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Braille Monitor

Vol. 52, No. 6                                                     June 2009

Barbara Pierce, editor
Daniel B. Frye, associate editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by

The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president

National Office
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES

        ISSN 0006-8829

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Contents


Vol. 52, No. 6                                                     June 2009

 

Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention

Lead Photo

Fighting for the Right to Read
A Campaign to Preserve Unlimited Access to the Text-to-Speech Feature of the Kindle 2
by Daniel B. Frye

To Have Made Some Difference
by Fredric K. Schroeder

Exercise Class
by Terri Griffon

Report on the Ease of Access of the Apple OS 10.5 Leopard Environment with VoiceOver
by Wesley Majerus

Mentors and Mentees on the Move
by Treva Olivero

Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

More Progress in the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program
Establishing Best Practices for a Quality Work Environment
by James H. Omvig, Sr.

Caring for Your Commemorative Coins
by Dick Davis

Join the Club: The knfbReader Mobile--A Product of Teamwork
by Michael Hingson

NFB-NEWSLINE Online Offers Blind Readers More Options for Accessing the News
by Renee West

A Thank You to Louis Braille
by David Hyde

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

 

Copyright 2009 by the National Federation of the Blind

 

Detroit Site of 2009 NFB Convention

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 (800) 266-9432.

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

 

 

More than ninety attorneys, legal scholars, government officials, disability-rights advocates, and law students from across North America attended the 2009 Jacobus tenBroek disability law symposium, New Perspectives on Disability Law: Advancing the Right to Live in the World, on Friday, April 17 at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. This symposium offered a unique and historic opportunity to consider emerging trends and long-term implications in disability law brought about by the election of the Obama administration, the signing of the ADA Amendments Act, the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and recent federal and state court decisions addressing various aspects of disability law. Cosponsors of this symposium with the Jernigan Institute included the ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, the Legal Times, the Maryland Department of Disabilities, and the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights. Ari Ne'eman, founding president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, delivered a powerful and inspiring keynote address at the luncheon. An evening reception, where attendees could discuss the day's presentations, capped the event.

NFB President Marc Maurer chaired the symposium. Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy, was the lead presenter for Panel I, "The Obama Administration's Perspective on Disability Policy." Maura Healey, assistant attorney general and chief, Civil Rights Division, Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was the lead presenter for Panel II. Through anecdotes and a review of policy, she addressed "Perspectives on Enforcement of Disability Law." Tim Fox and Amy Robertson, principals in Fox and Robertson, P.C., provided further commentary on this issue.

During the afternoon session Professor Gerard Quinn of the National University of Ireland delivered a paper discussing the international effect of the CRPD in creating a more welcoming and accessible environment for disabled people throughout the world. Katherine Guernsey, an international lawyer and adjunct professor at the American University School of International Service, offered follow-up commentary on Professor Quinn's remarks. Finally, Samuel Bagenstos, visiting professor of law at UCLA School of Law and professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School (fall 2009), outlined ten policy suggestions for making the ADA more effective in the future. Commissioner Christine Griffin of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rounded out the fourth panel of the day with comments on Professor Bagenstos's remarks. Peter Blanck, university professor and chairman, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University, and Scott LaBarre, principal, LaBarre Law Offices, P.C., and president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, offered closing remarks and facilitated an open forum for discussion among symposium participants.

For a more detailed analysis of the material covered during the symposium, visit the Website of the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: <www.txJCLCR.org>. The journal will publish the proceedings from the tenBroek Law Symposium later this fall.

We can be proud of Jacobus tenBroek’s constitutional and disability law scholarship. His professional legacy has shaped a civil-rights-based approach to disability law in the United States. Without exception symposium presenters acknowledged his early and ongoing influence.

 

Fighting for the Right to Read
A Campaign to Preserve Unlimited Access to the Text-to-Speech Feature of the Kindle 2

by Daniel B. Frye

Founded and led by the National Federation of the Blind, the Reading Rights Coalition (RRC) was formed in March 2009 to oppose the efforts of the Authors Guild to persuade Amazon to eliminate or severely restrict access to the text-to-speech feature incorporated in the Kindle 2, Amazon's newest e-book reading device. On Tuesday, April 7, over two hundred blind and print-disabled people from the RRC gathered in New York City to conduct an informational picket in front of the Authors Guild to educate industry leaders and the general public about this issue. While speakers from RRC member organizations aroused the protesters with sharp commentaries on the logical flaws in the authors' arguments, marchers braved the cold weather and offered chants like "The Authors Guild's swindle bars access to the Kindle"; "We'd all have access sooner if not for Roy Blount Junior"; "I may not see, but I can hear--books can be read with the eye or the ear"; and "Without speech you cannot teach all those folks you hope to reach." Signs emblazoned with slogans like "Books aren't just for looks," "Throw the e-book at the Authors Guild," "Make the sound decision about Kindle," and "Don't give Kindle the silent treatment," captured the attention of bypassers, who saw the assembly circling in the street and on the sidewalk cordoned off by police for the demonstration.

On February 9, 2009, Amazon, Inc., released a new version of its popular e-book reader, the Kindle 2, which included text-to-speech technology. Such technology, long used by blind people and those with other print disabilities, reads text aloud using synthetic speech. The blind and print-disabled community was encouraged by this development, since we have long advocated that manufacturers of mainstream products make their devices fully accessible to all Americans.

Shortly after the Kindle 2’s release, the Authors Guild, the largest national organization representing the interests of writers, protested Amazon’s deployment of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2. Viewing this feature as a potential threat to the audio-book market, the Guild argued that the automated reading aloud of a book is a copyright infringement unless the copyright holder has specifically granted permission. On February 24, 2009, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Roy Blount Jr., president of the Authors Guild, which escalated media attention on the issue.

In response to increasing pressure from authors and publishers, Amazon announced on February 27 that it would modify its system so that authors and publishers could turn off text-to-speech title by title. The RRC contends that the removal of text-to-speech and the stance of the authors and publishers on this issue is discriminatory, is a form of censorship, and is bad business.

Because of the severe implications for the blind, who largely rely on text-to-speech to access information, the National Federation of the Blind, through its counsel Daniel F. Goldstein, initiated a dialogue with Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, to discuss the effect that the removal of text-to-speech has on the blind and the market benefits of including text-to-speech on a mainstream product. In response Mr. Aiken proposed a separate registry for people with print disabilities, allowing a blind or print-disabled person to register as disabled and receive a code that would override the disablement of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2. After consulting with a growing coalition of disability groups, Mr. Goldstein explained why a registration system is an unworkable and unjust solution when applied commercially. Mr. Aiken has since responded, offering the possibility of making text-to-speech e-books available at an additional cost.

On March 16, on behalf of the RRC, Mr. Goldstein sent a letter to the six publishers providing e-books for the Kindle 2, asking each of them to allow their books to be read on the device with text-to-speech and explaining that the coalition would engage in a national public education campaign in hopes of reversing the stance of the authors and publishers who have already disabled text-to-speech in their Kindle books.

Amazon’s behavior has not been much more impressive than that of the authors and publishers. In addition to capitulating to the unreasonable and illegal demands of the book industry to curtail the text-to-speech capacity on the Kindle 2, Amazon has created an e-book reader that is currently inaccessible to blind people. While the text-to-speech function on the Kindle 2 works well for low-vision and print-disabled users, its hardware does not allow a blind person to operate and activate the text-to-speech feature of the device independently. Fortunately, Amazon announced on March 19, 2009, through its Kindle 2 blog that it will make the controls and menus on its e-book reader accessible to blind people. The NFB is heartened by this promise. We can now hope that Amazon will find the corporate resolve to stand firm against those interests that would block our access to books by objecting to our use of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2.

In addition to the speeches, music, and marchers, other protest participants stood on the street corners and circulated an RRC-endorsed flyer to anyone who would take it. The flyer offered a brief explanation of the RRC position. At the time of this writing, the RRC consists of thirty-two organizations of and for blind and print-disabled people; when the flyer was originally drafted and circulated, far fewer organizations had joined the protest group. The text of the RRC protest flyer follows:

No Need for Greed
We Want to Read!

We represent fifteen million Americans who cannot read print because of blindness, dyslexia, spinal cord injury, and other print disabilities. We include school children; the elderly; professionals; college students; returning veterans; and your neighbors, family members, and friends. We want to buy books. We have fought very hard for many years to have equal access to technology and information.

For the first time, now that the Amazon Kindle 2 offers text-to-speech, which will read a book aloud, we can purchase and enjoy books like everybody else. Sadly, the Authors Guild does not support equal access for us. The Guild has told us that, to read its books with text-to-speech, we must either submit to a burdensome special registration system and prove our disabilities or pay extra. The Guild's position is contrary to the principle of equal opportunity for all and discriminates against millions of people with print disabilities.

Please support us by emailing your support to <ReadingRights@nfb.org>. For more information, please visit our Website: <www.readingrights.org>.

Reading Rights Coalition Members:

American Association of People with Disabilities
Association of Blind Citizens
American Council of the Blind
American Foundation for the Blind
Arc of the United States
Association on Higher Education And Disability
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Burton Blatt Institute
DAISY Consortium
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
IDEAL Group
International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet
International Dyslexia Association
International Dyslexia Association--New York Branch
Jewish Guild for the Blind
Knowledge Ecology International
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Lighthouse International
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Disability Rights Network
National Federation of the Blind
NISH
National Spinal Cord Injury Association
United Cerebral Palsy
Xavier Society for the Blind

The protest received considerable press coverage. The following Associated Press story is representative of the tone and profile the event garnered in the media:

Group Protests Kindle E-Reader's Read-Aloud Limits

by Rachel Metz

New York (AP)--A group representing the blind and other people with disabilities protested limitations to the new read-aloud feature on Amazon.com Inc.'s latest Kindle electronic reader Tuesday, arguing that the restrictions unfairly limit their access to e-books. The feature, which reads text in a stiff-sounding electronic voice, is still available for all books on the new Kindle, which was unveiled in February. But the Authors Guild has expressed concern that the feature will hurt sales of audio books, so Amazon plans to give publishers and authors the ability to silence the text-to-speech function for their books.

That is what prompted the newly formed Reading Rights Coalition, whose supporters include the National Federation of the Blind and the American Association of People with Disabilities, to stage what it called an "informational protest" outside the office of the Authors Guild in New York. The protesters shouted "We want access sooner" and "Stop the greed; we want to read."

Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said the protest was the first of several to come around the country, in the hope that Amazon will change its stance. The group started with the Authors Guild because it "caused the trouble" with the text-to-speech feature, Maurer said. The number of books Amazon has made available for the Kindle--more than two hundred and sixty thousand so far--is "huge" compared to the fifty to sixty thousand books generally available through libraries for the blind, he said. It is not known how many of these Kindle books now have the text-to-speech feature disabled.

Maurer said he doesn't buy the notion that the feature could hurt sales of audio books. He said the function might even help audio book sales because "If you get a taste of it, you might want the other version," he said.

In a statement the Authors Guild called the protest "unfortunate and unnecessary." The group reiterated an earlier suggestion that the Federation of the Blind take advantage of an exception to the Copyright Act that lets visually impaired people access audio versions of copyrighted books. "Technology makes this step easy: certified users of existing Kindles could activate their devices online to enable access to voice-output versions of all e-books. This process could be ready to go within weeks," the Guild said. Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said the company had no comment.

Continuing the public pressure against the Authors Guild and its allies, NFB President Marc Maurer penned an editorial piece printed in the Baltimore Sun on April 14. This piece effectively summarizes almost every issue and argument marshaled so far on our side of this debate. Here is what he said:

Bias against Blind Book Lovers

by Marc Maurer

I love to read, and I've been doing it ever since I was able. My wife is also an avid reader. But my wife and I are blind, and, because I lead the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, we have many blind friends. And, although many of us read anything we can get our hands on, we can't get our hands on very much to read.

There are services for us, of course. Government entities and nonprofit organizations convert books into Braille, audio, or digital form for our use. But only 5 percent of all books published undergo such a conversion. A few more are available as commercial audio books, but these are often abridged, and those that are unabridged are quite expensive.

Nowadays a solution to the problem of reading material is tantalizingly within our reach: the e-book. When Amazon released its new Kindle 2 e-book reader earlier this year, it announced that the device now includes text-to-speech software and can read e-books aloud. Those of us who are blind were filled with joy at this news. For the first time in history, it would now be possible, we hoped, for the blind to do something that everyone else takes for granted: purchase a brand new book and start reading it right away.

Our hope quickly turned to despair, however--and then to anger. The Authors Guild doesn't want the Kindle 2 to be able to read books aloud. They say this new ability violates authors' copyrights. This argument has absolutely no basis in copyright law. Reading a print book aloud or having it read to you in the privacy of your home is not a copyright violation; the only difference with the Kindle 2 is that a machine rather than a human being is doing the reading.

In the face of this specious attack from the Authors Guild, Amazon initially took the legally and morally correct position that the text-to-speech feature of the Kindle 2 did not violate copyright law. But then the company backed down, saying it would allow authors and publishers to decide which books they would permit to be read aloud by the device. Dismayed, we contacted the Authors Guild. It claimed it did not oppose having e-books read aloud to the blind, as long as there was a national registry of blind people who would then be allowed to unlock the text-to-speech feature.

This is wrong. The Authors Guild has no right to discriminate against disabled readers by segregating us into a separate and unequal class. If our sighted friends don't have to "sign up" to be permitted to read, then blind people shouldn't either. And once we buy a book, how we read it is nobody's business but ours. When we told the Authors Guild this, they added insult to injury by telling us that, if we wouldn't sign up for a registry, we would just have to pay extra in order to use text-to-speech. Needless to say, this is outrageous and reprehensible behavior from an organization of people who claim to support equal access to literature by all Americans. Instead of facilitating the free flow of information, the Authors Guild is making itself the arbiter of who is worthy of access to the printed word.

The Authors Guild isn't just discriminating against blind people. People with other disabilities--especially brain injuries and conditions like dyslexia--would also benefit from the ability to have books read aloud to them electronically. Groups representing many of these people are joining us to protest the position of the Authors Guild and Amazon's craven response to it.

At present, very few of us buy books in any form. If we could have e-books read aloud to us, however, we would happily pay for them. We are an untapped market consisting of some fifteen million people to which authors and publishers have never before had direct access. For this reason the position of the Authors Guild is not only morally repugnant but also bad business. Prohibiting the blind and others from reading commercially available e-books just means that authors and publishers won't get our money. The Guild's position hurts both authors and people with print disabilities.

In an age when how we get information is constantly and rapidly changing, it's important that people with disabilities have access to it in the same way that it is important for us to have access to physical structures, goods, and services. Amazon took an important step in the right direction by including a read-aloud feature on the Kindle 2, but the Authors Guild is now trying to set us back. We are not going to allow them to stand in the doorway of the virtual bookstore to keep us out.

During the weeks and months ahead, the NFB and our partners in the RRC will employ multiple strategies to resolve this dispute to the advantage of all--giving blind and other print-disabled people access to books and giving the commercial publishing industry the benefit of our patronage. Our efforts to influence this matter will be limited only by our capacity for creativity and level of energy. The NFB has an ample supply of these human resources. We will reach out to the Authors Guild and publishers to continue a constructive dialogue. Simultaneously we will point out the injustice and absurdity of their position in forums where individual authors and publishers gather. Federationists and other RRC members, for instance, attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books during the weekend of April 24 to 26 to carry our message to the four hundred and fifty authors and over one hundred and sixty thousand readers who participated in this event. The NFB and our RRC friends have established an online petition for supporters to sign. At this writing 6,723 people have had their say in support of our views. You are invited to review and sign the petition by visiting <http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/We-Want-To-Read>. We have drafted model resolution language explaining this situation and demanding a remedy to circulate to our chapters, affiliates, divisions, colleagues in the blindness community, and partners in the RRC. The text of the model resolution that people can feel free to use in support of this campaign follows:

Reading Rights Model Resolution

WHEREAS, the ability to read is critical to living a well-informed personal and professional life; and

WHEREAS, blindness and other disabilities pose challenges to accessing all available written information fully and efficiently; and

WHEREAS, text-to-speech technology has helped to remove these access barriers for the approximately fifteen million blind and otherwise print-disabled people living in the United States; and

WHEREAS, Amazon's Kindle 2 is one of the first mainstream, commercially available e-book reading devices to incorporate text-to-speech functionality, potentially making well over one quarter of a million titles accessible to the blind and other people with print disabilities; and

WHEREAS, this heretofore untapped community of eager consumers promises to benefit publishers and authors; and

WHEREAS, many educational institutions are exploring the possibility of e-textbooks and mobile access to electronic book information; and

WHEREAS, upon learning that the Kindle 2 would feature text-to-speech technology, significant segments of the publishing industry and the Authors Guild promptly lodged specious legal and business objections with Amazon, urging it to eliminate or severely restrict access to the synthesized-speech function of this device; and

WHEREAS, one specific objection of the Authors Guild was that the ability to have a legitimately purchased e-book read aloud with text-to-speech technology violates copyright, a legal claim that experts have dismissed as erroneous, since people who buy books have the right to acquire the information privately in whatever way best suits their needs as long as they do not reproduce the content of the book for general circulation; and

WHEREAS, Amazon has agreed to allow publishers to deactivate the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2 for individual authors based on lists provided by the publishers; and

WHEREAS, the suggestions that leaders of the Authors Guild have proposed to mitigate the harm visited upon blind and print-disabled readers (e.g., creation of a national registry of blind and print-disabled readers or charging additional money for the privilege of accessing books on the device with speech output) are wholly unsatisfactory to first-class customers who are prepared–like everybody else–to pay for the product that Amazon has developed, advertised, promoted, and sold to the general public; and

WHEREAS, civil rights laws and policies in the United States oppose and protect against acts that thwart equal access and equitable treatment of the blind and other people with print disabilities: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED that Name in conference assembled this xxx day of xxx, 2009, in the city of xxx, urges state and municipal procurement agencies, schools, institutions of higher education, and libraries to be mindful of the requirements of technology procurement laws, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and insist that mobile e-book readers and e-books have accessible text to speech; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we register our strong protest against the attempts by the Authors Guild to eliminate or restrict the text-to-speech technology that Amazon has incorporated into its Kindle 2 e-book reading device; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the publishing industry and the Authors Guild to abandon their unreasonable demands on Amazon to degrade the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2 and–barring the willingness of the publishing industry and the Authors Guild to comply with this resolution–that we call upon Amazon itself to ignore the outrageous and self-interested petitions of both the publishing industry and the Authors Guild.

To remain up-to-date with developments in this evolving story, readers should regularly visit the Websites of the RRC and NFB (<http://www.readingrights.org> and <http://www.nfb.org>). The battle ahead may be difficult, but we will emerge victorious.

 

To Have Made Some Difference

by Fredric K. Schroeder

From the Editor: NFB First Vice President and Virginia affiliate president Fred Schroeder delivered the following banquet address at the annual conference of the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped (CTEVH) on March 14, 2009. The occasion was the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the CTEVH, and Dr. Schroeder used this opportunity to summarize the history of access to Braille in the United States. This is what he said:

The American author Leo C. Rosten wrote, "I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate. It is, after all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all." This evening we celebrate CTEVH's golden anniversary. We gather to celebrate fifty years of progress; fifty years of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice; fifty years of working together, combining our talent and training in support of blind people, children and adults, and their right to become educated, to be employed, not merely on society's fringe, not in the backwater of nonparticipation, not in isolation and dependency, but as fully engaged, productive members of society.

I believe it is fair to say that fifty years ago conditions for the blind were unimaginably bleak. Opportunities were severely limited and hope for a better life a far-off dream. Few blind children were educated in their neighborhood schools. Few blind adults had jobs. Education was in schools for the blind. Employment was in the sheltered workshops. The lives of the blind were characterized by poverty and segregation.

Yet there was no public outcry. Poverty and segregation were presumed to be the inevitable condition for blind people--people seen as so damaged, so limited that they could hope for nothing more in life than protection and care. And these were not just the beliefs of the uninformed, the casual observer; they were the views commonly held by the leading professionals of the day.

In the mid-1950s a well-known and respected educator wrote: "With many persons there was an expectation in the establishment of the early schools that the blind in general would thereby be rendered capable of earning their own support, a view that even at the present is shared in some quarters. It would have been much better if such a hope had never been entertained or, if it had existed, in a greatly modified form."

At about the same time a prominent rehabilitation agency director wrote: "After he is once trained and placed, the average disabled person can fend for himself. In the case of the blind, it has been found necessary to set up a special state service agency which will supply them not only rehabilitation training but other services for the rest of their lives. The agencies keep in constant contact with them as long as they live. So the blind are unique among the handicapped in that, no matter how well-adjusted, trained, and placed, they require lifelong supervision by the agencies."

Yet custodialism, isolation, and lost opportunities could not extinguish the human spirit--the spirit of blind people, supported and encouraged by others who shared their hope for a better life. But how could the dream of a better life be realized, take form, and become more than an unfulfilled yearning? As it happened, chance played a role, presenting an unanticipated strain on the system of schools for the blind and thereby opening the door to greater integration of blind children.

In the 1940s and 1950s premature babies were treated with high concentrations of oxygen, leading to thousands of children’s becoming blind from retrolental fibroplasia. Later the rubella epidemic of the 1960s led to a dramatic increase in the number of deaf-blind children. The nation's schools for the blind became overcrowded. As a result many blind children had to be integrated into the public schools. But how could the public schools hope to serve the blind?

Schools for the blind had shown that blind children could be educated. It naturally followed that blind children integrated into neighborhood schools could learn given the necessary services and supports. Resource rooms sprang up in large numbers; however, few trained teachers were available to meet the demand. In addition to a shortage of teachers, Braille materials were in short supply. Consequently, during this period many heretofore volunteer Braille transcribers found themselves hired as resource room teachers since they knew Braille and could prepare materials for their blind students.

The strain on the system was severe. In schools for the blind textbooks could be transcribed and shared year after year by many children. With the decentralization of blind children into public schools, the demand for Braille textbooks and other educational materials skyrocketed. It was impossible for printing houses to meet the need, making it necessary to transcribe massive amounts of materials by hand. During this same period Braille writers were hard to come by. It was not unusual for Braille writers to be backordered for a year or two or even longer. But the shortage of Braille writers did not stop teachers and transcribers from doing their best to meet the need. As incredible as it seems today, it was not uncommon for materials to be transcribed with a slate and stylus. And it was difficult to share hand-transcribed Braille. The only available technology for copying Braille was the thermoform machine, which reproduced Braille one sheet at a time, a slow and cumbersome process, but considered a blessing at the time.

During this period it was assumed that blind children would learn to read and write Braille. Of course then as now most blind children had some remaining vision; yet Braille was their presumed reading medium. I suspect this had less to do with pedagogy and more to do with the state of technology at that time. Large print was difficult to produce and expensive, but new technologies were just around the corner.

By the late 1960s handheld magnifiers made it possible for many low-vision children to use print for the first time. By the 1970s, low vision technology had come into its own with the introduction of the closed circuit television video magnifier. The emphasis on low-vision technology seemed to provide the ideal solution to meeting the educational needs of the nation's blind children. Low-vision technology obviated the need for time-consuming hand transcription of materials into Braille. It also made it possible for low-vision children to have immediate access to the same materials as their fully sighted classmates. Educators also believed that reading print was less stigmatizing, less isolating than reading Braille and consequently fostered greater social integration.

As we now know, in spite of our best intentions many low-vision children who functioned well with print in early elementary school found it increasingly difficult to meet the reading demands of middle and high school. But what to do? Pandora’s box was wide open. The clock could not be turned back. By the 1980s the infrastructure was gone. Integration had become institutionalized and with it the model of itinerant teachers traveling from school to school, trying to provide services to too many children with too little time. To compound the problem, an entire generation of teachers had been trained to believe in the primacy of print, the superiority of low-vision technology; and blind children paid the price.

In 1989 the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort (JOE), representing America's leading blindness organizations, spoke out against the alarming decline in Braille literacy. The JOE Committee called on the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress to develop a test that could be used to ensure that teachers of blind children really knew Braille. NLS created the test; however, after experiencing technical problems during the final development stage, they did not release it for general use. Yet the need for a Braille competency test persisted. Four years ago NLS asked the National Federation of the Blind to convene a committee representing blind adults, educators, Braille transcribers, and others to complete the competency test; and today the test, known as National Certification in Literary Braille, is becoming increasingly available across the nation.

Nothing is more fundamental, more essential to a child's education or an adult's employment, than literacy; yet literacy is more than the mechanical ability to read and write. Braille enables us to read but not simply for the purpose of helping us while away our otherwise empty hours, not simply to occupy us in our lonely isolation. The ability to read and write Braille efficiently is the key to education, employment, and social integration for the blind. Yet, despite its unquestionable value, today only 10 percent of blind children in the United States are learning to read and write Braille. Is it any wonder that fewer than half of all blind children will graduate from high school or that seven of ten blind adults are unemployed? Are poverty and isolation the inevitable consequence of blindness or the by-product of functional illiteracy? So what can be done? How can we ensure that today's blind children will be prepared to face the academic rigors of higher education and the increasingly technical demands of the workplace?

On March 26, 2009, the United States Mint will release four hundred thousand silver dollars commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Braille. The Louis Braille Commemorative Coin will have the word "Braille" on it in beautiful, tactilely perfect Braille. The coin will bring attention to the importance of Braille, and it will do more. The Mint will add $10 to the cost of each coin sold, generating $4 million to support Braille literacy. These funds will be given to the National Federation of the Blind, which in turn will raise $4 million in matching funds, making a total of $8 million available to support the most aggressive, far-reaching Braille literacy effort in history. The goal of the campaign is to double the number of Braille readers by the year 2015.

Blind children need to be literate. They need to be able to read and write on a level commensurate with that of their sighted peers. This should be, must be, the standard. We know that Braille makes this possible. We know that Braille readers taught from childhood are able to read fluently and efficiently, irrespective of lighting conditions, with no cumbersome technology or fear of eye strain. Said more plainly, literacy--true literacy--must be the standard, and Braille must be the default, the presumed reading medium for blind children. Of course some blind children have enough vision to use print well, but we must not pretend that they are the norm in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We must not bury our heads in the sand, must not pretend that it is just a very few low-vision children who fall through the cracks and end up functionally illiterate. We must end the practice of having low-vision children struggle to use print, compromising efficiency and relegating them to substandard performance--substandard lives--allowing them to get by when we know they can do more, when we know that Braille will give them true literacy.

California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped was founded in 1959. In that year we joined our skills, our knowledge and experience, our imagination and commitment to meet the challenges brought about by the overcrowding of the schools for the blind. It was not easy. We faced many obstacles, but we did it. We found ways to meet the educational needs of blind children integrated in large numbers into the public schools. We did it without enough teachers, without enough transcribers, without enough Braille writers, without today's technology. We did it because we knew it was needed and because we knew it was right. We did it without fanfare and without the need for recognition or acclaim. We did it. We found ways to make it work.

Today we face a new challenge. Only ten percent of blind children are learning to read and write Braille. To change this condition, to make a real difference will take concerted effort on the part of us all. It is a daunting task but no more so than the challenge CTEVH's founders faced fifty years ago.

This is why we have dedicated ourselves--transcribers, resource room and itinerant teachers, paraprofessionals, orientation and mobility specialists, rehabilitation counselors, counselor-teachers, school and agency administrators, librarians, parents, blind adults, and others--to give blind children the gift of literacy, the ability to read and write, and by so doing give them the opportunity to live normal, productive, integrated lives and the self-respect and dignity that come with full participation.

In the words of Leo Rosten: "The purpose of life is to...matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all." CTEVH's founders made a difference and so have all who followed, including all of us in this room this evening. It is our history, it is our present-day responsibility, and it will be our legacy: "to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate...to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference."

Note: Dr. Ruby Ryles has provided data from her research that illustrate the dismaying decrease in Braille instruction between 1963 and 1993. Unfortunately we have little reason to hope that the pattern has changed in the years since 1993.

1963: 57 percent of students read Braille, 43 percent read print, and 1/10th of 1 percent (.012 percent) were nonreaders. 1973: 28 percent of students read Braille, 48 percent read print, and 20 percent were nonreaders.
1983: 15 percent of students read Braille, 32 percent read print, and 49 percent were nonreaders.
1993: 10 percent of students read Braille, 27 percent read print, 9 percent were auditory learners, 23 percent were pre-readers, and 31 percent were nonreaders.

 

Exercise Class

by Terri Griffon

From the Editor: Terri Griffon and her husband Nick Wilcox live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. As you will note from the article that follows, she believes in the value of exercise. Perhaps her story will encourage us all to get in shape for the summer. This is what she says:

“Place the resistance band [a stretchy rubber cord with handles on each end] around your back just under your armpits. Grasp it with each hand and stretch it equally on both sides by extending your arms forward and out,” Barb said. “Your elbows should be slightly flexed and your forearms should be parallel to the floor. Stretch the band by extending your arms until your hands touch in front of you as far forward as you can reach. This is a chest press.” I successfully completed this exercise and seven repetitions. Smiling, I thought back to a time I had foolishly skipped participating in the class, assuming I would not know what was happening because of my blindness.

It all started in September 2006 when my treadmill malfunctioned. I was used to walking for an hour a day on it, but it was becoming unsafe because it would not maintain a constant speed. I started walking outside but found that I was not able to walk as fast over the uneven ground using my cane, so my heart rate was not high enough for a true aerobic workout. I live in a subsidized complex for seniors citizens and people with disabilities that offers an exercise class twice a week. I had been skeptical about joining the class because I thought I would not be able to follow the instructor’s directions. Regardless of my misgivings, I decided to participate because I felt sluggish without an exercise regimen.

First I consulted the instructor, Barb, who seemed very willing to use auditory cues so that I could follow the exercise she was demonstrating. “The class is composed primarily of seniors,” she explained. “Everyone has some issue we are working around.” Barb used clear auditory explanations. My doubts about my ability to participate had caused me to miss a worthwhile opportunity for six years. Another incorrect assumption I was making was that the instructor would demonstrate by doing an exercise without explaining it. Barb later reassured me that, since not everyone learns by mere demonstration, a good instructor accompanies every part of each exercise with explicit verbal instructions.

This class is designed to promote increased balance, range of motion, flexibility, and good posture. After the first day I was sore, but I felt my posture improving. I almost felt taller as I walked. After participating in the class for close to two years, I am now seeing some benefits from increased strength and balance. For example, each summer my husband Nick and I attend a week of camp sponsored by Christian Record Services for the Blind. I pretty much live in the lake: swimming and diving. One of our favorite activities is riding the water shark. The shark is a delightfully adventurous rubber boat that six people sit atop. In front of each person is a handle extending approximately three inches above the rubber. The shark is attached to the motor boat by a rope. The driver motors along at a top speed of fifteen mph. He or she takes pleasure in driving in circles and over waves. This inevitably capsizes the shark and dumps the riders into the water. Of course falling is half the fun. The other part of the fun is trying to stay on top of the shark in spite of all of its gyrations. We were treated to this ride for about an hour each day and fell from three to seven times. On one ride the shark almost tossed me, but I managed to hang on. I concluded that I had probably managed to stay on because of my increased balance and strength from the exercise class. I commented to my husband and the other riders, “Wow, that was close! I thought I was going to bite it for sure. Anybody? Anybody?” Then the realization hit, and I started to laugh. I was the only one still on the water shark. Even my husband was in the water.

The exercise class has also increased my flexibility. My husband and I attend a four-day camp for the blind sponsored by the Salvation Army. One sensationally spectacular surprise this year was the zip line. To access it we first had to climb a tree on three-inch metal staples to a height of forty-five feet. Physically this was the hardest thing I have ever done. I am only four feet eight-and-a-half inches tall, so the stretches between staples were as far as I could possibly reach. At the top of the tree one must climb onto a platform. All this is done in harness, so we are completely safe. Two men provide assistance by belaying us and providing instructions about the location of the next staple.

After safely reaching the platform, we attached our harnesses to the zip line. As I jumped off the platform and flew along the zip line’s 350 feet of cable, I knew this was going to be my closest experience to flying until I reach heaven. Only one other person besides my husband and me successfully negotiated the zip line. All of us were totally blind. However, my blindness was surely not my biggest handicap. It was my shortness. The two men climbed the tree in a third the time it took me to scale it.

Now I encourage others around the complex to participate in this excellent exercise class. It is a great way to enhance energy as well as to increase strength and endurance. I might not have tried the class if I had not been encouraged by my husband, my family, and my knowledge of the National Federation of the Blind. The members do not let blindness stop them from full participation in life. We realize that blindness is just a physical nuisance, not a barrier that keeps us from acquiring whatever skill captures our imagination.

“As you take in a deep breath, stretch both arms as far as you can toward the ceiling,” Barb says. “Now push this good air into your heart, and we are done.”

 

Report on the Ease of Access of the Apple OS 10.5 Leopard Environment with VoiceOver

by Wesley Majerus

From the Editor: Almost as long as computers have dominated the lives of many Americans, some people have praised the Apple products with a fervor verging on the religious. The operating system has always been more visually intuitive than that of the PC, and manipulating graphics on Apple products is apparently both easy and satisfying. But since the Apple IIe in the early days, which seems to have incorporated some speech access, Apple products have been remarkably inaccessible to blind users.

Now for the first time the Apple Macintosh operating system has been equipped with VoiceOver, which provides more speech access than blind people have ever had on Apple products. But how good is it? How efficient is the speech? Does the blind user have access to every computer function? International Braille and Technology Center Access Technology Specialist Wesley Majerus set out to put the Mac and VoiceOver through their paces. Here is his report:

Apple's Macintosh computer is one of the only systems to have integrated, full-function screen-access software. Because it is a part of the operating system, it is usable out of the box and on the showroom floor. You can simply walk up to any Macintosh computer running OS 10.5 Leopard and press Command (CMD)+F5 to try out the screen-access software. In this article I outline some of my impressions of VoiceOver after the weeklong evaluation I recently undertook. Throughout this document reference will be made to VO keys or to pressing VO with other keys. These references are to the VoiceOver keys, which are CTRL+Option and are held down in conjunction with other keyboard keys to perform tasks specific to the VoiceOver screen-access software.

As I undertook the evaluation of VoiceOver's usability, I identified several important tasks and uses for the Macintosh. These included sending and receiving email; browsing the Web; downloading files; and file management, including moving and deleting files. I also wanted to know whether a user having difficulties could get help from the Mac OS X help utility. Because creating and editing documents is a central reason to use a computer, I evaluated the TextEdit word processing application. In this article these tasks will be presented in order of popularity. People are most likely to use their computers for text editing, email management, browsing the Web, and file management. These tasks will be described in this article, along with our overall opinions of the Mac experience with VoiceOver.

For the most part blind computer users take advantage of the Windows operating system for their computing needs, so they are accustomed to the way that operating system delivers prompts, its keystrokes, and its other characteristics. They are also accustomed to the ways in which Windows-based screen-access software delivers information. Because Windows is so entrenched in the blindness community, users need a way to learn a new operating system. The manual that Apple has produced, "VoiceOver Getting Started,” does not provide this comprehensive introduction. Though it lays out the commands for using VoiceOver, it does not explain how those commands can be used in conjunction with OS X to make it friendlier. Email account review and creation get no explanation of layout or use. It would have been better to have a document that combines VoiceOver commands with those of OS X so as to promote the use of the operating system first, with VoiceOver acting as its overlay. As an example, many Windows-based screen-access software manuals go into limited detail about Windows and the way it works with the screen-access software, especially in setting Windows and application-specific preferences to make the screen-access software work better with the operating system or the application. This is not done in the VoiceOver manual. In Safari, for example, you can set up the browser so the Tab key will move you between elements. This is not the default setting and is not outlined anywhere in the VoiceOver documentation. In addition, the instructions for using Apple Mail do not address how to open or save attachments.

We have a few other concerns in the training and documentation department. The Apple VoiceOver tutorial is easy to use and is straightforward to bring up. We like the fact that this is offered and that it is integrated into the OS. VoiceOver has an audible learning-mode, but the sound effects that VoiceOver provides are often faint and difficult to distinguish.

Two major problems with OS X and VoiceOver are consistency and disorientation. As you are working with the system, especially after editing in dialogs, you often can not tell where you are when you are finished. Many Windows screen-access software packages signify that a dialog has been closed by telling you the window title that just opened or saying "edit" to tell you that you are back in an edit area. They also say “menu” or “leaving menu” as you enter and leave the menu. In VoiceOver, if you are completing a task that causes the computer to work on its own without further input from you, VoiceOver provides no automatic progress report to let you know that the computer is still processing. However, if you focus your VoiceOver cursor on the Progress Bar or other progress notification area, it will audibly click by default whenever this area changes. You can also change a setting in VoiceOver Preferences to have changes announced, but it is important to note that your focus must be on the Progress Bar or other notification area for either of these announcements to occur. VoiceOver has keys that you can use to move through an area. Sometimes in dialog boxes you can tab through controls, but at others you must use the special VO keys. When tabbing, you can often hear the control type (edit field, check box, or popup button) but do not hear what type of information you were to enter. If you use the VO keys, you hear control labels, but they are separate from the controls and control types. From a keystroke standpoint this means that, for each control in a dialog box, you have to move to the right twice to get both its label and the control itself. It would be more useful if the information in the labels could be combined with the control types and values and if you knew when you were required to use VO keys and when you could simply tab.

One other aspect of VoiceOver that is problematic is the lack of toggle keys. In many screen-access programs you can toggle keyboard help on and off by pressing the same key. In VoiceOver you cannot do this because CTRL+Option+K turns it on, and then you have to turn it off with Escape. This also happens in other places within the VoiceOver environment such as with Scrolling Mode. In the event that a password is to be entered, no feedback is given as you enter text into the password field. In instances where you simply use the space bar to check a checkbox, you do not get feedback about whether the checkbox is checked or unchecked. A good example of this is on the SMTP server setup page of Apple Mail. In dialogs containing lists, you have to force VoiceOver to read the highlighted item. Moreover, VoiceOver does not tell you how many items are in the list. When working on the dock (the Mac’s version of the Windows task bar), you can use CMD+right and left arrows to move items around. VoiceOver, however, provides no feedback as you work. Clearly the program should provide some indication that items are being moved, and the item’s relationship to others on the dock should be described.

Editing Text

One of the primary uses for a computer, especially for new users, is creating, editing, and reading documents. TextEdit is Mac OS X’s primary document management solution. A few tasks are particularly important: opening and navigating preexisting documents; creating new documents; spell-checking documents; changing formatting; and adding elements such as headers, footers, and tables. Opening documents works fairly well using VoiceOver. The only problem arises in dealing with the list of files and locations. Often in VoiceOver you are forced to “interact” with an item, which means telling VoiceOver that you want to work with this item and this item only in a dialog. For a longtime screen-access software user, this interaction is a new and foreign concept that adds more keystrokes to an already keystroke-intensive system. Also it is never clear when the user needs to interact with an item and when using arrow keys or other means of manipulation is sufficient. Once the document is open, you must figure out how to edit it. One of the issues that cause Windows users most trouble is the way VoiceOver reports where the cursor is when arrowing through, backspacing, or forward-deleting text. Often, when arrowing across a line of text, VoiceOver repeats characters multiple times and reports an incorrect character under the cursor. When backspacing, it is difficult to know which character is about to be deleted, so sometimes you delete the wrong character. The same problem occurs in forward delete because, instead of removing the character to the right of the cursor, deletion begins with the character under the cursor.

Sometimes, when you are inserting text into the document, the string drops in at the wrong place because of incorrect character reporting. Saving a document is easy, as is starting a new document from scratch. Two aspects of the VoiceOver/TextEdit combo that cause difficulty are document navigation and say-all capability. There is no quick way to move to the top of the document or to its bottom with a single keystroke as Windows provides. Later in our research we found a new keystroke. In most edit areas you can use CMD+Up Arrow to move to the top of the document and CMD+Down Arrow to move to the bottom. The fact that this is an OSX keystroke further illustrates the need for documentation that includes both OSX keyboard commands and those for the screen-access software. VO+A is the keystroke denoted for say all, which reads the entire document. Unfortunately, no matter where your cursor is in the document, this keystroke starts at the top and reads the entire document, unless you are interacting with the scroll area.

Throughout the operating system it is necessary to deal with data presented in tables. This is especially true on the Internet and in some text documents. VoiceOver’s tutorial outlines keystrokes that can read a table by row or column. Unfortunately, this means that the particular column or row is read in its entirety. There seems to be no provision for reading the table cell-by-cell or to match the data in particular cells to any column or row headers. Reading tables this way can be quite confusing since making sense of the data in the way it is presented is not straightforward. The functionality to read a table cell by cell, reporting column headers, has been available in Windows-based screen readers for quite some time and is an important feature, especially in Internet applications.

Making a document look professional is an important use of a text-editing program. This includes adding tab stops, headers, footers, tables, and text attributes to the document. When you are adding tabs by pressing the Tab key, VoiceOver will say “tab” and will let you know where tabs are when you arrow through the document. It provides no indication of how far from the left edge you have moved with each tab as some Windows screen-access software programs report. Blind users cannot add tables to a document. The tables dialog, in which you define the rows and columns for each table you want to insert, reads very poorly. Interaction and use of VoiceOver Keys does not help remedy this poor reading. When adding lists and text attributes to the document, you must first select text, as you do in Windows. Take care when selecting lines of text because, if you are not at the beginning of a line, using the select line command will select text only from the cursor to the end of the line and then to that position on the next line. The command VO+F6 will report the text that has been selected. It would help if this command had a more easy-to-remember keystroke, but it is good that this function exists. When copying and pasting text, the system does say “copied” but does not give feedback when the paste keystroke is pressed. When you cut text, the Mac says “selection deleted.” It should more appropriately say “cut” so that the user knows that the text was not just deleted.

Shortcut keys for adding text attributes like bold, italics, and underline work from the main document window. Reviewing the format menu allows you to see the checkmarks in front of options active in the text under the cursor. It would be nice if, like shortcut keys for adding text elements, a simple key stroke could add a list to already selected text. This said, the menus for selecting types of lists to be added are fairly easy to read. It is confusing, however, for similar types of numbered lists. It is difficult to tell whether, for example, you are adding roman numerals or arabic numbers since VoiceOver reads both as “1, 2, 3.” If you want to copy and paste styles, it is possible to do so using the copy and paste commands and options in the menu. VoiceOver contains an option that allows it to read text attributes such as bold, underline, or italics as they change throughout the text. Though this works well in a document, VoiceOver also reads the attributes of the text within dialogs. Changing page options through the Page Setup dialog is impossible with VoiceOver. Interacting with controls within the dialog does not make them usable, and tabbing around the dialog does not provide meaningful feedback.

Spell-checking is another important task in document management. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult tasks in the Mac environment. One of the biggest drawbacks to spell-checking on the Mac is the lack of a reliable option to check the entire document. In most Windows-based scenarios, a user can choose such a function, and it will prompt at each misspelled word in its own dialog box. In this way the user can choose suggestions from a list and have them spelled automatically. The spell-checker can be instructed to ignore correctly spelled words in a single document or learn words that it has not recognized but that are commonly used. On the Macintosh with TextEdit, the user must deal with each misspelled word individually. CMD+; moves from word to word. Once landed on a misspelled word, you must use the Context Menu key VO+Shift+M to pick available options. Words that are offered as replacements are not automatically spelled as the user moves through them; this is a drawback because an extra key must be pressed to make VoiceOver spell the highlighted suggestion.

When TextEdit lands on a word suggestion, it is automatically highlighted. If you are distracted and forget that this is the case, you can inadvertently delete the entire word by pressing any character key on the keyboard. The Mac does have an undo keystroke, which can be used immediately following the mistake if no other action has been performed. The fact that a user can so easily delete text is disturbing, however, because, if the user goes on to write something else without realizing what has happened, the text is gone forever. At times the CMD+; keystroke incorrectly reports the misspelled word. It often reads the last misspelled word, which is now correct, instead of the word the cursor is currently on. For example, let’s say we have the sentence “Mary hda a little lbam, whose fleece was white as snwo.” At the top of the document pressing CMD+ semicolon should report the first misspelled word as “hda” and should offer “had” as a suggestion. This first correction works fine. Press CMD+; again, and “lbam,” corrected to “lamb,” should be the next correction. However, often “had” (the word that was just corrected) will be read instead. This continues throughout the document.

Browsing the Web

Safari is the only Web browser that works with VoiceOver for browsing the Internet. Internet browsing with Safari and VoiceOver presents major problems. Two of these issues can be somewhat mitigated by changing some settings. Under the Web area of the VoiceOver Utility, ensure that "Move to It When Loading a New Web Page" is enabled. In addition, in the Safari preferences, be sure to check "Press Tab Key to Move to Each Item on a Webpage." This can be found under Advanced Settings. Most screen-access software will read a Webpage when it is fully loaded, but VoiceOver does not do this. This is a problem because it is difficult to know when the page is fully loaded, and the user is often interested in having the screen-access software read the page content aloud automatically. If the user wishes to deal with the page in more detail, he or she can stop this reading or wait until it is finished and then explore the page.

Detailed page navigation is extremely cumbersome with VoiceOver. As it is set out of the box, Safari does not use the Tab key to move between links and elements. With this setting changed, you can move between the links and form controls on the Webpage, but at times you are not interested in just the form controls and links. VoiceOver is also set not to move directly to the HTML content area out of the box. If this setting is not changed, the blind user cannot tell where he or she is positioned or how to get to the page content. Navigation by group is not accessible to blind users because the information is not presented predictably or logically, so testing was done primarily with VoiceOver set in Document Object Model (DOM) navigation mode. If you want to browse the Webpage and are not interested in just navigating through the controls, the process becomes quite keystroke-intensive. First, one begins by interacting with the HTML content area. To read the text, keep hitting VO+Right Arrow. This reads the text and stops at any form controls. Then you must hit VO+Right Arrow again to move to and read the link or form control. Repeat these keystrokes until you have the information you want. The process is painstaking, distracting, and cumbersome. Keystrokes are available to move by headings or other page elements, but they are not immediately apparent and had to be pointed out to us.

Because the Mac help system is primarily based on HTML, these concerns also apply to the Help Viewer application. While surfing the Internet, it is necessary at times to download and save files. Though Mac OS X allows file downloads, the process is ambiguous with VoiceOver. When you click the download link, the computer automatically downloads the file and places it in the Downloads folder. No indication is given that the download has begun or is complete. This leaves the blind user uncertain whether the file has downloaded or the computer is encountering difficulty.

Managing Mail

Apple Mail is the mail-reading application in Mac OS X. When using an application like Mail with screen-access software, a blind user should be able to set up the mail account, initiate sending and receiving new messages, read incoming mail, compose and send new messages, attach files to outgoing messages, and deal with attachments that arrived with incoming mail. Apple Mail setup had one major problem. VoiceOver would not read the field labeled “full name,” making the user unsure what goes in the field. Two areas of the setup process contained multipage dialogs. To get to the second and following tabs of these dialogs, the user needs to arrow to the desired tab and then press VO+Space to activate it. It would be more straightforward if there were only one keystroke to move to and activate a tab. If the user only arrows to the tab wanted and then moves away, nothing changes. The lack of audible feedback is confusing because the user does not see the screen change so cannot figure out why moving to the second tab does not bring up new options. This problem occurs when editing the SMTP server list and on the Account Information screen.

We found a few problems with receiving mail as well. In each message VoiceOver reads a long text string, including the words “unread,” “body,” “subject,” and “sender.” If a field is blank, the title is still read followed by the word “blank.” Though all of this information is helpful, it could be more concise: "unread, john smith, subject today’s meeting,” for example. Empty field headings and the word “blank” do not need to be read as VoiceOver now does. VoiceOver should also be reporting the presence of attachments as the user looks through the message list. For example, “Attachment John Smith, Subject Meeting.” If a message does have an attachment, it is difficult to figure out how to save it to the computer. The VoiceOver Getting Started manual does not explain how to deal with message attachments. A detailed explanation of saving and opening attached files should be added to the manual. In addition, the Quick Look panel, which presumably allows one to preview an attachment, did not read with VoiceOver. If you are using Mail with multiple accounts, it is extremely difficult to know that mail has been successfully received and into which mailbox new mail has arrived.

Dealing with Files

It is important to manage efficiently the many files that fill a computer system. This is doable with the Mac, but we have a few concerns. A user must be able to manipulate the table containing the list of files, but doing so adds extra keystrokes. The Mac reports that a file has been copied when you press the Copy command. Then, when you move to the receiving folder to paste the file there, you get auditory feedback that a transfer has taken place, but only by a faint sound, no verbal confirmation.

During testing we had to call Apple tech support. One of the first things required was the system’s serial number, which was very difficult to find. The technician did not know how to help a VoiceOver user and could not provide clear instructions. This was another instance in which I was not sure whether I needed to interact with the data in the About this Mac window. I had to use VoiceOver keys, which took a bit of time to figure out.

Two other important applications are the address book and the calendar. Calendaring is provided by iCal, Apple’s Calendar application, which appears to be totally inaccessible to VoiceOver. On some levels the calendar recognizes that the date is set properly within the operating system, but VoiceOver keeps announcing December 31, 2000. If you attempt interaction with the Calendar View part of the screen, nothing happens. When you attempt to create an event, the title can be entered, but arrowing, pressing Enter or performing any other keystroke that might make progress toward entering other event data seems to take us out to the Calendar window. Sometimes I can find events, but I can find no pattern for doing so.

We also tested the Address Book application that ships with OS X. It was easy to look through the names of people already in the address book, after interacting with the table containing them. We made a mistake in the name area while creating an entry. It took a long time to figure out how to tell OS X that an edit needed to be made and more time to figure out how to get VoiceOver to work with and manipulate the edit controls. Starting and stopping interacting with various parts of the window and clicking options throughout the menus finally allowed the edit.

Summary

The Apple VoiceOver screen-access software does allow blind users to access most applications that ship with the Macintosh OSX Leopard. Unfortunately, doing so is extremely keystroke intensive. Calendaring is impossible with VoiceOver because nothing is spoken automatically. The Interact process is both inconsistent and foreign to screen-access software users. It also adds many more keystrokes to an already keystroke-intensive screen-reading experience. Browsing the Internet and using Mac help are two of the most cumbersome tasks in VoiceOver because VoiceOver does not begin to read automatically, and, even after interacting with the HTML content area, one must continuously VO+Right Arrow to read even the shortest text between links. Last and most important, the training materials provided for VoiceOver should be modified. Background in using OSX is not provided, and settings that make VoiceOver behave better with applications are not provided anywhere. Though we liked the fact that the tutorial for VoiceOver is tightly integrated into the operating system and easy to invoke, we wish it provided more tips on using OS X with VoiceOver as opposed to just highlighting VoiceOver commands and not relating them to the operating system. As tasks are undertaken, the screen-access software should speak automatically. Examples of this are the newly loaded page in Safari and progress messages while the system is working on long tasks.

Though this report is based on Mac OSX 10.5 Leopard, Apple is set to release a new operating system called Snow Leopard sometime this year. Because VoiceOver is a part of the operating system, changes will no doubt be made. We will have to analyze these tasks and the new operating system, its features, and any changes to VoiceOver to evaluate their completion. Anne Taylor, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute's director of access technology says: "Though we appreciate the fact that Apple has included the VoiceOver screen-access software as a part of the Mac OS operating system, we cannot at present recommend it as a productivity tool for the blind. We cannot recommend any tool, even if it is free, if it hampers the productivity of the blind user."

If you are curious about the Macintosh and want to test drive VoiceOver in a store or on a friend or colleague’s Macintosh, here are a few keystrokes that might be helpful:

CMD+F5 starts the VoiceOver screen-access software.
CMD+Option+CTRL+F8 starts a brief VoiceOver tutorial.
Finally, Pressing "VO+F8" (the VO keys are Control and Option) opens the VoiceOver Utility to configure and customize the VoiceOver screen-access software.

You can learn more about VoiceOver at <www.apple.com/accessibility/voiceover>. Visit the National Federation of the Blind access technology Webpage at <http://www.nfb.org>, then click Products and Technology, then Technology Center. If you have further questions, leave a message on our technology answer line at (410) 659-9314, option 5.

 

Mentors and Mentees on the Move

by Treva Olivero

From the Editor: Treva Olivero is the coordinator for mentoring and outreach projects at the National Center for the Blind. In the following article she reports on a highly successful mentoring activity that took place last March. This is what she says:

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” This is the message we strive to instill in the participants in the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute’s National Center for Mentoring Excellence (NCME) program. It was the theme of two weekend seminars called Future Quest that were hosted by the Jernigan Institute Education Team at the National Center for the Blind in March.

The NCME connects blind youth age sixteen to twenty-six with confident blind role models. Our purpose is to increase mentees’ knowledge and participation in the vocational rehabilitation process. The ultimate goals of this program are increased postsecondary academic success, high-quality employment, and community integration.

The primary goal of Future Quest was to prepare mentees for future employment. Over two weekends ninety-five mentors and mentees participated in this opportunity. March 6 to 8 participants from the Ohio Mentoring Program and the CHANGE (Connections Helping Another Navigate and Gain Excellence) Mentoring Program in Texas joined us. March 13 to 15 we hosted participants from the U’nME (Utah Network for Mentoring Excellence) and mentors and mentees involved in the GEMS (Georgians Empowering through Mentoring Success) Program.

Saturday morning started with mentees’ attending sessions on advocacy skills and how to get needed services and make informed choices. The mentors attended an inspirational session about their roles in mentees’ lives and how to help them reach their future goals. Small group discussions gave the mentors and mentees opportunities to discuss blindness issues and grapple with difficult questions about blindness and the future. “I learned that blindness is not so much a disability but a mere physical characteristic,” said Daniel Martinez, a mentee from Texas.

Job panels were offered with blind people who have interesting jobs, including a lawyer, a NASA employee, a teacher, a newspaper reporter, an actuary, a chef, an electrical engineer, and other careers to show that blindness should not limit the mentees from pursuing their dreams. Jordan Mouton, a Texas mentee, commented, “It was inspiring and comforting to be able to learn of all the different careers that some blind people have been successful in; it just gave me more to look forward to.” Mentees had the opportunity to network with positive blind adult role models, some of whom were on the career panels. The mentees were taught how to carry their plates of hors d’oeuvres and use their canes to walk around the room and introduce themselves to professionals. Real-world mock interviews were conducted, in which mentees were challenged with tough interview questions. “The mock interviews were very helpful because I have never had a job interview and honestly had no clue what to expect. So, being in the mock interview gave me an opportunity to get a little taste of what to expect and gave me a better understanding of how to work around or deal with a interviewer that is very tough or critical on the whole blindness factor,” Jordan Mouton commented. The mentors and mentees were also taught about the value of attending an NFB training center from graduates of these programs. Hannah Furney, a mentee from Ohio, said, “I decided that I am going to a training center after I graduate with my bachelor’s degree. Now, I just have to figure out which training center to go to.” Other sessions during this action-packed weekend included a technology session, a tour of the International Braille and Technology Center, and tours of the Independence Market.

On Saturday evening we held a banquet at which mentees were taught etiquette and the arrangement of a banquet table. Keynote speakers inspired them to follow their dreams. The events on Saturday concluded with rousing entertainment from the mentors and mentees. Ohio and Texas chose to entertain in an American-Idol-style talent show. The highlights were Ohio’s rendition of the song “Louie, Louie” about Louis Braille, led by Deborah Kendrick, the Ohio state coordinator, and Texas’s rendition of “Friends in Low Places” led by Richie Flores, the Texas state coordinator. Georgia and Utah made us all laugh until we cried with their improv comedy in an event we called “Whozit’s Line Anyway.” Named after the popular TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway, Garrick Scott and Cheralyn Creer, state coordinators from Georgia and Utah, led the group in the hilarity.

Future Quest was a time for mentors and mentees to focus on their future and to fulfill the purpose of this program. Robbie Huff, a mentor from Georgia, commented, “I thought it was a positive and fulfilling experience.” Annie Donnellon, an Ohio mentee, enthused, “Future Quest was to me my final wake-up call into the real world. It was a lesson in proper interview skills, an opportunity to network with friends, and my ticket to achieving independence.”
Future Quest is just one event in the NCME mentoring program that has produced positive results for youth. The Jernigan Institute Education Team strives to create programs such as these which can be replicated in all of our affiliates. Our desire is for our affiliates to use the Jernigan Institute Education Team as a resource and create youth programs in their states that use blind role models to show that blindness doesn’t have to be an obstacle. You can reach out to youth in your state and show them that they can go confidently in the direction of their dreams. For information about mentoring programs, call Treva Olivero at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2295.

Giving a Dream

One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.

Seizing the Future:

The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to:

NFB Programs Are Dynamic:

Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer.

 

Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

From the Editor: This article first appeared in the Voice of the Diabetic, Volume 18, Number 4, Fall 2003. It has been updated to reflect developments in treatment of diabetic neuropathy and changed Website links. Diabetic neuropathy is or should be of significant interest to all diabetics. Aside from causing pain and often being a major contributor to amputation, it prevents some diabetics from learning or reading Braille. Understanding this complication should motivate many diabetics to work just that much harder to keep their disease under good control. Here is some useful information:

What is Neuropathy?

Neuropathy is a general term for physical damage to or impairment of the human nervous system. It has many causes and many symptoms. Because a long period with elevated blood glucose can damage nerve fibers, diabetes is one of several major causes of neuropathy (others being AIDS and multiple sclerosis.) The Centers for Disease Control suggests up to 70 percent of diabetics may have measurable neuropathy, though a number of other diseases (and some medications) can also cause this condition. The presence of unexplained neuropathy is a warning flag that you need to find out where these symptoms are coming from.

"Diabetic neuropathy occurs in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes," says InteliHealth, an Internet magazine now affiliated with Harvard Medical School, "and it is most common in those whose blood glucose levels have been poorly controlled. Although diabetic neuropathy can occur in patients who have had diabetes for a short time, it is most likely to affect those who have been diabetic for more than a decade, especially those over age forty. Diabetics who smoke are especially at risk."

The human nervous system is enormously complex. The peripheral nerves carry information to and from the brain, connecting it with the rest of the body. These nerves can be motor, sensory, or autonomic. Motor nerves carry messages from the brain for the contraction of various muscles. Sensory nerves relay sensations of touch, temperature, position, and pain from the body's periphery to the brain. Autonomic nerves carry the brain's commands to organs such as the heart, stomach, lungs, and liver; autonomic neuropathy, a potentially severe condition, though thankfully rare, will receive its own separate coverage later.

The longer the nerve fibers, the more likely they are to show damage from long-term high blood glucose. Such damage generally manifests at the nerve terminus, the end furthest away from the central nervous system (brain and spine). For peripheral neuropathy, symptoms commonly appear at the nerve terminals of feet, lower legs, and hands. Doctors call this common form distal sensory polyneuropathy.

Symptoms of early neuropathy can include diminished tactile sensation, numbness, loss of reflex reaction, and various types and degrees of pain, from pins and needles to extreme burning sensations. As neuropathy progresses, the symptoms frequently change. Diabetics experiencing neuropathy sometimes have other ramifications as well, and these have their own symptoms. Sometimes symptoms overlap, and diagnosis can be confusing. Diabetic nephropathy―kidney failure―can exacerbate neuropathy, due to the uremic toxicity of the condition. Other pain can be a symptom of undiagnosed orthopedic problems, unrelated medical conditions, drugs and medications, or exposure to toxic chemicals. If you are experiencing pain or abnormal sensations in hands, feet, or legs, or experiencing unusual difficulties with bodily processes, check with your doctor.

The simplest way for your doctor to check for the diminished sensation that can be an early sign of neuropathy in your feet is with a monofilament, a thin, flexible filament of nylon or broomcorn. The doctor will press it gently against areas of your foot and lower leg and ask you if you can feel the touch. Where you cannot, early neuropathy may be present. The monofilament, the only tool this test requires, is extremely inexpensive, and the test is highly advisable.

More sophisticated tests can be carried out with a tuning fork or, where the doctor needs to inspect a nerve path more closely, by a test called an electromyelogram (EMG). The EMG, which tracks the movement of electrical impulses along the nerve path, can reveal whether impairment is due to diabetes, a compression injury such as back problems or carpal tunnel syndrome, or some other cause. As neuropathy progresses, sensory nerves frequently stop working, and numbness becomes the most frequent symptom, bringing with it the end of pain, but a whole new set of problems.

Prevention and Treatment

Since diabetic neuropathy follows extended periods of hyperglycemia, its best prevention is good blood glucose management, tight control, with test results, blood glucose numbers in the normal range. A healthy lifestyle, with plenty of exercise and careful attention to diet, helps too. Incidentally, the same tight-control regime can help those with already established neuropathy. Although it is not clear exactly how it happens (there are several theories), experience shows that getting your diabetes under control and keeping it there can, over a several-month period, alleviate at least some of neuropathy's symptoms. Doctors argue whether neuropathy damage is reversible--but it may be, and you owe it to yourself to try.

Individual symptoms are as varied as individuals, but the most common complaint in the early stages is pain, and pain control becomes the single biggest challenge in dealing with established neuropathy. Doctors have prescribed aspirin, acetaminophen, and various other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; the anticonvulsants Dilantin and carbamazepine (Tegretol); and tricyclic antidepressants such as paroxetine (Paxil) and amytriptaline (Elavil); or a combination of vitamins B1, B6, and Glutamine, with varying results. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Pfizer’s antiseizure medication pregabalin (Lyrica) and Eli Lilly’s antidepressant duloxetine (Cymbalta) for the treatment of diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain. Along with the drugs some physicians are prescribing capsaicin cream (Zostrix and its equivalents), a topical ointment originally formulated for arthritis pain. Some use the epilepsy drug gabapentin (Neurontin, a predecessor to pregabalin that now has a generic equivalent), while others relieve symptoms with local anesthetics or muscle relaxants. Still others are investigating acupuncture, although not enough is known about it to say for certain how it works in such cases.

New research using lidocaine (a topical analgesic sold in creams, such as Lanacane, for treatment of itching and skin pain) shows promise. A team from Rochester School of Medicine used transdermal patches containing lidocaine 5 percent, applied topically to areas of maximum neuropathy pain. In a three-week, open-label test, patients reported a mean 63.1 percent improvement in pain symptoms--and this without anesthetics or recourse to powerful systemic drugs that could interact with other patient medications. Further study is under way.

Another option is mechanical, using radiant energy. Anodyne Therapy LLC, from Tampa, Florida, offers anodyne neuropathy care. Their noninvasive, FDA-cleared device uses near-infrared light emitted directly into the affected area. The light penetrates deeply and causes capillary vasodilation, in much the same way topically applied nitroglycerine cream would--but with less risk. Company data suggest the treatment is not just effective against neuropathy pain, but that it also restores lost sensation as measured by monofilament test and by patient interview. Anodyne postulates that its product stimulates release of endogenous nitric oxide in much the same way as do morphine and oxycontin but without the risks of these drugs. Their data suggest a combination of tight glycemic control (ending further hyperglycemic attacks to tissues and nerves) and effective vasodilator treatment (as with their product) can produce an observable reversal of loss of sensitivity. The device appears to treat both neuropathy pain and numbness and has clear benefits toward healing the stubborn ulcerated wounds that often follow neuropathy of the feet. A cursory look at the science behind the assertions suggests it is solid and that this device is free from the cant, touchy-feely, and carny-barker hucksterism that have plagued this field. Time will tell; keep your fingers crossed. And note, neither the Anodyne nor any of the others cure neuropathy. They treat symptoms. You have to get your diabetes under control too.

Anodyne therapy is available at a number of clinics across the country. To find the nearest, telephone the company or visit the Website listed below. Anodyne markets its apparatus both to health professionals and to consumers. The professional system is priced at $4,895, and the consumer system retails for $2,495. Medicare already accepts charges for in-clinic treatments, and full Part B coverage for purchase of the Anodyne Home System was pending as of 2004--the company says that it has appealed many Medicare refusals and won every one of them. For more details contact Anodyne Therapy LLC, 13570 Wright Circle, Tampa, Florida 33626; (800) 521-6664; Website <www.anodynetherapy.com>.

T.E.N.S., transcutaneous electrical stimulation (of the affected nerves) with a short jolt of electricity, appears to interrupt the transmission of pain signals and works for some people. Japanese researchers working for Nikken have used oscillating magnets with some success. Such oscillation manufactures electricity--a different approach to the same problem. The scientific basis for electrical/electromagnetic stimulation is unclear, but until neuropathy itself is better understood, "use what works for you" has to be the rule--there is no one correct symptom-relieving treatment for diabetic neuropathy.

Researchers were recently experimenting with aldose reductase inhibitors such as Sorbinil and Zenerstat, but these did not prove efficacious for neuropathy pain. And of course the search for new treatments goes on, with tests of antioxidants, nerve growth factors (rhNGF), blood vessel expanders, and various herbal/naturopathic substances. Most will fail, once serious clinicals are conducted.

Ever since Mesmer, the inventor of hypnotism, people have made various claims for the medical efficacy of magnets to treat various conditions. No scientific principle or beneficial effect from static magnetic fields has ever been discovered. Foot magnets to treat neuropathy and other conditions are advertised on the Internet and in consumer magazines. There is some statistical evidence for pain reduction (though, in data cited by the manufacturer, placebo users also showed unusually high improvement, so one wonders). We don't understand why magnets might work in some cases of neuropathy--but we don't understand the scientific basis of neuropathy pain either. The most experienced manufacturer of foot magnets is the Japanese firm, Nikken, whose U.S. offices are in Irvine, California, (949) 789-2000.

Again there is a lot of disagreement over effective treatments for neuropathy pain. Folks swear by their particular remedy. You need to find and use what works for you. Beware of extravagant claims for pill, technique, or machine; there are no miracle cures--though there are plenty of people ready to sell you one. Caution, caution, caution.

None of the pills and creams is as effective in bringing relief as is getting your blood sugars into good control and keeping them there. There is no cure without the achievement of good control, for without euglycemia you are pumping out the boat without patching the hole in its bottom. The International Diabetes Center's Website advises: "The best way to treat or prevent neuropathy in any area of the body is to control your blood glucose levels. Good glucose control may not reverse numbness or tingling, but it can slow or stop additional nerve damage. Good control can also bring on dramatic pain relief. Medications can be used to control the symptoms of painful neuropathy and gastroparesis (autonomic neuropathy of the digestive system) as well."

Consequences of Neuropathy

The main reason human beings have a pain reflex is that pain lets us know something is wrong in the affected area. If it hurts, we do something about it. With its biggest symptom being pain (when nothing is there) and diminished sensation/numbness (when something is present), neuropathy can seriously interfere with a diabetic's self-care, especially care of the feet. Circulatory problems from diabetes can lead to dry skin on the feet with the risk of ulcers and lesions. Lacking normal pain reflexes, the diabetic with neuropathy may not be aware his or her feet are in trouble. Even stepping on a tack may be pain free. This means otherwise treatable lesions go unnoticed and allowed to progress into severe infection, sometimes into gangrene itself. Amputation is a common result, and complications of diabetes account for the majority of nontraumatic amputations in the U.S. today. All diabetics need to inspect their feet frequently, but individuals with neuropathy need to be especially thorough because early detection of foot problems can be critical to saving the infected foot.

The linkage between dry feet and neuropathy is close. They frequently occur together; both are common symptoms of diabetes. To deal with the dryness, you may need a good diabetic foot cream--and note that these are thicker than conventional hand creams. Talk to your doctor or your podiatrist.

Other Coping Strategies

Although there are lots of variations, with the rule being "do what works for you," folks cope with neuropathy pain in a number of nonmedicinal ways. One individual, who reported burning feet at night, slept with her feet uncovered and a fan blowing cool air on them. Many others cushion aching feet with thick, seamless hikers' socks, especially those made of cotton or of manmade materials such as Thorlo.

Some folks report that exercise brings relief, however temporary. Others use meditation-based relaxation techniques to help them manage. Another approach followed by many is to wear high-quality, properly fitting athletic (walking) shoes with good support or support sandals such as Birkenstocks, along with the socks mentioned above. Your podiatrist can help you choose an appropriate brand and style--and appropriate footgear is a good idea for everyone with diabetes, whether you have neuropathy or not--listen to your podiatrist, not the salesman at the neighborhood discount shoe store.

Many people whose feet are affected by diabetic neuropathy are also dealing with circulatory/microvascular problems. Their ability to heal from otherwise minor cuts and scrapes is often seriously impaired, leading to a history of ulceration or even a partial amputation. Special therapeutic shoes, with custom inserts, or extra-depth shoes, or several other orthotic shoe modifications, are covered by Medicare as "durable medical equipment." Discuss this with your doctor.

New Research

Although many medicines are used for treatment of neuropathy's symptoms, not all are yet officially FDA-licensed for such use. However, doctors have wide leeway in such off-label prescribing, and several prescription medications have passed safety inspection--and are now being evaluated for their efficacy as neuropathy treatments.

New medications are also under investigation, some to treat symptoms and others that might someday treat the underlying cause, the demyelinating nerve damage. CenterWatch, a clinical trials listing service, lists many separate FDA-mandated clinical trials of new neuropathy medications under way in the United States on human subjects. One such study is of the drug memantine, already used for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and currently under investigation for neuropathy. Many more studies are at the test tube stage or currently in animal trials.

Conclusion

Unexplained pain or abnormal sensation is a serious matter. It may indicate neuropathy, which may be from diabetes or some other condition; your doctor needs to determine its source promptly. Neuropathy is not an inevitable ramification of diabetes, and you shouldn't just grin and bear it. Different therapies and interventions bring relief to many diabetics. Keep the best blood glucose control you can, keep your doctor informed, and don't lose hope.

For Further Reading

A great deal of research is being done on this subject. Although most findings are published in professional research journals, World Wide Web searches on "neuropathy" reveal hundreds of timely listings, many linked to other sources. Here are a few Websites you might find worthwhile:
<www.niddk.nih.gov/health/diabetes/ndic.htm> The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
<www.centerwatch.com> Center Watch; lots of trials under way
<www.intelihealth.com> InteliHealth Website, connected with Harvard; follow links for diabetes.
<www.cdc.gov/> Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
<www.diabetesmonitor.com/dr-00005.htm#neurop> Diabetes Monitor's neuropathy page
<www.parknicollet.com/Diabetes/> (International Diabetes Center's Home Page)
<www.mendosa.com/neuro.htm> (David Mendosa's review of current research in new neuropathy medications; this site also has links to a wealth of other useful information on diabetic neuropathy.)
<www.cymbalta.com> (Eli Lilly’s Cymbalta/duloxetine Website)
<www.lyrica.com> (Pfizer’s Lyrica/pregabalin Website)

Published Sources:
"Diabetic Neuropathy: Current Practice and Promising New Therapies," Interdisciplinary Medicine (March 1999), Vol. 4, No. 1.
"Taming the Pain of Nerve Disease," Diabetes Advisor (May/June 1999) Vol. 7, No. 3.
"New Treatments for Diabetic Neuropathy," by Keith R. Edwards, MD. Home Health Care Consultant (March 1999), Vol. 6, No. 3.
“Pathophysiology of Painful Neuropathy," by Mark Granberry, Suresh Baliga, and Vivian Fonseca. Practical Diabetology (June 1999), Vol. 18, No. 2.

 

More Progress in the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program
Establishing Best Practices for a Quality Work Environment

by James H. Omvig

From the Editor: Jim Omvig is a longtime leader in the NFB. He has currently retired to Arizona for the second time. In a very real sense Jim and his wife Sharon will never retire from doing what they can to improve the lives of blind people.

For the past six years Jim has served on the President’s Committee for Purchase from People who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. The program for the blind that this group operates is called AbilityOne. Jim has worked hard to improve conditions and prospects for blind and otherwise disabled workers and to educate professionals in this field about the abilities of these workers. A good example of his work is the committee’s newly adopted vision statement, which Jim drafted. It reads:

The AbilityOne Program enables all people who are blind or have other severe disabilities to achieve their maximum employment potential. The vision will be realized when:

The work is sometimes slow, but improvements in the prospects of the workers in the program are definite and discernable. Here is Jim Omvig’s most recent report:

In the February 2007 issue of the Braille Monitor, I offered an article entitled, “It's Not Your Grandfather's NIB Anymore.” I wrote it because much had changed in the Javits-Wagner-O'Day program since the early days when it was necessary for the Federation constantly to challenge the system to improve wages and working conditions for blind sheltered shop workers. Recently additional significant, positive changes have taken place in the program, so it's time for another update.

I was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003 to be a member of the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. My interest in the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) program, however, goes back a long way before that presidential appointment--more than forty years. I had heard of what were then called "sheltered workshops" way back in 1961, while I was a student of Kenneth Jernigan in the Iowa Commission for the Blind's Orientation and Adjustment Center. Since Iowa didn't have a shop, we Orientation Center students took a trip to Kansas to tour one and to meet blind people who were working there. We met blind people who were making mattresses and who were being paid $.25 per hour--with no other benefits. When we returned home to Iowa, we spent several philosophy class sessions discussing the pros and cons of this type of employment for the blind.

My next encounter with the shops was in 1965 when I was attending law school at Loyola University in Chicago. I was hard-pressed for cash that summer and got a job working on the production line at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. I earned $.75 per hour. I knew that during this period the National Federation of the Blind was trying year after year without success to get the Congress to pass a law requiring that the shops for the blind pay blind workers at least the federal minimum wage.

It was in 1969 that the sheltered shop issue came to my attention again, and it was a distressing situation. I had graduated from law school in Chicago in 1966 and got my first job working as a labor law attorney with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., later that fall. Because that first job was simply doing writing and research at the Labor Board's headquarters, I set to work and got myself transferred to New York City, where I would be working with real people on real cases in real courtrooms.

Early in 1969 one of my New York coworkers--Steve--came to me and said, "I've got a case to work on in which I'm sure you would be interested. Some blind workers in a sheltered workshop out on Long Island are trying to unionize to improve their wages and working conditions, and I'm sick about it. I've been doing my research, and I'm going to have to dismiss their petition for a National Labor Relations Board election."

"Steve, why in the world would you do that?" I asked him with astonishment. As office mates we had talked a lot, and I knew Steve had become truly interested in the problems and rights of blind people.

Steve said, "As I was doing routine research, I found a 1960 case from San Diego in which the issue of blind workers’ organizing and being represented by a union came up. The National Labor Relations Board itself actually ruled, in a three-to-two split decision, that the blind workers aren't really workers like other Americans. They accepted the statements of management that the blind workers are more like trainees, and therefore they don't have the same rights as sighted employees to unionize."

Steve and I reread the case together, and his understanding of the ruling was correct. However, we also read the opinion of the two dissenters. They said essentially, "The blind workers are supervised; they punch a time-clock; they don't get paid if they don't show up for work; and they pay federal and state taxes, and Social Security premiums are withheld from their checks. They look like real American employees to us."

But, in spite of the fine dissenting opinion, Steve had no choice but to dismiss the Long Island case, based on the Board's majority opinion. However, this experience gave me a permanent interest in the rights of blind American workers. I was able to get a high AFL/CIO official to come to the 1969 National Federation of the Blind convention, where he pledged that the union would take up the cause and support blind workers if they wanted to try to unionize, and much has happened since then.

Briefly let me start at the beginning to bring newer readers up to speed. What is the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled? What is NIB? What is NISH? What is the JWOD Program, and what in the world is AbilityOne?

During the difficult times of the 1930s--the Great Depression--the Congress was trying to figure out how to create jobs so that average Americans could work their way back into prosperity--a situation not unlike today. As a part of the Great Depression job-creation effort, many new federal buildings were being constructed.

It occurred to a couple of members of Congress named Wagner and O'Day that these new buildings would need to be cleaned, and they were aware that the blind made brooms, brushes, and mops in what were then called sheltered workshops. They introduced a proposal into the Congress which would say basically that, where the federal government could use items such as mops or brooms that were made by the blind, it should buy them from the blind. The bill passed, and the 1938 Wagner-O'Day program was born. It required that at least 75 percent of the production work in each producing agency must be performed by the blind. Also a nonprofit agency, National Industries for the Blind (NIB), was created at that time to manage activities between the federal agencies that would do the purchasing and the local programs for the blind that would do the manufacturing.

In those early days, however, most members of Congress were interested only in jobs when it came to blind workers. They hadn't given much thought to what kind of jobs the blind could do, or what kind of wages, working conditions, or benefits should be made available. In fact, in that same year―1938―Congress also passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, a law to deal with wages and hours for American workers. Since many congressmen and senators mistakenly assumed that the blind could not be as productive as the sighted and probably couldn't do most jobs at all, they included a provision in the new wage and hour law―Section 14C—that said that the sheltered shops would not have to pay blind workers the minimum wages which would now be required for all sighted―normal―American workers.

In the early years of the program, the work for the blind moved gradually from mops, brushes, and brooms to the assembling of ballpoint pens and writing pads and the production and assembly of certain items for the military. But, while the types of jobs changed, wages, employee benefits, and working conditions generally did not, and the program began to come under severe criticism from the National Federation of the Blind. As I said, during those years the Federation introduced many minimum wage proposals into the Congress. But those managing the shops opposed these bills, sometimes hinting, sometimes openly stating that the shops would close if Congress required them to pay fair wages.

The original Wagner-O'Day Act underwent major changes in 1971 when Senator Jacob Javits of New York became interested in the program. He engineered two major changes: First, he was able to get Congress to include severely disabled workers under the coverage of the law; and, second, while the original law required that the federal government purchase only manufactured products from the blind, Javits was able to add the provision of services to what the government should be required to purchase from the blind or severely disabled.

These changes offered great opportunity for expansion, and, as a natural outgrowth of these amendments, the program became the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) program. Also a fifteen-member, presidentially-appointed committee was established along with a stand-alone, federal agency to manage the program. This agency--nicknamed the "President's Committee"--is called the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. Also at that same time a new nonprofit agency, National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH), was established to manage activities between the federal agencies and the industries that employed those who were then known as the "severely handicapped."

I personally became involved in the program again from 1972 through 1976. I was then directing the Iowa Commission for the Blind's Orientation and Adjustment Center, but I also worked (as a Federation volunteer) with Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and other blind sheltered shop employees on two issues--forming an NFB Sheltered Shop Employees' Division and unionizing the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind to improve wages and working conditions.

On the issue of unionization in Chicago, I told the blind employees that the struggle would be hard and long and that it would also be complicated. They would first have to select a union to represent them. Then they would have to request a National Labor Relations Board election so they could vote as to whether or not they wanted union representation. After a hearing they would be denied the right to an election because the board had already ruled in the old San Diego case that blind workers deserved no federal protection. Then I would appeal the denial to the five-member Board itself and argue in my briefs that they should reverse themselves and change the law. Then we would wait!

The sheltered shop employees did decide to form an NFB Division, and the Chicago Lighthouse employees did decide to seek union representation. And, happily, in late June of 1976, the ruling came. The Board overturned the old 1960 decision and ruled that, henceforth, blind workers would enjoy the same rights, privileges, and protections as those enjoyed by sighted workers. The Chicago action also encouraged blind workers across the country, and before long several of the agencies were unionized. I believe it is fair to say that from then on management began to view blind workers differently.

Perhaps this was the beginning of real change, not only in wages and working conditions, but also in management/employee relationships in the program. The record reveals that much began to be different beginning in the 80s, 90s, and on into the new century. The type of work available to blind employees today has also changed dramatically. The blind began to produce more and more items for the military, including the sewing of uniforms. The blind also began getting into more and more community-based service employment and began to do work like operating military and other federal switchboards. In more recent times both the blind and severely disabled have begun to do much more work in such fields as federal document destruction and data-scanning. The blind also operate major military warehouses and work in or manage small stores (Base Supply Centers) on military bases.

In 2002 my friends Joanne Wilson and Jim Gashel came to me and said, "We know you have a long history of interest in blind sheltered shop employees, and we believe that, because of your many years of experience, you have the qualifications for a federal position. We think we should work to get President Bush to appoint you to the Committee for Purchase so you can work from the inside to help blind workers." We discussed it at some length, and we finally agreed. We set about it with our various political contacts, and I was appointed by President Bush in February of 2003.

As a part of recent modernization, National Industries for the Severely Handicapped simply became NISH, and the JWOD Program has become the AbilityOne Program. This new identity is catching on swiftly and is being received positively by the various stakeholders involved. Another sign of progress is that presently a private citizen member named Andy Houghton, a wheelchair user, serves as committee chairman, and I am its vice chairman. This is the first time in history that two disabled private citizen members are serving in these positions. The Committee has always been led and chaired by high-level federal agency presidential appointees.

Historically, disabled production workers have rarely had the chance to move up from production work into management, but that is changing too. Both the NISH and NIB programs now work routinely toward upward mobility and to place blind or severely disabled employees outside the AbilityOne system in competitive employment. They are required by the AbilityOne Program's strategic plan to set ambitious targets each year for this objective. In 1998 NIB hired its first blind CEO. He is Jim Gibbons, and before long NIB began to concentrate more seriously than it ever had on the issue of upward mobility for its blind workers.

Concerning upward mobility, I reported in the article, “It's Not Your Grandfather's NIB Anymore,” that NIB is pushing forward vigorously with four specific management training programs. In 2003 a two-year Fellowship for Business Leadership program was established; in 2005 twenty-eight future blind leaders graduated from an eighteen-month management training program developed and delivered for NIB by the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia; there is a new Leadership at All Levels program; and a new distance-learning program was inaugurated in 2006. (For additional information see my February 2007 article.)

Because of these new initiatives, numerous blind workers have already moved up into management and supervision. Some 4,600 blind workers are now in the entire AbilityOne Program, and as of February of this year, eight blind people have become CEOs of NIB-associated agencies.

Additional, positive change in the program became inevitable in 2008 when President Bush appointed a new member, Mr. Neil Romano, to represent the Department of Labor on the President's Committee. Mr. Romano was immediately keenly interested in improving the rights and conditions for blind or severely disabled workers. Before long a new subcommittee, the Communications and Customer Satisfaction Subcommittee, was organized. It was chaired by Mr. Romano and included Ms. Kathleen James, representing the army on the committee, and me. Within a few intense months we had drafted and finalized a new Policy on Best Practices for a Quality Work Environment for submission to the full committee at its January 2009 meeting.

The fifteen members of the committee are keenly aware that major changes have occurred in recent years to create more and higher quality job opportunities for the program's more than 43,000 workers, but they are just as certain that even more can be done. Therefore at its January 8, 2009, meeting, the committee adopted the new and innovative Policy on Best Practices for a Quality Work Environment. This policy had arisen out of the committee's vision statement, which holds that, "The AbilityOne Program enables all people who are blind or have other severe disabilities to achieve their maximum employment potential."

Because of this new policy, within one year each of our more than six hundred affiliated agencies will be required to develop and publicize its own business plan, creating a self-certification process. The Romano/James/Omvig subcommittee had determined that three fundamental human needs are essential in any program of the type we are seeking. AbilityOne employees should have:

1. "Opportunities to do the work of their choice with appropriate supports and/or workplace flexibilities, alongside nondisabled employees, where all workers receive competitive wages and benefits, either with their current employer or other community-based businesses.
2. Ongoing training opportunities that make employment with other community-based businesses possible, by teaching job skills and social skills, as well as promoting the workers’ leadership and management potential.
3. A clear path to career advancement opportunities, which details what opportunities are available and the steps the worker must accomplish to achieve promotion in a reasonable time period."

This new policy is not intended to be merely window-dressing. The committee expects NIB, NISH, and each of our associated agencies to get at it with vigor, and they have. Because of this new policy it will not be long until the average blind or severely disabled worker around the country will experience a new working environment and greater opportunity for the future than was ever available before. And there is one last exciting piece of news: a new AbilityOne executive director has been hired by the committee. She is Ms. Tina Ballard. She comes from the army, and she is highly qualified, spirited, and full of new initiatives with which to create thousands of new jobs for disabled Americans over the next three years.

So, is anything new in AbilityOne employment opportunities for Americans who are blind or severely disabled? The facts indicate that the answer must be a resounding "Yes!" As Dr. Kenneth Jernigan so lovingly and properly taught us, "It is respectable to be blind or severely disabled." These simple yet profound words will soon be displayed prominently for all to see in the AbilityOne Program's Arlington, Virginia, offices.

 

Caring for Your Commemorative Coins

by Dick Davis

From the Editor: Dick Davis is an assistant director at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Incorporated, the NFB of Minnesota’s adult rehabilitation training center. He is also a coin collector. Here are his words of wisdom and experience for those who have bought or plan to buy the Louis Braille silver dollar. This is what he says:

The Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars come from the U. S. Mint in two versions: uncirculated and proof. They have entirely different appearances, so you should know a little about the difference in order to purchase the one or ones you want.

Uncirculated coins are made the same way all U.S. coins are made, with one strike from a die. All coins minted this way come out in what is called “brilliant uncirculated” (MS 60) condition, which is the minimum grade given to freshly minted, uncirculated coins. In order to get the highest grade, MS 70, a coin must be in perfect condition, free of defects of any kind. A perfect coin is very rare and is therefore worth a lot of money. There are other grades between MS 60 and MS 70--the higher the grade, the more valuable the coin.

Once a coin is circulated or appears to have been circulated, it drops significantly in value. If you scratch a coin, get permanent fingerprints on it, clean it with silver polish (which scratches), or do anything else that changes its mint condition, it will drop to almost uncirculated (AU) or an even lower grade and be worth a lot less. The oil on human hands is so corrosive that, if fingerprints are not removed immediately, they can become permanently etched into the coin.

So, if you want to touch your coin, feel free to do so, and then clean it immediately. Use a smooth, lint-free cotton cloth; clean water; and, if necessary, a little mild dishwashing liquid. (Distilled water is best since it has no minerals, costs about $1 a gallon, and can also be used in your electric iron.) Don’t forget to clean the edge of the coin. Rinse the coin well with distilled water after cleaning. Do not rub it dry; pat it dry and then air dry on a soft cloth. Some collectors use white cotton gloves to handle their coins because they protect the coins from their fingerprints. If you handle coins, always do so above something soft. Silver is a comparatively soft metal, so, if you drop a coin, it can be scratched or dented.

The same grading system is used in proof coins. However, a proof coin is double struck from a higher-quality blank than the uncirculated version, which means that the image is much sharper and the background much shinier. Proof coins look completely different from brilliant uncirculated ones. The image is frosted and the background is mirror-like, so the contrast is dramatic. You can touch these coins also if you wish, but, if you do so, make doubly sure that you get any fingerprints or dirt off. They will really show up on the mirror finish, as will scratches. Proof coins are made for collectors, not for circulation, but they are not necessarily more collectible than brilliant uncirculated ones. Some people don’t like them.

It is possible to increase a coin’s value by sending it to one of the grading services, like NGC or PCGS, which will assign a grade to it, register it, and place it in a plastic slab. Grading costs about $15 if time is not important; the cost goes up depending on how soon you want the coin back. As noted above, MS 70 (perfect) is the highest grade and worth a lot. If you get one of them, hold onto it. MS 69 (almost perfect) is valuable too, but a lot less valuable. The lower the grade, the less valuable the coin. Once a coin is in a slab, you can’t touch it without breaking the slab, which wipes out much of its value.

If you want to preserve your coin but would like to look at it from time to time, buy an airtight or similar plastic cover at any coin shop. The cover protects the coin and keeps it shiny longer. Whenever you want to touch the coin, you can just pry the cover open with a knife. Avoid anything made of PVC plastic because it turns coins green. Mint boxes are very attractive, as you will see when you purchase your coin. They’re a good way to store your coin, but they are not airtight.

All silver coins will “tone” (develop a patina) over time, depending on their exposure to the air. Toning does not reduce the value of a coin; in fact it may enhance it over time. Never, ever try to clean the patina off a coin, especially with silver polish or anything else abrasive.

Commemorative coins are minted only once and never again, so their numismatic value can increase over time. Their price depends on their uniqueness and collector demand. If silver prices go up, their value will also increase. But resist the urge to melt them down since their numismatic value will always be greater than their melt value. Instead hang onto them, or sell them to a coin dealer or at a coin show.

This may be more information than you wanted, but it’s important if you want to keep your coin looking great and increase its value. Your Louis Braille Commemorative Silver Dollar is a historic item, and like any part of history it should be preserved for the use of future generations of Braille readers and leaders.

 

Join the Club: The knfbReader Mobile--A Product of Teamwork

by Michael Hingson

From the Associate Editor: The National Federation of the Blind is the only national distributor of the knfbReader Mobile, the latest breakthrough in accessibility for print-disabled readers. Knfb Reading Technology, Inc., a partnership between the NFB and other pioneers in access technology, has developed software that places the power of a reading machine in a multifunction cell phone.

Longtime Federationist and international motivational speaker Michael Hingson is the NFB director of national sales for the knfbReader Mobile. He has been interested in and familiar with reading machine technology since its earliest days. Emphasizing the importance of teamwork, he tells the story like this:

It is not surprising that people ask me to speak about teamwork because I have been talking about it in one way or another since I received my first guide dog when I was fourteen. It was most dramatically demonstrated when my fifth guide dog, Roselle, and I worked together to escape the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. This story will forever more be a part of my life, and I enjoy talking about it.

But I have another story of teamwork to share with you. This is one most people don't know about, but it has changed the lives of blind people around the world. It has been thirty-five years in the making, and it will go on for years to come.

In 1974 a young inventor named Raymond Kurzweil developed a process that allowed a camera to take a picture of a printed page and convert the information into either spoken words or recognizable print text that could be displayed on a computer screen or stored in a computer file. The thing that made this invention unique was that not only was this device able to scan typed material, but for the first time optical character recognition techniques could be used to scan printed material like magazines and books. Ray was interested in helping blind people read, so he contacted the National Federation of the Blind to present his idea for a functional reading machine for the blind. Teaming with blind people to achieve this goal made sense to Ray.

I officially joined the project in 1976 when I was hired to work for James Gashel, then NFB director of governmental affairs, to coordinate the day-to-day efforts of the NFB side of the project. My job was to place the five machines the NFB had bought around the country where blind people would have access to them. I trained users in each location, ensured that the machines operated correctly, collected user data, and fed information back to Ray Kurzweil and the NFB leadership. For eighteen months I traveled the country, visiting the sites where the machines had been placed.

At that time the Kurzweil machine weighed several hundred pounds and consisted of a heavy scanner and an even heavier computer processor, each housed in a cabinet. To provide a bit of portability, the machines were moved on a heavy-duty rolling cart.

Teamwork was required all around. Not often does an inventor allow prototypes of his project to leave the laboratory, out of his control. Nevertheless, this is what happened with the reading machine. A team of blind people ran the NFB project, maintained the machines, wrote training curricula, trained other blind people to use the machine, and systematically collected scientific data, which led in 1979 to the first commercially available Kurzweil reading machine.

Over the years Ray maintained his relationship with the NFB. By 2001 he was acknowledged as one of the world's foremost futurists, inventors, and forward-looking thinkers. In 2001, Federation leaders approached Ray Kurzweil with the idea of making a truly portable reading machine. Together they decided to produce a  portable reading machine by 2006. In 2005 prototypes of the new knfbReader were put into the hands of blind people for testing. Consistent with Ray's timeline, the knfbReader went on sale in July 2006, but Ray and the team were not yet finished.

By the beginning of 2008, knfb Reading Technology, Inc., had been formed. The company's first task was to develop a second generation of the reader, called the knfbReader Mobile. This time the hardware platform was to be a high-end cell phone, so the reader could truly be pocket-sized.

Nothing demonstrates the value of a piece of technology more effectively than comments from a satisfied user. A blind executive recently sent an email affirming the value of the knfbReader Mobile in his personal and professional life. His testimonial illustrates the flexibility and independence the knfbReader Mobile gives thousands of blind people throughout the world. Here is what he said:

The knfbReader Mobile, demonstrated at the Cane Event, which was recently provided to me as part of my accessibility toolkit for my new job, is top on my list for capturing images ranging from business cards to showing anyone anywhere how technology can help us remain independent. We've come a long way from using disability rooms in libraries to scanning civil procedure texts independently. In one day I used my knfbReader Mobile to check my boarding gate on a trip from Dallas to Washington, D.C., email a document I had captured during a business meeting to a colleague back in the office, text message a newly appointed government official, capture a restaurant menu at my hotel, and read and send home an audio file of my voice reading Clifford the Big Red Dog to my kids. It's truly amazing.

The supported cell phone models for the knfbReader Mobile are the Nokia N82 and the Nokia 6220 Classic. The knfbReader Mobile can be activated and ready to use with the touch of a single button on the phone. The user takes a photograph of the print to be read. The character recognition software will read aloud the contents of the document in high-quality text-to-speech. The knfbReader Mobile can simultaneously display the print on the phone’s built-in screen in large print if needed, highlighting each word as it is spoken. Following is a common list of tasks that blind people can do independently using the knfbReader Mobile:

In addition the user can independently access other functions of the cell phone, including making and receiving calls and accessing contacts and calendar data. When fully equipped, the phone can run global positioning system programs, access Adobe PDF files, and operate a voice recorder and music player. Accessible documentation for the knfbReader Mobile provides additional explanations of all of the features of this powerful technology.

The reader, available from the National Federation of the Blind, includes the knfbReader software, the Nokia 6220 Classic mobile phone, and a cell phone screen reader--either Talks or MobileSpeak. The knfbReader Mobile software and phone cost $1,370. Either telephone screen reader costs $295. The entire package, including the screen reader, costs $1,665 plus shipping. To help with financing, the NFB operates a 3 percent low-interest technology loan program. Inquiries about the technology loan program should be directed to Curtis Chong at (515) 277-1288; <curtischong@earthlink.net>. We also accept Visa or MasterCard.

For further information, to purchase the knfbReader Mobile, or to ask about opportunities to help promote and sell this product, contact Michael Hingson at (888) 965-9191 or (415) 827-4084; <http://knfbreader.michaelhingson.com>.

Ray Kurzweil has a vision for the future of the knfbReader Mobile that calls for it to do even more than read print. A great future lies ahead, but we will have to wait for the technology to catch up to Ray's ideas. Although Ray had the dream, the idea, and the expertise to create a machine that allows blind people to read printed material, the technology would not be where it is today if it had not been for the team created by Ray and the National Federation of the Blind. It took the leadership of Ray Kurzweil and Kenneth Jernigan to get the idea off the ground and the continued commitment of Ray Kurzweil and Marc Maurer to keep it going. Those of us involved in this experiment are committed to keeping the team alive and the progress coming. Join the club. Be a part of our team. Go totally globally mobile.

 

NFB-NEWSLINE Online Offers Blind Readers More Options for Accessing the News

by Renee West

From the Editor: Renee West is the NFB-NEWSLINE® marketing and outreach manager. In the following brief article she describes two exciting new services available to NFB-NEWSLINE users. This is what she says:

NFB-NEWSLINE, the largest electronic newspaper service in the world for blind and print-disabled Americans, providing free access to over 280 newspapers and magazines, is pleased to announce the launch of the NFB-NEWSLINE Online Website, <www.nfbnewslineonline.org>. Through this breakthrough and its innovative features, subscribers can enjoy both an enhanced experience in reading the news and dramatically increased flexibility in the way they can access their favorite publications. Two new features, Web News on Demand and NFB-NEWSLINE in Your Pocket, are now available to subscribers.

Web News on Demand

Web News on Demand provides all of the features that subscribers enjoy with the traditional phone-based service, including access to all of their favorite publications, the TV listings, and the local information channel content. With Web News on Demand, for the first time subscribers can visit a secure, text-only Website that provides access to the entire edition of any publication on the service. Further, a reader can search for any term throughout the publication. A subscriber using Web News on Demand can send a full newspaper, a section, or a single article to his or her e-mail inbox, allowing unrivaled, immediate access to a breaking news story. For further information about WebNews on Demand, visit <www.nfbnewslineonline.org> and select “Web News on Demand.”

NFB-NEWSLINE in Your Pocket

With NFB-NEWSLINE in Your Pocket we've increased the flexibility and functionality of NFB-NEWSLINE, allowing our subscribers to get daily news quickly and easily using a digital Talking Book player such as the Victor Reader Stream, Icon, or Braille+. NFB-NEWSLINE in Your Pocket is a dynamic software application that a subscriber installs on his or her computer that, through an Internet connection, automatically downloads chosen publications to his or her portable digital talking book player. Through this revolutionary initiative subscribers can gain easy and immediate access to their favorite publications and enjoy the reading experience offered by a DAISY-reading device. For further information about NFB-NEWSLINE in Your Pocket, visit <www.nfbnewslineonline.org> and select “NFB-NEWSLINE® In Your Pocket.”

To learn more about NFB-NEWSLINE, visit <www.nfbnewsline.org>; if you’d like to subscribe to the service, you can fill out the online application form, write to <nfbnewsline@nfb.org>, or call (866) 504-7300. In order to be eligible for NFB-NEWSLINE a person must be legally blind or have a physical or learning disability that prohibits reading newspapers independently. Eligibility is not dependent on or restricted to affiliation with any consumer or support organization; the only thing that matters is the inability to read the newspaper.

If you are already an NFB-NEWSLINE® subscriber, you can access these new features today by visiting <www.nfbnewslineonline.org> and selecting the “Log On” link; once you’ve entered your codes, you’ll need to consent to our terms of use agreement. You will then be able to access all of your favorite publications by reading them online or by downloading them to your digital talking book player.

 

A Thank You to Louis Braille

by David Hyde

From the Editor: David Hyde is a longtime leader of the NFB. He now lives and works in Wisconsin. He is of course a committed Braille user.

Dear Louis,

I'm writing to congratulate you on 200 years of success. I know you won't ever read this, being dead and all, but I think it is important that someone let you know officially how your little project conducted at the school for the blind in France is doing. I believe that we can call your system of raised dots to represent letters and numbers for the blind an unqualified success. We are particularly grateful that you granted the request of an English friend to invent the letter W, even though it wasn't part of the French language in your day.

Your system is now used in most of the civilized world with adaptations to meet local needs. We have also appropriated some of the available dot combinations that you didn't use, to provide contractions for groups of letters, as well as for math and science. The music code you already know about since you invented it as well as the literary code.

Your little invention is responsible for most of the advances blind people have made in the last 200 years. Being able to read independently has opened the world for those of us who don't read print. It has allowed us to dream about new jobs, lives, and opportunities and then to go out and achieve them. We read to our children at night, work at our jobs by day, create and edit our work, and even make works of art because of you. Of course the way we store and display written Braille (we named the code after you) has really changed a lot in the last few years. Some of us have been able to amass respectable libraries and still have room to live in our homes, something we could only dream of when I was a child.

We who are blind see you as the father of literacy and the grandfather of our freedom from ignorance and dependence upon the whims of our sighted friends and families. To this end we in the United States are honoring your 200th birthday with a commemorative silver dollar, the benefits from the sale of which will go to promote Braille literacy. Surprisingly, only a small minority of blind children today are taught Braille in school, which means that many of them will lack the skills to get jobs when they grow up. Our recognition of your contribution will help change this and extend your vision of literacy for the blind to a new generation.

Finally, Louis, it has been a very successful 200 years since you were born, and Braille has been the method we have used to make it so. It has brought us information and trivia, timeless knowledge and ephemera. Through it we have expressed our laughter and our sorrow and the whole range of human experience. Because of you our lives are full. On behalf of all blind people, thank you.

With deep gratitude,
David Hyde, for all Braille Readers

 

Recipes

The following recipes were submitted by members of the NFB of Texas.

Cherry Dump Cake
by Barbara Shaidnagle

Barbara Shaidnagle is a longtime member of the Houston Chapter.

Ingredients:
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 21-ounce can cherry pie filling
1 package plain yellow cake mix
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
1/2 cup frozen unsweetened grated coconut, thawed
1 cup pecans, chopped
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon pineapple evenly over bottom of ungreased 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Cover pineapple with cherry pie filling. Pour dry cake mix evenly over fruit mixture so that it reaches all sides of the pan. Drizzle melted butter over the surface of the entire pan. Sprinkle coconut and pecans evenly over the top of the cake. Place pan on center rack of preheated oven. Bake cake until it is deep brown and a toothpick inserted into center of cake topping comes out clean, fifty-five to sixty minutes. Remove pan from oven and place it on a wire rack to cool ten minutes. Spoon warm cake into bowls, top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and serve.

Tailgate Cake
by Barbara Shaidnagle

Ingredients:
1 Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker German chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup oil
1 cup water
1 can German chocolate frosting
4 eggs

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all ingredients in an electric mixer bowl and mix for two minutes on medium speed. Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan or tube pan. Bake for twenty-five to thirty-five minutes in the 9-by-13 pan, fifty-five minutes in the tube pan, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Vegetable Biryani
by Heather Albright

Heather Albright is a member of the Austin Chapter.

Ingredients:
1 cup Basmati rice
1 1/4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 onion, chopped
3 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons garam masala
Chili powder to taste
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1 tablespoon butter

Method: Rinse and soak rice for thirty minutes; drain. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté cumin seeds and cloves for less than one minute. Sauté the onion, stirring constantly until brown. Stir in rice and fry for about one minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the water, salt, garam masala, chili powder, and vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat; cover and simmer for twenty minutes, or until all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and stir in butter before serving.

Blue Ribbon Dip
by Steve Tompkins

Steve Tompkins is a member of the Austin Chapter. He also serves as our state NEWSLINE coordinator. He says, “This dip is a change of pace. It's not so much for chips. It makes a good dipping sauce for raw vegetables. I also like it with either torn bits of a baguette or thin slices of baguette.”

Ingredients:
8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup cilantro, minced (or substitute parsley)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Method: Combine all ingredients in a shallow casserole or serving dish. Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to two days before serving.

How to Cook a Rattlesnake
by Mike Vandervoort

Mike Vandervoort is a member of our new Abileen Chapter. In honor of our nearby rattlesnake roundup in Sweetwater, we respectfully submit the following: The meat will taste much like other dishes, depending on the way it is fixed, seasoned, and cooked. Prepared like fish with corn meal, it will remind you of fish. Prepared like chicken, with a flour dip, it will taste strikingly like chicken. It can be smoked, broiled, boned for gumbo, made into paté or prepared any other way the cook prefers. The simplest is sometimes the best. Many people prefer this old fried chicken recipe:

Ingredients:
1 rattlesnake
Baking soda
Flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil

Method: Skin, gut, clean, and cut snake into serving sizes desired, maybe three inches long. Dip all in baking-soda-saturated water. Remove excess soda-water mixture. Roll pieces and coat in flour, salt, and pepper. Season with anything else, as desired. Fill a skillet with vegetable oil to about one inch. Heat from medium to medium high. Carefully place pieces in the skillet, being careful to allow space between pieces. Fry until tender throughout (or floating if in deep oil). Don't worry about venom; it is contained in the jaw of the snake and was removed with the head. So please, do not cook the snake with the head or rattle on. If the snake has been bitten by another snake, all venom will be removed in the cooking process, maybe. But, then again, it's always better to check this out first; just ask the snake.

Egg Casserole
by Mary Kindrick

Mary Kindrick is the president of our new Abilene Chapter.

Ingredients:
12-16 slices of bread (crust removed and sliced in half) 
8 eggs (you can use egg substitute or Egg Beaters eggs)
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound cheddar cheese, grated
1 pound Jimmy Dean pork sausage (cooked and drained) or 2 cups ham, cubed
1/2 cup melted butter

Method: Remove crusts from bread and cut each slice in half. Line bottom of 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking dish with one layer of bread. Pour drained sausage (or ham) evenly over bread. Cover with grated cheese, then cover with another layer of bread triangles. Beat eggs, salt, milk, and butter. Pour liquid very slowly and evenly over entire casserole. Refrigerate overnight. Bake uncovered next morning at 375 degrees for forty to fifty minutes or until golden brown. I serve with a fruit salad, fruit juice, and maybe even some miniature muffins. Sometimes I'll even fry bacon to serve on the side. Enjoy. Note: I add onions in the pork sausage when I cook it, but you don't have to.

Pecan Pie
by Mary Kindrick

Ingredients:
1 9-inch pie shell
Filling for 9-inch pie 
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup dark corn syrup (Karo is best for this recipe)
1 cup pecan halves 

Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all filling ingredients, except pecan halves. Stir in pecan halves. Pour filling into unbaked pie shell. Bake until filling is set and pastry is nicely browned (forty to fifty minutes). Helpful hint: I place the pie on a foil-covered cookie sheet before baking. This prevents oven spills, meaning less cleanup later.

Grandpa’s Divinity
by Jane Lansaw

Jane Lansaw is a member of the Austin Chapter. She is also an O&M instructor at the Criss Cole Rehab Center.

Ingredients:
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup (Karo)
1/2 cup hot water
2 egg whites, beaten until stiff peaks form
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method: Combine sugar, corn syrup, and hot water and bring to a boil in saucepan. Cook syrup, stirring frequently to soft ball stage (238 degrees on a candy thermometer) or until you can drop a bit into ice water and form a soft ball when you roll it in your fingers. Meanwhile beat egg whites. I like to add food color to egg whites while mixer is going. Pour half of hot syrup gradually into egg whites while you continue to beat the whites. A standing mixer is the easiest, but I’ve done it with a hand mixer. Pour slowly but change quickly from pouring to beating if you are using a hand mixer. Try to secure the bowl so that you can mix and pour simultaneously. Continue cooking the remainder of the syrup until it reaches the hard ball stage (250 degrees or until a little dropped into a cup of ice water can be rolled into a firm ball). Gradually add the rest of syrup to egg whites while beating. Then add vanilla and continue beating while the candy cools. If you like, add chopped nuts, candied cherries, etc. while you beat the cooling candy. If you can make a peak stand up when you touch the confection, it is cool enough. Don’t let it get so cool that it hardens in the bowl, or you and your family will be digging it out of the bowl to eat it. When confection is just cool enough, spoon onto waxed paper in uniform dollops. Makes about four dozen pieces. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

New Baby:

Sachin Pavithran, winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship in 2007 and a leader of the NFB of Utah, reports with joy that Maya Anne was born on March 23, 2009, at 5:44 p.m. She weighed 6.1 pounds and was 19 inches long. Both Maya and her parents are doing well. Congratulations to the Pavithrans.

Elected:

The Chicago Chapter of the NFB of Illinois conducted elections on April 11, 2009. The results were as follows: president, David Meyer; first vice president, Patti Chang; second vice president, Carmen Dennis; secretary, Debbie Stein; treasurer, Steve Hastalis; and board members, Mary Grunwald, Howard Wilson, Debbie Pittman, and Jemal Powell.

Planting Seeds:

None of us knows for certain what impact we have on the lives of the people with whom we come into contact. It is well to remember that we are teaching people about blindness every day, sowing seeds of understanding and high expectation when we conduct our lives and do our jobs without fanfare or fuss. We recently received an email from Andrea (Andi) McGraw Hunt. Some years ago she was Allen Schaefer’s student during grade school. She is not the first of Allen’s former students to make a special point of describing his impact on his band members. He was clearly a memorable teacher. Allen has been gone for well over a year, but obviously his influence lives on. Here is the email we received:

I am writing after reading your February 2008 obituary for Allen Schaefer, whose name on a whim I decided to Google this afternoon. I had recalled him recently to friends over lunch at Augustana College this past January while visiting with my band on a three-day concert-lecture gig. While sitting with teachers from the college's music program, I described this grade school band teacher I had who had all his band scores transcribed into Braille and conducted us with one hand while reading the score with the other. He knew exactly what each instrument was playing at any moment and could really rehearse us at each class. He also taught private instrumental lessons (he could play every instrument--had the lesson books transcribed in Braille too) and also taught the school chorus. The Augustana faculty were astounded--how did he do that? Is it possible? I told them that it worked somehow. His wife Ruth accompanied us on piano for the solo and ensemble competitions as well as in chorus rehearsals, and I gather she also did much of the transcribing of his Braille scores. I heard him say something once about being state president of the National Federation of the Blind, and one day he handed out cards with the alphabet in Braille. But to us kids who saw him every day it was completely normal that he was blind, and, to be honest, we really saw him as a kind of geeky guy with an out-of-date sense of fashion.

In high school I moved away from that very small town in Illinois and went on to study music therapy at college. I'm now a music therapist and working on my doctoral dissertation in the field. I still sing and play flute with my band, and we play around Philadelphia and small colleges in different parts of the country. Mr. Schaefer's teaching gave me a strong foundation in enjoying music and of enjoying being with others in music that I have wanted to share with people all my life. I was very sad to hear of his passing in your obituary but also amazed that I must have somehow sensed his presence that January day over lunch at Augustana, his alma mater.

I want everyone to know just how far-reaching his teaching has been and how grateful I am for all that he taught me. Thank you for sharing more of his story so that I could understand even more how accomplished a man he was. To his wife Ruth, my condolences and my sincere thanks for all she has done as well to support him. My memories of them both are warm and joyful.

Note: Ruth died in January of 2005, and Allen died in December of 2007. Let us all hope that we can have as profound an impact on the lives and attitudes of our friends and colleagues as Allen Schaefer had.

New Chapter:

On April 18, 2009, the NFB of Greater Toledo was established. The officers of the new chapter are president, Eric Burghardt; vice president, Colleen Roth; secretary, Ann Pacelli; treasurer, Marilee Medlen; and board member, Hannah Furney. The Ohio affiliate is delighted to have a chapter again in Toledo, and we are expecting great things from this energetic group.

Attention Braille Readers Attending the NFB National Convention in Detroit:

In response to consumer requests, the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), is conducting an evaluation of the Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS), an experimental code designed to include literary, math, and scientific information, combining all three codes into one unified system. As an initial phase of this evaluation, BANA is recruiting interested Braille readers attending the National Federation of the Blind convention from July 3 to 5, 2009. We are looking for a broad range of casual and professional Braille users of various ages and different levels of Braille-reading experience.

At the convention those selected will take part in sessions examining the experimental code. Some will be assigned a group task and others a half-hour individual task. Those not selected for the convention tasks are welcome to participate in a later survey. If you are interested in being considered as a participant in this phase, please send a message to <brailleauthority@gmail.com>. You will be asked to fill out a simple demographic questionnaire that will help BANA determine into which group you fall. From all of the responses received BANA will create participant groups of similar size.

In Brief

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.

QMB and SLMB Amounts for 2009:

The Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) and Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary programs are two federal programs that pay some health care premiums and other expenses for those who qualify. The Social Security facts article that appears in the Monitor in December discusses both programs, and you should reread it to determine exactly what each covers. The income limits for these programs are based on a percentage of the federal poverty level, which is always adjusted after the December article has been published.

The QMB program is available to those with income less than 100% of the federal poverty level, which for a single person in 2009 everywhere but Alaska and Hawaii is $902.50 a month. In Alaska the amount is $1,127.50, and in Hawaii it is $1,038.33 a month.

The SLMB program is available to those with income greater than 100% but less than 120% of the federal poverty level. In all states other than Alaska and Hawaii this is $1,083 a month in 2009. In Alaska the amount is $1,353, and in Hawaii it is 1,246 a month.

Braille Certification Testing at Convention:

Testing for the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) will be conducted July 4 and 5 at the 2009 NFB convention in Detroit, Michigan. This is a five-year professional certification. The cost is $250. For updates and application deadlines or to apply online, go to <www.nbpcb.org/pages/announcements>. For additional information visit the NBPCB Website at <www.nbpcb.org>, or contact Louise Walch, NBPCB coordinator, at (318) 257-4554 or at <braille@nbpcb.org>.

NFB Pledge

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.