Braille Monitor August/September 2008
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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.