The Braille Monitor August/ September 1997
The largest convention in Federation history brought thousands together for the July banquet. To show the entire ballroom, the photographer took three wide-angle pictures. We have put them together here in an effort to capture a bit of the excitement of the evening. Not shown are the overflow tables in the lobby outside the doors.
Katey Wintz of Louisiana Explores
the wolf exhibit at Sensory Safari.
Two young dancers enjoy the Mardi Gras Ball
The National Association of Blind Students always
attracts a crowd to its seminar. This is the registration area shortly
before the meeting actually begins.
1997 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
Like so much else in life, conventions of the National Federation of the Blind have established a distinct rhythm. Over several years attendance grows to a high point and then slides back a bit to gather again and reach an even more significant mark. The 1997 convention at the Hyatt Regency, New Orleans, established an attendance record that will probably stand for a number of years. Sixteen people gathered to bring the National Federation of the Blind into being in 1940. The 1,000 barrier was not broken until 1971 at the Houston convention. The 2,000 mark was passed in Chicago in 1988, and the 3,000 mark was passed this year for the first time. Our previous attendance record of 2760 was set at the 1991 convention. But this year we broke every record, closing with a registration figure of 3,346.
New Orleans is a marvelous city in which to hold a convention. We had 1,100 rooms at the Hyatt and another 500 at the Radisson. The overflow crowd was divided among a half dozen other hotels. A shuttle circled between the main hotels all day and most of the night, and people using white canes or guide dogs could be seen all over the city during the last several days of June and the first week of July.
PHOTO description: Three women stand in the hotel lobby. Two are holding canes, and all three have dozens of strands of Mardi Gras beads looped around their arms and hands. CAPTION: Linda Dubois (left), Karlene Dubois (middle), and Julie Russell (right) greet arriving Federationists with Mardi Gras beads.
New Orleans is ready for a party no matter the time of day or year, and the Louisiana affiliate underscored this theme by greeting Federationists with strands of Mardi Gras beads whose jingle provided a festive undercurrent to all activity. Despite the heat and humidity, the streets of the French Quarter were filled with tap-dancers, street bands, and solo musicians. And conversations between Federationists all week long were likely to begin or end with restaurant recommendations and descriptions of adventures in the French Quarter.
There was plenty of good food to be found right in the Hyatt. The food court offered everything from beignets at Cafe du Monde to Chinese and Italian fare. On the thirty-second floor of the Hyatt was a revolving restaurant with excellent food and a chocoholic bar that proved the downfall of many a chocolate-loving Federationist. On the closing day of the convention a waitress told a group of us that the pastry chef had worked harder during this convention than she could ever remember.
By Friday, June 27, lines were beginning to form at the Hyatt check-in desk, and the liveliest area of the lobby was the Louisiana information desk. Several tours took place on Saturday, and Federationists began pouring into New Orleans in earnest. By Sunday it was clear that attendance records were going to be set this year. Child-care registration was jammed, and more than 200 educators and family members registered for the parents seminar.
Each year the activities for Federation families become more exciting and creative. The parents seminar, titled "An Education for a Full Life," began at 9:00 a.m. Sunday and kept its audience riveted until shortly after noon. The afternoon was filled with seven different workshops for parents and educators. Though the adults clearly enjoyed their activities, the real exuberance was reserved for the young people. The children first went to lunch in the food court and then toured the Children's Museum a few blocks from the hotel. Sixty children with their blind and sighted chaperons made the most of opportunities to examine the displays while a television news crew recorded the adventure and interviewed the leader about what was going on.
A teen-ager sits cross-legged on the floor with a
Red Cross infant doll held in a standing position in front of her.
CAPTION: Ellen Nichols of Maryland works with a Red Cross doll.
Meantime, twenty-three teens had enrolled in a daylong Red Cross babysitting course, which provided a handy reservoir of trained sitters for parents planning an evening out during the convention, and twenty of the teens volunteered enough time in NFB Camp the rest of the week to receive certificates and to allow Carla McQuillan, Camp director, to let go two workers hired locally. The course did a great deal to build self-confidence in the fifteen blind teens who took part, and it helped to forge friendships among all the kids who shared the experience. Equally exciting, Carla reports that the Red Cross staff began with the usual peculiar notions about what they would have to do to cover the course material for this group of students, but as the day progressed, they quickly recognized that, with the Brailled information (provided by the NFB) and a willingness to use words instead of gestures, this group of teens was pretty much like any other they have trained.
PHOTO: An elementary-school-age girl sprawls in a huge collection of balls. CAPTION: While convention delegates deliberate NFB policy in the Hyatt Regency ballroom, the children in NFB Camp can enjoy their own ball room. Alicia White of Maryland makes maximum use of the balls in NFB Camp.
More than a hundred children registered at NFB Camp during the week. The American Printing House for the Blind field-tested its Braille and print version of BrainQuest in Camp for the week, and it proved to be very popular. Blind adults dropped in to perform for the kids--one of the most popular was Daniel Lamonds, President of the Darlington Chapter of the NFB of South Carolina. In short, Carla McQuillan and her staff deserve grateful recognition from us all. During busy times each day NFB Camp averaged seventy-five to eighty children, and fifteen infants were registered. Many families can come to convention because we conduct this wonderful program, and convention sessions are far less chaotic with our children happily making new friends and playing with new toys in a safe and well supervised area.
Sunday evening was filled with activities for families. Chyvonne Blanchard, a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, conducted a boisterous dance workshop for teens in which the group learned to do line dancing and the Macarena. Later families gathered for informal hospitality with food and fun for everyone, topped off with a talent show by the children. Mildred Rivera organized an evening of teen activities, including a treasure hunt designed to help kids learn about the hotel and get to know other teens in New Orleans for the week. Judging from the laughter and general noise emanating from the room, the event was a great success.
As always, the Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) annual seminar was filled with interesting and useful information about job-hunting and successful work strategies. Employers came with job announcements, and would-be employees brought their resumes. Already several happy employment matches have been made. But the seminar was only the first round in the week's JOB activities. Twenty-two special-interest breakfasts took place throughout the week. One interesting new employment program was the seminar, "A New Job in a New Place." It was conducted by the travel instructors at BLIND, Inc., who led a group discussion of useful techniques for gathering necessary information about getting started in a new city. Those who attended the seminar reported that it was very useful.
An increasing number of groups are choosing to conduct meetings the day preceding convention registration. Besides the activities already mentioned, meetings included ham radio operators, merchants, guide dog users, secretaries and transcribers, professional journalists, deaf-blind people, Canadians, and several committees. In addition, seminars on NFBNet, using the Internet, raising funds for Newsline for the Blind, the Braille 'n Speak, and the Myna computer took place during the relative calm of pre-convention activity. The crowning activity of this day full of bustle and business was a delightful evening of Cajun dancing with the Louisiana Fourchen Cajun Band and the Cajun French Music Association Dancers, who taught people the steps.
Monday dawned to the excitement of the opening of the largest NFB convention in history. Convention registration was scheduled to open at 10:00 a.m., but lines began forming by 9:00 in expectation that the crew would be ready early. As usual, they were, and the crowds in carnival mood began streaming through the registration area and on to the French Market Exhibit Hall just around the corner shortly after 9:00 a.m.
PHOTO description: A man dressed in full beekeeper's regalia sits behind an exhibit table filled with bottles and bags of products. CAPTION: Ehab Yamini offers bee pollen, honey, and other products for sale in the convention exhibit area.
The exhibit area was filled with displays by sixty-six outside exhibitors and twenty-three NFB affiliates, divisions, and chapters, as well as the NFB store, where literature, canes, and aids and appliances could be examined and ordered. Throughout the week crowds surged through the hall whenever it was open.
PHOTO: Bruce Gardner kneels on one knee in the foreground. He holds his cane in his right hand and listens to the three children in front of him. Two of the youngsters hold white canes, and one of them is speaking earnestly to Bruce. CAPTION: Bruce Gardner (left) gives a cane travel lesson to Robby and Lindsey McHugh (middle) from Arizona and Nicolas Stockton (right) from West Virginia.
Monday morning two hour-long cane walks for blind children and youth and their parents took place in the hotel. During these sessions experienced instructors and blind adults helped kids and parents through their first introduction to cane travel. Anyone walking down the hall where the tiny travelers were working was fair game for exploration, and when canes got crossed, a blind adult could find herself a temporary member of the teaching crew. It was stirring to observe thirty children--the number in the group I met--beginning their personal venture into independence in such a positive and determined company.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Cheryl Pickering, secretary of the Resolutions Committee, confers with Director of Governmental Affairs James Gashel during the Resolutions Committee meeting.
By the time the Resolutions Committee met Monday afternoon, the previous first-day registration record of 2,133 had been broken, and, by the time the committee adjourned, 2,363 people had registered. The Resolutions committee considered eighteen resolutions this year. The texts of the ones adopted by the convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
Linhart of Washington state
meets a bear at the Sensory Safari exhibit.
In addition to the Resolutions Committee meeting, at least ten other seminars and meetings, not to mention demonstrations, displays, and receptions, took place Monday afternoon and evening, and another twenty occurred Tuesday afternoon and evening.
PHOTO description: A woman wearing a long dress and bib apron sits reading the Bible to a child. CAPTION: In the play, Growing Up In Tennessee, the young Kenneth Jernigan, played by Allen Sale, sits listening to Cousin Juanita, played by Angela Sasser, reading the Bible aloud.
One of the highlights was Growing up in Tennessee, an original play by Jerry Whittle, presented by the Louisiana Center for the Blind Players. As its title suggests, it was the story of Dr. Jernigan's formative years, and several children were part of the blind cast.
PHOTO: In the foreground of this photograph is the audience at the Board meeting. They face away from the camera, looking at the U-shaped board table on the platform, where the members of the Board of Directors are seated. CAPTION: Each year the Board of Directors conducts a public meeting on the day following the opening of convention registration. Hundreds of Federationists gather to observe.
As always, the first general session of the actual convention was the public meeting of the Board of Directors beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, July 1. President Maurer presided, and though over a thousand Federationists were in the audience, microphones were limited to members of the Board, who were seated at a table on the dais. The meeting began with a moment of silence in memory of those members of the Federation family who were no longer with us. This included David Walker, who had died the night before in Jefferson City, Missouri. David and Betty Walker were married immediately following the noon recess of the convention session on Wednesday, July 7, 1982.
Following a number of announcements, President Maurer saluted the United Parcel Service for its financial support of Federation programs and for its ongoing relationship with the organized blind movement. A number of affiliates then made presentations and received the thanks of the organization. President Maurer acknowledged the NFB of California, which presented a gift resulting from a bequest earlier this year. The amount of the contribution was $259,234.20. Jim Willows, President of the California affiliate, was prepared to make this announcement, but a few moments before he was scheduled to do so, he fell and damaged his knee, requiring his use of a wheelchair for the remainder of the convention. Nani Fife, President of the NFB of Hawaii, then announced that Hawaii was delighted to present $159,985.70 from a bequest. Peggy Elliott, President of the NFB of Iowa, announced that before his death Ron Johnson bought an insurance policy with the National Federation of the Blind as beneficiary. A check for more than $60,000 has now been contributed to the organization through the efforts and dedication of Ron Johnson. Checks representing half of bequests to the Wisconsin affiliate ($8,338) and from the Oregon affiliate ($2,000) have also recently been sent to the National Office. Carla McQuillan, NFB of Oregon President, then presented another check for $8,760 to President Maurer. Carla announced that this gift came from a trust from which the affiliate regularly receives funds and that the Oregon board has decided to pass the funds on to the national organization quarterly so that they can be used immediately rather than comprising sizeable annual gifts.
Steve Benson, who chairs the Blind Educator of the Year Selection Committee, then presented that award to Dr. Adrienne Asch, a member of the faculty of Wellesley College. Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Committee, presented that award to Deborah Prost, an active member of the Tidewater Chapter of the NFB of Virginia. The complete text of both these presentations appears elsewhere in this issue.
Next Peggy Elliott, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, presented the twenty-six members of the scholarship class of 1997. The full report of this year's scholarship program appears elsewhere in this issue. The Board voted to conduct a similar scholarship program in the coming year. The Board also voted to establish a new division of the National Federation of the Blind. It is the National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith, and the President is the Rev. Robert Parrish.
The Board meeting concluded with various reports about funding the movement. Bonnie Peterson, Chairwoman of the Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) Program, invited people and groups to make contributions in multiples of $10 to be set aside and used only when necessary to assist in carrying out Federation activities. Michael Baillif, who chairs the Planned Giving Committee, urged people to find creative ways to benefit the NFB with bequests and other such gifts. Noel Nightingale, Chairperson of the Pre-Authorized Check (PAC) Plan Committee, reviewed the current state rankings and urged states to move up during the convention. President Maurer then announced the standings in the Associates Program. Those recruited to become Members-at-large (Associates) not only make contributions to the NFB but also become full-fledged members of the organization. The top ten recruiters this year by number of Associates and by dollar amount are as follows:
Top Ten in Number of Associates Recruited
10. John Blake (New Mexico), 53
9. Janet Caron (Florida), 54
8. Cindy Handel (Pennsylvania), 55
7. John Stroot (Indiana), 67
6. Laura Biro (Michigan), 75
5. Vanessa Gleese (Mississippi), 75
4. Karen Mayry (South Dakota), 84
3. Carlos Servan (New Mexico), 120
2. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico), 129
1. Tom Stevens (Missouri), 173
Top Ten in Dollar Amount Raised
10. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico), $1,300
9. John Blake (New Mexico), $1,321
8. Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), $1,325
7. Carlos Servan (New Mexico), $1,697
6. Jim Salas (New Mexico), $1,775
5. Tom Stevens (Missouri), $1,956
4. Karen Mayry (South Dakota), $2,583
3. Duane Gerstenberger (Washington), $3,195
2. Mary Ellen Jernigan (Maryland), $4,670
1. Kenneth Jernigan (Maryland), $17,370
PHOTO/CAPTION: (left to right) Joyce Scanlan, First Vice President; Julie Bieselin, President Maurer's Secretary; Marc Maurer; and Kenneth Jernigan sit at the table during the meeting of the Board of Directors.
After some discussion of the importance of the Associates Program and a vote by the Board of Directors to conduct an Associates contest in the coming year, President Maurer adjourned the meeting.
By the time delegates began gathering in the third floor ballroom for the opening session of the convention on Wednesday morning, hotel staff had crammed just about every chair into the space that the fire marshal would allow. The state banners were in place, and the NFB flag and the flags of the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom were displayed on the platform. By 9:00 a.m. the crowds began to gather. Chapters selling various items peddled their wares enthusiastically; marshals directed traffic to the best doors for finding particular state delegations; and people fought their way through the mob to exchange banquet tickets, register for the convention, and check registration figures. As the crowd inside the hall grew, state chants began to echo back from the walls. By the time the gavel fell at 9:45, there was standing room only in many parts of the room, and the crowd was wild with excitement.
PHOTO/CAPTION: The Preservation Hall Band marched into the opening day convention session and took the Federation by storm.
PHOTO: Dr. Jernigan and Priscilla Hudson dance in the classic ballroom position on the platform. The flags are visible behind them. CAPTION: Dr. Jernigan and Priscilla Hudson get into the Mardi Gras spirit when the Dixieland band starts to play.
Following the invocation, President Maurer introduced Joanne Wilson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana, to greet the delegates. Her welcome was pure New Orleans--a Dixieland band playing a medley including "When the Saints Go Marchin' in." Members of the Louisiana delegation followed the band throwing beads and urging folks to dance. Dr. Jernigan was among those who joined in.
When order was more or less restored, Dr. Jernigan, who makes convention arrangements, announced that at 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, July 1, person number 3,000 had registered for the convention. By Wednesday morning the count was pushing 3,200. State presidents were invited to sign a telegram to Mrs. tenBroek, who at eighty-five had not felt equal to facing the heat and humidity of New Orleans in July and was not present at the convention. It was not quite the first one she has missed, but everyone was deeply sorry that she was absent and joined in the hope that she would be with us again in 1998.
The remainder of the morning was devoted to the roll call of states. Several interesting announcements were made in addition to the information required from each delegate. Diane McGeorge announced that Homer Page, director of the Colorado Center for the Blind and First Vice President of the NFB of Colorado, had decided the week before to stand as a candidate for Congress from Colorado's Second District. Massachusetts and New Hampshire both announced that Braille bills were now law in their states. A number of states boasted their state agency director as part of the delegation. And Kristen Jocums, President of the NFB of Utah, told the convention that she had just learned Ron Gardner and Jan Hunsaker were to be married July 10 in Manti, Utah.
Following a short address by Isabelle Ewell, representing the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom, the morning ended with adoption of Resolution 97-03, urging the Walt Disney Company not to resurrect Mr. Magoo in a live-action film to be released at Christmas. Delegate support for the resolution was overwhelming, and a media frenzy, set off by news of the NFB action, exploded at the moment of passage and took weeks to subside. Wire services, CNN and CBS television, radio stations across the country, and news organizations around the world wanted comments and often interviews. Those whose lives had been made miserable as children by taunts of "Magoo" spoke passionately of their hope that today's blind children might avoid such misunderstanding and ignorance about the abilities of those who do not see clearly what is around them. At every opportunity they articulated their conviction that entrenched employment and literacy problems for blind people today have their origin partly in the familiar stereotypes embodied in Mr. Magoo.
The afternoon session began as usual with Mr. Maurer's Presidential Report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. At the close of the report President Maurer restated the covenant that binds the National Federation of the Blind together.
You have elected me to serve as President of this organization, and I believe that I understand the responsibility you have given me. I do the best I can to meet that responsibility. But we in the Federation have something else--something that makes us more than an organization, more than a gathering of individuals--something that makes us a movement. It is the bond of understanding, of commitment, and of mutual support from me as President to you the members, and from you to me. As long as I am President, I will do the best I can to lead this movement with firmness and determination. I will be prepared to give whatever time is necessary, whatever effort is demanded, whatever resources are at my command. I will stand in the front lines and take the criticism, and I will not count the cost, or hedge, or equivocate. This is what you have asked of me, and this is what you have a right to expect.
And what will be expected of you? You must be prepared to give all that you can in support of our Federation, our leaders, and each other--not only with your minds but also with your hearts. I will ask you to contribute your time, your money, your imagination, and your effort. The National Federation of the Blind demands of all of us the very best that we have to offer, and it is too important to be incidental or part-time. The spirit of the Federation is as strong today as it has ever been, and our bond of mutual commitment is the unbreakable element that makes us the unstoppable movement that we are.
When the problems come, as surely they will, you must be prepared to remain steadfast and not waver; and you must give of your resources, of your willingness to work, and of the spirit that is in you. I must and will do no less than I ask of you. And because of this bond which holds us together, this mutual understanding that makes our movement what it is and us what we are, there can be no doubt of our continuing success. We have done much, but there is still much that urgently needs to be done. Can you doubt that we are equal to the task? The spirit here present in this room gives answer to the question. These are the commitments we make to each other, and this is my report.
When the ovation that followed the Presidential Report had died down, Kenneth Rosenthal, President of the Seeing Eye, came to the platform to speak briefly to convention delegates. He indicated his pleasure in the increasing warmth of the relationship between our two organizations. He, President Maurer, and Dr. Jernigan all agreed that our shared commitment is to enable blind people to become more independent.
The Honorable David Tatel, Judge, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, delivered an address titled: "The Blind in the Judicial System." After thanking the National Federation of the Blind for having developed Newsline, which he uses to read the New York Times every day, he went on to recommend the federal government as an excellent employer for blind people because it provides accommodations without questioning the need or its obligation to do so. He then described some of the work he has done as a judge in the court which many consider to be just one step below the Supreme Court.
Next Joseph Schneider, Vice President of Human Resources for United Parcel Service, spoke on "Partnership between Business and the Blind." Mr. Schneider celebrated the growing relationship between the NFB and UPS. The two organizations share attitudes about getting things done and empowering individuals to do their best.
"The Voice of the Blind Is Heard in Congress," was the title of remarks by Dr. John Cooksey, Member of Congress from the Fifth District of Louisiana. Dr. Cooksey is an ophthalmologist who was elected to Congress last November. He is a co-sponsor of H.R. 612, the bill to reestablish linkage between Social Security stipends of retirees under the age of seventy and blind Social Security Disability Insurance recipients. He urged Federationists to make our case to Congress whenever we have issues of concern, and he promised to listen.
The final agenda item of the afternoon was a panel discussion titled "Blind Vendors in Postal Facilities." The participants were Jim Gashel, NFB Director of Governmental Affairs, and Stephen Leavey, Manager, Corporate Personnel Operations, United States Postal Service. Jim Gashel reviewed the history of the Randolph-Sheppard Program and urged that the Postal Service set a goal of increasing its share of vending locations in the program from 27 percent--a 1 percent rise over the past twenty-five years--to 45 percent by a date to be negotiated. Stephen Leavey said that the Postal Service recognizes the value of this program and is dedicated to increasing the Postal Service's participation. He pointed out that personnel able to deal effectively with Randolph-Sheppard issues have been lost through downsizing, but he intends to change the picture. Early evidence is that Mr. Leavey was sincere in what he said. Already his staff has removed a roadblock brought to his attention after his remarks, and a large post office vending operation in Michigan is now set to open under the Randolph-Sheppard program. In addition, two representatives from the NFB have been invited to attend an important postal conference in September and discuss our concerns with postal officials.
Wednesday evening was filled with activities. The Music Division's Showcase of Talent drew a large and enthusiastic audience. The IEP workshop for parents of blind children was well attended and valuable as usual. The Louisiana affiliate hosted a party and dance featuring the singer, Harry Connick, Sr., and his twelve-piece orchestra. Irresistible music filled the entire third floor of the Hyatt till midnight, and Deane Blazie provided soft drinks and beer for everyone at this Mardi Gras Ball.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Jim Willows, President of the NFB of California, displays the attendance banner as he passes it on to Louisiana for the coming year.
Thursday morning the convention session began at 9:00 sharp. One of the first items on the agenda was Jim Willows's presentation of the attendance banner to Joanne Wilson to display proudly for the coming year. Next Ed McDonald thanked the organization for the experience he has had for three years as a member of the Board of Directors, but he announced that he would not be a candidate for election to the board this year. Ramona Walhof, Chairwoman of the Nominating Committee, then made that committee's report. Not scheduled to stand for election this year are President, Marc Maurer (Maryland); First Vice President, Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota); Second Vice President, Peggy Elliott (Iowa); Secretary, Ramona Walhof (Idaho); Treasurer, Allen Harris (Michigan); Steve Benson (Illinois); Charles Brown (Virginia); Richard Edlund (Kansas); Sam Gleese (Mississippi); Diane McGeorge (Colorado); and Gary Wunder (Missouri). Those presented to the Convention as candidates for election to the Board of Directors this year were Donald Capps (South Carolina), Wayne Davis (Florida), Priscilla Ferris (Massachusetts), Bruce Gardner (Arizona), Betty Niceley (Kentucky), and Joanne Wilson (Louisiana).
PHOTO/CAPTION: Bruce Gardner
Each newly elected member of the board spoke briefly. The love and dedication to this movement that all of them expressed is embodied in the remarks of Bruce Gardner:
Mr. President, fellow Federationists, the scriptures teach "For of him unto whom much is given, much is required." The NFB has given me much, and I am grateful for the opportunity to give back to this organization. It is particularly humbling to contemplate working more closely with three of my personal heroes: Dr. Jernigan, President Maurer, and Peggy Elliott. I would also like to thank two individuals, Jim Omvig and my brother Norman Gardner. Each has been a mentor, a friend, and a true hero. Their lives have exemplified dedication and selfless service to our fellow blind, and I know that I will be doing well if I can become half the Federationist that they are. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve. Thank you.
Following the election, Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden, Director of the Trace Research and Development Center and a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, addressed the topic: "How the Changes in Telecommunication and Computers Will Affect the Daily Lives of the Blind." He reviewed the technological problems we face and the solutions being developed to solve them.
"The Hands of the Blind That Do the Healing" was the title of a presentation by Dr. Paul Peterson, a highly successful chiropractor. He described the alternative techniques he has developed to teach and practice chiropractic medicine.
Dr. Fred Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, then addressed the Convention on the subject, "Services for the Consumer: The Challenge of Rehabilitation Today and in the Decades to Come." Before his appointment to lead RSA, Dr. Schroeder was a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind. His remarks are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.
Charles Crawford, President of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, then spoke about "Forming Partnerships: Designing Tomorrow." He pointed out the hope available to blind people because of the strength and passion of the National Federation of the Blind, and he then spoke warmly of the growing recognition among professionals of the importance of the services available to blind people through the Federation. Real partnership is now growing among agencies and consumers. But the threat posed by the pan-disability movement to bypass the blind in the name of the larger disabled community is a profound and growing problem facing us all. With a growing population of blind people, we must find ways of working together to protect the rights and opportunities for all blind people.
The concluding agenda item of the morning was an address by Dr. Dean Stenehjem, superintendent of the Washington State School for the Blind, titled "The Role of Education at Residential Schools for the Blind: Present Perspective and Future Prospects." Dr. Stenehjem reviewed the history of his own institution and urged that the blind community and education professionals work together to improve future possibilities for today's blind students.
Following the noon recess, a number of tours carried Federationists to activities across the Greater New Orleans area. But that did not mean that the Hyatt was quiet. At least eight committees, divisions, and other groups conducted meetings and workshops. One of the most exciting was "Kids and Canes," a drop-in discussion with video illustrations led by Joe Cutter, nationally recognized pediatric orientation and mobility specialist. The day closed with the now traditional Monte Carlo night party hosted by the National Association of Blind Students.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Federationists enjoy themselves at Monte Carlo night.
The Friday morning convention session began promptly at 9:15 and was filled with interesting items. The first topic for consideration was the international picture. Dr. Jernigan moderated the panel of presenters and began with a review of the NFB's participation through the years in international organizations of and for the blind. He then introduced Dr. Rodolfo Cattani, Director of the Italian National Library for the Blind and Vice President of the Italian Blind Union, who described organizations and programs serving blind people in Italy. He ended his remarks with a summation that brought cheers from his audience:
You see, dear Federationists, every day is the first day of our fight. Every good result which we obtain is a new starting point. Every dream which we change into reality gives us new strength. Yes, we are ready to go on fighting, and we shall overcome one day. During this convention I have learned a lot. I have felt around me the spirit, the power of your organization, the genuine solidarity, the strong optimism, and the overwhelming humanity of you all. I thank you for this experience; I thank you for your warm and generous hospitality; but I thank you first of all for having infected me with your optimism of winners. I love you all. Blind is respectable!
Next Geoffrey Gibbs, Chief Executive of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, described the history of services for the blind in New Zealand and the growing insistence of blind people on equality and a voice in determining the programs available to them. Then Norbert Mueller, Education Director for the German Education Service for the Blind, Secretary General of the European Blind Union, and a member of the board of the German Federation of the Blind, described the complex political and social problems facing the blind of Germany. Mr. Mueller has attended five NFB conventions in the last seven years. He concluded his remarks by saying: [Sound bite 6]
Dr. Jernigan, when you speak about the role of the National Federation of the Blind, what it should do within the World Blind Union or in the world, I think you must hold the torch high to show to organizations of the blind all over the world how much strength is in an organization which has pride in itself, whose members are not ashamed of being blind, and which has the energy and will to go about and do the business that needs to be done. I promise you that I will continue to work in Germany so that our organizations--I hope one day that it will be only one--will go in that direction.
The final panel presentation was a "Report from the World Blind Union" by Dr. Euclid Herie, President of the World Blind Union and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He told the audience of the acute need and deprivation faced by the world's millions of blind citizens in the developing world, but he went on to say that often the most effective help that blind people in developed countries can give is knowledge and resources.
President Maurer then introduced Susan Spungin. Dr. Spungin is Vice President for National Programs and Initiatives of the American Foundation for the Blind. Her title was "Living by the Numbers." She lucidly described some of the inconsistencies in statistics and demographic problems facing those trying to collect accurate and meaningful data about blindness in this country. She then briefly outlined efforts being made to solve the problems.
The final speaker of the morning was Susan Daniels, Associate Commissioner for Disability, Social Security Administration. Her title was "Social Security: A Report on Disability Insurance, Work Incentives, and Return to Employment Initiatives." It was clear that she is eager to work with consumers to find ways of helping disabled people return to meaningful work and of removing current disincentives that prevent them from doing so.
The afternoon session began with a presentation by Geoffrey Bull, President of Braille International, Inc. His title was "Technology, the Cost of Braille, and Prospects for the Future." He reviewed the remarkable improvement in Braille production over the past twenty years and the simultaneous and astonishing drop in costs during that time, but he pointed out that the number of publications available in Braille is not growing. He urged members of the NFB to work to increase the funding allocation for Braille and to continue to work to see that the demand for Braille rises.
"What's New at Blazie Engineering" was the title of the address made by Deane Blazie, President of Blazie Engineering. He briefly described the wide range of improvements available this year in the various Blazie products. He also announced that his company is trying to find grant funding to assist in carrying on with production of the Optacon.
Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, inventor of the Kurzweil Reading Machine and founder of at least four companies, reminisced about his more than twenty-year-long relationship with the National Federation of the Blind and gave the audience intriguing glimpses into access technology in the twenty-first century.
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, next spoke on the subject, "Building a Solid Base for the Future: A Report of Current NLS Activity." Mr. Cylke summarized progress and plans for establishing digital playback equipment and publications in the future and announced decisions about magazine conversions to cassette tape in coming years.
PHOTO: Larry Posont sits in a convention session with a baby standing on his lap holding onto his cane. CAPTION: Larry Posont of Michigan listens to a convention presentation while he entertains his youngest daughter Betsy.
The next five agenda items were presented by Federationists talking about their jobs and outlook on life. Carla McQuillan, owner and operator of Children's Choice Montessori School and Child Care Center and President of the NFB of Oregon, began with a moving description of the way in which her Federation experience has strengthened and enhanced the curriculum provided at her facility for seventy children. Charles Brown, Assistant General Council, National Science Foundation, spoke about "Advancing Science Through the Legal Profession." Next Dr. William Reynolds of South Carolina discussed "The Blind Doctor: Building Business in the Medical Profession. The next presentor was Bruce Gardner, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona, the newest member of the NFB Board of Directors and a senior attorney with the Arizona Public Service Company. His title was "The Blind Lawyer: Shaping Policy for the Nation's Power Companies." The final member of this group was Lynn Mattioli, a registered dietician at Harbor Hospital in Baltimore. Her topic was "Food for Thought: Experience of a Blind Dietician." All of these presentations were inspiring and reassuring, for Federation philosophy has enabled all these people to succeed and make a profound difference in their communities.
Following this inspiring group of presentations was one that in its own way was every bit as filled with promise for the future. Mae Nelson, director of Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, described the relationship she has forged with blind consumers during the past ten years. Her title was "Partnership: Working in Cooperation with Consumers." Her remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
The final presentation of the afternoon was a brief report by Ritchie Geisel, President of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. He described briefly RFB&D's new digitized book format and announced that the group representing RFB&D at this year's convention was the largest ever.
When Mr. Geisel ended his remarks, the convention recessed, and the room cleared in record time. By 7:00 p.m. the ballroom had been transformed for the banquet. In order to conserve space, the platform had been considerably narrowed. It was almost impossible to pass behind the chairs of those seated at the head table. At floor-level, tables were fitted as closely together as possible, and still an overflow crowd had to be seated in the ballroom foyer with the audio piped to them. It was a memorable evening in many ways.
PHOTO: This graphic is the artwork for the 1997 NFB mug. It includes a saxophone, a New Orleans trolley, a drawing of the Cafe du Monde, a mule wearing a headdress of flowers, and the NFB logo with the words "New Orleans, 1997." The words "National Federation of the Blind" printed vertically separate the logo from the rest of the artwork. CAPTION: Marilyn Whittle of Louisiana designed this year's NFB mug. Each person who attended the banquet received this maroon mug with the artwork and lettering in silver.
President Maurer served as master of ceremonies. Two award presentations were made. Betty Niceley, President of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, honored National Braille Press with the Golden Keys Award for the organization's innovative contributions in providing useful publications in Braille. Then President Maurer presented Betty herself with the Jacobus tenBroek Award for outstanding and continuing service to the blind. The text of both presentations appear elsewhere in this issue.
The banquet address was delivered by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind; and for the first time in Federation history the speech was broadcast live using real audio. That evening people around the world with access to computer systems equipped with soundcards, real audio software, and Windows could (and for a limited time still can) listen to the actual live broadcast of the banquet address. The URL (think of it as the Internet address for finding this wonder of the computer age) is grit.net/~nfb.html The title of Dr. Jernigan's address was "The Day after Civil Rights." The entire text of this address appears elsewhere in this issue, but a short excerpt will suggest the flavor and the argument:
But there comes a day after civil rights. There must. Otherwise the first three stages (satisfying hunger, finding jobs, and getting civil rights) have been in vain. The laws, the court cases, the confrontations, the jobs, and even the satisfying of hunger can never be our prime focus. They are preliminary. It is not that they disappear. Rather it is that they become a foundation on which to build.
Legislation cannot create understanding. Confrontation cannot create good will, mutual acceptance, and respect. For that matter, legislation and confrontation cannot create self-esteem. The search for self-esteem begins in the period of civil rights, but the realization of self-esteem must wait for the day after civil rights.
Following this moving address, which has already been chosen for publication in the August issue of Vital Speeches of the Day, Peggy Elliott came to the microphone to present the 1997 scholarships. The platform was too constricted to allow the winners to receive their awards at the podium, so they stood in front of the platform and stepped forward as their accomplishments were read and their scholarships presented. The winner of the American Action Fund $10,000 scholarship was Stacy Hayworth of Nebraska.
At the conclusion of this wonderful event, the Louisiana affiliate hosted yet another memorable party. This time the music was supplied by Henry Butler, a noted singer and pianist, whose band provided music for the revelers until the small hours of the morning.
The Saturday morning convention session began with the annual financial report and a discussion of the various fund-raising efforts of the organization. At the conclusion of that discussion Dr. Jernigan put the matter into perspective. He said:
We have spent a good part of this morning talking about money, and we're still talking about money even when we are talking about hotels. There is no reason why I should urge you any more than you should urge me. Please find a way to help finance this movement. If we don't, the movement won't die, but it will be anemic and weak. We are a powerhouse in the blindness field, and we want to stay that way and get more that way. To do it takes money. We have got to. Every way we can we ought to work to finance this movement. It's worth everything we can put into it, and we ought to do it. The money is spent wisely and well. It gets results. Look about you, and you can see what they are.
The afternoon session began with the Washington report by James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs. He reviewed what we have accomplished legislatively during the past year and looked ahead at the issues facing us in coming months.
During the remainder of the afternoon seventeen resolutions were read and voted on. Various announcements of interest were also made. For example, President Maurer announced that 143 foreign guests had registered at this year's convention. They came from Bermuda, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Sweden, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
The summary of PAC activity during the convention looked like this. At the beginning of the convention Federationists were contributing $343,965 annually. By convention adjournment new and continuing PAC members had pledged to make annualized contributions of $362,461.80. By the end of Saturday afternoon, nine States (Maryland, California, Minnesota, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, and Louisiana) were giving more than $1,000 a month. As always, the challenge is now to continue to give at this level through the coming year.
Bonnie Peterson, Chairwoman of the Shares Unlimited in NFB Committee, reported on the SUN activity during the week. States, divisions, chapters, and individuals contributed $11,150 toward the NFB's rainy-day fund. Bonnie concluded her report by inviting the SUN choir to join her in teaching a new song to the Convention. The words, sung to the tune of "You are my Sunshine," are:
I have some SUN shares;
Have you bought your shares?
Protect our future,
And help us grow.
They'll always be there;
We want to prepare
For NFB tomorrow.
By the time the final gavel fell, bringing the afternoon convention session to a close, delegates were in a happy blur of excitement, fatigue, wonderful memories, and anticipation of the challenges in the coming year. The Writers Division conducted a workshop Sunday morning. Everyone else streamed out of the convention hall to jump on busses or finish packing or perhaps enjoy one more delicious meal in the Big Easy.
PHOTO/CAPTION: Jody Lee
But no one could forget what we had just shared. Jody Lee, one of this year's scholarship winners, captured both the joy and the dedication of this movement of ours on the closing afternoon. President Maurer invited her to tell the group of an experience she had Thursday when her cousin and a friend had come to the hotel to spend some free time with Jody. Neither woman knew anything about the convention, so walking into a crowd of thousands of blind people was quite a surprise to them. Jody was a few minutes late for their meeting, and the two women watched the bustle and excitement of tour loading and people rushing to meet the demands of their personal schedules. When Jody appeared, the friend told her with evident wonder in her voice that she had just been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Since learning this news, she had been depressed. But she said, "I have been watching the crowd for twenty minutes, and I can hardly believe the confidence and ability of the people around here. They give me hope for the first time." Jody said that this experience taught her in a flash of illumination what this organization is all about.
Jody was right: spreading this message is exactly the work everyone went home to take up again. Our batteries have been charged for another year. We have battles to fight, encouragement to give, and hope to kindle. The work will keep us busy through the months between now and the Dallas convention.