THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 41, No. 1 January, 1998
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLINDIT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Open Letter to Members of the National Federation
of the Blind and Other Friends and Colleagues
by Kenneth Jernigan
NFB Passes the Test: Victory in the LSAC Dispute
by Scott LaBarre
Microsoft Active Accessibility Called into Question
by Curtis Chong
Understanding Your Rights During the Job Interview
by Greg D. Trapp
Are You Amazed?
by Martha Bagley
Social Security: A Report on Disability Insurance,
Work Incentives, and Return to Employment Initiatives
by Susan Daniels
Virginia Vendor Shows How it's Done
Omni 1000, A Comprehensive Review
by Richard Ring
Leading by Example
My Cane Is Helpful to Me in Many Ways
by Susie D'Mello
Tuning in to Federationism
by Donald L. Mitchell
A Quick Look at the Lone-Star State
by Norma Crosby
Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 1998
by James Gashel
Copyright 1997 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: Kenneth Jernigan]
Open Letter to Members of the
National Federation of the Blind
And Other Friends and Colleagues
by Kenneth Jernigan
It has been a long time (maybe 15 years) since I have written an open letter to members of the Federation and other friends, but I think the present circumstances justify it. As many of you know, I have been diagnosed as having incurable lung cancer. The doctors tell me that the remaining time will probably be comparatively short. In this letter I want to give you some details about the situation and make a few general observations.
The first indication I had of any problem was in mid-September. My left leg began to swell and be painful below the knee. The doctor thought I had a blood clot and sent me to the hospital for a Doppler examination, which is a test that uses sound waves to map the veins and determine how they are functioning.
The test indicated that I did not have a clot, so I was given medication and told that everything would probably be all right, but the soreness did not diminish. In fact, it got worse.
On September 24 I was having pain in my left side. The doctor sent me back to the hospital, this time for chest x-rays, which indicated a cloudiness (the doctor called it an infiltrate) in the lower lobe of the left lung. Believing that this might be some sort of infection, the doctor gave me antibiotics and told me he thought it would clear up.
In mid-October I went overseas to deal with World Blind Union and other businessfirst to London to talk with officials of the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom and the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and then to Paris to meet leaders of the French Federation of the Blind to deal with matters concerning the Louis Braille Memorial and Birthplace. I was scheduled to go from Paris to Casablanca, Morocco, on October 24 to take part in the meeting of the Officers and Executive Committee of the World Blind Union. But it didn't happen that way.
In Paris on the evening of October 23 my left leg became increasingly painful and swollen, and on the 24th, instead of going to Morocco, I went to the hospital. Another Doppler test was made, and this time it was clear that I had a blood clot just below the knee in the left leg.
I stayed in the Paris hospital from October 24 until Saturday, November 1, and some of my experiences are worth talking about. First, let me tell you the way I got there. When it became obvious that I needed medical attention on October 24, Madame Yvonne Toros, the Executive Director of the French Federation of the Blind, said that she would have a doctor come to my hotel room. Unlike the way it would have been in this country, this was apparently no big deal. The doctor got there in less than half an hour. And there were more surprises in store. After examining my leg, the doctor said that she would have to determine if she could permit me to leave Paris. I told her that while I appreciated her concern and wanted her opinion, I thought I would determine for myself whether I would go or stay. "No," she replied, "It is my responsibility, not yours. I will determine. If necessary, I will call the airport and see that you are not permitted to board the plane."
This triggered certain reflexes, but I decided that my need for medical attention took precedence over my notions about self-determination and human rights. So off I went to the hospital, and it was a good thing, too.
The French have a reputation for being snooty and unfriendly to Americans, but my experience was the exact opposite. The doctors and all other personnel in the hospital, the people Mrs. Jernigan met in the surrounding neighborhood, and everybody else we encountered went out of their way to be courteous, generous, and helpful. Perhaps if we in America were to be judged by some of the taxi drivers in a few of our larger cities, our reputation for friendliness and good will might not fare too well.
At any rate, I entered the hospital and was told that I could not get out of bed for any reason for the next few days. Meanwhile, a blood thinner (Heparin) was dripped into my veins in the hope that the clot in the leg would begin either to dissipate or to stabilize. The leg was supposed to get better and stop being painful, but it didn't.
Let me say a word about life in the French hospital. I spoke no French, and mostly they spoke no English, which led to all kinds of difficulty in communicatingespecially with fine points and nuances. If Monsieur Marcel Herb, President of the French Federation of the Blind, had not gone out of his way to help me, I would have had severe problems. I was supposed to have met Monsieur Herb in Paris, but just before I arrived, he was diagnosed with a serious illness and could not come to Paris. Even so, he kept in touch with me from his sick bed and was of tremendous help.
Also, if Madame Toros had not been with me as I entered the hospital, my task would have been very nearly impossible. As an example, when I registered to enter, I was asked how I intended to pay the bill. Understandably they would not take a check, nor would they accept a credit card. I felt certain that I did not have enough cash to pay for the entire hospital stay. At this point Madame Toros told them that the French Federation would guarantee the bill, and she also gave them a personal check for several thousand francs as evidence of good intent. The French will always have my gratitude.
As to the hospital stay itself, I got a private room, and Mrs. Jernigan was allowed to stay with me. She took the other bed in the room, and they brought her meals when they brought mine. On the back of the door of the room was listed the price of wines and champagnes, which I was told would be brought if I cared to have them.
Apparently the French doctors have a different notion from ours about cholesterol. With every meal they brought me butter. They also brought fried steak, fried potatoes, rich coconut ice cream, cheese omelets, and other such. To supplement the fare, Mrs. Jernigan went out into the neighborhood to buy French bread, which was uniformly delicious, and a variety of other things, one of which was chocolates to earn good will with the nurses, doctors, and other members of the staff. Candy is always a good investment for the hospital patient. If you have occasion, try it.
At least one more incident is worth mentioning. On our fourth or fifth day in the hospital, the toilet stopped up, and a plumber was called. He worked for half a day, and ultimately we had to move across the hall to another room.
By and by a hospital employee (he was from Ireland, so he spoke English) came and said that he was making no accusations but that the plumber had found McDonald's burger wrappers in the toilet. He also noted that there was a McDonald's Coke cup on our table.
Now, it so happened that Mrs. Jernigan had, indeed, been to McDonald's, but the Coke was the only thing she had bought. However, I didn't even take the trouble to argue the point. Think about it! We were Americans. McDonald's is American. We had been in that room for four or five days with no toilet problems. Presumably no one else had used that toilet. As evidenced by the cup on our table, Mrs. Jernigan had been to McDonald's. In the circumstances, what would you have thought if you had been the plumber? Even so, the hospital officials were not unfriendly or hostile.
When I left the hospital on November 1, I took a train to London, going under the English Channel. The leg was still hurting. In fact, I had real difficulties in the London train station, causing me to determine to use a wheelchair in similar circumstances during the remainder of the trip.
I left London on Monday, November 3, and flew to New York. I came to Baltimore the same day and went to the doctor on November 4. Later in the week I had a CAT scan and also a blood test, which showed that my CEA (which is a marker for cancer) was 121 when it should have been only 3 or less. The CAT scan showed a nodule in the lingula, which is an extension of the upper lobe of the left lung. It also showed increased cloudiness in the lower lobe of the left lung.
By Sunday, November 9, the pain had spread above the knee in the left leg. I was hospitalized at St. Agnes in Baltimore on Monday, November 10, and intravenous Heparin was recommenced. Meanwhile, I took a series of tests. The colonoscopy and the bone scan proved to be negative, as did the CAT scan of stomach, liver, and pancreas. However, a bronchoscopy indicated a non-small-cell cancer in the lower lobe of the left lung.
On Thursday, November 20, the doctors at St. Agnes gave me their final diagnosis. They said that I had fourth-stage lung cancer, that surgery was inappropriate, that radiation would not help, and that chemotherapy was highly questionable. They said that they thought the blood clot in the left leg was part of what they call Trousseau's Syndrome, which is a condition involving the release of a chemical by certain cancers into the system that causes blood clotting. While I was in the hospital, the doctor went down through a vein in my neck to the lower part of the body and inserted a permanent titanium filter to help prevent blood clots from reaching the lung.
The doctors said that their best guess would be that I had a likely life expectancy of approximately a year or less. With that diagnosis and those prospects I left the hospital and came home.
Now, let me tell you what I propose to do, and then let me make a few general observations. Twice a day I am taking injections of a blood thinner called Lovenox. It seems to be working, for the pain in the leg is almost entirely gone. As of the present, I have comparatively little pain, my only symptoms being a good deal of tiredness and lack of energy, some night sweats, and a very little pain at times in the left side and leg. I assume that this will change as the months progress.
I have confirmed the St. Agnes diagnosis with the best doctors at Johns Hopkins and also with the chief of surgery at Walter Reed Hospital, so I believe that orthodox medicine has done what it can. In the circumstances I am turning to alternative therapies, realizing that the odds are that none of them will work. But I have nothing to lose.
My approach will be something like this: If a particular treatment does not seem likely to poison my body, if it is not overwhelmingly painful, and if it does not seriously detract from the quality of whatever time I have left, I will give it a try. If it doesn't seem to be working, I will turn to something else. In the process I will try to determine what seems to have the best chance of working and give it priority.
During the past three or four weeks a great many of you have tried to call me. I am simply unable to deal with all of the calls, and I feel sure that you will understand. In fact, I am taking very few calls either at home or at the office, and President Maurer is reading and dealing with almost all of my mail.
This brings me to some final observations. The situation in which I find myself leads to a lot of thinking about values and purposes. I will try to live to the full whatever time remains to me, whether a month or ten years, and I will try to face "whatever comes" with what fortitude I can. Whether healthy or sick, old or young, all of us should live that way all of the time. Unfortunately we often don't.
On November 13, 1997, I spent my seventy-first birthday in the hospital. It was a good day, complete with friends and warm wishes.
Although there are many things that I might have done better, by and large I am content as I review my life. The National Federation of the Blind has been the key element for me, and I want all of you to know how moved I am and how grateful for the support you have given me, and that you continue to give, as I wage this battle. The expressions of love which have poured forth from you have been a mighty source of strength and comfort. They have underscored what we are as a movement and why we have a Federation in the first place.
As to some of the details of the transition I am making, I should tell you that shortly after I arrived home from the hospital I had a telephone conference with the delegates from the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, at which time I resigned as President. I am pleased to say that NFB President Marc Maurer was elected to complete the remainder of my term, which expires in the year 2000. He will do an excellent job, as he has done and is doing as President of the National Federation of the Blind.
During the Thanksgiving weekend I attended the Board Meeting of the National Federation of the Blind, and it was all that one could have hoped. Our organization is now the strongest force in the blindness field in this country, and there is every prospect that we are only at the beginning of our accomplishments. Although there are problems (there always will be), we are united, firm in our purpose, and clear in our objectives. Above all, we love and care for each other and are not just an organization but a real movement. As I have already said, I am happy and content.
As I conclude, let me say once again what all of you individually mean to me; and let me also pay tribute to my wife Mary Ellen, who has given every support and all of the thoughtful, loving care which any person could possibly give. I know that she will continue to do so in the months ahead. And let me pay tribute to the staff at the National Center for the Blind. They have been a solid rock of support. And to President Marc Maurer, who will carry the load and lead the way wisely and well into the future.
This Open Letter to my friends and colleagues has been written from the heart to tell you what has happened, how I feel, and how I intend to proceed. Thank you once more for all that you have done and continue to do to make things better for me. And finally, may life be good to you in the years ahead.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Scott LaBarre]
NFB Passes the Test:
Victory in the LSAC Dispute
by Scott LaBarre
In the December, 1997, issue of the Braille Monitor we reported that the National Federation of the Blind had sued the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) on behalf of three blind students: Ross Kaplan, Latonya Phipps, and Shannon Dillon. The suit alleged that the Council violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to allow blind students to use their own readers on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), by flagging the test scores of blind and visually impaired individuals as "non-standard," and by refusing to allow one applicant to use her Braille writer and scratch paper on the exam.
On Thursday, November 20, 1997, the three would-be law students (represented by the Federation) and the LSAC struck a negotiated settlement which is a great victory for blind and visually impaired students. Before discussing the particulars of the settlement agreement itself, it is helpful to understand the history of this case.
In the fall of 1996 Ross Kaplan and Latonya Phipps contacted the National Federation of the Blind regarding problems they were having with the LSAT, and our staff recommended that Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Phipps discuss the matter with me. Both individuals told me that the Law School Admission Council had informed them that they could not use their own well-trained readers to take the LSAT. The Council further informed them that they would have to use readers selected by LSAC. In addition, neither Ms. Phipps nor Mr. Kaplan would be permitted to screen their readers ahead of time or practice with them. According to LSAC, allowing a blind student to use his or her own reader or permitting any contact between reader and blind student in advance of the examination would breach examination security. Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Phipps both took the test under protest, and because of the arbitrary and discriminatory reader policy, their scores suffered accordingly.
Shannon Dillon applied to take the December, 1996, administration of the LSAT. She submitted her original application requesting that the test be administered in Braille. A few weeks later she phoned LSAC and informed officials that she needed to bring her Braille writer and paper with which to take notes. LSAC denied her request, stating that it was untimely. We argued with LSAC that it should allow the request, but it held firm on its position. Ms. Dillon took the LSAT on December 7, 1996, without the capacity to take notes though her sighted colleagues in the next room were permitted to take as many notes as they desired. In February Ms. Dillon took the exam again, and this time she was permitted to use her Braille writer. Significantly, she achieved a much better score.
After the examination all three students received copies of letters informing the law schools to which they had applied that the test had been administered under nonstandard timing conditions. Therefore LSAC could not predict the meaning of the score. This practice is called "flagging," and it is a common practice throughout the standardized testing industry. Here is the text of the LSAC flagging letter:
This candidate took a 6/96 LSAT under nonstandard timing conditions in order to accommodate his or her disability. The nonstandard test this candidate received was administered on or about the same test date as the corresponding standard administration.
Because this candidate's score was earned under nonstandard timing conditions, it is important to note that the degree of comparability of this score to scores earned under standard conditions cannot be determined. The LSAC's Cautionary Policies Concerning LSAT Scores and Related Services explain:
LSAC has no data to demonstrate that scores earned under accommodated conditions have the same meaning as scores earned under standard conditions. Because the LSAT has not been validated in its various accommodated forms, accommodated tests are identified as nonstandard, and an individual's scores from accommodated tests are not averaged with scores from tests taken under standard conditions. The fact that accommodations were granted for the LSAT should not be dispositive evidence that accommodations should be granted once a test taker becomes a student. The accommodation needed for a one-day multiple choice test may be different from those needed for law school course work and examinations.
If this applicant has consented to the release of
information related to his/her request for accommodations, information, including, but not limited to the following: the type of accommodations provided, the LSAT Accommodation Form, the LSAT Accommodations Request Verification Form, the Report of Assessment (if applicable), Accommodations Granted/Testing/Time Tracking Form, and all statements or documentation submitted by physicians or other licensed professionals will accompany the Law School Report.
That was the letter. On a number of occasions we attempted to resolve all of these issues with LSAC. It is generally prudent to negotiate in an attempt to resolve issues before they become full-blown lawsuits. Unfortunately, LSAC officials refused to negotiate on any of the points raised with them. We told them that they could not easily dismiss our concerns. When attempts to negotiate met with no response, we felt that we had no choice but to file a lawsuit against LSAC. As the December Monitor spells out in some detail, we filed a lawsuit on April 4, 1997, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Many news agencies contacted us and thereafter ran stories on radio and in newspapers regarding the suit. We made no attempt to publicize the suit. Reporters who routinely cover the Philadelphia Federal Court noticed that the lawsuit had been filed, and after that the calls came in steadily.
Many of the reporters asked the question: if LSAC provides a reader, why should the blind test-taker care who that reader is? The relationship between a reader and a blind person is highly individual. Like sighted persons blind people develop particular methodologies for reading certain items. Multiple choice examinations require different reading methods from essay examinations. Timed tests call for much different strategies than reading a series of letters in untimed situations. In other words each blind person must train a reader to serve as his or her eyes. When preparing for the LSAT, each sighted student develops a range of techniques for dealing with the examination. Similarly a blind person must train his or her reader to read the examination in a way that will be most efficient. This is particularly true with the LSAT because it is a timed and high-stakes examination.
Put another way, it is crucial that the blind person have control over and familiarity with the reader. If the test-taker cannot establish an effective relationship, the results are likely to be disastrous. Ross Kaplan and Latonya Phipps were not permitted to meet with their readers ahead of time. They were thrown into a high-pressure examination in which they could not concentrate on the test but rather had to spend a considerable amount of energy and attention training a reader whom they had never met. In addition, in some cases LSAC officials have found readers who had never before read to a blind person. The problem has been further compounded by the fact that at times LSAC has not secured a reader until a few hours before the scheduled administration of the test.
Shannon Dillon faced an entirely different problem. She was provided the examination in Braille, but she was not permitted to use her Braille skills to take notes. Her sighted counterparts were permitted to do so. Obviously this put Shannon Dillon at a great disadvantage.
These problems are at least clear-cut, but the flagging issue is a very difficult one. On one hand, the LSAC letter seems blatantly discriminatory. The letter in effect says that, because we as blind people take the examination under accommodated circumstances, our scores mean nothing. When I received my licenses to practice law, they were not sent with an accompanying letter stating that I had earned my law license under non-standard conditions and that the Board of Bar Examiners could not predict my ability and competence to practice law.
On the other hand, LSAC is technically correct. Council officials have conducted internal studies showing that accommodated tests taken by blind and visually impaired students do not predict their future ability to perform in law school, whereas tests taken under non-accommodated conditions do predict the ability of sighted students in law school. In fact, the blind and visually impaired students do better in law school than their test scores would indicate. So, in other words, the LSAT is not a fair and accurate test for blind and visually impaired students.
The problem is that with very few exceptions law schools require that blind students take the examination. Probably many law schools labor under the misguided belief that, since the advent of the ADA, the LSAT is required to administer a fair test, and therefore scores achieved by the blind must be accurate.
The issues raised in this case are not the traditional ones present in most lawsuits. It is easy to understand testimony about whether the light was green or red when the defendant ran through the intersection, but it is far more difficult for a judge or jury to consider particular accommodations and academic issues pertaining to the blind. After all, blind candidates average only about 100 of the 155,000 individuals who take the LSAT each year. Because the issues surrounding blindness are so little understood in the community and by the courts, a judge or jury would have a difficult time understanding the nuances of an LSAC-mandated reader as opposed to a reader brought by the blind student. For these reasons we have always believed that the issues surrounding the lawsuit would best be addressed through negotiation and discussion. Ultimately, however, we had to sue to get LSAC's attention and to demonstrate that we were serious about these issues. In the end it was a negotiated settlement that resolved the issues in this case.
First, LSAC has agreed to modify its reader policy. It still has the obligation to provide the reader, but it must do so under some very specific conditions. The problem with LSAC's reader policy in the past was that blind students had absolutely no control over the accommodation they would use to take the exam. Now, when a blind applicant requests the use of a reader, LSAC must provide the name of a reader in the student's area within two weeks of the application. Subsequently the blind student may screen and interview the proposed reader to determine whether he or she is in fact qualified. Once the reader is agreed upon, the blind student may practice and prepare for the exam with the reader for a minimum of five hours, all at LSAC's expense. The reader and the blind student may practice more than five hours, but the blind student is responsible for making such arrangements. At any time before five days in advance of the exam, the blind student has the right to reject any LSAC-designated reader, and LSAC has the obligation to find another reader.
In negotiating the settlement, we pointed out to LSAC that it would be far easier for officials simply to allow blind students to bring their own readers. If that were the case, LSAC would not have to bear additional costs and establish a new layer of bureaucracy. LSAC acknowledged this point but still insisted that it must have some control over the process to maintain the integrity of the examination.
Incidentally, no other large testing organization currently requires that the blind candidate use the entity's reader. All other major testing organizations, as far as we know, permit the blind student to use his or her own reader. Apparently these organizations do not believe that allowing blind individuals to use their readers of choice violates the security and integrity of their examinations.
The agreement also calls for the Federation and LSAC to work together to identify pools of qualified readers throughout the country. In other words, we can have a direct influence upon the quality and ability of the readers available to us.
Overall I believe the settlement is a good one. It puts a great deal of control back into the hands of blind students. Now a blind applicant who wishes to use a reader can hand-pick the person. In addition the LSAC will allow the reader and the blind applicant to practice and prepare for the examination ahead of time. In other words, the blind student can instruct and train the reader on how to read the examination.
The settlement also makes it clear that blind and visually impaired candidates may bring a Braille writer and scratch paper as long as the LSAC is informed of this plan ahead of time. The Shannon Dillon incident was a mistake, and in fact LSAC corrected that mistake only a few months later. However, it is now clear that LSAC must allow blind people to use Braille devices to access the examination effectively.
Finally, the agreement states that the Federation and LSAC will continue discussing the flagging letter. We intend to urge LSAC to gather the data that will allow the Council to issue a more accurate letter reflecting the blind individual's ability. It is not fair to any student to say that he or she has worked hard to take the examination but that the score means nothing. If we are required to take standardized examinations, we should have the right to expect that our scores mean something.
The whole area of validating standardized examinations is in flux. Many researchers and experts are spending considerable energy and resources on determining how to validate scores achieved under non-standard conditions. We will continue advocating for a fairer and more nearly equal system.
The fact that LSAC has agreed to a continuing dialogue with us is a major victory. When we first began this long and arduous process, LSAC exhibited no willingness to consider the topic at all. As happened when we originally filed the suit, this settlement has attracted a good deal of attention in newspapers and journals across the country. Here is the article which appeared in the November 25, 1997, edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Lawsuit Charging LSAT Sponsor with Bias
Against Blind Test-Takers Is Settled
by Karla Haworth
The sponsor of the Law School Admissions Test last week agreed to allow blind and visually impaired students to meet test readers and practice with them before taking the test. The agreement settles a discrimination lawsuit filed in April by the National Federation of the Blind.
The lawsuit charged that three blind students had been prevented from using their own readers and note-taking equipment while taking the Law School Admissions Test, which is administered by the Law School Admission Council.
The students said they had scored poorly on the LSAT because they had not been able to use their own readers and sought a court order prohibiting the Council from discriminating against blind test-takers.
The council refuses to allow blind students to take the test with their own readers to guard against cheating. But like sighted people, blind students develop strategies for taking tests, and their readers must be familiar with those strategies to avoid wasting test time, said Scott LaBarre, a lawyer for the Federation.
Mr. LaBarre said that before the agreement, blind students "had no control" over their tests. Test-takers would not know who their readers would be until the day of the examination. Mr. LaBarre said that in some cases students had been assigned readers who had never worked with a blind person before.
"It's a high-pressure test, so trying to train somebody to read for the first time was a horrible distraction," he said.
Joan Van Tol, a lawyer for the Council, said that, before the lawsuit was filed, the Council had never received complaints from blind people about their readers. The Council does not, however, require its readers to undergo any special training, she said, and in any event readers are rarely requested.
Under the agreement reached Thursday, the Council will establish a new policy on blind test-takers. Under that policy blind people who take the test will be able to meet beforehand with the readers to discuss test-taking strategies and to take a practice test. The readers will continue to be appointed by the Council. The test-takers may also bounce readers who they feel are unqualified, Mr. LaBarre said.
"The people who are most expert about readers for the blind are blind people themselves," Mr. LaBarre said. "This policy recognizes the fact that we're the ones with the expertise in this area."
The Council and the Federation also agreed to discuss the Council's "nonstandard" test-administration policy, which the Federation believes is discriminatory. Under that policy the Council alerts recipients of scores that the test was given under nonstandard conditionsincluding the use of a reader. Letters that accompany the scores should be interpreted with "great flexibility and sensitivity," said Ed Haggerty, a spokesman for the Council.
Philip D. Shelton, the Council's president, said he was pleased with the agreement.
"Our goal has always been to make certain that the scores we report reflect the abilities of the individual test taker and not the person assisting him or her," he said. "I believe that today's agreement meets everyone's goals."
Because this settlement has very real implications for every blind or visually impaired person hoping to attend law school, we are also reprinting here the text of the settlement agreement's pertinent sections so that blind students and other interested people can read the precise language.
AND NOW, this 20th day of November, 1997, upon consideration
of the Settlement Agreement and Stipulation for Dismissal entered
by the parties and appearing of record,
IT IS ORDERED that the above-captioned action is dismissed pursuant to Local Rules of Civil Procedure 41.1(b) under the condition stated in the Settlement Agreement.
BY THE COURT:
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ROSS KAPLAN, LATONYA PHIPPS,
AND SHANNON DILLON, Plaintiffs, NO.: 97-CV-2350
LAW SCHOOL ADMISSION COUNCIL, a Delaware Corporation doing
business in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Defendant
The parties to the above-captioned action, being Ross Kaplan, Latonya Phipps, and Shannon Dillon, plaintiffs, and the Law School Admission Council, defendant, hereby enter the following Settlement Agreement:
1. LSAC READER POLICY
As referred to herein, the term "LSAC" shall refer to the
Defendant Law School Admission Council; the term "LSAT" shall refer to the Law School Admission Test; and the term "Applicant" shall refer to persons who apply to LSAC to take the LSAT.
Subject to the provisions contained herein, only persons supplied by the LSAC may serve as Readers of the LSAT to blind and severely visually impaired applicants. Defendant hereby agrees to modify its policies and practices with respect to providing reasonable accommodations to blind and severely visually impaired applicants who take the Law School Admission Test, with respect to LSAC's provision of readers. Within fourteen (14) days following receipt of a written request from any blind or severely visually impaired applicant for the Reader accommodation, LSAC shall provide the name, address, and telephone number of a LSAC-provided Reader to the applicant. It thereafter shall be the responsibility of the applicant to screen the Reader to determine whether he or she is acceptable as a Reader for the applicant. The applicant may reject use of the proposed reader provided by LSAC, upon written notification to LSAC, whereupon LSAC shall provide the name, address, and telephone number of a substitute Reader.
Prior to five (5) days before the scheduled administration of the LSAT, the applicant may reject Readers proposed by LSAC. Should the applicant reject a proposed LSAC Reader five (5) or less days before the scheduled administration of the LSAT, LSAC shall make all reasonable efforts to provide a substitute Reader to the applicant.
Blind and severely visually impaired applicants may arrange to meet with their assigned Reader to become acquainted with the Reader, familiarize themselves with these guidelines, review the procedures to be followed during the administration of the LSAT, and schedule practice sessions as hereinafter described.
LSAC agrees to engage in a coordinated effort with the National Federation of the Blind to identify readers and pools of readers in various geographical locations and LSAT sites within the United States of America.
2. PRE-LSAT PRACTICE
LSAC agrees that Readers provided under this Reader policy
shall be made available to prepare for the LSAT with the applicant, for a minimum of five (5) hours. Nothing in this agreement shall prohibit the applicant and Reader from arranging for additional practice sessions at the applicant's expense, if any. It is understood and agreed between the parties that the unavailability of the Reader to meet with the applicant beyond the five (5) hours set forth above shall not be grounds for the rejection of a Reader by the applicant. The practice sessions between the applicant and the Reader may be utilized for taking practice tests or, at the applicant's discretion, in any other reasonable way to prepare with the Reader for the LSAT.
3. ADMINISTRATION OF THE TEST
Readers supplied to blind and severely visually impaired
applicants shall be instructed to read the test verbatim and will not be permitted to paraphrase, interpret, modify, or otherwise vary from the text, except as set forth herein. The Reader shall not define words; however, Readers may, at the request of the applicant, spell words and re-read all or part of the text or questions within the section that is being performed. While all portions of the test must be read verbatim by the Reader, the applicant will be permitted to direct the Reader to specific portions of the test to be read or re-read, including the order in which the text is to be read, and also will be permitted to direct the Reader to scan for particular words or phrases as specifically identified by the applicant to be read or re-read verbatim, as well as to identify the type and location of punctuation marks contained in the text.
4. ADDITIONAL ACCOMMODATIONS
Nothing contained in this Agreement shall limit the
availability of other reasonable accommodations to be supplied by LSAC under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as requested and supported by documentation supplied by the applicant. LSAC will allow applicants to utilize audiocassette, Braille, or large print versions of the test and applicant-provided Braille scratch paper and Braille writers in taking the LSAT, as requested and supported by documentation supplied by the applicant. LSAC will encourage all blind and severely visually impaired applicants requesting any accommodation to submit their request for accommodations as early in the registration process as possible. LSAC shall provide a copy of its Reader policy upon request.
5. LSAC NONSTANDARD ADMINISTRATION LETTER
LSAC agrees that, at the request of the National Federation
of the Blind (NFB), it will meet with and consider NFB's views regarding the language that accompanies the flagged test scores of blind and severely visually impaired persons.
Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Scott C. LaBarre, Esquire
Martin J. King, Esquire
Attorneys for Defendant
EASTBURN & GRAY, P.C.
Joanne D. Sommer, Esquire
Joan Van Tol, Esquire
In 1940, when the National Federation of the Blind came into being, it created only a ripple in the blindness field. Today we send tidal waves of change throughout the blindness community. The LSAC settlement represents another milestone on our journey. We forced an organization that refused to give the blind any control or self-determination to allow a significant measure of control. With LSAC's renewed commitment to provide quality, equal treatment to the blind, I am confident that we will forge new agreements in the future that will insure even better treatment of the blind in the standardized testing arena.
In the past, the future of the blind rested almost exclusively in the hands of others. Today we control our own destiny. The victory we have achieved in the LSAC case reflects our increasing strength in the blindness field. Because of our work people realize that the blind truly speak for themselves. When matters arise concerning the blind, it is best to consult the blind before taking any action. Without the National Federation of the Blind, LSAC would still have the power to dictate to Ross Kaplan, Latonya Phipps, Shannon Dillon, and every other blind student exactly how the LSAT would be taken. Because of the National Federation of the Blind, the trend has been reversed, and we have assumed control over our own futures.
As Dr. Jernigan has said, we change what it means to be blind by individual actions collectively focused. Through the single action of suing LSAC, we have expanded the rights of blind students in our continuing effort to achieve equal access. When we help one segment of our community reach new heights of independence and equality, all of us climb one step closer to true equality and freedom in the world. That is why we have formed the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Curtis Chong]
Microsoft Active Accessibility Called into Question
by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: Curtis Chong, Director of the Technology Department at the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB in Computer Science, sent a note to a number of Internet mailing lists on November 24, 1997. The note, which generated a flurry of supportive responses on the Internet, raised questions about Microsoft's true commitment to its Active Accessibility applications programming interface, a highly-touted (by Microsoft, at any rate) strategy to improve access to Microsoft and other graphical applications. According to information received by Mr. Chong, the group developing Microsoft Office was not eager to rely solely upon Active Accessibility to pass important information to screen-access software used by the blind. Instead the group wanted screen-access vendors to use object models (a way of communicating between programs) that had already been installed in the Office product. Mr. Chong pointed out in his note that within the blind community support for Active Accessibility had been slow in coming, but now that Microsoft had gained grudging acceptance for this approach, the company should require all of its development groups to make full use of it.
On the same day Mr. Chong posted his note, he received a call from the Microsoft accessibility team. Apparently they considered his note inaccurateor at least a misrepresentation of the true state of affairs regarding Active Accessibility and its use by the Office group. Much of the information supplied to Mr. Chong was off the record and therefore cannot be discussed. Mr. Chong offered to correct publicly any mistakes that he might have included inadvertently in his note, but only if the accessibility team could supply him with enough un-classified information to explain the corrections. Since they were unable to do so, it seems to us that Mr. Chong's public statement still stands. Here it is:
On Saturday, November 15, 1997, I received an e-mail note from Steve Sinofsky, general manager of the Office Product Unit at Microsoft. The subject of the note was the accessibility (to the blind) of current and future versions of the Microsoft Office product suite. Office includes such things as Microsoft Word (word processing software) and Excel (spreadsheet software). It is definitely a product that employed blind people want and need to use, and it should be one that we could enjoy using at home.
As background I should point out that for the past couple of years the accessibility team at Microsoft has been working hard on Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA). This is an application programming interface (API) which is designed to simplify the task of communicating between screen-access software and application programs. The concept behind MSAA is that, if an application such as Internet Explorer®, Word, or Lotus Notes chooses to use nonstandard methods of displaying information on the screen, it can still tell the screen-access program what is happening in a way that it can understand. Active Accessibility took years for Microsoft to develop. The actual code was released in May, 1997.
Ever since the Microsoft Summit on Accessibility, held in July of 1995 (and possibly before then), Microsoft (at least its accessibility team) has been touting the virtues of MSAA. In addition to promoting its use by developers within the company, the team has been evangelizing MSAA to such prominent institutions as the Lotus Corporation, IBM, and others. It has also been pushing MSAA with blind consumer organizations and developers of screen-access technology. This effort was apparently successful. We began seeing support for MSAA in newer versions of screen-access software, for example, in JAWS for Windows Version 3 (from Henter-Joyce), WinVision 97 (from Artic Technologies International), and Slimware Window Bridge (from Syntha-Voice Computers). In fact, if it were not for MSAA, Office 97 would not be accessible to the blind today.
In his note Mr. Sinofsky casts serious doubt upon the entire Microsoft MSAA effort. Here, in part, is what he said:
We all agree the work that MSAA demonstrates is in the right direction. But as I tried to indicate, there are limits to what an existing piece of software can do to integrate MSAA. If I were writing a new application from scratch, there is absolutely no doubt I would use MSAA. On the other hand, Office is a huge and frankly not very pretty suite when viewed from the inside, and there are some things that will just not be practical from a pure engineering point of view. Please note this is not a resource issue, but one of just being able to make something function as specified.
We have spent about ten years working on the object models for our (Office) applications. Today the object model is used as a programmatic way to control the application from outside the application's user interface. As I mentioned, this is the solution developers and even our own testers use. This object model is well understood and has been an investment of hundreds of person-years over at least four releases of Office. As an example of this object model, the accessibility vendors all use our hooks in the product today for reading dialog boxes. By using the object model for accessibility, systems are assured a stable platform to work with the rich information it supplies. We are choosing to leverage this (object model) because we think it is the best way to achieve our shared goals. The alternative to this is to expose only the textural information of Office document content (no image or location information) through the current MSAA standards.
I realize that MSAA is significant work for vendors, but it is not a magic solution. In programming terms it is necessary, but not quite sufficient for an application having the complexity of Office. Frankly, I would be concerned that, by directing our efforts towards a specific implementation of accessibility, we would not only fail to make progress soon enough, but will more than likely take steps backwards. Since we share the same goal of making Office more accessible and we are again increasing our resources and commitment to this issue, I think it would be best if we can just agree on that high-level goal and not a specific implementation.
We committed at the forum (Microsoft Summit on Accessibility) two years ago to work more aggressively with the vendors that support accessibility. We have done that. Realizing that we could do better, we have been working with these vendors even earlier to support the next release of Office. In fact, we have a mini-summit with several of them scheduled in the near future. You are certainly welcome to participate if you would like. Of course the goal is to support them as much as possible so they are able to release their systems closer to the release of Office.
That was Mr. Sinofsky's note, and it gives rise to a number of questions.
First, regarding the Office object model, did Mr. Sinofsky have any idea two years ago (at the Microsoft Summit on Accessibility, for example) that MSAA might not be the optimal solution for access? One is tempted to wonder why this problem was not brought to the fore at that time instead of waiting until now to spring this on a community which, heretofore, was prepared (albeit grudgingly) to endorse the whole MSAA package.
Second, if the Office development group uses its object model in lieu of a full implementation of MSAA, what does this say about the use of the highly-touted MSAA with regard to other Microsoft applications? What does this say about the use of MSAA by other companiescompanies which undoubtedly have software just as convoluted and just as difficult to retrofit as the Office product suite?
Finally, how many different object models will screen-access vendors have to develop interfaces for? Today it might be Office. Tomorrow it could just as easily be another suite of software perhaps the hottest data base program or a spreadsheet package which we must use in order to keep our jobs. When will it end?
There are those who have said that we, the consumers, should not be telling Microsoft what specific development strategies it should use in support of accessibility. In fact, Mr. Sinofsky wants us simply to agree that in principle Office needs to be accessible to the blind. He wants us to leave the specific details up to him, his engineers, and the screen-access vendors. Looking at this in a broader context, one is reminded of some of the more repressive and paternal institutions, who would much prefer blind consumers to sit back and let the service providers "handle it." Well, I don't buy it!
Mind you, I am not interested in telling Microsoft how to write programs. Nor am I interested in pushing one development strategy over another. What I want is accessibility to Microsoft software and, for that matter, accessibility to other programs written to run in the graphical (Windows) environment. For the past few years Microsoft, through its accessibility team, has been aggressively promoting Active Accessibility as the best long-term solution to solve our accessibility problems. The skeptics among us (myself included) took some convincing, but we ultimately went along with this approach. Now the Office group, through Steven Sinofsky, tells us that MSAA is not the optimal solution for access to Office.
I for one am not willing to accept this argumentnot because Mr. Sinofsky isn't technically correct, but because of the long-term ramifications that accepting the Office object model will have on the wide acceptance of Microsoft Active Accessibility. If the Office group is permitted to go ahead with the approach Mr. Sinofsky recommends, then other companies will begin to find excuses for minimizing their support for MSAA. Yes, I acknowledge that MSAA may not be the best approach technically. But today it holds out the best promise for true access to a wide variety of applications. Instead of abandoning MSAA in favor of another object model, the Office group should use MSAA as it exists today and work with the accessibility team to improve it.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Greg Trapp]
Understanding Your Rights During the Job Interview
by Greg D. Trapp
From the Editor: Greg Trapp has been a staff attorney with the Protection and Advocacy System since 1992. Prior to this he was an Equal Opportunity Specialist at the University of New Mexico. Mr. Trapp is a 1990 graduate of the UNM School of Law. In 1993 he taught Disability Law as an adjunct professor at the UNM School of Law. Mr. Trapp presently serves on the New Mexico Commission for the Blind Statewide Rehabilitation Advisory Council, the Individuals with Disabilities Act State Advisory Panel, and the Board of Directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers. This is what he says about the all-important task of successfully negotiating the job interview:
The job interview is probably the most crucial step on the path to becoming employed. It is your best opportunity to make a favorable impression on a prospective employer. It may also be your only opportunity to educate the employer about the abilities of a blind person and to make him or her feel comfortable with your blindness. However, because the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits employers from asking disability-related questions during an interview, you may need to take charge of the process and raise the questions yourself. To do this you must understand what questions are permitted by the ADA and which ones are prohibited. This article briefly explains the difference between permissible and impermissible questions, suggests some strategies for taking charge during the interview, and explains some options you may have if you believe your rights were violated.
The rules governing pre-employment disability-related questions are complicated, as well as controversial. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA and issues interpretative regulations and guidelines. On October 10, 1995, the EEOC issued an Enforcement Guidance intended to clarify the questions which may be asked during a job interview. The guidance, Number 915.002, is titled "Pre-employment Disability-Related Questions and Medical Examinations." You can obtain the full text of the guidance from the EEOC Web page, http://www.eeoc.gov You may also obtain the guidance by calling the EEOC publications center at (800) 669-EEOC. The guidance is available in alternate accessible formats. Because this article can examine this complicated subject only briefly, you may want to obtain a copy of the complete guidance.
Prior to the passage of the ADA, it was common for employers to ask job applicants about their medical or physical conditions. Now, since the enactment of the ADA, an employer cannot ask disability-related questions unless a job offer has been made. Before a job offer, employers cannot ask questions that are likely to elicit information about a disability, ask whether an applicant has a particular disability, or ask questions that are closely related to a disability. For instance, an employer cannot ask if you are blind or ask questions about the level of any partial vision you have. This type of information was often used to exclude blind applicants categorically before their ability to perform the job had ever been considered. These questions are now prohibited to ensure that persons with disabilities are given an equal opportunity to apply for a job without regard to their disability.
Although an employer may not ask disability-related questions during the interview, if the interview includes a process such as a written test, an employer may ask whether you need a reasonable accommodation for the interview. During the interview employers are allowed to ask questions to determine if you are qualified for the job. For instance, an employer may ask if you can perform job functions, including whether you can perform them with or without reasonable accommodations. Employers may also ask a job applicant to describe or demonstrate how he or she would perform specific job functions, as long as all applicants in the job category are asked to do this. For example, if the job function included computer use, you could explain how assistive technology (such as a speech synthesizer) might enable you to use computers.
An employer may also state the physical requirements of a job (such as the ability to lift heavy weights or to climb ladders) and ask if you can satisfy these requirements. Some employers who are unfamiliar with blindness may not understand that a blind person can climb ladders or perform other manual tasks, and you should take this opportunity to explain how you could negotiate the work site. Employers may also ask applicants to disclose their disabilities voluntarily for purposes of affirmative action programs.
Employers are also allowed to ask about your qualifications, work history, education, and job skills. Because employers are allowed to ask about your qualifications, they can ask if you have required certifications and licenses. For example, an employer may ask if you have a driver's license, but only if driving is a job-related duty. Unfortunately, it is still common for employers to require a driver's license, even though the travel could be accomplished by using public transportation, cabs, or drivers. If you encounter this situation, you should explain to the employer that you could perform the travel using these alternative methods. A driver's license should be required only for jobs such as a police officer, bus driver, or delivery truck driver.
Many employers do not know what questions they are allowed to ask to determine whether you are qualified to perform the job. Also, an employer may well not understand what types of reasonable accommodations would enable you to perform the job. The new EEOC guidance attempts to address this problem by giving the employer additional leeway to ask questions in the case of a person with a disability. If an employer might reasonably believe that an applicant was unable to perform a job function because of a known disability, the employer may ask that particular applicant to describe or demonstrate how he or she would perform the function, even if other applicants were not asked this same question.
For instance, your disability would be a "known disability" if you came to the interview using a white cane or guide dog, so the interviewer would be allowed to ask you to describe or demonstrate how you would perform specific job functions. If you say that you would need a reasonable accommodation to perform the job, the employer may ask you questions about the accommodation. Accordingly, you should educate yourself in advance about what reasonable accommodations you will need. For instance, if you say that you need a speech synthesizer, the employer is allowed to ask who makes the speech synthesizer and if it is compatible with the employer's computer system. You should be prepared to answer this type of question and do so with confidence and authority.
The EEOC guidance attempts to explain some subtle distinctions between the questions that are allowed and the ones which are prohibited. For instance, an employer may ask if you "can perform the job with or without reasonable accommodations," but may not ask if you "need a reasonable accommodation to perform the job." The first question is allowed because answering either "yes" or "no" does not reveal the presence of a disability, while answering "yes" to the second question would reveal the presence of a disability.
The distinctions are equally subtle in the case of physical
testing. For instance, an employer may give vision tests to
applicants before a job offer, provided that the test is not a
"medical" exam. The EEOC guidance states that "evaluating
someone's ability to read labels or distinguish objects as part
of a demonstration of the person's ability to do the job is not a
medical examination." However, the EEOC guidance also states that
an ophthalmologist's examination is medical (as is requiring an
individual to read an eye chart). If you are asked to demonstrate
your ability to read, you should keep in mind that you may
request a reasonable accommodation for the reading test, or you
may describe what reasonable accommodations could enable you to
perform the reading. This is a crucial moment for you to educate
your potential employer about your ability to perform the job,
and you should not miss the opportunity.=20
Despite your best efforts to educate a potential employer, you may still be rejected for the job. If the employer rejects you after a disability-related question or medical examination, you may file a complaint with the EEOC, which will "closely scrutinize" whether the rejection was based on the results of that question or examination.
Persons who have a "hidden disability," such as a psychiatric disorder, may choose not to disclose the existence of the disability during the interview. If the employer does not know of the existence of the disability, the employer will not be able to exclude the applicant based on the disability. By contrast, blindness is usually obvious to the employer. Because the employer is normally aware of the disability, a blind person is in a different position from a person with a hidden disability. Since the employer will be aware of your disability but may not know what kinds of questions may be asked, you must be prepared voluntarily to describe and demonstrate how you can perform the job. This means that you must thoroughly research the job and the reasonable accommodations you will require long before you walk into the interview. One of the best ways to do this is to talk to blind persons who are successfully employed in similar jobs. By being prepared and informed about your rights, you may discover a world of new employment opportunities waiting for you.
Are You Amazed?
by Martha Bagley
From the Editor: The following editorial first appeared in
the Fall, 1997, issue of RE:view, the quarterly newsletter of the
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and
Visually Impaired (AER). Martha Bagley is Coordinator of the
Older Adult Program for the Helen Keller National Center, Dallas
regional office. She also serves as an Executive Editor of
RE:view. It is not often that we agree whole-heartedly with the
views expressed by the AER, but this is certainly one time when we do. Ms. Bagley has a healthy respect for the consumers with whom she works, and she puts her finger on important issues for consideration by every professional working with disabled people. We can only hope that other AER members will reflect on her words and be guided by her good sense. This is what she says:
Have you ever been called a saint? It used to happen to me regularly. Every time I was picked up by a cab at the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, New York, the driver would eventually say something like, "You must be a saint to work with those people. It is so amazing what they can do."
Those of you who know me will readily attest to the fact that I am no saint! Like all of us, I come to work every day and try to do the best that I can with the tools and resources available. Sometimes I manage really well; at other times nothing seems to go right. So, if I'm not a saint, does that mean that the people with disabilities with whom I work are not amazing?
The print and TV media have called Christopher Reeve a miracle because he has gotten on with his life despite his accident and severe disability. Is this just another example of the news media's quest for a story and publicity hype that surrounds stars? Maybe, but it isn't going away. Every time Chris Reeve does something that would be expected of anyone else in his profession, he is described as "amazing."
That attitude crops up even closer to home. Recently someone working in an agency that serves people who are blind commented to a professional who is deaf-blind, "I just can't understand how you are able to get up every day and do the things you do."
What generates this attitude of amazement? Why shouldn't people who are deaf-blind or who have other severe disabilities do the things that we take for granted in everyone else? Why is it amazing that they get up and go to work every day? Why is it amazing that they can use a cab? Why is it amazing that they fall in love and get married? Why is it amazing that they go to school and get an education? Those things are not just expected, but assumed, of everyone.
Are individuals with deaf-blindness and other disabilities somehow lesser people? To some degree this amazement is everywhere. It comes from an attitude that these people are unlike us and limited in their abilities; therefore, it is okay to expect less of them. Indeed we should expect less from them.
It is time for us not only to stop expecting less from people with disabilities, but to stop rewarding them for doing what everyone is expected to do as a full member of society. Let's not give them just the right to an accessible voting place but also the responsibility to go and vote.
How can our services help people with disabilities if our personal expectations are that only the amazing among our clients and students will be able to do what we take for granted in people without disabilities? In a way it is amazing that people with disabilities ever overcome those beliefs about themselves.
We need to eradicate that attitude from our profession and also to set the world straight. Expect people with disabilities to do. Expect them to use your cab, rent your apartment, come into your store. Be prepared to accommodate them just as you would any good customer.
We should save our amazement for something really appropriate. We need to look at people with disabilities as being basically like everyone else. Yes, sometimes they need our help, but most of us could use help from time to time. Underneath their infinite variety, human beings are the same with the same needs, desires, and dreams. If we truly see the value in all people, we will cease to be amazed when they show their individual worth.
Reprinted with permission of the Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation, from RE:view, Volume 29, number 3, Fall, 1997, published by Heldref Publications 1319 18th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-1802.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Susan Daniels]
A Report on Disability Insurance,
Work Incentives, and Return to Employment Initiatives
by Susan Daniels
From the Editor: Dr. Susan Daniels is Associate Commissioner for Disability in the Social Security Administration. She addressed the NFB convention on Friday, July 4, 1997. This is what she said:
I want to give you a quick update on what's going on in Social Security and then invite you to accept a challenge. Social Security Disability Programs, the two that serve this nation's people with disabilities (the Social Security Disability Insurance Program and the Supplemental Security Income Program), are very large programs and growing. Ten years ago, in 1986, we served five million Americans who had declared themselves vocational failures and out of the work force. We did not go out and recruit those five million people; they came to us. In 1996, ten years later, we have almost ten million Americans on cash-income-supports who have come to us saying that they are too disabled to work. In 1986 we spent fifty-two billion dollars on cash benefits to people with disabilities. In 1996 we spent sixty-eight billion dollars on cash benefits, and by the year 2000 we are projecting over a hundred billion dollars a year in cash supports.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, these are the very same ten years where open-heart surgery is almost day surgery, where people with mental illness are having relief of symptoms using psychotropic medication, where technology has assisted all of us in leading better lives. Certainly I'm a user of access technology; I have a scooter because I don't walk too wellI'm an old polio. I see a lot of computers around hereI use one myself. I love my computer. It helps me communicate with the world. Technology is a wonderful thing, and in the last ten years access technology has grown for all of us with disabilities.
Access to the world has grown. Ten years ago New Orleans didn't have but four or five curb cuts, and they were down there right near the end of Canal Street. Today New Orleans is almost fully accessible. Many cities around the country are fully accessible. Finally, in the last ten years we had a full generation of young people graduate from public schools because they had access to free, appropriate public education.
Now, one last thing, and I bet you the one we're all the
proudest of: in the last ten years we had sweeping civil rights
legislation, the first in the world passed to prohibit
discrimination against people with disabilities. These were a
fabulous ten years, and yet in this very same ten years the
number of people on Social Security Disability doubled, and the
expenditures more than doubled. All of these good changes, and
yet more and more people are coming to us saying that they are
vocational failures. What is going on? I was very curious about
this problem and very interested in it. I asked the experts, and
I got a lot of answers. They told me a lot of different reasons
why people with disabilities were having a hard time in the labor
We did the unusual; we went around and asked our customers, people with disabilities. We sat with them at round tables all over this country, and we asked them the same question I just asked you, "What's going on here?" And here's what they told us. They told us: it's about health insurance, Susan. The access that we have to health care is through the cash-benefit programs, Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI. If we don't go through that door, there's no way we can get the health insurance that we need. We are, many of us, uninsurable in the private market at any price. Whereas we may be able to replace the cash benefit with earnings, we cannot replace the health care.
Second, they said to us (and this is something that I bet resonates with you) it's about the services we receive. We want choice. We want to choose the kind of services we need. We want to choose the providers. We want to be treated like adults and not childrenwork and going to work's a grown-up activity. They also said, "We don't understand the work incentives, and neither do you." That was kind of shocking, but it seemed pretty true. The work incentives are complicated. So they said they wanted more choice, and they wanted a simpler way to use the work incentives. Finally they said to us, "The Social Security system is an all or nothing systemyou either get in, and you get the things that you need, or you can't get in at all, and you get nothing." We need more kinds of support; we need more flexibility in the system; we need help sometimes, and sometimes we don't need any help at all. We need to be able to call the shots about when that happens. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we listened to our customers, and we put together a series of proposals.
Today I'd like to tell you about two of them that are currently in Congress, and I am frankly going to ask for your support. We have submitted to the Congress a proposal to allow Social Security beneficiaries who are on the disability rolls to get a ticket and to take this ticket to any provider of their choice to receive the services of their choice. If that ticket to services results in employment, the provider will be paid when the person goes to work. Now I want to tell you the characteristics of the ticket because I want to be sure you understand that I understand that this is not the answer to all problems, that people with disabilities, and particularly people with visual impairments and blindness, need a broad range of services that no one person, organization, or program can give them. But the ticket gives us really three things I think our customers want. They want choice: they want to decide when to use the ticket, with whom, what kind of provider, and for what services. This choice is very, very important to them, and so now it is very, very important to us.
We want to see innovation. We want all the different people who think they can help beneficiaries find jobs, get jobs, keep jobs, and do well in jobs to come to the table and offer their skills. That means we hope to see the kinds of innovations we haven't seen yet but that may be out there, and maybe the ticket will help spawn ideas. For instance, wouldn't it be wonderful if co-ops of people with disabilities themselves could form businesses and use the ticket? Wouldn't it be wonderful if families who have disabled members could form family co-ops to start businesses or to run businesses? Wouldn't it be wonderful if people who have technology would put that technology to work, not in a rehabilitation format (the kind we always see), but just in a work format? And so we are very, very interested in spawning innovation.
Third, the ticket pays for results. That means that the services that we are focusing on are those that lead to real jobs for real pay, for a really long time. This is for success in the job market.
Finally, the ticket has a companion. (We call this getting the incentives right.) The companion is the opportunity for individuals who are using Medicaid and are on SSI to buy Medicaid on a sliding scale fee when they leave the rolls and no longer need the cash supports.
The House Ways and Means Committee is likely to consider the ticket and will certainly be doing hearings this year on the ticket. I hope as an organization you all will participate in talking to Congress about your needs and about your preferences about services, and I hope that you will use your voiceeven if you don't like the ticket, by the wayto communicate with the Congress about your needs as a person with a disability and your needs for real employment that has real wages and real benefits.
Now, I want to offer you a challenge. Two weeks ago over six hundred women with disabilities from around the world convened in Washington, D.C. These women participated in the first-ever international leadership forum for women with disabilities. I was very, very proud to co-host that activity with my colleague Judy Heumann. We had women with all kinds of disabilitiesphysical disabilities, mental disabilities, psychiatric disabilities. We certainly did have quite a few women there who were blind. From these women we learned a beautiful phrase that I would like to share with you. Then I would like to ask you to join me in a challenge. They kept saying that to be women with disabilities today identifying themselves as people with disabilities, they were going to be loud, proud, and passionate about themselves and their pride in themselves. We heard over and over again "loud, proud, and passionate." I can tell you, this group could certainly meet those criteria. I've seen a lot of loud in this group. I've seen a lot of proud, and I'm sure, although I haven't seen it, there's been quite a bit of passion going on as well.
There are three things I'd like to ask you to be loud, proud, and passionate about as well. The first is about blind solidarity. Anyone in the disability movement who looks at the accomplishments of people with blindness in this country, with their ability to organize for themselves, will learn a lesson in solidarity. You are a model. Congratulations. Other people with disabilities are learning from this model. They are copying you, and you should be proud of that. Imitation is the best form of flattery. Your blind solidarity, as I call it, is something you should be loud, proud, and passionate about.
But let me ask you to also broaden your solidarity, because each and every person in this roomand by the way, I see many baby-boomers, and I know you think of yourselves as very young, but I know you're not. I'm an early baby-boomer, and I'm almost fifty, so I know that some of you are younger than me, but not muchcreepin' into middle age. That's the part of life where chronic illness and other disabilities begin to show up. I say this only to remind you, as I remind myself, that the fact that one little part of your body went wrong early in your life doesn't mean the other parts are exempt. That means that like every other American you are facing aging and a very serious crisis in health care and long-term care.
I ask you to think about this in solidarity with other people with disabilities and with others of your age-mates who are non-disabled. As we age as a society, we no longer have the family structures of extended family to care for us in our elder years, and we no longer have access to the kinds of public-supported health care that we have come to expect. Please think about this carefully. Although you and I are both people with disabilities, we also face the challenges of aging and a growing aging population in our society. Please use your lessons in solidarity to stay active in the health care debate and make sure that health care will be there for you, for your brothers and your sisters who are disabled, and for your friends and family who may be non-disabled.
This solidarity that we learned from you can be used for good use in the betterment of all America. That's your first challenge.
Second, all of the services that we experience, all of the ones that we have, are squat if we end up poor. I want to say that again. They're squat if we end up poor. Working is the only way Americans can get out of poverty. You need to insist, you need to be loud, proud, and passionate about economic opportunity for yourself, and you need to hold all of your service providers accountable for giving you the kinds of services that make you competitive and keep you competitive in the labor market. This is important for your economic welfare, and the rest is squat if you're poor. Now, I'm loud, proud, and passionate about not being poor.
Third, I want you, as you have challenged so often, to be loud, proud, and passionate about challenging assumptions people have. I know that you have challenged everyone in this country in the attitudes towards people with blindness, but I want you to help us challenge their attitudes towards everything that we often take for granted. Let me give you an example right here in this room. I would like everyone who did not bring their own chair to stand up. If you did not carry that chair in here, get off it, stand up. Yes, I know, you've been sittin' too long. Stand up. Look at the people up here at the podium. On your feet.
You thought they were special and could stay seated:
unbelievable. No, stay standing, I didn't say sit down. First of all, you've been sittin' for two hours; you need a little circulation.
I want to talk to you about how special that chair is. You know, a lot of people go around apologizing: "Gee whiz, I need this in Braille, or I need this on tape, or I need this on disk." It's a big apology. But you know, most people go around and they don't apologize for the chair they sit on. Right? How much did that chair cost that you're sittin' on? About seventy-five dollars. Since I brought my own, I don't need that chair. That's right. Now, you better think about this with all of us. People who are non-disabled take everything in the environment as a given even though it's expensive. Go ahead and sit down; accommodate yourselves.
I want you to remember that everything in this room is an accommodation to somebody. Now, let's talk about those accommodations. The chairs are accommodations to you accessibly vertical people. You expect a tushy shelf to be put everyplace you go, don't you? You sure do. You expect it in this room, and you expect it in the restaurant, on the bus, every place you take your tushy. You expect somebody else to put a shelf for you to put it on. Is that not right? Yes it is.
Now if this was a different group, I would say I want everybody to look up at that ceiling, and what do you see? Lights. Now how many miles of wire does it take to put that many lights in a room this size? Literally hundreds of miles of wiring have gone into that ceiling. Now how much did that cost for all the people who are visually dependent to accommodate them? That's right; it cost a lot of money to light a room, and guess what? People who are visually dependent don't want just rooms like this lit; they want every room they go into lit upevery single solitary one. The federal government could run a lot cheaper and not pay nearly as much for electricity if they only hired blind people.
Now, don't say to me, "But Dr. Daniels, how much does it cost to put one of those lifts on a bus?" I say, "I don't know, how much does it cost to put one of those seats on the bus?" Damn good question, but I don't know. It seems to me that we have forgotten that the man-made world of lights and chairs and escalators and elevators, etc., is all made so that everybody can be productive and enjoy the environment in which they live and work.
So there is no need to apologize. People who are non-
disabled don't say, "Oh, but I really need a chair," or "I really
need some lights on," or for instance "I really need your voice
amplified for me." By the way, if I step away from this mike like
I'm doing right now, only people in the front row can hear me,
but people in the back row, who depend on this amplification,
can't. Everything in the built-environment is there for all of us
to use, and all we need to do is make sure that everybody
understands that it's for all of us.=20
So, ladies and gentlemen, let me ask you to be loud, proud, and passionate about solidarity; to be loud, proud, and passionate about health care; and please, to be loud, proud, and passionate about economic opportunities. Those are the keys to a great life in this country, and you deserve it. Thank you.
Following Dr. Daniels's remarks, several questions were asked. Here is a summary of those questions and Dr. Daniels's responses:
Jim Gashel: The Ticket to Independence is something we can support in principle and philosophically because we proposed legislation of the same sort in the Congress over ten years ago. We want greater choice for consumers in selecting service providers. We thought up the concept before it was popular to talk about choice in rehabilitation. We got choice put into the Rehabilitation Act of 1992, and before we get done, the provisions will be stronger in the 1997 amendments.
But there are a number of special criteria, conditions, and rules that address the needs of blind people in the Social Security Act. So policies written under the general rubric of the Ticket to Independence may affect us in considerably different ways from the effect they have on people with other disabilities. The National Federation of the Blind has conducted the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor for twenty years. Moreover, no one else in the entire disability field can organize a group of more than 3,000 consumers in one place. And we have training centers across the country that are highly skilled in getting blind people ready to engage in substantial gainful activity.
We would like to talk to you and other policy people at
Social Security and make modifications where necessary to see
that the Ticket to Independence really means what it says for
blind people. We haven't seen the languageyou may have talked
to someone, but it wasn't us. So I'm asking that you and the NFB
meet soon to straighten out this Ticket to Independence.=20
Susan Daniels: That's easy. Next week we will post the text of the language we have drafted for the Ticket to Independence on the Internet and I would like to hear from you about the problems and the issues we can start working on right now.
Gashel: One of our main criteria for judging the Ticket to
Independence is going to be its financial aspects and how it
affects blind people. I would like a yes or no answer to this
question: the Social Security Act currently has provisions that
require an applicant to accept rehabilitation services if they're
offered, and if you don't you will be cut off. Does this Ticket
to Independence require an individual to accept a job even if it
would pay less than the combination of tax-free Social Security
benefits and earned wages at the level of substantial gainful
activity? Because if the person's going to fall off the cliff,
this is not a Ticket to Independence.=20
Daniels: Jim, you have two very important issues there. The
first one is really easy, and the second one is really hard. The
Ticket is a voluntary program; this is not a country requiring
compulsory work. A person enters the program voluntarily. You can
take the ticket and tear it up and put it in a drawer, or you can
use it with any provider you choose. No one is required to take a
Gashel: People are under present law.
Daniels: Under present law a requirement says that, if you
are offered services and without due cause refuse service from a
state rehabilitation agency, there can be a sanction. It is
rarely used because we believe that people have to choose to
Gashel: Is it due cause that you are going to lose money by
Daniels: That is the second and more difficult question. How do we create a system where working makes sense? That's a lot harder. We still have to work on that. It doesn't make sense for a lot of people to fall off that cliff. We know that people work up to it and then back away. We all agree that this is a problem, and we don't have a solution on the table for that right now.
President Maurer: Commissioner, let me say this: some people
don't work up to it. Some people are afraid enough of it, they've
heard enough about it, that they don't even try because they're
afraid that they might get too close. They don't know enough
about the technicalities of it. A lot of people don't come with
the brain power and the background in Social Security law that
you and Mr. Gashel possess. They have heard that, when you go to
work, you lose your benefits, so they sit tight and don't lose
Gashel: I thank you for the candor of your answer. It's going to be a problem for us really to support this unless we address that issue. I hope you understand that, but we look forward to the meetings to address that issue.
Maurer: I did not say what I did in criticism of you. I suspect you are where you are because you don't have a whole lot of choice. But I would like for you to think about that and help us to remove the disincentives that currently exist under the law.
Daniels: I think you can count on us for that. We are very, very concerned about the disincentives. It is hard to craft solutions that work but do not also create other, unintended effects. I have committed the rest of my career as a public official or back as a regular street-level trouble-maker to see if we can't find a way to make work make sense for people.
Gashel: I would add, by the way, that the Congress found a
way to do it for seniors; they ought to find a way to do it for
blind people. And I would also say that President Clinton signed
Joanne Wilson: You talked about co-ops. We have formed some blind co-ops in this country. One of them is the Louisiana Center for the Blind. There are two others, one in Minnesota and one in Colorado. These were programs started by blind people for blind people. We have a national and international reputation as model rehabilitation programs for blind people. Lots of blind people want to come to us. A number of years ago, when the demonstration grants were first formed for Project Network, I was asked to come and do some presentations to the folks who were going to be working on that. On several occasions I went and did training sessions on blindness and how to network with blind programs and so on, and they loved it. Then I went home and never heard from them again. We never got a single referral, nor did Minnesota or Colorado. My concern about the Ticket to Independence is two-fold. How do small providersand in the disability field (competing with groups like Goodwill) we are small providershow do we get referrals?
My second concern is the payment schedule. As the rules read now, it would be eighteen months until we could get paymentthe nine months of our program and nine months of work experience. As private-provider vendors this is not an incentive. So this new system has been very discouraging for us. Can you give us some help here?
Daniels: You have identified one of the chief vulnerabilities of the Ticket; it does require some level of capital investment by the provider. We recognized this problem very early on, but we have not completely solved it. We have talked with small providers, and I am glad to have your feedback. We have been working with foundations around the country, some fairly large ones, to begin to think about capitalizing this as a real investment in people. So we are looking for other alternatives.
The real issue for us as we formulated the ticket was: is there something we could add to what already exists now that would not require the Congress to take funds away from some other project or to come up with an appropriation? That would kill it right now because we are in a balanced-budget scenario. We are looking for something that will add on to the current situation. We believe that the ticket does not replace anything that folks currently have. Will it work for everybody? I don't think so. Will it work for some people? That's the question we are trying to find the answer to now. In a very tight budget environment it is a choice between doing something that is very frugal and doing nothing at all.
Wilson: You talked about forming co-ops, but in the blindness field, which is a very low-incidence disability, vendors like us aren't going to be able to participate in this program, and a lot of blind people are going to be denied the services they want and need. Lots of these co-ops will be out of luck unless we figure out a way of financing the program better up front.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joe Shankle]
Virginia Vendor Shows How it's Done
From the Editor: Last September I attended the convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. At a party late one evening Joe Shankle, President of the Virginia vendors organization and a long-time affiliate leader, began telling me about a newspaper story that had recently appeared in Richmond. It was a profile of him and his wife Roberta, and, while they conceded that it had been accurate, they complained that all their efforts to explain the importance of Federation philosophy in their lives had been rigorously ignored by the reporter. I asked them to send me the story anyway. And when it came, I discovered what I had expected to: the impact of the NFB shone out in every line of the piece. The reporter could excise references to the organization, but there was no way to tell the Shankles' story without demonstrating what Federation philosophy does to inspire people to high standards, hard work, and dedicated service. The story appeared in the August 9, 1997, edition of the Richmond Times-Democrat. Here it is:
"Joe's Cafeteria" Manager Listens and Learns
He Has Been Blind Since He Was Age Sixteen
by Gary Robertson
The manager of one of the largest cafeterias in downtown Richmond, feeding as many as 1,200 people a day, never has seen any of his customers' faces. But he never forgets a voice.
"I make good use of my ears," Joe Shankle said.
Shankle, fifty-seven, has been making good use of his ears
and his senses of smell and touch and tasteto navigate through a sighted world since he started going blind after a bout of measles when he was six years old.
The measles caused cataracts on his eyes, and by the time he was eight, Shankle was headed for the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton. He lost his sight completely at sixteen.
But by then he had learned to take care of himself and had decided to pursue a career in business.
Blind people had few options in those days, Shankle said. He decided to run a snack bar, under a program that gave priority to the blind in federal buildings.
He started in Lynchburg and then moved to Richmond, where he thought the opportunities would be better.
For six years he operated a three-employee snack bar in the federal building. Twice during the 1960's he applied to manage the cafeteria. "But they didn't think [I] could do it," Shankle said.
Roberta Shankle, his wife of three decades, bristled when she remembered those days and other instances in which people slighted her husband's abilities. "Just because you're blind doesn't mean you can't think!" she declared.
Mrs. Shankle, fifty-three, is legally blind, although she can see well enough to keep the cafeteria's books and prepare menus.
After several teams of sighted managers failed to operate the cafeteria successfully, Shankle got his chance in 1972. "I had some friends in GSA [the General Services Administration] who had confidence in me. They said, `Give him a chance.'"
Shankle took the chance and ran with it.
He inherited fifteen employees from a previous manager, as
well as a lot of ill will toward the cafeteria.
"They didn't like us very much," Shankle recalled with a laugh. "That first day we took in $190. Even back then I knew we wouldn't be open very long unless we had a lot more customers than that."
Shankle gradually trimmed his work force to three employees he could count on. Then he built it back up to eleven, as "Joe's Cafeteria" became a favorite with employees in the federal building at 400 N. Eighth Street as well as other downtown workers.
"Joe's Cafeteria" is not the official name. In fact, it has no official name.
"But everyone calls it Joe's. We wouldn't know what else to call it," said Richard Lee, assistant district director of the Internal Revenue Service for Virginia and West Virginia.
The IRS is the building's principal tenant, with 500 employees on board. But hundreds of other customers pour in from everywhere in the downtown area.
"We've been going through a renovation of the federal buildingwe call it `the renovation from hell,'" Lee quipped.
"A key strategy in that renovation was that the restaurant survive and thrive during the process.
"In this part of town Joe's Cafeteria is one of the key eating places. There's us, the [John Marshall Court Building, the Virginia Supreme Court], and the State Library. We had to keep it going."
Shankle is proud that he's been able to keep a loyal and growing customer base over a quarter-century.
"You have to keep your customers first. You have to listen to what they tell you," Shankle said.
That's why he stations himself at the cash register every day during the busy lunch hour: "I want to hear everything first-hand."
"If somebody says, `Joe, the chili didn't taste exactly right today,' I want to go taste the chili. Maybe somebody left something out or put too much of something else in."
Every once in a while a customer will notice that Shankle's cash register talks.
He had one of the first talking cash registers in the country to help him keep track of change. Now a more advanced model helps him track inventory, too.
Shankle also has a talking computer, and he's about to trade for a new, more powerful model.
"He likes gadgets," Mrs. Shankle said.
Before the days of cellular phones, IRS employee Henry Kidd
remembers giving Shankle a ride home, and there was an accident right in front of them.
"Joe pulled out a telephone," Kidd recalled.
The phone linked Shankle with a ham radio operator, and in a
moment or two Shankle was reporting it to an emergency operator, Kidd said.
"She never knew he was blind," Kidd said.
"He just explained everything in such detail that she
probably thought he was looking at it."
Shankle revels in his independence.
He likes to give visitors to the cafeteria his "dime tour"
through the dining room, kitchen, and refrigeration areas, quickly sidestepping hot stoves and rushing employees.
On certain chores, such as keeping tabs on fast-moving supply items, "I'll need a little `20-20' help," Shankle said, referring to sighted persons.
Otherwise, he says he and his wife can do just about everything there is to do, although he wouldn't want to try to whip up a full-course meal.
"I have a cook," he said with a grin.
A good sense of humor is something that Shankle said has
helped keep him going and makes life fun.
Recently, for example, he borrowed his seventeen-year-old son's full-size cardboard stand-up of "Worf." That's the big, combative, out-of-this-world warrior on the TV series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
"He put it in the ladies' bathroom and then turned off the lights," his wife said with an impish smile.
The first few employees in the bathroom in the morning had a shock and then a good laugh, she said.
Shankle also likes to poke fun at his blindness. He recalled the time that his mother called from her home in Southwest Virginia late at night while he was mowing the grass.
"She said, `Isn't it dark down there?' She had forgotten, I guess. I used to cut my grass a lot when it was dark. When you're blind, you can do it night or day," he said.
The Shankles also laughed about some of the myths about the blind. For example, Mrs. Shankle said some otherwise perfectly intelligent people have asked her how blind people can have children.
"The same way everybody else does," has been her reply.
And after rearing two sons and a daughter, Mrs. Shankle said
she's convinced that their children grew up like any other children would: "They thought we were as dumb as most teenagers think their parents are."
Shankle believes his life has been blessed with a good wife, a good family and friends, and good customers who've helped him make a living.
Blindness, he said, "has only been an inconvenience."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Richard Ring]
Omni 1000, A Comprehensive Review
by Richard Ring
From the Editor: Richard Ring is the Director of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at the National Center for the Blind. The Omni 1000 is Dr. Raymond Kurzweil's latest entry in the reading-machine market. Here is what Mr. Ring has to say about it:
In November, 1996, Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc. of Waltham, Massachusetts, released Omni 1000, a software-reading system for blind persons. The company simultaneously released the Omni 1000 stand-alone reading machine. Recently the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind acquired the latest release of this software, which is version 2.0. This article discusses this software at some length. The reason that we are devoting an entire article to this software is that we believe that the Omni 1000 is currently the most feature-rich and powerful OCR package for blind people on the market today. Keep in mind, however, that this market is always changing, and it is quite possible that the Omni 1000 will be surpassed by one of its competitors in the months or years ahead.
What is a PC-based reading system? A reading system consists of four components: a scanner to acquire an electronic image of the page; software to analyze that image and convert it into text, a microprocessor (computer) to run that software; and finally an output device, either a speech synthesizer or a refreshable Braille display, that will allow you to listen to or read the text the system produces.
Why choose a PC-based reading system? One question we are often asked at the International Braille and Technology Center is, "Why not purchase a stand-alone reading machine instead of a PC-based reading system if all you intend to do is read and save documents?" This is a fair question. We believe that a PC-based reading system offers better value and increased versatility. If you have questions concerning this assessment, please feel free to contact the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. All this now said, let us turn to the Omni 1000 from Kurzweil Educational Systems.
Kurzweil Educational Systems recommends that you have the following minimum system requirements: a Pentium processor with a clock speed of at least 100 megahertz, a hard disk with storage capacity of at least 500 megabytes (five hundred million bytes), and at least twenty-four megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM). If you do not choose to use the voice-recognition feature, the program will run on a system with only sixteen megabytes of RAM. We believe, however, that the software will run more efficiently with thirty-two megabytes of RAM. You will need a sound card and speakers or headphones as well as a CD-ROM drive. The Omni 1000 software comes on a CD-ROM disk and requires the Windows 95® operating system. It will also run on a Windows NT® machine. And, since we are talking about a reading system, you'll also need a scanner. Kurzweil has tested many of the Hewlett Packard (HP) scanners, e.g., the 2P, 2C, 3P, 4P, 4C, and 5P. Kurzweil says the Omni 1000 should be capable of supporting most scanners that use the TWAIN® scanner interface, which allows Windows 95® applications to communicate with your scanner. If you are uncertain whether your scanner is supported, you should contact Kurzweil Educational Systems.
What's in the Package?
When you receive the Omni 1000 software, you will get the CD-ROM containing the program, a print manual, a seventeen-key keypad, and a registration card. A Braille manual is also available and can be requested when ordering the software.
Installing the Omni 1000 software is almost too easy. Many Windows 95® applications install with little or no user intervention, which can be frustrating to a computer user who wishes to understand what is happening during the process. Omni 1000 is even more automatic than most Windows 95® applications. Simply place the CD in your drive, put the key disk in drive A, close both drive doors, and the process begins. Speech will occur automatically because along with the OCR program itself, Omni 1000 will install AT&T Flextalk®, a software speech synthesizer that will generate speech through your sound card. And of course the first speech you will hear is Omni 1000 reading the license agreement, which you must accept. The only other time that user-intervention is requested is when the software asks you if you would like Omni 1000 to start each time the computer is turned on. To say no, simply press enter after hearing the question. If you do nothing, Omni 1000 will run immediately after Windows 95® is loaded.
Though Omni 1000 comes with the AT&T Flextalk®, you may wish to continue to use the hardware synthesizer you already own. Omni 1000 supports several SSIL-compliant synthesizers, e.g., DECtalk PC or Express, Keynote Gold, Doubletalk, Accent PC or SA, and the Braille 'n Speak product line. One problem with the nearly automatic installation procedure is that you cannot choose to use one of these supported synthesizers. In order to install such support, you will need to have some knowledge of Windows 95® since the process involves finding a folder on the Omni 1000 CD-ROM disk that bears the name of the synthesizer you want to use.
Another problem with Omni 1000 is that right now there is no direct support for refreshable Braille displays. This can be a drawback for those who rely on this method of output. At the very least it makes it more difficult for deaf-blind people to use Omni 1000.
There is a way to get around this limitation, however. Although Omni 1000 does not support the use of refreshable Braille displays itself, it can be configured to operate like any other Windows 95® application. If you use a screen-access program which supports a refreshable Braille display, you will be able to use the display with Omni 1000; and as is the case with any traditional Windows 95® application, you will need to be familiar with conventional Windows 95® menu procedures. It would be better if Omni 1000 included built-in support for refreshable Braille output.
A Word about Copy Protection
The Omni 1000 program is copy-protected. This practice has never been popular and has nearly ended in the world of mainstream software. But it is still fairly prevalent with programs written for blind people. Most of the screen readers (programs that allow blind people to use computers with speech synthesis or refreshable Braille) are copy-protected in one form or another.
When installing Omni 1000, you must place the supplied key disk in your floppy drive while running the installation from your CD-ROM. Kurzweil Educational Systems allows three installs. This means that, if you are a licensed owner of Omni 1000, you may install the software on three computers, provided you are not using these three computers simultaneously. For most people in most situations, this is sufficient. In circumstances involving hard disk failures which result in the accidental loss of an install, Kurzweil says that it will furnish you with an additional installation if required. However, it is possible that because of copy protection you could be without the use of the software for several days while waiting for an additional key disk to arrive.
Memory and Processor Speed
We know that the Omni 1000 software will run on a machine with only sixteen megabytes of RAM. However, to get the most out of this software, thirty-two megabytes is preferable. Several factors contribute to this conclusion.
First, analyzing and converting a page uses a large amount of your computer's resources. Accordingly, the faster your system and the more memory you have available, the more rapidly the recognition process will occur. Second, Omni 1000 employs a software speech-engine, which requires additional system resources. Added to the optical-character-recognition operation, this creates a challenge for your machine. We have tested the Omni 1000 software on machines ranging from a Pentium 133 with sixteen megabytes of RAM to a Pentium 200 with sixty-four megabytes. Naturally the faster machine significantly outperformed the others.
Since a reading system turns scanned images into text which must be spoken, it must provide the user with the means to control the reading and management of scanned documents. Not only does the Omni 1000 provide the tools needed to perform these tasks, but its many features expand upon these concepts. Those who design reading systems for blind people do everything they can to create programs that are useable regardless of the level of computer expertise. Omni 1000 is no exception. What distinguishes it from its competitors is that it provides so many interfaces or ways to talk to the computer program you're running. Omni 1000 provides four distinct methods for the user to communicate with it. We will describe all of them as we discuss system features.
When you purchase the Omni 1000, you get a seventeen-key keypad. This keypad does not differ substantially from the numeric keypad customarily found on the right side of a standard 101- or 104-key computer keyboard. If the user of the Omni 1000 knows little or nothing about computers and wishes to preserve that blissful state, this keypad could be attached to the computer in place of the full-size keyboard. The keypad has three distinct modes or layers: the reading, file management, and settings keypad. When Omni 1000 is loaded, you are placed in the reading keypad. From this keypad you can scan and read, move to different parts of a document, control speaking speed and volume, and access the dictionary and spell-word features. In the file management keypad, you can create folders (once known as directories); delete folders; move between folders; and open, close, and delete documents. You can also save documents in the file format you choose. Omni 1000 offers 127 possible file formats. From the settings keypad you can change some system characteristics; for example, Omni 1000 can use one voice for reading documents and one for system information, e.g., prompts and error messages. From the settings keypad layer you can assign the voices you like to these functions. You can also change the way in which Omni 1000 scans documents. For example, from the settings keypad you can regulate the brightness of the image and determine whether to scan and recognize a file immediately or scan files to image for later recognition. Moving from keypad layer to keypad layer is a fairly easy task.
In the early 1970's, when Dr. Raymond Kurzweil was developing the first reading machine, he worked closely with the National Federation of the Blind. One of our suggestions incorporated in that early reading machine was to include a nominator key. By pressing the nominator key followed by any other key on the keyboard, the user could hear a brief help message about the second key. Omni 1000 preserves this function with the help-and-status key. If you need help with the function of any key in any layer of the keypad, first press the help-and-status key followed by the key for which you need information. A brief help message will follow. If you press the help-and-status key and hold down the key about which you want help, you will receive a more detailed message. This feature provides a quick way to familiarize yourself with the keypad and its functions. There is also a keypad command that allows you to load the online manual when more in-depth help is required.
The Menu Bar
Omni 1000 uses a menu bar similar to those found in most Windows 95® applications. Therefore, if you are familiar with such menu bars, you will already be able to take advantage of this interface. If you don't already know how to navigate in a menu, learning to use the Omni 1000 menu bar will provide an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the use of this standard Windows 95® feature. What is unique about Omni 1000 in this regard is that, if you are using the program's built-in speech, all of the menus talk.
From within the menus you can open, close, save, and delete files and open and create folders. You can begin scanning, change scanner settings, and change other Omni 1000 settings such as reading speed, reading voice, and system voice. Some menu choices have sub-menus; others perform a specific action, such as start-reading or start-scanning. When a sub-menu exists, Omni 1000 informs the user.
Other Omni 1000 features, settings, and operations are accessed using other standard Windows 95® controls (e.g., dialog boxes, edit boxes, check boxes, and the like). All of these controls will speak if you are using the built-in Omni 1000 speech.
Finally, many Omni 1000 menu items can be accessed directly with short cut keys, a common feature in most Windows 95® applications.
The fourth and final interface is the voice-recognition command system. With voice commands you can start scanning, start reading, spell a word, get a dictionary definition for a word, raise and lower the speaking volume, and raise or lower the reading speed as well as invoking many other program functions. To use voice commands, you must have a microphone properly connected to your sound card. You must also configure your microphone correctly for use with voice-recognition commands. If you don't have a Windows 95® screen reader, you will require some assistance because it cannot be done from within Omni 1000 itself.
Voice-recognition commands require a lot of system resources. Unless you actually need the feature, we recommend that you leave this function out.
We did not find the voice interface reliable. We had to repeat our requests many times to get the system to understand what we wanted. We tested this feature using three different computers and four different microphones and achieved the same poor results every time.
Omni 1000 can be used simply to scan and read a page of text. However, there are a number of features that can add more flexibility to the process. As we have discussed, you can initiate a scan from either the keypad, the menu bar (using shortcut keys), or voice recognition commands. When you begin a scan, Omni 1000 responds with the message, "Scanning, please wait." We tested Omni 1000 using two different scanners=FEthe HP4P and HP5P, both manufactured by Hewlett Packard. When using the HP4P, we noticed that scanning speed was somewhat more sluggish than when using the HP5P. This was the only significant difference between these scanners.
During the scanning process Omni 1000 provides progress messages. These quickly become tedious. One of the first things we did was to disable them. You can cancel a scan in progress, provided that the scan was not completed. Simply pressing the start-and-stop-scanning key on the keypad or F9 on the keyboard will immediately terminate a scanning operation. If you are using the keypad to perform Omni 1000 operations, you can scan only when in the reading keypad layer.
Omni 1000 appends pages as they are scanned to the open file. As soon as a page has been scanned, you can begin scanning the next page. You need not wait for recognition to be complete.
Scanning and Reading Simultaneously
The Omni 1000 allows you to scan and read at the same time. You can scan a document while the system is reading the previously scanned pages. When using Flextalk®, the software speech synthesizer installed with Omni 1000, we noticed a lot of choppiness in the speech during scanning. Words are skipped while scanning is going on. However, when testing Omni 1000 using a traditional hardware speech synthesizer such as a DECtalk PC or an Accent PC, this choppiness did not occur.
Re-scanning a Page
Omni 1000 offers the ability to re-scan a page. You may scan a page and then realize that the results may be flawed, e.g., the brightness is set incorrectly, or the page was not properly aligned on the scanner. If this occurs, you can choose the re-scan page option from the scan menu, and the page you have just scanned will be automatically erased and scanned again.
Inserting a Page
When scanning lengthy documents, it is easy to skip a page inadvertently. Inserting a page means that you can correct this problem. When choosing this option, you can scan the missing page and have it inserted before the current page in your document. The pages will be renumbered to reflect the addition of the new page. This option is not available in other OCR reading systems designed for blind users. Until now, the only way to insert missing text has been to save the insertion as a file and use a word processor to add the page to the document.
When the print quality of a document is poor, one way to improve the scanning results is to adjust the brightness of the image. Many scanners support this feature. Omni 1000 can accept brightness values ranging from zero to one hundred, where zero is the darkest setting and one hundred is the lightest. For most documents we tested, a brightness setting of fifty resulted in reasonably good recognition.
Omni 1000 supports the automatic contrast feature, which is available only when you use a Hewlett Packard scanner. This feature is referred to by Omni 1000 as dynamic thresholding. This means that the lightness or darkness of the image is adjusted automatically during the scanning process based on the quality of the page. When dynamic thresholding is on, previous brightness settings are disabled until dynamic thresholding is turned off. This feature is useful when you are uncertain about the quality of a document. When testing Omni 1000 using the HP4P scanner, the scanner hesitated (stopped and started repeatedly) when dynamic thresholding was enabled, but this problem did not occur when we used the HP5P scanner.
The term "batch scanning" means scanning a number of pages and deferring their recognition or processing until later. Omni 1000 supports this feature, which it calls scanning to image files. You can scan pages which are saved as image files but start processing them when it is convenient. To do this, you must change the scanning mode from scan and recognize, the default setting, to scan to image file. An image file is a digital picture of the page. It cannot be read since the text has not been recognized.
To extract text from the digital image, you must switch the scanning mode to recognize image files. Then you must invoke the start-scanning function. As each image file is recognized, it is automatically deleted. One useful feature of Omni 1000 batch scanning is that you can safely interrupt the recognition of previously scanned pages. However, you must save the already recognized pages with a file name. When you wish to resume recognition, open the saved file, switch scanning mode to recognize-image-files, and invoke the start-scanning function.
Omni 1000 provides the usual reading features=FEread by line, read by sentence, and read by paragraph. You can use any of the interfaces described earlier to move around by the reading unit you have selected. In addition, you can invoke a continuous reading function that can be halted with a single keystroke.
You can move around within the document using standard arrow keys, and you can also move quickly from page to page or jump to a specific page.
Dictionary and Spell Features
Omni 1000 incorporates an electronic version of the American Heritage Dictionary in its software. Accordingly, you may obtain a definition for a word by simply positioning the cursor on the desired word and using either the keypad or the menu bar to select the dictionary feature.
Omni 1000 has a spell-word feature. When listening to text read by synthetic speech, it is easy to misunderstand a word. Using the spell feature can eliminate these problems. When the spell command is invoked, Omni 1000 first says the word and then spells it.
Perhaps the most powerful feature in Omni 1000 pertains to editing. It supports many of the editing commands found in word processors. You can delete characters, use insert or typeover mode, and select text for cutting and pasting. The text-selection commands are the same as those found in most Windows 95® applications. Omni 1000 also allows you to cut and paste text, which is another standard capability in most Windows 95® editing programs. Although it might be preferable to edit scanned documents using a word processor with which one is familiar, the fact that such editing capabilities are built into Omni 1000 makes it a powerful tool.
Omni 1000 also includes a find feature, which allows the user to search for specific text strings within the document. This feature is not case-sensitive, providing another powerful tool to aid in the examination of a document.
Omni 1000 allows the user to create and save bookmarks. You can create only one bookmark per page. A bookmark is useful when you have scanned a long document and you wish to resume reading at a specific place, or if you wish to select portions of the document to revisit. Please note that a document saved in a text format or as a word-processed file cannot use the bookmark feature. Omni 1000 stores the location of the sentence containing a bookmark and will return upon request. Bookmarks can also be deleted.
File Management Features
Omni 1000 allows you to save a scanned document in any of 127 possible file formats. We prefer to save documents in plain-text format, since file-conversion routines often misinterpret the format of the original document.
When Omni 1000 is installed, it creates a number of folders in which documents can be stored: books, manuals, recipes, etc.
You can delete these folders and create your own. You can also
create a favorites list of folders. You can create a file before
you have scanned any text into it, or you can scan the text you
wish to read and save the document to a file when you have
finished. Omni 1000 allows you to name files from the numeric
keypad. When you use the save-file key on the numeric keypad,
Omni 1000 prompts you to accept the default name for the file or
to enter a name of your own. Specific keys on the keypad
correspond to letters and digits, but the system is cumbersome
and slow. It is much easier to use the keyboard.=20
You can also create a favorites list of the files you are most likely to use. All of the favorites commands may be accessed using either the keypad or the menu bar. A favorites list allows you to choose only those files or folders you wish to access regularly.
Omni 1000 provides the ability to alter display colors, to highlight text as it is spoken, and to magnify text on the screen. These features could be of some use to those with some remaining vision.
There are several settings that may be changed in order to allow you to use your screen reader. You can disable active speech so that Omni 1000 no longer communicates directly with your chosen speech synthesizer. You can also disable Omni 1000's use of the numeric keypad. This is essential if you wish to use an existing Windows 95® screen reader since nearly all such programs use the numeric keypad for their commands.
For many users of OCR systems, the most important question is, how accurate is Omni 1000? All reading software is extremely limited in what it will read correctly. Documents with unusual layoutsfont variation, multiple columns, and graphics on the same pagewill cause any of the OCR packages to produce poor results. Print is a visual medium, so documents are usually designed to catch the eye rather than to convey information. When dealers of reading software or reading machines tout their products, one might conclude that all reading tasks can be accomplished with these systems. Nothing could be further from the truth! Even if we assume that an OCR package had an accuracy rate of 99 percent, think of the possible errors contained in that one percent! Therefore, no one should use an OCR package to read bank statements or pay bills. Although OCR is improving, financial matters leave no room for error.
Omni 1000 was tested using a number of documents. When given a typewritten letter, a novel, or a laser-quality computer printout, Omni 1000 did remarkably well. We also found that it identifies and properly presents multiple columns better than any of its competitors.
However, it cannot read inverse text (light text on a dark background), which is found on book jackets, brochures, and catalogs. Stephen Baum, who is primarily responsible for the design of Omni 1000, says that this feature will be present in the next release of the software. Omni 1000 does not read poor-quality faxes as well as does Open Book version 3.5 from Arkenstone. Yet in most cases we found Omni 1000 to be extremely accurate. Keep in mind, however, that no reading system today can produce error-free results.
Omni 1000's recognition speed is fairly fast. On a Pentium 200 with sixty-four megabytes of RAM, it took Omni 1000 under ten seconds to recognize the facing pages of a paperback novel. But as document layouts become more complex, the recognition speed begins to slow down considerably.
Omni 1000 incorporates an automatic page-orientation feature. This is essential for a blind user since he or she has no way of orienting material correctly for scanning if it has not been previously identified. Omni 1000 will notify you if it has scanned a blank page and will not add it to your document.
The overall differences in recognition accuracy between reading systems are not great. Therefore, when choosing reading software, you should look for a program that provides the features you need. Omni 1000 incorporates so many features that it would be difficult to imagine that it could not satisfy the needs of most users.
Room for Improvement
Unfortunately, Omni 1000 is the most costly reading software package for blind people today. Its price of $1,295 is about $300 more than Arkenstone's Open Book Unbound.
The help-and-status key, discussed earlier, provides help for only the keypad=FEnot the menu system. In other words, there is no context-sensitive help of the type that has become a standard for conventional Windows 95® applications. Direct support for refreshable Braille displays is a deficiency that must be addressed if Omni 1000 is truly to be of use to the deaf-blind. We also find the use of copy protection an unnecessary inconvenience that should be eliminated.
One area of concern is technical support. Though we received good technical support from Kurzweil Educational Systems, this support is extremely difficult to obtain because nearly every time we called, we got a busy signal. This is certainly another thing which Kurzweil Educational Systems could improve.
Finally, the installation procedure should include the ability to install support for hardware speech synthesizers such as the DECtalk PC/Express or any other of the currently supported devices. We also hope that the list of supported devices is enhanced in a future release.
Omni 1000 is by far the most feature-rich OCR package for blind people currently available. There are so many different ways to use the program and so many useful tools that it is clear that Kurzweil Educational Systems has established a new standard in this field. The documentation is quite good, and a Braille manual is available.
No brief review can address all the questions that arise when considering the purchase of such complex and expensive software. If you are considering making such a purchase, we strongly suggest that you try the programs yourself. When doing so, you should bring the kinds of documents with you that you would ordinarily scan. One way to accomplish this would be by visiting the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. All of the available reading systems are on display here, and we would be glad to assist you in making your decisions. The National Federation of the Blind has been closely involved with reading systems for the blind since the beginning, and we will continue to provide unbiased information regarding this technology.
You may contact Kurzweil Educational Systems at the
following address: Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc., 411
Waverly Oaks Road, Waltham, Massachusetts 02154, Phone (800) 894-
5374 or (617) 893-8200, Fax (617) 893-4157, E-mail:=20
World Wide Web: http://www.kurzweiledu.com
Leading by Example
From the Editor: Never before in a single year has one blind person been invited to keynote meetings of the two major international organizations in the blindness field. But in August of 1996, Dr. Jernigan opened the quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union in Toronto, Canada, and in the following April he keynoted the tenth World Conference of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, which took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil. These invitations were a signal honor, recognizing as they did Dr. Jernigan's contributions to the field; they also insured that organization delegates would hear a shrewd and inspiring address. But it was not only Dr. Jernigan's words that moved his audience in Sao Paulo; it was his example.
Recognizing the importance of walking to the podium independently at the time of his speech, Dr. Jernigan made a point of going to the auditorium beforehand to study the route. This technique is used when possible by experienced cane-users whenever it's important to move efficiently and independently while an audience watches. Sadly, Dr. Jernigan was the only blind speaker at the conference not led to the podium and retrieved from it by a sighted guide. The following editorial demonstrates just how effective a symbol his action was.
The following commentary appeared in the July-September, 1997, Asia Appraiser, the quarterly newsletter of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment. Larry Campbell, International Program Administrator at the Overbrook School for the Blind, called our attention to the editorial. Here it is:
When Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Director of the National Center for the Blind, United States of America, walked independently to the dais of the State Government Palace of Sao Paulo to deliver the keynote address of the tenth World Conference of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, there was a thunderous applause. He was independent, elegant, and reassured the confidence that visually impaired persons could come out of the social conditioning that they are inferior. A delegate sitting at the back row shouted with joy, "That is beautiful, Kenneth; why don't others emulate you?" Orientation and mobility are vital aspects of the independent living of any visually impaired person. Research studies indicate that a visually impaired person is easily accepted in society when his/her mobility skills are good. Once Kevin Curry said that many teachers make visually impaired children "Braille Monks" because they consider Braille as the only need and forget the vital importance of mobility in the life of the individual. The independent walking of Dr. Jernigan made the thousands of people assembled at the Palace proud. The striking statement, "Leading by Example," made by Dr. Jernigan during his keynote address was relevant to what he had demonstrated. His powerful address set the trend for an excellent conference. After delivering the address, no one was needed to bring him back to his seat. He did it all by himself. He, through his action, has demonstrated that he leads others by example. He has also indicated how teachers, administrators, parents, and professionals in the field of visual impairment should lead by example in whatever work they do. Marc Maurer, the President of the National Federation of the Blind, U.S.A., wrote: "Kenneth Jernigan is generally regarded as the most outstanding blind person in the world today." It is true because Dr. Jernigan believes in leading by example. We can make our visually impaired children outstanding if they are led by examples. Let us make them excellent in education, mobility, rehabilitation, and integration. In doing so, let us emulate Dr. Jernigan and his powerful statement, "Leading by Example"!
Did you know that you can make a gift to the National Federation of the Blind and save taxes three ways? Well, you can! With a gift of appreciated stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. For more information, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
My Cane Is Helpful to Me in Many Ways
by Susie D'Mello
From the Editor: Sue Drapinski, Treasurer of the NFB of Michigan, reports that Susie D'Mello is twelve years old and lives in Troy, Michigan. She and her family found the National Federation of the Blind about two years ago through the affiliate's Saturday School tutoring program, in which Federationists work with blind children to help sharpen their skills and build their confidence in themselves as blind people. The program has had a significant impact on the kids. The following is a little essay that Susie D'mello wrote. This is what she said:
My cane is like a best friend to me. It guides me when I walk or go places. It keeps me from running into things, and it lets me know if I am on grass or concrete. At night, especially when I have to walk by myself, my cane really comes in handy. It helps me to go where I need to, and it makes me feel a little bit braver.
My cane helps me get around. I know that I can always ask for help if I cannot find something because of my vision. Most people know that I cannot see when they notice my cane and will assist me in a way that I understand. If I ask for something and the person who is helping me for some reason does not know that I need more help and that I cannot see well, I just ask that person politely to guide me or give me whatever assistance I need. My cane, as you can see, has helped make me more independent.
Whoever invented the cane was brilliant. It may look simple, but I know that it has helped many people in many ways. If I am at a store and I see people staring at me, I do not mind because my cane is helping me, so it is worth being stared at.
I use my cane at school especially when there is a fire drill or tornado drill because everybody is rushing around. I just grab my cane and stick with my class, and I know that I will be just fine. Another good thing is that at school a lot of people know me even when I don't recognize them. They say, "Hi," to me and know why I have the cane, so they do not play with it.
When I go to my piano class, it is dark when I leave, so my cane helps me to get to the car by myself, which is great. If I take a walk, my cane will tell me when the street comes so that I do not just walk off the curb.
Being the only person in school who carries a cane makes me feel kind of special and unique. I like to carry my cane with me. All this proves that my cane helps me a lot because, if you think about it, this essay has covered most of the areas of my life. Maybe other people don't believe it, but I sure know that my cane is like a best friend to me and that I am proud to have one. My cane is great.
Tuning in to Federationism
by Donald L. Mitchell
From the Editor: In the following story Don Mitchell describes the ways he has found to use the opportunities presented by his job to educate the public about the abilities of blind people. Don describes himself as a relatively new Federationist, but he has already learned the knack of representing the organization positively wherever he goes. This is what he says:
As a fairly new member of the National Federation of the Blind, I am still tuning in to the philosophy of the organized blind movement. I am learning what this movement is and why it is necessary. As I learn, I find that there are no real surprises.
Like most other blind people I have seen and experienced condescending treatment by those who don't understand our capabilities. As a professional piano tuner and teacher of piano tuning, I am regularly exposed to the common and not-so-common stereotypes the public have about blindness. Every day as I meet the public, I have the opportunity to educate people about blindness and to promote equality for all blind people.
As I go into the homes of my clients, I am greeted with a variety of responses. It is not my practice to announce to a client on the phone that I am a blind tuner; this is not relevant. I am a tuner, trained and prepared to do a good job. Because I hire a driver and carry a white cane, my customers quickly realize that I am blind. This is where the varied responses begin.
A few are concerned and express disbelief that I can really do what they hired me to do. In my twenty-five years of experience I have had only one client refuse to allow me to service her piano. Some are overly solicitous. They may begin to move furniture out of the way or even try to carry all 200 pounds of me to the piano! Yet other clients are astonished and go on about how amazing it is that I can do what I do. Fortunately, a little patience and the competent doing of my job usually convince the skeptics.
Those customers who prefer to worship the ground I walk on can be harder to deal with. I don't want to be thought of as brave or wonderful or extraordinary just for doing my job.
Since I rely on these people for my income, it is important that I do nothing to offend them, but at the same time I cannot allow inappropriate treatment to continue. I have made it a practice to talk to these persons about their attitudes. After many years of experience, I can carry on a conversation while doing most of my work. This gives me one or two or even more hours to discuss blindness and related matters.
The issues I am often called upon to discuss include (1) the hearing ability of a blind person; (2) the natural musicianship of the blind; (3) the ability of a blind person to move around without vision; (4) the way a blind person does the basics like eating meals, reading newspapers, and traveling throughout the community. All of these things are easily performed by visually impaired persons trained in the alternative techniques well known to most members of the NFB.
As an established piano tuner-technician I am in contact with thousands of households every year. I have the opportunity to be observed by and talk to both children and adults in the family. Many of these families become regular clients with whom I will work through the years. This provides the piano tuner with great possibilities: to educate families about blindness, to confront common stereotypes, and to make progress in changing the perception of what it means to be blind by demonstrating in real, practical ways that the blind are normal people who happen to be blind.
These issues are very important to me as an NFB member. I was recently asked to take the lead in organizing the Piano Tuners' Division of the NFB. As tuners, the blind have opportunities to educate the public as well as to perform a valuable service to the music world. Unfortunately some blind persons are unaware of how excellent a career choice piano tuning can be. This, I am sure, is a result of our history. Piano tuning was developed as a career choice for the blind by well-meaning sighted people. In the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, blind men were routinely tracked into this profession. The concept of self-determination was unheard of.
Thank goodness things have changed today! Blind persons can choose almost any career they want. But piano tuning, which continues to be an excellent occupation for blind people, is attracting at least twenty sighted people for every blind person.
Blind men and women should not overlook piano tuning as a profession. Piano tuning gives us the chance to educate the sighted world about what it means to be blind and while doing so to be honorably, gainfully, and enjoyably employed.
If you want more information about piano tuning as a new,
challenging profession for the blind, please contact Don
Mitchell, Director of Education, Emil Fries Institute of Piano
Tuning and Technology, 2510 E. Evergreen Boulevard, Vancouver,
Washington 98661, Phone (360) 693-1511, Fax (360) 693-6891, e-
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Norma Crosby]
A Quick Look at the Lone-Star State
by Norma Crosby
From the Editor: Norma Crosby is one of the leaders of the NFB of Texas. She is also unabashedly proud of her native state. In the following article she suggests some of the reasons why you just might want to spend a few extra days in Texas before or after the 1998 convention. This is what Norma says:
Texans talk about Texas a lot. In fact, I've been told that folks from other states occasionally become weary of our ramblings, though I don't know why. It seems perfectly natural to all of us to tell everyone all about the glories of living in this big, wonderful, diverse state, which has something special to offer everyone. Why, I'll bet if you visit Texas for a few days you'll begin to feel finer than cream gravy. After all, we have the coldest long necks, the biggest margaritas, the best barbeque, the hottest jalapenos, the richest oil wells, the tastiest cattle, the wildest horses, the friendliest people, and the most beautiful scenery in the world. Oops! There I go again. Now that I have most of the bragging out of the way, let me give you a few facts about the Dallas/Fort Worth area and Texas in general, which will make you want to come early and do a little sightseeing or stay over and enjoy more of our beautiful state.
Texas is the second largest state in the Union in land mass. Its area is approximately 367,000 square miles. So it is not possible to see all of Texas in a day, a week, or even a month. Let me explain a little further. Houston is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from our convention hotel. Austin is a similar distance, though not in the same direction. It would take about six hours to drive to San Antonio and perhaps nine hours to reach Corpus Christi. If you wanted to visit Brownsville, which is on our southern border with Mexico, you would need to drive for about eleven hours. El Paso is our westernmost city, and if you plan a driving trip from the Hyatt to El Paso, you might have to stop halfway and buy a new car to complete the 665-mile trip. Of course, if you fly, most of these destinations can be reached in one to three hours, depending on whether or not you are able to get a direct flight. You should definitely consider a visit to at least one of the cities I have mentioned. They each have much to offer.
Austin is the home of our beautiful state capital, Barton Springs (a natural spring which is used for swimming throughout the summer months), miles of hike and bike trails, the famous Sixth Street entertainment district, and much more. Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, and on any night you can find some of this country's finest musicians playing throughout the city.
San Antonio is probably the most visited city in Texas. It
is home to Fiesta Texas and the world-famous Riverwalk. Of course
the Alamo sits in the middle of downtown San Antonio, and you can
visit historic missions throughout the area. Market Square houses
shops, restaurants, bars, and souvenir vendors. Many of the shops
specialize in merchandise relating to Texas or Mexico.=20
Houston is Texas's boomtown. It is brash, bold, and beautiful. It is home to NASA, the Galleria, the Houston Rockets, and oil. Oil and space made Houston what it is today, and high-tech businesses are making it what it will be in the future.
Houston experienced some minor setbacks in the 1980's, but today
it is back and better than ever. I often refer to it as a big
country town. It is friendly, and although it can't claim to be
as beautiful as Austin or as sophisticated as Dallas, it can lay
claim to variety. There is enough variety throughout its 600
square miles to tantalize and stimulate any interests. Besides
that, it has its own playground. We call it Galveston Island.=20
Galveston boasts thirty-two miles of beaches and was once the playground of the rich and famous. Today visitors can tour wonderfully restored historic homes or swim all day. The Strand Historic District is a shopper's paradise, and if you get tired of shopping, you can make a trip to the Railroad Museum located at Strand and 25th Streets. Waterskiing, fishing, boating, and lounging in the sun are big attractions on Galveston Bay, and there are plenty of first-class restaurants and clubs to complete the Galveston experience.
Corpus Christi is located in the southern part of the state and is another city by the sea. Just walking along its seawall is a pleasant and relaxing experience. The entire city seems to be located on the shoreline, and, although refineries and other industrial plants are located in Corpus, which has the deepest port on the Texas coast, they are mostly hidden from view. So the beauty of the city is not spoiled. Corpus is the home port for the USS Lexington and the USS Wisconsin, and early in this decade the city opened the Texas State Aquarium in a six-acre park across the ship channel from Bayfront Plaza, the city's cultural center. Then there is Padre Island. Only the northernmost part and the southern tip of this 113-mile barrier island are commercially developed. The eighty miles between are part of the Padre Island National Seashore, which many consider the most beautiful stretch of natural beach in the country.
At the southern tip of Texas sits Brownsville. Some say that
it could also be called "Bargainsville" because it presents the
opportunity for a fun and inexpensive vacation. Brownsville has a
population of only about 100,000, but it sits just across the
border from Matamoros, Mexico, which has a population of about
350,000. Many of the locals think of the two cities as one, and
people cross the two bridges that connect the cities freely every
day. Brownsville's downtown shopping district can present a
challenge to those of us who speak only English because Spanish
is the predominant language spoken there. If you want to visit
Mexico during your vacation, Brownsville would be an excellent
base of operations.=20
Another Texas city which leads to Mexico is El Paso, which is Texas's westernmost city. El Paso is the fourth largest city in the state, and while most of Texas is on Central Time, this part of the state is on Mountain Time. Like Brownsville and Matamoros, El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, are sister cities, and the cultures blend into one. Travel between the two cities is so free that there are more than three million crossings at this part of the border each month. For many years there was a good deal of friction over which country owned certain lands in this area because the Rio Grande River was the official border, and it had a habit of shifting its course and moving land that had once been on the Mexican side to our side and vice-versa. This problem was resolved by a treaty in 1968, and things have been much more peaceful in the years since. You should visit El Paso for its historic beauty, but remember that it is also a large and modern city with plenty of good hotels, restaurants, and night life.
Finally, we should talk a little about the two major cities nearest our convention headquarters. Dallas is considered by many to be Texas's most cultured and sophisticated city. Contrary to the image portrayed on the television show named after the city, Dallas did not become a large city because of its own oil money. Rather, Dallas is in the business of business. In the book All About Texas, Lewis Nordyke said: "Dallas has found a successful way to let other Texans and the residents of some other states milk the cows and haul the manure, and Dallas gets the cream." Dallas's major growth took place after World War II, and it developed an economy based on high tech, insurance, finance, fashion, and film. It is the third largest fashion market in the country and the third largest film industry. It is also a major convention city, which greets more than two million conventioneers each year.
Dallas has diverse neighborhoods ranging from the Park
Cities to Deep Ellum and the Arts District; a variety of museums
and galleries, from the outstanding Dallas Museum of Art to the
emotion-evoking Memorial Center for Holocaust Studies; cuisine of
all kinds, from Southwestern and Continental to traditional Tex-
Mex and barbecue; plus a wide variety of entertainment,
activities, and side trips.=20
While in Dallas you should consider a visit to Science Place I, which houses large-scale exhibits that change periodically;
Science Place II, a great place for children, with hands-on exhibits and other exhibits which educate in an entertaining way;
Sixth Floor Kennedy Exhibit, housed in the building where the shots that killed John Kennedy were fired (but the exhibits depict life during that time and not the assassination); and the Telephone Pioneer Museum of Texas, with hands-on exhibits and activities that children will enjoy, which traces the history and future of the telephone.
Visiting Fort Worth is definitely different from making a trip to Dallas. Fort Worth is called "Cowtown." It began as an outpost to protect residents of Dallas and other Texans from Indian raids. Then a city grew up around the fort because Fort Worth sat along the Chisholm Trail. It was the last stop cowboys could make before entering the Oklahoma Indian Territory when driving cattle to Kansas. So it became a major supply outpost for the trail riders. Today many still consider it a country kind of town, but you might be surprised at all that Fort Worth has to offer. Yes, Fort Worth is home to cowboys, the Chisholm Trail, and the Stockyards, where steaks come bigger than platters. It is also home to great opera, world-class art museums, excellent jazz, a zoo, a planetarium, and the largest science and history museum in the Southwest. Fort Worth is eclectic, and once you visit it, you'll want to come back.
As you can see, Texas has something to offer every visitor, and the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas hope that we will have the opportunity to offer you some of our world-famous hospitality this summer. Take a plane, a boat, a bus, or walk if you have to, but remember that you'll be sorry if you miss this convention, and so will we.
Make your hotel reservations as soon as possible. Our hotel rates are singles, $41; doubles and twins, $43; triples, $45; and quads, $47. There will be no charge for children rooming with their parents as long as no additional beds are required. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12 percent.
To make your reservation, write directly to Hyatt-Regency DFW, Post Office Box 619014, International Parkway, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Texas 75261, or call (972) 453-1234. Hyatt has a national toll-free number, but do not (we emphasize not) use it. Reservations made through this national number will not be valid. They must be made directly with the hotel. The hotel will want a deposit of $50 or a credit card number. If a credit card is used, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $50 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 15, 1998, $25 of the $50 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Gashel, NFB Director of Governmental Affairs]
Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 1998
by James Gashel
The beginning of each year brings with it annual adjustments in Social Security programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, Social Security and SSI cost-of-living increases, and changes in deductible and co-insurance requirements under Medicare. Here are the new facts for 1998:
FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for
employees and their employers remains at 7.65 percent. This rate
includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability
Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional
1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund,
from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed
persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent,
which includes 12.4 percent paid to the OASDI trust fund and 2.9
percent paid to the HI trust fund.=20
Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 1997, the ceiling
on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI trust fund was
$65,400. The taxable income ceiling for contributions to the
OASDI trust fund during 1998 will be $68,400. All earnings are
subject to the HI trust fund tax contribution of 1.45 percent for
employees or 2.9 percent for self-employed persons.=20
Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors,
and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on the
number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during
periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage
during a single year. During 1997 a Social Security quarter of
coverage was credited for earnings of $670 in any calendar
quarter. Anyone who earned $2,680 for the year (regardless of
when the earnings occurred during the year) was given four
quarters of coverage. In 1998 a Social Security quarter of
coverage will be credited for earnings of $700 during a calendar
quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of
Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1000 of gross earned income during 1997. During 1998 the monthly exempt amount is $1,050. Technically this exemption is referred to as an amount of monthly gross earnings which does not show "substantial gainful activity." Earnings of $1,050 or more per month before taxes for a blind SSDI beneficiary in 1998 will show substantial gainful activity after subtracting any unearned (or subsidy) income and applying any deductions for impairment-related work expenses.
Social Security Benefit Amounts for 1998: All Social
Security benefits, including retirement, survivors, disability,
and dependents' benefits are increased by 2.1 percent beginning
with the checks received in January, 1998. The exact dollar
increase for any individual will depend upon the amount being
Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January, 1998, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $494 per month; couples, $741 per month. These amounts are increased from individuals, $484 per month; couples, $726 per month.
Medicare Deductibles and Co-insurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The co-insurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay.
Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's
The Part A co-insurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days was $760 during 1997 and is increased to $764 during 1998. Beginning with the sixty-first day and through the ninetieth day, there is a daily co-insurance amount of $191 per day, up from $190 in 1997.
Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty "reserve days" for hospital
services provided within a benefit period longer than ninety
days. The co-insurance amount to be paid during each reserve day
is $382, up from $380 in 1997.=20
Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one-hundredth day within a benefit period, the Part A co-insurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility is $95.50 per day, up from $95.00 per day in 1997.
For most beneficiaries there is no monthly premium charge
for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for
Social Security Disability Insurance cash benefits can continue
to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for thirty-nine
months following the end of a trial work period. After that time
the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for
this coverage during 1998 is $309 per month. During 1998 this
premium rate is $170 for individuals who have earned at least
thirty quarters of coverage under Social-Security-covered
The Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible remains
at $100 in 1998. This is an annual deductible amount. The
Medicare Part B basic monthly premium rate will not increase from
the $43.80 charged to each beneficiary and withheld from Social
Security checks during 1997. Medicare Part B coverage may be
continued for persons who complete a trial work period and become
ineligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance cash
benefits. This monthly premium rate is $43.80, the same amount
paid by Social Security beneficiaries through withholding from
their monthly Social Security checks.=20
Programs Which Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums:
Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programsQMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program).
Under the QMB program states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and co-insurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program, states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium ($43.80 in 1998). Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.
Both programs are administered by the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) in conjunction with the states. In order to qualify in any state, the income of an individual or couple must be less than the threshold amount which is announced for each year. The threshold amount is revised annually to reflect changes in national poverty level guidelines. The rules vary from state to state; but in general: A person may qualify for the QMB program if his or her income is approximately $678 per month for an individual and $905 per month for a couple. These amounts apply for residents of forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income threshold used to define poverty is approximately $843 per month for an individual and $1,126 per month for couples. In Hawaii income must be less than approximately $776 per month for an individual and $1,037 per month for couples.
For the SLMB program, the income of an individual cannot exceed $809 per month or $1,081 for a couple in forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income amount is $1,007 for an individual and $1,347 for couples.
An individual in Hawaii can qualify if his or her income is
approximately $927 per month; for couples the amount is $1,240.=20
Resourcessuch as bank accounts or stocksmay not exceed $4,000 for one person or $6,000 for a family of two. (Resources generally are things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count, and in some circumstances your car may not count either.)
If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay Medicare's hospital deductible, which is $100 per benefit period in 1998; the daily co-insurance charges for extended hospital and skilled nursing facility stays; the Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) premium, which is $43.80 per month in 1998; the $100 annual Part B deductible; or the 20 percent co-insurance for services covered by Medicare Part B, depending on which doctor you go to.
If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will not have to pay the $43.80 monthly Part B premium. If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number, (800) 772-1213.
Remember, only your state can decide if you're eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program. So, if you're elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local welfare or social service agency to apply. For more information about either program, call HCFA's toll-free telephone number, (800) 638-6833.
This month's recipes were submitted by members of one of our newest divisions, the National Organization of the Senior Blind. Founded at our 1996 convention in Anaheim, this division is working hard to reach out to seniors and assist them in their adjustment to blindness.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Christine Hall]
Pineapple Swedish Cake
by Christine Hall
Christine Hall is the President of the National Organization of the Senior Blind. She has been active in the NFB since the early '60's when she joined the Student Division in Los Angeles, California; she later became President of the state division. She served as President of the Sacramento chapter for a time and on the Board of the NFB of California. After moving to Hawaii, she was President of the state affiliate for a short time and later became the First Vice President of the affiliate. Christine also served as the President of the Honolulu chapter. She moved to New Mexico in 1991 and is currently a board member of the Albuquerque chapter, President of SAGE (Senior Action Group Energy), a division of the NFB of New Mexico, and President of the National Organization of the Senior Blind.
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
Method: Beat eggs until light and fluffy (two to three minutes). Add pineapple, sugars, flour, and soda. Mix by hand and stir in nuts. Spread in 13-by-9-inch greased pan and bake at 350 degrees for forty-five to fifty minutes.
Cream Cheese Ginger Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ginger root, grated
Method: Beat cream cheese and butter together. Gradually add powdered sugar and grated ginger root. Beat until smooth. Spread on cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped nuts if desired.
Chinese Chicken Salad
by Christine Hall
1 roasted chicken, shredded
1 head lettuce, shredded
Won ton chips
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, roasted
4 green onions, chopped
¼ pound unsalted peanuts, chopped
Chinese parsley (cilantro)
Method:Combine all ingredients and toss thoroughly. Finish with the following dressing just before serving: 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 4 tablespoons sugar, and ¼ cup salad oil. Combine ingredients and shake vigorously.
by Christine Hall
2 tablespoons oil or butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ green onion, thinly sliced
½ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
½ cup mushrooms coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cups brown rice, cooked
Method: Saute garlic and green onions in oil for one minute. Add nuts and cook until lightly brown. Add mushrooms and cook for two minutes. Add soy sauce. Cover and simmer for five minutes. Stir cooked rice into mixture and blend thoroughly. Serves six.
by Christine Hall
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 cup sugar
½ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
½ cup raisins
½ cup coconut, shredded
¼ pound butter
½ cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups mango, chopped
Method: Mix first four ingredients together. Add sugar, nuts, raisins, and coconut. Mix well. Add eggs, butter (softened), oil, vanilla, and mango. Mix manually. Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans or bundt cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one-and-a-half hours.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Pat Eschbach]
Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies
by Pat Eschbach
Pat and Bob Eschbach are longtime leaders of the National
Federation of the Blind. Bob is a member of the National
Organization of the Senior Blind. He swears that this cookie
recipe is almost as good as chicken soup for correcting what ails
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups Quaker oats
1 cup raisins
Method: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together margarine and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and mix well. Stir in oats and raisins and mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake ten to twelve minutes or until golden brown. Cool one minute on cookie sheet before removing to wire rack. Makes four dozen.
In the December issue we announced the results of the NFB of Colorado election. We should have included Gerry Posey's name in the list of those elected to the Board of Directors. We regret the error.
The new URL for the Web site of the Greater San Antonio Chapter of the NFB of Texas is http://www.geocities.com/heartland/ranch/7135 Peter Donahue, chapter secretary, reports that they hope to stay put for a while.
For Sale: =20
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Mountbatten Brailler Deluxe model with interface box, cables, and manuals. Two years old with latest software upgrade. $1800 or best offer plus shipping. Contact Harold Snider, (301) 460-4142, fax (301) 460-4146, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to 3224 Beret Lane, Silver Spring, Maryland 20906.
Amway Information in Alternative Media, Maybe:
Pete Donahue writes to say that he and his wife have made serious contacts with the Amway Corporation outlining the problems blind distributors and customers have in getting Amway information they need in alternative formats. The company seems to be seriously interested in providing what is needed and in making its computer software and Internet resources more accessible to blind people. Pete asks everyone concerned about these problems to contact Amway with comments and descriptions of=20 past problems.
Contact Mark Lounsbury, Distributor Relations Department, 56-3c, Amway Corporation, 7575 Fulten Street, East Ada, Michigan 49355, Phone (616) 787-7828, Amvox 248-8609, Fax (616) 787-5730. Distributors should have their ADA Numbers available when calling and include it in faxes or Amvox messages.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Sensational Treasures offers gifts for all occasions: spun glass items, music boxes of all sorts, porcelain dolls, etc. For a catalog contact Sensational Treasures, P.O. Box 1077 Corinth, Mississippi 38835-1077, (601) 286-2807. For a larger catalog include $3.
Braille Transcription Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I do literary Braille transcription. My prices are $1 per Braille page; $2 for binding, book covers, and labeling; and $2 for packaging. No music or math transcription please. Orders will be sent free-matter, unless otherwise requested. Contact Janet Cross at (601) 456-3102.
David Collins writes to announce the marriage of Robert Southerd, a long-time leader and current President of the Tidewater Chapter of the NFB of Virginia, and Linda Midgett on Saturday, August 9, 1997, in Norfolk, Virginia. The couple took an active part in the Virginia convention a few weeks after the wedding. Congratulations to the Southerds.
Karen Mayry, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, reports that the Palace City Chapter in Mitchell, which has just been reorganized, elected the following officers: Dan Lauritsen, President; Lois Vinz, Vice President/Secretary; and Vicki Frey, Treasurer. The chapter will host the 1998 NFB of South Dakota state convention.
Choco-Braille Greeting Cards:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement;
CHOCO-BRAILLE is the original Braille-embossed chocolate
greeting card manufactured by the Chocolate Experience, Inc. We have twelve messages available including "Happy Birthday," "Thank You," "Happy Holidays," "I Love You," "Happy Easter," etc. Each bar costs $2.50 for regular chocolate and $3.50 for sugar-free. We also manufacture chocolate guide dogs (Labs and shepherds).
For more information call Judy Geva at (800) 669-6665. In New
York only, call (718) 461-1873. Our e-mail address is
Our speech-friendly Web site is www.chocobraille.com
Richard Casey Confirmed as Federal Judge:
The Senate recently confirmed the nomination of Richard Casey of New York to a Federal District Court judgeship.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Anita O'Shea]
Priscilla Ferris, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, wrote recently to say that Anita O'Shea died on October 13, 1997. She had been a long-time member of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts. She joined the organization in the late 1940's. Her accomplishments were many. For many years she served as President and Board member of the Greater Springfield Chapter. She was President of the state affiliate for two terms. She was a true lady and a dedicated Federationist whose priority was helping blind people achieve a first-class life. Her many years as a counselor employed by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and those whom she helped are a testament to her caring.
Scholarships for Students With Visual Impairments:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) sponsors two academic scholarship programs each year. The awards recognize extraordinary leadership, scholarship, enterprise, and service to others.
The Mary P. Oenslager Scholarship Achievement Awards (SAAs) are given annually to legally blind college seniors. Applicants for the 1998 awards must meet the following criteria: 1) member of RFB&D for at least one year prior to February 1, 1998; 2) received a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year college or university in the United States between July 1, 1997, and June 30, 1998; and 3) have an academic average of 3.0 or more on a 4.0 scale.
The SAA Awards are given to a total of nine students in three categoriesthree winners receive $6,000 each, three special honors winners receive $3,000 each, and three honors winners receive $1,000 each.
The Marion Huber Learning Through Listening (LTL) Awards are presented each year to high school seniors who have specific learning disabilities. The LTL Awards are given annually to a total of six students in two categories. Three winners receive $6,000 each, and three special honors winners receive $2,000 each. Applicants for the 1998 awards must also meet the following criteria: 1) member of RFB&D for at least one year prior to February 1, 1998; 2) member of the 1998 graduating class of a public or private high school in the United States; 3) have an overall grade point average of B or above; and 4) plan to continue formal education beyond high school.
For more information on RFB&D's scholarship programs, call (800) 221-4792. The deadline to submit applications for the 1998 awards is February 1, 1998.
Attention Seventh Day Adventists:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I would like to contact any Braille readers who are members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Please contact Albert Sanchez in print, Braille, cassette, or computer disk at 707 East Garland, Spokane, Washington 99207, (509) 487-8959 or e-mail:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Nancy Scott]
Two poems by Pennsylvania Federationist Nancy Scott, "He Watches the Sky" and "Hearing the Sunrise," appear in a new poetry collection. The press release from the publisher reads in part: "Coming in October from Plume Trade Paperback is Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out, edited by Kenny Fries. In this groundbreaking and far-reaching collection, writers such as Andre Dubus, Stanley Elkin, and Adrienne Rich confront what it means to be disabled in our society." For ordering information call (800) 526-0275 or fax (800) 227-9604. For academic marketing fax your request to (212) 366-2933.
Attention State RAC Members:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The State Rehabilitation Advisory Council's (SRAC) electronic mailing list is now available. Now SRAC members can share information and ideas with other SRAC members throughout the United States. A message sent to the list address SRAC-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.edu will be automatically forwarded to each member of the distribution list. You may participate in the electronic discussion by sending your subscription request to LISTSERV@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU Simply include the following command in the message body:
SUBSCRIBE SRAC-L user-name
You will get a return message asking you to confirm membership in your SRAC. Initially the list will be available to SRAC members only. Others, such as representatives of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, may be invited to contribute to the exchange in the future.
If you experience a problem or have questions about SRAC-L,
you may reach a person by writing to the address
Archives of messages posted to the SRAC-L list will be
available on the WWW in the near future. Point your Internet
browser at the Internet URL
We look forward to having you and your SRAC contribute to this virtual conference by e-mail.
The SRAC-L list has been made possible by St. Johns University of Jamaica, New York, which has donated use of its computer facilities.
Don Mitchell, Director of Training at the Emil Fries Piano Hospital, reports that during the first week of June, 1997, the blind community in Washington State mourned the death of Emil B. Fries at the age of ninety-six. He died peacefully in his sleep on June 7. Emil was a member of the first graduating class of the Washington State School for the Blind in 1924. He was also an active Lions Club member.
Using the money he earned tuning pianos, Emil attended and graduated from the University of Washington in 1930. He led a full life of independence and adventure and was active in both the National Association of Piano Tuners (later changed to the Piano Technicians Guild) and in the community of Vancouver, where he lived.
When the School for the Blind dropped its piano-tuning course from its curriculum in 1949, he established the Emil Fries Piano Hospital and Training Center. The Piano Hospital, as it is now known, is still in the business of rehabilitating pianos and training blind people to be piano technicians. In 1980 he wrote a book about his life titled But You Can Feel It, which portrays his positive outlook expressed throughout his entire life.
When the NFB of Washington was working to pass legislation to detach the School for the Blind from the Department of Social and Health Services, Emil, although not a member of the NFB, wanted to know what he could do to help. His support of our efforts was certainly appreciated and helped accomplish the task.
Anyone interested in making contributions to the Hospital in Emil's memory should contact Piano Hospital & Training Center, 2510 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver, Washington 98661, (360) 693-1511.
The Diabetes Action Network of the National Federation of the Blind of California held its biennial election of officers at its meeting on November 1, 1997. The following people were elected: Donovan Cooper, President; Sally York, Vice President;
Helen Dodge, Secretary; Joy Cardinet, Treasurer; and Nancy Smith, Board member.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kathryn C. Davis]
Kathy Davis, a member of the Board of Directors of the NFB of Florida and President of the Greater Daytona Beach Chapter, received the 1997 Post-Secondary School Counselor of the Year Award from the Volusia Flagler Counseling Association. She was selected from nominees across the entire state of Florida in recognition of her work as a counseling professional. Kathy has been a counselor at Daytona Beach Community College for the past eighteen years. Congratulations to Kathy.
Blind Americans At Work in 1997:
Did you know a blind person can be a successful trucker who hauls potatoes in an 18-wheel monster or an elementary teacher who teaches handwriting to sighted children or a clinical dietician or a computer programmer? How do they do it? Listen to blind Americans talking about their jobs on your free copy of the "1997 National Job Seminar." This lively seminar is available only on 2-track audio cassette from Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB), a national service of the National Federation of the Blind in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor.
If you are blind, do you need a college degree in order to get a decent job? JOB offers you a second new audio publication called, Jobs Blind People Are Doing with a High School Education or Less (2-track, 2 cassettes/set).
Do you need a free subscription to the only recorded job magazine in the United States? Request the "JOB Sample Pack."
Everything is free from JOB. Write to JOB, c/o National
Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or call (800) 638-7518, 12:30 to 5:00 p.m. EST.
Microsoft Releases Internet Explorer® Version 4.01:
Readers of the Braille Monitor will remember that in the December, 1997, issue, we published a letter to Bill Gates written by Curtis Chong, President of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science. It raised very real concerns about Microsoft's failure to incorporate full accessibility features into its Internet Explorer® Version 4.0 product, released at the end of September. Mr. Chong's letter to Gates was one of many communications expressing unhappiness, cynicism, and anger at Microsoft's failure to ensure full accessibility to its products.
On Tuesday, December 2, 1997, Microsoft announced the general availability of Internet Explorer® Version 4.01. The reason for this new release was clearly to remedy the lack of accessibility in Internet Explorer® Version 4.0. Microsoft has delivered on its promise to fix the accessibility problems of Internet Explorer® 4.0 before the end of the year. Certainly Version 4.01 would not have been released without the hue and cry concerning Version 4.0, which echoed around the world.
However, the accessibility problems surrounding Internet Explorer® have not really been solved. The behavior of Internet Explorer® 4.01 is so different from that of Version 3.02 (the release which still works today with screen-reading programs for the blind) that it renders the software at best difficult to use without some maintenance releases from the screen-access vendors. So, although it is good news that Microsoft has come out with this newest version of Internet Explorer®, we must anxiously await corresponding maintenance releases from the screen-access software companies.
James Antonacci, Secretary of the NFB of Pennsylvania, reports the affiliate's recent election results. The new officers are Ted Young, President; Judy Jobes, First Vice President; Earl Jackson, Second Vice President; Jim Antonacci, Secretary; and Pat Eschbach, Treasurer. Board members are Chris Boone, Rodney Powell, and Michael Wolk.
Talking Caller ID Unit:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
CIDney, the talking caller ID unit, has a voice. It tells you who is calling before you answer the phone. All models available will announce the phone number and/or name of the caller over their own built-in speakers. With most models you can record the name of the caller with your own voice. CIDney logs the caller's name, number, and the time of the call.
Prices start at $59.95, The unit installs in seconds and never needs batteries. There are four models. All products work with Caller ID services available in the U.S. and Canada and come with a one-year limited warranty. For more information or to order CIDney, contact Full Life Products, P.O. Box 490, Mirror Lake, New Hampshire 03853-0490, or call toll-free (800) 400-1540 or (603) 569-2240.
Guide to Windows 95 Keyboard Commands available in Braille:=20
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Microsoft Guide to Windows 95 Keyboard Commands is now available in a single volume of Grade II Braille for $25; discounts are available for multiple orders. Call BRL, Inc. at (800) 407-5839 or email email@example.com All major credit cards and purchase orders accepted.
The National Federation of the Blind of Maine recently elected the following officers: Connie Leblond, President; Mike Jacqubouis, First Vice President; Robbie McIninch, Second Vice President; Seth Leblond, Secretary; and Robert Leblond, Treasurer. Board members are Diana Knox and Robert Whitney.
Cards With Feeling:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Greeting cards for all occasions with tactile design, $3 each, all handmade and each one unique. Larger orders receive a discount. Samples available on request. Correspondence should be in Braille, print, or cassette. Contact Artistic Touch, Tina Blatter, 2600 West 28 Street, Sioux Falls, South Dakota 57105, (605) 335-1736.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Rosye Manning]
Jim Willows, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California, recently passed along the following sad news:
I am very sorry to tell you of the death of Rosye Manning on November 15, 1997. Rosye had been a leader of the NFB of California for many years. At the time of her death she was President of our Pathfinders Chapter and a member of the California Board of Directors. We will miss Rosye's quiet but steadfast dedication to our movement. We offer our sincere condolence to her family, friends, and chapter members.
Technical Internships Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announces Entry Point!, a program which provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities pursuing technical careers. Summer internships for 1998 are available throughout the country at NASA centers and in private industry, including corporations such as IBM.
Plans for 1998 include expansion to many industries including chemistry, biotechnology, and petrochemical employers. Openings in these fields will depend on the development of partnerships with appropriate employers. Consult AAAS Education and Human Resources (E&HR) Web site, which will be upgraded to reflect the addition of partnering institutions and skill sets.
Eligibility requirements include 1) currently attending an accredited college or university with a major in computer science, engineering, mathematics, or physical science; 2) minimum B average; 3) proof of U.S. citizenship or right-to-work permit.
If interested, please submit the following: 1) letter of introduction indicating geographic preference and the type of assignment which you are seeking that best uses or builds upon your skills and work experience, 2) resume, 3) description of any required work accommodation or assistive technology, 4) two letters of recommendation (one from faculty), and 5) copy of transcript.
Applications are being accepted from October 15, 1997, with anticipated placement completed by April 15, 1998. Internships normally run from May through August, although dates vary by corporation and location.
Interested students are encouraged to apply early to ensure
the best chance of matching location and skill interest with
available internships. Completed packages should be sent by mail,
e-mail, or fax to Laureen Summers, AAAS, Education and Human
Resources, 1200 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005,
(202) 326-6649, fax (202) 371-9849, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site address http//www.nextwave.org
The National Federation of the Blind Writers Division announces its poetry, fiction, and essay contests for 1997-98. All three contests are now open. The deadline for material sent is May 1, 1998. All entries must be accompanied by a $5 entry fee per piece; a stamped, self-addressed envelope; and a cover page with your name, address, and phone number. Rules for each contest follow:
Poetry: Send previously unpublished poetry to Lori Stayer, 2704 Beach Drive, Merrick, New York 11566. Poems may be up to thirty-six lines. Entries must be typed.
Fiction: Send your previously unpublished fiction, typed, double-spaced, 2,000 words or less, to Tom Stevens, 1203 S. Fairview Road, Columbia, Missouri 65203.
Personal Essay: Send your previously unpublished personal essays, 1,000 words or less, to Dr. Patricia Morrow, 1900 Vassar Drive, Columbia, Missouri 65203.
Entrants are asked not to submit contest entries elsewhere while the contest is running or for six months after it ends if the entry wins. Prizes are $40, $25, and $15 for each contest. Winning entries may be published in Slate & Style, the publication of the Writers Division.
Caution: Entries must be postmarked by the contest deadline. Do not send your first draft; proofread your work. Winners will be notified separately. Otherwise winning entries will be announced in the July, 1998, issue of Slate & Style.
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.