Vol. 55, No. 2 February 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. 2 February 2012
Victories in Our Ongoing Saga with the
National Conference of Bar Examiners
by Scott C. LaBarre
Introducing NFB Early Explorers
by Meleah Jensen
I Am a Blind Electrical Engineer
by D. Curtis Willoughby
72 Years of Devotion
by Parnell Diggs
Ensuring that Blind Children Can Swim
in the Mainstream Demands Concerted Action
by Eric Vasiliauskas
From Out of the Blue--A Much-Needed Reminder
by Edwin Cooney
Mainstream Access to E-Books: My Perspective
by James Gashel
The Politics of Blindness: From Charity to Parity
Reviewed by Elizabeth Lalonde
Blind Mechanic's Dream Comes True in a Porsche
by Lorraine Sommerfeld
The At-Large Chapter: A New Twist on an Old Idea
A History of the California Council
of the Blind, 1934-1969, by Perry Sundquist
Reviewed by Ed Morman
The Right Information
by Paris Roach
Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris
Copyright 2012 by the National Federation of the Blind
In our lead photo spread and throughout this issue the Braille Monitor this month commemorates Valentine's Day by recognizing some special valentines, old and young. Bob and Jennie Mahoney have been married seventy years; Bob is ninety and Jennie ninety-two. Bob remembers that "When I first put my hand on her knee, I said that's for me." They have ten children.
Bob was elected as a Wayne County commissioner and served for three years; he was then the first blind man elected to the Michigan General Assembly, serving from 1955 to 1968. He was responsible for getting a bill passed to include blind vendors in the state's pension and medical plans.
To say Jennie was busy would be an understatement. She took on the duties of a legislator's wife, raised their ten children, and started a mail order business, the Michigan Notary Service. She recalls having a phone installed next to the bathroom and taking orders by pulling the phone cord through the doorway, closing the door, and making notes by placing her slate and stylus on the back of the toilet. "It was the only place I could have the privacy I needed to work," she said. The inelegant office did not stifle the business; in one year it recorded sales topping half a million dollars.
“To remain competitive we had to mail five thousand letters a month or sixty thousand pieces a year, and, when the Federation needed help with the Braille bill, we just put our mailing apparatus to work on the challenge,” says Jennie. The couple kept the business for twenty-five years, and, when they retired, they sold it to one of their daughters, who continues to run it.
Dr. Jessica Bachicha and Jason Ewell have both grown to adulthood in the Federation. They were both NFB scholarship winners, and they both now work at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. They were married on October 1, 2011.
On Christmas Eve, Josh Crunkleton, who is a master’s student in the Louisiana Tech O&M Program, proposed to Stella Sun. Happily she said yes.
by Scott C. LaBarre
From the Editor: Scott LaBarre is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and the National Association of Blind Lawyers. He is a practicing lawyer in Denver who coordinates many of the legal cases we take on. An active litigator, he knows a lot about the law and is capable of putting the victories we achieve into English so that we can all appreciate and benefit from them. Here is what Scott has to say about technology and high-stakes testing:
The year is now 2012, and the Congress passed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) nearly twenty-two years ago. This landmark legislation declared boldly that discrimination on the basis of disability was strictly prohibited. The Act carried this mandate to all manner of entities from public facilities like restaurants and hotels to employers large and small. Section 309 of the ADA directs testing agencies to ensure that their examinations are administered in a non-discriminatory manner. Congress charged the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) with promulgating regulations to enforce this part of the Act. The relevant DOJ regulation states that a testing agency offering an exam must assure that "the examination is selected and administered so as to best ensure that, when the examination is administered to an individual with a disability that impairs sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the examination results accurately reflect the individual's aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factor the examination purports to measure, rather than reflecting the individual's impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills." As most people know, the ADA requires covered entities to provide accommodations for an individual's disability so that whatever good, service, or employment is offered is accessible to the individual with a disability. Therefore it is no surprise that a testing agency is required to provide accommodations.
With such clear direction from Congress and DOJ, refusal of a testing agency to provide accommodations should be a thing of the distant past. But, as we learned when we were children, it is never safe to make assumptions.
I graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1993. At that time assistive technology was far more limited than it is now. Although I used Artic Vision to create DOS-based WordPerfect documents and conduct rudimentary legal research using a modem and a slow dial-up service, I certainly did not have access to electronic texts and other legal material digitally. So I employed other techniques like live readers and law books on cassette from Recordings for the Blind (now Learning Ally) and Minnesota State Services for the Blind. When I took the bar exam, I used a person to read the text and a typewriter to produce the essay portions of the exam.
The world of the twenty-first century law student is far different. Every book now begins as an electronic file. Students can get every textbook and other material in an electronic format. As a result a blind law student can use screen-reading software to read the required material, and every blind law student I know either relies heavily on assistive technology or uses electronic texts exclusively.
My own law practice has changed dramatically over the years. When I first hung out my shingle, I relied extensively on human readers. Today I use my chief legal assistant to read some short passages from faxes or print mail that come into the office, but, if I have long documents, I either have immediate electronic access to them or have my legal assistant turn paper documents into electronic text. Generally speaking, the legal profession has gone almost completely digital. Most courts in the land now require that documents of any type be filed in an electronic format. I can read much faster and control my place in the text much more efficiently using my JAWS (Job Access with Speech) screen reader. In some ways I have become more effective because I can process material more quickly than I could previously and can assign my assistant to take care of a variety of tasks demanded by the cases coming through my office. Ultimately every blind lawyer or blind person has to select from the arsenal of alternative techniques that allows him or her to get the job done. In fact the ADA recognizes this individuality and calls upon covered entities to evaluate reasonable accommodations case by case.
The concept of making accommodations for a person's disability has been around for decades, and it is the law of the land. As lawyers and as a legal profession, we are supposed to have a heightened awareness of the law, even if the specific area at issue is not an individual lawyer's specialty. We would expect testing agencies that work regularly and frequently with test takers with disabilities to be particularly mindful and aware of their obligations under the law to provide accommodations. Logically we could expect a testing agency that offers licensing exams in the legal profession to be acutely aware of its obligations and ready to comply with the dictates of the law.
Imagine my surprise when the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) refused to provide the accommodation most frequently used by law students. NCBE offers a number of examinations, but, most important, it offers the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). The MBE is a two-hundred-question multiple-choice exam testing several areas of the law, and it is used in something like forty-eight jurisdictions in the country. The MPRE is a much shorter multiple choice exam that tests the applicant's knowledge of the ethical rules governing the practice of law. In just about every state a person has to pass both of these exams, along with some other essay exams, to become licensed. For an aspiring lawyer the MBE and MPRE are mandatory in almost every state, and these examinations are difficult enough that it is hard to achieve passing scores. This means that a blind applicant's most familiar and strongest alternative technique must be employed to give the blind test taker the best shot at passing these difficult exams.
As I mentioned previously, the vast majority of blind law students today use various screen readers to access their law school materials and take their exams. It is not difficult to understand why blind bar applicants coming out of law school today wish to take the MBE and MPRE using assistive technology. Using a screen reader permits the blind test taker to move quickly through the text and go back and forth with ease to reread various passages, an ability necessary in the bar examination.
In 2009 Stephanie Enyart contacted me and told me that NCBE practice was to deny blind bar applicants the use of assistive technology on the MBE and MPRE. She is a blind 2009 honors graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. She also served as the first president of the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities and was also a member of the NFB chapter in the western Los Angeles area.
Stephanie knew that she wanted to take the bar examination in late 2009 or early 2010 and needed to use a combination of JAWS and ZoomText. Her initial research revealed that NCBE would not allow her to use these technologies, even though the California Bar Association would allow her to use them on the state portion of the exam. At first I thought this would be a pretty easy problem to solve. Either I, as president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, or Dr. Maurer, as president of the National Federation of the Blind, could contact NCBE, explain the problem and the proper use of assistive technology, and then walk away with a solution. I refer you to my earlier discussion of making assumptions.
In early 2009 we started our contact with NCBE and urged them to change their policy. To this day their national policy still precludes the use of assistive technology on the portions of the bar examination that they control. Despite their loud and vociferous protestations before the nine different federal courts where we have appeared, I still cannot understand why they continue to refuse to offer the bar examination with the accommodations needed by these blind law students. NCBE has consciously decided to spend millions of dollars in legal fees fighting us rather than finding a workable solution.
Erica Moeser, president of NCBE, and Dr. Maurer became pen pals for several months in 2009, and NCBE even had contact with the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at the Jernigan Institute. At the end of this process NCBE decided that it would continue its practice of denying the use of assistive technology on the bar examination. In the alternative, they offered Stephanie and others the use of a human reader, a large CCTV, the examination on an audio CD, or the examination in Braille. This was the menu, and applicants could select from only these choices.
Let me digress to address some of the comments that I have heard from within and outside the blindness community. They go something like this: “Life isn't perfect for a blind person, and you just need to accept whatever is offered. As blind people we have to be tougher. So suck it up and take the test with a reader or whatever. After all, many of us used readers in the past and did so successfully.”
Although I agree that blind people generally must be tougher and more resourceful, this does not mean that we must climb much higher peaks if more reasonable and practical approaches are readily available. To make some analogies, sighted test takers are not forced to take the exam without their eye glasses or contacts. Neither are they forced to read the exam upside down, even though they might be able to manage with great effort to do so. If forced to compete in this way, it would be virtually impossible for them to perform at their best and demonstrate what they really know since a majority of their brainpower and concentration would be required to focus on reading rather than on the question and its answer. The bar examination and other professional examinations like it are high-stakes, high-pressure exams and require test takers’ maximum concentration. If blind applicants are unfamiliar with using readers, CCTVs, or other accommodations, they should not be forced to use an unfamiliar method to take one of the most important tests that they will ever take. Nevertheless, this is precisely what NCBE wanted Stephanie and others to do.
To make a long story a bit shorter, we were not able to negotiate successfully with NCBE and had no other option but to sue for violations of the ADA in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in early November of 2009. Because Stephanie applied to take the February 2010 California Bar Examination, we had precious little time to get the kind of court ruling we needed for her to take the examination with the accommodations she had used in law school. Therefore we filed a motion for preliminary injunction, an urgent motion that tells the court that it must act quickly on a matter because, if it does not, the opportunity being addressed will have passed, and there will be no way to correct the wrong done in the future. Bar examinations are offered only twice each year, and, if people cannot take an exam, their careers are delayed by at least six months. This may not seem like a big deal, but, when you consider that the average law student now racks up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt for outrageous law school tuition, a six-month delay is far from trivial. It is critical for a newly graduated law student to become licensed and employed as soon as possible.
I haven't worked on this case alone. NCBE is a large organization with tens of millions of dollars of revenue each year. It has the capacity to hire some of the nation's largest and most powerful law firms, and it has done exactly that throughout the course of this litigation. To combat this inherent advantage for NCBE, we had to marshal our best effort to assemble a powerful team as well. From day one Dan Goldstein of Brown, Goldstein and Levy and I have been the two lead attorneys on this matter. We have had the privilege of working with several other skilled and experienced attorneys in California; Vermont; Washington, D.C.; and elsewhere. In particular we have been greatly aided by Disability Rights Advocates of Berkeley, California, and its executive director, Larry Paradis. Without the tremendous team that we assembled, the victories achieved would not have been possible. This tremendous show of legal power has been possible only because of the resources, philosophy, and commitment of the National Federation of the Blind.
We engaged in whirlwind litigation preparation and got the case ready for a hearing before United States District Court Judge Charles Breyer at the end of January 2010. By the way, Judge Breyer is the brother of United States Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer. The oral arguments went very well, and on February 4, 2010, Judge Breyer granted our motion for preliminary injunction and ordered NCBE to provide Stephanie Enyart with the accommodations she needed to take the February 2010 California Bar Examination.
Immediately after we achieved this successful order, NCBE filed an emergency motion with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asking that court to prevent Judge Breyer's order from taking effect. The Ninth Circuit denied the emergency motion but did allow NCBE to pursue its appeal of Judge Breyer's preliminary order on the normal docket of the court.
A preliminary injunction is a temporary order and not the final ruling of the court. It is extraordinary relief and very rarely granted. To gain relief on future administrations of the bar examination, we would need to achieve another preliminary injunction or a permanent injunction. Because well over half of the applicants who take the California Bar Examination fail, needing another injunction from the court stood as a real possibility in February of 2010.
Unfortunately, like the majority of her fellow applicants, Stephanie did not pass the exam in February. We had to go back to Judge Breyer in June and get another order. Despite NCBE's best efforts, we achieved that order as well. This allowed Stephanie to take the July 2010 bar examination with her requested accommodations.
Meanwhile three blind applicants in Maryland--Tim Elder, Ann Blackfield, and Michael Whitwer--requested the use of assistive technology on the Maryland Bar Examination, but NCBE of course denied their requests. We filed a similar preliminary injunction motion with the United States District Court of Maryland, and the case got assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Motz. Unfortunately he ruled against us. In my view his reasoning was greatly flawed and a terrible interpretation of the law. One can read more about Judge Motz's decision and the earlier parts of this NCBE saga in my article, "SWEP and the Bars of Our Prison," which ran in the October 2010 Braille Monitor.
In California the Ninth Circuit appeal continued. We filed our appellate brief during the summer of 2010, and the Ninth Circuit scheduled oral arguments for December. Dr. Maurer and I, along with the entire legal team, prepared Dan Goldstein to argue before the court, and Dan delivered a tremendous argument on December 6. At the hearing the court made it clear to us that it wanted to rule quickly and that it felt great skepticism about NCBE's arguments. Let me pause to address some of the arguments NCBE has trotted out everywhere we go on our tour of the United States federal court system.
NCBE argues that individuals with disabilities do not get to choose unilaterally the accommodation they wish to use. Throughout this litigation NCBE has referred to Stephanie's request for the use of assistive technology as her "preferred accommodation" and has often characterized her request as something that was trivial or a matter of whimsy. NCBE argues that, because Stephanie has used readers and CCTVs in the past, she could use them now on the bar examination. It also argues that the DOJ regulation I cited at the beginning of this article should be ignored and that a testing agency does not need to provide the accommodation that best ensures that the test taker's abilities and knowledge are measured, but that NCBE is only obligated to provide some reasonable accommodation.
This argument is flawed for many reasons. The bar examination is a high-pressure, high-stakes exam. Applicants must be able to concentrate at peak efficiency to pass. If blind applicants are spending a great deal of effort working with unfamiliar or inefficient accommodations, their concentration is diverted, to their detriment. Additionally, Congress and the DOJ adopted strong language regarding testing entities, presumably because examinations are far different from employment and other situations covered by the ADA. When working with an employer or in a classroom, a long-term relationship exists in which the individual with a disability can work with the entity to determine the most reasonable and efficient accommodation. Conversely, licensing examinations are often one-shot opportunities given under a great deal of pressure, and applicants with disabilities must be able to use the accommodations with which they are most familiar and comfortable.
Additionally, NCBE has also made the argument that it is not covered by the ADA. It makes this argument because it is the state bar in each jurisdiction that administers the overall bar examination and decides how to administer it. Therefore NCBE says that it does not directly offer the exam. The major problem with this argument is that NCBE makes the decision about what accommodations will be offered on its portions of the exam. Moreover, NCBE gives explicit instructions on how to administer its examinations, and, if a state bar does not follow those instructions, that state bar risks having all of its NCBE exams invalidated. In every case we have brought in this ongoing saga, the state bars have been more than willing to grant the use of assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation but have not been allowed to do so on the NCBE examinations because NCBE makes that call.
NCBE's third major argument is that to offer the bar exam with assistive technology poses an undue burden on it. This is certainly not true in a financial sense because NCBE passes the cost of the accommodation on to the individual state bar organization. Furthermore, NCBE has millions of dollars of revenue each year and always reports substantial revenues in excess of expenses.
On January 4, 2011, Louis Braille's two-hundred-second birthday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in this matter. It ruled that Judge Breyer was correct to issue a preliminary injunction, and therefore it affirmed his order that NCBE provide the use of assistive technology as an accommodation on the portions of the bar examination it controls. Additionally the Ninth Circuit confirmed that NCBE's reasonable-accommodation argument is not the proper standard. The court said the DOJ "best ensured" regulation should be applied. The Ninth Circuit is the first appellate court to address and rule on the question of whether the DOJ regulation should apply. This decision represents an extremely important and precedent-setting victory for any individual with a disability seeking accommodations on an examination offered by a private entity.
Next chronologically in this saga is Tim Elder's application to take the California Bar Examination. Incidentally, Tim is a two-time winner of NFB scholarships. He now serves as second vice president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, but in January of 2011 Tim was not yet a licensed attorney in California and needed to take that state's bar examination. When he requested the use of his preferred screen reader to take the MBE and MPRE, NCBE of course denied the request. We filed another motion for preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Tim's case was assigned to the Honorable Susan Illston.
On February 11, 2011, we appeared before Judge Illston and went over the same old arguments with NCBE. Judge Illston ruled in our favor, and Tim took the February 2011 California Bar Examination with the use of JAWS. Judge Illston cited what was then the very recently issued decision of the Ninth Circuit to support her ruling. Additionally she explicitly ruled that NCBE could not hide behind its argument that it did not fall under the provisions of the ADA because it did not offer the exam.
By this time one would have thought that NCBE would have gotten the message that the trend was going against it. However, NCBE filed a petition for writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. Our Supreme Court has what is called discretionary jurisdiction over the cases filed with it. This means that the court does not have to hear every appeal made to it. In fact the reality is that the Supreme Court hears less than one percent of all cases it is asked to review. In its petition to the Supreme Court, NCBE raised the same old legal arguments, and several testing organizations filed their own amicus briefs urging the Court to take this case.
Meanwhile other blind applicants made known their wishes to take portions of the bar exam using assistive technology. Katherine Bonnette of Washington wished to take the July 2011 Washington, D.C., Bar Examination with JAWS, and NCBE denied her application. Again we filed a motion for preliminary injunction, this time before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. United States District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Cotelly ruled in our favor on July 13, 2011, and she cited Judge Breyer's decision, the Ninth Circuit's ruling, and Judge Illston's opinion. She order NCBE to provide Katherine Bonnette with the MBE using JAWS.
In Vermont Deanna Jones, one of our members, applied to take the MPRE. At that time she was about to start her third year of law school at the University of Vermont, where she had always used ZoomText and Kurzweil 3000 to take her exams. It is common for those in the third year of law school to take the MPRE and get that part of the bar exam out of the way.
As usual, NCBE denied Deanna's request for the use of assistive technology, and we filed a motion for preliminary injunction before the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. On August 2, 2011, Chief Judge Christina Reiss granted our motion, and once again NCBE was ordered to provide the requested accommodations. Afterwards NCBE appealed Judge Reiss's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and that appeal is still pending.
During the summer 2011 proceedings we filed an additional motion in Stephanie's case. As I mentioned above, a preliminary injunction is only a temporary measure. To make sure that Stephanie Enyart could take the MBE and MPRE again in California, and perhaps in other states, we requested that Judge Breyer make his ruling permanent. We filed a motion for summary judgment, a motion in which you tell the court that, even if it looks at the facts in the light most favorable to the other party, in this case NCBE, we would win as a matter of law.
We argued that the "best-ensured" standard is now the law in the Ninth Circuit. We asserted that NCBE could not marshal any facts demonstrating that anything other than the use of assistive technology would best ensure that the bar exam measure her abilities rather than her disability. We introduced several expert witnesses, who all indicated that Stephanie needed to use assistive technology to have the best and fairest opportunity to pass the bar examination. None of NCBE's experts were able to say which accommodation best ensured that Stephanie's abilities would be measured. NCBE again made all the same arguments and also argued that our motion failed because we had no medical doctor who could testify that Stephanie Enyart needed the accommodations she had requested. The Supreme Court started its new term in September of 2011 and reviewed all the petitions filed over the summer, including the one filed by NCBE. We had filed an extensive brief opposing its petition and told the Supreme Court that it should not take NCBE's case and should allow the Ninth Circuit's decision to stand. In early October the Supreme Court denied NCBE's petition and its attempt to have the highest court undo what the Ninth Circuit had decided.
On October 11, 2011, we appeared before Judge Breyer again to argue the summary judgment motion. The court took only thirteen days to write a decision, and here is the way we announced the Court's October 24, 2011, finding to the world.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Berkeley, California (October 26, 2011): On Monday, October 24, the Honorable Judge Charles R. Breyer ended a two-year legal battle between a blind law school graduate and a national testing corporation over the graduate's right to use a computer equipped with assistive technology to take the California Bar Exam. Granting Stephanie Enyart's motion for summary judgment, Judge Breyer found that Ms. Enyart is entitled to take the bar exam on a computer equipped with text-to-speech screen reading and visual screen magnification software as the method that will best ensure that she is tested on her aptitude rather than her disability.
Stephanie Enyart, who graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2009 and first sought to take the bar exam that same year, was forced into court by the refusal of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to allow her to take the bar exam using her primary reading method, a computer equipped with screen-reading and screen-magnifying software. Ms. Enyart, who became blind in early adulthood as a result of macular degeneration, has relied on screen-reading and screen-magnifying technology to read since college, through law school, and in her professional career.
Although Ms. Enyart won a preliminary injunction in early 2010 ordering NCBE to provide her requested accommodations, the case has remained in court for almost two years as NCBE unsuccessfully challenged the district court's preliminary injunction order, first to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and then to the United States Supreme Court. NCBE argued that it had fulfilled its legal obligations to Ms. Enyart by offering accommodations such as Braille or a human reader, notwithstanding evidence that these alternatives do not work well for her.
The courts resoundingly rejected that argument, holding that licensing examinations must be administered to exam takers with sensory impairments in a manner that "best ensures they are tested on what the examination purports to measure, rather than on the exam takers' impairments.”
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "Although blind people have practiced law successfully throughout history, we still face unreasonable and unwarranted barriers to entering and achieving success in the profession. Judge Breyer's decision is a tremendous step forward in granting blind Americans seeking to enter the practice of law full and equal access to the process of acquiring their credentials. We applaud this common-sense ruling and expect full compliance going forward from the National Conference of Bar Examiners."
Anna Levine of Disability Rights Advocates, an attorney representing the plaintiff, said, "Judge Breyer's decision vindicates Stephanie Enyart's request to take the bar exam on a computer so that she can be tested on what other examinees are tested on, rather than on how well she uses an unfamiliar reading method. We only wish that NCBE had not fought this simple, justified request so aggressively over the past two years."
The suit was filed on November 3, 2009, and charged that the NCBE violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act by denying accommodations on the Multistate Bar Examination and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, two components of the California Bar Exam controlled by NCBE. The state bar granted Ms. Enyart's request to use a computer on the essay portions of the bar exam but was unable to grant her request on the portions controlled by NCBE.
Ms. Enyart was represented with the support of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) by Brown, Goldstein and Levy, LLP, in Baltimore, Maryland, and the LaBarre Law Offices, P.C., in Denver, Colorado. The plaintiff was further represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities, with offices in Berkeley, California, and New York City.
I must put Judge Breyer's ruling in context to explain how extraordinary it is. The American Bar Association has compiled statistics demonstrating that defendants win ADA cases well over ninety-five percent of the time. Plaintiffs almost never win ADA cases, especially on summary judgment.
Judge Breyer used the Ninth Circuit's ruling and applied the "best-ensured" standard. He also commented on NCBE's insistence that a medical professional had to opine that Stephanie needed the accommodations she had requested.
In our experience as blind people we often hear that a medical doctor has to decide what is best for us. Doctors can tell us that we are blind and how we got there. Very rarely do they have the training to tell us what accommodations and alternative techniques we need.
Doctors do not spend their time trying to figure out how to accommodate blindness. Their emphasis is on trying to prevent blindness. Consequently doctors normally do not make good witnesses when telling a court or jury how blindness should be accommodated. Because doctors command so much esteem and automatic respect, courts and juries often give their opinions about practical and most appropriate accommodations too much weight. Fortunately Judge Breyer understood this issue properly and, when addressing NCBE's argument that only a medical professional could speak to what Stephanie Enyart truly needed, he stated, this "argument misses the point of the testimony. The most effective assistive technologies for accommodating Ms. Enyart's disability are not matters that require a medical opinion, but rather experience, skill, and knowledge with the use, application, and evaluation of assistive technologies."
In one respect our press release was not entirely accurate. The legal battle has not quite ended. Because we have won a final judgment in Stephanie's case, the ADA allows us to collect attorneys’ fees and costs as the prevailing party. Because we have had to litigate so forcefully with NCBE, we have spent several hundred hours on Stephanie's behalf, and we anticipate being able to collect millions of dollars in fees. Once we receive that fee award, that money will go to good use. Despite the fact that we have secured something like seven substantial legal victories against NCBE, with only one bad opinion against us, NCBE is still waging this battle with vigor. As I mentioned previously, Deanna Jones' case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and we expect to have a hearing before that court early this year.
As I conclude this article, I remain perplexed about why NCBE has fought so hard to maintain its policy of denying the use of assistive technology on the portions of the bar exam it administers. Part of the problem is that NCBE and many other entities still view the use of accommodations as something special and extraordinary and expect us to feel that any entity that makes any nod to our blindness is doing us a favor and that we should be grateful for what we do receive.
Our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, wrote a landmark law review article entitled "The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts." This was one of the earliest pieces of legal writing which clearly established the rights of the blind and otherwise disabled as fundamental human and civil rights. Dr. tenBroek's writing reminds us that accommodations to our disabilities are not acts of charity but rather a means to a level playing field. We have the right to live in a world in which society does not create and maintain artificial barriers preventing us from true equality.
With respect to our ongoing saga with NCBE, its policy prohibiting the use of assistive technology on the bar exam creates an artificial barrier. The exams start out as electronic files. Those files can be read with a screen-reading program. Screen-reading programs give blind people independent and immediate access to text. Although the use of this technology cannot give us precisely the same experience as the sighted, for the vast majority of blind bar applicants, their assistive technology gives them as close to the same experience as anything ever has and now can. As the courts have ruled, providing this accommodation does not unduly burden NCBE. So it comes down to a matter of will and choice. Thus far NCBE has chosen to go to great lengths to fight us and has made the strongest possible effort to deny us the common-sense accommodations we need to compete. Although life for us is better than ever before, this saga demonstrates with compelling force that we still have a long journey ahead of us before we can declare our freedom and first-class citizenship.
As I sit at this keyboard using assistive technology to write and review this piece, I have no clue how long it will take for us to prevail. I do know, however, that we will emerge victorious. The right to information is a fundamental human right. Technology and the law give us the right and ability to access information on terms of equality with the nondisabled. Still many sectors of society will not acknowledge this right, and therefore we must compel their compliance through legal action. Legal battles like this one are expensive and lengthy. However, the cost of not acting is far greater for blind people. We are far along on our march towards true freedom, and our ultimate destination of full equality is close at hand. Because of the common commitment, love, and philosophy we share, we shall permit no force, not NCBE, not anyone, from stopping us. Freedom will be ours!
by Meleah Jensen
From the Editor: Meleah Jensen is an education program assistant in the NFB’s Jernigan Institute. In the following article she describes a brand new JI program and invites us all to spread the word about it to the families of young blind children. This is what she says:
A cane was put in my hand for the first time when I was sixteen. I was at a student seminar sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. I carried the cane with me and used it for the remainder of the weekend. However, when it was time to go home, I gave it back because no way was I going to show up at school carrying a cane. Canes were for blind people, and at that time I did not consider myself to be blind. It would take another three years, many a frustrating situation, and six months as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind before I would realize the benefits of using a cane. Although I know it does no good to ask, “What if?” I wonder how different my life might have been had I had a cane in my hand starting at sixteen months instead of sixteen years.
Unfortunately, I am not an anomaly. My story is one that many Federationists could tell. Stories like mine are why earlier this winter, the NFB Jernigan Institute launched the NFB Early Explorers program designed to introduce young blind and low-vision children from birth to age seven to the long white cane. In addition, through this program we want to give parents of blind or low-vision children the knowledge, tools, and confidence necessary to become their child’s first travel teacher. Dr. Fredric Schroeder, a researcher and the first blind person to earn a master’s degree in cane travel, once said, “One of the most fundamental parts of a blind child's training is the development of independent travel skills. Without these skills the blind child is placed in a position of dependency on others for inclusion in daily activities.” Simply put, having a cane allows blind or low-vision children to explore and have the same experiences as their sighted peers.
Families participating in the NFB Early Explorers program will receive several resources to help them as they step into the role of first travel teacher. These resources include Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model by Joe Cutter. Longtime readers of Future Reflections are no strangers to Joe Cutter, or his work in the field of cane travel. In this book he discusses the role of parents in their blind child’s learning to move and ultimately to travel with a cane. Cutter says, “It begins when the expectant mother introduces her baby to movement in utero. Whenever the mother sits, stands, turns, or walks, the child inside her experiences movement. Once the baby is born, the mother and father become attached to their child through touch—through holding, carrying, and playing with their baby. The joyous world of movement has begun, and it is the parents who are the first, the primary educators of their child.”
Families participating in the NFB Early Explorers Program will also receive a welcome packet containing an informational DVD, a child-sized white cane, and a copy of Cane Travel and Independence, a special issue of Future Reflections. The informational DVD is approximately twenty minutes long and includes advice from professionals in the blindness field on knowing if your child’s behavior is age appropriate, selecting the best cane, and so on. You will also hear from blind children of various ages telling you in their own words why they use a cane. Of course a video of this type would be incomplete without comments from experienced parents like this one from Carlton Cook Walker of Pennsylvania, who serves as second vice president of the NFB’s National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. She says, “Anna is a wonderful child, and she deserves the right to be a child. She deserves the right to run down a sidewalk and skin her knee. She deserves the right to climb up a rock hill and scrape her belly (which she’s done).… She deserves to be like every other kid in her school, and her cane ensures that she can.”
Our support will not end once we have sent your welcome packet. Each quarter you will receive an issue of Travel Tales, our e-newsletter. Travel Tales will be filled with practical tips and information that you can use to help your blind child learn to navigate the environment using the long white cane. The first issue is already in the works and will include tips for turning a trip to the grocery store into a teachable moment for your blind child and successfully traveling through snow using a cane. Families and educators will have the opportunity to write in and ask questions about cane travel or blindness in general. Don’t be shy. We want to answer your questions, no matter what they are.
To learn more about the NFB Early Explorers program or to register, visit
<www.nfb.org/earlyexplorers>, email <[email protected]>, or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2418. Help us spread the word about the importance of early movement for young blind children by telling the parents and families you encounter about the NFB Early Explorers program.
by D. Curtis Willoughby
From the Editor: Ramona Walhof is working on a book to honor the memory and accomplishments of our past president, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. She has been kind enough to share with readers of the Braille Monitor some of the articles that will be a part of it.
I particularly like this article by my friend Curtis Willoughby because he and I were fascinated by the same things growing up. Electronic devices were magic, and I wanted to be a magician. Like Curtis, I wanted to work at or own a repair shop for radios, televisions, and tape recorders, and my degree was in electronics technology. Ham radio was the introduction to our learning things others in our families didn't know--a way to see reading as more than a school task and to understand it was the key to learn almost anything others had taken the trouble to write down.
Curtis presents his tribute to Dr. Jernigan, not by trying to write the great man's biography, but by relating a bit of his own and showing how the influence of our former leader helped give substance to Curtis's dreams. Here is what he says:
From as far back as I can remember, I have been interested in mechanical things. When I was three years old, my dad opened a machine repair shop for farm equipment, and our family moved into a house adjacent to it in a small town in southwest Iowa called Griswold. By the time I was six I was in the shop asking questions and getting my hands on whatever he permitted. Before long I was putting away tools, so I learned to identify wrenches, hammers, pliers, and screwdrivers of all types and sizes. Later I learned to use power tools and larger machines. In my teenage years I often did portions of projects for customers using machines such as the band saw, hydraulic shears, drill presses, and the metal lathe.
When I was seven, Santa Claus brought me an electric train. My dad screwed the train tracks to a Masonite board which could be leaned up against the wall when not in use. From time to time we made additions to this train set: more tracks, more cars, switches, a train station. I played with this train and learned quite a bit about electricity and mechanics. Sometimes Dad took me to see train layouts that some of the men around town had built, but, since I couldn't get my hands on them, they were not as interesting to me as they were to my dad.
When my mother decorated the Christmas tree, I liked to help with the lights and see how they worked. In those days each string of lights at our house was wired in series, with just one wire from one light to the next. Therefore, if one light didn't work, the whole string went out. It was a big job to fix enough lights for a big tree. Each time a string went out during the Christmas season, we had to test all the bulbs on that string until we found the bad one. We kept only a few spares on hand because we could not afford to replace the whole string if one failed.
I was very interested in how these strings of lights worked and why. We had a few bubble lights, which had a tube of liquid sticking out of the top of the bulb. When the bulb heated up, the liquid at the bottom would boil, causing a bubble to rise to the top of the tube. I wanted to know how these worked and drove my mother crazy asking about them. When one burned out, I would take it apart.
When I was in junior high, one of the teachers at the school for the blind became interested in ham radio, so the local ham radio club often met at the school for the blind. Some other students and I also began to study to take the exams for licenses. The school established a ham radio station. I also talked my dad into buying me a ham radio station and putting up antennas at home. I got to do the design work on the antennas and helped put them up. These antennas were supported from the top of the shop, the house, and a tree. One of them was sixty-five feet long, and one was one hundred and twenty-five feet long.
I learned about a magazine called the Braille Technical Press, published by a blind ham radio operator in New York. Uncharacteristically for me, I read this magazine extensively and learned a great deal from it about electronics. I was drawn to radio and TV shops in Griswold, and I hung out with an older student at school who repaired radios.
As a very young child in public school, I had tried hard to read print, both large and small. I could not see well enough to read it, though my mother tried darkening and enlarging it. I knew the letters and could print them. I could read the largest newspaper headlines one letter at a time, but this was frustrating. My mother read to me and to my sisters, who are also blind. She did this from the time we were toddlers, and we all enjoyed it.
When I started attending the school for the blind in second grade, they began teaching me Braille, but I had already come to regard reading as a struggle. I worked at Braille but never got fast. There weren't more than a few Braille books in the school library that I really wanted to read, and there were a great many print books everywhere that I wanted to read if I could get someone to read to me. I found a few recorded books about radio and other technical things I enjoyed, but they didn't help my Braille skill or my attitude toward it. When I found Braille materials that were interesting, such as a booklet about atomic power, the American Brotherhood for the Blind's Book of Basic American Documents, and the Braille Technical Press, I read them, but I was still slow.
While I have always used Braille daily for notes and lists and have read articles in Braille occasionally, the Braille Technical Press was the only magazine I have ever read extensively. Whenever I could get my mother to read to me, I took full advantage of it. Her time for this was limited, and she would fall asleep before I was ready to quit reading. I guess she was not as interested in electronics as I was.
Through my junior year of high school I hoped to attend trade school and then open a TV repair shop as a career. In the fall of my senior year, one of the school staff encouraged me to go to college and study electrical engineering. I'm not sure how serious he was. He joked about getting a degree from Stanford University. It took me a while to make up my mind to do this, but I decided to go for it.
A week or so after I graduated from high school, I enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind in Des Moines. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was director of the agency at that time. In addition to standard classes in cane travel, shop, and others, I was scheduled, along with several other students, for grammar with Dr. Jernigan. The class met weekly in the evening. That's when I really began to get to know him. He taught a way to analyze grammar that was new to me, and I took more interest in grammar than I ever had. Some Saturday mornings Dr. Jernigan invited students for breakfast and spent the morning with us.
One of the people I met when I arrived in Des Moines was Don Nading, chief of maintenance at the Commission building. I began to visit with him in his office when he worked in the evenings. One of his projects was to install an intercom system in the building. Another was to install a telephone system to allow people inside to admit others at the front door without going down several floors to let them in. I took a strong interest in both of these projects. Don found my interest and suggestions helpful. When Dr. Jernigan became aware of my interest, he also encouraged my involvement. By August I was spending my shop class working with Don Nading.
I was planning to study electrical engineering in college, and Dr. Jernigan encouraged me. I was accepted at Iowa State University (ISU) and went there in July for freshman orientation. I knew that Dr. Jernigan had already had some conversations with people at ISU. Clearly they had some concerns about blindness. Part of what I learned at the training center at the Commission for the Blind was to present myself to professors and department heads in order to put them at ease about the way I dealt with blindness. I wanted them to know that I was motivated to succeed and had the skills to deal with blindness, so they didn't have to worry about it. I knew I needed to do good enough work in college that my professors and department heads would want to recommend me to employers who trusted them. We had discussed at the training center the need for recommendations from our professors when we were seeking employment. Only a limited number of employers in Iowa hired electrical engineers, and they worked closely with university staff.
During college I learned discipline, especially as math became tougher, but techniques to do the engineering work were not really a problem. By the time I graduated, the department people believed in me enough to recommend me to the in-state employers who trusted them. I applied for and was recommended for jobs at Collins Radio and at the phone company. Many contacts were made on my behalf, and I was offered a job at Collins about a week after I was interviewed. I was expected to design pieces of radio equipment under the leadership of a project engineer. Within a couple of months we established that a known weakness in the existing design was more serious than anticipated, and I proposed a design approach that would overcome the problem. With the support of my colleagues I set to work to redesign the equipment using my new approach. Because of time pressure we tested the new design using the old circuit boards with major extra wiring. While we were still testing, we had customers visit from Canada. I was out of town, but the design worked. Since my design was an improvement on something many others had contributed to, this visit from Canada helped eliminate any doubt that may have remained about my ability to do the work. Both my colleagues and our managers became aware of what I was doing.
I got the same pay raises as others. After about four years Collins Radio hired another blind electrical engineer who had just graduated from Iowa State. The company began having financial trouble, so the second blind engineer took an early layoff. Eventually I was also laid off.
Because through the years I had worked on a variety of equipment at the Commission for the Blind, I was hired short-term to do several projects there. I designed a radio studio and a Braille adapter for a telephone operator using a new telephone console. All that time I was sending out résumés looking for work everywhere in the country. I was not aware how much Dr. Jernigan was working with the phone company to get them to give me a chance to compete, but I now know he did quite a lot. I received an offer and started a new job there.
A few years after I started working at the phone company, I received a letter from Bell Laboratories thanking and complimenting me for "helping to solve a problem." I gave a copy of this letter to my supervisor at Northwestern Bell. I also gave a copy to Dr. Jernigan, thinking he might be interested. A few days later he called me up and asked what I had done. I told him that the phone company had a serious problem causing communication lines to some large industrial customers to quit working during the heat of the summer when electrical power consumption was at its maximum. After studying the problem, I determined that signals were being passed between two locations using a method highly susceptible to interference from power lines. I realized that all of the necessary components for a less susceptible signaling method were present. All that was necessary to eliminate the problem was to make some wiring changes and remove a piece of equipment. The hardest part of the solution was to convince the equipment designers at Bell Laboratories that it was a good solution. Because I had carefully and clearly documented the problem and the proposed solution, the Bell Labs engineers understood. This was a long-standing problem, so others had previously tried to solve it. It was my work that made the solution happen. Dr. Jernigan thanked me for the explanation and hung up.
Later I heard in speeches that this letter caused him to do some soul searching about blindness and electrical engineers. He said he asked himself if he had really, deep down, believed that I and other blind electrical engineers were truly competitive. He said he had to admit to himself that he hadn't been sure. Even though he had said the right words and helped several of us get jobs, even though Collins Radio hired not just one but two blind electrical engineers, and even though his contacts at the phone company seemed happy with my work, Dr. Jernigan was not totally convinced that a blind person could be effective in this job until he read that letter and heard my explanation. He said he never again had any doubt about my ability or worried that blindness might present an insurmountable barrier for blind engineers.
Of course blind engineers have to find a way to show the people around us what we want them to understand. Like blind people in many professions, each blind engineer must work out his or her preferred methods. The subject needs to be given considerable attention by blind people preparing to attend college in a wide variety of fields. Blind people need to develop techniques for making raised-line drawings and some facility for explaining complex diagrams and for persuading those who don’t think they can to explain them to the blind person. They must also teach themselves to visualize two and three-dimensional objects as they are represented on paper. Blind people with some residual vision need to learn what visual techniques they can use effectively. Those without usable vision need to have the opportunity throughout their education to touch and examine the widest possible variety of objects. They need to ask to touch things that most other people do not touch. If a blind engineer has mastered these things, then communicating concepts to and from colleagues will not become an issue.
In 1977 I got an opportunity to work for a year as a consultant to Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. While there I became acquainted with a computer operating system called "Unix," which was not widely known outside Bell Labs. Most of its programs were written in a language called "C," which was developed along with and for Unix. I had the opportunity to be a student in a course on C, in which the printed textbook was not available until partway through the course. I attended a seminar in which a brand new system command language, or "shell," was introduced by a young PhD named Bourne. Those who are familiar with Unix, Linux, or any of several other Unix-like systems, will recognize the Bourne shell. At that time Unix was entirely a text-based system, and therefore accessibility was not an issue.
A few years after I returned to Iowa, I met a blind high school librarian who wanted access to her card catalog in order to help her students use the library. This was before libraries commonly had computerized catalogs. I proposed that a Unix-based computer, with a speech synthesizer to make it talk, would solve her problem. The Iowa Commission for the Blind agreed. I formed a company called Willoughby Enterprises to develop the system and sell it to the Commission for its client.
A year or two later Willoughby Enterprises developed a system to allow a blind court reporter to record steno notes and read them back from a direct Braille representation of her key entries. This was before court reporting was computerized generally, so this young woman functioned much the same way sighted court reporters did. Dr. Jernigan encouraged me in all the Willoughby Enterprise projects.
In 1992-93 the office where I worked in Des Moines at the telephone company was closed. When I wrote résumés to seek other jobs, I had two basic skill sets that I thought would be valuable to employers. One was the circuit-design work I had been doing, and the other was my knowledge of Unix. I circulated résumés highlighting both skill sets. Inside the phone company at that time, résumés had to be customized for each job opening. In July of 1993 I had a telephone interview with a hiring manager and two of his assistants for a Unix job in Denver. I had enough Unix knowledge for them to make me an offer. I accepted the job and moved, beginning work September 1. The work was to provide technical support for computers located throughout fourteen states. Members of my group installed these computers, supported the network that interconnected them, provided telephone technical support for them, and supported the applications that ran on them. In a couple of years several hundred of these computers were in operation. Not many years after that these computers began to be replaced by computers using Windows. Of the four people who started when I did in September of 1993, one left within a year to work for a development group, two were laid off, and I was the only one who continued through even more changes until I retired in 2001.
Since retiring from the phone company, I have continued my NFB work and have been volunteering with the Tuesday Crew, which does a variety of building maintenance and improvement projects at my church. I have also been doing substantial work at Colorado's reading service for the blind, where I support computer and audio systems.
I attended state conventions of the NFB while I was in college and a few Des Moines chapter meetings. When I graduated from college and moved to Cedar Rapids, I joined the chapter there and served in several positions on the chapter board and on the boards of several statewide divisions. Eventually I came to serve on the NFB of Iowa board and for several terms as its treasurer. Since moving to Colorado, I have held office in two chapters.
My first national NFB convention was in 1966, and I haven't missed one since. I married Doris Koerner in 1967, and she has been a partner with me in the Federation ever since. She was a school teacher when I met her, and she very early volunteered to be the supervising teacher for a blind student teacher who was enrolled in the State University of Iowa. Then Doris decided to become certified as a teacher of blind children. She went on to teach blind children and blind adults until she recently retired. She has been the primary author of four books about the education of the blind, all of which have been published by the NFB and have become important parts of Federation literature. The books are definitely hers, but I played a significant role in writing some of the chapters. I am pleased and proud that Doris has been interested and active in the work of the Federation and has made such major contributions.
Since I first learned about the Federation, I have believed that its work is important and that concerted action is the only way that conditions affecting the blind can be improved. I have been a member of the NFB research and development committee and president of the NFB Amateur Radio Operators Group for about twenty years. In this capacity I have been in charge of a project to provide special receivers so that conventioneers who are hard of hearing or need Spanish translation of the convention program can listen to it.
For almost fifty years I have been active in the Federation in a wide variety of ways. Those that I am best known for are technical, which is not surprising since that is my profession. I have also supported the Federation with my presence, my leadership, and my financial contributions. If my experience has been helpful to others, I am glad. I have also had a rewarding career.
It is hard for me now to sort out Dr. Jernigan's influence from all the other influences on my life and my work, However, his influence started immediately after high school graduation and continued as long as he lived. In fact, it continues today. I am not the only person who received unexpected phone calls from Dr. Jernigan from time to time, and I enjoyed talking with him whenever they came. When I had the opportunity to share a meal with him, it was always a special occasion. My life has been richer for having known him. It was his guidance that brought me to the Federation and helped me find places where I could contribute most effectively. He was an important mentor for me, and for me this has made all the difference.
by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: When I think about the blessings of a long marriage and an example of an inseparable couple, two people come to mind: Betty and Don Capps. They were the original inspiration for finding a prominent place in the February issue to commemorate Valentine’s Day for lovers of all ages, but when I asked NFB of South Carolina President Parnell Diggs for a contribution of several paragraphs about them, he found it impossible to write only a few words. Here is his wonderful tribute to the power of love, to the importance of going for what you really want and figuring out how to get it, and to the commitment of two valentines who continue to enrich each other’s lives.
Those of us who have grown to know and love the National Federation of the Blind know that the organized blind movement was established in 1940 and that Dr. Jacobus tenBroek presided over the first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with sixteen people registered. But this piece is not about Wilkes-Barre.
It is about Mullins, South Carolina, and a place called Procter Street, where two Federationists formed a bond that proved to be the foundation of the love of a lifetime. Coincidentally, this star-crossing also happened in 1940: when a twelve-year-old boy whose family had just moved to Procter Street saw a beautiful, blond-haired girl walking down the street in front of his house. He described Betty Rogers as "the prettiest girl in the city," and conveniently she lived just three houses up the street. Less convenient, however, was the fact that during the school year he found himself over two hundred miles away from Procter Street at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, and he could call on her only during summers and holidays.
But call on her he did, and the preteen courtship of Donald Capps and Betty Rogers ensued. He had observed that Betty (about ten years old at the time) had received a new bicycle for Christmas. Since he did not own a bicycle, young Capps often strolled down to her house and asked if he could ride the bike. In fact, he recalls putting more mileage on that bike than she did.
They also made good use of a swing on Betty's front porch. It was big enough for three, but most of the time he was successfully able to dissuade others from joining them. In his Kernel Book story entitled “The Value of Greeting Cards,” Dr. Capps writes, "That particular swing stands out in my mind. When I was fourteen-and-a-half and Betty was twelve, we were swinging together one summer evening, and I managed to steal a kiss. Was it puppy love?--I think not."
In the summer of 1944, when Capps was fifteen, he walked from his home about ten blocks to Mullins High School, where he asked to meet with a school administrator about entering public school in eleventh grade. This was thirty years before Public Law 94-142, at a time when it was widely accepted that blind students attended residential schools, and that was that. "We don't have any visually impaired students," Mr. McCormick said. But, being the resourceful lad that he was, Capps was able to talk his way into the student body at Mullins High School, rising to the top ten percent of his class, and graduating in 1946.
That fall Capps enrolled at a business school in Columbia, South Carolina, completed the program in 1947, and remained in Columbia, accepting a position as a junior claims examiner trainee at Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company. Betty was still in high school, and he found himself once again seeing her when he could get to Mullins. Over the next two or three years, then, Capps often (as in at least two hundred times) hitchhiked to Mullins to see Betty and back to Columbia to continue building a career. "I would just depend on my old thumb (recalled Capps). “It never failed me. Always someone would stop and pick me up. I was never stranded; it was the most incredible thing."
Dr. Capps recently observed that "Times have changed so much since 1946. As a seventeen-year-old youngster you would not dare to get out on the highway and just thumb anything that comes along and hop in the car. That's what I did." On one of these trips to Mullins in July of 1948, recalled Mrs. Capps, he popped the question, so Donald Capps and Betty Rogers were married on June 25, 1949, only twenty-two days after Betty graduated from high school. By then his hitchhiking days had ended, and the couple settled-down in Columbia, South Carolina.
In 1954 young Capps was asked by his boss to review a package that had been sent to Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company: a box of greeting cards and some literature about the National Federation of the Blind. He was so impressed with the package that he crossed the country, along with Mrs. Capps, to attend the 1956 NFB convention in San Francisco, California. With no interstates, it was a five-day drive one-way (Dr. Capps doesn't care to fly when he can avoid it), but the trip took three weeks and included both the national convention and a leadership seminar conducted by Dr. tenBroek.
They would attend fifty-five of the next fifty-six national conventions together, with Mrs. Capps missing only the Boston convention of 1958, because she was under doctor's orders not to travel so close to delivering their second child and only daughter Beth. Their only son Craig had been born in 1955.
While still in his twenties, Dr. Capps developed a close friendship with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who would eventually succeed Dr. tenBroek as NFB president in 1968. That year in Des Moines, Iowa, Capps was elected first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and held that position until 1984. He had served as second vice president from 1959 through 1968.
But even after twenty-five consecutive years in the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind and a career-spanning thirty-eight years at Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company, Capps was still only in his mid-fifties. It was then that he decided to retire as a claims examiner and dive into Federation work and service to his blind brothers and sisters fulltime. In 1985 the convention enthusiastically returned him to the NFB board of directors: a position he would hold for twenty-two consecutive years, until 2007. That year he told the convention that he and Betty were stepping back, not stepping away: thereby ending forty-seven years of service on the national board.
Dr. Capps believes that, when we elect someone to office in the Federation, we elect his or her spouse too. Mrs. Capps agrees and has been by her husband's side as they traveled to all fifty states, a handful of foreign countries, as well as Europe, Africa, and Australia, attending international meetings as representatives of the National Federation of the Blind.
With more than a half century of service now behind them, Dr. Capps recalls a wise decision he made (while still in his twenties and lacking experience in the Federation) that has affected the rest of their lives. Life is filled with watershed moments, and one such moment for Dr. and Mrs. Capps came at the 1957 national convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. He had been a state president for less than one year, and the Cappses were attending only their second convention. Here is how Dr. Capps recalled the incident. "Durward McDaniel (a national board member at the time), who seemed to be a good enough man, called me up to his room. I was green as a gourd. He said that we needed to amend the constitution. I said, `what's the problem with the current one?’ He said, `Well, not so much wrong with it, we need a provision mandating that a person in office can't serve over two consecutive terms.’ I said, `You mean to tell me, if you had the best leader for the blind in the world and he had served his two terms?’ `Well,’ McDaniel responded, `you might apply that to it.’"
Capps was onto him, and McDaniel admitted that the proposed amendment was aimed at Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan. It was the beginning of the Federation's civil war, and Dr. Capps refused to be persuaded to take a position that was contrary to his beliefs. "Well, see you later," Capps said to McDaniel. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Beginning in 1968 and for many years thereafter, Dr. Capps had the best seat in the house, right next to the podium, during most of Dr. Jernigan's banquet addresses. Regarding his friendship with Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Capps said, "I loved Dr. Jernigan like a brother, I really did, and likewise. We [meaning Dr. and Mrs. Capps and Dr. and Mrs. Jernigan] went together for our anniversaries on the QE2. This was shortly before Dr. Jernigan was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"I really miss Dr. Jernigan,” reflects Dr. Capps, now approaching his mid-eighties. “There are times when I really would like to talk to him about things." Dr. and Mrs. Capps both recall Dr. Jernigan (at a much earlier time) skipping and running down the street with Craig and Beth in front of the Cappses’ home.
At the 2007 convention banquet in Atlanta, Georgia, the National Federation of the Blind bestowed upon Donald Capps the title Doctor of the Federation and bestowed upon Betty Capps the title Keeper of the Spirit of the Federation. In the tribute to Dr. and Mrs. Capps, Mrs. Jernigan observed that "two people are one. Exactly and precisely what I meant to say. For who among us does not think of Don and Betty Capps in the same breath, does not know that they are one heart, one mind, one treasure of the Federation!” In June of 2012 Don and Betty Capps will celebrate sixty-three wonderful years of marriage.
It can be said that the Federation is in their blood. It can also be said that they are in the Federation's blood, for they are a crucial component of the Federation's identity, strength, and vitality. In the Federation's voluminous library of materials accumulated through the decades is an audio recording of the 1969 convention banquet held in Columbia, South Carolina. That year the banquet address was entitled "Blindness: New Insights on Old Outlooks." Dr. Jernigan was holding the audience in the palm of his hand. And, as Dr. Jernigan adeptly dispelled the world's archaic views of blindness, if you listen to the audio recording very carefully, you can hear the voice of Dr. Capps coming over the microphone, spurring his young friend to lead us onto the barricades with the exclamation, "Go man, go!”
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
Seize the Future
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:
NFB programs are dynamic:
Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer.
by Eric Vasiliauskas
From the Editor: Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas (his friends call him Dr. V.) is a medical doctor with two blind children. His name is familiar to regular readers of the Monitor. Dr. V is intelligent, motivated, enthusiastic, and unequivocally dedicated to seeing that his blind sons have every chance to live and to thrive in the world they will inherent. Much of this passion he shares for other blind children so they will not be sidelined and told they must wait, wait, wait.
Sometimes Dr. V writes to talk about his children's accomplishments, sometimes to share techniques, and sometimes to warn us about trends in education that threaten much of what we want for all blind children. This article is a warning and a wakeup call. The days when a blind child was prepared to compete with his sighted classmates armed only with a slate, a Brailler, and his textbooks in Braille are over. Today active participation requires technology--not just technology for the blind but technology used by the sighted. Eric warns that, while we embrace this concept philosophically, we are too often unprepared to deal with the practical problems it presents. The same is true with the textbooks of the twenty-first century--a hardcopy Braille or large-print book is not enough. Here is what Dr. V has to say:
I have learned that, iPads are being piloted not only in the high school, but also in every school in our district. At my younger son's elementary school the whole fifth-grade class will be using iPads this school year. One of the other elementary schools in our district chose to pilot iPads at the kindergarten level. The whole district is getting wired to phase in the electronic era. This is no longer some futuristic possibility--the e-wave is here and will likely roll into your district before you know it. How many TVIs (teachers of the visually impaired) and parents are ready to assure that their blind K-12 students have equal exposure to all that the iPad has to offer? How many know how to link Braille notetakers to iPads? With this reality in mind I share the following thoughts:
According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education joint statements, existing accessibility laws include requirements to ensure that e-based and web-based education is accessible to all. Therefore not only are e-based and web-based instructional materials and tools mandated to be blind-student friendly, but e-content must, to the greatest extent possible, be equivalent to the content provided in the educational experience of print-reading students.
The laws and regulations seem quite clear, and specifics have been well-defined in the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice Joint Frequently Asked Questions document. Yet surprisingly few individuals in school districts, the blindness education field, and textbook publishers appear to be aware of the regulations, and fewer still appear to be in compliance. Mechanisms to inform all those that need to know and to encourage and enforce compliance are lacking.
I know that some teachers and parents have started to address the issues. As a parent of two blind students mainstreamed in an academically high-performing school district, I would like to describe what I perceive to be some of the main issues on this topic. I will start with a thought-provoking theoretical scenario and then move on to try to define specific areas of concern that not only warrant attention but need to be addressed. I am hoping that those of you who have interest, motivation, connections, and clout will take these issues to heart and also take the lead in tackling them head-on locally (in your school districts and VI programs), at the state level, and nationally.
Imagine a large-scale study spanning a decade or so which divides all sighted students in the U.S. into two groups: Study group one would have full access to the entire content of current textbooks (or iPad-based e-textbooks if you prefer); the other half of the students, study group two, would be given access to only the main-body text and some side text. Study group one would have access to detailed maps for social science and well-done graphics of all sorts for both science and math (e-based graphics might even be interactive). The millions of students in study group two would have limited access to all non-text visuals and would have exposure to only a limited number of makeshift maps and diagrams (deemed to be the most important ones) created by someone in the school district.
What would the results of such a study be? Who would score better on tests? Who would rank higher in their classes? Would higher education and job opportunities be affected? Answer: There would be outrage over how unfair this type of study would be, well before it ever got off the ground; such an experiment could never happen because it would be considered unethical. Yet this illustrates the position some blind students are in today and the position many will be in very soon if we don't act.
I am a huge fan of technology and e-text with its potential to enhance the learning experience of all, but the scope of the accessibility issues that need to be addressed in emerging electronic education and technology is broad and is not getting urgent attention. These issues should be addressed thoughtfully and preemptively rather than reactively. These are not esoteric concerns; they have now become concrete academic issues. It would not be a stretch to take the position that this may even be an equal-rights issue.
1. E-textbooks for blind students are not an educationally equivalent experience to the standard print textbooks that sighted students are using. The most glaring example of this is that, in current e-textbooks for blind students, the pictures, charts, and diagrams are frequently omitted. It is critical to understand that in state-adopted textbooks, beyond the main body of text, most pages contain additional diagrams, illustrations, graphs, pictures, charts, and links to suggested webpages. These charts and other visuals may make up a quarter to a half of the content on a given textbook page; much of this information is not really supplemental but represents the key points of what the students are expected to learn and understand. Not only is the graphic content not described fully in e-textbooks, but the presence or absence of the graphics may not even be noted, so blind students may not be aware that they are missing vital information presented to sighted students. As an aside, some of the California state-produced embossed textbooks omit figures, diagrams, charts, and even maps. When their absence is noted, the omission is signified by the words, "See teacher for this section." Given the reluctance of children to ask questions for fear of standing out, one must wonder how often the question is asked and adequately addressed.
The e-files sometimes provided to students are a wonderful supplement; when adequately constructed, they are easily searchable and portable and give students ongoing access to glossaries and textbook dictionaries. E-text affords students the opportunity to look up specifics in other chapters easily when they don't have the embossed volume readily available. Unlike sighted students who have the whole book in the classroom and at home, hardcopy Braille readers have real-time access to only one or a few volumes at a time in class, and unlike their sighted peers, who have a full textbook for home use, many (if not most) don't have a full embossed copy of their textbooks for home use. Yes, this is a real problem for many reasons: some teachers teach chapters out of sequence; when studying for exams, students may need access to other chapters, and the textbook glossaries and indexes are in separate volumes to which blind students do not have ready access.
Part of the reluctance of TVIs to use e-textbooks is the argument that they are not completely cleaned up--not all are fully transcriber-proofed--having extra symbols and markers that students must ignore. While the formatting of e-textbooks for blind students is a problem, more and more TVIs and students realize that the e-textbooks are readable and usable. In some of the poorer electronic textbooks for blind students that I have seen, the book is presented as a folder. The files have been formatted as rich text files, some of which are readable in their downloaded form on a Braille notetaker, while others are not. The file names within the folders are page numbers, not chapter titles. This does not appear to have been well thought out. Imagine the problem when turning the page of a book using a notetaker means closing a file, returning to the file list, traversing that list to find the next file, and then waiting while it is opened. Such a design makes turning a page a major ordeal and prevents the book from being searched for words or phrases.
A further problem with e-textbooks that is shared with embossed textbooks is that the supplemental or illustrative side text and comments in elementary, middle school, and high school textbooks is often inserted between paragraphs of the main text. This is often done arbitrarily so that it breaks up the main text and interrupts the flow intended by the author. Older students may be able to adapt to this practice, but it is confusing for children in the early grades, especially fourth grade and under, who are trying to follow along in passages that are being read in class.
The unfortunate reality is that publisher-quality books don't necessarily provide the blind or visually impaired reader a literary experience equal to that of students using the print version. Bookshare is truly an amazing resource. For the last few years most of our school district's summer reading books have been available for immediate download; the few that were not yet available were quickly processed by the Bookshare staff and posted within a few weeks. The Bookshare staff and volunteers are a phenomenal group of individuals. That said, some problems may not be obvious to all. My elder son finished one of his ninth-grade summer reading books, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The text was fine, but the print version of this book has a number of visuals in the form of diagrams, puzzles, formulas, pictures, and symbols that are an important part of this novel. Some of the symbols were transcribed incorrectly; in most cases these significant components were omitted altogether. The context of the visuals was not described and not even referred to--it just wasn't there in the downloadable version.
My son could tell that something was missing based on the context and requested that we go to our local library to check out the print version of the book. We did and described each graphic. He contacted Bookshare to report this problem. The response he received was: "This is a publisher-quality book, and unfortunately we cannot edit publisher-quality books." This novel is a summer reading book, not only locally, but elsewhere, and, as such, it is part of the academic curriculum. An increasing number of academic literary books are including graphics that are an integral part of the stories. I am an optimist and hope that this can be appropriately addressed. Hopefully the publisher-quality textbooks that Bookshare produces will soon be closer to the true print-equivalent experience for our students.
As e-textbooks are further refined, students will still need access to high-quality transcriber-produced and embossed textbooks for diagrams, charts, maps, and other graphically-displayed components. It is just not acceptable that such information is omitted, because students need hands-on experience to understand graphic layouts. I understand, based on current law, that omission of pertinent graphically displayed content in state-adopted textbooks is not only patently unfair to blind students, but does not meet the legal requirements set forth by the laws of this country. Those that produce and distribute textbooks for blind students should pay attention to this legal requirement, for they may be held accountable for assuring compliance with the law.
2. New-generation e-textbooks will bring about a shift to an entirely new dimension. In their current form e-books for use on Braille notetakers are basically just the straight-forward text found on book pages. Graphics, charts, tables, maps, etc. are currently not adequately described and are too frequently omitted. As state-adopted textbooks are provided electronically on devices such as the iPad, e-textbooks will no longer be two dimensional--straight text with pictures and graphics. Instead students will find specific words, concepts, references, and pictures that will hyperlink to other pages or websites that discuss those issues in more depth. These links will likely include links to non-accessible videos, still pictures, and documents coded in the portable document format (PDF), a highly popular format for text and pictures that may or may not be accessible, depending on how it was created.
Since many students use Braille notetakers to access materials, access to PDFs must somehow be made a priority for those who develop notetakers. The ability to use hyperlinks will make textbooks multi-dimensional. A student will not just read but will be given information through sounds, pictures, and other forms which have traditionally been limited to entertainment but are now a part of education. To my knowledge no clear plan is in place to address this shift to the next dimension. Who is responsible and accountable for assuring that blind students will have equal access in their educational experience when these books replace print on paper?
3. The move towards electronic and web-based teaching experiences is no longer theoretical but is actively occurring in classrooms and curricula all over the country. This is happening at all grade levels--in some districts more rapidly than others--but the shift is definitely in progress. While this has the potential to level the playing field for blind students, the reality is that many teachers’ webpages are inaccessible. These are used to give assignments, let students share their work and ideas, and track their progress and current grades. Many web-based school calendar programs are similarly inaccessible. Many publishers’ webpages are not fully and independently accessible. Equally important, publishers’ websites used by many state-adopted textbooks that students are instructed to use (to learn more about concepts, access study guides, and take pre-tests) contain links to materials that are not fully and independently accessible. Based on the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education new accessible technology guidelines, these conditions are illegal, yet they are widespread, as commonplace as exceeding the speed limit. It appears that few school district personnel are even aware of the requirement to provide accessibility, and those who do have few clues about how to become compliant.
According to the guidelines accessibility is mandated by the law--whether or not any blind students are in that class or school--just as wheelchair accessibility is now required irrespective of whether or not wheelchair users attend the school. Given that many districts are now in the early stages of trying to comply with the declarations of the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, now is the ideal time to make districts aware of the problems that must be addressed in serving blind children.
4. Teachers of the visually impaired don't get enough training to be proficient in all the necessary technologies the blind or visually impaired students need to succeed optimally and reach their full potential. Education of our future TVIs in the various blind and low-vision technologies needs to move well beyond mere exposure; students in TVI training programs should demonstrate functional ability to use screen-reading software, OCR products for the blind, and the various note-taking and reading devices available. Districts will likely have a preference of screen reader, notetaker, and OCR package, but proficiency in their use is a must.
TVIs must also be responsible for teaching their blind and visually impaired students to use iPads and wirelessly link them to Braille displays so that students can access their curricula. TVIs need to be able to teach students to create and format Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files and to use documents written in the portable document format independently. The reality is that very few sighted TVIs are truly proficient with these technologies. A lack of proficiency can lead to everything from the inability to teach the needed skill to teaching it in a way that makes the student believe the process of coupling and using these devices is confusing and inefficient. One wonders how actively and adequately TVI teacher-preparation programs are addressing these new technologies and their integration with assistive technology for the blind.
5. In addition to raising expectations for teaching programs, alternate solutions should seriously be considered. School districts should consider partnering with national organizations of the blind such as the NFB and with state schools for the blind. The California School for the Blind has a phenomenal technology program that runs regional in-service training for TVIs and has campus-based week-long programs for young blind and visually impaired students in the summer and occasionally at other times. Such opportunities are significantly underused. Their online tools for teachers and technology users (the students) should be better used, and online teaching content should be developed further with all these factors in mind.
An additional strategy would be for all local VI programs to hire at least one proficient blind TVI. In general, blind teachers will be the most proficient with the various blind technologies and their functional application, because they use these tools daily. I realize that some sighted TVIs are capable of doing it all, and I applaud them, but, based on my interaction with families and TVIs from around the country, many lack proficiency with technology for the blind. Having a blind person on staff who uses this technology, not just to teach but as a part of daily routine, is likely to provide not only an efficient and enthusiastic teacher, but a role model for students and teachers who need to see that a future full of possibility is just around the corner.
6. While infants and toddlers are being exposed to iPads and iPhones (this is not an exaggeration; I see this in my office regularly), equivalent exposure for blind kids typically begins later, in elementary school and beyond. In fact at our son's high school orientation this week, the principal described how his elementary-school-age children and even his five-year-old have iPads and use them to access Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) and Rocket Math (www.rocketmath.net). He gave examples of the way these programs have helped to boost his own young children's academic performance. How many blind children have this type of access? If we believe in equal expectations, why don't our students have equal access?
If we do not insist on an immediate educational awakening and paradigm shift in the Blind/VI educational arena, very few kids at the elementary and middle school level will be anywhere near as proficient as their sighted peers in technology. While I have observed a slow shift in the exposure at an earlier age to technology, the gap between sighted kids and blind kids continues to create a situation in which blind children fall through the cracks. Arguably the exposure of sighted kids to iPads and iPhones and child-oriented computer programs will increase this gap unless we address the issue. Blind children need computer games they can play and the hardware to play them. They need early access to screen readers at home, age-appropriate electronic games they can play, and access to the latest and greatest technologies that become available to their sighted peers.
7. Last, the concept of “blind-accessible” when dealing with technology for young children needs to be defined. There is a big difference between something that is technically accessible and something that is usable. Real equality demands a product or service that is not just accessible, not just usable, but efficiently usable and accessible. We hear this concern from employed blind people who must be efficient, but it applies as well to our children. Childhood is the time when they will form many of their attitudes about blindness and the alternative techniques blind people use. Experience will determine whether they come to regard alternative techniques as slow and inefficient, or whether these techniques represent the best in creative and innovative solutions paving the way for blind people to be as productive as their friends, classmates, and eventually their coworkers.
The problems and obstacles that lie ahead have been described and appreciated by many educators, parents, students, leaders in industry, and members of the blind community. Yet, as I look around, I can't quite figure out who is really taking the lead. Many well-meaning and strong advocates are aware of the problem, but no clear team leader has emerged. My goal is to encourage the people whose lives are most affected to assume this leadership role. Some of you may be familiar with these famous lines from the poem, “Invictus”:
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
We all have a vested interest in this area. The web-based, electronic-based educational fleet of ships has set sail--for both charted and uncharted waters. Many exceptional and experienced sailors and captains are involved, but all are steering their own ships with their own goals in mind. For the voyage to be fruitful, a more coordinated course needs to be charted. We need a mission and fleet admiral to oversee the voyage and to take responsibility for addressing the obstacles that we will encounter along the way. A team approach is needed locally and at the state and national levels. I can see no greater priority.
by Edwin Cooney
From the Editor: How many times have we complained, either to ourselves or aloud to a friend, how ignorant people can be about blindness, only to find that we too are ignorant about so many things that we shouldn’t be surprised or outraged when people don’t understand us. Edwin Cooney is a blind man with uncommon perception and the ability to articulate what he thinks and feels. He knows well the problems that spring from people’s assumptions stemming from misconceptions, but he also knows that he is, alas, a frail human being, and those things he finds fault with in others are, to some degree, found even in himself. Ed is a 1966 graduate of the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia and a graduate of the State University of New York at Geneseo in 1974. He holds a master's degree in American, modern European, and medieval European history. Since June of 2005 Ed has been writing a weekly column. What you see below is an example of one of his nearly three-hundred columns. They are his take on history, current events, and the human dynamic or, if you prefer, the factors that cause people to get along with one another or the opposite. His goal is to achieve one of three things with each: to inform, to stimulate, or to entertain the reader. You can get his weekly column free of charge by contacting him at <[email protected]>. Here is what he says about preconceived ideas, those of us who are victims of them, and the pitfalls we face when trying to size up another human being:
It was on the afternoon of Monday, June 18, 2007, that I arrived at the Amtrak train station in Washington, D.C., aboard Train #125 out of Penn Station in Newark, New Jersey. I was on my way home to Alameda, California, after a full three weeks of happy reunions with old friends and first-time meetings with new ones. I felt content for the most part. I was even reasonably satisfied with my own behavior in the way I'd handled one or two touchy situations that are a part of daily relationships and circumstances.
My train was only thirty minutes or so late, but that was all to the good. It meant that I would have to wait only twenty or twenty-five minutes for Amtrak Train 29 scheduled out of the station at 4:05 p.m. It would be especially pleasant if Train number 29 was nicely air conditioned against the eighty-five to ninety degree East Coast heat and eighty-five plus percent humidity, but that matter would take care of itself.
Then came the word that, due to an equipment failure, Train 29 to Chicago would not be able to meet its 4:05 p.m. departure schedule and that no estimated time was scheduled for its departure. A trainload of Amtrak passengers waited patiently in the station, hoping that the mechanics would be able to remedy Train 29’s ills quickly enough for all to be on their way in time to make necessary connections.
As I waited, I found myself seated between two gentlemen. One, from Chicago, told me that he spends a lot of his time on board his houseboat. The other, Archie from Rhode Island, said he also likes to travel but prefers solid terra firma. At one point in our conversation Archie, in his delightful New England accent, informed me that a blind man without hands was seated a short distance away and was "fumbling" with his suitcase and obviously could use help. Archie was gone for only a very short time before he returned to report that the "blind man without hands" was all right and needed no help.
"Where is he going?" I asked, wondering if he'd be on Train 29 once it got rolling.
"I don't know," replied Archie, "but he's here with the rest of us." Wow, I thought to myself. Here we are in Washington, D.C., and not too far from me is a blind man without hands. It's got to be Iraq, I told myself. Then I began to create a whole set of assumptions about this man's background: he has to be a veteran; he's in Washington for treatment and rehabilitation at Walter Reed hospital; he's an Iraq War veteran; his injury is recent.
Next came my assumptions regarding his state of mind: He's gotta be angry and bitter about his recent war injury; he's gotta be apprehensive and even frightened as he struggles to adjust to his deficiencies; he'll be lost or easily disoriented; he'll need lots of help. He'll be sad and perhaps even clingy. Next I went to the root of my assumptions--my own fears, needs, comforts, and ideas of convenience. What would I do without hands? I'd be totally lost without a sense of touch. How could I function as I do today using a cane? What'll I do if he's in my car? I'll have to help him, because, after all, he's one of "us."
Then came my final hope: Maybe he'll be in another car if not on another train.
Alas, such was, most fortunately, not to be. Shortly after six-thirty p.m. I was assisted onto Train 29 and into the lower portion of a car, which is where passengers who are senior or with disabilities may ride. The car was reasonably cool, and my seat was next to an electrical outlet so that I could conveniently listen to taped books and recharge my cell phone. The train had started to move, but the conductor hadn't come to collect our tickets. I mumbled to myself out loud wondering whether the act of eating my lunch would automatically bring the conductor around to take my ticket. Suddenly, from one seat behind me and across the aisle to my left, I heard the chime of a talking watch. Then a cheery voice said: "Who's this blind guy who talks to himself?"
Next came introductions. His name was Dan, and I, of course, introduced myself as Ed. My introduction to him confirmed his assumption about who I was. Thus I didn't have to say anything to him about my disability. What's strange is that, although he rather quickly explained his condition to me, I don't recall precisely how he confirmed to me that he was the blind man without hands.
Almost instantly, even before Dan told me much about himself, my fear-laden presumptions and perceptions melted away. Dan, after all, was Dan. Dan was not a set of my presumptive fears. Within minutes of our beginning our conversation the conductor had come around taking tickets, and Dan was making plans to go to the dining car for supper. Since I'd had my lunch, I didn't need the dining car. I'd join him in the lounge car for happy hour. Thus it was clear that Dan got around as well as I did.
During happy hour Dan and I easily conversed on a number of topics. He was easy-going; he flirted with the ladies much more easily and with seemingly much greater confidence and resourcefulness than I. Even more, Dan was funny.
Once we were back in our car, Dan told me that at the age of fifteen, which was back in 1955, he'd injured himself while constructing a hand grenade. He went on to explain that as a youngster he'd learned to make such incendiaries in order to protect himself from possible harassment or harm from Chicago's youth gangs. One day, he explained, he'd accidentally installed the wrong type of trigger on his latest grenade, and his life had been changed forever.
He went on to talk of his daughters, one of whom served in the Balkan conflict in the late 1990s. He spoke of his life's work as a rehabilitation counselor for the Department of Mental Health in Decatur, Illinois. Dan is now retired and doesn't have to work for monetary reasons; he just likes to keep busy. The reason he was on the train was that he was returning home from a job interview in Alexandria, Virginia. The only assistance I provided him was to dial and hold my cell phone as he called his daughter who was meeting him in Chicago so that he could let her know that the train was running late.
When Dan and I parted in Chicago, I knew that I'd met an extraordinary person. Certainly my vacation--and, if I allow it, perhaps my life--had been enriched by that man named Dan. However, I was also aware that I'd been guilty of one of humankind's most subtle but devastating injustices. I was guilty of the act of preconceived negative personal perception. What is even more incredible to me is that I am acutely sensitive to the fact that I am a lifelong victim of such preconceived negative personal perceptions. How many times have I been denied opportunities for work, friendship, even love, because of a person's negative perceptions and ultimate inability to imagine interacting comfortably with me in a working or loving relationship? How many times have I answered the inquiry people often make about what is hardest about living with disability by saying, with some intensity, that the most difficult aspect of living with disability (which, in my case, is total blindness) is dealing with the public's perception of it.
The answer to both the above questions is--too many times. Preconceived negative personal perception often is devastating to persons who live with disability. Unfortunately its practice--which I'll define here as preconceived negative conclusions about others based on poor knowledge of the conditions under which another person lives--is widely practiced and affects far more than the disabled.
Thus people with disabilities and people of different races, of different religions, of different classes, and of different economic stature are all too often ready-made victims of our preconceived ideas about how they live, what they believe, what they can do, and what they will be like. What is more, one shouldn't assume that the poor and disadvantaged are the sole victims of negative personal perception. The rich and powerful can also be victimized--and often are. Their ability to protect themselves more easily from negative personal perception doesn't in the least justify the practice.
Hence the victim of racism can also be a racist; the offended can indeed offend; the sinned against can--and do--sin--as I learned once again on Monday, June 18th, 2007. Just because I'm aware of others' capacity for preconceived negative personal perception does not immunize me from practicing it myself. Furthermore, negative personal perception may not be the only path to our individual and societal failings, but it's surely one of the most well-taken paths. Next to the path of least resistance, the path of negative personal perception is the easiest to take, and it's taken too often by far too many--including this observer. Thanks Dan. Because you're you, I couldn't get away with it--this time, anyway!
by James Gashel
From the Editor: One of the big issues blind people must address to remain competitive is access. It is a moving target. An electronic book may be accessible one day and far less accessible in a newer incarnation of the electronic reader. What constitutes accessibility? If a system is cumbersome but ultimately usable, is it accessible? If it is usable by someone skilled in the use of technology but not by the new reader of an electronic book, is it inaccessible or is the problem our lack of experience with the seemingly arbitrary methods that have to be employed to make it work?
These questions have no easy answers, and, if they did, the evolving nature of technology makes it almost certain that what we might say from month to month would, at times, seem convoluted and contradictory. As the article by Amy Mason that appeared in the January Monitor and this article by Jim Gashel make clear, we’re a lot better off than we were several years ago, but there are still difficulties as we climb on board the train moving us toward reading mainstream electronic books. Here is Mr. Gashel’s perspective as a longtime reader and a vice president of a company trying to get in on the growing e-book market and simultaneously trying to ensure that what it distributes is usable by the blind:
As many readers of the Braille Monitor are aware, I serve as secretary of the National Federation of the Blind after having worked on behalf of our governmental affairs and strategic initiatives efforts for thirty-three and a half years. I grew up in Iowa under the tutelage of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and continue to work side by side with Dr. Maurer as he successfully leads our movement from one challenge to the next and from one victory to another, moving ever closer to equality. My day job is to serve as a vice president of K-NFB Reading Technology, which was born from our partnership with Ray Kurzweil and is dedicated to inventing and disseminating reading technology that meets our needs for accessibility.
Amy Mason's article, “Mainstream Access to E-Books—What Works, What Doesn't, and What Is Still Unclear,” appeared in the January 2012 issue of the Braille Monitor and presents her experienced knowledge based on actual and personal use of several e-book reading systems. Consistent with our purpose to establish the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind—to provide blind people and others with objective information needed to evaluate technology--Amy's article is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing the current status of e-book access and what to expect.
As a blind person my entire life and currently a vice president of the company that makes Blio—one of the e-book readers reviewed--I found Amy's report on the e-book landscape to be fascinating and potentially valuable, not only to blind users of e-book technology, but also to engineers, planners, publishers, and leaders in our industry. Obviously I wish Blio had performed flawlessly during Amy's review, but, given the state of the art with ever-changing computer technology and digital publishing still in a stage of relative infancy, flawless performance of Blio or any other e-book reading system on an open platform such as Windows is not always a realistic expectation.
Setting aside the geeks among us who may want to try anything new just for the experience, what should the average consumer do and expect in the emerging world of e-books? Is the technology in its current state worth fooling with? My short answer to these questions is an unqualified and enthusiastic "yes." And, although I have not discussed this perspective with Amy Mason, I feel confident that she would agree.
Although Amy reviewed some of the technologies used to read unprotected EPUB and PDF files, including books, these technologies are not at the center of the e-book challenge. Publishers don't sell unprotected EPUB or PDF content because no copyright protection is in place. Without copyright protection, exposing the text to access technology can be done without objection or barriers being imposed by authors and publishers. This is due in part to the Chafee amendment to the Copyright Act which Congress passed in 1996 allowing authorized entities to produce and distribute nondramatic literary works in specialized formats for the blind without first obtaining the copyright owner's permission.
Let's use the term “commercial e-books” to refer to books in digital formats being sold to the general public by publishers with digital rights management applied. This is the classic situation as in a traditional bricks-and-mortar bookstore where a copy of a book is sold to a consumer and the consumer's right and/or ability to copy the book is restricted both by technology and by the law. When it is sold as a commercial e-book, the technology used does not permit the book to be copied, and the book can only be read on a limited number of devices (normally up to five) authorized in the user's e-book account record.
Amy's report makes clear that some commercial e-book systems use dedicated devices and some do not. Of those using dedicated devices, none is conveniently usable or genuinely accessible to the blind, although menus may be spoken in some instances and some books may have some form of text-to-speech enabled. Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook are the best known devices in this category. Their failure to be conveniently usable and genuinely accessible is not a failure of the technology to perform as intended. In fact these devices often perform fairly well in doing what they were intended to do, but they were not designed to provide an accessible book-reading experience for the blind. Changing this lack of access may require use of different technology, but the reason for the lack of access is the lack of a corporate commitment to accessibility. Make the commitment, and accessible technology will follow.
When one moves beyond the dedicated e-book devices, the prospect of finding a system you can use is a bit more encouraging overall and can be excellent depending on your needs. For example, Amy points out that Amazon has a version of Kindle for Windows PCs which does include a degree of accessibility, limited only to speech but not including access to system menus or book content using Braille. Book-reading with the synthetic text-to-speech installed with Amazon's accessibility plug-in does work and works especially well for continuous reading of a book if ease of navigation is not a priority.
But does Amazon have a corporate commitment to accessibility for its various e-book systems? This may fall under Amy's category of Still Unclear, since Kindle on Windows PCs is somewhat accessible, but their other e-book products and services are not. Amazon’s work to release an accessible plug-in to their Kindle PC reader was certainly a positive move, albeit a response to our outside pressure. But this move was then followed by release of later products, including the recently released Kindle Fire, that are either partially or completely inaccessible. Also, try as you may, you can't use Amazon's Kindle app for the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, regardless of Apple's VoiceOver speech output capability pre-installed on all of these devices, and Kindle for Android devices is also inaccessible, not noted in Amy's review. So the only way to buy and read Kindle books if you want to do that is to use a Windows PC with a screen reader installed. Other than that, no version of Kindle is accessible.
What about Barnes and Noble's Nook? Forget about it! Aside from the dedicated device already mentioned as inaccessible, not a single Barnes and Noble Nook application is accessible, including Nook for Windows PCs, the Nook app for Apple devices, or the Nook app for Android.
Turning to technologies developed by Google and Apple, the prospects for accessible e-book-reading definitely do get better, especially with Apple's iBooks app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, and with Google Books, which is the reader developed for access to books from Google designed for Apple devices. As Amy points out, both Google Books and iBooks work well, albeit somewhat differently, with Apple's VoiceOver speech technology, which also supports quite good but occasionally clumsy access during page changes using a refreshable Braille display.
But, while Apple deserves great credit for developing its VoiceOver technology and including it in its Apple (iOS) devices, VoiceOver alone does not make e-book systems accessible. If it did, Amazon's Kindle app and Barnes and Noble's Nook app would also be accessible on Apple devices. The fact that they are not accessible on these devices demonstrates that both Google and Apple are pursuing a level of commitment to access for the blind that far exceeds that of both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Now we come to Blio. Amy reported that Blio completely crashed during her evaluation and pointed to some other known limitations in using the current public version on Windows PCs. The defect she found when navigating line by line on an Apple device no longer exists and may have been resolved by an upgrade to a later version of Apple's iOS software. In my personal experience, using Blio on either the PC or on Apple devices virtually every day for the past year, I believe that K-NFB has achieved a level of overall accessibility that is greater for the blind than the overall level of accessibility of any other commercial e-book reading system. That said, I know our performance can improve and may have a long way to go, depending on the platform and access technology being used.
Although Amy didn't focus on this, the NFB's access technology staff has given K-NFB particularly glowing praise for achieving the highest quality of accessibility and reliability of our Blio app designed for Apple devices. My personal favorite way to read commercial e-books is with Blio on the iPad, although I occasionally use the iPhone as my e-book reader. Is Blio better than Apple's iBooks? It may be a close race, but Blio does seem to do a slightly better job with Braille, and the two are essentially the same with speech. Dyslexic readers prefer Blio, with its synchronized synthetic speech and visually highlighted text, over iBooks. By the time this article is published an accessible version of Blio for use on Android devices will also be available as a free download from the Android Market, and comments will be encouraged.
As for corporate commitment, some have been outspoken in criticizing K-NFB for being essentially like all the others in giving what amounts to lip service to accessibility while pushing ahead with a totally or virtually inaccessible service. These critics continue to cite the first version of Blio that was launched in September 2010 and was not accessible, and an accessible version for Windows PCs was not released until four months later. Putting aside the fact that no one involved at K-NFB or the NFB was happy making the decision to release an inaccessible version of Blio first, the decision was compelled by limitations in screen-reader and Windows presentation format technology and not by a lack of corporate commitment.
Although some will say that a corporate commitment to accessibility doesn't exist unless the product or service is accessible on the first day it is launched, I do not accept this as a given in every situation and would love to debate the matter with anyone who does. In my view commitment is demonstrated by whether the corporation is pursuing a deliberate effort to make its products or services accessible and not solely by the fact that they are withheld from the market until the product or service is accessible. And, for what it may be worth, some of the same individuals who criticized both the NFB and K-NFB for launching the PC version of Blio before it was accessible just found other reasons to complain when the Blio app for Apple devices was fully accessible on the first day it was launched—proving the old adage that some people aren’t satisfied, no matter what you do.
The bottom line is this: with Ray Kurzweil as the chairman of the board and CEO of K-NFB Reading Technology, backed by Dr. Maurer and Mary Ellen Jernigan as members of the board, the unwavering corporate commitment to accessibility of Blio and other reading products and services both now and in the future is in good hands, and performance improvements needed over time will be made.
Meanwhile, consider this: the entire industry of making, selling, and reading commercial e-books is only now being invented. Some of the early technologies used in this industry will evolve and survive into the future, but those that are not accessible or cannot be made accessible will very likely not survive. Only within the last twelve months (and mostly within the last six months) have I as a sixty-five-year-old blind man been able to purchase and read a book on the day it is published after buying the book in a commercial bookstore at the same price paid by everyone else, knowing that the book I have bought will be accessible when I open it. The hassle and delay while books are transcribed or produced by a library or special service can be over. If you have not had this experience, visit Blio.com on the Internet, where you can browse the bookstore, buy books, and have them ready to display on your Windows PC—desktop, laptop, or netbook--or on your Apple or Android mobile device of choice. The software you need to read and display books, whether Windows, Apple, or Android, is free, and the information needed to download the version of Blio you want can be found on Blio.com at the Meet Blio link. Although installing any software can lead to an interesting experience, the process is normally quite simple and straightforward. Not sure you can handle it? Just ask your average thirteen-year-old for help, and your problem will likely be solved. So join me in the e-book revolution. Yes we're pioneers, knowing that things may not perform as we want them to on every device we use, but we're having a lot of fun reading the books we want to read when we want to read them and not waiting for an agency or library to produce them.
By the way: did you read Kill Alex Cross by James Patterson, recently released? Don't like James Patterson? How about Patricia Daniels Cornwell's Red Mist, just released by Penguin USA/Putnam Pub Group, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, or The Litigators by John Grisham? Using Blio I have recently read them all, and you can too. As the exercise man tells me every morning, "Just remember," he says, "There ain't nothin’ to it but to do it!"
Reviewed by Elizabeth Lalonde
From the Editor: Elizabeth Lalonde is president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind. She offers the following brief review of a book that details the situation faced by blind Canadians as they seek to bridge the gap socially and economically that separates them from other citizens. This is what she says:
In his groundbreaking book, The Politics of Blindness: From Charity to Parity, author and activist Graeme McCreath brings clarity to the struggles of blind Canadians and describes the obstacles that plague their journey to dignity and equality. He explains how Canada arrived at its present situation of a 75 percent unemployment rate for blind Canadians; a staggeringly high level of poverty (average annual income of $15,000); a severe shortage of proper education and training for blind people; and a disgraceful lack of knowledge or concern for the plight of blind Canadians on the part of government, the public, and organizations that are supposed to help. Blind people in Canada, unlike in other developed countries, have no government publicly funded training or rehabilitation. Only token training in cane mobility, Braille, adaptive technology, and life skills is available at all, and that is by a private charity.
McCreath discusses the need for effective organized, intensive training and rehabilitation for blind people as well as the need for choice in the acquisition of these services. He also talks about the need for a proper non-means-tested living allowance to cover the costs of blindness.
After reading this book, no Canadians, blind or sighted, can stand aside, turn away, and ignore the existence of this shameful and far-reaching problem in our society. The Politics of Blindness stands as a monument of history, a testament to the unrecognized blind citizens of our country, and a guide to motivate positive change for blind Canadians now and in the future.
As Mr. McCreath says in the final pages of his book, "Let's make it r.e.a.l."
“Blind Canadians must achieve respect, equality, assimilation/integration into society, and liberty. Only with these achievements can we hope to attain first-class citizenship and equal status with the sighted."
For more information about this book visit <www.thepoliticsofblindness.com>. The Politics of Blindness can be purchased online, in print or Braille, as an e-book, digital audio book, or audio book read by John Stonehouse.
by Lorraine Sommerfeld
From the Editor: Lorraine Sommerfeld is a special reporter for the Toronto Star newspaper. She published the following story in the online publication, Wheels, on June 4, 2011. We have published stories in the past about blind motor mechanics and at least one about a blind man who drove a car in a demolition derby. But this is a remarkable report of a young Canadian who repairs cars and whose dream of driving was fulfilled in an amazing way. Here it is:
The morning sun streams through the raised garage door at Bruce Kitchen Automotive. Dust particles dance in the air, and the lighting over each workbench seems muted in the strength of the May sunshine. Aaron Prevost, twenty, stands under a '82 Porsche 924, having positioned the hoist and raised it to working level. He can discern this sunlight, but only as a contrast shadow. It takes a moment to realize he is blind.
He doesn't turn his head to place wheel nuts on the table next to him; he deftly deposits them in a precise order so he can find them again later. A quick count around the freed rim with his other hand, he then lifts the tire from its mount. He drops a nut, freezes as he listens to where it lands, then drops down quickly and grabs it. Everything about Prevost is ordinary, and yet nothing is. Being an auto mechanic is a precise business, and potential hazards are everywhere. Prevost, sightless since birth, walks freely and without a cane, finding hoisted cars and the curled hoses of compressors.
At first glance his workbench looks like any other, but as he snaps through drawers searching for a mallet, his hands skimming the contents, you realize he knows exactly where everything is. A misplaced tool costs time, and time costs money; Prevost insists on being treated as an equal to the sighted mechanics. This isn't a job of repetition. The garage specializes in imports, and each car has unique issues. For a kid who started by ripping apart lawnmowers, it's a story about the capacity of his memory and his ability to learn, but most of all, about his determination.
At age ten Prevost was pulling apart and rebuilding small engines with the guidance of his older brother Ben, now twenty-six. Ben too is blind, born with the same damage to the optic nerve. “Well, we mostly put back together the stuff we tore apart,” says Aaron with a smile. Soon they were working on the family cars, and there were no concerns about their abilities.
The logistics of moving through a dark world does not concern a young man who's known no different. The secret to his positive attitude is that Aaron Prevost simply determines what he can do rather than what he can't. Frustration peeks out only in that he is passionate about cars but can't drive. Raised in rural Cornwall, Ontario, he did what most country kids do: hopped on anything with an engine and drove it anyway. “We'd take out the four-wheeler, and my sister would stand behind me and she'd turn my shoulders,” he explains. “It's pretty effective, though it can get a little crazy when you have to keep the throttle on to make sure you don't get stuck.”
For the last twelve years Prevost has been a student at W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind, a residential school in Brantford. His older brother was already there, making a tough change a little easier. Prevost shrugs it off, wearing his independence not so much as a badge but like a well worn pair of jeans. “I try to do it all,” he says. And he does. He's lived off campus for two years now, renting a house with a friend.
Outside the shop a riding lawnmower sits on a trailer, the housing off. Shop owner Bruce Kitchen told his neighbor to bring the broken machine in because he has just the guy to fix it. Prevost reaches into the machinery with one surgically-gloved hand, discerns where a metal part is eroding a plastic one, and makes the diagnosis.
Kitchen vetoes the suggestion that having Prevost on board as a co-op placement student might slow down the shop. “He has his specialties—brakes and rotors—and unlike a standard garage the turnaround times are a little more flexible,” he says. His voice drops a bit. “Look. It's just right. He's earned his place here. He's a fine mechanic. His first day here he had the cylinder head off a Triumph Spitfire and changed the head gasket. The only thing he couldn't do was set the foot-pound numbers.”
The shop is filled with exotics of every vintage. Prevost is loosening up the rusted brake drums on the Porsche. “If you had your sight for 10 minutes, what would you do?” I ask him.
He doesn't hesitate for a moment: “Drive!”
Mosport—A long line of Porsches wait their turn obediently at Mosport International Raceway. It's a driving school day; owners will learn what their cars can do. Aaron Prevost, twenty and blind since birth, will find out what a racetrack feels like. He can't see the rolling green countryside, but he can feel a light breeze that steals the promising heat from the sun. As a mechanic he knows how the high-performance machines work. Today he'll learn how that translates into the thrust of a dropped accelerator, the squeal of the tires in complex corners, and the exhilaration of a long straightaway.
Maybe Prevost can't drive, but he can certainly be the passenger in a car racing around one of the best tracks in North America. “My boss, Bruce, warned me about G forces,” he says. “I really want to experience that.”
As if on cue, Rick Bye pulls up in a 2012 Porsche Boxster. Bye is in charge of Porsche Canada's press fleet of cars, and he is also a long-time Porsche racer. He knows Mosport like the back of his hand. At the track's test pad Bye puts the car through stop-start exercises, describing carefully to Prevost all that he's doing. After a few tests Bye gets out. “Aaron's going to try it now,” he says. Prevost grins as he pops open the door.
With a reassuring hand on the wheel, Bye describes to his young student everything the car will be doing and how it will respond. Within minutes the kid who can't see has the accelerator to the floor of the sports car and quickly brings it to a full stop. They repeat the exercise several times, Prevost learning the car; Bye learning his pupil. Bye will say later that “Aaron was a perfect student.” That's a direct quote: Perfect. “He was keen, and he listened. He responded exactly to what I was telling him. If we'd had more time, we could have done more.”
Back on pit row the track clears for lunch. Bye stands waiting for the all-clear, while Aaron stays in the passenger seat, his hands showing him every stitch, every button, every lever. “Hey, you get a lot of stations on this radio,” he reports. It's not idle chatter. Aaron is absorbing this car. With a wave from the official, Bye buckles in.
The Boxster roars, and they're off, alone on the track. When the car hits the back straightaway, the sweet crescendo hangs in the midday air. It returns to zoom past the pits, and you can see Prevost smiling broadly. After the fifth lap they cruise into the pits. “Tell her how many times you've done this,” says the kid. Considering this is his home track, Bye estimates he's put in about 30,000 laps.
But it's the next ones that will be a first, even for this seasoned pro. They switch seats. Maintaining the same steady direction, Bye tells Prevost to position the steering, to get comfortable. It's this reassuring voice that now leads the sightless driver, with Bye's left hand lightly on the wheel. By the second lap with Prevost behind the wheel, everyone is heading out to watch. The sound of the engine registers its location on the track, and there are only the same two questions in mind: how fast are they going to hit the straight, and how on earth are they going to negotiate turn 5? It's actually two turns, one after another. It's difficult to do if you can see. It's difficult to do if you're a pro. But a blind kid with no license? Even with a professional hand shadowing his, Aaron is placing full trust in a man he met an hour before. Maybe even more amazing, that man is doing the same thing.
It's not until later that Bye will reveal the only slip-up of the day—on the challenging turn 5, Prevost carried too much speed. Bye simply repeated “more brake, more brake” until his student corrected without hitting the grass. Apparently Rick Bye never once raised his voice that day.
It's a complicated, beautiful thing to process. The Boxter returns past the stands and then sets off again, and again. When it eventually pulls in and comes to a halt in the pits, Prevost finally takes his hand from the wheel to shake the outstretched hands of the astonished pit crew. In the crush the quietest pair is Aaron Prevost and Rick Bye. In the midst of the power and the speed and the ballet of a racetrack, a great gift has been given—to both men.
Prevost completed five laps of Mosport International Raceway that day. He hit a top speed of 205 km/h on that famed back straight, as fast as most anyone. Bye said later that Prevost was so attentive and responsive that the instructor actually took his own hand off the wheel several times. Prevost said later he got a little anxious only when Bye did this. The idea that he was in complete control of the vehicle, even for a few seconds at a time, left him awestruck. The fact Bye never had to take over the steering amazed everyone else. The kid who wants to do it all finally got to drive.
When we leave for Brantford, I ask him what he's thinking. “30,000 times,” he says. “Rick has been able to do that 30,000 times.”
For Bye, he recognized something far different. “We all only see the world from our place on the grid,” he said later. “So many people only see the negative; that kid is so far up front, it's remarkable.”
From the Editor: Several years ago Joe Ruffalo, president of the NFB of New Jersey and member of the NFB board of directors, began talking about New Jersey’s At-Large Chapter, which was conducting regular meetings over the telephone and was growing amazingly. He had clearly gotten hold of a good idea and made it better. I asked him to describe what the Garden State is doing in the hope that it will inspire other states to try the same thing or a variation that will suit local conditions. Here is Joe’s description of establishing and nurturing a statewide chapter for those who don’t have a local group in their area:
In 2007 Joe Ruffalo was the national representative to the NFB of West Virginia convention, where he met convention attendees who met by phone as an at-large chapter because they lived in small towns around the state. A few months later he and several other New Jersey leaders attended a workshop at the National Center on chapter-building. That experience confirmed him in his notion that New Jersey should try to build a statewide membership chapter of those who could not get to local chapter meetings.
The NFB Department of Affiliate Action has access to publication lists and contact information for folks who have received white canes, which they can pass along to any affiliate trying to contact blind people who are not already members or who have become inactive. In March of 2008 Joe called a meeting of the New Jersey board, chapter presidents, and committee chairs to formulate a plan for organizing a chapter by inviting people to call in to monthly meetings of the At-Large chapter, approve a constitution, elect officers, and become an active part of the affiliate. The president of the New Jersey student division, Evelyn Valdez, organized the contacts to students and told them about scholarship opportunities and the student listserv. Every chapter president contacted people in two or three counties. The intention was by the time of the chapter’s first meeting to have identified a group of folks interested in meeting by phone. During these conversations callers identified people’s interests and needs and told them about Meet the Blind Month activities, the state convention, and state and national divisions of personal interest to the man or woman being called.
The purpose of these contacts was to get people involved in NFB activities and groups that they would be interested in. Those who fell into the at-large group had to agree to make a call the night of the chapter’s meeting. One of the primary goals was to demonstrate that these new-found people could be part of a national movement that was vital and exciting. To this end Joe arranged for a member of the national staff to be part of each meeting. These included Affiliate Action, Governmental Affairs, and NFB-NEWSLINE® staffers as well as chairpeople of national committees. Joe also invited interested affiliate presidents to join the meeting calls to see what went on. Joe was the president of the chapter, and the state treasurer assumed responsibility for the chapter’s books. Affiliate leaders took it in turn to take minutes for the meetings and write them up for chapter records.
During the first year forty-two people took part in meetings. Sixteen of them eventually left to start chapters or join existing ones. Participants in the meetings are constantly urged to invite friends to join the group. Each month several old members are missing, and new folks join. Minutes are emailed seven to ten days before the next meeting. Those without email receive a reminder phone call and the minutes in the mail. In New Jersey meetings take place the last Thursday evening of the month, unless this conflicts with a holiday. In this way everyone can keep track of meeting dates and times. The chapter uses the same conference phone number that the affiliate uses for its board and committee meetings.
Meetings have had as many as twenty-eight participants. Participants are asked to call in five minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin. Joe takes attendance and makes a note of new people to be introduced. These folks are invited to say a little about themselves by way of introduction. The group then reviews the agenda and gets to work. Joe says that each month he tries to get several people to tell the group why they are taking part in these meetings. Almost always new people show up because someone invited them. Joe likes to point out that, if each person invites another person, the group will soon have doubled in size.
The group has an impressive record of involvement to show for its first year of activity. Not only have sixteen members gone on to join local chapters, but eleven went to the state convention. One received a Jernigan Fund scholarship to attend the national convention. One person went to the Washington Seminar, and one parent became involved with the national Parent Leadership Program. A number have contributed to the Imagination Fund, and two people volunteered to organize Friday afternoon activities at the state convention. A strong emphasis in meetings is getting involved and becoming an active member of the NFB of New Jersey. Joe reports proudly that the At-Large Chapter supports the programs and policies of the Federation and abides by its constitution. It is also helping to build and strengthen the affiliate in areas where historically it has been weak or nonexistent.
From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is Librarian Ed Morman's review of a book in our collection:
Reviewed by Ed Morman
Regular readers of the tenBroek Library’s contributions to the Braille Monitor are familiar with the two Perrys of California. In April 2011, we wrote about Hugh Buckingham’s biography of Newel Perry, Blind Educator, and last month we delved into the NFB archives for some correspondence between Kenneth Jernigan and Perry Sundquist. Both Newel Perry and Perry Sundquist were crucial to the development of the blind civil rights movement. In this eighty-page inkprint booklet, Perry Sundquist places Newel Perry at the center of the early years of the organized blind in California. The California Council of the Blind—now the NFB of California—was in many ways the incubator of the National Federation of the Blind, and it is fitting that Federationists should study its history.
The first major political success of the organized blind in California was a 1928 initiative campaign. The initiative—which the California electorate approved in a popular vote of almost five to one—resulted in an amendment to the state constitution that granted the legislature power to provide aid to needy blind people. This success in turn challenged leaders of the blind to craft a modern, comprehensive law on aid to the blind that would have three main objectives: (1) to relieve the blind of “the distress of poverty,” (2) to create greater economic opportunity for the blind, and (3) to encourage blind Californians to seek independence and self-support. Passed and signed by the governor in 1929, this law was, above all, the product of the organizing efforts of Newel Perry, who since 1912 had been director of advanced studies at the California School for the Blind.
Perry had himself attended the school and had helped organize the California Alumni Association of Self-Supporting Blind in 1898. He left California to earn a PhD in mathematics from the University of Munich and then spent ten years tutoring college students in New York City, looking for work as a college professor (but failing to land a position because of prejudice against the blind). While in New York, Perry was instrumental in getting the state legislature to allot funds for blind college students to hire readers, and, after returning to California, he put much effort into raising money to help his students attend college. He also traveled throughout the state organizing local groups of the blind.
Perry’s familiarity with the legislative process, his mentoring of the brightest students at the school for the blind, and his tireless organizing work all paid off when he learned of plans to establish a statewide council on blindness. A group of agency officials had been discussing the formation of such an association, intending to grant the organized blind a minority voice within it. The organizers little expected that the founding meeting, to be held in Fresno, in October 1934, would draw a greater number of blind than sighted people. Perry, however, managed to bring sixteen representatives of blind groups; only thirteen sighted people attended.
The meeting organizers had prepared a constitution for the group, but—thanks especially to the efforts of Perry’s protégé, the 23-year-old college student Jacobus tenBroek —the assembly voted it down. Finally adopted was a document that created a federation of twenty-five organizations of the blind and agencies for the blind. Newel Perry was elected president, and J. Robert Atkinson—the blind founder of the Braille Institute—corresponding secretary. TenBroek was elected to the executive committee, and Perry Sundquist became second vice president. Interestingly, there is no report of rancor resulting from the surprise action by the blind leaders.
At the time of the CCB’s founding meeting, Sundquist was secretary of the Los Angeles Club of Adult Blind. Over the course of his subsequent association with the organized blind, he had leadership positions in the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) and the NFB, in addition to the California affiliate of the NFB. Trained in political science, education, and social work, in 1935 Sundquist conducted a study on the economic status of the blind for the California Department of Education. He later became chief of the Division for the Blind of the state Department of Welfare, retiring from that position shortly before he took on the task of compiling this booklet.
This thirty-fifth-anniversary history of the California Council is best used as a reference guide to the early days of the organized blind in the U.S., since much that Newel Perry and his followers accomplished in California set the stage for national developments. We recommend its use as a reference guide because, truth be told, it is no fun to read straight through. Sundquist evidently patched the document together quickly, and, though he served admirably for almost ten years as Monitor editor, this booklet reflects neither elegant writing nor rigorous editing.
Nonetheless this is an important piece of writing. In his discussions of the efforts of Newel Perry and Jacobus tenBroek, Sundquist demonstrates that the philosophy of the NFB was alive and well in California in the early decades of the last century. As a state official with great responsibility, Sundquist understood the importance of the Council in envisioning, creating, and implementing many of the programs he managed. His discussion of the history of and rationale for aid to the blind is worth reading, despite the occasionally difficult prose, because it reminds us that—as much work as the organized blind still face—things were much worse when the CCB and the NFB were young. Sundquist also addresses federal matters, notably the Social Security Act and its early amendments, and the necessity of a national organization to deal with issues that were becoming national. Once aid to the blind became established nationally, the NFB and its affiliates had to fight against provisions that made independence more difficult to attain.
After a long section on aid to the blind, Sundquist turns to the drive for jobs. He was not interested merely in the economic well-being of the blind. He writes:
The opportunity to engage in meaningful activity represents many things—job satisfaction, economic security, group association, community and family respect, and a priceless sense of contribution to society.
Conversely, lack of opportunity to engage in such meaningful activity creates individual, family, and social problems. Chiefly, it denies to the individual the chance to participate in the main channels of life and thus robs him of the very zest for living.
The accomplishments of the CCB during its first thirty-five years, as detailed by Sundquist, demonstrate the importance to the organized blind of the “zest for living.” From the opportunity to own and manage vending stands to white cane safety and all it means for independence; from the education of blind children to support of blind college students; from library service to protection of the rights of sheltered shop workers—all these and more were the concerns of the Council.
One of the most important programs discussed by Sundquist was the transformation of the State Home for the Blind into the Orientation Center for the Adult Blind. Kenneth Jernigan spent five years on the faculty of the center in Oakland before leaving to direct the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Jernigan no doubt learned much during his time in California, but, even before he moved to the West Coast, he had a good idea of what a training center for the adult blind should be and do. Those who learned from Jernigan during his California days remember him fondly as a model, a teacher, and an administrator.
Sundquist’s history of the CCB is valuable also because it provides a look at the early days of the leading NFB affiliate of the time from the standpoint of a less well-known participant in those events. For example, Sundquist devotes several pages to a political campaign of the late 1940s. TenBroek—by then president of the NFB, professor at the University of California, and a young father—successfully managed the CCB’s effort to repeal a recent amendment to the state constitution. The organized blind were concerned that the new provisions lumped aid to the blind in with “aid to the aged and aid to other disadvantaged groups.” By educating the public about the capabilities of blind people, the CCB eliminated a measure that “put the potentially productive blind in the category of helpless recipients of support.”
Sundquist also provides capsule biographies of CCB leaders, although the tone and quality of these biographical sketches are inconsistent. For Newel Perry he relies on tenBroek's eulogy of their beloved mentor (available online at <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/speeches/ NewellPerryTeacherOfYouthLeaderOfMen.html>. The sketches of some of those still living appear to have been prepared by the subjects themselves. For others, notably Robert Campbell, Sundquist drew on his own knowledge.
Sundquist’s discussion of Robert Campbell must have been particularly difficult for him. Campbell was also one of “Dr. Perry’s boys,” having attended the California School for the Blind with Sundquist and tenBroek. He had been their roommate and remained close friends with them until the NFB’s Civil War.
As Sundquist describes the events in California, in a section called “Division and Resurgence,” it was Newel Perry’s reluctance to step down as president that precipitated the troubles in California. When in 1953, at age 80, Dr. Perry finally acceded, it was conditional on Campbell—who had already succeeded him as director of advanced studies at the School for the Blind—taking his place in the CCB. Campbell was elected president and stayed in that position until he resigned under pressure in 1959.
Sundquist attributes the difficulties faced by the CCB during Campbell’s presidency to the contradiction Campbell faced by simultaneously being an employee of a state agency and the leader of an organization devoted to fighting for the rights of the blind. He put it this way:
It was almost inevitable that the internal strife in the National Federation should lead to bitter dissension within the California Council of the Blind—and so it did. The seeds of discord were sown in December 1953 when Dr. Perry insisted on Robert Campbell as his successor to the presidency of the Council. Many members resented this dictation, irrespective of the individual chosen. Also, Campbell was an employee of a State agency for the blind and yet was expected as Council President to represent and vigorously espouse the views of the blind, which were often at odds with those of the agencies. This unenviable role of trying to serve two masters proved impossible in the long run. During this time the Council had fallen on weakness, which resulted in part from Bob’s position in [the] State Department of Education. Bob was a person of sincerity and with courage. It was too much, however, to expect him to put his job on the line in dealing with his superiors as Council president.
The California affiliate recovered from the strains of Campbell’s presidency—although it lost one quarter of its chapters as a result of the split. With Russell Kletzing, James McGinnis, and Anthony “Tony” Mannino successively serving as president between 1959 and 1969, the CCB regained its voice and much of its strength.
More than forty years have passed since the California affiliate published Sundquist’s history, and much has happened in the meantime. For one thing the California affiliate gave up the name “California Council of the Blind” in 1971, as tenBroek had suggested, and became “National Federation of the Blind of California.” Later, for several years around 1980, the NFB affiliate had to fight for its name and ultimately retained it after a legal battle. The organization now calling itself the California Council of the Blind—an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind—claims to date back to that 1934 meeting in Fresno, but there is no question that continuity really rests with the NFB of California. A short summary of the entire history of the affiliate is on the website of the NFB of California: <http://sixdots.org/about/history/>.
We have not been able to locate accessible copies of this booklet (or of Sundquist’s companion work Aid to the Blind in California: Fifty Years of Program Development, 1919 – 1969) and would deeply appreciate any information about whether Braille copies exist. It is our plan to digitize both publications and make them available in accessible format during 2012.
For now the audio version of Sundquist’s eulogy of Newel Perry, delivered at the 1961 NFB National Convention, is available online. The talk, in Sundquist’s voice, includes a delightful description of the two Perrys’ first encounter with each other on November 11, 1918. The University of California and the Internet Archive have also put online an accessible transcript of an interview with Sundquist and his coworker Lillian McClure. For links to either of these, look up Sundquist as an author in THE BLIND CAT, our online library catalog: <www.nfb.org/theblindcat>.
by Paris Roach
From the Editor: We asked Mike Freeman, president of the Diabetes Action Network, to comment on the following editorial by Dr. Paris Roach, editor in chief of Diabetes Forecast, which first appeared in the December 2011 issue. This is what Mike says:
Most of us are used to diseases which can be cured by medications and a bit of medical advice. The role of the patient is essentially passive. By contrast, good diabetes control requires the diabetic to play an active role in the management of the disease, making many day-to-day decisions involving medications, food, nutrition, and exercise. Moreover, diabetes affects each person differently. Thus, in order to make knowledgeable diabetes management decisions and in order to provide diabetes care personnel with the information they need to assist in solving diabetes care problems, good record keeping is a must. Yet my reading of the messages on NFB’s Diabetes-Talk email list for the past six years leads me to believe that few blind diabetics keep adequate records. All too often they just take their meters to their doctors’ appointments and depend upon the doctors to read the meters or download meter results to their computers. As the editorial below indicates, this practice has numerous drawbacks. In addition to those cited, blind people occasionally get an erroneous reading because of too little blood on the meter strip, and meters available in this country don’t allow editing of readings so that diabetes care personnel aren’t getting a true picture of day-to-day glucose readings, because the anomalous ones are included.
I also suspect that many blind people find record-keeping inconvenient since one cannot carry a slate and stylus or electronic notetaker behind one’s ear. Yet such an excuse is short-sighted since less-than-optimal diabetes control can lead to serious complications, and the slight inconvenience of keeping a Braille or computerized log which can then be typed up or printed for the doctor is slight compared to the burden of diabetic complications resulting from poor diabetic control. It therefore seems prudent to print the following editorial. It is as true for the blind diabetic as it is for the sighted. Here it is:
We’re all scientists. We make observations and try to explain what we see. Sometimes we change things to see if we can make something different happen. Someone with diabetes trying to figure out why blood glucose levels are high, low, or somewhere in between is a scientist. So what observations do you need to make to be a successful blood sugar scientist?
Six very important observations will be 1) your blood glucose monitoring results, 2) the timing and amount of carbohydrates you eat, 3) the timing and amount of physical activity you engage in, 4) the timing and severity of hypoglycemic episodes, 5) the timing and doses of your medications, and 6) information about changes in your health status, including illnesses and medical procedures. All of these factors go into the mix of things that cause your blood glucose to do what it does.
When you meet with your diabetes care provider, you form a team of scientists doing your detective work using the information available. Good scientists know that more information will help them better understand what they’re seeing and how to bring about a desired change. You have the information that’s critical to defining problems and finding answers.
How do you most effectively collect your information and share it with your care team? My answer is simple. While I’m admittedly not a techie, I have not seen a computer software program that can provide the wealth of information contained in a well-kept logbook, whether handwritten or typed into a computer-based format. A number of available formats make recording your observations quick and easy and provide a “week-at-a-glance” summary of your information. Throw in up-to-date knowledge of your other health problems and your current medications, and you’re ready to do some serious problem solving.
If you can find a software program or an app that helps you put all this together, that’s great, but the task doesn’t have to be complicated. (A note about downloading blood glucose meters at office visits: blood glucose values in isolation—without information about meals, activity, medications, hypoglycemic symptoms, etc.—often raise more questions than they answer.)
In the absence of a good diabetes log, the effort required to assemble all this information can take up a big chunk of time during a clinic visit. Instead of spending precious time trying to remember why this blood sugar was high and that one was low, why not sit down for a few minutes each day to record some key pieces of information in your log? That way you can spend more time during your visit working together to make life better. Bring your log, your meter, and your medications to every visit, and let’s dominate the diabetes world!
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 protected]>.
3. You must register for and attend the entire convention, including the banquet.
What else must I do to insure that my application will be considered?
We must receive all of the following:
1. Your full name
2. Your address
3. Your telephone numbers (home, business, cell)
4. Your email address (if you have one)
5. Your state president's name and the name of your local chapter, if you attend one
All applications must be received by April 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 <[email protected]>. We look forward to seeing you in Dallas.
This month’s recipes are from members of the NFB of the District of Columbia.
Blueberry Jell-O Salad
by Shawn Callaway
Shawn Callaway is the relatively new president of the NFB of Washington, D.C., and a project officer for the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Developmental Disabilities. He completed his bachelor of arts degree in psychology at the University of Maryland at College Park and his master of social work from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He lives with his wife Latonya.
1 large box or 2 small boxes raspberry Jell-O
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold water
1 20- or 21-ounce can blueberry pie filling, undrained
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained
Method: Dissolve Jell-O in hot water. Then add the cold water. Add pineapple and blueberry pie filling to mixture. Pour into a mold or attractive bowl and chill to set. Make the Jell-O as instructed above and not as directed on the box.
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 small container Cool Whip
Chopped nuts, optional
Method: Combine and beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract till smooth and spread over firm Jell-O. Spread evenly with Cool Whip and top with chopped nuts if desired.
Shrimp Pasta Salad
by Shawn Callaway
1 pound linguine
1 16-ounce bottle Italian salad dressing
1 2.26-ounce bottle McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Salad Supreme
3 large cucumbers
3 large red ripe tomatoes
1 pound frozen salad shrimp
Method: Thaw and wash shrimp. Boil 2 quarts salted water and add linguine. When cooked till just tender (al dente), drain linguine into large colander. Peel and cut cucumbers into small dice. Slice tomatoes into medium dice. Combine ingredients in large bowl in the following order: pasta, shrimp, cucumbers, tomatoes, bottle of Italian dressing (shake well before pouring), and Salad Supreme. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Toss before serving.
Fresh Broccoli Salad
by Joie Stuart
Longtime member Joie Stuart is first vice president of the D.C. affiliate and president of the Capitol East Chapter.
2 bunches uncooked broccoli, cut in bite-size pieces
2 red onions, thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 cup raisins
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
Method: In a large bowl combine chopped broccoli, red onion, raisins, and crumbled bacon. Combine mayonnaise, sugar, and vinegar and marinate salad in this dressing for one to two hours before serving.
Chicken and Rice Casserole
by Janean Chambers
Janean Chambers is a new member of the Greater Washington, D.C., Chapter. She works as a 508 coordinator at the Department of Health and Human Services.
1 2-pound chicken, cut in pieces but not skinned or boned
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/3 pound fresh mushrooms or 1 small can mushrooms (leave whole if small)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup white rice, uncooked
1 cup chicken broth
Method: Heat butter in skillet and brown chicken skin-side down for five minutes. Then turn. Scatter onion and garlic over and between chicken pieces and add mushrooms and bay leaf. Cook five minutes more. Add wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated (about thirty minutes). Remove chicken and keep in a warm place. Add rice and chicken broth and simmer covered about 20 minutes, until rice is cooked. Return chicken to pan and heat through before serving. If you are preparing the chicken without rice, add a half cup broth to pan and simmer until heated through.
On Saturday, November 27, 2011, the Boulder Valley Chapter of the NFB of Colorado elected the following board: president, Maryann Migliorelli; vice president, Jim Wolcott; treasurer, D. Curtis Willoughby; secretary, Doris Willoughby; and board member, Arielle Silverman.
Dr. JoAnne Castagna, a public affairs specialist (writer) for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, sent us the following notice, which appeared in the January 2012 edition of Engineer Update, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers publication.
Honored Employee Provides Insight to Us All
The future of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking bright because we have young students setting their sights on pursuing careers in engineering and science. Nathanael Wales, a civil engineer/planner with the Army Corps' New York District, is helping them reach their goals. In his free time he mentors blind high school and college students who have a strong interest in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. Wales, who has been blind his entire life, wants them to know that a career in the sciences is reachable, even if you are blind. Wales said proudly, "One student I mentored at a summer camp changed his college plans to study chemistry (something he had thought was unattainable); he is now studying to get his PhD in chemistry and runs chemistry camps for blind high school students."
It is this dedication and care that helped Wales earn the 2011 Outstanding Department of Defense Employee or Service Member with a Disability Award and be the only U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee to receive this award in decades. The award is given annually to nineteen recipients by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. "I was surprised that I was selected. There are a number of employees throughout the entire Army Corps with all kinds of disabilities, some visible, some not. To be selected among the Corps but also among the entire DoD is amazing. The competition was significant," said Wales.
The Army Corps hires disabled individuals to fill various positions. In the past two years the New York District hired fourteen disabled individuals and under the Disability Program hired individuals for its summer program. "Our district is also fortunate to have managers who are willing and interested in hiring under the Disability Program, said Estelle Capowski, chief, Equal Employment Opportunity, New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "In Nathanael's case his staff has always assisted him in every way to make him successful."
Wales has been an employee of the New York District's Plan Formulation Branch for five years and finds his work rewarding. He has worked on several important coastal erosion protection projects to improve navigation and to reduce flooding, erosion, and damage caused by hurricanes and nor'easters. Some of these projects have included the Hashamomuck Cove Reconnaissance Study, Orient Harbor Seawall Extension, and the Lake Montauk Harbor feasibility study. He says that his coworkers have always been very supportive of his disability and have been open and approachable and that he has never had a problem asking questions. He adds that some of those without disabilities may not be aware of a few things about disabled people and in particular those with a sensory disability like him.
We can be creative thinkers:
Those with a disability must learn how to accomplish the same tasks using an alternative technique. Wales said, "For example, instead of reading print notes, I'll read them in Braille, or, instead of reading from my computer monitor, I will use a text-to-speech program. "The process of finding these alternative techniques I feel adds to my job. At the Army Corps we're supposed to think of innovative solutions to various problems. Thinking creatively and outside of the box is a skill many disabled people have, and it's an asset to an organization."
Disability doesn't mean limitation:
Wales said that it shouldn't be assumed that a person with a disability has a particular limitation until they are asked, because more than likely the assumption is wrong. Wales said, "Some people may think that going out and doing field investigations is something I'm not able to do or shouldn't do. I can do this, but I just have to perform it a little differently. For example, if I'm out visiting a beach erosion project, I may have to interact more with the people who are showing me around and ask more questions to understand the situation. Just like with any other engineer, it's still very valuable for me to go out and see a site. It adds to my understanding of a project, and it helps me to be a better planner."
Recently Wales attended a ceremony in Bethesda, Maryland, to receive the award. He was accompanied by the New York District Commander John Boule and other New York District leadership. Wales said, "It was an honor to be among a group of distinguished recipients, such as service members who have sacrificed tremendously. It also gave me an opportunity to contribute who I am to the Army Corps and DoD process and raise awareness of the capabilities of persons with disabilities." He said that the eighteen other award recipients all had different skills sets and backgrounds. "In fact one of the recipients manages contracts totaling 10 billion dollars. This is twice the budget of the whole Corps of Engineers!" said Wales. He added, "Most of all the ceremony provided an opportunity for my supervisors, the District and Corps of Engineers to be honored for the work they've done to help build the bench by hiring persons with disabilities."
Buddy Program Available:
BLIND, Incorporated, is the sponsor of a three-week summer fun and learning program for children ages nine to thirteen. The dates for 2012 are July 13 through August 4. The Buddy Program offers an opportunity for blind children to make friends and have fun in a positive and secure setting as well as to learn and practice the alternative techniques of blindness while building self-confidence. The training includes instruction in reading and writing Braille, basic cane travel, cooking skills, and introduction to independent living skills and industrial arts. Students will learn to pour liquids, carry a food tray, do laundry, follow a recipe, and much more. Self-confidence and problem-solving skills are gained through building and painting projects such as their own birdhouses and nightstands. Students also participate in "talk time," where they discuss important issues about blindness with blind peers and instructors. This time gives the students a chance to discuss their feelings about blindness, their frustrations with uncomfortable situations, and suggestions for overcoming problems caused by blindness.
In addition students participate in many exciting activities in the Twin Cities area, such as visits to Build a Bear Workshop, Wild Mountain Water Park, and horseback riding. These activities allow students to develop their socialization skills. Activities are well supervised, and mentoring for the children is provided by active blind role models. Lifelong friendships begin during this brief summer experience. Activities are excellent opportunities to teach and reinforce a wide variety of alternative techniques as they apply to real life, and this learning experience is usually most effective when a lot of fun is involved.
If you have questions, call (612) 872-0100, ext. 251, or call toll-free (800) 597-9558. You can email <[email protected]>. Complete an application by visiting our website at <www.blindinc.org>.
Great PR in Denver:
Last September 13 to 15 blind seniors in the greater Denver area received intensive training in blindness skills at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Stacey Johnson of the CCB staff wrote up the story and submitted it to a publication called 50 Plus Marketplace News, and it was printed in the November 2011 issue. Here is the story:
Seniors in Charge Provides Training to People with Vision Loss
A trip to the grocery store? An email communication? Not a big deal, right? Not the case for seniors with vision loss. Keeping up with changes in technology is a challenge. Add blindness, vision loss, or a variety of other sight-related diseases to the equation, and the outcome is typically frustration and discouragement.
But not for the seniors who participated in Seniors in Charge, a three-day program offered by the Colorado Center for the Blind at no cost. Seniors with varying degrees of vision loss took part in mobility, home management, and technology training. "The goal of the program is to keep visually impaired seniors living independently for as long as possible. If blindness is the only factor impacting the person, there is no reason he or she can’t live independently," says Duncan Larsen, senior services coordinator for the Center. Participants received an introduction to Braille, adaptive technologies such as electronic readers and screen readers, then traveled with the assistance of a white cane, a tool used by the blind to navigate their surroundings safely.
Often seniors feel disconnected to friends and family. With technology taking over routine, daily communication, they often feel left out. Colorado Center for the Blind steps in and provides basic training in these skills. "I didn't think I could even use a computer, and now I can use one without a screen," said one participant.
"This is often the case with the participants. They come with all sorts of misconceptions of what they can and can't do. They leave the program with a new understanding of what possibilities exist," explains Larsen. In addition to technology class, several outings were planned throughout the three days. A trip on the Light Rail from the Littleton station to Downtown Denver. For some, the trip was filled with firsts--the Light Rail, the 16th Street Mall Shuttle, an escalator, and the first time in a crowded buffet line navigating a tray of food--all without sight.
Inclusion of family members is a key component of the program. On the final day the participants prepared a meal for their family and friends. Seeing what their loved ones accomplished in such a short time provided hope and a glimpse at what can be achieved with practice, the proper tools, and training.
The program's success was summarized best by Brent Batron, youth services coordinator: "Our seniors in this week's program have raised the bar for all of us here at the Center." Telling a group of twenty and thirty-somethings they had been outdone by a group old enough to be their parents or grandparents provided ample motivation for them to work harder. More Seniors in Charge training sessions are planned. For information call (303) 778-1130 or visit <www.cocenter.org>.
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.
Favorable Court Ruling:
On December 19, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind circulated the following press release with good news for blind people across the country. Here it is:
National Federation of the Blind Secures Court Ruling Against Cardtronics
Company Must Make ATMs Accessible or Face Sanctions
A federal court has found that Cardtronics, Inc., has failed to comply with the terms of a settlement and subsequent remediation plan reached with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to make all of the automated teller machines owned by Cardtronics accessible to the blind. In an order dated December 15, 2011, the Honorable Nathaniel M. Gorton of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts found that Cardtronics had not complied with the terms of the settlement agreement or remediation plan and that civil contempt was therefore appropriate. Judge Gorton ordered Cardtronics to comply with the remaining terms by March 15, 2012, or face monetary sanctions of $50 per month for each ATM that remained inaccessible to blind users—giving the company the Shakespearean warning to “Beware the ides of March.”
“Instead of admitting their non-compliance and promising better effort, defendants disingenuously claim they have complied in spite of a plethora of evidence to the contrary,” Judge Gorton wrote in his memorandum opinion. “The deadlines they have consistently missed were, ironically, the ones they proposed in the first place.”
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “It is critical that blind Americans have access to all of the technologies that are now a part of everyday life in the twenty-first century if we are to achieve full and equal integration into society, and this includes the technology necessary to handle our finances. Toward that end we reached an agreement with Cardtronics to make its ATMs accessible, and, when problems arose and initial deadlines were missed, we worked in good faith with the company to come up with a workable remediation plan. Sadly, however, Cardtronics has not complied with the agreed terms of the remediation plan. We are therefore pleased with the court’s decision requiring Cardtronics to meet its legal obligations.”
Phone Chat Room Available:
Interested in meeting people, making new friends, or just want someone to talk to? Don’t be alone; just pick up the phone and call (231) 732-7141. Especially if you have trouble sleeping, stop by the Night Owl room and say hi to Jen.
Do you like playing games, participating in provocative conversations, or just want to enjoy your morning coffee with Cara’s Friday Coffee Klatsch? Don’t forget to drop into the Hospitality Room or Those Were The Days Room evenings from 6:00 to 10:00 (EDT) to ask about our monthly contests. DailyConnection offers something of interest for everyone, whether you enjoy free chat rooms, audio books, bulletin boards, podcasts, voicemail, conferences, or friendly conversation--call (231) 732-7141.
Are you interested in working from home and making some extra money? DailyConnection is seeking creative, self-motivated individuals who like talking on the phone and who would enjoy hosting a room on our line. Contact TJ by pressing 6 at the main menu and leaving a message in his system administrator’s mailbox or email <[email protected]>.
Carroll Center Offers Three Diabetes and Visual Impairment Courses:
The Carroll Center is pleased to announce the third course in its new series of online courses for patients, families, and professionals: Diabetes and Visual Impairment: A New View for Health Professionals. The Commission on Dietetic Registration approves 30.5 contact hours for this self-study. The American Association of Diabetes Educators, an accredited approver by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s COA and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education as a provider of continuing pharmacy education, provides 23.5 contact hours of continuing education credit. Many other health professions accept the Carroll Center’s certificate for continuing education credit.
Thanks to private foundation funding, these courses are currently free. The curriculum for the newest course was developed by Margaret E. Cleary, RN, MS, CVRT®, who has over thirty years of experience as a rehabilitation nurse, diabetes educator, and certified vision rehabilitation therapist at the Carroll Center. “I anticipate that at the conclusion of this course health care participants will be far better able to aid patients who have diabetes and visual impairment in developing a therapeutic, healthful, and productive lifestyle,” Cleary said.
Brian Charlson, director of computer training at the Carroll Center, supervised the technical aspects of the project, which features Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment), a software platform that provides the sighted reader with complete and easily accessed materials while allowing the visually impaired student easy access through his or her own adaptive technology.
For more information about these new online courses, read the FAQ's or contact Brian Charlson at (617) 969-6200, ext. 224. Register for these new diabetes and visual impairment courses by following the appropriate link below:
• A New View for Patients and Families, <http://carroll.org/online-courses/diabetes-and-visual-impairment-a-new-view-for-patients-and-families/>
• A New View for Vision Professionals, <http://carroll.org/online-courses/diabetes-and-visual-impairment-a-new-view-for-professionals/>
• A New View for Health Professionals, <http://carroll.org/online-courses/diabetes-and-visual-impairment-a-new-view-for-health-professionals/>
Carroll Center for the Blind, 770 Centre Street, Newton, MA 02458, <carroll.org>.
Two New Products from Mississippi State University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision:
From School to College: A Transition Activity Calendar for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Second Edition, 2011, is now available. The new and expanded version of MSU’s 1996 Activity Calendar is a web-based resource for students planning to go to college. Its message is start early by middle school, or even earlier, to think about your career and continue an outlined step-by-step process to ensure that by your first day on campus you are ready to go with your textbooks in the format you need, the technology you need, and a feeling of confidence because of all the preparation you did. The calendar outlines activities from middle school grades and month by month throughout high school with guidelines for when to begin the search for colleges, visit campuses, submit applications, and take the college admission exam(s). The calendar also includes links to vital resources and is a must for every student preparing to go to college. To access the calendar, visit the MSU-RRTC’s website: <http://www.blind.msstate.edu/transition/>.
We are happy to announce that we have gone live with our online employment preparation program, Career Advantage for V.I.P.s. This program offers eight self-paced modules of instructional materials and activities to guide job seekers, taking them step by step from exploration of interests and abilities, through the application and interview processes, to the optimal goal of employment. Career Advantage was developed and tested with young adults who are blind or visually impaired under our recent NIDRR-funded grant. The online program is available free of charge, but we should note that the required reading level is approximately 11th grade. For more information and instructions to access Career Advantage, visit our website: <http://www.blind.msstate.edu/advantage/>. Both tools were made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
Free Phone System for Chat and Entertainment:
The Gathering Place is a phone system that allows people to chat with one another. It also includes a huge amount of audio entertainment such as movies, documentaries, and old-time radio. The service does not charge for membership, but toll charges may apply. Call (231) 732-7046.
Social Networking Site for the Blind:
Blindspace is a free social network website for those who are blind or visually impaired. The site includes private messaging, forums, and more. We also have a telephone-based conference system for those who don't have a computer or Internet access or for those who want an alternate way to communicate with others. We have great support. Both phone and email support is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For more information about Blindspace or to sign up, go to our website at <http://www.blindspacenetwork.co.cc>.
New Book Available:
Konnie Hoffman Ellis, who has written several articles for past issues of the Braille Monitor, would like to notify readers of a book she has recently published. It tells how her brother, Rory Hoffman, multi-instrumentalist, Nashville studio musician and performer, and a two-time winner of the ICMA Musician of the Year award, learned not just to live, but thrive without sight in a world full of adventure and opportunity. She says that this is a great book for people of all ages and for anyone with a love of music or who wants to find out more about living a normal life as a blind person. Anyone interested in learning more about Rory and keeping updated on future books in the series is encouraged to visit the fan page at <www.facebook.com/rorystory>. To purchase a copy of Rory's Story, go directly to the shopping link at <roryhoffman.com> or to Amazon and other places where books are sold.
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.
Slightly used brilliant, full-color auto focus video magnifier--the SmartView 5000 brings the world of color to you and provides a comprehensive solution for all your low-vision reading and writing needs. Features include auto focus, ergonomic design, TV and VGA monitor compatible, two user-definable presets, range of display options, high-contrast black and white, positive and negative image, selectable background and foreground, color combinations, magnification range 3.5 to 50 times with a 17-inch display, and selectable photo mode for enhanced viewing of color images. Excellent for use with leisure and craft activities.
Original price $2,595 plus monitor. Asking $1,500 (does not include shipping from New Jersey). Contact <[email protected]>.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.