Vol. 53, No. 3 March 2010
Daniel B. Frye, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, president
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: [email protected]
Website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300
Letters to the president, address changes,
subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the National Office.
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Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year.
Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover
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National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 53, No. 3 March 2010
Dallas Site of 2010 NFB Convention
The 2010 Washington Seminar
by Daniel B. Frye
Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans:
Priorities for the 111th Congress, Second Session
Enhancing Pedestrian Safety:
Ensuring the Blind Can Continue
To Travel Safely and Independently
A Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind
Removing the Earnings Penalty:
A Commonsense Work Incentive
For Blind Social Security Beneficiaries
Unveiling Let Freedom Ring:
Braille Letters to President Barack Obama
by Daniel B. Frye
Opening Minds with Knowledge
Intellectual Property in a Digital World
by Marc Maurer
by Edward T. Morman
Leadership in Nonvisual Accessibility in Consumer Electronics:
A Report on the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show
by Wesley Majerus
Of Advocacy and Education
My Study-Abroad Experience as a Vision-Impaired College Student
by Alexander Densmore
What Should I Imagine?
by Parnell Diggs
My Center Adventure
by Ermyl Leazenby
Kennewick Machinist Proceeds Despite Losing Sight
by John Trumbo
Questions yet Unanswered
by Michael Bullis
Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library
by Edward T. Morman
The Hilton Anatole: A Great Convention Destination
by Elizabeth Campbell
Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris
Copyright 2010 by the National Federation of the Blind
The 2010 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Dallas, Texas, July 3-8, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel at 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Hilton Anatole staff only. Call (214) 761-7500.
The 2010 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $62 and triples and quads $67 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, 2010. 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, 2010, 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, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and high-speed Internet access. The Hilton Anatole has several excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Dallas with shuttle service to both the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport and Love Field.
The schedule for the 2010 convention will follow that of last year:
Saturday, July 3 Seminar Day
Sunday, July 4 Registration Day
Monday, July 5 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 6 Opening Session
Wednesday, July 7 Business Session
Thursday, July 8 Banquet Day and Adjournment
Please register online at www.nfb.org, or print legibly on this form, or provide all the requested information and mail to the address below.
Registrant Name ___________________________________________________
State ___________________________________ Zip ____________________
___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Pickup Name ______________________________________
Please register only one person per registration form.
One check or money order may cover multiple registrations.
Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration form(s).
Number of preregistrations x $15 = ____________
Prepurchased banquet tickets x $40 = ____________
Prepurchase barbeque tickets x $40 = ___________
All preconvention registration and meal ticket sales are final (no refunds).
Mail to: National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
200 E. Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Registrations must be postmarked by May 31, 2010.
by Daniel B. Frye
The question "Are you listening?" became the battle cry for the 2010 NFB Washington Seminar, our annual midwinter legislative event. Emblazoned on the NFB in D.C. buttons that members wore while visiting congressional offices, this slogan helped identify us as a group with a distinct legislative agenda for the second session of the 111th Congress. Fourteen members of the NFB national board of directors, thirty-seven state presidents, forty-nine affiliate delegations, and well over five hundred Federationists filled the Columbia and Discovery ballrooms of the Holiday Inn Capitol--our traditional headquarters hotel--for the great gathering-in on Monday evening, February 1. The crowd was inspired and motivated throughout the week by a series of announcements and an award presentation made by President Maurer that reflected the continuing influence of our organization.
But, even before the great gathering-in meeting occurred, an entire weekend of pre-Washington Seminar programs and activities had already taken place. Here is a partial list:
During the great gathering-in President Maurer reviewed a series of meetings he has conducted with highly-placed officials in the Obama administration to promote the policies and views of the NFB. He announced that earlier on Monday morning, February 1, he and other Federation leaders had met with United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to present the book, Let Freedom Ring: Braille Letters to President Barack Obama, a volume containing one hundred first-person accounts of the effect that Braille--or its absence --has had in the lives of the writers. Further details of this book presentation, the culminating event in our 2009 Braille Readers are Leaders (BRL) campaign celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, appear elsewhere in this issue. President Maurer told the assembly that several weeks ago he met with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to familiarize him with our concerns about silent vehicles and to encourage his support of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. He also announced that he had met with U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss issues of civil rights for the blind, and he reported that Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez has agreed to be a keynote speaker at the tenBroek Law Symposium scheduled for later this spring at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.
President Maurer said that, only weeks before, he had addressed the staff of the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. It is committed to creating one of the largest digital book collections anywhere. He urged the importance of making this digital book collection nonvisually accessible. He also told Federationists that he would soon be delivering a lecture on the rights of the disabled to participate fully in society at a symposium at the Yale University School of Law.
Consistent with our quest to secure equal access for blind people, President Maurer described our recent settlement with Arizona State University to refrain from using inaccessible digital teaching technology like the Kindle DX. He also told us that at our urging the U.S. Department of Justice had reached similar agreements with several private colleges and universities who had tried to introduce inaccessible technology as an instructional method in their mainstream courses. Finally, he announced that NFB of Colorado President and attorney Scott LaBarre is in the process of serving notice to all three hundred law schools in the nation that they could be added as a party to our lawsuit against the Law School Admissions Council if they fail to work with us to address the access challenges that blind law school candidates face today. On a brighter note Scott LaBarre reported a positive ruling that a Federal District Court judge recently issued in which the National Conference of Bar Examiners has been directed to allow Stephanie Enyart, a blind graduate of the UCLA law school, to take the multistate portion of the California Bar Examination and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination using the access technology with which she is most familiar. While the preliminary ruling in this case applies only to Ms. Enyart, most observers agree that this decision bodes well for the access concerns of blind candidates throughout the country who sit for bar examinations that use these national tests.
Other Federation leaders kept activists informed of recent organizational successes and developments. NFB First Vice President Fredric Schroeder told everyone that we had sold two hundred and twenty thousand Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars in 2009, and he announced that, once matching funds were raised, the United States Mint would be giving the Federation approximately 2.2 million dollars to promote the programs of our BRL campaign. Imagination Fund Chairman and NFB of South Carolina President Parnell Diggs introduced Washington Seminar participants to the 2010 Race for Independence, a campaign dedicated to promoting accessible technology for blind people. Read more about the Race for Independence elsewhere in this issue.
James Gashel, vice president for business development with knfbReading Technologies, updated Federationists on recent developments with the knfbReader Mobile. He told the gathering that since last year the company had added support for eighteen foreign languages and had expanded support of the technology from two to eight phone models. Jim reported that Michael Hingson, director of the NFB direct sales initiative for the knfbReader Mobile, is the leading distributor of the technology in the nation, with eleven cooperating dealers around the country.
This year knfbReading Technologies focused mostly on promoting its exciting new product, the Blio, a free and accessible piece of book-reading software that will soon be launched. According to Jim, the Blio will allow blind users to access over one million titles, a vast body of material previously unavailable to our community. He reported that this software will run on notebook computers, netbooks, and general computers and in time on a variety of other platforms. Those using the Blio software will be able to buy commercially available books using this system. Federationists were invited to visit <http://www.blioreader.com> for further information about this innovative product.
News of interest to members from the NFB national office was released during this Washington Seminar. President Maurer announced that as of Monday afternoon, February 1, NFB-NEWSLINE® would feature two new, more human-sounding voices for those who continue to read newspapers and magazines over the telephone. Call NFB-NEWSLINE to give Paul and Kate a listen. Additionally, subscribers can now have the text of specific articles sent directly to their email addresses while listening on the telephone by pressing pound and then the nine key while reading any article. Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, announced that the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Nonvisual Learning (BELL) program would be expanded this summer to our Virginia, Texas, and Utah affiliates. He also said that the summer of 2010 would see two sessions of the Jernigan Institute’s Junior Science Academy for elementary-age students interested in learning about science, technology, engineering, and math.
As the great gathering-in drew to a climax, President Maurer introduced the recently confirmed commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Lynnae Ruttledge. Commissioner Ruttledge warmly greeted the gathering, referring to the NFB's international reputation. She promised to make herself available to our leadership for policy conversations, and for the first time in a number of years, we have cause for optimism about the working relationship between the NFB and RSA.
John Paré, NFB executive director for strategic initiatives, along with Jesse Hartle and newly hired Lauren McLarney, NFB government program specialists, then briefed the audience on our three legislative priorities for this year: promoting H.R. 734 and S. 841, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009; advancing H.R. 886 and S. 2962, our Social Security Disability Insurance legislation; and introducing H.R. 4533, the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind, new legislation to create--through study and ultimate regulation--accessibility to a variety of home appliances and mainstream products that are currently not usable independently by blind people. Our legislative memorandum and fact sheets, providing more detail on these initiatives, are printed elsewhere in this issue. Since S. 2962 and H.R. 4533 had been introduced only days before the Washington Seminar convened, these bill numbers are not in these documents.
Deviating slightly from our standard practice, President Maurer returned to Washington, D.C., for the Wednesday evening briefing to introduce two members of Congress. He first presented to the enthusiastic crowd Illinois Representative Jan Schakowski, the original sponsor of H.R. 4533, our new Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind. The Congresswoman spoke sincerely about her support for our commonsense initiative, and she promised to do everything in her power to champion our cause for access to basic technology that everyone but the blind already fully enjoys.
President Maurer then introduced Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch of the Appropriations Committee. She was presented with an NFB Distinguished Legislative Service award in recognition of her valiant effort to secure full funding for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) digital book conversion program. President Maurer explained just how vital this program is to blind readers in America. Representative Wasserman Schultz graciously accepted this award and commented on the potency of our grassroots skill as an organization. The final briefing of the Washington Seminar was truly one in which two powerful members of Congress--both deputy whips for the majority party--had a chance to hear our voices.
Federationists blanketed Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to discuss our legislative priorities with every member of the House and Senate and their staffs. Now that we have returned home from Washington, the hard work begins. We must follow up with the staffers responsible for the issues we discussed. We must urge that our U.S. representatives cosponsor H.R. 734, H.R. 886, and H.R. 4533. We must similarly insist that our U.S. senators support S. 841 and S. 2962 as well as the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind as soon as it is introduced. We must remain at the ready at a moment's notice to follow any instructions our national legislative staff gives us so that the collective power of the NFB can continue to influence public policy for blind people in America. We must not let the momentum started at the 2010 Washington Seminar subside. Our work has just begun.
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the United States. As the Voice of the Nation’s Blind, we represent the collective views of blind people throughout society. All of our leaders and the vast majority of our members are blind, but anyone can participate in our movement. There are an estimated 1.3 million blind people in the United States, and every year approximately 75,000 Americans become blind. The social and economic consequences of blindness affect not only blind people, but also our families, our friends, and our coworkers.
Three legislative initiatives demand the immediate attention of the 111th Congress in its second session:
1. We urge Congress to ensure the safety of blind and other pedestrians by passing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. This legislation would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to:
2. We urge Congress to work with blind Americans to create a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind that mandates that consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology provide user interfaces that are accessible through nonvisual means. This legislation should:
3. We urge Congress to promote and facilitate the transition by blind Americans from recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to income-earning, tax-paying, productive members of the American workforce by enacting legislation to:
For more information about these priorities, please consult the attached fact sheets.
Blind Americans need your help to achieve our goals of economic security, increased opportunity, and full integration into American society on a basis of equality. Enactment of these legislative proposals will represent important steps toward reaching these goals. We need the help and support of each member of Congress. Our success benefits not only us, but the whole of America as well. In this time of national economic insecurity, these measures will contribute to increasing the tax base and encouraging the purchase of consumer goods.
Purpose: To enact the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which will establish a motor vehicle safety standard to alert blind and other pedestrians of the presence of silent hybrid and electric vehicles.
Background: Until recently independent travel for the blind has been a relatively simple matter once a blind person has been trained in travel techniques and has learned to use a white cane or to travel with a guide dog. Blind people listen to the sound of automobile engines to determine the direction, speed, and pattern of traffic. Sounds from traffic tell blind pedestrians how many vehicles are near them and how fast they are moving; whether the vehicles are accelerating or decelerating; and whether the vehicles are traveling toward, away from, or parallel to them. With all of this information blind people can accurately determine when it is safe to advance into an intersection or across a driveway or parking lot. The information obtained from listening to traffic sounds allows blind people to travel with complete confidence and without assistance. Studies have shown that sighted pedestrians also use auditory information when traveling.
Over the past few years, however, vehicles that are completely silent in certain modes of operation have come on the market, and many more silent vehicles are expected in the near future. These vehicles are designed to have many benefits, including improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, but they do not need to be silent in order to achieve these intended benefits. An unintended consequence of these vehicles as they are currently designed is that they endanger the safety, not only of blind people, but also of small children, seniors, cyclists, and runners.
Need for Congressional Action: For several years the National Federation of the Blind has been concerned about the proliferation of silent vehicles. These concerns were validated by a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which concluded that at low speeds hybrid and electric vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in accidents with pedestrians as vehicles with internal combustion engines. Recently automobile manufacturers have acknowledged the dangers posed to blind pedestrians by silent-vehicle technology and have begun to work with the National Federation of the Blind to craft solutions. While participation from some manufacturers is an important first step, many others continue to take a wait-and-see approach on this important issue. Congress must therefore direct the Department of Transportation to take action. It is crucial that this problem be addressed before the inevitable avalanche of tragedies involving blind people (including newly blinded veterans), small children, seniors, cyclists, and runners shocks the nation.
Proposed Legislation: The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 734 and S. 841) was introduced by Congressmen Towns and Stearns in the House and by Senators Kerry and Specter in the Senate. This legislation directs the secretary of transportation to conduct a study and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that provides a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of motor vehicle operation based on appropriate scientific research and consultation with blind Americans and other affected groups. This national motor vehicle safety standard must have the following characteristics:
The standard need not prescribe the apparatus, technology, or method to be used by vehicle manufacturers to achieve the required safety standard. This approach will encourage manufacturers to use innovative and cost-effective techniques to achieve the motor vehicle safety standard.
Automobiles that operate in complete silence endanger the safety of all of us; silent operation should be viewed as a design flaw comparable to the lack of seat belts or air bags, and therefore this safety issue must be addressed.
Requested Action: Please support blind Americans by cosponsoring the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act to authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish and promulgate regulations specifying a motor vehicle safety standard for all new automobiles sold in the United States. In the House of Representatives, members can be added by contacting Emily Khoury in Congressman Towns’s office or James Thomas in Congressman Stearns’s office. In the Senate, members can be added as cosponsors by contacting Doug Frost in Senator Kerry’s office.
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone (410) 659-9314, ext. 2233
Email <[email protected]>
Purpose: To mandate that consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology provide user interfaces that are accessible through nonvisual means.
Background: In recent years rapid advances in microchip and digital technology have led to increasingly complex user interfaces for everyday products such as consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology. Many new devices in these categories require interaction with visual displays, on-screen menus, touch screens, and other user interfaces that are inaccessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision. Settings on the stove, dishwasher, or home entertainment system are no longer controlled by knobs, switches, and buttons that can be readily identified and whose settings can be easily discerned. Inaccessibility of these devices is a major barrier to a blind person’s independence and productivity. If a blind person cannot operate the interfaces of basic office equipment such as copiers and fax machines, this is a potential threat to that person’s opportunity to join the workforce or to maintain an existing job.
Many popular nonvisual mechanisms are available for manufacturers to create interfaces accessible to everyone. For example, text-to-speech technology is inexpensive and more ubiquitous than it has ever been—it is used in everything from automated telephone systems to the weather forecasting service broadcast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Indeed, a few manufacturers have incorporated this technology into their products to create talking menus or to articulate what is on the display screen, but many manufacturers have continued to design interfaces that do not include any nonvisual means of use, rendering the devices inaccessible to blind people.
Need for Legislation: Currently no enforceable mandates exist for manufacturers of consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology to make their products accessible to all consumers. There are also no accessibility standards to provide guidance to manufacturers on how to avoid creating barriers to access by the blind.
Congress should therefore enact a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind which:
This legislation does not mandate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for all consumer technology, home appliances, kiosks, or electronic office technology. Rather it mandates regulations setting meaningful accessibility standards that allow manufacturers to select from a menu of potential solutions or create new ones. This will not only give manufacturers the freedom and flexibility they desire, but will also encourage innovations that make consumer technology more usable for everyone.
Proposed Legislation: Congress should enact a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind that:
Requested Action: Please support blind Americans and cosponsor a Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind to ensure that blind people can fully participate in all aspects of American society. Increased access leads to increased independence, increased employment, and increased tax revenue.
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone: (410) 659-9314, ext. 2207
Email: <[email protected]>
Purpose: To promote and facilitate the transition by blind Americans from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries to income-earning, tax-paying, productive members of the American workforce.
Background: The unemployment rate for working-age blind people is over 70 percent. Part of the reason for this disproportionately high statistic is the myths and misconceptions about the true capacities of blind people. These erroneous perceptions are manifested when employers refuse to hire the blind. Low societal expectations result in low representation of the blind in the workforce.
In addition, governmental programs intended to provide economic security to blind workers during periods of unemployment, especially the SSDI program, have had the unintended consequence of creating an incentive for blind people to remain unemployed or underemployed, despite their desire to work.
Despite the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, blindness still has profound social and economic consequences. Governmental programs should encourage blind people to reach their full employment potential; they should not encourage economic dependence.
Existing Law: Title II of the Social Security Act provides that disability benefits paid to blind beneficiaries are eliminated if the beneficiary exceeds a monthly earnings limit. This earnings limit is in effect a penalty imposed on blind Americans when they work. This penalty imposed by the SSDI program means that, if a blind person earns just $1 over $1,640 (the monthly limit in 2010 following a Trial Work Period), all benefits are lost.
Section 216(i)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act defines blindness as a disability based on objective measurement of acuity and visual field, as opposed to the subjective criterion of inability to perform Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). For blind people, doing work valued at the SGA earnings limit terminates benefits but does not terminate disability. Only blind people not working or those with work earnings below an annually adjusted statutory earnings limit receive benefits.
Need for Legislation: When a blind person enters the workforce, there is no guarantee that wages earned will replace SSDI benefits after taxes are paid and work expenses are deducted. For example, Jane worked as a customer service representative with an annual income of $35,000 until she became blind from diabetic retinopathy. Jane meets the criteria for SSDI benefits, which provide income of $1,060 a month (or $12,720 a year) tax-free while she is not working. Jane wants additional income to meet her financial needs. After an adjustment period and blindness skills training, she finds employment as a part-time representative making $10 an hour for thirty-five hours a week. Jane grosses $350 a week for an average of $1,517 a month. Using a conservative 25 percent withholding tax, Jane nets $1,137.50 from her work, combined with her $1,060 disability benefit, for a net total of $2,197.50 a month. If Jane should have the opportunity to work full time (forty hours), her weekly salary would go up to $400 a week for a monthly average of $1,733. This amount is over the 2010 earnings limit, so Jane loses all of her disability benefits. Using the same 25 percent tax level, Jane nets only $1,300 a month—working an extra five hours a week has cost Jane $897.50 net income (over $10,500 a year). This example illustrates the work disincentive contained in current law.
A gradual reduction of $1 in benefits for every $3 earned over the earnings limit would remove the earnings penalty and provide a financial incentive to work. The benefit amount paid to an individual will gradually decrease, while the individual’s contribution to the Social Security trust fund increases over time. Under this approach, as Jane earns more, she pays more into the trust fund, and her dependence on benefits decreases.
Monthly earnings evaluations are unnecessarily complicated for both the beneficiaries and the Social Security Administration. Since the medical prognosis for blind people rarely changes and because blindness is objectively measurable, blind people should be subject to an annual earnings test with the limit equal to twelve times the applicable monthly SGA amount.
Under current law blind workers frequently pay for items and services related to their blindness that are necessary for them to work, and they are permitted to subtract these Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) from monthly earnings when determining monthly income. Properly crediting IRWE poses a serious challenge to the SSDI program and creates a lack of predictability for the blind person trying to determine whether benefits will be available. To address both issues, Congress should permit SSDI recipients to claim the same amount used when determining an income subsidy under the Medicare prescription drug program, currently 16.3 percent of earnings.
Proposed Legislation: Congress should enact legislation to:
Requested Action: For the House, please cosponsor the Blind Persons Return to Work Act (H.R. 886) by contacting Michaeleen Crowell in Representative John Lewis’s office, and provide a commonsense work incentive for blind Social Security beneficiaries. For the Senate, please consider introducing companion legislation.
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone (410) 659-9314, ext. 2207
Email <[email protected] >
by Daniel B. Frye
On Monday, February 1, 2010, leaders of the National Federation of the Blind highlighted the American crisis in Braille literacy by presenting a book, Let Freedom Ring: Braille Letters to President Barack Obama, to United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This volume, consisting of one hundred first-person accounts of experiences with and without the benefit of Braille, vividly demonstrates the important role that Braille plays in promoting personal and professional opportunities and conveys the consequences of not being Braille literate. In late August 2009 people were invited to submit letters addressed to President Obama about their experiences with and perceptions of Braille. One hundred of the most compelling letters were selected, edited, and included in this volume of anecdotes and narratives. Publication of this book was one of the projects inspired by our year-long celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, the inventor of the tactile code. The online version of Let Freedom Ring is now available to read at <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/books/books1/ltobama/LetterstoObamatc.htm>.
NFB President Marc Maurer, First Vice President Fredric Schroeder, and twenty-three other Federation leaders participated in or observed the thirty-minute ceremony. Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy, Alexa Posny, assistant secretary of education for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Lynnae Ruttledge, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and other senior staff were present for this occasion.
President Maurer began by saying that the NFB believes that literacy is a civil right and pointing out the strong correlation between reading Braille and employment. He briefly reviewed the social and educational challenges that have led to a decline in Braille literacy among blind people throughout America and discussed the NFB's ambitious Braille Readers are Leaders (BRL) campaign, supported by the revenue raised from the sale of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar. In concluding his remarks, President Maurer presented Secretary Duncan with one of these commemorative silver dollars.
Following his remarks, President Maurer introduced Chelsea Cook, an accomplished high school student from Virginia, to read her letter, which appears in the book. As is made clear in her letter, Braille has been integral to Chelsea's academic success and responsible for her belief that a career in science is possible. Here is the text of her letter:
Newport News, Virginia
August 27, 2009
Dear President Obama:
I am a senior attending the Denbigh High School Aviation Academy in Newport News, Virginia. Two days before the launch of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar into space, the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia held its monthly board meeting. When I walked into the room, our state president recognized me and jokingly asked if I would be going with the coins. I told him that I wished I could.
I am Braille literate, and I have been since I was four. I realize now that I was one of the lucky students who learned Braille at an early age. Many I talk to now do not know Braille. This is a problem because Braille equals literacy for the blind. It has made all my dreams and goals seem that much closer, and it is an integral part of my life. I want to be an astronaut, and my blindness will not stop me from achieving this goal. Physics is my favorite subject in school, and, when I memorize the equations and formulas used, I read them first and retain them in my mind in their original Braille code. It continues to baffle me how blind people can grow up and graduate high school without the vital tool of literacy. When I cannot access my electronic Braille books due to technology glitches, I feel as though a part of me is missing--that a void has opened and needs to be filled. Audio just does not measure up.
For me Braille is not only essential in higher science and math courses; the code is also critical in my writing and civic endeavors. I compose poetry and science fiction novels for the pure pleasure of seeing my words on paper (Braille, of course) and for having something important to say. When I switch to a talking computer, the ease of writing is gone; Braille is what I've grown up with, and the electronic voice interferes with the process of getting my thoughts down into memory. It shatters the fragile correspondence between writer and future reader. Even now I am writing to you in electronic Braille.
I grew up reading. Once I started, I could not be stopped. My passion for literature would not have developed had I not learned the code. I have always read several steps above grade level, and I believe my success in the academic world is due to the fact that I learned Braille early. My classmates often ask me how I take notes so quickly. I respond by telling them about Braille's many contractions, and I say that my notes are already abbreviated.
Within the National Federation of the Blind I hold several positions at the national level. I am second vice president of the Writers Division, something I could not have attained without my love of writing. I also hold the office of secretary for the Science and Engineering Division, and this position would not be possible for me at all without a firm grasp of Braille. I could not imagine doing it any other way.
Most students today do not have the luxury I did of learning Braille while they are young. I am shocked to hear some people talking of not teaching the Nemeth (math) code. I am also startled by other blind youths' stories of how they hate reading because they cannot do it. That reasoning should be eradicated. I do not remember the number of famous scientists and authors who got their journey's start from simply picking up a book. Isaac Newton was one of them; so was I, with my love for astronomy. As I was listening to the shuttle launch of the Louis Braille coins, I smiled at all the familiar radio calls as everything was reported to be nominal. When they made it into orbit, I thought I was there with them, circling the globe at 17,500 miles per hour, looking around at the stars and the small blue planet we call home, realizing my dream. Braille makes it possible. The symbolism of knowledge gained by blind people and by astronomers studying the depths of the universe with the Hubble Space Telescope was not lost on me; it was amplified. Those coins’ being launched were my two worlds coming together, and they were just waiting for me to join them.
We must keep teaching Braille. Those six dots unlock doors. Those six dots help solve the mysteries of the universe. Those six dots give freedom. I do not want to be the last blind child dreaming in America because I have the gift of literacy. Braille makes dreams reality. Braille gives us words; words give us knowledge; knowledge gives us power.
Thank you for listening.
In contrast to Chelsea's story of hope and optimism because of the role of Braille in her life, Dr. Denise Colton, a parent of two blind daughters, spoke about the challenge of acquiring adequate instruction in Braille for her children. Representing the voices of many parents of blind children across America, she recited a brief sampling of the common frustrations that blind students often experience. According to Dr. Colton, some of these barriers include a lack of certified Braille instructors, difficulty in scheduling daily teaching, resistance to providing Braille instruction based on marginal levels of academic success with large print or other teaching media, and delays in providing Braille textbooks. In closing Dr. Colton asked Secretary Duncan to work with the National Federation of the Blind to guarantee that Braille textbooks reach blind students on time.
Marché Daughtry, a blind elementary school student from Virginia, then charmed the gathering with an animated reading of an excerpt from My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier, an age-appropriate piece of historical fiction about the American Revolution. Marché's self-confidence and pride in being able to read Braille with such facility was apparent, and she, like Chelsea, represents the promise of the next generation, assuming that access to Braille for reading and writing becomes a national priority.
NFB First Vice President Fredric Schroeder formally presented our book to Secretary Duncan at the program's end, and he asked him to give a copy of it to President Obama. He urged Secretary Duncan to join with the NFB to reach our goal of doubling the number of children in the country who can read Braille by 2015. Dr. Schroeder said, "Literacy is the foundation for opportunity. If we work together, we can change this statistic."President Maurer made our meeting goals clear. He said that the blind of the nation want literacy and access to information. Pointing out the dual problems of declining Braille literacy rates and frequent inaccessibility of digital products--like books for students on Amazon's Kindle DX--he asked Secretary Duncan to promulgate an explicit policy that says literacy for the blind is important, requiring that access to Braille and digital information be the norm. Secretary Duncan and his staff favorably responded to our petitions. The prospect for high-level administration support for our literacy and information campaign goals is as bright today as it has ever been.
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: NFB President Marc Maurer delivered the following address to the staff of the Library of Congress on Thursday, January 21, 2010. This survey review of the advocacy role and technical influence that the National Federation of the Blind has had on the evolution of technology and access to information in America and around the world is a testament to our success. Here is what he said:
Advertising in the 1960s in support of college education contained a line that I have always remembered. It said, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Stephen Jay Gould, the American paleontologist, said, "I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops."
It seems to me that the point of education is not so much to teach somebody something—transferring knowledge from the informed to the uninformed—as it is to stimulate curiosity and the excitement of discovery in the minds of those being taught. A book is a dull object until the cover is opened, and some of them don’t change with that event. However, the others do, and the excitement, the thrill, and the joy that are stimulated change the people who do the opening.
I first became acquainted with books so long ago that I don’t remember how I became aware of them. Before I entered school, my mother would read to me. I learned about bears. They lived in houses, slept in beds, sat on chairs, and ate porridge—a substance something like oatmeal, I was told. They were friendly to people. Even then these things seemed to me to be unlikely, but I was curious about what part of the story might be true. Later I came to understand that, if you wanted to know something, you could look it up in the library. The library might not know everything, but it knew an awful lot. It had even more information than my father.
When I entered the second grade, I had learned to read Braille. I was authorized (authorized is indeed the right word) to borrow Braille books from the school library at the school for the blind. The librarian would not lend me some books because she said they were “too old” for me. I wondered what the mysterious knowledge was that I could not be permitted to have because of my age. I still wonder, but not nearly as much as I used to.
Later I learned about the library for the blind in Iowa. I had visited many libraries, and I had admiration for them. However, they were not easy for me to use, and despite the aura of hidden knowledge that pervaded them, they were not much fun. The library for the blind was different for me. I could read any book that struck my fancy. From that time to this the library for the blind has remained an important bright spot in my life. During high school, during college, during law school, during the time that I have practiced law, and during the time that I have led the National Federation of the Blind, one of my primary efforts has been to obtain access to reading material for myself, for my blind colleagues, for blind college students, for blind seniors, and for blind children. One element of participation in society is the ability to get at and to use information. The resource of knowledge contained in books is a vital part of this information, probably the most vital part.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have been working diligently to be a part of the growing digital age. Computers became important before I entered college in the early 1970s. I remember attempting to master this new technology. One of my colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind modified an early computer printer, which printed matter on paper tape. He put a piece of elastic under the paper tape and programmed the computer that drove the printer to present the results of computer calculations by having the printer’s period produce feelable dots on the paper tape in the form of Braille characters. Many generations of computer technology have passed since those days, and with each generation we develop mechanisms to increase access for the blind to the information produced through them. Today the most common form of output from a computer is an image on a visual display. However, the early computers had no such screens. The output was contained on magnetic tape, paper tape, paper printouts, or computer cards. Many people have suggested that computer presentation is inherently visual. It is visual only because it has been built that way. It is inherently based upon computer code, which can be represented in many ways.
On May 11, 2009, I observed from a distance of three miles the launch of the space shuttle heading into earth orbit to conduct repairs on the Hubble Telescope and to build enhancements into it. The images received from the Hubble Telescope are more often digitally created representations than visual reproductions. The range of wavelengths of scientifically gathered information exceeds that observable by the eye. Although most of the images reproduced appeal to the visual sense, the Hubble itself is often a nonvisual observer. I understand that the visual image of a shuttle heading into space is dramatic and impressive, but, as I stood in Florida observing the launch, the sound impressed me, but even more the influence upon my being by the multiple levels of vibration told me that power was being expended at an enormous rate. I was part of the group observing the launch because the National Federation of the Blind had made a presentation to NASA officials about the urgent need for blind people to gain literacy, and two coins produced by the United States Mint in honor of the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille were aboard the shuttle. These coins incorporate real tactilely readable Braille. I have them with me here. They represent the dream of an entire class of human beings to gain access to knowledge and to use it to expand the horizons that have limited the future for us all.
In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted. Sometime later regulations to implement the act became effective. Included within them are provisions requiring that automated teller machines be built to provide nonvisual access for their use. The manufacturers of the ATMs said that the banks were not purchasing machines with nonvisual access characteristics. Consequently the manufacturers were not building them. The banks said that the manufacturers were not producing the machines incorporating nonvisual access, so they could not purchase them. Inaccessible bank machines were nobody’s fault, they all said. Inaccessibility was caused by an unfortunate set of unchangeable circumstances. We viewed the standoff with outrage. When the National Federation of the Blind had sued a sufficiently large number of people, nonvisual access standards became a priority for manufacturers.
In 2002 the Help America Vote Act became law. One part of this law is a requirement for nonvisual access characteristics to be built into voting machines. Polling places supported with federal dollars were required to have such machines installed by 2006. I admit that it feels remarkably good to be able to cast a secret ballot. It had never happened for me until after the nonvisual access systems became a part of the voting process.
A few years ago the Google company announced that it was forming partnerships with some of the major libraries of the world to create digital versions of the collections they housed. Google would be using the vast array of material collected to permit users of its system to conduct searches of literature. By doing these searches, Google users could identify books that they might want to read.
The National Federation of the Blind was fascinated by this announcement. Google was planning to make snippets of its material available. Why, we wondered, along with the rest of the world, could not all of it be made available? Why could we not get our hands on the books themselves? The libraries have them in print, but the digitized versions could easily be rendered by computer-created voice or on a computerized Braille display. With a tiny amount of reflective thought, the programming staff at Google could offer blind people throughout the United States and beyond our borders access to millions of books. Although doing the necessary work to make it practical struck us as daunting, the prospects of what might happen when the work was done were also sufficiently captivating that they were virtually equivalent to a physical sensation. The prospect of being able to get at so much information with ease and speed is nothing short of joyous.
We began an odyssey to meet with the heads of the libraries whose collections were being digitized. One of the benefits of this digitization project was that the material would be made available to the universities that had permitted Google to digitize it. Students and staff at such universities would be permitted to use the digitized collection. We pointed out that creating a digitized version for sighted students and staff that did not incorporate nonvisual access for blind students and staff would violate the law. We urged the librarians to insist upon equal access for their print-disabled borrowers. In the meantime the Authors Guild sued Google to make it stop the digitizing program, arguing that creating a digitized version of a print book violates the copyright law. The case is in the midst of settlement negotiations, which are very likely to become final within the next few months. When the Google settlement was first announced, equal access for the blind and otherwise print-disabled was indeed a part of the agreement. Google has two years from the time the settlement becomes final to devise and implement a method for providing equal access to the blind and print disabled.
The National Federation of the Blind predicted some time ago that electronic book-reading systems would soon be widely available. The Amazon Company released the Kindle 2 early in 2009. The Kindle 2 had a text-to-speech program in it that could make a text document hearable. We in the National Federation of the Blind were not surprised because we had urged Amazon to incorporate speech programs in its products. We were, however, disappointed that the controls of the device were not accessible to the blind, making the Kindle 2 unusable except with vision. Shortly after the release of this new reading system, the Authors Guild demanded that the speaking program component be switched off for books sold through Amazon to be used with this product. The Authors were making the argument that a hearable version of intellectual property is a violation of copyright because it is a taking without permission of the visual version of the book and producing that book in an alternate form. We of the National Federation of the Blind responded that access to intellectual property is not limited to the visual realm. Reading can be done visually, auditorially, or tactilely. We urged that the Authors permit auditory presentation of their books.
Later in 2009 Amazon announced that one version of the Kindle would be deployed on college campuses in a number of places throughout the United States. We asked the colleges not to deploy inaccessible technology in their classes. When they ignored this request, we asked the Department of Justice to investigate the legality of such practices. The Department of Justice has announced that several universities have indicated that they will not be using inaccessible technology in their courses.
We urge electronic book producers to realize that, if they produce material that can be heard as well as seen, the market share available to them increases. Between fifteen and thirty million Americans are print disabled some or all of the time. Sometimes the print disability consists of the inability to hold a book for long periods. Sometimes the print disability is blindness. Other causes exist.
In 2001 the National Federation of the Blind began construction of a new building, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. At that time we contemplated the possibility of building a handheld portable reading machine for the blind. We joined with Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist who had built the first reading machine for the blind, to pursue this project. The first version was released in 2006. The smallest reading machine for the blind in the world, the knfbReader Mobile, is a software product that operates nowadays on a cell phone. Some of the underlying technology required to build a portable handheld reading machine has been redesigned into a software product that will offer people the opportunity to read electronic books. This new software device, the Blio, which is to be released for free public use in the next few weeks, was demonstrated as one of the most exciting new technologies during the keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, in early January. The Blio is expected to have accessibility built into it at the time of release. This software product will offer access to several million electronic books at or shortly after the date of its release.
In September of 2008 the National Federation of the Blind, the Apple Corporation, and the state of Massachusetts released an agreement. One of the most widely used technologies for music, iTunes, had been unusable by blind individuals. Apple said that it would undertake to provide nonvisual access to iTunes, the iTunes store, and iTunes U, an element of the iTunes program used for access to university material. When the next version of the iPhone was released in 2009, this device incorporated nonvisual access technology even though the product was built as a flatscreen system without a keyboard. When the iPod Touch was manufactured by Apple, it also contained nonvisual access. Apple computers, iPhones, and iPod Touches have accessibility built into them from the manufacturer. Equal access regardless of visual ability is the standard.
Dr. Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for library services of the Library of Congress, delivered an address in China in September of 2009. In her talk she said that the Library of Congress would be one of a number of libraries to create the World Digital Library. When I read this, it stirred my excitement. I have joined with others in blindness organizations throughout the United States and the world to seek ways of promoting the sharing of accessible digital information. Dr. Marcum indicated that equal access would be a standard to be sought through the World Digital Library. The dream of librarians to make information available regardless of the wealth of the person to get it, regardless of the origin or birth of the person, and regardless of the social standing of that person, was enunciated by Dr. Marcum. Let the intellect manage the intellectual property. Limit the minds of those doing the reading or the research only by the capacity of those minds. Let knowledge be available to everybody.
This reminded me of the declaration of the generous individual who endowed the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. When the library was being opened in 1886, he said: “For fifteen years I have studied the library question and wondered what I could do with my money so that it could do the most good…. I soon made up my mind that I would not found a college—for a few rich. My library shall be for all, rich and poor, without distinction of race or color.” I realize that Mr. Pratt did not include the blind, but he did not because he did not know how to include the blind. Today we know. All that we need is the recognition that the blind must be a part of the included group and the will to ensure that it is done.
From those to whom much is given, much is expected. Even the Bible says that to those that have, more shall be given. The blind have been given short shrift most times, most places. The opportunity exists today for us to gain access to much, perhaps most, of the intellectual property that has been collected in the libraries of the world. We are asking that plans be made so that all of us can use this magnificent resource.
The Library of Congress is recognized throughout the world and revered by those who cherish knowledge. I myself have spent time in the stacks of the law library and have conducted research that helped to change the lives of blind workers in America. As the Library pursues the creation of a worldwide body of information made available to people through the newest technologies, we are asking that the plans incorporate nonvisual access for the blind and print disabled. As we contemplate the intellectual property represented by such a resource, we will build upon it and create additional intellectual property. Furthermore we understand that, if we have this resource available to us, you will be able to demand more of us than has been true in times gone by. We believe that we have done good work; our dreams and our efforts have helped to bring you the Blio. However, we want very much to have the opportunity to contribute more to our society than we have been able to build to date. The Library of Congress, which has been such a magnificent leader in protecting and defending intellectual property and making it available for use by scholars and others, can lead once again in this spectacular effort. I look forward to working with you in making it happen.
by Edward T. Morman
From Barbara Pierce: The following article is reprinted from Great Lives from History: Inventors and Inventions, pages 127 to 129, published by Salem Press, copyright 2010. It includes 409 essays covering 413 individual inventors from around the world and throughout history. The criteria for inclusion in the publication included the inventors’ fame, the significance of their inventions, the amount of time they spent inventing, their representation among world inventors, and their interest to high school, undergraduate, and general readers. For purposes of this publication, the term “invention” was defined to include not only mechanical and other physical devices but also processes…, software…, and systems applied to business management. The author of this entry is our own Ed Morman, director of the Jacobus tenBroek Library in the Jernigan Institute. Here is his essay, which is reprinted by permission of the publisher, Salem Press:
As a blind teenager, Louis Braille invented the Braille code, a system of raised dots that allows blind people to read with their fingers and to write using special tools.
Born: January 4, 1809; Coupvray, France
Died: January 6, 1852; Paris, France
Primary field: Communications
Primary invention: Braille system
Louis Braille (LEW-ee brayl) was the youngest child of Simon-René Braille, a harness and saddle maker, and Monique Braille. Braille’s parents were literate—a fact worth noting since in the countryside east of Paris this was unusual for people of their social class, even relatively prosperous people like the Brailles. A bright and attractive child, Louis was adored by his brother and two sisters and his parents. As a toddler he spent time in his father’s workshop, watching Simon-René work while playing with his tools and supplies.
In 1812 three-year-old Louis accidentally blinded himself with one of the tools. In spite of this disability, when he reached the appropriate age, his parents prevailed upon the parish priest to help enroll him in school. The local teacher quickly took note of Braille’s intelligence and ability to memorize readily what the other pupils were able to write down. Braille was understood to be one of the brightest boys in the school, and his parents, priest, and teacher all determined to find a means to continue his education beyond what was available in their regional market town.
Braille’s childhood in Coupvray was marked by the defeat of the emperor Napoleon’s army and subsequent occupation of the town by enemy soldiers. The difficult circumstances brought on by the occupation increased his parents’ concern about how their blind son would support himself in later life. For this reason, on February 15, 1819, Braille’s father took him to Paris to be admitted as a residential student at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. The first modern school for the blind, the institute had been established three decades earlier by Valentin Haüy, a sighted person dismayed by the poor treatment accorded blind people. Haüy was determined to provide the blind with skills to support themselves by work rather than charity and saw literacy as central to his goal. He devised a system for embossing raised letters on heavy paper. These formed words that his blind students could feel, recognize, and therefore read. Haüy’s educational program included training in both trades considered suitable for the blind and academic studies such as mathematics, geography, and Latin. He also encouraged talented students to pursue musical performance.
This was a time of rapid change in France, and Haüy’s approach fared poorly during the revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. From 1801 until 1815 his school was housed in a charity institution for blind adults, and between 1806 and 1817 Haüy himself lived in exile in Russia. When the school finally moved back into its own quarters, the students found that they were living in a wretched building several centuries old, dank, and with classrooms created by dividing up corridors. The new director, Sebastian Guillié, successfully revived Haüy’s system of embossed books, but his poor treatment of the students only exacerbated the effects of the unsuitable building on their health. Upon his dismissal (for an affair with a female teacher), Guillié was exposed as having lied about the students’ nutritional status. Many were underweight, and some—including Braille—were eventually to fall ill with tuberculosis.
In any case, Braille adapted quickly to his new home. His kind nature and native intelligence brought him friends among the students and recognition by the teachers and administrators. He learned to read using Haüy’s embossed letters and regularly won prizes as the best student in one or another subject. Braille could tell, though, that many blind students had difficulty recognizing raised alphabet letters, and few learned, as he did, how to write with pen and ink. Even particularly adept students could not develop much speed reading embossed letters.
Braille’s inventive genius was set in motion by an 1820 visit to the Institute by Charles Barbier, a retired artillery officer who had devised a military code using raised dots. Since the code could be read by touch, messages and orders could be decoded at night without a light that might reveal one’s position to the enemy. Disappointed in his attempts to get the army to adopt his system, Barbier realized that it could be used by the blind. He demonstrated its use to Guillié, who agreed to test the code with his blind students. Louis Braille was thus introduced to the idea of the blind reading with raised dots. He recognized the superiority of such a system over embossed letters, and he set out to produce a more accessible code than Barbier’s.
Braille invented the Braille code while a teenager, working at it during both his free time at school and his summer vacations at home. By the time he published the code in a pamphlet in 1829, Braille had taught it to many of his fellow students, who confirmed that it enabled them to communicate in writing as no other system could. Meanwhile, in 1821, Alexandre Pignier replaced Guillié as director. Pignier paid attention to his students’ interest in the Braille code, and, although regulations prevented him from making it part of the formal curriculum, he allowed his students to study it on their own. He took particular interest in Louis Braille, and, upon the death of Braille’s father in 1831, he promised that he would never abandon the blind young man.
As it turned out, Pignier was himself dismissed in 1842, the victim of intrigues by his assistant Pierre Dufau. As director Dufau tried to suppress the use of Braille’s code and force on students his own modifications of the Haüy system. However, Dufau’s assistant, Joseph Gaudet, noticing how well the students read and wrote using Braille, chose to publicly announce his support for the dots at the opening ceremonies for the Institute’s new building (where it remains in 2008, as the National Institute for Blind Youth). Publication of Gaudet’s speech in pamphlet form provided the impetus the Braille code needed to lead, in 1854, to its adoption as the authorized system in France. Unfortunately, this was two years after Louis Braille had died.
During his twenties and thirties Braille remained at the Institute as a teacher, supplementing his income with a job as a church organist. A talented musician, his 1829 publication included a code for musical notation as well as the written alphabet. During the years that students at the Institute informally (and sometimes surreptitiously) made use of his code, Braille continued to improve his system for music. He also undertook to invent a method for writing letters of the Roman alphabet using dots. Much slower than writing the Braille code, Braille saw his raised dot system as providing blind people the ability to communicate on paper with sighted people. In 1844 he met another talented blind inventor, Pierre-François-Victor Foucault, with whom he collaborated on a mechanical device, a predecessor to the typewriter, that produced raised dot letters of the alphabet.
By the time the Institute moved into its new home—a modern, salubrious building—Braille’s tuberculosis had progressed to the point where it was incurable by the means available at the time. No longer able to maintain his regular schedule as a teacher, Braille spent several extended periods at home in Coupvray. While in Paris he limited his work as an organist and reduced his teaching load. His condition became acute shortly before Christmas 1851, and he succumbed a few weeks later, two days after his forty-second birthday.
Although Valentin Haüy was not the first to create a system for the blind to read by touch, no earlier attempt had ever been institutionalized. Braille’s exposure to Haüy’s method and then Barbier’s code led him to create the first truly workable system for blind literacy. Readily understood by the blind and easily adaptable from French to other European languages, by the end of the nineteenth century many western European countries were using Braille in the instruction of blind children. The Braille code had a number of competitors (most based on principles derived from Braille) in the United States, and only in 1917 did it become the standard. In 1949 the government of India encouraged UNESCO to regulate Braille for use in all languages, regardless of writing system.
Until the development of sound recording and the subsequent adoption of discs and tapes for distribution to the blind by libraries, Braille and similar codes provided the only access to reading material for the blind. Braille literacy reached a peak in the middle of the twentieth century. More recently sound recordings and specialized computer programs have led to a decline in Braille usage and the claims by some that the Braille code is obsolescent. Among the organized blind, though, there remains great support for teaching Braille to visually impaired children, beginning at the same age as the sighted learn to read print. In 2009, to mark the bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth, the United States mint is issuing a commemorative one-dollar coin.
Bickel, Lennard. Triumph over Darkness: The Life of Louis Braille. Sydney: Allen & Unwin Australia, 1988. A competent and accurate account of Braille’s life and influence. It tends toward the hagiographic and in florid language perhaps overemphasizes the devotion of the Braille family and Alexandre Pignier to the deposed French royal family and the Catholic Church.
Dixon, Judith, ed. Braille into the Next Millennium. Washington: National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, 2000. A collection of articles on the history and current status of tactile reading systems for the blind. Published in print and Braille.
Irwin, Robert B. “The War of the Dots.” In As I Saw It. New York: American Foundation for the Blind, 1955. A firsthand account of how the Braille code eventually became the standard in the United States.
Mellor, C. Michael. Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius. Boston: National Braille Press, 2006. The print edition contains numerous beautiful illustrations that are described in detail in the Braille edition. The illustrations of the Braille and Barbier codes and of Foucault’s invention clarify for the reader how they work. Although catalogued as a children’s book by the U.S. Library of Congress, this is in fact a well-documented book based on primary materials, many of which are reproduced within it.
Roblin, Jean. The Reading Fingers: Life of Louis Braille, 1809-1852. Translated from the French by Ruth G. Mandalian. New York: American Foundation for the Blind, 1955. This was originally published in French to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Braille’s death. Accurate but occasionally hard to follow, this short work provides the English-speaking reader a sense of how Louis Braille has been viewed in France.
The Braille Code
Louis Braille created the first truly practical system of tactile symbols that allowed the blind, using their fingers, to read with the comprehension and speed of sighted people reading print. He built on the efforts of two sighted people: Valentin Haüy, a philanthropist and educator who produced books with embossed letters of the alphabet for his blind students, and Charles Barbier, a military officer who devised a code of raised dots for transmitting messages and orders in the dark. Barbier’s code used thirty-six phonetic symbols, each represented by a cell of two columns containing between one and six dots. The Braille code was unlike Haüy’s embossed letters (which were the same shape as the printed alphabet) or Barbier’s dots (which were phonetic). Using the sixty-three possible combinations of between one and six dots in a cell of two columns and three rows, the Braille code has a one-to-one correspondence with the letters of the alphabet and punctuation marks. The smaller cell size was readily read by touch, and one-to-one correspondence with letters of the alphabet allowed for easier written communication between blind and sighted people. Braille’s system became dominant in France shortly after his death, and subsequently spread throughout the world.
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind
Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB
Your Gift Will Help Us
Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!
by Wesley Majerus
From Barbara Pierce: Wes Majerus is an access technology specialist in the NFB Jernigan Institute’s technology department. Here is his report on the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES):
Each year in early January Las Vegas is home to the largest consumer electronics tradeshow in the world. It is a chance for vendors from all over to showcase concepts and products under development as well as to highlight hardware and software on the immediate horizon. This gives wholesalers, journalists, and others in the industry a chance to take a look at these products all in one place. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has an initiative in consumer electronics that promotes best practices in accessibility and raises awareness among manufacturers as the consumer electronics industry rapidly changes and adopts interfaces that will raise problems for the blind.
This year three staff members from the NFB Jernigan Institute (Mark Riccobono, executive director; Karen Zakhnini, manager of corporate outreach; and Wesley Majerus, access technology specialist) joined two other Federationists (Michael Barber, president of the NFB of Iowa, and Mike May, CEO of the Sendero Group) to explore what CES had to offer. This was an opportunity to spread awareness about accessibility by talking directly to product manufacturers, developers, and marketers. It was also a chance for us to come away with ideas of accessible products already available for our continuing consumer electronics initiative. It allowed us to evaluate trends in the consumer electronics industry and to identify any concerns that may evolve. We would like to share with you some of the thoughts we came away with after three days of examining thousands of consumer electronics hardware and software solutions.
Many times throughout the week in Vegas, we found that manufacturers were simply unaware of product accessibility. The show gave us a great opportunity to explain how blind people use products and which features would be necessary to make them accessible. One product that holds some promise is an inexpensive remote produced by RCA's accessories that is slated to appear on store shelves this spring. This remote offers speech output and voice recognition. It is a universal remote in that it can control multiple devices such as a television, a DVD player, and the set-top boxes commonly used for satellite broadcasting or digital cable. By talking to the device, you can instruct it to turn a device on or off, change the channel, or perform another specific function. Though a remote like this does not make menus in DVDs or the electronic guide on your satellite broadcast system accessible, it can be useful for setting up functionality and making operation of devices more straightforward. The voice recognition and output on this remote can also be used to set up the remote itself, in other words, to program the remote to communicate successfully with the specific devices you currently have.
The remote also supports Macro commands, which allow you to perform a series of functions by speaking one phrase. For example, if you said, "Watch DVD,” the remote could be programmed to switch your TV to the proper video input source and switch on the DVD player. In another instance you could say "Hello" to have your TV and set-top box turn on simultaneously. At an estimated price of $39, this remote is something that almost anyone can afford and make part of a home entertainment system.
Sticking with the TV theme, we were able to examine a new type of set-top box that has not yet hit the market. Ocean Blue Software, a company from the United Kingdom, has produced a prototype of a digital set-top box, the device that sits on top of your TV and displays programs from digital TV, cable, or satellite broadcasts. This set-top box has been specially adapted with text-to-speech software that reads the information displayed when you switch channels, including program name, duration, and special attributes, like whether subtitles and audio descriptions are available.
Going a step further, one can enter the electronic programming guide to determine what is being shown at a given time on a given channel. In this mode you can learn the duration of the program; obtain detailed information, including a plot summary; and learn any special features of the program such as video description and subtitle inclusion. Most of these set-top boxes have menus through which aspects of the device can be customized to your liking. Ocean Blue's set-top box allows access to these menus. This prototype had clear-sounding speech, and its use seemed straightforward. We hope to persuade U.S. broadcasters to include such software in their set-top box models to allow greater access to the world of interactive TV.
Apple's iPhone has popularized the concept of one device that does almost anything through the download of small programs called apps. These apps mean that you can do everything from streaming your favorite hometown radio station and bidding on auction items on eBay to booking airline tickets through specific applications developed by various providers. This concept is still evolving on Apple's App Store, but it is also catching on elsewhere. For example, some new TV sets now connect to your home Internet link. These TVs allow you to check your Yahoo email or send a tweet on Twitter. Some TVs can also allow you to stream movies on demand through the popular Netflix movie service. Hulu, a popular free service for watching TV shows online, can be accessed through a device called the Boxee, which attaches to your TV and to your home computer network.
It is currently impossible to access these applications nonvisually. No solution exists to read the screens required to manipulate the controls or to play the streaming content. In one case, for a Vizio large screen TV, the remote seemed usable tactilely. It was a standard TV remote on first glance. By pushing the spring-loaded top surface aside, a full QWERTY keyboard for completing Internet searches or writing email was revealed. Television-based applications and set-top boxes that are Internet-driven are a new and exploding industry trend. We in the NFB will continue to work toward accessibility of these types of devices as they provide even more computer-like functionality.
Another promising industry trend centers on cloud computing, the ever-growing Internet, and mobile devices. We became acquainted with a company called iSpeech.org that provides speech output to any Internet-enabled application. Text sent to its servers is returned as clear-sounding speech. An example of its work is featured in the application DriveSafe.ly. This application can read your text messages aloud to you when you are driving and can give you the opportunity to communicate with the phone by voice to determine what should be done with the text or email after it is read. The application sits on the phone and manages these transactions, but all of the work related to speaking the data is done on large computers with fast processors, which allows the speech to be clear and understandable.
In-vehicle navigation systems are also beginning to harness this type of technology. In one scenario a prototype car dashboard was shown with integrated computer technology. By monitoring the status of the vehicle, traffic data, driving trends, and favorite news categories, a user could receive a full daily report. By prompting the system for this report, the user was told in clear-sounding speech where the cheapest gas could be found along the way and which exits should be avoided because of traffic and road construction, as well as a summary of the top news stories of interest. This report was dynamically generated in that the car detected its level of fuel and provided the driver with gas prices because the tank was nearing empty. It also gathered real-time traffic data and news headlines through the use of a cellular data link that was part of the system imbedded in the car. Though blind people cannot drive today, this technology could have applications in future vehicles that the blind can drive. Asking for information by voice and obtaining an auditory response could be one of the tools allowing blind drivers to make decisions as they pilot their vehicles down the road.
In these times of heightened security and energy costs, home automation is gaining some traction. One company that provides such a solution is Control4 Home Automation. Their system centers on a small box called the Home Controller. For $299 the least expensive Home Controller can manage up to seventy devices made by third-party vendors to comply with the standards that Control4 has adopted. These devices include keypads with configurable buttons, thermostats, audio amplifiers, electronic door locks, and fire protection/detection equipment, among others. For the most part, control of such systems takes place through keypads and touch screens. They are professionally configured and installed, and one of the options available is to have audio files added that confirms actions being taken and gives alerts of any adverse conditions like smoke being detected, or doors being opened unexpectedly.
Basic applications such as these can be monitored through mobile phones such as the iPhone, whose screen mimics that of one of the Control4 touch screens used while inside the home. We urged the developers of these mobile applications to follow published guidelines and to make their apps accessible. Control4 is also entering the apps market so that, for example, you could tweet, read the news, or get TV listings on one of their touch screens that is on your bedside table. Because these external applications use flash, you cannot use them on mobile devices, and they are not accessible even while inside the home. It will be interesting to see where the future of home automation leads and to determine how accessible it can be made.
GPS was also another interesting area at CES. Though no one had blindness-specific GPS solutions at the show, there were some promising possibilities. The Garmin booth housed the 800-series handheld GPS units. These devices can be used both in vehicular and pedestrian situations. They offer the capability to respond to voice commands to activate any button on the touch screen and to search for POIs (nearby points of interest). We urged Garmin to provide functionality to activate vehicular and pedestrian mode by speaking a voice command. Though you can control the device by speech recognition, the onscreen output is not accessible. We urge manufacturers to provide speech output in addition to speech recognition to devices such as these.
Also available was the Garmin Nuvifone, which combines cell phone service from AT&T with a Garmin GPS product. This product is different from adding GPS software to a cell phone, because with GPS integrated, you can use GPS while on a call, and the maps are preloaded. We also saw CoPilot Live, a GPS package that has been used on Windows Mobile and other platforms in the past but which is now coming to Android and the iPhone. If Android gains traction in nonvisual access, it may be possible to make an app like CoPilot Live accessible. We urged the representative there to follow published Apple guidelines to make their iPhone app accessible.
Continuing with a discussion of the iPhone, another trend we observed at CES was the ability to control various services and devices with the iPhone and iPod Touch, collectively referred to as iPhone apps. With the latest release of iPhone OS, it is possible to control devices by plugging them into the thirty-two-pin dock connector or through wireless means. Unfortunately, many of the devices we saw could not be tested for accessibility on site. However, we discussed how iPhones are used by blind people in the hopes that app developers will make their apps accessible. We were intrigued by the XM Skydock, a car-mounted iPhone solution that turns your iPhone into the control mechanism for XM satellite radio through a free app installed on the iPhone. A free service called Slacker Radio provides access to music from virtually all record labels through professionally programmed genre-based stations or by allowing you to search for a specific song or artist. After arriving home from CES, we gave this app a try, and it is fairly accessible, although it does have a number of unlabeled buttons. It provides much cleaner access to Slacker Radio than slacker.com, which was virtually unusable with screen-access software.
In summary, CES is a large venue with much to offer the gadget lover or anyone else who is interested in consumer electronics. The National Federation of the Blind is striving to make consumer electronics accessible. The show put us in touch with various manufacturers and gave us hands-on access to devices, services, and software that will affect the community in the months and years to come. Our continued leadership in consumer electronics will become increasingly important. Look for new tools from the NFB Jernigan Institute to empower you to provide feedback on consumer electronics you find particularly accessible. You can check out our blog at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Access_Technology_Blog.asp> to read short takes on access technology products as well as other products and services that we are evaluating. Our consumer electronics accessibility guide is also available to provide you with a list of appliances we have tested and found to be accessible, as well as guidelines you can use on your next trip to the electronics store.
by Alexander Densmore
From the Editor: Alexander Densmore, currently a junior at Oberlin College in Ohio, contacted the National Federation of the Blind for emergency advocacy support last summer, when his prospects for participating in a prestigious study-abroad program in Italy appeared to be jeopardized. After granting Alexander admission to the course, administrators at Duke University and the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome (ICCS-Rome) imposed retroactive contingencies on his admission and enrollment in the course, including the condition that he be accompanied by a sighted human companion--at his expense--at all times when away from the physical campus. For an intense two weeks in the heat of July, Alexander learned firsthand about blatant discrimination and custodial policies based on low vision at the hands of sighted administrators who possessed limited knowledge and low expectations about blindness and blind people. He also learned about the power of collective action to remedy prejudice--whether rooted in overt hostility or simple ignorance.
A review of the correspondence between Alexander and the course administrators (not reproduced in this article) makes it clear that their motivation was solely to avoid a perceived higher risk of legal liability because of Alexander's vision loss; their claim of being interested only in his safety and welfare was transparently disingenuous. Fortunately matters were resolved to Alexander's satisfaction before the semester began, and he was able to participate in a rewarding and enriching classical studies program in the heart of Italy. Alexander acquitted himself with distinction during the fall, and we can only hope that this encounter taught administrators at Duke and the ICCS-Rome something about the law and the importance of humility when one is ignorant. Here's Alexander's account of this initial challenge and his fulfilling experience in Europe:
I am a junior at Oberlin College in Ohio. I have albinism and low vision. I spent this past semester (fall 2009) studying abroad in Italy at a program called ICCS-Rome, an academically rigorous program focusing on classics. The program’s core is a course called the Ancient City with extensive on-site field trips at least three days a week, where a great deal of the course’s material is taught.
I applied to the program during the admission process in March 2009. I fully disclosed on the application that I had a vision impairment. Approximately two weeks after submitting the application, I was unconditionally accepted.
In May I contacted Duke University (since they administer the program) and spoke with the head of the Student Disability Access Office (SDAO). At this point I requested only academic accommodations. They recommended that I use a cane for uneven terrains and to signal drivers that I am vision impaired. I agreed to these proposals. Duke was to contact the program administration in Rome to arrange these accommodations.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I received a letter from Duke on July 8, 2009. Based on the recommendations of an expert ophthalmologist that Duke and ICCS-Rome had consulted, Duke University decided to require that I use a global positioning system (GPS) and a FarView magnifier that they would provide. I was surprised, but I was willing to use these devices if Duke provided them.
What startled and angered me was that Duke and ICCS-Rome required that I find, hire, and pay the expenses for a sighted guide. The only expenses Duke and ICCS-Rome would incur for such a companion were transportation expenses on group excursions. I would have to pay the guide's salary and all other costs. Duke and ICCS-Rome did not just require this guide on field trips but, to quote their letter, also required "assistance of the companion on weekends, holidays, and breaks as well as anytime you go off campus." Since the ICCS-Rome campus consists of only one building, I would need--if reading their terms literally--to have my guide be present anytime I went outside.
My parents and I had already purchased my plane ticket and paid the program deposit. I wrote a letter attempting to reject the human guide accommodation. I listed many people who knew about my vision impairment and understood my abilities. I reiterated my willingness to use a cane—since in May I had already acquired and been trained in the use of a cane.
On July 10, 2009, I was notified that I would have to contact my supporters and get them to write letters to Duke and ICCS-Rome, supporting my refusal to use a human guide during my semester abroad. At this point I was angry--it felt as if Duke and ICCS-Rome were trying to get me to drop out of the program. Finding and paying for such a companion was unrealistic. Further, I did not want to use a guide during personal time. I was not willing to give up easily--I wanted to prove to Duke and ICCS-Rome that what they were doing was wrong.
On Monday, July 13, 2009, I called and spoke with the head of Duke's SDAO. She reiterated the official position. I was advised that, since it was so close to the semester, I should submit all supporting letters by July 15. My supporters (including professors, my high school Latin teacher, ophthalmologists, the director of Oberlin’s Services for Students with Disabilities, and my mobility trainer) were required to go to the program Website and specifically address how I would participate safely and successfully in every aspect of the course. I had to scramble for two days, frantically communicating with supporters, even while at work.
I was overwhelmed with all of the support I received. All of my supporters and representatives of the National Federation of the Blind wrote letters. I had never even met a few of my supporters, but they still wrote letters on my behalf. All these letters were gathered in just two days. In the letter from the NFB, my advocate cited a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act stating that a person with a disability may decline or reject any proposed reasonable accommodation without fear of retaliation. Being barred from participation in the program, if I was not able or willing to provide a personal human companion, certainly would constitute retaliation.
On July 23 (over a week later), I finally got a response from the study abroad office. They said that, if I signed an amendment to the general program’s waiver of liability (something I had voluntarily offered to do in the initial letter sent two weeks before), I could participate in the program without the requirement of the personal human companion. [Alexander agreed to this concession in an effort to resolve the controversy quickly. It is clear that he should not have been made to accept any more legal responsibility for his own safety than was expected of any of his nondisabled student colleagues in the course.]
Over the summer the ICCS-Rome professor-in-charge contacted me and offered his full support. A gentleman in the access office at Duke worked diligently to find assistive technology that would support my independence in Rome. Once I went to Rome, the entire ICCS-Rome faculty and administration were supportive (the faculty had never been involved in the admissions situation in the first place).
As for assistive technology, I found the cane a useful tool for crossing streets. Drivers are less watchful of pedestrians in Italy–the cane signaled that I might not see them. While I could not plug in specific addresses, the hand-held Trekker Breeze announced all street names, and the GPS allowed me to mark and locate destinations that I had already visited. The GPS technology was helpful in bus travel and in identifying street names as I walked along. The FarView was not particularly helpful for me, but it gave me the idea to use a digital camera with a glare-reductive screen. In this way I could capture and magnify many important images on site that I had to refer to in my academic studies. As I became more comfortable with the use of the camera, I began to enjoy taking pictures of beautiful scenery and architecture in addition to the many pictures I was already taking for my studies. And of course my monocular and hand-held magnifier proved invaluable.
My semester in Italy was immensely enjoyable and educational. Visiting sites of ancient Rome and seeing the archeological remains allowed me to imagine that I was in ancient Rome two thousand years ago. All of this knowledge will be useful as I prepare for a career in teaching Latin and classics.
I also did a lot of independent travel while in Italy. The most significant was a trip I took by myself to Verona and the nearby amusement park, Gardaland. The most enjoyable parts of the semester included a trip with friends to Orvieto, Florence, and Pisa; the weeklong field trips to Sicily and Campania; and a weekend excursion to Venice with a friend.In conclusion, I do not tell the story about this summer out of anger or frustration. I want to acknowledge that barriers in education still exist for people with disabilities, but I want to emphasize that these barriers can be overcome with perseverance, determination, and the help of professionals. This experience has proven to me just how wonderful and supportive the National Federation of the Blind and the various professionals in one's life are—without their help I do not believe I would ever have favorably resolved this situation, and I would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime. If you would like detailed information about my travels throughout Italy, feel free to visit my blog at <www.alexdinitaly.blogspot.com>.
by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: Parnell Diggs, an NFB national board member and president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, is chairing our 2010 Imagination Fund campaign. In the following article he announces the short- and long-term access technology goals that are the focus for our fundraising initiatives for the next several years. Follow the developments in the Race for Independence as they are announced in coming months in the Braille Monitor. Here is Chairman Diggs's comprehensive description of our 2010 Imagination Fund campaign:
My son Jordan was still just a toddler on the first night it happened. We tucked him into bed, and I retreated to my leather recliner. I put on my headphones and became engrossed in music as I sometimes like to do in the evenings before going to sleep.
My wife Kim tapped me on the leg. “Jordan’s calling you,” she said into one ear with music still blaring in the other. I got up and trudged back down the hall, certain that this would be one of those nights when Jordan wouldn’t get to sleep until midnight.
“Yes, little buddy?”
He raised his head from his pillow and asked, “What should I imagine?” We had been talking about our imaginations that day.
“Well…” I began as I got down onto one knee. “You can imagine anything you want to; imagination is the only thing in the world that has no limit.”
“Yes, your imagination can do anything.”
For the next several years we knew that it would be only a few minutes after we tucked Jordan in before we heard the inevitable beckoning from down the hall, “Da-a-addy.” It seemed that I had to dream up something different for Jordan to imagine every night.
The word “imagination” can be defined as “a mental image of a thing that does not exist then and there.” As children we have a natural ability to imagine, but, as we grow older, we become trapped by our knowledge of the world as we know it, and our imagination becomes limited. However, as adults we do maintain some capacity for imagination. If we did not, the world would never change. And the world has been changing or progressing for thousands of years. For the blind the most notable progress has occurred since 1940. When the National Federation of the Blind was established, some two or three blind Americans out of one hundred were gainfully employed. Today the employment ratio is twenty-six out of one hundred.
In the intervening seventy years no individual accomplishment has equaled the opening of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on January 30, 2004. With its programs of research, training, and technological development, the Institute has engaged some of the brightest minds in the world to create opportunity for the blind.
At a meeting cohosted by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 2004, we issued a challenge to university engineering schools across the nation to develop a technological interface that would make it possible for the blind to drive a car without sighted assistance. If such an interface could be installed in a car, it would follow that any technology could be made accessible to blind users with only a little effort.
The Blind Driver Challenge was enthusiastically accepted by students at the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech University’s mechanical engineering department, and work on the interface began. The first generation interface was installed in a dune buggy at the second National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam at the University of Maryland at College Park in 2009. Fifteen blind teenagers and three blind adults successfully navigated the modified dune buggy through an obstacle course and received significant coverage on the front page of the August 1 Washington Post. The Blind Driver Challenge received coverage in USA Today and the New York Times. The experiment was also featured on the CBS Early Show, ABC News, Fox News, and the Discovery Channel. In short, more than thirty million people were introduced to this groundbreaking work through media coverage of the 2009 experiment.
As we began 2010, work on the second-generation interface was already in progress. Our goal is to complete development of the second-generation interface during 2010 and be ready to debut it installed in a road-ready vehicle in 2011. This summer at the 2010 national convention in Dallas, Texas, we will have the opportunity to examine the interface before it is installed. The work of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has been made possible by the men and women across the nation who have made a commitment to support the annual Imagination Fund campaign.
Since 2004 the Imagination Fund has distributed over one million dollars to National Federation of the Blind affiliates, divisions, and chapters, and an equal amount has been used to support the programs of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. In this year’s campaign we will follow the same procedure we have used since the inception of the Imagination Fund. Specifically, 50 percent of the proceeds raised by July 31, 2010, will be used for programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, 25 percent will be distributed equally among the fifty-two affiliates, and 25 percent will be awarded in the form of grants to be funded this fall based upon applications filed by September 1, 2010.
But the Imagination Fund campaign has a new look in 2010. Now we are not just marching for independence--we are racing for it. The Race for Independence is quite simply the expression of our desire to speed toward our goal of first-class citizenship in society at an ever-increasing pace.
When you think of the annual Imagination Fund campaign, think of the Race for Independence. They are one and the same. Visit <www.raceforindependence.org> and register to be an Imaginator for the 2010 campaign. The Race will not happen on a fixed route early in the morning before the convention opens. Instead it is a state of mind that we will maintain for years to come as we focus on our commitment to support the Movement at the national, state, and local levels and on the need for full and equal access for blind Americans to modern technology.
In 2010 we are facing a reality that we simply cannot deny. As technology develops, it is becoming increasingly inaccessible to the blind because, generally speaking, technology is being developed without nonvisual access. It is urgent that designers make technology accessible, and we must persuade them to do it now. Technology interfaces at home and in the workplace must be made accessible by nonvisual means. If you believe that blind people should have full and equal access to airport kiosks, fax machines, and home entertainment systems, you should sign up to become an Imaginator for the 2010 campaign.
The Race for Independence Website has tools to aid you in your fundraising effort like sample emails, letters, and printed materials about the campaign. We are also planning some new incentives for those who achieve their fundraising goals of $250 or more in 2010. The first incentive is in keeping with the development during 2010 of an interface which will soon be installed in an automobile. At the $250-level Imaginators will receive a key ring with one car key and another key for each additional $250 raised. Fill up your key ring and show fellow Federationists how well you did in the 2010 campaign.
At the $500-level Imaginators will receive a Race for Independence backpack in addition to a key ring and two keys. And we will award those who reach the $1,000 level a key for each $250 raised (you can do the math), a key ring, a backpack, and a Race for Independence medallion. You can retrieve your spoils in Dallas. Other surprises will also be unveiled at the convention. If for some reason you are unable to attend the Dallas convention but you would like to be an Imaginator in the 2010 campaign, we will gladly mail your key ring, keys, backpack, and medallion to you after the convention. The books will officially close on the 2010 campaign on July 31.
Then divisions, affiliates, and chapters will have one month to prepare and file their Imagination Fund grant applications for 2010 distribution. In 2009 approximately $100,000 was awarded to thirty-three grant recipients. I believe we can do just as well or better in 2010. Remember the more we raise, the more we can give away.
We have great things to look forward to in 2010 and 2011. I will be there with you to drive the car in 2011 when we install the interface, but we don’t want to jump the gun in this Race for Independence. Come and join me in Dallas. Put your hands on the interface before it is installed, and help me prove how accessible technology can be. Let’s race.
by Ermyl Leazenby
From Barbara Pierce: People who lose their sight in mid life are often discouraged by friends and family from aggressively striving to regain their self-sufficiency and independence. All too often the medical and rehabilitation professionals who have contact with them are equally disheartening. Federationists know that this does not have to be the outcome, but, unless such folks are lucky enough to get their rehabilitation at one of the three NFB adult rehabilitation training centers, they are likely to find the effort to rejoin the mainstream of life to be arduous at best and often disappointing. Yet in a few states the rehabilitation offered through the state agency serving blind people adopted the rigorous standards and high expectations of the NFB centers. One of these is the Nebraska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Lincoln.
Ermyl Leazenby is a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor who is hoping to start a substance abuse counseling center in her home community. She has two daughters and five grandchildren. Last summer she worked with the teen program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Here is her description of her blindness training as reported in the winter 2010 edition of the Nebraska training center’s newsletter:
I began receiving training services at the age of forty-eight after battling glaucoma and optic atrophy throughout my life. I was a director at a substance abuse center when I lost my eyesight. I did not know there were services available, and, when I went to apply for unemployment, they informed me that I needed to contact the Nebraska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI). So I called NCBVI and met my field counselor within a few weeks. I came for a tour and then a three-day stay. I was very depressed and figured my life was over. While visiting the center, I decided to stay and immediately began receiving services and training.
I wore sleepshades while learning the alternatives for cooking. It was difficult, and I learned a lot. I learned that the fork is my best tool in the kitchen. It assists me in locating hot items on top of the stove and in the oven. I have always enjoyed cooking, and this year I will cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family, which includes about twenty people. This is only because of the efforts of the home management instructor and my learning to trust the skills and alternative techniques I have learned in this class.
While in training I also took shop class—wow, scary saws and drills, but to my amazement I was able to face and overcome my fears. The instructor allowed me the time to learn alternatives using the click rule, saw, etc. I also built from scratch a quilt rack, which will hold a quilt that I will make because the home management instructor searched around to find someone who knew alternatives for quilting so I could quilt again. I also made a placemat while in home management class. Thanks to Cindy for going the extra mile for me. How do you thank someone for giving you the skills to live a fully functional life and remain independent? I do not know. I shall do my best to assist others as my way of showing my gratitude on a daily basis.
In training I also began to learn Braille, and to my shock and amazement I was able to learn the entire Braille code. I can again read as other people do, by picking up a book and reading. This is one of the greatest gifts given to me because I did not think I could do it. I may read slowly now, but with practice I can and will be able to read as fast as any one else can. Literacy is so important, and listening to a book is not the same as being able to read and write. Being able to read and to see the words and punctuation of the sentences has presented me a wide open world again. I need to be able to have the access to information just like anyone else. Sahar has worked to show me that I can and do have that access so that I can read to my grandchildren, read a novel, even read newspapers. My world is not closed off to me, just bumpy with Braille to read.
In computers I learned that I can compete with my peers in the work arena just as I always have. I can type a Word document, attach it, and send it out through email. I can surf the Web for information that I need and want. I can even get on Facebook and stay in touch with my children and grandchildren. I get newspapers sent to me. I obtain music and create important documents as I did before I lost my vision. Communication and the computer skills also allow me to live independently and compete for employment with my peers.
Travel class and using my cane have allowed me to travel like others and walk around freely. I love to walk with my grandchildren and just talk about things, and now I can do so. I was recently asked directions by a passerby and provided the information needed. See, I am not the only one who needs directions occasionally. I was also given the opportunity to travel and live in Colorado for three months. While there I was able to teach these alternatives and much more to teenagers who are also blind or visually impaired. I would not have been able to get through the airport and collect my bags had it not been for my training. I have confidence in my ability to get around the country and the world today. I no longer bump into the walls or people. I can explore my world as others do and walk with my grandchildren. I can shop for food and clothes and do all the daily living tasks that everyone else does. I went rock climbing and was able to apply with confidence for a scholarship to India, for which one of the requirements was the ability to travel independently. I lived in an apartment while in training and grew to care for new friends and learned how to allow others the freedom to grow and care for themselves.
I want to thank the center and the governor for allowing us to receive the highest-quality training available. I know of states that have shut down their training programs, and I wonder to myself how the blind people there will get around, get groceries, go to doctors, get employment, read, and just walk by themselves. I hope this will never happen in Nebraska. Thank you for all the support and skills I need to be independent.
by John Trumbo
From the Editor: The following article about a blind machinist, taken from the January 6, 2010, Tri-City Herald in Washington state, vividly demonstrates that members of our community can be involved in professions that are often thought to be dangerous or not manageable without vision. In my conversation with Mr. Vinther, he asked that we convey the message that he does not speak to the press about his accomplishments or philosophy to be self-glorifying but only as a means of trying to help shape positive public attitudes about blindness. His story is an example of how an ordinary life can make an extraordinary difference in molding social perspective. Here is the article:
The sign says "basic machining," but what Bernie Vinther accomplishes inside his two-car garage converted into a shop is far more complicated than that. The sixty-five-year-old moves around the cramped quarters, sidling between a thirteen-by-forty-inch metal lathe, a metal band saw, drill press, cabinets with razor-edged cutting tools, and a milling machine that would take three hefty men to inch it into position. When Vinther flips a switch, fluorescent lights reveal dozens of wrenches, files, hammers, pliers, and machinist's drill bits filling niches above, on, and under benches and cabinets.
A typical machine shop, except each item has its place. This is Vinther's world, one where he works in total darkness. "The lights are for you handicapped people," the Kennewick resident says with a smile as his fingers feel for the switch. His eyes don't hint at the meaning of the joke because he lost his vision to diabetes more than two decades ago. Sightless but confident and seemingly fearless, Vinther's love of machining is his second chosen career.
He used to be a skilled electronics technician in western Washington, owning a business that specialized in industrial communications systems. He designed, built, and fixed radios and even climbed communications towers. But the diabetes that began in childhood worsened. At age thirty-eight his sight began to diminish, marking the end of his chosen career.
His life change included a move to the Tri-Cities, where his wife Brenda had grown up and had a job offer. As Vinther's world grew darker, a desire to work with his hands led to an interest in machining, so he enrolled in machine shop classes at Columbia Basin College ten years ago. The first challenge was overcoming the resistance to having a blind person in a shop, where the odds were high for losing fingers to the equipment. Vinther prevailed, completing the required courses, which even included blueprint reading. How did he do it?
"You have only two eyes. I have ten," he says, holding up his fingers and thumbs. Having a good mental picture also helps, Vinther said. Vinther feels shapes, molding three-dimensional objects out of clay. "I have a way of making drawings I can feel, using a drawing kit made with Velcro and yarn for the lines," he said. Listening carefully also tells him, not only where things are, but also the relative speed of moving machinery.
But Vinther's best trick is an audio readout device that tells him the precise measurements and positions on his lathes and milling machines. By attaching the device to each machine's digital display, he hears the information he needs. That way he can make necessary adjustments to as close as one ten-thousandth of an inch. The device was designed and built for Vinther by the nonprofit Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, which was founded to develop products for the blind. Using a Braille printer, Vinther has labeled all of his cutting tools. He's even created a multipage drill size index in Braille so he knows which tool to use, in both metric and standard sizes.
Most of Vinther's jobs are for people he knows as friends or neighbors, but he also does contract work. A recent assignment involved making parts out of stainless steel for LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory at Hanford, operated by the California Institute of Technology.
Vinther is one of perhaps only one hundred blind machinists nationwide, with maybe only ten others who are at his level of proficiency. He's a rarity, but not perfect. "When I make mistakes, I start over," he said.
He's had a couple of injuries, both to the same finger and once cut to the bone. But Vinther notes that he still has all ten digits, and his only lingering problem is it's more difficult reading Braille with the damaged finger.
He said he doesn't think about what could go wrong. "I visualize things in my head. I just do it." An example of his mental capabilities is evident in a six-inch square box crammed with thirty-two wires attached to his milling machine. Vinther designed and built the electrical component as a dead man's switch to replace a much simpler on-off switch that burned out. His design is better because it controls all of the features of the machine with a single control, making it safer to operate.
"I like to keep learning. I'm always having to figure out how to do something," Vinther said. Willard Stone, a neighbor, said he couldn't believe what Vinther was doing. So he called the Herald to suggest a story. "He does the impossible," Stone said.
Vinther sees his life as a challenge. "I can't quite understand why, when most people go blind, it is the end for them, and they give up," he said. "But you see, it's these challenges that push me on to find more and more ways to do more and more things."
Vinther's life isn't all work. He also enjoys taking his wife on dates to the movies. He listens as she explains what's happening on the big screen. Brenda also can be a big help as a machinist's assistant. "She's been a big help to me. She finds the things I drop on the floor," he said.
by Michael Bullis
From Barbara Pierce: Michael Bullis is a certified orientation and mobility instructor and currently the executive director of the Maryland Technology Assistance Program. In the following article he raises questions and explores research options, discussion of which we usually find uncomfortable. He welcomes comments on these ideas at <[email protected]>.
As members of a minority striving for acceptance, we spend much of our time emphasizing our normality and our capacity to compete. When people say, "You must have wonderful hearing," we usually reply that blind people don't hear particularly well. When they say, ”You must have a phenomenal memory to recall where you're going," we respond, "Not really. My cane gives me the information I need, but I probably don't have much more capacity for memory than you do." And so it goes. Because we live in a sighted society, we strive to seem to be part of it. Yes, we're blind, but we strive to minimize the differences and emphasize the things we have in common with the sighted society around us.
All of this is quite understandable. We compete for jobs, the romantic attentions of others, the interest of potential friends, etc. People fear or at least shy away from that which they perceive as weird.
But, though we are much like our sighted family members, friends, and colleagues, we are also different. We cannot see. This means we take in most of the information we gather about our surroundings through touch and sound. Sighted folks more often than not take in information visually. Yes, there are taste and smell, but these are not primary sources of information unless we're at a restaurant.
Although we are surely more alike than different from our sighted colleagues, our differences are certainly worth understanding. I keep a list of topics I wish we understood better. Some items are obvious and require little explanation. Others require some discussion. Some will lead to inventions, while others will lead to research and new training techniques. Here then is my list of blindness issues that we should explore.
1. Although hearing tests show that blind people do not hear better than others, do we hear differently? Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown that the blind process audible information using the visual cortex. Can this processing capacity be enhanced? Could we take in more audio information through the development of new and heretofore unconsidered techniques? Daniel Kish of World Access for the Blind teaches active echolocation, which he calls "flash sonar." Watching his students, it is clear that they can define the characteristics of a room, playground, or mountain trail far better than those of us who simply rely on the echoes produced by our canes.
Discussion of whether tongue clicking is weird puts the cart before the horse. First we should research a method to determine its benefits. Then blind people can decide whether the gains outweigh the social idiosyncrasy. That's what we do with the cane. We decide that the benefits of the cane outweigh the disadvantages of being different from others. So, even though many of us pooh pooh the tongue-clicking method as weird, shouldn't we try to understand and assess the information it conveys and try to incorporate it into our lives and those of our students? Perhaps the richer tapestry of detail that flash sonar allows would help newly blinded folks frustrated by the limited picture the cane provides. Canes are effective at creating a picture of the immediate area where we are traveling, but they are not so good at helping us formulate images at thirty or forty feet. Although the echoes from a crisp metal cane tip can fill in some blanks in the environment, they cannot create nearly the detail that active echo-location does.
As I said, I do acknowledge that we're uncomfortable with the idea of blind people being defined as "clickers." But, let's be honest. We already stand out in a crowd by virtue of using a cane--something we've been working for seventy years to get the public to understand. When I was a young man, I observed some blind clickers. I thought they were weird, and, quite honestly, they were usually blind people who exhibited other less than socially normal behavior. My mom wouldn't have tolerated my clicking. She explained, more often than I care to remember, "You live in a sighted world." This meant that I should try to blend in--not be different. That's why, in some ways, using a cane was so difficult for me. Doing so meant a readjustment of thinking that I thought had served me pretty well up to that point.
So I'm not advocating clicking during a job interview. I'm simply suggesting that after investigation we might decide it is one of the many tools we could use in the right situation and at an appropriate time. What we have not yet done is give it a very serious look rather than a cursory glance. Could flash sonar be an answer to detecting quiet cars?
2. Can some hear far better because they use techniques that could and perhaps should be taught to others? I've met people who could hear animals in the woods that I simply couldn't hear. Are they better at discriminating than I am? Could I learn the skill?
3. Can we improve our hearing? It seems to me that there are two ways to improve hearing. Either we improve our ability to interpret what is already coming into our ears, a technique that we teach to some extent in cane travel instruction. Then there is the improvement of our ability to hear what's out there through mental training or mechanical means. Hearing aids improve people's hearing but often interfere with directionalization and discrimination. Can we create devices that actually improve our hearing? Is the shape of the human ear optimal? Could it be improved? Are the liquid in the ear canals and the hairs that register sound as efficient as they might be? Could we improve their function?
4. Can we improve our ability to directionalize sound? Could the shape of the ear or some external device improve our ability to focus on distant objects, thus providing a more accurate sound picture of them?
5. Can we find ways to dampen loud sounds that overwhelm softer ones in order to increase our information-gathering ability at, say, very noisy intersections or when a neighbor is mowing the lawn?
6. Improving touch. It is said that Jacob Bolotin could feel Braille through eighteen handkerchiefs. I don't know if that was true or not, but I have certainly met both blind and sighted people with very sensitive touch. Can touch be improved in us all? Could we develop techniques? Similarly, can nerves damaged by age, diabetes, or overuse be reinvigorated? What do people with incredibly sensitive touch have that the rest of us don't, and how can we spread it around?
7. The ability to map a physical environment mentally is stronger in some folks than in others. Certain parts of the brain are activated in good mental mappers and not in those who aren't. Could we enhance the skill through focused training? We already improve it somewhat through travel training, but could we develop more focused abilities?
8. Using residual vision. One primary approach to using residual vision is to occlude it during training and then assume that it will be useful once the person has sharpened alternative techniques. But I have noticed that some people, with or without training, use their residual vision more effectively than others. Yes, yes, I know that the profession clings to residual vision like an alcoholic to the bottle, but can we put all that aside and determine whether we can develop better techniques to help people benefit more effectively from their residual vision? The immersion method taught by NFB helps retrain the brain to process nonvisual information. It works better with some folks than with others. That is, some people seem naturally able to redirect their brains to use alternative techniques. Others, although they study for up to a year in an NFB center, don't seem to make the switch easily. Why? What can we learn from these folks about how to teach them?
9. Braille literacy. Let's set aside the issue of whether Braille is taught effectively or often enough to children and adults. Braille is difficult for many adults to learn. Sighted learners who did not learn to read or write as children have similar difficulties with print. What can we do to fix this? Far too often we continue Braille instruction when, whether through lack of finger sensitivity or for other reasons, it is obvious that the student is not going to be an effective Braille reader.
Beyond the literacy problems this creates, these folks are unable to take notes efficiently. How about developing a truly effective audio management system for people—a portable device that quickly allows the digital recording and indexing of information and the retrieval of that information? Suppose you could record something like "phone number for Bob Jones, 361-2273." Then, when you wanted the number, you simply say, "Bob Jones" and are immediately presented with information under that name. No such product is currently on the market. One can record information on a multitude of devices, but there is no elegant and simple way to find it quickly and easily. Suppose we could combine voice-recognition technology with a voice recorder and make the information truly indexable? The technology for such a device exists.
10. Blindness counseling. Historically, blind people have been counseled to death. Psychologists and psychiatrists were the first stop in rehabilitation through the 1970s. Over the past thirty or forty years we have for the most part discontinued that practice. But perhaps we've thrown out the baby with the bath water.
Some people really do have difficulty adjusting to blindness. With the right professional counseling they could benefit from therapy. This doesn't mean that they're broken or that blindness necessarily requires the intervention of psychiatrists because of its complexity or trauma. It does mean that professional counseling techniques have something to offer professionals in the blindness field.
Those who conduct group discussions at centers for the blind could truly benefit from some training in ways to engage in group counseling. No, the groups would not turn into group therapy sessions. They would simply be managed by a professional who understood at a deeper level how to spot and understand group interactions and the messages being sent and received. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other therapists really do have a vast and useful body of knowledge that could be helpful. We need to find ways to incorporate that knowledge into professional work with the blind while not sending negative messages. Yes, most counselors focus far too often on blindness when the cause is something else. I well remember the fellow who said when told that he was angry about his blindness, "What you don't understand, sir, is that I was a jerk before I became blind." We ignore at our peril the broader knowledge about human personality and the personal counseling skills being developed today. In the long run, not knowing leads to less effective rehabilitation for the more challenging people we face.
11. Cane improvements. We’re still in need of improvements in the long white cane. It doesn't protect against upper body objects. That's a big deal for many who don't enjoy knocks on the head or wet branches in the face. We also need to increase the capacity of the cane to detect objects at a distance. Numerous methods have been tried, but nothing yet meets the test of affordability and ease of use.
12. Audible balls. We need a method of making balls of all types audible so blind kids and adults can learn the joys of ball playing. The goal is a ball that is audible and has the same bounce and weight as regular balls.
13. A paradigm shift. Perhaps the lack of sight itself needs a bit of discussion. Humans cannot fly independently. Birds can. Because of this disability, humans have invented aircraft and rocketships. Whether we would have done so if we had had wings and the capacity to fly, I don't know. But I think the argument can be made that blind people may be uniquely positioned to invent a new form of sight--and perhaps, one that goes beyond that used by naturally sighted people. What would such sight be?
14. Things left out. I do not include in this list anything having to do with creation of synthetic eyes, restoration of the optic nerves, or sight restoration. That subject is being adequately addressed by the medical field and will be a constant focus of those who seek to prevent blindness.
Blindness excites me. It is a fascinating and rich experience. I like fascinating and rich experiences. If somebody offered me the opportunity to see tomorrow, with several caveats, I would take it. I would take it precisely because it too would be exciting and rich. In the meantime, though, let's explore and engage this experience and learn from it, perhaps enriching the world for the sighted and blind alike.
by Ed Morman
From the Editor: With some regularity we plan to spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman's description of a recent acquisition:
In the last issue we promised a future note about the oldest book in our collection. Here it is–a 217-year-old book of poems by a blind writer with whom most of us are unfamiliar. Monitor readers might wonder why the tenBroek Library owns an obscure book of poems and what it has to do with blindness. We therefore quote from the title page: "Poems by the late Reverend Dr. Thomas Blacklock; together with ‘An Essay on the Education of the Blind.' To which is prefixed a new account of the life and writing of the author."
The Blacklock profile tells us that he was born in 1721 in Dumfries, Scotland, to a middle class family. He lost his sight to smallpox while still an infant and depended on sighted readers for what turned out to be a relatively good education. After his father died in 1740, he had the good fortune to connect with some eminent fellow Scots and enrolled in the divinity school at the University of Edinburgh. Some years later he became a licensed preacher of the gospel to a congregation in Dumfries, and he married the daughter of a local surgeon. Through all this he wrote poems. He continued to do so after relocating to Edinburgh, where he operated a school and socialized with some of the great minds of the Scottish Enlightenment, before dying in 1791.
The account of Blacklock’s life, although written in sometimes painfully discursive eighteenth-century style, provides an excellent view of the way a blind achiever was viewed at that time. In it we also learn that Blacklock wrote the article on blindness for the 1783 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the Encyclopaedia he advised as follows:
Parents and relations ought never be too ready in offering their assistance to the blind...or in any acquisition which they can procure for themselves, whether they are prompted by amusement or necessity. Let a blind boy be permitted to walk through the neighbourhood without a guide, not only though he should run some hazard, but even though he should suffer some pain.
Two hundred years ago some blind people already understood what was to become the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Thomas Blacklock was a fascinating character. More than this, he translated into English the Essay on the Education of the Blind by Valentin Haüy, a landmark work in the history of blindness and blind people. Haüy, of course, was the sighted philanthropist who founded the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, the school that Louis Braille was to attend a few decades later. Blacklock’s translation of Haüy’s essay is included in this volume, which makes it the earliest English version of a publication that was ultimately to lead to true literacy for the blind.The Blacklock book has been digitized by Google books and is available free at <http://books.google.com/books?id=tFjOAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false>. We have checked and are sorry to report that this publication is not posted in an accessible format.
by Elizabeth Campbell
From the Editor: Elizabeth Campbell, a reporter and member of our Texas affiliate, has prepared the following reminder about some of the attractive features of the Hilton Anatole, the headquarters hotel for the 2010 NFB national convention. As you prepare to attend the convention this year in Dallas, advance knowledge of the hotel's many interesting characteristics may help you take full advantage of the facility. In a future issue we will publish a description and orientation guide for this hotel and conference center, but this brief overview of facts will likely offer information that you did not know before. Here is what she says:
You won’t want to miss this year’s exciting convention as the National Federation of the Blind celebrates its seventieth anniversary. What better place for such an event than the Hilton Anatole Hotel? The Anatole, located on forty-five acres north of downtown Dallas, offers a little something for everyone, including fine dining, a seven-acre park, and plenty of shops. Well-known attractions such as the West End and the American Airlines Center are not far away.
The Anatole is also recognized throughout the world for its premier collection of paintings, sculpture, and tapestries from Japan, China, India, Mexico, and beyond. The diverse collection was donated by real estate developer Trammell Crow, who also built the Anatole. Crow and his wife acquired the art pieces when they traveled around the world. Here are a few examples of what is on display:
Two eighteenth-century Chinese Fu Dogs guard the lobby entrance from evil spirits, just as they did in an ancient Buddhist temple. Around the corner is a bronze statue of well-known humorist and performer, Will Rogers, riding off into the sunset, created by Texan Electra “Waggoner” Biggs. If you want to unwind after a long day or enjoy fresh air and a brisk walk before the busy convention sessions, the lovely seven-acre park located on the tower side of the hotel provides an excellent escape. The park features a walking path, a peaceful waterfall, and plenty of open space.
Good food is another reason to stay at the Anatole. The eight restaurants in the hotel range from fine dining at Nana’s to casual cuisine at the Terrace. If you are in a hurry (and who isn’t during the convention), the Common Ground offers sandwiches, soups, bagels, and desserts. The Gossip Bar serves coffee and pastries in the morning and drinks at night. The sports enthusiasts can get a hardy burger and try imported beers at the Ratskeller Sports Bar.
You’d better hurry to make those reservations because rooms are harder to come by the longer you wait. The members of the Texas affiliate look forward to seeing you in Dallas, and Texas will have lots of entertaining activities and surprises in store.
by Allen Harris
From the Editor: Allen Harris chairs the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund committee. He has an important announcement for those who would like to attend this year's national convention but find themselves short of funds. This is what he says:
The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund is looking for individuals who can use some financial assistance to attend our national convention in Dallas, Texas. In 2010 our convention will begin on Saturday, July 3, and run through Thursday, July 8. This will be only the second year that we have operated on this abbreviated schedule. The convention is a day shorter than you might expect, ending with the banquet Thursday evening.
Who is eligible to receive a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?
If you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind, you are eligible to apply. Preference, however, will be given to first-time convention attendees. The scholarship selection committee is able to make an occasional exception, but first-time convention participants are the target group.
What do I have to do to apply for a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?
You must do the following and are responsible for these application requirements:
1. Find out who your state NFB president is and get him or her to write a letter of recommendation for you, or you may have a chapter president or other officer write a letter of recommendation, but we must have a letter from a Federation leader who is familiar with you.
2. You must write a letter to the Kenneth Jernigan Fund committee expressing the reasons why you want a scholarship. Describe your participation in the Federation and what you think you would get and give to the convention. Please send all information to Allen Harris, 5209 Sterling Glen Drive, Pinson, Alabama 35126, or email the information to <[email protected]> or <[email protected]>.
3. You must register for and attend the entire convention, including the banquet.
What else must I do to insure that my application will be considered?
We must receive all of the following:
1. Your full name
2. Your address
3. Your telephone numbers (home, business, cell)
4. Your email address (If you have one)
5. Your state president's name and the name of your local chapter, if you attend one
All applications must be received by April 14, 2010.
How do I get my scholarship funds?
You will get a debit card at the convention loaded with the amount of your scholarship award. The times and locations to pick up your debit card will be listed in the notice you receive if you are a scholarship winner. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist by advancing funds you can pay back when you receive your scholarship.
When will I know if I have been selected as a Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner?
The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:
1. You must make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel your reservation.
2. You will receive a letter with the convention details which should answer many of your questions. It is also helpful to find a mentor from your chapter or affiliate to act as a friend and advisor during the convention. Although you will not know officially whether or not you have been selected until mid-May, you must make plans to attend and then adjust your plans accordingly.
This past summer in Detroit the Jernigan Fund scholarship committee awarded seventy Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships. The average grant was $600. You can include in your letter to the committee any extenuating circumstances which the committee may choose to take into consideration. Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention and join several thousand other blind Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world.
If you have questions or need additional information, call Allen Harris at (205) 520-9979 or email him at <[email protected]>. You may also email Joy Harris at <[email protected]>. We look forward to seeing you in Dallas.
NFB of Wisconsin members assembled a mouth-watering set of recipes that got lost in cyberspace during the holidays. Here they are to warm body and soul during the last weeks of winter.
Famous Wisconsin Cheese Soup
by John Fritz
John Fritz is president of the NFB of Wisconsin and a member of the NFB board of directors.
1/2 pound bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Black pepper to taste
1/2 large brick of Velveeta Cheese
Method: Chop bacon and brown until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cook chopped onion and green pepper in bacon fat until tender crisp. Add flour and cook stirring for a minute. Continuing to stir, slowly pour in chicken broth, milk, and remaining ingredients, including cooked bacon. Continue to stir until mixture thickens. Simmer on low until hot. Serve with crusty bread.
by John Fritz
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 envelope ranch seasoning mix
1 can ranch beans, undrained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
2 large cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can Rotel tomatoes, undrained
1 can beer
Method: In a large skillet brown meat and onion, and drain. Add seasonings and stir in. Then add beans and corn. Finally add tomatoes and beer. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer covered for an hour, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Enjoy. This soup may be served with grated cheese or sour cream.
Homemade French Onion Soup
by Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson has been a member of the La Crosse Chapter since January 2009 and is now a board member. He submitted this recipe because onion and potato production is significant in central Wisconsin.
6 medium or 2 very large onions, chopped
6 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
7 cups water
10 bouillon cubes
1/4 cup sherry
6 slices French bread
6 slices Swiss cheese
Method: In a heavy stock pot or other large pot, sauté chopped onion in the butter until tender. Add the sugar and salt while cooking. Add nutmeg, water, and bouillon cubes or seven cups rich beef stock instead of the water and beef cubes. Bring soup to a boil and simmer for ten minutes before transferring to a large baking dish or other oven-proof casserole. Add sherry, French bread slices, and slices of Swiss cheese. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for ten minutes.
I usually cut this recipe in half when I make it for two. However, I use the full fourth of a teaspoon of nutmeg and a little more than half of the sherry.
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
Bill Meeker is affiliate second vice president and Milwaukee Chapter president, and Cheryl Orgas is affiliate scholarship chair and Milwaukee Chapter treasurer. The following are their favorite recipes when entertaining guests. The quantities in the couscous salad recipe are estimates; adjust them according to taste.
1 cup couscous, uncooked
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup carrots, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 cup raisins
2 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
Ingredients for Vinaigrette Dressing:
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup orange juice
3 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: Cook couscous according to package directions and drain and cool. In a serving bowl combine cooked couscous with vegetables and toss with dressing. To make the dressing, combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight lid. Shake well.
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
This is a great hot hors d'oeuvre.
2 6-ounce cans or jars of marinated artichoke hearts
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper seasoning (red pepper)
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Drain artichokes, reserving marinade from one jar. In marinade sauté onion and garlic. Cut artichokes in small pieces. Beat eggs and add crumbs and seasonings. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into a greased 7-by-11-inch or 9-inch square baking pan. Bake for thirty minutes, until set. Cool slightly and cut into 1-inch squares. If prepared ahead, reheat for ten to twelve minutes. Serves six to eight. This quiche can be baked ahead and frozen.
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
Four strips bacon
1/2 cup avocado, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 16-ounce container hummus
1/4 pound smoked turkey, thinly sliced
1 cup lettuce or greens
2 tortillas, tomato flavor
Method: Fry the bacon, drain, and set aside. Mix remaining ingredients except hummus, turkey, and lettuce. Spread tortillas with the hummus and then the avocado mixture. Add the turkey, bacon, and lettuce or greens. Roll up tortillas and slice into pinwheels. Arrange on an attractive tray to serve.
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
3 cups zucchini, sliced
8 ounces wide egg noodles
1 cup cottage cheese
3 or 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
Method: Brown the ground meat in a skillet and drain off the fat. Add oregano, tomato sauce, and zucchini. Simmer five minutes; add salt to taste.
Meanwhile, cook noodles in salted boiling water until tender, then drain. Place half the noodles in a greased, shallow baking dish (1 1/2 to 2 quarts in size). Mix together one teaspoon salt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, pepper, green onions, and yogurt or sour cream. Spread this mixture over the noodles; spread remaining noodles on top. Pour meat-zucchini mixture on top of the noodles. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) about thirty minutes, until mixture is bubbly. Serves six.
Walnut Pound Cake
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 cups black walnuts, chopped (regular walnuts will do if black aren't available)
Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan and set aside. Cream together the butter and shortening with an electric mixer on medium speed for two minutes. Gradually add the sugar. Beat for five to seven minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl sift together the flour and baking powder. Alternating with the milk, gradually add flour to the butter mixture. Mix until flour is just incorporated. Stir in the vanilla and walnuts. Pour into the pan and bake at 325 degrees for ninety minutes. Remove from oven when cake tester comes out clean and let cool for ten to fifteen minutes. Remove from pan and cool thoroughly on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serves sixteen. According to the article in the Penzeys Spices catalog, this cake is "bound to make your sweetheart swoon."
News from the Federation Family
Braille Book Flea Market:
Donate your gently used but no-longer-needed Braille books to the 2010 Braille Book Flea Market, sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. Books should be in good condition. Cookbooks, Twin-Vision books, and books suitable for children are particularly needed.
In a few months we will have a local address in Texas where you can send the Braille books that you wish to donate. Begin your search through the boxes in your basement and spare room and get them ready for shipping. If you have any questions, contact Peggy Chong at (515) 277-1288 or by email at <[email protected]>.
The Cincinnati Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio reports the following election results from its meeting of January 25, 2010: Paul Dressell, president; Sheri Albers, vice president; Deborah Kendrick, secretary; and Judy Cook, treasurer.
Angela Wolf, president of our Texas affiliate, and her husband Jay gave birth to a daughter, Abigail Josephine Wolf, on Wednesday, February 3, 2010. The baby weighed three pounds seven ounces and measured 17.25 inches long. Abigail is doing well, but she will remain in the hospital for a few weeks to gain a little more weight. Angela and Jay report that she is absolutely adorable and feisty as everyone who knows her parents would expect.
Braille NFB Pledge Cards:
The National Federation of the Blind of Iowa will once again be giving away our Braille NFB pocket pledges in the exhibit hall at the NFB national convention in Dallas. These pocket-sized pledges, developed by our own Sarah Cranston, will come in handy if you find yourself stumbling through the NFB pledge. If you cannot wait until convention to get yours, you can send an email request to <[email protected]>, and we will send you one right away. If you want to order these in volume for your chapter or affiliate, please do so, using the email request address given. These pledge cards are free.
Details on Preliminary Legal Victory:
Even though the defendant has decided to appeal this decision, we thought Monitor readers would be interested to read the press release we circulated announcing the judge’s instruction to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Federal Judge Orders the National Conference of Bar Examiners to Provide Individualized Testing Accommodations to Blind Law School Graduate
(February 5, 2010): A federal court has ruled that the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) will cause a blind law school graduate irreparable harm unless it provides her the technology-based testing accommodations she needs to take two exams required to become a member of the State Bar of California. The court issued its ruling in an order granting the law school graduate's motion for preliminary injunction on Thursday, February 4, 2010. The court's ruling allows the plaintiff, Stephanie Enyart, to take the February 2010 Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and March 2010 Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) on a laptop computer equipped with the assistive technology software Ms. Enyart relies upon for screen reading (JAWS) and screen magnification (ZoomText).
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "The National Federation of the Blind is extremely pleased with the ruling in this case. Law and equity simply do not permit the NCBE to dictate a one-size-fits-all solution for all bar candidates with disabilities. We hope that this ruling will cause the NCBE to think long and hard before it denies the requested accommodations of applicants to take its examinations."
The plaintiff, Stephanie Enyart, said: "A little over a year ago I sent my first request for accommodations on the March 2009 MPRE, and tonight I can go to sleep knowing when and how I can effectively take the exams to fulfill my dreams."
Anna Levine of Disability Rights Advocates, an attorney representing the plaintiff, said: "I hope that our hard-fought victory here will send a message to testing organizations that they need to comply with the ADA and provide each individual test taker with a disability the accommodations that he or she needs to demonstrate his or her actual knowledge, skills, and abilities."
The suit was filed on November 3, 2009, because of the NCBE's refusal, on multiple occasions during the past year, to allow Ms. Enyart to use the same technology on the MBE and MPRE that she has used on university and law school exams and in various jobs and internships. The suit charged that the NCBE violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act by denying accommodations on the MBE and the MPRE.
NCBE had argued that it fulfilled its legal obligations to Ms. Enyart by offering alternative accommodations, such as a human reader, notwithstanding evidence that these alternatives did not, in fact, accommodate Ms. Enyart's disability. In rejecting NCBE's argument, the court's ruling paves the way for other individuals prevented from pursuing their professional dreams by high-stakes testing providers who take a rigid approach to disability accommodations.
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.
The Selective Doctor, Inc., is a repair service for all IBM typewriters and Perkins Braillewriters. Located in Baltimore, the service has done work for the Maryland School for the Blind and a number of other organizations in Maryland. They accept Perkins Braillers sent to them from around the country.
The cost to repair a manual Perkins Brailler is $55 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. Because of technical complexity the cost to repair an electric Perkins Brailler is $60 for labor (flat rate), plus parts. The Brailler will be shipped back to you by U.S. mail, Free Matter for the Blind, and insured for $400. The cost of this insurance ($5.70) will be added to your invoice. This listed insurance charge may fluctuate due to rate changes by the postal service.
To mail Braillers using the U.S. Postal Service, send your Brailler(s) to the Selective Doctor, P.O. Box 571, Manchester, Maryland 21102. With your Brailler(s) please include your name and organization (if applicable), shipping and billing addresses, telephone number, and a brief description of your Brailler's needs. Should you require additional information, please call (410) 668-1143, or email <[email protected]> or visit our Website at <www.selectivedoctor.com>.
The Glass Diary, an audio book read by the author, Karen A. Myers, is a book of reflections. Megan, like many young girls, had a diary; however, instead of paper with lock and key, hers was made of glass. Because at eight years old she could not see a paper diary, she began confiding in her mirror--her glass diary. The book consists of excerpts from conversations she had with her glass diary from ages eight to eighteen. The $15 price for the CD includes tax, shipping, and handling.
The Way I See It: Bumping into Life with Low Vision, a second book by Karen A. Myers, is a humorous compilation of twenty-one depictions of the author’s bumping into life, i.e., experiencing life with low vision. The audio book, read by the author, is $15, which includes tax, shipping, and handling; the print and ebook editions are $11.95 plus shipping and handling. To order either of these books, visit <karenamyers.com> and click on books.
Stumped on the Job Search?
Looking for employment should be a full-time job, but people often fail to treat a job search with the attention and seriousness it requires. Many job seekers and career changers could benefit from the support and encouragement of others. If you are looking for assistance and solutions to help find employment, instructors and curriculum at the Hadley School for the Blind can assist your effort.
Job seekers are urged to:
Enroll in the Hadley School for the Blind's Finding Employment course. Take advantage of your Hadley instructor's expertise and pick up helpful information as you explore your occupational interests and create a job search action plan. Coursework contains detailed information on ADA requirements, confidentiality, and discrimination. This course can also help you understand the power of networking. Hadley also offers courses on adaptive technology, word processing, and Microsoft Excel. For further information on job-related services provided by the Hadley School for the Blind, visit <www.hadley.edu>.
The NIB Fellowship for Leadership Development:
The Fellowship for Leadership Development sponsored by National Industries for the Blind (NIB), is a salaried, two-year program that combines business-focused, on-the-job experience with formal management training. Legally blind people who have an undergraduate degree, work experience, and passion for business are invited to apply. Fellows are selected on academic achievement, experience, motivation, references, and personal interviews. Fellows who have completed the program have moved to management jobs gaining financial independence and, as business leaders, have added value at all levels of the workplace and society. To learn more about the NIB fellowship and apply, go to <www.nib.org> and click on the link for the Business Leaders program. There you will find a link for the Fellowship for Leadership Development, where you can locate frequently asked questions and the application form. For further information email Sandy Finley with the NIB Business Leaders program at <[email protected]> or call her at (703) 310-0506.
NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification Granted to Target.com
Website Certified as Equally Accessible to Blind and Sighted Users:
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s leading advocate for Internet access by blind Americans, has awarded the Gold Level NFB-NVA Certification to Target.com. The NFB applauds Target’s commitment to ensuring equal access to its Website to blind consumers and commends Target’s leadership in Web accessibility.
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The Internet has become integrated into every aspect of daily living, from working to shopping to entertainment. The blind population, which stands at 1.3 million and is growing as Americans age, must have access to Websites and new Web applications if we are to participate fully in modern society and the information economy. We commend Target for making its Website fully accessible and therefore giving the blind independent access to Target’s valuable information and services.”
Anne Taylor, director of access technology for the National Federation of the Blind, said: “It has been a pleasure working with Target to make its Website accessible to all shoppers. We appreciate the Target.com team’s hard work and congratulate them on achieving Gold Level NFB-NVA Certification.”
Steve Eastman, president of Target.com, said: “We are pleased to offer a simple and convenient online shopping experience for all our guests at Target.com. As our online business has evolved, we have worked with the National Federation of the Blind to significantly improve the experience for guests who require assistive technology, and we will continue to do so as our business grows and new technologies become available.”
The NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification Program connects Website and application developers with leading experts on blindness and accessibility to ensure that their Internet sites or applications are fully accessible to and usable by blind people employing screen access software. Applicants go through a rigorous evaluation and testing procedure and work with a Web accessibility consultant (WAC) to address any accessibility issues discovered during the evaluation. Once the site or application has addressed all accessibility issues, it is granted the right to display an NFB-NVA seal of approval on its site. Sites are continuously monitored to ensure that they remain compliant with certification criteria. If a site remains accessible, its certification is renewed annually. If accessibility issues arise, the National Federation of the Blind and the WAC will work with the site developers to remedy them.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
The following new items are for sale due to lack of space:
All items are as priced or best offer plus shipping and tax. If interested, please call Hisham Ahmed at (925) 805-8205 or send an email inquiry to <[email protected]>.
I wish to sell a Reading Edge reading machine. This is a full-size, flatbed scanner-type device. I can ship using UPS. Make an offer. Contact Don Hausz at (631) 580-0303 (day) or (631) 830-5545 (cell). Email <[email protected]>.
I have for sale one Tiger Cub Junior Braille embosser, purchased in 2004 but never opened, and one refurbished Perkins Braillewriter in good condition. I am asking $3,000 for the embosser and $250 for the Perkins. Those interested in either of these items should email April Davis at <[email protected]>.
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.