The Braille Monitor

             Vol. 39, No. 1                                                                                                            January 1996

Barbara Pierce, Editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President

National Office
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Baltimore, Maryland  21230
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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

ISSN 0006-8829


Contents


           Vol. 39, No. 1                                                                                                       January 1996

    

FURTHER COMMENTS ABOUT MOBILITY
by Kenneth Jernigan

HOW FAST IS IT REALLY?
by David Andrews

A FABLE FOR OUR TIMES: TALKING SENSE ABOUT TRUNCATED DOMES
by Peggy Pinder Elliott

ISVI UPDATE

NFB OF SOUTH CAROLINA FIGHTS TO
PRESERVE COMMISSION FOR THE BLIND

AND THE BLIND SHALL LEAD: BUSY
STOCKBROKER AS INDEPENDENT AS HE WANTS TO BE

by Kate Thompson

CROSSING FOR BLIND SIGNS CROSSED OUT
by Peggy Chong

IF I HAVE SEEN FURTHER: THE BLIND SERVING COMMUNION?
by James H. Omvig

IN MEMORY OF TWO FRIENDS
by Kenneth Jernigan

LEADERSHIP EMPOWERMENT: REFLECTIONS ON THE FAMILY
by Noel Nightingale

THE LITTLEST LOBBYIST
by Judy Jobes

WE DON'T HAVE NORTH HERE
by Barbara Pierce

MY FIRST CONVENTION
by Barbara Ann Hall

CALIFORNIA CALLING
by Deana Bates

SOCIAL SECURITY AND SSI FACTS FOR 1996
by James Gashel

RECIPES

MONITOR MINIATURES

Copyright 1996 National Federation of the Blind

LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: As we think of the 1996 NFB Convention, we are reminded of former meetings in California. We first went to the Pacific coast with the San Francisco Convention of 1956. We were in four hotels (room rates from $5-7 per night), and the banquet was held in the Elks Building. In 1967 we returned to California, going this time to the Statler Hilton in Los Angeles. In 1976 we went back to Los Angeles, and we stayed at the Biltmore Hotel. We were too big for the Biltmore Ballroom, so our meetings were held at the Convention Center. Some will remember 1976 for the election of Jimmy Carter. Others will remember it for rampant inflation. For Federationists it was the year of the banquet speech Blindness: Visions and Vultures. It was one of the most successful banquets and one of the most successful conventions we have ever had. Here is a picture of that banquet as we gathered in our thousands. The 1996 convention at the Anaheim Hilton will be our fourth in California, and it promises to be one of the biggest and best in Federation history. Don't miss it!

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kenneth Jernigan]

FURTHER COMMENTS ABOUT MOBILITY

by Kenneth Jernigan

In the October 1995, issue of the Braille Monitor we dealt at length with the subject of mobility for the blind. As was expected, there was a considerable amount of reaction. Overwhelmingly it was positive. However, there were a few exceptions. One or two individuals called me dirty names and engaged in personal abuse. I made no response to the irrationals, but others raised substantive questions that required consideration. In this article we are publishing one of the most interesting exchanges of letters. As always happens in such cases, I learned something in the process. The challenge to my opinions caused me to refine my thinking and look again at what I had said in the October issue. I hope you will find these letters interesting and thought-provoking. I doubt that we will want to print anything else on the subject for quite some time to come, but meanwhile we have a great deal to think about:

October 27, 1995

Dear Dr. Jernigan: I am writing in response to remarks you made about guide-dog users in the October 1995 issue of the Braille Monitor.

I have been aware of the anti-guide-dog attitudes in the organization for years. Guide-dog users have often felt unwelcome at national conventions. I have seldom seen a photograph of a guide-dog user with their dog in the Braille Monitor, and I've never heard NFB leadership refer to guide dogs when discussing independence. There was no conspiracy of silence to spare feelings: NFB leadership and members have always made it very clear that guide-dog users are not welcome and looked down upon in the National Federation of the Blind. If there was a conspiracy of silence, it was among guide-dog users who never asserted themselves to oppose this treatment by fellow Federationists, in order to avoid division within the organization.

It is ironic that the NFB claims to be fighting for equal rights and first-class citizenship for a minority (the blind), and a minority within the NFB (guide-dog users) are called second-class citizens by the organization's leader. Through the years you have compared the organized blind movement to the civil rights movement. The general tone of your article might be equated to the backlash which comes when a movement has made too much progress and the majority, cane users in this case, feel threatened. See what happens when you let a guide-dog user move into the neighborhood?

You say that guide dogs have few advantages and many disadvantages. Naturally you would feel this way. You are a cane user. That is why you choose to use a cane. A person decides to use a dog because for them a guide dog has many advantages and few disadvantages. There is no controversy here; it is simply freedom of choice. The danger lies in the fact that the leadership of the organization holds one point of view which they are trying to present as a doctrine. We are the National Federation of the Blind, not the National Federation of White Cane Users. You have valid concerns and many issues need to be worked out. However, a slanted and divisive presentation in the Braille Monitor is not the way to handle it.

You pretend to be giving a balanced presentation, when in reality you have stacked the deck when you led off with such an emotional and divisive defense of the virtues of cane use. You have also used your status and that of board members to tilt the scales in your favor.

You use examples like scratched floors and vomit at a banquet to illustrate that guide dogs are unacceptable as a means of mobility for the blind. I have seen cane users cause damage by knocking things over that a dog would have walked around. This does not mean that people should not use white canes.

At NFB conventions I have seen cane users walk into walls, travel in circles, and engage in cane duels as they try to pass one another going in opposite directions. I have never heard a guide-dog user leap to the erroneous conclusion that all cane users are second-class citizens, who burden all those around them, present a negative image of blindness to the public, and will never be fully independent until they use a guide dog as their primary mobility method.

You quoted "The Nature of Independence" speech, and it is interesting that you stopped quoting it just before the following line, and it is very obvious why you chose to omit it: "We absolutely must not become so rigid and dogmatic about the means and precise details of achieving independence that we make ourselves and everybody else around us miserable. Down that road lies bigotry, as well as the loss of any real independence or true normality." You have proven this with your remarks about guide-dog users in the October Monitor. And in the speech were you only talking about cane users and excluding those who use guide dogs? I think not, because later on you say, "In conclusion, I say to each member of this organization, hold your head high in the joy of accomplishment and the pride of independence, but not because of dog or cane or human arm, and not because of your ability to read Braille or use a computer. These are the trappings of independence and not the substance of it. They should be learned and used when needed, but they should be regarded only as means not ends. Our independence comes from within." Marc Maurer hailed this as a ground-breaking speech, and I thought it was the greatest speech you ever gave and would lead the way to true unity between cane and guide-dog users. Have you forgotten these words, or have you decided that they are no longer true? You have come very far from those sentiments when you can write an article like the one in this Monitor.

There is another conspiracy of silence which you are not aware of because it is directed to you as a cane user. Do you really think the public always tells you the truth regarding what they think about cane users? I have seen cane users walk into people and spill coffee on them and the victim of this accident says, "That's all right; no harm done." When a guide-dog user moves swiftly and accurately through a crowded concourse, avoiding obstacles and people, it seems to me that this projects a more positive image of blindness than the cane user who is moving more slowly, striking objects, and hitting people in the ankles. The public agrees because I have heard people say as much. An occasional mishap with a dog is far less damaging to the image of blindness than daily cane crashing and bashing. As for being led around by an animal, you seem to forget that the person works the dog. The dog does not work the person.

As for the letter you quote at the end of your article, the dog is not responsible for going to college, getting married, etc. The independence using the dog brings is the important thing. I have heard you and President Maurer speak many times about people who learned to use the long white cane and subsequently accomplished great things. This is equally true of guide-dog users. Why do you praise one and criticize the other?

There are some cane users and some guide-dog users whose actions project a negative and stereotypical image of blindness. There are other guide-dog users and cane users that project a positive image of blindness, and carry themselves with dignity as proud, confident, and independent Federationists. To make unfair generalizations about either group, that is, cane users or guide-dog users, is cruel, unjustified, and counterproductive to our common cause. Like their fellow white-cane users, guide-dog users know who they are and they will never go back, even though the leaders and some members of the National Federation of the Blind think they should.

Sincerely,

_________

"We absolutely must not become so rigid and dogmatic about the means and precise details of achieving independence that we make ourselves and everybody else around us miserable. Down that road lies bigotry, as well as the loss of any real independence or true normality."--Kenneth Jernigan, Dallas, July 6, 1993

Dear Mr. Maurer: I am sending you a copy of a letter I wrote to Dr. Jernigan regarding his recent article in the Monitor. The discussion was not about "first class citizenship"; it was about ridiculing a mobility technique of which he and the leadership of NFB disapprove. There is much more at stake here than hurt feelings. It undermines the NFB's role as an organization which speaks for and serves all blind people.

We are all very concerned about Braille literacy. We demand that it be made available to all who need and want it, and we attack those who point out unconvincing disadvantages, while ignoring obvious advantages, to deprive us of it. As Carla so movingly states in our new video on the subject, she should have been given the chance to make that choice for herself, and it should not have been made for her.

People have the right to choose which mobility technique is best for them. If someone feels that they can travel faster, safer, and more comfortably with a guide dog, that is their decision to make. Having made that choice, no one has the right to pass judgment on them by saying that they will always be second-class citizens, will never be fully independent, and are a burden to everyone around them.

The NFB has always discouraged guide-dog use either explicitly or by excluding it from discussions about independence. Now the leader of the organization has given his blessing to treat guide-dog users as second class and to question their status as Federationists.

When a blind adult turns to the NFB for help and advice, is the use of a guide dog given equal consideration as the use of a cane as a primary mobility technique? I would guess not, after reading the views of the NFB leadership on the subject. What if this individual would benefit more by using a guide dog as do those who have already made this choice? Such a person would not be presented with that as an equal alternative. If the NFB and its training centers discourage the use of guide dogs, how is this different from the teachers, agencies, and vocational counselors who discourage the use of Braille for those who would benefit from it? The opinions of NFB leaders and ridiculous isolated examples like scratched floors and vomit at a banquet are not sufficient justification.

If these attitudes prevail, then the NFB no longer speaks for or fully serves all the blind, and the organization should change its name to the National Federation of White Cane Users.

I have put my PAC plan on hold, and I hope others who agree with me will do the same. How can I continue to support an organization which has become like the very agencies it has opposed for so many years? I hope that the National Federation of the Blind will decide to treat all its members as equals and not regard those who choose a different mobility technique than its leaders as second- class citizens.

Sincerely,

"Hold your head high in the joy of accomplishment and the pride of independence, but not because of dog or cane or human arm, and not because of your ability to read Braille or use a computer. These are the trappings of independence and not the substance of it. They should be learned and used when needed, but they should be regarded only as means not ends. Our independence comes from within."--Kenneth Jernigan, Dallas, July 6, 1993

___________

November 14, 1995

Dear ____________:

Under date of October 27, 1995, you sent me a letter concerning my article in the October Braille Monitor. At the same time, you sent a letter to President Maurer canceling your PAC plan. I want to say a few things to you about your letters and my article.

You say that there is an "anti-guide-dog attitude" in the Federation and that "guide-dog users have often felt unwelcome at national conventions." There is not now nor has there ever been an anti-guide-dog attitude on the part of the Federation. If so, why would the Federation have permitted and even encouraged the establishment of a Guide Dog Division? Why would we have spent money and resources fighting for the rights of guide-dog users? Any time that a guide-dog user has been denied the right to go to a restaurant, go to an amusement park, or go to anywhere else that the public is invited, the Federation has come up to the line and been counted. This is what we have done, and this is what we will continue to do. We will continue to support the Guide Dog Division, and we will continue to defend the rights of guide-dog users.

I hope you will reread the October Monitor and look at it in perspective. An announcement was made at the meeting of the Guide Dog Division at the convention last summer, saying that the Monitor was going to deal with the subject of dogs, canes, and other travel techniques. Those in attendance were invited to submit articles. Some did, and we printed each and every one of them, regardless of the content and with very little editing.

The reaction to the October Monitor has been overwhelmingly positive. Three or four people have written with objections, and I have no doubt that there are at least some others who reacted negatively but did not write. This was a topic that needed discussing. The evidence can be found in the interest which has been evoked. Even more than indicating agreement, most of those who commented expressed relief that the topic has finally been brought out of the closet and into the realm of discussion.

In reviewing your letter, I have to wonder whether you read all of my article or just part of it. Let me refresh your memory. In one part I said:

The problem is not simple. Neither is the solution. Above all, what I have said must be kept in perspective and seen in proper context. The Federation as an organization and I personally have fought for the rights of guide-dog users, and that will continue. As I have already said, I use a cane. The fact that there are disadvantages to the cane should not mean that I cannot use it if I choose to do so or that my fellow Federationists should not defend my right to do it. The same is true of the use of a sighted person's arm, or a dog. As I see it, there are real disadvantages to using a dog, but others may see it differently. Regardless of that, we have to be able to discuss our opinions freely, but when the discussion is finished, we must join ranks and defend each other's right to choose--and we must do it with understanding and good will.

That is what I said in the October Monitor, and that is what I still believe. In your letter you say that I call guide-dog users second-class citizens. Since that is not what I think and not what I believe I said, I would like to know how you arrive at your opinion. Perhaps you are referring to that portion of my article which reads:

We are not just talking about methods of travel but about basic philosophy. Moreover, even though we didn't plan it that way, we have, by discussing this issue in these circumstances, arrived at a crossroad in our organization's development. Whatever the appearance or trappings, we are not here just (or even primarily) talking about canes and dogs. We are considering self-image, concepts of independence, equal participation in society, and the very notion of first-class citizenship.

That is what I said, and if you look at it in context, it is a far cry from accusing guide-dog users of being second-class citizens. You commented about my 1993 speech on the nature of independence. Let me remind you of the circumstances which led up to the writing of that speech.

A number of the students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind discussed the fact that I did not travel alone with a cane at the 1992 NFB Convention but used a human arm. They didn't just think about it and then write me individually. They publicly discussed the matter in their classes and then wrote me a letter and asked me to justify myself.

What should I have done? Should I have said that they were accusing me of being a second-class citizen, which in a way they were? Should I have reacted with anger, attempting to get their attention and teach them a lesson by canceling my PAC plan? Such behavior would have been negative and counterproductive.

They were not attacking me as an individual, but even if they had been, the question they raised deserved rational discussion and dispassionate response. As I said in my 1993 speech, I probably do not travel as skillfully as many of those who have received more intense and formal training. It is hard to say whether we are being objective or emotional when we talk about our own conduct. The question of the philosophical implications of using cane, dog, human arm, or some other method of mobility is reasonable to consider. It is something else to accuse each other of second-class citizenship.

In your letter to President Maurer you say this: "When a blind adult turns to the NFB for help and advice, is the use of a guide dog given equal consideration as the use of a cane as a primary mobility technique? I would guess not . . . ." You go on to imply that it is my obligation (and the obligation of all NFB leaders, and possibly members) to recommend with absolute impartiality the use of cane or dog. You equate this with our attitudes about the use of Braille. I don't agree.

With respect to Braille, I am perfectly willing for people to argue about whether it is good or bad as much as they like and to recommend whatever reading techniques they think are superior. They can point out advantages and disadvantages to their hearts' content, but when the day is done, I want every blind person who wants Braille to have the right to have it. The fact that I believe that a blind person is better off using Braille in certain situations does not mean that I don't want you or somebody else to have a tape recorder or that I think you are second class for using one. Neither does it mean that I have to tell every blind person who asks me about it that I have no opinion concerning the relative advantages and disadvantages of the different methods of reading. I feel and behave exactly the same way when dealing with mobility.

I don't think that all travel techniques are equally effective, and I don't intend to say that I do. But I do intend to fight for the right of other blind persons to believe differently, to use any technique that each of them wants to use, and to be treated with respect in the process. I am obligated to treat my fellow Federationists with respect, but I am not obligated to advocate what I do not believe to be the truth.

This is totally consistent with what I said in the 1993 speech on the nature of independence. It is consistent with what I have always said.

Let me make a few general observations about the notion of first-class citizenship. We are told that seventy percent of the blind of this country who are of working age are unemployed. Are those who come within that seventy percent first-class citizens? In other words are they able to achieve first-class status in society? As I said regarding techniques of mobility, the answer is not simple. First- class citizenship means the freedom to make meaningful choices and the ability to make those choices stick. If an individual is unemployed and does not have some other source of income, it is hard to see how he or she can be said to have first-class citizenship. But a person who has inherited wealth or other plentiful financial resources is in a different boat.

What about mobility? Independence in travel probably means the ability to go where you want when you want without so much inconvenience to yourself or others that the whole thing ceases to be worth it. By this definition, probably nobody is completely independent, and very few people are totally dependent.

How does this relate to the blind? The two things that probably outrank all others in determining whether a blind person can function as a first-class citizen involve mobility and reading--ease of travel and ease of communication. What about the blind person who is totally unable to travel alone? Can such a person achieve first-class citizenship? It depends on what you mean and how you look at it. Certainly it is proper to discuss it, and without getting angry or calling each other names.

I once knew a blind man who was totally unable to travel without assistance but who had made enough money that he hired people to stay with him every waking hour. He had the financial resources to go anywhere in the world that he liked, and he did it. He went where and when he pleased, and he caused no inconvenience to others. He was content with himself and the universe. Was he functioning as a first-class citizen? Some would say no. I think I would say yes. This is not the way I would choose to do it, but for him it worked--and it caused no problems to others. But what about privacy? What about dignity and self-esteem? As I have said, the question is not simple.

And while we are on the subject of such things, what about me? As I said in my Dallas speech, I am perfectly capable of using a cane, but I often don't. I frequently use a human arm. When I do, am I failing to function as a first-class citizen? Whether I am or not, I think other blind people have a right (and if they think I should behave otherwise, perhaps an obligation) to consider the matter.

Moreover, unless they are personally abusive about it, I think I should hear what they have to say and not lose my temper in the process. Maybe I can teach something during the give-and-take--but just as likely, maybe I can learn something. What better way to grow and broaden my outlook than to let my ideas circulate in the marketplace of free discussion? Let me emphasize again that I am not talking about name-calling or personal abuse but the rational exchange of ideas among friends and colleagues--an exchange of ideas vigorously pursued but not with bitterness-- pursued, indeed, with love and respect. That is the way brothers and sisters should treat each other, and that is the way they achieve real independence and first-class status--or, at least, that is how I see it.

In this context I want to say one thing more about the notion of first-class citizenship. There are those who hold that if an individual is "free" in his or her own mind, it is not possible to make that person a slave. Maybe so, but freedom loses a lot of its meaning if somebody is standing over you with a whip. On the other hand, regardless of money or position, the person who thinks like a slave is (at least to some extent) just that--a slave. In my way of thinking, one way of expressing what the National Federation of the Blind has been doing ever since its founding is helping blind people get over the notion that they deserve to be treated like inferiors. As we have often said, you must say a thing before you can believe it, and you must believe it before it can come true. But if you say it often enough and believe it strongly enough, and if it is morally right and reasonably possible, it can and will come true. That is Federationism.

Let me now say something about the canceling of your PAC plan. If you had done it because of financial need, I would have no complaint. But that was not your reason. You did it because you didn't like the views I expressed. Yet, if a guide-dog user (including you) has problems in the future, my PAC money and the PAC money of other cane users (and, for that matter, dog users) will be used to fight the battle.

Or maybe the problem is something else. In a recent discussion a woman said that anybody else in the Federation has a right to express their opinions on mobility techniques or anything else but that I don't. I disagree with that. I think I am obligated to be considerate and reasonable, but I am not obligated to keep silent and express no views. When we arrive at that point, my usefulness to the organization will be at an end, nostalgic instead of dynamic. I am not willing to be a mere figurehead who is trotted out for ceremonial occasions and public statements. I have always engaged in the give-and-take of Federation policy-making and debate, and I have no intention of stopping doing it. If the Federation needs me at all, it needs me as a live participant.

Against this background, let me say that if my comments were clumsily put or poorly phrased, I apologize--but I cannot apologize for seeking the truth or expressing my opinions. I have always respected you, and I still do. I hope that you will reconsider what I said in my article and, in fact, that you will think further about the totality of the questions raised in the October Monitor. I do not insist that you hold my views on every question, and I hope that you will accord me the same right. That is what the Federation is about, and that is also incidentally what first-class citizenship is about.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Jernigan
President Emeritus
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

__________

November 15, 1995

Dear Dr. Jernigan:

Thank you for responding at length to my letters. My letter to Mr. Maurer dated yesterday was written before receiving your fax, and I decided to let it stand as it was and not to make any changes in light of your remarks.

I do not intend this note to be a full response to your letter. I simply want to make a list of points that I would like you to know, and I will write you a longer and more formal letter at a later time.

1) Your tone in the letter seemed to me to be very different from that of the Monitor article. It sounded more like "The Nature of Independence" speech, which I admire so much.

2) When you give your views, they may easily be seen as a statement of the organization. However I do appreciate your point that you have a right to an opinion like everyone else and should not have to forfeit that right.

3) I did not stop PAC merely because I did not like hearing a different point of view from my own. I sincerely feel that if the NFB considers guide-dog use to not be as respectable as cane use, then I cannot support an organization that holds that view, and I am free to make that choice. When I feel that the NFB does affirm that guide-dog use is as respectable as cane use, then I will continue to support the organization wholeheartedly.

4) Consider the following:

a) Independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others.
b) There is no way that the dog user can help causing problems to other people.
c) Guide-dog users are not independent.

You espouse a) and b) and so I conclude c). I do not see how I can escape that conclusion. You tell me that you are not saying this, but I need to somehow reconcile all of these remarks. I hope you will be able to help me do so.

5) I think I made some valid points to you in my first letter, but they may have been lost due to the hostile presentation. I hope we will be able to further discuss these points at a future time.

6) I recommend a dialogue in person, not necessarily with me but with guide-dog users. I think such a discussion would be more fruitful than an exchange of letters or Monitor articles. By the way, not that it matters, but I am a cane user.

I will write again to discuss these matters further.

Sincerely,

_________

November 20, 1995

Dear __________:

This will respond to your letter of November 15, 1995. You say in part: "Consider the following: a) Independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others. b) There is no way that the dog user can help causing problems to other people. c) Guide-dog users are not independent. You espouse a) and b), and so I conclude c). I do not see how I can escape that conclusion."

_____________, that is what you say, and your point a) comes from my speech on the nature of independence. Taken by itself and out of context, it may appear to be talking primarily about guide-dog users; but if you read the rest of the paragraph, it is clear that I am talking about everybody, blind and sighted alike. Here are my exact words:

As to travel, independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others. Probably none of us (blind or sighted) ever fully achieves that goal all of the time--and almost all of us achieve at least some of it some of the time. Usually we are on a continuum.

That is what I said, and if you will reread my article in the October Monitor, you will find this sentence: "In fact, any form of travel by anybody (blind and sighted alike) poses problems."

___________, the discussion that you and I have been having has caused me to do some careful analysis. It has also helped me refine my thinking. As a result, let me talk to you about four concepts that we in the Federation often use:

1) It is respectable to be blind

2) Equal participation in society

3) First-class status in society

4) The blind as first-class citizens

When we say that it is respectable to be blind, I think we mean how we feel within ourselves. We mean that we should not be ashamed of our blindness, that we should not try to hide it, and that we have as much innate worth as anybody else. In other words, we are talking about attitudes--our own, not somebody else's.

When we say that we have the right to equal participation in society, we are talking about our capacity to compete on terms of equality with others. The concept implies the right to adequate training and the ability to acquire the financial means to live a good life and to do the things that others do who are similarly situated.

When we say that we have the right to first-class status in society, we are not talking about our own attitudes but about the attitudes of others. We are saying that it is not enough for us to have ability or even money. We must also have understanding from and acceptance by the general public, the recognition that we are capable and deserving of the rights and privileges accorded to everybody else. If we don't have this acceptance and recognition, we cannot have first-class status, and we cannot have equal participation in society regardless of our capacity or resources. I dealt with these things at length in my 1985 speech on the patterns of freedom.

Finally we come to the concept of first-class citizenship. What does it mean? It is a term that we frequently use, but as I think about it, it is not easy to define. It probably implies all of the three concepts I have already mentioned plus others, many of them intangible. Whatever it is, all of us seem to want it, and we feel considerable unhappiness and anger if anybody implies that we don't deserve it or that it should be taken away from us. Effective though the term may be for speech-making, it lacks precision.

So let me stay with the other concepts--that it is respectable to be blind, that we are capable and deserving of equal participation in society, and that we are determined to have first-class status. If we get all of those, we probably won't have to worry about first-class citizenship. It will take care of itself. In this context maybe I should have used the term first-class status in society in my October article instead of the term first-class citizenship. If you will reread the article, you will see that I did not express the opinion that a blind person who uses a dog cannot achieve first-class status. I said (and I made it clear that I was expressing my own personal opinion) that I thought some of the obstacles were "almost" insurmountable.

To those who express resentment at my opinion, I can only repeat that there are real disadvantages to any form of travel now available to us. In our march toward equal participation and first-class status in society we who are blind have repeatedly faced and overcome almost insurmountable obstacles. Recognizing and discussing this fact and considering the relative merits of different forms of mobility, methods of reading, or techniques of daily living should not occasion anger or personal abuse. Rather, we should feel able (in fact, we should want) to examine these questions in the hope of increasing our understanding and enlarging our opportunities.

What I was saying in the October Monitor is simply this: we frequently talk about our choice of mobility techniques as if our choice affects only us and is nobody else's business. I think this is not true and that the question is a proper topic for discussion.

The disadvantages in using a dog are not made less by pointing out the disadvantages in using a cane. The opposite is also true, of course. The disadvantages of cane use are not diminished by pointing out the disadvantages of using a dog. The same is also true of using a human arm, present-day experimental technologies, or something else. In each case the technique must be judged on its own merit, and it is not just something that affects the individual who is making the choice. It affects the rest of us who are blind, and it also affects our sighted associates. Even so, the final choice must be made by each individual blind person, and the rest of us have to respect that choice. That does not mean that we cannot or should not discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages or that we should not form opinions.

As to independence, it is perfectly obvious that none of us has it completely or all of the time. And that is true whether we use canes, dogs, or something else. It is also true of the sighted. The question is not do we have independence, but how much of it do we have, and at what cost? As I said before, it is a matter of cost/benefit ratio. What we want is enough independence to achieve equal participation and first-class status in society, enough that we can realistically feel that it is respectable to be blind.

As I have already said, the Federation has consistently fought to protect the rights of guide-dog users, and we will continue to do so. We encouraged and supported the establishment of the Guide Dog Division, and that encouragement and support will continue.

As to those few who have engaged in name-calling instead of dealing with the issues, I think they are not doing their cause any good. It is foolishness to say that if a blind person has not used a dog, that person is not entitled to an opinion about the matter. It is equally unproductive to take such attitudes about those who have not learned to use a cane. There is no obligation personally to experience something before having an opinion about it. We depend on reason, observation, and the comments of people around us for our decisions every day. I have never taken heroin, for instance, or had ten million dollars, but I have definite opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of both. Usually we engage in name-calling and personal abuse when we feel that our case is weak and lacks merit.

One final thing: I recognize that cane travel is not a perfect mobility technique. As with dogs, the fact that some cane users are poorly trained or inefficient does not speak to the overall usefulness or lack of usefulness of the technique. Ultimately, technology may give us something superior to both cane and dog--and, for that matter, human arm. If that day comes, there will undoubtedly be those who will both resent and resist the change, saying that the techies have no right to an opinion because they are not proficient in the techniques they are discussing. Who knows--maybe I will be among their number. Meanwhile, I shall hunt for the truth as best I can, and I shall certainly express my opinions when I think they are worth stating.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Jernigan
President Emeritus
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: David Andrews]

HOW FAST IS IT REALLY?

by David Andrews

From the Editor: One of the most exciting aspects of the recent technology revolution for the blind is our increasing access to Braille. Using a personal computer, a Braille-translation program, and a printer that generates Braille rather than ink-print, almost anyone can now produce readable Grade II Braille. The result is that virtually any computer text file can today be produced in Braille by the insertion of a few formatting commands that do not require any knowledge of Braille.

The quality of the Braille turned out by this process depends in large part on the printer (called an embosser). How clear is the Braille it produces? How well does it stand up to the demands made on it? And, of course, how rapidly does it print a document? As the price of embossers drops, more and more individuals and organizations can consider actually investing in such equipment. Deciding which one to buy gets harder as the choices multiply. Every manufacturer should be prepared to provide samples of the Braille produced by its embossers, and with a little investigation one can learn about the reliability of the equipment other people have purchased and the dealers in the area. These are subjective measures, but they are important matters to consider.

The question of the speed of Braille production is a different matter. For years manufacturers have been reporting embosser speed in characters produced per second. How accurate are their claims? How does each embosser stack up against its competition? Potential buyers need objective information in order to make sound decisions.

Enter the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC). While David Andrews was still director of the IBTC (he is now with the Minnesota Agency for the Blind), he conducted tests to determine the accuracy of manufacturer ratings of the speed of their embossers. The following article is the result. Here it is:

 

People who are buying a Braille embosser (printer) and who consult the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind always ask us two questions: how much does it cost, and how fast does it print--not necessarily in that order. Until now, the speed figures we have given them are those published by the manufacturers or distributors themselves. While we thought that some of those figures might be exaggerated slightly, we did not know by how much, so we decided to find out.

The Test

We began by devising a test--that is, producing a Braille file that could be sent to all the printers. Our goal was to devise a test that, while hard, was also a real-life document.

We chose the July 1995, issue of the Braille Monitor. We used a leading Braille translation program, the Duxbury Braille Translator Version 10.1, to produce a Grade II translated and formatted file. Our test file contained straight text and other styles that occurred naturally or that we added. These included regular and outdented paragraphs, partially and fully blank pages, centered and right-justified lines, two columns of words, print and Braille page numbering, lines of dots and table-of-contents guide dots, and more. We chose to include a range of formatting and layout variations because different embossers handle these complications in different ways, some more efficiently than others.

We also decided to place twenty-five 40-character lines of text on each page. While some printers will print up to 27 lines and/or 44 characters a line on an 11-by-11.5-inch page, we chose to use less ambitious requirements. First, the 25-line-by-40-cell page is commonly used, so it represents a real-life test. Second, while some printers can emboss more than 40 cells on a line, not all can. But with the exception of the Braille Blazer, which can print only 34 cells a line, all units can produce 40-cell lines. Consequently, by using a 40-cell line, we had a basis of comparison. We formatted the Blazer test for 32 cells, which allowed room for binding, as was done in the other tests. We also had to format the Ohtsuki BT-5000 file for 19 lines since it will not print 25 on a page. This machine embosses both print and Braille on the same page, which takes more room.

Finally, using the 25-line by 40-cell page, the file we generated using Duxbury was 187 pages in length--long enough to even things out. Of course the Blazer and Ohtsuki files contained more pages, but the same amount of data.

The appropriate test file was then sent to the embosser. The "PRINT" command was used from the MS-DOS command line, and the already-translated file was sent. This combination allowed a more accurate measurement of embossing time than other methods that could have been used. The timer was started at the same instant that the "Return" ("Enter") key was pressed on the computer. One of the Braille 'n Speak family of products from Blazie Engineering--Braille 'n Speak, Type 'n Speak, or Braille Lite--was used to time all tests. The timer was stopped as the embosser ceased printing. The resulting time was converted into seconds and divided by the size of the file, yielding a characters-per-second rating.

What follows is an alphabetical list of all the tested embossers and what they did. The "CPS" acronym stands for "characters per second" and "IBTC" stands for the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind."

Braille Blazer: manufacturer-rated speed, 15 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 8.0 cps; percent of variance, 47 percent; price, $1,695; price per cps, $211.88

Braille BookMaker: manufacturer-rated speed, 80 cps; IBTC- rated speed, 59.9 cps; percent of variance, 25 percent; price, $7,995; price per cps, $133.47

Braillo 200: manufacturer-rated speed, 200 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 193.1 cps; percent of variance, 3 percent; price, $37,995; price per cps, $196.76

Braillo 400S: manufacturer-rated speed, 400 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 274.4 cps; percent of variance, 31 percent; price, $77,995; price per cps, $284.24

Braillo Comet: manufacturer-rated speed, 75 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 54.6 cps; percent of variance, 27 percent; price, $3,795; price per cps, $69.51

Braille Express: manufacturer-rated speed, 150 cps; IBTC- rated speed, 109.0 cps; percent of variance, 27 percent; price, $14,995; price per cps, $137.57

Elekul-03: manufacturer-rated speed, 300 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 263.2 cps; percent of variance, 12 percent; price, $42,500 approximately; price per cps, $161.47

Express 100: manufacturer-rated speed, 100 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 78.6 cps; percent of variance, 21 percent; price, $10,500; price per cps, $133.59

Everest (Telesensory): manufacturer-rated speed, 100/60 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 51.7 cps; percent of variance, 48 percent/14 percent; price, $5,995; price per cps, $115.96

Everest-D: manufacturer-rated speed, 79 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 68.0 cps; percent of variance, 14 percent; price, $3,695; price per cps, $54.34

Index Basic: manufacturer-rated speed, 50/40 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 28.5 cps; percent of variance, 43 percent/29 percent; price, $2,795; price per cps, $98.07

Juliet: manufacturer-rated speed, 40 to 56 CPS (one line per second); IBTC-rated speed, 33.5 cps; percent of variance, 16 percent; price, $3,995; price per cps, $119.25

Marathon: manufacturer-rated speed, 200 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 167.0 cps; percent of variance, 17 percent; price, $12,995; price per cps, $77.81

Ohtsuki BT5000: manufacturer-rated speed, 8 cps (print and Braille); IBTC-rated speed, 6.4 cps; percent of variance, 20 percent; price, $4,695; price per cps, $733.59

Porta-Thiel: manufacturer-rated speed, 10 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 7.8 cps; percent of variance, 22 percent; price, $1,895; price per cps, $242.95

Resus RS-214: manufacturer-rated speed, 140 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 103.3 cps; percent of variance, 26 percent; price, $15,995; price per CPS, $154.84

Romeo RB-20: manufacturer-rated speed, 20 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 17.2 cps; percent of variance, 14 percent; price, $2,495; price per cps, $145.05

Romeo RB-25: manufacturer-rated speed, 25 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 23.8 cps; percent of variance, 5 percent; price, $2,295; price per cps, $96.43

Romeo RB-40: manufacturer-rated speed, 40 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 28.1 cps; percent of variance, 30 percent; price, $3,495; price per cps, $124.38

Ted 600: manufacturer-rated speed, 350 CPS approximately; IBTC-rated speed, 295.2 cps; percent of variance, 16 percent; price, $37,500; price per cps, $127.03

Thiel BAX-10: manufacturer-rated speed, 300 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 183.0 cps; percent of variance, 39 percent; price, $66,000; price per cps, $360.66

Thiel Beta X/3: manufacturer-rated speed, 130 cps; IBTC- rated speed, 116 cps; percent of variance, 10 percent; price, $13,995; price per cps, $120.64

Thomas: manufacturer-rated speed, 40 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 37.0 cps; percent of variance, 8 percent; price, $2,995; price per cps, $80.95

VersaPoint: manufacturer-rated speed, 40 cps; IBTC-rated speed, 27.4 cps; percent of variance, 32 percent; price, $3,795; price per cps, $138.50.

As you can see from these data, the results we obtained from some of the printers varied greatly from their manufacturers' published figures. There are a number of reasons for this variation, some of which are understandable and acceptable, and some of which are not. First, remember that manufacturers naturally rate their machines in the way that shows them in the best light. While this is understandable and mostly acceptable, we think that some of them have gone too far and should revise their figures. One long-time marketing executive in the printer field said to us, "Lots of mud is going to be slung here, and some of it will stick to us all, but we [the embosser producers] will be better off for it in the long run."

A number of embossers, such as the BookMaker and the Braille Express from Enabling Technologies, take approximately the same time to print a line, whether there are 30 characters on it or 44. Since these printers will print up to 44 characters on a line, the manufacturer naturally computes the CPS rating using the longer line, which raises the rating. Thus our results, which are based on a 40-character line length, should legitimately be increased by at least 10 percent, making our figures very close to Enabling's.

Other manufacturers may measure only a single Braille page of text because the page change takes time. We suspect that this is in part how Index arrived at its initially unrealistically high rating of the original Everest. Still others use a burst rate--timing the printing of just one line. This is what Blazie Engineering did with the Blazer, according to Deane Blazie.

Putting it into Perspective

What follow are our observations concerning individual embossers as well as information we believe necessary to interpret the individual results. Please remember that printing speed is only one aspect of choosing a Braille embosser. Others include price; quality of Braille produced; reputation of manufacturer; reliability; reputation of local dealer; past experience; availability of timely service and support; ease of operation; clear and understandable documentation; manuals available in well-formatted, Grade II Braille; and more.

The manufacturer-provided speed figure for the Braille Blazer is a bit optimistic and should be reduced in our opinion. While a good deal of variance from our test can be expected, a 47 percent difference seems too much to us. Prior to testing, our hypothesis was that a 10 percent variance would be acceptable. After conducting the tests, we now conclude that a 20 percent variation is probably acceptable, although less is better. As already pointed out, at least a 10 percent variance can legitimately be accounted for in some cases.

The Braille BookMaker from Enabling Technologies is one of the units that was rated by its manufacturer using a 44-cell line, so its 80 CPS rating is not unrealistic. We were surprised by how close the Braillo 200 came to its rated speed and how far off the Braillo 400S was from its rated speed. With a 31 percent variance, a re-rating by Braillo Norway might be in order. A 350 CPS rating would make more sense. The Braille Comet missed its mark because it is slow in moving paper when going to a new page from a partially printed page. The Braille Express and the Express 100 were both rated by Enabling Technologies using a 44-cell line, so their figures are not as different from ours as would first appear. The Elekul-03 came fairly close to its manufacturer's rating; in fact its speed is directly related to the voltage of the electrical supply. Since ours is on the low side of average, the speed could be increased by raising the voltage.

The Everest-D (originally sold exclusively by Telesensory) has two figures listed: 100 and 60 CPS. When it was introduced in 1992, Index and Telesensory both widely touted its 100 CPS figure. As you can see from our results (51.7 CPS and a 48 percent variance) its actual performance doesn't even come close. In June of 1995 Index published a newsletter in which it provided speed figures for all their printers. Interestingly enough, all figures were lower--considerably so in some cases--than those previously published. Even figures for embossers the company no longer manufactures were adjusted downward. Further, Index has developed its own speed test and has been circulating it to other printer manufacturers in an attempt to get all of them to use the test. At least one company (Enabling Technologies) has resisted, feeling, they say, that the testing should be done by an independent entity like the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. They also believe that the test was devised so as to put Index products in the best light.

We have looked at the Index test and have even run it on a few machines. It yields faster times than the IBTC-developed test. While it is not a bad one, we concluded that it wasn't very realistic. It was almost entirely straight text with most lines filled. It also included no form feeds, leaving page breaks to the embosser which, with most machines, is usually faster. However, most Braille translation programs insert form feeds so that they can control page size, accurately supply page numbers, and easily change page sizes.

One Braille translator author described Index's revised figures as "preemptive revisionism." Index knew we were working on printer speed ratings and has very recently publicly revised its figures to be more realistic. While these are now quite accurate and more realistic than those of many and though the efforts of Index to get a handle on measured printer speeds are laudable, the fact still remains that in the past, and for a long time, Index used some very inflated figures. We can only hope that everyone will start using more realistic figures now that attention has been drawn to this issue.

Other Index embossers tested include the new Everest-D and the Index Basic. The new Everest came relatively close to its revised rating of 79 CPS. The Index Basic missed its rating by an unacceptable level. Index has marketed the embosser as a 50-CPS machine for years, touting it as faster than the competition, the Romeo RB-40 and the VersaPoint. At 28.5 CPS, it is little faster than the others, particularly the Romeo, which we rated at 28.1 CPS. Its revised rating of 40 CPS is more realistic than before, but its 29 percent variance is still too high.

According to Enabling Technologies, the Juliet prints one line per second. Since it can print up to a 56-character line, its potential speed can be as high as 56 CPS. We found that the machine comes acceptably close to its published rating.

Also the Marathon, Ohtsuki, and Porta-Thiel come reasonably close to their published specifications. As an interesting aside, the Ohtsuki took over 7 hours to run the printing test. The quickest machine ran it in just under 9.5 minutes.

The Resus RS-214, which is no longer available, missed its specifications by a little more than we would have preferred. It seems a bit slow in moving paper through blank lines. The Romeo RB-40 is not rated accurately. The machine misses its mark by 30 percent. A longer line might have helped it a little, but not much. The RB-20 and the RB-25, on the other hand, came quite close to their published specifications. The RB-25 in particular represents a good bargain. For $1,100 less than the RB-40, you sacrifice only 4.3 CPS, and the Braille quality is quite good. The RB-20 is primarily marketed to sign makers now. Some components have been strengthened to allow it to emboss on light metal and plastic materials reliably.

The Ted 600 was originally rated at 450 CPS. The manufacturer later slowed down the machine to make it more reliable. They estimate the slowed-down version at 350 CPS, and at 295.2 CPS we consider our rating to be in line with theirs.

The Thiel BAX-10 was a disappointment, while the Beta X/3 was quite near its published figure. Considering its 183 CPS and a 39 percent variance figure, the BAX-10 should be re-rated.

The Thomas is another one of Enabling's new printers that comes quite close to its published figure, produces good Braille, and is a good bargain. Finally, the VersaPoint missed its mark by a good deal. It is slower than the Romeo RB-40, which is its main competition. At 27.4 CPS and a 32 percent variance, it should be reclassified by Telesensory.

Conclusions

While we have devoted a good deal of time and energy to rating Braille embossers, we reiterate that speed is only one consideration in making a printer decision. The actual numbers themselves are probably not as important as their comparisons to each other. It is more important to know that the Romeo RB-40 is slightly faster than the VersaPoint or that the Braillo 200 is faster than the Thiel Bax-10 (which is considerably more expensive) than it is to remember the exact numbers. Also, as noted earlier, there are other factors which should be considered.

In addition to the speed ratings, we have provided a dollar-per-CPS figure. While it is hard to resist this measure, it does involve a couple of dangers. First, there is a tendency (especially by government types who are writing specifications for equipment bids) to use measures like this as their sole means of decision-making. These measures do not take into account Braille quality and other important factors. Second, when designing a printer, the manufacturer has to make certain tradeoffs and compromises. It may be possible to gain some apparent speed by using a shorter line--at the cost of flexibility. And an embosser employing a long line and rated by a conservative but arduous test such as that developed by the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind may look more unattractive than it actually is. In short, a variety of factors should be considered and balanced when making the decision to buy an embosser.

The prices of Braille printers have dropped over the past few years. There are also many more models available now than formerly. However, past a certain point, the only way to achieve more speed or lower price is to sacrifice the quality of the Braille produced. While we applaud consumer choice and lower prices, we do not want to see the quality of the Braille produced by computer-driven embossers reduced dramatically.

We urge the Braille printer industry to take a new look at measuring embosser speed. While we may not have designed the definitive speed test, we do believe that we have designed a fair, real-life test that can be used to draw valid comparisons. We also urge consumers, agencies, and government entities not to look only at our speed figures when making purchasing decisions. They are a useful comparison and guide, but they should be only one of many considerations.

The data presented here, while interesting, do not represent complete reviews of the Braille printers. However, the NFB's International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind has been working as a sub-contractor on a Braille Literacy Training grant that was awarded to the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Among other activities in connection with the NIDRR grant, the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind has now reviewed all of its Braille-related technology. The resulting document is being published in ink-print and Braille by APH and electronically by the National Federation of the Blind. By the time you read this article, the entire report should be available.

For more information about Braille embossers, translation software, or other technology matters, call the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. You can reach us afternoons at (410) 659-9314. You can also reach us via NFB NET, the NFB's computer bulletin board service, by calling (612) 696-1975.

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]

A FABLE FOR OUR TIMES: TALKING SENSE ABOUT TRUNCATED DOMES

by Peggy Pinder Elliott

From the Editor: We keep trying to explain to our sighted colleagues that the biggest problem of blindness is not that we can't see. It is, rather, what we ourselves and the people around us think about blindness and the limitations it imposes. The dictionary definition of the word blind and its metaphorical use in our language show what most people think. But here is yet another angle on what it means to be blind: You get studied. There is a class of so-called professionals who make their living and, it would seem, draw their meaning in life from studying blind people.

The latest proposals come from a private consultant hired by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to advise it on what further research, if any, should be done on the subject of truncated domes. From past reports in the Braille Monitor, one would have thought that the studies had all been done and that the enacting (or rather the de-enacting) of those absurd truncated-dome regulations should be well under way by now. Not so, according to the experts assembled by the private consultant. Their opinion is that much is left to study. This should not be surprising when one considers that one of the leading proponents of truncated domes, a professor who has received thousands in grant money through the years to study the blind, was a member of the panel of so-called experts making the recommendation.

Peggy Elliott, Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind and known for her work on truncated domes, was asked to comment on these research proposals. Here is the reply she made:

 

RESPONSE TO PROJECT ACCESS RESEARCH
PROPOSAL CONCERNING TRUNCATED DOMES

Useful research only flows from correct identification of a problem and complete canvassing of solutions to it. I don't see either of these prerequisites in the material from the Project Action task force. Perhaps the best way I can make my point is to offer a fable.

Fable

In the early nineteenth century in this country, literacy experts convened. They were aware that most Americans could not read and write. This troubled them, and they constituted themselves as a task force.

Task force members agreed without even needing to discuss the matter that illiteracy would be a fact of American life forever. This was true due to numerous shortages--books, paper, teachers, and learning time, which was absorbed by the urgent need of the economy for workers of all ages, leaving them without spare time in which to learn. Illiteracy was understood to be here to stay.

The experts swung into action. They recommended research on numerous topics aimed at finding language-neutral solutions to information problems. For example, they recommended research into standardizing the use of pictograms instead of writing on all signs. Numerous innovative methods of handling information were proposed. One was to address the unemployment problem by having uniformed officials at major intersections to give directions to people who could not read maps. The experts left the meeting, satisfied that they had handled a tough job superbly and happy that they had found a way to deal with illiteracy.

There were some critics of the report. Some said that changing the whole world to address illiteracy was putting the cart before the horse. These critics said that the way to solve the problem of illiteracy was to teach people to read. Once literacy starts to spread, it feeds upon itself. Lack of literacy skills isolates and excludes the illiterate in a society based on literacy. Why not expect literacy of everyone rather than dooming most citizens to illiteracy by (1) refusing to emphasize teaching and (2) reorienting the world to assume widespread illiteracy?

Of course, the report had its supporters within the illiteracy community. There were those who stood up and proclaimed how included they felt now that illiteracy was recognized as just another one of those characteristics some citizens have. These illiterates thanked the experts over and over for making illiterates feel welcome, for including them, and for finally addressing their needs.

Not much was heard from the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who were struggling at night after the chores were done to learn to read the family Bible or a tattered primer. These learners were too busy learning to take part in the national debate. But their way prevailed.

My point in telling this fable is to try to add some perspective to this much-plowed ground. It is radically untrue that no research has been done in the area of efficient travel by blind persons. Rather, it has been studied to death. Yet the studies never seem to resolve anything. Why?

Because the wrong questions are being studied and the wrong solutions proposed, as in the fable.

The first problem is that there isn't one--not the way the research proposal defines it. The problem is defined as an acute lack of information at every point along a blind person's path--information that is readily available to sighted pedestrians. This is just not true. Thousands and thousands and thousands of blind people walk around this country every day, going about their lawful rounds, attending meetings and workshops, going to church or to the store, holding jobs that include travel. These blind men and women do not think about the details that the research proposal seeks to examine. They're too busy getting where they are going, taking care of business, moving on.

As in the fable, we have two entirely different views of the present which imply two completely divergent views of the future. One view holds that blind people are sunk without massive external help. The other is that we can and do participate right now in the world as it is. In the fable the experts in illiteracy believed that no change would occur because they viewed the illiterates as beneath them and also because the experts were not thinking in social terms. But the social fact is that many blind people travel efficiently today, proving that virtually all blind people are capable of learning to do so.

One additional factor comes into play here. Human subject research is notoriously unreliable, and it is notoriously subject to the Heisenberg effect--that the person being studied will change behavior while under scrutiny. Added to these vagaries are two more strands of thought. One is that it is very hard to research something when the standards are both imprecise and shifting. We can tell if a virus is dead in a lab dish, but we cannot tell when a blind person is comfortable or skilled or neither. All research to date has been flawed because there is no externally applied objective standard against which we can judge outcome. And, in addition, the researchers in this area are all themselves sighted persons who work mostly with those who are learning to get around as blind people. In other words, the image in their minds is formed from a sighted point of view and comprised of people who necessarily have little or no skill. What about the thousands and thousands and thousands of blind persons who do have the skill?

And, while we're on the subject, where did competent blind people get the skill they have? Most will tell you that they got their skill from other blind people--either by watching them do successfully what they themselves have not yet done or by asking for tips and pointers on more efficient techniques. For example, every capable blind traveler will tell you that successful travel ultimately depends on the length of cane; the cane, when stood with the tip on the floor, should reach to the blind person's chin or higher. Yet most professionals deal out canes that rise to the person's diaphragm or sternum, dooming the traveler to poor posture and tardy, insufficient information and therefore poor travel skills. Efficient techniques pass from blind person to blind person; the self-proclaimed experts are never involved and probably don't even know that their teaching is routinely overridden and abandoned by experienced travelers.

What is left out of the research proposal is perspective. Like the experts in the fable, these experts would freeze the blind community in its current state of knowledge and development. They would hold that no improvement is possible and rebuild the world to address the profound deficiencies now perceived to be experienced by blind people as a class. But they have addressed the wrong problem. The problem should be defined as learning why some blind people travel safely and efficiently and others don't. As in the fable, the ones who do have taken the initiative on their own to seek out and learn what they needed to know. And, I might add, they didn't learn it from professionally trained orientation and mobility teachers.

Perhaps a good way of making this point is to mention a piece of Dr. Bentzen's research done several years ago. She discovered that many of the test subjects she was using did not know about curb ramps, did not even know they existed, and were fooled by them every time. Dr. Bentzen gently remarks that this may be partly a failure of teachers of the blind, who need to do a better job of training. She then reverts to the need for truncated domes--a truly stunning intellectual leap. Many blind people don't know about curb ramps? Are they just plain stupid? Don't they ever get out to walk around?

The answer sadly is that many do not. They do not because the method of teaching them the use of the white cane was so rigid and useless that they actually learned that the white cane is not a safe tool. Many people who are taught use of a cane by professionals are taught to walk specific routes they have practiced over and over. Success is graded by precision of cane arc and exact accuracy of crossing streets, an emphasis on detail that obscures for both teacher and learner the real point, which is to get where you are going. Many are taught only a little in their own neighborhoods. Many never get to the downtown section, where more of the ramps are located.

But I still come back to the original point. Dr. Bentzen herself says that the teachers are not teaching the students what is in the world and how to work with it. If this is so, then that's all the research we need. We need to abandon any further efforts to change anything except the teaching methods now in use. If the problem is curb ramps and if teachers now are not teaching curb ramps, then let's change the teaching instead of attempting to change every curb ramp in the world.

This is the perspective that is missing. The question should be to find out why some blind people travel and some do not. The solutions that flow from the answers to that question are teaching and social solutions.

We should all agree that we not spend more money on research that recommends we spend more money on changing the built environment until we have thoroughly examined and widely tried improving travel instruction and developing social solutions. We may be surprised at how quickly and effectively perceptions of the problems disappear. Teaching and social solutions are cheaper. They're more permanent. And, for the blind people who use them, they're much safer.

In the end no one can define standards for much more than slope of ramp because of the infinite variety of the world out there. It's better to teach the blind person to deal competently and comfortably with diversity than to try to write the impossible standard. And, even if the impossible standard did get written, it would be worthless. Blind people don't need it; they do desperately need other things like good training; they also need solutions that are inexpensive and easily applied everywhere right now. Only good training meets this test. Solutions aimed at altering the built environment do not. Nor do high-tech whiz-bang science fiction prognostications.

 

ISVI UPDATE

From the Editor: During the months since publication of the May 1995, issue of the Braille Monitor, in which we dealt exhaustively with the situation at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI), we have provided occasional updates on what is happening at the school. Last summer Dr. Dorothy Arensman was named to replace Dr. Richard Umsted as ISVI superintendent. Reports indicate that she is taking hold firmly and beginning to do what is necessary to restore the institution. Of course, she is not moving as rapidly as some parents and consumers would like, but from what we can tell she seems to be going in the right direction.

Steve Benson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, invited her to speak to the state convention during the first weekend in November about the school. Dr. Arensman accepted the invitation and answered delegates' questions clearly and completely. She also told the group that she saw nothing to be gained from continuing ISVI's accreditation with the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). She has since assured Cathy Randall, First Vice President of the NFB of Illinois and a member of the ISVI Advisory Council, that she intends to write the letter notifying NAC of her decision before the end of the year. She told Cathy, that as far as she could tell, NAC was nothing more than an old-boy network and that with the school's North Central accreditation she saw nothing to be gained and much money to be wasted by maintaining continued NAC accreditation.

We can certainly applaud the good sense revealed in this statement.

The following are two articles that appeared in early September in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier. Both were written by staff writer William Dennis. The first appeared on September 5. Here it is:

 

New Blind School Chief Warms to Job

by William Dennis

Dorothy Arensman moved thousands of miles to become superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. But students are the ones experiencing culture shock.

Dr. Arensman noticed some odd reactions when she walked into a student dormitory soon after taking over in late August.

"I don't think they are used to having someone visit them (in the dorms)," she said. "I think that will go away once they get used to me coming and going."

Dr. Arensman came to ISVI in part because she wanted a job that gave her personal contact with children, which her previous job as the director of personnel and special services with the Bering Strait School District in Unalakleet, Alaska, didn't allow.

"I guess it's the nurse in me, but I like to make rounds every morning," Dr. Arensman said. "I go into classrooms and spend a little time with students."

Dr. Arensman's personal touch is "wonderful," said Cathy Randall of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. "It's a real improvement," Ms. Randall said. "It's great that she does want to have a personal relationship with the students. She seems warm and genuinely concerned with the students."

Dr. Richard Umsted, who was fired last year for failing to inform the Department of Rehabilitation Services of student-on-student sexual abuse, had also been criticized by some in the blind community for not maintaining close contact with students.

In only six weeks on the job Dr. Arensman also earned high marks from Dave Postle, vice chairman of the ISVI Advisory Council and a frequent critic of DORS and Dr. Umsted's administration. He was impressed with how the new superintendent handled an assault on a worker by a high school student.

"Dr. Arensman supported the employee to the hilt," Mr. Postle said. "The student was punished, which taught him and other students that misbehavior will not be tolerated. Employees also learned they will be supported."

Mr. Postle also is pleased with Dr. Arensman's efforts to bring new technology to the school, as well as her plans to visit classrooms and give teachers advice on how to do their jobs better.

"Those teachers haven't had that for fifteen years or more," he said. "DORS may have made a good choice in spite of themselves."

When Dr. Arensman took over, she found employees who "take a great deal of pride in their work," she said. She was also surprised by the support Jacksonville residents have for ISVI and the Illinois School for the Deaf.

"In some communities facilities with special populations would not be welcome," she said.

She is also getting used to working with teachers who have years of experience working with the same students, she said. Teachers who worked in rural Alaska villages tended to leave for new jobs after one or two years, and students there often were resigned to the idea of their favorite teachers' leaving.

Dr. Arensman took over the post as the school is trying to recover from reports that administrators routinely failed to inform DORS and parents of physical and sexual abuse of students.

"We are following every rule and regulation so we are above and beyond reproach," she said.

That was the upbeat article about the new ISVI superintendent. The following day, September 6, an article appeared which demonstrated that, though some things have changed in matters surrounding the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, others remain depressingly discordant, particularly where Richard Umsted is concerned. Dr. Umsted wanted the state of Illinois to pay for separate legal counsel for him in a civil suit brought against him and the state by an ISVI parent whose son was allegedly molested sexually by other students without intervention from school officials. Here is Bill Dennis's article:

Umsted Seeks Counsel Abused Student's Father Sues by William Dennis

The former superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired doesn't want the Illinois Attorney General's office to represent him in a lawsuit filed by an abused student's father.

A possible conflict of interest should prevent Attorney General James Ryan from representing Richard Umsted, said the former superintendent's attorney, H. Allen Yow.

"The state's interest is totally different from Mr. Umsted's interests," Mr. Yow said. The state would pay any real damages a court could assess against Dr. Umsted, while the former superintendent would pay the punitive damages, Mr. Yow said.

Another conflict could exist because the Department of Rehabilitation Services may have given Mr. Ryan's office information about Dr. Umsted after the agency fired the superintendent in August, 1994, for not reporting incidents of student-on-student sexual abuse at the school.

"We don't know exactly what DORS communicated to the attorney general's office (about) the termination of Mr. Umsted," Mr. Yow said.

A complaint for declaratory judgment filed September 1 in Morgan County Court seeks to force the attorney general's office to let Dr. Umsted select his own attorney, whose fees would be paid by the state. The attorney general's office has refused requests to allow Mr. Umsted to select his own attorney, Mr. Yow said.

The suit filed by Ronald Stevens in June in U.S. District Court in Springfield seeks $1,000,000 in punitive damages and real damages of more than $50,000. According to the complaint, the State Employees Indemnification Act requires Mr. Ryan's office to represent Dr. Umsted because he was a state employee at the time of the acts alleged in the suit.

Mr. Stevens' suit claims his son was "repeatedly subject to physical assaults of a sexual nature by a fellow student or students" while the son was a student at ISVI from 1984 to June, 1994.

The suit claims the assaults were reported to Dr. Umsted, who failed to notify DORS and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and also failed to protect the student from further assaults.

The student "suffered physical pain, emotional distress, embarrassment, and humiliation" and will do so in the future as well, according to the suit. Mr. Stevens incurred medical and hospital bills due to treatment and diagnosis of his son's injuries, the suit alleges.

Mr. Yow is advising Mr. Umsted not to talk to the media. The former superintendent and his wife moved away from Jacksonville.

Dr. Umsted has until September 13 to file an answer to Mr. Stevens' complaint.

Jeffrey K. Clapper, Mr. Stevens' attorney, did not return a telephone message.

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Donald C. Capps, President of the NFB of South Carolina]

NFB OF SOUTH CAROLINA FIGHTS TO PRESERVE
COMMISSION FOR THE BLIND

State rehabilitation agencies serving the blind seem inevitably to attract or stimulate political intrigue. The details vary from time to time and place to place, but people with serious problems and needing immediate help are understandably frustrated when overworked staff act slowly or not at all. Moreover, counselors and supervisors who are being criticized are likely to become defensive and dig in their heels. In such circumstances accusations fly and people instinctively take sides. At that point reason, good faith, and common sense too often depart. The current brouhaha surrounding the South Carolina Commission for the Blind provides a distressing case in point--with a distasteful admixture of racial accusation thrown in for good measure.

In the May 1995, issue of The Palmetto Blind, the magazine of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, Don Capps wrote at length about the situation in his President's column. He pointed out that thirty years ago the South Carolina affiliate successfully fought for the establishment of an independent commission to serve blind citizens. Three of the first four commissioners appointed to lead the agency were removed from office during times of controversy, and there are now those who would like to see Commissioner Donald Gist meet the same fate.

According to Don Capps, accusations against the Commission abound: inefficiency, bureaucratic snarls, slow or non-existent responses to letters and phone calls, etc. Don acknowledges that phone calls should always be returned punctually, letters be answered efficiently, red tape cut to a minimum, and rehabilitation business conducted as expeditiously and compassionately as possible. People should never be told that there are no funds for needed services unless that is absolutely and demonstrably the case. But he goes on to say that from his perspective things are no worse at the Commission today than they have ever been, and his personal experience has been that inquiries are handled quickly and responsibly. He goes on to point out that the Commission staff members whom some have recently accused of misconduct are often the same people who were employed by the agency before Mr. Gist became Commissioner, and they are giving the same kind of service today they have always provided.

There is no doubt, Don says, that blind South Carolinians are better off today than they were before the Commission was established. The Business Enterprise Program employs many more people, and the quality of their jobs and income is much greater. Many more students are attending college with the assistance of the Commission than previously, and much good work is being done to assist older blind citizens and those living in rural areas. Yet there are always a few people inclined to grumble.

Unfortunately, in a climate in which the legislature is always trying to save money by consolidating service- delivery agencies, the danger is that any dissatisfaction that registers in the legislature will be used as an excuse to eliminate the Commission for the Blind and tuck its services into another agency, where they will inevitably be downgraded.

This is the danger that now faces South Carolina's commission and its blind citizens. According to Don, the NFB of South Carolina is prepared to stand and fight whenever its good name and reputation for integrity are impugned and whenever the best interests of blind people are endangered, and he says that time has now come. This is the way he described the current situation in his May Palmetto Blind column:

A few individuals, led by Earlene Gardner, former chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the agency [the South Carolina Commission for the Blind], have taken it upon themselves to engage in destructive activities. The NFB of South Carolina has many contacts and friends in the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate, who keep us posted on significant developments which affect the blind. On or about March 15 a Dear-Friend letter signed by a blind vendor, Hattie Waymeyers, but believed to have been authored primarily by Earlene Gardner was distributed to legislators, including members of the Senate. In this letter Commissioner Gist was assailed.

The letter stated, "Everyone, myself included, thought that once the new board was in place, the long awaited changes would occur to correct the many problems at the agency. However, this did not occur. It seems that the new board chairman, Mr. Robert Harrelson, has been seduced by Mr. Gist and has elected to ignore the mandated evaluation of the Commissioner and will not permit the board to meet in executive session to discuss Mr. Gist's performance, which performance is at the root of the agency's problems. Another board member, the Reverend W.O. Willis, has been wooed by Mr. Gist with travel and perks to Myrtle Beach and Washington, D.C., as a representative of the agency--an agency whose operation and mission he knows little or nothing about."

So said the letter ostensibly written by Hattie Waymeyers, and it seems out of line that Reverend Willis, who has been on the board only a few months, would be criticized for travel to Myrtle Beach and Washington, considering the fact that Mrs. Gardner received payments from the Commission for the Blind totalling $25,895.05 from 1990 to 1993. The March 15 letter goes on to say: "While clients are being told that there are no funds available to purchase the equipment needed for the employment and jobs are being lost to lack of Commission support, he is spending over $40,000 a year at the Rocky Bottom Camp operated by the NFB of South Carolina for rural-mobility training. This camp is operated free to all blind citizens, and this training could be held in any of the nearby state parks at no cost to the taxpayers."

After being viciously attacked, the Reverend Oliver Willis understandably responded to the letter signed by Hattie Waymeyers of March 15 by writing to legislators on March 23, 1995, in part as follows: "I just could not let a matter of this significance pass without a corrected reply. First, where did she [Hattie Waymeyers] get her information? How did she get her information? She is not a member of the Board of the Commission for the Blind. Yet she speaks of the Commission's business as though she were an ex-officio member. Second, such innuendoes, inferences, untruths throughout her letter are false, unfounded, and a deliberate attempt to cause friction. Such accusations concerning me are outrageous and ill-willed. Why? I do not know. Such comments as she makes do not warrant a response, for such immature and idle talk is unbecoming one of dignity and character. . . .

"Recommendation: It is my honest desire to have Mrs. Waymeyers make these allegations under oath and to be cross- examined. Isn't it the American way for the victim to have the right to confront his accuser? Further, this recommendation would carry with it a proviso that, if a member [of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind Board] is discovered to be feeding this woman false and malicious statements. . . which I believe is the case. . ., then the member should be required to resign from the board within ten days."

Concerning the statements made about Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind in the March 15 letter, which were designed to harm both Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind and the NFB of South Carolina, the statement that Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind receives more than $40,000 a year from the Commission for the Blind is inaccurate. The correct amount is $38,000 a year. A similar amount is being paid to the South Carolina Lions Club Association for their sight preservation program, but no one criticizes the Lions contract since it is well known that the Lions are not going to get involved in any vendetta against the Commission's administration. Furthermore, Earlene Gardner was a chief supporter of the program at Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind in partnership with the Commission for the Blind when the project was initiated in 1991. This is an excellent program of service to the blind, and any objective review of the program by a responsible person is welcomed. The program is cost- effective. Waymeyers's March 15 letter goes on to say: "This camp is operated free to all blind citizens, and this training could be held at any of the nearby state parks at no cost to the taxpayers."

It is true that the rank-and-file blind of this state are able to visit Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind and enjoy its facilities without cost. The special training program in partnership between the NFB of South Carolina and the Commission for the Blind for Commission clients provides far more than just a casual visit to the camp, and Earlene Gardner knows this. The contract between the NFB of South Carolina and the Commission for the Blind provides Commission clients, among other things, "meals; snacks; services of the resident manager; attendance of a licensed practical nurse to provide health care; and other related services, facilities, programs, and goods." When Commission clients are at Rocky Bottom, they receive rehabilitation, orientation, rural mobility, Braille, and communication, among other services. The contract goes on to state, "The services provided at the camp in conjunction with the programs through the South Carolina Commission for the Blind will emphasize building the client's skills and confidence."

Earlene Gardner knows full well that blind persons who visit the camp for rest, leisure, and recreation do so on a free basis but are not entitled to the special services provided by the aforementioned program between Rocky Bottom and the Commission. In our judgment it is despicable to distort this situation for political purposes. The Commission for the Blind gets more than its money's worth for the services provided by Rocky Bottom Camp of the Blind for Commission clients. More important, the clients participating in this program are greatly benefited. As for the idea of state parks' being used for this purpose by the Commission, to make such a claim is outrageous and is simply distortion of the facts.

The activities of Mrs. Gardner and her small following have now taken on a far more serious tone. Members of the legislature, including state senators, have now received a so-called anonymous position paper on the state of affairs at the Commission for the Blind. This anonymous communication, which was faxed to someone who then saw that it was circulated to members of the South Carolina Legislature, has serious ethical, legal, and political implications. The communication was faxed at 8:45 a.m. April 24, 1995. The fax number was on the communication, and it has been verified that this fax machine is located at the Owens Corning Fiber Company in Aiken, South Carolina. Thus the fax is really not anonymous because the sender and recipient overlooked one important thing--the failure of the sender to delete the fax number.

The so-called position paper begins as follows: "As members of the Black Blind Professional Alliance (BBPA), we are gravely concerned about the current state of affairs at the Commission for the Blind." The position paper goes on to state, "Furthermore, this administration does not respect the views of any black, blind person who is educated and outspoken. This is evident in the fact that Mr. Gist continues to use fear and intimidation to silence people like Ms. Hattie Waymeyers, who is highly respected in the black, blind community and a vocal critic of the Commission for the Blind." The position paper also states, "We also feel it is not fair for Mr. Gist to claim he is a victim of `racism.' To play the `race game' is a convenient way to win sympathy from the black community, which Mr. Gist is able to do whenever his critics are too vocal. The BBPA will make every effort to insure that the Black Caucus is not used by Mr. Gist to serve as his pawn because the real issue is accountability and not race."

The position paper contains a veiled threat against the Black Caucus as the following passage indicates: "Therefore, any show of support from any member of the Black Caucus will be viewed with a great deal of `suspicions.'" Reverend Oliver Willis, vice chairman of the Commission's Board of Commissioners, is also attacked. As the paper states, "We strongly believe that Reverend Willis is easily manipulated by Mr. Gist and is not perceived by the majority of the members of BBPA as being someone capable of making objective and impartial decisions regarding the affairs of the agency." Reverend Willis, however, was not the only board member attacked. The position paper denounces all members of the board by saying, "Presently, BBPA does not support the appointment of any governing board members to the Commission for the Blind because the board, like the previous board, allowed itself to fall victim to the charm and manipulative games of Mr. Gist."

The position paper goes on to say, "On a final note, the BBPA would like to go on record as supporting `legislation that would put the agency in the Governor's office, elect a panel of board members who are accountable to the Governor and not to the agency head.'" The position paper further states, "Unfortunately, members of the Black Blind Professional Alliance have opted not to identify ourselves for fear of becoming victims of `McCarthyism' or targeted by Mr. Gist for exercising our God-given right of Freedom of Speech."

The NFB of South Carolina believes in freedom of speech but also believes that such freedoms should not include or validate slander and libelous attacks. It is perfectly understandable why no one was willing to sign this so-called position paper. It would appear, however, from information reaching The Palmetto Blind that Earlene and Charles Gardner were involved in circulating this position paper. Mr. Gardner is employed by the Owens Corning Fiber Company of Aiken and has been for a number of years.

Contacts have been made with officials of Owens Corning, including Mr. Jerry Hawkins, by Commission officials and members of the Senate, who are outraged. Information furnished to The Palmetto Blind indicates that Mr. Hawkins has discussed this matter with Charles Gardner, who has not denied that he used Owens Corning's fax machine to send the fax to Columbia, where it was apparently reproduced and widely distributed. While Mr. Gardner apparently faxed the so-called position paper, it is believed that Earlene Gardner was its principal author. Information received by The Palmetto Blind indicates that Mr. Hawkins of Owens Corning Fiber Company disapproved of the use of that company's fax machine for purposes unrelated to Owens Corning. The nature and political implications of the position paper are extremely serious. When the fax was received in Columbia, it is likely that the duplication involved the use of state resources, which in and of itself would constitute a significant impropriety, if not an outright violation of the law.

Inquiries have failed to confirm the existence of an organization known as Black Blind Professional Alliance. It appears that the author or authors of the anonymous paper felt the use of such a name was necessary to give the paper some credibility. In our judgment, however, doing so constitutes a disservice to many fine black blind people in this state who for the most part would have nothing to do with such an anonymous paper. This is especially true if (as we believe) the anonymous paper was written by a white author. The NFB of South Carolina has more minority members than any other affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. They serve as chapter and state officials and make outstanding contributions to the well-being of the NFB of South Carolina and to their white blind brothers and sisters across the state. The nature and tone of the position paper is in and of itself racist. The NFB of South Carolina would never endorse or support any organization such as a White Blind Professional Alliance because this would also be racist.

The Palmetto Blind has learned that members of the Black Caucus are also outraged by the manner in which they are described in the position paper. One thing is certain-- the author or authors of the position paper have managed to alienate a lot of important people, and their actions seem to be those of frantic and confused people who are consumed with hate. The NFB of South Carolina has requested its law firm carefully to investigate and study the legal implications of the false pretenses of this position paper. We leave to Owens Corning what action to take concerning the unauthorized use of its fax machine to transmit this so- called position paper with its fraudulent representation of authorship. While every blind South Carolinian has every right to his or her own position concerning the Commission and programs for the blind, in light of what has transpired with respect to the position paper and the circumstances surrounding it, Earlene Gardner's small following may wish to rethink its position.

Finally, with respect to the Commission's monthly board meeting, the NFB of South Carolina has concerns regarding the audience-participation part of the meeting. The governing board of the Commission for the Blind is, of course, responsible for the conduct of its meetings. At the same time, however, the integrity and order of the board meeting is also important. While the NFB of South Carolina supports freedom of expression and input from the blind at the board meetings, when such expression and input become irresponsible and mean-spirited, this participation is not warranted or desirable.

At the April 19 meeting of the Commission's board, the audience participation was especially disturbing. Various participants attacked members of the board as well as Commissioner Gist and in fact attacked each other. The potential for violence existed. There is no place for this kind of behavior in the conduct of Commission business. Since freedom of expression and input by the blind are important, in order to avoid future acrimony of the type that occurred at the April 19 meeting, we suggest that the board consider having those blind persons attending monthly board meetings present their comments in writing to the board for its consideration and action. Any future spectacle of the type that occurred at the April 19 board meeting can only do further harm to the Commission.

Having participated as a volunteer in this big program of serving the blind for more than forty years, I know first-hand that people have different perspectives about state programs. This is to be expected, but I can not recall during the past forty years when there has been so much hatred by a few people. It cannot be justified or permitted to take control. The NFB of South Carolina will continue to be responsible in its positions and will do everything humanly possible to help stabilize the current situation. Because of its impressive track record for fifty years, the NFB of South Carolina is respected by the public and the General Assembly. All of us involved in this big program of serving the blind should do everything we can individually and collectively to bring about goodwill and respect for each other. The blind of the state need and deserve the very best possible from all of us.

That is the way Don Capps described the events of the early spring. The six Black Senators, who comprise the membership on the Senate side of the South Carolina Black Caucus, did not take kindly to the attack on them in the so- called position paper circulated by the Gardners and one Black vendor in the Business Enterprise Program. The most obvious place for the Senators to lodge their complaint was with the company whose Fax machine had been used to circulate the accusations. Here is the letter they wrote to the manager of the Owens Corning plant in question:

Columbia, South Carolina
May 1, 1995

Mr. Jerry Hawkins, Plant Manager
Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp.
Aiken, South Carolina

Dear Mr. Hawkins:

Last week several senators saw Mr. & Mrs. Charles and Earlene Gardner sitting in the Gressette Building Canteen talking with Ms. Hattie Waymeyers. A few days later up pops the attached Owens Corning fax of 04-24-1995, 8:45 (803-468- 6351, 526 Aiken TSO) in the Gressette Building, and I assume it was received on the South Carolina Senate Fax: (803) 212- 6299. Also, the fax is coming from a phantom (appearance with no substance, image in the mind) organization, i.e., the Black Blind Professional Alliance (BBPA)--which professes to speak for Black people. We didn't realize that the three founders and three members were in the process of founding BBPA in Ms. Waymeyers' Canteen--eye witnesses to history. But this is what puzzles us six Black Senators: If two members of a three-member organization are white, then how in the hell can they call said organization Black?-- unless, of course, there is something in the Gardners' family tree roots that they ain't shared with us.

Mr. Hawkins, it's bad enough for Mr. & Mrs. Charles and Earlene Gardner to use Ms. Hattie Waymeyers in a long-standing vendetta of trashing Mr. Donald Gist, South Carolina Blind Commissioner. But when the unholy trinity starts trashing and disparaging the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus (six senators and twenty-five representatives), we must quote the dog that raped the skunk, "We've enjoyed just about as much of this as we can stand." And if the unholy trinity (BBPA) think we senators are going to sit here in the South Carolina Senate and allow them to dump on us, they're crazy as hell. Therefore, we are respectfully requesting your response in writing to the following:

1. Is it Owens Corning policy to let employees use their fax to disparage Black legislators in the South Carolina Assembly?

2. What does Owens Corning plan to do in regard to clearing our names (making us whole), as elected officials that speak for our constituents in general and Blacks in particular? Yes, unlike the self-appointed unholy-trinity.

3. Please list the names, addresses, and phones for Owens Corning's Chief Executive Officer and attorney.

In conclusion, please be advised that we shall continue to speak to the needs, the dreams, and the aspirations of our people--the self-appointed leaders, phantom organizations, and unholy-trinity notwithstanding.

May we thank you in advance for your cooperation in this grave and serious matter and for a response as soon as practicable?

Yours in the struggle,

Senator Kay Patterson
Senator John W. Matthews, Jr.
Senator Maggie Wallace Glover
Senator Darrell Jackson
Senator Robert Ford
Senator McKinley Washington, Jr.

And how did Mr. Hawkins answer this clearly angry demand for information and a change in company practice? He obviously remembered the Biblical admonition that "A soft answer turneth away wrath" and hoped that employing such a strategy would allow the storm to blow over. This is what he said to each of the Black Senators:

Aiken, South Carolina
May 11, 1995

Dear (blank):

Personally and on behalf of Owens Corning, I regret that our company fax was used by Mr. Charles Gardner to send his message dated April 24, 1995.

Our practice at Owens Corning is not to allow personal use of company equipment or materials without prior management approval, which was not sought in this situation. I personally counselled Mr. Gardner about this matter and emphasized that our equipment is not to be used for personal or political matters. In addition, to avoid future misunderstandings we will clearly communicate our expectations in this area to all 1200 employees at the Aiken Plant.

On behalf of Owens Corning and the Aiken Plant, I apologize for this unfortunate incident and misunderstanding. You have my commitment that action has been taken to avoid this type of misunderstanding in the future.

Sincerely, Jerry C. Hawkins
Plant Manager
Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation

There you have the exchange of correspondence that was reprinted in the Palmetto Blind. Not surprisingly Mr. Hawkins's response did not resolve the matter to the satisfaction of anyone. Two people who were deeply disturbed and offended at the allegations made in the April 24 fax were Leroy Burns, a blind vendor, and Leroy Moss, a widely respected employee of the Commission for the Blind. They have now brought suit against Earlene Gardner, her husband, the Black Blind Professional Alliance, and Owens Corning, Inc. Here is the complaint they filed on October 21, 1995:

In the Court of Common Pleas
Second Judicial Circuit

Complaint Jury Trial
Demanded Negligence

State of South Carolina
County of Aiken

Leroy Burns and Leroy Moss, Plaintiffs
vs.
Charles Gardner, Earlene Gardner; Black Blind Professional Alliance
and Owens Corning, Inc., Defendants.

Now comes the Plaintiffs who will show unto this Court that:

1. The Plaintiffs, are blind citizens and residents of the County of Richland, State of South Carolina.

2. Upon information and belief, the Defendants Charles Gardner and Earlene Gardner are husband and wife, residents of Aiken County and are agents of each other at all times relevant to this action.

3. Upon information and belief, the Defendant, Owens Corning Incorporated is a Corporation organized under the laws of the United States and operating in the State of South Carolina.

4. On or about April 24, 1995, the Defendant, Charles Gardner, intentionally faxed a document from his place of employment at Owens Corning using Owens Corning fax machine, to all African-American members of the Legislature of the State of South Carolina.

5. The Defendant, Black Blind Professional Alliance is not an organized entity within the State of South Carolina.

6. The document in question contained language in which the Defendant Earlene Gardner did represent herself to be a member of the Black Blind Professional Alliance.

7. The Defendant, Charles Gardner was and is an employee of the Defendant, Owens Corning.

8. The Defendant, Earlene Gardner is and was at all times relevant to this action, a Board member of the Commission for the Blind.

9. The Defendants, Charles Gardner and Earlene Gardner are caucasian.

For a First Cause of Action Defamation

10. The Plaintiffs reallege each and every above paragraph as if restated word for word.

11. Earlene Gardner was knowledgeable of and did authorize the actions of her husband on April 24, 1995.

12. The Defendants, Earlene and Charles Gardner, through the Black Blind Professional Alliance have made disparaging remarks causing retribution to the Black blind population of South Carolina.

13. The Defendants, Earlene and Charles Gardner, through the Black Blind Professional Alliance did state facts about the Commission for the Blind that are untrue.

For a Second Cause of Action Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

14. The Plaintiffs reallege each and every above paragraph as if restated word for word.

15. The Defendant, the Black Blind Professional Association, did allege such facts about the Commission for the Blind; which the defendant Earlene Gardner, who serves on the Commission for the Blind, knew the facts to be untrue.

16. Defendants' actions and statements were intended to cause injury to the Black blind persons of the State of South Carolina, in particular, to the Plaintiffs, and to the Commission for the Blind.

For a Third Cause of Action Respondeat Superior

17. The Plaintiffs reallege each and every above paragraph as if restated word for word.

18. The Defendant, Charles Gardner, did transmit the disparaging memo while within the scope of his employment at Owens Corning; as such, the Defendant Owens Corning is liable to Plaintiffs for Charles Gardner's actions through the doctrine of respondeat superior.

19. The Defendant, Charles Gardner, did publish the untrue defamatory remarks while posing as a representative of the Black Blind Professional Alliance by using the fax machine that he was authorized to use at his place of employment, Owens Corning.

20. The Defendant Owens Corning Incorporated ratified the action of its employee Charles Gardner.

For a Fourth Cause of Action Negligence

21. The Plaintiffs reallege each and every above paragraph as if restated word for word.

22. Defendant, Owens Corning, has a duty to the public to exercise due care in hiring, supervising, and retaining its employees.

23. The Defendant, Owens Corning, through its agents was negligent in the following particulars:

a. in the hiring of Charles Gardner.
b. in the supervision of Charles Gardner in that it is foreseeable that an employee could use the company's fax machine to perform improper acts, without specific written guidelines or company rules to regulate an employee's activities.
c. in the retention of Charles Gardner and not taking any disciplinary actions after the company became aware of Charles Gardner's use of the company's fax machine.

For a Fifth Cause of Action Fraud

24. The Plaintiffs reallege each and every above paragraph as if restated word for word. 25. The Defendants, Charles Gardner and Earlene Gardner, did seek to deceive the African-American members of the Legislature of the State of South Carolina and members of the public by posing as representatives of the Black Blind Professional Alliance.

26. The Defendant, Earlene Gardner, intended to portray herself as a member of the blind African-American community and as a representative of members of the African-American community.

Injunctive Relief

27. The Plaintiffs are informed and believe that they are entitled to an injunction prohibiting the Defendant Earlene Gardner from masquerading as a member of the blind African-American community of the State of South Carolina.

Damages

28. The Plaintiffs are informed and believe that they are entitled to monetary damages from the Defendants.

29. The Plaintiffs are informed and believe that as to the Defendant, Earlene Gardner, she should be removed from her position with the Commission for the Blind.

30. The Plaintiffs are informed and believe that the Defendants are liable for misrepresenting themselves as being blind persons.

31. The Plaintiffs are informed and believe that they are entitled to actual and punitive damages from the Defendant, Owens Corning, Incorporated.

32. The Plaintiffs are informed and believe that the Defendant should be enjoined from masquerading as representatives of the Black African-American community.

33. The Plaintiffs cannot afford to pay an attorney. The Plaintiffs are informed and believe that the Defendants should be responsible for the Plaintiffs' attorney's fees and costs associated with this action.

WHEREFORE, based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs pray that this Court enter its Order:

1. Granting Plaintiffs monetary damages.

2. Ordering that Defendant, Earlene Gardner, be removed from her position on the Commission for the Blind.

3. Defendants be held liable for misrepresenting themselves as blind people.

4. Granting Plaintiffs actual and punitive monetary damages from defendant, Owens Corning.

5. Granting an injunction barring the Plaintiffs from masquerading as representatives of the African-American community.

6. Ordering the Defendants to pay Plaintiffs' attorney fees and all other costs associated with this action.

7. Granting Plaintiffs such other and further relief as this Court deems just and equitable.

Dated this 21st day of October, 1995.
Smalls Law Firm
Joseph L. Smalls, Jr., Esquire
Attorney for Plaintiffs
Columbia, South Carolina


[PHOTO/CAPTION: Rich Crawford]

AND THE BLIND SHALL LEAD: BUSY STOCKBROKER
AS INDEPENDENT AS HE WANTS TO BE

by Kate Thompson

From the Editor: The following story first appeared in the July 16, 1995, edition of the Sioux City Journal. Rich Crawford is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. He is also a successful stockbroker. Here is the article as it appeared:

Richard P. Crawford, Jr., is Vice President/Investment Officer for Dain Bosworth, Inc. Richard Crawford's office at Dain Bosworth looks like most stockbrokers' offices with a few personal touches.

The head of a deer he shot a few years ago on a hunting trip graces the wall near a globe. Framed pictures dot the walls. There's a computer, of course, and a calculator. And, leaning on the wall beside the door, there's a white cane. Crawford uses it to maneuver beyond his office.

Crawford, forty-five, is totally blind and has been since he was ten. But don't focus on the limitation. He doesn't.

Those who make the mistake of figuring they can beat him because he's blind sometimes find his handicap gives him an advantage.

That's what happened more than once when he was a high school wrestler. In the last few seconds his sighted opponent could see the time clock and would let up a little. Crawford, who had no idea that time was running out, more than once pinned opponents at 5:59.

"I never lost because I was blind," he says. "I lost because they were better."

The deer on Crawford's wall is just one example of his refusal to accept his limitations. He's tried hunting, driving a snowmobile, skiing both on water and snow. He's even driven a motorcycle--"anytime I can get somebody dumb enough to ride behind me," he says. "When I snow ski, the guide skis behind me and uses a walkie-talkie and talks me down the mountain."

Parents get credit

Crawford credits his parents with much of his success. "They taught me the best three-letter word in the language: try," he says. "I'll just try things to see how far I can push my talents and abilities. I can't find many maximums. I can't legally drive a car, but I have driven. I've never taken off or landed a plane, but I bet most other people haven't either."

When Crawford's plumbing breaks or his wife's car needs repairs, he doesn't immediately call for help.

"I always screw it up worse first," he said. "You'd be surprised, though, how often I fix it. It's amazing what I can do when I try."

Crawford's blindness is the result of a progressive eye disease. For the first few years, he says, he was angry, rebellious, and resentful.

OK to be blind

"Thank goodness I outgrew it," he says. "You have to get to acceptance, and you can't do that until it's okay to be blind."

Crawford earned a bachelor's degree at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, and a master of business administration degree at the University of South Dakota, which he earned while working full time.

He and his wife Sara, who is sighted, have a daughter and two sons.

Almost twenty years ago he decided he wanted to find an occupation that earned him more money. When he applied to become a stockbroker, he wasn't asked how he would solve all the problems he'd face on the job. Instead, he was told what it took to be a successful stockbroker.

"I said I could do that," Crawford said. But he had no idea how.

At first he needed an assistant to help him do what other brokers consider simple tasks, such as scanning the ticker for quotes and monitoring market news. He had a slow Braille-printing machine and a talking calculator about the size of a typewriter, but neither was quick.

Today he has a pocket-sized talking calculator, a paperless Braille device that reads his computer screen one line at a time, a Braille printer in case he wants to take work home, and vocal scanners that can read typed information aloud or convert it to his computer, where he can read it.

Technology helps

"The technology is wonderful, and it can give us independence," Crawford said. "But it doesn't make us stockbrokers, or accountants, or anything. All they are are the tools."

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed a few years ago, the intent was good, but the results haven't been great, Crawford said.

"If you think that, if you hire me, you will have to buy all this equipment, it puts up all kinds of obstacles," Crawford said. "We have a philosophy. Give us the training, give us an opportunity, and let us try. If we can't give you results, then politely fire us."

Other blind brokers have been hired at Dain Bosworth, and two of them were fired. But they weren't fired because they were blind, Crawford said.

"They were fired because they could not produce at the standards of our company," he said. "The ADA sometimes interferes with some employers who would give an opportunity."

Sometimes those who are handicapped are pigeon-holed into low-level positions when they have enormous unused potential.

"If a businessman were smart, he would hire handicapped people," Crawford said. "The majority are loyal, hard- working, and dependable. We don't take our job security for granted. Most of us had to work too hard to get them. Employers should exploit that."

Sometimes employers are prevented from hiring handicapped people when they consider the obstacles those potential employees face, such as how they will get to the office in the first place.

His thumb's out

Crawford gets there by hitchhiking, rain or shine. His average time to work is ten minutes, and he's been first into the office many times when snow kept sighted people home.

"Nice people stop; snobs drive by," he said. "I meet a lot of nice people, and I get two or three new clients from hitchhiking to work every month. I can't afford to quit hitchhiking."

Crawford said potential employers should give people the opportunity to solve their problems creatively. It may cost $11,000 for a Braille screenreader, but it's cheaper than the 70 percent unemployment now among blind people.

In his spare time Crawford works with parents of newly blinded children in the tri-state area and also with handicapped individuals working to become successful stockbrokers.

Those people can learn from Crawford, finding out what he's already learned by trial and error.

"They don't have to reinvent the wheel," he said. "It's fun to give. Life has been so good to me. It's fun to give back."

Some other handicapped people haven't been as successful as Crawford.

"I have to be careful not to be an Uncle Tom," he said. "Maybe their life isn't so good. It's important to share with one another and help each other as we struggle through life."

 

[PHOTO: The picture is of a sign "Xing for Blind."

CAPTION: Sign on 1st Avenue, South at 22nd Street near the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota building, which can be seen in the background]

CROSSING FOR BLIND SIGNS CROSSED OUT

by Peggy Chong

From the Editor: Apparently some small percentage of the general public observe blind people innocently going about our business and come up with what they believe are bright ideas. In the past these have ranged from the ridiculous (a combination cane and snow-removal device) to the ultimately helpful (white cane, proposed in 1933 in Peoria, Illinois). The problem has always been that these would-be altruists almost never consult blind people before implementing their bright ideas. One of the few disadvantages of having more blind people than ever before out and about, carrying on their personal business like everybody else is that we can probably expect an increase in these well- meant but usually inappropriate gestures complicating our lives.

This appears to be what happened to the blind population of Minneapolis last summer. Peggy Chong, President of the Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota, recounts the full story:

 

In early August, 1995, we discovered that, without our knowledge or input, crossing-for-blind signs had been installed near NFB of Minnesota headquarters. Members of our organization and the students and staff at BLIND, Inc. (our adult rehabilitation center), were understandably upset.

As soon as we discovered the signs, president Joyce Scanlan got on the phone to find out who was responsible for putting them up. No one would take responsibility for them; each official passed the buck to some other department. It appeared that, in order to get the signs removed, we would have to wage war against the city and wade through the time- consuming, bureaucratic red tape of city government. Joyce wrote the following letter:

August 18, 1995

Michael J. Monahan, Director Department of Public Works City of Minneapolis Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dear Mr. Monahan:

This letter is written to present to you a formal request to remove three "Xing for blind" traffic signs which have recently appeared along Nicollet Avenue, north and south of Twenty-second Street and along First Avenue to the south of Twenty-second Street. These signs, which have been added to already-existing "pedestrian crossing" signs, pose serious problems of safety and public understanding and social acceptance for the entire population of blind people. They must be removed immediately.

As president of an organization whose purpose is to bring about the integration of blind people into society on a basis of equality with others, I must point out serious questions and concerns about the effects of these signs on blind people throughout our community; on the students of BLIND, Inc., an orientation center where blind people receive training; and on the work that all of us do to create better public awareness and understanding of blindness.

I regret that I must bring this matter to your attention after the decision to install the signs has already been implemented. However, although the signs specifically refer to blind people and have a direct impact on our lives, neither the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM) nor BLIND, Inc., was consulted or given opportunity for input prior to the implementation of this very unfortunate decision. Therefore we are forced into the position of undoing an arbitrary and poorly-thought-out decision.

On Tuesday of this week, I spoke with Mr. Rick Dahl of the Transportation Division about my concerns. He was clearly uninterested in my concerns and said that, in order to reverse this very harmful situation, I must wend my way through city bureaucracy and deal with the City Council, et al. This is a fine example of bureaucracy run amuck and of why citizens today find government unresponsive and wasteful of public resources.

Mr. Dahl first told me that either the NFBM or BLIND, Inc., had asked for the xing-for-blind signs. When I refuted that possibility by pointing out that I had not been consulted or notified by anyone about the signs, he shifted his story to say that "Maybe it was a City Council member or a concerned neighbor." I have always understood that, before traffic lights or stop signs can be installed, there is vast opportunity for public input. Yet in this instance the public most concerned, blind people themselves, were excluded from the process.

Mr. Dahl then argued in favor of the xing-for-blind signs by saying, "We only put them in areas where there is a concentration of blind people." This sounds to me like the ghetto mentality. We had hoped that our community had progressed to the point where ghettos were no longer considered appropriate for anyone--including blind people. It should no longer be radical to plead for integration of blind people into our society. In every aspect of life today we hear of "mainstreaming" and "full inclusion." Blind people today travel independently and safely throughout the entire city, state, nation, and world. Yet our area has been designated by city officials as constituting a "concentration of blind people" and the basis for additional and special signs.

There is no evidence to prove that these xing-for-blind signs have value for either sighted drivers or blind pedestrians. Drivers ignore the signs, as witness an incident that occurred just last week, when a blind student assumed that the driver of an approaching truck had read and given heed to the xing-for-blind sign and stepped into the street. Fortunately no one was injured. Eyewitnesses and the police determined that "It was not the driver's fault." On the other hand, the xing-for-blind sign gave the blind student a false sense of security. Mr. Dahl charged that it is the responsibility of the training center to help students understand that they must not count on the signs to provide security. I am struggling to understand who the beneficiaries of the signs really are.

A normal environment is very important for blind students in a training center. The emphases at BLIND, Inc. are personal responsibility and independence. Students go all over the community where, in most cases, the environment can be counted on to be as it is for all citizens. Yet in the immediate area of the training center, you have created an unusual and artificial environment by introducing these xing-for-blind signs. Thus the work of the training program has been made more difficult.

I tried to discuss the effects of public attitudes about blindness on blind people themselves. There is a great deal of fear in the public mind regarding blindness. In fact, numerous public opinion polls have indicated that Americans fear blindness more than any other condition except cancer. This fear then translates into inaccurate and negative information and devastating consequences for blind people. The xing-for-blind signs placed on the streets without consultation with blind people are just one outcome of this public fear and misunderstanding. Students from the BLIND, Inc., training center are learning skills to promote independence and employability. The xing-for-blind signs have a negative effect on their prospects for a productive future as employed citizens as well as on the attitudes of the sighted drivers who may be potential employers of these blind students.

Then Mr. Dahl said, "I am concerned for the safety of blind people." I hope that he is concerned for the safety of all people. Since this "safety" concern is used so often when blind people are involved, one wonders if the implication is that we as blind people are not concerned with safety or cannot assume responsibility for our own safety and must be cared for. I can assure you that this is not the case. This statement on safety is frequently used as an argument to exclude blind people from equal access and equal participation. It is simply another way of saying, "Don't bother me with the facts; I know what is best for you blind people." It is an overused and much worn argument brought into a discussion to discount what we as blind people are saying.

A person who is blind learns to listen for the sounds of traffic and wait for traffic to clear before stepping into the street to cross. This listening technique truly does work as well as the seeing technique works for those with reliable eyesight. The listening technique is normal for those of us who are blind. We hope not to make mistakes, but after all sighted pedestrians make mistakes occasionally. The city should have no more liability for a blind citizen than it has for a sighted person.

In conclusion, the xing-for-blind signs are far more harmful than helpful. Please remove them from this area as soon as possible.

If you have questions or would like to discuss the matter further, please call me. I am sure we can resolve this matter with peace and harmony.

Very truly yours,

Joyce Scanlan
President, National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota

cc: Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton; members of the City Council; Marc Maurer, President, National Federation of the Blind

We cannot point out often enough that no one told us the signs had been requested or were going to be put up. No one came to ask the blind people whom the signs were supposed to protect if they were needed or wanted. One novel argument expressed in support of the signs was that, if they were taken down, the city would be more liable if a blind pedestrian were hit or injured. One wonders whether this increased liability would apply at other intersections around the city--intersections far more likely to be crossed by a blind pedestrian.

At the August meeting of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter, Joyce read her letter to the membership. Many people wanted to take down the offending signs right away. We ultimately decided that we did not want to cloud the issue with civil disobedience--well at least not right away. So we agreed to wait until August 24, at 2:00 p.m. We decided that, if we had not heard from the city by then, we would stage a picket around the signs and invite the media.

Supplies were purchased for picket signs; calls were made; some members arranged to take the day off; and some arranged for baby sitters. On Wednesday, August 23, at 1:00 p.m., Joyce received a call from Michael Monahan. He said that he was completely supportive of our position but that the removal of the signs had to be approved by the City Council. We decided to postpone the picketing and give Mr. Monahan a chance to make the system work.

Chapter members got to work. They contacted their City Council representatives by phone and by mail, informing them that we wanted the Xing-for-blind signs to come down! And our efforts paid off.

Because of the contacts we had made, the Transportation and Public Works Committee voted unanimously during the week of September 10 to remove the signs. On Friday, September 15, NFB of Minnesota members appeared at the Council meeting at City Hall. When the full Council heard the committee report, not a single comment was made in opposition. The Council voted unanimously to remove the signs.

Not until Tuesday, September 26, did the signs actually come down. The City of Minneapolis knows now that, if signs for the blind are ever to be installed, it had better consult the National Federation of the Blind first instead of spending public money foolishly.

There you have it. Because of the decisive action and determination of members of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, these obnoxious signs were removed. But the incident should be a warning to each of us. We must all be vigilant and prepared to act with speed and clarity in order to keep our own communities responsive to blind citizens rather than to those who would preach nonsense on our behalf.

 

[PHOTO: James Omvig]

IF I HAVE SEEN FURTHER:
THE BLIND SERVING COMMUNION?

by James H. Omvig

"My goodness, things are so bad over there at the church, now that they even have the blind serving communion!" So said an elderly, homebound member to one of her close friends and confidants on a particular Monday morning.

The church in question was the one I attended for several years in Baltimore, Maryland. The poor blind man who had supposedly been so abused by this congregation was me. Here is how it all happened.

At the time of this incident I had been blind for many years and had been an active member of this church for a short time. Years earlier, I had had the great good fortune of encountering the National Federation of the Blind, and I had experienced enormously valuable training and insight. I had been taught (and had come emotionally to believe) that as a blind person I was simply a normal human being who happened to be blind and that the opportunities for me to work and participate fully in the world were limitless. I had also learned that erroneous attitudes about blindness rather than the physical condition of being blind are the most persistent problems with which each blind person must deal on a daily basis. Finally, I had come to understand fully that as a successful blind person I had an obligation to do what I could to help change those existing, negative public attitudes.

I was living to the hilt what I had been taught by the Federation. I had become an attorney and was the Director of a major program of the Social Security Administration at its Baltimore headquarters. Additionally, I was married to a wonderful wife, had a fine young son, served as Vice President of my Lions Club, was an active member of my church's governing Board, and was also active in the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. My life was in every way normal, if busy.

A few weeks before the communion incident occurred, I had been asked by the minister (we'll call him Bob) if I would be willing to have my name placed in nomination to become one of the deacons of the church. I agreed and, as church elections generally go, I was elected without a hitch. It had not occurred to me that one of the duties of a deacon (at least, at this church) is to serve communion at the Sunday service.

Some time after the election we had a day of planning and training. Early on, the minister Bob came to my sighted wife (not to me) and said, "I'm making out the communion-serving schedule of deacons for the year. Jim won't want to serve communion, will he?"

My wife Sharon is also well grounded in proper attitudes about blindness and in the knowledge that we have a lot of work to do to make things better. She knew as well as I that Bob's real question was, "Since Jim is blind, he wouldn't be able to serve communion, would he?"

Even so, she just smiled and said, "I think you had better ask Jim about that." Then she came to me in another meeting and told me about Bob's question.

What was I to do? Or, more accurately, what were we to do, since my wife is as concerned as I that we seize every possible opportunity to provide positive educational experiences about blindness?

One thing was clear: It would not be helpful or even desirable for either of us to become upset or angry. Far from useful, such a reaction would have served only to teach the minister (and anyone else who happened to learn of it) that the blind are not only helpless and incompetent but also rude and ill-tempered on top of it. Frankly, I had not given a thought to the fact that deacons serve communion or the way in which I as a blind person might accomplish the task. I determined then and there, though, that it would be important for me to do it and that I would find a way! The National Federation of the Blind had taught me that. I decided to do it both because it was my duty as an elected deacon and because this would be a marvelous opportunity through quiet example for me to teach hundreds of people at a single stroke about blindness. We decided that I would just wait until Bob came to speak with me. But, of course, he did not come.

Some time in the early afternoon Bob went to Sharon again and said, "Jim won't want to serve communion, will he?" Again she said, "You need to talk to Jim about that." And again she told me, and I waited a little longer. Finally, toward the end of the day, Bob came to Sharon yet a third time. This time he sounded a little impatient. He said, "You know, I have to finish this communion schedule today. Jim won't want to be on it, will he?" This time Sharon said, "Come along, Bob; let's go find Jim; and you can ask him. I can't speak for him." When they found me, Bob asked if I would be willing to serve, and I casually said, "Of course I will." He sounded more than a little concerned and, with some awkwardness, he finally got around to asking, "But how will you do it?"

At this church the deacons who are serving gather at the back of the sanctuary and then walk two-by-two up to the front of the church and up the steps to the altar. They take the trays from the minister or elders and then go back down and serve the individual members of the congregation row by row. When all have been served, the deacons return to the altar to leave the trays and then walk again in pairs back to their seats. I told him that I had not yet had the opportunity to think about it but that there was a way. And there was, and I did! On the first day I served, the church was a-buzz.

Later Bob said to me with real warmth and an obvious feeling of pride, "You were more of an inspiration here today than I was. I actually saw people with tears in their eyes." So it was that by Monday the story had spread throughout the congregation, even to the shut-ins. It is true that the activity seemed noteworthy in the beginning--even remarkable to some. But the end of the story was the most gratifying for Sharon and me. For in a very short time whatever I did (whether it was serving communion or serving as head of the finance committee or serving as a trustee) was accepted as the ordinary and unremarkable activity of a church leader. My blindness simply was no longer an issue.

As I look back now, I'm glad that the question of serving communion came up. Bob learned from it, the members of the congregation learned from it, and my wife and I learned, too. We came to have an even deeper understanding of the normality of the blind and the ease with which real education about blindness can be presented by each of us to the sighted public. I don't know whether it is remarkable, or even unusual, for a blind person to serve communion or to take an active position of lay leadership in a church. Perhaps it is, but I think not.

As I relate this story, though, two or three points which I do know for a certainty come to mind. First, I know that it was important for me in this instance to be firm and confident and to do my share. If I had simply decided that serving communion was not possible or was too difficult or was just too much trouble, I would have contributed to the erroneous attitudes about blind people which have kept us down and out through the years and which I and others are working to change.

Second, I know that, when we as blind people encounter those who have an attitude such as that displayed by Bob, we can't afford the luxury of going off half-cocked or losing our cool. Nor do we have any business trying to fix blame or to become bitter. What we need is compassion and understanding. It is noteworthy, I think, that through the years Bob has become one of my best friends and a true believer in the cause of the blind.

Finally, I know that the work and education which I had the opportunity to provide at my church were not mine alone. If serving communion really was my taking a step beyond what other blind people had done before me, then it was still made possible by those who had come before me in the organized blind movement. They had had the wisdom to join together for concerted action, and they had formulated constructive ideas. They had developed a positive philosophy about blindness, and they had then shared their ideas and philosophy and dreams with me and thousands like me. I believe that Sir Isaac Newton best captured the essence of this concept when he said, "If I have seen further, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants!" As a blind person, whether it is working and supporting my family, serving as an officer in a Lions Club, or serving communion at my church, I have truly stood upon the shoulders of giants. And if I have seen further, it is because of them--the founders and early leaders and members of the National Federation of the Blind.

 

IN MEMORY OF TWO FRIENDS

by Kenneth Jernigan

Less than a month apart this fall two of my closest, long-time friends died--Elwyn Hemken, October 25, and Phil Parks, November 10. Either of these losses would have been cause for personal sorrow. Taken together, they were a severe blow. I first met Elwyn (born 1923) some time in 1962. He had lost his sight as a result of diabetic retinopathy, and in his usual way he had decided that he had to learn to deal with the new circumstances. I had come to Iowa in 1958 to direct the State Commission for the Blind, and our new Orientation Center program was getting into full swing. Elwyn was farming at Blairsburg. He wanted to come to the Center as a student, but he felt he couldn't leave the farm until he got things wrapped up for the winter. He became a student in December of 1962, and he and I became close friends.

That friendship continued until the day of his death. It was one of trust, mutual respect, and shared effort in a common cause. Elwyn's wife Dorothy was truly a partner in all of his activities--farming, community responsibilities, raising their children, and the work of the organized blind movement. Dorothy was as strong a Federationist as Elwyn was, and I know she will continue that way now that he is gone.

If you wanted to find words to describe Elwyn and Dorothy, you might use genuineness, determination, honesty, and integrity. You never had to wonder where Elwyn stood on a question, and nobody ever browbeat or bullied him into doing anything he thought wasn't right. He left the Commission Orientation Center in the spring of 1963 to do his farming for the year, and he came back the next December to finish his training. He farmed until his retirement in 1993. Starting in the 1960's, he ran a successful insurance business. Also starting in the 1960's, he became intensely active in the National Federation of the Blind. He was more than just active. He was dedicated, and his commitment never diminished.

He was appointed to the Board of the Iowa Commission for the Blind in the fall of 1968 and became Chairman in 1972. He continued in that position throughout the rest of my time in Iowa. Through good times and bad, he was a rock of stability--always reliable, never hesitating to speak his mind, and absolutely fearless when somebody tried to pressure us. That was Elwyn. As to Phil (born 1938), he was also a close friend. As with Elwyn, I met him in the 60's, established an immediate friendship, and continued it the rest of his life. Phil never did anything by halves. He was for you or against you, no in-between. And he was the same way with the activities he undertook. If he believed something, he believed it. If he didn't, he didn't. Phil's wife Joyce was always willing and supportive. She stood by Phil in good times and bad. She worked with him in the Federation, and she contributed time and effort in her own right. I remember a time in the 60's when I went waterskiing with a group of students from the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Phil was among the number. He had never waterskied, and it was clear that he wondered if he could. When he came out of the water after successfully making the attempt, his first words were: "By God, if I can do that, I can support a family and make a living." He could, and he did. Phil Parks and Elwyn Hemken, names that remind me of a bygone wonderful era in the State of Iowa--an era which presaged and foreshadowed dynamic developments in the organized blind movement throughout the nation.

Many blind people who may never have heard of Elwyn Hemken or Phil Parks owe much to both of them. When going was tough and resources scarce, each of them in his own way stood forth to be counted. They worked and cared and believed. They did what they could and gave what they had. Nobody can do more. Elwyn and Phil, sleep well. The work you helped pioneer goes forward with growing momentum. Your names will not be forgotten.

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Noel Nightingale]

LEADERSHIP EMPOWERMENT:
REFLECTIONS ON THE FAMILY

by Noel Nightingale

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Summer, 1995, edition of the Blind Washingtonian, a publication of the NFB of Washington. Noel Nightingale graduated a year and a half ago from the University of Washington School of Law. Upon successfully passing the State of Washington's Bar exam, she took time before beginning her current job to go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind to learn the blindness skills she knew she would need to do her job effectively. She originally delivered the following remarks in January of 1995 at the National Association of Blind Students Midwinter Conference, which takes place each year immediately preceding the Washington Seminar. This is what she said:

I have a personal story of empowerment in my own life as a blind person. My father is blind and has been since he was twenty-six years old, when he lost his eyesight in a work accident (long before I was born). After he was blinded, my dad lay on a couch in his parents' home for about a year. Then he got off the couch, learned the alternative techniques of blindness, and got a guide dog. He went back to the college he had graduated from years earlier and took classes using Braille notetaking and his other newfound blindness skills.

When he determined that he could indeed successfully compete in an academic environment as a blind person, he applied to the University of Chicago Law School and was admitted. During the time that he was attending college classes he met my mother, and they were married.

Ultimately, after encountering many difficulties in securing a job as a lawyer, my father became an administrative law judge for the State of Washington.

As a child I never knew my dad to miss out on anything he wanted to do because of blindness. He is an avid (some say rabid) fisherman and has flown as far as New Zealand to catch the big one.

He travelled all over the state to conduct hearings as the state's only judge hearing administrative cases involving state liquor license violations. He read voraciously. He socialized as much as my friends' parents. All my life people have told me how amazing my dad is because of all he does as a blind person.

So when I was twenty and found out that I have retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disorder, I knew from Dad's example that blindness could not prevent me from living out my dreams and enjoying life. And although having merely known my father has been the most powerful influence in molding my attitude about blindness, ever since learning that I have RP, my dad has continually encouraged me to obtain the alternative techniques of blindness. He has harped at me particularly to learn Braille. In fact, I have never met such an enthusiastic promoter of Braille.

Although he does not know it and probably did not intend it, I am immensely thankful for having had my dad to look to for all the possibilities still available to me in life as a blind person. I certainly procrastinated in obtaining the skills of blindness until it became glaringly clear that I was not operating at maximum efficiency. But because of my dad's model I do think I had a head start in developing positive attitudes about blindness.

While I have known for a while that my father's travel skills are not ideal, to say the least, I have never known him not to get wherever he wanted to go. (A few years ago I was horrified to learn that he had flown to Alaska to go fishing, by himself, without a cane or a guide dog, relying solely on the arms of strangers.) However, I have always assumed that my dad's Braille skills were excellent. When I recently completed learning Grade II Braille, I wrote my dad a letter and was quite emotionally overcome when I got a letter in return. I had never in my life communicated with my dad in writing. Yet when I opened the letter, I could not read it. It was a jumble of signs and who knows what, but it was not the Braille I knew. I think that he has invented his own shorthand over the years, and since he was communicating only with himself, it didn't matter that it did not conform to the code.

My mother, on the other hand, while having a relatively good attitude about the abilities of blind people, has focused on utilizing my remaining vision. She is always on the lookout for the newest enlarging technology. She wants to buy me those closed circuit television goggles that recently came on the market. (I have a hard time imagining myself walking around a professional office with those things on.) I'm afraid that, if I had had only my mother to guide me, I would still not know Braille or use a cane, and as a result I would have a very poor self-image.

The point is that, although my father's blindness skills could be characterized as poor, he has empowered me to become as skilled in the alternative techniques of blindness as I can possibly be and has given me a powerful example of a blind person who does not let blindness prevent him from working and enjoying life. Many of us in this room may believe that we do not have all of the blindness skills we would like--that we are not super-blind. Nevertheless, we can empower other blind people to become as independent and skilled as possible, and we can win our families' confidence. We can have a positive attitude about the role blindness plays in our lives and lead as independent a life as possible, even if we are not perfectly skilled in all of the techniques of blindness. That is the important work we in the National Association of Blind Students can do every day of our lives.

To be leaders--that is, to empower our fellow blind people to take control of their lives and strive for true independence--we need not see ourselves as perfectly skilled in the alternative techniques of blindness. We must, however, tackle life with an enthusiasm and energy that reflect our inner confidence and peace of mind about blindness. What really counts is what is in our hearts and minds, not what is happening with our fingers and feet.

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Laura Wolk (eight) is pictured with her father Michael Wolk (left) and Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge (right)]

THE LITTLEST LOBBYIST

by Judy Jobes

From the Editor: One way and another Federationists spend a good bit of time working to educate elected officials about the actual problems facing blind citizens and the legislative and regulatory responses that would truly solve them. We avoid the word "lobbying" to describe this activity because we are citizens speaking about the issues that affect our own lives and because we have no funds at our disposal to use in persuading officials to vote our way as do the representatives of big labor and big business. So it was with some disquiet that I first read the title of the following story.

In point of fact, the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania who went to speak with Governor Ridge about the importance of enacting Braille literacy legislation were not advocating a measure that would assist them. Some members of the group were already good Braille readers; some had been denied Braille as children and as a result would never become rapid Braille readers or benefit from improved Braille instruction in the schools; but they all knew something that the Governor did not: blind children must be taught Braille early by teachers who know the code well and believe in its effectiveness if they are to have a chance to become competent, literate adults. The group of Federationists had also brought their secret weapon--Laura Wolk.

I toyed with the idea of changing the title of Judy Jobes's story of the group's meeting with the Governor, but somehow "The Eight-Year-Old Educator" did not achieve the ring of Judy's title. So meet the littlest lobbyist from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and her Federation friends:

The heavy wooden doors opened, and the Governor's secretary ushered us into his office. The Governor received us warmly. Governor Ridge had served as my Congressman and had worked with us on many issues. I introduced him to my colleagues in turn, leaving eight-year-old Laura until last. Governor Ridge directed us to a table at the far end of the room. He told Laura he had been waiting to meet her and asked her to sit next to him at the head of the table.

I made my presentation. Only 9 percent of blind children are taught to read Braille today, and the illiteracy rate among all blind children is 40 percent. To date twenty-seven states have enacted Braille bills, a figure which illustrates the need to legislate a solution rather than to evoke ineffective regulations and standards.

Then it was Laura's turn. On cue she read the letter she had written to the Governor. Her small fingers easily and quickly identified the Braille dot formations, enabling her to read proficiently beyond her years. Her letter read like this:

My name is Laura Wolk. I am eight years old and going into the third grade. I have been reading Braille since I was three years old. My teacher's name is Mrs. Betz. Last spring I made my First Communion. I Brailled Scripture and read it from the altar.

The most difficult thing about Braille is getting enough books. I quickly read a book and have to wait a very long time to get another one. I need more books.

The Governor watched Laura intently. He was in awe as Laura read. He came to understand firsthand the value of Braille. Laura concluded her letter by saying: "Governor, my wish is that all children who do not see well could learn to read like me."

We continued with our presentations. The Governor leaned over and said something to Laura. She whispered, "Yes." Excusing himself from us for a moment, the Governor walked to his desk. He opened a drawer, took something from it, returned to the table, and asked if anyone would like to join him and Laura in sharing some jelly beans. We all smiled, and the bag went around the table as each of us helped ourselves to a few jelly beans.

The meeting proceeded as Ted Young, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, and the Governor continued to discuss issues relevant to blind Pennsylvanians. As the meeting concluded, the Governor again engaged Laura in conversation, asking her about piano lessons and proclaiming that he might just take in one of her recitals.

The Governor concluded our meeting by explaining to Laura that a lobbyist is someone who comes to see people like him, who are elected, and discuss issues which are important to them. He said that he had never had a lobbyist come to see him who had been as young or as effective. We posed for pictures, and our meeting ended.

Regrouping in the hall, we shared our impressions of the Governor's reactions to our issues. Laura opened her small hand, proudly displaying two, by now rather sticky, jelly beans and announced that she was keeping those jelly beans; after all the Governor had given them to her. Accepting gifts from public officials is not usually the way things are done in lobbying circles. For the sake of Pennsylvania's blind students, however, let's hope it was effective.

_______________________________________________________________

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 the 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/CAPTION: Barbara Pierce]

WE DON'T HAVE NORTH HERE

by Barbara Pierce

From the Editor: The following story appeared in Toothpaste and Railroad Tracks, the most recent in the Federation's Kernel Book Series of paperbacks. Here it is, beginning with Dr. Jernigan's introduction:

People tend to be curious about blindness. Perhaps the single item which arouses the most curiosity is how a person can, without seeing where he or she is going, move about without assistance both inside and out. Despite appearances there's no magic involved. Barbara Pierce addresses the subject in the story that follows. Here is what she has to say:

Blindness is both frightening and puzzling to most people. It's frightening because most people depend completely on their eyes to tell them about the world, so the idea of moving and working and playing without that information is more than unnerving. It's puzzling because people have no notion how anybody could gather enough information using a cane to travel safely.

Some years ago the five-year-old daughter of an acquaintance began talking to her mother about the magic lady who passed their house every day. My friend could not imagine what the child meant until the day she called her mother to the window to see me walking past on my way to the hospital where I served as chaplain. I was moving my long white cane in an arc in front of me, and the little girl triumphantly explained that I had to be magic since I was there, and the leash was there, but the dog I was walking was invisible.

Even without believing in invisible dogs, many people tend to behave as though some sort of magic were associated with the use of the white cane. It doesn't seem possible to them that a person could travel safely and confidently by moving a cane, listening to traffic noise and the echoes made by the cane tip, noting wind and sun direction, and feeling the contours of the ground.

In reality blind people depend on finding objects with a light tap of the cane and then avoiding them. The long white cane is very good at identifying cars parked across sidewalks, holes in the street, and parking meters.

It is hard for sighted people to believe that blind people really do know where they are and where they are bound. I have a blind friend who entered the elevator in her office building one morning to find that the only other passenger was a gentleman. As she stepped in, he inquired, "Do you know what floor you want?" She smiled and pushed the correct button, but she wondered what he thought she was planning to do in the elevator if she didn't know where she was going.

As a blind traveler I always appreciate receiving accurate information in an unfamiliar area. In my work I travel a good deal, so I frequently find myself in unfamiliar airports. I was once walking toward the ground transportation area of an airport new to me when I became aware that a man was following me down the almost deserted concourse.

My cane touched a sign post, and I detoured around it and continued toward the exit. The man said, "I don't understand how you walk so straight." I commented that I had obviously not been walking quite straight or I would not have touched the sign. He replied, "I have been watching you for a hundred yards, and I know what you've done." I explained that the public address speakers in the ceiling, the periodic metal strips running across the concourse, and the conversation of other people all helped me walk along the proper path.

As we came to the terminal, I asked him for directions to the escalator. Without a pause he said, "Thirty feet ahead at two o'clock." I thanked him and commented that he must be a pilot. He was surprised that I had guessed his occupation, but pilots, too, have to know where they are and how to talk about it.

Many people find it hard to give good directions to a blind person, and sometimes the stress of giving directions is just too much. I will never forget a conversation I had with a member of the staff of a hotel in which I was staying for a week.

On the first morning of my visit I was standing in the lobby with my secretary, asking her questions about the floor plan of the area. We were having a hard time communicating without using the points of the compass for reference. So I stopped an employee to ask which way north was. The woman paused a moment and then announced, "We don't have north here."

I assured her that even though the river flowing through the city meant that the streets did not run exactly north-south and east-west, compasses still indicated north in that part of the world, but she still couldn't tell me which way it was. In the end I had to put my question to someone else.

In short, there is nothing magical about using a long white cane. It takes practice, common sense, and good information. You can help.

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Hall]

MY FIRST CONVENTION

by Barbara Ann Hall

From the Editor: Barbara Ann Hall is a member of the Phoenix Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona. She attended her first National Convention in Chicago last summer, and it had a profound effect on her. When she got home, she tried to get the experience down on paper in the hope that it might persuade someone else to seek the same opportunity this year in Anaheim. This is what she says:

Before I attended the 1995 convention, my NFB friends who had attended previous conventions advised me on what to expect. They told me it would be fun, interesting, and educational. More important, they assured me that I would meet many interesting people and make new friends. They were right on both counts. They also advised me on packing: nice clothes for the daytime sessions, sweaters to protect against enthusiastic air conditioning, and something dressy for the banquet. (Boy did I over-pack!) They also made suggestions about which meetings I was most likely to enjoy and told me stories about their own past convention experiences. My chapter President, Mrs. Judith Tunell, promised me it would be an experience I would never forget without really elaborating on what she meant. Our state President Ruth Swenson explained that throughout the convention special-interest groups would meet. Several of these (like medical transcriptionists) were particularly interesting to me. She advised me to attend as many of these sessions as I could fit in. I assumed this would be easy to do since the convention would last seven days and the groups were to meet throughout the entire period. Boy was I surprised! Somehow I could not manage to attend all the sessions I would have liked.

My Federation friends summarized their advice by saying that attending the convention would give me a complete look inside the NFB and its goals and purposes. They all said, "You just have to be there." Well they were right. No one can prepare you for the feelings and emotions of a convention. They have to be experienced firsthand.

People in my affiliate gave me assistance in making my room and airline reservations properly, and they also gave me some financial assistance, for which I was very grateful. Chicago might as well be my hometown. I was born and raised just a few miles away, so I knew the town well. For me, the expectation of going home added a little more excitement to my anticipation since I had not been home in over eight years. O'Hare Airport seemed like an old friend. It still pretty well matched my memories of it from years ago. After arriving at the hotel, checking in, and settling in my room, I was ready to explore the beautiful Hilton Hotel. From the very beginning the staff were wonderful. They were helpful, polite, and kind in answering every question I asked them.

When our chapter president arrived, she made sure that I knew what the itinerary was and advised me again on what to attend. She especially encouraged me to attend the Job- Opportunities-for-the-Blind-sponsored breakfast meetings with those who had common interests. At my first breakfast meeting the next morning--it was for first-timers--I was privileged to have Mrs. tenBroek at my table. I had a marvelous conversation with her on the beginnings of the NFB. What a delightful lady! I told Mrs. tenBroek that I was trying to keep up with my exercise program while I was at the convention by walking up the stairs from the fourth to the twenty-third floor of the hotel. The next morning, when I saw her again, she told me that I had some competition because she had taken to walking up the grand staircase of the hotel (twice) so that she could keep in shape too. We sought each other out and had breakfast several times during the convention.

I was lucky enough to meet both Mr. Maurer and Dr. Jernigan the first day of the convention, and my introduction to them so early in the week made a real impact on me. Somehow everything during the rest of the convention held more meaning as a result. These are two very positive, inspirational men, and their interest in me personally made me feel important to them. Their speeches during the first general session set the tone for the rest of the convention. The only word I can use for these initial speeches and all those that followed is inspirational. I have tried to find the words to express my feelings during that first session, but I cannot. It moved me deeply to hear of all that this organization has done in the past year and continues to do for the blind of this country.

In an effort to thank the NFB for the assistance I had been given to attend the convention, I participated in an Arizona fund-raiser during convention sessions. Dr. Verna Brasher, a member of the Phoenix Chapter and a skilled chiropractor, offered to provide relaxation massages at the PAC table during convention sessions to raise money for both the national organization and the Arizona affiliate. I scheduled the appointments, timed the massages, and did the accounting. The benefit to me was that as a result I met many exciting and interesting people. This experience is one of my most cherished memories of the convention.

There are many wonderful people to meet and stories to hear at an NFB convention. Throughout the convention everyone was upbeat. I never heard a cross word from anyone. No one was a stranger. We just walked up to people and introduced ourselves, and a conversation (perhaps even a friendship) developed. Meeting all these people with whom we have something in common filled our days. We shared our experiences, problems, and solutions. This turned out to be a most delightful part of the convention for me. We are truly one!

As I have already said, there were too many activities to fit into a day, and I missed many things I would have liked to learn more about. The exhibits contained a lot of information I needed and much information I could take home to share with others. I purchased some equipment, and my state president decided to replace my rehab-issued cane with an NFB cane of the proper length. After this she decided that I also needed some proper travel instruction, so she arranged for me to meet with a Federationist, Doug Boone of D. Boone Consultants in Nebraska. Doug is experienced in educating and rehabilitating blind people. I learned more from him in one hour than I had learned from the rehab instructor during my entire training. Experiences like this one made me realize how little I knew and how much I needed to learn about blindness.

The banquet dinner and speech were the highlight of this exciting week for me. Mr. Maurer's speech was amusing and poignant. He has a way of making us see what all our work is about. It turned out to be a wonderful time for me as a first-time conventioneer.

During the final meetings and convention sessions I focused my thinking on what my part in helping bring the NFB's goals to fruition should be. I had already participated in fund-raising activities at home, but my goal has always been to focus on finding new members in our state. I know many blind people who are not NFB members. I concluded that they needed to be. This convention focused my thoughts about helping our chapter in spreading the word about the NFB. Some people actually do not know what the Federation is all about. I want to encourage them to join so they can benefit as much as I have. I recognize that in the months ahead there will be many things I can do individually to help reach our common goals. I was sorry to see the convention come to an end because it had been so exciting, informative, and fun.

When I got home, I needed a few days to recuperate from the constant activity of the convention. During that rest I thought about all of the things I had learned and all of the information I had gathered. I had a few ideas before I went to the convention about things I could do to help the organization, and now I have a focused goal. I want to pass information on to others who are interested in the needs of the blind and to encourage them to join the NFB. Our chapter is initiating a membership drive, and this is one area on which I will focus my activities.

The convention made me see what needs to be done and gave me many ideas about how I might contribute to the effort. One thing I found that I needed to do was to write this article and share with others the feelings that the convention brought to me. To anyone who has not yet attended an NFB National Convention, I would say this: "If you do nothing else for yourself in the next year, make a commitment to attend the convention in California in 1996. It will be the most important investment you can make for yourself." The combination of inspirational speeches, information-gathering, new friendships, and common experiences made the convention in Chicago just such a week for me. I hope to meet many more Federationists next year!

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Anaheim Hilton & Towers]

CALIFORNIA CALLING

by Deana Bates

From the Editor: Deana Bates is a leader in the Orange County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California. As a resident of Southern California she is qualified to provide Monitor readers with information about the area surrounding the site of the 1996 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what she has to say:

The members of the National Federation of the Blind of California are honored and pleased to host the 1996 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, to be held in Anaheim, California, from June 29 through July 6. As you already know, our convention will be held at the Anaheim Hilton. Anaheim is twenty miles south of Los Angeles and is located in Orange County. Since California is the perfect place for both work and play,we know that you will find this year's convention one of the best we have ever had.

California appeals to people with diverse interests because it has a wide variety of things to do and places to see. In this little article we would like to tell you about some of the state's history and give you some general information about Southern California.

California lies in the Pacific Coast Region of the United States and is bordered by Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. The surface of California is more varied than that of any other state. It ranges from forests to farms, mountains to valleys, and desert to seacoast.

California, also known as the Golden State, is the third largest state in the Union. The name California was used officially in Spanish documents as early as 1542. Historians speculate that it came from the description of a fabled island called California in a sixteenth-century Spanish novel called The Exploits of Esplandian by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo. California's nickname, the Golden State, comes from its golden poppies, the state flower, as well as from the gold which was discovered in 1848.

California became a state in 1850 and since that time has had the largest population growth of any area in the United States. The 1990 census shows that California ranked number one with a population of over twenty-nine million people.

Southern California is often referred to as the Southland by its residents and is made up of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Riverside, and Ventura Counties. San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States, according to Compton's World Encyclopedia.

Anaheim, known as the Mother Colony of Southern California, was founded in 1857 by German Settlers from San Francisco. The city was named after the nearby Santa Ana River. The German word "heim," which means home, was added as a suffix. The major crop produced at the time was grapes. However, in the 1880's the grape vines were destroyed by a blight, and when growers' attempts to restore the vineyards failed, Valencia oranges and other crops were introduced.

Orange County is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southern California. We have three amusement parks: Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and Wild Rivers. We also have various museums such as the Movieland Wax Museum, Hobby City Doll Museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, and the Richard Nixon Library/Museum.

Step back into the English Renaissance with dinner at Medieval Times. Here you will sip soup from a metallic bowl and dine on fowl as you watch expert horsemen joust with their opponents.

Approximately fifteen miles from Anaheim are the Pacific Ocean and Newport Beach, where one can cruise the harbor or surf the ocean. Laguna Beach, still further south from Newport Beach, has numerous art galleries. At the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival, in operation for most of the summer, you can browse the art boutiques. Anaheim Stadium is the home of the California Angels baseball team. If you want to bet on the horses, you can go to the Alamitos Race Track, which is located in Los Alamitos, a city in Orange County, approximately ten miles west of Anaheim. Los Angeles and San Diego also offer wonderful places to visit. In Los Angeles tour the Universal Studios, where you can see famous movie sets and get a panoramic view of the Hollywood Hills and the San Fernando Valley. You can also enjoy the Chinese theater and the Farmers Market. San Diego offers both Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the world. You can take a Harbor cruise at the marina in San Diego, the gateway to Mexico. Visit Tijuana, Mexico, where you can bargain with local shop owners for their wares.

We are planning to make this the best Federation convention ever, so we hope you will plan to come to sunny Southern California.

Here are the rates for the 1996 convention: singles, $45 per night; doubles, $47; triples, $54; and quads, $57. In addition to the room rates, there is a tax--just under 15 percent at the time these rates were negotiated. There will be no charge for children in a room with parents as long as no extra bed is required. To make room reservations for the 1996 convention, you should write directly to Anaheim Hilton, 777 Convention Way, Anaheim, California 92802-3497, Attention: Reservations; or call (714) 750-4321. Hilton has a national toll-free number, but do not (we emphasize NOT) use it. Reservations made through this national number will not be valid. They must be made directly with the Anaheim Hilton in Anaheim.

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Gashel]

SOCIAL SECURITY AND SSI FACTS FOR 1996

by James Gashel

From the Editor: Jim Gashel serves as Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. Here is his 1996 report on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income:

The beginning of each year brings with it annual adjustments in Social Security programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, and cost-of-living increases. Each year we make an effort to report on these changes in the January issue of the Braille Monitor. This year is no exception. However, the budget controversy at the federal level has made it impossible this year to include information on the annual adjustments in the Medicare program. For that reason the Medicare changes will be reported later. Meanwhile, here are the new facts which we can report for 1996:

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains at 7.65 percent. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional 1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent. The self-employment tax rate of 15.3 percent includes 12.4 percent which is paid to the OASDI trust fund and 2.9 percent which is paid to the HI trust fund.

Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 1995 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI trust fund was $61,200. The taxable income ceiling for contributions to the OASDI trust fund during 1996 is $62,700. As was true in 1995, there is no ceiling on earnings that are subject to the HI trust fund tax contribution of 1.45 percent for employees or 2.9 percent for self-employed persons.

Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on the number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage during a single year. During 1995 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $630 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $2,520 for the year (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) was given four quarters of coverage. In 1996 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $640 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $2,560.

Exempt Earnings: The earnings exemption for blind people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is the same as the exempt amount for individuals age 65 through 69 who receive Social Security retirement benefits. The monthly exempt amount in 1995 was $940 of gross earned income. During 1996 the exempt amount is $960. Technically, this exemption is referred to as an amount of monthly gross earnings which does not show "substantial gainful activity." Earnings of $960 or more per month before taxes for a blind SSDI beneficiary in 1996 will show substantial gainful activity after subtracting any unearned (or subsidy) income and applying any deductions for impairment-related work expenses.

Social Security Benefit Amounts for 1996: All Social Security benefits (including retirement, survivors, disability, and dependents' benefits) are increased by 2.6 percent beginning with the checks received in January, 1996. The exact dollar increase for any individual will depend upon the amount being paid.

Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January, 1996, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $470 per month; couples, $705 per month. These amounts are increased from: individuals, $458 per month; couples, $687 per month.

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Cynthia (Cindy) Handel]

RECIPES

This month's recipes come from Cynthia Handel of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. For the past eleven years she has been the Treasurer of the NFB of Pennsylvania. In addition to cooking, she says she enjoys reading both fiction and non-fiction and writing. She is currently learning to use her personal computer. In addition to its Amish community, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is known for good Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. The recipe included here for Cracker Pudding is served in many of the family-style restaurants frequented by tourists and visited on occasion by residents of Lancaster County. Cindy says that she has collected the other recipes from her mother and friends over the years.

MEATBALLS

These are good to make ahead of time and freeze to use as needed.

Ingredients:

3 pounds ground beef

1 can evaporated milk

1 cup oatmeal

1 cup cracker crumbs

2 eggs

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons chili powder

favorite spaghetti sauce

Method: Mix all ingredients together except for spaghetti sauce. Cover bottom of large baking dish with sauce. Make small meatballs and arrange on bottom of baking dish. Spoon about a teaspoon spaghetti sauce over each meatball. Bake in 350-degree oven for 55 minutes.

TAMALE PIE

Ingredients:

1-1/2 pounds ground beef

1 onion, chopped garlic, chopped to taste

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon hot chili powder

1 6-ounce can tomato sauce

1 can refried beans

grated Monterey Jack Jalapeno cheese

Method: Combine all but last two ingredients and simmer until almost dry. Pour into a 10-inch pie plate. Add one can refried beans, diluted with a little water. Top with grated Monterey Jack Jalapeno cheese. Bake in 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. Serve hot with tortilla chips.

CHINESE ALMOND CHICKEN

Ingredients:

4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned and cut into bite-size pieces

4 tablespoons oil

3 tablespoons flour

1-1/4 teaspoons sugar

6 tablespoons soy sauce

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 cup sliced almonds

Method: Stir-fry chicken in wok or large frying pan in two tablespoons hot oil. Mix flour, sugar, and soy sauce. Add to chicken and cook five minutes, stirring constantly. Add vegetables. Cover and cook twenty minutes or until chicken is tender. Brown almonds in two tablespoons oil. Drain on paper towel, then add to chicken mixture. Serve over rice.

PINEAPPLE CAKE

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs

1 large can crushed pineapple with juice

Method: Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl. Pour into ungreased 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake in 350-degree oven for thirty-five to forty minutes.

Icing:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1 stick butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

Method: Combine all ingredients and beat well. Spread icing over cake while still warm.

PUMPKIN ROLL

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar cup pumpkin

3 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup chopped nuts

Method: Grease a 10-by-15-inch jelly roll pan. Cover with waxed paper and grease the waxed paper. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Mix all ingredients together, except nuts. Spread on waxed paper. Sprinkle batter with nuts. Bake fifteen minutes. Invert cake on clean towel.

Filling:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

Method: Beat ingredients together. Spread evenly on cake and carefully roll up, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Note: use powdered sugar on your hands to help roll.

CRACKER PUDDING

This is a sweet desert served in many Lancaster County family-style restaurants.

Ingredients:

5 cups milk

1 cup sugar

1 cup cracker crumbs, graham or saltine (or Ritz and graham)

1 cup coconut

2 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

Method: Combine milk, sugar, crumbs, and coconut together. Add egg yolks and blend. Stir over medium heat until mixture coats the back of the spoon and is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and fold in stiffly beaten egg whites and vanilla. Refrigerate.

 

MONITOR MINIATURES

Turning Upside-down for the Federation:

Federationists have many talents, and many find remarkable ways of putting them to work for the organization. Several months ago Ed McDonald, President of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia and a member of the Board of Directors of the NFB, mentioned to friends that he could still stand on his head. They expressed a certain amount of incredulity at this statement, so Ed demonstrated his prowess. First one then another of those present offered to contribute $100 to the affiliate if Ed would repeat his feat at the 1995 West Virginia banquet. Ed agreed that, if they could raise at least $1,000 for the treasury, he would stand on his head for at least ten seconds during the banquet. Suffice it to say, the West Virginia affiliate is $1,000 richer than it was before its convention.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: For sale, Optelec, 20/20 low vision reading system. New in 1993, used only five months, like-new condition, and complete with original carton and manual. Original cost over $3,000, asking $2,000. Call Dave in Sparks, Maryland, (410) 472-4366.

Elected:

Mary Belle Rea, Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas, reports that new officers were elected at the affiliate's recent annual convention. They are Buffa Hans, President; Everett Saterfield, First Vice President; Nancy Matthews, Second Vice President; Mary Belle Rea, Secretary; and Jimmy Sparks, Treasurer. Les McDaniel and Sherry Martin were elected to serve on the Board.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Stephanie Pieck is selling a Porta-Thiel Braille embosser in excellent condition. It comes with Braille and print manuals, power cord, and interface cable. Asking $1,800, will provide technical assistance to the purchaser and will pay the cost of shipping. For more information, call (518) 861-7064 after 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Linda Oliva (back left) and Kathy Burnside (back right), instructors in the Senior Blind Program at BLIND, Inc., are pictured here with the four members of the first graduating class.]

Never Too Old to Learn:

Blindness Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND, Inc.) proudly announces its first graduating class of seniors under the Older Blind Program sponsored by State Services for the Blind, Minnesota's state rehabilitation agency. Seniors in the first class began on May 31, 1995. They met once a week to receive training in Braille; travel with the long white cane; home management skills; and, most important, installing batteries correctly in card shufflers. (When batteries are installed incorrectly, the card shuffler throws the cards all over the room, and you play fifty-two pick-up.) On August 23 the students were ready to graduate. Joyce Scanlan, Executive Director of BLIND, Inc., presented each one with a beautiful certificate and a gold framed sun catcher in the shape of an eagle. (The eagle is the symbol that sits on top of the freedom bell received by each graduate of the comprehensive orientation-to-blindness training program at BLIND.) Several of the older students' counselors from State Services for the Blind were on hand to congratulate them on the big day. Also present were Assistant Commissioner Richard Davis and family, and friends of the students. Since the first class began, there have been five other classes. Nearly every one who starts the Older Blind classes at BLIND, Inc., completes the course. The demand for this program has been unbelievable. Contrary to what most rehab counselors seem to believe, seniors recognize that they have many good years left, even when they are over eighty-five, and want good blindness skills to help them enjoy their remaining years with style.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Type 'n Speak in excellent condition with leather carrying case, headphones, AC/DC adapter, and instructions. Asking $850 or best offer. Call Charles at (541) 752-2373 between 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Pacific Time.

Attention Connoisseurs of Infomercials:

We received the following information from Penny Frasier of California. It seemed particularly relevant in the light of Resolution 95-06, passed by last summer's National Convention. This announcement is for people who are late night TV addicts or have an interest in infomercials. Blind or visually impaired people who want to purchase items or services sold on infomercials are unable to obtain the address and telephone number for the desired product or service because they are displayed on the screen but not announced. This is your chance to voice your concerns about this dilemma. Here are the names of a marketing firm and the person that edits a newsletter for companies who produce infomercials. You should express your opinions about this problem. The more letters we write, the more weight we will carry with the company. Write to Chris Ourand, Editor, National Infomercial Marketing Association, 1201 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 1260, Washington, D.C. 20005. Mention that you read this notice in the Braille Monitor.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Reading Edge, excellent condition, includes latest release of software; Braille and print editions of the manuals; and a comprehensive service agreement, which is valid until October, 1996. Contact Robert Feinstein at 1750 East 14th Street, Apartment 2-E, Brooklyn, New York 11229, or call (718) 627-0713. Will accept Braille, print, or cassette replies.

New Chapter:

Steve Benson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, recently wrote to announce the founding of the Four Rivers Chapter, which covers a large part of southern Illinois. The Four Rivers Chapter begins Federation business with a capable corps of leaders: Cathie Mathis, President; Lisa Belville, Vice President; Tammy Dothager, Secretary; Shawn Mayo, Treasurer; and Brian Sumner, Board member. The leaders and members of the new chapter say that they view the Federation work ahead of them as a challenge to be met with enthusiasm and resolve.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Thermoform in good condition. Comes with manual and paper. Asking $1,500, or best offer. Contact Eric Foss at 4450 California Avenue, Room 222, Bakersfield, California 93309, or call (805) 322-5476.

Publication Available:

Loren Schmitt, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, has asked us to carry the following announcement: Now available on tape. Spanish as well as English. The Militant, a socialist news weekly, published in the interests of working people. For more information contact Maurice Peret at 2525 Grand Avenue, Apartment 220, Des Moines, Iowa 50312.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Voyager XL CCTV, 19-inch black and white, magnifying device for those who need to read and write for long periods. Separate camera and adjustable monitor, includes typewriter attachment, good condition, $500. Please contact Amir Rahimi at 425 S. Oak, Apt. 208, Arlington, Texas 76010, or call (817) 460-5005.

Drink Recipes Available in Braille:

The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota has for sale in Braille only a drink book, Potent Potables. There are drink and punch recipes for all occasions, including NFB Tea. Send a $4.00 check to NFB of Minnesota, 100 E. 22nd Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 53404.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: I have for sale one Arkenstone Hot Card and one HP scanner, price $500. Purchaser will receive a free screen reader. Please contact Stanley Lewis at (510) 778-4881.

Elected:

Kerry Smith of the St. Louis Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri reports its new officers. They are John Dower, President; Daryel White, Vice President; Susan Ford, Recording Secretary; Thelda Borisch, Treasurer; Anna Schell, Corresponding Secretary; and Brenda Ford, Board Member at Large. Gary also reports that Daryel White is recovering nicely after his recent kidney transplant.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: VersaPoint embosser, excellent working condition, has had only personal use, Braille and print manuals, and original shipping carton, asking $1,500 or best offer. Call Sharon Monthei at (612) 823-5066.

Liquidation Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Due to my departure from the United States, I am liquidating my greeting card business and will sell the remainder of cards in stock at $.30 per card. The cards are made of white thermofoil with embossed images of flowers, animals, and some Christmas motifs. Checks or money orders should be made payable to Vera Honc. Cash is acceptable. Proceeds from this sale will help me to go home at last. Send orders to Vera Honc, 600 Deerfield, #608, Gretna, Louisiana 70056, or call (504) 367-8826.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement: Gourmet salad dressings, labeled in Braille and marketed by California Federationist Carmela Cantisani, are now available. A contribution of $3 per case will be donated to the National Federation of the Blind. You may order Carmela's Gourmet Vinaigrette Authentique or Balsamic Vinaigrette at $33 per case of twelve (mix and match possible) plus shipping by calling (800) 301-1151 or faxing your order to (408) 375-5313. Both vinaigrettes are made with 100 percent extra virgin olive oil, naturally aged vinegars, and other natural ingredients. They make great gifts.

Minnesota History Tape Available:

Peggy Chong writes to say that the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota held its seventy-fifth annual convention in October. To celebrate, a tape recording of sound bites from the past was compiled and played at the banquet. That sixty-minute tape is now ready for purchase. Included are the voices of Frank Hall, who attended the very first NFB convention; Jacobus tenBroek; and many more. To get your copy, send a check for $5 to NFB of Minnesota, 100 East 23rd Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404.