Vol. 35, No.
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille,
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 35, No. 7 July 1992
THE POT BOILS AND TELESENSORY STEWS
by Kenneth Jernigan
by Doris Willoughby
WHY CAN'T ALL OF US GET OUR HANDS DIRTY?
DISABILITY PERIODICALS TAKE ON THE NEW YORK TIMES
NEWSLINE CONTINUES TO MAKE HEADLINES
TOM LEY PLUS NFB SKILLS AND CONFIDENCE EQUALS CAPABLE AND
CONFIDENT HIGH SCHOOL MATH TEACHER
by Tom Ley
BLIND INDUSTRIES AND SERVICES OF MARYLAND UNDER FIRE
UNIQUE FEATURE OF GUIDE DOGS: BACKTRACKING AND HOMING
by Paul Gabias
THE TURNING POINT
Copyright National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1992
[3 LEAD PHOTOS: GENERAL CAPTION: As this month's issue of the BRAILLE MONITOR goes to press, we are all preparing to go to the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Charlotte. Next month's issue will be taken up with convention coverage. Meanwhile, here are some scenes from last year's convention at New Orleans--more or less to whet your appetite for the convention coverage next month. CAPTION 1: At the 1991 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in New Orleans Dennis Franklin of Kentucky stands in the registration area and looks at the list of attendees from the various states. PHOTO 2: Blind child puts his hand into the mouth of a stuffed lion. CAPTION 2: Federationists (even those who are young) never hesitate to put their hands into the lion's mouth. Maybe they can pull his teeth. CAPTION 3: The registration area at the convention of the NFB is always crowded.]
[PHOTO: Kenneth Jernigan seated at his desk, reading Braille. CAPTION: Kenneth Jernigan.]
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: James Bliss, President of TeleSensory.]
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Ted Young, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania.]
THE POT BOILS AND TELESENSORY STEWS
by Kenneth Jernigan
In the March, 1992, Braille Monitor an article appeared entitled "Concerning Integrity, Monopoly, and TeleSensory." This article (authored by Associate Editor Barbara Pierce and me) detailed some of the problems and controversies surrounding TeleSensory--and, as might have been expected, it created a good deal of discussion. On the part of TeleSensory it apparently generated a considerable amount of heat. As an example, I recently received the following letter from a California lawyer:
Palo Alto, California
May 27, 1992
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
We are counsel to Telesensory Corporation. You and Barbara Pierce have written an article entitled "Concerning Integrity, Monopoly, and Telesensory" and published it in the Braille Monitor, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind. As the Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind, and Editor of the Braille Monitor, you are responsible for the contents of the Braille Monitor.
Your article contains numerous libelous and defamatory statements about Telesensory. On behalf of Telesensory we demand that you retract your article.
Enclosed for your reference and information is a copy of Telesensory's response to your article which corrects many of your libelous and defamatory statements. We caution you that any further statements you may make concerning Telesensory, its customers, distributors, and employees must be accurate.
Very truly yours,
WILSON, SONSINI, GOODRICH & ROSATI
Blair W. Stewart, Jr.
cc: Dr. James C. Bliss (without enclosures)
This is Mr. Stewart's letter, and since the Monitor always endeavors to print nothing but the truth, his caution was not only unnecessary but a threat without teeth and a missive to incite more amusement than fear. However, since Dr. Bliss apparently feels that his answer to our article is helpful to his case, we will assist him in distributing it. It had already received wide circulation on one of the major nationwide on-line computer services (CompuServe), being put there by a TeleSensory employee, and had been distributed to a number of people by Dr. Bliss.
Our March Monitor article was printed in its entirety without interruption, and we will give Dr. Bliss's response the same treatment. However, if anyone doubts that Dr. Bliss's article contains inaccuracies or that it quotes out of context what Mrs. Pierce and I said, I invite that person to compare what we said side by side with what he says. The way I see his response, he rather grudgingly confirms our major contentions. Anyway, here is the Bliss article, dated May 1, 1992. It should be noted that we reprint the statement exactly as it came to us-- spelling, punctuation, grammar, spelling of names, and the rest.
TeleSensory Response to "CONCERNING INTEGRITY, MONOPOLY, AND TELESENSORY"
by Kenneth Jernigan and Barbara Pierce
This response is to an article which appeared in the March, 1992 issue of the Braille Monitor, which is published by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Kenneth Jernigan is the Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind and Editor of the Braille Monitor. Barbara Pierce frequently writes articles for the Braille Monitor. The misstatements, inaccuracies, and erroneous information in this article have caused considerable harm to certain individuals mentioned in the article, state agencies providing services for people who are blind, people who are blind in general, and TeleSensory Corporation. Because of this article, provision of needed services to blind people in several states has been curtailed or delayed. In addition, an erroneous and distorted perception of the collection of agencies, organizations, and companies providing services to people who are blind has been promulgated which has inhibited functioning and progress in the field.
Response to Specific Statements
Our response to specific statements contained in the article is as follows:
1."...If you aren't selling products made by TeleSensory, you can't do business with the [Pennsylvania] state rehabilitation agency"
The purchasing process in Pennsylvania is open and above board. The state purchases on the basis of the best overall cost and benefit.
2."...Mary Ann Sember, is married to Tom Sember, a counselor in the state agency's Pittsburgh office."
Kenneth Jernigan, Barbara Pierce, and NFB are implying that there is a conflict of interest with this relationship and that this kind of relationship is TeleSensory policy. Neither is true. The administration of the state agency has always known of the Sembers' job relationship since 1978 (see attached letter) and has followed strict procedures to avoid any conflict of interest. Tom Sember does not have any involvement in the purchase of products from TeleSensory. Mary Ann Sember is an independent distributor, not a TeleSensory employee. In addition, it has always been TeleSensory's policy that any potential conflict of interest be fully disclosed.
3."In New Jersey the TeleSensory sales representative has a daughter who works for the state agency."
Again NFB is implying that there is a conflict of interest with this relationship and that this kind of relationship is TeleSensory policy. Neither is true. The administration of the New Jersey agency has always known of the relationship between Al Blumenthal, our distributor, and his daughter, an agency teacher. Strict procedures have been followed to avoid any conflict of interest. Al Blumenthal's daughter has no involvement in the purchase of TeleSensory equipment by the state agency. Al Blumenthal is an independent distributor, not a TeleSensory employee. In addition, it is TeleSensory's policy to not have any employee or distributor with an undisclosed relationship with TeleSensory's customers.
4."...it would be a front page scandal with everybody crying foul."
This is not true since the relationships are open, well known and strict procedures are followed to avoid conflict of interest issues.
5."...only blind clients are being hurt -- along with small business operations (mostly owned by blind people)."
Since proper procedures are being followed, no one is being unfairly hurt. Our competitors may be losing business to us because our products and service are better and our prices are lower. It is relevant to note that NFB has attempted to sell products (including equipment for the blind) throughout their history. They are a non-profit organization which receives charitable contributions, does not pay taxes, and benefits from special postal rates including "free matter for the blind". Typically their products have not been price or function competitive.
6."Vendors report that in many parts of New York TeleSensory has the state agency technology market pretty much locked up."
The purchasing process in New York is open and above board. The state purchases on the basis of the best overall cost and benefit.
7."...slow and unresponsive support service and prices higher that those of the competition?"
TeleSensory's service is fast and responsive. Customer surveys and unsolicited customer responses are overwhelmingly complimentary on our fast and responsive service. Our prices are competitive and we win most of the bids which are awarded to the low price bidder.
8." ... It was priced at almost $500, but it worked--and it was all there was. ..."
This issue is about events that happened fifteen years ago. Actually TeleSensory's talking calculator was priced at $395, the same price as the Hewlett Packard HP35 pocket calculator when it was first introduced a few years earlier. The TeleSensory talking calculator was revolutionary, being the first portable consumer product with synthetic speech (several years ahead of Texas Instruments' "Speak and Spell"). There was some competition (e.g., a talking calculator by Master Specialties which Kenneth Jernigan and NFB supported and which was larger, more expensive, and didn't work as well). The Master Specialties calculator was quickly taken off the market after the Speech Plus calculator was introduced.
Since the TeleSensory talking calculator was designed and built for blind people, a small market to which we were restricted to by our license agreement with the inventor of the speech technology, it could not compete with talking calculators built for the general public by major Japanese calculator manufacturers. Once the Japanese calculator manufacturers discovered that there was no market for talking calculators among the general population, they ceased production. Recently small companies have again begun production of talking calculators for the blind, but at prices as high as $595, substantially higher than TeleSensory's original price, in spite of the great reduction in the prices of electronic components that has occurred over the past fifteen years. We are proud of our achievement with the talking calculator in rapidly applying state of the art technology to the needs of blind people, at a reasonable price at the time and without government support.
9."...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."
Before TeleSensory was founded twenty two years ago, the Optacon was developed under government funded research at Stanford University and Stanford Research Institute. The Optacon became TeleSensory's first product. Subsequently TeleSensory received government and private research funding for developing a talking Optacon, but this was never introduced as a product, partly because of Jernigan's and NFB's actions against it. They were at the time supporting the Kurzweil Reading Machine, a competitive product.
The statement 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" is not true. For the past ten years TeleSensory has not received any government funds for research and development. The government did not pay for TeleSensory's research and development for any of the over twenty TeleSensory products currently in production. Over the entire history of TeleSensory the amount of research and development funding TeleSensory has received from government and other grants is less than 1% of the amount that TeleSensory has spent on research and development.
Moreover, many of our competitors, such as NFB and Kurzweil, have received government and other grants. In addition, NFB enjoys the benefits of non-profit status by being the beneficiary of charitable contributions, not paying taxes, and being able to mail their products as "free matter for the blind".
10."...but TSI was heartily disliked, not only by many other vendors but (more important) by a steadily growing number of the blind."
This is not true. TeleSensory has always enjoyed an excellent reputation, especially among blind people. Jernigan's statement may reflect other motivations since he was having to face competition from TeleSensory against his talking calculator and talking reading machine ambitions. We handle over 5000 financial transactions a year. We have never been sued by or have sued any customer. The number of these transactions that are disputed are extremely small, well below industry average.
11."Wherever he [Jim Bliss] has gone, he has created hostility and made enemies."
This is not true. Jim Bliss has negotiated many agreements with companies and other organizations over our 22 year history. We have had excellent working relations with numerous organizations, some for ten or more years.
12."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."
This is not true. The large number of deals we have done with so few disputes and conflict could not have been accomplished if the Jernigan/NFB statement had any validity. We have made generous donations to many blindness organizations, we regularly contribute to scholarships for blind students, and we have donated equipment to many blindness organizations and educational institutions.
13."...sources tell us that TeleSensory is in financial trouble." ...Some even say that the company's very existence is in danger."
This is not true. Our financial condition is sound.
14."We are only in a position to say that TeleSensory continues its stormy and controversial course"
TeleSensory's course is neither stormy or controversial. In over 22 years of doing business, this article is the first time there has been any controversy.
15."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 ..."
Arkenstone's (a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation) list price for their reading system is $3,845 while TeleSensory's list price is $3,895. This is not a ten percent difference in price. What either company actually bids on a competitive bid is likely to be less than either list price. TeleSensory wins many bids because it is the lowest bidder even though Arkenstone is "non-profit", and has received major donations of reading system components for free or greatly reduced prices. In the face of this unlevel playing field, TeleSensory has remained competitive.
16."Bob Jakub, the local Arkenstone dealer..."
The only named complainant is a competitor of TeleSensory.
17."...many TSI product users become dissatisfied in the months and years following initial purchase."
We routinely conduct surveys of customers and these surveys indicate a high degree of customer satisfaction.
18."...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. ..."
TeleSensory works with many customers who have had their equipment for many years. We repair any product we have manufactured for at least seven years after production has been terminated and longer if we can get parts.
19. Re: Ted Young letters and resolution.
Attached is a response to these letters by James E. Bruce, Chief Shop Stewart, Pennsylvania Social Services Union, who takes strong exception to the Ted Young Resolution.
20."...the Commission purchases an overwhelming proportion of TeleSensory equipment."
There is nothing wrong with this if our equipment is better and/or lower priced and the bids are fairly won.
21."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."
The Jernigan/NFB article does not mention that EVAS, a company headed by Jerry Swerdlick who is blind, has the New York State contract for integrating equipment into systems for blind clients of the state agency. Often these systems are composed of products that EVAS sells (not TeleSensory equipment) even though the EVAS products are higher priced than TeleSensory equipment.
22."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."... "Another more easily demonstrated criticism is that outside of its technical support and marketing departments TeleSensory hires almost no blind employees." ..."Virtually every other company in the field has a better hiring record."
These statements are not true. All of our activities demonstrate a high level of respect for blind people. For example, for the past eight years we have worked closely with Automated Functions, Inc. which has supplied us with technology for our Vert line of products. The President of Automated Functions, Inc. is totally blind. There are at least three other companies with which we have conducted business over a long period of time that are run by blind people.
TeleSensory is a small company with about 200 employees, many of whom are blind. Besides five sales representatives and distributors who are blind, there are blind employees in sales management, inside sales, engineering, technical support, quality assurance, and administration. In addition, we license technology from two blind inventors.
In addition we have employees who are hearing impaired, dyslexic, post polio, and speech impaired. In 1991 we received the California Governor's Award for Employment of the Handicapped. We are proud of our hiring record.
23."Indeed, one of the two [blind] sales representative cited works (by choice) only part-time and limits her activity to selling Braille-connected technology."
This is not true. This reference to a part time sales representative can only be Gayle Yarnall who is full time and sells all of our blindness products, which includes synthetic speech and tactile products as well as braille products. She holds a job that is equivalent to that held by 12 other sales representatives and she has full responsibility for all of the job functions. Tom Shiraki, the other blind sales representative cited, sells our full line of low vision and blindness products.
24."...not above promising things that no current technology can yet deliver."
This is not true. We go to great lengths to train our sales representatives in what the technology can and cannot do, and to not promise what the technology can't deliver.
TeleSensory is dedicated to providing the highest quality products and service at the lowest possible prices. Since our founding with the Optacon, all TeleSensory earnings have gone back into the company, and as a result, we have been able to develop a comprehensive line of innovative products and to market them at competitive prices, almost entirely without government support. Below is a partial list of our products which have led the field:
1971--Optacon print reading aid
1975--Speech Plus Calculator
1979--VersaBraille personal information system
1984--Vista Computer Screen Enlarger
1984--TeleBraille TDD for deaf blind
1985--Vert Speech PC Access System
1986--Vantage CCTV electronic magnifier
1987--VersaBraille II+ personal information system
1988--Optacon II print reading aid
1989--Navigator Braille PC Access System
1990--OsCaR Scanner/OCR System
1990--Chroma color CCTV electronic magnifier
1990--Lynx VGA electronic magnifier display
1990--TeleBraille II TDD for deaf blind
Our products and services have played a major role in empowering blind and visually impaired people to be independent and equal participants in society. We have also played a major role in bringing about the societal change in which blind and visually impaired people are integrated into mainstream education and employment activities. We are creating the state of the art technology that will help to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act to the fullest. Our Mission Statement is "To empower people with visual disabilities to function independently". We continue to follow our Mission Statement while conducting our affairs with the highest ethical standards.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
October 16, 1978
SUBJECT: Legal Opinion on Attached Conflict of Interest Inquiry
TO: Mr. Gerald F. Radke
Deputy Secretary for Social Services
FROM: Helga L. Kumar
Through: James R. Adams
Legal Assistant General Counsel
Office of Legal Counsel
This is with reference to your memo of October 6, 1978 regarding the above matter.
I have reviewed the provisions of the State Adverse Interest Act (71 P.S. Section 776.1 et seq.) as well as the Code of Ethics for State employees contained in 4 Pa. Code Section 7.151 et seq.
The State Adverse Interest Act provides that no State employee shall have an adverse interest in any contract with the State agency by which he is employed. An adverse interest is defined as being a stockholder, partner, member, agent, representative or employee of the party or agency contracting with the State agency.
The statute further provides that if such an adverse interest exists, a person may not become an employee until such time that he has wholly divested himself of such interest and that a State employee shall not deal in any manner with a contract in which he has an adverse interest.
The fact that the prospective contractor is the sole source of materials or services is irrelevant and does not affect the situation.
The only question that seems to arise in the instant case is whether the interest that the employee's wife has in this matter can be equated with the interest of her husband, who is our employee.
The Code of Ethics, under Section 7.152, prohibits indirect financial interest as well as direct financial interest, and includes the provisions of the State Adverse Interest Act but is not limited to it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue that Mr. Sember, our employee, does not have an indirect financial interest or benefit deriving from his wife's employment by the contractor.
Section 7.153 of the Code of Ethics, under Subsection (d) (1), provides a mechanism where either the Department or the employee concerned may ask the Board of Ethics for an advisory opinion on the matter, and as I cannot find a precedent where the facts are sufficiently identical to the instant case, I would recommend that the Department solicit an advisory opinion from the Board of Ethics.
I feel that this may be especially appropriate as more and more wives may enter the labor market and sooner or later find themselves in a situation similar to Mrs. Sember.
Until the Board of Ethics provides its opinion, Mr. Sember should be barred from any involvement in the selection or purchase of these devices.
Response to TeleSensory's Response
by Kenneth Jernigan
When dealing with a large mass of statements and accusations like those in the TeleSensory response, it is sometimes difficult (not to mention tedious to the reader) to pinpoint each inaccuracy and follow it back to its nasty little origin. In fact, this is often counted on by those who make voluminous charges, hoping that the allegations will thereby stand as true and appear to be confirmed. But there are ways to deal with such things.
If a few of the charges in a statement like the TeleSensory article can be shown to be erroneous, quoted out of context, or misleading, a pattern emerges. Moreover, Monitor readers have a habit of sorting out fact from fiction and thinking for themselves. So let us take samples of the TeleSensory article and subject them to analysis.
First, the TeleSensory article makes much of the fact that we say that Dr. Bliss and TeleSensory are controversial when in reality they are not. In item 14 of the TeleSensory response we are quoted as saying that "We are only in a position to say that TeleSensory continues its stormy and controversial course."
TeleSensory says in response: "TeleSensory's course is neither stormy or controversial. In over 22 years of doing business, this article is the first time there has been any controversy."
This is our statement and the TeleSensory response. Which is the truth? Our article (the first controversy TeleSensory says it has had in twenty-two years) appeared in March of 1992. Yet, only the previous month the following letter was sent over the signature of James C. Bliss, President of TeleSensory, on a nationwide basis to the members of AER (the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired). Here it is:
Mountain View, California
Dear AER Member:
Since I know you're committed to braille literacy for your visually impaired students, I'd like to tell you about TeleSensory's portable braille notetaker called BrailleMate that could greatly benefit your students.
TeleSensory shares your commitment to braille literacy. That's why we designed BrailleMate with braille (and speech) output as well as braille input.
If you are considering purchasing a notetaker, let me tell you how you can combine notetaking and braille reinforcement for less than the price for a notetaker without Braille.
First, TeleSensory's BrailleMate is less expensive for a comparably equipped model.
Second, and more important, is the superior quality of education BrailleMate can help you provide to your students. Only TeleSensory's BrailleMate has a braille display that lets your students read each braille character as he types, proof reads or edits. If instead of TeleSensory's BrailleMate you buy a Braille 'N Speak, you have seriously compromised your student's opportunity to become fully literate with braille reading and writing. Braille 'N Speak only has speech output. TeleSensory's BrailleMate has speech and braille output, and is cheaper!
By now you're probably wishing you could learn more about TeleSensory's BrailleMate before purchasing a notetaker. Here are some of the many special offers we have available to help you do this:
1. Send for your free video of a national TV segment on BrailleMate.
2. Send for your free copy of our new BrailleMate teacher tutorial, developed by fellow teacher Marilyn Varchetto, who has used both BrailleMate and Braille 'N Speak.
3. Request a free hands-on demonstration. You may even be able to borrow your representative's BrailleMate for a "test drive".
4. Ask to have us arrange a free in-service for your staff or district.
5. Now here's the best news yet! For a limited time TeleSensory is offering AER Members a 10% discount off the purchase price of one or more complete BrailleMates.
Let me summarize BrailleMate's most outstanding benefits:
- BrailleMate is small (1 lb.) and fits in a pocket!
- BrailleMate has a silent, soft-touch braille keyboard.
- For output, BrailleMate has superior synthetic speech, but more importantly, it has an 8 dot braille cell. This means as your student types or edits, he can read the braille with his finger. This reinforces braille reading skills, improving his braille literacy which is so important for today's student.
- Instead of needing an external disk drive and diskettes for storage, BrailleMate uses innovative "RAM cards" which are tiny credit-card-sized memory cards which slide along the underside of BrailleMate. Nothing could be more convenient or fast! Your student can store tons of material while practicing valuable organizational skills.
- Every BrailleMate comes with built-in software which includes a word processor, calculator, address/telephone book, clock, appointment calendar (to keep track of music lessons, dentist appointments, due dates) and more!
- BrailleMate has serial and parallel ports so it can be connected to a variety of peripherals including printers and computers. Your student can download information from a computer file or electronic encyclopedia and read it on his braille display.
- Pocket-sized BrailleMate runs on rechargeable batteries that have a unique "quick recharge" feature.
- BrailleMate costs less than comparably equipped notetakers, and no other notetakers have Braille output or convenient credit-card-sized memory pads! And now through May 31, 1992, we are offering AER members a 10% discount off the purchase of one or more complete BrailleMates. The following comparison shows how we can save you $277.00:
BrailleMate speech and braille output: $1,695.00
Card Reader, cable, softpack: included
512 RAM card (add-on memory): $295.00
One year maintenance: included
2 serial, 1 parallel port: included
Less 10% AER member discount: $ -199.00
TeleSensory's BrailleMate TOTAL: $1,791.00
Braille 'N Speak
Braille 'N Speak 640K: $1,349.00
Disk Drive: $495.00
One year maintenance: $99.00
Serial to parallel converter: $125.00
Before making any purchase decision we'd like you to compare. If you'd like a free video, a free teacher tutorial, a hands-on demonstration, or a free in-service, just return the enclosed reply card, call your representative, or call 1-800-227- 8418 toll free today.
James C. Bliss, President
P. S. Don't forget the special 10% discount is only good through May 31, 1992.
This is what the Bliss letter said, and one is left to marvel at the gentleness of the sales tactics. Dr. Bliss and TeleSensory are we are told neither stormy nor controversial. Do you suppose the manufacturer of the Braille 'n Speak holds that opinion? Moreover, observe that a mistake was made in adding the alleged price of the various components of the Braille 'n Speak. No one can doubt, of course, that it was a mistake; and a month later a new sales pitch was sent to the AER members, making some mention of the fact.
How was TeleSensory's letter to the AER members received, with equanimity or controversy? The following letters may shed light on the subject:Woodway, Washington
March 23, 1992
Dear Dr. Jernigan
We have enclosed an open letter that we have written in response to a "marketing" letter that we, as a member of AER, received from TeleSensory Systems for their notetaking product. We have also attached a copy of TSI's letter.
We feel that the tactics used by TSI to promote their product not only exaggerate their product's features and price but also, and even worse, attempt to unethically undermine Blazie Engineering's outstanding Braille 'n Speak portable computer. As noted in our letter, Braille 'n Speak has played a central role in our blind daughter's educational success.
We thought you and your members should know how strongly we object to TSI's marketing techniques. Such behavior can only serve to undermine the technological advances that are being made on behalf of visually impaired people.
We feel that asking James Bliss and TSI to openly apologize to Blazie Engineering and the visually impaired community is most appropriate.
Beverly and Howard Ware
Open Letter by Beverly and Howard Ware
Is TeleSensory Systems, Inc. Having Serious Problems?
It would seem so from a "marketing" letter we, as an AER member, received from TeleSensory Systems. The letter, signed by James Bliss, president of TSI, is to promote their new notetaking product.
The letter was specifically directed to AER members through a membership list which they purchased from AER. AER's sales of their membership lists is a valuable aid in providing communication among the visually impaired community. Unfortunately, the letter from TSI's president falls in the category of "junk mail", not marketing or communications.
James Bliss sought to compare TSI's notetaking device with the industry-leading Braille 'n Speak, the innovative notetaker conceived and marketed by Blazie Engineering. But rather than just promoting the alleged virtues of his own product, he seriously compromised TSI's credibility by openly and erroneously attacking the usefulness of Braille 'n Speak.
Why does TSI which has offered so many fine products have to stoop to garbage marketing? It's mystifying why TSI can't promote its products on their merits, without defaming its competitors, letting the market place decide their worth. When a company has to distort and unfairly attack its competitors, that company has real problems.
Mr. Bliss incorrectly asserts: "If instead of TeleSensory's BrailleMate you buy a Braille 'n Speak, you have seriously compromised your student's opportunity to become fully literate with braille reading and writing."
"Seriously compromised": that deprecatory expression is not true.
Braille 'n Speak is the basis for our daughter's successful and complete mainstreaming. She completed middle school with an honors grade point average. Now, as a ninth grader, she is successfully integrated in tenth grade honors English. The qualifying test for acceptance into the honors English program was written and printed from her Braille 'n Speak. The Braille 'n Speak portable computer allows her to not only take notes but also write papers, then, connecting the Braille 'n Speak to a printer, produce her assignments for the class, easily and simply. In her German classes, a simple Braille 'n Speak macro enables her German homework to be transmitted to the printer using proper German symbols. These are examples of how Braille 'n Speak allows a totally blind student to attain academic honors in a rigorous college prep program.
Braille 'n Speak fully supports and makes possible her ability to be a successful student (current high school grade point average: 3.48). Her ability to be successful would be seriously compromised if she did not have Braille 'n Speak.
Mr. Bliss states that his product has braille output which he curiously presents as being more important than the speech output. However, this "braille output" apparently consists of a single (one!) braille cell. He states: "as your student types or edits, he can read the braille with his finger." and "Your student can download information from a computer file or electronic encyclopedia and read it on his braille display." (You can also download files using Braille 'n Speak).
I've tried to imagine how this would work. I can only picture a tedious, laborious process trying to read braille electronically one cell at a time, moving the fingers back and forth between the keypad and single braille cell. TSI's single braille cell appears to be more of a marketing gimmick than an advantage.
The price comparison that Mr. Bliss presented is extremely misleading. TSI's product has a higher base price than Braille 'n Speak. Braille 'n Speak is fully functional and useful without a disk drive. If you need additional storage, Braille 'n Speak offers an industry standard 3.5" disk drive which uses readily available, inexpensive, high capacity disks that cost about a dollar. The use of this industry standard technology also allows the direct transfer of data from an IBM compatible PC to the Braille 'n Speak
The storage on TSI's optional "Ram cards" is relatively small. With a capacity of 512K, you could not store "tons of material" as Mr. Bliss states. That assertion most charitably can be called a gross exaggeration. If you needed more storage, you'd have to buy more of the proprietary "Ram cards" from TSI. Any "savings" from purchasing TSI's notetaking product could quickly disappear. The TSI product's TOTAL cost could be more than Braille 'n Speak with much less functionality.
Is the TSI product worth considering? Perhaps, but do it on its merits using a fair basis for comparison of functionality and cost. If you're considering the purchase of a notetaker, consider ALL available products on their merits. Talk to users of the product, read the reviews, check on the availability of help and training. As you consider price, compare "apples to apples." Don't rely upon a marketing letter like TSI's which contains blatantly false and biased information.
Based upon our research and experience, we consider the Braille 'n Speak to have been an excellent choice. It was first on the market and the quality of service from Blazie Engineering has been outstanding. If we were in the market for a braille computer, we'd again choose Braille 'n Speak for our daughter. She likes Braille 'n Speak; she likes the success Braille 'n Speak helps her attain.
Mr. Bliss intentionally distorted the facts about his product and the Braille 'n Speak: inaccurately enhancing the value and worth of his product and, even worse, far worse, unreasonably and unjustly denigrating the remarkable Braille 'n Speak. This TSI "marketing" tactic is not only problematic but also detrimental to technological advances for visually impaired people. Improvements in technology are made by fair and open competition. TSI's obvious attempt to unfairly and unethically undermine Blazie Engineering's excellent Braille 'n Speak portable computer hurts the effort to advance opportunities for visually impaired people.
I can think of no rational explanation for the questionable ethics and marketing practices of TSI, a company which promotes itself to be a leader in providing access devices for the visually impaired. Perhaps Mr. Bliss's letter gives some interesting insights into the methods by which TSI is working to attain leadership.
The visually impaired community and Blazie Engineering deserve an apology from James Bliss and TSI.
Surely these letters from the Wares make laughable the question of whether Dr. Bliss and TeleSensory are controversial-- but there is more, much more. Consider, for instance, the following letter over the signature of James C. Bliss on TeleSensory letterhead, which circulated throughout the country early this year. As you read, keep in mind that the American Printing House for the Blind is one of the oldest and most respected institutions in the country providing services to the blind. It goes back to the last century and is the very hallmark of respectability. When it decides to carry a product for the education of the blind, it has the reputation of doing so on the basis of merit and worth, not hype or political consideration. Also ask yourself as you read the letter whether the officials at the American Printing House for the Blind and the teachers and school officials throughout the country who respect and trust the Printing House will regard Dr. Bliss and TeleSensory as controversial after reading the Bliss letter. Here it is:
Mountain View, California
RE: Call to Action
Dear Friend of TeleSensory:
Since APH is a non-profit organization entrusted with administering the Federal Quota Program and numerous federal contracts, we believe including Braille 'n Speak in their catalog is unfair to competitive products. Because of their status, APH has several advantages over any other organizations.
- It has access to a vast customer base due to its administrative role with the Federal Quota Program.
- It doesn't have to pay taxes.
- It gets special low postage rates for its mailings.
- Its long history, federally funded research and worldwide reputation give it a prestige which enhances any product that it backs.
These advantages make it unfair for APH to compete in the market of commercially available products. If they do, the playing field isn't level.
We have been in contact with dozens of leaders in the field of blindness who agree that APH's actions are anti-competitive and outside of their mission. APH is violating its public trust by using a public vehicle, the Federal Quota Tangible Apparatus Catalog, to fulfill a commercial purpose. We think you will agree that this one-sided endorsement sets a precedence which is of no advantage to participants in the Federal Quota system, but gives an enormously unfair advantage to APH and the maker of Braille 'n Speak. Either no braille notetaker should be in the APH catalog, or all qualified notetakers should be included.
Please help APH get back on track by writing Tuck Tinsley, President, APH, P. O. Box 6085, Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085 or call him at 502-895-2405.
Thank you for helping to keep our institutions honest and fair.
James C. Bliss, President
So Dr. Bliss and TeleSensory are not stormy or controversial, nor do they use questionable practices. Such assertions, as the saying goes, boggle the mind. TeleSensory is not controversial. Yet, Dr. Bliss has "been in contact with dozens of leaders in the field of blindness who agree that APH's actions are anti-competitive and outside of their mission." One wonders what Dr. Bliss said to those "dozens of leaders," and whether they contacted him or he contacted them. Busy! Busy!
But there is still more. Consider the following letter from a respected college professor, an AER member, and see whether it smacks of contentment or other feelings. Here it is:
Buffalo, New York
June 3, 1992
Ms. Kathleen Megivern
Association for Education and Rehabilitation
of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Dear Ms. Megivern:
As a blind educator and an experienced computer user and consultant, I am writing to express my great disappointment at misleading language contained in two letters recently sent to your membership by Telesensory Systems, Inc. I feel these letters contain biased, irresponsible, and erroneous statements whose mass distribution represents an unethical use of the AER mailing list.
I note with interest two letters sent to all AER members by TSI dated "February" and "March," 1992. Both advertise BrailleMate, TSI's new entry into the electronic notebook market, and both freely make comparisons between his product and Blazie Engineering's Braille 'n Speak.
Note the following statements from the February letter: "If instead of Telesensory's BrailleMate you buy a Braille 'n Speak, you have seriously compromised your student's opportunity to become fully literate with Braille reading and writing"; and "Telesensory's BrailleMate has speech and Braille output, and is cheaper." As a consumer of computer-related equipment since 1983, I have long felt that the most compelling kind of advertising is that which promotes a product on its own terms without resorting to comparisons with other manufacturers' offerings. Indeed, such conduct borders on unprofessional action. These quotations show a one-upmanship which can often be emotionally effective and which can indicate to users the advertiser's courage in stacking his equipment against competition; however, this tactic is a poor substitute for providing basic facts about a product and allowing the customer to be the judge of its suitability. Unashamedly to promote a product at the expense of another is tantamount to suggesting that these comparisons are beyond the ability of the customer to perform. The thinking consumer may possibly come to the same conclusions as the manufacturer, but he will be grateful if those conclusions are arrived at independently. The unthinking customer will be quickly convinced by such advertising and may never get the chance to explore the market freely, thus stifling any further knowledge of an arena which could make him a more educated and informed user in the future. In short, the use of another manufacturer's name or product to advance the cause of another manufacturer's name or product is not in the best interests of customers whom both companies claim to serve.
Dissecting the statements quoted above, I find grave (and possibly intentional) misinterpretations of fact. TSI speaks of the BrailleMate as enhancing Braille literacy more effectively than does the Braille 'n Speak. I feel this statement is misapplied. I very much doubt that a primary intention of TSI or Blazie Engineering is to enhance Braille literacy. Neither speech output (Braille 'n Speak) nor speech output and a single cell (BrailleMate) by themselves assure maximal Braille literacy. Such skill can only be realized through active reading of Braille materials using displays other than speech synthesis or a limited one-cell field. The cold fact is that working with a computer is different from the motor mechanisms involved in reading Braille on paper or a full-page refreshable display. TSI is parading under a false banner here, and, I fear, misleading well- intentioned educators into the bargain.
Further, TSI suggests that in order for the Braille 'n Speak to be effective, an external disk drive and other peripherals must be purchased. This is not so. I know of many users who use the Braille 'n Speak as a stand-alone device without ever resorting to its disk drive or other equipment. The price of the stand-alone Braille 'n Speak is far cheaper than that of any package the user needs to make BrailleMate perform in any kind of functional way. The misrepresentation of the price of the Braille 'n Speak is further compounded in the February letter by an error in addition. The first letter quotes a price $395 greater than the actual cost of all the items included in the price list. The March letter retracts the erroneous price, but with no hint of an apology for an obviously irresponsible and easily preventable mistake.
As I said in the opening of this letter, I find TSI's language misleading. In my view, the wording TSI uses in these letters seeks to mislead and push educators into buying TSI's products. I would be less concerned about the dissemination of such information than I am had I more faith in the computer knowledge of special educators of the visually impaired. Although many teachers have made great strides in enhancing their understanding of computer-related devices for the visually impaired, my experience both as an educator and a consultant suggests many are still poorly equipped to make informed suggestions as to what equipment is best for their students. It is these teachers--to say nothing of counsellors, parents, administrators, and end users--who are most hurt by TSI's unprofessional advertising tactics.
I am sorry to see such a prestigious company as TSI resorting to the kind of inappropriate language I have discussed in my letter. I am equally sorry that TSI has co-opted the mailing list of an unbiased professional organization to advertise its new product. Please consider my suggestion that you urge TSI never to use your list again in such a tactless manner. Please also consider my suggestion that you print a full and highly visible disclaimer in RE:VIEW that the views expressed in TSI's letter do not necessarily reflect those of AER's executives, members, or publisher.
Thank you for your attention.
Craig Werner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English
State University College at Buffalo
Let us leave the question of whether TeleSensory is controversial, something which Dr. Bliss would probably just as soon forget, and turn to something else. The first paragraph of our March TeleSensory Monitor article reads as follows:
"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.
This is how we opened our article on TeleSensory, and Dr. Bliss was understandably quite disturbed by it. In items 1 and 2 of his response he says: "The purchasing process in Pennsylvania is open and above board. The state purchases on the basis of the best overall cost and benefit. Kenneth Jernigan, Barbara Pierce, and NFB are implying that there is a conflict of interest with this relationship and that this kind of relationship is TeleSensory policy. Neither is true. The administration of the state agency has always known of the Sembers' job relationship since 1978 (see attached letter) and has followed strict procedures to avoid any conflict of interest. Tom Sember does not have any involvement in the purchase of products from TeleSensory. Mary Ann Sember is an independent distributor, not a TeleSensory employee. In addition, it has always been TeleSensory's policy that any potential conflict of interest be fully disclosed."
Several things are interesting about this TeleSensory response. In the first place what possible difference does it make whether "Mary Ann Sember is an independent distributor, not a TeleSensory employee?" The fact still remains that she sells TeleSensory equipment and that her husband is a counselor in the Pittsburgh office of the state agency for the blind, which buys that equipment. Quibbles and technicalities won't cut it. It may, as Dr. Bliss insists, be true that "Tom Sember does not have any involvement in the purchase of products from TeleSensory"--but again, technicalities won't cut it. In the very Attorney General's opinion which Dr. Bliss distributed there is language which makes the point. One paragraph of the opinion says:
"The Code of Ethics, under Section 7.152, prohibits indirect financial interest as well as direct financial interest, and includes the provisions of the State Adverse Interest Act but is not limited to it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue that Mr. Sember, our employee, does not have an indirect financial interest or benefit deriving from his wife's employment by the contractor."
In another place the Attorney General says: "Until the Board of Ethics provides its opinion, Mr. Sember should be barred from any involvement in the selection or purchase of these devices." This language seems fairly clear, and although one may be able to skirt the issue with technical niceties, it stretches credibility to believe that Mr. Sember has no friends in the Pittsburgh office or elsewhere among his fellow counselors throughout the state or that much is accomplished by the formality of his "lack of involvement."
Be that as it may, the office of the state auditor confirms in a telephone conversation that an ongoing investigation of the matter is currently taking place. Understandably the auditor would not give an opinion or details until the investigation is finished.
Dr. Bliss and TeleSensory seem to want to personalize every issue rather than deal with the subject. For instance, in point 19 of their article they refer to a resolution passed by the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania and letters by Ted Young, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. They say that they are attaching "a response to these letters by James E. Bruce, Chief Shop Stewart, Pennsylvania Social Services Union, who takes strong exception to the Ted Young resolution." Here is the Bruce letter:
March 6, 1992
Ted Young, Editor
The Blind Activist
Robinson Building, Suite 1700
42 South 15th Street
Philadelphia, Pa. 19102
Dear Mr. Young:
Members of the Pennsylvania Social Services Union (PSSU) who work for the Blindness & Visual Services (BVS) read with interest the Winter, 1992 issue of The Blind Activist. Most PSSU members agree that the agency is in deplorable condition, has a terrible record hiring and providing reasonable accommodation to blind staff, and would welcome a commission.
However, resolution 91-03 is inaccurate, insulting, and libelous for the following reasons:
1. The staff in all 6 BVS offices, not just Pittsburgh, have for years failed to follow DPW bidding policy. The intent was to expedite service to clients but it did violate policy. For the last six months BVS management and the Electronic Aids Committee (EAC) have been trying to correct this situation. Unfortunately, the solution will further delay client service.
2. The allegation regarding "changing authorizations" is a complete fabrication and libelous.
3. There have been no client complaints regarding the purchase of TSI equipment in the Pittsburgh BVS office. Your accusations are a complete trip to fantasy land.
4. BVS has received complaints from many vendors of adaptive equipment, including TSI, about unfair treatment. This proves nothing except competition can be rough. The staff in the Pittsburgh office of BVS believes very strongly in the client being involved in selecting appropriate adaptive equipment. Many vendors reject this concept wishing only to sell to BVS. They do not want to involve the client and they do not want to service their products. The clients deserve better.
5. It is true that the wife of a Pittsburgh counselor is a TSI representative. Implying that this is a conflict of interest is sexist and offensive for an organization which is supposed to defend equal rights. When the TSI representative began her activity in 1978, her husband requested and received clearance from the Department of Public Welfare Legal Department (although not required to under equal rights laws.) Since 1978, the husband of the TSI representative has transferred all cases requiring adaptive equipment. He was not required to do this and it has been costly to his personal career. We find it interesting that the NFB is attacking without just cause one of the two blind counselors left in BVS.
6. As you well know, no BVS Counselor can act solely on their own. Between the idea for purchasing a product and a vendor being paid, 10 other people must review and approve the purchase.
7. For many years the Pittsburgh office of BVS has had the best record for hiring blind and visually impaired staff. Its counselors have had the best record in placing blind clients in competitive employment. Unwarranted attacks on the staff of the Pittsburgh office can only hurt morale and negatively impact upon client service.
These unwarranted attacks on the Pittsburgh BVS office staff would be more understandable coming from someone with no knowledge of BVS. However, you, Mr. Young, were employed by BVS for many years and should know better. As editor, you have an obligation to investigate, verify, and document before printing. Unfortunately, you prefer fiction and libel to accuracy. It would only be speculation to discuss your motivation in this matter. Instead I will concentrate on a partial review of your performance while at BVS:
1. While a manager in the Philadelphia BVS office, you approved your staff's complete disregard of state bidding policy in purchasing computers and adaptive equipment.
2. While a manager for BVS, you served on the Electronic Aids Committee and in fact you were Chair of that committee. At no time did you raise objections about TSI but instead approved the purchases presented to your committee. Despite your knowledge and responsibility you failed to correct noncompliance with bidding policy. The database that was established while you were on that committee demonstrates that a practice of sole source no bid purchases from one vendor was the norm in your office.
3. While a manager for BVS you contracted with one vendor exclusively, CIR/Handisoft, to evaluate client needs, at a handsome fee, and then purchase the equipment from that same vendor as a sole source no bid purchase. Any investigation of collusion and conflict of interest should begin there.
4. While a BVS manager you advised the Welfare Department on the purchase of adaptive equipment for its blind employees. Your advice resulted in no bid purchases while the individual needs of the blind employees were ignored, and the use of refreshable braille was neglected.
5. While a BVS manager you did nothing to secure adaptive equipment for blind employees but instead retained for your own personal use any adaptive equipment available.
6. While a BVS manager you compiled a very poor record for hiring the blind. Your record was second to none when it came to improperly firing or attempting to fire blind staff. Your activities cost the agency thousands of dollars in grievance settlement costs.
As president of Pennsylvania's NFB chapter and editor of its publication you had a legal and moral obligation to publish the truth not fiction, advocacy not innuendo. You failed once again to meet your responsibilities. The motivation for your vendetta cannot be determined but the result is predictable. The bureaucratic response will be to make Pennsylvania more reluctant to provide adaptive equipment and take longer to do it. We thought the goal of the NFB was to fight for improved services for the blind. Obviously you have a different agenda.
James E. Bruce
Chief Shop Steward
Pennsylvania Social Services Union
333 Blvd. of the Allies, 5th Floor
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222
That is the Bruce letter, and the best that can be said for it is that it is a mixed bag. It says that the state agency is in deplorable condition and that it has a terrible record hiring and providing reasonable accommodation to blind staff. In contradiction of what the Bliss article alleges about how the state is completely above board and beyond reproach in getting the best products at the lowest prices for its money, the Bruce letter seems to say that it isn't that the Pittsburgh office is good but just that it is no worse than all of the other offices in the state. As will be seen, his exact words are: "1. The staff in all 6 BVS offices, not just Pittsburgh, have for years failed to follow DPW bidding policy. The intent was to expedite service to clients but it did violate policy. For the last six months BVS management and the Electronic Aids Committee (EAC) have been trying to correct this situation. Unfortunately, the solution will further delay client services."
Point 5 in the Bruce letter says that Sember was not required to transfer cases dealing with adaptive technology but that he has done so even though it has been "costly to his personal career." This seems at variance with the Attorney General's opinion that we have already quoted.
The latter part of the Bruce letter attempts to divert attention from the conflict of interest issue by making a personal attack on Ted Young, something not unusual in these cases. Ted Young, who says he now contemplates bringing suit against Bruce for what he calls the false statements by Bruce, responded in a letter dated March 11, 1992. Here it is:
Date: March 11, 1992
From: Ted Young
To: Jim Bruce
Jim, You would be well advised to follow your own advice about research before making libellous accusations. In fact, as even you must know that what you say is untrue I can only assume that it is said in an attempt to divert the issue from the Pittsburgh District office. Although it hardly deserves an answer, since you have chosen to take this attack on me public I will respond once only. Any further libellous garbage will not earn a response from me.
1. The Philadelphia District office always followed bidding procedure. I would welcome an audit. You might be interested to know that often winners of the bids were PC Partners in Baltimore, and a local computer store called "Some Hole in the Wall." Please check your facts before blurting out lies.
2. I was not chairman of the Electronic Aids Committee although I did serve on it. During the time I was on the committee it was chaired by Don Sundell, and later Bill Zappini. It is not true that I did not raise objections to the price of equipment, in general, and from TSI when I was on the committee. The problem the committee had was that by the time the recommendations came to it the client had already been convinced concerning a certain brand name; however, even then the committee did recommend less expensive similar products when merited. Check the records.
3. While CIR, which was under contract with BVS, was used by us a number of times as a source of knowledge about products for the blind, your statement is quite untrue; others we used included ASB, and I have made general recommendations on stand alone equipment which were then followed up by bids.
4. Although I did recommend equipment to the Welfare Department I obviously have no control over whether they put such equipment out on bid. I assumed they would follow their own requirements. I did object to the use of one vendor only with the Department which happened to be TSI, and can produce witnesses in this matter.
5. Regarding your charge that I did not make adaptive equipment available to blind staff, you know this is untrue as I taught the other blind staff computer literacy including the Philadelphia District staff, and there was a computer available for that staff. I also ran a bulletin board and encouraged blind staff to use it. I was constantly seeking more adaptive equipment for blind staff. This charge is a personal attack which is a sick response to a request by the NFBP for an investigation. Allow me to point out here that we did not personally attack anyone in our resolution, we asked for clarification on an issue of conflict of interest and some complaints that we had received. It is unfortunate that you could not maintain this level of nonpersonal attack in your response to our concerns.
6. You and I both know that I did hire blind staff and that the Philadelphia District had the most, if not second most blind employees. I can produce witnesses who will attest to the fact that, when filling positions, I have requested "Special Certifications" from the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission of lists containing "blind persons only." You also know, or should know, that I constantly criticized the agency and the department for not hiring or promoting blind persons. As I have said, I will not make any further response to you in this matter. Although some may choose to believe you, others will look at the record and know your attack for what it is.
This exchange between Young and Bruce is a sideline, possibly shedding light on the nature and quality of services to the blind in Pennsylvania but doing little to extricate TeleSensory from its difficulties. We print it only because TeleSensory included the Bruce letter in its response to our article, and we wanted to give them every chance to make their case.
Before bringing this tedious saga to an end, there is one more point which must be dealt with. Dr. Bliss repeatedly tries to explain away his problems by saying that he and the NFB are competitors. This is comparable to a company's trying to justify its behavior by saying that the consumers, the evaluators, and the underwriting laboratory are its competitors. This is simply nonsense.
In his response to our article Dr. Bliss says concerning TeleSensory's talking calculator of the 1970s: "There was some competition (e.g., a talking calculator by Master Specialties which Kenneth Jernigan and NFB supported and which was larger, more expensive, and didn't work as well). The Master Specialties calculator was quickly taken off the market after the Speech Plus calculator (the TeleSensory model) was introduced."
This is a complete distortion. At the time (the mid-1970s) I was director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, as well as president of the National Federation of the Blind. Both the Commission and the Federation did what they could to support research and technology. We bought a small number of the Master Specialties calculators (which, incidentally, were not comparable to the TSI model but scientific calculators); and when the TSI calculator was available, we bought it, too. The total number of both models would probably have been under a dozen, and we never sold or attempted to sell any of them. We were evaluating and trying to promote technology.
Incidentally, Dr. Bliss also says concerning calculators: "Recently small companies have again begun production of talking calculators for the blind but at prices as high as $595, substantially higher than TeleSensory's original price, in spite of the great reduction in the prices of the electronic components that has occurred over the past fifteen years." One has to wonder what sort of world Dr. Bliss lives in and what he is talking about. Low-cost talking calculators for the blind are plentifully available. The NFB, for instance, has four different types of such calculators at the present time at prices between $20 and $30--and there are many more on the market at equally reasonable prices.
Dr. Bliss takes particular exception to our statement that he has received government funding for some of his research. In one place in his article he says in response: "Moreover, many of our competitors, such as NFB and Kurzweil, have received government and other grants." In the context this is simply not the truth. The NFB has never received any government grants for research, it has, indeed, received a small grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for its Job Opportunities for the Blind program and has more recently received a grant from the Justice Department to help expedite the Americans with Disabilities Act. To say that this makes us a competitor with TSI or to imply that we have received government money for research and technology will not help either Dr. Bliss or TeleSensory.
Point 10 of the TSI response to our article quotes us as saying: "TSI was heartily disliked, not only by many other vendors but (more important) by a steadily growing number of the blind." The TSI answer is as follows:
"This is not true. TeleSensory has always enjoyed an excellent reputation, especially among blind people. Jernigan's statement may reflect other motivations since he was having to face competition from TeleSensory against his talking calculator and talking reading machine ambitions. We handle over 5,000 financial transactions a year. We have never been sued by or have sued any customer. The number of these transactions that are disputed are extremely small, well below industry average."
In number 9 of its response to our article TeleSensory says that the Optacon was developed under government funded research at Stanford University and Stanford Research Institute. The response goes on to say: "The Optacon became TeleSensory's first product. Subsequently TeleSensory received government and private research funding for developing a talking Optacon, but this was never introduced as a product, partly because of Jernigan's and NFB's actions against it. They were at the time supporting the Kurzweil Reading Machine, a competitive product."
Let me set the record straight about the Optacon. In the early seventies I kept hearing exaggerated claims about what it would do. I had no vested interest in the matter except to try to help blind people get technology that would translate print into a usable form. A TSI representative came to the Iowa Commission for the Blind and demonstrated the Optacon to me. Neither he nor I could make it work with any satisfaction. Next, Dr. Bliss sent one of his top people to give a demonstration at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and students and staff assembled to hear the man read. He simply couldn't do it. We gave him a sheet of clean typing, and he stumbled and fumbled, getting maybe three or four words a minute. It was pathetic.
TSI said they would appreciate it if we would carry positive articles in the Monitor about the Optacon, and I made them an offer. I told them to send their best teacher and their best Optacon reader to give us a demonstration and if either of them could read either forty or fifty words a minute with the Optacon, I would gladly and publicly say so in the pages of the Braille Monitor and elsewhere. They accepted the offer and sent what they called their best teacher and their best example of a blind Optacon reader. We went into a classroom to begin the test, gave the blind person printed material to read, and waited. Of course, we asked that the reading be done aloud, but the Optacon user objected, saying that this was not fair. She said she would read silently and give us the sense of what she had read. We said that this was subject to faking and that anybody could get a general sense of something by a word now and then.
At this stage the person attempted to read aloud. Again, it was pathetic and embarrassing. She could only haltingly read a few words a minute and misread many of those. We finished the test, and I concluded that for me the Optacon was useless. I also felt that it had been oversold and misrepresented. Nevertheless, we did not (as we probably should have) make a major issue of the matter in the Monitor.
Then, along came Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil promised (and his company has lived up to that promise) to develop a machine that would scan a printed page and give the output in spoken words. Unlike the Optacon, this was truly revolutionary and not subject to gimmicks like getting the meaning from silent reading. It would either work, or it wouldn't.
The National Federation of the Blind helped fund research to develop the Kurzweil, as we would have done for the Optacon if we had thought that it had any promise and if we had had the money. Does this make us a competitor of TSI? Nonsense! We have bought Kurzweil Reading Machines, but we have never sold them--nor do we intend to.
Furthermore, we have also helped promote the Arkenstone Reader, which is a newer and later arrival. We will help promote any other technology which we think is helpful to the blind. In the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore we have as much and varied technology as we can get, and we do our best to evaluate and report on it fairly. Any products that we sell are simply for the convenience of our members or because such products are not readily available otherwise.
In any case we do not sell any of the more expensive technology at all, and we do not sell any brand of inexpensive technology to the exclusion of other brands. We have a Research and Development Committee, and as it thinks up and designs new products, we are just as happy if somebody else will take them over and manufacture them. What we want is good products for the blind at a reasonable price.
We have had Dr. Bliss as a speaker at our national conventions to talk about his products; we permit him to exhibit at our national conventions on equal terms with others; and we have a number of his products on display at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. We bought some of them, and we allowed him to place others there without any charge or fee. Despite TeleSensory's behavior, it is our current intention to continue to evaluate and make people aware of their products, calling the shots exactly as we see them.
As to Dr. Bliss's lawyer, we wish him well. If he believes he has a case and if Dr. Bliss is willing to finance it, the courts are undoubtedly available as a forum. That is why courts were created. Let me be clear for the record. We said exactly what we meant in our March article; we believe it is the truth; and we do not retract one single word of it. Dr. Bliss, the ball is in your court.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Doris Willoughby.]
ITINERANT TEACHING: TRICKS OF THE TRADE
FOR TEACHERS OF BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED STUDENTS
by Jean E. Olmstead
Copyright 1991 American Foundation for the Blind
Reviewed by Doris M. Willoughby
From the Associate Editor: Doris Willoughby is the author, with Sharon Duffy, of A Handbook for Resource and Itinerant Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students. Mrs. Willoughby is an itinerant teacher herself with vast experience working with blind youngsters. She is also an active Federationist who understands the importance of good Braille and travel skills for visually impaired children. Shortly after her own definitive text on teaching blind children appeared, the American Foundation for the Blind published Itinerant Teaching. Mrs. Willoughby's brief review of the book appeared in the Spring, 1992, issue of Future Reflections, the quarterly magazine produced by the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Here it is:
The well-chosen subtitle describes the scope of this helpful book. There are a wealth of hints and practical suggestions for efficiency and time saving for the itinerant teacher.
Little is said directly about the contents or methods of actual instruction; but that is not the purpose of this book. The book's underlying principle is that increasing the teacher's efficiency and organization helps create the conditions for teaching with appropriate methods and content.
The following are some of the topics covered:
Books and materials
Relationships and responsibilities
Individual Education Plans
Time-saving memos and forms
Describing methods to classroom teachers and others
The suggestions are practical. They are especially relevant to itinerant work and are valuable to both new and experienced teachers. A positive philosophy is demonstrated in regard to various placement options and promoting genuine integration of blind and visually impaired students. Resource lists at the end of the book are helpful and include listings for the National Federation of the Blind and for our Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students. I would have preferred to see more hints and examples relating to Braille and orientation and mobility; however, these topics are mentioned enough to show that they are indeed part of the program.
Frequent samples of specialized humor contribute a great deal. For example, in one illustration a teacher and student, working with a Braille-writer, are crowded in by old desks, trash barrels, and piles of boxes. This shows--as the caption wryly observes--"Less-than-ideal working conditions."
Itinerant Teaching: Tricks of the Trade for Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students is available for $18.95 plus shipping and handling of $3.50 from American Foundation for the Blind, 15 West 16th Street, New York, New York 10011.
WHY CAN'T ALL OF US GET OUR HANDS DIRTY?
From the Associate Editor: Recently Dr. Elizabeth Browne,
whose articles have appeared often in the pages of the Braille Monitor, sent us a copy of a Chicago Tribune "About the Town" column by Patrick Reardon, which appeared on March 11, 1992, together with a copy of a letter to the editor which she had written in response. The subject under discussion was a new architectural tour of an old city landmark. The foundation which maintains the building has made an effort to design a special tour for blind patrons, and the reporter agreed to be shown the building with his eyes closed and write an article about the experience. The result was precisely what one might have expected, and Dr. Browne, a connoisseur of the arts herself, mounted her trusty steed and prepared to do battle.
I have received several notices recently of special museum shows and other artistic activities designed especially for the blind visitor. I confess to a thorough enjoyment of museums, cathedrals, stately homes, and other such tourist haunts. My husband is a patient plaque reader and describer of detail and over-all effect. I will even admit to having smiled winningly at guards in the British Museum in gratitude for a surreptitious tactile pass at the Elgin Marbles.
I recognize that many great works of art must not be touched. I also know that there are today some remarkably accurate replicas of masterpieces and models of distinguished architecture. Why, therefore, can we not have more displays and tours for the general public that provide opportunities for everyone interested to touch relevant objects or illustrative examples of what is being admired? Many blind people prefer not to take tours specially arranged for them alone. I certainly avoid them. But when my family has explored small artistic collections off the beaten path, my husband and children have been as eager as I to handle the sculpture, carvings, and bas- reliefs that I have been invited to touch.
A person used to looking at art or architecture may conclude, as Mr. Reardon did, that touching it has little artistic merit or satisfaction, but such people should not be allowed to determine its true value for the rest of humanity. On the other hand, reserving to blind visitors alone the right to experience the texture and form of tactile art deprives any other true art lover from the full appreciation of the beautiful. Here is Patrick Reardon's account of his tactile tour of the Glessner House in Chicago:
Getting A New Feel for Architecture
I feel stupid. I'm standing at the curb along 18th Street on the Near South Side, and I've got my eyes closed.
I've just unfolded myself from a small car, and I'm waiting for Ellen, the public relations woman, to come around from the driver's side to take my hand and lead me to the Glessner House.
We head east toward Prairie Avenue along a sidewalk I can't see because my eyes are shut. And I'm thinking to myself: I really feel stupid. Whose bright idea was this, anyway?
What happened was that Ellen, a former co-worker of mine, called me up to say that the Chicago Architecture Foundation, her new employer, was going to start giving tours of the Glessner House to people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired. Wouldn't I like to do a story?
Chicago is filled with architectural gems, and I'm sure each one has a tour of one sort or another. But how many have tours for people who are blind? And, more to the point, how do you give an architectural tour to someone who can't see? It seemed like a contradiction in terms.
So I said to Ellen: Sure, I'll do a story, but instead of watching a blind person do it, I'll put a blindfold on and go through myself.
Me and my big mouth.
Luckily, Ellen has had the good sense to tell me just to keep my eyes closed. I'd been worrying for a week and a half about how dorky I'd look in a blindfold. It's hard to feel dignified when you look like a hostage.
Nonetheless, feeling dorky is still pretty high on my emotional inventory during the initial awkward moments at the building. We go in the front door, talk to someone, and then go out again, around the corner, and down 18th Street to the coach house.
At the coach house I meet Tina. She is a docent, which is a fancy word for tour guide. She has a nice voice--I can't guess her age--and she hands me a cardboard model of the floor plan of the building.
This is a great help. I can feel a long wall along 18th, a shorter wall along Prairie, and an open area in the middle that is created by the house itself, the coach house, and the wall of the building immediately to the south.
Another great help is her left elbow. She gives me that to hold onto as we go outside for my first glimpse of the actual house. This comes in the form of running my hands along the large, rough-cut granite blocks of the wall along 18th Street.
Tina says the granite is pink and the mortar holding the blocks together was originally orange. It paints a garish picture in my imagination, and Tina says the neighbors thought so, too, at the time the home was built in 1886. The mortar now is darker with dirt, she says.
At the front of the building Tina has me feel the granite grate over the basement windows. The Glessner family's previous home on the Near West Side had been broken into several times, so they wanted to make this one as secure as possible.
That's also the reason for the ornamental iron grating over the window of the large front door. In that ironwork is the number 1800 in bronze, which is the building's address on Prairie. Tina has to point them out to me. My fingers don't notice them on the first go-round.
As the tour goes on, I get better at seeing with my fingers. I see the fluted wood of the columns at several places in the house. I see the leafy carvings on the wood of the home's main staircase, piano, and other furniture and the cool imported tiles in the arch of a fireplace.
And, in the library of the home, I see the face of Abraham Lincoln.
It is a metal mask made of his face shortly before he became President. I put on a thin cotton glove so the oils in my hand won't damage the metal, and I feel his clean-shaven face--and his nose. It seems huge. I never noticed this before: Lincoln had a big nose. Do tell.
There is much, however, that I can't see, in any fashion.
I can feel the grass underfoot in the courtyard but can only imagine its color. The wood paneling throughout the house is nothing more than a series of flat planes. And much of the effect of the multitude of windows on the south side of the building is lost on me although the sunlight coming through is bright enough to penetrate my eyelids in a soft yellow glow.
How tall is the house? I don't know.
How wide? How big? I can't tell. It's frustrating.
Still, as the tour draws to a close, I'm not as self- conscious. I'm used to finding my way with the help of Tina's elbow. And I even guess right when I reach out my hand to her to say goodbye at the end.
As I'm being driven away, I can now, after two hours, open my eyes again. A grungy South Side street never looked so good.
There you have Patrick Reardon's column, and it did not please Dr. Elizabeth Browne. Here is her response:
Letters to the Editor
The Chicago Tribune
As a blind Chicagoan, I was appalled at the foolish column "Getting a New Feel for Architecture" in the Chicagoland Section on March 11. How does Mr. Reardon think he can approximate a blind person's reactions to such an experience simply by closing his eyes and feeling like a dork? He is obviously without any of the skills and sensitivity he would need to evaluate the blind experience, and without the wit to realize it. Yes, dork is the right word.
We are all by this time aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law on January 26, mandates that places like the Glessner House make their tours and presentations available to all handicapped people on terms that accommodate their disabilities. To achieve this calls for extremely delicate and sensitive, as well as creative, efforts on the part of such private institutions and on the part of the handicapped communities they are attempting to serve. These efforts are simply hindered by the sort of foolishness Mr. Reardon was guilty of writing and the Tribune was guilty of printing.
He should not have presumed by gimmicks and mockery to ridicule and make light of serious efforts to allow handicapped persons to become part of the real world. Blind people relate to art and to architecture in genuinely direct and imaginative ways. Why did not Mr. Reardon take the intelligent course of touring the Glessner House with someone possessed of the skills which a blind person must learn in order to cope with the world and use that as the basis for assessing the Glessner House's success in fulfilling its legal responsibilities, instead of implying, on the basis of his own misguided efforts, that the very concept was meaningless?
For your information, there has already been an architectural tour of the magnificent buildings along our river, sponsored by Blind Services Association (BSA), with Docents from the Archicenter relating and describing these edifices in well- prepared and tasteful lectures, while the blind participants used their rich, fertile imaginations to appreciate the works so presented.
I am a member of the Art Institute of Chicago, frequently experiencing the marvelous exhibits displayed there, have taken classes in art history and iconology, and experienced the wonders of art and architecture in Florence and in Rome. There are blind artists living in Chicago, blind professors, judges, laborers, and housewives who are dealing on a dignified basis with blindness. They do not appreciate a journalist who would present himself, eyes shut, to grope about the walls and panels of an architectural wonder, then treat the experience with derision. A more intelligent discussion of the issue of access to the cultural treasures of Chicago is surely in order, but get someone more mature to handle it.
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."
DISABILITY PERIODICALS TAKE ON THE NEW YORK TIMES
From the Associate Editor: In the opinion of many, the New York Times has more influence on public opinion than either its circulation figures or probity would explain. This fact worked to our advantage last June when a story about the importance of Braille literacy appeared on the front page of the paper's Sunday edition. However, it worked powerfully against blind people as well as all other members of the disabled community on February 6 of this year when the Times published an editorial raising questions about the appropriateness of Senator Alfonse D'Amato's nomination of a blind attorney for appointment to the federal judicial bench.
The editorial writer carefully dusted off his own misconceptions and prejudices about blindness and packaged them as common knowledge and obvious good sense. Here is the editorial as it appeared in the New York Times on February 6, 1992:
A Blind Judge?
Senator Alfonse D'Amato has recommended a blind lawyer for a vacancy on the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. Even in this age of increased opportunities for the disabled, the Senator's candidate, Richard Casey, pushes the outer boundaries of what the judicial system can accommodate.
If Mr. Casey is otherwise qualified, his candidacy poses a novel and powerful challenge to the Justice Department and President Bush, who must decide whether to nominate him. Sincere people will have strong reservations about fitting this particular disability to this particular office, but a blind nominee cannot be categorically ruled out.
Mr. Casey, who is fifty-nine years old, is a former Assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan and an experienced litigator who lost his sight five years ago. He has undergone extensive training and equipped himself with electronic gear that scans printed material and reads it aloud to him. He thus can do much of the work of a lawyer despite his severe disability. But how well can he do the work of a trial judge?
Presiding at a Federal civil or criminal trial calls for supervising a courtroom of lawyers, witnesses, spectators, and the contesting parties. Federal judges do most of the questioning of prospective jurors and routinely weigh the credibility of witnesses in non-jury cases. The ability to make eye contact has universally been assumed indispensable for the task of trial judging.
Without eyesight, a judge can't personally observe every lawyer's or spectator's illicit attempt at improperly influencing a jury, such as hand signals or silent demonstrations. And he cannot see for himself what impact a trial exhibit, say an inflammatory poster, might have on a viewer.
Two decades ago Justice John Marshall Harlan lost most of his vision yet continued to serve on the Supreme Court with the highest distinction for many years. But that Court doesn't hold trials; the work there is vastly different. Appellate judges deal with printed records and legal briefs and oral arguments, while trial judges must interact constantly with live participants and swiftly changing situations.
To address these problems, Senator D'Amato had Mr. Casey meet recently with Chief Judge Charles Brieant and two other seasoned trial judges. They reported themselves persuaded that Mr. Casey might well overcome his disability and meet the job's demands. Examining their own experience, the judges found that they had overrated both their ability to detect a deceitful witness and the extent to which they relied on visual observation for weighing credibility. As for unscrupulous lawyers' tricking the judge, they speculated that only rarely would a lawyer risk getting caught at such maneuvers.
If Mr. Casey now persuades the Bush Administration to nominate him, the disability question will need thorough airing in Senate confirmation proceedings. To his burden of blindness must be added the burden of proving he is so experienced and able that he can beat a large handicap. If he can meet that test, he will have earned the job.
That is what the New York Times had to say, and it would have been difficult for the writer to do more damage without appearing to even the most casual reader to have crossed the line from disinterested common sense to outright attack. But many knowledgeable people in the disability community read and understood the editorial for what it was. The capabilities of every successful disabled American were called into question by this editorial. Whether Richard Casey is a good candidate for a federal judgeship has to do with his grasp of the law, his capacity to conduct his court fairly, and his ability to render and write sound decisions; it has nothing to do with his visual acuity. At least two thoughtful rebuttals to the Times piece appeared in disability periodicals this spring. One was written by Elizabeth and Patrick Callahan in the Spring, 1992, edition of the RFB News, the publication of Recording for the Blind. Here it is:
Justice is Blind--Because If She Could See, She Might Discriminate
Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York, perhaps unwittingly and unintentionally, put disability rights legislation to the test when he submitted the name of Richard Casey, a blind attorney, for a position on the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. If his nomination is approved, Casey will be the first blind person ever named a federal trial judge. Coming in the wake of implementation of the most far-reaching civil rights legislation ever enacted for people with disabilities--the Americans With Disabilities Act--his candidacy places the federal government in the important, and highly visible, position of serving as an example to other employers by eagerly and ungrudgingly making whatever "reasonable accommodations" Mr. Casey needs to perform his job as a trial judge. If we are to accept the arguments made by some, including no less venerable an institution than the New York Times, nothing short of restoring his eyesight should really quell our nervousness. But after all, if people with disabilities didn't make us nervous and uncomfortable to begin with, we probably wouldn't be discriminating against them.
In fact, virtually every piece of civil rights legislation we have ever passed in this country has been designed to force the majority into not standing in the way of those of us who make them nervous. What makes disabilities rights law different is that it speaks very specifically not to just not discriminating, but to accommodating.
Why do the naysayers to this appointment miss that point so egregiously? The first of several specious arguments is that the ability to make eye contact has almost universally been assumed indispensable for the task of trial judging. Hogwash. While it is true that a judge will question prospective jurors during the procedure known as voir dire, eye contact is just one--perhaps the least reliable--way of determining credibility. Are we to infer that blind people are incapable of figuring out when they are being deceived? Or that they are insensitive to the nuances of human behavior? And if having our sight gives us such an edge in the realm of human interaction, then what excuse do those of us who are sighted have for the times we are conned? (Upon reflection, most of us would have to admit that we have misplaced trust more often when we ignored our sixth sense and went with one of the other five.) Aren't the most effective liars the ones who can look you dead in the eye and not flinch?
It has been suggested that a blind trial judge will be compromised by not being able to see what is going on in his courtroom or what is being entered into evidence. Some argue that Casey would be unable to pick up on nonverbal efforts to influence a jury improperly and would be unable to measure the impact of potentially inflammatory visual trial exhibits. We question whether those folks have been to any trials lately. Judges spend most of their time in the courtroom listening to arguments and testimony, taking notes, consulting with their clerks. They depend heavily on the built-in safeguards of the adversarial system--namely, that if there is something illicit or improper going on, they will learn about it from the side being disadvantaged, the court clerk, the bailiff, or the jury themselves. Further, most of what is entered into evidence is exchanged by the parties and presented to the Court well in advance of the actual trial. Certainly this is true in civil cases, and while criminal cases may have more activity during the trial, the judge will have access to all the evidence and will rule on its admissibility before it is seen by a jury.
This is the very point of the "reasonable accommodation" clause in the law. Briefs, petitions, motions, and all other forms of the printed legal word can easily be made accessible. They can be Brailled (if the judge reads Braille) or recorded or scanned into a computer or read aloud. Photographs and posters can be described. And the judge can do what other judges do when they are struggling with a difficult decision: ask another judge.
In fact, ninety-five percent of what transpires in our judicial system can be easily carried out by a blind judge with virtually no accommodation. Adaptive technology and personal assistance fall well within the intent of "reasonable accommodation"--a concept at the very heart of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
But perhaps the most subtly damaging bias in the debate is that people with disabilities are victims, "confined" to their wheelchairs, "stricken" with a disease, or carrying the "burden" of blindness. These emotionally-loaded terms--which are almost always a part of any story written or told about people with disabilities--portray the person with the disability as an object of pity. This prospective jurist is not living with the "burden of blindness," but with the reality of it. Mr. Casey is blind. He cannot see. That does not mean he cannot think or perceive or understand or discern or engage in any other of the cognitive processes we use to assimilate information.
His blindness also does not mean a lot of other things: it does not mean he has to prove himself any more or less than a sighted candidate; it does not mean we can discriminate against him on the basis of his disability; and it certainly does not mean this successful trial attorney from a prestigious law firm is suddenly going to decide that he is tired of success and that he is now going to take on a job he can't do. In other words, it does not mean we know better than he how, if at all, his ability to perform on the bench has been affected by his blindness.
Obviously, Mr. Casey will have to answer a lot of questions if he makes it to Senate confirmation hearings. "Can you perform the job in spite of your blindness?" is not one of them. We must assume that if he has kept his nomination alive, he thinks he can do the job. There should be no more discussion of his eyesight.
There you have the view expressed by two people writing specifically for members of the blind community. But writing in the publication of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans of America, James J. Weisman expressed equally perceptive views. Here is what he had to say in the March, 1992, EPVA Action:NY Times Editorial Leads Down Blind Alley
In a recent editorial the New York Times questioned Senator Alfonse D'Amato's (Republican-New York) nomination of Richard Casey, a blind judge, to a federal court.
Senator Alfonse D'Amato is not a champion of the rights of people with disabilities. He has not been a standard bearer in the disability rights movement's efforts to gain access to the American mainstream. Nevertheless, his nomination of a blind lawyer for a Federal trial court judgeship is an indication that the senator clearly does not believe that blindness would prevent this man from performing the duties of a judge. Luckily for us, the New York Times has brought the disability question to our attention.
What purpose is served by the Times' public musings about the appropriateness of a blind judge on the bench of a trial court? The Times, inexplicably relying on the newspaper's own perception of the responsibilities of trial court judges and the abilities of blind people, concludes, "If Mr. Casey now persuades the Bush Administration to nominate him, the disability question will need thorough airing in Senate confirmation proceedings. To his burden of blindness must be added the burden of proving he is so experienced and able that he can beat a large handicap." The Times states, "the ability to make eye contact has almost universally been assumed indispensable for the tasks of a trial judge."
In discussing the editorial with other lawyers, we determined that there was not one instance in which the ability to see would have been necessary to make a valid determination in any matter the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA) has brought before a court. It is true that there will be cases in which the ability to see may be fundamental to deciding a case fairly. In such a case, it is the responsibility of a judge who cannot see to ensure that a sighted judge presides. The Timesmakes no comment about Mr. Casey's legal ability or the reason Senator D'Amato has nominated him. If he were not blind, the Times would examine his background, his relationship to Senator D'Amato, how he came to the Senator's attention, significant cases in which he has been involved, and clients whom he has represented.
Has the Times made an effort to determine if there are other blind judges at the trial court level? There are. Will the Timesever realize that what "has almost universally been assumed" may not be correct?
Readers of EPVA's publications must know by now that the Times has opposed accessible building laws, accessible transportation, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (see EPVA Action, July 1991).
Times editorial writers should be more introspective in dealing with the disability issue. They should ask themselves, "Could I be an effective member of the Times editorial staff if I lost my vision?" After all, Times editorial writers apparently have opinions on everything. Could they appreciate the depravity of hopelessness if they could not see the squalor or the vacant expressions on the faces of those who line our streets? Could they understand the viciousness of a crowd chanting racial epithets if they could not see skin color or venomous facial expressions?
The fact that able-bodied people use all of their senses and abilities to achieve a certain result does not mean that it is necessary to use all of the senses. While this has been demonstrated by people with disabilities for centuries, the abilities of people with disabilities have been overlooked by the Times almost as often as their needs and rights.
There you have two excellent responses to the misguided editorial published by the New York Times. It is regrettable that only a tiny portion of the population that saw the Times piece also read either of these rebuttals. It is important, however, that we whose lives are affected by the personal prejudices of Times editorial writers recognize that the ranks of those who understand and are willing to speak the truth are also growing. Hats off to Mr. and Mrs. Callahan and Mr. Weisman and all those who speak out against injustice and ignorance about the capacities of people with disabilities.
NEWSLINE CONTINUES TO MAKE HEADLINES
From the Associate Editor: As Monitor readers know, in February of this year NEWSLINE for the Blind, a telephone-access newspaper-reading service, went online for blind Californians. Run by the National Federation of the Blind of California, the service joined four others across the country, but this is the first one actually to be operated by the Federation--though Federationists have been deeply involved with the service conducted by the New Mexico Commission for the Blind.
On May 12, 1992, the NEWSLINE operation in Sacramento was officially dedicated. The door to the office was wrapped in sheets of newspaper and tied with a large bow. Balloons were festooned everywhere, and local dignitaries and members of the press joined the organized blind of California to celebrate the occasion.
The Sacramento Bee, one of the two papers being read on the telephone service, covered the event on May 13. Here is the story as Edgar Sanchez, a reporter for the Bee, told it:
Phone Call Allows Blind to Hear Day's News Stories
Jim Copple thought his world had ended when he became one of an estimated 60,000 Californians who are blind.
No longer able to read newspapers, the self-described "news junkie" from south Sacramento fell behind on world events. He was exasperated.
But now, thanks to Newsline for the Blind, a service of the National Federation of the Blind of California (NFBC), the forty- two-year-old Copple is again able to read the news from around the globe.
"Now I can pick up the phone and read the paper just as well as before," Copple said Tuesday at the dedication of the computerized telephone news service at 4431 Freeport Blvd. "I love the news. I have to know what's going on all the time."
To satisfy this craving for information, a group of volunteers read the Bee and the Los Angeles Times every day into the Newsline computer. Blind people from across the state call in and scan the recorded pages of the newspapers, from the front pages to the editorials, twenty-four hours a day, for free.
Callers from Sacramento use a local number. A toll-free line is used from other parts of the state.
At present nearly 900 visually impaired people dial Newsline every day. One of them is Dana Elcar, a Los Angeles actor who played Pete in the "MacGyver" television series. He attended the ceremony to express his thanks.
"I can now go to a phone and have that wonderful experience of reading a newspaper by myself," said Elcar, a glaucoma victim who recently lost his sight.
"If I want to play something again, I can actually press a button, and I can hear a repeat of an article. If I'm hearing one that I don't particularly want to hear, I can turn it off and not hear that one."
Copple, whose vision was destroyed by retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease, said he at first relied on his wife Suzanne to read him the newspaper.
"I also listened to the news on television and radio...but they don't give you the full details the way a newspaper does," he said.
The three-month-old Newsline has a yearly budget of $100,000--all of it drawn either from donations or membership fees paid by roughly 6,000 NFBC members. To subscribe, blind people should call (916) 424-2226 or (California toll-free) (800) 345-2226.
There you have an example of the news stories that appeared in state newspapers and on the broadcast media. But the real story is happening in the lives of individual blind readers. Recorded messages appear on the NEWSLINE answering machine every week thanking the volunteers for their efforts and telling the staff how much the service means to individual people. One of those to whom the service has made a profound difference is Jim McLain, a blind reporter for the Star Free-Press, a paper in Ventura, California. On April 16 he described his personal experience with NEWSLINE in an article in the Star Free-Press. Here it is:
Real Reading Freedom for the Blind
In California there are about 60,000 people who cannot do what you are doing right now. I happen to be one of them.
But while blindness could not take away my ability to earn a living at a newspaper, it stole from me forever the pure pleasure of reading. Tapes of books and magazines are terrific, and the recordings that nearly two dozen members of the Star Free-Press staff make for me of local stories and columns are crucial to my work.
But a big part of the enjoyment of reading is the ability to read on a whim. To have a headline or title catch your eye and then go to the smaller print immediately is a gift that is naturally taken for granted by anyone who can see.
But for nearly two months now, blind Californians have had the ability to read two of the state's largest newspapers on a whim. Thanks to an ingenious marriage of telephone and computer technology and old fashioned volunteerism, they can read virtually any article in the Los Angeles Times or the Sacramento Bee any time they feel like it.
A new service called Newsline for the Blind was launched in mid-February by the National Federation of the Blind of California. It allows blind Californians to dial an 800 number that reaches a specially designed voicemail-type computer in Sacramento. With a touch-tone telephone they can read almost anything from in-depth news analysis and editorials to the comics, movie listings, TV logs, and astrology columns.
By using a menu that includes twenty-seven categories for each of the two newspapers, a blind reader can skim through the headlines as any sighted newspaper reader might, skipping some, reading small parts of others, and reading still others in detail. By using other buttons, you can fast-forward or review stories.
This is not a small undertaking. The Times and the Bee are very large newspapers. Recruiting enough people to read them aloud would seem to be an almost overwhelming task. The sixty volunteers, who spend an average of one to three hours weekly, are getting most of the material read, said Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California. Soon the organization hopes to have 120 volunteers, enough to read everything, including the Sunday supplements and many of the advertisements.
The operation is housed in a South Sacramento office that includes seven sound booths and the computer. The volunteers begin reading daily at 6:00 a.m. They include retired people, high school students, and professionals, among them a surgeon who reads for an hour on Thursdays before going to the hospital.
So far nearly 700 blind Californians have enrolled as subscribers, Gold said. About 100 are being added each week. To protect the newspapers' copyrighted material and to make sure that only people who really need this free service are using it, each subscriber is given an identification number that must be entered before a paper can be read.
I've been using the service for three weeks. As an inveterate newspaper junkie who's mostly gone without for nearly eighteen years, it's hard to put the phone down. In fact, I've become so engrossed that my wife all of a sudden decided we had to have call-waiting.
But to Gold and the 5,000 members of the National Federation of the Blind of California, who began planning the service and lining up the money to finance it two years ago, the newsline is simply another step in their goal of equality and full integration into society for blind people.
"Our logo says on it, `security, equality, and opportunity,' and that's exactly what we stand for," she said. "The ability to read a daily newspaper is another freedom that we just didn't have."
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Tom Ley.]
TOM LEY PLUS NFB SKILLS AND CONFIDENCE EQUAL
CAPABLE AND CONFIDENT HIGH SCHOOL MATH TEACHER
by Tom Ley
From the Associate Editor: The following article is reprinted from the Spring/Summer, 1992, issue of The Blind Educator, the publication of the National Association of Blind Educators, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. The piece was originally an address delivered at the annual meeting of the NABE, which took place at the 1991 NFB convention. Tom Ley was a 1987 National Federation of the Blind scholarship winner, and he has been an active member of the organization and a leader in the Louisiana affiliate and the student division. Here is what he has to say about teaching high school math:
Last year, when I attended this NABE meeting, I was looking for my first job as a teacher. I was very busy, and it paid off because I did get a job teaching high school math.
I grew up as a sighted kid and always wanted to be a football player. At least, I wanted this career until I was ten or so. Due to diabetes, I started to become blind during my last year of high school. It took about ten months to go from having twenty-twenty vision to being totally blind. During that year I went through many of the experiences other people have who are losing their sight. My grades started going down, and I made a trip to the college I had chosen in order to learn my way around the campus while I still had some sight. At that time I did not know about the National Federation of the Blind. Therefore, I did a lot of suffering: I was falling down stairs, and I could not read room numbers. I did not know that blind persons have alternative ways of solving such problems.
I had wanted to be an electrical engineer. When I went blind, my father looked in a reference book, where he found a list of jobs the book's author presumed a blind person could do. Among the jobs was electrical engineering. I had been blind for only a few months, and I did not know any blind people. I thought I was very lucky that I could continue in my chosen career.
After high school I got some training in the skills of blindness. In Arkansas I was taught how to use a very short cane and learned to read Braille, and then I came back to Louisiana and enrolled in college.
I really enjoyed my course work at Louisiana Tech, and I was doing rather well. But I did not have enough of the skills of blindness, so I was having to study twice as much as the other students. For that reason I had no social life. I knew how to use a cane, but I had no confidence. I simply went from my dorm to my classes and hoped I would never wander down the wrong path.
At that point I thought I was very fortunate to have a sister attending the same institution. She would take me to the cafeteria and make sure I got my food and found a table. Little did I know at that time that blind persons were effeciently doing all these tasks and many more.
I was very lucky because my university is in the town of Ruston. At about that time the Louisiana Center for the Blind was opening. Joanne Wilson, Director of the Center, found me and took me to a state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. At that convention I saw a lot of normal blind people. If you took away their blindness and the alternative techniques they used, you would consider them just average folks. These blind people were doing things that normal people do. When I was with them, I knew that they had something I wanted. At that point I decided that I needed the special training which I had not been offered previously.
At about that same time I began realizing that maybe engineering was not what I really wanted to do. I was looking at the engineering jobs my classmates were getting, and I noticed that they lacked the human interaction I wanted. I like to be an impact person. I like to get in there and cause combustion. I had always enjoyed teaching, doing tutoring when I was in high school. The idea struck me that I would like to be a teacher. But I had never heard of a high school math teacher who was blind. I thought it was out of the question. I wanted to be just like the high school math teachers I had had, and I did not want to teach at a school for the blind. There is nothing wrong with teaching at a blind school, but I wanted to be right in the mainstream. At first I did not think I could really do the job. I figured that I could do some of the tasks, but not all, and I did not think anyone would hire me.
I started at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in 1988. I had attended my first National Convention in 1987, where I was a scholarship winner. I attended my first National Association of Blind Educators meeting that year. I went around and talked to blind educators. They were employed, so they told me how they accomplished their tasks. They gave me the confidence to believe that, if they could teach, I could too. At the Louisiana Center I acquired personal confidence, undoubtedly the most important characteristic of all. Until that time I had never had it. I had seen it in other blind people, and I knew that it might be mine, maybe in the future. But because I acquired confidence at that Center, I knew that I could teach. I learned that my blindness is just another part of me as is my height or my being right-handed. Blindness is no longer something which overwhelms me or predominates in my life. It is not the defining factor in my personality.
I enrolled in the department of education at Louisiana Tech. There were no open complaints to my entering; however, the professors let it be known in subtle ways that they had doubts about my ability. I paid no attention to them. I worked my way through the courses and did just fine. Of course, I knew that because of federal law they could not deny my entrance. Because I did not question my ability to become a math teacher, my confidence was projected to all my professors.
The blind person simply has to go into those departments of education and tell the professors what the score really is. One simply has to take charge. As time went on, my professors decided that blindness was no big deal, for I was doing everything all the other students were doing.
When my master teacher for student teaching learned that a blind student was assigned to him, he was convinced that it would not work. But I showed him that he was wrong. I completed my student teaching and was looking for a job. I was very happy when I got my resumes just like all the other job seekers. But I can tell you all that I would not have gotten anywhere without my confidence, which came from the NFB and the members of the National Association of Blind Educators. I also learned from reading articles in The Blind Educator.
Several times this year my principal has said that she has never hired a teacher with so much confidence. Since I am the first blind teacher in this area of my state, the news reporters came out to see what was going on. I got great support from my administrator. I cannot repeat too many times that it was my confidence which got me the job. But confidence comes from good training and positive attitudes about blindness. You have to have good cane technique and Braille skills. Also you must communicate with other confident blind teachers to get ideas and techniques. If you do not believe in yourself as a blind person, you cannot project a confidence you do not possess. It would be unfortunate if you could. If, lacking the skills of blindness (including self-confidence), you got a job, you would never survive in the classroom.
My first year of teaching was challenging, exciting, interesting, and fun. There were a lot of sleepless nights and hard work. Grades and papers must be turned in on time. If grades are due today, no teacher can expect to get extra time. The skills I use in the classroom are basic. My high-tech equipment consists of a slate and stylus, a tape recorder, and masking tape. I put the tape on the boards for writing in straight lines. When it came to putting up a graph, I made a grid using my tape and my cane to insure I made the lines straight. I have a computer at home for keeping grades and making tests.
I have the duties of a full-time teacher, including chaperoning the prom. I work selling popcorn at the basketball games and fix the broken popcorn machine too. I am comfortable doing all this, and I know that this is all part of teaching. I received all the skills that helped me get my job from the National Federation of the Blind. I'm excited to be in this organization. Recently I had a chance to talk to a physics teacher, who has been teaching a long time, but who will be starting his first year as a blind teacher next fall. We all help each other. Together we can demonstrate that, given training and opportunity, blind people can compete successfully in all areas of education.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Richard Brueckner, President of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, speaks at the 1991 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Ocean city. Seated on his left is Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, and standing on his right is Sharon Maneki, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.]
BLIND INDUSTRIES AND SERVICES OF MARYLAND UNDER FIRE
From the Editors: Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) is a semi-private agency, the board of which is appointed by the governor. BISM has had a long and checkered history in serving the state's blind citizens. It receives sizable amounts of state money.
In the mid-seventies BISM was probably at an all-time low in esteem both by the blind of the state and the public. It was paying workers in its sheltered shops less than the minimum wage, and it was accused (there was apparently no effort to refute the charge) of improperly contributing funds to the political campaign of the governor.
In this sorry state of affairs, John McCraw (who was at the time president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and a respected leader both in his local community and among the blind throughout the country) agreed to become a member and also chairman of the BISM board of trustees. Big John, as the blind affectionately called him, felt that rehabilitation of the blind in the state was not performing well and that BISM (though in a mire of problems) offered the only long-term hope for providing adequate services to blind Marylanders. In his effort to reform the agency McCraw began a search for a new BISM president and chief executive officer, and eventually Ralph Sanders (at the time an NFB officer) was selected.
This was the mid-1970s, and for a while it seemed that Sanders was going to make spectacular improvements in the agency. Under McCraw's leadership Sanders announced that no worker at BISM would be paid less than the minimum wage. Moreover, a revamped rehabilitation training program was established, and new staff were employed. It must be noted here that one of those new staff members was Don Morris, who became Sanders's chief assistant and who (according to many) was the driving force in achieving many of the new reforms. The workshops began producing diversified products, and all seemed to be well.
As early as the late seventies, however, there were signs of problems on the horizon. In 1978 John McCraw (who had been indomitable as a source of strength and had planned the program, hired Sanders, and guided his progress) suddenly died. At about this time a number of competent and reliable staff members (including Morris) began to be alienated from Sanders and disillusioned with his behavior. The things they said were hard to credit, but even more difficult to dismiss. In any case, the program was definitely deteriorating. By the early eighties it was clear that BISM was in trouble and that Sanders would eventually have to go, having failed to fulfill the promise of his early years of employment. In October of 1986 Sanders took his departure, with an official resignation and the feeling on the part of many that he was a bitter man. Subsequently, Sanders took a vending stand in the Maryland program, and during the past year or so he has spent considerable time attacking BISM and its new leaders, who have made great progress in putting things to right. It may be significant to note here that Don Morris (for whom Sanders certainly has no affection) is now a member of the BISM board.
In the fall of 1986 Sanders was succeeded as BISM president by a man named Fred Dewberry. The appointment was regarded as political in nature, and it brought the result which might have been expected. Dewberry was arrogant and hostile in his dealings with the blind and soon found himself out of the position.
In January of 1989 Richard Brueckner, the current president and chief executive officer of BISM, was employed--and the atmosphere of the agency has refreshingly and steadily improved ever since. Brueckner inherited problems, and he has had to learn the intricacies of the blindness system; but from the beginning of his administration he has made a genuine effort to build good programs and has been responsive to the needs and suggestions of the blind.
In 1991 BISM and the NFB of Maryland went together to the legislature and asked that rehabilitation programs for the blind be removed from the rehabilitation component of the state Department of Education and placed under BISM. This seemed to infuriate officials of the Division of Rehabilitation. Considering the poor service which the Division of Rehabilitation has consistently given to the blind, it is not surprising that the blind wanted the services transferred to another agency and that the rehabilitation officials were furious at the revelations which came to light in the process. The effort to transfer services (as is often the case in such first attempts) did not succeed, but the Division of Rehabilitation was not about to forget or wait for the next onslaught.
In the Spring, 1992, issue of The Braille Spectator (the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland) Editor Al Maneki wrote an article reporting on the Maryland Department of Education's recent efforts to put an end to BISM altogether or bring it under the control of the Division of Rehabilitation. The story which was spread across the state's newspapers was not pleasant or edifying, and the fireworks may not yet be over. But it looks as though the courts are not inclined to have BISM bullied by the Division of Rehabilitation or smeared in the public press. Here is Al Maneki's article:
One often hears the statement that "where there's smoke, there's fire." Believing this to be true, the local press has recently made much ado about the Maryland State Department of Education's (DOE) charges of country club memberships, high salaries, and the improper use of credit cards by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) officials. As so often happens, the press did not bother to finish the story; it simply repeated the DOE charges which BISM ultimately answered in court and before the Maryland General Assembly.
On December 17, 1991, the Department of Education filed a suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to have BISM placed in receivership because of mismanagement. Receivership is a condition in which the court appoints a third party to take over the management and operation of a poorly run business. In this case, the third party would have apparently been under the control of the Department itself.
The DOE lawsuit, claiming that BISM was in danger of financial collapse and including a long list of charges of mismanagement, was presented to the circuit court of Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan. Judge Kaplan said that he would consider the charges and any evidence that the DOE and BISM had to offer. BISM had not previously seen the DOE's charges and therefore had only a few days to respond. Answers which refuted each of the charges were prepared and presented to Judge Kaplan in accordance with his instructions. After reviewing the Department's charges and BISM's responses, Kaplan said that the receivership was not required and refused to grant the Department of Education's request to have BISM signed over to it.
In its second volley against BISM, the DOE requested that Judge Kaplan order an audit by the state. BISM responded that the DOE had already sent an auditor in to look at its books. BISM also pointed out that it has an audit performed annually by a recognized firm of certified public accountants and that copies of this audit are regularly made available to the Department. Judge Kaplan indicated that he did not believe another audit was necessary but that the DOE could have another audit if it paid for it.
The next move by the Department in this takeover attempt was to seek a program audit of BISM's rehabilitation and service programs. BISM told Judge Kaplan that the Department of Education, specifically the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), is entitled to such a review of BISM's programs and that BISM had no objection to such a review at this time. Judge Kaplan finally found something to which both parties could agree and ordered the program review. Along with this review he instructed both parties that they are not free to discuss details until he has had an opportunity to study this report.
At the state legislature's House and Senate hearings on the Department of Education's budget for state-aided institutions, Richard Brueckner, BISM's president, was questioned about the charges raised by the DOE's lawsuit. He replied that the country club membership was used in conjunction with golf tournaments which have raised more than $35,000 for BISM's programs. This effort far outweighs the $2,000 membership fee. The membership has been used in conjunction with fund-raising activities or for BISM's sales efforts only. He said that it was not a membership for his family or for his personal use. When asked about baseball tickets purchased with a BISM credit card, Brueckner said that the tickets to Orioles games are given as awards to blind employees or used by students in the rehabilitation division as part of the rehabilitation program. When asked about the problems with the blind/sighted ratio of employees (the federally required ratio of 75 percent blind to 25 percent sighted), Brueckner pointed out that the problem does exist at the Salisbury plant. He also pointed out that the problem was discovered by BISM itself and went back several years prior to his arrival at BISM. He also noted that corrective actions are underway and that these corrections are approved by National Industries for the Blind, the corporation which hands out federal contracts to the various workshops for the blind. Brueckner assured legislators that BISM has no plans to close down any of its facilities, as has been alleged. Employment of blind persons is not in jeopardy, according to Brueckner. Job openings are available in Cumberland and Salisbury, and further job expansion in Baltimore is being developed, too.
Don Morris, a member of BISM's Board of Trustees, told the Senate and House committees that he and other board members were determined that BISM be operated like a well-managed company, where blind people can earn decent wages, learn to be productive, and take pride in the work they are doing. He said that much has been invested in BISM and that the investment is now beginning to pay off. Morris said that there are those who would prefer to keep blind people in a second-class, dependent status, but BISM is determined that blind people should have the training and opportunity to contribute to society as first-class citizens. While BISM is better than it was, it is not as good as it will be, Morris declared. He said that "the Board is proud of BISM's accomplishments, but we are not yet satisfied that we have done all we can."
One must wonder about the motives which could have precipitated the Department of Education's (specifically the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation's) ill-conceived lawsuit against BISM. It is extremely unfortunate that the DVR chose to request information by such means when written agreements between the DVR and BISM already provide for all of this information to be shared if the DVR requests it. It could not possibly have been the DVR's concern for the well-being of Maryland's blind citizens. One need only examine the DVR's dismal record to know better. One is driven to speculate whether DVR's present actions have something to do with its desire to seek revenge against BISM for its decision to support the efforts of the organized blind in the 1991 session of the Maryland General Assembly to transfer state rehabilitation services for the blind to BISM. Or, considering the current difficult economic conditions in Maryland, do the DVR's motives have more to do with its desire to deny BISM its state appropriation and keep those funds for itself?
We're sure this is not the end of the story. We'll keep you advised as further details develop.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Paul Gabias at the 1991 convention of the National Federation of the Blind.]
UNIQUE FEATURES OF GUIDE DOGS: BACKTRACKING AND HOMING
by Paul Gabias
From the Associate Editor: Dr. Paul Gabias is a professor of psychology at Okanagan College in Kelowna, British Columbia. He is also married to Mary Ellen Reihing Gabias, a long-time Federationist and for several years before her marriage a staff member at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. Those who meet Dr. Gabias soon notice how intelligent and well-behaved his guide dogs are. I have known him long enough to have watched him with two animals, both of which he has trained himself. He clearly loves and respects animals, but his guide dogs are not pets; each has been a working partner. What he has to say about using and training dogs as guides is sensible and practical. The following article is reprinted from the December, 1991, issue of Harness Up, the publication of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, the guide dog division of the National Federation of the Blind. Here it is:
I want to begin by contrasting the guide dog and the cane as two very different mobility methods, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. It is not my intent here impartially to list these. Instead, my purpose is to highlight several specific skills of the dog and the ways they can be integrated into the guide dog's working life. I will do so against the backdrop of contrast with the cane. I call these skills backtracking and homing. The terms mean just what they imply. Backtracking is retracing steps; homing is finding one's way home. Obviously, in a familiar area both activities are easy. However, most exciting travel is done in unfamiliar areas, where by definition the layout changes constantly and homes don't last for more than a few days. It is in these situations that the guide dog, with the skills of homing and backtracking, is at its best. After contrasting the cane and guide dog as useful but different mobility methods, I will describe how to train a guide dog in homing and backtracking.
First I want to make it clear that, even though the guide dog is my preferred travel aid, I am an experienced cane user and therefore believe that I can make a fair comparison between the two travel methods. I will explain how to teach a guide dog four specific commands: inside, outside, upstairs, and downstairs. The mastery of these commands predisposes the dog to pay attention to the layout of the environment. This attention to layout is what makes the dog ready to learn the strategies of backtracking and homing.
I will also make a few comparisons between guide dog training and computer programming. The harness handle can be considered a transducer of visual information to proprioceptive information. This transduction from one form of energy to another is not unlike the transduction which goes on inside the nervous system for vision and hearing.
Experience with White Cane and Guide Dog
At the age of fifteen, while I attended L'Institut Louis Braille, a school for the blind near Montreal, I received cane travel lessons from two blind instructors. I travelled with a cane for three and a half years. Although the cane was too short, it got me where I needed to go safely enough, but much more slowly than necessary. It also brought me into contact with the public. The instructors at the school for the blind did not teach me how I was to deal with the continual pity and amazement of the public generated by my walking around independently with a cane.
At the age of eighteen I purchased a Labrador retriever puppy I called Rapha. With the help and encouragement of the late Dr. Robert Lambert, who trained his first two guide dogs, I successfully trained Rapha. A few years later John Byfield, a long-time director of training at Guide Dog Foundation and the current director of training at Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, gave written attestation to my competence as a trainer. Rapha retired at fourteen and a half and was euthanized a year later. During Rapha's lifetime I also successfully trained two other guide dogs. Both were trained and worked in New York City and the surrounding areas. During most of the training of both these dogs, which lasted about four months each, I successfully used a white cane. Then, for approximately a year and a half during Rapha's retirement and the training of my next guide dog--a golden retriever named Viva--I also used a cane.
The change from dog to cane was difficult for me. Thanks to the NFB, I was now using a long cane, but it took a great deal of work on my part to accept the cane emotionally. The techniques and style were quite different. It seemed to me that the cane made blindness so blatant. I became acutely aware that, through the use of my dog's vision, I had protected myself from strong unresolved negative feelings about blindness. Rapha's retirement and my unwillingness to replace him until he was dead forced me to deal with these feelings. Through the NFB and a very powerful mentor, I was able to deal healthily with these issues.
After a year and a half of cane use, Viva, my second guide dog, was pretty well trained. Unusual though it may seem, she attended her first National Convention in Kansas City at seven months of age. Those who remember her there will attest to her superb behavior despite her youth. She was a dog in a million. I deeply regretted her death at three and a half years. As we were moving to a new home, she was suddenly stricken with a spinal embolism which left her hindquarters completely paralyzed. Four days later I was again without a guide dog.
Walking has always been therapeutic to me. The day after Viva's death I took a four-mile walk with my white cane in an unfamiliar area. I repeated this activity for several days.
That academic year was new for me on many fronts. I had a new job with new students, new surroundings, a new wife who was pregnant, and a new golden retriever puppy named Schubert to train. Thanks to the National Federation of the Blind and my wife, I was now using my cane with confidence and pride. At the end of that year I used my cane on two job interviews, which led to two job offers. One of those interviews resulted in our move to Kelowna, British Columbia, and my appointment as psychology professor at Okanagan College.
I am a strong advocate of white cane use. Every blind person should know how to use one. But the white cane and guide dog are very different mobility aids. I would like to focus on several of the differences before talking about backtracking and homing.
Contrasts Between the White Cane and Guide Dog
All the functional differences between using a white cane and a guide dog are derived from one basic difference: the white cane is a tactile aid; the guide dog is a visual aid. In comparing them, it will be useful to begin by examining the kind of information available to the blind pedestrian without either aid.
Information about the texture of the ground is gathered by the feet and by analyzing the sound that the feet make. Information about the proximity of objects is collected by the ears. Information about the texture and shape of objects and the texture and layout of the ground is picked up by the skin and changes in joint position which occur during exploration with hands and feet. Odors often provide useful information through the nose, and wind direction and sun position, which can both be very useful, are gathered by the skin.
Therefore, without using either a dog or a cane the blind pedestrian still has access to information about the environment- -topography of the ground and the proximity, texture, and shape of nearby objects. In addition, during street crossing, information about the pattern of traffic is picked up by the ears. This traffic pattern is useful in locating the opposite corner.
What additional information can be provided by the skillful use of the long white cane? The cane is a tactile scanning instrument. It warns the pedestrian of changes in terrain texture and layout, e.g., steps, pathways, and doorways, before the information would be picked up by the feet and the hands. It makes contact with objects before the user's body does, allowing the pedestrian to walk around them. It also augments the auditory information provided by echoes. In short, the cane is mostly a tactile aid, and the range of its information pick-up is very short--that is, distances within a few feet of the user.
On the other hand, the guide dog is a visual aid. The dog, through its visual system, has access to information at some distance, e.g., the layout of an enclosed space or a large open area like a mall or the lobby of a hotel. At a distance it can perceive the location of significant points in the layout such as staircases, entrances, exits, and elevators. The dog can perceive paths through the gaps in a crowd. The trick is to make the dog's visual information about distance useful to the blind person.
The dog communicates with its owner through movements of its body, transmitted through the harness handle or, in some circumstances, through the leash. This communication is a transduction of information from vision to touch, called proprioception, which is transfer of information from electromagnetic energy to mechanical energy. Similar kinds of transduction occur within the nervous system. In vision, for example, the receptors of the retina transform electromagnetic energy into nerve impulses. In hearing, vibrations in the air are picked up as mechanical energy in the outer and middle ear, are transformed into hydraulic energy in the cochlea, and are transformed into nerve impulses in the basilar membrane of the inner ear.
By analogy, the harness on the dog transforms its visual information into proprioceptive information that can be used to determine the owner's steps. For example, a pause in the dog's forward movement indicates a change in layout. One ascertains the type of change with the foot and the subsequent movement of the harness handle. Lateral motions of the dog and the harness handle mean that there is an obstacle to be avoided by moving to the left or the right. The direction through a crowd is chosen by the blind pedestrian, but the specific route is selected by the dog. Through its choices as the pair proceed through a crowd, the dog's visual information is transformed into proprioceptive information by the harness handle. The same occurs at street corners. If the two corners of the intersection are not directly opposite each other, no problem. The dog selects the correct trajectory, and the information about the necessary angle for safe crossing is conveyed to the blind pedestrian as he or she listens to the traffic and walks across the street.
Another difference between the guide dog and the cane is that the cane does not learn. It is incapable of pattern recognition. It cannot recognize familiar routes. It cannot make correct choices at appropriate points. It cannot recognize the entrances of familiar buildings, nor can it recognize customary pathways taken through these buildings. The cane is a passive aid while the guide dog is an active, interactive aid.
Because of this the dog must be trained or programmed to send specific messages to deal with particular changes in layout. Further, the blind person must learn to understand the messages travelling through the harness handle. The blind person must also learn how to integrate the messages from the harness handle into the perceptual information available through other sources. If the messages do not match the information available to the blind person, e.g., the dog is distracted or requires more training, the blind person must correct the dog or update its programming. The guide dog's behavior must be consistent with the owner's expectations. If the blind person keeps those expectations high and is vigilant about keeping the animal programmed properly, the dog will perform as it should.
Backtracking and Homing
We now come to the issues of backtracking and homing. I have deliberately introduced computer language because I believe that with dogs, as with computers, we can achieve a high degree of control over the outcomes resulting from particular inputs. With computers, of course, the key to control is parsimonious, logical, step-by-step programming. With dogs, the key to control is step-by-step shaping of behavior and consistent reinforcement. Of course, the dog is much more complex than any computer. Its natural tendencies and emotional make-up must always be taken into account in any training situation.
As I have mentioned, dogs can learn to obey commands such as "inside," "outside," "upstairs," "downstairs," "elevator," and "follow." As far as I know, most of these commands are not formally taught by the majority of guide dog schools. If you choose to, you can surmount this problem with a little work. After all, information about the layout of the building is visually available to the dog, through both perception and memory. Why should we not take full advantage of this information? But the dog must be trained to transmit the information to us, and here is how it can be done.
Let us start with the command "inside." To begin, face the doorway of a building. Give the dog the "forward" command, followed by "inside." The dog will obey the "forward" and take you to the door. Repeat this procedure several times. Then continue with the procedure, but omit the "forward" command. Simply give the "inside" command. If the dog does not move, encourage it along by nonverbal means. Repeat the procedure until the dog moves forward with only the "inside" command. Of course, praise the dog at appropriate places, e.g., after the dog has begun to move and at the doorway. Make a fuss at the door, telling the dog how good it is. Once your dog understands that, when you are facing the doorway, "inside" means to move toward the doorway, you are ready to proceed to the next step. By the way, always use the same trajectory to and from the door. In this way you are inculcating the rudiments of backtracking in the dog.
The next step is to issue the "inside" command when you are not facing the doorway directly. Start with small angles of deviation and increase them as the dog improves. The "inside" command should cause the dog to compensate for the angle. You can verbally correct the dog if it does not compensate for the angle. When the dog does compensate and goes to the door, praise it profusely. When training is complete, you should be able to face completely away from the door, requiring the dog to make a 180- degree turn and head for the door after receiving the "inside" command. It is important that the dog be able to do this. It will help you in unfamiliar areas in which you are not sure where the door is.
The next step involves increasing the distance between the door and the dog. Always train in a familiar area. A parking lot or a field is particularly appropriate. As you increase the distance from the door, try different facing angles. Use these strategies with different doorways. Incorporate them into the dog's working life.
Once the dog has learned to respond to the "inside" command correctly, follow the same procedure for the "outside" command. As the dog comes to understand these commands, widen the scope of their use. A sensible and sensitive owner comes to know when the dog is ready for strict enforcement of the commands. Test your dog on these commands when you know which direction the door is. Once the dog knows the commands, you can correct it with the harness or the leash if it does not head in the appropriate direction. Remember that sometimes there may be a door in the opposite direction. I have been fooled sometimes and have had to apologize to my dogs. Fortunately, most dogs are of a forgiving nature.
I believe that through success with these commands, over time the dog learns to pay attention to the flow of the layout of surfaces in its optic array as it moves through the environment. It learns the backtracking strategy, which usually works well: Whatever route you followed on the way into a building, do the opposite on the way out. This works very nicely in stores. One can go to a department store and follow various clerks to different displays, and experienced dogs can learn to pay attention to the layout of the store as they move through it. Unless the store has doors which face in different directions, the "outside" command will simply mean a reversal of the whole layout, that is, motion in the opposite direction.
This backtracking strategy can be useful in other settings too. Suppose you are with friends at a restaurant and wish to visit the washroom. If you don't know where it is, you can follow another person with your dog. Often sighted people will ask if they should wait until you are finished. If your dog knows the backtracking strategy, it can guide you smoothly back to the table. You can use a command like "find the seat" or "find the table." The dog should retrace its steps to your seat. Praise the dog for finding the table if it is successful. If it fails, you can practice this skill by showing the dog the table you want, starting with short distances. Do this a few times in different restaurants. The dog will catch on fairly quickly, particularly if the other people at the table are familiar or if there is another dog at the table. The dog has learned to backtrack, to retrace its steps from the table to the washroom.
The training procedures for "inside" and "outside" also work for "upstairs" and "downstairs." Dogs often confuse up and down at first, but discrimination can be taught with persistent and systematic training. Ideally, you should be able to walk out of any subway train in any station and give the "upstairs" or downstairs" command. If the station is unfamiliar, no problem. The dog can be expected to perceive the layout of the station and find the appropriate staircase on the platform.
Occasionally, experienced dogs will correct themselves; first they go in one direction. Suddenly they stop and then turn around and go in another direction. Sometimes the stairs may not be immediately visible to the dog. Unless you want a particular staircase among several available, it is important not to choose a direction for the dog upon leaving the train. After all, you want to encourage the dog to take the initiative. You will be amazed at the accuracy dogs can achieve. Of course, do not expect this to happen overnight. The step-by-step approach discussed earlier must be followed first. The same procedure applies to elevators.
Sometimes when training "inside" and "outside" you will find the dog mistakes large window panes for doors. Try to teach the dog that the handle of the door is the distinguishing feature. A mat in front of the door can also help discrimination. Tap the handle with your hand or the mat with your foot, and praise the dog for paying attention.
Finally, let me say a few words about homing. In my experience dogs who are well-travelled and expert with the backtracking technique and successful with the "inside," "outside," "upstairs," and "downstairs" commands develop a homing sense. This is what is happening when dogs anticipate customary turns on a familiar route. This tends to happen close to home, hence the term "homing." The common wisdom that, unless you are following, you should make the dog go to the curb before turning the corner is correct. Near home most dogs go to the curb reluctantly. They are very glad to turn in the accustomed direction. You can encourage the homing ability by doing the following: once you have the dog go to the edge of the curb, instead of giving the appropriate directional command (usually "left" or "right") turn your body in the desired direction and tell the dog "OK." The dog should take off in the appropriate direction, happy to go in the direction it wants. The dog will learn that at a corner the OK command means choose the appropriate direction. Do this in familiar areas, and praise the dog for the correct choice. I have found that there are great dividends to this technique.
For well-seasoned dogs home is not just where you customarily live. For my dogs home also means the hotel room in which they were last fed or the room in which our luggage was left. The entrance to the hotel means the entrance to home. Particular relief areas may also be involved. It is always interesting to see this ability develop with each new dog. All dogs have it. It is just a question of developing the skill. I remember recently staying at the faculty club at the University of British Columbia for a few days. I decided that I wanted to pick up submarine sandwiches at a restaurant, which was not too far from campus. It was fairly late at night, and I had some difficulty getting directions across the campus and out to the restaurant. On the way back we found our way to the university, but the faculty club was at least a fifteen-minute walk through the campus. We had been there only a day or two, and I was not familiar with the layout and did not know the names of the buildings. If we didn't succeed in getting back on our own, I knew that I could eventually find somebody to take me back to the faculty club. I could also call a cab from the nearest open building or restaurant, but I wanted to try the route. On the way back Schubert first turned toward several incorrect buildings. Some were places in which I had received directions on the way to the restaurant. I told him "no" and prevented him from going toward them. We walked around, and I found the interaction between my sense of direction and his choices quite interesting. In these situations, unless I know he is absolutely wrong, I like to let him make his own decisions. Sure enough, after about fifteen minutes, things began to seem familiar. In about ten more minutes we arrived at the faculty club. I was very proud of my young Schubert and very proud of our accomplishment. On the way back to the club somebody driving through the campus had offered me a lift. I politely refused, although at the time I wondered about the wisdom of my choice. The person told me I was amazing and that he could never do what I do. I told him that he probably could if he wanted to, thanked him for the offer, and kept going.
Schubert used the information about distant layout available to him to chart our course back to the faculty club. He was not wandering aimlessly. He had a purpose in mind. Without him I would not have persisted. With my cane I would have been alone, and that would not have been as much fun. I would not have had information about distant layout available to me, which would have made the task less rewarding. I would have gotten back to the club, probably through the use of human visual information.
To me there is something very special about canine vision. It belongs to dogs. A well-trained guide dog is always waiting for its owner, ready to serve, intelligent, yet extremely simple at heart. Dogs are not amazed at what we do, nor do they feel more fortunate than we because they have vision. They offer their vision freely and leave it up to us to use it effectively. Dogs have always been one of God's gifts to humanity. They have served us in many capacities. I am proud to be a guide dog handler, and I am proud to show the world what dogs can do for us. Of course, most people misunderstand the interaction completely. They believe that in some way guide dog users are in the custody of their dogs. The dog leads, and we passively hang on. The degree of misunderstanding about cane use is equally devastating.
In the Federation one of our tasks is education. Hopefully, by competent use of both travel aids we will be able to increase the public's understanding of blindness. With proper training and opportunity blindness need not be the crippling disability people believe it to be. We have a right to first-class citizenship. We have a right to competitive employment, to family, to children, and to growing old with dignity. In the National Federation of the Blind we are learning to take what is rightfully ours. We will educate the public as we go, but we will never turn back.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: The Elliott Family: Dale, Ann, and their son Caleb.]
THE TURNING POINT
From the Associate Editor: The following article is reprinted from the Spring, 1992, issue of Future Reflections, the quarterly magazine of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Barbara Cheadle edits this publication, and the editor's note at the beginning is hers. Let us never underestimate the importance of the turning point that the Elliotts describe in this news story. Here it is:
Editor's Note: I met Ann and Dale Elliott at the 1991 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. It was clear that they had come determined to learn all they could about blindness. They sought out parents, teachers, and blind adults of all ages. Everyone who met them must have been impressed, as was I, with their down-to-earth attitude and desire to learn. They also demonstrated courage. It isn't easy for parents to talk about a child's blindness when emotions are still raw and close to the surface. But with knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding comes healing. I was once asked by a parent when would her tears ever stop. I said something like this: "You are a parent; the tears never stop. However, the nature of your tears can change." That turning point comes much more surely if, like the Elliotts, you seek knowledge and understanding from those who know blindness best--the blind themselves. Here is Ann and Dale Elliott's story as told in their local newspaper, the Times/Record News of Wichita Falls, Texas, on Sunday, February 2, 1992:
"Big Brown Eyes":
Child's Blindness Helps Parents See
by Lois Luecke (Senior Staff Writer)
Ann and Dale Elliott still become teary-eyed when they talk about their adopted son, Caleb. Their tears are joyful, where once they were the tears of parents facing an unknown. Not until he was five months old did the Elliotts, older parents in their forties, discover that Caleb was blind.
"We were devastated," said Mrs. Elliott. "He has the prettiest big brown eyes. To look at him, you would never know that there's anything wrong. "A number of people, Mrs. Elliott said, asked if they still wanted to keep Caleb. "Of course we did," she said. "He was ours."
The Elliotts' initial reaction, though, was one of disbelief and denial. They said they experienced various stages of grief, including anger and depression. Eye specialists told them that Caleb was born with a fatty buildup and a "pseudo cherry spot" on his retina. No name was given to it, and no one knows why, said his mother.
During that critical time, Mrs. Elliott says in retrospect, "I think probably I held my baby closer. My husband and I both cried, and we still do at times.... Then for the most part you accept it and go on with your life. But I don't think you ever get over the hurt. I don't think you feel so much for yourself, but for your child. And he doesn't need it. He doesn't know. His world is normal."
The Elliotts have come a long way in the three ensuing years. They believe they reached a major turning point only last July at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in New Orleans.
Members of the NFB Parents Division, they heard talks by many of the nation's blind leaders. They saw sightless teen-agers making their way effortlessly through the convention halls, having fun. Role models like these and the Federation itself, they said, opened up new vistas for them and their son. "We have no doubt that Caleb will be a totally self-sufficient adult. We expect him to grow up and marry and have children. The only problem he has is that he can't see. But there is nothing to keep him from being a very successful adult. We intend to see he gets the best education he can get," said his mother.
Both parents are involved in all of Caleb's activities. They are learning Braille and encouraging Caleb to learn Braille by reading such books as a Sesame Street book on the A-B-C's. "His vision teacher Brailled sticky paper with every letter on each page. Another book is called a Twin Vision book. While you read the nursery rhymes to him, he feels the Braille. He doesn't know what it says, but this is getting his fingers accustomed to the feel of Braille."
His parents enrolled Caleb in preschool in September 1990 at the Learning Center at First Presbyterian Church. There and at home he receives visits from his vision teacher, who works at Region IX Education Service Center. He will be eligible for mainstreaming into the public schools when he reaches kindergarten.
The Elliotts are charter members of a new support group for parents with visually impaired children. They keep up with new developments, such as the Texas Legislature's passage of a model Braille bill, specifying that the state will provide all the textbooks or the capability of the textbooks to be printed in Braille.
The public school system in Texas starts working with visually impaired and deaf children from birth, said Mrs. Elliott. In Archer County, the Elliotts come under the umbrella of the Big 4 Co-op for special education. "Caleb is a typical 3-year-old. He is typical in every way except that he can't see. To him that's not a problem," said his mother, a licensed vocational nurse, who works for a physician at the Wichita Falls Clinic. Being blind from birth, Caleb can go anywhere in the house," said his father, a system operator with TU Electric. "He can tell you about anything in the house." Caleb still has light perception, and that helps him with balance and mobility. Sometimes he trails the wall with his hand when he goes down the hall, said his mother. They have taught him to keep his hands out so he won't bump into things. He uses a small cane when he goes outside and when the family goes to the mall or to a restaurant. In the near future his parents hope to buy a computer for him, with both Braille and regular printers.
Caleb and his parents enjoy unusual rapport. As they sat together for photographs in Caleb's room, they chatted and laughed, and Caleb kept up a running commentary about his "new toy," a balloon toy that "replaced an `ailing' Kermit." The youngster runs over to the toy box in his room and pulls out a toy. As he does with most objects, he feels for the toy, puts it to his nose to smell, then to his mouth, and then to his ear to check the sound.
Dale and Ann Elliott said they have learned a great deal from Caleb and his acute senses of touch, sound, and smell. "When we turn into our driveway, he says, "We're home. It's a `soft ride,' because our driveway is smooth," in contrast to some of the rural roads around their house, Mrs. Elliott explained. "He can't see the mountains or the sky, everything that is beautiful," said Dale Elliott. "...But we went to Ruidoso on vacation last October. He just loved the mountains, the babbling brooks, the smell of the pine cones, the smell of the pine trees, and the feel of it all. He can probably tell you more about the mountains now than most people who go there."
Elliott's eyes brimmed with tears. "The first year he was blind, I would pray every night that the Lord would restore his vision. And now I pray every night, `Thank you, God, for giving me such a fine boy.'"
From the Associate Editor: The recipes come this month from the Nutmeg State, Connecticut. Because Yankee peddlers from Connecticut so often sold unwary housewives wooden nutmegs, residents of the state have never been delighted about the state's appellation. Eventually they became so dissatisfied that they changed the name so that it is now the Constitution State. Nevertheless, Connecticut Federationists like freshly grated nutmeg about as well as the rest of us, so Mary Brunoli has contributed a recipe for pumpkin pie that particularly brings out the flavor of nutmeg.
[PHOTO: Mary Brunoli seated with microhone in hand. CAPTION: Mary Brunoli.]
by Mary Brunoli
Mary Brunoli is the second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. She also serves as president of the NFB Music Division. She reports that President Maurer is particularly fond of this pie.
2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 slightly rounded cup cooked or canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 unbeaten eggs
1 2/3 cups (1 large can) evaporated milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup boiling water
1 uncooked 9-inch pie shell
Method: Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, salt, and eggs. Mix well. Gradually add evaporated milk. Mix spices together, and add boiling water. Stir this into pumpkin mixture and blend well. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake in 400-degree oven 35 to 40 minutes. If a glass pie plate is used, bake at 375 degrees for approximately 55 minutes.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Bruce and Betty Woodward.]
BUTTERNUT SQUASH ROLLS
by Bruce Woodward
Bruce Woodward is the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. He and his wife Betty edit the Connecticut Federationist, the publication of the NFB of Connecticut. He is also a good cook, and Betty says that he is an especially fine bread baker.
1/2 cup butternut squash, peeled, steamed, and mashed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup scalded milk
1 packet yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 - 3 cups flour
Method: Now listen up everyone: the temperature of your mixed up ingredients is very important--not too hot, not too cold, just a nice, warm temperature. Mix squash, sugar, salt, scalded milk, and butter, taking care that mixture is not too hot. Add the warm water with the yeast dissolved in it and mix it all up some more. Start adding flour a cup at a time and keep stirring things around. When dough is pretty stiff, start kneading it on a floured surface with all the tenderness and love your mother taught you. When you're done kneading (about 15 minutes), put ball of dough in a warm bowl greased with Crisco and let rise in a warm, cozy place. After it has risen, knead it again and begin shaping your rolls. I sometimes roll out a small amount into a short rope and tie it into a knot to make each roll. After rolls have been shaped and placed on a cookie sheet, let them rise again. Bake in a 325 to 350 degree oven, about 15 minutes. Temperature and time are really a matter of your own personal judgment and choice. This recipe makes about 24 rolls.
BAKED CARROT & APPLE CASSEROLE
by Betty Woodward
Betty Woodward is the president of the Greater Hartford chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut.
6 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
2 cups cooked, sliced carrots
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
salt to taste
3/4 cup orange juice
Method: Place one half of the apples in a greased 2-quart casserole dish. Place one half of the carrots over apples. Mix brown sugar and flour and spread one half of the mixture over the apples and carrots. Repeat this process, then pour orange juice over all. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes.
HEAVENLY SUMMER DESSERT
by Susan Manchester
Susan Manchester is the President of the Greater Stamford Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut.
1 angel food cake mix
1 package of sugar-free Jell-O
1 envelope of Dream Whip
(or substitute low-calorie whipped topping)
Method: Prepare cake mix as directed and place the cake still in its pan upside down on a bottle or funnel to cool. Mix Jell-O as directed, using a tablespoon less water in order to make the mixture slightly firmer. When Jello is set, prepare the whipped topping. When the angel cake is cool, cut it in half horizontally. While Jell-O is thick but not yet set, whip it with mixer set on low speed or by hand, and combine with whipped topping. Be careful not to allow the Jello to become watery. Fill the cake with the fruit mixture and replace the top layer of cake. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining topping. Keep refrigerated before and after serving. This delicious desert is as pretty as it is light, low in calories, and refreshing.
by Marie Beaulier
Marie Beaulier is a member of the Greater Hartford Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium green pepper, finely chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
1 small can chili paste (optional)
3 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
4 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 large can tomato sauce
1 large can crushed tomatoes
Method: In 4-quart pan cook onions, peppers, and meat until browned. Add 1/2 can tomato sauce and stir well. Add chili paste and garlic, stir well. Add rest of tomato sauce, beans, and crushed tomatoes, stirring gently to blend well. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1/2 hour. Note: this is a great potluck or party dish. Cook chili in oven-proof baking dish. Cool and chill for several hours. Two hours before serving, add a stick of crumbled pepperjack cheese (Monterey Jack or cheddar works well) down center of chili. Heat oven to 325 degrees and place chili covered in oven for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off oven. This is also great divided and frozen for future use.
FRANKFURTERS AND STRING BEANS
by Mary E. Terrell
Mary Terrell is an active member of the Greater Waterbury chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. She says of this recipe, "Served with a salad, this casserole provides a quick and tasty meal."
1 pound frankfurters
1 package frozen string beans
1 #2 can tiny new potatoes, drained
1 cup beef bouillon
1/4 cup chili sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
(No salt and pepper with this one, please)
Method: Arrange the potatoes on the bottom of a deep buttered casserole dish. Add the partly thawed string beans. Place frankfurters on top of vegetables. Mix the bouillon, chili sauce, and dry mustard and pour over the casserole. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
by Micki Lynch
Micki Lynch is an active member of the New Haven Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. Her husband Bob serves as the chapter president.
1 1/2 pounds chopped meat
3 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup milk
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 can tomato paste
1 15-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/3 cup flour
Method: Brown chopped meat. Add onion and garlic. When cooked through, add tomato paste and sauce, salt and pepper, and basil. Cook 15 minutes. Place sliced zucchini in bowl, add flour and toss to coat. Put half of meat mixture in baking dish. Add zucchini, pour over remaining sauce, cover with foil, and bake 25 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove from oven and pour mixture of beaten eggs and milk over the surface. Sprinkle the top with cheese. Return dish to oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes more.
Ted Young, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, has asked us to carry the following announcement:
I would like to take this opportunity to announce my new business, Young Opportunities, Inc., 464 Sylvania Avenue, Glenside, PA 19038, phone: (215) 572-5882. I sell a wide variety of computer equipment, speech products including Vocal-eyes, ASAP, the Sounding Board, LItetalk, Doubletalk and Dectalk, CDRom drives and disks, and a wide variety of software. I also provide training in WordPerfect, Dbase, Q&A and Lotus, and provide consultation regarding employment of the blind and disabled and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Please contact me for further information or products.
Under date of May 6, 1992, Senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota wrote to Karen Mayry, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, as follows:
On National Volunteers' Day on the floor of the U.S. Senate, during National Volunteers' Week, I recognized you as one of the many dedicated South Dakotans who received the Governor's Volunteer of the Year Award.
Enclosed is a copy of my remarks printed in the Congressional Record. Your volunteer work truly is an inspiring example of service being performed by volunteers in South Dakota and the nation.
Thank you for all the time, energy, and effort you have devoted to making a difference in the lives of those around you. You're great!
United States Senator
Among other things, Senator Pressler said in the Congressional Record and on the floor of the Senate:
"Karen Mayry of Rapid City. Her motto is `Blind, yes; handicapped, never!' Karen is actively involved as a volunteer with the National Federation of the Blind. Her efforts have helped thousands of blind diabetics."
**Strong and Growing Chapter:
Bowling Green, Kentucky
May 4, 1992
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
Below is an announcement from our South Central Kentucky Chapter which we would appreciate your placing in the earliest possible issue of the Braille Monitor under "Monitor Miniatures." As you can undoubtedly tell from reading our announcement, we sincerely appreciate the strong, continued efforts waged by you, President Maurer, and the entire staff at our NFB headquarters. We are proud of our organization and proud to be a part of its collective force.
Ronald E. Milliman, President
South Central Kentucky Chapter of the NFB
Here is an announcement: The South Central Kentucky Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind has just concluded its first year following reactivation in March, 1991. Its newly elected officers are Dr. Ronald Milliman, President; James Lepping, Vice President; Nancy Scott, Treasurer; Jean Burk, Secretary; and Nita Cline, Social Activities Chairperson. Our chapter has just completed a very successful year. Such successes included challenging the NCAA's position of not allowing portable radios into certain NCAA tournament events; as a direct result of our challenge, the NCAA rescinded their policy. Our chapter also participated in the massive and collective effort to affect the future (putting it tactfully) of the TV program Good and Evil. We launched a successful fundraising drive to help support the efforts of the chapter, including our continual public education efforts, helping to send a representative to the NFB March on Washington, and various other activities intended to bring us together and make us a stronger, more united chapter. We also hosted the state convention this last year, and what a tremendously successful convention it was, even if we do say so ourselves. I might add that Diane McGeorge was the National Representative to our state convention, and it was, indeed, a pleasure for all of us to come to know the wonderful and warm person she is. Though this past year has been a very good one for our chapter, we anticipate this next one to be even better.
**Another Magazine for Writers?:
Nancy Scott, one of the leaders of the Writers Division of the National Federation of the Blind, reports that the Division is looking into the possibility of making a national writing magazine available on tape from Recorded Periodicals in addition to The Writer. So far the overwhelming favorite is Writer's Digest. However, we need to identify approximately thirty people who are interested in subscribing, and we do not yet have enough responses. The subscription cost is not yet final, but it could be about four dollars an issue for a read-and-keep cassette (very likely four-track). The Writers Division would not benefit financially from this project and would not handle the recording process, except in an advisory capacity. If you wish to subscribe to Writer's Digest on tape or if you have information about other helpful magazines, contact Nancy Scott, 1141 Washington Street, Easton, Pennsylvania 18042; or call (215) 253-9073. Cassette tape with returnable mailer, Braille, and print correspondence are all convenient.
**Pen Friends Wanted:
The Braille Monitor recently received a request for pen friends from Miss Venny H. of Indonesia. She is sixteen, and she and several of her friends are interested in corresponding with Americans who are blind though it is not clear whether any of them is blind. Interested correspondents should write to Venny telling her their names, addresses, ages, sex, and hobbies so that she can pair them with Indonesians having similar interests. Letters should be addressed to Shiny Stars, Venny H, Kepaduri blok G no. 3, (H Mangga II), RT 008 RW 08, Jakarta 11510, Indonesia.
**New Chapter Organized:
Don Capps, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, informs us that on Saturday, May 16, 1992, the Hampton County Chapter of the NFB of South Carolina was organized. Thirty people were in attendance at the dinner meeting at which the following officers were elected: June Hiers Sahler, President; William Gardner, Vice President; Lillie Belle Graham, Secretary; Johnny Mack Brown, Treasurer; and Carol Boone, Social Director. This brings to thirty-five the number of chapters in the South Carolina affiliate. Congratulations to the members of the Hampton County Chapter, and congratulations to the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina.
Monitor readers will recall Peggy Chong's article in the March, 1992, issue of the Braille Monitor, entitled "Does the Bus Company Have a Blind Spot?" She reported on the struggle the Metro Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota has had with the local bus company in an effort to retain adequate bus schedule information by telephone. Recently she sent us the following update:
On April 1 I received a call from Dee Molean of the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) to let our chapter know that as of May 1 NextDay service would be available on BusLine, MTC's computerized bus information line. This announcement means that in less than one year our chapter was able to recover this bus information service, not only for blind people, but for the entire bus-riding public. Had it not been for the NFB, it is clear this victory would not have come about.
But more important, MTC and the NFB are now working together. This week many of our members are contacting state legislators to help MTC educate law-makers about the need for more money to provide better main line bus service.
When we as blind people work together, we can truly make a difference.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Donovan Cooper.]
**An Idea Worth Duplicating:
Donovan Cooper is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of California. He understands the importance of funding the organized blind movement and is continually on the lookout for ways of educating the public and inviting his neighbors to assist the NFB in our work. The following brief article will be published in the June, 1992, issue of the Lakeside Breeze, a newsletter published by the residents of his apartment complex:
Long Distance Telephone Discounts Available
Donovan Cooper is a long-time resident of Lakeside Apartments. He is also President of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. Donovan tells us that the National Federation of the Blind is offering long- distance telephone service at a ten percent discount from standard AT & T rates through the NFB Network. The NFB Network is operated by Convergent Communications of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
You may take the full ten percent discount; or, if you wish, you can donate either half or all of the ten percent discount to the NFB. If you decide to donate either five or ten percent, Convergent Communications will automatically forward the donation to the NFB and show the donated amounts on your long-distance telephone bills. All donations to the NFB are tax-deductible.
You may use the NFB Network for either your home or business telephone service. Additional information and sign-up forms are available at the Lakeside office. Donovan asks for your support for the NFB and its activities on behalf of blind people; sign up for the NFB Network, and, if possible, make a donation in this manner.
That is the article that Donovan Cooper wrote, and it may well result in contributions to the National Federation of the Blind. At the very least his neighbors know a little more about the NFB and our work. All of us should take the opportunity to sign up with the NFB Network ourselves and spread the word in church newsletters and other publications with which we are familiar. For more information about this painless method of making contributions to the National Federation of the Blind, consult the May, 1992, issue of the Braille Monitor.
**Volunteer Braille Transcriptionist Honored:
We have been asked to print the following:
Nancy Lewis, a volunteer Braillist with the Florida Regional Library Serving the Blind and Physically Handicapped, has been gratefully acknowledged by the Jacksonville Naval Aviation Depot for her Braille computer contributions to assist a visually impaired computer systems analyst who works there. Ms. Lewis received a letter of appreciation and a beautiful certificate which included a photograph of the facility.
Nancy Lewis has been Brailling computer manuals necessary for this employee since August, 1990.
Wayne Davis, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, reports that the Florida Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has a long and honorable history of assistance to blind patrons and support for the efforts of the organized blind movement.**Free Matter Labels Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
Free matter for the blind, self-adhesive labels for sale, $1 per sheet of thirty labels. Please send check or money order to John R. Lynch, Wildcat Enterprises, 5221 Hitchingpost, Corpus Christi, Texas 78415.
**White Cane Day Idea:
Last fall Karen Mayry, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, reported that in conjunction with White Cane Safety Day the affiliate conducted an extremely successful public education program in the Rapid City School System. It's an idea that could be duplicated in any city across the country. Karen sent the following memo to every fourth grade teacher in the city. This is the way she explained the NFB of South Dakota's offer:
September 26, 1991
To: Rapid City Fourth Grade Teachers
From: Karen S. Mayry, President
National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota
Re: Blindness and White Cane Week
Do your students have questions about blind people and what they can or cannot do? Do they think that we stay at home and need to be "taken care of?" Do they believe that all blind kids go to special schools and could not attend their school and participate fully in the programs?"
We would like to eliminate the myths that most individuals have regarding the capabilities of blind people. As blind people ourselves, we have the expertise to address the questions proposed by your students. We would welcome the opportunity.
White Cane Day is celebrated nationwide on October 15. It calls attention to the independence of blind people through the use of a long white cane. During the week of October 14 - 18, we want to visit all fourth grades in the Rapid City School System. May we visit your class?
Please call to schedule a convenient time for our presentation.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement: "My book Songs of Emotion, is in both Braille and regular print. Braille from Northern Nevada Braille Transscribers, Inc., 1015 Oxford Avenue, Sparks, Nevada 89431. Print from Mrs. Kaye Mendoca, Box 1544, Tahoe City, California 95730." This announcement comes from Gayle Sabonaitis, 11 Maxwell Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01607.
**Braille Book Store Opens:We recently received the following press release:
The William A. Thomas Braille Book Store, believed to be the first such retail store in the nation, has been opened by Braille International, Inc., a non-profit organization in Stuart, Florida.Braille readers now have immediate access to approximately 250 fiction, non-fiction, and children's titles on a variety of topics, such as business, computers, cooking, sports, romance and science fiction, plus research materials.
The store serves a dual purpose. First, visually impaired and blind individuals are able to shop independently. Second, it helps educate the local community on blindness, since many area school children visit Braille International on class field trips.
The store is named for William A. Thomas, the founder and board chairman of Braille International. Mr. Thomas has been involved in the braille industry since the early 197Os, and has chaired the board of directors of Braille International since it was established as a non-profit organization in 1988.
"We've wanted to do this for a long time," says Steven L. Brubaker, president of Braille International. "Mr. Thomas has long been an untiring supporter of braille literacy. We saw this as a wonderful way to recognize all his efforts to see that those who are denied sight are not denied knowledge."
The store plans to add approximately 100 new titles to its shelves each year. The books, which are sold at cost, are priced from 72 cents to more than $300.
The book store is open to the public from 7:30 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or by appointment on Saturdays. "If people are in the area and want to visit," explains Brubaker, "we will do what we can to accommodate their schedules."
Free catalogues of the titles offered at the book store are available in print or braille, and books may be ordered by mail. For more inforation or to receive a free catalogue, please contact the publications director toll-free at 1-800-336-3142, or write her at 3142 S.E. Jay St., Stuart, Florida 34997.
We have been asked to print the following:
The Kanawha Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia held its annual chapter elections April 9, 1992. The following officers were elected: Dennis Ranker, President; Ruth Kirby, Vice-President; Barbara Smith, Secretary; Mike Smith, Treasurer; and Ed Greenleaf, board member.