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David Andrews

You've Got Mail

by David Andrews

From the Editor: If you have dipped a toe into the ocean of Internet access, you have probably met or conscientiously avoided a listserv. Federationists frequently inquire about how to join the various NFB Internet discussion groups. I recently asked David Andrews, System Operator for the NFB's computer bulletin board, to compile in one place all the information about our various discussion lists. The following article is the result:

While the part of the Internet that gets the most attention is the World Wide Web (www), the Internet service that people use the most is electronic mail or e-mail. That is just as true for members of the National Federation of the Blind as it is for our sighted friends. One use of e-mail which has exploded over the past several years is mailing lists, also called listservs.

An Internet mailing list or listserv is a list of people who

use electronic mail to discuss a topic of mutual interest. In

general, when you decide to join a mailing list, you send an e-

mail message to a special address, with some specified words

either in the body of the message or in the To: line or the

Subject: line. Your name is then added to the list of subscribers

to that list, and you will automatically receive in your electronic mailbox, a copy of every message sent to that list.

This kind of communication has a number of advantages and a few disadvantages. First, when properly used, mailing lists allow for very focused topical and timely discussion. You can get answers to specific questions quickly. You can also read and answer mail at your convenience. Support and a real sense of community can develop—something we know a lot about in the NFB. On the downside, message threads sometimes wander, and lots of off-topic messages get posted. Also, because of the impersonal nature of the medium, people say things that they wouldn't say in face-to-face conversations—personal attacks, so-called flames. Nevertheless, inside and outside the NFB Internet mailing lists are an increasingly popular mode of communication. In fact, over one hundred lists cater to blind and visually impaired people, and tens of thousands of lists exist overall.

The NFB and many of its divisions now sponsor mailing lists. The majority, but not all of them, are hosted by our computer bulletin board service, NFB Net. In fact, NFB Net is the grandfather of all of our discussion lists, having started NFB Talk and Blind Talk back in 1991. NFB Net hosts eleven lists as of January, 1999.

To subscribe to a list on NFB Net, send a message to <listserv@nfbnet.org>. Leave the subject line blank, and write the word "subscribe" followed by the name of the list to which you are subscribing in the body of the message.

Please note that "listserv" has eight letters: listserv; there is no e on the end. All the body of the message need contain is the word "subscribe" plus the list name, which is a word up to eight characters in length. While names here are shown preceded by the < and followed by >, these punctuation marks are the conventional indication of the beginning and end of an address and should not be included in what you type when subscribing. Also please note that some of the list names contain hyphens, which must be used. Finally, each list is available in two different formats, regular and digest. A regular list means that you get a copy of each message as it is sent to the list, and digest mode means that you get only one message every twenty-four hours. This message contains all the individual messages for the past 24-hour period. On NFB Net digests are composed and sent each evening at 7:00 p.m. Central Time.

Below are information on each list and the list names needed to subscribe. These list descriptions were taken from the information automatically sent to you when you subscribe to the list. If you have any problems, please contact David Andrews by e-mail at either <dandrews@visi.com> or <david.andrews@nfbnet.org>.

The purpose of the NFB Talk list is to disseminate information about the NFB and its activities. It is also intended for the discussion of the NFB's philosophy of blindness and topics of specific interest to members of the National Federation of the Blind and our friends as they relate to the NFB, our policies, activities, and philosophy. The list name is <nfb-talk>, and the digest name is <nftalk-d>.

The Blind Kid list is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Started in mid-January of 1999, this is our newest list. It shares information for people interested in the welfare and development of blind children. Second, it is a means of communication between the members and supporters of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children to promote and discuss the activities of the Division, such as the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, Future Reflections, and the like. The list name is <blindkid>, and the digest name is <kids-d>.

The Blind Law mailing list is sponsored by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. The purpose of Blind Law is to discuss legal matters and topics directly related to blind people and their blindness. If you have a blindness-related legal question, post it to the list, and a member of the National Association of Blind Lawyers will help you. The list is also intended as a means for the members of the National Association of Blind Lawyers to stay in contact with each other. The name of the list is <blindlaw>, and the digest name is bllaw-d>.

The purpose of the GUI Talk list is to discuss the use of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) by blind and visually impaired persons. The GUI includes, but is not limited to, Microsoft Windows 3.X, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000, X/Windows, and the Macintosh OS. The GUI can also include graphical interfaces used on consumer electronic devices, office equipment, bank machines, and the like. GUI Talk provides a forum in which we can ask questions and get answers to those inquiries. We can share tips and tricks, discuss software and hardware used to access the GUI, and more. GUI Talk also provides access to the resources and information provided by the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, the world's largest demonstration and evaluation center for computer technology used by blind people. The list name is <gui-talk>, and the digest name is <gtalk-d>.

Also in the computer arena is the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science mailing list. The list is for discussion of the business and operation of the NFB in Computer Science. It is a way for our members to keep in contact with each other, to discuss the business and operation of the division, and to share information about the worlds of computer science and technology with each other. The list often contains a variety of technology-related announcements from both the general and adaptive marketplaces. The list name is <nfbcs>, and the digest name is <nfbcs-d>.

The Human Services Division of the NFB started its own list in the fall of 1998. The National Federation of the Blind Human Services Division is an organization of professionals who are blind and working or aspiring to work in the fields of social work, psychology, rehabilitation, and counseling. We have established our own mailing list to trade tips about our professions and, more important, to trade information and maintain a forum for discussion about serving and advancing in our professions. Since our common ground is blindness and professional status in one of the human service professions, we will focus most closely on issues involving blindness. The list name is <humanser>, and the digest name is <human-d>.

The National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs also has its own list. If you are a blind person running your own business, this list is for you. This is the place to exchange ideas and questions on such matters as speech-friendly bookkeeping programs, where to get general information about the market and pricing, how to design visually appealing business materials, business transportation issues, etc. Let your experience teach others. The sum of our knowledge is greater than our individual experience. The list name is <nabentre>, and the digest name is <entre-d>.

The next mailing list is sponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). The purpose of this list is twofold. First, it is a means of communication between the members and supporters of NAPUB, promoting and discussing the activities of the Division, such as the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest and other topics. Second, the list is intended to promote Braille, Braille literacy, and the use of Braille generally. The list is an opportunity to share information about sources of Braille materials, stories about learning Braille, methods of teaching Braille to children and adults, discussion of Braille-producing equipment and software, and anything else Braille-related. There will also be occasional posts concerning issues of major importance to the blind as well as announcements concerning activities of NAPUB and the NFB. The list name is <napub>, and the digest name is <napub-d>.

Guide dog users also have their own list. The list is sponsored by the National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU), an NFB Division. The purpose of this list is to provide guide dog users and other interested people with an easy way to access information about guide dogs and to assist people to deal with issues related to working with a guide dog. Topics can include, but are not limited to, the benefits and disadvantages of using a guide dog, guide dog schools, training, care, equipment, puppy raising, public access, legislation affecting guide dog users, public attitudes about guide dogs and their use by blind people, and NAGDU activities. The list name is <nagdu>, and the digest name is <nagdu-d>.

The National Association of Blind Students (NABS) moved its list to NFB Net late in the summer of 1998. Here is what they have to say about themselves and their list: The National Association of Blind Students is an organization of students who are blind. We have created our own mailing list, NABS-L, to provide a forum for the discussion of issues relevant to blind students in every major and grade. On NABS-L we can ask questions, suggest solutions, and share experiences. Occasional posts will also concern issues of major importance to the blind as well as announcements concerning activities of NABS and the NFB. The list name is <nabs-l>, and the digest name is <nabs-d>.

The final list on NFB Net is called Blind Talk. The purpose of Blind Talk is to discuss general topics of interest to blind and visually impaired persons, our friends and relatives, and anyone else who is interested. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, computers and adaptive access technology, Braille and Braille literacy, cane travel, guide dogs, alternative techniques of blindness, and training centers. Blind Talk is intended to promote the positive philosophy of blindness developed and promoted by the National Federation of the Blind. If you wish to subscribe to Blind Talk, send your name and e-mail address to David Andrews at <dandrews@visi.com> or <david.andrews@nfbnet.org>, and I will subscribe you. The list is available in either regular or digest format. Please specify which list you wish to join.

All messages on listservs hosted on NFB Net are also stored on the system for reference or later perusal. You can telnet to NFB Net by pointing your telnet client to <nfbnet.org>. You can also dial-in using a standard modem by calling (651) 696-1975. In addition files, but not messages stored on NFB Net, are also available via the World Wide Web and via FTP. You can go to <http://www.nfbnet.org> or <ftp://ftp.nfbnet.org> to retrieve files, including past issues of the Braille Monitor, Future Reflections, and more.

In addition to the lists on NFB Net, a few lists are hosted by the NFB of California site, which is run by Brian Buhrow, chairman of the NFB's Research and Development Committee.

The most popular of these lists, <brl-monitor>, provides the entire text of the month's Braille Monitor directly to your electronic mailbox. Well over 400 readers from around the world subscribe to this list. This is an efficient, timely, and inexpensive way to receive the Monitor.

To receive the Braille Monitor electronically, send a message to <listserv@nfbcal.org>. Leave the subject line blank, and in the body of the message write "subscribe brl-monitor" followed by your full name. For example, if I wanted to subscribe, I would put the following in the body of the message: subscribe brl-monitor David Andrews. I would then send the message to <listserv@nfbcal.org>.

The NFBCAL site also hosts the Blind Professional Journalists list. Here is part of the message sent to new subscribers:

"Welcome to the Blind Professional Journalists Listserv! This list is an informal gathering place for people who want to ask questions and exchange ideas on how blind people succeed in journalism. We welcome working journalists or those who intend to write for a living on deadline. We expect that our group will include writers employed at newspapers, magazines, TV stations, or public affairs departments. We also welcome students wanting to pursue journalism careers or former journalists who, after becoming blind, wish to acquire effective alternative techniques for working in our highly competitive arena.

"Among the topics we expect to discuss in the listserv are technology that lets you manipulate information quickly and on deadline; reportorial techniques specific to blindness, ranging from managing the interview to managing visual aspects of the story; nuts-and-bolts solutions concerning transportation; and techniques for working with reader/driver/assistants, employment issues specific to blind professionals—from how to get hired to how to fund adaptive equipment—and ways of cracking informational barriers in order to keep you informed so you can do your job exceptionally well. To subscribe to this list, send a message to <listserv@nfbcal.org> and put "subscribe nfb-bpj" followed by your name in the body of the message."

The NFBCAL site also hosts lists for the NFB's Research and Development Committee and the Science and Engineering Division. The NFB-RD list discusses matters of interest to the committee as well as topics related to the development and use of technology by and for blind persons. To join the list, you must contact Brian Buhrow, chairman of the committee, at <buhrow@nfbcal.org>. Tell him a little about yourself, who you are, and what interests you about technology for the blind.

Finally, there is the NFB Science and Engineering Division List. It discusses topics of interest to division members as well as subjects of interest and use to blind scientists and engineers. To join the NFBSE list, contact the Division President, John Miller, at <millerja@isl.stanford.edu>. Again, tell him a little about yourself, who you are, and what interests you about science and engineering. You need not be blind to be on these last two lists; you just need to be interested in blindness issues as they relate to these topics.

If your NFB division or group wishes to start its own list, please have the President or an authorized officer contact David Andrews by telephone at (651) 696-1679 or by e-mail at <dandrews@visi.com> or <david.andrews@nfbnet.org> to make the arrangements. See you online.