Vol. 51, No. 8 August/September 2008
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 51, No. 8 August/September 2008
The 2008 March for Independence
A Photo Report
The 2008 Convention Roundup
by Daniel B. Frye and Barbara Pierce
NOPBC Silver Anniversary Extravaganza
by Barbara Pierce
Presidential Report 2008
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2008 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2008 Bolotin Awards Presentation
by Gary Wunder
The Urgency of Optimism
by Marc Maurer
Meet the 2008 Scholarship Class
Literacy, Learning, and Enlightenmen
by Fredric K. Schroeder
NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification
by Anne Taylor
The Right to Live in the World
A Report on the 2008 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
2008 Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind
Convention MiniaturesConstitution of the National Federation of the Blind
Copyright 2008 by the National Federation of the Blind
At well before 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning, July 2, more than a thousand Federationists began assembling in the parking lot outside the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, for our second annual March for Independence. Designated affiliate representatives picked up state signs from waiting volunteers while other marching teams and delegations found one another and hoisted homemade banners in anticipation of the 5K round-trip walk from the NFB convention headquarters hotel to the AT&T Victory Plaza at the American Airlines Center. Bedecked in March for Independence T-shirts and caps--premiums awarded for raising different levels of money for the Imagination Fund—Federationists were easily identifiable as a uniformed and united mass of humanity. As the march commenced, everybody who wanted one was given a straw cowboy hat as protection from the rays of the rising Dallas sun.
NFB President Marc Maurer; Congressman Pete Sessions, honorary March chairperson; Mary Ellen Jernigan, chairwoman of convention organization and activities; Kevan Worley, chairperson of the NFB Imagination Fund; Tommy Craig, president of the NFB of Texas; and other local dignitaries led the spirited throng along the march route. The persistent chants of NFB of Georgia President Anil Lewis and his ten-year-old son Amari, broadcasting encouragement to the crowd on a portable public address system, urged the crowd forward. In an effort to improve communications among marchers this year, several sound repeaters were strategically placed among the marchers. Proclaiming the independence and capacity of blind people by sign and sound alike, Federationists enjoyed one another’s company as they filed into Victory Plaza--serenaded by a jazzed-up version of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”--for the midmarch rally.
Meanwhile volunteers and NFB staff provided behind-the-scenes support for the March and the marchers. Golf carts circulated along the route to provide a respite for tired walkers. Buses provided alternative transportation for those unable to march but determined to participate in this convention highlight. Bottled water, Red Bull, and energy bars were on hand to provide some sustenance to the early morning marchers.
Kevan Worley served again this year as the master of ceremonies for the March rally. He reviewed the purposes of the Imagination Fund and explained that the March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity was the culminating fundraising event for this campaign. Kevan explained that a priority focus of the Imagination Fund this year would be support of the Braille Readers Are Leaders National Literacy Campaign that will celebrate the life and legacy of Louis Braille through the distribution of the commemorative Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar.
To begin the program, Kevan introduced Jessica Bachicha, a gifted vocalist and active Federationist, who performed a rousing a cappella rendition of the national anthem, which filled the Victory Plaza. Kevan took a few moments to recognize March sponsor representatives from Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. He then introduced and played a new Imagine video, produced by the NFB to promote the Imagination Fund. Federationists may view this new marketing product on the NFB Website at <http://www.nfb.org>.
President Maurer next delivered an address to the assembled marchers that explained to all who listened why we had come and why we will continue to do the work of the Federation. The text of his remarks follows:
We have come to Dallas, Texas, this July morning to participate in this national March for Independence--A Walk for Opportunity. Who are we, and why do we come? We are the blind of the nation organized in the National Federation of the Blind; we are the most powerful force in America dealing with blindness. We are blind factory workers, blind professionals, blind parents, the parents of blind children and the children themselves, blind musicians, blind office employees, blind rehabilitation workers, blind people receiving rehabilitation training, blind people seeking employment, blind people searching for opportunity, blind teachers, and blind students—we are the blind who have come to transform the nature of blindness through common effort and a dedicated spirit. Seventy percent of us are unemployed, but not because we can't work and not because we won't.
Our experience demonstrates that we face obstacles to our progress greater than almost anybody else in society. These are not obstacles created by our blindness (though some of these do exist) but by the misunderstanding of our blindness—by the failure of those who have not been able to accept us for the talented, vibrant human beings that we are. Because of this misunderstanding, because of this failure to comprehend, not only must we constantly find methods to perform without sight those activities that others conduct with it, but we must fight for the right to do so. We must fight for education; we must fight for employment; we must fight for the tools of learning; we must even fight to learn to read.
There is irony in this. We who want to learn had to become well-enough educated to advocate for the passage of a law that said we had a right to Braille books. Why is it so hard for certain public officials to understand that we want something to read and that we want it in Braille? Surely this is not a complicated request; surely this is not beyond the capacity of people in the Department of Education to comprehend; surely a need of such simplicity should not have demanded legislative action. However, when it became apparent to us that our first effort to require Braille literacy had failed, a second law became necessary. Today blind children in elementary and high school are to get their books in a form usable by the blind at the same time that sighted students get theirs. This is not simply a good idea; it is the law. And yet, despite the adoption of this legislation, the books are not there. Blind children are not getting them. Our blind children are being denied an education; our blind children are being told that they will have no future. And this is not all. It is simply one of the elements of deprivation that we face.
Why are we here? I can think of a thousand reasons—or ten thousand or a hundred thousand, and more than a thousand of them are here today. We will not be kept in ignorance; we will not be cut out of the mainstream of American life; we will not be cast aside; we will not accept the assertion that our rights are less forceful than those of others; we will not accept the proposition that we cannot participate fully in the lives of our communities. We have faced deprivation because of our blindness—a deprivation derived from the failure to comprehend the talent we have and the people we are. We have faced challenges to our fundamental right to form families and raise our children. We have faced the intimidation of those who would take from us the opportunity to run businesses. We have faced the challenges of getting the basic documents to learn in elementary school, in high school, and in the halls of academia. We have faced the denial of an opportunity for work with all of the attendant diminution of possibility that comes with no job—no chance to use our talent.
We have walked this morning to this place. This walk is a public demonstration that we have energy and will and commitment. Along with all other Americans, we have the right to exercise this will, and nobody can keep us from it. For those who want us to give our children to others, we say, no! For those who want us to be in ignorance, we say, never! For those who want us to remain in idleness, we say, it cannot happen, for we are organized, and we will take action to attain literacy. Not later, but now; not in some distant day, but before the sun shall set. Not for somebody else , but for us and for those who come after us. This is the meaning of the March for Independence; this is what will arise from our actions today; this is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind!
Four Federation youth--Jordan Richardson, Marché Daughtry, Vejas Vasiliauskas, and Hannah Weatherd--then asked President Maurer to be recognized to present a resolution affirming the importance of the role of both Braille and the National Federation of the Blind in gaining literacy, education, and employment for their generation. They captivated and charmed the March audience as they took turns reading their resolution in Braille. The text of this ceremonial resolution informally adopted by March participants follows:
WHEREAS, of the nearly fifty thousand school-aged blind children in America today, only 10 percent are able to read Braille and fewer than half will graduate from high school; and
WHEREAS, blind people who read Braille are likely to become employed while blind people who cannot read Braille have a 70 percent chance of being unemployed and living in poverty; and
WHEREAS, blind Americans owe a debt of gratitude to the members of the United States Congress for authorizing the striking of a coin commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille and directing that funds from the sale of the coin go to the National Federation of the Blind to develop and implement effective programs to increase Braille literacy among blind children and adults: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED that we will be literate, able to read and write Braille, because of the efforts of the thousands of men and women of the National Federation of the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we will earn our high school diplomas and be able to go on to pursue advanced degrees because of the efforts of the thousands of men and women of the National Federation of the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we will be employed, pursuing challenging careers, because of the efforts of the thousands of men and women of the National Federation of the Blind.
Honorary March Chairperson Representative Pete Sessions of Texas next addressed the gathered marchers. His brief remarks resonated with the multitude present, and his second appearance before the entire NFB convention later in the afternoon reached inspirational heights, when he acknowledged our organizational spirit and influence, prodding us to carry on with our mission.
The design of the commemorative Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar was unveiled at the March rally. U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy conducted the official unveiling and public presentation of the coin’s design. The commemorative dollar will be available for purchase in the spring of 2009. Braille Monitor readers should look for further details about purchasing the coin in future issues of the magazine. Director Moy invited President Maurer and Congressman Sessions to help him unveil the obverse (the front) and the reverse (the back) of the coin. Below is the detailed description of the Louis Braille coin that Director Moy delivered to the rally audience:
The coin obverse, or heads side of the coin, features a handsome image of Louis Braille from the neck up, facing forward. This image captures him as the energetic, confident, and successful young man he was, and the image fills the center of the coin. He is wearing a jacket and collar in the style of the early eighteen hundreds, and his hair is fashionably wavy.
The coin also bears the inscription “Liberty” along the curve of the coin above his head and the words “Louis Braille” underneath his portrait. “In God We Trust” is inscribed to the right of Braille’s image at cheek level. The date “1809” appears on the left, and “2009” appears on the right, both at collar height.
On the coin reverse the most prominent image is a boy who looks to be about eight or nine sitting at a table reading a book in Braille. He is wearing a T-shirt and has the top of a cane resting on his left arm. The word “Braille” in Braille code—abbreviated B-R-L as it is in Braille code—is produced on the upper half of the coin. The spacing of the letters ensures that the text is no different from printed or written Braille to the touch.
On the left in the background, the word “Independence” is written along the top of a bookshelf full of books. The inscription “United States of America” is at the top of the curve of the coin, “One Dollar” is at the bottom, and “E Pluribus Unum” is to the right of the seated child reading Braille.
As the enthusiastic crowd chanted “Braille” in unison, Director Moy had President Maurer confirm that the Braille on the newly designed coin was legible. It was.
As the rally concluded, Kevan announced the launch of <http://www.braille.org>, the official Website for the Braille Readers Are Leaders National Braille Literacy campaign. Kevan explained that all of the information about the coin and the Braille initiatives of the National Federation of the Blind could soon be found at this one-stop Website. While the dignitaries left the platform, Kevan Worley and NFB Treasurer Pam Allen read aloud the names of the 101 gold medallion March fundraisers, those who raised one thousand dollars or more for the Imagination Fund.
Marchers streamed out of Victory Plaza en route back to the hotel for the start of the first general session of the convention. Voices, signs, and moods remained high for the balance of the 2008 March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity. Our hopeful and optimistic message of the morning was carried by both local and national media to thousands around the nation. The brief article that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Thursday, July 3, was representative of the coverage this event garnered. The text of the article follows:
1,000 Blind People and Supporters March through Dallas
by Dan X. McGraw
Adam Rushfort's white cane tapped against the pavement outside the American Airlines Center this morning as he navigated the street with other blind men and women from across the country. Though the twenty-eight-year-old Utah man couldn't see the crowd, he certainly could hear it. And he hopes others did as well. "This is about independence," Mr. Rushfort said, "independence for blind people in both literacy and job opportunities. We want to be heard."
Nearly 1,000 blind people and supporters cheered and sang as they marched more than a mile from the Hilton Anatole Hotel on Stemmons Freeway to Victory Plaza in hopes of raising awareness of their needs in a march sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind. Several officials, including Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, spoke about the need to improve education about blindness, increase accessibility to jobs, and teach all blind children to read Braille.
About 10 percent of blind children are taught Braille in schools, and many have limited access to audiobooks to expand their education, said Dr. Marc Maurer, the Federation's president. The lack of materials leaves many blind people without the same opportunities as sighted people and an estimated 70 percent of them without jobs, Mr. Maurer said. The Federation's goal is to work for equality. "The books are not there," Mr. Maurer said. "Our blind are told that they will have no future. That is unacceptable."
During a ceremony after the march, U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy unveiled the design of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, the first U.S. coin to feature readable Braille. The coin will be sold in spring 2009, and the Federation will receive $10 for every silver dollar purchased, Mr. Moy said. "It reads—with a capital B—Braille," Mr. Maurer told the crowd as people erupted in cheers.
by Daniel B. Frye and Barbara Pierce
Each year returning convention attendees arrive anticipating the energy, excitement, and frenetic activity of a National Federation of the Blind convention. Yet the nearly three thousand conventioneers who poured into Dallas on Sunday, June 29, 2008, and the days before were largely unprepared for the week they were about to share.
One unique element was the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The NOPBC pulled out all the stops by creating two audio-enhanced slide shows reviewing its history, hosting a gala dinner, and presenting a number of awards in addition to its standard array of seminars and workshops. A full report of the NOPBC program and celebration appears elsewhere in this issue.
The March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity provided the same adrenalin rush as the march last year, with this difference: the rally this year included the unveiling of the Louis Braille commemorative coin by the director of the United States Mint and the reading of a Braille literacy resolution by blind youth. The lead photo spread in this issue attempts to capture the magic of the march and the rally at the AT&T Victory Plaza at the American Airlines Center.
One of the things that distinguished this convention from every preceding one was the fact that much of it was streamed over the Internet for the benefit of those who could not attend and those who just wanted to know what goes on at an NFB convention. The rally in Victory Plaza, the presidential report, and the banquet were streamed with both audio and video. The remaining convention sessions were streamed in audio only. A number of Federationists stranded at home have reported that, though nothing replaces the excitement and stimulation of attending the convention, listening to it with only a forty-five-second delay was a welcome next best. The mother of the recipient of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship actually watched her daughter receive her award and then address the convention. We are surely living in a brave new technological world.
The Hilton Anatole Hotel has undergone substantial renovation during the two years since we were last there. Both the public and guest rooms are beautiful and comfortable, but the Anatole is still a very large property, and Federationists got lots of exercise getting to meetings during the week. A number of AT&T volunteers and 359 folks from UPS provided welcome information and assistance in the hotel and during the march. UPS volunteers were especially helpful dealing with the 265 shipping cartons of books for the Braille Book Flea Market. A vanload of AT&T volunteers gave Barbara Pierce a ride back from the rally when she lost her chance to walk with the crowd because of working with a film crew at the close of the rally. These volunteers were warm and friendly and very respectful of what the NFB is doing. Our relationship with UPS is by now one of long-standing respect and understanding. Several UPS employees have found their way to NFB chapters when blindness entered their lives, and we have heard that this year’s volunteers were abuzz with excitement after their hours of assistance at the hotel.
They were apparently not alone. One Federationist, Sue Boswell of Logan, Utah, reported that another hotel guest whom she met in the elevator asked her about the convention. He had actually slipped into several meetings to see what was happening. He told Sue that he was very impressed with the independence and confidence of the people he was watching and that he understood what he was observing better after sitting in on our meetings. A shop manager also commented to Sue that the hotel staff observe convention groups every week of the year, but that no other group had left the rest rooms as clean and neat as the NFB. Such comments were gratifying to hear.
Angela Wolf took over this year from Bruce Gardner, who had worked hard for ten years making the convention operate smoothly and deploying marshals to guide attendees to meetings and activities. Angela waved her magic wand and converted the marshals into ambassadors. They continued to engage in marshaling duties, but they also concentrated on making folks feel welcome and solving their problems. Angela and her tireless crew worked hard all week and gave the convention a very special feel.
We continue to reach out to those who for whatever reason find the convention confusing. Again this year early in the week the Affiliate Action Department conducted an orientation seminar in Spanish, which was very helpful to many. The Rookie Roundup on Sunday evening and other events later in the week for first-timers were reportedly a big help to those who had never before experienced an NFB national convention. Well over two hundred tote bags, first-timers’ guides, and ribbons were handed out. Allen Harris introduced the fifty Jernigan Fund Convention Scholarship recipients, who came from thirty-three states at the Rookie Roundup--at least those who were there. That is always the trouble at convention—at any given moment there are about four different events conventioneers would like to attend.
As usual the exhibit halls were the focus of constant activity and interest. The NFB’s Independence Market was located on the lobby level. Scores of Federationists volunteered their time to staff its display tables and advise shoppers about canes, aids, and literature.
Upstairs on the third floor forty-two NFB-affiliated groups and fifty-six outside vendors and organizations showed off their latest products, sold NFB paraphernalia, and otherwise engaged in fundraising and product sales. Diagnostic Devices, Inc., developer of the inexpensive Prodigy Voice Meter, brought along one of its distributors, Shreveport Diabetic Shoes, to sell the popular Crocs and other comfortable and protective shoes. Many Federationists took advantage of the opportunity to equip themselves with Crocs for the march on Wednesday morning. One of the busiest booths in the exhibit hall was the one selling the KNFB Reader Mobile. “Go totally mobile” was the watchword of the convention. But other technology also drew mobs of interested people.
In response to popular demand, the employment seminar returned to an all-day format. About a hundred people took part in the program. A huge crowd was also on hand for the seventh annual rehabilitation and orientation and mobility conference at our convention. It was titled “Consumer-Driven Standards for Rehabilitation.” It took place from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and over a hundred people took part.
Sunday, June 29, Monday, June 30, and Tuesday, July 1, were filled with some thirty programs, meetings, and activities sponsored by NFB interest groups and divisions. Some of the more unusual were the vintage car show sponsored by the CAR Division and the swimming, beepball, rowing, and biking activities sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division. The Imagination Fund sold flying monkeys that bore the legend, “Empowerment is no monkey business.” These little critters emitted a penetrating squall that punctuated many of the week’s activities. They provided a great fundraiser for the Imagination Fund and entertaining commentary throughout convention activities. In addition to division and group activities and committee meetings, technology vendors offered multiple workshops on new or updated equipment and software.
The NFB of Texas was a warm and hospitable host. Tommy Craig and the rest of the Texans gave everyone that big Lone Star howdy at every turn. On Sunday evening it was their welcome party with the Brian Byrne and Borrowed Time band playing traditional Americana and bluegrass music. Wednesday it was a Texas-style barbeque with live music by the Cornell Hurd Band. The Texas Association of Blind Students even got into the act with their always popular Southern Strums gathering for everyone who likes to make music or appreciates listening to others do so. In sum—sports, music, seminars, and food—everyone could find interesting and amusing things to do after hours.
The NFB board of directors held its traditional open convention meeting on Tuesday morning, July 1. President Maurer called for a moment of silence to recognize those Federationists who had died since the 2007 convention in Atlanta. During this last year several figures of national prominence died including Betsy Zaborowski, the first executive director of the Jernigan Institute; Floyd Matson, author of Walking Alone and Marching Together, the Federation’s fifty-year history, and Blind Justice, a biography of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek; and Larry McKeever, longtime narrator of the Braille Monitor and other Federation recordings. Of course this solemn occasion also paid tribute to all Federationists who had died during the previous year. Delegates then joined in reciting the American and Federation pledges of allegiance.
President Maurer then turned to the elections. He announced that the hold-over board positions for 2008 were held by Ron Brown (Indiana), Kathy Jackson (Kentucky), Parnell Diggs (South Carolina), Anil Lewis (Georgia), Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), and Dan Burke (Montana). All of the constitutional officers and the six other board positions were up for election.
President Maurer next recognized Dan Wenzel of Wisconsin and Chris McKenzie of Arkansas. Both Dan and Chris announced that they would not stand for election this year, but both affirmed in their departing remarks their ongoing commitment to and love of the NFB. President Maurer thanked them both for their service on the board and to the blind of the nation.
Tommy Craig, president of the host affiliate, then welcomed audience members to Dallas. He urged everybody to take full advantage of the Texas-sized hospitality on offer during the week ahead.
President Maurer reported that the 2009 NFB convention will be held in Detroit, Michigan, at the Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Our 2010 convention will again occur at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. Room rates for the next two years are $62 for singles, twins, and doubles and $68 for triples and quads.
Kevan Worley, chairperson of the Imagination Fund, then briefed the board and audience on logistics for the second annual March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity. He energized and excited convention delegates about the 7:00 a.m. plans to commence the 5K round-trip walk between the Hilton Anatole and Victory Plaza. Kevan recognized Florida Federationist Allen Bornstein as the 2008 Imaginator of the Year, an acknowledgement given to one who really shows the prerequisite spirit and devotion to promoting the interests of the NFB through raising Imagination Fund dollars as part of the March for Independence. Allen raised $2,600 this year through small contributions, using many of the tools made available through the March Website. Finally, Kevan honored the top ten states and individuals with the highest march fundraising totals; Maryland was the top fundraising state for the march with $127,990, and Kevan Worley was the top individual fundraiser with $25,035 as of the board meeting.
Joyce Scanlan, chairperson of the distinguished educator of blind children award committee, next took the platform to present this year’s award to Brigid Doherty, newly appointed Metro system orientation specialist with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Office of ADA Programs. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer then said that in a previous meeting the board of directors had provisionally adopted an application from a potential division of professionals in teaching blind students and adult rehabilitation consumers, in whose constitution potential division leaders had sought an exception to the general rule that a majority of its board of directors and membership must be blind. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is the one other division for whom such an exception has been made. President Maurer invited board members to comment further or reconsider their decision during this public board meeting. No board member made such a request, so the application for this division was adopted with the exception to policy as originally proposed by division leaders.
Herb Magin, longtime friend and member of the Federation, was next recognized to offer details on the annual Jernigan Fund drawings. Proceeds from these programs support the Jernigan Fund, a sum of money designated to assist people attending their first NFB national convention
Scott LaBarre, chairperson of the pre-authorized check plan (PAC) committee, took the floor to discuss the PAC program. He presented the Alpaca Award to New Mexico and Massachusetts, the large and small affiliates (based on PAC participation) that had increased their enrollment the most during the previous twelve months. As usual, Scott urged both affiliates and divisions to raise their PAC contributions during the convention in pursuit of the coveted PAC Rat and PAC Mule Awards. Finally Scott announced that, with the Internet streaming of convention this year, people could now subscribe to the PAC program on the NFB Website.
Dr. David Ticchi, president of the NFB of Massachusetts, then stepped forward to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Dr. Edward C. Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
At this point Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia, member of the NFB board of directors, and recently named national scholarship committee chairperson, asked the members of this year’s scholarship class to come to the platform, where he introduced them. Their comments appear elsewhere in this issue as part of a full report of our scholarship program.
Tami Dodd Jones was recognized to offer a brief update on the tenBroek Fund and the fund’s supporting Elegant Elephant sale to occur at this year’s convention. Sandy Halverson was likewise invited to give a status report to the board on the Shares Unlimited in NFB (SUN) Fund.
Barbara Pierce, president of the NFB of Ohio, next approached the podium and presented President Maurer with a check for $46,000 dollars for the national treasury. Barbara explained that this sum was one half of a bequest received by the Ohio affiliate. President Maurer accepted the gift with gratitude.
In closing the board meeting, President Maurer reminded everybody about the newly revised affiliate finance system now being administered with assistance from the national office, and he encouraged all affiliates to comply with the recently established systems and procedures for the fiscal good of our entire Federation. Since no further business was brought to the board, the meeting was adjourned.
The balance of Tuesday offered convention attendees a wide range of division and committee meetings, seminars, workshops, receptions, and theater productions. The Jerry Whittle production this year, titled Déjà Blue, was performed as usual by the Louisiana Center Players, made up of students and alumni from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. All proceeds from the two performances were used to support the center’s summer programs for blind children.
Wednesday morning’s opening of the convention represented the culmination of our second annual 5K March for Independence. Warmed by both the success of the march and the Texas climate, convention delegates assembled in the Chantilly Ballroom for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 convention. Tommy Craig, president of the host affiliate, welcomed everybody to Texas. Continuing the recent rivalry between Texas and Maryland, he proudly reclaimed the attendance banner for his home state, where locals had registered 336 people for the convention by opening day. Tommy introduced Charles Williams and Buck Helton, Voices on the Western Wind, to regale the gathered thousands with a taste of cowboy culture through western poetry and song.
President Maurer then recognized First Vice President Fred Schroeder for an announcement. Capitalizing on the Braille-focused spirit and momentum of the march, Fred invited convention delegates to get a firsthand glimpse of the prototype of the Louis Braille bicentennial coin during the lunch break. Longtime leader James Gashel then took a few moments to present President Maurer and the Federation with a contribution in the amount of ten thousand dollars in memory and on behalf of his recently deceased spouse and first executive director of the Jernigan Institute, Betsy Zaborowski. Kevan Worley next thanked everybody for participating in the 2008 march, announced that as of opening session the campaign had raised $540,000 for the year, and reminded everyone to continue fundraising during the last few days of July since the campaign does not officially end until July 31.
The remainder of the morning was devoted to the roll call of states. Each affiliate representative announced the name of the state’s delegate, alternate delegate, appointed member to the nominating committee, and date and location of the next state convention. In addition state presidents took the opportunity to make a variety of announcements and comments. Here is a sampling of the information that we learned during the morning:
Nine state rehabilitation agency directors and many other staff members were part of their state’s delegations. Texas had ninety staff and students from the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in its delegation. Maryland boasted twenty-six staff and students in attendance at the convention from Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. Indiana continued its recent tradition of having a substantial contingent from the Indiana School for the Blind participate in the convention. The staff and students of our three NFB centers in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota were all present for the convention. The Hawaii and North Dakota affiliates announced record delegations: Hawaii had forty-two delegates in Dallas, and North Dakota added six to our national convention registration figures. California led all affiliates with thirty first-time convention delegates, and Georgia distinguished itself by bringing sixteen first-time participants, all of whom were under the age of twenty-three. Idaho brought nine first-time conventioneers, representing almost 50 percent of its twenty-person delegation. President Fred Wurtzel of Michigan enticed delegates to attend the 2009 convention with an audio presentation from Governor Jennifer Granholm, who described the state’s many tourist attractions and thanked the NFB for selecting Michigan as its next convention site.
Utah President Ron Gardner announced that seventeen participants from their mentoring program were attending the convention and that essay winners, from both the mentor and mentee perspective, were residents of Utah. President Carl Jacobsen of New York observed that the Empire State now has the first blind governor in the nation; he also took some time to offer good-natured comments about convention speaker Representative Edolphus Towns of New York, who was his former cane travel teacher and today champions our quiet cars campaign. Finally, Alpidio Rolón, president of the NFB of Puerto Rico, announced that it is now the policy of this U.S. commonwealth to require that all blind students be taught to read Braille.
Following the lunch recess, President Maurer delivered the 2008 presidential report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue.
Addressing the topic “Independent and On the Move: The Blind Have a Friend in Congress,” Representative Pete Sessions, Congressman from Texas and honorary chairperson of the 2008 March for Independence, advised Federationists to continue showing our spirit, telling our story, and conveying our commonsense political agenda to members of Congress and other leaders throughout the country. Representative Sessions said, “What you need to do is to keep doing what you’re doing but to expect more and better results from your efforts.” He concluded his remarks by affirming his support for NFB legislative positions on Social Security, books on time, and quiet cars.
Deborah Kent Stein, chairperson of the NFB committee on automobiles and pedestrian safety, delivered an address titled, “The Quiet Cars Revolution.” In her remarks Debbie chronicled the Federation’s multi-year efforts to address the challenges of quiet cars to the blind community. She offered technical background on why hybrids are quiet, reviewed the evolving views of car manufacturers and other industry officials, discussed the legislative solution that the NFB is championing on this topic, and cautioned all that, while progress is being realized, a permanent solution is not yet at hand. Deborah observed that those who can’t listen or look have no choice but to stop. She concluded with the sentiment that to “walk alone, we must continue to march together.”
In furtherance of the dialogue about the quiet cars issue, President Maurer then introduced Representative Edolphus Towns of New York to offer the program item titled “A Safer Environment, Safer Travel for the Blind: A Champion in Congress.” Congressman Towns said that he was delighted to introduce HR 5734, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, to address the inherent dangers of quiet cars to the blind and other walkers. The Congressman acknowledged the laudable environmental goals of hybrid car manufacturers, but he balanced this against the importance of addressing the unintended consequences of eliminating automobile sounds. Representative Towns explained that this legislation directs the Secretary of Transportation to study the problem of quiet cars and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that will provide a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of nearby quiet cars. This study will determine the most practical means of alerting the target pedestrian audience. Once safety standards are determined, the legislation will apply to all hybrid car manufacturers within two years of adoption. Over fifty members of Congress have already cosponsored this legislation. Congressman Towns urged car manufacturers to work with him and other policymakers to reach a mutually agreed solution to this vexing problem.
Robert S. Strassburger, vice president, vehicle safety and harmonization, with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, spoke on the topic “Building Cars for the Future: A Partnership That Includes the Blind.” He explained that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is a trade organization representing over 80 percent of car sales in America. He announced that his organization has accepted the NFB’s request that they work with us to identify a valid and appropriate sound standard for hybrid vehicles. A strong advocate of scientifically quantifiable data, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has specifically agreed to work with the NFB, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the Traffic Safety Administration to define the research necessary to develop the sound standard for hybrid vehicles. Once a final testing procedure is developed, it will then be possible to characterize noise emissions and allow identification of cars that don’t make enough sound, so that we can find solutions. He concluded his quite technical remarks with the encouraging promise that the Alliance is committed to working with all relevant parties to maintain the independence of the blind.
Daniel J. Selke, chairperson of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Safety and Human Factors Committee, offered the last word on the quiet cars issue in a program titled “Devising Solutions That Work for Pedestrian Safety.” He explained that the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) is a nonprofit technical organization as distinguished from a trade organization. According to Mr. Selke, the SAE’s main purpose is to collect, develop, and distribute information about mobility technology. The SAE has two major competencies: lifelong learning and standards development.
Mr. Selke reported that the SAE has been working with the NFB since the spring of 2007 to identify a solution to the quiet cars challenge. He dedicated the bulk of his comments to detailing the various processes and subcommittees that have been established within the SAE to address different aspects of the issue. He reported that the SAE hopes to have a testing procedure to evaluate the sounds of hybrid vehicles by the end of summer or in early fall.
In “The tenBroek Law Symposium: The Impact of Jacobus tenBroek on the Legal System of the United States and the World,” three panelists described the event and its purposes, reviewed some of the fundamental principles of Dr. tenBroek’s legal scholarship, and recounted personal anecdotes of Dr. tenBroek as a private man and father. Additionally, a newly produced seventeen-minute video, Jacobus tenBroek and the Right to Live in the World, largely focusing on his legal career was debuted at the convention.
Lou Ann Blake, chairperson of the NFB Jacobus tenBroek law symposium committee, reported that over one hundred people from throughout the United States and Canada, representing seventy-two organizations, visited the Jernigan Institute on April 11, 2008, to attend the symposium. Five panels discussed the current status and prospects for change in distinct areas of disability law, describing in each the influence of Dr. tenBroek’s foundational legal scholarship. The symposium was an exciting and intellectually stimulating event that served the purposes of fostering an increased understanding of blindness-specific issues and rallying allies to our cause; honoring and celebrating the genius of our founder, Jacobus tenBroek; and raising the awareness of Dr. tenBroek’s academic contributions among the legal community and the general public. Lou Ann reported that this fall the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights will publish the formal symposium proceedings.
Robert Dinerstein, professor of law at American University, Washington College of Law, and one of the five leading panel presenters during the symposium, observed that Dr. tenBroek was an incredibly productive and visionary legal scholar, articulating the spirit and sentiment of contemporary civil rights laws for the disabled such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities well in advance of their adoption. Professor Dinerstein identified six fundamental principles readily evident in Dr. tenBroek’s writing. These ideas included the concepts of integrationism; distinguishing the physical or mental impairment and the social effects on that impairment in particular situations; the importance of according people with disabilities respect, dignity, and autonomy; equality of opportunity; an international perspective on disability rights; and an appreciation for the importance of personal experience and the need to link it to academic and doctrinal analysis. In short, Professor Dinerstein characterized Dr. tenBroek as one of the earliest scholars to define the social model of disability. He concluded by referring to Dr. tenBroek’s impressive constitutional scholarship in the area of equal protection and the fourteenth amendment, paying particular attention to the work Dr. tenBroek undertook on behalf of Japanese-American internees during World War II.
Dutch tenBroek, Dr. tenBroek’s son, was the third speaker on this panel. He shared warm and humorous personal anecdotes about his father and their family life that revealed much about Jacobus tenBroek the private man. Dutch explained that it is only in retrospect that he fully appreciates the role and influence his father had on his life. For instance, he recalled that Dr. tenBroek challenged his children to stretch their imaginations and minds during dinner table conversations. Dutch also recalled accompanying his father on long, uphill walks on Sunday mornings, where he learned that “You never get anywhere going slowly.” He concluded by saying that his father had vision far beyond what anyone had thought and that one aspect of his vision was present in the spirit of the NFB convention, alive and well, forwarding his father’s dreams and aspirations for the benefit of future generations of blind people. Dutch affirmed that his father carried a six-foot cane and that he swung it widely so that he could travel quickly. In this spirit, Dutch urged those in the audience to avoid tentative steps, to swing their canes, and to charge forward.
As Wednesday afternoon’s session drew to a close, President Maurer announced that, barring any significant objection from the Convention, he planned to shorten future conventions by moving the traditional final day’s business session to what has previously been known as “tour day”; he indicated that he would move the programming of what is known by many as “convention Friday” to convention Wednesday. This change in format and schedule will make the banquet the culminating convention event and will leave the following day for tours of the convention city. Additionally, taking notice of the sentiment expressed by the Convention in 2007 that it did not want to devote substantial organizational resources to research and development of a car that the blind can drive, President Maurer announced that he would pursue this goal by partnering with interested research universities to invest in this project. His remarks on both issues were met with no objection by convention delegates.
Weary Federationists, who had been up since before dawn, scattered to a full array of Wednesday evening events. A meeting on accessible currency, a forum on the quiet cars issue, several parent workshops, the Annual Showcase of Talent, and much more provided delegates with plenty to do. As has become customary at Texas-hosted conventions, many delegates gathered in Anatole Park, the seven-acre outdoor recreation facility at the west end of the hotel, for a traditional Lone Star-style barbeque, which lasted throughout the evening.
When the gavel dropped on Thursday morning, President Maurer quickly turned his attention to organizational elections. All of the incumbent constitutional officers who were nominated and ran for office were re-elected by acclamation. These officers were Marc Maurer, president (Maryland); Fredric Schroeder, first vice president (Virginia); Pam Allen, treasurer (Louisiana); and Gary Wunder, secretary (Missouri). Ron Brown, president of the NFB of Indiana and a member of the national board, was nominated for the position of NFB second vice president. He was elected by acclamation. Following is a slightly edited version of the remarks Ron delivered to the convention upon his election:
Dr. Maurer, fellow Federationists, today is an historic day for the National Federation of the Blind. We have come full circle today. There are a few defining moments in a person’s life, and I believe this is one of them, truly one of the greatest honors I could ever have been given. I appreciate the honor and the privilege to serve as an officer. I can only imagine how Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall felt. This is a changing moment in history. The National Federation of the Blind is truly celebrating diversity. I would say to young Federationists in this room: if you can imagine it, you can achieve it. Thank you so much.
Upon re-election to the position of NFB treasurer, Pam Allen offered the following remarks:
Good morning. First comes thought and then organization of that thought into ideas and plans. Those plans are then transformed into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination. As I stand before you today, I am inspired by the power in this room--the imagination, enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment. Because of the work of each of you, the National Federation of the Blind is the most powerful force in our nation, shattering misconceptions about blindness and making the future brighter for all blind people. It is my distinct honor and pleasure to serve as your treasurer. Thank you, my Federation family, for your support and your trust.
John Fritz and Patty Chang, presidents of the Wisconsin and Illinois NFB affiliates, were elected to fill the vacancies created by the decisions of Dan Wenzel and Chris McKenzie not to run for re-election to the national board. Longtime Federation leader James Gashel was elected to fill the unexpired one-year term of Ron Brown, created by his elevation to second vice president. National board incumbents Amy Buresh (Nebraska), Sam Gleese (Mississippi), Alpidio Rolón (Puerto Rico), and Carl Jacobsen (New York) were returned to office by acclamation. Upon his re-election to office, Carl Jacobsen made the following remarks, which have been slightly edited:
The rooster crows at dawn every day to celebrate the beginning of a new day. The rooster does this every day. But when the rooster thinks that he is the cause of the new day, we have a foolish rooster. The dawn and new day are caused by a power far beyond that rooster, but the rooster gets the right to crow.
And I welcome the opportunity to crow over the accomplishments of the National Federation of the Blind. I thank my affiliate for returning me to office. I thank this organization for returning me to office. The Federation is causing a new day to dawn for blind people, and I thank you for the opportunity to be a part of that new day. I welcome the opportunity to crow about it.
Eileen Rivera Ley, director of diabetes initiatives with the NFB Diabetes Action Network, announced the establishment of the NFB Access Plus Award, a recognition that will be given annually or as often as circumstances merit to companies or other entities whose products or services meet the award’s standards for high-quality customer care to blind consumers. Eileen explained that the award criteria require that recipients market accessible products or services; demonstrate exceptional customer service, including possessing specific knowledge about blindness-related issues; and have an accessible Website that exceeds Section 508 standards. According to Eileen, the companies considered for this recognition were evaluated by a panel convened to review the unique characteristics of each candidate. Federationists interested in serving on future Access Plus evaluation panels were urged to contact the NFB at <[email protected]>.
Bob Hoyt, senior manager for the Access Plus Award Program, described the newly minted award as an eighteen-by-twenty-one-inch picture frame featuring the Access Plus logo, a scarlet, purple, and white circle. The NFB Whozit logo is also on the award.
The Access Plus Awards for 2008 were presented to Dr. Stephen B. Shaya, medical director, J&B Medical; Richard Admani, chief financial officer, Diagnostic Devices Inc.; and Dave Raistrick, vice president, En-Vision America. J&B Medical is a family-based medical and vet business located in Wixom, Michigan. This company has designed an especially accessible Website, produced its literature in alternative formats, and required its customer service staff to undergo blindness training with the NFB. Jerry Munden, vice president for sales with Diagnostic Devices, accepted the Access Plus Award on behalf of Richard Admani. Diagnostic Devices Inc. was recognized for the development of its critically acclaimed Prodigy Voice blood glucose monitor, a fully accessible glucometer. Finally, longtime Federationist and associate of En-Vision America Chad Allen accepted the Access Plus Award on behalf of Dave Raistrick. En-Vision America, a title sponsor of the NFB convention, was recognized for its ScriptTalk product, a technology that allows blind consumers to hear the instructions and details printed on medicine bottles. Chad urged convention delegates to promote the need for this type of accessibility to their neighborhood pharmacies.
With qualified introductory comments about the modest progress that Amazon.com has realized in making its Website accessible to blind consumers, President Maurer next introduced Craig Woods, the senior manager for the content platform with Amazon.com, to present the program entitled “Access for the Blind to American Business: A Priority for Amazon.” Mr. Woods explained that Amazon’s mission is to be customer-focused but that the size, diversity, and decentralized nature of the company makes developing a single standard for nonvisual access a challenge. In view of this situation, he said that the company’s policy and emphasis is not to establish a centralized accessibility standard, but instead to empower individual teams to set their own standards for accessibility. According to Mr. Woods, an effort is made to cater to the broadest array of customers on their Website, making it hard to accommodate everybody’s priority interests.
All of this notwithstanding, Mr. Woods said that the NFB has helped to provide Amazon.com with a sense of focus on accessibility and has helped the company identify gaps in the process. In response to Federation advocacy, Amazon has created a raising-the-bar taskforce to address issues of Website accessibility. Mr. Woods specifically noted that progress has been made in reviewing portions of the Website featuring text, conducting an audit of form fields, and enforcing Alt tags and form-field labeling. He also said that Amazon.com would be setting up a dedicated customer service channel for accessibility issues and a page on its Website dedicated to nonvisual access. He welcomed feedback from interested blind consumers on these and other initiatives that the company may take in the future. He concluded his remarks by saying that Amazon.com appreciates the support of the NFB, values its relationship with the Federation, and regards the accessibility concerns brought to its attention as a matter of priority.
Dr. Jonathan Lazar, the director of the Universal Usability Laboratory in the Department of Information and Computer Science at Towson State University, presented on the topic “Making CAPCHA More Accessible to the Blind.” Dr. Lazar and Towson State University have had a long partnership with the NFB to identify access solutions for blind computer users. Circumventing access challenges created by CAPCHA was the number one frustration that blind computer users identified in Dr. Lazar’s Internet frustration survey.
In response to this finding, Dr. Lazar and his colleagues have developed an alternative to traditional CAPCHA which uses a combination of pictures or sounds that computer users must identify. While work is still being done on a second version of this alternative, initial indications are that blind computer users will be able to navigate this new security system successfully with minimal difficulty and competitive speed. Convention delegates met Dr. Lazar’s report with enthusiasm.
Dr. Wayne Dick, professor of computer engineering and computer science at California State University, next spoke on the topic “Equal Access to Web 2.0 and Beyond.” Professor Dick delivered a technical lecture on the distinction between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, identifying the characteristics of the first generation of the Web and describing the added features in the second generation. He told the convention that Web 2.0 has access dangers but that it can be made to work well with access technology. He urged the Federation to remain vigilant on promoting access issues on the Internet and computer in general.
Anne Taylor, NFB director of access technology, delivered “National Federation of the Blind Nonvisual Access Certification (NFBNVA).” A full report on this program item appears elsewhere in this issue.
Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert next addressed the convention. In remarks full of folksy anecdotes entitled “Congressional Decision Making, Government Policy, and Blindness,” he generally affirmed his support for the Federation’s positions on adequate funding of the NLS digital transition program, the quiet cars legislation, and reform of Social Security Disability Insurance.
Michael Eisenreich, leader of ge.com digital media technologies with General Electric, addressed the topic “Access for the Blind to Consumer Products: A Commitment from General Electric.” President Maurer took this occasion to present Mr. Eisenreich with the NFB’s access certification certificate. Mr. Eisenreich offered convention delegates details about the history, size, and scope of General Electric, and he said that he understood the principle that partnering with those in the know is the best way to increase a company’s accessibility. He pledged that General Electric’s commitment to accessibility would not stop with the award received at convention.
Larry Skutchan, technology project leader in the Department of Educational Research at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), spoke on “Developing Technologies for School and Work.” Celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the APH, Mr. Skutchan offered a fascinating historical perspective on the evolution of technology, placing particular emphasis on APH’s recording practices and procedures.
Mike Salvo, chief executive officer of Serotek Corporation, next presented “System Access to Go.” He reviewed his company’s newest products, and he spoke of Serotek’s growing partnership with the NFB.
Thursday morning’s session concluded with a presentation from Jonathan Mosen, Freedom Scientific’s vice president of blindness hardware management. In “PAC Mate Omni: The Newest PDA from Freedom Scientific,” He outlined the common philosophical values that his company and the NFB share, e.g., a belief in blind people and a commitment to accessible information. He devoted the balance of his remarks to reviewing some of the new features that will be available in the PAC Mate Omni 6.1 when it is released. These include the ability to write contracted Braille anywhere within the PAC Mate, even where one would ordinarily need to use computer Braille; the ability to read PDF documents; e-book support; a reader mode, somewhat comparable to the virtual cursor in JAWS; and access to quick keys, comparable to keystrokes in JAWS. Mr. Mosen announced that a trade-up deal with other notetakers on the market would again be made available with a 50 percent reduction in the purchase price. He expressed Freedom Scientific’s pleasure at being a title sponsor of the NFB convention again this year, and he declared that together Freedom Scientific and the NFB are “changing what it means to be blind.”
On Thursday afternoon, otherwise known to many Federationists as this year’s tour day, convention delegates spread across the Hilton Anatole to attend a wide variety of programs including a Jernigan Institute open house; a play entitled With a Dog’s Eyes: Capturing the Life of Morris Frank, sponsored by the Seeing Eye in tribute to its founder; a Social Security seminar; a mentoring workshop; a Meet the Blind Month presentation; a chapter development and recruitment seminar; a Randolph-Sheppard reception; a night with the Colorado Center for the Blind; recreational activities sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division; and Monte Carlo Night, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students, just to name a few of the attractions. If Federationists could not find something to do on Thursday afternoon and evening in the formal convention agenda, it was only because they chose to take time to tour Dallas or to recuperate from the first half of the convention week.
Friday morning’s Independence Day general session began with a ceremony honoring America’s veterans. All Federationists who served in any branch of the military were invited to be recognized on the convention stage. NFB scholarship winner Michele Gittens of Minnesota performed a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”Dwight Sayer, president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, a newly formed NFB division, and Joe Ruffalo, a member of the NFB national board and president of the New Jersey affiliate, presided over this patriotic memorial.
World Blind Union President Dr. William Rowland presented “The Federation in the World from the Perspective of South Africa and Four Years of International Effort.” He endorsed the Federation’s quiet cars campaign after telling convention delegates of his own harrowing experience with a quiet car in April 2005. He affirmed his belief in NFB philosophy and urged convention delegates to work with him to promote these principles on a universal scale. During a visit he made to the NFB headquarters in 2004, President Maurer and Mrs. Jernigan expressed doubts about the efficacy of the WBU. Dr. Rowland confided that these doubts inspired him to work toward the goals of his administration during the last four years.
Reviewing his term, Dr. Rowland reported that for the first time in its history the WBU has operated with a strategic plan detailing specific goals and measurables for the organization. Among the accomplishments were establishment of a permanent international office for the WBU and appointment of an executive director for the organization, strengthening of international partnerships, the leading role that the WBU has played in the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and work undertaken to celebrate both the twenty-fifth anniversary of the WBU and the bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth in 2009. Dr. Rowland commended the NFB for its Braille literacy campaign, and he informed convention delegates that he has invited President Maurer to deliver the keynote address during the seventh General Assembly of the WBU this summer in Geneva.
Graeme Innes, human rights and disability discrimination commissioner with the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, next delivered “The Federation in the World from the Perspective of a Human Rights Advocate and Blind Leader in Australia.” He charmed the convention with a mixture of good humor and reflection about international blindness policy. He urged blind consumers in America to exercise our influence to persuade manufacturers of audio description not to strip this technology when selling their products internationally. According to Mr. Innes the size of the American market and the influence of the American blind consumer movement could also help countries around the world to address issues of digital access to household appliances and the like. Finally, he asked blind consumers in America to urge the United States government to sign the recently adopted United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Addressing the topic “Protecting the Rights of Blind Individuals in the United States,” Daniel Goldstein, longtime disability rights attorney for the NFB, wowed the convention audience with a thoughtful address comparing the state of the blind civil rights movement in the United States to other civil rights struggles that have occurred in this country. The central theme was that the civil rights battles of every minority are in many ways all one issue. “There are critical differences between different minorities, but a bad decision hurts all minorities. Bad decisions for any group hurt others who are also subject to discrimination. What we have in common is that the majority regards us all as outside the norm.”
Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, and Ed O’Reilly, head of the Collection Development Section of NLS, offered the annual update that Federationists have come to expect from NLS. Director Cylke announced with pride that “we have entered the digital age,” and he provided details on the release of the NLS digital players and program. He also thanked the Federation for its role in assisting NLS to secure adequate funding for the digital transition program from Congress. Dr. O’Reilly, a first-time convention participant, offered a series of wry and witty remarks about the political environment in which we live and the priorities of some in our society that influence the ability of NLS to build a more robust collection for its patrons.
Barbara Cheadle, president emerita of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), next chaired a panel of parents and blind children that celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of this Federation division. A full report of the NOPBC twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations held throughout this year’s convention appears elsewhere in this issue.
Gilles Pepin, chief executive officer of HumanWare, another NFB convention title sponsor, next addressed the convention on “Technologies Developed in Partnership with the Blind.” He commenced his remarks with an update on the Victor Reader Stream. He reported that ten thousand people have purchased the digital reader thus far and that three thousand of these have used it to participate in the NLS download pilot project. He also reported that over one thousand suggestions for improvements to the product have been received during the last ten months, and he noted that several upgrades, including access to books from Audible.com, ability to play advanced podcasts, the capacity to read BRF formats, and the development of the PC Stream Companion have been incorporated in the product to name just a few of the upgrades.
Mr. Pepin announced that HumanWare is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. In recognition of this fact, several new products have been released in the last twelve months, including the NLS Digital Talking Book player; the ClassMate Reader, a product for learning-disabled children; several versions of the SmartView low-vision magnifier; and the Trekker Breeze, the newest of HumanWare’s GPS solutions for the less technical user.
Finally, Mr. Pepin revealed that in 2009 HumanWare will introduce the newest generation in portable notetaking significantly upgrading its BrailleNote suite of products. Similarly, the accessible Blackberry PDA project on which HumanWare has been working is slated for its first release in the fall of 2008.
Friday morning’s session ended with a presentation from Luke Kowalski, corporate user experience architect with Oracle, “National Center for Excellence in Enterprise Computing.” He reviewed a number of collaborative initiatives in which Oracle has been involved to increase access for blind consumers to its products. He explained that the company is motivated to work on improving accessibility to its products because it is the right thing to do, because it increases its employment and customer base, and because it really is not an especially technically challenging undertaking to manage.
On Friday afternoon Mike May, president of Sendero Group, told his personal story to the convention, “Crashing Through in Technology, in Business, and in Living.” Having acquired some notoriety within the blindness community as one of only a few to have some of their vision restored through surgery and for his generally adventuresome and entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. May talked to the convention about some of his most memorable experiences. He reflected on working with the Central Intelligence Agency, competing in Olympic-level athletics, and delving into risky business and technological ventures. He discussed the evolution of GPS systems as one means of helping blind people realize greater personal independence and mobility. As for his partially restored vision, he said, “Low vision is icing on the cake. Having some sight is fun, but it isn’t the big deal that you might imagine because of the alternative techniques of blindness.” He concluded his presentation with the thought that his life experiences might generate for others a taller ladder to climb—a means by which others can grow and achieve in their own right.
The convention next warmly welcomed remarks from Ray Kurzweil, president and chief executive officer of KNFB Reading Technology, Inc. He took the opportunity to acquaint convention delegates with some of the features under development for the KNFB Reader Mobile, including ability to read in seven languages, perform language translation, engage in object recognition, and perform inside navigation functions. Ultimately identifying items with both trained and untrained recognition technology will become a feature of this device. In addition to describing the advantages of the new KNFB Reader Mobile, Ray offered a futuristic perspective on technology for the blind that intrigued and fascinated convention delegates—a future in which he hypothesized that vision would become largely irrelevant.
Gary Wunder, chairperson of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee, devoted the next thirty minutes of convention programming to presenting the inaugural Bolotin Awards to the 2008 recipients. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
“Literacy, Learning, and Enlightenment” was the address that NFB First Vice President Fredric Schroeder delivered to the convention this year. The full text of this speech appears elsewhere in this issue.
Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, chaired the panel “Believing Enough to Question: The Jernigan Institute—A Revolution in Education and Research.” In introductory comments he explained to convention delegates that both the education efforts and research components of the Jernigan Institute program are important as a means of accelerating positive changes in society for blind people. He affirmed our fundamental belief in the underlying principles of the Federation. The point of his message was that the Jernigan Institute can be used as an effective tool to quantify Federation anecdotes and principles through rigorous education and research initiatives.
Turning his attention to the NFB Youth Slam that the Jernigan Institute sponsored in July of last year, Mark cited some of the initial data from this event. He reported that 29 percent of Youth Slam participants gained a role model as a result. A statistically significant number of Youth Slam students responded positively to measures designed to evaluate their attitudes about their blindness. Of the almost two hundred Youth Slam participants, thirty-four students plan to earn a master’s degree, fourteen plan to earn doctorates, and more than 50 percent of the students expressed an interest in working in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) career. Finally, 71 percent of the Youth Slam students scored as motivated on a locus of control assessment that the Youth Slam research team conducted.
Ron Gardner, president of the NFB of Utah, and James Watson, a student from Round Rock, Texas, offered their perspectives as mentor and mentee in the 2007 Youth Slam. James participated as a journalist in the Slam News track. He said, “I would not have had such confidence in myself had I not seen role models and received support.” Ron Gardner discussed the universal role of mentoring, while drawing on specific experiences he had during the 2007 Youth Slam: “The best exercise for the human heart is to bend down and lift up another person."
Dr. Richard Ladner, Boeing professor in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, spoke on “Blind Youth in Computer Science: An Educational Commitment.” Exhibiting a remarkably refreshing attitude toward disability in general and blindness in particular, he said, “I can help you in your quest for knowledge and power, but I cannot make decisions for you.” This intuitive understanding, cultivated through his deaf parents and a motivated blind PhD candidate in his department, have directed his focus on access technology in recent years. In the summer of 2006 he partnered with the NFB Jernigan Institute to host a vertical mentoring workshop for blind people interested in STEM-related subjects. In 2007 he and graduate students under his direction developed the computer science track at the Youth Slam, and he anticipated participating in the 2008 Junior Science Academy and the 2009 Youth Slam.
During recent years Dr. Ladner has been instrumental in developing two access technology solutions of particular interest to blind people: a tactile graphics project and WebAnywhere, a free, Web-based service that provides screen-reader functionality to any computer that a blind person might wish to use. For further information about WebAnywhere, people may visit <http://www.webanywhere.cs.washington.edu>. Dr. Ladner’s ultimate goal is to minimize the cost of access technology for blind people through capitalizing on existing universal and innovative technical solutions.
Drawing the day to a close, Larry Campbell, president of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments (ICEVI), addressed “Education of Blind Youth: A Worldwide Imperative.” Citing grim statistics for the limited access to education by blind students around the world—particularly in the underdeveloped world—he nevertheless noted that hope is on the horizon. In addition to the recent adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he also announced that in 2006 ICEVI and the WBU launched a global Education for all Children with Visual Impairment Campaign. This campaign is dedicated to a unified effort to encourage governments to offer education to blind children by providing technical assistance in delivering high-quality services. Its goals are to increase student enrollment, to reduce dropout rates, to assure that students integrated have appropriate supports, and to guarantee that blind children are performing on par with their sighted peers. In order to make this program successful, Mr. Campbell reported that it will be necessary to train teachers adequately, use best-practice research, and develop high-quality, low-cost resources. Today the program is active in five countries with ten more working on their national strategies. Mr. Campbell appealed to the NFB to get involved with this and other international objectives on behalf of blind people everywhere.
The 2008 banquet of the National Federation of the Blind was a lively event. NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder was master of ceremonies for the evening. Sprinkled among the anticipated national division drawings, scholarship offerings, award presentations, and the banquet address were valuable door prizes that animated an already spirited crowd.
President Maurer delivered a hopeful banquet address, “The Urgency of Optimism,” in which he presented the insight that optimism is not merely a point of view but an element of power, both in the lives of individuals and in the business of a civil rights movement. The text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Gary Wunder, NFB secretary and president of the NFB of Missouri, received the Jacobus tenBroek Award, the highest honor given to a member of the Federation. In his typically modest and down-to-earth style, Gary accepted this organizational recognition with grace and heartfelt gratitude. A full report of this award appears elsewhere in this issue.
Anil Lewis, NFB scholarship chairperson, announced the thirty scholarships awarded by the NFB. Leslie Penko of Ohio received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship for twelve thousand dollars. A full report of the scholarship awards appears elsewhere in this issue.
Saturday morning was dedicated to internal organizational business. The financial report, the Washington report, and the Honor Roll Call of States consumed most of the morning session.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to consideration of the thirteen resolutions forwarded to the Convention floor by the resolutions committee. All of these resolutions were ultimately adopted by the Convention. The full texts of all resolutions passed by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
As the gavel fell on the 2008 convention, Federationists left Dallas armed with a reenergized sense of optimism for the year ahead. Having been engaged by informative programming, captivated with the latest in access technology, and delighted to renew old friendships while cultivating new ones, Federationists will reflect on this year’s convention as one characterized by hope, harmony, and regard for our history. The progress reported and the momentum generated on the quiet cars and NLS digital transition funding issues this year offer Federationists ample reason for hope. The earnest but good-natured deliberations on resolutions and other matters of organizational policy suggest our goodwill and civility. The weeklong celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the NOPBC and memories of past Federation leaders remind us of our rich and instructive heritage. Reenergized if not rested, each convention delegate carried home a bit of the 2008 spirit, and many immediately turned their attention to planning for the next Federation family reunion in Detroit, Michigan, in July 2009.
by Barbara Pierce
The place was the old Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, and the year was 1983. Kenneth Jernigan, then president of the National Federation of the Blind, was in the chair at a meeting that participants would look back upon with pride as the establishment of the Parents of Blind Children (POBC) Division. Dr. Jernigan did not usually preside when divisions came into existence, but this group was so dear to his heart and potentially so important to the strength and direction of the entire organization that he decided to do what he could to ensure that it got off on the right foot. He and those inaugural members succeeded beyond their fondest hopes and most optimistic dreams.
An almost entirely new generation of parents and supporters gathered on June 29, 2008, in the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas, to celebrate twenty-five years of that organization’s growth and expansion. This is a report of that celebration and the 2008 activities of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The name may have changed across the years, but the heart and soul of the division have only become better defined and more powerfully active.
At that inaugural meeting Susan Ford was elected the division’s first president, and Barbara Cheadle was elected its treasurer. Two years later in Louisville, Barbara Cheadle, who was already editing Future Reflections, became POBC president. Within a year she was working to expand the number of parent divisions at the state level. Ruby Ryles soon joined the division’s board and in the early nineties became its first vice president before heading off into the wilds of academe to earn a PhD, putting academic heft behind her professional and personal convictions about the importance of Braille in the education of blind children. In its early years Doris Willoughby contributed her professional expertise to the organization and wrote and co-wrote landmark texts that fleshed out the concept of establishing high expectations for blind students in the classroom and step by step showed teachers and parents how to do it.
In 1984 Carol Castellano gave birth to a premature daughter, who came home from the hospital with an entire range of problems of prematurity, including blindness. A social worker gave Carol some of the NFB literature that was beginning to appear. She described the organization as a radical bunch of troublemakers. The advice this group gave was pretty good, Carol was warned, but the group itself was nothing but trouble. Carol immediately contacted Barbara Cheadle and joined forces with the rabblerousers. She has been helping to write the books and lead the charge for reform ever since.
Twenty-five years have flown by, and thousands of families with blind children have benefitted from NOPBC campaigns for Braille availability for all blind students, canes in the hands of all young blind children, and Braille and other accessible textbooks in the hands of the students who need them at the same time as their sighted classmates get theirs. None of these battles has been won across the board, but the battle has been engaged everywhere, and school officials are beginning to understand what they are expected to provide, and parents in every state are learning where to turn for help getting what their children need.
NOPBC activities at NFB national conventions have come to be recognized as the single most thorough and effective crash course in parenting a blind child that a family can receive. This year’s program was no exception. The teen track is coming to be a week-long series of activities and supervised hang-out opportunities for blind and sighted teens that provides fun, insight, and learning. The younger kids have NFB Camp during the week, but they too are enjoying more and more workshops specially designed to meet their needs and interests. Parents of blind children face many different problems: stimulation in the early years, homeschooling, IEP development, early cane travel, help for multiply disabled youngsters, access to math and science, and the list goes on almost endlessly. Yet each year the NOPBC meets the challenge of addressing the entire range of parent and student needs while constantly challenging every family to raise its expectations and tap the resources available to it in the division and the NFB as a whole.
“Remember the Past, Imagine the Future” was the title of this year’s NOPBC seminar. To open it, President Maurer sat down with the kids to talk about the things that interested them. Then a panel of younger students talked about what was on their minds. Carrie Gilmer then showed a PowerPoint presentation with photos and audio, highlighting the history of the NOPBC. The audience was captivated to see and hear Dr. Jernigan call the organizing meeting to order and the group elect its first officers. They watched and listened to NOPBC leaders grow in confidence and skill as the years rolled by. The morning session closed with Carol Castellano’s tribute to Barbara Cheadle and the immeasurable impact she has had on the lives and parenting of an entire generation of families of blind children. Carol concluded by pointing out that through the years Barbara had lacked only one tool of excellent leadership, a gavel. She then presented Barbara with a beautifully finished rosewood gavel and wooden base inscribed with her name and the dates of her NOPBC presidency.
Barbara responded to this tribute by inquiring where the coffin was, since that many lovely things were not usually said about a person before the funeral service. She went on to recall for an audience mostly too new to have heard the story that, when her own blind toddler Chaz was just beginning to acquire the skills of blindness, she learned firsthand about the depth of the discrimination he would face when he began searching for a job. She tried to persuade a work colleague at the Red Cross to consider hiring a blind employee. The woman, herself married to a legally blind man who, like Chaz, had significant residual vision, flat out refused to consider a legally blind candidate. Barbara realized at that moment that equipping her son with the blindness tools he needed to live and work in the world would not be enough. She had to change the world he would face as an adult. She has been about that work ever since. Barbara went on to assure the group that, though she was retiring from office this year, she was not going anywhere. She will continue to edit Future Reflections and advise the division.
During the remainder of the morning blind children and adult family members could choose from a number of workshop offerings: music Braille, the abacus, early cane use, adapting board games, preparing for more independence as a multiply disabled blind adult, helping low-vision kids adapt to blindness, and feeling at ease at your first convention with more than two thousand people using canes or dogs. In the afternoon kids did arts and crafts by age group while their parents chose from another array of hour-long workshops. A sequence of two workshops was available for parents of preschoolers, elementary students, and teens and young adults. Separate sessions were also available for families of multiply disabled children and homeschoolers.
Monday morning, families could take advantage of the growing number of cane travel instructors at convention by signing up for cane walks in which kids and sometimes parents got a travel lesson under sleepshades with an expert in the structured-discovery method. These cane walks have become a popular feature of parent activities. That afternoon teens and parents could learn more about chemistry and the adaptive equipment that makes it possible for blind students to take full advantage of chemistry labs.
Tuesday afternoon the division conducted its annual meeting, following which those interested in strengthening state and local parent organizations met to trade ideas and report on their successes. During the remainder of convention week, evenings and other free time were filled with valuable programs on IEP advocacy, evaluating assessments, encouraging kids to become really active, and much more.
Teens from twelve to eighteen had their own programming all week long. The teen hospitality drop-in room was open lunchtimes and some other times. Supervised by Brigid Doherty, it provided blind and sighted teens a safe place to hang out and get to know other teens. Participation in this year’s youth track was not for the faint of heart as teens learned the art of step dancing from Faith Penn, a college student from Texas, and tested their endurance during power yoga instruction by Janice Jeang, summer intern at the NFB Jernigan Institute. Teens also showed off their creativity as they presented their own top ten lists for the David Letterman Show. Amidst giggles and forgotten lines, small groups of youth shared what they believed to be the ten most important things the public should know about blindness.
Nearly every NFB division turned out for the youth track’s division meet and greet held on July 1. Representatives talked to the youth about their divisions and invited them to attend their convention meetings. At least three of the teens who went to division meetings as a result of that day’s program were elected to a division board. The youth wrapped up the week in typical teen style—dancing the night away and singing their favorite songs at the tops of their lungs.
However, the event that all those who attended will remember longest was the silver anniversary buffet dinner and program held on Sunday evening, June 29. Laura Weber, president of the parents of blind children division in Texas, coordinated the production of a full-color program commemorating the organization’s history. Braille and print editions of this beautiful document were available that evening to the 240 who attended the dinner and the overflow audience who joined the event in time for the program. Anyone who would like to order a single copy of the print program for $10 can contact Barbara Cheadle at <[email protected]> to place an order.
Carrie Gilmer, incoming NOPBC president, and her husband Phil Richardson created a second PowerPoint presentation of NOPBC history that stirred fond memories for many in the audience. Then Ruby Ryles was presented with the Dan Ryles Memorial Award. Dan, whom we all came to know through Ruby’s speeches and writings and Dan’s own speeches, especially, “Mean like my Mom,” died unexpectedly in July of 2007. His mother was of course deeply touched by this tribute to Dan and to her. She spoke movingly of Dan’s life and her personal development within and commitment to the National Federation of the Blind.
At this celebration the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children also initiated the Twig Bender Awards, to be given to those whose work has influenced the direction in which our blind children have grown. NOPBC leaders decided this first year to name one Twig Bender for each year of the organization’s existence and one to grow on. The recipients were invited to come to the platform to receive their medallions. Carrie Gilmer placed the medallion ribbon around the neck of each recipient, saying something fitting about each person’s contribution to the organization. Those honored were Carol Castellano, Barbara Cheadle, John Cheadle, Joe Cutter, Susan Ford, Marty Greiser, Sandy Halverson, Allen Harris, Joy Harris, Julie Hunter, Nadine Jacobson, Kenneth Jernigan, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Denise Mackenstadt, Marc Maurer, Carla McQuillan, Abraham Nemeth, Barbara Pierce, Ruby Ryles, Fred Schroeder, Debbie Kent Stein, Gail Wagner, Ramona Walhof, Loretta White, Doris Willoughby, and Joanne Wilson.Brief biographies of the award recipients appeared in the program, as did memories and tributes from supporters across the country. The entire event was a tribute to the organizational skills and the meticulous planning of the NOPBC leaders and members who worked hard to make the evening a success. The food was delicious and included choices that made even the youngest guests happy. The program was just an hour long and kept moving so that even the kids stayed remarkably interested. In short, those who plan the golden anniversary celebration will have a difficult act to follow.
by Marc Maurer
During the past year the National Federation of the Blind has expanded its programs and increased its innovative activity to levels never before reached. The difference between our organization and all of the others in this country in the field of work with the blind is that our activities arise from the spirit of the individuals who are part of the Federation, and our programs are directed by the hopes and dreams, wishes and aspirations of our members.
Sometimes I have heard it said that the National Federation of the Blind should not deliver any services because to do so would change our organization into an agency for the blind. However, this point of view fails to account for the reality that the blind own and control the National Federation of the Blind–it is our organization; we set the policy; we direct the work of those who accept the task of conducting our programs. What better check-and-balance system can be imagined than the one which says to the blind: These programs belong to you; run them to suit your will. If you don’t like what you’re getting out of them, find somebody else to give them direction, and change the way they operate. Demand success, and don’t settle for anything else. This is what we do in the National Federation of the Blind, and the results from the past year are an indication of the vitality of this approach.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek founded the National Federation of the Blind in 1940. He served as the Federation’s primary leader from the time of its founding until the time of his death in 1968. In 1998 his widow, Mrs. Hazel tenBroek, transferred Dr. tenBroek’s papers to the National Federation of the Blind with the understanding that we would build a library to house them. In 1999 we talked about a capital campaign to construct our new building. In 2001 we broke ground, and in 2004 we took possession of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, our new building which houses the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library. Not all of the work of constructing our building had been completed by 2004. The contractors continued to work away in the facility. Negotiations occurred, punch lists were created, and errors in construction were uncovered. Finishing our new institute came to represent, at least for me, a seemingly endless process of meetings and arguments, cajolery and dispute–with an occasional effort to intimidate or threat of retaliation thrown in to spice up the dullness of the interminable conversation about what still needed to be done and when the building would be finished. I am pleased to report that in November of 2007 we shook hands with the contractors and wished them well, signing the last document and accepting a completed facility in shipshape order.
Our new building is named for Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the second great president of the National Federation of the Blind, who contemplated the construction of this facility in 1998 and considered the plans for our institute in the months before his death that year. This facility brought into being well over 175,000 feet of additional floor space at the National Center for the Blind. It cost us more than $20 million to build, and its construction initiated programs of innovative thought and exploration within the Federation which had not previously been imagined. Blindness, being a low-incidence condition, is rarely the topic of conversation in business, in politics, or in community life. One of our objectives in the Federation is to increase the recognition throughout society of the right of the blind to participate fully. This means sufficient education among members of the public to assure that this right is not merely a statement of position but an enforceable obligation for all. Our Jernigan Institute has made the implementation of this policy a practical possibility to a much greater degree than it was before we built it.
One of the areas in which the blind must gain full recognition is within the law of the land. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek was a lawyer and a constitutional scholar. He wrote extensively about the law, and part of his writing described the position of individuals with disabilities within the law. His groundbreaking article, "The Right to Live in the World: the Disabled and the Law of Torts," appeared in the California Law Review in 1966. This survey of the position of disabled human beings within American jurisprudence stimulated thinking about disability statutes within the several states and at the national level. More than half of the United States adopted the White Cane Law, a nondiscrimination law for blind people. The nondiscrimination provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, which became law in 1973, took much of their form from the thoughts in Dr. tenBroek’s article. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which came later, drew its spirit from the work of Dr. tenBroek.
In April of this year we held the first ever Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. This premier disability law symposium, attended by over one hundred individuals from throughout the country, including representatives from the most prestigious programs dealing with disability law in the United States, symbolized the leadership of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and the National Federation of the Blind in shaping the direction of disability law in the United States. A keynote address from the president of the National Federation of the Blind emphasized that disability rights law is not well known by jurists and in some quarters is not highly regarded. How this important area of the law develops depends on the training of the lawyers who present the material in court and on the attitude of the clients who give shape to the arguments the lawyers make. It is our job to provide education. There are enough cranks to present muddleheaded flimflam. We must insist that this area of law be reality-based and that it not be composed of myth. Another law symposium is being planned for April 2009.
From the time of the founding of the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland, we have had our address at 1800 Johnson Street. Our new front entrance is along Wells Street on the south side of the city block that we own. We are currently in the process of installing appropriate signage at our new front door. Our new address will bear the name of the street as the city shows it. However, the part of the street immediately outside our building has received an honorary name as well. Although for mailing purposes we will continue to use 1800 Johnson Street, our new address with the honorary name is 200 Jernigan Place.
We are installing our wall of honor in the first floor atrium of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. This wall celebrates the contributions made by our members and friends so that the building could be erected. The title of the wall is Building Our Future with Our Own Hands. Below the title are nine domestic crystal panels engraved with the names of our donors. These nine panels are illuminated by a fiber optic white lighting system that literally makes them shine on the wall. Below these crystal panels are aluminum plates containing the information in Braille as it appears in print.
The legend that is part of our wall of honor says: “Believing in ourselves, recognizing our capacity to construct our own future, accepting the responsibility to shape the destiny for the blind today and in the decades to come, forging a climate to foster the possibility for true equality for the blind, understanding the need to collaborate with our blind and sighted colleagues in forming a future filled with opportunity: all of this is the dream embodied by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.” This is the proclamation contained on our wall of honor.
In 2006, at the request of the National Federation of the Blind, Congress adopted the Louis Braille Commemorative Coin Bill, which was signed into law by the president in July of that year. This law directs the Treasury to create a commemorative coin incorporating fully readable, properly formed Braille characters. This is the first coin ever minted in the United States containing properly designed Braille symbols, and it is being created because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind.
The proceeds from the sale of this coin come to the National Federation of the Blind if the organization matches the funds made available. In conjunction with this program, we will be promoting literacy for the blind. The blind throughout the world owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Louis Braille for inventing the tactile dot system of reading. Literacy is vastly simpler for the blind with Braille than without it. However, some people don’t believe in Braille. Some people believe it to be outmoded, old fashioned, no longer pertinent. Despite what they say, we know that literacy is of vital importance to us. It is not only important but a right we claim as our own.
In 2003 we began work with Ray Kurzweil to develop a pocket-sized reading machine. At our 2006 convention the first handheld reading machine became available. This consisted of software loaded into a personal data assistant attached to a digital camera. Last year developments to the software for this reading machine were demonstrated at our convention. In February of 2008 the first reading machine on a cell phone was released. The KNFB Reader Mobile is the state of the art for reading machines for the blind, and it can now read in several languages. It is the cell phone that reads, and it incorporates a magnification program that will offer large print to the visually impaired. It reads magazines on airplanes, restaurant menus, coffee pouches in hotel rooms, currency in any location, the signs on hotel walls, and sometimes the bottles or cans in the cupboard or the boxes in the freezer. It can identify the bills, read the mail, disclose the contents of books, and sometimes read the visual displays on automatic teller machines or other devices. Furthermore, it will do this at any time of day or night, and it is polite about it. We will be hearing from Ray Kurzweil about developments in reading technology later during the convention.
During the summer of 2007 the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute took on its largest youth project to date–the most dynamic gathering of blind youth ever–the National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam. Working with Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering, the Maryland Space Grant Consortium, and NASA, the Federation brought almost two hundred students and almost one hundred blind mentors to Baltimore for a week of hands-on experience in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The objective of this gathering was to let blind students know that participation in these fields is practical for them and to give them simple adaptations or alternative techniques that can be used in doing science. Nine different tracks were part of the curriculum: Slam--The Renewable Energy (environmental chemistry), Slammin' in the Stars (astronomy), Inventors of the Future (engineering new products), Slam Rockets (rocketry and physics), Operation Air Slam (launching weather balloons to gather data, physics), Slam Engineers Unite (engineering, bridge building), Slammin' in the Wind (building windmills, engineering), Slam Talk Back (creating instant messaging talk bots), and Slam News (journalism). Students also participated in workshops on blindness-specific topics and accessible technology. The week culminated in a rally at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Anil Lewis addressed the crowd with a rousing motivational speech before the youth began their own Youth March for Independence to the National Center for the Blind. A presentation on the Federation’s Youth Slam and the educational initiatives of the Jernigan Institute is planned for later in the convention.
Students who participated in the Youth Slam were invited back to spend a weekend at the National Center for the Blind at Youth Slam Follow-Up Leadership Seminars to learn more about the Federation and the role they can play in shaping the future. Approximately 75 percent of Youth Slam participants have returned for a seminar.
We have developed a coordinated Youth Outreach Program to assist Federation affiliates in implementing local youth programs. In January twenty-four affiliates participated in a training seminar to stimulate the development of local youth outreach.
Later this month the Jernigan Institute will offer our first science academy program for blind elementary school students and their families. A great deal of interest has been expressed in this form of educational program, and we are attempting to find adequate resources to meet the need.
The National Center for Mentoring Excellence, a program of the National Federation of the Blind funded by the United States Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, has expanded mentoring programs from the two original demonstration states to a total of six: Nebraska, Louisiana, Utah, Ohio, Georgia, and Texas. This program develops mentoring relationships between blind people seeking to be integrated into society and those who have demonstrated success in education and employment. We will be attempting to expand the program further.
The Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, one of the first nationwide activities to encourage the use of Braille, continues to be a valuable and fun way to excite students to be literate. This year we had 312 participants from forty-three states who read 378,962 pages of Braille. The top twelve students from this contest were selected to receive a trip to our national convention, and they are with us today.
This summer, through our Affiliate Action Department, we are conducting the first-ever Teen Empowerment Academy. This eight-week program will help blind high school students gain the skills, the philosophical foundation, and the knowledge of blindness they need to pursue their dreams.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Jacob Bolotin, a totally blind man, became a medical doctor. Rumors of this remarkable story surfaced from time to time, but credible research verifying the events of Bolotin’s life was elusive. However, the remarkable story has been written by Rosalind Perlman in a book entitled The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, which we distributed to members of the National Federation of the Blind at our convention last summer.
Dr. Bolotin’s life is one depicting a blind person’s determination and the will to succeed during a time when almost nobody expected the blind to possess these characteristics. Dr. Bolotin’s spirit is one that we know well in the Federation, but he had to sustain it without the support of an organized movement of people prepared to reflect his faith. This spirit is important. Mrs. Perlman has asked us to assist in spreading the faith of Dr. Bolotin and the National Federation of the Blind by granting awards to individuals for promoting that spirit. In cooperation with the Santa Barbara Foundation, at this convention the National Federation of the Blind will be granting $100,000 to individuals and groups for the work they have done to promote this spirit. Each year similar awards will be given to those who have promoted the independence of the blind.
Through our Imagination Fund we raise money for programs at the national, state, and local levels of the Federation. Twenty-five percent of the funds raised is distributed to state affiliates directly. Twenty-five percent is distributed to affiliates, divisions, or local chapters through applications for grants to support special programs, and 50 percent is used for programs in the Jernigan Institute. Some examples of the objectives of programs supported by these grants are:
“To give children who are blind a better understanding of their natural environment and the scientific process of investigation by encouraging hands-on adventure and experimentation.”
“To prepare high school students to meet the challenges of higher education.”
“To expand the expectations that blind students and their parents have for full participation in educational activities.”
“To educate blind people about the issues of blindness and to instruct them in the methods of advocacy in obtaining the rights to which they are entitled from government.”
These are just a few of the bold objectives of initiatives funded by the Imagination Fund.
Last year we completed the Imagination Fund campaign with our first March for Independence–a march stirred with the inspirational words of Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. This year we have just finished our second March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity. One of the marchers was our honorary chairperson, Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas. One of the events of this march was the unveiling of the Louis Braille commemorative coin–the symbol of literacy for the blind of the world wrought in silver–the symbol of our talent–one of the elements of our means for independence. The details of our March for Independence may change, but our message remains clear and unmistakable. Many have told us to wait, but we will not wait. Many have told us to sit still until they can come to care for us, but we will not be coddled. Many have expressed the view that our lives will be filled with meaning when they have had the time, the energy, and the inspiration to devise the plan for our future, but we are on our feet, and we will march to the sound of our own voice. The sound that you hear is the music of our marching performed in rhythm to the cadence of our song. Our Walk for Opportunity is the visible embodiment of our determination to be free. This is the meaning of the March for Independence.
We have continued our contract work with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, administering the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. This effort helps to increase the quality and quantity of Braille produced in this country. During the time that we have conducted these courses (approximately eighteen months), we have forwarded the names of more than 320 individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification requirements in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) provides the best library service for the blind of any program in the world, with a commitment to high-quality recorded material, flawless Braille, access to materials through easy-to-use Internet service, and the support necessary to bring all of this access to information to the homes of the blind.
A number of years ago NLS began examining technological possibilities for providing library books in recorded form in a digital format. Tape-recorded technology (which became the standard for the library almost forty years ago) is now becoming obsolete, and a digital format for recorded material must be adopted. The one chosen by NLS is easy to use, constructed to protect the intellectual property of copyright holders, and sufficiently sturdy to survive in the mail and to withstand repeated long-term use. The library has plans to bring out the Digital Book in 2008. The transition was originally scheduled to begin in 2008 and to be completed in four years at a cost of $19.1 million per year.
In the fiscal year 2008 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, Congress provided only $12.5 million to NLS to support the conversion of the Talking Books Program from analog cassette to digital format. This amount was $6.6 million short of the amount requested by the Library. The Librarian of Congress promised that he would try to make up the shortfall in the 2009 fiscal year request, but his public pronouncements have not reflected this promise. Instead he has indicated that the conversion to the digital format would occur over six years, not four. Extending this conversion from four to six years would result in a devastating reduction in service–hundreds of thousands of Americans would not have access to new books for up to three years, 27 percent fewer books would be available during the transition period, and 1.7 million books would be lost.
Congressman Edolphus Towns of New York wrote a letter (signed by eighty-seven members of Congress) to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, to protest the cut in funding. If the blind are to have opportunity, we must have books. More than 17,000 public libraries in the United States serve sighted patrons, but there is only one national Library for the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind declared that we will continue the fight for the blind to have books. I am pleased to report that the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee adopted a budget for the digital Talking Book transition only two weeks before this convention. The amount for the digital Talking Book transition is $34.5 million.
We are engaged in a multidimensional effort to assure that blind people can identify silent, or near-silent, cars. Many of us have been startled, some of us frightened, and a few of us thrown into near panic by cars that whiz past without our being aware that they were approaching. They have brushed our clothing and run over our canes. Until this happened we didn’t even know they were there. Approximately three years ago the National Federation of the Blind asked representatives of auto manufacturers to meet with us, but most of them would not. We tried to talk with officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but they wouldn’t listen. However, we never give up.
On April 9, 2008, Congressman Edolphus Towns of New York and Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida introduced HR 5734, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008. This bill seeks to solve the problems posed by silent cars to blind people and other pedestrians. In the short time since its introduction, approximately fifty members of the House of Representatives have cosponsored this bill. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finally met with us last December, and it has conducted a fact-finding meeting on June 23, 2008. The Society of Automotive Engineers has invited us to meet with its representatives to consider methods for the blind to hear the cars before they strike, and we are also in dialogue with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Part of the structure of regulatory control of auto manufacturing occurs through the United Nations. John Paré, Mary Ellen Jernigan, and I traveled to Geneva to meet with the appropriate UN regulatory body to present testimony about the importance of a sound standard that ensures cars can be heard. During the course of the meetings in Geneva, one of the European representatives told us that in his country some of the buses have become so silent that they are known as “the killer buses.”
If our streets become more dangerous than they already are for the blind, our right to live in the world is severely curtailed. We of the organized blind have decided that we will not be confined to our homes. We insist on the right to travel, and we want the streets to be safe for us as much as they are for anybody else.
We have engaged in a number of other legislative activities. The Randolph-Sheppard Act is under attack, but we are fighting back. A Social Security proposal, the Blind Persons Earnings Fairness Act, HR 3834, and S 2559, would reduce penalties currently being encountered by blind Social Security beneficiaries who seek to work. Amendments to the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, HR 4137, now in informal conference committee, would establish a commission to study the best method for publishers to provide books to blind college students in accessible formats.
“Dare to Be Remarkable” was the title and the theme of a national conference for residential rehabilitation training centers for the blind held at the National Center for the Blind in December of 2007. Sponsored by the Federation in partnership with the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and conducted through our Affiliate Action Department, this training event featured instruction for teachers and administrators in training centers for the blind. Over 150 professionals working in the field of blindness attended, representing programs in thirty-two states: twenty state rehabilitation agencies, ten private rehabilitation organizations, five residential schools for the blind, and one university.
We have engaged in a number of legal actions during the past year. Dennis Lindsey is a blind graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind who wishes to teach woodworking. He enrolled at Red Rocks Community College and successfully completed two woodworking courses. Despite his success, somebody at the college got nervous about safety and refused to let Dennis continue his education. He could come to class, they said, only if he hired a “certified vocational rehabilitation specialist” to sit with him for his own protection–a babysitter for the blind. Scott LaBarre knows the law, and he informed the college that the ”babysitter for the blind” provision had not been adopted by Congress. Demanding that the blind provide a babysitter is a violation of federal law. I am pleased to report that Dennis Lindsey has returned to class, and he will be getting the education he needs.
Richard Mouriquand served as a correctional officer for the Colorado Department of Corrections. When he became blind, he sought training at the Colorado Center for the Blind. While he was attending classes, the department unilaterally terminated him on the grounds that no job in the Department of Corrections can be done by a blind person. We appealed, and the department has changed its mind. Richard Mouriquand is now actively employed by the Colorado Department of Corrections, and he has not lost a day of his seniority.
Juliana Cumbo is a blind woman living in Austin, Texas. She is an acupuncturist who has gotten her degree and passed all licensure examinations. In order to do so, she has completed hundreds of hours of practical, hands-on training. Nevertheless, the Texas Acupuncture Board rejected her license, saying that her blindness made her unsafe. We joined in the protest of this decision, and I am happy to report that the board has reversed its ruling. Juliana Cumbo is now a licensed acupuncturist in Texas.
In 1999 the United States Air Force signed a contract with the Colorado Business Enterprises Program to operate the High Frontier Dining Hall under the Randolph-Sheppard Program. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, operated this location until 2005, when Steve Rightsell, one of our members from Denver, took it over. In the spring of 2006 the air force announced that it would close the location. However, we discovered plans to reopen the facility outside of the Randolph-Sheppard priority, and we filed an action in the United States Court of Federal Claims. I am pleased to announce that a settlement has been reached. The air force has agreed to give blind vendors the first right of refusal to operate both the newly reopened High Frontier food facility and a new fitness center at Buckley Air Force Base.
The Federal Telecommunications Act requires cell phone manufacturers and service providers to make their cell phones accessible to the blind. As many of you know, this law is routinely ignored. Last fall, in a joint effort with the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Association of People with Disabilities, we filed several informal complaints with the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Federation members who have inaccessible cell phones. The National Federation of the Blind is now preparing to file formal complaints with the FCC against a major manufacturer and service provider. Cell phones are fast becoming not only the primary method of communication among human beings but also one of the principal ways for retrieving information from the Internet, sending and reading email, and managing text messages. It is vital that the blind have access to these forms of communication, and we will continue to pursue this right until we get it.
In December of 2007 after years of litigation a federal court in Massachusetts approved a landmark settlement of our class action against Cardtronics, Inc., the largest deployer of ATMs in the world. The settlement requires that Cardtronics make the vast majority of its ATMs accessible to the blind by July 2010, ensuring that 23,350 ATMs located across the country in places such as drugstores, convenience stores, and train stations are equipped with voice guidance. The Federation is monitoring the settlement’s implementation through on-site testing.
Several years ago we asked the Target Corporation to make its Website accessible for the blind. Target refused, and we filed suit. Since our last convention we have secured several key rulings that will substantially affect the accessibility of the entire Internet. The judge in our case ruled that California’s antidiscrimination laws require all commercial Websites, even those without physical stores, to be accessible to the blind. The judge also ruled that a national class could sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act for an order prohibiting discrimination and that the class in California could also seek monetary damages. Matters are proceeding apace, and we believe there will be more good news to announce about the case soon.
The status of education for blind children in the United States is one of our most pressing concerns. The Federation has long worked to bring innovation and higher standards to the programs in which blind children are being educated. As an example we helped shape the law to increase access to Braille by establishing Braille as the default standard of literacy for blind children in school, and we later drafted provisions that have become law to ensure that Braille books are available to blind children at the same time that print books are available to the sighted. During the 2007-2008 school year, this law was to become effective. Publishers of books for children in grades kindergarten through twelve were required to make electronic versions of these books available to blind students in time for accessible versions of these books to be produced. Despite these legal requirements, too many children are not receiving their books on time.
Excuses there are a-plenty for the failure to provide the materials. Finger pointing abounds. “It is not my fault,” they all say. Somebody else made me do it–or, more precisely, somebody else kept me from getting it done. Despite the excuses, despite the finger pointing, despite the intricacies of the blame game, we will not be sidetracked or bamboozled or outwitted. We have created a group to identify the culprit, and we are making our plans to track down the guilty party. Blind children have a right to education, and part of that right is the right to read. This is what we have decided, and we will find the way, the means, and the will to make it real. Blind children will get their books.
The research we have conducted this year has concentrated on subjects of importance to the blind such as teaching and learning Braille, the experience of using access technology in voting, and activities involving the use of other access technology. Exploration of areas of research has opened dialogues with programs at Johns Hopkins Graduate School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, the University of Maryland School of Bioengineering, Ohio State University, the University of Northern Colorado, and Case Western Reserve.
Our access technology team has this year worked with companies to ensure the development of accessible high-definition radio communication systems; consulted with the Oracle computer company on designing programs to teach accessibility design to manufacturers; assisted in conducting a Webmasters' seminar; created an access technology blog on the Internet; answered tens of thousands of telephone calls and emails about technology for the blind; and conducted access technology consulting with companies such as Microsoft, HumanWare, Freedom Scientific, General Electric, Google, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, GW Micro, Deque, Merck and Co., Adobe, and Apple.
In December we conducted our presidents’ and treasurers’ seminar, designed to establish certain procedures to assure the financial security of our affiliates and to enhance their growth. Expansion at the national level in the Federation can continue only if there is strength within our affiliates, and the presidents’ and treasurers’ seminar demonstrated that we have this strength.
Our Voice of the Diabetic, a magazine created through the Diabetes Action Network, has continued to expand. Not only are we publishing the magazine, but we are forming relationships with companies in the pharmaceutical industry to promote accessible products for the blind as well. Diagnostic Devices Incorporated worked with us to create the world’s most affordable and accessible talking blood glucose meter.
The world’s second largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, has joined with us to distribute our literature to entities such as the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists, the National Kidney Foundation, and the Amputee Coalition of America. Through our work in the Diabetes Action Network, we have created the Federation’s Access Plus Award to encourage companies to produce products, Websites, and customer services in a format accessible to the blind. A report on Diabetes-related programs will be presented later during this convention.
Chapter development has occurred this year through our Affiliate Action Department in Alaska, California, Iowa, and Vermont; and leadership seminars have been conducted for Alabama, the District of Columbia, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia.
NFB-NEWSLINE® delivers 260 newspapers along with the Associated Press and United Press International to 95 percent of the eligible population in the United States. Interactive television listings are included in the service, and we have magazines and newspapers in Spanish. More than 1.5 million calls have come to NFB-NEWSLINE this year from the more than 62,000 subscribers, and we have distributed more than 100,000 news items by email.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to be a part of the World Blind Union. Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I have served as delegates to this organization for the past ten years, and we will be representing the Federation at the quadrennial meeting of this organization in Geneva later this summer. At the quadrennial meeting the keynote address to the world body will be delivered by the president of the National Federation of the Blind. Accompanying me to the meeting will be Fred Schroeder, who is often our representative in worldwide gatherings, and my wife Patricia. Patricia Maurer came to the National Center for the Blind to serve as a full-time volunteer in January of 1988. She has served in this capacity for more than twenty years.
The National Federation of the Blind has joined with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in a program that will begin immediately following this convention. That program will make available to any blind person in the United States who wants one a white cane for the use of that person. Procedures to be followed to obtain these canes will be announced later this month.
We also continue the ongoing work of the Federation. We publish Future Reflections, our magazine for parents and educators of blind children; the Braille Monitor, our general interest news magazine for blind people and others in the field of work with the blind; our Internet blog Voice of the Nation’s Blind; and our many other publications. We continue to maintain the National Center for the Blind, our headquarters in Baltimore. This year we have installed new doors in our Atrium, and we are in the process of putting a new roof on our original building. The one that is presently in place is now twenty-seven years old. In addition, we build new office space on an ongoing basis, we are remodeling our kitchen, and we are replacing worn carpet and refurbishing the exterior.
Four thousand five hundred people have come to our building since our last convention to learn about the work of the National Federation of the Blind and to gain inspiration from what we do. Hundreds of events have occurred in our facility, and thousands of meals have been served. We continue to distribute through our Independence Market thousands of products for the blind and hundreds of thousands of publications. Additional high-speed data connective equipment has been installed as well as extensive computer storage devices. RSS feeds for our Internet blogs have been created, and backup systems have been connected to our servers. With the increasing cost of energy, we have undertaken an extensive program to reduce our electric and gas consumption. In our computer lab we have installed the most up-to-date communications equipment along with a 7700 lumen projector, which displays an image on an eight-by-ten-foot wall-mounted screen. The audiovisual system can be operated from custom Braille-embossed control panels. The state-of-the art, completely accessible computer lab contains donations from Hewlett-Packard, HumanWare, GW Micro, Freedom Scientific, and Microsoft.
The programs of the Federation have never been more productive; the influence of our thinking has never been more widely felt; the admiration for our approach to the subject of blindness has never been more broadly acknowledged. However, influence and admiration cannot build an organization. The fundamental substance that holds us together comes from the human spirit–from our members–from me and from you. Nobody can give us the courage to meet tomorrow with a song of gladness; we must find this courage in our own hearts. But then nobody can keep us from it either. Nobody can live our lives for us, and nobody can bring to us the imagination of the future we know we can create. We must do these things for ourselves, but do them we will. Trust comes from faith, but we have plenty of that.
As I come to this convention, I say to you: Trust in your own capacity; have faith in your blind brothers and sisters; believe in the National Federation of the Blind. Be prepared to dream and work and build. What we have done is worth remembering, but it is only the beginning. This is what I have observed working with thousands of you and participating in our programs for the last twelve months. And this is my report for 2008.
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors. One more was made during the banquet. In addition the Bolotin Awards were presented for the first time this year. A complete report of those presentations appears elsewhere in this issue. In addition, the NFB Access Plus (A+) Awards were presented during the Thursday morning convention session. A report of those awards appears in “The Convention Roundup.” Here is the report of the educator awards and the tenBroek Award:
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Joyce Scanlan: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Our committee consists of Allen Harris, Carla McQuillan, Adelmo Vigil, and Dr. Ed Vaughan. I serve as chair of this committee. The committee has indeed selected a most worthy person as the 2008 distinguished educator of blind children. But first let me describe briefly the purpose of this prestigious award. The Federation is very concerned that blind children receive an education of the highest quality, and to provide that education, we need to seek out and give recognition to those teachers who meet the highest standards. We identify such educators and bring them to our national convention to participate and to share their skill and knowledge and to expose them to blind children and adults so they can understand the importance of their work in shaping the lives of blind adults.
This year’s recipient is highly deserving of the award. She has high academic qualifications with a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and a master’s degree in special education with concentration in orientation and mobility. She is praised highly by her colleagues. But in addition, she is one of us, a Federationist. Now who is she? She is Brigid Doherty, [applause] Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for 2008.
She was a scholarship winner in the Federation and has been involved in several state affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind for a number of years. Brigid Doherty has been an education coordinator in the Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired for the state of Virginia since 2005. Probably her most outstanding quality is her philosophy as a Federationist, which she incorporates into her teaching in many ways. She makes certain that the subject of Braille is brought into the discussion at the IEP [individualized education plan]. What specific technology is needed? How can the student best prepare for a future of independence and productivity? Who is a blind child working with to ensure all educational techniques are being considered and given appropriate attention? She asks the key questions that will make the difference between success and failure in a blind child’s future.
It is Brigid Doherty who is willing to go the extra mile to make sure each blind student’s specific needs are met. She’s the one to point out that the blind child needs to be aware that, when the college years come along, the responsibility for books and travel skills and everything related to carrying out daily living will rest with the blind student and no longer with the teacher. And this is all very important as Brigid has had a case load of five hundred kids between the ages of birth and twenty-two. She is not only a competent and caring teacher; Brigid Doherty is a most compassionate person with a keen sense of her role as a teacher.
We’re very proud to name Brigid Doherty as our Distinguished Educator of Blind Children. As our winner Brigid has earned an expense-paid trip to this convention. She will be speaking about her teaching philosophy with respect to blindness at a meeting this afternoon of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. As a bonus for us, Brigid is this year, as she has for many years in the past, taking responsibility for teen hospitality during the convention—a most laudable undertaking, I would say. I have here for you, Brigid, a check for $1,000 and a plaque. I will present Brigid with the plaque, and then I will read what is inscribed on the plaque. It reads:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
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, Brigid. [applause] Before I introduce Brigid, I want to let our Federationists know about the career change that Brigid is embarking upon. It can be said that, whatever job change may come about in a teacher’s life, that teacher will always be a teacher, regardless of the job title. Brigid has recently taken a position in which she will be instructing blind people in the Washington, D.C., area to use Metro transit, a very important and much-appreciated job. So congratulations, Brigid, on the new job and being named Distinguished Educator of Blind Children for this year. We are very proud to have you as one of our own.
Brigid Doherty: Thank you so much, Joyce, Dr. Maurer, fellow Federationists. I am honored beyond words, and I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I just want to let you know that I am grateful for the education that I received from everyone in the Federation here and those who aren’t with us. I learned from all of you that we hold this truth to be self-evident: that it is respectable to be blind. When I come to convention--and this is fifteen years in for me--and see how many kids we have walking around with white canes, how many are carrying their technology, as Dr. Maurer said in his talk to them the other morning, they are what’s important, not their technology. But, by gum, they know how to use it, and they know how to use it young. They know how to use those canes, and they know that they are just fine. That’s because of each and every one in this room. I am grateful to you. It is an honor to be part of this family, and I promise, no matter what my job is, to continue to do my part and to reach out and teach the new folks coming in and teach those of our supporters and friends outside of the Federation that it is respectable to be blind, and that we are able and capable, and we have fun while we’re doing it. Welcome to convention, and thank you for this wonderful honor. [applause]
Blind Educator of the Year Award
David Ticchi: I would like to thank the committee. On our blind educator committee we have Sheila Koenig (Minnesota), Judy Sanders (Minnesota), Adelmo Vigil (New Mexico), and Ramona Walhof (Idaho). Thank you to the committee members. I’ll tell you now a little bit about the award; then I will give you an announcement about who the winner is and a little bit about the individual. I will then ask the person to come up to receive the plaque and a $1,000 check that goes along with it. The National Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the national organization of blind educators to pay tribute to a colleague’s performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1991 this was made a national award which was presented here on the floor of this morning at the board meeting because of the importance of the impact that good teachers have on their students, faculty, community, and in fact all blind Americans. And it is given in the spirit of our founders who were educators and who nurtured this organization until today, people like Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer, who through their teaching, leadership, guidance, and advocacy have given us the wonderful organization we have today, known as the National Federation of the Blind.
So that’s a little background on the award. I will now tell you a little bit about this year’s winner of the award, and I won’t keep you in suspense because, as soon as I begin to tell a little bit about this background, people will recognize who this individual is, and I think you will agree that it is a wonderful choice. The winner of this year’s Blind Educator of the Year Award is Dr. Eddie C. Bell. [applause]
Eddie Bell has a PhD, which he received from the University of Arkansas in rehab education and research in 2004. From the Louisiana Tech University he received his master’s in educational psychology teaching O&M, and he has a bachelor’s degree from Cal State San Marcos. Eddie is a certified rehabilitation counselor, holds a certificate in educational statistics and research methods, and is a certified O&M instructor. He is currently the director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at the Louisiana Tech University, where he counsels, directs research, advises and teaches grad students, and coordinates all activities at the institute. He has consulted and worked in a variety of fields in areas from VR to tactile projects with the National Braille Press. He has worked with the states of Hawaii, Maryland, Iowa, and Louisiana and has done projects with the Jernigan Institute. I could go on. He has served as moderator of panels, published articles (he coauthored an article that should be coming out later this year). He has been an officer in the NFB, has been active in the student division, and has been a tenBroek Fellow.
You know, Eddie, as I was going over these notes, it brought to mind what sometimes people say about good baseball players. They have five tools; they can run, can hit with power, can hit for average, and can catch and throw the ball. Eddie, you are the consummate professional because you have at least five tools. You are a teacher, administrator, researcher, supervisor, and counselor--ultimately, as I say, a consummate educator. Eddie is married to Maria and has two daughters, Victoria and Samantha. Eddie, I want to present you this plaque. I will read the plaque:
The Blind Educator of the Year
Dr. Edward C. Bell
In recognition of outstanding
Accomplishments in the teaching profession.
You enhance the present,
You inspire your colleagues,
You build the future.
July 1, 2008
Also, here is a check for $1,000 and, from all of us, congratulations and our best wishes for continued success in all that you do. [applause]
Eddie Bell: Thank you, Dr. Ticchi. Thank you to all of you. If it wasn’t for Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, none of us would have what we have here today. I have been incredibly blessed by each and every one of you in this organization. I had a very rocky childhood and rocky start to my profession, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mentors and friends in this organization and without each and every one of you. All my accomplishments really are a reflection of the work that we need to do, the accomplishments that we have already made, and how much more there is to do. I appreciate this award very much. I commit to all of you to continue work as long as I am on this earth to advance the efforts of this organization. Thank you very much. [applause]
Jacobus tenBroek Award
Ramona Walhof: Our founder was an outstanding teacher and leader. In his memory we established the Jacobus tenBroek Award to honor members of the Federation who have been and are outstanding leaders of the blind. This award need not be given every year, only as often as there is someone who merits very special national recognition. It has been presented twenty-four times to individuals from fifteen states. Last year the sneaky committee chose to honor me with this award, and I was and am both humbled and proud.
This year the committee consists of Joyce Scanlan, Jim Omvig, and me. After careful consideration we have selected one among us you all know and love, one who deserves to be singled out for recognition and honor. This individual first joined the organization in the 1970s and moved very quickly into a leadership role. He learned of the Federation during high school and joined a new chapter during his freshman year of college. He was elected president of that chapter, and two years later, when he transferred to Central Missouri State University, he organized another new chapter in Warrensburg. Yes, I am talking about Gary Wunder. [applause]
Gary was elected first vice president of the NFB of Missouri in 1977 and president in 1979. He has been re-elected president every two years ever since, except for one term when he did not run. In 1985 he was elected to the NFB board of directors and continued to serve in that position until 2002 when he was elected secretary of the NFB. At this convention he was elected to his fourth term in that office. This is an admirable record, but it only scratches the surface of the leadership Gary Wunder has given in the Federation.
He graduated from Central Missouri State University with a degree in electronics technology. Then he was the first blind student enrolled in a course of computer programming at the extension division of the University of Missouri. He was hired in 1978 by the Pathology Department of the University Hospital as a computer programmer. Thirty years later he has received many promotions and continues to be employed by the University Hospitals and Clinic, now as a senior analyst in the Information Services Department. His knowledge of computers and technology has affected the lives of countless blind people who have pursued careers working in various capacities with computers. I'm sure we have no idea how many. Gary Wunder has helped craft new approaches as this field has changed very rapidly during the last thirty years. He has written many articles and presented testimony on numerous occasions. As an example, Gary addressed the hearing of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, a part of the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives, regarding the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act to private Internet sites. Considerable experience and understanding are required for a person to be able to do this, but the National Federation of the Blind depends on Gary Wunder as one of very few who can lead the way for the blind to have access to employment and information in the twenty-first century.
Gary's leadership is not limited to computers and technology. He works with families of blind people with insight and caring. He served on and chaired the Missouri Rehab Council for as long as the rules permitted. He has served on the NFB scholarship committee for more than two decades and on the NFB resolutions committee for as long. He was appointed by President Maurer as the first chairperson of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee. And wasn't that a wonderful series of presentations he made this afternoon! Probably everyone here has read his articles on many different aspects of blindness in the Braille Monitor. If you look in this convention agenda, you will notice that Gary Wunder chairs the Webmasters group and the promotion, evaluation, and advancement of technology committee, and he chaired the nominating committee. That's a lot of work at one convention, but it is typical of Gary to do it calmly and with excellence. So, Gary, for what you are and who you are, the National Federation of the Blind has chosen to honor you in 2008 with our respect, our love, and our congratulations. Here is your plaque.
Jacobus tenBroek Award
National Federation of the Blind
For your dedication, sacrifice, and Commitment
on behalf of the blind of this nation.
the contribution is measured not in steps,
but in miles, not by individual experiences,
but by your impact on the lives of the blind of America.
Whenever we have asked, you have answered.
We call you our colleague with respect.
We call you our friend with love.
July 4, 2008
Gary Wunder: Okay, I get to make lots of presentations, and sometimes I’m a little nervous, and sometimes I’m a little scared, but I’m almost never choked up, but I am now. I sort of supposed that, if the Federation ever gave me an award, it would be given posthumously, in which case I could sort of look down (hopefully down), enjoy the ceremony, but not be expected to say very much.Well, the National Federation of the Blind has meant a great deal to me in my life. It has expanded what I thought I could do as a blind person. It has given me tremendous purpose beyond what I would have had if my job were only being a programmer analyst. And it has given me a kind of love that I would never have expected. Thank you. I appreciate it very much. I love all of you, and I appreciate more than I can tell you what you’ve given me this evening. [applause]
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: At the 2007 convention attendees could pick up copies of a biography of a remarkable physician who had a distinguished if brief career in the early decades of the twentieth century. Totally blind from birth, Dr. Jacob Bolotin distinguished himself as a pulmonary and cardiac specialist during and after World War I. The National Federation of the Blind has been asked to administer substantial awards annually to individuals and organizations that have improved life for blind people. President Maurer appointed Gary Wunder, secretary of the NFB and president of the NFB of Missouri, to chair the committee that chose the 2008 winners of the Bolotin Awards. Friday afternoon, July 4, Gary came to the platform to present the awards. This is what he said:
Today we take thirty minutes to recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions in creating greater opportunities for blind people. We do this because of a pioneer whose name is not as familiar as those we honor in our literature, at our national headquarters building, and in our traditional named awards.
The story of Jacob Bolotin is a testament to much we have hoped, believed, said to ourselves, and said to the general public. Dr. Bolotin's biography is what happens when an unswervingly positive attitude, good training, and hard-won opportunity come together in the heart of a human being who doesn't know the meaning of the word no.
When Jacob came into the world, education for blind youngsters was still a relatively new concept in America, more a matter of academic curiosity than a system to make the blind ready to compete in a receptive world. There were no nationally known blind men or women. Helen Keller was still a spoiled and pitiable child waiting for the magic linkage of signs, letters, words, and ideas that would propel her to national prominence.
Young Jacob was initially refused entrance to the local public school and found a quality education at the Illinois School for the Blind. School for this young man was pretty much what one would expect of a future doctor--good grades, strong leadership, community involvement, many friends, and valedictorian of his class. Had he not been a century too early, or we a century too late, he might well have been in competition for a $12,000 scholarship, don't you think?
While Jacob could garner all the accolades a school for the blind had to offer, the year was 1903, and the blind did not work in the trades and common callings of America. There was no vocational rehabilitation for the blind, so any education beyond high school had to come from his own industry and labor. To save for this and provide what he could for his impoverished family, Jacob traveled independently through Chicago selling matches, brushes, and typewriters. Later he convinced the skeptical owner of the typewriter company to place him in charge of sales for three states, and in just over four years he had what he thought would be enough money to see him through his medical education.
The challenges this young blind man had to surmount in getting admitted to medical school; creating the techniques he would need to learn, graduate, and practice; as well as his struggle to be certified as a doctor, to start his own practice, and then to work in an established medical facility would take far more time to detail than we have here today, but any one of these would be worthy of our recognition, and when they are considered together, certainly Jacob Bolotin is deserving of the program which has been instituted to honor his memory and example.
I'm going to ask Marsha Dyer to describe the awards we'll be presenting today.
Marsha Dyer: The award is mounted on a four-inch square wooden base. The wood itself looks to me like it is cherry. There is a thin bronze plaque that reads, “Presented to (and the name of the recipient), by the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation, July 2008.” The base itself is two inches high. Sitting on top of the base is a bronze circle, and it’s hollow inside and it’s very thin. Inside the hollow circle is the award medallion itself, and it is connected to the outside circle by two bronze pins, one on top and one on the bottom. This allows the medallion to turn freely so that you can look at both sides while the base remains stationary. The writing on the medallion is embossed. One side reads “Dr. Jacob Bolotin” on the top. In the center is an embossed bust of Dr. Bolotin. To the right of that it reads, “1888 to 1924.” Underneath the bust are the words, “Celebrating his life. The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust.” If I turn the medallion around, it reads across the top, “The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award.” On the bottom it says, “Celebrating achievement, creating opportunity.” In the middle of the second side is our NFB logo, the picture of Whozit standing on the letters NFB. Under this are the words “National Federation of the Blind.” It is an extremely beautiful award.
Gary Wunder: Let me now present to you the modern-day soldiers in the fight so dear to Dr. Jacob Bolotin and the National Federation of the Blind. What does it mean to have a fully usable textbook? Many of us in this audience have settled for a tape recording and have considered ourselves lucky to get it, but there is much more to the successful use of an educational text than listening to it page by page, front to back. Our first recipient has long understood and dedicated a major part of his life's work to delivering one message--access to information is a fundamental human right. We need more than the ability to hear the words--we need spelling, punctuation, and the ability to navigate.
When the book says, "More information can be found on page 632," blind people need to be able to jump to that page. When a sentence contains a footnote, the reader needs to be able to jump to or ignore that footnote. Through this winner's work in developing and presenting the implementation of the Daisy standard, we now have the structure for making this navigation possible, and with it comes the ability to match what the sighted already have with hardcopy print and their own electronic book readers. For this life-changing work, we proudly present an award in the amount of $30,000 to Mr. George Kerscher.
George Kerscher: I’m deeply honored and humbled to be given this award. Indeed, access to information is a fundamental human right. I said that at the United Nations in Bangkok in 2002. We heard William Rowland say that this year the United Nations passed the convention on rights of persons with disabilities. The basic consortium was involved with the World Blind Union and other disability groups to help get that passed. So now it’s ratified, and nations will need to enact laws that require compliance to that United Nations convention. We have technology that is really terrific. We have some laws that require publishers to provide information. I think we also need financial incentives for publishers.
We heard that three hundred thousand books are published each year in the United States alone, and I calculate still that that 5 percent is about where we’re at, getting access to 5 percent of published books. But we can solve that problem, and I am here to tell you that I will tirelessly work until we can solve that problem. In Ray Kurzweil’s book, Age of Spiritual Machines, he said that it was sometime around this period or the next five years when he predicted that information and all published books would be converted into a digital form that people who are blind can read. We’re going to do it. Thank you. [applause]
Gary Wunder: What is the formula for success if one is blind? While there will be minor differences from person to person, all of us must develop two things--a positive, can-do attitude that places blindness in proper perspective and also the skills necessary to function in the world without vision. Blindness as tragedy or blindness as nuisance--it all depends on training, and there is no better training in the country than that which is provided by the Centers of the National Federation of the Blind. In recognition of the vital role they play, not only in the lives of those they serve directly, but in the tangible example they bring to the field, we proudly award the training centers of the National Federation of the Blind $30,000, and to accept, we call upon the directors of the three for their remarks. Please welcome Pam Allen, Julie Deden, and Shawn Mayo.
The three speaking in unison: We would like to take this opportunity to honor and recognize our founders, Joanne Wilson, Louisiana Center for the Blind; Diane McGeorge, Colorado Center for the Blind; and Joyce Scanlan, BLIND, Inc. We would also like to thank our staff and students. As we said two years ago, the secret of our success is you—the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Gary Wunder: When the recipient of our next award stumbled on a new threat to the independence of the blind, she had enough life experience and common sense to sound the alarm and call us to action. The problem was cars too quiet to hear. What was at stake was nothing less than the right of the blind to travel safely and independently, but admitting the problem brought a whole host of others. First was the need for our recipient to reconcile herself to the changing reality that training, while of prime importance, would not eliminate the need to ask others for change. If our recipient and the National Federation of the Blind found this premise sound, then we would, of necessity, have to educate the auto industry of America and the world to the problems caused by silent vehicles and eventually take this message to regulators and lawmakers concerned with public safety. Consider, if you will, the public relations challenge in offering anything but praise for technologies which have been designed to save fuel, reduce pollution, and generate less noise.
Knowing full well the immensity of this challenge, our recipient did not run from but embraced one of the most monumental challenges the Federation has undertaken in this century. She has accepted the chairmanship of the committee on automobile and pedestrian safety, started a campaign of research and education both within and outside the Federation, made contacts nationally and internationally, and spearheaded a public relations campaign which has resulted in spectacularly good coverage of a tremendously complicated public issue. It is with immense respect and tremendous pleasure that we present an award in the amount of $10,000 to Debbie Kent Stein.
Debbie Kent Stein: It’s hard to know what to say. I am astonished and very, very honored and proud. I grew up in a time when blind children were not taught to travel independently, and blind teens were not taught to travel independently. I did not get a cane in my hand until the summer before I was ready to go off to college. So all through those formative years, when I should have been stretching my wings and exploring how to be on my own, I was getting led around by my friends and family even though I was a teenager eager to discover the world. When I got a cane in my hands, I discovered the joy and liberation of independent travel. The fact that I could cross the street and go where I wanted to go at will was something that I learned to treasure and cherish and something that I think is the birthright of all of us. I think that when I discovered the threat that these new silent cars could become to our independence, I felt that something had to be done, and I couldn’t let go until we found a way to deal with that. So it’s with all of you and for all of you that I pledge to continue the work until we find a solution to this new threat to our independence. Thank you. [applause]
Gary Wunder: As many of us are painfully aware, leading a well-rounded life means not only expanding one’s mind but also exercising one’s body. Swimming is likely the best exercise a human can do. For blind people this is one sport in which we can be very athletically competitive. Still there are many distractions for the blind swimmer focused on putting all of his or her energy into the competition. How does one stay in the lane, steer clear of other swimmers, and, most critically, avoid hitting the concrete wall at the end of the pool?
To solve these problems, a team from Notre Dame composed of engineers in industrial design, swimming coaches, students, and blind athletes have set their minds to the task of inventing a solution--a device that can be moved from pool to pool, involves no need for continuous monitoring by sighted tappers at the pool walls, and is affordable for individuals and institutions alike. This award is to applaud and support these efforts, and it is with pride that we grant the AdaptTap Team $10,000 for their innovative work and call on Dr. Paul Down and his team to accept this award.
Dr. Paul Down: President Maurer, Chairperson Wunder, hosts, planners, constituents, and attendees of the conference here at Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas, this is my first time here. I extend warm greetings and deep gratitude from the students, faculty, alumni, and friends of the University of Notre Dame. There are two ironies that I’ve observed while attending this convention. One is that vision is not limited to those with sight; here vision enables and creates possibilities. Belief and pursuit of human vision extends opportunities and expands possibilities for each of us while collectively encouraging and enabling all who watch our successes. The second irony is that Independence Day has a new meaning for me, a meaning that transcends this national holiday. Today Independence Day might also be commemorating the human spirit and drive toward leveling the opportunities for all people. Through the perseverance and allocation of available resources, all can achieve personal independence and contribute value in a society that collectively recognizes, supports, and embraces the potential of all people. I am proud to be a small part of the NFB’s march to independence.
These spirits of vision and independence are both reflected and understood in a record of a man that is respectfully remembered by this award, Dr. Jacob Bolotin, the blind doctor. I encourage all to listen and learn of the perseverance and contributions of this great American. His example has deeply inspired me, and it is appropriate that we remember him on this day.
Now please allow me to recognize my team members that were instrumental in developing AdaptTap, a unique system that was born of vision and a system that affords greater independence to the deserving community that’s presented here before us today. The collaborative venture that has resulted in our being here originated in the midst of cross-disciplinary research at the University of Notre Dame. Not all could be here today; however, the ones that are here are representative of that group: Irish aquatics coach Annie Sawicki. Annie has been a strong spirit for moving us forward and keeping us connected with the needs of the blind community. Industrial Design graduates in Notre Dame’s Department of Art, Art History, and Design have been critical in developing concepts and applying models and test vehicles for identifying solutions that would be truly valuable to the blind community. Those two graduate students are Fernando Carvalho and Kyle Walters. Very importantly, NFB members of our Notre Dame and surrounding community that have tested and evaluated and proven the AdaptTap system include James Fetter, Ashley Nashlenis, Lori Miller, and Cain Brolen. AdaptTap is a system that empowers the sight-impaired swimmer to enjoy the water independently, more efficiently, and without fear of poolside collisions. And NFB member James Fetter has already demonstrated that AdaptTap can allow an athletic blind swimmer to competitively outperform sighted swimmers without any poolside assistance. We believe the confidence that is inspired by using AdaptTap in a pool setting will improve training effectiveness of sighted swimmers and enable sight-impaired swimmers at all ages and skill levels, allowing them to freely enjoy the recreational and health benefits of swimming. Within the past two months Kiefer and Associates, an international swimwear and swim accessory supplier, has added AdaptTap to their production line. We look forward to the continued development and broad economic availability of this product through Kiefer. Again, thank you for this opportunity and this great honor. I am humbled by all that I have experienced here in Dallas. My colleagues and associates look forward to a long and productive future that places industrial design and product development in the service of blind people in the NFB. Now good afternoon. Go Irish!
Gary Wunder: Not so long ago new books available to the blind numbered fewer than four hundred a year. The thought that we might have a book to read and discuss at the same time as it was a hot topic in the lunchroom was only a dream. Our next recipient has been a pioneer both in technology and in the provision of service. He helped bring an affordable scanning and reading system to the blind and then figured out a way we could share the fruits of our scans with other blind people. No one in this audience has any doubt that the recipient of our next award in the amount of $5,000 is the pioneer who founded and headed Arkenstone, Benetech, and the program many of us love and use extensively--Bookshare. For all he has done to open so many books for our education and reading pleasure, we are proud to present a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award to our friend, Jim Fruchterman.
Jim Fruchterman: I want to thank the NFB for acknowledging Bookshare with a Jacob Bolotin Award. The goal of Benetech and Bookshare is to see that blind people receive the full benefits of the technology that the technology community is inventing. The measure of success of a toolmaker is not the tool itself, it’s what people do with our tools. Bookshare is a great example of that; it’s the first library for the blind that is by the blind and enables blind people to make the choices of what books get added to the library. More than 95 percent of our books are there because someone in this community decided it was worth sharing with somebody else. The majority of our volunteers are blind people, so now we have more than thirty-nine thousand books thanks to, not us at Bookshare, but the entire community of people who are scanning books and believing that literacy is that important. Thank you. Of course many of you know that Bookshare is now free to every blind student in the United States of America. We are very proud to see that literacy option. Just imagine 150 daily newspapers thanks to our partnership with NFB-NEWSLINE available in Braille to Braille-display users and over thirty thousand books available for Braille literacy. Over the next five years we are going to add more than a hundred thousand books to our collection. So just imagine, if you are a Braille display user, that we are going to make it possible that you are going to have more books available to you than you will ever be able to read in your entire lifetime! [applause]
We think that’s a great start, and we will not rest until we see every blind person in the world with access to every newspaper, every book, and assistive technology that is either free or affordable cost, and we call that raising the floor for blind people around the world with technology and content. Thank you, National Federation of the Blind for working with us in realizing that vision.
Gary Wunder: Our next winner spent a summer as an intern working at a planetarium. One day, as a group of blind people exited after their tour, she asked how they had liked the experience. The uncomfortable but honest response was, “Yuck!” Now she might have left the matter there with the old saw that "You can't please all of the people all of the time," might have rationalized that those blind people just weren't grateful for anything, but instead she took a trip to the Perkins School for the Blind to see what tools were available for blind people interested in astronomy. What she found was a few books in print and Braille, but none of them had pictures to express tactilely the true majesty of our universe. Almost immediately she started etching plastic pages by hand and now, after twenty years, has to her credit five accessible astronomy books with tactile drawings as well as Braille and print text. Our winner has presented workshops for children and adults at state and national conventions, and it is for her work and for her belief in the ability of blind people to learn and indeed touch the stars that we present Noreen Grice with an award in the amount of $5,000.
Noreen Grice: As many of you know, I am a sighted member of the National Federation of the Blind, and I am an active member of the NFB Central Connecticut Chapter. I became associated with NFB when I first walked through the doors of the national headquarters in January 2002 as part of a meeting to discuss the publication of my first NASA book, Touch the Universe, a NASA Braille book of astronomy. Touch the Universe was unveiled later that year at NFB headquarters, and I attended my first national convention in Louisville in 2003. This year is my sixth national convention. I am an astronomy educator who believes that accessibility should be as common as a leaf on a tree or a breeze on a summer day. I work very hard to make my educational materials and programs accessible and interesting for all people, regardless of their visual ability. The funds from the award will help me create new universally designed educational materials. Thank you for your confidence in my work. I won’t let you down.
Gary Wunder: Our next recipient has devoted much of her life helping in her calm, quiet way to build and strengthen what we share together in the National Federation of the Blind. She has been active in the states of Ohio and New Mexico for more than forty years, has been a state president and a longtime leader in New Mexico, and has helped to recruit, nurture, and bring to leadership the likes of Joe Cordova, Art Schreiber, Adelmo Vigil, Greg Trapp, and Fred Schroeder, just to mention a few. Everything we do depends on grassroots support, and our recipient is a master at building and sustaining it. With pleasure we present a Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000 to Linda Miller of New Mexico.
Linda Miller: I am so proud of all of you. I am so grateful. Because of all the confidence and tools that I have obtained from the National Federation of the Blind, I was able to make a difference not only in all the people’s lives, but for myself, my family (Nina Miller is right in the audience. She just came in ten minutes ago from Frederick, Maryland). I thank Mary Ellen Reihing [Gabias] and Robert Eschbach from Ohio, who first introduced me to the National Federation of the Blind. I’d like to mention Dr. Jernigan and Mrs. Jernigan for always being there, ready to help us. I called up and asked for help, and he sent Marc Maurer and Diane McGeorge, and we worked together, all of us, over there. They were all able to put me to work right away, and I appreciate the confidence and the opportunity to do what I did. Fred Schroeder and Joe Cordova were always there right by me, working hard, probably harder than I did. Thank you very much.
Gary Wunder: Our final recipient, like many recognized this afternoon, is in the business of disseminating information. Through his creativity, his knowledge of human nature, and his keen understanding of blindness, our honoree forces blind and sighted people alike to take on and answer the hard questions blindness can bring. Can the blind work competitively alongside the sighted? Can we function comfortably in social situations? Can we shovel snow, mow our lawns, and take on house repairs? When we go to a doctor and talk about stress in our lives, can we get him to understand anything beyond the fact that we are blind? The simple answer to these questions is yes; the more thought-provoking answer says yes and explains how. With tremendous gratitude for all he does, we proudly present our final award in the amount of $5,000 to Robert Leslie Newman in support of Thought Provoker and its role in bettering the lives of the blind.
Robert Leslie Newman: I’ve just got to take in a reading. I have always wondered what it would sound like and feel like from up here. It feels good! So you have heard of Thought Provokers, is that right? Because so many of you out there have [responded], many of you have helped me make it a success. There is just so much we have to face being blind in today’s society, and this organization does an awful lot to help us as individuals to deal with those issues that come up. That’s what Thought Provoker is. A creative little way-- in a hundred to seven hundred words--I encapsulate a little issue of blindness, and I put it out there on the Internet, and I send it out to the mailing list. It’s on my Website, and people respond. I collect the responses for people to read and to learn from. It’s been fun. It’s been very rewarding to find that Thought Provoker is being used around the country and in various settings in some of our own NFB training centers for group discussion and counseling. I know there are rehab agencies around the country that use them for counseling and/or to train. I know that there are some college programs that use Thought Provokers as an assigned writing. But I am not doing anything more, you guys, (I really feel humbled when I say this) than so many of the rest of you, because, if there’s one thing we do in this organization, it’s that we always give back. This is just how I’ve been able to give back and to change what it means to be blind. So you guys keep doing what you are doing, and I will keep doing what I am doing. [applause]
Gary Wunder: What you have heard here about our most deserving winners has necessarily been abbreviated and brief, but, so you and the world can know more about them, we have created a small book dedicated to their lives and work.
Mr. President, I want to close by thanking the Santa Barbara Foundation for selecting the National Federation of the Blind to administer the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award program established by the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. I urge that anyone who hasn't already read the book The Blind Doctor do so, and I note that sales of the book further the endowment of this award. Biographies of blind people can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience for those of us who know something about blindness, but I promise that you will find this a first-class read, and you will recognize in the character of Dr. Jacob Bolotin a kindred spirit whose life was all about changing what it means to be blind.
Last, sir, please let me recognize and thank Mr. Ronald Brown and Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan for their work in creating standards for the work of the Bolotin Award Committee; for reading the many, many applications we received; and for selecting our winners for 2008. Good day, sir, and congratulations to the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award winners for 2008.
An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
Much has been written about the balance between optimism and pessimism–as if these two approaches to living were opposite, mutually exclusive but equally viable methods of thought.
McLandburgh Wilson said:
Twixt the optimist and the pessimist
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut
But the pessimist sees the hole.
Frederick Langbridge said,
“Two men look out the same prison bars:
One sees mud and the other stars.”
However, some imaginative thinkers have suggested that optimism is not simply a way of looking at a set of circumstances, but a positive element of power.
William James said, “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”
Nicholas Murray Butler said, “Optimism is essential to achievement, and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.”
Colin Powell said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
For optimism to be an element in the acquisition of power, it must be more than a cheerful cast of countenance. Rather it must consist in a commitment to bringing into being a future containing elements of possibility that have not been a part of the past. Optimism and reality may (properly understood) be inseparable. If reality signifies all that has currently been created, this measure of existence is frozen in time. If, on the other hand, reality denotes both that which has been built and that which can be brought into being, the potential for growth encompasses a much more magnificent formulation of life than would otherwise be comprehensible. In other words, the grandest understanding of reality incorporates the optimistic anticipation of innovative thought, and it also implies commitment and effort.
Anais Nin said, “Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”
Douglas Everett said, “There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.”
Although a goodly number of Americans have been pessimistic (Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”), ours is an optimistic nation. We have traditionally held the view that we could conquer the frontier, govern our futures, or invent the tools for our own success. There is even an American expression for this faith–“Yankee ingenuity.”
Just as individuals have a life cycle, the theorists tell us that organizations do. They are established; they grow; they mature; they prosper for a time; and they cease to exist. At least a part of the reason for the continued existence of an organization depends on its optimism. Every organization must possess a purpose and the faith that the purpose can be achieved. When that faith dissipates, the organization dwindles, becomes dormant, and ceases to be.
As we have observed in the National Federation of the Blind, leadership is one vital element of progress. As an organization must have faith in its future, the leaders of the organization must be optimistic. Pessimism signifies atrophy. Operating the same old program in the same old way will not encourage growth. Optimism and an openness to imagination must be a part of the leadership. Every organization is faced with the same imperative: build or wither, grow or die. The openness to imaginative thought and the faith to believe that better, more effective programs can be created are part of the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind.
Reflections on optimism and discussions about blindness are rarely found in the same place. People who write or speak about blindness often grieve, sometimes weep, and frequently employ the most dismal descriptive words to signify the potential for blind people. It is extraordinarily rare for somebody to write or think, “Oh good, a whole bunch of blind people!” In fact, a convention of blind people is, in the minds of many, an anomaly–almost a contradiction in terms. At conventions people are supposed to have fun. But, if most of the people at the convention are blind, how ineffably dismal could this be? Adding one miserable life to another in thousands of iterations simply magnifies the horror of it all. Blind people who are optimistic about their future–they must be deluded or liars. How could any substantial group of people wake every day facing the disadvantages that blindness brings and at the same time maintain optimism in their hearts? Is there any group so naïve as to take this position?
Well, one group of this character does exist. We have created it. It is the most powerful force ever established in the field of work with the blind in the United States, and it has a purpose that will not be abridged or thwarted or denied. That purpose is hard to achieve but simple to proclaim–it is that the blind will have recognition, that we will be known for the vital human beings we are with all of the talent, the energy, and the joy that we possess–that equality must and will be ours. The organization we have created, the organization that carries this banner, the organization with the optimistic drive to change our lives for all time is the National Federation of the Blind.
Some people depict the blind as unemployed, isolated, frequently uneducated, and beset with characteristics denoting inability. The assertion that this summation is reality is made by some of those dealing with programming for the blind. A senior official of the Department of Education responsible for rehabilitation of the blind said within the last few years that the 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people has remained unchanged for decades.
Why, I wondered, has this figure remained so high? Do blind people not want to work? Are blind people lazy, lackadaisical loafers who are turning down good jobs so that they can continue to receive government benefits, or has the system failed? Are rehabilitation programs unequal to the challenge? Are the programs conducted by the Department of Education unproductive? Is the 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people an indication of a lack of leadership?
“Not on your life,” said this high official in the Department of Education. “This rate of unemployment is an indicator that blind people cannot achieve success unless they are among the most talented 30 percent of the blind in society. Continuing to spend money on programming for the blind,” he said, “is a waste of state and federal resources.” Rehabilitation for blind clients costs more than rehabilitation for those with other disabilities. Therefore specialized programs for the blind should be eliminated because they cost too much. Never mind that these programs produce positive results, create tax savings by limiting the number of people receiving federal and state support, and bring trained and talented blind people into the workforce. They should be eliminated because they cost too much, he told me. This federal official in the Department of Education gave up on 70 percent of the clients assigned to the programs he is expected to supervise. He thinks that handing out government benefit checks to blind people is better than training them to work for their own lives. With such an attitude, with such a failure of optimism, with such a lack of faith in the clients the Department of Education is expected to serve, it is not the least bit surprising that the programs of this department are failing.
Sometimes it appears that certain officials of the Department of Education are seeking to punish the blind for demanding equality. Sometimes it appears that these officials are saying, “You can demand equality if you want to, but if you do, we will cut funds from your programs. If you do as we say–if you behave as we require–if you are docile, subservient, properly grateful blind people–we will grant you a modicum of support. However, if you want to be pushy, obnoxious, and uppity; if you want to be demanding and insistent, you will be sorry.”
Fortunately, though the Department of Education is responsible for making policies regarding programs it conducts, it has no power to make policy for the blind. We of the National Federation of the Blind determine our own policy and create our own destiny. Those who serve in government are responsible to the people who put them there, not the other way around. The blind of the nation have a right, perhaps even a duty, to examine the performance of the officials who are selected to conduct the programs to serve us. Those public officials are responsible to us to demonstrate that they have served well enough to continue to remain in office, and we demand an accounting.
At the time of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, almost no blind people in America were employed. By the late 1950s estimates were that 3 or 4 percent of the blind of the nation had jobs. By the mid-1970s this estimate had increased to 30 percent. In certain programs the number of blind people who receive employment after training is above 80 percent, and some approach 90 percent. What makes these programs successful? They listen to the blind; they are responsive to the needs and wishes of blind people; they learn from the organized blind movement; they form partnerships with the most powerful entity dealing with blindness in the nation. Do officials in the Department of Education know these facts? Do they care? Have they studied the factors that are part of the success for the most productive programs?
Those who believe that inability or isolation or dismal despair describe our lives do not know us and cannot speak for us. We are the blind, and we will make our own way and live our own lives. We will do it with the support and encouragement of those who understand the reality we face. We will welcome partners from government or private programs for the blind who have the faith to believe in us. We will conduct our activities with the fundamental faith that blindness cannot inhibit our progress and with the optimism to know that we can face whatever obstacle may come. But above all else we will build our own future, and nothing on earth can stop us!
One of the elements necessary to the public acceptance of the blind as equals in society is a correct understanding of what blind people are. How are the blind perceived almost a decade into the twenty-first century?
A report circulated by Fox News in May of this year describes an incident in which a blind man was refused the opportunity to ride on a roller coaster because of blindness. The report says that the blind man had already ridden the roller coaster three times that day. When the owner of the amusement park discovered that the blind man was seeking a fourth ride, management refused. Management personnel said that safety requires a person to assume certain positions during a roller coaster ride. These positions can be anticipated only by those who can see well enough during the course of the ride that they can anticipate the twists and drop-offs before they happen. Furthermore, if the roller coaster were to malfunction, management said, a blind person could not easily escape from the contraption without danger.
The denial of the opportunity to participate in the experience of riding a roller coaster is an example of the idiocy that blind people often face. The blind man in question had already ridden the roller coaster three times without incident or injury. The owner of the amusement park ignored the evidence. He had already decided that blind people were not welcome. Evidence was irrelevant.
Of course evidence is not required from the sighted. If sighted people need not provide any evidence of their capacity to ride, blind people should not be expected to provide it either. Nevertheless, the evidence was there. Consequently, this is a case in which double discrimination has taken place. I am pleased to say that we in the National Federation of the Blind assisted in giving this case the publicity it deserved, and the amusement park owner has changed his mind. The blind are welcome to ride.
In 1997 the Portuguese Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago released the English version of his novel, entitled Blindness. The premise in this book is that the members of society become blind unexpectedly, totally, irreparably, and instantly. The description of society as an increasing number of its members become blind is one of filth, greed, perversion, and vice. Blind people are depicted as unbelievably incapable of everything, including finding the way to the bathroom or the shower. Saramago wants a world view that serves to offer an allegory for the worst description he can possibly imagine. He selects blindness as his metaphor for all that is bad in human thought and action. He describes the blind as having every negative trait of humanity and none of the positive ones. He argues that this is an allegory for a picture of the reality of the world today. The book was used as the basis for a movie of the same name, which has been shown at the Cannes film festival this spring. The only positive element to the release of this film is the almost universal reaction of the critics that it is a failure.
The depiction of the blind in this movie is fundamentally flawed for two reasons. First, blindness does not denote the characteristics the author attributes to it. The capabilities of those who become blind remain essentially the same after they lose vision as they were before they lost it. Although the loss of any major asset (including vision) will bring a measure of sadness to some and despair to a few, it will also stimulate others to assert their will. Blindness can be a devastating loss, but it also has the power to galvanize some to action. The reaction to blindness is not the least bit one-dimensional. Therefore the description is false.
In addition to this, the viciousness attributed to the blind is inconsistent with the assertion of incapacity. Viciousness demands both venality and ability–at least organized viciousness does. To say that the blind are completely incompetent and to assert that they have the ability to organize for the pursuit of vice is a contradiction in terms.
But leave the internal inconsistency. The charge that loss of vision creates a personality alteration of sordid and criminal character is in itself sordid and defamatory to an entire class of human beings. To give a man who writes such foolishness the Nobel Prize for Literature belittles what has often been regarded as a prestigious award. For as long as I can remember, certain comedians have thought it good sport to make fun of the blind, and as pernicious as this may be, most authors have not sought to make us objects of fear and revulsion.
The description in Blindness is wrong–completely, unutterably, irretrievably, immeasurably wrong. That such falsity should be regarded as good literature is revolting and amazing. We know the reality of blindness, we know the pain it can bring, we know the joy that can come from correcting the misinformation about it, and we are prepared to act on our own behalf. We will not let José Saramago represent us, for he does not speak the truth. He does not write of joy or the optimism of building a society worth calling our own. We do, and we will.
On November 13, 2007, an article appeared in USA Today entitled, “Blinded by War: Injuries Send Troops into Darkness,” which describes the incidence of eye injuries to military personnel facing enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. This article indicates that current conditions for combat cause a higher proportion of injuries to the eye than in previous conflicts. Though the article is quite sympathetic to the troops who are blinded, it contains a reiteration of many of the myths and stereotypes that have inhibited progress for the blind during the course of recorded history. Brief portrayals of the lives of three soldiers are part of this writing.
Here are excerpts from the article: “About 70 percent of all sensory perception is through vision, says R. Cameron VanRoekel, an army major and staff optometrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. As a result the families of visually impaired soldiers wrestle with a contradiction: The wounded often have hard-driving personalities that have helped them succeed in the military. Now dependent on others, they find it difficult to accept help.”
I interrupt to say that though the army major may not know it, blind people do not necessarily lead lives of dependency, some blind people have hard-driving personalities, and the old story about visual perception being the primary method of learning is a myth of long standing but little credence. However, there are other pieces to the article.
“Even now, more than a year after her husband’s return from Iraq,” [the article continues] “Connie Acosta is taken aback to find her home dark after sunset, the lights off as if no one is there. Then she finds him–sitting in their Santa Fe Springs, California, house, listening to classic rock. Sgt. Maj. Jesse Acosta was blinded in a mortar attack twenty-two months ago. He doesn’t need the lights. That realization often makes Connie cry. ‘You kind of never get used to the fact that he really can’t see,’ she says. ‘He has no light in his life at all.’”
Again I interrupt. If the article is merely reporting that this soldier is blind, I would have no argument with the fact. However, more is implied than the fact of blindness. The meaning is much broader and much more devastating. The spiritual, the poetic, the inspirational, the romantic aspects of life are no more for this combat victim, implies USA Today. Of course USA Today is only a newspaper. Its reporters have no extensive experience with blindness, and its editors have not studied in this realm or learned what reality is for the blind. Personnel at the newspaper have lived with the myth of deprivation, and this is what they report. They cannot comprehend that something else might be at least as important.
Is it really fair to say for those of us who are blind that we “have no light in our lives at all” with all of the unspoken implications contained in this phrase? Is sight essential for poetry? Can there be no inspiration without the visual sense? Is romance a thing of the past? Is the song of the spirit only a faint echo in the lives of blind people when compared with that robust clamor which thrills the inner being of the sighted? When blindness comes, does it invariably signify meaningless emptiness? This is what the article would have us believe. Consider what the reporter says. “Nothing in the house can be moved [the article continues]; he’s memorized the location of every chair and table.”
The final segment of the article poignantly sums up the grief. This is what it says: “The only good news for now is when he sleeps, Castro says. ‘I’ve had dreams where I know I’m blind and, guess what? I’ve regained my vision,’ he says. Reality floods back each morning. ‘There’s not a night that I don’t pray and ask God, when I wake up, that I wake up seeing.’”
This is the report from USA Today about the prospects for blinded veterans. The only good news is the dream of waking up seeing; everything else is bad. To imagine a life consisting in its primary elements of waiting from the time of each waking moment for the next hour when sleep can be coaxed to disguise the reality of daily existence with a dream world is to accept despair. What we say to this soldier, to USA Today, and to all human beings who have become blind is: “Don’t you believe it!” Your reporter has missed the good news. Blindness is indeed a loss, but it is the loss of sight only, not the loss of the ability to live. Nobody can give us hope unasked, and nobody can create for us the kind of spirit that will give meaning to what we do or who we are. However, the hope is abundantly available for those who seek it; the joy is part of the world we can build; and the future is as bright with promise as any imagination that exists or has ever existed. This is what our experience has demonstrated; this is what we know; and this is the story that should have been reported.
Incidentally, I get a little tired of the argument that 70 percent or 80 percent or 83 percent or 90 percent of all information comes through the eye. The implication is always that, although blind people have some information, we have only 30 percent or 20 percent or 17 percent or 10 percent of that which all other people have. This is false, and I find myself annoyed with the necessity of responding to this idiotic notion repeatedly.
I am told that the beginning of this argument came from an advertisement in 1923 put together by Thomas Edison. He was trying to sell film projectors to school systems. In an effort to sell his projectors, he said that “83 percent of all knowledge comes through the eye.” I wish he had found a better way to sell projectors. Though I presume sighted people might learn 70 percent of all they know by using their eyes, I also recognize that this is not the only way to learn. All of us learn through such senses as we have, and we learn through using such mental capacity as we possess. Sense impression is necessary for learning, but it is only one element in the process. Identifying and manipulating information involves pattern recognition. Sometimes visual observation helps in recognizing patterns, but other ways to recognize them also exist, and imagination is at least as valuable.
Even though I have been thinking seriously about the subject of blindness for almost forty years, I am still amazed by some of the things that people believe about blindness. When I read articles like this one, I think to myself, “Did you say that, did you really say that, how could you say such things about the blind?” Can you really think that our lives are meaningless, or empty, or without romance or poetry or passion? Have you observed any of us for more than a moment? Do you know the struggle that we face to gain recognition for our talent? Have you heard the ripple of our laughter or the cadence of the song we sing? If you believe that romance and passion are possible only through the eye, your experience lacks perspective and imagination. Love, joy, a fascination with the arts and sciences, exploration of the unknown, and the unquenchable determination to build a better life for ourselves and for others–these we claim as belonging to us, belonging to the human spirit which is ours. In your reporting you have not included these factors as a part of our lives, but we know that we possess capacity, and we will not let you forget it.
To give perspective to the thought of blind people and romance, consider the testimony of a Federation member who, as a college project, decided to find out how blind people fall in love. Here is a portion of the notice that this student distributed to a number of blind people in the Northeast:
This year I am a senior, and I will be working on an honors thesis investigating the attraction and courtship process for individuals without sight. The purpose of this project is to explore ways in which blind individuals use senses other than sight in choosing partners and in maintaining intimate relationships.
It is argued that sight is the most important factor in how people fall in love. What about those of us who lack the benefit of eye contact and visual cues? I want to explore the roles of other senses in the process of falling in love. This question is of great personal interest to me because I was able to experience ‘love at first sight’ when I met my future husband, despite the fact that I could not rely on my sense of sight. I am very interested in investigating the variety of ways that visually impaired individuals fall in love.
These are statements from the notice created by the student. She takes for granted that blind people have romantic interest, and she seeks less to know whether it exists than how it operates. I suspect that the research has already been concluded. However, if more evidence is required, I will let you know.
The National Federation of the Blind receives unsolicited proposals to support, endorse, or help to promote individuals, books, films, or projects about blindness on a very regular basis. Some of these make sense and get our support, but others have no redeeming social importance.
A few months ago we received a proposal that the National Federation of the Blind become a promoter of a project known as “Charlesville,” a housing community to be built in Georgia adapted to the specialized needs of the blind. The slogan of Charlesville, which gives an idea about the project, is: “A Community Where the Blind Can Really See.” The promoters plan to construct 164 homes for the blind in a housing development along with a theater, places for other small businesses, a supermarket, playgrounds, and a “work facility.” The proposal, laid out in a substantial notebook, contains statements such as, “Homes…will have Voice instructions to assist the Blind in being able to see in their homes, as well as in their outside yards,” and “The streets will be designed to have Voice controls to assist the Blind in seeing where their neighbors live, their playgrounds are, as well as their work facility.” One other statement in the notebook is, “Our firm has been given the ‘Vision of Creating Home Ownership, and Employment’ in Charlesville where the Blind can see themselves become normal independent citizens of our great country.”
Such are statements from the planners of Charlesville. And you thought you were normal; you thought you were independent–not unless you live in Charlesville. Move to Charlesville or you’re not even a citizen of this great country of ours, according to the movers and shakers of Charlesville.
I spoke with the people who sent this proposal to the Federation. They told me that they understood the problems of blindness; they sympathized with the plight of blind people; and they wanted to construct a living community in which the blind could have an experience of home as close as possible to that which is experienced by the sighted. With this in mind they imagined that specialized technology would be installed which would explain to the blind the interiors of their houses. Other technology would explain what was in the neighborhood. The explanations would include audible descriptions of where each neighbor lived and where each nonresidential building could be located. Special blind-friendly technology to control the streets would be one of the features of the community, though what this technology would do had not yet been completely planned.
The mind boggles at what might be incorporated in the audible descriptions of the neighbors. It is tempting to try to offer certain imaginative examples, but those that you have already constructed are no doubt equally good. I confess that I found myself intrigued by the notion that the streets themselves could be controlled. What would a human being want the streets to do? Although I did not express these thoughts to those visiting the National Federation of the Blind, I wondered if they meant that control gates would be installed at street crossings similar to those used for railroad crossings. When a blind person planned to cross the street, the press of a button could bring down the control arms, halting traffic and providing a tactile railing or fence for the blind person to follow from one side of the street to the other. Indeed, the concept of controlling the streets tickled my fancy. I wondered if I should suggest to these planners that they build their community so that a blind person stepping out for a walk could instruct the streets to go downhill. Maybe the new slogan for Charlesville could be, “The Community for the Blind: Where All the Streets Go Downhill.”
Those creating the community thought that having sighted people to assist the blind with their medications might be useful as well as having individuals dedicated to leading the blind from place to place. The planners wanted to know if I had any suggestions for other specialized technologies or services, and they asked for a grant of more than a million dollars.
I doubt that it will come as a surprise that I decided not to get the checkbook. I was polite, but I wondered if the people making the proposal had read any of the Federation’s literature. We do not recommend that the blind be segregated from society. We do not believe that specialized homes are required for the benefit of the blind. We do not recommend that communities be built to isolate the blind even with voice-controlled streets, whatever this might mean.
The concept of a segregated community is not merely offensive but also dangerously socially irresponsible. Some years ago in Japan, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was totally blind, and Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan were walking along the sidewalk. A bicyclist almost struck Dr. Jernigan. In the brief heated discussion that followed the near-accident, the bicyclist said that a portion of the sidewalk had been set aside with tactilely raised identifying marks for the blind. This is where the blind should be, the cyclist said. Implied in the statement is the further thought that blind people should not be permitted outside the specialized areas designated for the blind.
Some people have advocated for a special college for the blind. The argument is that the needs of blind students are sufficiently different from those of other students that a college designed to serve the blind would be a significant advantage. Books could be provided in Braille or in recorded form. Blind people could have assurance that the lectures, the handouts, and the laboratories would be designed to ensure accessibility in nonvisual ways. However, we in the National Federation of the Blind have never endorsed such a concept; we have actively opposed it. No matter how useful it would be to have Braille books and tactilely labeled laboratory equipment, a college for the blind would segregate and isolate the blind from society rather than integrate us into it. We want to be a part of the society in which we live. We want to attend the colleges and universities of our own choice. We want our intellectual capacity to be recognized for the value that it has. We want all colleges to understand the necessity of making their educational curricula accessible to us and useable by us. We will fight for our right to be included in all aspects of community life. We oppose segregation for the blind, we oppose all schemes that would isolate us from the communities in which we live, and we promote full integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality. We demand equality of opportunity for all blind people, and we will settle for nothing less.
Sometimes people ask me how I approach blindness. It is as much a part of me as dozens or hundreds of other characteristics. I don’t forget it, but I don’t concentrate on it either, most of the time. Other people often magnify this one characteristic out of all proportion to what seems reasonable to me.
In the early 1980s I was conducting a law practice in Baltimore, Maryland. Each business day I traveled to my office, very often by bus, and each evening I returned home, using the same method of transportation. One summer evening I was standing at a bus stop in downtown Baltimore. I was dressed in a suit, which is my customary work attire. I had a briefcase with me, which is almost always a companion of my travels. I was also carrying a can of coffee. I had run out of coffee at home, and I needed this can, which, fortunately, I had on hand at the office. The evening was warm, and the bus was late. Because I had remained in my office to complete some work, the rush hour had already passed, and I was feeling weary. The breeze came off the hot asphalt and did little to dissipate the warmth. I was the only one at the bus stop, which suited me because I could review the events of the day without having to worry about fellow bus passengers or other distractions. A person came up to me and peered at me from one side. Then the person walked around to my other side and peered again. I was standing next to the pole that had the bus stop sign on it. My briefcase was sitting on the ground next to my left leg, I was leaning on my cane, and I had the can of coffee in my hand. After I had been examined from both sides, a man’s voice said to me, “Where’s the slot?”
“What?” I asked.
To which my companion responded, “Where do you put the money?”
Although I was startled by these questions, I realized suddenly that he wanted to put some change into the canister I was holding. He thought I was begging. What else would a respectably dressed blind man with a briefcase and a coffee can be doing?
“This is my coffee,” I said, and my companion left.
Sometimes we let others make us believe that blindness matters more to us than reality would suggest. Sometimes we let fear of the unknown control us, and we attribute the fear to blindness.
One of the presentations that I have made as president of the National Federation of the Blind deals with the topic of getting lost. I have been lost many times, and I expect to be lost many more. In my younger days I thought that being lost was bad. However, I have learned that accepting the uncertainty of being lost means that I can find new places, meet new people, have new experiences, and expand my horizons. I also tell other people it is perfectly all right to be lost. How different is this attitude from the one that I found on the Internet recently. Here is what one blind person said:
If I don't know a state, I won't take buses anywhere. Why on earth would I wish to get lost? I wouldn't even know how to tell the transportation where I wanted to go. I would ask others if they are going the same way I wish to go. If not, there isn't any reason to go there then. I would just stay home where I know I could get help if needed and not feel afraid of getting lost.
Many of us may have faced this kind of fear as part of learning who we are, and many of us may face it again. Nevertheless, with the support of one another we know that we can solve the problems that come to us, large or small, dramatic or mundane. Though I sometimes find myself in unfamiliar surroundings, I never find myself without capacity, and I never encounter a day in which my colleagues in the Federation are not willing to help me if I need it. I realize that I have the ability to learn what I need to know to get from the place where I am to the place where I need to be. Furthermore, I will always want to know what we can do to build a brighter, more productive future. I will always want to know what is around the next bend in the road or over the summit of the next hill. I will always want to know what I can do to bring joy to my friends. I will always want to know how I can show them that there is excitement in being lost.
Optimism is an element in the acquisition of power, and the power once derived fosters optimism. The power of optimism stimulates the optimism of power. Optimism is one element of our faith. It is inherent in all that we say and all that we do. Because it has come to be such an integrated part of our thought process, we sometimes fail to recognize the urgency of optimism.
For all time blind people have been regarded as dependent, incompetent, and subnormal–some would even describe us as subhuman. However, we know better than to accept such a description of us, for it is false. We have decided to correct the error of the authors who tell us that we are base and unhuman, of those rehabilitation officials who write off 70 percent of us as fundamentally incompetent, of the newspaper reporters who tell us that our lives are empty and meaningless, and of the amusement park operators who believe that we can’t even ride a roller coaster. We have made this decision because we know the strength which is within us, we share the spirit that is part of us, and we feel the determination to create the factors that will shape the future.
Who can tell us what our lives will become? Nobody can do this except us. There are those who would like to dismiss us, but we will be heard. There are those who would like to instruct us, but from our experience we have gained more information than they can hope to accumulate. There are those who would like to control us, but if they try, they will do so at their peril. Partners we seek from every aspect of public and private life, but those who would seek to dictate to us what our lives should be will be tolerated not at all.
As we face the struggles of the time to come, we know with absolute certainty that we will take whatever action is necessary to confront those who would stop our progress or belittle our ambitions. We will make whatever sacrifice is necessary; we will pay whatever price is required. We will demand the equality that must and will be ours, and we will never cease our efforts until we have it. We have the will, we have the strength, we have the optimism. The future belongs to us; we will make it our own!
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s Scholarship Program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Each year everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do with their lives in the future.
On Friday evening, toward the close of the banquet, Anil Lewis came to the podium one final time to present the year's winners and give an academic and personal sketch of each after announcing which scholarship the person had been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, the brand new KNFB Reader Mobile presented by Ray Kurzweil himself, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems.
The final award presented in this year's scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 4, was the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Leslie Penko, who then spoke briefly to the audience. Her remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-five 2008 NFB scholarship winners and five tenBroek Fellows, who were each receiving a second scholarship, came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Anil, who announced the home and school states after each name.
Beth Allred, Wisconsin, Colorado: Good morning, everybody. I have just completed my bachelor of music degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with an emphasis in voice. Right now I am attending the Colorado Center for the Blind, and, after finishing my independence training program, I will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I will pursue a master’s degree in voice. I will become a successful expressive musician, a compassionate teacher, able to teach and learn from my students, and I will continue to work within the Federation to help blind youth as I feel that I am a good role model and that I can help students get the resources they need. And I will treat every experience that I have with enthusiasm as I believe that the experiences we have shape who we are and are going to be. Thank you.
Alyssa Bates, Ohio, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everyone. I must say that I never thought that I would end up on stage at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Though I have had the same amount of vision my entire life, I never really considered myself a blind person. Largely due to the help of one very special person I became involved in the Federation, and I’ve embarked on a whirlwind romance with the Federation during the last nine months. I’ve become deeply involved, and I’ve come to believe in what the Federation stands for. Speaking of whirlwinds, I am pursuing a meteorology degree from the Pennsylvania State University, and I plan to research tornados and improve response and warning times for them. I would like to thank everyone in the Federation, especially the scholarship committee, for this wonderful opportunity. God bless.
Mika Baugh, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I would like to thank the convention and the board for your generosity, your leadership, and the resources that you have provided me with. I’m a recent high school graduate and will be attending Indiana University as a freshman in the fall to major in psychology and to minor in medical humanities and Spanish. After completing graduate school, I will pursue a career in physical therapy. Thank you.
William Black, Utah, Utah: It’s definitely a great honor to be chosen as a scholarship winner. I’m attending the University of Utah for my generals, and I am going to the International Culinary School at the Art Institute in Salt Lake City. I’m going to get a bachelor’s degree in culinary management, and I intend to become a caterer after that. Also I am the secretary of our local chapter, and I am honored to be a scholarship winner and to be among these wonderful people. Thank you.
Katy Carroll, New York, D.C.: Thank you for the introduction. Good morning, everyone. I will be a junior at American University in the fall. I’m studying international studies and physics. I studied abroad independently in Norway last summer, and I will be in France in the spring at the Ecole Nationale de Science Politique in Paris studying political science. With my degree I hope to go into the state department one day and work in the Office of Agriculture, Environment, and Trade. I would really like to improve trade relations and the relationship between trade and the environment. I really appreciate being here. Thank you all so much.
tenBroek Fellows are people who have won a scholarship in a previous year and then successfully competed and won a second scholarship.
Stacy Cervenka [tenBroek Fellow], D.C., D.C.: Good morning, Dr. Maurer, members of the board, and other members of the Federation. I am originally from Illinois and Minnesota and currently live and work in Washington, D.C., where I am a legislative correspondent for Senator Sam Brownback in Kansas. I work on issues of education, disability rights, prolife issues, bioethics, veterans issues, prison reform, criminal justice, and (as of recently) health care. I always say that Mother Teresa once said that “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle; I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” This fall I will begin a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University’s Washington, D.C., campus, where I will be pursuing a master’s degree in government with a concentration in political communication. My career ambitions are to further the goals of marginalized populations that I’ve often been surrounded by and consider myself a part of, including people with disabilities, people who live in inner cities, people who live in very rural areas, and people who live on Indian reservations. I just want to thank all of you for generously donating your time and resources and energy to give all thirty of us the opportunities that we have here today. We all know how fortunate we are, and we know we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you.
Tomás Cintrón [tenBroek Fellow], Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico: Good morning, everyone. It is an honor to be here again. I’m Tomás Cintrón. I come from Puerto Rico. I got my bachelor’s from Inter-American University, San Germán campus. After that I received my rehabilitation at LCB. Then I started working with the department of education as a teacher with children K through sixth. I am now working on my master’s degree. I hope to be done next year. My mentor [Alpidio Rolón] is here. My goal for this year is to start a chapter in Puerto Rico for parents of blind children. Thank you.
Buna Dahal, Colorado, Colorado: As Pablo Picasso once said, “I’m always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them.” I’m a graduate student at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. I was invited to present an empowering speech at the United Nations in 2007. I worked in Turkey last year through Blind Corps. I’m a graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Fellow Federationists, it is indeed my honor to share this week with you as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you very much.
Allison deFranco, New York, New York: Hello, everyone. I am really excited to be here, and just a quick correction. In New York, if you say New York, New York, that means the city. I am actually from six hours north of the city, Saranac Lake, New York. I currently attend Syracuse University College of Law, and I am going into my third year, while I am also attending Syracuse University, School of Education, getting a master of education, focusing on disability studies. I believe I am one of the farthest to come to this convention. I flew in from Budapest, Hungary, where this summer I am working at the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, focusing on issues of children’s rights in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I am excited to be here, and it is a great opportunity so far.
Chelsey Duranleau, New Hampshire, New Hampshire: Thank you, Anil, Dr. Maurer, and fellow Federationists. I am Chelsey Duranleau. I am pursuing a degree in Spanish with a minor in sociology at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. Also during the summer I am a camp counselor. I work in a program called Interactions, and I work with blind children. That has been really rewarding. I hope to bring a lot to the Federation. I am very independent, and I try to influence people and be a role model, especially for children. It is truly an honor to be here. Thank you.
Tim Elder, California, California: Good morning, distinguished board, fellow Federationists. Thank you for having me here. I attended my first convention in 2006. Many of you may be surprised to hear this, but prior to that convention I had never met another blind person. I never thought that I could receive a respectable paycheck. I never thought that anybody would look past my blindness and love me for who I am, and this group has really been a family to me and has helped me to achieve my dreams and goals. Thank you. Since that convention I received my BA in music composition. I currently have a band and produce music distributed globally on ITunes and available on national radio syndication. If being a minor rock star wasn’t good enough, I still have concerns for social justice. I’m a third year law student at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. I am currently spending the summer working at a public interest law firm in San Francisco, litigating on behalf of low-income workers, and probably the most notable development is that this past week I proposed to the love of my life and am engaged and excited to be starting a family in September. So thank you for having me. It’s a true honor.
Joseph Engle, North Dakota, Minnesota: Greetings, my fellow Federationists. This is my first convention. I am going to be attending Concordia College in the fall, majoring in social studies, education, or classics education to become a high school teacher while going through Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, to become a Lutheran pastor. Since this is my first convention, I notice it has been quite a good experience, enjoyable, and I do intend to be involved with the Federation. When I get involved in an organization, I get involved wholeheartedly. I don’t do anything halfway; I do everything I can do. What can I do—well, many people have commented about my teaching abilities at my church. I intend to use those abilities in the Federation to educate the general public about the truth about blindness.
Michelle Gittens, Minnesota, Minnesota: Hello, Federationists. The training that I received at BLIND, Inc., coupled with my music degree, is enabling me not only to change what it means to be blind, but also to change what it means to be a blind musician. On and off stage I let it be known that I sing because I am skilled, not because I am blind. In three weeks I will be attending a music program at Yale, and in the fall I will be starting my second degree, in music business, at McNally Smith College of Music in Minnesota. I thank you all for this opportunity. I thank the NFB for challenging us all to be sky-is-the-limit blind people. Thank you. God bless.
Justin Hodge, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning, everybody. It is definitely an honor to be here this morning and this week. This fall I will be a junior at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. I am currently majoring in mechanical engineering. This summer I am working as an intern at Lexmark in their laser printer research and development area. This past fall I had the opportunity to study abroad in Grantham, England. That was definitely a wonderful experience. My independent skills were definitely boosted by that experience. When I graduate, I basically am considering three options for employment. I might go into the corporate sector. I may work as an engineer for the NFB, or I am also considering going into the mission field. This is my first convention. I have learned a great deal so far, and I am looking forward to the rest of the week and finding out what the NFB has to offer. Thank you. God bless.
Janice Jeang, California, California: Hello, fellow Federationists. It is actually Texas, California, Baltimore, Chicago, California. I will be a first-year master’s of public policy student at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall, which is an area related to our most famous activist in our organization, Dr. tenBroek. Speaking of activists, another famous activist by the name of Jesse Jackson once said, “If my mind can conceive it, then I will be able to achieve it.” So I just wanted to come and say thank you to the Federation for giving me the confidence to conceive it, for giving me the belief and the skills for me to achieve it, and for trusting enough in me to give me the honor and privilege of being up here to speak to you guys. I owe everything to the Federation, and I hope to continue proving myself worthy of your trust for this amazing gift. Thank you.
Andrew Johnson, Connecticut, Connecticut: Good morning, everyone. I want to be brief, but I want to start by thanking the NFB, especially the scholarship committee, and Dr. Maurer, also to everyone in the room, and all of the thousands of people that this organization represents. This is my first convention, and this has been an incredible experience. I am excited to meet you all, but about me. I just graduated high school, and I’ve finished up an internship at my local radio station. I am going off to Connecticut College in the fall, where I am going to be pursuing an English degree and hopefully be a journalist, where I can fill up my passport, travel around, and write about all the great stories and great people that I get to meet all over the place. Thank you all, and congratulations to the other scholarship winners.
Rebecca Ledder, Nebraska, D.C.: Thank you, everyone. I am a rising sophomore at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., majoring in Japanese with a possible minor in sociology. I am also a graduate of the Nebraska orientation center for the blind, and I would like to thank everyone here for making this amazing opportunity possible for me and for all the rest of the scholarship class. Some things I have found are a little bit easier to say in Japanese, so [a series of Japanese words], which very roughly translated means, Thank you for everything that you have done. Thanks.
John Mahler, South Carolina, South Carolina: Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Before I talk about myself, I just want to say a couple of things about my experience here. This is also my first time here at convention. I was sitting having breakfast this morning with Mr. Jacobsen—he’s my mentor today. I’m overwhelmed at this opportunity. It’s an amazing experience--the relationships I have developed in the last couple of days. I was telling Mr. Jacobsen, this is the best time of my life. It is incredible to be here today. I want to thank all of you for all the opportunities that are coming with the scholarship. It’s given me the confidence to apply to some of the top law schools in the nation. I’m heading into my senior year at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I am originally a product of Tyler, Texas, which is about an hour and a half east of here, and I am looking forward to coming back to the Texas affiliate and applying to law schools here. I don’t want to leave Parnell, but I have to come back to family here. I’m a political science major and an international studies major as well. I’m a double major. I’m also in the honors program. Out of eight thousand students I am in the top two hundred of Coastal Carolina University. Thank you all very much. It is an honor to be here.
Sara Minkara, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored and flattered to be here today. This is my first national convention, and, to be honest, I was a little bit nervous. However, the moment I arrived here, the warmth and welcome, the inspiration, the support, the encouragement that I received were astounding. I would like to take that and instill it into every heart in this global community because there are children out there who have the potential, but there are obstacles impeding their progress. I believe that every child in this global community has the right to thrive and succeed and become a successful person. Therefore I am pursuing an international relations major with a focus on economics and a math major at Wellesley College. I hope to be one day a UN official to improve the education system on a global level. Thank you.
Leslie Penko, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone, the board of directors, and my fellow Federationists. I would first of all like to thank everyone for the warm welcome I’ve had at my first national convention. It has been amazing. I’m Leslie Penko, and I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. I graduated in 2007 from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s in psychology. Currently I am pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I just finished my first internship at a bereavement center, where I was a bereavement counselor and group facilitator. In the fall I will be interning at a county hospital in a psychiatric ward. I aspire to be a counselor and, again, I just thank everyone for this incredible opportunity.
Faith Penn, Texas, Texas: Hello, everyone. Good morning to you all. I am currently a senior at Texas Tech University. My major is public relations, and I will have a minor in English when I finish. In the fall I am going to be interning in the athletics media department at my school. Upon graduation I plan to pursue my master’s in radio, television, and film. I hope to write commercials--you know the good ones that everybody remembers and that get stuck in your head and all that good stuff--that’ll be me. I hope to do that. I am a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. This is my fifth convention. Every year I learn so much. I am excited to be here again. I’ve been here as a first-time convention goer. I’ve been here as a staff member in the Buddy and Step Programs, and now I am here as a scholarship winner, so I am excited to be here. Thank you so much. It’s a big honor for me.
Trevor Saunders, New Jersey, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a freshman at Carnegie Mellon. I want to study computer science. I want to make computers better for people, particularly blind people like me. I always believed in the Federation ideas and high hopes, but a few years ago I met the Federation and learned it was all true. I am an Eagle Scout. For my project we put up Braille signs at a nature center near my home so it was accessible to blind people. We should learn about nature too. Last summer on a school trip to Kenya, I was responsible for a trip to a blind school where they don’t learn science; rather they didn’t. We brought the principal of that school to the National Center in the United States. Now they are learning science. Thank you, Federationists.
Matt Simpson, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, everybody. I am Matt Simpson from Atlanta, Georgia, and in the fall I will be a freshman at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. I plan to study history and politics. This is my first NFB experience and my first convention. I would like to thank the NFB and everybody in this room for the honor of this scholarship and the amazing opportunities of this convention and the opportunities the NFB provides us with each and every day. Thank you.
Nikki Singh, Maryland, Connecticut: Good morning, everyone. I want to take a moment to thank the scholarship committee once again for all their hard work and for honoring us with our scholarships, as well as the convention. I am also a recent high school graduate. In the fall I will be a freshman at Yale, where I hope to major in either literature or history before going to law school. Thank you.
A. J. Smith, California, California: First I would like to thank the scholarship committee and the board for giving me this wonderful opportunity to come here to Dallas and to attend the National Federation conference. I am going to attend the University of San Francisco in the fall, and I will double major in biochemistry and social justice. I will become a doctor in the next eight years. As a doctor I will change the world; I will make this world a better place. And the reason why is because the National Federation of the Blind provides great opportunities and gives us no reason not to.
Amanda Swanson, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning, everyone. I am a senior at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am majoring in biology, and after I graduate, I plan to work for the environmental protection agency. I would like to thank my friends at BLIND, Inc., and the NFB for all their support. Thanks.
Andre Tynes, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, Federationists. My name is Andre Tynes, and I would like to thank the scholarship committee for this honor. I am currently a graduate student at Norfolk State University, majoring in rehabilitation counseling with a concentration in severe disabilities. Also I hold a bachelor’s degree in social work. I am also the president of the Peninsula Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. I currently work for a local magazine called Hampton by the Sea and Beyond. In the fall I will be doing an internship at the Department of Rehabilitation Services in Hampton, Virginia. I am happy to be here today. When I lost my vision in ’98, I had such great mentors from the NFB, and they showed me that I did not need to be ashamed to be blind anymore. Thank you.
C. J. Watson, North Carolina, Virginia: Hi. I am from North Carolina, and I will be attending graduate school at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. I have attended three different mission trips to Mexico and have directed music programs in the summer and also assisted in rehab camps for the blind during the summers for the past several years. I’ve also done PR work for American Cancer Society and the Children’s Miracle Network. I am a six-time cancer survivor as well as being blind--celebrating two years and four months. My undergraduate was in piano performance, and for my graduate degree I am working on my second year at Marymount, in community counseling. I hope to use my experiences as a blind individual and as a cancer survivor to work with blind people and their families, cancer patients and their families, dealing with the emotional and psychological stresses of cancer. I want to thank the scholarship committee and each and every one of you Federationists out there who have done all that you have done in making this possible, and I thank you, and I look forward to the rest of this week.
Isaiah Wilcox, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning. My name is Isaiah Wilcox, and I am from Atlanta, Georgia. I am currently attending Morehouse College as a sophomore, where I am double majoring in computer science and mathematics; hopefully I will go on to pursue my master’s degree in computer forensic science. Just to thank the scholarship committee for having me here this week and also to thank you, the members, for supporting the scholarship program. Thank you.
Nijat Worley, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This is my sixth convention, and according to Ray Kurzweil’s calculations, I should have two hundred more to go. I will be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder and majoring in political science and international affairs, after which I will be going to law school. I intend to work for the United States State Department as an international diplomat. My father Kevan was asking me the other day whether I would continue coming to conventions after going off to college, and my answer to him was, “Of course, I would be coming to conventions, because it’s become a tradition for one thing, and, second of all, after all that this organization has given me, the only way I can pay back to this organization is to serve it to the best of my ability, because of what it has given me by letting me go to Rocket On!, the Youth Slam, the Youth Leadership Academy, and the leadership seminar at the end of this month. I will be attending Cadamount Institute for Environmental Studies at the end of this summer. I am very excited to be here. Thank you to the scholarship committee and to the National Federation of the Blind for the scholarship. Thank you very much.
That is the scholarship class of 2008. Near the close of the banquet on Friday evening, the thirty students were called to the platform to receive their certificates. After Leslie Penko received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, she briefly addressed the banquet audience seated before her and across the nation listening and watching on the Internet. This latter group included Leslie’s mother, who had searched in vain to see her daughter among the thousands of diners earlier in the evening. These are the remarks that Leslie made:
Leslie Penko: Thank you so much, Dr. Maurer, Mr. Kurzweil--I cannot thank you both enough for this opportunity. I would like to start by thanking Barbara Pierce, who introduced me very recently to this incredible Federation. I also have to thank the scholarship committee, who saw something in me that led them to invite me to participate in what has become the most incredible week of my life. [applause] It has certainly been a life-changing experience, and, though I’ve been telling people that--and I feel kind of corny saying it--I know that many of you understand what I mean when I say that.
I of course have to thank my family back home, because without them and their support I wouldn’t be here. They loved me no matter what, and I’m so thankful for that.
Now I also have to thank my new family, my extended Federation family because they have taught me this week, every one of you, actually to love myself just the way I am. [applause] Honestly, all money aside, I’m going to walk away from this experience with the most invaluable resources I could ever have imagined, that is, every individual that I have spoken with this week. I have learned wisdom and advice and techniques and skills, ways that I can just be me, more me than I have ever known I could be--no tricks, no pretending, just me, completely comfortable and not panicking about where the stairs are or worrying about looking foolish, fumbling around a restaurant looking for the restroom, all the things I thought I had to put on a front for, prior to this week. So for that I thank everyone who is here. I would just encourage you to get to know each other, to ask everyone questions, because each and every person has a story to tell and advice to give and wisdom. It doesn’t matter where they come from or where they’re going. It’s amazing the things you can learn and gain by just talking to people. That is something I will cherish forever. So thank you so much for this opportunity. I will never forget it, and I will be back. [applause]
Here is the complete list of 2008 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: William Black, Kathryn Carroll, Chelsey Duranleau, Timothy Elder, Joseph Engel, Justin Hodge, Janice Jeang, John Mahler, Trevor Saunders, Matthew Simpson, A. J. Smith, Amanda Swanson, and André Tynes
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Tomás Cintrón Rivera
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Isaiah Wilcox
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Rebecca Ledder
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Nikki Singh
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Faith Penn
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Allison deFranco
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Nijat Worley
$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship: Elizabeth Allred
$3,000 Network 2000 Betsy Zaborowski Memorial Scholarship: Carolyn Watson
$5,000 Michael Marucci Memorial Scholarship: Sara Minkara
$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship: Mika Baugh
$5,000 2008 Dan Ryles Memorial Scholarship: Andrew Johnson
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Alyssa Bates
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Buna Dahal
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Stacy Cervenka
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Michelle Gittens
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship (Donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Leslie Penko
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: On July 4, 2008, Dr. Fred Schroeder, National Federation of the Blind first vice president and former commissioner of the U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration, delivered the following address at the NFB national convention:
I recently learned that a friend of mine, Reggie Howard, had passed away. Reggie grew up in Alabama during the time when many southern states maintained separate schools for the blind, a white school and a black school. I remember Reggie’s telling me that blind students at the black school were always excited to hear that the white school would be getting new Braille books because that meant that the black school would also be getting new Braille books, the old books from the white school passed on to the black school for the blind. When the white school got new desks, the black school got new desks, the old ones from the white school.
Segregation was wrong. It harmed children, but how much and in what ways? It is true that it was a few years later that blind students at the black school learned that Constantinople is now Istanbul. And it is true that the books were a little worn, the desks a little the worse for wear. But they had books. They had desks. They had a school and teachers who cared and did their best. And, yes, they did learn. They learned math and English. They learned science and social studies, and they learned something else--they learned that society believed them to be inferior, inferior because of their race and inferior because of blindness. They were harmed by a substandard education. They were harmed by poor facilities. But most of all they were harmed by prejudice--prejudice rooted in low expectations. But society was wrong. Reggie was not inferior, not inferior because of race and not inferior because of blindness. And neither was any of the other students at the Alabama School for Negro Deaf and Blind.
Today most blind children, black and white, are educated in ordinary public school classrooms. But, as with the desegregation of public schools, including schools for the blind, physical desegregation does not in and of itself confer equality. Blind children, black and white, continue to be society's forgotten, some educated in schools for the blind and some in local public schools, but still forgotten, regarded as children with no future, no promise, no meaning--for the most part desegregated, but not yet integrated.
It is assumed that sighted children will learn to read and write, yet today only 10 percent of blind children learn to read and write Braille. It is assumed that sighted children will have books and libraries and other resources to support their learning; but today blind children continue to wait for Braille books, only a handful have ever seen a Braille library, and basic tools like Braille notetakers are rarely available; and when they are, often it is only after an intense struggle with school officials. It is assumed that sighted children will graduate from high school, and we count it a crisis in American education when the dropout rate reaches double digits. But where is the public outcry about the dropout rate among the blind? Today only 45 percent--fewer than half--of all blind children will earn a high school diploma. We will not stand by and allow this to continue.
In 2009 the United States Mint will issue a coin commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille. It will be the first U.S. coin to include tactilely readable Braille. How did this happen? How did the Congress of the United States learn about the crisis in Braille literacy among blind Americans? It was because of the National Federation of the Blind. We brought the problem to the attention of the Congress. We made the Congress aware that blind children and adults have the ability to live normal, productive lives and that the major barrier to full participation, true integration, is not blindness itself but public attitudes, public misconceptions about blindness, low expectations for blind people rooted in myth and tradition. It was the National Federation of the Blind that said to the Congress that the isolation--the social and economic segregation--of blind people must end, that blind people deserve the chance to learn and work and live as others, and, to do so, they must have the opportunity to become literate.
The NFB commemorative Braille coin will attract public attention and raise awareness about the importance of Braille in the lives of blind people--and it will do more. The Congress has directed that $10 be added to the cost of each coin sold with the hope of generating $4 million, to be matched with donated funds, potentially making $8 million available to the National Federation of the Blind to support programs increasing Braille literacy among blind children and adults. Entrusting the nation's Braille literacy initiative to the National Federation of the Blind, demonstrates that the Congress recognizes that the Federation has been and continues to be the leader in promoting equal opportunities for blind people throughout the nation. What will we do to insure that blind children and adults, including seniors, will have the opportunity to learn to read and write Braille?
Last Wednesday Dr. Maurer announced the launch of the Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign and the Braille.org Website. Our goal is to double the number of blind people who know how to read and write Braille by the time of the Federation's diamond anniversary in 2015. This is an ambitious goal but an achievable one. To ensure success, a number of things must be done.
We must find blind people and help them learn to believe in themselves, believe that, given training and opportunity, they can live full and productive lives; and that means we must bring them into the National Federation of the Blind. It means we must help society learn to think differently about Braille and, by extension, think differently about blindness and blind people. It means we must help parents recognize the importance of Braille in their children's lives. It means we must convince teachers of blind children that Braille is the cornerstone of literacy and therefore the cornerstone of opportunity. And it means we must make sure that the resources are available so that blind children have access to competent instruction in Braille reading and writing. And these are not just words, empty promises. We will work to enact legislation in all fifty states requiring teachers of blind children to obtain and maintain the National Certification in Literary Braille.
These are the goals of the Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign--promoting Braille and increasing access to Braille for blind children and adults--but at its heart the Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign is an expression of the National Federation of the Blind--our philosophy, our commitment to achieving full participation of blind people in society, our belief that good enough is not good enough, that desegregation is not the same as integration, that progress is no substitute for equality, and our unshakable belief that, no matter society's low expectations, Reggie was not inferior, not inferior because of race and not inferior because of blindness.
The NFB Braille coin is a testament to the determination of blind people to break free from society's low expectations and to live normal, active, productive lives. What will we do to increase Braille literacy? What will we do to transform our goals into reality? The possibilities are as limitless as our imagination, as vast as our collective will and determination, and as far-reaching as the National Federation of the Blind itself, our fifty-two affiliates, our seven hundred local chapters, our fifty thousand members.
The Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign will be a collection of programs and activities, and more: it is the National Federation of the Blind in action. It is the natural extension of our sixty-eight-year effort to forge new opportunities for the blind, to move ever closer to true equality. No matter society's low expectations, Reggie was not inferior, not inferior because of race and not inferior because of blindness, and neither was any of the other students at the Alabama School for Negro Deaf and Blind. No matter how limited their opportunities, opportunities constricted by low expectations, they were not inferior, nor is any other blind person, black or white. Reggie was not inferior, nor am I, nor are you, nor is any other blind person. This is the Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign. This is the National Federation of the Blind.
by Anne Taylor
From the Editor: Anne Taylor is director of access technology at the NFB Jernigan Institute. On Thursday morning, July 3, she made a presentation about nonvisual accessibility Web certification. It is important that everyone who wishes to do so have access to Websites. Therefore, Anne has agreed to summarize her report to convention delegates so that we can begin immediately to put pressure on companies and organizations to construct Websites that blind people can use nonvisually. This is what she writes:
At our national convention in Dallas this year, one of the access technology spotlights was on the crucial issue of Web accessibility. Over the last year the AT team has done considerable work making more Websites accessible to blind users through NFB nonvisual accessibility Web certification (NFB NVA certification). We relaunched the certification with Deque Systems, Inc., early this year at the California State University at Northridge’s twenty-third Annual International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, and we have since been working with a number of organizations to make their Web presence accessible to the blind. This article offers a summary of the points made at convention as well as a brief overview of the NFB NVA certification.
The NFB nonvisual web accessibility certification program is the only nonvisual access certification for Website and software. This year the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, in partnership with Deque Systems, Inc., has redesigned this initiative to do two things better than before. Our new design is a better tool to enable us to assist businesses that want to deploy accessible Websites for the blind and a better tool to make us effective spokesmen and women for this initiative. When a company submits a request for certification, one benefit of this new design is the ability to generate a report automatically with details on accessibility violations. Once that report is done, the NFB NVA team does hands-on usability testing on the site, and results from this testing are included in the report that we send to the company. Companies can use this report as a tool to assess the accessibility status of their Webpages to determine whether the Website is ready to be certified. We can give them clear steps to take if they are not ready.
Certified Websites will meet criteria at one of the following levels and are expected to progress to platinum over time.
Silver: Top 100 URLs are completely accessible--all content is compliant with WCAG priorities one and two or NFB NVA standards.
Gold: Top 100 URLs are completely accessible–all content controlled by the organization is compliant.
Twenty most frequently accessed documents (MS Office/PDF) and resources (Flash/Video/Audio) are compliant.
Platinum: All Web content, documents (PDF), and resources are completely compliant.
The organization commits to independent audits and continuous monitoring.
The site owner maintains appropriate control over aggregated content (all content presented on its Website, even if contributed and controlled by someone outside the organization).
Sites that have achieved Platinum status will be promoted and showcased by NFB in various forums and functions throughout the year. All certified Websites will be continuously monitored by Deque’s WorldSpace software to ensure that the optimum accessibility standard is maintained throughout the life of the certification.
It is hard to overstate the importance of our efforts in Web accessibility. During the past two decades the percentage of Internet use among the American population has risen dramatically. According to data provided by the United States Internet Usage, Broadband, and Telecommunications Report, in 2000 124 million Americans, or 44 percent of the total population, used the Internet regularly. In March 2008 there were 218,302,574 Internet users or 71.9% of the population, according to <Nielsen//NetRatings>. Even though the percentage of Internet use in this country almost doubled in the past eight years, the number of nonvisually accessible Websites is very low. Far too often the NFB Access Technology team receives emails and telephone calls from blind individuals expressing frustration when encountering inaccessible Websites while on the job, at school, or at home. The certification process provides inaccessible Websites with a clear path to improvement and a good alternative to excluding consumers.
Here are some common access problems for us in 2008. Many of us do not have access to online public transportation schedules because government-funded transit authority Websites are not accessible. Major airlines are making lower fares available on the Web but fail to make their Websites accessible to the blind. Blind people who make reservations by telephone are obliged to pay an extra service charge. Some blind job seekers are discouraged from pursuing the profession of their choice because the employer refuses to make the company Website accessible. Many colleges and universities still use inaccessible Websites as the information exchange center for staff and students, while simultaneously moving to a paperless environment. Therefore blind students in colleges and universities around the country often do not have access to information they need to excel in their studies, take examinations, receive and submit assignments, or manage their student accounts.
While the blind are working hard to earn a living and have money to spend, it is still a challenge for us to manage our bank accounts on the Web, pay bills online, or shop using the Internet. Sighted people benefit from the vast array of products and services available on the Internet, but the blind are being left behind. Although Web accessibility guidelines have been publicly available for a number of years now, many government agencies, private companies, and educational institutions are not willing to use them during the Website-design process. We do not know for certain whether the reluctance to deploy accessible Websites is intentional or not, but we believe that access delayed is equivalent to access denied. It has become clear that many organizations with the resources to make the changes are in fact less willing than smaller companies to take on the task of making their sites equal-access. In order to ensure that blind people have equal ease of Web access with sighted Americans, we must be proactive. As demonstrated in other NFB successes, the power of collective action can define good business practice and make accessibility a standard feature. Together we must be willing to take immediate steps to solve this problem.
Here’s how you can get involved in making some changes for the better: the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute encourages blind consumers to identify companies of interest and ask them to make their Websites accessible, especially the companies with whom you have a good relationship. We have a procedure to simplify the process for you. Go to the Web Accessibility Program page in the Technology section of <www.nfb.org> and locate the “Inaccessible Web Site Notification Form” link in order to submit the company's URL.
Two things will occur after you submit the URL. The access technology team will send you a form letter which you can use when writing or emailing the company. Please personalize your letter by adding the details of your experience before sending it. At the same time the access technology team will generate an accessibility report about the company’s Website and send the report and assessment letter to the company. After a company becomes a client by enrolling in the NFB nonvisual Web accessibility program, the team will continue to provide necessary assistance until the Website is certified. If the client does not have a Webmaster trained in accessibility techniques, we can help identify a Web accessibility consultant.
The list of certified Websites is made available publicly on NFB.org. We encourage blind people to visit and patronize sites with certification and also to continue to report any problems. This is a part of the continuous monitoring necessary when site designs are as fluid as they are today. Your help is needed.
Here is the list of the sites certified as accessible in 2008:
Independent Living Aids, Inc., <www.independentliving.com>
General Electric Company, <www.ge.com/>
En-Vision America, Inc., <www.envisionamerica.com/>
We are making progress. GE was the first organization to be certified under the new NFB NVA program guidelines, and they received their gold level certification from President Maurer at the convention. Jen Walsh, GE's global director for digital media, said, "For many people, the Website is the first touch point for the company. Given our breadth and depth, it's important to be accessible. We have a broad impact on a lot of people's lives." At the convention GE was represented by Michael Eisenreich, technology leader for GE.com, and Kathleen Kinsella, GE.com project manager, whose presentations reaffirmed their accessibility responsibility. Michael confirmed that "Website accessibility is an important and ongoing commitment that our team is making.”
Luke Kowalski from Oracle also expressed Oracle’s support for accessibility. The company is now firmly convinced of the importance of ensuring access. They sponsored this summer’s Junior Science Academy. In addition, Craig Woods presented on behalf of Amazon, assuring the membership that, in spite of some hitches, Web accessibility remains one of the big rocks in Amazon’s jar of priorities. If market leaders like these companies are willing to support and work towards equal access, there is little reason why others shouldn’t follow suit.
For further information on NFB NVA certification, visit <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/certification_intro.asp> or contact Clara Van Gerven at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2410, or <[email protected]>. You can also contact Anne Taylor at ext. 2413 or at <[email protected]> and Tony Olivero at ext. 2234 or <[email protected]>. For other access technology inquiries, call the technology answer line at (410) 659-9314, option 5.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the resolutions committee. In the following article she reports on the work of the 2008 committee.
One of the highlights of the 2008 convention was the panel about Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and his impact on the legal system of the United States and the world. More details about the panel will be available in other articles. However, one of the most influential articles written by Dr. tenBroek, “The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts,” which was published in the California Law Review in 1966, captures the basic spirit of the Federation. Through our resolutions we are continuing to establish our right to live in the world as independent blind people. The right to live in the world covers all aspects of life, which accounts for the diversity of our resolutions.
In his 1956 speech, “Within the Grace of God,” Dr. tenBroek outlined our rights:
We have the right freely to choose our fields of endeavor, unhindered by arbitrary, artificial, or man-made impediments. All limitations on our opportunity, all restrictions on us based on irrelevant considerations of physical disability are in conflict with our Constitutional right of equality and must be removed. Our access to the mainstreams of community life, the aspirations and achievements of each of us, are to be limited only by the skills, energy, talents, and abilities we individually bring to the opportunities equally open to all Americans.
Access was the theme of the resolutions passed by the Convention this year. Access to the streets, access to employment, and access to information were the major subjects of these resolutions. All of these types of access will help us achieve our right to live in the world.
On June 30 the thirty-member resolutions committee met to consider fifteen resolutions. Once again this year Marsha Dyer, a longtime staff member at the National Center for the Blind, ably served as secretary to the committee. The committee passed thirteen resolutions, which were considered and passed by the Convention on Saturday, July 5, during the business session. Resolution 2008-12 dealt with lack of access to airline kiosks and Websites. It failed because the remedies were too complex if access were not provided. The committee was confused about when existing regulations implementing the Air Carrier Access Act of 1998 will go into effect, bringing the need for new regulations to address access. Resolution 2008-15 also failed. The committee concluded that the problem it addressed should be resolved by the free market. This resolution urged the company Nuance to sell its text-to-speech engine, Eloquence, to other cell phone manufacturers. I am sure that both of these access issues will be back in future resolutions.
One of the greatest current threats to our right to live in the world is the increasing popularity of quiet vehicles. Their growing numbers threaten our access to the streets and may eventually lessen blind people’s participation in all aspects of community life. The Federation has been working on this issue for many years. In Resolution 2008-02 we commend representatives from General Motors, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Society of Automotive Engineers International, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for beginning discussions with us to find the solution to this crisis. We also urge these entities “to take significant demonstrable steps” to solve this ever-growing problem. Debbie Stein, chairperson of the Federation’s committee on automobile and pedestrian safety (CAPS) and first vice president of the Illinois affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
The Convention adopted three resolutions concerning access to employment opportunities. Noel Nightingale, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a longtime leader in the NFB of Washington, proposed Resolution 2008-09. Frequently state vocational rehabilitation agencies try to palm off their responsibility to purchase assistive technology for clients onto the employer. In this resolution we call on state vocational rehabilitation agencies to eliminate debate over who should purchase technology and accept their responsibility to ensure that their clients do not lose job opportunities.
One of the oldest employment programs for the blind, the Randolph-Sheppard Program, was the subject of two resolutions. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, introduced Resolution 2008-04. In this resolution we condemn and deplore the “errant and prejudicial report submitted to Congress by the Department of Defense” on the conflict over military dining facilities between the Randolph-Sheppard and the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Programs. We also urge Congress to ignore this report and to develop a lasting solution to this conflict. The conflict over which program has the right to operate military dining facilities has been going on for many years. This resolution is necessary because the Department of Defense released a report, mandated by Congress, on April 15, 2008.
Senator Enzi from Wyoming introduced legislation to solve the military dining facility conflict. Resolution 2008-14 outlines our reasons for opposing S 3112, the JWOD Randolph-Sheppard Modernization Act of 2008. The Enzi bill will weaken the Randolph-Sheppard Program and limit opportunities for blind vendors. Jim McCarthy, a governmental affairs program specialist for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored this resolution.
In today’s society our right to live in the world is dramatically affected by our access to information. The Convention adopted six resolutions concerning access to information. Two of these resolutions addressed issues in the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress program (NLS), three concern access to textbook information, and the remaining resolution is about standards that provide access to information technology.
Jesse Hartle, another governmental affairs specialist with the National Federation of the Blind, proposed Resolution 2008-01. As readers will remember, NLS is converting its Talking Book collection from cassette tape recordings to digital cartridges. For the past two years we have been urging Congress to provide full funding for this program. In Resolution 2008-01 we commend the leaders of the House Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch Appropriations for substantially increasing the appropriation for the Talking Book conversion program to $34.5 million. We also urge the entire Congress to maintain this level of funding in final appropriations legislation.
NLS is conducting a pilot program allowing patrons to download books and magazines using the Internet. Patrons are limited to downloading thirty items in a thirty-day period. Don Morris, a longtime leader in the National Association of Blind Merchants and in the NFB of Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2008-05. In this resolution we call upon NLS to eliminate the restriction on the number of books and magazines that patrons can download when the pilot project ends. NLS hopes to open this program to all of its patrons who have the necessary equipment by the end of 2008.
For the past several years the Convention has adopted resolutions concerning access to textbooks. Another resolution concerning access to instructional materials for higher education students was necessary this year to comment on a proposal in Congress. Congressman Miller from California, chairperson of the House Committee on Education and Labor, included language to study the accessibility problem in HR 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008, which will also reauthorize higher education programs. Domonique Lawless, member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Students and president of the Tennessee Association of Blind Students, sponsored Resolution 2008-06. In this resolution we urge Congress to create a commission with significant representation of users of higher education instructional materials and to establish pilot programs to deliver accessible textbooks. These pilots should end when the commission submits its recommendations to Congress.
Bookshare.org received a $32 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the availability of accessible electronic textbooks for K-12 disabled students. Jennifer Dunnam, manager of Braille programs for the NFB Jernigan Institute and president of the Minnesota affiliate, proposed Resolution 2008-03. In this resolution we urge Bookshare.org to have Braille textbook files professionally proofread and corrected before placing them on its Website for use by students. It is especially important for students to have high-quality Braille materials.
Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, sponsored Resolution 2008-13. Blind students do not have access to electronic textbook files of mathematics and science material because publishers use images when creating these files. In this resolution we call upon publishers to present mathematical and other technical information in the Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) instead of images. We also urge companies who produce screen-access technology and Braille-translation software to improve their products to provide access to files created in MathML.
Curtis Chong and Jim McCarthy were the authors of Resolution 2008-10. The U.S. Access Board is currently updating the standards and guidelines for section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and section 255 of the Communications Act of 1996. In this resolution we outline principles that the Access Board should incorporate in these revised standards and guidelines. These new standards and guidelines must provide real access to information and communication technology.
We truly are insisting that blind people have the right to live in the world. The last three resolutions that I will discuss in this article illustrate the level of full integration of the blind into society that we seek in the National Federation of the Blind. These resolutions run the gamut, from insulin pens to paper money and movies.
Many diabetics manage their disease by measuring and injecting their own insulin. Insulin pens are a convenient way to administer insulin. Two manufacturers of insulin pens, Eli Lilly and Company and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc., include language on their insulin pen packages warning the blind not to use these products without sighted assistance. Ed Bryant, first vice president and longtime leader of the Diabetic Action Network, sponsored Resolution 2008-07. In this resolution we demand that these companies remove the demeaning language about blindness from their products. We also commend Sanofi-aventis, another insulin pen manufacturer, for not issuing such warnings and for recognizing the capabilities of blind diabetics.
As readers know, the National Federation of the Blind opposed federal court involvement in issues regarding changing the country’s paper currency. However, since it appears that the Department of the Treasury will be redesigning currency or creating means of nonvisual identification, the Convention adopted Resolution 2008-08, proposed by Ronza Othman, president of the Illinois Association of Blind Students. In this resolution “we insist upon being well represented in any process to change American paper money.”
In Resolution 2008-11 “we encourage the motion picture industry to provide audio description of all new films as they are being produced.” We also encourage movie theaters “to show audio-described films as a matter of general practice.” Richard McGaffin, a member of the board of directors of the Milford Chapter of the NFB of Connecticut, was the sponsor of this resolution.
This brief summary is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered by the Convention. Readers should study the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete texts of all resolutions approved by the Convention follow.
Regarding Full Funding of NLS Conversion Project
WHEREAS, access to library services is just as important for blind Americans as it is for our sighted peers, and the only public library service available to the blind is that provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS); and
WHEREAS, NLS is engaged in a plan to convert its collection of Talking Books, currently recorded on cassette tapes, to a new digital format, and it is critical that this conversion take place as quickly as possible since cassette tapes are now obsolete and the last Talking Book cassette player has already been manufactured; and
WHEREAS, the original budget request of $12.5 million per year from the Library of Congress would extend the plan conducted by the NLS to convert cassette Talking Books and players to digital Talking Books and players from the initially proposed four years to six years; and
WHEREAS, the NLS will cease the production of recorded books using analog cassette technology on October 1, 2010; and
WHEREAS, under the six-year plan only half of library patrons would have new digital players to play Talking Books by October 1, 2010, meaning that under such a plan hundreds of thousands of blind patrons could be without access to new materials for as much as three years; and
WHEREAS, the budget request is only a suggested funding blueprint for the Congress; and
WHEREAS, eighty-seven members of the House of Representatives signed a Dear Colleague letter circulated by Congressman Towns of New York in support of funding that would return the digital conversion to the original four-year schedule; and
WHEREAS, the Congress has ultimate authority to appropriate funds and, under Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and ranking member Tom Latham (R-IA), the House Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch has chosen to exercise this authority and increase this year’s appropriation for the Talking Book conversion program to $34.5 million, an amount that would permit the conversion to be completed in three rather than the proposed six years, which will be extremely beneficial to blind library patrons; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind fervently hopes this appropriation will remain in final appropriations legislation enacted by Congress: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization express its heartfelt appreciation to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and the ranking member Tom Latham of Iowa for offering support above and beyond our expectations, which if enacted allows completion of the NLS conversion project in three rather than four or six years; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress to maintain the funding adopted by the House Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch in final appropriations legislation.
Regarding Momentum Toward Solving the Quiet Cars Crisis
WHEREAS, the blind rely on the sound made by motor vehicles to determine when it is safe to cross streets and driveways, traverse parking lots, and otherwise be aware of when moving vehicles are present; and
WHEREAS, since 2003 the National Federation of the Blind has expressed deep concerns about the safety of the blind and other pedestrians due to the silencing of motor vehicles, particularly those hybrid and other electric vehicles that use batteries instead of combustion engines; and
WHEREAS, since 2003 silent vehicles have proliferated and the collective experience of the blind with them has heightened our concerns about their threat to the blind and other pedestrians; and
WHEREAS, for much of the time since 2003, the Federation has sought to collaborate with organizations that can ensure that motor vehicles make a sound while in operation, but our requests have gone unheeded; and
WHEREAS, recently, individuals and organizations who have the ability to ensure that motor vehicles emit a sound that will allow the blind and other pedestrians to travel safely have begun to work with us to address our concerns, giving us hope that a solution is on the horizon; and
WHEREAS, a car manufacturer, General Motors, visited the National Center for the Blind to discuss blind people’s concerns about quiet cars; and
WHEREAS, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has both held and participated in meetings about our concerns regarding the silent nature of certain motor vehicles and has expressed interest in working for a solution to the problem of what sound should be emitted by motor vehicles; and
WHEREAS, the Society of Automotive Engineers International has created a committee to explore recommendations for establishing a minimum sound standard for vehicles; and
WHEREAS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held a hearing at which the Federation testified on June 23, 2008, to gather information about the effect of silent motor vehicles on blind and other pedestrians; and
WHEREAS, in 2008 Congressmen Ed Towns (D-NY) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) introduced HR 5734, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, which would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to convene a study of the silent motor vehicle problem and, within ninety days of the study's end, establish a vehicle safety standard that implements the results of the study, and, two years after the safety standard is implemented, all new cars sold in the United States would be required to comply with the standard: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization express appreciation for the interest shown by General Motors, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Society of Automotive Engineers International, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for their dialog with us to find a solution to the real crisis posed by silent and quiet cars, but emphatically urge these entities to take significant, demonstrable steps toward solving the challenges posed to blind and other pedestrians by silent cars; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress to pass legislation as the surest way to establish standards that allow the blind and other pedestrians to identify the presence, direction, and velocity of vehicles.
Regarding Books Formatted for Braille from Bookshare.org
WHEREAS, Bookshare.org is a project dedicated to the legal distribution of books and periodicals in accessible formats, including electronic Braille; and
WHEREAS, with creativity and ingenuity Bookshare.org offers unprecedented access to general books and periodicals to blind readers through a mechanism enabling the sharing of books scanned by thousands of individuals, which eliminates significant duplication of effort; and
WHEREAS, in the fall of 2007 the project received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education in the amount of $32 million over five years to expand significantly the availability of accessible electronic books and to make them available without charge to all students with qualifying disabilities in the United States; and
WHEREAS, according to its Website, Bookshare.org intends “to make extensive use of textbook files provided by publishers in the recently mandated National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), to create high-quality, student-ready materials in digital audio, large print, or Braille”; and
WHEREAS, it is widely known that, despite the many advances in the capability of Braille-translation software, intervention by a Braille transcriber knowledgeable in the rules set forth by the Braille Authority of North America is still required to ensure that the often complicated layout and the increasingly graphics-intensive content of textbooks is rendered properly and can be readily understood and navigated by the Braille reader; and
WHEREAS, Bookshare.org’s process for converting books and periodicals from print to accessible formats involves some checking by volunteers and staff to ensure basic readability and navigability, but the process of converting to Braille is handled automatically by translation software and involves no final proofreading to ensure that the format of the Braille versions is correct, so in reality Bookshare.org Braille files are not student-ready; and
WHEREAS, Bookshare.org has an obligation to indicate clearly to all concerned that the Braille textbooks made available on its Website have not been proofread and are therefore not student-ready; and
WHEREAS, the economics of special education, combined with the unfortunately pervasive lack of knowledge about Braille production even in the special education field, leads some people who work with blind children simply to download the Bookshare.org files and provide them directly to the students rather than paying for professionally transcribed books; and
WHEREAS, such a trend will have far-reaching implications, not only undermining ongoing efforts to ensure that children who read Braille receive high-quality instructional materials, but also eroding the already fragile infrastructure now in place for the production of Braille textbooks; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge Bookshare.org to have its Braille versions of K-12 textbooks professionally proofread and corrected; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge Bookshare.org to use its unique position to support efforts at improving the quality of Braille educational materials for K-12 students.
Regarding the Department of Defense Report on the Military Dining Facility Conflict
WHEREAS, beginning in 2003, and occurring in every annual piece of legislation to reauthorize Department of Defense (DOD) Programs through 2006, Congress has addressed the conflict between blind vendors under the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the severely disabled under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act in the operation of military dining facilities; and
WHEREAS, these attempts to address the conflict have satisfied no one—neither blind vendors, JWOD officials, military contracting officers, nor Congress itself; and
WHEREAS, in 2006, in Section 856 of Public Law 109-364, the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress mandated a report by the Inspectors General of the federal Departments of Defense and Education, a report that DOD finally released on April 15 of this year; and
WHEREAS, the final report is replete with errors which, if accepted as fact, would diminish or completely eliminate the opportunities blind men and women currently have to serve the fighting men and women of this nation; and
WHEREAS, among the assertions in this report not supported by facts are that blind vendor-managers provide no value to the military dining contracts; that Randolph-Sheppard contracts may cost more than other dining contracts and are monopolistic, driving potential competitors away; and that the Randolph-Sheppard Act takes control away from the DOD because the blind vendor is selected by the state licensing agency; and
WHEREAS, the inclusion of these errant assertions was apparently intended to, and will in fact, prejudice the Congress as it seeks to make critical decisions about the relationship among Randolph-Sheppard, JWOD, and other government contractors feeding our nation’s troops; and
WHEREAS, the release of the IG DOD report was timed to allow inclusion of its prejudicial recommendations in annual legislation to reauthorize DOD programs without opportunity for opponents to provide public comment--though so far it does not appear that Congress intends to do so: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore the errant and prejudicial report submitted to Congress by the DOD for the purpose of depriving blind vendors of military dining opportunities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Congress to refrain from including any of the recommendations of this report in legislation either to reauthorize defense programs or to appropriate funds for defense programs; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge Congress to ignore the IG DOD report completely and instead to conduct a public process with all stakeholders in order to reach a lasting solution to the conflict between Randolph-Sheppard and JWOD.
Regarding Reading Restrictions on the NLS Digital Download Project
WHEREAS, in October 2006 the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) began to provide an alternative way for borrowers to access its collection by allowing some patrons to download books and magazines over the Internet; and
WHEREAS, the NLS Website already contains over 10,000 books and more than a dozen periodicals for patrons to download, and NLS plans to add additional materials each month to the Website for downloading; and
WHEREAS, for the first time in history blind people have almost instantaneous access to a collection of books without having to wait for delivery from our regional libraries, and we can collect books and periodicals for our individual libraries; and
WHEREAS, this digital download project not only will enhance the reading experience for blind people, but will also promote literacy and provide greater equality with our sighted peers today and for many years to come; and
WHEREAS, the NLS policy of permitting patrons to download only thirty books or periodicals in a thirty-day period is contrary to the purpose of the program, which is to offer greater access to the collection by patrons; and
WHEREAS, Bookshare.org, a private nonprofit organization that runs a digital download book project, offers over 38,000 books and 150 periodicals, allows its subscribers to download as many as 100 books per month, and also makes provision for subscribers to exceed this limit, thereby demonstrating that greater access to books can be provided; and
WHEREAS, NLS plans to open the digital download project to all of its patrons who have the necessary equipment by the end of 2008: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind, in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization commend NLS for its creativity and forward thinking as demonstrated by the development of the digital download project; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon NLS to eliminate the restriction on the number of books and periodicals that patrons can download each month when the pilot project becomes available to all patrons, in order to fulfill the real promise of access that is made possible by today’s advanced digital technology.
Regarding Improving Access to Instructional Materials in Higher Education
WHEREAS, for many years the National Federation of the Blind has worked tirelessly to improve the accessibility of instructional materials for blind college students; and
WHEREAS, the chairperson of the House Committee on Education and Labor, George Miller (D-CA) has included language on the accessibility of instructional materials for college students in HR 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008, House legislation to reauthorize higher education programs; and
WHEREAS, this language is acceptable to this organization only as a first step toward achieving meaningful accessibility of instructional materials; and
WHEREAS, S 1642, the Higher Education Amendments of 2007, did not include provisions for accessibility of instructional materials; and
WHEREAS, since HR 4137 and S 1642 were passed by their respective houses of Congress, a conference committee will be required to resolve differences in the bills; and
WHEREAS, the provisions in HR 4137 would create a commission to study how to make instructional materials available to blind and print-disabled college students in a timely manner and would make recommendations to Congress for future legislation; and
WHEREAS, on this commission users of instructional materials in higher education and those who support greater access to such materials would be well represented, thus enhancing the likelihood that its conclusions would foster greater access for the blind to these instructional materials; and
WHEREAS, this commission would also collect data from a pilot program by an existing entity that is already providing accessible materials to college students; and
WHEREAS, a serious flaw in this legislation is that the commission would have only one year to make recommendations for legislation or regulations assuring that blind and print-disabled college students receive instructional materials on time, while the pilot program would serve an extremely small number of students who are already being served and would last for three years with a possible three-year extension: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge Congress to include, as a part of any enacted legislation to reauthorize higher education programs, provisions to create a commission with significant representation of users of higher education instructional materials and other stakeholders to advance opportunities for blind students to receive their materials on time, and to offer one or more pilot programs to provide accessible instructional materials to higher education students; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Congress to eliminate any extensions of the pilot programs beyond the initial period because they will have only a token impact on access to instructional materials for blind college students.
Regarding Insulin Pen Disclaimer
WHEREAS, most people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes can achieve effective self-management of the disease by regularly testing blood sugar, eating well, and taking medication if necessary; and
WHEREAS, for some, effective self-management also includes accurately measuring and injecting insulin several times a day; and
WHEREAS, many diabetics measure insulin with ordinary insulin pens manufactured by pharmaceutical giants like Eli Lilly and Company, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Sanofi-aventis; and
WHEREAS, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults of working age; and
WHEREAS, for years blind diabetics have achieved independent self management of diabetes by successfully using an insulin pen; and
WHEREAS, despite the resounding evidence that blind people can use insulin pens safely and effectively, two manufacturers, Eli Lilly and Company and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc., use language on their insulin pen packages warning the blind not to use these products without sighted assistance; and
WHEREAS, for example, the instructions from Eli Lilly and Company read, “The HumaPen MEMOIR is not recommended for the blind or visually impaired without the assistance of a sighted individual trained to use it,” and the instructions from Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc., read, “The Levemir FlexPen is not recommended for the blind or severely visually impaired patients without the assistance of a sighted individual trained in the proper use of the product”; and
WHEREAS, these warnings may actually discourage health care providers from providing the best medical care to their blind and low-vision diabetic patients; and
WHEREAS, these unnecessary warnings are detrimental to the public’s understanding of blindness as well as the independence of blind and low-vision diabetics; and
WHEREAS, insulin pens are one of the easiest ways for blind people to draw up insulin, especially since the Count-a-Dose syringe holder and measuring device, which was easy for blind people to use, is no longer manufactured; and
WHEREAS, these disclaimers are not required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as some in the industry maintain; and
WHEREAS, Sanofi-aventis has chosen not to carry such demeaning warnings on its insulin pens and thus respects the capabilities of blind people: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization commend Sanofi-aventis for accurately recognizing that blind persons are capable of independently managing their diabetes without sighted assistance, thus fostering proper understanding of the way independent blind and low-vision diabetics can manage their disease by themselves; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that Eli Lilly and Company and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc., remove the demeaning language about blindness from all of their insulin pen instructions and products.
Regarding the Blind and American Paper Currency
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind strongly opposed federal court involvement in issues regarding changing paper currency because the argument presented to the court stated that the blind of America were being unlawfully made victims of discrimination because they lacked “meaningful access” to paper money on the basis that it was impossible for the blind to use paper currency independently, a patently untrue argument we feared judges would believe--fears confirmed by the opinions of the judges who considered the matter; and
WHEREAS, despite the courts' contrary holdings, which are largely the result of factual errors, we remain convinced that blind people have meaningful access to currency, in other words that there is no discrimination against the blind given that we regularly conduct daily business using American paper currency as it now exists; and
WHEREAS, many of the factual suppositions and much of the language included in legal briefs and in opinions issued by both the federal District Court and federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. (language such as the blind are the “most vulnerable individuals in our society”) indicate that the judiciary has low expectations of blind people and treats our routine, daily alternative techniques as badges of inferiority which can only serve to make us objects of pity—a perception that could have extreme, grievous, detrimental impact on the ability of blind people to achieve the equality that we so richly deserve; and
WHEREAS, this attack upon the blind was conducted by judges who had sworn to tell the truth and to uphold the laws of the United States; and
WHEREAS, the judicial decisions depict the blind in a false light, asserting that we who are blind have little capacity and less understanding of our own financial resources and of the other accidents of society that surround us; and
WHEREAS, the irony of these judicial determinations is that the blind are told we are incompetent in decisions that base their justification on nondiscrimination principles; and
WHEREAS, as we stated in a 1994 resolution (and as we reaffirm today), “Bills which can be identified by other than conventional print [that is, in nonvisual ways] could be more convenient for everyone, may be a necessity to safeguard against counterfeiting, and may be desirable to take the best advantage of evolving technology”: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the United States Department of the Treasury to consider means to make currency more identifiable by the blind and thereby more convenient for a greater portion of the population of the country; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist upon being well represented in any process intended to redesign American currency or to promulgate or create means to identify it in nonvisual ways.
Regarding State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies’ Purchase
of Assistive Technology for Blind Clients’ Use on the Job
WHEREAS, at the outset of employment and on an as-needed basis, blind people may require certain assistive technology to allow them to compete equally with their sighted peers in the workforce; and
WHEREAS, the blind across the nation have experienced attempts by state vocational rehabilitation agencies to palm their responsibilities off on others by demanding that employers who hire their clients purchase the assistive technology those clients require before the state vocational rehabilitation agencies will consider purchasing the needed accommodations themselves; and
WHEREAS, state vocational rehabilitation agencies often justify this practice by stating that they do not want to supplant employers’ distinct responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and
WHEREAS, this practice of state vocational rehabilitation agencies places blind vocational rehabilitation clients’ employment in jeopardy since it results in delay in acquiring needed assistive technology and causes tension in, and even an adversarial beginning to, the employment relationship; and
WHEREAS, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, not state vocational rehabilitation agencies, is responsible for enforcing employers’ obligations under the ADA; and
WHEREAS, rehabilitation technologies are not “comparable benefits” exempted from state vocational rehabilitation agencies’ responsibilities under the Rehabilitation Act, nor are employers “comparable services”; and
WHEREAS, a decade ago, through technical assistance circular 98-04, the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration expressly advised state vocational rehabilitation agencies that they are not to shift responsibility for providing rehabilitation technology to employers, stating that there is no basis in Title I of the Rehabilitation Act or its implementing regulations for state vocational rehabilitation agencies to provide necessary rehabilitation technology contingent on employers meeting an undue-hardship test under the ADA; and
WHEREAS, state vocational rehabilitation agencies’ primary obligation is to their clients, and they should do whatever is needed to help their clients get and keep jobs: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call on all state vocational rehabilitation agencies to accept their responsibility for purchasing assistive technology needed by their blind vocational rehabilitation clients to ensure that job opportunities are not lost in the morass of bureaucracy and debate over who ought to be responsible for such purchases.
Regarding Upcoming Section 508 and Section 255 Access Technology Standards
WHEREAS, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1996 are two laws regarding accessible information and communication technology for which technical standards and guidelines have been promulgated under the auspices of the U.S. Access Board; and
WHEREAS, Section 508 requires federal agencies to procure accessible electronic and information technology and to be guided in these procurements by technical standards promulgated by the Access Board; and
WHEREAS, Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1996 requires certain telecommunications-related equipment and services to be designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities if readily achievable under guidelines promulgated by the Access Board; and
WHEREAS, in 2006, to update the standards and guidelines for Section 508 and Section 255, the Access Board established the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC), consisting of representatives from industry, the disability community, the federal government, and international standards organizations; and
WHEREAS, the TEITAC, which included representation from the National Federation of the Blind, began its work in September 2006 and produced a substantial report that was submitted to the Access Board in April 2008; and
WHEREAS, this report, which took almost two years to produce, is but the first step of many that must be taken before the Access Board publishes updated standards and guidelines, and the very real possibility exists that new standards and guidelines may not be issued for several years to come; and
WHEREAS, these cumbersome processes are being outpaced by rapid and significant changes--both in mainstream information technology and in assistive technology; and
WHEREAS, while the standards and guidelines have assumed that computers and telecommunications equipment are discrete technologies, cell phones, computers and personal digital assistants are quickly and inevitably evolving into devices that can perform the functions of what used to be three separate pieces of technology; and
WHEREAS, many devices that exist today already have assistive technology built into them, making it difficult if not impossible to separate so-called assistive technology from mainstream technology; and
WHEREAS, under the original standards for Section 508 and the guidelines for Section 255, particular information and communication technologies were too often deemed accessibility-compliant even though they were not usable by the blind; and
WHEREAS, information and communication technologies may be usable by blind people as they are designed, or they may require the addition of access technology such as screen reading software, but in either case the critical issue should be whether blind people can access all functions of any particular information and communication technology: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon the U.S. Access Board to move quickly to promulgate updated technical standards and guidelines for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act that are responsive to the rapid changes typical in today's technological world; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the U.S. Access Board to incorporate the following principles into the updated standards:
1. Rather than specifying how accessibility should be achieved, standards and guidelines should specify the functions that accessible information and communication technology should enable a person with a disability to perform and the efficiency with which the function should be able to be performed;
2. Accessibility should be measured according to whether a particular piece of technology affords as timely, accurate, complete, and efficient access as that provided for users who do not have a disability and not according to how well it complies with a set of technical standards or guidelines.
Regarding Audio Description of Films
WHEREAS, the movie-going experience for blind and visually impaired people is enhanced by the provision of audio description of the characters, their actions, and the scenery and the reading of subtitles during screening of the film; and
WHEREAS, only a few movie theatres show audio-described films regularly; and
WHEREAS, blindness and vision loss are increasing in the United States, and we are becoming a more important segment of the entertainment market; and
WHEREAS, any financial burden to the motion picture industry that results from providing audio description will be more than compensated for by the expanded audience who will come to audio-described movies; and
WHEREAS, it is more cost-effective to add audio description to a film at the time of production: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind, in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization encourage the motion picture industry to provide audio description of all new films as they are being produced; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization encourage movie theaters to show audio-described films as a matter of general practice.
Regarding Use of MathML to Improve Access to Technical
Information for the Blind
WHEREAS, while screen access programs and Braille translation software have given the blind unprecedented access to information that is fundamentally coded as literary text, it has been more difficult for these technologies to provide efficient and effective access to information that, at its core, contains scientific and mathematical expressions; and
WHEREAS, publishers of printed textbooks have demonstrated that they have the capacity to provide literary text content as marked up electronic text that can be converted into an accessible format in a relatively straightforward manner, but thus far it would seem that they have supplied mathematical equations and other technical material as images--images that today cannot be converted into accessible formats using automated tools; and
WHEREAS, Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) offers a method for storing and transmitting mathematical expressions and information that does not rely upon the visual appearance of the information but rather its intended meaning; and
WHEREAS, the World Wide Web Consortium, the body that determines the specifications underlying the World Wide Web, is actively engaged in the promulgation of MathML as the key means for the dissemination of mathematical information through the World Wide Web; and
WHEREAS, MathML offers a much greater potential for rendering mathematical expressions in a format that is accessible to the blind as compared to images of the same information: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon publishers to use Mathematical Markup Language as the means for electronically encoding mathematical information instead of images of mathematical equations, which cannot, in and of themselves, be converted automatically into formats that are accessible to the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the companies who produce and maintain screen access technology and Braille translation software to move without delay to incorporate the ability into their various products to render information coded in MathML in formats such as Nemeth Braille and synthesized speech that are accessible to the blind.
Opposition to Proposed Randolph-Sheppard Legislation
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has been an active champion of opportunities available under the Randolph-Sheppard Act because they offer competitive wages, which far too often are unavailable to blind people; entrepreneurial opportunities to manage vending facilities available in no other disability employment program; and chances for blind people to be seen by society performing meaningful work, which helps change the negative perceptions that many have about the capacity of the blind; and
WHEREAS, in October 2005 Senator Enzi of Wyoming, who then chaired the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (the HELP committee) and now serves as the ranking Republican member of the HELP committee, held an oversight hearing to consider programs under the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act--a hearing in which baseless, attention-grabbing assertions were made regarding the Vending Facility Program under the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, the HELP committee continued to investigate the two programs, gathering information from experts and supporters of each program with a view toward introducing legislation to modernize these two programs; and
WHEREAS, once the actual drafting of legislation began, the committee never showed its work to supporters of the Randolph-Sheppard program for our opinions regarding possible changes in the act and finally introduced a bill--S 3112 the Javits-Wagner-O’Day and Randolph-Sheppard Modernization Act of 2008--which does little to modernize, but much to over-regulate and complicate the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, with regard to military dining contracts, S 3112 eliminates the priority for the blind, putting the blind on a par with 8(a) companies, Alaska Native Corporations, and other entities that have the legal right to compete for a far greater array of federal contracts, and also renders the fair hearing and arbitration provisions inapplicable for military dining--provisions that if enacted would inevitably result in a loss of the priority and arbitration rights throughout the federal government; and
WHEREAS, this legislation would ultimately reserve 50 percent of new facilities for individuals with disabilities other than blindness, but do nothing either to enhance the ability of state licensing agencies to create new facilities or to assure that those federal agencies that shirk their responsibilities under the act can no longer do so, dividing the same limited-opportunity pie among more individuals, resulting in a substantial loss of opportunities for vendors; and
WHEREAS, in our proposal to modernize Randolph-Sheppard, the National Federation of the Blind urged that its administration be moved from the Department of Education, because of its complete lack of support for the law, to a federal agency with a business or entrepreneurial focus, but this legislation would move administration to the same committee that oversees the JWOD Act--a committee entirely void of any institutional knowledge of Randolph-Sheppard, and one that is in fact likely to be hostile toward Randolph-Sheppard given the many years of conflict between it and JWOD; and
WHEREAS, this legislation would give more power to the state licensing agencies in their relationship with licensed vendors, dramatically increase vendors’ paperwork and reporting burdens, and require their immediate payment of rent and utilities, which would drive many out of business and render many existing vending facilities unsuitable unless they are given a reasonable time for transition to this burdensome obligation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2008, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization express our fervent opposition to S 3112, the Randolph-Sheppard and Javits-Wagner-O’Day Modernization Act of 2008; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge Congress to enact legislation to modernize the Randolph-Sheppard Act that aggressively increases the type and number of opportunities for blind business people, leverages partnerships between Randolph-Sheppard vendors and other business interests, and increases self-sufficiency of those participating in the Vending Facility Program.
News from the Federation Family
Imagine Fund Medallion Recipients:
The following Federationists each raised at least $1,000 by the close of the 2008 Imagination Fund campaign on Thursday, July 31. Congratulations to them all.
Katie and Kristie Colton
Mary Ellen Jernigan
Tom and Eileen Ley
Jack and Pat Munson
Megan and Adam Palmer
J. Webster Smith
Each year at convention a number of divisions elect officers. Here are the results we have received:
Elected to two-year terms were president, Dennis Holston (New York); vice president, Brooke Fox (New York); secretary, Beth Allred (Colorado); and board members, Anthony Evans (Maryland), Gary Kammerer (Maryland), and Laurie Hunter (Arkansas).
The Diabetes Action Network:
The DAN conducted elections on July 1, 2008. The following officers were elected: president, Mike Freeman (Washington); first vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (Maryland); second vice president, Minnie Walker (Alabama); secretary, Diane Filipe (Colorado); treasurer, Joy Stigile (California); and board members, LeAnne Mayne, (Illinois), Maria Bradford (Washington), and Ed Bryant (Missouri).
National Association of Blind Veterans:
The NABV held elections to replace people who could not continue in the positions to which they were elected in the division-formation meeting in 2007. The results were as follows: second vice president, Tom Stevens (Missouri); treasurer, Allen Bornstein (Florida); secretary, Sidonia Stames (Minnesota); and board members, Twila Lai (Hawaii) and Jim Whorley (Arkansas).
National Association of Blind Office Professionals:
Lisa Hall reports the NABOP election results for the 2008-2010 term as follows: president, Lisa Hall (Ohio); vice president, Mary Donahue (Texas); secretary, Kevin Ledford (Utah); and treasurer, Debbie Brown (Maryland).
National Organization of Blind Educators:
Sheila Koenig, NOBE president, writes to report that David Ticchi (Massachusetts) and Cayte Mendez (New York) were elected to the NOBE board of directors.
NFB Assistive Technology Trainers Division:
Michael Barber reports election results as follows: president, Michael D. Barber (Iowa); vice president, Jim Portillo (Washington); secretary, Richard Ring (Iowa); treasurer, Joshua Boudreau (Louisiana); and board members, Nancy Coffman (Nebraska), Joe Steincamp (Texas), and Deb Kelly (Iowa).
National Association of Blind Merchants:
This year at the NABM’s annual meeting, members elected the following: Kevan Worley (Colorado), president; Nicky Gacos (New Jersey), first vice president; Pam Schnurr (Indiana), second vice president; Kim Williams (Tennessee), secretary; John Jones (Virginia), treasurer; and board members, Harold Wilson (Virginia), Don Hudson (Colorado), Sharon Paris (Tennessee), and Deb Smith (Iowa).
National Association of Guide Dog Users:
Marion Gwizdala reports the results of the NAGDU division elections for 2008: president, Marion Gwizdala (Florida); vice president, Michael Hingson (California); secretary, Sherrill O'Brien (Florida); treasurer, Antoinette Whaley (Pennsylvania); and board members, Elizabeth Campbell (Texas), Marsha Lindsey (Texas); and Meghan Whalen (Wisconsin).
NFB Krafters Division:
On July 1, 2008, the following people were elected to office in the newly formed NFB Krafters Division: president, Joyce Kane (Connecticut); first vice president, Cindy Sheets (Indiana); second vice president, Laurie Porter (Wisconsin); treasurer, Diane Filipe (Colorado); secretary, Audrey Wellner (Connecticut); and board members Kris Lewis (Virginia) and Ramona Walhof (Idaho).
The Deaf-Blind Division conducted elections on Tuesday, July 1, with the following results: president, Burnell Brown (Washington, D.C.); first vice president, Bob Deaton (Nebraska); second vice president, Bob Eschbach (Arizona); secretary, Pat Tuck (Florida); treasurer, Bruce Woodward (Connecticut); and board members, Joe Naulty (Florida) and Claudette Tedrick (New Mexico).
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children:
The NOPBC conducted elections on Tuesday, July 1. The following officers were elected: president, Carrie Gilmer (Minnesota); president emeritus, Barbara Cheadle (Maryland); first vice president, Carol Castellano (New Jersey); second vice president, Brad Weatherd (Wyoming); secretary, Laura Weber (Texas); treasurer, Sandy Taboada (Louisiana); and board members--Jim Beyer (Montana), Rose Marie Bowman (Michigan), Merry-Noel Chamberlain (Virginia), Denise Colton (Utah), Cindy Conley (Ohio), Dave Hammel (Iowa), Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (Georgia), Barbara Mathews (California), Pat Renfranz (Utah), and Carlton Anne Cook Walker (Pennsylvania).
Division Report of the National Association of Blind Veterans:
Dwight Sayer reports that the NABV conducted its first full annual meeting on Tuesday, July 1, 2008. Envision America made presentations on the ID Mate and ScriptTalk Plus, equipment that the Department of Veterans Affairs is issuing through its VIST program. We also had a special report on the Middle East from Captain Jason Ballard, United States Army Active. He has been deployed to Iraq three times and Afghanistan once, with another deployment coming in the next sixty days. He is a true soldier and deserves our respect and prayers as do all our men , women, and families serving all over the world. We then issued the special commemorative NABV pins that Diane Filipe of Colorado made for our first annual meeting. We sold the hundred pins for $2 each. They sold out the next day. We presented pins to President and Mrs. Maurer on July 4 at our Independence Day and Veterans Celebration kicking off the Friday session. Visit our Website at <www.nabv.org> to see pictures of that great celebration. We will soon begin production of a newsletter for veterans called the Vets Gazette. This will be sent to our members and other interested parties and will be posted on our Website. We have a great group of people working on behalf of all blind veterans, and we will continue to insist on blind veterans’ having enough information to make informed choices about their rehabilitation. The NFB training centers offer the best rehabilitation training for blind adults in the world. We want veterans who need and want the best training to have the opportunity to attend these centers: BLIND, Incorporated; the Colorado Center for the Blind; and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Much more detailed information about these facilities will soon be posted on our Website.
On the Fourth of July we kicked off the convention session with a wonderful celebration that included Ms. Michelle Gittens, a graduate of BLIND, Inc. and a 2008 NFB scholarship winner, singing “God Bless America.” The veterans in attendance who wanted to join us on the platform introduced themselves and identified their service. The National Association of Blind Veterans is alive, well, and looking for blind veterans to join us in building a progressive and dynamic organization. Visit our Website for more information. See you in Detroit at the Marriott Renaissance Center in 2009.
Possible New NFB Groups:
Cheryl Echevarria, treasurer of the Greater Long Island Chapter, is interested in organizing a culinary arts interest group in the NFB. She also would like to start a Suffolk County, New York, Chapter. Anyone interested in either group please contact Cheryl at (631) 236-5138 or by email at <[email protected]>.
Merchants Make it a Great Convention:
As the Randolph-Sheppard Program faces threats to its very existence, the National Association of Blind Merchants took advantage of our NFB convention in Dallas to gear up for the fight to protect the priority, transforming the program to bring a set of even greater, more diverse business opportunities to the blind of America. The National Federation of the Blind passed two resolutions indicating the solidarity of the organized blind to defend and expand the Randolph-Sheppard Program.
Our proud and strong division is excited that John Fritz of Wisconsin, who manages his state’s vending service, was elected to the national board of directors. Ron Brown, who operates a vending business and owns other enterprises in Indianapolis, was elected to the position of second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. We honored these two new board members at our Randolph-Sheppard reception on Thursday evening.
Again this year our fellow Federationists were kind and generous in their support of our snack pack and drawing fundraising efforts. Thanks to everyone.
Oldies Interest Group:
Do you like the music from the fifties and early sixties? Doo Wop or a capella groups with their tight harmony? If you like those oldies but goodies as much as I do, let’s get together and form an interest group. And what better venue to hold our first meeting than the Motor City next summer! Let’s share our music and memories in Detroit. For more information contact Jerry Moreno at (704) 814-7303 or email <[email protected]>.
2008 Braille Book Flea Market a Success:
Peggy Chong reports that the 2008 Braille Book Flea Market took place Tuesday, July 1, and was again a big success. UPS volunteers brought in the eight loads of Braille books that people and organizations had been sending for months. We added these to the thirty cases brought directly to convention by NFB members themselves. Volunteers began to unbox, sort, and stack books on tables across the room. After four-and-a-half hours of work, we and several thousand Braille titles were ready to go.
The doors opened at 5:30 p.m., and within ninety minutes hundreds of people had selected their books and brought most of them to the mailing station, where volunteers boxed, addressed, and stacked the hundreds of boxes that went home to be enjoyed by our blind children. Again this year we received a few thousand print/Braille books, many of them handmade. As usual, in a short time none were left on the tables. It is gratifying to know that many young readers are getting their own books to keep and read over and over again, just as their sighted siblings do. We know that this will instill a love of reading in them and help make them successful blind people when they grow up.
Thank you to all those who helped make this event a big success, especially those from local churches and the UPS and AT&T volunteers who helped.
Krafters Division Gets off the Ground:
The division chat line meets every Monday night (unless otherwise stated) at 7:00 p.m. Central Time, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. The phone number to dial is (712) 580-7700. Follow the prompts and enter the access code 27238. Say "Hello" after the chime, and you can then speak to whoever has dialed in that evening. If you don't have unlimited long-distance phone service, you will be billed for the call, but any other caller with three-way calling can conference you in. Laurie Porter, our chat line moderator, can help with any problems. She also knows when the next online class will be given and what the subject will be. Joyce Kane can be reached at <[email protected]>.
Congratulations to Diane Filipe for her marvelous job and Gold Star Design Award for our first-ever Krafters Korner handmade lapel pins. They were a very hot item at convention and caught the eye of President Maurer. Way to go, Diane! How about a contest for next year's design? What do you think?
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
En-Vision America’s Snack Pack Challenge:
At this year’s convention, title sponsor En-Vision America’s products were front and center in the exhibit hall, right next to the information table and the talking ATM machine. Dave Raistrick, Anna McClure, Dave Bode, and Chad Allen challenged visitors to test their scanning skills with the I. D. Mate Omni. All game players had a chance to go home with an I. D. Mate Omni of their own. It was like a carnival game at a county fair: prizes, cheers, and a whole lot of fun. Only lemonade and cotton candy were missing; maybe next year.
The game was the Snack Pack Challenge. Each participant played against the clock. In front of the player was a table with an I. D. Mate Omni, three small empty buckets, and one large bucket filled with grocery store items. The empty buckets were labeled “health and beauty,” “grocery,” and “pet products.” The object was to empty the large bucket into the smaller ones in less than two minutes by sorting the items correctly. The player picked up each item from the large bucket and scanned it with the I. D. Mate Omni. Once the Omni spoke the product name aloud, the player disposed of it in the correct bin and moved on to the next item until either the large bucket was empty or the clock ran out. Players with vision wore sleep shades or blindfolds.
Everyone who played went home with a prize. If you beat the clock, you won a merchants division snack pack. Everyone, win or lose, also drew a card from an En-Vision America deck, bar-coded so that each card could be read and identified by the I. D. Mate Omni. Those who drew black cards won a water bottle. Those who drew red cards won a T-shirt that said, “I survived the Snack-Pack Challenge.” Those who drew a joker won an I. D. Mate Omni.
All players also got the opportunity to learn how the I. D. Mate Omni works and how it identifies any bar-code-labeled item in a grocery or department store. I. D. Mate Omni can currently identify two million items with ease. The En-Vision America employees had a great time hosting the Snack-Pack Challenge and can’t wait to play with you again next convention.
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two‑thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention.
Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two‑year terms.
Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION,
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two‑thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two‑thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.
The board of directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day‑to‑day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two‑thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the Convention.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.