A Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Volume 29 Number 1 Winter 2010
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2010 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
www.nfb.org/nopbc • firstname.lastname@example.org • email@example.com
Volume 29 Number 1 Winter 2010
THE FUTURE IS OURS - AND THEIRS!
by Dr. Marc Maurer
by June Maurer
The Future Is Ours!
by Abby Cochran, Kate Colton, Riley Robinson, and Corbb O'Connor
From Slogan to Substance
by Fredric Schroeder PhD
Training in the Skills of Blindness: From Cradle to Career
by Julie Deden
Raising the Bar of Literacy for Blind Children
by Jessica Bachicha
"There's a Mousetrap in the House!"
by Joanne Wilson
Art by Touch
by Ann Cunningham
Not So Mad Scientists
by Lillian Rankel, Marilyn Winograd, and Cary Supalo
The 2009 Braille Book Flea Market
by Peggy Chong
Why Do You Want to Make that Child Blind?
by Carol Castellano
All We Need Is You
by Dr. Edward Bell
Blind Educator of the Year Award
presented by David Ticchi
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
presented by Joyce Scanlan
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
presented by Ramona Walhof
The 2009 Jacob Bolotin Awards
presented by Gary Wunder
The National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class of 2009
presented by Anil Lewis
Not Alone Any More
by Alice Engel
The Support We Need
by Mary Taylor
ANNOUNCEMENTSODDS AND ENDS
The 2010 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Dallas, Texas, July 3-8, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel at 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Hilton Anatole staff. Call (214) 761-7500 only. The 2010 room rates are: singles, doubles, and twins $62; and triples and quads $67 a night, plus a 15 percent sales tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2010. The other 50 percent is not refundable. Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2010, assuming that rooms are still available. After that date the hotel will not hold our block of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Guest room amenities include cable television, coffeepot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access. The Hilton Anatole has several excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is near downtown Dallas with shuttle service to both the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport and Love Field.
The schedule for the 2010 convention will follow that of last year:
Saturday, July 3 Seminar Day
Sunday, July 4 Registration Day
Monday, July 5 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 6 Opening Session
Wednesday, July 7 Business Session
Thursday, July 8 Banquet Day and Adjournment
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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* International Subscribers: Due to rising costs we have been forced to raise our subscription rates for people living outside the United States and US territories. Residents of Canada are asked to pay an annual subscription fee of $35, and the fee for subscribers in all other countries is $75 per year. If you live outside the US and its territories we invite you to receive the magazine via email free of charge. Enclosed: $_____ [ ] One-year subscription
If you have never attended a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, it may be hard for you to picture such an event. Imagine more than two thousand blind people of all ages and backgrounds coming together for nearly a week at a magnificent luxury hotel. The tapping of hundreds of long white canes echoes from tiled floors in the vast lobby. Along every corridor jingle the harnesses of guide dogs. Blind children explore from room to room, calling excitedly to their friends at each fresh discovery, while newly-blinded senior citizens venture to take their first steps independently. At the pool blind teens splash and giggle as they make new friends. Over coffee and pastries newly-acquainted blind parents exchange ideas about teaching colors to their sighted children. In the exhibit hall blind people, teachers of blind children, and rehabilitation counselors get hands-on demonstrations of the latest technology.
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, former president of the National Federation of the Blind, sometimes described our national conventions as "the gathering of the clans." Like the Scottish clans of old, members of the National Federation of the Blind and their friends and families gather once a year. It is a time for sharing information and ideas, learning new skills, planning strategies, and renewing fellowship. Convention is suffused with the understanding that blind people are as capable, resourceful, adventurous, and fun-loving as everyone else. "Stretch your limits," and "Step out of your comfort zone" are convention mantras.
The sixty-ninth convention of the National Federation of the Blind met from July 3 through July 8, 2009, at the Marriott Renaissance Center and the Marriott Courtyard in Detroit, Michigan. Convention began with "The Future Is Ours - and Theirs," a day-long seminar for parents of blind children and professionals in the blindness field. Additional workshops and presentations of particular interest to parents and professionals occurred throughout the convention. Activities for kids and teens took place all during convention week, from scavenger hunts to judo class to a workshop on astronomy.
Dozens of NFB groups, committees, and divisions held their annual meetings at convention. Some of these meetings focused on the concerns of blind people in a particular field or profession - blind lawyers, blind educators, blind musicians, blind people in health and human services, blind entrepreneurs, blind journalists, and blind scientists and engineers. There were sessions for blind seniors, blind students, blind parents, blind craftspeople, blind equestrians, and blind people in communities of faith, and more. Everyone was welcome to attend, to ask questions, and to offer ideas. Networking was a prevailing theme.
Early on the morning of July 6, more than a thousand Federationists took part in the third annual 5K March for Independence. After the triumphant marchers streamed back into the hotel, NFB President Marc Maurer opened the first general session of the convention. The general sessions, held on July 6, 7, and 8, included presentations on the education of blind children, assistive technology, new developments in Braille and audiobooks, and challenges and opportunities for the blind community in the future. President Maurer reported on Federation activities during the past year, and the assembled members voted on resolutions that will determine the organization's policies in the years ahead.
Convention closed on a high note with the annual banquet on the evening of July 8. Thirty outstanding blind students received NFB scholarships, and President Maurer delivered a stirring banquet address.
If you attended the 2009 national convention, the following pages may bring back fond memories and spark your anticipation of the convention to come. If you have not yet had the chance to attend an NFB convention, we hope this sampling of photos will convince you to join us in Dallas for Convention 2010. We look forward to meeting you!
From the Editor: The 2009 convention of the National Federation of the Blind opened on July 3, 2009, with "The Future Is Ours - and Theirs," a joint conference for parents of blind children and professionals in the blindness field. The conference was sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals (NABRP), and the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University. NOPBC President Carol Castellano and Dr. Edward Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech, chaired the day's proceedings.
NFB President Marc Maurer began the morning by talking to a group of blind children about his experiences growing up blind. Later parents and professionals heard from blind teens who spoke about their lives and their goals. Finally the audience heard a series of presentations by leaders in the fields of education and rehabilitation of the blind. While the adults listened to speeches and took part in animated discussions, kids and teens had the chance to try science experiments, fitness exercises, and art projects.
Following is a selection of presentations that embody the message and spirit of the conference and of the entire convention.
by Marc Maurer
Introduction by Carol Castellano: We're now going to present what has become a wonderful tradition at the seminar - the Kid Talk! Please, any children who would like an up-close and personal chat with Dr. Maurer, come forward now and form a circle on the floor. We like to make Dr. Maurer sit down on the floor in his suit! While the children are coming up, I'd like to tell you that this is an exciting moment when Dr. Maurer, the president of the National Federation of the Blind, takes time to talk to the kids - and maybe sneak in a little information for parents and teachers while he's at it. The children can sit right in the center of the middle aisle in a circle. Please welcome Dr. Marc Maurer!
Dr. Maurer: Oh . . . I'm supposed to sit down here? [Laughter.] There I am. You didn't think I could get down this far. [More laughter.] It's the getting up part that's hard. You guys, how are you doing this morning? What are we going to talk about? Usually when we get together like this, some of you have some suggestions.
I want to tell you something. My mother is here. [Applause.] And you know what she's doing? She's watching me! [Laughter.] Now, I'm a blind person. Should we start with that?
Dr. Maurer: Are you blind people? Good. There are some sighted people around here, but they're nice. [Laughter.] When I was your age - that was a long time ago, you know, I'm old - when I was your age, I didn't know I was a blind person. I found out sort of gradually. I remember the day I really found out. I found out because I was out in my front yard, and I went into the house and my brother (he was a sighted kid) my brother said, "There's Dad driving by," and he said something about the street that was half a block away. I had no idea people could see that far! I remember people always said, "Did you see that? . . . Will you look at that!" and I'd always try, but I could never make it. Then one time they took me to the doctor. Have you been to the doctor? They said that I was going to be tested. They were going to test me. When you get tested they want to find out if you're doing okay. You want to be successful at the test - and they were going to test me to find out if I could see. They put a big image on some kind of screen that had a light. I could tell there was a light, but I couldn't tell what the image was. The doctor said to my mother, "Does he know what that is?" and she said, "Yeah, he knows," but I couldn't see it. I tried, but I failed. And I thought, This is a bad thing! I'm not supposed to fail the test. I'm supposed to pass the test! If they had said they were going to measure my vision instead of test it, that would have been better. I was failing, and I hated that.
I found out it was okay to be blind, though. It took a while. When I found out I was blind it was a sadness for me. I learned that some people thought it was bad to be blind, and sometimes, when they said it, it sounded like I was bad because I was blind. It wasn't my fault! I hadn't done it on purpose! But I found out later it isn't bad to be blind, it's just what happens to some people. I've been blind all my life. It's lots of fun to go and do exciting stuff, and it doesn't matter whether you're blind. That's what I learned.
One time I came here and I said it was all right to be lost. I've been lost lots of times. I get found again. [Laughter.] It's not a bad thing to be lost. As a matter of fact, you meet some new people that way usually, and you find out new things.
Now I say it's okay to be blind, especially if you learn the things you need to know. Some people think you shouldn't learn to read Braille because they say it's slow. Well, it's not slow if you learn it. [Laughter.] It's lots of fun to know all the things you can find inside books. At this convention I'm going to read some things I've written, and I'm going to use Braille to do it. I've got a big package of Braille stuff. Some of it's very exciting! We're going to talk at this convention about space, about sending people into space! Maybe some of you will go into space some day. That would be fun! We're going to talk about building new things. One of the times I was here with you at convention I handed you my cell phone and showed you that it reads things. I have a reading machine in my pocket that's on my cell phone. This summer we're going to have some kids, kids around fourteen and fifteen, who are going to drive a vehicle around. It's happening this summer. Now, is this car finished? No, it's just the prototype. That means it's the first one, that's what a prototype is. It's not all done, but we're going to do some more work on it.
You have to learn enough so that you've got a way to write things down, and Braille is a great way to do that. And if you're going to do arithmetic . . . everybody likes arithmetic, right? What? You don't like arithmetic? I love arithmetic . . . sort of. Well, you can do arithmetic with Braille. You can write it all down. Do you have any questions for me? Except for the fact that I'm old, I do know some things, so if you have any questions you can ask me. You have a question? What's your name. Ashleya?
Ashleya: How old are you? [Laughter.]
Dr. Maurer: How old am I? Ashleya, how old are you?
Ashleya: I'm ten.
Dr. Maurer: You're ten. Do you like arithmetic? I'm more than five times as old as you are.
Ashleya: Are you a hundred and fifty? [Laughter.]
Dr. Maurer: I'm not a hundred and fifty yet, no. I'm only fifty-eight. Do you have any other questions for me? A hand? I'm a blind person, so I can't see your hand. You have to shout out your name. Anna? What's your question?
Anna: How long has Braille been around?
Dr. Maurer: Braille has been around since about 1825. Precisely how long is unclear. Some people say it goes back to 1822. That means it's not quite two hundred years since it started. It's a hundred and eighty-eight years maybe. The first version of Louis Braille's code was published in 1829. That was when Louis Braille was twenty. He thought it up before he was twenty! You might think up something new that we can use maybe. Louis Braille did.
It's nice to talk to you guys. Some people who are blind get worried that they are not fun people. They worry that people won't think they're great to have around. I know you guys are fun people. I know you're really neat folks, and I know it's great to have you around, and I'm really glad you came to this convention. I know that some of your brothers and sisters are sighted, and they're nice, too. My brother's here. He's a sighted guy, but he's really nice.
Child: My sister's really picky on me.
Dr. Maurer: My brother was never picky . . . much. He was a good guy, and he still is. [Applause.] Now I'm going to stand up here, because I have one other thing to do. If you want to stand up, too, you can, but if you want to stay there, if you like it, that's all right with me. I want to meet all you guys at this convention - and most of the things you do will be all right with me.
I talked to the hotel yesterday and I told them you were going to be here, and I also told them that you were going to carry your canes. I hope that you do. I've got my cane. The reason it's fun to have a cane is that when you walk around the cane runs into stuff before you do. It doesn't hurt the cane, you see. If you bump into something with your nose it will hurt your nose. I know this because I did it before. [Laughter.] Now I'm about to stand up here. Let's see if I can get this done. [Applause.]
by June Maurer
Introduction by Carol Castellano: We have a very intergenerational morning today. You have probably heard that behind every man is a great woman - but I bet you didn't know that they were referring to his mother! I am very honored and happy to introduce Marc Maurer's and Matt Maurer's mother, Mrs. June Maurer. Please welcome her.
Marc was a premature baby. He was two months premature, and they said we'd have to watch his eyes because he was having problems with them. He didn't seem to have any trouble with them at first, except that his eyes were large. We lived in Iowa, and we moved to another town. My husband went back to Des Moines to pick up a few things we had left there, and while he was away I noticed that something was wrong and Marc wasn't able to see. He was three or four months old at the time. We were so afraid he wouldn't be able to see. We knew a good doctor up in Minneapolis, so we went up there and had the doctor look at him. The doctor did something for him so that he could see again.
Marc was able to see fairly well until he went into kindergarten. He finished kindergarten in a regular school and then he had another operation on his eyes, and afterward he couldn't see. He had always been such a happy child, doing and going, but after he had that operation he didn't want to do anything but sit in the house. So one day I took him by the hand and I said, "Come on, we're going out to the slide." No, he wasn't going. But I made him go, and he went down the slide. He said, "All right, I went down the slide. Now I'm going back in the house." [Laughter.] I said, "No, you're going down again!" After he went down maybe three times he was having fun, so I went back in the house and he stayed out and played. [Applause.]
He went to regular kindergarten as I told you, but when he lost his sight he had to go to Vinton to the Iowa School for the Blind. I found that out about a week before school started. We scurried around getting him ready and took him down to Vinton. I remember he was standing there looking very sad because we were going to leave him. I said, "I know you probably want to cry, because you're going to miss us and you're going to be unhappy. But try not to cry when anybody will see you, because if you make too much of a fuss they won't let us take you back home again." They had told us that. He had to get acclimated before they would let him go back home. The following weekend we went down and had a picnic with him, and after that his father picked him up every weekend and brought him home.
I think it's important that fathers work with their children who are blind and teach them things. When his father died Marc got up at the funeral and said, "It was my father who taught me to be dependable." His father was very active with him.
When Marc came home at the end of the first grade he said to me, "Do you want me to read you a story?" and I said, "Sure." He sat there reading away and I noticed he wasn't using his fingers. He wasn't reading that story. I had a book from a group of Jewish women who taught Braille. I had learned to write Braille, and eventually I became a certified Braille transcriber. I showed Marc words from the story and he only knew two or three of them. So I went to the library and got out a print book, and I asked the librarian, "May I keep this out longer than the length of time you're allowed? I want to try to teach my son Braille." She said, "Sure." So I brought the book home and I put the words from the story into Braille and gave the story to him to read. When he got through it I gave him another one. By the end of the summer he had read three pre-primers and a first-grade book. He was right where he needed to be for second grade.
Realizing that Marc was blind, my husband and I made certain decisions. We wanted him to be a useful, contributing person in the world. We knew we had to let him be free to do pretty much whatever he wanted as much as possible. His father taught him to ride a bicycle. I didn't think that was the best thing in the world, but then he bought him a bicycle built for two. That was better because he could ride it with somebody else. Unfortunately, what I didn't know is that when he left the house he rode in the front! [Laughter and applause.] He let the other kids get on the back; it was his bicycle!
My husband, Fred, and I had trouble sometimes about the way we did things. For instance, one day Marc said to me, "Do you know where my jacket is?" I said, "Yes, it's on the front porch, on the floor." My husband said to me, "You could go get it for him." I said, "Yes, I could. Who's going to get it for him when I'm not around? He's got to learn to hang it up and put it where it belongs."
Friends would often complain that we weren't treating Marc right. Fred and I had some difficulty with each other, too, because one of us would think we weren't doing the right thing. We tried very hard to let Marc be free to do what he wanted to do.
I wanted to tell you about one thing that happened. We lived in Boone, Iowa, and one time Marc found out there was a library in Des Moines that had books in Braille. He said, "I want to go get those books!" So he and his brothers talked me into letting the three of them go to Des Moines on the bus. Marc was twelve or thirteen and the next one was ten and the other one was eight.
So off they went on the bus to Des Moines to the library. Of course I told them to stay together at the Commission for the Blind, but they didn't. Marc stayed there. He was all involved with the library. But the other two went up to the capitol. [Laughter.] They found out when they went into a store that they could ride the escalators and nobody bothered them. Up and down they went, two or three times! Well, Marc learned to be free and to do things, which was what we wanted.
When we found out Marc was going to be blind I said a prayer. I said, "O Lord, let me raise my son so that he can be independent and he can contribute to the world and be a man." I would like to know if you think I was successful. [Enthusiastic applause.]
Carol Castellano: Thank you very much, Mrs. Maurer. That was terrific. This lady was ahead of her times! I would say that that talk explains a lot.
by Abby Cochran, Kate Colton, Riley Robinson, and Corbb O'Connor
Introduction by Carol Castellano: We saw how Mrs. Maurer worked so successfully to make a wonderful future for her son. She opened up all the doors and made sure he understood that everything was possible for him. Right now we're going to hear from four of our youth members who are going to talk about their own hopes and dreams for the future. Abby Cochran is going into ninth grade. She's from Minnesota. We also have Kate Colton, who is seventeen and will be a junior at Park City High School in Utah. We have Riley Robinson, who is seventeen and will be a senior at the Indiana School for the Blind. Finally, we will hear from Corbb O'Connor, who is twenty-one and a senior at George Washington University.
Abby Cochran: Good morning. The title of my speech is "Some Advice about Blindness." I was invited to talk about blindness and how it affects me. I'm currently attending the Life 101 Program at BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis. I am diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity. I'm originally from Minnesota, and I have been in mainstream classes throughout my life. I've been reading Braille since I was three. I love to read books. I am constantly reading in my spare time. All my school books are in Braille. I complete all my written assignments on my BrailleLite. I use my BrailleLite because of the refreshable Braille display. It allows me to interact more easily with my work. I use my display to assist with my proofreading. Braille is important to me because it enables me to compete on the same level with my sighted peers.
I am attending the Life 101 Program because I would like to learn more nonvisual techniques to accomplish the things I want to do. My lifelong goal is to be an adaptive technology specialist. For me blindness is not the end of the world because I have learned alternative techniques to help me be successful. I have learned nonvisual skills while under sleepshades. The sleepshade training has not only made me a better student, but a better blind person. I feel very confident in what I do because of my positive blind role models. These role models have also given me courage and strength.
Orientation and mobility skills are very important for blind children. Get a cane for your child if he or she doesn't have one, and get an orientation and mobility instructor. When I'm at home I cook, wash dishes, and clean my room. The foods that I cook are goat cheese and eggs. I do these things to contribute to my family, and because I know that they will help me in the future. I learned such things from many summers at BLIND, Inc.'s Buddy Program and from Life 101. This is going to make me a better contributor to society and to my family.
Parents of blind children should have good attitudes about blindness and should show respect and confidence to their blind kids. The Life 101 Program goes along with the NFB philosophy. This philosophy calls for equality, dignity, and opportunity. Thank you for listening.
Kate Colton: Some people are condemned unwillingly to something they didn't choose, forced into submission by what the public thinks. But perceptions are changing. I don't want to be condemned to a life of mediocrity. Things that are out there are unlimited and unbound, like shooting for the stars and beyond. Most people assume that because of my blindness I am unable to do what others do. I will prove them wrong.
Some of you may know that I have been studying American Sign Language during the past school year. I have excelled in the class. Yes, I had to learn it a little bit differently, but I've turned out to be one of the best signers in the class.
Why shoot for the sky when you can go so much further than that? The sky is just the starting point for me and hopefully for other blind children. Even though I have no clue what the future holds, I will write it my way, not the way others tell me to write it. I may be a little shy, but I am very hardworking and determined to achieve my dreams. If you give me time and space I will grow into something more than you would have expected. I will defy expectations, and nobody can bring me down. When I set goals I would rather set them higher than lower. If I fail to achieve the higher goals, at least I know I put my best foot forward and gave it my best effort. Goals that are set too low can be achieved, but how much do you really gain?
I plan to do many things, and I am going to challenge myself to be a better person and an inspiration to others. I believe that everyone deserves a chance to fly, and if it means flying solo, at least I'll do it free.
Riley Robinson: Good morning. My name is Riley Robinson, and I'm soon to be a senior at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. How can we, as blind students, insure that the future is ours? I am here today as a blind individual and as a student to answer that question to the best of my ability, based on my experiences growing up blind.
I have been blind since birth. I was diagnosed with a condition known as LCA, or Leber's congenital amaurosis. This genetic disorder is rare, and there are only a few thousand known cases in the world today. My brother, who is three-and-a-half years older than I am, was also born with this condition. When my brother was born and my parents found out that he was to be blind for the rest of his life, they were more than devastated. In tears my mother tried to voice the many questions going through her mind at that moment. How would he go to school? How would he interact with others? There were even questions as simple as how would he walk? Before they had my brother, blindness was not important to my parents. They had never in their entire lives figured that they would have to worry about something like that.
Eventually, however, my parents began to understand that my brother needed to be treated the same way they would treat any child. That is exactly what was done. He was taught like any sighted child, with only a few alterations. For example, since he was totally blind, he relied on his hearing and sense of touch. Instead of playing games such as tag or drawing in a coloring book, he would play games like Marco Polo or tactile tic-tac-toe. He absolutely loved music. My mother bought him a toy drum set, which was extremely annoying, and a miniature keyboard, which he loved immensely. He loved listening to the radio, especially to country music. His big dream was to be a DJ when he grew up.
When my mother became pregnant with her second child, me, the doctor told her right away that the child had a one in four chance of being blind. My mother obviously took the chance, and I came into the world as the second blind child in our family. My parents were prepared this time, and they began to teach me and believe in me the way any parents would. I was also a huge music lover, and by the age of seven I was playing the piano and singing. My mother told me once that when I was about fifteen months old I would stand on the floor on my wobbly legs. I would simply stand there and not move, no matter what. Finally, after many hours of patiently waiting, I took my first step into the unknown. I must have been extremely relieved to find firm and reassuring ground underfoot and not a chasm of doom! I began to walk everywhere, getting into almost everything. That first step of mine turned into ten, which turned into twenty, which turned into the many steps of my life that I have taken up to now.
That same thing goes for parents. When a parent first finds out that his or her child is blind or visually impaired, that parent begins to panic. Most sighted people are rather ignorant, and they believe that some part of that child is going to be ruined due to the blindness. When that child is born the parents need to take that first step into the unknown. They will realize that there is nothing to be afraid of. A blind child is not incompetent and not unable. The child is simply blind. There is only a vision loss, a minor inconvenience. A blind child needs his or her expectations to be set high, and he or she needs to have new and engaging challenges. Parents should not treat a blind child as though that child is different from the rest of his or her peers, because that child will learn to feel different. My parents believed in my brother and me, and because of their belief I do not feel different or inferior to the rest of the world.
My parents realized that we needed the right kind of teaching. They were put in contact with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It is a residential school that teaches not only the academic classes needed to get an education, but also other skills such as Braille, daily living, O&M, and assistive technology. These skills are extremely important in a blind person's education. When I first arrived at the school for the blind I was very excited, mostly due to the fact that my older brother had been going there for a few years before me. I knew that it was okay for me to go and live at a school an hour away from home - an hour drive was quite far for a preschooler! I began to attend the school at the age of four and I've been there ever since. The teachers have all been wonderful, and they have taught me all the academic and nonacademic classes that I need for a successful future.
I began to learn Braille and O&M straight away. Daily living skills and technology came later, and I have had a good education in both. My Braille skills are definitely up to par or better. I use many assistive technology devices such as the screen-reading program JAWS for Windows, a BrailleNote, and a Kurzweil scanner. I can travel most routes independently due to my O&M training. I have learned that the best way for an O&M instructor to teach his or her students is through the Structured Discovery Method. A student should definitely learn to plan routes, but sometimes people are put into unexpected situations. Most people need to know how to deal with this. A student should be able to travel in unexpected situations independently.
The academic skills are of great importance as well. I have one year left at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and I'll be graduating with an honors diploma. Academics are important for any student to become a successful person. Teachers should teach their students to work, travel, and live as independently as possible.
Once I graduate from the school for the blind I plan to embark on the next step of my journey - college. This is where vocational rehabilitation comes in. Rehab counselors are there to help students make a smooth transition from high school to college or from high school to the work environment. It is not too early to get in contact with the VR counselor! Waiting until a student's senior year is almost too late for all the necessary work that has to be done. At the end of my sophomore year, with funding and help from Voc Rehab, I was able to enter the Student Training for Employment Program (STEP) run by the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired with Bossert Enterprises. This program taught me to apply for a job, and I was given a temporary job opportunity. This was a wonderful experience, showing me what a work experience might be like. I would not have been able to do this without the help of Vocational Rehabilitation. Voc Rehab has many ways to help students in their pursuits of success.
The National Federation of the Blind has helped me greatly as a blind student. For the past four years I have traveled with staff and students from the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to attend NFB conventions in Atlanta, Louisville, Dallas, and now here in Detroit. I had just finished sixth grade when I attended my first national convention in Atlanta. I had no idea what to expect. I had never heard of blindness organizations before. I was in for an absolutely wonderful surprise! The people here at the National Federation of the Blind are empowering, supportive, and helpful in any matter you may have pertaining to blindness. When I heard President Maurer give his address during my first convention, I felt more confident than I ever had before. I thought to myself, I'm so glad that this is only my sixth-grade year and I'm already getting involved. I recommend that students get involved in these organizations as early as possible. Who better to talk to and mentor blind students than blind people themselves? Blind advocacy organizations such as this one have the resources and the support for any student who is looking for a successful future. Parents, teachers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, NFB members, students - the future of blindness is in our hands! Students, we are the next generation of blind people. Let us all work together as a team and raise the expectations for us as blind individuals. Let's make better what it means to be blind!
Corbb O'Connor: My name is Corbb. I'm a senior at George Washington University. On the plane out here I started thinking about an experience I had at that university, an experience that isn't too different from the way I grew up. This past spring I decided it was time for me to go out and meet some new people. My friends are nice, but, you know, they get boring. My birthday was coming up, and my parents weren't going to be able to make it out to celebrate with me, so I thought maybe they could help me pay for a whitewater rafting trip through my university. My parents did what most parents of blind children would do - they said, "Yes, sounds good! Go for it!"
I was the only blind person on the trip (and one of the few males, too). And I realized that what the guides on those whitewater rafts do is a lot like what my parents did very well for me. There are three components of what parents of blind children and rafting guides do. They do training, they use technology, and they have a mindset of teamwork.
The first component is training. Some of you have heard about the importance of Braille. When I was in middle school in Illinois a state law was passed that said Braille should be considered for everybody who was going through the IEP process - that long paperwork, the contract that says what services the school is going to provide in terms of Braille and orientation and mobility. The law says you have to consider Braille at every IEP meeting. It doesn't say that you have to provide it, but at least it says that it has to be discussed. It came up, and I had some very smart support staff who said, "We think Braille training would be good in case you lose more of your vision. We would like to start you on Braille." Well, I resisted and fought and resisted. I learned it anyway, but I wish I had kept it up. These other three students today showed what happens when you are proficient in Braille. How much better could I have been reading if I had actually taken that training seriously! So, kids, you can close your ears on this one; parents, force Braille down their throats! Make them like it!
The second component is technology. When I was in high school I mostly used large print. I found it hard to focus when I was listening to something read by a computer-generated voice or even by a live reader. My itinerant teacher of blind children will tell you I even fell asleep taking tests when she was reading to me! It was not pleasant! It wasn't until college that I started to use a program called Kurzweil. A lot of you may be familiar with that. For those who aren't, you can take something as simple as a magazine article or your credit card statement, scan it in, and your computer will read it back to you. It makes things a lot easier in terms of not having to find somebody to retype that paper or read that letter to you. I found that there is a bigger lesson to be learned through the use of different technology. Yes, it's a lot easier to use Kurzweil, to listen to a book instead of trying to squint and read it in the car. It's a lot easier to use a cell phone that reads print. But really what that's teaching your children is that it's okay to do things a little bit differently.
This summer I'm working at "Marketplace," the public radio show. Everybody's got headphones on in the office. We're a radio show. Everybody else is listening to NPR or listening to TV. I'm listening to my email as well as to radio and all those other things. It's one of the first places where it's been okay - I haven't felt any stigma at all about putting the headphones on and listening to a morning memo instead of trying to read it. Technology makes things a lot easier. It's expensive, too. The bigger lesson to be learned is not from what Kurzweil has done for a lot of people. It's not from what that reading machine in your pocket can do. It's about the idea that you can do the same things everybody else is doing, just a little bit differently.
The third component that has been so important for me is the mindset of teamwork that my parents used. While I wish they had pushed Braille down my throat, one of the things they did really well was this teamwork. Whenever we went out my dad would say, "Oh Corbb, did you bring your cane?" Eventually I decided that if I told him yes initially but forgot it, then I could hold onto his arm and things were a lot easier for me. He didn't make me walk alone. But he caught onto that. He started checking before we walked up the driveway.
There were some times when he'd let me hold onto his arm. I held his arm when we were walking down a busy street in Chicago, or when we toured Europe and I was trying to look at all the sights while we walked and it was difficult to do two things at once. But when we took the dog for a walk (my pet, before I had my guide dog), he would say, "Bring your cane." I would be holding his elbow and using my cane in my normal way, and at one point he would say, "Okay, time for you to walk on your own now." "No no!" I'd say. "That's too difficult! We're just out for a walk! We're not on an O&M lesson!" Dad would say, "Well, this is an O&M lesson for us."
It's a constant matter of teamwork that has worked really well. Riley talked about taking her first step. That first step really is the key, because once you take the first step, the next one and the next fifty are a lot easier. I saw a movie the other day called The Secret. One of the lines was, "You just have to take the first step. Nothing says you have to see the whole staircase." As parents and educators these are the things you're doing well for the children you work with. You are helping them have the confidence to take and celebrate that first step, knowing what's coming up ahead.
I worked with an orientation and mobility teacher who is here at this conference. Ginger Irwin is her name. We went to the mall a lot on our orientation and mobility lessons. One of the nice things about going to the mall was that I entered an environment that I knew nothing about, and I was able to learn how to get around. You may think, okay, great. My kid just got around the mall on his own. But how is he going to get to Detroit? This time when I came from DC to Detroit I had to go through a new terminal at the airport. I had to go through the terminal here, and through this hotel. Every time I go to new places I think about that trip to the mall with Ginger. I'll think, oh, this is a lot like a plus-sign intersection. It's south on Main Street and I'm going to turn right onto Darke Street. It's really helpful.
So it's really those three key components: training, technology, and teamwork. Whitewater rafting was possible for me. Maybe it's not something your kid's going to want to do. Maybe your kid is not going to want to go to a big university in Washington, DC. But what is possible when you start training, technology, and teamwork? I'm not sure there's a whole lot that blind kids can't do if they want to do it.
by Fredric Schroeder, PhD
Introduction by Edward Bell: I have the distinguished pleasure of introducing our next speaker, who will give our keynote address this morning. He is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, he is the president of the NFB of Virginia, and he is also a research professor at San Diego State University. He has helped us bridge the gap for many, many years. He has worked with kids and adults, people all across the age spectrum. We couldn't think of a better person to bring this group of parents and children and rehabilitation professionals together and to give everyone some thoughts about how we can better work toward the future. Without further ado, please help me give a very warm welcome to Dr. Fred Schroeder!
Good morning! I am delighted to be here with you. How many here in the room are parents? Please say "I!" Good! And the rest of you - I know there are a few Shriners in the audience, and a few others who came in for the coffee. [Laughter.] But mostly I want to talk to the parents this morning.
I recently had dinner with a friend of mine, and he and I got into a debate about the state of race relations in this country. He and I disagreed on race relations issues. What caught my attention is that whenever he disagreed with a point I made he would say, "Well, I have an African American friend, and he says . . ." Then later in the conversation he'd say, "But my black friend tells me…” Finally I got irritated, and I said, "You know one black person who expresses this view, so you're an expert now on what African Americans think?"
There is a tendency in society for people to view the world according to their own experience. While I'm giving my friend a hard time, I think that what he was doing is very common. We look at other people's situations and try to understand them based on our own worldview, our own life experience. I think that happens a lot with blind people. I begin with this thought to say that in trying to prepare yourselves to be the best parents that you can be for your blind children (and all of your children, but in this case for your blind children), you need information - not just information from one blind person, not just information from one professional. Of course there may be individuals who, over time, will become your friends, and perhaps even your mentors. But what will prepare you best to raise your children and give them the very best opportunity for a productive life is the breadth of experience that you and your child have with blind people. Then it isn't that you know one blind person who says this or believes that. You will understand from the perspective of a whole wide range of people.
What do I mean by a wide range of people? One of the things that we talk about a lot in the Federation is the concept that Dr. Jernigan taught us many years ago. He said that the major problem of blindness is not the lack of eyesight, but public misunderstanding about blindness. He said that with training and opportunity blind people can compete on terms of equality. Either those words have substance or they're a slogan. In order to take them from the slogan level to the substance level, they have to be internalized. You have to feel those words inside of you. Do we mean that just a few blind people can compete, or can blind people as a class compete?
Blind people, like everyone else in society, represent a cross-section. Some of us are very bold. When the space shuttle went up with the Louis Braille coins on board, I said I was glad that Dr. Maurer was not going along. He said he would have loved to go, and I believe him! Some of us are very bold. Some of us are less so. Some of us are very academically oriented, some of us less so. As a cross-section of people, either we can do the things in life that we want to do and that others do, or it's a fiction, a slogan. The way we move past the slogan toward making it real is through interaction with one another, with other blind people. So it's important that you be here for this convention. I know some parents in the room are not able to stay for the entire convention this time. But next year, and the year after and the year after, it is vitally important that you come, not just for the parents' seminar, but for the entire convention. Why? Because your children will grow up, and you need to have an understanding of the issues they will face, what the problems are that blind people are collectively working to solve. Your child needs to be a part of that movement from the time that he or she is very little until he or she is an adult.
Here's an example of one of the problems you're likely to face. If your sighted child has a bad teacher, well, he or she suffers through it and mostly can get by, because next year and the year after and the year after there will be other teachers. Your sighted children will have a whole assortment. Some will be great, some will be terrible, some will be good but don't connect well with your child, etc. But very often in today's education system the blind child has a teacher who may or may not be effective, may or may not convey the right attitudes and values, but may be the primary person providing your child's education for years. What do you do about it?
In my mind, part of what we do about it mirrors other aspects of society. For a while when I was a kid I went to the eye doctor a lot. Forty-plus years ago I would go to the doctor, the doctor would look in my eyes and make some notes in the chart, squeeze my shoulder, and say, "I'll see you next Thursday." That was pretty much the relationship we had with our doctors back then. Today that is not the way we interact with health-care professionals. Today we expect to be much more actively involved, not just to take what we're told and assume it's the best information. We can question that information, do some research. I think the same is true with the education of blind children. You need to be as knowledgeable as you possibly can be. How do you inform yourself? There's the Parents of Blind Children publication, Future Reflections. But a good part of what you will learn comes from interacting with other parents, particularly parents who have kids the age of your kids or older, who can tell you about the struggles that they face and the solutions they've found. What happened when their child was excluded from PE? Is that just something you have to accept, or is there a way to integrate your child into PE class? I had a little bit of vision when I was in elementary school, and in PE the coach made me the assistant referee. I couldn't see well enough to be a referee, so what it really meant is he gave me a title and had me stand on the sidelines. Is that happening today? You bet it is! Do you have to put up with it? Are there alternatives? How do you know, as a parent, other than by talking to other parents? Some parents have struggled with school districts and been successful. Others - good, smart, very tenacious parents - have gotten nowhere with their school districts. You need to understand the full range, the collective experience as you advocate for your children.
Another thing I want to say to you is that professionals in the blindness field pretty much all use the same language. They all talk about independence. They all do. And they all talk about your child getting an equal education. The question is, is that a slogan, or is it real? You can determine this by watching the behaviors that support what the teacher is saying.
Let me tell you something that's very common in special education. Teachers will say that if you have a blind or low-vision child and that child has twenty-five math problems for homework, the child doesn't really need to do twenty-five. Maybe doing ten or twelve is good enough. This reduced assignment still shows that the child conceptually understands the material. Anybody heard that? Okay - is that equality or is that a slogan of equality? It's a slogan! Think about when your children get out into the world and somebody's going to employ them. I'm standing here as the employer and your child comes in and says, "Now, Dr. Schroeder, I can do really good work. Conceptually I know this stuff in and out. I'll only do half as much as your other staff, but man, I've got it down!" Am I going to hire him? Well, maybe, if he's willing to work sixteen hours a day and get paid for eight.
That reduced homework assignment is not equality. It's an assumption that what blind people can do is substandard. The professionals who make these assumptions aren't bad people. They aren't trying to do your child any harm. They're trying to do the right thing for you and for your children. But it is up to all of us collectively to look at what is happening on a day-to-day basis and to ask ourselves, Is this really supporting equality? Look around the room at blind people who are working, blind people who have done things in life that perhaps society would not have anticipated. Is your child developing on a path that will allow him or her to be like that? Or is he or she receiving a scaled-down education, a substandard education, and with it, a substandard or scaled-down set of dreams and hopes and aspirations?
Some of what you and your child need is information. Your child needs alternative techniques such as using a white cane, learning nonvisual ways to cook or make a sandwich or whatever. But beyond all that, so much of what we're about in the Federation is an internal confidence, an attitude that says that if you want to do a thing you'll do it.
Right now your child is at a national convention. If your child wants a Coke, I want him or her to feel comfortable to go out into the lobby and walk down to the little gift shop at the other end. I'm not asking whether your child can find the gift shop; that isn't the question here. Many, many blind people could find the gift shop. That's a start, but it's not the end. The question is, does your child feel comfortable doing it? As a sighted person you don't say to yourself, Well, I know I can find it, but oh man, the hassle! This place is round, and there's an awful lot of noise! As a sighted person you might not feel like walking that far, but you don't feel anxiety about going to the gift shop and buying a Coke. That's what I want for your children! Not just that they can do it and come back exhausted, saying, "Wow! I made it through that labyrinth!" but that they're comfortable to say, "Man, I don't like this Pepsi over here; I'm going to go and get myself a Coke!" and not think twice about it. That's what I'm talking about with this idea of living a normal life, doing the things that other people do, having independence be more than just a slogan, having it really be integrated into your child's daily life.
All of us fall into patterns. Part of why you need to be around other blind people is so that you have a chance to challenge your patterns a little bit. There are some things that you do differently for a blind child than you do for a sighted child. That's just how it is. The blind child can't pick up a sheet of paper and read it (unless the kid is totally globally mobile with the knfbReader)! So you read the paper to the child. Does it cross the line into reinforcing dependence, or is it a natural interaction that takes into account the fact that your child is blind?
All children have characteristics. Your sighted children have characteristics. Your sighted children, if they're of elementary-school age, are likely shorter than you are. It might be very natural for you to get something out of the cupboard for your sighted child because the shelf is high up and you're taller than the child is. That's not going to scar your sighted child; that's not going to make him withdraw into himself and say, "I guess I can't do much in life." It's a normal interaction that takes into account a fact, a characteristic of that child.
There will be things like that related to blindness. For instance, suppose I have a spot on my jacket. Sometimes you can feel if something has spilled on your clothing, but sometimes you can't. Sighted people have remarkable vision! I'm just astounded by what they can see! (I'm also astounded the other way, sometimes things that are really obvious they don't seem to notice at all!) Say your child puts on a shirt and the washer didn't get the spot out and you see it. There's a natural interaction because you can see and your child can't see. That's fine. But if that natural interaction takes on a pattern of reinforcing dependency, then it's in your child's best interest for you to challenge it. The ability to challenge a pattern doesn't come from sitting down and reading a book. It comes from being around blind people, seeing how blind people interact.
I want to say one more thing. No matter what your child's age, encourage your child to explore. That is how you get information. I can tell you honestly that if I put a blindfold on you and led you around this hotel I could get you lost and keep you lost for five days! There's only one way to learn a hotel or some other big environment, and that's to walk around. That's the only way! You walk around and you start finding things. When I'm walking with sighted people they weave around things and I miss all kinds of stuff, so the only way for me to learn is to explore on my own. Encourage your children to explore! You know these things, but you need to know them at the core. You need to know them until they're integrated, reflex, part of your natural day-to-day reaction to new events and new situations.
Let me close by saying this: fifty thousand members of the National Federation of the Blind, fifty thousand blind people, see your children as our children - not as our biological children, but as the children of our community. We want them to have the greatest opportunity in life that they can have. Some of us have had access to tremendous opportunities for training and education and employment, but others of us have not. We want each of your blind children to benefit from the things that we have learned collectively and the changes we are making together. Here at convention don't hesitate to approach people and talk to them. We're more than happy to be of any help that we can be. With professionals, listen to them. Learn from their experience, learn from their advice. But whether you're talking to another parent or to a professional or to an everyday ordinary gripey old blind man like me, measure what you hear against the belief system that has to underpin everything you do. Does what I recommend promote development and independence, or is it reinforcing and institutionalizing dependency?
I wish you the very best. I'm glad you're here. I look forward to meeting all of you, and, hopefully, to meeting all of your children.
by Julie Deden
Introduction by Edward Bell: Our next speaker is going to talk a little bit about training. We're very fortunate to have a handful of excellent training programs around the country. As we were putting this agenda together, we thought about the nature of training. If we do training right, it's not just for adults. We should give kids these opportunities very early on so that when they reach adulthood the necessity for training is lessened. Our next speaker is the executive director of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Please give a warm welcome to Julie Deden.
I want to congratulate all of those parents who are in this room. I am the parent of a fifteen-year-old who is not blind. I've got to tell you that being a parent is one of the most rewarding and one of the hardest jobs we will ever have. Life is a journey. We're always learning. We're moving through things, stage after stage after stage. I want you all to remember this: you need to jump in there and go for it, and there's never just one right way to do things.
I remember when my child was at the stage of potty training, and all of the parents around me with kids that age were very upset. I heard, "My child isn't potty trained yet," and "Yours is and mine isn't," and this is happening and that's happening. Everyone seemed so terribly anxious about getting it right with their child, but there's never just one right way!
When I was eighteen months old I was having my picture taken with my family. They threw a ball and they wanted me to catch it. They wanted me to look at the camera, and of course they wanted me to smile. Well, I didn't look at the camera. I didn't look at it at all, and I didn't catch the ball. For a while people had been saying to my mom and dad, "You know, she doesn't seem to see very well. You might want to get her eyes checked." But my parents didn't, not until I was eighteen months old, until that day when we had our family picture taken and they thought, This isn't right! Our daughter isn't trying to grab that ball.
At that point they took me to the doctor, and the doctor said, "Your daughter is blind. She is blind, and there's really nothing that we can do about it." My parents were devastated! They didn't know anybody who was blind. They thought that blind people probably didn't do much in their lives. Maybe they lived on the street. Maybe most of them sat at home. Maybe they worked in sheltered workshops, or else they didn't work at all. Certainly they didn't have regular, normal lives.
My family didn't know about the National Federation of the Blind. I'm so happy that all of you are here today, and that you know about the NFB! I'm so pleased because you can spread the National Federation of the Blind everywhere you go, and you can find those parents who don't know about us, who are not quite sure, who are asking themselves, What should I do since my child is blind?
My parents worked really hard. They talked to a lot of people. They met some other parents who had blind kids, and they heard good things. They heard, "You need to have your daughter doing what other kids her age are doing. If kids are cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the floors, you should have her do those things, too." I learned to plug in a vacuum cleaner, and I shocked myself a couple of times pulling the plug. But my mom didn't let that stop her. She knew that I could plug in that vacuum cleaner, and I did, and I'm still plugging them in today! [Laughter.]
It's all about what's age appropriate. You need to take a step back and think about that. At our National Federation of the Blind training centers we think about that all the time when we run our youth programs. We have kids of all ages at the centers in the summer. We teach them how to travel independently. Shawn, Pam, and I, we get a little worried about having these kids out on the streets doing all kinds of things. We ask ourselves, What is age appropriate? If your child is sixteen and sighted, she or he is probably driving a car. Certainly blind teenagers should be out learning to take the bus!
As I was growing up I was really pushed, I was really challenged by my parents. But I didn't have the National Federation of the Blind and I didn't meet positive blind role models. I didn't think of myself as blind. I learned Braille, but I didn't use a cane. I didn't feel comfortable with who I was, with my identity.
Let's take a look at a young lady I know - Brad and Jill, are you here? I want to talk about your daughter Hannah for a moment. A few years ago, when Hannah was ten, I was talking with Jill, her mother. Jill said to me, "Do you have a program for really young kids?" I said, "We don't have a residential program, but I would be happy to have Hannah stay at my home for a few days. I'll take her to the center each day and she can learn from me." Jill and Brad, having full confidence in blind people and the National Federation of the Blind, said, "We would love to do this! What a great opportunity!" Then I got nervous. I thought, Oh no! What if something happens here? Jill and Brad brought Hannah over from Montana, and I thought, Julie, you're the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, you can do this. It'll be okay.
Well, we were walking to the center on her very first day, and I was showing Hannah how to use her cane on a busy street. The traffic was really loud, and she was way ahead of me, and she zoomed right past the bus stop where we were supposed to wait. I was yelling, "Hannah! Hannah!" I have to tell you all that my heart fell all the way down to my feet. There was no Hannah. She was lost! I'd lost Hannah the very first day that she was with me!
Well, I found her of course. I went up and down a couple of streets past the bus stop, and I found Hannah. Everything was fine, and we went to the center. But I will always remember that morning. What I remember is the fact that Brad and Jill have grown up with Hannah through the NFB, and they have full confidence in blind people. They trusted me. Hannah had a wonderful time the rest of the summer, and it worked out great. But I will never forget losing Hannah the first day as we were walking to the center!
Getting people started early with training is one of the keys to success. It is not training alone that makes a difference. It's not just sitting in a chair and studying Braille, learning the "ar" contraction. It's getting out in the world, it's learning from positive blind role models! The earlier you can get going with your students, your kids, people that you're working with, the better it is.
At our training centers we have a wide variety of students. We notice a big difference with students who have been using canes since they were very young, students who have a positive philosophy about blindness. Unfortunately that doesn't always happen. Recently we had one student who had no belief in himself whatsoever. He was about twenty years old. When he came to the center he was always saying, "I can't do this. I can't do this!" We would say, "You can do this! You can do this!" One day he came through the front doors with a giant glass of Coke, and he spilled it everywhere. He beat himself up about spilling it. Anybody can spill a Coke, but he said, "I'll never amount to anything! I'm worthless, I'm no good, I'm a terrible, terrible person!" One of our computer instructors, a guy who is totally blind, went over to him and said, "It's okay. This can happen to any of us. I'm going to show you how to clean this up." They cleaned it up together.
Before our students graduate from the center they have to travel what we call a monster route, all over the countryside and the world. This young man had to go to all sorts of locations. It was pouring rain that day. He climbed through ditches - he was dirty when he made it back to our final dinner. But know what? He was so proud, and he's done so well since that time! That's what it's all about - having that belief, that positive philosophy.
All of you can have a strong influence on the teachers your kids have in school. We are here in the National Federation of the Blind to advocate for all of you. I find as a parent that sometimes it's hard to advocate for my son. I could advocate for any of you out in this audience so easily! I could think clearly and take control. But when you're talking about my son, who has a learning disability, I don't think quite so clearly. I don't know what happens. There's some change in my mind. We're here to make sure that your kids get the training they need, and get it on time, and that they're getting all the services that they need. At our training centers all of our staff are role models. We focus on that more than anything else. At our NFB training centers we have full belief in blind people. You'll see that from the minute you walk through the door. Pam and Shawn and I will be happy to talk to any of you who are interested in looking into training for your students or kids. We'd love to talk to you about it.
On the journey that all of us take through life we're working together. We're all here to help each other, to empower each other, and to make a difference. My mom said something to me that's so true. She said, "Life is what we all make it." Let's remember that!
by Jessica Bachicha
Introduction by Carol Castellano: Jessica Bachicha is a project coordinator in Affiliate Action at the NFB in Baltimore. She's going to talk about something really exciting, so please give her your attention. Here is Jessica Bachicha.
I'm here to speak to you about a project we have been working on for the past year. By "we" I'm referring to a group of people working at the National Federation of the Blind - teachers, parents, professionals, and scholars. Lots of people are putting their best efforts into this project. This project is for all of the blind and visually impaired children who are here now and will be with us in the future.
I want to start by giving you a bit of background about what we're doing and why we're doing it. How many of you here think it's important for blind people to read Braille? [Applause.] That's a great number! I like that! Now how many of you think you can tell me what it means to be blind? This is a question that administrators and assessors have struggled with for many years, trying to decide who falls into the category of blind. Who gets to have this service of learning Braille? But they don't say, "Who gets to read Braille?" They say, "Who has to read Braille?" They wonder who has to depend on this medium that somehow people believe is less than reading print because it's different. They name all sorts of categories such as "partially sighted," "high partial," and "legally blind." Even though there have been good intentions behind trying to discover which people make up which section of this population, a lot of kids who need Braille haven't been getting the chance to learn it. As a result they struggle with reading and don't reach their full potential. This story seemed to have a sad ending.
Until we got into the picture! We understand that Braille is not something less than print. It's not a substitute tool, but an alternative technique that enables blind people to compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers. We know that blindness is not something to be ashamed of. It's just another characteristic. We deal with it and we move on. That's what all of you want for your children. I can say that with a hundred percent certainty. This new tool, the National Assessment of Primary Literacy Medium, is going to help make that dream a reality.
This tool is an assessment tool. It helps teachers say to administrators, "This child cannot perform this task or that task using vision. Therefore Braille is the technique that is best suited for this child." We hope that teachers and school districts throughout the country will use this assessment to answer the key question, How can this child best perform on terms of equality with his/her sighted peers?
Let me give you a bit of background on some of the assessment tools in use today. Most of the assessment tools that are out there seek to gather a lot of information about the child. How does he or she best learn? What technology needs does he or she have? How are his or her motor skills? But a wide evaluation like this does not answer one essential question, which is what this assessment is intended to do. This assessment aims to answer the question, Can the child function reading print? If the answer is no, then the child needs Braille.
After a lot of fighting, a lot of work, we got a new law passed in 2004. As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) we have a guarantee. The law says, "The IEP team shall, in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the 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." We have a guarantee that, if your child is blind or visually impaired, Braille should be a tool in the toolbox. The only thing that the assessment should prove is that there should be an exception to the law. Is there something the child can do that should exclude him or her from learning Braille? As you can imagine, only a very small number of children should not be given this tool.
The problem is that a lot of the existing assessment tools come at it from the other angle. Does this child need Braille? Braille is an extra thing they can throw in if the child adequately shows us that he or she needs it right now. In designing this new assessment tool we come from a completely new paradigm. Of course the child should get Braille! Is there any other medium that should also be primary?
I want to talk to you a bit about the assessment tool and the results so far from our pilot studies. We've actually tested this tool on about forty kids so far, and we are conducting some more testing here at convention. This assessment is concise. It can be filled out in about an hour. It consists of a teacher interview completed by the child's classroom teacher, a student interview completed by the child if he or she is old enough (a different part of the assessment is specifically geared for pre-kindergarten, and another is geared for kids with multiple disabilities). There is also a parent interview form. Finally there is the actual assessment, which is performed by the TVI, the teacher of the blind and visually impaired.
The goal is to design a tool that answers the specific question we raised. We want it to be a tool that can be used by teachers of all levels of experience, a tool that very clearly specifies the testing conditions. In the adults' wish that the child should perform well on an assessment, sometimes the testing conditions have not been the conditions of real life, the conditions the child encounters every day. For example, teachers using other assessment tools sometimes give the children very big letters to read. If the child can read them that's considered a good thing, evidence that the child doesn't need Braille. This new assessment takes into account that even though a child in first or second grade does not need to read small print, he or she is going to need to read it later on. One of the specifications is that the child must be able to perform the exam with materials that are in 12- to 14-point font. We need to account for future needs, not just what the child can do in the present.
We gave this tool to some of the teachers who were on the team that helped to develop it. So far we're finding that it does what we want it to do. When we compare this assessment with previous assessments the children have completed, we find that 25 percent more children are being assessed for Braille with this assessment than with the earlier one. The new assessment is doing what we want it to do.
Another interesting thing is that we're looking at the scores between the interviews and the actual assessment. The student interviews and the teacher interviews agree very, very closely with what the actual assessment says. This means that the students themselves realize their need for Braille. They realize that they can't see things, that they can't perform right now without alternative techniques. The interview scores also correlate very well with the scores from the other sections of the assessment. We're excited that we can continue to move forward with this project, and we can continue to test it and hone it to make it even more accurate. We will be able to use it with confidence on the population of blind children in this country - pre-readers, children in grades K through 12, and children with multiple disabilities.
As part of this initiative, in addition to the assessment tool we're providing a guide called LEARN. LEARN stands for Literacy Empowerment, Answers to Reading Needs. This is a book for teachers who may not know how to teach Braille to a student who has some vision. It gives teachers lots of very hands-on, specific strategies for teaching low-vision children. It provides case studies of children who got Braille and children who didn't. It offers ways of introducing Braille to families and administrators who might not be in favor of it initially, ways of showing how relevant Braille is. This book is the fruit of a lot of experience, a lot of years of teaching, a lot of hard work on the part of many people.
This is where all of you come in. We're going to be conducting some field tests here at convention. You probably saw notices about this on the listservs. We are looking for parents who are willing to try out this assessment tool with their children, and we're looking for teachers who are willing to try it out themselves and to give us their input as we strive to make it better. I thank you so much for being here for your children!
by Joanne Wilson
Introduction by Carol Castellano: Our next speaker is going to talk to us about informed choice in the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and the IPE (Individualized Plan for Employment). No matter where your child is along the continuum, probably one of those two is going to be relevant. Joanne Wilson has a long string of achievements behind her name. She was the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and was founder and past director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She is now the director of Affiliate Action at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, doing wonderful things to help our organization thrive and grow. It's a great pleasure for me to present an old friend of mine, Joanne Wilson.
The mouse looked through the crack and saw the farmer and his wife opening a package. What food could this be? But he was devastated to see that the package contained a mousetrap. He retreated to the farmyard and shouted, "There's a mousetrap in the house! There's a mousetrap in the house!"
The chicken clucked and said, "I can see you're concerned about this, Mouse, but it's of no concern to me."
The mouse ran to the pig and shouted, "There's a mousetrap in the house!" The pig said, "Too bad. But it's not of any concern to me."
The mouse ran to the cow, and he said, "There's a mousetrap in the house!" The cow said, "I can see your concern, but it's no skin off my nose."
The little mouse went back very sadly to face the mousetrap alone. That night there was the sound of the trap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to the trap. In the dark she did not see that the trap had captured the tail of a poisonous snake. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer's wife developed a bad fever.
As you know, when someone gets a fever, what do you feed her? Chicken soup! The farmer got his ax and went to the farmyard to get the main ingredient.
The wife's illness continued. Many people came to visit her. The farmer needed to feed them all. He went to the farmyard once again and slaughtered the pig.
Unfortunately, the farmer's wife passed away from her illness. There was a large funeral, and of course the folks at the funeral needed to be fed. Once again the farmer went to the farmyard, and this time he got the cow.
The moral of this story is that when one of us is threatened, all of us are at risk. Each of our problems is of concern to another. Each of us is a vital thread in the tapestry of another's life.
I grew up as a blind child with retinitis pigmentosa. I did not get many services as I was growing up, but eventually, at the age of nineteen, I came in contact with the National Federation of the Blind. I went to the first training center that the NFB ran, in Iowa. It was headed by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, one of the dynamic leaders of the NFB. I graduated from that program and went back to college. I wanted to become an elementary-school teacher. There weren't any blind elementary-school teachers in my state at that time. That was many years ago! But I thought, I can do this. I took all my classes and got great grades and fulfilled all my requirements until it was time for my student teaching.
I got called in by my advisor and the dean of the college. They sat me down, and they said, "Joanne, we're not going to let you student teach, because you're blind. You won't be able to get a job when you're finished anyway, and there's no teacher who will take a blind student teacher."
Well, I went immediately to the National Federation of the Blind, to Dr. Jernigan. Everyone was there for me. Dr. Jernigan advocated with the school system and with the university, and I student taught that semester. I finished my student teaching and became one of the first blind teachers in the state of Iowa. [Applause.]
I knew there was a mousetrap in the house. I knew I had the right to become a student teacher. I knew that I could teach, and I knew that I had the right to advocate. Like the little mouse, I could run out into the farmyard and yell, "There's a mousetrap in the house!" But unlike the little mouse, I had people who were there to help me. They knew that if one of us was at risk we were all at risk. We were bound together to give each other choices.
I have a brother who is blind also. We grew up in the same household, with the same parents and the same set of relatives and friends. We both went to college and we both obtained graduate degrees. We both went through training at the Iowa Department for the Blind, the first NFB training center. We both met the National Federation of the Blind. I became a member of the Federation, but my brother didn't.
My brother has been blind for fifty years. He has never worked. He's living in a little apartment in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He's never gotten married. He will not use his cane, he will not use Braille, he hardly even leaves his house. He visited us for Christmas last year, and he needed to leave to go home early after the holidays. He said that the lady who's been getting him his groceries for the past twenty years was going to Florida for three months. He needed to get back before she left for her vacation so that he could buy enough groceries to pack into his freezer and his hall to last for the three months while she was gone! My brother does not live the kind of independent life that you or I would want for our children or for our blind rehab clients.
We all have choices. You can look around this convention and see the kind of weird blind person; the kind of helpless, dependent blind person; and you can see the blind person who is traveling and raising a family and going to work. You can even see the amazing, outstanding kind of blind person. It isn't blindness that makes the difference in our lives. It's the choices that we make. It's the choices that we make in the attitudes we develop, the training we get, and the people we spend our time with.
A famous psychologist once said that we as blind people all have choices in life. He divided the choices that we make into four basic categories. He said that the first choice we make, at the first stage, is that of radical acceptance. That's when we're deciding whether to give up the struggle. We always say that the truth will set us free, but sometimes it makes us really angry and irritated while we're going through that process! You know and I know that sometimes it's hard to use that word blind. It's hard to carry that white cane that makes us stick out and look different! And we certainly don't want to tote around those large-print books or to read Braille in front of people. Sometimes we don't even want to be seen with other blind people! We have to decide whether we should give up the struggle; we're dealing with the choice of radical acceptance.
The second choice that we all need to make as blind people is whether we decide to change the way we think about blindness. Do we begin to see that it's respectable to be blind? Do we really believe that, with the proper training and opportunity, a blind person can do what he or she would have done with sight? Do we really believe that the main problem with blindness isn't the blindness itself, but the misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist about blindness, the old stereotyped notions? Do we see blindness as just a characteristic or physical nuisance, or do we see it as my brother sees it - as a tragedy in life? We need the time to sort it all out and develop our own personal, defined beliefs. That is a choice.
Our third choice is to change our behavior. If we want equal rights, do we really take equal responsibility? Do we get the Coke for ourselves, as Fred Schroeder talked about earlier this morning? Do we take the freebies that are offered to us as blind people? What do we do about the handicapped parking thing? As blind people, do we need that privilege? Do we need special currency? What about quiet cars - do we have the right to protest those or not? Do we need all this accessibility? Do we have the right to advocate, to try to get greater access for blind people? Do we change our behavior so we see that it's our obligation to educate others about blindness? Do we really believe that we can use alternative techniques and can blend in with the rest of the world? Do we feel that it's our obligation to give back to others?
Of course, the fourth choice we have as blind people is to sit and be miserable. That's the choice my brother made. It's not the choice that I made, and I hope it's not the choice that your children make, or that your rehabilitation clients make. I am so glad that you are here at this conference, because you are going to have the opportunity to get the greatest gift - a genuine belief about blindness, and the chance to know about the choices we have. Most importantly, you can come to know that when you face the mousetrap you're not alone. We in the National Federation of the Blind are here to help you with your choices. Thank you for being here!
by Ann Cunningham
From the Editor: On the afternoon of Friday, July 3, kids and teens selected from an enticing assortment of hands-on activities. Among them were a pair of workshops on art and representation conducted by sculptor and tactile artist Ann Cunningham.
On the afternoon of Friday, July 3, with the help of an enthusiastic team of volunteers, I conducted art workshops for teens and younger children at the 2009 NFB convention. The team included Debbie Kent Stein, Julie Deden, Michelle Chaconne, Brenda Mosby, and Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway. Our goal was to teach some basic principles that would help a broad age range of blind children better understand how pictures work.
In this workshop we encouraged the participants to make tactile pictures using shapes and figures cut out of sticky-back foam. We used a variety of other craft materials to embellish the pictures that the kids created. Sticky-back foam can be found at craft stores such as Michael's and Hobby Lobby.
The first task was for the participants to sort the foam shapes into piles of circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles. Each pile had shapes of several sizes. We then introduced the "Bathroom Man," a foam cutout of the iconic figure found outside the men's restroom. Each student was asked to identify the picture and the basic shapes that composed it.
Sorting through the piles on their tables, the students found the circle that was the size of the figure's head and the rectangles that corresponded to the torso, arms, and legs. Each participant reconstructed the figure on a new sheet of paper.
At this point the younger children were invited to cut loose with all their creativity and decorate their people in any way they chose. Some children created very fancy figures and others went in entirely new directions, making elaborate worlds such as gerbil habitats.
We conducted additional lessons in smaller groups, exploring outline and how it works. For this part of the lesson the children carefully used their canes to follow the side contours of a fellow student. Through that information they discovered the position in which the student was posing - bent at the waist, upright with arms raised, etc. We applied that understanding to recognize a number of poses in which simple figures were standing. (The figures were created with the Thermoform process on plastic sheets.)
In the workshop with the older students, the participants didn't embellish the people they reconstructed using the shapes. Instead, we did some exercises that introduced more advanced principles used in pictures. Through sound and touch we tried to convey the concepts of convergence and diminution of size. The purpose of these exercises was to deepen the students' understanding of perspective in art. It was an ambitious project, and only moderately successful. We divided the participants into small groups, but only one group at a time could do the exercises. Next year I hope to try some different strategies so the down time can be minimized.
After the workshop I asked the volunteers and some of the students for their feedback. "From my perspective, I liked that the children were encouraged to make art that had meaning for them," said volunteer Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, mother of one of the younger students. "Many people automatically assume that a blind child won't be interested in art, so they often don't get the same opportunities to express their creativity as sighted kids do. I think I've stopped trying to figure out ahead of time what will or will not interest my daughter, Kendra. For example, she's very interested in photography and making videos, and she enjoys painting and drawing with crayons. I personally find this very interesting because she has no light perception."
For me, learning from my students is one of the joys of teaching. The art workshops at convention challenged some of my thinking and gave rise to a host of new ideas. I look forward to teaching and learning even more at convention in 2010.
by Lillian Rankel, Marilyn Winograd, and Cary Supalo
From the Editor: "Not So Mad Scientists" was the title of one of the workshops offered to kids and teens on Friday afternoon at convention. The workshop gave blind students the opportunity to get some hands-on experience with scientific experiments using a variety of adaptive equipment.
On Friday, July 3, Dr. Lillian Rankel, science teacher; Marilyn Winograd, teacher of the blind; Cary Supalo, Penn State graduate student; and Dr. Andrew Greenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, conducted a hands-on science workshop at the NFB convention in Detroit. The workshop was sponsored by NOPBC and ILAB (Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind). The goal of this workshop was to show that science experiments can be fun and easy to do without vision, using adapted gear and audible tools.
The first segment of the workshop, which ran for an hour and a half, was devoted to hands-on exploration and fun science activities for thirty children in kindergarten through grade five. Helpers at the workshop included twelve of Marilyn's and Lillian's family members and relatives, ranging in age from ten to ninety-two.
The workshop opened with activities that involved moving water using a variety of tools. The children were excited to learn that by dipping an ordinary straw into a cup of water and covering one end with a finger they could hold liquid in the straw. They were also introduced to the use of notched syringes and pipets for moving water from one container to another. They were thrilled with the simple task of moving water from one container to the next. It was obvious that few of them had had previous hands-on experiences in science.
Exploring the properties of magnets was another big hit. The children used a variety of magnets to discover the laws of attraction and repulsion. They used circle magnets on sticks, powerful cow magnets, buzz magnets, and a wand magnet. They looked for answers to an assortment of questions: "How many paper clips can hang from a cow magnet?" "Can magnets attract through body parts?" "Can a magnet pick up a piece of wood?"
The kids also experimented with the reaction of Alka Seltzer when it is mixed with water. They put an Alka Seltzer tablet into a Ziploc plastic bag and added some water to find out what would happen. They could feel the tablet through the bag and experience the chemical reaction when it occurred. As the tablet dissolved they felt it getting smaller. The bag puffed up and a sizzling sound could be heard as carbon dioxide gas was produced. Talk about a multisensory experience! Afterward they did the same experiment using a baby bottle and a nipple without the hole.
During the workshop the children tried a number of other experiments as well. They floated soda cans and fruit in water, formed a circuit using a UFO ball, made music with a straw and a glass of water, made balloon rockets, and created instant snow.
Students in grades six through twelve attended the second segment of the workshop. These participants explored ways to do chemistry experiments using a submersible audible light sensor (SALS) to follow chemical changes in solutions. The seventeen participants took turns using the SALS to follow color changes, changes in light intensity in test tubes, and precipitation reactions. When the young scientists formed a precipitate by mixing two solutions, the SALS emitted a lower pitch. The SALS was developed at Penn State by Rod Kreuter, Tom Mallouk, and blind Ph.D. candidate Cary Supalo.
For the second year in a row, this workshop was filled to capacity. Children learn by doing. Their interest, curiosity, and smiling faces certainly indicated their excitement about hands-on science. These workshops offered only a taste of the unlimited science activities that are possible for blind and visually impaired children. With imagination and some tactile and audible adaptations, almost anything can be accomplished.
Dr. Lillian Rankel and Cary Supalo have worked together for the past few years to make sure that blind and visually impaired students have the chance to take part in all aspects of science classes, including laboratory work. Marilyn and Lillian have put together the Tactile Adaptation Kit, which contains materials that easily can transform visual aids into tactile representations and manipulatives. They also have compiled a kit of multisensory lab gear for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. For more information, please visit <www.MDWEducationalServices.com>.
Marilyn, Lillian, and Cary are also members of the Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind (ILAB) team, funded by the National Science Foundation. This team is working to develop high-tech tools for use by blind and visually impaired students in the laboratory. Information on this project is available at <http://ilab.psu.edu> and <http://www.independencescience.com>.
Technology is now available that can provide blind students with a hands-on learning experience in the lab. This technology empowers blind students to obtain audible data collected by Vernier probes interfaced to a computer with the JAWS screen-reading program. To find out more about text to speech access for blind students using Vernier laboratory probes, contact Independence Science, LLC, at <http://www.independencescience.com>.
by Peggy Chong
From the Editor: For blind children, Braille books are a precious commodity, and there never seem to be enough to meet the demand. The Braille Book Flea Market gives kids, parents, and teachers a chance to choose from thousands of donated used books. Peggy Chong offers a glimpse of the excitement and camaraderie of the flea market in Detroit.
The 2009 Braille Book Flea Market of the National Federation of the Blind was held on Sunday, July 5, at our national convention in Detroit, Michigan. Once again, it was a big success.
Eager shoppers started to line up outside the Ambassador 3 Ballroom just after four o'clock. Everyone wanted to be the first in line for the great offerings. The Braille Book Flea Market collects books for several months. UPS in Detroit began to receive the books at its offices in April and brought them to the hotel before the event. On July 5 volunteers brought the hundreds of boxes to the ballroom. They opened the cartons, sorted the books, found lost volumes, set up the tables, and prepared the boxes for reuse. All of this was done in about four hours.
This year we had a larger room than usual, allowing us to add more tables and display more of our books for those coming through the door at five o'clock. Almost half of the books were on the tables as the doors opened. The rest of the books were added as space cleared. Many of the previous attendees now have a system down. They head directly to the area where their most sought-for book may be. When they find it they load a box for mailing, then go through the books on the tables a second time.
Volunteers kept busy. Before the flea market opened, each volunteer tried to get familiar with as many titles in his/her area as possible. When the doors opened they tried to keep up with the requests of those who were looking, keep the tables filled with material, and assist in gathering and boxing material for attendees. Our volunteers always do a great job. Several of them come back each year to help, and their service is greatly appreciated.
Our book selections were varied. Less than one thousand Twin Vision® books were sent in to the Flea Market this year, so these books were gone in less than twenty minutes. Twin Vision® books are always in very high demand. There were at least three complete sets of Harry Potter books, as well as additional copies of individual titles. Some resource material was sent in. Three dictionaries were soon snarfed up by those eager to have their own books. This year several cookbooks made their way to Detroit, only to be shipped off elsewhere. All in all, the selections were just what the eager shopper was looking for.
Children were earnestly reading each title in a stack of books, looking for a new story they had not read. Parents were asking for all the books in a certain series. Teachers wanted to know where to find smaller volumes to present to their beginning readers back home. Families searched for the perfect bedtime stories for Mommy or Daddy to read next week.
Attendees enjoyed a child-friendly snack of hotdogs and chips while waiting for their books to be prepared for mailing back home. For dessert there was a tasty birthday cake with "Happy Birthday Louis Braille" spelled out in chocolate candies.
Within two hours over 80 percent of the books had new homes. Countless books left the Flea Market to be taken home in the family car, suitcase, or tote bag. Between 210 and 220 boxes of books were sent across the country as Free Matter for the Blind to the participants who could not fit their treasures into a suitcase.
The remaining forty boxes of books that did not find a home through the Braille Book Flea Market were addressed to the NFB ShareBraille program. ShareBraille is also a free program that allows readers to exchange or find Braille material. For more information on the NFB ShareBraille program, go to <www.NFBShareBraille.org>.
We would like to thank the AT&T workers in the Detroit area who assisted with this year's flea market by running the mailing station. They also presented the NOPBC with a check for $1,600 to cover some of the food costs. Without them, this year's event would not have been the great success that it was.
by Carol Castellano
From the Editor: Carol Castellano is president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). She delivered this address at the general session of the 2009 NFB convention on Wednesday, July 8.
A four-year-old child has entered preschool. He is highly sensitive to light and glare. His 20/400 vision makes it difficult for him to make out the print on the page in front of him. If he wears his sunglasses so that he can tolerate the indoor light, he can no longer see the page. At an IEP meeting the school principal demands to know exactly how many light bulbs she must remove from the ceiling fixture in order to accommodate the boy's sensitivity to light. "If it gets too dark in the classroom," she warns the boy's mother, "we'll be out of compliance with state regulations for the rest of the children."
When this little boy walks from place to place within the school, an aide provides a constant flow of verbal information. "Be careful, there's a desk in the hallway; . . . slow down, the janitor's bucket is in our way; . . . watch out, here come the stairs." When he steps outside for recess, he is blinded by the daylight. The aide holds his hand so that he does not fall off a curb or trip over a tree root.
There is no Braille and no cane in this child's life because he is not blind.
A girl sits in a fourth-grade classroom, an aide by her side. The aide retrieves the child's books, reads to her, accompanies her in the hallways, and eats lunch with her in the school cafeteria. "Why does the aide walk with her and read to her?" I ask. The mom explains, "Well, those things are very visual."
There is no Braille and no cane in this child's life because she is not blind.
A fourteen-year-old high school freshman has difficulty navigating the hallways and stairwells of his new school. Someone has suggested placing bright yellow tape at the top of each stairway. Someone else recommended hiring a full-time aide to keep the boy safe and also to take notes for him, as he cannot see the board and really can't read his own handwriting. The deliberations of the school team and parents are slow and cautious - especially in view of the nervous breakdown the boy had at the beginning of the school year and his subsequent hospitalization for anxiety and depression.
There is no Braille and no cane in this boy's life because - well, you know, he is not blind.
A twenty-four-year-old man sits at home, angry and depressed. Unable to complete college and not working, he has no goals and doesn't believe he can accomplish anything. When I mention the possibility of training at one of the NFB's adjustment-to-blindness centers, his mom immediately stops me. "Oh, no, he doesn't need that. He hasn't ever spent time with that kind of person. He doesn't think of himself as visually impaired."
These stories are real - only identifying details were changed. When the parents of these children called, they wanted me to understand that their child WAS NOT BLIND!
Frank is a child with albinism, a second-grader. He uses the vision he has very well, but his mother recognized that it might not work for him later when the print becomes smaller and more dense. When his mother suggested at a school meeting that Frank should learn Braille, the teacher of the blind responded, "Oh, I'd hate to do that to him." She went on to explain to the school staff that Braille is not a quick thing to learn, that poor Frank would have to learn all different grades of Braille and THEN would have to learn another code for math and even another system for music!
When it came time to discuss mobility, Frank's mother related how Frank tripped over small rises in the terrain, used his foot as a feeler in unfamiliar places, and had run headlong into a glass sliding door at his aunt's house. The mom thought Frank should learn to travel with a cane. The O&M instructor explained that Frank didn't qualify for cane use and, what's more, he needed to trip over things so that he would learn to pay more attention.
At the end of the meeting, the Director of Special Services contributed her expert opinion, though they'd never had a visually impaired student in the school district before. She'd done her research, she told us, contacting directors in other school districts. "NOBODY," she proclaimed, "was giving Braille to kids who could see. AND," she continued, "I found out Frank would read the Braille with his eyes anyway. They'd have to BLINDFOLD him to get him to read the Braille with his fingers. I just can't get that image out of my mind," she cried, "that poor little boy sitting at a table blindfolded." Then, turning coldly to the mother, she hissed, "I just don't understand why you would want to make that child blind."
In that statement lies the crux of the resistance to providing training in nonvisual skills to children with partial sight. Contrary to the sentiment expressed in a favorite slogan of ours, to most of the general public, it's still BAD to be blind. Current research continues to find that people fear going blind even more than they fear their own deaths! So I guess it's natural, or at least predictable, that when parents hear from the professionals that their child is NOT blind, they feel relieved. "Thank goodness she's got that little bit of vision," the doctors say. "You're lucky," the teachers tell them. "She won't have to learn Braille." "He's got a lot of travel vision. He won't need a cane." The child is encouraged to use his remaining vision and is rewarded by making Mom and Dad happy when he is able to see.
Another component of the resistance to teaching nonvisual skills to partially sighted people is the school of thought that holds that the needs of the visually impaired are truly different from those of the blind. One proponent of this thinking is Sam Genensky, the Harvard and Brown University-trained mathematician who invented, back in the late 1960s, the closed-circuit TV. Too frequently, says Dr. Genensky, the visually impaired are given the same services as the fully blind, preventing them from making good use of the sight they have remaining. Why offer the visually impaired only Braille, he says, when many of them could read a book with large enough type? I think we can fairly say that intelligent people of good will fall on both sides of this debate.
A third aspect of the resistance to providing training in nonvisual skills is the way in which most of our teachers of the blind are trained. The approach seems to have grown out of both the idea that visually impaired people really do need different skills and the negative emotional reaction to blindness. A current textbook, Foundations of Low Vision: Clinical and Functional Perspectives, copyright 1996 and reprinted in 2007, includes the Bill of Rights for Persons with Low Vision. Number Four is the right "to develop an identity as a sighted person who has low vision." The authors are careful to state, however, that "the person for whom the use of vision is not preferred, not desirable, or too stressful must be respected for this choice," and "If a person feels more comfortable functioning as a person who is blind, that choice should be respected." What happened to just functioning as a human being?
In arguing against the use of the term "legally blind," this same book states that by using this term we are blinding people by definition! Legally blind children, the authors tell us, can be "psychologically affected by being considered blind by teachers and relatives." And - this is my favorite - "To call a person with severe vision loss 'legally blind' is as preposterous as calling a person with a severe illness 'legally dead.'"
With that kind of attitude underlying the textbooks from which our teachers of the blind are learning their trade, is it any wonder that our students with partial sight are being denied Braille? Research has been done to assess teachers' attitudes toward Braille. The conclusion was that we can rest easy - teachers LOVE Braille. But the researcher failed to ask the salient question. What about Braille for partially sighted children? It turns out that teachers are strongly in favor of Braille, but only for those for whom they think Braille is appropriate - for those they call "functionally blind."
I understand and believe that no teacher ever got into the business in order to deny a child a good education. The decisions being made in regard to reading medium are made not with evil intent, but with seriously misguided thinking.
One particularly insidious element of the training teachers of the blind receive involves what is called the learning media assessment, a process that is meant to determine objectively whether or not a child needs Braille. For the most part the learning media assessment came into existence in direct response to our success in getting the right to Braille into state and federal law.
There are many fundamental and serious problems with the learning media assessments in use today. I will focus here on just a few. The assessment most commonly used today, and referred to as the bible and the gold standard, describes itself as objective, deliberate, systematic, documented, structured, careful, data-driven, and evidence-based. Ironically, an assessment can be all of these things and still be wrong.
Bias toward print and the use of vision is evident on almost every page. And, though the assessment claims to be evidence-based, there is absolutely no research to back up either the approach or the conclusions drawn by using it. They do indeed collect data, but is it the data on which a decision on reading medium should be based? The approach is to observe the student doing ordinary activities and to note whether the child does them using what they call "the visual channel," "the tactual channel," or "the auditory channel." If you ask me, the whole thing is more like the science fiction channel!
When the observations are complete, the teacher adds up all the Vs and Ts and As and identifies what he/she calls the child's "preferred sensory channel." The authors inform us that this is also the channel through which the child receives information "most efficiently." Then, based on whether the chart has the most Vs, Ts, or As, the child is determined to need print or Braille. Well, let me tell you that for the partially sighted child being assessed in this manner, the channel turns out to be visual and the reading medium turns out to be print.
To be fair, I should say that there is a section in the manual called "Benefits of Braille Reading and Writing." It consists of five bulleted items with a total of eighty-two words, counting a, an, and the. In a book of 220 pages, eighty-two words on the benefits of Braille!
It's a difficult task even to begin enumerating the problems inherent in this approach, but I'll try. Were there lots of visual channel answers because there were lots of visual items presented? Why did the child use a particular channel for a particular task? Did the child look at that picture visually because no tactile picture was offered? Did the child use vision instead of touch because he has always been encouraged to use it and rewarded for using it? Could it have been the only sense he was allowed to use? Is the so-called preferred sense necessarily the most efficient? And what's the definition of efficient anyway?
And since when do we make serious decisions on our children's behalf according to their preference? "Nah, I don't want to do that long division; I prefer recess." "Mmmm, I don't think I'll eat those vegetables; I prefer M&Ms." What is preferred by the child is not necessarily what is best for the child.
Drawing conclusions about whether or not to teach Braille based on an approach so fraught with defects reminds me of the story of the scientist who was researching what happened when you pulled the legs off a bug. He pulled the first leg off and yelled, "Jump!" and the bug jumped. He pulled the next leg off and told the bug to jump and the bug jumped. The experiment continued with the scientist pulling off the legs and the bug jumping until the scientist pulled off the last leg. "Jump!" he demanded. "Jump!" he said again. But the bug just lay there. "Aha!" the scientist concluded. "I have just proved that when you pull all the legs off a bug, the bug becomes deaf!"
During this convention, you've been hearing Dr. Maurer and our other speakers bringing a lot of attention to the problems with the education of blind children. When we decide to put the might and the money and the mind-power of the National Federation of the Blind toward a problem, you can bet we'll get results! Here are just a few of the exciting areas we are working on, in addition to our ongoing programs and initiatives.
I am so excited about these initiatives because they have the potential to remedy these very real problems in the field.
When I was preparing for this convention, I looked for a middle-school-aged speaker for our Youth Panel. I called one of our families in Illinois and asked the mom if her son might like to be on the panel. I told her the speech would have to be written out and that he should practice reading it. "He'd love to," the mom replied. "But could you just ask him questions instead of having him read? He just started learning Braille [after a two-year battle, I might add] and he can't see to read a speech in print." While the schools ask us, "Why do you want to make that child blind?" I'm asking why would anyone want to make a child illiterate and unable even to read a simple speech?
Our work and initiatives, ongoing and new, are creating a new reality, one in which claims will be backed up by research; one in which every blind child gains the tools that enable him to keep up with peers and perform to his maximum potential; a reality in which every blind child has the opportunity to be competent, confident, competitive, and empowered.
Fellow Federationists, I couldn't imagine a more meaningful calling in life than to be doing this important work with all of you. Thank you.
by Edward Bell
From the Editor: Dr. Edward Bell serves as director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. On Wednesday, July 8, he delivered the following remarks at the 2009 NFB convention. He outlined the current crisis in the education of blind children and gave an impassioned call to action.
A statement I have always found particularly profound has been ascribed to the renowned geologist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. He said, "I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." To me this quote is profoundly painful, and it rings true for countless generations. Its magnitude and scope are beyond our comprehension. Gould's statement is equally valid for the centuries of blind people who have wasted away in sheltered workshops, institutions, and rocking chairs across the world. Is this merely a reflection of the best we can hope for the blind? If dependency is not preordained, then to what can we attribute the 90 percent illiteracy rate and 75 percent unemployment statistic that exist in America's blind community?
The problem is multifaceted, but we can exercise some control over at least two of its aspects. First, a large percentage of those who are hired to teach blindness skills do not possess proficiency in these skills themselves and do not hold the expectation that blind people can achieve real independence. Second, no national standard or benchmark exists that can be used to hold school districts, agencies, and universities accountable for the skill deficiencies of teachers of the blind. Although these problems are pervasive, solutions are at hand.
One of the factors that has contributed to the 10 percent literacy rate of the blind comes from the inconsistency across the country in the preparation of Braille teachers. This problem is systemic because some university programs provide rigorous training in the Braille code while others do not. Some states have stringent certification and licensure requirements for teachers of the blind while others have virtually no standards. Some agencies and schools demand that teachers be highly qualified while others do not. Some teachers are passionate and make sure that their own skills are exceptional, yet others lack this passion.
Over the past twenty years the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and other organizations have created the National Literary Braille Competency Test (NLBCT) to address this lack of consistency. Through a partnership with the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), the NFB, and the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, a National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) has been developed and is now available. The NCLB is a national certification based on the NLS Braille examination that tests the applicant's proficiency in literary Braille. This certification process serves to identify Braille teachers who are competent in Braille and those who are not. Those who are proficient will become credentialed with the NCLB and will be highly sought after by employers. Those who fail the test will not be demeaned, but they will be assisted to improve their skills to the greatest extent possible. When all is said and done, however, teachers who cannot demonstrate a professional grasp of the Braille code will not be credentialed, and they will find it increasingly difficult to become employed to teach blind people.
Already more than one hundred and fifty individuals have taken the certifying exam. Slightly more than half of them are now credentialed. This has not only added to their own value as employees, it has also strengthened the entire blindness education field. We intend to continue pushing the NCLB as the national standard for all teachers who work with the blind.
We know that only 10 percent of blind youth read Braille, but we also know that students who receive appropriate instruction in Braille are as literate as their sighted peers. Similarly we know that youth with significant vision impairments who are not given consistent instruction in Braille fall far behind in literacy skills when compared with their sighted and blind peers who receive consistent training. We are obligated to hold teachers accountable for this fact and to raise nationwide the standard for professional preparation.
The NCLB will go a long way toward helping to address the 90 percent illiteracy rate for blind people. But this is not enough. We need you. We need to identify, train, and hire the next generation of teachers who have the passion, dedication, and proficiency to teach the next generation of blind youth and adults.
The problem is not lack of opportunity. Each month I receive phone calls from employers across the country who are desperate to hire cane travel and Braille teachers. I am sad when I have to tell them that I do not have any graduates to offer them. We are not maxed out. We have space at the university. Our classes are typically at half or one-quarter of their capacity. Every month we send out brochures, electronic flyers, and notices on listservs. We do a lot of networking at national conferences and by word of mouth. Yet, despite these efforts, the number of people seeking to enter our programs is dismally low.
Why is this so? Are people afraid of graduate school? Are they afraid of standardized tests, worried about their lackluster transcripts, or wary of the year-and-a-half commitment that it takes to earn a degree? Or does the reluctance run even deeper? Does it partially stem from a deep-seated belief that working with the blind is charity work, unrewarding, and a last resort if other plans don't work out? I don't know the answer. I don't know why we struggle to attract students to our programs while general education programs are filled over capacity. We offer tuition assistance while many other programs do not. We offer one-on-one instruction while in other programs students often feel they are just numbers. We hold high standards for students, but we also provide many levels of support.
No, I don't know why attracting people to work in this field is difficult. But I do know that, as the demand continues to grow for people in this profession, the supply continues to dwindle.
Fortunately there are many opportunities for everyone to contribute to this effort. Louisiana Tech University offers master's degrees in O&M and teaching blind students, but we offer much more. We are committed to reversing the statistics for blind youth and adults. In addition to the staff of the Institute on Blindness, we have with us this week the students from the Louisiana Tech programs and alumni from the past decade. We are here because change is here, and we want to be a part of that effort.
For more than a decade we have offered a graduate degree in structured-discovery cane travel. Those graduates have earned national orientation and mobility certification (NOMC), and they are working now in agencies and schools from coast to coast. This program remains strong and vibrant, and all that we are missing is you. We know the value of preparing people at the graduate level, and we need to get people interested in our programs. Is that you?
Of course not everyone can go to graduate school, and we know that it does not take a graduate degree to be a great teacher. The Louisiana Tech program was built on the consumer-driven approach to cane travel, and the NOMC certification was based on the same philosophy. Consequently the certification board has recently formalized the apprenticeship program, and one can now gain the training and certification necessary to teach cane travel. While this program does not supplant the academic requirements for some jobs, the apprenticeship training and credentials are sufficient for obtaining meaningful employment in many agencies.
The Teacher of Blind Students (TBS) program at Louisiana Tech University has been in existence for more than six years, but we have worked to teach Braille to people for much longer. The TBS program offers a master's degree, complete with student teaching and certification requirements. In addition, my esteemed colleague, Dr. Ruby Ryles, remains passionate about the importance of Braille. She has built her program so that parents, family members, and paraprofessionals can also gain competency in the Braille code. Here again all that we are missing is you.
Because of the inconsistent training nationwide, an entire generation of well-meaning teachers who believe in Braille, but who have underdeveloped or eroded Braille skills, is in the classroom. As a result we are launching a Braille training program that will refresh the Braille skills of those who have learned previously. The goal of this project is to raise the skill level of teachers enough to help them succeed at the NCLB examination and, once they are certified, to maintain this proficiency throughout their careers.
Yet another area of great need is on the level of leadership. Regardless of the qualification of staff, we are all limited by the creativity, commitment, and knowledge of our supervisors. For better or worse this is one area where academic training will make the difference in the field. Many of the brightest and most talented people in work with the blind do not possess college degrees, and many of the most clueless and ineffectual people I know do have degrees after their names. Inexorably those with the advanced academic degrees secure the management and leadership jobs. We, those of us who truly understand blindness, need to be in those leadership positions. Without academic degrees we will continue to be at the mercy of those less informed but better credentialed. In the eloquent words of Mahatma Gandhi, "We need to be the change we wish to see in the world." No one else will do it for us.
As you sit and listen to these speeches, I know that you are troubled by these problems. I know that you are passionate about reversing these trends. Yet what will we all do next week to address this crisis? We need you - not just the person sitting next to you, but you yourself. We can no longer step aside and assume that others will do the work. We cannot afford to shake our heads at the grim statistics while we sit back passively. We cannot proclaim that this is essential work that must be done now, but wait for someone else to do it. We cannot pretend that, because we know the truth about blindness, this belief will result in real change; we cannot because we know that the statistics remain unchanged. These statistics tell us that the demand remains high while our classrooms remain empty. Simply believing in the solution is not enough. We must be committed collectively to taking the actions that are necessary to address this problem.
I am not asking you to quit your job tomorrow, unless you are unhappy with it or unless my words have moved you to some divine purpose. But how many of you are not working? How many of you would love to teach independence to blind people but are intimidated or concerned about your ability? How many family members, friends, and neighbors do you have who would find this work life-changing if only they knew of the difference they could make in the lives of others? The opportunities abound. The need is ever-present. All we need is you.
What will you do tomorrow to help? What responsibility do you have as a person to help rectify this crisis? What collective role do we all share in reversing the dismal statistics? I for one am far less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops. I am equally certain of the truth in this statement for past generations of blind people. What will we do collectively to ensure that this is no longer the fate of future generations? Come and join us to make a difference in the lives of blind children and adults today and for the future.
presented by David Ticchi
From the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind gives a series of awards at its annual convention. At the 2009 convention David Ticchi of Massachusetts presented the Blind Educator of the Year Award at the meeting of the NFB Board of Directors.
Good morning, everyone. It is indeed a pleasure and a privilege to chair this award committee. I want to thank the committee members who served this year: Sheila Koenig and Judy Sanders of Minnesota, Ramona Walhof of Idaho, and Adelmo Vigil of New Mexico. Thank you very much.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award was instituted by the National Organization of Blind Educators (NOBE) to pay tribute to an outstanding teacher for excellent classroom performance, uncommon community service, and outstanding commitment to the Federation. Because of the importance of classroom teaching and education and the impact they have on students, faculty, the community, and in fact on all Americans, it became a national award in 1991. It is presented in the spirit of our founders, themselves educators who nurtured our movement - leaders such as Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and now President Marc Maurer. The award includes a plaque and a check for $1,000. Without further ado I want to tell you about this year's winner.
The winner of this year's award is a gentleman named William Henderson. He is the principal of the O'Hearn Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts. I want to ask Bill Henderson to come forward, and I want to tell you something about this impressive gentleman.
Bill holds a doctorate in instructional leadership from the University of Massachusetts, a master's in community development from Gordon College, and an undergraduate degree in Latin American studies from Yale University. He has served for over thirty-six years in the Boston public schools. He began his career as a middle-school teacher at the McCormick School, became a staff trainer, and in 1981 became assistant principal at Hernandez Elementary School. From 1989 to the present he has been the principal of the O'Hearn School.
Dr. Henderson's professional experience is outstanding. He has conducted seminars at colleges and universities, including Roxbury Community College and the Harvard School of Education. He has consulted with school systems and has written articles. I am proud to say he is a committed member of our Cambridge Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and the NFB of Massachusetts. Over the years he has helped out with many seminars for parents of blind children.
Bill has received numerous awards over the years. Through the Department of Health and Human Services he received the Outstanding American Award. He has received the Community Hero Award from the Boston Celtics and has been the Milken Outstanding Educator of the Year. He has also received outstanding achievement awards from the Federation for Children with Special Needs. He has been on national TV with Katie Couric and in Time magazine.
In this presentation I want to focus on the O'Hearn School, a school that has been recognized for its inclusiveness. Bill Henderson is a champion of inclusion. He recognizes the benefits of a school that exhibits high expectations for students and welcomes all. It raises the comfort level. It increases respect for human differences. It maximizes opportunities and it minimizes disabilities. The O'Hearn School has been recognized in the city of Boston, in the state of Massachusetts, and nationally.
I do things in advance. I had my notes on Bill's background all researched and ready in Braille for this presentation. Then on Sunday, June 21, Father's Day, I had to change them a bit. I got a call in the afternoon from Bill. He said, "David, I just want to give you a heads up. This was supposed to be a secret, but I've gotten wind of it, and I'd like you to be present when it happens." On Tuesday, June 23, the city of Boston, the Boston School Committee, and the O'Hearn School decided to rename the school after Bill Henderson. It is now the William Henderson Inclusive Elementary School. [Applause.]
I was proud to attend that ceremony. It was very moving. Every grade level was represented, poems were read, and songs were sung. All of this spoke to the inclusiveness of the school, the community feeling, and the love that people have for this man. How rare is it, how extraordinarily rare, that a building or facility or institution is named after a person who is still living! What a tribute!
Bill, congratulations on the National Blind Educator of the Year Award. I'd like to read what this award says.
"The Blind Educator of the Year Award
Presented to Bill Henderson
In recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the teaching profession.
You enhance the present,
You inspire your colleagues,
You build the future.
July 5, 2009."
Bill, congratulations. [Applause.]
Dr. Bill Henderson: Thank you. David, thank you very much for those wonderful words, and thank you, NFB leaders, for this tremendous honor. When I started as a middle-school teacher in the Boston public schools in the 1970s, I also started to lose my vision. I went for some advice. The first person I saw was a retina specialist. He suggested that I get out of education. The next person I saw was an assistant school superintendent. He told me not to worry because I qualified for disability retirement. These highly skilled professionals were obviously not very enlightened.
I clearly recognized the importance of this organization and its leaders, past and present. It has created opportunities for blind folks and changed people's images and perceptions about what we can do. I have benefited tremendously from this organization and from its leadership.
There are so many people, past and present, whom I could acknowledge. I want to say here that David Ticchi was the trailblazer. He was the Jackie Robinson. He was the first blind teacher in Massachusetts. David, you do an excellent job. Your success has made it easier for many of us who followed you.
I also want to recognize the current president of the Massachusetts affiliate of the NFB, Mika Pyyhkala. When I was going through the transition from sighted to blind, he helped me learn some new skills and encouraged me to connect with others to become better prepared. And Dr. Maurer, you might not know it, but you've inspired me for many years with your speeches and your tenacity. Recently you spoke to us in Massachusetts at our state convention. You shared a message in which you asked all of us not only to participate and to contribute, but also to be joyful. That message is something that I think is part of the philosophy at the O'Hearn Inclusive School. We want all of our students from diverse ethnic, linguistic, and ability backgrounds to participate in rigorous academic classes. Whether they see or not, whether they use wheelchairs or not, whether they have autism or not, we want them to participate in rich arts experiences and extracurricular activities. We want all of our children to figure out how they can best contribute, starting out in their homes and in their schools. Ultimately the goal of education is to contribute in our communities and in the greater world. We also want all of our children to be successful and to be joyful. That's critical for us.
In this organization we talk about changing attitudes toward blind folks. Because we are an inclusive school, our students see folks with a wide range of abilities all the time. Let me tell you a little story.
While I was at work I began learning Braille. Once a month the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind used to send somebody out at four o'clock, the end of the school day, to help me with my Braille skills. A young man came to our school using the white cane. He would come into our school at the end of the day when most of the students had gone home, but some were still there. The students were used to a blind principal. What do you think they asked this young man who came into our school? Were they like that eye specialist who said, "You need to get out of education"? Were they like the administrator saying, "Disability retirement"? No. The question these young people asked him was, "Sir, in what school are you the principal?"
Thank you for creating opportunities. Thank you for this award. Keep shining.
presented by Joyce Scanlan
From the Editor: In keeping with its commitment to improve the standard of education for blind children throughout the country, the National Federation of the Blind gives an annual award to an outstanding teacher of blind children. The 2009 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award was presented at the meeting of the NFB Board of Directors by Joyce Scanlan.
As you know, the National Federation of the Blind recognizes outstanding educators of blind children who exemplify the very best qualities in addressing the specific needs related to blindness. A distinguished educator of blind children must demonstrate a profound belief in the capacities of blind children to lead full and meaningful lives. He or she must understand the value of Braille reading and writing, the use of the long white cane for independent travel, and the use of appropriate technology. Such a teacher must hold a firm conviction that blind children should be prepared to achieve their personal goals and realize their individual dreams as fully as their sighted peers.
I am pleased to tell you that the committee has identified as this year's winner one who demonstrates the finest qualities in all of the areas we desire. She is Annee Hartzell of Walla Walla, Washington. [Applause.] She is our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2009. Let me tell you about her.
Annee Hartzell has outstanding professional qualifications for the field she is pursuing. Her academic credentials tell of a well-rounded background. She earned a bachelor's degree in 1992 with concentrations in political science and Japanese. In 1995 she received a degree from the University of Washington School of Law. In 2002 she earned an MS degree in special education with concentrations in severe needs, vision orientation, and mobility from the University of Northern Colorado. She has several relevant professional certificates, including the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals Orientation and Mobility Certificate. She has excellent teaching skills. She is fluent in Spanish and is proficient in using and teaching assistive technology, including notetakers, Braille displays, OCR software, and appropriate Microsoft applications. I can tell you I am truly impressed, Annee.
Annee is very competent to teach Braille in both literary and Nemeth codes. She says she has a functional understanding of the Japanese language and its Braille system. She studied the language for four years in college, including one year at Yoshida University in Kyoto, Japan.
I have been speaking of Annee's professional and academic qualifications primarily. All these fine certifications and degrees are impressive. But the real reason we feel that Annee is an outstanding teacher and deserving of our award is that she practices in her daily professional work the high expectations and positive philosophy of our organization. She is a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Her professional practices are based upon personal experience. She has seen that blind students thrive best on a positive philosophy of blindness and the best alternative techniques.
Annee has received a number of honors and awards. She has received scholarships from her state NFB affiliate and also from the National Federation of the Blind. She has now had nine years of teaching experience in California and in Washington. She receives high praise from her principal, under whom she has taught for the past five years, and a glowing recommendation from the very pleased parent of one of her students. That tells us much about how she is valued by those who know her and work with her. She also has contributed ably to programs of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children at national conventions.
As the winner of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award, Annee receives transportation to this convention, the opportunity to speak at and participate in seminars and other significant events of the NOPBC, a check for $1,000, and a beautiful plaque, which I will present to you, Annee. Hold it up while I read the inscription. It reads:
"THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND HONORS
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 DREAMS.
Congratulations to you, Annee Hartzell! We are very proud of you and are pleased to have you as our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for this year.
Before we hear from Annee, I would like to thank the members of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award committee. They worked together as a fine team. They are Mark Riccobono of Maryland, Dr. Ed Vaughn of California, Carla McQuillan of Oregon, and Allen Harris, now of Alabama. Thanks to all of you members of the committee.
Now let me present to you Annee Hartzell, our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2009.
Annee Hartzell: Good morning, fellow Federationists, board members, and committee members. I would like to thank you very much for raising me up in the Federation. I came to the Federation twenty-one years ago this week as a result of the National Federation of the Blind scholarship program. I came to Chicago as a scholarship recipient. I thank Denise and Gary Mackenstadt for believing in me and writing such a glowing recommendation. I also would like to thank two people who aren't with us today, my parents. Without my parents, who believed in me, who raised me, who expected so much of me, I wouldn't be standing here. They expected that I would accomplish the same things as my twin brother and younger sister. And without the belief of the Federation, without that gift, I wouldn't be here. It is my life purpose to reach out to the children I serve, so that I can give that gift to them. I hope that I can continue to give that gift to my kids. [Applause.]
I understand that a check goes along with this award that you guys are so generously giving me this year. I intend to invest this gift in a knfbReader. Mr. Jim Gashel came to our area in eastern Washington, and we are starting a pilot program. We are going to take the knfbReader to our little eastern Washington program. We will spread the gift of the Reader to the K-12 system and find out what it can do for kids. We will report back.
presented by Ramona Walhof
From the Editor: Jacobus tenBroek was a distinguished scholar who did groundbreaking work on civil rights law. He was also a founder of the National Federation of the Blind and served as its first president. It is fitting that one of the highest honors that the Federation can bestow is an award named in Dr. tenBroek's honor. The 2009 Jacobus tenBroek Award was presented by Ramona Walhof at the banquet on the final evening of the national convention.
The Jacobus tenBroek Award was first presented in 1976 to Perry Sunquist of California. It was presented twice more in that decade, and during the 1980's it was presented six times. In the nineties it was given seven times. In the twenty-first century we have recognized an outstanding leader of the National Federation of the Blind each year. The award symbolizes the depth and diversity of our leadership.
A study of the leaders we have chosen to honor with this award demonstrates that our organization is healthy and strong. Those we recognize served, not for years, but for decades; not in one state, but in ways that benefit the blind of the entire nation.
In 2007 my colleagues chose to honor me with the award, and I have never been more humbled standing alongside some of our best leaders. Tonight we are presenting the Jacobus tenBroek Award to two people who have served separately and together. They are known to all of you. They have lived and served in four NFB affiliates and in one large division. They joined the NFB in the 1970s, and I have been around long enough to have met them both in that decade. As they moved around, they grew in the Federation themselves and became builders and leaders. They have been leaders for more than twenty-five years.
Only once before have we chosen to honor a sighted person with this award. That was Mary Ellen Jernigan. Tonight the Jacobus tenBroek Award goes to (you have figured it out, I think!) Barbara and John Cheadle. [Applause.]
John and Barbara joined the NFB before they were married, when they lived in the state of Nebraska and both worked for the rehabilitation agency for the blind there. After they were married and after the birth of their first son, they decided to adopt a blind child, now known to us as Charles Cheadle. In the early 1980s they moved to Missouri, where John worked with the rehabilitation agency and Barbara began to edit a newsletter for parents of blind children. Next they moved to Idaho, where both were extremely helpful to me and the NFB when we were under attack there. Barbara Cheadle was elected president of the Parents of Blind Children Division for the first time while she and John lived in Idaho.
In 1985 the Cheadles moved on again, this time to Maryland, where John Cheadle has worked ever since as Executive Director of Buildings and Facilities at our national headquarters. In this capacity he does not receive a lot of recognition, but he is valued for his constant and wise leadership. His work makes us proud of our national headquarters. Constructing a large new commercial building is a huge undertaking, and John Cheadle worked as an essential part of the leadership team to bring the beautiful facility for our Jernigan Institute into being. He continues to supervise both the maintenance staff and contractors who are hired to do repairs and remodeling at our national headquarters.
After the Cheadles moved to Maryland, Barbara was reelected president of the Parents of Blind Children Division (renamed the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, or NOPBC) every two years until she had served for twenty-five years. She continued to build the NOPBC during all that time. She edited our publication, Future Reflections, from its very beginning. As leader of the parents' division she traveled throughout the country. She planned seminars and meetings at our national convention and elsewhere. She organized state divisions of parents of blind children. She attended other conferences on parenthood and education as needed. She wrote and read widely in the field, and she headed the Braille book program for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, which makes it possible for blind children to receive their very own Braille books as they grow up. In short, she became deservedly the best-known leader among parents of blind children in this country.
After twenty-five years Barbara decided to retire as president of NOPBC. Last summer the division celebrated its silver anniversary. Barbara retired as editor of Future Reflections this spring. There are and will be ripples as transition occurs, but the division remains strong. Many leaders are ready to move forward in new positions, men and women recruited and groomed in the philosophy and experience of the Federation by Barbara Cheadle. There are also blind children and youth who have grown up and others who are now growing up in the Federation in a better world for blind people because of Barbara Cheadle's work.
This year Barbara Cheadle is back with us at our convention. She is still working as a part of the NFB, and she always will. Barbara and John have been far more than staff members at our national center; they have given of themselves, learned and grown in their work, shared what they have learned with others, and helped to train the next generation of parents and of blind children. Many of these children are now Federationists, as are their parents. We find them in the Student Division, as scholarship winners, and in chapters and state affiliates across the NFB.
The Cheadles have raised three children of their own: John Earl, now in Cincinnati; Charles, who has joined the Peace Corps; and Anna, who lives in England. These young adults, like the blind children who have grown up in the Federation, are a testament to the wisdom and strength of John and Barbara Cheadle. I say to you tonight, John and Barbara, we give you this Jacobus tenBroek Award as a sign of our love and appreciation for what you are and what you do. Congratulations to both of you. We have a plaque for you. Here is the text:
"JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
PRESENTED TO JOHN AND BARBARA CHEADLE
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES; NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES, BUT BY THE IMPACT ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION. WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED, YOU HAVE ANSWERED. WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT. WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 8, 2009."
John: I'm overwhelmed. I was trying to think earlier tonight how long I've been coming to these conventions. Fred Schroeder said they've been coming thirty-one years, and I think this is our thirty-fifth convention. [Applause.] We want to thank all of you for everything you have done for us. You have done more for us than we've done for you.
When we first got into the field, we didn't know about the Federation. We had to go off to these regional meetings for rehab in Kansas City. We knew there was something better, someplace, there had to be. And here you are. Thank you.
Barbara: I was out to lunch with a couple of my wonderful friends in the parents' division today, and we were talking about this interesting hotel. Brad Weatherd said he had heard that the architect who designed it wanted there to be a surprise around every corner. Believe me, I will remember this as the convention of surprises.
I've been asked many things this week. Some people ask me if I feel lost or uncertain or sad about not having the position of parent division president. Some ask whether I'm not sure what to do. I'm not sad or unsure. I am so very happy. I am happy about the wonderful leaders and the parents and the children who are involved. The greatest joy I could have is that they are such wonderful people: Carol Castellano and that wonderful board who can take over so competently, so efficiently; and Debbie Stein who could take on Future Reflections. It's a source of great joy to me. I think the greatest sadness would be if everything started falling apart, because what would have been the point of all that work?
Most of all, I am happy because this is my family. You are my friends, and I love you. Thank you.
presented by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: The Jacob Bolotin Awards program is administered by the National Federation of the Blind in honor of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, a totally blind heart and lung specialist who practiced in Chicago early in the twentieth century. The Bolotin Awards are given to individuals and organizations that have worked to improve life for blind people. Gary Wunder, secretary of the NFB and president of the NFB of Missouri, chaired the committee that chose the award winners in 2009. He presented the awards on July 8 at the general session of the 2009 NFB convention.
Gary Wunder: Dr. Jacob Bolotin was the first doctor who was born blind and trained for his profession as a blind person. He used his talents not only for healing the sick, but for teaching the world that blind people with training, ambition, and opportunity can compete beside the sighted. No matter how many times he was told no, he pursued his life's calling with enthusiasm, ingenuity, and perseverance. All of the award winners recognized today are involved in furthering Dr. Bolotin's goals, aspirations, and life's work.
As blind people, what words do we hear most often when we enter a room? "Here's a chair." "Sit right here." No matter how smart and adventurous we are, people are most comfortable when we are stationary. The first award to be presented this afternoon goes to an organization dedicated to the idea that blind people don't belong in chairs, that when we experience things for ourselves we can become confident and successful. The organization we honor runs a camp where blind people canoe, swim, and cook over open fires. Most of the staff and board members are blind. Youth who attend see that blind people are more than the recipients of programs; they are an integral part of some very good programs at all levels. This organization, Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind, runs Camp Tuhsmeheta or, as it is lovingly known, Camp T. I invite the director of Camp T., Sharon Burton, to receive this award for $10,000.
Sharon Burton: Thank you. Thank you. I thank you, not for myself, but for Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind. Camp Tuhsmeheta is a Michigan treasure where kids have fun and learn the skills of blindness. It was named for the four senses you have when you are blind: touch, smell, hearing, and taste. Since 1972, when the Michigan School for the Blind purchased this land and started this camp, thousands of kids have learned to do great things. The camp started out with just a log cabin. Today we have two modern dorms, a kitchen and dining hall, a woodworking shop, and an arts and crafts building. We have 297 acres of wilderness and our own lake for swimming, boating, and fishing. We even built an adobe oven where we bake bread and pizza. Blind staff members serve as mentors for our campers. Like every nonprofit we face a challenge every year to raise enough money. Today at dinner my mentor opened a cookie and got a fortune that said, "He can who thinks he can, and he can't if he thinks he can't." This is an indisputable law.
Gary Wunder: All week we have focused on the need for good training in Braille, especially for blind children. The next organizations we honor run what is probably the most influential Braille reading contest in the US. It was established to stem the tide of Braille illiteracy among our nation's blind youth. It also aspired to create a greater demand for Braille books; to improve Braille instruction; and to raise the expectations of teachers, parents, and students. Since 1984 over six thousand blind children have participated in the contest. Former participants have gone on to careers in science, law, public relations, human services, and business. Some have even become Braille teachers. For all that the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest is and will become, we present $10,000 to the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). To accept, we call on Carol Castellano, president of the NOPBC; and Nadine Jacobson, president of NAPUB.
Nadine Jacobson: Thank you so much. I am deeply honored to receive this award on behalf of all of our NAPUB members. When I was five years old, I told my mom that I wanted to be a nurse. She said, "No, you can't do that because you can't see well enough." I said, "Well, that's okay; then I'll be a doctor." We didn't know about Dr. Bolotin. She didn't know that she could tell me that, if I learned Braille and became literate, I could accomplish anything I wanted. Life is different now; our kids know that they can accomplish what they want to. I encourage you to inspire kids to enter the contest. Those readers will be the leaders of the future. Thank you so much.
Carol Castellano: Boy, it has been a good day! It is with profound gratitude that I accept this award on behalf of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and all the children who have been given the gift of literacy through the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. I would like to pass the microphone to someone who was there when it all began, one of the contest founders. Here is my friend and mentor, Barbara Cheadle.
Barbara Cheadle: I really don't know what to say. Carol kept this as a surprise from me. She knew about it, and I didn't.
When Nadine and I got together to establish the contest, we had to decide at what grade level it should begin. I remember a very lengthy discussion about whether we could start the contest with kindergarteners. It wasn't that we thought blind kids in kindergarten couldn't read. The problem was that there weren't enough Braille books for kids at that level. In the end I said, "You know, if we don't include kindergarten, parents and teachers will assume that it's okay that we don't have Braille books for kindergarteners to read, and that's not right. If we decide to start the contest with kindergarteners, it sends a message that our kids deserve lots of books at the same time other kids have them." I think we have succeeded.
Gary Wunder: Our next Bolotin winner came to her job from corporate America, where she held a position in health care. Bill Raeder, the former director of National Braille Press, lured her away after several unsuccessful attempts. He called her on Valentine's Day to say, "This is my last call. What I'm offering you is creative license. You can do whatever you want." Her promised freedom was real. She had no job description, no assignment, and an office with nothing more than a stapler, a tape holder, a telephone, and a typewriter.
Starting with what she refers to as "a clean slate," our recipient was the driving force behind the creation of the Children's Braille Book Club, offering books with both print and Braille. She created the first program where blind people could buy titles in Braille for the same price as the print editions. Because of her work the Press started a Braille magazine of syndicated columns from the country's major news publications. It is with tremendous appreciation that we present an award in the amount of $10,000 to Ms. Diane Croft.
Diane Croft: Thank you, Mrs. Jernigan and the committee, for this extraordinary award. I feel very joyful. I want to recognize forty-seven other people, the employees at National Braille Press, who work so hard every day to keep Braille alive. A special thanks to the past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, Dr. David Ticchi, for nominating me and for being one of the finest individuals I have ever known.
People build communities, and communities build people. No community has done more to build my character than this one. You set the bar high, but by your example I have become more resilient, more responsible, more joyful, and more caring. I ask you, is there any other place in the world where two thousand people are vying for twelve elevators? Yet when a door opens and the cabin is packed, a voice says, "There's always room for one more; come on in." This is the community you have created, and this is the gift you have given to me. Thank you.
Gary Wunder: In 1959 Mrs. Jean Dyon Norris was talking with a blind friend who said, "My children can't understand why I can't read to them. If only someone would Braille me a little book." Mrs. Norris went home, took one of her own children's picture books apart, and Brailled the text. She inserted the Braille pages into the book along with the printed pages and gave the book to her friend.
Mrs. Norris continued to produce these little books at her kitchen table, and word of her project spread. In 1962 the organization we honor today gave her a grant to rent an office and purchase equipment to mass-produce her works. They came to be called Twin Vision® books. Mrs. Norris, at age ninety-one, still manages the operation and reports to her Tarzana, California, office every day. In addition to lending out Twin Vision® books on a monthly basis, this organization distributes free Braille books to all blind children who request them.
It is with tremendous pride that we honor with an award of $5,000 the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. We call on its second vice president, Sandy Halverson, to accept the award.
Sandy Halverson: Thank you very much, Gary, and members of the Jacob Bolotin Award committee. The American Action Fund for Blind Children sponsors the Kenneth Jernigan Library. For those of you who aren't familiar with how books were produced a long time ago, each page, each raised-line drawing was done one page, one picture at a time. The calendars that many of you received were distributed by the National Federation of the Blind and were a gift to you from the American Action Fund.
Several years ago, when the International Braille and Technology Center was established by the National Federation of the Blind, the American Action Fund made a substantial financial contribution. It was our belief that at least one piece of every kind of technology that was at all related to Braille should be available in a central location so that blind people could get their hands on it and make informed choices about what they were going to purchase.
The American Action Fund is now giving blind children an opportunity to request Braille cookbooks free. How many of us in this room were expected to cook along with our siblings? Maybe some were, but I bet most of us were not. I can tell you I was not. I would like to get my hands on one of those cookbooks.
We thank the committee for its generosity, and I assure you this award will be put to good use.
Gary Wunder: All of us who read Braille know how frustrating it can be not to get what you want to read when you want to read it. No group of Braille readers knows this frustration more than blind musicians. It is nearly impossible for blind musicians to learn complex musical compositions with complete accuracy unless they have access to the written score.
The individual we honor today has had a lifelong interest in music. He developed an interest in Braille music when he met a gifted student named Jessica Bachicha. Some of the pieces she needed to learn were so complicated that to transcribe them accurately required collaboration between an expert in reading Braille music and someone expert in the software used for its transcription. Our winner tells the story of a deadline that found him and Jessica working by phone from 1 to 5 a.m. to make a composition available to her that very day.
The man we proudly honor has decided his calling is to make Braille music available to the blind. It is our pleasure to present an award in the amount of $5,000 to Mr. John Andrew English.
[Because of some confusion, though Andy English attended the convention, he was not present to receive his award.]
Gary Wunder: If you are blind, how do you learn about the physical layout of the world? How do you understand the shape of Michigan, where it is in relation to Texas, and the distance which separates the two? Blind children and adults learn geography by using tactile maps. Unfortunately, the creation of tactile maps is tedious and time-consuming. As a result very few of them are available, and they are often quite expensive.
Today we recognize a very special organization created and staffed by two dedicated senior citizen volunteers. These volunteers work tirelessly to solve the dual problems of cost and availability. This organization has produced twenty-seven Braille atlases. Each year it sends books of maps to schools, organizations, and individuals.
Ruth Bogia was raised during the Great Depression. When the time came to decide which sibling would go to college, it was her brother who got the nod. After Ruth sent her own son to college, she decided her turn had finally come. At age seventy she got her bachelor's degree in English, some twenty-one years ago. While working at Recording for the Blind, Ruth learned Braille and began to do transcribing. She's been at it for the last forty-two years.
Nancy Amick has a master's degree in physics and moved to Princeton to take a job in 1959. Nancy became a volunteer for Recording for the Blind, where she met Ruth. She learned to make tactile drawings that blind people could understand. When Ruth retired, the two decided to form an organization that we proudly recognize today with an award of $5,000. The organization is called the Princeton Braillists. I invite Nancy Amick and Ruth Bogia to receive this most deserved award.
Nancy Amick: We'd like to thank Debbie Stein, Gary Wunder, and the award committee for recognizing our work. We've never had so much attention, and we truly appreciate it. When we started making maps in about 1992, people would say, "Maps for the blind? Why would they want maps?" Well, there is a young lady in Pittsburgh who used our maps when she took a course on the history of Western Europe; there's a college professor in Utah who buys all of our maps; there's a deaf-blind man in Massachusetts who called to find out if the Wilkins Ice Shelf was on his Antarctic map. It was. The many people who travel enjoy our maps. Then there's Adrian, a blind man in Frankfurt, Germany, who collects maps. They all love maps, and we enjoy making maps. It gives us great pleasure to provide this service.
We are currently working on maps of the fifty-three countries in Africa, which will be our next offering. Thanks for all your support and appreciation.
Ruth Bogia: Gary told you all about my life history, but he didn't tell you that working with Nancy, who is a perfectionist, has been a real challenge. I am the Braillist. She is the designer. Between us we make the maps. It's a great pleasure to work with her and also to do Braille. I shall continue as long as I am able.
Gary Wunder: Our last award this afternoon goes to a man whose name will be recognized by almost everyone in this hall. If you read Braille, he has played a tremendous role in your education. What you may not know is that our honoree was almost diverted from his destiny. Some seventy years ago he was sold a bill of goods that said science and math weren't fields in which the blind could compete. Instead of pursuing his life's desire, our winner trained as a psychologist. His inability to find a job in that field led him to throw caution to the wind and follow his real passion. One element in his decision was a loving but pointed question from his wife, "Would you rather be an unemployed psychologist or an unemployed mathematician?"
To help him with the concepts he had to master in his field, our winner improvised a new Braille system for writing math notation. It is our honor to award $5,000 to Dr. Abraham Nemeth.
Dr. Abraham Nemeth: Wow, I didn't recognize who I am! First I'd like to thank the Bolotin Committee for considering me worthy to receive such a prestigious prize. I grew up in an environment of pure love. I had wonderful parents and wonderful grandparents. I had uncles and aunts who supported me and loved me. I had cousins and other relatives. I had wonderful teachers all through my life. I had wonderful friends. I had two wives who supported and indulged me. Most of the credit for all I did belongs to those people. I have friends all over, including people from the National Federation of the Blind.
Now I have developed a system called NUBS. NUBS stands for Nemeth Uniform Braille System. In Braille you know that you have to deal with two sets of numbers and three sets of punctuation marks. In NUBS you deal with one set of numbers and one set of punctuation marks, just like you do in print. NUBS is being reviewed by the Braille Authority of North America. The Lord has overwhelmed me with kindness. Thank you.
Gary Wunder: On behalf of the committee I'd like to thank all of you who made this possible.
From the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind is pleased to honor a group of outstanding postsecondary students as winners of NFB scholarships. The presentation of the scholarship awards is a high point of the annual convention banquet. During the convention everyone enjoys meeting the scholarship recipients, learning about their achievements, and hearing about their plans for the future. The NFB Scholarship Program has discovered and nurtured countless women and men who have become leaders in our movement.
At the open meeting of the NFB Board of Directors each of the thirty 2009 NFB scholarship finalists was presented by NFB Scholarship Committee Chairperson Anil Lewis, who announced the student's home state and the state where he or she is enrolled in school. Each student briefly introduced himself or herself to the Federation. Here are the introductions given by the 2009 NFB Scholarship Program finalists.
Rachel Becker, Maryland, Maryland: Hello, everyone. I am attending the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. I am pursuing a degree in early childhood and elementary education. With the help of Barbara Cheadle and many other people from Maryland, I came to the NFB when my parents joined the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children when I was a young child. It is a great honor to be selected for a national scholarship and to be here with you, attending my fourth national convention. I am really honored by this wonderful opportunity. Thank you.
Sarah Biglow, Connecticut, Massachusetts: Hi, everybody. My name is Sarah. I will be a first-year law student in August at the New England School of Law in Boston. I earned my bachelor of arts degree in history from Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. This is my first national convention. I attended the Connecticut state conventions all through college. I was a state scholarship recipient every year. I have so far enjoyed what I have learned at this convention. I am looking forward to some of the sessions later on and to seeing how the general session is run. Thank you very much.
Anne Brady, New York, New York: Hi. I'm Anne, and I'm from Buffalo, New York. I'm going to be a freshman at Daemen College in the fall. I am going to major in English and creative writing. This is my first time at the convention. My state commission for the blind counselor sent me a scholarship application, and I really didn't know what this was all about. Then I got here and I was confused and overwhelmed, and it was kind of crazy. This is amazing, and I am really honored to be here and to be nominated for a scholarship.
Ashley Brow, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi. My name is Ashley Brow, and I am going to Emerson College. I am going to be a junior studying communication science and disorders. I either want to be a speech language pathologist or an audiologist. I haven't decided yet. I am just so honored to be here, surrounded by so many successful blind people. It really makes me hopeful for the future of what the lives of blind people will be like. Thank you so much.
Tara Carty, New Jersey, New Jersey: Good morning. My name is Tara Carty, and, as Anil said, I am from New Jersey. I want to take this opportunity to thank the entire organization for this amazing experience. I will be attending Caldwell College as a sophomore next semester as an English major. I plan to write for a magazine or a newspaper and eventually to publish a book. I have been listening to many speeches this week, and many people have mentioned the philosophy of the NFB. My personal philosophy shadows that of the NFB, and it is an amazing experience to be involved and meet so many people that share that same feeling with me. I always tell people that I may have lost my sight, but I have not lost my vision. Thank you very much.
Lily Clifton, Washington State, Massachusetts: Hi. I'm Lily. I will be a freshman at Boston College this fall studying environmental geoscience. I just graduated from high school. This past year one of my greatest accomplishments was creating an environmental camp for blind and vision-impaired elementary-age kids. This has sparked many interests, including event planning, the environment, and working with our blind youth. As I step forward into college, I hope to contribute to things that are greater than myself, and I hope to continue to work with the NFB. I have never been to convention before, and this is a life-changing experience. I've loved every minute of it so far. Thank you, guys.
Juliet Cody, California, California: Good morning. I'm Juliet Cody from Cal State San Marcos, and I have my BA in communications. I'm one year into my master's program. I want to become a communications specialist. I want to share that my first convention was actually here in Detroit, and I was still sighted at that time. But I did hear my freedom bell. I went back home, and I started two local chapters and one division with friends. I sit on the board of directors of the California affiliate. Not only did I hear my freedom bell, but I took the key of opportunity, and I am committed to the National Federation of the Blind.
James Cole, Indiana, Indiana: Hello. My name is James Cole. I am a recent graduate of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I had orientation at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, just a couple of days ago, and I will be headed there in the fall to study history and hopefully become a history professor one day. This is my third NFB convention. My first was in Louisville in 2005. My second was Dallas in 2006, and I haven't been back since for all sorts of reasons. But I am glad to be back because I enjoy NFB conventions. I am having a great time here in Detroit. I've never been here, and I am happy that I have the opportunity to get this scholarship. We'll see what happens next as the convention moves on. Thank you.
Blair David Douglass, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everyone. My name is Blair Douglass, and I'm going to be a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. I'm studying political science, international studies, and history. This is my first National Federation of the Blind convention. I have been thoroughly amazed by the passion and energy that this convention has displayed. I am truly honored to be a scholarship recipient and a representative of the new generation of National Federation of the Blind scholars. I pledge to do my part to do whatever I can to improve the future for blind individuals. Thank you very much.
Sharin Duffy, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. I am Sharin from New York. This will be my final year in the master's of social work program at New York University. I am also a board certified music therapist, and I want to incorporate all of these skills to serve my community. I am not quite sure how exactly, but God will show me. This is my first convention, and I have found it to be energizing. As a single mom it has given me a greater passion to work with other blind parents on all the issues facing us, from the serious things such as custody to the day-to-day support every parent needs to raise his or her children confidently. I want to thank the committee for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be here. Thank you.
Dawei Fu, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, everyone. My name is Dawei Fu. I am a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Arizona. I also have earned a master's degree in reliability engineering from the University of Arizona. I have already passed my preliminary and comprehensive written examinations with great results; I am preparing to take my oral examination. I hope I will graduate by next year. It's a great pleasure to be here. Thank you very much.
Diane Graves, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. My name is Diane Graves. Allow me to offer my sincere thanks to the scholarship committee. It is a tremendous honor and a privilege to have been selected. I plan to make good on the investment. I am currently in my fourth term as a student at Kaplan Online University, pursuing a bachelor's in organizational communication. I am also currently working in the field of civil rights as a civil rights mediator, and upon completion of my degree I plan to remain in the field of civil rights and affirmative action. Thank you.
Sunish Gupta, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. I will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pursuing my master's in systems design and management. I joined the NFB six years ago when Dr. Maurer appointed me as a member of the Research and Development Committee. It was a great honor, and I still serve the committee. I had the privilege and opportunity to work with Ray Kurzweil, Jim Gashel, and Dr. Betsy Zaborowski on the knfbReader Classic. It was a fantastic experience, and I think we should pursue it further to make sure we can take advantage of other technologies, too. I think we are not disabled; it's the technology that's disabled. We need to fix that. Thank you.
Melissa Haney, California, California: Good morning. I'm pursuing a master's in rehabilitation counseling. I'm currently the treasurer of the California Association of Blind Students. I want to thank you all for the honor of being here today. About a year ago, when I met you all, there was only one person who believed in me. And believe me, he was not me. Thank you.
Rachel Jacobs, Florida, Florida: Hi. My name is Rachel Jacobs. I'm a graduate student at the University of South Florida, where I am studying rehabilitation and mental health counseling. I also received my bachelor's from the University of South Florida in psychology and criminology. I became a member of the NFB one year ago when I won a state scholarship in Florida. I'm the newest president of the Manesota Chapter in Florida and the vice president of the Florida Association of Blind Students.
Mary-Anne Joseph, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning to the wonderful members of the NFB. I am a proud and excited member of the Ohio affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. I am a PhD student. I am in my third year. I'm working on my PhD in counselor education and supervision. I have my master's in rehabilitation counseling. Don't hold it against me, but I've worked as a rehabilitation counselor in North Carolina, and I loved it. It was work that I really enjoyed doing. I am working on my dissertation on visual impairment and blindness. I am really thankful for this opportunity, the opportunity to win a scholarship that I can use to complete that dissertation within the next year and do a lot of wonderful research. Thank you.
Brooke Jostad, Colorado, Texas: Good morning. My name is Brooke Jostad. I will be a freshman next year at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, studying international studies, religion, and Spanish. When I was a freshman, I heard a quote, and I couldn't quite understand exactly what it meant, but now that I am here, I know that this quote should represent the NFB. It says that hopelessness accepts while hope criticizes. I feel as though the spirit of the NFB is one that will criticize things that are not right. We will not settle for less until we see change, and I am very proud of being a member of this.
Dare Justice, Alabama, Alabama: Hi. I'm Dare Justice from Alabama. I am pursuing my bachelor's in psychology. I'm attending Auburn University. Six years ago I was involved in a car accident that left me blind. I've had to adapt to being blind and having to learn how to walk, talk, and all that good stuff. I appreciate this opportunity for you to show me how confident I can be as a blind individual. I appreciate the opportunity to come here. The NFB is a great organization. Thank you.
Jeannie Massay, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Good morning, NFB family. I'm going to tell a quick story. It's relevant. There's a reason why geese call out when they fly in formation. The leader calls out so that others will follow. He is also the first line of defense. He encourages his family behind him. The other geese in line do the same. They encourage each other as they fly. The NFB has allowed me to fly as an individual. I lost my vision five years ago as an adult, and my life was completely changed. The NFB has given me hope and a passion for living life to the fullest. I hope to share that with other people. I am a second-year graduate student in counseling psychology. I am contemplating pursuing a PhD. Regardless of what level of education I achieve, I will fight for every blind person and hope to provide the hope that has been provided to me. Thank you.
Tyler Merren, Michigan, Michigan: Hi, everybody. It's Tyler Merren. I'm a student at Western Michigan University studying exercise science and Spanish. As president of the Kalamazoo Chapter of the NFB I understand that there are a lot of challenges that we face as blind people. One example I will give is the local library. Even in the great city of Kalamazoo, the public library has been inaccessible to the blind until this summer. The Kalamazoo Chapter has worked with the library, and it is going to be fully accessible by the end of this summer. For most of my life I have faced challenges, and I know that many of you have, too. I've had people tell me that I can't. I want to let you guys know that it's really refreshing to be among people who, I am thoroughly convinced, don't even know how to say the word can't. Receiving this scholarship is exciting, and I am also honored. I hope I can further my education to help lead this Federation to a higher standard of achievement for all blind people.
Chikako Mochizuki, Kansas, Kansas: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Chikako Mochizuki, and I am currently working on my PhD in East Asian history at the University of Kansas. This is a very humbling experience. I am honored to be here to take part in all this. With the support of the NFB scholarship, I would like to complete my dissertation by the spring of 2011. Through my work as a historian, teaching and researching, I intend to contribute to society and to the world. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Ashley Nashleanas, Iowa, Indiana: Hello, everyone. My name is Ashley Nashleanas, and I am going to be a senior at the University of Notre Dame next year. It's a wonderful school. I am studying chemistry, and my goal is to pursue a master's and a PhD in chemistry. I am specializing in either organic or biochemistry; I am not sure which one. I really got involved with the NFB when they were doing a thing at Notre Dame in which I was included. It was an awareness event, and I got to know a lot more of their philosophy. The more I've gotten to know about the organization, it's been wonderful being a part of the NFB. It's an honor and a blessing to receive this scholarship. Thank you.
Hani Nasser, California, California: Hello, everyone. I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, during a civil war, and I witnessed a lot of death and destruction to my country and people. At the age of nine I started going blind. I had no help and got kicked out of school. I had no guidance. The only blind people I saw were those sitting on the sidewalk saying, "Please, can you spare some money? I am blind." I lived that way for twenty-two years, running away from my blindness, until I found the NFB at the national convention in 2006 in Dallas. I met some amazing and accomplished people who helped me become who I am today. I am here today as a scholarship winner and proud to be here. I am going to school at USC. I am a junior studying kinesiology and pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy. I am a California Association of Blind Students board member and the chair of its fundraising committee. Thank you so much for having me.
Matthias Niska, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning. I'd first like to thank Dr. Maurer and the Federation leadership, Anil and the NFB Scholarship Committee, and you all for giving me the opportunity to benefit from this wonderful scholarship program. I am truly humbled to be a part of all of this. I would be remiss if I did not thank the amazing staff and students of BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis, where I am lucky enough to be finishing the comprehensive adult training program right now. You guys have no idea how much your support has meant to me. I would not be standing up here without you. I love you all. I will be a first-year law student at the University of Minnesota Law School in the fall, where I will be pursuing a JD. I hope to focus on child and family law, especially adoption law. No matter where my career in law or my path in the Federation take me, I plan to serve others. My religious faith teaches me that there is a far greater claim on my life than simply pursuing my own self-interest. Thank you.
Corbb O'Connor, Virginia, District of Columbia: [The recipient of his second NFB scholarship, Corbb O'Connor is honored as a tenBroek Fellow.] Thank you. Chefs and cooks always want sharp knives in their kitchens. It makes work a lot easier and safer. The work that all of you do is sharpening the knives for all of us scholarship winners up here. Whether it's raising money or an outreach program to get one more kid a cane, you've helped me and these twenty-nine others gain and keep our independence. It's an honor to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you.
Kayde Rieken, Nebraska, Nebraska: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I planted a flower when I was a little girl, and I kept checking every day to see if it had grown yet. My sister told me in her all-knowing big-sister fashion that it wouldn't grow overnight, and I had to wait. In my childhood I had an idea of a philosophy of blindness. I didn't view myself as amazing. I didn't view myself as helpless. I just viewed myself as me. When I found the Federation, it helped this idea grow, and, as I'm moving forward in my life, as I'm going into Spanish interpreting at Nebraska Wesleyan University, as I'm involved in my student division, this philosophy of the Federation has helped me every step along the way. I'm honored to be here. Thank you.
Kyle Shachmut, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, everybody. I would like to offer a special thanks to the board and to the scholarship committee for bringing us here. My name is Kyle Shachmut. I'm originally from Arkansas. I've just finished a master's degree in education at Boston College. In the fall I'll be working toward a doctorate in education at Boston University. I'll be focusing on educational media and technology. I'm really excited to be here. This is my first national convention, and particularly with my interests it is great to see all the work the Federation is doing to ensure that the technology we all have to use in education is accessible. I'm excited to be working with the Federation. Thank you.
Thanh Kim Tong, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi. I'm Thanh. I will be pursuing my bachelor's in biochemistry at Mt. Holyoke College. I found out about the NFB and the scholarship a couple of weeks before the deadline, and I want to say that initially I was just here for the money. Now that I'm here, truly the money is just one great part of being here. It is a true honor, and I am so humbled to be with a group of people who believe and expect blind people to be better, to be great. It's good to be a part of a group of people dedicated to bettering the lives of all blind people. Thank you.
Andrew Wai, Pennsylvania, New Jersey: Good morning. I'm Andrew Wai from Philadelphia. In the fall I will be beginning my freshman year at Princeton University. I don't know what I want to study yet, but I'm interested in natural and social science. I intend to go to Princeton to find what my passion is to study. I've been a lifelong Federationist. This is my third convention. I am a multiple-time alumnus of the Colorado Center for the Blind high school summer program, and this last summer I was honored to serve as a cane travel mentor at the summer Sensations Camp in Philadelphia. I would like to make one final note. I haven't as many life experiences or accomplishments as many fellows in my scholarship class, and I've only taken a few steps on my life's path, but I owe the few steps I have taken to the National Federation of the Blind and the philosophy that this organization espouses. I intend to repay that debt. Thank you.
Katherine Watson, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Hello, everyone. My name is Katherine Watson. I will be a sophomore in the fall at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. I want to say that each and every one of you in the NFB and each and every one of you at this convention has given me a reason to live out the NFB philosophy. We talk about this philosophy a lot throughout the convention, but it doesn't mean anything unless you take it to your home, to your job, to your college campus. I want to thank each and every one of you, whether you are an outgoing lawyer who has inspired me, a travel instructor who has encouraged me, or a student that I am encouraging to attend one of the training centers. Thank you everyone for everything that you do. I want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.
At the convention banquet on the evening of Wednesday, July 8, the thirty NFB scholarship winners crossed the platform to accept their awards. President Marc Maurer and Ray Kurzweil, inventor, visionary, and longtime friend of the NFB, each shook hands with the winners. In addition to his or her NFB Scholarship, each winner received a check for $1,000 and a plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, a knfbReader Mobile, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 Reading System software from Kurzweil Educational Systems.
Here is the complete list of 2009 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Anne Brady, Juliet Cody, James Cole, Douglass Blair, Dawei Fu, Mary-Anne Joseph, Dare Justice, Tyler Merren, Hani Nasser, Kayde Rieken, Andrew Wai, and Katherine Watson
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Rachel Becker
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Sunish Gupta
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Tara Carty
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Sarah Biglow
$3,000 Lawrence Kettner Scholarship: Diane Graves
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Ashley Brow
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Ashley Nashleanas
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Corbb O'Connor
$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship: Sharin Duffy
$3,000 Jeannette C. Eyerly Memorial Scholarship: Jeannie Massay
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Kyle Shachmut
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Melissa Haney, Rachel Jacobs, and Brooke Jostad
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Chikako Mochizuki and Thanh Kim Tong
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Lily Clifton
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Matthias Niska
After he received his Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship Matthias Niska spoke briefly to the audience. In addition to thanking everyone responsible for the NFB Scholarship Program, he acknowledged his peers in the 2009 scholarship class as a diverse pool of talented students. He urged all of them to share their life blessings with others instead of keeping them solely for their own personal growth and benefit. He suggested that in the long run this approach enriches the lives of both givers and recipients.
by Alice Engel
From the Editor: Alice Engel of North Dakota attended her first NFB convention in 2008 and returned in 2009. Though she found both conventions valuable, each was a very different experience.
My husband, Darrold, and I are the parents of a child who became blind right before he turned seventeen. Like most parents in this situation, we were totally unprepared for the change in our lives. When we were handed our son's diagnosis and prognosis, no one gave us a manual on how to deal with his blindness. One thing we knew for sure - somehow our son could still do the things he wanted to do. He just would need to be more creative than before, and would have to do extra planning around some of his activities.
We attended our first NFB national convention in 2008 in Dallas, Texas. It was an overwhelming experience! We had never seen or been around so many blind people. That first year there was so much to take in that we didn't know where to focus our attention. We were trying so hard to absorb everything that we missed out on enjoying the moment. Despite our confusion, though, we were encouraged by the people around us who shared our belief and strengthened our hope.
The convention of 2009 was a very different experience for us. This time we were ready. Before we got to Detroit we reviewed the agenda online as well as the agenda provided by NOPBC. NOPBC offered an agenda in spreadsheet format that worked very well for us. We realized from the start that we could not manage to go to all of the activities, but we could enjoy the ones we attended. We decided which sessions we most wanted and needed to attend and laid out a somewhat flexible daily schedule. We made a point of including events that were strictly for entertainment, such as Karaoke Night.
In Detroit we were provided with two wonderful mentors, Jill and Brad Weatherd from Wyoming. We found that we had much in common with them. Like us, they were the parents of a blind teenager. We also shared the experience of coming from states that have few members of NFB and NOPBC. It was a great feeling to talk with people who really understood our situation. Having the opportunity to sit down for lunch and discuss our fears and hopes for our children was wonderful. We were not alone any more.
We attended several meetings for parents of blind children and developed a deeper understanding of the avenues open for our son through the use of technology. We were able to ask questions and make suggestions. At one of the sessions we heard a speech by a professor who had taught at our local university, North Dakota State. It was fun talking with him afterwards. We also saw the familiar faces of Carol Castellano, Barbara Cheadle, and Debbie Brackett, NOPBC leaders we had met in 2008. They were very friendly and remembered us from the year before, which was quite impressive. Their dedication to NOPBC is inspiring!
In the exhibit hall we discovered many devices that could help normalize our son's life. It was nice to have someone demonstrate these items before we made our purchases. We were thrilled with the "atomic" alarm clock and the Braille watch.
Karaoke Night was a very special treat. It was one of the purely fun activities offered at the convention. Everyone was encouraged to take part. We enjoyed the exceptional talents of many participants. Some of the singers had beautiful voices.
Overall, we took a much more active approach at the 2009 convention than we did in 2008. We knew what to expect, and we decided to participate fully. Our involvement ranged from speaking up at meetings to selling candy bars for our state affiliate. (Darrold was known as the Candy Man.) Through our participation we got much more out of the convention. What you put in is a measure of what you get back.
by Mary Taylor
From the Editor: Mary Taylor is emerging as an energetic NOPBC leader in Washington, DC. Last summer in Detroit she experienced her first national convention.
I am the primary caregiver for my seventeen-year-old granddaughter, who is blind. Last summer we had the pleasure of attending the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Detroit, Michigan. For me the chief highlight of the convention was "The Future Is Ours - and Theirs," the day-long seminar for parents, guardians, and professionals. The annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind affords youth and their support networks many opportunities for personal and professional growth. This year's agenda clearly was designed to support the interests of our children by encouraging independence and building self-confidence.
People of diverse cultural backgrounds from all over the United States attended the convention. Attendees learned about a variety of resources that can strengthen their advocacy skills. Most importantly, blind children and teens were introduced to many options that can widen their opportunities and improve their quality of life. They learned about service dogs, Braille, and many types of assistive technology.
Families began the seminar day together with a series of talks in the morning. In the afternoon children, teens, parents, and professionals participated in activities and workshops according to their track and interests. The workshops for parents provided tools to help them advocate with and on behalf of their children throughout the life span. Parents learned about developing timelines and requesting appropriate training and assistive technology. The discussions were specific, practical, and relevant to actual situations. As participants we were provided with resources to help us set realistic, achievable goals in the IEP process. I learned that the term "SMART IEP" describes a plan that is specific, measurable, uses action words, is realistic and relevant, and is time-limited.
Opportunities such as this convention expose our youth to concrete examples of success. Teens are empowered to live the least restrictive life possible through access to education and information.
For my granddaughter and me, the convention was an outstanding experience. It has given us momentum to move forward in exciting new ways. I encourage you to go to Dallas for the NFB convention in 2010!
STEM-ulating Growth in New Fields
Contact: Natalie Shaheen
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2293
Open to students who have attended summer science programs sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute
Deadline for entries: March 31, 2010
Have you or your student/child participated in one of the following programs sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute: Science Academy 2004, Rocket On! 2004, Science Academy 2005, Rocket On! 2005, Science Academy 2006, Rocket On! 2006, Youth Slam 2007, Junior Science Academy 2008, or Youth Slam 2009? Alumni of these programs are invited to enter an exciting new contest. To enter, a contestant must show in a creative way what science means to him or her. An entry may be in any form the student chooses: a poem, essay, song, or piece of art. The top ten entries will be displayed on the Accessible Bulletin Board in the Betsy Zaborowski Conference Room at the NFB Jernigan Institute and will be featured at <www.blindscience.org>. The creator of the first-place entry will receive an iTunes gift certificate worth $25. For rules and an online contest application visit <www.blindscience.org> and follow the "STEM-ulating Growth in New Fields Contest" link.
Onkyo Braille Literacy Essay Contest
Contact: Trisha Tatam
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2510
Deadline for entries: April 30, 2010
In conjunction with the World Blind Union the NFB will administer this essay contest in the United States. Blind people in the US and Canada are eligible to enter. Essays must be written in Braille on either of these topics: (1) how one gains knowledge or independence through Braille, or (2) world peace from the perspective of a person with a disability. The contest has two categories: one for people twenty-five and younger, and the other for people above twenty-five. Seven cash prizes will be awarded.
Cinema without Sight Film Festival
Braille Institute of America
741 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029
Contact: Christine Pak
(800) 272-4553, Ext. 1321
Deadline for entries: April 1, 2010
Blind and visually impaired students are invited to submit original videos to this contest in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Braille Challenge. Videos may be scripted or may be collections of images and scenes, based on the theme "I Am More than What I See." The top three entries will premier at the June 2010 Braille Challenge Finals, with a top prize of $1,000.
BRAILLE READING CLUB
Braille Reading Pals Club
Contact: Treva Olivero
(410) 659-9314 Ext. 2295
Program begins: April 1, 2010
The Braille Reading Pals Club is an early literacy program that encourages parents to read daily with their blind or low-vision children. Families of children from infancy through age seven are eligible to join. Club members will receive a print/Braille book, a plush "reading pal," a monthly newsletter, quarterly Braille activity sheets, Braille birthday cards for child participants, and an introduction to a network of resources devoted to serving parents of blind children.
NFB State Scholarships
Many state affiliates of the NFB offer scholarships for blind postsecondary students who reside or study in that state. Check with your NFB state president to find out about your affiliate's scholarship programs.
National Federation of the Blind 2010 Scholarship Program
Contact: Anil Lewis, Chairman, NFB Scholarship Committee
200 E. Wells St., Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2415
Open to legally blind students who will be enrolled full-time in an accredited postsecondary institution in the fall 2010 semester
Deadline for applications: March 31, 2010
Thirty national scholarships will be awarded, ranging in value from $3,000 to $12,000. Scholarship finalists will also be assisted to attend the 2010 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, Texas.
Swimming, hiking, boating, nature study, arts and crafts; singing around the campfire; ghost stories and s’mores - the memories of summer camp last a lifetime. Blind and sighted children can select from an almost limitless array of day camps and sleepaway camps. Many offer general activities while others specialize in areas such as art, computers, music, nature, or sports. For blind children and teens who need to improve their blindness skills, a number of invaluable summer opportunities are also available. These programs give blind kids the chance to bond with blind peers and to gain confidence by meeting adult blind role models.
Summer Programs at the NFB Training Centers
Each summer the three adjustment-to-blindness programs of the National Federation of the Blind operate summer camps for blind children and teens. Participants receive intensive training in Braille, assistive technology, skills of daily living, and independent travel, interwoven with field trips, games, picnics, and other fun activities. The summer programs at the NFB centers employ counselors who are blind themselves. Blind kids and teens learn skills from people who use them on a daily basis, and in the process they discover that it truly is okay to be blind. Below is information about the summer programs sponsored by the three NFB centers. Students who apply to the high school and college programs should have an open case with their state rehabilitation agency to help cover the cost.
Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB)
101 S. Trenton St., Ruston, LA 71270
Contact: Eric Guillory
(800) 245-4166 or (318) 251-2891
Buddy Program, July 18-August 7, 2010
Open to children grades 4-8
Application deadline: April 9, 2010
STEP Program, June 13-August 7, 2010
Open to students entering grades 10, 11, or 12
Application deadline: April 9, 2010
Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB)
2233 W. Shepperd Ave., Littleton, CO 80120
Contact: Brent Batron
(800) 401-4632 or (303) 778-1130, ext. 222
Summer for Success, June 12-August 7, 2010
Open to college students
Earn and Learn
June 12-August 7, 2010
Open to high school students
Initiation to Independence, July 19-August 7, 2010
Open to middle-school students
Application Deadline: No fixed deadline; submit applications as soon as possible.
BLIND, Inc. (Blindness: Living in New Dimensions)
100 E. 22nd St., Minneapolis, MN 55404-2514
Contact: Al Spooner
(800) 597-9558 or (612) 872-0100, ext. 226
Life 101 College and Employment Readiness Program
Open to students age 17 and older
Program runs eight to ten weeks; dates vary according to students' schedules.
Application deadline: April 15, 2010
Life 101 Transitions Program, June 13-August 6, 2010
Open to students ages 14-17
Deadline for applications: April 15, 2010
Buddy Program, July 16-August 7, 2010
Open to children ages 9-13
Application deadline: April 15, 2010
Several other summer programs share the positive NFB philosophy and offer exciting opportunities for blind kids and teens.
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)
3345 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21227
Contact: Amy Phelps
(410) 737-2642 or (588) 322-4567
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Independence 2010, June 20-August 1, 2010
Open to students entering grades 10, 11, or 12
Students from Maryland and out of state receive instruction in Braille, technology, household management, and independent travel, as well as enjoying fun activities that build confidence.
Deadline for applications: April 15, 2010
Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind (OUB)
P.O. Box 46, Greenville, MI 48838
Contact: Scott Ford
Dates for summer sessions will be announced on the Website.
Camp Tuhsmeheta offers a unique outdoor experience to blind children and youth. (For more information, see "The 2009 Jacob Bolotin Awards" in this issue of Future Reflections.)
Montana Conservation Science Institute
5200 Upper Miller Creek Rd., Missoula, MT 59803
Contact: Beth Underwood
Camp Eureka! 2010
Date: To be determined
Open to students age 12 and up
Skilled and highly motivated blind students from across the country will work with a professor of biology at the University of Montana to develop accessible simulated biology lab software for students from middle school to college level. This software will help insure that blind students and other students with disabilities will have access to biology lessons and concepts. The model developed by students at Camp Eureka! will be evaluated by students at NFB Youth Slam in 2011.
National Resource Center for Blind Musicians
Contact: David Goldstein
(203) 366-3300, ext. 229
2010 Summer Braille Music Institute, July 11-17, 2010
Open to students age 16 and over who are college-bound or already enrolled in college
Application deadline: May 5, 2010
Held on the campus of the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, this week-long program is designed for blind students who are seriously committed to the study of music. Students will be instructed in Braille music and accessible music software. The program is customized to the needs of each individual participant.
NFB ShareBraille is an online resource that facilitates the exchange of Braille books. People who have Braille books to give away are connected with Braille readers who want books. The service is free; just register and become part of the ShareBraille community.
EARLY CHILDHOOD CONFERENCE
Beginnings and Blueprints: Helping Build Strong Foundations for a Successful Future
In May 2009, the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind sponsored a two-day conference for parents of blind children from birth through age seven. Many of the presentations delivered at the conference are now available online as downloadable MP3 files. Topics include basic child development and blindness, early intervention services, parents' firsthand experiences of raising blind children, reflections by blind adults, ideas for parents of blind children with additional disabilities, teaching independent living skills, and more.
TEXT TO SPEECH
2200 Mission College Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA 95054-1549
Intel Corporation announces the launch of the Intel Reader, a new text to speech reading system for people who are blind or have other print disabilities. This handheld device converts printed text to digital text and then reads it aloud to the user. When used with the Intel Portable Capture Station, the Reader can store large amounts of text to be read later. Intel is working with a number of organizations in the disability community, including the National Federation of the Blind, to insure that this product effectively meets the needs of consumers.
You Can Do Astronomy
For the past twenty-five years astronomer and educator Noreen Grice has been exploring ways to make the wonders of the heavens available to people who are blind and visually impaired. This Website provides information about her work with museums and planetariums; her workshops for students and teachers; and her books, which contain both ink-print and tactile illustrations.
365 Days of Astronomy
At the beginning of each podcast on this Website listeners are greeted by a song that declares, "This stuff is far! It's really far! ... You can't get there by car!" Each day the site posts a brand-new podcast, five to ten minutes in length, on some astronomical topic. The searchable archives reach back to September 2008. Each podcast is accompanied by a full transcript and links to related Websites. Visitors of all ages are invited to submit their own audiofiles for possible inclusion.
7-128 sells a variety of accessible games for children ages two to nine. The company claims that its "Here Comes the Duck" is currently the only computer game that can be played by a blind two-year-old. The Pizza Games are a series of games for blind preschoolers. Games are designed for both Mac and Windows systems.
Games for the Blind
Created by Robert Betz, a blind game designer, each of the games sold at this Website includes a spoken interface for blind users. Among the games available are "Battleship," "Freecell," "Yahtzee," and "Word Play." Any game can be downloaded for a free fifteen-day trial period.
All in Play
The games at All in Play's Website are designed to be enjoyed by both blind and sighted players. "The Anagram Game," "Loco Locution," and "Texas Hold'em" are among this site's offerings and can be downloaded for a free fifteen-day trial.
This Website lists hundreds of audio games with information about where they can be purchased or downloaded. Categories include traditional games, strategy games, puzzle games, word games, card games, action games, and more.
MORE ONLINE RESOURCES
IPL2, created through the merger of the Internet Public Library and the Librarians' Internet Index, is a vastly comprehensive Website with links to myriad online resources. The "General Collections" page contains links to online material in fields that range from accounting to women's studies. "Kids' Space" is a highly browsable section where kids are drawn to wander from link to link as curiosity leads them - from "Animals" to "Birds and Bats" to "Building Nesting Boxes" and beyond. "Teen Space" includes resources on sports, health, handling money, clubs and organizations, technology, writing term papers, and much more.
World Book Online
Back in 1959 the World Book Encyclopedia was produced in hardcopy Braille for the first and only time. The encyclopedia filled 145 Braille volumes and sprawled across forty-three feet of shelf space. Thanks to the digital revolution, World Book is once again available to blind students, this time in an online format that can easily be used with a screen reader such as JAWS. In addition to thousands of articles, the site includes links to ebooks, online magazines, videos, and podcasts. Fun quizzes and other activities encourage kids to test their knowledge and launch into the realm of research.