by Barbara Pierce
The 2001 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind was filled with all sorts of surprises. Perhaps we should have expected that last fall when the Detroit Marriott proved unable to meet its contractual obligations for hosting the event and President Maurer was forced to find an alternate facility at more or less the last minute. With the benefit of hindsight we can now say that the shift to the Philadelphia Marriott could not have been better. This hotel was in a wonderful location, enabling Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland to send large delegations. The facility was ideal for our convention: easy access to all the meeting rooms, fine food on-site, lots of beautiful sleeping rooms in the hotel and nearby, and a remarkable range of food and shopping choices available by skywalk to the mall and Reading Terminal Market.
The Pennsylvania affiliate rose superbly to the occasion of hosting a national convention with only a few months' notice. Jim Antonacci, President of the NFB of Pennsylvania, and his members were warm and friendly hosts. The Pennsylvanians were grieved and we were all deeply saddened when, on Friday morning, June 29, Ted Young, the longtime leader of the NFB of Pennsylvania, died following a long struggle with lung cancer. Ted had hoped to attend this convention, and he had done what he could to help plan it. His final contribution was arranging for tickets to a Phillies baseball game on June 30. The seats were splendid, and the group thoroughly enjoyed the game, as Ted would have wanted them to.
More than 3000 Federationists began pouring into Philadelphia on Friday, June 29, even though the official pre-convention activities did not begin till Sunday, July 1. Only after President Maurer actually arrived on Thursday did we discover that the hotel had double-booked our suites, and we were forced to notify people as they arrived that the listings in the pre-convention and convention agendas were incorrect. This might have been a problem, and it certainly presented a challenge, but everyone took note of the changes and passed the word along to others so that in the end very little confusion occurred. One of the many small services the 130 cheerful and helpful volunteers from UPS performed was to spread the word of these changes to new arrivals.
By Sunday morning, July 1, well over a thousand people had checked into the hotel, and more were arriving every hour. The first large-scale set of activities are those sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This year over a hundred families registered for activities, and many more took part without being counted. During registration and family welcome, blind kids had fun with an ice-breaker in which names of historic blind people written in print and Braille were pinned to their backs, and their job was to discover who they were by asking questions of others in the room. Meantime parents were registering for various activities, and everyone was enjoying a light breakfast. Just before the group broke up to go to various specialized activities, Barbara Cheadle, President of the parents division, and Sheila Koenig, a blind teacher, led a discussion among the kids, and the whole group listened to a panel presentation by blind kids about what freedom meant to them.
Parents then took kids to meet their Braille buddies for the Braille Carnival. Interested blind teens went to discussion groups for young men and young women, and parents regathered for the parents seminar, "Let Freedom Ring."
Eileen Kelly, Joe Portillo, Ryan Osentowski, and Timothy Kelly are seated at a Braille carnival table with a Brailler.
The Braille Carnival this year included a room with quieter activities as well as the active games and Braille fun we have come to expect. Thirty-six kids pre-registered for the fun, but lots more came to enjoy face painting, Braille Twister, coloring, and following Braille mazes. Each year the Carnival gets better thanks to Melody Lindsey and her staff. Sheila Koenig's crew of volunteer Braille buddies also added a good deal of security and inspiration to the mix of learning and fun.
The afternoon workshops for parents proved to be extremely popular. They were "Make Your Own Tactile Storybook," "Words and Wheels," "What Do You Do When...?," "From Helpless to Helper," and "Living in a Visual World."
Amanda Jones (TN) and Renee Neddo (MI) sign up for scavenger hunt with Brad Weatherd (MT)
Family Fun Night is always a hit because it gives parents and kids a chance to get to know others from across the country who are dealing with the same sorts of challenges as face their families. The scavenger hunts for older kids and teens were particularly popular. Forty-one kids from nine to twelve took part in one, and thirty teens scoured the hotel in the other. Teens of all ages flocked to the Monday-afternoon drop-in room sponsored by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) and the teen-hospitality room, where they could gather at various times later in the week to hang out with other kids.
Kids play a circle game at NFB Camp.
A word here should be said about NFB Camp, the childcare component of NFB conventions, which is run by Board member and Montessori-school owner and operator Carla McQuillan and her dedicated staff. Our space was limited this year, so NFB Camp enrollment had to be cut off at seventy-seven, and even that was a bit much for the size of the rooms we had. This year a number of small groups of kids and blind and sighted chaperones throughout the week took excursions to points of interest around the city. The program continues to give blind teens the chance to work with children under supervision, and blind adults continue to come in from time to time to work with the children. All in all, it is a wonderful program and a great opportunity for blind and sighted kids to play together.
The Sunday-afternoon annual Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) seminar sponsored by the JOB Targeted Jobs Initiative Program provided three hours of interest-packed discussion about getting and keeping jobs that matter. Independent blind businesspeople, valued employees, and dedicated employers extolled the virtues of working hard, dreaming big, and preparing carefully. The seminar will be available later on cassette tape and is well worth purchasing from the JOB Program office at the National Center for the Blind.
The National Association of Blind Entrepreneurs conducted an all-day seminar on Sunday. It was titled "Step Right Up," and over fifty attendees learned helpful hints and useful perspectives for independent business owners.
Lots of other seminars, workshops, committee meetings, and forums took place on Sunday. These included a seminar for blind musicians; a forum on the Unified Braille Code led by Braille Authority of North America President Eileen Curran; discussion about the coming NEWSLINEŽ for the Blind national service; NFBNet and Internet seminars; capital campaign discussion and training; and meetings for ham radio enthusiasts, office professionals, and guide dog users.
By that evening everyone was ready for some fun, so the Pennsylvania affiliate hosted a dance that had all on their feet or at least tapping their toes. BLIND, Inc., and the Minnesota Association of Blind Students jointly sponsored a Karaoke night again this year, and it drew crowds of those who like performing and those who would rather watch their friends do so.
Bright and early Monday morning scores of volunteers met for last-minute instruction and then deployed to staff the exhibit hall and the all-day registration process, which saw well over 2,000 convention attendees pass through the remarkably efficient registration process. Ninety-five exhibitors, thirty-two from within the Federation and sixty-three from other groups, provided displays. Thirteen of these were new exhibitors. All manner of amazing information and technology was available for hands-on exploration, including a talking automatic teller machine in the Diebold booth and another talking ATM, complete with money, provided by Bank of America.
Again this year the Safari Club International provided and staffed a Sensory Safari for the enjoyment and education of blind children and adults. It was open Monday and Tuesday, and hundreds of Federationists took advantage of the opportunity to examine wild animals with the expert assistance of knowledgeable guides.
Also Monday morning Joe Cutter and Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center O & M master's degree students made themselves available to blind children, youth, and their parents to work on cane-travel skills. All morning long kids using canes worked on escalator, elevator, and crowd techniques with alert, patient teachers supervising and quietly telling the rest of us not to step back and wait. "We're just working on. . . , and we need to practice with crowds around us." What a wonderful experience for the kids, and what an inspiration to the rest of us!
During the afternoon the Resolutions Committee considered twenty resolutions, seventeen of which were later acted upon by the Convention. The texts of the resolutions passed by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
Following the Resolutions Committee meeting was this year's mock trial, presented by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. This was the fourth year for this event, and it is becoming one of the fixtures of registration day. The case examined this time was the ValleyFair Amusement Park suit. Park officials actually settled the case, yielding on every significant point, before the case came to trial, so this was an enactment of the proceeding that might have taken place if the case had gone to trial. As usual the judge hearing the case was the Honorable Charlie Brown, and the court bailiff was Peggy Elliott. Also taking part were the defense legal team of Guy Badd (Ray Wayne) and D. Fender (Bennett Prows). The plaintiff's team of attorneys was Hugh Manright (Scott LaBarre) and C. Justice Done (Anthony Thomas). Testifying for the defense were Ginger Wheels (Marie Kouthoofd), Senior Executive Vice President of ValleyFair, J. Rider (Dan Frye), and the safety-conscious park manager (Steve Benson). Testifying for the plaintiff were Curtis Chong playing himself, Scott LaBarre (Doug Elliott), and Ms. I. B. Righteous (Diane McGeorge).
The audience thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, but it is doubtful whether they could have had as much fun watching as the cast did improvising their lines and developing their characters. This is probably the most painless way of learning something about Federation history and the hard-won rights we have achieved for blind people. Those who would like to learn more about the actual ValleyFair case should consult the March 1991 and May 1994 issues of the Braille Monitor.
The remainder of Monday and Tuesday afternoon and evening offered ample opportunity for intellectual stimulation and frustration since it was physically impossible to attend every gathering that looked interesting. The student division seminar always takes place on the evening of registration day, and it's a place where you can count on inspiring presentations, unbridled energy, and a full house. But musicians, seniors, and deaf-blind people were also holding division meetings at the same time. In addition six committees took the opportunity to conduct their convention business.
If anything, Tuesday afternoon and evening were more of a problem. Fourteen divisions, two interest groups, and two committees met during the afternoon. That evening three more divisions, three committees, one interest group, and one seminar also convened meetings.
In addition Jerry Whittle's moving musical play and tribute to the indomitable spirit of the National Federation of the Blind and its leaders, In Everything That Matters, was performed twice by the Louisiana Center Players.
The first official session of the convention each year is the public meeting of the Board of Directors, which took place this year on Tuesday morning, July 3. President Maurer began by announcing Ted Young's death the previous Friday. Everyone rose for a moment of silence in recollection of all those who are no longer among us. Following the pledge to the flag and recital of the NFB pledge, Dr. Maurer reviewed the board positions up for election this year. He had already made the joyful announcement that Joanne Wilson had just been named as the Commissioner Designate of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. (Her appointment was actually confirmed by the Senate on July 19.)
Joanne sought the floor and said:
Fourteen years ago I had the greatest honor of my life when I was elected to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind. Today I have to do one of the hardest things I have ever done, that is, to submit my resignation to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind. Tennyson once wrote, "I am a part of all that I have met."
One of my earliest memories is of when I was five years old. I was sitting on the kindergarten floor. The nurse came in and was doing eye tests with all of us children. She raised her fingers and asked, "How many fingers am I holding up?" I couldn't tell. I felt embarrassed. I looked around to see what the kids next to me were doing. I was ashamed; I knew that I was not in the mainstream of things.
"I am a part of all that I have met." I struggled for the next fourteen years, trying to understand what it was like to be blind. I didn't know any other blind people, and it was a struggle. I was alone, and I didn't know what to do.
Fourteen years later my parents and I were sitting in an office, and once again I was given the finger test. Dr. Jernigan raised his hand and said, "Joanne, can you see how many fingers I am holding up?"
All those five-year-old memories came back, and again I felt embarrassed and ashamed, trying to hide the fact that I couldn't see. He started me on a journey. He said, "Joanne, you are blind, but it is respectable to be blind." I soon became a student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and I learned that I had choices. Then I became a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and the Federation taught me that as an NFB member I had the power to make those choices stick. I know what it is like to be free, and I want to give that opportunity to other blind people.
In a few weeks I will be raising my hand in a swearing-in ceremony to become the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. It is not just my hand that will be raised; it will be all of your hands as well. My hand will be raised in that ceremony because of all of the work that you have done and because of the work of the thousands of blind people that have gone before us.
I will no longer serve on the Board of the National Federation of the Blind, but I will continue to serve blind people. "I am a part of all that I have met."
Tonight there is going to be a play that will be a tribute to the Federation and to our Federation leaders: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. The name of the play comes from a quote from Dr. Jernigan. It also expresses the way I feel today. The title is, In Everything That Matters We Are One. Thank you for the honor of serving you for the past fourteen years.[prolonged applause]
When the room had settled down again, President Maurer called on Waynes Davis, Board Member from Florida. Wayne then said: [sound bite 2] Following you, Joanne, is sort of like following the Beatles. President Maurer, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve on the Board the last six years. We have some situations in Florida in which we are trying to raise funds, and we have some major legislative issues that I think are going to keep me in the state during the next year or two. So I respectfully wish to withdraw my name from nomination. It's been a real honor to have served. I have learned a lot, and whoever sits in this chair has a great experience coming to him. As always, Carmen and I are team players. We love you and Mrs. Jernigan, the entire Federation, and the memory of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Thank you.
President Maurer then spent a few minutes reviewing the convention agenda from the 1963 convention, which was the last time we were in Philadelphia. Convention registration was $1, and the banquet cost $4.50. Convention tours cost $1, and commercially provided ones ranged in cost from $1.50 to $6.
Mrs. Jernigan next came to the podium to make several announcements. She mentioned that those interested in helping on the work crews of convention volunteers should let her know that fact before January. Be sure to mention if you read Braille, are an accurate and rapid typist, have a loud voice, or have other such useful skills.
President Maurer announced that Erik Weihenmayer's book Touch the Top of the World, his autobiography up to his Everest climb, was for sale at the convention for $20. We have prepared a special cassette recording of the book with an introduction by Erik, a letter from Dr. Maurer, and the text of the entire book. This recording would be given to each purchaser of a print book. The book is still available from the NFB Materials Center. The cost of either edition is $20, but purchasers of the print version will be given the cassette edition as well. To order, contact the Materials Center at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, fax: (410) 685-5653, or e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The cassette edition will be sent Free Matter, but add $3 to cover the cost of handling if you are ordering the print.
During the session Steve Benson presented the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Edwin Vaughan of Missouri. Sharon Maneki introduced the 2001 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children to the Board meeting. This year's recipient was our own Denise Mackenstadt of Washington, who is the first paraprofessional to be so honored. The final award presentation of the morning was the NFB's Distinguished Service Award, which Bruce Gardner presented to our convention volunteer nurse, Linda Hindmarch. All three presentations appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
Ron Gardner, President of the NFB of Utah, challenged everyone from other states to make gifts or pledges to the capital campaign as soon as possible and certainly before the close of the opening-day session. He announced that Utah was prepared to make an additional gift to the campaign of up to $50,000 to match gifts or pledges from other members or Federation groups of up to that amount. This matching gift certainly spurred activity at the capital campaign table and in the Jernigan suite.
Following the introduction of this year's scholarship class, Peggy Elliott moved that a scholarship program of the same number and amounts of scholarships be conducted in 2002. The motion was seconded and carried unanimously.
Those who chair the NFB's fund-raising committees made reports about Shares Unlimited in NFB (SUN), the Pre-authorized Check (PAC) Plan, the Jacobus tenBroek Fund, and the Jernigan Fund. Allen Harris, chairman of the Jernigan Fund committee, announced that with part of the interest from this fund the committee was able to bring twenty-one people from seventeen states to the convention, most for the first time.
Perhaps the highpoint of the morning was the presentation of certificates to candidates who had met standards of excellence by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB). Jim Gashel is the president of this new, independent board, and he made the presentations. Those receiving certificates at the convention were all people who have met performance-based standards in the orientation and mobility field. With the support of the Rehabilitation Services Administration a program was established at Louisiana Tech University several years ago, which teaches blind and sighted people the methods blind people use to teach travel. Until now there has been no body to certify the credentials of professionals who use these methods. The NBPCB now does so.
The first certificate was presented to Dr. Fred Schroeder, who in 1981 was the first blind person to complete an O & M program and was denied certification because he was blind. After Jim Gashel presented the certificate, this is what Dr. Schroeder said:
Thank you very much. I cannot begin to express how much this means to me. When I went into the orientation and mobility field as a young man and faced the discrimination that all of us in one way or another have faced, I have to tell you that it was very tough on me. It was the support of all of you and of all the others who came before us that gave me the courage to stand up and do what was right. I was not denied certification solely; we were all denied certification. We were denied opportunity based on myth and misconception about blindness. This certification that I hold in my hand today certainly means more to me than the legitimizing of my right and ability to teach travel that could ever have come from some professional organization. I thank you deeply and sincerely.
Dr. Maurer then interrupted the proceedings with the following:
I cannot let this opportunity pass me by. The time that the denial of the certification was made, serving as a lawyer, I attended a meeting at which Dr. Schroeder appealed that denial. I went to a convention where the meeting was to take place. Dr. Schroeder and I were meeting with this one and that one as we ran across them in the hotel. I said to him, "Would you like to go swimming?"
"He said, "No, but I'll go down there and watch you." So we did; we went down to the pool, and I got into the water. Several people asked me who I was. I told them, and one by one they got out of the pool, and pretty soon I was alone. Somehow they didn't seem as friendly when they found out who was in their midst. Dr. Schroeder and I have laughed about that since. It didn't seem like the right way to react to us. But we get it done in the final analysis.
Dr. Schroeder was invited to present the certificates to the seventeen other instructors in and graduates of the Louisiana Tech/Louisiana Center Program and other O & M instructors who qualified to receive certificates. They were Roland E. Allen, O & M Instructor in Louisiana Tech Graduate program; Douglas C. Boone, O & M Instructor in Louisiana Tech Graduate program; Ronald Brown, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Roxann M. Buller, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Ronald R. Burzese, passed O & M exam; Priscilla P. Ching, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Edward Culp, passed O&M exam; Arlene Hill, passed O&M exam, Richard F. James, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Jane E. Lansaw, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Nicholas R. Schmittroth, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Summara Shakeel, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Michael A. St.Julien, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Patrick J. Thibodeaux, Louisiana Tech program graduate; Emily A. Wharton, passed O&M exam; Gerald L. White, Louisiana Tech program graduate; and Harold Wilson, passed O&M exam.
En-Vision America is a company that makes a product called ScripTalk, an audible prescription identifier. Its president, Philip Raistrick, explained to the audience that it uses radio frequency identification (RFID). A participating pharmacist has an RFID printer, which prints special labels with a microchip imbedded in the paper. When one of these special labels is printed and afixed to a bottle, the user can hold it close to a small, hand-held device, which transfers the information in the microchip to radio waves, and can then read it by listening to a clear, digitized voice.
Luchy Jones of Wall Street Institute, a division of Sylvan Learning Systems, next invited interested Federationists to sign up to be matched with international e-friends, first from Spain and then from other countries. Consult the June issue of the Braille Monitor or the NFB Web site for more information.
Scott LaBarre, President of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, then introduced Dan Sutherland, who has been with the Department of Justice and is now an advisor to the President on disability policy. Mr. Sutherland explained that he was at the convention to address the lawyers during the afternoon and to report to them on the Administration's New Freedom Initiative, which will extend the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The final business of the morning was the report of the Associates Program Committee. Probably because of the capital campaign, Associates activity has been down recently. A new turquoise ribbon was introduced this year, and its only recipient was J. Webster Smith of Ohio with 145 Associates. Art Schreiber of New Mexico won both gold ribbons, one for the most Associates, 339, and the other for the largest amount of money raised, $3,534. Dr. Jernigan was the only other person to have earned both gold ribbons during the same contest year. The Board voted to conduct an Associates program and contest again next year. At the completion of this business Dr. Maurer adjourned the meeting.
It is safe to say that the opening general session of the 2001 convention was an absolutely unique event in Federation history. It took place on the morning of the Fourth of July, so the hotel had only a skeleton staff on hand to deal with unusual problems. The day before, when the meeting of the Board of Directors took place in the ballroom complex, we had used only half the available space, but for the opening session we clearly needed the entire ballroom. On Tuesday evening the hotel engineering crew assured Mr. Gildner, who records our conventions, that they had set all the switches properly so that the public address system could be heard in the full room. But, when President Maurer gaveled the convention to order at 9:45 a.m., on Wednesday, July 4, it gradually became clear that he could be heard in only half the room. None of the hotel staff present knew much about the workings of the sound system, and they were at first convinced that the problem must be somewhere in our equipment.
The mummers' band that paraded through a sea of delegates on opening day
President Maurer attempted to carry on with the agenda even though it was nearly impossible for the audience to hear even the names of those who had won door prizes. Jim Antonacci, President of the NFB of Pennsylvania, welcomed the group and a mummers band, which is composed of costumed musicians playing only stringed and reed instruments, paraded around the hall playing "I'm Looking over a Four-Leaf Clover."
With a crowd as large as ours it turned out to be impossible to conduct the program with no amplification in half the room, so reluctantly President Maurer recessed the session at about 10:45 a.m. and announced that we would reconvene at 1:00 p.m. sharp and conduct the entire day's agenda beginning then.
Happily, by the time we gathered again, an engineer who knew his way around the hotel sound system had been called to come in. He walked in and flipped the switch that had not been set correctly the evening before, and presto, we had sound. The roll call of states was conducted in record time, and for the first time in memory, the roll was called in reverse order. Here are a few of the brief announcements that presidents made during their reports. The Pennsylvania convention will take place this fall November 9, 10, and 11 in Wilkes Barre, where the NFB was born on November 16, 1940 at the Jenetti Hotel, now part of the Best Western chain. During the convention a bronze plaque will be mounted on the Hotel commemorating that historic event. The text of the plaque appears in both print and Braille.
When Louisiana was called, Joanne Wilson told the convention that, when she asked whom she should thank for her nomination as RSA Commissioner, the Bush administration representative replied, "You had broad-based, bipartisan support," which she recognized to mean that the NFB had worked long and hard to garner support for her nomination. Cathy Jackson presented Kentucky's check to the capital campaign for $25,000, which went a long way itself to meeting the Utah pledge.
As soon as the roll call was complete, the Hon. Bob Borski, Representative from the third Congressional district of Pennsylvania, spoke to the convention on the subject, "The Blind Are Heard in Congress." Before he began, President Maurer made sure he understood that he had come to address the organized blind and that we come to Capitol Hill to speak for ourselves and are interested in establishing our own relationships with Members of Congress. Mr. Borski reviewed recent Congressional activity and expressed interest in working with blind people in the future.
Only a little later than usual on opening day, Dr. Maurer delivered his 2001 Presidential Report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue. It has clearly been an exciting and productive year for the National Federation of the Blind, and the future is bright with promise and filled with challenge for all of us.
Addressing the convention immediately after Dr. Maurer's Presidential Report is not easy. The task this year fell to Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her title was "Enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act on Behalf of the Blind in Employment." She reviewed recent EEOC successes and some court cases that have made employment progress more difficult for blind and other disabled people. She also pledged the EEOC's continued commitment to do everything in its power to protect the rights of blind people to get employment opportunities and to succeed in the jobs they have. Ms. Castro was full of passion and found a responsive audience.
Richard Scribner, President and CEO of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic next delivered his "Report from RFB&D." He began by making a pledge of an additional gift of $40,000, which with the $10,000 gift of last February brings the RFB&D support of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind to $50,000. He then described RFB&D's central role in the negotiations to keep print-disabled readers in the electronic-book audience. It is working hard to protect the rights of publishers and writers while making sure that blind people can get digital books as soon as possible, played on equipment which is sturdy and affordable. By late 2002 RFB&D's Learning through Listening collection of 3,500 titles will be generally available to students. These will be either audio-plus or audio-plus-text books. He assured us that those who will continue to need analog recordings will be able to get them for as long as possible. The rapport that has been developed between the NFB and RFB&D over the past few years is a vital and nourishing force for progress in our field.
The next agenda item was the "Hard Hat Report." This was the progress report on the capital campaign to construct the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The first speaker was Mary Ellen Jernigan, Director of Operations at the National Center for the Blind. She called attention to her new hat--she always wears a new hat to the convention--but this year Dr. Maurer was so impressed with her hat that he arranged for everyone present that afternoon (who dared to take one) to join her in her sartorial choice. Hers was a hard hat with the words emblazoned on it, "Let's Build It Now." She warned people not to accept a hat unless they were prepared to work hard to finish soliciting the funds to build the Institute and then to search for the funds to staff it and fund the programming that will put it on the map.
Ramona Walhof, Secretary of the NFB and an active leader in identifying and recruiting campaign gifts, recounted the times in her own life in which the Federation had challenged her to stretch beyond her abilities and demonstrate what she and the NFB could do when challenged. This moment, she said, is such a time for all of us.
Wayne Wilhelm, President of Wilhelm Commercial Builders, described what the Institute will look like when it is completed and promised to do what was necessary to see that the construction goes efficiently.
Following these presentations, President Maurer took a few minutes to accept pledges from groups and individuals interested in supporting the capital campaign. When the dust had settled, we had raised another $163,300 that afternoon.
The final item on the afternoon agenda was a brief statement by President Maurer about the recent attacks on the NFB by the American Council of the Blind. The text of this statement appears elsewhere in this issue.
Wednesday may have been the Fourth-of-July holiday everywhere else, but at the NFB convention it was just one more twenty-four-hour period to fill as full as possible. By the time the extended afternoon session recessed, we were already running a bit late for the evening's offerings: a seminar for prospective guide dog users, a meeting of the fairly new National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals, a discussion of etiquette issues of particular interest to blind people, a drop-in IEP workshop for parents, the tenBroek Fund Auction with Curtis Chong making his debut as auctioneer, and the National Association of Blind Musicians' Showcase of Talent. Twenty-seven acts took part this year, and as usual everyone enjoyed the program.
Mary Jo Wells and her son Adam and Macy and Madison McClain, all from Ohio, dance up a storm.
The Pennsylvanians were determined, however, that no one should find it easy to engage in nothing but work. They threw another party: "Funk, Freedom, and Fireworks," with the Philadelphia Funk Authority providing music indoors, the city offering fireworks outside, and free beer. We always recognized that the Pennsylvanians knew how to party, and they made sure that everyone else had a chance to join the fun.
The partying went late, but at 8:45 exactly Thursday morning general session began with the annual election. Those whose positions were not open this year were President, Marc Maurer (Maryland); First Vice President, Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota); Second Vice President, PeggyElliott (Iowa); Secretary, Ramona Walhof (Idaho); Treasurer, Allen Harris (New York); and Board members Steve Benson (Illinois), Charlie Brown (Virginia), Sam Gleese (Mississippi), Diane McGeorge (Colorado), Carla McQuillan (Oregon), and Gary Wunder (Missouri). Elected to two-year terms were Don Capps (South Carolina), Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), Priscilla Ferris (Massachusetts), Bruce Gardner (Arizona), Noel Nightingale (Washington), and Ron Brown (Indiana).
Elected for the first time on the Board was Joe Ruffalo, President of the NFB of New Jersey. After the votes had been cast for him by acclamation, this is what Joe said:
Dr. Maurer, members of the Board, Nominating Committee, my brothers and sisters in the Federation: I come to you today with a tear in my eye, joy in my heart, and a quiver in my voice. To be considered for this position is a dream. Dr. Jernigan talked about dreams. Thirteen years ago I joined the Federation, not because I wanted to. I was called six times to go to a meeting, and six times I found excuses not to attend. Jerilyn Higgens's persistence got me to a meeting. All I knew about the Federation was that they were a militant, radical group [laughter], which is not true. I envisioned blind people in the downtown area of Newark stationed at the hotel doors armed with machine guns and assault rifles. The weapons they had were wisdom and truth about blindness.
I entered that room determined not to join. Ten minutes into the meeting they played a tape, a Presidential message from Marc Maurer, "Greetings, fellow Federationists." I sat and listened to that presidential message. In that message were accomplishments I thought I could never achieve or even attempt. At that meeting people were moving about the room safely, getting their own coffee and tea. I sat there and said, "I need this organization; I need the mentoring of these people." I pledged that day to get involved. Everyone in this room must get involved.
That was 1988. In 1998 I graduated with a certificate in massage therapy and was hired by our local hospital, First Occupational Center of New Jersey, as an independent contractor. The grand opening of the massage therapeutic center was going to be in October. A lot of plans went into it. There was to be a ribbon-cutting with some dignitaries coming from the hospital. And don't you know it, the day of the ceremony was the day the service held for Dr. Jernigan was to be held in Baltimore. What was I to do? I called Dr. Maurer and told him that I was going to try to cancel the grand opening, which was then two days away--it had taken three months to arrange. He said these words to me; "Dr. Jernigan would want you there at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Be there."
As the hospital administrators would have it--they were about an hour late (they don't know NFB time)--the ceremony pretty much coincided with the time of the service that was going on in Baltimore. As I was cutting the ribbon, I felt Dr. Jernigan's presence on my hand. I felt him in the room, smiling, saying to me, "You have made it, which means that we have all made it."
It's a privilege and honor to be standing before you in the City of Philadelphia, where our forefathers yelled the word "independence," which is what we yell in New Jersey with the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We have a partnership--Independence: Believe and Achieve. Let freedom ring! The freedom I am talking about is Feeling Respectable with Enthusiasm, Energy, Determination, and Opportunity for the Movement--Freedom: Let freedom ring! Thank you.
When Ron Brown was elected, he said:
Mr. President, I feel like the new kid on the block. It's great! Mr. President, fellow Federationists, at seventeen years old I lost my sight; at eighteen years old I found the National Federation of the Blind. How fortunate for me.
Mr. President, I accept this honor humbly; I take my responsibility seriously.
After the election The first presenter of the day was an old friend, Frank Kurt Cylke, Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress. In introducing him, Dr. Maurer called attention to a fascinating new book compiled by NLS called Braille into the Next Millennium, to which a number of Federationists and friends of the NFB have contributed. Mr. Cylke's title was "We're Almost There." The there in question is the transition to the new digital Talking Book machine, which will probably use flash-memory technology--in other words, no moving parts. In another seven years we should have players and a significant number of books to read with the players using this new technology. NLS will gather digital versions of 2,000 books a year from now till the transition date and will be converting about 1,000 already-existing books to add to this new collection.
Richard Chandler, Chairman and President of Freedom Scientific, Inc., was the next speaker. His title was "The Future of Technology to Enhance Opportunities for the Blind." Mr. Chandler began by outlining what he sees as the areas for enhanced access technology in the coming five years. He sees suites of software programs being bundled together in notetakers that will increasingly provide seamless interface between these and our PC computers. He thinks that lower costs are on the way. He also hopes that we will have a universal remote control for all household equipment within a few years. Accomplishing this will take coordinated work on the part of all the groups and manufacturers involved.
He also reiterated Freedom Scientific's absolute dedication to working with and supporting the programs of disabled people. The company has improved its response and repair time and is working to increase its capacity to enable potential buyers to try using its products without having to travel long distances. Freedom Scientific has just announced a scholarship program for fifty students worth $101,000. The National Federation of the Blind will be one of the groups administering the program. The company will continue to listen to, hire, and support blind people and their programs.
Next Andrew Freeman, an attorney with our law firm of Brown, Goldstein, and Levy, described the NFB and vendors' victory last April in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in which military mess halls were confirmed as falling under the priority established by the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
Perhaps the most surprising item on the entire convention agenda came next. The title was "The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC): Thirty Years Later and a New Executive Director." The presenters were Steve Hegedeos, NAC Executive Director, and Steve Obremski, President of the NAC board. The presentation they made demonstrated that some things have changed at NAC and some have not. In the end President Maurer said that a committee consisting of himself, Peggy Elliott, and Jim Gashel would meet soon with a group of three from NAC to determine whether we can find any common ground for discussion.
Kris Cox, Assistant Director for Governmental Affairs, introduced a panel of speakers discussing our efforts to insure that new voting-machine technology can be used independently by people who cannot read print. Mrs. Cox pointed out that no existing federal legislation guarantees access to voting machines. She is fairly optimistic that any laws passed by Congress will give us protection, but she urged everyone to work energetically with state governments as well to be certain that individual legislatures do not pass laws that will lock us out.
The other members of the panel were Deborah Phillips, President of the Voting Integrity Project, and Thad Hall, Director of Programs for the Century Foundation and a member of the staff of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. Ms. Phillips warned that reforms have a way of bringing unexpected consequences. The real protection for us as we work to be included in voting reform is to keep election officials and state and federal legislators mindful of what we want as the process unfolds.
Mr. Hall is currently working with the Commission chaired by Presidents Ford and Carter to recommend federal election reform. The technology is available to make voting machines accessible to blind and other disabled people as well as those with language barriers. He commented that the NFB has been a forceful voice in testifying before the Commission; in fact, the consensus on the Commission was that Jim Gashel had been the single most effective voice during the hearings that have been held. He is hopeful that federal legislation will protect blind voters, but reform will not come overnight; it will take time, and we must remain vigilant.
The final speaker of the morning was an old friend. J. Kenneth McGill has been coming to NFB conventions since 1984. He is now Associate Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Office of Employment Support Programs. He reviewed the efforts his office is making to assist people in the Ticket-to-Work and Workforce-Development programs. He clearly understands the importance of guiding disabled people to take responsibility for their own decisions and to give them the assistance that can enable them to do their jobs right.
Thursday afternoon a number of Federationists took the opportunity to enjoy the greater Philadelphia area with various tour groups. But lots of people stayed right at the hotel to take advantage of a wonderful array of special opportunities. Of course one could learn more about NEWSLINEŽ or the capital campaign. The Job Opportunities for the Blind 2001 Job Fair brought together almost 200 blind job-seekers with representatives from thirteen companies actively looking for employees. Parents could sign themselves and their kids up to work with a technology-savvy blind adult in the exhibit hall or ask questions about Braille and label games in Braille or drop in to talk with the experts about cane travel. Recipients and advocates had the chance to talk with other experts about their Social Security problems.
Later some people enjoyed a Descriptive Video film while others attended a National Association of Blind Merchants reception. The Deaf-Blind Division met, as did the Research and Development Committee. Those interested in learning more about the Colorado Center for the Blind had a chance to meet the staff and students and become acquainted with the program. And when all that concluded, the students were still going strong at Monte Carlo Night with cards and games for everyone.
Following what was for some an all too brief night of sleep, the Friday morning session of the convention was gaveled to order at 9:00 a.m. We discovered that a bit of cattle rustling had taken place over night. At the beginning of the convention Wisconsin had hung an inflatable Holstein cow from its state flag, but in the dark of the night the cow had moved to Texas and was adorning that flag instead. In short order, however, Wisconsin cowboys had conducted a raid and reclaimed their property, which stayed put after that.
The first item of business for the morning was titled "The Federation in the World: A Perspective from Twelve Years of International Service." The first speaker was Dr. Euclid Herie, former president and treasurer of the World Blind Union and president of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Dr. Herie called attention to the ongoing struggle to protect the Free-Matter priority around the world. Already nine countries have opted out of it and others may. He also said that the World Blind Union is working to have January 4 declared Braille Literacy Day. He then introduced Terry Kelly, a professional singer/song-writer who has written a song capturing the themes that Dr. Herie has been preaching for years. Terry came to the microphone and performed the song. The lyrics follow; unfortunately, only the readers of the cassette edition will be able to enjoy the performance, which was very powerful and drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.
Terry Kelly holds his guitar and prepares to sing a song he composed.
The Power of the Dream
by Terry Kelly
Copyright, Terry Kelly; reprinted with permission.
1.Look, see there, movement,
Hear 150 million tongues, one clear voice!
From the land down under
A song, the sound of thunder
Singing the dream to opening ears
All over the world!
There's a buzz in the air,
And the people from far and near
Have made a choice; the choice is clear!
Changing what it means to be blind
Step by step, one day at a time,
Still much to do, but it shall be
That the sighted eyes of the world
Will be able to see,
And there will be changes.
The power of the dream,
Due diligence by you and me
Changing what it means to be blind.
2.Women of every nation
Are rising to the occasion
To change humankind, by movement and mind
We shall be as one.
And what of youth and children?
Empowerment is their freedom
And we must convey by example so they
Can say, "No big deal; I'm blind."
And the eyes of the earth
Will acknowledge the person first
Through our vision, by knowing our worth!
3.Many drops of rain grow forests
And bring big mountains down.
Hands across all borders, boundaries, and nations
Take walls down.
Lift the veils, unfurl the sails,
New journeys will abound.
No one but ourselves can stop us now!
Changing what it means to be blind.
Look, see there, movement
The second speaker was Monthien Buntan, first vice president of the Thailand Association of the Blind. Mr. Buntan reviewed the employment and education situation of the blind in Thailand, which is bleak. Ninety percent of blind people are illiterate, and not many work. Selling lottery tickets is the most frequently held job. When the government tried to impose a policy of replacing these people with machines, the Association went to the barricades and was able to protect the jobs. Mr. Buntan is a fiery speaker and a passionate believer in the right of blind people everywhere to an education and a chance to hold a good job. It was a joy to have him with us.
As the final part of this international segment of the agenda, President Maurer appointed Dr. Fred Schroeder as NFB Research Ambassador to the Blind of the World. He will work to encourage research on blindness that is initiated, planned, and often conducted by blind people. As he said to the convention, if research in this field is to benefit blind people, blind people around the world must organize. That activity is what he hopes he will be able to stimulate as a result of this appointment.
Russell Smith, Managing Director of Pulse Data International, Ltd., was the next speaker. His title was "A New Personal Data Assistant for the Blind." He began by briefly listing the companies in the Pulse Data International family, once again including HumanWare. He then reviewed an impressive list of products that the company has developed over the past twenty-five years. The most successful of these has certainly been the BrailleNote, which has been out a year now, and production has doubled every three months. This notetaker interfaces easily with the Windows operating system.
Introduced at our convention was a version of the notetaker with a refreshable Braille display but a typewriter keyboard. Spanish/ English and French/English versions will be available soon, and the company is working on other-language versions. Mr. Smith assured the audience that his group recognizes the importance of listening to users and solving the problems that they identify in ways they find useful.
NFB of Idaho President Larry Streeter then delivered remarks titled "Dispute Resolution: One Profession for the Blind." Larry is Dispute resolution Coordinator for the Bureau of Special Education of the Idaho Department of Education. He tries to settle disputes between school districts and parents of disabled students before they must resort to formal proceedings. He has headed a task-force working to improve the skills of teachers working with disabled and blind students. Recently he was instrumental in getting a grant for educational training for teachers in a five-state area. Idaho has already filled the first year's classes.
Larry concluded by thanking the Federation for the understanding he has acquired about blindness and for the love of a family that is supportive in good times and bad. He called on his audience to stand firm for the right and be prepared to do what it takes to set blind people free.
"Accessible Machines for Commerce: First the Bank Machine" was the title of remarks by Walden O'Dell, Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Diebold, Incorporated. Mr. O'Dell reviewed the history of the talking ATM, looked into the future of talking voting-machine technology, and urged the Federation to move forward with building the new National Research and Training Institute.
A panel of two then dealt with the subject, "Electronic Publishing: The Book of the Future for Everybody Including the Blind." The first to speak was Patricia Schroeder, President of the Association of American Publishers, Inc., and an old friend from her days as a Member of Congress. Mrs. Schroeder explained the history of the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act, which is the agreement hammered out among the parties trying to find a way to make textbook copy available quickly to students who need it in alternative formats. She is convinced that the time is right to establish a national depository for electronic texts in a single format of every textbook purchased by any school district in the nation. Such an arrangement would guarantee immediate access to text materials for every special-needs student in the nation. She called on members of the Federation to pressure Congress to pass this legislation as soon as it is introduced.
Following Ms. Schroeder was Steve Stone, general manager, eBooks Business Unit, Microsoft Corporation. Mr. Stone reported that he and President Maurer first established rapport through their shared love of books, and making books of every kind available to and accessible by everyone everywhere is the dream of his group. His assistant demonstrated the Microsoft Reader software on a desktop computer, reading an eBook out loud. The speech is remarkably good, and the system has a number of search and movement functions that seem to be working pretty well. Microsoft isn't there yet, but the company is making clear progress.
The final item of the morning session was "Braille Is Beautiful," the new late-elementary and middle-school curriculum developed by the National Federation of the Blind with the financial support of the United Parcel Service Foundation in conjunction with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, NFB Director of Special Programs, and Claudia Bosworth, an elementary-school teacher from Maryland, were the presenters.
Dr. Zaborowski described the curriculum and played a bit of the video made as part of the project. Jake and the Secret Code is the name of the video, and it stars a mother and her sighted son from Baltimore and Curtis Chong of our Technology Department. Ms. Bosworth reported that her class was very enthusiastic about the unit on Braille, and she urged Federationists to encourage school systems across the country to invest in this program. It is ideal for helping students prepare to welcome a blind student into their classroom or school.
On that high note the morning session drew to a close. The lunch hour was filled as usual with meetings and the opportunity to visit the exhibits. But when 2:00 arrived, delegates were back in their seats for what many agreed retrospectively was one of the most exciting and inspiring convention afternoons they could remember. The first speaker was Kathy Bushkin, President of the AOL Time Warner Foundation. She admitted that AOL's relationship with the NFB did not start in warm understanding, but she went on to say that the company now recognizes that access to the Internet for everyone, including disabled people, is essential.
She then introduced Tatiana Gau, Senior Vice President for Integrity Assurance at AOL. Ms. Gau commented that in the past year AOL has made more progress in achieving improved accessibility of its products than it had done theretofore in its whole corporate history. She then reviewed the accomplishments of the past year and played tape recordings of two demonstrations of accessible AOL products. The first was AOL by phone, and the second was a talking set-top box for use with television.
When they finished their presentation, Dr. Maurer said candidly that we are serious about the need to achieve accessibility for AOL products. He was pleased to hear that they too are serious, but he has some qualms about whether corporate commitment will continue. He wanted them to know that ours will and that we are prepared to find other means to encourage them if their enthusiasm wanes. Ms. Bushkin assured him that AOL is in for the long haul. She said that they had discovered that millions of people will benefit from increased access, and that is good reason to continue. But they have also discovered that the increased market makes this decision a sound one from a strictly business point of view.
"Technology for the Blind: Current Challenges and Future Visions" was the title of Dr. Raymond Kurzweil's speech, which was the next agenda item. Dr. Kurzweil assured his audience that the exponential growth of knowledge in every field means that disability as an important issue in life will become increasingly unimportant. He stated again his pleasure in his long and fruitful relationship with the National Federation of the Blind.
Dr. Robert Massof, Founder and Director of the Lions Research and Rehabilitation Center, a division of the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, was the next speaker. His title was "Exploring New Ground in the Blindness Field: Johns Hopkins and the Organized Blind." As a researcher Dr. Massof is keenly aware of all the ways in which research projects can fail; timing and solid grounding in the nature of the problem and effective solutions are two necessary components for success. He hopes that the new National Research and Training Institute will provide an excellent opportunity for blind people to shape the research that we need and that will extend beyond us to assist the rest of society.
The next speaker was our own Fred Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder's topic was "Research and the Organized Blind Movement." Since ceasing to be the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, he has been a research professor at San Diego State University, and he talked about productive and unproductive ways to go about doing research. The audience response to this presentation was a standing ovation. His remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
Taken together, the final three presentations of the afternoon created an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to have been present. Steve Marriott began by talking about "How I Help the Marriott Corporation." Steve is losing both sight and hearing, but he spent the month of June working on blindness skills at the National Center, and, though he recognizes that he still has a long way to go to master those skills, he now understands that blindness does not need to ruin the quality of his life. He serves as Senior Vice President for Culture and Lodging, Sales, and Recruiting for Marriott. His job is to insure that the very special Marriott culture reaches across all the 2,100 hotels in the entire corporate family. We already know from firsthand experience that Marriott is a great place to stay, and we are learning that it's also a great group of people with whom to do business.
Next Stanley Wainapel, M.D. M.P.H., talked about "Losing Sight, Gaining Skills: A Doctor's Odyssey." Dr. Wainapel explained that he chose to attend medical school even though he knew he would eventually become blind. Though his vision was significantly impaired, Dr. Wainapel became a very successful and respected physician, but he eventually suffered a failure of nerve. He left his job and took another, less demanding one. By 1994 he was sick in body and mind in addition to losing more vision.
On the recommendation of Adrienne Asch, one of his only blind friends, he came to an NFB convention. That gave him the inspiration and courage he needed to stay the course. He has now taken a position as Director of Rehabilitation Medicine of the Montefiore Medical Center and finds that his disability often enhances the care he gives his patients. His gratitude to the Federation was deeply touching and encouraging.
By the time the final speaker of the afternoon came to the podium, the audience was wound tight. We had been waiting for this moment for the entire convention. The title in the program, which had gone to press in early May, was "The Blind Climber on Mt. Everest." Dr. Maurer, of course, did not know at that point whether Erik Weihenmayer would be successful in his bid to climb the highest mountain in the world. By the time Erik came to the podium after doing interviews all day and signing copies of his book, everyone knew that on May 25, 2001, Erik and eighteen other members of his team had reached the summit of Everest and then had safely returned home again. The crowd went a bit out of control, rhythmically clapping and shouting his name. When order was restored, Erik told the audience what it had been like to be a part of a team that had successfully tackled the most challenging mountain in the world.
By the stroke of five we were out of the ballroom, which had to be transformed into a banquet space ready for the group's return at seven that evening. The 2001 banquet was the largest in history, and it was exciting and moving in the way that only an NFB banquet evening can be. Three awards were presented. The International Braille Research Center presented its Louis Braille Award to Dr. Tim Cranmer. Dr. Maurer presented the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Jim Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski, and Allen Harris presented the Newell Perry Award to Erik Weihenmayer. All three presentations appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
As always President Maurer's banquet address was the high point of the entire convention. The title was "Independence and the Necessity for Diplomacy." It was vintage Federation philosophy and inspiration, and the audience responded in classic Federation style. The entire text of the speech appears elsewhere in this issue.
Following the banquet address, Peggy Elliott came to the microphone to present the 2001 scholarships. A complete report of this year's program appears elsewhere in this issue. Michael Brands, a tenBroek Fellow, won the $10,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship.
When Allen Harris gaveled the banquet to a close, the evening changed gears but continued with great enthusiasm. A number of Federationists gathered in the Pennsylvania suite to sing Federation songs written by Ted Young and remember our colleague who was no longer with us. Others gathered in the lobby bar and conducted their own impromptu song fest much to the enjoyment of other Federationists within earshot.
The final day of the convention began with President Maurer's annual financial report. Much of the morning was taken up with funding matters. The various fund-raising committees made final reports, and the Honor Roll Call of States gave affiliates and divisions an opportunity to make gifts and pledges to the organization. The final total of funds raised for the Campaign to Build It Now was $350,000.
During the Report from Washington Jim Gashel and Kris Cox reviewed legislative activities during the past year and reported our current efforts in Congress. The coming year will be busy, and Kris and Jim will be contacting us in the coming weeks as our help is needed.
We devoted the afternoon to debate on resolutions interspersed with announcements and last-minute reports. When the gavel fell for the final time, we streamed out of the convention hall reinvigorated and inspired again for another year of changing what it means to be blind. We had deepened old friendships and discovered valued new colleagues. For over a week we had marched together, sharing a common vision of the future and singing one song of ultimate victory. Now the time had come once more to return home to the solitary walk of our individual witness to the truth about blindness. Louisville is eleven months away; that gives us time to touch the lives of many more people who need to join us there. Plan now to be part of the 2002 gathering.