The Braille Monitor
38, No. 7
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille,
on cassette and
the World Wide Web and FTP on the Internet
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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Letters to the president,
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National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 38, No. 7 July 1995
UPDATE ON THE ILLINOIS SCHOOL
FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
by Barbara Pierce
WMATA WINS RIGHT TO DUCK DOMES
CHURCH OFFICIALS GET A LESSON ON EQUAL TREATMENT
IT'S YOUR MOVE, SON!
by John W. Smith
BLIND LAW STUDENT LETS LITTLE
HOLD HER BACK
by Rick Ruggles
HOOK, LINE, AND GOLF BALLS
by David Walker
COMMENTS ABOUT BERTHOLD
by Kenneth Jernigan
BERTHOLD LOWENFELD: A LEGEND
OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
by Phil Hatlen
FREDRIC K. SCHROEDER, COMMISSIONER REHABILITATION SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
CHILDREN'S TV PROGRAM FEATURES
by Jana Moynihan
PARENT SPEAKS OUT ABOUT MARYLAND SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
LEARNING WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
by Nicole Delfert
UPDATE ON THE NATIONAL LITERARY BRAILLE COMPETENCY TEST
REFLECTIONS ON THE NATIONAL
LITERARY BRAILLE COMPETENCY TEST
by Nancy Coffman
BRAILLE IS AN ESSENTIAL
by Patti Harmon
Copyright 1995 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTOS/CAPTIONS: On June 6 the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and its Parents' Division jointly sponsored a party honoring blind youngsters from Maryland who participated in the 1995 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. The event was held at the National Center for the Blind, and a number of blind adults also attended the celebration as Braille Buddies. Everyone had a wonderful time. (above left) Jude Lincicome hands punch to (left to right) Bernice Lowder, James King, and Doris Johnson. (above right) Sharon McFarland, Director of the Maryland Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (left center), and Sharon Maneki, President of the NFB of Maryland (right center), stand with Vicki Rossallini (left) and June Kleeman (right), members of the Friends of the Maryland Regional Library. (below left) Jeremy Lincicome (right) reads with his Braille Buddy, Lloyd Rassmussen and (below right) Braille Buddy Ellen Nichols (left) and Niki White enjoy their punch while they read.]
[Photo #1: Large modern brick building. Caption: Illinois School for the Visually Impaired administration building.] [Photo #2: Portrait Caption: Cathy Randall
UPDATE ON THE ILLINOIS SCHOOL FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
by Barbara Pierce
Much of the May, 1995, issue of the
Braille Monitor was devoted to the firing last August of Dr. Richard
Umsted as Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI),
the circumstances leading up to the firing, and the incidents taking place during
the months immediately following. Events have continued to occur at a rapid
pace. Here is a summary of what we have learned in the past two months.
At the meeting of the Jacksonville, Illinois, District 117 School Board on May 3, 1995, Richard Umsted resigned his membership, not apparently because of a conviction that the action was in the best interest of the district, given the scandal surrounding him, but according to his resignation letter, because he and his wife "are," as he put it "accepting new opportunities elsewhere." Here is the way the Jacksonville Journal-Courier reported the story on May 4, 1995:
Umsted Planning to Resign
by William Dennis
Richard Umsted will resign his post on the School District
117 Board of Education at the end of the current school year.
He and his wife, Nancy Umsted, "are accepting new opportunities elsewhere," Dr. Umsted said in a resignation letter read during Wednesday's board meeting.
He would not say where he and his wife found new jobs but said it would require leaving the Jacksonville area. He also would not say when they would leave the area.
Dr. Umsted was elected to the board about one and a half years ago. His term will expire in about two and a half years.
"My intent is that board members have a chance to appoint someone as soon as possible," he said. He hopes the board has a new member before the start of the 1995-96 school year, he said. "I have never had a board member who cared about the students more than Dick Umsted," said Superintendent Robert Freeman.
Board member Martha Patterson praised Dr. Umsted for the "countless hours and energy" he brought to the board. The Department of Rehabilitation Services fired Dr. Umsted in August, 1994, claiming he failed to report sex abuse cases to the agency and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The Illinois State Police investigated the incidents, and its report did not recommend criminal charges be filed. Dr. Umsted denied the charges.
This is what the Jacksonville Journal-Courier
reported, and even though Richard Umsted's personal impact on life in Jacksonville
is coming to an end, his influence continues to be felt, particularly at the
School for the Visually Impaired. On Friday, May 5, the Advisory Council met
for its bimonthly business meeting and annual election. David Postle and Margaret
Niederer were both candidates for the position of Council Chairperson, and,
according to Postle, the Umsted faction supported Niederer. Certainly Umsted's
friends have no affection for David Postle, given his single-minded dedication
during the past year to ensuring that no coverup occur this time at ISVI. Niederer
won the election with a vote of seven to four. Tom Deering (widely recognized
as Umsted's close friend and financial advisor) came to the meeting, according
to Postle and others; cast his vote for Ms. Niederer; silently handed in his
letter of resignation; and slipped out--thereby sidestepping any confrontation
with the blind members of the Council over the impropriety of his vote-and-run
Mrs. Terry Rorke, a parent member of the Council, had missed every meeting for more than a year, according to David Postle. The group has recently tightened up its attendance requirements, according to Cathy Randall, another member of the Council and First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. In the view of several, Mrs. Rorke should not have been allowed to vote under the new rules, but she was known to be an Umsted supporter, and she was permitted to cast her vote. Even without these two votes, Niederer would have won the election--so she has a clear, albeit narrow, mandate to lead the Advisory Council. Cathy Randall reports that Ms. Niederer is not identified closely with Richard Umsted, so she may well be in a position to work effectively with the new superintendent in the months ahead.
A search committee has been working all spring on finding somebody to replace Charlie Martin, who has been serving as acting superintendent since Richard Umsted was first removed from his job early last summer. According to sources close to the search, the committee hopes to complete its work by late June, and with luck the new superintendent will be on the job by August 1.
The new ISVI chief will start work with a somewhat different leadership team from the one Umsted put together. Assistant Superintendent Michael Jacoby, who was placed on medical leave last fall before retiring at the close of the '94-95 academic year, will presumably be replaced eventually. Some people were disturbed recently when Jacoby's picture appeared in the paper. The caption indicated that he was working as an auctioneer, which conclusively demonstrated that he was holding down one job while on medical leave from another. When questioned about whether this constituted an infraction of the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) policy or the terms of its disability insurance program, Melissa Skilbeck, DORS spokesperson, explained that inability to deal with the stress of one position did not prevent one from doing a different and less stressful job. She declined to comment on the requirements of the insurance program under which Mr. Jacoby obtained his medical leave, and she professed no interest in whether Mr. Jacoby's activities constituted improper double-dipping.
Mary Kamnick, who was transferred away from ISVI when Umsted was removed, arrived at a settlement with DORS in mid-March, according to Skilbeck. She agreed to retire from state government as soon as all her accumulated leave was exhausted.
And finally Kathy Hughes, Director of Educational Services, has recently been reassigned to duties at the Illinois School for the Deaf. When asked about this apparent demotion, Skilbeck explained that neither of the other schools run by the State of Illinois has an employee with the title of director of educational services, so the decision was made to eliminate the position at ISVI. The job at the school for the deaf was the one available for which Ms. Hughes was qualified.
Demotion or not, Hughes apparently resents the change. On Friday, June 2, Hughes's last day at ISVI, Jane Dickison (a blind telephone operator at the school) reports that Ms. Hughes verbally attacked her while she was at work in an area where a number of staff members, parents, and members of the public were present. According to Mrs. Dickison, Hughes, using profanity, accused her of causing her transfer and of having brought on ISVI's troubles by talking to the Braille Monitor. In fact, Dickison consistently sought to protect the school where she could and strongly defended many staff members in her interview with the Braille Monitor. She now admits that she is discouraged and depressed because of the treatment she has received from a number of people who have assumed, she says, that because she is blind, she deserves to be blamed for the negative publicity ISVI has recently received.
When asked about staff investigations, Melissa Skilbeck confirmed that the David Hauck matter is under ongoing investigation but would not name a closing date for it. Hauck teaches computer use at ISVI. A number of women staff and students report that he has sexually harassed them. A DORS investigator has interviewed a number of women about these allegations, according to sources close to the school. When asked whether further investigations are in the cards, Skilbeck said they were not. If this is indeed the case, many alumni and parents will be disappointed, for they say they believe that several others among Umsted's top management team do not have the institution's best interest at heart and that their habit of lying when it is convenient will make it difficult or impossible for a new superintendent to consolidate and build on the changes that Charlie Martin has begun.
At the very least Charlie Martin and the new superintendent, whoever he or she may be, will continue to have their hands full reassuring nervous staff and parents that the excesses of the past will not continue. For example, two people who should have accurate information about school plans for the future told the Braille Monitor that the change in housing made last fall to separate seventh- and eighth-grade students from younger children is to be abandoned for the coming year. Melissa Skilbeck, however, said emphatically that such a fear is unfounded. Younger students will continue to be housed away from older ones, she said.
We were also told of a rumor that at least one older student with a mild vision impairment but a degenerative brain condition and a history of violent behavior and sexual aggression against younger students had been admitted for the fall. This, too, is untrue, according to Skilbeck, who said that she and Martin checked through every admission for the fall and could find nothing that looked remotely like such a profile.
Allegations and rumors continue to fly, and not all of them are groundless. In mid-May an audit report for the two-year period ending June 30, 1994, was released by the State Auditor General. It confirmed the truth of some of the accusations that have been made in recent months. The findings were reported in the May 19, 1995, edition of the Jacksonville Journal-Courier. Here is the article, written by Bill Dennis:
Audit Finds Blind School With $87,000 Power Bill
Illinois School for the Visually Impaired is racking up
$1,000 a month in service charges on an overdue electric bill and
lacks property controls, a state audit revealed.
The report by the Illinois auditor general also found that an employee circumvented internal controls for handling money.
The problems are among four findings in an audit prepared for Auditor General William G. Holland by a Bloomington accounting firm. The report released Thursday also said ISVI overstocked some commodities, but added that the school was working to solve the problem.
The audit covered the two-year period which ended June 30, 1994. Richard Umsted served as ISVI superintendent during the audit period. Charles Martin was named acting superintendent when Dr. Umsted was fired for not reporting alleged sexual abuse at the school.
ISVI owes Illinois Power about $87,264 for current and unpaid service charges, as well as finance charges, according to the report by Guthoff & Co. Ltd. About $31,271 of the unpaid bill is finance charges accumulated since a 1988 "billing dispute," the report said.
"I disagree with the term `dispute,'" said DORS spokesman Harold Koplowitz. "We do not dispute that we owe the utility company money. The dispute is over the $30,000 finance charge." The report said ISVI's business manager, Tom Norris, incorrectly thought Illinois Power must go to court to get the money in dispute and that service would not be disconnected as long as current charges were paid. The state's Prompt Payment Act allows vendors to levy finance charges, which have grown to $1,000 a month.
The school was not disregarding the bill as the audit report implies, Mr. Koplowitz said. DORS had asked the Illinois General Assembly for money to pay the bill.
"It wasn't a situation where we were ignoring it," he said. "It was a situation where we didn't have the money to pay for it."
DORS told the auditor it would continue seeking money from legislators to pay the bill and would contact the power company to negotiate a lower amount, and to try to stop interest charges from building up.
Other findings include:
An employee maintained an unauthorized cash account, the audit reported. The school discovered undeposited checks and cash worth $338 in the drawer of employee Mary Kamnick when she was transferred to DORS' Springfield office in August, 1994. Two of the checks were dated May, 1991. Ms. Kamnick later turned over another $330 in cash, the auditors said.
All the money should have been deposited into the general revenue fund or into local accounts, the report said. The auditor believes Ms. Kamnick operated an "unauthorized trust fund."
Money going into the unauthorized fund came from two sources: state money intended for student trips and entertainment and from parents wishing it to be used for their children, Mr. Koplowitz said.
Ms. Kamnick and DORS reached an agreement in mid-March in which she would leave the agency after she exhausts her unpaid sick leave and vacation pay, Mr. Koplowitz said.
He declined to discuss the reasons Ms. Kamnick was asked to leave the agency, but said it was not because of problems mentioned in the audit. She has not worked for DORS since the settlement was reached.
Equipment worth $22,348 disappeared from ISVI during the two-year audit period and was deleted from the school's property list. The property list included two items worth $2,502, even though both had been traded for new equipment.
A list of the missing property was not available Thursday.
Auditors said the primary cause of the problems was the lack of a full-time property control manager. They recommended DORS fill the position that had been vacant since a retirement in 1991.
DORS said it will hire additional staff if enough money is available. Hiring part-time or student workers also would be considered.
There you have the article from the
Jacksonville Journal-Courier, and it is appropriate to ask whether
things are any better today than they were a year ago. The short answer is maybe,
but it is impossible to tell. In May of this year another child was sexually
abused, apparently on three successive nights, by a fellow student in his dormitory
room, according to the attacking student as reported by the abused boy's mother.
She says that the attacker was a boy who was himself abused by the sixteen-year-old
student who attacked a nine-year-old in May, 1994. A child care worker became
suspicious late one evening and reported her concerns to Charlie Martin early
the next morning, according to what the mother was subsequently told. Martin
called both her and the Department of Children and Family Services immediately
and began the investigation into what had actually happened. Everyone agrees
that such incidents cannot be completely prevented in a residential school,
but at least parents are apparently being notified at the time of the discovery
and are seemingly being kept informed.
As copies of the May issue of the Braille Monitor are passed from parent to parent, we receive calls of gratitude for airing the situation and helping bring about change. But the community of Jacksonville is more ambivalent about the public airing of ISVI's dirty linen. On May 9 the following story by Bill Dennis appeared in the Journal-Courier:
Article Alleges Abuse at ISVI
A national magazine for the blind will report this week that
dozens of students have been victims of sexual and other physical
abuse at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired here.
The Braille Monitor will report in its May issue that there has been a "pattern of abuse" of students by both staff and other students, said senior correspondent Harold Snider in a telephone interview Monday. Much of the abuse was covered up by former Superintendent Richard Umsted and others still working at ISVI, Dr. Snider said.
The magazine, which has about 5,500 subscribers, is the monthly publication of the National Federation of the Blind. [We interrupt to say that the circulation figure is false, being approximately seven times higher than reported--typical of what has been happening in Jacksonville. But back to the article.]
At least forty-five cases of child abuse occurred at ISVI from 1978 to the present, Dr. Snider said. Six of the incidents happened this school year, he said.
Allegations of a continuing coverup of abuse are not true, said Charles Martin, acting ISVI superintendent. ISVI this year has reported abuse allegations--sexual and otherwise--to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, but not as many as the six claimed by Dr. Snider, Mr. Martin said.
Audrey McCrimon, Director of the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, fired Dr. Umsted in August, 1994. The agency said Dr. Umsted failed to inform DORS and DCFS that a sixteen-year-old male student attempted to sexually abuse a nine- year-old boy in May, 1994.
DORS said Dr. Umsted also failed to report the inappropriate touching of two female students and the possible sexual abuse of four male students.
Dr. Umsted said Monday he thought the article would be unfair.
"I have not seen it, but from having seen past articles there is no doubt in my mind that it will be tabloid in nature," Dr. Umsted said.
Previous articles in the Braille Monitor have been "inaccurate" and "based on partial information," he said.
Dr. Umsted said he and the National Federation of the Blind have philosophical differences over accreditation standards for schools and agencies serving the blind. "I have been on their hit list for years," he said.
An Illinois State Police report on their investigation of sexual abuse allegations at ISVI did not recommend charges be filed, which Dr. Umsted said supports his statements that DORS' findings were not accurate.
DORS rewrote its policies to give employees authority to report to DCFS allegations of child abuse. State law requires all state employees to report to DCFS any evidence children are being abused, Mr. Martin said.
"We have always told parents that we cannot guarantee there will be no incidents, but we have guaranteed they will be appropriately reported," Mr. Martin said.
Dr. Snider said the incidents were verified by interviewing the children or the parents of the children who were abused.
He also interviewed Mr. Martin and Ms. McCrimon, he added.
Melissa Skilbeck, spokeswoman for DORS, reserved comment Monday.
"It's all so hypothetical and intangible; there's not much we can say until we see the articles," Ms. Skilbeck said.
That was the article, and the mis-information and missed opportunities are breathtaking. Concerned by reports we were receiving of incidents at the school that suggested that reprisals were being taken against employees who had spoken with Braille Monitor interviewers, we had contacted the Jacksonville paper with the suggestion that a reporter interview several people for the story. The individuals in question were unwilling to be identified publicly for fear of even worse treatment, and the reporter was unwilling to report the story without identifying his sources by name. Cathy Randall was so disturbed by the resulting story that she sent a letter to the editor, which was published on May 24, 1995. Here it is:
To the Editor:
As a longtime citizen of Jacksonville, an experienced member
of the Advisory Council of the Illinois School for the Visually
Impaired, and First Vice President of the National Federation of
the Blind of Illinois, I was dismayed and distressed to read Bill
Dennis's May 9 article in the Journal-Courier entitled, "Article
Alleges Abuse at ISVI." First I must take issue with the title of
the piece. The Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) was
sufficiently convinced of the abuse taking place at ISVI to fire
the Superintendent and remove two other senior school employees
whom DORS found responsible for failing to report incidents of
student sexual abuse and for removing key documents in the cases.
It seems to me that a national magazine reporting such problems
can hardly be said with accuracy to be the entity doing the
alleging. By the way, the Braille Monitor, the periodical in
question, is the monthly publication of the National Federation
of the Blind. It has a circulation of over 35,000 nationwide, not
the 5,500 reported in your story. It is the most widely read
periodical in the blindness field.
The four articles in the May issue devoted exclusively to documented problems at ISVI over the past eighteen years were painstakingly researched, checked, and rechecked--a fact which several of those quoted in your story had no basis for deriding since the May issue will not be out in print until next week. Having read the cassette version, however, I can assure your readers that the Braille Monitor staff made every effort to call attention to the fact that many professionals at ISVI are conscientious and caring human beings.
Yet undeniably a number of children have been hurt through the years, and several unfortunate problems of various kinds--not all of them sexual in nature--have occurred during the current academic year. The Braille Monitor certainly did not intimate, allege, or state that these latest incidents were not reported or that those responsible were not appropriately dealt with. Mr. Martin and DORS officials appear to be making a good-faith attempt to reform the old ISVI patterns of putting the so-called good name of the school above the safety and health of the students, and that is precisely what the Braille Monitor has reported.
Richard Umsted was jumping to conclusions in his statement to your reporter. True, the NFB and he have disagreed strongly through the years, not on the importance of insuring that high quality service be provided by institutions working with blind people, but over the question of whether or not the National Accreditation Council (NAC), which by the way has certified the excellence of ISVI's treatment of its students for years, is an adequate accrediting body. This hardly puts Dr. Umsted on our "hit list." But given the recent discoveries at ISVI of sexual abuse, destroyed documents, failure to notify parents of accidents, and other problems, an observer might reasonably ask why a competent accrediting organization did not identify and require correction of such blatant wrongdoing before issuing its seal of good practice.
In the end, however, the May issue of the Braille Monitor will stand or fall on its own merit. The truly regrettable matter I wish to call to your readers' attention is that Mr. Dennis, who talked with the Monitor researcher, entirely missed the point of the conversation. Evidence is now emerging that some of the very finest of ISVI's staff members are being harassed and their jobs and livelihood threatened by school officials. These are courageous people who were disturbed enough at what they knew was happening at the school to talk with the Braille Monitor about the problems of the past in the hope that through honest examination they could be solved and their recurrence prevented. Now several of these people are clearly being persecuted, and one cannot help fearing that their very concern for the institution and its students is the cause. Respect for these fine professionals and disinterested willingness to provide background for this important story--a story that rightly belongs to the media in Jacksonville--prompted the NFB staffer's call to the Journal-Courier. To my distress, everyone who read Mr. Dennis's story now knows the result. The important information was overlooked entirely, and instead those who would benefit most from belittling the journalistic effort made to set the record straight were given an opportunity to undercut the story. Surely Illinois's blind children, dedicated and conscientious ISVI staff members, and your readers deserve better than this.
Very truly yours, Catherine Horn Randall
By the time this issue is published, the beginning of the '95-96 school year will be a month away. With luck a new superintendent will have been named and perhaps will be about to take charge at ISVI. Parents will be struggling with the problem of whether or not to entrust their blind children to the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired during the coming year. The rest of us will be waiting and watching for signs and portents. Will the long-awaited handbooks for staff and for parents and students make their appearance as promised? Will the new administration follow DORS's example and dissociate itself from the National Accreditation Council (NAC)? Will DORS find a way to prevent staff members from harassing or abusing students and other staff members? And will the institution resist the temptation to blame innocent people for the negative publicity ISVI has received? Only time will provide answers to these questions.
WMATA WINS RIGHT TO DUCK DOMES
From the Editor: In the April issue of the Braille Monitor
we devoted significant space to the ongoing struggle by the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to
preserve its eighteen miles of granite platform edges from the
requirement to replace them with strips of truncated domes. The
WMATA edges are a markedly different texture from the tile of the
platform, include imbedded warning lights, and have proven to be
the safest set of warnings in the nation's mass transit systems.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), a division of the
Department of Transportation, wanted WMATA to tear up its
existing edges and install the strips of domes, a project that
WMATA maintains would cost up to thirty million dollars. (See the
article, "The Jig is Up: Detectable Warnings Proven Safety
WMATA petitioned for an FTA ruling that its granite edges comprised "equivalent facilitation" and therefore did not have to be replaced. On April 25, 1995, the FTA announced that it had granted the WMATA request. At the same time it circulated a press release, putting its spin on the decision. The following day WMATA issued its own release with a markedly different view of the facts. Here are both statements:
For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C. April 25, 1995
FTA/WMATA Agreement Calls for Changes to Meet ADA Requirements
In an agreement reached between the Federal Transit
Administration (FTA) and the Washington Metropolitan Transit
Authority (WMATA) today, WMATA will make significant improvements
to the transit system that will make it safer for the visually
impaired, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
"With these changes the existing granite edges on metro platforms are deemed adequate for Americans with Disabilities Act purposes," FTA Administrator Gordon J. Linton said.
Under the agreement the intensity of lighting within the granite surfaces will be enhanced to better warn passengers of approaching trains. Additionally, improved public address announcements will be made on trains, and an electronic system that will inform visually-impaired passengers about station conditions will be installed.
The ADA requires all U.S. transit systems to be accessible to persons with disabilities. "However, the WMATA system is unique," Administrator Linton said. "It was designed and built with a considerable degree of accessibility for people with disabilities, although not all its features are fully in conformity with every detail of every ADA requirement.
"While the federal government has always been flexible in its enforcement of the ADA with respect to WMATA, we have been constrained by certain technical specifications drawn up by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) as part of the official implementation of the ADA," Linton said.
In July, 1994, Linton noted, the Department of Transportation gave WMATA an additional four to six months beyond a statutory deadline to explore alternative approaches for the identification of platform edges in rapid transit stations. The ADA requires that material of a specified texture rendered in a contrasting color be installed along platform edges at all key stations on rapid transit systems.
In the meantime, the FTA petitioned the Access Board to determine what additional flexibilities might exist under the law that would recognize the unique nature of the WMATA system.
In a recent letter to Administrator Linton, Access Board Chairman John Catlin said that the FTA may now evaluate WMATA's platform-edge warning system as a whole even though it does not precisely meet each particular requirement of ADA specifications.
"Chairman Catlin's letter allows us to reach a very satisfactory solution to a long-standing problem, by permitting us to exercise judgment and bring a common sense approach to the regulations we must enforce," Linton said.
Linton noted that "ADA requires detectable warning surfaces at certain `key stations' in a transit system. But WMATA's granite surfaces will be uniform at every station in the system."
Administrator Linton communicated his finding to WMATA General Manager Lawrence G. Reuter in a letter released today. Reuter countersigned Linton's letter, indicating WMATA's acknowledgement and agreement to the terms and conditions Linton outlined.
Contact: Peter G. Halpin Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs U.S. Department of Transportation
Washington, D.C. April 26, 1995
Metro to Keep Existing Platform Edge Federal Transit Administration Decides in Favor of WMATA Request
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced yesterday
that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
would not be required to make any structural changes to the
platform edges in its Metrorail system. This decision responded
to a request by WMATA that it be granted "equivalent
facilitation" for its existing edge, and thus considered in
compliance with a Department of Transportation regulation that
mandates the installation of detectable warnings on U.S. rail
platforms to assist visually impaired passengers. WMATA
documented its request with the results of independent testing
that indicated the existing Metro platform edge detection system
with embedded lights to be as safe for people with visual
impairments as the edge surface treatment specified in the
"Although we are pleased with the decision, no one should mistake our questioning of this one regulation with our total commitment to the Americans with Disabilities Act," stated Metro General Manager Lawrence G. Reuter. "If we have any problem with the ADA legislation, it's because it often doesn't go far enough in ensuring system-wide access to transit for individuals with disabilities. On the platform-edge issue, there was compelling evidence that Metro's platform-edge detection system provided the level of safety and accessibility the regulation was intended to provide, so there was no necessity to change it. The FTA Administrator, Gordon Linton, acknowledges that Metro is already the most accessible rail system in the country--and probably the world--for people with disabilities. We are proud of that distinction and intend to continue adding refinements to our system that will make us the unquestioned model of accessibility in all our services and facilities. We invite other transit properties to follow our example in providing transportation that epitomizes the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act by ensuring safety and access to all people who need or choose to use transit."
In the letter sent to the FTA requesting equivalent facilitation, Metro General Manager Lawrence G. Reuter stated WMATA's interest in experimenting with electronic wayfinding technology that could benefit passengers, including those individuals with visual impairments, to locate key features of rail stations. While the specific technology to be tested has not yet been specified, WMATA and the FTA have agreed on a timeline for the study and installation of technology that provides auditory cues about the location of key features of the rail station environment. Discussions are now being arranged with groups representing the blind and visually impaired to identify the technology that will provide the greatest benefit.
WMATA has also agreed to increase the illumination of its "luminaries," the lights embedded in all its platform edges. This change, which was discussed with advocates for people with low vision as early as last spring, will make it easier for individuals with visual impairments to distinguish the platform edge and will increase the contrast between track bed and platform edge lighting. Since the platform lighting will be intensified by 100 percent, most Metro passengers should notice an improvement in station illumination. One station, Gallery Place, already has the brighter lights, and installation has begun at other stations.
Among projects underway to enhance the Metro experience for people with visual impairments, Metro is developing Braille and large print maps of the Metro system, a special telephone information hotline for Metro patrons with visual impairments, and regularly scheduled mobility orientation sessions for people with visual impairments at Metrorail stations. It is anticipated that most of these programs and products will be available to the public by the end of the year.
Contact: Patricia Lambe Office of Public Affairs Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
There you have the two press releases, and not surprisingly the newspapers serving the nation's capital were quick to cover the story. On April 26 the following story appeared in the Washington Post. Here it is:
U.S. Rescinds Order on Metro
by Stephen C. Fehr
The Clinton administration yesterday backed down from its
demand that Metro put bumpy platform edges in subway stations to
warn blind riders, a victory for transit officials who had
blasted the order as a costly example of overregulation under the
Americans with Disabilities Act.
The move comes nearly a year after Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said that Metro's failure to replace its white granite platform edges with domed strips posed "an immediate danger" to visually impaired riders.
Federal officials had said Metro could risk losing millions of dollars in federal subway funding if it failed to install bumpy platform edges. Metro appealed the order, saying it would cost as much as $30 million to install the bumpy edges, which the agency said would not help blind people any more than the existing edges.
Now, Gordon J. Linton, federal mass transit administrator, has reversed course, a move that likely will fuel debates across the nation about the limits of Americans with Disabilities regulations. The Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York subway systems--which also have been told by the federal government to install bumpy platform edges--will join Metro next month in asking a federal review board to throw out the edge regulation, Metro General Manager Lawrence G. Reuter said yesterday.
"I think they have finally recognized there are other ways than domes to deal with the issue" of providing disabled people access to trains, Reuter said.
Linton's decision culminated nearly three years of wrangling between the regional authority and federal transportation officials.
As part of an agreement signed yesterday by Linton and Reuter, Metro must install a system of transmitters that allows blind riders wearing wrist beepers to be signaled when they are too close to platform edges. Riders would pick up and return the beepers upon entering and leaving stations. Such a system could cost as much as $5 million.
Linton had once ordered Metro to install the bumpy edges as "an essential safety measure" required under the 1990 act. With Pena's approval he backed down after Metro officials argued that their system should be exempt from the regulation because Metro's existing eighteen-inch-wide platform edge is as easy for a blind rider to detect as the required twenty-four-inch-wide domed edge. The domes are raised two-tenths of an inch.
Metro's eighteen miles of platform edges became a test of the Disabilities Act, which among other things seeks to improve access to transportation for disabled Americans. Transit officials across the nation said the regulation requiring bumpy edges was too narrow and did not allow for other solutions. The Clinton administration, which in Linton's words has been trying to make government more "reasonable and customer-friendly," eventually agreed.
Linton said the regulation is so "narrow and prescriptive" that it "ties the hands" of a transit system such as Washington's, which has met the spirit of the law with its distinctive granite platform edges. Other transit systems that do not have bumpy-edged platforms are required to install them in only their busiest stations; Metro already has warning edges in all of its stations, he said.
"Metro is one of the most accessible systems in the country, if not the world," Linton said. "We had to look at that."
Linton said he expected appeals similar to Metro's, although he said he doubted whether older transit systems without warning edges of any kind would be able to avoid the regulation.
"They have to understand, if they want to compare themselves to [Metro], they'll have some difficulty," Linton said.
Reflecting the split within the transit industry over bumpy- edged platforms, a spokesman for Bay Area Rapid Transit in the San Francisco area said that BART would keep its domed edges because they prevent falls.
"We think they do work and offer an extra warning zone for sight-impaired people," spokesman Mike Healy said.
Linton acknowledged that the federal reversal in Metro's case invites legal challenges from blind advocacy groups that supported changing platform edges, in part because of tests indicating that bumpy edges are easier for blind riders to detect than Metro's smooth edges. "This is a lawyer's heaven," Linton said.
Billie L. Bentzen, a Boston College professor who conducted the research leading to the dome regulations, said, "This decision is clearly not responsive to the results of research . . . which indicated clearly that the existing platform edge is much less detectable than the ADA regulation."
Julie Carroll, lobbyist for the American Council of the Blind, which favors the domes, said the group is reviewing Linton's agreement with Metro and had not decided whether to sue. She added that "this doesn't change the regulations for transit systems in the rest of the country."
The nation's other leading organization for the blind, which had supported Metro in part because it believes blind riders should not be treated differently from others, praised Linton's decision. But the group criticized the plan to install an electronic warning system for blind riders on platform edges.
"I've been known to refer to this as the `electric fence' provision," said James Gashel, lobbyist for the National Federation of the Blind. Transmitters "say that blind people aren't competent to find the edge without the electric fence. If you let that view go too far, it could lead to the view that we need to put them in everywhere."
Reuter said the wrist devices would be optional "for people who feel they need the extra help" locating platform edges or train doors.
"As long as it's optional, I don't think there's a problem," he said.
Metro also agreed with Linton to brighten the flashing lights embedded in the granite edge to help riders with limited vision. The new lights already are being tested at the Gallery Place station in downtown Washington.
There you have the story, and WMATA was not entirely satisfied with the Washington Post's treatment, so General Manager Lawrence Reuter wrote a letter to the editor reiterating WMATA's commitment to the underlying principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here it is:
Washington, D.C. April 26, 1995
Editor, The Washington Post:
As Stephen C. Fehr accurately reported in his April 26,
Washington Post article, "U.S. Rescinds Order on Metro Platform
Edges," the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) decision that
Metro does not have to install a new detectable warning strip on
all its rail platform edges might be interpreted by some as an
attack on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the
reporter is unfortunately correct in his assumption, anyone
choosing to see either Metro's position or the FTA's decision in
that light would be very wrong. Metro's request and the FTA's
decision dealt only with the enforcement of one, overly
prescriptive regulation promulgated under the ADA.
If Metro has any disagreement with the national ADA legislation, it is that it does not go far enough to ensure system-wide accessibility to transit for people with disabilities. Real public transportation is only a myth if the most transit-dependent segment of the public--people whose physical disabilities preclude them from driving--are unable to use the buses and trains subsidized by taxpayers' money-- including theirs. When the very impairments that make driving impossible exclude individuals from public services, then those services are not truly public. Every effort must be made by transit officials to see that the Congressional intent--the spirit of the ADA--becomes more than wishful thinking of the millions of Americans who rely upon public transportation to lead fulfilling, independent lives.
Metrorail is now the most accessible transit system in this country. We are proud of that distinction and are committed to doing everything practicable to further enhance the accessibility and convenience offered by our system to people with all types of disabilities. If we take issue with the specificity of regulatory language or challenge the wisdom or desirability of a regulation promulgated under the ADA, no one should interpret our position as anything beyond just that. We do not challenge the appropriateness or the necessity of the ADA. Our commitment to providing the maximum in accessibility and convenience for people with disabilities will not be tempered by our having now complied with all Department of Transportation regulations under the ADA.
The FTA decision allows us to dedicate time and resources to projects that go well beyond mandated accommodations in refining our facilities and services to be more welcoming and customer- friendly to our tens of thousands of disabled patrons. In the near future passengers can expect Braille and large-print maps, a mobility-orientation program, and an information hotline for the visually impaired. Dynamic displays will provide computer- generated information for passengers with hearing impairments, and refinements will be made to ease the independent travel through our system of passengers using wheelchairs or other mobility aids. The ADA raised awareness and created a baseline for transit accessibility; it did not establish a ceiling for what could or should be done to make transportation a public service available to all.
Lawrence G. Reuter General Manager WMATA
[Photo #3: Portrait Caption: Peggy Elliott]
CHURCH OFFICIALS GET A LESSON ON EQUAL TREATMENT
From the Editor: Those of us
who have been doing battle for the rights of blind people for years sometimes
forget what a staggering shock it is to run headlong into blatant discrimination
for the first time. Not infrequently people with a little remaining sight get
pretty far along their chosen career path before the blow falls, and it can
be all the more disconcerting for being so completely unexpected. When you have
always comforted yourself with the knowledge that you are not blind but merely
have a significant visual impairment, it is difficult to come to terms with
the truth that others consider you incompetent because of blindness. At these
moments experienced Federationists can be extremely helpful. We understand the
feelings, and we know how to argue the case for equal treatment effectively.
This is the situation Cheryl Feller of Connecticut found herself in last winter. Certified as an elementary teacher, she and two other teachers were hired in January to teach for the remainder of the year at a Roman Catholic school. Cheryl was assigned to a fourth-grade class. She was not given a contract though the other two teachers were. From the beginning it was clear that blindness was the cause of the differential treatment. Luckily for her, Cheryl turned to the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut; and Rick Fox, affiliate President, soon called in Peggy Elliott for help. Peggy is an attorney and Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind. She talked extensively with Cheryl and eventually wrote a letter on her behalf to Archbishop Cronin. It was so clear and comprehensible that Rick sent it to the Braille Monitor in the hope that it might help other people facing the same sort of misunderstanding. Here is Rick's cover letter followed by Peggy's letter to the Archbishop:
East Hartford, Connecticut
April 13, 1995
Dear Mrs. Pierce:
Peggy Elliott recently wrote a letter
on behalf of Cheryl Feller, a teacher who has been receiving discriminatory
treatment at a Catholic school in Milford, Connecticut. This letter embodies
Federationism at its best: a firm knowledge of discrimination issues, an unremitting
belief in the capabilities of blind people, and an incisive writing style that
advocates without resorting to confrontation. Peggy's letter is grounded not
merely in her education and experience but in over fifty years of Federation
thought and practice.
I don't want to end this letter without mentioning the human side of these discrimination dramas. I have spent many evenings encouraging Cheryl, whose pain, fear, and humiliation were clearly audible. Reading about these cases in the Monitor, one can get carried away with the good versus evil, David versus Goliath romance, but when you are speaking with the victim, you realize how deeply disruptive and upsetting such an experience is.
Sincerely, Rick Fox
Grinnell, Iowa March 27, 1995
Archdiocese of Hartford
Dear Archbishop Cronin:
I serve as Second Vice President of the National Federation
of the Blind, a nationwide organization composed of blind persons
and their friends. We have joined together in the Federation to
teach one another confidence and strength and to teach our fellow
citizens about our capabilities and competence. For example, I
hold a Yale Law J.D. and have practiced for fifteen years as a
The subject of my letter is a teacher at St. Gabriel School in Milford, Miss Cheryl Feller. She was a mid-year hire to teach fourth graders and is legally blind. Aspects of her hiring and treatment suggest that the Archdiocese may be according her differential and unfair treatment due to her legal blindness.
Before I detail these circumstances, please let me explain a term. The term is legal blindness. This is that category of persons whose vision is measurably ten percent or less of normal vision. Within the category of legal blindness fall persons with residual vision sufficient to read normal print, persons with residual vision sufficient to read enlarged print, persons with residual vision sufficient to see people and colors but not detail like faces, and people with no vision at all. None of us can drive; many of us have some residual vision; all of us have terrible vision as compared with a fully sighted person and use alternative techniques to achieve what sighted people typically achieve using sight.
It is these alternative techniques that often lead people around us to make judgments and assumptions about our capabilities that are untrue and unfair. If most people in a room accomplish an information-gathering task by seeing words, they will likely assume that the task cannot be achieved by listening. But it can. Federal law guarantees us the right to be different, to use different techniques as we do, and to be judged on outcome, not on techniques. We as blind people would rather use the method of education to create opportunity and eliminate misconceptions where we can, teaching our fellow citizens about our techniques and their efficacy rather than employing confrontational or adversarial tactics. That is why I am writing to you about Miss Cheryl Feller.
1. Qualified: Miss Feller, who is legally blind, has completed all of the requirements for credentialing as a teacher in Connecticut. By her own profession she has been judged competent to teach. The schools have agreed with this assessment since Miss Feller has been hired and is routinely handling all duties of a fourth-grade teacher including lesson plans and daily supervision of an orderly classroom. Miss Feller is not aware of any complaints about her competence as a fourth-grade teacher.
However, Miss Feller's status with the schools is different
and less advantageous than the circumstances of other teachers
similarly situated. Three teachers were hired at midyear to fill
unexpectedly open positions. The other two were given contracts.
Miss Feller was not.
Instead Miss Feller was classified as a permanent substitute. For this difference in treatment, the school must have a basis other than her blindness. Schools may differentiate among teachers for a number of permissible reasons such as seniority or merit or specialized training. However, they may not differentiate on an impermissible basis, and Miss Feller's blindness is an impermissible basis for distinction. Circumstances suggest that her blindness is the reason for her different treatment.
Miss Feller has been given to understand that the policy of the school is not to award contracts in midyear. If this is the policy, then two other teachers were awarded contracts in violation of it, and Miss Feller should also be awarded a contract.
Miss Feller should be treated the same as others similarly situated. In addition, if her status remains the same, her record now will leave the impression that she merely stepped into someone else's shoes, used pre-existing lesson plans, was not required to build the rapport of the regular classroom teacher with the students, was even moved from class to class as necessary. This is not the job she is actually performing. Her record should reflect what she has done.
3. Health Insurance:
An issue subsidiary to the contract itself is Miss Feller's
health insurance. She happens to be a beneficiary of Social
Security Disability Insurance, which would not ordinarily be a
relevant fact in these circumstances. (In fact, I questioned her
as to how the subject had even come up at all.) As a prudent
person she is aware that SSDI benefits include health coverage
and that earning more than a quite limited amount will end her
SSDI benefits. When her status with the school was not
regularized by a contract for more than a month after her
employment, she inquired about health insurance. Miss Feller was
legitimately concerned that losing SSDI health coverage while not
yet having coverage through her employer would leave her with no
health insurance at all.
When Miss Feller was accorded permanent substitute status, one of the reasons given to her was that she could then keep her SSDI and its health coverage. (It is unclear to me whether this was intended as an effort to benefit Miss Feller or whether it was actually intended to benefit the school, which has not had to add Miss Feller as an additional covered employee in its plan.)
Miss Feller's inquiry was not made for the purpose of trying to keep SSDI health coverage. Rather she was seeking to have one source for health insurance and did not want to get into a situation in which she had none. Preserving Miss Feller's health coverage through SSDI is certainly not a reason to accord her different status from others similarly situated. Miss Feller (and every other blind person in her situation) would far rather reach and exceed the earnings limitation, go off SSDI, earn a living wage along with attendant benefits earned by coworkers, and pay taxes. In our organization it's considered gauche to whine about paying taxes; so few blind people over the centuries have been employed and had the opportunity to pull their weight in society that we take pride in the fact that we can and do pay taxes. Miss Feller is trying to become a taxpayer as well.
In addition, no one has ever explained to her the other benefits (if any) earned by contracted teachers. By being placed on permanent substitute status rather than a contract, she may be ineligible for other benefits which similarly situated teachers are receiving or to which they have access.
During the personal interview Miss Feller noticed a number
of instances in which her blindness was a topic of focus.
However, at no time was Miss Feller's blindness a topic of
appropriate discussion. Please let me detail and explain.
Any employer has the right under the law to determine if an applicant can do the job the employer needs. While it is a delicate area, this includes questions concerning the applicant's ability to do the job as it relates to a physical disability. If, for example, a blind person were applying for a job as a Greyhound bus driver, the employer would have legitimate questions about the blind person's ability to do the work, starting with the absence of a driver's license.
Teaching is different. Miss Feller presented herself, credentialed. She was prepared to answer questions about her own education, her approach to the education of others, and the way she specifically would bring about education using the alternative techniques she uses. She used them successfully in student teaching prior to her credentialing.
Instead her interviewers approached the interview as a test of how much Miss Feller could see. This approach was doubly inappropriate. First, the approach assumed that poor eyesight was equivalent to poor qualification. Second, the approach assumed that, the more you can see, the better you can teach. I think we both know many sighted teachers, some fine and some not so fine. Sight in and of itself is no passport to the land of instructional perfection.
There are legitimate questions an employer could have of a blind applicant. None of these were asked. There are questions which presume or postulate incompetence. Many of these were asked. Here are some examples.
a. CCTV. Miss Feller uses a closed-circuit television that magnifies printed words placed under it for her to read. One of the interviewers dwelt heavily on the size of the equipment. The tone of her comments was sternly against such "big" equipment's being in the classroom. Neither interviewer asked about the machine, asked if there were other techniques Miss Feller planned to use to get information, asked if there were ways the school could facilitate Miss Feller's acquisition of information (for example, many employers routinely give memos to blind employees on disk; it's digital anyway and no trouble). Instead, the focus was an implicit adverse judgment on one technique with no effort to learn its efficacy or if other techniques were to be used in combination with it.
b. Chalkboard. The same interviewer asked Miss Feller to write something on the chalkboard. Again, this was an assumption that the technique the interviewer would have used is the only technique. As it happens, Miss Feller writes on the chalkboard. So do many other blind teachers. Some with no vision have learned to write legibly on the board. But many blind teachers use alternatives such as preparing worksheets, preparing overheads, having students take turns writing, and others. Miss Feller simply wrote without comment. The interviewer responded that the letters were very, very big. In my experience it is customary to exaggerate one's writing on a chalkboard for easy reading from all points in the room. Once again the implication though not specifically stated was that the size was a problem.
The interviewer then asked Miss Feller if she could read what she had just written. Since she had just written it, Miss Feller found this an odd request since, even if she could not see the letters, she had formed them and knew what they were. She merely confirmed that she could.
The interviewer then wrote something on the blackboard in letters half the size Miss Feller had used. She inquired if Miss Feller could read what she had written. Again the implication was that reading those specific letters was necessary to be able to teach. Again, the topic was not specifically discussed. Again Miss Feller simply confirmed that she could read the letters.
c. Gesticulating. The other interviewer went to the back of the room and asked Miss Feller if she could see what he was doing. Yet again, implications were being made that were not voiced. The implication was that, if Miss Feller could not see what was being done, she could not teach. Once again, the assumption was false. I know hundreds of blind teachers who have no vision or vision insufficient to see what is being done in the back of the room. This assumption that seeing is necessary for teaching really goes, not to the educational aspect of any teacher's job, but to the behavior aspect. Teachers who cannot control classrooms cannot educate in them. I know lots and lots of sighted teachers who have not mastered this truth or at least have not managed to actualize it in their classrooms. Sight is no guarantor of discipline. Rather discipline comes from the mutual trust and respect of students and teachers built by the teacher who knows what she is doing. This kind of discipline, the one built not on visual monitoring but on respect, is one of the qualities I would hope every school is looking for. But the interview with Miss Feller suggested that, in the minds of the interviewers, discipline is instilled only by seeing.
Miss Feller happened to be able to see that the interviewer was raising his arm. She told him so. He then did something else and asked what he was doing now. Miss Feller told him he was raising his other arm. He did something else, and she told him he was bending over.
Miss Feller is herself a young person, less experienced than, say, I would have been. She was dumbfounded and taken aback by this combination of questions and actions which were all aimed at her visual acuity, not the skill she went to school to acquire and not the skill she was offering to this potential employer. With a little more experience she might have engaged her interviewers in a frank discussion of what they were implicitly thinking and not articulating. Or she might not have. Applicants are in some senses supplicants. They usually want the job, or they wouldn't be there. When unfair or inappropriate questions or commentary intrude, they feel constrained to accept, to bow to the greater force in the hands of interviewers, to let pass what should not be allowed to pass. Miss Feller would have been happy to discuss her alternatives, their effectiveness, ways she could improve, techniques from experts (whether involving sight or not) that would enhance her own competence. But none of this was offered. Instead, the exact functioning of her eyes became the focus of her interview. When this interview led to her differential treatment in status, Miss Feller concluded that her blindness was the cause.
Miss Feller has also been evaluated. She was told that she
would have to undergo evaluation prior to the school's according
her any kind of status at all--contract, substitute, anything.
As Miss Feller understands it, this is not school policy. Policy appears to be that teachers are placed under contract and then, during the first year of their contract, evaluated. Neither of the other two midyear hires has been evaluated, and both have contracts. Miss Feller has already been evaluated and does not have a contract.
Under the circumstances she has quite reasonably concluded that her differential treatment regarding evaluation and contracting is related to the differential treatment of her disability in the interview.
Miss Feller respectfully requests:
1. That she be accorded a contract dated the day she was hired, for the job for which she was hired and has been performing since;
2. That she be accorded health benefits like those of any other contract teacher and all other benefits which are accorded or made available to contract teachers;
3. That she be assured that her evaluation as a first-year contract teacher, already having been conducted, will not be repeated; and
4. That she be assured that the effects of the interview and other inappropriate conduct based on blindness will not appear in her file or in subsequent decisions effecting her employment.
In addition and to help with the fourth point, Miss Feller would be happy to provide literature and information about blind people and the capabilities of the blind to officials and to the school. As blind people we often find that it is easier to learn about blindness if you remove the person very closely associated from the equation. Other blind people can give information about blindness to school officials, do an in-service on blindness if desired, provide short talks to students. This last is something every member of the Federation loves to do. Kids are honest. They are blunt but without the axes to grind and misconceptions to hone that adults bring to an interaction with a blind person. They just want to know. Since we just want to teach, it's a great combination. And learning that difference doesn't mean inferiority is a great lesson.
I have taken the time to detail for you the problem that has arisen in Miss Feller's case. The solutions are easy and obvious. And the whole school can add an enjoyable, valuable learning experience if our offer of assistance in learning about blindness is accepted as well. We as blind people want to take our place in society. We want to pull our weight and earn acceptance by our peers. Sometimes misunderstanding and lack of information about blindness stand in our way. We're glad to work with people to clear those away. The only thing we can't be glad about is uncured differential treatment based on blindness.
I have included with this letter one of our Kernel Books, stories about blind people told in our own words. The piece I contributed has a bearing on the interview, so I thought I would include it.
Please take the time you need to review what I have said. Please do respond as expeditiously as you can. The rest of Miss Feller's life and her whole working life are before her. I hope that we can all work together to make this starting point a good experience and one not tinged with the unfortunate coloring of prejudice.
Sincerely yours, Peggy Pinder Elliott
That was Peggy's letter, and it was effective. In late April Cheryl was given a contract for the current semester. The battle, however, is far from over. As yet unresolved is the question of her position in the coming year. In a perfect world school officials would have read and fully grasped Peggy's letter and would then have rethought their position based on their understanding that visual acuity is no fit measure of teaching ability. It is far more likely, however, that the same old issues, cloaked in less transparently illegal language, will arise across the summer. We will see.
[Photo #4: Portrait Caption: John Smith]
IT'S YOUR MOVE, SON!
by John W. Smith
From the Editor: Dr. John Smith is a professor at Ohio University. He serves as First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. Last year he was largely responsible for organizing the NFB of Southeast Ohio and now serves as its President. In addition to teaching the art of effective communication at the university level, he is a fine musician. He uses both his music and his compelling speaking ability in a ministry that takes him across the country whenever his professional and family responsibilities will allow it. Here are his most recent reflections:
I do not usually wax eloquent about life and success; but I
do know that one key element of a successful life is making good
decisions. Decisions, decisions, decisions--decisions about where
to go to school, where to live, what jobs to take. In fact, James
Bristol once said, "We are not all called to travel the same
road, but we are called to be faithful to insights we have found
on the road we have chosen." I am not sure what I think about
destiny or pre-destination, but I do believe that our lives or at
least the quality of our lives is often contingent on a few life-
altering decisions which ultimately ensure the fulfillment or the
destruction of our dreams.
Henry David Thoreau once said, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them." Those foundations are the crux of this story.
I am a professor of speech communication at Ohio University. I have completed a bachelor of arts degree, a master of arts degree, and a doctoral degree in speech communication. Today I am a competent and confident man, but it wasn't always that way. There was a time when, like so many other young people, I had serious doubts about my abilities to make a worthwhile contribution to society in general and to myself in particular. For you to understand my story, I must begin at the beginning.
I was born in Chicago, Illinois, on the South Side. This is important because the South Side experience for an African American growing up in Chicago has always been unique. When asked about the content and tone of her now famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, Loraine Hansberry said, "The play is about life on the South Side of Chicago for one black family. It is not about anyone else, anywhere else because the unique experience of a black family growing up on the South Side of Chicago was quite intriguing to me." Having grown up in that kind of an environment, I can relate to this comment.
I was raised by my grandparents, who came to Chicago from Tennessee during the great African American migration of the forties, fifties, and sixties. And, like so many others of those African Americans, they came to the South Side of Chicago to find the promised land. Karl, my grandfather, worked at several different jobs before finally coming to own and operate a Sunoco gas station located at the corner of our block. My neighborhood was fascinating. We lived between a banker and a doctor. Several lawyers, professors, and one key city administrator also lived on our block; and, with one exception, all were African American.
The South Side of Chicago is famous for its neighborhoods, its genially integrated communities, as well as its fiercely segregated ones. Those blacks who settled on the South Side of Chicago tended to be more upwardly mobile and more willing to assimilate than those who settled on the West Side of the city.
I was born into a middle-to-upper-class family. Because of the hard work of my grandfather, who often worked fourteen- to sixteen-hour days, we never really wanted for anything.
In some ways my grandparents were Federationists long before we ever knew what that word meant. Especially my grandmother Sarah. She encouraged me to climb trees; wash dishes; take out the garbage; clean up after the dogs, cats, and rabbits; and even clean my room. She never saw my blindness as a reason not to treat me like any other kid in the neighborhood. My grandfather was a bit different because he was gone a lot. He never really knew what a blind child could do, so I could take advantage of his ignorance and absence.
As I grew older, I found that I wanted to prove myself to my grandfather but did not know how. I remember one day he came home early and my grandmother wanted him to move an old refrigerator from the house to the yard. I offered my assistance, and he told me that he didn't want me getting hurt. I tried to tell him that when he was not there Sarah made us move beds, dressers, couches, and anything else that came to her mind, and I was the best mover in the house. He didn't buy it. He loved me, but he didn't respect me as a man. He always saw me as a blind child. He almost broke his back that day in an effort to keep me from helping him; and, because of his pride, he never let on that my assistance would have been helpful.
In addition to being a proud man, my grandfather was a competitive man. As an African American growing up in the twenties and thirties, he had learned that he had to be competitive in an environment where oftentimes the odds were stacked against him. One way he demonstrated his competitive nature was by playing games. In our house the game was checkers, and my grandfather was regarded as the greatest checker player in the entire city. He had never lost to anyone at any time. I began to notice just how much this game meant to him, and I wanted to prove to him that I could play the game and gain his respect as well. As I look back on it now, I really wanted his respect and admiration, and playing checkers or learning to play checkers seemed to be the best way to get it. I decided to learn to play.
My uncle, who lived with us at the time, was not a very good checker player, but he would and could teach me the basics. Week after week I studied, I played, I got ready to challenge my grandfather. The night finally came when I challenged him. Because checkers was so important to us, we had almost nightly elimination tournaments. Little by little I became very good at the game until next to my grandfather and without his knowledge I became probably the second-best player--at least in that household. My grandfather, however, never involved himself in any of these tournaments because he considered them beneath him. First I beat my brother consistently, then my uncle, and then everyone else in the house, until after two years I felt it was time for me to challenge the man.
One night during the checkers tournament, my grandfather decided to get involved. We were playing best-two-out-of-three elimination rounds. After everyone had been eliminated except him and me, we squared off.
There was a thick atmosphere of anticipation and deafening silence in the kitchen that night since everyone knew what was at stake. In my mind it was no longer a game but my manhood that was on the line. As my grandfather sat down to play me, he said, "Well boy, you have been looking for this thrashing a long time; here it comes." I was furious at the remark, and I resolved in my heart that I would win that night if it killed me. The game was over in about five minutes, and I never knew what hit me. My grandfather was not only a great checkers player but a master of intimidation. He would talk to me in a condescending tone as he beat me, which added insult to injury. My family tried to console me that night, but I was devastated. I had really thought I was ready for the big show.
This was one of the times when I had to make a decision about how to respond to an overwhelming disappointment. A few years later it would be going off to attend a college in Indiana and being dismissed after one semester. Riding home on the bus that last night of college was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. I had thought I was ready for the big show then, and I found out again that I was not.
Success in life is contingent on crucial decisions at pivotal times, especially those times when we reach a fork in the road. I could have made any one of several decisions: pack it in, giving up on my goal of going to college or beating my grandfather, or I could have decided to keep on fighting. In both of these situations I decided to keep on fighting. I challenged my grandfather again--forty-two more times! Each of those times I was left with that familiar feeling of desperation and devastation. But with each game I got a little better. My grandfather even began to make comments like, "That's a pretty good move," which for him was quite a statement.
On July 20, 1974, in the forty-fourth game with my grandfather, something life-altering happened. It was a sunny, Saturday afternoon, and many of the neighborhood men were there for our usual summer weekend checker tournament. As usual it had come down to my grandfather and me. The atmosphere was electric; it seemed that the world was hanging on our every move. I began a series of calculated moves. As the game unfolded, I began to see the vision of victory opening up to me. No one spoke in that room with the exception of my grandfather's occasional taunts, "If you study long, you will study wrong," and "Are you sure that's what you want to do?"
Finally the magic moment came, and it seemed that the world stood still. I had reached the opportunity that I had fought for years to achieve. I sat in stunned disbelief and exhilaration because it was finally going to happen. I had made a series of moves, and my grandfather had responded, Now it was my turn, and I saw the move of moves. I sat there just taking it in. Then I heard my grandfather's voice, "It's your move, son." I made the move, giving him a jump and then taking five of his men in one fell swoop.
I would have given anything that afternoon to see the expression on my grandfather's face. Tears came to my eyes then, as they do now when I think of that moment. After the move he grasped my hand and said, "Good game, son; you win." A tremendous burden rolled off my shoulders, and from that moment to this day, my grandfather has treated me with genuine respect. He has been my strongest supporter. Later he would tell me that when he saw what I had done, there was nothing he could say except "It's your move, son."
This memory of my grandfather, who unfortunately is now suffering the ravages of that monster Alzheimer's, will remain with me forever. I don't think he ever really understood what a turning point that was in my life. Over the next ten or fifteen years the tables gradually turned, and I became the king of checkers. He became my most competitive challenger. Yes, I made a good move that afternoon, but the critical move had come after game one the day I made the decision to keep on fighting until game forty-four.
And what about that long bus ride home? You actually already know the rest of the story. When I got off that bus, I didn't know what I was going to do. When my grandfather picked me up that night at the bus station and we were driving home, he said, "Well son, it's your move again." I understood that he meant: What are you going to do? What decision are you going to make? Are you going to beat yourself up? Are you going to give up? Or are you going to decide to keep on fighting?
I have always been glad I decided to go on to college and pursue my dream of being a professor, but I am even more grateful that I made one other great move in my life: joining the National Federation of the Blind. That was an easy move for me because in doing so I joined a group of people who were proven fighters, who were never willing just to take what life hands out. Through hard work I have now become the First Vice President of the Ohio affiliate of the NFB, the President of my local chapter, and an active member of several national committees.
My advice to everyone, blind and sighted alike, is to choose to live rather than die, fight rather than surrender, win rather than lose at those critical moments we all face. Genuine success boils down to the decisions we make and the responses we give to the circumstances we find ourselves in; success really begins with the right attitudes. As a Federationist I have learned that it is respectable to be blind and that as a blind person I am as entitled to happiness as anyone else. Robert Frost, in his classic poem, "The Road Not Taken," says:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; . . .
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Whether it is checkers or pursuing an education or going
after that job that no one thinks you can get, you must decide to
achieve; you must choose to reach your potential. You cannot give
in to excuses, blindness, or external pressures because it really
is true that where there is a will there is a way. Or in other
words, where there is a positive attitude, there is the capacity
to do extraordinary things. This is the spirit, the heart that
beats in the breast of every true Federationist, and it is this
spirit, this life blood, that keeps me moving down the road of
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
[Photo #5: Portrait Caption: Christine Boone]
BLIND LAW STUDENT LETS LITTLE HOLD HER BACK
by Rick Ruggles
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the April 26, 1995, edition of the Omaha World Herald. Chris Boone is one of the leaders of the NFB of Nebraska and a 1994 National Federation of the Blind scholarship winner. Here is the story:
Chris Boone's friends in law school and opponents in law
competitions quickly learn to pay more attention to what she has
to say and less to what she cannot see.
Ms. Boone is married, has two children, car-pools each day from Lincoln to classes at Creighton University, and has been legally blind from birth.
She and her partner, Theresia Urich of Omaha, took second in a national law-student competition two months ago. Ms. Boone winces at the notion that her blindness makes her success any more remarkable. She said blindness is a characteristic, like height or hair color, and not the dominant element in her life.
"People in my class say, `Whenever I'm thinking I can't do it and I'm having a hard time, I think of you,'" Ms. Boone, a second-year law student, said. "That's ridiculous. By saying they think it's harder for me, what they're really saying is they expect less of me."
If anyone expected less of Ms. Boone in the American Bar Association's Negotiation Competition for law students two months ago in Miami, she and Miss Urich gave them a jolt. They finished second among sixteen teams after winning the regional competition last fall.
Pedro Fernandez-McCarthy, who competed for the University of Illinois team, said Ms. Boone is "so darned personable and so good at putting you at ease that you forget about it (her blindness) right away."
Fernandez-McCarthy said that before watching Ms. Boone in the regional and national competitions, he believed that eye contact was essential to reading the sincerity and confidence of the other side in negotiation.
"She did such a good job that I simply can't have that prejudice from now on," he said. Elaine Chin, the University of Illinois team's adviser and a visiting lecturer at the University of Illinois College of Law at Champaign-Urbana, said she benefitted from watching Ms. Boone.
"What's clear from seeing her...is that she absolutely has a vision of herself as not handicapped," Ms. Chin said. "She just has incredible finesse, so she's very quietly powerful. Very powerful but not intimidating."
Miss Urich, who lives near 84th Street and West Center Road, said she and Ms. Boone have shared laughs over how insignificant Ms. Boone's blindness became in their friendship.
"Chris is so good at what she does that I constantly forget that she's blind," Miss Urich said. "It became a joke between Chris and me."
Ms. Boone, thirty-five, and her husband Doug have a seven- year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. She said growing up presented difficulties for her in part because she did not learn Braille or how to use a cane until after she graduated from high school in Littleton, Colorado, eighteen years ago.
Special education professionals had encouraged her to use what minimal sight she had, she said. So she ended up placing her face on large-print books so that she could see the letters and gazing at the ground in order to maneuver. She lost all of her sight about ten years ago.
"One of my causes, if you will, is Braille literacy for (blind) children," she said. When she was a girl, some classmates "didn't know that I was blind. They just thought I was strange."
Now she reads and takes notes in Braille. Some of her textbooks are on tape, and sometimes she hires a reader to read others into a tape recorder.
Ms. Boone, the President of Creighton's International Moot Court board and a governor's appointee to the State Rehabilitation Advisory Council, said there are plenty of ways to compensate for blindness.
She despises such terms as "visually impaired." "I much prefer the word `blind,' because to me there's no negative connotation there," she said. "Limited, impaired, challenged--I just don't buy into that."
[Photo #6: Dave Walker, dressed in fishing gear, stands at the river's edge. Caption: Dave Walker checks water depth and lake bottom for slope and objects with his long white cane.]
HOOK, LINE, AND GOLF BALLS
by David Walker
From the Editor: David Walker is the stuff of which the Federation is made. He and his wife Betty were married immediately following the noon recess of the Wednesday general session at the 1982 convention of the National Federation of the Blind with a large representation of the Federation family present to witness the event and cheer the couple. David and Betty are active members of the NFB of Missouri who live their Federationism every day. The following article is an excellent example of their work--quiet, solid, and absolutely sound. Here is what David has to say:
This article may appear to have an unusual and disconnected
title, but as you read, you will find the connection. I was
inspired to write it after several conversations with blind and
sighted people about the abilities and confidence of blind people
to venture out and do things most others assume to be impossible
for them. But people are usually wrong about whether or how much
sighted help is necessary for blind people to get out and do what
they want to. Using alternative techniques, blind people can
enjoy many forms of recreation independently as much as their
sighted friends. The activity I am describing here, fishing, is
neither difficult nor extraordinary in any way. I enjoy it
regularly and as a matter of routine. It does not take
extraordinary skill for a blind person to do. My visual acuity is
light perception; I see only bright light and shadows. A long
white cane is necessary for my safe and independent travel.
The road to the lake near my home used to be a nice path to follow, but the redesign of the golf course changed that a few years ago. Two new fairways were put in crossing this road, leaving only a small section of road near the lake. My route to go fishing now requires me to cross the fairway near the sixth tee, which I refer to as "the artillery range." I meet other fishers at the lake, and some seem to be interested in how I do my fishing. Surprisingly enough, I don't get many ridiculous questions and comments about how amazing it is for a blind guy to travel to the lake and fish alone.
Crossing the fairway and maneuvering around the tee area to get to the lake is not very difficult. It's crossing the artillery range, where those little hard projectiles are landing, that sometimes gets a little difficult. Crossing that zone takes a simple, common-sense approach. I stop at the edge of the fairway at the point where I need to cross; determine whether or not any golfers are playing through; and listen for the distinctive crack of the club on the ball, voices of approaching golfers, and the thump of landing golf balls. While doing this, I use my Braille compass to line myself up in a west by southwest direction so I will come out near the sixth tee and a paved golf- cart path which will lead me down the hill to the old road to the lake. Since there are many contours and no real landmarks in this open area, the long white cane and compass are essential tools. Once I line up and go, I don't stop until I am across the fairway; this reduces my chances of being hit. Once, on my way home, I stopped to check my compass when I thought there were no players near, and a golf ball driven from the fifth tee struck my tackle box--I was happy it was not my knee just below the box.
This risk is greatly reduced when I go fishing at night. It's not that I like danger, but crossing the fairway is the most efficient way to the lake because of the layout of the golf course and the location of the lake. Besides the compass, I use other information to confirm my travel such as particular slopes, the height of the grass, ground texture, location of the sun as I feel it on my face or back, wind direction, and the honk of the Canada geese that frequent the lake. Traffic noise on the roads and highways surrounding the golf course differs depending on the time of day, and it is a good reference on direction, as is the sun's direction as it moves during the day.
I find the golfers to be very courteous when I cross their turf. Many who see me waiting to cross say hello as they play through; some offer to let me cross before they tee off; and some wish me luck. I wish them a good game in return. I have never had a golfer tell me that a blind guy should not be crossing the fairway.
When I get to the road along the lake, I walk until I get to a point where I think I would like to start. There is no beaten path down from the road, so I just work my way down the steep slope through the thick brush and dead wood. I carry my rod with the tip behind me so I don't snap it off on a tree as I move along. Because of the thick brush, steep slope, and rough ground, my long white cane is necessary in finding the easiest path ahead of me. When I get to the edge of the lake, there is a path, and I use the cane to find it and follow the irregular shoreline.
When I find one of the landmarks that tell me where some of my favorite spots are, I set down my tackle box, slip off my pack, and tune in my favorite country music on a pocket radio, which I place near my tackle box. Not only does the radio provide entertainment, but it is an audio marker when I have to leave the site to untangle a snag or try to catch some fish that just jumped nearby and want to locate my tackle box quickly.
When I look for a new spot, the white cane is an important tool. I use it to reach into the water to check the slope and depth of the water. It also keeps me from accidentally stepping into the drink. The cane is also helpful in locating structures that will steal valuable tackle. I use it to check for branches that might catch my line or lures when I cast. It is not foolproof, but it generally gives me an indication of objects in my way. Once while I was checking for the edge of the lake and underwater objects, a bass pounced on the shiny tip of my cane-- too bad there wasn't a hook. In addition to using the cane to check for potential snags, I use the fishing rod, which is longer to reach and sweep in the area where I might be back-casting.
To check for snags out of reach of my cane in new areas, I usually put a cheap set-up on my rod to test the waters. If there are any snags out there, I lose only the cheap tackle and not the more expensive lures. Besides, I might even get a bass to take the bait while testing. After I have found that the area is mostly snag-free, I switch to more expensive lures. Some of these get lost to out-of-reach snags, but that's what keeps the tackle industry alive. Sighted fishers lose a lot of tackle, too.
Because modern lines are more supple and finer than in the past, they are harder to feel and thread through the eyes of hooks and swivels. I have devised a simple little fine-wire pinched hook similar to but faster than a needle-threader to use. This helps me rig up faster. For smaller hook eyes and finer lines, I also use self-threading needles or fine, wire needle threaders. For fine tippets and very small flies, I use a fly- threading tool that I purchased from a mail order supplier for fly fishers. It holds the eye of the fly while I hold the tool and guide the fine leader into the slot that guides the leader through the eye of the fly. These eyes are too small for a needle or other threader.
Fly fishing is one of my greatest pleasures. I am not a polished caster, but I get the fly or popper out there and catch fish. I first learned to fly fish when I was just out of high school. My dad often took my brother Jim and me fishing when we were growing up in Michigan, but Jim was not as enthusiastic as I, and as we grew older and Jim moved away, Dad and I became good fishing buddies. Then I became interested in fly fishing, and I was given my first fly reel for graduation from high school. I bought some inexpensive tackle to build the system, and my parents bought me a fly rod for my birthday that summer.
One day my dad came home with a new pair of waders for me and said we were going up north the next week. I was soon stepping out into the current of a northern Michigan stream to try and outsmart some trout. The feeling of this new piscatorial adventure was great! I was hooked immediately. Dad never seemed to worry about my wading alone. I guess he had confidence in me, and if he did worry, he never let it show. His teaching me how to feel the bottom of a stream and to judge and respect the current were valuable lessons. He would go his way, and I would go mine, then we would meet back at camp.
Sometimes when I was done fishing before Dad, I would follow the trail on the high bank along the stream to find him and see how his luck was. I would listen for the swishing of his nine- foot bamboo rod. If Dad was finished before I was, sometimes he would come looking for me. Back then I had some usable vision and could see most large branches of trees near me, log jams, pools, and bends in the river within a short distance. Now I have only light perception, but I still enjoy using a fly rod despite the occasional tree that grabs my fly.
Dad and Mom raised Jim and me in a positive way and never really held us back from venturing out. They allowed us to join Scouts with neighborhood friends. In addition to what I learned in scouting, Dad also taught me much about the outdoors and fishing, and I guess that's why I have such a sense of adventure and an appreciation and love for angling, wildlife, and the outdoors.
Knowing what fish I have on the line is fairly easy. I pretty much control what I catch by the bait, hook size, and technique. There is a big difference in how a bass hits the bait and how a bluegill takes bait. The fight is also very different, and if I happen to get a little bass, I can determine its identity by the mouth when I bring it to hand. Many of the small sunfishes are difficult for me to tell apart because I can't see color, but I have fun catching and releasing them.
I keep my tackle sorted pretty much the way most sighted fishers do. Tackle box compartments keep the various items separated, and I have assigned certain items to particular compartments. I mark the colors of lures in Braille on stiff plastic tags which I make and hang on the hooks. I remove them when I am ready to put the hooks to use. I recognize most of my lures, and others I don't try to remember or mark because they get lost to snags and are generally too numerous and small to bother with tags. These are usually multi-colored jigs.
Soft plastic baits such as worms, grubs, and salamanders are kept in zip-lock sandwich bags with a Braille tag inside. The basic gear such as rods and reels don't need tagging. I mark the type of fly lines on their respective spools in my own Braille code. These spools snap on and off the reel shafts. I mark other lines in Braille on the original spools that come from the manufacturer before I fill them. Other small things such as hooks, sinkers, floats, etc., are easily identified. Because of the tiny size and multiple coloring of flies, I don't try to mark them. I just try to remember the colors or test the waters with random sampling. The same goes for poppers, but I remember most of them by shape and size.
About three years ago two young members of our chapter who are partially sighted and who at that time tended to use their eyes when alternative techniques would have been more efficient went fishing with me a few times. They hadn't done much in the way of outdoor activities, and I thought they might like to try fishing. Of course, I did it right the first time out: I took them at night when they had to use their fingers to put the squirming live bait on the sharp hooks because it was too dark to use their eyes. Being members of the Federation and having associated with me for some time, they were accustomed to blind people who did things independently with confidence. They got right into it with the worms as I described the method--they knew I wouldn't bait their hooks for them. The trek to and from the lake did not bother them. They had every confidence that I would not get them lost, and they didn't have to dodge golf balls. We went several times after that and had a great time.
Last summer, while I was fly fishing for bluegill at the lake, the county conservation officer came along, and we got into a nice conversation. He asked if I had a license, and I said I did. He then asked if I knew that blind persons could fish without a license. I told him I did, but that I felt that we should pull our weight like everyone else. I said that blindness has nothing to do with buying or not buying a license. I said I take as many fish and take advantage of the services and programs of the conservation department as sighted fishers and that the $8 license fee is a real bargain. He said he understood and appreciated my view. He went on chatting about how I fish using alternative techniques and had a nice visit. I know several blind guys in this area who make good money as vendors but who choose to go the free route on the basis of their blindness. But then, they are not members of the National Federation of the Blind.
My positive experiences as a boy and my parents' and friends' confidence in me as I grew up set the pattern for me to become an independent blind person. This independence was developed even further through my involvement in the National Federation of the Blind. This commitment opened new horizons in my life, and meeting so many competent members who taught me alternative techniques expanded and sustained this independence. I found that learning alternative techniques from others helped me develop my own techniques, which I have applied in other areas of life, and in turn I enjoy sharing these with other blind people. If it hadn't been for my parents and the National Federation of the Blind, I doubt if I would have developed my sense of adventure and independence and would not be dodging golf balls today.
COMMENTS ABOUT BERTHOLD LOWENFELD
by Kenneth Jernigan
This article is occasioned by the one written by Dr. Phil
Hatlen which appears in this issue of the Monitor. As I reviewed
Dr. Hatlen's article, I felt moved to write a companion piece.
I first met Berthold Lowenfeld in 1953 when I went to California to work at the state orientation center for the blind, which was located in Oakland right next door to Berkeley. In fact, I might say as an aside that the east San Francisco Bay area is really one city despite the different names attached to its various portions. Emeryville, for instance, is completely surrounded by Oakland; and Oakland joins Albany, Berkeley, and a whole bunch more. The natives say that there is a difference, but I never found it.
But back to the subject at hand. It wasn't long after I got to California before I met Dr. Lowenfeld. He was distinguished by his pleasant mid-European accent, his frankness of expression, his solid intelligence, and his belief in the innate normality of the blind. He was outspoken in his support of the National Federation of the Blind and his espousal of its basic principles.
He died in May of 1994 at the age of ninety-two, and it is not an exaggeration to say that he was a giant in the field of the education of blind children. He stands as the peer of that other great Californian, Dr. Newel Perry. Although he retired as superintendent of the California School for the Blind in 1964, he continued to the end of his life to be a lucid thinker and an articulate advocate for the right of blind children to receive a full and appropriate education.
In the Fall, 1990, issue of the Re:View Magazine, the publication of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with Dr. Lowenfeld appeared. One of the topics addressed was Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the question put to Dr. Lowenfeld along with his answer:
Michael Orlansky: What were tenBroek's contributions to the field?
Berthold Lowenfeld: Well, tenBroek was the one who really organized the first American association that was for, of, and by the blind. It became the focus of progressive thought in work with the blind. The National Federation is still the only agency that goes to court to fight for the civil rights of blind people. Historically it was involved in a number of issues-- representation of the blind in agencies for the blind, fighting discrimination in travel arrangements (such as airplane travel), and various issues that came up from time to time. Blind lawyers, who were the leaders of the National Federation, went to court to establish the civil rights of the blind. No other organization in the United States has been so active in that field, and for this reason I have great admiration for the National Federation of the Blind. I think we would be poorer if we did not have an aggressive organization that represents the blind themselves. I think the great advantage of the National Federation of the Blind is that it can say "we, the blind" and doesn't have to say "our clients," as most of the so-called charitable organizations have to do. This is the strength of the National Federation; this is why I feel that the National Federation of the Blind has historically made a great contribution to our field. Of course, it is not always comfortable to have a monitor around that calls attention to our weaknesses, but it's a basic and useful function.
That's what Dr. Lowenfeld said to Mr. Orlansky about the National Federation of the Blind and its founder, and it shows him to be a shrewd observer and an outspoken advocate of the rights of the blind. The contributions of Berthold Lowenfeld were of real significance to the blind of this country and the world, and he will be remembered with respect.
[Photo #7: Portrait Caption: Phil Hatlen]
BERTHOLD LOWENFELD: A LEGEND OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
by Phil Hatlen
From the Editor Emeritus: Dr. Phil Hatlen is Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a position he has held since 1990. He was professor of special education at San Francisco State University from 1966 to 1990, and before that he was principal of the California School for the Blind and a teacher of blind children in the public schools of Berkeley, California. He earned his Ed.D in curriculum at the University of California and is widely recognized as one of the most distinguished educators in the field of blindness. This is what he wrote about his colleague, mentor, and friend Berthold Lowenfeld:
It's been a year since Berthold Lowenfeld died, and I have
missed him every day. But missing him has gradually taken on a
different character. I no longer grieve, nor do I feel as though
a large piece of me has been taken away. Now I think of the
Berthold that made me laugh, made me think, argued with me,
hugged me, smiled gently at my mistakes and helped me grow, and
made the best martinis I have ever had.
I know that time does this--lessens the pain and heightens the pleasure of the memories. And I realize that I have been truly blessed to have had Berthold Lowenfeld as a friend for almost forty years.
Berthold Lowenfeld was born on November 2, 1901, in Linz, Austria. In 1920 he traveled to Vienna in order to enroll at the University of Vienna. He graduated in 1927 with a Ph.D. in psychology, having studied under some of the leading professors in psychology of the early twentieth century.
In 1922, while still a student, Lowenfeld began teaching at the Jewish School for the Blind, Hohe Warte, in Vienna. Among some notes compiled for a 1973 publication, I found the following remarks:
Dr. Lowenfeld, who was on the staff of the Jewish School for the Blind, Hohe Warte, in Vienna, is the only surviving person active in the field with a direct connection to this once-famous institution.
Dr. Lowenfeld continued his affiliation with the Jewish School
for the Blind until 1930 when he was awarded a Rockefeller
Fellowship in order to spend one year in the United States. Prior
to coming to the United States, he married his beloved Greta, and
they often referred to their year abroad as their honeymoon. The
committee that made decisions about Rockefeller Fellowships had
informed Dr. Lowenfeld that he could not change his marital
status during his year as a Fellow. This fact, I think, caused
Greta and Berthold to marry before he left for the year in the
U.S. Dr. Lowenfeld spent much of his time visiting schools for
the blind throughout the U.S., and he gave many lectures at
universities and agencies serving the blind. It was a busy,
exciting year for both Berthold and Greta. She often said in
later years that she thoroughly enjoyed traveling with Berthold
to schools, universities, and agencies, for there was always
enough time to enjoy the scenery and the people.
Throughout Dr. Lowenfeld's life the year in the U.S., spanning 1930 and 1931, remained one of his most profound professional and personal experiences. The opportunity to visit Perkins, Overbrook, and schools for the blind in Maryland, Illinois, and California gave him the chance to meet many famous people who worked with the blind in the United States. The impressions he gained from his association with these individuals stayed with him throughout his lifetime.
On his return to Vienna in 1931 Dr. Lowenfeld accepted a position as director of a home for Jewish boys, and he and Greta lived in housing on the grounds of the institution. Although the years spent in this role did not seem particularly unpleasant to the Lowenfelds, he never afterwards spoke at length about his experiences at the orphanage.
On August 8, 1938, Berthold and Greta Lowenfeld left Vienna to move permanently to the United States. Kathryn Maxfield, an educator working for the American Foundation for the Blind, was their sponsor. They settled in New York, and soon both the Lowenfelds were working part-time for the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, a residential school in the Bronx.
Shortly thereafter, Robert Irwin, the Director of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), offered Dr. Lowenfeld a research position in order to study the feasibility of "talking books" for the blind. Dr. Lowenfeld fondly remembered his meeting to discuss this project with Mr. Irwin. It provided him with the opportunity to embark on many endeavors that were very important to him. Soon Mr. Irwin asked Dr. Lowenfeld to be Director of Research for AFB, a position he held from 1939 until 1949. His research into talking books, needs of preschool blind children, and the attributes of local day school programs for blind children were among Dr. Lowenfeld's most profound and lasting contributions during his time with AFB. Not to be forgotten was the fact that, from 1944 until 1949, he was also teaching university courses in the education of blind children for Teacher's College, Columbia University.
Greta Lowenfeld always maintained that she was the one who convinced Berthold to leave New York City in 1949 and accept a position as Superintendent of the California School for the Blind. They had been to Berkeley, California, during their trip to the U.S. in 1930-31, and Greta enjoyed the scenery and climate in California very much. Dr. Lowenfeld didn't deny his wife's influence on him regarding this move, but he adds that he was ready to return to a school for blind children.
From 1949 until his retirement in 1964, Dr. Lowenfeld made a deep and lasting impression on the characteristics and responsibilities of schools for the blind which is still very evident today. He was devoted to the California School for the Blind and worked tirelessly to develop the best learning environment possible for blind children. At the same time he wrote dozens of articles and manuscripts that continue to shape the field today. He also became the most vocal and persistent advocate for blind children's having the opportunity to attend their local schools. Dr. Lowenfeld never viewed his role with a school for the blind and his advocacy for local school placements as contradictory. Rather he constantly reminded all of us that, if we assessed children well, determined the environment in which they would best learn, and provided the appropriate resources, local schools and residential schools would both flourish.
I had the unique experience of being a beginning teacher of blind children in an integrated elementary school only three blocks from the California School for the Blind (CSB). The year was 1956, and local programs for blind students were considered risky and experimental. Imagine how I felt every day as I went to work, trying to make integration successful, and knowing that just three blocks away was Dr. Berthold Lowenfeld, already the most famous educator of the blind in the country. If I had known him, I would have realized that he was one of the strongest supporters of what I was doing.
In other states where integration was beginning, schools for the blind and advocates for local programs were angry with one another--trying to convince parents that their own program was better and competing for students. In California Dr. Lowenfeld brought teachers from CSB and teachers from public schools together and helped them to learn from one another, to trust one another, and to believe that there was room for both systems if the individual needs of children were to be met.
Another contribution by Dr. Lowenfeld to CSB was the establishment of a department for deaf-blind children. A building on the campus was devoted to this effort, and Helen Keller came to Berkeley to dedicate this new program. It was not surprising that Ms. Keller would do this because she, Greta, and Berthold had been close friends since the Lowenfeld's arrival in the U.S. This is what Helen Keller wrote to Dr. Lowenfeld following the dedication in Berkeley:
Many wonderful events whose fragrance lingers long in retrospect have happened to me, but the dedication at Berkeley of the first state school for deaf-blind children that bears my name stands by itself, a mountain peak of memory, beautiful and awe-inspiring. What circumstances of spiritual nobility and light surrounded that occasion! It moves me inexpressibly that through your enlightened interest in the doubly handicapped such a distinguished honor should have been bestowed upon me.
This beautiful portion of one of many letters that Helen
Keller wrote to Dr. Lowenfeld illustrates another of his
significant accomplishments. Throughout his career as an
educator, Dr. Lowenfeld worked tirelessly and effectively on
behalf of educational services for deaf-blind children. This was
caused, at least in part, by his close personal and professional
relationship with Helen Keller. Reflecting on their relationship,
Dr. Lowenfeld once stated, "Helen Keller was and is for most
people either a legendary name or an exciting, dynamic, zestful
person. For me she was both."
Dr. Lowenfeld retired as Superintendent of the California School for the Blind in 1964. Because his professional contributions continued for another twenty-five years, the impact on the blindness field of his leaving the position he loved most in his professional life has dimmed with the years. Yet, in the years following his retirement, Dr. Lowenfeld always referred to himself, with much pride, as the "Superintendent Emeritus of the California School for the Blind."
It was not easy for Dr. Lowenfeld to retire. He had come to love the California School for the Blind, its students, parents, and staff. Although his prolific writing took some of his time, Dr. Lowenfeld never neglected the job most important to him-- providing an education of the highest quality to the students at his school.
At his retirement one former student had this to say about Dr. Lowenfeld:
At your reception many letters were read from writers representing various areas: the administrator, the teacher, the parent, and the student. As a former student and alumnus of the school, I should like to put in my word. I have always felt a very close personal association with you, not as administrator to student necessarily, but as a wise friend to a younger friend. I'm sure that many other students in and out of the school share this feeling. It is not so much what you have taught us, rather what we have gained in attitudes toward life, toward others, toward ourselves, and toward our work. This is what your friendship has meant for me, for which I sincerely thank you.
This strong and gentle man had much more to contribute to
his profession; and much of his legacy is his books, articles,
and the presentations he made after his retirement in 1964. Among
Dr. Lowenfeld's possessions now in my keeping is a nearly-
completed manuscript begun in 1943 and continued through 1948. It
was to be called Children Without Sight: Special Methods for
Teaching the Blind. This manuscript never became a book, perhaps
because Berthold accepted a new and very different challenge in
1949. It is really a remarkable manuscript and should perhaps be
published some day.
On the first page of the second draft of Children Without Sight, Dr. Lowenfeld wrote: "True education is sharing life," a quotation attributed to John Dewey. The beauty of this sentence in describing the life of Dr. Lowenfeld immediately struck me. His method in educating others, including me, was to share life in the way the former student quoted above so beautifully expressed. His books and other writings are the sharing of his life.
I could dwell on this topic much longer, but I want to mention other aspects of this unpublished manuscript. In a variety of ways many of us have tried to describe the effects of blindness on an individual. In this manuscript, as in other of his writings, Dr. Lowenfeld states that the limitations of blindness are:
1. in the range and variety of experiences
2. in the ability to get about, and
3. in the control of the environment.
As a gifted writer Dr. Lowenfeld has captured, in a few words,
the most significant effects of blindness.
In another section of this manuscript this great man defined "the basic principles in teaching methods." What follows is really the foundation of what makes learning different for blind children and why highly specialized services are necessary in order to provide an appropriate education for these children. Consider the following basic principles:
1. the principle of individualization
2. the principle of concreteness
3. the principle of unified instruction
4. the principle of additional stimulation
5. the principle of self-activity.
Dr. Lowenfeld describes these five aspects of learning for
blind students in much detail in his manuscript, and the
publication of this information would add much to our
professional literature. Once more in a few words he has
described why the methodology of teaching blind children requires
professionals who understand the effects of vision loss on
Dr. Lowenfeld's contributions to the literature on blindness are known and deeply respected throughout the world. Two of his books, Our Blind Children and The Changing Status of the Blind, are classics. They are timeless in relevance. For many years to come they will remain the legacy left us by this great man. Other books by Dr. Lowenfeld include Blind Children Learn to Read, The Visually Handicapped Child in School, and Berthold Lowenfeld on Blindness and Blind People. This exceptional writer has additionally given us over 100 articles, numerous book chapters, and many other documents.
It is a special honor for me to be asked to write this article for the Braille Monitor. In the years of my friendship with Berthold he was in strong support of the National Federation of the Blind. He and I discussed the NFB on many occasions, and I must say that Berthold was very influential in helping me understand the deep commitment that is necessary and the strong tactics that need to be used, on occasion, to be an effective organization of blind persons.
In his book, The Changing Status of the Blind, From Separation to Integration (Charles C. Thomas, 1975), Berthold devoted many pages to his explanation of why the NFB was one of the major forces favoring integration. On page 224 he states:
The National Federation of the Blind...has a long history as an activist self-organization representing the blind, promoting the status of the blind, and defending the rights of the blind.
Berthold then traces the history of the formation of the NFB
and pays special tribute to his good friend, "Jacobus tenBroek,
one of Dr. Perry's `boys.'" The affection and admiration for Dr.
tenBroek are evident in Berthold's writing on pages 226 to 229.
He also discusses at length the three words that are the motto of
the NFB: security, opportunity, and equality.
In this section of his book, which indicates his great admiration for the NFB, he concludes by saying:
The National Federation of the Blind as a self- organization of the blind has made mistakes as all active organizations are bound to make at times. However, the total impact of the Federation's activities has not only substantially improved the social and economic status of the blind in the United States, but it has also been a strong force moving toward integration. Integration has been the avowed and relentlessly pursued goal of the Federation. Its statement of purpose begins thus: `The ultimate goal of the National Federation of the Blind is the complete integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality.' In this, the Federation has been a strong and uncompromising force. (page 240)
Here are some additional quotes from Berthold's writings that give a feeling of this man's gift for writing and his prophetic ability to predict the future of education of blind children. From a 1950 presentation to the annual convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind:
Institutions and services for blind individuals, unimpeded by further handicaps, which separate the blind and keep them separated are regressive. Even though they may be temporarily beneficial to a blind individual, they are undesirable and inimical to the interests of the blind. Institutions and services that aim at the integration of the blind and instill in them the spirit of independence and strengthen those qualities and skills which will enable them to take their rightful place as members of their society are progressive, desirable, and in the best interests of the blind.
From "What is Special About Special Education?," Exceptional Children, December, 1952:
The trend in America is toward a loosening of the institutional-residential element in the education of the blind. Segregation of the blind is normally acceptable only as a step toward integration with the seeing community. The blind want to live as independent individuals who are conscious and desirous of fulfilling their economic and social obligations to the community, but do not hesitate to be bold if ignorance or prejudice denies them their full rights as citizens.
From the opening paragraph of Our Blind Children:
Children are born to their parents to be loved, to be brought up, and to be put on their own so that they may start the circle of life again. It is natural for parents to feel that this is a serious and challenging responsibility. They know that while much depends on their own attitudes and skills, it is also important to recognize their need for help in this task from those who, by training and experience, are equipped to guide them. Through the ages they have learned from their elders, have relied upon cultural patterns, and have been helped by teachers in preparing themselves for the tasks of parenthood. During the last century or so, science has revealed many facts which have contributed to our knowledge of the processes of growth and learning. But the scientific contribution in this area is such that it can be made practically useful only if it is applied in the right spirit, and the `right spirit' has not been scientifically defined, but remains a balanced mixture of understanding and love.
Finally with respect to his writings, Dr. Lowenfeld was
asked by the American Foundation for the Blind to compile the
articles and presentations of which he was most proud and which
he felt had had the most impact on his own profession. The result
was the 1981 publication by AFB of Berthold Lowenfeld on
Blindness and Blind People. It was my privilege to write the
introductory remarks for this publication. As I reviewed this
small book in preparation for writing this article, I was
reminded of the wealth of knowledge and information contained in
its pages. My recommendation to serious practitioners in this
profession is that they carefully read this publication.
Thank you for the privilege of sharing these thoughts and words about my dear friend, Berthold Lowenfeld. I had the honor and privilege of paying tribute to him many times during his lifetime. I have written in memory of him several times. But it has been a special privilege to focus again, at this time, on Berthold and the many ways he blessed me. When the history of the education of blind children in the twentieth century is written, Berthold Lowenfeld will be recognized as the most prominent figure in the world.
[Photo #8: Fred Schroeder, flanked by flags of the United States and the Department of Education, sits at desk, his Perkins Brailler on credenza behind him. Caption: Fred Schroeder, seated at his desk at the Rehabilitation Services Administration in Washington, D.C.]
FREDRIC K. SCHROEDER, COMMISSIONER REHABILITATION SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Summer, 1994, issue of American Rehabilitation. Here it is:
On July 18, 1994, Fredric K. Schroeder became the ninth
Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)
and the twelfth commissioner of the federal rehabilitation
program. He was nominated by President Clinton on May 12,
confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 1, and sworn into office on
As the new RSA Commissioner, Dr. Schroeder will administer a $2.2 billion program that annually provides services to more than one million people with disabilities.
Dr. Schroeder's commitment to people with disabilities comes from personal experience. He was born in Lima, Peru, in 1957. His father, who had studied in the United States, believed that his sons would have greater opportunities if they were to leave Peru. When the future RSA Commissioner was only nineteen months old, he and his brother were adopted by Florence Schroeder, a Professor of Child Growth and Development at the University of New Mexico. At the age of seven Fredric Schroeder became legally blind from a little-known condition called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.
Although he was not totally blind at this point, his vision decreased over the ensuing nine years until the age of sixteen, when he became totally blind. While in school he attempted to function using what little vision he had. The results were serious gaps in his education and a badly bruised self-esteem. Those subjects in which he could not see well enough to compete were generally waived. These included virtually all reading assignments, spelling, most mathematics, and science. His primary education consisted of what he could pick up by sitting in class.
After graduating from high school, he wanted to enroll in college immediately, but he lacked the confidence and skills necessary to compete effectively. It was at this point that Dr. Schroeder first became involved in the National Federation of the Blind. With help from the Federation he obtained necessary training in the use of the white cane, Braille reading and writing, and the other skills necessary to function competitively. More important, the Federation gave him encouragement and a belief that he could set high goals and reach them through persistence and hard work. Schroeder entered college in January, 1975, and two and a half years later he earned a baccalaureate degree with dual majors in psychology and elementary education. To accomplish this feat, Dr. Schroeder had to carry course loads ranging from nineteen to twenty-four credit hours per semester as well as attend summer classes. Graduating magna cum laude from San Francisco State University in 1977, he continued his education and in fifteen months earned a master's degree from the same institution. At the age of twenty-one with a master's degree in the education of blind children, he began looking for work.
In spite of his excellent grades and strong recommendations, he found that school districts were reluctant to interview him once they discovered he was blind. In the summer of 1978 he applied for nearly fifty different teaching positions, all to no avail. That same summer he attended his first convention of the National Federation of the Blind, where he met the director of the rehabilitation agency for the blind of Nebraska, who offered him a job teaching cane travel to newly blind adults.
He worked in Nebraska for two years, during which time he spent summers in postgraduate training in orientation and mobility. Dr. Schroeder was the first blind person in the nation to be admitted to a university program in orientation and mobility. In spite of successfully completing the program and earning the respect of the faculty, he was denied certification on the basis of blindness. The professional organization which certifies orientation and mobility specialists held fast to the belief that it was unsafe for a blind person to train other blind people to travel with a cane, even though Dr. Schroeder had completed all of the required courses and had already been teaching successfully for two years.
In the fall of 1980 he returned to Albuquerque to begin employment with the Albuquerque Public Schools as an itinerant teacher of blind children. One year later, at the age of twenty- four, he was promoted to supervise fifty-seven staff in the low- incidence program, which included district-wide services for blind and deaf children. He served in this capacity until June, 1986. During this period he established the first program in the nation to introduce cane travel training to young elementary- school-aged blind children.
At that time he became acutely aware of the problems faced by blind people in trying to secure adequate rehabilitation training.
In 1985 he enlisted the aid of Manny Aragon, a prominent state senator, to introduce a bill that would reorganize the state's services for the blind. Although the bill died in the waning hours of the legislative session, Dr. Schroeder was undaunted. The next year, with broad-based legislative support and dozens of hours of testimony by blind persons throughout the state, the bill was reintroduced and passed into law. On July 1, 1986, at the age of twenty-nine, he became the first Director of the newly created New Mexico Commission for the Blind. Prior to the Commission's establishment, blind sheltered workshop workers in New Mexico received sub-minimum wages, resulting in some workers' receiving paychecks of less than $5 for 2 weeks of work. Today sheltered workshop workers in New Mexico are guaranteed the minimum wage and a full benefits package, including health insurance and a retirement program.
The Commission's Orientation Center now provides the training which blind people need to re-enter the work force and live independent, productive lives. The Commission's Business Enterprise Program has increased earnings among blind food service managers by more than 20 percent, making their earnings comparable to the per capita income of the state's citizens at-large.
Dr. Schroeder's commitment to improved services for blind people goes far beyond simply improving existing programs. In August of 1990 the Commission introduced a state-of-the-art information service known as NEWSLINE for the Blind, which gives blind persons immediate access to the daily newspaper. Through a combination of specially modified computer equipment and a small army of dedicated volunteers, the entire newspaper is recorded each morning for use by blind people in New Mexico. The blind person using the service needs only to have a touch-tone telephone.
Both in his professional and volunteer activities, Dr. Schroeder contributes his time and energy to improving the quality of life for blind people and people with other disabilities. He served as the youngest member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind from 1984 to 1994. Until his appointment as RSA Commissioner he served as president-elect of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and as the first president of the International Council on English Braille, which he helped to found in 1991. He was a member of the board of the Braille Authority of North America and has served on the governing board of the New Mexico Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Additionally he was a member of New Mexico's Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and the Governor's Committee on Concerns of the Handicapped. Until his current assignment his most recent appointment was to the Civil Rights Reviewing Authority of the U.S. Department of Education.
While he contributes his time to a wide range of activities, he will be the first to tell you that through community service his own life has been enriched. "As a young person losing my sight, I was fortunate to have many people in my life to assist me in obtaining training and the confidence I needed to become a productive member of society. The rehabilitation system is the primary means by which people with disabilities can gain the skills needed for social and economic integration. President Clinton believes in America and in its people, and this includes people with disabilities. Our job is to make sure that the rehabilitation system is responsive and effective in helping people with disabilities secure challenging and rewarding employment."
Until his appointment as RSA commissioner Dr. Schroeder served as executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for a variety of statewide services targeted at correcting the 70 percent unemployment rate experienced by blind people nationwide. As the director of a state agency, he had to function as an advocate for the needs of blind people in his state and articulate those needs to the state legislature and to the public in ways which would result in achieving necessary funding and community support.
In the midst of his many other achievements, he was able to earn a Ph.D. degree in educational administration from the University of New Mexico in May, 1994. He married his wife, Cathlene, in 1981. They have two children: Carrie, twelve, and Matthew, ten.
[Photo #9: Portrait Caption: Jim and Jana Moynihan]
TV PROGRAM FEATURES FEDERATION FAMILY
by Jana Moynihan
From the Editor: Jana and Jim Moynihan are leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. Like so many others, they live their Federationism every day. They take every opportunity they are given to educate the public about the abilities and normality of blind people. Recently Jana sent the Braille Monitor the following description of an experience the Moynihan family had with a community television project. It shows how much can be done with the public education opportunities that come our way. Here is her story:
Several weeks ago the newsletter from our children's school
indicated that some parents with television backgrounds had
become concerned about Saturday morning network programming for
children. Consequently they had applied for and been awarded
grants to produce half-hour, magazine-format programs geared to
elementary-school children to appear on the Fox TV Network,
Channel 41 in Kansas City. They called the series the "What's
Up?" Network, and it would air six programs during February and
When I heard of this plan, I shared their concern and applauded their effort to improve children's television. But I did not think of it as a way to educate children about blindness, until our phone rang one evening.
The caller was the mother of one of our daughter Jeanene's friends. She is a local television reporter who had become involved in writing for the "What's Up?" Network. She said that she and one of the producers whom we had met a couple of years previously had been discussing families they wanted to feature on the programs. She said they defined good families as those that interacted well together and that they had discussed the possibility of featuring our family after watching us together. The blindness of both parents would present a family different from what most children would think of as normal. She asked if the producer might contact us to discuss the idea further. I readily agreed.
My husband Jim and I discussed this proposal and then talked it over with the children. We were concerned that such pieces often emphasize blindness so much that in our case it would immediately loom disproportionately large in our family life. We had a bad experience with a newspaper article several years ago, so we were unusually sensitive to the risk. However, I think that this skewing of normal balances is something blind people always have to consider in such situations. We want to educate people to the fact that the blind are like everyone else, but being singled out for the article or the TV story sometimes defeats this purpose. The unspoken message of the story may turn out to be that the public, the media, perhaps even we ourselves do believe that we are somehow different.
When the producer called late that evening, both Jim and I talked to her. She said that she wanted this to be a positive piece about normal family life and the way we do the things with our children that most families do. She hoped that children seeing our family and the others briefly depicted (including a single-parent family, a family with the grandmother living in the home, and a family in which the father was out of work) would learn that it is not the structure of the family that is important but how the family members behaved to one another. This sounded very positive. We were also impressed with the lack of those statements in her conversation that send chills down the spine of any self-respecting blind person: "It's amazing how well you get around." "I suppose the children are a real help to you." "How do you ever manage to take such good care of the children?" So Jim and I agreed to be in the program.
We spent the next two weeks anticipating and preparing. We watched the first of the six programs to get a sense of the attitudes and the organization of the material. The format was rather like "Twenty/Twenty"; it had features on several topics with a common theme. To give a child's point of view, the reporters, I would judge, were from nine to eleven years old.
It was obvious that our segment would be presented from the point of view of our children. We debated whether or not to prepare them for the questions they would probably be asked. We decided against it, feeling that it seldom does any good to rehearse children. They say what is on their minds anyway. The interviewer never asks the questions you have anticipated but does ask something you didn't prepare them for. Or the children sound thoroughly rehearsed and not at all convincing. We took our chances and hoped for the best.
The morning of our appointed filming day came. When the producer and cameraman arrived, we discussed what sorts of things could be filmed. I said that our son J.C. had to go over spelling words with his father and explained that this involves his reading aloud the list of words for the week so that his father can Braille them. Then Jim gives him the words and helps him find ways to learn them. We thought the use of Braille would make the process interesting, and the producer agreed. They filmed that for about twenty minutes. Then they filmed Jeanene bringing one of the books she had written in school and reading it to me. We also discussed the clay platysaurus she had made during a unit on dinosaurs.
The crew spent considerable time filming the children and us discussing questions pertaining to our blindness. Probably because the reporter knew about an incident when Jeanene had been teased because of our blindness, the producer asked the children if they had ever been teased. Both said they had been. J.C. went on to explain that this had happened before the children in his class knew us but that, when they did get to know us, they discovered we were like everyone else and that there was no reason to tease him.
We were asked what we did for fun. J.C. mentioned that we had games in Braille. He got out an alphabet bingo game, which I had Brailled, and the producer borrowed it so it could be filmed in better light at the studio.
Then they filmed the family walking with the two guide dogs to the bus stop, where Jim and J.C. boarded the bus to go get a hair cut while Jeanene and I walked to her dance lesson. They filmed Jim and J.C. at the barbershop and then went to the dance studio to film Jeanene and me there. Later on they filmed us getting shoes for Jeanene at a shopping center and then going into the movies. All in all, they spent about three hours filming. During the week they also filmed the children at school. The producer told me later that they had edited the film down to a two-and-one-half-minute sequence, a reduction which fascinated the children.
We waited with anticipation and anxiety for the program to be aired two weeks later. For the most part we found the segment very positive, even though we were referred to in the introduction as a unique family. What was left from the editing showed Jim Brailling the spelling list and giving J.C. some words while the voice-over of the child reporter explained what Braille was. The second scene showed Jim and J.C. getting on the bus and getting their hair cut. From there they switched to me at the viewing window of the dance school while Jeanene tap-danced with her class. Then we were shown in the shopping mall in front of the directory talking about going to the shoe store and later buying tickets to the movies. There was a shot of the Braille game and an explanation of how we play games together. The last segment showed J.C. talking about the teasing incident and how the teasing stopped when the children got to know us. The piece ended with J.C. saying that we do the same things that other families do, the only difference being that we are blind.
We were pleased to have a positive image of blindness given to children through this program. It shows that, applying Federation philosophy by living our daily lives fully and independently, we can educate whatever part of the public we individually come in contact with.
PARENT SPEAKS OUT ABOUT MARYLAND SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
From the Editor: In the May, 1995, issue we reprinted an article which had appeared on the front page of the Baltimore Sun on April 14, 1995. It was about the Maryland School for the Blind, the grave problems facing the institution, and the allegations of mismanagement at the top. On May 22 Dick Farley, a parent whose child has been a student at the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) for six years, wrote an article which appeared on the editorial page of the Sun. It's clear that MSB's problems are not going away. Here is the article:
IS THE SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND `OUT OF CONTROL'?
Public awareness of the Maryland School for the Blind has
risen following The Sun's accurate April 14 front-page article
describing reorganizational issues at this private institution.
This focus is justified because MSB receives annual state taxpayer-funded support in excess of $10 million to provide federally mandated special education services to blind, low-vision, and multiple-handicapped children.
Our child has attended MSB for six years. We and other parents are concerned that the needs of MSB's intensively needful students are being sublimated to internal power plays and self-serving management policies.
Our concerns grow more acute as MSB intensifies its campaign to protect senior administrators from the scrutiny any agency should have when receiving more than $100 million in taxpayer support over the past two decades.
MSB's state funds carry few legal or political guarantees of public access to decision-making, review of program development, competent service delivery, and fair personnel and compensation policies. MSB's funding comes directly to it; the Maryland State Department of Education has little direct MSB oversight authority.
MSB's controversial "mass firing" of its core-values management team in June, 1994, was done without parental notification, except for the apparent complicity of one unelected "parent adviser" appointed by MSB's administration. Only afterward did he issue a letter to parents carrying similar lame justifications as we received from MSB's board and senior administration.
For his complicity that parent was rewarded with a seat on MSB's board. He replaced one of two prestigious, long-term members who resigned to protest the manner in which the board's executive committee, acting unilaterally, handled the whole affair.
What can only be termed bizarre and unconventional managerial practices have lately swept across MSB's campus, as administrators imposed a controversial reorganization strategy called "High Velocity Culture Change." Advocated by a Dallas-based consulting firm, the strategy promotes destabilization of an organization to "achieve dramatic culture shifts in record time."
The blueprint laid out in a published managers' handbook is riddled with cult-like phrases and jargon promoting a self- professed radical approach to "corporate culture change." The strategy clearly parallels demonstrable, ongoing and insane practices aiming to destroy the old MSB.
"Don't let the existing culture dictate your approach," the material says. "You'll have trouble creating a new culture if you insist on doing it in ways that are consistent with the old one."
These may be acceptable principles for sales management or manufacturing-oriented takeovers. But such a sledge-hammer approach to organization change can be disastrous when the organization being changed is one like MSB, where the mission is provision of comprehensive, sensitive, and delicately balanced services to complex, multiple-handicapped children.
MSB is supposed to operate within guidelines of complex but hard-won federal and state laws, which were enacted to uplift our handicapped children from basements and dungeons of schools and societies past.
Meanwhile, MSB has desperate needs for new educational technologies and more teacher training. But a Total Quality Management team studying computers with help from a systems consultant and vendors is giving equal weight to "administrative" and record-keeping requirements.
This bias reflects the institutional, bureaucratic mind-set by which senior administrators justify their exorbitant salaries and plush office suites, while students and teachers just have to make do.
MSB is an institution out of control, out of contact with public reality, annually spending $10 million in state tax dollars but potentially hurting our children's educational outcomes.
And neither you as taxpayers nor we as parents have the MSB board's permission to evaluate; observe; and, if necessary, influence the direction and the performance of what once was a pioneering institution.
LEARNING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND
by Nicole Delfert
From the Editor: The following article was serialized in the February and May, 1995, issues of the Blind Missourian, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. It tells the story of one young woman's struggle to come to terms with blindness and discover how much she has to offer to the world. It captures the self-delusion and pain so common among blind people who have not yet found the courage to adopt the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, and it traces her discovery of herself as she recognized and developed her strengths and abilities while a student at one of our adult rehabilitation centers. Here is Nicole's story:
The evening of February 13, 1992, turned into the morning of
the 14th, and I was still searching through my collection of
cassette tapes, looking for something to read. After several
minutes, I finally settled on the December, 1991, issue of the
Braille Monitor--not that I thought the Monitor was particularly
entertaining. To the contrary, because I was having trouble
sleeping, I figured the Braille Monitor would be sure to put me
to sleep within minutes.
I had been receiving the Monitor for some time but had read only one article. All I knew was that the philosophy of the Monitor and the National Federation of the Blind seemed directly opposed to my own feelings about blindness. My idea, in a nutshell, was, "I wouldn't be caught dead with a cane." It had always been important to me not to look blind in any way. I didn't leave my home without the assistance of a sighted guide. I went out with friends to movies and to church, for shopping and getting my hair and nails done. I even went to broadcasting school for a year and to college for several. It never occurred to me that I was missing anything.
Most of that December, 1991, issue, which would start a chain of events that would inevitably change my life, covered the picketing of ABC-TV and other efforts to take off the air the sitcom, "Good and Evil." Many Federationists everywhere were battling to get the show off the air because it portrayed a blind character as an incompetent, bumbling idiot. Having been offended at such media stereotypes myself, I was impressed with the persistence of the Federation.
During the next few months I found myself waiting for the next issue of the Braille Monitor. As one might expect, some of the articles dealing with the long white cane evoked anger and even what was really long-suppressed hurt. I remembered the close friends and family members who had told me that I wasn't accepting my own blindness. My response had always been, "Of course I accept my blindness. I'm blind. That's obvious. I just don't particularly like to advertise it." Reading the Monitor, I was just beginning to see that I had been saying, "I know that I'm blind, but I would rather pretend that I am sighted."
I spent many of the months of 1992 floundering, wondering what to do with my life. I was twenty-three years old and still living with my parents. Many times I had talked about moving out but had never done it. I filled my time with some volunteer work. I didn't really want to go back to school, so I promised my mother I would find some employment. As the months went by, I found myself increasingly unmotivated to do much of anything. This was partly because I didn't have a clue about what I wanted to do. But the truth of the matter was that I didn't know how I could get to work every day. I knew I couldn't always rely on someone else, and I certainly could not take the bus. I'd have to use a cane if I rode the bus. Besides, other than a bunch of blind people, I had heard that only wierdos rode buses.
A cane had been forced upon me in junior high and high school, supposedly for my safety as well as the safety of other students. I'll never forget my very first day of junior high. The principal took me out of my third period class to tell me, in a very degrading way, that I had to carry a cane on campus at all times, or I would not be allowed to attend his school. From that time on, for at least the first half of the school year, there was either an office worker or some hot-shot member of the student body who would yell, "Use your cane" as I passed by. That did more to turn me off about using my cane than anything else. After all, no other student was harassed like that. Being so singled out was as bad as being made fun of. All the anger from those memories had had a long-lasting effect on my life. After graduation my folding cane, which came up to my chest, was folded and put in a closet never to be touched again.
I knew no good blind role models. No one could quite convince me that blindness was just another trait, or that it was not somehow a deformation of my character. To my mind "looking blind" became a stigma. It seemed so degrading that I would even have passed up a good job if it meant having to use a cane on the work site.
But as September turned into October, I began to wonder if lowering myself to looking blind might be less degrading than my current situation. In mid-September I had grasped the first opportunity for employment that opened, a phone soliciting job with a local newspaper. Phone sales were never something I liked to do. But the ad had read "no experience necessary," and the boss let me sell from home to spare me the trouble of coming in to work. Unfortunately, I soon found that I disliked the work and was not motivated to make the sales. I quit after two weeks.
My next step was to contact Norm Peters, Acting President of the San Diego Chapter of the NFB of California. I figured he might have some suggestions or employment leads. He did. He first suggested I contact Job Opportunities for the Blind. Then he invited me to the next chapter meeting. I told him I would go if I could get there. I then made very clear my feelings about public transportation and using a long white cane. If he started hassling me, I figured it was best to hear it on the phone so I wouldn't waste my time on his meeting. The last thing I was ready to deal with was somebody telling me to "use my cane."
To my surprise he just asked me how I got around. Rides with friends, I told him, and taxicabs. I didn't tell him that I considered taking a cab by myself a great act of independence. And he began talking about the NFB adult training centers in Colorado, Louisiana, and Minnesota, where dedicated staff members taught cane travel, daily living skills, Braille, and even rock climbing and other outdoor sports. Of course, I already knew Braille and wouldn't consider a cane, but I had been skiing once years ago and had even won a trophy for racing in a blind skiing competition. Even the rock climbing sounded pretty interesting.
The following Friday I got a book in the mail entitled, Holding on to Heaven with Hell on Your Back. I thought that perfectly fit the story of my life. It was written by Sheila Walsh, whom I had seen on the 700 Club; some of it was autobiographical, and some told stories of others she had interviewed which particularly touched her.
One story touched me in an important way. This was the story of a woman who lost her sight. She prayed for healing, but she also prayed that, if she were to be blind, her blindness not be in vain. She earned a college degree, married, and had a child. Then one night during prayer, she was miraculously healed.
Obviously that doesn't happen every day. In fact, I knew the chances of its happening to me were almost zero, although I never put anything past God. But what about the second part of the prayer? I was going nowhere fast, either for God or for myself. I confessed that I knew I would have to get some kind of training because I didn't have many of the skills of blindness that would help much in the world of work or whatever else God had planned for my life. During that time of prayer He gave me the answer to my prayer. That answer was the Colorado Center for the Blind. I moved to Colorado, and exactly three months to that very day, I became a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind.
My first day at the CCB is not one I'll soon forget. There were several surprises in store for me. I knew that the long white cane I would be carrying would be much longer than any cane I had ever carried and was not collapsible. The only cane I had seen like that was big and bulky. But these long straight canes that I had heard so much about were light. Now that my cane reached up to my nose, I was able to walk faster and with more confidence, knowing that I had plenty of cane to cover me.
My second surprise of the day was not such a pleasant one. Trina Boyd informed me that she would not be accompanying me on the bus trip home. Several of the students would be with me. At first I took it personally, wondering if she had something against me. Then what she was saying hit home hard. Two blind people were going to walk with me to the place I'd call home. We'd never make it. We'd all get hit by cars or something. Since I had never crossed an intersection independently, I couldn't imagine that any other blind person had. Needless to say, none of my fears came to pass. Trina had put me with two extremely competent travelers. I never will forget those streets I crossed, panicking every step of the way, with my sightless guides. That kind of anxiety persisted for several weeks of the next seven- and-one-half months.
But after some time, as I watched other blind staff and students get around competently, I began to gain more confidence in travel. I began to do things on my own that are usually taken for granted. I went to the beauty salon to have my hair and nails done. I went shopping and out to lunch. I got the chance to meet my parents at the airport. That was definitely one of the highlights of my stay at the CCB. My parents were visiting for the weekend and were not expecting me to show up to meet them, much less coming independently. My mother had tears in her eyes when she learned that no one had accompanied me there.
Another highlight of my CCB experience was my first National Convention in Dallas. I went wherever I wanted to go that week at my own leisure and enjoyed every minute of doing so. Now I have a confession to make: it was during the very last session of convention, and I was growing a little restless toward the very end. Because a friend was in her room packing to leave, I figured it wouldn't hurt anything if I took off a few minutes early to see her and say, "Goodbye." It didn't occur to me that my name might be called for one of the door prizes. As it turned out, it must have been no more than two minutes after I left that it was called. I was a bit chagrined at missing out on that twenty-five dollars. But now, looking back, I believe the independence that I showed by even choosing to leave by myself without fear was worth far more to me than the money.
Several times a week at the CCB the Executive Director Diane McGeorge, holds business class. The training center calls it business class because it deals with the business of being blind and is every bit as important, if not more so, as the other classes. In this class I finally began to understand that it was not my blindness that I was ashamed of, but the misinformation and misconceptions about blindness that had been passed on to me over the years. During one business class in particular, I became keenly aware how much I and others around me had bought into those misconceptions. Diane asked everyone around the table to say the first word that came to mind when she said the word blind. Almost everybody said something negative: "inferior," "stupid." But the most degrading association came from my own mouth: "subhuman."
What I had really been fighting was society's notion of blindness. The many messages I had received over the years were really only one message: "We know you're blind, so nothing you do will measure up to normal standards." Many of the people conveying this message to me were the very ones who wanted me to be independent. No wonder I couldn't be independent. The word was loaded with mixed messages indicating that I could never measure up.
Another means of gaining confidence in myself came through going with Tom Anderson, the Braille instructor, to various schools to educate students about blindness. Tom and I, accompanied by one or two other students, demonstrated cane travel and reading and writing Braille. We also told students of some of our experiences as blind people.
The final highlight of my stay at the CCB was my completion of the "drop" in travel. I first learned what a drop was in my second week at the CCB. But I didn't for a minute think that I'd be able to complete one. A drop is exactly what it sounds like. It consists of being driven around by car in any and all directions and then being dropped off at an unknown location and expected to get back by asking only one question. The student is free to use the direction of the sun, traffic patterns, and any other discoverable clues to get back to the center.
It took me between three and four hours to get back. I'll never forget what it felt like when my cane reached the planter in front of the center. I had thought the task impossible, and it turned out not to be! At first I thought I was dreaming and still had it to do. But it wasn't a dream, and after seven months at the center and by the grace of God, I completed the program.
As I finish this article, the year 1994 is coming to a close. It seems hard to believe that so much time has gone by. Within a month and a half of my return to San Diego I was employed by the San Diego City School District. That job lasted five months. It would have lasted longer, but I chose to marry Eddie Delfert in the family room of my parents' home. Eddie, incidentally, was one of the very competent travelers who walked with me to the apartments on that first day at CCB. We moved to St. Louis in late March of 1994. In June we learned that our first child would be born in early February of 1995. In October we closed on our first house. At the present time I am a homemaker.
I believe God has used the CCB in my life. But I still consider myself in training. I will continue that training for the rest of my life. The learning process in anyone's life should never stop.
I don't believe I have to be the perfect blind person. After all, I have yet to meet a perfect sighted person. I have learned that it really doesn't matter if I meet the standards of the NFB, the CCB, or any other organization. It doesn't necessarily matter what the sighted world thinks about what I look like using a cane. When it comes right down to it, it doesn't even matter what I think of what I look like using a cane. To me it matters what the Lord who created me thinks. I think the most important thing I gained from the Center was the heartfelt understanding that it really is okay to be blind. It is okay not to be able to see. It does not make me subhuman, and with a little effort whatever I make up my mind to do will measure up to or even surpass normal standards--whatever they are.
According to Patricia Morrow, Editor of the Missouri newsletter, Edward Delfert, Jr., was born early this past spring. After two weeks of careful and objective deliberation, Nicole reported to Dr. Morrow that Eddie is perfect.
UPDATE ON THE NATIONAL LITERARY BRAILLE COMPETENCY TEST
From the Editor: From time to time we have reported on what is happening with the National Literary Braille Competency Test recently developed by the Braille Materials Section of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. Those taking the test fall into one of three categories: sighted people who have worked with Braille for some considerable time, blind people who know Braille well, and those who have recently learned Braille. The test is divided into three sections, and applicants can retake individual sections that they did not pass during a previous attempt. This fact accounts for the different numbers of test-takers listed for the various sections in the following memo. Those making arrangements to take the test can receive materials with either print or Braille instructions, though both the reading and writing sections require everyone to read and write Grade II Braille. Here is a memo reporting on ten months of test results, which was prepared for Frank Curt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service:
TO: F. Kurt Cylke, Director
VIA: Miriam Pace, Chief, Network Division
FROM: Mary Lou Stark, Acting Head
Braille Development Section
SUBJECT: Performance on NLBCT, May, 1994 through February, 1995
During the ten-month period of May, 1994, through February,
1995, 161 people in twenty-one states took the National Literary
Braille Competency Test. One hundred thirty-one people used one
of the print versions. Thirty took the Braille version.
Of the 131 candidates who took a print version, sixteen people passed (twelve percent). Of the thirty candidates who took the Braille version, thirteen passed (forty-three percent). The total number of passes was twenty-nine (eighteen percent).
Of six individuals who retook parts of the test, having failed one or more parts in the spring of '94, three passed. They are included in the above figures. The only two people new to Braille who have passed did so on their second try.
Residents of the following states have taken the test: Alaska, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Fifty-six percent of those who have taken the test are residents of Texas, the only state currently requiring all persons seeking certification as a teacher of the visually impaired to take the test prior to certification. Twenty-one people from Michigan, seven people each from Massachusetts and Wisconsin, and six from Missouri have taken the test. All other states have had one to four residents take the test.
Of those who passed, the following breakdown reveals the number of print versions compared to the number of Braille versions in the various parts. In the slate section there were thirty-one using print and nineteen using Braille. In the Perkins Brailler section thirty-one used print and twenty used Braille. The reading section was taken by twenty-one people using print and fourteen using Braille. The multiple choice section had fifty-seven print and twenty-five Braille.
[Photo #10: Portrait Caption: Nancy Coffman]
REFLECTIONS ON THE NATIONAL LITERARY BRAILLE COMPETENCY TEST
by Nancy Coffman
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Spring, 1995, edition of News from Blind Nebraskans, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska. Nancy Coffman is one of the leaders of the affiliate and a member of the staff at Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired. She decided to take the Literary Braille Competency Test developed by the National Library Service. Here is her report of the experience:
I have been blind all of my life and began learning Braille-
readiness skills before first grade. I did not use much Braille
while I was in college due to short supply and the fact that I
had grown accustomed to taking print notes in high school. With
this long gap in my Braille history, I never did consider myself
an expert. Reviewing my Braille skills during my staff training
at Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired restored a little
confidence, and taking a course through Southeast Community
College also proved that I had reasonable command of the literary
As time went on, I found myself teaching some Braille to our clients, so I decided to take the Literary Braille Competency Test because I wanted to be sure that I had the necessary knowledge and skills to be an effective Braille teacher.
I took the Literary Braille Competency Test developed by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped on January 20, 1995. I had heard that the success rate for passing was low, and I was concerned about the difficulty of the test. I reviewed the rules and contractions to make sure I would remember them as I took the test. Because my schedule was quite busy at the time, however, my review time was limited to a matter of several hours.
When the morning of the test arrived, I suffered some test anxiety. As I took the test, however, I felt better about my knowledge and ability to pass the exam. I found no trick questions or rare rules on the test.
The test has three sections. On the first you write Braille with both a slate and stylus and a Braille writer. You can make three errors on either part of the test, but no more than five errors on the entire writing section. Formatting mistakes and erasures that are discernible by touch are considered errors. Erasures were my biggest threat. I can be sloppy at times, and that is a hard habit to break. Words also had to be broken in the correct places so that they filled the lines and fit the page properly. I found this to be the most difficult part of the test.
The other two sections were reading and marking the errors in the text, and a multiple choice test over the Braille rules and contractions. All of the rules covered in the version of the test that I took were common rules.
I do not have my scores back from the Library of Congress at the time of this writing. When I get them, I will let you know how I did. One thing is certain: whether I passed or not, I will learn what areas of Braille I need to brush up on. I am hopeful that I passed, but I will have nobody to blame but myself if I didn't. I do not think the test could be any easier and really test a person's knowledge of the Literary Braille code. I would encourage anyone who teaches Braille to take the test. If at first you don't succeed, you can try again. The test is free, and I am glad I have taken it.
Since writing those words, Nancy has learned that she passed two of the three sections of the test. She is now preparing to retake the third part. We wish her luck.
[Photo #11: Portrait Caption: Patti Harmon]
BRAILLE IS AN ESSENTIAL TOOL
by Patti Harmon
From the Editor: Patti Harmon is a member of what seems to be a vanishing breed, a blind teacher working at a school for the blind. In fact, she was honored as the National Federation of the Blind's Blind Educator of the Year in 1991. This is what she had to say when she addressed the 1994 meeting of the National Association of Blind Educators at the NFB convention in Detroit:
I have been teaching at the New Mexico School for the
Visually Handicapped for twenty-two years and hope to retire in
about three years. I thought you might be interested in what is
going on in residential schools for the blind these days. As you
know, the students attending residential schools are much
different today from those two decades ago. When I started, the
school had a very strong academic program; we had students who
were blind but who had few other physical or emotional problems.
Because of the variety of student needs today, my job changes yearly. For example, though I am an English teacher, I might teach cooking part of the time. At my school teachers must be flexible so we can reach each student. I never thought I would teach Braille.
When I learned Braille as a student, my teachers were what I thought of as very old. They stayed in the Braille teaching room and never seemed to do anything else. In other words, they were not very positive role models. They behaved the way I thought blind people should; they appeared to be dull and boring and not to have much self-confidence. Of course, I did not want to follow in their footsteps.
Because of the requirement for flexibility in teaching skills at the New Mexico School, I was asked to teach Braille during part of the day. So behold, I am that Braille teacher, alone in her classroom; however, that room is now a very positive place to be.
I always knew I would like to do something with English. In the 1960's, when I graduated from college, I thought I would just be a hippie. But I learned that one cannot make money writing poetry.
Even though poetry is not a money maker, with good Braille skills one can read and write poetry using Braille and can interact with sighted poets on terms of equality. Because I like to write, I have made writing a part of my Braille classes. I also use drama, which requires that my blind students develop good reading and writing skills.
When the music teacher announced that department was going to do a melodrama, guess who was first in line! I have found that, if I am interested in doing something, the students follow my lead. My limited musical ability disproves the theory that all blind people are good at music, but I pitch in and assist the students anyway. This year I was a fantastic man--at least I thought I was. As I said, today's teaching environment requires teachers to be very flexible. Teachers do a lot of educating about what blind children can do. Psychologically many youngsters have very low expectations for themselves.
I started working in 1972 as a fifth-grade teacher. I got the job because the teacher before me ran off and got married. A friend helped me, so I did not have to go through all the tortures of getting this job on my own. I had already filled out about one hundred applications when I heard about the New Mexico job. I Immediately got on the bus in Colorado, where I was going to school, and rode all the way to New Mexico.
After the interview I was told it would be about five days before they could let me know. I said I could not wait that long because my return bus ticket had already been purchased, so they hired me on the spot.
The school was worried because I have had diabetes since childhood. The superintendent went to the Board and said that blindness did not worry him, but with my disease I might miss a lot of work.
Of course, every year I get sick leave, and I have accumulated many days over the years. I simply do not allow myself to stay home. A lot of sighted people believe that blind people are sicker and have less stamina, but this is nonsense.
Flexibility and creativity play a very important role in what we as blind educators do. I teach Braille in my English classes because I believe that for the blind student Braille is one aspect of language arts. Braille is simply reading and writing, and in my Braille classes we do a lot of both.
At this point in my career I am really worried about whether we are teaching young blind people the skills they will need for future employment. Many persons who are paid to teach blind children are not blind themselves, so they simply do not want to take the time to teach Braille. The scandal is that so far no one has required them to do so.
Because I was lucky, it was not difficult for me to get my job; but it has been hard for me to think about moving on to something else. When I retire, I think I will wander up the road to read poetry (in Braille of course) to the birds, trees, rocks, and any other items in my captive audience. I believe we need to nourish the dreams we had when we were young. As members of the National Federation of the Blind, we know that dreams can become reality if we want them to and are prepared to work at it.
Most of this month's recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of North Dakota.
by Linda Ziegelmann
Linda Ziegelmann is the sister-in-law of Terry Ziegelmann, Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of North Dakota.
1 quart tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon onion flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
Method: Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and let it chop, grate, or puree, depending on how you like your sauce.
by Donna Ziegelmann
Donna is Terry Ziegelmann's mother.
Ingredients: enough cooking apples to fill a 9 by 13-inch pan 1/2 cup margarine 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Method: Peel and slice apples into a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Mix margarine, sugar, flour, and cinnamon together by hand or low-speed mixer until crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven. Apples should be tender when pierced with a table knife.
PORK CHOP CASSEROLE
by Donna Ziegelmann
2 cups Minute Rice
1 can creamed corn
1 can cream of celery soup
2 cans milk
6 pork chops
1 envelope dry onion soup
Method: Sprinkle Minute Rice in greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Heat soups with milk and then pour over rice. Place raw pork chops on top of mixture. Sprinkle dry onion soup mix on top of meat. Cover and bake for two and a half hours at 350 degrees.
PUPPY CHOW SNACK
by Donna Ziegelmann
Don't make the mistake of thinking this is really for puppies; it's most popular with the two-legged kind.
1 stick butter
12 ounces chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
12-ounce Crispix cereal
2 cups powdered sugar
Method: Combine all ingredients except the Crispix and sugar and melt in microwave. Toss with Crispix and stir until cereal is coated. Place powdered sugar in a grocery bag and add the coated Crispix. Shake well and spread on cookie sheet to cool. Then it's ready to eat.
by Jodi Eidler
Jodi Eidler is Terry Ziegelmann's mother-in-law.
10 slices Pepperidge Farm white bread, cubed
6 ounces Old English cheese, diced
6 ounces cheddar cheese, diced
1 pound ham, diced
3« cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Method: Cube six slices of the bread and place on bottom of a 9 by 13-inch pan. Layer first the cheese and then the ham over the bread. Place remaining four slices of cubed bread on top. Combine other ingredients and pour over mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake uncovered one hour and fifteen minutes at 350 degrees. Let stand ten minutes before serving.
CREAMED CUCUMBERS AND TOMATOES
by Bernice Walmsley
Bernice Walmsley is Terry Ziegelmann's aunt.
Sliced tomatoes (optional)
1 heaping tablespoon Miracle Whip
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons brown vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup half and half to taste
Method: Slice cucumbers and soak one hour in salt water. Rinse cucumbers and then add the rest of the ingredients. Toss gently and refrigerate.
by Edna Nemeth
Sometime after the Michigan affiliate contributed recipes for this column, we received the following cookie recipe from Dr. Nemeth's wife, Edna. Since this month's recipes are briefer than some, we are including these delicious, not-too-sweet cookies for your enjoyment.
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
juice and grated rind from 2 lemons
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 rounded teaspoons baking powder
Method: Beat eggs, oil, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, and lemon juice and peel into the flour. Gather little by little until you can handle the dough. Knead lightly on table or board, adding flour as needed. Work in walnuts. Divide the dough into logs and slice. Dip slices in cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 degrees. Watch carefully because the cookies brown quickly during baking.
** Braille Research Center Moves to Baltimore:
In mid-June the Braille Research Center (BRC), which since its establishment as a not-for-profit organization in 1993 had been located at the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, moved to the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. The BRC conducts research about the Braille code and issues involved in teaching and learning Braille. The Center's effort to develop a workable unified Braille code is probably its best known project to date, but Executive Director Dr. Hilda Caton reports that a number of other activities are on the BRC's agenda.
The Braille Research Center joins several other blindness- related organizations headquartered at the National Center for the Blind. We in the National Federation of the Blind add our voice to that of the other groups located at the National Center for the Blind in welcoming the BRC to the National Center family and to Baltimore.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Braille 'n Speak 640, 1992 revision. All manuals and cables included, asking $950. If interested, call Susan at (617) 437- 9238.
** New Chapter Organized:
We recently learned that the NFB of Arkansas has established a Parents of Blind Children Chapter. It was organized in April, 1995, becoming the newest chapter of the NFB of Arkansas. Kathy Watts serves as its President. Congratulations to this important new chapter and to the NFB of Arkansas.
** Wedding Bells:
We are pleased to announce the marriage of Karen Cox and Kevan Worley, active members of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, on Saturday, June 17, in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Congratulations to the Worleys.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
For sale, authentic African art sculptures carved out of teak wood: a large mask, $150, a large bust, $150, medium size praying Madonna, $100. For further information contact Joe Campe at 5 Cornell Street, Concord, New Jersey 03301-2313.
** Correspondents Wanted:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I am visually impaired, sail as a hobby, and would like to correspond with other blind or visually impaired people with the same interests. You may write to David M. Collins at 106 Constitution Avenue, Portsmouth, Virginia 23704, or call (804) 397-0239.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I have a 386 2000SX Toshiba computer for sale. This system has WordPerfect 5.1, DOS 6.22, and Mastertouch 1.32. It has a 60MB hard drive, 2 MB RAM, and Internal Keynote Gold speech. Asking $800 to $1,000 or best offer. The only problem with the system is that it needs a new NiCD battery, which can be compensated for during price negotiation. This is a good system for someone getting started with computers. If you are interested, contact Scott K. Lawlor, 769 Sherman Street, Akron, Ohio 44311, e-mail email@example.com, or (216) 253-2868.
** Library Poster Available:
We recently received the following press release from the National Library Service:
An educational timeline poster titled, "A World Perspective on Library Service for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals" has been published by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in cooperation with the Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in North America, Inc. (Friends).
The large-print timeline features nearly one hundred key dates from 308 A.D. with the birth of Didymus, blind head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria, to 1995 with the publication of the Library of Congress's 10,000th numbered Braille book. The poster is illustrated with a dozen original watercolors painted by Alfredo DaSilva, a retired U.S. News & World Report illustrator, who also was the designer of the unique poster. Two dozen color photographs also depict historic events on the poster, which measures fifty-two inches by twenty inches and is suitable for framing.
"This project was a joint effort with the Friends to help raise international awareness of library services for blind and physically handicapped individuals provided worldwide over the centuries. The poster traces many of the major people, organizations, and events that have helped shape a world perspective on blindness," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director.
The poster will be distributed jointly by NLS and Friends to libraries and educational institutions around the world. Individuals and corporations who are members of the Friends will also receive a copy.
Additional copies of the poster may be obtained by writing or calling Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, Inc.; 1555 Connecticut Avenue, NW; Suite 200; Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 462-9600, (202) 462-9043 (fax).
For further information contact Frank Kurt Cylke, Director; National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; Library of Congress; Washington, DC 20542; (202) 707-5104, (202) 707-0712 (fax).
** Check-Writing Guides For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Sturdy black plastic pocket check-writing guides are available for $5 each, postage paid to you. The check-writing guide fits standard 2«-inch by 6 3/4-inch bank checks and has cutouts for date, payee, written amount of check, numerical amount, memo section, and signature. Orders are filled upon receipt, and checks should be made payable to George Gray, 1002 Johnson Street, Pasadena, Texas 77506-4618.
Terry Ziegelmann, Treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of North Dakota, reports the following affiliate election results: Dan Frye, President; Duane Iverson, Vice President; and Terry Ziegelmann, Treasurer/Secretary.
** Pen Friend Wanted:
A young Norwegian girl with a remarkable command of English has asked us to carry the following announcement:
I'm a girl who is eleven years old. I'd like to have an American pen friend. It should be a girl, and she should be about ten to twelve years old. I like to read, write little stories, and play on my computer. I would like her to write either on a disk or in black. I'll write in English. My address is Kari Janne Skinnes, Kjerringhaugane 30, 6065 Ulsteinvik, Norway.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I have the following books for sale: He Who Told me Not to Tell, Protecting Ourselves, Come for Brunch, American Bake Off, Food Editors' Favorite Dessert, Toll House Heritage Cookbook, Holiday Classics, Country Baking and Cooking, Cool and Quick Summer Desserts, Chocolate and Petit Fours, The Perfect Cheesecake, Proof of the Pudding, Sweet Celebrations, and The Presto Kitchen Kettle. Also for sale: a Yamaha Keyboard; RCA stereo with 40 watts per channel dual cassette AM/FM, plays three CD's; and a boombox, AM/FM dual cassette, which plays one CD. You may contact Carol Meeks (in print or Braille) at 729 North Main, Apartment 1, Jacksonville, Illinois 62650, or call (217) 243- 7012.
[Photo #12: Portrait Caption: Kathy Davis]
We recently learned that Kathy Davis, President of the Daytona Beach Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, was recently the recipient of Daytona Beach Community College's first annual Student Advocacy and Support Award. The presenter at the award ceremony said in part:
Tonight, we faculty senate members honor ourselves by honoring a very special woman, Kathy Davis, the recipient of the first annual Student Advocacy and Support Award. When Kathy first came to DBCC, she served as the Prevention and Drug Education Coordinator and today serves DBCC as a licensed mental health counselor and counselor for the Disabled Student Services Department.
Kathy has indeed set a precedent of what it truly means to be a student advocate. Her dedication, loyalty, and expertise have helped thousands of Daytona Beach Community College students over the past eighteen years. A few moments with Kathy energizes you. She touches you in a deep spiritual way. The moment you enter her space, you are taken with her caring and love. You become a changed person. Kathy inspires and knows how to reach our self-worth and self-esteem. Every day you can find Kathy involved with her students. She is always busy counseling, managing, or writing grants.
Some of Kathy's distinguished awards include Halifax Woman of the Year and Disabled Woman of the Year for the State of Florida. For her manual, Frequently Asked Questions, she was honored by the Florida Association of Community Colleges at the state convention. During this past year the video, Toward New Horizons, won her a gold Addy award. In 1988 Kathy was instrumental in creating the Center for the Visually Impaired, a local agency whose main purpose is to assist the elderly blind of Volusia County. This past year Kathy spearheaded the Greater Daytona Beach Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and was elected its first President. We in the Federation join the DBCC faculty in congratulating Kathy Davis.
** New Chapter:
Don Capps, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, reports the formation of the affiliate's 49th chapter, the Saluda County Chapter, on June 6, 1995. The new officers are Brenda Grice, President; Bruce Timmerman, Vice President; Kenneth Bledsoe, Secretary; and Sandy Lubner, Treasurer.
The South Carolina affiliate now has forty-six local chapters and three statewide ones. Congratulations to the members of the newest South Carolina chapter and to the entire affiliate.
** Correspondents Wanted:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I would like to correspond in Braille or on cassette with fellow Federationists in their thirties or older who have retinopathy of prematurity. I have light perception in my right eye due to this condition. I like to help with the cooking, rightfully study the Holy Bible, write and receive letters, and read books and various Braille and recorded magazines, etc.
Contact Sue Perry, 14125 Oak Park Boulevard, Oak Park, Michigan 48237.
** New Chapter:
Jim Beal, President of the Arkansas Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, reports the creation of the chapter and the election of officers: James Beal, President; Vera Parker, Vice President; Carol Scofield, Secretary; and Lee Scofield, Treasurer. Anita Davis, Lyn Evans, and Velma McDonald will serve as Board members. Congratulations to this new chapter and to the NFB of Colorado.
** Short-Term Jobs Through AARP:
We recently received the following information from the Carson City Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada:
Linwood Gallagher is over fifty-five years of age. That isn't newsworthy except that it opened an opportunity for employment other Federationists might not be aware of.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) operates a Senior Employment Program. When funding allows for an opening, persons over fifty-five years of age are paid minimum wage to work in a training environment for a non-profit organization. The job can not exceed twenty hours a week, and the experience can last up to ninety days.
Linwood is now a projects coordinator for the chapter. His duties span four major categories: to follow the directives of the organization, coordinate activities with area agencies, represent the organization at speaking engagements, and explore the possibilities of obtaining grants for establishing and operating a center for the blind in the Capitol City Area. If someone in your chapter is interested in developing a similar opportunity, contact the local AARP affiliate or write to Linwood Gallagher, Box 2224, Carson City, Nevada 89702.
** Nynex Business Directory Accessible on the Internet:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
NYNEX Interactive Yellow Pages on the Internet's World Wide Web (http://www.vtcom.fr/nynex) is now accessible to computer users with vision impairments, offering convenient access to business listings and Web sites in the northeast United States.
The new capability enables a visually impaired person, using a screen reader, to access the names, addresses, and phone numbers of nearly every business in New York and New England, from NYNEX's 2.1 million business listings in its 280 Yellow Pages directories. Additionally, the service enables Internet users to link with the Web sites of more than 400 of those businesses with sound and advanced searching capabilities.
Business and consumers can learn more about NYNEX by calling (800) 356-9639.
[Photo #13: Portrait Caption: Dora Dobbins, November 16, 1913, to June 4, 1995]
** In Memoriam:
Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California, has just written to the Braille Monitor as follows:
On Friday, June 9, I joined more than 200 people gathered at the Miracle Baptist Church in Southeast Los Angeles, to celebrate the life of Dora Mae Dobbins. Dora was a long-time Federationist who loved life and lived every day to its fullest. Her vivacious and positive attitude was an inspiration to everyone she met and a special lifeline for those of us who were her friends and colleagues.
Dora was a leader, a worker, and a trooper. She put service to others first. Wherever she went, Dora spread the word about the National Federation of the Blind. Her mission was to serve and to persuade others to serve. When she telephoned to ask for help, you knew you were going to do what she asked because you knew that Dora was going to do her part to get the job done.
Dora lost her sight in the late 1960's. The NFB had a very active chapter in her area, so she quickly found the organization. Both Dora and her husband James were quick to explain how the National Federation of the Blind changed their attitude about blindness and gave them hope while reducing their fears.
For twenty-five years Dora and James faithfully attended local, state, and national meetings of the Federation. They worked together to locate newly blind people and bring them to the Federation. Dora was instrumental in the founding of several new Federation chapters and in helping to find and train new leaders. She never concerned herself with which title she held in the Federation; her concern was that she actively help others. Dora was a chapter President and served on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of California for almost ten years.
In addition to the National Federation of the Blind, Dora was active in community organizations and a forty-year member of her church, where she served as a member of the Board of Deaconesses. During the services for Dora, a number of people took the opportunity to speak of her leadership and accomplishments. There were a number of other tributes to her many contributions. Without exception, each speaker included the message that Dora took the National Federation of the Blind with her everywhere she went and that she made sure that each person she knew was aware of the importance of the organization in her life and in her adjustment to blindness.
I concluded my tribute to Dora by saying, "Dora is gone from us in the flesh, but her leadership lives on. As we gather at Federation meetings and reach out to newly blind people, Dora will walk with us. Her presence will be a constant reminder of the work that needs to be done on behalf of the blind of Los Angeles, the blind of California, and the blind of the nation."
** The Benefits of Attending Local Chapter Meetings:
Peggy Chong, President of the Metropolitan Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, wrote the following in the Spring, 1995, edition of the Minnesota Bulletin, the publication of the NFB of Minnesota:
There are many reasons to come to chapter meetings--maybe as many reasons as we have members.
Some folks come to socialize. If they live in an area where there is little transportation, feel shy talking to people, or are older, sometimes they feel isolated. More to the point, we all like to see our friends, and Federationists are most definitely friends. Some folks have even found the love-of-their- life at a chapter meeting. Having the Federation as a common bond is a good way to start a relationship.
There are always new things to learn at chapter meetings. The national presidential releases, guest speakers, and reports keep us updated on legislation, the media, education, technology, and a variety of subjects. Some of our members have worked very hard on fund-raising projects and come to hear the results. Presentations from other members spur the sharing of ideas and generate tips for getting tasks done more quickly and efficiently.
We all have one reason in common for coming. We all come to have our Federationism recharged. Hearing about the progress being made in the blindness field across the state and around the country gives us a sense of pride and hope for the future. If we discuss the problems other chapter members are having, we realize that these things can be dealt with successfully. But the best part about coming to meetings is that we learn how the Federation is helping to resolve those problems and how we can be an active part of the solution.
Every chapter is only as strong as its members make it. We need to contribute our best efforts to make a good chapter. At times we may not hear what we want to from our leaders. But if we want to grow, we can't walk away in disgust and say, "forget it." Working together to resolve differences builds and strengthens both us and the chapter. The love in the Federation makes problems easier to face, and we become stronger for facing them.
Sometimes we will be the support or inspiration for another person in our chapter; the next month we may need support or information about some aspect of blindness from someone else. Isn't it great to know who your chapter members are and what they know? Best of all, isn't it great to know that you can always find a friend in the NFB when you need a shoulder to lean on?
The Federation is like a family. We take pride in each other's accomplishments; we disagree; we feel sad when Federationists have problems. But, unless you get involved with your local chapter, you may never find out just what a nice family you have.
Come to your next chapter meeting. Share your talents or just listen for a meeting or two. It takes many types of people and talents to build a good chapter. I know there is a project just waiting for one of your many talents.