Vol. 35, No. 3 March
Barbara Pierce, Editor
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NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 35, No. 3 March 1992
INTEGRITY, MONOPOLY, AND TELESENSORY
by Kenneth Jernigan and Barbara Pierce
THE INFORMATION ACCESS PROJECT FOR BLIND INDIVIDUALS
FINALLY FORCED TO COME TO COURT
by Kenneth Jernigan
OUT IN OHIO
by Barbara Pierce
OF THE BLIND 1992 LEGISLATIVE
MEMORANDUM AND FACT SHEETS
MORE ABOUT CHARLOTTE AND THE NFB CONVENTION
DOES THE BUS
COMPANY HAVE A BLIND SPOT?
by Steve Jacobson
A CHIP ON
by Christine Faltz
AND REALITY: THE NFB AND AER TALK
PAST EACH OTHER IN WISCONSIN
by Bonnie Peterson
IN WHITE OCTOBER
by Peggy Chong
REPORT FROM LOS ALAMOS
DOG AND CANE
A MINDSET OR REFLECTING MYTHOLOGY:
JOURNALISTS TALK ABOUT BLINDNESS
FROM THE MAIL BASKET: MORE ABOUT HUMOR
SHARES HIS SPECIAL VIEW
by Kenneth Silberman
by C. Edwin Vaughan
Copyright National Federation
of the Blind, Inc., 1992
[4 LEAD PHOTOS. CAPTION: During the past twenty years or so members of the National Federation of the Blind have become a familiar sight on Capitol Hill. Each February hundreds of Federationists visit their Senators and Representatives to discuss issues of importance to blind Americans, and from time to time specific matters bring them pouring into Washington for special activities. In early July, 1981, almost 2,000 members of the National Federation of the Blind gathered on the steps of the Capitol to hear then Vice President George Bush and Dr. Jernigan (top left) address the new administration's commitment to assisting disabled Americans. During our annual Washington Seminars state delegations of Federationists hurry from appointment to appointment for three solid days. Pictured top right, the Ohio delegation races from the House side to the Senate office buildings for a meeting with Senator Metzenbaum in 1987. In February, 1989, Federationists filled a hearing room (bottom left) to watch Congressman Gerry Sikorski's House subcommittee ask Department of State officials tough questions about its unwillingness to hire blind people as Foreign Service Officers. In June of 1990 concerned blind citizens waited in the lobby outside the Senate Chamber (bottom right) before filling the Senate gallery to watch the cloture vote on the Air Travel Rights for Blind Individuals Act. Looking back, it is clear that the National Federation of the Blind is playing a major role in shaping the destiny of blind Americans.]
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: James Bliss, President of TeleSensory.]
CONCERNING INTEGRITY, MONOPOLY, AND TELESENSORY
by Kenneth Jernigan and Barbara Pierce
"In Pittsburgh," as more than one person told us, "it doesn't matter how good your technology is or how low your prices. It doesn't matter about the quality of your service or the support you give your technology. If you aren't selling products made by TeleSensory, you can't do business with the state rehabilitation agency"--which is known as BVS, or the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. This is what we were told by a frustrated vendor of high-tech equipment for the blind and what we heard echoed by many others. What this vendor of technology did not say (but everybody knows) is that the TeleSensory sales representative in Pittsburgh, Mary Ann Sember, is married to Tom Sember, a counselor in the state agency's Pittsburgh office.
In New Jersey the TeleSensory sales representative has a daughter who works for the state agency. The family relationship is different, but the pattern is the same. State business goes to TeleSensory regardless of cost, performance, or quality of service.
The arrangement is cozy for those who are part of the inner circle, but if the same situation occurred in military procurement, it would be front-page scandal with everybody crying foul. Here, however, only blind clients are being hurt--along with small business operations (mostly owned by blind people). Since those who are being denied the right to compete are not big-time operators with major bucks and political clout, such complaints as have surfaced have largely been ignored.
At least on the surface, the situation in New York is a little different. Family ties don't appear to be involved, but TeleSensory still seems to manage. Vendors report that in many parts of New York TeleSensory has the state agency technology market pretty much locked up. These vendors say that they are rarely successful in getting orders despite better prices and superior service.
How has all this come about? At a time when rehabilitation money is in short supply everywhere in the country for the purchase of technology that blind people need to become or remain competitive, why do so many state agency counselors insist on buying equipment from a company with a nationwide reputation for slow and unresponsive support service and prices higher than those of the competition? Why is this done even when blind clients request alternative technology that they think will serve their needs better? Some say that the answer lies in a combination of history, sloth, and inertia--the fact that TeleSensory (formerly TSI) has been in the field longer than most of its competitors and is bigger than the rest of them. Others (whether correctly or not) cut through the niceties and call it collusion and skulduggery.
When high-tech for the blind first began to make a real impact (some twenty years ago), the world of technology for the blind was tidily divided among the various producers. (See the January, 1992, issue of the Braille Monitor.) TeleSensory Systems, Inc., (known then, and still generally referred to today after its merger with VTEK, as TSI) brought out the Optacon, which gave a tactile image of the letters on a printed page, and also the first of the talking calculators. In addition, TSI produced the VersaBraille, which was a portable device that permitted word processing and used movable pins to display computer-stored text in what was called refreshable Braille.
When state and private agencies or the federal government wanted this type of technology, they generally turned to TSI. It wasn't necessarily that TSI gave better service or better prices than others but that very often nobody else was in that particular corner of the market at the time.
The talking calculator is a good example. It was priced at almost $500, but it worked--and it was all there was. A few years later when the Sharp calculator hit the market with a smaller size, more versatility, and a tenth the price, the TSI calculator was history. This is not to criticize the TSI calculator or even its price but only to say that even while some of the blind were buying and using it, TSI was the recipient of a good deal of resentment and ill-will because of what was perceived to be the exorbitant charge--especially since it was generally felt that a great deal of TSI's research and development costs for a number of its products had been paid for by government and other grants. In short, a number of the products were good (if expensive), and by and large the support staff had a reasonably satisfactory reputation for providing service and doing something about problems when they occurred--but TSI was heartily disliked, not only by many other vendors but (more important) by a steadily growing number of the blind.
One more factor which must be added to the equation is Jim Bliss, TSI's controversial chief executive and driving force. From the beginning Bliss has proved himself to be a man of ability and unflagging energy, but he has also proved himself to be a veritable genius at bad public relations. Wherever he has gone, he has created hostility and made enemies. Whether justified or not, stories persistently circulated (and, for that matter, still do) of sleazy conduct, questionable practices, cutthroat tactics, and the determination to squeeze every penny from a deal.
There is something more: Even with Bliss's reputation for cutting corners and squeezing pennies, sources tell us that TeleSensory is in financial trouble. The report from TeleSensory's auditors dated May 11, 1990, contains interesting material and says in part:
Note B - Acquisition
On January 27, 1989, the Company acquired all the stock of Visualtek, Inc. (VTEK) in exchange for 480,528 shares of its common stock. VTEK is engaged in the development, manufacture and sale of electronic equipment for visually impaired individuals throughout the world. The results of operations of VTEK since January 28, 1989 are included in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.
In connection with the acquisition, the Company entered into noncompete and consulting agreements with VTEK's founder and majority stockholder in the amount of $4,250,000. These agreements were prepaid by the Company, are each for five years and are amortized ratably over this period. The Company has also agreed to pay $30,000 of annual nonaccountable expenses in each of the five years relating to the consulting services.
Note E of the report of the auditors says in part:
In January 1989, the Company entered into a working capital line of credit with a bank which enables the Company to borrow up to $2,500,000 at an interest rate of prime (10.5% at December 31, 1989) plus 1.5%. The Company paid a commitment fee to the bank equal to 3% of the maximum borrowings. The line of credit expires in May 1990; however, the Company is currently negotiating an extension of the line.
In December 1989, the Company executed a promissory note with the same bank due June 1990. The note bears interest at the bank's prime rate plus 1.5%.
These bank borrowings are guaranteed by the Company and its subsidiaries and are subject to certain restrictive covenants, including the maintenance of minimum working capital ratios and tangible net worth, profitable operations, and a maximum debt to net worth ratio. The Company was in violation of the profitability covenant at December, 1989; however, the Company has obtained a waiver from the bank.
In December 1989, the Company borrowed $1,000,000 subordinated to bank borrowings and collateralized by the Company's assets, from a material supplier at an interest rate of 12%. Principal repayments of $200,000 at March 31 and April 30, 1990 have been made. The $600,000 balance is due May 31, 1990.
This is what the auditors say for calendar year 1989, and reports are widespread that 1990 was a very bad year for TeleSensory. Some even say that the company's very existence is in danger. However, when we discussed the matter with Jim Bliss, he said that while 1990 had admittedly been bad, 1991 had been good. He said that the report of the auditors to the stockholders would not be ready for several weeks and that he was, therefore, not at liberty to give specific data. But he emphasized that the company was in good condition and that prospects looked good for 1992.
Without more specific data we are not in a position to evaluate Bliss' statements or the rumors that contradict them. We are only in a position to say that TeleSensory continues its stormy and controversial course.
As technology evolved in the blindness field through the 1980s, competing products began to emerge--and in the effort to reduce prices, technical support began to suffer. Even brief conversation with anyone who uses technology for the blind will turn up ghastly stories of malfunctioning systems and confused experts. TSI is by no means the only object of these anecdotes, but blind users certainly do complain steadily on computer bulletin boards of TSI unresponsiveness and equipment down-time.
Yet, the large-volume purchasers (like state rehabilitation agencies and the federal government) have continued to buy TSI products. Some say that it is simply momentum and habit, an apparent feeling on the part of the agencies that they know what they are getting and with whom they are dealing. Moreover, TeleSensory has always billed itself as producing a complete line of products designed to work together, and TSI sales representatives have used this argument as a selling point.
As we have said, the 1980s saw changes in the technology world. Suddenly TSI had competition, and these competitors were developing exciting new products at lower prices. While TSI continued its traditional pattern of hiring sales representatives throughout the country who were primarily concerned with selling TSI products, a number of the newer producers began to establish professional relationships with regional vendors--many of whom, as blind people, were themselves using the technology they sold. These sales people were prepared to hustle for business and provide their own equipment expertise as a start-up service in order to make sales and create happy customers. They were often willing to give assistance with related technology which was not part of their line of merchandise. In addition, they recognized that they would have to undersell TeleSensory if they were to establish their own niches in the market. Talking to these vendors, one is reminded of the old Avis rent-a-car "We try harder" commercials. These new vendors are working very hard indeed, and while they are getting business from the private sector and from institutions outside the state rehabilitation agency structure, some very strange things seem to be going on in a number of state agencies.
The usual practice in state government is to seek bids from vendors when substantial amounts of money are to be spent. From what we can gather, this practice is not followed by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, and until fairly recently most of the district offices of the Pennsylvania state agency did not bother with bids either even though Pennsylvania law requires state purchasing agents to seek them. Sometime early in 1991, however, a memo was apparently circulated to the Pennsylvania BVS offices stipulating that in future three bids must be sought before placing any sizable equipment order. We are told that the Philadelphia office had been following this practice as far back as anyone can remember but that most other regional offices had not.
One might be pardoned for assuming that enforcing this bid policy would resolve the acknowledged problem of staff purchases of overpriced or inappropriate equipment for clients, but apparently such has not been the case. For example, one Pittsburgh vendor currently sells the Arkenstone reading system for $3,500. The OsCaR, TeleSensory's almost identical system, sells for $3,895. A ten-percent difference in price would seem to make the Arkenstone attractive to conscientious professionals in Pittsburgh trying to make their funds stretch as far as possible. But if one is determined to give the business to the less competitive company, all one has to do is write the bid specifications in such a way that (regardless of the facts) only the more expensive product fills the stipulated requirements.
This is precisely what we are told most BVS counselors in Pittsburgh seem to be doing. Bob Jakub, the local Arkenstone dealer, says that he has to date been awarded two contracts for the Arkenstone reading system even though during the last several years he has sought to provide a number of others to BVS clients. Jakub says that in September of 1991 a client requested an Arkenstone as soon as permission was given for purchasing a reading system for him, but the counselor insisted on providing the OsCaR. According to Jakub the client (an attorney, who was not in the habit of lying down meekly and letting people walk over him) continued to demand the Arkenstone, which he eventually got. In recent weeks Jakub says he has bid on and received another contract for an Arkenstone. But for the most part we are told the Pittsburgh counselors buy TeleSensory equipment. And the only TeleSensory representative in the area is Mary Ann Sember, the wife of one of the office counselors.
No one has suggested that money is changing hands, but old habits are hard to break--and pressures to conform to established practice do not have to be overt in order to be effective. Sources close to the Pittsburgh office report that one counselor was named as acting District Manager some time ago. He decided to put an end to the practice of giving all the office's technology business to TSI, and as a result, this source suggests, the acting manager is once more a counselor.
Meanwhile the list of unhappy clients who have been given TeleSensory products grows. We are told that one woman was given the Vista computer screen enlargement system, the TeleSensory product. We are further told that she experienced great difficulty getting it to work for her and that in the midst of this prolonged struggle she moved to another state. Her new counselor professed himself astonished to find that she had been given Vista. He volunteered that in his agency no one had ordered that product for years. In fact, our interviews indicate that many TSI product users become dissatisfied in the months and years following the initial purchase. In the beginning TeleSensory sales representatives seem to work hard to sell and install TSI systems. When the equipment develops problems or the client needs additional help to get started, or the system does not perform as promised, we are told that the TSI personnel are suddenly hard or impossible to find and pin down. As one disgruntled customer said, "As long as they need you, they are right there to help, but as soon as you need them, you might as well forget it."
In Pittsburgh there is a disturbing history of clients' getting TSI equipment regardless of their own preferences or professional recommendation. We are told that one BVS client was evaluated by the Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind, that the Optelek closed circuit television system was recommended, and that training on the system was provided. We are further told that despite the fact that the state agency paid for the evaluation and recommendation, the state counselor ordered TeleSensory's Vantage System. Only after strong objections were raised by the Optelek vendor was the excuse offered that a mistake had been made and the Optelek system purchased instead. Another vendor confided to one of our reporters that he had lost three orders in which his equipment had been recommended but TeleSensory technology substituted.
In the weeks preceding the 1991 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, the rumblings concerning the improprieties in the Pittsburgh office of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services grew so loud that the organization passed a resolution on the matter. Subsequent to the convention Ted Young, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to the state's Auditor General outlining the problems and enclosing the resolution. Here are both the letter and the resolution:
November 18, 1991
Ms. Barbara Hafer
Dear Ms. Hafer:
The National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania is a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, which has over fifty thousand members and an affiliate in every state of the nation. As blind people organized to promote the social and economic well-being of all the blind, we are naturally interested in and concerned about improprieties in any district of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BVS).
Although we understand that some of the following concerns may have been brought to the attention of others in state government prior to this time, we believe that you--given your promises of cleaning up state government made in your recent campaign--will take all necessary actions to resolve these issues.
It has come to our attention that the Pittsburgh district office and some other district offices of BVS have not followed the required state practice of sending out bids before purchasing electronic adaptive equipment for clients. This is particularly troublesome in the case of Pittsburgh, given the following facts and allegations which, if true, suggest illegal practices.
1. Tom Sember, a counselor at the Pittsburgh district office of BVS, is married to Mary Ann Sember, a sales representative for TeleSensory, which is a major distributor of adaptive electronic technology for blind persons, including speech hardware and software, Braille printers, scanners with adaptive software, and equipment allowing computer screen output to be enlarged for persons with low vision.
2. There are a number of other producers of similar equipment. Much of this other equipment is less expensive and performs the same functions with the same quality as that produced by TeleSensory.
3. Despite higher prices TeleSensory has been the main source of equipment purchased by the Pittsburgh district office.
4. Other equipment vendors have cited cases in which a given brand of less expensive equipment was recommended and TeleSensory equipment was delivered. This was true even when the client had been evaluated on the recommended equipment.
5. It is alleged that, when clients request other brands of equipment, they are dissuaded with the intimation that, if they do not accept TeleSensory equipment, they may not get any at all.
6. It is alleged that, when adaptive electronic equipment is recommended for Tom Sember's clients, the case is transferred to another counselor and that TeleSensory equipment is automatically provided.
7. It is alleged that, even when a rehabilitation supervisor of the Pittsburgh district office was advised that he could get the same equipment at a lower price, he ignored this source.
8. One vendor has alleged that, when he complained about some of the above practices, the Pittsburgh district office stopped buying other products he sells which do not compete with TeleSensory.
Having learned of these factors shortly before our state convention, we passed the attached resolution. As you can see, it requests that you investigate this matter. It is our understanding that portions of this matter may have been raised a year ago and that at the time it was referred to the Pittsburgh district office, where it was promptly rationalized. Given the possible illegal nature of the above practices, the cost to the taxpayers, and the failure of rehabilitation to consider the best way of meeting the client's needs and preferences, we hope that your office will investigate directly.
Even as we write this letter, we are in the process of gathering more facts. We will be happy to meet with you at your earliest convenience to provide names of persons who would be willing to give you further information concerning this situation. Thank you.
Ted Young, President
National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania
WHEREAS, it has come to our attention from some blind persons and some equipment vendors in the Pittsburgh area that there is a definite bias on the part of the Pittsburgh district office of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Service toward the purchase of equipment produced and sold by TeleSensory; and
WHEREAS, we understand that this bias may extend to changing authorizations for other equipment to similar products made by TeleSensory; and
WHEREAS, we know that the wife of one of the rehabilitation counselors works as a sales representative for TeleSensory; and
WHEREAS, the Vocational Rehabilitation program is the largest purchaser of technical equipment for blind persons, and this relationship to TeleSensory may constitute a conflict of interest; Now, Therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania in convention assembled this tenth day of November, 1991, that the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania request the Auditor General to investigate this situation and rule on whether this relationship constitutes a conflict of interest and whether it violates any other laws.
There you have the letter to the Auditor General and the resolution, and clearly these documents were received at the Auditor General's office with great interest. Here is the letter written to Ted Young by one of Attorney General Hafer's assistants:
December 15, 1991
Ted Young, President
National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania
Dear Mr. Young:
Auditor General Barbara Hafer has asked me to respond to your letter of November 18, 1991, with respect to alleged irregularities at the Pittsburgh District Office of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. We have reviewed the information provided by you and have determined that some follow-up is appropriate.
In connection with your complaint, the information provided by you will be forwarded to the appropriate audit bureau for the purposes of review during the next scheduled audit of the entity in question. Additionally, we will begin to make a preliminary inquiry into the allegations as soon as possible, given existing personnel and workloads.
We will be in touch with you with respect to our progress and findings.
I want to thank you, on behalf of Auditor General Hafer, for coming forward with the information that you have provided. It is only by reviewing the conduct of the affairs of state government that those affairs can be conducted as efficiently and properly as possible.
Very truly yours,
Charles P. Mackin, Jr.
Deputy Auditor General
cc: Bureau of Departmental
Office of Special Investigations
That was the letter Ted Young received just before Christmas of 1991. Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania are working with legislators to encourage the Auditor General to press forward with her investigation as expeditiously as possible.
The situation in other states is not as clearly defined as it is in Pennsylvania. Vendors consistently report that the New Jersey Commission for the Blind does not place orders for any equipment that competes directly with TeleSensory technology. Al Blumenthal has been the TeleSensory dealer in New Jersey for years. His daughter Donna is an employee of the state commission for the blind, and we are told that the Commission purchases an overwhelming proportion of TeleSensory equipment. Is there any connection? It would be nearly impossible to prove, but the very fact of the family tie makes it difficult to believe that there is no favoritism. One would think that the Commission might see the wisdom of doing business with other vendors if for no other reason than to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The fact that it would save money in the process would suggest to the citizen in the street another advantage in doing so. But the New Jersey Commission continues to dance with virtually one partner only, TeleSensory.
Blind consumers in New York say flatly that TeleSensory has the market sewed up tight. This does not appear to be an accurate perception, at least in some parts of the state. C-Tech (a company that sells a number of technology products for the blind and visually impaired), for example, reports that in the area around its headquarters outside of New York City it gets state agency business. This seems reasonable since, according to company officials, its prices are five percent below TSI's across the board. The company picks up and delivers equipment and also provides loaner products when they are available. It does not have entire computer systems to lend while equipment is being repaired, but it says it tries to supply components when problems develop with equipment that it has sold.
The company has recently expanded into the western part of the state. Company officials report that they are getting business in the new area from every sector but the state agency. It is clear that agency personnel are hesitant to leave the familiar, even when the price is right.
And what about TeleSensory? It is the largest company in this corner of the technology market. Through merger, take-over, and its own product development, it manufactures and sells the widest array of technology for blind and low-vision consumers in the country. By size and market penetration TeleSensory has a dominant position in the blindness field, and this disturbs many, not all of whom are TSI competitors.
For the record James Bliss denies that TeleSensory has locked up any segment of the market. When asked whether he knew about Mary Ann Sember's relationship to the Pennsylvania state agency's Pittsburgh office and Al Blumenthal's connection to the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, he at first said that he did not know about the family ties. When the relationships were explained, he then admitted that he was familiar with the situation but explained that "They both have some clearance from those agencies, that there is not a conflict of interest." He went on to say, "It is my understanding that it is well known, and everyone understands the situation. At least," he continued, "that is what I was told."
It seems evident that everyone does understand the situation, but perhaps not in the way that Jim Bliss and the state officials in question do. One can only hope that the Pennsylvania Auditor General will consider carefully the problems that have been brought to her attention and force open the bidding process in Pittsburgh. That would be a start and might serve as a warning in the other state agency offices in which competition for technology business seems to have been an unpopular concept.
Though all this would help, it leaves unaddressed an area of TeleSensory behavior which elicits almost universal comment in discussions of vendor conduct in the field of technology for the blind. The feeling is widespread and deeply held that TeleSensory officials do not respect blind people and that this disrespect permeates all aspects of TeleSensory's dealings. Blind officials in several organizations report that TeleSensory representatives in discussions and negotiations prefer to deal with sighted conferees even when the blind individual with the power to make decisions is in the room. There is no objective way to measure this perception, but the general and strongly held conviction remains that TeleSensory officials do not respect blind people.
Another more easily demonstrated criticism is that outside of its technical support and marketing departments TeleSensory hires almost no blind employees. More particularly, there are very few blind sales representatives. Jim Bliss named two and said that there were others but that he could not come up with names without a list in front of him. Since TeleSensory is a major company in this field, one might have hoped for a larger commitment to employing technology consumers than the record demonstrates. Virtually every other company in the field has a better hiring record. Indeed, one of the two sales representatives cited works (by choice) only part-time and limits her activity to selling Braille-connected technology.
When asked directly about allegations that blind applicants for sales jobs have been told they need not apply, Bliss stated that it is TeleSensory policy to comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the law surrounding employment. Bliss said that TSI has just undergone a Department of Labor affirmative action audit, and, as he put it, "came out in good shape." He also said that TeleSensory just won the Employer of the Year Award from the California Governor's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped--all of which may mean much or little or nothing. Be that as it may, the rumors persist; the perception continues; and the TeleSensory sales force is dominated by sighted representatives.
And what is the consumer left to think? TeleSensory designs, produces, and markets workable and expensive software and hardware that are made to perform best with other TeleSensory products. Its sales force, we have been repeatedly told, is hard- driving and, if a sale is in the balance, not above promising things that no current technology can yet deliver. Moreover, as one agency director told us, "This sales force would sell you a Mercedes for $65,000 if you were in the market for a car that would get you to work. A Mercedes will get you to work, of course, but it is intended to do a lot more." TeleSensory representatives seem to be good at convincing would-be consumers that the TSI product is what they need and that they shouldn't let anyone make them settle for anything less. This causes problems for state agency counselors who are conscientiously trying to save money while getting quality products. It leads to wholesale waste when the counselors themselves, for whatever reason, are committed to buying TeleSensory no matter what.
As we move into the final decade of the twentieth century, one thing is clear in the field of technology for the blind. Major changes are underway. TeleSensory is not the only game in town, and the blind users of technology will no longer settle for having their informed views ignored. When unsavory business practices exist, we will do our best to put an end to them.
It is not appropriate to funnel state business to one producer, whose prices are high and whose service is slow to nonexistent. When that producer's sales representatives have direct family ties to the agencies of government that make the purchases, then the consumers, the competing vendors, and the general public will inevitably draw their own conclusions about what is happening.
We who are blind face enough discrimination, narrow- mindedness, and inertia among the general public without having to put up with it closer to home. We intend to end second-class treatment in the larger community, and we are likely to tolerate it even less in our own field of work with the blind--including the production and distribution of technology. It is no longer sufficient for governmental and private agencies (or, for that matter, vendors of technology) to rely on old solutions just because they are familiar. Increasingly the blind of this country know what they are entitled to and what they want and are prepared to fight to get it. Empowerment is the current watchword, and we who are blind have not only been at it for a long time but fully understand what it means and how it works.
[PHOTO: International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. CAPTION: The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. This facility is an invaluable resource for the Information Access Project for Blind Individuals.]
THE INFORMATION ACCESS PROJECT FOR BLIND INDIVIDUALS
A Cooperative Effort by
the U.S. Department of Justice and
the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind has been awarded a U.S. Department of Justice Technical Assistance Grant to conduct the Information Access Project for Blind Individuals (IAP for short). This grant supports our efforts to assist the Justice Department to educate the various entities (state and local government bodies as well as private businesses) covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (thus referred to in the Act and its regulations as "covered entities") in meeting the requirements of the ADA which relate to blind persons. Likewise, we will work with blind individuals to assist them in using the ADA to expand employment, educational, and avocational opportunities. Specifically, the IAP will serve as a national resource for understanding and interpreting the provisions of the Act which call for making print and other visually accessible materials (charts, posters, signs, video presentations, etc.) available to the blind.
Overview of the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA was passed to provide a comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. In addition, the law is designed to establish national standards to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities as well as to define the federal government's role in enforcing these standards.
The ADA is divided into five sections or titles. Title I deals with employment, Title II is concerned with services provided by public entities, while Title III deals with services and accommodations provided by private entities. Title IV is concerned with telecommunication and captioning services for the deaf and speech impaired, and Title V covers a variety of miscellaneous subjects including regulations by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, attorney's fees, Federal Wilderness Areas, coverage of Congress and the whole legislative branch and more. The Title I regulations will become law on July 26, 1992, for companies with twenty-five or more employees and on July 26, 1994, for companies with fifteen or more employees. Titles II and III went into effect on January 26, 1992. Title IV of the ADA must be implemented by July 26, 1993, and there is no overall implementation date for Title V.
Accessibility is a major goal of the ADA. Accessibility applies to information and communications as much as it does to the physical characteristics of buildings and facilities. It is this aspect of accessibility which is of most interest to blind persons and, therefore, the reason the National Federation of the Blind is working with the Justice Department on this project. Requirements for equal access to information flow mainly from the ADA'S auxiliary aids and services and reasonable accommodation provisions in Titles II and III. However, the provision of information in appropriately accessible forms for blind persons cannot happen merely by means of a legislated mandate. Without the involvement of organized blind consumers, what in practice becomes the definition of and standards for "appropriately accessible forms" may not truly be in the best interests of the blind; thus, the value of the National Federation of the Blind's serving as a liaison between blind individuals and covered entities (through the IAP) during the early months of the ADA's implementation.
Purpose and Objectives
The overall goals of the Information Access Project are to encourage collaborative efforts between blind individuals and covered entities for the provision of nonvisually accessible information and to assist blind individuals and covered entities in efforts to prepare and distribute printed material in nonvisually accessible media. What is meant by "nonvisually accessible media?" Any one of the following alternative forms or methods would meet the definition: Braille, sound recordings, enlarged print, digital text in computer formats, raised line drawings, and a live reader. However, both blind individuals and covered entities will need to recognize that the provision of materials in nonvisually accessible media will be rendered on a case-by-case basis; and that both the requirements and/or preferences of the blind individual or individuals and the resources of the covered entity should be considered in determining how accessibility is rendered. The IAP will play a key role in helping blind individuals and covered entities determine when compliance with ADA accessibility requirements has been met.
Many covered entities will face considerable technical difficulties as they begin to face up to their new responsibilities under the ADA. For example, most covered entities are not currently equipped with in-house production capabilities or with ready access to outside production sources to meet their needs for Braille, recorded, or large print material. Most covered entities simply have never addressed the challenge of providing their informational materials in any form other than the standard print media accessible to the sighted users of their products or services.
The IAP has been designed to accomplish the following specific objectives:
(1) to provide blind individuals with greater access to printed information produced and distributed by covered entities;
(2) to support cooperative efforts between blind individuals and covered entities to increase capabilities for covered entities to provide nonvisually accessible information on a regular basis; and
(3) to improve the capability of covered entities to provide nonvisually accessible material through coordinated information access services provided from a national source--the Information Access Project.
To carry out the activities of the project, we have established the National Information Access Center at the National Center for the Blind. This Center, which utilizes the resources of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, will disseminate information to blind individuals and to covered entities. It will also answer technical questions regarding production methods and/or equipment. Further, the Center will embark on some exemplary projects with covered entities that can serve as models for ongoing information access efforts. Finally, the Center will perform Brailling and other services for covered entities on a selected basis. Also, we have established a nationwide corps of Information Access Coordinators (a minimum of one per state--similar to the Job Opportunities for the Blind Volunteer Network). These coordinators will contact covered entities--both state and local government bodies, and private businesses and organizations--to make them aware of their responsibilities as they relate to the blind. Additionally, the coordinators will serve as local and state contacts for blind individuals who have questions about specific applications of the ADA regulations related to information access.
Mr. David Andrews, Director of the International Braille and Technology Center, is serving as Program Manager for the Information Access Project. Mr. Andrews will handle the day-to- day operations of the project. Write, call, or communicate with him via NFB NET (our electronic bulletin board service) as follows:
Information Access Project
for Blind Individuals
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Telephone: (410) 659-9314
Fax: (410) 685-5653
BBS: (410) 752-5011
One of the first efforts of the project was the production of a brochure which explains in some detail the ADA requirements for the provision of nonvisually accessible information to blind individuals. If you would like a copy of this brochure, "Toward Equal Access: Providing Information Access Services to Blind and Visually Impaired Persons Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)," contact the IAP per one of the above methods. Consistent with provisions of the ADA, the brochure is available in large print, cassette, Braille, computer disk, and via NFB NET.
The Information Access Project is funded by a $99,930 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Currently, the project is scheduled to operate through September 30, 1992.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Guided by a police officer and leading his guide dog, Grant Mack leaves the Bismarck Hotel on route to the police station December 8, 1990.]
GRANT MACK FINALLY FORCED TO COME TO COURT
by Kenneth Jernigan
On January 17, 1992, Grant Mack--longtime militant proponent of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC)--stood in a Chicago courtroom to face criminal charges. The charges resulted from Mack's actions at a meeting at the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago, December 8, 1990. (See Braille Monitor, January, 1991.) Mack and a handful of others had gathered at the hotel to try to pressure Illinois agencies for the blind to seek NAC accreditation, and representatives of the blind community had come to voice dissatisfaction with NAC and to urge the Illinois agencies to resist.
One of those present was Steve Hastalis, a blind Chicago resident who was there as a reporter for the Braille Monitor. He, along with other blind persons, was in the room where the NAC dinner was to occur--and he had with him the usual equipment carried by a reporter for the voice and print media, a tape recorder and a microphone. There were heated words as Mack, who was to chair the meeting, tried to force the blind and the press to leave. Mack's language was intemperate and abusive; and ultimately he resorted to physical violence, seizing Hastalis's microphone, throwing it to the floor, and breaking it. Although there is a certain amount of disagreement as to the details of what occurred, the essential facts are not in dispute.
In a paper which he circulated shortly after the December 8 meeting, Mack said (and these are his own words): "I reached out, grabbed the microphone, tore it up, and threw it down." That seems quite clear and direct and certainly explains why charges were brought. Shortly after the altercation, Hastalis [see Braille Monitor, May, 1991] went to the police and swore out a complaint, and a court date was set for January 3, 1991.
When the date arrived, Hastalis appeared in court, but Mack did not. After trying to get the judge to dismiss the case on the grounds that his client was an elderly blind man who lived all the way out in Utah, Mack's lawyer became insolent to the judge and said that neither he nor Mack would come back to the court. The judge, even though obviously displeased by this conduct, showed remarkable patience and restraint. He did not (as Mack's lawyer later claimed) dismiss the case but set a new date for the trial (February 11, 1991) and ordered Mack to be present. When the date came and neither Mack nor his lawyer appeared, the judge issued a warrant for Mack's arrest.
Even so, Mack and his supporters spent much of the rest of 1991 denying that the whole thing existed. In a letter which was widely circulated last Spring, Mack's lawyer, writing to Mack, said in part: "As I have previously advised you I appeared in court on your behalf on January 3 and filed our motion to quash the summons that had not been personally served upon you. The court granted my motion to quash the summons and further gave the state until February 11, 1991 to personally serve you with the summons. The Court further ordered that if personal service was not so obtained, that the action would be dismissed without the necessity of our appearing in Court."
As evidenced by the issuance of the warrant for Mack's arrest and Mack's later appearance in court, this statement by the lawyer (repeatedly trotted out and quoted by Mack and his supporters) simply did not accord with the truth. On January 17, 1992, Mack; his lawyer (not the one who had represented him earlier); Milt Samuelson, Executive Director of the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind; and a few others tacitly admitted the falsity of their earlier statements by finally coming to court to answer the charges. Peggy Pinder, an attorney and Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind; Valerie Williams, a sighted person who was present at the December 8, 1990, meeting at the Bismarck; Catherine Randall, a blind person who was present at the Bismarck meeting; and Steve Hastalis, the complaining witness, were also present in the courtroom.
There are many things which could be said about Mack's trial and the events leading up to it, but one thing cannot be disputed. At the end of the proceedings, the judge did not rule that Mack was guilty as charged. However, this does not tell the whole story, nor does it end the matter--for both NAC and Grant Mack come out of the affair as tarnished as if the verdict had gone the other way.
For openers, the intemperate behavior and abusive conduct (what might be called the hooliganism) of Grant Mack and his NAC supporters remain unchallenged and clearly on the record. By Mack's own admission he "reached out, grabbed the microphone, tore it up, and threw it down." His statement to the court that he (a blind man) grabbed the microphone but did so without touching Hastalis may have been accepted by the court, but it is hardly likely to be taken seriously by anybody else. Moreover, it is irrelevant. Black's Law Dictionary (Fourth Edition) says of battery that it is the "slightest touching of another, or of his clothes or anything else attached to his person, if done in a rude, insolent, or angry manner." By this definition Mack's conduct was certainly a battery and, therefore, illegal and a criminal offense.
Also, contrary to Mack's repeated boasts, he was compelled to come to court and defend himself. Taken in conjunction with what he, his lawyer, and his supporters had been saying, what does this do for credibility?
Finally, there is the behavior which Mack and the other NAC supporters demonstrated at the December 8, 1990, meeting at the Bismarck. Many of Mack's comments were recorded on cassette, and others were reported by reliable witnesses. NAC and its friends have always claimed that NAC is a professional organization, behaving decently and upholding standards. Yet, the actions of Mack and other NACsters at the Bismarck meeting were much more reminiscent of a barroom brawl than a professional dinner and business meeting.
Here, as quoted in the January, 1991, Braille Monitor is some of what occurred at the Bismarck on December 8, 1990:
Mr. Gashel: I have a ticket right here in my pocket.
Mr. Mack: To what?
Mr. Gashel: This event.
Mr. Mack (Becoming agitated): We didn't sell tickets to this event.... Well, I don't know where you got your tickets or who paid for it, but it was not authorized, and you got a lot of damn balls to come in here and break in on it....
Mr. Gashel: We don't plan to [disrupt your meeting]. That's not the purpose for being here.
Mr. Mack: Well, the hell it isn't....
Besides this conversation with James Gashel, there was Mack's exchange with Dr. John Halverson, who is a person of good reputation who holds a responsible position. Here is part of what Dr. Halverson reported:
At about this time Mack became more belligerent. While speaking with me, he kept moving in closer, causing his dog guide to brush against my leg. At one time he said, "The Braille Monitor is a yellow journal." He said, "You are all liars," and he added that I was a liar.
I asked, "How do you know that I am a liar? You don't know me."
Mack repeated, "You are all liars. I know about you; I know you have a reputation for being a liar."
This is hardly the language of a professional who is promoting professionalism. It is the bullying language of ward politics and back room behavior. Whatever it is, it is not calculated to promote harmony or bring constructive results.
Then, there is the statement on the witness stand of Catherine Randall. She was standing immediately next to Steve Hastalis during the altercation at the Bismarck, and she testified to Grant Mack's belligerent conduct and boorish attack upon Hastalis. Despite the fact that she is a community leader and until recently held elective office as an alderman in her home town of Jacksonville, Illinois, her testimony was disregarded, presumably on the grounds that a blind person is not competent to know what is going on around her. Whatever the sighted public may believe, the blind and the members of the blindness field will not be impressed by such logic.
As to Hastalis, he certainly knows whether he was physically attacked by Grant Mack. His testimony received the same treatment as Randall's--and, one supposes, for the same reason.
And what of Valerie Williams? She was a sighted witness to what occurred at the Bismarck, but she was not allowed to testify. She says that Milt Samuelson's statement that he was standing with Mack when Mack confronted Hastalis and "reached out, grabbed the microphone, tore it up, and threw it down," is not in accord with the facts as she observed them. She says that Samuelson was not with Mack during this time at all.
So where does all of this leave us? Grant Mack is technically acquitted, but in the circumstances it makes little difference. The court proceedings were not and are not the central focus of this controversy. There was never any possibility (and, for that matter, never any desire) that Mack receive more than a token fine and conviction. His actions are not changed or the record of his behavior erased by the court's decision. The events speak for themselves, and NAC's current plight is the strongest possible testimonial to the way matters stand.
To all intents and purposes NAC is dead. It only remains for the official seal to be placed on the coffin. In the real world, where debts must be paid and scales must balance, the chickens come home to roost--and NAC's flock is nearing the nest.
NAC KNOCKED OUT IN OHIO
by Barbara Pierce
On February 18, 1992, one of the final nails was driven into the coffin of NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). On that day Ohio's Rehabilitation Services Commission voted to drop NAC as a recognized accrediting body, thus not only making a statement to all who cared to listen but also leaving the four Ohio NAC-accredited agencies to scramble for cover.
Ohio had always been one of a handful of states which NAC had contended required its accreditation of those private agencies with which the state contracted for client services. The contention was not correct, but NAC had clung to the fiction with all of the tenacity of the desperate.
The Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC), the state agency in Ohio, has actually maintained a list of four accrediting bodies with which its contracting agencies were free to affiliate. The four were the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF); the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC); the American Speech, Hearing, and Language Association (ASHLA); and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health-Care Organizations (JCAHO).
Private agencies working to rehabilitate blind Ohioans could quite reasonably choose either NAC or CARF as an accrediting body. The Cleveland Society for the Blind, for example, was an early NAC supporter; and in the bad old days, when Cleveland Society officials believed it appropriate to instruct blind vendors when to change their underwear and how often to wash their hair, the agency proudly displayed its NAC seal of good practice. In the mid-eighties, however, the Cleveland Society underwent a change of attitude. The quality of service began to improve; and, not surprisingly, the decision was made to drop NAC accreditation in favor of CARF.
As the years have rolled by and NAC's fortunes and viability have plummeted, it has become more and more difficult to justify NAC's continued inclusion on Ohio's RSC list. Last year it became obvious for several reasons that the time had come to make adjustments in the administrative rule setting forth Ohio's accreditation policy affecting rehabilitation service providers doing business with the state.
The Rehabilitation Services Commission is controlled by a board of seven commissioners, appointed by the Governor. They meet monthly with the RSC Administrator and other agency officials as necessary. On February 18, 1992, the Commissioners took up the question of the Commission's accreditation policy and, as it turned out, dealt with NAC for the last time. The Rehabilitation Services Commission Administrator, Robert Rabe, and the agency's General Counsel, John Connelly, strongly recommended to the Commissioners that NAC be removed from the Ohio list of approved accrediting bodies. The four NAC-accredited agencies, which had by virtue of that affiliation been eligible to contract with the state to serve blind people, had been warned in writing beforehand that this matter would be on the agenda and were invited to comment. The letter the four executive directors received from Administrator Rabe cited as reasons for dumping NAC the organization's "loss of major funding sources, its own board of directors resolution to dissolve the organization, and its inability to provide meaningful accreditation surveys on a national scale." The executive directors of the Vision Center of Central Ohio and the Clovernook Center Opportunities for the Blind (known as the Clovernook Home and School for the Blind in the days when it achieved some notoriety due to a staff practice of confiscating the Social Security checks of its residents) elected to write letters arguing against removal. These were duly circulated among the Commissioners and considered.
The entire NAC discussion occupied perhaps a quarter of an hour on the Commission agenda. One Commissioner asked what would happen to the NAC-accredited agencies doing business with the state when their current accreditation period expired and they were left unaccredited. The Administrator pointed out that each one would be welcome to seek accreditation of part or all of its facility by CARF at any time. He also commented that NAC was no longer viable and that these agencies would soon have to face this question regardless of the Commission's action.
In the end, the commission vote to remove NAC from its list of accrediting bodies was unanimous--and with that, one more blow was struck for integrity and quality service in the field of work with the blind. The National Accreditation Council does not represent excellence, and it has been embarrassing and frustrating for Ohio's informed blind citizens to know that mediocre or poor agencies could hide behind the NAC seal and qualify to receive state contracts. But no more! Not even NAC can now claim that Ohio requires an agency to obtain its accreditation before it can contract for state business. Another loophole has been closed; another important step has been taken in ending the travesty called NAC. One day soon the last light will be turned off in the NAC headquarters, but by that time it will hardly matter to anyone.
One is reminded of the closing words of T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men":
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
[PHOTO: James Gashel seated at table microphone. CAPTION: James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs of the National Federation of the Blind.]
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
1992 LEGISLATIVE MEMORANDUM AND FACT SHEETS
From the Associate Editor: Early each February members of the National Federation of the Blind gather in Washington, D.C., for our Washington Seminar. A complete report of this event will appear in a later issue of the Braille Monitor. As part of the seminar's activities, members of the Federation fan out across Capitol Hill to speak with members of Congress about matters of concern to the nation's blind. This year there were three issues of pressing importance: the right of choice for those seeking rehabilitation, gathering support for the effort to persuade the Secretary of Education to remove the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) from the Department of Education's list of approved accrediting bodies, and including people with severe disabilities among those covered by Section 8A of the Small Business Act. Here are the legislative memorandum and the fact sheets Federationists discussed with their Senators and Representatives February 3, 4, and 5:
For further information contact:
Director of Governmental Affairs
National Federation of the Blind
LEGISLATIVE AGENDA 1992
From: Members of the National
Federation of the Blind
To: Members of the 102nd Congress
Re: The Blind: Legislative Priorities for the 102nd Congress, Second Session
Public policies and laws affecting blind people have a profound impact throughout our society. Most people know someone who is blind. It may be a friend, a family member, or a co-worker on the job. The blind population in the U.S. is estimated to exceed 750,000. Fifty thousand Americans become blind each year. By themselves these numbers may not seem large, but the social and economic consequences of blindness directly touch the lives of millions. Less directly, blindness affects us all.
Blind people as a group share a unique struggle. More than being a matter of physical disability, the real problems of blindness are lack of good training, lack of opportunities, and lack of correct information about blindness among employers and members of the public at large. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, the physical loss of eyesight itself can be reduced to the level of a mere nuisance.
Public policies and laws that result from misconceptions about blindness or lack of information are often more limiting to the blind than loss of eyesight itself. This is why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation is a private-sector resource of knowledge, encouragement, and support for the blind and for anyone (blind or not) who wants to join in the effort we are making to win understanding and opportunity.
Blind people are well organized at the community and grassroots levels throughout the United States. Our policy positions are developed and determined by vote of the blind themselves. This is why the Federation is known by lawmakers and the public as the "voice of the nation's blind." Our priorities for the second session of the 102nd Congress express our assessment of current issues requiring action by Congress on behalf of blind persons of all ages.
(1) Congress should amend the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to establish the client's right of choice as a policy to be followed in selecting agencies to provide rehabilitation services. Blind persons eligible for rehabilitation have the right to receive services, but counselors assigned by designated state agencies are empowered to make most of the planning decisions and arrangements for service. The client's views must be considered, but counselors make all of the final decisions. Funds to support rehabilitation can be and are withheld if the client does not cooperate. Cooperation means accepting the rehabilitation counselor's prescribed plan for service, whether or not the client concurs with the counselor's prescribed plan. This system often fails, of course, because of client resistance to mandated services.
The proposed legislation will achieve better matching of clients with compatible programs by empowering them to take charge of selecting sources for all services. As persons with disabilities begin to experience and exercise newly won legal rights, there will be a growing demand and need for services chosen by clients, not by agencies. Students who receive Federal aid to attend post-secondary institutions choose their own schools and select their courses of study. Elderly and disabled recipients of health services paid for by Medicare choose the doctors they will see, and the bills are paid by Medicare. Not so in rehabilitation. Congress should change this policy. For more details and a description of the need for this legislation, see the fact sheet entitled "EMPOWERMENT IN REHABILITATION: EXPANDING CHOICES FOR BLIND ADULTS."
(2) All members of Congress should advise the Secretary of Education to remove NAC from his list of recognized accrediting agencies. NAC is the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. "Accreditation" is supposed to mean that approved programs are of a high quality, but the record of NAC's performance in the blindness field shows that in the case of NAC precisely the opposite is true. This is why so many blind people and agencies serving the blind oppose a petition filed by NAC to continue its recognition by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
NAC's goal is to gain control over the distribution of Federal funds through (1) being recognized by the Secretary of Education as the national accrediting agency in the blindness field, and (2) convincing Congress to enact legislation to require accreditation for all programs that receive Federal financial assistance under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Both of these actions are strongly opposed by blind people and by agencies serving them. For more details and a list of reasons why NAC should not be recognized by the Secretary of Education, see the fact sheet entitled "POINTS IN OPPOSITION TO RECOGNITION OF NAC BY THE U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION."
(3) Congress should amend Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act to include individuals with severe disabilities as a defined minority group for purposes of eligibility in the Minority Small Business and Capital Ownership Development Program. The Section 8(a) program is designed to foster business ownership by individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged, and to promote the competitive viability of businesses owned and operated by them. To achieve these goals, Section 8(a) authorizes the Small Business Administration (SBA) to enter into all types of contracts with government departments and agencies for supply, service, construction, and research and development. Small Business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged persons can be eligible to receive subcontracts to fulfill SBA's procurement obligations. Technical assistance is also made available to minority small business concerns.
This proposal is simply the recognition of disability as a condition of defined minority status for participation in SBA's targeted efforts to provide economic and technical assistance to members of minority groups. The social and economic disadvantages which accompany disabilities are well known and should be beyond dispute. Blind persons have traditionally had few opportunities to become employed and even fewer opportunities to establish and maintain their own businesses. Yet SBA has not recognized the blind (or individuals with disabilities in general) as socially and economically disadvantaged. The problem for SBA has been to define disability and the extent of the class of individuals included. Another problem has been SBA's lack of legal authority to incorporate such a definition in the absence of a clear legislative mandate. The Americans with Disabilities Act (Pub. L. 101-336) now provides the basis for a legislative mandate, although a definition for "severe disability" must be used to meet the more limited purposes of the SBA program. For more details and an explanation of the need for this legislation, see the fact sheet entitled "MINORITY STATUS AND RIGHTS: A PROPOSAL FOR BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES AND JOBS."
Blind people are asking for your help in securing positive action by Congress in the areas outlined here. Legislative proposals will be offered to achieve each of our specific objectives. Many priorities confront this session of Congress, but the needs of the nation's blind must not be overlooked. We of the National Federation of the Blind stand ready to assist our Representatives and Senators to understand our needs and to take meaningful action to address them. In partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, each member of Congress can help build better lives for the blind both today and in the years ahead.
Empowerment in Rehabilitation: Expanding Choices for Blind Adults
BACKGROUND: Federal support for rehabilitation of the disabled began in 1920, but programs for the blind did not receive Federal assistance until 1943. At that time job training and employment assistance were the goals sought through rehabilitation, and even today these goals remain the central focus of the program. Federal spending for rehabilitation has increased substantially in recent years, but the unemployment rate among working-age blind people remains unacceptably high. Laws against discrimination may help; but relevant, individualized services, designed to prepare blind persons for work, must also be provided.
EXISTING LAW: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Pub. L. 93-112), as amended, authorizes most of the current Federally supported rehabilitation programs. In excess of $1.7 billion in Federal financial assistance is distributed to the states under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act. Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act also authorize the use of additional funds to pay for the costs of rehabilitation services for disabled and blind people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
A state cannot receive Federal funds or Social Security payments for rehabilitation unless there is a specific state agency designated to conduct the rehabilitation program. States have the option of designating one agency specifically to serve the blind and another to serve persons with other disabilities. All rehabilitation services must be obtained through the designated state agency. The policies and procedures of the agency govern the provision of services.
Regardless of individual preferences, blind persons seeking rehabilitation (referred to as "clients") must use the agency designated for them. A counselor is assigned to represent the agency and to oversee the provision of services. The basis for each client's rehabilitation program is supposed to be an individualized plan jointly developed by the counselor and the client, but options for the clients to select among sources for training are not offered by most state agencies. Many state agencies have distinct policies against accepting client choices in the selection of any program to provide any service. This lack of a free choice is a major deterrent to effective and responsive training and employment services, leaving almost eighty percent of employable blind people largely outside of our nation's work force.
PROPOSED LEGISLATION: Congress should amend the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to establish the client's right of choice in selecting agencies to provide rehabilitation services. Blind persons eligible for rehabilitation have the right to receive services, but personnel of the designated state agencies are empowered to make most of the planning decisions and arrangements for service. Joint planning by rehabilitation clients and counselors is required in section 102 of the Rehabilitation Act, but all final decisions about anyone's rehabilitation plan rest with personnel of the designated state agencies.
The "client's right of choice" provision would maintain the principle of individualized planning with joint participation by clients and counselors. The difference would be that services provided under an individualized plan could only be obtained from sources of the client's choice. Few decisions more fundamentally affect the outcome of rehabilitation. The client's compatibility with the philosophy, policies, and personnel of any training program is highly individualized. Current practices in rehabilitation largely ignore this fact. The proposed legislation will achieve better matching of clients with compatible programs by empowering rehabilitation clients to take charge of selecting sources for all services they receive.
NEED FOR LEGISLATION: Opportunities for persons with disabilities (including the blind) are expected to expand dramatically during the decade of the 1990s and beyond. The recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Act will provide a major impetus for growth and change, but existing programs (such as rehabilitation) will face new challenges brought on by newly emerging demands. Experience shows that the growing opportunities which become available for the blind will lead to rising expectations by the blind to enter fields of endeavor previously closed to them. Effective rehabilitation programs will provide the kind of support and training necessary for the blind to take full advantage of expanding opportunities only if they are flexible enough to respond to individual needs.
Policies of most state agencies now mandate that services can only be obtained from agency-specified programs. Client preference is of little consequence. Decisions are most often made to suit bureaucratic convenience or arbitrary state rules. But as persons with disabilities begin to experience and exercise their new rights, there will be a growing demand and need for services chosen by clients, not by agencies. Students who receive Federal aid to attend post-secondary institutions choose their own schools and select their courses of study. Elderly and disabled recipients of health services paid for by Medicare choose the doctors they will see, and the bills are paid by Medicare. Yet in rehabilitation client choices are subordinated to counselor decisions and agency policies.
Restrictive approaches in rehabilitation are inconsistent with the modern policies of rights and empowerment for persons with disabilities. Empowerment implies choice. This is the next logical step in the evolution of rehabilitation to support empowerment and independence. The right of choice is a cost-effective approach which Congress should now enact.
Points in Opposition to Recognition of NAC by the U.S. Secretary of Education
BACKGROUND: NAC is the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Accreditation is supposed to mean that approved programs are of a high quality, but the record of NAC's performance in the blindness field shows that in the case of NAC precisely the opposite is true. This is why so many blind people and agencies serving them oppose a petition filed by NAC to continue its recognition by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Accrediting agencies may be recognized only for the accreditation of postsecondary institutions or programs when eligibility for Federal assistance requires accreditation. NAC's goal is to gain control over the distribution of Federal funds for all programs serving the blind. However, first the Secretary of Education would have to continue to list NAC as a recognized accrediting agency, and second Congress would have to enact legislation to require accreditation for all programs that receive Federal financial assistance under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Both of these actions are strongly opposed by blind people and by agencies serving them.
NAC IS NOT ACCEPTED IN THE BLINDNESS FIELD AND SHOULD NOT HAVE CONTROL OVER FEDERAL FUNDS: Although NAC offers to accredit all agencies and schools serving the blind, most programs have chosen not to become involved. In twenty-five years of trying to become accepted, NAC has accumulated only ninety-six accredited member agencies, with a nearly twenty-five percent dropout rate. NAC's membership includes less than twenty percent of the programs eligible to apply for accreditation. Federal funds, used to establish and support NAC in its early years, were withdrawn in 1975 in the face of low agency acceptance of the NAC standards and consumer concerns raised about the NAC accreditation process. These conditions still exist. As a result NAC's membership is now declining, and financial support has fallen sharply. Seven agencies ended their affiliation with NAC during 1991. At the same time both of NAC's major funding sources--the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and National Industries for the Blind (NIB)--withdrew their financial support, effective in July, 1991. As a result NAC's income has plummeted by almost sixty percent, and the organization is in virtual bankruptcy.
REASONS WHY NAC SHOULD NOT BE LISTED AS A RECOGNIZED ACCREDITING AGENCY: The Secretary of Education has published criteria for the recognition of accrediting agencies. Any agency submitting a petition for recognition must meet all of the criteria. As specified below, NAC fails the test in several important respects.
(1) Membership in NAC is unrelated to eligibility for Federal funds--Some Federal programs require accreditation by a recognized agency as a condition of eligibility for financial aid. However, in the case of programs serving the blind, program performance and accountability for the use of funds are audited directly by both state and Federal agencies. Since direct monitoring is used in lieu of accreditation, there is no need for NAC to be recognized by the Secretary. Accreditation programs that are unrelated to the distribution of Federal funds do not meet the Secretary's criteria for recognition.
(2) NAC has not earned national respect and recognition among agencies and professionals in the blindness field--In its twenty-five years of existence, NAC's performance record has been marked by discord and disunity. It is generally agreed that programs for the blind have not been improved by affiliation with NAC, and many have been found in violation of state or Federal laws while being fully accredited. NAC's current members represent fewer than one-sixth of the agencies that could potentially seek affiliation. The vast majority of these agencies have consciously decided that membership in NAC is not in their best interest. Accrediting agencies that are not accepted by programs in their field do not meet the Secretary's criteria for recognition.
(3) NAC lacks the resources necessary to maintain a credible accreditation program--NAC's annual spending rate for each of the last two fiscal years has exceeded $460,000. Income for the same period has trailed spending by almost $60,000. NAC's budget adopted for fiscal year 1992 has been reduced to $216,065 due to the withdrawal of support from AFB and NIB. At the same time, even when funded at above $400,000, NAC has been unable to evaluate its member agencies at the required periodic intervals.
Accreditation of most agencies is extended without complete evaluation and in many instances with no evaluation at all. During 1990 NAC reviewed eight agencies and extended eighteen. During 1991 twenty agencies were extended. Most of them are supposed to be reviewed during 1992. Twelve of them were carried over in a backlog built up from previous years. In addition to these extended agencies, there are another twenty coming due for review this year. Some of them were also extended from previous years. It is clear that the backlog is now out of hand and NAC does not have the resources to fulfill its commitments. Scheduled updating of accreditation standards has also been put off due to the lack of resources. Agencies such as NAC that do not have the resources to maintain a credible accreditation program do not meet the Secretary's criteria for recognition.
HOW MEMBERS OF CONGRESS CAN HELP: Write to Lamar Alexander, Secretary of Education, to request that NAC not be listed as a recognized accrediting agency. Advise the Secretary that NAC does not meet the criteria for recognition and therefore should not be retained on the list.
Minority Status and Rights: A Proposal for Business Opportunities and Jobs
BACKGROUND: Blind persons and persons with disabilities in general have traditionally had few opportunities to become employed and even fewer opportunities to establish and maintain their own businesses. This does not reflect a general lack of ability among this population. It does reflect a lack of opportunity and financial support necessary to achieve success in the competitive business world. Prejudices and fears of employers have left nearly eighty percent of the employable blind population either unemployed or substantially underemployed.
Congress has recently sought to address this situation by enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act. When the employment provisions of this Act become effective in 1992, employers having twenty-five or more employees will be prohibited from discrimination on the basis of disability. Employers having fifteen or more employees will eventually be covered. Regardless of enforcement activities, this Act is expected to improve work force opportunities for persons with disabilities. But complete equality will require more than employment rights. This fact has been recognized in our government's efforts to underwrite and support economic development programs among members of other traditionally disadvantaged minorities.
EXISTING LAW: Sections 8(a) and 7(j) of the Small Business Act establish a Minority Small Business and Capital Ownership Development Program to be conducted by the Small Business Administration (SBA). This program is intended in part to foster business ownership by individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged; and to promote the competitive viability of businesses owned and operated by them. To achieve these goals, Section 8(a) authorizes SBA to enter into all types of contracts with government departments and agencies for supply, service, construction, and research and development. Small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged persons can be eligible to receive subcontracts to fulfill SBA's procurement obligations. Section 7(j) of the Small Business Act authorizes SBA to provide technical or management assistance to individuals or minority small business concerns.
Participation in the Minority Small Business and Capital Ownership Development Program is open to anyone who can qualify as both socially and economically disadvantaged. Participants eligible by definition include members of racial and ethnic minorities. Other individuals not included by definition may be found eligible upon application to SBA. Criteria for determining social and economic disadvantage are not clearly specified in law or regulations. As a result, program participants are almost exclusively members of the defined minority groups.
PROPOSED LEGISLATION: Congress should amend Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act to include individuals with severe disabilities as a defined minority group for purposes of eligibility in the Minority Small Business and Capital Ownership Development Program. "Disability" would need to be defined in terms of severity, since this term, as used in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, would be inappropriately broad for this purpose. The term "severe disability" must be defined clearly and should include only individuals with one or more of the conditions defined as "severe handicaps" as listed in section 7(15) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The conditions listed include blindness and other severe limitations that are not cosmetic or merely perceived disabilities.
This proposal is simply the recognition of disability as a condition of minority status for participation in SBA's targeted efforts to provide economic and technical assistance to members of minority groups. The social and economic disadvantages which accompany disabilities are well known and beyond dispute. The problem for SBA has been to define disability and the extent of the class of individuals included. Another problem has been SBA's lack of legal authority to incorporate such a definition in the absence of a clear legislative mandate. The Americans with Disabilities Act now provides the basis for a legislative mandate, although the definition of disability would need to be more limited.
NEED FOR LEGISLATION: Defined minority status is a distinct advantage in obtaining section 8(a) eligibility. Proof of both social and economic disadvantage can be both time-consuming and expensive. SBA appears to have great discretion in determining eligibility based on social and economic disadvantage, especially for applicants who are members of non-defined minority groups. It is difficult to challenge the decisions made by SBA in this area because the eligibility criteria are so vague.
Firms needing SBA's assistance cannot afford the time and expense of application delays and appeals. In the absence of defined minority status, business failures and bankruptcies can result. This has been the experience of a blind owner of a Tennessee sand and gravel business who is still waiting after seven years for approval of his minority business enterprise application. After finally agreeing that he was both socially and economically disadvantaged, SBA then disapproved his application on the grounds that the business had not been in operation for the past two years. This is only one example of what happens to applicants who are truly disadvantaged but must first prove their minority status before they will even be considered. Congress should resolve this injustice by amending the Small Business Act to include individuals with severe disabilities as a defined minority group.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Charlotte, North Carolina, skyline as seen from the West. Come to the Queen City, and see it for yourself.]
MORE ABOUT CHARLOTTE AND THE NFB CONVENTION
From the Editor: If you have not made your reservations for this summer's National Federation of the Blind convention in Charlotte, this is the time to do it. Remember that single rooms are only $30 per night; doubles and twins, $35; triples, $38; and quads, $40. These prices are in addition to tax. Write to: Convention '92, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; or call Anthony Cobb at (410) 659-9314. Room deposits of $40 are required and may be paid by check, money order, or credit card. For further details refer to the December, 1991, Braille Monitor. This should be our biggest and best convention ever, so don't delay. Meanwhile here is what Hazel Staley tells us about the history of Charlotte:
The first settlers to arrive in the lower valleys of the Piedmont were Scotch-Irish, no-nonsense people who were hardy, industrious, and independent. They found lush meadows, streams and hills, crowned trees suitable for cabin building. The native Catawba Indians were friendly to the few white families who moved in among them. The new families stayed busy cutting down trees and setting up cabins, burning acreage for crops, and organizing the two most important social functions of any settlement, the meeting house and the local still.
In 1768 the 360-acre community moved to incorporate a regular town government and an eventual county seat. The city was named for Queen Charlotte, wife of England's King George III, and Mecklenburg County for her German home state.
Alarmed by rumors of action by the British Parliament which would suppress the colonies, Colonel James Polk on May 1, 1775, called for a meeting of the Mecklenburg County militia delegates for May 19 to determine a course of action. Twenty-seven delegates were meeting in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on that date when a courier rode into Charlotte with news of the battle of Lexington. His electrifying news so united the assembly that at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of May 20, 1775, a unanimous vote approved the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which was then signed by all the delegates as representatives of the people. At noon the Mecklenburg Declaration was read before several thousand people from the steps of the courthouse. Cap'n Patrick Jack immediately set out on horse back for Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was meeting, carrying with him a copy of the Declaration. Many say the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was the basis for Thomas Jefferson's final version. General Cornwallis called Charlotte a "hornet's nest of rebellion" because patriotic activities continued to plague his occupation of the city during the Revolutionary War. James Jack, father of Patrick, was jailed and lost all of his considerable property because of his involvement in the rebellion.
There are agnostics who doubt the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence because the original document was lost, but for the people of Charlotte/Mecklenburg it remains the cornerstone of our fierce pride, independence, and patriotism. Still having this spirit in our blood probably explains why Federationism took root and is still flourishing here.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Steve Jacobson.]
DOES THE BUS COMPANY HAVE A BLIND SPOT?
by Steve Jacobson
From the Associate Editor: Like other things of value, a good--even an adequate--mass transit system must not be taken for granted. Those of us who have access to bus service must use it and establish contact with its officials to insure that our needs are met and our point of view considered. Even so, problems will arise, and the sooner they are tackled, the more likely are we to be satisfied with the conclusion. The Metro Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is energetic and active. Its members take their responsibilities seriously, and they are prepared to work for what they want and need. Steve Jacobson is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota and an active member of the Metro Chapter. Here is his account of the group's most recent tangle with the local transit system:
"How can you ride a bus if you don't know when to catch it?" is a question being asked by many members of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota's Metro Chapter. As is the case with most chapters of the NFB, we have more than a passing interest in matters concerning our bus service. In particular, several actions of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) have caused the dialogue between them and our chapter leaders to become, shall we say, warm. However, strong leadership and dedicated chapter members appear to be bringing about some very positive results.
Several years ago an information service called CityLine was created to allow access to various types of information, using a touchtone telephone. News, weather, sports, stock market quotes, and even job openings can be played back through the telephone by pressing a few buttons. The MTC decided to make available bus schedule information through this service, freeing their operators to answer more complex questions. In general the system worked well, and we had more immediate access to schedule information than ever before. Although there was no cost to the public, the Metropolitan Transit Commission paid a fee for each request for bus information. It was not long before it seemed advisable for the MTC to develop its own automated bus information system, and that is what has now been done.
Early in June, 1991, we began hearing about a new bus information system, and we were a little taken aback. At an earlier chapter meeting representatives of MTC and its governing body, the Regional Transit Board, had promised that our input would be sought if major changes to the existing system were being contemplated. With this in mind, we arranged to have a representative from the Metropolitan Transit Commission speak at our July chapter meeting about the changes in their information service and how we would be involved in the development of that system. However, things changed rapidly.
In late June several of our members were informed that the new service, called BusLine, had already been developed and tested, and it would replace the previous system on July 1, 1991. Unlike the CityLine system, which permitted questions about schedules for any day and time, the new system could only be used to get bus schedules for the current day after the current time. Information for the following day could only be received by calling the human operators at the Transit Information Center, and only after spending several minutes waiting on hold. At the same time a reduction of Transit Information Center hours resulted in the elimination of Saturday evening hours altogether, making it impossible to plan one's Sunday travel without paper schedules. The original CityLine system would have permitted such planning. Yet we were told that the changes being made would result in no reduction of service.
Peggy Chong, President of the Metro Chapter, wrote a letter to Dee Molean, the director of the Transit Information Center, changing the focus of our July meeting. Instead of discussing the way in which we would be involved in the development of the new system, we now wanted to know why we were not involved. Instead of listening to an explanation of how the new system would be an improvement, we intended to ask why it was a step back. An MTC representative came to that chapter meeting, and the new BusLine service was thoroughly discussed. Although we had heard earlier that the system had been streamlined for budgetary reasons, we were now told that the so-called other day schedule information was dropped to make the system easier to use. An MTC survey revealed that "only twenty percent of inquiries" were for this type of information. Our members were shocked that the MTC considered twenty percent to be an insignificant number. To no one's surprise, our July meeting with the MTC representative was polite but fruitless.
In response to President Chong's letter and questions raised at our chapter meeting, Ms. Molean subsequently wrote a memo to the Chief Administrator of the MTC. Even though the subject of her July 25 memo was "Response to Complaints about BusLine-- Letter from Peggy Chong dated July 9," we were not included on the copy list. In fact, the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter learned of its existence indirectly. This prompted the following letter from Peggy Chong to Mr. Christenson. Besides summarizing what to us were troubling events, it brought to light other facts that were difficult to understand. Here is President Chong's letter:
August 2, 1991
Mr. Mike Christenson
Chief Administrator, Metropolitan Transit Commission
Dear Mr. Christenson:
I have obtained a copy of the July 25 memorandum to you from Dee Molean, Transit Information Center (TIC) Manager, responding to issues raised by the National Federation of the Blind about the inadequacies of your new BusLine system. It is noteworthy that Ms. Molean has chosen not to address her remarks directly to the National Federation of the Blind, nor has she seen fit to list the Federation as an organization to which a copy of the memorandum should be sent. Alas, such sanctimonious and discourteous behavior typifies the way MTC has been dealing with the blind community of late.
Perhaps a little background information would be in order. About eighteen months ago representatives from the Metropolitan Transit Commission came to our monthly meeting. One of the issues discussed at that time was an effort by the MTC to transfer bus schedule information from CityLine to an in-house system. We expressed a strong desire to work with the MTC to help make this new system useful to the blind. We were told that the system was still in the formative stage but that we would certainly be consulted when a specific design was to be developed.
Incidentally, we did commend MTC for using CityLine to provide an automated bus scheduling information system. We said that, although CityLine could stand some improvement, it was certainly better than calling the Transit Information Center and waiting thirty minutes to speak with a live operator. We took it for granted that the goal of the designers was to put together a system that would represent an improvement over CityLine.
Time passed. Last fall we joined with others to express concern over an MTC proposal to eliminate some suburban bus routes. In the spring of this year we testified at an MTC public hearing in support of proposed fare increases. With respect to the latter, we emphasized the importance of adequate and timely bus service to the blind, pointing out, however, that fare increases could only be justified if bus service was not cut.
Between the time of our meeting with MTC representatives more than a year and a half ago and the first public unveiling of BusLine, no one from the MTC approached the Federation to solicit our suggestions about how the system should work. Suddenly, in early June, BusLine appeared on the scene; and we discovered that the MTC was terminating its contract with CityLine, effective July 15. Naturally, we were more than a little concerned. What, we wondered, had become of MTC's promises to consult with the blind community?
When a number of our members actually experimented with the BusLine system, they discovered that it was far less useful to the blind than CityLine had ever been. I therefore undertook to arrange for a representative from MTC to attend our July meeting. To clarify our concerns with respect to BusLine and to prepare the MTC representative who would attend our meeting, I wrote a letter to Dee Molean, TIC Manager, explaining that for the blind BusLine represented a significant reduction in service compared to CityLine. I said that our primary concern was that we could only use BusLine to obtain bus schedule information for the current day and only from the time of the call forward. By comparison, CityLine permitted us to examine three different schedules: Monday through Friday, Saturday, and Sundays and Holidays.
Our July meeting took place on Saturday, July 20, and an MTC representative did come: Steve Gran, TIC Supervisor. It was quickly apparent, both to him and to the members present, that he was not in a position to address our concerns in any substantive way. However, we treated Mr. Gran with courtesy and respect, asking only that he communicate our frustration with MTC and its new BusLine system to his superiors in the strongest possible terms. In other words, we told him to tell his superiors that the members of the National Federation of the Blind were outraged by MTC's failure to consult with blind people about BusLine and by its blatant attempt to foist off a clearly inferior system on the public.
Turning to Dee Molean's memorandum to you, there are a number of comments that one could make, not the least of which is an objection to her disrespectful allusions to the National Federation of the Blind and our legitimate concerns about a clear cutback in service.
Ms. Molean states that an important goal of the BusLine project is to make the system more user-friendly. She says that the chief complaint MTC received about CityLine was that it was too.
If CityLine was actually too confusing for a substantial number of people, why is it that in January, according to Ms. Molean's own figures, CityLine received more than 120,000 calls? Arguably, these 120,000 callers were able to profit from the service. Certainly blind people did not find CityLine to be confusing. And what about the goal of making the system more user-friendly? As far as the blind are concerned, BusLine is less user-friendly than CityLine. We can't use the system to plan our bus travel for the next day, and many of the messages are far too verbose. For experienced bus travelers, BusLine actually takes longer to extract information from than did CityLine.
Ms. Molean says that the work group responsible for the design of BusLine decided to eliminate the questions giving customers the choice of obtaining bus schedule information about other days and times based upon a survey conducted over CityLine. According to her, survey results indicated that twenty percent of the respondents said they were using the system to plan later bus travel. Based on Ms. Molean's figure of 120,000 calls during the month of January, I calculate that during that time 24,000 individuals used the automated bus schedule information system to plan travel for another day. Now that BusLine has replaced CityLine, these 24,000 calls will be made to the Transit Information Center's live operators. At our July meeting Steve Gran gave us the following cost figures:
Cost Per Call using BusLine:
Cost Per Call Using CityLine: $ .19
Cost Per Call Using Live Operators: $1.85
Assuming Ms. Molean's figures to be correct, we can project that 24,000 individuals per month will now have to call the live operators in the TIC as opposed to using BusLine. So, instead of incurring a cost of $2,640 ($.11 times 24,000) to provide these callers with the information they require, MTC will now incur a cost of $44,400 ($1.85 times 24,000). In other words, by switching to BusLine, MTC is now losing $41,760 per month, which works out to $501,120 per year, more than a half million dollars.
When you consider the magnitude of this loss, one has to ask the question: How much did MTC actually save by switching from CityLine to BusLine? Assuming a per-call cost reduction of $.08 and an annual call volume to BusLine of 1,152,000, the total savings comes to $92,160. So, in order to save $92,160 per year, the MTC is apparently willing to incur a loss of over a half a million dollars. In my book this makes no economic sense.
Aside from the dollar costs themselves, how much is MTC prepared to lose in the way of good will and public support, simply to have a system that it can manage in-house? You have already lost a great deal of good will and public support from the blind community over this issue. Are you prepared to ignore the problem and let matters stand as they are, or will you take steps to regain the support and trust that have been lost?
I am not advocating that MTC scrap BusLine in favor of CityLine. Given the time and money that have gone into the project, I doubt that anyone would seriously consider such a proposition. However, I strongly urge MTC to take some positive action to repair the damage that has already been done by its failure to consult with the National Federation of the Blind. At the very least, representatives of the Federation should be appointed to your Transportation Advisory Committee. In addition, MTC should immediately begin to address the problem of BusLine's not providing bus schedule information for other days and times. For the blind, this is a serious shortcoming in the system, and it has already eroded our ability to travel independently. I look forward to your positive response to what we perceive as a major cutback in our ability to use public mass transit.
President, Metro Chapter
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota
There you have Mrs. Chong's letter, and it and letters like it together with headlines in the press such as "MTC HAS BLIND SPOT" led to several subsequent meetings between MTC officials and members of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. On the evening of October 7, 1991, more than twenty members of our chapter met with Mr. Christenson, Ms. Molean, and several other MTC representatives at our state office. It was clear at the outset that they did not understand the way in which we had used the bus information service provided by CityLine. Various members described innovative techniques for planning their routes that had been rendered useless by the limitations of the new service. As the meeting progressed, their understanding of our position broadened. Near the end of the meeting, Mr. Christenson asked us to provide the name of an individual to serve on the Transit Advisory Committee, a committee to address all transit issues, not just those involving the disabled. One of our members, Tim Aune, will be representing us on that committee, and we have a renewed pledge from the MTC to work more closely with us.
It is still too early to tell whether the needed improvements to BusLine will be made. However, several positive steps have been taken, and this would not have happened without the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO: Christine Faltz seated at table during a meeting. CAPTION: Christine Faltz.]
A CHIP ON SOMEBODY'S SHOULDER
by Christine Faltz
Previous articles by Christine Faltz have appeared in the Monitor. The account of her experience in dealing with the infirmary at her law school is worth relating. Here it is:
The purpose of this article is not to tell the age-old tale of discrimination against blind persons; we know it happens every day. I write this article because we have to be aware that there are people who are content with the status quo and espouse the philosophy that when the disabled rebel against mistreatment we are upstarts, militants, and troublemakers. It is not a problem with society, we are told, but a problem with us. They say we have huge chips on our shoulders and our concerns are therefore invalid.
On October 7, 1991, I went to Hofstra University's Health center to make an appointment for an annual examination. (I am a first-year law student and had never previously been to the infirmary.) I approached the desk and inquired about making an appointment. A card was filled out, my medical file was located, and a nurse asked me to come inside to go over my medical history. I exited the reception area through a door and followed her down the hall. The nurse stopped abruptly and asked, "What are we going to do on Thursday about your dog."
"Oh, don't worry about Julip," I said. "She needs very little space and will not get in the doctor's way."
"But we can't have a dog in the examining room," she replied.
One of the women at the desk said, "You can leave the dog out here." "Can someone come with you on Thursday and help you onto the examining table and assist you in getting around without your dog?" the nurse asked.
"There won't be any need for that," I said. "My previous doctors and dentists, as well as the Princeton University infirmary, never questioned the presence of the dog."
"But the examining rooms are very small," the nurse persisted.
"She really needs very little room; she will fit under a chair," I replied.
Nothing more was said on the subject, and we went to a room to go over my medical history. I noticed upon sitting that there was a scale to my left. When she told me I would have to be weighed, I stood, intending to step onto the scale. She grabbed my right forearm in a tight grasp and said abruptly, "Now wait a minute! Be careful. The scale is right in front of you." As I stepped onto the scale, I did not trip or otherwise show signs of being about to stumble or lose my footing. "Careful, careful; it's right there," she said, grabbing my arm again.
"Yes, I know. Thank you," I said. My arm was seized again as I stepped down. Immediately after this, I attempted to get onto the examining table so that she could take my blood pressure. The behavior of warnings to take care and tight grasps continued. I ignored all of this. I kept hearing the voices of sighted friends and family members: "She means well; she doesn't know any better."
I left the infirmary and investigated the law concerning dog guides and medical facilities. I learned that if my dog was not permitted in an examining room, there was a legal obligation to examine me in a room where my dog could be present. I informed a dean of my problem at the infirmary and of the law. I also mentioned that the nurses had been overwhelmingly patronizing. The dean assured me that she would speak with Dr. Marie Hanache, Director of Health Services. She informed me that I was not the first disabled student to complain about such treatment.
Three days later I went to my appointment, not entirely certain what would be said about my dog guide. Julip was not a problem, however. Instead, after dragging me about the tiny examining room, pointing out virtually every imaginable obstacle, the nurse turned to leave, said the doctor would be with me shortly, and asked, "Do you need help undressing?" I had turned twenty-two years old the day before and have been dressing and undressing myself successfully for a substantial portion of that time. Taking a breath to quell my rising anger, I said quietly, "No, I do not." The nurse left.
I brought these incidents to the attention of the dean with whom I had already spoken, asking that she, Dr. Hanache, and I have a meeting to discuss the evident lack of sensitivity on the part of the nursing staff. I felt that I should feel comfortable visiting a health facility; that since other disabled students had complained, I was not being supersensitive; and that if a meeting between the nurses and disabled students took place, attitudes might very well start to improve. The dean agreed that the treatment I had undergone was inappropriate and readily agreed to the meeting.
The meeting began with my tale of "No dogs in the examining room" and I was almost immediately interrupted with an insistence that the nurses are worried about sanitary conditions. I assured Dr. Hanache that I realized this, but that there was a legal obligation to accommodate me without requiring me to rely on a sighted guide. She interrupted again and I said, "Please, the dog is not the only issue. I am not finished." I described the incident of the nurse asking if I needed help in getting undressed. I explained that if a person with a specific disability needed such assistance, the infirmary was dealing with grown men and women who could voice their needs. She interrupted yet again and informed me that each and every nurse was concerned with the welfare of all students, regardless of whether they are disabled, and that the nurse's question was nothing more than an indication that she wished to accommodate me as best she could. Naturally, I asked if able-bodied students were offered this help. Without a pause, Dr. Hanache replied, "I'm sure it has happened." Yet, in an informal survey of several dozen able-bodied fellow students, none related such an offer.
"You," Dr. Hanache then proceeded to inform me, "have a chip on your shoulder, and you are making this into a personal issue, and are trying to start trouble." She went on, insisting that the nursing staff was concerned with everyone's welfare. As an example: "The infirmary is very cluttered right now. There are boxes all over the place. I even tripped and went flying yesterday."
I asked, "Are you suggesting that since `even' you tripped, there is necessarily a greater risk for me and others with disabilities?"
"No, I did not say that," she snapped.
"She didn't say that," the dean chimed in.
"Then what was the purpose of your statement?" I inquired. There was no answer.
I informed Dr. Hanache that since she was clearly unwilling to do anything, I was seriously considering taking the issue to the undergraduate and/or law school newspapers. At this point she slammed something down on her desk, stood, and said, "This meeting is over."
After Dr. Hanache left, I told the dean that Dr. Hanache was the one who had made the issue "personal," and that I resented the implication that I was nothing more than a militant when other disabled students had voiced concerns about the infirmary. I asked why she had not pointed this out when I was accused of attempting to start trouble. She skirted the issue by saying that both Dr. Hanache and I had strayed from the topic.
At one point during our interview Dr. Hanache declared: "Oh, I see, you want to be treated like everybody else, but you also want to be treated like a minority, whatever suits you." How could this woman so grossly misunderstand a central fact of being a minority: that one would like to be treated like everybody else, but bigotry, presupposition, and prejudice interfere. It ignores the reality that perceptions of single characteristics (skin color, gender, sexual orientation, physical impairment, mental impairment, religion, ideology) supersede estimates of intelligence, competence, ability, morality, and character.
Another facet of minority experience is being labelled as a complainer who appropriates minority status as an excuse to whine, rather than take responsibility for their lives. This snide attitude ("whatever suits you") allows administrators to ignore whatever the labelled person says and deceive themselves that we are already treated equally. The irony is, of course, that in reality we are not treated like everyone else, unless you define "equal treatment" very strangely.
"Being treated like everybody else" does not mean "a seventy percent un/underemployment rate for disabled people is perfectly reasonable, because disabled people just aren't as skilled as we are," or "It's perfectly fine to ban dog guides from the infirmary, because blind people shouldn't expect to be able to move about unassisted anyway", or "It's okay to be oversolicitous with disabled people because unless you're careful, they're a danger to themselves and others." Most of all, being treated equally does not consist of the implicit question "Why do they continue to delude themselves into thinking that they are like everybody else?"
In short, the purpose of these evasions and rationalizations is to allow the speaker to avoid personal and institutional responsibility by the time-honored strategy of "blame the victim." However, when minorities refuse to be so labelled and blamed, an important step is taken towards a society which no longer tolerates such pretense.
[Note: At the time of this writing (late October, 1991) the newly established association of disabled law students at Hofstra is intending to meet with the university's vice president of operations to discuss further this matter.]
[PHOTO: Bonnie Peterson standing at microhpone during NFB 1990 convention. CAPTION: Bonnie Peterson.]
EXPECTATION AND REALITY: THE NFB AND AER TALK PAST EACH OTHER IN WISCONSIN
by Bonnie Peterson
From the Associate Editor: Every state president knows the stress and anxiety that begin building in the weeks prior to an annual state convention. The agenda is the biggest worry: what items to include, whom to invite, how to prepare for each presentation.
Last October Bonnie Peterson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, faced more stress than usual. The Wisconsin chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (WAER) was conducting its 1991 meeting in the same hotel as the NFB of Wisconsin immediately before the Federation convention. Mrs. Peterson and Pam Brown, President and Program Chair for WAER, decided to invite one another to address their respective gatherings in an effort to broaden understanding and increase communication between the two groups.
For Mrs. Peterson the agreement meant leaving for the convention a day earlier than she would otherwise have had to, and as it turned out, flying to the convention site through a thunderstorm in a small commuter plane--an experience that took its toll on her nerves. But she addressed the professional organization and answered their questions. She then remained in the session, participating and learning. When she left, she felt that the experience had been useful.
The following day Pam Brown addressed the NFB convention and answered questions and listened to the concerns of blind consumers of services in the state. As soon as she could, however, she left the room and the convention. Afterwards Bonnie Peterson received two letters from Mrs. Brown. One was a standard thank-you note, written in print and expressing the usual sentiments upon such an occasion. The second was written in Braille and was filled with anger at having been subjected to consumer concerns--complaints about Braille instruction and frustration over services for the blind.
Bonnie Peterson was dismayed at the difference in tone between the two notes: one for the record and one expressing personal sentiments profoundly different from those in the first. But even more distressing, as she pointed out in a letter to President Maurer, she was forcibly reminded how great the gap is between consumers and many professionals, those professionals who want to talk and not listen, who say they want communication but resent true exploration of views and differences. But most of all she was appalled by the hypocrisy of expressing one set of ideas in print, where they would be on the record and could be duplicated and circulated, and the opposite ones in Braille, which does not lend itself to copying. Here is the correspondence:
November 10, 1991
Mr. Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
Dear Mr. Maurer:
Earlier this year I was contacted by Pam Brown, President of the Wisconsin Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Since our conventions were at the same hotel and back to back, we decided to take a chance and work together by having a representative from the NFB speak at the WAER conference, and I would place Pam Brown on our agenda.
I thought there were real possibilities for our two organizations to make some headway. I spoke at the WAER conference at 8:30 Friday morning, October 25. I took part in sessions following my presentation and spoke to many members. On Saturday morning Mrs. Brown spoke to the NFB of Wisconsin convention and left. She made no comments of displeasure to me or to other members. I was certainly not prepared for the letters which I am sending you now.
These letters are a prime example of why I feel some organizations find themselves at odds with us. WAER said they wanted to work with us but, at the same time, were offended and put out that they had to listen to what we had to say. The very comments and questions of the blind people they serve are dismissed as inappropriate. They say one thing and mean another; they offer deception instead of honesty. If this is an example of "working together," I don't want any part of it.
Bonnie Peterson, President
National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin
That was Bonnie Peterson's cover letter to President Maurer, and here are the letters that accompanied it. The first is the print letter from Mrs. Brown, which, no doubt, went into AER files and may have been circulated to other people in the Wisconsin chapter of AER. Though perhaps a little too fulsome to be quite credible, it is certainly appreciative and constructive. Here it is:
November 3, 1991
Ms. Bonnie Peterson
I wish to thank you on behalf of WAER for the presentation on NFB at our annual conference in Wausau on October 25. In my role as Program Chair, I was not able to attend many of the presentations. However, I was pleased with the time that I spent in your session. The content was what I had planned on. I have received some positive feedback regarding your presentation from those in attendance at the conference. They felt the information was helpful.
I enjoyed meeting you. The comments you made were on TV on Friday night and were very appropriate to both of our groups.
I thank you for the opportunity to address NFB of Wisconsin also. It was a learning experience.
Thank you again, for taking the time to share your knowledge with us at our conference. It was a pleasure to be able to work with you.
Program Chair, WAER
That was the print letter, and no one could fault its gracious and positive tone. Here now is the text of the Braille letter that accompanied it:
On a more personal note, I was very angry at the many inappropriate statements or supposed questions that were asked of me.
In order for teachers to be certified in this state, they must know Braille. If they don't, report them to DPI [Department of Public Instruction]. I was disappointed that a personal comment by me to you was used in front of the group. If that was a problem, then I believe you should have the courtesy to speak with me in private about it. I do realize that many blind people have had bad experiences, but the middle of an address was not a time to air these differences.
As you can tell I am still quite upset by what happened and will assume that this note will be kept as a personal note by you and to you alone. The typewritten note is my official AER response to NFB.
There you have it--clear and to the point. Mrs. Brown certainly does not mince words when she is upset. Bonnie Peterson does not mince words either once she is aroused. Here is her response to Pam Brown:
November 8, 1991
Mrs. Pam Brown, President
Wisconsin Assoc. for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Dear Mrs. Brown:
I have received your letters of November 3, 1991, and I thank you for them. I was pleased to speak to the members of the Wisconsin Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (WAER) on October 25, 1991, and for your reciprocal address at the NFB convention. I do thank you again for the invitation and time allowed me to present the views of and answer questions about the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin (NFB). I entered into this arrangement believing there would be no question from your group too small, too challenging, or too private for me to answer. I prepared myself for anything and answered all questions put to me with candor and respect.
I took an active part in WAER sessions after my presentation and enjoyed meeting and conversing with many of your members during breaks and lunch. Since I took my responsibilities quite seriously, I was happy when you wrote about my presentation that "I have received some positive feedback from those in attendance at the conference...They felt the information was helpful."
You say in your Braille letter, "On a more personal note I was very angry at the many inappropriate statements or supposed questions that were asked of me." Questions and comments posed to you were based on the topic of Braille, use of the white cane, and higher standards in the education of the blind, all of which are well within your realm of expertise as an itinerant teacher of blind children and as the President of WAER. How can the questions, comments, and very life experiences of the blind men and women AER members have centered their careers upon ever be considered "inappropriate"? You asked for audience participation, and you received it. You also received a warm reception and were treated with dignity and respect.
You also say, "In order for teachers to be certified in this state they must know Braille. If they don't, report them to DPI." Since "knowledge of Braille" has not as yet been defined by law, what exactly would the Department of Public Instruction be supposed to do? There is a big difference between a teacher's knowing a few of the rules of Braille and being able to read and write Braille. What does it mean to "know Braille"? This situation will be solved by the passage of the very Braille Bill that the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin has been working on for two years. It was my understanding that WAER now supports this Braille Bill, or is your organization going back on its word?
In your note to me you say, "I was disappointed that a personal comment by me to you was used in front of the group. If that was a problem then I believe you should have the courtesy to speak with me in private about it." I assume you are referring to a phone conversation we had prior to our respective conventions. You said there was a shortage of teachers for blind children. I suggested that you utilize the National Federation of the Blind's Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) program to find qualified blind instructors. You said a blind person couldn't be an itinerant teacher because blind people don't have the necessary independent travel skills. I disagreed with you, citing my own career as an instructor at the University of Wisconsin Parkside in Kenosha and a communication/ management consultant, traveling throughout the country. You said that I was different and that most blind people did not have my abilities. I responded by saying that I knew thousands of blind people who travel quite independently, and the secret was that I had very good training in the use of the white cane from blind people in the National Federation of the Blind. We left it at that and moved to a different topic.
Your comments were not a "problem" to me, as you put it. I merely disagreed with them. That doesn't mean that I dislike you or want to do you harm. It simply means that my personal experiences differ from yours. You tell me we should have discussed this in private. Unless our phones were tapped, we did discuss it in private. At no time during our phone conversation did you request that your comments be held in some sort of deep confidence.
You also say, "I do realize that many blind people have had bad experiences." Comments and questions were directed to you during the Question and Discussion section of the agenda. You are telling me that the views of the members of the National Federation of the Blind were expressed at the wrong time at our very own convention. Precisely when would have been the right time? How can we ever eliminate those "bad experiences" or work out our differences if they are never discussed? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the reason we agreed to speak at each other's conventions in the first place was to talk about our differences. If you did not want to entertain questions and return with feedback from the NFB, why did you come?
Finally you say, "As you can tell I am still quite upset by what happened and will assume that this note will be kept as a personal note by you and to you alone. The typewritten note is my official AER response to NFB." I am under no obligation to you to hold what you have written in confidence. I have the right to pass whatever information comes my way to anyone I choose. You have the equal right to disseminate the correspondence you receive with the same free choice.
To work with NFB, AER must take seriously the hopes, dreams, aspirations, experiences, and views of the organized blind. They are appropriate, and they are timely. Teachers need to know what is really happening to partially blind children who are discouraged from learning Braille. Teachers need to hear about endless eye strain, lost opportunities because of illiteracy, frustration at being denied the skill of Braille, and the eventual need to learn Braille at a later time though it would have been much more convenient to do so earlier. Rehabilitation counselors and program administrators need to understand that with the proper training blindness really can be reduced to nothing more than a physical nuisance. The lack of a competitive education, and destruction of the will to succeed due to lowered expectations and negative attitudes about blindness are the real things holding blind people back, not the lack of eyesight.
During your presentation you said you would see what you could do to encourage members of WAER to attend NFB national and state conventions. We also discussed the importance of reading the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections. I will be looking forward to working with you in the future, which means openly and honestly discussing our differences as well as points of agreement. We really did enjoy having you at our convention. I wish you much success, health, and happiness.
Very sincerely yours,
Bonnie Peterson, President
NFB of Wisconsin
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Peggy Chong, President of the Metro Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.]
THE HUNT IN WHITE OCTOBER
by Peggy Chong
From the Associate Editor: This article and the following one discuss local chapter celebrations of White Cane Safety Day, October 15. Since the early fifties, when the National Federation of the Blind persuaded Congress to declare such a day each year, we recognize the right of blind people to participate on terms of equality with our sighted neighbors. The white cane is the symbol of that equality, thus the name chosen.
In addition to the day in October, there is also White Cane Recognition Week, May 15 to 22 each spring. In the early days this was a time dedicated to fund-raising for the National Federation of the Blind. Now that our programs and responsibilities are so extensive, we engage in fundraising all year round, but White Cane Recognition Week is still an excellent time to spend educating the public about the abilities of blind people and our capacity to compete on terms of equality in employment. The activities described here or ones like them would be excellent projects in May as well as October. Here is what the Metro Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota did for the first time on October 15, 1991:
It started out as a desire to do more for White Cane Safety Day this year than just passing out literature at the mall. So the Metro Chapter formed a White Cane Committee, chaired by Ron Poire, and they began to kick around some ideas. That was how the White Cane Scavenger Hunt was born.
On October 15 Federationists gathered at BLIND Inc. in Minneapolis at noon to form teams of four or five people. Our object was to go into downtown businesses and collect souvenirs from each place. Each team received a Braille list of clues telling us where we were to go and what we were to bring back. Each team was also given an envelope containing the answers to our clues, which were numbered and individually sealed. If we couldn't figure out a clue, such as "Bring back a placemat from the Scottish Mr. Trump's on the Mall," we could open the appropriately numbered answer and learn that it was McDonald's. However, the team lost five points for each unsealed answer. Each clue had been assigned points depending on the obscurity of the clue or the difficulty of finding the object. At the end the team with the most points shared a $15 gift certificate from Candyland.
After finding a private place in which to decipher our clues, each team mapped out its own strategy for getting to the most places in one hour. For each minute the team was late in returning, a point was deducted from the total score. Teams had different ways of approaching the task: some took the bus to the furthest location and worked their way back while others made a circle. Some decided to skip the clues they could not unscramble.
Upon returning, each team turned in its souvenirs and envelope of clues so that the points could be totalled. Then it was off to the conference room to enjoy wonderful treats prepared by some of the Center's students and other Federationists. While waiting for the final scores, we read an article from the Skyway News promoting The White Cane Safety Day Scavenger Hunt and White Cane Safety Day. Governor Arne Carlson had signed a proclamation declaring October 15 White Cane Safety Day, and we heard that also.
The enthusiasm for this scavenger hunt is still running high. Plans are already being made to make this an annual event, bigger and better as the years go by. Here is the story that appeared in the Skyway News on October 15, 1991:
Federation of the Blind Goes on a Scavenger Hunt
by Jane Fitzpatrick
It will be a true case of the blind leading the blind around downtown Minneapolis October 15.
In celebration of National White Cane Safety Day, the National Federation of the Blind is hosting a scavenger hunt sending blind participants out into the business community to collect items ranging from business cards to paper clips.
What these twenty-five to thirty blind people are scavenging for is not as important as why they are hunting, said Judy Sanders, a member of and spokeswoman for the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFB).
The hunt allows members of the NFB to establish a rapport with the downtown business community. Sanders said the biggest motivation is to educate people about the abilities of the blind.
"Being blind doesn't have to be as limiting as people would think," she said. "Our purpose is to help sighted people understand that it isn't amazing that a blind person can cross the street or take a bus."
That was the news story. Here is the proclamation that the Governor of Minnesota signed:
State of Minnesota
WHEREAS the white cane, which every blind citizen of our state has the right to carry, demonstrates and symbolizes the ability of the blind to achieve full and independent lives and the capacity of the blind to be productively employed; and
WHEREAS the white cane allows every blind person to move freely from place to place, making it possible for him or her to participate fully in and contribute to our society; and
WHEREAS the freedom to travel, one of the fundamental rights accorded to all citizens, is as important to the blind as it is for the sighted; and
WHEREAS Minnesota law requires that all blind persons be given equal access to all places of public accommodation, lodging, and transportation, subject only to the provisions and restrictions applicable alike to all persons; and
WHEREAS Minnesota law encourages employers, both public and private, to utilize fully the unlimited skill and potential of our blind citizens; and
WHEREAS the National Federation of the Blind, with more than fifty-thousand members nationwide, has demonstrated a refreshing commitment to promoting the respectability of blindness through, among other things, its highly competitive scholarship program for blind students; its ceaseless efforts to promote Braille as a viable tool of literacy for the blind; its ongoing efforts to acquire gainful employment for blind persons through its Job Opportunities for the Blind program; its provision of technical assistance to teachers, parents of blind children, law enforcement officials, employers, and state government; and its production of printed, Brailled and recorded literature about blindness; and
WHEREAS these positive programs are supported and enhanced at the state level by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota as witnessed by its energetic programs to promote more and better instruction in the reading and writing of Braille for blind children attending Minnesota's public schools and its efforts to secure new and positive training alternatives for Minnesota's newly-blind adult population;
NOW THEREFORE, I, ARNE H. CARLSON, Governor of the State of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, October 15, 1991, to be WHITE CANE SAFETY DAY in Minnesota.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Minnesota to be affixed at the State Capitol this fifteenth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and ninety-one, and of the State the one hundred thirty-third.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: This photo of John Rowley is reprinted by courtesy of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.]
REPORT FROM LOS ALAMOS
From the Associate Editor: Karen Edwards, President of the La Luz Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, recently sent the following letter and clipping to the Braille Monitor. They are one more illustration of the variety of ways in which White Cane Safety Day can be celebrated. Here is Mrs. Edwards's letter:
Los Alamos, New Mexico
January 13, 1992
We thought Monitor readers would be interested to hear about how the La Luz Chapter of the NFB of New Mexico celebrates White Cane Safety Day. The event is sponsored jointly by the chapter and the largest employer in northern New Mexico, the Los Alamos National Laboratory. At our 1991 luncheon, there was standing room only, and we managed to educate many senior-level managers about the capabilities of the blind.
Enclosed is an article from the November 22, 1991, edition of the Newsbulletin, the publication of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. As you can see from the content of the article, our message, as delivered by Dr. John Rowley, really made an impact on the crowd.
Karen Edwards, President
La Luz Chapter, NFB of New Mexico
Rowley Not Interested in Problems; His Sights are Set on Solutions
by Jocelyn Lieu
John Rowley isn't interested in problems.
"They're not worth worrying over," said Rowley, who joined the Lab as a staff member in 1957. "My philosophy is always to work on solutions."
During the past several years Rowley has had the chance to apply his philosophy to a personal problem: the blindness that overtook him in 1985.
In that year the severe myopia that had, to his great disappointment, kept him out of World War II, grew worse. Fender benders prompted him to surrender his driver's license. At fifty- eight, Rowley was legally blind.
Worse for Rowley was the drop in productivity he began to experience in his staff job with the Earth and Space Sciences Division (EES).
"After four to five hours of reading and writing, I remember thinking, I just can't force myself to do this anymore," he said.
"A lot of people go into rejection and insist `I'm not going blind,'" Rowley said. "I was well aware I was going blind. The question was, how do I get from where I am to where I want to be?"
At the time he became blind, Rowley was in the midst of a notable Laboratory career that began in the old N Division, developing the nuclear-rocket propulsion system known as Project Rover.
"There really was an amazing team effort going," Rowley recalled. "All of the people who worked on that project will tell you it was the high point of their careers."
But Rowley went on to achieve further high points. He was part of the team that conceived the Nuclear Subterrene, a reactor-heated earth drill. He also was instrumental in developing the Hot Dry Rock Geothermal Project.
During his 33-year full-time tenure with the Laboratory, Rowley worked as a staff member, group leader, and associate division leader. Science was a career Rowley loved--"My avocation is my vocation"--and he wasn't about to give it up because of blindness.
With the same curiosity and zeal he applied to his scientific work, Rowley researched solutions to his predicament.
Brushing aside "hints" that he should consider early retirement, Rowley instead contacted the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and obtained his first white cane. He also discovered the National Federation of the Blind and Job Opportunities for the Blind. The latter organization steered him toward the Louisiana Center for the Blind, a private rehabilitation program in Ruston, Louisiana.
The intensive nine-month program--which Rowley, who enrolled in January 1988, completed in six months--included instruction by blind or blindfolded teachers in such subjects as Braille, physical education, home economics, and typing.
"It was exhilarating for me," Rowley said. "I could just see my progress."
Not your typical student, Rowley, while in the program, became an adjunct professor in the department of geosciences, petroleum, and chemical engineering at nearby Louisiana Tech University. During his time at the center he also helped present a conference of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in New Orleans.
On returning to the Laboratory in July 1988, Rowley learned of an opening with the Yucca Mountain Project in Las Vegas, Nevada. The job was right up his alley since Rowley had, in 1982, helped develop the project's Exploratory Shaft Test Plan.
Nevada proved to be Rowley's graduate school in rehabilitation training. His wife Mary didn't accompany him. Alone, Rowley used his newly acquired skills to find an apartment, keep house, and within two years--working with the aid of a reader and a voice-adapted computer--recompile the 1,500-page test-plan document on the nuclear-waste management site.
Rowley retired from the Laboratory in 1990. In addition to working as a Laboratory Associate in EES Division, he runs a consulting service, Pajarito Enterprises; is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among other organizations; and sits on the board of directors on the Geothermal Resources Council out of Davis, California.
A self-professed optimist, Rowley was hard-pressed to recall major disappointments in his life and career. "I don't remember anything really disappointing, not anything that stands out.
"I think the thing I have enjoyed most--and maybe that's an achievement--I think the thing that's most fascinating about the Laboratory and science is that the people you meet are unbelievably diverse.
"They vary by sixteen orders of magnitude," said Rowley. "It's absolutely fascinating."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ed and Toni Eames, pictured here with their cats and guide dogs in their living room.]
DOG AND CANE
From the Editor: Our movement has fostered the functional and symbolic nature of the white cane as a means of independent mobility for the blind. However, many members of the Federation prefer the guide dog as the method of achieving this objective. As an organization, we have championed the rights of blind people accompanied by guide dogs to have access to all public places. The use of a white cane or guide dog is a matter of choice and individual preference. The goal is the same: independence. By incorporating the guide dog in our proclamations, we recognize this equivalency and the freedom of choice it implies. Ed and Toni Eames, who co-chair the NFB of California Guide Dog Committee, have developed the following proclamation, which has been used in Fresno and which they suggest might serve as a model elsewhere, giving equal weight to the two bases of our independent mobility. The specifics of the proclamation would, of course, need to be tailored to fit the circumstances of the particular state or community, but here is how it was done in Fresno:
White Cane/Guide Dog Safety Day Proclamation
Whereas, the white cane or guide dog, which every blind citizen of our city has the right to use, demonstrates and symbolizes his or her ability to achieve a full and independent life and her or his capacity to work productively in competitive employment; and
Whereas, the white cane or guide dog, by allowing every blind person to move freely and safely from place to place, makes it possible for him or her fully to participate in and contribute to our society; and
Whereas, every citizen should be aware that the law requires that motorists exercise appropriate caution when approaching a blind person carrying a white cane or using a guide dog; and
Whereas, California law also calls upon employers, both public and private, to be aware of and utilize the employment skills of our blind citizens by recognizing their worth as individuals and their productive capacities; and
Whereas, the State of California, through its public agencies and with the cooperative assistance of the National Federation of the Blind of California, can look forward to continued expansion of employment opportunities for and greater acceptance of blind persons in the competitive labor market.
Now, Therefore, I, Karen Humphrey, Mayor of the City of Fresno, hereby proclaim October 15, 1990, as White Cane/Guide Dog Safety Day in the City of Fresno and call upon our schools to offer full opportunities for training to blind persons and for employers and the public to utilize the available skills of competent blind persons and to open new opportunities for the blind in our rapidly changing society, and all citizens to recognize the white cane and the guide dog as instruments of safety and self-help for blind pedestrians on our streets and highways.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
[PHOTO: Kenneth Jernigan and Joseph Shapiro stand together at podium microphone at NFB 1991 national convention. CAPTION: Joseph Shapiro, Associate Editor for Social Policy, US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT (right); and Kenneth Jernigan, Editor of the BRAILLE MONITOR.]
CREATING A MINDSET OR REFLECTING MYTHOLOGY: JOURNALISTS TALK ABOUT BLINDNESS
From the Associate Editor: During the Wednesday afternoon, July 3, 1991, session of the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jernigan in his capacity as Editor of the Braille Monitor Magazine and Joseph Shapiro, Associate Editor for Social Policy Issues of the weekly news magazine, US News and World Report, addressed the question whether journalists help to shape the public mind or merely reflect long-standing prejudices about blindness. Here are their remarks:
Dr. Jernigan: I would say that very often the press, while reporting as accurately as it can, does what other people in society do in the name of reporting facts. It reports those facts in the context of what it knows--or, more accurately stated, believes it knows--about blindness. Often that's wrong. It leads to all kinds of misinformation being reinforced by the press to the public. As an example, very often when we come to our annual conventions and contact the newspapers (the same would be true of TV or radio) wanting to talk about civil rights issues affecting the blind, editors refer us to their medical reporters, which is a commentary, not on what we are trying to do, but on the absolute mythology with which they are operating. The problems of blindness are not medical. Most of us are blind, and we are going to stay that way, and there isn't anything medical to be done about it.
We have problems, but those problems are caused by society's attitudes about us, or even by our own, because we are part of society and have accepted those attitudes without even knowing that we've done so. All you have to do is to read the stories in the newspapers or listen to the public speakers around the country or even sometimes those who come to our own conventions. Listen to the sermons in the churches, listen to what the teachers say in the classrooms, listen to the public comments; and you will find the new ideas about blindness, which reflect the truth of what we are, rubbing shoulders with some of the most ancient and outworn myths that you could imagine, going back to pre-historic times. We are, of course, talking about journalism today. How do we go to a city for a convention and really get accurate reporting, and--more to the point--how often do the news people, not just misreport, but fail to understand that there is even a story to report? We have a long way to go, and contrary to popular belief, the real story is not one simply reported on objectively by the news people. Very often our problem is the news people, not because of anger toward us, not because of intentional hostility. Sometimes one wonders if it wouldn't be better if it were. You can make an individual ashamed of his or her prejudice and hostility. Often the problem begins with the journalists' perception that they are being compassionate.
In this much-discussed airline issue, how often have you seen a self-righteous journalist saying: "Well, we all have compassion for the blind, but in this case it's a misplaced notion that blind persons should be allowed to sit in exit rows or whatever, because after all, compassion can be carried only so far." As you know, our answer is this--compassion has nothing to do with it. Either blind people are a greater hazard in exit rows, in which case they ought not to be there; or they're not, in which case denying exit row seating or telling us where we have to sit on planes is discrimination. Again, compassion has nothing to do with it. It's a matter of fact, not of compassion.
As we have so often said, not only in this convention but in past ones, the airline issue is not our primary priority. The airline issue in and of itself, although annoying and at times very difficult for individuals, would be in a different position altogether in our thinking if it were not symbolic of the larger problem we face with the public and very often with the press. If we could really get the press in this country to come to understand what our problems are, we could very shortly go a long way towards remedying those problems. Once people really understand--and one way for that to happen is through the news-- they wouldn't tolerate what is happening to blind people, often in the name of compassion.
One of the prime jobs I face in my journalistic capacity in this organization is to try to dispel the myths. The Monitor has as its job education--education of blind people and education of the public--trying to change public attitudes about blindness to conform to the truth. That is part of the journalistic task that I face as editor of the Monitor and that Barbara Pierce faces as Associate Editor.
Mr. Shapiro, of course, writes for a broader audience than we do, although our audiences overlap and ours is becoming larger. But Mr. Shapiro can bring to bear his experience as a writer for US News & World Report. I want to put him on now to talk on this topic: "Creating a Mindset or Reflecting a Mythology: Journalists Talk About Blindness." Mr. Shapiro, it's a pleasure to have you with us, and I now put you on for your remarks.
Mr. Shapiro: The title of this session is "Do Journalists Create a Mindset or Reflect Mythology When They Write About Blindness?" I assume that it is a rhetorical question since I think most people in this room would agree on the answer that Dr. Jernigan just gave.
Indeed, too often when it comes to writing about people with visual handicaps, journalists reflect mythology, stereotypes, and fears. And it's true; as journalists we've been too slow to understand how blind Americans have been asserting independence. Too often journalists still tend to think of a story about blindness as a human interest story. We still think it is a story about someone overcoming his or her blindness or about something sad related to that condition, but I think things really are starting to change. Change is coming more slowly than it should, but I sense something significant is taking place, and it reflects the growing social power of people with blindness.
In my own watching of the media I date that change as taking place roughly between the time I saw two news stories. The first was in the Boston Herald, and the second one was in the New York Times. I forgot to bring the story that I clipped from the Boston Herald in 1988. But on the left side of the page there was a large photograph of a man. His forehead is furrowed, and his mouth curled in a frown. He looks forlorn and unhappy. With one hand he's holding a white cane, and with the other hand he is leaning against the piano. When you read the story, you find out that this man with a cane is a piano tuner. Thieves have gone through his house. They stole his piano tuning tools and the toys he had bought for his children for Christmas. The headline on the story says, "Theft Strikes Sour Note For Blind Man." Now that, of course, is a prime example of the mythology school of reporting. It's the type of reporting that you know very well and rightly are very tired of. It is the type of story that depicts blind people as brave but sad, as victims, as helpless objects deserving of pity. Certainly it's a shame that the piano tuner lost his tools and the Christmas presents for his kids, but if he were not blind, the Boston Herald would not have been nearly so interested in him. In fact, he would not have been newsworthy at all. I think that, if he isn't news-worthy as a sighted person, then he shouldn't be a news story just because he's blind.
You may have seen the other story I used to measure this change. It appeared on May 12 in the New York Times, and this is the story that Marc Maurer was referring to earlier in his address. The headline was, "How Best To Teach The Blind: A Growing Battle Over Braille." It was a story on Braille literacy at the top of the front page of the Sunday edition, the most prominent spot of the most prominent edition of the most prominent newspaper in America. The reporter for the New York Times took a serious look at Braille literacy. Her story talked about the Braille literacy bills being promoted by the National Federation of the Blind. The story said the issue of Braille literacy came down to the question of--and I'll read from the story "whether more people with visual handicaps will become independent, productive members of society, or whether they will remain largely on the fringe. Seventy percent," the story continues, "of the visually impaired who are of employment age are either unemployed or underemployed." Here was journalism, not about blind people solely as human interest side shows; here, instead, was a story that spoke about policies that end up causing discrimination against people with blindness.
So there is a huge distance between the story on the piano tuner that I saw in 1988 and the one three years later about Braille literacy, and I think that distance reflects the fact that in the last couple of years reporters are finally starting to understand. Sure we still see plenty of stories about blind piano tuners down on their luck, and we still do not see enough stories that point out that blindness of itself is not disabling, but that problems do result when there is prejudice or discrimination in the work place or at school or anywhere else. But again I think things really are changing.
So what's happened in the last couple of years? Why are journalists starting to understand? Well for one thing, after fifty years of preaching, the message of the National Federation of the Blind is getting through. The fights over things like Braille literacy are making people stop and think. So too are stories about airline seating or the stories that we saw about Rami Rabby needing to fight for years to get into the Foreign Service despite his stellar qualifications.
These things have helped journalists, along with everyone else, understand that people who are blind and people with disabilities no longer see their issues as ones of health, as Kenneth Jernigan just said. They see them as ones of discrimination and public prejudice. The year of the Boston Herald story, 1988, was the same year as the Gallaudet student protest demanding a deaf president. That made Americans think about deafness and rights, and it was a very vivid way of making people think about that.
Then the following year in 1989 and then 1990, we saw the fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA was a profound rethinking of how this country views disabled people. For the first time America was saying that the biggest problem facing disabled people is not their own visual handicap, deafness, or other disabling conditions. The ADA said the biggest problem is discrimination. Now I know the National Federation of the Blind raised important questions about the custodial implications of the accommodation provisions of ADA, but that bill did help Americans finally understand what the National Federation of the Blind has been saying all along about prejudice and negative images. Of course, journalists have to understand that the issues facing people with blindness are not automatically the same as those for people with spinal cord injuries, hearing impairments, or other disabilities.
But often there are issues that people hold in common. In this week's issue of US News and World Report I wrote a very short item about a new technology that could prove to be a convenience for people who are blind. A Japanese company has invented something called Colormate. It is the size of a flashlight, and if you hold it up against the surface, it measures the reflection off the surface and figures out the color. I'm not very technical, so I don't really understand how these things work, but I could hold this device up against my tie, and it would say brown. Or I could hold it up against my suit, and it would say black. It's something that has many applications. The device just went on sale, in fact, in Japan. It costs about four hundred dollars, but it is unavailable in this country because the Japanese government has refused, so far, to give the manufacturer an export license. According to the Japanese sales agent for Colormate, a Japanese trade ministry has raised questions about whether the technology would have military applications--I can't figure it out--and therefore whether it must be kept away from Eastern bloc nations. But as Kenneth Jernigan told me last week, it is foolishness for a device to be freely available to the blind in one country but be denied to the blind in another.
There is no doubt that assistive technology can mean independence, employment, and freedom. By the way, journalists love to write about amazing technology for people with disabilities, but we rarely write about the limits of technology and about the problems of getting it to people. The world of high-tech help for people with disabilities, in fact, seems completely upside down. What would logically be the hard part, inventing these new devices, has been the easy part. We invent the Colormate or Kurzweil Personnel Reader, but what we're not very good at is what should be the easy thing: we can't figure out how to make technology available to people who need it. That is an issue that faces not only blind people, but anyone who can benefit from the amazing assistive technology that is being invented.
Again, the National Federation of the Blind has taken on this issue with its new National Braille and Technology Center. Now you may not, or maybe you do, associate Vice President Dan Quayle with disability, but let me tell you something about the Vice President. He has somebody on his staff with a visual handicap, and this staff person has made Dan Quayle understand how Quayle's own persistent image problems are very similar to the continued frustration that many people with disabilities feel from being belittled by negative images all the time. So recently I wrote about how Quayle filmed a public service announcement for the U.S. Disabled Sports Team in May. This is how it started. Dan Quayle comes on the screen, and he says, "This is Vice President Dan Quayle. I know the effect that negative images and stereotypes can have on a person. Too often a misconception can become a myth, but it can be overcome." Now there is more than empathy at play here, of course. Most of all Quayle, who may have his eyes on a bid for the Presidency in 1996, knows that people with disabilities make up a potentially powerful constituency and one that will get more important in the 1990s. We saw proof of the new power of this movement that you're part of. We saw this proved today in this hall, in fact, right where I'm standing, when we heard the speech of Clayton Yeutter, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. I can tell you this: the Chairman of the Republican National Committee doesn't fly all the way from Washington to New Orleans just for the jazz.
The demand for dignity and opportunity--a demand by blind Americans that is shared with people with other disabilities--is propelling a powerful civil rights movement for the 1990s.
Reporters have been much slower than politicians to understand the importance of the issues of people with disabilities, and I think one reason is that journalists, unlike politicians, do not see disabled people as a constituency. So we have been slower to understand. I cover social policy issues for US News and World Report, and since I started writing about disability issues, I have found them to be a very rich source of material--wonderful stories, things that I write for my magazine and now for a book I'm writing on the disability rights movement that will be published a little over a year from now. I find that disability is an area where every social issue I write about comes together. There is a disability angle to stories about civil rights, insurance, labor, and education. The New York Times and other important publications are beginning to recognize the compelling power of your movement too. And when The New York Times takes an issue like Braille literacy seriously enough to write about it and put it at the top of the front page, then that's a sign that they're starting to get the message too.
I got interested in these issues because I was intrigued by the idea of this broad social movement. I was captivated by the idea of blind people and people with disabilities redefining themselves in their own terms for the first time. A story about rights, discrimination, and independence is a compelling one for any journalist. As more journalists begin to see that you are leading a widespread social movement based on a demand for rights and respect, then I think we will see more stories about issues instead of ones about human interest. There will be more stories written about Braille literacy, about employment, about discrimination: more stories that we've missed. We will create a new mindset that reflects the way blind people have redefined themselves. Thank you.
FROM THE MAIL BASKET: MORE ABOUT HUMOR
From the Associate Editor: The healthy role of humor in dealing with blindness continues to be a topic of interest to members of the National Federation of the Blind and readers of the Braille Monitor. Chris Kuczynski's article "The Child's Laughter and the Adult's Response" and Jim Burns's thoughtful reply (see the April, 1990, and the October/November, 1990, issues of the Braille Monitor) continue to evoke discussion. ABC's ill-considered sortie into blind humor last fall in the program "Good and Evil" demonstrates just how far astray it is possible to go when using what purports to be humor to comment on a disability.
It is easy to draw the wrong conclusion from all this talk about the danger of encouraging people to laugh at blindness, blind people, and the amazing things that can happen to a blind person. Humor is a powerful tool, and like other such instruments, it can do much damage if misused. But in skillful hands it can be truly healing and provide powerful insights. The solution is not to avoid humor about blindness at all costs but to master it as a tool and make it work for us as we fight to win equality and independence.
Recently I received a letter from a Federationist that raised this topic again and caused me to think further about the issue. Here are the letter and my response:
Golden Valley, Minnesota
January 1, 1992
About eighteen months ago I joined the National Federation of the Blind and have found the experience to be most positive. Though personal commitments have kept me from being very active in the local chapter, I have consistently read the Monitor and am continually impressed with its wealth of information and positive outlook. I am proud to be part of a group which has the guts to tackle a television network and see to it that characters like George [the blind character on "Good and Evil"] are taken off the air. While bumbling, inept portrayals of blind people like George are more stupid than funny, I firmly believe that there is a place for humor in relation to our efforts to educate the public. It would be a grave loss if, after the "Good and Evil" battle, persons were led to believe that laughter does not have a place in the efforts of people who are blind to continue their fight to become first-class citizens.
I was a bit concerned to read in the December issue of the Monitor that, though it would be "healthy" for the public to be "ready and able to laugh at the funny things which happen to blind people," they will not be ready for this in the "foreseeable future." I am a free-lance speaker and writer and have found that humor used in conjunction with accurate information can be a most useful teaching tool. In the fifteen years I have been speaking to groups about issues related to blindness and physical disability, humor has been effective in the following ways:
It breaks the ice. We all know that one of the greatest obstacles facing blind people is the discomfort which the public has concerning us. I've often found that relating a humorous experience (such as the fact that putting horseradish and peanut butter in a sandwich by mistake--I have no sense of smell--is a great way to get rid of colds) has elicited stories from sighted people about funny things they have done while cooking. This gives us common ground and makes them realize they are more like me than different.
It knocks down the belief that blindness is depressing. Since most people think we sit in a dark world, where we are engulfed by sadness, humor quickly destroys this belief. Being able to show people that I can laugh at myself and the occasional goofy things I do demonstrates that I feel self-confident in my abilities and like myself well enough to laugh at my mistakes.
It shows people abilities, not disabilities. People don't think that a blind individual who uses a leg brace and is often in a wheelchair can be independent. When I am showing them how a white cane works and giving demonstrations, they are surprised when I casually mention that the reason the cane I use for the demonstration is slightly bent is that it inadvertently slid from my bicycle basket and got caught in my bike spokes while I was riding. Members of the general public don't think blind people can bike by themselves.
It promotes independence. The general public does not expect that a person in my situation would be out and about. In explaining to them that, because of my physical disabilities, I can use a cane but find it safer to use my guide dog, I gradually teach them that many of the humorous things which happen to me because of the dog occur because I travel without assistance and am not sitting at home twiddling my thumbs as they would expect.
Humor, when used appropriately by blind people who know firsthand the reality of their situation, can be most effective in getting the word across.
That was the letter I received, and here is my response:
February 11, 1992
Dear Ms. Pranghofer:
Your thoughtful letter of January 1, 1992, has finally caught up with me, and I thank you for it. I am very glad that you enjoy reading the Braille Monitor, and I hope that you continue to find its pages encouraging and thought-provoking.
I think that you and I are not as far apart on the question of humor about blindness as you may think. I, too, do a good bit of public speaking and find humor about my adventures as a blind person to be a valuable tool for teaching members of the general public about the inherent normality of blind people and the silliness of many of the preconceptions that they themselves have always held. The final sentence of your letter expresses my view exactly: "Humor, when used appropriately by blind people who know firsthand the reality of their situation, can be most effective in getting the word across."
The reason that society is not ready for a situation comedy about blindness is that it is unlikely that well-adjusted blind people who understand blindness and are prepared to use humor appropriately will for the foreseeable future be television sitcom writers and actors. Even assuming that George's shenanigans on the unlamented program, "Good and Evil," were in and of themselves funny, the fact that they were dreamed up by sighted writers and executed by a sighted actor casts them into the realm of mockery. If blind people had, by some stroke of bad taste and worse judgement, written and acted that nonsense, they would have been engaging in self-mockery.
Humor, then, for our purposes here is a constructive force when it is used and recognized as a way of bringing people to an understanding of their similarities. I am very careful in choosing the blindness anecdotes I use in speeches because many amusing stories will backfire when one's listeners presume that blind people are incompetent and innately inferior. I have heard a very funny story about a man whom I admire very much who walked into a women's rest room in a building with which he was not yet familiar. He was forced to take refuge in a stall, waiting for the women who entered after him to leave. Equivalently embarrassing things have happened to sighted people, maybe even having to do with walking into the wrong rest room through inattention. But an unsophisticated audience will always assume that the helpless blind man should not have been allowed to wander around loose, even if they do laugh at the story.
Your example of putting horseradish on a peanut butter sandwich seems to me to be chancy. Its actual success probably depends on how you recount the adventure. If you mention that your sense of smell is not reliable and that this error would not ordinarily happen to a blind person any more than it would happen to a sighted one, it makes your point without doing any damage. After all, most people don't think that the blind can make a sandwich at all, with or without horseradish.
I usually employ humor to help my audience laugh at the silly misconceptions of sighted people when confronted by a perfectly ordinary woman who happens to be blind and who is out and about in the community, doing all the things that they themselves do. Even if individually they would be inclined to act in the same way as the sighted people in my stories, by my inviting them to laugh at the silliness of the misconceptions, they find it easy and natural to abandon them and begin to see the world in the way I do.
This, by the way, is one more reason for us to insist that it be blind people who take the lead in using humor in this way. When you or I stand in front of a group and tell funny stories about blind passengers' helping taxi drivers change tires or hotel personnel cutting up the meat for an entire room full of blind people because they assumed that no one could use a knife safely, our words have the ring of truth that may elude a sighted person.
People are inclined to give the storyteller the benefit of the doubt. If we say a thing about blindness is funny, they are likely to accept that statement at face value. The trouble is that many blind people are wandering around, rubbing shoulders with the sighted public and trying to curry favor by making fun of themselves and the tools of blindness. I am thinking of the wisecracks we have all heard that suggest that an individual's guide dog is the smarter partner in the pair or that the reason that the speaker is not chicly dressed is that he or she chose the outfit and got dressed independently. These comments pass for humor and confuse people who do not know enough about blindness to write them off as ridiculous or needlessly self-deprecating.
The appropriate use of humor about blindness is a subject that we in the Federation have been tossing around for years, and no end to the discussion is in view. Humor is a powerful and valuable tool, and we must learn to wield it expertly. Keep up the good work in public education. It is clear that you have the capacity to teach people about blindness while making them smile.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Kenneth Silberman.]
AN EMPLOYEE SHARES HIS SPECIAL VIEW
by Kenneth Silberman
From the Editor: Ken Silberman is an active Federationist and a rising employee with NASA's National Space Science Data Center. We recently received the following letter from him:
October 15, 1991
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
Shortly after I started working at the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC) my supervisor asked me to write an article about myself for the NSSDC News, the newsletter of the Data Center. Since the News is distributed to Data Center staff, NSSDC users, and other interested parties around the world, he thought that this was a good way to introduce me to the staff and the patrons of our electronic library. On the other hand, I saw this as not only an opportunity to introduce myself but as a good way to promote our philosophy and our Federation.
My article is entitled "An Employee Shares His Special View" (I did not choose this title) and appears on page thirteen of the Spring, 1991, issue of the News. In the article I describe the JOB seminar that was held in conjunction with our 1990 state convention in Annapolis; my work at that time; how my training and experience, including my Federation experience, helped and continues to help me on the job; and about blindness and the Federation. Bear in mind, this article was written late last year, and my duties have changed since that time.
I am sending my article to you because it carries our message to the worldwide scientific community in such countries as the USSR, Germany, France, Italy, and Switzerland. It is a small audience but a sophisticated and influential one.
This is what Ken Silberman said to me, and it demonstrates once again why our movement continues to increase in vitality and momentum. Federationists take every opportunity they can to tell others about our philosophy and spread the word. I thought Monitor readers might like to see Ken's article, so here it is:
On Friday, November 9, 1990, the National Federation of the Blind held a Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) seminar in conjunction with the twenty-fourth annual convention of them National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Annapolis. This seminar was directed toward both blind applicants and prospective employers. Speakers talked about conducting job searches, working for a blind supervisor, reasonable accommodation, and the blind and technology.
Many blind people described their professions, which ranged from secretarial work to engineering to molecular biology. I talked about my role with the National Space Science Data Center and described its mission (to archive and disseminate publicly all data obtained from NASA space flights, as well as some other spacecraft, and to develop computer systems that facilitate this job).
At the data center my two primary tasks consist of providing customer support for the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) and developing and managing a data base for the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS). These jobs require expertise in four areas: computer science, astronomy, writing, and management.
To fulfill NSSDC's requirements, my work experience, a master's degree in aerospace engineering, a bachelor's degree in astronomy, and my Federation experience serve me well. My Federation work has taught me about leadership, organization, and financial management. My service as a programmer with the Navy enabled me to sharpen my skills in computer science to a razor's edge. While a graduate at Cornell University, I enjoyed a wide variety of experiences and studied everything from physics to folklore. An examination of my combined education, real-world experience, and service as a programmer with the Navy makes it apparent why NSSDC found me to be the right person for the job.
Employers, being part of the general public, must come to understand that blindness is simply a characteristic and that it can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance, limiting us only to that extent--no more and no less. Once people understand this simple truth, blind people will have finally freed themselves from the bonds of discrimination and prejudice. The array of talented blind people speaking last fall on the seminar's panels clearly demonstrates the reality of this philosophy. The blind in America are changing what it means to be blind through a vehicle for collective action. For the past half century that vehicle has been, and continues to be, the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: C. Edwin Vaughan.]
THE FEDERATION ABROAD
by C. Edwin Vaughan
From the Associate Editor: Ed Vaughan is a member of the faculty at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Last year he spent a number of months teaching and traveling in China. Here is the brief report of his activities and observations that appeared in the Winter, 1992, edition of The Blind Missourian, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri:
For the last few years I have read in the Monitor reports about the increasing involvement of the Federation in the activities of the World Blind Union. I noticed Dr. Jernigan's increasingly active leadership role in the World Blind Union, but I seldom gave much thought to the potential of international organizations.
However, my views about such matters dramatically changed during the eight months I recently spent in the People's Republic of China. While in China, I was able to visit half of its provinces and autonomous cities. At every opportunity I visited schools for blind students and clinics in which blind massage was offered; and I interviewed blind beggars, fortune tellers, singers, and any other blind people I encountered. I also visited with public officials concerned with welfare and rehabilitation programs.
I was deeply moved by the plight of many blind people in China. Although China has a new (first) five-year plan for rehabilitation programs for disabled persons, the effort is largely symbolic for most ordinary blind people in China. One reason is that China is a relatively poor country, and rehabilitation is not an economic priority. Another reason is that attitudes towards blindness and expectations for blind people are even worse than those in the U.S.A.
The history and cultures of the U.S. and China are too different for any simple comparisons. However, the highest levels of government, as evidenced by the first five-year rehabilitation plan and new laws passed in 1989 concerned with disabled persons, seem to be moving in the right direction. The five year plan encourages schools and other agencies in China to learn from other countries and to adopt new technologies and ideas suitable for use in China. Independent democratic organizations such as the NFB are not possible under the present pervasive system of social control. However, the ideas, philosophy, and hope can enter China from organizations such as ours. Even items as simple as the NFB's long white cane would be a great improvement over anything I found in China.
The Federation and the World Blind Union can encourage the United Nations and other government-funded sources to encourage economically the increased development of prevention, education, and rehabilitation programs in underdeveloped countries. A little money and some culturally appropriate ideas can go a long way in many parts of the world. I can think of no better organization than the Federation to provide ideas and philosophies which might inform international activists. Helping improve the World Blind Union is one way the Federation can help. I applaud Dr. Jernigan and other Federation leaders, who see this potential and are giving international concerns greater attention.
This month's recipes come from Arizona. Ruth Swenson, president of the affiliate, requested recipes from each chapter. These were the most interesting contributions she passed on to the Monitor:
by Ruth Swenson
3 pounds ground beef (turkey may be substituted)
4 small cans tomato sauce
4 medium onions, chopped
6 cups egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans mushrooms, drained
3 cans corn Niblets
1 can ripe olives, chopped
2 pounds cheese, Velveeta or cheddar
3 green peppers, chopped
Method: Brown meat, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Cook until meat is almost done. Add tomato sauce. When heated, add remaining ingredients and bake in large casserole dish (2 may be needed). Bake at 350 degrees one hour, or until mixture is set.
by Tony Sohl
Tony is Secretary of the East Valley Chapter of the NFB of Arizona and is the son of Ruth Swenson and Jim Sohl.
4 flour tortillas (8-inch size)
1 pound skinned, boned chicken breast
1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cashews
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 can Mandarin oranges, drained
1 small tomato (optional)
Method: Gently press each tortilla into a 10-inch glass custard cup or soup bowl, allowing edges to extend above dish. Microwave on high, uncovered, 4 minutes. Reshape any areas of tortilla that have slipped into dish. Microwave on high an additional 3 to 4 minutes or until edges are dry and slightly brown. Carefully lift each shell out of its dish. Set aside to cool. Place chicken in 1-quart microwave-safe casserole and cover with casserole lid. Microwave medium-high, 8 to 9 minutes or until done, rotating dish once. Cool chicken and cut into pieces. Combine remaining ingredients except for Mandarin oranges with chicken and chill before serving. Fold oranges into chicken mixture and spoon into shells. Serves about 4, with 500 calories each. Note: if desired, you can place 1/2 cup sprouts or lettuce in shells before adding chicken salad mixture.
ARIZONA HOT CHILI
by Lee Kerr
Lee Kerr is a member of the Tucson Chapter of the NFB of Arizona. If you haven't tried real western chili, you should certainly make yourself a pot, grab a quart or so of something very cold, and sit down to a memorable experience.
3 pounds chuck roast
3 pounds ground beef
5 large red tomatoes
1 bag Shilling chili powder
2 small cans Ortega chilies
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon cilantro
10 pounds charcoal
Method: Put charcoal in smoker or Weber grill. Light in the usual way and allow to burn. While smoker is getting ready, cut the roast into small pieces the size of stewing meat and place on a rack to put in the smoker. Add moistened mesquite chips to charcoal and smoke meat for two hours, turning every 1/2 hour. Add moist chips as necessary. Note, meat may be smoked whole; however cooking time will increase. If it is done this way, cut meat up after cooking. Cut the tomatoes in small pieces. Place the tomatoes, green chilies, cilantro, and garlic in food processor, add water to cover, and run until well-blended. Place mixture in a large kettle or pot and add water until the pot is 1/2 full. Simmer the ingredients. Brown ground beef, drain, and add it and sliced meat to pot. Add water to cover and simmer for six hours. Serve with chili crackers and cold beer. Recipe can be modified to feed smaller groups; just use identical amounts of roast and ground beef. Chili powder and chilies can be added or subtracted according to your personal taste. "Try it, you'll like it."
OVEN ICED OATMEAL CAKE
by Harlene Stone
Harlene Stone is a member of the Phoenix Chapter. This cake is moist and delicious.
1 1/3 cups hot water
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Method: Mix hot water and oatmeal and let stand until mixture is smooth and of an even consistency. Cream together shortening and white sugar. Add brown sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Sift together and then beat in flour, baking powder, nutmeg, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Blend in oats and water mixture. When smooth, pour into lightly oiled oblong 9 by 13-inch pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and top with frosting made of 6 tablespoons soft margarine, 3/4 cups brown sugar, 4 tablespoons milk, 1 cup coconut, and 1 1/2 cups nutmeats. Spread on cake and place under broiler until brown and bubbly.
TEXAS SHEET CAKE
by Joanne Tuholski
Joanne Tuholski is a member of the Yuma Chapter of the NFB of Arizona.
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
4 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 pound margarine
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Method: Mix sugar, flour, and cocoa in a pan. Melt margarine in water. When mixture comes to a boil, pour it over dry ingredients and beat well. Add eggs and continue beating. Dissolve soda in buttermilk and add to batter, beat well, add vanilla. Pour batter into 13 by 9-inch pan. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
While cake bakes, place 1/4 pound margarine, 6 tablespoons milk, 1 cup marshmallows, and 2 tablespoons cocoa in a heavy pan. Stir over low heat until marshmallows melt. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Blend in 1 lb. box powdered sugar. Beat until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency. Add nuts if desired. If mixture is too stiff, add a little more milk. If it is too thin, add more sugar. Spread warm frosting on hot cake. This cake is very moist and very good.
In the February, 1992, issue we printed an article entitled "Update on Medical Transcription as a Career," by Susan M. Turley. Mrs. Turley's telephone number was incorrectly read in the recorded editions. Her correct telephone number is: (410) 744-4070. We apologize for the error.
**Hopes to Buy:
Sue Perry of Oak Park, Michigan, writes to say that she would like to buy a GE cassette recorder (Number 1-07110), which has been modified for use by the blind. She can be contacted at: 14125 Oak Park Boulevard, Oak Park, Michigan 48237; telephone (313) 548-1322. She asks that you write to her in Braille.
Ed Bryant, Editor of the Voice of the Diabetic, recently wrote as follows:
During this year's National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, dialysis will be available. Individuals requiring dialysis must have a transient-patient packet and a physician's statement filled out prior to treatment. Patients should have their dialysis units contact the desired location in Charlotte for instruction on what must be done. Please schedule dialysis treatments around the first of May, since Charlotte is loaded with tourists during the fourth of July week.
There is a mandatory prepayment of twenty percent (approximately $25) which must be paid before each dialysis treatment. This is the amount not covered by Medicare.
Following are three dialysis locations which are close to the Convention Center:
1. Mecklenburg Dialysis, 2321 West Moorehead Street, Suite 102, Charlotte, North Carolina 28208; phone (704) 333-5535. Contact: Ann Sherrill, Director of Nursing. If patient has secondary insurance, the unit will file. This unit is open Monday through Saturday.
2. Metrolina Kidney Center, 928 Baxter Street, Charlotte, North Carolina 28204; phone (704) 348-2950. Contact: Willa Humphrey. This unit is open Monday through Saturday.
3. Dialysis Care of Charlotte, 910 Pecan Avenue, Charlotte, North Carolina 28205; phone (704) 372-7979. Contact: Kecia Robertson, Social Worker. If patients are on the drug called Peogen, they must bring their own medicine or a prescription. (Patient must pay for this drug.) This unit is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
If your dialysis unit cannot confirm a space for you, contact Ed Bryant for assistance at: 811 Cherry Street, Suite 309, Columbia, Missouri 65201; phone (314) 875-8911.
**Report from Chatham County, Georgia:
We recently received the following letter:
December 30, 1991
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
As Braille Monitor readers know, the National Federation of the Blind of Chatham County holds its annual gospel musical extravaganza every year at this time. This year's program was held on Sunday, November 17, 1991, at the Bethlehem Baptist Church here in Savannah. And in a word, we really had a "hallelujah good time" in the name of the Lord.
Our master of ceremonies was Mr. E. Larry McDuffie, who is the host of "Joy In The Morning," which is heard on WSOK radio, and is also the director of numerous gospel musical choirs in the Savannah area.
And also during our gospel musical extravaganza program we crowned the winners of our 1991-92 Mr. and Miss National Federation of the Blind of Chatham County Pageant. The winners of this year's contest were Miss Denise Howard and Mr. Tyrone Palmer.
Also, we would like to mention that on Tuesday, December 10, 1991, the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Chatham County met in order to elect officers to serve for the next two years on our board of directors. They are as follows:
President, Ernest L. Robbins; First Vice President, Isaac Heyward; Second Vice President, Ellen Parker; Secretary, Tyrone Palmer; Treasurer, Charlotte Chaplan; and Board Member, Clarence Green.
Ernest L. Robbins & Tyrone Palmer
[PHOTO/CAPTION: South Dakota Governor Geore S. Mickelson recognized the Governor's Volunteer of the Year Award winners for 1991 on January 28, 1992, in Pierre. Pictured left to right are: Ray Spellman of Norwest Bank, sponsor of the award ceremony; Karen Mayry of Rapid City; LLinda and Governor George Mickelson.]
Karen Mayry, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, recently received the following letter from the governor of the state:
Pierre, South Dakota
December 16, 1991
Congratulations! It is my honor to inform you that you have been selected as a recipient of a 1991 Governor's Volunteer of the Year Award.
I will be honoring you and the other four recipients of this prestigious award on Tuesday, January 28, 1992, at 12:00 noon, at the Ramkota Inn in Pierre....
Very truly yours,
George S. Mickelson
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
A 60-minute audio cassette, which is being produced monthly, is subtitled "Echoes of the American Republic." The objective is to present various issues from different perspectives. The theme is free enterprise and rights of individuals embodied in the Constitution. This is a conservative publication with a current annual subscription rate of $30 per year. If interested, contact: An Audio View, Box 6, Springfield, Virginia 22150; phone (703) 569-3200.
**Celebrates 100th Birthday:
In early January we received the following release from the Prairie State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. Both the January and February Monitors were already completed, so this is the first time we have had the opportunity to run the notice and add our congratulations. We salute Mr. Eskildsen and wish him 100 more. Both individually and collectively Federationists hang in tough. So here is to Mr. Eskildsen--and here also is the release from the Prairie State
Ehms Eskildsen to Celebrate 100th Birthday
Mr. Ehms Eskildsen of Dwight, Illinois, will observe his 100th birthday on Friday, January 17, 1992. He is a long-time, active, generous member of the Prairie State Chapter of the NFB of Illinois. A retired farm implement dealer, he still lives alone in his home demonstrating the independent spirit of many elderly blind Federationists across our nation.
You are cordially invited to celebrate Ehms Eskildsen's birthday on Sunday, January 19, from 2:00 to 5:00 at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, 326 West Chippewa, in Dwight. Cards and greetings may be sent to: Mr. Ehms Eskildsen, 410 West Chippewa, Dwight, Illinois 60420.
Thanks for remembering Ehms Eskildsen at this very special time. Your thoughtfulness will truly be appreciated.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
There is a new audio cassette series--"Experiencing America." The series features an informative and descriptive narrated "tour" through each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Written by university historians in cooperation with each state's travel council, "Experiencing America" is a unique "traveling companion" for anyone interested in learning more about a particular state's history, unique culture, natural wonders, and recreational opportunities.
The full fifty-two tape series, featuring all fifty states and the District of Columbia in a four-album set, is being made available to the blind or visually impaired at a special price of $195.00, which includes postage and handling. Individual tapes on specific states can be ordered for the post-paid price of $9.95 per tape. Braille labeling on tapes and albums will be provided at no additional cost upon request.
Inquiries and orders should be directed to Experiencing America, P.O. Box 250, Department N, Cedar City, Utah 84721, or call (801) 586-2600.
**Invited to Services
Mike Smith of West Virginia has asked that we carry the following announcement:
"I wish to announce the availability of transportation to and from Sunday morning services at Westview Christian Church in Charlotte during National Convention week, Sunday, June 28, before and Sunday, July 5, after the convention. Sunday School begins at 9:30 a.m., and Church ends at approximately 11:45 a.m. I do need to get a count of how many would be interested in going so appropriate plans may be made for transportation. Contact: Mike or Barbara Smith, International Christian Braille Mission, Boulevard Church of Christ, 600 Kanawha Boulevard West, Charleston, W.V. 25302-1999; or phone (304) 343-6157, office, or (304) 344-5032, home. You may write in print or Braille."
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
"EZReader is a software program that allows the computer user to read the WordPerfect 5.1 Reference Manual on computer disk. The EZReader software package contains an installation program that unzips and copies the WordPerfect 5.1 Reference manual files and allows the reader to locate information about any WordPerfect 5.1 feature by entering a specific page number that corresponds with its location in the print copy of the manual. In this way, the computerized version of the WordPerfect 5.1 Reference Manual can be read in much the same way as is the print copy of the book.
"EZReader was designed to assist the computer user who is blind to read the computerized version of the reference manual while using WordPerfect with a speech synthesizer. It can, however, be used by anyone who has an IBM-compatible PC that has a hard drive with five megs of space, that uses DOS 3.3 (or more recent), and that has WordPerfect 5.1.
"A User's Guide is provided in the EZReader file, labeled 'Readme.cvd.' This ASCII file may be read on screen, or it may be copied in Print or in Braille. It contains the program requirements, the installation procedures, the directions for setting and changing default settings, and an explanation of how to use the EZReader commands. Additional information is provided in the appendices that are included in this file.
"EZReader may be ordered by contacting: CVD Company, 2414 Hogantown Drive, Omaha, NE 68123; phone: (402) 339-2229. EZReader is $35 plus postage and handling. Checks or money orders should be made out to CVD Company. Please indicate the disk size and format you prefer at the time the order is placed. Ten percent of each sale made as a result of this article in the Braille Monitor will be donated to the NFB ($1.50 to the Omaha Chapter and $2.00 to the National Office)."
**Summer Camping Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
For visually impaired adults, eighteen years and older, a week-long camp in the woodland setting of Oral Hull Park near Sandy, Oregon. Activities abound--from fishing, hiking, swimming, to handicrafts, woodworking, field trips, and live entertainment. Three well-balanced, delicious meals served daily, comfortable accommodations, and transportation from Portland, Oregon--all for $150 per week. Space is limited, so write Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind, P.O. Box 157, Sandy, Oregon 97055; or call (503) 668-6195. Camp dates are July 18 to 25, and August 15 to 22, 1992.
**No Longer Accepting Material:
Janell Peterson has asked us to print the following: I am no longer able to accept Braille and other reading materials for sending overseas. Please discontinue sending me any of these items. Thanks for past donations. Janell Peterson, 303 Harvard Avenue, East, #302, Seattle, Washington 98102.
I have an IBM brand PC AT 80286, 8 MHz, 1.5 MB RAM; 40 MB fixed disk; 5 1/4-inch, 1.2 MB floppy; 5 1/4-inch, 360 KB floppy; IBM brand S-101 keyboard; 80287 math coprocessor; 2 serial ports; 2 parallel ports; IBM brand EGA color display with display adapter card; IBM brand auxiliary monochrome adapter card; Votalker speech synthesizer with Symphonics phonetics driver; TSI Soft-Vert Screen access software; TSI Vista EGA display magnifier system; Hayes Smartmodem 2400 baud; Okidata Microline 392 wide carriage dot matrix printer; Mountain 60 MB streaming tape drive with interface card and software. Assorted software (1988 versions) including the following: MS DOS 3.2; dBase3+; Turbo Pascal; Lotus 1-2-3; Persoft SmartTerm, SmartComm and Procomm communications software; C-86 compiler and source level C language debugger; and MicroSoft Macro assembler.
All items in original boxes with complete manuals and serial numbers. All items are in excellent condition. I am available to talk you through setup and use of the system. Asking $2,200 for the package. Also available is TSI Vista/2 for $1,900.
If interested, contact Larry Silvermintz, 1530 South 6th Street, Chase-507, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55454; or call (612) 339-2088.
**Used Equipment Clearinghouse:
We have been asked to print the following:
Used Equipment Clearinghouse is a free service to non-profit organizations or blind people, their families and friends. Anything from slates to Kurzweil Personal Readers has been registered to sell or buy. To list your item(s) for 3 months or for more information write in Braille or print or on tape or 3.5 or 5.25-inch IBM ASCII disk to Barbara Mattson's new address, 8 Andrews Place, 519 E. Main St., Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302. You may also call (803) 585-7323.
Steve Benson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois and member of the NFB Board of Directors, found this gem in a January 5, 1992, article in the Chicago Tribune entitled "Inc." O'Malley and Collin are the journalists who write this column and who noticed the absurdity of the sign they quoted. Here is the item as it appeared:
Sign on a United Airlines plane: "If you are sitting in an exit row and you can't read this card or cannot see well enough to follow these instructions, please tell a crew member."
[3 PHOTOS: Portraits of Orna Weinroth, Eileen Rivera, and Judy Nichols.]
**Three--But Not Triplets:
In recent weeks the Federation family has been expanding rapidly. On December 13, 1991, Jay Greenberg, son of Orna Weinroth and Robert Greenberg was born. He weighed seven pounds, ten ounces. Robert Greenberg was a 1987 NFB scholarship winner and has recently completed his Ph.D. He is teaching at Yale this year and looking for a permanent teaching position.
Early on New Year's morning Eileen Rivera and Dr. Jeff Foreman became the parents of Maria Rivera Foreman, who weighed seven pounds, seven ounces, and was 20-1/2 inches long. Eileen Rivera was a 1986 NFB scholarship winner and currently serves as President of the Baltimore Chapter of the NFB of Maryland and the affiliate's First Vice President.
On January 11, 1992, Judy Nichols, who serves as secretary to the NFB Public Relations Committee, gave birth to a daughter, Taylor Jae, who weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces and measured 20-1/2 inches long. All parents and children are doing well. Maria Foreman even attended the Sunday evening briefing of the Washington Seminar in early February.
**For Sale and to Give:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: "I have a Braille abacus book called The Abacus Way, and I have a plastic abacus. I will sell both for $10 or $5 each separately. I will donate a Braille book entitled Life: How Did it Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?. The book is in four volumes. Contact me in Braille only: Gayle Sabonaitis, 11 Maxwell Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01607."
**OLD IS BEAUTIFUL:
Colleen Roth, one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, found the following in her church bulletin:
Let us take note that:
It is the old apple trees
that are decked with the loveliest blossoms.
It is the ancient redwoods that rise to majestic heights.
It is the old violins that produce the richest tones.
It is the aged wine that tastes the sweetest.
It is ancient coins, stamps, and furniture that people seek.
It is the old friends that are loved the best.
Thank God for the blessings of age and the wisdom, patience and maturity that go with it.
Old is wonderful!
--Sister Mary Gemma Brunke