The Braille Monitor
Vol. 40, No. 5
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille,
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The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION
OF THE BLIND IS
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SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 40, No. 5 May 1997
U.S. Senators Scramble for Cover
by Barbara Pierce
One Woman's War
by Mary Van de Kamp Nohl
Reaching for the Stars
by Julie Hunter
by Michael E. Baillif
Valuing the Blind Child's Independent
Movements and Travel
by Joe Cutter
The Blindfold as a Useful Instructional
Tool for Seniors
by Chris Cuppett
Pride Costs: Hiring Readers Pays
by Patrick A. Barrett
Climbing the Acropolis
by Susan Povinelli
My Swim Around Key West
by Sharon Luka
Job History of a Working Mom
by Beth Finke
Of Vision and Voting
by Jolene Boshart
Speaking About New Orleans
by Jerry Whittle
A Note from the Canine Concerns Committee
by Ed and Toni Eames
Copyright 1997 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO: A nine-year-old girl wearing
a plaid outfit and black patent leather shoes stands in the East Mall at the
National Center for the Blind. She is stapling sheets together. CAPTION: April
24 this year was "Take Your Daughter to Work Day." President and Mrs.
Maurer's daughter Dianna Marie is in the fourth grade, and she thought that
a day at work with her parents would be more interesting than
a day in school. Among her other duties, Mrs. Maurer directs the activities of volunteers at the National Center for the Blind, so she was delighted to have another volunteer to help. Dianna is addressing tapes containing the most recent issue of the Job Opportunities for the Blind bulletin. After a day of hard work Dianna was overheard to say that the work was interesting but that in school she didn't have to dress up.]
Senators Scramble for Cover
by Barbara Pierce
According to one Senate staffer, "Pick
any three letters of the alphabet, and a camera crew answering to that name
was on Capitol Hill filming Moira Shea and her guide dog Beau," on April
15, 1997. The media free-for-all occurred following a frantic twenty-four hours
which saw a number of senators scrambling to be seen on the right side of the
question of whether or not a person not actually employed as a member of a senator's
staff could be accompanied by her guide dog onto the Senate floor. At a time
when guide and other service dogs are routinely allowed into hospitals, restaurants,
and taxis driven by people afraid of dogs, one might have assumed that there
would have been no question about admitting a guide dog to the Senate floor.
But nothing is ever simple in the protocol-laden upper chamber of Congress.
Moira Shea is an employee of the Department of Energy, where she has worked for several years. For the second year she is a Congressional Fellow on loan to the Senate, where she was assigned to the staff of Senator Wendell Ford of Kentucky last year and to the staff of freshman Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon this year to help with his work on the Senate Energy Committee. She has Usher's syndrome, which has resulted in both a significant hearing loss and blindness. Her guide dog is an important part of Ms. Shea's ability to function independently in a demanding job.
The only people allowed on the Senate floor without seeking permission to enter the chamber from a member of the sergeant at arms's staff are the members themselves and, by courtesy, the members of their actual staffs. Everyone else must receive unanimous permission to do so. The senator asks if there are objections, and, as long as no member says anything, the person may come in. The procedure is almost always quick and uncomplicated. Late last year a question about the dog's presence on the floor arose, and Senator Ford introduced a resolution about the problem. But the session ended before it could be acted upon. So it was pretty clear that this session Beau was eventually going to trigger an incident. April 14, 1997, proved to be the day it happened.
The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration establishes all of the regulations that stipulate behavior and actions on the Senate floor. No one, including senators, may smoke or bring a laptop computer onto the floor, for example. We were told that women have been banned from the floor because their dresses were too short and men because their attire was too informal. If a doorkeeper believes Senate decorum or a rule is about to be breached, the question goes to the floor for a decision.
When Senator Wyden showed up accompanied by Shea and her dog on April 14, the appropriateness of Beau's presence was questioned, and the fat was in the fire. According to news stories the next day, none of the four senators then on the floor objected to the dog's presence, but Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and a man perennially concerned about the unconsidered ramifications of waiving Senate rules without due reflection, sent in word that he objected to Shea's use of the dog on the floor until the Committee on Rules and Administration had considered the matter. Senator Wyden, disturbed at the decision to bar Beau from the floor, rose to comment on the situation and offer a resolution. This is what he said:
Congressional Record: April 14, 1997
(Senate), [Page S3126-S3127]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access.
Mr. WYDEN: Mr. President, the resolution
that I submit today would change the Senate rules that deny floor access to
those individuals who are visually impaired and need to use guide dogs to carry
out their official duties. By denying floor access to Ms. Shea and her guide
dog, the Senate, in my view, is violating the Congressional Accountability Act,
which requires that Congress abide by the requirements and intent of the Americans
with Disabilities Act. A guide dog is a person's vision. A guide dog is a working
dog, not a pet. This guide dog is with Ms. Shea all the time. He is with her
in meetings in my office. He goes with her to energy committee hearings and
has even gone with her to nuclear weapons facilities.
Mr. President and colleagues, I had hoped that there would be no need to offer this resolution, but I am forced to because discrimination still persists here. Ms. Shea is being treated differently simply because she is visually impaired and needs to use a guide dog.
Now some may believe that the Senate fulfills its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. . .
Mr. REID: Will my friend yield for a unanimous-consent request?
Mr. WYDEN: Yes.
Mr. REID: I ask unanimous consent that I be added as a cosponsor of the Senator's resolution.
Mr. WELLSTONE: Mr. President, I also ask unanimous consent that I be made a cosponsor.
Mr. MURKOWSKI: I ask unanimous consent that I also be added as a cosponsor to the resolution.
The PRESIDING OFFICER: Without objection, the Senators will be added as cosponsors.
Mr. WYDEN: I thank my colleagues.
Mr. President, some believe that the
Senate is fulfilling its obligations under the Americans with
Disabilities Act if they provide someone to accompany Ms. Shea to the Senate floor. But let me say that an unknown staff person is no substitute for a working guide dog.
The relevant language from the Americans with Disabilities Act says that an employer must provide
reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Office has said, "Reasonable accommodation [is] when an employer permits a person who is blind to use a guide dog at work."
Let us put ourselves in Ms. Shea's situation. Imagine that you need to go on the Senate floor to carry out your official duties, but, wait, you must first check your ability to see with the doorkeeper, or go to the Committee on Rules and Administration to get a resolution. I fail to see the logic of this, and I fail to see the justice behind it. Miss Shea's situation doesn't require extra financial resources nor special treatment. She just wants to do her job as a professional.
A large part of the problem seems to be a lack of understanding. So let me tell the Senate a little bit about what guide dogs do. They are working dogs, not pets. A guide dog is that person's vision, an integral part of that person's essential activities and professional responsibilities. A blind person or a visually impaired person, such as Ms. Shea, has learned to turn over her diminishing sight to her dog and trusts that dog with her safety. This guide dog has blocked Ms. Shea from oncoming traffic. He knows his left from his right. He is a marker to others that Ms. Shea is visually impaired. She has gone to the Senate Energy Committee hearings and nuclear weapons facilities. This dog has even met more just access with respect to the Soviet Union.
Yet here in the United States, on the Senate floor, where we passed the ADA and the Congressional Accountability Act, we are refusing access to someone who needs to use a guide dog. This guide dog has a serious job, and, I might add, the dog performs it very well. This is the tool that Ms. Shea uses to be a productive member of the work force, and today we are denying her the ability to do her job to the best of her ability. Ms. Shea is part of a growing work force of persons who want to be independent, who want to be productive, and who have been raised with a can-do attitude.
Let me conclude by describing how the guide dog would work on the floor. Ms. Shea would most likely tell him to "follow me," and as they walked down the aisle, the dog would alert Ms.Shea to each step by stopping. Then Ms. Shea would say to him "find the chair," and then Ms. Shea would sit down and the dog would lay right beside her. We would all forget that the dog was even here. In leaving, Ms. Shea would tell the dog to "find the door" once again, and the dog would alert her to where all the steps are and take her right to the door.
Mr. President, that is all there is to it. It seems to me that the Senate should change its rules to ensure that there is justice for people like Ms. Shea. To tell someone like Ms. Shea that she cannot come to the Senate floor with either a white cane or a guide dog and only with an escort is demeaning. You take away her right to decide what is the best method for her to carry out her job as a professional. You take away her sense of independence. You take away her dignity. You make her dependent on others. That is not what the Americans with Disabilities Act is all about.
Ms. Shea has Usher's syndrome. That is the leading cause of deaf-blindness in the United States. She has struggled and worked hard to get where she is today as a professional. She is independent and self-sufficient, and she told me that she can cope with losing her eyesight, but she should not be forced to face blatant discrimination.
It is time for the Senate to change its rules. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Rules Committee to do this. It is time to ensure that the visually impaired in our country have justice, and have justice in the way that Congress envisioned with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Congress Accountability Act. I thank my friends from Minnesota, Nevada, and Alaska for joining me as cosponsors this morning on this resolution.
Senate Resolution 71
Relative to the Congressional Accountability Act
Mr. WYDEN (for himself, Mr. Reid, Mr. Wellstone, Mr. Murkowski, and Mr. Bryan) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration:
(A) An individual with a disability (as defined in section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [42 U.S.C. 12102]) who has or is granted the privilege of the Senate floor may bring those supporting services (including service dogs, wheelchairs, and interpreters) on the Senate floor the employing or supervising office determines are necessary to assist the disabled individual in discharging the official duties of his or her position.
(b) The employing or supervising office
of a disabled individual shall administer the provisions of this
Those were Mr. Wyden's remarks and the
resolution he introduced for consideration by the Senate Committee on Rules
and Administration. Tuesday morning, April 15, the Senate unanimously passed
a motion stating that, until the Committee on Rules and Administration decides
on a general policy with respect to assistive tools for people with disabilities
on the Senate floor, the sergeant at arms, who is the officer charged with enforcing
the rules of the Senate, is to make individual decisions in each case in which
a person seeking entry uses a mobility aid. The sergeant at arms was asked to
rule on Ms. Shea's request to enter the Senate chamber that morning, and to
no one's surprise with the media lined up waiting for the answer, he announced
that she could use her dog while she was on the Senate floor. At 1:15 p.m. Tuesday,
April 15, Moira Shea and Beau were given unanimous permission to enter the Senate,
and the event was replayed by all the television networks that evening.
It was certainly gratifying to find virtually everyone in America lined up in support of a blind woman's right to use her mobility method of choice. It was valuable positive publicity to have the woman in question be a Congressional Fellow assigned to the Senate of the United States. It is even an indication of progress that a woman who has steadfastly refused to affiliate herself with the organized blind movement is still prepared to stand up for her rights and conduct herself with dignity and restraint under pressure. It was particularly refreshing to have the media turn immediately to the National Federation of the Blind rather than an agency spokesperson for comment and perspective in a case of discrimination against a blind person.
It is regrettable, however, that so many reporters covering this story and average citizens talking about it came away with the impression that Moira Shea, and by extension, all blind people, are dependent on dogs or human guides. A member of Senator Wyden's staff assured the Braille Monitor with tears in his voice that he doesn't think of Beau as a dog; "He is a person, a member of this staff!" Senator Wyden himself referred in his speech to a guide dog as the blind person's "vision." The subtext of most of the commentary that came out of this event seemed to be that Senator Byrd was picking on a poor blind woman just because she needs a dog to take her where she's going.
In fact, Senator Byrd was distressed and dismayed to find himself portrayed as the heavy in this event, according to a member of his staff. On April 15 Senate Resolution 72 was introduced and has also now gone to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration for its consideration. Senator Byrd has requested that consideration be expedited. Here is the text:
Senate Resolution 72
To allow disabled persons or Senate employees seeking access to the Senate floor the ability to bring what supporting services are necessary for them to execute their official duties.
In the Senate of the United States
April 15, 1997
Mr. Kerry (for himself, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Reid, Mr. Wellstone, Mr. Murkowski, and Mr. Bryan) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration.
To allow disabled persons or Senate
employees seeking access to the Senate floor the ability to bring what supporting
services are necessary for them to execute their official duties.
Resolved, that an individual with a disability who has or is granted the privilege of the Senate floor may bring such supporting services on the Senate floor, which the Senate Sergeant at Arms determines are necessary and appropriate to assist such disabled individuals in discharging the official duties of his or her position until the Committee on Rules and Administration has the opportunity to fully consider a permanent rules change.
Until the Committee on Rules and Administration
determines appropriate rules to govern the use of assistive tools allowed on
the floor of the Senate, the sergeant at arms will be making the decisions.
From off-the-record conversations with staff members in that office, it seems
pretty clear that, had Ms. Shea been using a white cane or wheelchair, no problem
would have arisen. Once again it seems to have been the guide dog, which appears
to some people to resemble a pet, that caused the confusion and the questions.
Some people expressed anger and frustration because this incident seemed to be a clear infraction of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Congressional Accountability Act, which makes the Congress subject to the ADA. But as Dr. Jernigan said to NBC News when they called before dawn Tuesday morning, April 15, "We have to get beyond the question of whether or not an incident like this one is illegal. Everyone must come to understand that denying a blind person the use of a guide dog is simply wrong. Incidents like this one will continue to occur until people recognize and respect the right of disabled people to equal access."
Now that the excitement has subsided, it is reasonable to ask what has been accomplished. Moira Shea got a great deal of media attention, and a lot of Americans now know that a blind woman who uses a guide dog works for a United States Senator. An unfortunate inequity in the rules of the Senate has been exposed, and one can hope that the Committee on Rules and Administration will address this and similar questions of reasonable accommodation for those working around the Senate. The media demonstrated again that injustice, even inadvertent injustice, makes a dandy story for a day, and the National Federation of the Blind emerged as the voice of the nation's blind community providing comment and background in matters of civil rights for blind citizens. Senator Robert Byrd has again learned the hard lesson that he who fights to preserve proper procedure frequently incurs wrath from all sides. Senator Byrd's press office assures everyone who asks that he was not discriminating against Moira Shea. His actions and intentions were misunderstood. When Ed Mcdonald wrote a letter taking him to task for preventing a blind woman from using her chosen method of mobility on the Senate floor, Mr. Byrd wrote a letter to the West Virginia affiliate, which was conducting its annual convention. This is what he said:
April 17, 1997
National Federation of the Blind of West
Mr. Edgar McDonald
Keyser, West Virginia
On April 15, the Senate agreed to accommodate,
on a case by case basis, the special needs of the disabled Americans who may
be required, as part of their Senate duties, to be present in the Senate Chamber
during Senate debate. Such an arrangement allows access to the Senate Chamber
to disabled Senate employees and Congressional Fellows, while also following
the usual procedure for altering Senate rules and regulations. In my view it
is important to carefully examine all changes regarding Senate floor access,
and such changes are properly the responsibility of the Senate Committee on
Rules and Administration, on which I serve. It is important that the Senate
comply with the letter and the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA) and make reasonable accommodations to allow disabled Senate employees
and fellows to do their jobs. The action taken by the Senate, with my support,
on April 15 achieves this essential goal.
I regret that my concern that the Senate follow appropriate procedures with regard to changing its rules has been misconstrued. I would be truly saddened should this incident cause West Virginians and Americans with disabilities to believe that the Senate as a body, and this Senator in particular, are insensitive to, or ignorant of, issues of concern to the disabled and the requirements of the ADA law. Please be assured that this is not the case. I have long been, and continue to be, a supporter of programs to assist the disabled and the blind. I voted in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The Senate has put forth important legislation for people with disabilities and has been home to a number of outstanding Senators with disabilities. These include former Senators Robert Dole and John Stennis and current Senators Daniel Inouye, Max Cleland, and Robert Kerry, to name a few. Disabilities do not, and should not, prevent any American from serving the nation in the U.S. Senate. It is my hope that you have a successful convention. With kind regards, I am
Robert C. Byrd
It is probably unrealistic to hope that a United States Senator would apologize to his blind constituents for his actions when all he had done was insist that the Senate's own rules be followed, but one can hope that he has learned to pay more attention to the discrimination of all kinds facing blind Americans. Despite the media feeding frenzy on April 15 and the probable modifications in the Senate rules, it is hard to see that this episode accomplished much. Unfortunately, discrimination still flourishes in our society and the public still views blind people as victims who always seem to need to be rescued. The fight for first-class citizenship with all its attendant rights and responsibilities has been advanced a little, but there is still plenty of opportunity for all of us to join the battle.
[PHOTO: A woman in a black suit is seated
in a captain's chair. The scene is lit by an antique lamp, and a draped window
is behind her. She holds her long white cane. CAPTION: Bonnie Peterson with
her long white cane in the living room of her home on Milwaukee's Southwest
side (Copyright 1997, Chris Corsmeier, Milwaukee, Wisconsin). PHOTO: A little
girl wearing a western hat and vest sits on
a pony holding the reins. CAPTION: Young Bonnie Szortyka poses on a visiting pony. PHOTO/CAPTION: Bonnie Szortyka on confirmation day PHOTO/CAPTION: Portrait of Bonnie Szortyka at the Miss West Allis Pageant. PHOTO/CAPTION: Bonnie with her mother as they register for the pageant. PHOTO: A bride and groom in wedding attire sit holding hands at a table. CAPTION: Bonnie and Joel Peterson on their wedding day in 1973.]
One Woman's War
by Mary Van de Kamp Nohl
From the Editor: Last fall Bonnie
Peterson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, mentioned
to me that Milwaukee Magazine was working on a story about her and her
work with the Federation. It was clear from Bonnie's comments that the interviews
were painfully personal but that the reporter was very bright, perceptive, and
thorough. Bonnie thought that the results would be uncomfortable for her personally
but helpful in educating the public about the true problems blind people face
and the poor quality of the services available to them in Wisconsin.
At the Washington Seminar Bonnie gave me a copy of the article and mentioned that it was raising quite a rumpus in the state. One member of the State Assembly had sent the story to every one of her legislative colleagues. Members of the ACB affiliate had circulated it in Braille and on cassette to blind people they knew in the hope apparently that they would complain to the magazine at the unfairness of devoting so much space to the life story of a Federationist.
The magazine staff told Bonnie that they had received many letters in response to the piece, only a handful of which were negative in tone, and these were nearly impossible to make sense of. Perhaps the most startling tribute paid to Bonnie Peterson was the action taken by Member of Congress Gerald Kleczka, who had a large part of the article placed in the Congressional Record at a reported cost of $12,000 paid by his office. Bonnie was dumbfounded; the magazine staff were thrilled; and I was impressed. The story is lengthy, but I decided I had better sit down and read it. I found it profoundly moving. It is at once the unique account of one woman's life and recognizably the story of each of us who have come to recognize that working with the National Federation of the Blind is the one certain way to make a difference in our own lives and those of the blind people around us.
Mary van de Kamp Nohl has done a remarkable job of writing this story. It first appeared in the February, 1997, issue of Milwaukee Magazine. It is reprinted here with the permission of the magazine, Copyright, Milwaukee Magazine, 1997. We are reprinting the version that Representative Kleczka submitted to the Congressional Record because it is significantly shorter than the original story. Here are Mr. Kleczka's remarks followed by the story about Bonnie Peterson:
Congressional Record, Thursday, February
Extensions of Remarks Section
[CR page E-261, 21 lines]
SALUTE TO AN OUTSTANDING MILWAUKEEAN
HON. GERALD D. KLECZKA (D)
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, February 13, 1997
Mr. KLECZKA: Mr. Speaker, I want to
take this opportunity to salute one of Milwaukee's outstanding citizens, Bonnie
Ms. Peterson is featured in February's Milwaukee Magazine in a story called "One Woman's War." It's an appropriate title for a remarkable woman. The article calls Ms. Peterson "the State's staunchest advocate for the blind" and "the toughest critic of the system built to help them." I'm sure those who read the article will agree.
I ask that the article be included in the Record.
Text Inserted by KLECZKA (D-WI): One
[CR page E-262, 692 lines]
The state's staunchest advocate for the blind is the toughest critic of the system built to help them. How Bonnie Peterson became a rebel, "the blind bitch," and the last hope for those who are about to give up hope.
Long after the other teens at the sleepover
party had stopped talking about the job fair at New Berlin High School and dozed
off, fifteen-year-old Bonnie Szortyka lay awake. It was 1968, and Bonnie had
dreamt of becoming an airline stewardess, but now the dream was dead. A stewardess
had to have perfect vision.
She thought of becoming a teacher, but no, a teacher had to see a student with his hand raised, and Bonnie could see a hand only if it was held a foot from her face. A teacher had to keep up with all of the paperwork, and Bonnie could not.
As hard as she had worked to hide her blindness, the truth was catching up with her. Her Herculean effort to eke out passing grades by putting in three times the hours her classmates did, writing with her nose scraping across a page until the headaches became intolerable, the endless hours spent with her mother reading schoolwork to her--all of it was for naught.
Visions of careers, husbands, and children filled the heads of the slumbering teens around her, but as dawn approached, Bonnie could not imagine any job that would allow her to leave home and have a life of her own. Just taking up space and air and food without giving anything back, she thought, was no life at all.
The next night, knowing that it was a sin that would send her straight to hell and disgrace her family but unable to pretend anymore, Bonnie Szortyka choked down the contents of a giant economy bottle of aspirin. She went to bed and waited to die.
Her body began to shake uncontrollably, but it was the sudden deathly silence, the nothingness of death that terrified her, and she dragged herself to the living room where her parents were watching TV. Bonnie didn't die, but the girl released from West Allis Memorial Hospital the next day to her sobbing father had changed. She didn't want to die anymore; she wanted to fight.
Born of despair and nurtured by anger,
the seed planted that night would grow into a lifetime crusade. Today, at age
forty-four, Bonnie Szortyka Peterson, an adjunct public speaking professor at
the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and president of the National Federation
of the Blind of Wisconsin (NFB), battles negative attitudes toward blindness
and the low expectations and wasted lives that grow out of them.
Yet those negative attitudes--held by both the sighted and the blind--are the bedrock of the system Wisconsin has built to help this state's 50,000 legally blind individuals, Peterson says, "a system that makes the disabled more dependent instead of independent."
Says Peterson: "What happens to blind people in Wisconsin today is just like what happened to the black slaves. We're being kept in our place. . . . kept from reading, writing, and connecting, from moving up."
Peterson's personal war has taken her
to testify before the state Legislature and U.S. Congress. It has made her an
enemy of the state teachers' union and a critic of Wisconsin's school for the
blind. She has targeted the state's vocational training programs and battled
sheltered workshops for the disabled. Her candor has made her both villain and
hero. Civil servants call her "the blind bitch"; members of the blind
community call her their "last hope."
It's said that blindness and death are the things people fear most, but Peterson says blindness need not be any more limiting than shortness or obesity. "It just requires alternative ways of doing things: Braille instead of print, a cane instead of using your eyes to get around." With her long white cane she navigates the maze of state offices with such finesse that less skilled visually impaired civil servants suggest she is faking her blindness. "It is so hard for them to imagine a successful blind person, they have to think that," she says.
A person is legally blind when his vision is 20/200; that is, he has one-tenth the visual acuity of a normal sighted person. Medical records show Peterson's vision, at 20/300, is worse than that. There are 6.4 million visually impaired individuals in the United States: 27 percent are legally blind like Peterson. Only 6 percent have no vision at all. For most, blindness is not a black-and-white issue, but a shade of gray.
Like the country's revolutionary founders, Peterson believes that an overbearing government eats out the substance of a man. Last fall, when state agencies staged a seminar for rehabilitation workers and their clients, one session was called "Sexuality and Disabilities." Says Peterson: "Most people have sex with their eyes closed anyway, but these people think we're so helpless we can't even make love without them helping us. It makes me want to cry."
But Peterson doesn't want compassion. When an area charity offered to raise money for the Federation by showing helpless blind children in order to "tug at the heart-strings and loosen donors' purse strings," she turned it down. "We don't need more pictures of pathetic blind people."
Peterson vowed to fight her war without them. But she is fighting a battle against entrenched special interests. She is battling bureaucratic arrogance and incompetence at a time when the public has become so numb to government scandal it may barely notice. But none of this will make Bonnie Peterson stop fighting.
Birth of a Rebel
Bonnie Szortyka was only a few months
old when her parents, Chet and Adelaine, realized that their baby's eyes did
not follow them when they moved. When Bonnie was three years old, a doctor at
Mayo Clinic gave them no hope. "You have to consider her totally blind
and send her away to a school for the blind. Period. That's it," her mother
recalls the doctor saying. The Szortykas could not bear to send the eldest of
their three children away. They raised her the only way they knew, like a normal
child who just happened to have very bad vision.
It was the 1950's,and Milwaukee Public Schools faced an epidemic of blind children. Most, like Bonnie, had been born prematurely. The oxygen that had helped their underdeveloped lungs function was blamed for destroying their fragile optic nerves. Bonnie was legally blind, but she had enough vision to keep her from getting into the Milwaukee Public Schools' school for blind children immediately. At age five she was on a three-year waiting list.
Adelaine worried about what her daughter's future would be if she didn't get a proper education. "Is there a Braille class I can take to teach her?" she asked MPS officials. "They said, `Not here, maybe in Iowa.'"
The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese's schools had no special-education classes, but the nuns at St. Stanislaus School were willing to help. By second grade Bonnie was reading with a book pressed to her face, focusing laboriously on one word, then the next. Bonnie drank gallons of carrot juice; she visited a faith healer. Doctor after doctor told her parents, "I've never seen a girl with this bad of vision [who is] this well-adjusted. She doesn't act like a blind person," her mother recalls.
Bonnie was the great pretender. On the Polish South Side of Milwaukee, First Communion Day was a family event. The Szortykas' living room was crowded with relatives when an aunt insisted that Bonnie read her Communion cards aloud. But when Bonnie held the card to her eye to see it, the aunt berated her, "Don't make fun of people like that!" Bonnie burst into tears. Alone in her room, she thought, "I am one of those people. Why don't they know that?"
By sixth grade severe eye strain caused constant headaches. "I didn't even know that everyone didn't have this pain until I was thirty years old," she says. Eye strain led to nystagmus, a continuous jerky involuntary movement of Bonnie's eye muscles, making reading even more daunting. Bonnie slept with her nose pressed into the pillow, hoping to flatten it and thus get closer to her books.
When Bonnie was twelve, a Milwaukee doctor told her parents he could make a special pair of eye glasses. Bonnie eagerly donned the thick lenses and began to read the eye chart. Her mother was ecstatic. The doctor seemed delighted, but then, as she read further, his voice changed. "What's wrong?" her mother asked. "She's memorized the chart," the doctor said.
"My mother was so mad at me. I was only trying to make her happy. She was always so sad when the doctors couldn't help," Bonnie remembers. "I said, `Why can't you just love me like I am now?'"
Her father said there would be no more eye exams. Still Bonnie was expected to do chores like everyone else. She scrubbed the floor, and if she missed a spot, her mother would say, "`You missed something. Rub your hand over the floor to find the spot or wash it all over again until it's done,'" Bonnie remembers. "You don't find excuses, you find a way to get it done right. . . . My mother told me, `You can do anything you make up your mind to do.'"
But at school that wasn't enough. "They'd praise me for being able to write my name--that's how low their expectations were for me," she says. "The other kids knew I was getting praise for things everyone did. They called me `blindy.'" The only way to get her teachers to demand as much of her as they did from her sighted peers, Peterson says now, was to "get them mad." By eighth grade she was a master at that.
Remembers her teacher, the former Sister Dorothy Roache: "We had constant terrible, I mean really terrible, arguments. I told Bonnie she needed to learn Braille. She wouldn't consider it. She wanted to be like everyone else, and she insisted on keeping up with the class, earning good grades in spite of herself."
In high school Bonnie made friends, dated boys, won gold medals for her singing. She was a finalist in the Miss West Allis pageant. A girlfriend who sold makeup taught her how to apply it. "That girl didn't have any special training in teaching the blind . . . but no one ever told her blind people can't use makeup." Bonnie soon sold Vivian Woodard cosmetics, too. "I couldn't tell people what colors looked
good on them, so I said, `You can experiment.' It turned out no one liked being told what to do, and I sold so much I kept winning sales awards," she says.
But as well-adjusted as Bonnie appeared outside, the suicide attempt left her parents with lingering fears.
During the summer of 1971 a counselor from the Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) told the Szortykas that Bonnie needed to attend a three-week residential college prep program at the century-old Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped (WSVH) in Janesville. The counselor was blind himself. "I could hear him writing Braille as fast as my mother could talk, and for the first time, I thought, `I might want to learn this,'" Bonnie remembers. But when the Szortykas arrived at the school, "students were groping around, making weird, undignified gestures, bumping into things," says Bonnie. Her mother didn't want her to stay, but Bonnie shouted over her shoulder, "These are my people now."
Bonnie asked about Braille but was told she didn't need it. Many of the students at the school for the blind were doubly disabled. Coddled by their parents and teachers, they had never been expected to observe even rudimentary rules of decorum. The boy across the table from Bonnie ate with his hands, making loud slurping sounds. "Can't you teach him to use silverware?" Bonnie demanded. "He was a smart guy, but how was he going to have any friends at college if he ate like that?"
Bonnie noticed another dichotomy. There were two classes of students: the "partials," who had some sight, and the "totals," who were completely blind. The partials had more freedom; they were the leaders. Totals, like a woman Bonnie befriended named Pat, spent their days in their rooms. "They only led her out to eat, just like a dog," she says.
"All they cared about was how much people could see, not how much they could learn," says Bonnie, who refused to let anyone know just how bad her vision was. She couldn't see the steps in front of her, but she marched up the staircase with the totals hanging onto each other behind her. She carried serving dishes to the dinner table, where one of the totals banged her fork on her plate, demanding Bonnie serve her some peas. "I couldn't believe it," she says. "These were adults, and they were treating them like babies, then sending them out in the world. No wonder they can't make it."
Bonnie's college prep classes turned out to be "easy pseudo college stuff." She decided to get a suntan instead. No one complained. "I had never even thought of skipping a class before," she says, but expectations and standards were different at WSVH.
Students warned Bonnie that the principal liked to get girls alone in his office. "They said he had sex with them," she says now. "I thought it was a joke or a scare tactic until the house mother and the nurse warned me, too. It didn't make sense that he would still be there if everybody knew." But one day he cornered her. "He was talking about how pretty I was . . . trying to rub himself against me," says Bonnie. "I said, `If you touch me, I'll have your job.' He moved away and said he could see me in ten years, with a baby in my arms and two tugging at my skirt, implying that I'd never move up. I said, `Well, at least they won't be yours,' and I hurried out of there." (Years later the principal was charged with sexually assaulting another seventeen-year-old student, then acquitted.)
Bonnie told another student about her encounter, and the two of them took a cab to a liquor store and bought the biggest bottle of Mogen David wine they could find. That night, on the schoolyard grounds, they drank it all. "I had never had a drink before . . . but I was scared I'd end up being led around like these people, without a job, without any purpose in life. I had more doubts about my future than I had ever had," Bonnie says. "I knew then I would never let anyone know I was blind and have people talk down to me like I was a moron. I'd die first."
The police found the pair drunk and returned them to the school. The summer program was drawing to a close, Bonnie recalls, and "they told us to leave and never come back."
In the summer of 1972, after her freshman
year as a music major at (the now-defunct) Milton College near Janesville, Bonnie
fell in love with a twenty-three-year-old Milwaukee police aide named Joel Peterson.
Bonnie didn't want to go back to college, but if she stayed home, her father
said, she had to have a job. She had twenty-four hours. Bonnie phoned the DVR
counselor. He landed her a job assembling pens at Industries for the Blind.
Congress had established sheltered workshops like this in 1939 as a stepping
stone for the disabled. Because they offer "training," workshops are
allowed to pay less than minimum wage and they get priority on government contracts.
But the truth is, few of the blind ever leave sheltered workshops for better
jobs. Even today most spend their entire working lives at substandard wages.
Industries for the Blind was a union shop, so the pay was better than most workshops and more than minimum wage. Bonnie married Peterson the next year. By 1979 she was determined not to spend the rest of her life "in a job where management treated me in the same condescending tone I heard at the school for the blind." She told her DVR counselor she wanted to go to Alverno College and major in professional communications. He laughed.
"Then he told Bonnie, `You're not
dealing with your visual impairment,'" remembers Joel, now a Milwaukee
police detective. "And he said Bonnie should go to MATC and learn how to
keep house first." That prompted Joel to stand up, displaying the full
girth of his six-foot-four-inch frame, and he asked, "Do I look like a
guy who hasn't been fed well?" Bonnie baked homemade bread and made fresh
pasta, trading some of it for rides and bartering the services of readers who
would record printed matter for her.
The counselor told Peterson the DVR would send her to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee because it had services for disabled students. "I said I was going to Alverno [even] if I had to work or get school loans to pay for it, and I would major in communication," she says now, "but deep inside, I wondered whether he was right, that maybe I couldn't do it."
For three years Peterson boarded a city bus five days a week at 5:30 a.m. to go to her forty-hour-a-week job to earn money for college. At night and on weekends she was a full-time student at Alverno. She spent her lunchtimes at Industries for the Blind studying on the floor of the women's restroom, her co-workers' guide dogs helping themselves to the lunch beside her.
On the day her first daughter, Candice, was born, Peterson worked for eight and a half hours, took an exam, then went home and wrote a paper. "I made a deal with the baby that she wouldn't come until I finished," says Bonnie, who made it to the hospital just in time for a nurse to deliver the baby.
Bonnie graduated from Alverno in December, 1983. By then she had worked at Industries in every position on the pen and pencil line, including quality control, so when the plant superintendent retired and his job was split into two positions, production manager and sales manager, Peterson applied. "The president of the company said, `We'll call you.'"
No one did. Two white non-handicapped males got the jobs. One was the son of the inspector who approved the workshop's government work. In its thirty-two-year history, the $18-million-a-year 112-employee Industries for the Blind had never employed a handicapped individual in any supervisory, managerial, or even clerical position, Peterson discovered. "Maybe I'm not qualified," said Peterson, "but certainly someone in all those years was qualified to be a janitor, a secretary, or something besides a laborer."
Peterson hired an attorney and filed a complaint with the federal government, but she was becoming a pariah. Rumors circulated that, because of what she'd done, blind people would lose their jobs. Peterson reread the recommendations her Alverno professors had written, testimonials to her problem-solving abilities, communication skills, and "spirited determination," but she was losing faith.
"I think Bonnie believed that,
if she filed that suit, they'd wake up and give her a chance at that job. We
all thought she'd be great at it, but they just ignored her," recalls Carol
Farina, a supervisor at Industries.
Peterson knew she was in over her head and turned to the two national organizations that advocate for the blind. An attorney with the American Council for the Blind phoned, asking for Peterson's attorney's name and sent a letter indicating modest support. The National Federation of the Blind responded with boxes of documentation involving similar cases and asked Bonnie to testify before Congress on the lack of upward mobility for the disabled in the workshops intended to help them.
In January, 1985, the U.S. Department of Labor found that Industries for the Blind had violated federal
affirmative action rules by failing to recruit and advance women and blind people. It found no evidence that the firm had discriminated against Peterson personally.
Within a year Peterson left Industries. She earned a master's degree in organizational communication from Marquette University, formed a production company, and created the first cable access television show produced by an entirely blind crew. But the newest challenge would come from her own daughter.
The "Blind Bitch"
Candice wanted her mother to read Dumbo,
but when Bonnie held the book to her eye then showed the picture to Candice,
the three-year-old pulled the book away, saying, "No, Daddy read."
"I still remember what I heard in her words. It was, `You are stupid. . . .' It hurt so bad. I didn't care what all those professionals who were trying to help me kept telling me," Peterson says. "I knew I had to learn Braille."
It took only two months with the help of the National Federation of the Blind, which had already taught her to travel with a cane. "It was a turning point," she says. "I learned to be proud of being blind once I had something to be proud of." Peterson's confidence was growing, and in 1986 she was elected president of the Wisconsin NFB. Appointments to the state advisory Council on Blindness and other boards followed, and Peterson became an advocate for others.
For six years a teacher of the visually impaired had worked with a nine-year-old Burlington girl whose vision was 20/400 and deteriorating, but the girl was falling further and further behind. Peterson and the child's mother sat on one side of the table, the special-education experts on the other. When the woman said she wanted her daughter to learn Braille, the vision teacher shook her fist in the mother's face. "`It's almost like you want your child to be blind!'" the mother remembers the teacher saying. "`Don't you know? Blindness is like a cancer! It's the worst thing that can happen to you.'"
The teacher's remark took Peterson's breath away. "No. No," she said, "the worst thing that can happen to a child is for them to be uneducated." Bonnie remembered the incident years later when Sandy Guerra phoned with a similar case. A Racine School District teacher of the visually impaired had worked with Guerra's twelve-year-old daughter, Melissa McCabe, since she was three. Yet the teacher had never taught the girl Braille.
"She kept trying to make Melissa see. If she stares a long time, five minutes on a word, Melissa can see almost anything, but for only a few seconds, and it hurts her eyes so bad, she gets terrible migraines," Guerra says. Melissa was already two and a half years behind her fifth-grade classmates. The vision teacher had read standardized exams to Melissa, helping her get the right answers, so her test scores never revealed just how far behind she was--until Melissa's regular fifth-grade teacher ended the charade. "In good conscience I could not pass Melissa on to sixth grade," says the teacher, Rose Mikaelian.
Up until then no one had ever expected much of Melissa. She was given half the class's spelling words, though when Mikaelian recruited a volunteer tutor, the girl could do them all. By middle school the tutor was gone, and Melissa was getting F's again. Her new vision teacher suggested giving Melissa "ten free bonus points on everything to make her feel better."
At a meeting with school officials Bonnie urged that the girl be taught Braille. "You'd have thought the district would have thought of that," says Mikaelian. "No one challenged Bonnie. She was always in charge." But Peterson could not guarantee that Melissa would be taught Braille, and there are many others like her.
In 1965 48 percent of Wisconsin's blind children could read Braille, but by 1993 the literacy rate had plummeted to 4 percent, less than half the national average. No wonder, thought Peterson, that the unemployment rate for legally blind individuals between the ages of twenty-one and sixty-four in Wisconsin was 74.4 percent, the worst of any minority group. And nearly half of those working were underemployed. "When sighted people can't get around independently, can't read or have poor social skills, we know that's poor training. When the blind can't get around independently, can't read, or have poor social skills, we think that's the way blind people are," she says.
With the rush to embrace new technology, like giant magnifiers and machines that can read a printed page, there was a philosophical shift, and many teachers felt children could manage without Braille, says Marsha Valance, librarian at the Wisconsin Regional Library for the Blind and Handicapped. "Unfortunately, that was not always true."
The NFB had looked into the illiteracy
of the blind and concluded that many teachers didn't know Braille well enough
to teach it. So Peterson asked state Rep. Fred Risser (D-Madison) to introduce
a bill requiring all teachers of the visually impaired to pass a test proving
they knew Braille. Risser expected it to be a cakewalk. State Senator Alberta
Darling (R-River Hills), a former teacher herself, called it "common sense."
But the Braille Bill ran into a blitzkrieg.
The Wisconsin Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Handicapped and the larger state teachers' union had a myriad of arguments against it: it discriminated against teachers of the visually impaired because other teachers did not have to prove their competence; they didn't like the Library of Congress's National Braille Literacy Test; kids don't like learning Braille; and it's difficult to teach.
The unions insisted the state's 825 teachers of the visually impaired had already learned Braille in college.
"Asking teachers of the visually impaired to take courses in Braille is like asking teachers of the sighted to take courses in the alphabet," scoffs Charles Siemers, an MPS teacher of the visually impaired who fought the bill. He calls Peterson "the blind bitch" and says she "slandered me and my profession by saying we're poorly prepared. Besides," insists Siemers, who is legally blind himself, "if we can get people to use what vision they have, it's always much, much better."
It might be easier for the teachers, Peterson says, but not for kids who, being functionally blind, cannot hope to compete with their sighted peers, even working endless hours and straining what little sight they have.
The Department of Public Instruction, under whose watch blind literacy sank so low, hired an outside firm to evaluate the proposed legislation. "The bureaucrats wanted it their way or no way, and Bonnie Peterson wouldn't budge," says Andrew Papineau, administrator of DPI's visually impaired programs. "So I brought in a neutral person."
"The so-called independent consultant had some interesting findings," says Sen. Darling. They argued that children are "better off with an aide and a computer than to be able to use a $5.50 slate and stylus [the plastic ruler-sized implement and point that allows the user to punch out a code of raised dots that can be read using the fingertips]. "If you give people fish," says Darling, "they have food for a day. If you give them a fishing rod, they have food for life. That's Braille. But they told me kids shouldn't learn Braille because then they'd `look blind,' " Darling remembers, "and they said a lot of kids had multiple disabilities so they couldn't learn Braille." The blind, deaf, and mute Helen Keller must have been spinning in her grave.
Peterson told the Legislature: "If only 4 percent of sighted children could read print, no one would dispute the severity of the problem." Opponents of the Braille Bill stumbled and tripped on their way up to the podium to testify. Siemers had broken his glasses and couldn't read his speech. "Those who were in favor of the bill walked to the podium perfectly with their canes, and they had their notes in Braille--nothing could stop them," says Darling.
Few legislators missed the little irony that had been played out before them. The bill passed, but the bill's
opponents lobbied DPI and undercut it. Only new teachers would have to pass the test. Existing teachers could take a Braille refresher course or attend a teachers' convention instead. There was one victory. Now, when a legally blind child is not taught Braille in Wisconsin, the school district must put the reason in writing.
But Peterson had made enemies. Says Siemers, who took early retirement last year: "Bonnie Peterson and her Federation members are like dogs who bite the hands that feed them, the professionals who try to help them." Ironically, it was that attitude--"How dare you question me when I'm here to help you"--that Peterson had set out to eradicate.
Return to the School for the Blind
Even before the Braille Bill took effect
in 1995, Peterson was engaged on another battlefront. In the fall of 1994 Wisconsin's
school for the blind, WSVH, faced the budget cuts affecting all of state government,
but the school's staff was painting a picture of suffering blind children. In
truth the school would only have to close one of its under-utilized cafeterias
and put younger children in the same half-used educational building with other
The school had come under fire before; the preceding June, the Legislative Audit Bureau pointed out that WSVH maintained a staff/student ratio of almost one to three--even when students were sleeping. The school was operating at less than 40 percent capacity, with a staff of 110 to care for just 80 students. (Enrollment is now 75.) [Since this article first appeared in Milwaukee Magazine, school enrollment has apparently fallen by a further twenty students; at least that is the figure one parent who withdrew her child was given.]
While picketers prepared signs saying the governor didn't care about poor blind kids, Peterson and the NFB cut through their sad refrain. "What does WSVH offer that's worth paying ten times more per student than school districts spend?" Peterson asked. "You could hire a private tutor for each of these kids for $68,200."
The Federation didn't want the school to close--parents needed options, Peterson said--but it had to operate more effectively. Too many of its graduates end up unemployed or underemployed and "socialized for dependency," she said, describing WSVH graduates as "fodder for government-supported workshops."
William S. Koehler, the school's superintendent, accused Peterson of trying to destroy WSVH, complaining, "She takes direct shots at the school without ever being here." Peterson admits she has not been at the school since Koehler took office in 1992. "I don't need to, I have all kinds of parents and children who have been there. They're my eyes and ears." Peterson relies on people like the mother of a seven-year-old boy, left with 20/2200 vision after surgery to remove a tumor, who withdrew her son because WSVH insisted he use a magnifier instead of teaching him Braille.
Koehler says the school did an "extensive" telephone survey in 1993 that proves its graduates are successful, but when Milwaukee Magazine asked for a copy, repeatedly, from Koehler, his assistant, and even from DPI, it was promised but never forthcoming. "If WSVH is doing such a great job making kids independent, why does the state pay tens of thousands of dollars to send so many of its graduates to programs to help them adjust to their blindness?" Peterson asks.
Milwaukee Magazine's own investigation included extensive interviews with parents and students and a day-long visit to WSVH, which revealed some students learning Braille but more struggling to read, some with giant magnifiers. Koehler offered a score of excuses why kids can't or don't want to learn Braille or use a cane, but no ideas on how to get students motivated and excited about learning.
He stressed that the school's goal was producing independent graduates, but subtle signs gave a different message. In classroom after classroom students waited to be helped. In the first- to third-grade classroom, for example, three staff members supervised just seven students, who were painting a rubber fish and pressing it onto a T-shirt to make an impression. Yet the students spent most of their time waiting to be helped, teacher's hand over their hand, instead of learning to do the project themselves.
Koehler supplied the names of two graduates who, he said, would demonstrate just how well WSVH prepares its students. One was Steve Hessen, the school's 1996 valedictorian. But Hessen was hardly the model of an independent blind person. He had just dropped out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater because he couldn't manage the financial aid application process. Without the money, Hessen, whose vision is 20/1500, could not hire the tutor he needed or rent equipment like a talking Braille calculator. He had fallen hopelessly behind. Worse yet, the scholarship he'd won required him to enroll last fall or it would be canceled. Hessen had asked a WSVH counselor to argue that it should carry over to next year.
The school's previous valedictorian was
Shannon Gates, now a student at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau. Gates,
who was born without optic nerves in her eyes, reads Braille at 250 words per
minute, but she dropped courses this year because she couldn't get Braille texts.
State taxpayers pay Northcentral's Visually Impaired Program (VIP) to help students like Gates. The program supplied her with audio tapes of textbooks and hired tutors, but "I can't get a Braille text. It's like asking a print reader not to use print," she says. "I threw a fit the first year, but the VIP says, `It's easier to use tapes or large print.' Maybe it's easier for them. . . but if I had Braille texts, I wouldn't need tutors. I could take a full class load."
Gates was at WSVH for ten years, under three different administrators. In the end, she says, "There were so many rules, you had to do what you were told and not ask questions. I wasn't even allowed to cross the street alone. . . . The school doesn't encourage independence, that's for sure . . . they were dragging me down."
Twenty-year-old Brian Brown attended WSVH in 1991 and 1992, then returned to his local school, and now runs his own business. "They say they strive to make the students independent, but they don't allow you to do anything alone. The bathroom stalls don't even have doors on them in the education building. The house parent enters your room without knocking . . . they walk right in to verify you're in the shower. . . .
"There are two castes at WSVH," he says, "kids who still want to be somebody and have a life and those who've given up and would rather be told what to do. I was lucky. I left before that happened to me." Milwaukee Magazine talked to ten WSVH alums. All gave anecdotes substantiating Peterson's claim that students are "conditioned to be even more dependent."
Observes Peterson: "Like most of these professionals for the blind, they run a program into the ground, then move on. In Koehler's case, he's already applied for the position of superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Blind, but he didn't get it." [In early April, however, a member of the teaching staff at WSVH told a parent that Koehler was leaving both his position at the school and the state of Wisconsin.]
Brad Dunse's Liberation
Peterson had a long history of dissatisfaction
with the state's two post-high school vocational training programs for the blind:
the Visually Impaired Programs (VIP) at Northcentral and Milwaukee Area Technical
College (MATC). She prompted a state audit of the Milwaukee program by leading
picketers protesting its "low standards" and curriculum focused "on
housekeeping and grooming skills" instead of on the skills needed to live
independently, "like Braille and independent travel." (The state is
currently looking for proposals to run that program.)
In 1990 she had fought to get DVR to send a blind man named Bob Raisbeck to a program started by the Federation in Minneapolis called Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND, Inc.). Newspapers there described BLIND, Inc.--one of only three programs of its type in the country--as the "Harvard of rehabilitation" and a "boot camp" where the blind learned "to believe in themselves and to be truly independent."
Taxpayers had already sent Raisbeck to the VIP at Northcentral three times and to MATC once, but he still had no job skills. Peterson lobbied legislators. The Madison Capitol Times reported on Raisbeck's story, and still DVR refused. Eventually, Raisbeck moved to Minnesota, and that state sent him to BLIND, Inc. He found a job and never returned.
All of this was history when Peterson received a phone call in early 1995 from Brad Dunse, who had expected to inherit his father's roofing business until retinitis pigmentosa left him legally blind. DVR helped Dunse set up a home business, but for five years he sat in his Green Bay home, terrified of using the power woodworking equipment DVR had given him.
Finally, in 1994, DVR sent Dunse to a program to help him "adjust" to his blindness. He moved into a motel in Wausau, where his meals were prepared for him and he was bused to Northcentral's VIP. "It was like an expo where you'd just wander around. But I didn't know what I needed. I've never been blind before," he says.
Dunse sat in on a Braille class, but at the end of two weeks he didn't even know what a slate and stylus were; the teacher in the computer class was too busy to answer his questions. Says Dunse: "He kidded one man about being there as much as he was. . . . The VIP teaches you just enough to get by, but then this guy's vision would get worse and he'd have to come back. There were a lot of people like that."
Dunse didn't want to spend the rest of his life as a repeat customer, dependent on the state. He called the Federation, asking, "Isn't there something better?" Peterson told him about BLIND, Inc. Dunse and his wife Brenda went for a visit. He was impressed, he says, by the confidence of the blind travel instructor whose students were so well trained they could be left blindfolded (so they could not rely on any residual vision) five miles from the school and get back on their own.
"At the VIP, they do stuff for you; at BLIND Inc., you do things for yourself," Dunse told a supervisor, but DVR was not convinced. Peterson helped Dunse petition for a special hearing. Remembers Peterson: "The DVR supervisor said, `I can't understand why anyone would want to go to a school run by the blind. That's like the mentally retarded asking the mentally retarded for help.'"
The tone of the meeting was "very condescending," adds Dunse. "It was me telling them why I wanted to go, and they were telling me all the reasons I didn't."
With his petition rejected, Peterson told Dunse he had only one option. Dunse kissed his wife and two young sons goodbye, gave up his Wisconsin residency, and moved to Minneapolis for five months of training. When he graduated from BLIND, Inc., he had higher aspirations than a home woodworking business that would never get him off Social Security Disability Insurance. He continued his education and took over a vending machine business.
The cost of BLIND, Inc. is "a little more than the VIP--a few hundred dollars," says Joe Mileczarek, who runs Northcentral's VIP program. Tuition at BLIND, Inc. runs $2,495 per month, plus $32.50 per day for housing in an apartment, where students prepare their own meals, then travel to classes on their own. For Northcentral's program, hotel, prepared meals, and transportation costs another $50 per day. DVR will spend an average $2,333 in tuition per student sent to Northcentral this year, though many of those students will stay just one day. "A lot of people don't want to be away from their families that long," says Mileczarek, noting that DVR recently signed a $280,000 contract to send up to 120 more clients to Northcentral.
Peterson says Wisconsin taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth. But Ole Brackey, supervisor of the Milwaukee District DVR office, insists, "You can't measure the effectiveness of VIP programs. There are so many variables, so much is going on in these people's lives." Yet Brackey insists that "out-of-state programs [like BLIND, Inc.] have to prove they work."
In 1993 Peterson bet John Conway, director of DVR's Bureau of Sensory Disabilities, $100 that BLIND, Inc. provided better training than either MATC or NTC's adjustment-to-blindness programs. Using a study of the Wisconsin programs prepared by the DVR's own Office for the Blind and another conducted by the state of Minnesota, Peterson showed that 86 percent of BLIND, Inc.'s, graduates said they could "do what sighted people do." None of the MATC's grads answered the same question affirmatively, and only three of those from Northcentral did. Without that kind of confidence, Peterson argues, blind individuals can't succeed.
Still, Conway says, it's more important that 35 percent of Northcentral's VIP grads were employed; only 14 percent of those from BLIND, Inc., (and MATC) were. Peterson argues that many of those jobs are in sheltered workshops. In contrast, graduates of the ten-year-old BLIND, Inc., are more than twice as likely to pursue higher education than VIP graduates, she argues.
Peterson fired off a searing letter when Conway refused to see her point and welched on the bet. It said, "Given your past record for honesty, I have always believed you would renege . . . In the unlikely event that you have acquired a conscience . . . I shall give you my terms of payment. I do not accept food stamps. . . ." It might have worked in grade school, but this time, getting someone mad did not produce the desired result. Conway ignored Peterson's offer to have an impartial investigator analyze the reports on the three programs and dropped the matter.
Peterson says Northcentral's VIP doesn't get scrutinized because "the people advising the state on how it
should allocate funds to help the blind are the main beneficiaries of that spending." Mileczarek is chairman of the Governor's Committee for People With Disabilities. Asked whether that is a conflict of interest, Mileczarek says, "Geez, I hope not. Everyone on the committee has something to do with disabilities."
As for proof his program works, Mileczarek says, "It's not a researchable thing . . . besides, Bonnie Peterson is like a John Bircher. Real conservative . . . she believes there's only one way to do things, and that's with a real structured program. . . . The Federation believes some ridiculous things--like that you can have a totally blind mobility instructor."
Most rehabilitation programs work on a medical model, where goals are set and the program is designed to achieve them, he says. "But people don't want to be told you're going to be proficient in this when you leave, like it or not," says Mileczarek, who describes his program as "more like a smorgasbord."
Copies of Peterson's inflammatory letter circulated throughout the disabled community, bringing calls from more desperate individuals. One, Lisa Mann, had been legally blind since birth. She had spent her entire school life at WSVH, except for two years as an MPS high school student. Her MPS teacher (an opponent of the Braille Bill later) decided Mann didn't need Braille. Especially, he says, since the attractive black girl was "more interested in fashion and boys."
Mann could not meet MPS's graduation standards, so she returned to WSVH and graduated in 1992. DVR then sent her to MATC's VIP program. "They told me I'd never be able to travel alone," says Mann. When MATC failed to provide the skills needed for an independent life, Mann wasn't surprised, she says. "I met one girl there who was going through the program for the fifth time."
Next DVR sent Mann to Northcentral's VIP, then to Western Wisconsin Technical College in La Crosse, where, using large-type texts, she was slowed down so much, she says, she couldn't even earn C's. When a DVR counselor told Mann about BLIND, Inc., she visited the school. But when she said she wanted to go there, DVR sent her to Waukesha County Technical College instead.
Peterson enlisted Rep. Leon Young's (D-Milwaukee) office to help Mann get copies of her DVR records, and she accompanied Mann when she filed an appeal. "Before I met Bonnie Peterson," says Mann, "I was ready to give up hope." In November twenty-three-year-old Lisa Mann, who had never walked around her Sherman Park block alone because she didn't believe a blind person could do that, arrived at BLIND, Inc. One week later she took a bus across Wisconsin and found her way to the state Federation's annual meeting--and she did it alone.
Says DVR supervisor Brackey: "Lisa Mann's case is an anomaly." Says the DVR's top administrator, Judy Norman Nunnery: "If there was anything wrong in Lisa Mann's case, it was that we tried too hard to help her." The fact that DVR eventually sent Mann to BLIND, Inc. "has nothing to do with Bonnie Peterson," says Nunnery. "She uses the tactics of the civil rights and women's movements. . . . She says blind people were being treated like the slaves. As an Afro American, that offends me. . . . She doesn't have credibility with this office."
When DVR moved into new offices in November,
1995, the sign on the door to the department's Office for the Blind read "Blind
Alley." It might have been "the first case of truth in labeling"
on DVR's part, says Peterson. DVR chief Nunnery laughs off the sign, saying,
"It was just one of those silly things."
"How out of touch do they have to be not to know that would be offensive?" Peterson asks, repeating her frequent call for a separate office overseeing all state services for the blind. Federal law provides for as much, and many states, including Minnesota and Michigan, have them, but disrupting the status quo will be difficult.
Pat Brown, director of the Badger Association of the Blind, the state contingent of the American Council for the Blind, says Peterson is "a role model for all people--not just the blind--because of her convictions and diligence. She doesn't let obstacles get in her way." But, he adds, "The Council doesn't approve of the Federation's methods--it believes you should work through the system."
But Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist praises
Peterson. "Bureaucrats don't like her," he says, "but she has
credibility, absolutely, with my office." Says Sen. Darling: "Bonnie
Peterson appears to have a hard edge because anger gives her energy, but it
is the same kind of energy that fueled the civil rights movement and the American
Revolution. I wish there were more people like her."
When the phone rings now in Peterson's office at the South Side bungalow she shares with her husband and daughters, Candice, now sixteen, and nine-year-old Lindsay, the answering machine says, "This is the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, where we're changing what it means to be blind." Already Peterson has brought about a revolutionary change, making it impossible for people to say "a blind person can't do that." Over and over again, she has proved otherwise.
That was the text of the Milwaukee Magazine story, and it took the state by storm. As we reported at the beginning of this article, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind, which is a coalition of several blindness-connected organizations including the Badger Association of the Blind (the Wisconsin affiliate of the ACB), bestirred itself to write a letter of protest to the magazine. The Editor wrote back saying that, if the group could condense its text into a paragraph or two for publication, it would be printed. As far as we can tell, the group has not yet done so. But they have now circulated the original text of their letter in all its wandering obscurity. No wonder the Editor was unwilling to print the entire letter; though we have corrected some of the punctuation in the hope of increasing its comprehensibility, it still speaks for itself. Here it is:
February 26, 1997
John Fennell, Editor
Milwaukee Magazine, Inc.
Dear Mr. Fennell:
Your magazine's recent negative article, "One Woman's War," was irresponsibly written and filled with
inaccuracies, including describing Helen Keller as mute. It is unfortunate that your senior editor used a person who is blind, by portraying the Milwaukee woman profiled as the only blind advocate or martyr, to try to strengthen your own agenda of attacking special education.
Personalities, needs, and choices are as diverse in the blindness community as any other sub-culture. Thus, it is imperative that we consider these ideas when we discuss the erosion of state services for the blind and the need for special education in our schools.
People who are blind come in all shapes and sizes, ethnicities and faiths, socio-economic backgrounds, and, of course, different degrees of visual ability. Take for example the Wisconsin Council of the Blind (WCB).
You don't hear much about WCB in the paper or on the TV news. It is a private, not-for-profit agency comprised of people from throughout the state who are blind. It has been diligently working since 1952, advocating for, and providing services to, the people of Wisconsin.
WCB has never received any government assistance or funding. Recently WCB has picked up the slack for decreasing state services, including hiring David Ballmann, a rehabilitation teacher who happens to be blind. Dave provides in-home, independent living skill services, and Braille instruction to visually impaired state residents. In addition, WCB provides grants to state-hired rehabilitation teachers for funding used to give items like magnifiers and talking clocks to state residents.
It is important to understand and accept that blind people can help blind people. This agency of nineteen blind council members help its own in a big way. From providing free white canes and educational scholarships to acting as a referral and resource link and educating the public and legislature. WCB recognizes the importance of personal choice and diversity of needs. Few people know about one of its greatest contributions to society, its loans program.
Low-interest loans from WCB to Wisconsin
residents who are legally blind have helped hundreds of people become established
in business, maintain or upgrade their home, or purchase adaptive technology.
Over $7,247,447 in low-interest loans have been provided in the past thirty-two
years. Loan recipients have started many types of businesses, including construction
firms and real estate agencies. Many of these people needed and received state
services at one time or another in their life and became self-sufficient tax-paying
A scientific study was commissioned in December, 1996, by WCB. Seven-hundred-fifty Wisconsin residents who are blind and visually impaired were contacted to verify needs and future direction of services. The number one issue for respondents was the need to educate the general public about blindness and visual impairment. Transportation, employment training, and improved education services were also high on the list.
It appears self-evident that systems, however they operate, give us what we wish to take from them. Independence has to be an inner force to some extent--it isn't just going to happen. Thus any facility evaluation must look at both the center and participants.
If you are a Wisconsin resident and blind, you have five potential "schools or instructional centers" to attend, depending on your age, to increase your independence. These centers have played an important role in the lives of thousands of state residents in their quest to increase personal independence.
One example is Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped (WSVH), a school which has undergone many changes in its 150 years of educating students. Typically, students are taught Braille and provided skills to ready them for life. In addition, an adult summer education program is available.
In the past twenty years the school has experienced a significant change in student population. Many students whose only disability is blindness are remaining at home and in their respective school district. Changes in laws and societal attitudes have created this opportunity or challenge, depending on how you look at it.
The typical student in the 1990's at WSVH has multiple disabilities. Visual impairment is accompanied by physical or mental challenges (a different student from the type you would have seen at WSVH from 1847 to 1980's). Presently, school districts and administrations decide who attends the school, not parents or students. Most alumni, under the current decision-making process, would not be able to attend WSVH today.
Most alumni, like any other school, have gone on to live productive lives, some unique and some quite ordinary. Take for example the case of Helen Cutler, a 1965 graduate of WSVH. Helen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from UW Eau Claire. And then a Master's degree in art and Spanish from the University of Iowa. For the past twenty-five years has been teaching Spanish and Portuguese to missionaries and their families in Brazil.
Joyce Scott is another Wisconsin resident who benefitted from state facilities. Joyce became blind after retirement. She attended WSVH summer school. Initially it was difficult adjusting to living with blindness, but after attending a summer program at WSVH, things changed. The classes helped her recognize what she could still do, instead of focusing on what she couldn't. Joyce now coordinates a low-vision support group, helping others in her northern Wisconsin county cope with vision loss.
Providing examples helps us recognize the diversity which exists and the merit of having excellent services for all students, be they blind, deaf, wheelchair users, cognitively impaired, white, black, red, yellow, or pink.
Dialogue helps everyone understand the average person who is blind in Wisconsin. Not all people who are blind need adjustment services or a place to help them adapt to being blind, as your magazine suggests. Some people get their adjustment needs met through family, friends, and blind role models. But some do need services. For them it is important to receive services in orientation and mobility, Braille, independent living skills, and coping with blindness.
State services for people who are blind or visually impaired have eroded in the past two decades. It is easy to point and blame. But we must recognize that services are needed, that diversity exists in the types and levels of needs, and people must be free to choose the type of service which will best serve them. The very nature of life is diversity, and that includes people who are diversely blind. Choice is part of being human.
When you discuss or make decisions about services for the blind or special education in our schools, remember when it comes to human services, for those who need it, want it, and have a personal desire to improve, choice is a key determining factor in one's success.
It is essential that your readers understand the benefit and importance of services provided by WCB and other agencies. People who are blind are diverse and have diverse needs.
We, the undersigned, are all residents of Wisconsin who happen to be blind.
Karen Perzentka, President WCB
Ann Schroeder, President, WSVH Alumni
Ed Weiss, Member, Midwest Association of the Blind
Jeff Spantikow, Member, Badger Association of the Blind
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Julie Hunter]
Reaching for the Stars
by Julie Hunter
From the Editor: The following story
appears in Beginnings and Blueprints, our latest Kernel Book. Beginning
with Dr. Jernigan's introduction, here it is:
Bob and Julie Hunter rejoiced at the birth of their new baby daughter--perfect in every way. Aglow with
anticipation, they brought her home from the hospital. Then, as their baby's vision faded, so did their hopes and dreams for her future. Here Julie relates the heartwarming story of how she and her husband Bob not only rekindled those dreams, but learned to reach for the stars as well.
Fifteen years ago on a warm June morning
my husband Bob and I drove to the hospital for our appointment with destiny.
Because of delivery problems with our first child, we had the luxury of choosing
the day and time of our second child's surgical delivery. Later that morning
we were overjoyed to welcome a baby girl into our family--finally, a girl where
for generations (on my husband's side) there had only been boys!
She was a perfect baby--healthy, dark hair, big blue eyes, and a pretty little face. We couldn't have been happier! Little did we know that this tiny, innocent babe in arms would turn our world on its ear.
Our new daughter Lauren thrived in her first few months at home. She was begrudgingly accepted by her two-year-old brother Mark, and gradually our family life fell into a happy new routine. But as she grew, some little concerns tickled the backs of our minds. She squinted when she was out in the sunlight--typical of newborns, we were told.
She didn't smile when someone came to her crib, but she would smile when held or spoken to. Finally, a jerky eye movement that we assumed would pass with her infancy became more and more obvious.
Then came that fateful day when the doctors' tests concluded that our daughter's retinas were not functioning properly. She would have visual impairment, but no one knew to what extent. She might even be able to drive, we were told.
Of course we were optimistic and clung to the best-case scenario--that the condition wouldn't worsen, that she would be mildly visually impaired, but not (God forbid) blind. As the months passed, it became obvious that this was not a stable condition. Her visual acuity was gradually fading. We mourned for every lost dream. We felt guilty that we had unknowingly passed on what we were told was a recessive genetic defect. We felt depressed about the future.
But it's no fun living in depression, so something had to give! That something was our first change in attitude about blindness. This was our child! She was bright and charming, and we vowed that vision or lack of it would not define her life. We didn't want to hear any more sympathetic words from well-meaning neighbors and friends. Give up your dreams? Not on your life!
So we were inaugurated into a whole new world--a world which has caused us to re-examine our values and broaden our horizon--a world which has brought us support, friendship, and a cause we believe in. Who would have thought that such a tiny baby born on a warm June morning would be responsible for all of that?
At what point do we move from seeing the glass as half-empty to seeing it as half-full? For us it came gradually as we learned, through the National Federation of the Blind, that the possibility was there that our dreams for Lauren could be fulfilled. That foundation was in place for us when we sustained our second blow--discovering that Lauren also has a progressive hearing loss.
As with the vision loss, which is now total, the hearing loss has been gradual. Lauren is now fifteen years
old. She got her first set of hearing aids when she was eight. Her hearing loss has progressed from mild to moderate, and now hovers on the line between moderate and severe. Again, doctors are no help to us. They don't know why and can't predict what the future holds in store. We just live our lives and take what comes.
But one thing we have learned over the years is that fear about the future results from ignorance and failing to take control. If you do all you can to learn about your nemesis, never lose sight of your goal (which in our case is to achieve maximum independence), and stay in charge of your destiny, then the future is not so frightening. The more we learn, the less scary the future seems.
As we meet and talk to other parents with deaf/blind children and with deaf/blind adults, we are reassured that a quality life is possible for an individual who is blind and deaf. Our job is to make sure that Lauren has the adaptive skills necessary to remain an interactive member of society. There is work to do, but I feel confident that my daughter will achieve her potential, and no matter what the future brings, we will never stop reaching for the stars.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Michael Baillif]
by Michael E. Baillif
From the Editor: Michael Baillif spent a number of months touring the United Kingdom and Europe on a fellowship following college. He still has sand in his shoes, and he still knows how to make his own fun. Here he is to talk about his recent trip to Cancun, Mexico:
I had money in my pocket, and I knew
where I wanted to go. All things considered, the venture was shaping up to be
a good, though uncertain one.
I was vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, with some friends from law school. Earlier that afternoon they had decided that they wanted to enter a go cart race. Being blind, I was not in a position to join in that activity, nor was I about to sit in the hotel and wait while they went off and had fun. Of course, I could relax on the beach and drink margaritas, but I had been doing enough of that already. As a result, when my friends headed off to the go cart race, I decided that it would be fun to try bunji jumping.
In order to undertake this venture, I had to overcome two obstacles, neither of which had anything to do with blindness. First, I had no idea where in Cancun the bunji jumping was located, and second, I did not speak more than a few words of elementary Spanish. Notwithstanding these minor difficulties, however, I knew what I wanted to do, and that was to go bunji jumping.
I began the journey by going to the front desk of my hotel and saying several times very distinctly, "taxi" and "bunji jumping," while pointing to my chest. Finally, the man behind the desk made several affirmative-sounding noises, and we walked outdoors, where he flagged down a taxicab and carried on a dialogue in rapid Spanish. He turned to me and said, "okay." I took this as a sign that all was going well.
I climbed into the cab, and we began to drive. From time to time I would look at the cab driver and say, "bunji jumping," sometimes very affirmatively, sometimes with a question in my voice.
The driver would nod and say, "Si, si." He beganme "amigo" and seemed to become more and more cheerful the farther and farther we drove. As we traveled along, I consoled myself with the thought that, even if I never made it to bunji jumping, I would undoubtedly encounter something of interest.
Finally we arrived at the Marina just outside of Cancun, where they did, in fact, have a version of bunji jumping. One was strapped into a device called the rocket, blasted off 150 feet into the air, flipped over backwards, and then dropped straight down. It sounded like great fun.
After saying farewell to my amigo, the cab driver, I went in search of the entrance line, which I located by asking questions, making gestures, and generally following the flow of the crowd. Once I had proceeded through the line and made it to the front desk, where tickets were sold, one of the employees came running up to the man at the front desk saying, "No vista, no vista." Even I understood enough
Spanish to realize that he was raising the issue of blindness.
I put the price of admission on the counter and said cheerily but decisively, "no problem." The man behind the desk looked at me and looked at the admissions price and looked at his colleague and echoed, "no problem."
From there I walked to the rocket, was strapped in, and blasted off. As promised, the experience, which involved going from zero to sixty miles an hour in under one second was an exhilarating one.
After regaining my equilibrium, I headed back to the main office, where I caught another taxicab. On the way back to town I reflected upon how easily and enjoyably I had accomplished the excursion.
The key was knowing what I wanted and taking affirmative steps to achieve it. I did not necessarily need to know how I was going to proceed each step of the way; I could figure that out as I went along. What mattered more was knowing where I wanted to end up and having a general strategy for getting there. Because I conducted myself in a sensible, decisive, and amiable fashion, people and circumstances generally cooperated with me.
As the taxicab neared downtown Cancun, I decided to stop at a sports bar which, rumor had it, was going to broadcast a basketball game from the States. My friends would be back at the hotel soon, but I could meet them later. For the moment I was having too much fun exploring Cancun on my own.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joe Cutter]
the Blind Child's Independent Movements and Travel
by Joe Cutter
From the Editor: The following remarks
to parents of blind children appeared in the Winter, 1997, edition of The
Observer, a publication of the Montana affiliate. The editor Rik James found
it in the October, 1996, issue of The Sounding Board, the publication
of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey. The author, Joe Cutter,
is an outstanding professional in the field of orientation and mobility for
young blind children. He was named the Distinguished Educator of the Year in
1994 by the National
Federation of the Blind. His words are helpful to everyone who has any occasion to work with blind children. This is what Joe Cutter said:
In my work with blind children in New
Jersey and other parts of this country, it has become clear to me that the value
parents place on their child's independent movement and travel has a great deal
to do with how he or she will move in the world. It has been said that "believing
is achieving." Therefore to the extent parents and other educators, specifically
blindness professionals, believe in the independent movement of blind children,
the child usually achieves up to these expectations. What will the movement
be like--passive or active, dependent or independent? This is not to disregard
how developmental delays may impact upon the movement of multiply handicapped
blind children. But it is to say that the value parents and professionals place
on the blind child's movement, multiply handicapped or not, may be the most
significant factor contributing to the child's reaching his or her full potential.
During this stage of development blind children are vulnerable to having their movements restricted and
interrupted. They often have the world brought to them, hands descending upon them, doing more for them than they are allowed to do for themselves. They may learn very early that the responsibility for movement and travel belongs to someone else. Promoting and valuing their going to the world develops a sense of autonomy, self, and self-esteem. The foundation for independent movement and travel is being established.
If valuing the blind child's independent movement and travel is simple to understand, why do so many parents find it so difficult to achieve? In my experience the most formidable obstacle to valuing independent movement and travel in the blind child is negative attitudes. There is a long history of negative attitudes and erroneous assumptions about the blind.
For example, the cartoon character of Mr. Magoo was an example of erroneous assumptions pushed to the absurd. He bumbled his way through his home and environment. Comedy was achieved at the expense of blind people. If Mr. Magoo had gone to an NFB orientation center, like the one I visited in
Louisiana last year, he would have emerged valuing independence and having independent travel skills. Perhaps it's time to see a new cartoon--Mr. Magoo goes to rehab, NFB style.
In society ignorance becomes the foundation for erroneous assumptions and sighted bias. The model blind person is depicted as less than capable, to support society's negative mindset. Dr. Richard Mettler in his book Cognitive Learning Theory and Cane Travel puts it succinctly when he writes, "the visual dominant model is not a useful orientation for blind persons" and "visual orientation does not have an exclusive claim to skillful human performance."
As parents, where do you go to get positive information about blindness? Well, one answer is where you are right now. Certainly you can count on the NFB to supply you with clear, reliable, and useful information. At NFB meetings you can meet blind people who value independence. They can be role models for you and your child. They are living proof that your positive values and beliefs are reality-based. As a professional I have gotten many reality checks about blindness from blind persons, parents of blind children, and of course the children themselves.
You can benefit from all the support you can get because dealing with negative attitudes is energy-depleting. There are programs and services that value independent movement and travel, and there are those that do not. The latter are deficit models that are custodial in their practices--they set low expectations and stress limitations for the child. Those in charge of these deficit-model programs are not hurt by their practices, but you are. And your child is hurt the most. Blind persons raised on negative attitudes and custodial practices may not easily perceive the limitations imposed upon them. The use of the deficit model is the norm. That is why it is important to identify such negative thinking and programming and to have an organization like the NFB to set a standard of high expectations, valuing a promotion model, serving as models themselves, and practicing a can-do approach. Some day this new standard will be the norm.
We are not just talking about differences in philosophies that drive each model, as if they were preferences in choosing flavors of ice cream or tastes in beer. We are talking about a mentality, a way of thinking and living. The deficit model says, "You can't," and the positive model says, "You can." So that you can more precisely identify custodial practices that devalue independence, let me give you some examples:
1. There is a private school for blind
children nearby, in which you will rarely hear a cane tap or slide in its halls.
It is not unusual for a blind child to spend an entire school year or longer
in the assessment-and-readiness phase of orientation and mobility. The O&M
staff will spend considerable time on pre-cane skills, implementing pre-cane
devices. During this extended readiness-skill phase, the blind child loses valuable
time that could have been spent learning to use the cane and learning about
independent travel. To make matters worse, there are blind pre-schoolers who
have gone to this school already knowing and using the cane, only to have it
taken away from them in favor of the pre-cane.
2. Perhaps the most overused method of travel for the blind child is the sighted guide. When it becomes the primary way for the child to move about, it becomes a custodial practice. Multiply handicapped blind children are even more vulnerable since many professionals are even more apprehensive about giving them responsibilities for their own travel. Learning to use the cane is a process that develops over time. Gradually parents and professionals will need to monitor the child's travel less and less. But how can the blind child engage in this process if we do not place a cane in his or her hand? And when we do, the most interesting thing happens--adults and sighted peers are less likely to lead the blind child. The cane sends a message of independence. As one parent once said to me, "The cane answers the questions most people are afraid to ask and answers them in a positive way."
Professionals who subscribe to deficit models such as these often get very defensive when their negative thinking and devaluing of the blind child's movement and travel are challenged. Those of you who have called them on it know the price you have paid.
As a professional I know the price I've paid for questioning the custodial model from the inside. For
example, one administrator suggested that I have "crossed the line" and that I should "carefully think about what I do and how I do it." But, when I ask, "what line?" the response is unclear and a bit dusty. Well, I think it's necessary to tell you what line I think it is. It is the line formed by those who care about and value independence in blind children. What's on the line is self-esteem and independent lives for blind children. We say to the child, "You are worth it; value your movement and independent travel. Go to the world, visit it, make it your home as we believe you can." It is the line of parents and professionals working together to raise expectations for blind children, to secure for them equal opportunity as first-class citizens. The way I see it is simply this: those professionals who will not or can not change their negative mind-set will go the way of the dinosaur because eventually common sense and good judgement will prevail.
Ultimately the person who matters most is you, the parent. Get all the positive and useful information to make your informed choices about independent movement and travel. Seek out professionals who will share your values and work with you. Get tips on independent travel from a blind person you respect. He or she will be only too glad to share them with you. Read articles and books by blind persons like Thomas Bickford's The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane. It is an excellent account and resource of how-to's regarding independent travel.
Whatever your child's potential, your valuing independent movement and travel will greatly affect his or
her self-esteem. Your positive beliefs and values will fuel your child every day for developing skills that will last a lifetime.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Chris Cuppett]
Blindfold as a Useful Instructional Tool for Seniors
by Chris Cuppett
From the Editor: Chris Cuppett teaches the alternative skills of blindness to seniors in Minnesota. The following speech is the one she gives to her students when they first come to the adjustment to blindness training program. She wants them to understand just what they are going to be doing and why, so that there will be no rude surprises. This is what she says:
I would like to welcome you to this
introductory meeting of the Adjustment to Blindness Training Program. Many of
you are here because you feel that you may have to give up many simple daily
activities as a result of having lost much of your vision. You may have stopped
pouring coffee, threading a needle, handling your money, walking downtown by
yourself, or reading your mail. You may be experiencing more difficulty with
cooking, grocery shopping, and leisure activities. Maybe you have some fears
about how you will continue to manage in your home or apartment.
Most of us have relied primarily upon our vision to accomplish just about everything we do each day. Many of us believe that the only way we can carry out any task successfully is by doing it visually. This way of thinking is not surprising since the majority of us are visual people. If we have had our vision all of our lives, most of us will receive about 85 to 90 percent of the information we process through our eyes.
The human body can be compared to a wonderful and elaborate piece of engineering like a rocket ship. The main engine is our vision. But any sophisticated piece of engineering has backup systems that kick in when the main engine isn't working properly. Our classes will help you make full use of your backup systems, your remaining four senses--hearing, touch, smell, and taste--as well as your memory, imagination, experience, and ability to learn new things.
Maybe some of you have had difficulty admitting to others that your main engine isn't working up to speed. You may try to continue to make use of that main engine, even when you know the results aren't very satisfactory. Perhaps you have noticed that you are expending more energy and accomplishing less work because you are straining to see everything. You may be afraid to think about how you will manage if this main engine loses more power. Since you really can't determine how well your main engine will
continue to function in the future, it is a good idea to learn several different ways of operating your machine. Then you can make an informed choice about when it would make sense to use your main engine and when it would make sense to use your backup systems. You may be surprised to discover
that in many instances it will be wiser and safer for you to give your main engine a rest and to let your backup systems take over.
The best way we have found to help you learn to use your backup systems to the max is to give you a blindfold to wear throughout the class. By doing this, you deliberately shut off your main engine so you can train yourself to listen more effectively, to get more information through your sense of touch, and to improve your memory. You will have the opportunity to work out solutions to potential problems while you are in a safe and comfortable environment.
In the past we have found that, when we tried to teach people to use their backup systems without having them wear blindfolds, many of them automatically fell back on the familiar and continued to struggle to use their remaining vision. We also found that some people who had stronger main engines would not take certain aspects of their training seriously. They would say things like, "My sight is still pretty good, so I don't need to learn this. But poor so-and- so over there in the corner should learn it because her sight is worse than mine." Some of our students have also been known to say something like, "I won't bother to use my backup system as long as my main engine is still working even a little. I will wait to use it when I absolutely have to." If they take that approach to their training, "when I absolutely have to" is usually too late. When the time comes, they feel panicky or discouraged and can't remember how to fall back on their remaining faculties. The blindfold acts as an equalizer for all of our students. You will all be given equal opportunities to learn to use everything you have.
At first you may feel uncomfortable, so we will be sure to give you several breaks and lots of encouragement. It may seem difficult to believe right now, but as you get further into your training, you will forget that you are wearing the blindfold, and you will be able to concentrate fully on whatever project you are doing. You will find yourself saying more frequently, "Hey, I really can dial the telephone or pour my coffee without seeing. I really can tell what things are by touching them. I really can walk safely and confidently with my white cane." You may find yourself thinking without panicking, "How could I work through this situation by using my other senses?" We hope and expect that the problems you encounter will begin to seem more like puzzles to solve instead of obstacles to fear. We also hope that learning to use your wonderful backup system will help you to continue to lead a productive and fulfilling life.
Advantages of Wearing a Blindfold:
1. I will learn to use my remaining four senses, my memory and imagination, and my reservoir of life experiences more fully.
2. I will not be constantly comparing myself to other students and feeling either a sense of superiority or a sense of despair about having more or less sight than others. We will all be learning to do things by using faculties other than sight.
3. I will have the opportunity to discover for myself that I can accomplish a great deal without relying upon my vision. It is much more empowering for me to discover this truth for myself than for someone simply to tell me that this principle is true.
4. I will have the opportunity to solve problems while I am in a safe and comfortable environment.
5. My instructors will become better at their jobs because they will need to explain concepts more precisely.
Pride Costs: Hiring Readers Pays
by Patrick A. Barrett
From the Editor: The following essay first appeared in the Winter 1997, Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. The Metro Chapter conducted an essay contest in 1996, and this piece was the winner. Pat Barrett is a long-time Federationist and a leader wherever he goes. Here is what he says about the value of readers:
Why use readers? When I was in college,
I more or less made the decision not to use them rather than considering the
possibility of doing so. At the time I was dating my wife Trudy, who is blind
and used readers. She encouraged me to use them too. Trudy knew how much time
I was spending at the special resource room at the library using the Visualtek
machine to read books that had not yet been recorded.
I was getting books from Recordings for the Blind. I knew Braille, but at that time I felt I was too slow at
reading it to apply it to college work. I told myself that I had reading covered.
Trudy kept insisting I try readers. I finally relented. She gave me the name of one of her readers who did well. The person did. I got the assignment read in less time than I would have using the print enlarger, experienced no eyestrain, and had time to take Trudy out--a heck of a deal.
Pride prevented me from recognizing the real value of employing readers until years later. All of us grow up with the formidable conviction that it is better to see, even a little, than not to. Five senses are certainly better than four. The strong emphasis placed on relying so much on a partial sense of sight eclipsed my consideration of more efficient alternatives. I regret to admit that this partial- -and I know I speak for others of you out there--has mentally put down totals for having no sight and depending on readers. Puffed up with pride, we unwittingly blind ourselves to better ways of doing our reading. The truth is the totals had it covered all along.
Ten years after college I was working at an independent living center in Idaho. I had had two long-term jobs before this one and had not used readers. But, working out reasonable accommodations for that job, I requested readers in preference to a print enlarger. I cannot recall what made me make that commitment. Perhaps it was having friends and role models in the NFB who did their jobs successfully and efficiently using readers.
I enjoyed the flexibility and lack of eyestrain using a reader with 20/20 vision. Depending upon what needed to be read, my assistant could read verbatim, scan, or skip material. I have hired readers on the job ever since. I also apply synthesized speech, Braille, large print, and the enlarging machine--only if a reader is not immediately available. Using readers has helped me become more informed about the best alternative for a given facet of the job.
Enrolled as a student at
BLIND, Inc., in 1994, I realized that the python of pride had not been pried
sufficiently loose. Pam Iverson, my life skills teacher, urged me to complete the class goal to start using a personal reader at home for mail and other print. My main concern was the intrusion into my privacy. But like Trudy, Pam kept at me until I agreed. I can honestly say now that, after employing readers for the past two years, I would not be without them. Examples of personal reading made easy are the none-too-brief government documents, bank statements, information from our landlord, and handouts connected with our church classes and jobs. Also there are my daughter Raeann's school papers, reports, teacher's notes, and field-trip permission slips. What has worked best for Trudy and me is to find a reader who can come the day after the school material arrives home with Raeann because of the short turnaround time needed for that material.
Sharon Menlove is our current reader and has worked for us for two years. We met Sharon through our church and knew her to be responsible. The privacy issue has never been a concern. Just as if I had been hiring her on the job, I let Sharon know what the job would entail and how she would do it. I have been flexible. If there is a day when she cannot come and if she lets me know a day ahead, we can reschedule. If something needs to be read immediately, I arrange for a substitute.
As of this writing, I am looking for work. [He found it as a salesman for a drug company.] I have hired a second reader, Doug Christy, who had worked with me on my previous job at State Services for the Blind. Doug has read Job Service handouts, filled out job applications, and helped with library research on employers. It has paid off. In a recent interview I was told that I knew more than most applicants about the company.
Another matter that is somewhat related to readers is customer service. I cannot believe that I was so stubborn as to spend forty-five minutes or more trying to find two items in a store by myself! Trudy cannot believe that I have cast my pride aside and now routinely ask for customer assistance.
More often than not, the clerks know the store better than the customer does. Not only do I now ask for customer service at stores, but I more readily ask for the server's help in reading menus at restaurants if a Braille menu is not available.
Relying on readers and customer service saves time. All of us complain about not having enough hours in the day. Hire readers and enlist customer service personnel, and you will find that you are buying time to do fun or productive things. The alternative is to waste time feeding your pride. Which investment gets the greater return?
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Susan Povinelli]
Climbing the Acropolis
by Susan Povinelli
From the Editor: The following story first appeared in the Summer, 1996, issue of the Vigilant, the publication of the NFB of Virginia. Susan Povinelli is an engineer by training. She works for the United States Navy. She, her lawyer husband, and their children live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and are active in the Virginia affiliate. This is what Susan says:
As I climbed the multitude of steps
to the top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, I thought of all the ancient
Greek philosophers who climbed this path to the summit to sit and contemplate
the meaning of life. I reflected on the wisdom of those ancient philosophers.
Now I reflect on how I took that opportunity to travel to Greece.
In April, 1993, I was offered a job with my agency's training group as a training system manager to support one of our foreign military sales programs. I remember spending one sleepless night contemplating two great philosophical ideas. The first was the general public's philosophy of blindness: that because of helplessness a blind person cannot travel independently and conduct business in a foreign country. The other was the National Federation of the Blind's philosophy that a blind person with the proper skills and training can travel independently and accomplish a multitude of jobs. I recalled a blind colleague's struggle to enter the foreign service, and I decided that, if he could travel abroad independently, so could I. So I accepted the position. That sleepless night was not the last time these two competing philosophies would come into conflict around me.
About a month after I started the new job, a discreet effort was made to transfer me out of it. The old philosophy of blindness had reared its head again. Questions were raised. How would the customer perceive and react to a blind manager? How would a blind person be able to interpret nonverbal communication? I assured them, as I had done many times before, a blind person using good management and blindness skills could do the job efficiently. As for nonverbal communication, there would be others available to advise me on any matter I had missed--nonverbal communication or technical issues.
Let me briefly describe what I do as a training system manager. When a customer (foreign government) procures an aircraft, its personnel need to learn how to maintain and fly that aircraft. The training team and I develop a training program and then implement it. I incorporate the following techniques in my job:
I use Braille throughout my work. Pricing data are developed with a computer spreadsheet program, which I then translate into Braille using the Duxbury translation program on my MacIntosh computer. This allows me to reference the data while on the phone or in a meeting. I use Braille briefing sheets that correspond to the printed view graphs. These are notes for my brief.
My job requires that I travel to the customer's country and assess the facilities where the training will be
conducted. This survey is usually conducted by a team of technical experts. The experts and I look at the facility. The expert points out what is wrong and what is right. We then discuss items needing correction and develop a plan to remedy the problem.
One of the management tools used is a milestone chart. This graphically displays each event by its duration. For years I was baffled about how to make raised-line drawings quickly and inexpensively. I learned to use a child's screen board (a piece of cardboard with wire window screen placed over it). A member of my support staff places the milestone chart on top of the screen board, traces the milestone chart with a crayon, and labels the events in Braille. This same technique could be used for floor plans, engineering drawings, or any diagram which has few details.
Now that you know what I do and how I conduct my job, it is time to catch an airplane and fly to Greece. I remember the first time I went. The rest of my team was already there, and I had to make the trip alone. Once again the two philosophies clashed. Airline personnel, especially in foreign lands, believe that a blind person cannot travel independently and find the boarding gate. Most airlines have policies to escort the blind person to an assist lounge or to chairs outside the boarding gates. The questions that
plagued me were, would accepting assistance impede my independence? Would I miss my connection and spend the night in John F. Kennedy Airport? Could I catch a taxi in Athens if no one met me at the airport?
I realized that the real problem was not my blindness but my lack of Greek. I was more frightened of not being able to communicate than of getting lost in an airport. I frequently use the airport assistance services when I travel alone because I know it is the most efficient way to travel through large airports, especially in Frankfurt, where I know there are no chairs outside the boarding gates and the airport is so large that dragging around carry-on luggage is difficult.
I can proudly claim that I have made that trip across the Atlantic several times alone. As I was standing next to the rock from which Saint Paul was supposed to have preached Christianity to the ancient Greeks, I wondered what important message I had to share. At the time nothing came to mind. But a few weeks later, as I was giving a presentation on blindness to my children's school, I recognized it: being blind is not a tragedy. With the proper skills and alternative techniques, a blind person can live a successful and productive life.
My Swim Around Key West
by Sharon Luka
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the September, 1996, Freestate News, a publication of the NFB of Kansas. Sharon Luka is a long-time member of the Kansas affiliate and a staunch Federationist as you will see from her determination to succeed. Here is her story:
Born three months premature
and blind, Sharon Luka, forty-one, of Saline, Kansas, took up swimming because
she liked the freedom she found in the water. With the support of her family
Sharon began swimming regularly after college, making real demands on herself.
When you're blind, Sharon says, nobody wants to push you in sports because they
don't know what you can do, and they are afraid you will fail. On Saturday,
June 1, 1996, Sharon competed in the twentieth annual Swim Around Key West,
a grueling 12.5-mile swim at the southernmost tip of the continental United
Sharon, who was expected to take up to ten hours to complete the swim, finished at 7:57:19. With corporate sponsorship from Pfizer, Inc., Sharon was the first blind swimmer to compete in this marathon event and fulfilled her goal of proving that blindness is nothing but a physical nuisance.
Several months before I competed in the Swim Around Key West, I had a dream about the event. It was a nightmare, really, because in it the race had begun, all the other swimmers were churning up the water, and I couldn't move since I couldn't find the boat that was supposed to guide me. Luckily, this was one nightmare that did not repeat itself, even on the eve of the marathon when I had a good case of pre-race jitters. Truth be told, I had little chance for any sleep, let alone dreams, the night before the race. All in all, it was a relief to get up and get into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Having trained only in a swimming pool, little did I know what I would face that day. If I had known, I would have stayed in bed and not done battle with tireless waves, stinging salt, oozing mud flats, clinging seaweed, submerged sea walls, and more.
I got my first big surprise when I arrived at the beach and felt a tremendous gust of wind that practically blew me over. I stood on the shore with 250 other swimmers, my feet planted in the sand to keep my footing. As waves slammed the beach, I could hear flags whipping in the air and caught fragments of conversations: "Oh boy, it's really going to rain.... Looks like hurricane weather." I made my final
preparations in silence. First, I put on my receiver cap-- the radio-equipped swim cap that would allow the guides in my escort boat to act as my eyes during the marathon. Then I gave my last good-by hug to my sister June, who trembled as we embraced. I knew she was scared as I headed off toward the wind-tossed waves.
Anita Allen, a marathon swimmer who served as my chief guide in the escort boat, took my hand, and we started into the water. I plunged forward to get started, caught a mouthful of water, and choked in surprise. How will I ever begin this race, I wondered, let alone finish it? I decided right then that, if I could swallow salt water, I could swallow my pride as well and, rather than swimming out to the starting line on my own, got towed out by my escort boat to avoid the hazardous surf near shore.
Once at the starting line, I knew I had to get through the next dozen and a half miles all under my own steam. Navigationally, however, I had to depend on others. My special receiver cap would enable me to get directions from Anita and be warned of any obstacles in my path. Since the cap is wired for sound, I sometimes use it back home in Kansas to play music and movie soundtracks when I'm practicing long-distance swims in the pool. On this day my guide Anita had selections from Peter, Paul, and Mary and the soundtrack of National Velvet ready just in case I wanted it. But I wound up too busy dodging waves and trying to breathe without inhaling seawater to listen to even a single chorus of "Puff the Magic Dragon." I did benefit from one bit of movie inspiration: Echoing The Wizard of Oz, Anita kept spurring me on with "You're not in Kansas anymore!" True enough, I thought.
The first part of the race was the hardest, because I swam headlong into constant waves for three miles straight. With no visual clues to help me, I had a hard time synchronizing my breathing so that my head hit the trough, not the peak, of the waves as I inhaled. Throughout this stretch I kept heading to the left trying to avoid the waves and get air while Anita kept radioing me to come back to the right. ("You're heading to Cuba?") The best thing I can say about this tug-of-war is that it was so aggravating I wasn't bored for a moment.
Somewhere along the way, I'll confess, the salt spray started to get to me. By that time my sinuses were so irritated that my head was buzzing as if I had gotten nitrous oxide at the dentist. This, I decided, was a situation that urgently needed help from above. "God, I know that you can stop these waves," I prayed. "But if you choose not to, then please just give me the patience to put up with them."
Well Plan B seemed to suit the Almighty just fine. While the waves and spray kept coming, I gained not only the patience to put up with them but also the creativity to turn them into a game. I'd stretch out my arm and try to decide which side was getting hit harder by rain. This told me which direction the wind was coming from, and that in turn told me which side to avoid when inhaling. Certainly not the world's greatest game, but it did keep me busy!
The irony was that Anita told me I was starting to look like a real ocean racing pro! But I'm sure I didn't look so great when, about halfway through the race, I ran into a mud flat. I probably could have walked, not swum, this part of the route. But since getting up on your feet during the race is strictly prohibited, I just oozed right on through, wriggling my way across the smooth silt and seaweed like a tadpole until I hit deeper water again. The experience was surprisingly not unpleasant, but you would surely have to try it to believe me. The ocean holds many mysteries, even when you have sharp-eyed guides trying to spot the hazards for you.
At one point, supposedly in clear water, I hit a submerged sea wall and got stung by a jelly fish or some
other creature at the same time. I felt fortunate, nonetheless. Since other marathon swimmers got badly stung all over their bodies that day, I was pretty lucky to get away with just one tingling spot on my wrist.
The last and best surprise of the day was that I finished the race sooner than I expected to; in fact, I completed the 12.5-mile course forty-five minutes faster than it took me to complete the 9.5-mile swim I'd done in rehearsal. So, when Anita radioed me that the buoy marking the finish line was just a mile ahead, I didn't quite believe it. At that point, I felt I could swim forever and had just one thought in my mind: I'm going to make it. When I finally touched the giant buoy that marked the end of the race, I heard a lot of whistling and commotion in the background and thought, "I wonder what all the excitement is. I must really be missing out on something." When I got to shore, I found out from my sister that the excitement was me. I was the last swimmer to finish, and what I'd heard was people cheering me on.
I can honestly say this was one of the happiest moments of my life. I had trained nine months for this moment. I had wanted to test my limits and see how far I could go. Looking back on the experience, I realize how important it was for me to prove to myself and other people that being blind is not a reason to hold back on your dreams. I hope that my experience will inspire others to challenge themselves.
Believe me, there is no greater satisfaction than meeting a tough challenge, especially when it is a tough challenge you have picked for yourself!
Job History of
a Working Mom
by Beth Finke
From the Editor: The following little article first appeared in JOB Bulletin, a cassette publication of the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program, which the NFB conducts jointly with the U.S. Department of Labor. The piece is highly instructive because it so clearly demonstrates that effective job hunting is comprised in large part of common sense, solid preparation, and determination to do a good job. This is the way Beth Fink describes her employment history:
When I lost my sight ten years ago,
I also lost my job as the assistant director of the Study Abroad Office at the
University of Illinois. The job required a lot of counseling of undergraduate
students and a lot of phone work. It was reasonable to think that I could have
kept that job even while I was learning new Braille, orientation, and mobility
skills. But I wasn't thinking reasonably at the time. When my boss said I couldn't
do the job without being able to see, I figured she must be right.
During my involuntary unemployment, I finished rehabilitation at the Illinois Visually Handicapped Institute, had a baby, volunteered on a local suicide prevention hotline, ran a small-time day-care program in our house, and played the piano in an old-time fiddle band.
After a few years of this, my son started preschool, and I got antsy and started looking for a job outside the house. While visiting a nearby church one Sunday, I asked the person sitting next to me to read the bulletin out loud. Among the notices was one explaining that the church was looking for a volunteer coordinator.
I called and asked for an interview. I didn't tell anyone over the phone that I was blind. The receptionist
told me what the job entailed: about ten hours a week of work rounding up volunteers by phone or in person at Sunday services. She gave me a time for my interview, and I started thinking about how I could do the job without being able to see.
I had a talking computer at home. I figured I could use it to keep track of church members and their telephone numbers. I could stand up at church services and make announcements about volunteer opportunities and ask interested people to seek me out after church. I could record their names and interests on tape or Braille them for my records.
I arrived at my interview with these ideas. The co-pastors I talked with were very warm and friendly, but I could tell they were skeptical. I made a suggestion: try it for three months, and if after that time I was unhappy with the position or was unqualified, they could let me go with no hard feelings. They agreed, we shook hands, and I was hired.
I passed the three-month audition and worked as the church's volunteer coordinator for over a year. I had a desk at the church office, but I chose not to use it, preferring to work from home with my talking computer. I was not by nature a churchgoer, but every Sunday I'd get up early to use a guided clipboard to print out by hand the events and times for which volunteers were needed. I'd make an announcement at church, pass the clipboard around during the service, and later have a volunteer read me the results.
I used my white cane to walk to weekly staff meetings, and I started doing something former volunteer coordinators hadn't thought of: I attended church committee meetings. My attendance at these meetings served as a reminder that I was there to help find volunteers for committee work too. Another new thing I did was write an article about volunteer opportunities in each monthly church newsletter.
I had worked at the church a year when I decided to go to the Seeing Eye and get a guide dog. The church board allowed me the month off work for training, but they said they would really miss my work while I was gone, and they meant it.
Shortly after I returned to work with my new guide dog, I found out that one of the church office assistants was leaving to take a job at the university in town. I asked her to lunch so that we could brainstorm about who could fill her position. She interrupted me soon after I started going over a list of potential candidates. "This is silly," she said; "You're the one who should take this job." The idea had never occurred to me; her job seemed too complicated and way over my head. But once we talked it out, I realized she was right. I should apply for her position.
I wrote a proposal explaining how I would supervise college student interns, oversee the rental of the office and theater space the church owned, answer the phones, and take messages for other staff members. The new job would require me to work at the church rather than at home, so I offered to buy myself a laptop computer with speech output. I could use it both at home and at the office. I would need it especially to keep track of rental space at the church.
The Board accepted my proposal, and soon
after they saw what a good job I could do, they reimbursed me for the laptop
computer. Years later, when the church decided to use Macintoshes in each office,
they provided speech synthesis for the computer in my office. This job paid
well, especially for part-time work. The part-time aspect was good for me, allowing
me time at home with my son when he needed me.
In 1995 my husband's job transferred us to the Chicago area. I gave myself three months to get used to our new house, enroll my son in school, and teach my guide dog our new town. Then I started looking for work.
We subscribed to the local paper, and my husband was happy to read the classified ads out loud onto a cassette for me to listen to again and again if I needed to. I applied for a job baking bread at a local bakery, but I'm afraid Pandora (my guide dog) scared them off. Next I applied for a position in the ticket office of a local minor league baseball team. I sent a letter explaining who I was and my resume detailing all the duties I'd performed at my last job. I also included a page of Braille, just to get their attention.
It worked. I got an interview and was hired on the spot. I've worked in the ticket office at the Kane County Cougars for over a year now. Again, my work is part-time, allowing me time at home with my son when he's not in school or summer camp.
At work I'm responsible for keeping track of groups coming to games for special outings. Each day, before I come to work, my supervisor fills a cassette tape with names and numbers of groups to be called. The cassette recorder is waiting for me at my desk when I get to the office, and I get right to work on the phone. Most often it's a simple call to remind group leaders that they owe us money for tickets. Sometimes groups need information about where to gather before singing the national anthem, where to line up to throw out the first pitch, that sort of thing.
This job doesn't pay particularly
well, but the benefits suit me: free tickets to home games, free admission to
a local recreational center. (The team has a bartering agreement with the center.
I go there almost daily to swim laps in the indoor pool.) There are also free
giveaways if there are any extras after games. Our closets at home are full
of inflatable bats, mini-coolers, even whoopee cushions--all adorned with the
Kane County Cougar logo. You can't imagine the money I save on birthday presents
for nieces and nephews this way!
To sum up, if someone were to ask me how I managed to find jobs without being able to see, I'd have three main answers:
1. I was prepared for my interviews. I found out as much as I could about the job duties and came to each interview already equipped with ideas about how I would fulfill the duties of the job.
2. I had a track record. Even when I applied for the volunteer-coordinator job, I had my work on the suicide-prevention hotline under my belt. I reported to my potential employers how I had used my talking computer and Braille to keep notes and fill out required forms as a volunteer. It made them feel more comfortable hiring me once they knew someone else had already worked successfully with me.
3. I made it easy for people to employ me. I never threatened employers or make them feel obligated. I just arrived at the interview well dressed, open to questions, and equipped with answers. I made it
obvious that I was eager to work, even at a low salary. I liked leaving interviews with employers wondering why they wouldn't hire me.
One more thing about that low salary. My husband is employed, so I have the luxury of surviving on a small salary. In the case of my volunteer-coordinator job, however, it wasn't long after I started working that a small salary became a large one. This could happen at my current job as well. I think once you do a good job for a while, employers are reluctant to let you go. They'll pay you more to stay.
I do feel underemployed since losing my sight, but I figure that I'm just one of millions of part-time workers who feel this way. Once my son is older, I hope to find a more challenging full-time job. I anticipate that this job search will be more difficult than my search for low-paying, part-time work has been. I am hopeful, however, that recommendations from my former employers will be a big help--can't hurt.
Of Vision and Voting
by Jolene Boshart
From the Editor: Jolene Boshart is a member of the Lincoln Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska. This is what she writes:
Like many other blind people, I have
voted in every election since I was eighteen (and that's a lot of
elections!). Sometimes the voting went smoothly, and sometimes I was hassled about using a reader or getting privacy in the polling place. When the National Federation of the Blind finally secured the right of blind people to vote using the reader of our choice, it was a great victory in Nebraska. I thought at that time that we had gone as far as we could go in achieving equality at the polls.
However, I'm happy to say that I was mistaken. This time it was not blind people working to secure greater freedom. Our champion was Lancaster County Election Commissioner Patty Hansen, who is fully sighted. Patty had the idea; I had the expertise; together, we provided a vehicle which enabled blind citizens of Lancaster County to cast secret ballots for the first time.
It all began on January 1, 1995, when a new company specializing in Braille translation was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. I called it J. B. Translations, and for me, a lifetime user of Braille, it was a step of faith and a dream come true. Its main purpose is the provision of accurate, affordable Braille translation to both private and public customers. I also provide custom typing and consultation on ways to bring blind people into the first-class status we deserve. In the spring of 1996 a couple of my clients called and asked me if I was interested in getting the contract to produce Braille ballots for Lancaster County for the November, 1996, election. I was interested, of course, but didn't exactly know how to go about getting the information necessary to facilitate this project.
Then I received a call from Patty Hansen, the Lancaster County Election Commissioner, and we started talking about the ballots. I have to admit that at first my mind wasn't completely on the subject (I was preoccupied with the deadlines for a large contract), but all of a sudden Patty said something which caught my attention and held it. "There's no reason," she said, "why blind people shouldn't be able to vote by means of a secret ballot, just like everybody else. They're Nebraska voters, too."
Hold on, I thought, and suddenly the enthusiasm switched on. We talked a little more; and, much to my surprise, I didn't even have to think about how it could be done. Patty already had the answers.
The voting process, she said, would be simple enough. The election office would provide a template into which the ballot would be inserted. The template would have circles punched out in the appropriate spots beside the names of the different candidates and a long rectangle cut out for the names of write-in candidates. I would then prepare a Brailled booklet of instructions, along with the information on the ballot. In this manner it would be possible for blind people who read Braille to vote absolutely independently.
"Yes," I finally said, "this will work!"
The rest is history. In the November election this option was provided to Lancaster County voters.
Unfortunately the word didn't get out very well, although we had some local news coverage. During that election two of us took advantage of the templates. At that time we offered only absentee ballots.
We have recently held the April primary election here in Lancaster County. This time we expanded the procedure so that people could vote either by absentee ballot or by going to the polling place. Also the instructions are now available on tape. This time, too, the advertising was better. Two local news stations covered the story as well as the local newspaper. We even had a small blurb in USA Today.
During the April election six voters took advantage of the process (most of them Federationists), and I have received very positive feedback from several of them. One side benefit occurred because many polling places are located in schools. When the article came out in the local newspaper, several teachers saw it and discussed the Braille ballots in their classrooms. Then later the children saw the voters (among them Christine Boone and Barbara Walker) using the Braille ballots. "It's a great way to educate people about using Braille," said Chris. Like Chris, Barbara votes in each election, but said about the Braille ballots, "Knowing that the Braille ballot would be there waiting for me and that I could do it completely by myself made this election just that much neater." Christine's comment was, "It was the coolest!"
To me voting has always been important and exciting. Equally exciting, though, was the thought that in Patty Hansen we had found someone with the vision to help us realize our dream of equality, security, and opportunity--someone willing to recognize us as first-class citizens who will never go back to the tenuous existence to which we were relegated for such a long time.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Jerry Whittle]
Speaking About New Orleans
by Jerry Whittle
From the Editor: This is the final pre-convention article about New Orleans and the 1997 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Begin getting ready for the experience of a lifetime by learning what the locals are talking about. Here's what Jerry Whittle has to say:
New Orleans has many features that set
it apart from all other American cities. One of the most distinctive differences
is the colorful street jargon. When visiting the Crescent City, perhaps it would
be helpful to know these unique terms. After all, Federationists should find
the time to visit the French Quarter since it is only a few short blocks from
the Hyatt-Regency Hotel.
Banquette: A term meaning sidewalk, derived from a time when the walks were made of wood.
Batture: The land between a levee and the river. It is often covered by the river's high water from late winter through spring.
Bayou: A marshy, sluggish tributary of a river or lake.
Beignet: A hole-less French doughnut sprinkled with powdered sugar. A local tradition, beignets are generally served with cafe au lait.
Cajun: One who descends from the Acadians. French people who were exiled from Nova Scotia and who settled in southern Louisiana in the 1760's. The word applies to the people, a form of French dialect spoken by these people, and the food and music they popularized.
Chicory: A root roasted and ground to flavor Louisiana coffee. It is said to counteract the bitter taste often imparted by pure java.
Crawfish: Sometimes spelled crayfish, but never by locals, and nicknamed mudbugs, crawfish are common, edible freshwater crustaceans.
Etoufee: A savory concoction of Creole origin with a roux (flour and butter) base; the holy trinity (celery, onions, and green peppers); plenty of spices; and either crawfish or shrimp. Considered an elegant dish, etoufee is traditionally served over rice.
Flambeaux: Before the advent of electricity and automotive transportation, men carrying large frames of lighted torches called "flambeaux" once illuminated the way for horse- or mule-drawn vehicles. Carnival organizations still feature flambeaux in their evening parades.
Go-Cups: Plastic cups into which a bar's patrons may pour unfinished portions of their beverages before heading for the streets. You can take liquor almost anywhere in New Orleans, but not in anything glass.
Gumbo: A soup, thickened by either okra or fil. It usually includes everything but the kitchen sink. Staples include shrimp, crab, oysters, fish, chicken, and sausage. All New Orleanians argue that their grandmother makes the best.
Hurricane: An alcoholic beverage concocted of rum, fruit juice, and sugar. Its original home was Pat O'Brien's bar in the french Quarter.
Jambalaya: A rice version of "the kitchen sink," this local dish always starts with rice and includes various, seafood, and seasonings.
King Cake: Traditionally served during Carnival, this cake resembles a large sweet roll and is decorated with purple, green, and gold sugars and white icing. Hidden inside is a small, plastic doll. The recipient of the doll is supposed to host the next king cake party.
Lagniappe: A little something extra, like a "baker's dozen."
Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler: "Let the good times roll," a popular expression among Cajuns.
Mint Julep: An alcoholic beverage of crushed mint leaves, mixed with sugar, laced heavily with bourbon, and finished with a little water.
Muffaletta: born in the French Quarter's Italian markets as a hearty meal for seamen, this large, round sandwich features a variety of meats and cheeses and is dressed with olive salad on soft, seeded Italian bread.
Nutria: A beaver-like, fur-covered rodent that's eating the marshes and levees of Louisiana's swamps. Many have migrated into the city through the canals and bayous. They look like giant rats with long, orange teeth. You should avoid them, but some locals cook them.
Picayune: Once a common Spanish coin in New Orleans, the picayune was worth 6.25 cents. It was originally the cost of a daily newspaper now called the Times-Picayune.
Pirogue: A small, flat-bottomed boat invented by Cajuns for maneuvering through shallow water.
Po-Boy: Originally filled with inexpensive, filling fare (such as French fries) and served on long loaves of French bread, this sandwich was first offered to the poor by local merchants either free or at a very low cost. Now it is a delicacy overflowing with meats, seafood, and more.
Praline: A disc-shaped candy traditionally made of pecans, vanilla, butter, cream, and sugar. The creation has evolved to include several versions, including chocolate and chewy.
Sazerac: This cocktail was make famous at the turn of the century. It incorporated rye whiskey, Angostura and Peychaud bitters, and sugar. This mixture is strained over ice and served with a twist of lemon. It's not for the weak-hearted.
Shotgun: A common architectural style of small, linear, wood-frame houses on narrow lots in old neighborhoods--so named because most consist of two parallel sides with consecutive rooms, arranged like the barrels of a shotgun.
Veranda: A balcony usually covered and
often surrounded by ornate wrought iron or cast iron railings--the perfect place
to consume a mint julep.
Vieux Carre: The original city, now called the French Quarter, was first dubbed Vieux Carre, which literally means "Old Square" and was so named because the city was initially laid out in a perfect square.
Where Y'at: Direct translation, "Where are you at?" is a typical New Orleans neighborhood greeting. It means the same thing as, "How are you?"
Zydeco: The dance music of southwestern Louisiana's black, French-speaking Creoles. The music is produced with a variety of instruments, including washboards, spoons, accordions, harmonicas, washtubs, and floor boards.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ed and Toni Eames with their guide dogs]
from the Canine Concerns Committee
by Ed and Toni Eames
From the Editor: Those who attended the 1996 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind will remember what a fine job Ed and Toni Eames did organizing the dog-relief areas and otherwise assisting guide dog users. They have styled themselves the Canine Concerns Committee and are moving forward to insure that arrangements for dogs will be as good in New Orleans this year. Here is their good advice for users:
Preparations are underway to make the
1997 Convention in New Orleans the best ever. As co-chairs of the National Canine
Concerns Committee (CCC), we have been working with the national and state leadership
to ensure the experience will be as pleasant for our canine partners as it will
be for us. The indoor relief areas at the Hyatt and Radisson are modeled after
last year's pattern developed in Anaheim. A group of volunteers will be available
to greet you when you first arrive and escort you and your guide dog to the
designated relief areas. Specific information about local veterinary care and
other canine concerns will be provided in the pre-convention information packet.
Arrangements have been made to provide a dog sitting service for those wanting to leave their dogs in the hotel while taking advantage of the many wonderful New Orleans tours.
Convention time can be stressful for us and our guide dogs. We have developed several techniques to diminish this stress while attending conferences. Many of us need time out from the hectic pace and excitement of convention activities, and our dogs may need equivalent time to relax and play with toys in our hotel rooms.
Keeping to a busy convention schedule frequently resembles a juggling act, but we try to keep our dogs on their regular relief schedules. Before eating breakfast, our first priority is getting Escort and Echo to the designated relief area. To avoid the rush of the crowds, we try to arrive at scheduled sessions early. This also gives us the opportunity to talk with friends and other members of our state delegation. To avoid the crush in elevators, we try to use stairways whenever possible, which also provides needed exercise for us and our dogs. Although our mealtimes may be irregular, we try to keep our dogs on a feeding schedule resembling the routine we have at home. When we travel, we measure each meal into a plastic bag. After the dogs eat, the bag can be used for pick-up. In case of lost or delayed luggage, we carry a day's supply of dog food in our carry-on bag.
Part of the fun of convention time is meeting old friends and making new acquaintances. However, this excitement may be stimulating for our dogs, so we take time to put them at a "sit stay" before becoming engrossed in deep conversations. This is particularly useful in the exhibit area, where our attention is on the exhibits rather than on our dogs. To ensure the dog's safety as well as the comfort of other Federationists, we place our dogs at a "sit stay" between us and the exhibit tables.
The Canine Concerns Committee, with the encouragement of those responsible for the National Convention, is doing its part to plan for the needs of guide dog users, but we as guide dog users have to play our part as well. Please use the designated relief areas and always pick up after your dog. Assistance will be available for those who need to learn the technique of picking up. Accidents can and do happen. If your dog should have an accident outside the relief area, please stay nearby and have someone contact the hotel housekeeping staff.
New Orleans is known for gourmet food, great music, and gobs of fleas. Fortunately, in the last few years a number of effective flea control products have become available. Your veterinarian can assist you in selecting the most appropriate treatment for your dog. Starting your dog on a flea control program before convention will avoid problems during your stay in New Orleans and after your return home.
Comments, concerns, and complaints should be reported to Ed and Toni Eames, Canine Concerns co-chairs, or Pam Dubel, convention guide dog contact person for Louisiana, all of whom will be staying at the Hyatt.
Have you considered making a gift to
the National Federation of the Blind through a living trust? Such a trust can
offer you more flexibility than a will. Although similar to a will, it is a
repository for assets, which can be distributed to a charity and heirs. This
method might well provide you with significant cost savings and asset protection.
A living trust is also beneficial to people concerned with complete privacy
since none of the terms of trust are part of the public record. Unlike a will,
from a living trust asset distribution is almost immediate, avoiding extensive
For more information contact the National Federation of
the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore,
Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ed and Karen McDonald]
This month's recipes are contributed by the members of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia.
Hickory Nut Cake
by Ed McDonald
Ed McDonald is the President of the NFB of West Virginia. He says, "This McDonald family recipe goes back at least as far as my great-grandmother. On the farm where my grandparents and great-grandparents lived in Headsville, West Virginia, there is still a big old hickory tree. Every two years this tree bears an abundant crop of nuts. As a kid I remember helping my family gather these nuts off the ground and remove the thick outer shell. They were an important ingredient for a lot of fall and Christmas baking, including my birthday cake. I suppose some other type of nuts could be substituted in this recipe, but the hickory nuts give the cake its distinctive, even unique flavor. Hickory nuts may be hard to find nowadays, but they are worth looking for."
1 cup broken hickory nut meats
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg whites
Method: Cream butter, add sugar gradually,
and beat until fluffy. Sift dry ingredients together. Mix a small amount of
the flour with nuts. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk. Mix after each
addition. Add vanilla. Stir in nuts. Beat the egg whites until they are very
stiff and carefully fold them into the batter. Pour into greased and floured
tube pan. Bake one hour at 325 degrees. Remove cake from the oven when a toothpick
inserted in center comes out clean. Place cake on cooling rack and allow it
to cool ten minutes before removing from the pan.
Baked Frankfurter Potato Salad
by Ed McDonald
In 1970 this recipe was included in the Centennial Cookbook, collected and published by the Alumni Association of the West Virginia School for the Blind. It was submitted by J.J. Ambler, an Episcopal minister who, at the time, also taught math and science at the school. (He is now a public school teacher in Virginia.) Mr. Ambler was one of those teachers who had an impact on me that extended beyond the content of the course he taught. When I went off to college and began doing some cooking for myself, this is one of the first real recipes I tried--partly because it sounded good and partly because it came from Mr. Ambler. Karen and I still enjoy it.
4 tablespoons margarine
1/4 cup soft bread crumbs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup salad dressing (I use Miracle Whip)
6 medium-sized potatoes, peeled, cooked, and diced
1 box frozen cut green beans, cooked
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound frankfurters, cut in 1/4-inch slices
Method: Melt margarine in saucepan.
Remove 1 tablespoon and mix with crumbs. Set aside. Blend flour and seasonings
into remaining melted margarine. Gradually add milk and cook, stirring until
thickened. Remove from heat and blend in salad dressing. Reserve 1/4 cup of
this sauce for topping, and fold potatoes, green beans, and chopped onion into
mixture. Add all but six slices of frankfurter and spoon into shallow baking
dish. Garnish with reserved frankfurter slices and top with reserved sauce.
Sprinkle surface with crumbs. Bake in moderate oven, 350 degrees, for thirty
to forty minutes. Serve hot or cold. (Serves six.)
by Karen McDonald
Karen and Ed McDonald were married at the West Virginia convention last summer. Karen is a former president of the Morgantown-Kingwood Chapter. A talented musician herself, she has become increasingly involved in promoting the awareness and availability of Braille music. Karen modified this recipe from a winning recipe in a Texas chili cook-off. It can be served in a bowl as traditional chili, but she prefers to serve it as the main ingredient for tacos or taco salads. It has been a long-time favorite of her four children. If you can't take the heat, this recipe is not for you.
2 tablespoons salad oil
4 pounds lean ground beef
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 cup chili powder
4 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon red pepper or Tabasco sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 12-ounce can beer
Method: In large saucepan or Dutch oven heat oil over medium high heat. Add beef and cook until browned. Stir in tomato sauce, onions, and garlic. Reduce heat to medium low; cover, and simmer thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer one hour. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Reheat over medium low heat. Taco accompaniments: shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded Cheddar cheese, chopped red onions, jalapeno peppers, taco shells, tortilla chips or taco salad shells, and salsa-- whatever kind you like.
by Victor Gonzalez
Victor Gonzalez is a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. He is a member of the Clarksburg chapter, which celebrated its fortieth anniversary in February. Throughout those forty years Victor has represented the chapter on the NFB of West Virginia Board of Directors. He also established the committee of Federationists which meets three times each year with representatives of state agencies that provide services to the blind. He has chaired these meetings since the early 1960's. His wife Joyce currently serves as treasurer of the West Virginia affiliate. Victor is the son of Spanish immigrants who settled in central West Virginia during the early part of the century. There are still folks in the area who make what they call Spanish sausage--a sort of link sausage containing a variety of spices. About this recipe Victor writes, "During the Depression we had a lot of one-pot meals. Joyce and I have this meal once a week. I prefer less water than she does."
2 sticks of Spanish sausage, sliced (if unavailable,
substitute 2 six- to eight-inch sticks of pepperoni, sliced)
4 large potatoes or 8 small ones, diced
2 15-ounce cans chopped kale greens
1 or 2 15-ounce cans great northern beans
Method: Place sausage, kale, and beans in a medium to large sauce pan or dutch oven. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Cook for fifteen minutes. Add potatoes and cook for an additional half hour or until potatoes are fully cooked. This recipe will serve two meals to four people. A small head of cabbage may be substituted for the kale. The amount of water will depend upon how much liquid you like in your stew. Just make sure you use enough to insure that the ingredients do not burn or stick to the pan.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Abby Hensley]
Mexican Corn Bread
by Abby Hensley
Abby Hensley has been treasurer of the Huntington Chapter for nearly forty years. She and her late husband Guy Sebert became active sighted members early in the history of the Huntington Chapter. Now, in her early 80's, Abby continues to lead the chapter's fundraising efforts. At state conventions she often shares with us an interesting recollection about a person or event from the early days of the affiliate.
1 cup self-rising cornmeal
1 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sweet milk
1 cup whole kernel corn
1 cup cheese, grated
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 or 4 hot peppers, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
Method: Mix cornmeal, flour, sugar,
oil, and milk. Place half of mixture in bottom of 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle
the corn, cheese, onion, and peppers over the cornmeal mixture. Spread remaining
cornmeal mixture on top. Bake at 425 degrees for twenty to twenty-five minutes
or until done. (You may wish to add a little more cheese. Also cornmeal mixture
may be increased to make a larger pan of bread.)
by Barbara Olive
James and Barbara Olive are active members of the Charleston Chapter. Barbara is chapter secretary, and James has become increasingly active in support of the NFB of West Virginia's Braille literacy legislation. Both are veteran employees of Bell Atlantic in West Virginia. Barbara is a fine cook, and the following are some of their favorite recipes.
2 cups dry pasta (trio package)
1 large onion chopped
2 medium green peppers, chopped
1 large can mushrooms
1 large package pepperoni, thinly sliced
1 large jar spaghetti sauce
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sausage
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, grated
Method: Cook pasta according to package
directions and drain. Brown the ground meat and sausage until cooked and drain
well. Saute onions, peppers, and mushrooms in a little of the drippings or in
oil. Combine vegetables, meat mixture, pepperoni, pasta, and spaghetti sauce
and place in a 9-by-13-inch pan or four-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle grated
cheese on top and bake thirty-five to forty minutes at 350 degrees. You may
add other pizza toppings if you like.
by Barbara Olive
1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained
1 cup thawed frozen corn
3/4 cup Miracle Whip
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 package taco sauce
1 12-ounce jar chunky salsa
1 cup taco chips, lightly crushed
1 cup shredded cheese (Monterey Jack or Colby)
Method: Mix together all ingredients
except cheese and taco or corn chips. In baking dish layer half of meat mixture,
half the broken taco chips, and half the cheese. Repeat these three layers.
Bake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes.
Basic Salmon Loaf
by Barbara Olive
1 15 1/2-ounce can salmon
2 cups soft bread crumbs
1/3 cup minced onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dill weed
2 tablespoons reserved salmon liquid
Method: Drain and flake salmon, reserving
two tablespoons liquid. Combine all ingredients, including reserved salmon liquid,
and shape into a loaf. Place in a well-greased loaf pan or on a greased baking
sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes. Makes four to six servings.
One More Convention Tour:
Louisiana Coach Services is offering a special tour to the Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, at the 1997 National Convention. On Thursday, July 3, at 1:00 p.m. a bus will take all interested convention attendees to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, (about one hour from New Orleans) to the Casino Magic. The bus ride is free, and the group will have five hours to gamble on board one of the great gambling casinos in Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico. This tour also features a free buffet on board ship. The bus will return to the hotel at 9:00 p.m. If interested in participating in this gambling excursion to a boat anchored on the Gulf of Mexico, please contact Suzie Yost after 6:00 p.m. CDT at (504) 488-3888.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: From left to right Joel
Perez Ortiz, NFB of Puerto Rico member; Jos Rodriquez, affiliate Board
of Directors member; Alpidio Rolon, NFB of Puerto Rico President; Vanessa Torres,
the bride; Toms Cintron, groom and Secretary of the NFB of Puerto Rico; Lydia
Usero, NFB-PR First Vice President; Vanessa Delgado, affiliate Treasurer; and
Carmin Brigantti, NFB-PR Second Vice President]
We are delighted to report that on December 14, 1996, Toms Cintron, Secretary of the NFB of Puerto Rico, and Vanessa Torres, a member of the affiliate, were married in San Germn, Puerto Rico. The ceremony and celebration that followed were shared by many Federationists as demonstrated by the accompanying photograph. Congratulations to the newlyweds. May their life together be long, joyous, and filled with Federation activity.
New Travel Agent:
We have been asked to carry the following
Lelar Gravatt, a Federationist from Idaho, reports that despite the discouragement of naysayers she has opened her own business as a travel agent. She is prepared to offer itineraries and travel information in Braille or on cassette tape to blind travelers interested in receiving such information in alternative format. For more information contact Lelar Gravatt, Your Travel Consultant, 227 East South Fifth Street, Grangeville, Idaho 83530-2119, (208) 983-0687.
We have been asked to carry the following
One Optacon II, which has barely been used and works like new. I am asking $1,500 or best offer. Contact Leah Zamora at (305) 362-1219.
Free Large-Print Megilas Esther and Haggadah
We have been asked to carry the following
The Jewish Heritage for the Blind is pleased to announce that the large-print Megilas Esther is available to
individuals who have difficulty reading regular print. As in past years, they will make available a large-print Haggadah as well. Forward your request, along with a copy of a letter from your eye care specialist indicating your condition, to the Jewish Heritage for the Blind, Department of Large Print Publications, 1655 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11229. Fax your order to (718) 338-0653 or call (718) 601- 9128.
We have been asked to carry the following
IBM DOS Screen Reader package, including Braille manuals and two keypads (one for use with a pentium and the other for a 386 or 486 computer). Best offer. Also DECtalk external speech synthesizer, $900. Call Cheryl Fischer at (216) 721-4853, day or evening.
IBM Braille Writer Wanted:
We recently received the following request:
I would like to purchase an IBM Braille writer, which (unlike the Perkins with only six keys) has a standard keyboard which anyone could use without knowing Braille. Contact Mrs. Ina Mae Enzor, 308 Power Street, Cumberland, Kentucky 40823.
On Thursday, March 20, 1997, the fifty-sixth chapter of the NFB of South Carolina was established. The Easley Chapter's new officers are Ann Hall, President; Joyce Scott, Vice President; Karl Burns, Secretary; and Diane Camp, Treasurer.
The Clark County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington held its annual election on December 21, 1996. We recently received notice of the new officers. They are Kaye Kipp, President; Mike Freeman, Vice President; Alco Canfield, Secretary; and Nancy Martin, Treasurer.
New Internet Group Discussion List for
The National Association of Blind Lawyers,
a division of the National Federation of the Blind, has established a list serv
on the Internet. The purpose of this list serv is to provide a medium through
which blind lawyers, legal professionals, and other interested people can share
information about the law and related topics. Even though the list serv is in
its infancy, a number of interesting messages have already been transmitted
through the virtual ether of the Internet. Questions about White Cane laws,
ADA cases, and blind lawyers trying to do their jobs on terms of equality have
already been hot items for discussion. The list serv allows us to share information
and news with each other almost instantaneously.
Anyone with a computer and an e-mail account can join the list. There is absolutely no cost. The service is sponsored by the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the National Federation of the Blind.
To join the list, send an e-mail message to "email@example.com." (Leave out the quotation marks and the second period.) When you send the message, leave the subject line blank, and in the body of the message type "subscribe blindlaw"--again without the quotes. Within a few minutes you should receive a return message confirming that you are on the list. Then you will start to receive all the messages written by list members throughout the nation and the world. Feel free to respond to the messages and join the fray as legal beagles hash out the hot legal issues of the day. We hope to see you on the list soon.
You can also find older messages from the list on NFB NET, the official bulletin board system of the NFB. The messages can be found in Message Area 8. You can reach NFB NET on the Internet by Telneting to nfbnet.org or by calling (612) 696-1975 using your modem.
If you have further questions, contact Scott LaBarre, President, National Association of Blind Lawyers, 1830 South Acoma Street, Denver, Colorado, 80223, (303) 778-1130, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Richard Edlund Receives
the Distinguished Service Award from Kevin Gillmore, President of the Kansas
State Board of Education.]
We recently learned that the Board of Directors and staff of Accessible Arts, Inc., and the Kansas State Board of Education honored Richard Edlund, Member of the NFB Board of Directors, as a recipient of a 1996 Distinguished Service Award. The presentation was made Wednesday, March 12, 1997, at the Kansas State School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kansas.
Braille Publication for Diabetics Available:
We have been asked to carry the following
Exchange Lists for Meal Planning, published by the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association, is available in Braille. The publication contains exchange lists, nutrition guidance, tips for selecting appropriate foods, a glossary, and an index. The Braille edition is eighty-two pages in length and costs $10. Contact Louis Braille Center, 320 Dayton Street, Suite 125, Edmonds, Washington 98020-3590, (206) 776-4042.
Baseball Computer Game Update Available:
We have been asked to carry the following
Version Eleven of the award-winning World Series Baseball Game and Information System is now available. The game is being played in forty-eight states on IBM-compatible computers with screen readers and synthesizers. As manager in the game you have many offensive and defensive strategic options available to you. Version Eleven comes with 160 teams, including the 1996 pennant winners and All-Star teams. There are two baseball games and ten information programs. There are many improvements, most suggested by users of the game. Baseball action during the game is described in the words of many of the famous radio and TV announcers. The cost is still only $15 to new users, $5 for updates for old users. Send your check to Harry Hollingsworth, 692 S. Sheraton Drive, Akron, Ohio 44319, (330) 644-2421.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Betty Niceley]
Betty Niceley Elected Vice Chairperson
In a March 1, 1997, press release the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) announced that Betty Niceley, Member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and the NFB's representative to BANA, was elected Vice Chairperson at its annual meeting in the fall of 1996.
Kenny Johnson, Secretary of the San Fernando Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California, reports the results of the chapter's January 11 election. The new officers are Robert Stigile, President; Joy Cardinet, Vice President; Kenny Johnson, Secretary; Helen Barnstein, Treasurer; and Don Burns, Board member.
Recorded Publications Available:
We have been asked to carry the following
Recorded Periodicals, a Division of Associated Services for the Blind, announces the availability of subscriptions to the following recorded periodicals: Anthropology/Archeology, $36; Civil War Times Illustrated, $28; Computers, $36; Computerworld, $36; Discover, $42; Family Circle, $42; Forbes, $57; Harvard Men's Health Watch, $36; Harvard Women's Health Watch, $36; Mac User, $36; Ms. Magazine, $36; Organic Gardening, $36; Pennsylvania Magazine, $28; Popular Mechanics, $36; Popular Science, $36; Psychology Today, $30; Radio Digest, $36; Science News, $48; Science and Medicine, $48; Scientific American, $48; Skeptical Inquirer, $22; Smithsonian Magazine, $36; Stroke: a Special Report, $16; Taste of Home Cooking Magazine, $28; The Sensitive Gut: a Special Report, $16; Timely Topics "TIME," $36; and Trains Magazine, $36.
To receive any of these publications, send your request to Recorded Periodicals, Associated Services for the Blind, 919 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107, or call (215) 627-0600, extension 3208. You may pay with cash, check, money order, VISA, or MasterCard.
In its annual elections the Kankakee Heartland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois elected the following officers and Board members: Bill Isaacs, President; Dan Boudreau, Vice President; Marjorie Stouffer, Secretary; Ruth Isaacs, Treasurer; and Board members Eileen Boudreau, Frank Richmond, and Marcia Beck.
Braille Transcription Service Available:
We have been asked to carry the following
I am Jolene Boshart and have been a member of the Federation since 1978. I now own a Braille translation company, called J. B. Translations. This is your opportunity to get affordable, accurate Braille translation at $.45 per Braille page, because I believe that blind people should have access to Braille at an affordable rate. I have used Braille all of my life and taught Braille for sixteen years. I provide expert translation and will pay particular attention to the layout of each Braille page. I can work from print material as well as scanned text or text taken directly from a disk. (Save all documents in an MS-DOS
format.) My English major enables me to provide minor grammatical corrections and spell-checking, if desired.
My company also offers custom typing, including interviews, papers, and other manuscripts. Prices: $1.25 per double-spaced page of regular print, $2 per single-spaced page of regular print. Large-print materials are also available at $.45 per page.
Quick turn-around on materials. Discount pricing available on quantity brailling or typing.
For further information contact J. B. Translations, 2019 S. 10th Street, Lincoln, NE 68502; phone: (402) 435-6697.
Attention Blind Women Going to New Orleans:
The Committee on the Status of Blind
Women of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union has asked
us to conduct a focus group during the National Convention discussing issues
and challenges of socialization for blind and visually impaired girls and young
women. If you were blind as a child or very young woman and would be interested
in taking part in this discussion, please consider
volunteering for this activity. The discussion will take place at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, July 2. Participants will be asked to read a short paper beforehand. To express interest in this project, contact Barbara Pierce at 237 Oak Street, Oberlin, Ohio 44074-1517, or e-mail email@example.com. Please indicate the format in which you prefer to receive the paper--Braille, large print, or e-mail. Be sure to include your postal or e-mail address.
Mississippi School for the Blind Reunion:
Plans for a school reunion are underway for former students, employees, and friends of the Mississippi School for the Blind, which was located on Capers Avenue. This celebration is scheduled to be held August 29 to August 31, 1997. All who are interested in participating in this historic occasion should contact Gwendolyn Stokes as soon as possible at (601) 982-7014. Her address is 987 Chastain Drive, Jackson, Mississippi 39206. Please come and renew old friendships.
National Church Conference for the Blind:
We have been asked to carry the following
The 1997 National Church Conference of the Blind will meet in Denver, Colorado, July 27 through 31. There will be music, Bible study, seminars, and tours for your enjoyment. For further information call (303) 789-7441 or write NCCB, P.O. Box 163, Denver, Colorado 80201.
Brailler Repair Available:
We have been asked to carry the following
Is your Brailler getting a little sluggish? Whatever the problem, let Alan Ackley recondition it. Trained at Howe Press, he uses only factory parts. He has restored more than 1,500 Braillers from over forty states and Canada. He is a certified transcriber. Fast turnaround, reasonable charges, and all work guaranteed. Call (515) 288-3931 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or just ship your anemic Brailler to Ackley Appliance Service, 627 East 5th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50309.
In the March, 1997, issue we published Lonnie and Gail Wagner's notice of a home-based business opportunity with telephone training and support and an audio-tape system for beginners. The toll-free number listed was incorrect; the correct number is (800) 927-2527, extension 02972. We regret the error.
Attention VI Teachers:
Teachers of the blind and visually impaired are planning to get together during the 1997 convention and share ideas, experiences, and friendship. If you are working in this field or interested in doing so, listen for an announcement of the time and place of this meeting.
Audio Cable Guide Available:
We have been asked to carry the following
An audio cable guide is available on four-track cassette twenty-four times a year. Premium Cable Listings
gives up-to-date information concerning broadcast channels, cable networks, and premium movie services as well as sports information for regional sports networks. The guide is $28 a year or $10 for a four-month trial subscription. Call (410) 391-9890 for more information, or send a check or money order payable to Premium Cable Listings, 107 Cloverwood Court, Baltimore, Maryland 21221.
The NFB of Missouri held its annual convention April 11 to 13 in Springfield, Missouri. Officers elected were Gary Wunder, President; Tom Stevens, First Vice President; Rita Lynch, Second Vice President; Dick Morris, Recording Secretary; Jim Moynihan, Corresponding Secretary; Carol Coulter, Treasurer; and Debbie Houchen and Bill Neal, Board members.
We have been asked to carry the following
I have for sale a 1.44MB, 3.5-inch portable disk drive for the Braille 'n Speak and Braille Lite series. This drive is only for the Blazie notetakers mentioned. Brand new these drives cost $600; asking $250 plus shipping and handling. Contact Isaac Obie, 755 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, or call (617) 247-0026, e-mail: Isaac.email@example.com
Recorded Tutorial on Searching the Net
We have been asked to carry the following
"Top Netsearch Guide: How to Find What You Want to Find on the Internet" is now available. This recorded tutorial teaches how best to use AltaVista, the most comprehensive index to the World Wide Web, how to use Yahoo and other important directories of Internet resources, how and why to search Usenet using AltaVista and DejaNews, how to find information on a wide variety of topics of broad interest, and how to accomplish all these things using e-mail. The tutorial comes in two- and four-track versions and with a supplemental disk containing an html file of pointers to the resources discussed and other files of interest. Prices are as follows: the four-track version, $19.50; the two-track version, $22.50. Add $2 shipping for either version. Contact Dean Martineau at Top Dot Enterprises, firstname.lastname@example.org, (425) 335-4894, 8930 11th Place SE, Everett, Washington 98205, Deamar's Domain: http://www.eskimo.com/~deamar
Also be sure to ask about tutorials for Windows 95, which may now be available.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mark Noble]
Noel Nightingale writes to report that in February Mark Noble, Second Vice President of the Greater Seattle Chapter and member of the Board of Directors of the NFB of Washington, was elected to chair the Advisory Council to the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Lucy Carpenter, 1918
We are saddened to report the death on March 30 of Lucy Carpenter, President of the Eastern Orange Chapter of the NFB of New York. Lucy and Dick Carpenter founded the chapter in 1975, and they were chapter leaders from then on. Dick died in 1991. Lucy will be deeply missed.
Tae Kwon-do Jungtion Self-Defense Seminar:
NFB New Yorkers in action! Join Marie and Rodney Kouthoofd at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 1, and benefit from their extensive experience in the martial arts. This convention seminar will be a hands-on, practical, step-by-step self-defense class for anyone eighteen or older. Accompanying Rodney and Marie will be assistant instructors Pam Whaley and Steve Winner. Together we will discuss issues pertinent to self-defense instruction in basic techniques using cane skills as well as a confident attitude and awareness. Our goal? to prepare you for situations that may arise in an attack. Registration, $10. If you have questions, call Rodney or Marie at (716) 234-0654 or (716) 392-3826. No prior experience necessary. Join the fun; you'll get a kick out of it.