Vol. 54, No. 11 December 2011
Gary Wunder, editor
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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. 11 December 2011
Convention Bulletin 2012
Reflection on the 2011 National Convention
by Sandy Sommers
Equal Access to Information:
The Urgency and the Law
by Daniel Goldstein
Civil Rights for Disabled Americans
by Samuel Bagenstos
Equal Access to Technology and
Programs in the United States
by David M. Capozzi
The Evolution of Braille:
Can the Past Help Plan the Future? Part Three
Tandem Surfboarding Brothers
by Eric Vasiliauskas
I Thought I Was Oriented,
but I Was Mistaken
My Odyssey of Orientation
and Mobility Training
by Mary A. Tozzo
Have Cane, Can Travel
by Jennifer Dunnam
Imagine Buying a Coffee
and Walking to Work—Blind
by Mark Patinkin
Distinguished Educator of Blind
Children Award for 2012
by Cathy Jackson
The 2012 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi
A Tribute to an Unsung Hero:
The Value of a Very Special Teacher
by Fred Wurtzel
Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library
Talk Talk, by T. C. Boyle
Reviewed by Ed Morman
Accentuate the Positive
by Shirley Baillif
Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2012
by Lauren McLarney
Each November the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind convenes an in-person meeting to review the work of the organization and plan for the future. The two-day meeting begins at eight o'clock sharp and not infrequently runs past eight in the evening. Accessibility, education, employment, and a host of other issues are discussed in detail, and decisions are made to ensure that the work we do is moving the blind of America toward first-class citizenship in America.
The board is composed of fourteen state presidents and additional members, representing a total of seventeen states. Here, appearing from left to right, are the members of the board of directors.Back row (left to right): Fred Schroeder, first vice president; John Fritz; Alpidio Rolón; Ron Brown, second vice president; Pam Allen, treasurer; Marc Maurer, president; James Gashel, secretary; Mika Pyyhkala; and Mike Freeman. Front row (left to right): Joseph Ruffalo Jr., Parnell Diggs, Cathy Jackson, Amy Buresh, Patti Gregory-Chang, Carl Jacobsen, Sam Gleese, and Ever Lee Hairston.
It is time to begin planning for the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we are returning to Dallas and the beautiful Hilton Anatole Hotel, site of the 2010 convention. Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2012 convention they are singles and doubles, $63; for triples and quads, $68. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 15 percent. No charge will be made for children under sixteen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.
For 2012 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Hilton Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207, or call (214) 761-7500. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled before June 1, 2012, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
Guest-room amenities include cable television; coffeepot; iron and ironing board; hair dryer; and, for a fee, high-speed Internet access. Guests can also enjoy one outdoor and two indoor pools as well as a fully equipped health club and tennis courts. The Hilton Anatole has several restaurants and bars, and even a disco. See later issues of the Monitor for specific details and information about other attractions in the Greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
The 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Saturday, June 30, and adjournment will be Thursday, July 5, following the banquet. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up for those who registered online will begin on Sunday, July 1, and both Sunday and Monday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Monday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
General convention sessions will begin on Tuesday, July 3, and continue through the banquet on Thursday, July 5. Note that Wednesday, July 4, will include both morning and afternoon convention sessions. Friday, July 6, will be available for tours for those who enjoy getting to know something about our convention city. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.
Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Deneice Hopper, 3726 Dutton Drive, Dallas, Texas 75211; phone (512) 323-5444.
The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours suggested by the Texas affiliate; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made--all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2012 national convention. We'll see you in Dallas in 2012.
by Sandy Sommers
From the Editor: The following reflection first appeared in the summer/fall issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. With the opening of convention season just around the corner, we thought it might be of interest for those who have never attended a national convention to read an account of a first-convention experience. Here is the article Sandy Sommers wrote when she returned home from Orlando in July 2011. It begins with the editor’s note:
Editor’s note: Sandy Sommers won an NFB of Ohio scholarship last November and a national scholarship this past July. Whenever I ran into her during that action-packed week, she seemed to be busy, connected, and having a great time. So I decided it might be interesting to hear from her about her impressions of the national convention and the impact it had on her life and future plans. This is what she wrote:
I brought my first baby home almost eighteen years ago. I had no idea what I was doing. I was amazed that they let me bring this little thing home, but I was confident that I could handle motherhood because I knew I had the resources to back me up when I needed help. I had girlfriends with babies who could guide me, I could call my mom for advice in the middle of the night, and I could always call my pediatrician to try to figure out what I needed to do. Many options for help were available at all times of the day and night.
For most of us blindness does not come with this instant support system. When the retina specialists told me to prepare myself for a life of blindness, I had no idea where to turn. I had never known another blind person in my entire life. My only exposure to blindness was Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli. This was hardly what I would call a big help, especially since I can’t sing or play the piano, and I had never actually met either of them. I had no blind girlfriends, friends of friends, blind parents, or even a doctor that could lend support or advice. I felt that I had no support system and nowhere to turn, and my ignorance was all-consuming.
My search for answers about living with blindness eventually led me to the National Federation of the Blind. Nobody in the Federation told me that life without sight was impossible as I had been told by countless doctors and rehab specialists; in fact, they made me realize that I still have a full life ahead of me with plenty of options.
I had the privilege of attending my first national NFB convention this summer in Orlando, Florida. Not only was I a first-time attendee, but I was a national scholarship winner as well. The scholarship alone said to me that the Federation already believed in me and that I was able to represent and be a useful part of the organization. I arrived already welcomed by the Federation because of the scholarship, and, as the week progressed, I met more and more members of the Federation whom I really wanted to get to know and call my friends. I was introduced to people from all walks of life and from just about every state--people who were intelligent, accomplished, and friendly and who were more than willing to share ideas, answer questions, and encourage me to participate fully in the mission of the Federation. I attended numerous meetings led by students, lawyers, former scholarship winners, guide dog users, parents of blind children, and teachers, to name only a few. I had meals with mentors, roommates, chapter presidents, and complete strangers (who didn’t feel at all like strangers after five minutes). Each day I took a little more information away with me and added a little more pride to the fact that I was now part of this organization.
I listened with excitement to Dr. Maurer talk about what our mission is and the resolutions of the Federation for the coming year. I listened to Ron Brown talk about playing baseball, never dreaming that ball games were still an option for a blind person. I listened to Mark Riccobono talk with enthusiasm about driving a car as a blind person and about the engineering that had made it possible. The entire time I kept thinking to myself, “Do these people know that they are blind?” I loved the positive attitude and the ability of everyone there to do what they set their minds to--with little or no vision.
By the end of the week, not only did I know that I was a Federationist, I also had almost 3,000 new friends whom I now consider my new support system. Turns out that I can do anything I dream of, and I am backed by the National Federation of the Blind. The week was a whirlwind of activity, and I loved every minute of it. I now know that I can be an independent blind person, and the NFB has given me the strength, the determination, and a philosophy that will enable me to succeed in the future. The convention confirmed that I have joined an organization that has much to give to me. I am looking forward to many years of giving back. I now dream of being a blind resource to someone in the future.
by Daniel Goldstein
From the Editor: What is the meaning of equal opportunity and equal access? Not very long ago these terms spoke to physical access—being let into the classroom, being allowed to rent an apartment, being allowed to ride at the amusement park. These days access and opportunity have little to do with being physically permitted to go into a classroom or hotel and everything to do with what we can do once we’ve been granted physical access. Physical integration is by no stretch of the imagination equivalent to true integration, and in today’s world it is just the beginning.
On Friday afternoon, July 8, Dan Goldstein, a prominent civil rights attorney who lives in Baltimore, Maryland, addressed the convention about gaining real access for blind people in what is often called the information age. His message leaves no doubt that we have problems aplenty but that together we have the will to turn them into opportunities. Here is what Mr. Goldstein had to say:
Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. In his presidential address Dr. Maurer mentioned that he and I will be the co-recipients of the American Bar Association's Award for Disability Rights. Now I don't want to sound ungracious, but I don't think the ABA is a leader in disability rights, so I wasn't really excited about that. But to be mentioned in the same breath as my teacher, my friend, and my leader, Marc Maurer--that's all the honor I require in a lifetime.
Two years ago we gathered in Detroit, and the fact that you're here means you found your way out of the hotel. While we were there, I stood before you and made a promise. I said that, because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, we would have something we have never had in our history. You remember that--same books, same time, at the same price. And I said I did not know whether it would be a year, two years, or longer, but have it we would, And, when I made that promise, there was not a single book in copyright that we could get at at the same time and at the same price and in the same way as everybody else. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that has changed. [Applause]
In April 2010 Apple introduced the iBook, which was accessible and could be read on the accessible iPad, iPod, and iPhone. That has meant that we have over two hundred thousand books in copyright at the same time and at the same price. How did that happen? If the National Federation of the Blind had not successfully taken on Apple over the inaccessibility of iTunes U in 2008 and gotten them focused on accessibility, you know we would not have that.
By the way, if you go to the FAQ pages for publishers (if you were thinking about having an iBook), you'll see that one of the questions is: "Can an iBook be a PDF?" "No,” says Apple. “It must be ePub." And, as long as NFB member George Kerscher is the president of the International Digital Publisher Forum, which sets the ePub standard, ePub will now and forever after be accessible. [Applause]
At the end of 2010 Amazon introduced the Kindle 3. The menus talked, and the content talked, but I wouldn't spend the money. But in January, the next month, January of this year, Amazon introduced its Kindle app for PCs, and the accessibility is first-rate with great navigability. So in January of this year we got 950,000 more books in copyright at the same time and at the same price. Now how did that happen? If the National Federation of the Blind had not successfully taken on Amazon for the inaccessibility of the Kindle, you know we would not have that.
Earlier this year Blio came out with 300,000 accessible eBooks from Baker and Taylor, the largest distributor of books in the world and more to come. How did that happen? If the National Federation of the Blind had not formed and maintained the partnership with Ray Kurzweil lo these many decades, we would not have the Blio.
So, in the two years since I last spoke to you, we've gotten about 1.5 million books at the same time and at the same price as everyone else. But that's not all. This fall blind college students should be able to go to the CourseSmart website, which will finally be fully accessible, and buy accessible eTextbooks. Those books will live on a shelf in cyberspace, and CourseSmart, as most of you may know, is owned by a consortium of the big six college textbook publishers. CourseSmart offers, not just the book, but the ability to annotate, group highlight, link to assignments in the course-management software, and many other features, all of which are now accessible.
How did that happen? Two years ago the books and the website were completely inaccessible, and CourseSmart was entering into contracts all over the country to supply digital eTextbooks at a discount to colleges and universities. If the National Federation of the Blind had not first confronted the university system of Ohio and told it that the contract with CourseSmart meant that Ohio universities were illegally discriminating against blind Ohio college students, we would not have gotten CourseSmart's undivided attention. But we did, and now a willing and interested friend, CourseSmart, is making its website accessible, and its college textbooks will be accessible at the same time and at the same price.
Adobe Digital Editions is working on making its next version of its eBook platform, Adobe Digital Editions 2.0, accessible. It was supposed to happen in December. I guess it's a long gestation. It's now in beta, and it's not all the way there, but it's coming. And how did that happen? You may have guessed the answer. Adobe sells a lot of eBooks to libraries. The NFB persuaded the American Library Association to adopt a resolution that libraries should not buy inaccessible eBooks, and then, when we had that resolution, the NFB sent a letter to more than thirteen thousand public libraries to tell them that buying inaccessible eBooks for use by their patrons was illegal discrimination. Well, Adobe got the message, so we're getting Adobe 2.0.
Pearson Publishing is here at this convention, and at least one of its book units is working hard with NFB on accessibility. Vital Source, an eTextbook Platform like CourseSmart, isn't there yet, but in the meantime its books are accessible as iBooks at the same time and at the same price.
Elsevier, a major college textbook publisher, is making the content of its catalog accessible at the same time and at the same price. How did all of that happen and in twenty-four months? Because of the National Federation of the Blind. [Applause]
So we have a couple of million of the same books at the same time and the same price. Are we satisfied? [audience response: No!] I'd have been worried if I heard anything else. We will not be satisfied until all information that is available to the sighted is available to the blind at the same time and at the same price.
Many of the scholarship winners that we will applaud tonight are graduate students whose principle reading is in professional online journals. Will we stop before all that they need to read is accessible at the same time and the same price? [audience: No!] Libraries are making digital archives of print books a treasure house far more valuable than gold. Will we stop before that's all accessible? [audience: No!] Not being able to see may be a nuisance, but not having equal access to information is a terrible handicap in education, on the job, and as a citizen. In a technology-driven world, not having access to the technology is also a terrible handicap.
Now Dr. Maurer has said to me that this is a race. Digital information continues to multiply as do new technologies. Digital information has invaded the sinews, ligaments, and even capillaries of our society. We must get ahead of the technological developments and make sure it is all accessible out of the box. Accessibility has to be part of all tech designs and all content building. If we don't, it will be too late to undo, and we will lose the race. And the truth is, while we have been moving fast, we are not yet at the halfway point in this race, much less near the finish line.
So how do we win this race for equal access to digital information? One of the places that technology is first deployed and on a widescale basis is in our educational institutions, where digital content is becoming pandemic. To succeed in the job market and as citizens, we need full access in the schools. If we can get our colleges and universities to insist on accessible technology from its vendors and to make accessible the content that's available to faculty, students, and staff, then we will also change the way all of society presents electronic information, until finally, we can say--if it's technology, we can use it with the rest of the world. If it is electronic content, it is ours for the asking.
What is the NFB doing to make sure we win this race? How will we establish, once and for all, in the name of commonsense and decency, that our participation will not be limited by the irrelevance of sight? Well the first thing we have done is to secure unprecedented cooperation from the federal government in getting the message out to our educational institutions. You heard a little from Dr. Maurer during the presidential report and from Alexa Pozny about the Kindle letter that, in June of 2010, the Departments of Justice and Education jointly sent to every college and university president in the United States. In part the government of the United States said, "Requiring use of an emerging technology in the classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of individuals with disabilities--individuals with visual disabilities--is discrimination prohibited by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act." Way to tell them, federal government. The letter also said, "Students with visual impairments may not be discriminated against in the full and equal enjoyment of all goods and services of colleges and universities. They must receive an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from these goods and services, and they must not be provided different or separate goods or services." How did the United States government define access? "When a blind student can acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use."
Now I will freely confess before all of you that I can't sing, not a note. If you want that, ask Father Sheehan. But that sure sounds like beautiful music to me. This May the federal government broadcast this message again. In case schools didn't get it, the Department of Education explained that the requirement of accessible technology applies to K-12 as well as colleges; that accessibility is required of all technology that affects students, faculty, and staff; that it applies to content, to online courses, and to applications for admissions. The guidance says it doesn't matter whether there's a blind student in the class at the moment or not, because, as everybody here knows, if you wait to worry about accessibility until the blind student shows up, it's too late. This document--I recommend it to you--it's long. It goes on for about twelve pages, but to me it reads like a collection of Shakespeare's love sonnets. And that guidance was sent to every elementary, middle, and high school and every college and university in the United States.
Even so, not everyone has gotten the message. In the last twelve months forty percent of the colleges and universities have migrated to Google apps for education, as have K-12 schools in five states. That's Gmail, Google calendar, Google Docs, Google sites. Why not? It's terrific and it's free and it's terrific--if you can see. Oh wait a minute--it's not terrific if you can't see--it's something else I can't say from this podium.
So what has the National Federation of the Blind done about that? In March we filed complaints with the Department of Justice against two universities, Northwestern and NYU, and several school districts in Oregon for using Google Apps for Education. Now, as you heard this morning from Mr. Eustace, Google is promising that these services will be accessible by the beginning of the calendar year.
Is that good enough? No. Are there still Google products and services that are inaccessible? Yes. You may not have caught it exactly, but at one point Mr. Eustace said, "You know, I told Dr. Maurer we put things out when they're broken, and then we fix it." There is no moral quality to something being broken. There is a moral quality to discrimination. You don't say something is broken, therefore it's wrong. We have to explain to Mr. Eustace that something that discriminates is wrong. We will not be satisfied until everything Google offers that is available to the sighted is available to the blind on the day that it comes onto the market, not a day later, a month later, a year later.
The most popular eReader in the United States is not the iPad, the Blio, or the Kindle; it's the Barnes and Noble Nook. The Nook is inaccessible. There's also software called the Nook Study; that too is inaccessible. Then there's the Barnes and Noble website that you go to to buy the books; that is inaccessible. If you could get to the actual eBook, it is accessible in a sense. It will read sentence by sentence, although not word by word or line by line.
So what is the NFB doing about that? Dr. Maurer invited Barnes and Noble to come talk to the NFB. He never got an answer. So Dr. Maurer said to my partner, Eve Hill, "Eve, get their attention." I love it when Dr. Maurer says that. So in June, NFB filed complaints with the Department of Education against four K-12 schools that bought Nook devices, some with federal money, for classes, libraries, or book groups, and Texas A&M University for doing a pilot program with a Nook study platform. I guess the Aggies didn't get the Kindle memo. Barnes and Noble will find that the marketplace will not welcome them until they are ready to make their wonderful devices, software, and books available to everyone.
At too many schools in this country, accessibility is the exception, not the rule. What is NFB doing about that? To demonstrate the breadth and depth of the problem of inaccessibility on campus, as you heard Dr. Maurer say in the presidential report, we have filed a complaint with the Department of Education against Penn State University, where the inaccessible technology includes the learning-management software, the library-search software, the student account information, the website, the clickers, the on-campus ATMs, the technology podiums in the classroom, and this goes on and on and on. Penn State, though, is not unusual. We could have picked many other schools for the same complaint. The complaint has raised the consciousness of many of those other schools, and it has begun to trigger change elsewhere. But we will continue to file complaints like this until the default mode on campus is accessibility.
You heard in the presidential report about Chris Toth and Jamie Principato, two true Federationists who have advocated for themselves ardently and well, and they've done it bravely in the face of hostility, abuse of power, and impenetrable indifference at Florida State University. We have filed a suit on their behalfs seeking damages for the ruinous impact that Florida State has had on their education, their careers, and their finances. We intend that case to be a lesson. After all, we are talking about school. We intend to teach that universities that discriminate will pay a high price for doing so.
But lawsuits and complaints are just some of the tools that the NFB has at its disposal, even if they're the ones that I think are the most fun. So what else is NFB doing to win the race? Thanks to NFB, we have the AIM Commission that Gaeir told you about on Tuesday that will report back to Congress in September. Mark Riccobono and George Kerscher are both commissioners, and the NFB has proposed that the commission recommend to Congress a new law to ensure equal access to postsecondary digital instructional materials, meaning not just content, but the interface, the software--any applications that relate to the display, manipulation, and annotation of content--any instructional software for applications that are used to facilitate instruction. NFB's recommendation includes making technology developers and content publishers and distributors liable for damages when they discriminate against blind students.
What else will NFB do to win the race? Foundations fund software for open use, but too often the foundations forget to ask the developers to make their software accessible, with devastating results. For example, many universities are now using open-source software called Integral, developed with funds from the Gates Foundation. Integral makes it possible for colleges and their students and faculty to use Facebook in a closed, integrated environment, a virtual student union.
Now, as all of you here know, there are some accessibility barriers on Facebook, but Integral makes even that which is accessible on Facebook inaccessible. How will we get the foundations to change their ways when they fund open-source software? It will take the prestige of the NFB and the reputation of Dr. Maurer to get the foundations to pay attention and start requiring accessibility as a condition of funding, but I have no doubt that we will.
We need to change the requirements for accredited degrees in computer science, computer engineering, and IT to include education on accessibility. We will do that. Will we succeed? I have no doubt we will. We need universities, as they develop online classes, to make accessibility part of the development process. We need them to fix their websites, stop buying inaccessible technology, and start fixing or replacing the inaccessible technology that they have. We've been doing this by going to conferences of college CIOs to explain what they must do and why, and we're expanding that to meet with lawyers for colleges and with purchasing officers. Will we get our message across to the schools? Yes, I have no doubt we will.
The technology vendors need to change their ways. How will we do that? Anne Taylor and Tony Olivero have been working with Blackboard and Pearson Publishing, even Google, and others, to help them understand how to be accessible. There is more to be done there. Will the NFB change the way technology developers design their products? I have no doubt we will.
We are not alone in this fight. You will hear this afternoon from two great champions: Peter Siegel and Sam Bagenstos. But we are finding friends we didn't even know. George Mason [University] won't buy any technology until it's satisfied that it's accessible. Who knew? Oregon State University has made its website with more than one-and-a-half million pages accessible and keeps it that way, because it has an accessibility policy with accountability. Last week Ohio State actually made a vendor sign a contract where the vendor guaranteed that what it was selling would be accessible.
So the NFB races on, gaining allies, and we are passing mileposts of change along the route. Will we get there with a little help from our friends? I have no doubt we will. We will win this race. We must, because, until we have the same access as everyone else to all of the technology and content offered by the modern world, we will be denied our right to live in that world as equals. It is a big challenge, but it is not too big for the NFB. This is a race that can be won, and, because we are the NFB, it is a race that we will win. [Applause]
I am so proud to be part of this race, and I plan to be here on the day that Dr. Maurer tells you, as for all technology, we can use it at the same time and at the same price. And as for information, when he can say, we can get at all of it at the same time and at the same price. Thank you.
by Samuel Bagenstos
From the Editor: Samuel Bagenstos is the principal deputy attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He has argued before the Supreme Court for disability rights. Here is a slightly edited version of his remarks to the 2011 convention delivered on July 8, 2011:
It’s a real pleasure for me to be here. I bring to you the greetings of my boss, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Tom Perez, who is incredibly committed to enforcing the civil rights of all Americans, including people with disabilities, and of the attorney general, Eric Holder, who has been an incredible supporter and partner of ours in our effort and an incredible leader of the department. It’s a personal pleasure to be here because, when I was a young disability rights lawyer, which was longer ago than I wish, I was doing a lot of work on disability rights cases. But I didn’t know a lot about the disability rights movement, so one of the sources I turned to that gave me intellectual sustenance and a sense of what the disability rights movement is in America, of course, was the writings of Professor tenBroek, the founder of this organization.
The NFB is an amazing organization. It’s the oldest. I went to college at the University of North Carolina. We liked to say that we were the oldest continually operating university in America. Certainly NFB is far and away the oldest continually operating organization of people with disabilities to assert their own rights--not to have their rights asserted for them by others. This is a model for the disability rights movement.
I know our time is limited, so let me move to the matter I’m here to talk about. In the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in the Obama Administration, we came in with a goal of improving our enforcement of all the civil rights laws. I think we’ve really stepped up our enforcement efforts in all areas. When the Obama Administration came to office, we found that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department had really been decimated. From 2002 to 2007, two thirds of our attorneys left. These were disproportionately the people who had the most experience litigating cases and the most experience enforcing civil rights laws. Not surprisingly our enforcement of all civil rights laws went down substantially. When the Obama Administration with Eric Holder, Tom Perez, and me came in, our goal was to improve our enforcement of all civil rights laws. In the disability rights area particularly, there was a lot of enforcement in some areas, but not a lot in others. The connections between the Civil Rights Division and the civil rights community had been significantly frayed. So, when people who were experiencing violations of their civil rights came to the Department of Justice, too often they found the door closed, and folks would say, “No, I’m sorry. We can’t help you here.” That was not because the career staff at the Civil Rights Division didn’t want to help, because they did. They were being held back.
When we came in, we resolved to restore and transform the division; to restore the traditional efforts to enforce civil rights laws vigorously; to make ourselves the most powerful and, in some ways, the most important and most feared civil rights law firm in America--though I don’t think we’ve quite caught up to Dan Goldstein, but we’re gaining ground on him. At the same time we decided to transform our work to reach out into the areas where we really hadn’t before. One of the central areas where we had not done significant work but needed to do so was accessible technology, ensuring that the technology that increasingly defines the lives of everybody in America is accessible to all people--to people with and without disabilities. That was something we took on as a major goal two plus years ago when the Obama administration took office. This is one of my personal priorities in the disability rights area. You guys all know why. I don’t have to tell you. Technology can be a real benefit in integrating people with disabilities in our society. It can be an education. In my normal life, when I’m not working in the Justice Department, I am a professor in education. When I have students who are blind, I know the way they have historically gotten their textbooks is that they wait a month to get the same textbooks everyone else gets because someone has to rip the pages out, scan them, and put them in an accessible format. Now we’ve tried increasingly to insure that professors provide accessible formats, but not all professors do so for the reasons you’ve just heard. They need to be educated.
For the first time technology can give us the opportunity for people with disabilities and people without disabilities to get the same text at the same time in all the same ways. Electronic books can provide the opportunity for true integration in education, but not if they’re not accessible. Guided by what we heard from the NFB, from the blind community, from Dan Goldstein and Dr. Maurer, we asked what areas could we take on in which technology was being used to exclude when it could so easily be used to include. The Kindle was the first major area in which we collaborated with the NFB, working to negotiate an agreement in the Arizona State University Case, in which Dan Goldstein was counsel and NFB was a plaintiff. We took complaints from you about a number of private colleges and universities that were using the Kindle pilot program, trying to establish the principle that advanced technology is terrific in education, but institutions can’t use it if it is not available to everybody, if it is not accessible to everybody.
As you know, we had not done much before that to enforce disability rights in the technological realm, so our efforts got attention. We then sent a joint letter, as Dan Goldstein told you, with the Department of Education to every college and university in America, underscoring the point that they have to take account of accessibility when using advanced technology. They have to use technology that is accessible to all. Dan has told you that he has come to us with complaints, and we are investigating complaints of our own. We know that the Kindle is just the beginning. We have to make it clear to every manufacturer of a product—and of course we don’t have jurisdiction over manufacturers, only over the people who use those products: schools, universities, retail service providers—but we have to make clear to the manufacturers that we will go after their market if their products are not accessible to everybody. That’s not a whim, not an arbitrary exercise of governmental power; that is the law. When you are a university providing education, it has to be full and equal education to everybody, to people with and without disabilities, to people who are blind and to people who aren’t. If universities or school districts fail to take account of those principles when they’re purchasing equipment or technology, we will hold the universities and school districts responsible. [Applause]
Technology is incredibly important in other areas of our work as well. I am a law professor in my real life and work with the Law School Admissions Council, which has a website that everybody who wants to apply to law school has to use; at least it makes life a lot easier. This website was not accessible. We worked with NFB, which was the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the LSAC and signed an agreement with them that by July 2012, the fall 2012 cycle, that website will be accessible. We also worked out an agreement with an individual law school, the John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, that, if it doesn’t become accessible, they can’t use this process anymore. We sent this message to every law school in America that, if your application process is inaccessible, we will go after you.
We’ve worked with NFB as well in a case involving a person who is seeking testing accommodations for the Maryland bar. As the folks in this room know, testing accommodations are an incredibly difficult, torturous process for all concerned. Particularly in professional examinations there is too little appreciation of the basic requirements of the ADA, that the point of professional licensing tests or any other test is to test your competence with the material: your ability to be a good lawyer, your ability to be a good physical therapist, your ability to be a good doctor--not to test whether you can read words on a page or using JAWS or whatever, but to test your competence with the material. That’s something we are going to continue to have to enforce.
A recent major settlement with Wells Fargo Bank involved many kinds of accessibility issues for people with many disabilities. Not only did we obtain sixteen million dollars in damages, which we can do under the ADA and private parties cannot, but we also got Wells Fargo to agree to make every single one of its ATMs accessible to people who are blind. I want you all to hear this about Wells Fargo. We had a claims process for the sixteen million dollars of compensatory damages—that’s money that doesn’t go to us but goes to people who have experienced discrimination by Wells Fargo. If you have experienced discrimination by Wells Fargo, you need to contact our claims process. If you go to <www.ada.gov>, very simple, you will find the Wells Fargo agreement very high on the page. You can submit a claim, and I would urge you to do that.
Last summer we issued our first comprehensive update of the ADA regulations since the original regulations implementing the ADA, and we issued what’s called advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, beginning a regulatory process that will insure that we have clear rules governing accessibility on the Internet for the first time. [Applause] We know that the Internet is now the way everyone in America shops, gets their educational services, gets their access to the community in many ways. When Internet sites are inaccessible, that denies people with disabilities full and equal access to the community, which is what they’re entitled to under the ADA. So we are continuing the regulatory process on that.
We received public comments on our advanced notice last year. We have digested those comments. We are working on developing the proposed regulations, which is the next step, and you should pay attention to our process, because we will be issuing proposed regulations sometime in the next months. I can’t tell you exactly when, but we’re working hard at getting that done. That will be a major issue. I know in the area of technology we have some work to do ourselves. We have to do more enforcement with respect to others, but I know the Department of Justice and the government of the United States have a lot of work to do ourselves. We know that Section 508, which requires government agencies to purchase and use accessible technology, is under-enforced, under-complied with. We have to do more, and I am ashamed that, when I have had Dan Goldstein and others in to talk about the inaccessible government websites, some of them come from the Department of Justice. Some of them come from the Civil Rights Division, and we are working hard to overcome those problems because we know we need to be a leader in this area, and we know that the federal government as a whole needs to be a leader. Technology is a central part of what we’re trying to do.
Let me talk about a few other things that may be of interest to folks in the NFB. We have stepped up our litigation in a number of areas. We have a very significant docket of cases involving people with service animals who have been discriminated against. Some of these cases are amazing. We litigated a case and entered into a significant settlement agreement in which an attorney refused a woman with a service dog admission to his office for a deposition. She was a party in the case. He was deposing her, and he said, “No, you can’t come into my office because you have a service dog and I have a nice new oriental rug.” This is someone who should know that it’s a violation of the ADA for him to say, “You can’t come in here.” We don’t usually bring cases against a small business, a single individual, but in a case like this, where the discrimination was so egregious by someone who really ought to have known better, we did obtain a significant monetary settlement against him. [Applause]
In a recent case in California a child wanted to go to school with a service dog, and the school said, “No. You can’t come to school with your service dog.” We litigated that and obtained a favorable ruling. In 2011 you would think they would know these basic principles.
There are hotels around the country that refuse to allow people to come with their service animals or require them to pay a pet deposit, as if a service animal were a pet. We have been enforcing requirements in restaurants to insure that people who use service animals can get in without discrimination. We have seen all kinds of discrimination continuing against people who are blind. It is shocking in this day and age that you would still hear stereotype-laden statements that you might have heard in the 70s: you have to see in order to do this job. We are enforcing these laws, and we’re enforcing them aggressively. I know we have much more to do, and mostly we need to hear from you.
One of the things that we have worked on very hard in this administration is to expand our connections to the civil rights community. I have personally met with a number of the people in this room. Tom Perez has met with a number of people in this room. Even the attorney general has met with a number of people in this room. But we know that we sit in Washington offices. We don’t know all the discrimination that’s going on. We can’t know because we don’t experience the discrimination that happens every day. We don’t use different kinds of websites that people may use and find discrimination and accessibility problems with them. We don’t go to all the stores and all the restaurants in the country. We need to hear from you. If you have a problem with discrimination, obviously this is an organization that is terrific in advocacy, but you should also reach out to the Department of Justice. That’s disability-based discrimination in anything. Disability-based discrimination from a government agency, from a store, from an employer comes to us. If we’re not the right place, we’ll make sure you get to the right place. But we need to hear from you because, as we move forward as a nation, we have to ensure that everybody, people with disabilities and without, people who are blind and people who aren’t, have the same access to all aspects of our civic, our cultural, and our economic life. Thank you very much.
by David M. Capozzi
From the Editor: David Capozzi is the executive director of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, also known as the Access Board. He addressed the convention on Thursday afternoon, July 7. This is what he said:
Thank you very much. I have bad news; I have no door prizes to give. First I want to thank you for the invitation to speak at your national convention. I want to recognize a few of our board members who are in the audience. One is back in the Utah delegation, Ron Gardner, a public board member. Ron is one of our more vocal and eloquent board members. I appreciate his service, as do the other board members and staff. Also Kathy Martinez has joined us at the front of the audience, Kathy, welcome. Kathy is a board member from the Department of Labor. I also want to give a shout out to my cousin from Buffalo, Angie Robinson, back in the New York delegation. But thank you again for the invitation. I would like to acknowledge the strong leadership that your Washington, D.C., and Baltimore representatives provide to the NFB and its membership led by Dr. Maurer, John Paré, and Lauren, Jesse, and Anil--the entire governmental affairs office--and the director of strategic initiatives.
I only wish that every disability organization could organize as well as NFB does. Personally I have enjoyed a long and interesting relationship with the NFB staff and members. My earliest experience I can remember was back in 1987 with Jim Gashel. Jim was then the director of governmental affairs, and, following passage of the Air Carrier Access Act, I was then director of advocacy for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Our interest at that time was in nondiscrimination policies and practices, physical accessibility, and strong training in enforcement provisions for the Air Carrier Access Act.
We had a group of disability organizations negotiating with the Department of Transportation for regulations, and, after months of serving on the first regulatory negotiating advisory committee on disability issues, we came to an impasse on exit row seating. When the FAA and the Department of Transportation pulled that issue from our negotiations, they wouldn’t allow us to talk about it anymore. I can remember a few minutes later we went up to my office with the other disability representatives, and it didn’t take long for us to decide that in the spirit of unity we wanted to end the negotiations. I think unity was an important message and is still an important message today. After the negotiations broke down, I learned a few important lessons. Coalition advocacy is difficult, but it’s critical when working with the government. Second, it’s very important to have all of the parties at the table when government agencies are developing regulations, standards, or guidelines. I can talk about that now from a different point of view, working for the government. I really learned that lesson well that day.
My other memorable experience with NFB leadership is when I was asked by the chairperson of the National Council on Disabilities, Sandy Parrino, to speak at the Eastern European Conference on Disabilities in Prague back in 1992. Another featured speaker was the late Dr. Jernigan, and I had the pleasure of spending time with Dr. Jernigan and his wife Mary Ellen. I appreciated that experience as well. We learned a lot. We shared a lot of information, and I know that you miss him dearly.
My advocacy experiences have shaped my management philosophies and actions in government service for the past twenty years with the Access Board. As Dr. Maurer said, the board is an independent agency of the United States government devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. Since the early 1980s we’ve been writing the nation’s accessibility requirements. These took the form of the earliest requirement, the Minimum Guidelines and Requirements for Accessible Design, which formed the basis for access requirements to federal facilities. We wrote the ADA accessibility guidelines for building facilities and transportation vehicles, and we’re still adding to them to this day. We wrote the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines, the Section 508 standards for electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, and now the standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. These requirements, I think, have led to a more accessible America in many respects: no more protruding objects, accessible signage, two-way communication devices in elevators, accessible automated teller machines, and more accessible technology; but clearly we have much more work to do as technology changes and more and more products are being developed without accessible interfaces.
At the Access Board we are currently working on ten different rule-making activities, four of which will directly affect the NFB and its membership. First, we’re in the process of finalizing updated guidelines for transportation vehicles, which for the first time will require automated stop announcements and route announcements on buses. Second, together with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice, we have developed new provisions for accessible self-service transaction machines. The Department of Transportation will be issuing a proposed rule later this year under the Air Carrier Access Act using these new provisions (which we helped develop), which were based on our 2004 requirements for ATMs and some provisions for our Section 508 standards. We will follow suit later.
Third, we’ll be proposing updates to our Electronic and Information Technology Standards and our Telecommunications Act accessibility guidelines, combining them into one rule and updating them based on recommendations from one of our advisory committees. Comments were received last year on an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on the subject. Finally, on July 26, later this month, we’ll be issuing proposed guidelines for accessible public rights of way, roundabouts, on-street parking, and accessible sidewalks.
While I hope that there is much in the proposed rule that you will like, I expect there will be at least two issues we will hear about from you during the public comment period that you may not like: detectable warning surfaces at curb ramps and accessible pedestrian signals. Both were subjects of a minority report that NFB submitted in 2001 to our federal advisory committee on the subject. Peggy Pinder Elliott, NFB’s representative and a former public access member, argued then for a more flexible approach to both issues rather than mandatory installation.
I’d like to close by commending NFB for its leadership on behalf of its members, especially over the last decade on technology and website-access issues. Your advocacy and litigation against AOL, Target, recently McCarran Airport, Ticketmaster, Google, Kindle, and others have helped make significant inroads, especially when regulations were lacking. Ron knows better than most that agencies don’t move as quickly as the public would like, so it’s sometimes incumbent on advocates like you to push agencies and to push the envelope.
However, despite laws and regulations on the books and advocacy efforts, much more remains to be done. The recent report from Dr. Lazar from Towson University in Maryland shows that, despite the clear Section 508 standards we wrote back in 2000, numerous--his study showed 90 percent--federal home pages had one or more accessibility errors. I was pleased to learn that the Access Board site was not one of those. But obviously much more attention needs to be paid to making the laws and regulations we already have work better. I guarantee you that this study has generated serious discussions and hopefully tangible outcomes from the CIO Accessibility Committee and from the White House.
Over the last ten months I have had the pleasure of moderating four listening sessions on Section 508 implementation along with representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, the General Services Administration, and the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. We have held listening sessions in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; San Diego; and most recently Stanford, California. Our last listening session is scheduled for September 8 and will be a virtual session. Hopefully many of you will participate as you’ve already done at the four previous ones. The NFB has been very well represented at all the listening sessions.
We’ve heard important and consistent messages at listening sessions. First, a general frustration with the decentralized enforcement scheme of the law. The way it works now is that every federal agency is responsible for implementing its own requirements. So, if there is a complaint that’s to be had at the Department of Education, it’s the Department of Education’s responsibility to enforce it. You can draw your own conclusions how well that’s working. We’ve also heard concerns about the need for regular survey results from the Department of Justice. Reports have been required every other year since 2000, but only one has been released. We’ve heard the need for greater oversight by Congress and the administration on implementation and a plea from businesses to give incentives and recognition to those companies that have truly embraced accessibility so that they see a return on their investment, and, finally, the need for more training and technical assistance. If the Home Appliance Act is introduced in this Congress or in a future Congress, the Access Board looks forward to playing a significant role in its implementation.As I described earlier, one of the lessons I’ve learned during my career is the importance of having the government listen to constituent groups. One of the ways that we’ve done that at the Board is by forming advisory committees, and since 1993 the Board has conducted twelve different federal advisory committees involving over 300 organizations, and the NFB was involved in four of those. We value your expertise and your knowledge, and we respect your advocacy positions. I look forward to a continued relationship with your organization with Federationists around the country and look forward to working together with you. Thank you. [Applause]
From the Editor: In the May 2011 issue we published part one and in October part two of this article prepared by the Braille Authority of North America. Here is the third and final part:
Previous installments of this article traced the changes in Braille and print production methods over the past decades and discussed some of the challenges caused by the interaction of current codes with current production methods. This final section discusses the history of efforts to resolve these issues and briefly outlines possible solutions.
With the proliferation of better and more efficient technology, the relevance of Braille as a reading and writing medium is frequently questioned. Technology has made it easier than ever for people who are blind to access a wide variety of texts, to create print documents, and to be more productive at work and home. Some people report that they can read faster with speech than with Braille—and they probably can. But are those same people continuing to use Braille? Have the ways Braille readers use Braille in their daily lives changed so dramatically that it should affect the development of Braille codes?
The answer to both questions is a resounding yes! While the ways people are using Braille have changed over the years, Braille remains a viable and crucially important medium for communication. Speech access allows for quick skimming of information, but Braille gives access to text in a manner that allows the reader to read independently and to see the spelling of words, the format of documents, and the symbols used. For these reasons it’s imperative that the codes be kept up to date so Braille users can read and write accurately.
For many years BANA has continued to make small changes to the Braille code where absolutely necessary. Out of consideration for the impact on Braille readers, teachers, and transcribers, BANA has acted conservatively in making changes. However, the small fixes made over the years have, in some cases, increased the complexity and ambiguity of the Braille code. An example of how an effort to make a seemingly simple change to the code led to bigger complications was illustrated in the second installment of this article. To resolve many of the shortcomings of the current Braille code outlined in the previous installments, serious efforts at code restructuring have taken place in the past two decades. A more comprehensive approach was needed to create flexible solutions for the changing needs of Braille users.
The first of these efforts was the Unified English Braille (UEB) code project, which was initiated in 1992 by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). The impetus for this effort was a memorandum sent to the BANA board in January 1991 by Abraham Nemeth and Tim Cranmer. In this memo Drs. Nemeth and Cranmer expressed their concern over the “proliferation of Braille codes” with different symbols for common characters. They stated: "For a long time now, the blindness community has been experiencing a steady erosion in Braille usage, both among children and adults. This trend shows no sign of abatement so that there is now a clear and present danger that Braille will become a secondary means of written communication among the blind, or that it will become obsolete altogether." Later in their memo they cited “the complexity and disarray" of the Braille codes then in use, and they asked BANA to give the Braille code a major overhaul to improve its usability and flexibility. They stated clearly: “It is time to modernize the Braille system.” Based on the recommendations in this memo, BANA established a committee to explore the development of a unified code.
The original intent of the unified code project was to explore the possibility of bringing together three of the official Braille codes that are used for various purposes: English Braille, American Edition (literary material), Nemeth Code (mathematics and scientific notation), and Computer Braille Code (computer notation). In 1993 the project was adopted by the full International Council on English Braille (ICEB). The project was expanded in scope to explore the possible unification of the Braille codes that are used for those purposes in all seven ICEB member countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States. Work to develop a unified code was conducted primarily by Braille readers in those countries with input from transcribers and educators.
At the time the project began, the Braille codes used for English literary purposes were similar, though not identical, in most English-speaking countries. Because of this, substantial preservation of that code was one of the basic goals in the development of UEB. However, the codes used for technical purposes in the other ICEB countries were very different from those used in the BANA countries so that UEB can be regarded as bringing together the Braille codes used in different countries as well as those used for different kinds of notation. The only notation specifically exempted from consideration under the UEB project was the music Braille code, which was already and still is a well-accepted international code.
In the initial stages of UEB development, one of the most pressing issues to be decided was the placement of numbers. In the U.S. numbers in the literary code were written using the four dots in the upper portion of the cell while in math and science, numbers were written in the lower portion of the cell. For a consistent code, one method for writing numbers had to be chosen, using either the upper or lower part of the cell.
In addition to these two possibilities, a third way of writing numbers was considered. Called "dot 6" or "Antoine" numbers, this system forms numbers by using the same dots as upper-cell numbers with dot 6 added. In this system, 1 is dots 1-6, 2 is dots 1-2-6, and so on. The zero departs from this pattern. Dot 6 numbers are still widely used in France, Germany, and other European countries.
To decide which system of numbers should be used, the committees, both in the U.S. and internationally, looked at the ramifications of using upper numbers, lower numbers, or the dot 6 numbers. Using lower numbers would mean changing all of the punctuation signs or having a special mode for numbers. The number sign would still have been needed in most cases because numbers standing alone could easily be misread. Use of Antoine numbers would mean losing ten frequently-used contractions, and many people reported that they were slower to read. Upper numbers had the advantage of being familiar to everyone and not conflicting with punctuation. In an analysis conducted using literature that contained frequent numbers, such as math and economics textbooks, numbers were found to come in contact more frequently with punctuation than with letters. After intense debate the familiarity of the standard upper number system with its advantage of keeping current punctuation was judged to be more important and suitable, especially for the general reader. Based on this rationale, the upper number system was selected for all purposes within UEB.
A full discussion of all characteristics of any code would be beyond the scope of this article. However, the primary changes in UEB from the current literary code used in the U.S. are:
1. Spacing: Words that are currently written together such as "and the" must have a space between them as they do in print.
2. Less ambiguity: Nine contractions are eliminated: "ally," "ation," "ble," "by," "com," "dd,” "into," "o'clock," and "to" because of translation difficulties and confusion with other symbols.
3. Punctuation: A few punctuation marks are different (for example, parentheses are two-cell sequences of dots 5, 1-2-6 and 5, 3-4-5). This change follows a new systematic pattern developed for creating symbols in UEB. In addition, symbols are included for different types of brackets, quotation marks, dashes, and others to show the Braille reader exactly which symbol is used in the original text.
4. Indicators: Bold, underline, and italics each have their own indicators. There is a method using three capital signs to show a long passage of uppercase text.
5. Math symbols: Numbers are shown in the upper portion of the cell as they are now in literary Braille; operational symbols such as plus and equals, which do not exist in current literary code, have been added and are different from those in the Nemeth code.
In 2004 the international community voted that UEB was sufficiently complete to be considered an international standard and for Braille authorities of individual countries to vote on its adoption for their use. To date, UEB has been adopted in five of the seven ICEB countries, including Canada. The United Kingdom voted on UEB adoption in October 2011.
The decision to write numbers in the upper portion of the Braille cell had a major impact on the technical aspects of the development of UEB. Dr. Abraham Nemeth, the developer of the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, recently completed development of a code that uses lower numbers throughout called the Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS). Like UEB it is also designed to represent literary, math, and computer information--combining all three codes into one unified system. While this system proposes changes to some parts of all three codes, it makes no changes to current literary Braille contractions.
The primary changes from the present literary Braille code would be:
1. Numerals: Numbers in all contexts occupy the lower part of the cell; these are referred to as "dropped numbers."
2. Use of modes: There are two modes—narrative, for normal literary material, and notational, for numeric and technical material. Notational mode is invoked with the number sign (dots 3-4-5-6) or by the "begin notational mode indicator" (dots 5-6). Notational mode is terminated by a dash or a space when the space is not within a string of numbers or a mathematical expression. Notational mode can also be terminated by a hyphen or a slash, and, when these characters are not followed by a space, they are preceded by a dot 5. Contractions are not allowed in notational mode.
3. Punctuation: Proposed changes in punctuation include new symbols for parentheses, brackets, quotation marks, and the dash. Because the NUBS symbols for parentheses (dots 1-2-3-5-6 and dots 2-3-4-5-6) could be confused with the words "of" and "with," a punctuation indicator (dots 4-5-6) must precede each parenthesis when used in narrative mode. The semicolon, exclamation point, and question mark remain unchanged but require a punctuation indicator in notational mode to distinguish them from digits. The period, the comma, and the colon are completely different in the two modes.
4. Type indicators: There are some changes in the technique for capitalization and for implementing italics and other types of emphasis.
Both proposed codes employ the use of "modes." It should be noted that even the current literary code uses modes, although they are not often referred to in this way. For example, when the word "dance" is written in contracted Braille, it uses three cells (d, dots 4-6, e). When a number sign is placed before these three cells, their meaning is completely different; that is, it becomes the number 4.5. It can be said that the number sign has invoked a "numbers mode." Similarly, the use of a letter sign before a "c" changes the "mode" so that "c" means "c" instead of "can."
Although modes are not a feature requiring much notice in current literary code, the concept is inherent in the code. Modes do not create conflict within a code if their application is systematic. Part of the problem with current codes, however, is that the concept is not applied systematically and creates conflict and ambiguity. Both UEB and NUBS were designed to be systematic in their application of modes and symbol construction.
As clearly indicated in the previous parts of this three-part article, Braille in the United States must change to keep up with current trends in publishing and technology. It must also be more flexible and responsive to changing conventions of text. Two new Braille codes have been developed, one of which has been adopted internationally. Both codes were developed with an effort toward retaining as much of the current literary Braille code as possible; both codes have the reduction of ambiguity as a guiding principle to facilitate ease of learning and production. Easier facilitation of forward and backward translation would make it simpler for the user to create print documents and would also make the “on-the-fly” translation required for accessing the screens of computers and mobile devices much more accurate and reliable. It could also significantly reduce the cost of producing paper Braille, which could have the effect of making much more Braille material available for readers.
BANA will soon be at a critical juncture. It appears we have several choices how to proceed:
1. We can continue to tinker with the codes we have, making them potentially less easy to use and more ambiguous;
2. We can adopt UEB, as have most of the other ICEB countries;
3. We can adopt NUBS;
4. We can do nothing at all to change Braille, realizing this might cause Braille to become obsolete.
The BANA Board recognizes that to preserve the viability of Braille, changes must be made. The BANA Literary Technical Committee believes that continuing to make small changes to the current code will place Braille readers and transcribers in an ever-worsening spiral of ever more complicated Braille codes. The committee recommends that BANA adopt a system such as UEB or NUBS that was designed to be extendible, flexible, and consistent.
BANA is conducting an impact analysis that will look at the costs and benefits of making changes to the current system of codes as well as the costs inherent in not changing. The impact on transcribing and embossing various materials, training new teachers and transcribers, retraining current Braille teachers and transcribers, costs for creating e-texts, and other critical factors are being considered.
Any major change in Braille would necessitate careful planning and implementation. New code books would be needed, as well as training sessions for transcribers and teachers. A phase-in period would be necessary with diligent attention to the needs of all Braille readers—from the very youngest who are just learning to read and write to the reader who has known and loved Braille for many years. The most important consideration of all is to keep Braille as practical, usable, and flexible as possible in the future as it has been for the past 150 years.
As BANA examines the past and considers options for the future of Braille, we encourage you to share your ideas, concerns, and suggestions with BANA board members. Please visit <www.Brailleauthority.org> and share your thoughts with us.
For more information about the history of current Braille codes, UEB, and NUBS, see the following references and resources:
1. The Nemeth/Cranmer paper from 1991: <http://www.iceb.org/cranem.html>
2. ICEB resolution 1 from the 2004 General Assembly: <http://www.iceb.org/gares04.html>
3. BANA’s Braille Unification efforts:
4. Sullivan’s monographs on the ICEB page: <http://www.iceb.org/ubc.html>
5. The UEB Rule Book on ICEB page: <http://www.iceb.org/ueb.html>
6. UEB training materials available on: <http://www.ebility.com/roundtable/aba/ueb.php>
7. The Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS) code book on brl2000 page:
8. American Council of the Blind (ACB) resolutions:
<http://www.acb.org/resolutions/res2004.html> See 2004-15.
<http://www.acb.org/resolutions/res2008.html> See 2008-16.
9. National Federation of the Blind (NFB) resolutions 2002-04 and 2002-05:
10. BANA’s UEB and NUBS research:
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
Seize the Future
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:
NFB programs are dynamic:
Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer.
by Eric Vasiliauskas
From the Editor: Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas (Dr. V as he is known affectionately) is no stranger to readers of the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections. His family, which includes two intelligent, articulate, active, inquisitive blind children, has appeared a number of times in these publications, and some of his writings have also been offered to parents who want helpful literature about how to nurture and raise blind children. What follows is a sequel to the article "So Dad, When Can I Go Surfing?" which appeared in the special issue of Future Reflections dedicated to sports and recreation activities published in 2007. Dr. V’s answer and the subsequent adventures he recounts have helped to build and strengthen the self-concept of two youngsters and the bonds that unite this special family. Reading about their adventures will prove invaluable to many other families who wrestle with the question of how to incorporate adventure activities into their children’s lives. Here is what Dr. V has to say:
A few years back I wrote an article chronicling a five-year-old's quest to learn to surf. As it turns out, that was only the first part of our story, a story that continues to unfold. The article “So Dad, When Can I Go Surfing?" left off with the mention that Vejas and I visited a local surf shop to purchase a board of his own.
What I did not say in that article was that, when we got home, Vejas's little brother Petras eagerly awaited and greeted us at the door, very anxious to check out the new surfboard. Vejas and I carried the board into the living room. As soon as we laid it out on the floor, Petras leaped on top. We explored the surfboard together: the soft-top surface, the smooth bottom, the nose (front part), the tail (back part), the rails (sides), and the fins. His bounding excitement was precious. Wanting to capture this moment, I asked Petras to stand up on the board to pose for a photo. He agreed, and, as I was snapping the shot, with a great big smile he confidently asked, "Where's my surfboard?" I was admittedly caught off-guard by the question and tried to explain to my then preschooler that when he was older, if he enjoyed surfing, we could discuss getting him a surfboard. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when he sincerely and earnestly responded with "So what about me Dad? When can I go surfing?" I scrambled for an answer and suggested that for now we focus on boogie-boarding and followed that up with an enthusiastic suggestion that we head to the beach that weekend for an ocean-side picnic and some boogie-boarding fun.
As it turns out, the local surf in the Los Angeles area is very different from the surf in Hawaii. While waves come in all sizes in the tropical island state, Hawaii is an ideal place to learn to surf, because there are many areas where the smaller waves gently roll for hundreds of yards—helpful to beginning surf enthusiasts of any age. In contrast, the waves in the South Bay of Los Angeles are much choppier and crash much more suddenly--sharply and very close to the shore. Vejas and I have tried surfing together locally several times, but the reality is that the waves are harder to catch and more unpredictable and the runs are much shorter.
Because it had been a number of years since we had been able to take a long vacation, last year we decided to take a family trip to the North Shore of the island of Kauai. We stayed near Hanalei Bay, which some claim is home to Puff the Magic Dragon. As soon as my wife Rasa and I told the boys about our plans, Petras's face lit up, and, without missing a beat, he asked, "Dad, am I going surfing?" Vejas almost immediately chimed in that he too was very much looking forward to formal surfing lessons once again.
There is a lot more to a successful surfing experience than just standing up on the board. Since this would be Petras's first time surfing, we wanted it to be a positive experience. Rasa and I concluded that individual lessons would be better that a group lesson. We did not really know the best local surf school or instructor to work with our boys. I scanned through some tourist brochures we had picked up at the airport and called the number on one of them. The lady who answered greeted me with a very pleasant "Aloha." I explained that we wanted to arrange for lessons. When I mentioned that the boys were blind, she made casual note of that and shortly thereafter called back with a time for the lessons.
A few mornings later we showed up at the bayside Hawaiian Surfing Adventures Surf School with our two very excited boys. We met their instructors, two native Hawaiian locals, Uncle Mitch (who we later learned owned the surf school) and Ke'ale, a pleasant younger instructor. The boys then got the customary on-land interactive intro to surfing session and were encouraged to explore the surfboard, shown how to lie down on it properly, and taken through the steps of how to pop up into proper surf stance, etc. Petras is very much a kinesthetic learner--he learns best by actually doing something or experiencing the activity. Though he paid very close attention, I could tell he was eager to move beyond the pretend part of the land instruction and get into the water.
We then headed over to the beach, where Uncle Mitch paused to assess the ocean conditions. "Good surf today, boys," he commented.
While Rasa went to get something from the car, I followed the boys and their instructors as they stepped into the water of Hanalei Bay. Unlike the southern part of the island, where there is lots of sharp coral, this part of the ocean near the mouth of the Hanalei River is shallow and sandy. We waded out several hundred feet from the shore. Uncle Mitch then asked me to stop and explained that it was going to be my job to catch the boys. The four of them then proceeded further into the bay.
In the distance I could see Vejas and Petras practice standing up, while their instructors stabilized their boards. Uncle Mitch worked more with Vejas and Ke'ale with Petras. After about five minutes I saw Petras stand up on the surfboard as he headed my way. Ke'ale rode the back of the board the first few times with Petras, who seemed reassured and clearly excited by his initial success.
Then from a distance I saw Vejas stand up. Surfing is like riding a bike; even when you haven't done it for a while, you quickly remember--and remember Vejas did! He stood up and rode the wave towards me. Camera in hand, I started taking photos while at the same time I enthusiastically cheered him on as he surfed past me Déjà vu! Oops all over again! I snapped out of my trance and then made a mad rush (half swimming, half sprinting) through the water after Vejas as he headed towards the mouth of the river. After a 200-plus-yard dash, I finally caught up with him. I quickly learned my lesson. Rasa then joined us, laughing at the scene she had just witnessed.
The rest of the morning was somewhat surreal. It drizzled on and off and even rained a bit. From time to time the sun would peek out. It was evident why Hanalei is known as the land of rainbows, for we saw quite a few that morning.
We decided that Rasa would position herself closer to the shore to catch the boys as they approached. My new assignment was to stand between her and the instructors to capture dynamic photographs of the boys as they surfed by. Rasa got proficient at immediately turning the surfboards around and pushing them back toward me. I in turn guided them back toward their instructors, who were deeper in the bay. This strategy worked well--except when the boys caught the same wave--in which case Rasa and I both jumped into high alert, each focusing on whoever was headed closer to us.
"Huli maka Huli" is a local term for flipping off the surfboard into the water. The waves that morning varied from small to over two and a half feet in height, yet Petras amazingly remained glued to his board like a gecko and fell off only twice the entire day. When they did tumble off their boards, the boys could sometimes feel the ocean bottom--other times not.
The boys spent nearly two hours in the ocean with their instructors. Vejas and Uncle Mitch and Ke'ale and Petras bonded in a remarkable way. At the end of the lesson Vejas told us that he had learned a few songs about Hawaii and a bunch of new Hawaiian words. He even emerged with a new name, "Makani" (pronounced mah-KAH-nee), which is Hawaiian for "the wind" ("Vejas" means "the wind" in Lithuanian).
We were very proud of the boys. While I will never forget the expression of pure joy on Vejas's face and his beaming sense of accomplishment when he caught his first wave and rode his board all the way to the shore, the glow of excitement and confidence that radiated from Petras at the end of this first surfing lesson was equally memorable. Petras quickly made it clear that he wanted to go surfing again.
After the lesson I spoke with Uncle Mitch and Ke'ale. I mentioned the Future Reflections surfing article I had written. Over lunch our family discussion covered not only what the boys had learned that morning but what might be done differently in the future, since each of them expressed a desire to do an even better job during the next lesson.
We were lucky to get the same instructors for the second lesson later that week. Ke'ale mentioned that he had read the article; I'm not sure if Uncle Mitch had or not. The lesson started with a brief on-land refresher on technique. It wasn't hard to tell that the boys were anxious to get back to where the action was, for I heard Petras ask, "Are we ready to get back into the water yet?"
As we stepped from the sandy beach into the water, Uncle Mitch said to Vejas: "Makani, take me to the surf!" Then he continued, "Makani, I'm going to teach you some new Hawaiian words." Vejas's ears perked up. "The first is `Ku'--that means `stand tall.' Uncle Mitch then took the opportunity to discuss and emphasize the importance of body posture, which is key to optimal performance and success. "Don't look down at the ocean; keep your head up and look at the nose of the board."
As we headed out into the bay, Uncle Mitch told the boys to feel the power of the water and to become one with the wave. The ocean was much calmer that day. As they waited for the right wave, Uncle Mitch and Ke'ale drilled the boys. They had clearly raised the bar and their expectations for what they wanted the boys to do. They focused more on technique this go-round. They worked intensively on the details of proper positioning and stance. As it turns out, Petras surfs "goofy foot," a term used for those that keep their right foot forward, whereas Vejas surfs "natural” or “regular foot," with his left foot forward. Between runs I could see Vejas and Petras in the distance lie down and stand up over and over as their instructors tried to reinforce the boys' motor memories. Using a combination of detailed explanation and kinesthetic input by manually guiding them through the movements as they practiced, the instructors worked on fine-tuning the boys’ technique, teaching them to transition smoothly from lying on the board to achieving the proper riding stance, and focusing on center of balance and what to do with their trunks, arms, legs, and heads.
Later Petras explained that, as they practiced on the water, Ke'ale told him to pretend he was catching a wave and to practice until he was "really, really good at it." Petras took this all very seriously and, like a sponge, soaked up the information. He said that he was instructed to hold his arms out for balance and to bend his knees to get more speed if he wanted to go "really fast." He mentioned that they also discussed what to do when he fell off the board: to stand or swim or float--then to get up again and try really hard. Petras's smile widened as he then relayed that the first time he fell off the board with, as he put it, "a whaaa--crash!" Ke'ale "laughed like Santa Claus."
By the end of the lesson the boys were noticeably exhausted. Then Uncle Mitch called Rasa and me over and, with a big smile and a twinkle in his eyes, said that he and Ke'ale wanted to try and see how the boys would do on a tandem ride. He proposed Petras ride the front of the board, with Vejas on the back of the same board. Imagine trying to balance on a surfboard in the water and the waves with someone else also standing on the same board. I don't think any of us were confident that this was going to work all that well, especially at the end of the day, but we had developed a trust in these instructors and their judgment. We asked the boys what they thought. They were both open to the idea, so we agreed.
Petras and Vejas then headed deeper into the bay with Uncle Mitch and Ke'ale. They waited for just the right wave. After a while in the distance I saw Vejas stand up, then Petras. As they neared, I could see that both were completely focused. Our eight-year-old and twelve-year-old surfed over 200 yards--the length of over two football fields--together--without falling. They were totally stoked as were Rasa and I and Uncle Mitch and Ke'ale. This was definitely a highlight of our family trip. To say the boys really enjoyed themselves that day would be an understatement; they, in fact, radiated joy and a sense of personal accomplishment.
Later Petras excitedly told me one morning that he had a dream about surfing. He smiled as he described how the waves were crashing down around him with a loud "Kaboom!" He explained how, in his dream, he caught a wave and rode it "really fast and really far--all the way to the shore."
Over the following Labor Day weekend, Petras asked me if I planned on going surfing. Before I could answer, he then said that, if I decided to, I should pay attention and proceeded to give me a detailed surfing list: stance, technique, and all of the other things that demonstrated how well he had been paying attention.
Petras opted to celebrate his first surfing success by going out for pizza that evening. Fate was smiling upon us when we decided to eat at Hanalei Pizza, a small local pizza shop tucked in Hanalei's Ching Young Village shopping center. Not only did we dine on an awesome pizza, we had the good fortune to meet the owner, a gentleman named Karlos, who, after taking our order and crafting our personalized pizza, came to our table to chat with us. Petras showed off the new surfboard keychain he had chosen for his long white cane; the boys then took turns enthusiastically sharing their surfing adventures. Their boundless excitement could accurately be described as contagious. Karlos then surprised us with an invitation to take us stand-up paddleboarding. I had never tried paddleboarding before but had observed others enjoying the sport and found the concept intriguing. Karlos reassured us that it was not too difficult, so we took him up on his offer.
We met near the mouth of the Hanalei River early one morning. Karlos greeted us, and we carried two paddle boards from his car to the bank of the river. Paddle boards are longer and wider than standard surfboards, characteristics that provide enhanced stability. Karlos gave me a concentrated crash course on stand-up paddleboarding; he showed me how to stand on the board correctly and instructed me on proper paddling technique. He then smiled and handed one paddle to me.
We decided that Vejas would go on the board with Karlos and Petras with me. The boys waded into the water and helped guide the boards away from the shore. Once the water was deep enough, they climbed onto the front of the boards. They started sitting cross-legged. Karlos was right; while there is clearly a learning curve, paddleboarding on the river was technically not particularly difficult. Nevertheless, it did end up being a full-body workout, and it was a challenge for me to keep up with him and Vejas. We paddled for about an hour or so up river, usually within sight but oftentimes out of hearing range. Vejas chatted with Karlos; Petras and I shared stories as well.
Despite his surfing success, Petras remained stationary and glued to the front of the board during our trip upriver, expressing concern about falling off the board into the cool morning water. From a distance I was pleased to see that, after a while, Karlos had managed to convince a somewhat nervous but excited Vejas to stand up. He showed Vejas how to position his body and paddle.
The scenery was gorgeous, with lush vegetation lining the riverbank and Kauai's mountains towering in front of us. Standing up straight while gliding across the smooth surface of the river created a sensation of being able to walk on water. Paddleboarding on the river turned out to be a unique blend of physical exercise and meditation--what a serene and relaxing experience.
Before heading back, Karlos suggested that the boys transfer boards. While I suspect we all felt somewhat uneasy about the idea, I supported the proposal and did my best to be the reassuring father; the boys agreed to give it a try. As it turns out, a board-to-board transfer on the water is not all that simple, because it is really tricky for everyone--on both boards--to maintain balance with the sudden weight shifts. The slightest miscalculation, by either over or under-compensating by any of the four of us, could easily have resulted in the board tipping or flipping and everyone getting very wet. To the amazement of all of us, we did it. It was only after the successful maneuver that our instructor told us that 90 plus percent of the time he has tried this floating transfer, everyone ends up tumbling into the water. Petras broke out into unbridled laughter. Now that he was safe, the thought of everyone toppling into the water seemed hilarious.
Petras remembers Karlos’s asking him, "What does Humpty Dumpty do on a paddle board? Sometimes he falls off!" That broke the ice as they started back down the river. Nearing the end of the journey, Petras gained the confidence to stand up on the paddle board, and Karlos instructed Petras on how to stand on the board properly and paddle--this made for quite an impressive finale for Rasa, who was waiting for us by the shore.
It is important to acknowledge that part of our boys' successes in these activities was that both Vejas and Petras were already quite comfortable in the water. Every child, blind or sighted, should be taught swimming basics--at least to tread water and a basic stroke at a minimum--so that they are confident, or at least comfortable, in the water. Over the course of my life I have seen quite a few children and adults unintentionally end up in the water, having tipped out of a canoe into a lake or river or having accidentally fallen or having (in fun) been pushed into the pool at a party. During my residency training I saw far too many near-drowning victims. Learning to swim is not just fun and good exercise but could some day save your child's life.
Petras and Vejas have been receiving formal swimming instruction since they were two or three years old. They both really look forward to their weekly swimming lessons. Of note is that their swimming instructors have had no special training in blindness. The instructors use their common sense along with a lot of verbal cues and lots of explanation and, when necessary, physically guiding the boys through the various aquatic movements. The boys are working on all the strokes: free-style, backstroke, breaststroke, even the butterfly--and how to swim laps with the eventual goal of being able to do so independently.
The ripple effect is real. As I reflect, it's amazing to think that the sequence of events that subsequently unfolded all started with a simple question posed by a curious five-year-old seeking clarification of a concept first introduced in a story. From there, one thing led to another, and eventually he was able to pursue one of his dreams successfully. His enthusiasm about surfing ultimately inspired his younger brother, father, and even cousins and uncles to give the sport a try. As a result each of us not only has his own stories to tell, but we too have a powerful sense of personal accomplishment and share a unique bond. The excitement and confidence gained from the successful surfing experiences ultimately contributed to our pursuing new activities and adventures, including skiing; snowboarding; sea-kayaking; rock-climbing; and, most recently, paddleboarding. Indeed, through these shared experiences we have created a tighter family bond.
Successfully participating in and perhaps even mastering sports and recreational activities has an impact that reaches far beyond the activity itself. The social benefits cannot be overstated. Participating in such endeavors results in immeasurable personal growth and increased self-confidence. These experiences, including camping, hiking, sledding, inner-tubing, rollerblading, roller-skating, ice-skating, attending live sporting events, bowling, watching the latest movie in the theater, or having fun at a water park, provide the experience from which blind children can more actively engage in conversations with their friends and peers about activities they have tried and enjoyed or might like to try in the future.
Pictures of a blind child taking part in activities like surfing and skiing also go a long way toward immediately changing the perceptions of classmates and their parents, teachers, and others about a child's abilities. I have made a habit of taking along a few key photos of each of the boys engaged in selected activities, including surfing, skiing, snowboarding, and rock-climbing. I admit that I show these photos to new instructors to spark a paradigm shift in their level of expectation. It helps establish a different framework for the initial interactions and expectations--and kids tend to live up to those expectations.
If you, your child, or your student can think of a sport or recreational activity, there is a high probability that somewhere in the world blind people have tried or actively engage in it. To get a flavor of the kinds of sports and recreational activities blind people enjoy, I urge you to search the term "blind sports" on Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine of your choice. Sighted people can quickly scan the possibilities using the image or video search options to find page after page of blind children and adults engaging in all sorts of physical activities. This simple exercise is sure to amaze many, even seasoned professionals in the VI and O&M fields, while challenging preconceptions about what is feasible and realistic. Indeed the possibilities are virtually endless.
I have often been asked, "How do you find someone experienced and willing to teach a blind child?" For many activities it is unlikely that you will find an instructor who has formal training in how to teach blind children or any experience working with a blind child or adult. In fact, for many first-time experiences, parents may very well find themselves in the role of instructor.
So how do you create opportunities? Start by searching for possibilities in your neighborhood and surrounding communities. Find out what your friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and the parents of your child's classmates are doing. By actively seeking this information, you will be surprised at the range of activities people pursue for fun, and many potential opportunities are likely to arise. Then, when opportunity knocks, answer the door.
While I can certainly empathize with the argument that "We're always busy" it is critically important to create time for adventure with your children and also to be spontaneous. Vacation time is an especially golden opportunity to try new things. Those parents who choose to pursue sports and recreation activities with their children will create a powerfully unique bonding experience that will strengthen their relationships.
To grow and experience the most from life, children and parents alike must step outside their comfort zones and from time to time engage in some thoughtful risk-taking. One of the mottos of the National Federation of the Blind is "Changing what it means to be blind." Parents live on the front lines with their children and hold the master key to changing what it means to be a blind child. Indeed, it takes a blend of courage and faith on the part of both the parents and children to try some new activities.
I'll be the first to admit that it's an uneasy feeling to let go and to send a child, sighted or blind, into the ocean with a stranger to try something totally new and unpredictable such as standing up and riding a floating board with loud waves crashing around--and sometimes on top--of them. Petras and Vejas were both totally out of their comfort zones during their first surfing experiences, in which they spent most of their time away from Mom and Dad. Likewise our new acquaintance, the pizza shop owner, was initially a stranger; yet we decided to try a completely new activity, one in which a slight miscalculation could easily have resulted in our tumbling into the water. We were not sure what to expect ahead of time, and during the activity we were not really together much of the time--usually within our sight, but generally out of hearing range; and yet our children did fine and loved the adventure. These both turned out to be exhilarating experiences.
When possible, it is very helpful to do your homework ahead of time by trying to learn from the real-life experiences of blind youth, blind adults, and parents of other blind children. Such pearls of wisdom can be invaluable. Understanding what might work well and, as important, what to avoid can make the difference between success, a mediocre experience, and failure. For parents and teachers seeking real-time guidance based on the experiences of other blind individuals, the two best resources at this time are the Blindkids listserv <www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/blindkid_nfbnet.org> and the NFB Sports and Recreation listserv <www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/sportsandrec_nfbnet.org>. The Blindkids listserv is a network of parents of blind and visually impaired children and blind adults from all over the U.S. and beyond. The NFB's Sports and Recreation Division listserv is another truly amazing resource--a network of blind sports and recreation enthusiasts who enjoy or are seeking to figure out how to try a whole host of activities. Some listserv members are even Paralympic athletes. By joining and posting questions or situations on these listservs, parents and educators will receive a host of responses and suggestions within minutes or hours from parents or blind children, based on their own experiences.
In order to get the most out of the experience, one must remember to have high, age-appropriate expectations. Don't underestimate the abilities of blind children or students, for they are likely to surprise you and even themselves. Though in our family we truly strive for high and age-appropriate equal expectations, it seems our boys never cease to amaze us. They not only rise to the occasion, but often exceed everyone's expectations, including their own. My children have revitalized my pursuit of fun and fitness and have given me the gift of new and exciting recreational activities that I can now pursue and enjoy. I encourage you to open yourselves to that possibility as well.
by Mary A. Tozzo
From the Editor: Members of the National Federation of the Blind take justifiable pride in our adult training centers in Ruston, Louisiana; Denver, Colorado; and Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as the growing number of facilities in other states that have adopted to one degree or another our methods and underlying philosophy of high expectations and self-confidence. We recognize, however, that such centers are never going to be able to train every blind adult. Many people will necessarily make traditional rehabilitation choices. Most of these folks will enroll in facilities staffed by dedicated professionals with a range of skills and attitudes underpinning their commitment to effective training. Many Federationists have been dissatisfied with the quality of the rehabilitation they received in such facilities, but it is important to remember that effective training always depends a good deal on the determination of the student. We received the following partial autobiography from a graduate of a training program that, as far as we know, has been uninfluenced by our philosophy and methods. We are publishing it because it demonstrates the good news that mobility instructors committed to instilling independence can achieve successes in training students in any setting. Here is Mary Tozzo’s story in her own words:
From the time I was little, I knew that I had a visual problem. While other children played outside in the evening without regard to the setting sun, I dreaded the twilight because it plunged me into total darkness. Not until more than a decade and a half later did I learn the cause of my visual predicament. When I was a senior in high school, I was diagnosed as being legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Until that point the doctors had been telling my parents that nothing was wrong with my vision and insisting that I was just trying to get attention. They advised my parents that, if they ignored my behavior, it would go away. This declaration turned out to be no more than a cruel misdiagnosis since in reality I was going blind. (The physician that diagnosed the RP later informed me that every textbook symptom of RP appeared in my chart as my complaints throughout childhood.)
I found that finally having an actual diagnosis, although delayed, was comforting. Although there was no cure or treatment for my condition, it was psychologically reassuring to know that there had indeed been a legitimate cause for my visual difficulties. One of the first symptoms of RP is night blindness, which I had been experiencing since childhood. RP causes progressive vision loss. At the time of diagnosis, it was predicted that I would become totally blind somewhere between the ages of thirty and fifty. I was discouraged from pursuing a career in nursing because the doctors believed that I did not have enough visual acuity to be capable of keeping up with the required reading or providing direct patient care. They advised me to become a secretary and be happy with the few years that I would be able to work. I stewed over my predicament for a few weeks and decided that I would go to nursing school anyway. What was the worst that could happen? I would fail and would have to make another career choice. I successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree and provided direct patient care for over two decades. During those years I advanced my career by becoming a certified medical-surgical nurse, an oncology certified nurse, and a certified diabetes educator. As my visual acuity declined, I went back to school and earned a master’s degree in nursing. I don’t think the doctors could have predicted any of that.
Over the years I have been doing my best to adjust to my decline in vision on my own. I learned to make adaptations as needed and find ways to compensate so that I could live a reasonably normal life. I had been working full time and had planned to continue doing so for as long as possible. I had gone from being a staff nurse to a relief charge nurse to finally a clinical nurse educator. I was recently let go from my job due to my visual decline (which is a saga in and of itself). In an attempt to become employed once again, I sought assistance from the Division of Blind Services (DBS), the state agency serving the blind in Florida. DBS referred me to the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind for vocational rehabilitation training. Part of that training included orientation and mobility (O&M), which has been a truly eye-opening experience.
I was assigned to an extremely kind orientation and mobility specialist by the name of John Clapp. (I assume that all O&M specialists must be extraordinary to have chosen this occupation.) My first challenge was to overcome my personal prejudice about using a white cane. I always thought that using a mobility cane would label me as disabled. I also feared that the white cane would identify me as a target for those who choose crime as their occupation (after all, I do live in the big city). Initially I only agreed to train with a cane because it was part of O&M, and O&M was required in order to apply for a guide dog, which I am currently in the process of doing.
I eventually realized that I was the one labeling myself, and that, rather than the cane limiting me, it provided me with more freedom. I found that it allowed me to explore new routes and destinations with less apprehension since I was able to anticipate what was in my path. It was a new experience to walk a hall that was booby-trapped with wet floor signs without leaving a trail of kicked-over signs in my wake. Using my cane, I have also been venturing out to gatherings such as RP support group meetings and National Federation of the Blind meetings on my own at night, something I would never have done before. Others have also had to adjust to my use of the cane. Not everyone is comfortable being seen with someone wielding a white cane. My new attitude is that, if they cannot handle it, they are no friends of mine.
My next challenge involved learning orientation using north, south, east, and west. Since I had never driven a motor vehicle, I saw little need to be aware of what direction I was traveling. I have always maintained that I am directionally challenged and had never seen any need to overcome this deficit. When I researched the word “oriented” on the Internet, dictionary.net defined it as being “adjusted or located in relation to surroundings or circumstances.” I had always assumed that I was oriented enough, but I found that I was mistaken. The stated definition applied to me in two ways. Coming to terms with my visual decline required an adjustment to my circumstances, while being aware of my directional placement was crucial to being able to orient myself in unfamiliar territory. In O&M, as I mastered the use of my cane, I was required repeatedly to navigate the second floor of the Lighthouse while blindfolded. My goal was to be able to map out the layout and state in what direction I had been traveling on each leg of my route. I could not believe how satisfying it was finally to master this task.
My training was then moved outdoors. The Lighthouse for the Blind is located in a neighborhood that I was unfamiliar with, so I first had to find a way to picture where I was in relation to the surrounding streets. Despite the number of times that John repeated the names of the surrounding numeric streets, avenues, and terraces, I found them difficult to recall. I finally realized that, despite my lack of truly usable vision, I was in fact a visual learner. John has told me that he learned from my experience that he needed to inquire what method of learning each student believed would work best since he had been under the impression that I would be able to visualize my surroundings mentally, as many students had done in the past.
I requested a map of the surrounding neighborhood, with the Lighthouse designated as the focal landmark. Using a 20/20 pen, John created a map that met my needs. Once I had this tool, I was able to visualize which direction I was traveling in and could plot my anticipated course. We then proceeded to practice locating addresses. I usually planned my route with my trusty map in hand and succeeded in locating desired destinations. Next I practiced planning alternate routes both going to and returning from designated addresses. Once I was able to orient myself as to the direction in which streets increased and decreased in number (Miami is generally laid out in a grid pattern), I quickly succeeded in mapping new routes.
Another task involved relearning how to cross streets. Until this point, despite my visual decline, I continued to cross streets without special training. I tried to cross at corners with traffic lights whenever possible to lessen the risk. Unfortunately, at some corners the lights do little to minimize that risk. I am sure many visually impaired people can identify with the challenges I faced attempting to cross a thoroughfare. One challenge involves the right-turn-on-red law. Drivers are supposed to come to a complete stop before making a turn. Not only do many drivers fail to stop, they don’t even slow down. Others run over street corners, cutting them short when turning. This makes it challenging for pedestrians to find a place to wait safely when attempting to cross.
I was horrified to learn that, not only are many drivers unaware of the White Cane Law (which provides that a driver shall not approach a crosswalk, or any other pedestrian crossing, without taking all necessary precautions to avoid accident or injury to a blind pedestrian carrying a white cane or using a guide dog), but many judges are unaware of the law as well. In O&M I was taught how to assess traffic patterns and judge when it is safe to cross both with and without a traffic light. Other students kidded me because I tended to swing my cane in a wide arc when crossing the street. I joked that, if any driver dared get too close to me, the result would be a demolished headlight because many drivers trespass into the designated crosswalk and would have only themselves to blame.
I originally shied away from riding a bus or using other public transportation because I have had negative experiences in the past. I have been yelled at for accidentally stepping on someone’s foot by mistake or almost sitting in someone’s lap when I could not tell that a seat was already occupied. I agreed to try riding mass transit as part of my O&M training. Boarding the bus for the first time in over a decade (and with less vision than in the past) was frightening. It made me feel like a toddler being dropped off unaccompanied in the middle of Grand Central Station. Of course I knew that John was trailing not far behind to assure that I was safe, but it was nerve-racking none the less.
I was surprised to find that most bus drivers are now kinder and gentler and willing to provide information as needed. They are prepared to help find a seat (although now I know how to assess the location of an empty seat using my cane) and announce desired stops if requested. I have also found that many of the general population are eager to provide assistance as well. While I have been exploring with my cane, many people have offered advice, notifying me when they think it is safe to cross a street or proceed across a driveway. Others have inquired about my destination, eager to escort me if needed. I then have to resist the urge to say, “Did I ask for help?” In these situations I remind myself that they are just trying to be helpful. My response is a simple “Thank you, I am fine.”
As part of my O&M training I recently rode the Metrorail system, Miami’s rapid transit system. My first task was to locate the track from which my train would depart. I was unable to find an employee to ask, so I scanned the crowd to locate a friendly, or at least nonthreatening, face. I eventually asked a young man where to wait, and he ushered me to the correct platform. He then disappeared. When the train pulled in, the same gentleman reappeared and escorted me onto the train and to a seat. When I reached my stop, he again reappeared to ensure that I disembarked safely. I found the kindness of this stranger touching. I still don’t know if I would dare venture to travel the rails alone, but it is nice to know that I could do so if needed.
Orientation and mobility training has enriched my world in many ways that I never dreamed possible. Cane use has also led to greater freedom and mobility. My next challenge will be training with a guide dog, I hope, another adventure that I believe will open new opportunities for growth. I am grateful that I have been blessed to make the acquaintance of all of my instructors at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. They are truly capable of teaching someone who is visually impaired how to do everything short of driving a car. You just have to be willing to try.
by Jennifer Dunnam
From the Editor: As you read in the last article, blind people in rehabilitation programs across the country are learning to batter down their own preconceptions about limitations in traveling using the long white cane. In the Fall 2011 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, NFB of Minnesota President Jennifer Dunnam reflected on her personal voyage from incompetence as a cane traveler to complete confidence using the mobility tool that enables her independence. This is what she says:
Members of the National Federation of the Blind have said repeatedly that one of the most important and sometimes unexpected benefits of joining and participating in our organization is that it challenges and stretches its members. It asks things of us that we never imagined being able to do. Meeting these challenges strengthens us as people. Such stretching opportunities are not reserved for our newer members—they can happen to any of us.
When I first met the National Federation of the Blind, I was a young teenager attending public school. In general my blindness skills were reasonably decent, and I had the beginnings of positive attitudes about blindness even though there was plenty I did not know yet. One essential skill, however, was lacking—my ability to travel independently from place to place. I knew the technique for using a white cane, which I had learned at age twelve, but, beyond walking in school halls, I did not have much place or opportunity to practice using my cane. My family lived in the country, where there were no sidewalks, so I did not have much experience with understanding traffic patterns or street crossings. The only way I could get anywhere other than to my classes was to be either driven in a car or led on someone's arm. My family and I were well aware that other teens my age were doing far more, but we did not know how I could do the same thing as a blind person.
What a shock it was for me when attending my first NFB student seminar to head off on an errand in a car with several students and discover that the person who knew most about how to get there was in fact, not the driver, but one of the blind students. He navigated, telling the driver exactly where to go, pointing out landmarks along the way without any visual clues. How could that be? What was I missing? I was determined to find out.
Becoming more involved in the NFB and getting to know the members gave me glimpses of a whole world of possibilities that had previously been unimaginable. I eventually received some excellent cane travel training involving frequent trips to unfamiliar places. I learned to be comfortable asking a passer-by for information if needed or popping into a nearby business to ask directions if I was not sure of them. I learned how to ask artful questions to elicit just the information I needed without getting unwanted help that would inconvenience others or me. I learned about the many ways to get information about a new place, including using a print map and a human reader. I learned about forming mental pictures so that, if I did not end up on my exact pre-determined route, I had enough information to get to my destination. I learned a great deal about how to avoid getting lost or disoriented, and at the same time I got lots of practice actually getting lost and figuring out how to get back on track, which did much to make me a better and more confident traveler. However, because my travel skills were not really developed until I was practically an adult, I sometimes still have to concentrate hard to travel well, especially if I am tired.
Since the time of my training, my travel skills have been put to the test. I traveled abroad for several summers during college. When I worked at the University of Minnesota, I was involved in a program that required me to go to parts of campus that I had never visited before to interview people. This was not something I had imagined doing when I first took the job, but I had the foundational skills and knew how to learn as much information as I could ahead of time, ask questions along the way, leave a little extra time in case I took the long way there, and arrive poised and ready to do the interview without taking others away from their own work to help me get there.
In my current job I travel coast to coast, constantly going alone to airports and cities where I have never been before. I can now do this with ease, and sometimes on these trips I find myself remembering how things were when I was younger, recognizing how far I have come.
Earlier this year I was asked to be the coordinator of the marshals for the 2011 NFB Youth Slam, our summer science camp for well over a hundred blind teens and their mentors. The marshals are the people who facilitate the movement from place to place of large groups of people unfamiliar with the geography by acting as talking signs at strategic locations. This method works much better than having individual guides escort each person as is done in some other summer experiences for blind youth. This technique also provides some students their first taste of walking independently using a cane.
Besides developing the plan of action for the marshals and coordinating the people, one of the roles of the coordinator was to teach the marshals and the mentors how to get around the campus of Towson University in Maryland, where the NFB Youth Slam was held. Surely with all my experience traveling to places I'd never been, this should have been a piece of cake. I must admit, however, that I was a bit apprehensive about this task. I had confidence that I could get myself around the campus, no problem—but a group of a couple hundred people, the vast majority of whom were no more able to look at a print map than I? That was a different matter. The occasional detour when an individual is heading for a destination is no big deal, but with a group this large, it is best to be precise. College campuses are generally large and not particularly symmetrical, full of crazy angles, wide-open spaces, and multiple possible paths to get anywhere. I would be able to make only two visits to campus before the Youth Slam began—just two short tours of the area we would be using.
Maybe, I thought to myself, I should delegate the campus-orientation portion to someone else who would be better at it. Delegation is an important aspect of leadership, right? Very soon, though, another inner voice kicked in, and before long I was having a little chat with myself, just as I had done often years ago when traveling independently was new and frightening to me. Why exactly was I considering delegating this job?
What was actually required in providing an effective campus orientation to a large group? To acquire a good mental picture of the geography, to be able to describe the geography in useful nonvisual terms, and to travel through the campus according to the description so that they could experience it themselves. What part of that could I not do? Who else would do it if I did not? Every person on the leadership team had a heavy workload. Some people may have had the time, but they had had even less chance to get to know the campus than I had had or had less experience giving the kind of nonvisual information that would help, or they simply weren't available at the time the campus orientation was to take place. Obviously, my little chat became more of a lecture. Since there were no good alternatives and my biggest barrier was clearly my nerves, I set to work getting ready.
Since I do not live in Maryland, I needed to get started on this preparation from a distance. My first step was to find a campus map and sit down with a human reader. I asked questions and had the reader describe everything she could about the geography. The exercise was helpful, but the map was not very clear. We next opened Google Earth, which shows pictures of a location, including details that cannot be easily represented on a map. That turned out to be more helpful. Still, having something described, no matter how thoroughly, is no substitute for experiencing it for oneself.
The two advance campus visits occurred about a month apart, and they involved a group of people and had purposes besides helping me learn the campus. During both I took copious Braille notes during breaks in the walking. After each I compared impressions with others who had been on the tours to get as solid an understanding as possible. By the time the volunteers got there for a couple of days of training before the youth were to arrive, it seemed that this plan just might work.
First I walked with the marshal team around the campus so that they could get a feel for it and learn where they would be posted at various times. It was like a rehearsal for the larger orientation, and it went off just fine, as did the later, larger orientation session. Did everyone come away from that session with a complete knowledge of every nook and cranny? Certainly not, but they all got enough of an understanding to work with and fill in the details as needed. Now, instead of just a few people who knew their way around, a whole group could help one another and discover all the different paths to get from place to place. We had increased our collective experience, and, when the youth joined our ranks, we had even more expertise.
The NFB Youth Slam is often a life-changing experience for blind youth. For many it is the first time they have been able to participate directly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities. Many have never had exposure to well-adjusted blind adult role models. As a one-week program, it is a different experience from our summer programs such as that at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., which provides focused, in-depth training for eight weeks. The Youth Slam allows many young people to get their feet wet, not only on STEM subjects, but about positive blindness philosophy, organizing, advocacy, and the like. Like all of our programs, however, many of the most important lessons are not the ones they learn during classes or sessions.
Of course those of us who work during the program learn a great deal and grow from the experience as well—I certainly did. The Youth Slam and our adjustment-to-blindness training programs provide an environment in which people believe in the student more than the student believes in him/herself. I think that our entire organization provides this environment to its members in addition to what we work to accomplish for the larger society. It gives us a way to measure ourselves against normal expectations, not against the low ones that society generally has of us. Each of us, longtime or brand-new member, can grow and can help others to do the same. To do so helps us each as individuals; it helps our organization; and it helps society in general through all that we have to offer. This work we do is important.
by Mark Patinkin
From the Editor: The following article about Robert Pires appeared in the Providence Journal on October 9, 2011. He is the husband of NFB of Rhode Island President Grace Pires. The story is the one we often tell of the average blind person going off to do his or her job in the average way—but here it is told by a reporter who is honest enough to ask his questions and really listen to the answers. Here is the article:
He caught my eye as I parked for work and got out of my car. He was a nice-looking man, clearly blind, finding his way with a cane. I was intrigued--Fountain Street is a chaotic, busy area in the mornings.
I was in a hurry, but, as I left the lot, I decided to put my morning on hold to see if I could chat with him. But he was gone. I headed to the Biltmore Starbucks to get a coffee. I spotted him at the front of the line. I heard him order a mocha latte and at last caught up with him as he went outside and began to walk back toward Fountain Street.
He gave his name as Robert Pires. He's thirty-nine and works for Services for the Blind on Fountain Street as a rehabilitation teacher. "I started losing my vision when I was about five," he said. “It's a syndrome called retinitis pigmentosa.”
He lives in East Providence with his wife, Grace, who is also blind and working at the same agency as a counselor. Together they have a son, now four. Pires went to East Providence High School and graduated from RIC with a bachelor's degree in economics. He uses RIDE, a state transportation program for the disabled, to get to and from work. I told him I always wondered how people manage to get around on foot in public without their sight. "Actually it's not that easy." He said you have to train a long time, not just in cane techniques, but navigating by what he called "soundscape."
We began the two-block walk back to his office. I watched as he tapped the cane side to side, searching for obstacles. He said he was listening to traffic to keep his bearings. A bus roared by. That kind of thing is challenging, he said--when loud vehicles drown out the more subtle "soundscape." He stepped onto a narrow crossing street, slowed down as he felt for the opposite curb with his cane, and stepped up.
We approached a corner where he needed to turn left, but he went a step too far, paused, searched with his cane, found a metal post by the street's edge, stepped back, and took the left on the sidewalk. He explained that he indeed had overshot but was able to self-correct when he realized traffic sounds were slightly closer than they should have been. I asked if obstacles are ever dangerous. "Sometimes.
Sure, there are trees with low-hanging branches." He paused and laughed. "Can't do much about that."
I asked if he could be on full disability. "Probably, if I wanted to." He said that a bad job market is always worse for the disabled, so you have to overcome that. But without a job, he added, he wouldn't have the same quality of life as he does now. "It's better for my future," Pires said. "I can do more with my life and give back."
Give back? He said his job is to help other blind people overcome and live fuller lives. We paused at a side street just as two loud trucks went by, drowning the sound of a big van that went within feet of us. I asked Pires how he could not be unsettled by it all. He said it can indeed be frightening at first, but, if you face those fears and keep training, you get more comfortable.
Does he ever resent having ended up with this handicap? He smiled. "That won't do me any good. I like to concentrate on things I can do and like to do." He likes music, including hard rock groups like Kiss. He likes spending time on the computer and going to restaurants. His favorite pastime is listening to audio books.
I asked about his son. Is he sighted? "Yes," said Pires, and smiled. "We're waiting to see when he's going to start using it to his advantage. He'll try to sneak things I'm sure. He's a kid."
He walked the final half block, avoiding obstacles and people. "It sure seems like it takes a lot of courage," I said.
"I could say that about a lot of things," said Pires. "It's easy to huddle in the corner and say, `Poor me,' but then, what do you have?"I thanked him for his time. He found his way to his building door, opened it, disappeared inside, and went back to work.
by Cathy Jackson
From the Editor: Cathy Jackson chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2012.
The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2012 convention next July. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $1,000, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the national convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.
The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording him or her the opportunity to take part in seminars and workshops on educational issues, to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.
Please complete the application and attach the following:
Deadline: May 15, 2012
City, State, Zip:___________________________________________________________________
City, State, Zip:___________________________________________________________________
Use a separate sheet of paper to answer the following:
Attach the three required letters to this application, and send all material by May 15, 2012, to Cathy Jackson, Chairperson, Teacher Award Committee, <email@example.com> or by mail to 210 Cambridge Drive, Louisville, Kentucky 40214-2809; (502) 366-2317.
by David Ticchi
From the Editor: Dr. David Ticchi is an experienced educator in his own right. He was named Blind Educator of the Year in 1998. He chairs the 2012 Blind Educator of the Year Award selection committee. This is what he says:
A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the educators division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. The change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the impact an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.
This award is presented in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance and advocacy. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000. Nominations should be sent to Dr. David A. Ticchi, 321 Harvard Street, Unit 306, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee's current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 1, 2012, to be considered for this year's award. For further information contact David Ticchi, (617) 530-9178.
by Fred Wurtzel
From the Editor: Fred Wurtzel is the immediate past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, but “past president” does not begin to capture his activity level in his affiliate. His retirement from remunerative employment means he takes the time to write reflective articles about his heroes, one of whom is an unsung treasure who worked as a teacher at the Michigan School for the Blind (MSB). His hero helped Fred come to appreciate science and helped land several of his classmates jobs in which science is their bread and butter. Here is what Fred has to say:
In 1964 I was in the eighth grade at the Michigan School for the Blind, a statewide residential public K-12 school for blind children in Lansing, Michigan. Science programs at the school had been poor at best. This was understandable since few people actually believed (or believe today) that blind people could participate and flourish in science, let alone get a job as a scientist.
Thanks to Sputnik, federal grants were available to improve science education in American schools. Dr. Robert Thompson, the superintendent of MSB, sought out the funds to create a first-class science program at the school. I'm not sure if it was inspiration or really good luck--it was certainly God's grace--that a very young teacher, Robert K. Burnett, a one-year veteran of Mio High School in northern Michigan and a graduate of Michigan State University, was hired to head the administration of the science grant and to teach science to the sixty-student high school.
My mother commented that she couldn't tell if he was a student or a teacher because he was a six-foot-plus, 250-pound baby-faced former tennis champ from Saginaw Arthur Hill High School. He was a big, happy, fun-loving man whose bulk had been acquired by loading one-hundred pound sacks of Michigan navy beans on ships on the docks around Saginaw and Bay City during his summers to earn money for college.
Despite his unconventional approach to life and the trends of the day, Bob Burnett was not a hippie. He had very short hair and wore a short-sleeved white shirt with a short necktie that did not reach all the way to the top of his pants as suggested by the Dress for Success book of the day. He certainly did have a youthful, possibly naïve, attitude about his job. Fortunately his temporary classroom was on the third floor of the high school building, far from the first-floor office of the principal. The third floor had the library; an abandoned recreation room, including a bowling alley with a manual pinsetter; and, off by itself, the science classroom. Burnett used this remote location to his advantage. He was not big on ceremony or formality, quite unlike Margaret Polzein, the stern-faced, stern-voiced, rather authoritarian principal. She rarely made the effort to climb the extra two flights of stairs to visit his classroom. Were it not for the geographic separation, I'm not sure Burnett would have survived under her austere supervision.
A great deal of learning has little to do with textbooks. Watching our teachers manage their relationship with supervisors was its own kind of education. Some teachers were insiders with the administration, and then there was Bob Burnett, who was irreverent when it came to rules but very serious about teaching science. Bob had been in Boy Scouts as a youth and a Scout leader in Mio. He reenergized an existing scouting program at MSB. Our Scout troop sold boxes of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups as a fundraiser. It just so happened that there was always a ready supply of these confectionery treats in the upper level classroom, mostly unobserved by a disapproving principal, whom Bob studiously avoided.
Bob did not avoid his responsibilities with teaching or grant administration. He oversaw the construction of a state-of-the-art science lab with all the bells and whistles. The lab included three lab benches with gas outlets, a fume hood, a wonderful terrarium, and a fantastic aquarium. When students viewed the lab for the first time, we were amazed. I had never seen a real science lab before. By the time I graduated, I would be ready to take college chemistry along with my sighted peers. In addition to chemistry, I took biochemistry, biology, geology, soil science, ecology, and the natural history of vertebrates at my college.
I loved and still love science. One of my classmates went on to become an engineer for Oakridge National Laboratories in Tennessee, where he has had major responsibilities for overseeing the strategic petroleum reserve. A number of Burnett's students became computer scientists, and one classmate is a professor of computer science at Eastern Michigan University.
There is no arguing with success, and by any standard Michigan School for the Blind graduates from the 60s and 70s are unqualified successes.
What was special was, and still is, the unusual confidence that Bob had in us as blind science students. We learned to bend glass tubing over the Bunsen burner and make aparati for chemistry experiments. We dissected specimens; we explored the outdoor environment and studied the periodic table and the taxonomy of life on earth. Bob played cat and mouse with the principal, and we ate peanut butter cups and drank Coke from the teachers' lounge. We worked hard and had a rigorous course of study in our four years of high school science classes.
One of the most amazing parts of this story has to do with textbooks. When Bob set out to develop a curriculum, there were no accessible books, as we would say today. Back then we complained because there were no books in Braille or large print or on tape. His solution was to have us make our own. We cut up the print book and ran it through a brand new, specialized Xerox copier that produced large-print pages on eleven-by-seventeen-inch paper. A Braille master was made by transcribers at Jackson Prison. We then used a Thermoform machine, which employed heat and a vacuum, to force warm plastic sheets over a paper master, creating a tactile copy of the original. The process of hand-making all of our science textbooks took us at least a year, working during lunch hours, after school, and during study halls. For general science, biology, and chemistry we were able to produce the books just in time for the lessons. We learned binding, collating, and laminating. So, in addition to science, we learned about book production, knowledge that has served me on several occasions in my professional life. Since we were already in the book-production business, Bob became head of the yearbook, and we employed the same skills and techniques to produce that.
How can I adequately credit and praise someone who believed enough in blind students to teach us how to pour sulphuric acid, do experiments with beakers and flasks over Bunsen burners, use scalpels to dissect specimens, and observe plants coming from seeds to bloom in the terrarium? What do I say to convey my gratitude for the man who helped us learn what science is, how it is done, and how it is applied in the world to create the things we use on a daily basis? What was it that caused this big, loud, gregarious person to have such faith in us? What made him willing to do unorthodox things to get us books, teach us, and expect us to learn the material and be responsible students, while maintaining a fun-loving atmosphere in the classroom, print shop, and lab?
I have worked for a variety of organizations in three states and have rarely encountered a person even approaching Bob's character, intelligence, and charismatic personality. I wish I could explain what made Bob such an outstanding teacher. Maybe it was that his father was a teacher in Saginaw. Maybe it was his strong faith, which he never pushed on anyone, but lived each day. Maybe it was the wonderful education he received at Michigan State University. Who knows? I only know that he was a model teacher. He was not perfect, which made him even better as a role model. We learned that being human was okay and that showing care, dedication, and a sense of humor would serve us well in our lives.
In addition to his duties as the science teacher and the head of the yearbook, he built a Boy Scout troop, which won awards in the Chief Okemos Boy Scout Council. He developed a coed exploring program that won an award from the President of the United States for doing river cleanup on the Pine River between Cadillac and Manistee, Michigan. He earned the disdain of some professionals in the blindness field and the admiration of his students by allowing totally blind people to canoe together on the Pine River. Clearly he believed in adventure and in the abilities of blind people to manage our lives independently. He took Catholic students off-campus to their catechism classes and to church on Sunday. Bob and his family were truly dedicated to us as students.I have pursued science as an interest throughout my life. To show my gratitude to Bob in some small way, I have worked with the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind, and the Michigan Department of Education Low Incidence Outreach (formerly the Michigan School for the Blind) to create a science summer camp program for blind kids, which has operated for the past two summers. I am writing grants to fund our program for 2012. I want to try to give to blind youth of today a small measure of what Bob gave to me so many years ago. I have a passion for the outdoors, for technology, and for scouting and exploration, all thanks to an amazing man named Robert K. Burnett, a friend, teacher, and outstanding human being.
Reviewed by Ed Morman
From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library or of potential interest to our readers. Here is Librarian Ed Morman's review of a book not in the collection but of general interest:
Identity theft can be frightening. And a well-researched, well-written novel about identity theft promises to be a good read. But what if such a story has an added hook to gain the attention of potential readers? With Talk Talk, T. C. Boyle takes what would have been a first-rate fictional account of identity theft and complicates it—to good effect—by making its victim a woman who is totally deaf.
Talk Talk presents the reader with a disabled person who is accustomed to leading a full and active life until she finds herself confronted by a serious problem that has nothing to do with her disability. The plot is simple, but to write it Boyle had to learn how identity thieves ply their trade and how the deaf manage in a hearing world. We have not yet heard from identity thieves about the accuracy of Boyle’s description of their methods, but the novel seems to have gotten a good response in the deaf community. Just as blind people object to stereotypical depictions of the blind, the deaf want to see deaf characters in works of fiction display the foibles and virtues that any other person might have. To write this book, Boyle had to learn something about the world of the deaf—including both the alternative techniques they use and how much they are like people who can hear. The protagonist of Talk Talk reads lips and uses sign language, and she has both strengths and character flaws.
At the novel’s start Dana Halter—a Gallaudet graduate and teacher at a school for the deaf in California—finds herself arrested and stuck in jail for an entire weekend. Habitually late, she had been pulled over on a Friday afternoon after running a stop sign and is taken in and charged because her driver’s license bears a name that has been used by a dangerous fugitive.
Dana’s boyfriend is a nice but sometimes inept computer graphics guy with normal hearing. Bridger Martin, the boyfriend, is distraught until he discovers why Dana hasn’t shown up for a date. Not until the weekend is over, however, can he clear up the confusion and get the charges dropped. Dana is unreasonably angry at him for not having sprung her immediately but soon recognizes that he could have done little before court opened on Monday. Once she is free, Dana and Bridger set out to learn who the culprit is and to locate him (yes, it is a man). They pursue him until they catch up with him on the other side of the continent, in upstate New York.
Bridger had first been attracted to Dana while watching her dance in a nightclub, where the loud, pulsing rhythms provided bodily sensations that allowed her to move in time to the music that she could not hear. Boyle does not describe Dana’s ability to dance as remarkable in any way, nor does he suggest that the beauty of her movements has anything to do with her deafness. She is simply an attractive young woman who dances well and happens to be deaf.
By the time Dana is arrested, Bridger has begun to learn American Sign Language (ASL), but he’s still a beginner, and the two frequently communicate vocally, with Dana reading Bridger’s lips. Boyle does an fine job of showing how Dana switches from awkwardness in using her voice to greater ease and confidence when she can use ASL in conversation with a trained interpreter.
Talk Talk works because, while the dire situation that befalls Dana has nothing to do with her inability to hear, her deafness comes into play as she and her hearing companion gradually figure out what they want to do and explore ways to do it. Some reviewers have described the ending as a let-down, but your library director found it interesting and a logical conclusion to the unexpected adventures shared by Dana and Bridger, two normal people who find their world turned upside down by a crazy situation over which they had no control.The book is available from the NLS (in Braille and audio), but it is not in the tenBroek Library collection since it has nothing to do with blindness. Because it is available in accessible formats and deals with the other major sensory disability, we concluded that readers of the Monitor might be interested in reading this presentation of a fictional deaf person who uses a number of alternative techniques as she deals with a difficult situation.
by Shirley Baillif
From the Editor: For many years Shirley Baillif was an active member of the NFB of California and a leader in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. You can read a tribute to her in the obituary that appears in the Monitor Miniature column of this issue. Her essay, “Accentuate the Positive,” appeared in the very first Kernel Book twenty years ago. Its message is as true as it ever was. We reprint it here in further tribute to a selfless and dedicated Federationist. Here it is beginning with Kenneth Jernigan’s introduction:
How do you face the fact that your child is blind? How do you answer his questions? What advice do you give him? Where do you find hope? How much does your son learn from you, and how much do you learn from him? Here is how it happened with Shirley Baillif, who lives in California and who came to the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind to tell her story.
Years ago there was a popular song that said in part:
You've got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
And don't mess with Mr. In-between.
If I were asked to give one piece of advice on raising a blind child, that little ditty would express my philosophy. When our son became totally blind at age thirteen, one month before entering high school, we felt terrified--lost in a situation we knew little or nothing about. When Michael, who was an active teenager more interested in sports than academics, turned to me and said, "Mom, what will I do now?" The good Lord gave me the sense not to see a dismal picture of a young boy growing old, helplessly striving to eke out a living. Instead I answered him honestly by saying in effect, "Michael, I have never known a blind person well enough to know how the blind accomplish the tasks they do, but I have encountered a few blind people indirectly, and I know they have not only graduated from high school, but gone on to graduate from college, become professionals in various fields, or build their own businesses. Honey, if they can do it, so can you--you just have to learn how." And that is exactly what we set out to do.
As soon as Michael was released from the hospital, I called our local high school, explained the situation, and received a response of absolute dismay. This was a new situation to them. The few blind students they had had in the past came to the high school from the elementary program, where they had learned basic skills, and they had no idea how they would teach a blind student. Fortunately we found two positive-thinking special teachers who were able to help with Braille and mobility.
All through his high school years I was told that I should protest if Michael wasn't getting the help he should have. But how could I protest something I knew little or nothing about? I wish we had known about the National Federation of the Blind then. Our family was introduced to the NFB when Michael was searching for college scholarships. Michael is not a joiner. He made one exception, though. After receiving a scholarship from the NFB, he felt obligated to give back $5 of it and become a member of the Student Division. It turned out to be the best investment he ever made or ever will.
There is no way I can even begin to express how much the NFB has meant to our family or how much Michael has been influenced by the positive role models of the NFB leaders, both on the state and national levels. And I cannot tell you how much his peers within the Federation have become, not only special friends of Michael's, but like a close-knit family to his father and me. We watch their lives unfold as they strive for and accomplish their individual goals, overcoming the stumbling blocks that have been thrown in their paths.
I have learned so much since those days spent with Michael at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute, and now I want to share this knowledge with other parents as they come face to face with the destinies of their blind offspring. This is why I am so excited about starting a support group for parents of blind children in our area. I have a young mother of a newly blinded child, whom I met through a mutual friend, to thank for showing me this need; and I have the NFB to thank for giving me the encouragement and positive attitude to meet it.
by Lauren McLarney
From the Editor: Every December we publish the Social Security figures that have been announced for the coming year. Here is the 2012 information as prepared by Lauren McLarney of the NFB Governmental Affairs Department:
Once again we toast the passing of the old year while awaiting the new one. Along with the inevitable best-of lists and retrospectives, this passing of time is accompanied by annual adjustments to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. The changes traditionally include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, and SSDI and SSI cost-of-living increases, as well as alterations to deductible and coinsurance requirements under Medicare. Below are the updated facts for 2012.
FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains unchanged at 7.65 percent. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional 1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed people continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent, which includes 12.4 percent paid to the OASDI Trust Fund and 2.9 percent paid to the HI Trust Fund.
Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 2011 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI Trust Fund was $106,800. For 2012 the maximum amount of taxable earnings will be $110,000. All earnings are taxed for the HI Trust Fund.
Social Security Disability Insurance
Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI) benefits is partially based on the number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage in a single year. During 2011 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $1,120 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $4,480 in 2011 (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) received four quarters of coverage. In 2012 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $1,130 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters will be earned with annual earnings of $4,520.
Trial Work Period Limit: The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is subject to annual increases based on changes in the national average wage index. In 2011 the amount was $720. This amount will remain unchanged at $720 in 2012. In cases of self-employment, a trial work month can also be used if a person works more than eighty hours, and this limitation on hours worked will not change unless expressly adjusted.
Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption referred to as Substantial Gainful Activity for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,640 of gross earned income during 2011. In 2012 earnings of $1,690 or more a month, before taxes, for a blind SSDI beneficiary will indicate Substantial Gainful Activity once any unearned (or subsidy) income is subtracted and all deductions for impairment-related work expenses are applied.
Social Security Benefit Amounts: For the first time since 2009, there will be a 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for beneficiaries in 2012. Increased payments to beneficiaries will begin on December 20, 2011 and will apply to everyone receiving benefits in 2012.
Supplemental Security Income
Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January 2012, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $698 a month; SSI couples, $1,048 a month.
Student Earned Income Exclusion: In 2011 the monthly amount was $1,640, and the maximum yearly amount was $6,600. In 2012 the monthly amount is $1,740, and the maximum yearly amount is $6,840. The SSI program applies strict asset (resource) limits of $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for SSI couples, which can be changed only by Congress.
Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance amount is the hospital charge to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's coinsurance amount.
The Part A coinsurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days will be $1,156 in 2012. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day, the daily coinsurance amount will be $289 a day. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days that may be used after a ninety-day benefit period has ended. Once used, these reserve days are no longer available after any benefit period. The coinsurance amount to be paid during each reserve day used in 2012 will be $578.
Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days following a three-day in-hospital stay within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one hundredth day in a benefit period, the Part A coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility will be $144.50 in 2012.
Most Social Security beneficiaries have no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for SSDI cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for at least ninety-three months after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2012 will be $451 a month.
In 2012 the Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible will be $140. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate charged to each new beneficiary or to those beneficiaries who directly pay their premiums quarterly for 2012 will be $99.90 a month, although higher-income consumers may pay more. For those receiving Social Security benefits, this premium payment is deducted from your monthly benefit check. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social Security benefits because of working, must directly pay the Part B premium quarterly—one payment every three months. Like the Part A premiums mentioned above, Part B is also available for at least ninety-three months following the trial work period, assuming an individual wishes to have it and, when not receiving SSDI, continues to make quarterly premium payments.
Programs That Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programs—the QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and the SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program). To qualify for the QMB program in 2011, an individual’s monthly income cannot exceed $928 and a married couple’s monthly income cannot exceed $1,246. The 2012 limits have not been announced.
Under the QMB program states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium. Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.
Both the QMB and SLMB programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the states. The rules vary from state to state, but the following can be said: Resources, such as bank accounts or stocks, may not exceed $4,000 for one person or $6,000 for a family of two. Resources are generally things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count; and generally one car also doesn't count.
If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay:
If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the monthly Part B premium, depending on your circumstances.
If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number (800) 772-1213.Remember that only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program and also that the income and resource levels listed here are general guidelines with some states choosing greater amounts. Therefore, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the Public Aid Office or the Public Assistance Office) to apply. For more information about either program, call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on its toll-free telephone number (800) 633-4227, or go online to <http://www.cms.hhs.gov/ContactCMS>.
This month’s recipes have been contributed by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut.
by Chris Kuell
Chris Kuell is the second vice president of the NFB of Connecticut.
2 pounds ground meat
1 16-ounce can stewed or crushed tomatoes
1 12-ounce can red kidney beans
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
2 medium peppers, seeded and diced
1 cup zucchini, peeled and diced
1 to 5 jalapeño peppers, depending on how hot you like your chili
2 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4 strips bacon, fried, drained, and diced (1/2 cup bacon bits may be substituted.)
1 cup water
Method: Brown and drain ground meat and place in a crockpot or large pot with a fitted lid. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer covered for two hours or heat on high in the crockpot for one hour and simmer on medium until ready to serve, stirring occasionally. You can serve this chili over rice, spaghetti, or crushed tortilla chips. Feeds four generously or five or six more moderately.
Zucchini Fudge Cake
by Shirley Lebowitz
Shirley Lebowitz is a longtime member of the NFB of Connecticut.
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
3 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a ten-inch tube pan and set aside. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and set aside. In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar till fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well after each. Add vanilla and orange zest. Alternately beat in flour mixture and milk, just until combined. Fold in zucchini and nuts. Pour batter into buttered tube pan and bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted halfway between center tube and edge of pan comes out clean. Loosen center and edges of cake from the pan after the cake has cooled on a rack for a few minutes. Place rack on top of pan and invert. The cake should slide out. Remove the tube from the cake and cool completely.
by Betty Woodward
Betty Woodward is past president of the NFB of Connecticut and currently serves on its board of directors.
1 stick butter
1 15-ounce can creamed corn
1 15-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup sour cream
1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
Method: Melt the butter in a two-quart casserole dish. Add the corn, sour cream, egg, and muffin mix and stir to combine well. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350-degree oven for thirty-five to forty minutes or until mixture is set. Serve immediately.
Party Potato Bake
by Beth Rival
Beth Rival is president of the NFB of Connecticut. She managed to get these recipes to us despite an October snowstorm and no electricity for three days.
1 large package shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 pint sour cream
1 stick butter, melted
1 medium onion, chopped
1 package frozen hash brown potatoes
Crushed cornflakes for topping
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except potatoes and cornflakes. Stir in the potatoes and spread in a well-greased or cooking-sprayed 13-by-9-inch or larger baking pan. Sprinkle crushed cornflakes over surface. Bake open for fifty minutes.
Peanut Butter Candy
by Beth Rival
2 6-ounce bags peanut butter chips
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 large bag mini marshmallows
3/4 cup coconut, shredded
3/4 cup peanuts, chopped
Method: In large microwavable bowl combine chips, butter, peanut butter, and marshmallows. Heat until melted and smooth. Stir every minute or so just till mixture is smooth. Then stir in coconut and nuts. Spread on a buttered cookie sheet. Chill to firm and cut into pieces.
by Beth Rival
1 cup sugar
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup dark molasses
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Additional sugar to roll cookie balls in
News from the Federation Family
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 key 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 <firstname.lastname@example.org> 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.
We recently received the following moving tribute to a dedicated sighted Federationist from Maria Morais, who now lives with her husband Eddie Bell and their two daughters in Ruston, Louisiana. When Maria was a very young woman, Shirley Baillif befriended her. When Maria heard of Shirley’s death, she wrote this tribute:
Shirley Baillif died on October 17, 2011, at the age of eighty-five. She was not blind, but she was an extraordinary champion of blind people and of our belief that a normal life is possible if we are given reasonable opportunity.
For years Shirley quietly did whatever needed doing in the Federation. She was treasurer of the NFB of California’s North County Chapter in the San Diego area, president of the parents division in California, and a member of the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. It is impossible to calculate the number of miles she drove to get blind people to meetings, conventions, and social events. Many of us will fondly remember the '66 Falcon station wagon she drove, with all of its quirks. Her goal and that of her husband Al was always to get that car to five hundred thousand miles, and they did it.
Shirley's greatest passion was blind kids. She and her husband had raised a blind son, Michael Baillif, and they recognized the positive influence the Federation had on his life. She felt an obligation to do what she could to make sure that other blind young people also had inspiring role models and the proper training to live successful lives. She was never intimidating, or intimidated for that matter, at IEP meetings when she participated as an advocate. She quietly insisted that school officials do the right thing, and families were always appreciative of her encouragement and efforts.
Late last year I wrote to Shirley and her husband to thank them for all they had meant to me personally and to countless other people. Here is some of what I said in my letter: “How many times did you open your home to those of us who needed one, or provide a ride for someone who couldn't drive, or visit someone who was sick, or play another hand of cards just so someone could have a chance to win? These were all little things you did every day that have added up to what has to be an incredibly fulfilling life.”
A true Federationist is someone who genuinely cares enough to reach out to others. Shirley Baillif was such a person and very much more.
Attention Wounded Warriors:
The National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, has announced a free lottery for wounded warriors who have lost their sight during Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. The winner will receive a free trip to Dallas, Texas, to attend the national convention of the NFB, which will take place from June 30 to July 5, 2012.
Dwight Sayer, president of the NABV, explained that the contest was designed to help introduce more people to the National Association of Blind Veterans and the NFB. He said: “All too often blind veterans and wounded warriors who have remained on active duty receive some physical assistance when they return, but they also have a great need for basic mobility training, experiential and vocational advice, and the recognition that they are not alone. At the NFB convention they can meet nearly three-thousand people, most of them blind or with low vision and many with tremendous success stories, to help encourage someone who is coming to grips with his or her blindness. We also have a group of blind veterans who understand, in a special way, both where the vet is coming from and what he or she is going through.”
The first prize includes airfare to the convention for the winner and a companion, hotel accommodations, the convention registration fee and a banquet ticket, and the opportunity to meet and spend time with a whole organization of blind veterans. Entry to the contest is available on the National Association of Blind Veterans website. There is no charge to enter. Only one entry per person is permitted. For more information about the contest or the National Association of Blind Veterans, visit <www.nabv.org> or call Dwight Sayer at (407) 877-8668.
On October 1, 2011, Federationists Jason Ewell and Jessica Bachicha were married at the Church of the Incarnation in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The groom, who is originally from Ohio, works full time in the NFB Department of Affiliate Action. The bride, a native New Mexican who currently works part time in Affiliate Action, earned her doctorate in vocal performance from the Catholic University of America in May 2011. Both bride and groom have won NFB scholarships, and Jessica was a tenBroek Fellow. A number of Federationists attended the wedding mass and the reception that followed.
Jessica and Jason express their sincere appreciation for all the good wishes they received from members of the Federation family during their engagement. They write to say: "One of our many blessings during the wedding festivities was seeing how much our families and our friends from other areas of our lives enjoyed getting to know members of our Federation family. Through this interaction many of them really came to understand our cause and the goals we have for all blind people."
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.
Join a Free Voice Chat Community on the Web:
Would you like to have lots of fun and meet other blind or visually impaired people from across the country and around the world? Do you like challenging games, old-time radio, adaptive cooking techniques, chess, book clubs, product presentations, real-time technical assistance with your computer, and more? If this is what you are looking for, join us at Out-of-Sight. We offer over forty different chat rooms with something for everyone! This site is made up of the friendliest and most courteous folks you are likely to meet on the Net. The Out-of-Sight community is made up of a set of free user-friendly voice chat rooms, and all you need is a microphone to get started. To become a member and join our Out-of-Sight free chat community, go to the website <www.out-of-sight.net>. If you have any questions or need assistance logging in, contact <email@example.com>. We hope to talk with you soon. “Catch the vision--it’s Out-of-Sight!”
New England's Blind/VI Alpine Ski Festival Week:
Enjoy an extraordinary big mountain skiing experience at the largest ski area east of the Rockies. From February 12 to 16, 2012, Maine Handicapped Skiing (MHS) will welcome visually impaired (VI) and blind skiers, their guides, and families from throughout the U.S. to a resort on the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett Valley, Maine.
This festival creates a unique social, recreational, and educational experience for skiers of all levels. They will have the opportunity to develop their skiing abilities on all kinds of terrain with their own guides or qualified festival volunteers. Skills enhancement will also be available for guides from Certified PSIA Adaptive and experienced clinicians. For complete details visit <http://nevifest.org/>. Ski and Stay packages start at $325. All lessons and guide training are offered free of charge by Maine Handicapped Skiing. Shuttle transportation from the Portland, Maine, Airport is also available to and from the Festival.
MHS is the largest year-round adaptive recreation program in the state of Maine for adults and children with physical disabilities. Over 390 volunteers assist athletes to appreciate the joys and challenges of sports participation. For more information write to Maine Handicapped Skiing, 8 Sundance Lane, Newry, ME 04261. Call (800) 639-7770 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Book Makes Great Holiday Gift
Consider ordering a copy of Two Plus Four Equals One: Celebrating the Partnership of People with Disabilities and Their Assistance Dogs. This anthology of writings by and about people with disabilities of all types offers over 100 stories and poems that give an accurate and insightful portrayal of the partnership between human and canine. Writer/editor Kathy Nimmer is a blind high school English teacher from Indiana. Many of the stories featured in the book are from NFB members. The book can be ordered in print, audio CD, PDF, or Word for fifteen dollars at <www.servicedogstories.com> or in print from <amazon.com>.
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 for sale an Alva Satellite Traveler 44 and Braille Lite 40. Both are in excellent condition. The Braille Lite comes with leather carrying case, neck strap, AC adapter, Braille manual, and serial cable. The Alva Braille display comes with AC adapter and USB cable. Asking $450 for the Braille Lite, and $1,400 for the Braille display. Prices are negotiable. Call Dave Van der Molehn at (519) 669-1456 or send email to <email@example.com>.
We have two Braille displays to sell: Brailliant 24 wireless and USB that can be used with an iPhone or any computer or an iPad. It is the perfect size to fit in a pocket but still have enough cells (twenty-four), to be very usable. It has hardly been used. Asking $800. I also have a PowerBraille 40 from Freedom Scientific. Uses serial or USB when using an XP computer. This unit has been used for about a year and is in good condition. Asking $300. Finally I have a PAC Mate BX400 from Freedom Scientific. This item has not been used and so is in great condition. Asking $400. Contact CJ Sampson at (321) 282-6376 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
I have a Focus 80 for sale. I am asking $3,500. That is less than the cost of a 40-cell display. The unit is in perfect working condition, and I have been the only user of this machine. I am selling because I need a more portable solution that I can use with my iPhone. I can be contacted at <email@example.com> or by phone at (602) 561-1331.
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.