Vol. 52, No. 3 March 2009
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
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: [email protected]
Website address: http://www.nfb.org
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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. 52, No. 3 March 2009
Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention
The Monitor Moves Forward
by Barbara Pierce
Dream to Touch the Stars:
How to Get from Here to There
by Gary Wunder
At the Confluence of Arrogance and Tragedy: A Conversation with Ved Mehta
by Daniel B. Frye
The Keys Are in Your Hands
by Shawn Mayo
Unemployment Rates and Reasons: Dissing the Blind
by James S. Nyman
The Pitfalls of Political Correctness: Euphemisms Excoriated
by Kenneth Jernigan
People-First Language: An Unholy Crusade
by C. Edwin Vaughan
Opening the Book
An Academic’s Perspective on NFB’s Settlement with Google
by Paul Harpur
Double Your Pleasure—Double Your Speed
by Jerry Whittle
Gigs, Shows, and Plays: Detroit Will Entertain Everyone This Summer
by Fred Wurtzel
Interview: Kurt Cylke on the National Library Service for the Blind
and Physically Handicapped
by Tom Yee
Tuning in to Sidetracks
by Christine Miller Ford
Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris
The 2009 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Detroit, Michigan, July 3-8, at the Detroit Marriott, Renaissance Center, 100 Renaissance Center, Detroit, Michigan 48243. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Detroit Marriott staff only. Call (313) 568-8000.
The 2009 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $62; triples $66; and quads $68 a night, plus a 15 percent sales tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2009. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2009, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our block of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Guestroom amenities include cable television, coffeepot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, high speed Internet access for a charge, and free wireless Internet service in the lobby. The Detroit Marriott has four excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, a food court on the Prominade Level, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Detroit with excellent access to air, train, and bus service.
The schedule for the 2009 convention is a full day shorter than recent conventions:
Friday, July 3 Seminar Day
Saturday, July 4 Registration and Packet Pick-up Day
Sunday, July 5 Board Meeting and Division Day
Monday, July 6 Motor City March and Opening Session
Tuesday, July 7 Business Session
Wednesday, July 8 Banquet Day and Adjournment
Please register online at <www.nfb.org> or print legibly on this form or provide all the requested information and mail to the address below.
Registrant Name ___________________________________________________
State ___________________________________ Zip ____________________
___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Pickup Name ______________________________________
Please register only one person per registration form.
One check or money order may cover multiple registrations.
Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration form(s).
Number of preregistrations x $15 = ____________
Prepurchased banquet tickets x $35 = ____________
All preconvention registration and banquet sales are final (no refunds).
Mail to: National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Registrations must be postmarked by May 31, 2009.
At the end of October 1988 I came to work as the associate editor of the Braille Monitor. I knew nothing about publishing magazines; until that time I had been a college administrator and had written nothing longer than a brochure. But Kenneth Jernigan thought he could make a journalist of me, and I agreed to let him try.
For ten wonderful and demanding years it was my pleasure and challenge to work with him (quite intensively during the first several years) to write and publish the Monitor. In the April 1993 issue Dr. Jernigan announced that I would be taking over as editor. In fact for all practical purposes I had already been editing it for the preceding two years. As he remarked teasingly to me on more than one occasion in the months before his announcement, the time had come to make the transition official so that people would not blame him for the mistakes I made.
For almost sixteen years now I have been the acknowledged editor of the Braille Monitor, and the time is coming for me to step aside from this important work and allow someone else to carry forward the responsibility. Editing the Monitor is a complex and demanding job. In addition to journalistic skills, it requires a solid grasp of the political situation in the blindness field and the Federation and full appreciation and understanding of the NFB’s philosophy of blindness.
Attentive Monitor readershave undoubtedly noticed that for the last eighteen months or so Dan Frye’s byline has been appearing more and more frequently in the Monitor. Beginning with this issue, he officially becomes the associate editor of the Braille Monitor.
Dan has been a member of the NFB since 1982. He received an NFB scholarship in 1990 and graduated that year from Erskine College in South Carolina. He went all the way to Washington State to earn his J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 1993. He has worked for the Social Security Administration and as the national advocate for the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand. For several years he was the manager of advocacy and training in the NFB’s Department of Affiliate Action at the National Center for the Blind.
Dan was the first president of a junior NFB chapter formed at the South Carolina School for the Blind. He has also served as president of the North Dakota affiliate and the Seattle Chapter. He has been an affiliate board member in both South Carolina and Washington, and he has also served as a member of the National Association of Blind Students and the National Association of Blind Lawyers boards of directors. Dan stands firmly in the tradition of Monitor editors who have been active at every level of the Federation throughout their years of membership. I am confident that Dan will also continue the Monitor’s tradition of commitment to excellence and accuracy. I expect to continue as Monitor editor for the remainder of this year and perhaps to continue to assist Dan once we have made the transition. With this announcement the road ahead for the Braille Monitor is now considerably clearer than it has been for some time. It is interesting to put our future plans into the context of the magazine’s history.
It is not easy, however, to keep the Monitor’s history clearly in mind. After all, a lot has gone on in over fifty years of almost continuous publication. In 1993 Dr. Jernigan made a point of writing down everything he could remember about the history of the Monitor. We thought it would be instructive to take this occasion to reprint parts of his recollections. We have taken the liberty of combining several sections of his Monitor history. You can consult the April 1993 issue of the Braille Monitor for the complete text.
If we are to deal successfully with the present and the future, we must understand the past. This is true of nations and organizations, and it is also true of the Braille Monitor. So let me talk about history.
Originally, as many of you know, the Monitor was not the Monitor. It was the All Story Braille Magazine, and merely carried what was called a "Legislative Supplement from the National Federation of the Blind." For much of its existence the All Story was published bimonthly, and only in Braille. It was not produced by the National Federation of the Blind but by the American Brotherhood for the Blind.
The earliest issue of the All Story that I have in my possession [now part of the tenBroek Library and shelved in the large, fourth-floor conference room at the National Center] is the one for March 1949. Until a few years ago, the earliest issue we had here at NFB headquarters was February–March 1955. Then we found one copy each of March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October of 1949. The title All Story Magazine was apt and descriptive. For example, here is the contents page from the March 1949 issue:
Married This Morning
by Irene Kittle Camp
(reprinted from Good Housekeeping magazine)
by Laurence Critchell
(reprinted from Collier's)
by Libbie Block
(reprinted from McCall's)
Legislation for the Blind
by Dr. Newel Perry
I don't know when the American Brotherhood for the Blind started publishing the All Story, but I remember reading it when I was a boy at the Tennessee School for the Blind in the late 1930s. In view of the fact that the 1949 issue is Volume XVII, Number 11, we can make a calculated guess that the first issue was published in 1932 if we assume that every volume represents a year. In the beginning the magazine didn't have the Federation's legislative supplement, and I am not sure when the feature was added.
The February-March 1955 issue announced a feature that more recent readers of the Monitor may recognize. There were only three items: "Editor's Note," "Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind" (special feature), and "Legislation for the Blind" by Dr. Newel Perry.
In 1956, rather than carrying just a legislative supplement, the magazine began to publish general information of interest to the blind. With the May 1957 issue the All Story "resumed" a monthly publication schedule. We have no record of the publication schedule between October 1949 and February-March 1955. Finding the note in the May 1957 issue regarding the change from bi-monthly to monthly probably explains why we have both an April-May and a May issue for that year. Later in 1957 both the emphasis and the name of the magazine changed. The July issue carried the following announcement:
All Story Gets a New Name
Beginning with the next monthly issue, the name of this magazine will be changed to the Braille Monitor. We have been fortunate to be able to return to a monthly issue. This is made possible by a subvention from the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation News Section has become increasingly popular. Many of our readers have written to request that more space be devoted to this feature. Program and other developments concerning the blind--many of which are of the utmost importance to the blind men and women of this country--have been emerging in profusion. Even with the return to the monthly issue, a major fraction of the space of this magazine must be devoted to the coverage of these developments if our people are to continue to be informed.
It therefore seems only appropriate that we should now change the name of the magazine to one that does not state or imply that all of the contents are stories. Stories will continue to be republished to the extent that space is available.
According to the dictionary a "monitor" is a person who "advises, warns, or cautions." A Braille monitor is one who carries on this function for the blind, and this is the pledge of the editors of this magazine.
That is what the July 1957 All Story said, and the following month the magazine carried for the first time the title Braille Monitor. While previously the bulk of material had been stories plus a Federation news supplement, the balance now reversed. The newly titled magazine was primarily Federation news and carried stories only as space permitted, which it usually didn't. In fact, the first issue of the Monitor (August 1957) carried no stories at all.
In its thirty-six-year history the Monitor has had quite a variety of geographic locations and editorial configurations. It was edited in Wisconsin, in California, in Iowa, and in the District of Columbia; and of course it is now edited in Baltimore. [As soon as I took over in 1993, the editing work was done in Ohio, although the official address for the publication continued to be Baltimore.] During one period Dr. tenBroek was the editor. For a four-month hitch in 1960 I was editor. For quite some time Mrs. tenBroek did some of the editing and all of the layout and management. And there have been others--Dr. Floyd Matson [now deceased]; George Card, who fell by the wayside in the internal struggles of thirty-five [now fifty-one] years ago; and Perry Sundquist.
At the time we moved our headquarters to Baltimore in 1978, Don McConnell was editing the Monitor. He was located in the Washington office and was doing an excellent job. However, he left Federation employment just before the beginning of 1979 to accept a business opportunity, and I filled in as editor for a few months until we could find somebody else. That few months stretched to more than fourteen years.
The first recorded edition of the Braille Monitor was not, as many believe, produced in the late sixties. It was brought out in the fifties. As has already been noted, the April-May 1957 issue marked a definite change in the magazine's history. One of those changes was the inauguration of the Monitor on tape.
From April-May 1957 through March 1958, I did the reading. After I moved to Iowa to become director of the state commission for the blind (April 1958) the Monitor was first recorded by the women of the Jewish Temple Sisterhood and then (sometime during the fall of that year) by the inmates of the state penitentiary at Fort Madison, Iowa. One of the women from the Jewish Temple Sisterhood who did the reading was Dorothy Kirsner, the chairman of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. The recorded Monitor continued through December of 1960, at which time it was stopped, as were the Braille and print editions. I had forgotten some of the details and called them to mind only after listening to selections from some of those early tapes.
Everything (the recording, the duplicating, and the finished product) was done on open reel tape. As I remember it, we did not have duplicators but simply produced each tape from reel to reel at standard speed. It was a slow process, but the labor pool was sizable with a lot of surplus time. We had established a Braille and recording project at the state prison, and the production of the recorded Monitor was one of the results.
As to the duplication during 1957 and early '58, when I was still in California, there is some indication that at least part of it was done by inmates at San Quentin. But a major portion of it was done by one of the unsung heroes of our movement, a man named Victor Torey. Most Federationists have never heard of Victor Torey, but he deserves remembering. He was sighted and, to the best of my knowledge, had no blind family members. Nevertheless, he moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to the San Francisco Bay Area for the sole purpose of volunteering his time to do recording for us. Day after day, hour after hour he duplicated open reel tapes by patching two recorders together, and he did it without one penny of compensation. It was Victor Torey who produced the hundreds of open reel tapes that we distributed after the New Orleans convention in 1957.
The first professionally recorded edition of the Braille Monitor was produced in July of 1968. As a number of you will remember, it was a memorial issue honoring Dr. Jacobus tenBroek--our founder, first president, and longtime leader. Dr. tenBroek died March 27, 1968, and the recordings entitled Jacobus tenBroek: The Man and the Movement were ready in time for the 1968 national convention in Des Moines. What many Federationists do not know is that these recordings were approaching completion at the time of Dr. tenBroek's death and that I finished the final portion of the work only an hour or so after I was told that he had died.
The early recorded issues of the Monitor were produced at the American Printing House for the Blind on ten-inch 16 2/3 hard discs. Three changes occurred with the December 1970 issue. Larry McKeever was the reader for the first time; the records changed from ten to twelve inches in diameter; and we moved production from the American Printing House for the Blind to a commercial firm in Arizona.
With the December 1972 issue we shifted from 16 2/3 rpm to 8 1/3 but continued to use a twelve-inch hard disk. In February of 1974 we switched to nine-inch flexible disks, still recording at 8 1/3 rpm as we do today. With the introduction of flexible disks, we moved back to the American Printing House for the Blind, but we shifted to Eva-Tone the very next month and have stayed there ever since. From March 1974 through May 1978 we used eight-inch flexible disks but changed back to nine-inch flexible disks in June of 1978. [We stopped recording on flexible disks entirely in July of 1995.]
In January 1987 we began issuing the Monitor on four-track, 15/16 ips cassettes, but we went back to August of 1985 and put the Monitor on cassette from that date forward. With the February-March 1988 issue we started recording the Monitor in our own studios at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, and Jim Shelby succeeded Larry McKeever as reader. Ronald B. Meyer began in June of 1989. [Ron left in 1994 and was replaced by Craig Gildner, who stayed until mid-2004. Tyson Sapré recorded the Monitor for a little less than a year, and Will Schwatka, our current audio visual engineer, began work in August of 2005.] The cassette issue was first duplicated by a commercial firm in Washington, D.C. When we started recording the Monitor in 1968, we were producing only a little over a thousand copies. Today, with the advent of email and text and MP3 versions on our Website for reading and downloading in addition to the cassette, Braille, and large print editions, it is impossible accurately to measure Monitor circulation.]
There is a final tidbit of information I want to give you. The column titled "Monitor Miniatures" was originally called "Here and There." From 1961 through mid-1964 (when the Monitor was in eclipse and the Blind American was being published) the column was called "Brothers and Others." When we resumed publication of the Monitor in 1964, we adopted the name "Monitor Miniatures"―and have kept it ever since.
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: Over the weekend of July 25 to 27, 2008, the NFB of Missouri conducted a workshop for middle school students and their parents titled “Mission Believe.” The winter 2009 edition of the Blind Missourian, the publication of the NFB of Missouri, carried written versions of the presentations at the workshop. NFB of Missouri President and National Federation of the Blind Secretary Gary Wunder keynoted the event on Friday evening. His message was so compelling and wise that we are reprinting it here. This is what Gary said:
Welcome to “Mission Believe,” a weekend of fun, enriching experiences, information, a dose of hope, and a whole lot of love to share. One of the first challenges for a speaker is to know the audience who will have to listen to him or her. I know pretty well one part of the audience because I came into the world as a blind child, and some people say I still act like one. The other part of the audience I know less well because, although I am a parent, I've not been the parent of a blind child.
In trying to decide what to talk about, I asked myself a few questions: What would I have listened to and really thought about when I was in the seventh, eighth, or ninth grade if the information was coming from a man old enough to be my grandfather? The next question would be critical. What could I say to parents that wouldn't risk making them mad by trying to suggest to them how they might become better parents? After thinking about this a bit, my conclusion was just to stop, designate this as free time, and let you all go. The coordinators overruled me, so here I am, doing my best to say something that may go with you beyond the weekend and may help you become the successes all of you want to be.
A few weeks ago we had our national convention of the Federation in Dallas, and one of the speakers was a congressman from the state of Texas. Being both a Texan and a congressman, he had a whole lot he wanted to say. One thing lodged in my brain, and perhaps you can benefit from it if I follow his advice tonight. He said that his experiences have shown that a good story is worth more than ten complaints or ten compliments. If the government is doing something wrong, he doesn't want to hear about the decaying infrastructure of the country. He would rather talk about how Joe Smith can no longer get to work using the bus system and offer some solutions. If someone believes the education system is doing something right, then he doesn’t want statistics or test scores or talk about “No Child Left Behind.” He wants to hear about how little Jimmy from Anderson County, one of the poorest in Texas, came from nothing to become a university president for the largest school in Texas. So maybe what I should do this evening is tell a few inspiring stories, some to suggest what you should do if you want to live your dreams and reach for the stars, and some to suggest what you shouldn’t do if you don't want to risk a detour that may well cost you your dreams.
Let me start first with one of the most inspiring stories I know--some of you are moaning inwardly, fidgeting in your chairs, and thinking that this guy is going to make us listen to his whole life story. Yuck! No, I like my story, but it's not all that inspirational, and it's not where I want to start.
I am sure that all of you have heard of Helen Keller. She was blind and deaf after suffering from an extreme fever at the age of two. Almost everyone has also read or heard about her blind teacher, Annie Sullivan, who singlehandedly took a young child who behaved more like a wild animal than a human being and helped her become an accomplished speaker, an author, and unquestionably the most prominent deaf-blind person of the twentieth century.
But no, I'm not going to tell you much of Helen's story either because it is told in many books and even in a movie. I want to tell you about a young man born eight years after Helen, a blind kid who had an overwhelming desire to become a doctor. His name was Jacob Bolotin, and in his day it was very unusual for blind people to attend school or to do anything except sit around the house. When Jacob’s parents took him to the local public school, the principal looked at Jacob, then looked them straight in the eye and said, “We have no place for your child here.” Luckily there was a school for the blind that Jacob could attend, and, though because of distance it meant going for years without seeing his parents, Jake attended that school--sounds like Ray Charles’s beginnings that you may have heard about as depicted in the movie abut this award-winning performer. Anyway, Jake went on to earn good grades, made himself lots of friends, and graduated at the top of his class, another success story with persistence.
When Jacob went to school, there were no aides to help him from one class to another. Nobody said that, because he was blind, he could go to the head of the lunch line or start for lunch five minutes ahead of everyone else. Nobody said he shouldn't learn Braille because that would make him different. Jacob’s difference was already a fact. What was unclear was whether that difference would strengthen or stifle him, and the school had determined to do everything it could to graduate a student as competent and capable as his brains and talent would allow.
In 1895 no laws said that Jacob was entitled to a free and appropriate education. Jacob had no hi-tech equipment, and, in fact, the Braille writer, the tape recorder, the computer, the BrailleNote, the PAC Mate, and the CCTV were decades in the future. So what did Jacob have? First, he had an attitude which said, “I get to go to school,” and not “I have to go to school.” Second, he had teachers who believed their blind students could learn. They knew Braille was the key to literacy, and, if their students had even the slightest chance to go anywhere in life, they would have to master reading and writing. Certainly Jacob was blessed with intelligence, motivation, and creativity, but most of all he had a dream, and it didn't matter to him how many people said his dream was impossible--he was going to be a doctor.
When Jacob left high school at the head of his class, no one besides him had any idea what he might do. They knew what he said, but in Jacob's day blind people didn't work or raise families or run for political office or give their time to helping the community. Blind people were thought of as helpless, pitiable unfortunates, and it was just expected that their families would care for them until the day they died. Think about that!
Today we have a rehabilitation program that will send blind people for training, including a college degree and, if warranted, medical school. But in Jacob's day there was no rehabilitation program for the blind. If he was to go beyond high school, he had to raise the money to pay for his books, supplies, transportation, and tuition. This he did by walking the streets of Chicago selling brushes, matches, and typewriters. After a couple of years, when he worked fourteen hours a day and found he wasn't making enough money to help his family and still save something for medical school, Jacob went to the head of the typewriter company and asked, not just to work in Chicago, but to be in charge of sales for three states. The skeptical owner felt he had to say yes to his best salesman, and four years later he reluctantly said good-bye to this young blind man with his foolish dream, his parting words being that, when Jacob returned to his senses, there would always be a job waiting for him at the typewriter company.
Now, if that dream of Jacob's had really been foolish or just a dream, I wouldn't be telling you about it today, but Jacob Bolotin made it come true. He figured out how to feel and hear what others saw with their eyes, graduated with honors from his medical school, developed a practice, won the respect of his colleagues, and was frequently called by other physicians for consultations. It is said that, when he died, more than five thousand people came to his funeral. Think about a man whose influence was so profound that five thousand people felt compelled to say their good-byes. That’s the kind of turnout one expects for congressmen, senators, and governors, but not for a blind man.
Okay, I don't want to spend all day talking about the blind doctor, but any of you who want to learn more about him should consider reading the book which, not surprisingly, is called The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story. Now you would think that if Jacob could accomplish all he did a century ago, we should have it easy today, but you would be only partially right. As scary as it is, only about three out of every ten blind people of working age actually have a job in our country. That means seven out of ten blind people don't. Why? The person who can answer that question should be here speaking rather than me, but I do have some ideas. Rather than spout off my theories, another story might be easier for me to tell and for you to hear.
A young student at the School for the Blind when I was there seemed to have a great future ahead of him. Jeff was a wrestler; was popular with the women; and made really, really good grades. He was an upper classman, and I was a seventh grader who idolized him. When I made it to college, Jeff was a graduate student. When I graduated, sure enough Jeff had a job--what an encouragement it was to know it could be done, and there he was, leading the way.
What happened then I can’t really explain. One day he had a job doing psychological testing. The next thing I knew, he had quit his job. I talked with him for a few months, and he said he was “in transition.” Now that made some sense to me; maybe he was on his way to something better. A year or two later he was still trying to get things together. After five years he was “weighing his options.” Fifteen years after his first and only job, he was back living with his parents and telling me that there were so many possibilities he couldn’t figure out what to do.
What would his options have been were he a sighted man? He would not have had the opportunity to rely on Social Security and Blind Pension until he “weighed his options.” The long and short of it, at least from what I could observe, is that he wasn't hungry, he had a roof over his head, and nothing or no one was urgently saying that all of this would change if he didn't go back to work. People might have wondered why a man with so much education didn't have a job, but they didn't question him in the same way they would have questioned Uncle Joe, who had sight.
In my heart what I've told you is a sad story because my friend was a man with a good mind, maybe even a brilliant mind. Was he a casualty of the system or a user of the system? I don't know, and I'm not sure he does. But what I do know is that his life experience has value for you this evening because, if he could get trapped by too many choices and too few expectations, so can you. But, as they say, to be forewarned is to be forearmed, so we learn what can happen when temporary indecision becomes a lifelong trait and when eventually it becomes just too scary to decide to do anything at all.
I've seen many of these sad stories in my life, often at times when I have least expected them. One day, while I was on a bus traveling across Missouri, a man with a familiar voice came up to me and asked my name. It turned out he and I had been classmates when I spent two years at the school for the blind. It had been fifteen years since he had graduated from high school, and we began to chat--did I remember Debbie, and what had become of her? Did I ever hear from Terry, and how was he doing? I asked him similar questions. All of this was normal enough for two old friends until we tried to talk about life after school, life in the present, and plans for the future. The response to every question I asked him about life after high school was “Oh, nothing.” “Well, not much.” It soon became clear that for him the only part of his life that had meaning was the time he spent at the school for the blind. Those were the times he cherished--the times when he had friends, played sports, and attended parties. It hurts me deep down in the gut to think about a man not yet middle-aged who already believed the best part of his life was over. I love my childhood, my school days, the memories and the friends, but my world is what's happening today, what I think will happen next week, and the things I would like to make happen in the next year.
Then there is Jessie, the blind man who called and left me a message on my answering machine--he had something really exciting to tell me, he said--something he said was the high-point of his year. I got excited too and called him right back. His news--he said a new radio station was coming to Columbia, and it would play easy listening music. I waited to discover the excitement--was he going to get a job there; did his family own the business; maybe his sister was a DJ? No, none of that--his excitement, the most exciting thing in his year, was that Columbia was going to have an easy listening station.
Now I like the radio--I bet you like the radio, but, when was the last time some radio station coming to town was the most exciting thing in your year? I wanted to cry out, "Hey man, get a life," but he was living the best life he knew, and I doubted there was anything I could say or do to change it at his age.
I'm going to finish with a final story which represents neither great success nor heart-rending tragedy. I knew this blind fellow who, for the moment, will remain nameless. He went to a small country school starting in the eighth grade. Unlike Jacob Bolotin’s experience in being denied entrance to his public school, this school was glad to have a blind student. The principal and the superintendent let him know they’d never had a blind youngster before, and that made him feel like a real pioneer. With no hassle and every expectation he’d do well in the future, this young fellow was admitted without a hitch.
In his time at the small country school, people bragged on him all the time because he was a rather pleasant guy to have around; made friends pretty easily; got along with all the teachers; and, most important, he didn’t cause any trouble. But if you looked below the surface, how was he as a student? Most of the time he made average grades, though the funny thing was that lots of people said he was pretty smart. Why was a pretty smart guy making Cs? Perhaps because in his family Cs were good enough. Perhaps because in his school there were no blind people to use as yardsticks, and maybe, just maybe, that’s the best a blind kid could do in a public school.
What about the student? How did he feel about getting average grades? Well, he kind of wanted to be in the Honor Society and was disappointed he was slated to finish twenty-second in a class of forty-three, but somehow it was just easier to keep doing what he was doing and wait for something to change.
You see, people so respected this young man that they put him in charge of his own education. He would tell them what it was reasonable for a blind person to take. He would tell them what books were available in what subjects and where those books could be ordered. If he said that to do well he needed a math book in Braille and that no Braille copy was available, well then, they would suggest that math wasn’t a very good option to pursue and that maybe a bit more history, maybe auditing a biology class, maybe general math and then they could think about algebra next year. That sounded like a good idea to him, certainly easier than the algebra or the trigonometry. At one point this supposedly bright student was taking four classes and three study halls in a seven-hour day. Everybody thought he was college bound, but he certainly wasn’t taking the classes other bright students were taking in preparation for their time after high school.
Once he understood that he was in charge of the courses he would take and how many he would take, this fellow, who thought himself so very clever, set the bar only as high as it was comfortable for him to step over. He was blind--there was no need for him to jump. There were some real disadvantages to being blind, so, if he could cut a corner here or there and make blindness work for him, what was wrong with that?
What it took our young friend a long, long time to figure out was that decisions he was making--by not taking advanced math, by not focusing on the sciences, by not doing all the exercises in diagramming his English sentences, not reading his history in advance for the inevitable pop quizzes, not turning in his English assignments but giving his papers to someone else and then being surprised when they got lost--all defined him and placed limits on him which he'd have to work very, very hard to overcome.
What this young man was slow to realize in his mind, but felt deeply in his heart, was the difference between being at the game and being in the game. School is not meant to be a spectator sport for students, but too many of us who are blind find ourselves on the sidelines watching while others do the science experiments, read their essays aloud, demonstrate how to work out a math problem for the class, or use the latest computerized learning tools.
So this young fellow, who watched as men traveled to the moon and who hoped someday to follow them, had a wonderful life plan that he clung to in his dreams and a very different course he followed day after day. You know by now that the young man I’m talking about was me, and it wasn't until I was nearly a senior in high school that it hit me how many of the shortcuts I was so proud of in my school career would turn out to be dead ends if I didn't do something about them. I was very late in realizing that school was supposed to prepare me for the kind of life I wanted to live, and not just something to be endured, shrugged off, or short-changed with tricks to make my life easy. What I slowly came to understand was that I was passing up my opportunity to go to the stars, passing it up by being lazy, disorganized, unfocused, and content to be the person everybody thought of as exceptional, though I knew at some level that I was not behaving in a way that justified their praise and admiration. Those astronauts who walked on the moon were achievers who relied on math and science as I relied on water and air. NASA hadn't recruited them by saying, “Hey, let's look at the bottom half of the class and see if we can find people dumb enough to sit on this fiery stick we’re going to send into space.” No, they were looking for the best minds they could find to tackle the most exciting challenge of the twentieth century, and the man who sits here before you would never have a part in anything like that because he made different decisions without even knowing he was making a choice.
Parents, let me plant one or two thoughts with you. No matter how good your child, no matter how kind or courteous, don’t let him set his course alone. Don’t expect her to be more mature than a thirteen-, fourteen- or fifteen-year-old can be. When your son says he’d rather not learn Braille because that will make him different and at the same time says he can't read the class assignment because it hurts his eyes, you have to step forward to say, “My child must have a way to read and write efficiently. If it’s something he can’t do without straining his eyes, if it hurts him so much he doesn’t enjoy reading, then I demand that my child be given competent instruction in the reading and writing of Braille.”
When your daughter says she can't take math because she can't see the board and needs her textbook in Braille, find out where you can get that Braille and ask blind mathematicians how they got by without seeing the board. When someone says to you that your child can't take biology because they dissect frogs, ask what makes getting her hands dirty any more of a problem than for her sighted friend who will be working on the table next to her, dissecting another frog. If there are things that can be gained only by directly using sight, help figure out a way for that information to be conveyed aurally or tactilely. If your child sees well enough to get around fine in the daytime but makes excuses about not wanting to do this or that thing at night when the light is poor, demand that he be given instruction in the use of the long white cane and help him welcome it as one more tool in his arsenal to be successful in the world.
Most of all, don't just assume everything is okay because the grades you see are passable and your child isn't getting in any trouble. Those aren't the measures which separate fair, good, and excellent. If your child is capable of excellence, demand it; if capable of good, make sure you get the good and rejoice in it. Don't ask or allow your child to be in charge of something that is well beyond her judgment and maturity to handle without you. Yes, you may have other children; undoubtedly you come home tired after work; yes, you say there are laws to see that my child gets whatever he needs, professionals to tell me what those needs are, and people whose jobs are to see that those needs are met. But right now I'm not talking to you about theory or what should be. I’m talking about opportunities your child will have or will be denied based upon your direct involvement. Okay, no parents walking out–that’s good.
When I walked across the stage of my high school on graduation day, I got a standing ovation, and it was the first time I ever saw my dad cry in public. Whether they knew it or not, the people applauding were recognizing my presence, not acknowledging any special accomplishment. Their recognition was for my being there physically, but not for the mark I made in the history of the school with a prize for science, with a first-rate article in a writing contest, or for taking first place in a math competition. I had the ability to bring those things to the stage that evening, but I didn't because it wasn't required, because I didn't know I could, and because no one helped me connect the dots and do what I should have done to distinguish myself in school.
What saved me, I think, was that I got scared, realized that soon school would be over, and, if I was going to succeed at something, I’d have to work and work hard. My last year in high school found me in the National Honor Society, and in my first summer orientation in college, when the dean of the school of arts and sciences said, “I want each of you to look to your right and your left. At the end of your freshman year, one of the three of you will be gone because you won’t measure up,” I vowed to myself and knew in my heart that I would not be the student who was absent. I didn’t know whether to feel pity for the guy on my right or be sorrowful for the gal on my left, but I knew I was there to stay. My days of taking the easy road were over. I wanted to jump over the same bar as others. I wanted the chance to compete. Maybe I had too much catching up to do to be the valedictorian, those who had already taken calculus, the people who already had good study habits and a track record of success. No, the Ivy League schools I had placed out of my reach, but what I couldn't change in the past I was determined to change in my future.
What I wanted more than anything was to get an education, find a job, and grow a family as happy and loving as the one my parents provided for me. I wanted to become the kind of man my father would respect and the kind of son my mother would be proud to call her own. Thank God that has all come to pass for me, but it happened because of agencies like RSB, who helped me catch up, because of schedules in college that found me studying twelve to fourteen hours a day, and because of some good fortune for which I will always be grateful, but will never be able to explain.
If I had studied harder in school, might I have been the commander of a shuttle flight or some kind of crew specialist with some time spent in space? Realistically I think the answer is no. It's difficult to conceive of piloting a ship that goes 17,000 miles per hour when I can't yet drive a car down a highway at seventy. But the truth is that, had I studied hard, brought more focus to my work, and been given high expectations by those who should have been helping me set them, I might now be working for NASA as one of several blind people who hold important jobs with the agency and are helping to put people into space.
So what advice do I hope you have gleaned from the stories I've shared this evening? Don’t be put off by blindness if there is something you really want to do. Don’t think you've done something really wonderful when people praise you for things a six-year-old should be able to do. Don’t make or take shortcuts because you believe blindness entitles you to them. Don’t take so long to weigh your options that one day you find you are too old to have options or too scared to exercise them. If you need to learn skills such as Braille or cane travel, learn them now--these are the skills which, when learned early, allow one to become proficient in a way which is just not possible for a person who learns them later in life.
Finally, find some blind people who can help you figure out when problems you face are truly related to blindness and when there are already tried and true solutions. My turnaround as a senior in high school didn’t happen because one day I woke up smarter. It happened because I began to associate with other blind people who started asking me, “Why aren't you doing more with what you've got?” Blind people were the first to tell me, “You can do anything you want,” and then they led me to people doing those jobs. Blind people were the first to turn thumbs-down on my idea of writing a book about my remarkable life when they said, “You should not spend any time thinking about writing about your life until you do something worth writing about.” At that moment I hated and loved those blind people in the National Federation of the Blind, hated them because they hurt my ego by shooting down one of my most prized fantasies, and loved them because they were telling me I could participate in the world as a full and equal human being if only I had the courage to believe and the drive to work hard.
Perhaps there is one other thing you should take away tonight--never offer to listen to a keynote speech after a big meal. It's awfully hard to be polite and stay awake with a full stomach and a guy who just keeps on talking and talking.
We are all here because we share a common belief--you believe we have something to give to you, whether it is education, training, or a weekend of fun. We are here because we too believe we have something to give. But, beyond this, we in the National Federation of the Blind are here this weekend because we want to add to and become a part of your family, and we want you to become a part of ours. We want to be your cheering section when you succeed, your help in times of adversity, your advocate when you need help convincing some school district or state agency that you need something, and your mentors when you want to try something you think is new and you wonder if and how it can be done. We are here because we love you. We care about what happens to you today, tomorrow, and for all of your tomorrows. Through you we are all joined in a cause larger than ourselves. Because people are individuals responsible for themselves, we cannot own your success or failure personally, but we can smile with joy occasionally when we see one of you fly.
All of us, working together, will change what it means to be blind for your generation, and maybe, just maybe, if we do it right, the impossible dreams we have dreamed for ourselves will one day be the lives you live and the history you help write for the blind of America. May one of you be the first woman or man to set foot on Mars, and when you do, perhaps you could sprinkle a few of my ashes there, knowing how much I'd like to have been in your place and knowing that you made the choices that allowed you to leave the confines of earth and travel among the stars.
Consider a Charitable Gift
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB
Your Gift Will Help Us
by Daniel B. Frye
Because the National Federation of the Blind is committed to preserving its history, the Federation regularly records interviews with people who knew our founding leaders as part of our oral history project. Ved Mehta is a blind immigrant from India who came to the United States in 1949 to study at the Arkansas School for the Blind and who has since enjoyed academic and commercial success as a teacher and writer. During his college years he knew Jacobus tenBroek, our founder and first president, so Mehta agreed to be interviewed about his connection with Dr. tenBroek and his own career for this project. I accompanied Lou Ann Blake, research specialist with the Jacobus tenBroek Library in the NFB Jernigan Institute, to New York City to conduct this interview on January 21, 2009.
According to the biographical sketch on Mehta’s Website, "Although blind since he was nearly four, the Indian-born American writer Ved Mehta has surmounted his disability to become one of the most versatile contemporary men of letters. In 1957, when he was twenty-three, he published his first book, a young autobiography titled Face to Face. Following the success of that book, Mehta went on to publish several nonfiction books in which he created his own brand of roving journalism. He has written with equal felicity about events and personalities in India, Great Britain, and the United States and about more abstract matters, such as philosophy, history, theology, and linguistics. In 1972 Mehta received much acclaim for his book Daddyji, a delicately crafted portrait of his father, a distinguished Indian public health officer. Between 1961 and 1994 he was a staff writer and reporter with the New Yorker magazine. Since then he has held distinguished chairs at many colleges and universities, including Yale and Williams College.
“Ved (Parkash) Mehta, the fifth of seven children and second son of Dr. Amolak Ram Mehta and Shanti (Mehra) Mehta, was born on March 21, 1934, in Lahore, in the Punjab, then in British India and now in Pakistan.… Mehta was blinded by cerebrospinal meningitis. The boy, not yet five, was sent by his father to an American missionary school in Bombay, some thirteen hundred miles from his home in Lahore, in order to learn Braille and arithmetic. He was sick much of the time and was returned home in broken health after three years. For the next seven years he had very little schooling but learned to play chess, to ride a bicycle, and to form mental images of people and places from the descriptions of others. ...
“After receiving his high school diploma from the Arkansas School, Ved Mehta spent four years at Pomona College in California, and during that period he attended several summer sessions at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa during his junior year, he obtained his BA degree from Pomona College in 1956. He then went to England for three years of study in modern history at Balliol College, Oxford, which granted him a second BA degree in 1959. Returning to the United States, Mehta undertook an additional year and a half of graduate study at Harvard under a fellowship, and he obtained his MA degree there in 1961.
“Although Mehta had originally planned for an academic career, he found himself drawn more and more to writing during his student years. When he was twenty, he completed most of his first extended piece of nonfiction, an autobiography that was published under the title Face to Face and drew praise for its candor, elegant prose, and lucid style. Later he contributed stories and articles to British, American, and Indian newspapers and periodicals. In 1959 he met William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker, who encouraged him to contribute to the magazine and invited him in 1961 to join its editorial staff. ...
“The central themes of his literary career have always been India and his own life as an expatriate Indian. As part of a continuing autobiographical project on an almost Proustian scale, and a step in his own search for identity, Mehta wrote Daddyji, which was serialized in the New Yorker. The book, whose title is derived from a hybrid diminutive, meaning "Beloved Daddy," is a short, sparely written account of his father's life, with the narrative ending a few years after Ved Mehta's birth….Daddyji was a cornerstone of a vast autobiographical series bearing the omnibus title, Continents of Exile.
"Ved Mehta has widely commented on radio and television on Indian politics and has also narrated and written a documentary film called Chachaji: My Poor Relation (PBS, 1978 and BBC, 1980), which won the DuPont Columbia Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. He has received many honors, including half a dozen honorary degrees (Williams, 1986 and Stirling University, Scotland, 1988), several Ford Foundation grants, and two Guggenheims. He was a MacArthur Prize Fellow (1982-1987). In 1999 he was elected honorary fellow of Balliol College, Oxford."
There you have a much-abbreviated sketch of Mehta’s life and work. We were interested to know what influence Dr. tenBroek had on his life and career and what his perspective was on his own blindness. The answers we gathered to these questions says a great deal about Mehta and his character.
Mehta recalled meeting Dr. tenBroek in the summer of 1952 to seek advice about what college to attend. After he was rejected by the "obvious" East Coast schools because of low SAT scores, his father, then a Fulbright professor at UCLA, arranged for him to meet with Professor tenBroek. He remembered being struck by the fact that a blind man could live in such an imposing, three- or four-story home, and he recalled a conversation with his father in which they both recognized that a blind person living in such overt luxury was a cultural phenomenon that would not have occurred in India. Mehta spoke of being escorted into a room where he sat by Dr. tenBroek at the foot of an enormous fireplace almost as tall as he was. "I was very impressed with his friendly, outgoing, imposing manner. I vividly remember that he had a beard, and I can remember hearing his fingers running through it."
Mehta was drawn to tenBroek, who measured up to a standard of normalcy that appealed to him. "He was married--had three children--besides the fact that he was blind. His mind was never asleep. He was alert, talkative, and never dismissive. I would have liked to have had him as a friend, but I knew from the start that he couldn't be because of our age differences."
As recounted in The Stolen Light and confirmed during our interview, Mehta said that tenBroek urged him to attend Berkeley. He reports that tenBroek promoted the advantages of a Berkeley education and discussed the special resources available to blind college students in California. He told Mehta that he would help him enroll and get settled there. Mehta speculated during our conversation that Dr. tenBroek may have wanted to have a small group of blind students around him that he could influence and guide. "But I was truculent. I didn't want role models, and I didn't want to associate too closely with blind people."
Indeed, despite Mehta's positive memories of Dr. tenBroek, in response to a question about tenBroek's influence on him, Mehta said that he did not regard him as a role model. "I don't believe in role models. I am my own role model." Instead Mehta said, "Really he was much more of a resource." Dr. tenBroek explained how to get readers and deal with campus life. Mehta occasionally appealed to him for financial support, and he generally obliged with a "little check" from one or another of his friends in his Berkeley network. Later in our conversation Mehta conceded that William Shawn, former editor of the New Yorker; Eleanor Gould Packard, the New Yorker’s proofreader and unofficial grammarian; and various professors in college and tutors at Oxford may have been role models for him.
When invited to imagine what his relationship with Dr. tenBroek might have been had he been more open to building one, Mehta said, "It is hard to speculate on what our relationship might have been. I don't have, for whatever psychological reasons, any friends at all who are blind--actually I never have had--any relationships with blind people since I moved out of the Arkansas School for the Blind. I had several black friends, and it always made me sad that these friends ended up studying or writing about black culture or welfare for black people. I, for whatever psychological reasons, wanted to be done with the business of blindness from the very beginning." He told us that his only real foray into the blindness arena was writing a paper condemning the professional blindness establishment of the 1950s for its censorship and unwillingness to translate literature with any overt sexual content into alternative formats. Mehta recalled that Dr. tenBroek liked his paper and urged him to write others, but he also said that his work gained him nothing but the enmity of the blindness profession. That enmity might have served as a source of inspiration to continue his advocacy for blind people, but this was not his reaction. After this experience Mehta said that he moved to England and washed his hands of any further involvement with the blindness community.
Despite this decision he started further correspondence with Dr. tenBroek when he returned to the United States for graduate study at Harvard. Mehta could not clearly recall what prompted his resumption of this correspondence, but he surmised that it was probably either to solicit career advice about his ambition to be a writer or to grumble about his dissatisfaction while at Harvard, which seemed to him "like an intellectual version of Hollywood."
In concluding his reflections on Dr. tenBroek, Mehta acknowledged that despite differences in their early childhoods (Mehta grew up in relative affluence in India under the guardianship of his father, an important public health official, while tenBroek was reared on the prairies of Canada by a farmer) they might have had a lot in common. "I would not protest against that comparison. tenBroek was an intellectual, self-confident man."
Passages from Mehta's book The Stolen Light make it clear that he struggled to reconcile himself to his blindness during his college years. He resisted the requests of college administrators to use a cane and admit his turmoil about matters as simple as disclosing his need for assistance or directions to the bathroom while out with friends or dates. Nevertheless he did write of using Braille and readers and of taking advantage of leaders in the blindness community like Dr. tenBroek
Wondering if his perspective on blindness had evolved over the years, we questioned him indirectly about his current attitudes toward his blindness. Mehta required little coaxing on this topic. In virtually everything he said, he good-naturedly admitted that his views on blindness were paradoxical. On one hand he works to distance himself from anything blindness-related and obviously loathes the fact that he is blind; on the other hand he capitalizes on his blindness to distinguish himself in some of his autobiographical writing and recognizes that blindness has had a significant influence on his life. On his Website he says, "Partly I write because of blindness, because of the heightened sense of loneliness that many intelligent blind people feel." He reaffirmed this view during our interview. "I found my liberation in writing."
Asked why his attitude toward his blindness was so different from that articulated by Dr. tenBroek, Mehta maintained that his view was not different from that of many blind people. "I think a lot of blind people would take my view if they could. I think nobody enjoys being a cripple. If they could step out of it, they would." Mehta told us that his mother never really accepted the fact of his blindness, and he said that he always acted as if he could see around her because "that's what she wanted."
He continued, "I don't think my attitude is abnormal. I didn't want to be a blind writer. I wanted to be a writer who is blind." Mindful of the recent presidential election and in an effort to characterize his feelings as mainstream, Mehta reminded us that Roosevelt went to extraordinary lengths to conceal his disability too. In closing this subject, he reminded us, "My feelings are a normal, human phenomenon." Sadly, for all too many blind people today, Mehta remains correct.
We were curious about the logistics of how a prolific blind writer works. He explained that mostly he works with a Perkins Braillewriter and a typewriter. He said that it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks and that he no longer has the patience to try to learn JAWS, though he has had it installed on his computer. He told us rather defensively that he relies on an amanuensis to do much of his work. He pointed out that sighted authors like Henry James and Joseph Conrad also used this time-tested strategy. "I just stitch together different methods, and they serve me."
When invited to comment on what bolstered his resolve and determination to succeed, Mehta offered, "With respect to determination, often the talent will drive you. If you have talent, you have an obligation to that talent." He also noted that he always felt pressure to succeed and be like his six accomplished sighted siblings. Mehta attributed much of his determination to his father’s fervent determination that he should succeed.
After leaving Mehta's large and beautiful New York apartment, where we had been cordially welcomed, I found myself torn: I was impressed by the indisputable achievements of this blind scholar and author. Yet I felt heartsick at how emotionally tortured Mehta continues to be about his blindness and regretful that this fact will curtail his ability to influence the next generation of blind people. Mostly, though, I was troubled that a blind man of Mehta's standing does not want or feel any obligation to influence blind people who follow him or to give back to the blind community that has--whether he recognizes it or not--done much to bring about his success.
Let us celebrate his many achievements, but mostly let us hope that Mehta can find some measure of peace--with or without accepting our hand of friendship. Blindness is too much a part of every blind person’s life for it to remain a torment.
by Shawn Mayo
From the Editor: Shawn Mayo is the executive director of BLIND Incorporated (Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions). She delivered the following speech at the 2008 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. It provides a little different explanation of what NFB-conducted adult training centers for the blind are doing and what they offer to their students. This is what she said:
Wayne Dyer, a best-selling author and lecturer, tells the following story in one of his speeches. There once was a village where an enemy army had come through and taken many of the men prisoner. Four philanthropists lived in the village. The first came to the commander of the prison camp and said, “I hear the men have terrible food, only gruel to eat. I want to donate the crops from one of my fields to make sure they get proper nutrition.” His request was granted, and he felt he had done a good thing.
The second philanthropist approached the commander of the prison camp and said, “I know the men are sleeping on rocks and are very cold. I would like to give them blankets to keep them warm.” The commander allowed this request as well, and the philanthropist was satisfied that he had done well.
The third philanthropist came to the commander and said, “The prisoners do not have clean water to drink. They are getting sick. I want them to have the water from my well.” He too was granted his request, and he went away smiling.
The fourth philanthropist had a different approach. He found out where the keys to the cells were kept, took the keys, and set all the prisoners free.
The approach of the fourth philanthropist is the approach of BLIND, Inc., except for one difference. Instead of running around unlocking cell doors, we walk up to the cell with the key in an open hand and say, “Here’s the key to your cell. If you want it, take it. If you want to know the fastest way out of here, follow us.”
So why do I make this distinction? Because so much of what makes blindness into a prison exists within the minds and hearts of the prisoners themselves—the internalized negative attitudes, bad experiences, doubts, and fears. And, although some of the folks who don't like us very much have accused us of trying to brainwash our students, the bottom line is that no one can really change other people’s minds. You can guide and encourage and persuade, but actually changing their minds is something they have to do themselves. Unfortunately some people don’t really care to leave the prison. They have food and water and a nice blanket. They are taken care of; have security; and, most important, have someone else to blame for their circumstances.
The people who take the key—the ones who say, “I don’t want to be taken care of; I want to be free to take care of myself,” are our students and alumni. The kind of blind people who want our training are the people who cannot stand being told where to sit. Our students and graduates are the kind of people who can't be satisfied loafing around—they are people who feel a burning desire to work and achieve and engage with the world around them.
The key that we offer is a set of blindness skills developed by blind people and refined through decades of experience. It’s skills that work for people with limited vision and people with no vision at all. If you use these skills, you won't lose them. Some people take the key tentatively and others practically rip it out of our hands. Some people’s cell locks have rust in them and take longer to open, but all who want to can and will use this key to let themselves out of the cell.
Then there is the second part of what we tell people—“If you want to know the fastest way out of here, follow us.” We know that the fastest way out of the blindness-as-prison mentality is the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. We at BLIND Incorporated have seen it ourselves for the past twenty years, and it’s been the fastest way out since 1940.
Many of our students choose to follow our lead and march out the front door; some choose to wander around a bit on their own. Some choose to take a longer and lonelier path; that’s their decision to make. But it would be at best unkind and at worst cruel for us not to offer them the wisdom we have acquired.
Federationists have mapped every inch of this prison. We know where all the dead ends and snares are. We’ve been there, done that, and gotten the heck out of there. Federation philosophy taught us how to live free in the ordinary world without dragging blindness around like a ball and chain. That's why BLIND, Inc., is a Federation training center.We are compelled to give people the opportunity to benefit from what has benefited us. It's everyone's individual choice whether or not to take what is offered, but I believe that those who take the time to look carefully at the core Federation values--the idea that it is respectable to be blind; that equal rights come with equal responsibility; and that blindness should not stop anyone from living a full, happy, and successful life--they will see that putting Federation philosophy into practice is truly the fastest way to freedom.
by James S. Nyman
From the Editor: The following remarks were delivered by Dr. James Nyman at the annual White Cane Banquet of the Omaha Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, Saturday, November 8, 2008. After teaching for a number of years at the university level, Jim Nyman became director of Nebraska Services for the Blind in 1974, a post in which he continued until his retirement in 1998. He reports the first Federationist he met was Jacobus tenBroek. Here are Dr. Nyman’s remarks:
In 1994, on our way to visit a friend in South Africa, my wife and I stopped over for a day in Athens. I had looked forward for a long time to visiting this birthplace of western philosophy. Shortly before we arrived there, some Greek archeologists announced they believed they had excavated the prison cell where Socrates had died after drinking a cup of hemlock, a poisonous concoction derived from the hemlock plant. He had been condemned to death for corrupting the youth of Athens by seeking the truth. With some difficulty we found the excavation site on Mount Phillipapou, and I had my wife photograph me standing where Socrates died for the truth. Socrates had discovered that the search for truth sometimes leads into the dens of politics with, in his case, deadly consequences. It has been said that, in politics, truth is often the first casualty. Well, tonight I hope to rescue truth from the hazards of politics but still find it in a topic that is vitally important to blind persons. Unless I am singularly lucky, I may find myself following in the footsteps of Socrates, treading on the same dangerous ground. When I conclude my remarks, don't be offended if I decline any beverage you may offer me.
What is this truth I am seeking? You will probably have guessed that it has something to do with the unemployment rate for blind people. You would be right in part, but I will also be looking for the reasons that explain that rate--whatever it turns out to be. I have to confess up-front that I don't have a definite answer to either question. We have all heard that the unemployment rate for blind people is 70 percent or more. We have heard that percentage repeated many times, and it has achieved the status of a great truth. This is a shocking number, and it may be that the shock itself puts it beyond questioning. If repetition is the measure of truth, we may already have found what I said I was seeking. On the other hand, we might be well advised to heed the ironic caution of a very wise philosopher named Ludwig Wittgenstein, who suggested that this procedure is, "As if someone were to buy several copies of the morning paper to assure himself that what it said was true."
If we can't rely on repetition as the measure of truth, we will have to adopt some other method in the search. The nineteenth-century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli observed that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. If I were to suggest that the repeated claim of a 70 percent unemployment rate is either a lie or a damned lie, I suspect I would have very quickly passed from the search for truth into the realm of politics and the cup of hemlock would have been handed to me forthwith. So I suppose I will have to fall back on statistics to pursue the truth.
We can start with some official statistics. Each month the U. S. Department of Labor issues a report on the unemployment rate for the previous month. Over the past few years that rate has ranged from 4.2 percent to 6.1 percent. If we accept 70 percent as an accurate figure for the unemployment rate of blind people, the ratio between the Labor Department rate for the general population and the claimed rate for the blind would be anywhere from 11.5 to 16.7 times higher for the blind. In Nebraska the unemployment rate has hovered around 3.5 percent for the past few years, so the ratio would be about twenty times higher in our state. Typically, when individuals and organizations invoke the much higher rate for the blind, it is either implicitly or explicitly equated with the official unemployment rate. Before we can accept this identification, we need to know what the official rate involves.
The concept appears to be simple enough: "Unemployment rate means the ratio of unemployed to the total civilian labor force expressed as a percent." It gets a bit more complicated when we explore the meaning of some of the terms that go into this computation. The Department provides definitions for five terms that are involved:
1. civilian noninstitutional population includes everyone over sixteen except those in institutions and the military;
2. the civilian labor force includes everyone in the civilian population who is either employed or unemployed;
3. employed means working as an employee or in a business, farm, or profession;
4. unemployed is anyone who is available for work and has made specific efforts to obtain a job; and
5. unemployment rate is the percentage of unemployed persons in the labor force.
To simplify and clarify: the civilian labor force is the fraction of the civilian noninstitutionalized population who are either employed or unemployed. At the end of 2007 this was 62.8 percent. In order to be included in the calculation of the unemployment rate, an individual must meet four requirements: he or she must first be sixteen years or older; second, have no employment; third, be available for work; and fourth, have made specific efforts to find employment during the period of reporting. When it is claimed that 70 percent of blind people of working age are unemployed, are we asserting that seven out of every ten blind people satisfy these four requirements of the Labor Department's strict meaning of unemployed, within the civilian labor force? If not, we need to find a more illuminating way to express the shocking truth about the low level of participation of the blind in remunerative employment.
An initial formulation that does not rely on the guidelines for statistical reporting might read: "Seventy percent of people over sixteen who are blind in the civilian noninstitutionalized population are not currently employed. This formulation suggests that 30 percent of blind people of working age are, in fact, employed and are therefore counted in the civilian labor force. This contrasts with the 62.8 percent of the overall civilian population who were in the labor force at the end of 2007. This rate of participation is approximately double that of the blind. What of the 70 percent who are claimed as unemployed?
A glance at statistics for the civilian population helps to illuminate the question. By simply subtracting the 62.8 percent from the total civilian population, we are left with 37.2 percent who are not presently in the labor force. We can reasonably assume that, due to medical and age-related complications associated with blindness in addition to the usual reasons, blind people are absent from the civilian labor force at a somewhat higher rate than that of the general population. Those reasons include such factors as continued education, especially in the younger age range; family responsibilities; early retirement; disinclination to work; discouragement during job-seeking; and, for a fortunate few, sufficient wealth to eliminate the need for remunerative employment.
Given that 30 percent of blind people are employed and more than 37.2 percent are simply absent from the labor force, we can now ask what percentage can be counted as unemployed. We can only speculate, but 32.8 percent is the absolute maximum and not the 70 percent that is claimed. If we employed the same formula to compute the Department of Labor official unemployment rate as advocates use to calculate the 70 percent figure, we would arrive at the startling conclusion that the monthly unemployment rate had fluctuated between 41.4 percent and 43.3 percent rather than the 4.2 percent and 6.1 percent that has been reported. This, of course, includes the 37.2 percent of the civilian population who simply did not work. One can just imagine the shock waves that would run through Wall Street and the political world if this were reported. Nevertheless, the method used to arrive at this figure would be precisely parallel with that used by advocates to calculate the 70 percent unemployment rate for the blind; that is, it includes all those who are absent from the labor force by choices unrelated to work.
Combining the 30 percent of employed blind persons and the 37.2 percent or more of those absent from the labor force, we arrive at a figure of more than 67.2 percent of those who cannot be counted as unemployed. Less than 32.8 percent appears to be the remainder. Is this, then, the true unemployment rate of the blind? If we now return to the Labor Department statistical reporting standard, the answer will have to be no.
What is the status of this lower percentage? You will recall that, in order to meet the strict standards of the Department of Labor, individuals are counted as "unemployed" only if they are not employed, as defined but "had made specific efforts to find employment." They must also be available for employment, but I will address the question of availability a bit later in my remarks. Meanwhile, for present purposes, “specific efforts to find employment" can include a set of activities as minimal as checking job listings in the local newspaper or on some Internet site, following up on an employment lead, arranging an interview, sending out a résumé, making a cold call, conferring with a rehabilitation counselor, checking with friends and acquaintances in a network of associates, participating in a job training program at a community college, or attending a job fair. While some of this activity will be recorded in documents of one sort or another, it is otherwise a matter of conjecture what portion of these individuals has engaged in one or more of the "specific efforts" enumerated. A full 100 percent would be a generous estimate. Anything less than that would further reduce the percentage who could be counted as unemployed, even under the looser guidelines.
Since being available for employment is one of the Labor Department's criteria for being counted as unemployed, when medical complications and age are considered, the number of blind people who are available for employment is further diminished. While age and medical conditions are not an absolute bar to employment, we know that a higher proportion of the blind experience these additional complications. I cannot quantify the impact of these factors on employment statistics, but the effect is to reduce the unemployment rate significantly below the 32.8 percent that I said was the absolute maximum. If I were not a very modest man, I think I might claim at this point that I had, in the span of a few minutes, cut the unemployment rate for the blind by more than one half. But, it will take more than statistical wizardry to make a substantive difference in the lives of those who fall into the ranks of the unemployed. While it may be politically less dramatic than 70 percent, even the lower percentage is unacceptably high. The lower number, however, should allow us to focus on the fact that it is not a global percentage that we need to reduce, but rather the lives of many individuals that we need to improve.
To recapitulate the analysis: 30 percent of the blind of working age are employed, and around 40 percent are neither seeking employment nor available for work, so that 30 percent or fewer are technically unemployed. This change of perspective should permit us to focus our attention on the particular factors that explain the unacceptably low rate of participation in the labor force. It puts us in a better position to formulate individual plans and general policies to attack the problem.
Dissing the Blind
For simplification I have identified a half dozen factors that, singly or in some combination, are involved in most cases of unemployment. Since each of these factors begins with the three letters D-I-S, I call this "Dissing the blind.” Thus we have 1. discrimination, 2. disincentives, 3. distance, 4. discouragement, 5. disinclination, and 6. disability. We can only hope that the complexity of particular situations will not leave us in the position of the unfortunate centipede in the poem:
The centipede was happy quite,
Until the toad, in fun, said, "Pray:
Which leg comes after which?”
Which brought its mind to such a pitch,
It lay distracted in a ditch.
1. Discrimination: As blind people we are fortunate if we get from one end of a day to the other without experiencing some form of discrimination. It is a pervasive phenomenon with many manifestations. Any time we confront some form of differential treatment, even if it is intended to benefit us, it reflects an underlying attitude that places us in a class outside ordinary membership in the human community. No single approach can effectively cope with the many forms that discrimination takes. The National Federation of the Blind has evolved many strategies to reduce or eliminate the impact of this differential treatment by legislation, litigation, and public education.
Obtaining legislative action has proved relatively easy over the past forty years with the adoption of White Cane Laws in most states and passing of civil rights legislation at the federal level with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and laws pertaining to the education of disabled children enacted in the past thirty years. Unfortunately, the mechanisms enforcing these laws are so cumbersome and lawyer-driven that blind and otherwise disabled people are fortunate if the resolution of particular cases isn't posthumous or doesn't extend into old age. Court rulings have so diminished the value of antidiscrimination laws that Congress found it necessary to adopt and the president to sign the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act to return to the original intent of the law. Ironically, a constitutional amendment in Nebraska, the Civil Rights Initiative, intended to end both preferential treatment and discrimination, in its very language discriminates against the disabled. The operative section of the proposition reads: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." It is far from clear what this language means, but one thing is evident: disabilities do not even merit a mention in the enumeration of classes of affected people.
Clearly it is not easy to change a whole culture and the attitudes that govern behavior toward disabled people. Optimists may claim that over the past half century great strides have been made, but evidence for this claim is fragmentary at best. Persuasion and occasional favorable rulings can resolve individual cases in employment, education, and access to public benefits, but discrimination is a continuing reality that blind individuals and the blind as a group must confront.
Forty years ago, when I was seeking employment as a college teacher, I recall at least two rejection letters that flatly stated that a blind person could not manage the responsibilities of a faculty member. We are not likely to encounter such open declarations in today's atmosphere of social consciousness, but the more subtle forms are probably more difficult to combat. Because those who discriminate rarely leave a trail of evidence to document the discrimination, it is difficult to quantify the scale of actual discrimination. One thing is certain: the accumulation of anecdotal evidence cannot all be dismissed as the product of a paranoid imagination. The National Federation of the Blind, by public education, legislation, litigation, negotiation, and innovation, has succeeded in having some of the barriers to employment identified and lowered. Unfortunately, barriers have proved more amenable to modification than the underlying attitudes that lead to their erection in the first place.
2. Disincentives: In 1968, when we organized a new affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind in Illinois, I served as the legislative representative, becoming an official registered lobbyist in the state. One of the first undertakings I carried out was to write a letter to all the members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, urging them to support an increase in the earnings allowance for blind recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The NFB has long argued that restrictions in the earnings limitations discouraged blind people from seeking employment since, when the limit was reached, recipients would experience a sudden drop in income and loss of medical benefits.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. When Supplemental Security Income (SSI) was implemented in 1974, an even more restrictive earnings limitation was applied. Until 1996 the earnings limitation for blind SSDI recipients was linked to those for Social Security recipients between the ages of sixty-five and seventy. In that year that coupling was eliminated, and, while the earnings limits increased at an accelerated rate for older people, it lagged significantly for the blind. In 2008 this disparity is between $18,840 for the blind and $36,120 for older people: a total of $17,280, or $1,440 a month. On May 15 the House of Representatives passed the Blind Persons Earnings Fairness Act, which would gradually re-couple earnings limitations for blind and senior recipients. If this is finally adopted by both House and Senate, one of the significant disincentives to seeking employment will have been greatly reduced.
When Medicare became a part of SSDI benefits in 1965, the argument became more compelling. Many blind beneficiaries needed medical services for other conditions covered by Medicare. Under these circumstances it is understandable that fear of losing medical benefits associated with the SSDI program has been one of the greatest disincentives to seeking employment. To counteract these obvious disincentives, the period of eligibility for medical benefits has been extended for ninety-three months so that the threat of losing these benefits immediately after cash benefits are terminated no longer exists. Nevertheless, fears have a tendency to outlive the facts, so it is incumbent on the Social Security Administration, rehabilitation personnel, and advocates to impress the facts on potential job seekers. Some positive incentives besides extended medical coverage have been incorporated into SSDI to reduce or eliminate disincentives, including discounting work-related expenses and imposing no limitations on earnings during a trial work period of nine months to a year. If parity is reached with the earnings limits for older recipients, a moderate income and living standard with some security against the devastation of medical costs will have been achieved. These measures and others have significantly reduced the disincentives to seeking and obtaining employment.
3. Distance: Let's take a fanciful journey into the next generation. Everyone will be driving smart cars. To be more precise, smart cars will be driving everyone. Earlier this year, at the annual showcase of the electronics industry in Las Vegas, an experimental vehicle was demonstrated. With global positioning technology and other systems for controlling the movements of the vehicle, all the passenger needed to do was enter a destination into the GPS and sit back and wait until the car arrived.
Many aspects of ordinary life are impaired by the limited options that confront a blind person. Social, economic, recreational, entertainment, religious, educational, and family participation can involve the necessity of devising alternatives for simply getting there. At best public transportation is a poor option, except in the largest metropolitan areas. The private automobile has come to dominate social existence, including work, to the point that in some settings blindness can virtually immobilize an individual. The lack of imagination and resources among those who operate public transportation systems makes it clear that no solution to the problem of simply getting there, wherever there might be, is likely to come from that quarter. If a quarter century turns out to be an accurate projection for the introduction of smart cars, I will be just a little over a hundred years old and probably not seeking employment, but it would represent the elimination of one of the serious obstacles to the employment of blind people. But employment is only part of life, and the other dimensions would also be greatly enhanced. I said it would be a fanciful journey, but some of the younger members of the audience may live to see it realized.
4. Discouragement: Anyone who has experienced repeated failures to obtain employment may feel discouraged and drop out of the labor force. The likelihood of experiencing repeated failure if one is blind is many times greater than it is for members of the general public. I know of no way to quantify the fraction of unemployed blind people who are simply discouraged and have withdrawn from the job search. Workshops by consultants, books and articles by experts, job fairs, and individual counseling can lay out many brilliant strategies for job seeking, but the realities of discrimination and indifference more often than not reduce these to exercises in futility. Meanwhile, discouragement and withdrawal from the job search continue to swell the ranks of unemployed blind people and account for a significant fraction of the unemployment rate. Repeated assertions of the 70 percent unemployment rate can hardly be encouraging to these individuals.
5. Disinclination: Some people in this world would prefer not to work. Some of them are blind. If people are blind in this society, there is a pretty good chance they can qualify for a variety of public supports: SSDI, Medicare, SSI, public housing, food stamps, and other benefits. If an individual settles into a comfort zone in this framework, a disinclination to work can be sustained. I recall suggesting to Robert Newman that he create a scenario of a blind character for his Thought Provoker in which an individual found a comfort zone of adequate resources and a lifestyle that nurtured a disinclination to work. The vehemence of reaction to this scenario suggests that our well-known commitment to the work ethic will minimize this factor. No matter how much we may deplore this rejection of the work ethic, most of us know someone who prefers this lifestyle. Technically, anyone who is so inclined is not counted under the Labor Department strict standard for being unemployed, but he or she would satisfy the more general notion of unemployment. Fear of rejection or discouragement after repeated failures may explain the attitude, but the reality must be acknowledged. I know no way to quantify the contribution of this phenomenon to the unemployment of blind people.
6. Disability: In 1917 Nebraska adopted a definition of blindness that still provides the statutory meaning of this visual condition. The definition reads: "The term blind includes all persons whose sight is so defective as to seriously limit their ability to engage in the ordinary vocations and activities of life." The misleading aspect of this definition is that it directly links the degree of defectiveness with the limitations on ability to engage in vocational and other activities. Unfortunately, this perception is deeply ingrained in popular beliefs about the relationship between visual acuity and ability to function in the world, including the world of work. This statutory definition, however, is open to a different interpretation, one that suggests that limitations can be overcome. In the familiar formulation of Kenneth Jernigan: "If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance." The critical qualification, of course, is, "with proper training in the alternative techniques of blindness." When positive attitudes drive and sustain the motivation to employ the alternative techniques, then blindness is significantly reduced as a factor. It is not an accident that individuals who complete a training program in the orientation center in Lincoln have an employment rate of around 90 percent. Further evidence for the value of training in the alternative techniques is provided by Dr. Ruby Ryles of Louisiana Tech and Dr. Fred Schroeder, who have documented that 90 percent of employed blind people are proficient Braille readers. In the modern economy Braille literacy and computer literacy combined are indispensable skills. Without such training it is difficult to see how individuals could, in the strict requirements of Labor Department statistics, be said to be available for employment.
While it is only a guess, I am willing to wager that the unemployment rate could be cut in half again if proper training in alternative techniques and the adoption of positive attitudes were available to all blind people nationally.
I began by saying that I was seeking the truth about the rate of unemployment of blind people. The conventional wisdom and political rhetoric suggest that this rate is 70 percent. When viewed in light of Labor Department guidelines, this asserted rate is more a matter of politics than an accurate description of reality. But official statistics only hint at a serious problem. It is more illuminating to examine the reasons for the low rate of participation in the labor force. In other words, the problem is not how we can reduce a statistical unemployment rate, but how we can increase participation in the remunerative labor force.
I have suggested that discrimination, disincentives, distance, discouragement, disinclination, and disability account for most of the absence from the work place. Administrative and judicial remedies may affect discrimination in limited ways, but public education activities by the National Federation of the Blind and the examples of blind individuals will do more to effect changes in the social attitudes underlying discrimination. However, as the saying goes, "Don't hold your breath!" Much has been done to reduce the disincentives associated with SSDI, SSI, and Medicare, but the impact of these benefits must be communicated by the Social Security Administration, advocacy organizations, and rehabilitation agencies. We need to do a better job of education and counseling. Transportation will continue to be a significant problem for blind people to resolve, requiring a combination of individual ingenuity and initiative and some public action. Perhaps in the next generation technology may make the convenience of the private automobile as available to the blind as it is to everyone else. Discouragement stemming from repeated failures and disinclination to work may be overcome when success replaces failure. Encouragement by advocates and professionals can sustain efforts toward employment, but, as they say, "Nothing succeeds like success." Finally, disability is the most pervasive and the most remediable factor that explains the low rate of participation of the blind in the labor force. It is a sad truth that the vast majority of blind people have not had the opportunity for proper training in the alternative skills of blindness and the sustaining attitudes that would render them successful job seekers and workers.
If we are guided by the Biblical injunction, "Seek the truth, and the truth shall set you free," rather than contributing to the creation and perpetuation of myths and misconceptions about a 70 percent unemployment rate, we may indeed find the truth we have been seeking. Well, what is this truth that can set us free? It turns out not to be all that mysterious and, I hope, not at all hazardous to the seeker. I would say that this is the truth that the National Federation of the Blind has pursued since its founding in 1940. It is the truth that blindness can be managed in the social and physical environment by proper training, adopting a positive philosophical attitude, and persuading others to understand this truth. Little by little, but a little too slowly, this truth is beginning to prevail.
by Kenneth Jernigan
From the Editor: Not long ago a reader wrote to take issue with an article I had written in the November 2008 issue titled, “No Such Thing as Blind Culture.” He did not so much object to the notion that blind people are actually part of the mainstream culture as express shock and anger that I had not used politically correct language when referring to what he termed “persons with blindness.” In my response I referred this reader to the article that Kenneth Jernigan wrote in the August 1993 issue of the Braille Monitor in which he explained why we do not adhere to the frequent practice of employing people-first language. In looking up the correct citation to give this reader, I was surprised to discover that the article appeared more than fifteen years ago. I also discovered that immediately following Dr. Jernigan’s article was an equally sound piece by longtime Federationist and disability scholar Ed Vaughan. It seems a good time to reprint both articles. If anything the plague of awkward circumlocutions in an effort not to shock us too quickly with the fact of our disability is even worse than it was in 1993. The Braille Monitor continues to cling to its conviction that vigorous prose is a virtue and that blind people can stand to read one of the adjectives that describe them before they arrive at the noun. Blind people we are, and we are content to be described as such. Here are the two articles:
As civilizations decline, they become increasingly concerned with form over substance, particularly with respect to language. At the time of the First World War we called it shell shock—a simple term, two one-syllable words, clear and descriptive. A generation later, after the Second World War had come and gone, we called it combat fatigue. It meant the same thing, and there were still just two words—but the two syllables had grown to four. Today the two words have doubled, and the original pair of syllables have mushroomed to eight. It even has an acronym, PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder. It still means the same thing, and it still hurts as much, but it is more in tune with current effete sensibilities.
It is also a perfect example of the pretentious euphemisms that characterize almost everything we do and say. Euphemisms and the politically correct language which they exemplify are sometimes only prissy, sometimes ridiculous, and sometimes tiresome. Often, however, they are more than that. At their worst they obscure clear thinking and damage the very people and causes they claim to benefit.
The blind have had trouble with euphemisms for as long as anybody can remember, and late twentieth-century America is no exception. The form has changed (in fact, everything is very "politically correct"), but the old notions of inferiority and second-class status still remain. The euphemisms and the political correctness don't help. If anything, they make matters worse since they claim modern thought and new enlightenment. Here is a recent example from the federal government:
United States Department of Education
May 4, 1993
TO: Office for Civil Rights Senior Staff
FROM: Jeanette J. Lim, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
SUBJECT: Language Reference to Persons with a Disability
As you know, the October 29, 1992, Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 replaced the term "handicap" with the term "disability." This term should be used in all communications.
OCR recognizes the preference of individuals with disabilities to use phraseology that stresses the individuality of all children, youth, and adults, and then the incidence of a disability. In all our written and oral communications, care should be given to avoid expressions that many persons find offensive. Examples of phraseology to avoid and alternative suggestions are noted below.
In addition, please avoid using phrases such as "the deaf," "the mentally retarded," or "the blind." The only exception to this policy involves instances where the outdated phraseology is contained in a quote or a title, or in legislation or regulations; it is then necessary to use the citation verbatim.
I hope this information has been helpful to you. If you have any questions about any of these favored and disfavored expressions, feel free to contact Jean Peelen, Director, Elementary and Secondary Education Policy Division, at (202) 205-8637.
That is what the memorandum says, and if it were an isolated instance, we could shrug it off and forget it. But it isn't. It is more and more the standard thinking, and anybody who objects is subject to sanction.
Well, we of the National Federation of the Blind do object, and we are doing something about it. At our recent national convention in Dallas we passed a resolution on the subject, and we plan to distribute it throughout the country and press for action on it . Here it is:
WHEREAS, the word “blind” accurately and clearly describes the condition of being unable to see, as well as the condition of having such limited eyesight that alternative techniques are required to do efficiently the ordinary tasks of daily living that are performed visually by those having good eyesight; and
WHEREAS, there is increasing pressure in certain circles to use a variety of euphemisms in referring to blindness or blind persons―euphemisms such as “hard of seeing,” “visually challenged,” “sightless,” “visually impaired,” “people with blindness,” “people who are blind,” and the like; and
WHEREAS, a differentiation must be made among these euphemisms: some (such as “hard of seeing,” “visually challenged,” and “people with blindness”) being totally unacceptable and deserving only ridicule because of their strained and ludicrous attempt to avoid such straightforward, respectable words as “blindness,” “blind,” “the blind,” “blind person,” or “blind persons;” others (such as “visually impaired,” and “visually limited”) being undesirable when used to avoid the word “blind” and acceptable only to the extent that they are reasonably employed to distinguish between those having a certain amount of eyesight and those having none; still others (such as “sightless”) being awkward and serving no useful purpose; and still others (such as “people who are blind” or “persons who are blind”) being harmless and not objectionable when used in occasional and ordinary speech but being totally unacceptable and pernicious when used as a form of political correctness to imply that the word “person” must invariably precede the word “blind” to emphasize the fact that a blind person is first and foremost a person; and
WHEREAS, this euphemism concerning people or persons who are blind--when used in its recent trendy, politically correct form--does the exact opposite of what it purports to do since it is overly defensive, implies shame instead of true equality, and portrays the blind as touchy and belligerent; and
WHEREAS, just as an intelligent person is willing to be so designated and does not insist upon being called “a person who is intelligent” and a group of bankers are happy to be called bankers and have no concern that they be referred to as persons who are in the banking business, so it is with the blind―the only difference being that some people (blind and sighted alike) continue to cling to the outmoded notion that blindness (along with everything associated with it) connotes inferiority and lack of status; now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled in the city of Dallas, Texas, this 9th day of July, 1993, that the following statement of policy be adopted:We believe that it is respectable to be blind, and although we have no particular pride in the fact of our blindness, neither do we have any shame in it. To the extent that euphemisms are used to convey any other concept or image, we deplore such use. We can make our own way in the world on equal terms with others, and we intend to do it.
by C. Edwin Vaughan
From the Editor: Dr. Vaughan is a frequent contributor to these pages and a scholar in the field of disability. His most recent book, The Struggle of Blind People for Self-Determination, published by Charles C. Thomas, is available for $40 in bookstores or from the National Center for the Blind. Many of us who write and speak frequently about blindness and the problems that blind people face have struggled in recent years against the increasing pressure to use what has come to be called "people-first" or "preferred" language. It is unwieldy and repetitive, and any ear tuned to appreciate vigorous, precise prose must be offended by its impact on a good sentence. But proponents of this formulaic circumlocution have decided that mention of the person must always precede reference to his or her disability or the effect will be to show disrespect for the individual under discussion. The result has been to shame many good speakers and writers into forms of expression to which they would never otherwise have stooped. Dr. Vaughan has had enough, and so have many of the rest of us. We are ashamed neither of who we are nor of the characteristics that help to shape us. Here is what he has to say:
From the editorial concerns of academic journals to the opinions of individual educators and agency directors, I encounter a continuing agenda for bringing uniformity in the language used to describe disabled people. Proponents would have everyone use people-first language, such as "people who are blind" rather than "blind people" or "a person who is deaf" rather than "a deaf person." By so doing they claim to focus on the whole person rather than the disability. In April, 1993, an agency executive, expressing his concern for uniform usage, wrote to Dr. Jernigan, "The point is that the language is now putting people first rather than our disability." He went on to say that there had been agreement about this in the Independent Living movement for several years.
In that same month, in a meeting of the editorial board of a major journal in the field of rehabilitation, a prominent educator argued that the blindness field should "get on with it." I have also received specific instruction from journal editors to use the preferred language--"people who are blind." I regret to say that I have sometimes acquiesced in order to get an article past the gatekeepers. The issue has become so important to some that it has even led to empirical research published in major journals.
One of the most recent is an article by Jan La Forge (1991) which tabulated the use of preferred language in all major articles in three major rehabilitation journals in 1988 (p. 50). She concluded that, despite fifteen years of professional effort, preferred language is used only about fifty percent of the time (p. 50). "Perhaps those of us in the rehabilitation profession may need to confront our own possible limiting attitudes before we are enabled to lead the public in consistently employing language signifying positive regard for all humankind--including those with disabilities" (p. 51). Using the preferred language--persons first--puts the so-called correct user on the side of humanity and human rights--surely a good place to be. However, near the end of her research, she includes what I judge to be a crucial observation: "We do not even have data to support the claim, and belief, that those who are disabled themselves prefer what is now called nondisabling language" (p. 51). Most of the arguments I have encountered are put forward by the proponents of preferred language, who are so immersed in their crusade that they do not even demonstrate an awareness of other points of view. But these other views, the subject of this paper, make the people-first crusade appear not very holy and perhaps even harmful.
Sometimes preferred language is rejected for literary reasons; it is awkward, tiresome, and repetitive, and it makes articles needlessly long. Reading repetitions of the phrases "persons who are blind" or "people who are visually impaired" becomes tiresome to anyone after ten to fifteen occurrences. This criticism is certainly on the mark; however, it is the least significant of the arguments against the preferred language crusade.
I wonder if the proponents of people-first language believe that putting disabled people first on the printed page accomplishes anything in the real world? Does it alter attitudes, professional or otherwise, about disabilities? What is their evidence? The awkwardness of the preferred language calls attention to a person as having some type of "marred identity" (Goffman, 1963). But the misconceptions that diminish the lives of disabled people must still be countered directly.
There are at least two ways to look at this issue. First, the awkwardness of the preferred language focuses on the disability in a new and potentially negative way. In common usage positive pronouns usually precede nouns. We do not say, "people who are beautiful," "people who are handsome," "people who are intelligent," etc. Under the guise of the preferred language crusade, we have focused on disability in an ungainly new way but have done nothing to educate anyone or change anyone's attitudes.
Second, we are told that preferred usage will cause us to focus on the whole person. In the best of all possible worlds, where ignorance, stereotypes, and advantages over others do not exist, this might be the case. But until we reach that condition--and that will be a long time coming--might it not be preferable to use language that reflects the actual experiences of most disabled people? In interaction with others, disabilities are almost never ignored. Disabled people learn to manage such situations. If we are going to expend this concentrated effort, why not launch a broader-based, more substantive crusade which would change images and ideas about conditions that are sometimes frightening and seldom well understood? For example, why not work on changing the connotations of what it means to be blind--to challenge old understandings with new insights about blindness? Many blind people are proud of the accomplishments of their brothers and sisters. Just as black became beautiful, blind is no longer a symbol of shame. To say, "I am blind" or "I am a blind person" no longer seems negative to many, particularly those groups with existential interest in the topic.
Finally, in the broadest sense this issue is a political one. From the first book of the Judeo/Christian Bible to the work of Michel Foucault, giving a name is important and suggests domination (Vaughan, 1993, pp. 115-142). There are many different kinds of people with various disabilities. Some groups may have progressed more than others in their effort to redefine their situations in the wider society. Some individuals and groups of individuals wish to name themselves (or at least not have new labels, preferred usage, created for them by experts who would do them good.) So why the current people-first language crusade? Why not respect the wishes and diversity of many directly involved individuals and consumer groups? Is this not in part what empowerment is about? No one objects to other people's use of awkward phrases such as "persons with blindness," if they want to be tedious writers. But isn't it pretentious to make such convolutions the preferred or even the only acceptable constructions? Is this not rather the effort of some misguided professionals who, without listening, are trying to change the world of those they purport to serve?
I know that many well-meaning professionals will disagree and wonder how anyone could question the benevolence of the preferred language crusaders. To me, however, this is a measure of their isolation from the very thinking and actions within disability groups that hold the greatest prospect for changing attitudes and behavior. The concept of preferred language is merely academic--in the worse sense of the term. It means very little with respect to anything of consequence in the everyday world. We can only hope that the day will come when editors will retreat from their misguided demands and once again allow language to become the carrier of positive images as well as letting it reflect the wishes of disabled people themselves.
Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
La Forge, Jan. 1991. Preferred language practice in professional rehabilitation journals. The Journal of Rehabilitation, 57 (1):49-51. (January, February, March)Vaughan, C. Edwin. 1993. The Struggle of Blind People for Self-Determination; The Dependency-Rehabilitation Conflict; Empowerment in the Blindness Community. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas.
by Paul Harpur
From the Editor: Paul Harpur, who is a lawyer, associate lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and a PhD candidate, offered to write a short article for the Braille Monitor about the importance of the NFB/Google settlement to print-disabled academics and professional researchers. This is what he says:
Open any book on research methodologies and the first step almost always involves reading leading textbooks in the field. For researchers who cannot read standard print this first step creates a substantial barrier. Some researchers simply ignore textbooks and go straight to journal articles, reports, legislation, or case law. It is possible with back referencing to adopt this research methodology, but it is far from ideal. In most situations failing to read leading textbooks means the resulting paper lacks the degree of analysis that can only be provided by leading scholars in the field. Arguably the settlement the NFB reached with Google late last year will significantly improve the ability of print-disabled researchers to access textbooks.
Googlebooks have scanned over a million books into digital form and created access online. For books that are out of copyright, users are able to click on a button and download the entire book in PDF. For books still subject to copyright protection, Googlebook will provide more limited access. The Googlebook search engine will identify the pages in most textbooks where search terms appear and can provide a table of contents with most textbooks. Until recently this great resource has been a closed book for print-disabled users who use screen readers such as JAWS or Window-Eyes. The settlement the NFB reached with Google should open all these Googlebook services to print-disabled users.
If implemented, the NFB/Google settlement will arguably provide print-disabled researchers substantial assistance in performing high-quality research. Currently a print-disabled researcher can identify titles of likely textbooks on Googlebook. Because the contents page and page numbers generally don’t appear in an accessible format, there is no way to identify what part of the book is potentially useful. Without a table of contents a researcher is unable to determine if the title means the book has useful chapters. For example, the title of a book on universal design may indicate that it is relevant, but the chapter headings may indicate that the book adopts an extremely legalistic approach when the researcher is after a practical guide to implementing universal design. The ability of the researcher to read the table of contents will increase his or her ability to find relevant chapters.
The identification of relevant page numbers in textbooks has the potential of substantially reducing the time print-disabled students spend scanning library books. Generally researchers can now identify only that a particular chapter has information on a point. If the researcher is after an obscure point, the information may be found on a few pages. Currently researchers need to scan an entire chapter and scroll through it to find the relevant pages. The NFB settlement with Google should alter this procedure and enable researchers to identify relevant pages with greater ease. Rather than scanning entire books, print-disabled researchers will be able to identify what pages they think could be relevant and scan only those. This will save both scanning and reading time.
Print-disabled researchers associated with an educational institution in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries have a number of the textbooks provided to them on disc in electronic files. While this is fantastic, often these textbooks in alternate format do not enable the student to identify which page they are reading. This becomes a substantial problem if they need to cite or quote the textbook. The Harvard Bluebook, the American Psychological Association Citation Guide, and most other referencing guides require authors to pinpoint references. For sighted researchers this entails simply looking to the top or bottom of the page. For people using an electronic version, pinpointing citations can involve serious complications. If for example the researcher knows the quote comes from a chapter of thirty pages but does not know precisely what page, he or she must ask a sighted person to assist in checking a paper copy of the textbook. When Googlebook is fully accessible, a researcher with a print disability should be able simply to search Googlebook for the title and part of the phrase. The results should enable researchers to identify quickly and independently the page on which the quote appears. This will create greater independence and save time.Arguably the technology revolution creates the possibility to increase universal design and to enable people with print disabilities to access material without having to scan and convert it. Sadly the potential of these technological advancements is often not fully realized for legal and policy reasons. The NFB/Google settlement represents a move to embrace universal design and harness the potential of technological advancements to reduce barriers to people with print disabilities succeeding educationally and professionally.
by Jerry Whittle
From the Editor: During this year-long Braille Readers are Leaders campaign we will from time to time ask Braille teachers to share Braille tips and reflections arising from their teaching experience. We also hope to reprint some reflections from students who are learning the code. We hope that together these offerings may inspire our readers to take up Braille or practice it more consistently. We invite anyone with a contribution to make to this ongoing conversation to send an essay to <[email protected]>.
Jerry Whittle is the Braille instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Since he is the senior NFB center Braille instructor, it is fitting that he should be the first teacher to offer his Braille wisdom. This is what he says:
The two-handed technique of reading Braille is far superior to any other method. After twenty-three years of teaching Braille, I am convinced that the two-handed method—starting the line with the left hand and completing it with the right while the left hand tracks down to the line below—is the way to approach Braille literacy.
Over the years I have timed well over sixty Braille readers who could read three hundred words a minute or more; all of them used this two-handed method. All of them used more than one finger on each hand—some a total of five fingers, some with eight fingers. Therefore it pays to put the flesh on the Braille line.
Here is another interesting fact: in 70 percent of the Braille readers, the left hand is more sensitive; thus people who learn to read with only the right hand while the left hand only finds each succeeding line never discover that the left hand probably reads better. Many of my students have doubled or tripled their speed over a six-to-nine-month training period by working on the two-handed method and strengthening the left hand. This takes work and dedication and hundreds of pages, but those sedulous students who have maintained rigid daily page goals have reaped the benefits of enhanced Braille literacy.
Only once in twenty-three years of teaching has a student exceeded two hundred and fifty words per minute using only the right hand. She read with the index, middle, and ring fingers on her right hand, and she increased her speed to this level by reading well over three thousand pages; but she could never attain the three-hundred-word plateau. She came to the center reading about one hundred eighty words a minute. She had CP and could use only her right hand. She had been reading Braille from the first grade like the two-handed readers who surpassed three hundred words a minute. By the way, about ten of these read over four hundred words a minute, and three surpassed five hundred words.
If you want to increase your speed, use the two-handed method. Read ten hours or more a week, and use the best hand, probably the left, to read most of the line. Finally, let as many fingers as possible glide with the index fingers. If you want to improve the left hand, find a high interest, low vocabulary book and read with only the left hand for as many pages as needed to discover just how well it can distinguish Braille patterns; then begin incorporating it with the right hand. If you maintain your daily reading goals, you will probably increase your reading rate by about ten words a minute every two weeks. Read books that stimulate your interest and keep you motivated, and try to read when you are fresh and alert. I am a morning person, and I go a little groggy around nine p.m., so I read early in the morning and in the afternoon on weekends, but others like the wee hours of the morning. If it works for you, it is right.
Amy Weaver’s Diary
Editor’s Note: Amy Weaver did not know Braille before enrolling in the Louisiana Center for the Blind in late January of 2009. Although diabetic with possible sensitivity loss in her hands, she has approached her Braille class with a positive and dedicated enthusiasm. Hailing from Mobile, Alabama, and having earned a degree from a local university, this hard-working young woman wants Braille literacy enough to pay the price of many hours of dedicated effort. Here is the first entry in her weekly diary:
January 31, 2009: Here I am at thirty-five years of age, and I’m singing the alphabet song again. With the help of my instructor and some caring students in the apartments, I have already learned to write my alphabet on the slate—with occasional errors. I also completed a to g in the manual. I hope my mind can retain the code. I am also hoping that I can someday reach the level of some of my classmates. It seems so far away, but I like the class a lot. I know this will be a challenge. I am learning to read with both hands, and it is hard because I want to use my left hand most of the time, but my instructor scolds me and reassures me that I can read with both hands. Fingers, don’t fail me now.
by Fred Wurtzel
From the Editor: Here is NFB of Michigan President Fred Wurtzel’s most recent offering, describing the entertainment opportunities available during our 2009 convention:
Federationists, prepare to party! You are coming to Detroit July 3 to 8 for the largest gathering of blind people in the world. Any of you who have been at an NFB national convention know that our agenda is crowded from early morning to late at night. However, you may wish to take advantage of this chance to take in a show or concert available only in the biggest cities in the country. In this article we will cover some of the premier theater and concert venues from Broadway to opera to Live Nation rock, all within easy travel distance of the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. We recommend that you either come early or stay late to take full advantage of these fantastic world-class entertainment opportunities. For more places and up-to-date schedules, check <http://www.visitdetroit.com/index.php/culture>.
Detroit is a surprising city. A lot of entertainers love Detroit audiences. We are enthusiastic and educated and love a good time. Detroit’s industrial titans built theaters and arenas to rival the world’s best. They are here in their splendor with events for everyone. Did you know that Detroit has the second largest number of theater seats in the U.S.? Detroit is a hub of world-class entertainment. Schedules weren’t available at this writing for the venues below, so check with them closer to our convention.
The Fox Theater, within reasonable walking distance of our convention headquarters and near the People Mover, is the second largest theater in the country, smaller only than Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Detroit business leaders Mike and Marion Ilitch of Little Caesar's Pizza reopened this showplace after a complete renovation and restoration in 1988. The Fox Theater has all the style and grace of the classic showplace that it was built to be. The Fox hosts plays and a lot of concerts, both pop and classical.
The Fisher Building houses the Fisher Theater. The building and theater were designed by the famous architect Albert Kahn. It is just west of Woodward in the New Center area of Detroit and easily accessible by public transportation. The lobby arcade of the building is worth visiting just for the experience. The elaborate Fisher arcade includes forty varieties of marble. The stone came from France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Africa, New York, Massachusetts, and Missouri. Every detail is elegant, and one can appreciate much of it by touch. The theater is the main Detroit venue for Broadway productions.
Detroit Opera House, home of the Michigan Opera Theater, is the main venue for opera in Detroit. It is near the Fox Theater, within reasonable walking distance of the hotel, and is on the People Mover route. Other performances also take advantage of its near perfect acoustics to present the best in entertainment; however, opera shows the care that went into the design of the space. The theater is decorated in the Italian Renaissance style with lavish crystal chandeliers, frescoes, brass fixtures, and marble stairways and drinking fountains. Rich rose-red Italian damask is used for the main-stage curtain and draperies throughout the house. Tours are available. Check later for scheduled performances.
For national and international pop and rock, the newly refurbished State Theater, now known as the Fillmore, is the place to go. Next to the Fox Theater, it is easily accessible from the Marriott by foot or People Mover. Here is a quote from the Webpage: “For most of its Detroit history, this ultra-hip concert venue, built in 1925, was known as the State Theatre. It received its official re-branding in 2007 when new chandeliers, poster exhibits, and a burgundy-heavy scheme were implemented to capture the visual spirit of the original San Francisco landmark. Hippies beware: no tie-dye or peace symbols here, ma-a-an. A rich schedule, heavy with music from the MTV generation, finds throngs of Gen Xers flocking to this premier concert venue.”
Fox Theater, 2211 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan 48201; (313) 471-6611; Website: <www.olympiaentertainment.com>.
Fisher Theatre General Information, The Fisher Theatre; 3011 W. Grand Boulevard; Detroit, Michigan 48202; phone numbers: box office and ticket info. (313) 872-1000; Ticketmaster charge by phone: (800) 982-2787; business office: Monday-Friday 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., (313) 872-1000; emergency during shows: (313) 872-1111; lost and found: (313) 872-1000.
Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit, Michigan 48226; (313) 961-3500; fax: (313) 237-3412; <www.michiganopera.org>.
Fillmore, 2115 Woodward, Detroit, Michigan 48201; (313) 961-5450; <www.livenation.com/venue>; <http://detroit.metromix.com/music/metal/the-fillmore-detroit-foxtown-theatre-district/346224/content>.
by Tom Yee
From the Editor: The following interview is reprinted from the Library Services Journal, Fall 2008, Volume I, Number 3. The interviewee is our friend and colleague in the blindness field, Frank Kurt Cylke. The article is reprinted with permission:
Tom Yee, assistant chief of the Cataloging Policy and Support Office of the Acquisitions Access Directorate, recently talked with Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically handicapped, on his thirty-nine year Library career and the services provided by the NLSBPH.
Kurt, what brought you to LC in 1970?
Let me go back to two things. One, believe it or not, was a lifelong dream that some day I would work at the Library of Congress. I never thought that I would be involved with library services for the blind and physically handicapped, but I wished to be at the Library of Congress. The second thing was my meeting with two individuals who stand out to me as mentors, friends, and colleagues.
In March 1968 I came to Washington to run the Library Research and Development Branch at what was then the Office of Education, now the Department of Education. I ran that branch for about a year or a year and a half. And in that time I came into contact with two people whom I called “the Saints”: Dr. Elizabeth Stone, Betty Stone, who was the dean of the Catholic University library school, and Paul Howard, who was the founder of the American Library Association office in Washington, librarian at the Department of the Interior, and also of what is now called FLICC, the Federal Library and Information Center Committee, but was at that time called the Federal Library Committee. I was doing business with him; we made grants and awards, and so forth, and there were various studies that brought me in contact with both Paul and Betty. When Paul was retiring, he called and asked if I was interested in replacing him at the Library of Congress as the head of the Federal Library Committee. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but at first I said no. I felt that I needed a couple of years’ more experience at the Office of Education. But as I thought about the matter, it became clear that I didn’t really have a future at Education. So I made a call back the next day and said, “Yes, I’d like to come.” After one thing and another, I met Quincy Mumford, John Lorenz, and Elizabeth Hamer—they interviewed me. I remember specifically being interviewed at the Monocle, a Capital Hill restaurant.
Wow, a lunch interview with the librarian, deputy librarian, and assistant librarian of Congress! What was that like?
It was one of the most interesting interviews I ever had. Among other things, we discussed clamming in Connecticut because Quincy had a summer place in Connecticut and I had originally come from Connecticut. We discussed digging clams and whether we did it with our feet and our toes or dug them out with a shovel. I said I did it with my toes, and, as it turned out, so did he. I’d like to think that my toes brought me to the Library of Congress. I asked him why he asked that question, and he gave me an interesting answer, expressing an interview philosophy that I, myself, followed afterward. He said that obviously I was qualified for the job or I wouldn’t be having the conversation, so what he wanted to know was whether I could get along with him. After we talked about clamming, he decided that the answer was that I could. So that was that.
The relationship with Paul Howard obviously preceded my arrival and, socially, continued afterwards. My relationship with Betty Stone, a very meaningful one to me, began during my twenty-five years of adjunct work at Catholic University, where I taught a course in special librarianship. While at the Office of Education, I executed several contracts with Catholic University and the Library of Congress.
By 1970 I was head of the Federal Library Committee and also head of a joint task force with the national libraries of agriculture and medicine and the Library of Congress. That too is part of what brought me here.
Well, then, what led up to your appointment in 1973 as director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped?
Well, you don’t prepare for a job like the one I have. There is only one job like it in the United States. So one would be foolish to spend any time thinking about how you would get such a job until it became available. My predecessor here, who did a superb job, was a fellow named Robert Bray. Unfortunately, he developed a fatal illness and was forced to retire. This was tragic, but in consequence the position became open. I said to myself, “Well, should I apply?” I recalled an author whose books I collect, Arthur Ransome. I remembered a phrase from one of his novels. It says, “Grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for a might have been.” So after thinking about that a bit, I said, “What the heck, I’ll go for it.” I did, and I was successful. Quincy Mumford appointed me to the position, and that’s how I arrived at Taylor Street.
Looking at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped right now, what is the extent and scope of the services it provides?
Members of the blind community, until very recently, until the advent of the computer, had very limited opportunities to engage in many activities—I mean “regular” activities. And one of the activities that they enjoyed the most, and missed the most if they had sight before becoming blind, was reading. A reading program was established about seventy-seven years ago to serve the adult blind community. Through the years it was modified so that it became available not only to the adult blind but also to the juvenile blind. Then in the late 1960s, physically handicapped individuals also were introduced in the program.
So blind and physically handicapped are tied together as they relate to reading?
Blindness means one cannot read print with correction (use of prescription eye glasses), and physically handicapped means one might have perfect eyesight but one can’t hold the book or turn the pages. Various situations, physical situations, could put you in that condition, including temporary situations. For example, if you had a detached retina and were required to lie in bed for a period of time, or if heart disease kept you in a hospital for a period of time, you would be eligible for help from the program. It also serves people who have such things as Parkinson’s disease, or, people who have been in military service and have lost limbs, conditions of that sort. So what do we at NLS do for them? Well, we make a public library service available. We have a collection of two million items for reading. Counting copies of books in multiple locations, we have more than twenty million copies of books around the country. We provide these books through a network of libraries, replicating the service of a library system in a medium-sized city in the United States. Regional libraries and subregional libraries actually provide direct service to our users.
What is LC’s role?
The Library of Congress selects the books, reproduces them in audio or in Braille, and distributes these versions to a network of 140 libraries, which as I just mentioned provide the direct service. They provide not only the circulation of the books but also the reference service and the personal service that individuals may require. We provide a full range of public library services to a special community interested in receiving them. Carolyn Sung is the head of our network services section. Carolyn and her part of NLS work with the American Library Association. The other side of our program, guided by Michael Katzmann, designs and contracts for the machines that make the program’s physical items work.
I spend a great deal of my time working with or “interfacing” (though I don’t like that word I’ll use it) with the blind community. I’m involved with two organizations, the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind. For almost forty years I have spent every Fourth of July but one with the National Federation of the Blind at its annual conference because the conference is held in July, and the next week each year I’ve spent some time with the American Council of the Blind. One year, when the meetings didn’t occur in July, I was home for the Fourth of July and was dumbfounded to see all that I had been missing. I didn’t realize that we had a parade in our town on the Fourth, and evidently my wife and family had a barbecue at my home each year, and all my friends were there, but I never was. Anyway, that’s what we at NLS do—we select books, we reproduce the books in media that are appropriate, we ship them to libraries around the country, and the local librarians run the service.
But doesn’t NLS now also provide digital services?
Yes, at this point we’re also providing an automated digital service. We have a digital download program for Braille and we have a digital download program for audio. This is a major change. Unfortunately, only a minority of blind and handicapped people can take advantage of this, but the minority of people who can take advantage do so and love it. However, there’s nothing we make available to download that is not available also in hard copy Braille or in cassette/cartridge audio form.
In your thirty-five years as director of NLS, which programs have given you the most professional and personal satisfaction?
When the program started out for adults only, we provided books in Braille, paper Braille, and audio recordings on 78-rpm records. Over time the audio went from 78 to 33, and 33 went to 16, and 16 went to 8 1/3 rpm. My predecessor Bob Bray had experimented with wire recording. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the wire, but their use lasted a very short time for multiple reasons. For example, the sound was not particularly good, and also people could cut themselves with the wire. It was wire from reel to reel. We began recording on cassettes, but then we had copyright concerns. We recorded all the books with no financial remuneration to the authors, and at that time we had to request permission to do so. We had to keep track of our books so they could not be used by the general public. Eventually, we developed a compromise, a cassette system with four sides, four tracks, in half speed. Each book was put on two and a half cassettes, on the average. Thus, the books could not be easily copied. The average three-hundred-page book would get on two and a half cassettes.
To produce such cassettes, we had to design a special machine, a sound-recording machine. Even when we had two versions of the machine, a standard machine and an “easy” machine, there were still buttons that had to be pushed and cassettes that had to be turned over, and it was quite awkward for users. The coming of digital technology made the whole thing different. Realizing that digital was the future, we started about ten years ago to try to take advantage of it. In developmental work, we took some “wow” guesses, but the wow guesses were based on very serious research, and we determined that we were going to skip use of the compact discs because the compact disc is very fragile; it’s not robust at all. Blind people would have to handle it, and they could damage it by inadvertent scraping, and you can’t put Braille on it, not very well, and compact discs also had other problems. So we skipped their use and went to what we call a “flash-memory” technology in which there are no moving parts. I’ve actually brought people here to try to explain to us how something can work with no moving parts, and I still don’t understand. But at any rate we can put a full book on one flash (nonvolatile, solid state media) the size of my thumb, and play it on a Talking Book machine, and that’s fantastic. Even better than that, the machine is designed to talk to users. You put it on, and it says, “This is a Talking Book machine.” Then it tells you that, if you want to use it, you push a certain button—this one is to go forward, this one is to go backward, and so forth—and it speaks to you. If you do something wrong, it says you’re naughty and shouldn’t do that. No, it doesn’t actually say that, but using the talking machine is as close to reading with print as you can get, because you can go backward, you can go forward, you can start again and pick up where you had stopped, you can bookmark, and you can go to specified chapters and pages, and so forth. It’s just a totally revolutionary thing. So what has given me the most enjoyment has been getting from the 8 1/3-rpm record to the cassette—to the half-speed, four-track cassette—and now to the digital. Now, obviously I did not personally do all that. We have a staff that did that. We have been very fortunate to have highly qualified engineers. The chap who is in charge of that now is Michael Katzmann, the head of our engineering efforts. Michael has built a staff of engineers behind him; it’s those fellows who really do the job. Right now we’re building a prototype of the flash-memory system.
Any developments in the area of Braille?
Braille is important, but only approximately 20 percent of the population we serve read Braille. Audio use is 95 percent. In other words, there are some people who are deaf and blind who can’t use the audio, so we produce Braille books both in paper hardcopies (a normal book, say a novel, would take four Braille volumes, each one maybe two-and-a-half inches thick) and also in a digital form, which people can download.
In 1994 Dr. Billington cited you for providing exceptional service to visually and physically impaired persons. Outside of the services to the blind, what NLS services are available to people physically handicapped?
Well, all the services. Very few people are totally blind in the United States or anywhere else in the world. Most are visually impaired. In other words, some may have “travel sight,” which means they can be mobile with the help of a cane but they cannot read standard print. Physically handicapped persons may be able to read standard print, maybe not, but most can’t hold a book or turn the pages. So all our services are available, but it’s really the audio services that physically handicapped individuals require rather than Braille.
Having received numerous awards over the years, such as the 1964 John Cotton Dana Award; the Golden Cassette Award for Library Partnership, awarded in 2007 by the Braille Institute of America; and the Robert Bray Award from the American Council of the Blind, also awarded in 2007, which award are you most proud of receiving and why?
There are two. One is the Newel Perry Award from the National Federation of the Blind. As I told you, I’ve involved myself with both the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind, and it’s a total involvement—some people say too much. In other words, I’m not blind, but I almost consider myself part of the blind community. We have arrangements where I meet with the National Federation of the Blind at various times, and, also, I speak at their chapter meetings. This is very important. We get a great deal of criticism from the Federation, and from the American Council of the Blind. When I say criticism, I mean positive criticism as well as negative criticism. And even the negative is very important because it alerts us to things we are not doing well. We have a blind employee, Judy Dixon, who received a doctorate in psychology. She is our consumer relations person and sits in on all the meetings to make sure blindness is considered when making decisions. When we went seeking money to convert books for use in the digital program, the blind community was there to help us. They were there because they enjoyed and benefitted from the service. I was dumbfounded when they presented the Newel Perry award to me in 2005. I have it hanging on my office wall. It means a lot to me. It’s not just the award. It attests to relationships. Kenneth Jernigan, a leader of the blind who is deceased—with him I had a wonderful working relationship. Marc Maurer, who is now the president of the organization; John Paré, who is on the National Federation of the Blind staff; and many others—I look at them as friends, as associates, almost as close as brothers. The wonderful thing is that if they don’t like something or something needs to be tweaked, they’re the first to tell me. Another award I prize is the American Library Association Award, called the Joseph Lippincott Award. Receiving this award took me by surprise because I’m not a member of any association. So for the American Library Association to recognize me, along with people I have really admired, such as John Lorenz and John Cole, an outstanding librarian award was fantastic. But I’m not as emotionally wrapped up with librarians as I am with blind people.
So outside of your many professional accomplishments, please elaborate on your interesting list of personal activities, seemingly centered around books, the sea, and the author Arthur Ransome.
Arthur Ransome: when I was nine years old (I can remember the day), my mother took me by the hand, and I walked into the Donald G. Mitchell Branch of the New Haven Public Library and found a book called Swallows and Amazons. Arthur Ransome was a war correspondent, was in Russia in 1917, wrote about China and fly fishing—he had quite a life. His other life was writing a series of children’s books. The books are Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, Coot Club, and We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, among others. I became fascinated with them, and the characters became real to me. I was one of the early members of the international group called the Arthur Ransome Society. What I quoted earlier—“grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for a might have been”—came from We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. On my honeymoon, my wife and I visited Montreal. I walked into a bookstore, and there was a paperback book with an island on it and I said, “My God, that’s Swallows and Amazons.” I started collecting, and now I have, I believe, the largest personal collection of Ransome’s work. I did some interesting things when Ransome died. I wrote to his eulogist, Rupert Heart Davis. Nobody was collecting Ransome’s works at that time, and I asked Davis for a copy of the eulogy. He sent me his manuscript copy, signed.
There was a member at the Ransome Society whom my wife thought was strange—a woman up in Maine—who said that she guided her life by what Susan in Ransome’s books would think of her. My wife said that I was associating with a group of strange people. However, I find it mesmerizing that there’s a whole group of us, an international group. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of Ransome, the children, and the activities that are so motivational.
by Christine Miller Ford
From the Editor: The following story appeared in the Mineral Daily News Tribune in Keyser, West Virginia, on Thursday, November 28, 2008, (Thanksgiving Day), and the GateHouse News Service circulated it. The subject of the profile is longtime NFB of West Virginia leader and former NFB national board member Ed McDonald and his wife Karen. Here it is:
It's likely that more West Virginians are now hearing Ed McDonald's unique mix of contemporary acoustic music rooted in the traditions of folk, bluegrass, and blues. In recent weeks Sidetracks, the popular hour-long program that McDonald and his wife Karen have put together from their home in Keyser each week since 1998, is still airing on West Virginia Public Radio stations on Fridays, but now two hours earlier, at 9 p.m. McDonald said he hopes the change will pay off with a larger audience for the program. "A lot of times we hear from folks who say they really enjoy Sidetracks but don't like staying up till 11 o'clock,” he said. "Audience surveys show the number of listeners tends to peak during drive time around 7 p.m. and then gradually taper off every hour after that. Being on early should mean more people listening."
Sidetracks can also be heard each week on WFWM-FM (91.9), a station based in Frostburg [Maryland]. That station broadcasts the show at 11 a.m. Saturdays, immediately after Car Talk.
Each Sidetracks show centers on a theme, with McDonald in recent months organizing programs around the one hundredth anniversary of the Mother's Day holiday, Father's Day, the anniversary of West Virginia's statehood, Independence Day, Labor Day, the arrival of fall, and other key dates. "Some themes are just a given as I look through the calendar,” said McDonald, who worked as a DJ in St. Albans near Charleston and other cities in West Virginia before pursuing a master's degree in broadcasting at Ohio University, then returning to his native Keyser in the late 1980s. "Other times I'll follow up on something that's on the news or that strikes me as interesting."
When the Wall Street meltdown hit the nation in late September, McDonald put together a show featuring songs about hard times. The thematic approach comes from the way the McDonalds organize their music collection. McDonald, who, like his wife, is blind, makes Braille labels and attaches them to the CDs as soon as they arrive in the mail. "We have thousands and thousands of CDs, so many that I'm honestly afraid to count them all," said McDonald. "Karen writes up a card for every song that has potential for our show. Then, as I listen to the CDs, I put the cards into different envelopes. It might take a year or longer before I have enough song titles in an envelope to build a show around. When I need a theme, I'll look through my envelopes and see what looks full enough to make a show out of."
At any given time McDonald is working on dozens of themes. Some that he's mulling over for coming months: songs about dogs, songs about wandering, the Civil War, and the two hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth in February. This week's show is a Thanksgiving celebration. "We're featuring songs about home--Thanksgiving being an occasion that often turns our thoughts toward home," McDonald said. Next week Sidetracks starts the first in a series of shows centered on the holiday season.
Besides the West Virginia Public Radio stations around the state, where the program has been a fixture since the fall of 2003, Sidetracks is also heard on community and Internet stations as far away as New York, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and elsewhere.
In part because both McDonalds are West Virginia natives, references to the Mountain State pop up regularly on Sidetracks, as do songs from Hazel Dickens, Kathy Mattea, Tim and Molly O'Brien, and other West Virginia musicians. "I make no apologies about the program being West Virginia-centric," McDonald said. "When I think that maybe that's not a good thing, I look at Garrison Keillor and his focus on Minnesota. That hasn't hurt him. The truth is, the bulk of our listeners are here, and West Virginia artists have learned who we are and make sure that we get a copy of their latest work.”
Having ties to West Virginia, however, isn't enough to land a musician on the program, McDonald said. "We don't play anything from a West Virginia artist if it's not up to our standards," he said. "Karen makes sure of that."
Karen McDonald, the show's music director and associate producer, for years worked as the director of the Farmington Youth Experience community choir. She also plays the piano and other instruments. In addition to adding to the audience for Sidetracks in 2009, the McDonalds hope to establish a Website for the business and find underwriters for the program.
"Our focus for all these years has been on establishing a track record and building an audience, both with radio listeners and among musicians, and we've done those things," he said. "Now we're hoping to find businesses that are willing to invest in us. That's our next big step."
For details on Sidetracks, go online to <http://www.wvpubcast.org/> or contact Ed and Karen McDonald by mail at 151 S. Mineral Street, Keyser, West Virginia 26726.
by Allen Harris
From the Editor: Allen Harris chairs the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund committee. He has an important announcement for those who would like to attend this year's national convention but find themselves short of funds. This is what he says:
The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund is looking for individuals who can use some financial assistance to attend our national convention in Detroit, Michigan. In 2009 our convention will begin on Friday, July 3, and run through Wednesday, July 8. This is an entirely different schedule, and the convention is a day shorter, ending with the banquet Wednesday evening.
Who is eligible to receive a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?
If you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind, you are eligible to apply. However, preference will be given to first-time convention attendees. The scholarship selection committee is able to make an occasional exception, but first-time convention participants are the target group.
What do I have to do to apply for a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?
You must do the following and are responsible for these application requirements:
1. Find out who your state NFB president is and get him or her to write a letter of recommendation for you, or you may have a chapter president or other officer write a letter of recommendation, but we must have a letter from a Federation leader who is familiar with you.
2. You must write a letter to the Kenneth Jernigan Fund committee expressing the reasons why you want a scholarship. Describe your participation in the Federation and what you think you would get and give to the convention. Please send all information to Allen Harris, 219 Meadows Drive, Birmingham, Alabama 35235, or email the information to <[email protected]>.
3. You must register for and attend the entire convention, including the banquet.
How do I get my scholarship funds?
You will get cash at the convention. The times and locations will be listed in the notice you receive if you are a scholarship winner. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist by advancing funds you can pay back when you receive your scholarship.
When will I know if I have been selected as a Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner?
The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:
1. You must make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel your reservation.
2. You will receive a letter with the convention details, which should answer many of your questions. It is also helpful to find a mentor from your chapter or affiliate to act as a friend and advisor during the convention. Although you will not know officially whether or not you have been selected until early May, you must make plans to attend and then adjust your plans accordingly.
This past summer in Dallas the Jernigan Fund Scholarship committee awarded sixty Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships. The average grant was $600. You can include in your letter to the committee any circumstances which the committee may choose to take into consideration. Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention and join several thousand other blind Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world.If you have questions or need additional information, call Allen Harris at (205) 655-8221 or email him at <[email protected]>. You may also email Joy Harris at <[email protected]>. We look forward to seeing you in Detroit and enjoying convention with you and all of our fellow Federationists.
This month’s recipes have been collected by members of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina.
Hash Brown Casserole
by Diane Collins
Diane Collins is president of the Barnwell Chapter of the NFB of South Carolina and a member of the affiliate board of directors.
1 2-pound bag frozen shredded hash browns
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 8-ounce container sour cream
10 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
Method: Mix all ingredients together. Place in a greased 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish and bake open at 350 degrees for forty minutes. Remove from oven and serve when potatoes are browned and bubbly.
Pork Chop Casserole
by Diane Collins
4 to 6 boneless pork chops
1 large onion, sliced
4 medium potatoes, sliced
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
Method: Spray casserole dish with cooking spray and layer potatoes, onions, and finally pork chops in the dish. Pour soup evenly over the surface. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake one hour at 350 degrees.
by Diane Collins
8 ounces Cool Whip
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 pound or more seedless grapes
1/4 cup almonds, sliced
Method: Combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Peanut Butter Blossoms
by Kim Diggs
Kim Diggs is the wife of NFB of South Carolina President Parnell Diggs.
3/4 cup peanut butter
2 cups Bisquick
1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Large bag of Hershey’s Kisses
Method: Mix peanut butter, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Add Bisquick mix and mix well. Roll dough into one-inch balls. Roll each ball in sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350° for six to eight minutes or until brown around the edges. Remove from oven and press a Hershey’s kiss into the top of each cookie. Makes about three dozen.
Orange Congealed Salad
by Kim Diggs
1 small container Cool Whip
1 cup sour cream
1 small package orange Jell-O
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Method: Combine all ingredients except oranges. [That’s right, do not make up the Jell-O; just add the powder to the bowl.] Fold in oranges. Chill for several hours before serving.
Pineapple Cheese Casserole
by Kim Diggs
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup Ritz cracker crumbs
Method: Drain pineapple. Reserve six tablespoons juice. Combine sugar, flour, and juice. Add cheese and pineapple; mix well. Place mixture in one-quart greased casserole dish. Combine melted butter and cracker crumbs. Stir well. Sprinkle over pineapple. Bake at 350 degrees for twenty to thirty minutes or until crumbs have browned lightly. Can also cook in microwave for ten minutes.
News from the Federation Family
The East Hillsborough Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida held its annual election on Saturday, January 10, 2009. The results of the elections are as follows: president, Marion Gwizdala; vice president, Merry Schoch-Gwizdala; secretary, Anice Butler; treasurer, Susan Hefti; fundraising board member, Tom Goldman; legislative board member, Donald Hefti; and membership board member, Jeniece Wilson.
The National Association of Blind Merchants invites you to join us for our annual national training conference for merchant vendors, program staff, and corporate partners.
What: BLAST ’09 Business Leadership and Superior Training
Where: Indianapolis, Indiana, Indianapolis Marriott Downtown
When: April 1 to 4, 2009
Registration begins at 11:00 a.m. April 1
Break out sessions begin at 1:30 p.m.
Why: Knowledge is freedom. The more informed you are, the more you can accomplish. Learn from peers, corporate partners, and program staff. Control your destiny.
Cost: $200 after March 2
RSVP online at <www.blindmerchants.org> or mail your registration to Blind Merchants, 1223 Lake Plaza Drive, Suite D, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906.
If you miss it, you will only have yourself to blame.
Join the Party:
Celebrate the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille with members of the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB). CFB President Elizabeth Lalonde invites everyone to come to our fourth annual convention.
Where: Victoria BC, Canada
When: May 1 to 3, 2009
Thursday evening, April 30, casual dinner followed by a recreational activity.
Friday, May 1, Braille workshop; adaptive technology exhibit; welcome reception and auction
Saturday, May 2, Full-day conference, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Speakers at the conference will discuss topics such as independence, rehabilitation, Braille literacy, employment, expectations, empowerment, and other blindness issues.
Banquet, 6:30–9:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 3, Canadian Federation of the Blind breakfast board meeting, 9:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m.
The convention registration fee is $55 Canadian, if you preregister, and $60 at the door. (Note: the registration fee covers all activities, including Friday evening’s reception and Saturday’s lunch and banquet.) Register by mailing your registration fee to the Canadian Federation of the Blind with a note listing the contact information of each attendee. Alternatively, email your contact information to <[email protected]> and pay your fee using PayPal to <[email protected]>.
The Canadian Federation of the Blind is a movement of the organized blind committed to the equality and empowerment of blind Canadians. We are a sister organization of the National Federation of the Blind in the United States, and our members join the nearest U.S. NFB affiliate in addition to their CFB membership. Our core activities include mentoring, advocacy, and public education. CFB programs are grounded in the philosophy that it’s respectable to be blind, blindness is not a handicap but a characteristic, and with training and opportunity blind people can compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.
For more information about the Canadian Federation of the Blind and our activities, contact us at (800) 619-8789, (250) 598-7154, or <[email protected]>. Visit our Website at <www.cfb.ca>.
The Clark County Chapter of the NFB of Washington conducted its election in January. The results were as follows: president, Les Fitzpatrick; vice president, Vince Ricks; secretary, Beth Manning; and treasurer, Connie Utterback.
The Seattle Chapter of the NFB of Washington conducted its annual elections, and the results are as follows: president, Kris Lawrence (soon to be Colcock); first vice president, Rita Szantay; second vice president, Kay Burrows; treasurer, Doug Johnson; secretary, Marci Carpenter; and board members, Mike Mello and James Jannings.
NFB Writers Division Contests for Youth and Adults:
The dates for the 2009 Writers Division contests are January 1 through (postmarked) April 1. A great new feature this year is that, in addition to our annual short story fiction and poetry contest for adults, we have added a writing contest for youth. See all requirements below.
The Youth Writing Contest is intended to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. We are looking for creative writing in fiction and poetry. This is a contest for students who use Braille. Entries must be submitted in hand-embossed Braille, using either a slate and stylus or a Braillewriter. No computer Braille entries will be considered. Submissions must be Brailled by the entrant. Elementary students (K-5) may submit contracted Braille, uncontracted Braille, or an acceptable combination of the two. Students in higher grades will be expected to submit stories or poetry in contracted Braille.
There are six categories: elementary fiction, elementary poetry, middle school fiction, middle school poetry, high school fiction, and high school poetry. Elementary is K-5. Middle school is 6-8. High school is 9-12.
Three cash prizes will be awarded in each of the six categories. First prize per contest is $25, second prize is $15, and third prize is $5. Submissions for fiction may not exceed one thousand words. Poetry may not exceed twenty lines. Authors may submit multiple entries, and all work must be original and unpublished. Each entrant must provide an identical print copy for possible publication.
Entries must be accompanied by a cover sheet containing entrant’s name, address, phone, email, entry title, and school and grade of entrant. Winners will be announced at our division meeting during the July 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit, Michigan. Send all youth entries to Fred Wurtzel, 1212 N. Foster, Lansing, Michigan 48912.
The NFB Writers Division adult short story and poetry contests will take place during the same period as the youth contest: January 1 through April 1. Top prize in each contest is $100, second prize is $50, and third prize is $25. Winners will be announced at our division meeting during the July 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit.
Short stories can be up to three thousand words and can be in any genre. All work must be original and previously unpublished. If you wish to submit, you are required to send a cover sheet listing all entry titles, name, address, phone, and email (if available). All documents must be double spaced, and, if you are sending hardcopy, documents cannot be handwritten. The cost to submit a single story is $5. You can send either a check or money order made out to the NFB Writers Division.
Submissions may be hardcopy with check enclosed. Send these to Tom Stevens, 1203 S. Fairview Road, Columbia, Missouri 65203. You may also email submissions with cover letter to <[email protected]>. Payment for electronic submissions can be by PayPal if arrangements have been made by then, so check the division Website, <http://www.nfb-writers-division.org>. If you must mail the check, use Tom Stevens’s address above.
Entrants are invited to submit original poetry of up to thirty-six lines. If you wish to submit, you must send a cover sheet listing all entry titles, name, address, phone, and email (if available). All documents must be double spaced and may not be handwritten. The cost is $5 for up to three poems. Send your check or money order made out to the NFB Writers Division.
Send hardcopy submissions and checks by mail to Lori Stayer, 2704 Beach Drive, Merrick, New York 11566. You can also email submissions and cover letters to <[email protected]>. The entry fee can be paid using PayPal if available or mailed to Lori at the above address.
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.
Onkyo Braille Literacy Essay Contest:
The National Federation of the Blind will administer the Onkyo Braille Literacy Essay Contest in the United States on behalf of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. The contest was created to promote Braille literacy and to encourage the exchange of social and cultural information. Blind people in the United States and Canada are eligible to apply.
Essays must be written in Braille and must pertain either to the way one gains knowledge or independence through Braille or to world peace from the perspective of a disabled person. The contest has two categories: one for people twenty-five and younger and the other for people above twenty-five. Four cash prizes will be awarded. The contest began February 1, 2009, and will end April 30, 2009. All entries must be received by April 30.
For more information about the Onkyo Braille Literacy Essay Contest or to obtain the entire application package, contact Trisha Tatam at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2510, or at <[email protected]>. For more about the NFB's Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign, visit <www.braille.org>.
Useful Website Available:
A Monitor reader from Hawaii writes: As a visually impaired individual I have struggled with the massive amount of information available on the Internet. I have constructed a Website to stockpile relevant data in one spot for the blind and visually impaired communities. The Website is an amalgam of various information. A very useful job links page is constantly being updated. By the way, most of these positions are specifically for blind or visually impaired people. The site also has a discussion board that focuses on topics relevant to our community. I have a page on which I interview noted blind or visually impaired people. The resource and vendor links are very useful tools for those seeking this information. It is my goal to make my Website a useful tool for my blind and visually impaired peers. For more information go to <http://www.visuallyimpairedandtheblind.com>.
Outdoor Adventure Program for Teens:
The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) is offering an eight-day outdoor adventure program based in Colorado, August 8 to 15, 2009, specifically designed to challenge and empower teenagers with visual impairments through adventure activities, including rock climbing, whitewater rafting, camping, and hiking.
The program will be supervised by longtime BOEC course director and therapeutic recreation internship coordinator Brook Yates. Brook, now a postgraduate student in orientation and mobility for the blind, will lead a team of BOEC staff to produce this program. It is designed for teenagers between fifteen and nineteen who have a visual impairment, who are active physically and socially, and who use the skills of independence.
The cost is $900. Scholarship funds are available for qualified students on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more about the Out of Sight Adventure Program, contact Brook Yates at <[email protected]> or at (970) 333-4035.
Summer Braille Music Institute:
The National Resource Center for Blind Musicians is accepting applications for its seminar for blind college-bound musicians, which will be held July 19 to 25 at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Designed for serious Braille-reading music students preparing for or already in college (ages average seventeen to twenty-one), the program tailors instruction to each person's need to develop Braille music and theory skills and to learn to use technology to submit music assignments in print notation. Applicants must have already studied some music theory, have had several years of music lessons, and be able to present a polished and pleasing performance. They must be willing to put effort into Braille music study and demonstrate a commitment to use the Braille music and computer skills they will learn at the Institute when they return to school. Applicants must also show they have begun thinking realistically about reachable goals and that they have the independence skills, social readiness, and maturity to be a contributing part of a close-knit group.
Contact the Resource Center regarding the application and audition procedure. Deadline for requesting applications is April 30; all application materials must be in the Resource Center office by May 14.
Other options: We are happy to correspond with students, parents, music and vision teachers, or college students with an interest in working with blind students. One internship during the Institute may be available for a qualified sighted student or teacher from the United States. We also invite parents and teachers of younger students to discuss coming for an evaluation and guidance. Please also contact the Resource Center about customized distance learning throughout the year. Visit <www.blindmusicstudent.org>, which is also a music information resource. Contact David Goldstein at (203) 366-3300, ext. 229, or <[email protected]>.
Bob Smithdas Retires:
Anyone who has kicked around the blindness field professionally for a while knows the name of Bob Smithdas, the deaf-blind director of community education for the Helen Keller National Center. He is smart and articulate in presenting the perspective of those who live with both deafness and blindness. With his retirement the field has lost an effective spokesperson. Here is an Associated Press story about Bob Smithdas’s career and retirement that appeared January 17, 2009:
Inspirational Deaf-Blind Teacher, Poet Retires
by Frank Eltman
His memories of Helen Keller are vivid, if not entirely favorable: She had big hands, a forceful personality, and not much of a sense of humor. But none of that kept Bob Smithdas from working with Keller, icon of the deaf and blind, to persuade Congress to create and fund the Helen Keller National Center in the 1960s. At the Sands Point facility people who are deaf and blind, as is Smithdas, are taught a range of life skills from communicating to cooking so they can live wherever they want to. Smithdas, eighty-three, retired Friday as the center's director of community education, a post that capped a sixty-five-year career as an inspiration and an instigator for improvements in the way deaf and blind people lead their lives.
“There have been two giant role models for the deaf-blind person over the last century: Helen Keller and Bob Smithdas," said Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind.
In honor of his retirement, Smithdas has been cited in a congressional resolution sponsored by Rep. Gary Ackerman. In addition Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has declared Friday "Robert Smithdas Day" in honor of the western Pennsylvania native. Smithdas was the first deaf-blind man to receive a college degree, graduating from St. John's University fifty years after Keller got her bachelor's from Radcliffe. He was the first deaf-blind person to earn a master's degree (NYU, 1953). He has four honorary degrees from universities around the country.
In 1965 he was named Handicapped American of the Year by the President's Committee on Employment of People Who Are Disabled. A decade later he married Michelle Craig, who is also deaf and blind; she works as an instructor at the Keller Center. “I feel that what I was doing was creating a pathway for other deaf-blind people to follow," he said during an interview at a diner near his Port Washington home. An interpreter used hand-in-hand signals to communicate with him.
Smithdas lost nearly all his hearing and sight when he was about four after contracting cerebrospinal meningitis. The language he had learned up to then deteriorated, and he was taught Tadoma, a method of communication in which the deaf-blind person places his thumb on the speaker's lips and his fingers along the jawline to understand what is being said.
It led to an unhappy encounter with Keller. “I had heard that Helen could speak, and I wanted to feel her speak, so I reached out to put my hands on her face, hoping that she would speak to me that way," Smithdas recalls. “But to my surprise, she slapped my hand away. I wasn't amused. I thought it was a crude gesture.”
Smithdas began writing poems as a youngster and has published two collections, City of the Heart (1966) and Shared Beauty (1983). The Poetry Society of America named him Poet of the Year for 1960-61. He has also written an autobiography, Life at My Fingertips. “I was a model, a representative of the deaf-blind community," he says, “even if I didn't know it.”
Smithdas said he and others had been arguing for a decade for a place like the Keller Center, but it took a rubella outbreak in 1963 and 1964, which produced thousands of deaf-blind babies, to get the center opened. Joseph McNulty, executive director of the Keller Center, remembers meeting a mother who was touring the facility. “She came out of Bob's office crying. She told me that, when her daughter was born and she learned she was deaf-blind, reading Bob's life story kept her sane. She said, 'Finally meeting him brought me to tears.’”
Journalist Barbara Walters, who spoke at Smithdas's retirement luncheon Friday, said Smithdas was remarkable. “Truly, the most memorable person I had ever met was Robert Smithdas," she said. “I remember going to Bob's house, and he cooked me a meal. I was amazed he was able to do this and didn't burn his hands.”
Introducing the Braille Awareness Ribbon:
Short & Sweet, Building Braille Coded Brands, has launched its first product, the Blind Awareness Ribbon. The ribbon raises awareness and implements communication that has never been explored.
The Blind Awareness Ribbon measures one inch by one-half inch. It has raised two-dimensional black dots on a white background representing the Braille code. It is a unique and much needed symbol in both the blind community and the mainstream market place. The dots spell “brl” (Braille) in contracted Braille. Imagine finding your favorite brands with Braille and large print on their packaging or products, navigating the supermarket and department store independently reading the price and shelves using Braille or large print. Supporting this ribbon will reinforce such ideas. All of Short & Sweet’s products are already using Braille and bold print on their packaging/products.
As we have all heard, change is in the air, and together we can be the change we want to see in the world, so call today to arrange a fundraiser or sale. Be sure to ask about wholesale pricing for organizations and chapters. For more information visit us at <www.shortandsweet.com>, or call us at (732) 297-2200. Price: $4.99 retail. Wholesale pricing varies with the number purchased.
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.