An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2011
The past twelve months have been a time of unprecedented growth for the National Federation of the Blind. The challenges facing us have been at least as great as they have ever been, but our capacity to meet them has increased from former times. The scope of our programs, the nature of the undertakings we have pursued, and the depth and breadth of the solutions we have sought to achieve are the greatest that the Federation has ever known. However, our determination has been equal to the task we have set ourselves, and our progress is accelerating.
An astonishing document that has come to us indicates our expanding influence in the United States and the world. Slate magazine, an online publication owned by the Washington Post, carried an article on April 15, 2011, which commented about the opprobrious remark Kobe Bryant made on April 12, 2011, which was offensive to the gay and lesbian community. Slate magazine listed the people to whom apologies must be offered after offensive remarks have been made about groups protected by civil rights legislation. In part, the article said:
Group offended: the blind
Sample offense: In 2009, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said that then New York Gov. David Paterson was "blind and can't read Braille, and doesn't know what's going on."
Sample apology: Murdoch apologized to Paterson, who said the conversation was "cordial."
How to apologize: Contact Dr. Marc Maurer, the president of the National Federation of the Blind, via the NFB's director of public relations, Chris Danielsen. His number is 410-659-9314, ext. 2330.
What to say: Blind people are just as capable as people with perfect vision.
These are the words of Slate magazine, and although we might quibble with some of the language, their point of view is correct. They should know better than to belittle the blind, and their apologies are to be made to the organized blind movement.
I believe that the first lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of blind people occurred in 1954. We sued the Civil Service Commission, and we lost. However, the rules of the commission changed as a result of what we did so that certain blind applicants could apply for federal jobs. This case initiated a practice that we have been following since that time. For the past quarter century, we have been fortunate to employ the services of Dan Goldstein and his law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy. Dan Goldstein, a sighted lawyer, has comprehended the civil rights nature of the work we do, and he has wholeheartedly joined in our effort to bring equality of opportunity to the blind. His work in supporting our efforts has been sufficiently great that we have won dozens of lawsuits, and the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law has decided to give the 2011 Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights to Dan Goldstein and to me. About Dan Goldstein they say, “Goldstein is one of the country’s top disability-rights litigators, having most recently represented Stephanie Enyart, a low-vision law school graduate, in her suit against the National Conference of Bar Examiners for failing to provide her proper accommodations to take the California Bar Exam.” The presentation will take place at the American Bar Association meeting to be held in Toronto on August 8. I note that the 2004 recipient of this award is a blind person well known to the National Federation of the Blind. That year’s honoree was our own Anil Lewis.
Over ten years ago we began talking about the perceived limits of independence. We speculated that an automobile could be built in a way that would permit a blind person to drive it. In 2008, we began actively working with Virginia Tech, and its world-class robotics scientist, Dr. Dennis Hong, to create nonvisual interfaces for driving. On July 2, 2010, we announced that in January 2011, we would make the first public demonstration of a blind person’s piloting a street-legal vehicle independently using nonvisual technology. Working with Virginia Tech and TORC Technologies, we developed a research vehicle and began testing the first nonvisual interfaces with blind drivers.
On January 29, 2011, more than four hundred members of the National Federation of the Blind, along with tens of thousands of other race fans, were in attendance at the Daytona International Speedway. I rode to the starting line with Congressman John Mica, representative for Florida’s Seventh Congressional District and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in the modified Ford Escape equipped with nonvisual technology. Although he did the driving, he did not use the nonvisual interface because he had received no training in the methods required for driving without vision. We handed the car off to Mark Riccobono, the blind driver, who navigated one and a half miles of the Daytona International Speedway, beginning with the official starting line where the track is banked 18 degrees. He navigated a number of turns, successfully avoided a series of barrels in the road, honked his horn at Federation members in the stands, steered around boxes randomly thrown in front of the car, and passed another moving vehicle on the race course at twenty-seven miles per hour. This year the Daytona racing season kicked off with the National Federation of the Blind and an historic demonstration which was almost universally thought impossible. Those who doubted us may continue to wonder how it was done, but they can no longer say that it can’t be done. We did it. Mark Riccobono, a blind man, drove at Daytona, and he and Anil Lewis, another blind man, are offering people rides here in Orlando.
We now have a base research vehicle that we can use to encourage further development of nonvisual interfaces. At this convention we are conducting the first ever research project on blind drivers by gathering data from driving simulators connected to the nonvisual interfaces. We will continue to seek university and technology partners to explore this uncharted territory, and we will apply our energy and imagination to expanding the horizons of independence.
News coverage of the Blind Driver Challenge over the course of the year reached the largest audience that the National Federation of the Blind has ever had. On July 8, 2010, Mark Riccobono and Dr. Dennis Hong appeared on CNN. On January 28, 2011, the Associated Press released a wire story that was carried by dozens of news outlets. On January 31, 2011, Mark Riccobono and Dr. Hong were interviewed by television stations from across the nation. On February 15, 2011, Wired magazine carried the story. On March 6, 2011, Mark Riccobono appeared on the Today Show. At about the same time, the television program Motor Week featured the event. On April 4, 2011, Popular Science magazine printed its version. There has also been coverage in Japan, Brazil, and Korea. Within the past year this effort has brought us 923,317,095 media impressions in the United States.
We have used the Blind Driver Challenge to expand the concept of accessibility of elements of our environment for the blind, but we have also used it to instruct and inspire. Last fall, we began the National Federation of the Blind Teacher of Tomorrow Program. We selected sixteen of the most talented and motivated individuals who are preparing to teach blind students and immersed them in a series of experiences that would forever change the way they understand blindness. They have listened to us, worked with our blind teens at the NFB Youth Leadership Academy, and come to understand the urgent need for Braille literacy. They joined us in Daytona for the Blind Driver Challenge, and they walked with us through the halls of Capitol Hill. They traveled to Louisiana to learn about instructional strategies for the blind, and today they are here at our national convention. These teachers are not simply friends of the Federation; they are members; they are part of the Federation family. Here are excerpts from a letter that I received from two of them:
Dear Dr. Maurer,
We would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the NFB for the most incredible professional and personal experiences we’ve ever had. We feel so fortunate to have been selected to participate in the first ever Teacher of Tomorrow program. It has been an amazing experience for us on so many levels.
The Blind Driver Challenge was like watching the first moon landing. The Washington, D.C., trip was incredibly powerful—to be a part of the legislative process and participating in civil rights activities. We feel as though we have forged lifelong friendships and lifelong professional relationships, and we will definitely have much higher standards for our blind students because of the exposure we’ve had through the National Federation of the Blind.
We also can’t say enough about the Jernigan Institute. The accommodations, food, and staff were incredibly wonderful. It was hard not to go back for thirds on those breakfast potatoes!
Kina Blackburn and Kathy Michielsen
Teachers of Tomorrow
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act became law on January 4, 2011. The National Federation of the Blind first contemplated action with respect to silent or near-silent cars at our convention in July of 2003. The change was initiated because Debbi Kent Stein, one of our leaders from Illinois, had observed that silent, or near-silent, cars pose a threat to pedestrians, particularly the blind. This new law requires the Department of Transportation to establish a minimum sound standard for all new hybrid and electric cars. The manufacturers must comply with this standard within a thirty-six-month period. We have notified the Department of Transportation that we expect to be involved in establishing an appropriate regulation for the implementation of this law.
In the meantime, we have asked the Working Party on Noise of the United Nations to adopt worldwide regulations to implement similar protection for blind people in other nations. In 2008, I travelled to Geneva to speak with the members of the working group, and John Paré has returned to Geneva to continue the effort whenever his presence was needed. Ensuring safety for blind pedestrians is not a matter only for the United States, and a uniform world standard will help to ensure the safety of blind people here and in other nations.
Within the past year, we have consulted with many of the major auto manufacturers, and representatives from some of these will be at this convention. It is worthy of note that our members have taken primary responsibility for this legislative effort. An e-mail from one such member, Sheri Albers, dated January 6, 2011, says, in part, “I have been going to Washington Seminar for four years now, and this is the first time that I feel that I really made a difference in the world. I was there when this was first introduced; I was there giving my ‘corny’ illustration of trying to cross a completely silent busy intersection; and I was there when the congressmen scratched their heads and said, ‘Gee, I never thought of that!’ I describe the feeling I have as empowerment. I am one blind person from the state of Ohio, and I made a difference for the whole country and the future for all blind Americans!”
The National Federation of the Blind continues to support full funding for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. Although full funding for this program is unlikely in the present legislative environment, it appears that the cuts to the Library budget will not be severe.
We continue our contract work with the Library of Congress, administering the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. Since taking on the project, we have forwarded the names of more than one thousand individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
Since the launch of NFB-NEWSLINE® Online, our NFB-NEWSLINE service provided over the Internet, we have been continuing to increase service to our subscribers. Our newest online access method for NFB-NEWSLINE is the NLS Digital Talking Book Downloader, which allows subscribers to download their favorite publications to the book cartridges used in the new NLS digital players. Another recent addition to NFB-NEWSLINE is the job listings feature, which offers subscribers access to hundreds of thousands of job ads. Subscribers can request that job listings be sent to them via e-mail, which will contain a link to the application form for each job. Some of the newest publications on NFB-NEWSLINE this year include Vogue, Vanity Fair, New York Review of Books, ESPN Magazine, Fitness, and Better Homes & Gardens. At this convention, effective this afternoon, we are initiating advertising from the Target Corporation, which will include specials offered at Target, grocery products available, and the most exciting new technologies. As we test this advertising medium, we are hoping to interest other companies in selecting NEWSLINE as the advertising medium to the blind of the nation.
In addition to the legislation we have shepherded through Congress, we are seeking additional legal provisions to protect the interests of the blind. In 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act became law, it included an authorization to pay blind people less than the federally guaranteed minimum wage. To write into American law a provision which declares by implication that the blind are incompetent and inferior is intolerable. This exploitation has lasted long enough, and we have decided that we will seek members of Congress with courage, who will support legislation for the elimination of the subminimum wage provisions. Senator Benjamin Cardin has indicated that he agrees with our position opposing subminimum wages. We expect to have the same rights that are accorded to anybody else, and the least we should receive for our labor is the federally guaranteed minimum wage. This is a priority for the Federation.
Access to information for the blind is fundamental to equality. The NFB was successful in getting the 2008 amendments to the Higher Education Act to include the establishment of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities. The Commission is charged with conducting a comprehensive study to assess the barriers that affect the timely delivery of books and other instructional materials that we can read. It is required to make recommendations to Congress about accessible books and materials for blind college students. Mark Riccobono has been serving as the Federation's representative on this Commission, and we expect its report to represent a reasonable point of view. Technologies used in college must provide equivalent ease of use for all students—blind or sighted.
The 2011 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, Bridging the Gap between the Disability Rights Movement and Other Civil Rights Movements (the fourth of these symposia we have conducted), took place on April 14 and 15, 2011. The purpose was to examine ways to overcome the misconception that disability rights is not a civil rights issue. Over 150 people from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe attended, representing eighty-five academic, advocacy, corporate, and governmental organizations. Later this year the proceedings of the symposium will be published in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.
We continue to build the most comprehensive research library on blindness. The complete Braille Monitor has been digitized, and is available in our library. It will be accessible through our Web site in the near future. In our oral history project, this year we interviewed several people who knew our founder and first President, Jacobus tenBroek. We have received the papers of Dr. Isabelle L. D. Grant, blind teacher and school administrator who served as the Federation’s unofficial ambassador to the blind of Asia and Africa in the 1950s and ‘60s. We have also received the Dorothy Tombaugh collection, which is material from a sighted high school biology teacher who developed many innovative techniques for teaching laboratory science to the blind.
Education remains a high priority for us. Over the past year, the NFB Braille Reading Pals Club has provided books and small plush animals for 318 young blind children from forty-six of our affiliates. One hundred sixty-one were first-time participants. Families receive monthly newsletters containing Braille literacy tips, quarterly Braille activity sheets, and Braille birthday cards for the children. Furthermore, these families learn about the hope and inspiration of the National Federation of the Blind.
In July 2010, we offered our second Junior Science Academy, providing instruction for thirty elementary-school-age children. In April 2011, twenty-four students and their chaperones came to the NFB Jernigan Institute for the second annual NFB LAW (Leadership and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.) program. The participants learned how blindness legislation is passed and met with members of Congress. This summer, 11 NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) programs will take place in seven of our affiliates: Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Utah, North Carolina, and Colorado. Our BELL programs provide two weeks of intense Braille instruction to blind children. If the public schools will not teach Braille to our children, we will do it ourselves. We are continuing to drive change in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math to blind students with the third biennial NFB Youth Slam, which kicks off July 17. One hundred fifty blind high school students from across the country will come to Baltimore to study various subjects from nanotechnology to geosciences. The students will live and learn on the Towson University campus, getting a small taste of the college life.
Access to digital information is a necessity for us to gain equality. Making course management software, online books, digital book reading devices, electronic kiosks, and other digital information systems usable by the blind is one objective we have been pursuing. Part of the process involves making presentations to the people who control the technology. Sometimes our access technology experts represent us, sometimes our legal experts do, and sometimes I join with them to make the presentations about the need for equal access to information. This year we have appeared at the Bb World conference, the biggest convention conducted by the Blackboard Company; the Educause conference; the CHI conference in Vancouver, Canada; the Learning Impact conference in Long Beach, California; the Business Forms Management Association in Baltimore, Maryland; Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and other places. We have also worked this year with Desire2Learn, Instructure, Quantum Simulations, and others to assure that their technology is accessible to the blind. Travelocity, one of the largest and most popular online travel agencies, and Ticketmaster, the largest online event tickets retailer, agreed to make their Web sites accessible to the blind.
Last year, eBay agreed to make its Web site accessible to the blind and to sponsor the blind entrepreneur initiative. The first training group in this initiative came to Baltimore in February of this year, and many of the sixteen blind entrepreneurs from the class are at this convention. The NFB and eBay are committed to working closely with one another. eBay is the title sponsor for this convention.
Pearson Publishing is one of the largest producers of books in the world. We have provided advice to Pearson on creating accessible instructional materials, eBooks, and Web applications.
When Google developed applications for managing course material and other matters on college campuses and in public schools, we reacted with alarm. We asked Google to discuss what it was doing with us because the applications it was distributing were inaccessible to the blind. We did not expect a positive response because there had been many requests for conversation in the past, but the conversation had never occurred. We were invited to the Google headquarters. I traveled to California with John Paré, Dan Goldstein and Anne Taylor. By the time we had concluded the meeting, it appeared certain that Google was getting the message. Not all of the details have been determined, but the Senior Vice President, Knowledge, for Google is appearing on our program later during this convention, and preliminary indications are that accessibility for the blind to Google applications and information is a priority for Google.
We have pursued a number of international efforts. The World Blind Union has sponsored an international treaty that sets international standards declaring that the blind have a right to access published works in a number of alternative formats including Braille, audio, and electronic text. Currently, it is illegal in most countries of the world to import or export these published works in accessible form. We support this WBU proposal. We expect the right to get the same book, at the same time, and for the same cost as anybody else!
We have joined the DAISY Consortium, an international organization dedicated to promoting access for print-disabled people to books. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I traveled to Helsinki, Finland, to participate in meetings of this organization. One of the most important objectives of the DAISY Consortium is to create an international standard that can be used by publishers to produce books in accessible form in the process of publishing them for those who read print. It is expected that the international standard to do this will be published early this fall and that work will begin immediately thereafter to create the electronic technology that can be used to implement this standard without substantial amounts of human intervention.
We have pursued a number of legal cases this year. In November, we filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against Penn State University for using inaccessible technology in virtually every phase of campus life. Electronic clickers used in the classroom to verify attendance or respond to questions on pop quizzes, learning management software used for obtaining assignments or receiving grades, the programs for obtaining student account information, software used for the clinical psychology graduate program, the system for searching for documents in the library, and even the on-campus ATM’s are all inaccessible to the blind. Beyond all of this, Penn State had entered into a pilot program with Barnes & Noble to use the inaccessible Nook Study, even though the university had been told that the pilot program with the Kindle violated the law. The Penn State complaint is being mediated. This university must stop adopting policies that permit procurement of inaccessible technology, must conduct an assessment of program elements to assure that equal access to all parts of them is built into the educational experience, and must stop permitting third parties to deploy inaccessible systems on campus. We expect all of this to come from the negotiations at Penn State.
Nick Hughes is an NFB member from Pennsylvania and a student at DeVry University. When he learned that he could not access online learning provided by the university, he filed a complaint, which has now been resolved to his satisfaction. The university is working hard, in collaboration with the NFB, to become a leader in accessible educational technology.
In February 2010, the Michigan Commission for the Blind fired Christine Boone from her position as director of the Michigan Training Center for the Blind, purportedly because of a marksmanship class she had authorized for blind students the previous year. She asked for our help, and after a four-day arbitration, the state has been ordered to reinstate her with full back pay.
Aaron Cannon is blind and a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. When he applied to Palmer College of Chiropractic, he was first accepted then rejected on the grounds of blindness. We filed a complaint with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, and we won. However, Palmer appealed, and a hearing occurred before an administrative law judge, who decided for Aaron Cannon. Palmer appealed to the full Civil Rights Commission. In December of 2010, the Commission issued its decision; the Palmer School must accept Aaron Cannon as a student, it must pay him damages, and it is responsible for our attorneys’ fees. Once again (not a great surprise) Palmer has appealed to the courts. We will fight them wherever they appear; we will demand justice; we will demonstrate the capacity of the blind; and we intend to win. Aaron Cannon will become a chiropractor, and we will not let prejudice stop him.
As I indicated last year, Outlook Nebraska, Inc., in Omaha, is an employer organized under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act—in other words, a sheltered workshop. At Outlook Nebraska, blind workers are laid off before sighted workers; machinery is not adapted so that the blind can run it nonvisually; sighted workers receive promotions but the blind do not; workers are subject to retaliation for reporting safety violations; and the temperatures in the factory where the blind work dip into the forties during winter and over one-hundred in the summer. Management has spent over $300,000 in renovation for its office space, which is reported to be quite comfortable. Outlook Nebraska is attempting to have the case we have filed in the Federal District Court dismissed on the grounds that we in the National Federation of the Blind are not entitled to serve as representatives of the workers who have suffered discrimination, and the management of this sheltered shop is seeking to intimidate us by asking the court to charge us with sanctions—a kind of civil penalty. These officials also want to charge our attorney with sanctions. I will let you know just exactly how well this kind of tactic works, but in the meantime, I have a question. The lawyer on the case is Scott LaBarre. Do you believe that the managers of a sheltered workshop can frighten Scott LaBarre? Do you believe he will be intimidated? Do you believe that they can intimidate the National Federation of the Blind?
The Law School Admissions Council has a monopoly on the application process for individuals who are attempting to enter law schools. Those who wish to apply must visit the LSAC Web site, which as I reported last year, is not accessible to blind applicants. It seemed only fair to me that we attempt to change this discrimination. Lawyers are expected to know the law, and lawyers are expected to be leaders in enforcing it. When we sued the Law School Admissions Council, they said that the law schools had made them use inaccessible Web technology. We notified the law schools that we might be seeking to add them to our case. We filed several complaints with the Justice Department against law schools demanding that the inaccessible application process be changed. We have now reached a settlement with the Law School Admissions Council on the subject of its Web site. The LSAC has agreed to make its Web site accessible by September of 2011, the Department of Justice has reached a number of settlements with law schools based upon the complaints we filed, and LSAC is paying to us legal fees amounting to $320,000.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners denied Stephanie Enyart the opportunity to take the bar exam using the access technology of her choice. We won a preliminary order, directing the Bar Examiners to offer the test in the form that she had requested, but the Bar Examiners appealed. In January, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Bar Examiners to provide the test in a manner that would “best ensure” that Stephanie Enyart would be tested on her abilities to pass the exam rather than her abilities to understand unfamiliar testing circumstances. She was allowed to use assistive technology to take the test. The Bar Examiners have filed a petition with the Supreme Court to have this case heard there. We do not yet know what the highest court in the land will do. The Supreme Court is not required to take the case. However, if we are called upon to defend our right to equal opportunity, we will speak about the capacity of the blind in that exalted chamber. We who are blind have a right to be there as respondents, as petitioners, and as lawyers authorized to practice law.
In the meantime, the Bar Examiners are following the orders of the court in California, but they have declared that equal access for the blind to the Bar Exam will not be available anywhere else. You can be absolutely certain that other actions are being planned, other avenues being explored, other lawsuits being prepared by the National Federation of the Blind. We will not let the Bar Examiners tell us that equality is for everybody except the blind.
We reached an agreement some time ago with Amazon that it would make its Web site accessible to the blind and that it would modify its Kindle for accessibility. However, new access barriers have appeared on the Amazon.com Web site. Furthermore, the modifications that Amazon has made to its Kindle are completely ineffective for use by the blind. Amazon has created a Kindle computer-based application that appears to work, but the inaccessible features on the Web site and the inadequate modifications to the Kindle make us wonder whether Amazon is backsliding. We in the National Federation of the Blind have a program for backsliders. When we make an agreement that requires technology to become accessible, we intend that it shall stay accessible. This is required by law, and if Amazon has not yet come to understand this reality, we will do our best to make them realize what is required. We will also do our best to get them to pay for the education.
The right of the blind to equal access to the Internet is not secondary, and we will not permit it to be an afterthought. We continue to press companies to make their Web sites accessible. Unfortunately, federal Web sites are among the worst offenders. A recently published study shows significant accessibility barriers on more than 90% of the government home pages examined. We have been urging the federal government to abide by the standards it has promulgated, but we will also be filing complaints against a number of federal agencies. Building Web sites so that they are accessible to the blind is not hard, and we expect government agencies to know enough to obey the law.
Chris Toth and Jamie Principato are blind students at Florida State University. Florida State requires that every college student complete a college-level math class before the end of the sophomore year. Moreover, Chris Toth, a talented computer scientist, wants a degree in computer science, but he cannot take any computer science classes until he has completed certain math prerequisites. FSU’s entire math program—homework, quizzes, and tests—are online and inaccessible to the blind. FSU repeatedly refused to consider accessibility, even after Chris Toth told them how it could be done. FSU required Chris Toth to use a human reader to try to solve calculus problems and to take tests. FSU would not let Jamie Principato use ZoomText to take tests. FSU refused to let them take their exams at the Student Disability Resource Center. FSU made Jamie Principato take a paper-and-pencil test in a poorly lighted room. FSU made Chris Toth take his test with a human reader in the math department kitchen, while faculty ate lunch and chatted. Did the faculty look over his shoulder and offer commentary during the test? This certainly would have been possible. When the math professors were required by the university to give these students class notes, they provided image PDFs, which cannot be read by screen reader software. When Chris Toth requested a Braille version of the math book, FSU refused.
As might be expected, Jamie Principato and Chris Toth have not completed the math course. FSU has now refused to let them register for any class other than math for the fall semester because they did not complete the required math by the end of their sophomore year—and FSU refuses to pay for them to retake the class. On behalf of Jamie Principato and Chris Toth, the National Federation of the Blind has filed suit to challenge the discrimination and seek recompense for the intentional harm caused by this university. Sometimes discrimination occurs because the people involved are unaware of the actions they should take. However, in this case officials at the university meant to discriminate. They do not want blind students in their classes, and they have decided to bar the door to keep us out. However, we know the law, we know our capacity, and we will not permit them to keep us from our rightful place. This is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.
McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, has installed kiosks known as CUSS, for Common Use Self-Service. These CUSS kiosks permit any traveler to print a boarding pass, check an itinerary, or change a flight on any airline, as long as the traveler can see. The kiosks are inaccessible to the blind, and we have filed suit in Nevada to make them change. Some people tell me that these kiosks are the wave of the future. If so, they can’t make a wave without us. Furthermore, I am told that there is a lot of money in Las Vegas. I expect to have full access for the blind to information, and I expect that the officials in Las Vegas who have installed these kiosks will pay the bill.
We offer educational experiences to tens of thousands of people a year in many different ways, and we look for partners. When we established the Reading Rights Coalition, and when we decided to picket the Authors Guild in New York, we found a man with us on the picket line from the Xavier Society for the Blind. Father John Sheehan, Chairman of the Xavier Society for the Blind, spoke to our convention last year. During the winter, he took two weeks from his busy schedule ministering to the blind Catholics of our country to become a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He learned a great deal during his time at the Louisiana Center, including a substantial amount of Braille. Father John has become a colleague in the movement, and he has returned to be with us at this convention.
We continue to operate the day-to-day business of the Federation. We distribute our publications to hundreds of thousands of people each year; we give thousands of free white canes to blind people in the United States; and we send free Braille books to more than 1,000 children each month. Our scholarship program provides more stimulation for those seeking higher education than any other program of its kind in the nation. We distribute more products and more Braille through our Independence Market than anybody else. Our literature contains the most upbeat portrayal of blindness that can be found anywhere in the world. Many thousands of visitors come to our headquarters each year to work with us, plan programs and activities with us, and learn of the promising future that we are building for the blind.
This is a summary of some of our activities for the preceding year—of the things we have done; but it is also a statement of who we are. We are the people who expand the possibilities for the blind. We are the people who build imaginative new technologies. We are the people who have enormous difficulty in imagining a world that does not want us to be full participants in its activities. We are the people who force the limits to expand.
Sometimes the need of a blind person is to have a book in Braille or some other accessible format. Sometimes the need is for a training program that teaches the alternative skills of blindness and the positive philosophy of the Federation. Sometimes the need is for a technology that provides equal access to information. Sometimes the need is for legal assistance. Perhaps most often the need is for a measure of hope and a helping hand to those who have met discouragement so often that keeping the dream of equality alive is an enormous challenge. Whatever the need, we have the capacity to meet it. Whatever the requirement, we can fulfill it. This, too, is a statement of who we are.
Some people do not believe in us, but we have come to know our strength; we have come to be articulate in expressing our capacity; and we have dared to dream of a time when equality will be within our grasp. In the National Federation of the Blind, we are on the move, and nothing can divert our determined effort or slow our progress. The commitment is too firm, the concerted action is too widespread, and the spirit is too irrepressible to let it be otherwise. This is what I have learned from you, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, and this is my report for 2011.
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