Future Reflections         Winter 2010

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The 2009 Jacob Bolotin Awards

presented by Gary Wunder

Gary Wunder, who chairs the Jacob Bolotin Awards Committee, stands at the podium to introduce the 2009 award winners.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.

Dr. Marc Maurer admires a birdhouse presented as a gift from Camp T director Sharon Burton and woodworking counselor George Wurtzel.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.

NOPBC President Carol Castellano and former president Barbara Cheadle hold the Bolotin Award trophy.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 of National Braille Press, wearing a Louis Braille lapel pin, expresses her appreciation for her award.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.

Ruth Bogia of the Princeton Braillists delights the audience as she accepts her Bolotin Award.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.

Abraham Nemeth, inventor of the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, accepts his award and remembers all the people who have helped and encouraged him.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.

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