THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 42, No. 5 June, 1999
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
NFB Net BBS: (612) 869-4599
Web Page address: http://www.nfb.org
Letters to the President, address changes,
subscription requests, orders for NFB literature,
articles for the Monitor, and letters to the Editor
should be sent to the National Office.
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year. Members are invited, and non-members are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 42, No. 4 June, 1999
Introducing the Atlanta Marriott Marquis
by Barbara Pierce
University of Louisville Honors President
The Inclusionary Express
by James Bickford
Braille Reading Speed Are You Willing to Do
What It Takes?
by Susan Ford and Ramona Walhof
Reflections of a Braille Student
by Barbara Pierce
Garden of Knowledge, Garden of Beauty
by William P. Rowland, Ph.D.
The Miracle of Dallas
by Sally Miller
Skydiving Over Kapowsin
by Tom Hicks
More to Life Than Meets the Eye
by Deborah Kent Stein
To Take the Plunge
by Doug Elliott
Competing on Terms of Equality
by Kenneth Jernigan
China's Disabled Are Victims of a New Economy
Children and Chain Saws
by Marc Maurer
The Feeling of Art
By Molly Miron
The Danger of Passing
by Jody W. Ianuzzi
Mrs. Pelzer Retires
by Mary Ellen Thompson
A Stalwart Retires
by Marc Maurer
Copyright (c) 1999 National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: The Atrium of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel DESCRIPTION: The lead photo is a spectacular view of the Atrium taken from many stories up. Slanting down the picture shows the glass elevators rising in their central column.]
Introducing the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel
by Barbara Pierce
I don't know about you, but I always find it helpful to know something about a convention hotel before walking into it for the first time. Several people who have already visited this year's convention headquarters hotel have pooled their information to give you a preview of the beautiful Atlanta Marriott Marquis, and I have tried to shape the material in a way you will find useful. I am grateful to them for their help, and I take full responsibility for any errors or confusion that may have crept in.
The main entrance of the Marriott faces Peachtree Center Avenue, which is west of the hotel. To reach the Marriott from the street, you walk east through a covered courtyard formed by the Marquis One Office Tower on the south and the Marquis Two Office Tower on the north. At the east end of the courtyard are the main entrance doors.
The hotel lobby is long and narrow along its east-west axis. The bell stand and hotel registration desk are on the north side of the lobby at the west end. On the south side at that end is access to the Executive Center, a complex of meeting rooms named for wines and wine-growing regions--Bordeaux, Rhine, Chardonnay, etc. To the east of this area are the health center (free to hotel guests and open from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.) and a locker area. At the east end of the building on the south side of the lobby are more meeting rooms, this time named for rivers--Tigris, Danube, Thames, etc. The McKenzie, Yukon, and Rio Grande Rooms in this area will house NFB Camp this year. Along the north wall of the lobby are hotel offices. Stairs and escalators leading down to the Convention and Exhibit Levels and up to the Garden Level can be found in both the west end of the lobby (south of the hotel registration desk) and at the east end.
The elaborate set of glass elevators in the spectacular fifty-story atrium pictured in the lead photograph occupies the center of the lobby, and several seating areas are scattered around the lobby. A word should be said about the elevators. All fifteen are located in the center of the atrium and stop at the Convention, Lobby, Garden, and Skyline Levels, but it is important to board the one traveling to the guest-room floor you are hoping to reach. They divide like this: floors 1 to 17, 18 to 30, 31 to 41, and 42 to 47. If you should find yourself heading to the wrong part of the hotel, press the button for the Skyline Level, which is the tenth floor. Stairs connect the Skyline Level with both the ninth and eleventh floors.
The Garden Level is immediately above the lobby. Several restaurants are located on this floor. The west portion of the Garden Level is connected to the larger east side by walkways on both sides of the escalators and stairs that lead down to the main entrance. The courtyard in front of the hotel is beneath this west end. Access to the two office towers is from the south and north sides of this central space. Several retail shops, including a gift shop, are located in the center of this west end, and a group of four meeting rooms occupies the far west end and northwest corner of the space. These rooms are named for glamorous get-away spots--Shangri La, Riviera, South Hampton, and Monte Carlo.
The entrance to the Peachtree Center Mall is on the south side of the west section. Access to the food court, a number of shops, and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system is from this point on the Garden Level.
If you walk east and cross the bridge, you will come to the Grandstand Lounge: You can enjoy a casual drink while viewing the fifty-story atrium from this comfortable lounge suspended one floor above the Garden Level and reached by a flight of stairs at the west end. Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 12:00 midnight.
On the south wall of the Garden Level at about this point is Champions, the American Sports Bar. Choose from a wide assortment of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Champions is open for lunch, dinner, and late-night entertainment. It also offers wine, cocktails, and beers from sixteen countries. Entertainment includes twenty-six televisions with satellite technology, two big screens, basketball, football, and eighteen-hole putting games, pool tables, and more. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
At the north side of the Garden Level is the Marquis Steakhouse: great steaks with a southern flair. Dinner is served nightly from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and features traditional steakhouse fare with southern culinary accents complemented by an outstanding wine list.
One of the most attractive features of the Marriott Marquis is the Atrium Express, located southeast of the Steakhouse. Quick fare includes specialty coffee drinks, breakfast pastries, juices, fresh fruit, sandwiches, and sweets. Hours vary. You can order quick-to-prepare items and carry them to nearby tables. Almost in the northeast corner of the Garden Level is Allie's American Grille: traditional American cuisine, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It features a hearty breakfast buffet every morning. The hours are breakfast: 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.; Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; dinner 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight. In the southeast corner of the Garden Level is the indoor/outdoor swimming pool, but please note that access to it is from the health club on the Lobby Level. Escalators and stairs at this east end of the hotel give access to all four public levels--Garden, Lobby, Convention, and Exhibit.
The Convention Level is one floor below the lobby. The west end contains several meeting rooms named for world cities--Sidney, Bonn, London, and Zurich. The State and Cabinet Rooms are also in this area. The Marquis Ballroom occupies the north wall of the Convention Level across most of its west-to-east length. The smaller Imperial Ballroom, which divides into Ballrooms A and B, occupies the south wall across from Marquis Ballroom 2. Two smaller meeting rooms (the Consulate and Summit Rooms) extend a bit to the north at the east end of Imperial Ballroom B forming a shallow alcove at this entrance. Imperial Ballroom B, by the way, is the location for convention registration on July 1 and 2.
The southeast area of the Convention Level contains a number of meeting rooms named mostly for Canadian and European cities.
The Exhibition Level is immediately below the Convention Level, on the hotel's east and south sides. Stairs, escalators, and two elevators at the east side of the hotel connect the Convention, Lobby, and Garden Levels with the lobby of the Exhibit Level. The Courtland Street entrance is also in this lobby. We will be using the International Hall South for this year's displays of technology and other products.
If you are among those who made your room reservations early, you will be glad to know that guest rooms at the Marriott are equipped with irons and ironing boards, coffee makers, and hair dryers. If all the information about this year's convention opportunities has convinced you to join us in Atlanta but you haven't yet made your reservation, there is still space at our overflow hotel, the Hilton Atlanta and Towers, just across Courtland Street, and the rooms at the Hilton are beautifully appointed. They are also equipped with hair dryers, coffee makers, and irons. The Hilton, too, has wonderful restaurants (five of them), and its elevators are likely to be less crowded. To make your room reservation at the Hilton, call the direct number for the Hilton Atlanta and Towers, (404) 659-2000. Like those at the Marriott, NFB convention room rates at the Hilton are singles, $57; doubles and twins, $59; triples, $61; and quads, $63, plus tax of 14 percent. The Hilton will want a $60 deposit, for which you can use a credit card, and the charge will be made against your card immediately and then applied to your hotel bill. Please note that both hotels have designated guest rooms for smokers and a lounge in which smoking is permitted, but otherwise they are both smoke-free facilities.
The 1999 convention will be like no other we have ever conducted. It's our first visit to Atlanta, and in many ways we will be setting our course this year for the new millennium. You won't want to miss the event, and it won't be the same without you. So call Glyndon Square Travel, (800) 875-9685, to make your travel arrangements and the Hilton for your room reservation, and join us June 30 to July 7 for the most exciting and informative gathering of the blind to take place in 1999. See you in Atlanta.
[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: President Maurer, dressed in academic gown and mortarboard and carrying his white cane, stands smiling as a woman drops an academic hood over his shoulders. CAPTION: University of Louisville Provost Carol Garrison hoods President Maurer at UL commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 8, 1999.]
[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: The picture shows a portion of the Galt House Ballroom containing tables surrounded by celebrating people. CAPTION: Hundreds filled the Galt House Ballroom for the Saturday evening celebration of the accomplishments of blind people.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: After the speech making, guests took to the dance floor to enjoy big band music. Norm and Maggie Gardner of Utah can be seen in the foreground.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Maurer family (left to right) Dianna Marie, Patricia, Marc, and David Patrick]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Fred Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration; Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind; Betty Niceley, President of the NFB of Kentucky; and Tim Cranmer, President of the International Braille Research Center, Inc.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Four members of the Ohio delegation: Eric Duffy, President of the Capital Chapter; Barbara Pierce, President of the NFB of Ohio; Mark McClain; and Crystal McClain, President of the Ohio Parents of Blind Children Division]
University of Louisville Honors President Maurer
From the Editor: The University of Louisville conducted its 1999 commencement ceremonies in Freedom Hall on the afternoon of May 8. The weather was cool and sunny, and observers would have noticed an unusual number of white canes among the thousands of guests who took their seats in the huge facility.
Before the more than two thousand degrees of various kinds were presented to the graduates, honorary degrees were bestowed by UL president John W. Shumaker. The first of these was to Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind. He was introduced by Carol Z. Garrison, University of Louisville Provost, and presented for the honor by Hilda Caton, professor in the Department of Special Education. Here is the text of Dr. Caton's citation which accompanied the diploma, followed by the text of the certificate:
Marc Maurer, an exemplary American, you have served the blind of the nation as their elected leader, standard bearer, source of inspiration, and advocate for social equality, economic opportunity, and first-class status in the larger society. You have received wide recognition as a scholar, author, orator, educator, and counselor to the blind, their families, friends, and the general public. You have represented your community, your state, and your country with distinction in all levels of public service. Your leadership role in the establishment of NEWSLINE(R), providing a growing number of national and local newspapers to the print-handicapped population through the use of a touch-tone telephone, and your role as legal representative in numerous issues of equality for the blind clearly illustrate the extraordinary ability and commitment which have earned for you the profound respect of your peers. Known as a man of integrity, a man of honor, and an accomplished attorney, you continue to serve the blind of the nation and the world with distinction. Your record as President of the National Federation of the Blind, as well as President of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, continues to elevate the status of the blind and to increase public awareness and understanding of their role of equality in society. For the truly outstanding skills you have demonstrated, the University of Louisville is proud to award you the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).
To all to whom these letters shall come, greetings: the Trustees of the University of Louisville on the recommendation of the Graduate Faculty and by virtue of the authority in them vested have conferred upon Marc Maurer the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa with all the rights, privileges, and honors pertaining thereto given at the University of Louisville in the Commonwealth of Kentucky on the eighth day of May in the Year of our Lord the one thousand nine hundred ninety-ninth, of the City of Louisville the two hundred twenty first, of the Commonwealth of Kentucky the two hundred seventh, and of the University of Louisville the two hundred first.
Following the ceremony and an early dinner, NFB officers and their spouses; representatives from eighteen states; Kentucky Federationists; leaders in the blindness technology field; and dignitaries from city and state government, the Kentucky School for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, and the University of Louisville gathered in a ballroom at the Galt House Hotel for an evening of good food, good music, and celebration. Betty Niceley, President of the NFB of Kentucky, served as mistress of ceremonies, and the acting mayor of Louisville presented Dr. Maurer with a key to the city. Those who spoke made clear their pride in Dr. Maurer and their respect for the NFB and the accomplishments of the organized blind in the state and around the world. It was truly an evening for celebrating the progress made during this century by the members of the National Federation of the Blind. Here are the remarks Dr. Maurer made during this memorable evening:
Landmarks of the Twentieth Century
by Marc Maurer
Many people believe that the blind are peculiar. Some think that we are particularly musical, that we have a better sense of smell than the sighted, that our hearing is superior to that of others, and that our sense of touch can feel what the sighted cannot. At the same time we are thought to be essentially immobile, without the capacity for social interaction, supersensitive about our blindness, possessed of a limited capacity to learn, without access to the printed word, and mostly uninformed. With all of these characteristics we are also sometimes regarded as especially blessed. If all of these characteristics were true, it would be astonishing if we the blind were able to accomplish much of anything at all. So what have the blind done? What are the attainments of this particularly visible group?
During the twentieth century there have been two distinct periods of history for the blind. One could speculate that a third period is fast approaching, but that will necessarily be left to the historians of the future. However, the two different times for the blind are the period before 1940 and the time after that pivotal date. Before 1940 there were a number of organizations established to serve the blind, but the blind themselves had not yet come to take a hand in determining their own destiny. The blind were people for whom things were done or to whom things were given. Even though a few blind people had become a part of the structure of the agency system, these few did not represent the blind. Rather they represented either themselves or the agencies by which they had been employed or with which they had become associated.
When the National Federation of the Blind was organized, it was soon evident that, in order to represent the interests of the blind, a person had to be elected by the blind. It was not sufficient to lack eyesight--that is, to be blind. To speak for a particular group, a person must be selected and supported by that group. In 1940 the National Federation of the Blind came into being, and in that year the future of the blind changed forever. This is so because we who are blind decided that we would make the future what we wanted it to be. We recognized the fundamental truth that nobody can win freedom for somebody else. Each person must win his or her own freedom or go without.
Great changes must have leaders to make them come true. Nothing great has ever been accomplished without passion, and at least one notion of what makes people great is that they have the spirit and the dedication to follow a set of principles over a substantial length of time. Dr. Cranmer has already mentioned the leader of the organized blind movement who possessed the wit and courage to persuade others to join with him to form the Federation. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek was the founder of the National Federation of the Blind. He, a brilliant blind professor, led the movement from the time of its beginning until his death in 1968. I never met him, but I met and came to have the closest and most harmonious friendship with the man who was his successor.
That was Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who became President of the Federation in 1968. Dr. Jernigan possessed the passion to believe in a future that is better than the present, and he worked to bring that future into being. What did he and Dr. tenBroek have for building materials? In the early years there were only a handful of blind people who (responding to the teaching of Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan) could dream of a bright day when the talents of the blind would be recognized for what they are rather than being interpreted as special, different, and odd. These few blind people were the nucleus of the organization that would eventually spread over the United States and capture the hearts and minds of the blind.
From this small beginning a national organization was created with affiliates in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Fund-raising programs were instituted to permit the operation of this nationwide organization. The largest circulation magazine in the field of work with the blind was founded to report on occurrences dealing with blindness from the point of view of blind people themselves. Philosophical writings were published that changed the expectations of blind people in this nation and in other lands. Practical plans were created to bring programs of rehabilitation and training to the blind that would give maximum emphasis to the talents of blind people. Increasingly blind people were encouraged to become a part of the administration of educational programs for the blind. Educational systems to offer support to the parents of blind children and to encourage better training for blind children themselves were founded.
The National Center for the Blind was put into place, and the remodeling was pursued to make this once faded and deteriorating building in Baltimore into the practical and impressive facility it is today. Cooperative efforts between the blind and agencies to serve them were brought into being. The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind was planned and put into operation. A campaign to increase Braille literacy for blind children and adults was carried forward throughout the nation. The first fifteen of the Kernel Books (those small volumes that contain first-hand accounts of the lives of individual blind people) were edited and distributed to well over three million people. International cooperation between the blind of the United States and blind people from a number of other countries became possible. The NEWSLINE(R) for the Blind network (the system that reads the text of seven major newspapers and dozens of local ones to the blind) was conceived, built, and disseminated to tens of thousands of blind people throughout the country. And there were dozens of other accomplishments. Perhaps the most dramatic alteration in the pattern of our existence is the change in the point of view of the blind themselves. We who are blind began to expect much of ourselves, and we planned to make contributions to the world in which we live.
I came to the Federation myself in 1969, and I heard the inspiring words of these two leaders, but I couldn't quite believe that they meant what they said. They told me that a blind person could do anything that a sighted person could do except see, and I hoped that they were right, but I had my doubts. I even voiced some of them, but I was afraid to press too hard because I thought the beautiful myth might disappear. But Dr. Jernigan wouldn't let me alone. He insisted that I express my doubts and that I examine them in detail.
I told him that I knew better than to believe what he said because I knew about blindness. "Blind people cannot do everything that sighted people do except see," I said; "the examples are everywhere."
"Show me what you mean," he said.
To which I responded, "Blind people are unable to drive. Furthermore, I have been in a chemistry laboratory, and blind people cannot see the color changes in the test tubes. Consequently," I said, "they cannot be chemists."
"We will take them in order," Dr. Jernigan told me. "With the technology we have today, blind people cannot operate an automobile alone. However, is the operation of a car essential for independence? Take the President of the United States, for example. The President never operates an automobile. Does this signify that the President is not independent? Independent travel means you get where you want to go when you want to get there with minimal inconvenience to yourself and to others. With a little imagination and planning any blind person in the ordinary circumstance can do this.
"Now for the chemistry," he said. "Were you in the chemistry laboratory because you were studying chemistry?" he wanted to know.
"Yes," I admitted.
"Did you pass the course?" he asked me.
"Yes, of course," I responded. "I got good grades in chemistry."
"Did they give you the grades as a gift, or did you earn them?" he asked me.
"I earned the grades," I told him. "During part of the chemistry class I assisted with the teaching of other students."
To which he said, "You have demonstrated the point. It may be important at times in the study of chemistry to use vision (yours or somebody else's), but it is not essential to the acquisition of knowledge that the chemist have sight. Somehow in the chemistry laboratory you learned about the changes of the color in the test tubes. Beyond that," he said, "I can today name for you several people who are working as chemists for the government of the United States, for the Exxon Corporation, and for some less well known chemistry firms." That conversation with Dr. Jernigan was one of the major elements in my training. I had begun to learn a new method of thought.
I studied under Dr. Jernigan's direction for a little more than a year. Then he helped me get the money to go to college. Sometimes I would sit alone in my dormitory room at the University of Notre Dame wondering what Dr. tenBroek did to lift his spirits and give him perspective on the days when he was told constantly (as sometimes happens to a blind person) that he had to be realistic and accept his limitations.
When I became discouraged, I listened to the uplifting addresses of Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan as they had been delivered to past conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. But what was it that inspired Dr. tenBroek? Perhaps today, with the perspective of thirty years of wondering and work, I have an inkling of how he felt and what he did. When I joined the organization thirty years ago, I could not have believed what I now accept as a matter of course.
Can a blind person become a mechanic? Yes, of course; I have done it myself. Can a blind person install a roof on a house? I have done this also. Can a blind person build a piece of furniture? Many of us have done this as well. Can a blind person become a scientist? Or a lawyer? Or a teacher of the blind or the sighted? Or a translator of foreign languages? Or a politician? Now that I begin listing the possibilities, I reflect that it would be easier to list the professions that are not available to the blind than it is to register the ones that are.
What was it that caused so many blind people to become so many different things within the last fifty-nine years--since the founding of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940? It was the inspiration and example of other blind people. Great movements need leaders, but this is only half of the equation. They must also have rank-and-file members who, when they learn of the new ideas and the innovative plans, recognize within them a reflection of reality. No great change can happen within a group or an element of the social structure unless there is something the social order comes to feel is better about the new method of thinking from the one that went before. Within a movement leaders are important, but the members are at least as important. The progress comes not from the one or the other, but from the combination of the two.
And so I thank you for all of the kind words you have said about me today. And I return them to you. To all of you who are mechanics, farmers, teachers, newspaper reporters, lawyers, homemakers, businessmen and women, insurance salesmen and women, automobile sellers, furniture builders, stockbrokers, students, and the rest. You have challenged and inspired me. As I look at the National Federation of the Blind, I recognize the driving force that impelled Dr. tenBroek--it was the great family of the Federation in all of its diversity and enthusiasm. It was the people who pledged their minds and hearts, their time and resources, their hopes and faith in the goodness of what we can build together.
I too am inspired by this same family. It brings joy to my heart and a boost to my spirit. I cannot come to the Federation without knowing that we possess something of a special order. We believe in one another; we have the faith to trust in our brothers and our sisters. We have the knowledge that we will build our own future and that the task of creating the pattern of tomorrow will demand all that is best within us--but that we are equal to the challenge. This mutual caring and commitment is, I am absolutely convinced, the intangible element that makes us the family that we are.
We the blind have come a long way together, and we have found many thousands of sighted friends who glory in our progress and give us their utmost support. I have no doubt that we will complete the task of achieving independence; I have no doubt that working together we will find the strength to make the future our own.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. James Bickford]
The Inclusionary Express
by James Bickford
From the Editor: Dr. James (Blue) Bickford was the 1998 recipient of the NFB's Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. The following comments are derived from the presentation he gave at the Annual Meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children in Dallas, Texas, July 6, 1998. They first appeared in Future Reflections, the NOPBC's quarterly magazine.
What I am about to tell you this morning is my truths. They are not global, for global truths do not exist. Truth changes from day to day, as do the needs of our children. The one sustaining idea is that all of our children have a right--entitlement--to education, and within that entitlement is the implied right to an equal education. This means access to and comprehension of not only curricular materials but also of those skills which are necessary to independent function: mobility, daily living skills, Braille, social skills, and above all literacy.
Public Law 94-142 began in 1975 amidst great controversy and confusion as an attempt to insure that all handicapped children have the right to a free, appropriate public education. Today the same law remains on the books under a new name--IDEA--the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
As early as 1974 professionals began to see the pitfalls of mainstreaming all handicapped students. Edwin W. Martin, Deputy Commissioner for Education of the Handicapped, expressed many of these concerns succinctly:
If in advocating mainstreaming we don't plan today for the societal patterns of response to the handicapped, we will be painfully naive, and I fear we will subject many children to a painful and frustrating experience in the name of progress.
I am concerned today about the pell-mell and, I fear, naive mad dash to include children, based on our hopes of better things for them. I fear we are failing to develop our approach to inclusion with a full recognition of the barriers that must be overcome.
There is a mythical quality to our approach to inclusion. It has jump-on-the-band-wagon qualities, and my concern is that we do not deceive ourselves because we so earnestly seek to rectify the ills of segregation.
Listing barriers of attitude, training, logistical support, coordinated prescriptive planning, and failure to insure appropriate evaluative criteria, Martin went on to state that programs must focus on "the social and emotional aspects of the children's lives, for much of our hope for mainstreaming lies in this realm."
Today, of course, the term is no longer mainstreaming but full inclusion. My present concern for full inclusion, with its accompanying speed and confusion, is that the current leadership has completely forgotten the schedules, timing, safety controls, and indeed the destination which has been so clearly charted from the past. It is an injustice of the highest order to blind individuals--and total disaster to the multiply handicapped--to force these groups to climb aboard the Inclusionary Express before the itinerary is planned and the track is laid.
But why this talk of inclusion and mainstreaming when the real issue here is of solid educational foundations? It sounds as though I would like to have every blind child at a school for the blind. Not so. However, I will take the stand that literacy, concept development, self-image, and the ability to be involved in the classroom are fundamental to the individual's ability to be included and be successful in the broader community.
Although the law was intended to provide a continuum of placements for handicapped and blind children from total inclusion to special school placements, many districts and states have opted to interpret this portion of the law to mean that all children should be educated in the regular classroom and that blind children may be placed generically in any program that would provide educational benefit. At the other end of the spectrum some school districts have decided to transfer out to other schools and agencies nearly all of their blind students in order not to have to bother with them. Neither of the two above solutions is really viable. Without a continuum of programs which provide for the most productive placement, school districts may find themselves faced with due process hearings and legal battles.
But the Special Education Director is faced with the local school board that must fund appropriate programs with a very specific and limited tax base. It would then appear that the most economically feasible program would be to include as many blind children as possible in the regular classroom. The second most feasible alternative is to form special education resource groupings and hire a cross-categorically-trained teacher to provide what she or he can to the students. Out-of-school placements are not generally recommended because they tend to be by far the most expensive. While any of the above alternatives may indeed provide an appropriate education and some educational benefit may occur, all too often it is not the most appropriate program to enhance the child's development. Only in the larger districts will there be enough blind students to permit comprehensive programming and allow equal access to curriculum and compensatory skill training.
Unfortunately, we frequently see that students are placed in special education programs, not by identified need, but by political and economic considerations. Since this may be the case, school organizations often see the special education program as an add-on mandated by law rather than an integral part of the entire curriculum.
How does a blindness curriculum fit into this scheme?
First we must begin with a definition of what a blindness curriculum really is. We must look at two distinct parts. The first part is the general school curriculum (reading, writing, and arithmetic). The second part consists of all the compensatory skills which allow the student to access the general curriculum and the direct instruction of the ancillary activities which sighted students acquire through incidental learning. As students your children have a right to all of the above to the extent that their abilities will allow. Excuses of unavailable or untrained staff cannot be accepted. But at the same time, because of the unique needs of our children, we must be willing to look at a variety of service-delivery systems which will meet the need at any given time in the educational process. Yes, this means public school placement, itinerant services, resource rooms, and residential school programs.
As a common thread running through all of this is the issue of literacy; and often this means Braille. Here comes my plug for Braille--watch out. The difficulty in learning Braille comes from sighted adults who attempt to transpose one reading mode to another. For blind children we must talk about learning to read rather than learning to read Braille. The tactual discrimination required to decipher the raised dots is actually significantly less than the complex process of making all the fine discriminations between print letters. Thus Braille is simply the reading mode for blind people, as print is the mode for sighted people. Presented in terms of reading curriculum, Braille is no more difficult than print. Unfortunately as adults and teachers we tend to send a message to children that Braille is difficult and that Braille is a last resort if you can't see well enough to decipher print. Both are very far from the truth.
There is as wide a variety of Braille readers as print readers. I would expect that in this room some of you read print at about sixty to seventy words a minute, and others read at a speed of 500 words a minute. The same variety will be found among Braille readers--those who read at fifty words a minute and those who have the ability to read and comprehend at 300 words a minute. The point is not so much whether it is print or Braille, but the function for which the reader is using it.
I have seen many students who were forced to be print readers simply because they had remaining sight. These students labored over print materials using visual aids, electronic magnifying devices, and other tools only to achieve a rate of perhaps twenty-five words a minute, and by the time they had reached the end of the sentence or the paragraph, they had forgotten what the beginning said. This leads to depressed comprehension rates, high fatigue, and frustration. The same student could have been a more fluent reader and would have had the enjoyment of reading for pleasure if he had been given the opportunity to read Braille. This is not to say that students must always choose one or the other.
Often a student with remaining vision will learn to read both Braille and print. For it is true, the telephone book is not printed in Braille, nor is the daily newspaper. So the ability to use both becomes even more important.
I have been in the education business for over twenty-five years now and for that quarter of a century have continued to hear that Braille is bulky and obsolete and should be eliminated. In 1973 it was because cassette recorders were popular and books were being placed upon cassette tape and people could simply listen to them. Have you ever wanted to re-read a page or chapter of a book after you have finished a section? Think of the problems in trying to look in an index of your book (all on cassette tape), find the appropriate page, and then find that page someplace in cassette five, track three--a task that is virtually impossible.
Today, of course, we hear about the wonders of computer technology. Computers have been a tremendous asset to educational programs, but again they will never take the place of Braille. Using standard CD-Roms we are able to download information and translate it to Braille. People are able to access computer programs using speech or refreshable Braille displays. Technology allows for the optical scanning of print books with voice output. But these computer programs will still not allow a mother to sit down with her child and read a book.
Fundamental to all is a basic definition of reading. Reading must be thought of as the ability to interact with the written word mentally and physically. Only when this occurs are individuals able to create their own meaning and develop concepts and mental pictures from their reading. A voice on a tape gives someone else's meaning to the words in a book. A computer voice program delivers words with no excitement. Only physical reading allows us to grow in our ability to express ourselves and ultimately become independent members of society. As parents and educators we cannot deny this to our children.
How do sighted children learn to read? Sighted children are bombarded daily with visual images associated with print images (actually abstract configurations) which are seen as a whole. Think of the Burger King and McDonald's signs. Children recognize the words because of the associated visual images. In early years there is no actual decoding or encoding of words. As the words become familiar, they are then generalized to other settings. The "King" in Burger King is recognized in "King's Department Store" and so on. When a student enters school, most reading is not done in reading class but integrated into every activity in which the student is involved throughout the day, and the teacher is there to reinforce those pre-reading, reading recognition, and reading skills. We must not expect anything less for our blind students who need Braille or print. Reading cannot be taught only two days a week for forty-five minutes at a time or even daily for just forty-five minutes if we want our blind children to be competitive with their peers. Reading of some kind transpires during each activity that occurs during the day. Thus we must insure that, as our students progress through their school programs, they are provided the opportunity to read. And as parents and educators we must come together to insure that those people who are instructing our children are qualified to teach reading using Braille. We would not allow teachers to teach our sighted children using materials with incorrect spelling and backward letters, and the same must be true for our Braille-reading students.
Classroom teachers are often the most vocal about the placement of Special Education students in their classrooms, and perhaps rightly so. We do find many excellent classroom teachers who are willing to do what they can and to adapt materials and teaching methodologies to the disabled child in the class, but my experiences indicate that the majority of teachers are overworked in their present situations and feel that the addition of a disabled student in the classroom increases their load (and frustration) exponentially. With teaching loads today averaging about thirty students per classroom, the addition of a blind student with minimal support only increases the chance that the student will receive fewer services. It is unfortunate that the regular classroom teacher is usually teaching to the mean, tending to bypass those at either the upper or lower end of the spectrum. The addition of the blind student only increases the variability of an already heterogeneous population. More than one disabled student in the class (especially if they have differing handicaps) will only increase the frustration further.
In my opinion disabled students should be included in regular classrooms when the curriculums meet the needs of the students, and the goals have been carefully developed.
For example, a student should not be mainstreamed into a Biology class unless the need for Biology exists for that student and she/he can function in the class with a true minimum of curricular adaptations. In essence this means that the disabled student has obtained the prerequisite academic skills to function independently in that setting. If the student is mainstreamed for social purposes only, no attempt should be made to grade the student on content. The viability of learning social skills in a Biology class, when such skills would be more appropriately learned in an applied community-based classroom, needs to be seriously questioned as well.
Parents, you have the hardest job of all. Depending upon the state, county, or school district in which you live, many difficult decisions must be made with regard to Braille and inclusion. Does inclusion always mean the local school district? If the most appropriate placement of the child is in another district or a special school, is the parent willing for the child to make the long daily trip or accept residential placement in order to access the greatest education opportunity for the child? Which will provide the greater benefit, increased time at home or increased time in an alternative placement? Can one be sacrificed for the other? Who is benefiting the most, parent or child?
Within some parameters parents may not have the choice. A great many states do not require or allow parents to have an option in placement. (The 1997 amendments to IDEA now insure that at least parents may participate in the decision-making process for placement.) Some states like Washington give the final placement decision to the parents. However, placement may be left exclusively to the discretion of the multi-disciplinary team. The team's decision is often tempered by prevailing political philosophy and is final, unless the due-process procedure is invoked. Can this be challenged in court? Perhaps so, but few parents have the resources to do this.
One story that I like to share is of a fifth grader who moved from Washington to another state. In Washington, although he had some useable vision, instruction was primarily in Braille, and he had been achieving proficiency in that medium. Upon moving to his new state, during the IEP process the professionals decided that Johnny should be using print materials, so all mention of Braille was removed from his IEP. Despite the parents' repeated requests, the district remained insistent. He had vision; he would learn print. The parents went through due process procedures for the inappropriate program. After a lengthy hearing and much emotional distress, Braille was put back into the IEP--not as an instructional mode, but for Johnny "to use if it were available." Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the teacher was non-proficient in Braille, abacus, and Nemeth code and therefore had a vested interest in not providing these services. Parents, be careful. Make informed decisions and don't settle for just something. Be sure that it meets the needs of your child.
One of the best ways to empower blind and visually impaired individuals is to give them the power of literacy and independence. Without these we are relegating an entire group of citizens to second-class status, and I am unwilling to do that.
Unfortunately, our train departed the station long before all the tracks were laid and destinations determined for its passengers. The Inclusionary Express has all too often turned out to be a single destination for all those who hop on board. While the engineer's attempt at total integration for all our blind children should be applauded, in reality quality of life does not always depend upon total integration. We do not expect a single destination for all normal children; why should we expect a single destination for all disabled children?
In an attempt to streamline the Inclusionary Express, our state legislatures are now expressing preference for cross-categorical engineers and dispatchers to lead our children on their journey. Would we place our trust in a ship's captain to guide our locomotive safely, or our train dispatcher to operate as an air traffic controller? I think not. Neither should we anticipate that teachers untrained in specific handicapping conditions are competent to lead all of our children to their proper destinations. While our journey may begin smoothly and many passengers will disembark properly at their trip's end, others will be left on the train to wander endlessly and without purpose over the land.
Time is fast running out. It is later than we think. Right now--not next year, not next decade--we need trained educators, professionals with an even, steady hand on the throttle as well as on the brake. They will be approaching the most difficult task ever presented to the teacher, now or during the past century: the careful preparation of a travel schedule for the blind child as he begins his journey through life.
As I end, I would like to share a few final thoughts with you which I am sure you have heard before. Just think for a moment, if you will, how powerful the written word can be and reflect that it lasts forever. Three great treasures come immediately to mind (there are many more), and none of these is over 300 words: the Lord's Prayer, the twenty-third Psalm, and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. They all go to prove that words, and to be more specific literacy, have the power to change lives.
An old proverb says, "Give me a fish, and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish, and I eat for a lifetime." We must teach our children to fish. It is up to you as parents and educators to see to it that these young minds are given every opportunity to learn, to read, and to succeed. We owe our children nothing less.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Susan Ford]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ramona Walhof]
Braille Reading Speed
Are You Willing To Do What It Takes?
by Susan Ford and Ramona Walhof
From the Editor: Susan Ford and Ramona Walhof are sisters. As you will read, between them they have a broad range of reading and Braille-teaching experience. Susan now lives in Missouri and is an active and contributing Federation leader wherever she goes. Ramona, of course, is Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Idaho. This is what they say:
Many Braille readers have never been encouraged to work to achieve good speed. Slow reading is a disadvantage throughout life and causes the reader to under-use and undervalue the reading skill. But there is no need to continue forever as a slow reader. Some Braille readers develop a speed of 200 to 400 words per minute as small children. They will retain that speed with little or no effort. Braille readers who could not attain good speed as young children, however, can do so with some work, and it is certainly worth the effort. It is also desirable for teachers of blind children to encourage good Braille-reading speed.
Susan Ford developed good Braille reading speed as a small child and retains it; Ramona Walhof had fair speed as a child and has had to work to improve. Our experiences in reading Braille and teaching for years have given us some ideas which may help others in achieving increased speed. Try these suggestions and talk with other good Braille readers. You should experience significant improvement.
Susan has been a rehabilitation teacher and counselor and worked with hundreds of adult Braille students. Most were learning Braille from scratch. Some were working to improve their skill. Some never completed standard Braille, but many have, and they continued to improve in speed and confidence. Susan has written drills and exercises for her students to use when they have experienced problems with certain Braille concepts.
Ramona's teaching has been largely in training centers. She has also taught both new Braille readers and those who were working to improve speed and accuracy. Ramona co-authored Beginning Braille for Adults in order to assist students to complete Grade II (standard) Braille more quickly. We both agree that this book is good for some Braille students but not all.
1. Avoid all Braille printed on plastic pages. Plastic is somewhat better than it was when it first appeared, but it will still discourage good speed. As you develop more speed, it will seem worse, because your hands will cling to the Braille as they move faster across the lines. Since Braille continues to become easier to produce using Braille embossers driven by computers, using plastic should not be necessary except in rare situations.
2. Keep your touch light. You can feel the dots better if your fingers are moving lightly over the lines. To test this statement, try this: feel the back of one hand with the fingers of your other hand. Exert some pressure and rub your hand a little. You will feel bones and veins. Now barely brush your fingers across the skin. You will feel the texture of the skin and hairs. These details were hardly noticeable when you pressed down. The same is true of Braille. You do not want to know what is underneath the page, but what is on the surface. This requires a light touch. Many Braille readers are heavy-handed. Experiment honestly to see whether you are.
3. Check the position of your hands to insure that you are using the most sensitive part of your fingertips. Your hands should be curved so that the second joints of your fingers are only a little higher than the first joints. Your wrists should move just above the page. The most sensitive part of your fingers is just below the tip, but not as far back as the fleshier part right above the first joint.
4. You will read best if you follow the lines of Braille using three fingers on each hand. The middle and third fingers help to keep your place and increase speed, even though the forefingers are the primary reading fingers. It is always important to use both hands, even if one is less sensitive. Keep both forefingers on the line of Braille. Almost everyone has one dominant hand in reading, and it is not necessarily the same one that is dominant in other activities. It is convenient to be able to use one hand well enough to read while writing using a slate and stylus with the other. You can then copy brief passages from what you are reading without taking your hand off the page. Consider this technique for copying an address or phone number. You probably don't have much choice about which hand works best, but you can increase the effectiveness of both hands if you work at it.
5. When you read Braille, you want your left hand to read the beginning of the line and your right hand to read the end. The best readers bring their forefingers together somewhere in the middle of the line, letting the right hand finish while the left hand returns to the left margin to locate and begin the new line. This process increases speed because you no longer have to pause to locate the new line. Your dominant hand will read a larger part of the line, but the two hands read independently, and your brain puts the words in correct order. If you have been a one-handed reader, your first step is to make your weaker hand follow the other one until it begins to help with the work. Make the hand you are trying to strengthen read at least one word at the beginning or end of the line. As you become more adept at this, what at first seemed to slow you down will help increase your speed. When you experience success at making your slow hand read one word, begin to require it to carry more of the load. If one hand is truly disabled, you can still read Braille well enough to make it valuable. If one hand is merely less sensitive than the other, make the weaker hand work, and it will get more efficient.
6. In some ways improving Braille-reading speed is much like improving speed reading print. We recommend that you first learn to skim. Learn to gather the sense of a passage by reading the first lines of short paragraphs and the first and last lines of slightly longer ones. If the paragraph is quite long, read a few middle lines as well.
If you are reading conversation, skip or de-emphasize the "he said," "she asked," "I explained" phrases. Don't try to skip these in the middle of a line, but when they appear at the beginning or end and you are not reading aloud, they are unnecessary. You will know the content, and skipping unnecessary words is another way to permit your reading speed to increase slightly. This is part of learning to skim rather than actually increasing verbatim reading speed. If you expect to cover the material faster, your hands and mind will learn to work together. All this helps your speed. Several such techniques can add up to quite an improvement. You will learn not to break the steady movement of your hands as you concentrate on what matters in what you read.
7. Develop a sight vocabulary in Braille. This idea is especially helpful if you have just completed learning Grade II Braille and need to build confidence in your knowledge of contracted words. You can carry a packet of three-by-five index cards with frequently used words or phrases on each. The earliest ones you make should be no more than four symbols. With practice you will begin to recognize the short words immediately. You can also recognize these letter combinations as parts of longer ones. Example: the word "and" also appears in the words "strand," "band," and "land," and so on. The word "honest" appears at the beginning of "honestly" and at the end of "dishonest." As you recognize sight vocabulary words more quickly, the longer words which contain them will come more quickly as well. When a group of twenty cards or so becomes familiar, exchange them for another set. Carry them in your notebook or purse; study them on the way to work or school; and make new ones when they wear out.
8. Set achievable goals for improvement. Determine how much you read every day. Be truthful with yourself, even if you are only reading a paragraph a day. Set as your first goal to double this amount or to increase it by 50 percent. Be absolutely faithful to your daily commitment to read Braille. When you feel comfortable reading this new amount, increase it again and make that your new goal.
Be sure to read every single day. Remember, it does not hurt to read more than the minimum you have set. If one day you don't meet your commitment to yourself, don't worry about it. Stress causes burn-out. Just begin where you left off and continue achieving the same goal each day.
9. Begin with very short passages. It does not take long to be able to read a selection of three or four pages in one sitting. It feels wonderful when you can say that you have read a whole story. Such success encourages other attempts. You need not read material written at your intellectual level. Many of us like to read children's stories. You can easily find short articles from magazines.
10. Make Braille convenient for yourself. Keep a Braille book beside your bed, and tell people you have learned to read in the dark. Leave a book or magazine near your favorite easy chair. Carry a small magazine with you. Immerse yourself in this exposure to Braille. Keep a Braille calendar in your pocket or purse. Begin an address and phone file. Make recipes in Braille. Ask your friends if they can show you what crossword puzzles look like in Braille or how to do cryptograms, etc. Try to make Braille available to yourself in the many ways that print is available to your sighted friends. The more you see it and find it wherever you put your hands, the more you will read it. Reading Braille--as much and as often as possible--is certainly the most important thing you can do to increase your reading speed. Read, read, read!
11. One of the more effective ways to improve Braille skill is to read along with someone else. A tape recorder will do. The aural reading should be just a little faster than yours. Make yourself keep up. Reread the passage. The second time you will be familiar with the material. Your speed should increase. Keep at it till you are comfortable with the faster speed. Read something onto a tape yourself. Compete with yourself, each time trying to beat the original speed of your recording.
12. Subscribe to at least one Braille magazine that you enjoy. Read short articles, and then reread them more than twice, trying to read faster each time. Do not memorize. As the text becomes familiar, you will read much more rapidly. Be sure to read aloud sometimes to be sure that you are not skipping when you know the material well.
13. As you begin to see improvement in your speed, continue spending the same amount of time reading or doing even more. Reading faster will permit you to cover more material in the same amount of time. In school children read many hours a day while learning to read. As adults we expect to spend just a few minutes and accomplish as much. In the beginning at least it won't happen. You must commit time in order to see significant improvement.
14. Avoid bad habits. Many Braille readers have developed the bad habit of double-checking frequently in order to catch mistakes. It is important to keep your hands moving steadily forward with very little checking back. Avoid rubbing the Braille as you read it. Reading with someone who reads just a little faster keeps you from looking back. If you do, you will get behind. It is true that reading Braille requires movement, but the movement should be mostly forward, not up and down or backwards. If you move your hands up and down, you may move from one line to another without realizing it.
You can read together with someone else who is working to improve his or her speed. You can even do this on the telephone. If you respond to competition, challenge someone to compete with you. Occasional timings are helpful, but only to determine if your reading speed increases. Don't overdo it. Instead of words per minute, it might be more helpful to measure pages per hour or per week. When you have something to read in Braille, complete it in that medium. Don't cheat and finish it on tape.
15. Take some responsibility using Braille. For instance, make a report from Braille notes. Give a speech using Braille cards. Make a report about something you have read in Braille. NFB Kernel Books are filled with short and easy articles, which may also provide motivation for improving this skill.
In this article we have not discussed writing. Whether you write with a Braille writer or with the slate and stylus, your writing skill will reinforce your reading skill. Much more could be said about writing--maybe another article some day.
We would love to tell you more about some of the wonderful students we have had. You would find their progress interesting and challenging. When you see us, don't hesitate to ask us about them. There isn't space or time to tell all their stories here.
Get excited about Braille. It is fun to be literate. It is normal to be able to read at your own convenience and do it with facility. Don't deny yourself that convenience and pleasure any longer. Believe in yourself and believe in Braille. Remember that many adults have learned Braille from scratch and attained good speed. It is worth the effort, and you are not too old, too stupid, or too lazy. Try it; you'll like it!
[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Picture shows a woman sitting in a rocking chair reading Braille. CAPTION: Barbara Pierce]
Reflections of a Braille Student
by Barbara Pierce
Reading the preceding article reminded me irresistibly of one of the most interesting and valuable parts of my ten-year working relationship with Doctor Jernigan: the hours of Braille-reading demonstration and discussion. He often commented that he intended to write a Monitor article reporting on what he had learned about reading Braille from our work together. Sadly, he didn't have time to carry out his intention, so it seems to me appropriate that I should try my hand at reporting our discoveries, both hopeful and discouraging.
To begin, I must briefly describe my reading history. I attended public school because my parents wanted me to live at home and because the local school was willing to enroll me since I could see the type in the first-grade primer. No one, I think, fully appreciated just how limited my vision was at the time. I was quick to catch on to letter shapes and sounds, and since most of the early work was producing the correct sound when a letter was identified, I did pretty well at sounding out the words. All the children were dealing with the words letter by letter, so I was at no disadvantage. From the first I was one of the top readers.
Then three things began to change. The print grew smaller; the amount of text on the page grew larger; and the other children got the hang of what we were doing. My superiority melted away until by the third grade I was acknowledged by the whole class to be one of the dumb kids. I don't know how rapidly my vision was deteriorating, but by sixth grade I could no longer read the print in my books, even with extreme magnification. Not until a few years ago did I grasp the full catastrophe that was overtaking me during these elementary school years.
By the time I had completed sixth and seventh grades without ever reading a word myself, the powers that be decided that Braille was going to be necessary to my further education. Arrangements were made for me to receive an hour of Braille instruction every week at the Pittsburgh Association for the Blind during the summer before eighth grade. Memorizing the code was simple; determining which dots were present in each symbol was a different matter altogether. My teacher, a blind woman, seemed to be able to tell the difference between a capital A and an st sign; she was never fooled into reading the beginning of the word "beautiful" as "bunder." But despite all this skill she was not a proficient Braille reader. She did not read quickly or fluently. She assured me almost every week that, if I could only hear her husband read, I would understand how effective a tool Braille could be. But I never met the man, and I don't think I ever truly believed her.
I was encouraged to read Braille during high school, and to that end I was given my physics text--all nine or so volumes of it--in Braille and told to use it. What a joke. I now realize that it was filled with equations in Nemeth code, but even without that impediment to comprehension, I would have had a hard time decoding such a complex text.
I did understand, however, that in college I would have to use Braille to take notes, so I laboriously took class notes throughout high school using my slate and stylus and Braille paper heavier than anything one can buy today. I built up calluses on my right hand and muscles in my right arm but no speed in Braille writing. Still I was reinforcing my mastery of the code even if I was making errors in placing dots where I intended them to go.
When I entered college, I quickly decided that there was no way that I could take Braille notes for hours together using paper as heavy as that I had been using in high school. I bought spiral notebooks for each course and discovered the relative emancipation of having my stylus fly across the page of light-weight paper.
For four years I used Braille every day and depended upon it completely, but my own writing was almost the only Braille I read. I married three months after college graduation, and though I continued to use Braille, it was not in the same intense way. Now it was recipes, phone numbers, grocery lists, and odd notes to myself. I had slid into all sorts of personal abbreviations and shortcuts which, coupled with my rather unreliable spelling, made my Braille incomprehensible to everyone, including me after a few days.
When I returned to work full time in 1981, I found myself again depending on Braille regularly, but my own notes were still the only thing I was consistently reading. Then, in October of 1988, I came to work for the NFB as Associate Editor of the Braille Monitor. I admitted to myself that I had put off making a serious attempt to learn to use Braille about as long as I could. I remember asking Dr. Jernigan if he thought I had any chance of actually increasing my reading speed. His response was immediate and positive: "Of course you can if you are prepared to work at it." I was not afraid of work, and I was afraid both of disappointing Dr. Jernigan's expectations of me and of standing up to make a state convention banquet address as a national representative and losing my place in my Braille notes. Clearly I was ready to begin playing catch-up.
I began asking all the good Braille readers I knew what suggestions they could give me. Their advice was simple--read--read every day, and read high-interest material. Compared to that physics book in high school, this sounded like great advice.
I began by setting a daily goal of reading at least five pages. It took an hour. My rule was that I could read more than my goal, but if I fell short, I had to make up the pages the next day. Reading ahead did not count against future lapses. Whenever I came to the National Center, which was every other week in those early years, Dr. Jernigan invariably inquired how the reading was going. I could always assure him with a clear conscience that I was reading every day and that I was pretty sure my speed was increasing. I did not often time myself, but I was confident that a page was taking less time to get through. When it became clear to Dr. Jernigan that I was serious about Braille, he offered to work with me to make sure I was using my hands the way he did.
I had begun my life as a Braille reader with my left hand dominant; in fact my right hand was pretty unreliable. Then in 1978 I tried to put my left index finger through a food processor. Manufacturers have changed the design to make such experiments much less likely. But the result of my adventure was to put an end to Braille reading altogether with my left hand for several years until the nerves regenerated. During that time I was forced to use the right hand to read. By the time Dr. Jernigan took charge of me, my hands were about equally able to decode the dots. I am living proof that it is possible to train the less perceptive hand, but I trust that others can find less dramatic methods of getting the job done.
Dr. Jernigan began by having me place my hands on top of his. Together we discovered that his left hand stayed fairly well anchored along the left margin of the page. The index finger moved to the right, sometimes reaching as far as a third of the way across the line. But his middle and ring fingers provided an anchor. When he strolled around a room reading Braille, it was the strength of this left hand that held the document in place against his body.
The index, middle, and ring fingers of his right hand were responsible for the right-hand two-thirds of each line. The ring and middle fingers slid along the gutter between the line being read and the one above. At first Dr. Jernigan told me that their job was to keep his place on the line so that the index finger could follow along confident that it was reading the correct line of text. The left index finger began the line, and the right hand took over a few words into it. As he finished reading the line with his right hand, the left index finger was retracing its way to the left margin and down to the next line, where it began reading even before the right hand had completed its work. My hands over his confirmed that he was actually reading both lines simultaneously. This discovery was both thrilling and depressing. I could not imagine--and still can't--how he read two things at the same time, but I am convinced that he did because his one-handed reading was distinctly slower.
One day he came to me and announced that the evening before he had discovered that more was going on with those two lead fingers on his right hand than he had thought. They were not just keeping his place in the gutter above the line; they were actually doing preliminary letter identification. He picked up a Braille page and showed me what he meant. His ring and middle fingers were actually gathering information about the tops of the characters that were about to be read: dots in positions one and four might be mostly present or they were completely absent in a cell close to the end of a word, suggesting a two-cell suffix, or perhaps single dots were present at the tops of cells, which probably meant that vowels were present. I was highly skeptical until he began reading aloud first with all three fingers at work and then with only his right index finger on the page. The reading became jerky and less fluent. He was surprised by this discovery; I was astonished. Here was even more evidence of his brain's ability to accomplish several kinds of decoding simultaneously. After that discovery he would often interrupt his proofreading aloud to remark on some nuance of word structure that his lead fingers had distinguished and prepared for. He completely convinced me of the accuracy of his reporting, but I am still utterly unable to do it myself.
I am afraid that in some ways my Braille reading disappointed Dr. Jernigan. He believed that with steady application of time and effort I could become a rapid Braille reader in a few months or years. That did not happen.
I have come to understand just how much I lost by not receiving Braille instruction as a young child. Despite the best efforts of my parents and teachers, I was never able to do more than read print letter by letter. My vision never allowed me to glimpse the shape of words or intuit what a word might be from a glance at a few letters. My recognition vocabulary in print was sharply constricted by the ending of my reading career in about the fourth grade. For the next thirty-five years my own Braille shorthand was almost entirely the only reading I did for myself. In this way I gave myself no chance to make up my deficit.
Looking back, I now see, as neither Dr. Jernigan nor I recognized when we began, that, before I could achieve any real speed in reading Braille, I had to learn to read. Even today I come upon phrases like poring over a book or the horse's gait and do a double-take at words I have used for years and never seen spelled correctly. All this makes reading an enchanting adventure, but a slowly developing one.
Am I discouraged? Sometimes. I would have liked to respond more rapidly to Dr. Jernigan's coaching. Am I frustrated at having to learn these skills as an adult already set in my neurological ways? You bet I am! Do I regret the time I have invested in my effort at remediation? Not one second of it. My life is richer and my literacy more complete for reading Jane Austen carefully and thoughtfully. And though I still have to read a text several times through if I want to read it in public, my reading speed is easily three or four times as fast as it was when I started this adventure.
I count myself deeply lucky to have had Dr. Jernigan as my reading teacher. But long before he took me in hand, he was inspiring me with his wonderful reading. Scanners and computers and new gadgets for portable access to electronic text notwithstanding, curling up with a book in front of a fire, delivering a speech from a Braille text, or reading a recipe to a friend over the phone are pleasures I would never have known if I hadn't decided to do something about my misspent youth and if Dr. Jernigan hadn't decided to take apart his own reading technique in order to help me.
My experience teaches me that anyone with intact nerve endings in the fingers, fairly steady hands, the capacity to learn new things, and the determination to try something challenging can improve at reading Braille. I am also convinced that it is little short of criminal to keep visually impaired children from learning Braille at a time when they can do it so much more effectively than they would later in life. If you have not dipped a toe--or more accurately a finger--into this particular body of water, I invite you to try it; the water is fine. If you have influence on a child who is likely someday to need Braille, do what you can to see that the instruction begins now. Would you prefer to have Dr. Jernigan's reading skill or mine as the model to be followed? That is the question.
You can create a gift annuity by transferring money or property to the National Federation of the Blind. In turn, the NFB contracts to pay you or your spouse or loved ones income for life after your death. How much you and your heirs receive as income depends on the amount of the gift and your age when payments begin. You will receive a tax deduction for the full amount of your contribution, less the value of the income the NFB pays to you or your heirs.
You would be wise to consult an attorney or accountant when making such arrangements so that he or she can assist you to calculate current IRS regulations and the earning potential of your funds. The following example illustrates how a charitable gift annuity can work to your advantage.
Mary Jones, age sixty-five, decides to set up a charitable gift annuity by transferring $10,000 to the NFB. In return the NFB agrees to pay Mary a lifetime annuity of $750 per year, of which $299 is tax-free. Mary is also allowed to claim a tax deduction of $4,044 in the year the NFB receives the $10,000 contribution.
For more information about charitable gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dr. William Rowland]
Garden of Knowledge, Garden of Beauty
by William P. Rowland, Ph.D.
From the Editor: William Rowland is Executive Director of The South African National Council for the Blind and Second Vice President of the World Blind Union. When Dr. Maurer was in South Africa recently for a meeting, Dr. Rowland gave him a copy of the following article about the importance of Braille to the people who use it every day. Here it is:
At a party one evening I was drawn aside by an old school friend. The Intelligence Service had recently recruited several blind workers, and she was one of them. "I think you should know I'm being asked to read your letters" was all she said. That was the old South Africa, where even Braille mail did not escape surveillance.
To me personally Braille has always meant more than information on paper. That first shy love letter from a girl in class, my very first library book, my first spelling test with that cross-patch teacher--these are the memories that crowd into my mind as I write these lines. When I was a boy, I kept a dream diary and still today I can recall some of the nightmare images--flames all around me in a burning house, a leopard chasing our car as it careers down a hill. I would not have remembered these things if I had not written them down in Braille.
When many years ago I went on my first journey for the South African National Council for the Blind, halfway across the world, it was an exciting time, but also a lonely time. I had no money for phone calls, and contact with my family was limited to seamail. Then one day in New York a colleague handed me a letter from Helene, my wife, written in our quiet home above Cape Town with our five-year-old son Frankie at her elbow, making a thorough nuisance of himself and also wanting to send a message. Even today I treasure that little scroll of Braille.
Over the years I have developed a system of personal Braille to write concise notes on small bits of paper. I take a single sign or a couple of letters to stand for a concept or even a string of words which I like to use. Sometimes at meetings, when I am asked for a copy of my speech, and as something of a joke, I hand in these notes, much to the consternation of secretaries. The equivalent of scribbling, I suppose, but it is a tool I would recommend to blind students and professionals. In this way a great deal can be written with a simple pocket frame [slate].
At the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB), where I am employed, I take pleasure from the many Braille letters that reach me from all over Africa. Written on newspaper, wrapping paper, and waste paper of every imaginable description, they are without exception expressive of the longing for education, for work, for a place in the world. Written in poverty, they are rich in trust and hope. How guilty I often feel about the negligible answers I can supply, but I do always reply. Sometimes, though, the requests do bring a smile: "Please send me an airticket to France by next Friday, if possible." Or "I am a Christian boy from Malawi and would like to correspond with a beautiful young girl in South Africa."
One of the best things we ever did at my organization was to create a Braille youth magazine. It covers music, sport, politics, health, and much besides and is extremely popular. But what I enjoy most is the letter column, always crammed full. Once our young readers get going on an issue, they do not let up: the debate about whether a blind man should marry a blind woman went on for months until the exasperated editor had to plead with readers please to change the topic. One of the final contributions came from a teenage girl with a different perspective: she wondered, in fact, whether a blind woman ought to marry a blind man.
Yes, what would we do without Braille? How would we learn or work? Without it would we have our own organizations? Would there be a World Blind Union? Would we even care about blind people of other cultures? In my opinion a world without Braille would be a silent world, a world without communication. We should never cease to promote it and to pay homage to our patron sage, Louis Braille.
Once I wrote a poem in which I compared the sound of the fingers on a Braille page to a rustling garden. A garden indeed--a garden of knowledge, a garden of beauty.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Anna Miller]
The Miracle of Dallas
by Sally Miller
From the Editor: Sally Miller is President of the South Carolina Parents of Blind Children division. She was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at its Annual Meeting in Dallas in 1998. It was her first National Federation of the Blind Convention. With her energy and organizational skills she made quite an impression on her fellow parents. The NFB Convention also made quite an impression on her. What follows is the report she made to the 1998 NFB of South Carolina Convention about her experience in Dallas and what it did for her and her daughter Anna. It is reprinted from the Spring, 1999, issue of Future Reflections, the quarterly publication of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Here it is:
I'm glad to have the opportunity to tell you about our first NFB National Convention experience and about the work of the Parents of Blind Children of South Carolina (POBC of South Carolina). When our family attended the State NFB Convention last year in Charleston (where we live) we didn't know much about the POBC or the NFB. My husband and I were asked to speak during the Parents Division meeting; we were to tell "Anna's Story." Little did we know that this experience would change our lives!
Our daughter Anna, who just turned ten, is adopted. She was born into a family that wasn't equipped to deal with the fact that she was blind. Her biological family equated blindness with mental retardation. In the birth mother's words, "She's blind. She can't learn." Early intervention would have been helpful in teaching Anna the basic skills all children need to develop, but because her family believed she couldn't learn, attempts to help Anna were repeatedly shunned. Anna wasn't stimulated in any way. She was taught nothing. There were no expectations for her life.
Anna came to live with us as a foster child when she was four, and we adopted her a year and a half later. She still wore diapers, had intestinal parasites, had lice in her hair, and did not speak. We didn't know whether she could hear or if she would ever talk. She banged her head constantly on concrete, doors, walls--anything hard. She laughed away the pain. She was existing in a world she had created inside her head and was shutting out the rest of the world.
But we believed that any child smart enough to find an internal life to live when she had been given nothing else must have intelligence and potential--it just needed to be set free. We held her, sang to her, rocked her, and loved her. She eventually came out of the cocoon she'd wound around herself. She's learned to accept love, to give love, to have fun, and even to work (although that's not one of her favorite things). The baby who couldn't learn did learn, is learning, and will continue to learn and develop.
Anna talks, initiates conversations, and teases her Daddy and her big brothers. Our boys, ages twenty-three and eighteen, have taught their little sister all the important things about life that big brothers teach little sisters, like how to make really disgusting bodily noises. The latest one is how to burp louder than anyone else.
Anna's learned what emotions are and that she can have an opinion and isn't afraid to express hers. She's learning Braille and uses a white cane. She's taken gymnastics lessons, horseback riding lessons, and adaptive swimming lessons. She roller-skates, rides her bike, and has wonderful audience skills, which she employs at concerts and other programs. She helps me cook, and she goes to summer camps. This is the child who couldn't learn because she was blind.
Anna and I were recently interviewed for a magazine article, and pictures were taken of us looking at the photo album I created for and about her. When Anna was asked what her favorite part of the book was she replied without hesitation "The part where we went to court to see the judge, and she told me that I'm Anna Catherine Miller, and I could throw away my old name." This is the child who couldn't learn because she was blind!
In our search for answers to our many questions about raising a blind child, we found the NFB. At the State Convention last year I was elected President of the POBC of South Carolina. When I was nominated, I almost fell off my chair. When it was seconded and voted upon, I was numb. I was so rattled I could hardly stand to acknowledge the faith they were putting in me. With a smile on his face my husband commented, "I guess I'll have to call you `Madam President' now."
For the first few weeks after the NFB of South Carolina State Convention I walked around in a daze, asking, "Why me? I don't have the answers to the questions parents are going to ask me. I barely know anything about the NFB. How can I help others when I sometimes don't know how to help my own daughter?" And then it hit me. I could do this. I had lots of questions, but who better to ask questions of than the people who know the most about blindness--the blind people of the NFB?
My attitude began to change. I'm a mother and an educator. I'm not afraid to ask questions, do research, or any of the thousand and one tasks that would be necessary to do this job. My biggest asset is that I love my child, and I want the best for her, like every other parent.
I've learned so much, yet I have so much more to learn. I've talked to a lot of people, and I still have more to meet. I've asked questions, and there are that many more again to ask. I like the NFB and the POBC, and I have come to like my role in making the connections that will give our children the information, the respect, and the opportunities they deserve. The person for whom I do this, my daughter Anna, has had her life changed. Everything I do has an impact on her life, and ultimately she's the winner.
In July Anna and I had a great adventure. We attended the NFB National Convention in Dallas, Texas. It was our first National Convention, but it won't be the last. We were overwhelmed by the experience. We met parents, grandparents, and children from all over the U.S. and from other countries. We got to talk with them, play with them, and learn about their successes.
However, Anna was upset when we first arrived at the hotel in Dallas because there were so many white canes bumping into her. But the kind people with those canes took the time and effort to stop and talk with her a few minutes. They reassured her that it was okay to bump into other canes and people. They were blind too. All she needed to do was say, "Excuse me," and go on her way. By the second day Anna decided she could be independent too, just like her new friends. I was pulling a luggage cart with my purse and briefcase. Anna stopped in the hotel lobby and said: "Mommy, I want to do it by myself. I want to use my cane and pull the cart. I want to do it by myself!" And she did. She let me give her verbal directions, and I stayed close in case she needed me, but for the most part she did it by herself. This was the child who couldn't learn because she was blind.
Everyone who's seen Anna since our return has commented on the fact that she carries herself differently and that she has matured in that short time. Her self-confidence has soared. She wants to use her cane on her own although she still wants verbal directions sometimes. And she's speaking up louder and more frequently. Before the NFB National Convention Anna had her life categorized as 1) before adoption and 2) after adoption. Now she's making another distinction: 1) before National Convention and 2) after National Convention.
Anna also had the opportunity to shine during the convention when the NFB Camp kids went to a ranch. Anna has been taking riding lessons for four years with Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding. She used her skills to show other children how to ride horses. It was a good experience for her because she got the chance to show the things she can do. This is the child who couldn't learn because she was blind.
Last week Anna informed us that she wanted to get her hair cut short. She has been wearing it very long. When I asked her why, she said, "So I can take care of it myself." Wow! This is the baby who couldn't learn because she was blind.
I could go on and on telling you of the experiences Anna had, but I want to tell you what happened to me too. A year ago I knew very little about the NFB and nothing about the Parents Division. So I was stunned when I was elected president of the POBC of South Carolina. It took me months to recover enough from the shock of it to start reading and learning about the Federation and its philosophy. I thought I was getting it down pretty well, but I still wasn't prepared for the NFB National Convention experience. In my wildest dreams I could not have thought it possible to be in a situation in which there was so much live energy. The attitude of Federationists toward themselves and others--the sheer power it exerted--swept me off my feet. Dr. Jernigan said, "My generation of blind adults must work to help today's blind children . . . have better opportunities than we had when we were growing up." I saw these words in action at the convention.
Among the many workshops I attended was the IEP workshop, where we parents discussed the new IDEA regulations. We viewed some of the videotapes in a series called "How to Avoid an IEP Disaster," which is put out by the NOPBC. (It's great, by the way.) We also had the privilege of hearing from some great parents and educators and were able to ask questions of them. By the way, more teachers are embracing the philosophy of the NFB, and we need to foster this so that we can continue to find common ground with them to work together for our children.
I now know how working on behalf of the children to improve their education has helped to dispel the myths of blindness. At the NFB Convention I saw the difference in every generation. I saw it in the young adults with their families (raising both blind and sighted children), being rooted in the philosophy themselves and teaching it to their little ones. It was a joy to watch the college-age students, poised, confident, filled with self-esteem, and sure of where they were going and how they were going to get there. And the teens were delightfully full of themselves. There was no groping with their hands, for they used their white canes. They didn't have to have someone reading to them, because they were reading Braille. And the younger children, like my daughter Anna, were learning about blindness from the real experts--the blind adults of the NFB--experts who valued them and who were helping them to understand that being blind is okay.
The National Convention was a turning point in our lives. I saw the results of those years of effort for myself in Dallas. It happened for my daughter. I know it works.
It's hard for parents always to know what is the right thing to do for their blind child. They need help from the day the baby is born. The school-age children and their parents desperately need us right now. They need to know that we are here for them. To find the children and their parents, to educate and surround them in the right attitude and understanding of blindness is a tall order. But look at the difference the NFB has made in the life of one child, my daughter Anna--the child who couldn't learn because she was born blind. I wish every blind child could have the same chance Anna's had. I want as many blind children as possible from South Carolina to attend the National and the State NFB Conventions with their families next year. It takes a lot of money, but speaking from personal experience, it's worth it.
Because of the NFB Convention Anna has matured a few notches, and I have caught the commitment that goes with the attitude and understanding.
The outstanding work Federationists have done to prepare the way for a younger generation was breathtakingly obvious and beautiful in Dallas. For more than fifty years you've successfully advocated for the blind, all the blind, including the children. It's because of your commitment that I am here today as a member of the POBC of South Carolina, a partner in this exciting mission.
[PHOTO DESCRIPT: Two men, tied together, are falling through space at a great rate of speed. CAPTION: Tom Hicks (below) in freefall with his jump master.]
Skydiving Over Kapowsin
by Tom Hicks
From the Editor: Tom Hicks is a fairly new member of the National Federation of the Blind, but already he has become a leader in the NFB of Washington. By the time you read this article, Tom will have moved to Arizona to take a new job. Washington Federationists are deeply saddened to see him go but feel quite confident that he will become a valuable member of the Arizona affiliate. This is what he says:
On December 6, 1998, I set out to experience my first tandem skydive. This was a present to myself for recently earning my master's degree in organizational leadership. I wanted to celebrate it with an unforgettable event. Jumping from airplanes was not new to me. I was an Army-trained basic paratrooper and have thirteen high-performance, aircraft static-line jumps under my belt. Still, I had always heard that skydiving and static line jumping are not the same. I now know why. I would like to share my high-altitude experience with you.
I am legally blind and have a progressive eye disease known as retinitis pigmentosa (RP). My sight is extremely impaired. I am photophobic and have tunnel vision. In other words, seeing is not easy for me in most conditions. I am told that one day I will most likely become totally blind. I take this reality very seriously, but I do not let it dominate my thoughts or destroy my hopes and dreams. I may be losing my sight, but I remain a man of great vision. Besides, a life without challenges is a life not worth living.
After listening to a mandatory safety and disclaimer video on the hazards and joys of sports parachuting, I signed the necessary documents--in essence, signing my life away should anything go wrong. I met my jump master, Luke, who helped me get into my jump suit and harness. He then gave me a fifteen-minute block of instruction on my actions in the aircraft and air. I listened very closely and rehearsed the tandem responsibilities in my head. A tandem jump is one in which one is connected to the harness and parachute of a certified jump master. Luke had over 5,000 jumps, of which 1,000 were tandem. I sensed he was extremely confident and capable. This made me feel comfortable. After all, I was trusting him with my life.
As we walked from the hanger to the aircraft, I could hear three of my five children, Tommy, Mark, and Ruth, yelling, "Bye Dad." They were indifferent to the potential danger of my situation and at ease because I was not showing any signs of fear. Luke and I were the first to board the small aircraft. The smell of jet fuel filled the air. The skies were cloudy, and the air was a crisp forty-two degrees at Kapowsin Airfield. The sights, sounds, and smells reminded me of my past military parachuting experiences.
During this jump I wasn't alone. Ten of us were packed like sardines in the tiny aircraft. I heard several skydivers joking and laughing as the plane rolled down the airstrip and lifted off into the skies over Kapowsin. I wasn't nervous; however, I was respectful of the situation. I wasn't sure what to expect. I was excited and at this point totally committed.
As the plane climbed higher and higher, I kept thinking "Is this really happening to me?" It seemed like an out-of-body experience, and I was somehow just along for the ride. In the aircraft Luke went over what we had rehearsed on the ground. Next, Luke hooked me up to his harness as I mentally readied myself to jump. I strapped on my helmet, pulled my goggles over my eyes, put on my gloves, and gave Luke a thumbs up. The plane leveled off at 13,600 feet, and the exit door opened. The air was cold and roared like a lion. Luke and I were hunched over as we waddled, connected to each other, toward the exit door. I gripped my shoulder harness and leaned my head on my right shoulder while simultaneously standing crouched in the exit door, awaiting Luke's command to jump. As I stared out the exit door at the passing clouds and barely visible ground, the air roared in my ears. Suddenly, we leaped out the door into the wild blue yonder, arching our backs while Luke deployed a tiny drag chute to help stabilize our rate of descent. The freezing cold air rushed past us at 120 mph (terminal velocity) as we tumbled toward earth for sixty seconds of free-fall fun. My elbows and arms floated perpendicular to my body and acted like wings as we glided through the sky. I gasped for air at first but then relaxed and was able to breathe normally. I kept thinking, "This is so cool!" Luke and I steered our bodies toward the cameraman, Andy, who snapped pictures and videotaped the entire experience. What an adrenaline rush! Next I felt Luke tap my right shoulder, a signal we had rehearsed on the ground, to let me know he was about to deploy our main parachute. I quickly grabbed my shoulder straps just before the chute opened up. Imagine going from 120 mph to about 10 mph: it was like someone unexpectedly slamming on the brakes in a fast-moving vehicle. Instantly we were jerked to a slow rate of descent. The roar of the air became quiet and peaceful. We dangled together under our full canopy at 2,500 feet, enjoying the panoramic view of Kapowsin below. Luke handed me the toggles and let me steer the chute as we spiraled toward the drop zone. What a ride! I thanked Luke over and over for the thrilling experience. But it wasn't over yet. We practiced landing actions and commands in the air prior to our landing. As we approached the drop zone, we let up completely on the toggles. This action seemed to increase our forward speed, then at just the right moment Luke yelled, "Flare!" Together we pulled the toggles down behind our hips, and I lifted my legs up toward my chest. This action forced the chute to dip down behind our backs, slowing us down. Before I knew it, we had landed safely on the ground, but not before performing an unexpected face plant. Fortunately nobody got hurt, and we stood up and shook hands. Andy asked, "How was it?"
I replied, "It was awesome!" What a day; what a ride; what a thrill!
Blindness is no excuse to stop living one's life. I won't let it do that to me. This experience has taught me to try new things and challenge myself. I am so glad I was able to experience the joys of tandem skydiving. It has somehow changed me in a fresh and positive way. No matter what you undertake in life, push yourself to the limit. Life's challenges are what living is all about. Airborne!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Deborah Kent Stein]
More to Life Than Meets the Eye
by Deborah Kent Stein
From the Editor: Some months ago a book was published including a chapter written by novelist and First Vice President of the NFB of Illinois Debbie Kent Stein. Several newspaper editors in England contacted her to request permission to print versions of that chapter as articles in their publications. The most accurate of these appeared in the March 27, 1999, edition of the London Times. Debbie deals clearly and honestly with one of the most difficult issues many blind people thinking about parenthood have to face. This is what she says:
When I was only a few weeks old, my mother realized that I could not see. For the next eight months she and my father went from doctor to doctor searching for answers. At last a leading eye specialist confirmed everything they had already heard by then--my blindness was complete, irreversible, and of unknown origin. He also gave them some sound advice: they should help me lead the fullest life possible.
Fortunately for me this prescription matched their best instincts. As I was growing up, people called my parents "wonderful." They were praised for raising me "like a normal child." As far as I could tell, my parents were like most of the others in our neighborhood--sometimes wonderful and sometimes annoying. And from my point of view I was not like a normal child--I was normal. From the beginning I learnt to deal with the world as a blind person. I did not long for sight any more than I yearned for a pair of wings. Blindness presented occasional complications, but it seldom kept me from anything I wanted to do.
For me blindness was part of the background music that accompanied my life. I had been hearing it since I was born and paid it little attention. But others had a way of cranking up the volume. Their discomfort, doubts, and concerns often put blindness at the top of the program.
Since one of my younger brothers is also blind, it seemed more than likely that my unknown eye condition had a genetic basis. I never thought much about it until my husband Dick and I began to talk about having a child. Certainly genetics were not our primary concern. We married late (I was thirty-one, Dick forty-two) and were used to living unencumbered. Since we both worked as freelance writers, our income was erratic. We had to think about how we could shape our lives to make room for a child, whatever child that might be.
Somehow blindness crept into our discussions. I do not remember which of us brought up the topic first. But once it emerged, it had to be addressed. How would I feel if I passed my blindness to our son or daughter? What would it mean to Dick and to our extended families? What would it be like for us to raise a blind child together? I premised my life on the conviction that blindness was a neutral characteristic. It created some inconveniences such as not being able to read print or drive a car. But in the long run I believed that my life could not have turned out any better if I had been fully sighted. If my child were blind, I would try to ensure that it had every chance to become a self-fulfilled, contributing member of society. Dick agreed with me. We were deciding whether or not to have a child. Its visual acuity was hardly the point.
Yet if we truly believed our own words, why were we discussing blindness at all? I sensed that Dick was trying hard to say the right thing, even to believe it in his heart. But he was more troubled than he wished me to know. Once, when I asked him how he would feel if he learned that our child was blind, he replied, "I'd be devastated at first, but I'd get over it."
In retrospect I can appreciate the honesty of his words. Yet he had not given the answer I had wanted to hear. I was blind, and I was the woman he had chosen to marry, to spend his life with for better or worse. He accepted my blindness naturally and comfortably, as a piece of who I was. If he could accept blindness in me, why would it be so devastating to him if our child were blind as well? "You know why," was all he could tell me. "You have got to understand."
What I understood was that Dick was the product of a society that views blindness, and all disability, as fundamentally undesirable. All his life he had been assailed by images of blind people who were helpless, useless, and unattractive--misfits in a sight-oriented world. I had managed to live down those images.
Dick had discovered that I had something of value to offer. But I had failed to convince him that it is really okay to be blind. I wanted our child to be welcomed without reservation. I wanted Dick to greet its birth with joy. I did not know if I could bear his devastation if our baby turned out to be blind like me. In order to make a decision, we had to gather all the facts. Before we carried the discussion any further, we needed to find someone who could answer some critical questions.
On a sunny morning in October Dick and I set out to visit a specialist who had been recommended to us. Perhaps I would learn at last why I am blind. As we packed the car, Dick commented, "It's going to be a long, nervous day." I could not have agreed with him more.
I expected a battery of tests. But the doctor dilated my pupils, gazed into my eyes, and announced, "I'll tell you what you have, and I'm 100 percent certain. You've got Leber's congenital amaurosis." Leber's a genetic condition, he explained, autosomal recessive in nature. Both of my parents carried the recessive gene, and each of their children had a one-in-four chance of inheriting the eye condition. What were my chances of passing Leber's on to my own children? I asked. The doctor explained that I would inevitably give one recessive gene for Leber's to my child. But unless my partner happened to carry the same recessive gene, there was no possibility that our child would be affected. The chances that Dick would prove to be another carrier were slight.
The discussion could have ended with that simple exchange of information. But the doctor had more to say: "You have a good life, don't you? If you have a child with Leber's, it can have a good life, too. Go home and have a dozen kids if you want to." Even from a complete stranger, those were wonderful words.
The trip to the specialist cemented our decision to have a child. Days after our daughter Janna was born, my mother and father flew out to visit us. Mom helped with the cooking and house-cleaning while I marveled at the extraordinary new being who had entered our lives. I was too happy and excited to feel exhaustion. I was not worried about Janna's vision or anything else.
It was almost time for my parents to go home when Dick said to my mother, "You've raised two blind children. What do you think--can this kid see or not?" My mother said she really couldn't be sure. Janna was hardly a week old: it was too soon to tell. The day after my parents left, Dick found the answer on his own. As Janna lay in his arms, awake and alert, he moved his hand back and forth above her face. Distinctly he saw her turn her head to track the motion. She saw his hand. She followed it with her eyes.
"She can see!" Dick exulted. He rushed to the telephone and called my parents with the news. I listened quietly to their celebrations. I do not know if anyone noticed that I had very little to say.
How do I feel about the fact that Janna can see? I am glad that her world is enriched by color as well as texture and sound. And I am grateful that she will never be dismissed as incompetent and unworthy simply because she is blind. But I know her vision will not spare her from heartbreak; she will still meet disappointment, rejection, and self-doubt as all of us must.
For me blindness will always be a neutral trait, neither to be prized nor shunned. Very few people, not even those dearest to me, share this conviction. Sometimes I feel a sense of failure when I run into jarring reminders that I have not changed their perspective.
However, in recent years a new insight has gradually come to me. Yes, my own loved ones hold the unshakable belief that blindness is, and always will be, a problem. Nevertheless, these same people have made me welcome. Though they dread blindness as a fate to be avoided at almost any cost, they give me their trust and respect. I am not sure how they live amid these contradictions. But I recognize that people can and do reach out, past centuries of prejudice and fear, to forge bonds of love. It is a truth to marvel at, a cause for hope, and perhaps some small rejoicing.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Doug Elliott]
To Take the Plunge
by Doug Elliott
From the Editor: Doug Elliott is one of the leaders of the NFB of Iowa. The following story appeared in To Touch the Untouchable Dream, the fifteenth in our Kernel Book Series. It begins with Dr. Jernigan's introduction:
When Doug Elliott came home from Vietnam, he was blind. And suddenly he had new things to worry about--simple things, like having lunch at work. Here is what he has to say:
It was a hot, sunny day. I stood on the logs that had been wedged into a tower in a summer-dry bend of a river by the spring flooding, now long past. I looked down into the blue, mountain-cold water. The log I stood on was about eight feet above the water. I wanted to take that plunge to cool off. But I knew the water was cold, and it looked like a very long way down. Maybe I should turn back. But then I would have to climb all the way back down the log jam.
I looked down one more time, looked back up, held my breath, and jumped. I plunged down into the cold water and felt exhilarated. Refreshed from the plunge, I returned to the high log and plunged several more times, enjoying each jump more than the previous one.
I was twelve years old when I took that plunge and still remember it well. I could have turned back and not jumped. If I had, I would not remember the incident at all. Or I might have a nagging memory of a time when I had done nothing to meet a challenge, chickened out, failed to learn something about myself and the world around me, failed to earn the reward which is the sense of accomplishment when a challenge is successfully met.
I have backed away from other challenges through the years, and the experience in hindsight always leaves me feeling empty and wondering why I didn't make the attempt. Part of the reason I failed to meet some of these challenges is that I became a blind person as a young adult and found some new fears.
Past events haunt us all. One experience that still haunts me occurred when my church choir was invited to provide a local spiritual sound as background to a popular performer and singer at Harrah's Club in Reno, Nevada, where I then lived. This performer had some popular songs out when I was a young man, such as something about a "Moon River." The choir could make some money for the church and have some fun by performing for a night-club audience.
We rehearsed at the church until we were ready and then went to rehearse with the singer and his club band. The choir members came up onto the stage from a narrow, twisting stairway at the rear, and I entered in my place in order, using my white cane. We sang our parts, then relaxed in place while the band and singer talked about the next set. At some point the singer drifted over to the pastor of our church and struck up a private conversation with him, asking if I was blind. This was kind of obvious since I was standing there with my white cane.
The pastor confirmed that one of the choir members was blind. The singer said that he would prefer that I not be included in the performance. The pastor said I would perform. The singer called the floor manager to get some backing for excluding me from the performance. The floor manager gave the old, tired excuse that it would be a safety issue to have me, a blind person, climbing up and down those stairs, which were tricky and difficult even for a person with normal sight.
At this point the pastor included the rest of us in the discussion. Everyone agreed. They would not perform if I was excluded. The singer and floor manager said they would talk about it and let us know whether they wanted to use a choir with a blind person in it.
I went home feeling terrible. I had looked forward to the performances, and I knew that the other choir members (including my daughter) had too. I finally called the pastor and told him to let the singer know that I would drop out so that the other members could perform. He asked me if I was sure. Yes, I said. Big mistake.
Later I found out that the singer said that he would have allowed me to perform. By then I had chosen not to do so. I didn't then know how to handle a situation in which my blindness was raised out of the blue as a barrier to something I wanted to do. I didn't think the singer should be allowing me the special privilege of singing when he had requested an entire choir of which I was an anchor in the baritone section. It hurt. But I didn't take the plunge then. I walked away, trying to assure opportunity for others while not facing up to the challenge myself.
A few years later I joined the National Federation of the Blind and started to learn about blindness from a new perspective. I came to understand that I should have taken the plunge and sung. I also came to understand that I should have insisted on being more directly involved in the discussion with the singer. After all, who would know more about my capabilities than I? I just didn't have the courage to take the plunge and stand up for myself. In fact, in that case my pastor and fellow choir members believed more strongly in my capabilities than I did. I also lost the chance to teach the singer that blind people could do the job safely and efficiently. In retrospect that may have been the most important lesson I learned from this experience.
At the same time I was involved in that church choir, I was employed as a licensed clinical social worker in a large city hospital. My job required me to see patients and families all around the hospital. I walked throughout the hospital by myself, serving the patients to whom I was assigned, using my white cane, doing my job.
But when lunch time came, things were different. I would not go to the cafeteria by myself. I would either sort of hang around, looking for co-workers with whom I could go or simply go hungry. I would sometimes go by the cafeteria and stick my head in. But I just couldn't bring myself to take the plunge. I knew I could get to the cafeteria itself, but I had fears about what I thought were unanswerable questions--fears about how to deal with finding the line of waiting people, moving with the line, finding the food I wanted without holding up the whole line, and finding free tables. Later I learned simple techniques for accomplishing these easy tasks.
Some years after I had joined the Federation, I worked for a different hospital as a licensed clinical social worker. I did the same kind of work I had done at the first hospital, working this time as the social worker for the neurology and rehabilitation units. I am proud of the fact that, in the five years I worked there, not one Medicare claim was ever turned down for a patient I served, and not one patient ever suffered a medical reverse while pursuing the discharge plan I created and implemented.
For me personally there was a big difference. I met with patients and families throughout the hospital as before, but when lunch time came, I went to the cafeteria myself if I felt like it. I remember that my first day on the job my supervisor asked if she could get me anything from the cafeteria. Assuming she was going anyway to get her own lunch, I accepted.
When she came back, she had my lunch, but when I asked her what she was having, she told me that she never went to the cafeteria for lunch. She had just picked up my lunch for me to be helpful. I knew this would not do. My new supervisor meant no harm, but she would always see me as someone who needed lots of help to find his way around and to find things like food if I did not quickly and politely set a different tone.
The next day, when lunch time came, I went to find the cafeteria myself. I heard the noise from the lunchroom and entered. No demons grabbed me or got in my way. I found the line, ordered food, paid, then found a table, sat down, and ate my lunch. This wasn't the first time I had taken this kind of plunge, but it was an important one since this action would demonstrate to my supervisor and other employees that I could go to lunch or not as I chose.
It's the same choice everyone has, but sometimes we who are blind don't believe we have those choices. It took me some time to learn to take the plunge toward independence; but, when I did, I found it as stimulating as the plunge into the cold, refreshing water.
When I first heard the message of the National Federation of the Blind, I wasn't sure I wanted to believe it; I wasn't sure I could believe it. Could blind people really do things by themselves without constant help? Of course we could! But we have to learn to take that first plunge. It's often scary, but it has to be done--we have to learn. And for me and thousands of others, the place to do the learning has been the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Kenneth Jernigan DESCRIPTION: Dr. Jernigan is pictured in bib overalls mopping the Harbor Room floor at the National Center for the Blind]
Competing on Terms of Equality
by Kenneth Jernigan
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in The Freedom Bell one of the early Kernel Books. The anecdotes and stories recounted here are familiar to many Federationists, but they have never been published in the Monitor before. The points Dr. Jernigan makes here are so important for every blind person to reflect upon and understand that we are reprinting the article in order to make the information easily available. Here it is:
At one time in my life I sold life insurance--a most interesting occupation. I had a big rate book in print. I could not always afford to hire somebody to go with me and read it for me. I was trying to make a living, not be an executive. I couldn't put it into Braille. I didn't have enough reader time for that; and, even if I had, it would have meant carrying around volumes. So that wouldn't have been practical.
I had another problem: The company kept changing the rate book as new policies and procedures came along. So what was I to do? I could have asked my prospective customers to look up the information I needed, but that wouldn't have worked because the book contained information I didn't want them to have. I wasn't trying to hoodwink them. But if you're a wholesaler, you don't ask your customers to look in the manufacturer's catalog and see what kind of markup you make. It isn't good psychology. Besides, most of my clients would not efficiently have been able to find what I wanted. But what would have been even worse was that it would have destroyed their confidence in me. They wouldn't have believed that I was competent to handle their insurance business if I had done it that way.
I either had to figure this out or stop selling insurance. By the way, when I'd tried to get the insurance job, the first company had said they wouldn't hire me but would let me sell in the name of another established agent and split commissions with him if I wanted to. I said no, I didn't think I'd do that. Then I went off and found a company that would put me on.
So I tried to discover if there was any way to figure out shortcuts to work with the rate book, a formula. I learned that, if I knew the annual premium on a policy, the semiannual premium (if a client preferred to pay it that way) would be 51 percent. The quarterly was 26 percent, and the monthly premium was 10 percent. So right there I saved myself lots of columns. It isn't very hard to figure out 51 percent of something or 26 percent or 10 percent. Ten percent is easy--all you have to do is move a decimal.
Then I started on the other end of it, the hard part. I learned that, if I knew what an individual of a given age would be charged for a particular policy, there was a formula by which I could determine what that particular policy would cost an individual of any age.
I arbitrarily took age twenty-six, and (knowing the premium on an ordinary life insurance policy for a person of that age) I could figure the semiannual, quarterly, or monthly premium for a person of fifty, sixty, or any other age. Since we mostly sold fifteen or twenty kinds of policies (there were a few exotic things, but they were not ordinarily sold), I could put all the information I needed (name of policy and annual premium for age twenty-six) on a Braille card or two and put them in my pocket so nobody would even know I was looking at them.
It occurred to me that my competitors might also have such data available. Rate books are rate books. So I thought, "If ours are like that, I wonder what theirs are like." So I lured some of my competitors out to my house to sell me insurance and deduced a number of things about their policies--unraveled the formula and found that they worked.
One lonesome, rainy night I went to see a fellow who was quite well-to-do, a man who could buy (and intended to buy) a relatively large life insurance policy. It was going to make somebody a whopping good commission. There are always fewer things than there are people wanting them, and in this case a lot of us wanted his insurance business--but only one of us was going to get it. And it didn't matter whether you explained it, or called yourself blind, or said, "I can tell you why I didn't do it." Only one thing counted: did you or didn't you? That was the test.
So I went over to see him, and he said he'd been thinking about buying this insurance. I said, "Well, if you do, it will cost you this amount."
Suppose, he said, I decided I want to pay it on a semi-annual, twice-a-year, basis?
You could do that, I said, and if you did, it would cost you this amount.
I've considered buying from this other company, he said.
Well, I answered, they're a good company, and, if you buy the policy from them, it will cost you this. And I went on to tell him as honestly as I could the advantages and disadvantages of the other company's policy and of mine.
Then he said, "I'm going to give you my insurance business because I think you know what you're doing. I had a fellow out here the other night who didn't know a thing. Every time I asked him any question, he had to look it up in that little book he had."
Now I'm as lazy as anybody else. We all have a tendency to that, and there's nothing wrong with being lazy if you properly understand that it means extracting as much as you can for the labor you exert. That's perfectly proper. It's just that a lot of people don't know how to be lazy. If you'll work hard up front, it will allow you more time to do whatever it is you want to do, and you can do it more effectively and have more time left over to do something else.
If I had had sight, the chances are I never would have been motivated to have hunted up all that stuff and reasoned it out. But once I did, it proved to be a tremendous advantage and an asset. Yet a lot of people would have told me that I was handicapped in selling insurance because I was blind and couldn't read my rate book. And they would have been right--unless I did something about it.
I also did a stint teaching school. I taught in a school for the blind, in a day when blind teachers were not highly regarded. The question was: Could I carry my own weight, and (specifically) could I keep discipline? I figured out some methods that worked for me.
At the beginning of the first class I made a speech to the students. I said to them, "We are entering on a new relationship." (That sounds nice and bureaucratic, doesn't it?) "We're entering on a new relationship, and we can live at peace, or we can engage in war. If we engage in a peaceful relationship, all of us can live happily. On the other hand, if you choose to go to war with me, I have certain advantages that you do not possess. You may have some that I don't possess--and some that I haven't thought of. But let me tell you what mine are.
"I can give you assignments or not. I can assign things to you in a minute or two that will give you a great deal of trouble, either to do or find ways of avoiding doing. One day (whether you now know it or not) it will help you if you have nice recommendations written on your reports from me--not a lot, but it will help some.
"But beyond that, if you try to engage in conflict with me, there are times when you will succeed in putting things over on me because all of the brains didn't come here when I got here. So you'll win sometimes. But on the other side of that is this: All of the brains didn't come here when you came, so you'll lose sometimes, and I will catch you. It remains to be seen, then, whether or not I can make it desirable for you to try to live in peace with me. I choose peace if I can have it, but I will engage in war if I must." I made them that speech and passed on.
I had a student named Johnny Lindenfellow, who was at that time in the seventh or eighth grade. He took every occasion to be as mangy as he knew how, and he was an expert at it.
I tried to reason with him; I tried to be good to him; I pleaded with him about the good of the school and humanity; I talked with him about living and letting live. But nothing worked. There was no getting along with him. Nothing made any difference. In fact, whenever I would lay some punishment on him, he seemed to glory in it as proof that he was a tough customer.
So I changed tactics. One day, when he had done something I didn't like, I said, "Johnny, you will please stay after class."
I could feel him expand with pleasure. He knew I wasn't allowed to kill him, that there was some limit as to what I could do.
After class, when we were alone, I said, "Johnny, it's been a long conflict between you and me, and I want to tell you now what I'm going to do. As you know, I teach other English classes in this school. In about two hours I'm going to be teaching an English class, and I'm going to provoke an incident in that class so that somebody misbehaves.
"It's not difficult to think up some way to get it done. Then I will say to the student who misbehaves, `Why can't you be a good little boy like Johnny Lindenfellow?' I will do that over and over and over until I make you the most hated boy in this school. You will fight fifty times every day. I will call you a good little boy to every class I have until the day comes that they will beat you to death. You will fight all of the time."
"You wouldn't do that to me," he protested.
"Oh, but I would!" I said. "It's clear that I can think it up.... I did; I've already told you about it. And I will do it."
He said, "Look, I'd like to get along."
"So would I," I said. "I'm perfectly willing to have it either way, peace or war. You have declared psychological war on me, and I'm no longer prepared to be passive about it. I'm going to pull out all the stops and go to war with you now."
"Look, I want to get along," he reiterated.
"Fine," I said, and he and I became the best of friends and had no more trouble.
That is one way you can maintain discipline. It didn't hurt him. It probably helped him. It certainly helped me.
I discovered another very effective technique, which is translatable beyond school. One day I found a student engaging in an infraction of the rules. I said nothing about it until the next day. Then, in the middle of the class period, I interrupted what I was saying and remarked: "Yesterday, Frances, you violated this rule (and I specified). Your punishment is this." Without another word I returned to the discussion.
Nobody said much, but I could hear people thinking about it. In a day or two I caught somebody else doing something and didn't mention that for two days. The next time I let it go three days--then a week--then two weeks--and then three. Thus the culprit never knew whether he or she had been detected in crime, and the agony of the suspense cut down on the pleasure considerably.
The students never knew whether they had been caught--or when the ax would fall. A lot of times teachers forget that they were once students themselves, and they don't put any ingenuity into the psychological warfare which some students take joy in waging and always win.
We had a rule in my class. If anybody brought anything in and left it there and I found it, that individual had to sit down and punch out a whole sheet of full Braille cells, using a dull stylus and an old slate that wasn't in good alignment. The work had to be done in my presence so that I knew the individual had done it. That was also the rule if a person didn't bring whatever was supposed to be brought to class--book, paper, or whatever.
Once, when I was keeping library, the president of the senior class brought me a written book report. I got called away from the library desk. When I left at the end of the period, I forgot to take the report with me. The next day, when he came to my English class, the student walked up to my desk and handed the report to me. He said not a word. He just stood there. He had obviously primed all of his fellow students. Everybody simply sat and waited.
"You've got me dead to rights," I said. "Furthermore, you have done something else. You have stripped away all of the things that might have muddied the water. You didn't come and demand that I do anything. You didn't make me a speech. You just brought the evidence and laid it out. Therefore, today in library I will bring the slate and stylus and come and sit at your table. In your presence I will punch each and every dot and present you with the completed page."
I would like to be able to say that I deliberately planned that piece of drama--that I knowingly planted the book report and calculatedly forgot it in the hope that he would do what he did. But I didn't. I wasn't sharp enough. However, I hope I learned enough from the experience that I would do it next time--assuming, of course, there ever is a next time. It worked wonders. It made the students feel that I was willing to be flexible, that I wasn't stuffy, that I took seriously the rules which I made, and that I was not above the law. It did a lot of positive things, and if I had had the wisdom to think, I would certainly have staged it just the way it happened. But I didn't. I simply saw the possibilities in the situation and took advantage of them. Somebody has wisely said that luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.
Many of us who are blind could get jobs that we don't get, and we don't simply because we have been told by others that we can't perform, and we have believed it. We have been told that we're geniuses for doing the simplest of routine tasks, and we have taken pride in the so-called compliment.
Too often we have sold our potential equality for a trifle: If, for instance, it is raining and luggage is to be loaded into a car, which is right in front of a door and easily accessible, almost nobody would think anything of it if a perfectly healthy blind person waited under shelter while a sighted person said, "Just stand here. I'll load the car." It isn't pleasant to get wet, especially if you have on freshly pressed clothes. I know. I've been there. And there is a temptation, if nobody expects you to do whatever it is, to take advantage of it.
It is a matter of having sense enough to know how to behave to get on in the world. If my motive in standing in that doorway is that only one person is needed to load the car and that there is no point in everybody getting wet, that's fine. But if my motive is to stand and wait because I'm blind, let me not complain the next time I don't get equal treatment when the goodies are being passed out.
I believe that I am capable of competing on terms of real equality with others in jobs. When I have had a problem, I don't believe it's because anyone has wanted to be vicious or unkind or mean to me. It has been because people have taken for granted that I can't be expected to do this or that kind of thing. And sometimes I haven't believed I could do things.
I know that, before I can convince anybody else, I must convince myself. I must really believe that I can get along as well as others. Unless I believe that, how can I expect other people to believe it? To a great extent the sighted public will treat me and other blind people like what we believe in our hearts we are.
China's Disabled Are Victims of a New Economy
From the Editor: The following story appeared without a byline in the New York Times on January 25, 1999. It is a stark reminder of how much deprivation and discrimination blind people still endure in the world's developing nations. Here it is:
BEIJING--The blind man in a frayed cotton jacket stood on the sidewalk, hawking cheap plastic shopping bags without much success to shoppers who scurried past. The man, Li Bohui, forty-three, was trying to supplement the $30 he receives each month for his years of service in a failed state-owned brush factory.
China's drive to wring out money-losing state industries has been hard on many workers, but perhaps roughest of all on people with disabilities, like Li. For decades China has employed many disabled people in subsidized "welfare factories," where they worked at simple tasks for modest salaries. In a country that rarely provided welfare payments to anyone, this allowed the disabled to earn a living of sorts.
But now that system is collapsing because few such companies have been able to compete in the emerging market economy. As a result hundreds of thousands of people with impaired vision or hearing, paralyzed limbs, or other disabilities have lost jobs.
"The economic problems have hit the disabled much harder than the general population," said Zhou Yongshen, a sociologist with the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences. The government's new strategy is to integrate the disabled into the mainstream work force. But these efforts are running up against a cultural legacy of discrimination and neglect.
Like other laid-off workers, the disabled are supposed to continue receiving small subsistence payments from the companies where they worked. Experienced only at welfare factories, their education usually minimal, the middle-aged disabled have little prospect of finding new jobs.
"When I was young, it was hard to get any schooling," said Li, explaining why he turned to peddling. "I think it's much better for younger people today if they can get an education and a trade."
Across town at the Beijing School for the Blind, nineteen-year-old Wang Xiuming is one of those younger people, gaining a skill that represents the latest push among advocates for the blind.
Along with many of her classmates and hundreds of other young blind people around the country, she is studying therapeutic massage--an ancient tradition in Chinese medicine that is increasingly being taken over by blind masseurs trained at special institutes for work in hospitals, clinics and hotels.
Tens of thousands more of China's blind people already work as masseurs--most of them illiterate and lacking the advanced training provided by this Beijing school, perhaps offering their services in beauty parlors or along roadsides.
Preparing young blind people to become medical masseurs or, second in popularity, piano tuners, is seen by officials and students here as a step forward, offering the chance of more independent careers.
"I thought about many occupations," said Ms. Wang, "and I decided that this one was suitable for me."
But the channeling of bright blind students into these "appropriate" professions also shows how far China remains from bringing disabled people into the mainstream, a goal sought more avidly in the United States and other Western countries.
In the late 1980's the concerns of the disabled began receiving serious attention here as Deng Pufeng, a son of the late leader Deng Xiaoping, helped create a national federation that he still heads. Deng's legs were paralyzed years earlier when, facing persecution in the Cultural Revolution, he jumped out of a window. Now Deng, who uses a wheelchair, is a well-connected advocate for greater opportunity for the disabled.
Most disabled children in cities now receive the universally required nine years of schooling with special help if needed. But in rural areas, where there are no funds for special schools or classroom helpers, many still do not get a basic education.
In part because of the lack of funds, in part because attitudes toward them still tend to range from paternalism to disdain, disabled Chinese have only slowly entered universities and professions. An anti-discrimination law was enacted in 1991, and progress has been greatest for those with physical problems such as paralyzed legs; hundreds of such people have attended university.
But blind people still are kept largely in separate domains, and even today, officials at the Beijing school say, few if any blind students are attending ordinary university classes anywhere in China.
One reason is that China lacks the money for widespread introduction of computerized speech synthesizers, which are increasingly used by the blind in schools and workplaces in the United States. The Beijing school is experimenting with computer techniques but is also developing its own college-level course in medical massage.
The welfare factory system had been developed on a large scale in the late 1950's, when everyone was expected to help build the new socialist state. In recent years tens of thousands of these factories have employed about one million disabled people doing everything from folding book pages to making match boxes or toys.
Now the government is pursuing integration by trying to require all companies and institutions to hire some disabled people. In the mid-1990's in Beijing and eight other cities, trial efforts began to require companies to hire at least one percent of their workers from the disabled, with fines for noncompliance.
"The intent was good, but so far these policies have not been very successful," said Zhou, the sociologist, who has studied the program. Over a recent two-year period in Beijing, only about 400 disabled people got jobs through this policy, he said, "and if that sounds bad, in Shanghai over three years only 100 people got work that way."
Smaller firms see the requirement as a hardship, Zhou said, while larger, successful state enterprises often find it easier to pay a fine than to comply. Government offices often do not follow the guidelines, and Beijing's ten major universities at first applied to be exempted on the grounds that they had many overseas guests and scholars and were worried about maintaining their image.
Blind people, with their special educational needs such as Braille, still usually attend separate schools here. The training programs in massage and piano tuning are opening up new opportunities, if stereotyped ones.
At the Beijing Massage Hospital, an advanced center for traditional medical massage that offers treatment for a wide range of orthopedic ailments and pains as well as some internal diseases, thirty-one of the forty-six massage professors are blind.
One of them, Zhou Jianzhong, who is forty and attended the Beijing School for the Blind, said many of his old classmates who had entered welfare factories had been laid off and were now trying to learn massage along with the younger generation.
"I think this is well suited to blind people," he said of massage. "It's safe, you don't have to be highly mobile, and they tend to have a good sense of touch."
"The Chinese trust blind people in this job," he said. But finding good massage jobs is getting difficult too, he added.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer uses a chain saw to cut wood in the workshop at the National Center for the Blind.]
Children and Chain Saws
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: The following story was Dr. Maurer's contribution to To Touch the Untouchable Dream, the fifteenth in the NFB's Kernel Book series of paperbacks. It begins with Dr. Jernigan's introduction:
As readers of the Kernel Books know, Marc Maurer is President of the National Federation of the Blind. He is also a lawyer and the father of two sighted children. Here is what he says about some of his experiences with his children and about chain saws:
Today many blind persons are employed as teachers in public schools, colleges, and universities. The techniques used by a blind person for teaching a skill or a body of knowledge are not always the same as the ones used by the sighted. However, the fundamentals are identical. I have tried to show my sighted children, David and Dianna, how to do many, many things. But they don't do them the way I do.
Consider, for instance, pounding nails. I believe that the customary method for pounding nails is this: hold the nail between the thumb and index finger of the left hand; place it where you want it; hold the hammer in your right hand; and tap the nail gently with it. When the nail is set, get the left hand out of the way, and pound the nail home.
When I pound nails, I do all of these things, but I add an additional step. I place my finger on the head of the nail. As I am bringing the hammer down, I move my finger out of the way. When I again raise the hammer, I put my finger on the nail once more. This technique reminds me where the nail is located, and it helps to guide my right hand for each hammer stroke. If I were not quick enough in moving my finger, I would smash it with the hammer. But I always move my finger just in time.
Then, there is the chain saw. Some time ago I was talking with a former member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, Fred Schroeder. Fred and I are both totally blind. Although he is an accomplished teacher and a highly respected administrator of programs for the disabled, being the Commissioner of the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration, I discovered during the course of our conversation that he had never used a chain saw, and I offered to teach him how to do it.
There is a large fireplace in one of the rooms at the National Center for the Blind. Sometimes people give us firewood, but occasionally we are offered the wood only if we are prepared to cut it. We keep a chain saw for that purpose at the Center. Fred and I put on coveralls and went downstairs to look for the chain saw. We checked to see that it had plenty of gasoline, and I began to show it to Fred.
The chain saw has two handles. The one in front is mounted just forward of the engine and behind the blade. The rear handle is behind the engine, and it contains the trigger, which determines the speed of the saw. When the engine is running, the chain saw idles with a popping and clattering sound. When the trigger is pulled, the popping increases to a high-pitched snarl.
The business end of the chain saw is the bar out front, which has the chain wrapped around it. At full throttle the chain travels around the bar very rapidly and cuts the wood. We were using a saw with a twenty-four inch bar--a fairly heavy model, but not unmanageable.
I gave Fred a good many safety tips about the operation of the chain saw, and I showed him all of its parts. He examined the chain in detail--its links have little sharp pieces of steel that stick out to do the cutting. I told him that, when the saw was running, he should not touch the chain. If he did, I said, the saw would barely notice, but his finger would be gone. I showed him how to handle and control the saw, and I urged him to be aware that sometimes a chain saw can buck.
I got out a big chunk of wood and laid it on the sawbuck. Then I started the engine, and I demonstrated the operation of the chain saw by cutting a piece of wood. How does a blind person observe such demonstrations? I told Fred to put his hands on my hands so that he could feel the motions as I handled the saw. Then it was his turn.
Fred reached for the starting rope and gave it a pull. The engine kicked over and began to idle. He picked up the heavy machine and gave the engine some gas. Sawdust flew, and in a short time a piece of wood hit the ground. The chain saw had done its job, and Fred Schroeder, the totally blind chain saw operator, had handled the machine. When quiet had been restored, he said with enthusiasm, "I bet there are a lot of blind people around here who don't know how to do that. We should show them!"
When I heard those words, I knew that programs for the blind under Fred Schroeder's direction would never be the same. The lesson of the chain saw would not be lost. It would help Fred believe that limitations which he and others had thought might apply to blindness should be re-examined.
The teaching of skills is important, but the teaching of attitudes is more important. There are those who have thought that teaching encompasses only such matters as building a birdhouse, constructing a bridge, or writing a legal brief. But learning goes beyond the acquisition of skills. One who truly learns will come to know that it is important to be honest and that generosity is its own reward.
I try to teach my children the skills they must have to accomplish daily tasks, but of at least equal importance is the need for them to have proper attitudes and values. I want them to be tough-minded, able to recognize and reject nonsense, honest with themselves and with others, possessed of sufficient discipline to meet the challenge of hard work, imaginative, capable of initiative, and willing to recognize and avoid bad behavior. I know that it is my prime responsibility to teach these values, and I keep wondering how I'm doing. I have the disheartening feeling that I may not know how well I've done until it is too late. Consequently I am always on the lookout for evidence.
Last August my wife Patricia and I had our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. A few days before the actual date of the event, it became apparent that something mysterious was underway. David and Dianna had secret whispered conversations with each other and with a family friend. When the anniversary came, they were excited. In the late afternoon they told us that we were prohibited from entering the kitchen. Our children insisted that we stay in the living room and keep out of the way.
In a short time they called us for dinner--a dinner they had planned and cooked for us. Our children had collected ten dollars between them, had persuaded a family friend to take them to the grocery store for shopping, had planned the menu, and had cooked the food. They were proud to serve it to us. The menu was fried chicken, rice, corn, black-eyed peas, biscuits, and a freshly homemade cake.
I was surprised and pleased by the event. Children have a difficult time surprising their parents on birthdays and Christmas and anniversaries. They want to give something to their parents that Mom and Dad will really like. But they don't know what it is, and sometimes the things they imagine for gifts are too costly.
My children hit upon a scheme that suited the whole family exactly. A quiet dinner at home is precisely what we wanted, and our children collected their pennies to get it. Beyond that, they asked for advice about how to cook the meal (a thing they had never done in the past), and they had the confidence to do it without other assistance. They split the cost--$4.85 was paid by each of them. In making this present, they demonstrated the ability to plan, the willingness to work, sufficient imagination to know what would be wanted, and a measure of generosity. Maybe our efforts at teaching David and Dianna are working after all.
In the National Federation of the Blind we have taught each other many things we did not know we knew. Sometimes these are simple and straightforward: such as how to sew on a button or cook a meal or run a chain saw. Sometimes they are far more complex. When we do our work well, we teach each other to have faith in ourselves and to believe in a brighter tomorrow.
We are thankful for the help from our sighted friends and neighbors, but we are anxious also to make our own contributions and to live a full life. Sometimes we learn it with a chain saw, and sometimes with a homemade anniversary cake.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tina Blatter]
The Feeling of Art
by Molly Miron
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the March 5, 1999, edition of the Brookings Register. Tina Blatter is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota. As an artist she is particularly interested in texture, and much of her work is tactile collage. As part of a recent Artist-in-Schools program, she presented evening workshops for parents and members of the community at large, and she also worked with elementary students during the day. Here is the story:
A blind artist spreads the joy of creativity to local school children with color and texture. Noodles and beans, feathers and crimped paper, yarn and ribbon, but no paint or crayons.
Hillcrest Elementary students learned from Tina Blatter this week how a blind person creates art. And in the process the children explored exciting ideas in pattern, color, and collage. The program was part of the South Dakota Arts Council's Artist-in-Schools, sponsored by the Hillcrest PTA with funds from the state arts council and National Endowment for the Arts.
"It's funner," said second-grader Kacey Harming Thursday afternoon as she chose her materials from boxes of glittering treasure. "And you don't get your hands all messy."
"I'm going to string some stuff and glue it on and put some paper on it, and then I'm going to put on, like, some squares," said Gavin Winters breathlessly, as he arranged his patterns.
"We probably haven't had a project where we had so much freedom to create," said Karen Kinder, elementary art teacher. "It's a lot more choices than normal."
Cassie Hall, another second-grader, agreed. "There are other things to do really great art work besides using crayons or paints or markers," she said.
As for their teacher's not being able to see and needing Braille labels to identify their work, Gavin, also second grade, said he was not sure what to expect.
"Maybe that they're going to mess up. I don't know anybody blind except her," he said of Blatter.
Along with teaching new art techniques, Blatter said she also gave children an understanding about blindness. Only about fifteen percent of blind people live in total darkness. Most see degrees of light, she said.
She demonstrated the perceptions of various blind people by giving children waxed paper or cardboard tubes to peer through. She also showed them Braille books, how she could navigate with a cane, and other devices blind people used.
"You noticed I opened my watch and felt it," she told the children, as she checked the time for class to start. "It's a Braille watch, and guess what happens when you raise your hands?"
The children cheered when they heard that art class with Blatter was a time when they needed to call out their answers, instead of raising hands and waiting for her response. Travis Norgaard, said the words "blind artist" sounded like opposites when they were put together.
Blatter, forty-six, said she had always been interested in art, but when she was in school, teachers did not think it was realistic for a legally blind youngster with less than 10 percent vision to pursue such a career. "I used to do sort of a Monet style with this paper and paint," she said. Since then, Blatter said, researchers have discovered that several of the famous impressionists such as Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh probably had vision problems.
She earned a degree in special education and a master's degree in rehabilitative counseling, continuing her art on the side. "I've developed a technique of tactile collage," she said. "I tend not to use paint with kids at all. I teach them to use alternate materials."
She said she could see bright colors, but much of the appeal of her art was in touching the surface. When she exhibits her works, Blatter said, she always puts up a sign, "Please touch." That was something she said she always wished to do when she was a child. "Adults are like, `Oh, my gosh, are you really sure,'" she said with a smile. But children have no such inhibitions.
A native of New York state, Blatter worked as an artist in various parts of the country before moving to South Dakota in 1996. She now lives in Sioux Falls.
She said she had some qualms when she applied for the Artists-in-Schools program. "Early on I thought, who would take me seriously? I'm blind, and I don't have an art degree," she said. "But it's worked out." However, after she submitted her portfolio and slides of her works, the only question that came up concerned transportation.
The Danger of Passing
by Jody W. Ianuzzi
From the Editor: Jody Ianuzzi is not a mental health professional. She is a blind woman with a little residual vision and a long history of working to come to terms with what that means and can mean to her. Almost anyone who has ever had a little vision knows the temptation of pretending to see more than one really can. Other people want you to appreciate the visual world, and it is such a disappointment to them when it isn't possible.
I remember in college knitting a sweater with a four-color pattern around the yoke. I gather it was rather spectacular, and a friend wanted in the worst way for me to appreciate what I was doing. She spent hours cutting two-inch-long slips of colored construction paper and arranging them on a table under a bright light in the pattern of my sweater. She hoped that I could see the enlarged, brightly lit pattern. I couldn't, but she was so excited about the project and so dismayed when I walked in and did not have any idea what she had done that I was gradually persuaded to begin pretending that the more I looked at the table the more clear the pattern became. I felt hypocritical, but I trust the Lord will understand my impulse to be kind.
When children are forced into these subterfuges, it is particularly unfortunate because they learn lessons that are destructive of their true identity and their sense of worth for who they are. Here is what Mrs. Ianuzzi has to say about the experience:
What is passing? It is not a new phenomenon. Various groups of people have attempted to pass for years. Passing is behavior practiced by members of a minority to appear like the majority. In the past African Americans straightened their hair to appear white. People even changed their names from Roberto to Roberts to seem more Anglo. People with disabilities have worked hard to keep their disabilities from being noticed. For a legally blind person, passing is learning to play endless games to appear to see things that can't be seen.
Why should a legally blind person attempt to pass as a sighted person in the first place? I played the passing game for most of my life. It starts out innocently enough. A small child realizes that parents are happy when the child can see and sad when he or she can not. When I went to school in the '60's, I was always afraid that, if I couldn't see and keep up with the sighted students, I would be sent away from my family. I came to believe that my parents, the school, my peers, members of the opposite sex, and future employers would accept me only if I was sighted or pretended to be sighted.
The stress levels resulting from trying to pass are unimaginable. Every time you walk into a room, you are terrified that someone will find out your secret. Your hands shake at the thought of the possible traps awaiting you. Will there be stairs? Will someone hand you something that you don't see? Will people notice you don't make eye contact with them? I remember when I began taking horseback-riding lessons, the instructor asked what I could see. I said I could see when I couldn't for fear of not being allowed to ride. I remember confiding in a friend that I had problems seeing. I was sure that, once she knew, she wouldn't be my friend any more.
The really sad thing about passing is that it inevitably catches up with you. Your vision will decrease, or the demands of a busy lifestyle will make it impossible to keep up. How do you explain you don't drive? When it does catch up with you, you go through a period of self-contempt because you can't pass anymore, and you feel like a failure. You are terrified of being rejected by everyone you have always passed with.
Then, when you eventually come to accept yourself as you are, you resent all the people that made you feel as though it was necessary to pass in the first place. You ask yourself why they couldn't have accepted you the way you are.
I knew a wise woman who discovered the truth about passing long before I did. She used arm crutches to walk slowly. She had some movement in her legs, but it was very limited. One day she realized that the only reason she used the crutches was to appear as normal as possible. She decided to start using a wheelchair because it was more efficient and faster then slowly walking with crutches. She went on to become a finalist in the wheelchair races at the Paralympics. Today she has to start marathons first because she leaves the runners in her dust. We could all learn a lesson from her example and the example of many competent blind people.
Why was I taught that I should choose between being a competent sighted person and an incompetent blind person? I have met many competent blind people who have mastered skills from climbing mountains to walking across the country to sailing oceans. Yet I still hear of children who believe that they must hide their blindness. They are ashamed of what they are. I still hear of teachers who settle for a slow print-reading speed when the child could read twice as fast using Braille. I still hear of children risking serious accidents because their parents don't recognize that they need a white cane. Why!
I envy the blind children who are raised in a matter-of-fact environment by parents and schools that accept their blindness openly and encourage the blind child to reach for the stars anyway.
Passing is like being followed by a dark shadow. One day that dark shadow catches up with you, and you realize it is an angel telling you that it is okay to be blind, that you are still a whole person, and that the world won't reject you. It is much easier and safer to accept who you are and stop fooling yourself.
Let's put an end to passing!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mary Ellen Thompson]
Mrs. Pelzer Retires
by Mary Ellen Thompson
From the Editor: Mary Ellen Thompson is herself a member of the national staff and a loyal Federationist cut from the same fine cloth as Mrs. Pelzer. The NFB is filled with quiet people who do not make a production of their commitment to Federation principles and who work hard and faithfully without fanfare or hoopla. My mother's term for such folks is "All wool and a yard wide." They are the very backbone of our movement, and we would all do well to look around us and notice these members, acknowledge their contributions, and thank God for their dedicated service. This is what Mrs. Thompson says about long-time NFB staffer Joanne Pelzer:
I met Mrs. Pelzer in 1981 soon after I came to work at the Maurer Law Firm. In those days her office at the National Center for the Blind was located in the East Mall. She was the quiet and friendly one who did her job proficiently and thoroughly. She kept the Monitor mailing list in order.
We became friends the first time we said hello, and the friendship has never ended. I have learned countless lessons from my friends, and some of the most important ones have been those taught by Mrs. Pelzer. First and foremost, I have learned patience. Mrs. Pelzer faces every day of every week of every year armed with patience and the love of our great provider. She is blessed with the presence of the Lord in everything she does, and with her understanding and patience she is herself a blessing.
Convention goers know her from the banquet ticket exchange table. This job requires patience with people who are in a hurry and unconcerned with the necessity of orderly business. Mrs. Pelzer handled that job as if she had been born to it. She made ticket exchanges confidently and made folks feel glad that they had spoken with her.
Away from the National Center and the National Convention, she studied at the Baltimore Bible College and became an evangelist. Mrs. Pelzer shares her life with her family, including two daughters and several grandchildren.
In the last few years I have learned yet another lesson through Mrs. Pelzer's example. It's how to be sick and still keep smiling and how to keep going when you don't feel well. Mrs. Pelzer is long-suffering. She has had diabetes for many years. Because of her diabetes she has had trouble for years with healing wounds and other complications of diabetes. She has never indulged herself in pain; and, as a matter of fact, she never mentions her difficulties at all unless she is questioned.
A few years ago I learned that I also have diabetes. I was not happy with the news, but when I told Mrs. Pelzer, she got busy immediately educating me on the subject. I can't tell you how important her ability to put me at ease about my diabetes has been in helping me. If all adversity could be faced with such even-handed courage and with the love of the Lord, there would be fewer adversities and more smiles from confident, happy people.
In December, 1998, Mrs. Pelzer retired from the staff of the National Center for the Blind. She has become a dialysis patient and found it necessary to have more time for that process and the rest that it requires. When I first met Mrs. Pelzer, she was a sighted person. Recently, because of diabetic complications, she has had one eye removed and has little or no vision in the remaining eye. Mrs. Pelzer may have retired from the national staff, but she is still very much in the hearts of us all. She comes to chapter meetings when she can, and many of us keep her telephone line busy.
The strength of her convictions is made visible in her patience. Mrs. Pelzer is not one to stay down or out. She is already setting the wheels in motion to go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind for her training as a blind person. When the time comes, she will go to Ruston and will do well. We love you, Mrs. Pelzer. Thank you for all you have done.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Joanne Pelzer]
A Stalwart Retires
by Marc Maurer
In 1978, as members of the Federation know, the National Federation of the Blind moved its headquarters office from Des Moines, Iowa, to Baltimore, Maryland. The National Center for the Blind was acquired in that year, and the remodeling which was necessary to make it usable was commenced. In the spring of 1979 we moved in. Within a very few days of the moment when we occupied the National Center, Mrs. Joanne Pelzer was hired. She was the first of many people that we sought to assist in the work of the Federation in our newly renovated Baltimore headquarters. Mrs. Pelzer worked for us from 1979 until the winter of 1998. She gave unstintingly of her time, her energy, and her commitment. During the time that she was a part of our staff, she developed health problems largely from diabetes. Nevertheless, she continued to give of her strength and her loyalty. She was always quiet but always prepared to offer what she had. A generous and a deeply religious person, Mrs. Pelzer could be counted upon.
When we moved to Baltimore, we did not know what the future would hold for us. We did not know whether we could expect support from our new environment. We did not know about the people of Baltimore, Maryland. In Mrs. Pelzer we found an example of the goodness that we came to respect and deeply appreciate. We had been led to believe that the people of the East Coast are standoffish. We learned from Mrs. Pelzer that the rumor was without foundation.
In the fall of 1998 Mrs. Pelzer's health problems prevented her from working. Complications of diabetes became severe, and Mrs. Pelzer lost considerable energy and much of her sight. In December she retired from active work within the Federation. However, she did not retire from the organization. She is still a member of the Baltimore chapter, and she is planning soon to become a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Long ago it was said about the programs Dr. Jernigan had created that, if a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in the place where Dr. Jernigan's programs exist. We regret that Mrs. Pelzer has become blind, but we intend to support those who have worked so hard and given so much to the Federation. We will ensure that Mrs. Pelzer gets the rehabilitation she needs. She is the first of the stalwarts who came to be part of the family in Baltimore, and we wish her all the best.
This month's recipes are provided by members of the National Association of Blind Piano Tuners.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Don Mitchell]
Piano Tuna Casserole
by Don Mitchell
Don Mitchell is the President of the piano tuners division and the director of instruction at the Emil Fries School of Piano Tuning and Technology in Vancouver, Washington.
1 6-ounce can water-packed tuna, drained
1 10-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cups uncooked macaroni
Method: Cook macaroni according to package directions in a two-quart pan, adding one teaspoon salt. Cook five to eight minutes or until desired tenderness and drain macaroni. Return pan to low heat. Combine tuna and soup with macaroni and stir gently until ingredients are well mixed. Heat through and serve. Makes two to four servings.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Connie Ryan]
Italian Meat Loaf
by Connie Ryan
Connie Ryan serves as Treasurer of the National Association of Blind Piano Tuners.
1 pound ground beef
3 to 4 ounces ground Italian sausage
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
3 slices bread, crumbled
1 can Italian-style tomatoes
Method: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with hands. Pat into loaf pan or casserole dish. If using a conventional oven, bake at 350 degrees for one hour. If using a microwave oven, cook on high for twenty minutes. When done, drain off excess grease and serve. Serves four.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Richard Bennett]
Francis Kitchen's Crab Cakes
by Richard Bennett
Richard Bennett is division First Vice President. This recipe comes from Smith Island, located in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay.
1 pound crab meat
3 tablespoons flour
4 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
1 tablespoon Dijon prepared mustard
2 generous tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: Mix all ingredients. Heat three-fourths cup cooking oil in skillet. Using a one-fourth cup measuring cup, mold cakes and cook in skillet until golden brown. Makes twelve cakes.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Karl Smith]
by Karl Smith
Karl Smith is a part-time tuner and full-time operator of CSA Adaptive Technologies in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Spinach or Romaine lettuce
Walnuts, broken into coarse pieces
Butter or margarine
Your favorite Italian dressing
(Amounts for this recipe depend on how many people you are feeding and your taste preferences. Basically, two heads of Romaine lettuce or bunches of spinach, one half of a small red onion, one or two cans Mandarin oranges, and two small packages of walnuts will feed four people.
Method: Wash the lettuce, remove tough stems, and tear into bite-size pieces. Halve the onion and slice into very thin half-rounds. Drain the oranges well. Combine these three ingredients in a large salad bowl. Saute the walnuts in a little butter or margarine until they are tasty and crunchy. Then salt them lightly. Lay them on a paper towel for a minute to absorb any excess butter. Toss the salad with the dressing and sprinkle the walnuts over the top like croutons.
by David Bills
David Bills is a retired piano tuner and now repairs Perkins Braille writers.
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cut corn (about 3 ears)
4 ounces green chili, chopped
8 ounces sour cream
4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Method: Combine first five ingredients; mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients except butter. Melt butter or margarine in an eight-inch iron skillet, pour batter quickly into pan, and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
By Karl Smith
Here's an encore from Karl Smith that's too good to miss.
2 cups sugar
4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate or 8 tablespoons Hershey's cocoa and 4 tablespoons cooking oil
2 sticks butter or margarine
1 cup flour
1 bloop vanilla (This is a cooking measurement familiar to all experienced cooks.)
Method: In saucepan combine sugar, chocolate, and butter and heat on medium, stirring constantly until mixture is completely combined and liquid. Do not boil. Beat eggs well in small mixing bowl. Add to chocolate mixture and stir until well blended. Add flour slowly and combine well. Add vanilla and stir in. Pour batter into greased and floured 9-by-13-inch cake pan and bake at 325 degrees for about thirty-five minutes. It is best to check brownies at thirty minutes since some ovens cook a bit faster than others. Take brownies out of oven while surface is still slightly moist. This will ensure moister brownies. Note: The batter is exceedingly good, so I recommend quietly licking the bowl without telling the kids.
A Federationist in Prime Time:
If you were watching CBS's "60 Minutes 2" on Wednesday, April 14, you saw a story about the Hairston family, both black and white. One of the people interviewed and followed for the story was our own Ever Lee Hairston, First Vice President of the NFB of New Jersey. While we were attending the Washington Seminar this year, a CBS camera crew came to film Ever Lee for this segment. The finished story was very interesting, and Ever Lee's poise and courage were powerfully revealed on camera. To learn more about Ever Lee's adventures, see the article by Dr. John W. Smith in the April, 1999, issue of the Braille Monitor.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Blazie Engineering Type 'n Speak, one owner for two years, never used. Asking $1,000. For more information call Eldridge Hardy at (334) 418-4940 or toll-free (877) 411-1661.
Braille International, Inc., Seeks New President:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Braille International, Inc. in Stuart, Florida is one of the largest producers of Braille materials in the United States, and indeed worldwide. The Board of Directors is seeking a new company president. The job opens because of the planned retirement of the incumbent. The ideal candidate will possess a wide range of business and production skills in addition to the capacity to be the organization's spokesperson in public relations and fund-raising activities during a planned expansion of the company's services. The position could also be attractive to a seasoned executive interested in using his or her talents in a worthy cause. Salary and benefits are commensurate with those of similar small, not-for-profit organizations. Send replies and resumes to Braille International, Inc., P.O. Box 1115, Stuart, FL 34995.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Adelaide Wink's Practical Crafts is making baby sets, baby afghans, and toddlers' sweaters. Call for prices and order information.
Awake and Hope is a Christian support group on cassette. Topics include Quiet Corner, pen pals column, hymns and singing, personal miracles, Bible study, job/business ideas, seek and find, craft corner, cooking corner, pet corner, true needs, etc. A monthly subscription is $12 per year (United States) and $24 overseas.
Ms. Wink wishes to correspond with blind and deaf-blind people who live in nursing homes, hospitals, and mental institutions. Contact Adelaide E. Wink, 59 South Lee Street, Beverly Hills, Florida 34465-9130.
New Video Magnifier Available:
Telesensory announced the first full-featured video magnifier at this year's CSUN disability-industry convention in Los Angeles. The Aladdin Companion weighs less than twenty pounds and is a compact portable electronic magnifying device for people with low vision (including those who are legally blind). The Companion magnifies any printed or written material using a five- to-one zoom lens. The unit includes built-in lighting, simplified controls, a 9-inch CRT viewing screen, and a built-in handle. It sells for $1,297. For additional information contact Keith Blackey, Vice President Marketing at (800) 804-8004.
I would like to correspond in Braille, on tape, or by e-mail with people who are interested in music, sports, current news, Romance languages, Biblical matters, or pop psychology. Contact Rubens M. Marshall, Caixa Postal 1001, Campinas, Sao Paulo, CEP:13013-070, Brazil, phone 019-232-2279, or e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
I have the following Braille books for sale: Solutions Access Technologies for Persons Who Are Blind by Olga Espinola and Diane Croft, four-volume set, $12; Solutions (the same book minus the volume of appendices), three-volume set, $11; and Financing Adaptive Technology: a Guide to Sources and Strategies for Blind and Visually Impaired Users by Steven B. Mendelsohn, five-volumes bound with soft covers, $15. All books will be shipped using the Free-Matter privilege on a first-come, first-served basis after check or money order is received. Please include your name, address, phone, and the specified book with payment. Make payment to Marie Caputo, 470 Tunnel Road, Vernon, Connecticut 06066.
Products Available Online:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted, a nonprofit vision rehabilitation organization, has launched an online store dedicated to providing products to those who are living with vision loss. Visit the Web site not only to discover products to assist those with vision loss but to explore links to other resources and services. Visit <www.sightconnection.com> to order online, or shop the old-fashioned way by requesting their catalog. The phone number is (206) 525-5556 or (800) 458-4888. The agency Web site is <www.csbps.com>.
Printing Services Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Braille and ink printing services available at economical rates. For more information contact Tom Davis at (515) 262-2202 or e-mail <email@example.com>.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Forty-character Braille Window Braille display, manuals, cables, and software included. In excellent condition, less than six months old, $5,300 or best offer. Please contact Ann Durber, (718) 335-1788, or write to Ann Durber, 63-25B Bourton Street, 1B, Rego Park, New York 11374.
Mississippi School for the Blind Reunion:
The Mississippi School for the Blind, formerly located on Capers Avenue in Jackson, Mississippi, is having a reunion and founders' day celebration. This event is scheduled for September 2 to 5, 1999. All former students who attended MSB at any time period are invited to attend. For more information please contact Barbara White Hadnott at 225 Dewitt Avenue, Jackson, Mississippi 39203, (601) 355-6318.
New Cassette Magazine:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Sanford Rosenthal invites you to join the Party Line, a monthly cassette magazine. Get a free monthly subscription from the Wilson Tape Lending Library Service, P.O. Box 1836, Mableton, Georgia 30126. If you want to talk on the magazine, send a ninety-minute cassette with your message (up to five minutes) with a $6 annual contribution to Sanford Rosenthal, 3360 N.E. 33rd Street, Apartment 4, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33308.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Beulah Sawyer]
An article appeared in the February 25, 1999, Beaufort Gazette newspaper titled "Beulah Sawyer is named top ten national community caretaker." The text reads in part:
Beulah McCaston Sawyer of Beaufort, an advocate for the blind, has been chosen as one of the top ten finalists of the 1998 Shaklee Community Caretaker Awards.
Selected from nominations received from throughout the nation, finalists receive a $1,000 contribution to be donated to the nonprofit community organization of their choice. Sawyer has donated her grant to the National Federation of the Blind, an organization she helped to found in 1978.... Sawyer, who has a long record of volunteer work in Beaufort, helped to begin the Beaufort chapter, National Federation of the Blind, after she was temporarily blinded during a fire. Although she continues to have blurred vision, this does not stop her from driving patients, delivering food, and writing grants to obtain more funding for this organization.
Congratulations to Beulah and the Beaufort Chapter.
New Web Address for Send Our Silks:
John TeBockhorst, President of the Bix Beiderbecke Chapter of the NFB of Iowa, reports that his business, SOS Silk Flowers, has a new Web site address. The new address is <www.sendoursilks.com>.
At its fall, 1998, convention the NFB of Puerto Rico elected several new officers. They are Tomas Cintron, Second Vice President; Jose A. Rodriguez, Secretary; and Eduardo Gonzalez, Ana Casilda Rodriguez, Marilu Torres, and Carmen Pantojas, Members of the Board of Directors.
I have a Braillewriter to sell for a special low rate of $25. Keep in mind that work as well as basic cleaning will cost extra. Braillewriters can be shipped as free matter but must be completely covered in plastic before carefully packing to prevent damage.
To make arrangements or to make further inquiry, phone Mary Ann Lareau at (781) 899-3745 during normal work hours.
Road Runner at Convention:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Dr. Peter Scialli of Shrinkwrap Computer Products announces a convention sale on the Road Runner, a tiny, portable reading device that lets you store up to three thousand pages of text for easy reading on the go. You must use the Road Runner in conjunction with a computer. Whether you obtain reading material with your scanner, from the Internet, from RFB and D, or from a friend, the Road Runner, weighing just four ounces, will read to you in a clear, synthetic voice. Read on a bus, on a plane, in a waiting room--anywhere. You can hear a Real Audio demonstration of the Road Runner on the company's Web site at <http://www.readingmachines.com>. The Road Runner is on sale now and through July 31, 1999, for $299. Look for Shrinkwrap and the Road Runner at the NFB Convention in Atlanta; stop in and see them. For more information contact Shrinkwrap Computer Products, 11706 Saddle Crescent Circle, Oakton, Virginia 22124, Phone, (800) 377-0774, or e-mail <Shrink@erols.com>.
The NFB of Oklahoma elected the following officers at its annual convention: Steve Shelton, President; Nannette Murrin, First Vice President; Ron Miller, Second Vice President; Janet Triplett, Secretary; Joe Triplett, Treasurer; and Cordelia Sanders and Sue Lee, Board Members.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Kerry Stein has the following items for sale: Braille 'n Speak 640 with instruction manuals and adapter cables--$500 or best offer; 40-cell, 8-dot Navigator with software, instruction manuals, and adapter cables--make an offer; Cranmer Modified Perkins Braille Embosser with instruction manuals and cables--best offer. All equipment is in working condition. Contact me weekdays at (205) 425-0800 or evenings and weekends at (205) 967-4901.
Talking Caller ID:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Full Life Products introduces Model 560CW Talking Caller ID. This model will speak the caller's ten-digit telephone number or custom caller category. It works with call waiting deluxe; has a new three-line LCD displaying name, number, date, and time; and introduces a dial-back feature. Model 560CW stores the ninety-nine most recent calls for visual and audible review and has visual and audible message-waiting indicator, adjustable volume control, one-touch audible new-call review, and more. The cost is $49.95 plus shipping and handling. For more information call (800) 400-1540 or <www.superproducts.com>.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Martha Harris]
Martha Harris, a Federation member from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and the blind daughter of long-time Federationist Catherine Harris, has been honored with three awards for her performance on the bowling team for the Special Olympics. On February 28, 1999, she won a gold medal in the local tournament. On March 7 she won a first-place blue ribbon in the regional tournament held in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. And on March 27 she won a second-place silver medal in the central state tournament held in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Martha Harris joined the Special Olympics in September of 1998. Congratulations to her for her excellence.
Attention Those Working in Rehabilitation:
Fatos Floyd of Nebraska and several other Federationists invite everyone working in the rehabilitation field to get together during convention to share information, ideas, and strategies. The meeting will take place Saturday evening, July 3. Be sure to listen during the general sessions that day for an announcement of the exact time and place.
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.
Posted June 7, 1999