a print copy of the form and other necessary materials.
A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with the president of his or her state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors must also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams. Unfortunately, some applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly.
Applicants should be sure to provide all the requested information along with supporting documentation. They should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letters of reference. Letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen.
Students can write their essays using word-processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting it into the online application form. In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe one’s personal goals for the future.
Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention. The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants as the scholarship class of 2012.
Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty winners from all applications received. These thirty scholarship winners will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1. Finally, during the annual convention in Dallas from June 30 through July 5, 2012, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner.
Attending the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize. This is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the nation each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship recipients will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many, many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they ever imagined.
Often students apply more than once before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if enough strong and worthy candidates apply. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows. The secret, if there is one, to winning an NFB scholarship is to read carefully the application on our website and then provide all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31, 2012. However, I actually maintain that there is no secret. The only way to win an NFB scholarship is to apply.
by Brianna Lillyman
From the Editor: The following remarks were delivered by Brianna Lillyman at the NFB of Illinois convention in 2010. They appeared in the Braille Examiner, a publication of the NFB of Illinois. The NFB Jernigan Institute is raising the expectations of blind young people one student, one program at a time. If you wonder what difference the NFB is making, read on:
I'm sixteen and a junior in high school. When people hear that I'm sixteen, they typically ask, "Do you have your driver's license yet?" I have to answer no. But now, thanks to the NFB, I have the confidence to say, "Not yet." [Laughter and applause]
Because of the NFB I have had opportunities to travel and have met some incredible people. The most important thing that the NFB has done for me is to instill the belief that I am capable of doing anything I want, despite my blindness. I had my first experience with the NFB when I was eleven years old and attended a summer camp. Since that time I have attended several other NFB camps and programs, the most recent being the Youth Leadership Program at NFB headquarters in Baltimore last February. This is my second state convention.
The summer camp I attended when I was eleven was the first time I ever met other blind people. It had been a hard year because I had just lost a significant amount of vision. I didn't expect the camp leaders, speakers, and mentors to be blind. I was inspired by their confidence and competence and by the competence of the other campers my age. I was extremely jealous of their ability to read Braille. I realized right away that Braille would be an asset for me. I would be able to read without getting headaches or having to rely on other people to read to me.
I requested Braille instruction at my first IEP meeting when I was a freshman in high school. It was a battle, but after two years I finally began Braille lessons early this year. [Applause] I've put a lot of effort into learning it. I'm still not very fluent, but I like to show off my skills.
My trip to Baltimore this past February was the first time I ever traveled without a parent. I hate flying, and I was really nervous. It was worse still when we were told that our flight had been canceled, and the only way for us to get to Baltimore would be to take a flight to Florida and catch another flight from there to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. From Dulles, Katie and I would have to be responsible for getting a cab to Baltimore.
It was a very stressful experience, and there were moments when I thought we would never get there. The worst moment came when the cab driver asked me to program his GPS. I told him I couldn't because I couldn't see it. You'd have thought that my cane would tip him off, but I guess he just didn't expect two blind people to be traveling by themselves. He spent an extra thirty minutes driving in circles trying to find the Center. Overall, I'm proud of the way I handled that trip. I knew it would have been easier to stay home, but we finally got where we wanted to go.
Through the NFB I have done a lot of things that have been both challenging and exciting, things I never thought I could do. I have witnessed other blind people doing things I always assumed couldn't be done without vision. Involvement in the NFB has helped me overcome the stigma of blindness. So this past spring, when I went on a trip for blind youth sponsored by a non-NFB group, I was shocked. The sighted chaperones guided my peers around, not requiring them to use their canes. They did not treat them with the respect I believe a blind person, or any person, deserves. All of the kids on the trip were great people, but, because of the way they had been educated, they were not independent or confident in themselves. During that trip I kept hearing, "I can't, because I'm blind." The other kids were shocked when I talked about the things I had done. They were surprised that I have been involved in theater and school plays, but to me that is not a big deal. They couldn't believe that I figure skate. I wonder what their reaction will be when they hear that I'm learning to synchronize skate?
The attitudes of those kids make me sad. I know they just haven't heard about all the opportunities that are out there. After being involved in the NFB over the years, I have come to take that message for granted. I expect all blind people to strive for independence and to demand respect. But the fact is that many blind people view themselves as incapable, and lots of sighted people, a huge number, are ignorant of blind people's capabilities.
On that trip I realized how important it is to get other blind people involved with the NFB. I know that the NFB can be the greatest ally for someone who is struggling with the loss of vision as I was. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had and the things I have learned. Someday I hope I can pay it forward.
by John Cannon
From the Editor: the following article was originally published January 18, 2011, in the Frederick, Maryland, News-Post. Jason Polansky has clearly benefitted from growing up in the Federation. At fourteen he is taking things in his stride that have often either distressed or turned the heads of blind people much older than he.
This article is an excellent example of the adulation blind people often receive for doing ordinary things with zest and poise. Sometimes the blind people receiving such praise begin to believe that they really must be something pretty special. Others, knowing that they are very little different from the people around them, become angry and frustrated—a reaction that puzzles their friends. Jason seems to be pretty much unflappable. He knows he is not a champion swimmer, and he thinks that people should cheer for all the swimmers the way they cheer for him. That said, he goes about his training, devising work-arounds and trying to improve his times and strokes. Jason and his parents deserve congratulations for his common sense and discipline. Here is the article about one of our own:
Catoctin freshman Jason Polansky wasn't the fastest swimmer in the meet. He didn't set any records. He didn't win his races. No, what he did was even more amazing, and it caused an eruption of applause from teammates, coaches, opponents, and spectators. Despite being blind, Polansky jumped off the block, pierced the water, and swam with all his might in the Cougars' season-opening meet against Urbana.
Polansky has bilateral anophthalmia, a rare condition that means he was born without eyes. Anyone who knows this bright and determined fourteen-year-old is accustomed to seeing him overcome obstacles caused by blindness. But, when people watch Polansky triumph over adversity to compete in a high school varsity swim meet like the one against Urbana, it triggers a wave of emotion.
"Our first meet was amazing," Catoctin co-coach Rebecca Scott said. "The entire pool deck was screaming for him. It brought tears to his mom's eyes, to my eyes, to (Catoctin co-coach Jen) Hosey's eyes. "The Urbana swimmers were up--all the spectators," she said. "Our swimmers were all cheering him along. He's (got) so much courage to get in and do what he does, that it's just completely inspiring to everybody."
Polansky has competed in all the Cougars' meets--the 100-yard breaststroke and 50-yard freestyle are his main events. Like other swimmers, he jumps off the block when he hears the loud starting horn. As he swims in the outer lane, a teammate stands poolside and holds a 10-foot PVC pipe with a tennis ball attached to it. When Polansky reaches the flags, which alert swimmers that they're approaching the wall, he gets tapped on the head or shoulders with the tennis ball, so he knows it's time to begin his turn.
This is Polansky's first season as a competitive swimmer. He came out for the team because he was looking for an activity to help him stay fit, but this experience has done more than help him maintain physical health. Polansky has enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with being a member of a sports team, and his determination to compete despite being blind has given a lift to Catoctin's young program, which is in its fourth season.
"He's just an inspiration because he's doing such an awesome job in the water," Catoctin senior swimmer Melissa Swanson said. "He's just proven that he can do anything and he can overcome anything."
Polansky was born with empty eye sockets because his eyes never developed. So, unlike some other blind people who have eyes, he had no way to detect whether it was light or dark. Like any set of typical parents, Susan and Edward Polansky had no idea how to raise a blind child. They would learn, and talking with parents of other blind children helped. They were advised to have the same expectations for their son as they would if he had sight.
Polansky eventually got a set of prosthetic eyes. He worked with teachers for the visually impaired, who taught him Braille and adaptations that would allow him to perform academically like his peers. He has an orientation and mobility instructor, who teaches cane travel skills. Instead of attending a school for the blind, he would be mainstreamed and attend public schools in Frederick County. Polansky has an excellent memory and an inborn sense of direction, which helps him get around.
When Polansky interacts with someone with sight, such as a classmate, he might be the only blind person they ever know. Realizing this, he wants to show he isn't limited by blindness. His history of physical activity helps prove that point. Polansky began taking swimming lessons at the Mount St. Mary's pool when he was three-and-a-half. Eventually, he was jumping off the diving board. "At first I was scared to jump off the diving board," he said. "And then my teacher was like, `Come on, you can do it.' And I did it, and I liked it."
Polansky's swimming teacher originally had plans to enter another profession. But he was so fulfilled by the experience of watching students like Polansky make progress in the pool, he decided to be a teacher.
The determined Polansky was well-known at Mount St. Mary's pool. Two lifeguards at that facility were Hosey and Scott, who would later become Polansky's swimming coaches at Catoctin.
To help him avoid obesity, Polansky has always been physically active. Aside from swimming at the Mount and working out at the gym, he likes to ride a tandem bike with his father. He learned all about sports from his older brother Kevin Riffle, who's into physical fitness and serves as a role model for Polansky. And, when Polansky was in elementary school, he heard classmates talking about playing tee-ball. So he asked his parents a question--why couldn't he play tee-ball?
There was no reason he couldn't. Legally blind people--who may possess some sight--play sports against athletes with sight, and some go far. Legally blind athletes who reached grand stages include Marla Runyan--who competed for the United States in the 1,500-meter run at the 2000 Sydney Olympics--and cross-country skier and biathlete Brian McKeever--who was named to Canada's 2010 Winter Olympics team.
Even if he didn't become a world-class athlete and even though he had no sight at all, Polansky could experience athletics. He played tee-ball for one year. After hitting the stationary ball, he used a clicker and a person running with him to navigate the base paths. Later Polansky met someone who wrestled, so he tried that sport, which other blind athletes have participated in. "It was a good experience, but it just wasn't my thing," Polansky said. "It's good to try things out."
When he came to Catoctin, he would try competitive swimming for the first time. In fact, his English teacher happened to be Coach Hosey, who remembered Polansky from her days as a lifeguard. "He was amazing when I saw him at the Mount going off the diving board," she said. "So I was very excited to have him be a part of the competitive team here." Swimming coaches often instruct by example for athletes with sight, but Hosey and Scott would have to find another way with Polansky. "It's made us better coaches because we have to think and break down even further than what we do normally," Hosey said.
In practices Polansky uses AdaptTap, a navigation system for visually impaired swimmers invented at Notre Dame. AdaptTap have flexible rods with a buoy on one end and a clamp that hooks onto the lane line at the other end. AdaptTap help blind swimmers stay positioned in the lane, and the devices can be used instead of tapping poles to notify them when they're under the flag. This navigation has helped Polansky swim straighter.
"He's dropping time; he's swimming straight," Hosey said. "It's really amazing to watch." During meets someone sight-guides Polansky toward the block. When swimmers are instructed to get up on the block, he does so by himself. Being a first-year competitive swimmer, he had never jumped off the blocks before. "I was a little scared at first," he said. "But I guess after you do something, you just get more comfortable with it. So I'm pretty comfortable now."
Hosey calls Polansky a gamer, and the swimmer has been getting better times in the breaststroke. Also his strokes are legal, which can be a challenge for swimmers with sight. "My goal is to improve my time and improve my strokes and keep getting better," Polansky said. "I'm not really concerned about winning; I'm really more concerned about improving. I am concerned about speed; I want to get faster, but I want to make sure my form's right. I've been legal every time, but I just want to get better. That's pretty much it."
He made his quest sound like it was no big deal, but anyone who watches him feels otherwise. “For us to witness, not just our team but the opposing teams cheering for him and wanting to get to know him," Hosey said. "It's just been a really amazing feeling and inspiring to see these kids get motivated by what he does on a daily basis."
As the season progressed, Polansky began competing in relay meets. His teammates tell him when it's time for him to go. "They're very supportive of me," he said. Polansky discovered the true benefits of being on a sports team--joining forces with others in pursuit of a common goal and forming bonds. He enjoys activities like team pasta parties. "I like the teamwork part of it. I like to get to know people and talk to people with the same interests and just encourage each other and cheer for each other," he said. "It's just fun. I made a lot of friends from the swim team."
"He's the nicest boy," Swanson said. "He's hilarious, and he's just the most optimistic kid that I've ever met in my life."
Polansky's not one to hog the spotlight, either. He's told teammates people should cheer for everybody else as much as for him. Of course, when he made his competitive debut against Urbana, he got the loudest applause. "I cried," Susan said. "We had no idea that people were going to respond like that."
She understands that people are amazed at seeing her son jump in the water and compete by swimming from one end of the pool to the other. While proud, she's not surprised to see Polansky do such things. She said: "We have learned over the past fourteen years, if you really know about blindness and blind people, you know that they can do pretty much anything they want to do as long as they have the training and the background to do it and the desire to do it."
From the Editor: The following story appeared on the Associated Press wire on August 7, 2011. It illustrates the NFB’s ongoing battle with the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). Here it is:
Deanna Jones, a third-year law student who's legally blind and learning disabled, has won her first big court case: her own.
Jones sued the National Conference of Bar Examiners in July, accusing it of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to let her take a key legal ethics exam using a computer with screen-access software that she has used to read in college and in law school. Armed with a federal judge's order, she was able to take the test Friday, closely watched by a proctor, test supervisor, and someone from the ACT, Inc. testing company, she said. "I think I did OK," she said. "I left feeling like I probably passed it."
Jones, who attends Vermont Law School with hopes of practicing disability law, needs the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam to practice in Vermont. The NCBE fought her request and plans to appeal, saying the security of its pencil-and-paper test could be jeopardized if taken electronically. The organization had offered instead to have someone read the test to Jones, to let her take the test in Braille or in enlarged print, or to use an audio CD.
But a judge ruled Tuesday that the examiners had to provide her a laptop equipped with the special software. Jones said she was "just emotionally overcome" when she finally sat down for the exam.
"I just sort of broke into a fit of bawling for a moment," she said Friday afternoon, after nearly six hours of testing. "It was unbelievable to me what it had taken just to be able to sit in that chair," she said.
Dan Goldstein, a Baltimore-based lawyer for Jones and the National Federation of the Blind, said he's been involved with four other similar cases, three of which have been successful, resulting in preliminary injunctive relief. The Federation paid Jones' legal bills. Her lawyer, Emily Joselson of Middlebury, said federal disability rules and laws require that examiners "provide the accommodations that best ensure that the test taker's results on the exam will reflect the substantive knowledge that's being tested and not their disabilities."
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss said in a twenty-six-page decision that "reasonable accommodations" for Jones were not enough, and without the laptop and software Jones had requested "the MPRE will primarily test her ability to work through her disabilities and that she will not be able to compete on an equal basis with non-disabled test takers." NCBE, based in Madison, Wisconsin, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Court papers show the nonprofit corporation is seeking to withhold Jones' score.
Reiss questioned NCBE's priorities. "The public interest compels the court to order accommodations that will best ensure a disabled person's access to a professional exam that will, in part, determine whether he or she may practice a chosen profession," she wrote.
"The public's interest in the integrity of secure, professional licensing exams, while important and legitimate, does not trump the ADA," Reiss wrote.
Jones's disabilities have long been tested. Legally blind since she was five and not diagnosed with a learning disability until she was in her thirties, Jones described her public school years in Hightstown, New Jersey, as a "rough ride." What got her through? "My mom," she said. “I'd come home from school a mess, you know, just crying at the table," she said. Her mother, Elaine Jones, would get her organized and help her through the work.
But Jones dropped out of college after high school with a GPA of .92 after one year. She went on to start a record store and later to run the food service at the statehouse in Montpelier.
In her thirties everything changed. She learned that in addition to macular degeneration in each eye—depriving her of centralized vision and preventing her from seeing anything other than peripheral objects--she also had atypical retinitis pigmentosa, eyesight-threatening damage to her retina that causes loss of peripheral vision. "What's important about that is that meant I wasn't just going to lose my central vision, I was going to lose all of my vision," she said at her Middlesex home. She also discovered that she had a learning disability.
In early 2000 Jones learned about the computer software programs that allowed her to read and return to college: the ZoomText Magnifier/Reader, which magnifies text, and Kurzweil 3000 screen reader, which reads the text aloud and highlights sentences and words that she can follow with a cursor. Until then the only book she'd gotten through was a large-print edition of The Diary of Anne Frank, which she used for every book report she wrote.
"So when I got to Vermont College with this particular software and I could scan any book in the world and read it, it was just unbelievable. It was the first time in my life I was able to read books, and it just opened up the whole world," she said, with tears welling in her eyes. "It was so amazing."
She read literature classics—Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, and Anna Karenina—as well as psychology and books in myriad subjects, enough for her to get a liberal arts degree. "I couldn't read until I was in my thirties. It's a big deal," she said.
While she was an undergraduate, she studied the Americans with Disabilities Act, rekindling her childhood dream of going to law school, she said. She's not sure exactly what she'll do as a lawyer. She thinks about working with colleges and professional schools, giving sensitivity training about people with disabilities and how to accommodate them.
For now she expects another fight next year when she takes the Vermont bar exam--which also comes without technology. She hasn't yet inquired about special accommodations to take that test. So far she's got the grades to prove her success. "I have a 3.28 GPA. And, if I get a 3.5 by next semester or even in the following semester, I can graduate cum laude. And I am dying to graduate cum laude," she said.
Reviewed by Ed Morman
From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman's review of a book in our collection:
To those who remember Helen Keller in her later years, she was a dignified, kindly looking older lady, conservative in dress and comfortable in the company of prominent people ranging from popular entertainers to world leaders. She posed for photos with eyes open and was not often recorded speaking. Although her fame rested, first of all, on her deaf-blindness, it was easy to see her as simply a celebrity who devoted herself to good causes.
But there was much more to Helen Keller as revealed in her own writings and in this book. Its author, Van Wyck Brooks, was a historian of American literature and a member of the social circle of Connecticut intellectuals that included Keller. He wrote Sketch for a Portrait some twenty years after first meeting her, and like many of her acquaintances and friends from the start he had found her to be charming and fun to be around.
Helen Keller was almost certainly a genius; she was unquestionably a fascinating character. Anyone looking at Keller’s life, though, must recognize that, although she became well known as a result of being deaf and blind, there was much more to her than absence of sight and hearing. And, though she generally depended on an intermediary in order to communicate with other people, she formed her own opinions and was outspoken in her beliefs.
Like Louis Braille’ Keller’s talents became evident as a teenager. She wrote her first autobiography, The Story of My Life, while an undergraduate at Radcliffe College. No amateurish piece of juvenilia, this is a lucid memoir written in an elegant style. A few years later—in response to a clamor for more information about how she perceived her surroundings, what she understood of things too big or too distant for tactile inspection, and what she dreamed—she produced The World I Live In. Never a slave to the desires of others, she eventually let people know that she had opinions and thoughts about things other than her own condition. She could have used a copy of the NFB’s “Courtesy Rules of Blindness.” Rule number 9 states: “I'll discuss blindness with you if you're curious, but it's an old story to me. I have as many other interests as you do.”
Helen Keller was born on her family’s property in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880. Her family was well established, but hardly wealthy. Her father had been an officer in the Confederate Army and made his living publishing a newspaper. Keller lost her sight and hearing as the result of an illness when she was nineteen months old. Unable to communicate well, by the time she reached school age her parents found her difficult to control.
How the Kellers happened to engage Anne Sullivan as Helen’s teacher is a fascinating story, involving Charles Dickens’s writings about his visit to the United States and a direct appeal to Alexander Graham Bell. Eventually the Kellers were referred to Michael Anagnos, Samuel Gridley Howe’s successor as director of the Perkins School. Howe had taught the deaf-blind Laura Bridgman, and the Kellers hoped that Anagnos would be able to help with their daughter. As it turned out, Helen Keller was not simply another Laura Bridgman (who spent her whole life at Perkins with limited outside contact). Once she learned to communicate well, Keller demonstrated intellectual brilliance and an urgent desire to explore the world around her. Her mind was matched by a strong body, and she prided herself on her rowing, her ability to climb trees, and other evidences of athletic skill.
Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was at the right place at the right time for recruitment into this job. An impoverished orphan with some residual vision (vision that increased for a while and eventually diminished entirely), Sullivan had herself been educated at Perkins and needed a paying job once she graduated. Although Anagnos made several mistakes in his dealings with Keller, he hit a home run in his choice of Sullivan to be her teacher.
Sullivan began teaching Keller by finger-spelling words on the seven-year-old’s palm. At first these words had no meaning for Keller, but in a sudden realization she connected the feeling of water with the letters w-a-t-e-r. From then on there was no stopping her. The story as told in the film, The Miracle Worker, conforms to the events as recounted by both Keller and Sullivan.
Of course Sullivan was not a miracle worker at all. She was an intuitive teacher who trusted and loved her student and who brought to the relationship a willingness to work hard and a set of skills she had learned as a child from observing Howe and Laura Bridgman.
After little more than a year, Sullivan and Keller left Alabama for the Boston area, where they could interact with people at the Perkins school. Although Keller never enrolled at Perkins, Anagnos took it upon himself to publicize Sullivan’s successes. Keller quickly became a well-known phenomenon and began meeting notable people from all walks of life. When Mark Twain, then in his fifties, got to know the teenaged Keller, he counted her among his personal friends. He described her as one of the most important people of the century and arranged for a wealthy friend to provide a stipend for Keller and Sullivan, so that they could continue what had become a partnership in Keller’s development.
Communication through fingerspelling was not sufficient for Keller, and neither was the English language. By the time she entered college, she could read Braille and other embossed codes, she could write using a board with metal rods, she could type and use a Brailler, and she was proficient in several languages, ancient and modern. She very much wanted to learn to speak and took special lessons developed by teachers of the deaf. One of her great disappointments was that her speech was never easily intelligible to people who did not know her well.
In 1905 Sullivan married John Macy, a socialist literary critic and Harvard instructor. Macy took charge of publishing Keller’s life story, appending to Keller’s manuscript, first, a series of letters she had written starting when she was just beginning to communicate and, second, Sullivan’s letters and recollections of the process of teaching language to Keller. Although Macy possibly inserted himself too strongly into the book, he did provide a great service by including the series of letters that show Keller’s phenomenal progress in her ability to communicate, not merely clearly, but with style.
Keller lived with the Macys for several years, until Macy and Sullivan drifted apart. Once the marriage disintegrated, the two women proceeded on their own, living mainly on income from Keller’s writings and lectures. Meanwhile, in her early adulthood, Keller became a socialist, a supporter of trade unions and racial justice, and a pacifist. At the same time she became strongly influenced by the religious and philosophical writing of the eighteenth-century theologian, Emmanuel Swedenborg. At one point she had plans to marry another socialist activist, but her mother intervened to prevent this. Keller’s disappointment at never being able to speak clearly was matched by her disappointment at never marrying.
Because Keller insisted on writing about her political and religious views—and not just her life and how she perceived the world—the demand for her writing declined. Needing money, she and Sullivan sought other sources of income. They visited Hollywood, then just becoming the center of movie making, where they met Charlie Chaplin and flew in an airplane and where Keller performed in a silent film. But while a career in the movies was not in the cards, the stage beckoned. They were hired to tour with a vaudeville company, presenting a twenty-minute act in which Keller would answer questions posed to her by audience members. During this time Keller met performers such as Sophie Tucker, who advised her on grooming. Because of the greater income and because she was able to be frank in her responses to questions in the vaudeville houses, Keller preferred vaudeville to the lecture circuit. No one ever suggested that it was demeaning for Keller and Sullivan to present themselves in this way.
Although Keller was strong and healthy, Sullivan was beginning to feel her age, and they gave up vaudeville in 1922 after two years on the road. By that time the American Foundation for the Blind had been established by people whom Keller and Sullivan had come to know through the Perkins School and other connections. The AFB seemed a good match, and Keller joined its staff.
By the time Van Wyck Brooks met her in 1932, Keller was, in many ways, the public face of the AFB. She believed she was serving the blind of the U.S. and the world by working for the foundation and traveling the world as its spokesperson. It is ironic that this highly accomplished and outspoken deaf-blind woman was never affiliated with either the organized blind or the organized deaf. To Federationists she was too closely associated with the blindness establishment and its paternalism. And many deaf activists resented her attachment to finger spelling and to Alexander Graham Bell’s insistence that the deaf should learn to speak. Through her life Keller opposed the use of American Sign Language, in part because she could not use it herself, but also because she believed it would lead to segregation of the deaf from the rest of society. Keller desperately wanted to be part of society—and if one believes Van Wyck Brooks, who wrote this entertaining book after knowing her for twenty years--she succeeded admirably, even with her poor enunciation.
Anne Sullivan remained Helen Keller’s companion until her death in 1936. Totally blind in her final years and not proficient at Braille, Sullivan ultimately relied on Keller to read to her. After Sullivan died, her place as Keller’s companion was taken by Polly Thomson, who had been working for the two women for several years. With Thomson, Keller traveled widely for the American Foundation for the Overseas Blind, accomplishing much good in providing resources for the education of blind people in poorer countries.
Helen Keller was sixty years old in 1940, when Jacobus tenBroek founded the National Federation of the Blind, and she remained active into her eighties. Therefore, for a period of more than twenty years Keller could have collaborated with the NFB—yet it is very possible that she was never even aware of the Federation’s existence. TenBroek Library staff have found no correspondence between NFB leaders and Keller, and the finding aid for the Helen Keller Papers at the American Foundation for the Blind has no mention of the NFB or Jacobus tenBroek. Regardless of the Federation’s past conflicts with the AFB and the rest of the old blindness establishment, it is fitting that Federationists recognize Keller’s achievements and her unique standing.
Helen Keller: Sketch for a Portrait is available in Braille from the NLS (BRA11078) and in Talking Book format from other libraries. Other biographies abound, but Keller’s own autobiographical writings, including My Religion and Teacher (her biography of Anne Sullivan) are better sources and are available from the NLS and elsewhere. Keller’s political beliefs are discussed by Brook and further documented in The Radical Lives of Helen Keller by Kim E. Nielsen (which unfortunately does not appear to be available in accessible format).
This month’s recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas.
Double Duty Meatballs
by Terry Sheeler
Terry Sheeler is president of the NFB of Arkansas. She says that this is a good cook-ahead recipe.
1 jar (26-28 ounces) spaghetti sauce, divided
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1 ½ pounds lean (90%) ground beef
¾ cup quick or old-fashioned oats
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread 2/3 cup of the spaghetti sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Chop onion using food processor. In classic two-quart mixing bowl combine onion, ground beef, oats, 1/3 cup of the sauce, egg, pressed garlic, Italian seasoning, and salt; mix gently with very clean hands. Using small stainless steel scoop, shape meat mixture into balls and place in baking dish. Bake for ten minutes. Pour remaining sauce over meatballs. Continue baking for twenty more minutes. Place twenty-four meatballs and half of the sauce from baking dish in a covered container; refrigerate for later use in spaghetti with meatballs. Use remaining twenty-four meatballs and sauce to make Italian meatball sub. Yield: forty-eight meatballs.
Italian Meatball Sub
by Terry Sheeler
If you don’t want to bake your own bread or you are short on time, you can buy hoagie sub rolls and make the Italian Meatball Sub using them instead.
½ recipe Double Duty Meatballs (see above)
2 packages (11 ounces each) refrigerated French bread dough
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 8-ounce package Mozzarella cheese slices
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place dough seams-side down on 15-inch round baking stone or large cookie sheet. Join ends of dough together to form one large ring. Using a serrated bread knife, cut eight diagonal slashes (1/2-inch deep) on top side of dough. Lightly spray dough with oil or cooking spray. Press garlic over dough using garlic press; spread evenly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake bread for twenty-six to thirty minutes or until deep golden brown. Immediately remove bread to cooling rack; cool completely. To assemble sandwich, cut bread in half horizontally with bread knife. Spoon meatballs with sauce over bottom half of bread. Top with cheese slices and top half of bread. Cut into wedges and serve. Yield: six servings.
Nutrients per serving: calories 540, fat 17 g, sodium 1420 mg, dietary fiber 4 g
Spaghetti with Meatballs
by Terry Sheeler
Reserved half recipe Double Duty Meatballs (see above)
1 14-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
8 ounces uncooked spaghetti, cooked and drained
Method: Combine reserved meatballs and sauce in three-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat until meatballs are hot, stirring occasionally. Serve over hot cooked pasta. Yield: four servings.
Nutrients per serving: calories 400, fat 17 g, sodium 1250 mg, dietary fiber 6 g
by Terry Sheeler
This recipe is a yummy treat and can be divided into individual bags.
1 stick butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 6-ounce bag chocolate chips
1 box Crispix cereal
3 cups powdered sugar
Method: Melt butter, peanut butter, and chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl. Pour this mixture over Crispix cereal. Mix gently with a large spoon. Place coated cereal in a large grocery bag and pour powdered sugar over cereal, or divide powdered sugar equally in individual bags and place equal amounts of cereal in the bags. Shake gently until all of the cereal is coated. Enjoy.
by Terry Sheeler
This soup recipe is good any time of the year and is very simple to make.
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cans condensed cream of celery soup
2 cans condensed cream of broccoli soup
2 cans of water
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 bag of frozen chopped broccoli
1 pound Velveeta cheese, cubed
Method: Combine all the ingredients except broccoli in a crock pot and heat just until heated through and then add the broccoli. Continue cooking just until broccoli is tender crisp. Serve immediately.
Easy Peach Crisp
by Terry Sheeler
This is a great simple dessert.
2 15-1/4-ounce cans Del Monte sliced peaches in heavy syrup, drained
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
Method: Place fruit in one-quart shallow baking dish. Combine flour, sugar, oats, and cinnamon; stir in butter until mixture is crumbly; sprinkle over fruit. Bake at 375 degrees for thirty minutes or until crust is golden brown. Serve with ice cream if desired.
Stained Glass Cookies
by Terry Sheeler
We call these stained glass cookies because the colors are as vibrant and intense as those found in stained glass windows, and the cookies are delicious.
Freshly baked sugar or ginger cookies, cooled
1 egg white*
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
Set of paste-type food colorings or Brown Bag Cookie Painting & Decorating Kit
Paint brushes reserved for food use
Dessert plate, preferably white
Method: In a small bowl whisk the egg white until it is frothy, then stir in the powdered sugar. Paint the cookies with icing glaze using a pastry brush. You want a very thin but complete coat of glaze on the cookies. This will form the ground for the painting you will do with the cookie paint. Let the glaze dry completely. Prepare your palette. Using toothpicks, place small dabs of the various cookie paints around the edge of a plate.
When the glazed cookies are dry, paint them with whatever colors you want from your cookie paint palette. Use water to thin the colors. Mix the cookie paints to any shade you want in the open center section of the plate to achieve great subtlety. You can make your cookies as elaborately colored or as simple as you want. Use sugar cookies when you want a light background or pastel colors. Ginger cookies are great for brown-furred animals that you may want to dress in intensely colored clothes.
*Note: If you are worried about using raw egg white, use pasteurized eggs available in your grocery store or powdered egg whites, available from: Broadway Pan Handler, 477 Broome St., New York, NY 10013.
Salt Dough Ornaments
by Terry Sheeler
You can make attractive ornaments out of salt dough. They are colorful, durable, easy, and fun to make.
Brown Bag Cookie Art Cookie Stamp(s)
4 cups of flour
1 cup table salt
1 ½ cups cold water
Pastry brush or paper towels
Spray gloss polyurethane or shellac
Acrylic or tempera paints
Method: Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add water and stir until all flour is mixed in. Turn the dough onto a smooth counter top and knead for five minutes. If you don’t plan to use the salt dough right away, seal it in an airtight plastic bag so the surface doesn’t dry and form a crust.
Form salt dough into three-inch balls and place four inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Lightly oil the ceramic base of your cookie stamp. Stamp each ball, leveling the dough as you press. Continue until all of the dough is used. With a toothpick make a small hole at the top of each ornament so you will be able to string them with a ribbon after they are baked.
Place the ornaments on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of a 225-degree oven for thirty minutes. Remove them from the baking sheet and place them on a wire rack in your oven to continue baking until they are thoroughly dry and hard—about one and one-half hours more. Cool on a rack.
Once they are cool, spray lightly with polyurethane to seal. Paint with acrylic or tempera paints. When paint is dry, spray both sides of each ornament with a good coat of polyurethane or shellac. String with a pretty ribbon.*Note: Be sure to use a set of brushes that you reserve for non-food painting.
Attention Cassette Edition Subscribers:
At the convention and in the August/September Braille Monitor we announced that the December issue 2011 will be the last one produced on cassette. There are, of course, optional ways for cassette readers to continue to get the Monitor. If you have access to the Internet, the Monitor can be read or downloaded in Microsoft Word, as an audio MP3 file, or as a Daisy recording, meaning that it can be easily navigated by article. If you want to read the magazine in print or Braille, we continue to provide it in these formats.
Starting with the January issue, however, the Monitor will also be available on NFB-NEWSLINE®. Just access NEWSLINE using any of the options available, and the Monitor will appear in the magazines section.
If you prefer reading by listening to high-quality human narration, we can still ship the Monitor to you by mail, but instead of a cassette tape, you will receive a USB drive. These are sometimes called thumb drives or memory sticks. The digital player provided by the National Library Service has two slots for playing recorded material. The most familiar one is on the front of the unit. It accepts the special cartridge used by the Library. The second slot is found on the right side of the unit near the headphone jack, and, unless you have removed it or it has become dislodged, the slot is covered by a protective rubber pad. Removing this pad reveals an indentation in the unit where the USB drive is inserted. It will go into the unit in only one direction, so, if you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try inserting it again. The main cartridge slot used to play books from the Library must be empty before you insert the memory stick in the right side of the player. If the main slot has a cartridge in it, the digital player will ignore the USB drive.
Once the USB drive has been inserted, the player should function just as it does when you are reading a book. Pressing the rewind or advance keys moves back or ahead by five seconds. Pressing the previous element or next element keys moves from article to article or, in some cases, moves to the next section in an article in which divisions are present. If you remove the USB drive to use the player for other material, when you again insert it, reading should resume from the place you stopped reading.
The USB drive will be every bit as functional as the cassettes we have been providing. The audio quality should be improved, along with the navigation, and the drive should last many years. If you think you will want to refer to an issue again, you are welcome to keep the drive, but, because they cost more than cassettes and can be used hundreds of times, readers willing to return the USB drives are requested to use the return address label that will be sent along with your drive. This will save money that we can use for other programs.
Current cassette readers who wish to continue receiving the Monitor after December must contact Marsha Dyer. She can handle subscription requests for print, Braille, email, or USB drive. Call her at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2344. If you do not reach her directly, please leave your information on the Publications line voicemail. Please be assured that all voicemail messages will be received, and your information will be updated prior to each month's issue being mailed out. She can also receive your request by email when you write her at <[email protected]> or by postal mail at 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230. Be sure Marsha has your first and last name (if leaving her a voicemail, please spell both), your address, and the format in which you want to receive the Monitor. If you currently receive the Monitor in another format, you need do nothing; your subscription will continue. But please understand that, if you are currently a cassette reader, doing nothing will mean you will stop receiving the Monitor, so please think about the new options and let us know how to keep you informed.
Margaret Warren: A Life Well Lived
Margaret Warren, seventy-eight, died on August 2, 2011, at the Wesley Acres residence in Des Moines, Iowa. Federationist Cindy Ray officiated at a memorial service at Wesley Acres on August 27. Always thinking of others, Margaret donated her body to the University of Iowa School of Medicine for medical research. Memorial contributions may be sent to the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (formerly known as the American Brotherhood for the Blind), at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
Margaret is remembered as a unique individual with definite likes and dislikes who happened to be deaf-blind. She was born August 9, 1932, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and graduated from the Iowa School for the Blind (now the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School), in Vinton, Iowa. Over time she lost contact with most of her family until 1993 when she was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit her brother in Hawaii.
Margaret was blind from birth. During childhood she could hear and understand speech. However, she lost most of her hearing during her teen years and all of it in middle age. In 1990 she received a cochlear implant. She helped to pioneer the concept that a deaf-blind person can benefit from this technology, even if it does not result in understanding voices. She benefited from and enjoyed again hearing sounds such as the typewriter bell and running water.
For many years Margaret was the face of deaf-blindness in the NFB. In the exhibit hall at national conventions she displayed literature and offered personal conversation. People would stop and ask her questions about how one could handle being both blind and deaf, and her many NFB friends would stop to say hi and trade news.
She retained a speaking voice throughout her life. However, she needed the help of technology for anyone to speak to her. For many years this was the Tellatouch, a portable instrument with a keyboard that brings up Braille cells one at a time. She read fluently this way for many years. In later years, as her health declined, using a single cell became hard for her, so various other devices were used with varying success. During convention sessions and the banquet, a group of devoted interpreters took turns typing a live summary of the proceedings. The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, as well as the Iowa Department for the Blind, helped provide equipment and services. Mary Ann Martin, Cindy Ray, and Doris Willoughby are among those who have been of help to her through the years.
Margaret was a member of the First United Methodist Church, where Lee Kline (farm director at WHO-Radio), along with other members of her Sunday School class, provided transportation and interpreting. Also on Sundays a number of friends took turns inviting Margaret over for a meal and a pleasant afternoon. She was active in the community at large--reading aloud to children and doing Braille proofreading.
At a local NFB meeting in Des Moines some years ago, members were talking about their personal backgrounds, and Margaret said that she had no family. One of the other members said, "Tell Margaret that she is wrong. We are all her family!" Deeply moved, the interpreter repeated these words to Margaret on the Tellatouch. This message is still the same, and we will all miss Margaret’s indomitable spirit.
Independence Market Corner:
For your information the following 2012 calendars are available through the NFB Independence Market:
American Action Fund Braille Calendar: Comb-bound, pocket-sized Braille calendar measures 6 by 6 1/2 inches. Each calendar page includes the days of the month and lists major holidays. A page for personal notes is in the back. Available free of charge.
Large Print Calendar: Spiral-bound large print appointment calendar measuring 8 1/2 by 11 inches with inside pockets. Each month is displayed on two facing pages and features two-inch blocks for each day of the month. The months are tabbed and include a section for monthly notes as well as a three-month calendar overview. $10.00 plus shipping and handling.
Large Print Planner: Featuring easy-to-read large print, This new spiral-bound 146-page organizer measures 8 1/2 by 11 inches. All calendar views are spread over two pages and include current and upcoming year-at-a-glance views, twelve monthly and fifty-three weekly views, and pages for names and addresses, notes, and personal information. $20.00 plus shipping and handling.
For more information contact the NFB Independence Market by email at <[email protected]> or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time.
Deaf-Blind Division Report:
This convention was active and productive for the Deaf-Blind Division. We had inspiring speakers at the general business meeting on Wednesday, July 6, and of course the T-shirt table in the exhibit hall kept us busy. This was the seventeenth consecutive year for puffy Braille T-shirts.
President Burnell Brown, assisted by several members of the Deaf-Blind Division, worked to fold and present the T-shirts with puffy Braille and print during the setup of the exhibit hall. This year the colors were definitely characteristic of Florida sunshine--hot pink, lime green, and aquatic blue—and the T-shirt table was very busy.
Many people made requests of the national office and the Deaf-Blind Division to provide interpreting services for the growing number of attendees with hearing loss and deafness. The annual meeting Wednesday, July 6, was a beehive of activity as people from all over the country came together to share their convention experiences as well as their need for improved communication. Two guest speakers offered great information about advocacy and deaf-blind resources.
Before next year’s convention the Deaf-Blind Division will be working with the national office to ensure that the most updated deaf-blind communication technology is available for review at the Jernigan Institute. New technology is opening doors that have been closed to the deaf-blind. The National Federation of the Blind will continue to be on the cutting edge of changing what it means to be blind.
In order to help us provide interpreting services for the 2012 convention in Dallas, please contact Deaf-Blind Division President Burnell Brown by March 1, 2012, if you will need this service. She can be reached at <[email protected]>.
In the August/September issue we talked about the presentation made by Second Vice President Ronald Brown at the national convention about his experience as an athlete playing beep baseball. In response to an inquiry to follow up on that mention, here is what he says:
I have now been inducted into the Beep Baseball Hall of Fame. I was honored on August 7, 2011, at the banquet. It was awesome. My team retired my number and placed my jersey stamped with the number 25 into a glass shadow box and presented it to me on stage. I also received a certificate for the Hall of Fame and a plaque. They served two big sheet cakes and 250 cupcakes all decorated with the number 25.
Whozit Lapel Pins Available:
These pins are great on ties, hats, or shirts. They are blue, red, and yellow, and of course the cane is white. These Whozit pins are oven-fired enamel, silver plated pieces of jewelry. You can feel the shape of the Whozit. They make great gifts for members, guest speakers, etc. The cost is one to ten, $5 each; eleven to twenty-nine, $4; thirty or more, $3. A $2 shipping fee will apply to all orders. Contact Liz Lewis at <[email protected]> or call (803) 642-9940.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
SWEET TOOTH Offers Braille Treats:
Chocolate is a favorite for many people, and it makes great gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and the holidays. SWEET TOOTH, in business for over ten years, looks forward to serving the public with its chocolate treats.
Many new items have been added to the list of products, including fudge, chocolate sauce, and truffles; but the standard items are still available. From clusters of all kinds, to molded chocolate to Braille chocolate bars and guide dogs with Braille on them, SWEET TOOTH can accommodate your chocolate needs. The Braille bars come with a choice of various sayings, including “Thank You,” “Have a Nice Day,” “Happy Birthday,” “Love You,” “Merry Christmas,” and “Happy Holidays.” They weigh 4.5 ounces and can be made in milk, dark, or white chocolate or sugar free. The bars can also be made with Rice Krispies, nuts, peppermint, or raisins. The guide dogs can be personalized with the dog’s name or the owner's name and come complete with a harness done in chocolate.
Price lists are available online, in regular or large print, and in Braille. SWEET TOOTH is also on Facebook. Orders can be placed through email at <[email protected]> or by phone at (585) 544-1853. A brand new website has just been established, so we are including it. Visit us at <www.acsu.buffaloedu/laurabai/sweettooth>.
Three-D Velocity--Flying Faster, Higher:
Everybody’s heard of blind people driving cars because of the NFB’s Blind Driver Challenge™. Blind people are driving tanks, piloting submarines, and participating in races, thanks to audio games. Still we have not heard of one thing—at least until recently. In June 2007, when a new game project began, a small team, including Munawar Bijani as head, set themselves to create the most challenging, serious, and realistic game for blind people to date. In November 2010 they released Three-D Velocity, a combat flight-simulation designed for blind and visually impaired gamers.
Three-D Velocity is the first-ever fully accessible combat flight simulation game designed with the blind in mind. Very little is left to the auto pilot, which means that you are in complete control of every single maneuver done by your aircraft. From taking off, to shooting down other aircraft, to landing on an aircraft carrier, you can do it all with Three-D Velocity. But it isn't just a flight simulation made for pilot enthusiasts. The developers have spent a lot of time ensuring that blind players get the best of both worlds--realism and gaming. This is why, in addition to engaging in an aerial dog fight with other aircraft, players can play what thay have called "Mission Mode," a fully developed and engaging story that takes the player through a mission carried out by the United States military.
If you've listened to people playing games like Metal Gear Solid, Afterburner, and Top Gun, and thought to yourself, "I wish I could play that," Three-D Velocity is for you. If you've ever wanted to fly at mach two, shoot down other aircraft, make split-second decisions to save your own life, and play the lead role in the outcome of a mission started by United States black operations forces, Three-D Velocity is definitely for you. From people who just want to try their hands at flying to the serious gamers who want a real challenge, Three-D Velocity is sure to bring you days of entertainment. Packed with high-quality scenes, a full-length story, and numerous challenges, this game is an interactive movie--from an aerial perspective. Best of all, Three-D Velocity is designed from the ground up with accessibility in mind. Graphics are not used to convey information; it's all done through directional sound.
You can download a copy of this game by visiting <www.bpcprograms.com>, and be among the hundreds of blind people who can now brag to their sighted friends that they've flown a fighter jet.
PATH International Works with Blind Riders:
Every day at the Mariana Greene Henry Special Equestrians (MGHSE), a subsidiary of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) in Talladega, children experience the joy of riding horses. The riding center is one of 800-plus member centers belonging to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. PATH International helps people with physical, mental, and psychological challenges (including blindness and visual impairments) gain strength, coordination, confidence, and pride. Formerly NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association), PATH International better expresses the scope of the forty-two-year-old organization whose 6,300 trained therapy horses and 3,500 instructors help 42,000 children and adults find a sense of independence through their involvement with horses.
Therapeutic horsemanship includes, not only therapeutic riding, but also equine-facilitated psychotherapy and learning, therapeutic carriage driving, interactive vaulting, hippotherapy, competition, and programs for leadership, team building, and stable management. Certified PATH International instructors also work closely with physical, occupational, speech, mental health, and rehabilitation therapists to benefit their clients. Many centers partner with schools, hospitals, the Veterans Administration, and residential rehabilitation and adult day care centers in changing lives through equine-assisted activities and therapies. For more information contact Cher Smith at (800) 369-RIDE (7433) or <[email protected]>; or go to <www.pathintl.org>.
New Director of Visual Services Appointed in Oklahoma:
Here is part of a release from Oklahoma’s state agency for the blind about the appointment of Dr. Michael Jones as its administrator.
Dr. J. Michael Jones has been appointed as the new division administrator of Visual Services, a state program that provides vocational rehabilitation, employment, and independent-living training for Oklahomans who are blind or visually impaired. Jones’s career serving blind people has spanned more than twenty-five years on four continents.
“What attracted me to Oklahoma is the broad scope of DRS’ responsibilities,” Jones said. “I have the operational freedom in Visual Services to use my skills and experience to help our customers become masters of their own destiny.” “When our customers are educated and have some wealth and political clout or personal influence, then they are controlling their own destinies and have achieved social justice for themselves,” he explained.
Jones served seven years as a rehabilitation program administrator, ten years as a rehabilitation counselor, seven years as a university instructor, and three years working in international rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities. He was previously employed as senior professor of special education in Lushoto, Tanzania, in Africa and administered two federal programs as executive director for the division of rehabilitation in Hawaii. While supervising rehabilitation programs in Hawaii, Jones launched new employment programs for youth with disabilities, created cutting-edge technology programs for children with disabilities living on rural islands, and mentored professionals in rehabilitation techniques.
He was elected six times as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama and led Alabama’s Braille literacy movement, culminating in an administrative rule requiring that Braille be taught and emphasized in Alabama’s school system. He was the creator of the Braillewriters for Blind Children Program, which gave a free Braillewriter to every blind student in Alabama.
Atlas of Northern Africa:
This third volume of maps of Africa, Atlas of Northern Africa, covers thirteen countries: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, and Cape Verde. Each country has an introductory section in Braille with facts and general information followed by a full-page tactile map. The maps show cities, towns, rivers, mountains, and places of special interest. The book contains seventy-eight pages and sixteen maps; price: $14.00; shipping by free mail where eligible. Also available at $14 each: Atlas of Southern Africa and Atlas of Eastern and Central Africa.
To order, send requests and checks to The Princeton Braillists, 76 Leabrook Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540. We cannot accept letters by fax, nor do we accept credit cards. We can be reached by telephone. To speak with Ruth Bogia, call (215) 357-7715; to speak with Nancy Amick, call (609) 924-5207.
We are the Full Circle Band, a new and exciting vocal and instrumental group based in Los Angeles. We feature a twelve-string acoustic electric guitarist, a synthesizer/keyboardist, and a singer and alto recorder player who is totally blind.
We perform a variety of folk, pop, soft rock, and Spanish love ballads, all with our own unique touch. The group is currently seeking a professional flautist. Our goal is to perform at local venues for enjoyment and charity. Interested individuals must be reliable, flexible, and willing and able to participate and follow direction; leave your egos at home. For more information contact Liz at <[email protected]>, or call (323) 254-9213.
Refurbished Computers for the Blind Available:
Join your friends in using a refurbished computer that is two gigs or faster. Listen using your Talking Book or CD player for a step-by-step tutorial on how to use WindowEyes or NVDA, including email and reading web pages. It will come with a demonstration copy of WindowEyes or a free copy of NVDA.
Keep track of your tax and insurance files, write letters and emails to your friends and family, keep your own recipes, and maintain your family's genealogy records. Shop online. A demonstration copy of the ZoomText screen-enlargement program is provided. If it works for you, a full, registered copy of ZoomText will be provided when you demonstrate that you can use it.
If you have wanted to have your own computer, now is your chance. A gift of $100 will get you the computer. Call Lee Mann (214) 340-6328 during Central Time business hours, please. This offer extends to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Learning to use the computer is a lot of work, but it offers many new pleasures. <http://computersfortheblind.net>
Descriptive Videos Available:
Now enjoy 200 movies with added audio information on the soundtrack. Call Ken Man at (972) 530-2949 for a print or cassette copy of the catalog. A one-time gift of $25 gets you started. This will allow you to access 200 movies that you can enjoy alone or with the family. <http://computersfortheblind.net/movie-program.html>
Disability, Accessibility, and Arts Residency--Call for Participation:
Calling artists of all media (visual artists, filmmakers, performance artists, choreographers, sound artists, creative writers, and poets) to participate in a one-week residency at the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) at UC Irvine from June 12 to 20, 2012. Six artists will be invited to work in conversation with other artists and scholars, to consider issues of multiple access/disability in the conception and design of a creative work.
(Approaches to accessibility could include but are not limited to audio description, captioning, sign language, multimodal design, etc.)
We are interested in expanding notions and strategies for works that are multiply accessible. Leading scholars in disability studies will offer daily workshops on disability and access in the arts for a small group of graduate student participants. These workshops are optional for artists in residence. The week will culminate in a final day of informal public presentations aimed at sharing findings in the form of discussion, sketches, and performances.
Residency will include basic support for travel, accommodations, and materials fees, as well as a small stipend. Some meals will also be provided. This residency is organized by the Critical Disability Studies research group <http://www.uchri.org/Fellows/Residential-Research-Groups/2011F-Critical-Disability-Studies.php>, and is partially funded in kind by UCHRI and a grant from the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA).
By November 1, 2011, please submit a one-page résumé; a one- to two-page written statement regarding your interest or experience in disability, access, and the arts; and relevant work samples. Send URL(s) and PDFs of the above to <[email protected]>.
Music Instruction for the Blind:
This season you can learn to play your favorite musical instrument without having to use print or Braille. Music for the Blind has beginner courses for a dozen instruments, including piano, guitar, harmonica, violin, banjo, saxophone, and flute. These courses are taught totally by ear--in an all-audio format, so there is no print or Braille to read. Each course contains at least four tapes or CDs and costs as little as $39. If you already play, Music for the Blind also has over 800 individual song lessons that are taught in the same all-audio format. These individual song lessons start at only $11.95 each. For more information go to the website <www.musicfortheblind.com> or call (888) 778-1828. Start playing today.
Perkins SHELF Project Offers Free Book Downloads:
The Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library is the first NLS regional library in the nation to offer patrons the SHELF Project, a new download service for digital audio books like those produced at the Perkins Library's own recording studio on the Perkins School for the Blind campus in Watertown, Massachusetts. The SHELF Project (SHared ELectronic Files) provides an online catalog of locally-recorded digital audio books, plus the capacity to download and play them on a variety of devices available to eligible NLS patrons. People unable to read standard print materials may be eligible to use Perkins SHELF and other free services from the Library. Eligibility details are online at <www.perkinslibrary.org>.
Massachusetts is the first state to make its locally-produced audio books available on the national SHELF Project developed by Keystone Systems. Other libraries' content will soon come onboard, and users will have access to that content in addition to Massachusetts titles. Talking Book versions of national best-sellers and other high-demand books are available through the Library's affiliation with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Books by local authors and titles of particular interest to Massachusetts readers are recorded by volunteer narrators at Perkins's Watertown recording studios. Interested borrowers can access Perkins SHELF Project through the Library's online catalog <www.perkinslibrary.org>. Using the Perkins SHELF Project, patrons can browse the collection and download a desired title immediately.
Keystone Systems, Inc., in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a leading provider of software and services for libraries with distinctive needs. "The SHELF Project will be a repository for sharing locally recorded titles from across the country. The fact that Perkins has taken the lead on the SHELF Project will be instrumental to its success. Without the Library’s expertise, feedback, input, and support, it would not have been possible to launch such an ambitious program," said James Burts, executive vice president of Keystone Systems. States that have already committed to putting their titles on SHELF include Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Missouri, Vermont, Maryland, and the Braille Institute of America in southern California. Several other states will soon add their locally-produced titles to the SHELF Project. More than one thousand titles will be available for Perkins and other states' libraries on the service. Patrons can email <[email protected]> or call (617) 972-7240 for details about Perkins SHELF Project.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
I have the following items for sale:
BookPort, including manual, connectivity cable, and software. Asking $225 or best offer.
Braille Blazer, which has built-in speech synthesizer, used minimally. Does not include connectivity cable or paper. Asking $500.
Braillino with Bluetooth. In good condition, recently cleaned and updated. Includes manuals, software, charger, and connectivity cable. Asking $1,900.
Please email <[email protected]> if interested.
Braille TDD, comes with carrying case, never been used, asking $650. Call Donna Webb at (501) 655-4369 or (501) 249-6196.
BrailleNote mPower BT 32, $949 or best offer (shipping included). The unit is in very good condition. Braille display, buttons, and keys are all in fine shape. Comes with AC adapter, earphones, leather carrying case, carrying strap, SD card, external SD card reader, and network card to allow for wireless network connectivity. The internal SD card reader does not recognize SD cards, but, as mentioned, the unit does come with an external reader. The CompactFlash and PCMCIA slots work fine too. I can be reached at (519) 669-1456 or at <[email protected]>.
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.