Vol. 55, No. 1 January 2012
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Dallas, Texas, June 30-July 5, 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, not Hilton general reservations. Call (214) 761-7500.
The 2012 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $63 and triples and quads $68 a night, plus a 15 percent sales tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2012. 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, 2012, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our block of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Guestroom amenities include cable television; coffeepot; iron and ironing board; hair dryer; and, for a fee, 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 2012 convention will follow our usual pattern:
Saturday, June 30 Seminar Day
Sunday, July 1 Registration Day
Monday, July 2 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 3 Opening Session
Wednesday, July 4 Business Session
Thursday, July 5 Banquet Day and Adjournment
Vol. 55, No. 1 January 2012
Lead Photographs: December 2011
NFB Youth Leadership Academy
A Wake-up Call for the
Oregon Commission for the Blind
by Gary Wunder
Creating Disability Rights:
The Challenge for Blind Americans
by Marc Maurer
Our Disabled Workers Still Face Pay Bias
by Samuel R. Bagenstos
Mainstream Access to E-Books--What Works,
What Doesn’t, and What Is Still Unclear
by Amy Mason
Texas Facts and Features
by Kimberly Flores
by Barbara Loos
Why I Am a Federationist
by Kenneth Jernigan
The Chapter: A Foundation Block for the Federation
by Daniel B. Frye
Full Speed Ahead
Art Schreiber Knows No Limits
Despite His Blindness
by Nancy Scott
A Great Idea for State NAPUB Divisions
by Barbara Pierce
Educator Dedicates Life to
Supporting Visually Impaired Students
by Lucas Kavner
A Life in the Movement: Perry Sundquist
by Anna Kresmer
When It Comes to Diabetes,
Knowledge Truly Is Power
by Donna Tomky
Community Service and the Blind
by Darien Smith
Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris
Copyright 2012 by the National Federation of the Blind
From December 2 through December 4, 2011, twenty-four blind high school students from around the country attended an NFB Youth Leadership Academy in Baltimore. These weekend programs, another of which is planned for March of 2012, are organized and hosted by our Affiliate Action Department. They are designed to give the participants in-depth exposure to Federation philosophy and current programs, to introduce them to a network of blind adult role models, and to enable them to spend some time with other blind teenagers. Ten members from the 2011 Cohort of our Teacher of Tomorrow program also attended as observers so that they could learn about the experiences of the blind students and the ways in which Federation philosophy can help them at a young age.
On Friday evening President Maurer welcomed the students with some inspiring words about their place in the future of our movement. Jim Gashel then provided historical context, describing how much the organization has grown and what we have achieved since he joined more than forty years ago, and John Paré spoke about some of the advocacy and public education successes of the last five years. The Jernigan Institute Education Team then split the students up into five small groups and led them in a team-building activity. The evening concluded with each small group--affiliate--choosing a name and electing officers.
Saturday morning the five adult mentors told their own stories--describing how they dealt with their own blindness as children or when they lost vision later in life and giving the students advice on how to become independent blind adults. The students then listened to a brief timeline of the history of the NFB and of blindness in the United States. Afterward each affiliate chose one of the historical events to act out as a skit. The morning concluded with a discussion of the finer points of NFB philosophy, led by Executive Director of Affiliate Action Joanne Wilson, during which the students had to choose what they would do if they were in a given situation like being offered free admission to a movie or extra time on a school assignment.
Saturday afternoon began with "Ask Miss Whozit." Adult mentor Richie Flores, a 2004 scholarship winner and current president of the NFB of Texas, Austin Chapter, read letters to Miss Whozit written by high school students seeking advice on how to deal with their struggles in high school, at home, and on dates. Richie then asked the participants whether they had ever experienced the same struggles and how they would respond if they were Miss Whozit. This activity demonstrated to the students and to the Teacher of Tomorrow participants that blind and sighted teens have many common experiences, and the students discussed effective solutions for overcoming them.
Later in the afternoon each student selected two challenge activities in which to participate. The adult mentors and other Federation leaders served as the teachers, and sleepshade use was required. The list included learning to use a chain saw, home repair, preparing and cooking on a charcoal grill, gift wrapping, applying makeup, playing goalball, and doing yoga.
Saturday evening concluded with salsa dance lessons, given by adult mentors Conchita Hernandez, a 2010 scholarship winner who recently graduated from the master’s program in teaching blind students at Louisiana Tech University, and Alex Castillo of New York, a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who will soon enter graduate school. Sunday morning featured a tour of the Jernigan Institute and a confidence-building activity in which the students broke boards with their hands.
The other Federationists serving as adult mentors were Eric Guillory, director of youth services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Jeannie Massay, a 2009 scholarship winner and president of the NFB of Oklahoma.
by Gary Wunder
In most organizations that handle money, the words “audit” and “auditors” are enough to start the adrenaline flowing. The purpose of an audit is minimally to ensure that money received is being handled in a way that can be tracked, is spent with appropriate authorization, and is consistent with the purposes and goals of the organization receiving it. The need for this oversight, its value to the organization, and the assurance it brings to contributors, taxpayers, and investors is clear; but the emotional reaction to an audit can be quite different.
In the fall of 2011 an audit of the Oregon Commission for the Blind (OCB) was released. Its findings were noteworthy, not because it revealed a significant slight of hand or abuse of public funds, but because the issues it highlights have been central in audits going back to 1995. The failure to address longstanding issues has drawn criticism from the press, the Oregon general assembly, and the governor of the state.
In an article appearing in the Portland Tribune for October 13, 2011, this is how the audit and the conflict between the Oregon Commission for the Blind and the state's blind citizens were characterized:
by Steve Law
Besieged Oregon Commission for the Blind leaders vow to improve their management practices after another blistering state audit--the fifth since 1995--accused the Portland-based agency of sloppy money management and misleading state lawmakers. In a four-hour meeting Friday, the Commission's seven-member board, packed with four newcomers chosen by Governor John Kitzhaber, said it would take the audit seriously and try to turn it into a model agency. But several board members also downplayed the audit findings, raising questions about their resolve to change the culture of an agency charged with aiding Oregon's nineteen-thousand blind people.
Commission Administrator Linda Mock and board Chairwoman Jodi Roth issued separate written responses to the October 5 audit that were largely defensive. Meanwhile, activists with the agency's Business Enterprise Program, who have been at odds with the Commission for years, are calling for heads to roll. The new board should have held an executive session to review Mock's performance, given the history of negative audits, said Art Stevenson, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon and a manager in the Business Enterprise Program. "I do not feel that she should be the administrator of the Oregon Commission for the Blind," Stevenson said.
In an interview Monday Mock said she intends to remain at the helm of the agency. She stressed that her primary concern remains job training, rehabilitation services, and counseling to some fifteen hundred blind people who are clients of the agency. However, she added, "We realize that the business practices of the agency need to support that."
Many of the controversies revolve around the Business Enterprise Program, which stems from a federal law giving blind people a monopoly on vending machines and other food service in public buildings. The program employs seventeen blind people.
The new audit, similar to others in 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2009, found a pattern of poor accounting and inept recordkeeping at the agency Mock has run for more than a decade. The Commission for the Blind, which spends $7.8 million in federal and state money each year, didn't have copies of contracts, didn't track income of the blind vending machine businesses, and had weak controls on spending and discrepancies in financial records. These were among a host of problems uncovered by six state auditors. Agency leaders have failed to perform tasks that are "fundamental expectations of any manager" in the state, said Gary Blackmer, Audits Division director under Secretary of State Kate Brown.
After a scathing 2009 audit the agency was required to report how it rectified the problems to a legislative committee in January 2010. Auditors concluded that the agency falsely claimed to have resolved many of its problems. "We found something different from what they told the legislature," Blackmer says. In the follow-up audit the agency was asked to produce signed contracts with outside food and beverage companies that service state buildings. Some of those contracts were only signed that morning and not by both parties.
Walt Reyes, manager of the agency's Business Enterprise Program, was placed on paid administrative leave in August due to irregularities uncovered during the audit. He is still on leave.
Tracking money from vending machines operated by blind businessmen was hard to do because accounting records were incomplete and inconsistent, said Jamie Ralls, principal auditor for the state. That's especially important because those machines operate on a cash basis, she said. Auditors also couldn't track the eleven percent cut that blind business managers are supposed to give to the agency, Ralls said. "If they were doing their job, they could track all this information," she said. "They could spot when something doesn't seem right."
Some observers say past boards overseeing the agency have been rather passive. Members relied on Mock and her predecessor--who resigned under pressure after a negative audit in 1999--to produce board agendas and spoon-feed them financial reports. "The board has in the past liked it that way," said Kae Seth, a past board member and current president of the American Council of the Blind of Oregon. Board meetings are only conducted every two months for two hours, giving members twelve hours a year to monitor the agency.
"Basically, the board meetings are like a dog and pony show," said Randy Hauth, a representative of the seventeen blind business managers.
At Friday's board meeting, when Mock and her fiscal officer, Leslie Jones, presented a proposal for meeting a potential 10.5 percent budget cut that may be required by the legislature, board member Richard Phay asked why the board didn't get individual department budgets in the agency. "Honestly, we've just provided a summary because it's much easier to grasp," Jones said. The full agency budget would have been too long to submit to the board, she said--ten pages.
At the meeting some members defended the agency's management and were publicly dismissive of the audit findings. "This audit looks like a witch hunt to me," said Dr. John Wilkins, an ophthalmologist. "I think this is an incredible waste of taxpayers' money." Later he said, "We're not accountants. That's not the primary goal of our mission."
Mock complained that the agency had requested a quality assurance staffer to resolve the financial problems highlighted in past audits but said state budget writers denied the extra position. Roth, the board chairwoman, reiterated that complaint in her written response to the audit. However, Ralls said there was a half-time person hired with federal stimulus funds to serve as a quality assurance officer during the 2009-11 budget cycle, which ended in June. Roth said she wasn't aware of that position.
New board member Carla McQuillan said agency leaders should stop arguing that the state is "picking on us" and improve their business management. "Things have just been very sloppy," McQuillan said.
Roth appears to have softened her stance after speaking with state auditors and Secretary of State Brown. In an interview Tuesday the board chairwoman said she would like to see "global changes" in how the agency is managed and how the board functions. "I think that our role is going to be vastly different in the next months to come," she said.
The board and Mock also face an ongoing state of rebellion by the blind business managers, who make a living running vending machines, coffee carts, and other food services in state, county, and city buildings. The blind managers argue the Commission for the Blind doesn't aggressively enforce the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act, enacted in 1936, and the companion state law, resulting in lost opportunities for blind people to gain business in public buildings. Nationally those programs provide twenty-five hundred jobs to blind people, Stevenson said. But in Oregon the agency has neglected the program, not even offering training for the managers, he said. "There has been a mindset in the Oregon Commission for the Blind not to expand the program," or to use it as a "dumping ground" to place clients when they can't find any other jobs for them, Stevenson said.
Auditors found the agency has paid $416,000 in legal bills since 2007 just to respond to claims filed by the blind managers. In most cases those were claims, authorized by federal law, to prod the state to court more contracts for the program. The managers fought to get control of food concessions in state prisons, in the U.S. Post Office in Northwest Portland, and in the SAIF headquarters in Salem, among other public facilities. Seth said Stevenson has a conflict of interest as a blind businessman and president of the other major advocacy group, the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. However, she said there had been poor communication between the blind business managers and the agency for years. "It's like two children fighting each other; you just want to knock them in the head," Seth said.
Mock often notes that the Business Enterprise Program involves about one percent of the clients served by her agency. She said that program, created in 1936, relies on an "outmoded model" of rehabilitation for blind people that is very "paternalistic" and leads to ongoing friction in the state agency. The blind business owners have a more expansive view of their legal rights to state and local government buildings than state attorneys do, Mock said. In one sign of the dysfunction within the agency and that program, Stevenson is one of the business owners who is not operating with a signed contract. Stevenson refused to sign one, he said, because he didn't think it granted him due process rights if he was terminated.
There you have the article in the Portland Tribune describing the way state taxpayers learned about problems in the agency they support. The Monitor has interviewed many of the people quoted above, including agency consumers, state auditors, several members of the seven-member Commission (including its chairwoman, Jodi Roth), and the agency's administrator, Linda Mock. While the newspaper article was thorough in outlining major areas of concern, Monitor readers will benefit from having more detail as well as information about the events since its publication.
In an interview with the Monitor, state auditors expressed surprise at the state agency's defense of longstanding problems and the reaction that Commission officials are rehabilitation professionals and not accountants. They say the OCB's response differs significantly from other agencies they audit. They describe their work with most state agencies as a collaborative process designed, not only to ensure financial accountability, but to help improve and streamline services. They claim that nothing revealed in an audit should come as a surprise to the agency since findings are shared at every stage, both to ensure that the auditors are drawing appropriate conclusions from what they review and to develop with the agency a plan to fix problems that are identified. They further argue that none of the social service agencies they monitor are comprised of accountants and that nothing they are expecting to see requires accounting expertise. They expect to see receipts for money spent, contracts when significant amounts of money are frequently exchanged, and records that are clear and easy to follow.
An audit begins by determining whether an agency demonstrates financial accountability. When expenditures can be adequately tracked, auditors then conduct what they call a performance review. In this phase of an audit agencies are evaluated against similar agencies and by how well they are carrying out their duties as mandated by the state and federal laws under which they operate. In the case of the Oregon Commission for the Blind, auditors had wanted to look at the timeliness of service, the expenditures per client, and the success of the programs in helping blind people find gainful employment. They had intended to examine the Business Enterprise Program thoroughly to determine whether it was actively pursuing new locations and training blind people to fill them.
In auditing the Commission, however, auditors complain that problems observed in basic accounting procedures never allowed them to do a performance audit in the time allotted for the OCB. So concerned were the auditors by the lack of progress on what they view as longstanding issues that their report was sent to the Commission board for action, though traditionally audits are sent only to the agency for study and resolution.
In response to many of the auditor's concerns, Administrator Mock says the agency has traditionally had a flat management structure, by which she means it has had relatively few management positions and has focused on putting direct-service people in the field. She says the agency has now concluded that it has no choice but to reduce some direct-service positions and focus more on centralizing accounting functions and ensuring that all appropriate staff know and follow procedures. She says one thing the agency has learned is that implementing a policy not only means drafting it but seeing that it is known to staff and rigorously followed.
Findings of concern to the auditors included the lack of a reliable employee leave-tracking system, automobiles belonging to the state being kept at the homes of employees, cell phones with monthly plans but no use, cell phones which were routinely used in excess of their minute plans and which incurred the steep charges companies levy for overages, and employees receiving out-of-class pay. Some of these findings require explanation.
Tracking employee leave is almost as crucial as tracking employee pay. It is compensation, and a system must be in place to ensure the employee receives the time off he or she is due and that the agency pays only what it is obligated to pay. The audit found that no system was in place to ensure that leave taken was reported and, when reported, that it actually appeared on employee timesheets so that it was recorded in the system. Given that no complaints were received from employees, one has to consider the likelihood that Oregon has paid for time off which it was not obligated to cover.
The auditors found automobiles being kept at employee homes in violation of state policy. Administrator Mock says that in certain cases state law does allow employees to take state vehicles to their homes and that the agency failed to ensure that the circumstances that caused those vehicles to be assigned still warranted their use. She says that after review this practice has been discontinued except for home-based employees who need state vehicles for the transportation of clients. Another point cited by the auditors was state vehicles that evidenced little use each month. Mock says these are used by mobility instructors who take their students to nearby locations to work, that the distances traveled are necessarily small, and that expecting employees to transport students in the employees’ vehicles causes problems with liability and insurance.
Mock says that cell phone bills can be hard to read, so in the past they were simply received and paid without appropriate review. She says they are now being examined by each department, that some telephones have been eliminated, and that plans have been adjusted to avoid extra charges stemming from greater than anticipated use.
Out-of-class pay is a procedure followed in Oregon when the job duties of employees are changed and they are no longer being compensated adequately for their new job responsibilities. All positions within an agency must be approved by the legislature, so in those cases where a study has determined a worker should receive more compensation, state law allows for out-of-class pay until a legislative adjustment can be made and the reclassification of the position approved. The expectation is that these adjustments will be submitted promptly to the legislature and that it will act in a timely manner to approve them. State rules allow for out-of-class pay to occur for no more than two years. The auditors say that failure to receive legislative approval for the reclassification of positions means agencies are required to find the money from other parts of their personnel budget or reduce employees’ responsibilities with a corresponding reduction in their pay.
Mock says the Commission was placed in a difficult situation when it was told by the Department of Administrative Services that it was underpaying employees, increased their salaries under this temporary spending authority, and then could not get the legislature to approve their reclassification. The agency has now reduced the hours of one of its management staff to pay for the pay increases, a move that does not require legislative approval.
The audit expressed concern about the agency's spending of charitably contributed funds held by the secretary of state. Their concerns were how the funds have been spent and that expenditures for several years have exceeded income. Tandem bicycling and boat races are two examples in which the agency's use of this money has been called into question. Mock's response is that the agency has not interpreted the limitations on spending charitably contributed funds to be the same as for taxpayer funds. In fact the agency has tried to use them to cover needs that can't be handled through the federal-state program. Whether this difference in interpretation is a matter of law or a matter of policy that the agency can change by setting up procedures for the use of the charitably contributed funds is unclear and is being explored.
Mock makes the point that one of the major reasons why fund expenditures exceed income is that the legislature has decided to appropriate this money to replace funding normally provided by state general revenue. While the agency has no control over this legislative prerogative and sees the value in using this money to get a four-to-one federal match, many donors are reluctant to have their money go for services they believe should be covered by funding from the state. They intend their donations to stimulate greater opportunity, not to shift the financial burden from taxpayers for things state revenue has traditionally covered. Some are still giving money, but they are restricting it to programs they consider beneficial in the hope it will not be used to replace general revenue from the state treasury.
While the Commission audit was the impetus for the Braille Monitor to investigate and inform readers about an important state resource for blind Oregonians, it soon became obvious that the audit is but one area of concern there. Blind merchants who participate in the Business Enterprise Program are adamant in their belief that, when it comes to participatory policy-making and management of their program, the agency just doesn't get it. In their view the agency does not understand or attempt to develop a participatory relationship as envisioned in the amended Randolph-Sheppard Act, in which, working together, consumer organizations, the elected committee of blind vendors, and the agency arrive at policies to encourage a strong and vital program to recruit, train, and advance blind managers.
Illustrative of the way the agency regards its relationship with the Business Enterprise Consumer Committee and the consumer organizations of the state, consumers and managers cite the following example: Administrator Mock offered a proposal she calls "Modernizing the Business Enterprise Program" without first consulting any of the managers who derive income from the current program or the National Federation of the Blind, which worked for and has always supported the concept of blind managers operating facilities, including those in state and federal buildings. Instead the concept was advanced to the governor and only afterward did blind people learn about it. The reaction was predictable--surprise, outrage, and fear. Mock says her intent was not to do away with the Business Enterprise Program but to modernize it. She is still surprised that the move didn't get more traction and believes it never was given a fair hearing. Consumers and managers say they were never a part of framing the proposal or even discussing the need for modernization. They heard of the plan two days before it was taken to the Oregon Commission board, and, though the Business Enterprise Consumer Committee opposed it, the proposal was still advanced. The Commission board said there was not enough time to act on it, effectively halting its progress, while endorsing the concept of exploring modernization.
In the opinion of blind consumers and vendors, the proposal would have eliminated the state statute giving blind managers priority. In Mock’s opinion the proposal would have updated the Oregon law by allowing managers to hold contracts for the facilities they operated, freeing them from agency control and strengthening the law by giving the blind a priority and the right of first refusal instead of the right to bid, which is what Mock and the attorney general of the state now interpret the law to mean.
For five years now vendors have been pressing the Commission to be more aggressive in seeking and keeping facilities. Randy Hauth, who has been the chairman of the Business Enterprise Consumer Committee for eight years and a blind vendor for twenty-six, notes with alarm that, when he received his first facility, thirty-three managers were operating businesses in the program. Today there are seventeen. Consumers and managers say the agency passes up facilities by not bidding in a timely manner, by agreeing to award them to outside interests with the option of revisiting the decision at a later date, and by letting building administrators terminate their relationships with the Business Enterprise Program without reason.
Managers have been pressing the Oregon Commission for the Blind and its board to join with them in testing the statute and letting a judge determine whether it grants blind people the right to bid or something more expansive such as a priority in operating state facilities and the right to first refusal. Managers assert and Mock confirms that the agency agreed to bring a test case involving a community college, but she says that the Commission's council (the attorney general of Oregon) scuttled that idea, saying there is no right of first refusal in the law, only a requirement to let blind people bid on the facility and then, if it is not awarded to them, to explain to them in writing why their bid was not accepted.
Consumers and business enterprise managers contend that the law says the state will give priority to services provided by the blind, that the agency has the right to survey any property where the state plans to offer vending services, and that the refusal by building management to award a facility to the blind is not permitted if the agency proposal offers the same quality, quantity, and price.
NFB of Oregon President Art Stevenson says that, if the agency won't join in getting a judge to decide the issue, the affiliate and the national body will join forces in bringing a suit. Scott LaBarre, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a leading attorney coordinating many of the Federation's cases, says that the NFB is considering a variety of legal remedies and has already filed administrative complaints and requests for fair hearings pursuant to the corresponding Randolph-Sheppard regulations. He says, “The OCB has now reached out to us to discuss these matters, thanks in large part to the work Carla McQuillan has done as a new OCB Commission member. Any business or person has the right to bid on these state contracts. The vendors need no special law to give them that right. Our reading of the applicable statute is that it gives OCB the right of first refusal for these contracts and much more than just the right to bid on them. We are hopeful that the recently opened dialogue will lead somewhere productive. If it does not, we plan to take legal action to enforce the Oregon statutes and protect the rights of the licensed managers there.”
As further evidence of the Commission’s failure to work cooperatively with blind managers, Hauth and Stevenson say that the hiring of Walt Reyes as the head of the Business Enterprise Program happened in violation of an agreement they had with Administrator Mock. The elected committee expressed reservations about elevating Reyes from his position as a local vendor representative because of performance problems. They agreed to Mock’s desire to hire him with the understanding that the Committee and Mock would be involved in evaluating him prior to expiration of the six-month probation all employees must serve prior to having their jobs considered permanent. During Reyes’s probationary period managers expressed concern about his performance as the acting head of the program and said he should not be hired. Mock disagreed and offered him a permanent position. As noted in the newspaper article above, Reyes has been on administrative leave since August, and Mock says she is unable to discuss anything about the case—the dispute over his hiring, his reason for being placed on administrative leave, and the state’s ongoing investigation by the Department of Administration and the state Department of Justice. Managers are anxious for the Commission to find a permanent replacement for Reyes and are uncomfortable because the acting director, in Reyes’s absence, is a man he hired to assist him who is both a personal friend and the godfather of Reyes’s son.
One other observation begs to be made here. Some are critical of and put off by what they see as the petty squabbles between the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, but take a moment to consider the reaction of Kae Seth, the Council's president in Oregon, as captured in the Portland Tribune article. Participants in a discussion as important as agency accountability and their own livelihoods she characterizes as children who should have their heads knocked together. From what state child welfare manual is this prescription for better behavior taken?
When it comes to the Commission board’s meeting only twelve hours a year to oversee the work of the agency, get consumer input, address appeals from agency clients, and help the Commission plan for its future, the response of Seth is that the board has liked it that way. One has to wonder whether past boards have actually considered their critical function in running a citizen-directed agency or whether they have seen their role as ceremonial, a chance for a bit of public recognition and a way to build a résumé.
And what can be said about the comment that Art Stevenson's participation represents a conflict of interest because he is a manager in the Business Enterprise Program and the president of the National Federation of the Blind? Wouldn't his stake in preserving his livelihood and his obligation to protect the interest of blind Oregonians he has been elected to serve create, not a conflict of interest, but a vested interest arguing for and even mandating his active participation and involvement? It is difficult to see in what way Seth's comments could bring about better service, support accountability, or bring unity in work with the blind at a time when all of our programs face the possibility of devastating cuts and a threat to their very existence.
Since the publication of the audit and the appointment of four new members to the Commission board, the time allotted for meetings has doubled, meetings beyond those scheduled every two months have occurred, and board members are demanding more information to use in decision-making. Commission Chairwoman Roth expresses optimism that the board and staff will respond affirmatively in addressing the findings of the audit and in addressing the concerns of blind managers. She says that, while the first reaction of the board and the commission was defensive and protective, a little time and reflection make it clear that the agency will best be served by doing what it must to implement the recommendations of the auditors and by welcoming a good, hard look in six months both by the auditors and by the Braille Monitor. She says the presence of four new members on the board is helpful because they will bring a fresh perspective to the body, they will not feel the need to defend previous practices, and they will bring time and energy to the task of becoming more involved in Commission decisions.
Some Commission members have been told by state officials that either they will address the Commission’s problems, or others will step in to do it, with the likelihood that the Commission will no longer be a consumer-managed entity. Mock believes this would be unfortunate, noting that Oregon has what she considers to be the best structure for providing services to blind people. Roth says that, in her meetings with the secretary of state or staff in the office of the governor, she has never been issued an ultimatum to act, but she has no doubt that a failure to address identified problems would have consequences no one will like.
Stevenson, Hauth, and others agree that the consumer-dominated Commission is unquestionably the best structure but contend that for too long the structure has been subverted by a cozy relationship between the administrator and the governor's office, with the result that boards hand-picked by the director simply went along with whatever he or she decreed. They are hopeful that the addition of four new members will result in positive change but still believe that pressure from outside the agency to test the scope of the law and demand accountability will be required. They, and many other blind citizens in Oregon, also believe that the Oregon Commission will embrace real change only when someone new heads the Commission. One commissioner reports having been told that either the Commission will make the changes necessary to right itself and remove it from public controversy, or elected officials in the state will actively consider changing the form of the Commission so that it is under their control.
Administrator Mock, for her part, says she plans to remain as the Commission’s administrator and says the controversy over the audit and the complaint by managers in the Business Enterprise Program obscure the good work done by the Commission. One cannot detect Mock’s extending an olive branch to forge an alliance at a time when state funding cuts are inevitable and federal cuts likely. Whether business as usual between the Commission and blind entrepreneurs represents a false sense of security or a determination that nothing she can do will make a difference is anyone’s guess, but the potential problems for the blind of Oregon are undeniable, and the need for positive action is beyond debate. Let us hope that the administrator, like former President Lyndon Johnson, makes a heart-felt plea, “Come, let us reason together,” or, as he eventually did, steps aside knowing he could not weather the storms of a public upset with his policies and demanding change.
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: Where must the blind turn for justice? Sometimes we go to the legislatures in our states, sometimes to the United States Congress, but ultimately we must turn to the courts to interpret the statutes that are enacted and to reconcile them with rights we believe to be found in the Constitution. In the remarks that follow, President Maurer discusses the record of the Supreme Court in interpreting the law as it pertains to blind and otherwise disabled Americans. Here is what he said at the Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium held on April 14 and 15, 2011:
Although the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States declares that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,”1 and although section five of the amendment declares that Congress has the power to enforce it by appropriate legislation, what equality before the law means has been the subject of debate from the time of the beginning of our nation, and it remains a matter for interpretation by the courts. In considering “equality before the law” for disabled individuals, it is worth pondering whether the courts have been a help or a hindrance. If they have not been a help, it is worth considering what steps are required to change the judicial point of view.
In 1973 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §794, became law. This section declared at the time of enactment that no otherwise qualified handicapped individual could be denied the benefits of or participation in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. In 1985 the Supreme Court decided that this section of the Rehabilitation Act did not authorize individuals to recover damages against state institutions because claims for such damages were barred by the Eleventh Amendment.2 Although the decision of the Supreme Court was later changed by congressional action in 1986, Justice Powell declared that a state would be liable for damages only if it had waived sovereign immunity or Congress had authorized suits for damages pursuant to its power under the Fourteenth Amendment.3 When the Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted in 1990, Congress specifically included a reference to its enforcement power under the Fourteenth Amendment, “to invoke the sweep of Congressional authority.”4 This should have ensured the broadest interpretation of enforceability for the act. However, in 2001 Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Supreme Court, said that the Eleventh Amendment bars recovery of damages against states under the Americans with Disabilities Act because Congress had made an insufficient finding of a pattern of discrimination by the states against the disabled to invoke constitutional authority for abrogating sovereign immunity.5
In the history of the treatment of blind Americans, many, many states have adopted laws prohibiting blind Americans from serving on juries.6 Federal law permits the disabled to be paid less than the minimum wage today.7 In the interpretation of social welfare legislation, some states have required blind people to undergo sterilization operations if they wanted to receive public benefits or employment opportunities in certain state-run institutions.8 The graduation rate for blind students from high school is currently at approximately 45 percent.9 The unemployment rate for blind people is currently at approximately 70 percent.10 More than 5,000 blind people are employed in sheltered workshops for the blind, where they have rarely had opportunities for advancement into management.11 Until the mid 1970s employees in these sheltered environments were prohibited from joining unions or exercising the rights of collective bargaining.12 The inequities for blind workers in the sheltered workshop system are sufficiently long-standing and so thoroughly incorporated into the daily experiences of blind people that folk songs have been created such as the “Blind Workshop Blues” and “I’ve Been Working in the Workshop” sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” One sentiment from such music says that the bosses in the workshop can’t raise my wages because I’d lose my Social Security.13 However, no pattern of discrimination exists, says the Supreme Court.
In the same case in which Chief Justice Rehnquist determined that no pattern of discrimination had been found by the Congress, he implied that disabled individuals are by nature less capable of performance than others. He said, “It would be entirely rational, and therefore constitutional, for a state employer to preserve scarce financial resources by hiring employees who are able to use existing facilities….”14 According to the Supreme Court, disabled individuals are more costly to employ than the nondisabled. Consequently, it is rational not to hire them—and constitutional. But there is no pattern of discrimination. I feel certain that the irony was lost upon the justices who employed a standard not supported by facts in the record and not offering equal protection to disabled and nondisabled individuals alike. The very language employed in this decision helps to establish the pattern of discrimination that was declared not to exist.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek asserted that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires equality, which has been defined in three different ways.15 One of these is that each person who is a citizen of the United States shall have equal opportunity to select government representatives without facing irrational burdens on the election process. One representation of this form of equality is captured in the phrase, “One man, one vote.”16 The second definition is that equal protection requires government guarantees of fundamental natural rights such as those denominated in the first eight amendments to the Constitution and other rights not listed in the document.17 The third interpretation of this requirement is that all people similarly situated shall be treated equally by government. This interpretation of equality requires classification of individuals in accordance with characteristics that have a rational relationship to the classification.18 A more rigorous test for classifications exists if those being classified are members of a “suspect class,” but the disabled are not among this highly favored group.19
Much of the debate that occurred in fashioning the Fourteenth Amendment revolved around the proper classification of slaves. If slaves are property, the clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibiting the government from depriving an individual of property without due process of law protects the interests of the property owner in these slaves.20 If the slaves are persons, the same clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits slave holders from invoking governmental authority in support of their taking these persons who have a property interest in themselves, because these persons are protected against government-authorized taking without due process of law.21
Disabled individuals are bedeviled by arguments with respect to appropriate classification. Until 1990 the State Department of the federal government refused to accept blind American citizens as applicants for the Foreign Service.22 When protests regarding this policy incorporated reference to the nondiscrimination requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, officials of the State Department responded by agreeing to permit blind persons to apply. However, they said that strict equality would be required. Sighted people were offered the test for admission to the Foreign Service in print. Blind people would also be offered the test in print. Sighted people were not permitted to use the services of a reader during the administration of the test. Blind people would not be permitted to use the services of a reader during the administration of the test. If blind people could pass the test under these conditions, they would be accepted as employees of the service. Otherwise, they would not.23
When I was applying for admission to law school in the 1970s, I was told that because of my blindness I could not take the Law School Admissions Test. Today the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) permits blind applicants to take the test. However, the Council decides what kinds of access technology will be permitted to a blind applicant, and the website of the LSAC, a site which must be used in making application to law schools, has not been usable by blind applicants.24 Similarly, until very recently, the National Conference of Bar Examiners decided how a blind person could take the bar exam.25 Blind applicants seeking the opportunity to take the bar exam argued that they should have flexibility in what methods would be used to comprehend the content of the exam. Methods familiar to these blind applicants for comprehending the content of written material should be permitted. To insist that unfamiliar methods of understanding test content are required is to test the capacity of the applicant to learn how to use these methods rather than to determine their fitness to take the exam.
The Law School Admissions Council and the National Conference of Bar Examiners may not have an animus against the blind, but they do not want to encourage blind people to participate in the legal profession. This is the inevitable conclusion of the decisions they have made to try to make it hard for the blind to get into law school and hard for the blind to get into the legal profession after graduation. They have classified blind people as undesirable, but there is no pattern of discrimination—the Supreme Court said so.
In 1927 the Supreme Court issued an opinion declaring that a Virginia statute authorizing forced sterilization of certain disabled individuals did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.26 In that case a woman denominated “feeble minded” who had born a child said to be “feeble minded” and who was the daughter of another woman said to be “feeble minded” faced involuntary sterilization. The court said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”27 However, that decision was made more than eighty years ago. Surely, it may be argued, governmental interference with family and reproductive rights for disabled Americans is no longer tolerated.
In the spring of 2010 the newly born child of blind parents in Missouri was taken from them, not because they were treating the child inhumanely, not because they were determined to be incapable of giving it love and affection, but because these parents are blind.28
If disabled Americans are to have full access to government programs, public accommodations, and employment, the barriers to entry and use of such programs and facilities must be removed and a spirit welcoming participation must be created. The barriers to entry and use are physical, informational, and social. Physical barriers require redesign of doorways, entryways, bathrooms, and the like. They also require redesign of information-management systems. Nonvisual access is needed for those who cannot effectively use print. This group includes the blind, those with severe dyslexia, those who cannot hold a book, and a number of others.
Although it is common to argue that the disabled are expensive, as Chief Justice Rehnquist did, it is less well recognized that the nondisabled are also expensive. Because I am blind, I never use a computer screen, which costs money to construct and to operate. Nevertheless, the program which verbalizes information contained in my computer is regarded as an expensive accommodation, but the computer screen used by the sighted is not.
To welcome the disabled into the community on terms of equality with others demands an alteration of thought, and we who are disabled are the primary agents of change. If the rights of those possessing disabilities become the subject of discussion once every quarter century or so, they may be ignored with impunity. Consequently, if we want our fellow human beings to recognize our value and our right to exercise that value, we must take action to help them know this value exists. We must insist that we be admitted to the law schools, to the legal profession, and to the judiciary. We must befriend legislators and take office ourselves. We must draft legislation that protects our rights. When our rights are ignored, denied, or belittled, we must sue the people who do so. We must become acquainted with officials in the executive branch, and we ourselves must seek office in that branch of government to ensure that the administration of the legislation adopted fulfills the intent of legislators who direct that the disabled may not be subjected to discrimination.
Sometimes we will encounter members of the judiciary sufficiently benighted that they cannot imagine a pattern of discrimination, but sometimes we will get the justice we deserve. This cannot happen unless we demand it. We must insist upon respect at all levels of government and society, and we must welcome those who want to work with us to assure equality for all.
As we do all of these things, we will be regarded as uppity, pushy, obnoxious, and belligerent. This is unfortunate, but it is one element of the transition of a minority group to first-class status in society. We will not always win. However, we cannot make progress unless we insist that the value we represent is recognized. Consequently, we must constantly demand that we be given the equal protection that our Constitution guarantees. In the long run such behavior will ensure that equality is ours.
1. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, §1.
2. Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L. Ed. 2nd 171, (1985).
3. Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234 at pp. 235-236 (1985) reversed by the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act of 1986, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-7 (a)(1).
4. Americans with Disabilities Act 42 U.S.C. §12101 (b)(4) (1990).
5. Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 121 S.Ct. 955, 148 L. Ed. 2nd 866 (2001).
6. See, for example, “Blind Citizens One Step Closer to Jury Service in the District of Columbia,” Braille Monitor July 1993: 815- 819 and “Jury Service in Tennessee,” Braille Monitor July 1985: 354-356.
7. Fair Labor Standards Act 29 U.S.C. §214 (c) (1938).
8. Seville Allen, Virginia’s Blind: From Custodialism toward Freedom through the National Federation of the Blind. Arlington, Virginia: National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, 2008.
9. Fredric Schroeder, “Literacy, Learning, and Enlightenment,” Braille Monitor August/September 2008: 666-669.
10. See, for example, “Unemployment Rate Soars as Literacy Rate Declines,” at <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/documents/pdf/Braille%20Literacy%20Crisis%20flyer.pdf> (2011).
11. Sheltered workshops for the blind receive federal contracts administered through an organization called National Industries for the Blind (NIB). The number of people employed in the workshops changes over time, but in March of 2011 NIB management said that the number was 5,600 <http://nib.org>. For detailed information about conditions that have existed in the shops see Jonathan Kwitny and Jerry Landauer, “Sheltered Shops: Pay for the Blind Often Trails Minimum Wage at Charity Workrooms,” The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 1979, pp. 1 and 35, and “Sheltered Shops: How a Blind Worker Gets $1.85 an Hour After 20 Years on the Job,” The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 1979, pp. 1 and 31.
12. The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, 225 NLRB, No. 46 (1976).
13. National Federation of the Blind Song Book. Baltimore, Maryland: National Federation of the Blind, 1991.
14. Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, supra, at 372.
15. Jacobus tenBroek, Equal Under Law, (Originally published as The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment), First Collier Books in cooperation with the University of California, 1965: p. 19.
17. Ibid. at 20
19. Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S., 432, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed. 2d. 313 (1985).
20. Jacobus tenBroek, Equal Under Law, (Originally published as The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment), published by First Collier Books in cooperation with the University of California (1965) pp. 42-56.
22. Rami Rabby, “The Blind Applicant Rejected: Why Not Diplomacy for the Blind?” Braille Monitor November 1989: 686-691; Gerry Sikorski, “Blind Persons in the U.S. Foreign Service: A View from Congress,” Braille Monitor November 1989: 691-696; and Marc Maurer, “Presidential Report,” Braille Monitor September 1990: 513-524.
23. See note 22.
24. In February 2009, a complaint entitled National Federation of the Blind et al. v. Law School Admissions Council was filed in the Superior Court for the State of California, Alameda County, case number 09—436691. In this case complainants alleged a number of facts of discrimination against the Law School Admissions Counsel. Although the defendants declined to acknowledge that these allegations are correct, the case is close to settlement with the understanding that access technology for the blind will be permitted to blind applicants.
25. Enyart v. National Conference of Bar Examiners, Inc., 630 F.3d 1153 C.A.9 (Cal.), (January 04, 2011).
26. Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, 47 S. Ct. 584, 71 L. Ed. 1000 (1927).
27. Id. at 207.
28. Baby Sent to Foster Care for 57 Days Because Parents Are Blind, ABC News Health, <http://abcnews.go.com/Health/missouri-takes-baby-blind-parents/story?id=11263491&page=2> (2010).
by Samuel R. Bagenstos
From the Editor: On December 2, 2011, a guest columnist appeared in the Des Moines Register. It was Samuel Bagenstos, principal deputy attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He addressed the NFB convention last summer, and his remarks were reprinted in the December issue of the Monitor. We are reprinting his column on the importance of repealing Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act because it provides an excellent summary of the arguments in favor of passing the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, H.R. 3086, for which we are striving to get cosponsors in the House of Representatives. Here is the column:
In 1990 Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congress found that disabled Americans experienced various kinds of discrimination, including overprotective rules and policies and segregation and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, and other opportunities. Twenty years later the statute books still contain a federal law that itself discriminates against people with disabilities, reflects an overprotective policy towards them, and encourages segregation and relegation to lesser jobs. That law is Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which authorizes employers to pay less than the minimum wage to certain employees with disabilities. Congress should eliminate this 1930s-era anachronism.
When Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, it set a federal minimum wage but wrote into Section 14(c) of the law the longstanding practice of exempting certain kinds of employers of people with disabilities. Most of these employers are segregated workplaces for disabled workers, commonly known as sheltered workshops. (Not all sheltered workshops use the exemption.) Today, because of this provision, along with other laws requiring the federal government to procure certain goods and services from sheltered workshops, there are 2,500 such facilities employing 350,000 workers with disabilities at subminimum wages.
Section 14(c), on its face, discriminates against workers with disabilities by singling them out and denying them the minimum wages to which all American workers are presumptively entitled. Nonetheless, the operators and supporters of exempt facilities continue to justify this discrimination. None of their justifications, however, withstand even cursory scrutiny. Outwardly Section 14(c) suggests that its purpose is to ensure that open-market employers are not discouraged from hiring workers with disabilities by the requirement to pay them a minimum wage--an argument that has been advanced by proponents of the exemption. The premise of this justification is that, for a significant number of people with disabilities, nothing can make it worth the while of open-market employers to hire them. Congress concluded when it adopted the ADA that it is often stereotypes, not facts, that lead employers to believe people with disabilities cannot be productive. The evidence is clear that a below-minimum wage is not an effective strategy for encouraging employers to hire people with disabilities. Section 14(c) has simply served as a subsidy to sheltered workshops. According to the Government Accountability Office, only about 5 percent of people receiving subminimum wages under this law work for open-market employers. The majority work for sheltered workshops.
Some argue that Section 14(c) gives people with disabilities the opportunity to learn key job skills before going on the open job market. But this justification doesn't fit the facts. The evidence from several studies shows that most people employed in sheltered workshops never leave them, and the workshops provide poor training for competitive employment because they use outdated manufacturing.
Finally, exemption supporters argue that the system allows those who can't compete in the general workforce to earn something at least, and that the law requires wages to be tied to a worker's productivity. This argument, too, is fatally flawed. The outdated production methods in many sheltered workshops artificially depress the productivity of workers while saying nothing about how they would fare in a modern workplace. All of the evidence about productivity comes from the employer--who has a financial incentive to exploit the cheap labor. The problem of unemployment among people with disabilities is serious. But the subminimum wage provision in Section 14(c) is not the solution.
Section 14(c) discriminates against people with disabilities. It has not served its original purpose of ensuring that open-market employers hire people with disabilities. Instead it has simply provided a subsidy for employers that have done a poor job of preparing their workers for open-market employment. Section 14(c) is an anomaly in post-ADA America, and Congress should repeal it.
by Amy Mason
From the Editor: The following article was researched and written by Amy Mason, a relatively new member of the Access Technology Team that among other responsibilities staffs the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. Amy was a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska. She has held several elected positions in the affiliate and now contributes her many talents to advance technology for the blind. The topic of accessible e-books is of interest to all who love to read—the ability to get at books without the need for a third party to intervene in order to make them accessible. To get the same books at the same time at the same price is our goal, but this list is incomplete if we don’t add to it the demand that we receive the same quality in presentation that our sighted friends and neighbors enjoy. Amy treats us to a first-class, hard-hitting evaluation of e-book readers. Here is what she says:
E-books are an extremely popular topic these days. Ever since Amazon introduced the Kindle and built the first really successful mainstream e-book reader, more and more people are talking about, buying, and using e-books in several formats on a number of competing platforms at varying prices for many reasons: leisure, education, reference, and work. E-books are an especially exciting development for print-disabled and blind readers because their properties make them ideal for finding alternative forms of access. When an e-book is presented in an accessible format on an accessible e-book reader, the user can choose to read the book using text-to-speech, Braille, or magnification. Furthermore, accessible e-books in an open market benefit everyone. Publishers gain access to an otherwise untapped revenue stream, those who cannot access traditional print materials. The general public gains access to books that are even more flexible and feature-rich than they are now, while blind and other print-disabled users, for the first time in history, gain access to the same books and publications at the same price and at the same time as the rest of society.
Unfortunately, the landscape of e-book reading technology is littered with hundreds of combinations of file formats, devices, and platforms. These competing platforms and devices include varying levels of accessibility and different methods of access. To add to the confusion, some sites for purchasing e-books are less than forthcoming in mentioning features that might affect a book’s accessibility, so it is difficult to find the best solution.
In this article we will look at several of the major e-book-reading platforms, their accessibility features, major drawbacks, and other pertinent information, so that users can make informed choices about what platforms and file types are likely to be of most use to them.
Because of the complexity of the current e-book-reading landscape, this article will focus on dedicated hardware devices: Apple iOS software, Mac, and Windows PC support. None of the tested e-book readers on the Android platform at the time of testing were accessible, Windows Phone 7 doesn’t contain support for access technology at this time, and Symbian phones are becoming difficult to purchase since they are no longer being manufactured; so these platforms are ill suited to comparison in this article.
Blio is a fairly new e-book technology. It was created by KNFB Reading Technologies to provide e-books that are visually appealing; laid out like their print counterparts; and, most excitingly, accessible to screen-access technology. The Blio platform has the backing of Baker and Taylor, one of the largest e-book publishers in the market, and it already has a large collection of materials in many areas of interest. Furthermore, on small-screen iOS devices the VoiceOver experience is fairly pleasant. It is possible to read by line, by word, or by character; to jump to different chapters and pages; and to read both continuously and page by page. Finally, the Blio iOS e-book reader allows reading with a Bluetooth Braille display.
Unfortunately, this is where the joys of using Blio end. While well intentioned and technologically impressive, Blio seems to have gotten so wrapped up in the final product and its visual presentation that many accessibility details have been overlooked or poorly implemented. For instance, for the PC, Blio’s website mentions the system requirements for running the program (Windows XP SP3 or newer and JAWS versions 11 or newer). They do not mention that running Blio with JAWS requires Windows 7. Next, once it is up and running on Windows, it works well until the user has a reason to tab away from its window, the computer goes to standby, or the program loses focus for any reason. After any of these common events, it is no longer possible to read the text by any element larger than word by word, because, if the user attempts to, the program skips about half of the words on the page. The only fix we found in testing the program was to reset the computer, since restarting JAWS and Blio is not enough to cause the program to act correctly. Furthermore, changing the book view has been known to cause the program to crash. Last of all, there appears to be a bug in the iPad version of the software which causes it to try to read an entire page of text when the user attempts to read by line. Thus, although Blio has a good start, its producer still has a fair distance to go before the product is a truly trustworthy solution.
The CourseSmart e-book provider allows users to access textbooks through an online web portal that can be successfully navigated by either the Mac or the PC. It is built on a rental model, which means that the books available from the system are available to students for either 180 or 360 days continuously and cost about 50 percent of the price of their print versions. A blind software user has to contact the CourseSmart organization’s support team to ask that they enable the accessible reader, but once this task is completed, it is possible to move through the text using standard navigational commands supplied by the screen reader. The text is presented in a page-by-page layout, meaning that the user sits at the computer and flips pages; the navigation is fairly well laid out, and, since the CourseSmart reader exposes the text to the screen-access software being used, it is possible to navigate character by character, word by word, line by line, and so forth. Furthermore, the layout of the system allows for movement by chapter or jumping to specific pages in the text. Since it is exposing text to the screen reader directly, CourseSmart also allows use of a refreshable Braille display.
To be fully accessible, the CourseSmart developers can still make improvements in two areas. First, not all of CourseSmart’s selections are marked up for navigation. We did not test CourseSmart’s ability to move through a marked-up text because the textbooks we acquired for this project did not contain the markup. It is possible to request that a title be marked appropriately and have it available within as little as two weeks. Unfortunately, a two-week delay could put students at a severe disadvantage. Second, the CourseSmart app for iOS is not accessible, though a student can get around this by using the website with the Safari browser on iOS devices. So all in all it is a fairly usable system that could be improved to be something spectacular if these problems are rectified.
EPUB is one of the most widely known and used formats for providing e-books. It was developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum to provide a reflowable, platform-independent electronic book. It can come in several different variants that provide various levels of accessibility from completely accessible without restriction to completely inaccessible. The EPUB format is based on several web formats that are accessible in large part. The two major problems that arise with the format are the current lack of support of mathematical formulas in an accessible format, which often allows publishers to print math in the form of graphics on the page instead of readable and searchable text, and the more far-reaching problem of digital rights management (DRM) schemes that force books to be read on inaccessible platforms or that keep the books’ texts from being searched or read aloud.
Unprotected EPUB files are accessible primarily because they are built to be navigated very much like HTML documents. They contain similar structural elements, and, if the reader being used is accessible, the book is likely to be accessible as well unless it contains inaccessible charts, mathematical formulas, or illustrations.
EPUB’s popularity is likely to continue to grow even further with the forthcoming EPUB version 3, which will include a number of enhancements such as the ability to embed video and audio directly in the publication, sync audio to on-screen text, support advanced document layouts, and enhance accessibility of EPUB documents. This is very good news for blind e-book readers. Some of the most interesting changes that affect accessibility for blind users include formal support for MathML (a markup language that makes it possible to represent complex mathematical formulas onscreen and with screen-access software), support for pronunciation lists within EPUB to assist with using the file with text-to-speech, integration of key DAISY components, and support for multiple style sheets to improve the reading experience, no matter what device is being used. Several mainstream and blindness-specific book-reading platforms will read unprotected EPUB files. Some of the more accessible mainstream options include Google Books (on the desktop with Firefox and JAWS for Windows, VoiceOver and Safari on the Mac, and the app for iOS), the Ibis reader for desktop and mobile devices capable of rendering HTML5 Web pages, and iBooks on iOS devices.
Several forms of protected EPUB are on the market from myriad sellers, but some of the most widely circulated are encoded with a protection scheme from Adobe Systems. Thus e-books.com, Google Books, Kobo, and OverDrive sell or lend EPUB files that have been protected by this scheme and are tied to specific reading platforms, many of which are completely inaccessible, like the hardware-based Sony Reader. On the PC or Mac, users can gain limited access to these books with the Adobe Digital Editions platform, but they have to download the version 1.8 preview from Adobe Labs instead of the mainstream version (1.7.1).
This is not the only platform limitation, however. The biggest problems revealed in our most recent tests were a lack of granular navigation and the general lack of robustness of the software on both the PC and the Mac. A user is limited to navigating page by page on the Mac, and on the PC it’s difficult to tell whether the navigation by character, word, and line was intentional or caused by instabilities in the software, because the navigation worked when a document was opened once but not the next time. It was possible to read these books with Braille display support, but the text would often appear to a Braille reader to be highlighted, whether or not it actually appeared that way on screen. The software was generally buggy, crashing several times while being tested. Perhaps most frustrating for PC users, the program works only with version 12 of JAWS. Older versions of JAWS as well as other screen readers for Windows cannot access the text on screen, so a number of users are left without even the rudimentary accessibility that Adobe Digital Editions provides.
While we are discussing the Adobe platform, it is important to look at the OverDrive Media Console. OverDrive is a platform used by a large number of libraries around the country to check out digital books to patrons, and the OverDrive Media Console is the primary medium for accessing these files on mobile devices such as the iDevices. The news about this platform is mixed. It is important to note that OverDrive’s program is not fully accessible but can generally be worked around if a user is patient and not too picky about the level of control. For instance, there is a problem with the pop-up dialogs. The program will allow a user to use VoiceOver to read the answers of the dialog but not the question being asked. For instance, in a dialog that reads, “This program is not linked to an Adobe account,” with buttons for signing in and creating a new account, the only information passed to VoiceOver is that on the buttons, so the dialog reads, “Sign up” and “Sign in with Adobe ID.” The information for accessing download information is also not all passed to VoiceOver, so it is difficult to get accurate information about the state of the files being downloaded.
After the user has downloaded a book and has been signed in to Adobe, it is possible to open the book, which offers a screenful of text between a list of settings on top and a page-turning tool and status messages on the bottom. When tested, it is possible to touch a section of text on the screen and start reading from that point on the iPad and iPod Touch. However, the screen does not update as VoiceOver reads past what is available visibly onscreen, which means that, although users can start reading and even read line by line and character by character, if they simply explore, they will land back on the visually displayed text, even if that is several pages behind where they are in the book.
It is also very difficult to get the OverDrive reader to respond to attempts to change the page, so moving by page to get back to where the user was is not a simple process, and seemed to occur more by accident than by design. Also, although this platform has not been tested with the iPhone 4S, each iPhone 4 that was tested crashed when attempts were made to use VoiceOver to try to read an EPUB book in the OverDrive Console.
Finally, it should be noted that OverDrive also provides functionality for receiving and reading audio books through the library lending system. These are Windows Media Player files with embedded DRM, which ties them to the player or to Windows Media on the PC, and, although the same problems with the program’s main interface still exist, it is possible to use and enjoy these audio books once one is past the unlabeled dialog boxes.
Google Books is one of the most interesting options on this list. With over three million books in the public domain and for purchase, Google has one of the largest collections of books available. This number is impressive, but it comes with some limitations of which the user should be aware. Many Google Books offerings are scanned images of the text only, so these titles will not be accessible to any screen reader. If they are downloaded, they come in the form of inaccessible PDFs. Other books, however, are available from Google labeled as “reflowable text.” Once again these are EPUB files. Some are in the public domain and contain no digital rights management, but those that are not are protected with the Adobe Digital Editions DRM. This is not a barrier to reading the books from Google Books, on the Google Books app or in a browser, but, if users wish to download the materials, they are tied to using Adobe Digital Editions to access this type of file.
The Google Books reading experience is certainly better than a number of other options on this list, but a user has to play by Google’s rules to get the system to work, and some accessibility barriers to purchasing books from the website still exist. Users can browse and purchase books with screen-access software, but at the time of this writing they will find one major barrier to independent book purchase. Google has a list of environments the book is suited to and a second list that contains information on whether the book is reflowable text or scanned images, and all book titles list this information. Next to these items on the screen is either a green checkmark or a red X. These very important graphics absolutely cannot be detected or read by screen-access software, which makes it impossible to determine whether a book is an accessible file or not without sighted assistance.
If users surmount this hurdle, they will find that they can read their purchases or download them in the e-book reader that Google provides on its website, if they are using Firefox and JAWS on a PC, Safari and VoiceOver on a Mac, or an iOS device and the Google Books app with VoiceOver. If these conditions are met, it is possible to use the navigation in a book to move by chapters or sections and read by page, line, word, character, or any other increment supported by the screen-access software. It is possible to use a supported Braille display in all of these environments as well. The system does require a fair amount of interaction from the user since the pages of text seem to be rather small, meaning that the user is fairly regularly turning pages to continue reading, though this is more of an inconvenience than a deal-breaker, and it seems to be in the nature of most commercial e-book-reading systems.
Apple’s iBooks is a platform for reading EPUB files on the iOS family of devices: iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It has a smaller library than those of some of the other reading devices mentioned in this article, and it uses its own proprietary DRM scheme, which means that you have to read iBooks with the iBooks reader. Since this has not been made available to desktop users on either Windows or the Mac, users must own an iOS device to get anything out of the service. This said, iBooks is one of the most accessible options available for reading commercial e-books today. It is possible to move by character, word, line, paragraph, or page by using Apple’s VoiceOver package. Furthermore, though its presentation is a little awkward, it is possible to read iBooks with a refreshable Bluetooth Braille display. It is also possible to search text and navigate by elements like headings and links when they appear in the text. Finally, full navigation of the text is possible in all of the iBooks, which can be purchased from the iTunes store.
The Barnes and Noble Nook is built primarily on EPUB technology but uses another unique DRM scheme. At this time very little can be said about the Nook because its bookstore, desktop software, mobile software, and dedicated hardware reading devices are all inaccessible to blind users.
The Amazon Kindle has a large library of materials, a well-designed hardware reader, wide hardware availability, and a terrible record on accessibility. Of the large number of Kindle platforms and dedicated devices, only a small fraction have any accessibility features that make them even remotely usable by blind readers. The Kindle 3 hardware reader and Kindle for PC with accessibility plugin (another specialized download) are the only confirmed options for reading Kindle materials with text-to-speech. Kindle on iOS and Mac are inaccessible to VoiceOver. Older Kindle hardware readers do not allow for text-to-speech control of the menus, and in the case of the least expensive Kindle ($79) or the recently released Kindle Fire, there are no accessibility features whatsoever. Text-to-speech can be turned off by the publisher on the Kindle 3, so not even all content can be accessed. The web browser and purchase functions are also not accessible on this device. Reading is limited to start/stop, the ability of the device to remember where you stopped, and basic speed controls. It is not possible to go back in the text, spell words, read by sentence, search, or otherwise control the voice being used. Finally, because text-to-speech is considered an experimental feature, it may be discontinued later by Amazon.
The Amazon Kindle for PC provides a slightly better experience in so far as it is possible to go forward and backward in a book, read continuously or by page, and read sentences. Amazon has chosen to allow JAWS and NVDA users to navigate menus with the screen reader, but it has implemented its own commands and voice to read the actual text on the screen, meaning that there is no Braille support for the experience, and users are unable to read in smaller increments than by sentence. Thus, although some rudimentary access to Kindle books is available, it is not nearly enough to use the books for anything but the most casual reading.
Adobe’s PDF is a fairly common format for technical materials like manuals and heavily formatted materials like textbooks. It is used more for other types of portable documents than for books, but it certainly has a presence on the e-book scene. Once again, these files can be anything from perfectly accessible to completely inaccessible. In the case of PDF, however, the reasons are different. Although DRM’ed PDFs exist, they are not prevalent and thus are not a barrier to access in most situations. Inaccessible PDFs often result from scanning the text of a book without performing optical character recognition on the scanned images or by failing to consider the way that a book will flow when presented by a screen reader. Unfortunately it is difficult to determine how a given PDF will function until you actually try to use it.
Several platforms are available for accessing PDF with differing levels of accessibility and user-friendliness. On the PC, PDFs can be accessed by using Adobe’s Acrobat Reader, and, if the book is well marked-up and is not simply images of the text, the navigational experience can be as pleasant as reading a well-made HTML web page or Word document. On the Mac, Apple’s PDF viewer will expose the text for navigation and search, but it does not recognize navigational elements like headings that are recognized on the PC. On iOS devices PDFs can be accessed using iBooks, but only to a limited extent. The PDF document allows for only page-by-page navigation, which is bearable for some tasks but can be a deal-breaker if users are working with texts that require careful scrutiny or if they need to read specific passages in greater detail or need spelling information.
In an ideal world all the major e-book technologies would be accessible to print-disabled and blind users. These book platforms would allow users to browse, purchase, and consume content in the most comfortable and appropriate manner for the user’s needs and the type of content consumed. All e-book platforms are falling short of this laudable goal. Some options work fairly well and allow reasonable access to text, but all of the platforms discussed in this article need improvement.
This list is not exhaustive, but e-book platform publishers can do several things to improve the experience for print-disabled readers, several of which would not be difficult to implement. First, although it is understandable that books that were created inaccessible cannot be transformed overnight, it should be a long-term goal to migrate to accessible technologies and in the short term to ensure that books are clearly marked if they are image only or otherwise inaccessible in their present condition. Second, it is imperative that the book-purchase model allow users to buy books independently from whatever portal the platform uses.
Third, once the user has a book, the e-book reader being used should be built to comply with the standards of the operating system it sits within to allow screen access and magnification software to access the book player’s controls and the text inside the books. If this occurs, the user will be able to read with the text in the most comfortable and robust way for the text at hand, whether magnifying a chart, reading computer commands in Braille, or checking the spelling of an author’s name so that the user can purchase the next book in the series.
When dedicated devices are created, the creator should ensure that users have a method for turning on any accessibility feature independently. Furthermore, the device’s access software should be robust enough to work reliably and allow meaningful interaction with the text at the character, word, line, paragraph, section, page, and chapter levels, as well as providing access to any other features of the device available to print users. It would be best if book-reading platforms would allow for continuous as well as paginated reading because they both have advantages for different reading styles and materials. Allowing for highlighting of words as they are read aloud could also help people learning to read in print for the first time or for those attempting to learn other languages or for those with some learning disabilities.
Users of e-readers must have access to the tools and features that make e-readers useful to print readers. For instance, search, highlight, annotate, and bookmark text are generally standard features of e-reading platforms, and they need to be available to blind users as well. Finally, if at all possible, e-book creators need to do away with special accessible versions of their software, instead rolling accessibility changes into the main program. If for some reason the program needs to be specially configured, installed differently, or used differently, the necessary commands to get the program running successfully should be available from the page where the e-book reader is acquired by users who are not print-disabled.E-books on the open market are a fascinating and exciting development when they are implemented accessibly. They allow blind and print-disabled users to read unheard of amounts of content at the same time, price, and convenience as their print-reading peers, if the books and reading platforms are created to be accessible. These books make it possible for print-disabled readers to enjoy a novel, get an education, advance in their careers, learn new skills, and join in all of the other activities enjoyed by the book-reading public.
by Kimberly Flores
From the Editor: Kimberly Flores is president of the NFB of Texas. She and her affiliate are getting ready for a memorable convention. While you are in the area, you might like to visit some places of special interest. Here are a few for your consideration:
The Texas affiliate is already making plans and getting excited about dishing up some southern hospitality when we welcome our Federation family back to Texas for the 2012 National Federation of the Blind convention. We hope you are making arrangements to join us for yet another gathering of enthusiasm and action at the Hilton Anatole in the Big D. You may think you’ve been there and done that, but read on to learn what you may have overlooked about the treasures Dallas has to offer.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex boasts four professional sports teams and a plethora of art, culture, and dining. Here are some entertaining facts about the area:
The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area features more than thirty museums ranging from art, baseball, and sewing machines to railroading and more. The $81.5 million Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, designed by the famous architect I. M. Pei, houses the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the last handmade Fisk organ Mr. Fisk worked on before his death. The African American Museum in Dallas has one of the largest collections of African American folk art in the nation. The Dallas Children’s Theater was named one of the top five theaters in the U.S where performances are held for young audiences and families. The Dallas Public Library in downtown Dallas permanently displays one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, printed on July 4, 1776, and the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University has the most significant collection of Spanish art outside of Spain, featuring art from the tenth through the twentieth centuries.
In Texas we take our food and drink seriously. “There aren’t enough superlatives” to describe the French Room at the Adolphus Hotel, Zagat Survey said of the restaurant that it ranked as the number one restaurant in the U.S. in 2006.
According to the Texas Restaurant Association, the Dallas area has more than six thousand restaurants to enjoy. Dallas’s Farmers Market is the largest working farmers market in the United States, with more than one million visitors annually. One of the largest wine festivals in the Southwest is Grapefest, held in Grapevine, Texas, which is a suburb of Dallas.
Many Texans choose to work off some of those large lunches and dinners by shopping, and we have many great shopping destinations and varieties. Galleria Dallas offers more than 200 premier retail stores and is home to the country’s tallest Christmas tree. Neiman Marcus began in Dallas, and its flagship store is still thriving downtown. One of the largest permanent flea markets in the country is housed at Traders’ Village in Grand Prairie, just outside of Dallas.
Some other firsts, bests, and facts worth noting about the Dallas-Fort Worth region may be of interest to Braille Monitor readers. The nation's first convenience stores, the vast 7-Eleven chain, now in eighteen countries, started here in 1922. The frozen margarita was invented by Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez in 1971--you’re welcome for that one. Currently the Texas Star Ferris Wheel at the State Fair of Texas is the tallest in North America.
As you can see, your options and opportunities are as wide as Texas. Come on down and live large. We are planning some special signature Texas events to mark this convention as one to be remembered, so don’t miss it!
by Barbara Loos
From the Editor: I have been a reader of this magazine since 1972, and, while I have always found much to appreciate in its pages, I do confess that I have enjoyed some authors more than others. I loved the articles from Dr. Jernigan's mail basket. Before I had enough money to attend the national convention, I lived for the day when my magazine would come and I could hear the banquet speech, the national report, and the fantastic policy statements conveyed through our resolutions.
Of course, there were others besides Dr. Jernigan whose articles I hoped to see in the Braille Monitor. Barbara Loos was one. When the Monitor came on an LP record and later on a non-indexed cassette, skipping to a specific article was more difficult than it is today, but knowing that Barbara had a contribution would cause me to read my Monitor out of order, and hers would be the first article I read. I find the same excitement in editing what she writes as I did when listening to her on an eight-RPM record. Here is what she said to an audience at last fall’s NFB of Nebraska convention about seniors, innovators, and the National Federation of the Blind.
When I was asked to address you today on the topic of staying alive as blind senior citizens, a recent conversation with my teenage stepdaughter came to mind. Curious to gain understanding of why she was favoring one specific interested young man over another to date, I sought her perspective on those two gentlemen. One was her current boyfriend, and the other she referred to as her “best friend.” I asked her if she had to choose one or the other to be with on a deserted island, which would it be? She immediately chose Best Friend. When I asked her why, she said, “Because Boyfriend would think `This is a bummer’ and go to sleep; but Best Friend would build a boat.”
“Wow!” I said, thinking that we were on a roll. “That’s great reasoning. So why are you dating Boyfriend instead of Best Friend?”
Both that question and her answer are probably as old as dirt, and, since many of us here are not only senior citizens but also parents, we could probably recite it in unison. In case you haven’t heard it lately, it goes like this: “I don’t know.”
I believe that the way a teenager like my stepdaughter figures out the answers to questions such as whether to choose the deadbeat or the doer helps to determine how alive she or he will be throughout life. And I believe that about blind people as well. To put it bluntly, albeit ungrammatically, who we associate with matters.
In a recent broadcast of Something You Should Know, entitled “The Process of Innovation,” Mike Carruthers interviewed Hal Gregersen, coauthor of the book The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. Interestingly, the very first skill gleaned from their discussions with some five-thousand individuals who have spawned innovative ideas that have caught on is that of questioning. According to Gregersen “They question in ways that provoke the status quo.”
We in the National Federation of the Blind certainly identify with this concept. The necessity of finding alternatives for doing things ordinarily done using sight compels us to question incessantly, refusing to accept a status quo that often threatens to suck the very life out of us with its restrictions and low expectations.
Until not long ago almost all of us, blind and sighted alike, accepted it as fact that one thing blindness counted out was the ability to drive. But the National Federation of the Blind didn’t leave it at that. Not only have we been willing to question this assumed reality, but we have also sought disruptive innovators who can help us to explore possible options. While I, unfortunately, was not present in Daytona Beach on January 29 of last year, I did attend the Blind Driver Challenge® through Internet streaming as Mark Riccobono, executive director of our Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, drove a Ford Escape equipped with sensors which, upon detecting obstacles, activated both vibrator strips in the seat cover and small motors in the finger holes of gloves he wore, allowing him to receive feedback ordinarily gained visually and used to make the split-second decisions necessary when driving. I took advantage of the opportunities at both our 2010 and 2011 national conventions to experience the simulator and interact with those currently conducting the evolution of this exciting project. While it may be some time before we’re out there driving, the questions we raise along the way will make the world a better, more alive place for everyone.
The next skill disruptive innovators possess is observing. The way Gregersen puts it is, “They observe like anthropologists; they watch the world very carefully.” We as blind people have benefited from innovators like that. Louis Braille comes to mind. Observing how slow and cumbersome both reading and writing were using tactile print letters, he constantly searched for options. When Captain Barbier brought his configurations of dots used by soldiers to communicate in the dark to show those at the school for the blind, Louis Braille, a student at the time, studied every facet of the system, considering its potential for use by the blind. Ultimately he rejected Barbier’s code in which dot patterns represented sounds, creating instead a system with fewer dots formed into letters, punctuation, numbers, and other symbols. This allows us not only to read, write, and spell but also to perform mathematical computations, scientific calculations, and musical notation, just as the sighted do using print.
The third of Gregersen’s five skills is networking. Innovators “network for ideas”; they talk to people who are really different from them. This, friends, is why we’re here today. We’re picking one another’s brains, seeking more efficient ways for blind people to do everything from pouring a glass of water without spilling it to using various apps with VoiceOver on an iPhone. And we’ve invited others, some of whom think very differently from the way we do, to help us change what it means to be blind in our society.
Within our organization we have found it useful to create specialized networks at various levels. The Fast Facts page of our national website, <www.nfb.org>, leads one to a list of thirty divisions, twenty-eight committees, and eight groups through which the National Federation of the Blind carries on its business. These various bodies provide support, information, and resources regarding a wide range of professions, recreational activities, special interests, legislative issues, fundraising projects, and other areas related to blindness. Many of our state affiliates, including this one, have also used this mechanism for focused efforts.
Human nature is such that, although all of us care about both blind students’ access to equipment in a chemistry lab and blind seniors’ access to information available in retirement centers, when it comes to addressing specifics, while blind students themselves will be most motivated to work on the equipment concern, blind seniors are most likely to see the information-access issue through to a solution. I urge you to seek your place in there somewhere and start making a difference.
My commitment to do that began when I joined this organization in January of 1975 and became its Lincoln chapter president a month later. I’ve served as both state president and treasurer of this affiliate and have been on committees dealing with everything from Braille literacy issues to policy-making through resolutions. I participated in our efforts both to create a center for the blind and later to remove our state agency from the Department of Public Institutions, making it a free-standing commission answerable directly to the governor, ultimately serving as director of the Center over thirty years ago and as our first designee on the commission board from 2000 until 2007. I have also mentored youth, both formally and informally, and have taught blind students, mostly senior citizens, how to use adaptive equipment through our Computer Options project.
I’m also keenly interested in those beyond our organization who network with us to improve blind people’s lives. Recently I read a book entitled See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Power of Our Five Senses, by Lawrence D. Rosenblum, a professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside, who received a grant from our organization for his research on the audibility of hybrid cars. This book offers a mind-boggling exploration of how hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and seeing intertwine. The book jacket says, “It turns out that our brains use entire forms of perceptual information of which we are largely unaware. We can hear things that don’t make sounds, feel things without touching them, see things with no form, and smell things that have no discernible odor. Throughout the book Rosenblum not only illuminates the fascinating science behind our hidden perceptual powers, but also demonstrates how increased awareness of these abilities can actually lead us to enhance the way we use them.”
Which brings me to Gregersen’s fourth skill of disruptive innovators, that of experimenting. He puts it this way: “They’re experimental in their approach to life, love to turn out things, try on things, test things.” That, in large part, is how we’ve developed alternative techniques for doing things generally done using sight.
For a number of years I have enjoyed making tactile shapes using Braille. I have often networked with others in this endeavor. Within the past year I have been introduced to an artist, Kathy Weber, who is interested in tactile expression. After showing one another some of our work, we decided it would be fun to collaborate on something. Since I have been trying to make a credible five-point star using Braille for years, I suggested that as a possibility. To my delight, she took up the challenge. Since she lives in Fremont and I live in Lincoln, most of our communication during this time was through email. We wrote instructions to each other, tried them using our own Braille equipment, and sent comments and suggestions back and forth.
While both the symmetry and boundaries of rectangular Braille cells are great for reading and writing, they pose interesting dilemmas for art involving angles and curves. By mid-summer, though, we had created two stars we considered credible. The most exciting thing, however, was the way we had stretched one another’s thinking. I agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes’s observation, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
And this leads to the fifth and final skill of disruptive innovators, about which Gregersen says, “… at the end of the day they think differently, which is association thinking, lateral thinking; they connect the unconnected to create something surprising.” I think this is where many of us get stuck. Although we may often repeat Albert Einstein’s assertion, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” we do just that every day and wonder why we keep spinning our wheels.
Louis Braille, Mark Riccobono, Lawrence Rosenblum, and Kathy Weber don’t fit this mold. After questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting, their conclusions push the envelope of innovation. In his diary Louis Braille asked, “Why should we confine ourselves to the things used by the seeing, when their way was developed for the eye! Why should the blind man, without eyes, think he can use the implements of the seeing?” And he answered, “The solution then rests with a device that has nothing to do with the eyes.” By unconnecting the erroneously connected, he employed both genius and persistence in creating the system which continues to make literacy possible for blind people throughout the world today.
Mark Riccobono’s perspective, as stated in his “Message from the Executive Director” in the August 2011 issue of the NFB Jernigan Institute’s Imagineering Our Future, is, “Whether the subject is eliminating subminimum wages or raising expectations for the education of blind children, there are often disruptions in our progress meant to change our direction. Our organization is built on a strong foundation, and our team is prepared for uncertainty. The members of the Federation are not afraid to tackle big issues, even if they seem so much bigger than we can handle, because we know the power that comes from our individual efforts collectively focused.” And our brand of collective focus often surprises people, as it did when we connected the unconnected, a blind person and a steering wheel, at Daytona International Speedway last January.
In the last chapter of his book Professor Rosenblum says, “As you learned, you can hear shapes and touch speech. You can taste odors and smell fear. You can see speech and hear space. You can touch flavor and smell symmetry. And you can taste scenes and hear faces.” It’s one of those Wow! Really? kinds of books, and I definitely recommend it as a connect-the-seemingly-unconnected experience.
With respect to Kathy Weber, on one face-to-face occasion she brought a full page of Braille cells and some flat wooden stars she had picked up so we could experiment with pressing those onto the page, thus identifying the dots that would form an outline for creating a star. Although I didn’t find this method workable (I could neither accurately isolate the dots covered by the star nor press down hard enough on it to alter the height of the smashed dots significantly), it may be that I just wasn’t disruptive enough as an innovator to figure out how to connect that specific unconnected. What it did do for me, though, was to open my mind to other possible avenues for creating Braille art besides the trial-and-error approach with direct input using slate and stylus, Brailler, or notetaker that I have employed up to this point.
On October 5, just a few short days ago, America lost a truly influential disruptive innovator to pancreatic cancer, Steve Jobs, co-founder and former chairman and chief executive officer of Apple, Inc. People all around the world have been focusing on the life and legacy of one who, as our national President Marc Maurer put it in a press release, “demonstrated tremendous vision in leadership in many ways, one of which is the incorporation of access for the blind and others with disabilities into the design of Apple’s groundbreaking product line. Apple’s monumental access achievements include the ability for blind users, for the first time, to use touch-screen technology, as well as the inclusion of built-in support for Braille-aware devices.”
I’d like to share with you a quote attributed to Steve Jobs which I think pretty well sums up the prescription for staying alive I’m hoping to convey here today. “Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently--they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things.... They push the human race forward, and, while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”
I challenge you to be one of those “crazy ones.” Go out and question, observe, network, experiment, and disrupt the status quo with your innovative thinking. In short, be a doer not a deadbeat. Stay alive and change the world!
by Kenneth Jernigan
From the Editor: When I joined the National Federation of the Blind in the seventies, one of the most powerful and moving recordings I listened to was Dr. Jernigan’s articulation of the reasons why he had dedicated his life to building and strengthening the NFB. He sat down and recorded a message to be played at an organizing meeting in Vermont. For decades that record was an effective tool for the organization as we worked to establish new chapters and strengthen existing ones.
Gradually it began to seem a bit out of date. The stories Dr. Jernigan told were ones we had already heard. Eventually it became unavailable. Recently it was placed on our website. It had never been transcribed into print, so only the recording of Dr. Jernigan addressing those long-ago new Federationists was put up. We thought that it was important to make this document available to everyone once again. We have done our best to capture in print the informal, conversational tone of Dr. Jernigan’s remarks. Those who receive the Braille Monitor as a recording will hear his voice again. Print and Braille readers will have to settle for the transcription. We strongly urge you to go to our website to hear the original recording at
<http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/Audio/Misc_2011/Why_I_Am_A_Federationist.mp3>. Here it is:
Greetings to all of you. I wish very much that I could be present for this great occasion for the blind of Vermont and indeed for the blind of the country because, with the organization of the Federation in Vermont, we only have two states left to go--South Dakota and Wisconsin. They will be coming into the Federation sometime during the next few months. I know that the organizing team, under the direction of Shirley Lebowitz, has had an exciting time while this organization has been brought into being, and I know also that you, the new members of the National Federation of the Blind of Vermont, have participated in that excitement.
Today you are taking part in an historic occasion because you are bringing into being a new state affiliate of the organized blind movement. I think you'll find that programs for the blind in the state of Vermont and, in fact, living conditions for the blind will improve as a result of what you are doing today and that they'll improve noticeably and fairly soon. You are now becoming part of the Federation family. That means that we work together at the state, the national, the local level to improve the conditions of all blind people.
Again let me tell you how very much I wish I could be with you today. Since I can't, I want you to hear some remarks that I have recorded for you about why I am a Federationist. I'd like you to hear my personal experience. Perhaps it will tell you something of why I work as hard as I do in this movement and why I think it's so important--not just to me as a person but to all blind people.
You know I grew up on a farm in the state of Tennessee, and, when I was a kid, things were a lot different for blind people than they are now. My mother and father loved me, but at the same time they didn't know what to think I could do as a blind person. Very many times they've said to me, "Well you must realize that you can't do this or this or this. When you grow up," they said to me, more times than one I guess, "we hope that you and your brother will live close to each other so that he can help take care of you.” They weren't trying to belittle; they were saying what was in their heart--what they thought blind persons could be expected to do.
I went to the Tennessee State School for the Blind. I don't know how many of you went to a residential school, but that one had some practices that even now, for the life of me, I can't figure the reason for--for one thing their policy toward reading matter and toward study. If you were in the first grade in that school, you could not read books except at specified times during the day, and you couldn't come down at night to the study hall; it was a privilege supposedly to be able to study at night--you went to bed with the little boys. Now when you were in the second grade, the policy was that you could come down for half an hour at night, and you could study, but you couldn't take books out. You couldn't in the first grade either, of course. You could write Braille, but you could only have a quarter of a sheet of Braille paper. I suppose the school must’ve been terribly short of funds at the time.
By the time you got to the third grade, although you still couldn't take books out, you could study for an hour at night. You could come down, and you were a bigger boy by that time.
Now when you got to the intermediate grades, the fourth, fifth, and sixth, you came down for an hour at night for study hall, but you could also take one Braille volume out on the weekends. You couldn't take books out during the week to read for fun, but you could take out one on the weekend, and of course pretty soon a number of us got so that we--well we tried to circumvent this prohibition. We'd check out books in series. I'd take, for instance, volume two, and another fellow would have volume one, and somebody else would have volume three, and we would stay up all night on Friday night and Saturday night too sometimes--reading--and whoever got volume three would just start reading volume three. This was against the rules, but we did it anyway.
By the time you got to the seventh grade, you could check out books and take them out during the week or on weekends, and you could keep them in your room. By that time one's attitude toward reading was pretty well fixed.
Now let me go back just a moment. It's lonely for a blind kid, or it certainly was on a farm in a rural setting in those days. I remember that, during the time before I went to school, there was no radio there; there was no phonograph; there was no electricity. By and large there was nobody to play with except kids who were oriented to games that sighted kids played and nobody to stimulate or help me believe that I could do any of those things. Now of course I did some of them anyway, but it makes a difference whether you have somebody saying, come on, you can do this--somebody who helps stretch you beyond what you think you can do or, on the other hand, if you have somebody always saying you really can't expect to do this and therefore kind of pulls you back from whatever you would have a tendency to do.
The first summer after I went home from school was a lonely time. I remember that somebody, I don't know who it was, turned my name in to get a little book put out by the Lions Club called the Juvenile Braille Magazine. I don't know whether that magazine is still published or not, but it had about fifty or sixty pages in it. I could've read it all in an hour, but I didn't, because it's all the reading I had. I didn't know about any libraries for the blind, so I rationed out the reading so that I'd have something to do.
I suppose that gives you some idea of the background with which I went into school and high school. Now some things are worth talking about, I think, in high-school life. We wondered what we would do when we got out of high school. A lot of us talked fairly bravely about what we planned, but I think secretly we all wondered if we'd have a job or if school would end our effective life. It isn't that way, you know, with sighted kids, or it certainly wasn't then, and I think it isn't now. What we did was to think in terms of either going to the workshop and making brooms or possibly some never-never land of going to college and hoping that beyond that time there'd be something. Mostly our teachers didn't believe that blind persons could do anything. They didn't say that, and, if you had asked them, they'd have denied it, but in reality they did not believe that blind people could compete on terms of equality with others. It showed through everything they said and did. For instance, if we had visitors come to the school and some student was going to show them around, the person with the most sight was picked--inevitably. If there had to be a chair moved or somebody was going to help unload something, always the guy with the most eyesight was asked to do it.
We had a kind of camp that the Lions had bought for the school, and now and again, once or twice a year, we'd go out there on camping trips. Sometimes the people who were Boy Scouts or sometimes the boys in a given grade or the girls in a given grade would go out there and stay overnight. Inevitably, when the cooking was to be done or a fire was to be built, the kids with the most sight did it, and the totally blind ones were expected to wait until the food was prepared, and then they could eat.
Now nobody said you have ability in direct proportion to how much eyesight you have; it was much more compelling and much more devastating than that--because every action was geared, every program was structured, every thought, every word was aimed at showing you, in graphic form, that blindness meant inferiority. I think all of us learned that lesson well.
I felt it wasn't right—somehow I didn't believe it. But I was only a child, and I had nothing as a yardstick. I didn't know blind persons who were successful as scientists or lawyers or teachers or businessmen. One or two had been successful but not many, and they didn't, by and large, come around and associate with us and encourage and stimulate us. There was no sense of community, no sense that we had a common problem because we were blind.
Now one more thing about school before I leave that: When I was getting ready to graduate from high school, I well remember sitting in what was called the parlor because this school in Tennessee was made from an old southern mansion which had been donated to the state for that purpose. The best room there was called the parlor. I was there, and the rehabilitation counselor came out to talk to me. It was the first time I ran across the word “feasible.” He asked me what I wanted to do. We'd pretty much agreed that I was going to college. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I said to him, "Well, I want to be a lawyer." Well, he got off of that and talked about the weather and one thing or another, and then he came back and said, “Now why don't you tell me two or three things that might be objectives."
Well I was brash and young and very determined, and I said, "Oh, I don't need to tell you two or three things--I want to be a lawyer.”
He said, "Well, I think that isn't feasible. You'd have to see the faces of your jurors; you'd have to do research; you couldn't do that; and you wouldn't be able to handle the courtroom appearances and the reading you'd have to do.”
I said, "Well, are you telling me that a blind person can't be a lawyer?"
He said, "Well, I'm just saying it isn't practical, isn't feasible." I argued, but ultimately we came down to this: he said it much more politely and in a much more genteel way than this, but what he finally said was, in effect, "You either go to college and you be a lawyer and pay for it yourself, or you go to school and you be something else, and we'll help you pay for it." Well I didn't have any money. So I went, and I was something else.
I know now that he was wrong. I knew it then, but I couldn't prove it because I didn't know successfully practicing blind lawyers. I know probably half a hundred or more now. Nobody should've taken that much power over the life of another human being, especially when he was wrong. But the point is he was not trying to be cruel; he was not trying to be arrogant. He did what he did because he didn't know any better. He did it because he didn't believe in the possibilities, in the capabilities of blind people--that's really what it amounted to.
Anyway, I went on to college, and, when I got through with college, I had an interesting thing happen. I went on, after the undergraduate work, for a graduate degree. Then, getting through with that, I went to the president of the college (he and I had gotten to know each other pretty well), and I said to him, "I'd like, while I go on and work toward a doctorate, for you to give me an assistantship, for you to let me have a teaching position here and let me go on and do my studies."
He said, "Look, I'm not going to do it."
I said, "Tell me why."
He said, "Well, I think you probably would do the best job of anybody I can find. I think your academic record indicates that, and I think your personality indicates it. But you might fail, and, if you did, then I think that I might run into a good deal of social pressure for having fired a blind person. Also I think it would hurt my conscience--I think it would bother me, and I'm just not going to take the chance."
I said, "If everybody feels that way, I'll starve, or else I'll have to live on welfare."
He said, "Look, I've gotten to know you pretty well, and I'm gonna level with you. It's your problem."
I said, "I'll give it to you: at least you're honest. But something's got to be done to alter this kind of thing. This is not right." But I didn't get the job.
From college I went into teaching at the school for the blind in Tennessee. The same day that I got the offer to do teaching at the school, I also had an offer to go into college teaching as an assistant instructor, and I would've probably gone on and done more graduate work. I had to decide, do I want to go into college teaching, or do I want to go back and work with the blind? I decided to go back to the school because I thought blind children there ought to have some opportunities and some stimulation that I had not had, that they ought to have somebody work with them to say to them, look, you can do it; it can be done. Don't sell yourself short. And also, to say to them, early, that you've got to begin to believe that the way to solve your problem is to get together with other blind people who also are having some of these difficulties with society, and you've got to have common action, joint action. I think it's about that time that I began to feel this fairly strongly.
Pretty soon after I went to the school for the blind in Tennessee, I began to be very active in the organization--that is, pretty soon after I became a teacher there, I began to be very active in the organization of the blind, the Federation in that state. One day, after I'd been there awhile (it was about the third or fourth year of my teaching), one of the sighted teachers came to me, and she was crying. By that time I was president of the state affiliate of the Federation. She said to me, "What good is this organization of the blind?"
I said, "Well, I have an idea from the way you're talking and the fact that you're crying that it's not simply an academic question you're asking me. Why don't you tell me what you've got on your mind, and I'll try to deal with it."
She said, "One of the students came into my class today with a scratch on his neck and blood on it. He was crying, and the other students were upset. These are fifth-graders and they told me that this male teacher had kicked one of them in the back and had hit another in the mouth. He said that, if any of the rest of them didn't like it, he'd kick their teeth down their throats. They're upset, and they're afraid.
I went with them to the superintendent, and I asked him what he would do about it. The superintendent confined them to their rooms for a week in all of their off-hours because they were making trouble. She said, “I don't know what to do."
I said, "Well, okay, I know what to do. Are you willing to swear to this? Are you willing to put it in written form and sign it?"
She said, "I can't afford to lose my job."
I said, "You won't! Whatever comes, you won't lose your job." She did sign an affidavit, and I did some soul-searching because I knew how bad that teacher had been. I knew that he had taken liberties with some of the high school girls there. I knew that he very often drank while on the job, and I knew that, although the superintendent had not participated in some of those activities, he had condoned what this man had done and had tolerated it. He had known about it.
So a number of us went, in our capacities as members of the organized blind movement, and we said to the state board of education, "You've got to do something about it. If you don't, we'll go to the press with it; you have to.” So at the end of the year the state board of education fired the superintendent and fired the teacher in question because they said the charges were true. They fired me because they said that I had not been loyal to my employer. I suppose that's all right. But they did not fire the teacher who had made the affidavit; we made it clear we wouldn't tolerate that. In some ways I suppose that's the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn't complain about that; I thought it was worth it. But it made me think about the need for strong organization of the blind—self-organization!
Is the case in Tennessee that I've described to you unique? I don't think so. Do things that are comparable happen now? I think so. I don't know the circumstances, but I think that blind persons still have not arrived at full first-class citizenship.
I went to California. I worked there for five years in the programs for the blind as an assistant to the director of the orientation center in California (the training center). Then I came in 1958 to Iowa, and I came at a salary reduction. The reason I came was that it was an opportunity for one of us who was a leader in the Federation movement to direct a state program for the blind and to prove the philosophy we've been talking about. You know it was easy for state directors and others to say, "All right, you people in the Federation can criticize, but you don't have the problem of getting budgets, of dealing with legislators, of administering programs, of finding personnel, of dealing with blind persons who may be recalcitrant. You don't have those problems, so it's easy to criticize.” On the other hand, if we could take one state program and make it work and show what our philosophy meant and what it was, then it would be a different thing. It was partly for that reason that I came to Iowa with the determination that, come what might, we had to have a successful program, one that would be meaningful to blind people.
I well remember that, after I'd been appointed in Iowa and before I came to the state, I went to another state to a convention of our affiliate. The director of programs for the blind in that state came to that convention (that was the first time he had done that sort of thing) and he hunted me up, got me off to one side, and he said to me, "I realize that you've been in the Federation and you've taken a very active and militant stand on some of these things. I think it's well for you to continue in the Federation; that's a good thing because you can be very helpful there to all of us in work with the blind. But now you're on the other side of the table. You're one of us, and I think you’re going to see things a lot differently. I think you can expect a good deal of advancement in the organizations of the professionals dealing with work with the blind.”
I listened to what he said, and I went home to California. I talked to Dr. tenBroek about it. Dr. tenBroek said, "Why the SOB thinks you have as little principle as he does!"
Of course I did not become less active in the NFB. I did not shift my loyalties. I think that a man can do a good job as director of programs for the blind and still have his prime loyalties to blind people and still feel that nobody, including a blind person who is the director of a program for the blind, can really speak for blind people unless blind people elect him to that position. I happen to believe that more and more the people who work in agencies for the blind must come to recognize the validity, in fact the necessity, of self-organization by blind people.
So what does all of this have to do with your meeting tonight? What does it have to do with why I am a Federationist? I think that we are in the midst of transition and change in this country. I think we will not forever be in the midst of transition and change--people aren't like that. No society stays fluid forever. There are periods of change and then periods of rest. I think that we're probably setting the tone for the next fifty, sixty, seventy years during this decade. I think it's important that the right message be given to society and to the blind themselves as to what blindness really is and what it means.
Just as it's important for other groups, it's important for blind people to shape their own destinies, to have a say about what's going to be done with their lives. We know that the National Accreditation Council, that is, NAC, is trying to gain respectability and is trying to set the pattern and the tone for all work with the blind. We know that more and more in the computerized age there is a tendency to dehumanize all of us as citizens and as blind people. This is not because somebody's trying deliberately to be mean to us or do us in--not at all. It's simply part of the age we live in. The way to counter that sort of thing is through self-organization. It's why I'm a Federationist; It's why I believe you are Federationists. It's worth giving to. It's worth giving time and money; it's worth giving parts of our life to because that's what time is; it's part of your life.
I believe that there is no other way for blind people to have full first-class citizenship than through self-organization, the organized blind movement. This is why I'm part of the Federation; it's why I give to it my nights, my weekends, and whatever time I can.
I think that we've made tremendous progress as Federationists, and I think we're not only helping sighted persons in the community at large to come to new attitudes about blindness, but that we ourselves are helping each other to understand new truths about what blindness is and what it isn't. We of course must realize that, although many sighted people do not understand the problems we have, many do, and as a matter of fact some of the strongest workers, some of the best members we have in the National Federation of the Blind, are sighted people. What really counts is the attitude, the frame of mind, the notion that we, as blind people, should be able to map our own destinies--that's what counts.
I think there are things that we must guard against. It's easy, if you're part of a minority group, every time you have a failure to blame it on the public at large and to say, if I'd just been given an opportunity by sighted people, then I could've done this or this or this. That's not always true. We must begin by assuming responsibility for our own failures. We must try ourselves to make our lives better. We must avoid blaming every problem we have on sighted people or on the agencies doing work with the blind. We must ourselves have a mature attitude. We must not simply be crybabies. We must not, on the one hand, ask for equal treatment when we want it, and, on the other, ask for special favors and special treatment when we want that. We must make of Federationism the living, growing, viable thing which it is. We must make it a reality, not simply a philosophy that's talked about.
On the other hand we must try to reform the agencies doing work with the blind. We must try to bring them to new ways of thought concerning blindness, and we must also try to educate the public and to bring them to new ways of thought about blindness. This is why we have put out the public service announcements that are now being sent to radio stations, why we're urging affiliates to take those recordings (and also the television spots to the TV stations) so that we can get the message across to the public. It's why we need to try to find new blind persons who are not familiar with our movement so that they too can share in the progress we're making. We're all judged, each by the other. That's why the actions of the organization are so important to everyone of us, members and nonmembers alike.
I guess that I've made it clear by now to you that, as far as I'm concerned, the most important single thing in the improvement of the lives of blind people that we have today is the National Federation of the Blind. This is why I am a member of that organization. It's why I work to try to bring other blind people into it. I think it's why we must get the word out to every blind person we can possibly reach and why we must get the word out to sighted people--as many of them as we can reach. There's a great deal of goodwill toward us on the part of sighted people. We must take advantage of that goodwill, but we must not abuse it. We must see that that goodwill is the vehicle for real improvement. We've got a big job ahead of us. We've got a job that's worth the doing. We've also got a job that's important--as important as the lives and destinies of all of us.
I said to you to begin with that I wanted to talk with you about why I am a Federationist. In a way, of course, I'm talking to you about why all of us are Federationists because, although the details of your experiences will vary from the details of mine, nevertheless the overall pattern of the story is the same. It's a changing pattern. Things are better for us now than they used to be. The cup is either half empty or half full, whichever way you want to put it. But if we're going to fill it the rest of the way, if we're going to make progress, then we've got to do it as a movement; we've got to do it as a Federation.
I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to be with you, if not in person, then by tape, because this was the best way and the only way I could reach you tonight. I hope your meeting has been successful. I hope you will redouble your efforts (however much they have been) in the year to come to strengthen the Federation, to be part of it, and to be part of it not just in name but in spirit and to get other blind persons to be part of it. I hope that you will wear your Federation pins. It's a symbol; it tells the world that you're part of a movement. I hope you'll read and study the Monitor and the presidential releases that come out. I hope you will talk to other blind people and the public at large about the movement. In other words, I hope you will live Federationism and that you will strengthen each other in it. This is the way we're going to set blind people free, each other free, and ourselves free from the bondage that we've been under for generations--in fact, throughout all recorded history. This is why I am a Federationist.
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).
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by Daniel B. Frye
From the Editor: Dan Frye is a management and program specialist in the Rehabilitation Services Administration. He is responsible for national management of the Randolph-Sheppard Program, and he is the program officer for the Helen Keller National Center. Because he worked for a number of years as part of the NFB’s Department of Affiliate Action, he was invited to make a presentation at last summer’s Back to Basics seminar at the Orlando convention. We asked him to recreate his presentation so that everyone could have the benefit of his wisdom. This is Dan’s re-creation of what he said:
The local chapter, at its best, represents the entirety of the National Federation of the Blind in microcosm. Here prospective members are introduced to the Federation and first exposed to our programs, policies, and practices. Here Federationists, new and seasoned, have the chance to interact with blind leaders in their communities. Such interactions, from the mundane and social to the profound and enlightening, provide the opportunity for blindness-specific networking and lay the foundation for the close-knit unity of purpose that distinguishes the NFB and is the secret of our strength. Effective local chapters, in short, offer our members a regular meeting place, an excellent training ground, and an ideal assembly of like-minded people to promote the Federation's initiatives and messages to the local, state, and national audiences that need to hear what we have to say.
In addition to meeting the individual and organizational needs of our grassroots membership, NFB chapters promote our philosophy, provide blindness advocacy and other programming, and undertake performance of every other role of the Federation at the local level. Chapters are fine laboratories for explaining and exploring in small groups the Federation's emotional and philosophical approach to blindness. Occasional seminars, guided by seasoned leaders that examine in detail the messages that our three principal national presidents have delivered in their annual banquet addresses, enrich our membership. Chapters also engage in advocacy and programming to help an individual member or address a unique challenge in a town or city. Issues like public transportation, effective implementation of the state's White Cane Law, and other imaginative ideas for educating the general public about the normalcy of blindness are appropriate for any chapter. And without question our best chapters are always prepared to unite and help our state and national organizations pursue their goals.
Given the fundamental importance and character of local NFB chapters, we must take the work and administration of these local units as seriously as we do the efforts and activity of our state affiliates and national organization. Often even the most well-meaning Federationists can become forgetful or complacent about the significance of the local chapter in the overall functioning of the NFB, since chapter work can sometimes seem routine or boring. But our national organization and state affiliates will be only as strong as the effective efforts of our best local chapters; the converse of this principle is also true. Our weakest chapters will weaken our efforts across the board.
Mindful then of the priority and attention our chapters deserve, local leaders and members should pay attention to several governing principles that will help our chapters run well, stay interesting, and reflect the maturity and professionalism for which the Federation is best known. Some of these principles include:
A—Cultivating Members and Electing Leaders: Many chapters are founded with the best of intentions, but failure to cultivate new members and elect strong leaders can cause the chapter to flounder. Electing strong chapter leaders is as important for success as is doing so at higher levels of the Federation. And attracting new members to the Federation through the local chapter—the primary gateway to membership in the NFB—is important for keeping a local chapter dynamic and fresh. In addition, recruiting new members is especially critical because the Federation has something of genuine value to teach people. Devote an entire meeting to welcoming and orienting new members or devise other innovative ways to entice and educate them. Mentor the most promising recruits and, in time, recommend them for leadership seminars or other activities like national convention or a Washington Seminar. But, by all means, keep your chapter strong through sustained membership development.
B—Maintaining Accurate Records: Maintaining good records (meeting minutes and an accurate and complete treasurer's report) is vital at every level of the Federation. Close attention to preserving official records will guarantee that the Federation as a whole is able to comply with state and federal laws for nonprofit organizations. Well preserved records help us retain a clear sense of our history and accomplishments. Some may complain that these aspects of a chapter meeting are uninteresting, but such are the mild hardships of running an important, mission-oriented organization.
C—Offering Programs: Our strongest chapters regularly include program items at their monthly meetings. Items may include a guest speaker from the community invited to communicate information to the chapter or for the chapter subtly to educate the speaker about an aspect of blindness. No matter what is done (big or small), a distinct program at each chapter meeting will help to keep new and regular attendees engaged and inclined to return again next month.
D—Promoting Chapter Relations with the State and National Organization: Our best chapters clearly identify themselves with the work and mission of our state and national organizations. Isolated local chapters that do not feel an affinity with the broader Federation tend to deteriorate and, more important, fail to represent and reflect the over-arching values of the Federation accurately. Play the monthly presidential release so that chapter members are aware of current national issues that need attention. Make sure that your affiliate president, if not a member of your local chapter, visits one of your monthly meetings from time to time so that members understand what's happening across the state. Mostly, though, encourage as many chapter members as possible to attend state and national functions. Only through direct interaction with the larger Federation community will local members truly grasp the awesome scope and vitality of the National Federation of the Blind.
In summary, let the local NFB chapter be the hands-on welcoming committee and respected ambassador for the work of the National Federation of the Blind in your home town. Chapter leaders should use the many resources for founding and strengthening local chapters developed by the NFB's Department of Affiliate Action. For more information on local chapters of the NFB contact Joanne Wilson, executive director of affiliate action, at (410) 659-9314, extension 2335;
From the Editor: The following article appeared on the first page of the Albuquerque Journal on Friday, October 28, 2011. Art Schreiber is a past president of the NFB of New Mexico and a longtime Federation leader. We are pleased to report that in the October 30 walk Art significantly bettered his time from last year. Here is the story:
A doctor's visit is rarely a good time, but Art Schreiber found himself particularly irritated during a recent heart exam. The eighty-three-year-old Albuquerque man said the hospital staff was afraid to check his ticker with the standard treadmill test because he is blind. The extremely fit chairman of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Schreiber bristled. He insisted on the regular test. As three nervous medical professionals surrounded the treadmill reminding him to say "stop" when his body was taxed, Schreiber kept on walking. “I had my mind made up.... (I was thinking) `I'm not going to tell you when to quit,'” Schreiber said. “I didn't, and finally they said ‘stop.’ I was about to die, but I wasn't going to say anything.” The lesson here? Don't underestimate Art Schreiber's ability; his will; or, for that matter, his endurance. For additional proof look no further than Sunday's New Mexico Cancer Center Duke City Marathon, in which Schreiber will be among the estimated 5,500 competitors lining up. He entered the twenty-kilometer walk. That's 12.4 miles--nearly a half-marathon. His friend Rick Walsh will guide him, and Schreiber said his goal is to finish in less than five hours. For anybody that age it's impressive, but to be blind too? said an awestruck Leslie Kranz, fitness director at La Vida Llena, the retirement community Schreiber calls home.
This isn't a new endeavor. In 2010 Schreiber completed the same race. It was trying and, quite frankly, painful. Schreiber, who used to run 5K and 10K races, always wanted to run a marathon one day, but a torn quadriceps tendon and fractured kneecap in 1999 ended that dream. He figured he could walk, although a 20K certainly tests an octogenarian's joints. “My knees hurt bad last year," he said. “A couple of times near the end I wanted to quit, but I won't do it. I won't quit.” Schreiber placed 209th out of 209, finishing the course in five hours, fifty-seven seconds. “But I was first in my age group because there was nobody else in my age group," he said. As of Thursday Schreiber was the oldest entrant in the 20K, although there are a ninety-one-year-old man in the 5K walk and an eighty-nine-year-old woman registered for the 10K run.
When Schreiber signed up for last year's DCM, it was both for the personal challenge and as a way to motivate others. “Blindness is not the end of the world, you know," he said. “There are so many seniors who are losing their sight. They think it's the end of the world, and it isn't.”
Schreiber, a veteran of radio broadcasting who came to Albuquerque in 1981 to manage KOB radio, lost his sight because of torn and detached retinas. The first eye succumbed in 1969. The second went dark in 1982. For a while he retained about 4 percent of the vision in one eye. But now that's gone too. A recent diagnosis of the inner-ear condition Meniere's disease has threatened his balance, but Schreiber has remained undeterred. “I really did [the race] hoping that I could get more people in my age group to do those kinds of things, because I really think it would help them," he said. “I think they would feel a lot better if they would work at trying to do a walk like that.”
After a news career that saw him traveling with Martin Luther King Jr. and covering the Beatles on their first American tour--playing regular Monopoly games with John Lennon and George Harrison--Schreiber likes to stay busy. He fits his rigorous training regimen into an already active life as an advocate for the blind. While prepping for this year's race, Schreiber logged up to three or four hours per day on the treadmill, often getting to the La Vida Llena gym by 5 a.m. Kranz has helped design a training plan to improve his endurance and strength and said she's consistently wowed by his efforts. “He goes twice as much as all the people half his age," she said.
Schreiber jokes that he has never been particularly sporty. During his days at Westminster College in Pennsylvania, his physical education coach made sure to point that out, once approaching Schreiber to ask if he drank. “I said `no,' and he said, `You've got the coordination of an alcoholic,'" Schreiber recalled with a laugh. “And I was never worth a damn as an athlete.”
Nobody seems to have noticed any athletic shortcomings. Kranz refers to Schreiber as "amazing," and his longtime friend JoAnn Huff would agree. “He's truly an inspiration to all who know him," Huff said.
by Nancy Scott
From the Editor: When I was a younger man, when getting a job was very much on my mind, and when I was looking to the National Federation of the Blind to assure me I could find one, I remember hearing how the very successful people I met had had to apply for fifty or a hundred jobs before landing one. Sometimes it was the job they had longed to get, and sometimes it was a stepping-stone on the path to what they really wanted, but each and every one of them encouraged me and gave me confidence to keep believing and keep on trying.
Nancy Scott is a writer trying to get more of her material published. Some of our members are writers. Some pursue different occupations and avocations but sit down to write so the Monitor has something to offer both people who want to know more about blindness and people determined to change what it means to be blind. Here is what Nancy Scott has to say about the heartbreak of rejection, the way to get beyond it, and the value of persistence, whether it is getting an essay accepted or a piece of legislation enacted.
“Why do I bother writing?” I ask myself for what feels like the fiftieth time this year. My two submitted essays that I'd most hoped for were just rejected, both in the same week. Tin House and Creative Nonfiction chose not to publish, though my piece for Creative Nonfiction made it to the top twenty. (Close counts only with hand grenades and horseshoes.)
No one is calling. I just got over a fierce but short cold. My apartment neighbors all have strange people living with them, and most of them smoke. I'm feeling fragile and bereft and untalented and melodramatic. But I've been writing for thirty years, and I know the drill. I must send both essays out again, and I should simultaneously submit them. That way any one rejection is only one rejection. (Of course maybe no one will consider them because they're traipsing all over the place.)
I know editors are rejecting my work and not me, but I really wanted at least one of these essays to make it. And the biggest fear for a moderately-published author is that she might be only a mediocre writer. I must banish this “mediocre” mantra. In writing as in blindness we need action and the will to find that action. So what do I do? I listen to part of an issue of Poets & Writers on NFB-NEWSLINE®. I have done this often, though this intervention feels more serious. I am battling a real lack of energy, and writing is energy on a page.
It works almost instantly. One author talks about his “great death.” He gave up writing in his 50s. He went back to it and wrote a successful novel that was published when he was 65. And he has a disability. I also hear MFA [master of fine arts] alternatives and lists of prominent authors who don't have the magic letters after their names. The very good synthetic voice reads lots of written words about writing practice, writing myths, and writing community. (There's even one author who pretended to be blind when he was a kid.)
Many like-minded writers are doing what I'm doing. They struggle and fail and succeed. They lose their way and find their way. The best advice is “You never know when you'll do your best writing, so write a lot.” Yes! That is the power of one necessary phrase. And it's just as true for advocacy. Like-minded communities are often helpful. Setbacks can feel permanent. And, if we're not careful, they can become permanent. A community of people dealing with the same thing can advise and motivate.
Maybe I'll achieve some necessary phrases. Maybe I already have, but no one will know unless I send them to many editors. Maybe my writing achievements will help show what a blind person can do. I will check out Poets & Writers' long marketing section.
I like many other things featured on NEWSLINE: Air and Space Magazine, Matilda Ziegler, TV listings, and UPI Business and Science, just to name a few. But, when I question my calling, Poets & Writers is more important than anything else. I always find something in every issue I read. I bet the people who decided to include it needed pep talks and markets too. This is why we have one another; this is why I am a part of and contribute to the National Federation of the Blind. Working together, trying together, there is no doubt we will succeed.
Sidebar: For information on becoming a subscriber to NFB-NEWSLINE®, call (866) 504-7300 or go to www.nfbnewsline.org.
by Barbara Pierce
The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille division in the NFB of Ohio conducted a fundraiser at the 2011 state convention that was great fun for those who participated and a huge hit with the audience. With no trouble we raised $210 that we spent immediately on slates, styluses, and Braille paper used to teach adults to read Braille across the state. This is what we did:
Last year Sherri Wells-Jensen, a new NAPUB member and a professor at Bowling Green State University, suggested that we prepare and present a reading of a radio drama from the golden age of radio during this year’s convention. She volunteered to identify a script, and the division agreed to field the cast of Braille readers to serve as the actors. Sherri found a 1943 episode of Fibber McGee and Molly in the public domain. Its title was “Fibber Puts on a Happy Face.” These old plays were never published, and no one seems to be around to whom royalties could be paid. Even the transcribers seem to be lost to history. So these old radio programs are a great source of short scripts.
My husband Bob, who has acted in a number of plays but who has not directed a production since the eighth grade, agreed to direct the rehearsals. He named our group Not the Royal Shakespeare Company, and we were off and running. Together he and I assigned parts to those who stepped forward ready to read. We generated Braille scripts before national convention and conducted a read-through during that week. We grabbed time for another rehearsal after an in-person board meeting in September. Then Bob set up sectional rehearsals over the phone during October. Fibber, NFB-O President J.W. Smith, and Molly, Deborah Kendrick, had to be present at each rehearsal, but the rest of the cast each carved out an hour or so for rehearsal in the weeks before convention.
Early Friday evening of convention the cast did a last run-through, and we were ready for a performance late that evening. Our one disappointment was that we thought we had worked out sound effects that we could use for doors opening and closing and the doorbell ringing during the play. It turned out that the wave files we were given were for the Mac, and the computer we had was a PC, so we had to improvise with the director knocking on a door and opening and closing it at the appropriate moments. At the climax of the play, Fibber has a meltdown and kicks a lamp around. Bob grabbed up the plastic trash basket from our room and did a brilliant job of slamming it down on the table as Fibber ranted. It really made a most convincing repeated lamp crash.
In the original programs the studio audience was always pressed into service to clap wildly at various points. To cue our blind audience, Bob knocked on the wall and stopped us the same way. The cues worked beautifully, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed carrying out its role.The actors were all delighted with the experience. Some had had previous acting experience, but others had never done anything like this. They all took direction well and blossomed when they began performing before a live audience. The affiliate discovered talents in our leaders that we had no idea of. People stopped me throughout the convention to tell me how much they had enjoyed the performance and to urge NAPUB to do something similar next year. The entire experience energized the division, and we decided unanimously to find another script to perform next year. Everyone in Ohio would encourage other states to try this activity. It showcases Braille reading amazingly and generates funds for doing great projects around the state.
by Lucas Kavner
From the Editor: Some of us will always revere the teaching profession and hold a place in our hearts for the special people who gave us the gift of knowledge. Donna Karlson has played a special part in the lives of her students. Here is what the Huffington Post edition of March 31, 2011, has to say about her:
For over thirty-seven years Donna Karlson has been advising and counseling students who are hearing and visually impaired and helping them forge a path for their futures. She also serves as an activist for encouraging the employment and further education of disabled people in America.
As a young woman growing up in the Bronx, Donna was very close to her siblings. Her parents died at a young age. She always knew she wanted to be a teacher but never imagined she'd find herself working in special education. "All I knew was that I wanted to work with kids. When I started, I didn't know anything about special education--I didn't think I had the experience--but my supervisor helped me to feel supported."
A humble educator far more eager to celebrate the successes of her coworkers and former students, Donna has spent her entire career with the New York Institute for Special Education (itself a 170-year-old school), leaving only briefly to receive her master’s in special education and obtain certifications in visual impairment and sign language.
One of her proudest achievements has been leading the NYISE student council and making them active in the Pelham Bay community. "So many of these students were on the edge," Donna says. "So to see them participating and voting and making decisions, to see them speaking beautifully at a council meeting about their disabilities--it's those moments where you just step back and feel so good."
A visually impaired former student of Donna's, Jose de la Cruz, says, "Her passion is contagious, and her spirit is the most uplifting presence I have ever encountered. She is an unbelievable and helpful soul." Donna taught Jose and her other students how to move beyond their impairments. "It is largely due to her encouragement and her belief in me that I have been able to do some amazing things with my life," Jose says.
Countless former students of Donna's have gone on to illustrious careers. Some are in law school, others are in management positions, and Jose himself graduated from Georgetown and received an MA from Edinburgh University. "Donna drove me sixteen hours round trip from New York to Washington, D.C., all on her own time, for university interviews," Jose says. "We mulled through university applications, finances, and strategies together." Today Jose speaks four languages and has travelled around the world working for Deutsche Bank, Ernst and Young, and IMN.
Surprisingly, Donna says, the hardest work can be getting the students' parents to understand their children's potential. "Many parents I've encountered don't do the work to help their children. One student's mother didn't even help him fill out paperwork for college; I had to take a notary public to her house personally to have her sign these papers." But thanks to Donna's work, this student now attends St. Thomas Aquinas, working towards a degree in psychology. As a testament to Donna's support over the years, the student volunteers at the NYISE on the weekends.
In addition to her work as a counselor, Donna has also worked for years to increase post-graduate employment for the hearing and visually impaired. "Employers have told me they're willing to give many of these students internships and jobs," Donna says. "But visually impaired individuals are still some of the least employed in the United States." She has coordinated countless events to raise awareness of this discrepancy, including an upcoming all-day event aboard the Intrepid, which will feature a plethora of activities, events, and vendors discussing new technology for the visually and hearing impaired. The keynote speaker is Matthew P. Sapolin, the commissioner of the New York City Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities.
Some of Donna's proudest moments are when former students come back to visit. One former student, now forty-three years old with a family, surprised Donna just last fall. "Donna has been that spark for so many of us," Jose says. "And she continues to impact the following generation positively."
From the Editor: From time to time Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Gary Wunder, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:
Dear Miss Whozit,
Any day now snow will be flying in my part of the world, and I don’t mind admitting that I don’t like the stuff. I live in a small town that has an ordinance requiring home owners to keep their section of the public sidewalk clear of snow, and the post office leaves nasty notes on the front door if the path to the owner’s mailbox is icy or otherwise hard to get to. I have even been threatened with nondelivery of mail until my walk is cleared.
As I said, I do not like snow, and I cannot afford to relocate to a warmer climate, but I really can’t afford to pay someone to shovel my walks every time snow accumulates. I think that, because I am blind, these laws discriminate against me. What do you think, and what can I do about it?
Sick of Snow
Your letter provides me no clue about your age and state of health. If you are frail and elderly, have serious back trouble, suffer from arthritis, or deal with other serious health complications, I suspect that both your city council and post office must have exceptions to the requirement that you keep your walks clear of snow and ice. If your only objection to shoveling snow is that you are blind and don’t like the cold, Miss Whozit modestly suggests that you get over it.
In the January 2008 issue of the Braille Monitor, Robert Leslie Newman provided excellent advice to snow shovelers, and he lives in Nebraska, where they know a thing or two about snowfall and snow removal. Miss Whozit has cleared her share of snow through the years, and her advice is, don’t let it get ahead of you if you can help it. Removing two inches of white stuff four times is far easier than trying to get down to pavement when eight inches have already fallen. If you fear that you will lose track of where your front door is, station a radio or portable CD player there to keep you oriented. If you really have trouble staying on the walk or driveway, maybe you could pay a neighbor youngster to shovel with you and keep you on track. If you are doing half or more of the actual work, the cost will be much less than paying an adult to do the entire job.
This is probably not the response you were hoping for, but Miss Whozit is pretty sure that you don’t want to hide behind blindness as an excuse for not being a good neighbor.
Dear Miss Whozit,
Several times a winter my city gets serious snow storms. My employer almost never takes this emergency into consideration in setting attendance policy. We are expected to get to work almost regardless of weather conditions or the state of traffic. I have been told that the Social Security Administration does not require its blind employees to come to work on snowy days, and they do not have to take vacation days when they stay home in bad weather. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to you that other employers should adopt this reasonable policy?
Tired of Being Cold
The question you have raised does not seem to Miss Whozit to have much to do with the etiquette of blindness, but she is so perturbed at the notion that Social Security might employ such a foolish blanket policy that she cannot remain silent. Let us be clear about this matter. If public transportation is not operating, it does not seem reasonable that those who depend on that means of transportation should be expected to get to work, particularly if they do not live within walking distance of their jobs. Mostly, however, buses and light-rail services keep running, albeit slowly. If city or state officials have determined that it is unsafe to have traffic moving during a snow emergency, they will urge everyone who can stay home to do so. In that case it is reasonable for blind employees to stay warm at home. If other workers are expected to be at work and the buses are running, Miss Whozit believes that blind employees should be at work as well.
Lest you conclude that Miss Whozit has lost touch with reality, you should consider that in Baltimore, where traffic is tied up by snowfall several times a winter, the National Center for the Blind staff are all—blind and sighted alike—expected to get to work as long as it is safe to do so. The Center is always open, and those who decide to stay home must take a personal or vacation day to do so. It should be pointed out that, because the NFB has sleeping accommodations on site, employees are always allowed to stay overnight if a storm is coming or arrives during a workday. This unusual situation makes a rigorous snow policy practical when it might not be realistic for other employers. But the principle is clear: blindness does not excuse an employee from getting to work if it is possible and safe to do so.
by Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: The following is another in our series of profiles and historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library.
Summing up the work of Perry Sundquist is not easy. A major figure on the scene from the early days of the NFB until his death in 1987, Sundquist served in many roles at both the state and national levels, most notably as member of the national executive committee, as editor of the Braille Monitor, and even briefly as president. A social worker and public administrator by trade, Sundquist was also a writer and one of the NFB’s first historians. He was also the first Monitor editor to run a series featuring letters from the archives.
Born William Perry Sundquist in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1904, he initially attended public school in Manitoba, Canada. In 1913 his family moved to Washington state, where a public school principal told his mother that her son would never get past the sixth grade because of his limited mental ability—prompting Sundquist to explain that he’d be a fine student if only he could see the board. Shortly after this exchange he was transferred to the school for the blind in Washington and in 1918 to the California School for the Blind. There he proved his mental capacity, quickly becoming one of Dr. Newel Perry’s “boys,” and in 1920 he befriended the young Jacobus tenBroek. He graduated from high school in 1922 and went on to attend the University of California. In 1928 Sundquist received his BA in political science and stayed on to complete two years of graduate work in education and social work. He met his wife, Emily Wright, as an undergraduate, and they married in 1931.
Sundquist spent the majority of his professional career in public welfare work for the blind in California. In 1935 he conducted a statewide study on the economic status of the blind for the California Department of Education. From 1936 to 1941 he served as executive secretary of the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) under the leadership of his old teacher, Newel Perry. In 1941 Sundquist became chief of the Division for the Blind in the California State Department of Social Welfare, a position he held until his retirement in 1968.
Through the years Sundquist embraced many leadership roles including secretary of the Los Angeles County Club of Adult Blind from 1930 to 1934 and, from 1934 to 1939, second vice president of the California Council of the Blind (CCB), which became the California affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. That year he was elected president of the Los Angeles County Club, but the records do not reveal how long he held this office. In 1961 Sundquist entered the NFB national scene when he was elected first vice president. In April 1962 he ascended to the presidency when Dr. tenBroek’s first successor, John Taylor, resigned. However, Sundquist did not seek reelection at the 1962 convention in July, stepping aside in favor of Russell Kletzing, who served as president until tenBroek’s return in 1966. Sundquist was a member of the NFB executive committee from 1962 to 1968, at which time then-President Kenneth Jernigan appointed him editor of the Monitor, from which position he retired in 1977. He also served on various NFB committees, including the budget and finance committee.
Sundquist was honored for his work during the 1956 semi-annual convention of the CCB in a speech given by tenBroek, who called him the “strong administrative arm of the movement.” In 1959 he received the Newel Perry Award. He is also the author of A History of the California Council of the Blind, 1934-1969, and Aid to the Blind in California: Fifty Years of Program Development 1919-1969, both published in 1969.
Recognized by his friends and colleagues for his quick wit and wry sense of humor, Sundquist sprinkled his correspondence in the tenBroek Papers with zingers and jocular one-liners. But his 1971 letter to Jernigan praising the descriptive writing skills of the young Mary Ellen Anderson, known to Federationists today as Mrs. Jernigan, truly illustrates his sometimes playful personality. Here is his letter.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
4651 Mead Avenue
Sacramento, California 95822
The Braille Monitor
Perry Sundquist, Editor
January 17, 1971
I have just read with great interest Mary Ellen Anderson's report to you on her efforts in Rhode Island.
Obviously, Mary Ellen is tops as an organizer--but what is even more important, she has become the modern Hemingway as a writer--that incisive, staccato-like word picture which she draws of people. It’s terrific! I would like to commission Mary Ellen, through you, to do a series of vignettes for the Braille Monitor--on each of the members of the executive committee. I, for one, agree in advance not to quarrel with whatever she writes about me. Tell Mary Ellen how very much I appreciate her word pictures.
by Donna Tomky
From the Editor: Donna Tomky is president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. The following article appeared in the September 3, 2011, edition of the online publication, Diabetes Health:
When people are diagnosed with diabetes <www.diabeteshealth.com>, things can seem pretty overwhelming. In a short time they have to absorb a daunting amount of information and start making significant decisions about the way they live their lives.
For many people, their diabetes diagnosis is the first time they've heard words like hypoglycemia <www.diabeteshealth.com/browse/complications-and-care/low-blood-sugar>, neuropathy <www.diabeteshealth.com/browse/complications-and-care/nerve-care-neuropathy>, and microalbuminuria, or even blood glucose. Despite their unfamiliarity with such terms, they are expected to grasp the information, change ingrained eating and exercise habits <www.diabeteshealth.com/browse/fitness/exercise/>, learn how to monitor blood glucose levels, and remember how and when to take medications.
Yet another concept with which patients may be unfamiliar is the field of diabetes education. Many nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, and others are certified as diabetes educators, with specific training in teaching people how to manage their condition. Diabetes education is a proven, effective way to help people avoid some of the serious complications that may arise. Diabetes is a complex disease that requires daily self-management. Most of that work takes place outside of the physician's office--in the daily lives of the patients. So it's necessary for patients to learn healthy behaviors and make them part of their everyday lifestyle. But how do they do this?
Diabetes educators focus on seven key areas of diabetes self-management, developed by the American Association of Diabetes Educators and called the AADE7 Self-Care Behaviors™. It's important for patients to understand and set goals for improvement in each of the following areas:
Healthy Eating--Learning to make healthy food choices by paying attention to nutritional content and portion sizes
Being Active--Recognizing the importance of physical activity and making a plan to start moving today
Monitoring--Learning to check, record, and understand blood glucose levels and other numbers important to diabetes self-care
Taking Medication--Remembering to take medications as prescribed and understanding how they affect the body and diabetes management
Problem Solving--Gaining skills to identify problems or obstacles to self-care behaviors and learning how to solve them
Reducing Risks--Understanding the potential complications associated with diabetes and taking steps to prevent developing them
Healthy Coping--Developing healthy ways of dealing with challenges and difficult situations related to diabetes
Patients and diabetes educators can work together to create a plan for approaching these self-care behaviors and implementing them in the patient’s life.
For someone who is newly diagnosed, Medicare and most private insurance companies cover ten hours of diabetes self-management training. Every year after that patients are entitled to two hours of diabetes self-management training. AADE recommends that patients ask their doctors for a referral to a diabetes educator. Diabetes educators can also be found at <www.diabeteseducator.org/find>.
Sidebar: To locate specific information for blind diabetics, contact the NFB’s Diabetes Action Network. President Michael Freeman: (360) 576-5965, Email: <email@example.com>.
by Darian Smith
From the Editor: At last summer’s convention a group gathered with the intention to form a division of those interested in doing community service in their hometowns. Darian Smith was the organizer and driving force of the group. Here is his report of what happened and his announcement of future plans:
“Community service” is a term used to describe a wide range of activities performed by a person or group, often conducted voluntarily, addressing a deficiency in a community and benefitting the people who live in that community. Typically these coordinated efforts are taken on by groups of sighted people. The blind are not usually asked or expected to take part in such fulfilling, educational, and rewarding efforts. On July 3, 2011, thirty-five Federationists gathered to consider how they could spread the word about the satisfaction to be found in community service and the value it can have in strengthening the Federation.
At that meeting group organizers reported on what steps they had already taken, and a proposed mission statement was read and agreed upon. NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder addressed the group and pointed out that it is important that, if blind people are to deserve first-class status, they must be expected to and expect themselves to contribute their time, talent, and energy as volunteers in their communities.
The group decided to meet monthly by telephone during the coming year. They established goals for the year and decided to work toward a group community service project around the time of the 2012 convention. Plans were made for a seminar and business meeting at the Dallas convention. Participants were urged to make presentations about the Community Service Interest Group at state conventions this year and to organize gatherings like the national one at those conventions. Reports of all such efforts will be given at the group’s meeting during the 2012 convention.
The group has met by phone several times since the convention. Its listserv is <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and those interested are urged to join the list. A number of initiatives are under discussion including the following: joint service projects with the NFB’s three adult training centers; a challenge activity like those that occur in Meet the Blind Month, but this one would have a definite service orientation; doing outreach within the NFB and service organizations outside the Federation; and a fundraiser at national convention.
Those who have stepped forward in leadership of this interest group believe in community service and in the importance of encouraging blind people to take part in such efforts. Small groups of dedicated volunteers can change the world. We urge everyone in the NFB to get involved in community service. Doing so will improve your community and strengthen your chapter, your affiliate, and our national organization.
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 2012 our convention will begin on Saturday, June 30, and run through Thursday, July 5. 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 who has not yet attended a national convention, you are eligible to apply.
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@example.com>.
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 15, 2012.
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 you 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.
Last summer in Orlando the Jernigan Fund scholarship committee awarded sixty-four Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships. The average grant was $500. 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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>. We look forward to seeing you in Dallas.
This month’s recipes are from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Delaware.
by Debbie Briddell
Debbie Briddell is a past president of the NFB of Delaware who currently serves as secretary of the affiliate and vice president of the Southern New Castle Chapter. She is also the organist for her church.
1 can cream corn
1 cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
Method: Combine all ingredients and pour mixture into a greased baking dish. Bake at 425 degrees for one hour or until pudding sets.
Pigs in the Blanket
by Verita Turner
Verita Turner is president of the Southern New Castle Chapter and a member of the NFB of Delaware board of directors. She is a former elementary school teacher, and she loves to cook.
1 tube of refrigerated biscuit dough
1 package mini sausages or hotdogs
Method: Separate the biscuits and flatten enough to allow you to roll a sausage or hotdog in each one. Seal edge and ends well. Line a cookie sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Arrange wrapped sausages on foil, leaving enough space between for biscuits to rise. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for twelve to fifteen minutes, until biscuits are done.
Sweet Potato Casserole
by Donna Frost
Donna Frost is treasurer of the NFB of Delaware and secretary of the Northern Delaware Chapter. In addition to enjoying cooking, she makes and sells candles.
2 40-ounce cans of yams or sweet potatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup flour
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/3 cup butter, melted
Method: For a smoother finished dish, run the drained yams or sweet potatoes through a ricer or food mill. Combine all the nontopping ingredients and beat until combined and smooth. Transfer mixture to a greased baking dish. Mix brown sugar and flour until well combined. Stir in pecans and then melted butter. Sprinkle the topping over the yams. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about thirty minutes or until dish is bubbly and topping is browned. Serve immediately.
by Addie Pack
Addie Pack is second vice president of the NFB of Delaware and president of the Central Delaware Chapter. She enjoys cooking for company.
2 10-ounce boxes frozen spinach, thawed
2 onions, chopped
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
2 1/2 cups Pepperidge Farm Seasoned Stuffing Mix
Minced garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Method: Combine all the ingredients except Parmesan and pour into a greased casserole dish. Preheat oven to 350 and bake casserole for twenty minutes or until set. Sprinkle on Parmesan and return to the oven for a few minutes to brown it. Serve immediately.
Oven Fried Chicken
by Catherine Newman
Catherine Newman is a member of the Southern New Castle Chapter and serves as youth coordinator in the affiliate. A former special education teacher, she will earn a master’s in counseling in May of 2012.
2 1/2 to 3 pounds of chicken pieces or boneless chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup or 1 stick margarine
Up to 1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon pepper
1/2 cup flour
Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place shortening and margarine in a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and allow to melt and heat in the oven. Combine remaining ingredients, except chicken pieces, in a shallow bowl and mix well. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour mixture and arrange in hot fat, skin-side down. Bake for about twenty minutes. Turn chicken and return to oven for another twenty minutes. Serves four.
Roasted Vegetable Medley
by Lynne Majewski
Lynne Majewski is president of both the NFB of Delaware and the Northern Delaware Chapter. She teaches preschool music, plays several musical instruments, and sings in two choirs.
6 to 8 broccoli flowerets
1 zucchini, peeled and seeded if seeds are large
1 avocado, peeled and pit discarded
2 medium tomatoes, peeled if you like and seeded
12 green beans, tough ends snapped off
1/2 red pepper
1/4 large eggplant
1/4 can black or kidney beans, drained
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 cups mild salsa or your favorite salad dressing
Method: Wash and pat dry all fresh vegetables. Then cut them into pieces. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a large cookie sheet with olive oil. Arrange vegetables on the sheet and mix in the canned, drained beans. Sprinkle garlic powder over surface. Spoon on salsa or salad dressing. Bake for thirty-five minutes. You can serve this dish over rice, bread, wraps, or pasta. The vegetables can be frozen in Ziplock bags for use later.
At the state convention of the NFB of Maine held in Auburn on October 22, 2011, the following people were elected: president, Patricia C. Estes; first vice president, Walter Woitasek; second vice president, Roger Cusson; treasurer, Leon Proctor Jr.; secretary, Dorothy Woitasek; and board members, (two-year term) David Van Wickler Jr. and (one-year term) Bobbie LaChance Bubier.
NFB Scholarships Available:
Are you a blind postsecondary student who could use up to twelve-thousand dollars? If so, applying for a National Federation of the Blind scholarship is well worth your time. The deadline for applications is March 31, 2012. Awards range from three-thousand dollars to twelve-thousand dollars and will include financial assistance to attend the NFB convention in Dallas, Texas, an opportunity to meet and network with the other twenty-nine top scholars in the country, and a chance to address the largest gathering of blind people that will occur anywhere in the world in 2012.
For more information, go to <www.nfb.org/scholarships> or email: <Scholarships@nfb.org>; call: (410) 659-9314, extension 2415; or send an inquiry to NFB Scholarship Program, National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
2012 NFB Writing Contest:
Robert Leslie Newman, president of the NFB’s Writers Division, provides the following reminder:
The annual youth and adult writing contests sponsored by the Writers Division of the NFB opened January 1 and will close April 1. Adult contests--poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and stories for youth--are open to all entrants eighteen years of age and over. The Youth Writing Contest--poetry and fiction--promotes Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and the quality of the Braille. The age groups for these authors are divided by grade levels: elementary, middle school, and high school.
Prizes for contest winners range up to $100 for adult categories and up to $30 for youth categories. All contest winners will be announced at the Writers Division business meeting during the NFB national convention in Dallas, Texas, the first week of July 2012. In addition, shortly after convention a list of winners will appear on the Writers Division website. First-, second-, and third-place winners in each category will be considered for publication in the Writers Division magazine, Slate & Style. For additional contest details and submission guidelines, go to the Writers Division Website, <www.nfb-writers-division.net>.
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.
Talking MP3 Players Available:
Accessible Electronics offers affordably priced talking MP3 players in four or eight GB units. These players have fully speaking menus, an FM radio, a voice recorder, plus expandable storage capacity. Accessories are also available. Listen to a presentation at <www.talkingmp3players.com/demo.html>. For more information visit <www.talkingmp3players.com> or call (727) 498-0121.
NASA Internships Available:
NASA wants to increase the number of students with disabilities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers through our internship programs. We have a two-percent hiring goal. Students can apply for summer internships now. The deadline for submitting applications is February 1, 2012. They can register for an account and look for internships anytime at the One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI): Student On-Line Application for Recruiting Interns, Fellows and Scholars (SOLAR) at <http://intern.nasa.gov/>. Summer 2012 internships run for ten weeks from early June through early/mid August. NASA internships are also offered during spring and fall and in year-long sessions.
Contact Kenneth A. Silberman if you would like a copy of the recruitment letter, the recruitment flier, and the instructions for how to use the on-line application system. He is also available to provide more information or help with applying. Call voice (301) 286-9281, fax (301) 286-1655, or email <email@example.com>.
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) administers a scholarship program for deserving students. Each year individuals who are legally blind can apply for financial awards to support their postsecondary educations. Seven scholarships are offered through this program, with a potential of eleven recipients. The application can be filled out online at <www.afb.org/scholarships.asp>. The 2012 deadline for applications is April 30, 2012.
If you have questions or comments, contact the American Foundation for the Blind Information Center by telephone, toll free, at (800) 232-5463 or by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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.
I have one desktop four-track cassette recorder and three handheld four-track cassette recorders. These items are like new, used only a few times by a special education teacher who no longer teaches. Asking $25 for the desktop and $10 for each handheld. They have rechargeable batteries and AC adapters. Will send several new cassettes with each unit sold. Check or cash required as form of payment. Contact Dana Yates by cell (573) 760-6393 or by email at <email@example.com>.
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.