THE BRAILLE MONITOR

Vol. 42, No. 10, December, 1999

Barbara Pierce, Editor

 

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT

 

National Office
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
NFB Net BBS: http://www.nfbnet.org
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

 

ISSN 0006-8829

  Contents

NFB Sues AOL    
    
by Barbara Pierce

Convention Bulletin 2000

Department of Veterans Affairs Debars Maxi-Aids
     by Barbara Pierce

Not with a Bang, But a Giggle:

NAC Takes Leave of the Century
     by Peggy Elliott

Talking Sense about the ADA

Sight Unseen: A Review
     by Catherine Kudlick, Ph.D.

The Adventures of Curious Chris
     by Christopher A. Weaver

To Climb Every Mountain: The Blind Climber

Planning to Stand on Top of the World
     by Erik Weihenmayer

Distinguished Educator of
Blind Children Award for 2000
     by Sharon Maneki

The 2000 Blind Educator of the Year Award
     by Stephen O. Benson

She Battles for Her Dream of a Blind-friendly Web
     by Blair Anthony Robertson

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2000
     by James Gashel

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

         Copyright ) National Federation of the Blind, 1999


PHOTO CAPTION: Andy Levy, senior partner in a prominent Baltimore law firm,and his wife Sandy travel through Black Cabinet Hall on their way to the Skydeck for dinner.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: 5. Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland addresses the NEWSLINE Night audience.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: 6. President Maurer presents an award to Michael Waller, Publisher of the Baltimore Sun.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: 7. President Maurer presents an award to Tom Curley, Publisher of USA Today.[PHOTO/CAPTION: Curtis Chong]

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer]

 

NFB Sues AOL

by Barbara Pierce

At 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 4, 1999, Marc Maurer, President of the largest consumer organization of blind people in the nation, opened a press conference at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel in Boston. He was there to announce to assembled representatives of the press that the National Federation of the Blind had that morning filed suit in Federal District Court in Boston against America Online, Inc. (AOL). By the close of the day President Maurer would say that it had been the single biggest media day for the NFB in history. The complaint was filed jointly by the National Federation of the Blind, the NFB of Massachusetts, and nine individual blind people who would have enrolled with AOL for their own personal reasons but found that they could not even sign up for the service's e-mail and other online options without the help of a sighted person.

These problems are no surprise to anyone using speech technology. For years blind people have grumbled in frustration at AOL's inaccessibility. Finally, a year ago, Curtis Chong, Director of the NFB's Technology Department, wrote a letter to AOL in an attempt to open direct discussions with the company about the problem. This is what he said:

Baltimore,   Maryland

October 26, 1998

Mr. Rob Jennings

Vice President of Programming and Development

America Online, Inc.

Dear Mr. Jennings:

My name is Curtis Chong, and I am the Director of Technology for the National Federation of the Blind, a membership organization of more than 50,000 blind men and women with affiliates in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

I was made aware recently of an e-mail exchange which took place between you and Sue Ruff concerning America Online (AOL) and problems that many blind people have using AOL's system and software. I hope through this letter to provide you with specific information about the problem in the hope that you and your colleagues at AOL will take steps to improve our ability to use this popular service.

People who are blind can and do use commercial off-the-shelf programs written to run under the Windows operating system. The information that is displayed on the screen by these programs is made available to the blind computer user non-visually, using a class of software referred to as screen access programs. These programs monitor what is happening on the computer screen and convert the information into synthesized speech or refreshable Braille. In order for these programs to function effectively, it is vital for the commercial applications to function in a standard way—for example, making heavy use of the insertion caret, providing keyboard access to all functions, moving the focus whenever the keyboard is used, and relying upon standard Windows controls (e.g., dialog boxes, combo boxes, list boxes, edit boxes, and push buttons) as opposed to painting custom controls on the screen.

Screen access programs can provide a way to manipulate the mouse pointer through the keyboard, but the manipulation process is generally awkward and does not always provide the blind computer user with the information that a sighted person takes for granted because it is displayed on the screen. For example, if the mouse pointer comes across an unlabeled icon, the screen access program will probably not recognize it and will therefore not alert the blind computer user to its presence, not to mention its meaning.

Quite a few Windows-based applications are widely used in the blind community today. These include (but are by no means limited to) Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, the Windows 95 and 98 operating systems themselves, Note Pad, Word Pad, a variety of e-mail clients (including Microsoft Outlook Express and Quallcom Eudora) and other software which, so to speak, play by the rules. We have been able to use the applications we do either because they behave in a standard way or because the developer of a particular screen access program has gone to great lengths to ensure that a specific suite of application software works with the screen reading system.

With all of this as background, let me tell you about AOL and the difficulty blind people have using it. As matters stand today, I as a blind person cannot use AOL without running proprietary software. Although I have heard of one screen access vendor's making it possible to use the AOL software to send and receive e-mail, the overall situation is that blind people find the AOL software difficult if not impossible to use with their screen access programs. The software does not provide enough access to its functions via the keyboard, and it does not display information on the screen using standard Windows controls. Screen access programs have difficulty, therefore, determining what items are selected, not to mention influencing the application to perform the bidding of the blind computer user.

In terms of overall perception, I should tell you that America Online is not well regarded by many blind people. Those of us who want access to the Internet typically sign up with another Internet service provider which does not require us to use proprietary software. In the short-term some of our problems would be alleviated if AOL would support a standard point-to-point-protocol (PPP) connection through which we could login to the system, run our own browsers, and use our own e-mail clients. A more desirable solution in the long run would be for AOL to modify its proprietary software so as to ensure compatibility with screen access technology for the blind.

In this regard the National Federation of the Blind operates the most extensive technology center for the blind in the world. Among other things our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind contains every English-speaking screen access program for the blind sold today. If AOL is willing to modify its software so that it is more compatible with our screen readers, we would be pleased to conduct the necessary tests to ensure that AOL is fully accessible to the blind.

Mr. Jennings, I am hopeful that this letter will prompt you and your colleagues to solve the accessibility problems I have identified. If America Online is to be a service from which everyone can profit, then it must be accessible to the blind.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Curtis Chong

Director of Technology

National Federation of the Blind

Weeks passed with no response from AOL to the Chong letter. Then in December Rob Jennings called Mr. Chong to say that AOL was working on the problem and would certainly like to discuss things with the NFB. Curtis urged Jennings to come to visit the International Braille and Technology Center, and Jennings said that he would see about bringing a delegation early in the new year. (AOL's headquarters are in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., so visiting the IBTC did not represent a great sacrifice of time or money for AOL.)

But nothing more was heard from Jennings. Then in March Curtis Chong read a notice from the AOL president's office assuring the world that they were working hard on text-to-voice and voice-to-text technology. Mr. Chong decided that the announcement was a pretty good indication that AOL still didn't get it. Some people undoubtedly have an interest in being able to speak their messages and commands to the computer and listen to received messages on the telephone, but what blind people need and what he had been talking about in his earlier letter was effective access to the AOL software that the rest of the world takes for granted. So he wrote yet another letter to AOL, this time to Steve Case, who had sent the e-mail message about AOL's commitment to voice-to-text and text-to-voice interfaces. In it he described yet again what the problem is, what blind people need, and what AOL would have to do to make access to its service possible. For good measure he enclosed the October 26 letter to Rob Jennings.

Still no word came from AOL. By July NFB officials were beginning to plan for the Fourth U.S./Canada Technology Conference on Technology, which was scheduled for late October. In August Dr. Maurer asked Mr. Chong to explore the possibility of inviting senior AOL officials to the conference to discuss problems and possible solutions to the accessibility difficulty. An e-mail inquiry to Rob Jennings bounced back to Mr. Chong because Jennings had left AOL, but by calling Jennings's phone number at AOL, he located someone else with whom to exchange inconclusive e-mail messages. Then several weeks passed with no comment from AOL. When Mr. Chong wrote again, he was told that he would hear within the week. He didn't. Then a consultant from a public relations firm called to say that she, the head of AOL's Communications Department, and representatives from the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) would be willing to come to the conference and listen but she needed details of precisely when the AOL talk would occur so that they could come in and leave quickly.

The entire purpose of these technology conferences and in large part the reason for their importance has been the dual principles that in every instance only true decision-makers are invited and may attend the conference, and conferees commit to stay for the entire event. Mr. Chong wrote back regretting that, because AOL was not willing to meet these requirements, there would be no point in anyone from AOL's bothering to drive to Baltimore to wave the flag for the provider.

It is interesting to note that the day before the conference was scheduled to open, AOL undertook a flurry of activity to pressure the NFB into letting its PR types make their presentation, but by then the effort was much too little and much too late.

NFB attorneys were preparing to file a complaint in Federal District Court, and Dr. Maurer decided to file it early on the morning of November 4 in Boston's federal courthouse. By 11:00 a.m. on that Thursday Dr. Maurer, Mr. Chong, the attorneys, and a number of the individual plaintiffs were gathered in an area hotel to talk with members of the press and demonstrate just what difficulties blind computer users have in trying to access AOL. Here is the text of the press release that was part of the press packet handed out to reporters:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND SUES AMERICA ONLINE, INC.

Charges America Online Internet Service Is Inaccessible to the Blind, Violates ADA.

BOSTON (11/4/99)--The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) today filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against America Online, Inc. (AOL). The suit by NFB, the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, and nine individuals, all of whom are blind, charges that America Online's Internet service (AOL service) is inaccessible to the blind, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The lawsuit specifically states that, unlike other Internet service providers, AOL "has designed its AOL service so that it is incompatible with screen access software programs for the blind." As a result, blind people do not have access to the country's largest Internet service provider and its nearly nineteen million subscribers worldwide.

The suit seeks to enjoin AOL from continued violation of the ADA. It also asks the court to order AOL to redesign its AOL service in order to allow blind people to have independent access through screen access software.

Blind people commonly use screen access software to monitor the computer screen and convert text into synthesized speech or Braille on a device known as a refreshable Braille display.

In designing its proprietary software to be incompatible with screen access programs, AOL service "has failed to remove communications barriers—thus denying the blind independent access to this service in violation of Title III of the ADA," the suit charges.

"Blind people can and do make extensive use of computer programs, including commercial applications, by using screen access software," says NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer. For screen access to work effectively, however, the commercial software:

Must provide text labels for all graphics;

Must permit keyboard access to all functions;

Must move the focus whenever the keyboard is used; and Must rely upon standard Windows controls, such as dialog boxes, list boxes, edit boxes, etc.

In contrast, AOL service users are required to run proprietary AOL software that employs unlabeled graphics, commands that can be activated only by using a mouse, and custom controls painted on the computer screen.

"Screen access programs cannot read an unlabeled graphic, cannot provide an effective way to manipulate a mouse pointer, and cannot read or activate non-standard custom controls that are painted on the screen," explains Maurer. "As a result, blind people are effectively precluded from using the America Online Internet service."

Curtis Chong, NFB's Director of Technology, notes that the technology to redesign the AOL Internet service in order to permit accessibility by the blind already exists.

"The technology is available, and using it would neither fundamentally alter the nature of the AOL service nor cause any undue financial burden to AOL," says Chong. "Despite our best efforts, though, AOL has steadfastly refused to modify its software in order to ensure compatibility with screen access technology for the blind."

As a result of AOL's failure to redesign its Internet service, the suit charges the Internet provider with violating the ADA's auxiliary aids and services mandate.

The NFB suit also charges the AOL service with violating the ADA's "reasonable modification" and "full and equal enjoyment" mandates for the company's failure to make its services fully accessible and independently usable by individuals who are blind. NFB has long been actively involved in promoting adaptive technologies for the blind so that blind people can live and work independently in today's technology-dependent world.

The organization runs the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at its headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. The Center, which houses more than $2 million worth of hardware and software designed specifically for the blind, is the world's most extensive demonstration and evaluation center for computer-related technology serving the needs of blind people.

The AOL suit proved to be a very interesting story for reporters. President Maurer and Mr. Chong did interviews with the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, both Boston papers, several TV stations, CNN, Associated Press, and lots of other media. Typical of the coverage was the Washington Post story of November 5:

The National Federation of the Blind yesterday filed a lawsuit against America Online, Inc., contending that the Internet service provider discriminates against the blind because its system is incompatible with software that helps the visually impaired use computers.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, says AOL is violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by refusing to modify its programming despite several requests over the past year. Most aids that translate computer graphics and text into Braille or sounds do not work with AOL's current software.

"They say that ‘we would really like to help you,'" said Curtis Chong, technology director for the Federation. But, "in the end, they have not fixed the problem."

AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato said company programmers are working on a new version of its software, due out next year, that will be accessible to the visually impaired. "We are disappointed that they have filed their lawsuit," he said.

The screen-access scanners the blind use to read graphics depend on them to be tagged with words that describe the pictures. Many other Internet service providers, including MindSpring and AT&T Corp., use such labels, Chong said. But AOL's ubiquitous "You've got mail!" thumbnails, advertisements, and other icons do not, making it difficult for the blind to maneuver through the system and find the information they want. The service provider's software also presents a problem because it requires customers to use a mouse click, instead of a keystroke, to perform some functions.

Chong said his office has fielded about ten complaints a week for the past two years from blind consumers frustrated at not being able to hook up to AOL.

Cathy Schroeder, a computer programmer from Reston, attempted to sign up with AOL but was thwarted by pop-up boxes of advertisements. The boxes commanded her to click on them to continue. Schroeder, who is blind, remembers spending several minutes sweeping her mouse around and randomly clicking to try to get rid of them: "That's as far as I got until I threw up my hands and said, ‘I can't use this.' I couldn't even sign on."

Daniel Goldstein, a Baltimore lawyer representing the Federation, said the suit is the first to demand that an Internet service accommodate blind users. He said the advocacy group singled out AOL because it is the world's dominant provider, with nineteen million subscribers.

"It's so pervasive," he said, "that the blind feel particularly hurt by being shut out by AOL."

The immediate coverage of the story looked pretty much like the Post story. But on Monday, November 15, the National Law Journal, a prestigious publication catering to attorneys, printed a story that explored the underlying issues. All the lawyers the reporter reached for comment were specialists in business law of various kinds. The fact that several of them found merit in the NFB position demonstrates that this case is already having an impact in disability and technology law. Here is the story:

Net Rights for the Disabled?

by Ritchenya A. Shepherd

A suit against America Online, filed by the National Federation for the Blind, could have widespread ramifications in the online industry and for a variety of other service-based businesses, lawyers say.

The suit puts squarely before a federal court the question of whether an Internet-based service is a public accommodation and therefore, under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, is required to provide access to people with disabilities.

"It's a 500-pound gorilla that party-goers can't ignore," said Robert A. Naeve, a labor and employment partner at San Francisco's Morrison & Foerster L.L.P. "If the court rules that AOL is a public accommodation, it could require anyone engaging in e-commerce to make their Web site...accessible to people with disabilities."

The Baltimore-based Federation brought suit on November 4 in U.S. District Court in Boston, claiming that AOL is in violation of the ADA because its proprietary software is not compatible with the screen-access software used by blind people.

"We get hundreds of complaints about AOL every year," said Dr. Marc Maurer, the group's president. Members call, he said, "asking how they can make their machines work with AOL, and the answer is: You can't."

Blind people use software to monitor their computer screens and convert text into synthesized speech or Braille. But such programs cannot read many of AOL's unlabeled graphics of custom controls and can't process functions requiring use of a mouse rather than keystrokes, the complaint says.

There are about 700,000 blind people in the United States, Dr. Maurer said. A recent poll says that 60% to 70% of the Federation's 50,000 members use computers. "We have called AOL many times and written a few times. They have said they're all for access, but they never do anything about it," he said.

The law on whether online providers are public accommodations isn't clear. "There's nothing that addresses it squarely in the statute," said Gary D. Friedman, a New York labor and employment partner at Chicago's Mayer Brown & Platt.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT VIEW

A 1996 opinion by the Department of Justice concluded that the ADA does apply to companies and government agencies offering products and services over the Internet, but that opinion never has been judicially interpreted, said Jonathan S. Quinn, a partner at Chicago's Sachnoff & Weaver Ltd.

And a DOJ [Department of Justice] regulation requiring public accommodations to ensure access to their goods indicates that they are not required to alter the nature or mix of those goods, Mr. Naeve said. He cited the example of a bookstore, which must make its facility physically accessible but does not have to stock Braille or large-print books.

The federal circuit courts are split over whether the ADA-which enumerates places of accommodation such as concert halls, parks, and restaurants—can be stretched to cover other types of service businesses. The U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Third and Sixth Circuits "flat out say that a public accommodation is a physical place," Mr. Naeve said. "If you follow that, then the Internet is not a public accommodation."

However, the First Circuit—where the NFB sued—has held otherwise. In a 1994 case, Car Parts Distribution Center v. Automotive Wholesalers Association, 37 F.3d 12, the court held that being a public accommodation doesn't demand a physical structure for people to enter. "What the plaintiffs in the AOL case are arguing represents a rather expansive interpretation of the ADA," said Edward S. Mazurek, a labor and employment partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P. in Philadelphia. In addition to affecting on-line businesses, such a reading of the statute could affect other service providers, such as telecommunications companies and insurance companies, which could be forced to alter access to their services to accommodate people with disabilities.

Given the stakes, it appears to be in AOL's interest to settle, Mr. Friedman said: "They have a lot to lose....They don't want to create any adverse law."

AOL would not comment on the possibility of a settlement. But the company already is well on its way to making its service more accessible to the blind, said company spokesman Nicholas J. Graham.

Next year AOL plans to release an updated version of its software that can interface with screen readers, as well as a feature to allow AOL members to have their e-mail read to them over the telephone.

There you have what happened on the fourth of November and what people have been saying about it. Now comes the period of waiting. Blind people who want to sign up with AOL are no better off than they were a month ago, but it's safe to say that we have finally gotten AOL's attention.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Atlanta Marriott Marquis]

[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Atlanta Hilton and Towers]

[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Hyatt Regency, Atlanta]

Convention Bulletin 2000

It is time to plan for the 2000 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Last year's convention, also in Atlanta, was one of the very best we have ever had—great hotel staffs, a truly impressive program and exhibits, and fellowship of the highest order. More than 3,000 conventioneers can testify to the superb facilities and the excellence and diversity of Atlanta's restaurants and entertainment.

We will meet again this year at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta. This hotel is truly a beautiful and spacious world-class facility. Rooms have been reserved for us at the Marquis, the Atlanta Hilton and Towers, and the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. The Marquis, with its 120,000 square feet of meeting space and over 1,600 guest rooms, is perfect for our convention. The Hilton and Towers and the Hyatt Regency each have over 1,200 elegantly furnished guest rooms and a number of special guest services.

Once again, our hotel rates at the Marquis are the envy of all. For the 2000 convention they are singles, $57; doubles and twins, $59; triples, $61; and quads, $63. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 14 percent. There will be no charge for children in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.

For 2000 convention room reservations you should write directly to Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, or call (404) 521-0000. Marriott has a national toll-free number, but do not use it! Reservations made through this national number will not be valid. They must be made directly with the hotel. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If a credit card is used, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $60 check. If a reservation is cancelled prior to June 4, 2000, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

The Marquis is a beautiful, fifty-story atrium hotel with a panoramic view of this bustling city in the heart of the New South. It is twelve miles north of the Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport. Those driving to the convention will find the hotel conveniently located off Interstate 85, by taking Exit 96, International Boulevard, turning left onto International Boulevard, going to Peachtree Center Avenue, and turning right. The hotel is on the right in the second block. There are three excellent restaurants in the Marquis: Allie's American Grille, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Atrium Express, open for breakfast and lunch; and Marquis Steakhouse, open for dinner only. Champions Sports Bar is open until 2:00 a.m. and serves lunch and dinner. The hotel features indoor and outdoor pools, a solarium, health club, whirlpool, and sauna. Rooms provide voice mail, telephone data ports, and complimentary in-room coffee.

The Hilton and Towers combines a convenient location across Courtland Street from the east door of the Marquis with superb accommodations and amenities. Rooms are newly renovated, spacious, and luxurious, with rich cherry furnishings and a warm atmosphere.

The Hyatt Regency Atlanta is one block west of the Marquis. Its round tinted glass tower wing is a landmark on the Atlanta skyline. The Hyatt boasts an atrium lobby and three restaurants, including a revolving restaurant on its roof.

Since all three hotels are in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Federationists attending the convention will have access to a wealth of restaurants, shops, and other attractions like Martin Luther King Center (1.5 miles), Underground Atlanta (0.8 mile), and World of Coca-Cola (0.8 mile). See later issues of the Monitor for information on tours and other outings into the Greater Atlanta area.

The 2000 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with a program unparalleled, an exciting city to explore, and a rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. The schedule this year is just a bit different from our usual one. Pre-convention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Sunday, July 2, and adjournment will be Saturday, July 8, at 5:00 p.m. To assure a room in one of the convention hotels at convention rates, you must make reservations early. Convention registration will begin on Monday, July 3, and both Monday and Tuesday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Tuesday morning annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, which is open to all. General convention sessions begin on Wednesday and continue through the afternoon of Saturday, July 8. The annual banquet will take place on Friday evening, July 7.

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of any variety have a value of at least $25. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time to Roger Womble, 3966 Wildwood Lake Drive, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30331-4361.

The best collection of exhibits, featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours arranged by the host Georgia affiliate; famous Southern hospitality; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2000 National Convention. Hotel reservations are now being accepted. Make yours right away, and we'll see you in Atlanta in 2000!

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Barbara Pierce]

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Maxi Aids logo]

Department of Veterans Affairs Debars Maxi-Aids

by Barbara Pierce

Some stories seem never to come to an end. For years now the Braille Monitor has been reporting on the questionable, even unsavory, business practices of Maxi-Aids. Independent Living Aids (ILA) and one of its principals, Marvin Sandler, eventually sued Maxi-Aids, and we covered the trial of ILA and Marvin Sandler vs. Maxi-Aids and Elliot Zaretsky and his three adult children (Mitchel, Pamela, and Harold) in extensive detail in the March, 1998, issue of the Braille Monitor. Because of the ramifications of the Zaretskys' behavior and business practices on the entire blindness field, we devoted that entire issue to a summary of the trial and its results, in which the jury awarded a decisive $2,400,000.06 verdict against Maxi-Aids and also held the Zaretskys personally liable.

Many of the details of what has happened during the intervening months have been cloaked in secrecy by virtue of court order. When contacted for comment, Marvin Sandler refused comment and so did Elliot Zaretsky, who went on to tell us to contact the VA. These things are known, however. On December 30, 1998, Maxi-Aids and its principals declared bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy act. There is surely some irony in the spectacle of a company and its principal officers' demonstrating a total lack of concern for the law by engaging in copyright infringement, counterfeiting, customs fraud, false advertising, and fraudulent misrepresentation—all proven at trial—and then racing to find protection from a jury's verdict by using the law as a shield. For some weeks Maxi-Aids's creditors must have lost sleep at night for fear that the Zaretskys would work out a settlement in the bankruptcy court which would enable them to pay back only cents on the dollar, but in the end they seem to have worked things out more or less to the creditors' satisfaction.

We have obtained a number of documents (about six pounds worth) from the Bankruptcy Court of Eastern New York, including a list of Maxi-Aids's creditors. These include large and small vendors of products, but the list also includes the law firm of Ruskin, Moscou, Evans and Faltischek, who represented Maxi-Aids in the lawsuit they lost to ILA. The Zaretskys fired their first law firm and hired a new one while they were considering filing an appeal of the original decision. When they found themselves facing bankruptcy, the Zaretskys of course found a third firm—of bankruptcy attorneys—to conduct that filing. One hopes that all these attorneys have been paid though one is doubtful, remembering Earl Breynton of Brytech's experience as cited in the December, 1994, Braille Monitor, in which Breynton said Maxi-Aids refused to pay an invoice of several thousand dollars because the Zaretskys were unhappy with Breynton's decision to discontinue doing business with the company. Everyone contemplating doing business with Maxi-Aids should certainly keep this history in mind. But be that as it may, Maxi-Aids is continuing to do business, even if the past couple of years have not perhaps been their most satisfying or lucrative.

At the time we were reporting on the outcome of the 1997 trial, the Department of Veterans Affairs was still determining its response to the evidence of misrepresentation on the part of Maxi-Aids uncovered during the VA's investigation. We therefore touched only lightly in the March, ‘98, issue on Maxi-Aids's shenanigans in placing its VA bids. The time has now come to look more carefully at the VA evidence and report on what has happened since the jury's decision.

Early this year the United States Department of Veterans Affairs placed Maxi-Aids and its principals on a list of those debarred from bidding or otherwise doing business with the VA and its medical centers. When a federal agency, not Maxi-Aids's competitors or a publication sitting on the sidelines and reporting the situation, identifies false representations and improper bidding practices, the matter has clearly reached a new level of seriousness.

Maxi-Aids's false representations occurred on two occasions, when bids were submitted to the VA, first claiming that the company was "woman-owned" and later claiming that it was owned by a disadvantaged person. In each case Maxi-Aids sought and was given preference on the bids because of its false representations. The trial transcript in the lawsuit of Independent Living Aids and Marvin Sandler vs. Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys shows that the jury unanimously found that the false representations were willful and deliberate. (See the March, 1998, issue.)

When the Department of Veterans Affairs asked for documentation that Maxi-Aids was at first woman-owned and was later owned by a disadvantaged person, the Zaretskys tried to cover up Maxi-Aids's false representations by creating and submitting a false document prepared by Elliot Zaretsky and signed by Mitchel and Harold Zaretsky in what appears to have been an attempt to deceive the VA even further.

One attempt at cover-up led to another, and, despite being exposed, the Zaretskys continued to espouse the fiction that they had first been woman-owned and later owned by a disadvantaged person.

Early in the lawsuit Mitchel Zaretsky, the president of Maxi-Aids, submitted a sworn affidavit to the Court stating, among other claims, "Until 1993 my sister Pam owned a substantial interest in Maxi-Aids; Pam sold her shares in 1993." He went on to say, "The Braille paper bid was submitted while Pam still held an interest in Maxi-Aids, and her interest [as a woman] entitled Maxi-Aids to a preference under the bidding guidelines." Referring to his brother Harold, Mitchel wrote, "Harold is legally deaf, and his interest in Maxi-Aids entitled the Company to a preference in the later bid." Mitchel also asserted: "The bids were legitimately submitted, reflecting my sister Pamela's former ownership in the Company and my deaf brother Harold's interest, respectively."

That affidavit, given under oath, would come back to haunt Mitchel and the rest of the Zaretskys at trial and was used extensively by Jack Dweck, ILA's attorney, as a critical piece of evidence.

Before we proceed to the transcript of the trial itself, a clarification of the bidding guidelines referred to by Mitchel in his affidavit will help to clarify the significance of actions taken by the Zaretskys. These guidelines essentially define a woman-owned firm as one that is 51 percent owned and operated by a woman or women. Similarly, the definition of a disadvantaged firm is one that is 51 percent owned by a person or persons who are disadvantaged, with very clear definitions of "disadvantaged" given. Deafness is not included as one of the categories listed in the definitions. Thus Harold's deafness never entitled Maxi-Aids to a preference, no matter how large his interest in the Company might have been. The defenses around the Maxi-Aids charade began disintegrating when ILA subpoenaed Maxi-Aids's tax records and corporate books showing ownership interest in the Company. The tax records, which consisted of K-1 forms submitted as part of Maxi-Aids's income tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service, showed that Pamela had no ownership interest whatsoever at the time the bid claiming woman ownership was submitted to the VA. This evidence was reinforced by the corporate books, which showed that, at least since January, 1988--more than five years before the bid claiming woman ownership had been submitted to the VA—

Pamela had not owned a single share of Maxi-Aids stock. Both the tax forms and corporate books showed that Harold never owned more than one-third of the shares of the Corporation—a far cry from the 51 percent needed to qualify under the bidding guidelines, even if he had been considered disadvantaged (which he was not).

Armed with Mitchel's sworn affidavit and the corporate and tax records, Jack Dweck went to work at trial. Following are extracts of the actual trial testimony given by Mitchel Zaretsky in response to questions from Jack Dweck:

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you are also a one-third owner of the company, are you not, sir?

A: Correct.

Q: And your brother Harold is also a one-third owner: is that not correct, sir?

A: Yes.

Q: As of the present time your father Elliot Zaretsky, who is in the courtroom, is also a one-third owner: is that right, sir? A: Yes.

Q: And that one-third ownership is reflected by stock certificates in Maxi-Aids that have been issued to you, your brother Harold, and your father: is that correct, sir?

A: That's correct.

Q: And that one-third ownership is also reflected, is it not, in K-1's that were attached to your income tax returns that you filed with the Internal Revenue Service—you file every year: is that not correct?

A: I believe so.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you've been a one-third owner of this company from its inception, have you not, sir?

A: That's correct.

Q: And the same holds true with your brother Harold, isn't that right, sir?

A: I believe so.

Q: And at the inception of the company, Mr. Zaretsky, your sister Pamela Stein Zaretsky or Pamela Zaretsky Stein, was also a one-third owner, was she not, sir?

A: To the best of my knowledge, yes, sir.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, your sister sold out her interest in the company:

isn't that right?

A: I guess so. I'm not sure.

Q: Well, your sister isn't an owner today, is she, sir?

A: No, she's not.

Q: And she hasn't been an owner for several years: isn't that right, sir?

A: That's correct.

Q: At no time from the inception of the company until the time that your sister sold her interest out, did she ever own more than a third of the stock: isn't that right, sir?

A: That's correct.

Having covered the percentage ownership information reflected in the corporate stock books and K-1 forms, Dweck turned his attention to the dates involved, since the Zaretskys had submitted the woman-owned bid in November of 1993 and claimed to be owned by a disadvantaged person in May of 1994. Remember that the word "owned" was defined by the VA to mean at least 51 percent ownership of the company. Here is Jack Dweck questioning Mitchel Zaretsky:

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, I'm showing you now the K-1's, which is an IRS form: isn't that right, sir?

A: Yes, I believe so.

Q: These are the K-1's for your brother Harold for 1992, 1993, and 1994, that's three years in a row: is that right? A: Yes.

Q: Your brother is having a 33.33 percent interest of the shares of Maxi-Aids Incorporated: is that right?

A: Yes.

Q: We agree, do we not, in 1992, 1993, and 1994, your brother Harold owned a third of the company's shares: is that right? A: Absolutely.

Q: Now, your father in 1992, 1993, and 1994 also owned 33.34 percent of the shares, isn't that right?

A: Yes.

Q: We agree?

A: We agree.

Q: Okay. Mr. Zaretsky, you as president in the same three years, ‘92, ‘93, and ‘94, owned 33 and one-third percent of the shares of Maxi-Aids Incorporated: is that right, sir?

A: That is correct.

Q: We agree again?

A: Yes, we do.

Q: Okay. And so for 1992, 1993, and 1994 it was you, your father, and your brother, correct?

A: They owned shares, yes.

Q: And that's 100 percent of the shares Maxi-Aids owned among the three of you: Harold, Mitchel, and Elliot, correct? A: On paper, that's what it says, yes.

Q: And that's the paper that is filed with the Internal Revenue Service with your tax return every year: is that right, sir? A: I believe so.

Jack Dweck had now established the facts through evidence introduced at the trial plus Mitchel's own sworn testimony. False representations had indeed been made to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Pamela Zaretsky Stein had never owned more than one-third of Maxi-Aids's stock and at the time of the woman-owned bid didn't own a single share. Harold Zaretsky had never owned more than one-third of Maxi-Aids's stock, and his deafness did not fall under the VA's definition of "disadvantaged." Dweck now went to work on the cover-up, beginning with Mitchel's affidavit.

Q: Now, Mr. Zaretsky, when this case first started, sir, you submitted some papers before this Court: is that right, sir? A: To the best of my knowledge; we submitted a lot of papers. Q: Okay. And one of those papers you submitted was an affidavit; isn't that right, sir?

A: Correct.

Q: And, sir, I'm going to show you this document and direct your attention to page 29. That's your signature, isn't that right, sir?

A: Yes.

Q: And the Notary Public there is Mark Mulholland, your lawyer, isn't that right?

A: I guess so, yes.

Q: And you swore to the truth of this document on the ninth day of March, 1995: isn't that right?

A: Yes.

Q: And this affidavit was submitted by you to this Court in March of 1995; isn't that right, sir?

A: Yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, I want to read something to you from this affidavit, sir. Starting on page 1 it says, "State of New York, County of Nassau." Do you want to follow with me, sir? A: I would like to.

Q: "State of New York, County of Nassau. Mitchel Zaretsky being duly sworn deposes and says. I am the president of defendant Maxi-Aids, Inc. (Maxi-Aids)." Agreed, am I reading it correctly so far, sir?

A: Correct.

Q: My father, defendant Elliot Zaretsky, is Maxi-Aids founder. Defendant Harold Zaretsky, Maxi-Aids secretary and vice president, is my brother; defendant Pamela Zaretsky Stein, my sister, was formerly a Maxi-Aids shareholder but has owned no interest in the company since 1993." Do you see that, sir?

A: Yes.

Q: That's not correct, is it?

A: No, I don't believe so.

Q: And it is not correct because the K-1's that we have before you show that at least since 1992 Pamela was not a shareholder, agreed?

A: Yes.

Q: And you submitted this affidavit to this Court to rely upon the truth of your statements: isn't that correct, sir? A: That is correct.

Q: And you gave that information to your lawyer, Mr. Mulholland, which he put into this affidavit and submitted to this Court, correct?

A: I gave him a lot of information, yes.

Q: And you gave him this information, did you not, sir? A: I don't recall exactly giving him the date 1993, but I gave him a lot of information, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, just so we understand the procedure that was followed when this affidavit was prepared, it was typed up in your lawyer's office, agreed?

A: I agree.

Q: Mr. Mulholland gave it back to you to look at before you signed it: isn't that correct, sir?

A: I reviewed it.

Q: And you read it?

A: I read it.

Q: At the time that you read it, Mr. Zaretsky, did you tell Mr. Mulholland that in the very first paragraph that statement about your sister selling her shares in 1993 was false? A: To the best of my knowledge, I believe that she had sold her shares by 1993.

Q: But that's not what you said here, is it? You said "defendant Pamela Zaretsky Stein, my sister, was formerly a Maxi-Aids shareholder but owns no interest in the company since 1993." That's false, isn't it?

A: Again, to the best of my knowledge

At this point a procedural issue involving the Judge interrupted the questioning, but it then continued.

Q: Now, when you saw this affidavit that Mr. Mulholland had prepared and he asked you to sign it, you read it. That's what you told us a few moments ago: is that correct?

A: I did read it, yes.

Q: The answer is yes?

A: Yes.

Q: And did you tell Mr. Mulholland that that statement was incorrect?

A: No, I did not.

Q: Did you ask him to change it?

A: I don't—

Q: Yes or no, sir?

A: No, I did not ask him to change it.

Q: Okay. Now, Mr. Zaretsky, I'll direct your attention, sir, to page 3 of that same affidavit that you submitted to this Court. Do you see paragraph 6?

A: Yes.

Q: Okay. On the third line I want to read this sentence to you sir. And follow me, please. "In 1993 my sister Pam owned a substantial interest in Maxi-Aids. Pam sold her shares in 1993." That was a false statement also, sir, wasn't it?

A: The statement was incorrect.

Q: Did you tell Mr. Mulholland it was incorrect?

A: No.

Q: Did you tell him to change it?

A: No.

Q: But you signed the affidavit nevertheless: is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: And you swore to it?

A: Yes.

Having shown that Mitchel's sworn affidavit to the Court contained false statements regarding Pamela's ownership, Dweck turned to a document that had been obtained from the VA under the Freedom of Information Act. This document had been submitted to the VA by a representative of Maxi-Aids in order to justify the claims of woman ownership and disadvantaged ownership. (It was never clear who provided the document since Mitchel and Elliot both denied doing so, but certain it is that the VA had possession of it.) The document was a guarantee, dated May 25, 1993, insuring payment of an amount of money (the amount had been blanked out for confidentiality reasons) for Pamela to relinquish her majority stock ownership, and indicating that Harold would then become the majority shareholder.

A: Now, Mr. Zaretsky, I want to show you, sir, another document and ask you, sir, is that your signature on the second page? A: It looks like it.

Q: And that's the signature of your brother Harold also, isn't that right, sir?

A: Could be.

Q: Don't you recognize your brother's signature?

A: Looks like it, but I wasn't there when he signed it. Q: Okay. Mr. Zaretsky, did you give a guarantee in 1993 to the Veterans Administration in connection with your sister's ownership of stock in Maxi-Aids?

A: No.

Q: I want to show you the top page of this document on which you've identified the signature on the second page. Do you see where it says "guarantee" sir?

A: Yes.

Q: That's part of the same document that you signed: is that right, sir?

A: That's correct.

Q: And your signature is on the second page where it says "31st day of May, 1993." You see that, don't you, sir? A: Correct.

Q: I would like to read this to you, Mr. Zaretsky. "Guarantee, May 25, On the retirement of Elliot Zaretsky as of May 31, 1993, and in order to induce Pamela Stein to relinquish her majority in Maxi-Aids, Inc. by April 30, 1994, the sum of blank dollars will be paid to her (payee) and as of May 1, 1994, Harold Zaretsky will become the majority stockholder." Did you sign that statement, sir?

A: Yes, I believe I did.

Q: And that statement was false when you signed it in May of 1993, wasn't it, sir?

A: To the best of my knowledge, I signed the document. I don't recall it being false.

Q: Who prepared this document, Mr. Zaretsky?

A: It wasn't me.

Q: Did you read it before you signed it?

A: Not necessarily.

Q: But that's your handwriting where you filled in the date, isn't it, sir?

A: That's correct.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, it is not true, is it, sir, that as of May 1, 1994, Harold Zaretsky was the majority stockholder: isn't that right, sir?

A: Can I see that please?

Q: By all means. (Handing.)

A: On paper, it is not true.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you signed a guarantee on paper, didn't you sir?

A: Yes.

Q: And these K-1's that you submitted to the Internal Revenue Service are on paper, are they not, sir?

A: True.

Q: And you submitted those papers to the Internal Revenue Service under penalty of perjury, did you not, sir, along with your tax return?

A: To the IRS, yes.

Q: Okay. And that's on paper also, isn't it sir?

A: Yes.

Q: But in 1994, Mr. Zaretsky, your brother Harold only owned a one-third interest in Maxi-Aids: is that right, sir? A: Yes.

Q: And you would agree with me, would you not, sir, that a one-third interest in Maxi-Aids is not a majority share? A: On paper, no.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you would agree with me that at least 50.1 percent would be a majority, would that not be correct, sir? A: Over 50 percent, yes.

Q: And your brother Harold to this day has never owned more than 33.3 Percent of the shares of Maxi-Aids, correct? A: To the best of my knowledge.

Q: And that's on paper, isn't it, sir?

A: Yes.

Mitchel continued to deny that he had given the guarantee document to the Department of Veterans Affairs and stated that it had been prepared as an internal document, but he never satisfactorily explained the reason why it had been drawn up. When asked what the purpose of the document was, he gave the vague answer, "For the purpose as stated. When Elliot retires, Pamela, I don't recall exactly what it says, but there was a shift in shares from one person to the other." It should be noted that the document stated that Elliot was to retire in May of 1993, and Harold was to become the majority stockholder by May of 1994. As of the date of the trial, in November and December of 1997, there had been no shift in shares, and Mitchel, Elliot, and Harold still owned one-third each. Documents furnished to the Braille Monitor by the United States Bankruptcy Court show that, as of the end of 1998, when Maxi-Aids filed for bankruptcy, the ownership remained the same.

Dweck next moved on to the submissions of the bids by Maxi-Aids in which the claims of woman ownership and disadvantaged ownership had been made. Here are a few of the questions asked and the answers they elicited.

Q: Do you see on this form that the X shows the company [Maxi-Aids] is asking for a business qualification as a small business and woman-owned?

A: Business classification, woman-owned and small business. Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you are familiar, sir, with the regulations of the bidding agencies as to what classifies a company as woman-owned, are you not, sir?

A: Today I am, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, when that form was submitted to the Veterans Administration on November 5, 1993, that classification box with the X filled in by your company was incorrect, isn't that right, sir?

A: That is incorrect.

Q: That was false, is that right, sir?

A: I don't know false, but it was incorrect.

Q: Did you ever notify the Veterans that the classification made by Maxi-Aids was incorrect?

A: To this day, no.

Dweck next brought up the bid on which the claim of disadvantaged ownership had been made.

Q: Now, sir, Mr. Zaretsky, your company also submitted bids to governmental agencies claiming that it was disadvantaged, did it not, sir?

A: One bid.

Q: And which one was that sir?

A: I believe it was in April or May of ‘94.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you signed a bid submitted to the federal government that your company was a small, disadvantaged concern: is that right, sir?

A: At that time, I believe so, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, would you agree with me, sir, that the checking off of "disadvantaged" on that front page to the submission to the Veterans Administration was false?

A: At the time I believed it was true, but today that is not correct.

Q: It is not correct. It's false.

A: As I understand it today, yes.

Q: Did you ever tell the Veterans Administration either in writing or verbally that that classification that was checked off was false.

A: No.

Having established that Mitchel was aware that his submissions were "incorrect" (to use his words) or "false" (to use Dweck's), the questioning moved on to penalties.

Q: Are you telling this jury and Court, sir, that, if you submitted a false statement when you submitted this bid, sir, you did not know you ran the risk of debarment from any bidding with a governmental agency?

A: I understood, if I gave false information, there might be penalties.

Q: And one of the penalties is debarment: is that right, sir?

A: As I read it today, yes.

Q: And debarment would mean you would be totally disqualified from the entire bid?

A: Subject to the Veterans Administration, yes—no, excuse me.

Debarment would be from future bids.

Q: And you also knew, did you not, that you ran the risk of imprisonment for submitting a false statement on a bid: isn't that correct, sir?

A: I believe so.

Q: You also knew that, if a false bid was submitted, you ran the risk of a fine?

A: I believe, again, there were penalties, yes.

All of the testimony above took place on November 13. Four days later, on the 17th, Mitchell was on the witness stand again, and Dweck reviewed some of the points raised in previous testimony. However, some of the new testimony was not consistent with statements made by Mitchel only four days earlier, and the rest covered areas that laid the groundwork for questioning of Pamela and Elliot, who were to testify shortly afterward. Dweck had previously asked Mitchel about the guaranty that ILA had obtained from the VA under the Freedom of Information Act, and Mitchel had indicated that he was familiar with it. He had claimed that it had been prepared for internal purposes and gave a rather vague explanation of those purposes (see above). The story had changed by the 17th, and Mitchel claimed to know nothing about the document, other than the fact that he had signed it.

Q: Did someone from your company submit this guaranty to the Veterans Administration? A: I did not, no.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you signed this guaranty, did you not, sir?

A: It has my signature on it, yes.

Q: And you signed this guaranty for a governmental agency: is that correct?

A: No.

Q: Who did you sign this guaranty for, Mr. Zaretsky?

A: I don't recall for whom, but it wasn't a governmental agency. Q: Did you not submit this to Thomas Valery of the investigative unit of the Veterans Administration?

A: No.

Q: Isn't it a fact that this guaranty was delivered by your father Elliot Zaretsky to special Investigative Agent Thomas Valery of the Veterans Administration?

A: I don't know what my father did.

Q: You are telling us that you as president and a one-third owner signed the guaranty and you don't know what it was for: is that what you are telling us?

A: Yes.

Q: Wasn't this guaranty in connection with a representation by you to the Veterans Administration, sir, that your sister, Pamela Stein, was to relinquish her majority interest in Maxi-Aids by April 30, 1994?

A: No. I never met with a representative from the Veterans Administration.

Q: You signed this statement, sir, which says that in order to induce your sister Pamela Stein to relinquish her majority in Maxi-Aids by April 30, 1994, a certain sum was to be paid to her: isn't that correct?

A: I don't recall what is on that statement.

Q: Let me read the first paragraph, sir. On retirement of Elliot Zaretsky on May 31, 1993, and in order to induce Pamela Stein to relinquish her majority in Maxi-Aids by April 30, 1994, the sum of blank dollars will be paid to her, payee, and as of May 1, 1994, Harold Zaretsky will become the majority stockholder; that's your statement, is it not, sir, in the first paragraph? A: I am not familiar with this document.

Q: You are not familiar with it, but you signed it?

A: I sign tons of things.

Q: Did you read this document before you signed it, sir?

A: I don't recall.

Q: Do you normally sign a document entitled "guaranty" without reading it?

A: I sign a lot of things without reading it.

Q: A guaranty, sir?

A: Even guaranties, yes.

Q: And who asked you to sign it?

A: I don't recall when it was signed.

Q: It is dated May 25, 1993. Do you see that, sir?

A: It has a date on it, yes.

Q: According to the documents we have in evidence, your sister didn't even own one share of Maxi-Aids as of the date of this guaranty: isn't that correct, sir?

A: I am not sure.

Q: Do we have to go through the K-1's again for ‘91, ‘92, ‘93, ‘94 that we brought in evidence?

A: On the K-1's, yes.

Q: Your sister didn't own one share?

A: The K-1's show that just Harold, Elliot, and myself own shares, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, what was this document signed for if your sister didn't even own one share as of May 25, 1993?

A: As I stated, I don't recall that document.

In later testimony Dweck got Mitchel to admit that Pamela had sold her shares in Maxi-Aids and had been paid out with a series of monthly checks, each in the amount of $833.33, (which totaled $10,000 a year). Over twenty checks were introduced into evidence, each in the identical amount. One check was of particular interest, since the words "Stock Sale" were written right on it, leaving no doubt as to its purpose.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, isn't it a fact that your sister sold her shares in the company, and the company paid her out?

A: She sold shares and she was paid.

Q: Your sister received $833.33 on a monthly basis over a number of years: isn't that right, sir?

A: I don't recall the exact number, but she received, yes. Q: And that was the monthly basis that she was paid out: is that correct?

A: She was paid, I am not sure of the timing, yes.

Mitchel was then shown a number of the checks, and Dweck focused special attention on the one marked "Stock Sale."

Q:And then we have one in January, ‘92, 833.33, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: And that check is marked "stock sale"?

A: Yes.

Q: Pamela Stein?

A: Yes.

Q: Does that refresh your recollection that your sister sold her shares at least, and as of at least January of ‘92 she was being paid out at the rate of 833.33 every month?

A: Yes, it says "stock," yes.

With Mitchel's testimony and grudging admissions it was clear that Maxi-Aids representations to the Department of Veterans Affairs were false and that the company was neither woman-owned nor disadvantaged at the time the bids were submitted. However, Dweck was not about to let the rest of the Zaretskys off the hook. Pamela was the next family member to testify. Although Mitchel had already testified that Pamela had sold her stock and had been paid out with checks of $833.33 per month, she came to the witness stand defiant and unresponsive. Her testimony was given in 1997, yet she claimed not to recall whether or not she had owned stock in 1996 (Mitchel had already testified that, as far back as 1992, she had not).

Q: Mrs. Stein, did you own stock in Maxi-Aids in 1996?

A: I don't recollect that.

Q: Was that a yes or a no?

A: I can't answer yes or no.

Q: How about for 1995, were you an owner of stock in Maxi-Aids?

A: That's not a yes or no answer.

The same evasiveness persisted as Dweck asked about ownership on a year-by-year basis. Then he turned to the question of the sale of stock. Remember Mitchel's testimony that "She sold shares, and she was paid?"

Q: Well, Mrs. Stein, have you ever received checks for the sale of stock that you owned in Maxi-Aids?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Mrs. Stein, I'm going to show you these documents, which have been marked as Plaintiff's Exhibit 112. These are checks made out to you, are they not?

A: That's correct, yes.

Q: Did you receive these checks?

A: Yes I did.

Q: Do you know what these checks were for, Mrs. Stein?

A: My belief was that they were salary checks.

Q: Mrs. Stein, I show you this check from this same Exhibit 112, and the check number is 14023. That's made out to you, isn't it? A: Yes, it is.

Q: Do you see it says "stock sale"?

A: Yes, I see it. Yes.

Q: Were these checks for the sale of your stock? A: To my knowledge, it was for the work that I've done. I was not told otherwise.

Q: Did you ever sell stock in Maxi-Aids for which you received these checks.

A: That was for salary.

Q: So whoever wrote "stock sale" on the check, according to what your testimony is, made a mistake?

Q: You have to ask them. I can only tell you what I know.

Later Dweck asked the question "Did you ever get paid for the sale of your stock in Maxi-Aids?", to which Pamela answered "Not to my knowledge." He also asked "Mrs. Stein, are you a shareholder today?" to which she responded "I don't know." All of this directly contradicted the testimony given just a few days before by Mitchel and was shown to be untrue by the checks paid to her, as well as by the corporate books and K-1 forms filed with Maxi-Aids's income tax returns. She made Jack Dweck work hard that day, but the final verdict demonstrated that Pamela's arrogance on the witness stand had clearly hurt the Zaretskys in the minds of the jury.

The last Zaretsky to testify was Elliot, the founder of Maxi-Aids and the father of Mitchel and Pamela. Elliot was as evasive as Pamela, trying to defend a number of indefensible positions, even when Dweck pinned him down. The corporate books and stock certificates showed that the original corporate ownership, dating from May 15, 1986, was divided as one-third each for Mitchel, Pamela, and Harold. Pamela's stock certificate was later cancelled, and a new certificate, dated January 1, 1988, was issued to Elliot. This, plus the checks paid to Pamela, made it irrefutable that her shares had been sold, that Elliot then became the owner of the same number of shares, and that Pamela had owned no shares since January 1, 1988. However, Elliot dodged and twisted and made Dweck work hard for each admission.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you're one of the owners of Maxi-Aids, are you not, sir?

A: That's correct.

Q: And you've been an owner of Maxi-Aids's stock since January 1, 1988, correct?

A: I believe so.

Q: And you got your stock from your daughter Pamela, correct?

A: No.

And they were off and running. At this point Dweck brought in a copy of the Maxi-Aids books and stock certificates. He showed them to Elliot and asked if he saw them. The responses were "One moment, Mr. Dweck." And "I'm trying to recollect this, Mr. Dweck." Since all he had been asked was whether he saw the documents spread out on the table before him, Dweck complained to the Judge, who instructed Elliot to answer the questions with a simple "yes" or "no" or "I don't know" and to leave out explanations. Dweck then had to go through a detailed examination of each stock certificate with Elliot before finally getting him to admit that he had taken over Pamela's shares—something he had denied a few minutes earlier.

Q: And then Pamela's shares were cancelled, and you got the 33 and a third shares that Pamela used to have... from her original issue of May 15, 1986, you took over her shares as of January 1, 1988, correct?

A: That's what is written, yes.

Q: Okay. Can we agree then, Mr. Zaretsky, that from January 1, 1988, until the present time, you and Harold and Mitchel were each one-third owners of the stock of Maxi-Aids as it is shown on the corporate records?

A: On paper, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, when you acquired Pamela's shares in January of 1988, you've held those shares from ‘88 right until up to now, correct?

A: Honestly, I did not remember that.

Q: Well, now that we've refreshed you with the documents, we agree. You've owned one-third of the shares of Maxi-Aids from January 1, 1988, right up until today, correct? A: The papers say that. That's correct, Mr. Dweck.

Having finally gotten Elliot to admit that he acquired Pamela's stock in 1988, Dweck continued questioning the dates of Pamela's ownership.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, will you agree with me, sir, that, from the time you took over Pamela's shares in 1988, Pamela has not been an owner of the company?

A: On paper, sir.

Q: On paper. Agreed, yes?

A: On paper, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, that would mean on paper, as far as the federal government was concerned, Pamela did not have any ownership in the company from the time you got her stock on January 1, 1988: is that right, sir A: That's correct.

Q: And from 1988 right until now, as far as the federal government was concerned, whether it is for income tax purposes or any other purposes, Pamela was not an owner. Agreed?

A: Agreed.

Dweck next moved on to the guaranty document, which had first been introduced during Mitchel's testimony.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, I want to show you a document, sir, which is Plaintiff's [exhibit] 110 in evidence. Did you prepare that document and hand it to your son Mitchel to sign? A: Yes. It's an internal document that I made Mitchel and Harold sign.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, am I correct, sir, that you gave this document to Special Investigative Agent Thomas Valery from the Veterans Administration?

A: Honestly, I do not remember who I gave it to.

Moments later Dweck questioned Elliot again about Pamela's ownership. He got the same denial that had characterized his earlier question regarding transfer of Pamela's shares back in January, 1988. Keep in mind that Elliot had testified only minutes before that Pamela had had no ownership in the company since he (Elliot) had gotten her stock on January 1, 1988 (see above).

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, when you prepared this document, Plaintiff's Exhibit 110, you knew, sir, that your daughter Pamela hadn't owned stock in Maxi-Aids since 1988: isn't that right, sir? A: No, sir, you're wrong.

Dweck then moved on to the question of Harold's majority ownership.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, has your son Harold ever become a majority stockholder in Maxi-Aids?

A: As far as I'm concerned, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, from the documents that you produced of your corporate minutes, you haven't seen anything reflecting any more than a one-third interest owned by your son Harold, isn't that right, sir?

A: From on the papers, yes.

Q: And on the papers, as you put it, Mr. Zaretsky, your daughter Pamela hasn't owned any stock in Maxi-Aids since December 31, 1987, isn't that correct, sir?

A: On paper, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, when you wrote the statement here "in order to induce Pamela Stein to relinquish her majority interest in Maxi-Aids by April 30, 1994," that statement was not true, was it, sir? Yes or no, sir?

A: The statement is true, sir.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, on paper, as you put it, from the corporate records that you produced in this lawsuit, that statement was not true, was it, sir?

A: Yes and no.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, did your daughter Pamela ever own a majority interest in Maxi-Aids? Yes or no, sir?

A: On paper, no.

Q: Did your daughter on paper ever own more than a third interest in the stock in Maxi-Aids?

A: On paper, no.

Q: Did your daughter transfer her one-third interest in Maxi-Aids on paper as of December 31, 1987?

A: Would you repeat this question, please?

Q: Sure. My question is, on paper, sir, from the record that you have produced in this lawsuit, did your daughter Pamela transfer her one-third interest of the stock in Maxi-Aids to you as of December 31, 1987?

A: I do not believe so.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, do you want me to show you, sir, the corporate papers, again, which show the transfer of your daughter's interest as of December 31, 1987, and your acquiring her one-third interest as of January 1, 1988? Are you denying that's what the papers say? A: I do not recollect this, Mr. Dweck.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, your daughter Pamela didn't own any shares on paper since January 1, 1988, when you took over her shares, correct?

A: On paper, yes. I agree with you on that, sir. Q: So when you wrote the statement here "in order to induce Pamela Stein to relinquish her majority in Maxi-Aids by April 30, 1994," that was incorrect, is that right, on paper?

A: On paper, it was not correct, yes.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, on paper, Harold Zaretsky was never a majority stockholder of Maxi-Aids, was he, sir?

A: On paper, no.

Q: Mr. Zaretsky, you asked Mitchel and Harold to sign this paper on May 31, 1993, didn't you, sir?

A: That's correct.

There you have the sworn testimony at trial of the Zaretskys:

Mitchell at first submitting an affidavit under oath regarding Pamela and Harold, next signing a document attesting to a non-existent transfer of stock, and then struck by a loss of memory when confronted with the facts. Pamela claiming that a check labeled "stock sale" was for work performed, and then arrogantly telling Jack Dweck to ask the person who signed the check why that notation was on the check. Finally Elliot, denying that Pamela's stock had been transferred to him, claiming that Harold had become the majority stockholder "as far as I'm concerned," and only admitting that the representations on the guaranty which had been received by the Department of Veterans Affairs were false "on paper."

The Zaretskys' references to "paper" and their apparent belief that "paper" has no meaning to them and their business provide an interesting commentary to a Maxi-Aids catalog published while the lawsuit was in progress. The 1996-1997 edition of the Maxi-Aids catalog contains a bold statement (on paper) on page 46 that "Maxi-Aids is the leader in innovation, quality, honesty, service, and professionalism." After reading the transcript of the Zaretskys' testimony at trial, one has reason to doubt their claims of leadership in anything but innovation, except that is, on paper.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has apparently decided that the paper is more valid than the statements, representations, and claims made by the Zaretskys and has debarred Maxi-Aids and the individual Zaretskys from future business.

It is worth pointing out here that twenty minutes or so after Elliot Zaretsky told the Braille Monitor that he had no comment for attribution in this story, he called back to "Make a statement." He refused to wait long enough for the Editor to get to a place on her computer where the statement could be written because, as he said, the statement was short. He then said that, if the Braille Monitor wrote a story saying that the VA had disbarred—that was his term—Maxi-Aids, the statement would be defamatory and the Braille Monitor would be liable. But we have no choice but to stand on the facts as they have been revealed and let the chips fall where they may.

Several states, including Minnesota, Arizona, and Texas, have followed the VA's lead. Minnesota and Arizona have recently tendered bids including a clause prohibiting anyone suspended or debarred by any federal agency from submitting bids to them. Our Texas affiliate tells us that the State of Texas has advised that it will honor one existing contract with Maxi-Aids but will not permit the company to participate in any future bids. Since every state depends on federal money to fund almost four fifths of its rehabilitation programs, one hopes they will all soon stop doing business with Maxi-Aids because it has been debarred by the VA and with any other companies owned by the Zaretskys because they too have been debarred. The Braille Monitor is aware of at least two other companies, See More Vision Aiding Products and Hear More, which are part of the Zaretsky empire. Another name used is Reizen, which appears on watches and magnifiers distributed by Maxi-Aids and See More and sold at retail to consumers and also at wholesale to other distributors. According to those who follow the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) listserv, a banner advertisement for a company called New Maxi (and apparently selling adaptive aids) appeared out of the blue on that list. The Monitor does not have information about the ownership of this Company, but the name appears to be astonishingly similar to that of Maxi-Aids. It has been reported that the Zarekskys have created a number of companies in an attempt to procure products and do business which they might not have been able to do through the Maxi-Aids Company. Hence, this New Maxi bares scrutiny.

As we were about to go to press, the Rehabilitation Services Administration published a memorandum which bears reprinting. Here is the text:

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OFFICE OF SPECIAL EDUCATION AND

REHABILITATIVE SERVICES REHABILITATION SERVICES ADMINISTRATION WASHINGTON, D.C.POLICY DIRECTIVE RSA-PD-00-01

DATE: November 22, 1999

                        ADDRESSEES: STATE VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AGENCIES                          (GENERAL)

STATE VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AGENCIES (BLIND)

STATE REHABILITATION ADVISORY COUNCILS

CLIENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

REGIONAL REHABILITATION CONTINUING EDUCATION PROGRAMS

RSA SENIOR MANAGEMENT TEAM

SUBJECT: Notice of Vendor on List of Parties Excluded from Federal Procurement and Non-procurement Programs

The purpose of this memorandum is to advise State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies and other relevant entities as to the procurement status of Maxi-Aids, a private distributor of specialty products primarily for use by blind and visually impaired persons.

Recently a District Court found Maxi-Aids to be in violation of copyright and trademark laws as well as to have conducted deceptive and unfair business practices. As a result the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs placed Maxi-Aids on the List of Parties Excluded from Federal Procurement and Non-procurement Programs. This list can be found at <http://www.arnet.gov/epls/>.

The purpose of this notice is to alert the above-referenced VR agencies and other entities that they cannot do business with Maxi-Aids as a contractor or subcontractor if the contract or subcontract is greater than or equal to $100,000. While transactions below this amount are not prohibited, entities should carefully monitor any relationship entered into with Maxi-Aids below $100,000 to ensure that Maxi-Aids carries out its obligations under the terms of the transaction.

You may contact Mr. Joe Cordova, Director of the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired of RSA for further information regarding this matter at (202) 205-9902.

CITATION: 34 CFR 74.13 and 85.110

Fredric K. Schroeder

Commissioner, RSA

There you have the RSA memorandum, and it certainly speaks for itself. Beginning with the December, 1994, issue of the Braille Monitor, the National Federation of the Blind has taken a strong stand against Maxi-Aids's behavior, which we believe has violated the canons of good business ethics in any field, but which we found especially reprehensible in dealings with blind and multiply handicapped people. We reported in that 1994 story that we had stopped buying anything at all from Maxi-Aids, even if its price was the lowest to be had, because we did not like its behavior or dealings. We now consider ourselves vindicated by the decision of the Department of Veterans Affairs, by the action of the states that have let Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys know that conduct like theirs will no longer be tolerated in our field, and by the Rehabilitation Services Administration directive.

There is no better way to end this article than to repeat the words of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who concluded the December, 1994, investigative report on Maxi-Aids with the following: "All of us in the blindness field (consumer organizations, service providers, and manufacturers and vendors of appliances) have a trust and an obligation. In the struggle of the blind to move from second-class status to first-class membership in society, there are roadblocks enough without having to deal with questionable behavior from within. We who are blind seek not only the rights and privileges but also the responsibilities of citizenship. An important part of those responsibilities is self-policing and scrupulous conduct."

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Elliott]

Not with a Bang, But a Giggle: NAC Takes Leave of the Century

by Peggy Elliott

From the Editor: For some years now, NFB Second Vice President Peggy Elliott has provided occasional reports on the slow demise of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). There hasn't been much movement to report for a while, so we haven't had an update for a couple of years. But we thought that, since the decade is about to end, it is worth cataloging NAC's activities during the nineties, such as they have been. This is what Peggy says:

You know how there are some subjects that just make you giggle? Well NAC is one of those subjects for me. Not the least of the causes for chuckling is that most people in the blindness field today don't even remember what NAC is or why its name should cause such merriment.

NAC, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped, wasn't always quite such a laughing matter. When NAC was founded over thirty years ago, the Federation itself was barely twenty-five years old and still working to spread throughout the country. The agency powers in control at that time could see what was coming. They had, according to them, been appointed—even if only by themselves—to decide what was best for the blind. That's why they were agency powers. The blind were, puzzlingly to these powers, organizing among ourselves. Worse, from their point of view, we were deciding for ourselves what we thought was best for the blind, and our decisions often included criticism of existing agency practices. After all, who likes to be criticized?

So the agency network decided to do something about it. At that time it was pretty much all men at the top, so the old boy network swung into action and created a captive accrediting agency. The basic concept was: I'll accredit you, you'll accredit me, and we'll jointly tell the public what great guys we are. That'll keep the public adulation and funding for helping the unfortunate blind flowing our way and fend off the pesky Federation blind movement.

It was a great idea, and it might have worked except for the pesky Federation. The in-group named itself the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped, not only a mouthful of a name but a protective one. Who could be against national or accreditation or serving the blind? To top off its opening move, NAC invited Dr. Jernigan, the Federation president, to sit on its board. He debated the point and decided to try, in order to see if anything positive could be salvaged from this obvious attack upon self-organization by the blind. The board turned out to be packed with old boys from the network, interspersed with the occasional do-gooder friend of a network member. Dr. Jernigan resigned in the face of such a stacked deck, and Federationists began picketing NAC meetings, chanting and singing our determination to make our own decisions for ourselves. Most of the songs and chants were wry, taunting, scornful of the old boys and their desire to clutch power for power's sake.

In the beginning NAC claimed that it was going to set standards for, as it put the matter, the "universe" of 500 agencies for the blind. In reality NAC standards were largely drawn from existing safety codes such as fire and building codes, adorned with the occasional paragraph from a management text and garnished with condescending attitudes toward the blind. I remember NAC had a standard for a while that required the agency to have a place to hang canes when blind people came in the front door, making the assumption that the canes were so useless that, once inside a building, they needed to be efficiently gotten out of the way. The blind jeered and told legislators across the country who funded NAC-accredited public agencies about the waste of money for such farcical accreditation.

NAC hit its high point in 1986 when the list of accredited agencies reached 104. As you will see from the maps that appear with this article, NAC's course has been downhill ever since.

An amusing pastime for Federationists during these past thirty years of NAC's existence has been to try to come up with a single reason to explain why on earth any agency would want NAC accreditation. For much of NAC's life the cost has been higher than the cost for other accrediting bodies, though now it's lower;

NAC's list has always contained agency after agency notorious among the blind people it claims to serve for ineffective and patronizing service; NAC has never found an applicant for accreditation unworthy, raising the question (and a giggle) about the purpose of such a low standard; and no self-respecting agency can associate with NAC while keeping a straight face and cordial relations with the blind community it serves. To want NAC accreditation is at the same time a rejection of the opinions of the blind community. So why would any agency seek expensive, meaningless, insulting, offensive accreditation?

If anyone finds out, please let me know. The only answer I know of is the wish to remain in some desiccated old boy network, and that makes me laugh. Who on earth would want to be a part of that? But there are apparently a few folks who haven't gotten the word.

What do these people think they're doing by hanging on to empty accreditation and, by golly, paying for it when virtually the whole blindness community thinks it's a joke? Look at the maps. Look at the numbers. Consider whether or not a NAC-accredited agency in your state—if there is one—is better than the rest, which is basically the claim made by NAC. As the ancients asked: cui bono—Who benefits from NAC? It's obviously not the blind, and it's obviously not most agencies.

Here's a summary of the current state of NAC accreditation by category: no vocational rehabilitation agencies are still accredited (unless you count Alabama; see note). Only 18 percent of workshops and 15 percent of schools for the blind retain their association with this national laughingstock of accreditation. Nearly half of the agencies still paying for their association with NAC are not the mainline agencies listed in the three categories above.

Note: Alabama is the special case just mentioned. When we started keeping track of these statistics, Alabama was listed as a single entity which encompassed both the school and the V.R. agency. Thinking that it was not appropriate to have a two-for-one in the count, we chose to count the accreditation as a school one. We could have chosen to go the other way and count it as V.R.; that's just the way the flip of the coin landed. So aside from Alabama, there are now no other statewide agencies providing V.R. services on NAC's list of accredited agencies. I still think it's a giggle that NAC is willing to accredit two separate functions with one accreditation. But I mention this merely as a matter of disclosure.

At the beginning of the decade ninety-seven agencies were members of NAC, willing to pay for NAC accreditation. As of June, 1999, that number has dwindled to forty-six. Following is the list of those forty-six agencies organized alphabetically by state, a chart recording that decade-long slide, and two NAC maps. The first shows NAC's penetration of the country in 1991; the second reflects NAC's sharply reduced impact today.

The NAC Roll Call of Shame

ALABAMA

Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind

ARIZONA

Foundation for Blind Children

ARKANSAS

Lions World Services for the Blind

FLORIDA

Conklin Center for Multihandicapped Blind

Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind

Independence for the Blind Inc.

The Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, Inc.

Lighthouse of Broward County, Inc.

Mana-Sota Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.

Miami Lighthouse for the Blind

Pinellas Center for the Visually Impaired, Inc.

Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind

Visually Impaired Persons of Southwest Florida, Inc.

GEORGIA

Blind and Low Vision Services of North Georgia

Center for the Visually Impaired, Inc.

Georgia Academy for the Blind

Savannah Association for the Blind, Inc.

ILLINOIS

Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation

INDIANA

Indiana School for the Blind

IOWA

                        Genesis Vision Rehabilitation Institute (Genesis Medical Center)

KANSAS

Envision

MAINE

Maine Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired

MARYLAND

Maryland School for the Blind

MICHIGAN

Upshaw Institute for the Blind

Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Visually Impaired Center, Inc.

MISSOURI

Alphapointe Association for the Blind

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire Association for the Blind

NEW YORK

Association for the Visually Impaired, Inc.

Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted M.D Center for the Visually Impaired      (formerly Blind Association of Western New York)

New York Institute for Special Education

NORTH DAKOTA

North Dakota School for the Blind

OHIO

Cincinnati Association for the Blind

Clovernook Center for the Blind

Sight Center of Toledo

Vision Center of Central Ohio Inc.

OKLAHOMA

Parkview School (Oklahoma School for the Blind)

PENNSYLVANIA

Pittsburgh Vision Services

Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired

SOUTH DAKOTA

South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

TENNESSEE

                        Alliance for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Inc. (Senior Services)

Ed Lindsey Industries for the Blind, Inc.

Lions Volunteer Blind Industries, Inc.

UTAH

Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind

WASHINGTON

Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.

Summary of Data for Chart of NAC's Additions and Losses This Decade:

Year 1990, 97 accredited agencies

Year 1991, added 5, lost 7, Net Loss of 2, Total Left: 95

Year 1992, added 0, lost 15, Net Loss of 15, Total Left: 80

Year 1993, added 2, lost 8, Net Loss of 6, Total Left: 74

Year 1994, added 2, lost 7, Net Loss of 5, Total Left: 69

Year 1995, added 0, lost 7, Net Loss of 7, Total Left: 62

Year 1996, added 1, lost 4, Net Loss of 3, Total Left: 59

Year 1997, added 0, lost 6, Net Loss of 6, Total Left: 53

Year 1998-present, added 0, lost 7, Net Loss of 7, Total Left: 46

Total, added 10, lost 61, Net Loss of 51

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: This NAC map shows the states that had more than one NAC-accredited agency in 1991 as dark. They are AR, AZ, CA, FL, GA, IL, LA, ME, MI, MS, NY, OH, OK, PA, TN, TX, WA, and WI. The states with only one NAC-accredited agency as of 1991 have cross-hatching. They are AL, HI, IA, IN, KS, MD, MA, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NM, ND, SD, UT, and WV. The states with no NAC-accredited agencies in 1991 are white. They are Ak, CO, CT, DE, DC, ID, KY, MT, NE, NV, NC, OR, RI, SC, VT, VI, and WY.]

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: This map shows the following states with more than one NAC-accredited agency as of 1999. They are dark in color: FL, GA, IL, MI, NY, OH, PA, and TN. The states with just one NAC-accredited agency this year are cross-hatched. They are AL, AZ, AR, IN, IA, KS, ME, MD, MO, NH, ND, OK, SD, UT, and WA. The states boasting a NAC-free environment this year are white. They are AL, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, ID, KY, LA, MA, MN, MS, MT, NE, NV, NJ, NM, NC, OR, PR, RI, SC, TX, VT, VA, WV, and WY.]

Talking Sense about the ADA

From the Editor: Every time you turn around these days someone seems to be claiming that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides a perfectly absurd protection or makes some sensible action illegal. Don't get me wrong; many, many disabled people need real protection from discriminatory behavior, and lots of the actions of employers and members of the public toward people with disabilities are stupid and unconscionable. But increasingly disabled people appear to hope that the ADA will allow them to get or keep jobs they can't do competitively or force employers to lower their standards or compromise safety in order to create or preserve a job for a person with a disability.

As this situation has evolved, the big losers have been people with severe disabilities because we are the ones who really do often need creative rethinking of old ways of doing things and substantial commitment to genuine access to jobs and workplaces. Employers who have heard horror stories from colleagues and had arguments with or threats of lawsuits from disabled people making impossible demands are unlikely to go out of their way to make room for a new blind or deaf employee.

The following column appeared in the February 14, 1999, edition of the St. Petersburg Times, copyright 1999. It speaks for itself:

Blind Commissioner: Disabilities Act a Hindrance

by Robin Blumner

When a blind man attacks aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act as hurting rather than helping the disabled, it's worth taking notice. That's especially true when the man is a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Meet Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh, who was blinded and lost most of the use of his hands in an explosion at seventeen, while building a rocket in his garage.

He is the only disabled member on the CRC and the only member to write a separate dissent from a recent commission report lauding the value of the ADA. In it he points out, "With respect to employment of the severely disabled, the effects of the ADA are completely disappointing."

He observes that the law, enacted in 1990 and designed to grease the entry of the disabled into the labor market, has done just the opposite. Employment of the severely disabled has gone down, not up. A Harris survey conducted last year shows that 71 percent of the disabled of working age are unemployed, compared with 66 percent in 1986, four years before the ADA was passed. And that's despite today's booming economy and low general unemployment.

Redenbaugh thinks the law's abuses have insulated disabled employees from being fired because they'll sue, which means employers avoid hiring them in the first place.

"In 1969," Redenbaugh notes, "I was hired by a Philadelphia investment firm on the basis that, if it didn't work, they would call it off--‘no harm, no foul.' Today, we could not make that contract and expect it to stick without potential legal liabilities."

The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against someone with a disability, defined as a significant impairment to one or more major life activities.

Yet, rather than helping people with classic disabilities like blindness and paraplegia, a significant number of employment discrimination claims are being filed by people with boutique disabilities like attention-deficit disorder and personality disorders. Through Alice-in-Wonderland logic, the law allows people fired for doing a bad job to turn around and sue their employers, claiming their incompetence is a disability.

In his dissent Redenbaugh cited numerous examples where the ADA was used as a legal tool for incompetents to try to hold onto their jobs: A woman with attention-deficit disorder, who was fired for failing to keep up with paperwork, sued her employer for not giving her extra time; a man who was fired for exhibiting threatening behavior sued his employer, claiming his lack of control was due to his alcoholism, a covered disability under the ADA; a secretary suffering from depression sued her employer for his refusal to allow her to work at home or grant her an indefinite leave. She said he failed to accommodate her disability.

Employers can be sued even if they have safety-related reasons for their employment decisions. In January, 1997, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission won a $5.5 million damage award for a Ryder Systems truck driver who was removed from his position after he suffered an epileptic seizure. He was later hired by another company, had a seizure while driving, and smashed into a tree.

The law also requires that reasonable accommodations be made for disabled employees. But there is often nothing reasonable about what employees demand of employers. In his book, The Excuse Factory, about the excesses of the ADA, Walter Olson says, "Without ever debating it as such, Congress seems to have devised a general federal law allowing workers to challenge uncomfortable working conditions—factories that are too hot or cold or drafty, schedules that are too demanding. Since arthritis sufferers often experience ‘morning stiffness,' employers should expect to allow them to show up late on their bad days, one ADA expert proposes."

Redenbaugh bemoans these kinds of absurdities, saying, "They all help illustrate the extent to which the definitions and concepts of the ADA have been expanded in almost every way imaginable, with the resultant trivialization of disabilities."

The part of the Civil Rights Commission's ADA report Redenbaugh objects to most is its persistent call for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to promulgate more regulations to clear up the law's ambiguities. It also calls for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to "develop the law through its litigation activities." Redenbaugh answers that any ambiguities should be settled by Congress, not an unaccountable regulatory agency. "The role of the federal agencies is not to develop or shape the law but rather to carry out the law," Redenbaugh writes.

His courageous, clearheaded stance has not earned him any prizes. However, his dissent was persuasive enough that two of his colleagues joined him in voting against accepting the Civil Rights Commission report on the ADA. The report's approval squeezed by with a four to three vote. Redenbaugh may be totally blind, but he's the one on the commission who sees most clearly.

Robin Blumner writes for the St. Petersburg Times. Her e-mail address is <blumner@sptimes.com>.

Sight Unseen: A Review by Catherine Kudlick, Ph.D.

From the Editor: Catherine Kudlick is an associate professor of history at the University of California at Davis. She deals herself with visual impairment, though surgery has given her more sight than she had growing up. She found her way to the NFB's philosophy when she was given several Kernel Books. Her research is wide-ranging and varied. It includes historical considerations of blindness in modern France and America.

Georgina Kleege is a writer who also sometimes teaches in the Department of English at the Ohio State University. She has contributed to the Braille Monitor. Her book, Sight Unseen, has made quite a splash in book-review circles. I understand that it will soon be recorded by the National Library Service, and it is already available from RFB&D. In the meantime this is what Cathy Kudlick has to say about the book:

Georgina Kleege's memoir, Sight Unseen, sent one early reviewer into a swivet. How, he demanded to know, could a woman who saw anything at all claim that she was blind? And, by implication, why would anyone possibly want to take such a negative label if it wasn't absolutely necessary? If he still had to ask such a question after finishing this marvelous book, he had clearly missed one of its main points. At the same time his indignation only reinforced what Kleege says throughout: "Denial has the power to sustain itself even in the face of the most blatant truths."

Kleege begins her memoir with the simple declaration that "Writing this book made me blind." She's of course writing for the sighted reader who she knows for an unthinking millisecond will tap into a vast reservoir of fear to assume that the act of putting pen to paper must surely have made the poor thing's eyes fall out. But soon she tips her hand: researching and writing about stereotypes of blind people in film, in literature, and in the social imagination more generally made her understand the importance of embracing this identity, if for no other reason than to dispel a set of ugly, persisting myths.

Kleege has lived with macular degeneration since she was eleven and has enough residual sight to navigate both literally and figuratively in the sighted world. In other words, she can "pass." But as a writer and college teacher in her early forties she quickly came to realize that the masquerade consumed too much energy in the name of making strangers feel better. Thus, to her private repertoire of low vision aids such as closed-circuit television and books on tape, she soon added the two public symbols of blindness, Braille and the white cane.

For blind readers who have dipped into some history and cultural criticism or who have slogged through the growing genre of books by people who have lost their sight, the early part of the book's discussion of literature and film covers well-trodden ground in a fairly standard way. It is clearly written, though, and straightforward. It provides valuable background for readers new to thinking about blindness.

The book's adventurousness comes after Kleege has laid this foundation. For starters, this is not your standard memoir. It doesn't tell a chronological story of pain and suffering, followed by triumph over adversity, nor does it luxuriate in self-pity. In fact it has a refreshingly nuanced view of blindness, since Kleege frequently reminds readers that it's her memoir and her blindness; she can't possibly speak for all blind people, not even for those with macular degeneration. Rather she sets the at once modest and daunting goal of describing to sighted people how she sees the world. Thus chapters explore everything from the meaning of eye contact in western culture to growing up as the blind daughter of visual artists to the new role for technology. ("Annie Sullivan lives on as microcircuitry and hardware.") In fact, much as she claims that this book is for sighted readers, to change how they look at blindness, it seems more delightfully subversive than that.

Kleege is a fiction writer who finds beauty in blindness. This isn't the usual trite drivel about blind people's gift for seeing things figuratively and morally that sighted people can't. Instead it's a celebration of all the physical and emotional details—the simple things that bring frustration, dignity, fear, pride, or even the slightly curled lip of amusement to those who think about the world around them. Kleege's gift sparkles on every page, particularly in her deft use of routine images to draw the bridge between her and her readers. "My blindness is as intrinsically a part of me as the shape of my hands or my predilection for salty snacks," she writes. "Some days and in some contexts my blindness is at the forefront of my mind. When I am trying on gloves or eating potato chips, my blindness hardly matters at all." Because they are so simple and seemingly harmless, there's something radical about these details that show sighted people that the gap isn't so great after all.

Those familiar with the NFB's philosophy might at first find nothing radical here. Isn't this merely the stuff of the Kernel Books and the Braille Monitor, written for a wider audience? Yes and no. Kleege's accounts of learning to be independent or confronting denial ("the thing about denial is that it doesn't feel like denial when it's going on") cut to the heart of overcoming, be it bitterness, denial, or anything else. She invites us to peer behind it, pick it up and study it, just like any other foreign object that one hears about but somehow manages to take for granted. Then she pushes us further by magnifying a visit to the eye doctor, a Braille lesson, a comparison of how readers from different services record the same book, a trip to an art exhibit or film, in such a way that—whether you're sighted, blind, or somewhere in-between—you never look at the world the same way again. The remarkable thing is that Kleege manages to do this before you know it's happening, a fact that must in part account for the early reviewer's swivet. Besides, it isn't nice for a blind person to put something over on a well-meaning reviewer. So my friend Sam actually got a bead on Jeff's open mouth with his headlamp (Sam was on my ledge), and then he tried to direct my throws so that I could drop Tic Tacs into Jeff's mouth. That's how we entertained ourselves. Jeff woke up a few times in the night gasping for breath with a minty fresh taste lodged in the back of his throat.

The Adventures of Curious Chris

by Christopher A. Weaver

From the Editor: The warning flags begin to fly for many of us when we hear sighted people talk about short-term experiments under sleepshades. The problems are that one can't duplicate for the temporarily blind the impact of knowing that he or she can't shed blindness when it becomes inconvenient. At the same time one can't equip the temporarily blind person with the full range of information and skills that enable blind travelers to move with confidence. The result is that too often these sighted people return to their sighted world convinced more deeply than ever of the difficulties associated with cane travel and profound gratitude that they don't have to face life armed only with a white cane.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and one would do well to remember that some sighted people are genuinely interested in how we do things. They recognize the silliness of many of their colleagues' actions and reactions. They come to us with curiosity and openness, wanting and willing to learn. We should applaud their interest and do what we can to enhance their understanding. They are true colleagues who can do much to assist us in educating the general public about the abilities of blind people.

Chris Weaver is Coordinator of the Mathematics Accessible to Visually Impaired Students (MAVIS) Program at New Mexico State University. He participates in several of our NFB listservs. Last August he wrote a post to one of these listservs that impressed me with its honesty and openness. Chris reminds us that folks like him are around us, and we would do well to find them and nurture their curiosity and friendship. This is what Chris said:

Hi All!

My name is Chris Weaver, and I'm a sighted NFB groupie. This message is in response to the thread which started with sighted guides counting stairs and ended with some discussion of the positive and negative impact of the sighted wanting to experience blindness for a while. Yesterday, after having shared this thread with one of my blind colleagues, I proceeded to count out the stairs as we went up them. There are four flights of eleven stairs each. We both got a kick out of the idiocy involved in counting stairs. However, this was the first time I learned exactly how many stairs there were, even though I had traveled over them many times, sometimes using sleepshades.

I have always been curious about the alternative techniques used by blind people in travel and ordinary business. Having grown up in the sighted community, I believed that there was some supernatural force at work whenever blind people got from point A to point B without injuring themselves, a sort of radar, if you will. Reading was, of course, another magical act that only those initiated into the occult art of Braille could accomplish. Mind you, at the time I held these beliefs I did not actually know any blind people.

Then came college. For the first time in my life I had the opportunity to hold a serious conversation with a real blind person. Over the course of the next few years it became clear to me that the mystical powers at work in blind people's lives were limited to gaseous notions that I had. Well, there are undoubtedly a few blind kooks and spiritualists about, but I'm sure their magical powers are used only to place the occasional spell on interfering black cats. Nevertheless, I began to understand the concept of alternative techniques. It became clear that all a blind person needed to carry on with everyday life was blindness skills—skills which could be taught and learned by ordinary human beings.

When I started graduate school, I had the privilege of having a very motivated blind person as a math student. She showed me little things about Braille and the Nemeth Code. I took a real interest in the way she did math. Having worked for the Department of Mathematical Sciences for a few years as an undergraduate, I learned that there were computer languages for mathematics which were in some ways like the Nemeth Code. So I got involved in the MAVIS project, which develops conversion software from print math to Nemeth Code. I'll tell you about that project in another posting, though.

In any case, I got to know a lot more blind people as a result of this project. Slowly my curiosity about how blind people travel got the better of me. They say that curiosity killed the cat. I have personally left thousands of dead cats in my wake. I began to ask my blind colleagues how they traveled using their canes. One was so brave as to lend me her extra cane and give me a short orientation and mobility lesson on the way back from the Services for Students with Disabilities office. That just made me even more curious. Could I actually be taught how to get from point A to point B without using sight or magical powers?

I was manning an exhibition booth for our project at the NFB convention in Dallas in 1998. Traffic had slowed for a while, and I needed more Braille paper from the NFB store. As I walked by, my curiosity got the better of me again. Those glistening white, carbon-fiber, NFB-issue rigid canes were calling "Buy Me! Buy Me!" from their neat stacks near the entrance to the exhibit hall. So I went over and got fitted for the longest one they had. I am, as the ultra-politically correct would say, clearancially challenged (too tall for my own safety).

I picked up a pair of sleepshades along with this cane and ten pounds of Braille paper and wandered over to my booth, grinning that evil grin that I get when I am about to set something on fire. Next to my booth was a fellow who was studying to become an O and M teacher. And, since the exhibit was closing, he gave me my first formal lesson in cane travel. I then donned the sleepshades and attempted to find my way back to my room.

It was an embarrassing second attempt. Everybody was passing me, jeering,"Watch out! Some guy who is learning to use a cane is in your way!" Fortunately I had a sighted colleague following me and pointing out helpful landmarks. I managed to arouse his curiosity as well, and we spent the rest of the week, while we were not at the booth, spotting each other in O and M exploration.

Our friends at the convention thought that we were both a little weird. All right, I admit it with pride. But with their guidance, we managed to learn the hotel well enough to get from the exhibit hall to the bars and to our room and back to the bars. When that convention was over, I felt a little richer for the skill that I had acquired. Now the only problem was getting my cane and another that I had picked up for one of my blind colleagues back to New Mexico without getting them broken on the plane.

The slot between the seat and the fuselage turned out to be a very convenient storage space. We arrived home, canes intact. My curiosity did not end at convention, however. Now I had to learn our campus. I thought this would be a piece of cake because I was quite used to navigating it by sight after nearly seven years' experience. What I discovered is that the visual landmarks I use are totally useless to a cane traveler. But with training I learned the cane landmarks for my usual routes. I was hoping that this experience would make me better at giving directions to blind people, but I still cannot tell my left from my right if I am facing someone who wants directions.

My colleagues and I usually do cane travel exercises at night to avoid offending uneducated sighted people. Once someone even asked, "Is that educational or perverse?" The reactions I have gotten from most other sighted people have been much in the same vein. However, I will confess perverse delight with the few times the sighted have tried to help me. Even though it is fairly obvious that I could remove the sleepshades at any time and see as well as they, the good-hearted insisted on helping me by taking my arm and guiding me places to which I was not intending to go. My blind colleagues regularly complain about such circumstances, and I just had to giggle when it happened to me.

As much as I would like to educate such sighted people, I don't think that it is my domain. In fact, I don't claim to understand all of the facets of being blind. I may know travel techniques, but I don't have to depend on them and on the assistance of sighted people who do not understand what kind of directions I need. I don't have to futz about with badly designed technology every time I want to read a book from the library. I also don't have to wait for a month to get math texts. And here's the really embarrassing part: I can't read Braille by touch. There is much I still need to learn. Therefore it is the responsibility of blind people to educate the sighted on issues of blindness.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not pushing every blind person to be the official spokesperson of the blind community. Nor am I encouraging anyone to set up a How-To-Act-Politely-and-Helpfully-When-You-Meet-a-Blind-Person class. I firmly believe, however, that there are a number of other sighted people who are curious about blindness and alternative techniques. One must be aware, though, that most sighted people are not as comfortable with their curiosity as I am. They will really get to know about alternative techniques only if they know a blind person. They may never want to put on sleepshades, but they will learn much if they can have a human-to-human conversation with a blind person who refuses to be anything but himself or herself. I realize that establishing a relationship comfortable enough to do this is rarely feasible. I would not have learned what I have about blindness without the benefit of such contact, though. And I feel sorry for the sighted people who have only the glimpses of blind people that reinforce stereotypes.

I ground my first cane tip off a few months ago. My technique is still a mite heavy-handed, so I'm sure that it was premature. However, that cane tip represents several miles that I successfully traveled under sleepshades. It also represents the time and effort my blind friends and colleagues have spent giving me what understanding I have of the issues of blindness. Finally, it represents their just being friends enough to indulge my cat-killing curiosity.

Thanks, guys!

Chris Weaver, Program Coordinator

Mathematics Accessible to Visually Impaired Students (MAVIS)

New Mexico State University

[PHOTO Description: A man stands on the top of a mountain with clouds behind him. Snow and some of his equipment are visible. CAPTION: Erik Weihenmayer stands at the top of Mt. McKinley]

To Climb Every Mountain:

The Blind Climber Planning to Stand on Top of the World

by Erik Weihenmayer

From the Editor: On Monday afternoon, July 5, a remarkable young man addressed the 1999 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. His name was Erik Weihenmayer, and with the help of the NFB he was making plans to climb Mt. Everest in the spring of 2001 as part of a team of world-class climbers. This is what he said:

In 1996 my friends and I climbed a rock face, actually the tallest exposed granite monolith in the world, called El Capitan. It's 3,300 feet of overhanging rock in Yosemite Valley in California. The scariest part of the climb was actually sleeping on the ledges. They were maybe a foot-and-a-half wide, and even though you'd lash yourself to the side of the rock face, you'd still roll over in the night, and, with half your body hanging off a thousand-foot cliff, you wouldn't sleep very well.

Since I knew I wasn't going to sleep very much, I decided to entertain myself. I had brought a box of Tic Tacs up the mountain with me, and my friend Jeff had made the mistake of falling asleep on a ledge maybe ten feet below us with his mouth open.

In 1995 we climbed Mount McKinley, which is a twenty-thousand-foot peak, the tallest peak in North America. It's also one of the coldest mountains in the world. If you spit near the top of Mount McKinley, your spit will be frozen by the time it hits the ground. It took us twenty-one days with no showers, but we summited on Helen Keller's birthday, which was really special. Just last January my friend Rick Morris and I summited a peak called Autencaugua (23,000 feet) and the tallest peak in South America.

We had this great system that I devised; I thought I was so smart. I connected these bells to Chris's pack and to his ice ax so that, as he climbed in front of me, I could follow him. But, when we left at four in the morning and got up to about 21,000 feet, this horrendous wind screaming off the Pacific Ocean was blowing straight in our faces—my finger tips were cold; my feet were cold. I couldn't hear the bells anymore, and I thought I was going to have to turn back. But Chris was really smart, and every five minutes or so, knowing I couldn't hear the bells, he'd put his fingers in his mouth and whistle at the top of his lungs. So for three or four hours we played this bizarre game of Marco Polo on the mountain.

When I got to the top of the mountain, it was amazing; I touched this metal cross that somebody had dragged up there and planted on the top. Though blindness might have slowed me down in certain situations on the mountain, I try not to see it as disappointing or sad or tragic. I see my blindness as something that makes my life an adventure. I know that you folks do the same. Many of you who are in this city for the first time and try to find a restaurant downtown know that our lives can be quite an adventure.

I embraced this spirit of adventure when I was in high school. I went out looking for a summer job, and I decided that I could be a dish washer. I went out to a restaurant and asked for a job, and the person said, "Erik, we'd love to hire you, but our kitchen is way too small. You'd bump into things; you'd break things; you wouldn't know how to put things away. We'd love to hire you, but it would be dangerous, so we can't." I went to a bigger restaurant with a really big kitchen this time, and I asked them for a job. They said, "We'd love to hire you, Erik, but our kitchen is way too big. You wouldn't know where to put things away. You'd lose your way in the kitchen, and it might be dangerous." So I thought, now I can't go wrong. I went to a medium-sized restaurant with a medium-sized kitchen, and I asked for a job, and they said, "Erik, we'd love to hire you, but our pots are way too hot; our dishes come in too fast. You wouldn't be able to keep up." And I never got a job that summer, but I did learn something very valuable which has helped me in my life: people's perceptions of blindness are often more limiting than blindness itself.

You see, before that I thought that, with my own actions, with my own individual efforts, and with the strength of my own will, I could shape people's perceptions about me. I learned that sometimes it takes more than just one person's individual efforts. Sometimes it takes all of us working together, with an organization like the National Federation of the Blind providing a foundation and the necessary leadership to enable all of us simultaneously bashing our heads against these barriers to find the force to break through and feel the sun on our faces.

I think sometimes those external barriers transform into internal barriers, which are the most powerful of all. I learned about these on a training climb for Mount McKinley. We got up to a glacier called the Mere Glacier. It was getting really cold. A storm was coming in, and I was assigned to set up the tents. I had a major problem because I had never set up this kind of tent before. I had always set them up with someone else. I found that, when I laid this tent out in front of me and tried to orient the sleeves and loops and corners of the tent with thick mountaineering gloves on, I was blind in two ways. I couldn't do it.

Finally my friends had to come bail me out and set the tent up for me. I was frustrated and embarrassed. Later I went back to Phoenix, where I lived at the time, I took the tent to a field near my house, and I worked with my thick mountaineering gloves on, breaking it down and setting it up and breaking it down again. I could hear cars slowing down looking at this idiot out in the field in 105-degree weather in a tank top and mountaineering gloves, setting up a winter mountaineering tent. But by the time I got to Mt. McKinley, I could set up tents in any conditions.

Sometimes there is a very blurry line between the things we cannot do and the things we can do. I've had a lot of fun over these last years as a blind adventurer, sort of blurring that line even further. In 1995 I had seen a lot of blind people who had gone skydiving tandem with a person attached to them, but I had seen only a few go solo, and I really wanted to do that. I found that as a blind person I could actually skydive as safely as any sighted person—even if those people are crazy in their own right. I found that I could attach computers to my ears which would beep at certain altitudes in my helmet. I could attach two radios around my neck with which I could communicate with a person on the ground. So I could jump just as safely as anyone else.

The first time I actually went solo, though, I had a jump master in the air and I said, "If I don't hear my computer in my ear, swoop in and pop me on the helmet." Well I got something called sensory overload, which means you forget some of the commands that you've set up beforehand, and she swooped in because I didn't hear my first computer beep. She popped me on the helmet. I was so excited to be solo skydiving for the first time that I popped her back on the helmet. She popped me again, and I popped her back and said, "Thanks, I'm really having a great time." The third time she popped me really hard, I realized what an idiot I was being, and I pulled my chute.

Before I became blind, I remember seeing this picture of a person climbing a frozen waterfall. He was a tiny speck against a massive white wall. When I became blind, I decided that a blind person could learn how to do this, but I was told by an expert that you can't indiscriminately swing your sharp ice tools (which attach you to the wall) at the ice face. You'd knock giant chunks of ice off which would come down and kill you. This is a bad thing in climbing. But I found through trial and error that I could tap my ice tools very lightly against the face and by listening for a certain sound, a certain pitch, I would know whether it was going to be a safe hit or whether it would be a hit that would shatter ice on top of me. See, people thought you had to be able to see to ice climb; they didn't know that there were other ways of doing it.

Just recently we climbed a thousand-meter wall of ice called Polar Circus in the Canadian Rockies, and halfway through the climb I took my glove off and ran my hand across the surface of the ice. It was as cold and smooth as a window on a winter's day. I had to take a deep breath because of the beauty I was feeling at the tips of my fingers. Many sighted people believe that the human eye is the only pathway to beauty, but we know that's just not true.

Before I climbed El Capitan—I didn't want to climb it as a token blind person, where you're dragged to the top of the mountain and spiked on top like a football—I wanted to climb it an honest way. I didn't want to be a token. I had always followed a rope so, if I had fallen, I would have just dangled. Now I went out and learned how to lead. It's called taking the sharp end of the rope. What enables a team to get up a rock face is that each person takes it in turn to lead the team up the crack system. Your hands and feet are jammed into cracks, and you take various sized pieces of metal gear off your harness and jam them into the crack. As you go a little higher, you take your rope, which is hanging below your harness, and clip it into those pieces of gear. If you fall, you hope those pieces of gear will lock against the crack so you won't fall very far. If you place them incorrectly, you'll fall hundreds of feet, which is another bad thing in climbing. I learned to lead. I led about a thousand feet, about a third of El Capitan.

Now it's actually kind of fun. I was leading on a rock face near my home in Colorado, I popped out from a crack, and there was a person about fifteen feet to my right. He was leading his own route, and he looked over at me and said, "Where you headed, dude?" (That's the way climbers talk.)

I just came right out and said, "I'm blind, and I've never actually been on this route before. There's supposed to be a ledge up there somewhere."

He laughed and climbed a little higher. Then he stopped and said, "Wait, you mean like you can't see?"

I said, "No, I can't see anything."He laughed again, and I heard his gear belt jingling as heclimbed a little higher. Then he stopped again and said, "You mean like it's all black?" I said, "Completely."

All of us do the things we do because we love to do them, because of our passion for that activity. But I would be lying if I didn't admit that a tiny bit of the fun for me is tweaking people's sensibilities a little, shaping their perceptions about what's possible and what's not. Each of you knows that the best way to shape people's perceptions about blindness is to take the sharp end of the rope, to embrace that pioneering spirit of adventure, and demonstrate the capabilities of blind people through our actions.

You know what I'm talking about, whether you're the first blind lawyer to set up a private practice in your community or the first blind teacher to be hired in your school district or the first blind person in your college to take a high-level finance class. In many ways each of us is a pioneer embarking into uncharted territory. Who understands this philosophy, this pioneering spirit, better than the National Federation of the Blind? Throughout its history it has been providing the foundation and leadership for all of us to fulfill our dreams. That is why the NFB has chosen to sponsor this 2001 climb of Mt. Everest once and for all to prove without a doubt that, given the right opportunity and skill and mindset, and backed by the most powerful blindness organization in the world, a blind person can climb to the top of the world.

I believe that, if a blind person is seen succeeding safely on an arduous peak like this one, it won't just shape people's perceptions of blindness; it will shatter them. The exciting part is that, when those perceptions are rebuilt, many, many blind people will find themselves living their lives with greater opportunity.

Part of the fun of climbing for me is that you're roped together. When you're traveling up a glacier, you have these little holes in the snow called crevasses. They can be hundreds of feet deep. They can be thirty feet across. Many times there is just a little frozen snow bridge linking one side to the other. So roped together, one by one, the team crosses over the bridge. As each person crosses, the other teammates get ready to throw their ice axes into the snow to arrest the person if he or she pops through the snow bridge. It's pretty exciting, but it's scary at the same time. Climbing solo is a really good way to wind up being frozen in the bottom of a crevasse. We know that climbing solo on a mountain isn't the best way to cross a glacier. We know as well that climbing solo is not the best way to improve the lives of blind people.

On this NFB rope team, even though we move in sync, each of us is fulfilling unique and vital functions on the team. If you can envision fifty thousand, a hundred thousand blind people all moving together on one mission, toward one dream, but each fulfilling a unique and vital function on the team, then you can envision the scope and the power of the NFB. It will take each of us working together, helping each other, each person doing what he or she can, that will enable us to climb this mountain into first-class citizenship. We will shape and shatter and rebuild what it means to be blind in this world. I want to end by saying that I'm very proud and very honored to be joining this illustrious rope team with such pioneering legends as Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. I am proud to be working with each of you as we prepare for the historic climb in 2001. Wish us good fortune. Thank you.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sharon Maneki]

Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for 2000

                       by Sharon Maneki

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She also chairs the committee to select the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2000.

The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind children at our 2000 convention July 2 through 8, in Atlanta, Georgia. The winner of this award will receive an expense-paid trip to the convention, a check for $500, an appropriate plaque, and an opportunity to make a presentation about the education of blind children to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children early in the convention.

Anyone who is currently teaching or counseling blind students or administering a program for blind children is eligible to receive this award. It is not necessary to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to apply. However, the winner must attend the National Convention. Teachers may be nominated by colleagues, supervisors, or friends. The letter of nomination should explain why the teacher is being recommended for this award.

The education of blind children is one of our most important concerns. Attendance at a National Federation of the Blind convention will enrich a teacher's experience by affording him or her the opportunity to meet other teachers who work with blind children, to meet parents, and to meet blind adults who have had experiences in a variety of educational programs. Help us recognize a distinguished teacher by distributing this form and encouraging teachers to submit their credentials. We are pleased to offer this award and look forward to applications from many well-qualified educators.

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN AWARD 2000 APPLICATION

Name:

Home address:

City: State: Zip:

Day phone:                  Evening phone:

School:

Address:

City: State: Zip:

List your degrees, the institutions from which they were received, and your major area or areas of study.

 

How long and in what programs have you worked with blind children?

 

In what setting do you teach? residential school classroom

special education classroom itinerant program

other, please explain.

How many students do you teach regularly this year?

What subjects do you teach?

 

How many of your students read and write primarily using:

Braille large print closed circuit television

recorded materials regular print

Please complete this application and attach the following: a letter of nomination from someone who knows your work, one additional recommendation also from someone who knows you professionally and knows your philosophy of teaching, and a letter from you discussing your beliefs and approach to teaching blind students. You may wish to discuss topics like the following:

What are your views on the importance to your students of Braille, large print, and magnification devices; and what issues do you consider when making recommendations about learning media for your students?

When do you recommend that your students begin the following: reading Braille, writing with a slate and stylus, using a Braillewriter, learning to travel independently with a white cane?

How should one determine which children should learn cane travel and which should not?

When should typing be introduced, and when should a child be expected to hand in typed assignments?

Send all material by May 15, 2000, to Sharon Maneki, Chairwoman, Teacher Award Committee, 9736 Basket Ring Road, Columbia, Maryland 21045; telephone: (410) 992-9608.

 

 

Planned giving takes place when a contributor decides to leave a substantial gift to charity. It means planning as you would for any substantial purchase—a house, college tuition, or car. The most common forms of planned giving are wills and life insurance policies. There are also several planned giving options through which you can simultaneously give a substantial contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, obtain a tax deduction, and receive lifetime income now or in the future. For more information write or call the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.

 

 

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Steve Benson]

The 2000 Blind Educator of the Year Award

                        by Stephen O. Benson

From the Editor: Steve Benson is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the NFB of Illinois. He also chairs the committee charged with identifying each year's Blind Educator of the Year. Here is what he has to say:

Several years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Association of Blind Educators (the teachers division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. This change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the impact an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.

This award is given in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information, but also provides guidance and advocacy. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $500.

Nominations should be sent to Steve Benson, 7020 North Tahoma, Chicago, Illinois 60646. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee's current resume and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 15, 2000, to be considered for this year's award.

She Battles for Her Dream of a Blind-Friendly Web

by Blair Anthony Robertson

From the Editor: The following story appeared in the November 16, 1999, edition of the Sacramento Bee. It speaks for itself.

Here it is:

For the past six years, while the Internet was expanding into a household necessity for shopping, information, and entertainment, Cathy Murtha has essentially gone door to door on the Information Superhighway with a simple but daunting request on behalf of the blind: Mind if we tag along, too?

At stake, the Sacramento woman insists, is nothing less than the future. If left behind, people who are blind could be shut out of job opportunities and, she says, the opportunity for a new kind of independence.

Since getting her first computer in 1993, Murtha, forty-one, has written thousands of e-mails to companies encouraging them to implement often-simple Web design adjustments that make the sites more accessible to the blind.

With no fanfare Murtha's efforts—she estimates she has corresponded with up to 2,000 Web sites—have earned her a national following.

Her work for blind access online was given a major boost with the November 4 filing of a federal lawsuit against America Online by the National Federation of the Blind.

The Baltimore-based organization argues that the Internet company's software is nearly impossible for blind people to use. AOL says new software it is developing will be more accessible.

Murtha says she and others have waited long enough. "The Net is the future," she said during a break from the computer classes she teaches at the Society for the Blind in Sacramento. "It offers so much opportunity, shopping and everything else. If we don't have access to that, it's like closing the doors at Arden Fair Mall and saying, ‘I'm sorry, you're blind. You can't come in.' Nobody would put up with that."

"But a lot of sites on the Internet are doing that, and people don't seem to care. It's time people realize it's wrong, very wrong."

The federal lawsuit has focused mainstream attention on barriers the blind face on the Internet. Most blind people use programs that translate text into something audible, essentially having a talking computer. But Web sites laden with graphics are giving blind people like Murtha fits because their special software can't read the graphics.

"It's so easy to fix," Murtha said enthusiastically. "If Web designers on 90 percent of these sites would just use something called an ‘alt tag'—alternative text—you can still have the graphics, but we can see the text underneath and click on the information."

Among those who appreciated Murtha's online activism was Bryan Bashin, Sacramento's executive director of the Society for the Blind. He liked her work so much he hired her six months ago to teach computer skills to other blind people.

"She got remarkable results and had quite a reputation," Bashin said. "The online blind community, which numbers in the tens of thousands, knows who she is and what she has done. She is a pioneer. She has paved the way in many respects."

Curtis Chong, director of technology at the National Federation of the Blind, says the lawsuit against AOL will increase awareness that the blind, with a 70 percent unemployment rate, cannot afford to be left behind as computer technology expands.

"One of the biggest challenges we face is that most people can't even conceive that we use computers in the first place," Chong said. Many see technology as the great equalizer for the blind, a chance to forge greater independence. For example, Web sites are beginning to offer online grocery shopping, which allows the blind to read the selections by themselves, make purchases through their computers, and await home delivery. Much simpler than a trip to a supermarket.

"This comes down to being able to compete with our sighted peers in the information age," Chong added. "Jobs are at stake."

George Buys, who helps manage Audio-tips.com, a popular blind-oriented Web site based in Mesa, Arizona, has never met Murtha but is grateful for her work. In fact, Buys read his first newspaper by accessing a link on Murtha's Web site.

"What a thrill that was," Buys said. "She has been tirelessly working in that area, and her work has made it possible for me to design my own Web site."

But Murtha's work, it seems, is never over. All she wants to do is surf the Web, learn things, meet people, buy stuff.

Many major Web sites are adding new graphics every day. Every time she logs on and hits a roadblock, she fires off an e-mail. And breaks down another barrier.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Gashel]

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2000

                        by James Gashel

The beginning of each year brings with it annual adjustments in Social Security programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, Social Security and SSI cost-of-living increases, and changes in deductible and co-insurance requirements under Medicare. Here are the new facts for 2000:

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains at 7.65 percent. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional 1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent, which includes 12.4 percent paid to the OASDI trust fund and 2.9 percent paid to the HI trust fund.

Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 1999 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI trust fund was $72,600. This ceiling is raised to $76,200 for 2000. All earnings are taxed for the HI trust fund.

Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors, and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on the number of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage during a single year. During 1999 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $740 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $2,960 for the year (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) was given four quarters of coverage. In 2000 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $780 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $3,120.

Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,110 of gross earned income during 1999. In 2000 earnings of $1,170 or more per month before taxes for a blind SSDI beneficiary will show substantial gainful activity after subtracting any unearned (or subsidy) income and applying any deductions for impairment-related work expenses.

Social Security Benefit Amounts for 2000: All Social Security benefits are increased by 2.4 percent beginning with the checks received in January, 2000. The exact dollar increase for any individual will depend upon the amount being paid.

Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January, 2000, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $512 per month; couples, $769 per month. These amounts are increased from individuals, $500 per month, and couples, $751 per month.

Medicare Deductibles and Co-insurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The co-insurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's co-insurance amount.

The Part A co-insurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days was $768 during 1999 and is increased to $776 during 2000. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day there is a daily co-insurance amount of $194 per day, up from $192 in 1999. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty "reserve days" for hospital services provided within a benefit period longer than ninety days. The co-insurance amount to be paid during each reserve day is $388, up from $384 in 1999.

Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one-hundredth day within a benefit period, the Part A co-insurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility is $97 per day, up from $96 per day in 1999.

For most beneficiaries there is no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for thirty-nine months following the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2000 is $301 per month. This is reduced to $166 for individuals who have earned at least thirty quarters of coverage under Social Security-covered employment.

The Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductible remains at $100 in 2000. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B basic monthly premium rate charged to each beneficiary for the year 2000 is $45.50. (The 1999 premium rate was also $45.50.) This premium payment is deducted from Social Security benefits checks. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social Security benefits because of working pay this premium directly.

Programs Which Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums:

Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programs—QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and SLMB (Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program).

Under the QMB program states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium ($45.50 in 2000). Eligibility for the SLMB program, also dependent on income and resource requirements, may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.

Both programs are administered by the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) in conjunction with the states. In order to qualify, the income of an individual or couple must be less than the poverty guidelines currently in effect. The guidelines are revised annually and were last announced in the spring of 1999. New guidelines will be issued in the spring of 2000. The rules vary from state to state, but in general:

A person may qualify for the QMB program if his or her income is approximately $707 per month for an individual and $942 per month for a couple. These amounts apply for residents of forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income threshold used to define poverty is approximately $880 per month for an individual and $1,174 per month for couples. In Hawaii income must be less than approximately $811 per month for an individual and $1,081 per month for couples.

For the SLMB program the income of an individual cannot exceed $844 per month or $1,126 for a couple in forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income amount is $1,052 for an individual and $1,404 for couples. An individual in Hawaii can qualify if his or her income is approximately $969 per month; for couples the amount is $1,293.

Resources—such as bank accounts or stocks—may not exceed

$4,000 for one person or $6,000 for a family of two. (Resources generally are things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count, and in some circumstances your car may not count either.)

If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay:

Medicare's hospital co-insurance amount, which is $776 per benefit period in 2000;

The daily co-insurance charges for extended hospital and skilled nursing facility stays;

The Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) premium, which is

$45.50 per month in 2000;

The $100 annual Part B deductible;

The 20 percent co-insurance for services covered by

Medicare Part B, depending on which doctor you go to.

If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will not have to pay the $45.50 monthly Part B premium.

If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number, (800) 772-1213.

Remember, only your state can decide if you're eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program. So, if you're elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local welfare or social service agency to apply. For more information about either program, call HCFA's toll-free telephone number, (800) 638-6833.

Recipes

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marc Maurer demonstrates to Lynn Mattioli how to cook perfect hamburgers on the grill.]

The Christmas Goose and other favorites

by Marc Maurer

Each Christmas for at least the last dozen years the Maurer family has entertained and been entertained. On Christmas Eve we invite friends to our home for a light supper. Mrs. Jernigan always brings her delicious oyster stew, but a main feature of this supper is hamburgers barbecued over a medium fire.

Steaks should be cooked over a hot fire without a cover. Hamburgers should be cooked covered, over a medium fire. Turkeys and chickens should be roasted over a slow fire with a cover. My hands tell me the difference. I cannot get my hands near a hot fire without fire gloves. A slow fire with a cover on it is hot enough to cook meat over several hours, but I can put the palm of my hand on the fire cover without burning myself. I can touch the cover over a medium fire, but I can't keep my hand there for long.

I use about a third of a pound of meat to make each hamburger. It should be about three-quarters of an inch thick. I place the burgers in a cooking basket with a rack lid and put them on the fire for six minutes. Then I turn the rack over so that the burgers cook on the other side for another six minutes. Then I look at the meat. If my fire is a little hot, the burgers will be done after cooking six minutes on each side. If the fire is a bit cooler, they take an additional three minutes per side. When they are done, the burgers should be firm to the touch but not hard. By the way, I would like to find a rack with a non-stick surface for use on my grill. Hamburgers do not stick on conventional racks, but steaks do. Anyone who has found a handleless, non-stick rack with a lid would do me a great service by telling me where it may be purchased.

On Christmas Day we generally head to the Jernigan house for food and fellowship, and we take with us our contribution to the dinner, a stuffed roast goose. The stuffing is a sage and onion concoction with apples and prunes. We simplify this a little by buying a bag of bread cubes as the basis of the stuffing. We chop up a large onion and a couple of stalks of celery and fry them in about two tablespoons of butter. We pour this into the bread cubes along with a handful of prunes and one tart apple, chopped. To this I add about a half a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sage. When I get the goose, I boil the giblets in enough water to cover them. Unless somebody wants to eat the giblets, I cut them up and put them into the dressing. I would probably leave the liver out, but I have never had to make up my mind on this point because somebody has always wanted to eat the liver of a fat goose, which is the principal ingredient of pat‘e de foie gras. I add at least a cup of the broth from the cooked giblets or a little more to make the dressing a gooey consistency. I salt and pepper the goose inside and out, and I stuff it loosely with the dressing.

Recipe books recommend that a goose be roasted in a very hot oven for a half hour, then reducing the heat to 350 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time. I have tried this, but I don't care for the results. It makes my delicious young goose into a tough old bird, unappetizing to the palette. One year I tried cooking the goose in a mixture of champagne and cream. The best you could say for this idea is that it was unfortunate. Today I place the stuffed goose on a rack in a roaster. A lot of grease comes out of a roasting goose, and the rack prevents the bird from resting in it while cooking. I put a little water in the bottom of my pan to steam the goose, I cover it, and I bake it at 350 degrees about twenty minutes to the pound. I know the goose is done when its legs wobble around loosely and appear ready to be cut from the goose and eaten.

One of the most delightful Christmas stories is "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. In that story Bob Cratchit takes his small Christmas goose to the bakeshop to be cooked. I have wondered for many years whether goose was less expensive in the England of 1843 than other meats. Either way, I find the Christmas goose delectable, and I recommend it to you.

Dr. Jernigan always referred to stuffing like that described above as "yucky, Yankee stuffing." He preferred southern-style cornbread dressing. Marie Cobb always prepares this delectable dish for Christmas dinner, so people can choose between stuffing and dressing. This is how she describes her method:

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Marie Cobb]

Cornbread Dressing

by Marie Cobb

The amounts in this recipe are very inexact. Dressing is an art, not a science. So use this pattern and keep tasting until you think it is right for you.

Ingredients:

1 cast-iron frying-pan full of cornbread, made with lard and no sugar

6 slices yeast bread, rolls, or biscuits, processed into fine crumbs

6 raw eggs

6 hard cooked eggs, chopped very fine in food processor

1 quart turkey or chicken stock

1 bunch celery

2 large onions

1 green pepper

sage, savory, salt, and pepper to taste

Method: Crumble cornbread made with no sugar and real lard and baked in a cast iron frying pan into a bowl. Add the bread, rolls, or biscuits reduced to fine crumbs. Bring turkey stock to a boil and add celery, onion, and pepper that you have chopped fine in a food processor. Cover pan and cook till vegetables are tender. Drop six raw eggs into cornbread and stir. Chop hard-cooked eggs very fine in food processor and add to cornbread. Pour in stock mixture, and add savory, sage, salt, and pepper to taste. The mixture should be quite soupy. Preheat oven to about 450. Place a little lard into two cast iron frying pans and heat in oven till very hot. Quickly pour dressing into both pans and bake till surface is browned and mixture is somewhat set. Serve immediately.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mary Ellen Jernigan]

Oyster Stew

by Mary Ellen Jernigan

This dish is always served on Christmas Eve along with Dr.Maurer's hamburgers.

Ingredients:

2 quarts oysters

1 to 1-1/2 gallons milk and cream (see note below)

1 stick butter (see note below)

salt and pepper to taste

Note: Choose whatever mixture of cream, whole milk, 2 per cent, or skim milk suits your calorie and cholesterol notions. Butter can also be adjusted according to conscience.

Method: Cook 2 quarts of oysters gently in their own liquid, being careful not to overcook. (Oysters are done when their edges open and look like an accordion or a folded paper fan.)

In a separate pot carefully heat milk, cream, butter, salt, and pepper to just under boiling point, stirring continuously to prevent burning. I use about a tablespoon of black pepper and teaspoon of salt, which might be too much pepper for some, but it's the way I like it. Combine the cooked oysters (including their liquid) with the milk and butter mixture. Reheat to just under boiling point immediately before serving.

Holiday Fruitcake

by Doris Schaaf

Grandma Schaaf's fruitcake is always part of the Maurer Christmas dinner. Mrs. Maurer buys the fruit for her mother and ships it off to Iowa, where it is transformed into her memorable fruitcakes. One of these then comes back to Baltimore in time for the Christmas feast.

Ingredients:

4 cups mixed candied fruit (red and green cherries and pineapple)

1 pound pitted dates

1 cup raisins

1 cup pecan halves

1 cup English walnut halves

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/2 cups buttermilk

Method: Grease and flour four 8-by-4-by-2-1/2-inch bread pans. Prepare and measure fruit, leaving cherries and dates whole. Sift together flour, salt, and spices. Use enough of this flour mixture to coat all fruit pieces (about 1-1/2 cups). Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add soda to remaining flour mixture. Add flour alternately with buttermilk to the egg mixture. Fold fruit into batter and spoon it into prepared pans. Bake at 300 degrees for thirty-five minutes. Decorate with additional fruit. Return cakes to the oven for fifty-five more minutes. Total baking time is 1-1/2 hours. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cakes briefly on racks then remove from pans to cool completely. When cool, brush entire cake with orange juice or apple cider. Wrap in waxed paper, then in aluminum foil. Store in covered container in cool place. After two weeks, unwrap and brush again with orange juice or cider. Wrap tightly until ready to slice.

Monitor Miniatures

Attention Last-Minute Holiday Shoppers:

If you are still frantically looking for just the right gift to please a friend or loved one, don't forget that you can order all kinds of merchandise by logging on to <NFB.org> and choosing links to any of a number of companies on the Web who will be happy to contribute 5 percent of the purchase price of your order to the NFB. Here is the list of links you can click on:

1-800-FLOWERS.COM, 800.COM, Altrec.com, Amazon.com, art.com, AutoAccessory.com, AVON, BabyCenter, beyond.com, BirthdayExpress.com, Brooks Brothers, CBS Sportsline, Chiasso, Cooking.com, DogToys.com, Drugstore.com, eBags, Enews.com, Esprit, Etera, ethicalshopper.com, eToys, fashionmall.com, Fogdog Fossil, FragranceNet, Frenchtoast.com, giftpaks.com, Gourmet Giftmail, GourmetGiving, GreatFood.com, GreenMarketplace.com, Greetings That Give, Hammacher Schlemmer, hardware.com, healthshop.com, Hickory Farms, iBaby.com, igogolf.com, JCPenney, jcrew.com, Lady Classic, Lands' End, Landscape USA, LL Bean, Magellan's, maps.com, more.com, MountainZone.com, Neiman Marcus, NewYorkFirst.com, OfficeMax, Omaha Steaks, OpticalSite.com, Orvis, OutletMall.com, Paul Fredrick, PEOPLink, PetQuarters.com, Pets.com, Real Goods, REI, SAVIshopper.com, SelfCare, Shades.com, Sharper Image, ShopSports.com, SmarterKids.com, Software BuyLine, Sparks.com, Superbuild.com, Swiss Army Depot, Tavolo, Tutorials.com, Underneath.com, WholeFoods.com, and Wine.com. If you can't find the right gift on one of these sites, you really do have a shopping problem.

Correction:

Judy Geva of Choco Braille reports that our notice in the October issue contained errors in her contact information. To place an order, contact her at <chocomelt@aol.com>. The graphic Web site for Choco Braille is <www.chocomelt.com>.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Sir John Wilson, January 20, 1919, to November 24, 1999 In Memoriam:

Harold Snider writes to report the following sad news:

Sir John Wilson was my friend and colleague for more than thirty years. Although he never participated in NFB national conventions, he strongly supported our work and philosophy around the world and was a close friend and colleague of Dr. Jernigan. He was also the founder, in 1947, and first President of the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom.

Sir John was born on January 20, 1919, in Scarborough, England. He was blinded by a Bunsen burner explosion in a school chemistry lab at the age of twelve. He won a full scholarship to St. Catherine's College, Oxford, where he obtained degrees in law and social science. In 1941 he worked as assistant secretary of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, where he helped blind people find employment. He commented that it took courage just to go to work in London during the Blitz and other German bombing.

In 1946 Sir John and his wife Jean went on a fact-finding mission to colonies in the British Empire in order to assess the situation of blind people. He found an overwhelming need for education and rehabilitation services which was met by the establishment of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind in 1950. Sir John was the Society's Director until his retirement in 1983. During his tenure he established education and rehabilitation programs for the blind in more than thirty countries.

Sir John is best remember for his lifelong work on the prevention of blindness and other disabilities. He pioneered the concept in Indian villages of Cataract Camps, which could perform more than 100 cataract operations in a day. He and his wife lived for a year in the villages of the blind in Ghana. He championed the prevention of river blindness by use of the drug Mectizan or Invermectin. This drug prevented many millions of people from losing their sight from the bite of the imulium fly. I ran the American Impact Foundation for Sir John from 1986 until 1989. That foundation provided funds for low-cost surgery to prevent blindness and other disabilities in developing countries. Dr. Jernigan served with distinction on its board.

Sir John received many honors during his lifetime. In 1975 Queen Elizabeth knighted him as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). In 1993 he received the Albert Schweitzer International Prize for medicine. Until his death he served as a consultant to the Secretary General of the United Nations on disability matters. During his working life he travelled 50,000 to 100,000 miles a year to maintain hands-on contact with blind people around the world. He died in his sleep early on Wednesday morning, November 24, 1999. He was my close friend and confidante and never failed to show interest and give good advice. He always believed that people came first and should receive help one at a time. Sir John's article "My Hols" appeared in the November, 1998, issue of the Braille Monitor.

Position Available:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is seeking applicants for Director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. This Senior Management Service position is responsible for administrative and professional work in directing statewide program services for the blind and visually impaired. The salary range is $57,488 to $87,316 with a comprehensive benefits package.

The position requires six years of responsible experience in the field of human services, including four years in an administrative, consultative, or supervisory capacity providing services to the blind or visually impaired; and a bachelor's degree; or any equivalent combination of experience and training.

Qualified applicants should forward a resume by December 30, 1999, to Robin Mills, Bureau of Personnel, Department of Labor and Industry, 1418 L&I Building, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120, (717) 783-8836, e-mail <rmills@dli.state.pa.us>. The Commonwealth is an equal opportunity employer.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

New, fast speech-based IBM computer with Open Book, thirteen-gigabyte hard drive. Under warranty. If interested, call Stan Lewis, (925) 778-7446.

Summer Music Institute:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

The Music and Arts Center for the Handicapped, located in Connecticut, is accepting applications nationwide for its fifth Summer Institute for Blind College-Bound Musicians.

This three-week residential program held in July is for students tenth grade and up who have had some music experience and are serious about gaining skills necessary for the study of music in college. Areas taught include Braille music, computer composing and notation skills, theory, keyboard, and ensemble.

Held on a college campus in Bridgeport, Connecticut, this program gives students opportunities to live and work in a true-to-life situation, while also sharing the fun of summer outings, performing, and mingling with others of similar abilities and interests.

Enrollment is limited to ten students who will be accepted based on their applications and telephone interviews. Cost of the program is $2,000. Partial scholarships are available. Applications must be completed and returned by April 15, 2000. Students under the age of fifteen or in need of significant financial help should apply early.

Resource Center: Students, parents, teachers, and professional musicians are invited to contact our National Resource Center for Blind Musicians with questions regarding Braille music and accessible music technology. We can often direct people to sources of needed Braille music or put them in touch with a blind musician in their area with expertise in a particular aspect of the field. The Resource Center can provide workshops and basic music technology training to teachers and college students throughout New England. We are especially interested in hearing from parents, teachers, and blind music students of all ages in order to gather data about the needs and successes of today's students and develop future programs.

For an application to the Summer Institute or to reach the National Resource Center, contact the Music and Arts Center for the Handicapped, 600 University Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut 06601, (203) 366-3300, e-mail: <102730.163@compuserve.com>.

For Sale:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

Microsoft Office ‘97, asking $100 or best offer. Contact Monty Cassellius, (309) 454-6097, e-mail:

<montyjc@davesworld.net>.

World Series Computer Game Update:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

With the 1999 World Series over, you can now obtain Version 14 of the World Series Baseball Game and Information System. Among the 269 teams that come with the game are the 1999 Yankees and Braves and the 1999 All Star teams. You can play baseball on your computer using all the great teams of the past, Negro and Japanese teams, and many All-Star teams. You can also review the history of baseball, find out who is in the Hall of Fame, check out all the baseball records, and try out your knowledge of the game on a 1,000-question quiz.

In the game you are manager: changing pitchers, pinch hitting, sacrificing, purposely passing batters, moving the infield in, etc. The game is being played by sight-impaired baseball fans of all ages in forty-eight states on IBM-compatible computers with screen readers and synthesizers. The price is still the same as when the game was first introduced in 1986, only $15 to new users, $5 for updates. Send your check to Harry Hollingsworth, 692 S. Sheraton Drive, Akron, Ohio 44319, or call (330) 644-2421 or e-mail <hhhollingsworth@attglobal.net>.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Noel Nightingale and Jim Peterson]

New Baby:

We are delighted to report that on November 1, 1999, Noel Nightingale, President of the NFB of Washington, and newest member of the national Board of Directors, and her husband Jim Peterson gave birth to Lelah Nightingale Peterson. Lelah weighed in at six pounds, four ounces, and was nineteen-and-a-half inches long. She expects to attend her first meeting of the Board of Directors over the Thanksgiving weekend. Her mother and father trust that she will sleep through most of it. Congratulations to the Petersons.

New Mini Braille Notebook:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

Easier Ways has developed a new Mini Perma Notebook for Brailling telephone numbers, addresses, birthdays, appointments, etc. It is flat, no bulky binder. Fits easily into pocket or purse. Comes with refill containing fifty 3-by-5-inch, two-hole-punched, clear Perma plastic sheets. Makes extremely sharp Braille that lasts for years. Can add or remove a sheet easily. Can make a quick entry without removing a sheet. For further information contact Easier Ways, Inc., 2954 Shady Lane, Highlands Ranch, Colorado 80126, (303) 290-0987, fax (303) 290-6446, or e-mail <EasierWays@aol.com>.

Online Support Groups:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

Two online support groups for families with members affected with Laurence Moon Beidl Syndrome (LMBS) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP) are now available. Contact Sue McCoy, <mmandm@ozramp.net.au>.

Free Braille Books Available:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

The following Braille books are available to anyone who wishes to receive them: The American Vest Pocket Dictionary, The Cooking Class Cookbook, Easy Ways to Delicious Meals, Cooking with Betty Crocker Mixes, Muffin Mania, Stouffers, Better Homes and Gardens Salad Book, and Better Homes and Gardens Meat Cookbook. For more detailed information about each book or to make arrangements to receive them, call (541) 752-3325 or write Margaret and Charles Coe, 2655 N.W. Acey Place, Corvallis, Oregon 97330.

Transcription Service:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

Dot's Right is an inkprint-to-Braille transcription service. It transcribes a variety of materials: personal documents, training and technical manuals, restaurant menus, and more. The rates are reasonable, and the work is high quality. Contact Liz Conejo, Dot's Right, 1864 North Avenue 51, Los Angeles, California 90042, (323) 254-9213, or e-mail: <lconejo@concentric.net>.

Audio Darts Tournament:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

Audio Darts of Pittsburgh will hold its third Harold Schlegel Darts Tournament during the weekend of March 31 through April 2, 2000, at the Best Western Motel, 3401 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The room rate is $69 plus tax per night, and four persons may share a room. For room registration please call (412) 683-6100. The first event will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and the tournament should conclude at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. The cost of the entire tournament will be $65. Please make all checks payable to Audio Darts of Pittsburgh and mail to Louis Wassermann, 2503 Silver Oak Drive, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15220. For more information call Lois Briggs at (412) 366-2630 or Joe Wasserman at (412) 687-5166.

New Chapter:

The Golden Triangle Chapter of the NFB of Texas was formed on September 18, 1999. The officers are Kimberly Aguillard, President; R. L. Miller, Vice President; Gean Ella Jack, Secretary/Treasurer; and Tom Walters and Kay Place, Board Members.

RFB & D Annual Scholarships:

We have been asked to carry the following announcement:

Applications are available for two annual National Achievement Awards sponsored by Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), the nation's largest nonprofit lending library of recorded textbooks for people with learning disabilities, visual impairments, or other physical disabilities. The application deadline is February 21, 2000.

RFB&D's Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards (SAA) are given to nine blind or visually impaired seniors at four-year U.S. colleges or universities. The Marion Huber Learning Through Listening awards (LTL) are presented to six high school seniors with learning disabilities. Award moneys total more than $50,000.

The competitions are open to active RFB&D members who have been registered for at least one year prior to the deadline either individually or through their schools and who demonstrate outstanding scholarship, leadership, enterprise, and service to others.

For additional information on RFB&D's membership programs or award eligibility criteria or to request an award application, call RFB&D toll-free at (800) 221-4792.

NFB PLEDGE

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._