Vol. 35, No.
Barbara Pierce, Editor
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FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 35, No. 10 November 1992
PROBLEMS OF PLACEMENT AND RESPONSIBILITY: MAINSTREAMING REVISITED
by Fred Schroeder
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? A CRITICAL LOOK AT THE FUTURE OF
SCHOOLS FOR THE BLIND
by Phil Hatlen, Ed.D.
IS YOUR CHILD AGE-APPROPRIATE?
by Ruby Ryles
HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU, KIDS: BLIND TEACHER SHOWS STUDENTS A NEW
WAY TO SEE THE WORLD
NEW HOPE FOR BLIND CHILDREN IN ARIZONA
by Ruth Swenson
LISAMARIA: FOCUSING ON OTHERS
THE FEDERAL REHABILITATION ACT: NOW AND IN THE FUTURE
by Nell Carney
ARTIC TECHNOLOGIES HEARS FROM THE ORGANIZED BLIND
VICTORY IN THE OWEN CASE
by Charlie Brown
MAJOR SURGERY, AN EDUCATIONAL IF FRIGHTENING EXPERIENCE
by Eric Clegg
TRANSFORMATION AND POSITIVE PREJUDICE
by Christopher J. Kuczynski
Copyright National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1992
by Fred Schroeder
From the Associate Editor: On Friday afternoon, July 3, Fred Schroeder, Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, delivered an address to the 1992 NFB convention. Because of his many years of teaching and administrative experience in the education of blind children, Mr. Schroeder is an expert in this field, so his remarks on the question of appropriate educational setting for these youngsters were taken seriously and should be carefully considered by everyone with an interest in this important subject. The issue is complex, and the correct placement for each child depends on the individual mix of needs and opportunities. Here is what Fred Schroeder had to say:
In 1940 when the National Federation of the Blind was founded, a mechanism was created by which blind people could at last guide their own destinies. The achievement of the past fifty years has not been the product of good fortune or happenstance, but rather the just and inevitable outcome of concerted action.
As our organization has grown, we have increasingly come to recognize that it is our shared philosophy about blindness that enables us to keep our energies focused and our goals clearly in view. During Dr. Jernigan's tenure as President of our organization, he articulated our philosophy in clearly defined principles. He taught us that, given proper training and opportunity, blind people can compete on terms of real equality with their sighted peers. The truth of this statement is recognized by all of us and forms a cornerstone upon which policy and political action are built.
Our shared philosophy makes us strong, coordinating individual effort in collective action. We believe that, given training and opportunity, blind people can compete on terms of equality. It naturally follows that, for blind children to be successfully integrated into society, they too need training and opportunity. Early residential schools for the blind started with an assumption that, if blind children mastered fundamental literacy skills through Braille, they were capable of becoming well educated. Many schools for the blind practiced mainstreaming long before the term became fashionable. I remember Lawrence "Muzzy" Marcelino, a long-time leader in our organization, telling me that in the 1920's and 1930's high school students at the California School for the Blind would attend public school classes armed with a slate and stylus and a portable typewriter. These students were expected to compete and had the training to make that expectation a reality.
After World War II, with the advent of the RLF generation, schools for the blind found themselves overcrowded, and hence the practice of integrating blind children into regular school programs became more and more widespread. Yet a curious thing began to happen. Blind students educated away from the residential school experienced difficulty receiving training, particularly in Braille reading and writing, and therefore found themselves educated under a substandard, watered-down curriculum. Gone were the expectations that came with real literacy. Instead, blind children encountered a conception of blindness which expected, and even rewarded, inferior performance.
In the late 1970's, with the implementation of Public Law 94-142, the integration of disabled children was popularized under the concept of mainstreaming. This movement was premised on the belief that blind and other disabled children should be educated in the least restrictive environment, alongside non- disabled children in regular classes. The missing element from the mainstreaming movement was an examination of expectations for blind children. When I attended graduate school, we were told that blind children educated in isolation had numerous social problems, making them ill-equipped to function in a sighted world. The clear focus of mainstreaming was social integration, with substandard academic performance tacitly accepted.
Today there is a resurgence in the mainstreaming movement with an even more radical view of integration. Modern-day mainstreaming, which goes by the name of inclusion or the regular education initiative, asserts that all disabled children should be educated in regular classes, eliminating pull-out programs altogether. Proponents of inclusion argue that differences in people are found throughout society and therefore artificial distinctions which label and categorize are unnecessary and undesirable in our educational system. They believe that regular classroom teachers should be able to educate all children, regardless of their needs for specialized training. However, as with the mainstreaming movement, the modern-day inclusion movement fails to address academic achievement as an essential element of public education.
On its face the concept of inclusion appears both common-sense and morally correct. The practice of labeling children--and with it the implied stigma of dysfunctionality--seems contrary to the spirit of American democracy. I am concerned, however, about the impact of inclusion on the education of blind children.
For the blind child successful mainstreaming is dependent on the child's ability to compete with his or her sighted peers. Braille reading and writing constitute an alternative to print reading and writing. Similarly, use of the abacus allows the blind child to perform mathematical computations quickly and efficiently. The typewriter and, more recently, the computer, while not special devices for the blind, are vital tools by which the blind child can communicate with the sighted. For the blind child to function competitively, it is also necessary that he or she be able to get around with the same degree of independence as his or her sighted peers. Thus competence in the use of the white cane for independent travel is essential. These techniques, representing a separate and distinct set of skills, are not inferior, but simply alternative.
Under the concept of inclusion, integrating blind children from kindergarten on may deny them the opportunity fully to master the skills needed to keep up with their classmates. Blind children are subject to the same social conditioning about blindness as the public at large. Myths and misconceptions about blindness are rampant. The blind child exposed to prevailing attitudes about blindness will inevitably internalize at least some of these attitudes and question his or her own competence. The child may come to feel that because of blindness he or she is automatically inferior to his or her classmates and unable to perform comparable work.
Conversely the well-trained blind child possessing the alternative techniques needed for full participation will find that he or she can function on an equal footing with his or her sighted peers. The application of alternative techniques serves to strengthen the blind child's confidence in his or her ability to function competitively. In this way the blind child can begin to tear down his or her own misconceptions about blindness and become convinced that he or she will be able to be a fully participating, contributing member of society.
Under today's special education system, the alternatives for blind children are very few. Parents are faced with the real problem of getting the existing service-delivery systems to respond to their children's needs for training in Braille, cane travel, and the other skills of blindness. It is not likely that this situation will be improved by a push for a widespread desegregation of blind children. Rather than achieving meaningful integration, blind children would be faced with having to compete without having the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to be successful. The end result would be diminished educational opportunities for blind children while making them erroneously believe that they are unable to compete because of blindness.
A distinction should be made between segregation for segregation's sake and specialized services for the purpose of providing the training necessary for meaningful integration. A young woman I know attended our state's residential school for the blind for her elementary school training. The academic and social skills she acquired enabled her to return to a public school setting for the balance of her education. Without this early mastery of fundamental literacy skills through Braille reading and writing, along with the other skills she acquired, it is doubtful that she would have had either the confidence or the ability to achieve true integration. Rather than isolating her from society, her experience at the school for the blind gave her the ability to function successfully in society. Today this woman works as a personnel specialist for the Los Alamos National Labs and is married and raising two young children. She is living a normal life, in large part because of the opportunities she received through specialized training.
The process of integration should not be confused with desegregation. Placing blind children with sighted children may desegregate them, yet integration is an active process which blind children can only initiate if they have the confidence and tools to make it happen. Inclusion is, of course, the most desirable outcome, but, as with integration, it cannot be accomplished merely through a process of desegregation. To my way of thinking, inclusion for blind children must, by necessity, start with a substantial period of specialized training. This training may take place in a regular class, a resource room or itinerant program, or a residential school for the blind.
The question, therefore, is not whether the regular class is preferable to the resource room or school for the blind, but rather which setting offers the best prospect for blind children to acquire training and confidence. If we believe that blind children can compete on terms of real equality, then our expectations for them will be driven by this belief. Children must be challenged to achieve and challenged to compete, and by so doing, they will experience inclusion in the true meaning of the word. Blind children and their parents need the encouragement of adult role models who can help them expand their conception of blindness and their belief in the ability of blind people. Blind children and their parents need the National Federation of the Blind and the philosophy that comes with it. We as blind people comprise a minority, and as such we are subject to public misunderstanding. Yet we have learned that through the National Federation of the Blind we have a vehicle for collective action directed by a shared philosophy about blindness which gives us determination, strength, and the prospect of real equality.
by Phil Hatlen, Ed.D.
From the Editor: Dr. Hatlen was professor of special education at San Francisco State from 1966 to 1990. He now serves as superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Most professionals in education of the visually impaired have an opinion about schools for the blind, and many have written articles and/or given presentations. I am not an exception. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that efforts to guide schools for the blind in new and creative directions have been successful. Instead, too often the role of these schools has been dictated by trends set by forces outside schools for the blind. Are schools for the blind determining their own destiny? In most cases, I think not.
During the l950's and l960's, there was a tremendous growth in the number of blind and visually impaired students attending day schools as members of regular classes of sighted children. My experience during that era was that most schools for the blind strongly disagreed with this trend, and some even fought it. In retrospect it's easy to say that the trend was inevitable and that if schools for the blind had supported, or even led, the movement, they might have been in a different role today. For every blind and visually impaired child, there is an appropriate educational program at a certain time in her/his life. Needs of each child will change, and the best system is the one which can alter or change educational settings to meet individual needs. We have all known this for a long time, so why did we get to the point where local day school programs and schools for the blind became so polarized? Why did many schools for the blind become almost exclusively schools for the multi-handicapped blind? Surely this happening did not address the individual and unique needs of every blind and visually impaired child!
Have schools for the blind been primarily in a reactive mode with regard to their role in whom they serve? I'll share two thoughts on this topic. First, most schools for the blind have more expertise in education of blind and visually impaired children, and more resources, than any school district could possibly have. Therefore, we (the residential schools) should be in a position to assist and guide local districts with respect to quality educational services for blind and visually impaired children. Very often we are not viewed as "helpers" by local school districts. Efforts to help become interpreted as efforts to recruit. The message we must make very clear to these local districts is that we firmly believe that students whose educational needs can best be met in a neighborhood school should stay at home and go to that school. This brings up the second thought.
How is it determined whether a child can have her/his educational needs best met in the local district or at the school for the blind? Most often, the best sources of information for that decision are the experts at the school for the blind. When these experts (the professionals at the residential schools) recommend the school for the blind as a child's most appropriate placement at this time, how do we avoid appearing as self-serving? A sense of mutual trust must be developed and nurtured between schools for the blind and local school districts. Schools for the blind must never actively recruit or appear to be promoting enrollment unless it is evident that a child would be best served in that setting. Local school districts must acknowledge the expertise and resources of schools for the blind and realize that the intensive and unique educational needs of blind and visually impaired children sometimes require placement in a residential school. And for that child at that particular time, the school for the blind becomes the "least restrictive environment."
One School's Mission
In Texas, the state school for the blind (TSBVI) made a decision several years ago that its responsibility is to assist in the education of all blind and visually impaired children throughout the state. In order to fulfill this mission, a number of different service delivery systems have to be available:
1. A school for the blind must continue to offer full educational services for students who need a school year placement. These students may be either day or residential students. This population is determined by the local district and the parents, as well as by the evaluation conducted by the school for the blind. Information from these sources may lead to the determination that a school year placement will best meet the student's identified needs. Placement at the school for the blind may be for any number of years, depending on a yearly evaluation of the student's needs and the local school district's resources.
2. A school for the blind should offer short-term placement for specific needs. Examples of this role include:
a. Students who need intensive instruction in a particular subject, such as Braille, orientation and mobility, independent living skills, or career education.
b. Students who have recently lost vision and need immediate, intensive compensatory skills instruction.
c. Students who need a comprehensive assessment in order to determine needs.
3. Summer school may be a service offered by the residential school to blind and visually impaired students who attend local day school programs during the school year. Often these students need instruction in specific areas, and the goal of a summer session offered by a school for the blind should be to assist the student toward more successful education in the local district.
4. An array of outreach services is the most rapidly growing program in many schools for the blind. The outreach program at TSBVI provides support services to local school districts, administrators, teachers, and parents in order to ensure the best possible educational program for all blind and visually impaired students who attend local day schools in the state. Through outreach, TSBVI fulfills its responsibility to all children in the state. It is our philosophic position that the child is best served if our outreach program provides assistance to the local district which results in an educational program equal to, or better than, that offered by TSBVI. In the future TSBVI intends to extend its efforts to ensure the highest quality education for all blind and visually impaired pupils in the state. We know that the four areas of service already described come close to meeting our goal. However, there may be other ways in which we can become even better in working with local schools to assure quality education. Among some of the potential ways to expand our services are:
a. Expand summer school to two sessions. Applicants were turned away last summer, indicating an enthusiastic support for our summer program.
b. Develop "Satellite Programs" in areas of Texas that have difficulty in providing the resources and personnel necessary for quality education. For example, we might provide funding and teachers to a rural area of the state where blind and visually impaired children have been receiving little, if any, service.
c. Offer four-week "single-subject" sessions throughout the school year, so that local districts might send students to short-term intensive workshops in a manner that would minimize interruption of education in the local schools. One month might be "Braille Reading and Writing"; another could be "Orientation and Mobility"; and still another could address the independent living needs of students. Local districts would assess those areas which their teachers do not have time for or are not trained to teach and send students for these short-term, single-subject workshops at TSBVI.
As we consider the roles of TSBVI, two dimensions of our school need to be stressed. First, we must provide quality programs for all blind and visually impaired pupils. This mission means that we must have appropriate educational services for students with a very broad range of needs. We will provide a quality, appropriate education for deaf/blind pupils. We will provide a quality, appropriate education for pupils who are multi-handicapped visually impaired. We will provide a quality, appropriate education for children who are in need of a developmental program. We will provide a quality, appropriate education for those students who are college-bound. We will provide a quality, appropriate education for those students who need a functional, vocational curriculum. We must be ever alert to our mission of meeting the individual needs of students. We must never "shoe-horn" children, making them fit what we offer. Instead, we must always develop our programs around the individual needs of children.
The second dimension is one which I have stressed for many years. A comprehensive, balanced curriculum for blind and visually impaired students must address the following areas:
a. academic needs
b. orientation and mobility needs
c. social skills
d. independent living skills
e. career education
We know that there are two sets of potential educational needs for blind and visually impaired children. One set is parallel to the needs of sighted children: an academic curriculum appropriate to the capabilities of each individual child. The other set consists of needs not shared with sighted children. These are often referred to as disability-specific needs, unique to children with vision loss. Both sets are equally important if we are to offer the best learning environment possible for the students we serve. TSBVI has recognized its responsibility to provide a balanced curriculum, and we are addressing all five areas of potential need.
However, we can improve in our efforts. The recent introduction of the independent living skills curriculum to dormitory personnel is an example of ways we can get better. However, I seriously question the availability of a balanced curriculum for many blind and visually impaired children being educated in local school districts in Texas. Providing this comprehensive curriculum requires a commitment of teacher time and resources which many local districts simply do not have. Our outreach program and some of our short-term programs, including summer school, offer excellent avenues for addressing the disability-specific needs of children in local districts. Perhaps there are additional ways in which we can help in meeting this challenge.
Meeting the Individual's Needs
The time is long overdue for educators to share with one another their positions on the following issues and to resolve some of the misunderstandings and challenges which have the potential to interfere with the best educational services to blind and visually impaired pupils.
We have two major obstacles to providing the best education for blind and visually impaired children. The first is that some of us have not yet acknowledged the fact that many children can and do receive a quality education, appropriate to their needs, in local school programs. Our second obstacle is that many local school administrators and parents have come to the erroneous conclusion that schools for the blind do not constitute an acceptable placement within an array of service delivery systems, and that the school for the blind is never the "least restrictive environment."
Overcoming these obstacles requires that we all accept the fact that there is a full array of educational placements which are needed in order truly to meet the individual educational needs of blind and visually impaired children. This way of thinking means that we (the residential schools, who understandably have a sizable investment in schools for the blind) must accept and support the concept that many visually handicapped children can actually be provided their best educational program in local school districts. I know many proponents of schools for the blind who have a difficult time with this concept. Even though good research is lacking, there is a preponderance of evidence that blind and visually impaired children can successfully finish school without ever setting foot on the campus of a school for the blind.
Any residual feelings among advocates for schools for the blind that all blind and visually impaired students would receive a better education at a school for the blind need to be acknowledged, examined, and laid to rest. The belief among others that these feelings run deep causes problems in communication between schools for the blind and local school administrators.
Thus, we must "own" a portion of the communication and understanding problems that exist between local districts and us. What should we do?
Recently, a rumor was shared with one of the TSBVI staff. It was said that the reason TSBVI and I so strongly supported the "Braille Bill," introduced and so strongly supported by the Texas Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, was to ensure a growing supply of students on our campus. I suppose the rationale for the rumor is that local school districts, particularly rural ones, will not be able to meet the mandates of this legislation, and the only option for children will be to attend TSBVI. My first reaction to hearing this rumor was disbelief and outrage. "If only they knew me and understood my philosophic positions, they couldn't believe this of me," I thought. Then, it hit me hard that "they" don't know me. They have no reason to trust me; they don't know my commitment to "most appropriate placement" for every child; and we are up against a long history of "competition" between local schools and schools for the blind. As I stated earlier, this competition is far less in Texas than in most other states, a credit to leaders at TSBVI, who made it a high priority to maintain excellent working relationships with local schools. Still, the rumor emerged...and this is an example of our second obstacle.
We have carefully and thoroughly defined the mission of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We believe that there is a "most appropriate placement" for every individual visually impaired child at a particular time in her/his life. We believe that an array of placement options is needed to meet individual needs. We believe that placement in a local school with appropriate specialized services from a qualified teacher of the visually impaired will meet the current needs of many visually impaired children. We believe that for many students the best current placement is TSBVI. Now, how do we disseminate that philosophy and a knowledge of that mission to administrators, teachers, and parents?
There are three phases of this task which we might consider. First, we need to get a "What is TSBVI" message spread throughout the state. Outreach is doing a great deal of this, and I suggest that it make the information about both on- and off-campus services of TSBVI a primary goal. At the end of the current school year outreach will have made such presentations to nearly all regional programs in the state, as well as some large school districts. We probably need to develop a schedule for these efforts, and we need to make certain that these presentations are offered to every appropriate audience every two years. The thrust of the message should be our support for the best individual placement of children.
Local districts and regional programs need to be strongly urged to fulfill the legislature's mandate, which requires every parent to be informed of the services of TSBVI during a child's IEP meeting. Rumors suggest that this mandate is not generally followed. We need to take some initiative to ensure that this information is shared with parents in the most effective manner. Assertive action by TSBVI is needed, and I intend to assume responsibility for timely and appropriate dissemination to parents of information about our school.
Phase two of our efforts to develop even better relationships with local school districts and with regional programs is our commitment to providing assistance to administrators, teachers, and parents at the local level so that educational programs can best meet the needs of students. This service is delivered by our outreach department. Outreach staff are highly skilled professionals who can assist local school districts in providing quality education for blind and visually impaired students. Outreach has as its highest priority the effort to make the local school program work for the child.
History between schools for the blind and local school districts requires that we make the mission of our outreach department clear. It must never be perceived as a "recruitment" arm of the school. It must remain scrupulously neutral in issues regarding placement. Its responsibility is to assist the local district in determining the needs of a particular child and to develop recommendations as to how these needs can best be met. What will happen when our outreach department determines that a child can best be served as an on-campus student at TSBVI and the local district or the parents disagree? This is a serious problem, which has not yet been resolved.
Phase three of our effort to develop mutually supportive relationships with local school districts will be achieved when representatives of local schools, parents, and TSBVI are able to sit down together and assist one another in determining a most appropriate placement for an individual child. Some of my colleagues will say that we have already reached that stage. We do work cooperatively with local schools when they refer a child to us. We also work with the district in determining the appropriate time for the student to return to her/his local school. But I am suggesting that we go beyond this level of cooperation.
In my "best of all worlds," every one of the more than 4,000 blind and visually impaired students in Texas would have available a full array of placement options, and each child would be educated in her/his current "most appropriate placement." TSBVI staff would become major participants in determining every child's placement. Our school would be viewed as the "hub" of knowledge and expertise in education for blind and visually impaired children. We would have an open invitation from every local school district to assist them in placement decisions as well as assessment and instructional plans. Local schools would feel completely comfortable having TSBVI staff come into their schools; visit with administrators, teachers, and parents; and assist them in all aspects of educational programming. There would be no suspicion that TSBVI was interested in recruiting for its on-campus school, because there would exist total trust in the knowledge that the primary goal of TSBVI was to participate in making the best educational decisions for each individual child.
TSBVI is already well on its way to this status in the state, largely due to the effective work begun many years ago at the School. However, we still have a long way to go. I'd like to suggest the first two steps in this endeavor.
First, I suggest the following referral process for a school for the blind. Currently, it is my observation that this is what happens: A local district, together with the parents of a child, makes a decision to refer. This referral is based on the district's assessed needs of the child and its capability of meeting those needs. Admissions staff from the school for the blind compiles a thorough file about the student. A referral meeting is held, involving all appropriate staff. All information regarding the child is reviewed, and a decision is made to (a) admit the child for a six-week evaluation; (b) deny admission, based on eligibility criteria; or (c) gather more information before making a decision. It should be added that at TSBVI most students admitted for evaluation are accepted as regular students.
This is a good system. It is a careful and thorough process and results in TSBVI's serving an appropriate on-campus population.
However, in my "best of all worlds" status, a step would be added, based on our being the "hub" of expertise and our ability to share that expertise throughout the state. When TSBVI receives a referral, representatives from our school would travel to the local district of that child. Our representatives would meet with school officials, teachers, and parents. They would observe the local placement for the child. They would discuss possible revisions in the local placement that might make it a better situation for the child. They would discuss the assets and liabilities of placement options and assist the local district and the parents in attaining a full understanding of what placement at TSBVI would have to offer the child. Information gathered at the local level by our representatives would be added to that already obtained, and then an on-campus referral committee would meet. This additional process will work when the local district knows that we come to it only to ensure the best placement for the child, and that our first goal is to assist in attempting to modify the district's placement so that it might work for the child.
A second step should be expanded services on the part of schools for the blind with regard to follow-up on students transitioned back to their local schools. This decision should not be made solely on the student's achieving goals identified at the time of admission to the school for the blind. It should also be based on the local district's ability to meet the current needs of the student. This would require the school for the blind staff to visit the local district in order to assist administrators and parents in determining how the local school can prepare for the return of the student. The goal in this process would be to assure a smooth transition for the student and to ensure that local resources necessary for the student are in place. It should be assumed that occasionally in this effort the local district, the parents, and TSBVI will decide that the best current placement for the student continues to be TSBVI. What we should not assume is that the local district is prepared for the return of a student simply because the student has met all of the original goals which required placement at TSBVI.
Some of you will say I've been too harsh a critic, that many of my goals are already in place. Others will say that I'm not a strong enough supporter of schools for the blind, that we should not work so hard to maintain children in local districts. I suppose some might also say that I'm too much the idealist, that we need to accept our role and be as good as we can at it.
But I have a vision. The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is already well on its way to being the best school for the blind in the country. I want it to achieve that position, and I want TSBVI to be the school for the blind to which all others aspire. I think that, in order to achieve this position, we need to consider the suggestions in this article. Some of you will have additional suggestions. Others will want to eliminate or revise some of mine. If we continue to work together with a constant commitment to improvement, innovation, and creativity, we will accomplish our highest goals for blind and visually impaired children in Texas.
by Ruby Ryles
From the Associate Editor: Among the families of blind children, those who work with blind people, and many blind people themselves there is a polite conspiracy of silence about the actual abilities of blind people. As the views and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind have found more and more wide-spread acceptance or at least lip service, people in the blindness field have learned to mouth the politically correct phrases: "My blind twelve-year-old gets himself ready for school independently"; "We expect our blind clients to pull their weight in the work place"; "I can travel anywhere I want to go." All of these are perfectly rational and appropriate statements. The trouble is that most of the people who make them or ones like them every day don't mean or believe them.
Many blind people seem to think that pretending they are independent is the nearest they will ever get to true independence. After all, they think, deep down, everybody knows that blind parents use their sighted children as intelligent and literate guide dogs. Family and friends had better be prepared to drop everything to act as chauffeur to the blind person, and no one really expects a blind employee to carry his or her full share of the load. Above all, and most devastating, no one actually expects blind children to keep up academically and socially with their sighted peers. It would be, of course, a shocking breach of good manners to say these things out loud, but many people (perhaps most) believe them.
We who are members of the National Federation of the Blind, however, do truly believe that blind people have the capacity to live fully normal, contributing lives. In the beginning we may only hope that this is the case, but in this organization we can look around us and see blind people who are living proof that this is indeed so. The blind children who are being raised by the members of our Parents of Blind Children Division are perhaps the most dramatic living proof of the power of the philosophy we espouse.
Ruby Ryles is a leader in the Parents of Blind Children Division and the mother of a blind son. She is also a distinguished expert in the education of blind children. She is currently enrolled full-time in a doctoral program at the University of Washington and is working part-time in the program for visually impaired students that she established in the Bellingham, Washington, School District. She was also this year's recipient of the National Federation of the Blind Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. She addressed the Parents of Blind Children Seminar on Sunday, June 30, 1992, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her remarks went straight to the heart of the confusion about appropriate expectations for blind children. Her expertise is unimpeachable, her words are clear, and her message is compelling. Here is what she had to say:
I live in the Seattle, Washington, area; and I am a professional in the education of blind children. I've been the Arkansas State Vision Consultant, coordinating and developing state-wide programs for blind and visually impaired children. My staff and I worked out of the Arkansas School for the Blind in conjunction with the State Department of Education of Arkansas. I spent a number of years as an itinerant teacher for the blind in Anchorage, Alaska.
Recently I developed and currently supervise a program for blind and visually impaired children in the Bellingham, Washington, School District. I also do private contracting with various school districts in Northwest Washington to assist in meeting the needs of their visually impaired student populations. I have a bachelor's, a master's, a year and a half of post- master's study; and I am currently a full-time Ph.D. student at the University of Washington in the area of special education, doing educational research on the blind. Are you impressed? Could I intimidate you at an IEP meeting? I certainly must qualify as a major-league expert regarding your blind child; don't you agree? As the kids would say, "Not!" Or, more correctly stated, "wrong!" Well, if a hot-dog professional, who has read a ton of textbooks and taken and taught innumerable classes, isn't the authority on your blind child's abilities and potentials, just who is? You are, my friends. You may not know or use the jargon of the professionals, but you truly do have the expertise regarding your child. Some of you parents do not quite believe me, do you?
Well, let me run over your areas of expertise, using the special education terminology of the day. When your blind baby began saying, "Bye bye," did you teach her to say, "Bye bye, Dada"? If so, then you assessed her proximal zone of linguistic development, scaffolded, and became her first communication development specialist. Did you hold on to your year-old baby's fingers and walk and walk and walk barefoot across the living room rug to encourage him to walk alone? Then you probably blatantly defied the Doman-Delecato theory and became your child's initial peripatologist. Did you wrestle with your child on the bed, stack blocks, roll balls, play on the slides and swings, and guide your child as he or she put on socks and zipped a coat or loosened a lid on a jar? Then you're as accomplished in small and gross motoric guidance and ADL skills as any occupational or physical therapist I've worked with.
Do you remember the time you used a stern, disapproving voice and sat your child in a chair for ten minutes to settle him down or sent him to his room because he sassed his grandmother or tore the arm off his sister's Barbie doll or pitched a fit at Safeway? Did you know that you were assessing his current level of behavioral, social, and emotional functioning and applying behavior modification techniques to ensure the appropriate attitudinal adjustment of a non-compliant, temporarily behaviorally-disordered child? I don't know about you, my friends, but my own service delivery model of behavior modification when my blind son Dan was little was expedient, efficient, and measurable, especially when it was administered to the seat of his pants. Parents are cognition and behavior specialists long before any psychologist ever puts our blind child's name on paper work or assigns him a score on any test. You are the expert.
You don't use the jargon, and my apologies for the pompous introduction. My point is not to be silly, but to stress the fact that education, specifically special education, is glued together with jargon. I really think that special education would come apart at the seams if we didn't use jargon, especially if professionals had to say in real language who they are and what they do. Don't be too impressed or intimidated by titles and degrees or jargon in special education because there is no one and no test ever devised that knows your child as well as you do. Believe in your child's abilities. If you don't, there is no one who will. Any professional who makes you feel less knowledgeable about your child is poorly trained, insecure, arrogant, or all of the above.
We've established the point now that you're an expert in your child's behavioral, emotional, physical, and social development. Well, how about academics? You heard Fred Schroeder speak about this earlier today. Are you just going to have to trust that the special education department in your school district will do the right thing? No. Listen up because after the next few minutes you as a parent will be able to assess your child's academic progress and design a program that will take him through his public school years. Pay close attention now, because this information draws the line between a real expert on blind children and someone with only degrees and titles and pompous introductions to recommend him or her. There are only two words. Write them down on a scratch pad or a piece of scrap paper, but I want you to carry them in your heart for the rest of your son's or daughter's childhood--"age appropriate." That's it, and it's a hundred percent, guaranteed, fool-proof, sure-fire, can't-be- denied secret. The majority of professionals in our field don't know it or practice it or, sadly enough, believe it. But you now know the secret of success for your blind child; and I want you to feel it and live it.
Let's talk about these two empowering words. Very simply, "age-appropriate" just means that your child is doing the things at the same age as he or she would have done them as a sighted child. For instance, what is a six- or seven-month-old child doing? Sitting up. That's one thing. Okay, there is no reason at all that a blind child shouldn't be sitting up at six months. At twelve months, what's the age-appropriate thing a child should be doing? One thing is walking. There is no reason not to expect it, even though we are told quite often by mobility instructors that blind kids don't walk until twenty-four months. In my own experience that's just not so--I do have a number of years of experience with blind kids and have raised a blind son. He walked at twelve months. A number of times I have had people point to research that blind kids don't walk until twenty-four months. Well then, how do we explain all the kids that do walk earlier?
At two and a half years old, sighted babies are into everything. Our blind infants ought to be into everything too. If they are not, you need to teach them. Teach them to get into the cabinets and what fun it is to find the pots and pans and to bang them together and make noise that will drive you crazy: all of the things that we say, "No, no, no" about to a two-and-a-half- year-old. If somebody tells you that your two-and-a-half-year-old is such a good baby, you better get scared, because your baby is not age-appropriate. If he is not age-appropriate at two and a half, then when is he going to be? When is he going to find the pots and pans and get into them? When he is twelve? That is not age-appropriate.
Behavior--I often find that I can tell as much about kids by their misbehavior as I can by their behavior. I think it was a real good lesson to me as a mom to watch my own son's misbehavior at age-appropriate levels. I had a student one time who was a third-grader and I suppose is now a tenth-grader. Kids in Alaska keep their boots in the closet, and they put on tennis shoes when they come to school. At the end of the day you change back into your snow boots. He was looking around for his snow boots, and somebody stepped on his hand. That was not pleasant, and he turned around and bit the kid. When I came in the next day, there was a big hullabaloo about this. I said, "Randy, you are in big- time trouble with the school for biting. If you are going to get in trouble for misbehaving, I would prefer to see you do it like an eight-year-old rather than a three-year-old. The next time somebody steps on your hand in the closet and you get angry about it, haul off and slug him; don't bite him." That's age- appropriate for an eight-year-old. My point is that, if Randy was going to get into trouble, how much more appropriate to do it as an eight-year-old.
I have a sadder comment to make on the lack of age- appropriate behavior. I had a student one time--she was probably in the eleventh grade. Somebody in class had called her a name that was none too pleasant, and she responded as an eight-year- old; she hit the girl. Now when I got to this high school, the counselor said that the teachers had already handled the situation. After I sifted through all that was happening, I found out that nobody had done much of anything about it. I asked, "Wait, why has no one done anything about this misbehavior? What would you do to a sighted eleventh-grader who hit somebody in the mouth?"
"We would expel her."
She was never expelled; she was never even disciplined. Two years later, as she was transitioning into a job with the Anchorage Power and Light Company, she slammed a door on her supervisor's hand, not by accident but out of anger, acting more like an eight-year-old than an eighteen-year-old. Obviously, Anchorage Power and Light was not real interested in retaining her services.
Age-appropriate behavior--it's very important. If the child is not age-appropriate at eight years old, when is he going to be an eight-year-old? When he is eighteen?
Language--One thing that needs to be understood is that blindness is in no way a cognitive handicap; it's just not. There is no earthly reason why our kids should not be on level developmentally. The only thing that holds them back in all these areas, whether it is language, behavior, academics, or anything else, is our own expectations--our own as parents and as professionals.
I ran across some interesting research recently. Unfortunately it was done outside the United States. Much of our research is rather negative. Fortunately, if you go to other countries to look for research, there are much better data on blind kids. One of the articles I looked at was talking about language and blind kids. The sample they studied indicated that blind kids' language acquisition and development were right on target with that of sighted kids, whereas the research in the United States says no such thing. I thought that was rather interesting.
In my own experience I find that blind kids whose parents work with them show no difference in language acquisition from sighted kids. Echolalia is a term often used by professionals to describe blind infants. It's parroting. If you say to your child, "Jennifer, do you want a cookie?" and Jennifer says, "Jennifer, do you want a cookie?" but she means, "I want a cookie," there is nothing abnormal about that. All normally developing kids (sighted or blind) go through an echolalic period. You don't need a speech or language therapist; all you do is model to the child the answer that you want her to give you. Quickly Jennifer will pick it up. Instead of saying, "Jennifer, do you want a cookie?" when she wants a cookie, she will say "Yes" or "Yes, please" or whatever it is in your family--not hard.
Dressing--At twelve years old one of my students was not washing or combing his own hair and was not clipping his nails. Again, if he doesn't do it at twelve, at what age? How inappropriate that at sixteen, he is just beginning to learn to wash his own hair. If as a parent you're not sure what is age- appropriate, in other words, if you have a six-year-old and you're not sure what a six-year-old does because it's your only child, take a look around the neighborhood or at church. Look at other six-year-olds, and see what they are doing. There have to be other six-year-olds in your family. As a last resort go out and buy a book: Dr. Spock. Don't buy a book on blindness; buy one on standard development in children.
Eating skills--We can run the whole gamut with this one. But there is no reason in any area that your child shouldn't be doing what she would if she were sighted. A lot of people get very poor advice from professionals about such things as saving a fork until the child is five or six years old. But this means that by the time he gets to school he has had very little experience in using a fork; and, believe me, the rest of the kids in that cafeteria will pick up real quickly that your child is the only one consistently bringing a sack lunch with finger foods, that he doesn't ever get a hot lunch where he has to use a fork and a spoon and a knife. If you don't think that doesn't isolate your child, you are wrong. It does.
Is your child limited in getting around in any way? For instance, mobility? This organization was at the leading edge in insisting on mobility for preschool kids and using canes. I can remember very vividly, five or six years ago, this organization was already fighting very hard to get the word out that young children need canes so they can learn what they need to know early. The blindness field was saying, "No, we need to give them canes for a thirty-minute mobility lesson at school and then take them away." You can equate that with giving a pencil to a three- year-old sighted child. Would you deny pre-schoolers pencils until they get to school and then hand them out for thirty minutes at a writing lesson? How good do you think they are going to be at handwriting if that's the only experience they have with a pencil? And a sighted person uses a pencil far less than the blind child uses the cane.
Role models--in our family and with the kids that I teach, we have a cardinal rule that, if you don't know how to do something, don't go ask the professionals. You ask the real expert--the blind person who is doing it. For instance, I had a tenth- or eleventh-grade blind kid in Anchorage. He wanted to take a class on small engines, working on airplane engines. I know absolutely nothing about that. When I was in school as a girl, shop was for boys. So the first time I stepped into a shop class, I felt like I was in a locker room or something. I had no idea how Joe was going to take this class--I didn't know the names of the tools. I had no idea how they could be adapted. It would have been foolish for me to dream up some way for him to adapt these things. So I called the fellow who was President of the National Federation of the Blind, and I said, "Do you know a blind mechanic?" I didn't even call the guy myself. The President gave me the number, and the school district paid for the call so Joe could make the call. And the result was that Joe took the class without much help from me. He didn't need it anymore, because he had the real expertise he needed. He had learned from the blind mechanic about the set of tools he needed. We then got together with the Lions Club and bought it.
When my son was eleven or twelve, he wanted to do a paper route. Despite all of my professional expertise and wisdom, I had no idea how he could do one. At the time Jim Gashel was in our city. It really took a lot of courage on my part as a parent, but I swallowed my pride, went up to him, and said, "Mr. Gashel, I understand that you had a paper route when you were a boy, and I want to know how you did it. My son wants to have a paper route. Did you go on your mother's arm?" (I thought he was going to gag on that idea.) He said, "Well, no, but I don't remember how I did it. Does your son know how to use landmarks with his cane?"
"I don't know."
He asked, "How does he get home from school?"
"He gets off the bus and walks about a block and a half to the house."
He said, "Then he has to be able to use landmarks." I still can't tell you how Dan did that paper route. This was in Alaska with snow up to your knees. We just started out one morning as you would with a sighted child. I had the route list. If you have ever had a sighted kid with a paper route, you know that as a mom you normally begin the route with the kid. You say, "Okay, 2113, that's the brown house on the right over there. Let's see, 2115, that's the house next to it. 2116, oh, that's across the street. And normally you go over the list with the kid for a few days. You know, that's all I did with Dan, and within six or seven days he was doing it alone. However he figured it out with his cane, he was doing the route on his own.
That is the way he has always made his spending money. He delivers papers for the Seattle Times still. He handles his own records. We never have to do anything to help him. In fact, he had to train two substitutes to take his route so that he could be here at the convention. We went to the Federation; we went to the real experts. The people that I work with professionally were kind of upset that we didn't make mobility lessons out of learning how to do a paper route. But look at the message that would have given Dan: You have to have a series of lessons in being normal.
When he was in the tenth grade, Dan wanted to be in the marching band at school. Again I had no idea how to help. This is a good marching band. Our high school has won state awards, and they are not about to let anybody in who will mess up their precision drills. I had no idea how he could do it, because he uses his cane all the time, and you can't use the cane during drills. Before I could think of contriving some kind of an adaptation, Dan got on the phone, called the National Center for the Blind, and said, "Let me speak to anybody who's blind and who has been in a marching band." He happened to get hooked up with Pat Maurer. The next thing I knew--and I didn't have anything to do with this at all--he talked to the band director, and the two of them worked it out to the point where the last time I went to one of his football games where the band was marching at half time, I videotaped it. When I got home, I was informed that the kid that I had the camera on was not even Dan. You couldn't find him. Dan was very pleased with that because he didn't stand out, and I was irritated because I wanted a tape of his marching.
Staying on the topic of school--kindergarten. You need to learn about the kindergarten curriculum. They're called specific learning objectives (SLO's), and every school district has them for each grade. These are the things that we expect the kids to know when they come out of each grade. Kindergarten is pretty basic, pretty easy. Children need to know the alphabet. Your child needs to know it in Braille; that's all there is to it. Numbers, children need to be able to count. Normally in kindergarten they are supposed to be able to count at least to a hundred. Your child needs to be able to do it too. You should be able to demand it; you must demand it from your school district. I don't care how it's done, whether they use Mangold, whether they do it with Patterns.
Because I taught first grade for about nine years before I got into this field, I like to use basal readers. I take a basal reader and adapt my own method. It doesn't matter how it's done, as long as the child is on level from kindergarten through high school. In kindergarten the kids need to know colors. Blind kids need to know colors too. Totally blind children need to know dogs are not blue, hair is not green unless someone's making a statement.
Animals--How inappropriate for a fourteen-year-old not to know about animals! It's very embarrassing for students at fourteen and fifteen and sixteen. Sometimes, after they begin to feel comfortable with me, my students say things that let me know that they have no concept of a bird, different wingspans, a bird's feet. We talk about animals' feet. We look at the difference between a cat's feet, goat's feet, bird's feet, cow's feet. How about tails on animals? Will your child ever have a good concept of a giraffe? You say, "Oh my, of course not." Well sure he will if you describe it by analogy. He's got to know something about what a giraffe's feet are like. Are they more like a goat's, a cow's, or a horse's feet? But first he's got to have a good concept of the animals that you can let him have hands-on experiences with. Do this at an age-appropriate time-- three, four, and five years old--so that you can talk to him about animals. A giraffe has a tail that's much like a cow's tail, but how will he know if he doesn't know what a cow's tail is like, if you have not taken him to a fair?
We are city people, so when a fair came around, I used to grab the opportunity. If you go into the animal barns, the people always want to let your kid pet the animals. That's not going to give the child much of a concept of what that animal is like. I always say we need to get into the animal. I take the child's hands and together we feel the back leg of a dog or a cat or a cow to know what the animal's legs are like and how they differ from the front legs and how the legs bend. So when I talk about the legs on a giraffe, the child will have a concept of that. But it is much harder to do this when the child is twelve than it is when he is five.
Remember, when your child is in first grade (Fred Schroeder mentioned this earlier, and it can't be emphasized too much), your child is not learning Braille; your child is learning to read in Braille. It boils down to this: when your child is leaving first grade, he needs to be reading at a beginning second grade reading level, or he is behind. It is like dominoes. He's behind in first grade. That throws second grade behind. He's behind in second grade, and that gap gets wider and wider and wider. Don't kid yourself: your child is not going to catch up. You need to be sure now that your child is on level in first grade.
At three years old every child should be using a spoon; don't wait until your child is six. Don't let somebody tell you that it's normal for a blind child not to do something until later. That's not so! Beware of the word "realistic." Anybody that tells you to be realistic about your child, you know what that really means? Lower your expectations. It means don't expect so much, accept less. That's what it means, and you should get your back up.
Second grade is the time for teaching keyboarding--I don't like that term; it's still typing to me. A child needs to learn to type. All vision-impaired kids (low-vision and Braille-reading kids) need to learn to type because they are going to be communicating with print-reading teachers.
I've been criticized sometimes for waiting too long, but third grade is normally the grade that I introduce slate and stylus. I would wait no longer than that. Writing with the slate and stylus is one of the easiest things under the sun to introduce to a child. I wait till third grade simply because by this time normally they've got a pretty good grasp of Braille, and it takes about six weeks from introduction to the time when they're just about fast enough to keep up with the spelling tests. I like to say, "Okay, spelling is the first subject in which we are going to use the slate and stylus. You are expected to do your spelling totally with slate and stylus." I have to prime the teacher first to let her know that she is not to slow down in dictating the Wednesday preliminary spelling test for this child. He may be used to making A's in spelling. He may make an F or so in spelling because he is not keeping up, but the teacher is not to slow down. There is nothing that will make that child speed up faster than a poor grade on his spelling test because he couldn't keep up. As a parent you need to get onto your child at home and say, "Hey, what happened to this spelling?" even though you know. If you accept the low score on the grounds that, well he was using the slate and stylus, so he's going to be a little slower at this, what message does that send to your child? It's okay if I'm not up to snuff in writing and spelling.
I would say, be very wary of putting an aide in a classroom with your child because an aide takes away independence. Think about it. If you've got an aide in the classroom with your child, at what point are you going to say, "Okay, no more aides in that classroom"? At sixth grade, fifth grade, when? Are you planning for it now? If your child has an aide in kindergarten or first grade, are you planning that next year we are going to say, "No aide; she is going to do it on her own"?
Dan hasn't even had an IEP since he was in seventh grade. He graduated from high school two weeks ago today. It has not been real easy along the way. The hardest thing I think has been for me to sit on my hands and not go to that school and wring some people's necks. I had to teach Dan to do his own advocating with the teachers. The science teacher, for instance, gave Dan a C, and in looking at the final report I noticed that they had included a computer printout record of the stuff the kids had done. Dan had done twenty-five percent of what the rest of the kids had done that quarter. I said, "Dan, do you realize you've done twenty-five percent, and the teacher is giving you a C?" The teacher had written at the bottom that it was too visual. They had been doing a unit on astronomy, and they were computing distances between stars and that sort of stuff. It was beyond me, to be honest with you.
Anyway, I impressed on Dan that next year builds on this. You have twenty-five percent of the knowledge out of this science class that you are going to need for next year. Are you really satisfied with that? He went back to the teacher and said he wanted the extra work. He wanted the seventy-five percent that he had missed. He got it; he also got a lower grade on his behavior. I think his teacher thought he was a smart aleck, coming back and asking for the extra work. But he did the work, and it taught him a lesson: he should not be letting his teacher make these decisions for him.
Often our kids have assignments cut for them. We are told that they work too slowly, for instance. It takes so much longer for them to get the assignment done. But what does this say to our kids? For one thing, they are being permissioned out of an education. Many times especially kids who are partially sighted and who don't know Braille are excused right into incompetence. If your child is partially sighted, there is no getting around it: he needs to learn Braille, which he can learn along with print. I would not advocate that he read only Braille, but he needs to learn to use print when it is efficient and Braille when it is efficient. It is far, far easier for your child to be taught Braille when he is six rather than twelve, because once kids get to about third grade, they are going to fight anything that is different. It is normal that they do. But I don't think that I have ever had a child, partially sighted or blind, below the third grade level who has ever resisted learning Braille.
Extra time--often our kids are given extended time limits, and the only reason they have extra time, whether they're Braille or low vision kids who haven't learned Braille, is that we haven't expected enough of them. If they are low vision and they need extra time, they need Braille. If they are Braille kids and they need extra time, they're not reading fast enough. That's all there is to it. And we need to step up their Braille reading instruction to be sure that they learn to read fast enough. There is no reason for our kids to need extra time.
Extra time in getting to class, extra time in getting to lunch--this should not be happening. As Fred said earlier about the kids who left five minutes early to get to the swings at recess, the message that policy sends to the child is very harmful.
How do you know if your child will benefit from reading Braille? If your child has low vision, there are some red flags that you can think about: If your child has low vision, does he enjoy reading? Does he pick up a library book and read it for pleasure? Normally not--low-vision kids avoid reading. As a partially sighted adult once said to me, "Reading print is just not pleasurable." There is no such thing as pleasure reading for these kids. Does your child use tapes a lot because print is so tiring? Does he need to have someone read the printed material to him? Your child is not going to learn reading skills if he doesn't read. He has to read a large amount of material. Somewhere, in some of the readings that I have done in the last year or so, I have read that the average fifth grade child runs across a million words a year. Do you think your partially sighted child using tapes is going to see that number? To be able to be literate, our children must physically read the same amount of material as sighted kids. For instance, is your partially- sighted child spelling as well as she should be? How is her reading speed? If it is not up to snuff, you need to be looking at Braille.
Does a child use tapes for book reports? Teachers assign book reports because they want the child to have the experience of reading books, and tapes don't provide the full experience. Kids can't learn to spell words off tapes. For instance, one of the students I had recently was a junior in high school, and she had just learned Braille. She was reading and saw a phrase in the text. She said, "'This morning'--I didn't know that was two words." If you get your information from tapes, there is no way that you could catch such a simple thing as that, let alone being able to spell a word like "Chicago." There is no way unless you have read the word "Chicago" enough times that you would know that it is not spelled with an "S-h-i-k." Be sure that your child is reading a lot.
Written expression is another big red flag with partially-sighted kids. Punctuation, paragraphing, syntax: all suffer greatly if the child doesn't read. Kids who don't read can't write. Braille is the answer.
Handwriting--can your child read his own handwriting after it gets cold? For instance, after a couple of weeks could you pull out notes from your partially sighted seventh-grader's notebook and say, "Read this back to me"? If he can't read it, seriously consider Braille, because your child could benefit from learning it.
When I am called to assess a child in junior high, I know what I am going to find. The school personnel will say they want me to come look at a child who is visually impaired. Probably the student is in a resource room, some kind of a self-contained setting for at least one period a day. An aide or someone else is helping the child, more or less pulling her through assignments-- reading the material, helping with spelling. These kids are not getting through school on their own. They are not getting the literacy skills that they need at all. Most of them are permissioned out of a lot of basic courses, such as foreign language, geometry, and higher math, because teachers believe these courses are too visual for kids with limited sight. Braille kids aren't denied such opportunities. For instance, last year my son Dan took trigonometry and chemistry. He needed no aides to take these classes. It's not that Dan or my other students are brilliant. It's just that they learned Braille from early on, and they took it for granted that they were expected to do higher math. They were expected to take trigonometry and geometry and two years of Spanish or French or German. Good Braille readers can do that. Those who struggle through with print can't. Such students are not normally good enough readers to handle complex material.
I lost my glasses earlier this week, and with my university courses, I've got to do a lot of reading. I got migraine headaches Monday and Tuesday. I'm taking a statistics class right now, and the eye strain gave me migraine headaches. I finally told my husband I couldn't go on. I was either going to have to start using Braille or go get some glasses. That experience gave me real empathy with a lot of the kids I have taught and am thankful for, the low-vision kids to whom I have taught Braille. Reading print is just not pleasurable for them, and they don't do enough of it to be very literate. Your kids won't be either, if they are partially sighted. Teach them Braille.
One definition of literacy is the ability to read and write at grade level. If your child is a Braille reader and she is in third grade and you don't know whether she is reading on level, how do you tell? Ask to borrow a third-grade textbook in your child's class. If it's not in Braille, there is somebody in your community who knows Braille well enough to Braille a story in the middle. Hand it to your child and listen to how she reads. See if she is fluent with it. If she is, ask her some questions about what she has just read. How is her comprehension? You can tell whether she is stumbling all over herself in answering your questions. If she has no idea what she has read, she is not on grade level. I don't care what that IEP says, what the assessment says; you do your own assessment of your child. It's not that hard.
I will finish by saying that in the Federation we believe that blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance if you've got the skills and opportunity. Can blindness really be reduced to the level of a nuisance? You bet it can, but only if your kid has good skills, a positive attitude about blindness, and a chance. One day soon, parents, you will find yourself in my shoes. Your child will be taller than you are, standing on the threshold of adulthood. I'll tell you from experience, it will be here in the blink of an eye. It seems like yesterday that Dan was a little one in my arms, and he is starting at Washington State University this fall. I can't believe the time is here. Time is a vindictive, relentless thief, and the cruelest theft of all is the theft of our kids' confidence in themselves. Don't let another day go by before you see that your child has the skills to ensure that he can become a confident, independent adult. You do that by seeing that he is a confident, independent child. See that he's age appropriate in every way.
Those who have met Melissa Lagroue will tell you that she is an attractive, perfectly normal young woman. She graduated from college in June with a degree in elementary education and was married to John Williamson, a medical student, in mid-July. Because the young couple will be settling down near the medical school in an area in which teachers have been laid off in recent months, Melissa is going on to graduate school rather than looking for a job right away. Hers is a story repeated with
But each human being is unique, with personal gifts to give and contributions to make. Melissa is blind and an active and dedicated member of the National Federation of the Blind. She understands that Federation philosophy is meant to be lived and that it works. When an education professor at her college told her two years ago that she had no business training to teach public school, Melissa rallied her forces and disputed that view successfully. (See the June, 1991, issue of the Braille Monitor.)
Melissa Lagroue student taught last year like the other members of her Birmingham Southern education-major class. But Melissa clearly made a profound impact on the children and teachers with whom she came into contact. On April 30, 1992, the Birmingham News carried a story by Scottie Vickery about Melissa Lagroue and her class. Here it is:
Elijah Evans has learned a lot more than spelling in school this year.
He and the other children in Naomi Goss's fifth-grade class at Shades Cahaba Elementary School have learned a lesson in humanity. And it was their teacher, Melissa LaGroue, an education major at Birmingham-Southern College who is blind, who enlightened them.
"I learned to respect people who don't have all the abilities that you have," said ten-year-old Elijah. "She didn't tell us that; I've just learned it by watching and stuff."
"It's been a good education for the kids," said Mrs. Goss. "From Melissa's perspective, she's not here to teach a lesson about blindness; she's here to teach school."
But if the children happen to learn something about determination along the way, that's fine with Miss LaGroue.
"Children can learn something from anyone who is not a mainstream, stereotypical teacher," she said. "A male teacher teaches children that a man can be nurturing.
"I hope when these kids are grown and have jobs, they'll look back on this and assume that blind people with the same background as their sighted competitors are equally qualified to get jobs."
Heather Brandt, eleven, already has a grasp on that. "She's just like anybody else," Heather said of Miss LaGroue. "She can teach just like Mrs. Goss can."
It doesn't surprise Miss LaGroue that the children consider her blindness no big deal. "Stereotypes are learned," she said. "They're certainly not developed by the children. If they've never been told that something is odd, weird, or not acceptable, they don't know it."
Miss LaGroue, who grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Huffman High School, said she always wanted to be a teacher. And the only reason she ever considered another profession was that she'd heard teaching doesn't pay much.
She said she never considered her blindness to be an obstacle. "There is a National Association of Blind Educators, and I knew it was possible because I knew people who were doing it," Miss LaGroue said. "If anyone ever questioned whether I could teach even though I was blind, I gave them the telephone numbers (of the association) and told them to call."
Although she has a guide dog named Magic, Miss LaGroue mostly relies on her cane to get around at school. And it's not unusual to see students jumping over it as she walks down the hall.
"From an adult perception, it looks cruel, but from a kid's perception, it's a cane and it's moving, so why not jump it?" Mrs. Goss said. "The kids have not tried to treat Melissa like she's fragile."
Although she can't see students who are passing notes or throwing paper balls, Miss LaGroue said discipline has not been a problem.
"If a child makes a face at me, it doesn't matter," she said. "It doesn't affect me in the least. And if someone is throwing spit wads, you can bet one of the other children will tell me. I like kids to be well-behaved, but I don't believe in children sitting in their desks with their hands crossed."
Anthony Chapman, eleven, said he is surprised at how much Miss LaGroue knows about what goes on in the classroom, even though she can't see.
Soon after she began student teaching, Anthony said he didn't read his book like he was supposed to. "She caught me," Anthony said with a grin. "She found out some way that I wasn't reading my book. I guess she couldn't hear the flipping pages."
Antuan Crenshaw, ten, said he wondered at first how Miss LaGroue would know when the students raised their hands to ask a question. But he said she told them to say their name softly, and she would call on the first person she heard.
"If they say it (their names) real loud, she won't call on them just like I won't call on students who do this," said Mrs. Goss, waving her arm wildly.
Grading papers is another area in which Miss LaGroue has made adjustments. While the class is working on assignments at their desks, Miss LaGroue goes over spelling sheets with individual students. The children come up to her desk and spell certain words orally.
Although she has found ways to handle almost everything that might come up in the classroom, Miss LaGroue acknowledged that she has some limitations.
"I would not like to teach writing because I recognize my limitations in writing," she said. Miss LaGroue said she does write on the blackboard, but not as often as Mrs. Goss.
"But I could switch out with another teacher and have her teach writing and I'd teach health or science for her," Miss LaGroue said. I know that I'm better at teaching other things than some people might be."
Jamie Sparks, however, is impressed with Miss LaGroue's writing skills. A third-grader at Green Valley Elementary School, Jamie had Miss LaGroue as a student teacher earlier this year.
"She used to comment that Melissa wrote in a straight line when she wrote on the board, even though she couldn't see." said Lynn Sparks, Jamie's mother.
Jamie was so affected by Miss LaGroue that she is reading Helen Keller's autobiography, Mrs. Sparks said. "The children loved her in spite of the fact that she could not see," Mrs. Sparks said. "I hope they've learned a lesson that people are people."
Gloria Holder, the Green Valley teacher Miss LaGroue worked with, said she believes Miss LaGroue made a lasting impression on the children.
"Probably at this young age they don't realize the impact it had on them," Mrs. Holder said. "But I think they'll remember it for a long, long time."
And the students aren't the only ones who will look back on the experience and realize they learned something.
"I learned about determination, courage, and striving for what you want," Mrs. Holder said. "On Melissa's last day here, we all wrote her notes, and I told her I hope she learned as much from us as we've learned from her."
by Ruth Swenson
From the Associate Editor: Ruth Swenson is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona. She holds a master's degree in special education for blind children, and she has also worked in rehabilitation with blind adults. Later she attended law school, became a licensed attorney, and currently serves as director of a legal aid office. In the Summer issue of News and Views of Blind Arizonans, the publication of the NFB of Arizona, she reported on an exciting and innovative step recently taken by the staff of the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB). They developed a position statement on Braille literacy. This text would be an excellent model for any school, agency, or organization seeking to develop such a document. Here is the article:
There is great concern in America today about the fact that many in our society are not literate. Almost everyone understands that, if a person cannot read or write, he or she is likely to have an extremely difficult time in achieving the American dream. Also virtually everyone understands and agrees that the competition in this world is fierce and that it behooves us all to be as prepared as possible if we wish to succeed.
As a nation we are trying to do something about illiteracy. We are establishing all kinds of programs and activities to correct this intolerable situation. From Barbara Bush right down to the simplest informal local volunteer group, the cry is "Literacy, literacy, literacy!"
In the sighted population there are many reasons for illiteracy: lack of student interest, poor schools, poverty, laziness, and lack of parental interest. But in all of these cases the youngster has been given at least some opportunity to learn to read and write.
For blind children there is often another major reason for illiteracy in addition to all those affecting the learning of sighted kids--often blind children are not given the opportunity at all. They are told, "Braille is too slow"; "Braille is bulky"; "Braille is no longer needed because of the availability of tape recorders and computers"; and "You blind kids wouldn't want to use Braille anyway since using it would make you appear different from the rest of the kids."
Because of these mistaken attitudes about Braille, countless blind adults are in fact illiterate. This problem is not unique to any particular state, but it is now recognized as a national crisis. There are blind adults trying to attend college who can't take notes in class. There are blind adults who are unable to perform the simplest task such as keeping and using a list of phone numbers and addresses of friends and acquaintances. There are blind adults who can't get jobs because they can't read and write in any medium! Braille has been denied them, and without the first-hand exposure to written English, their capacity to spell, punctuate, and paragraph is rudimentary at best. The frustration and embarrassment can be enormous.
There is currently a nationwide movement within the blindness field (similar to that in educational circles for the sighted) to reemphasize the need for literacy through the use of Braille. Many state legislatures are responding positively to the need and are enacting Braille bills of one kind or another.
In Arizona we have recently taken a giant step forward in another arena. The Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind recently adopted a Braille literacy policy. A committee of teachers from the school first drafted a general policy dealing with communications for blind students at the school. One of the school's board members, a blind attorney named Bruce Gardner, then drafted amendments which broadened the policy somewhat in the area of literacy.
We of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona commend ASDB for this enlightened action and for the concern for blind children which it represents. The policy as finally adopted by the ASDB board reads as follows:
Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind Board Policy
Subject: Reading and Writing Literacy Policy for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
The first value statement of the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind mission is: "We are committed to excellence in education of all children and youth with sensory impairments throughout Arizona." In order for students who are blind or visually impaired to integrate successfully into society, they need to be able to read and write efficiently and effectively.
I. Reading and Writing
The Board expects students who are blind or visually impaired (and who have no other mental, learning, or sensory impairments) to become as literate, able to read and write, as they would if they were not blind or visually impaired. This means that those students are expected to learn to read and write within the same range of proficiency as their sighted peers in regular education.
For nearly all students who are blind or visually impaired to become as proficient at reading and writing as their sighted peers, Braille is essential and should be either the primary or strong secondary method of reading and writing. When properly taught and emphasized at the earliest possible age, Braille is just as efficient and effective for the student who is blind or visually impaired as print is for the sighted student.
Students with residual vision should use that vision to the greatest extent practical and may be able to function at some level of proficiency using print. However, if these students are unable to read and write within the same range of proficiency as their sighted peers (as would be indicated by a negative response to any of the practical assessment questions listed below), then these students must become proficient at reading and writing through the medium of Braille and use Braille as either their primary or strong secondary method of reading and writing in order to become truly literate.
The determination of which students should learn to use Braille for reading and writing should be based upon functional and practical considerations, rather than technical or legal definitions, such as "totally blind," "legally blind," or "visually impaired."
The practical assessment should examine the following questions:
1. Can the student, functioning visually:
-read and write print for an extended period of time without fatigue or eye strain?
-read printed materials within the same range of rate proficiency as sighted peers?
-compete with sighted peers in quality and quantity of reading and writing?
-efficiently read back his or her own handwriting?
-complete routine assignments in a timely manner?
-comprehend the material he or she reads?
2. Does the student, functioning visually:
-often read books or magazines for pleasure?
-rely on print rather than tape-recorded materials and readers?
-have and demonstrate a basic understanding of English skills, namely spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, sentence construction, capitalization, etc.?
A negative response to any of the above questions indicates that the student should learn Braille as either the primary or strong secondary method of reading and writing in order to become fully literate. Students who are too young or immature to determine a primary medium should be taught both print and Braille until a decision can be made.
Additionally, the following factors should be considered: Is the student's eye condition of a progressive nature? Does the student's visual acuity fluctuate? Does the student have a significantly restricted visual field which limits the usefulness of some visual aids?
The staff of ASDB shall encourage students who are blind or visually impaired, their parents, and other members of the IEP team to have the expectation that these students will become as proficient at reading and writing as their sighted peers; and understand and recognize the essential role of Braille in helping these students to become fully literate.
1. The decision regarding the primary method of reading and writing will be made on an individual basis and is the role of the IEP team, which includes the parent and/or student. The decision will be based on appropriate assessment procedures and may include any or all of the following team members: psychologist, occupational/physical therapist, reading specialist, ophthalmologist and/or optometrist, low vision specialist, communication/language specialist, classroom teacher(s), parent, and student. The initial decision shall consider the lifelong needs of the student and shall be re-evaluated as a part of the three-year evaluation process or more often if the situation warrants.
2. Assessment regarding the primary reading medium should include visual etiology and prognosis, efficiency as determined by reading rate, effectiveness as determined by an analysis of miscues, achievement, distance from the page if a print reader, fatigue, learning style, cognitive level, portability of medium or device, and student and parent preference.
III. Other Communication Skills
The mastery and application of communication skills (including the acquisition, organization, retrieval, and communication of information) allow for efficient functioning and maximum independence in current and future life situations. Communication skills other than reading and writing should be addressed for all students who are blind or visually impaired. For a student without additional disabilities, these skills will supplement reading and writing.
1. Communication skills for all students who are blind or visually impaired will include consideration of skills in accessing, processing, and transmitting information in the most effective medium(a) for each individual student. A variety of communication skills is needed by each student so that he or she can be flexible and use the medium(a) which is best suited to the task and to the individual.
2. Communication skills include reading; writing; listening; speaking; and use of slate and stylus, typewriter, computer, electronic communication devices, and other specialized equipment. Specialized communication skills must be developed, according to the needs of the individual, to maximize his or her independence.
3. The use of specialized communication modes and equipment should be taught throughout the program, and students should be encouraged to utilize the skills in all aspects of their lives.
IV. Support Services
1. Students who experience a sudden or gradual loss of vision will receive counseling regarding the use of new reading, writing, or communication modes.
2. ASDB will support this policy by providing ongoing inservice opportunities for staff and parents to maintain skills so that they can promote literacy for the students and learn about new methods and equipment.
3. Information and equipment available in ASDB programs will be made accessible to all students and staff who use Braille, print, augmentative communication devices, or auditory modes.
4. ASDB staff will foster a positive attitude toward all communication modes through instruction of students, staff development, and support services programs.
From the Associate Editor: "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." That's what Prince Hamlet said, according to Shakespeare, and as usual he was absolutely right. Learn the art of keeping a firm grip on your attitudes, refusing to be discouraged by setbacks or depressed by opposition; and there is no predictable limit to what you can accomplish. Some people seem to be born with knowledge of this truth, and others never learn it. But most of us fall somewhere in the middle, applying the principle sometimes and in some areas of our lives
Parents of blind children are in a powerful position to help their youngsters focus their minds on positive ways of thinking and creative activities. Too often, borne down themselves by their fear and dismay in the face of their children's blindness, they unwittingly bend their efforts in the wrong direction-- offering excuses and sparing their children the pain of failure. Every child benefits from positive reinforcement and the imposition of healthy parental expectations.
When I was in the second grade, each child in my class was issued a box of cardboard letters at the beginning of the school year. The box was filled with small paper rectangles, each bearing a capital letter. Every week we were expected to construct our list of spelling words on the top of our desks using these letters. I hated the exercise. I could distinguish the letters if I looked closely, but they were not easy for me to locate in the box. And my seven-year-old fingers found it difficult to line them up in straight rows. Moreover, when I bent close to read what I had written, my breath did further damage to my list. But worst of all, the girl behind me--one of those artistic, dainty children whose paste never smeared and whose drawings were always recognizable--created rows of letters that marched across her desk in maddeningly exact alignment.
Second grade was my year to contract every childhood illness going, which meant that I missed a good bit of school. My mother, who understood how important it was that I not fall behind in my work, faithfully brought home my lessons so that I could add misery to boredom by doing homework. Most wretched of all, she brought home that dreadful box of letters and expected me to assemble my spelling words even though the teacher wasn't there to give me credit for having done it! It would have been easier and more sensible to use Scrabble tiles for this exercise, and even better to use ones from a Braille Scrabble game so that I could have practice working with both Braille and print. But we didn't know about the importance of Braille and didn't own a Scrabble game, so I had cardboard letters. Mother helped me with the searching, but I did the spelling, and I mastered the words. It was school work, and no one ever entertained the notion that I should be excused from it. Gradually she taught me to take pride in my ability to do the work, not to dwell on the frustration of messy rows of letters.
Was this a major struggle in my early education? Of course not. Did it help to shape my approach to learning and my attitude about myself? Absolutely. Fifty times a week or even a day parents of blind children contribute to their youngsters' ability to succeed in life. We don't have to look far to see the consequences of inculcating excuse making and lack of personal discipline; we all know blind and sighted adults whose lives have been blighted by poor attitudes and low expectations. But happily there are also wonderful examples of what happens when parents, teachers, and blind children themselves work together to open all the doors of opportunity for youngsters eager to try new adventures in living and learning.
Lisamaria Martinez is such a child. Clearly she is a ray of sunshine in the lives of all who know her. In the August 11, 1992, issue of Woman's Day, an article appeared which profiled the lives of several children with disabilities who have not let their problems stand in their way. Barbara Bartocci, the author of the article, contacted Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California, to ask if she could suggest the name of a blind child for this profile. Without hesitation Sharon suggested Lisamaria and her family. Lisamaria's mother is one of the leaders of the Parents' Support Group of the California Parents of Blind Children Division, and NFB philosophy has been a part of the Martinez family's thoughts and actions for several years. The results are unmistakable. Now meet Lisamaria Martinez:
When Lisamaria Martinez was five, a strange rash, followed by blisters, erupted all over her body. Her temperature soared to 105 degrees, and her eyes swelled shut. "She could die," the doctor warned her terrified parents, as they rushed the pretty girl to the hospital.
In the next few weeks Lisamaria's blisters broke open, and her skin slithered off. Clumps of her waist-length hair fell out. She couldn't bear to open her eyes to light or air; it hurt too much.
As Lisamaria's world grew dark, doctors diagnosed her mysterious ailment, a rare skin condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Greg and Maria Martinez learned the worst: their daughter was permanently blind. Just twenty-eight and twenty- seven-years-old, the young couple lived in Oceanside, California, a continent away from their families in Puerto Rico. Lisamaria was the older of their two daughters. They were devastated.
Yet Maria Martinez also felt profound gratitude. She had told her husband, during the awful days when they feared Lisamaria might die, "God gave our daughter to us, and God can take her back; it's not for us to say." God had returned their daughter; surely they could deal with blindness.
Since her eyes no longer could tear, Lisamaria had to wear protective goggles day and night. "In first grade everyone stared at me," she relates matter-of-factly. "Sometimes they were mean--we had crayon holders at our desks, and I couldn't tell which color was which, so I'd ask for help, and kids gave me the wrong color on purpose."
As Lisamaria learned to navigate with her cane, Greg encouraged her to go wherever she wanted to go. The Martinezes treated Lisamaria as normally as they did her younger sister.
In second grade Lisamaria entered the annual "Braille Readers Are Leaders" contest. "I'm going to win!" she boasted to her parents, and they encouraged her determination. In three months, she read sixty-two books, winning her division.
By third grade Lisamaria joined Brownies and, pushing her cane ahead of her, hiked up trails with her friends. She also found an outlet for what her father calls a "natural desire to help people." In Brownies she collected canned goods for homeless shelters and visited the elderly in hospitals. At school she volunteered to pick up trash. "I got my friends to help," she admits.
The efforts of a nine-year-old blind girl to help the elderly caught public attention. In 1990 Lisamaria was nominated for the national Kiwanis Hope of America Award and, later that year, was named California's recipient of the coveted Jefferson Awards for Students for her community service. Lisamaria and her mother flew to Washington, D.C., for the presentation, and there, says Lisamaria proudly, "I got my picture taken with Mrs. Bush." It doesn't bother her that she can't see the photo.
Lisamaria still has trying times--in physical education, for instance. "It's hard to bat and run bases when you're blind, but my teacher says she'll blindfold everyone in my class someday so they'll understand what it's like."
Most important: Lisamaria doesn't feel sorry for herself.
"Nothing holds her back" says her mother. "When I see her running on the playground, she is just like a normal child. Her attitude is: `It might take me longer, but I can do whatever I want to do.'"
by Nell Carney
From the Associate Editor: The first item on the Friday afternoon agenda of the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind was an address by Nell Carney, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). Commissioner Carney has attended large portions of the last several NFB conventions, and she has demonstrated herself to be a knowledgeable, energetic, and dedicated proponent of the vocational and rehabilitation rights and needs of people with disabilities. She is making her mark on the federal rehabilitation programs that shape our lives, and all of us who are blind have benefitted by her vigilance. President Maurer welcomed Commissioner Carney warmly and thanked her for her dedicated service to the disabled community. Mrs. Carney then reported on the current RSA programs and activities of most immediate importance and significance to blind people. Here is what she had to say:
Thank you, Mr. President. Members of the Federation, I am here this afternoon to bring you greetings from George Bush and his administration as the President's appointed person to advance rehabilitation policy and programs throughout the United States. President George Bush is the only President in our history who has made disability issues a primary concern of his administration. Yesterday afternoon I received a call from the White House asking that I please announce at this conference, the largest gathering of disabled people anywhere in the world that we know about, that the President yesterday appointed a blind attorney (Richard Casey of New York City, with the firm Brown and Wood) to sit on the Seventh District Court in the State of New York. [applause] Mr. Casey is the third blind person that the President has appointed to a high-ranking position in the federal government: I was the first. He then appointed a blind man to sit on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and now Mr. Casey.
As many of you know, the Rehabilitation Services Administration is charged with the responsibility of administering four of the seven titles of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its subsequent amendments through 1986, as well as administering the Randolph-Sheppard authorities. As many of you also know, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is this year up for reauthorization. In reality, it was up for reauthorization last year, but because of some conflicting information and other delays in the Congress and in the administration, our reauthorization was advanced an additional year, but this year we believe that the act will be reauthorized in this Congress.
This afternoon I'd like to discuss with you briefly the administration's position on reauthorization and the highlights of the reauthorization bill that was introduced by Senator Durenberger of Minnesota on Monday of this week. Then I'd like to talk about the Randolph-Sheppard authorities and some of the issues concerned with that legislation.
Being aware that people with physical and mental disabilities throughout the country are more and more concerned about choices in the provision of rehabilitation services, the administration was very concerned that the reauthorization bill contain some choices language. We covered that in two areas.
To begin with, in the discretionary programs we're asking that the reauthorization contain a discretionary model program in choices, and we're asking that it be funded for this first cycle at six million dollars. The language we are proposing would prohibit current, established vocational rehabilitation agencies, public agencies, from competing for the choices projects. It may include vouchers, but the language doesn't necessarily say that. The second area to address choice is that surrounding the development of the individual written rehabilitation program in title I of the act. Our language proposes that we strengthen this requirement by directing that any individual receiving services from a public rehabilitation program be given full choice in a vocational goal and training to achieve that goal.
Another area that we're fully aware is of tremendous concern to consumers throughout the country is that of lack of upward mobility opportunities for people with disabilities who do receive employment. We're therefore asking for a change in the Rehabilitation Act that would allow us to demonstrate the need for and advantage of having upward mobility opportunities for people with disabilities who are already employed. We are asking that this authority be funded under one of our discretionary programs, which is probably less known to you than the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, the Projects with Industries. Again this program would not be available for competition through the public vocational rehabilitation agencies, and those served under the program would not necessarily be subject to the same eligibility requirements as those in vocational rehabilitation.
The third area that we will emphasize in reauthorization will be accountability. We believe that, because 80 percent of all of the money spent in public vocational rehabilitation is comprised of federal dollars--your dollars and mine--there must necessarily be a high level of accountability. We are, therefore, proposing changes in section 14 of the Act to allow us to develop evaluation standards and program indicators for the vocational rehabilitation programs that look at outcomes of the programs rather than process. We believe that such standards and indicators will necessarily create an atmosphere that will enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
There are a number of other changes that we are asking in the reauthorization, but they are of less significance than the three that I have discussed. Having been here for two days at your convention, I'm also aware (as I know you are) that there are some other provisions proposed outside of the administration's. Two specifically that affect blind people are the provision for a commission for the blind and the provision to make the title VII, part C, Older Blind Independent Living Program a formula grant program.
I believe that most of you were present when our Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, addressed this audience on Wednesday and stated that he intends to go back to Washington and find out why we need another commission. It would be indeed presumptuous of me to make any predictions about title VII, part C, given what I've heard at this convention and the obvious tie between the title VII, part C, legislation and the commission for the blind.
Let me move on and discuss very briefly with you the Randolph-Sheppard authorities. In the fall of 1991, the Randolph- Sheppard Vendors of America, a division of the American Council of the Blind, asked for and was granted a Congressional hearing on the Randolph-Sheppard Program under the allegation that, instead of growing as directed by the legislation, the program had started to shrink.
Robert DiVilla, the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, and I offered testimony for the administration, and it was very clear to the House panel before the day was done that the allegations that had been brought against the program were indeed not factual, and the hearing resulted in no changes and no new direction given to the administration.
There are, however, some issues with the Randolph-Sheppard Program that you need to be aware of. As some of you know, last winter we started to send out questionnaires about the regulations, which have not been changed since 1976. We got a voluminous amount of information from the constituency about the regulations. We had one meeting in Washington and decided that we needed to analyze further the information that we had gathered. It is my full intention to open the Randolph-Sheppard Regulations for revision, and the only reason that hasn't happened yet is because of the President's moratorium on the regulation process at this time.
There is now an important court case taking place in the state of Mississippi, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration versus the Vocational Rehabilitation Program of Mississippi, which is the state's licensing agency. NASA is asking that the vending concessions be given to them to administer because of some special legislation that pertains to NASA. In that court preparation and ongoing dialogue, the Department of Justice filed a brief stating that the arbitration provisions in the Randolph-Sheppard Act are unconstitutional. When that issue was brought before the District Court in Mississippi, it ruled that the arbitration language was not unconstitutional.
However, the Department of Justice has advised our attorneys that it will pursue identifying those provisions as unconstitutional in additional arbitration suits or cases. It's something that you need to be aware of as consumers and as participants in the Randolph-Sheppard Program. At the time that the Department of Justice filed the brief, we had about decided that we were going to have to offer amendments to the Randolph-Sheppard Act. We now have put that activity on hold and will await the decision of the court. Further developments in the NASA versus State Licensing Agency in the Mississippi case: no ruling has been made about the request of NASA to negotiate with the State Licensing Agency for part of the revenue or commission on the income that's realized from the facilities at the NASA installation.
Elsewhere in the Randolph-Sheppard Program the military installation in White Sands, New Mexico, is also being considered for part of the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped Food Services Program. There is no doubt that this issue will also end up in a court case. Overall, you should be aware that, as we get into an era of tighter and tighter financial support for our programs, more and more other disability groups will continue to look at the Randolph-Sheppard Program.
Let me now return to the Rehabilitation Act in combination with the Randolph-Sheppard Program and take just a couple of minutes to tell you what I think is ahead of us as blind people, and ahead of the nation, in the area of rehabilitation and the Randolph-Sheppard Program. The rehabilitation program was originally established to provide vocational training and placement for people with physical and mental disabilities. Over a seventy-two year history, although we say that we have placed fifteen million people in employment, the unemployment rate for people with physical and mental disabilities continues to be about 66 or 67 percent. In the field of blindness, it's even worse--it's about 72 percent.
I did look at the statistics last year for blind and visually impaired people served by public vocational rehabilitation and found that only 35 percent of the cases closed were closed in competitive employment. That figure is absolutely unacceptable to us at the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Beginning with the 1992 strategic management plan within RSA, our number one priority is employment of people with disabilities. We intend to direct our attention, our discretionary programs, our policy development, and everything else we do towards this end.
So far as the Randolph-Sheppard Act is concerned, as the largest and most forceful organization of blind people known anywhere in the world, you must be ever vigilant in seeing that the program is not eroded and over-regulated so that it does not serve its initial purpose, which was to create employment opportunities for people who are blind.
In closing let me thank you very sincerely for the opportunity to come here a third year in a row and share with you some of the things that are going on in the Federal Rehabilitation Program, but most important, to make me feel welcome to sit in your sessions and listen and learn so that I can know what direction to take as we look forward to building a comprehensive and responsive program of rehabilitation services. Thank you very much.
From the Associate Editor: One of the many duties of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, the NFB's computer science division, is to do whatever it can to ensure that the companies providing specialized technology in the blindness field are encouraged to offer the best service and equipment they can. The division's president, Curtis Chong, gathers information constantly about this specialized technology and often talks with vendors and producers in an effort to carry
Historically, Artic Technologies of Troy, Michigan, has been one of the most respected designers and manufacturers of screen- review programs and equipment. But in recent times blind computer users have become increasingly dissatisfied with what they have concluded was Artic Technologies' aggravating behavior and corporate decisions apparently designed to increase profits unfairly. In response to the increasing tide of consumer complaint, Curtis Chong sat down last spring and wrote a letter to Artic's Dale McDaniel, Vice President of Marketing. Within two weeks Mr. McDaniel wrote a response. Because of the importance of the issues raised and the popularity of the products in question, we print here this exchange of letters. It is courteous and candid. Only time will tell whether Artic takes advantage of the comments offered with all good will by the organized blind. If Artic Technologies makes full use of the advice and information provided by Mr. Chong, all of us will benefit. Here is the correspondence:
April 21, 1992
Mr. Dale McDaniel
Artic Technologies International
I am writing this letter to bring to your attention some of the current thinking that has taken place among blind people in this country concerning Artic Technologies International. I regret the circumstances that have motivated me to write this letter. However, if Artic Technologies is to maintain any favorable standing within the blind community and if it is to continue to be a leading supplier to screen-reading technology for the IBM PC and compatible machines, it would do well to consider the points raised here. I trust that you will communicate what I have said to the other principals of the company.
When Artic Technologies and its program, Artic Vision, came upon the scene in 1986, it was clear to everyone that here was a company that had developed a screen-reading system with some unique, innovative, and exciting features. In 1986 no other screen-reading program for the blind could respond as quickly and as smoothly as Artic Vision, no other screen-reading program could silence unwanted speech as quickly as Artic Vision, and no other screen-reading system could offer synthetic speech for as economical a price with as high quality as Artic Technologies could with its SynPhonix speech card. Overnight, Artic Technologies established itself as a company of prominence in the field.
Alas, events that have taken place over the last few years have done much to erode Artic's favorable standing. In my conversations with blind people throughout the country, these key factors are repeatedly cited:
1. Artic's perceived attempt to lock up the SSI 263 chip market by making itself the sole distributor of the chip;
2. Artic's tendency to pre-announce software and hardware as "soon to be available" when, in reality, many months or even years go by before anything is brought to market (in this context I refer to Artic's micro-channel speech card, Vision 3, the not- yet-released keyboard macro feature for Vision 3, and Artic's external speech synthesizer);
3. Artic Technologies' decision to release its newer SynPhonix cards only with Artic Vision instead of immediately providing an open interface (SONIX2) to permit the card to be used with competing screen-reading programs; and
4. packaging the Artic Vision system in such a way that the program can be used with only one SynPhonix speech card.
Consider the question of exclusive distribution rights for the SSI 263 speech chip. While we can engage in endless debate and discussion about whether or not Artic Technologies had any designs to monopolize the market for this chip, the fact remains that Artic Technologies was perceived as attempting to monopolize the chip. Proponents of this view argued that Artic Technologies, as a marketer of screen-reading software and speech synthesis technology for the blind, should not be vying for the exclusive distribution rights for a speech chip (the SSI 263)--especially since that chip was an indispensable component in speech systems marketed by its competitors. It was felt that, as an exclusive distributor of the SSI 263 chip, Artic Technologies would be able to exercise an unfair advantage, thereby stifling competition. Artic's repeated denials of any intent to monopolize the chip and its assertion that it would be the best distributor of the chip because of its ability to provide technical support were either not heard or not believed by the vast majority of blind consumers.
A lot of people have told me that they simply do not give any credence to new announcements made or prototypes shown by Artic Technologies. Given the delays encountered getting Vision 3 to market, the commitments made to put out an as-yet-unreleased key macro capability for Vision 3, unfulfilled promises made to develop a SONIX2 open interface for the SynPhonix micro-channel speech card, and the not-yet-released but widely-talked-about external speech synthesizer, this can hardly be considered surprising. There are those who have said that Artic Technologies never releases a product on time and sometimes not at all. Recent experiences such as those cited above give substance to this assertion.
When Artic Technologies developed its new line of speech cards (the successors to the old SynPhonix 200), it initially sold them only as part of an Artic Vision or Business Vision package. At the initial release date Artic Technologies chose not to market an open interface module that vendors of other screen- reading software could use to drive the newer speech cards. As you know, the old SynPhonix 200 cards could not run well on computers running at more than ten megahertz. People who wanted the SynPhonix speech cards for their newer and faster computers found that it was somehow easier to purchase Artic Vision instead of sticking to their older screen-reading systems. A lot of people thought that the open interface module should have been released as soon as the new SynPhonix cards came to market and resented what was perceived to be a clear attempt by Artic Technologies to increase the sales of its Artic Vision product.
And what about software protection? Everyone is well aware that the Artic Vision product is packaged so as to work with only the SynPhonix speech card. This has been and continues to be a bone of contention with many blind people. Although no one denies that Artic Technologies has a right to protect its software, it is generally felt that Artic Technologies could have come up with a better protection scheme that would have permitted licensed users of the program to run the software on more than one machine. As it is today, a licensed user who wants to run Artic Vision on two computers has to buy two copies of the program plus two speech cards. This is not a major issue in and of itself; but, when combined with everything else, it reinforces the perception that Artic Technologies does not hold the interests of blind consumers as a high priority.
I would not go so far as to say that Artic Technologies has deliberately sought to earn the ill will of blind consumers. It only seems that way. The company has taken actions and adopted policies which have done tremendous damage to its favorable standing. There are those who have said that Artic Technologies is no longer a leader in the field and that Artic Vision, as a screen reader, has been surpassed by competing software. There are those who have said that Artic Technologies promises much and delivers too little too late. My belief is that Artic Technologies has made some bad decisions and that it has made too many premature announcements. These have resulted in the loss of the company's leadership position in the field.
A lot of blind people will tell you that Artic Technologies is viewed today as a stable but not spectacular company. Vision 3 is still viewed as one of the leading screen-reading systems on the market. However, no one holds out any real hope that the program will make any significant strides in the near future.
It seems to me that Artic Technologies needs to take deliberate steps to regain its favorable standing among blind people. For one thing, the company must do a better job of announcing new products and then releasing them on time. For another, the company must do a better job of listening to and communicating with blind consumers.
Consider what might be done to facilitate more open access to your speech cards on the new 33 megahertz 486 processors. I understand that your current speech cards do not work well on some 486 machines. Rumor has it that you intend to remedy this problem by making a software patch to Artic Vision. Why not include the same fix in your SONIX2 product so that other screen- reading software will be able to use your speech card on the 486 processors. And speaking of SONIX2, it is high time that a SONIX2 module was made available for the micro-channel version of your speech card.
I hope that you and your colleagues will give careful consideration to the issues raised in this letter. I do not wish to destroy or discredit Artic Technologies. Rather, I am trying to help the company perform in a manner that is more in keeping with the wishes of the consumers who purchase its products.
Curtis Chong, President
National Federation of the Blind
in Computer Science
That is what Curtis Chong said in his April 21 letter, and under date of May 4, Dale McDaniel, Vice President for Marketing at Artic Technologies, responded as follows:
I would like to thank you for your letter of April 21. Constructive criticism is necessary and welcome for any company that desires to grow and improve. All too often, individuals or agencies who take exception with a company's actions are willing to express their dissatisfaction to everyone but the company itself. This can create unfavorable and distorted attitudes among consumers who have had this dissatisfaction repeated to them second- or third-hand, not to mention the fact that it makes it difficult if not impossible for a company to take corrective action if they are not informed. We appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to inform us of your concerns directly and for your expressed confidence that we can rectify these matters.
Curtis, we are pleased that "A lot of blind people will tell you that Artic Technologies is viewed today as a stable" company and that "Vision 3 is still viewed as one of the leading screen reading systems on the market." We have watched a number of companies and many products come and go in the adaptive technology field and are proud of the fact that our customers can rely on our continued presence, enhancements to our existing products, and the introduction of new products to broaden the horizons of access for them.
At the same time I can understand in part the reasons behind your contention that Artic is currently not a "spectacular company" and that Vision 3 might not "make any significant strides in the near future." While I can understand the frustrations that have led to such statements, neither I nor anyone at Artic can accept them as unchangeable fact. We realize and accept that as part of our evolution as a company we have made mistakes. Be assured that we have learned and will continue to learn from these mistakes and do our utmost to justify the confidence that you and so many others have placed in us. Artic gained a reputation as an innovative, technologically advanced company based on our numerous accomplishments. Anyone who thinks that this reputation is a thing of the past is vastly underrating us.
I realize that you ordered the comments in your letter to reflect a historical perspective and that several of the items have already been rectified. However, for ease of presentation, I would like to respond to the points that you raised in the order in which you raised them rather than by order of importance.
1. Regarding Artic's "perceived attempt to lock up the SSI 263 speech synthesis chip market by making itself the sole distributor of the chip," we are neither the sole distributor of this chip, nor have we ever refused to sell the chip to anyone wishing to purchase it. When this issue was first raised at the NFB convention in Chicago several years ago, I met with Dr. Cranmer, yourself, other members of the NFB staff, and numerous manufacturers of speech products. At that time I explained the salient points that led to Artic's becoming a distributor for the SSI 263 chip. The principals of Artic designed the 263 chip while we were with the Research & Development group of Votrax, Inc. SSI simply manufactures the chip under license from what was then Votrax's parent company (Votrax has since gone out of business). Since SSI did not design the chip, they have never had anyone on their staff who understands the operation of the chip or can provide technical support. SSI had contracted Votrax, Inc., to provide technical support, but since everyone involved with the 263 design project had left the company, Votrax had no one on staff who could support the chip either. This situation, coupled with the fact that SSI sells relatively few 263 chips in comparison to their other products, led SSI to announce that they were discontinuing production of the 263. We made it abundantly clear at that time that we would make the 263 chip available to any and all individuals, companies, or agencies who wished to purchase it. Since that time we have sold chips to numerous companies and individuals, regardless of their application or potential market. Interestingly, those companies who manufacture speech products for low-vision and blind individuals have not been among our customers. These companies obviously obtain the 263 chip through other sources. Consequently, not only does Artic provide the 263 chip to any interested party, we also are not the "sole distributor" of this device. The reality of the situation is that, if not for the intervention of Artic, the 263 chip would have ceased to exist several years ago.
2. Artic is aware of its "tendency to pre-announce software and hardware." In the past we have released products late and presently have some still awaiting release. We realize and regret the frustration that these situations have created and can assure you that no one feels this frustration more deeply than we do. It obviously does not benefit us in any manner to announce a product and then not deliver it by the promised date (your letter is ample proof of that). Unfortunately, sophisticated software design and scheduling are not exact sciences for any company, and the temptation to announce exciting new concepts can sometimes be irresistible (MicroSoft being two years late with Windows is a good example of these points). At this point all that we can do is offer our apologies for our past mistakes and assure you that they will not be repeated in the future. We will no longer discuss any new product until we are in a position to quote a guaranteed delivery date. Additionally, products that were previously announced will be completed and released as soon as possible. I will be happy to provide you with firm release dates for our external speech synthesizer (TransPort) and the keyboard macro feature for Vision 3 as they become available. As you are aware, the other products that you mentioned (Vision 3 and the micro-channel version of our synthesizer (SynPhonix-315) have been available for well over a year.
3. Our decision to release our "new SynPhonix cards only with Artic Vision instead of immediately providing an open interface (SONIX2) to permit the card to be used with competing screen reading programs" is in reality an indication of our commitment to our customers. That some people mistakenly view this as a negative action on our part is obvious from your statement that "A lot of people thought that the open interface module should have been released as soon as the new SynPhonix cards came to market and resented what was perceived to be a clear attempt by Artic Technologies to increase the sales of its Artic Vision product." Such perceptions illustrate my earlier comment that distorted attitudes can develop when people do not discuss their dissatisfactions with the manufacturer. The SynPhonix synthesizers marketed with SONIX2 are a completely separate product line from the SynPhonix synthesizers with VEST and Visions. Consequently, when a synthesizer upgrade is planned, we must decide which product will be upgraded first. If we opted to upgrade the SynPhonix with SONIX2 and release it first, those customers who rely on our Vision software for computer access would find themselves in the position of waiting for a new release while those who use other screen access programs were already benefitting from an upgraded synthesizer. What message would this deliver regarding Artic's loyalty to its customers? The only other alternative would be to upgrade one product line and then delay its release until the upgrade on the other product line was completed so they could be released simultaneously. This approach might allow us to avoid some criticism, but it would cause one group or the other to needlessly wait for an upgrade that could be of great assistance to them. While we are committed to considering the needs of the entire low-vision and blind community, our first loyalty must go to our customers who rely upon us for their access needs. A related issue that you raised deals with a modification to ensure proper operation of SynPhonix synthesizers with the new 33 megahertz 486 processors. You state that "Rumor has it that you intend to remedy this problem by making a software patch to Artic Vision...." The reality is that any such modifications would have to be made to the software that controls the synthesizer, not the screen access program which uses the synthesizer as an output device. I can assure you that any such modifications to the synthesizer drivers will be released simultaneously for all versions of our synthesizers.
4. Regarding the serialization of Visions software to match the SynPhonix synthesizer, you state that such software protection "has and continues to be a bone of contention with many blind people." This is an area of great concern to us, as the introduction of serialization was an attempt to address an unfortunate situation in a manner that did not penalize legitimate customers. When we first released Visions, the software was completely open and could operate with any SynPhonix synthesizer. Unfortunately, over the course of several years we encountered numerous instances of individuals running copies of Visions that they had not purchased. Many times these instances became apparent when the individual called us for technical support. Such instances damage everyone in a variety of ways. They reflect a loss of revenue which could have been utilized to hire additional engineering staff to enhance existing products and research new products, they utilize technical support time that should be going to legitimate users, and they divert personnel and resources from productive activities that benefit all Artic customers. Eventually such occurrences became too frequent and unmanageable to be overlooked. At that point we had several options to resolve the situation. We could have taken the approach used by many large software manufacturers and increased our prices to offset these losses. However, we did not then and do not now feel that it is appropriate to penalize licensed users for the actions of others. In fact, while our products have increased in sophistication and functionality over the years, our prices have not increased. A second option would have been to discontinue selling SynPhonix synthesizers for general usage and offer them for sale only with a Visions package. This option was not rejected due to any profits that might be realized from such synthesizer sales. In fact, of all of the products that we manufacture, synthesizers have the lowest profit margin. As difficult as it may be for some people to accept, Artic is not simply a faceless company driven by a profit motive. Artic is composed of people who take pride in the fact that their work enhances the lives of its customers rather than simply turning out meaningless products for the mass consumer market. Consequently, we did not feel that in good conscience we could turn our backs on customers who depended on our synthesizers. The third and final alternative was some form of software protection. The most common form of software protection is a coded disk that forces the user to perform complicated installation procedures and limits the number of installations and back-up copies. Further complicating matters was the fact that such procedures would have to be performed without benefit of speech. We felt that these complications and limitations were an unacceptable burden to our customers. However, by serializing the software to the synthesizer, we were able to provide a system under which installation is trivial and the user can maintain back-up copies without limitation. The only difficulty arises when an individual needs access to more than one computer. While you state that the user "has to buy two copies of the program plus two speech cards," this is not the case. From the day that we implemented this system, we have offered a complete second system to licensed individuals for the price of the synthesizer alone. Consequently, any individual who needs to run on more than one system pays for the software once and then purchases the additional synthesizer just as they would with any other system on the market today. We also offer licenses to accommodate the needs of any company or organization that requires access for multiple computers. Even this necessity will soon be removed since the introduction of our TransPort external synthesizer will enable the user to access any computer they happen to be near.
As I said, our intent was to address an unfortunate situation by implementing a solution that did not penalize legitimate customers. As always, we would welcome any alternative recommendations that you or any other individual might have.
Curtis, I hope that the responses that I have provided answer the questions and concerns that you expressed. I would be happy to answer any additional questions or provide further clarification for you or anyone else who desires it.
Again, I deeply appreciate your efforts to assist us in being a company that meets the needs of the low vision and blind community to the best of our ability. I hope that you and others will continue to provide us with the feedback we require to accomplish this goal.
Vice President of Marketing
Artic Technologies International, Inc.
by Charlie Brown
From the Associate Editor: The following article first appeared in the August, 1992, edition of the NFB Vigilant, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. Charlie Brown is the dedicated and hard-working president of the affiliate and a member of the NFB Board of Directors. Here is the story as he reported it:
Last March, during our state convention in Virginia Beach, Stuart and Kathy Owen asked to see me--explaining that "they had some trouble at the shop." What an understatement!
Stuart and Kathy both work at the Virginia Industries for the Blind (VIB) workshop in Charlottesville operated by the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped (DVH). Stuart has been employed full-time at VIB since April, 1955, and Kathy began her career there in July, 1972. Their work records are superb. Last year, for instance, Stuart was named VIB worker of the year. The Owens are also respected leaders in their church, their community, and the Federation. Imagine how stunned I was to learn that they had each been suspended without pay from their jobs for an entire week! They also lost the sick and vacation leave they would have earned during that week.
What did the Owens do to deserve such severe punishment--rough up a co-worker? Come to work drunk? Use foul language? Refuse a work assignment? No! They left a meeting early and returned to their jobs. Was this just one of a long series of incidents the totality of which might justify such a severe penalty? No! But the agency decided to get especially tough, and the Owens paid the price both in financial hardship and in humiliation.
I told the Owens that the Federation would do everything we could to try to get their lost pay and benefits restored. We did what we could, and by mid-July we succeeded. But it was not without a fight--a knock-down, drag-out fight!
The fact that the Owens left a meeting with the workshop director before being excused was never in dispute. Such an offence might have warranted at most a warning, but hardly a suspension. Further, as it turned out, the Owens had good cause for doing what they did.
This whole incident grew out of major management miscalculations in taking on new Federal mop contracts. Although the VIB management and employees knew last summer that these new contracts were about to come in, management ignored worker requests to start learning to make these new federal mops, which were very different from the state mops employees were used to making. At about the time the workshop began to make the new federal mops (late last year), it also became apparent that there would be a lot more orders than management had anticipated, since one of the other major mop contractors had proven unable to make them properly. Thus, an expected trickle of mop orders became an uncontrollable flood. Nevertheless, untrained workers struggled mightily to come through for VIB, even though much of the equipment they were using was not designed to do the intricate work required.
In December workshop director Robert Betler held a meeting and asked the workers to give up their long-accustomed four-day- a-week and ten-hour-day schedule in favor of a five-day-a-week and eight-hour-day schedule for a couple of months so that a temporary second shift could be deployed. In spite of the significant inconvenience, the workers agreed. As the struggle continued through January and February, management turned up the heat. The pressure on the mop workers and the damage to their morale was the worst the Owens had ever experienced in all their years at the workshop.
Then, with production still behind, Betler called another meeting on February 24. The meeting was tense from the get-go. Things got worse when Betler told the employees they would have to stay on the new five-day schedule for another month--at least through March. Betler paced back and forth, hands on hips, lecturing the workers about how backed up things were and about having to pay a penalty for missing a delivery deadline. Some workers were insulted, and at least one employee (by his own admission) responded to Betler in words I will not reprint here.
Stuart was then so upset that he begged repeatedly to be allowed to go back to work, lest he also lose his temper and say something he would regret later. Others had been allowed to leave earlier, and the meeting broke up soon thereafter anyway. Betler told Stuart to stay awhile longer and kept up his harangue. Stuart finally returned to work. This turn of events so upset Kathy that she also asked to be allowed to go back to work. She, too, eventually left. Shortly thereafter Betler adjourned the meeting.
The Owens both received disciplinary notices of suspension the next day. The Owens then filed a grievance and asked for the Federation's help.
I was shocked when the DVH claimed that their workshop grievance procedure barred me from representing the Owens at any stage of the proceedings--not at the meetings with management, and certainly not at any hearing. While the grievance procedure allows workers to be represented by a fellow employee serving on the workshop advisory committee, I could hardly believe the agency's view that this meant that workers could not use an independent outsider instead. What would you say if someone told you that the only person allowed to represent you in a case was on the other side's payroll? Talk about unfair! Because DVH took this ridiculous position, they made the Owens go through all sorts of paperwork just to let me see some of the personnel documents--and DVH even tried to bill the Federation for the privilege! (I haven't used our money to pay their silly bill, and I don't intend to.)
I discussed the representation issue over and over with DVH officials and was getting nowhere. Finally as the hearing date approached, I sent DVH's personnel director, Maryann Isbell, a letter stating that I intended to represent the Owens at their hearings on June 19, absent only a court order to the contrary. I also suggested that Ms. Isbell take this issue up with the Attorney General's Office. Two days before the hearings the agency finally relented and allowed me to represent the Owens on behalf of the Federation. Needless to say, all of this Mickey Mouse DVH behavior created uncertainties for the Owens and me up to the last minute and made it hard to prepare for the hearings.
On June 19 the Owens finally got their hearing in Charlottesville. Both hearings were conducted by a three-person panel, at least two of whom were required by the VIB grievance procedure to be DVH employees. The agency picked Don Kinder, and the Owens picked Seville Allen (an outsider with solid knowledge of the workshop program). In accordance with the grievance procedure, Mr. Kinder and Ms. Allen chose the third panel member, DVH employee Barbara Bowman. I represented the Owens on behalf of the Federation, and Deputy Commissioner George Koger represented DVH.
The hearings literally dragged on for hours as all of the facts about the Federal mop fiasco came out in the testimony of both the Owens' witnesses and the DVH witnesses. Koger called an assortment of management officials to testify for DVH, as well as a couple of the Owens' co-workers, who didn't seem to be too happy to be there. Frankly, the testimony of Koger's co-worker witnesses wasn't all that damaging to the Owens' cause because their accounts of the February meeting and the events leading up to it diverged--and one hearing-impaired employee even admitted being unable to follow much of what had happened. One courageous co-worker even came forward to testify on the Owens' behalf. The Owens' minister also gave a powerful testimony about their character and about the extraordinary pressure the Owens were under at work. Of course, the Owens themselves, with their obvious integrity, were their own best witnesses.
A low point at each hearing was Koger's pathetic effort to convince the panel that the Owens' departures from the February meeting were really not first, but second offenses. Even Koger apparently realized that the week-long suspensions were inappropriate for a first offense. Accordingly, Koger produced two pieces of paper--one naming Stuart and the other naming Kathy. They were disciplinary warning notice forms, apparently drafted back in 1990. To be a valid notice, the VIB rules require that either the employee sign a receipt for it (as the Owens did on their February, 1992, notices) or some other DVH official sign the notice certifying that it had in fact been issued. Neither signature was on either of the alleged 1990 notices. The Owens, of course, had no idea that DVH officials had allowed such draft documents to be put in their files. Koger tried in vain to prove that the notices had been issued, notwithstanding the missing signatures. It was easy to see at the time that nobody was buying his claim; and, in fact, it was obvious that this questionable tactic backfired.
In mid-July the Owens called to tell me the good news that the hearing panel had ruled in their favor, giving them back their lost pay and benefits. But what really surprised me was that the panel decision was unanimous--even the agency's representative, Don Kinder, voted in favor of the Owens.
Hopefully DVH will learn some lessons from this dreadful affair. I believe the hearings could and should have been avoided. They were an incredible waste of time and money. I tried more than once to seek a negotiated settlement in order to avoid the hearings, but DVH management completely refused even to discuss the issues with me.
Why was DVH so hard-nosed with such fine employees? I keep asking myself this question. With my twenty years of experience in the labor law field I know that sometimes, when management is in trouble with workers, they pick out a couple of top employees for tough treatment to serve as examples to others. The message is not subtle--"If we can do this to outstanding workers, imagine what we can do to you, so toe the line." Of course, I'll never be able to prove that DVH meant to do such a thing in this instance, but I wonder.
In any case, we proved to all those who work for VIB that they can sleep a little easier at night, knowing that management cannot intimidate them whenever officials feel like it. The Owens were willing to stand tall and fight all the way, and the Federation stood by their side. Now we are working to change the VIB grievance procedure to give employees a fairer shake in the future. That is what the Federation is all about.
There you have the report that Charlie Brown made to the Virginia affiliate about the Owens' case, but perhaps the last word belongs to Stuart and Kathy Owen, who wrote a letter to President Maurer under date of August 17, 1992, which says in part:
Dear Mr. Maurer:
Let us start by saying that the NFB is the greatest organization for blind people there is, and we fully believe in our movement. My wife and I have been members for fourteen years. I am President of the Charlottesville Chapter; my wife is corresponding secretary.
....[Mr. Owen next summarized the case described in this article before continuing]
We think you should know what a fine job Charlie Brown is doing as our state president. He stuck with us and gained victory for us in our grievance hearing. Charlie is a marvelous and intelligent person. He is the best lawyer that we have ever seen. We were very proud to have him represent us. We think that Charlie should be commended to the very highest degree.
Seville Allen of Northern Virginia is also to be highly commended. She served on our behalf on the grievance panel. She is also a marvelous and intelligent person. She spent much of her time on our behalf. We were honored to have her represent us. She is a real go-getter. Yes, we are honored to be associated with both Seville and Charlie. We can never thank them enough for all that they did for us. We also want to thank everyone in the NFB for their support.
Mr. Maurer, we know that you are a busy man, but we think that you should know what a fine job the leaders in the Virginia affiliate are doing in our movement. We also want to thank you for the fine job that you are doing as our national president. We are proud of you too. We know that you have an awesome task. God bless you. We pray for you in the many decisions that you have to make. Thank you for your time in reading this letter and article.
Stuart N. Owen
Katherine C. Owen
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."
by Eric Clegg
From the Associate Editor: A number of years ago I served as a chaplain in my local hospital. When I began working there, the staff was clearly nervous. By and large, the more exalted the employee, the less notice he or she took of me. The doctors were hardly aware of my presence among them except when it was necessary for us to confer about a patient. The nurses fluttered around for a bit and then settled back into the everyday absorption of their duties. The cleaning staff, on the other hand, worried incessantly, for a while at least, about the possibility of my falling on their wet floors; and the volunteers never did resign themselves to my cruising through the halls on my rounds.
Since in some respects I was a member of the staff myself, I could safely ignore the sillier comments and attempts to help from the volunteers, and the employees eventually got the message: nobody needed to take care of the blind chaplain; she was there to help take care of the patients. It is useful for all of us to remember that this evolution is the normal pattern of human behavior when confronted with a new thing. People are, by and large, capable of learning; and the efforts of the Federation to educate the public about blindness are beginning to take effect.
Eric Clegg is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of California. Last March he had an emergency appendectomy. Sudden hospitalization is never a pleasant experience, but he has reflected about what happened to him and, perhaps more significantly, what did not happen. This is the way he tells his story:
Emergencies in life are never planned. They just happen, ready or not! This was the way things were with me on Saint Patrick's day this year. Earlier that evening I had eaten a supper of corned beef and cabbage, but around midnight the stomach pain I'd been feeling all evening began to intensify. I wondered if I had a case of food poisoning. At around 1:30 a.m. the pain stopped circling and settled into the lower right quadrant of my abdomen.
What to do? Like many other blind people, I live alone. My Siamese cat Sasha would not be of much help. The closest thing to family in the area was my girlfriend, also a Federationist, but she lived in Stockton, a town some forty-five miles from my home. Worse yet, in the two years I had lived in Sacramento, I hadn't chosen a physician or a hospital.
I went to bed still thinking I was suffering from food poisoning. Having taken some aspirin, I decided I would deal with the situation in the morning. Of course Sasha was her usual helpful Siamese self, offering to lie on my stomach, particularly the part that hurt, just to keep it warm. I immediately threatened her with the loss of one of her nine lives if she didn't move. The next day the pain was still there, not worse, just dull and persistent. I packed a suitcase with the essentials--forgetting a bathrobe--although my radio and plenty of Braille reading material were included. When I called the dentist to cancel an appointment, the receptionist told me that Sutter Memorial was as good as any hospital in the area, so I called a cab and took myself to the emergency room.
Please understand, all this was new and strange to me. The only other time I was admitted to the hospital was to have my tonsils removed as a child, and I have no real memory of the event. Also I had read in the Monitor and elsewhere horror stories about blind people bent on getting needed medical services and receiving condescension or discrimination as well. I really did not know what to expect, but I figured I would deal with things as they came. In fact, as it turned out, I had only two bad experiences.
My initial impressions proved quite surprising. The person at Emergency took the needed information from my insurance card. Then I was hustled off to another area and immediately put to bed where fluids began pumping into my veins. At around eleven in the morning, some two and a half hours after my admission, a doctor came to examine me. Again I was treated with respect and absolutely no condescension. In fact, I learned later from one of the night nurses that, in her opinion, I had gotten the best surgeon in the house.
Meanwhile, realizing that I was probably in for a stay of a few days, I notified my reader and tried to reach my girl friend. When this failed, I did what many blind people would have done: I called the president of my Federation chapter, and she got a message through which, though garbled, eventually enabled my friend to reach me by phone.
I was scheduled for surgery at 3:00 p.m. and was wheeled into the operating room, which sounded as reverberant as an old garage--not what one pictures from watching those medical television programs. Again everyone was great; they all introduced themselves. Then I began receiving the anesthetic. One minute I was counting down as ordered; the next minute the surgery was over, and I was lying in the recovery room--thirsty and uncomfortable--waiting for the required forty-five minutes before being taken back to my room. My doctor told me that I had been lucky. My appendix had nearly burst, but they had caught it in time.
The next few days were a blur. I remember waking up every few hours to be checked and given pain medication. I do recall the astounding lack of control one has in a hospital. I needed assistance to do everything, both because at first I was as weak as a kitten and because it was necessary to drag my intravenous trolley (which looked like an oversized, top-heavy microphone stand) everywhere I went.
In some ways hospitals are little fiefdoms. They run by their own rules, and there is no explaining them. An example of this involved using my electric razor. The nurse explained that it was all right to use my radio because it ran on batteries, but before I could use my razor, it would have to be inspected for safety and compatibility by the electrical inspector. I asked if they had a substitute razor I might use. They did not. I assured the nurse that my razor had been used in many places (including other countries) without starting fires. Eventually she relented. After creeping around the floor at 1:00 a.m. looking for an outlet, I discovered that the hospital electrical system was equipped with outlets that automatically disconnect if they sense a ground fault.
The food I was given Thursday and Friday was horrible. It was described as clear liquids, which meant salty broths, not very appetizing gelatin deserts, and some very good fruit juices. But I was promised a solid meal from a wide menu by Saturday. I remember ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and I can't tell you when solid food tasted so good!
By Saturday and Sunday I began feeling much more myself. My girl friend had come up to Sacramento and had visited me both days. And of course I was eating solid food. On Saturday I managed to wangle a midnight snack, and on Sunday night--well early Monday morning--I was able to obtain a cheeseburger from the cafeteria. I remember commenting to a nurse that a cheeseburger a day keeps the infection away. These little things really made a difference in the quality of my hospital stay.
How was I treated by the hospital staff? Two of the nurses in particular were really wonderful. One was a Japanese woman who attended me during the day, and the other was the night nurse. These people made the mundane tasks of changing dressings and I.V.'s and giving me pain shots almost a pleasure. We also had a number of good conversations and deep discussions.
On Friday morning one of the two staff members who would mar this hospital stay came into my room. Let's call her Rosa. This nurse, who was not overly bright, came in to change an I.V. I don't think she had ever met a blind person in her life. She kept telling me that she was pregnant and was about to have her child. Of course, preoccupied and inattentive as she was, she messed up the procedure. Because of her I was uncomfortable for the rest of the day, and the folks from I.V. Therapy had to come during the night to readjust the apparatus. In passing I flagged this woman as possible trouble, but then I thought no more about it.
Monday morning was discharge time, and the doctors asked me if I would be hiring a visiting nurse to do the necessary and, they seemed to think, mysterious task of changing dressings twice a day. I responded that a friend would do this task for me. Ellen is one of the most competent people I know, and I did not think that the hospital needed to know that she too is blind. She came on Monday morning along with one of our sighted friends.
The staff said I couldn't leave until a nurse explained the dressing procedure to us, and whom should they send in to do the explanation but Rosa of the I.V. fiasco. We were afraid that they might not let me out of the hospital when they discovered that the person giving me nursing assistance was blind. I must admit that I did not treat Rosa with the courtesy I might have. I still remembered the pain of the botched I.V. and her self-absorption. When she saw Ellen, she freaked out. Looking imploringly at our sighted friend, she demanded to know who would sign the necessary discharge papers. I of course said that I would and proceeded to do so. She made a complicated production of explaining a simple procedure: saturate a dressing with saline solution, cover the wound with it, and tape a dry dressing over the saturated one. Rosa had some trouble with the English language, but I still believe, as I said earlier, that she had never dealt with a blind person, and having to deal with two of them at once proved too much for her.
The other incident occurred in transportation. This is hospital jargon for taking a patient by wheelchair to the discharge area. The orderly that came had also, it seemed, never met a blind person. He just about ran down one poor woman in the hallway as he was asking me some of the inane questions sighted people often ask us: Why don't you have a guide dog? Do you live with your family? Is the girl with you your sister? When he saw me signing my name at the hospital insurance office, he had to marvel about that as well. I tried tolerantly to explain that this was no great accomplishment. He then explained that he was married to a lawyer and that she was an environmentalist. Ellen wondered later how a supposedly intelligent lawyer could marry someone like that. Our friend informed us that the guy actually was good-looking, the California surfer type. We concluded that maybe the lawyer was more interested in other attributes than the brains of this orderly.
Why was my hospital stay so uneventful and generally lacking in discriminatory and condescending treatment? Was it because the staff admired my sparkling personality? No, I don't think so. Were most of these people especially trained, or had they been particularly sensitive in dealing with blind patients? I don't believe that is the answer either.
I do believe that the half century and more of public education conducted by the National Federation of the Blind is starting to pay off. Also I am lucky to live in a state in which blind persons suffer less mistreatment on a daily basis than they do elsewhere. It is no accident that we have a strong and vigilant NFB chapter and affiliate in Sacramento, California.
In short, aside from the two brief incidents on my last morning, I experienced a normal hospital stay. I was treated in the way anyone would want to be--as a normal person who had to go into the hospital to have an appendectomy. This is a straightforward surgical procedure, and fortunately little fuss was made over me. I received the type of treatment that each of us in this movement is striving to receive in all areas of our lives.
What about the peculiar treatment I did experience? The incident with the orderly can be dismissed quickly. I was dealing with a flake. We all risk meeting people like this every day. His ignorant and silly questions can soon be forgotten. Someone like this is a pain but not really harmful in the long term. Rosa the foreign-born, pregnant nurse, is something else again. I myself was born in Lima, Peru. I obtained American citizenship in 1979. Someone from another country can have towering misconceptions about blindness. In many developing countries blind persons cannot attain much in the way of normal lives. Their only future is likely to involve begging on the streets of the capital city or working in some primitive sheltered shop. Rosa had probably seen blind persons of that ilk, and she was also having to adjust as an immigrant to our American culture. I usually try speaking in Spanish to those who are likely to respond favorably. I did not, however, make such an effort with her.
States like California are starting to fill with immigrants. We in the Federation may have to change our patterns of outreach and public education. Increasingly we will have to educate people like Rosa about the abilities of blind people and what it truly means to be a blind person.
My stay in the hospital was quite normal--in fact, what we as a people's movement are striving to achieve. I was lucky in many ways. This fact was brought home to me forcefully when I saw some of the other patients. Hospitals are truly for the sick and the dying. Even though I had had major surgery, I knew I would soon be well and would return to my normal life. If you happen to be sick and find yourself in Northern California, you could do a lot worse than Sutter Memorial Hospital.
by Christopher J. Kuczynski
From the Associate Editor: Chris Kuczynski has worked successfully for the past three years as an attorney in a prominent Philadelphia law firm. This fall he entered the Master of Laws Program at the Yale University School of Law in order to prepare himself to accomplish his long-held goal of teaching on a law school faculty. Those who know Chris or who have read his articles in the Braille Monitor recognize that he thinks carefully and deeply about blindness and the role of blind people in American society today. Here is what he has to say:
During a recent affiliate seminar I asked a group of Pennsylvania Federationists to identify some of the characteristics of prejudice. The following ideas were generated in that discussion.
First, prejudice involves a judgment about a person or a group of people sharing a particular characteristic--in the context of our discussion, blindness. The judgment is typically formed on the basis of inaccurate or incomplete information. Thus, each blind individual is treated in accordance with the beliefs of those who act prejudicially toward blind people generally, whether or not these convictions are justified by the actions of the current victim of the prejudice. Additionally (and perhaps more important to the discussion that follows), the behavior of a specific blind person is often attributed to blind people generally, whether or not its application to the entire class is appropriate.
Second, we always associate some action with prejudice. Not only do people judge others inaccurately and inappropriately, but they then treat them discriminatorily on the basis of their judgments. In turn, the victims of prejudice respond with an action of their own, which (to the extent it corrects inaccurate and incomplete information) may be positive, but which may be equally prejudicial. The blind person helped across the street by a well-intentioned but over-zealous sighted person is a typical example of what one member of our group referred to as the action-and-reaction phenomena that comprise prejudice. The sighted person's conduct, founded on the belief that blind people are not only incapable of crossing streets independently but also too foolish to realize their incompetence, contributes the action. The reaction arises from the blind person's response, which will either reinforce erroneous ideas and add to them new ones--blind people are not only incompetent, but rude and ungrateful as well--or educate the sighted person about the capabilities of the blind.
Finally (and perhaps obviously), the effects of prejudice are generally perceived to be negative, even if the judgment being made appears to be either neutral or positive. The belief that blind people are musically gifted or that they are peculiarly suited for careers as social workers or teachers of the blind is harmful because it limits the sighted person's perception of the capabilities of the blind, and it limits the blind person's understanding of what is possible. The belief that blind people have so-called special powers or that their other senses are heightened to compensate for their loss of sight actually diminishes their humanity even as it pretends to attribute superhuman abilities to them. To the person who holds them, these beliefs are understood as complimentary to the blind. Yet they translate into lost opportunities for blind people in careers regarded as inappropriate for them and into the uneasiness that some sighted people feel around the blind.
Having identified at least these characteristics of prejudice, the discussion turned to what for want of a better term we will call positive prejudice. The concept appears to be a contradiction, but every Federationist probably understands its meaning. It is an attempt to turn prejudice on its head--to use to our advantage the tendency to judge whole groups on the basis of individual members of that group. Fewer than one-half of one percent of all people in the country are blind. Most sighted people will probably encounter (personally or in the electronic media) at least one (but probably not more than a few) blind people in their lives. The impression which that one blind person makes is necessarily lasting. The sighted person who encounters a competently functioning blind person will probably come away from the experience with an overall positive image of blind people generally. In this way transformation of the public's image of blind people begins. While we should not become so overburdened by our genuine obligation to reform the public's image of blindness that we sacrifice our individuality, we must also be aware that the way each of us acts has ramifications for all blind people.
When the misconceptions of centuries about blindness are reinforced through the powerful medium of television, our task of transforming public misconceptions is made considerably more difficult. Unfortunately, many children today receive as much education from television as they do in school, and many adults are inclined toward a sedentary existence in front of the television, either after a hard day's work or during the entire day if they do not work. It would be easy to say that people do not take seriously the depictions of the blind (or any other group) they see on television, but it is not easy to believe. We know that characters like Blind George from the short-lived ABC comedy "Good and Evil" really do reinforce stereotypes about blind people; that is why we protested until the program was removed from the air.
But the protest and removal from television of "Good and Evil" are only the first steps in transforming the image of blind people through the electronic media. Our effort at eradicating detrimental images of blind people on television is the first part of a project which must continue by proposing an accurate and constructive alternative. Blind people are alive and well in the world; they can and should be depicted on television. Employing the concept of positive prejudice, we must ask how we think television can be used to help us. How do we want the blind to be depicted? What image do we want blind characters to present? What values do we want them to promote?
I think that the answers to these questions begin with a study of the most recent depiction of blindness I have seen on television--a blind lawyer named David McCoy on the NBC series "L.A. Law." McCoy reminds us of how far we have come. The fact that the creators of the series consulted, among others, President and Mrs. Maurer when constructing the character underscores the fact that the National Federation of the Blind really has become the driving force changing the images of blindness in the media. Increasingly our organization (not the agencies for the blind) is recognized as the single most influential force in the blindness field. But for all its positive characteristics, "L.A. Law"'s representation of blindness also tells us that we still have a great deal of work to do to educate the public through the media. By looking at the positive and negative characteristics of this blind lawyer, I think we can begin to define what we want from the media.
Overall, McCoy's image is positive. He is a successful personal injury lawyer whose achievements are seen basically as a product of his skill, not as a function of the sympathy juries and judges may feel for his disability. We see him competently representing his client in a trial--a task which includes the presentation of written exhibits with which he has familiarized himself, apparently through the use of alternative techniques. McCoy's blindness is not made the focal point of the trial. In fact, when his opposing counsel attempts to make him appear less than fully competent and herself as benevolent by showing him to his chair after he has conducted the examination of a witness, he later takes her to task for trying to make his blindness an issue.
We learn through watching him that McCoy travels well with a guide dog and moves around freely in a courtroom with his cane. At a settlement conference blindness proves to be no more than a nuisance. He is perfectly poised, believing that his case is a strong one and that his client (not he) will be viewed sympathetically by the jury. Casually he asks whether there is an empty chair to his left or his right. His opponent's conduct at this conference is equally positive. When he enters the office, she does not rush from behind her desk to usher him to an empty chair. She merely responds to his question about the chair's location, allows him to find it himself (which he does with ease), and begins the negotiation.
They can't agree on a settlement, and in the end McCoy loses. This is reality: blind lawyers, even very good ones, sometimes lose cases. Blind people sometimes fail and are entitled to do so without having their failure attributed to a lack of vision. McCoy conducted a good trial as any other lawyer might have; he lost on the merits of the case.
But the image of the competent, well-respected lawyer who happens to be blind is sometimes plagued by the jokes and the stereotypes we might expect. The first joke is a subtle one. In the courtroom the day before the trial is to begin, McCoy and his adversary discuss the relative strength of their positions. When it becomes apparent that they are both adamant about the correctness of their positions (all litigators are), McCoy says something that I have heard probably a hundred times on "L.A. Law": "I'll see you in court." His opponent's smile, as she leaves the courtroom, tells us that the familiar phrase was here being used as a joke. Imagine, a blind person saying he'll "see" someone anywhere. Now that's comedy!
The other joke is a variation on the same tired theme. The second episode in which McCoy appears begins with his walking down the hall in the courthouse. Someone runs into him, causing him to drop his cane, which is folded while he uses his guide dog. The offending party (someone pointed out to me that it was a positive thing that the blind lawyer was not at fault) says, "Sorry, I didn't see you." Demonstrating his quick wit, McCoy responds, "We're even."
To many, my reaction to these two scenes might seem hypersensitive. However, I think that though not as blatantly as with characters like Blind George and Mr. Sunshine, each reinforces a stereotype about the blind--that we as a class have a good sense of humor and are just waiting to make jokes about blindness. Remember that those who are prejudiced tend to see the characteristics of one of us as the characteristics of all. David McCoy is demonstrating something about blind people, whether we like it or not.
Though we might disagree about whether the play on the word "see" is really damaging to the image of the blind in the way I have described, I think there is one scene about which few or none of us would disagree. Early in the second episode in which McCoy appears, it becomes clear that he is attracted to his opposing counsel. The adversaries go out to dinner while the trial is still going on and discuss their mutual attraction. McCoy initially astounds us by describing his opponent's appearance in detail, a feat which we learn has been accomplished by his asking an assistant (whom we never see) for a full description. When McCoy says, in response to a question, that his assistant has not described the wart on the end of his opponent's nose, she asks whether he would like to see it for himself. What follows is unbelievable--a period of about thirty seconds during which McCoy feels her face. Remember, this scene takes place in a restaurant dining room. Yet this is the way blind people get to know others, is it not? I think that McCoy's conduct is a marked step backward in the process of transforming our image.
Finally, although McCoy often appears to be just a competent lawyer who happens to be blind, he sometimes takes on the qualities of the super blind man, possessing special or unexplainable powers. In the scene in which McCoy's cane is knocked out of his hand, his opponent appears and picks it up. She says nothing, but he identifies her anyway. In response to her question about how he did it, McCoy says that the blind "have special powers." On the positive side, McCoy then exposes this statement as the myth that it is, telling her that he knew it was she by her perfume. Perhaps the exchange is a lesson in alternative techniques--a way of telling the viewer that blind people employ different means to do what others do with sight. Yet the absence in the two episodes of such basic alternative techniques as Braille and the failure to show McCoy's interaction with his assistant left me with the impression that the alternative techniques with which the program was most concerned were those which had an air of the mysterious about them. The ability to identify a person by the scent of her perfume (which I do not find convincing, since several women may wear the same brand) is of little importance in a blind person's life, particularly when compared with the ability to read and write effectively. Yet techniques that appear more sensational--more like tricks than tools--play better on television. Ultimately, the audience is left with the impression that blind people really do have special powers or at least that they like to make their use of alternative techniques the center of some kind of magic trick.
The same is true of one of the trial scenes, in which McCoy questions a witness for the defense. McCoy's strategy is to demonstrate that the witness's testimony about the defendant's character is prejudiced by the witness's business ties to and financial dependence upon the defendant. (The defendant is the head of a movie studio, the witness a producer of two films for which he hopes to obtain lucrative contracts with the defendant's studio.) Though the witness maintains that the defendant's power to grant or deny these contracts has not influenced his testimony, McCoy concludes his questioning by asking why the witness has been looking at the defendant during the entire course of his testimony. On the one hand, the message is positive: sighted witnesses should not think that blind lawyers will miss important cues at trial; blind lawyers should be respected as the equals of sighted ones. But if the witness was indeed looking at the defendant throughout the course of the testimony, could not the members of the jury have observed this? If they could, we are left with the question of why McCoy rounded out an effective cross-examination as he did. Would a sighted lawyer have asked the same question? There may be a way that McCoy could have known that the witness was looking at the defendant; perhaps he could tell that the witness had turned his head by listening to the direction from which his voice came. But we, like the jury, are left guessing, and I think the scene is just another way of making us ask in amazement: "Wow! how did he do that?" The answer can only be McCoy's statement from earlier in the episode, "The blind have special powers."
To the positive and the negative aspects of McCoy's character can be added certain omissions which do not necessarily make him a bad representation of a blind person, but which leave us with an incomplete picture. We never see McCoy using Braille. We do not know whether he can, and the viewer unfamiliar with this system of reading and writing would not know any more about it after having watched both shows. We hear about McCoy's assistant, but I do not recall ever seeing him interact with this person. With this we can contrast the deaf woman who plays a prosecutor in NBC's "Reasonable Doubts," who is constantly seen interacting with her sign language interpreter in the courtroom.
I hope that this lengthy discussion of David McCoy's character has been more than a review of the two episodes, and I hope it has not detracted from the point of this essay, transformation of the public image of blindness through positive prejudice. In describing the good, the bad, and the indifferent characteristics of McCoy, I have tried to say something about the kind of blind character we should be looking for on television.
Let me be clear about what I think our obligations as the organized blind movement should be in working with media, particularly television, and what their responsibilities ought to be. We should be seeing more blind people on television. But we and the television industry must consciously try to make these characters a means by which the public is really educated about blindness.
The characters created must be the best a blind person can be. Like David McCoy, they must be competent, employed, contributing members of society. Of course there is a seventy percent rate of unemployment and underemployment among American working-age blind people, and reality would seem to demand that at least seven out of ten blind television characters should be similarly situated. But let us remember the transformative power of positive prejudice. Viewers may see only one or two blind characters on television, just as they will see comparatively few blind people in their everyday lives. The viewer should be educated about what a blind person--well-trained, confident, and given the opportunity--is capable of doing.
Unlike David McCoy, my ideal blind character does not look for opportunities to make blind jokes, caress another person's face in public, or leave his or her audience dazzled by and begging for more tricks and superhuman efforts. Many blind people have good senses of humor and joke about many things. Some even joke about blindness. Certainly some will use the techniques of blindness as a way of impressing sighted people by demonstrating that there are things blind people can do that sighted people cannot. (I do not think very many, if any, blind people caress the faces of others in public as a way of seeing what they look like, though this kind of activity, done in private with the right person, can be pleasurable for the sighted as well as the blind.) Despite the propensity of some blind people to use humor and the techniques of blindness in the same ways as did David McCoy, we must admit that the average viewer will attribute these characteristics to all blind people, and we must ask ourselves whether we want the image they come away with to be that of either the eternally happy or the superhuman blind person.
I would emphasize alternative techniques that the creators of "L.A. Law" did not, namely, Braille and the use of a reader or sighted assistant on the job. While it is true that not all blind people know Braille, the television character who promotes the idea that it can be used effectively can and necessarily will educate the public about the need to promote its teaching and use. The blind person who is seen working with a reader on the job demonstrates that there is no inherent disgrace in the differences between the techniques used by the blind and the sighted.
My blind character would be what we in the Federation want to become--a fully integrated, first-class member of society, an example of what can be. The character would be seen moving about freely and easily: using a cane or guide dog, taking public transportation, asking directions when needed, being permitted to walk unmolested when assistance is not needed. The character would, at various times, cook, clean, eat, work, and do the several tasks of daily life in their proper place and in a way that is not praised as spectacular or extraordinary. The character would experience love and dislike, joy and sadness, success and failure. By many members of the television society in which the blind character lives, he or she would be regarded as an equal and respected. By some, the character might be rejected or disliked, yes, even because of blindness (for the viewer should be reminded that discrimination against the blind and misconceptions about blindness are real), and for other reasons as well. This character would at times deal with blindness-- sometimes with the attitudes of others, sometimes with the need to learn proper alternative techniques, and sometimes with the development of his or her own identity and self-esteem. But the character's blindness would ultimately be depicted as nothing more than a characteristic and only a single trait among many others which may be of greater importance.
The character I have described is not uncommon. "L.A. Law"'s Jonathan Rollins, an attorney who happens to be black, is a good example. Jonathan's race is a part of his life. In some episodes he must deal with his identity as a black American in a profession dominated by white people. Sometimes his race is precisely the characteristic that others resent. We are never allowed to forget that Jonathan is an African American, but we are always able to see him as much more than this--a competent lawyer who possesses a myriad of other characteristics, some likable and others not.
While black people have been depicted on television in all sorts of roles (rich, poor, and middle-class; good and bad--in short, as the cross-section of society at large that they represent), we must remember, in educating the public about blindness through television, that many more black characters appear than blind ones. It is easy to understand that all blacks do not share the same characteristics when they appear in different contexts on several programs or even on the same program. But the dearth of blind characters on television, like the small number of us in society, leads the viewer to draw different conclusions--conclusions based on partial, often inaccurate information. Blind George cannot be tolerated when he is the single depiction (or one of very few depictions) of blind people on television. If he had been one of ten or twenty (and the others were overwhelmingly positive representations), we might have been able quietly to ignore him as he stumbled his way off the air on his own.
Until that time--and it is not now and will not be for quite a while--we have to make sure that the networks know not only how to entertain people, but how to educate them about us, or at the very least how to prevent more damage to our image than centuries of myths and misconceptions have already done. David McCoy is a step in the right direction, but we need not be satisfied with that. Not every blind person may have come as far as the character we would like to see on television, but the portrait I have sketched captures the essence of real blind people--those whom we meet in increasing numbers at every NFB convention.
From the Associate Editor: This month's recipes have been contributed by Bernetha McLamore of the Washington, D.C., affiliate.
CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE
by Bernetha McLamore
Bernetha McLamore is a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington, D.C., affiliate. She conducts a food service business in the District, as well as doing catering in her free time--twice she has catered luncheons for the affiliate during its annual conventions. In addition, Bernetha is the mother of nine children. Obviously she does lots of cooking and thoroughly enjoys her work.
3 sticks butter
2-1/2 cups sugar
3 cups self-rising flour
8 ounces cream cheese
6 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Method: Beat the butter and cream cheese together. Then add sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla. Sift the flour three times before folding into other ingredients. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold them into flour mixture. Pour batter into oiled bundt pan. Bake 45 minutes in a 325-degree oven. Let cool for a few minutes on rack before removing from pan.
MRS. B'S MUMBO SAUCE
by Bernetha McLamore
2 cups catsup
1/8 cup BBQ sauce
1/4 cup sugar
Up to 2 tablespoons hot sauce
Method: Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and use as you would any barbecue sauce.
by Bernetha McLamore
1 pound crab meat
1/2 pound turbot fish
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/8 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
Method: Remove all pieces of shell from crab meat. Heat turbot in oven 6 minutes at 300 degrees. In a large bowl mix all other ingredients. Then add the turbot and crab meat. Shape into 2-ounce patties and cook in a deep fat fryer. Drain and keep warm.
Loren and Theresa Wakefield of the Blackhawk Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa are the proud parents of a brand new baby, Andrea Nicole, born July 31, 1992, at 12:37 p.m., weighing seven pounds, six ounces, and measuring twenty-one inches long. Mom, Dad, brother Ryan, brother Matthew, and Andrea Nicole are all fine.
We have been asked to print the following:
1. VersaBraille II with Soft Bit and disk drive. It can be used as a stand-alone computer as well as interfacing with an IBM or compatible computer. Asking $2,495 or best offer.
2. Optacon with computer lens and soft carrying case, $850 or best offer.
3. Focus manuals on 3 1/2-inch or 5 1/4-inch IBM or compatible disks. Asking $250 or best offer.
Please send Braille letter or tape to Kit Lau, 5407 Bryant Avenue, Oakland, California 94618; or call (510) 653-6343.
**36 Chapters and Growing:
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina continues its unparalleled expansion. Here is the latest example from the Positive Note, issued each week by NFBSC president Don Capps:
The NFB of SC continues to enjoy phenomenal growth. Already one of the nation's largest and strongest state organizations of the blind, the NFB of SC today is even bigger and stronger. Tuesday evening, June 16, 1992, at a Moncks Corner restaurant, the 36th chapter was established. Some 30 persons attended the organizing dinner. The new name of the group is the Berkeley County Chapter of the NFB of SC. The chapter has excellent officers, who are as follows: Jim Puckett, Moncks Corner, President; Sam Nelson, Cross, Vice President; Stanley Thierse, St. Stephen, Secretary; Jim Driggers, Moncks Corner, Treasurer; and Lois Thorp, Moncks Corner, Social Director. Both the president and vice president served in the Air Force. The editor of the local newspaper covered the meeting. Betty and I spent Monday and Tuesday traveling throughout historic Low Country Berkeley County, searching for and calling upon blind persons. We found them. Also, NFB of SC's treasurer, Frank Coppel, and his driver, Linda Onley, worked both Monday and Tuesday contributing greatly to the success of the new chapter. Thus, today both the NFB of SC and the NFB are better than was the case a week ago. Our goal is to have 50 chapters across the state by the year 2000, with every county in the state having at least one chapter.
Fully Speaking Dictionary, Thesaurus, Grammar Guide, and Language Learning Game Player--Franklin Electronic Publishers, Inc., the leader in electronic books, has developed a hand-held speaking English language resource, which includes 300,000 definitions and 500,000 synonyms from Merriam-Webster, spelling correction, a grammar guide, and language learning games. The Language Master Special Edition was specifically designed for persons who are blind or visually impaired, in cooperation with individuals and organizations dedicated to the advancement of people with special needs. The device pronounces everything that the sighted person can see on the screen, including every letter as it is typed, as well as every word, definition, help message, and more. Ten speaking word games and a speaking grammar guide are also included. It has adjustable speech speeds, raised location dots for ease in identifying keys, and the ability to store up to 26 spoken messages. In addition, the user can customize many of the features for his or her own needs. The Language Master Special Edition sells for $500. For more information, contact Franklin Electronic Publishers, Inc., 122 Burrs Road, Mount Holly, New Jersey 08060, telephone 1-800-762-5382.
The following announcement appeared in the Spring, 1992, edition of The Federationist in Connecticut, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. Here it is:
Western Union will send Braille telegrams (Braillegrams). The cost is $2.00 for the first twenty-five words and $1.00 for each additional twenty-five words. Call 1-800-325-6000, extension 16. Braillegrams may be charged to your telephone bill or credit card.
We have been asked to print the following:
Kurzweil Personal Reader, model 7315, for sale. This unit contains both hand and automatic scanners, Version 2.1 software, tracking guides, and complete Braille manuals. Asking $8,000 including shipping to anywhere in the United States. Call the NFB of Utah at 1-800-876-9007.
**Information on the Baha'i Faith Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
Baha'i Service for the Blind offers information on the Baha'i faith to all who request it. Information is available in Braille, cassette, and large print. Write to the service at P.O. Box 463, Ludington, Michigan 49431, and state your preferred medium.
**Short Stories on Cassette:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
"Short Stories of C. Edward Hupton, a recent release from Accent Records, is available to interested readers of the Monitor at a special introductory price. Confessions of a Washtub Thief and The Tale of the Old Horse and the Birds can be purchased by writing to: Accent Records, Capital Square, Box 93952, Des Moines, Iowa 50393. Send check or money order for $6.95 per cassette."
**Versa-Braille For Sale:
We have been asked to print the following:
Versa-Braille II-Plus with carrying case, battery charger, Braille manual for operation, Electric Webster, cassette manual, utilities disks, printer and serial cable, BIT software, and various other software. Versa-Braille has recently been serviced by TSI and is in excellent working condition. Asking price is $1,000 or best offer. Contact Jessie L. Rayl using Braille or cassette at 104 Kent Terrace, Apartment 4, Martinsburg, West Virginia 25401; or call (304) 263-4009.
**Tellatouch Machine For Sale:
We have been asked to print the following:
I have a Tellatouch machine for sale. I am asking $200 and will sell to a deaf/blind individual, an itinerant teacher with a deaf/blind or blind/hearing-impaired student, or a school district wishing to mainstream such a student. Contact (in Braille or cassette) Jayne Fuhrman, 2005 Roggerson Road, Apt. B, Monroe, Louisiana 71201; or call (318) 387-5459 (voice only).
[PHOTO: Ken Canterbury stands in front of his hotdog cart with Sharon Maneki and Thelma Horn. CAPTION: Ken Canterbury, proprietor of Hot Diggity Dogs, awaits the beginning of the hotdog-eating contest with Sharon Maneki (center), President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and Thelma Horn.]
Ken Canterbury is an energetic board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, who thinks up different approaches to raise funds and promote the work of the National Federation of the Blind. Ken is the proprietor of Hot Diggity Dogs, selling hot dogs from a cart to the lunchtime business crowd on the streets of Baltimore County. By holding a hot dog eating contest for his customers on June 16, 1992, Ken not only generated funds for our movement but spread our message. The contest was covered by radio station WQSR, by three local television stations, and by the local press. Ken creates unique opportunities and makes the most of them. The NFB of Maryland was instrumental in helping Ken to stay in business by having Baltimore County's law amended to exempt disabled street vendors from moving their carts when not serving customers.
**Writer's Division Contest:
Nancy Scott, of the National Federation of the Blind Writer's Division, asked that we print the following:
The Writer's Division has decided to renew its fiction contest. Inclusive dates: September 1, 1992 through May 1, 1993. Limit 2,000 words, or eight typed, double-spaced pages. Entry fee is $5 per story. We do not limit the number of entries. Prizes are $60, $45, $30, and $15. Winners will be notified in July or August of 1993. Entrants are asked not to submit their stories elsewhere until 1994. A self-addressed, stamped envelope is a must. Put your name and address on each story. Winning entries may be published in Slate and Style.
Make checks payable to the Writer's Division, and send to Tom Stevens, President, 1203 Fairview Road, Columbia, Missouri 65203.
We have been asked to print the following:
I have for sale a two-and-a-half-year-old Perkins Brailler, which is in excellent working condition. I will also include a hard carrying case. I am asking $325 or best offer. Write in Braille or on cassette to Raquel Gomez, 2017 55th Street, Sacramento, California 95817; or call (916) 456-2735.
**Become a Friend of Libraries:
The Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals support library programs that enrich the lives of blind and physically handicapped persons in the United States and Canada. The Friends of Libraries is associated with the national library programs and complements local library Friends groups.
Membership benefits include cultural programs available in special media featuring eminent poets, authors, and guest lecturers; a journal with in-depth feature articles, interviews, and research reports; a semiannual newsletter of upcoming events, activities, and lectures; an annual gala to help recognize leaders in the blind and physically handicapped communities. A $25 contributor receives three cultural programs, a newsletter subscription, and a membership card and certificate. A $5 member receives one cultural program, a newsletter subscription, and a membership card.
Institutional and corporate members are also welcome, with categories ranging from $500 to $5,000. (Benefits of membership vary according to dues levels.)
For more information contact Friends of Libraries for Blind & Physically Handicapped Individuals in North America, 1555 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036; or call (202) 588-0101.
To become a Friend of Libraries, please complete and send the coupon which appears in the print edition or provide the requested information together with a check for your membership to the address given.
Please enroll me as an individual member.
Enclosed is $25 $5 Other
Send me more information on individual memberships. Send me information on corporate and institutional memberships.
We have been asked to print the following:
At the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Association of Guide Dog Users elected the following officers to serve two-year terms: Paul Gabias, President; Junerose Killian, Vice President; Tracy Carcione, Secretary; and Priscilla Ferris, Treasurer.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
State of Indiana
Family and Social Services Administration
Division of Aging and Rehabilitation Services Blind and Visually Impaired Section
Posting Date: September 30, 1992
Position: Deputy Director, Blind and Visually Impaired Section
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Immediate Supervisor: Director, Division of Aging and Rehabilitative Services
Position Description: The Deputy Director is responsible for the administration of the Blind and Visually Impaired Section. The Blind and Visually Impaired Section programs include: Statewide Itinerant Rehabilitation Teaching; Bosma Rehabilitation Center for the Blind; Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program; Randolph-Sheppard Vendor Training; and Adaptive Technology Lab (At Lab). Deputy Director supervises Program Directors of the Blind and Visually Impaired Section programs; develops budgets for various accounts required for operating programs; actively participates in the Division of Aging and Rehabilitative Services management team; works closely with Vocational Rehabilitation to assure effective services for people who are blind/visually impaired; and maintains working relationship with the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the General Services Administration, and other state and federal agency representatives.
Qualifications: Applicants will be considered based on education, experience, and thorough knowledge and sensitivity to the needs of people who are blind and visually impaired.
Salary Range: $32,916 - $50,752
Employment Date: Negotiable
Contact with Questions: V (317) 232-1433 or TDD (317) 232- 1466.
Please Send Resume by November 15, 1992, to: Jacquelyn Pitman, Acting Deputy Director, Blind and Visually Impaired Section, Division of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, 402 West Washington Street, Post Office Box 7083, Indianapolis, Indiana 46207-7083.
**Computer Items For Sale:
We have been asked to print the following:
I have a number of computer-related items for sale, including a Prose 4000 speech board, and Vert Plus Version 5.0B for $350; an SR 10 printer with four ribbons for $40; and a 40 meg hard drive for $100. These prices do not include shipping and handling. Contact: Denise Avant, 5300 North Sheridan Road, Apt. 401, Chicago, Illinois 60640; phone (after 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday): (312) 878-9518.
**Access Board Names New Members:
In the October issue of the Braille Monitor we printed a speech delivered by Peggy Pinder, Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, at our 1992 annual convention. In it she reported on the recent work of the Access Committee of the American National Standards Institute. President Maurer had assigned Miss Pinder to represent the Federation in the Committee's deliberations. She reported to the convention that the group had made a good deal of progress, and in passing she commented that there was also much work for the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (also known as the Access Board) to do. In the light of those comments, Monitor readers will find the following press release interesting:
The President today announced his intention to nominate the following individuals to be members of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board for terms expiring December 3, 1994:
Fritz Edmunds, Jr., of Kansas. He would succeed Howard E. Stone, Sr. Since 1991 Mr. Edmunds has served as President and Founder of the Edmunds Group, Ltd., Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Consultants, in Overland Park, Kansas. Mr. Edmunds was also appointed in 1991 to serve as a Member of the Kansas State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Tracy James Mueller, of Colorado. He would succeed Robert A. Cothren. Since 1984, Mr. Mueller has served as a Substance Abuse Counselor with the Institute for Alcohol Awareness in Greeley, Colorado. Mr. Mueller has also served as a member of the Greeley City Transit Advisory Board from 1988-1989.
Peggy Pinder, of Iowa. She would succeed Susan A. Castle. Miss Pinder currently serves as an attorney in Grinnell, Iowa, specializing in legal services and financial management for non- profit organizations. Since 1984, she has served as Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind.
R. Jack Powell, of Maryland. He would succeed Robert C. Brostrom. Currently Mr. Powell serves as President of ADA Management Systems, Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland. From 1979 to 1990 Mr. Powell served as executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America in Washington, D.C.
There you have the press release circulated by the Access Board itself, and on September 9 the new members were sworn in by Assistant Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Shane, who addressed the 1985 NFB convention in Louisville. Congratulations to Peggy Pinder; we look forward with interest to the future work of the ATBCB.
**Braille Triumphs in Illinois:
Shortly after 5:00 p.m., Sunday, September 13, 1992, a dozen Federationists witnessed Illinois Governor Jim Edgar implement Public Act 87-1071, the Braille Literacy Act of 1992. The Act mandates that blind and severely visually impaired children be taught Braille upon request. The presumption is that Braille should be the primary reading medium for blind children. This reverses a twenty-five-year trend in this state. The Act also requires that Braille teachers in the public schools pass a Braille reading and writing competency test beginning in 1994.
The following item appears in the August 13, 1992, "President's Clipboard," issued by Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California:
Last Saturday we organized a new chapter to serve the Central San Joaquin Valley. The president of the Central Valley Chapter is Mike Corn. The vice president is Alta Caulkins, and the secretary-treasurer is Nancy Johnson. It is always exciting to have a new chapter, and it is especially exciting to have the Central Valley Chapter. Mike attended the NFB convention in New Orleans and the state convention last fall. He says that the Central Valley Chapter will be well-represented in Sacramento when we gather for our 1992 convention in November.
The following press release which was issued jointly in October of 1987 by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the National Federation of the Blind first appeared as a Monitor Miniature in the October-November 1987 Braille Monitor. With the addendum (which was not part of the original release) it appeared again as a Monitor Miniature in the May-June, 1988, and October-November, 1990, Braille Monitor. As a reminder to some and as new information to others, we reprint it again:
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announce the availability of the first ever mass-produced Braille edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.
Blind writers, students, and other interested readers now have access to this important reference tool, which lists more than 22,500 quotations, sayings, and writings of English and American authors. A detailed index serves as a key to locating and identifying passages in the book.
Braille production of Bartlett's is a joint effort of NLS and NFB with the permission of Little, Brown, and Company, the print edition publisher. Gift funds from the estate of Leonard R. Stachura were used to purchase the metal plates needed to produce the 105-volume set.
NLS has distributed copies for reference use in forty-three cooperating Braille lending libraries around the country. NFB is offering the set at cost in soft-bound and hard-bound editions. Individuals and schools or other organizations may purchase the soft-bound edition for $230 and the hard-bound edition for $630 directly from NFB at: 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
Addendum: The soft-bound edition requires thirteen feet, two inches (158 inches) of shelf space, and the hard-bound edition requires seventeen feet, six inches (210 inches) of shelf space.
It's time for our periodic reminder to those of you who receive JOB, Presidential Release, or other cassettes, mailed from the national office. They can be returned for recycling. We do reuse these returned cassettes, which saves the organization money and makes us just that much more efficient and less wasteful. If you wish to maintain a personal or chapter tape library for later reference, you should certainly do so, but if these cassettes are not needed, please bundle them up and return them to the National Center for the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.