Dr. Kenneth Jernigan
Pictured here is the bronze bust of Kenneth Jernigan unveiled during the convention and now on display in the reception area at the National Center for the Blind.
THE MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
DEDICATE THIS CONVENTION
DR. KENNETH JERNIGAN
The man who carried our burdens,
Cherished our spirits,
Challenged our minds,
Taught us, loved us,
And set us free!
These words appeared at the beginning of this year's convention agenda. They captured the spirit of a convention filled with love and respect for our deeply revered leader and sorrow in his passing, but also with joy in the promise for the future that his life and work made possible.
The 1999 Convention Roundup
by Barbara Pierce
How does an organization mark the change of an era? That was the question the National Federation of the Blind resolved June 30 to July 6 in Atlanta. At the time of the 1998 convention in Dallas, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was still able to take an active part in planning and conducting the convention, despite nearly a year of serious illness, and to call forth from us the same courage and hope for the future that he himself was demonstrating. But since his death on October 12, 1998, we have been mourning, working to incorporate his teachings into our daily activities, consolidating our strength, and preparing to move into the new millennium.
More than three thousand Federationists gathered in Atlanta from every state, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and sixteen other countries from around the world. Almost inevitably it was a convention of contrasts: celebration and solemnity, intense focus and remarkable diversity. The Marriott Marquis's architecture probably contributed to the feeling that convention delegates were comfortably spread out to engage with those of like interests in their own part of the facility. Yet we have never had a convention in which more delegates gathered together to take an active part in general convention sessions.
With four floors of public meeting areas, the Marriott Marquis provided magnificent space for a convention. Hotel staff assured us that all their guests struggle to master the hotel layout. Security personnel told Debbie Baker of Utah that they were frankly astonished to note how well NFB convention traffic moved and how quickly delegates learned how to get where they were going. From front-desk and concierge staff to bellmen and security personnel, hotel employees were courteous, helpful, and efficient. The Hilton staff were equally impressive; and, though many of us spent time hunting in vain for the right elevator bank, the consensus was that we have never been in more beautiful or pleasant hotels.
A word should be said in passing about the corps of Atlanta Ambassadors, who roamed the streets in the downtown area providing advice, directions, and simple security. These folks were helpful without being overbearing. They made it clear that they knew we are coming back to Atlanta next year and they plan to be ready to welcome us.
About fifty volunteers from the United Parcel Service also participated in the convention. UPS continues to be a wonderful corporate sponsor of NFB programs. They contributed $5,000 to support our 1999 scholarship program, and UPS volunteers were on duty, particularly at the beginning of the week, to show delegates where out-of-the-way rooms were located and, as one frustrated Federationist put it, "Where they've put the elevators this time."
The architect's model of the new building, on display in the Jernigan
The bust of Dr. Jernigan and the picture boards on display in the Jernigan suite.
Each year more people discover the advantages of arriving at convention at least a day before convention activities begin in earnest. Those who came in Tuesday, June 29, discovered hundreds of Federationists already in residence. The Jernigan suite was open, and the exhibit of picture boards, the model of the new building, and the new bronze bust of Dr. Jernigan were available for study and examination. The picture display was the one prepared last fall and enjoyed by those who came to the funeral and memorial service, but at the convention visitors could also read the captions and descriptions of the pictures in Braille or large print.
The model was a sturdy floor-by-floor representation of the proposed National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, for which we are beginning a capital campaign to raise eighteen million dollars. That campaign was kicked off during the convention, so more will be said about it later.
The bronze bust of Dr. Jernigan was commissioned before his death, and in the late summer he actually sat for the sculptor, Joseph Moss, who worked primarily from photographs and video. For many of us, examining this bust was our first opportunity to appreciate the strength and character of Dr. Jernigan's chiseled features. We found a new kind of intimacy with a man whom we have loved and respected for years.
As soon as people arrived, they could study the pre-convention agenda in print or Braille, but some of the really interesting sites were not listed. Most people made a beeline for the Peachtree Center Mall and the food court. Excellent bagels, sandwiches, salads, and other quick fare were available at reasonable prices. Shops of all kinds just waited to be explored. Meantime in the hotel, Braille labels prepared by the Georgia affiliate for ninety soda machines waited for volunteers to put them where they belonged. Ramona Walhof recruited Barry Hond of Maryland, who in turn snagged Warren Figueiredo of Louisiana, and off they went. Hours passed, and still they did not return. It takes a long time to label ninety soda machines completely, but Barry and Warren stayed with the job till it was done; that's the way Federationists approach an assignment.
A group of Federationists at the Coca-Cola display during the food fair
By the time June 30 dawned, plenty of folks were acclimated, oriented, and ready to roll. The National Buyers Group organized an excellent food fair that attracted hundreds of people interested in food and food service. Convention exhibitors were scurrying to set up their displays in the huge exhibit hall. Federationists were checking out NEWSLINE(R) and Jobline, Myna products and Blazie notetakers, and Windows and Internet access. Several divisions got an early start by conducting meetings and seminars as well.
Big brother Mickey sits on the stairs
with his little sisters Melinda,
Melissa, and Melody Salisbury,
triplets from Utah.
The Job Opportunities for the Blind national seminar also took place Wednesday afternoon. The JOB Program is markedly different this year, but the goal of helping blind people prepare for and get good jobs remains the same, and the seminar was again filled with lively and information-filled presentations. Peggy Chong, who emceed the seminar, saw to it that there was plenty of time for questions and thoughtful answers as well.
Lots of people had fun at the Braille Carnival.
As always, one of the highlights of the day was the array of activities sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). About a hundred families took part in NOPBC activities, including three families with triplets. Dr. Maurer keynoted the morning-long seminar for parents and teachers while the kids from NFB Camp enjoyed the Kenneth Jernigan Braille Carnival. Chaired by Melody Lindsey, now of Michigan, the carnival was a group of Braille-centered activities for both blind and sighted kids. Judging from the noise level, everyone had a great time, and people are already making plans for how to improve the games for next year.
Meantime blind and sighted teens were exploring what they have in common by putting parents on trial. This was not an exercise in blaming parents for all adolescent problems but an opportunity to discover that all kids share the struggle for independence, understanding, and self-confidence. In the afternoon male and female blind teens divided up for "Guy Stuff" and "What Your Mother Couldn't Tell You." These were guided discussion groups in which teens could explore gender-specific issues associated with blindness and growing up.
Parents spent the afternoon attending several workshops and activities: "Resource Materials," "Computers for Tots," "Technology in the Classroom," "Writing IEP Goals and Objectives," "Placement: How to Find the Right Program for Your Child," and "Blind Mentors, Models, and Peers: Why and How."
People dancing at family hospitality
That evening families could meet, get to know each other, and play at family hospitality. Kids and teens each had a scavenger hunt, and teens found the hang-out room, which was supervised space intended for teens only.
Convention hospitality that evening gave everybody a chance to catch up with old friends and enjoy good music and dancing. The Lew's Blues Review was the name of the band, and dynamite describes their sound.
A Sensory Safari guide shows a snake to Kirt Manwaring of Utah.
Hannah Weatherd of Montana explores the neck of a deer.
Thursday morning started with a bang as Convention Registration kicked off at nine with the usual long line that evaporated like magic once the doors opened. As always the process was amazingly fast and efficient. For the first time agendas were available on cassette and computer disk, suitable for loading into portable Braille notetakers, as well as in the usual print and Braille formats. By 9:30 both the Sensory Safari and the exhibit hall were open for business. The Georgia chapter of Safari Club International set up the displays and conducted the individual safaris, which were a big hit with kids and adults alike.
The exhibit hall provided the usual panoply of technology and products of all kinds for conventioneers to examine and try. Fifty-two outside exhibitors and thirty-two Federation groups took part in the extravaganza. Lists of exhibitors and their table locations, as well as several tactile maps, were available this year, which made it easier to find what one was looking for; but a large part of the fun of prowling the hall is always discovering things by accident. Of course the NFB Store did a land office business all week in aids, appliances, and literature.
Diane Foster and her son Peter from Kentucky work on escalators during the cane travel workshop.
Again this year children and youth who were just beginning to use the white cane had an opportunity to work with orientation and mobility professionals and experienced blind adults on their skills. Parents, too, were welcome to try the cane and talk with those who use and trust it every day. Two sessions of this popular workshop took place Thursday morning. That afternoon Dr. Lilli Neilsen met with parents of multiply disabled children and others interested in her Little Room and philosophy of working with these children.
The Resolutions Committee met Thursday afternoon under the leadership of Sharon Maneki, who chaired the committee this year. Nineteen resolutions were presented and discussed; seventeen of them were eventually passed by the Convention. A discussion of all the resolutions and the texts of those adopted appears elsewhere in this issue. A number of people have chaired the Resolutions Committee over the years, but Sheryl Pickering has now served faithfully as Resolutions Committee secretary for twenty-one years.
As soon as the Resolutions Committee adjourned, folks poured into the ballroom next door to enjoy and learn from the second annual mock trial, presented by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. In the court room of Judge Charles Brown and with Bailiff and Clerk of Court Peggy Elliott, NABL lawyers re-enacted the 1986 Kevan Worley case, in which Mr. Worley was arrested and manhandled by the police for the crime of trying to buy full-fare bus tickets for himself and his blind wife. Scott LaBarre and Anthony Thomas served as counsel for the defense, and Bennett Prows and Ray Wayne prosecuted the case. Kevan Worley of course played himself, and Kallie Smith, thirteen, of Iowa played Kevan's daughter. Pam Dubel made an unforgettable little old lady, and Ever Lee Hairston was a delightfully officious and condescending expert witness. Doug Elliott played the kind of cop that gives the police a bad name, and Jim Gashel was the ticket agent who caused all the trouble to begin with. An audience of almost 500 happily took its place as the admittedly biased jury, cheering for the good guys and scoffing at the bad.
Kevan Worley captured the feelings of everyone when at the conclusion of the trial he described the conversation he had with Dr. Jernigan after he was finally released from jail. He said that he knew the NFB was pulling out all the stops to get him released when an attorney turned up early on to assist and advise him. But when he actually got home and called the National Center and then heard Dr. Jernigan's calm and resonant voice inquiring about how he and his family were doing, he realized just how much he had been depending on the sustaining power of the Federation to keep him afloat. Then Dr. Jernigan said, "Mr. Maurer is here as well." In that moment Kevan said that he felt and understood in a new way the continuity and strength of the NFB.
Thursday evening and Friday afternoon and evening dozens of committee and division activities took place. Here are some of the highlights. On Friday afternoon Federationists interested in exploring the possibility of forming a division for those in medical professions gathered to make plans. Those in rehabilitation also met with an eye to forming a division. The managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution addressed the Professional Blind Journalists group. This year's play, written by Jerry Whittle and performed by the Louisiana Center Players on Friday evening, was titled Long Ago When Freedom Rang. It's about a Vietnam veteran who loses everything and finds himself. The tenBroek Fund auction Friday evening offered a number of items of value, including a wall hanging of the NFB logo that had previously hung in the Jernigan home and the bow tie that Dr. Maurer has worn at every convention banquet since he became President of the NFB.
Kids wait to begin their tour of the Coca-Cola Museum.
A number of kids from NFB Camp toured the Coca-Cola Museum Friday afternoon, but that was only the beginning of kids' fun for the week. NFB Camp is always filled with books, games, and special activities, and this year was no exception. Carla McQuillan and her staff saw to it that blind and sighted kids alike had fun and learned about the abilities of blind people.
Friday morning, July 2, at 9:00 a.m. the first official session of the 1999 convention came to order when President Maurer pounded the gavel to begin the annual Board of Directors meeting. After a moment of silence to remember Federationists who were no longer with us, the meeting opened with the pledge to the American flag and recitation of the NFB pledge. President Maurer then announced the Board positions that would be open for election this year. Betty Niceley sought the floor to make the following announcement:
Dr. Maurer, I would like to say that I am not seeking reelection to the Board this time. I want to say first of all that this decision in no way indicates a lessening of my commitment to this organization. I have served on the Board for fourteen years, and I have been deeply touched by the trust that has been placed in me in electing me to this position. I feel the need to spend a lot more time in affiliate building in my own state and attending to the Braille concerns of the Federation. I am grateful for the wisdom of our beloved Dr. Jernigan, who put his confidence in you, Dr. Maurer, as our leader. I want to pledge to you and to future leaders of this organization my willingness to do whatever I can as you lead this organization to greater heights of success, which I know you will do.
Dr. Maurer thanked Betty for her many years of loyal service.
Toby Longface presents a sandstone desk set to President Maurer.
He then called Bruce Gardner to the podium for a presentation. It was an Arizona sandstone desk set made by artist and NFB of Arizona leader Toby Longface for Dr. Maurer. The base is eight inches across with an arch rising from it. Hanging from the arch is a silver commemorative coin from the 1990 golden anniversary celebration. The stand holds a slate and stylus and a silver pen. President Maurer accepted the gift with gratitude and has displayed it in his office.
Mr. Prayat Punong-Ong, President of the Thailand Association of the Blind, then came to the microphone to bring greetings from his country and organization and to hope that the NFB will continue to flourish and reach out to the rest of the world.
Sabriye Tenberten, a German woman working in Tibet, described her project to the audience. Blind herself, she invented a Braille system in order to conduct her personal scholarship in the language of Tibet, for which there was no Braille code. She was then invited to travel to Tibet to teach her system to the people who need it and establish a school to educate and train blind people there for the first time in history. A German television crew was working on a story about her and her work while she was attending the convention.
President Maurer next introduced the newest of the Kernel Books, Remember to Feed the Kittens. He read his introduction and a bit of his story from the book. He also announced that the seventeenth Kernel Book, Reflecting the Flame, will be released later this year. We have a number of new products, including light-weight monaural and stereo headphones and an indoor/outdoor thermometer.
Dr. Maurer announced that in the exhibit hall delegates would be able to stop by a table and get help in writing to their Senators and Members of Congress to encourage them to co-sponsor the linkage bill or to thank them for doing so. By the close of the convention almost 2,000 letters had been generated.
President Maurer then introduced a remarkable woman. Until August 7, 1998, Ellen Bomer was the administrative director of the U.S. Trade Office at the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. She was there on temporary assignment from the same position in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. On that day life changed forever for Ellen. Shortly after 10:00 A.M. a co-worker several feet away from Ellen looked out the window after hearing a small explosion. At that moment a massive truck bomb exploded, which killed her co-worker instantly and severely injured Ellen. After four and a half hours of searching, Ellen was found unconscious under a wall. She had been critically injured, with thousands of pieces of glass and shrapnel imbedded in her face and body. After emergency, lifesaving surgery in Nairobi, she was airlifted by medivac to Germany. There her husband Don, who had been flown in from Saudi Arabia, joined her. From there she was flown on to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
By October Ellen was ready to start rehabilitation--she wanted her life back. At this point Harold Snider, a long-time leader in the Federation, and his wife Linda first began working with Ellen. She is now a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and she and Don attended the entire convention. A film crew working for the ABC News program "Nightline" followed Ellen in Atlanta and recorded her experience during the week. The result of this project was two full-length programs on Ted Koppel's show. They were aired August 5 and 6 in commemoration of the August 7, 1998, bombings.
Ellen spoke movingly to the Board of her experience during the past year. She said that she never doubted that she would survive and that God still had work for her to do. But she had had no previous experience of blindness, so she did not know how to proceed until Harold Snider introduced her to the NFB and our philosophy. In closing she said that she had been floundering in an unknown ocean, when Harold Snider threw her the NFB lifeline. She now wants and expects to find ways to pass along to others what she has received.
Peggy Elliott, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, then presented this year's scholarship class. A full report of the students and the scholarships they won appears elsewhere in this issue.
Several state presidents came to the podium to make gifts to President Maurer on behalf of the organization. Arthur Schreiber, President of the NFB of New Mexico, presented $53,000 from a recent bequest. Jim Willows, NFB of California President, announced that in the past year his affiliate has given $233,000 to the national organization from bequests. Ron Gardner, the new President of the NFB of Utah, then announced that from a very generous bequest, the Utah affiliate had contributed to the NFB $1,077,000 during the past year. He went on to say that the affiliate has decided to make an additional gift of a half million dollars to the capital campaign in the form of a matching gift. As soon as the NFB has raised $1,500,000 from other sources, the Utah gift will be presented to make a total package of two million. He then removed his Stetson in memory and gratitude to Helen Colby, the benefactor who made all this possible.
President Maurer next announced that Ted Henter, President of Henter Joyce, Inc., had made a quiet gift to the NFB of $15,000 because he believes in what we are doing and wanted to help with more than words. Betsy Zaborowski, NFB Director of Special Programs, then thanked the UPS volunteers for their help during the convention. She announced that UPS and the Kaman Corporation have both made significant gifts to our scholarship program this year.
Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, came to the platform to present a plaque and check to Deborah Baker of Springfield, Ohio, as the 1999 NFB Distinguished Educator. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Brief reports were made about the Shares Unlimited in NFB (SUN) and Pre-Authorized Check Plan programs and the Jacobus tenBroek Fund activities during the convention. President Maurer then read the top ten in number and in contributions in the 1999 Associates contest. Those recruited to become Members-at-large (Associates) not only make contributions to the NFB but also become full-fledged members of the organization. The top ten recruiters this year by number of Associates and by dollar amount are as follows:
Top Ten in Number
of Associates Recruited
10. Jim Salas (New Mexico), 48
9. Gary Thompson (Missouri), 50
8. Bill Isaacs (Illinois), 55
7. Karen Mayry (South Dakota), 58
6. James Omvig (Arizona), 58
5. Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), 66
4. Laura Biro (Michigan), 83
3. Mary Ellen Jernigan (Maryland), 115
2. Tom Stevens (Missouri), 162
1. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico), 168
Top Ten in Dollar Amount Raised
10. James Omvig (Arizona), $1,388
9. Ed Vaughan (Missouri), $1,450
8. Jim Salas (New Mexico), $1,570
7. Marc Maurer (Maryland), $1,746
6. Tom Stevens (Missouri), $1,774
5. Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), $1,904
4. Arthur Schreiber (New Mexico), $2,280
3. Unknown (Delaware), $2,510
2. Kenneth Jernigan (Maryland), $5,150
1. Mary Ellen Jernigan (Maryland), $6,095
After several prize drawings the Board voted to conduct an Associates contest during the coming year, and President Maurer then adjourned the meeting.
Members of the NFB of Georgia fold paper airplanes in preparation for the opening general session.
The convention ballroom shortly before the opening convention session.
President Maurer gavels the 1999 Convention to order.
Wayne High, President of the NFB of Georgia, greets convention delegates from the podium.
The Dixieland Band marched in playing "Georgia on my Mind."
Al Falligan, NFB of Georgia Convention Coordinator, prepares to
Representative Randy Sauder. President Maurer looks on.
An hour before the opening of the first general session of the 1999 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the crowd was already beginning to gather, and by the time the gavel fell, the press of delegates was remarkable, even for the first-day festivities.
Following the invocation and initial door prizes, Wayne High, President of the NFB of Georgia, welcomed delegates and thanked all those who had helped to make this convention memorable. He reminded us that this year's gathering was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Jernigan. With that a Dixieland band playing an energetic version of "Georgia on my Mind" marched into the ballroom followed by the Georgians throwing paper airplanes into the audience. Then Al Falligan, Georgia's Convention Coordinator, introduced Representative Randy Sauder, who has been a true friend to the blind of Georgia. Representative Sauder welcomed the convention with true southern hospitality.
The remainder of the morning session was devoted to the roll call of states. Several states announced that in the past year they had fought the battle to preserve a separate agency to serve blind consumers. Several states also announced that they had seen the establishment of NEWSLINE(R) local service centers in cities across their states. Arkansas and Virginia announced that the model technology bill became law this year, and West Virginia boasted that with affiliate help and encouragement the University of West Virginia will begin a training program for teachers of the visually impaired. Five states--California, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania--have new Jobline sites. The roll call of states concluded with a mighty Federation cheer, and the convention session recessed.
The afternoon session came to order precisely at 2:00 p.m. with Dr. Maurer's Presidential Report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. As always it was thrilling to listen to the review of what we have accomplished in the past year and Dr. Maurer's assessment of where we are heading in the future.
Following the report, President Maurer made the official announcement for which we had all been waiting. In his report he had talked about the need for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind to be built on the southwest quadrant of our property in Baltimore. Dr. Maurer announced formal plans for the opening of our Capital Campaign. He said that everyone will be asked to participate but stressed that no one should decide how large his or her personal gift should be on the spur of the moment. Gifts that are thoughtfully considered in the light of the need we face and the possibilities for future development will be more generous. The Maurers, Mrs. Jernigan, and Don and Betty Capps had all been considering their personal gifts for several weeks. In turn each of them came to the podium to announce gifts of $25,000 to be given over a five-year period.
Congressman John Lewis
"Equal Rights and Equal Opportunity for Everybody: The View from Congress" was the title of a soul-stirring address by Congressman John Lewis, Fifth Congressional District of Georgia. Mr. Lewis had expected to find an audience of a few hundred blind people. When he walked onto the platform to greet the National Federation of the Blind in its thousands, he pulled out all the stops, and together we raised the roof. As Mr. Lewis was leaving the platform, Dr. Maurer made two interesting comments: Mr. Lewis's autobiography would be released on Talking Book in November, and Congressman Lewis is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and is one of the 243 co-sponsors of the linkage bill.
The next agenda item was a panel presentation titled "Separate Programs for the Blind: How Important Are They?" The presenters were Suzanne Mitchell, President of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and Executive Director of Blind Services of Louisiana Rehabilitation Services; Jamie Hilton, Director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind; and Tom Robertson, Associate Commissioner of the New York Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Even though time was growing short, all three advocated for close working relationships with consumer groups and leadership from all sources to create innovative programs for the new century. They expressed their need for qualified blind professionals to staff their programs and counselors who believe in the abilities of blind people. In concluding this segment, Dr. Maurer urged the speakers to spread the word among their colleagues that strong and independent state agencies must have strong and independent consumer organizations with whom to work in partnership. It is in everyone's best interests to encourage the development of vibrant consumer organizations.
James Gibbons was the first blind graduate of the Harvard Business School. Last November he became president of National Industries for the Blind. He gave Convention delegates a brief summary of his experience and urged closer ties between NIB and the NFB in order to improve conditions for blind workers and the range and quality of jobs they have access to. He announced that NIB has set a goal of 600 new jobs for next year, and Mr. Gibbons intends to keep that goal expanding by working faster and smarter. When asked about joining the NFB in working for legislation to prohibit less than the minimum wage for workers whose only disability is blindness, he admitted that he did not know the history but certainly would work toward that goal as rapidly as he could. President Maurer thanked him for coming with an open mind and a willingness to think and talk about difficult issues. He ended by inviting Mr. Gibbons to return to the Convention in future years.
Dr. Maurer then recessed the session, and Federationists raced off to meetings, workshops, seminars, the Showcase of Talent, and Dancing--Swing, Soul, and Rock and Roll. This last was the annual reception and dance, and dance we did.
Federationists crowded the dance floor at the Saturday night party.
Following the opening exercises on Sunday morning, the first order of business was the annual election. Six positions on the Board of Directors were open for election. Ramona Walhof, Chairwoman of the Nominating Committee, placed the following names in nomination: Donald Capps, South Carolina; Wayne Davis, Florida; Priscilla Ferris, Massachusetts; Bruce Gardner, Arizona; Noel Nightingale, Washington; and Joanne Wilson, Louisiana. All were elected by acclamation and responded with thanks and a promise to continue to do their best to further the goals of the Federation. This is what Noel Nightingale said as she was elected for the first time to the Board:
When I was a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I met a woman who worked at a residential facility for people who are mentally retarded. She told me about two brothers who are now in their sixties and who had recently come to live at the facility. She told me that, when they were born blind, their parents didn't know the truth about blindness. Even worse than that, they put the brothers into a room with a cement floor and cinder block walls. They just left them there; they didn't teach them to feed themselves properly--didn't even teach them to use the bathroom properly. As a result of the lack of stimulation in their lives, they became retarded. Eventually, after their parents passed away, they ended up in this institution. This woman told me that, shortly after they arrived, she gave them each an orange. They had apparently never seen an orange in their lives. They held it and smelled it and marveled at the texture and roundness of it and they tasted it. They were overjoyed at the beauty of this simple orange.
The National Federation of the Blind was founded at about the same time these brothers were born. And, like the orange to those brothers, it brought to the lives of blind people the fragrance of hope and the taste of freedom. While the founding of the National Federation of the Blind came too late for those two brothers, it didn't come too late for me. It saved me from a life of low expectations and mediocrity. I cannot imagine a greater honor than I am receiving right now--than receiving your trust and love. I thank you very much.
The remainder of the morning session was devoted to the memorial for Dr. Jernigan. The bronze bust was officially unveiled, and ten Federation colleagues spoke of what their dear friend and mentor had meant to them. The text of what was said appears elsewhere in this issue.
Mary Ellen Jernigan and Dr. Jernigan's brother, Lloyd
Joy Harris demonstrates proper use of the slate and stylus to Kirt Manwaring of Utah.
Working hand over hand, Joy teaches Kirt how to control the stylus.
Independence Day happened to be our half day this year, so, when the gavel fell at the close of the morning session, Federationists scattered far and wide to work and play. Parents had to decide between learning Braille from Claudell Stocker, a teacher and certified transcriber, and Julie Hunter, a certified transcriber, and a drop-in session to discuss kids and canes with Joe Cutter, a Pediatric Orientation and Mobility Specialist. Several other workshops and committee meetings also took place that afternoon and evening.
Of course tours had been scheduled that carried Federationists all over greater Atlanta, and the fireworks display was spectacular. In fact, it was a little hard to miss the fireworks, whatever else one happened to be doing. The student division wound up the evening with its Monte Carlo night for anyone who was interested in playing games. For those who wanted a taste of our adult rehabilitation training centers, the Colorado Center for the Blind brought their program to Atlanta for the evening.
The attendance banner moved from Texas to South Carolina this year. Tommy Craig (left) of Texas and Dorothy Barksdale (right) of South Carolina display the attendance banner as Don Capps looks on.
Despite the partying, the Monday morning session arrived at the usual time, and Federationists were on hand for the opening gavel at 9:00 a.m. Before beginning actual program items, Dr. Maurer told the audience that he had spoken with Mrs. tenBroek the afternoon before to tell her how much her presence was missed at the convention. Peggy Elliott then suggested that we send her the following letter:
July 6, 1999
Dear Mrs. tenBroek,
We, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, assembled at the second largest convention in our history, send to you our greetings on this, the anniversary of our founder Dr. tenBroek's birth. You walked with us every step of the way, through the long years of initial organization and the proud years of growth and success. On Dr. tenBroek's birthday we pause to say to you, you are the first of the first ladies. We salute you and know that, though you are not in Atlanta in person, your strength and your commitment are joined with ours today and into the future of blind people.
The members of the National Federation of the Blind
Peggy invited those who wished to do so to add individual notes of greeting to the packet going to Mrs. tenBroek, which would include this letter and copies of the book and video presented to attendees the day before. The intent was to have this package arrive at Mrs. tenBroek's home the following day, Dr. tenBroek's birthday, but the Independence Day holiday prevented that from occurring. Mrs. tenBroek did, however, receive the remembrance a few days later.
Much of the morning's program was devoted to presentations by representatives from around the world. The first was Dr. Euclid Herie, President of the World Blind Union and President of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He acknowledged Dr. Jernigan's contribution to the World Blind Union and reported on the work still to be done around the world. He talked about a little girl he met in a small Chinese village, the first blind child to be educated in her tiny, two-room village school. She is one of one million Braille readers in China. Her school has now received some Braille materials for her education. He reminded his audience that we will change what it means to be blind one person at a time, the way we have always done it.
Kua Cheng Hock, President of the Asian Blind Union and President of the Singapore Association for the Blind, spoke to the convention about the situation in Asia and recalled his friendship over the years with Dr. Jernigan. In the eighties, when Mr. Kua was trying to achieve World Blind Union membership for the consumer organization of blind people in Singapore, he turned to Dr. Jernigan for advice. Twice he visited the National Center for the Blind, and only two weeks before his death, Dr. Jernigan spent time with Mr. Kua advising him in his work for blind people in all of Asia. Mr. Kua urged the NFB to continue its outreach to Asia as Dr. Jernigan did and promised that his organization was ready to work with us to achieve freedom and equality for the blind. Before leaving the platform, Mr. Kua presented Dr. Maurer with a commemorative pewter plate from the blind people of Singapore to the members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Next William Rowland, Second Vice President of the World Blind Union and Executive Director of the South Africa National Council for the Blind, addressed the Convention. In introducing Mr. Rowland, President Maurer commented that, when he and Mrs. Jernigan visited the South Africa National Council for the Blind last winter, they recognized and rejoiced in the spirit and the philosophy of the organization.
Mr. Rowland began by comparing Dr. Jernigan to the great South African statesman, Dr. Nelson Mandela. He went on to say that the disability movement in South Africa joined with the ANC two years before the change of power. In the new organization of South African society and government, 2 percent of jobs in both the public and private sectors are to be held by disabled people by 2005. There are prospects for broad-based funding sources for the blind similar to the Spanish organization ONCE's nationwide lottery. He acknowledged that international programs must benefit both developing and developed countries. He concluded by urging the NFB to establish an Africa policy, saying that the South Africa Council for the Blind would eagerly become our partner in such an effort.
President Maurer commented that we receive thousands of letters every year saying, in effect, "We don't have enough money, and we would like some of yours." Because we don't have enough money to meet this great need, we grieve over the letters and mostly just file them. But when we find individuals and groups who show indication of wanting and working to increase the ability of blind people to improve their own lot and increase their voice in the programs that affect their lives, we are far more enthusiastic about finding the resources to help.
Chuji Sashida, Senior Researcher with the National Institute for Vocational Rehabilitation in Japan, was the next speaker. He reviewed employment opportunities and problems in Japan and what his organization is doing to help.
Bekele Haile-Selassie, Professor of Law at the Law School of Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, then spoke about the work of the Ethiopian National Association of the Blind, which at one time he served as Secretary General. The Association trains people in the skills of blindness, conducts a recording studio, and engages in production of merchandise for sale as a demonstration of the capacity of blind workers.
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, next addressed the Convention on "Recent Technological Developments: Progress in Braille and Audio Delivery Systems." He reviewed the five principles on which the NLS program is based and explained that current plans are for a digital system for Braille and audio production within the next ten years. Mr. Cylke attended his twenty-sixth convention this year and, as usual, brought four staffers with him.
The next speaker was Adam Linn, a securities trader for Charles Schwab. In recent months Adam has been featured in television advertisements for Charles Schwab, in which he talks about his dedication to giving his clients good service. Never is the fact of his blindness mentioned. It merely becomes clear that he is using Braille. Adam described how he got to Harvard and then to the Louisiana Center for the Blind to enhance his blindness skills. Everyone enjoyed his stories and his enthusiastic attitude.
Cheryl Fischer, President of the NFB of Cuyahoga County, then discussed her work as NEWSLINE (R) Cleveland Coordinator for the NFB of Ohio. She described her search for people to sign up for NEWSLINE (R) even before the service center opened on November 1, 1998. On that date she had 200 Clevelanders ready to begin using the service. Now that number has risen to 600. Census figures suggest that 9,000 people in the area qualify to use NEWSLINE(R), so Cheryl is still hard at work. But she does more than help them fill out their enrollment forms; Cheryl checks to make sure that seniors know how to use the service and works with them on the phone to press the correct buttons for what they want to read. Cheryl and her chapter work hard to find and serve NEWSLINE(R) readers, and they are continuing to do so.
The final speaker of the morning was Dr. Leonard Hjelmeland, Professor of Ophthalmology and Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of California at Davis. Professor Hjelmeland began by introducing himself as the other blind scientist at UC Davis, referring to Dr. Geerat Vermeij, the noted marine biologist who addressed the NFB Convention some years ago. He admitted that others have done a better job of breaking new ground for blind people, but he does face ophthalmologists and confronts their prejudices as a blind colleague working alongside them to do necessary research, and that effort has real value. Dr. Hjelmeland explained that, when he first lost his sight, he got to know several Federationists, Lloyd and Judy Rasmussen and Harold and Gail Snider. But he had no interest in being other than a loner. He has now come to recognize his mistake. He ended his remarks by saying that he wanted to join with us.
The afternoon's agenda was so crowded that we frankly couldn't fit everything in, considering that we absolutely had to clear the room at five. The first agenda item was an address by Dr. Fred Schroeder, Commissioner of the U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration, titled, "Politics and Rehabilitation: Serving the Customer, Serving the Agency, Serving the Public." Dr. Schroeder is a long-time advocate of effective rehabilitation and a man who knows how to deliver it. The entire text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Lawrence W. Roffee, Executive Director of the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, then spoke on "Equal Access for the Blind to Electronic Media." His report focused on the standards now being promulgated to give more force to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998. He reviewed the history of this legislation to insure that technology used by federal agencies is accessible to all those whose jobs or inquiries require them to use it. The provisions of Section 508 have been strengthened, and in the future enforcement, he assured the audience, would be far more effective. In answer to questions from the audience, he said that government Web sites will be included under 508, as will equipment other than computers such as copy machines that no longer have discernible buttons to push. Public comment on these new standards will soon be in order.
"The Blind at Work" was the title of a panel presentation which was interrupted and rearranged because of time pressure. The first speaker was Ron Gardner, President of the NFB of Utah and the attorney who serves as Director of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City. It was a delightful and inspiring tale of his work and the difference the National Federation of the Blind has made in his life and his contribution to his community.
Tom Johnson addresses the Convention while Dr. Maurer sits listening.
The next speaker was Tom Johnson, President and CEO of CNN News Group. His title was "Telling It Like It Is." He described the depth and scope of CNN's activities and programming. He then volunteered that CNN did not employ enough blind people, and he said he planned to change that in the years to come. He then asked CNN's chief medical correspondent, Rhonda Rolland, to address the matter of CNN's coverage of blindness-connected issues. Following Ms. Rolland's brief remarks, which chiefly listed stories about medical issues and breakthroughs in fighting blindness caused by various disorders, President Maurer made the following remarks:
I want to thank you, Ms. Rolland and Mr. Johnson, and I am pleased that you brought the matter up because we believe certain things about what we are doing. And we think it is worth while to tell you what we believe. We like you, so don't take this personally or anything. However, blindness is not a health issue. [prolonged applause] If you are becoming blind, of course it is a health issue. If you are dealing with a doctor and trying to avoid becoming blind, it's a health issue. I am blind; I have been blind for thirty years, [jeers and laughter] forty years--fifty years--something.... I am going to be blind; I never visit the doctor; I don't care what the doctor says because I know what the doctor believes about my blindness, which is there is nothing whatever he's going to do about it. From my point of view I may have other health issues, but blindness is not one of them; that's stable.
The National Federation of the Blind as an organization--I would like to characterize us for you. (It's dangerous to do that, I know, because if you characterize us, maybe we'll never be looked at except from that characterization, and we would hope not to be stuck into a box in the same way that we hope you don't get stuck into a box. We don't think you will be, by the way, and we don't think we will be.) If you had to pick one phrase to describe us, it would have more to do with being a civil rights organization than anything to do with health [cheers and applause] because the problems we face are the ones of getting in and getting opportunity, of winning the right to work and having the right to participate in society, of having the right to get an education, of finding a way to get the books, of finding a way to learn something, and not being told that, because we are blind, we can't. [applause]
I very much appreciate your coming. I very much appreciate your bringing top people, and I hope that the next time you send a reporter it isn't a health reporter. [cheers]
Mr. Johnson: I think that one of the great benefits of an afternoon like this is that we too have much to learn, [laughter and applause] and I cannot think of a more wonderful place for a civil rights organization to meet than the home of Dr. Martin Luther King. [prolonged cheering and applause]
President Maurer: Now that, Mr. Johnson, is why CNN is on top.
When things calmed down after that lively interchange, Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, "The Inventor Who Broadened the Landscape for the Blind," addressed the Convention for a few minutes. He recollected his years of friendship with Dr. Jernigan and reviewed recent progress and provided a glimpse into the future of technology for the blind.
Sharon Gold, President of Sharon Gold Enterprises and a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind, outlined some of the principles that have guided her in her business success, and she tied them to the success of the National Federation of the Blind and the lessons it teaches us.
The final speaker of the afternoon was Erik Weihenmayer, an experienced blind mountain climber. His title was "`To Climb Every Mountain': The Blind Climber Planning to Stand on Top of the World." This was a delightful and energetic presentation from a young man who climbs serious peaks and insists on carrying his share of the responsibility. His attitude is grounded in pure Federation philosophy, and the NFB is supporting his effort to scale Mount Everest in 2002.
That evening's banquet was the largest in Federation history. An overflow crowd of 500 gathered across the Convention Level from the main ballroom. This second banquet room was equipped with a large-screen video system and spotters with two-way radios to identify door prize winners.
Diners discovered that this year's souvenir mug contained a small replica of the bust of Dr. Jernigan, a votive candle, and a small book of matches. As soon as we were all seated, Master of ceremonies Allen Harris instructed everyone to light our candles and hold them aloft in the darkened room. He reminded us that Dr. Jernigan had always exhorted blind people not to hide our lights under bushels but to show the world what we could do. During this moment of illumination from the thousands of candles held by all of us, we remembered our beloved leader and vowed to insure that his dreams and our own will never flicker out and that the darkness of ignorance will never snuff out the light that the National Federation of the Blind has set burning in the hearts and souls of blind people everywhere.
Two awards were presented during the banquet. The first was the Golden Keys Award given to Michael Romeo, and the other was the Jacobus tenBroek Award presented to Allen Harris. The full report of these presentations appears elsewhere in this issue.
The 1999 scholarship awards were also made at the banquet. That report also appears elsewhere in this issue. The American Action Fund scholarship, worth $11,000 this year, went to tenBroek Fellow Marie Kouthoofd, First Vice President of the NFB of New York.
As always, the highlight of the evening was President Maurer's banquet address. His title was "The Mental Discipline of the Movement," and it was a thoughtful call to redouble our efforts to reject misconception and teach the world what is possible. Here is the way it began:
William Shakespeare thought that knowing what to do was easy. It was the doing of it that was so hard. As he said, "If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces."
However, there are others who have a totally different point of view. They believe that knowing what to do is the hard part. Remarkable achievement is attained (according to these scholars) by thought--by exercising the ability to distinguish between the significant and the mundane. As the American bacteriologist Hans Zinsser said, "The scientist takes off from the manifold observations of predecessors and shows his intelligence, if any, by his ability to discriminate between the important and the negligible, by selecting here and there the significant steppingstones that will lead across the difficulties to new understanding."
Just as it is for an individual, so it is for a culture, a nation, or an organization. Each of these must attempt to identify the steppingstones of progress. To the extent that they achieve this difficult task and are committed to implementing what they learn, growth and advancement occur. To the extent that they fail, there are stagnation, deterioration, and aimlessness.
The banquet was unforgettable, and the parties afterward went on for hours, but the next morning Federationists were in their seats when the gavel fell at 9:00 a.m. The morning session was filled with reports and the Honor Roll Call of States making contributions to the tenBroek Fund and the White Cane Fund. The afternoon session was devoted almost entirely to the debate and passage of the 1999 resolutions. See the full report of these actions later in this issue.
President Maurer flies a paper airplane into the convention hall.
NFB staff members take down the platform curtains at the close of the convention.
When Dr. Maurer brought his gavel down signaling the close of the 1999 convention, it seemed a bit hard to believe that our first NFB convention in forty-nine years without Dr. Jernigan was now history. With every ovation for Mrs. Jernigan during the convention, delegates demonstrated that our love for her husband and our respect for her and the way she has conducted herself and continued to work for our cause during this difficult and lonely year knew no bounds. But the spirit of rededication and determination with which we all left Atlanta also illustrated our unwavering conviction that the best is still ahead. Newly blind people must learn what we have to teach. Blind children must be given hope and tools for tomorrow. The public must still be freed from the chains of ignorance about blindness. All these jobs and more lie before us. We have a capital campaign to conduct and dreams to bring to fruition. In less than a year now we will return to Atlanta to take the measure of our progress and inspire ourselves and one another once again with the promise of tomorrow. In the meantime we will keep faith with the man who taught us to dream and to make those dreams come true.
Life insurance constitutes a very special gift to the National Federation of the Blind. A relatively easy and direct form of planned giving is a new life insurance policy. You can make the NFB the beneficiary and owner of a life insurance policy and receive a tax deduction on the premium you pay.
For example, at age fifty you purchase a $10,000 whole life insurance policy on yourself and designate the NFB as beneficiary and owner of the policy. The premium cost to you is fully tax-deductible each year. You may even decide to pay for the entire policy over a specific period of time, perhaps ten years. This increases your tax deduction each year over the ten-year period and fully pays up your policy.
You may, however, already have a life insurance policy in existence and wish to contribute it to the NFB. By changing the beneficiary and owner to the National Federation of the Blind, you can receive tax savings, depending on the cash value of the policy. Your attorney, insurance agent, or the National Federation of the Blind will be able to assist you if you decide to include the NFB in your planned-giving program through life insurance. 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.