Vol. 40, No. 10
Barbara Pierce, Editor
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The National Federation
of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
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National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION
OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
He Can't Buy An Island: Total Victory
in the Sember Case
by Barbara Pierce
Insights From An Instructional Assistant
by Denise Mackenstadt
Around The Block, To The Mall, and Beyond
An All Too Familiar Story
From Bad Philosophy To Bad Policy: The
American Braille Illiteracy Crisis
by James Omvig
Blind Artist Sees Way To Share Her Creativity
by Barbara Tomovick
Of Numbers and Independence
by Suzanne Rowell
Funding Closed Circuit Televisions Through
by Greg Trapp
Magoo Debate Moves To UK
Delivering The Coffee
by Mary Ellen Gabias
A New Sheriff In Town
by Peggy Elliott
Reflecting on Fear of Blindness
by Seville Allen
Copyright 1997, The National Federation of the Blind
Every Thanksgiving the NFB Board Of Directors gathers at the National Center for the Blind for its annual two-day meeting. Everyone brings a favorite dish to share, and all hands rally 'round to help prepare a meal worthy of the holiday. President Maurer's main contribution to this effort is superintending the large smoker in the central courtyard. For Thanksgiving he usually smokes a turkey, a capon or two, two rolled pork roasts, and some beef. This year he will build his fire with hickory and a little fruit wood (apple, pear, or peach) if he can get it. The results are delicious - juicy, flavorful, and reminiscent of hazy Autumn days.
by Barbara Pierce
The word "libel" has a nasty sound. It means publishing written untruths. In almost forty years of publishing, the Braille Monitor had never been sued for libel--never, that is, until Mary Ann and Tom Sember decided to do it in 1993. Many who have had reason to regret our dedication to the principle of printing the truth have muttered occasionally or even shouted their threats to sue, but they always thought better of the idea until the Sembers took exception to stories that appeared in the March and July, 1992, issues of the Braille Monitor. They had a neighbor and friend who was an attorney in a Pittsburgh law firm, and for reasons best known to himself, he agreed to handle the case for them.
The resulting lawsuit would eventually drag on for more than four years, costing the law firm hundreds of thousands in time, travel, and fees, according to estimates made by attorneys familiar with such things. Now it is finished. Somewhere toward the beginning of the process Tom Sember reportedly told friends that he intended to purchase a vacation island with the money he and Mary Ann would collect from the NFB. Larry Israel, now President and CEO of Telesensory, Inc., has been quoted as commenting that the Federation would learn its lesson this time around.
In the end the lesson has indeed been made clear: when an organization sticks to the facts and reports as honestly as it can what is going on, it is possible to point out unpalatable truths and urge reform. And if you publish those views in a journal, the courts will support your right to argue for change.
Since even those who read the original articles have probably forgotten the details of the situation by this time, we will begin with a brief summary of the problems as we described them in the 1992 stories. We had received complaints from a number of vendors of technology around the country saying that they were finding it virtually impossible to compete with Telesensory, Inc., for business with various state agencies serving blind consumers. In two areas, including Pittsburgh, one family member was working for the state agency, and another was a representative for Telesensory. In Pittsburgh the people involved were Tom and Mary Ann Sember. He was a counselor in the Pittsburgh office of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BVS), the state vocational rehabilitation agency for the blind in Pennsylvania; Mary Ann sold and serviced Telesensory products in the western Pennsylvania area.
Mary Ann Sember's competitors reported that the Pittsburgh office did not require bids before purchasing equipment. Stories circulated of consumers who requested particular technology but received Telesensory products instead. And, although we had no access to office records, as far as we could tell, Telesensory seemed to be getting just about all of the business generated by the state agency in the greater Pittsburgh area.
No one ever suggested that Tom Sember was overtly directing business to his wife. Regardless of the circumstances, such a thing would have been virtually impossible to prove one way or another. The proprieties were apparently always maintained. In fact, it was clear that, whenever his clients began moving toward a technology purchase, Sember formally handed the case over to a colleague for management during that phase of BVS involvement. Nonetheless, Telesensory got the order. It would have been surprising if anything else had happened. Sember was a colleague; the counselors undoubtedly knew Mary Ann, not only because of her professional relationship to the office as the person supplying most of the technology the counselors ordered, but because of her close personal ties to the staff through her husband.
In this connection it might be noted that as soon as a bidding procedure was imposed on the office, vendors of other technology products began getting orders. But that did not happen until after the Braille Monitor articles were published. All these facts eventually emerged as lawyers began digging through records and documents and interviewing potential witnesses.
A little short of a year after the publication of the first of the two articles, the Sembers went to court to serve summonses on a whole string of people and organizations. By Pennsylvania law the Sember lawyer could then conduct discovery before actually filing complaints, which he did on July 20, 1993.
In response the defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment, which in effect asked the court to throw out the case before it went to trial. Summary judgment is very rarely granted, but to our gratification that is precisely what the judge eventually did on January 31, 1996. Despite this indication of the strength of the defendants' case, the Sembers appealed the decision to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, but that court upheld the lower court's ruling. Apparently still hoping they had a chance to get their vacation island, the Sembers petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear their appeal of the summary judgment. On September 2, 1997, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave its decision. It was another (and obviously a final) defeat for the Sembers--no finding of libel, no violation of the law, no island. In other words the Sembers' case was found to have so little merit that, not only was it never tried, but three courts refused to waste time even beginning the process.
Dan Goldstein, the NFB's lead attorney in this case, wrote a summary of the legal steeplechase that consumed four years of the Sembers' lives and a great deal of their lawyer's time and money.
This is the way Dan Goldstein described it:
On February 24, 1993, Thomas and Mary Ann Sember filed summonses to be served on the National Federation of the Blind; the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania; Theodore Young, the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania; his company, Young Opportunities, Inc.; Humanware, a competitor of TeleSensory; Edward Smith, a salesman for Humanware; Bob Jakub, a blind man in Pittsburgh who sold Arkenstone and other computer products; and Bob Jakub's company, Genesis Computer Services. Under Pennsylvania's unique court rules, discovery may take place without a complaint's having been filed if a summons stating the intent to file a complaint has been served. Before filing their complaint and making their claims, the Sembers wanted to know what information the Pennsylvania Auditor General and the State Board of Ethics had about them in their files. The Office of the Auditor General produced its file, but the State Board of Ethics refused to do so, contending and being sustained in its contention, that its files were confidential and did not have to be produced.
Finally, after waiting five months, the Sembers filed their complaint on July 20, 1993. All the parties, they said, had libeled them--that is, participated in publishing written untruths about them that damaged their reputation. Moreover, the parties had slandered them, they said--that is, uttered damaging untruths about them. (Because the Sembers did not specify what those oral statements were, the slander counts were promptly dismissed.) In addition, the Sembers claimed that their privacy had been invaded by their having publicly been put in a false light. Ms. Sember also claimed that the defendants had intentionally interfered with her contracts and those she might have had and that the defendants had disparaged her goods and services. Finally, this thirty-one-page complaint said that the defendants had engaged in a conspiracy to harm the Sembers.
When the court required the Sembers to dismiss the slander count, the Sembers added, for good measure, a claim that the defendants had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them, a claim normally reserved for conduct so outrageous as to fall outside the bounds of civilized conduct! All of these claims were based on two Monitor articles (one appearing in March, 1992, and the other in July, 1992); a resolution by the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania asking the Auditor General of the state to look into the purchasing practices of the Pittsburgh Office of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BVS); and Ted Young's letter to the Auditor General following up on the resolution.
Bob Jakub had the questionable pleasure, as one of his last experiences on Earth, of being deposed in this case. The day before he was scheduled for surgery to amputate his remaining leg, his deposition was taken by the Sembers in Jakub's living room. Jakub, who had sold a grand total of two Arkenstone readers to the Pittsburgh Office of BVS, said that he kept asking BVS why it didn't even let him bid and that that is what he had told Barbara Pierce. Bob Jakub entered the hospital the next day and died following surgery. The Sembers then substituted his estate in their complaint and continued the case against him.
Edward Smith, the Humanware salesman, was deposed as well. He said he did not get business from Pittsburgh BVS until after the Monitor articles, despite making frequent presentations. Smith explained that he had never talked to Dr. Jernigan or Barbara Pierce about the Sembers or TeleSensory, but that when Ted Young had called him, he told Young there were three times when his equipment had been recommended, and each time TeleSensory equipment had been bought instead. After the lawyers for Ed Smith and Humanware sent an interrogatory (a written question requiring a sworn written answer), asking the Sembers to detail what Smith and his company had done that they could be sued for, and after they did not get an answer and asked the court to require an answer, the Sembers dropped Ed Smith and Humanware from the case.
As the case progressed toward trial, counselor after counselor from the Pittsburgh Office of BVS acknowledged that until the Monitor articles and the beginning of competitive bidding, if TeleSensory sold the kind of product needed, they went to Mary Ann Sember and bought it, although each offered different reasons for doing so. The records of Pittsburgh BVS (enough to fill a file cabinet) confirmed that Mary Ann Sember had the lion's (or perhaps more accurately the lioness's) share of the business of Pittsburgh BVS. Mr. Sember admitted that on occasion he had some involvement with the selection of equipment for his clients and that the equipment came from TeleSensory, though not from his wife in every instance. Ms. Sember, when asked under oath, said that the problem with the Monitor articles was what they did not say. She could not point to a single statement about her or her husband that she could say was untrue.
Finally the matter came before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment, when granted, means winning without a trial. It is, accordingly, rare since every citizen is entitled to have disputed facts resolved at a trial. To win a motion for summary judgment, a party has to be able to show not just that no facts that matter are in dispute but that on the undisputed facts he or she is entitled to win. The party must also show that, even giving every inference from the undisputed facts to the other side, the moving party is still unquestionably entitled to win. That is exactly what happened here. The judge looked at the undisputed facts and threw out the Sembers' entire case.
The Sembers, unhappy with the trial court's decision, filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The Superior Court, just like the trial court, concluded that the defendants had done nothing wrong and affirmed the trial court's decision.
In a last-ditch effort to bring their case to trial, the Sembers petitioned the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to hear their appeal. On September 2, 1997, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied their petition.
There you have Dan Goldstein's summary of what actually happened over these four long years. The only assessment of the substance of this case's merit was rendered by Judge R. Stanton Wettick, Jr., of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. His January 31, 1996, ruling to grant summary judgment to the National Federation of the Blind and others (the defendants) against Tom and Mary Ann Sember (the plaintiffs) was clear and definitive. But it was a great deal more than that. Because of its importance to the NFB and to our commitment to protecting the rights of blind people, we are reprinting the ruling in its entirety, except that for clarity we have omitted the case citations. Here is what the judge said:
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT
Defendants have filed motions for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiffs' remaining claims. (Plaintiffs have withdrawn their claims against Ed Smith and Humanware, Inc. Plaintiffs have also withdrawn Counts XII (Slander), XIII (Slander), XIV (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress), and XV (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress). In addition, plaintiff is not pursuing a claim that defendants interfered with any actual business relationships--Count IX is limited to intentional interference with prospective business relationships.)
During the relevant times plaintiff Thomas Sember was employed as a counselor in the Pittsburgh Office of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BVS). Counselors deal with the needs and concerns of visually impaired clients which may include the evaluation, selection, and purchase of adaptive electronic equipment.
During the relevant times plaintiff Mary Ann Sember was the sales representative for TeleSensory, Inc., in Western Pennsylvania. TeleSensory is a national company whose business is limited to the manufacture and sale of products for the visually impaired; TeleSensory manufactures and sells adaptive electronic equipment. During the relevant times the Pittsburgh office of BVS almost always purchased TeleSensory's electronic equipment from Ms. Sember whenever TeleSensory manufactured the type of electronic equipment that would be appropriate for a client. Competitors' electronic equipment was almost never purchased.
Mr. Sember did not make purchases from his wife. Whenever he determined that his client might need a product which TeleSensory manufactured, he referred the client to another counselor in the Pittsburgh office.
This lawsuit arises out of publications that criticized the Pittsburgh BVS office for doing business almost exclusively with TeleSensory. The publications state that, whenever TeleSensory manufactures a type of product needed by the client, the Pittsburgh office almost always purchases the product that TeleSensory manufactures; the office does not select products offered by competing manufacturers that would also be appropriate.
These publications state that Mr. Sember is a counselor in the Pittsburgh Office of BVS, that Ms. Sember is the TeleSensory sales representative for Western Pennsylvania, and that Mr. Sember and Ms. Sember are husband and wife. The publications opine that this relationship is a reason why TeleSensory's competitors cannot do business with the Pittsburgh office of BVS.
COUNTS I, II, III, AND IV
These counts are defamation claims against the National Federation of the Blind (NFB); the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania (NFB of Pa.); and Theodore Young, President of NFB of Pa., based on articles appearing in the March, 1992, and July, 1992, publications of the Braille Monitor. The Braille Monitor is a national publication of NFB. Plaintiffs' claims against Theodore Young and NFB of Pa. are based primarily on Mr. Young's providing information utilized in the March, 1992, Braille Monitor articles and encouraging NFB to publish these articles.
At pages 32-34 of their brief, plaintiffs set forth the portions of the March, 1992, article that they primarily rely upon to support their defamation claim.
In the instant matter [plaintiffs' brief states], the Defendants combined and conspired in publishing an article entitled "Concerning Integrity, Monopoly, and TeleSensory" in the March, 1992, edition of the Braille Monitor, a periodical distributed throughout the nation and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The first three paragraphs of that article read as follows:
"In Pittsburgh," as more than one person told us, "it doesn't matter how good your technology is or how low your prices. It doesn't matter about the quality of your service or the support you give your technology. If you aren't selling products made by TeleSensory, you can't do business with the state rehabilitation agency"--which is known as BVS, or the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. This is what we were told by a frustrated vendor of high-tech equipment for the blind and what we heard echoed by many others. What this vendor of technology did not say (but everybody knows) is that the TeleSensory sales representative in Pittsburgh, Mary Ann Sember, is married to Tom Sember, a counselor in the state agency's Pittsburgh office.
In New Jersey the TeleSensory sales representative has a daughter who works for the state agency. The family relationship is different, but the pattern is the same. State business goes to TeleSensory regardless of cost, performance, or quality of service.
The arrangement is cozy for those who are part of the inner circle, but if the same situation occurred in military procurement, it would be front-page scandal with everybody crying foul. Here, however, only blind clients are being hurt--along with small business operations (mostly owned by blind people). Since those who are being denied the right to compete are not big-time operators with major bucks and political clout, such complaints as have surfaced have largely been ignored.
Kenneth Jernigan & Barbara Pierce, "Concerning Integrity, Monopoly, & TeleSensory," the Braille Monitor, March, 1992 The article later states:
At a time when rehabilitation money is in short supply everywhere in the country for the purchase of technology that blind people need to become or remain competitive, why do so many state agency counselors insist on buying equipment from a company with a nationwide reputation for slow and unresponsive support service and prices higher than those of the competition? Why is this done even when blind clients request alternative technology that they think will serve their needs better? Some say that the answer lies in a combination of history, sloth, and inertia--the fact that TeleSensory (formerly TSI) has been in the field longer than most of its competitors and is bigger than the rest of them. Others (whether correctly or not) cut through the niceties and call it collusion and skulduggery.
The article further states that:
For the most part, we are told, the Pittsburgh counselors buy TeleSensory equipment. And the only TeleSensory representative in the area is Mary Ann Sember, the wife of one of the office counselors. No one has suggested that money is changing hands, but old habits are hard to break--and pressures to conform to established practice do not have to be overt in order to be effective.
Finally, the article concludes with the following paragraphs:
TeleSensory is not the only game in town, and the blind users of technology will no longer settle for having their informed views ignored. When unsavory business practices exist, we will do our best to put an end to them.
It is not appropriate to funnel state business to one producer, whose prices are high and whose service is slow to nonexistent. When that producer's sales representatives have direct family ties to the agencies of government that make the purchases, then the consumers, the competing vendors, and the general public will inevitably draw their own conclusions about what is happening.
[After this quotation from the brief of the plaintiffs and their quotations from the March, 1992, Braille Monitor, Judge Wettick continued as follows:]
The July, 1992, issue of the Braille Monitor revisited the subject of the March, 1992, article in a report titled, "The Pot Boils and TeleSensory Stews." In their brief at page 35 plaintiffs cite an additional provision in this issue:
This article [the Sember brief says] also replied to TeleSensory's rebuttal to the original March, 1992, publication. This response stated, in part:
In the first place, what possible difference does it make whether "Mary Ann Sember is an independent distributor, not a TeleSensory employee?" The fact still remains that she sells TeleSensory equipment and that her husband is a counselor in the Pittsburgh office of the state agency for the blind, which buys the equipment. Quibbles and technicalities won't cut it. It may, as Bliss [Dr. James Bliss, head of TeleSensory at the time] insists, be true that "Tom Sember does not have any involvement in the purchase of products from TeleSensory"--but again, technicalities won't cut it.
[After these quotations from the brief of the plaintiffs and from the Braille Monitor, Judge Wettick said:]
In an action for defamation a court must initially determine whether the challenged statements are capable of a defamatory meaning. [citation] In making this determination, it is not sufficient that a plausible innocent interpretation of the statement exists; the issue must proceed to the jury if there is an alternative defamatory interpretation. [citation] A statement is defamatory if it ascribes to another "conduct, character, or a condition which would adversely affect her fitness for the proper conduct of her lawful business, trade, or profession." [citation]
Plaintiffs contend that the portions of the articles quoted above when read in conjunction with the entire text of both articles are capable of a defamatory meaning. These articles, according to plaintiffs, accuse plaintiffs of engaging in improper conduct. In their brief plaintiffs state that the "clear import of these statements is that business awarded through the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania goes to TeleSensory not based on cost, performance, or quality of service, but rather as a result of complicity and conspiracy on the part of both plaintiffs." [This quotation is taken from the plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment at 35, as is the following.] The articles insinuate "that she [Ms. Sember] and her husband improperly influenced BVS purchasing policies and the supply of equipment to clients." The March article implies that money is "changing hands." The articles imply that Mr. Sember "was `in cahoots' with the other BVS counselors, who may have been receiving some sort of compensation for purchasing from Ms. Sember." The articles imply that "the plaintiffs conspired between themselves and colluded with other counselors to benefit themselves." The articles insinuated that plaintiffs "exerted influence to force BVS counselors to purchase from TeleSensory." The articles' reference to collusion and skulduggery indicates that the authors possess undisclosed defamatory facts showing that plaintiffs are "engaged in dishonest, underhanded, unfair, or unscrupulous behavior or activity"; that TeleSensory receives BVS's business "because of a collusive agreement between the Sembers"; and that there is "clandestine cooperation between the Sembers."
[After the quotation from the plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Wettick said:]
I disagree with plaintiffs' characterization of the articles. These articles state that TeleSensory obtains more business from the Pittsburgh office of BVS than its products deserve and that the distributor for TeleSensory's products in the Pittsburgh area is the wife of a counselor who works in the Pittsburgh office of BVS. In these articles the authors express their opinion that plaintiffs' relationship as husband and wife is a reason why TeleSensory receives more business than its products deserve and that TeleSensory receives favored treatment because it employs Ms. Sember to sell its products. However, these articles do not suggest that Mr. and Ms. Sember are engaging in any dishonest or unscrupulous conduct. The articles are critical of the other counselors and staff members within the Pittsburgh office for giving preferential treatment to TeleSensory because its sales representative is married to a counselor who works in the office.
Ms. Sember is the representative for TeleSensory products within the Pittsburgh area. Her job is to persuade counselors and other staff within the Pittsburgh office of BVS to purchase TeleSensory products. She is very effective; plaintiffs acknowledge that at the time the articles were written the Pittsburgh office of the BVS purchased almost no products from TeleSensory's competitors. The claim that Ms. Sember managed to dominate the market because she is the wife of a counselor does not reflect adversely on her character or integrity. She is not accused of engaging in any impermissible conduct. The only charge is that the other counselors and staff give her favorable treatment because she is married to a co-employee.
It is not unusual [Judge Wettick continued] for law firms, architect firms, and other businesses that provide goods and services to governmental bodies to make political contributions and to hire the political supporters and relatives of elected officials. When these law firms, architect firms, and other businesses obtain governmental business, newspapers regularly report this fact. This is a typical example:
The ABC law firm was hired as bond counsel for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This law firm was a major financial contributor to the Committee to Re-elect the Governor. Sarah White, a senior partner in the law firm, was the campaign manager for the governor during last year's campaign.
At the most, such an article is suggesting that the law firm obtained the bond business because it has a connection with the Governor that other law firms do not have. The article cannot be read as asserting that either the law firm or the Governor engaged in any unethical or dishonest conduct.
This is equally true in the present case. The articles are accusing the Pittsburgh office of giving favored treatment to Mary Ann Sember because she is married to a counselor who works in the office. She is not being accused of engaging in any unethical or dishonest conduct in order to become the recipient of the favored treatment.
Also the articles do not describe any unethical or dishonest conduct on the part of Mr. Sember or suggest that the authors possess defamatory facts regarding Mr. Sember that they did not disclose. Mr. Sember is not accused of placing orders with his wife. Neither is he accused of directing or persuading others to place orders with his wife. It is not claimed that he has supervisory responsibility regarding purchases in the Pittsburgh office. The claim is that the Pittsburgh office has not developed a bidding procedure. Consequently the staff gives favored treatment to Ms. Sember because of her relationship with Mr. Sember.
Plaintiffs contend [the judge continued] that the statement that no one "has suggested that money is changing hands, but old habits are hard to break" insinuates that money is changing hands. This is an incorrect reading of the statement. The statement is made in the context of the Pittsburgh office's being in the habit of recommending only TeleSensory products. This is a habit, according to the article, that may have developed when there were few competitors in the field. The article suggests only that TeleSensory's use of Ms. Sember as its representative in the Pittsburgh area makes it more difficult for the Pittsburgh office to break its old habits.
The statement that "Others (whether correctly or not) cut through the niceties and call it collusion and skulduggery" is not aimed at the Sembers. The statement refers to TeleSensory's practice of utilizing family ties and other methods to dominate the markets in Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and New York. The thrust of this article is that TeleSensory utilizes sales methods that permit it to obtain a greater share of various markets than the quality of the products justifies. The Sembers are an example of "family ties," which is one of the methods that TeleSensory is accused of utilizing.
Plaintiffs appear to be arguing that the articles suggest that the authors know of defamatory facts concerning the Sembers that they did not include. I disagree. These are not articles in which the authors appear to be withholding any facts that will support their opinions. The only fair reading of the articles is that TeleSensory's sales methods described in the articles have permitted TeleSensory to dominate the Pittsburgh market (as well as other markets). The articles do not suggest that the Sembers are engaging in any dishonest or unscrupulous conduct that the articles do not describe.
In summary [the judge said], most citizens believe that governmental bodies should make decisions involving the purchase of goods and services strictly on objective criteria through a process in which every competitor has an equal opportunity to be selected. A charge that one competitor appears to be receiving favored treatment does not suggest that anyone is engaging in dishonest or unscrupulous behavior.
Ms. Sember is permitted to attempt to persuade persons in the BVS office (other than her husband and persons whom he supervises) to select TeleSensory products for their clients provided that she does not involve her husband, directly or indirectly, in the transaction or offer favors in return for the selection of her products. The Braille Monitor articles cannot be fairly read as insinuating that Ms. Sember is either involving her husband in any transactions or offering favors to persons who purchase her products. Consequently the articles do not accuse her of any wrongdoing. They simply accuse the Pittsburgh office of giving undue consideration to Ms. Sember because she is the wife of a fellow employee.
It is Mr. Sember's position [the judge continued] that under the law he is permitted to provide services to his clients as long as he removes himself from the case whenever his wife's product is recommended for that client. There is nothing in the articles suggesting that Mr. Sember remains involved in transactions after his wife's products are recommended for his clients. The articles do not claim that Mr. Sember is making any purchases from his wife. The articles do not claim that Mr. Sember is putting pressure on persons within the office to purchase TeleSensory products. A reasonable reader would not conclude [the judge said] that Mr. Sember is being accused of engaging in such conduct because the entire thrust of the article is that family ties, in and of themselves, will create an atmosphere in which TeleSensory's products will dominate the market.
The articles criticize TeleSensory for using family relationships and other methods that have, in the opinion of the authors, resulted in its products' being selected for reasons other than the merit of the products. The criticism against TeleSensory is that it is taking advantage of the persons whom it purportedly serves (the visually impaired) by utilizing these methods.
The articles criticize the Pennsylvania BVS for allowing the situation to exist. The articles indicate that family ties will not have the impact that TeleSensory desires if the Pennsylvania BVS would require its purchasing agents to seek bids before purchasing electronic adaptive equipment and if it would begin to recognize that TeleSensory is no longer the only game in town.
The articles do not criticize plaintiffs. They are described as the beneficiaries of a purchasing pattern that is likely to emerge if the largest manufacturer of equipment for the visually impaired sells its products through relatives of employees of state governmental agencies who service the visually impaired and if the state agencies do not have in place a system for selecting equipment that gives all competitors an equal opportunity to sell their products.
Because I conclude [the judge said] that the statements upon which plaintiffs rely are not capable of a defamatory meaning, I am dismissing Counts I through IV without considering defendants' additional argument that recovery is impermissible except upon a showing of malice and that plaintiffs' evidence would not support such a finding.
COUNTS V, VI, VII, AND VIII
These are invasion of privacy claims brought by both plaintiffs against NFB, NFB of Pa., and Mr. Young.
In their brief plaintiffs state that the cause of action for invasion of privacy is comprised of four distinct torts: (1) intrusion upon seclusion, (2) appropriation of name or likeness, (3) publicity given to private life, and (4) publicity placing a person in false light. [citation] Plaintiffs state that they seek to recover under the tort of publicly placing a person in false light. [citation] They rely on 15652E of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which reads as follows:
One who gives publicity to a matter concerning another that places the other before the public in a false light is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if (a) the false light in which the other was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (b) the actor had knowledge of or acted in reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter and the false light in which the other would be placed.
Plaintiffs base their invasion of privacy claims on the same statements upon which they base their defamation claims. Plaintiffs cannot recover under =15652E because of the requirement that the publicity place them in a "false light" of a kind "highly offensive to a reasonable person." As I previously discussed, the facts in these statements regarding the Sembers are accurate. Thomas P. Sember is a counselor in the Pittsburgh office of BVS. He and Mary Ann Sember are married to each other. Mary Ann Sember is the sales representative for TeleSensory products in the Pittsburgh area. The Pittsburgh BVS office purchases almost exclusively TeleSensory products.
Furthermore [the judge continued] the statements regarding plaintiffs are not highly offensive. According to plaintiffs, the articles, when read as a whole, falsely accuse Mr. and Mrs. Sember of engaging in very serious improprieties of a kind that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. I reject this contention for the reasons set forth in my discussion of the Defamation Counts.
This is a claim by Ms. Sember against all defendants for interference with prospective business relationships. This claim is based on the same publications upon which plaintiffs base their defamation and invasion of privacy counts.
The initial problem with this claim [the judge said] is the absence of any evidence establishing that the publication of these articles damaged Ms. Sember. In her brief at pages 90-91, Ms. Sember refers to decreased sales to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit ("AIU") and to the Pittsburgh, Erie, and Altoona BVS offices. She testified that these sales have dramatically decreased since 1992. She cites actual sales figures to BVS/AIU of $289,000 in 1990, $273,000 in 1991, $202,000 in 1992, and $154,000 in 1993. However, Ms. Sember does not offer evidence from anyone at BVS or AIU indicating the reasons why her sales declined. For example, during this period the Pittsburgh BVS office was moving to a bidding system for the purchase of the higher priced products. This could be one of many explanations for the decline in the sales.
A plaintiff can prove actual harm [Judge Wettick continued] by showing only that her sales declined where it is not possible to identify the persons who may have been influenced by the publication. But where the claim is made that the plaintiff lost sales to specific customers, the plaintiff must introduce evidence showing that these customers were substantially influenced by the publication. [citation]
The tort of intentional interference with prospective contractual relations [the judge went on to say] requires that plaintiff establish a prospective contractual relationship and actual damages to the relationship resulting from defendants' conduct. Plaintiff did not have a contract with the BVS or AIU. Consequently her future sales depended upon the needs of BVS/AIU; available governmental funding; the type, quality, and prices of products that would be offered by TeleSensory and other companies; the methods that BVS/AIU followed in making its purchases; and the marketing approaches and services offered by TeleSensory and its competitors. There are too many variables to permit a finding that the articles in the Braille Monitor are an explanation for the decline in plaintiff's sales to BVS/AIU.
There are other difficulties with plaintiffs' tortious interference claims. Pennsylvania recognizes a cause of action for intentional interference with prospective contractual relations. In order to recover, the plaintiff must establish the following elements: (a) the existence of a prospective contractual relationship between the plaintiff and a third party, (b) the defendant acted for the purpose of causing a specific type of harm to plaintiff, (c) the act was unprivileged, and (d) actual harm resulted. [citation]
Plaintiff may be claiming that she lost potential sales because the articles prompted BVS to institute competitive bidding. However, this would be a privileged act; defendants were entitled to make statements intended to persuade a public body to alter its purchasing procedures in a manner that would, in the opinion of defendants, result in a more objective process.
With respect to NFB, NFB of Pa., and Mr. Young, the evidence does not support a finding that they acted for the purpose of causing harm to plaintiffs. They were not seeking to dissuade BVS or anyone else from doing business with Ms. Sember whenever the TeleSensory product was the best choice for the client. They were not asking that any competitors of Ms. Sember receive preferential treatment. They simply wanted BVS to base its decisions on the quality of the product and pricing.
Plaintiffs' claim against Mr. Jakub and Genesis Computer Services fails because any actions that they took were proper actions of a competitor. [citation] Mr. Jakub was a competitor. He believed that he did not have the same opportunity as Ms. Sember to submit bids and to persuade BVS staff to purchase his products. He never alleged that Ms. Sember had engaged in any dishonest or unscrupulous conduct. His complaint was that BVS had not given him the same opportunities afforded to Ms. Sember.
He contributed to the articles in an effort to persuade BVS to adopt a more objective system for purchasing products. As a competitor, his conduct is proper.
For these same reasons plaintiffs' claim against the Young Opportunities, Inc., and Mr. Young as its principal owner also fails.
COUNT X--INJURIOUS FALSEHOOD
Ms. Sember has brought a claim against all defendants for injurious falsehood. She alleges that the statements in the March and July, 1992, Braille Monitors contained false and disparaging statements that were designed to prevent others from dealing with her to her business disadvantage.
The provisions of the Restatement (Second) of Torts governing a disparagement of title claim are set forth in =15623A and =15624, which read as follows:
15623A. Liability for Publication of Injurious Falsehood--
One who publishes a false statement harmful to the interests of another is subject to liability for pecuniary loss resulting to the other if (a) he intends for publication of the statement to result in harm to interests of the other having a pecuniary value, or either recognizes or should recognize that it is likely to do so, and (b) he knows that the statement is false or acts in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.
15624. Disparagement of Property--Slander of Title
The rules on liability for the publication of an injurious falsehood stated in 15623A apply to the publication of a false statement disparaging another's property rights in land, chattels, or intangible things that the publisher should recognize as likely to result in pecuniary harm to the other through the conduct of third persons in respect to the other's interests in the property.
Plaintiff [the judge continued] bases this claim on the same publications. This claim fails for several reasons. First, for the reasons that I previously discussed. The statements were not published to harm the legitimate interests of Ms. Sember. Her interest was in making sales whenever the TeleSensory product would best serve the needs of a BVS client or other sight-impaired person. Defendants were not intending to harm these interests.
Second, for the reasons that I previously discussed, there were no false statements regarding Ms. Sember. She was not accused of engaging in any dishonest or unethical conduct.
Third, there were no false statements regarding the products she sold as TeleSensory's sales representative (even assuming that she could recover if there were false statements regarding the quality of TeleSensory's products). The articles simply expressed the opinions of the writers that, as to certain products, TSI's competitors offered better service, better prices, and/or a superior product. (Ms. Sember also states that the articles cast doubt on the quality and propriety of her sales ability. Even assuming that injurious falsehood as to her sales ability could serve as the basis for recovery under 15624, for the reasons I previously discussed, the articles do not question the quality or propriety of her sales ability.)
COUNT XI--CIVIL CONSPIRACY
This count fails because there can be no recovery without showing that two or more persons harmed plaintiffs through an agreement to perform unlawful acts or lawful acts by unlawful means. Since plaintiffs have not established that any of the defendants engaged in any improper conduct, any concerted activities in which they engaged were lawful.
For these reasons, I enter the following order of court:
IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA CIVIL DIVISION
THOMAS P. SEMBER and MARY
ANN SEMBER, his wife, Plaintiffs
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND, a corporation; HUMANWARE, INC.,a corporation; GENESIS COMPUTER SERVICES; THE YOUNG OPPORTUNITIES, INC., a corporation; ED SMITH, an individual; BOB JAKUB, an individual; THEODORE YOUNG, an individual; NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OF PENNSYLVANIA, INC., a corporation, Defendants
ORDER OF COURT
On this 31st day of January, 1996, upon consideration of defendants' motions for summary judgment to plaintiffs' complaint it is hereby ORDERED that these motions for summary judgment are granted and that plaintiffs' complaint is dismissed as to all defendants.
BY THE COURT WETTICK, J.
That was Judge Wettick's ruling granting summary judgment, and with it the case was, for all practical purposes, finished. The Sembers would appeal his decision to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and their arguments would have to be countered by our attorneys. But by that time the evidence had been gathered, the depositions taken, and the documents combed for useful facts. Such activity is exciting in John Grisham novels and is apparently interesting to lawyers, but speaking as one who had never before undergone the deposition process, I can report that two and a half days of precisely answering rambling, ill-constructed questions by opposing counsel was both tiring and unproductive. I can't imagine that the Sembers enjoyed facing Dan Goldstein's tough questioning either; yet, they were clearly hoping that they could persuade the courts to send us all into a trial--which even though it might be unpleasant and time-consuming, would give them some money, as well as justifying past BVS action. It didn't happen that way. If the vacation island was ever a dream, it is still a dream--one that may have to wait for some other engine of propulsion than the one that was employed.
Happily, the courts of Pennsylvania understood that there really was no case to be tried. The final judicial statement by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on September 2, 1997, was the shortest of them all, and possibly the most painful to those who had pinned their hopes on the lawsuit. All the accusations of defamation, libel, and the rest; all of the claims that the Braille Monitor had twisted the facts and implied what wasn't so--all these dissolved into thin air with the ruling of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Here is what it said:
ORDER PER CURIAM
And now this second day of September, 1997, the Petition for Allowance of Appeal is DENIED.
That was it--total victory for the National Federation of the Blind. Those who contemplate suing the Braille Monitor in the future should take note of what the courts of Pennsylvania said. Castles in Spain, pie in the sky, and enchanted vacation islands are hard to come by.
by Denise Mackenstadt
From the Editor: One of the most puzzling figures in the educational landscape of blind children in public schools today is the instructional aide. Parents and teachers are often uncertain what the role of these aides should be. Denise Mackenstadt has been doing this job intelligently and knowledgeably for several years. Her husband Gary is a long-time leader in the NFB of Washington, and Denise herself is a leader in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. At the 1997 seminar for parents of blind children in New Orleans she spoke to the audience about what should and should not be part of an aide's responsibilities. This is what she said:
I live about twenty miles northeast of Seattle and am an instructional assistant, as we are called, in the Northshore School District. We have about 20,000 students in an area of sixty square miles. There are approximately twenty blind and visually impaired students on our caseload. I am assigned to a normally developing fourth grade blind boy. He is totally blind and a Braille user. There are some additional problems that affect his learning, but they are not directly related to his vision. I spend four hours a day at the school. I am a member of the school staff, which is an important part for me to play, because, in order for our student to become an integral member of the school community, I have to do a lot of PR, a lot of educating. My presence really helps allay the fears and anxiety that are frequently seen in a general education staff. I think that we have been very successful over the last two and a half years. The fourth grade teacher he will have this fall has actually requested that he be in the class. I view that as a real asset and something we can be proud of.
I've been with the National Federation of the Blind since 1970 in a variety of roles, so of course I've brought that experience to this job. However, my job description does not really require anything that you would recognize as specific to working with a blind student. My job description says that I am to follow directions given by a certified teacher, that I keep accurate records, that I know how to operate office equipment like the photocopier and rhisograph, and that I have some knowledge of technology. The certified teacher that I work for is the teacher of the blind--the vision teacher. She happened to want me to have this position even though she was warned not to hire me. She stipulated in the job announcement that an applicant must have a basic knowledge of Braille and white-cane use. Since I was the only applicant who had those skills, I was hired.
A year ago Washington passed a Braille literacy bill, due to the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind. Part of that bill is unique in that one of the legislators, who was a former school board member, stipulated that the Braille competency requirement must also apply to any assistants producing Braille materials or instructing a student in Braille. So I was required to take the National Library Service Braille Competency exam, which I did last year and passed.
This provision of the Washington law reflects the influence that instructional assistants have on the educational program of blind students. Frankly I see my student more often than the certified teacher does. I have more interaction with him. I see him in areas that are critical to his social development, such as playground, lunchroom, PE, music--the times he interacts socially with his peers. I have a tremendous impact on what he does every day.
The thing I appreciate most is that the classroom teacher, the vision teacher, and I have agreed that our ultimate goal is to work me out of a job. Our goal is that this student will become increasingly independent so that by middle school he will be able to meet a good number of his own needs or will be able to get the materials he needs through transcription services, readers, working with his teachers, etc. That has to become the goal for all of us who work with these children because, if they are mainstreamed into a regular school program, they have to acquire those skills. As parents your goal is to enable your children to handle their own lives and to determine their own destinies. As educators that must be our goal also.
I am very cognizant of my own limitations. I am not certificated. I really try to maintain close working relationships with all the certificated staff. I eat in the teachers' lounge in order to talk to other teachers, to hear what's going on, to work with other teachers on their projects. I work in the lunchroom so that I really get to know the custodian. As all of us who have worked in schools know, the people who truly run the school are the secretary and the custodian. I was gratified to see that I had been successful in that effort. At my end-of-the-year evaluation my principal noted that I still work in the lunchroom even though our student doesn't require my presence. Aides have to mingle with the staff because we are an itinerant program. Most of the regular educational staff has no idea of what we do, so part of our job is to make it very easy for them to accept this blind student as a regular student in the classroom.
As a non-certified staff member, there are some experience and knowledge in instructional skills that I just do not have. I don't necessarily know the progression in reading instruction or mathematics instruction. These are areas in which I need to learn from and work with the classroom teacher and vision teacher. I am there to adapt the regular education program for our blind student and to teach the specific blindness skills he needs. In addition I provide all transcription services. I come to school in the morning, check with the teacher about what is happening in class, and look at her plan book. She may tell me that she is going to give a four-page reading exam that day, it has to be Brailled by 11:00 a.m., and it's now 8:30 a.m. This means that I have to have the test transcribed into Braille that this student can actually read by 11:00 a.m. That's the reality of a public school program.
The responsibility for instructing the blind student in the standard curriculum belongs to the classroom teacher. At times, out of misunderstanding, the regular classroom teacher will expect me to instruct the blind student in areas that are not my responsibility or within my expertise. Avoiding these misunderstandings can be a difficult task. My goal for the coming year is to learn how to avoid these confusions of responsibility. The classroom teacher must be willing to accept the blind student as just one more student in a class of fourth graders. I must sometimes go to the instructor and say, "this student is in need of help on this math problem." Then I walk away to assist elsewhere in the classroom so that the teacher can spend time with the blind student.
This past year my office was too accessible to the blind student. He needs to stay in the classroom more. He performs better in the classroom because there he wants to be like the other kids in the class. And, if he is going to be like the other kids, he will have to meet classroom expectations behaviorally and instructionally. I'm locking my door this coming year. He's not going to be able to wander in and out quite as much.
Those are some of my goals for the upcoming school year. This past year my professional goals were to pass the Braille Competency Examination and to learn more about computer technology for the blind in education. My goal for my student was to develop and improve his self-esteem. I took from the National Federation of the Blind and from what we've done at our rehabilitation centers in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Colorado the understanding that I couldn't accomplish a lot just using a self-esteem curriculum. I could do all the talking I wanted, but what was really going to build his self-image was his feeling of competence using his blindness skills. That, I am very pleased to say, has happened. His feeling of competence as a Braille reader and as a blind traveler and his ability to communicate his needs to his sighted peers or adults has improved his self-esteem as much as--no, more than--any of the head talks he and I could have had.
The advantage of being married to a blind man has been that, when my student comes to me saying he can do or not do such and so, I can say, "Hey, don't talk to me about it." I can say "I know my husband." Even if I weren't married to a blind person, as an instructor I would have to know adult blind people for my own education, for mentoring him, for helping him to understand that there is an adult future for him to dream of and be a part of. That is really what our goal has to be as educators. In conclusion I would say that I have the best job in the world because I am working with kids, one on one.
From the Editor: At the seminar for parents and educators of blind children sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at the 1997 NFB convention in New Orleans, one of the most delightful and inspiring presentations was a panel of blind youngsters talking about their experience of blindness. Each presenter prepared and read remarks in Braille. It was clear that all of these students are growing up understanding and living by Federation philosophy. The first speaker was Cody Greiser (ten), whose father Marty is one of the leaders of NOPBC. Kyle Neddo (nine) is the son of Dawn Neddo, the President of the Michigan parents division. Amanda Jones and her twin sister April (eleven) are the granddaughters of Pat Jones, who leads parent activities in Tennessee. And Brett Boyer graduated from high school last January. This is what each student said:
Cody Greiser: Hello, everyone. My name is Cody Greiser. I am ten years old and live in Polson, Montana. Next year I will be in the fifth grade. My Dad says I was two and a half when I got my first cane, but I really don't remember that. My O&M teacher comes once a month to our school, where he shows me how to follow sidewalks and go around the block and stuff like that. Mrs. Colburn and I practice those things when he is not there.
I don't use a cane in my house or my Dad's house or my grandma's house or in the classroom, but I do just about everywhere else. If I don't have my cane with me, I have to be very careful. Sometimes I get so excited about recess I leave the room without it. Then I think, "Oh my cane," and go back and get it. If I lay my cane down on the playground, sometimes kids take it, but I always get it back.
When I get in the car, I put my cane crosswise on the floor or between the seat and door. Once, when I went to my Dad's, I forgot my cane and had to use a collapsible one he had. I didn't like it because, when it collapses, it feels like you're going to step into a hole. I have been to lots of conventions, and I like Detroit the best because everything wasn't carpeted, and they had lots of escalators. Escalators are really neat, but I hate the moving sidewalks in airports because the end comes when you are not ready.
I like going up in the mountains where I can climb on steep hillsides and throw rocks off cliffs. I like the way they bounce all the way to the bottom. I have been skiing but really don't like it because you can't use your cane. Somebody should invent a ski cane.
When I walk down the railroad tracks with my Dad back to the slew and the river, I throw rocks on both sides to see what's over there. No matter where I go, I sometimes run into things. If I hit some thing really, really hard, the first thing I do is check to see if I'm bleeding. I've had bruises, bumps, and stitches, but that's the way it goes because I don't want to sit around. Thanks for listening.
Kyle Neddo: My name is Kyle Neddo, and I got my first cane when I was three years old. I like to use my cane because I can take my time looking at things and go where I want to go. Sometimes people at school say I take too long. They want to drag me along, but they don't know that I can do it myself. Some of my friends at goalball don't use a cane, and they have their mom or someone guiding them around. I feel good being independent using my cane.
My cane helps me play games where we chase each other, keeping the ball away. I can play just like sighted kids when I use my cane. My friends think that I have a special power. Really, I just learned to use my ears and my cane together from my friend Allen Harris.
Amanda Jones: Hello. My name is Amanda Jones. I would like to tell you about a time when I was selling things for school. I was walking down the street with my cane, and a dog started barking at my sister April and me. We were scared of the dogs, so we started running back up the hill. Another thing happened to me when I was selling candy for the girls' choir. My neighbor Jimmy let me in, and my grandma started looking for us. When she finally found us, we didn't want to go home. Last year I was almost late for the bus. I had to fly up the hill. I almost fell on my nose. I beat my sister for once. April was running behind me, and her backpack was on one shoulder.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was when I tried out for track and cross country. I have tried out for both of them each year ever since fourth grade. What I want to tell you about is when I ran the 100-meter run. I did better last year than I did in fourth grade. I made twenty-two seconds last year and forty-two seconds the year before. I also tried out for the 200-meter run. My sister and I made the same score, which was sixty-seven seconds. Other things I tried out for were shot put, running jump, and the 400-meter run, all of which I am not good at. Right now I am learning to go around in my school because I will have to change classes every day. I am in the band, playing the clarinet.
Have a nice day. I will be going to the baby-sitting course.
Brett Boyer: Good morning, everybody. I'm here today to talk about my independent travel experiences. So let's start with my first independent journey. I was three years old and was determined to mail a letter. I decided that I would go to the mailbox that I thought was at the corner of the block. I set out to find it. Keep in mind that this was before I had ever heard of a cane--I was introduced to a cane when I was five. Anyway, I continued to walk down the block, looking for the mailbox, which I did not find. As all little kids do, I lost concentration and found myself stumbling around and crying in driveways and yards. Finally a lady found me and brought me home. To this day I've never found that mailbox.
A few years later I was introduced to the cane but would only use it when my mobility teacher came. My first real experience of independence was in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the National Convention in 1992. I had my NFB cane, and I went cruisin' around that hotel. I didn't go to general sessions much. I remember the feeling that I could go anywhere and do anything. I explored every room in that hotel. If I found stairs, I went with them. If I found a door, I went inside. But I don't think the room service employees liked it much when I found myself in the room service kitchen elevator.
Like I said, that was one of my turning points. From then on I would use my cane in school, going to classes, but at that point I lived in a small town in New Jersey. I was independent, but not fully. I would still use a sighted guide whenever I could. I never really ventured out on my own.
I went to the conventions after North Carolina, and in Detroit I met a student who was at the Colorado Center for the Blind. He told me about a program that the CCB offers high school students in the summertime. I went through the program, which gave me my independence, I believe--learning how to clean, shop, cook, and travel almost anywhere in Denver, Colorado, on my own. I liked Colorado so much I decided to move there. I finished high school and graduated in January of this year. Then I became a full-time student at the Colorado Center, which I am still today. This has given me the complete independence that I have earned. Learning how to take care of an apartment, manage it, and just do everything on your own is a great experience.
Before I go, I want to share one more travel experience with you. During the summer program of 1996, I worked for the American Red Cross the last four weeks of the program. One day after work I was so tired that I caught my bus and fell asleep. I was supposed to catch another bus and join the other students to go home. But, as I said, I fell asleep. I woke up, and I was on the bus that everyone else from CCB had caught home. It turned out that the bus I had taken from work was the bus I needed to take to go home--it was the only one during the day to make that switch. Pretty amazing! I would like to thank everybody, and I hope everyone has a great convention.
From the Editor: The two previous articles provide a ray of hope for parents of blind children and the advocates committed to improving the educational opportunities available to blind youngsters. Aides like Denise Mackenstadt and teachers like the distinguished educators honored by the NFB each year provide their students the chance to make everything they can of their lives and gifts. And the children who spoke to the parents' seminar at last summer's convention demonstrate what can be accomplished by knowledgeable, determined parents even when ideal instructional conditions are not available. Yet across the country today blind children languish in public school classrooms because no one working or caring for them knows enough to provide the services needed or can find a way to compel the school system to do so.
Louisiana is doing more than many states to solve this huge problem. The Louisiana Center for the Blind, the NFB's adult training center in Ruston, has a grant to train paraprofessionals to teach Braille. Pam Dubel directs this effort, and it is turning out aides who can make a real difference in the educational future of blind children. But the grant is for the northern half of the state, and the child profiled in the following story lives in the southern part. This article appeared in the June 7, 1997, edition of the Times Picayune. It is a stark reminder of how much work we have yet to do. Here is the story:
Teaching Blind Boy a Struggle Mainstream Classes Lack the Resources
by Cassandra Lane
St. Bernard/Plaquemines Bureau
While the other children learned to read books this year, Gerald sat in the back of the class wearing headphones to listen to books. Six-year-old Gerald Passero twirled wildly on an open area of the playground at Carolyn Park Elementary School, then braked himself against a brick wall with his hands. His cane had been discarded on the sidewalk.
"I can see," the kindergartner mused. But Gerald can't see. And this past year the St. Bernard public school system struggled to help him find his way into a regular classroom, despite a lack of resources and no precedent for dealing with a completely blind child.
While there are twenty-two visually impaired children in St. Bernard's public schools, Gerald is the only one to be totally blind, said Gloria Plaiscia, one of two instructors who teach Braille and living skills to the visually impaired students. Nationwide, school systems are trying to find ways to integrate handicapped students into regular classrooms. As St. Bernard schools learned with Gerald, that's not always easy.
In January, at his mother's request, Gerald was removed from a preschool for children ages three to six with a wide range of handicaps and placed in a regular classroom at Carolyn Park.
"He was in a class with children who were in diapers," Penelope Passero said. "Children who couldn't talk, couldn't walk.... He went on field trips with just them. He learned what they learned." Gerald wasn't being challenged academically, she said. "He would come home and say, `Mama, I want homework. Mama, I want to go to kindergarten,'" Passero said. "I want Gerald to be able to learn everything. He's so normal."
Teachers agreed it was a good idea to move Gerald into the regular kindergarten class. "There's nothing wrong with his learning ability," said Trina Claycomb, his special class teacher at Gauthier Elementary. And his regular kindergarten teacher at Carolyn Park, Tabitha Osbourne, agreed: "He's a very bright student."
But that wasn't enough. Although he's a smart kid, Gerald had trouble keeping up with his sighted classmates. As a consequence of a late start in kindergarten and too many absences, Gerald won't join his classmates in first grade next year; he has to repeat kindergarten. Glaucoma and cataracts caused the youngster to lose his sight. He became totally blind at age 3. He doesn't know how to read because he knows only half of his alphabet in Braille. While the other children learned to read books, Gerald sat in the back of the class wearing headphones to listen to his books.
Osbourne said she sometimes felt frustrated trying to teach Gerald math because, while she had a few Braille materials, she didn't have hands-on materials that would help her explain concepts. So while the other children worked, Gerald sometimes stood alone in the corner, running his fingers over toys. "I've got twenty-something other children in my classroom," Osbourne said. "I've never taught a blind child."
Carolyn Park Principal Katherine Thornton said she was apprehensive when she learned she'd be getting Gerald in a regular classroom at her school. "He can't see," she said. "We were very, very nervous. We were worried about his falling down or running into a pole."
As a resource teacher for visually impaired children, Plaiscia tried to ease the transition. She helped Gerald find his way around the school, ordered special materials for him, and gave him lessons in Braille. But with only two teachers to work with all of the twenty-two visually impaired public school students, Plaiscia had only about an hour to spend with Gerald twice a week.
Pam Dubel, youth services director for the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana, said a youngster can't learn much in that time. "No wonder he doesn't know his Braille," Dubel said. "You wouldn't think of teaching a sighted kid who's in kindergarten reading only twice a week and expect him to pass.
"It's not the resource teacher's fault," she said, explaining that nationwide there are too few teachers to provide the specialized help that blind students need. "School systems say that they don't have the money, but parents need to fight for more certified teachers so their children can have more time. That child should be with his Braille teacher at least one hour every day," she said.
Passero said she'd been fighting to make sure Gerald gets a fair and equal education since she learned she had a right to take him out of the special preschool class.
Janice Campagna, head of the school system's special education program, said the local public school system is doing the best it can with the financing it gets. She said more federal money for the special education program would mean more equipment and materials for students with special needs.
"We don't have a special school for the blind." Campagna said. "Philosophically, they should be integrated in regular education. It would be wonderful if colleges prepared regular education teachers for students who are blind."
Plaiscia said she spends much of her time squelching teachers' fears about teaching visually impaired students.
"I'm like a counselor to these teachers," she said. Osbourne, who isn't teaching Gerald next year because her one-year contract with the school system has expired, said having him in her class was a learning experience for her and the other students.
When she found out she was getting Gerald, she blindfolded her students and told them: "That's what Gerald sees." They read books about children with physical impairments. And in time they saw that Gerald could find his way around the classroom and the school as well as they could.
"The important thing to remember is that Gerald just learns in a different way," she said.
by James H. Omvig
From the Editor: Jim Omvig is the former director of both the Orientation and Adjustment Center operated by the Iowa Commission for the Blind, Des Moines, Iowa, and the Alaska Center for Blind and Deaf Adults, Anchorage, Alaska. He has been involved in one way or another in all facets of work with the blind for more than thirty-five years. He is now one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona. This is what he says:
The state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona was held in Tucson over the weekend of September 5, 6, and 7, 1997. State President Bruce Gardner asked me to give a presentation on the new Braille provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was recently reauthorized by Congress and signed into law. The NFB had worked hard to have the language on Braille included, and the fact that we now have tough federal Braille legislation to go with the state Braille bills is a credit to the organized blind movement.
This assignment, together with some damning statistics which I reviewed in preparation for my presentation, caused me to engage in some serious reflection on the staggering illiteracy rate among our nation's blind children and young adults.
Before turning to a discussion of this crisis and my thoughts concerning the reason or reasons for it, let me offer a word or two about Braille and my experiences with it. In far too many circles over the years, I have heard people say, "Braille is too hard to learn." "Braille is too slow." "Braille is too bulky." "Braille is outdated and is no longer necessary." "Braille is not cool!" And on, and on, and on....
Let me tell you two of my own experiences with Braille. First, I grew up in a small farming town in Iowa. By the time I was fifteen years of age, I was so blind that I could no longer even pretend to function successfully in the public school, so I was enrolled in the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School to complete my last three-and-a-half years of high school.
Unbelievable as it sounds, even though I could read no more than fifteen or twenty words a minute of very large-print material for no more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a sitting and, further, even though everyone knew I would be totally blind one day, I was not taught Braille at this remarkable institution. The attitude of the school was, "Let him be normal (sighted) as long as he can."
My parents knew, of course, that I would be totally blind one day, so they were justifiably concerned about my lack of training. However, when my mother wrote to the school requesting that I be taught Braille, she was told, "He can always learn Braille when he really needs it."
Therefore, since I was unable to read my own school books and papers, I got through high school by having literate students (using either Braille or print) read aloud to me. By the time I graduated, I was nearly totally blind and therefore could read neither print nor Braille at all.
My second personal experience involves learning the Braille code itself, when I was twenty-six years old. After having sat at home for eight years in idleness and frustration following my graduation from the school for the blind, I had enrolled to become a student in the Iowa Orientation and Adjustment Center for Blind Adults, and I was to enter on March 15, 1961. Three weeks before I was to begin, my rehabilitation counselor gave me books (the old Illinois Series) with which to learn Braille. His argument was simple, "You could just as well do something useful with your time while you are waiting, so why don't you learn Braille?"
I went at it with gusto, and in the three weeks available to me I memorized the entire Braille code. I couldn't read or write very fast, of course, but I had committed the system itself to memory. Therefore, when somebody says that it's too hard to learn Braille, I know from personal experience that this assertion is incorrect--that it is just plain folly.
Then there is the question of whether Braille is too slow. I hadn't been a student at the Iowa Center long when I heard Dr. Kenneth Jernigan read Braille as fast as he could waggle his tongue. Through the ensuing years I have met many blind people who can read Braille just as rapidly as the sighted read print. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, these people all share a common experience--they all learned to read and write and use Braille when they were tiny children.
In my own case it took me a month or so to read with any speed at all, but I was also mastering the skill at twenty-six years of age. Two other students and I practiced together for two or three hours each night in addition to the classes we had during the day, so before long we had developed a reasonable speed.
I went on to use Braille all through college and law school, and it stood me in good stead. I took all class notes (ten or twelve pages an hour in law school) using the slate and stylus. I continued to use Braille as an essential tool throughout my working life, and I rely upon it heavily to this day.
Now, back to my thoughts about the illiteracy crisis. As I began to prepare for my State Convention presentation, I ran across startling and damning statistics. In 1968 (the first year for which accurate data are available), 44 percent of all blind children across America could use Braille. Although it is pure speculation on my part, I suspect that the percentage in the 1930's and 1940's (before large print came along) would have been much nearer to 100 percent.
In any event, by 1996 the percentage had dropped from the outrageously low 44 percent in 1968 to a devastating 9 percent--a national disgrace, a tragedy, a crisis!
And the percentage of those unable to use either large print or Braille had increased by the same tragic proportions. While 9 percent of the blind children in America could use neither print nor Braille in 1968, this figure had risen to an abysmal forty percent by 1996. Why? What could have gone so terribly wrong with our programs to educate the blind and partially blind? There has to be a reason, or reasons, and, whatever they are, the situation borders on the criminal.
As I thought about the problem and considered a whole series of negative factors which have contributed to the crisis, an idea emerged and crystallized. While there are several symptoms of the problem to examine, there is really only one overriding problem: our educational system has adopted (intentionally or otherwise) a bad philosophy about reading and writing for partially blind children. Over time this bad philosophy has actually evolved into an unwritten, but very damaging, national policy--"Use print at any cost!"
Just think of it. The education establishment evolved a bad philosophy which has gradually become a national policy concerning literacy for partially blind kids. As I look back at my own experience at the Iowa School for the Blind, "Use print at any cost" was the philosophy in place. Never mind that the cost was high and that the child with a little residual vision was forced to pay it. That philosophy had become the school's policy, and the administration was unwilling or incapable of altering it, no matter what.
Once I realized that the basic cause of the crisis was actually an entire unwritten national policy, it was easy to see why we have sunk to the current crisis level. And as I examined the problem, five specific pieces of the macabre puzzle emerged as comprising the sorry whole.
The first ingredient has to do with consumerism, or in this case, the lack of it. If you truly wish to set good policy, you must begin by asking for information from those who know the subject and whose lives are affected by the policy.
If professionals in the education of blind children had thought to consult blind adults in the late 1940's and early 1950's, I suspect that the entire use-print-at-any-cost fiasco might have been avoided. Informed adults would have pressed for literacy through continued Braille instruction, and the whole sight-saving (large-print) movement could have been given its proper, modest emphasis. But of course the system did not seek out information from the true experts, and the first major error, which led to the mistaken policy, was made.
The second ingredient leading to the current crisis was the large-print movement itself. It was in the late 1940's and early 1950's that the use-print-at-any-cost philosophy took root and became national policy. It was this bad policy at the Iowa school which prompted officials to refuse to give me Braille. If I had come to the school only a few years earlier, Braille instruction would have been a given. I simply had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately my experience was not unique; it became the norm.
Once this bad philosophy became a national policy, it picked up momentum like a steamroller. The third critical factor leading to the current crisis was the introduction of the concept of vision stimulation. The theorists figured that, if our national policy for blind children with some residual vision was to use print at any cost, "Then let's see if we can't make these blind kids see better so that they can read print better." The effort was actually to make kids see better through practice and training. This was the natural extension of the original bad policy; but of course it didn't work. You can see what you can see, and no amount of trying or straining or pleading can make you see any better.
In my adult rehabilitation work, I met lots of young blind people who had experienced emotional damage from instructional and family effort to make them see what they could not see. Thankfully, this ill-conceived piece of the use-print-at-any-cost policy is on its way out.
The best evidence that vision stimulation is finished is this: Recently Dr. Kay Ferrell of the University of Northern Colorado wrote an article entitled, "A Call to End Vision Stimulation Training." The article appeared in the American Foundation for the Blind's Point/Counterpoint section of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. Ferrell is widely respected. We can only hope that her views on vision stimulation will spread and that the fixation on such training will die a speedy and unlamented death.
The fourth factor involves technology. Technology for the blind, of course, is a wonderful and useful thing when it is understood and used properly. But when it is used as a substitute for the ability to read and write competently, it can cause much damage, and it has certainly done so.
In fact, with the overuse of technology (chiefly the cassette player) came a small but significant shift in emphasis and intention of the original national print policy. With the embrace of technology, we moved beyond the original use-print-at-any-cost national policy to one, in the minds of many, of avoid-Braille-at-all-cost.
Finally, the fifth ingredient is simply the natural and logical (though disastrous) extension of the first four. If we don't seek information from those who know what kind of policy we should establish as we are establishing it; if we determine that large print is better than Braille, no matter how inefficient and slow it is; if we decide that, since print is preferred no matter the cost, we should simply make blind children "see better"; and if we determine that technology is an adequate substitute for literacy, it logically follows that teachers of the blind don't need to be particularly skilled in or able to use or teach Braille. So we have had more than a generation of specialists who, since they were not good at Braille themselves, failed to give Braille proper emphasis and frequently failed to teach it at all.
These five ingredients, then, have emerged and flourished under our use-print-at-any-cost policy, and thousands of blind children have been the losers. The lives of many have been damaged forever.
Where do we go from here? Can something be done to reverse the trend, to get rid of this destructive policy and to bring sanity back into the education of blind children?
Thankfully, there is good news, and we still have a chance. Extremely positive action is occurring on several fronts. First, Dr. Ruby Ryles of Louisiana Tech University has just completed what is probably the most significant Braille research project of the century. She studied a large group of high school students. Her study shows that partially blind kids who learn and use Braille from infancy are so far ahead of those partially blind students who use regular or large print (in reading speed, comprehension, retention, spelling, grammar, etc.), that there is simply nothing to compare or to argue about. In fact, her study shows that, unlike the blind large-print users, those who have learned and used Braille from infancy function on a par with kids who have ordinary vision. The blind print users aren't even on the same playing field.
Since the university masters' programs from throughout the country which train teachers of the blind rely upon objective testing rather than opinion, our past efforts to convince the instructors that Braille is better have usually fallen on deaf ears. However, now that the proof is available as the result of a major, objective, professional study, perhaps we can expect positive change in instructional philosophy and policy.
Then there is the new Braille language in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act itself. It requires that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each blind student in America will no longer start with a presumption that print will be taught. The IEP for blind children will automatically provide for Braille instruction and the use of Braille unless all members of the IEP team determine, following a complete assessment, that Braille is not appropriate for this youngster.
Finally, we have our National Federation of the Blind state Braille bills. Many require that textbook publishers provide the school district with electronic versions so that Braille texts can be made available inexpensively and quickly. Before long, one would hope, virtually all publishers will provide disks of textbooks routinely. And, to address the problem of teachers who don't promote and teach Braille because they don't know it themselves, many of our new state laws require that special education teachers for the blind pass Braille competency tests in order to teach.
If we are persistent, if we are vigilant, and if we continue our concerted action, working through the National Federation of the Blind we can eliminate the destructive national print policy and replace it with a policy which more appropriately and positively meets the needs of our blind children--a national policy which states that Braille is blind people's true method of literacy and our passport to freedom and independence.
by Barbara Tomovick
From the Editor: Tina Blatter is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota. She lives in Sioux Falls, where her work was displayed at the Civic Fine Arts Center on September 7. The following article about her and her work first appeared in the May 8, 1997, edition of the Rapid City Journal. Here it is:
Tina Blatter imagined the north wind as a blue face with puffed-up cheeks, then transformed the picture in her mind, strip by strip, into a solid, three-dimensional work of papier-mache art.
At Southwest Middle School in Rapid City, where Blatter is doing a week-long Artist-in-Schools residency, students were impressed, not only by the expressive north wind mask, but by the hands that had made it.
In many ways Blatter's hands are her eyes. Legally blind since birth, she sees color and light but not detail. She uses a white cane but can quickly memorize a room and move through it with ease.
The five days at Southwest this week are enough for Blatter to teach students to make masks of their own, winding glue-dipped strips of newspaper around balloons to form heads. They'll add facial features and paint by week's end.
But the art project, valuable in itself, is only secondary, said Southwest art teacher Doris MacDonald. The primary reason she brought Blatter, forty-four, into her classes was to broaden students' perception of what is possible.
"It's just amazing how she can do it," MacDonald said of Blatter, an award-winning artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally.
It took a little while for the kids to get used to calling out "Tina" instead of raising their hands to get her attention. But on the first day Blatter and the class talked about what it's like to have a disability and the lessons that can be learned from it.
She told the students, "Everyone needs help with something. Everyone's different. We all have to be creative in finding ways to do things."
The message got through to Ross Palmer, who said, "It's kind of hard to be blind, to get around places. She has to buy a lot of different stuff--talking stuff (such as a computer) and a special (Braille) watch."
But blindness is not an obstacle to a full life, he realized. "It's kind of amazing what people can do art-wise."
Jaimie Didier also expressed admiration for Blatter, "She has neat ideas. She's just, like, really creative, and I think it's just really cool how she does this stuff."
Katie Ruedebusch said Blatter is a good artist and teacher, who encourages students to use their imaginations. "It's like your own creation, and you can make it whatever you want," she said of the mask project.
Blatter is delighted to find herself teaching art, an ambition that long seemed beyond her reach. In college in her native New York state, she majored in elementary and special education, then earned a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, putting away any thought of studying art.
"I didn't think anyone would take me seriously," she said.
Nonetheless, a persistent creative urge kept her busy at the easel, developing her own techniques and becoming increasingly aware of the need to add texture to her paintings--to make touchable art for the visually impaired, who are shut off from museum displays.
Experimentation with built-up lines of gold and silver paint, pebbles, shells, beads, sequins, and Braille writing led to her "tactile collages," signature pieces designed to please the eye as well as the hand.
"When I have exhibits, I always say, `Please touch,'" she said.
Inspired by French painter Henri Matisse, who she said turned to cut paper as his vision faded, she began using bright foils in two-dimensional images that gleam like stained glass.
In 1990 she moved to the Denver area from Baltimore, Maryland, refined her collage techniques, and began teaching in schools and other institutions.
"I started getting out into the community and talking about being blind and doing art, about finding hope that there are other ways of doing things," Blatter said.
Her work took her as far as Brussels, Belgium. Since moving to Sioux Falls a year and a half ago, she has conducted workshops through the South Dakota Arts Council.
And although she has much to show young people about art and life, she gets as much as she gives from working with students, she said.
"They gave me so many ideas."
by Suzanne Rowell
From the Editor: What does it take to make a Federationist? Sometimes the chemistry is such that a person knows that he or she belongs in this movement as soon as the philosophy is explained. Sometimes it takes a personal crisis and powerful injustice. This is a story of such an experience. Suzanne Rowell is now an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. The following article appeared in the Spring, 1997, edition of The Federationist in Connecticut, a publication of the NFB of Connecticut. This is the way it happened:
Five years ago I was a typical, carefree, fun-loving, self-involved nineteen-year-old. My life consisted of myself. Then I became aware that I was slowly becoming blind. The next thing I knew, I was spending hour upon hour in doctors' offices, waiting rooms, and operating rooms. Each day a little piece of my world slipped away into the shadows. I was okay, though. I would be the same person I was before my loss of sight. My main determination was just to go on with life.
One might think such a positive attitude would be a very good thing, and in a lot of ways I believe it helped me not to let blindness stop me from living a full life. Unfortunately, society had a very different attitude towards my lack of vision.
I couldn't understand where society had gotten the idea that a blind person was helpless. Throughout my progressive loss I had learned to cope with performing daily living tasks without effective vision, yet it was not until my total blindness that the doctors gave in and turned me in the direction of rehabilitation services. I began learning Braille and started traveling with a white cane, but I did not like it and would usually travel with a sighted guide. This greatly interfered with my independence, as well as with my self-esteem. I got a guide dog and went back to school. I still traveled in the same crowd, but at school no one seemed to know how to instruct a blind person in mathematics courses. Yet it was a required course for my degree of study. I contacted my rehabilitation teacher; she had a master's degree, so I figured she ought to know. She informed me that her math courses had been waived. This didn't make much sense to me when I was required to complete my math courses. I questioned the reliability of state services.
I realized that I could not avoid my math courses. I went into class alone for the first two weeks with no book on tape. My Braille skills were not developed yet. I remember the first day of class my teacher informed me that math was a visual subject and that she didn't know quite how to approach the matter. She asked me if I was truly blind.
It was inevitable that I would be tested. I made arrangements for an oral test to be taken at the disability office. The day of the test I walked in, sat down with a volunteer from that office, and began my test. I got to about question four and realized that the volunteer could not read the test properly. She couldn't remember which was a greater-than sign and which was a less-than sign. I consulted with the disability coordinator and told her it was unreasonable to expect me to function under these circumstances. About a week later a visual aid was provided, and I worked well with her. The teacher who had said math was a visual subject approached me at the end of the semester and told me that she had enjoyed working with me and that her attitude had been greatly altered by having a blind student in her classroom. She wished me success in the future.
My math experience was hardly over, though. I had tackled three math courses and received A's in all, but the school required two higher-level math courses. My scribe was not qualified to work with me. It was the end of the spring semester, and I had registered for my fall courses. The school policy was to request assistance six weeks before the beginning of the semester. I told the disabilities coordinator that I would need assistance and left for summer break. What did she do? Nothing.
I returned for the fall semester, and on the first day of classes, I went into two math courses alone. It was supposed to be the last semester before I received my associate's degree and could go on to another school for my bachelor's. These courses were very technical. I was told by the disabilities office that they were unable to find a qualified individual to assist me. I was enrolled in a logic and probability course and a statistics course. I realized the first day that it was just not going to work. I spent weeks fighting with the disability coordinator, whose coordination skills I found lacking. I was treated as if I was asking for something unreasonable, and I was soon told that the school had gone above and beyond what was required of them. I couldn't believe it.
I called the state agency and informed my rehab counselor that I needed her help. She said it was the college's responsibility to provide services because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and her hands were tied. She couldn't see me for at least two weeks.
I had attended a few meetings of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut since my vision loss, but I had never been enthusiastic about getting involved. I knew they did good work, so I sent my dues in and avoided going to any of the Federation functions. I was nearly done with my degree, and I refused to be defeated. I called the East Hartford Community Outreach Office of the NFBC and was put in touch with Paula Krauss. Paula is blind, a member of the NFBC, and an advocate for blind people in Connecticut who are faced with discrimination. That call changed my life and attitude towards my blindness and the National Federation of the Blind. Paula contacted the college and state services, and radical changes took place. People cleared their schedules for me. I no longer had to wait two weeks for my state rehab worker to get to me. The college wanted to know what services I needed.
I arranged a meeting with the college staff and informed them that I would be represented by my advocate Paula Krauss. The disability coordinator said she needed time to organize. I demanded a meeting now. I was ready, so why weren't they? Paula represented me at that meeting, and services were put in place.
My number systems teacher was glad to see me still in his course. He was of the opinion that I added a new perspective to his classroom, and he valued my input. My statistics teacher unfortunately was not of the same opinion. He asked me to draw graphs on my test. After I had my scribe draw them from my descriptions, my teacher tore them up. He deducted as many points as he could, yet the other students in my class seemed to think he was generous in correcting their exams. I was under great scrutiny. In class he became frustrated when I followed his lecture so closely that I actually understood the material. When he prompted answers from the students in class, I would answer if I thought I knew the answer. Then he said he wasn't talking to me and I couldn't even see the board, so how did I know what he was talking about? He once told the class, after I had answered, "What is this, the blind leading the blind? She can see it but none of you can?"
I finally stopped answering questions. Then I went into class one day, and the teacher told us to get our books out. Since I did all my work outside the classroom with a tutor, I did not have my book. He said if we didn't have our book or we couldn't see the table, we wouldn't be able to understand anything further in today's lecture. It was lunch time, I was hungry, and I'd had it. I packed up my stuff and left. When I called Paula and told her every discriminatory comment I had heard throughout the semester, she called the professor. He admitted his discomfort with me and my blindness and said that he thought I should finish the course out of his classroom. Paula informed the school that this was discrimination. Thanks to her intervention I completed the course material and passed his class.
Because of this experience I became a full-fledged Federationist, and I began to realize the importance of a support system. It is respectable to be blind. It is also my right to have a fully integrated education. I have learned to stand up for what I believe in. I am hopeful for future generations of blind people, and I am grateful for the leaders who are guiding us into a brighter day.
by Greg Trapp
From the Editor: Greg Trapp has been a staff attorney with the Protection and Advocacy System of New Mexico since 1992. In 1993 he taught disability law as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Closed Circuit Television Systems (CCTV's) can be helpful to some people. The following information may be useful to those seeking the means of financing this equipment. This is what Greg says:
In this era of decreasing state and federal budgets, it is increasingly necessary for blind people to explore alternative ways to fund assistive technology. An assistive-technology device is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capability of a person with a disability. If the device serves a medical purpose, it may also meet the definition of "durable medical equipment" (DME). A closed circuit television can be included within the definitions of assistive technology and durable medical equipment.
A closed circuit television (CCTV) may enable some people who are legally blind or who have low vision to read printed materials. It uses a camera and television screen to create an enlarged image of printed text. It can also enhance contrast by placing white letters over a black background. If you could benefit from having a CCTV at home, you might be able to obtain one through your private medical insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. These funding sources should be considered along with more traditional funding methods such as vocational rehabilitation or through an employer as a reasonable accommodation. Since a CCTV can cost over $3,000, medical insurance may be the only practical way for many people to obtain a home CCTV.
For some people a properly used CCTV can be a valuable tool which can enhance productivity and independence. However, it is necessary to understand the limitations of a CCTV. Keep in mind that a CCTV magnifies only a small portion of text at a time and that usually the reader must physically move the item being read beneath the camera. Prolonged reading with a CCTV may also cause eyestrain and headaches. For these reasons reading with a CCTV can be slow and inefficient. Accordingly, a CCTV is often more appropriate for elderly persons who have lost vision later in life and who have not developed more efficient alternative techniques.
Despite its limitations a CCTV can be an effective supplement to other reading methods such as using Braille, tapes, scanners, electronic text, and sighted readers. A CCTV can be especially useful for reading and filling out forms, reading small amounts of text, and writing checks. A CCTV can also be an effective alternative to the use of large print or hand-held magnifiers.
Some school-aged children may be able to benefit from a CCTV. However, children who improperly use a CCTV could actually have their educational development impaired. For instance, there is often a strong tendency to encourage blind children to read using partial vision instead of using more efficient methods such as Braille. Unfortunately some parents find it painful to recognize that their visually impaired child is actually legally blind and in need of Braille. In addition, some school districts are often reluctant to pay for teachers who have the expertise needed to teach Braille, arguing that a CCTV (or other adaptive equipment) makes teaching Braille unnecessary. A tragically common situation is a child with a degenerative eye condition whose teacher ignores Braille in favor of having the child use her remaining vision even though the vision is likely ultimately to be lost entirely. In such a case, improper reliance on a CCTV when Braille should be taught could limit the child's ultimate Braille proficiency.
Regardless of the age of the person seeking to obtain a CCTV, the individual should be evaluated by a qualified low-vision professional to determine if a CCTV would be appropriate. The evaluation should include consideration of factors such as whether the visual condition is degenerative, whether the condition is stable from day to day, whether eyestrain will be incurred as a result of using the equipment, and whether the person can use the CCTV efficiently. Most important, the evaluator must appreciate the benefits of Braille and speech devices in order to insure that the evaluation will be balanced.
In order to obtain medical insurance coverage for a CCTV, you must have a physician prescribe a CCTV to treat the visual condition. The first step in the process is to determine whether your medical insurance could classify a CCTV as a medical device within the scope of covered services. This process is similar for private health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare. Accordingly, because the processes are similar and since Medicare operates much like a private insurance program, this article will focus on the process under Medicare.
Medicare is divided into two parts. Part A pays for hospital stays and home health care. The latter coverage can include payment for durable medical equipment. Part B coverage can also include payment for DME, as well as coverage of prosthetic devices.
The Medicare description of DME includes devices such as iron lungs, hospital beds, and wheelchairs. In order for a device to be classified as DME, it must be able to withstand repeated use, be primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose, be generally not useful to an individual in the absence of an illness or injury, be appropriate for use in the home, and be necessary and reasonable for the treatment of an illness or injury or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member. A CCTV can meet all of these criteria. A physician must prescribe the CCTV, include it in a treatment plan, and supervise its use. If these requirements are met, Medicare can pay for a CCTV as an item of durable medical equipment.
Medicare may also cover a CCTV as a "prosthetic device." Medicare defines prosthetic devices as devices which replace all or part of the function of a permanently inoperative or malfunctioning external body member or internal body organ. For instance, Medicare covers pacemakers as prosthetic devices, even though a pacemaker does not replace the heart. Likewise a contact lens prescribed after cataract surgery is also covered as a prosthetic device since the contact replaces the function of the natural lens. Accordingly a CCTV may be covered as a prosthetic device since it replaces the functioning of the damaged portion of the eye.
Once you determine that a CCTV may fall within the scope of a covered service, you must next obtain a prescription from a physician. In order to obtain a prescription, the CCTV must be reasonable and necessary. A CCTV is already recognized as a treatment for certain types of visual impairments. For example, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes the CCTV as a prosthetic device. In addition, the CCTV is not a comfort item. A comfort item is an item such as a tape recorder which does not contribute to the treatment of the visual condition. By contrast a CCTV is a treatment for the damaged portion of the eye. It does not matter if you will use the CCTV for recreational reading.
Medicare also functions like most private health insurance providers in the way claims are processed. You must normally first purchase the CCTV from an approved Medicare supplier, then file a claim for reimbursement. However, some Medicare suppliers will order medical equipment while awaiting payment from Medicare. Medicaid differs from this process in that you must first obtain prior approval before you can purchase a CCTV. Medicare will send the CCTV reimbursement claim (along with supporting documentation) to a Durable Medical Equipment Regional Carrier (DMERC). The DMERC will determine if the CCTV is covered and is reasonable and necessary. Reasonable means that it is the lowest priced item that will meet your medical need. Necessary refers to the medical need established by your physician. The DMERC will then determine the reasonable cost of the CCTV.
Unlike Medicaid, which pays in full, Medicare subjects you to a deductible of $100 and a 20 percent co-payment. From the cost determined by the DMERC, Medicare will pay you an 80 percent reimbursement after the $100 deductible. If the supplier has agreed to "accept assignment," the supplier will only charge the amount determined by the DMERC. However, suppliers who have not accepted assignment are allowed to charge above the amount determined by the DMERC, and you will be responsible for the additional charge. Suppliers who have agreed to accept assignment are listed in the Medicare Participating Physicians/Suppliers Directory (MEDPARD), which you can request from the DMERC. In some circumstances Medicare may allow or require rental of a CCTV.
Requests for CCTV's are often denied. However, you have the right to appeal, and Medicare appeals are often successful when pursued beyond the initial appeal levels. For instance, as long ago as 1980 a Medicare beneficiary successfully appealed the denial of a CCTV. (Medicare Fair Hearing Decision, HIC No. 062-44-0658-A, 1980.) If you receive a denial, the letter of denial will explain the appeal process, and you should carefully meet all deadlines and follow all procedures. The appeal procedure is different depending on whether the claim is under Part A or Part B. The first level of appeal under Part B is to request a review. The next level is to a hearing officer. Since a CCTV costs more than $500, claimants under Part B have the right to continue to appeal by requesting a hearing before a federal administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ level affords you the greatest chance of success. If the ALJ appeal is not successful, you may request a review by the Appeals Council. The final appeal level is to federal court. The appeal process under Part A is somewhat similar but begins with a request for reconsideration. If the denial of the CCTV is under Medicaid, you also have the right to appeal. In addition, most private insurers also have appeal procedures. Regardless of the funding source and appeal procedure, you should be persistent and not take "no" for an answer.
The CCTV can be a valuable tool and has a place in the arsenal of alternative techniques. By being persistent, you may be able to obtain medical insurance funding for a CCTV. The immediate goal is to expand the choices you have. The ultimate goal is to enhance your productivity and maximize your potential.
From the Editor: The October issue of the New Beacon, the monthly publication of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, carried a stop-press story reflecting the ongoing support European organizations of blind people are demonstrating for our position on the Disney Company's plan to release a live action movie starring Leslie Nielsen as Mr. Magoo. (See the October, 1997, Braille Monitor for a full discussion of the Magoo struggle.) Norbert Mueller went home to Germany following our convention vowing to see what he could do to alert his blind countrymen to the situation. Now the NFB of the United Kingdom is weighing in. Here is the New Beacon article:
Magoo Presents Out-of-Date and Alien Image, Says Federation
The National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom is calling upon Walt Disney Corporation not to show the feature length live-action comedy film Mr. Magoo, based on the cartoon character. The Federation believes that the character portrayed is detrimental to blind and partially sighted people.
The Federation's response follows a similar reaction from the National Federation of the Blind of America, which earlier described the film as an insult to blind people. The American Federation has also voted at its annual convention to demand a ban on the showing of the film.
The Mr. Magoo character, well-known from cartoons, is played in the new film by Leslie Nielsen. He is a bumbling but cheerful millionaire who blithely survives the scrapes which appear to be caused by his short-sightedness.
The National Federation of the Blind--the largest campaigning organization of blind and partially sighted people in the UK, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year--said that it had fought alongside other organizations of and for blind people to squash the Mr. Magoo image, which caused great offence in the past to blind and partially sighted people, and did not want Walt Disney to re-introduce Mr. Magoo into this country.
In its press statement last month, the Federation said:
"Over the past fifty years the mass media, given the time and space, have helped to improve the image of blind and partially sighted people, and blind people themselves have achieved a positive role in society by actively taking part in the lives of their communities, in employment, and social activities. Blind people have jobs in all walks of life, including being school teachers, physiotherapists, social workers, piano tuners, computer specialists, lawyers, accountants, and running their own businesses. The Chairman of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, John Wall CBE, himself totally blind, is a Judge, and our Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett MP, is also totally blind.
"Many blind and partially sighted people of all ages participate in leisure and sporting activities at local, national, and international levels, from elderly people playing cards, chess, or bingo to the more athletic taking part in golf, swimming, bowls, skiing, mountain climbing, sailing, dancing, rambling, tandem riding, etc.
"Although the media present a positive image, many members of the general public do not have understanding and are not aware of the capabilities shown by blind and partially sighted people. Only last week flat owners living in Bournemouth petitioned against a blind lady who wanted to buy a flat within their complex on the grounds that she would be a potential fire risk. Ironically, Mrs. Jill Allen King MBE, Public Relations Officer for the National Federation of the Blind UK, herself totally blind, said that at the National Consumer Congress held at Sheffield University a few years ago, when the fire alarms went off at 3 o'clock in the morning and all the lights failed, it was Jill who led the sighted delegates down three flights of stairs to safety. As many of the residents of the flats in Bournemouth are likely to be elderly, the chances are that some of them would have poor vision and would not necessarily be able to cope as well as Mrs Tandy, against whom they have petitioned.
"Walt Disney is a well respected name in the UK and has produced enjoyable films for many years. The Federation feels that their good reputation would be tarnished by the remaking of the Mr. Magoo feature film. We sincerely hope, therefore, that they will reconsider their decision to launch this feature film in the New Year.
"If Walt Disney do go ahead with this feature of Mr. Magoo, it will be going against the principles of the new Disability Discrimination Act introduced in this country in 1995. Since the Act came into force, a different attitude towards disability has come into being, and, in the opinion of the National Federation of the Blind, any Mr. Magoo film is likely to present an out-of-date image of blind and partially sighted people alien to today's world."
by Mary Ellen Gabias
From the Editor: The following story is taken from Like Cats and Dogs, the latest in the NFB's Kernel Book series of paperbacks. It begins with Dr. Jernigan's introduction:
Mary Ellen Gabias has held a variety of responsible jobs. She has worked for a state legislature and has been an administrator of a program which helps blind people find employment. Today she is a wife and mother with three small children. In her story, "Delivering The Coffee," she reminds us that it isn't always the great events of life that make the difference. Here is how she describes her own personal journey to confidence:
I was lucky. My parents always believed I could do great things. When I wrote my first composition in elementary school, my mother was very proud. She said that I could work hard and become a famous writer. She had it all planned. I would write the Great American Novel and make enough from it to support her and Dad in their old age.
I began learning French in Grade 3. My parents imagined me working as an interpreter at the United Nations. I became a political junkie in the seventh grade and began working on political campaigns in high school. My parents reminded me that I should not forget good ethics when I was elected to Congress. My parents definitely believed that I was capable of doing extraordinary things with my life.
It was the ordinary things that gave them trouble. I was expected to dust furniture, but my mother gave up on teaching me how to sweep floors when I couldn't get the hang of using a dustpan. I took my turn washing and drying dishes, but my sighted brothers were all expected to clear the table. It just seemed so much easier to do that job with sight.
I learned how to measure, pour, stir, and chop. I did not learn how to use the gas stove. In fact my mother always thought I would have to marry a rich man, who could afford to hire a cook and housekeeper. Either that, or I should stay single and live at home.
My parents were quite progressive compared with some of the other adults I knew. They expected me to be responsible for myself and my actions. They pushed me to do more than I thought a blind person could do. They stood up to other adults who called them cruel for letting me play tag and roller skate. All in all, they were terrific.
But they had never heard of the National Federation of the Blind. They had very limited contact with blind adults who were earning a living and managing their own lives. The local agency for the blind had a very custodial approach. They organized picnics, but the people with the most sight served them food and cleaned up afterwards.
The totally blind people were taken to a bench and encouraged to sit there and wait to be served. My parents knew that I could do more than the agency thought a blind person could do, but they didn't know how much more.
I was a typical adolescent. I felt ugly and awkward, and I was sure that every blemish on my nose made me a social pariah. With their usual patience and understanding, my parents reminded me that I wasn't the only kid who'd ever had a pimple. But blindness made me stand out more than any adolescent wants to stand out.
My parents helped me to understand that being different from everyone else could be tremendously positive, provided the differences were based on excellence and achievement. I came to believe that, if I were only good enough at everything I tried, people would forget I was blind and treat me like everyone else.
I became active in the Junior Achievement program. High school students in Junior Achievement work with representatives of local companies to form their own small businesses. The businesses make a product or provide a service throughout the school year. If they are successful, they make a profit. If not, they go the way of many failed small businesses. Needless to say, the whole program is permeated with the spirit of friendly competition.
I was in Junior Achievement for three years. I worked hard and entered every competition for which I was eligible. In my senior year the other students in my company elected me executive vice president. I was very excited. This proved to me that people would forget I was blind if I was good enough at what I did.
Our company produced a radio show, which was aired on a local station. It was a lot of fun. Everyone had a turn being disc jockey for the week. We sold radio advertising. We produced a company annual report. Our officers competed with the officers of ninety-three other companies for the title of "Officer of the Year." I won. Out of ninety-four executive vice presidents in northwestern Ohio, the judges chose me. What more proof did I need that blindness could be forgotten?
Then the wind was knocked out of my sails. I was told that I could not attend the National Junior Achievement Conference along with the other contest winners. They were afraid to be responsible for a blind person. They said I could go if I was willing to be the only student among the 2,000 who attended from around the country to come with their parents.
The conference organizers said they might let me eat with the other students, provided the food was not "too difficult." I could not stay with them on the college campus where the conference was being held. I would have to stay in a motel with my parents. I learned the hard way that others do not forget about blindness, particularly when they do not understand it. I was not willing to attend the conference under such humiliating circumstances. My confidence was badly shaken. If being the best wasn't good enough, what could I do?
I first heard about the National Federation of the Blind when I was a university freshman. I read Federation literature with increasing excitement. Here were blind people succeeding despite obstacles thrown in their way. They weren't asking anyone to forget that they were blind. They were not asking for special favors or to be taken care of by others. They were prepared to do their share of the work and to help take care of others in need.
As I met other members of the National Federation of the Blind, I began to understand what real self-confidence means. I did not have to struggle to be perfect at everything I tried in order to feel acceptable to others. I needed to strive for excellence because doing my best was the right thing to do. I met people who were doing things which I admired. Some were succeeding in careers I never dreamed possible for a blind person. Others were doing the ordinary work of everyday living with skill and grace.
Sometimes it is the small moments which make the largest impact. I was attending the Federation's National Convention during the summer I graduated from college. The Presidential Suite was a place for convention delegates to gather, make friends, and conduct business with the President.
There was always a pot of coffee on hand to serve visitors. I dropped by the suite to say hello to friends. Someone asked for a cup of coffee, and the person in charge said to me "Will you get that, Mary Ellen?"
That simple request threw me into a dither. I was an honors graduate of a large state university. I'd travelled by myself across the country. But I had never before carried a steaming cup of coffee across a crowded room. Yet someone had asked me to do just that. I was afraid I might not put the right amount of cream and sugar in the cup. I was afraid I might burn myself when I poured the coffee. I was afraid I might bump into someone and dump the whole cup on them.
But I was at the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This was not the place to use blindness as an excuse for failing to try. Besides, where else would I get more understanding and support if things didn't go well? I delivered the cup of coffee. Nothing went wrong. In fact, I doubt if anyone else realized what a moment of truth this small act had been for me.
I was quite ready to heave a sigh of relief and rest on my laurels. Then three more people asked for coffee. Before long I'd gotten over my nervousness. By the end of the afternoon I felt quite experienced. I did drop a cup and realized the world did not come to an end. It was just an ordinary part of doing an ordinary job.
More than twenty years have gone by since that convention. I still enjoy writing and speaking French, though I've long since decided that the life of an author or interpreter is not for me. I'm still a political junkie, and I spent more than two years working for a state legislature.
Now I'm a wife and mother. I'm teaching my three-year-old son to pour his own apple juice. He's learning the ordinary skills of daily life from me. Now I'm the Mom who encourages my children to dream great dreams and work hard to achieve them. It's amazing how extraordinarily satisfying ordinary things can be.
by Peggy Elliott
From the Editor: The following article appeared in Like Cats and Dogs, the latest addition to our Kernel Book series. It begins with a note by Dr. Jernigan:
Have you ever felt you knew just about all there was to know about a particular subject only to find you still had a lot to learn? This is precisely what happened to Doug and Peggy Elliott (both long-time leaders in the National Federation of the Blind) when they brought a baby kitten who happened to be blind into their household. Here is how Peggy tells the story:
We have a new little kitten at our house. Shes all black, but she had a tiny white star on her chest when she was born. Its grown in black now, but we still call her Sheriff.
Sheriff is four months old. Everything in her world is a toy to bat, chase, gnaw, or pounce upon. She is endlessly hungry, begs for everything, steals the two older cats food, and sneaks on the table to cadge tidbits from us. Oh, and I should have mentioned, Sheriff is blind.
My husband Doug and I are both blind. We heard about Sheriff from a friend who took pity on a starving stray cat and soon learned the cat was a mom with two little kittens. When she was tiny, Sheriff put her head on the flank of one of her sisters to follow her to food and play. The little sister did not survive, and Sheriff had an incurable eye infection from birth that left her completely blind.
Our friend told us about his blind kitten, mentioning that he did not have any takers for this perfectly healthy, happy, bouncy kitten because she was blind. We knew what that could mean, and we offered to take Sheriff if no one else wanted her. We wouldnt give her up now to anybody.
We were worried about stairs, her finding the cat boxes, and interaction with the other cats whom we now call the Great Cats in comparison to little Sheriff. Heres how each of these worked.
At first we kept Sheriff in a room with a cardboard box across the door. This prevented her from getting out, but we and the Great Cats could get in. We were worried that, if we let Sheriff roam, she would fall down one of our two staircases, both of which have turns in them. We got a bell on a blue collar so that we could find Sheriff and avoid stepping on her. We would put the collar on only when we were taking her out of the room. She got so she purred when we put the collar on.
We tried to show her stairs, making her little feet look at the edges and risers. She didnt like the lessons. We made her go down, one stair at a time, to get the idea. She hated this. Then, one day about a week after we had Sheriff, we noticed that she was upstairs.
We had put her on the floor downstairs to play and gone about our business, keeping an ear on her movements, or so we thought. Suddenly, she was upstairs. It turned out that Sheriff knew all about stairs. There was a short flight in her original home in a garage, and she had used them from the time she was tiny. She still kind of galumps down the stairs, being a little too short from nose to tail to walk down yet. But she obviously will. Shes taught us that. We tried to protect her, to ease her into our home a bit at a time. She wasnt having any of that.
We talked about this and decided that, even as long as we have both lived as blind people, we can still learn about the capabilities of the blind. In fact, both of us have had experiences where people think we cant do something and (from what they intend as kindness), prevent us from doing it. Stairs are one example.
We were recently in Washington D.C. visiting our Congressman, and we were heading out of the building to get a cab. As we approached the door, a Capitol guard prevented us from going any farther, telling us that she would "take us" to a door without stairs.
We had chosen this particular door because it got us where we were going. Had we been "taken" to any other door, stairs or not, it would have been a lot farther from our destination. We insisted; she relented, and we exited as planned, stepping down the stairs as agilely as sighted visitors. I couldnt help thinking of Sheriff and the help we had tried so hard to give her as I descended.
Regarding accidents, we simply havent had any. We dont exactly know how she finds the cat boxes (we have two, one on each floor). We guess it is by using her sense of where she is as well as her nose. Early on, we worked very hard at being sure she was back in her room every two hours or so when she was a one-room kitten to be sure she would be near a box she knew. Just like with the stairs, one day we noticed that a cat was scratching in the downstairs cat box, and each of us had a Great Cat on our laps. So much for thinking Sheriff couldnt find the cat box.
How about the other cats? GirlKitty is deeply suspicious of everyone but Doug whom she loves. Before Sheriff was even out of the carrying case in which she entered our house, GirlKitty was at the front door, glaring through the bars and hissing. In fact, we started calling her Miss Propane because she put her whole body into the effort, sounding like one of those propane tanks that cause lift in hot air balloons. She would even propane at Doug if he had been holding Sheriff, and she got a whiff of it.
In the early days, GirlKitty would punch Sheriff occasionally; you could hear Sheriff sort of go flying the other direction from the one she had been heading in. And once I think GirlKitty was actually holding her down and socking herI was in the next room on the phone and, by the time I got in there, they were separated. But the thing we noticed most was that Sheriff never reacted to these expressions of disgust by GirlKitty. They were usually delivered right in Sheriffs face. But her body didnt move at all. We knew because the bell didnt tinkle.
We talked about this as well, relating it to our own experiences. Eye contact is crucial to cat communication, but its very important to people as well.
GirlKitty seemed very puzzled that she was getting no reaction from her fierce glare and hiss. We have both known people who were very uncomfortable talking to us. It has often seemed to us that part of the discomfort comes from lack of eye contact and uncertainty on the sighted persons part that we can detect they are talking to us.
In Sheriffs case, of course, it just may be that Sheriff has better manners than GirlKitty. Anyway, shes found her own form of revenge. GirlKitty is very food-focused since she almost died as a baby from lack of nourishment. For a while, she said horrible things to Sheriff when the little kitten would try to join the Great Cats at the dry food dish. So Sheriff figured out that she could fit under the kitchen stool that happens to sit next to the cats food station. GirlKitty cant.
So Sheriff gets under the stool and sticks her head out long enough to grab some food and then withdraws under the stool to eat. GirlKitty cant do a thing about it except stalk off in distaste. We didnt teach Sheriff about the stool. She figured it out for herself.
And then theres Bob, our large, mellow, kindly, clingy male. One day early on when Bob was eating, I put Sheriff on his back. Bob kept eating. Sheriff slid off on purpose. I put her back. Bob kept eating. This went on for a while because I was trying to teach Sheriff that one of the Great Cats was not a meanie. She learned.
When she finds Bob now, she jumps up on his shoulder or up his side in play. Bobby will sort of run and fight back appropriately, not knocking Sheriff across the room as he easily could but batting and taking evasive action as part of the game. They tussle like that. Then Sheriff loses physical contact and starts looking around with her paws for Bobby. (Doug calls her Scatters when she does thisrunning back and forth in very short spurts in a search pattern.)
If she doesnt find Bobby and he still wants to play, he will scrabble his back claws very fast on the linoleum or hardwood. Sheriff hears this and jumps. They start the cycle again.
Doug and I have laughed about this as well, having met people in our lives who are immediately comfortable with us, realizing that, although we respond to oral instead of visible cues, we are otherwise pretty much just ordinary people. Bobby got that idea right away with Sheriff. But he also tires of the kittens endless playfulness. When this happens, he vaults over Sheriff and trots off.
Sheriff is still learning. When she came to us at six weeks old, she was too small to look at chairs with her paws and understand them. We would hold her in a chair and then put her down. She learned to climb up the upholstered recliner in her first room using claws, but she often misjudged and fell down before she learned.
Shes now four months old and has a much longer wheel base from nose to tail. She has looked at the kitchen chairs with her paws, figured out how they are made, learned that they are comfortable, and now regularly hops into one or another. That is how she gets on the table. I now keep the chair next to mine pushed in all the way. Sheriff can get her head and upper arms up on the table but not the rest of her. So she sits there when Im eating, for all the world like a little cat person except that shed rather be onthe table helping me with dinner.
And she applied her knowledge about kitchen chairs to all the other seating devices in our house. You never know now in which chair or sofa you will find her. We didnt teach her about chairs at all. By the time she learned, we had figured out that she did better learning on her own. We just get out of the way and let her explore. She does just that.
There are lots of other stories Id love to tell: Like the fact that Sheriff gets in the middle of a wide open space like the kitchen floor and just plain danceshopping and jumping and leaping to music only she can hear. Like the swisher toy we havelong strips of plastic attached to a rigid stick that you can shake in the air or tap on the ground, moving it around quickly for Sheriff to hear and attack, which she does with the same speed a sighted kitten would. Like the Great Cats hiding when the new bathroom was being put in while Sheriff hung around outside the door, listening and smelling and talking with the workers, as fascinated as the Great Cats were scared.
But I wont. Instead, Ill just say that Doug and I have been in the National Federation of the Blind for a long time and worked hard to learn that we can handle daily living tasks, jobs, home management just like our sighted associates. And we have both worked hard to spread that word to our fellow blind brothers and sisters as well as to our sighted friends. Even so, in the last three months, weve learned again the lesson of how easy it is to underestimate the capabilities of the blind. We were taught this lesson by a little black kitten we call Sheriff.
by Seville Allen
From the Editor: Seville Allen is First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. She is also a member of the governing body of St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington. Like other blind people she works constantly to teach those around her that she is not so different from them. Sometimes the job seems too big, too demanding. Then something encouraging happens, and suddenly there is reason to continue the effort. The following story first appeared in the Spring, 1997, edition of the NFB Vigilant, a publication of the NFB of Virginia. Here it is:
It was almost noon on Saturday at the vestry retreat. The morning meeting was breaking up, and we were about to move down the hill for lunch. My usual anxiety began to rise as I contemplated yet another social situation in which I find myself feeling isolated and awkward as people divide into dyads and small knots, often moving away from me as I approach to join them. As I put my slate and stylus into my purse and closed my notebook, one of my fellow vestry members came and said, "Seville, I want to go to lunch with you because I need to talk to you."
Pleasantly surprised, I answered, "Certainly." What followed was one of the most honest and positive experiences I have ever had in dealing with blindness. The young man who asked me to go to lunch with him had just joined the vestry. I knew him by name and reputation as an excellent youth leader, but we had not spoken before.
As we left the building to walk down the hill to the cafeteria, I explained that I could take his arm as we talked or walk beside him. He offered his arm, I took it, and we started down the hill as the snow fell on our heads. We had only walked a few steps when the young man announced that he wanted to talk to me because he was afraid of me as a blind person. "Seeing you frightens me because I would be helpless if I couldn't see." I was shocked at his honesty, paused for a few seconds to gather my thoughts, and then answered that I was not surprised to learn how he felt, but surprised that he was so up front and honest about it.
As we continued our walk to the retreat center cafeteria, we discussed his fear and the realities of not seeing. When I explained to him that, most important, blindness has nothing to do with darkness--the thing he feared the most--he began to relax. I explained that blindness means the lack of eyesight, nothing more, nothing less, and that darkness must be seen to be experienced. I also told him that, if he were to lose his vision, he would be frightened, depressed, and probably angry. I assured him that would be a very normal reaction. I explained that he would need time to learn how to function as a blind person and that this learning would take several months in a good rehabilitation center. Using our Federation philosophy, I explained that we have come to understand blindness as a characteristic which is often inconvenient but not a tragedy.
By the time we reached the cafeteria, we had moved on to other subjects, such as the lunch menu, and I explained how he and I would navigate the food line, carry our trays, and reach the table to join our colleagues.
I share this delightful experience because I hope it may provide you, as it did me, a reminder that, as we are changing what it means to be blind, the change takes place slowly and will be accomplished through incidents such as this one.
Unfortunately, my conversation with our new young vestry member was an exception to our usual fatiguing treatment as helpless children, unaware of where we are or what we are doing, and from the social isolation caused by neighbors and colleagues who avoid us because they are afraid to talk to a blind person. This positive, honest interaction certainly has renewed my desire to continue the much-needed education that we must effect as we journey on our road to full equality.
This month's recipes come from the Diabetes Action Network, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. Ed Bryant, division president, describes it as a support and information network reaching out to all diabetics, especially those who are blind or losing vision, with news, advice, and information, and with the Federation's message of opportunity and individual empowerment.
The Voice of the Diabetic is our quarterly magazine. Each issue has diabetic recipes as a regular feature. All of the following recipes are from Voice archives.
Eggplant Soup With Pasta
by Vickie Traylor
Vickie Traylor is the daughter of Ed Bryant, President of the NFB Diabetes Action Network.
1 large onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant peeled and cubed (3-4 cups)
28 ounces no-salt-added canned tomatoes, cut up
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or bouillon
1/4 teaspoon each: dried thyme and crushed rosemary
1/2 cup uncooked tiny pasta--orzi or stars
Method: In a microwave-proof 3-quart casserole combine onion, celery, garlic, and olive oil. Microwave, uncovered, on high 3 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add eggplant and tomatoes. Microwave, covered, on high 7 minutes or until eggplant is soft. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and microwave on high 10 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Yield: 8 servings; Calories: 85; Diabetic Exchanges: 1 vegetable, and 3/4 bread
Low-Fat Potato Salad
by Ann S. Williams, RN, CDE
Ann Williams is both a diabetic and a Certified Diabetes Educator.
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
3/4 cup no-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped onion, to taste
1/2 cup chopped pepper, red or green
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped very fine
4 cups cooked, peeled, cubed potatoes(5 to 6 medium)
1 cup chopped dill pickle
1-1/2 cups chopped celery
Method: Stir together first six ingredients. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Yield: 12 servings. Serving size =3D 1/2 cup. Calories =3D 91; protein =3D 3 gm; fat =3D 1.2 gm; carbohydrate =3D 17 grams; sodium =3D 420 mg; cholesterol =3D 24 mg; fiber =3D 1.1 gm; Exchanges =3D 1 starch
Low-Fat Low-Calorie Slaw Dressing
by Gail Bryant
A long-time Federationist, Gail Bryant serves as Secretary of the NFB of Missouri's Columbia Chapter.
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
one package sugar substitute
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash red pepper
Method: Mix all ingredients and pour over large bowl of grated slaw greens. Allow to marinate at least eight hours.
Yield: Serving size: 1/2 cup; Diabetic Exchanges: Free for 1/2 cup
by Laurel Gilkerson
Ed Bryant says: "I have sampled Laurel Gilkerson's creations, and I can recommend them. They contain so few calories that they have no dietetic impact. The herbs she lists are all commercially-available seasonings, perfectly safe in a spiced vinegar. If you choose to use other types of herbs, please make sure they are safe for human consumption."
Have I found a delightful taste treat for the health-conscious! When I received a wine bottle full of white vinegar and fresh herbs for my birthday last year, I started experimenting. I found I could jazz up a variety of foods using this spiced vinegar as a healthy replacement for heavy, overly rich sauces. Spiced vinegars are very simple to make and low in cost (especially if you grow your own herbs), and they make unusual personal gifts. The first thing is to get some wine bottles. Many local restaurants throw empty bottles away and would be happy to recycle them. Next decide what herbs to spice your vinegar with. If you cannot grow your own fresh herbs, try a local farmers' market or grocery store. Last, buy plain white vinegar. Experimenting with food and herb combinations is the key. I have listed here some samples and ways I use them. Portions are easy to determine--if your herb concoction is too strong, dilute with plain white vinegar. Let steep for two to three days before using.
Mix rosemary, garlic, chives, and vinegar; or mix rosemary, peppercorns, chili peppers, and vinegar; or mix sweet marjoram, basil, garlic, chives, and vinegar.
Pour spiced vinegar, red wine, salt, and pepper over meat.
Pierce meat with a fork to tenderize.
Mix tarragon, lemon basil, chives, whole cloves of garlic, and vinegar; or mix thyme, tarragon, chives, cloves, and vinegar; or mix thyme, chives, peppercorns, and vinegar.
Pour spiced vinegar, dry white wine, salt, and pepper to taste over meat. Then poach fish with mixture.
Mix thyme, tarragon, garlic, and vinegar; or mix basil, lemon basil, tarragon, garlic, and vinegar; or mix thyme, chives, peppercorns, chili peppers, and vinegar.
When making, I always keep my herbs and peppers whole to keep the vinegar clear. With time the bottles may get murky, but they should be good for seven months to a year, if sealed with a tight cork. Just use them like regular vinegar for light vinegar-and-oil dressings. The spiced vinegar concoctions may be used in other dishes such as salsas, soups, beans, sauteed greens, or mayonnaise. Often I find my bottles are too pretty to use, so I just put them in my kitchen windows and enjoy them that way.
Krupsua (Finnish Oven Pancakes)
by Marsh Mayry
Marsh Mayry is the husband of Karen Mayry, President of the NFB of South Dakota and a leader of the Diabetics Action Network.
2 cups of 2% milk
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
1/4 cup melted butter
Method: Melt butter on cookie sheet in 350-degree oven. Mix other ingredients together. Pour into cookie sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Serve with butter, syrup, jelly, or sugar. Yield: 9 servings; Calories: 125; Diabetic Exchanges: 1 bread, 1 fat.
by Martha Young
Martha Young is an active Federationist who has served as President of the North Central Chapter of the NFB of Missouri. She was a Weight Watchers' lecturer for eleven years and has revamped the following recipe for diabetic diets.
1 16-ounce can of Bartlett pears, sliced
and packed in water
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 pounds lean beef steak, thinly sliced (cut away all fat)
1 medium carrot, sliced diagonally
1 tablespoon oil
1 16-ounce can green beans, drained
2 cups rice, cooked
Method: Combine pear juice, vinegar, ginger, pepper flakes, and garlic. Add meat and marinate at least 30 minutes (longer if possible). Thoroughly drain meat and reserve marinade. In heavy skillet cook meat and sliced carrots in hot oil, stirring constantly until meat is almost browned. Remove meat and carrots and keep warm. Add reserved marinade to pan and cook on high 3 minutes to thicken. Stir in sliced meat, carrots, beans, and pears; and heat through. Serve over rice. Garnish with sliced green onions if desired. Yield: 5 servings; Calories: 275; Diabetic Exchanges: 2 meat, 1 bread, 1/2 fruit, 1 vegetable.
Fruit-Milk Dessert (a pudding and pie filling)
by Sandra Nebergall
Sandra Nebergall is the wife of Dr. Peter Nebergall, whose articles have regularly appeared in Voice of the Diabetic.
1 package sugar-free Jell-O
1 8-ounce carton fat-free yogurt (no sugar added)
1 16-ounce tin unsweetened fruit or fruit cocktail (optonal)
Method: Follow first stage of directions for Jell-O preparation (mix package contents with 1 cup boiling water), then refrigerate until cool and beginning to thicken, approximately 30 minutes. Next, place yogurt in deep mixing bowl and blend Jell-O with yogurt, mixing thoroughly. If you will be adding fruit, do it now. Allow mixture to set in refrigerator, approximately 1 1/2 hours. If you will be using tinned fruit, first drain off and discard the juices. Many fresh fruits will work as well, but do not use fresh pineapple--it will prevent the Jell-O from setting. Tinned pineapple is OK. Choose compatible fruit flavors, e.g., raspberry Jell-O with raspberry yogurt, orange Jell-O with lemon yogurt, cherry Jell-O with vanilla yogurt. Yield: 4 servings; Calories: 80; Protein: 2 gm; Fat: 0 gm; Carbohydrates: 18 gm; Sodium: 40 mg; Diabetic Exchanges: 1 starch. (Note: Six-ounce cartons of fat-free yogurt will work equally well, and no adjustment to proportions is necessary.)
An Insect Recipe
Most cookbooks contain something inedible. This is our contribution:
1 bottle Gold Medal brand Zambian beer
Method: Collect flying moths (life span about 1 to 2 hours). Once you have collected a bag-full (plastic or whatever is to hand), de-wing the dead moths. Discard wings. Place moth bodies on baking tray and bake in moderate oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve with mealie meal and greens. Goes well with delicious Gold Medal Zambian beer, but only after holding bottle to light to check for unwanted bodies in the bottle. Contains much protein, from honey-tasting bodies of crunchy insects.
Once you get over the idea of eating insects, this recipe is delicious. Also no chemicals, plowed land, or crops needed to feed the insects. Exchanges: I wouldn't exchange this for anything.
Leadership Training for Blind Youth:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Do you know a future leader in the blindness community--a young man or woman, blind or visually impaired, who has the intelligence, energy, and determination to make a difference in the lives of visually impaired persons in your country? The International Program at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia is open to candidates from throughout the world who demonstrate these leadership qualities and who are interested in participating in a one-year academic and training program.
Now in its twelfth year, the Program announces the start of the admissions process for the 1998-99 academic year. You are invited to nominate candidates who meet the qualifications required for admission and who would benefit from taking part in the program. To qualify, a participant must 1) be blind or partially sighted, 2) be between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one at the start of the program, 3) be in good academic standing, 4) have a basic knowledge of English, 5) be interested in adaptive computer technology for the blind, and 6) demonstrate independence and leadership skills.
The Admissions Committee reviews all nominations and invites appropriate candidates to complete a full application.
The International Program is designed to develop leadership capabilities of young blind and partially sighted individuals from around the world, to provide them with the skills they will need to succeed in higher education and the work place, and to help improve the situation of other blind and visually impaired persons in their countries.
Courses in adaptive computer technology, English as a second language, and leadership development form the core of the curriculum, while emphasis is also placed on learning in an inter-cultural environment. Educational field trips, music programs, and sports activities are also offered.
For information and admissions materials, contact Lawrence F. Campbell, Admissions Committee, International Program, Overbrook School for the Blind, 6333 Malvern Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19151-2597, United States, (215) 878-8700, fax (215) 878-8886, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Willows, President of the NFB of California, recently wrote to report the following sad news:
I deeply regret having to report the passing of two dedicated California Federation members. Larry Rangel died on August 21, 1997, of diabetic complications. Larry was an active member of both our Bay Area (San Francisco) and California Orientation Center for the Blind Alumni Chapters. Larry attended his first National Convention this past summer, shortly before his death. He came home with high enthusiasm and motivation. He asked me to call on him for any help he could offer our affiliate. Dinah Smith died in Denver on September 7, after a long illness. She had moved into a nursing home near her family.
Prior to this move Dinah lived for many years in Santa Barbara, where she had been a twenty-year member and treasurer of the NFB Chapter. Joy Smith, President of the Santa Barbara County Chapter, tells me that she could always count on Dinah for helpin chapter activities. Both Dinah and Larry are the stuff of which this organization is made. They will be greatly missed.
New Catalog of Braille Books for Children Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children announces its new 1998 catalog. This catalog contains over 300 low-cost Braille books for children. Thirty-eight books have been added this year, including for pre-schoolers print-Braille-and-picture books Disney's My Book of ABC, Goodnight Moon, and Pooh All Year Long; for older children Newberry Award winners in Braille such as A Gathering of Days, The Giver, and The Midwife's Apprentice. Other new Braille books include selections from popular series like The Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, and The American Girls Collection.
For more information check the Seedlings Web page at http://www.22cent.com/seedlings or write to P.O. Box 51924, Livonia, Michigan 48151-5924, or e-mail: email@example.com
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Clovernook Center in Cincinnati is recruiting for a variety of positions in its production facility. Openings include packers; material handlers; machine operators; and utility, quality assurance, and warehouse personnel. Contact Mike Walsh, Clovernook Center for the Blind, 7000 Hamilton Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45231, (513) 522-3860. The Center is an equal opportunity employer.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Campanian Enterprises plans a trip to Italy for sixteen blind travelers April 26 to May 8, 1998. Several sighted guides will be with us throughout the program.
The tour accents the Touchable Treasures of Northern Italy from the architectural glories of Milan and the landscape surrounding Lake Como to the sounds, smells, and freshness of the Alps and the magnificence of Florence--Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, Botticelli and Michelangelo. With expert guidance across the majestic boundaries of Northern Italy, we will encounter the history of ancient Rome and the Renaissance and enjoy the food and wines of the local cuisine.
The program includes transatlantic flights from New York to Milan and Florence to New York (add-on fares are available from other cities in the U.S. and Canada; contact us for this information); accommodation at first-class hotels; continental breakfast and dinner daily and one lunch; pullman coach transportation throughout the program; expertly guided tours and professional background lectures; sightseeing and excursions as described in the itinerary; all entrance fees to museums and archaeological sites; and gratuities and service charges. Not included are passport expenses, airport taxes, ten lunches, alcoholic beverages, accident/baggage insurance, personal expenses, laundry, telephone, taxes, and taxis.
For additional information about this tour or shorter American tours to Hyde Park; New York City; Washington, D.C.; New Orleans; and greater Boston, contact Robert Wilhelm, Campanian Enterprises, Inc., P.O. Box 167, Oxford, Ohio 45056, (513) 524-4846, fax (513) 523-0276, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: http://w3.one.net/~campania/
We recently received the results of the NFB of Colorado election that took place during the affiliate's September convention. Elected were President Diane McGeorge; First Vice President, Kevan Worley; Second Vice President, Scott LaBarre; Secretary, Julie Deden; Treasurer, Paul Lorensen; and Board Members John Deden, Alice George, Don Hudson, and Dan Wenzel.
Computer Systems Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Cabo Systems, which specializes in niche markets, now builds adaptive computer systems for the blind and visually impaired. We test and benchmark every component that goes into a Cabo computer for speed and reliability based on its own merits and in the way it interacts with other system components.
Every Cabo System comes with a standard two-year parts and labor warranty covering everything from hard drives to rubber feet to mouse pads and with free-for-life technical support. You can call ten years after your purchase and immediately talk to a human being. On-site warranties are also available at a reasonable rate, and in-house repairs are always completed inside twenty-four hours.
Fully configured adaptive computers start at $2,499 for a mid-range pentium with all the bells and whistles. For the power user, however, we also offer Pentium Pro, multi-processor, and RISC based machines. If you can dream it, we can build it.
Call us anytime to order, get additional information, or receive a custom quote. Contact Cabo International Trading, Ltd., 28W066 Commercial Ave, Barrington, Illinois 60010, (847) 381-6000, fax (847) 381-7094, e-mail: email@example.com
In the July, 1997, issue, we printed an article about the new Arizona Braille Law. The story said that Dr. Jane Erin of the University of Arizona devised a provision stipulating that electronic versions of text books for students in community colleges and universities as well as in elementary and secondary schools be available when needed for transcription into Braille. We are told that, while Dr. Erin's Task Force recommended the idea, it was actually Task Force member Terri Hedgpeth from Arizona State University in Tempe who proposed the idea.
Handbook on Reasonable Accommodation Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Department of Veterans Affairs Blind Rehabilitation Services Committee on Reasonable Accommodations has produced a handbook on reasonable accommodations. This handbook provides a succinct overview of the law, examples of the requests for reasonable accommodation, a definition of reasonable accommodation, and several case laws. For a free copy call Margie Donovan, VIST Coordinator, at (415) 750-6604. Please specify your choice of format: large print or ASCII computer disk.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
B.O.L.D., Inc., of Aspen makes it possible for blind people from the U.S. and Canada to ski in Colorado's Rockies. We provide ski instructions, guides, equipment if needed, reduced lift ticket prices, companions for shopping, dining, and the like. Winter activities include Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, dog sledding, and snow mobiling. For additional information or an application please contact B.O.L.D., Inc., c/o Franchesca Campione, Program Director, 533 E. Main St., Aspen, Colorado 81611, (970) 925-9511.
Hoping to Find:
We have been asked to carry the following request:
We need a voice synthesizer and a screen reader for a 386 IBM-compatible computer. We would prefer a VERT or a Tiny Talk either donated or for a reasonable price. We are a not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization, so any donation made to us is tax-deductible. Contact the Voice of Print of the Northwest Florida Radio Reading Service, Inc., fax (850) 944-3563, (888) 941-2888 (toll free), twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Please leave your name and phone number.
Mary Willows writes to report that the Ala-Costa chapter of the NFB of California held elections on October 11, 1997. The election results were as follows: President, Donna Sexton; Vice President, Carolyn Truitt; Secretary, Mary Willows; Treasurer, Jim Willows; and Board Members, Steve Peters and Lillian Richardson.
Graduate Training Available:
Louisiana Tech University, in cooperation with the Louisiana Center for the Blind, is seeking qualified applicants interested in a master's degree in orientation and mobility. Scholarships are available for qualified applicants. This program is funded through the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, under an Experimental and Innovative Training Grant. For more information contact Dr. Ruby Ryles, (318) 251-2891.
Business Opportunity Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Federation member Turley Richards, an internationally known recording artist, songwriter, and producer, announces a home business opportunity requiring only a telephone, computer or notetaker, and the ability to talk to friends and acquaintances. There are no inventory, meetings, and almost no paperwork. Having started in June of 1997, this network marketing company is growing fast. People who get in early will almost certainly make money. You will be a music promoter dealing in CDs; cassettes; music videos; and, coming soon, CD-ROM products and movie videos.
For information call toll-free (888) 488-4889 and leave Turley Richards' code, AMI9599. If you need more information, call him at (502) 452-9011. Internet address is www.bbtel.com/~dlarzin
The company Internet address is www.soundmarketin.net.The upline is www.mjrgroup.com
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Do you experience cassette avalanches? Here's the perfect remedy--the NFB of Illinois is selling cassette albums at $3 each. These sturdy, attractive, white vinyl cassette albums hold twelve cassettes, perfect for one year of the Braille Monitor. The album's spine is wide enough to accommodate Braille labels, and it has a clear plastic sleeve for print label inserts. Orders must be accompanied by a check or money order covering the number of albums purchased. Make checks payable to NFB of Illinois. Send orders to Stephen O. Benson, 7020 N. Tahoma Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60646. If you have questions, please call (773) 594-9977.
Illinois Affiliate Meets:
Steve Benson, President of the NFB of Illinois, reports that Federationists from seven states gathered at the Days Inn in Belleville, Illinois, for the twenty-ninth annual convention of the NFB of Illinois. President Marc Maurer participated fully in the convention agenda and delivered a moving banquet address. Election results are as follows: Pam Provost, Treasurer;
Elizabeth Browne, Secretary; and Bill Reif and Kathie Mathis, Board members. Scholarship awards were presented to Alma Hinkle, Lynn Gosling, Lois Montgomery, and Michelle Koedoot. The parents chapter was infused with Federation energy and spirit by President Maurer and by National Parents Division Second Vice President Carol Castellano. A solid group of parents show real promise for the coming year. The NFB-I Student Chapter election resulted in national scholarship winner Ameenah Ghoston's election as President. She brings tremendous energy and good sense to the office. The NFB of Illinois displayed an extraordinary exhibit called "Keeping in Touch with the World" which consisted of rare historical maps, games, and tools along with new and exciting educational material. Federationists left Belleville looking forward to the Washington Seminar and the 1998 National Convention in Dallas.
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners to Meet:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Ed Eames, President of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), a cross-disability consumer advocacy organization of people partnered with guide, hearing, and service dogs, announces that the organization will hold its fourth annual conference in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, January 10, 1998. For registration and membership information contact Joan Froling, P.O. Box 1326, Sterling Heights, Michigan 48311, (810) 826-3938.
We have been asked to list the following items for sale:
"Moving with Marge," a 50-minute exercise program on cassette tape, produced specifically for the blind and designed to strengthen and tone all major muscle groups, $7.50; "Gospel Music," ten traditional country inspirational favorites sung by Ray and Lois Howard, $7.50; Sunbeam Health Monitor (system with synthesized speech and visual display measures blood pressure, weight, and temperature), $50; Fostec 250, 4-track professional tape recorder with many features, $400; echo chamber, $140; twelve-band equalizer, $60; volume pedal for use with electric guitar, etc., $60; and Yamaha programmable rhythm section, $100. Those interested in any of these items may contact Lois Howard at 61951 High Hill Road, Cambridge, Ohio 43725, (614) 432-2287.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Reconditioned Perkins Braille writer for sale. Cost is $350. Trade-in accepted. Payment plan negotiable. Call Nino Pacini evenings and weekends at (313) 885-7330.
Holiday Cards Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Seeing Eye guide dog school offers both traditional and whimsical holiday cards for sale. Both feature reproductions of original watercolors commissioned by the school. "Holiday Hopes" by Patti Falzarano features three realistically rendered Seeing Eye puppies playing with a Seeing Eye harness, surrounded by a decorative border of dog biscuits twined with red ribbon. The greeting says, "May all your hopes and dreams come true."
"Special Delivery" by Pat Garhart, depicts Santa Claus delivering a squirming sackful of stylized puppies to the front door of the Seeing Eye. A few stragglers catch up through the snow on the front path. The inside greeting says, "Delivering warm wishes for the holidays."
Cards are packaged in boxes of 20 with 20 envelopes. Price is $13 per box plus $6.95 postage/handling for the first box, $1.00 handling for each additional box. Orders paid by check or credit card may be sent to the Seeing Eye, c/o Parcel Plus, Chester Springs Shopping Center, Route 206, Chester, New Jersey 07930. Make checks payable to The Seeing Eye; fax credit card orders to (908) 879-5661; or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please provide your name, street address, and telephone number and, for credit card orders, the type of card, card number, and expiration date.
911 Dispatcher Training Course:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Over 300,000 Americans serve as police, fire, or emergency medical dispatchers; and an increasing need for qualified, professional public safety communicators is projected in the next century. With quality training, appropriate access technology, and placement support, blind people can be productive, valued contributors in virtually any public safety communication center.
The Vantage Media Group, a new career development organization founded by a blind dispatcher, invites 24 people to San Antonio, Texas, to participate in four weeks of public-safety dispatcher training. Two sessions incorporate internationally respected 40-hour certifying courses along with several support elements. These sessions are scheduled for January 5 through 30 and February 16 through March 13, 1998.
Students will learn the basics of the communication center, the roles of the public safety dispatcher, interactive instruction and emergency 911 call-taking, and radio communication techniques. Also included are introductory classes on computer-aided dispatch systems and regional and national law enforcement networks. Other topics include ethics, liability, and stress management.
Supplementary courses delve into system-access solutions, tactile and electronic mapping, and reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Workshops on resume writing, networking, legal issues, and job-search resources complement our 24-month student placement program.
Applicants must meet the following minimum qualifications:
high school diploma or G.E.D.; good reading, writing, and oral communication skills; typing speed of 35 net wpm; mastery of either speech- and refreshable-Braille-output devices or screen magnification aids; and capacity to pass criminal background and drug screening.
Total tuition cost of $3,995 includes 160 hours certifying public safety communications training, all training materials, double-occupancy lodging, meals, and 24-month student placement program. Although transportation during training is included, travel expenses to San Antonio are not.
Class registration is first-come, first-serve; and only twelve students will be accepted per session. The registration deadlines for the January and February, 1998, sessions are December 1, 1997, and January 1, 1998, respectively. For student registration or other information, contact Program Director Roderick Roberts at (888) 584-8753 or by fax at (210) 805-8830. Internet e-mail should be sent to email@example.com
Barbara Cheadle, Editor of Future Reflections, the quarterly magazine of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, recently received the following letter and clipping:
Cross Lanes, West Virginia
September 4, 1997
Enclosed please find a true-life funny that appeared in our local newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, on April 17, 1997. I hope your readers will find it interesting.
Also let me say how much I enjoy reading the magazine and how helpful it has been to me as Kanawha County Schools' only Braille transcriptionist.
Kim Aaron, wife of TV newsman Bob Aaron, works as a transcriptionist. She turns books into Braille for sight-challenged children for Kanawha County schools.
The Aarons were going to a movie one evening but couldn't decide which film to see. Dad and son Adam wanted to see Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Mom wanted Sling Blade. They reached a compromise. Mom was dropped off at Cinema 7, and Bob and Adam went on.
Kim, however, had to wait forty-five minutes for her movie to begin. She came prepared. She had brought some Braille lessons with her and sat in the dimly lit theater studying and awaiting the start of the movie.
A half hour or so later, a couple of women walked down the aisle. One of them stopped and said to the reading woman, "Sweetie, it is too dark in here. You'll go blind reading that book."
The reader smiled at the woman and replied, "It's Braille."
The woman turned to her companion, muttered something about a "smart ass" and went to her seat.
By the way there's also a sequel to the Kim Aaron story. After the movie she explained to the women what she was doing, and they all had a good laugh about it.
"I guess," the transcriptionist said, "you could say I have a real feel for what I do."
I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.