Future Reflections

The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children

Vol. 26, No. 4                 Convention Report 2007

Barbara Cheadle, Editor


  

ISSN-0883-3419

Copyright © 2007 National Federation of the Blind

For more information about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2360
www.nfb.org/nopbc • nfb@nfb.org • bcheadle@nfb.org

 

                                          

CONTENTS
                                         

Vol. 26, No. 4                 Convention Report 2007

 

BULLETINS
Dallas Site of 2008 Convention

FREE--Special Issues of Future Reflections

REPORTS FROM ATLANTA
Convention 2007 Photo Report
by Seth Lamkin

NOPBC 2007 Annual Meeting
by Carrie Gilmer

Another Braille Book Flea Market Success
by Peggy Chong

A Promise for Tomorrow, Help for Today
by Elizabeth Frampton, Bonnie Lucas, Kim Cunningham, and Leticia Flores

FEATURE
Expanding the Limits: The Uncertainty of Exploration
by Marc Maurer, President, National Federation of the Blind

COMING EVENTS
Come Celebrate with Us!
by Carol Castellano

March for Independence: Dallas, 2008

EDUCATION AND LITERACY
Braille Readers Always Ignite Learning and Living for Everyone
by Sister Margaret Fleming

A Declaration of Equality
by Fredric K. Schroeder

Taking Up the Braille Challenge
by Leslie Stocker

Braille Readers Are Leaders 2007-2008
by Barbara Cheadle

The Inside Scoop on the NFB Youth Slam
by Mary Jo Thorpe

JOB TALK
Jobs for the Future: A Panel Discussion

Piano Tuning: A Good Career That Doesn’t Require a College Degree
by Albert Sanchez

AWARDS
2007 Distinguished Educator of the Year
by Sharon Maneki

2007 NFB Scholarship Class

NFB Scholarship Applications Now Available

ODDS AND ENDS

 

 

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For thousands of parents and friends of blind children, PARENT POWER means membership in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The NOPBC is a national membership organization that provides vital support, encouragement, training, and information about blindness to members and to the broader community. As an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, the NOPBC is a bridge that connects families to blind role models and mentors. NOPBC is also a vehicle for expanding resources for parents, changing public attitudes about blindness, and creating greater opportunities for blind and visually impaired kids everywhere. Your NOPBC membership matters. NOPBC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

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Dallas Site of 2008 Convention

It is time to begin planning for the 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year we are returning to Dallas and the beautiful Hilton Anatole Hotel, site of the 2006 convention.

Once again our hotel rates are the envy of all. For the 2008 convention they are singles, doubles, and twins, $61; and triples and quads, $66. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 15 percent. No charge will be made for children fifteen and under in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that as of November 1, 2007, the hotel became a no-smoking facility.

For 2008 convention room reservations you should write directly to the Hilton Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207, or call (214) 761-7500. The hotel will want a deposit of $60 or a credit card number. If you use a credit card, 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 1, 2008, $30 of the $60 deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

Guest-room amenities include cable television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access—this last for a fee. Guests can also enjoy one indoor and two outdoor pools as well as a fully equipped health club and tennis courts.

The Hilton Anatole has six restaurants, several bars, and even a disco. Nana, open only for dinner, offers a five-star dining experience with panoramic views of the city and prices to match. La Esquina Restaurant and Tequila Bar, with luncheon buffets and full dinners, offers south-of-the-border fare with a Texas flair. At Common Ground in the atrium you will find light breakfast and lunch fare. The Rathskeller Sports Bar provides a basement hideaway for lunch or dinner. The Gossip Bar is open for light breakfasts and lunch and is an evening hot spot. The Terrace is an open-air café open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. See later issues of the Monitor for information about tours and other attractions in the Greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

The 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. The schedule this year is a departure from what many of us think of as the usual one. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Sunday, June 29, and adjournment will be Saturday, July 5, at 5:00 p.m. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up for those who registered online will begin on Monday, June 30, and both Monday and Tuesday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Tuesday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

Immediately following the NFB March for Independence—the Walk for Equality to Victory Plaza, the general convention sessions will begin on Wednesday, July 2, and continue through the afternoon of Saturday, July 5. The annual banquet will take place on Friday evening, July 4. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.

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 all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. 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 (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Denise Hopper, 3726 Dutton Drive, Dallas, Texas 75211, phone (214) 339-3697.

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; memorable tours arranged by the Texas affiliate; 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 2008 national convention. We’ll see you in Dallas in 2008.

 

FREE—Special Issues of Future Reflections

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.” – Samuel Johnson

While many find that the variety found in the pages of an issue of Future Reflections is one of its key components, sometimes focusing on a particular genre or issue can provide the greatest information and clarity. To that end, occasionally Future Reflections will release a special issue on a particular topic or area of interest.

Due to their popularity we have ordered larger quantities of these issues than of their regular counterparts. If you, or someone you know, would like to obtain either one or a number of these issues, please contact the NFB Independence Market at <IndependenceMarket@nfb.org>; by phone at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2216; or by fax at (410) 685-2340. Shipping and handling fees may apply to large orders.

If you have any questions about the publication, contact Parent Outreach at <parentoutreach@nfb.org>; by phone at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2361; or by mail at Parent Outreach, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.

Here are the current selections with order numbers in parentheses:
Volume 14, Number 2: Special Issue for Children and Youth (F1402)—also available in Braille!
Volume 17, Number 3: Multiple Disabilities (F1703)
Volume 23, Number 2: The Early Years (F2302)
Volume 24, Number 3: Low Vision and Blindness (F2403)
Volume 26, Number 2: Sports, Fitness, and Blindness (F2602)

Since all of our issues are available in print and on cassette tape, please be sure to specify which version you would like. Please note that Volume 14, Number 2 is the only issue for which Braille is available.

 

Convention 2007 Photo Report

by Seth Lamkin

The following photos and descriptions provide an overview of just some of the many activities, speakers, and events of the 2007 NFB National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Obviously, the majority of the summary will center around the NOPBC agenda, but other highlights from the NFB activities as a whole cannot possibly be overlooked. It is an exciting week, packed with so much that we would be remiss if we did not point our readers to a full overview of the convention in the August/September 2007 issue of the Braille Monitor. The issue is available free of charge through the NFB Independence Market by calling (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, and it is also available on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org/nfb/Braille_Monitor.asp>.

The NFB convention lasts roughly one week each year—the 2007 edition beginning on Saturday, June 30: Seminar Day. A few pages can hardly contain what was accomplished this week, but with so much to see and do, what better place to begin than the beginning.

Saturday, June 30

Ready or not, registration for the 2007 NOPBC Seminar lasts from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. as parents and their children gather outside of a conference hall at the Marriott Atlanta Marquis. Once everyone is equipped for the week—agendas, literature, and children in-hand, the program begins with the usual warm welcome by the president of the NOPBC, Barbara Cheadle, followed by Kid Talk with NFB President Maurer. Kid Talk, in its now annual form, takes place seated on the floor of the conference room, where Dr. Maurer and the children in the room gather to talk about blindness and just about anything else flooding into the youngest minds at convention.

 

After the laughter dies down (kids really will say the “darndest” things), our keynote speaker takes the stage. This year, Lisamaria Martinez, president of the Sports and Recreation Division of the NFB talks about her experiences growing up as a huge sports fan who just happens to be blind. She speaks of her experiences with judo, a sport which has taken her most recently to the International Blind Sports Association World Championships and Parapan American Games in Brazil—where we are happy to report that Lisamaria has taken home a silver medal. She also encourages parents and children alike to not be afraid to get out and stay active—to not be limited by others’ low expectations.

Following a panel discussion, children and teens depart for their own age-appropriate sessions or, for the youngest attendees, NFB Camp. NFB Camp is an opportunity for children age six weeks through ten years of age to enjoy games and activities while under the NFB Camp staff’s supervision. Carla McQuillan, executive director of Main Street Montessori Association and a longtime NFB leader, supervises the camp.

The parent’s portion continues with a speech by the 2007 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, Sister Margaret Fleming, principal of St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments in Philadelphia. Her words of encouragement and inspiration are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.

The afternoon continues with workshops for parents and children alike, with a variety of topics and activities available to suit everyone’s interests and needs. One such workshop lead by cane travel expert and author Joe Cutter explains best practices and common misconceptions in orientation and mobility instruction.

For a parent/child combination activity, families can look to the Tai Chi for Toddlers activity. Eridan Monteiro and her daughter, Maria Louisa, age 4, (Georgia), learn that positive movement and focused energy not only stimulates the body, but also the mind.

A workshop entitled “Demystifying Chemistry” attracts the attention of those at the middle and high school level. Led by Andrew Greenberg and Cary Supalo, this activity demonstrates that the challenges and rewards of learning chemistry can be accessible to blind kids as well as their sighted peers. Stephen Toth, age 10, (Louisiana) uses a sensor to determine the color of a solution as Cary Supalo looks on.

Even those of the furred and feathered variety find their way onto our seminar agenda. MarChe Daughtry, age 9, (Virginia), attends a workshop on pets and pet care where, among other hands-on activities, she gets to pet a parakeet, or “budgee” as native Australian Heather Fields calls her favorite pets. Many blind children are held back from common household chores because of low expectations and fear. It may seem simple, but learning that they can take care of the family pet is another way in which blind children can learn independence and confidence.

Sunday, July 1


On Sunday, many take the opportunity to visit the exhibit hall and view the latest products available to the blind and deaf-blind. Quite often we find that the tried and true practical products, such as a cane, are the most necessary and therefore draw the biggest crowds. Brianna McDowell, age 12, (Georgia), tests one of the display canes before deciding on a purchase.


Technology makes a grand appearance as HumanWare, Freedom Scientific, and many others put on an enormous showcase of their devices. Kayleigh Joiner, age 15, and Kim Cunningham, (Texas), look on as Jim Halliday from HumanWare displays myReader™ 600—a text magnification and reading device.


While shoppers make their trips to the exhibit hall, others find Sunday to be an excellent time for other activities. The Affiliate Action Department of the NFB sponsors a Division Expo, where members learn and network with other members who share similar characteristics or interests. The Sports and Recreation Division promotes recreation and fitness by putting on an arm-wrestling tournament where members can test their mettle in matches throughout the day.


Now an annual event, the NOPBC Cane Walk is a time for instructors to pair-up with children to introduce them to the benefits of the long white cane, as well as various mobility techniques. Here instructor Darick Williamson of Louisiana walks with a young boy under sleep shades to demonstrate that even without residual vision, the cane is the ultimate tool for travel in any environment.

Monday, July 2


More NOPBC Seminar activities continue on Monday, including a workshop led by Sandy Dunnam, an early childhood specialist from Louisiana. Here, Sandy speaks to parents of multiply disabled children about the power of Active Learning techniques and materials that stimulate young minds and bodies towards positive development.


On Monday evening, the Braille Book Flea Market attracts huge crowds to an impressive display of free Braille materials. It’s always a family affair, with many parents holding outstretched arms to take the stacks of books their young Braille readers pick through. J.W. Frampton, age 8, (Rhode Island), sorts through a stack while his father, John, tries to keep up.


Nathan Clark, age 8, (California), a winner in the 2007 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, continues his passion for reading while browsing through the selections at the flea market (his mother Lorelei might need to make several trips to drop off all of his choices at the shipping station). Nathan read 1,789 Braille pages over a period of three months to place in the top ten in the first and second grade category.


Ahbee Orton, age 7, (Texas), another 2007 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest winner, is also a patron of the Braille Book Flea Market. Ahbee read 2,609 Braille pages during the contest to place at the top of her first and second grade category.


The all inclusive Braille Book Flea Market welcomes not only the younger readers, but Braille readers of all ages. Here, Linda Anderson (Colorado) reads through a few titles before taking her picks to the volunteers to be shipped home. From popular fiction titles to cookbooks, dictionaries, and even encyclopedia selections, the Braille Book Flea Market contains as much variety as the crowd that frequents it.

Tuesday, July 3


Talk of the first ever NFB March for Independence continued unabated for months both prior to and after the momentous event. At 7:00 a.m., hundreds of blind and sighted participants gather outside of the hotel to draw attention and raise money for the efforts of the NFB and its members.


Walking through the streets of Atlanta, marchers who spent the previous months raising money from individual sponsors now enthusiastically pronounce their independence in front of several media outlets and the city of Atlanta. With a lead banner for the March on display, members from each state carry their own signs to designate their state and its participation and support for the March.

The young and less young alike raise money and march in the five kilometer demonstration from the hotel to Centennial Olympic Park, then back to the hotel for the start of the 2007 NFB National Convention. Here Ron Gardner (Utah), Megan Palmer, age 10, (Utah), and Adam Palmer, age 8, (Utah), stop to take in the sounds of the 2007 March for Independence.


After the excitement of the March and opening session has become somewhat subdued, it’s back to seminar sessions and activities. A special session entitled “Hobbies, Crafts, and Games” allows parents a chance to actively participate with their children in various projects, including making a dream-catcher or playing board games. Here, session leader Corinne Vieville works with Camille Blair (Utah) and Stephen Toth, age 10, (Louisiana) to create beaded jewelry.

Wednesday, July 4


On our nation’s birthday, what’s more American than cars? A hands-on exhibit and demonstration of automobile engines, tools, and miscellaneous parts, “What You ‘Auto’ Know” is an excellent way for blind children to explore an area that while captivating to many young minds, is sometimes treated as exclusive to the sighted. Kayla Harris, (Maryland), uses the opportunity to feel the treads of a tire brought by the event’s co-sponsors, the NFB CARS Division.


Ben Smith, like many boys his age, gravitates towards the all mighty toolbox and the symbols of manhood therein. While a member of the NFB CARS Division explains the various tools and their uses, Ben is allowed to tactilely investigate any of the materials that would inspire his curiosity--independent of a restraining hand.


In an event cosponsored by the NFB Sports and Recreation Division and Guide Dogs for the Blind, several find an opportunity to release some energy built up from that morning’s general session. “Row, Row, Row Your Way to Fitness and Fun” provides that, as well as an opportunity for NFB Sports and Recreation Division President Lisamaria Martinez (California) to challenge Daniel Brackett (Florida) to an impromptu rowing competition. Niko Demartini of the Atlanta Rowing Club is technically the official judge, but should the unthinkable happen, is he really going to tell Lisamaria, an international judo medalist, that she lost?

Thursday, July 5


Each year, the convention banquet is an opportunity for members to put on their finest attire to gather together for the final night of convention and let everyone know that they do, in fact, “clean-up nicely.” Once again, attendance for this popular event is so great that a separate hall is provided for overflow, with speakers and large video screens allowing everyone to have the best seats in the house.

Blind violinist Allen Bailey, age 17, performs an excellent classical piece at the start of the banquet festivities and is rewarded with resounding applause from all in attendance. Following Allen’s performance and many others of equal note and skill, awards were presented to various important figures within the Federation and to non-members who have intensely supported its efforts.

The NFB Scholarship Committee always has a difficult job of deciding who will receive the thirty scholarships announced each year at convention. This year, Sachin Pavithran (Utah) receives the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship in the amount of twelve thousand dollars. The full listing of scholarship winners, along with information about next year’s scholarships, can be found elsewhere in this issue.

The presidential banquet address is always an eagerly anticipated experience and this year is no exception. Dr. Maurer’s banquet speech entitled “Expanding the Limits: The Uncertainty of Exploration” prompts many to consider the missteps of many so-called blindness professionals and take pride in the accomplishments and goals of the National Federation of the Blind.

Friday, July 6

With Friday being the closing day of the convention, the annual Pre-Authorized Check (PAC) Plan awards were handed out to two affiliates and a division of the NFB. Dr. Michael Gosse, president of the Maryland affiliate, is given the PAC Rat for the state with the most PAC additions and donation increases during convention. Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, is given the PAC Mule as the division with the most PAC additions and donation increases. Ron Brown, president of the Indiana affiliate, receives the PAC-iderm for being the affiliate to achieve the highest percentage increase on its PAC plans during the convention period. These honors, literally animating the proceedings, signify the commitment of members to their organization as well as a healthy commitment to competition and youthful exuberance.

At the end of a week full of inspiration, education, and occasionally perspiration, convention attendees make their way back to their respective homes, no doubt tired but intensely motivated. So, did this week sound like something you’d like to be a part of? Check out the convention bulletin found elsewhere in this issue for more information about registration, hotel rates, and more for the 2008 NFB National Convention in Dallas, Texas. And who knows, maybe two-year-old Chase Creer (Utah) will save you a seat.

 

 

NOPBC 2007 Annual Meeting

by Carrie Gilmer, Secretary

In beautiful Atlanta, Georgia, on the afternoon of June 30, 2007, the twenty-forth annual business meeting of the NOPBC took place. Officers present were President Barbara Cheadle, Maryland; First Vice President Carol Castellano, New Jersey; Second Vice President Brad Weatherd, Wyoming; Secretary Carrie Gilmer, Minnesota; and Treasurer Sandy Taboada; Louisiana. Board members present were Maria Garcia, New York; Kevin Harris, Maryland; Debby Brackett, Florida; Barbara Mathews, California; and Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, Georgia.

We were very pleased to have nearly one hundred members and guests in attendance at the meeting. The treasurer’s report as given by Sandy Taboada was approved by acclamation. The secretary’s report was deferred to the upcoming board meeting. A variety of announcements about activities at the convention and upcoming NOPBC programs were made. Especially exciting was an announcement about an effort to work with the leadership of Boy Scouts of America to improve the possibilities for more blind children to become involved in scouting. It was also announced with great pleasure that the next annual meeting of NOPBC would mark our twenty-fifth anniversary as an organization.

One visible sign of the dynamic growth in NOPBC was our decision at this meeting to expand our national NOBPC board by four members, bringing the total on the board to ten members plus the five officers. We have so many good, new leaders that we felt the need to take advantage of their energy and creative ideas. Also, by expanding the board, we broaden our diversity and expand our geographical representation. The decision required a motion to amend the constitution, which was made by First Vice President Carol Castellano, and the vote to pass it was unanimous.

Next on the agenda was elections. Officers are elected every two years and board members every year. Officers were elected in 2006, so only board members were up for reelection this year. Board Member Debby Brackett gave the nominating committee report and thanked her committee members, Carol Castellano, Sandy Taboada, and Brad Weatherd, for their service. The committee’s report was accepted and the following members were nominated to serve another term: Barbara Mathews, Maria Garcia, Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, and Debby Brackett. The committee also reported nominations for the two open positions vacated by Kevin Harris of Maryland and Cindy Haley of Maine, and for the four newly-created positions. Nominated to these positions were Denise Colton, Utah; Jim Beyer, Montana; David Hammel, Iowa; Elizabeth Frampton, Rhode Island; Pat Renfranz, Utah; and Rose Marie Bowman, Michigan. As each name was brought forward for a vote and other nominations called for, it was clear that the membership overwhelmingly approved of the committee’s work. One by one, each nominee was enthusiastically and loudly elected by acclamation.

Barbara Cheadle thanked the former board members for their service and explained that the practice of the NOPBC is to use some of the national board positions as training for up-and-coming parent leaders. Therefore, we always expect a regular turnover in some of the board member positions to allow new parent leaders an opportunity to develop leadership skills and national recognition. As members go off the board, they usually increase their activity and continue to grow as leaders in their state parent divisions and NFB affiliates.

As the brief business meeting came to a close, President Barbara Cheadle made a special announcement. Reminding us of our decades of growth and movement toward the future, she declared the time had come for someone else to build on the foundation that she has laid and to carry forward the blueprints for the future that she has spent her life working toward; she will not seek reelection in July of 2008. Although President Cheadle felt that her personal mission as president had been fulfilled, she reassured everyone that she was not retiring from the NFB or the NOPBC, and that we will still have access to her passion and expertise. In remarking about the work still to be done, she announced that she would focus her energies by remaining the editor of Future Reflections and in continuing to serve the NFB and NOPBC in outreach and advocacy. She is the director of the Parent Outreach Department of the NFB Jernigan Institute, and she has many ideas and plans to make that department a vital arm of the NFB’s outreach to parents.

As we listened to President Cheadle’s candid sharing of her decision, we all took a deep breath as we thought about the possibilities of new growth, new changes, and of the challenges we face in changing what it means to be blind for our kids; and we felt the excitement of knowing that we have the strength of collective action with which to greet those challenges.

President Cheadle concluded her remarks with a beautiful quote about the role of children and parents from The Prophet by Kahil Gibran, and then called for a motion and the meeting was adjourned. It had been a short business meeting but a productive one full of hope and excitement for the future.

 

 

Another Braille Book Flea Market Success

by Peggy Chong

The Braille Book Flea Market is a joint project of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). It has been an annual event now for six years. Children and parents alike look forward to this opportunity to attend a child-friendly event where they can find quality children's books in Braille for their child. There are no such events in their home communities, and many parents cannot afford to buy Braille storybooks, or certainly cannot buy as many as their children might like to have.

Plans for the Braille Book Flea Market that was held at our national convention in Atlanta, Georgia, this summer began very early in the year. Because our print/Braille storybooks were gone in just a few minutes at the 2006 event, a call went out at the first of the year for print/Braille and young reader books.

The call was answered in many ways. Parents, libraries, and schools thought of us when weeding out their collections, as they always do. But the exciting part for me was that local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and groups that NFB members belonged to took this on as a project and Brailled countless print/Braille and young reader books for us this year. Many of the transcribed storybooks were new copies made by volunteers who have attended past Braille Book Flea Markets and have seen for themselves how excited the children are about being able to pick out their very own books and take them home to keep! The volunteers who helped unbox the books ooohed and aaahed over the beautiful handmade books before putting them up for display. One special source of books this year was from the children at this year’s convention who attended Gail Wagner’s Braille storybook-making workshop prior to the flea market. Over a dozen books were created and donated from this effort.

Many volunteers, including several students and staff from the Iowa Department for the Blind, showed up at noon to unbox, sort, and set out the tens of thousands of books sent to us in the past several months. UPS assisted us with the gathering and transportation of the books before, during, and after the event.

A line began to form outside the room twenty minutes before the doors opened. Eager parents and children wanted to be the first to look through the collection of books on hand. When the doors opened, the rush of people spread all through the room. Calls of “ Do you have any...” were heard throughout the room. Some families who have done this before got smart. If they were looking for more than one age group, the parents spilt up and scooped up what they could to take to an empty spot in the room to sort by themselves. When books were put back by one family, they were quickly scooped up by another.

Within an hour and fifteen minutes, almost all titles of books were taken from the display tables. It took a bit longer for the line at the tables where the books were shipped and labeled to go down. The hope was that the books could beat the children home. This year, there was nothing left to box up and save for next year.

While the children sorted through their treasures, they were able to have a bit of supper, too. Hot dogs and lemonade were provided by the NOPBC. That, too, was gone in short order. It was a great year, and we are already looking forward to planning another great event in Dallas in 2008.

 

A Promise for Tomorrow, Help for Today

by Elizabeth Frampton, Bonnie Lucas, Kim Cunningham, and Leticia Flores

Editor’s Note: A Future Reflections convention report is not complete without some personal comments or reflections by parents (especially first-timers) about their experiences. No commentary is needed about the following remarks--these Moms are articulate and their passion for the NFB is unmistakable--but an explanation about the references to the Parent Leadership Program (PLP) may be in order. Funded by the NFB under the Affiliate Action department, this program was launched at the 2006 NFB convention to identify and provide training to potential and up-and-coming parent leaders in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The funding included the cost of attending the 2006 and 2007 NFB National Conventions and expenses to attend the NFB Washington Seminar in January 2007 and 2008. The program consisted of special training sessions in topics such as leadership skills, fundraising, building membership, how to run a meeting, and, of course, lots of philosophy discussions about blindness and the importance of expectations. Two of the following parents, Elizabeth Frampton and Leticia Flores, are members of the 2007 PLP class, and one, Bonnie Lucas, a member of the 2006 class. Here is what they have to say about what the 2007 convention meant to them:

Elizabeth Frampton, President, Rhode Island Parents of Blind and Visually Impaired Children (RIPBVIC):
I feel like I’m an old hat at advocacy. You see, I have been an advocate for over eight years in the state of Rhode Island where we have created some pretty amazing changes in a system that was, and still is, impossibly inflexible. I have learned so much in the years since my son’s birth and have been proud to become an advocate for the blind and visually impaired children in my state. I felt unique and apart most of the time from my friends, associates, and of course professionals within the educational system. They just didn’t understand my tireless passion for these children. They didn’t see what I was seeing: the unlimited possibilities for all our kids. The Atlanta ’07 NOPBC Parent Leadership Program was my first experience being with a huge family of families like mine. I met Moms and Dads who cared just as much as I do. I met leaders who are going to change the way our kids are treated in society and how they are educated. What a relief to know I am not doing this by myself, and how powerful it is to be validated by such wonderful people who understand how difficult it is to exist, day-to-day, while worrying, “Am I doing the right thing?” I left the NFB convention feeling filled up with hope and a promise for a better tomorrow. I’m glad to be a part of this very powerful group. Thank you!

Bonnie Lucas, Parent, Georgia:
The hardest part of going to the NOPBC presentations [at the 2007 NFB convention] was not being able to attend each and every class. I have tried to incorporate the things I learned at these seminars into our family and lives. This year I learned some principles that were particularly useful. When I attended Annie Hartzel’s presentation, All About Your Child’s IEP, and learned about the kinds of technology and other things parents should expect to receive through the IEP process, I realized I needed to make a request for a different electronic notetaker for my daughter. I had made a request before convention and the response, which came after my return, was a “we’ll have to see,” kind of response. Upon my return, I wrote another e-mail. This time, I was very complimentary to the staff while at the same time explaining precisely what Aubrie should have and why. I informed the technology specialist that I was aware of the low incidence disability funds, and that I was sure that sighted children would not have to wait for weeks to get a pencil or pen. To my amazement, I was called before school began and informed that the administrative and VI staff were in agreement with my e-mail. Unfortunately, this piece of equipment hasn’t come yet because of some bureaucratic ordering glitches, but the result of my e-mail did indeed achieve the desired outcome. Thank you, Annie, for your presentation.

Kim Cunningham, Parent, Texas:
I would just like to take a moment to thank everyone involved for assisting me and my daughter in attending the 2007 national NFB conference in Atlanta. As a parent, this was a life-changing experience for me. I feel an even stronger sense of hope, coupled with determination for my daughter’s future. My daughter, Kayleigh Joiner, made several new friends and met some inspiring adults. Kayleigh has always been an outspoken and driven individual; however, she has never felt a part of any particular group. I believe that she has found a home with the NFB that confirms her belief about her blindness and her desire not to be pitied or thought of as disabled.

Leticia Flores, Secretary, Texas Organization of Parents of Blind Children (ToPBC):
It is hard to believe that as of October 2006, just one year ago, I had never heard of the NFB, much less NOPBC. As an older couple, Dan and I adopted our daughter Kayla when she was seven years old. Not knowing anything about blindness, we were lost; we didn’t know what resources were available to us. The first couple of years were challenging just having Kayla attend a mainstream school. We got involved with an organization that was informative, but was somehow lacking in leadership and unity. One day a friend mentioned something about attending a Braille is Beautiful conference and suggested I should go. During the conference I realized everyone who presented and taught was blind. I couldn’t believe it! First of all, I had never been to a meeting of any kind with so many blind people, and to see blind people not only participate but conduct a conference without sighted help was the most amazing thing I had ever encountered. I realized right there and then this was an organization I wanted to be a part of.

Well, that was a year ago, and since then the Texas Organization of Parents of Blind Children was formed, of which I am secretary. Being part of NOPBC has truly been a life-changing experience for me. I love the commitment of this organization to help and equip parents to be better advocates for our children.

This summer in Atlanta I attended the NFB convention. It was a remarkable experience, one I will never forget, and the first of many to come. During the convention, I attended the NOPBC Parent Leadership Program; needless to say, I was very impressed. I was so motivated to see parent groups from all over the country come together with the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for our children. Finally, after seeking organizations to help me--as a parent—to better equip and teach my daughter, my search was finally over. Not only did I find the support I was looking for, but also the leadership and unity it takes for an organization to be strong and successful. There is so much to learn and so much I want to do for this organization because I know we have a common interest: to help children live fulfilling, productive, and independent lives. Together we will make a difference!

 

Expanding the Limits: The Uncertainty of Exploration


An Address Delivered by
Marc Maurer
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
Atlanta, Georgia
July 5, 2007

Proceeding to a specific location is a journey; progressing to an unidentified destination is adventure. In other words, if you know where you’re going, it’s travel; if you don’t, it’s exploration.

Traveling often requires determination, energy, fortitude, and resourcefulness; but exploration also demands intuition, faith, a tolerance for uncertainty, the willingness to embrace change, and the recognition that the object being sought cannot always be defined with precision and will sometimes lead to unpredictable consequences.

When the exploration is pursued with passion and faith, the process not only produces knowledge but also stimulates the development of the explorers as well. Is exploration a matter of discovery, or is it the process of creation? T. S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

To accept without criticism the revealed knowledge enunciated by our predecessors is to be frozen in a pattern of the past, although the capacity to build upon discoveries made in former times is one of the elements essential for creating civilization. However, to reject judiciously those thoughts that do not accord with our observations is to express an independent capacity for imagination and judgment and to assert a faith in ourselves. Exploratory endeavors are vital to the development of the pattern of human knowledge, which is a prelude to the attainment of freedom. To explore is to accept tacitly that a body of knowledge remains to be created or discovered.

As Richard Cecil, an Anglican clergyman, said, “The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.” Therefore the first step in achieving freedom is to admit a measure of ignorance, to seek intuition, to exhibit courage, and to have faith. The second step is to act within our faith.

One of the more frustrating elements of daily life for the blind is that those we meet very often think they know everything there is to know about blindness. Much of the presumption of knowledge is, of course, incorrect. To break through the wall of preconceived notions about the blind requires persistence, ingenuity, and skill. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus put it almost two thousand years ago, “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

Added to this frustration is the irritant of theoretically educated arrogance. Sometimes the putative experts in the field of blindness who have received an educational credential or been appointed to positions of prominence believe that they now have the right to tell us, who live with blindness every day, that they know what’s good for us. When we challenge the assumptions of these so-called experts, they seem astonished. They tell us that they have only been thinking of our welfare. When we respond to them that our welfare is our business, not theirs, they seem to believe that we have usurped their authority, belittled their professionalism, and rejected their superior intellectual comprehension of our condition—all with a healthy dose of ingratitude added to our insolence. They never seem to comprehend that they should be listening to us rather than demanding that we listen to them. Yes, I do have somebody in mind—somebody who receives a government check and works in Washington, D. C., but we will return to the Department of Education a little later. In the meantime it is well to remember two ancient sayings attributed to the Chinese, “Rotten wood cannot be carved,” and “An ignorant man is never defeated in an argument.”

Throughout most of history, before the time of the establishment of the National Federation of the Blind, others have told those of us who are blind what we should think, how we should act, how we should feel, and what we should know. But we have accepted the challenge of exploration, we know our minds, and we will follow them. We do not always know precisely what the outcome will be of the explorations we undertake, but we know for certain that we will explore. We are the blind. We will control the development of the pattern of knowledge about us, and our sighted colleagues will welcome us for the joyous people we are. We will seek to increase our knowledge and to expand our own capabilities, and we will share what we learn. We have the faith to trust in our own future; we have the courage to strive for what we aspire to know. We will speak for ourselves with the clarity that comes from experience. Hear us, and believe!

When Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and a few others gathered in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940 to form our Federation, the principles of our movement were adopted as one of the elements of our founding. We the blind have a right to speak on our own behalf, to create our own destinies, to participate fully in our society on terms of equality with others, to gain an education, to work in the professions and common callings, to establish families, to raise children, to engage in political action, to invent new products, to originate innovative conceptions of thought, and to join in all forms of endeavor available to the citizens of our nation. These principles remain as valid today as they were when first adopted more than six decades ago. However, some of our expectations of our own capabilities have changed.

During an early period of the Federation, some of our leaders believed that blind people could learn as much as the sighted, but that the learning would take longer for the blind than it would for sighted students. Today we would not make such a broad generalization. Some kinds of study do require more time for the blind than may be needed for the sighted. However, many do not. Sometimes blind people are more efficient in the methods used for learning than the sighted are.

In the early days of the Federation, according to Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, the wife of our founding president, many blind people were convinced that they could not adequately raise children. The number of children born to blind parents in those days was smaller than it has come to be today, she said. Also in the early days of the Federation, blind people often traveled by following one another in long trains or lines, each person holding to the shoulder of the person ahead, with a sighted escort in the lead. Although this sometimes still occurs, it is much less common today than it was fifty years ago. A very substantial portion of the blind population expects to learn to travel independently.

In my own case I often travel alone throughout the United States. When I fly to an unfamiliar airport, I walk off the plane and wonder where my connecting gate might be. I expect to travel independently. When I meet the agent outside the jetway door, I ask for directions to the next gate. The agent says, “Wait over here. I’ll get somebody to help you.” Sometimes the agent won’t even tell me the gate number for my connecting flight. When I respond by saying that I want directions, the agent repeats the previous instruction. Once in a while I actually get directions, but not often. After I have been through the question-and-answer exercise two or three times, I abandon the effort to extract information. Usually only two routes are available in departing from an airline gate. I start out in one of them. Very often the gate agent says, “You’re going the wrong way.” I think to myself, “Good, now I know which way to go.”

What I find particularly annoying in these exchanges is that airline personnel assume an attitude of superiority—they believe that they are responsible for me and that I am not. If I move from the place where I have been deposited without their permission, they resent it. They have a procedure, and they want me to follow it, whether it serves my interests or not and whether I like it or not. Because I expect to be responsible for my own behavior and because I object to anybody’s interfering with my freedom of movement, I find myself in conflict with officious airline personnel who think that I should ask permission from them to do virtually anything except breathe. I don’t want the airlines to care for me. I want them to fly the planes and see that my luggage gets there when I do. If I need help, I’ll ask for it, and I’ll expect airline officials to give me full and courteous answers to the questions that I ask.

Of course not all blind people have either the training or the bullheadedness I possess. Many blind travelers will need assistance, which should be freely given. Sometimes I ask for it myself, and, in the early days of my traveling, I assumed that I needed it. Whether a blind person asks for help or not is a matter to be decided by the blind person. Asking for an escort is one of the decisions to be made by a blind person traveling from place to place. That some blind people now decide not to make this choice is an indication that our expectations for ourselves have changed.

I remember the incident that started the transformation—at least for me. A number of us were having a discussion about air travel with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the second great president of the National Federation of the Blind. Most of us had been students in the orientation program Dr. Jernigan was then directing in Iowa. We were talking about how blind people get through airports. Some of us maintained the opinion (I was part of this group) that blind people needed escorts; others believed that moving through airports could be approached in much the same way as traveling through city streets—taking cane or dog in hand, the blind traveler seeks out landmarks, asks for directions from individuals along the way, and puts one foot in front of the other. We devised an experiment. During our next excursion through an airport, some of us asked to be escorted by airline personnel, and some of us stepped out on our own. The non-escort group arrived at the departure gate ahead of those who had sought assistance from the airline. This surprised me. I wondered, how did you manage to get this done faster than I did when I had assistance and you did not? One incident does not create a pattern, but it does offer food for thought.

Although our expectations have expanded through the decades, our objectives are clear and unaltered; we expect equality for the blind with all that this implies. Exactly how much more potential exists within blind people depends on our ambition and our imagination. Some would regard this as a frightening thought, but we do not. We do not avoid a challenge; challenge is requisite to progress. The power to decide belongs to us, and we glory in the possibilities we intend to bring into being.

Are blind people as smart as sighted people? A goodly number of articles have been written about a goodly number of studies which purport to shed light on this question. In the July 2004 issue of the Review of Optometry, published by Jobson Publishing, LLC, an article appeared entitled, “Does Cataract Surgery Restore Intelligence?” It says:

The intelligence level of the average adult decreases with age. The same is true of visual function, which also decreases as we get older. A review of published literature shows vision impairment corresponds with cognitive deterioration and aging. So German researchers set out to see whether a link between the two existed. Specifically, does restricted vision at least partially explain age-related reduction of intelligence?

The article continues:

The researchers conducted a controlled, longitudinal study among five groups of senior citizens who have cataracts. The participants were divided into two categories, those who would undergo cataract surgery and those who would not. Intelligence testing prior to surgical intervention showed that cataract patients achieved lower than “normal” levels of mental efficiency when compared with the average population.

But a few weeks after IOL [intraocular lens] implantation, these patients showed statistically significant increases in tested intelligence levels, while the control group showed no change. The researchers concluded that surgical removal of cataracts may have a considerable effect on the patient’s (sic) I.Q.”

There you have it. A scientific study has examined the facts. The restoration of vision increases intelligence. The deterioration of vision does the opposite. In the process of becoming blind, human beings also increase in stupidity. Have you noticed your intellect decreasing? But of course, if it is decreasing, you wouldn’t notice.

What a ridiculous bunch of nonsense! How could such a study have been performed? I do not know what testing methodology was employed to reach the astonishing conclusion that those who lose their vision also lose their brains. However, the testers in this so-called scientific study have a great deal to learn, and we intend to do the teaching. Our long-term longitudinal study, based upon the experiences of tens of thousands of blind people, demonstrates conclusively that blindness does not equal lack of intelligence. We say to these so-called scientists, “Meet us on the field of debate. Match your intelligence against ours. Let us devise the study to determine the intellectual prowess of the participants, and we have no doubt of the outcome. Your conclusions are false. However, we have a suggestion for you. When you try again, perhaps you should seek insight about testing blind people from those who have the knowledge to teach you—perhaps you should talk to the blind. If you do, you may get closer to the truth.”

A report dated July 19, 2006, from the Nation, a newspaper published in Bangkok, Thailand, gives an account of an incident involving a blind passenger seeking to fly from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The passenger involved was a blind person who was refused transportation because he was unaccompanied. Airline officials said that, because they were operating a low-cost service, they did not have personnel to care for the blind passenger. Monthian Buntan, president of the Thailand Association of the Blind, protested the action of the air carrier, declaring that the refusal to accept this passenger was discriminatory. Despite the arguments, the blind passenger was forced to take a different airline.

This report of discriminatory treatment of a blind air traveler (even though it happened less than a year ago) may seem remote. The incident occurred in Thailand, half a world away. The concept of civil rights for the blind has been discussed and pursued in the United States for well over half a century, but in many other nations it is less well known. Monthian Buntan is a very strong advocate for the rights of blind people and is himself blind. However, although he and the other members of the Thailand Association of the Blind have staged public protests to protect the rights of blind people, self-organization of the blind in his country is comparatively recent. Furthermore, a report from so far away might suggest that the blind person in question had little training in the specialized skills and techniques used by the blind or perhaps only limited experience with travel.

The matter is put into perspective when we contemplate the individual who was denied access to air travel. His name is Fred Schroeder. Perhaps a better-trained blind traveler can be found in the world, but Dr. Schroeder possesses a master’s degree in teaching the skills of travel to the blind as well as a doctorate in educational administration. He has directed the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and has served as the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the federal agency responsible for all rehabilitation in the United States. He has traveled independently all over the world. Fred Schroeder was rejected by an air carrier for only one reason—pure, unadulterated, despicable discrimination based on blindness. It happened in a foreign country, where the writ of American jurisprudence does not run. However, it happened in our world, and it must stop.

Most of the time we in the National Federation of the Blind pursue legislation to protect the rights of the blind in our own country. However, within the past few years we have been participating in the drafting of an International Convention at the United Nations to protect the rights of blind people in all countries. Ironically enough, the person designated to serve as our representative in these negotiations is Dr. Fredric Schroeder. Discrimination does not stop at our borders, and we are seeking partners throughout the world to ensure that legal protection does not either. The voice of the blind will be heard throughout the world, and we will be doing the speaking.

At one time the American Foundation for the Blind, a private agency based in New York, proclaimed that it served as the clearinghouse for information about blindness to the professionals and to the government. Publications produced by the American Foundation for the Blind sought to set the tone and establish the agenda for programming throughout the United States and in some cases throughout the world. However, the Foundation did not work in partnership with the organized blind. As a result, the American Foundation for the Blind became known for distributing such sterling volumes as A Step-by-Step Guide to Personal Management for Blind Persons, a document which included such items as step-by-step directions for taking a sponge bath or brushing teeth.

After an excoriating review of this step-by-step guide by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then president of the National Federation of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind has become more careful in its writings. Although it still does not cooperate very much with the organized blind movement, the American Foundation for the Blind has sometimes joined with us in conducting research projects or developing joint statements of principle, and sometimes personnel within the Foundation have been very warm in their admiration for some of the work of the National Federation of the Blind. Nevertheless, its president, Mr. Carl Augusto, who appeared on the program at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind a couple of years ago, refused to answer questions put to him by members and leaders of the organized blind movement. This refusal to respond has meant that our capacity to work with the American Foundation for the Blind is diminished.

One of the purposes of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a watchdog over agencies for the blind. With the Federation’s willingness to review and criticize documents published about blindness and programs established to serve the blind, the arrogance and conceit that were once common in programming for the blind have diminished. However, the dehumanizing phrase and the belittling assumption can still be found.

The Jewish Guild for the Blind, a private agency located in New York City that has occasionally considered working in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, distributes a sixteen-page booklet entitled “The Sighted Guide Technique: An instructional guide for sighted people when assisting a person who is blind or visually impaired.” The text contained in this booklet demonstrates that any partnership considered with the organized blind movement has never developed to any substantial degree.

The service mark used by the Jewish Guild for the Blind to produce this book is “SightCare.” Though it may have been unintended, the opinion of the Jewish Guild for the Blind is readily discernible from this service mark. Blind people need care, and sight is required to provide it. Although blind people may not be completely helpless, they do not have the capacity for independence of action that the sighted take for granted. This is the implication of the text in the booklet, and SightCare is a most appropriate epithet to be used to express the tone and purpose of the publication.

Keep in mind that the blind, the intended beneficiaries of this booklet of helpful suggestions, are not addressed directly at all. The helpful suggestions in this booklet are directed toward the sighted caregivers who will interpret this advice for the benefit of the blind.

Contained in this brief little book are instructions about how sighted people should make contact with a blind person, offer an arm to help lead a blind person, take the proper body position in assisting a blind person, take the proper steps to seat a blind person, help a blind person get through doorways and other narrow spaces, assist a blind person in proceeding up or down stairs, help a blind person get into and ride inside automobiles, and be of help to a blind person traveling indoors. One of the noteworthy observations that can be made in contemplating this list of activities is what has been omitted. The sighted person is not expected to help the blind client find a job, locate the nearest casino, or identify a suitably interesting person of the opposite sex. In other words, the potential possibilities offered by the Jewish Guild to blind people are limited and dull. Consider the item concerning assistance to the blind in using a chair. This is what the book says. Listen to these instructions from the experts; you may need them so that you can help a sighted person learn to help you to sit down.

Guide the visually impaired person until her knees touch the front of the chair. Describe the chair, and place the person’s free hand on the chair’s arms or the seat. Alert the person if the chair is positioned against a wall, so she will not hit her head as she sits down.

The person will feel the arms or seat of the chair, turn around and sit. Stabilize the chair with your free hand so it will not slide backward when the person sits. In all cases maintain contact with the visually impaired person until she is seated.

I interrupt to ask, can you imagine what dire consequences might occur if contact with the visually impaired person were broken? The blind person might bump into the chair without the guidance of the SightCare-giver, perish the thought, or, she might be so delighted at being away from her keeper that she would hightail it out of the room, seeking more congenial companionship. The SightCare-giver would be left all alone with nobody to boss. Psychological injury might occur. The heightened imaginary feeling of superiority might crumble away, leaving the SightCare-giver with no purpose.

As you reflect on the passage of instruction about being seated in a chair, imagine what might actually be helpful. In unfamiliar surroundings it is nice to know if an empty chair is nearby. However, for somebody else to assume that we have to be maneuvered into it until our legs are touching the seat and that we need somebody else to steady the thing while our posteriors approach the appointed place is to assume a measure of superiority and condescension which cannot be borne. But there is more. The Jewish Guild wants sighted people to know how to help us get into an automobile. The directives in this complex maneuver may not be as difficult as certain yoga postures or as complicated as some acrobatic moves, but getting into a car, according to the Jewish Guild, is not the simple process you might have thought. This is what the Guild says:

Open the automobile door. Stand behind the visually impaired person and place one of her hands on top of the door to show which way it opens, and the other hand on the roof to provide a sense of the height of the vehicle.

The visually impaired person will turn toward you so that her back is toward the door opening. She will then sit down on the car seat and bring her legs into the car. Hold one of your hands along the roofline to protect her from bumping her head, and offer your other arm to assist the person as she sits.

Pull the seat belt out of the retractor and hand it to the person. Ask if she would like assistance in finding and securing the buckle. Always confirm that the seat belt is properly secured. Alert the person when you are going to close the door. Check that she is safely inside the vehicle, then shut and lock the door.

These are statements from the guide distributed by the Jewish Guild. I ask you, is it always necessary to lock the blind person inside the car? Do the SightCare workers have child locks on their doors to prevent the blind person from escaping before the sighted person decides it is time to get out? Maybe the names of these locks should be changed—maybe they should now be known as “blind locks.” Without these locks maybe the blind person would get away. Is it permitted to let the SightCare-giver ask the blind person if she wants to be locked inside, or is the locking procedure mandatory?

They are talking about you and me. I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles (sometimes with a sighted guide and sometimes without one); I have guided thousands of blind people and been guided by many. I have ridden in hundreds of automobiles (some of them my own, but most belonging to other people). I cannot imagine why anybody would believe that such advice is necessary.

We are not willing to be victims of somebody else’s condescension; we are not willing to be patronized by those who believe that they should take charge of our lives; we are not willing for this attitude to be imposed upon any of us. Is there any wonder that the organized blind sometimes feel a sense of betrayal when seeking to interact with agencies for the blind?

If this book had been drafted by a high school student for a term paper, perhaps it would be forgivable, although most high school students with any sense would know better. However, the people at the Jewish Guild for the Blind purport to be experts. They say that they know what they’re doing. Consequently, all of the damage, all of the hurt, all of the sorrow, all of the failed hope, and all of the missed opportunity created by the degrading and demeaning language of this book is chargeable to them.

However, their tactics will not work. The imbecility of what they have done will backfire on them. We the blind will insist that our talent be recognized, and we will bring reform to the thought processes of those who live in a bygone era. We want service providers who will work with us as partners, but we are not willing to sell our souls in the process. No agency can run our lives, for we will not let them. We will decide what our future will be, and there is no force on earth that can prevent it. Hear us, and believe!

The Rehabilitation Services Administration, the federal agency in the Department of Education charged with managing federal appropriations for rehabilitation, has a budget of just under three billion dollars, a substantial portion of which is designated for rehabilitation services for blind clients. Because this agency has statutory responsibility for providing rehabilitation to the blind and because properly conducted rehabilitation can have such dramatic results and because the track record of the National Federation of the Blind in devising successful rehabilitation programs for the blind is the most productive in the United States if not in the world, it might be anticipated that officials of this agency and senior policy makers within the Department of Education would want to work with us to give greater emphasis to this vital service. We begin with the assumption that those responsible for rehabilitation want blind people to receive a good education, want blind people to become successfully employed, want blind people to know the excitement of hope, and want their programs to be effective. However, the assumption of competence within the Rehabilitation Services Administration and the Department of Education may be unwarranted.

In October of 2005, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions conducted a hearing on the Randolph-Sheppard program, which is located within the Rehabilitation Services Administration to assist blind vendors in obtaining vending opportunities on federal property. A report circulated about the program prior to the hearing contained massive misstatements of fact. For some time officials operating sheltered workshops for the severely handicapped have been trying to take lucrative contracts away from blind vendors and to diminish the priority for the blind contained within the Randolph-Sheppard Act. This priority protects the right of blind vendors to operate vending facilities on federal property. Assistant Secretary of Education John Hager was invited to participate in the Senate hearing. He declined to appear; he declined to suggest that anybody else appear; and he took no steps to seek to protect the priority for blind vendors contained within the law even though the Department of Education has the responsibility for supervising this program.

The 2007 fiscal year budget for the Rehabilitation Services Administration is approximately 2.8 billion dollars. The law requires that a cost-of-living increase be included in the budget each year. Senior officials of the Department of Education have proposed that the budget for rehabilitation in 2008 not include this cost-of-living increase despite the statutory provisions requiring it.

In negotiations with the Department of Defense and the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, the Department of Education agreed to set a standard for granting food service contracts to blind vendors in military installations which is so restrictive that it jeopardizes the opportunity for the blind to participate in vending operations in these federal locations despite the legal priority contained within the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The Department of Education officials failed to consult with groups affected by these negotiations before reaching an agreement, and comments from department personnel strongly suggest that those conducting the negotiations did not consult with experts within the department itself and did not understand the agreement they made. When asked directly, department officials declined to reveal which people negotiated the agreement.

The Rehabilitation Services Administration has had regional offices throughout the United States for more than half a century. Officials in the Department of Education said they were unnecessary and closed them. In the process of closing these offices, Education Department officials cut the staff of RSA by approximately 40 percent. This is how they showed support for the rehabilitation programs in the United States. They said it would be cheaper to operate the program without these offices and without this staff. It might be pointed out that the cheapest program possible would be no program at all. Of course, the cost in terms of human potential and in terms of dollars wasted in support of those who might be working would be enormous. Properly conducted, rehabilitation always pays for itself. As we in the National Federation of the Blind have often said, those who work do not receive support from public funds and do pay taxes. Despite all of the evidence showing that well-run rehabilitation more than pays its way, Department of Education officials have cut the staff, closed the offices, and proposed to cut the budget.

Officials at the policy-making level of the Department of Education have not come to this convention. Although it would be tempting to criticize these officials for failing to interact with the largest organization of blind people in the nation, this failure to appear is more than simply an indication of lack of judgment—it is an admission that these public officials don’t know what they’re doing and that they don’t have the ability or guts to talk about why they’re not doing it. They admitted as much in October of 2005 when they failed to come to the Senate hearing about programs for the blind. They admitted it when they cut the staff and closed the offices. They admitted it when they accepted a proposal that would diminish the right of blind people to work in vending facilities on military bases. They don’t even know how to talk to us. Are they evil or incompetent? As Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founding president of the National Federation of the Blind, put it, “Is well-intentioned folly better or worse than knavery?”

If officials in the Department of Education will not hear us, others will have to be told, and we will set forth the facts. We are not prepared to have government officials diminish our lives because they lack the capacity to comprehend the future that can and must be ours. We would like to support the programs of rehabilitation within the Department of Education because the potential exists within them for such substantial contribution to the independence of the blind, but the hand of partnership has been refused. Consequently, we must take the argument into another arena. We will carry our message to the public; we will march in the streets; we will fight with our bare hands if we must to ensure that the rights we have fought so hard to secure are not misinterpreted, ignored, or reversed. We know our minds, and we will follow them. Hear us, and believe!

When I think of the work we do in the National Federation of the Blind and when I think about our interaction with programs intended to support blind people, I reflect that what we are doing has an impact upon the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals—each life distinctive, made up of the hopes, fears, and aspirations that flow from the heart. Not long ago I received a letter which said, “My name is __, and I am thirteen years old. I would like to be a mechanic when I grow up, and I would like to take mechanic courses when I get to high school (I’m in seventh grade now). I like to work with small engines and tools. I have a problem, though; my mom and my Braille teacher don’t think a blind person can be a mechanic. Do you have any ideas on how I could convince them that I am serious and that blind people can be mechanics? My grandmother says that I have lots of time to decide what I want to be and that I may change my mind a lot before I’m grown. But I would really like to take mechanic courses in high school. Also, could you give me any tips on how to organize my tools and such? Thank you.”

This is the dream expressed in a letter of a blind boy who, in a few short years, hopes to have an occupation and hopes to earn a living with it. Will the rehabilitation system know that his ambition can be achieved? Will the Department of Education know?

Of course, on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, I responded with encouragement. Dozens of blind people have been mechanics—some of them with extraordinary skill. With the new technologies used in automobiles, the tools are more complex than they were in the past, and many of them are built with electronic visual displays. Nevertheless, with imagination and faith we can help this blind boy to reach his dreams. We can, that is, if we are willing to share our imagination and experience with him; if we are willing to join him in bringing understanding to others; if we are willing to have as much faith in his intellect, fortitude, and drive as we have in our own.

Such dreams do not come into being by happenstance; they must be nurtured and cherished and supported. We must be prepared to fight for them. If the rehabilitation counselors or the teachers or the personnel in the automobile repair shops want to know if a blind person can be a mechanic, the answer is an unequivocal, resounding “yes!” We will do what we can to help this blind boy, and we feel certain that he will succeed.

The nature of exploration is seeking to comprehend the unknown, which presupposes risk. The quality or extent of the risk cannot be evaluated until it has been confronted. Sometimes we will demand of ourselves more than we currently know how to deliver, and sometimes the risk we face will be more than we know how to manage—this is the nature of exploration.

Sometimes the assumptions we make about the capacity we have will be mistaken. However, we will learn from our errors as well as from our successes, and we will incorporate our knowledge into the next set of explorations. Blunders always hurt—even if only a little. But those who fail to make them are sufficiently insulated from the rough and tumble of adventure that they never discover the ways of altering the pattern of understanding. Consequently, we must maintain a healthy respect for risk when we explore, but regardless of how we do it, we must explore.

Furthermore, we must avoid the errors that we urge others not to make. We must not believe that we know all of the answers to the questions that are raised—we must be open to new ideas—we must be ready to examine new methods of thought. We must be able to change our behavior when our minds tell us that what we have previously believed is better understood in a new way. We must not become obnoxious know-it-alls unwilling to engage in discussion and reflection. And above all we must have faith in ourselves and in each other.

Some will be daunted or dismayed by the prospects for our future. They will observe that the technology does not exist today to give us equal access to information; that the officials of governmental programs established to serve the blind do not comprehend the laws that have been adopted to create opportunity for us and do not believe in our abilities to be successful; that the administrators of agencies for the blind sometimes belittle us and tell the members of the public that we have almost no capacity for independence; that the scientists think that our mental capacity diminishes with our loss of sight; and that airline officials tell us we cannot fly unaccompanied on airplanes because we are unable to care for ourselves. However, our experience has shown us that we can attain an education, work in most jobs, fight to secure passage of legislation to protect us, expand the range of information available to us, create programs to serve our needs, devise technology of use to us, and speak with dignity and assurance to an ever-widening audience about the ability we possess. Those who explore take the risks, set the boundaries, determine the program of tomorrow—and we are the explorers.

We do not know what the possibilities are for us, for we have not explored all of the elements that constitute the pattern of what we are and what we will become. However, we know more about the pattern than anybody else, and we have decided to explore it all, to reach as far as anybody can, to dream as much as anybody will, and to build in a way that will bring into being possibilities for us beyond anything that has ever previously been imagined. What are the limits, and where will we stop? Nobody can say. Perhaps the limits expand along with our knowledge, our imagination, and our courage.

What we have decided to do is change forever the prospects for the blind of this generation and those that come after us. The hundreds of thousands of blind people who have planned and labored and believed in our potential in the generations preceding us stand with us at this banquet tonight. We want nothing less than the full integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality with the sighted and the complete recognition of the talent we have. And we will never stop until the recognition has come and the equality is ours.

Our goals will demand the best that we have in imagination and resources and judgment and effort. But whatever the costs, we will pay them; whatever the requirements, we will meet them; whatever the challenges, we will reach beyond them. The future belongs to us, and it will respond. We are the National Federation of the Blind, exploring tomorrow with unquenchable fire. Join me, and we will make it all come true!

 

 

Come Celebrate With Us!

by Carol Castellano

The annual seminar of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is always an informative, exciting, and inspiring event. But this year, we’ve got even more to celebrate as we mark the 25th anniversary of the most effective and progressive parent organization for blind children in the country!

NOPBC, in its position as a division of the National Federation of the Blind, has been on the leading edge of just about every breakthrough regarding the education and development of blind children, from white canes for blind kids to Braille literacy to textbooks on time to Active Learning for blind children with multiple disabilities. If you’re looking for the action, you’ve found the spot!

So, do join us in Dallas in late June/early July as we look back and celebrate our history and our accomplishments and march forward toward a future of opportunities for our blind children!

 

WHAT: NOPBC 25th Anniversary Celebration

WHEN: Program items will be scheduled all week beginning with the parents seminar on Sunday, June 29, 2008, and a program that evening with food and other festivities at Family Hospitality.

WHERE: National Federation of the Blind Convention at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207

HOTEL RATES: Singles, doubles, and twins $61; triples and quads $66; tax, 15 percent. (Note: See bulletin in this issue for more details.)

REGISTRATION: Information will be available by the first of the year at <www.nfb.org/nopbc>, or contact Parent Outreach, NFB Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, extension 2361.

 

March for Independence: Dallas, 2008
<www.MarchForIndependence.org>

What is the March?
The March for Independence is a 5K walk-a-thon and celebration demonstrating the independent spirit of the nation’s organized blind, their friends, family, and supporters, which will raise funds for the Imagination Fund. The Imagination Fund supports local and state outreach efforts for blind people in your local community through the programs and initiatives of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

When is the March?
The March for Independence will take place on Wednesday, July 2, 2008, amidst the 68th National Federation of the Blind annual convention in Dallas, Texas. To learn more about our national conventions remember to visit <www.nfb.org> often for updates on the registration process. Please note that registering for national convention is a completely separate process from registering for the March.

Where Will We March?
Thousands of Federationists, their friends and family members will demonstrate and celebrate for independence at our second annual March for Independence - The Walk for Opportunity. This 5K walk-a-thon fundraiser will take place in Dallas, Texas, on July 2, 2008. Remember, everything is bigger in Texas, so this campaign and walk are bound to bring some big surprises. Stay tuned for more information as we continue to plan this year’s exciting event.

How Can I Help?
You can register now at the March Web site listed at the top of this page to start raising money and soliciting sponsors, or look to the contact information at the bottom of this page. Even if you are unable to make it to Dallas this year, you can still contribute to the effort by sponsoring another marcher or even a team of marchers.

National Federation of the Blind
March for Independence 2008 – The Walk for Opportunity
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2408
Fax: (410) 659-5129
E-mail: <MarchForIndependence@nfb.org>

 

Braille Readers Always Ignite Learning and Living for Everyone

by Sister Margaret Fleming


Editor’s Note: Every convention parents eagerly look forward to hearing remarks from that year’s NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children award winner. Here is an edited expansion of that address given by the 2007 winner, Sister Meg Fleming, on Saturday, June 30. Sister Meg’s expanded remarks are prefaced by a transcription of the introduction from Barbara Cheadle, president of the NOPBC:

Barbara Cheadle: Our next presenter is the 2007 recipient of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award, Sister Margaret Fleming. Sister Meg is principal of the St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments. She has taught for more than thirty-five years, eleven of them as a teacher of the visually impaired in which she taught Braille, access technology, daily living skills, and cane travel. She now draws on all that experience to direct the Roman Catholic Church’s only school for blind children in Philadelphia. This is the job that she has held since 1995. She is dedicated, enthusiastic, convinced of the capacity of blind children to lead normal lives, and therefore holds her children and her teachers to high levels of expectations. Her professional honors and responsibilities are many. She is an adjunct faculty member of Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) from 1993 to the present time. Dr. Missy Garbor from PCO is here--Missy, did you want to stand and say, “Hi,” and wave?--here to see Sister Meg get her award. She is a recipient of the Elinor Long Pennsylvania Distinguished Educator of the Year Award for the Visually Impaired in 1992; the American Cardinal’s Award sponsored by Catholic University, 2003; the Pennsylvania Lynch Award, 2003; the recognition award given by the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind; and, she is president-elect of the Pendale Chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, 2007. Her award comes with a $1,000 prize, an expense-paid trip to this convention, and the responsibility and honor of addressing us here today. She will also make herself available to meet and talk informally with parents throughout the convention. Here is Sister Meg:

Sister Meg: Thank you. Sounds like a eulogy, doesn’t it? Scary. Maybe I better leave now [laughter].

I am really honored to be addressing you this morning at your annual national convention. It has been my privilege to be part of the blind community for many years. I want to publicly thank the Pennsylvania Keystone Division of the National Federation. They have been an active part of St. Lucy Day School for many, many years and I appreciate their support. This time last year, they were scrubbing the new school--Jim Antonacci [the president of the NFB of Pennsylvania] and Lynn [the vice president], too, were down on hands and knees scrubbing toilets.

It’s a privilege for me to be here. As I look out at you, I know I am preaching to the choir. You are here because you want so much for our children. You are a gift. Any single one of you could be sitting in this chair and giving this talk. I really believe that from my whole heart. Parents in my mind come first always. You know your children more than any teacher, any principal--anybody. You are number one, and you can’t forget that. I try never to forget it.

Barbara told you a little bit about St. Lucy’s Day School, but let me tell you more. Saint Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments (SLDS) was founded in 1955 because parents wanted a Catholic neighborhood day school where their children could learn the four “R’s” just like their brothers and sisters, and still be included in the mainstream setting. I was in first grade when SLDS opened. Blind students from St. Lucy’s were in my classroom from the beginning, so I always knew that the “Lucy Kids” could do it all. Our school is one of the buildings on a campus of a neighborhood parish. Our sisters run that elementary school and SLDS is an active part of that school. So, we have always worked hand in hand with the regular parish elementary school. It’s like the best of both worlds for the students and the teachers. I often tell folks that over these 55 years we have watched the educational pendulum swing between no inclusion and full inclusion. Throughout it all, SLDS has stayed the course and prepared students to be independent in any setting they choose.

The wisdom of St. Lucy’s is that we have followed the blessed middle path. We’re not perfect, but we’re good. We make sure the children can advocate for themselves. They know what they need to know so that they can be independent, and so that they don’t need somebody beside them every minute. It helps that we have instant contact with their regular teacher. Now that everybody has cell phones, somebody from the regular school will call me or Sister Elaine and say, “The Braille printer is not working.” Well, we don’t have to wait a week. We can walk over there and fix the printer. But back to my address. You have a title for my speech in your agenda, but the real topic for this talk could be labeled Braille Readers Always Ignite Learning and Living for Everyone--B.R.A.I.L.L.E.

My topic includes a call for you as parents to understand that intensive Braille instruction is needed by children who are blind/visually impaired in order to excel in the mainstream setting. In the elementary school years, our children need to be fluent in Braille. They need to be just like their siblings, and that means that they need to be able to read and write. They also need to know that we have the same expectations of them as we have for their sighted peers. I’ll talk more about that later. The goal is to keep our children’s emotional, academic, and spiritual needs uppermost in our minds.

Let’s ask ourselves the question, “What do our children need to succeed?”
We know they need to study all the elements of what is often called the core curriculum--these are not unlike the subjects you and I studied in school. Didn’t we learn math, social studies, science, language arts, art, music, and health when we went to school? Students in the twenty-first century still study these subjects and more. (You will notice, of course, that computers were not in our core curriculum--that’s a change.)

Students who are blind/visually impaired have needs that go beyond the core curriculum, thus the development of the term Expanded Core Curriculum as articulated by the loose coalition of professionals and organizations called The National Agenda. How many of you know about the Expanded Core Curriculum? Just clap. [Clapping.] Good. Thank you. Sometimes I think it’s a big secret in school districts. According to the National Agenda, the following list of topics is all part of the Expanded Core Curriculum.

Number one on that list is communication skills, which to me means literacy. If literacy is mastered then access to the regular core curriculum is a given. Phil Hatland from the Texas School for the Blind said at a conference I attended years ago that we should have an open mind about what we consider literacy. He says that literacy includes Braille, print, tapes, CDs, switches--all sorts of media. That may be right, but in my mind kids need to be able to read first--they need to be able to do Braille. Everything else can be a backup. Of course, there are kids who maybe won’t need Braille, or won’t be able to learn Braille the way we would hope they could learn, so we always have a global approach.

Second, orientation and mobility is a must and our students need intensive training in the early years so they can be independent in the educational setting. Not long ago a young man graduated from St. Lucy’s and headed for his neighborhood high school. By the way, a lot of our kids leave before high school. They go back into their neighborhood schools as soon as they can advocate for themselves, their Braille skills are good enough, and they don’t need somebody with them all the time. But back to my story. The neighborhood district wanted him to have an aide to go with him from class to class, but he didn’t want it. They wanted him to ride a special school bus. He didn’t want it. What he did want was orientation to the high school--which is one of the biggest schools in the Philly area--before school started in September. And he got it. They did put an aide with him for a little while, but not for long. He demonstrated to them that he didn’t need it. The capacity and confidence to make these kinds of decisions did not suddenly appear in this young man when he turned fourteen. When this young man was a little kid at St. Lucy’s, I used to tease him and tell him he would get lost in a paper bag. How did he get from that stage to the confident young teen capable of advocating for himself, and making it stick? We provided “age appropriate” orientation and mobility training, and we had the courage to let go. There is wisdom in letting your children explore their environment just like their sighted brothers and sisters.

It is never too early to let go--never easy, but never too early. I saw all of you parents do that just five minutes ago. You let your children go down the hall to other meeting rooms in the care of strangers. It was great that we were first introduced to these people--Angela Wolf, Gail Wagner, Melissa Riccobono, and all the others--but it’s still hard, isn’t it? Are you wondering what’s happening? Are you thinking, “Will they understand my child? Will they give my child enough help?” But you did it. You had the courage to let go. So again, I’m preaching to the choir.

Over the years parents have said to me, “I want more for my child than I had.” I’m sure that my mom said the same thing. My response over the years has turned into a thoughtful one. Here is what I have come to believe: If you want more for your child, you must do less for your child. Yes, you heard me. You have to do less. Be there for them yet demand independence. Have the same expectations for your child who is blind as you do for the child that can see. Do you remember what your keynote speaker, Lisamaria Martinez, talked about earlier this morning? Her parents did a whole lot, but they knew how to also do less. They knew how and when to step back and let her live her own life and make her own choices.

And that brings me to topic number three. Independent living skills are another part of the expanded core curriculum. This covers a lifetime of issues. Our teachers designed an at-home program for the parents of our students ages preschool to fifteen. This program is a twenty-four page developmental list of activities that are age-appropriate. The program is designed to help parents help their children do what needs to be done “on their own.” When our parents walk in the door, they get this at-home program. It’s simple, but parents need it, especially if the blind child is their only child or the first child.

Here’s an example. Several years ago, we had a little guy come to our preschool. His mom and dad carried him into the school. This is preschool and the little guy is three years old, but he didn’t walk--he had never walked. There was nothing wrong with his legs, but he was an only child and his parents had always carried him everywhere; he was jolly and happy as long as you carried him.

I told Poppy, “Put him down.”

“But, he’ll cry,” the dad said.

“He’s three. He’s going to cry,” I said. “What are you going to do when he’s sixteen and you’re seventy? Are you still going to carry him?”

The parents put him down, and he did cry nearly the entire year and a half in preschool, but he doesn’t cry anymore, and he walks.

It is important for kids to do things on their own. One of our six-year-old students walked into the office one day. He had just come out of the bathroom, and his belt and pants were undone, and he stood there and he said, “Mrs. Johnson, (the secretary) would you fix my pants?”

I came out of the office just then and said, “How are you doing?”

He said, “Oh, I’ll show you how I can fix my pants myself.” True story. [Laughter]

Number four on our list is social interaction. Yes, social interaction needs to be taught. One young man in our school is so skilled he could get the wall to talk to him. Another little guy is content to sit and wait for the world to come to him, and there are lots of little people in the middle. We need to teach all of them how to engage in conversation. How do you know who is in the room? What are ways that you can initiate a conversation? What do you need to know about body language and its importance to your peers?

And children need to know what to do when they are teased, ignored, or bullied. This is not common in our school--we are a typical, structured Catholic elementary school--but some things do slip by. You are your child’s safe haven and he or she needs to be able to come home to you and tell you what happened. Bullying, of course, has to be stopped. But all children are teased at some time, and you have to teach your kids the skills to deal with it. So, you need to know when you have to run up to the school and deal with it, and when you should give your child advice and encouragement, but stay out of it and let him or her deal with it.

Number five on our list is recreation and leisure. We are all so different. What is recreation for one may be torture for another. I love to read, that’s recreation for me. But my sister likes to go and do things--no sitting around for her. The key is exposure. Students need a wide variety of experiences with different recreation and leisure activities so that they can discover what re-creates them, what gives them “life.” If the only leisure experience a blind child has ever had is listening to a CD player, then what else can they choose to do if that’s the only thing they know? So, you have to help your kids get more experiences so that they can have choices.

Number six is career education, another piece of the expanded core curriculum. This year we took our sixth through eighth grade students to a special career day sponsored by the Pennsylvania Blindness and Visual Services. The day was designed for high school students, so there were parts that were very boring for them. The presentations about SSI and health benefits went over their heads. What did make an impression was the frightening statistic that seven out of ten blind/visually persons are either unemployed or underemployed. We took ten students to this career day. They came back and said, “Does this mean that seven of us will not have jobs?” These are bright, energetic kids and they don’t want to be a part of that statistic.

And I said, “No, that’s not what it has to mean.” I talked to them about doing the best that they can now, about valuing their education, about getting a summer or part-time job just like their 16-year-old sighted brother; I talked to them about working harder--they are never too young to hear that they have to work harder. I reminded them of the blind adults that talked to them at the Career Fair. Many of them were St. Lucy’s graduates, and they had jobs; they went to work every day. Yes, there were a few adults there who did not have jobs, but they had not given up; they were at the fair to learn what they could do.

The next expanded core topic is visual efficiency skills. You know how important those are. We know that our students with partial vision/low vision need to use all their senses to access the world around them.

Last and number eight on our list is technology. Today, every student needs to be able to access the World Wide Web of information--no exceptions, every student. Think about the development of technology in the last fifty or so years: Television. I remember when we got our first TV; it was 1955. Transistor radios, eight-track tapes, (remember those?), computers, flash drives, cell phones, text messaging, and iPods. Braille technology has come a long way, too. I started teaching at St. Lucy’s in 1982, and in 1984 we got our first Cranmer Modified Perkins Braillewriter. Up until then I Brailled every night until 10:00 p.m. so the kids would have their Braille materials the next day for their regular classrooms. When we got the Cranmer, I jumped up and down for joy. After that, I was only scanning and editing until ten o’clock every night.

All of our kids at St. Lucy’s get electronic notetakers--BrailleNotes--when their Braille skills are really, really good. That’s usually by third grade; their Braille skills are pretty good by then. Have you ever seen the BrailleNote manual? I told a sixth grader, Michael, “If you can just look at that manual, and figure out how to connect to the Internet, I’ll take you to lunch.” I said that at 9:00 a.m. one morning. At 10:30 a.m. he asked me, “Where are we going for lunch?”

I could talk forever, but I’m going to bring my speech to an end now. Where do we go from here? We want our children to be able to advocate for themselves. We want them to be independent. We want them to know their own unique strengths and their own unique weaknesses. We want them to make choices. We want them to have a career that they love. You notice each time I started with “we” want. But the truth is what we really want is for our kids themselves to say, “I want to advocate for myself. I want to be independent. I want to walk to that podium myself. I want to know my own unique strengths, my own unique weaknesses. I want to make choices, and I want a career I can love.”

So how do we provide an atmosphere where our children can learn and live their fullest potential? My answer--be sure they can read! In my mind, the one umbrella word that can make this happen is literacy. Being able to read opens us to so many life-giving experiences. It is never too early to label everything in your home for your baby or toddler. Instill a love for reading by reading to them. If your child can read in the mode that best suits them, he or she can tackle the regular education curriculum.

The most difficult part for Braille students is time. Students need daily contact with a qualified Braille teacher; one who knows Braille inside and out. Braille needs to be a part of every subject, every day, until the students are good enough to do it by themselves. It’s a must. I believe in literacy. In every skill, we need the ability to read. (I need to qualify my strong emphasis on Braille literacy. SLDS’ students are all cognitively able to have Braille as their primary tool for reading.)

Every skill our children need is enhanced by their ability to read. Consider the skills needed for orientation and mobility. Could you move and travel safely if you were not literate? You “read” your cane; you “read” the presence of a curb; you “read” the sound of traffic. And you literally read a tactile map.

And what about the expanded core curriculum topics I discussed today--career education, independent living skills, etc. How do we address them? The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child comes to mind. I believe our students deserve and have a right to a qualified teacher who can address these issues. Can we envision the local school districts sharing the responsibility with a school for the blind? Can we envision our students spending time between different programs, depending on different needs?

The goal is to keep our children’s emotional, academic, and spiritual needs uppermost in our minds, and who knows better what our children need than do you, the parents, and hopefully--in partnership with you--your principals and teachers. So let’s ask ourselves the question that is not new to any of us: What do our children need to succeed in the 21st Century? Thank you.

 

A Declaration of Equality

by Fredric K. Schroeder

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, July 5, 2007, NFB First Vice President, past Commissioner of the U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration, and Research Professor at San Diego State University Dr. Fred Schroeder addressed the Convention. These are his remarks as reprinted from the August/September, 2007, issue of the Braille Monitor, the monthly magazine of the National Federation of the Blind:

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress of the thirteen United States of America unanimously declared independence from the British Empire, severing ties between the colonies and the Crown. Today the Declaration of Independence is the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty. Every school child in America is familiar with the Declaration of Independence and the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Once independence had been declared, the new nation needed to agree on a constitution that would give structure to the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence, “in Order to form a more perfect Union,” that would offer the protection of a centralized government and, at the same time, would safeguard individual freedom. Yet freedom was not for everyone. The Constitution included several provisions that explicitly recognized and protected slavery. Of course the framers of the Constitution knew that the equality of all men was the foundational premise of the Declaration of Independence, but it was understood that it had not been intended to grant rights or equal status to slaves and other so-called inferior people.

This is why, nearly a century later, on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln invoked the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, at the dedication of the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His words are familiar to us all:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Powerful, inspiring words, but Lincoln’s words did far more than honor the dead and memorialize their sacrifice; by invoking the Declaration of Independence, he challenged the Constitution’s protection of slavery. He placed morality above the Constitution; he claimed the authority of a higher law, the law of right and wrong, to denounce the oppression of one race of people by another.

In the early 1970s the courts ruled that the right of blind children and other children with disabilities to be educated is guaranteed under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. As a result, in 1975 Congress adopted Public Law 94-142, assuring a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities across the country.1 But what does that mean? What is an appropriate education for a blind child? The legal standard has two parts: a program is considered appropriate if the school district has observed all procedural requirements in developing the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and if the district’s IEP is “reasonably calculated to confer educational benefit.” 2 Said more plainly, blind children and others with disabilities are not entitled to the best education or to an education that will maximize their potential or, for that matter, even to a good education. They are only entitled to an education that is “sufficient to confer some educational benefit upon the handicapped child.”

The Constitution guarantees blind children the right to an education, but not necessarily to an equal education. As in earlier times the Constitution has been interpreted to apportion equality in different measures to different classes of people. For blind children the courts have said that they only have the right to an education that is sufficient to confer some level of benefit. That is the law. Yet in 1863 President Lincoln placed the Declaration of Independence and its “proposition that all men are created equal” above the law--above the Constitution--and so must we. We must declare our equality and place it above public opinion and the laws and interpretation of laws that flow from stereotype and prejudice.

It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of all blind people are unemployed: eight out of ten blind people--an entire class of people oppressed by virtue of a single defining characteristic. What can be done to change this condition? The link between literacy and employment is well known and well documented. So what is the literacy rate among the blind? Of the estimated 55,200 legally blind children in America, only 5,500 use Braille as their primary reading medium--fewer than 10 percent. 3 But does this mean that the other 90 percent are illiterate? Haven’t advances in low-vision technology offered access to print to more and more low-vision children, making Braille unnecessary? Aren’t most low-vision children doing well using print--going on to college, pursuing challenging careers? Don’t print readers end up doing better than Braille readers? The short answer is no.

While only 10 percent of blind people read Braille, as many as 90 percent of employed blind people are Braille readers. 4 In a landmark study by Dr. Ruby Ryles, she found that children who grew up reading Braille had a 44 percent unemployment rate as adults compared to a 77 percent unemployment rate among low-vision children reading print. 5 That means that while four out of ten early Braille readers will still find themselves unemployed as adults, nearly eight out of ten low-vision print readers will face unemployment. Said another way, Braille readers are nearly twice as likely to find work as the general population of blind adults, while low-vision print readers have essentially the same unemployment rate as the general population of blind people.

But only 10 percent of blind children are taught to read and write Braille. Why? If Braille offers literacy and literacy doubles a blind person’s chance of becoming employed, why aren’t more blind children--the majority of blind children--being taught Braille? Some of the reasons are practical in nature. There is a shortage of trained teachers. Many teachers of blind children have so many students assigned to them they can only spend a few minutes a week with each child. Many teachers did not learn Braille well in college, and very, very few know the technical codes, and the list goes on and on. So what have we done, and more to the point, what should we do from here?

In 1997 we succeeded in amending the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to include a presumption of Braille for all blind children. 6 Nevertheless, in spite of the clear requirement that blind children receive Braille instruction, the U. S. Department of Education has taken the position that the amendment made no change, since blind and visually impaired children already receive assessments to determine the most appropriate reading medium. 7 With this logic the Department totally dismisses the statutory presumption of Braille for blind children and goes on to take the position that, when a parent disagrees with the IEP team, the district may continue to provide instruction in print while the parent and child wait for years as the formal appeal process drags on. 8

Why would the Department of Education take such a position? Why would the Department side with the local district, allowing print to be taught instead of Braille, knowing that the district has a vested interest in providing print instruction? If a child needs Braille, the district has to find a trained teacher, has to make the teacher available several hours each week, has to make provisions to acquire and produce materials in Braille, and will be pressed to buy expensive Braille technology. If the child has any sight at all, print is the easier, the cheaper, the less complicated option. It is also the option that has the greater risk of leaving the child illiterate and unemployed, and this is not just hyperbole.

Without the opportunity to become literate, blind children will face a lifetime of poverty--real poverty. A blind person receiving Supplemental Security Income from the federal government must survive on $623 a month and may not accumulate more than $2,000 in total assets to remain eligible for benefits, although the law does allow a blind person to put aside some money in a designated “burial account.”

So there you have it. According to the courts, according to the U. S. Department of Education, blind children have no right to literacy, only the right to receive instruction “sufficient to confer some educational benefit.” In place of equality, a check from the federal government--$623 a month, provided you do not accumulate more than $2,000 in assets (not usually a problem), and when you die, no money to help with burial expenses, unless during your lifetime you had found a way to put some money aside from your government check.

When the thirteen colonies declared independence from England, they asserted that “all men are created equal.” Yet when the Constitution was ratified, equality was reserved to white men only. But the law was wrong. And the court’s interpretation that a blind child’s right to an education is limited to instruction “sufficient to confer some educational benefit” is wrong. Equality is a fundamental right; it cannot be parceled out according to society’s view of the relative worth of a class of people, be it based on race or blindness. We must declare our equality and the right to learn and work and live a full, productive life; and that means we must have access to Braille, not just for 10 percent of us, not just if the school district finds it easy or convenient, but for all blind children. The stakes are too high and the consequences too great to do anything less.

We must begin by helping parents learn to believe that true literacy is possible for their children and that Braille is the best way to insure the development of good reading and writing skills. We must make parents aware that there is no downside in teaching their children Braille at a young age but that there is a serious risk in waiting until the child is having trouble keeping up in school. We must make parents aware that Braille readers routinely achieve reading speeds comparable to those of sighted children reading print and with no fear of eye fatigue. We must press local school districts to hire trained teachers to provide blind children with a good education. We must press for high standards to insure that teachers of blind children are well trained and well prepared and know Braille, including Braille music and the technical codes. We must make sure that blind children have the tools and resources to support the development of literacy. They must have materials in Braille, including technical materials. They must have access to electronic notetakers, and not just with speech output, but with Braille displays.

And above all we must bring blind children and their parents into the National Federation of the Blind. We must offer them our collective experience, our collective encouragement and support, and our belief in the ability of blind children to pursue their individual dreams. We must make them a part of our collective declaration of equality--a declaration rooted in the proposition that all men are created equal, including blind people; the declaration of our equality that has sustained our resolve, hardened our sense of purpose, and guided our efforts for nearly seventy years and that will carry us into the future.

Endnotes

1. The right of every child with a disability to be educated is grounded in the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Two federal court decisions are commonly cited as having inspired the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. They are the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth (1971) and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia (1972).

2. Hendrick Hudson School District Board of Education vs. Rowley, 458 U. S. 176; 192 S. Ct. 3034; 73 L. Ed. 2d 690 (1982) was the first special education case heard by the U. S. Supreme Court. The Rowley Court said, “The statutory definition of ‘free appropriate public education,’ in addition to requiring that states provide each child with ‘specially designed instruction,’ expressly requires the provision of ‘such . . . supportive services . . . as may be required to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education.’ We therefore conclude that the ‘basic floor of opportunity’ provided by the Act consists of access to specialized instruction and related services which are individually designed to provide educational benefit to the handicapped child.”

3. In 1998-99 approximately 55,200 legally blind children lived in the United States. Of these, approximately 5,500 used Braille as their primary reading medium. American Printing House for the Blind (APH), 1999. APH maintains an annual register of legally blind people in educational settings below the college level.

4. While estimates vary, somewhere between 80 and 93 percent of employed blind people report using Braille on the job. According to the Louis Braille Bicentennial–Braille Literacy Commemorative Coin Act, P.L. 109-257 (109th Congress), “Braille literacy aids the blind in taking responsible and self-sufficient roles in society, such as employment: while 70 percent of the blind are unemployed, 85 percent of the employed blind are Braille-literate.”

5. Ryles conducted a preliminary study in the state of Washington evaluating the correlation between adult literacy skills and employment. There she studied seventy-four adults who were born legally blind and were patrons of the Library for the Blind. Ryles discovered that 44 percent of the study participants who had learned to read in Braille were unemployed, while those who had learned to read using print had a 77 percent unemployment rate. Those results prompted her to conduct an in-depth study exploring the childhood reading education of legally blind high school students. “Research Study: Early Braille Education Vital,” (Ryles, R.) Future Reflections, Special Issue, 2004.

6. In 1997 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was amended making Braille the presumed reading medium for legally blind children. Specially, the law stated, “(iii) in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child;...” 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii)

7. Specially, with regard to the 1997 IDEA statutory provision creating a presumption of Braille, Attachment 2, Summary of Potential Benefits and Costs, to the 1999 Final Regulations implementing the ’97 Amendments states:

Clarifying that the team must consider a number of special factors to the extent they are applicable to the individual child. The statutory changes that are incorporated in Sec. 300.346 do not impose a new burden on school districts because the factors that are listed should have been considered, as appropriate, under the IDEA before the enactment of IDEA Amendments of 1997. These include: behavioral interventions for a child whose behavior impedes learning, language needs for a child with limited English proficiency, Braille for a blind or visually impaired child, the communication needs of the child, and the child’s need for assistive technology. Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, p. 12657 (March 12, 1999).

Additionally, Attachment 1, Analysis of Comments and Changes, to the 1999 Final Regulations states:

It should be emphasized that, under prior law, IEP teams were required to consider these special factors in situations where such consideration was necessary to ensure the provision of FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education] to a particular child with a disability. Therefore this new statutory provision makes explicit what was inherent in each child’s entitlement to FAPE under prior law. Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, p. 12588 (March 12, 1999).

And:

Contrary to a suggestion of commenters, a regulatory provision making it mandatory for Braille to be taught to every child who is legally blind would contravene the individually oriented focus of the Act as well as the statutory requirement that the IEP team must make individual determinations for each child who is blind or visually impaired based on relevant evaluation data. Federal Register, Vol. 64, 48, p. 12589 (March 12, 1999).

Thus, in its analysis of the statutory changes, the Department of Education essentially negates the creation of a presumption.

8. Specifically, Attachment 1, Analysis of Comments and Changes, to the 1999 Final Regulations implementing the ‘97 Amendments states:

If there is disagreement between the parents and school district over what constitutes an appropriate program for a child who is blind or visually impaired, when the IEP team has determined that instruction in Braille would not be appropriate for the child, the parents of the child would have the right to request a due process hearing and mediation. In addition, parents have available to them mediation and complaint resolution by which they can file a complaint with the SEA under the State complaint procedures in these regulations.

Although the LEA would not be required to provide instruction in Braille while the dispute is being resolved, the LEA would be required, both by Part B and Section 504, to ensure that the child receives instructional materials in an alternative medium to enable the child to participate in the LEA’s program. Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, p. 12590 (March 12, 1999).

This interpretation is more onerous, given the decision in Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. (2005). On November 14, 2005, the U. S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Schaffer v. Weast, a lawsuit to determine the burden of proof in special education cases challenging a student’s Individualized Education Program. The Court held that the party seeking relief, whether it is the student and/or family or the school district, has the burden of proof.

 

 

Taking Up the Braille Challenge


by Leslie Stocker

Editor’s Note: For Braille fans, this presentation at the convention was definitely a highlight. For more information about the Braille Challenge, Our Braille Special Collection program, and other services offered by the Braille Institute, go to <www.brailleinstitute.org> or call (323) 663-1111.

It is a distinct honor to be invited to address you today, because of a very special partnership the Braille Institute enjoys with NFB. And I do not speak at this moment of the direct relationship we have with the NFB of California [cheers from one corner of the ballroom]--I don’t know what you guys did that you have to sit off in a corner (the California delegation is in the far upper left corner as you face the stage) especially in recent years with the leadership of Nancy Burns and her husband Don, and now with Mr. Robert Stigile. But the partnership I am talking about occurred to me about a week and a half ago at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles, Universal City. We were at a banquet honoring and giving out the awards for the 2007 National Braille Challenge. As the winners were being introduced, they were working their way up to the stage to receive the prize. The MC was reading a biographical sketch about each young champion, and I kept hearing one term come back: that this person was a participant in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program of the National Federation of the Blind. Later I asked our vice president of programs and services about that because it hadn’t occurred to me to hear it so often. She said, “Oh yeah, when we get all of these applications, you would be surprised at how many of these contestants have their roots in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program.”

That leads me to conclude an unusual partnership, and I would like to tell you more about it in a moment but, in so doing, tell you about the Braille Challenge. First, very briefly, for those who are not aware, Braille Institute of America was founded in Los Angeles eighty-eight years ago by a totally blind man who developed a Braille publishing house and then later a Braille educational system along with rehabilitation. His name was Robert Atkinson. He was also one of the influential people in bringing about the founding of the National Library Service back in the 1930s. You can find that Robert Atkinson is enshrined today among other great leaders of our field at the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends at the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville.

Suffice it to say that Braille literacy has been a part of the warp and weave of the fiber of Braille Institute since its beginning. That’s what we were about. In recent years in our strategic planning we have rededicated ourselves to Braille literacy. Now in this instance I have to explain the Braille Institute has grown over the years, and we are one of the largest direct service organizations in the nation. We serve about 55,000 people annually, primarily in Southern California from our five campuses there in Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Rancho Mirage, and Anaheim. But when it comes to Braille literacy, we decided, wait, with our resources and the fact that so much can be done by distance, we want to have an impact on a national and even international basis. So we created two new programs, and I will share them very briefly with you and then draw to a conclusion what we are talking about today.

Back in 1999 we created a program called Our Braille Special Collection. And the premise behind this is that blind kids who are learning their Braille need to have more than just textbooks to read. They’ve got to have great children’s literature. Now I know there are sources for great literature, and NFB has been instrumental in making that happen as well. But we felt we’ve got to put more out there. We’ve got to flood these kids with stuff to read that they want to read. So we started, and, incidentally, our publishing house is entirely digitized, so all the titles that are in Braille in this children’s literature collection are filed on a major file server, and we have a bank of embossers. When a family calls in from anywhere in the nation or e-mails in, or however they get to us, and their student is qualified (they have to be registered as a reader with us), we simply, if they want Harry Potter, Volume 2, somebody pushes a button here, and it goes over to the embosser, and it is spun out, and it goes out in the mail that day. It is published on demand.

All of these books, incidentally, are free of charge to the recipients because again our theory here is (and there are pros and cons as to whether you charge or give it away free) our notion at this moment is we’ve got to flood these kids with stuff to read, and our experience shows, when we charged the fee, the use went way down. While sighted kids can go to the library to get a book, the blind kids don’t. So our notion is, give them books. Put books in their hands.

Since 1999 the number of books in that collection on that big file server available to readers anywhere in the U.S. now numbers 994. Those are books from the very modern Harry Potter style to Alice in Wonderland and Charlotte’s Web, and all those great things that we all read one way or another as we grew up. Today we have 3,274 registered readers throughout the United States. These are kids. That’s a big number. I’m especially grateful for that number, given the fact that APH’s registration of Braille readers age eighteen and below numbers only about 4,000. But therein is one of the biggest challenges we have, and that is there should be a whole lot more than 4,000 kids reading Braille.

This past year we sent out about 8,500 titles, and some were multiple volumes, of course, of Braille books to kids throughout the United States. That includes Dots for Tots. I don’t know if you have little kids, but Dots for Tots is a program where we have a Braille book with audio, but also with manipulatives, toys that go along with the storybook. So that’s a Braille Special Collection, and that brings me to the second program. Then we can tie this together. Braille Challenge is really a Braille literacy contest. It’s made up of five grade categories, and I’ll name them for you. The apprentice are little guys that are in the first and second grades. The freshman category are in grades three and four. Those two youngest categories have three contests they compete in. Number 1 is spelling--I bet you enjoyed that when you were in the first grade--reading comprehension, and proofreading. When you get to the third group, we call it sophomores. That’s grades five and six. Junior varsity is grades seven, eight, and nine; and varsity is grades ten, eleven, and twelve. Those three older categories have four contests: reading comprehension, proofreading, spelling, and speed and accuracy. Oh, that’s one they really love--speed and accuracy. They have to get ready for that.

The way the contest works--and this has been evolving--but we began it in the year 2000. Early in the year we send out a preliminary test to any child in the United States who is a Braille reader for their teacher to administer to them. The results of those tests are sent back to us. We grade them, and we end up inviting the top twelve contestants in each of those five categories. This past year--we’ve just completed the 2007 contest--those top twelve in each category, a total of sixty children, are invited to come to Los Angeles to compete for some really neat prizes in a bigger contest. I’ll tell you about those prizes in a moment, but let me give you some numbers. This year in the preliminary contest we sent tests out to a little over nine hundred children throughout the United States in thirty-five states and three Canadian provinces. That number is getting larger each year. Only about half of those students send the completed tests back. At first I was disappointed, but then I realized when we called and queried, we discovered, “Well, Johnny can’t read that well.” At least we have set the bar for them. We’ve shown the parents and the teachers what he or she should be doing. So there is incentive.

When the sixty finalists come to Los Angeles, we have a very festive occasion, and we have the contest itself. The winners receive some really cool prizes. The first-, second-, and third-place winners in each of the categories win U.S. savings bonds ranging in size from the third prize in the apprentice category of $500. The top prize in the varsity is $5,000. But that is not the most significant thing. To me the most significant prize is the awarding to the first-place winner in each of those five categories of a PAC Mate by Freedom Scientific. Now I have to tell you that I cannot be more elated with the partnership we’ve enjoyed with Freedom Scientific, because there’s a very special reason behind it. And it’s not only to have the preeminent access technology companies in the world as a part of this program, but we’re trying to make a statement that there is a direct connection between Braille literacy and technology. To a large extent the future is defined by our ability to interact with technology; there is a direct connection.

Freedom Scientific has been generous in providing these gifts. In fact, after they did this a couple of years, they called us and said, “Well, here’s the deal. We’re going to send you six PAC Mates next year, and we want you to award one to the teacher of the year.” My immediate reaction was, “Great, now how am I going to figure out who the teacher of the year is?” Here’s the secret. We’ve got a national advisory committee made up of some prominent educators throughout the United States and Canada. I flung it to them. I said, “You figure it out.” And they did. They came up with a very creative way of determining who is the teacher of the year. This year the winner of the PAC Mate and a trip to California to receive her award and recognition was a lady named Sandy Serventi, a longtime teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. When I met Sandy and talked to her, she said, “Oh you don’t know this, but this is the fourth time I’ve been here to the Braille Challenge. I’ve come four years in a row accompanying my students.” She said, “I’ve had eleven students make it to the finals now.”

We actually have, I believe, at least two winners of this year’s Braille Challenge in their categories with us here today. Ms. Kyra Sweeney is here and also, Megan Bening from Minnesota. I don’t know, maybe we have more winners in the audience that I don’t know about, certainly with the kind of support NFB has given to Braille literacy over the years.

This brings me to the partnership. When I think about it and I look at what you have been doing with your Braille Readers Are Leaders program for some twenty years, when I see the inter-relationship with the kids we are now connecting with, I cannot miss the partnership. Number one, Braille Readers Are Leaders is a focus on volume reading, and that creates incentive and self-esteem. I am a sighted person, but I think back when I was a boy growing up, I learned how to read by reading, not just by studying about it, but by doing a lot of reading.

The second part of this partnership is the Braille Special Collection and other sources throughout the U.S. for children’s books. We’ve got to flood these kids with books and keep them reading. Number three in this tri-part partnership is our Braille Challenge itself. It has grown and taken on a life of its own. I could not be more elated with it. It has far excelled our expectations, and probably, because many different organizations are now participating, it’s not just Braille Institute. This last year we had seventeen regional contests in the spring leading up to the main contest. They were staged by different organizations, state schools, and even a program up in Calgary, Alberta. They are smaller versions for which we provide testing materials. We provide everything, the rules, all that goes to help prepare these kids to become real finalists. In fact, two winners from Iowa this year, who had never competed before, had a preliminary event in their state that really did a great job.

I kind of feel like, I know Dr. Maurer will share this feeling, like my fellow Californian, General George Patton, in World War II, standing on the shores of Tripoli on the Mediterranean, looking northward to Europe, which at that time was under the complete control of fascism. He was a reader of classical literature, and he mused, “The Elysian Fields lie before us.”--meaning the task has no end. It’s out there. Folks, there are so many kids in this country who need to be learning their Braille, who need to be learning the intellectual skills that are developed through the process of becoming literate. We don’t function without that. It is so important.

I would like to suggest and propose that we do something proactively here. Number one, we need to spread the word more. After I was invited to this occasion and I started going back over the history of how we’ve developed the Braille Challenge, I realized that we have some common resources here. I told my staff from now on we need to tell the growing network of people using our books and participating in our Challenge about the Braille Readers Are Leaders program from NFB. I would hope that NFB will also be advertising books available through the Braille Institute and the Braille Challenge. We need to spread the word as far as we can.

Also I mentioned that we have these regional challenges throughout the U.S. and one in Canada this last year. I offer this to any of you state chapters of NFB. If you would like to participate in something like that in your own state or region, we would be elated to partner with you, and we provide the materials. You can help further the skills of your children there. And of course, we always welcome sponsors to the published book program itself. Again, Dr. Maurer, it has been a distinct honor to address you this morning and to thank you in person for this unusual partnership that we enjoy.

Following this presentation, three members of the audience posed questions to Mr. Stocker, who said that he would provide full answers following the convention. Accompanying a letter dated July 17, 2007, the answers to these questions were forwarded to President Maurer. Here is what Mr. Stocker wrote:

1. Question: Is your Braille Special Collection (Brailled children's literature) available everywhere in North America?

Answer: Yes. The 3,274 current participants reside all across the U.S. and Canada.

2. Question: Can Braille Institute provide more Braille education for its adult students?

Answer: We do provide classes in Braille literacy for our adult students on all of our five campuses. While there may occasionally be a problem due to staff turnover, we seldom have a waiting list. The vast majority of our students are senior citizens suffering from age-related macular degeneration. These are literate people, most of whom are using some kind of low-vision device. Hence, the need for Braille literacy is not as critical for them as we believe it is for blind children. That said, we offer Braille classes for students of all ages.

3. Question: Are you open to hiring orientation and mobility specialists certified by the National Blindness Professionals Certification Board?

Answer: Yes. In fact, we invited Lisa Maria Martinez to speak at an in-service training program for our orientation and mobility staff on April 12, 2007. She is a Louisiana Tech graduate with NOMC certification. We arranged for Lisa through the NFB of California office and specifically asked her to speak about and demonstrate the long cane, which as a result of her presentation, we will now be carrying in the stores on all of our campuses. Lisa's talk also provided an opportunity to explore various approaches to orientation and mobility training.

 

 

Braille Readers Are Leaders 2007-2008

by Barbara Cheadle

If you saw the announcement in the last issue of Future Reflections, you will know that we have made some major changes in our annual NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. It all started with conversations among NOPBC and National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) leaders, Dr. Maurer, and the NFB Jernigan Institute education department. We wanted to streamline the contest, update it, make it more efficient, get the prizes out in a more timely fashion, and do so without diminishing the program in any way. Furthermore, we wanted to find a way to get the top winners and their parents and teachers more actively involved in the NFB. We think we have accomplished all this, and we hope that all our members will be as excited about the changes as we are. The full details of the contest are on our NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Braille_Readers_Are_Leaders.asp>, but here is an overview.

Let’s begin with what has not changed. The purpose is, as it always has been, to promote the joy of reading for pleasure, to promote a pride in Braille as a viable literacy medium equal to print, and to demonstrate the importance of independent reading in the development of Braille literacy skills. Eligibility for the contest has not changed. All blind or visually impaired Braille-reading students enrolled in an educational program for students from grades kindergarten through twelfth grade in the USA or Canada are eligible to compete in the contest. And competition is still based on reading the largest number of Braille pages of leisure reading material during the contest period as certified by the child’s teacher, parent, or librarian.

So the heart and soul of the contest remains intact. Some of the other details also remain the same. The Braille Community Service Award is still in place, and so are the regular grade categories for competition. And we still give special recognition to residential or day schools for the blind that enroll a significant percentage of their students in the contest and in other ways promote Braille literacy and the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. All participants will get certificates, and different-colored print-Braille ribbons will be awarded to contestants who read 500, 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000, and 12,000 pages.

So what has changed? Let’s begin with a basic: the time period. The contest is now two months, not three. It begins, as it always has, on November 1, but now it ends on Louis Braille’s birthday—January 4. We believe that the shorter time will eventually encourage more parents and teachers to enter students in the contest. It is a tremendous amount of work to keep track of books and materials read, but of course the more kids read, the better they get. Our goal is to strike the best balance between making the contest long enough to make a difference, but short enough that teachers and parents do not feel overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes to document activity for the contest.

Another change is that this year every participant who registers in advance for the contest will get a special Braille Readers Are Leaders T-shirt. That’s right, we have added a registration process. Teachers and parents have often asked if we could get the certificates and prizes to the students sooner. It currently takes twelve weeks to process the entry forms and get certificates, ribbons, and prizes to the contestants. To get a faster turnaround time, we have instituted an option for early registration. And, to provide extra incentive, we guarantee a contest T-shirt for every contestant who registers for the contest between October 1 and December 1. Students who do not register in advance, but who get the registration and entry form in by the January 21 deadline, will still be eligible for all awards and cash prizes, but they are not guaranteed a T-shirt.

Now let’s talk about prizes. The biggest and most exciting change of all is that this year twelve of the top contestants will win an eight-day, seven-night trip for themselves and a parent (or an adult chaperone) to the 2008 NFB convention in Dallas, Texas. The trip will include transportation, hotel room, and other expenses for eight days, beginning with the parents seminar, continuing through the banquet, and ending on the final day of the convention session. The winners will also have the opportunity to speak briefly at the NAPUB and NOPBC meetings. We couldn’t think of a better way to reward these bright, competitive young Braille readers from all over the country than to offer them the opportunity to join in the excitement, the fun, and the camaraderie of the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled.

Not everyone may elect to compete for the trip, and, while there is no substitute for the trip, one thing that has always worked as an incentive in the contest is cash prizes, and we still offer those. The top three contestants in each of five categories will win a $50 cash prize. The five categories are grades K-1; 2-3, 4-5, 6-8 (middle school); and 9-12 (high school). Every contestant will be automatically considered for an award in his or her age-appropriate grade category. This includes delayed readers and un-graded students.

We have found that even students with delays can be competitive in their grade category because we do not (and never have) put restrictions on the grade level of the materials the contestant reads. For example, we expect that a high school student who reads at a third-grade level will read third-grade-level material or even below for the competition and, therefore, with motivation and diligence could beat out an average or even better-than-average student who reads at grade level. Students with reading delays may also submit information to be considered for the Jennifer Baker Award, one of three special awards that qualified students may choose to compete for.

Two of these three awards replace categories we no longer have. The Jennifer Baker Award replaces the Most Improved Award, and the Twin Vision® Award replaces the Print-to-Braille category. The third award, the Braille Community Service Award, was instituted about three years ago, and is just beginning to fulfill what we hope to accomplish through it. Although it is not new, we are including a brief description of it along with the other two new awards.

Braille Community Service Award. This award most closely reflects the ultimate mission of the contest. Braille literacy enhances the ability of blind children of all ages to demonstrate leadership through service to others. For example, a blind teen may use Braille to read to lonely residents in a nursing home or use his or her Braille skills to organize and conduct a food drive for a school project. The opportunities for service, if you are literate, are endless. The goal of this award is to encourage contestants who have developed good Braille skills to reach out into the community and use those skills for the good of others.

This award is restricted to students in grades six through twelve. To be considered for this award, the student must read a minimum number of pages for the contest and submit a letter of nomination from a knowledgeable adult. Up to five students will be selected for this award, and all winners of this award will automatically win a trip to the convention.

Twin Vision® Awards for dual print-and-Braille readers or print-to-Braille readers. Funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, the award is for elementary students who have learned and used both print and Braille from an early age, and also for students who were print readers and have switched to, or are in the process of switching to, Braille. No fewer than one student and no more than five will be selected for this award. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must write a letter. The student must also participate in the regular competition.

2008 Jennifer Baker Awards. Named after Jennifer Baker, a young woman from Maryland who overcame many severe additional disabilities to become Braille literate and was a frequent national winner in the Braille Readers Are Leaders program. Jennifer was an avid reader who traveled the world in her mind with the help of Amelia Bedelia and other characters from her beloved Braille storybooks. She died of kidney failure shortly before her twenty-first birthday. This award is given in her memory to no fewer than one student and no more than five who submit a letter of nomination with information documenting the obstacles the student has overcome to become Braille literate. Examples of those eligible for this award might be students with cognitive or physical disabilities, English-as-second-language learners, students with brain injuries, or students who have been otherwise educationally disadvantaged. To nominate a student for this award, a teacher or other individual who is intimately familiar with that student’s literacy development must submit a letter of nomination. The student must also participate in the regular competition.

If you have been counting the number of possible winners, you know that we offer a minimum of eighteen and a maximum of thirty cash awards, which means that not every contestant will win a trip. If more than twelve of the winners have elected to compete for the trip, then a run-off essay competition will be supervised by Jennifer Dunnam, a longtime leader in the Minnesota affiliate and the manager of Braille programs under the education department of the NFB Jernigan Institute. Jennifer will also be managing the day-to-day operations of registration, processing entry forms, sending out certificates and prizes, and collaborating with NOPBC and NAPUB to judge the contest and to evaluate the changes we put in place this year.

This brings us back to one very important component that has not changed. The contest, you notice, is still co-sponsored by the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Those divisions will continue to work with our national office and state affiliates, as they have for the past twenty-five years, to promote and build this program with pride, energy, and all of the creative and financial resources available to us.

 

 

The Inside Scoop on the NFB Youth Slam

by Mary Jo Thorpe

One more calendar page has turned over, families have packed away their beach towels, and new backpacks grace the backs of blind students from all over the country as they return to the classroom. But this year their minds are filled with memories, new skills, and confidence gained from their summer experiences at the first-ever National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Youth Slam.

By now, news of the NFB Youth Slam has spread far and wide. Dozens of articles have been published about the successful efforts of the week. Many interested readers have visited the NFB Web site for snapshots of the slam from a variety of perspectives. However, those of us working at the NFB Jernigan Institute thought you might enjoy an overview of the content of the week from our perspective.

While we began with an initial picture of what we wanted the week to look like, no one could have imagined how this “big idea,” as it was affectionately called in the beginning, would develop into the masterpiece that was to become the NFB Youth Slam. Planning for the event began just a few short weeks after the conclusion of the 2006 summer science programs at the NFB Jernigan Institute. No rest for the weary, we thought at first, but this was soon replaced with excitement kindled by plans for doing something even bigger and better in 2007.

The education staff faced two big objectives. One, pull off something that has never been done before, and two, make sure it is meaningful to the students who participate. No big deal, right? As you can see, we had a daunting task before us, but we were up for the challenge. Under the direction of Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, this project was definitely a team effort. I am the education programs specialist for the Jernigan Institute and Karen Zakhnini is the education programs coordinator, and the two of us took the lead in carrying out most of the preparations for the event. We had tremendous support from two graduate students from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, Caroline McEnnis and Ben Tang. Staff members from the NFB Affiliate Action and Parent Outreach departments were also key players in the preparations. Like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, we began putting the pieces together.

Continuing in the Institute’s efforts to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum among blind students, we structured the event around this theme, dubbing it a STEM Academy. The content for the week literally unfolded through dozens of collaborative meetings with instructors, scientists, students from Johns Hopkins University, and many others. Because I was at the forefront of all the planning for the content and activities, I also experienced the excitement of seeing how one idea could spawn a handful of new ideas.

Youth Slam Tracks
In total, there were nine targeted content areas or tracks which students attended each day. Many of the tracks and short sessions were several months in the making. Prior to the event, students were given a list with a description of the tracks and asked to select their top three preferences. As much as possible, we assigned students to one of their top picks for the week. A blind lead instructor was also assigned to each of the nine tracks. In addition to the tracks, students were organized into pods or groups of three students with one adult mentor. Five to six pods were assigned to each one of the nine tracks. Each pod also roomed together with their mentor in one of the four-bedroom dormitory suites on the Johns Hopkins campus.

Slam--The Renewable Energy: This track was led by Cary Supalo, a blind chemistry graduate student from Penn State University, and Dave Wohlers, a blind chemistry professor from Truman State University. Their students used adapted nonvisual technology, such as balances with speech output and SAL (submersible audible light) sensors, to perform basic chemistry experiments independently. This was the first time many, if not most, of the students had ever been able to do this as blind students in a chemistry lab. During the week, students learned about green chemistry through various basic chemical principles as they created bio-diesel fuel. At the end of the week, the students tested their fuel in a small engine and also made methane batteries to operate small cars.

Slammin’ in the Stars: Noreen Grice partnered with Ben Wentworth to lead this unit. Noreen is an astronomer from the Boston Planetarium and founder of You Can Do Astronomy, a company that produces tactile books about astronomy, and Ben Wentworth is a former national award-winning science teacher with a knack for adapting activities for blind students. The two produced a dynamic set of hands-on activities to teach some highly visual concepts with alternative methods and materials. Students learned about constellations by looking at tactile star wheels and planet spheres. Tactile planetariums made of dome tents with a variety of nuts, bolts, and other tactile materials glued to their interior in various patterns to match the night sky also helped to illustrate these concepts. Hula-hoops cut into shapes of planetary orbits were used to depict how various objects orbit the sun and as demonstrations of the principle of seasons. Students explored handheld models of the Hubble telescope made from PVC pipe while noted Hubble scientist Max Mutchler engaged students in an advanced interactive lecture about the Hubble telescope project.

Inventors of the Future: This track brought participants together with graduate students from the Whiting School of Engineering as the teams carried out the process of designing and developing a prototype of a useful product. Each product was displayed with either a poster drawing or an actual model in a presentation at the end of the week. Inventions included a face recognition device so blind people could identify others in a room, a hands-free magnification and audible musical note reader for blind musicians, an automatic recycling trash compactor for malls, and a hover craft built from leaf blowers and plywood which could actually sustain a passenger. This track was a great deal of fun for the students and taught them some basic principles of mechanical engineering and material design. Perhaps these five inventions will be coming to a store near you someday.

Slam Rockets: Led by NASA contractors Berit Bland and Charlie Lipsit, this track was a spin-off from the NFB Rocket On! science academy program. Students worked in teams to design a payload and build censors for a two-foot rocket. The really exciting part came when, after calculating the trajectory, students launched approximately twenty rockets nearly five hundred feet into the air from a city park near the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus.

Operation Air Slam: It’s not every day that someone can say he or she launched a scientific balloon, but now fifteen NFB Youth Slam participants can make this claim. These students worked with instructors from the University of Maryland Balloon Science program and the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. Students learned through hands-on physics experiments and presentations about how and why balloon launching is a valuable asset to scientists who study the atmosphere. Groups put together a cricket sensor and attached this payload to simple party balloons with a tracking device. After the launch, the students analyzed the data transmitted in Morse code from the sensors before the balloons landed several miles outside of Baltimore City.

Slam Engineers Unit: This track packed a summer’s worth of curriculum from the What is Engineering program at Johns Hopkins University into one week. Students competed in teams to design a bridge that used the best quality material to hold the most weight, but with the least amount of cost. Each team was given a budget and a variety of materials they could use. At the end of the week, the moment of truth came when the bridges were put to the test. Through the squeals of delight, groans of disappointment, and snapping of string and popsicle sticks, a winner emerged: it was a bridge that sustained nearly seventy pounds of pressure without breaking.

Slammin’ in the Wind: Think learning about windmills is boring? That’s what one student thought upon being assigned to this track. The student put up quite a protest in the beginning, but after the first day realized how much fun it was and became the biggest cheerleader for the project. The students learned ways in which wind can be a valuable renewable energy resource by competing against each other in windmill design. Students used paper plates, cups, and other household items to make the windmills and then tested them at the end of the week in an actual wind tunnel.

Slam Talk Back: Don’t worry, we didn’t teach these typical teenagers how to talk back to their parents. Rather, students worked with computer scientists from the University of Washington to create a chat bot, which is a piece of software similar to a search engine. This can be programmed to search for a specific topic of interest at a specific time and then report the latest information to the user. From sports statistics to weather conditions, our students had great fun gathering information. Most of the students took their program home with them with big plans to build on their design.

Slam News: This track was a little unorthodox. Instead of engaging in a specific set of STEM activities for a part of the day, students in this track spent all their time visiting other tracks and reporting on the various activities. Blind instructors Brian Bashin and Liz Campbell, both of whom have backgrounds and job experience in journalism, led this track with additional support from American Printing House representative, Larry Skutchan. The purpose of this track was two-fold: first, it showed students who were not interested in STEM fields that there are many other professions in which one can work that require knowledge of the STEM subjects. Second, it provided an inside look at the week through the eyes of the students. Reports, podcasts, and blog postings written by students in this track can be found on the NFB Youth Slam homepage at <www.blindscience.org/ncbys/youth_slam.asp>.

Short Sessions
When not participating in track activities, students attended two to three of the short sessions. Nearly twenty-five of these reoccurring short sessions were peppered in throughout the week. The goal wasn’t for every student to do everything possible. Rather, we wanted to give the students a little taste of a lot of things and leave them wanting more—and that is exactly what we did.

Short sessions crossed over all sections of STEM curriculum. Staff members from the NFB International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) fascinated technology lovers with the chance to tear apart and rebuild a computer and in the process, of course, giving students a chance to learn more about the hardware side of computers. Another technology session was about blindness products that can be used by blind students, such as Braille electronic notetakers, speech and magnification programs, and scanning software.

One of the favorites of the short sessions was the shark dissection--a trademark activity of previous NFB science academies. It was fun to hear the different students talk during the week about how gross and exciting the shark dissection was for them. Other students participated in a session with Dr. Joanne Settel, a biology professor at Baltimore City Community College, where they learned about bones and blood, had the chance to dissect a cow’s heart, and put together a model skeleton.

Another popular choice from the smorgasbord of sessions was the Gecko Project. The geckos were used to demonstrate principles of surface forces since geckos can walk upside down without any special adaptations to make them stick to surfaces. Other sessions included labs on making synthetic collagen, a unit using haptics software, and activities with software used to create virtual reality experiences with touch.

During the content planning for the week, we previewed the activities with the instructors to see what things might need to be modified for the students, and to determine what alternative methods would be used. There was always a great sense of anticipation after various test runs of the activities from those of us coordinating the content to see how the students would react to our plans.

Since we in the NFB are in the business of educating ourselves as well as others about blindness, we also planned short sessions on blindness issues conducted by blind NFB staff members from the National Center for the Blind. These sessions were as important to the curriculum and the learning experience as the STEM content sessions. Topics included advocacy, making positive first impressions as a blind person, cane travel, legislation, and the importance of collective action. Each pod--a group of three students and an adult mentor--was scheduled for at least one blindness session each day. In addition, each attended a session dedicated to a philosophical discussion on what it means to be blind.

The other mandatory session was an art project planned and conducted by Ann Cunningham, an artist and sculptor from Colorado. In this session, each student made a five-inch square clay tile that represented who they are and their vision and hopes for their future. One young girl interested in becoming a doctor designed her tile with sketches of a book, medicine bottle, the cross symbol of the Red Cross, and her name in Braille clay dots. These tactile tiles are currently on display in the NFB Jernigan Institute, Jacobus tenBroek Library.

One afternoon of the week was dedicated to a visit to the National Center for the Blind, home of the NFB Jernigan Institute and headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, where several activities occurred. The afternoon featured tours of the Institute, exhibits, and breakout sessions with blind scientists, NFB cane travel instructors, technology experts, and leaders of the NFB—including a special session with NFB President Marc Maurer. Two dozen exhibitors had displays in the Members Hall, providing opportunities for students to visit booths from NASA, Somatic Digital, Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), HumanWare, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), just to name a few. One booth offered ice cream made on the spot from liquid nitrogen; needless to say, there was always a line in front of it. Another booth offered students a chance to chat with blind scientist Dr. Abraham Nemeth, inventor of the Nemeth Braille math code; Dr. Geerat Vermeij, a marine biologist; Dr. Michael Gosse, a systems engineer; and Dr. Adrienne Asch, a bioethicist.

After Hours
The daytime curriculum was jam-packed, and so were the evenings. Each night was filled with a variety of recreational activities for all to enjoy. These included social activities at the dorms, a night at the Johns Hopkins University recreation center, a talent show, two Star Parties, and a dance at the National Center for the Blind. Students had auditioned in advance for the Showcase of Talent by mailing in tapes, videos, or CDs of their performances. Representatives from the Westminster Astronomical Society of Maryland put on the two Star Parties. They brought telescopes, a swell-form tactile graphics machine, and special swell-touch paper so that students could convert real-time visual images taken from a telescope into tactile images moments later.

In the evenings, our budding Pulitzer Prize winners transformed into party animals. They revealed competitive streaks during games of UNO, donned their game faces as they played goal ball, and demonstrated their showmanship by serenading the crowd with the latest hip hop song at open-mic night. The immense amount of talent displayed throughout the week was impressive. Students demonstrated it at the Showcase of Talent, on the rock-climbing wall, and back in the dorms where peers shared knowledge on using Wi-Fi on their BrailleNotes. And of course, what summer youth program would be complete without a few blossoming summer romances and a sprinkling of teenage drama. We were glad to see that most of our blind youth were behaving age-appropriately.

Our participants were quite an animated group, and demonstrated their enthusiasm on many occasions. Spirited cheering raised the roof after Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, former executive director of the Jernigan Institute, welcomed a crowd of nearly three hundred students, mentors, and instructors at the dorms where the students spent the week; and raised the roof again after the two podcasts by the Slam News track aired at dinner times. On Friday, the last day, you would think that after a week of intense activities and late night chats that these teens would be ready to throw in the towel, but this was not the case. After a rousing gathering at the Baltimore Inner Harbor where participants heard an inspirational address from NFB national board member and president of the NFB of Georgia, Anil Lewis, the participants made their way in a Youth March for Independence--a mile jaunt to the National Center for the Blind. Even a mild summer shower toward the end of the march could not dampen the enthusiasm. The excitement was palpable as we all thought about the precedent we were setting.

Later that afternoon, the enthusiasm reached a new level. During the week the students had created cheers for each of the dorm floors, using their floor number for group identification. As the students and mentors gathered in Members Hall for the closing ceremony, the room rang with the cacophony of chants. Students yelled out their cheers at the tops of their lungs. Shouts of “Four rules,” “Five is alive,” “Six Rocks,” “Seven is heaven,” “Eight is great,” and “Nine is Sublime!” rang out as each floor tried to outdo the others and establish their group as the ruling floor of the week. Cheers also greeted the remarks of NFB dignitaries and the presentations of student representatives from each track who talked about what had been accomplished that week. The evening program wrapped up with an exciting video--see <www.blindscience.org >-- that documented the highlights of the week. And, of course, no teen event would be complete without a dance, so a performance by a local band capped off the night.

The NFB Jernigan Institute leads the quest to understand the real problems of blindness and to develop innovative education, technology, products, and services that help the world’s blind to achieve independence. This event was another step on the ladder of progress toward expanding the initiatives of the National Center for Blind Youth in Science. We invite you to visit <www.blindscience.org> to read, listen, and view other memories from the week and to learn more about the other exciting programs taking place to promote STEM among blind youth. In addition, you will find information on the Web site about many of the alternative techniques and the adaptive equipment used during the NFB Youth Slam.

All of us who participated in this extraordinary event feel a sense of pride in being a part of something bigger than ourselves. The NFB Youth Slam truly made many impressions, and it is difficult to do it justice in one short article. The tremendous community of the National Federation of the Blind is what made it such a powerful event. The philosophy of this organization, the role-modeling of confident blind mentors, and the high expectations that we share set our programs apart from others, and mold them into greatness. We look forward to doing it all over again, even bigger and better in 2009!

 

 

Jobs for the Future: A Panel Discussion


Editor’s Note: The following transcript is from a panel presentation given during the morning session of the parent’s seminar on Saturday, June 29. Although we have edited the transcript for clarification and made some changes and additions from text provided by the speakers, we have also tried to retain the dynamic flow of the original presentations as much as possible. The panel moderator is Dr. Fred Schroeder and the panel members are Ever Lee Hairston, Robert Newman, Beth Allred, and Mike Mello. The panel begins with a short introduction from Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children:

Barbara Cheadle: Fred Schroeder is the former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and he is an educator—a college professor—but he’s also been down and dirty in the public schools with blind children and administering teaching programs there, so he certainly knows all aspects of blindness from education to rehabilitation. So Fred, take it away; it is now your panel.

Fred Schroeder, panel moderator: Good morning to all of you. I am delighted to be here. Sister Meg said so many things that were just absolutely right on target in her speech. When she was talking to us about the unemployment rate of blind adults—the estimates vary from seventy to eighty percent—and whether children then can look forward to seven or eight out of ten of them being unemployed, one thing that occurred to me was the results of the tremendous research conducted by Dr. Ruby Ryles. One of the things Ryles found was that kids who grew up reading Braille—in other words, who developed real literacy skills—had about a four out of ten unemployment rate. Now that’s not terrific, but if you think about it, it means they’re twice as likely to be able to work as compared to other blind workers because they developed good literacy skills early on.

Now what else do we need to do in order to be able to help blind children work? Those of you who are sighted here in the room, I want you to think for a moment about this question: If you lost your job today—if your company went broke and you were laid off, and you lost your job today—how long would it be before you would work again? Well, you might think it depends on the nature of your job. You might be a teacher and you are saying to yourself, “Well, I’ve got to fill out applications and it could be several months.” Okay, it might be several months, and depending on the field you are in, it might even take a year or longer. But I didn’t say how long before you got the same type of job you’re doing today. The question is: How long before you could generate money—an income of any kind--to help support yourself and your family? It could take you only a couple of days, really, if you think about it. Now, it might not be a great job. You might have to go flip hamburgers at McDonald’s or something like that, but you could start generating income quickly.

But because of society’s low expectations for blind people, blind people don’t have that option as readily available. If you—a sighted person--are a teacher and lost your job, well the next school day you could go to work as a substitute. You could generate some income that quickly. But, as a blind person, it’s as hard for me to get a subbing job as it is to get a full teaching job. Why? Because society automatically assumes that blind people cannot do the work that others do.

I don’t say all this to be depressing, but to help you recognize that the barriers to employment are really two parts: skills and society’s attitude’s about blindness. Sister Meg talked a good bit about the development of skills, particularly literacy. To overcome these barriers, the first thing you need to do as parents is to believe that your child can work. The second thing that you and your child need to do is to expand your understanding and knowledge about the potential jobs that blind people can do. Obviously, your child is not going to be a taxi driver or fly an airplane--at least not with today’s technology. But what do you know about what is possible?

I went blind at sixteen. I had been low vision for nine years, but I lost all my sight when I was sixteen. I was in the hospital and I was thinking about jobs, and the only two jobs that I could think that a blind person might be able to do was to be a disc jockey (DJ) or a psychologist. That was based on my belief at age sixteen that DJ’s and psychologists got paid for talking, and that’s the only thing I knew I could do as a blind person—talk. And that was as expansive as my view was about the jobs blind people could do.

You are about to hear from a panel of people who will, I think, spark some thinking on your part about jobs and blindness. I am going to ask the panel to try to keep their remarks to five to seven minutes so we can have time for some questions. The point of this panel is to help you go beyond an intellectual understanding that blind people can do lots of jobs, and to bring you to a real gut-level belief that blind people can work in a wide range of jobs. This means that your child can develop his or her individual interests—be that something that society readily assumes blind people can do or not—be successful in that endeavor, and live a fulfilling life.

I’m going to have our panelists introduce themselves as they speak, so let’s start with Ever Lee Hairston.

Good morning. I am Ever Lee Hairston. I currently live in Los Angeles, California. I relocated last year from New Jersey to California. And again, good morning to all of you. I just want to share with you that 1987 was the first time that I heard the NFB pledge. I pledged to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security. And those words just rang in my ears, because I had already begun to work for the Department of Health and Human Services located in Camden County, New Jersey. I was at the bottom level. I began as a counselor trainee. I had already given up my job as a teacher long before that, and had worked as a court stenographer and as an administrative assistant. As a matter of fact, I had gone from job to job. But finally I had landed this job with the Department of Health and Human Services. I did not feel confident in what I was doing. I did not believe that I could move up the ladder, or be equal with my colleagues. Those words rang in my ears: equality, opportunity, and security. I was still feeling ashamed in many ways, fearful that I might lose my job if I didn’t do something correctly. I had very little blindness skills, and so those words continued to ring in my ears.

And so, I knew it was time for me to do something different. I continued to get involved with the Federation of the Blind. I continued to attend conventions, and I recall one in particular. I was going through the registration line and I was asked, “Would you like a Braille or print agenda?” I could no longer read print and I certainly couldn’t read Braille, so a light bulb went off in my head, “Gee, I must do something about my problem.” Later I decided that I must attend the NFB Louisiana Center for the Blind where I could get some training, some blindness skills, and return to New Jersey to compete with my colleagues. That was the beginning of change for me as a blind person. The process of life is change. And so that was a beginning for me. I was tired of feeling ashamed, fearful, and stagnant because I did not have the skills necessary in order to move up the ladder.

So what was the change? What was that all about for me? The “c” in change also stands for communicate, and Fred just talked about that. I needed to learn Braille so I could communicate on the job and wherever else I needed it, and also I needed to find the courage necessary to do the things that were required of me. Take a risk; that’s what I needed to do. Also, the “c” in change meant building confidence in myself, and using that confidence to commit to my goals.

The “h” in change stood for getting honest with myself. Teach your children to be honest. Being in denial of your eye condition, or your child’s eye condition, is a hindrance to your child and to you as parents. Are you are afraid to say, “Oh, my child is blind,” to the acquaintance walking down the street who hasn’t seen your child yet? My mother used to whisper, “She can’t see,” when explaining to friends or acquaintances about my eyesight. Even when I went to work, I will never forget that my boss would point to my eyes [points] and say, “She can’t see.” Even as an adult, when I’d go home to visit my mother, she’d put new light bulbs in every lamp and all the overhead lights. By that time, I couldn’t see them. But, in her mind, if she put brighter lights up, I could see. Years later, and she’s still in denial. Are you able to say, “my daughter is blind?” Get honest with yourself and your children. It’s extremely important.

The “a” in change is about being able to advocate for yourself. You must teach your children to advocate for themselves. It’s important for you to advocate for them now, but you can’t be going in for them to their boss when they get a job. They, your kids, must be able to speak up for themselves and say what they need and what’s important to them. They must have aspiration, too. That’s another “a.”

The “n” in change means you must be able to network. Your child needs to know how to find out, when looking for employment, about other blind people doing that same type of work. What is it that they are doing to be able to do this job or work in that profession? We have so many blind people working in so many different professions today, and your child can benefit from their experiences if he or she knows how to network.

The “g” in change means greatness. Teach your child greatness. You know, when you go to a football game, you can see all the parents out there jumping up and down and yelling at the coaches, “Let my son play. Give him a chance.” You—the parents of blind students—need to be your children’s cheerleaders, too. You need to expect greatness from them. Cheer them on, no matter what they’re doing. They may not be out on the football field, but whatever they are involved in, cheer them on, because it is greatness that you want from your blind child.

And the “e” in change stands for enthusiastic. In order to do anything and to be great at it, we must be enthusiastic and enjoy what we do. That’s the formula, c-h-a-n-g-e: communication, confidence, honesty, advocacy, aspiration, networking, greatness, and enthusiasm.

What did I do? How did that formula work for me? I retired in 2006 from the Department of Health and Human Services after twenty-six years. But when I first began, I had no skills. What was necessary for me to do was to get proper training, learn some blindness skills, and to be determined to move up the ladder. I started at the bottom as a counselor trainee and in 2006 when I retired I was director of the program of the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. I was responsible for the intoxicated drivers’ resource center, where all drunk drivers had to come in for two days of education and referral. I was also responsible for the drunk court program. Some clients were referred to a drunk court program rather than being incarcerated. Our job was to send counselors, and many times I had to go myself, to represent those clients in the courtroom. I also had to represent the agency at the state level by attending meetings, conferences, and so forth. How did I do it? I traveled independently using my cane and I used Braille and my BrailleNote to write the names of clients and other information I needed to take to court or to meetings with me.

I was also responsible for a rehabilitation program for adults and for teenagers and their parents. I was responsible for all of these programs. None of my counselors or staff members was blind. All twenty-six members of my staff were sighted with a blind director. And many times they tried to test me to see if I was truly blind; they did silly things like pulling out a chair and leaving it out to see if I was going to run over it, or holding things up in front of my eyes to test my vision without saying anything to me. They tried little tricks like that to try and get something over on me. You know how some employees are. They do this to sighted supervisors or directors, too. Oftentimes I would be sitting at my desk with my head down doing my work and one of my staff members would walk in and I’d raise my head up and I’d say something like, “Sandy, what would you like?” The person would be flabbergasted: “How did you know it was me?” We blind people must be in tune to things around us and about us. Of course, I could tell it was Sandy by her walk or something else, but I didn’t always tell her that.

All of the training and skills that I learned at the Louisiana Center for the Blind when I lost the rest of my vision was wonderful, and necessary. So was the education that I had received, when I was still partially sighted, by going to college. It took a lot of determination to get through at that time. I didn’t have the technology that the students have today. I would go and sit in a classroom, tape the lecture, then go home at night and listen to that tape and use a board with little rubber bands across it horizontally to write out the notes that I could turn in to the professor the next day. You see, I earned my education the old-fashioned way, but nevertheless, I did it.

And after working for twenty-six years with the Department of Health and Human Services, I say to you I haven’t stopped giving even in the state of California. I have joined the board of directors there of the NFB in that state, and I am still mentoring blind students. I serve on the national NFB scholarship committee. And prior to leaving New Jersey, I was involved in the LEAD program and mentored blind students—teaching them leadership, education, advocacy, and determination. My last word to you is this: Parents, don’t stop giving your children the opportunity to be independent. Thank you.

Fred Schroeder: Well I think that speaks to the point: skills, attitude, and confidence. Certainly Ever Lee has all of that, and you can see what the outcome is. The next individual on our panel is Robert Newman. I’ve known Robert nearly thirty years. I still had hair when I first met Robert, so it’s been a long time ago. I’ll let Robert introduce himself. Here he is:

Robert Newman: Thank you very much. My name is Robert Leslie Newman. The name might ring a bell to you because I am the guy who writes and puts out the “Thought Provoker.” You know, the little short stories on blindness issues that I post, solicit discussion and comments about, and place on the NFB listserv for parents, and on other NFB mailing lists as well. So, I am the guy who puts those things out. Professionally I am a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In December I will have completed my 34th year of employment with the commission, and I still like Monday's. Fred and I started out in rehabilitation together and we’re both still doing it. I am a member of the Omaha, Nebraska, Chapter of the NFB; the NFB Writers Division; and the NFB Rehabilitation Professionals. I was born with normal sight, but at age 15 I was in a car accident and became totally blind.

My part on this panel is to talk about the importance of employment while you are a student and how that has consequences for the future. Those of us who are in the business of finding jobs for blind individuals—doing job placement, helping blind guys find employment—are aware of a pattern of low employment rates for young blind adults when they get out of high school. We feel that if you are aware of this pattern and take it in hand, that you can change it. Together, we can increase the number of blind folks who get jobs right out of school. Our experience shows that success in achieving post education employment is dependent upon having had employment while attending school. Unfortunately, young blind youth are not getting this type of job experience. Getting good grades, yes, you bet—a lot of blind kids do get good grades in high school and college. And that’s important, but other students are also getting good grades and at the same time they are also getting valuable job experience for the future.

In 1989, the results of the National Longitudinal Transition Study conducted by the Office of Special Education Programs, U. S. Department of Education, was published. That study looked at eight thousand disabled youth, ages fifteen to twenty-six, from eleven disabilities groups over a period of years. I want to discuss with you some statistics from a portion of that study called, “A Comparison of Visually Impaired Youths and Youths with Other Disabilities.” Let me illustrate the reality of these statistics or figures about students, education, and employment for you in this way.

Let’s say we had a hundred high school students from the regular population off to my right, and we had a hundred blind high school students right here in front of me, and then a third group of a hundred other students with disabilities off to my left. Then, I say to these three groups of students, “Those of you who are going to graduate from high school with a diploma, please step forward.” Seventy of the students from the general population of students step forward, sixty-four of the blind student group step forward, and from the group of students with other disabilities, forty-six students step forward. Now, let’s look at how many from the regular population and the blind population of students goes on for additional education. I ask the students who are going on to a four-year college to step forward, and twenty-eight from the general population step forward, and twenty-seven step forward from the blind population. As you can see, and it may surprise you, there isn’t much difference in educational attainments of our regular population and our blind population.

But now let’s look at employment rates of students still in high school and college. How many are working? Let’s look again at the general population and the blind population. I ask the high school and college students who are between the ages of about fifteen to twenty-six to step forward if they have a job, if they are working. There is a big sound—thump, thump, thump—from the general population group as sixty-two students step forward. And from the blind population there is barely a sound as ten—that’s right, only ten out of a hundred—students step forward. Now, let’s look at the three groups again: general population to the right, blind population in the front, other disabilities on the left, and it’s a year of so after graduation. How many are employed and now have a job? I ask the students who have jobs to step forward, and there is this huge surge as eighty-seven from the general population on our right come forward. About half that number—forty-six—step forward from the disabled group on the left, and in front of us are twenty-four blind folks who have stepped forward. That’s right—this is the statistic—around seventy percent of the blind are unemployed.

I like my job. I really like helping young people get started in their careers. But it is really, really disheartening when I help a bright young person fill out applications and put together his or her resume and I find out that under the area of job experience he or she has very little to offer. Do you know how much time a human resources person spends looking at resumes and applications and what part they look at first? Well, they spend about fifteen seconds on each application and the section they look at first is—the job history.

Knock, knock. This is the wake-up call. Employment, employment, employment. The working game starts early and is played often. If you wish to have it to build your life on after the completion of your education, then you must engage in it during your years as a student. So, yes, getting that diploma is important, and so is getting high marks in your subjects, but don’t lose sight of the importance of that other subject area, the one outside the classroom: employment. Getting A’s in school is great, being an honor student is admirable, but being the most educated person in the unemployment line is not much consolation.

So, what do we do about it? Parents, educators, and rehab professionals, you need to help the student get blindness skills, you need to give them responsibilities, and you need to expose them to a variety of employment activities. Use the resources of the school district and the state rehabilitation system to help find appropriate part-time employment during the year or summer jobs. Look to other networking possibilities, such as places where family and friends work, and don’t overlook your state NFB affiliate.

The difficulties for the blind in finding employment is not a new challenge at any stage of life, but employment during the school years will increase opportunities for employment upon graduation, the time of life when all of us wish to be out on our own.

Fred Schroeder: Next we’re going to hear from Beth Allred, and Beth, I’m going to let you introduce yourself.

Beth Allred: Good morning, everybody. My name is Beth Allred and I’m here to talk about the student perspective on employment. I am a senior and a vocal performance major at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I’m about to receive my bachelor degree, and then I’ll be off to get my master’s degree. My goal is to become a professional singer and a voice teacher.

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and I went to public high school there. My parents are very supportive and they have a philosophy that I can do anything I intend or want to do, and they are there to help me in any way possible to achieve that goal. As Sister Meg was saying earlier, they do a lot and they are learning how to do less. But they are having this problem with me going to graduate school next year, and I think we may have to go into therapy. [laughter]

Now, about my job experiences as a student. In high school I thought I was really great. I had all these extracurricular activities and homework to do. I was busy, but my mom thought it would be good for me to have some job experience, so she got me a job as a paper shredder at the doctor’s office where she worked, and I worked at that for two years. I believe that every experience that we have, every job that we do, provides us with new skills to help us in whatever we choose to do for the rest of our lives. I learned several things from my time as a paper shredder. First, I gained a profound appreciation for science fiction and fantasy literature as I spent many of those paper-shredding hours listening to audio books. Second, I learned to appreciate that even a paper-shredding job could be lucrative as it provided me with more pocket money than I had ever had. Third, I decided that paper shredding was not a career to which I aspired. Last but certainly not least, I learned to disapprove greatly of the overuse and wasting of paper. After two years of shredding paper, I decided to quit when I almost shredded my pinkie, and when I found a discarded needle hidden among the papers to be shredded. Besides, I was getting bored. So, that job had to go.

In college I wanted to go work for the university’s telephone program to raise money from alums. The job required that you call up alums and nicely ask them for contributions to our higher education. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that job. I interviewed and I was really confident when I left the interview that I had given a good accounting of myself. The woman called me up and she said, “I’m sorry, but we can’t have you work here because the technology that you use will not be compatible with our computer program.” And I thought to myself, “Gee, that sounds like an excuse. I bet it’s because you don’t want to deal with my being blind.” So I went to her supervisor and I bugged him for weeks to work with me to figure out a way that we could get the technology to work together, but I finally just gave up. They were obviously not disposed to have me work there, and I decided in the end that I didn’t really want to work in that kind of environment.

I have learned that when you apply for a job, you should play to your strengths. I have good communication skills, I enjoy working with others, and as a musician I am very skilled in the use of my instrument—my voice. That’s how I got my job as a student voice teacher in our school’s student teaching division. I have four students ranging in age from twenty-one to thirty-six. They were all beginners and needed to learn how to use their voices correctly. I started by teaching them how to breathe and how to stand, and I worked with them on different vocal exercises. From working with them, I in turn learned how to individualize my approach for each student. Teaching has also helped me to become a better musician as I strive to be a good example for my students. I think the most important thing I teach my students is something they can use in all aspects of life. And that is this: not everything will come to us easily or right away; instead, we must build on what we learn. Concepts that may not be natural to us in the beginning will come to us more easily in time.

I am really excited about my second job which I just got about a month and a half ago. That’s right, I have two part-time jobs. It started when I got an e-mail notice that said there was a restaurant that needed strolling opera singers. And I thought to myself, now wouldn’t that be cool. I always wanted to stroll around a restaurant and sing opera. So, when I called the manager about the job I also him I am blind, but he said, “Oh, that’s no big deal.”

That attitude made me feel very hopeful that this could be a really good experience for me. Besides, the job is something I can put on my resume, and it will give me money I need to cover the cost of auditioning at six different graduate schools this year. As I said, I’ve been working at this job for about a month and a half, and I love it. I don’t just sing, but I greet and seat customers, too. The restaurant management is really supportive. They helped me to make a tactile representation or map of the restaurant. I have also memorized which servers seat their customers where so that I can go around and see and talk to customers.

There’s a stereotype out there about blind people being musicians, a notion that blind people have a strange affinity for music. I believe that I can do anything I want to. I could have gone into psychology or I could have decided to become a teacher. Instead, I chose to become a musician. But I did not choose this because I’m blind and that it seemed the easiest profession for me to do. I choose it because I’m good at it, because it is a very powerful way to express myself, and because it is truly what I want to do.

When I sing I have many things to think about: I have to think about keeping my posture straight, what are the words I’m singing, and what do they mean? I think about keeping the airflow even, and most of all, I think about the emotions I need to portray to my audience with my music. It is not simply opening my mouth and releasing pleasant sound. It is an art that takes years to perfect. I’ve been studying music for ten years and I still have things to learn. So, it is a learning process.

Before I conclude my talk, I’d like to share a few antidotes from my job. I sang for a couple at their table one evening and afterwards the gentleman came up to me and he said, “You know, we just got engaged and I want you to know how much your singing to us this evening touched us, and how much it meant to us.” Then he gave me a twenty-buck tip. The money was great, but more important to me than the tip was the fact that it had touched him. That meant more to me than anything else. One night I sang an aria from an Italian opera for a table of four. This is an Italian restaurant I work at, so they frown on French and German, but Italian is good. My customers asked me about the song so I told them the story of the opera. I went back to the front of the restaurant to seat more customers, and about a half hour later they asked me to come back and sing again. So, I came back and sing another aria from a different opera, and again, they wanted to know the story behind it, so I told them all about that opera. Anyway, they were impressed that I knew the opera stories and not just the songs, and I got another twenty-dollar tip.

Last, but not least, I’d like to give a little plug for the NFB Performing Arts Division. I’m on the board of this division, and we are a group of artists, performers, and entertainers who work together to promote our craft. For this convention we put out our first album of performances from blind artists. The album/CD is called “The Sound and Sight Project,” and we are selling it for $15 in the exhibit hall. We have some wonderful artists and some wonderful talent on this album, so I encourage you to stop by and buy one. I’m on it, too--but you know, I had to say that.

Again, I’d like to thank you for allowing me to speak on this panel. It was a lot of fun and I will now hand it over to the next person. Thank you.

Fred Schroeder: Thank you Beth. You know, people in society so often get bogged-down in worrying about the details of how a blind person is going to do this or that on a job. I think what Beth demonstrated is that with some imagination and confidence, a blind person can solve those problems and than go on to focus on the heart of the job itself.

Last, but not least, we have Mike Mello. And Mike, I will let you introduce yourself.

Mike Mello: My name is Mike Mello and I graduated from college about a year ago. I went to the University of Idaho and then I moved to Seattle to take a position with the EPA—Environmental Protection Agency. As someone who is in human resources, I would just like to say that I do spend a little bit more than fifteen seconds on an application, because I have to scan it into the computer to read it.

As I’ve been sitting here listening to the panelists, and prior to that, Sister Meg, I was thinking, “Gosh, what really caused me to be where I am today?” I have one simple answer: my parents. When I was growing up there weren’t many options for real employment. I grew up in a mostly rural community and I even lived on the edge of that, so transportation wasn’t an option. It wasn’t like I could just grab the city bus to go to work. I remember telling my parents that my friends had jobs, and I wanted one, but I didn’t see how I could do it. My dad said, “Well you better figure it out, because if you would like to continue to live here, you need to learn how to get a job.” So I thought, well, okay, what can I do?

I ended up talking with my high school guidance counselor and found out that there was a program in our area that provided tutoring in computer usage to non-traditional college students. With my skills in computers, that looked like a good opportunity for me. So, my first paying job as a high school sophomore was for $20 an hour tutoring college students in computers. That might be atypical, I know, but it was a good job. When I moved on to college, my computer skills helped me get other part-time jobs. I worked off-and-on all throughout my college years. At the University of Idaho, I implemented and was in charge of the assistive technology program for the university. I told the university what equipment was needed, saw that it was purchased, and maintained it. I set the equipment up in four or five labs all over campus for the use of students with disabilities.

At the end of my freshman year on campus, I was walking by the career services office and I thought, “Gosh, I’ve got to find something to do for the summer.” And I went in and asked somebody to tell me what was on the bulletin board. Now, if I had had my K--NFB Reader at the time, I could have read the board with it myself, but it was okay. I still got the information. Anyway, there was a posting from the environmental protection agency and they were actually interviewing the next day. I thought, “EPA. I’m from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and we have this lead problem. That might be interesting.” By the way, I don’t tell people that I work for the EPA when I go home to visit in Coeur d’Alene, but that’s another story.

The next day, I put my suit on and I went to interview with the EPA. I didn’t know what to expect--honestly, I just put myself out there. A week later I got a call. They wanted me to come and work for the summer as a co-op student, which meant that if everything worked out, and they liked me, then I could go back every summer and after I graduated from college they would hire me as a full-time employee.

That’s what I did for the rest of my college career. Every summer I went to Seattle and worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. Every summer I found new housing and commuted to work from a different area of the city. I worked in many different units, but mostly the information resource unit, which was information technology. When I graduated, the EPA did not have any openings in the IT unit, so I had to be flexible. The EPA did have a job in human resources, an opening as an HR specialist, and they offered it to me. I had no idea at the time what that job would be like, but I decided to take it. It did require more training, and I am taking four classes through the USDA graduate school online to get proficient in my job. I am expected to be proficient in my job even though experience-wise, I am not there with the rest of my colleagues in the department. But I am learning.

I am a year and a half out of college and I am making close to $45,000 a year. Because of my parents’ attitudes and expectations for me, I always assumed that I would have a job and work. It all comes down to attitudes. I am very confident in my position. I am very confident in my skills as a blind person and I am very confident I know what I am talking about when it comes to HR--sometimes. My cell phone has been ringing all day because my co-workers are closing nineteen jobs for which I did all the interviews. It was my first independent job announcement and I did it all with adaptive technology from reading the resumes that came in electronically or in print, calling, interviewing, and scheduling folks to work. I just want to say that it is you—the parents—who can make the difference. Thank you so much for the time and if you have further questions, please feel free to ask.

 

 

Piano Tuning: A Good Career that Doesn’t Require a College Degree

by Albert Sanchez


Editor’s Note: The following remarks were prepared for one of the fourteen parent seminar breakout sessions on Saturday afternoon.

Before I begin my prepared remarks I would like to take a minute to thank NOPBC President Barbara Cheadle for coming up with the idea of this panel. As an active member of her local NFB chapter she has had the benefit of meeting and learning from many of this nation’s blind adults. Some of these same blind adults were role models for her son Charles as he was growing up. Now, as a blind adult himself, he has learned that it is, as we say in the Federation, “respectable to be blind.” I strongly encourage you parents to seek out and become active in your local NFB chapter; both you and your children, blind and sighted alike, will benefit greatly from the experience.

The agenda says that the title of this panel is: “Academics aren’t everything: Good careers that don’t require a college degree.” The career path that I have chosen is tuning and repairing pianos. In January of 1984 I began the two-year course of study at the Emil Fries Piano Hospital and Training Center, located in Vancouver, Washington, now known as the School of Piano Technology for the Blind. This school has, since 1949, been training blind persons in the highly technical and precision craft of piano tuning, repairing, and rebuilding. All of the school’s instructors, including its founder, Emil Fries, have been blind. Upon completion of the course-requirements I was, in June of 1985, given a certificate of graduation. I have, since that time, operated two successful piano-servicing businesses; the first in Spokane, Washington, from December of 1985 through December of 1998; the second in Falls Church, Virginia, from July of 1999 through April of this year. I am now in the process of establishing Al’s Piano Tuning and Repair in Greenville, North Carolina. It will, like its predecessors, be successful.

Let me talk now about some of the blindness skills that I use in the operation of my business. First, Braille—fluency in reading and writing Braille has been essential to my success. I keep all of my customer records, including the daily schedule of appointments, in Braille. Second, good cane travel (mobility) skills--I need to be able to walk from the front door to the piano competently regardless of obstacles such as stairs, toys, family pets, etc., without being dragged by the hand. I do not want the image of the “helpless blind man” to get in the way of my ability to sell piano servicing. Third, technology--I use some specialized technology such as a BrailleNote, a talking tape measure, and a Braille micrometer (just to mention a few) that make it possible for me to do the same things as my sighted competitors. I have combined the Federation’s positive attitude about blindness with the skills I have gained over the years in servicing pianos into an “I can do this” philosophy. Simply stated, I like my job. I am convinced that it is respectable to be a blind piano technician. That is why I was one of the leaders in establishing the NFB’s National Association of Blind Piano Technicians in 1999.

I shall now discuss briefly some of the myths and misconceptions about piano servicing.

Myth: “You can’t make any money servicing pianos.” Here is a portion of an e-mail that I received in early June regarding the sale of a piano servicing business. It reads in part: “Are you interested in purchasing an established piano service business in the southwestern part of Ontario, Canada? For the past 33 years, I have operated my own piano service business. Presently there are over 1,800 names on my customer list and my annual gross earnings have been in excess of $50,000 (Canadian currency) for the past 5 years. The customer base includes churches, schools, music teachers, businesses, music festivals, but with the majority being in-home service.”

Myth: “You have to have perfect pitch to properly tune a piano.” This is simply not true. I don’t know any piano technicians who have “perfect pitch.”

Myth: “People don’t buy pianos any more; they buy electronic keyboards.” More pianos were sold in this country last year than ever before.

Myth: “Pianos do not need to be tuned regularly.” Most, if not all of the major piano manufacturers worldwide recommend that a piano be tuned at least once a year.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a few things to think about. The next time you turn on your radio or television listen to how many commercials and songs have a piano accompaniment--I think you’ll be surprised--a lot! That means that I, and others like myself who are fortunate to have found this career, will always have a job. Also, think about how many people you know who either have a piano or know someone who does. Many of these pianos are not getting proper and regular care. The piano-servicing business is alive and well both in this country and throughout the world, that’s why so many sighted people are entering this occupation. With a 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people today we should look carefully at as many career paths as possible, both old and new, to find our career path to financial independence.

If you would like to get more information about piano servicing as a career path for your blind child, contact the School of Piano Technology for the Blind by phone at (360) 693-1511 or check out the Web site <www.pianotuningschool.org>. If you would like to contact me directly, I can be reached by phone at (252) 757-3023 or by e-mail at <albertsanchez@suddenlink.net>. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

2007 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award

by Sharon Maneki

Editor’s Note: The National Federation of the Blind presents awards only as often as they are deserved. The following is a report of one of the award presentations that occurred on Monday, June 30, during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors. Here are the transcribed remarks beginning with Sharon Maneki:

Good morning, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. The committee of Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Dr. Edwin Vaughan, and I are pleased to present a distinguished educator of blind children. Many of you know this individual because you have heard her speak. She gave an eloquent speech at the parents of blind children division meeting on Saturday. But we didn’t pick her because she could make a good speech, although that’s a nice quality to have. This woman is a person who believes in and fosters independence of blind children, not once in a while, but every day. She is a woman who has high expectations. She is a woman who believes in the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. As she makes her way to the stage, let’s greet Sister M. Margaret Fleming, who is the principal of the St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairment and Blindness in the great state of Pennsylvania--Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. [applause]

Now Sister Meg is what she wants her friends to call her; and of course we are friends of Sister Meg in the National Federation of the Blind. She has been a teacher for thirty-five years. She has been the principal of the school for many years, since 1995. I just want to tell you one little fact about the school. There are many things we could say. Her school has fifteen hundred Braille books in the library; that shows you the kind of school it is. So, Sister Meg, I have for you first of all a check in the amount of $1,000. Then I am going to present a plaque to you. The plaque reads:


National Federation of the Blind
Honors
Sister M. Margaret Fleming
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
For your skill in teaching Braille and other
Alternative techniques of blindness,
For generously devoting extra time
to meet the needs of your students
And for inspiring your students
To perform beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement,
You strengthen our hopes,
You share our dream.

Congratulations.


Sister Meg: Sharon did say to me I had to talk for a whole minute. I’m not going to talk for a whole minute, but I am going to take these few seconds out to say a huge thank-you to NFB for being there when we need you. There is never a time that I don’t call Jim or Lynn from the Keystone Chapter in Pennsylvania of NFB that they don’t get back to me, that they don’t help us, that they don’t support us. For this I am very grateful. In tomorrow’s readings for church, it says, “You are strangers and aliens no longer, but I call you friends.” This is my opportunity to say to NFB, “I call you friends.” And because you are a friend to our children, you are there for us. You help us to achieve independence; to encourage our own self-esteem; and to work very, very hard to do what their dreams are. For that I thank you. [applause]

 

 

The 2007 NFB Scholarship Class

Whether a student is bound for an Ivy League school, a state university, or a small private college, a few thousand dollars here or there in scholarship money is always welcome. That’s one very big reason why parents and teachers should be more than a little curious about the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program. The NFB Scholarship Program is one of the largest award programs in the world for blind students.

In 2007, thirty blind students received a total of $152,000 in cash awards and an all-expenses paid trip to the week-long NFB convention. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, the new Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader presented by Ray Kurzweil, the Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems, and a year's subscription to bookshare.org from the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. This is clearly a program every academically competitive blind student should consider carefully.

But there is another reason parents and teachers ought to be interested in the NFB Scholarship Program. These blind students, who had the capacity and character to win highly competitive scholarships, are also inspirations and role models to younger blind students. Parents, students, and teachers who attend the convention get the opportunity to observe, listen to, and meet current and past scholarship winners--to find out what they have accomplished so far, how they did it, and what they plan for their futures. Many past winners--ninety-seven past winners this year--have gone on to distinguished careers, and they return to the conventions eager to mentor other students. Three of those former winners returned this year to receive their second scholarship from the NFB as tenBroek fellows.

Every year, the current class of scholarship winners is introduced at the NFB board of directors meeting, which is the first large, public meeting of the convention. The chairman of the Scholarship Committee announces first the student’s name and then both the home and school states. Each winner then comes to the microphone and speaks directly to the Federation. Below, in alphabetical order, are each student’s portrait, name, home state, school state, transcribed remarks from the board meeting, and the name and amount of the award received by each later in the week at the NFB annual banquet. Also at the banquet, the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship is given one more opportunity to address the convention. Those comments, by winner Sachin Pavithran, are printed at the end of the article. Here now is the 2007 NFB Scholarship Class:


Karen Anderson, Nebraska, Nebraska: “The kind of role model I care to be for anyone who cares to see me as such is a competent well-rounded human being, not a caricature.” Dr. Jernigan used these words in his speech, “The Nature of Independence,” and the National Federation of the Blind has helped me to live these words. In the fall I will be an incoming freshman at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where I will double major in languages and psychology. The National Federation of the Blind has given me confidence to enter college and know that I can do anything that I want to do. [$3,000 Rickie and Tena Eevers Memorial Scholarship]

Trevor Attenberg, Connecticut, Massachusetts: I am currently a second semester senior at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the geography department, global studies. My vocational plan is to become a professor. I am doing a fifth year master’s degree starting next spring. I’d like to say that geography, especially environmental geography, is far more than plants and animals, although I do thoroughly enjoy those. It’s an array of things, it’s understanding, and I compare it with the NFB that it’s diversity, it’s a multitude of ideas and perspectives, not just one of a journalist or cowboy or missionary or somebody like that on a high horse. It’s people with differences all around the world, and I’d like to offer my appreciation for that as well. I am a member of the honor society of geographers. I thought I’d talk about geography because of Kenneth Jernigan, but I’ll also give my quote which is very valid in geography, which is something Gandhi said. He was asked about what he thought about Western society, and he said, “I think it would be a great idea.” [$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship]

Charles Black, South Carolina, South Carolina and he’s in Kentucky for the summer: Good morning. I plan to attend the University of South Carolina, where I am studying technology support and training management. I would like to thank you, my Federation family, for what you are doing for me. I’d also like to thank Florida for Steve Spurrier. I look forward to my last year in college, and I will work and do my best to promote blindness in my work at Fort Campbell, where I currently attend. [$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship]

James Brown, Tennessee, Tennessee: Langston Hughes was a famous African-American poet, and he said, “Hold fast to dreams. For if dreams die, life is like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Collectively that is what you all have helped me to do. You have helped me to go to school to fulfill my dream of becoming a psychologist one day, and I appreciate it very much. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Bill Casson, New Mexico, Oregon: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would like to start by thanking the entire Scholarship Committee for giving me the opportunity to realize my dreams to become a nuclear physicist. I will be attending Lewis and Clark College in the fall in Portland, Oregon. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Theresa Chinheya, New York, New York: Good afternoon. A coincidence just happened that reinforced my goal. Can you imagine that I got room 314, which is the approximation for pi? I aspire to be a mathematician. I am at Hunter College in a program that is a combined BA/MA degree, and I have two more semesters to go. My immediate goal is to become a mathematics teacher for secondary and my long-term is to pursue a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. I am very happy to be part of these programs, and I thank the committee for selecting me. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Skylar Covich, California, California: Good morning. I am enjoying my junior year at St. Mary’s College of California, majoring in politics. My goal is to become a political science professor. I have learned a lot from my experience in the National Federation of the Blind, including about political action. I am very glad to be here. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Brian Dulude, Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas: Thank you for this opportunity to speak. This journey started in 1999 here in Atlanta. I am grateful for the Federation. After Atlanta I went to Louisiana and graduated with a master’s degree in educational psychology with an emphasis in teaching O&M. I have my NOMC and I am very proud of that. I am grateful for this opportunity. I am going to be attending the University of Arkansas. I will be studying rehabilitation education and research. I want to do good research, and I want to be a good administrator. Thank you. [$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship]

Cody Greiser, Montana, Montana: I’d like to start by thanking the Scholarship Committee. I’m beginning my third year of college at the University of Montana Western, where I am majoring in biology secondary education. My long-term goal is to become a high school biology teacher. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award]

Lora Ireland, Idaho, Idaho: I would like to thank my fellow Federationists and also the Scholarship Committee. I am going to be a freshman at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. I want to be a speech pathologist and help people like the Federation has helped me. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Carol Jenkins, Nebraska, Nebraska: Thank you. Hello everyone. When I decided to become an elementary teacher, I thought it would be a really great idea to brainstorm and collaborate with other blind elementary teachers in the state of Nebraska. Downside is I couldn’t find any. So I came here, where everybody here at the national convention has been more than willing to help me, and I very much appreciate that. I am very happy and proud to have paved the way for future blind elementary teachers in the state of Nebraska. I am also proud because education is my passion, and education for all is something I hold very near and dear to my heart. I look forward to help fighting the battle for blind literacy. Thank you. [$7,000 Rickie and Tena Eevers Memorial Scholarship]

Peggy Elliott: The next person is the first of three tenBroek fellows. We call people who have won a scholarship in a previous year and successfully competed and won the second scholarship--we call these people tenBroek fellows. The first tenBroek fellow, her first scholarship was in 2000--

Lisa Hanson-Johnson, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: It is truly an honor to be back as a tenBroek fellow. I am a seventh grade English teacher in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. It was at the NFB conference in 1999 that I met my first blind teacher, and it has truly been an inspiration to me. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. In the fall I will be pursuing a doctorate in education and an administrator’s license at Hamline University in Minnesota. I also do research in accessible science, teaching materials, and techniques to the visually impaired and was recognized by USA Today for my work. I hope to continue helping the education world all that I can. Again thank you so much for this opportunity. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

 

Peggy Elliott: The next scholarship winner is also a tenBroek fellow, having won her first scholarship in 2001.

Jennifer Kennedy, Ohio, Louisiana: Good morning, fellow Federationists, my Federation family. Michael J. Fox once said during an interview, “This is not something that I have the luxury of saying `I don’t care to participate in this today.’” While he was referring to Parkinson’s disease, I believe this pertains to blindness. However, as we all know, the Federation family is one of the biggest luxuries we have ever found. Since my winning in 2001, I completed my undergraduate degree at Kent State University in communication studies, have held numerous positions on the Ohio board, and will be pursuing my master’s degree at Louisiana Tech University. I apologize, I’m getting choked up. It’s such an honor to be here. I’ll be receiving my master’s degree in educational psychology with a concentration in orientation and mobility. I hope to go out and change what it means to be blind. Thank you. [$3,000 Nicholas R. Schmittroth Memorial Scholarship]

Sarah Leon, Ohio, currently in Minnesota, moving with her family to Maryland, and going to school in Indiana: Good morning. When I was thirteen years old, I ran into a tree. The tree was hard, and it stopped me in my tracks. But then I recovered from that experience and moved on. A few years later I ran into my blindness, and that was harder than the tree. It stopped me in my tracks because at a time when my world should have been opening up to new directions, I didn’t know how to work a computer or cross an intersection, and I was a junior in high school. College looked scary. I decided to attend BLIND, Inc., to get the skills that I needed. What I didn’t realize is that my training would also transform my attitude about myself and about blindness. Now I can look forward with a lot of excitement to entering Grace College as a freshman this year, where I will be majoring in social work and minoring in missions. I know that I will face difficulties in the future. I also know that I’ll be able to master those circumstances and move on. Thank you. [$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship]

Josh Loevy, Missouri, Illinois: Hello, everyone. I am going to be a sophomore at Illinois Wesleyan University in the fall. I am studying political science and history. I intend to get into law or broadcasting, maybe a little bit of both. I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone here. This is my first experience with the Federation; it’s my first convention. It’s pretty much everything. Already in the first forty-eight hours, or so, I have learned so much about myself, about what I can do, and about what anyone with blindness can do. Thank you all. I appreciate the opportunity to show me that I have potential beyond what I even thought, and to challenge myself to live up to that potential. Thank you. [$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship]

A. Z. Martinez, Texas, Texas: Good morning. I’m a senior at Texas State University studying public relations with a business administration minor. I’m a firm believer that you learn something new every day, and the NFB has taught me a very valuable lesson. Throughout my life I have been able to learn how to be a better leader, and this will be very beneficial to me when I become a marketing director. I will have the experience of being a public role model, and with that I will also be able to influence other blind individuals as I was influenced by the Federationists here today. I am very grateful for everything that I have gotten from the NFB. I have done a lot of work before the scholarship, and I will continue to do a lot more work for you all. Thank you very much. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

J. J. Meddaugh, Michigan, Michigan: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Just a few years ago I was a college drop-out and had a very pessimistic view and outlook about my life. Soon after that I met the Federation and began living surrounded by positive role models and successful blind adults. Now I am attending Western Michigan University majoring in telecommunications management. I soon hope to have a job leading an assistive technology company. I’m also the program director at Camp Tuhsmeheta, a camp for blind kids in Michigan because I find it vitally important that we teach kids at a young age about independence and opportunity just as it has been taught to me. Thank you so much for this opportunity. [$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship]

Dick Morris, Oklahoma, Indiana: Good morning, Federation family forever. Like many of you I grew up being told, “You can’t,” and being told, “Recognize your limitations and live within them.” In 1978 I came to the Federation and found out that the only limitations I had were those that I imposed on myself. I am in the final year of classes for the degree of doctor of business administration at Anderson University. My emphasis is marketing, and my interests are marketing for nonprofit organizations and, until we get the car invented, marketing for public transit. I’ve served on the Missouri board and now on the Oklahoma board, and all I can say is, as some of the others said, this is the biggest thing that has happened to me since I’ve been in the Federation. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Sachin Pavithran, Utah, Utah: Good morning, Federationists. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where I saw the energy of all the students, and I have to tell you, the energy was so high that I didn’t even think the election would ever get done. I’d like to quote something that I hold dear. It’s by Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “Become the change that you wish to see in the world.” I see that change happening in this organization, and I see people in this organization making changes and being an example to people out there. I really believe this organization can help the blind people, and that’s why I am proud to be a part of this organization, this family that we call the National Federation of the Blind. [$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship]

Kevin Pitchford, Mississippi, Mississippi: Good morning. I am majoring in business, attending the Mississippi State University. Most of all, I’d like to say it is an honor to be part of this scholarship class. I am very proud to stand up here before you as part of this class, and I will do everything I can to help the NFB because my main goal beyond getting a good job is to change the perception of what it means to be blind. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Anna Roberts, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Thank you, Peggy, and thank you to all of you that belong to the NFB; you are all a part of being able to give this great opportunity to all of us. I’d like to thank you all. I am a junior at the University of Oklahoma. I am a double major in women’s studies and philosophy, where I hope to become a professor in women’s studies and educating people in gender issues, things that affect women and children directly, but also work in nonprofit organizations that help assaulted and abused women and children. I’m also a green belt in Tai Kwon Do and Akido, and I assist in seminars in which I teach self-defense to women and children. This is my first convention, and I can already tell that I have been welcomed with open arms. I’d also like to thank all of you for that. I want to leave you with a quote that has greatly affected my life, being someone who is totally blind and is not having these resources or knowing anyone else who was blind until this week. A famous quote by esteemed science fiction author Joanna Russ that said, “Let’s be reasonable and demand the impossible.” [$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship]

Terri Meas Rupp, California, Nevada: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I want to share with you a personal motto that I live my life by: “A smile is contagious, and a laugh is infectious.” While I was going to college, I needed smiles, so I found the NFB. Now I’ve been infected, and I look forward to working with the NFB. Just yesterday I was elected first vice president of NABS. So let’s work together and smile and laugh and infect the rest of our world with our positive blindness attitudes. [$5,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship]

Paul Shepardson, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, everybody. I’ll be starting as a freshman this fall at the University of Louisville, majoring in business administration and minoring in education. I just want to say the same: “Federation family forever” is important. I want to thank all of my family back home, my family in the NFB, and my family at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for all the help and encouragement and support realizing my potential. Thank you. [$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship]

Kallie Smith, Iowa, Iowa: Kallie is the third and final tenBroek fellow this year, having won her first scholarship in 2004. Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would like you all to think back about someone who has impacted your life in the NFB. For me this person is standing right next to me, Peggy Elliott. She has taught me the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. She attended numerous IEP meetings, in which she helped me acquire proper Braille instruction, and wasn’t that a fight! She even taught me how to shuffle a deck of cards. Now I am a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, earning a bachelor’s degree in leisure, youth, and human services, with an emphasis in program services administration. Some say you have to learn to play the hand you’ve been dealt; thanks to Peggy Elliott and many other Federationists like her, I can deal my own deck of cards. Thank you. [$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship]

Helen Stevens, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This fall I will be a freshman at Harvard University, where I plan to major in international relations with minors in Arabic and German. Over the past two years the National Federation of the Blind has truly changed my life. Through meeting many successful blind people in this organization, I have learned to accept my blindness, and I have been encouraged to want to make a difference with my life. I look forward to meeting many of you at this convention and in years to come. I hope that I can make a difference in the lives of other people and in this organization with my life. Thank you. [$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Glenn Stewart, originally New Jersey, and now New York: It’s a pleasure meeting everybody, all NFB members. It’s an honor to be here, welcomed into such a wonderful family. Since I have met everybody, it has been such a confidence builder and a contribution to my goals in striving to reach excellence. I am currently earning a dual master’s degree at Syracuse University in rehabilitation counseling and community counseling. I also have a bachelor’s in business. My goal is to continue assisting the veterans of America. I just completed an internship at a VA, and I found my place—it’s to assist the veterans and soldiers coming home who have acquired a disability, not just blindness, but other disabilities. It gives me great pleasure to serve the soldiers of this wonderful country. It’s just a remarkable experience, and being here is just as much a remarkable experience. It’s my first convention, and I hope many, many more to come, where I will continue to meet such wonderful people, such professionals and remarkable individuals. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Ali Watkins, Georgia, Georgia: Good afternoon, everyone. I will be an upcoming freshman at the University of Georgia this fall. I’m going to be majoring in English and Spanish, and I want to be an editor or writer for a newspaper or novels. Even though I do enjoy English and Spanish a lot, I love science also, especially biology. I am going to be attending the Youth Slam program at the end of the summer. I have been to at least five NFB conventions, and I am really happy to be back. I hope that I am going to learn a lot this week. Thank you very much. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Meghan Whalen, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Growing up, there were two words I never heard: “You can’t.” I guess that is not entirely true, because I did hear, “You can’t go outside until you clean your room,” or “No, you can’t make a mess of everything in life, you know.” “You can’t trash the house.” Growing up, I had the same expectations as my sighted brother, and I learned that everybody in my life believed in me, except for me; so there was one place I did hear, “You can’t,” and that was in my heart and my mind. But I couldn’t let other people know I didn’t believe in myself, so I always did all I could to make it look like I had faith in myself, and somehow everyone believed it. So when I came to convention for the first time last year, I finally was able to tell myself, “I can.” I plan on going to the Louisiana Center for the Blind next May after my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Thank you so much, everybody. [$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship]

Chad Wilburn, Utah, Utah: Good morning, fellow Federationists. A wise leader once told me, “A teacher’s domain is the future, and what you do with that future means the difference between leaving a track record and leaving a legacy.” I am receiving a master’s degree at the University of Utah in education and visual impairments. As a future educator of our blind and visually impaired children, I will leave a legacy of literacy and equality for all children. Thank you and have a wonderful convention. [$3,000 Joan Bills Memorial Scholarship]

Lindsay Yazzolino, Washington State and Rhode Island: Hi, everybody, and thank you so much for this opportunity. I am going to be attending Brown University this fall and would like to concentrate in a field of math and science. In my opinion there are just so many interesting fields in those areas, but yet I am thinking that at this moment I would like to major in mathematics and/or computer science. Eventually I’d like to get my Ph.D. and work at a university as a professor. I’ve always had a passion for science and math ever since I can remember, and, when I attended the NFB Rocket On! Science Academy in 2004, I discovered that a lot of blind students didn’t have all the opportunities that I have had in school to pursue any field in math and science that I have wanted to. One of my goals for the future, although I don’t want to necessarily do this professionally, would be to really advocate for the involvement of blind people in math and science and help further the Federation’s goal of making it happen. One of the ways I will be doing that is by participating as a mentor in the Youth Slam coming up. I would just like to thank you guys once again for this opportunity. [$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship]

 

Peggy Elliott: There, Mr. President and fellow Federationists, is the 2007 scholarship class. [applause]

 

After Sachin Pavithran’s name was announced as the 2007 winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, he briefly addressed the banquet audience on Thursday evening, July 5. This is what he said:

First of all I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for the confidence that they have in me, for all the mentors I had all this week, and for all the inspiration they have given me. It’s been a great convention so far, and I would like personally to thank one mentor who has meant a lot to me in the last two years, who has shown me what the NFB stands for, who is training me and who has shown me what I can do with this wonderful organization. I’d like to thank Mr. Ron Gardner. [applause]

One more thing I’d like to say is directed to the students of this organization. Last Sunday I attended the student division meeting, and I saw a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. We are the future of this organization, and we have leaders in the NFB such as President Maurer and others who are showing us the way. Let all students join together and show them that we can follow their lead and make a difference, and we can show what it really means to be blind. We will do this because we are the members of the National Federation of the Blind family. Thank you.

 

 

NFB Scholarship Applications Now Available

The National Federation of the Blind will award thirty scholarships and other gifts totaling $150,000 or more to the nation’s top blind college students during its 2008 annual convention. Most notable is the Dr. Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship in the amount of $12,000. In addition to a scholarship, each winner will be brought to the 2008 National Federation of the Blind convention in July at Federation expense, providing an excellent opportunity for high-level networking with active blind people in many professions and occupations.

In order to apply, applicants:
1. Must be legally blind.
2. Must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at a United States institution in the fall of the 2008-2009 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time.
3. Must be willing and able to participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities.

The NFB may award up to three scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if enough strong and worthy candidates apply. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek fellows.

Legally blind students, from high school seniors to grad school attendees, are encouraged to go to <www.nfb.org/scholarships> to apply for the 2008 NFB Scholarship awards. Complete the official 2008 scholarship application form online; then print out and mail the completed print copy with the required attachments to NFB Scholarship Committee, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.

If using a computer is not an option, contact the committee chairman for print documents. Please note that all scholarship documentation must be received by March 31, 2008. Students are invited to ask their state NFB affiliates to determine if they are eligible for a scholarship offered to blind students in that state.

NFB scholarship applicants should submit only one application. When the thirty top applicants chosen as winners attend the weeklong 2008 NFB national convention, members of the Scholarship Committee and other NFB leaders will interact with them throughout the week in order to award the specific scholarships based on merit.

What kind of student wins an NFB scholarship? What fields of knowledge have they studied? Read about past NFB national scholarship recipients in August-September issues of the Braille Monitor. Many blind leaders throughout the country have been recipients of scholarships from the National Federation of the Blind. Perhaps you have what it takes to earn this prestigious honor.

Awards include the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, one scholarship of $10,000; two scholarships of $7,000 each; four scholarships of $5,000 each; and twenty-two scholarships of $3,000 each. Following is a list of the scholarships:

Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000--In memory of the man who changed perceptions about the capabilities of the blind in this country and throughout the world, this scholarship is given yearly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, a nonprofit organization that works to assist blind people. Kenneth Jernigan is viewed by our field as the most important figure in the twentieth century in the lives of blind people. The Action Fund wishes to keep fresh and current in the twenty-first century the understandings he brought to the field and thus has endowed this scholarship dedicated to his memory and to the continuation of the work he began. No additional restrictions.

Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship of $10,000--First established by Charles Owen in loving memory of his blind wife and now, along with a second scholarship in a different amount, endowed by his last will and testament to honor the memory of both. In founding the scholarship, Charles Owen wrote: “There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed towards attaining financial independence and shall exclude religion and those seeking only to further general or cultural education.”

Two National Federation of the Blind Scholarships of $7,000--No additional restrictions.

Hank LeBonne Scholarship of $5,000--Hank LeBonne was a man who loved life and loved the National Federation of the Blind. His last wish was that his remaining assets be used to help young blind men and women have the same opportunities in life he had enjoyed. No additional restrictions.

Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship of $5,000--Given to keep alive the memory of a young woman who dealt with her blindness and terminal illness with a grace and strength she frequently assured others she drew from the Federation and from her faith in God. No additional restrictions.

Michael Marucci Memorial Scholarship of $5,000--Given by Marie in memory of her husband Michael (like Marie, a longtime dedicated and valued member of the NFB of Maryland), the winner of this scholarship must be studying a foreign language or comparative literature; pursuing a degree in history, geography, or political science with a concentration in international studies; or majoring in any other discipline requiring study abroad. The winner's file must also show evidence of competence in a foreign language.

National Federation of the Blind Scholarship of $5,000--No additional restrictions.

Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship of $3,000--Dr. Isabelle Grant endowed this scholarship in memory of her daughter. The winner must be a woman.

Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship of $3,000--This scholarship is given in loving memory of her parents, Charles Albert Kuchler and Alice Helen Kuchler, by Junerose Killian, dedicated member of the NFB of Connecticut. No additional restrictions.

Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship of $3,000--First established by Charles Owen in loving memory of his blind wife and now, along with a second scholarship in a different amount, endowed by his last will and testament to honor the memory of both. In founding the scholarship, Charles Owen wrote: “There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed towards attaining financial independence and shall exclude religion and those seeking only to further general or cultural education.”

E. U. Parker Scholarship of $3,000--Endowed by his wife, who joined him in a lifetime of Federationism, this scholarship honors a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind whose participation stood for strong principles and strong support of the Federation's work. No additional restrictions.

Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship of $3,000--Established in 2006 to promote the independence of blind students, this scholarship is awarded to scholars in any field that requires postgraduate education, with, should other factors be equal, a preference for those who have chosen to use a guide dog as their primary travel aid.

Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship of $3,000--Winner must be studying or planning to study in the field of law, medicine, engineering, architecture, or the natural sciences.

National Federation of the Blind Computer Science Scholarship of $3,000
--Winner must be studying in the computer science field.

National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award of $3,000--Winner must be planning a career in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary teaching.

Fourteen National Federation of the Blind Scholarships of $3,000--No additional restrictions.

All scholarships awarded to blind women which are not otherwise endowed are made possible by a generous bequest from the estate of Dorothy R. Olson.

Those requiring additional information about the NFB’s scholarship program may contact the committee chairperson, Anil Lewis, by calling his office in Georgia at (404) 371-1000, or sending an e-mail to <scholarships@nfb.org>.

 

 

Odds and Ends

Close to Home
News from the NOPBC and the NFB

NOPBC Cane Walk for Kids
by Kristen Sims, MEd, Teacher of Blind Students

Every year I am eager to once again participate in the annual NOPBC Cane Walk at the NFB National Convention. I have participated for several years as an instructor. I have taught children, their siblings, and their parents to travel using the long white cane. One of my favorite aspects of the cane walk is the role modeling that takes place between the blind child and the blind instructor. As a sighted orientation and mobility instructor, I cannot give my students the benefit of learning from a blind mentor. But the children and families that come to the national convention have an abundance of successful blind adults to admire. The student can gain confidence and pride by knowing that the instructor has been in the very same place at an earlier time in his or her life.

The cane walk is more than mentoring for the children. It is designed to give parents and other caregivers the ability to make an informed choice when it comes to canes and cane travel. The introduction by Joe Cutter, Jeff Altman, and other travel instructors provides information about the discovery learning technique, and is followed by a question and answer session. Often we will pair the blind child with his or her parents to help the parent get around the hotel and show off a little as the child sails down the stairs and mom or dad takes it slow. Each year, many more parents and/or siblings choose to don the sleep shades (blindfolds) and head out into the hotel with the blind child, all using long white canes and learning to use alternative techniques.

After the cane walk I enjoy walking around the hotel for the next week watching the learning process continue. I see parents practicing with the shades while the blind child leads them up and down the escalators; I see parents socializing with came walk instructors and other NFB members while their teens explore the hotel, or roam through the attached mall. I watch these things and I think, “Wow, all of this came about in one week. I am part of something truly wonderful!” But, that is the power of the National Federation of the Blind. One week can make a difference.

Quiet Car Protest
We Want Cars That Sound Like Cars: It might seem like an odd way of putting it (this is odds and ends after all), but this demand is becoming more and more relevant. With hybrid cars becoming nearly silent when using only their electric battery to run at lower speeds, many are concerned that close-calls will turn into tragedies. In early October, the NFB sponsored a protest and submitted testimony to the Maryland Department of the Environment when it was determined that the blind were not being considered in the regulations of hybrid vehicles—as it was required by state legislation. Some are confusing an important safety issue with an attack on the environment. The NFB does not wish the hybrid cars to lose their environmentally conscious components, but merely wants the engines to emit sufficient sound so that the blind and the sighted can use the sounds of traffic to safely travel. And while recordings of simulated freight trains may sound pleasing to some, the NFB would rather advocate for cars to sound a bit like… cars.

Target Lawsuit
Go Big: As Dan Goldstein, an attorney representing the NFB in many of its legal proceedings and counseling, explained at convention this year, large obstacles or intimidating conglomerates are nothing against the “power in the blind united in a just cause.” Thus, when Dr. Maurer asked him to seek legal action against producers of inaccessible technology so that future technology will be designed with equal access in mind, he did not shy away from the largest of companies. And it certainly makes sense, as they are the ones that impact the most lives. Recently, the NFB secured a victory in its lawsuit against Target Corporation for its failure to make its Web site accessible to blind customers. On October 3, a federal judge granted class-action status to the lawsuit, allowing blind people throughout the country to become plaintiffs in the suit. While not only making little sense (why wouldn’t you want people to spend money at your store?), Target’s actions are also in direct violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Around the Block
Helpful Items from Here and There

Please note: The NOPBC is not responsible for the accuracy of the following information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare
Small in size, big on features!: “The Victor Reader Stream is the only DAISY player that offers you so much in such a small package. Download your favorite books and MP3s on your Victor Reader Stream and leave home with your library in the palm of your hand. This versatile, powerful Victor Reader Stream DAISY-MP3 player lets you read and navigate through complex books, such as reference manuals, school books, novels and magazines. You can also use the Victor Reader Stream’s built in Vocalizer text-to-speech voice to read books in text format. The Victor Reader Stream has many more functions, including an integrated microphone to record voice notes.” The Victor Reader Stream is currently available from HumanWare for $329. To order, visit <www.humanware.com>, call toll-free (800) 722-3393, or write to HumanWare at 175 Mason Circle, Concord, California 94520.

Touch and Learn
“The Touch and Learn Series is a result of collaboration between Journey Stone Creation Books and Somatic Digital. Touch User Interface, or TUI, technology enables a revolution in printed books, supplements, workbooks and texts. By pressing the surface of the printed page, the reader is immediately connected to digital content stored on the computer, Web sites, DVDs, and CDs. The TUI is to paper what the graphical user interface (GUI) is to computers. As the user reads through the pages, the book comes to life with a touch to the page. Listen to a song, connect to a Web site, watch a video, and get educational content as we invite you to Touch and Learn!” The introductory kit which contains the platform, five Touch and Learn Books, accompanying CDs, book case, book catalog, and subscription card costs $399. Additional books cost $39.95 each. Prices are reduced for long-term subscriptions. For more information, contact Journey Stone Creations, LLC at 3533 Danbury Road, Fairfield, Ohio 45014. More information is available online at <www.jscbooks.com/touchandlearn.html> or <www.somaticdigital.com>, by phone at (800) 603-3212, or by fax at (513) 860-0176.

Start Young
Infant-Toddler Language and Early Literacy Activities: Developed by Dr. Angela Notari-Syverson and Judy Challoner, these free materials encourage early language and literacy development in infants and toddlers ages birth through three. Through twenty activities involving the parent and child, the materials are specifically designed to address the skills of language development, sounds and rhythms, and general book awareness. They can be used with sighted, blind, or multiply disabled children. The materials are available for download at <www.walearning.com> when you click on the purple button that says “Free Parent Education Handouts.” For questions contact Mary Maddox at Washington Learning Systems, 2212 Queen Anne Avenue, Suite 726, Seattle, Washington 98109, or call (206) 310-7401.

Toys ‘R’ Us Guide for differently-abled kids
“Toys ‘R’ Us has partnered with the National Lekotek Center for more than a decade to create the Toys ‘R’ Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, an easy-to-use toy selection resource for parents and friends of children with disabilities. The complimentary, one-of-a-kind toy guide offers qualified toy recommendations based on research from the National Lekotek Center, an independent, non-profit organization that handpicks and tests the toys featured in the Guide.” The Guide is available at Toys ‘R’ Us stores nationwide and online at <www.Toysrus.com/differentlyabled>. For more information call (800) TOYSRUS (869-7787).

Winning Kids Club
Winning Kids Club Partners with Lee County Sheriffs Office to Transcribe Kids Books: The Winning Kids Club, Braille Institute of Florida, and a Florida county sheriff’s office have formed a partnership to reach out to the community and provide books for blind children. The Winning Kids Club teaches Braille to the female inmates who then transcribe children’s books to donate to the community. While the benefit to blind children in the community is obvious, the program also provides excellent vocational training for the inmates. Some have even written their own original picture books and poems and transcribed them in Braille. The program, the brain child of Gail Ghigna-Hallas, RN, PhD, president of the Winning Kids Club, is conducted at the Lee County Corrections Facility in Florida. They plan to distribute their books next spring, after the first class graduates. The Winning Kids Club, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that offers blind children instruction in music, art, creative writing, Braille literacy, health, and fitness. For more information on the Club and its programs, call (239) 671-0946 or e-mail <Literacy4Kids@WinningKidsClub.org>.

Scholarships for Students with Disabilities at the Washington Center
“The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars is pleased to announce it will continue to help increase scholarship opportunities for students with disabilities. Thanks to the generous support of the AT&T Foundation and the HSC Foundation, the Washington Center is working to help students develop leadership skills and gain valuable work experience in government, business, and the non-profit sector. The Washington Center will complement students’ professional experience with solid academic training for credit from highly qualified instructors. In addition, students will be exposed to community, national, and international leaders through workshops, seminars, lectures, embassy visits, and networking events held throughout the course of each semester. Applications are available at <http://www.twc.edu/students/how_to_apply.shtml>.” Call (800) 486-8921 to obtain more information.

On the Beaten Path
Blind Man to Attempt Thru-Hike of Appalachian Trail: While Erik Weihenmayer may have grabbed the blind adventurer spotlight, the message of his climbs should not be lost in the fanfare and celebration of his admittedly remarkable accomplishments. The message still remains that blind people can and should accomplish their goals and fulfill their dreams, and not be constrained by society’s assumptions and limitations. In the same vein, Mike Hanson, a blind lawyer from Minnesota, is attempting to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail alone. He plans to begin in March of 2008 and will use his cane and a GPS device to navigate the nearly 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. Only around 150 hikers actually complete the trek each year. Even if Mr. Hanson does not complete the hike, his message should not be lost. Mr. Hanson’s confidence in his own abilities and fearless desire to overcome any obstacle are traits shared by the NFB, its mission, and its members