_______________________________________________________________________________

Braille Monitor

Vol. 55, No. 3                                                         March 2012

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive (see below) by

The National Federation of the Blind

Marc Maurer, President

National Office
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland  21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: nfb@nfb.org
Website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFBnet.org: http://www.nfbnet.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300

Letters to the president, address changes,
subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the national office.
Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also
be sent to the national office or may be emailed to gwunder@nfb.org.

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES

        ISSN 0006-8829


Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive).  You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player.  The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.

You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return label enclosed with the drive when you return the device.

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Dallas Site of
2012 NFB Convention

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

 

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
2012 National Convention Preregistration Form

Please register online at <www.nfb.org/registration> or use this mail-in form.  Print legibly, provide all requested information, and mail form and payment to:

National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

Please register only one person per registration form; however, one check or money order may cover multiple registrations.  Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration(s).

Registrant Name ______________________________________________
Address _____________________________________________________
City ______________________   State _____________    Zip ___________    
Phone ____________    Email ____________________________________

___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
or
___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
        Pickup Name ______________________________________

Number of preregistrations ___ x $25                      = ____________
Number of pre-purchased banquet tickets ___ x $50         = ____________
Number of pre-purchased barbeque tickets ___ x $40       = ____________
                                                            Total                      = ____________

PLEASE NOTE:

  1. Preconvention registration, banquet, and barbeque sales are final (no refunds).
 All preregistration mail-in forms must be postmarked by May 31.

 


Contents

Vol. 55, No. 3                                                        March 2012

 

Illustrations: Federationists at work on the Hill

The 2012 Washington Seminar in Review
by Gary Wunder

Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans:
Priorities for the 112th Congress, Second Session

The Fair Wages for Workers with
Disabilities Act of 2011

The Home Appliance Accessibility Act

The Americans with Disabilities
Business Opportunity Act

Testimony for the Hearing on “The Promise of Accessible Technology:
Challenges and Opportunities”
by Mark A. Riccobono

Why Is It Important to Join an Organization of the Blind?
Some Views from Our Lists

Tearing Taffany to Pieces
by Daniel B. Frye

A Different Country—No Passport Needed
by Norma Crosby

NEWSLINE on My Job
by Deborah Kendrick

Should the Sound of Silence Be a
Bird's Tweet or a Jet's Roar?
by Mike Ramsey

Remembering Margaret Warren
by Anna Kresmer

Rare Sleep Disorder Leaves Some Who Are Blind Out of Sync

White House Reaffirms Importance of Randolph-Sheppard Program
and Urges Full Compliance
by Nicky Gacos

Convention Scholarships Available
by Allen Harris

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2012 by the National Federation of the Blind

Illustrations: Federationists at work on the Hill

During the 2012 Washington Seminar some Federationists were able to talk directly with their Senators and Representatives. Here is a sample of the photos we received.

 

The 2012 Washington Seminar in Review

by Gary Wunder

A charter bus approaches the Holiday Inn Capitol at 550 C Street Southwest. The driver opens the luggage compartments and expresses concern about how all of the blind people will find their luggage, but in ten minutes an orderly line has formed, credit cards have been pledged, rooms have been assigned, and the first busload of Federationists are ready for the thirty-ninth Washington Seminar. As the official gathering-in meeting on Monday evening, February 6, approaches, meetings of parents, students, merchants, scholarship alumni, the research and development committee, and the college leadership program will already have consumed the better part of the last three days.

When the gavel fell at 5:00 p.m., the more than five hundred assembled moved from deliberation to concerted action. All states were represented, and we had more hotel rooms reserved this year than ever before.

President Maurer came with a solemn announcement. He said that Jesse Hartle had been hit by a turning car the week before the seminar, flew thirty-three feet, suffered a cracked vertebra, and had been placed in a body cast. Still we were amazed when Jesse came to the great gathering-in to help in the effort to advance the legislative agenda of the blind, whose proposals he has done so much to shape.

We also noted with sadness the passing of Sandy Halverson's mother on the previous Wednesday. Sandy and John coordinate the Seminar from the Mercury Room, where questions are answered, reports are taken, and lists are compiled for our governmental affairs staff. Sandy went to make funeral arrangements, came back over the weekend to set up the room and enter the data for our schedules, left to attend her mother’s funeral, and arrived in Washington on Monday in time for the 5:00 p.m. meeting.

President Maurer reminded us that our task during the week was to tell the policy makers what they need to know in order to make and implement the laws that will lead to greater opportunity for the blind in our homes, our schools, and our businesses. We are the people who know what it is like to be blind and the people who know how to communicate our experience, our hopes, and our commitment to the future to those elected to serve us.

Parnell Diggs is a blind South Carolinian, a state president, and a member of the national board who wants, not only to visit the Congress, but to join it as a representative of his state. Through his service he intends to demonstrate the goodness and the vitality of the people of his district and to show that blind people can serve their fellow citizens at all levels, including holding one of the highest offices in America. While the National Federation of the Blind does not endorse candidates or support political parties, we do care about the aspirations of blind people, so Parnell briefly addressed the gathering. He stressed that he is a candidate with a real chance to win; that his primary is in June; and that, even in the event that he is not elected, the worst outcome of this campaign will be that people see a blind man living out the dreams and demonstrating the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

Sometimes the problems of the blind are committed to paper in articles and books; sometimes they are shaped into legislative proposals; sometimes they are given voice in the brevity and poetry of song. Two songs were written to commemorate our legislative agenda for 2012 and were enthusiastically embraced by the assembled when Richie Flores introduced a new singing group self-named "Risky Biz and the Cane Tips." The first song was about fair wages for the blind, and the first verse captured both the problem and its solution: "M-O-N-E-Y: Equal work for equal pay, the blind deserve an honest wage; educate and advocate, the NFB will get you paid.”

The second song is about the long white cane, which the NFB considers so important that we pay to have them manufactured; sell them; and, in case of need, give them away free. This is the tool that many fear will make them look different. Yet they come to discover that it is their most important weapon in the arsenal of devices the blind use to be independent. The name of the song we heard was “Tap That,” and one of the verses proclaims:

Tap that, when you're getting on a plane;
Tap that in the pouring rain;
Tap that; well, there ain't no shame;
You gotta tap that!

This and other songs will undoubtedly be heard when we gather in Dallas for the seventy-second convention of the National Federation of the Blind in July.

Today we move on foot and on public transportation, but the pioneering work done in the Blind Driver Challenge has been the beginning of letting us drive independently. Our vehicle, a Ford Escape, with its nonvisual technology still in its infancy, holds tremendous promise. We need people to help us further research how blind people can get information simultaneously from many sources and integrate it into a safe driving experience. People interested in being a part of this research should contact Patricia Miller at the Jernigan Institute by writing to her at <pmiller@nfb.org> or by calling her at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2369.

Diane McGeorge, whose name is synonymous with the Washington Seminar, was introduced by President Maurer to talk about hotel logistics, but she surprised all of us, including the president, by introducing Maureen Nietfeld, a former student and current employee at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Maureen presented checks from Colorado to the national body totaling $226,662.25. The president, who likes to keep tight control on meetings and the time they take, allowed as how the deviation from his schedule was quite all right and expressed appreciation for this very generous donation.

Moving to the main agenda for the evening, we began by discussing the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, which, at the time of our meeting, had twenty-four cosponsors in the House of Representatives and was supported by forty-one organizations. The sponsor of H.R. 3086 is a friend who came to our convention last year and was honored for sponsoring the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. Congressman Cliff Stearns joined us and began his remarks by saying: "Once more I find myself in the midst of a group of people who have inappropriately been labeled incapable when actually you are a group of people with full capabilities." He observed that some of his friends in Congress are troubled by the proposal to phase out subminimum wages for the blind, their concern being that it will eliminate employment opportunities. He reminds them that most jobs paying less than minimum wage are in sheltered workshops--facilities which pay no taxes, get subsidies from many states and the federal government, and have active programs soliciting public donations. He tells them that today there are 160,000 blind veterans and that many new ones come home each day who deserve better than to return to a country where they can be paid less than the minimum wage. The congressman noted that some oppose the concept of any federally mandated minimum wage, preferring instead to let the market regulate compensation, but, as long as our country has a minimum wage, the blind should be protected like other American workers.

President Maurer said that New York leads the nation in congressional cosponsors and that a major reason for this is the help we have received from Former Governor David Paterson. The governor briefly addressed the gathering, noting that he believes that, until the blind and otherwise disabled are covered and guaranteed at least the minimum wage, the name of the 1938 act should be changed from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to the Labor Standards Act and that its basic unfairness should be cited each time the act is mentioned. He promised to let every member of Congress know about this unfair law and said that, if they don't get rid of it, we should get rid of them.

Jim Gashel, the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, came to the podium to remind us about the annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These awards are to recognize extraordinary and exemplary contributions to the blind, and applications are due by March 31. While the committee would prefer they be made online, paper applications will be accepted. Jim also talked about the company we jointly own, KNFB Reading Technology, Inc., which has as a major priority seeing that blind people receive the same books at the same time and at the same price as their sighted neighbors.

Scott LaBarre's absence from the meeting was duly noted when it came time for the traditional report of our Preauthorized Contribution Plan, but the reason for his empty chair gives us great hope. Scott was in New Orleans attending a meeting of the American Bar Association, where a proposition was discussed committing the Bar to making all of its tests accessible and letting blind applicants use the technology that allows them to be most efficient. Mr. LaBarre was the floor manager for that proposition, and it passed unanimously.

In addition to taking our three issues to Capitol Hill, John Paré said that there would be a hearing about the need for the appropriate use of technology in education and that Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, would make a presentation on our behalf. His written remarks to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee appear in full elsewhere in this issue.

A briefing about each issue followed, and the fact sheets given to every member of congress are found elsewhere in this issue. Anil Lewis began by discussing the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, H.R. 3086. He reminded us that the FLSA passed in 1938 and has been amended several times on the grounds that it was broken and needed fixing. When it was initially established, the blind could be paid no less than 75 percent of the minimum wage. When Congress decided the Act was broken, it was fixed, and the language was changed to say that the blind could be paid 50 percent of the prevailing minimum wage. When still found to be broken and in need of a fix, the Act was again amended. This time no floor was specified for wages that must be paid to the blind, and we have documented cases in which blind people are being paid as little as sixteen cents an hour. As Anil says, "This is not an issue of not being competitive; it is an issue of not being given the proper training and a real opportunity to succeed. As long as the law allows people to be paid less than the minimum wage, employers will do it. The time for change is long overdue."

Governmental Affairs Specialist Lauren McLarney, who is attending her third Washington Seminar, says this gathering represents one of her favorite nights of the year. She addressed the group on the Home Appliances Accessibility Act, noting that it calls on the Access Board to do a study outlining the many ways in which home appliances can be made usable by people with little or no vision and then requires the Federal Trade Commission to develop a minimal nonvisual access standard that will ensure that all home appliances can be used by the blind. Some in the Congress will say they oppose regulation, but it is clear that without governmental incentives the free market will not voluntarily and universally address this issue. Nothing less than the right of blind people to live independently in our homes is at stake, so access cannot be determined by whim or charity or by a corporate act of kindness. It must be the law of the land when the land is America, where we believe in independence and self-reliance.

Jesse Hartle came to the microphone, moved by the rousing cheers of those in the room who were amazed he would come to be with us after the injuries he suffered less than a week before. His mission was to summarize the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunities Act, its purpose, and the way it fits with the other legislation we are proposing. When our country doubts the ability of blind people to live independently in our own homes and doubts our ability to be productive enough to deserve the minimum wage, it should be no surprise that, though we are economically disadvantaged, no one has yet seen fit to include us in the programs of the Small Business Administration to encourage the kind of training and preference in federal contracts already extended to women and other minorities. By proposing to add “people with disabilities” to Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, the blind are embracing the new economy, in which we find fewer people looking to be hired and more of us seeking to create our own businesses.

When the great gathering-in concluded, some went to find dinner, some to plan how to apportion their appointments for Tuesday, and some to catch up on the sleep lost from flying from the West Coast and Hawaii. No matter how they spent Monday evening, Tuesday found the halls of Capitol Hill ringing with the sounds of canes tapping in the pursuit, not of blind justice, but justice for the blind.

When afternoon came, those who did not have conflicting appointments headed for Senate Room G 50, where our own Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, testified along with Eve Hill, senior counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Department of Justice; Dr. John D. Quick, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in Columbus, Indiana; and Mark Turner, director of the Center for Accessible Media, California State University. Ms. Hill reiterated the position of the Department of Justice that the Americans with Disabilities Act most certainly applies to technology used in the schools and cited the joint memorandum between the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. Mark Riccobono began his testimony with these insightful words: "Today's hearing deals with the critical question of civil rights in the twenty-first century. Will technology facilitate unprecedented access to education for all, or will it be the force that segregates students with disabilities in an unequal learning environment?”

After more than an hour and a half of presentations and questions, the hearing drew to a conclusion with Mr. Turner emphasizing to the chairman that "We stand arm and arm with the National Federation of the Blind on our core messaging, which is that we want all students to be able to use the same products at the same time and with the same features. Senator Harkin, the chairman of the Committee, was moved by the testimony and seems determined to see that the d in digital not come to represent denial for students in K-12 and in colleges and universities throughout the nation.

When the Tuesday evening briefing convened, President Maurer brought us sad news, the passing of Levada Kemp, our representative from South Dakota, a board member of the affiliate, and a hard-working member who would do anything asked of her. A moment of silence was observed in her memory.

Anil Lewis told the gathering about his day on the Hill, the most moving part of it being a meeting in which Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers committed to cosponsor the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, H.R. 3086. We come to Capitol Hill because we know the value of personal contact, but Rep. McMorris Rodgers was moved to action in no small part because Nijat Worley interned in her office and gave her firsthand evidence of our talent and capacity. This member of congress is the co-chair of the Disability Caucus, her four-year-old son having Downs syndrome and drawing her to areas she didn't think much about when running for Congress.

We were joined by a second member of the House of Representatives, who has been our lead Democratic sponsor for H.R. 3086, Congressman Tim Bishop. He related that, when first contacted about sponsoring this bill, he did not know that the Fair Labor Standards Act exempted from protection American citizens with disabilities. When he found out about Section 14(c), he immediately signed on, because to him it was a simple matter of fairness and basic human dignity. Part of his passion to modify the FLSA is also rooted in the good it represents: the establishment of a forty-hour work week, the provision for extra pay beyond forty hours, and the example of his father who worked eighty or ninety hours a week to send his children through college. He noted that, despite having stood the test of time, the Act is far from perfect and has been amended to require equal pay regardless of gender, amended to protect the rights of migrant workers, and amended to ensure that new mothers get time off without being penalized; and soon it will be amended to eliminate Section 14(c) to ensure that blind workers receive at least the minimum wage--the next logical step in the evolution of the labor law and the laws regarding people with disabilities.

All three of our proposals were again discussed, with positive comments made by many Federationists about their contacts with members interested in supporting and cosponsoring. The final order of business for the evening was a report from Helen Stevens, a recent graduate of Harvard, who is interning at the National Center for the Blind and who has drafted a model voting rights bill for the states. While the Help America Vote Act was passed to provide accessible voting machines in federal elections, it does not ensure a secret ballot for blind people in local and state contests. This must be done state by state, and it will soon be sent to affiliate presidents for introduction in their legislatures.

On Wednesday evening we did our last recap of legislative issues, talking about general objections to federal regulations and how to deal with our specific issues. A legislator’s political agenda may include reducing regulations or the role of the federal government, but our focus must be to emphasize that we have specific needs which, if not met, will cost blind people opportunities and will also cost the government in the form of minimal subsidies that keep us in the clutches of the so-called safety net. Making disabled people eligible for the 8(a) program of the Small Business Administration costs not one dime. Making home appliances accessible saves state and federal money by letting us continue to live independently in our homes. Eliminating the provision allowing blind people to be paid less than the minimum wage will increase the taxes that employed blind people will pay. It will force the workshops that rely on an antiquated model of service delivery to look for ways to compete that do not encourage low productivity and continuing dependence on government subsidies. Many senators and representatives, once they come to see us as people rather than problems, will want to help, and continuing contact throughout the year will make all the difference.

When we left the nation's capital, we felt good about our progress and our prospects. Many of the members of Congress and aides with whom we met greeted our legislative agenda with excitement, noting that a Congress too often known for gridlock and bickering just might find some common ground in the creativity and reasonableness of our proposals. We, in turn, came away with hope for the future, knowing that, whether the issue is home appliances, fair wages, or business opportunities, the future is in our hands, and we are committed to making it one in which we can advance the goal of integration and full participation.

Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans:
Priorities for the 112th Congress, Second Session

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind people in the United States.  As the voice of the nation’s blind, we represent the collective views of blind people throughout society.  All of our leaders and the vast majority of our members are blind, but anyone can participate in our movement.  There are an estimated 1.3 million blind people in the United States, and every year approximately 75,000 Americans become blind.

The NFB’s three legislative initiatives for 2012 are:

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011 (H.R. 3086)

H.R. 3086 phases out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows employers to pay disabled workers subminimum wages.  This bill will end this exploitative practice, giving disabled Americans equal protection under the law to earn at least the federal minimum wage. 

The Home Appliance Accessibility Act (HAAA)

Despite the existence of nonvisual access technology, the overwhelming majority of home appliance manufacturers are selling touch-screen, flat panel, and digital home appliances that are completely inaccessible to the blind.  HAAA calls for a study and minimum nonvisual access standard for essential home appliances to protect blind consumers from the growing digital divide that threatens our independence. 

The Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act (ADBOA)

Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act allows businesses owned by socially disadvantaged groups to obtain federal contracts. Although two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed, disabled people are currently not presumed to be socially disadvantaged. ADBOA amends Section 8(a) to add disabled Americans to the list of those who are presumed to be socially disadvantaged.

The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight; it is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. Given the proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance. Blind Americans need your help to achieve these goals and reach economic security and full integration into society. Supporting these measures will benefit more than just the blind, as promoting our economic welfare increases the tax base. We urge Congress to hear our demands for equality and support these legislative initiatives.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011
H.R. 3086

Disabled workers have been unfairly excluded from the federal minimum wage for 74 years, and today over 300,000 disabled workers are working for subminimum wages. 

Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities.  This section allows the Secretary of Labor to grant special wage certificates to employers, permitting them to pay their workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage, often in sheltered work environments.  In some instances disabled workers are being paid pennies per hour. 

This discrimination is rooted in low expectations based on misconceptions about the capabilities of disabled people.  The law falsely implies that people with disabilities cannot be productive employees, and subminimum wage employers prey on society’s misconception that disabled people are incapable of being competitively employed. In reality, when provided the proper rehabilitation training and tools, workers with disabilities can be productive and financially independent. 

Subminimum wage supports an outdated business model that fosters the underemployment of workers with disabilities.  Section 14(c) was only to be used “to the extent necessary to prevent curtailment of opportunities” for employment of people with disabilities.  Instead, subminimum-wage sheltered workshops have eroded into day custody centers, limiting opportunities for workers with disabilities ever to transition into integrated, competitive work.  These institutions instill a philosophy of incapacity, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy resulting in long-term underemployment. 

The sheltered work system is a cash cow for the subminimum wage employer.  Many employers insist that paying the minimum wage to disabled employees would result in lack of profitability and a reduction in their workforce, but most benefit from philanthropic donations, preferred status when bidding on federal contracts, and federal funding.  Moreover, while their disabled workers receive subminimum wages that are subsidized by Social Security and public assistance, some workshop executives are earning salaries far above industry norms.  The economics overwhelmingly favor subminimum wage employers, encouraging the perpetuation of subminimum wage employment and leaving workers with disabilities little to no choice for real employment.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011:

Discontinues the practice of issuing special wage certificates.  The secretary of labor will no longer issue special wage certificates to new applicants.

Phases out all remaining special wage certificates over a 3-year period.  Entities currently holding special wage certificates will begin compensating their workers with disabilities at no less than the federal minimum wage, using the following schedule: 

Repeals Section14(c) of the FLSA.  Three years after the law is enacted, the practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wage will be officially abolished, and workers with disabilities will no longer be excluded from the workforce protection of a federal minimum wage. 

Stop the Discrimination.
Promote Equal Work for Equal Pay.

Cosponsor the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, H.R. 3086.

For more information contact:
Anil Lewis, Director of Strategic Communications
National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2374    Email: alewis@nfb.org

To cosponsor the bill, contact:
James Thomas in Congressman Cliff Stearns’s office
Phone: (202) 225-5744    Email: james.thomas@mail.house.gov
-or-
Tim Powers in Congressman Tim Bishop’s office
Phone: (202) 225-3826    Email: tim.powers@mail.house.gov

The Home Appliance Accessibility Act

Digital technology has improved the ease and efficiency of the way we live our lives—but now blind people can no longer operate most fundamental home appliances.

Home appliance manufacturers are constantly incorporating advanced technology into their products.  Most new stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, and other home appliances require interaction with digital displays, flat panels, touch screens, and other user interfaces that are inaccessible to people who are blind or have low vision.  Knobs, buttons, and other tactile methods of use are disappearing. 

Technology exists to make home appliances accessible to blind people.  Manufacturers often claim nonvisual access cannot be achieved, but text-to-speech technology is inexpensive and more prevalent than it has ever been—Apple has incorporated VoiceOver (a text-to-speech function) into its touch-screen products, making the iPhone, iPod, and iPad fully accessible to blind people right out of the box.  All ATMs manufactured in the United States are accessible, and every polling place provides a nonvisually accessible voting machine.  Frequently, a simple audio output or vibrotactile feature can make a product fully accessible at minimal cost, as well as more dynamic and appealing for all users. 

Unfortunately most manufacturers refuse to incorporate nonvisual access technology in their products.  Companies claim that adding accessibility features is too expensive, but no public data demonstrate that claim.  Furthermore, it is proven to be more cost effective to include accessibility features during the design phase rather than after, but manufacturers generally do not invest in this approach.  Simply put, if companies include access technology in the design of home appliances, they will sell more products. 

No laws exist to require companies to make home appliances accessible.  Although the Americans with Disabilities Act and many other laws mandate physical accessibility for people with disabilities (e.g., wheelchair ramps, Braille in public buildings), no laws protect blind consumers’ right to access to fundamental home appliances.  This trend of inaccessibility will continue to grow as technology becomes more advanced and accessibility solutions are ignored.
 
The Home Appliance Accessibility Act: 

Calls on the Access Board to conduct a study.  The Access Board (a small government agency fully equipped with the resources to review the current marketplace, consult with stakeholders, and commission research on issues of access) will issue a report with findings and recommendations for a minimum nonvisual access standard for home appliances and at-home medical equipment. 

Establishes a minimum nonvisual access standard for home appliances.  Six months after the Access Board publishes the abovementioned report, the Board will begin a rulemaking period, not to exceed 36 months, to establish a minimum nonvisual access standard for home appliances.  The final standard will go into effect three years after the rule is finalized. 

Gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority to enforce the standard.  Having already been given consumer protection enforcement powers by Congress, the FTC will handle violations, conduct investigations, and levy civil penalties against manufacturers who fail to comply with the standard. 

Provides flexibility to manufacturers.  The legislation does not mandate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for all products.  Additionally, manufacturers who can demonstrate that meeting a minimum nonvisual access standard creates an undue burden and companies with gross annual sales less than $250,000 are exempt from the law. 
           
End the digital divide.

Sponsor the Home Appliance Accessibility Act.

For more information contact:
Lauren McLarney, Government Programs Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2207    Email: lmclarney@nfb.org

The Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are unemployed or vastly underemployed.

The Small Business Act (SBA) is meant to promote an entrepreneurial spirit.  To a substantial degree America’s economic success is tied to the freedom to engage in entrepreneurial activity and create one’s own wealth.  It has long been the policy of the United States to promote the economic well-being of traditionally disadvantaged groups by creating a variety of business incentive programs that allow these groups to participate in the mainstream of the nation’s economy.

Section 8(a) of the SBA is a powerful program allowing businesses owned by racial, cultural, and ethnic minorities or women to secure federal contracts.  However, this program is not extended to Americans with disabilities.  Individuals with disabilities seeking 8(a) certification must take on the onerous task of proving that they are socially and economically disadvantaged, while individuals who are from a racial, cultural, or ethnic minority or women are presumed to be socially disadvantaged.

Census Bureau statistics indicate that people with disabilities occupy an inferior status in our society and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally.  Yet physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person's right to participate fully in all aspects of society.  Many people with disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of commonly held misconceptions about their abilities.  The continued exclusion from these programs denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous. 

Disabled people are also excluded from federal procurement practices.  Under current law businesses attempting to secure large federal contracts must guarantee that they will subcontract a portion of the work to small businesses that are owned by traditionally disadvantaged populations.  Again individuals with disabilities are not considered a traditionally disadvantaged population; thus businesses owned by individuals with disabilities cannot benefit from these entrepreneurial opportunities. 

The Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act: 

Amends Section 8(a).  People with disabilities will be added to the list of those who are presumed to be socially disadvantaged.  Doing this will extend the opportunity to secure federal contracts to disabled people. 

Changes federal procurement practices.  For-profit businesses attempting to secure large federal contracts can satisfy procurement requirements by subcontracting with businesses owned by individuals with disabilities. 

Help Unleash the Entrepreneurial Capabilities of Individuals With Disabilities.

Sponsor the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act.

For more information contact:
Jesse Hartle, Government Programs Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2233
Email: jhartle@nfb.org

 

Testimony for the Hearing on “The Promise of Accessible Technology: Challenges and Opportunities”

by Mark A. Riccobono

From the Editor: On February 7, 2012, Mark Riccobono presented the following written testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Senator Tom Harken. We have not reprinted the references. Otherwise, what follows is the NFB’s full testimony. Here it is:

Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the committee, and other witnesses, my name is Mark A. Riccobono. I am the executive director for the Jernigan Institute at the National Federation of the Blind. My address is 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; my telephone is (410) 659-9314, extension 2368.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today on the tremendously important topic of technology and its ability to make education accessible to all students. I am happy to say that the promise that technology holds for enhancing education and improving access to the curriculum is extraordinary. However, it is equally true that technology, if not appropriately designed and implemented, is the biggest threat to our nation’s ability to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities that we have faced since Congress enacted Public Law 94-142. Harnessing the extraordinary promise of technology is within our reach, but it will take leadership, commitment, and ongoing oversight. The alternative is a future where we spend our time, money, and innovative capacity retrofitting bridges to patch the digital divide rather than enjoying the economic and social advantages gained by the increased usability of technology and the increased leveraging of human capacity that results from technology that is designed and built to be accessible to all.

Personal Experience

By way of background, I was diagnosed as legally blind at age five. I entered the Milwaukee Public Schools (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and received all of my K-12 education as a blind student integrated into the public schools in that district. My vision loss is a result of glaucoma and aniridia. As I entered kindergarten, there was no doubt that the prospect of my vision getting better was zero, and the chance of it getting worse as I progressed through school was very high. As it turned out, my vision steadily got worse—by eighth grade I had lost all of the vision in one eye and had less than 5 percent of normal vision in the other eye.

When I was a student in the K-12 system, technology was something used to supplement the educational curriculum. In my elementary school the technology was limited to a few computers in the school library, which we used to play educational games in our free time. In middle school we had a small computer lab, but its regular use was not fully integrated into the curriculum. In high school we used computers to do specific projects, and a handful of individual classrooms had dedicated computers. However, technology was still not part of the daily curriculum and was not central to the experience of gaining knowledge. I learned to use a computer with software that read the text on the screen aloud using synthesized computer speech as a means to write papers—since I could not effectively read my own writing. Despite my extremely limited vision, I was never given the opportunity to learn Braille in school.

In 1994 I entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in business. With the support of the state’s vocational rehabilitation program I was given a laptop computer that weighed about twenty pounds. I was able to use that computer to gain access to some limited online resources, which were still largely in the DOS rather than the Windows environment. Registration for classes was done on the telephone—providing me equal access to the registration system—and books were available in hard-copy print only from the bookstore. In order to gain access to the printed books and course packets, I worked closely with the disability resource center on campus. That office facilitated getting the printed materials read onto cassette tapes if the materials were not already available in that format from another source. The recordings were made by volunteers who chose which parts of the book to read based on where they fell in the course syllabus—assuming I was able to get the syllabus ahead of time.

By the beginning of my junior year, Windows 95 had helped to increase the computing power across campus and in individual dorm rooms, the fast growth of the World Wide Web had created new means for sharing knowledge, and the improvements in desktop scanning technologies made it feasible to create reasonably good electronic copies of printed books. During my junior year I was employed at the McBurney Disability Resource Center on campus and helped to implement improvements in the services to create accessible copies of reading materials for students with disabilities. I helped develop and implement the procedures for converting printed books into electronic files that students with disabilities could access and helped to train students on the systems necessary to access those files. The electronic files significantly reduced the waiting time for students with disabilities to receive their materials and improved our ability to produce materials in Braille.

When I graduated in the spring of 1999, technology was becoming increasingly integrated into the fabric of the academic experience, but the old paradigm of access to information for students with disabilities still held true. Technology was implemented on campus, and it was the role of the McBurney Disability Resource Center to help figure out what modifications and additional access technologies might be needed to allow students with disabilities to gain access to those systems. Additionally, the primary means for disseminating information was still in hard-copy print, which we worked to convert to a format readable by students with disabilities. While the World Wide Web was used to disseminate some information, the configuration of websites was basic and generally easily handled by screen-reading technology.

In 2000 I was appointed to be director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired—the agency under the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction responsible for carrying out statewide outreach services to K-12 students who are blind and the school districts serving those students. I served in that capacity for three and a half years, during which time we spent thousands of state and federal dollars to purchase access technologies that students who are blind used to access curriculum materials. These specialized access technologies had very little interface with systems in the public schools. We worked closely with school districts to advise them on how to make their computer labs accessible, but we rarely faced instances where the technology was used in a classroom on a daily basis. Our agency had a high tech distance learning lab that we used to connect to similar sites around the state. The lab was used for live interactive learning experiences where students could talk to and be seen by a presenter at another location. We rarely needed to troubleshoot a situation where a student needed to take a course online, because distance learning was still in its infancy in K-12. Finally, we worked to improve the accessibility of K-12 textbooks further by supporting the provisions in the law that ultimately created the National Instructional Materials Access Standard (NIMAS). The theory behind NIMAS was that access to instructional materials would be improved by having a clear electronic file standard for book files coming from publishers. The paradigm was still about accommodating students with disabilities in educational environments largely dominated by chalkboards and paper shuffling rather than keyboards and mouse clicks.

I began overseeing national education programs for the National Federation of the Blind in late 2003, and, soon after, I enrolled in a program at Johns Hopkins University to pursue a master’s degree in education. My experience as a blind student in higher education was dramatically different than it had been just five years earlier as I finished my bachelor’s degree. The vast majority of my interactions with the systems of the university were through the Internet. I registered for classes, accessed library materials, communicated with professors and advisors, downloaded course packets, and bought books online. The online systems were frequently challenging and forced me to find workarounds due to inaccessibility. Compared to my undergraduate experience, there was much more reasonably-accessible digital content available, which resulted in my ability to navigate my coursework with a greater degree of independence than ever before. Where there were barriers, I was determined to figure out a way around them so I could get my degree. However, many students with disabilities are not prepared to fight through the frustration and delays. Had I been pursuing a degree in science or engineering, I would have had even more difficulty. Technology was rapidly becoming more complex and more integrated into the fabric of education, and blind students were beginning to face more barriers to accessibility. Meanwhile, in my coursework we studied the education system and the impact of technology on teaching and learning interactions. I came to understand that the future is uncertain—whether technology would facilitate unprecedented access to information and full integration or be the force that unintentionally segregates students with disabilities into an unequal learning environment.

Today as a lifelong learner still seeking new knowledge, and an administrator of model educational programs, and a father of two young children about to enter public education (one of whom has the same eye condition I have), I am concerned that the future is still too unclear—will technology cause segregation or integration for students with disabilities?

A New Paradigm

There are two central elements to making education accessible to all students. The first is access to educational facilities. Although there still is work to be done in this area, the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has significantly improved this nation’s infrastructure for providing all people physical access to the educational environment. The second is access to information. For decades now we have been working to improve access to information in education for students with disabilities. Some of those efforts have been to make curriculum adjustments that better facilitate students’ obtaining and integrating knowledge. Other efforts have been to convey information in the form that makes it accessible—such as converting printed materials into Braille or using American Sign Language. Technology will either enhance our progress or make some of our previous efforts meaningless.

The schoolhouse is now more accessible to students with disabilities than at any other time in history. But how will history view the great progress we have made when students with disabilities can get in the front door, to the classroom, and to a desk, but in the end they are shut out of the curriculum because the powerful technological tools used to convey knowledge are inaccessible to them and/or the alternative technologies are inadequate? Will we wait until families of young children with disabilities opt for home schooling in mass numbers because there are too many barriers to fight through in the mainstream educational technology in their local schools? Will we wait until students with disabilities stop coming to mainstream universities because the systems central to the student experience—everything from putting money on your meal card to reading the literature of the world—are not accessible to them in an equally integrated manner? Technology is no longer a supplement to the educational experience; it is an essential access point for education and employment in the twenty-first century.

Technology changes the paradigm of accessibility because it can be designed from the very beginning to provide the broadest access. In its basic form digital content is accessible to everyone, because it can be easily transformed, converted, and translated into the form that is required by an individual student. By universally designing technologies to handle a broad range of different physical and informational interfaces, we can get significantly closer to equality in education. Today we are getting a glimpse of what the well-designed future can be. Consider the blind student in a classroom environment that uses the iPad. The student can use Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen-reading technology and participate in lessons alongside her sighted peers, and she can take out a refreshable Braille display (a supplemental access technology) and connect it to the iPad to read in Braille the reading lesson the teacher uploaded an hour before class. With this powerful accessibility built into a mainstream device, we begin to understand that technology can get us much closer to equality in education than even the most vocal advocates had imagined. But the opposite is also true.

When the old paradigm of “accommodation” persists, educational institutions adopt technologies that are incredibly complex but have not been designed for access by students with disabilities—they miss the opportunity and unknowingly create new challenges. This means that the educational institution has to find an alternative, which brings an additional expense and will most likely be unequal. Imagine the blind student who attempts to log on to the university library site, search for research articles, and obtain relevant digital copies of articles for a course project. Imagine the frustration when the student cannot effectively perform the search because the database was not designed according to well-accepted Web accessibility standards. The student contacts the library (during normal business hours only), and the librarian is pleased to meet his responsibility to accommodate by performing the search for the student and pulling the relevant articles. The student provides as much information as possible about the desired search terms (even though non-disabled students use the process of searching to narrow their focus), and the librarian agrees to email the student the digital copies of the articles. The librarian identifies twenty-five relevant articles but only ten are available as full text (accessible to the student). The other fifteen are provided in inaccessible PDF files, which the student must take and run through a program that attempts to perform optical character recognition on the files. All of that has to be done before even getting to the abstract of the article to know if it is one that is worth reading for the project. And just imagine if the search terms were not quite right and another search is needed but the library is closed until Monday.

Meanwhile, other students in the project group are uploading notes to an online wiki for planning the project. Of course, the wiki is a Web platform that was also not built with accessibility in mind. The student decides to switch to work for another course, so she attempts to pull up a required class video from an online learning management system. The video is offered in Flash, and accessibility has not been properly implemented, which results in the student’s being unable to play the video. All of these barriers and more are faced by students today, even though providing accessibility in these technology applications is possible. Unless we commit ourselves to the new paradigm, this is the experience for a student with a disability in a future where technology is built and implemented without accessibility from the beginning.

The Shift of Technology in Education (The Opportunity)

As technology becomes more central to the educational experience and accessibility is built into the mainstream technology, we should observe the technology market becoming more effective in its delivery of products to increase accessibility for people with disabilities. In the old paradigm, very expensive, low-volume products were created to assist people with disabilities to gain access to information. Specialized electronic devices allowing a blind person to write and read back the Braille code in electronic form have been produced for decades. These devices—generically referred to as electronic Braille notetakers—have historically had limited interaction with mainstream computers and have generally cost more than $5,000. As mainstream technology incorporates more accessibility into the native design, the need for these highly specialized and segregated devices goes down. This means that the access technology industry can focus on needs that the mainstream market is unlikely to address effectively. For example, although Apple’s iOS devices include great accessibility support (screen reading and screen magnification technology for blind users) and interoperability with third-party refreshable Braille displays, Apple itself is unlikely to get into the business of designing, building, and distributing Braille display devices. However, Apple’s leadership in native accessibility in the iOS platform opens up a new market for devices that further enhance the accessibility of the Apple products and provide innovative solutions to the access to information challenge. In addition to refreshable Braille displays, there will still be a need for a number of products that are critical in providing access to the curriculum but are unlikely to come from the mainstream market. Examples of such technologies are tools for producing hard-copy Braille (Braille embossers) and tactile graphics.

To illustrate this technology shift, let’s compare the old specialized model to the new paradigm of accessible mainstream technology. The old access technology model is represented by the BrailleNote Apex—a Braille notetaking/PDA device available from HumanWare at a retail price of $6,379. The BrailleNote Apex has a fairly wide distribution in K-12 education as a specialized device for blind students. The new paradigm is represented by an Apple iPhone 4S 16GB with a retail price of $199. Because the iPhone does not include refreshable Braille built into the device, we need to add a separate piece of access technology. In order to make the comparison fairly equal, I chose to add the Alva BC640 40-cell refreshable Braille display at a retail price of $4,199. This means that our new mainstream option retails for $4,398 (almost exactly $2,000 less than the specialized technology option). Table 1 compares the products based on hardware capacity and processing speed. In this comparison we find that the mainstream option is not only less expensive but far more powerful than the specialized option. The chart does not compare the availability of applications between these two solutions. While we could easily detail the applications available for the BrailleNote Apex (those built in and those available for hundreds of extra dollars), we would not be able to do that for the iOS platform. There are hundreds of thousands of applications in the Apple App Store. Even when you consider that Apple does not currently require applications to be accessible to be in the App Store, blind users of the iOS platform have found a growing number of powerful accessible applications to serve every need from taking notes to reading books to engaging in social networking. It is fair to say that the applications available in the mainstream model exponentially exceed those in the specialized model.

The Failure in Technology Implementation (The Challenge)

I believe it is fair to say that, with only a few limited exceptions, educational institutions at the K-12 and post-secondary level are currently failing to make a passing grade in the subject of realizing the promise of technology for students with disabilities. However, it is not entirely their fault. These institutions have 100 percent of the responsibility for ensuring their programs and services are accessible, and, while they should develop more capacity to ensure the accessibility of the technologies they purchase, the reality is they cannot effectively test the accessibility for every piece of technology on the market—the technology vendors need to do better. There is a need for shared responsibility, clear standards, and strong enforcement.

Books and Instructional Materials

Let’s examine a few educational technologies to understand the barriers students with disabilities currently face. Central to the educational experience is the book. In growing numbers K-12 schools and universities are moving away from static hard-copy, expensive print books to the use of dynamic, easily-updated and supplemented, and less expensive e-books. The mainstream move to e-books has great promise for students with disabilities. Digital content is not inherently inaccessible like the print book. The basic digital content of a book can be read aloud using speech technologies or enlarged using magnification software without much trouble. In fact, people with disabilities, specifically those with “print disabilities,” have been using digital versions of books since the late 1980s. The e-book is frequently delivered via a device or reading system (e.g., Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad, or Adobe’s PDF product). As long as the delivery system for the e-book includes accessibility, students with print disabilities will have equal access to the content of the book and the functionality of the reading system. In practical terms this means that we have the promise of all students having access to the same book, at the same time, and at the same price. This is a tremendous leap forward in timely access to materials compared to the old paradigm, and it saves the significant amount of human resources that were being used to convert inaccessible print back into an accessible format.

The reality of e-book adoptions in both K-12 and higher education is that, in general, the producers of textbooks and to some extent the purchasers of those books are stuck in the old paradigm of accessibility. Accessibility is often not built into e-book readers and, when it is built in, it does not provide the same level of functionality and navigation that is provided to the reader without a disability. Two examples at either end of the spectrum of accessibility are products provided by Apple and Barnes & Noble. Apple recently launched iBooks 2.0 with an aim of revolutionizing the educational book space. Apple is the industry leader for built-in accessibility due to its commitment to out-of-the-box accessibility in its iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod) and Mac products. This means that a blind student can purchase the iPad, for example, at the same price as everyone else and begin using it with the built-in VoiceOver screen reader from the moment it comes out of the box. While the blind student can purchase one of the new iBook 2.0 titles and read it straight through, she will not be able to navigate the book or have access to the same functionality as her non-disabled peers—not perfect but far more accessible than the old paradigm.

In contrast, many universities have begun creating relationships with Barnes & Noble for provision of e-textbooks with focus on the relatively inexpensive Nook device for delivery of those books. The Nook includes no accessibility features and leaves a print-disabled student to find a separate solution. Most certainly the separate solution will also be unequal since the print-disabled student will not have any of the functionality that the Nook provides to all other users. There are a number of other book-reading systems and devices delivering various e-book formats with varying degrees of inaccessible content and features, and most fall down when accessibility is considered. The promise of “same book, same time” is near but not yet fully delivered.

Why would any educational institution choose the Nook considering its inaccessibility? I believe it is largely because they are stuck in the old paradigm of having to accommodate students with disabilities. Therefore, it is natural for the schools to purchase something that is inaccessible and figure out an alternative for students with disabilities. Furthermore, the educational institutions have complete responsibility under the law for ensuring equal access to their educational programs. The old paradigm has created the practice of buying the product you feel best meets your need and working out accessibility if you have to do so. However, the new paradigm should suggest that schools start demanding complete accessibility in their technology products, including e-books, and hold the producers of those technologies responsible. The educational textbook market is a significant piece of the publishing industry and, with the growing adoption of e-books, we need to ensure that the books being used in education are accessible to students with print disabilities.

A final problem related to the adoption of accessible e-books in K-12 is the existing NIMAS standard. Before the e-book market began taking off in education, NIMAS was the most effective policy solution to helping K-12 schools deliver more timely textbooks to their students with print disabilities. While NIMAS helped to create some standardization in the electronic files, it has not made a noticeable difference in the delivery of better and more timely instructional materials to students with disabilities. Furthermore, NIMAS is now a barrier to mainstream access to books at the K-12 level. There is little incentive for publishers of e-books for the K-12 market to produce fully accessible e-books as long as they can meet their legal obligation to provide a NIMAS file. As the e-books become more sophisticated and include greater functionality—ability to annotate, link to online content, etc.—the student using the NIMAS version of the book will receive increasingly unequal access.

Cloud-Based Education and Dedicated Portable Devices

Many schools are utilizing the tremendous resources available through applications and databases available in the cloud. Frequently schools make educational resources available through websites that are actually portals to sophisticated software applications that run over the Internet rather than being locally installed on a hardware device. This provides great flexibility to schools and allows them to take advantage of a tremendous amount of technology that can be freely implemented. Because cloud-based applications are not installed locally, the school can leverage whatever Internet-enabled devices they have available, or they can have individual students bring their own device.

Take for example Google’s effort to gain wide support for adoption of Google Apps for Education in schools across the country as a means of providing email and collaboration tools to students and faculty. Google Apps for Education is a free suite of hosted communication and collaboration applications that includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, and Google Sites. We have found that each of these applications contains significant accessibility barriers for blind people utilizing screen access technology. These applications are attractive to schools because they are powerful and their price tag does not stretch the education budget. However, you cannot accommodate students in an equally integrated manner when they are shut out of a technology as powerful as Google Apps for Education. Schools face the choice of segregating students with disabilities or enhancing integration by only adopting technologies that are accessible. While we hope all schools make the right decision, if they do not, the individual student has very few options available, and every day that a student with a disability waits for the technology to be made accessible is another day of learning lost.

In other cases, schools are adopting broad programs to purchase technology and put a device in the hands of each student. Consider a story from last summer’s Powell Tribune (Powell, Wyoming) entitled “School District Adopts the iPad.” The story details the plan to spend $722,000 for the purchase of 1,180 second-generation iPads in order to put one in the hands of each middle and high school student in the district. The story does not talk at all about accessibility, although it does talk about the ways that implementing this technology will cut down on other costs such as textbooks and computer-based testing. This raises the question of whether or not the applications used on the iPads will be designed to be accessible to students with disabilities. If not, how will the district accommodate those students, and will it create segregation or integration?

Even more alarming is a report from CNET News entitled "27,000 Google Chromebooks Headed to U.S. Schools." The article announces the plan to distribute new Chromebooks to school districts in Iowa, Illinois, and South Carolina. The article credits a Google official as saying, "We now have hundreds of schools across forty-one states that have outfitted at least one classroom with Chromebooks." The Chromebook is a tablet device that provides computing power while operating applications from the cloud. This device presents significant access barriers to students who are blind, yet these school districts are proceeding with a plan to issue Chromebooks to students for use in school and at home. This means that non-disabled students have around-the-clock access to information and those who are blind have unequal access and are potentially shut out of certain applications.

These are just a few examples of technologies that are being rapidly and broadly implemented with limited to no accessibility. There are dozens of other inaccessible technologies by dozens of other technology companies big and small being purchased by educational institutions largely using public money. Examples of other educational technologies where we have found limited accessibility even after the system was implemented in K-12 schools or universities include:

Furthermore, this does not take into account the technologies that teachers and faculty members with disabilities need to interact with to create and post educational content, perform research, log grades, or do any of the other staff functions required by their employer and utilizing a computerized system owned by the educational institution.

Recommendations for Federal Policy

Based on my personal experience as a blind person in the education system (K-12 through master’s degree), an administrator of educational programs for blind children and adults, a father with young children about to enter America’s public education system, and an advocate who works with blind students and faculty across the country, I offer the following recommendations to facilitate the use of technology to enhance accessibility and academic outcomes for students at all levels:

Stronger Oversight and Accountability in Government

In order to meet the promise of technology in education we need strong leadership. That leadership begins with the government cleaning up its own practices. Federal agencies dealing with educational institutions and providing grants to institutions to do cutting edge research and education are among the offenders. For example, while the United States Department of Education has been more responsive to dialogue lately, they still do not have clear checks and balances to prevent the distribution of grants that will fund projects resulting in the development of inaccessible digital instructional materials. The agency needs to have an official who reports directly to the Secretary who can ensure that the entire infrastructure of educational technology efforts includes real accessibility. Furthermore, the Department of Education needs to closely monitor and enforce accessibility requirements in its distribution of grants.

Another significant agency of concern is the National Science Foundation, which funds a tremendous amount of research and educational innovation. In recent correspondence from the Foundation to Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy, as a follow-up to concerns raised about the accessibility of NSF-funded projects, the Foundation said in part:

When a grant proposal is submitted to the NSF, the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) from the proposing organization electronically signs the proposal. By electronically signing the proposal, the AOR certifies the organization agrees to comply with NSF's Nondiscrimination Certification. That certification states that the organization agrees to comply with a multitude of civil rights statutes, including the Rehabilitation Act, as well as all regulations and policies issued by NSF pursuant to these statutes.

The practical experience of researchers with disabilities and those attempting to use educational products from NSF-funded programs is that the technologies and materials are frequently not accessible. I would recommend that checking a box is not enough. We need a proactive approach. What tools is NSF giving potential grantees to understand accessibility and help them build it in? What guidelines and examples does the agency provide for grantees to know what works and what doesn’t? How often does accessibility get discussed at project director conferences? And how clear is the complaint process to those who find violations? When America is interested in boosting its science, technology, and engineering workforce, we should not be leaving people with disabilities behind.

Finally, some agencies are working on being more proactive, strengthening their enforcement of accessibility requirements, and bringing more attention to the issues. A recent request for proposal from the United States Department of Labor included the statement,

All online and technology-enabled courses developed under this SGA must incorporate the principles of universal design in order to ensure that they are readily accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities in full compliance with the Americans with Disability Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.

This is a good step forward if the agency sticks to it, asks for clear documentation of how the project is meeting this requirement (not just a checkbox), and takes swift action when this provision is violated. However, what happens when you go to the Department of Labor website and click on one of the links that takes you to a third-party site like Facebook? You are met with a new page that states:

You are exiting the Department of Labor’s Web server. The Department of Labor does not endorse, takes no responsibility for, and exercises no control over the linked organization or its views, or contents, nor does it vouch for the accuracy or accessibility of the information contained on the destination server. The Department of Labor also cannot authorize the use of copyrighted materials contained in linked websites. Users must request such authorization from the sponsor of the linked website. Thank you for visiting our site. Please click on the link below to continue.

The Department is presumably posting information to Facebook for the purpose of communicating vital government information and news to the public. Facebook presents many accessibility challenges to people with disabilities. We might reasonably assume that the individual posting information to Facebook on behalf of the Department is an employee or contractor of the government—unless there is a volunteer that has been authorized to perform this service. Yet the Department claims no responsibility for the accessibility of the content presented on the Facebook page. Advocates have found getting Facebook to improve its accessibility frustratingly slow. Who is taking responsibility for accessibility? How many other third-party sites containing vital government information are not accessible and have nobody taking responsibility for their accessibility? Where is the leadership, and who is working to ensure that all citizens of this great nation have access to information?

We need to do more to move government from the old accommodations model into the new mainstream access model of technology. Greater leadership, proactive training, and rigorous reinforcement is required. There should be more centralized responsibility for ensuring accessibility within federal agencies and within the policies of those agencies. In particular, the government needs to take more aggressive steps to ensure that federal grant funds are not going to projects where accessibility is ignored. Furthermore, the government needs to provide leadership in these areas by ensuring that government sites meet the highest standards of accessibility.

Strong, Enforceable, and Functional Standards

Those who resist the requirement that technologies be accessible from the design phase argue that it is too hard to know what “accessible” means and what truly is universal design, and that having a standard limits innovation. Despite these claims, many strong sets of standards have been developed that have gone a long way towards improving accessibility, and new innovative solutions are coming to market when the talent is focused in that direction (e.g., Apple’s use of unique interface gestures that make the iPhone accessible to blind people). But there are not good comprehensive standards to guide the accessibility of technology in educational institutions.

I recommend that the Congress take swift action to authorize the United States Access Board to compile functional guidelines in the area of instructional materials. The recent report of the Federal Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Post Secondary Institutions for Students with Disabilities provided as their first recommendation that “Congress should authorize the United States Access Board to establish guidelines for accessible instructional materials that will be used by government, in the private sector, and in postsecondary academic settings.” This Commission of experts defined “instructional materials” broadly by stating,

Instructional materials are the curricular content (printed and digital books, journals, course packs, articles, music, tests, videos, instructor-created PDFs and PowerPoint documents, web pages, etc.), as well as the technologies required (hardware, firmware, software and applications) for the manipulation, annotation and dissemination of content. This definition also includes any other required instructional software and applications used to facilitate the teaching and learning process, including learning software, courseware/learning management systems, digital ‘learning objects,’ library databases, and others.

The Commission also emphasized the importance of functional requirements by noting that specifying file types or specific technologies was not the answer. The Commission went on to state firmly that

Technology developed or deployed to facilitate access to instructional materials must permit a user with a print disability the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same transactions and enjoy the same services at the same time as the user without a disability, and with a substantially equivalent ease of use.

It is worth noting that a functional set of technology guidelines meant to address education specifically will apply in K-12 as well as post-secondary programs since the functional requirements for accessibility should be the same at all levels. This clarifies accessibility for all parties and reduces the uncertainty about whether a particular technology will be viewed as accessible. This work will also create the framework for proactive tools and technical examples to help technology developers understand accessibility. These standards will become more critical as people with disabilities rely more on mainstream than on specialized technology to ensure that the accessibility of these technologies does not erode. Ultimately, these guidelines should be enforceable by linking them to existing civil rights and public accommodations protections.

Projects to Collect, Develop, and Disseminate Best Practice Tools

Congress and federal agencies could help advance accessibility significantly by putting more efforts to support the development and dissemination of resources in the areas of implementing accessible online content, tools to test accessibility of publications, best practices for purchasing and implementing accessible technologies, and other related topics. There is a great need to collect together best practices related to the design and implementation of accessible technologies and content so they can be better understood in the educational system. Federal agencies should make accessibility a priority track at conferences sponsored by the government, and consideration should be given to a national conference on accessible technology in education. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education should collect case studies of innovative approaches to ensuring accessibility across the technology infrastructure of school districts and universities and make those examples available via the Internet.

The government could also help to raise understanding of accessibility within the information technology industry by first ensuring that government IT professionals receive more resources and training on what accessibility means, how to require it in the purchasing process, and how to test that accessibility has been met. The stronger the accessibility requirements in technology purchasing, the higher the demand will be in the industry for IT professionals, programmers, and computer engineers who truly understand accessibility and universal design. This will ultimately trickle down to the university programs and other professional training programs, creating a systemic approach to raising the importance of accessibility.

Improved Protections against Inaccessible Technology in Education

I believe that leadership, strong functional standards, proactive best practices, and greater government accountability for accessibility of technology in this nation’s educational facilities will make a tremendous difference. I am not convinced that it will be enough to hit the tipping point where all technologies are universally designed and available to all students on the first day they are implemented in the classroom. This is a real threat to access to education for students with disabilities, and I believe Congress should strengthen the shared responsibility for accessibility and the remedies available to students and faculty with disabilities who are segregated to second-class access.

First, a disabled college student, faced with inaccessible technology and a school that is not interested in taking the steps necessary to make it accessible, has ways to address the problem for herself and systemically—with a complaint to either the Department of Education or Department of Justice or a suit under Title II (if a public college) or Title III (if a private one). The parents of a K-12 student, however, have a more complex set of hoops to jump through with relatively little possibility of making systemic change. Generally parents of children with disabilities are restricted to provisions under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and challenges to the IEP. Take for example a school district that adopts an inaccessible technology that is used in every classroom for every student. Due to the priority of the IEP process for accommodating students, a claim of discrimination because of inaccessibility would first have to exhaust the complaint procedures under IDEA. This further emphasizes the old accommodations model rather than taking advantage of the promise for universal access that technology can deliver. We need clearer protection under the law in cases where inaccessible technology is widely adopted and systemically bars the participation of students with disabilities to clarify the unintended consequences of the IDEA and the IEP process.

Second, educational institutions at all levels have the entire responsibility under federal law for providing equal access to instructional technologies. If a student encounters pervasive discrimination because of the proliferation of an inaccessible digital book, platform, or device, her remedies are entirely against the educational institution, including, in the case of Section 504, cutting off federal funding. Meanwhile, the companies that sell hundreds of thousands of dollars of inaccessible technology in the education market share none of the responsibility for the discrimination against students with disabilities. Furthermore, companies that do not include accessibility in their products may enjoy a price advantage because their products include less robust features than the technologies that come with accessibility built in. Schools can of course seek contractual representations and warranties and indemnity clauses to extend liability to educational vendors, but many lack the market power to insist on such provisions. The civil rights laws should be strengthened so that companies systemically placing inaccessible technologies in K-12 or post-secondary education programs can be held accountable for their role in shutting out students with disabilities. Specifically, I recommend that Congress consider extending the private right of action to companies whose products create systemic barriers to the full participation of students with disabilities in the educational system. Along with a strong functional standard of accessibility, this will encourage accessibility, reward those implementing universal design, and punish those misrepresenting the accessibility of their technologies.

Third, it is critical that we recognize the tremendous sacrifice that a student with a disability makes when bringing a complaint regarding accessibility against her school. Consider the PhD candidate pursuing a career in academia. If in the middle of her study she decides she can no longer take the technology barriers she faces in the university’s systems, she has a terrible choice to make. Option 1: File a complaint against her university and potentially upset some of the very mentors she came to the university to work under. Furthermore, her complaint will put her in the position of applying for jobs at other universities and listing references from her current university, where many will think of her as a troublemaker. Option 2: Bite her tongue, accept the extra cost to work through the inaccessible technology, and hope to get out successfully as fast as she can. Option 3: Drop out. In the same way any other group has faced real and perceived retaliation for attempting to achieve equality in society, students with disabilities face a real barrier when fighting for accessible technology. Congress needs to consider carefully the pressure on students with disabilities and create stronger protections that give stronger supports to students and help to share the responsibility of accessibility. Technology accessibility is a central civil rights issue for the twenty-first century, and, if Congress does not take stronger actions, we will make people with disabilities second-class citizens in a digital era.

Conclusion

Technology is transforming the way we create, share, and gain knowledge. If built universally and implemented effectively, technology will make the passion and skill of our greatest teachers even more powerful as we nurture the next generation of our nation’s leaders. If we fail to include accessibility in that technology, we will set this generation of students with disabilities back decades. The cost to those individuals and to our country is too great and the opportunity is too promising to stand by and let that happen.

As a blind father working to build a future for my own children as well as the blind children that are now entering the education system, it concerns me that we might miss the tremendous opportunity that is within our reach. It worries me that our failure to make universal access to technology a reality may potentially shut one of my children out of educational opportunities and may prevent me, as a blind parent, from having the same access to information and resources regarding my children’s education as my sighted peers. By welcoming the new paradigm of mainstream access, providing government leadership in programs and grant-funded projects, collecting and disseminating best practices in implementing accessible technology, building tools to check for accessibility barriers, deepening awareness and expertise among IT professionals, and strengthening nondiscrimination protections under the law, we can make a huge difference.

Distinguished members of this committee, I deeply appreciate the opportunity to present my perspective and recommendations regarding the intersection of technology and education for students with disabilities. Your leadership in putting this hearing together is extremely meaningful and will contribute significantly to the shift to a new paradigm of accessibility in education. We know the type of future we want, we understand the promise of technology, and we must act quickly to make it a reality.

 

Why Is It Important to Join an Organization of the Blind?
Some Views from Our Lists

From the Editor: To find information that will be interesting and relevant to our readers, I read a lot, including some of what is discussed on our listservs. Occasionally I comment on these lists when I think it will help.

Recently a middle school student emailed the question to one of our lists that all of us have to ask ourselves: why are some people involved in organizations of the blind and others not? What appears below are some thoughts on the subject; many articulate why they have chosen to join; one explains why she chooses not to be a part of any organization and questions the need for them. In the hope that this exchange will stimulate thought, discussion, some new members, and an affirmation to those of us who are already members, here, with limited editing, is the email exchange:

From: Chris Nusbaum
Subject: Why is it important to join an organization of the blind?

Fellow Federationists:

As I have become more and more active in the blind community and have met blind people, I notice that a lot of them are not affiliated with any organization of the blind. Some say they are put off by the political arguments between the NFB and ACB; some say they don't want to be tied to one organization; some say they don't agree with either organization's philosophy and don't want to identify themselves with either.

I try to explain to them the value of the Federation in my life and how joining an organization of the blind connects people with a diverse network of resources who can help answer almost any question they would have related to blindness. I also try to explain that, if they have any problems, being a part of an organization would help them with their advocacy efforts; the more people you have advocating, the more effective the advocacy is. But they still don't want to be affiliated with an organization.

So I want to get your thoughts on these questions: Why do you think it is important to be a member of an organization of the blind? Of what benefit or value is an organization to its members and to blind people at large? Some people have said to me, "Sighted people don't have any organizations dedicated to their concerns as sighted people; why should I join an organization dedicated to blindness?"

Still others have said, "Don't you Federationists want to be equal with sighted people? If so, then why do blind people need to be organized by joining some organization exclusively of the blind?"

These are some interesting questions; what would your responses be to such people? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Chris

Here is a response from a person who sees no value in joining and rejects the concept of the blind community. Since she is not a member, she will remain anonymous.

Hi. Well I for one am one of those who don't want to join either organization. I am on both NFB and ACB listservs to gain perspective about what both organizations are doing and their thoughts on important issues. If I have a question, I would probably write to the appropriate listservs pertaining to my question. Admittedly I usually don't start threads, because I am a very private person and don't particularly like broadcasting things over the Internet. I respond to threads from time to time when I feel the issue is important enough, as is the case here.

Now I don't know you personally, but here's what I think: have you ever been asked to convert to a religion when you were perfectly comfortable with the one you believe in? By constantly asking people to join an organization for the blind, you're doing much the same thing. How do you know these people are unhappy with the way they're living now? If it's more a question of whether or not they've heard of such groups, one need only do a Google search for organizations for the blind, and I'm sure the NFB and ACB websites will pop up. I'm a firm believer in informed choice. If someone wants to join either organization, they will find the info, whether it's coming to someone such as yourself, or looking it up on the Internet. But no one likes to be put in a corner.

As for staying on top of things that go on in the blind community--and I use that term loosely because it truly disgusts me that such a term exists at all—again it's as simple as following a few discussion lists. Some don't like for their inboxes to be flooded, and, that's understandable, but you can go into digest mode or access the list archives through the respective sites. Let's not forget, also, wonderful resources such as the Fred's Head blog which is run by APH, or the Internet Phonebook of Blindness Resources. Information is really only a few seconds away in this day and age; if people don't want to subscribe to a set of beliefs or deal with any political BS, let them be.

One more brief point, and then I promise I'll stop. Speaking to other blind people is not quite the same thing. For this I think it's great that there are resources like NFB-link and the AFB Career Connect. There's nothing quite like finding out you're not alone in the world; it's empowering, particularly for people who have recently lost their vision, to be able to speak to someone face to face or over the phone who understands what they're going through and can give them advice, support, and encouragement along the way. I attended a rehab center last year (non-NFB-affiliated), and, because I've been blind since birth, many of the clients, some much older than myself, came to me for advice, or simply watched or asked, depending on the level of remaining vision they still had, how I did things naturally, such as walking with a cane. It was a win-win situation: they felt more at ease about losing their vision because they saw I was coping just fine, and I felt good knowing I had helped people without even really trying or meaning to.

From: Bridgit Pollpeter

Chris, you pose very interesting and valid questions. Most of us have met people who are blind and adopt an attitude like the people you describe. There are many reasons why people do and do not join an organization, but we must look at what the purpose of these organizations is.

First, sighted people do develop, promote, and advocate for many issues. Most of these groups have a blend of people with plenty of diversity, but many ethnic and racial groups have organizations dedicated to serving minorities and the issues and causes important to them. As a type 1 diabetic I've been involved in diabetic groups advocating for better care, encouraging research, and providing education; I did this when I was sighted. There are other health-related groups doing similar work, and the list goes on and on. We often fail to see the other perspective especially with blindness. People focus on this, forgetting many organizations exist doing similar work. The Federation is not unique in being an advocacy group promoting causes and initiatives.

The initial goals of the Federation were to promote independence, work towards changing attitudes, and serving as a political platform for blind causes led by those with the experience of being blind. First and foremost, a group like the NFB is dedicated to political activism and advocacy. Despite the growing number of divisions within the Federation catering to various interests, the priority has always been to promote and advocate the ideas and causes important to Federation members.

Having opportunities to network is essential to the growth and success of the Federation because we need each generation to adopt healthy, positive mindsets about blindness. The social aspect, however, is secondary to the political element. Not everyone joins to be politically active. In my experience a majority of people join the Federation purely for social reasons, though many eventually come to understand the importance of having an active voice advocating for equal rights and fair treatment of the blind. So we stand up and demand equality.

That we have a chance to network and ask questions of those with experience is a benefit to joining the Federation. You have a support system backing you, ready to help in any way. We've heard a lot about law students denied bar exams in an accessible format of their choosing. The Federation has stepped in to take legal action, assisting those law students and others to come. The couple in Missouri whose newborn was taken by the state's children's services unit a couple of years ago for no reason other than that both parents are blind is another example….

Many of us benefit from alternative techniques, techniques which far too many refuse to learn or use regularly. In my experience, and having once been a person with partial vision, often the alternative skills truly do make one more efficient than using one’s partial vision, and this is why the Federation seems, at times, to be against sight, but it's actually the contrary. If you're being independent, living your life, not caving into stereotypes and negative attitudes, the Federation supports this way of life. It expects us to grow and challenge ourselves as our peers challenge us. This is one of the huge differences I see between the NFB and other organizations of the blind; we're not expected to stay where we are; we're urged to move forward, carving a path before us, challenging ourselves to strive to reach new heights.

So why am I a Federationist? Because I'm not content to sit idly by, letting others make decisions for me. I don’t feel entitled to services, legislation, and technology that I have had no say in, and to which I have made no contribution in changing for the better. I don't want to watch a chef cook; I want to roll my sleeves up and get my hands in the mix. Networking with fellow blind people and learning what we are all doing is great, but I want to effect change, and I want to be a part of that change. It's not about isolating ourselves from society and forming an elite group made up of people who are blind; it's in fact about encouraging and fostering integration. We are people with dreams, desires, and interests; that we are blind is but one attribute of our being. I wasn't always blind, and, when I lost my sight, I didn't change who I am. My interests and goals are the same; I now just accomplish certain things with different methods and tools.

We all have to decide what we believe in and why. I believe it's important to analyze and question beliefs and ideas in order truly to digest them. Only then can we form decisions based on our own ideas and opinions rather than any thoughts and opinions thrust on us, whether unwillingly or not. I think we all need to understand that the Federation's priority is advocacy and education; when we know this, it is easier to explain the Federation and its purpose.

Sincerely,
Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

From: Sean Whalen

I don't think anybody is trying to force beliefs on people, and I really don't see what is "creepy" about the question or topic. I think it is each individual's prerogative to join any organization that represents his or her interest, or none at all. It seems pretty clear to me, though, that the lives of all blind individuals have been demonstrably improved by the existence of the NFB, which, of course, wouldn't exist without joiners.

Belonging to an organization does not mean that one endorses everything that organization does, nor does it mean that an individual has a particular set of beliefs. It simply means that one sees enough benefit in the organization and its work to decide to support it. I don't agree with the NFB on everything, nor do I agree with the Democratic Party on everything. Nonetheless I count myself as a member of both. If somebody thinks that dictates my thoughts and beliefs, they would be wrong. My thoughts and beliefs dictate which organizations I choose to join, support, and work for.

As for the ridiculous notion that sighted folks don't have organizations, they surely do. They have organizations for virtually every interest under the sun. Trade groups, unions, interest groups allied with political and public policy issues of all stripes exist to unify the voices of folks with common interests. That is the way our system of government, and indeed the world in general, works. Refusal to join with others who have similar interests is acceptance of having no voice on issues that affect you. That is, by the way, completely fine. Some folks don't have any interests pressing enough to give up their time, money, and resources to attempt to influence outcomes, but their lack of interest in doing so doesn't somehow equate to the moral high ground. Of course there is no National Association of the Sighted, but this reflects the fact that the vast majority of people are sighted. There is no issue around which to rally. You had better bet that, if half the population were sighted and the other half blind, and if the interests of the sighted and blind clashed in any meaningful way, the sighted and blind alike would have organizations allowing them to speak with one voice on issues of import.

In addition to being a vehicle for collective action, the NFB is an extended network of support. It is extremely valuable to have folks to consult with when faced with an issue related to blindness. It keeps each of us from having to reinvent the wheel each time something new comes up for us. This of course is not a model at all unique to the blind. Analogous networks exist for people in certain trades, with particular diseases, or with similar interests and hobbies. Nearly anywhere you find a diffuse and relatively small group of people in similar circumstances or in need of similar information, you will find an attempt at a support network like that which we enjoy in the NFB.

So, lest anybody buy into the line that says those who join the NFB or any other organization are mindless automatons without their own beliefs, opinions, and convictions, please remember that organizing to share information and influence events in the world is in no way unique to the blind. If people don't want to join anything, and blind people in particular don't want to join NFB or ACB, that is 100 percent all right. But let's not accept the misguided notion that their refusal to do so is rooted in some moral superiority, rugged individualism, or strength of conviction. The refusal to be a joiner simply indicates that a person has other things going on in his or her life which are more important. Again, A-OK, but never doubt the value of the work done by the organized blind movement. Even those who have never given a thought to involving themselves are presumably grateful when social services doesn't take their babies, they have the opportunity to attain meaningful employment, and their rights to travel and participate in society are protected.

Sean Whalen

From: David Evans

It is important to be a part of an organization because it is usually organizations that get things accomplished in this world. It goes like this. There is a game going on, and in every game you have four components: two sides on the field that push back and forth to win their point and advance the game toward a goal and referees that enforce the rules of the game, award points and penalties, and make calls about the conduct of the game. The fourth part, which is also the biggest part, is the spectators in the stands who watch the game, root for the two sides, and most often benefit from the outcome of the game on the field, but take little part in winning it. The people in the stands often wish that they could stimulate their side to win but can only shout encouragement or discouragement from their safe seats in the stands. They have very little to do with the outcome of the game and only watch the toil of the players on the field. They sometimes get upset at a call by the referees or a bad play by one of the team members, but they can only express their opinions, positive or negative, from a safe distance.

The people on the field are the heroes and the villains. The players on the field make the play or get their noses bloodied. In life there is always the possibility that one of the spectators in the stands can come down and put on a helmet and get in the game on one side or the other and begin making a difference in the game's outcome. If the game is Tug-of-War and the sides are evenly split, the game may be a tie or take a long time for one side or the other to prevail. If, on the other hand, half of the people in the stands come down and take up the rope on only one side or the other, the contest is going to be over very quickly. Games are won or lost by the players on the field, not the people sitting safely in the stands.

In this game of life getting involved in an organization can help to make our lives better. There is an old saying, "Many hands make light work."

As the Florida Lotto puts it, "You have to play to win."

I have seen us advance the goals of our organization since 1987, and I know that I am in a better place because of it. As my generation use to say in the 1960s, "If you aren't part of the solution, then you are part of the problem." In which group are you going to be: the people who sit on the fence and in the stands or the people who compete for the gold ring?

David Evans

From: Gary Wunder

Dear Chris:

Please understand that what I am about to write is my opinion and not some official position of the Federation. I will try to avoid offering other disclaimers such as "in my opinion," or "it is my belief." I want to be firm in stating what I believe but humble enough to acknowledge that it does not represent any particular wisdom or any claim to be the one true way.

I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind because I believe that collective action is required if blind people are to continue to enjoy the programs and services we now have and to further the goal of integration we all seek, in which we gain jobs, play active parts in our communities, and are no longer limited by artificial barriers not imposed by blindness but by the reaction to it by blind and sighted people alike. As an individual I have a responsibility to think about my options and opportunities and to decide whether or not to pursue or shy away from them; in other words, I have choices to make. But individually I do not always have the creativity, the expertise, and the power to make those choices real and achievable.

Right now blind people are engaged in a battle to determine whether we have a right to demand that computerized technology, with all its power and promise, be harnessed to help us as it helps others, or whether, because we are a small population, this same computer technology will be used to exclude us. The outcome of this struggle is as important as my ability to compete at a job, my ability to enjoy entertainment at home, my ability to check in at airports and check out at supermarkets, and even my ability to live at home independently. Take away my independent access to home appliances--my ability to set the temperature on my oven, regulate the temperature in my house, and operate the controls on my washer and dryer, and soon I will require the services of a personal care attendant or be forced to live in a nursing home because I will be unable to take care of my most basic needs. Even the option of a home care attendant or a nursing home may depend on whether or not I can afford them.

My job as one human being is to educate myself; my more difficult job is to embrace the education of society to the potential technology brings and to the problems it can create if not properly managed. Individually I must be an informed voice, but only collectively do I have a voice capable of reaching the nation and the world. Individually I do not know how to bring about the changes in design and engineering that make things talk, produce Braille, or provide a way for me to navigate using touch or voice; collectively I can be a part of giving scholarships to young people, some of whom will dedicate their professional careers to learning about such things and being a part of developing technology that includes me and others who are blind.

Individually I do not know how to craft laws to help us, but collectively I can help to nurture and employ the expertise of those who do. Individually I do not know how to execute a successful lawsuit on behalf of me and others who suffer from technological discrimination; collectively I can be a part of hiring that help and articulating to the legal system the goals and aspirations of blind people who are committed to the progress we have enjoyed and to reject categorically the idea of once again being consigned to idleness and inactivity. It is argued that sighted people do not unite as a group, and that, if blind people truly want equality, we must turn away from the reliance on a group and the expectation that other blind people will join with us. Because of their numbers and a society which will quite reasonably be oriented to them, sighted people have no need to unite on the basis of sight. They do, however, unite for other reasons. Wealthy people unite with others to see that policies do not encourage and support the taking of their wealth. Those less wealthy unite for a whole host of reasons when individually their voices are not sufficient to start a national discussion about the things they need. Doctors, as educated and prestigious as they are, unite when it comes to representing their interests and, for that matter, the health interests of the American people. Farmers form organizations to try to increase their prices and protect against what they see as overly burdensome regulation. Many from all walks of life unite to protect the environment by reminding us that some of the things we want for enhancing our creature comforts come at a cost that may jeopardize the well-being of the earth for our children and our children's children.

The concept of organizing for collective action, to amplify the voice, to share the load, and to bring disparate groups with talent and expertise to serve a cause is not unique to the blind, nor is it unique to America. It is the longing of people everywhere to better themselves and the realization that not every good that needs doing can be accomplished by one human being, no matter how strong her determination or skill or drive. It is the understanding that true independence often involves the more complicated concept of interdependence and that learning to work together does not detract one bit from our individuality, our ability to make choices, and our ability to influence the world.

I want a piece of the American dream. That means more than Supplemental Security Income because I am deemed too disabled to work. That means more than food stamps and subsidized housing because I am considered so impoverished that only through a government program can I eat and have shelter from the elements. I want the right to information, and that means more than a book of fiction in which I live my life through the words and stories of others. I have benefited from and support each of these programs and do not write to throw stones. Forces in the world conspire to keep me in this place, a place of continual dependence. It is not a harsh place with physical bars but a place built by a compassionate America trying to do good for people they perceive as having a significant need. It is not a jail; neither is it a zoo; but it is a cage, albeit one with radios and televisions and devices to produce music on demand. It is a place where we may play but not a place where we may grow. Programs intended to provide us with a staircase to upward mobility have too often become the means for lifelong support. The tragedy is that life is so much less than it could be for us who are blind and for our country that gets so much less from good minds and overflowing hearts who long to find a way to contribute meaningfully.

The alternative path requires more training, more perseverance, and perhaps even more good luck. The process is rehabilitation, and by rehabilitation I mean much more than accepting the help to go from high school to training school or college. For me rehabilitation means entering into a contract, a sacred pledge to make good on the goodwill and the investment of taxpaying Americans by turning education and equipment into productive work. It is more than accepting as a matter of course this government program for the blind that can sometimes be little more than a transition from education to more education to lifelong dependence. At its best, rehabilitation is the power of people to help people, the way a society helps some of its members move from needing a meal to earning a meal. It can, at its best, be an example of government truly serving and at its worst an example of raising expectations only to crush them. We, the blind people who organize and work in the Federation, help determine which it will be.

Several months ago I watched a Republican primary where a candidate was asked what should be done about an uninsured twenty-nine-year-old man lying in a hospital following a motorcycle crash. Should he be allowed to die was the timidly advanced question, and, before the candidate could answer, a disturbingly loud minority in that audience began to clap. The America I see is no longer in a place where she believes she can extend benefits to those who do not pay for them. If this is true for something as basic as medical care, how long will it be before we see America questioning whether there is money to support her disabled citizens who have been offered rehabilitation services but who continue to remain on the public dole? How many people must succeed in the rehabilitation process to convince an ever more skeptical and belt-tightening America that this magical contract between blind people and the rest of America's citizens should continue? Partly that answer depends on us, how well we make the case for what we need, and how much we publicize the wonderful things that happen when rehabilitation works. Partly it depends on how well we make the case to other blind people for moving beyond our comfort zone and actively addressing those areas in which we are weak or scared or paralyzed by our inexperience with the world.

I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind because I realize it has been an important part in helping me live a bit of the American dream. I am a part because I want to pay it forward and to share the blessings I've been given with others. I know that, as important as a positive mental attitude and philosophy are, they are little more than words if there isn't some kind of active effort to transform them into actions. Wanting to feed the starving is more than wanting--it is doing something to advance that cause--donating money, growing food, building roads, and buying vehicles. None of this is accomplished by remaining on the sidelines and being an observer, even if an informed one; it is accomplished by a resolution to do something and then by following through on that resolution.

The Federation, for all the pride I take in her, is not a luxury liner capable of being guided and run by a few, on which many may ride in comfort. Instead my Federation is a canoe, a craft that can carry a few passengers but needs every person who can to be at the oars pushing us along, steering us in the direction we want to go, and helping us avoid the obstacles that would break our frail craft if not maneuvered with skill, intelligence, and the support of God and a public who want the best for us. Blind Americans, just like sighted Americans, can make the choice whether or not to be involved, but the choice they make has consequences for all of us. The more people we have who are active rowers of our canoe, the more each of us who row have time to do other things and the more likely we are to succeed.

Our mission is a noble one that argues for our own independence and for the continued prosperity of our nation. I believe it is so important that we dare not sit on the sidelines. I have spent enough of my life being told to observe and wait. When I have a choice, I will choose participation, service, and the knowledge that, come what may, I have tried. This is why I am a part of the Federation. This is why I unashamedly ask others to be a part of it too. I don't want to whine or preach. I want to be grateful for what I have, to repay those who have helped to make what I have possible, and to pay it forward for those who want the same kind of future I want. I ask for the energy that others can bring in charting this course and then helping us travel it.

Gary Wunder

 

Giving a Dream

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

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.

Tearing Taffany to Pieces

by Daniel B. Frye

From the Editor: Dan Frye is a longtime Federationist who edited the Braille Monitor before taking his current position with the Rehabilitation Services Administration. In the following article he has written what many will recognize as his personal version of "Why I Am a Federationist." It is a moving and passionate account that may be rough reading for some people because his path to Federationism involved the issue of racial prejudice and the charged language and emotion that often surround it. He has not sugarcoated the language of his experience, and, while readers living in 2012 bristle at certain words and the attitudes they represent, they are central to Dan's story. Our job is to report and not to rewrite history. With these warnings issued, here is Dan's moving story about why he is a committed member of the National Federation of the Blind:

The unvarnished truth is that my grandparents were bigots, representative of many people in their generation and deep Southern heritage. My consciousness of racism was almost nonexistent before I moved in with my paternal grandparents in July 1980, following the death of my parents, but I soon learned that the divide between black and white in society was large and all-pervasive. Despite my youth and relative inexperience, I vividly recall feeling an intense intuitive emotional reaction, unequaled until that point in my life, that the racial views of my grandparents and extended family were irrational and unjust.

Sunday dinner after church was a tradition in my grandparents’ home. I looked forward to the weekly pleasures of Southern home cooking lovingly prepared by my grandmother. Chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, stewed beef, catfish, field peas, collard greens, and potato salad were some of my favorites in Sunday afternoon's culinary rotation. The younger children were seated at a card table in the living room, and the older youth, who had graduated to eating with the adults several feet away at the proper table, knew that we could be excused to go outside and play after my grandfather, without exception, declared, "Those were sure some good groceries.”

When my sister and our cousins left for outside, I frequently lingered at the table with the adults. As much as I anticipated Sunday dinner, I dreaded the after-dinner conversations. Yet I regularly remained at the table to listen and on rare occasions to participate in these discussions. While the dialogue often covered matters of local interest like the comparative state of everybody's crops and the welfare of the neighbors, the talk regularly strayed, to put it as politely as I can in today's parlance, to a series of invectives about the character and capacity of black people. I remember one of my aunts saying, "Niggers are fine as long as they stay outside and mind their own business, but I would never have one of them in my house, especially for Sunday dinner." These and other equally offensive remarks set the tone for these afternoon discussions.

Having been enrolled as a student at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, where the vast majority of my fellow students were black, I quickly confirmed to my own satisfaction that my family's racial views were without merit. In a residential school, where one lives and learns with classmates twenty-four hours a day, one is easily able to ascertain the quality and character of friends.

Accordingly, I recall challenging my aunt one autumn Sunday afternoon when she again affirmed her distaste for dining with black people. I explained that I ate with black friends daily at school and that I could not understand why our family so rigidly subscribed to her opinion. Following an uncomfortable silence, my aunt finally sputtered, "Well, blacks are just different from us, Son." Imprudently perhaps, I retorted that I was different too; I was blind.

After our guests left, my grandmother came into my bedroom, backed me up against the wall, and told me that I made her so furious that she could only see black, and she promised to knock me "through that there wall" if I ever "popped off" to my elders again with my big city talk. “Besides,” she continued, "Black people are dirty. Everybody knows that."

Just before Christmas season that year, I was invited to be the preacher for the annual Youth Sunday program at our country Baptist church. Youth Sunday ceremonies saw the children of the church presenting the Sunday morning worship service, complete with a youth minister, song leader, and choir. Being a Christian at that stage in my life, I eagerly accepted the honor, and I considered how I could most effectively convey a message about human tolerance to a congregation who disproportionately shared my grandparents’ perspectives on racism. Unfortunately, as a young teenager, I lacked the maturity and sophistication to broach this complex cultural topic, one that was particularly inflammatory in the Low Country of South Carolina, in a way that would resonate with and persuade this Southern congregation of the injustice of racism.

Nonetheless I attempted to convey my general indictment of prejudice by speaking euphemistically of “human tolerance.” I cited love as a motivator of kindness, and I made passing references to the value of showing understanding and acceptance toward the full diversity of humanity. My message seemed well received if the positive observations offered by exiting congregation members was any measure, but my grandparents were not a bit impressed with my attempt at subtlety. When we got home, I received a severe beating with a limb from the "whipping tree" in our front yard, and I was reprimanded for the content of my sermon. My grandparents indignantly explained that everybody understood that I had been promoting the mixing of the races, and they said that I was an embarrassment to our family and that my comments reflected poorly on them. Of course, they were right to the extent that I was not by any means promoting racial separation or condemning interracial relationships.

I have always been fascinated by politics. As a junior in high school in 1984, I was finally old enough to participate seriously in the presidential campaign. During this year I was scheduled to participate in a unique study experience in which I would observe firsthand the operations of the United States government and political system in Washington, D.C., as part of the Close-Up program, an annually sponsored School for the Blind activity. On the weekend, before I was to leave for this adventure, my grandfather saw my jacket, boasting a "Jessie Jackson for President button," and he threatened not to drive me to the airport unless I immediately removed "that Nigger's" button from my coat. My grandfather went on to explain that this was a threat on which he would not hesitate to act and one which I was sure to appreciate since I was blind and could not drive like other "young’ns" my age. Poorly imitating the Rev. Jackson, my grandfather repeated, "I got the power, I got the power." I was devastated to realize that, as a blind person growing up in a rural community, I in fact had limited options and that I did not have the power to extricate myself independently from the situation. In retrospect I realize that part of my limited liberty in this situation may have been simply attributed to my youth, but I also recall understanding for the first time that my inability to travel independently as a blind person was being maliciously used against me to make a point about my inherent inferiority and to keep me from achieving my objective, getting to the airport. Shamefully, desperate to visit the nation's capitol for the first time, I removed the button from my jacket and hid it in my suitcase.

In the spring of one of the first years after I was sent to the school for the blind (I was probably somewhere between thirteen and fifteen), like many others of my age, I fell susceptible to youthful adoration. Taffany was an exceptionally beautiful and talented young woman. She agreed to be my girlfriend, and we shared a several-months-long teenage relationship. We walked the campus after school, chatted in the dormitories, and went to the occasional on-campus social together. Having saved a little money from my on-campus job as the evening switchboard operator and my allowance at home, I organized a driver and took Taffany to a local steak house for dinner. I am sure that these plans represented my best teenage attempt at arranging an extravagant date, calculated to impress her and demonstrate my affection. Using discreet sign language and Braille notes, we secretly exchanged messages.

As the school year came to a close, many students prepared for a performance or two in the end-of-year recital. It was a big deal. Our parents or guardians were invited to come, watch the show, and take us home for the summer. We all dressed up in our nicest clothes so that our proud families could take photographs of us. Taffany and I both had parts in the end-of-year concert. I spent $7 on a simple silver chain for Taffany which she wore on the evening of the school-wide program. I was pleased with my purchase, and Taffany seemed genuinely happy with it as well.

As I recall these distant events, I escorted Taffany from her dormitory to Walker Hall, a stately Civil-War-era building which served as the main administration building and which housed the program. I had planned to introduce Taffany to my grandmother, an aunt, and my sister in the lobby of Walker Hall before entering the auditorium for the show. To my absolute astonishment and utter embarrassment, when my little sister saw us approaching, she turned to my grandmother and blurted in our hearing, "Grandma, that silver chain Dan bought for his girlfriend sure shows up good against her dark skin. I didn't know she was black." To be fair, my little sister was quite young at the time, and she had been subject to the undiluted influences of our home. In short, I do not share this anecdote as a criticism or commentary on my sister today; I offer it here only as an illustration of the pervasive atmosphere of racial prejudice that prevailed in our home life.

After hastily managing introductions, I accompanied Taffany up the stairs and returned, livid and humiliated, to collect my family for the evening's entertainment. Possessed, for some reason on this evening, with an extraordinary degree of self-confidence, I told my family that I was ashamed of them. I said that, if they could not behave any better, they were not welcome to stay for the event. I questioned their purported devotion to the principles of Christianity, and I suggested that my grandmother reflect on the influence that she was having on my little sister, since she had no qualms about making such public remarks. Instead of an apology, though, I received a quiet lecture about how disappointed my dead parents would have been at the sight of their son with a "Nigger girl" on his arm. They were sure that my parents were rolling over in their graves right then and there. Appalled and exhausted, I walked away. In retrospect I am sure that I should have handled the situation differently and more diplomatically, but I fell prey to the pitfalls of impetuous and idealistic youth.

During the summer my grandmother discovered a picture of Taffany and me in my wallet, taken I believe on the evening of the school program, and she cut the photograph into a hundred pieces. My grandmother explained that she destroyed the photograph for my own protection because, if my grandfather ever found it, he would have beaten me to within an inch of my life. My grandmother probably spoke the truth. Even so, I cried like a baby when my grandmother tore Taffany to pieces. I cried because I loved Taffany. Mostly, though, I cried because the destruction of Taffany's picture finally crystallized for me the fact that sometimes right and reason, the strongest tools that I thought I had at my disposal with which to effect change, would not always be sufficient to animate someone’s humanity in the eyes of another.

My early exposure to these and other overt instances of racism no doubt helped mold my sense of social responsibility and strengthened my resolve to champion the civil rights of blind people. The parallel struggles that members of racial minorities and blind people experienced struck me as significant.

Differences unquestionably exist that distinguish the roads travelled by those who are black and those who are blind, but fear, ignorance, and the seemingly compelling need of most people to feel superior to somebody else--anybody else--the fundamental building blocks of prejudice itself--represent several common obstacles which cannot be ignored by either of these communities. Both blatant and subtle efforts to disempower black people and blind people demonstrate yet another telling example of our shared social journey.

My youthful experience with the corrosive influences of bigotry and prejudice taught me to feel empathy for people. More important, my recognition that I too was a member of a population likely to be subject to the irrational whims of society convinced me that possessing empathy alone would not be enough to survive where right and reason could not reliably fashion just results in an unjust world. I concluded early on that I had an obligation to join with a group of like-minded people to promote positive change for the blind community, using right and reason where possible, and more forceful means where necessary. This motivation, in large part, accounts for my membership in the National Federation of the Blind. Doing anything less, when I am now fully aware of the social dynamic faced by blind people everywhere, would surely render me complicit in the act of again tearing Taffany to pieces.

A Different Country—No Passport Needed

by Norma Crosby

From the Editor: We have less than three months until the convention, and with this issue comes your first opportunity to preregister and buy banquet and barbeque tickets. As you will see from the following article, you will be traveling to a different country, so make your hotel and travel reservations soon and prepare for an unforgettable experience. The article originally appeared in the Monitor in 1993, when Norma Crosby and her husband Glenn, the then president of the Texas affiliate, were preparing to host the national convention. Current NFB of Texas President Kimberly Flores slightly revised the information for you. Here it is:

People often say that Texas is like a different country, and, if you take the opportunity to attend the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, we think you will find this to be the case. No other state can claim the diversity in land, people, and culture that you'll find in Texas. Some say that we Texans brag a lot. But then we recognize that we have a lot to brag about.

Six national flags have flown over Texas, representing eight changes of government. We claim uniqueness simply because we are one of a kind. Texas is the only state to have entered the United States by treaty instead of territorial annexation. The state was an independent nation from 1836 to 1845.

Texas consists of 267,300 square miles of prairies, high and low plains, rivers, islands, bayous, mountains, valleys, canyons, and forests. El Paso is closer to Needles, California, than it is to Dallas. There are 254 counties in the state. One explanation for the large number is that it was necessary for early Texans to vote and do business at the county seat. So they decided that none of the boundaries of a county should be more than a day's ride on horseback from the county seat.

Texas comes from the Hasinai Indian word “tejas,” meaning friends or allies. Although two-thirds of all Texans are Anglo or of northern European descent, the Mexican culture has probably played the biggest role in shaping the Texas lifestyle. Texas food, music, architecture, language, and fashion have all been strongly influenced by 150 years of colonization by Spain and Mexico.

Texans speak a unique brand of English, which sets us apart from other people from the U.S. South and Southwest. One British author, Stephen Brook, described Texas speech as follows: “What nourishing mouthfuls of language, flush with redundancy, one can hear in Texas, words stumbling over each other, vowels endlessly elongated into diphthongs like verbal rainbows, containing elements and ghosts of every vowel sound known to the human race, including a few that, like the Big Bend mosquitofish, are unique to Texas.” Many of us from East Texas speak with a slow drawl that turns one syllable into three. Those from West Texas use minimal language and punctuate their remarks by staring meaningfully at the horizon. South Texans speak a mixture of Spanish and English, sometimes referred to as Spanglish, and those from the northern part of the state speak a mixture of all the above. Unfortunately, no language course can teach you how to speak Texan before your trip to the convention. But you will probably figure it out before the week is over.

One advantage to the Dallas-Fort Worth area is that you will be able to find any type of food you like. But, if you want to get a real taste of Texas, be sure to try barbecue, chicken-fried steak, and Tex-Mex food before leaving. Some say that Texans will barbecue anything, including the tires off their pickup trucks. But real Texas barbecue is beef. Sometimes a Texan will throw some pork ribs or sausages on the pit. But mostly it's beef served with white bread, pickles, onions, potato salad, and beans. And, if they give you a plate that isn't made of paper, you have not entered a true Texas barbecue joint. In fact, in most barbecue restaurants you might be served only on butcher paper, and, if you're lucky, they'll give you a plastic knife and fork.

Then there's chicken-fried steak. It's usually an inexpensive cut of steak, battered and fried like chicken. It should always be served with cream gravy, and the inside should be tender with a crisp crust.

Finally there's Tex-Mex. In Texas we just call it Mexican food. But the truth is that it bears little resemblance to dishes served in the interior of Mexico. It usually contains lots of chilies (peppers, which may be mild or which may clear up any sinus problem you have), frijoles (beans), and rice. And of course you can't have a good Tex-Mex meal without washing it all down with lots of cerveza (beer) or a good margarita. If you want a real change of pace, try some cabrito (baby goat, usually grilled over an open fire). It's a favorite of many Texicans.

Back by popular demand, we are once again planning a barbecue with some Texas-style music. Who knows, we may have mariachis, Texas rock, country, or blues. You never can tell what might happen in Texas. But you had better plan on being with us so that you can find out. There is a song about Texas that says,

When I die, I may not go to heaven.
I don't know if they let cowboys in.
If they don't, just let me go to Texas.
Texas is as close as I've been.

Most Texans believe that our state is heaven, and we welcome all visitors to our large chunk of celestial real estate. Just make your plans to be with us for the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind--nowhere else but Texas.

NEWSLINE on My Job
A Tool that Sometimes Puts Us a Step Ahead

by Deborah Kendrick

From the Former Editor: Deborah Kendrick and I have been friends for a number of years now. As a professional writer she is a joy to edit. She has the enviable knack of making everything she writes about seem interesting, and I always find her opinions well reasoned and compelling. At an NFB of Ohio board meeting in January Deborah mentioned in passing that she had discovered a new and incredibly valuable feature of NFB-NEWSLINE®, our digitized newspaper-reading service by phone. The new feature was Global Search. She briefly described it and explained that it had just made possible the research for her most recent newspaper column. I urged her to describe her experience for Monitor readers, and to my delight she has done so. This is what she wrote:

For twenty-five years one of my primary roles as a freelance writer has been to produce a newspaper column on disability rights issues. For some years it was syndicated in a variety of newspapers around the country; for eighteen years it ran every Sunday in the Cincinnati Enquirer; and since 1993 it has run every other week in the Columbus Dispatch.
To keep such a column going for so long has meant staying ahead of the curve with regard to news items relating to disability. I can't just write about how it feels to be a blind person. In fact, for many years I avoided discussing topics of blindness more than rarely for fear it would narrow the column's appeal.

I write about blindness, sure, and certainly more often in the past few years than for the first two decades of establishing credibility, but I also write about dyslexia, bipolar disorder, spinal cord injury, deafness, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, and a host of other disability-related conditions as they arise in news events. I comb a variety of news sources for ideas, and I can always find scores of possibilities.

Last week I saw a news item about a woman who had written a blog post that had garnered plenty of attention. Her three-year-old child needed a kidney transplant, and Chrissy Rivera, the mother, had written a compelling post detailing her horror during a meeting with the social worker and physician with whom the Riveras met in a conference room at Philadelphia's Children's Hospital to discuss the operation. Her horror arose when the doctor told her that her child would not be put on a waiting list for the transplant because she was mentally retarded. It was less than twenty-four hours before my deadline, and I wanted desperately to write about this family. But a responsible journalist can't go off on a tear, even with an opinion piece--perhaps especially with an opinion piece--based on one short news article.

I searched for Chrissy's blog online and found it. I read about Wolf-Hirschhorn's syndrome, the genetic condition that led to her child's physical and mental disabilities. I found the online petition that another mom had been inspired to launch on behalf of the Rivera family.

I found Chrissy's email address and sent her a message asking for an interview.

We sent a few emails back and forth and had a brief phone interview. It was now twelve hours till deadline, and, while I had confirmed the story, I felt that I needed to know more.
Who else had written about this situation? What had those other writers written? If I was going to take it on as my column subject, mine had to be a fresh approach.

Yes, I could have done a Google search for stories, but I thought of a much more expedient way to get what I needed. I pulled out my iPhone and tapped on NFB-NEWSLINE from my Favorites list.

I have been a fan of NEWSLINE since its inception and remember the thrill I experienced in the mid 1990s when I was working on a Page One feature on toys and heard there had been a piece in the New York Times regarding my subject. At that time I called NEWSLINE, navigated to the New York Times, and entered the search word "toys." I still remember the thrill and perhaps chill I experienced when the very article that had been mentioned showed up instantly on my phone.

But NEWSLINE is not a static entity. It is a work in progress with newspapers, magazines, and features constantly being added to enhance that original product. We can download our favorite publications for listening on a purchased DAISY player or the digital Talking Book machine issued to all eligible patrons by the National Library Service for the Blind. We can read store ads, search for jobs, and explore TV listings through this constantly enhanced creation.

Recently the fabulous NEWSLINE team has added a feature called “Global Search,” and that was the feature on my mind when I turned to my phone for speedy results. My innate and insatiable curiosity, of course, had already prompted me to play around with the Global Search feature somewhat, but this wasn't play. Now I had a serious and immediate need. It was now three hours till deadline.

Chrissy Rivera lives in New Jersey. I live in Ohio. I had no idea which newspapers were available in her immediate vicinity. But, with the Global Search feature on NEWSLINE, I didn't need to know. Upon logging in to NEWSLINE, I pressed 0 for Subscriber Panel. From there, I pressed 4 for conducting a Global Search. Next I pressed 8 for a New Search (NEWSLINE still remembered my previous four searches and politely offered me the opportunity to visit one of them again. No, I told NEWSLINE by pressing 8, I wanted a new search.) NEWSLINE offers plenty of options for defining your search. In this instance I selected Newspapers and all existing content. Then, for my search phrase, I carefully entered the name "Chrissy Rivera."

Now here is where some new users of this remarkable feature might be a tad daunted. Braille users, I think, might actually find it easier and more intuitive than those not conversant with Braille. NEWSLINE requires that you enter the two-digit numeric equivalent for each letter of the alphabet. A is 01, b is 02, c is 03, and on it goes through 10 for j, 18 for r, 20 for t, and 26 for z. If you are a Braille user, you know that A through J are the same symbols as 1 through 0, and that k through t are formed by repeating those same 10 characters with the addition of dot 3. Thus, it is relatively easy, with a little practice, to know that you enter g by pressing 07, k by pressing 11, o by pressing 15, and so on. The twenty-first through twenty-sixth letters of the alphabet, u through z, go back to those first 10 characters and add dots 3 and 6. The absence of a w in Louis Braille's native French leads to a little more effort in conjuring the numeric equivalents for u through z, but again, with a little practice, you will find it quite easy and efficient.

And so it was that I entered Chrissy's name: 03 08 18 09 19 19 25 (followed by two 0's to indicate a space) and then 18 09 22 05 18 01 (followed by 99 to tell NEWSLINE the phrase is complete). At each step of the process, your selections are confirmed, so NEWSLINE told me at this point that it would be searching all newspapers for the phrase "Chrissy Rivera."

Within seconds NEWSLINE had located twenty-four items! Sure, a few stories occurred more than once, but I quickly had at my fingertips stories of varying lengths that had appeared in papers small and large throughout New England, a couple of Associated Press stories, and versions of the same in papers in Tampa Bay and Seattle. Using the phone keypad, I was able to zip through these stories, recognizing when segments or whole stories had been reprinted from one paper to another and picking up some new and interesting facts along the way. Using NEWSLINE's email feature, I sent a few of the stories to myself so that I could examine the spellings of names on my Braille display or lift material for quoting if I wanted it.

I also quickly discerned that every writer had led the story with Chrissy's point of view. I knew, in other words, how I wouldn't be starting my column. The dad, Joe Rivera, wasn't quoted nearly as often as his wife, but one quote I found in a few stories spoke to me, spoke with poignant clarity to the center of my being, the center that despises discrimination, and I had my lead. I moved to my computer then, read the stories I had emailed myself, wrote my column in an hour, and sent it to my editor an hour ahead of schedule.

In the National Federation of the Blind we are truly fortunate to have so much talent and intellect working daily on our behalf. NEWSLINE has always been amazing, but, like everything else the NFB touches, it is never neglected, never simply set aside as a completed project. NEWSLINE is a work in progress, always growing in features and capabilities, as is the Federation itself.

My guess is that, with this rich resource just a telephone call away, I very likely acquired the information I was seeking even more quickly than a sighted writer might have done. It took my own intelligence to identify the story, my own intuition to know I needed more information, and my own talent and creativity as a writer to use the information I had gathered to develop a column that was both fresh and compelling.

That is what NEWSLINE in particular and the Federation as a whole gives each of us: tools to augment our own skills and abilities, tools to put us in a position from which competing and excelling are both possibilities and realities. Not spending time to use those fabulous tools is, in my view, something akin to kicking a shiny new birthday gift down the stairs.

Note: My January 22, 2012, column, resulting from the activities described above, is reprinted here, in case you find it of interest as well. Incidentally, I emailed it to myself from NEWSLINE the morning it appeared in the Columbus Dispatch.

Deborah Kendrick Commentary:
Who Are “Experts” to Decide Whether a Life Is Worth Living?

“Thunderstruck" and "punched in the gut" were the words used by Joe Rivera, a thirty-nine-year-old parent in New Jersey, to describe an encounter regarding his three-year-old daughter last week. I recognized those feelings immediately. I have experienced those exact feelings myself: when a promised job was immediately pulled from me, when my preschooler was told something completely untrue about me, when an online friend recoiled and disappeared upon learning of my disability. But my own thunderstruck punch in the gut affected only my feelings and, yes, perhaps my quality of life--not life itself. Joe Rivera's reaction was triggered by something far more serious: a perceived threat to the life of his three-year-old child, Amelia.

In a blog entry posted last week, Joe's wife, Chrissy Rivera, described an encounter between the couple and an unnamed doctor and social worker in a conference room at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The couple's daughter, Amelia, was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a rare genetic disease that can cause physical and mental disabilities. Amelia needs a kidney transplant, and, as Chrissy wrote in her blog, they entered the room believing they were about to receive instruction on how to prepare their daughter for the operation. Chrissy's description of the encounter is poignant; heart-stopping and, if you or your child has a disability, completely recognizable: `I put my hand up. Stop talking for a minute. Did you just say that Amelia shouldn't have the transplant done because she is mentally retarded. I am confused. Did you really just say that?’ I begin to shake. My whole body trembles, and he begins to tell me how she will never be able to get on the waiting list because she is mentally retarded.

Another mother of two sons with disabilities read Chrissy Rivera's blog post and launched an online petition demanding that Amelia be given the transplant. As of Friday morning the petition had gained 32,894 supporters. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has responded with a notice on its Facebook page that they are listening and concerned but make no reference to the individual case. Medical experts around the country are weighing in, saying that "quality of life" is always a consideration in transplant cases, and the waiting list for kidneys and other organs is horrific and growing. But those weren't the issues logically addressed by the social worker and doctor who met with two parents whose child needs a kidney within the next six to twelve months.

The Riveras say they have had wonderful experiences with the hospital throughout Amelia's short life, and that this encounter was with only one doctor. Chrissy Rivera confirmed in a phone interview that the couple is meeting with the hospital's transplant team next week but only for further discussion, not a guarantee of moving forward with the transplant. Maybe there are medical complexities involved here that are beyond my understanding, but the simple scenario as unfolded to date is not complex at all. Two human beings, a social worker and a physician, decided unequivocally that, because a medical record indicated that the child had mental retardation, a child’s life was not worth saving. Chrissy and Joe Rivera are exemplary parents, fighting for their daughter as undoubtedly they would for her two nondisabled brothers. But for every set of parents like them, there are other parents who defer to "experts" as holding the only true answers, and the sad bottom line is that ignorance that leads to grave consequences is an equal-opportunity disability in and of itself, a disability that no amount of education, no credential can prevent.

Amelia Rivera is lucky to live in a time when we have laws to protect the rights of kids with disabilities and a time when the Internet and social networking can spread word of injustice like the proverbial wildfire. But laws can't mandate common sense or morality--or the recognition that no one can judge another's quality of life and every life is worth saving.

Deborah Kendrick is a Cincinnati writer and advocate for people with disabilities. <dkkendrick@earthlink.net>

Should the Sound of Silence Be a Bird's Tweet or a Jet's Roar?
To Make Quiet Electric Cars Safer, Engineers Bring Out Bells and Whistles

by Mike Ramsey

From the Editor: This article appeared in the September 15, 2011, edition of the Wall Street Journal. It shows that the advent of the soon-to-come regulations has all of the car companies working on solutions that will alert pedestrians to the presence of what would otherwise be nearly silent vehicles. Here is what the Wall Street Journal had to say about quiet cars and the attempt to make them audible:

From the Editors of the Wall Street Journal: Detroit—If a car zips through a forest, and there's no gasoline combusting under its hood, would it make a sound? Normally, no. But in a few years the government will require electric cars and gasoline-electric hybrids to emit some type of noise at low speeds, when their battery-driven motors usually run silent. The promised rules—aimed at making the vehicles safer for vision-impaired pedestrians and others who rely on aural cues—have launched auto makers on a quest for the perfect sound.

The new electric cars are nearly silent, and that's a potential hazard for pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired. The Nissan Leaf has added sounds for when the car starts up and accelerates or backs up. WSJ's Mike Ramsey reports.

Among those considered: noises reminiscent of jet engines, bells, birds, flying saucers, and revved-up sports cars. In developing their electric car, the Leaf, Nissan Motor Co. marketers initially saw the false-sound feature as a branding opportunity, a chance to create a distinctive sound, like a Jetsons jet pack, that would identify an approaching vehicle as a Leaf. But a point man on the project, forty-nine-year-old Nino Pacini of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, had to rein them in. "We've had the sound of an internal combustion engine for one hundred years," says Mr. Pacini, who has been blind since he was twenty-three and teaches others how to get around without sight. "And it's fine."

The near-silence of a battery-powered car is a point of pride for many hybrid drivers, an illustration of its ability to run at speeds of 40 mph or more without burning fossil fuel. The quiet ride has been a marketing point for auto makers, who spend millions on insulation and sound-damping technology to make cars quieter. It has been used for comic effect, too, such as in an episode of "The Office," where the volatile Andy Bernard, driving a Prius at low speed, sneaks up on his romantic rival and pins him gently against a hedge in the Dunder Mifflin parking lot.

But for visually impaired people it's no laughing matter. A study authorized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in twelve states showed a 50% higher rate of accidents involving pedestrians for hybrids than for standard internal-combustion vehicles. The agency is crafting regulations that will require sounds on battery-powered vehicles by the end of 2016.

For its Volt, which currently has a warning bell that can be activated by the driver, General Motors Co. is considering options for a continuously broadcast sound. "You need to recognize that the sound is a car," says Doug Moore, a senior project engineer for GM. "It can't be things like ringtones or bird chirps."

Toyota Motor Corp. began working on sounds for its hybrids five years ago, initially looking at using the vehicle's horn, having it tweet or make short toots at low speeds, "but you can imagine that might become annoying," says Daniel Smith, a Toyota engineer. Last month the company presented its noise at a gathering of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando. The sound is a hum, but Mr. Smith says, "I've heard people say, it's like, `Beam me up Scotty.'"

Ford Motor Co., which will introduce a fully electric Focus compact next year, is allowing the masses to choose its sound by voting on a Facebook page. Ford doesn't describe the noises, but the four finalists sound roughly like an alien spacecraft, a "Star Trek" tractor beam, a muffled jet engine, and a normal gasoline engine.

Commenters are lending an ear. "It's super futuristic but has a nice low frequency component that (to me) is distinctly automotive," said one. The company won't say which sound is pulling ahead.

As with many automotive features these days, "People would like to customize it—one day it would sound like a car, and one day it would sound like a horse," says Dave Finnegan, marketing manager for electric vehicles at Ford. But the goal is that people "can identify that a vehicle is coming."

Sports-car maker Porsche AG found a way to make its electric car both detectable and recognizable, giving the Boxster E prototype the same throaty growl—projected through a speaker—as the gasoline-powered version of the roadster. “A lot of people buying sports cars like that sound," says Dave Engelman, a spokesman for Porsche.

For the Leaf Nissan engineers employed a Hollywood sound designer and got help from researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who analyzed a hundred sounds—mechanical to ethereal, whistling to bells and rings—in search of combinations easiest to detect. Mr. Pacini and other blind volunteers, working with the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, met with Nissan engineers last year to give feedback. "They had a sound engineer trying to pick a cool sound for us," Mr. Pacini says. "His idea of the sound was more like a Jetsons jet pack. That's too high a pitch, and as you get older you lose ability to hear high-pitched sounds. And most visually impaired people are older."

Nissan engineers had to be concerned about drivers' reactions as well. "If it became frustrating to the driver, they could cut the wires to the speaker," says Heather Konet, an engineer with Nissan. In the end Nissan developed a sound with two main frequencies they call "twin peaks" that will be broadcast from a front-facing speaker mounted in the engine compartment. The whistling sound shuts off at around nineteen mph. Above about twelve mph, tire noise typically becomes loud enough to be heard.

For now Mr. Pacini is fairly happy with the results. He points out there is no rear-facing speaker to indicate that a car has gone by, another cue blind people rely on to orient themselves. "What they came up with is pretty good," he says. "Not perfect, but pretty good." And, he adds, the extra sound will help a lot of sighted people as well, including those too consumed with their cell phone conversations to check for traffic when they step off the curb. “Blind people don't talk on the phone and walk," Mr. Pacini says.

—Neal E. Boudette contributed.

Remembering Margaret Warren

by Anna Kresmer

From the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library.

Many longtime NFB members will no doubt recognize the name of Margaret Warren, for years an active Federationist in the Iowa affiliate who was deaf-blind. Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1932, Warren was blind from birth but retained some hearing until early middle age. As a result she had an intelligible speaking voice, and with the aid of a machine called the Teletouch—a QWERTY/Braillewriter connected to a single Braille cell display—Warren energetically communicated with the world around her. She worked as a Braille proofreader and was a dedicated volunteer in both her church and community, regularly reading out loud to groups of children at a local daycare center. In 1990 she received a cochlear implant and was a strong supporter of the technology.

Warren believed that she had a duty to serve as an example to others of a competent deaf-blind person. In this effort she faithfully staffed a table in the NFB exhibit hall for decades and was a common sight at NFB annual conventions. Warren also believed deeply in the organized blind movement and served on the NFB Deaf-Blind Committee for several years. In 1983 she wrote an article entitled, “What Can Your Deaf-blind Child Expect,” which was published in Future Reflections (January/February 1983, Vol. 2 No. 1).

Possessing a friendly spirit and an inquisitive mind, Warren was a fixture of the Des Moines Chapter and a common Sunday afternoon guest in the homes of many of its members. One such chum, Lorraine Rovig, recalled the fun of teaching her to pump gas and the joy that Warren expressed in feeling the sculptures at the Des Moines Art Center.

Warren died in August of 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa, but her memory will surely linger with the many members of her Federation family. She will also live on in the NFB Institutional Archives, where her many years of correspondence with both Dr. Jernigan and President Maurer are preserved. One letter sent to Dr. Jernigan on August 4, 1981, shortly after the Baltimore convention, reveals both Warren’s devotion to the organization and her love of exploration.

Des Moines, Iowa
August 4, 1981

Kenneth Jernigan
American Brotherhood for the Blind
Baltimore, Maryland

Dear Mr. Jernigan:

This letter is somewhat overdue. I had meant to write soon after returning home but got involved with some things that needed immediate attention. First I want to say that I had a wonderful ten days in Baltimore. Cindy Martin said it was her best trip also. So many enjoyable and interesting things to do and see. The convention was a very interesting one. We had a very profitable deaf-blind committee meeting and brought up some things that need looking into. One concerned the airlines, and one you will probably be hearing from Jim Gashel about before too long. It concerns the Helen Keller Center. I gave him a tape of the letter I read at the meeting. It was meant for you, but they thought it best I give it to him. I am sorry so many committee members were absent. I think just three of the appointed members were there--Mary Reihing, Jeff Frye, and myself. The National Center is lovely and well equipped--something for all of us to be proud of.

I also enjoyed the cook-out at your home on July 11. You have a beautiful home. Baltimore is still what it was in 1978-- a warm, friendly, caring city. It is rightly named the Charm City. I wish Des Moines had as many places of beauty and interest as it does. Even though it is a hard walk from the hotel for me, Harbor Place attracted me. I could go back there many times to try foods and browse in the shops.

Here, again are the titles of the two print books I am looking for for my work at the day care center. The Magic Auto, by Janosch, and Helena the Unhappy Hippopotamus, by Yutaka Sugita. They are still looking for a replacement for Jackie. It must not be an easy job, but I am not surprised. When I ask people to do things for me, they are always too busy. They either have a job or already involved in all kinds of other volunteer work or social activities.

I want to thank everyone who helped make my stay in Baltimore such a pleasant one. Greet my friends.

Sincerely yours,
Margaret Warren

Rare Sleep Disorder Leaves Some Who Are Blind Out of Sync

From the Editor: The authors of many studies conducted on blind people ask the NFB to participate. Some we regard as having merit and join in them. Others seem to study issues having nothing to do with blindness, and we politely decline to be a part.

Many of us who are blind experience trouble sleeping. While it is undoubtedly true that, as a cross-section of human beings, some of our sleep problems relate to those shared with the sighted, the proportion of blind people having sleep difficulties indicates that a study to determine what part blindness plays and to find a solution is in order. For this reason we have publicized the efforts of Vanda in promoting its study and are glad to run this article, which they have asked us to include in the Braille Monitor:

So much for drinking a warm glass of milk or counting sheep when you cannot sleep. Those remedies may work for others who toss and turn at night but not for people who have a rare and under-recognized sleep disorder called Non-24-Hour Sleep Wake Disorder (N24HSWD), a chronic circadian rhythm sleep disorder that occurs when individuals are unable to synchronize their internal clock to the 24-hour light-dark cycle. As a result the sleep-wake cycle of these people moves gradually later and later each day if their circadian period is more than 24 hours or earlier and earlier if it is less than 24 hours. This condition occurs almost entirely in those who are totally blind and lack the light sensitivity necessary to reset the circadian clock.

Exposure to daylight provides cues to the brain that help organize daily life. It sets the hands of the body’s master clock, a tiny pair of nerve clusters in the center of the brain that anchor body rhythms to the earth’s twenty-four-hour light/dark cycle. In blind people lack of environmental cues like daylight block an important signal to the brain that enables synchronized patterns.

People with N24HSWD suffer from cyclic insomnia and sleep deprivation, which may lead to difficulties with concentration and memory, as well as an increased risk of errors and accidents. For some totally blind people the sleeplessness and daytime fatigue have significant impact on their social and occupational lives and are considered the most disabling aspect of blindness.

At this time no treatment has been approved by a pharmaceutical regulatory authority for N24HSWD in blind people without light perception. The good news is that help may be on the way. Over a year ago Vanda Pharmaceuticals, a specialty pharmaceutical company based outside of Washington, D.C., launched an important clinical research study to evaluate a potential treatment for N24HSWD. The company has made significant strides in educating the public on N24HSWD and collaborating with the NFB to make information available to people who may suffer from the disorder. In addition, Vanda has developed a survey to help identify people who may qualify for its research study. For every completed survey, Vanda will donate $25 to the NFB. Those who are interested are encouraged to call (888) 389-7033 or visit <https://non24registry.com/> as soon as possible.

According to a Vanda press release, the company has been able to prove that a drug, Tasimelteon, does in fact help in resetting the body clock in people with Non-24. This is the first time that a pharmaceutical agent has been able to do this in patients with Non-24. For updates on progress in this area of research, please continue to check <www.24sleepwake.com>. For more information and references about Non-24-Hour Sleep Wake Disorder, visit <www.24sleepwake.com>.

White House Reaffirms Importance of Randolph-Sheppard Program and Urges Full Compliance

by Nicky Gacos

From the Editor: Nicky Gacos is the president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. Monitor readers will remember the struggle to ensure that the program created as a result of the Randolph-Sheppard Act continues to be an important source of quality jobs for the blind. Here is what Nicky has to say about a recent press release from President Obama:

Many vendors and others concerned with the Randolph-Sheppard program may not yet be aware of a historic memorandum of support for this critically important employment and entrepreneurship program for blind Americans recently issued by President Obama. The memorandum, issued on January 20, 2012, and published in the Federal Register, is a firm declaration of support for the implementation of the Randolph-Sheppard Act at all levels of the federal government. It is also a celebration of this program’s seventy-five years of success. Both the National Federation of the Blind and its affiliate organization, the National Association of Blind Merchants, were pleased and proud to support the work of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and the White House as they developed this important and far-reaching advisory.

The memorandum not only reaffirms the importance of the Randolph-Sheppard program and stresses the importance of compliance but also requires that a report on implementation of the program by all federal agencies be submitted to the White House by January 20 of next year. This is a clear signal that the Obama administration is committed to the continued success and expansion of the program and that federal agencies and departments will be held accountable for taking steps to increase Randolph-Sheppard opportunities and improve compliance. The National Federation of the Blind commends the administration for recognizing the value of this critical program and taking affirmative steps to enforce it rigorously. The Randolph-Sheppard program is the most successful government initiative to increase employment among the blind in American history, and we are pleased that its importance is being amplified at the very highest levels of power. The full text of the memorandum follows.

A Message from President Obama
on the Importance of the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program

As our nation continues to recover from the economic downturn, the President continues to demonstrate that all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, must play a part in that recovery and have opportunities to work and contribute to our society.
Today the president issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies regarding the federal support for the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies

SUBJECT: Federal Support for the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program

Thousands of Americans who are blind have embraced the entrepreneurial spirit that helps define our nation as a land of opportunity. Through the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program administered by the Department of Education, talented and creative individuals who are blind have acquired the management training and business skills necessary to realize the American dream—a lifetime of economic opportunity, independence, and self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.

For seventy-five years blind business managers have successfully operated food services and commercial ventures at federal, state, and private buildings and locations nationwide. We honor and celebrate this program's historic achievements. We also trust that the Randolph-Sheppard Program will continue to be a leading model for providing high-quality entrepreneurial opportunities for blind individuals. From a simple snack shop, to tourist services at the Hoover Dam, to full food-service operations at military installations, blind entrepreneurs have provided exceptional customer service to federal and state employees, the armed forces, and the general public. With proven ability they have challenged preconceived notions about disability.

The Randolph-Sheppard Act (20 U.S.C. 107 et seq.) created the Vending Facility Program requiring qualified blind individuals be given a priority to operate vending facilities on federal properties. This program is responsible today for providing entrepreneurial opportunities for over 2,500 individuals who are blind. In turn these business managers have hired thousands of workers, many of whom are individuals with disabilities. Every American, including persons with disabilities, deserves the opportunity to succeed without limits, earn equal pay for equal jobs, and aspire to full-time, career-oriented employment.

Continued support and cooperation are needed from executive departments, agencies, and offices to extend the Randolph-Sheppard priority to qualified blind managers through the state licensing agencies that implement the program. Therefore, I direct all agencies that have property management responsibilities to ensure that agency officials, when pursuing the establishment and operation of vending facilities (including cafeterias and military dining facilities) as defined in 20 U.S.C. 107e, issue permits and contracts in compliance with the Randolph-Sheppard Program and consistent with existing regulations and law. I further direct the secretary of education, through the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, to submit a report to the president on agencies' implementation of the Randolph-Sheppard Program not later than one year from the date of this memorandum.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person. The secretary of education is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

Barack Obama

Convention Scholarships Available

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 <kjscholarships@nfb.org>.
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, and 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 <kjscholarships@nfb.org>. We look forward to seeing you in Dallas.

Recipes

This month’s recipes come from members of the NFB of Florida.

Shrimp Bisque
by Tinetta Cooper

Tinetta Cooper is a member of the Tallahassee Chapter of the NFB of Florida. She attends Tallahassee Community College and expects to earn a degree in business administration in December 2012. She currently works as an intern for Ability 1st in Tallahassee. Her favorite hobby is baking. About this recipe she says, “I've served this shrimp bisque to rave reviews, and it's simple to make. It can also be made with crab meat or a combination of shrimp and crab.”

Ingredients:
1 10 ¾-ounce can condensed tomato soup
1 11 ¼-ounce can condensed green pea soup
3 cups whole milk (light cream will make it richer)
1 2-pound package salad shrimp, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry sherry, optional

Method: Combine tomato and green pea soups (do not use split pea) and mix well. Add milk or light cream. In saucepan over low heat bring mixture to the boil, stirring occasionally. When heated through, add thawed chopped shrimp and stir. When soup is again heated thoroughly, add sherry and serve. Serves six.

Almond Bar Cookies
by Tinetta Cooper

This recipe won the blue ribbon in the cookie category at last year's North Florida County Fair.

Ingredients:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
Confectioner’s sugar or slivered almonds for topping

Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease a 13 by 9 pan. Beat eggs and sugar, then add melted butter, flour, and almond extract. Mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan, top with slivered almonds, and bake thirty to thirty-five minutes. If using confectioner’s sugar, sprinkle over surface when cookies are cool.

Prune Cake
by Kathy Davis

Kathy Davis is the immediate past president of the NFB of Florida. She has held other state board positions as well. She was a founding member of the Greater Daytona Beach Chapter and served as president for fourteen years. She is now a retired faculty member of Daytona State College. She reports that these are among her favorite recipes.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 jar baby food prunes
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup prunes, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Method: Place one tablespoon of the flour in a plastic container with lid; add nuts, snap the lid on, and shake to coat nuts with flour. Repeat with another tablespoon of flour and the prunes. (This will keep the fruit and nuts from dropping to the bottom of the cake while baking.)

In a large bowl blend sugar and oil in an electric mixer. Add eggs, milk, and baby food prunes. Mix dry ingredients together and sift into the bowl, stirring to mix well. Add vanilla extract and gently fold in the chopped prunes and nuts. Pour into buttered 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake at 300 degrees for one hour. At 45 minutes, spread the following topping over the cake. This is a critical step because, if the cake is not done enough, the topping will make it sink in the middle. If there is any question, let the cake bake another five minutes, but be sure to bake the topping long enough for it to turn a light golden color.

Topping Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon white corn syrup
1/4 cup softened butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped cherries

Method: Mix all ingredients except nuts and cherries until smooth. Add nuts and cherries and spread over cake during last fifteen minutes of baking.

Rum Cake
by Kathy Davis

Ingredients:
1 box Duncan Hines butter cake mix
1 large package vanilla instant pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2 cup vegetable (not olive) oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup pecans, crushed (optional)

Method: Beat all ingredients together in electric mixer for two minutes. Pour into greased and floured bundt pan over crushed pecans on bottom. Bake at 325 degrees for fifty minutes. Meanwhile prepare run sauce.

Rum Sauce Ingredients:
1 stick butter
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Method: Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for two minutes. After cake has baked for fifty minutes, pour most of sauce over top of cake. Return to oven and bake thirty minutes longer. Immediately remove cake from pan and pour remaining sauce over it.

Cilantro Chicken and Rice
by Kathy Davis

Kathy said of this dish, “Here is a recipe with lots of ingredients that's easy to make and is absolutely delicious. I often serve this on Christmas Eve or when I am having several guests for dinner. You can’t lose when you serve this yummy dish that is not only easy to make but tastes great too!”

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
8 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1 10-ounce package yellow rice
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can each pinto beans, black beans, and whole kernel corn, all drained and rinsed
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (if desired)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Method: Heat olive oil over medium heat. Dredge chicken in flour and place in skillet. Cook till just browned on all sides. Set aside and keep warm. Stir onion, bell pepper, and garlic into skillet with oil and drippings. Cook five minutes or until tender. Add broth. Mix in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Return chicken to skillet. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for thirty minutes, till rice is tender and chicken juices run clear. Serve immediately.

Pumpkin Crunch
by Kathy Davis

Ingredients:
1 29-ounce can Libby’s pumpkin
3 eggs, beaten
1 large can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 box yellow cake mix without pudding
2 sticks butter, melted
2 cups pecans, chopped

Method: Mix first six ingredients together and pour into a greased 11 3/4-by-9 3/8-by-2 1/2-inch pan (or pan of similar dimensions). Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture. Pour melted butter over cake mix. Sprinkle pecans over butter. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Mashed sweet potatoes could be substituted for the pumpkin, which would make it a scrumptious vegetable instead of a scrumptious dessert.

 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Elected:
The results of the election conducted on October 14, 2011, by the Chapter on Aging at the NFB of California convention are as follows: president, Michael Couey; vice president, Octavia Fuller; secretary, Ellen Clegg; treasurer, Cheryl Thirstin; and board member, Jana Littrell.

Elected:
The Des Moines Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa held its annual election on January 14, 2012. The following were elected: president, Scott Van Gorp; vice president, April Enderton; secretary, Cindy Lou Ray; treasurer, Mary McGee; and three members of the board of directors--Sharon Omvig, Michael Glynn, and Jill Clausen.

We appreciate April's selfless five years as our chapter president, and we know that she will move forward to help the affiliate and the chapter to grow and blossom as we work together to change what it means to be blind here and across the state and country.

Announcing LCB Summer Programs for Youth:
Buddy Program--Putting the Pieces Together: Since 1989 the Louisiana Center for the Blind has offered an innovative summer program for blind children in grades four through eight. This summer the Buddy Program promises to be full of learning opportunities, new friendships, and fun-filled activities.

Many blind children have misconceptions about their blindness because they lack positive blind role models and they face negative stereotypes in society. Unlike other summer programs for blind children, the Buddy Program is directed and staffed by competent blind adults. Classes in cane travel are taught to instill independence and self-confidence. The knowledge of Braille enables the blind child to compete on terms of equality with sighted peers in the classroom and provides a solid background in spelling and other grammatical skills. Computer literacy classes expose a blind child to available adaptive equipment. Classes in daily living skills promote equal participation in household duties such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning. In addition to learning the valuable alternative techniques of blindness, children will enjoy participating in a wide variety of exciting activities such as swimming, cookouts, bowling, roller skating, and other outings.

The combination of hard work and enjoyable activities provide a rewarding experience that children will cherish. Involvement in the Buddy Program helps blind children realize that it is not blindness that poses the greatest problem but the negative attitudes and misconceptions about blindness that can prevent them from reaching their potential. At the close of the program parents are required to attend a parents’ weekend, which will allow them to interact with other parents of blind children and to learn what their children have discovered about their blindness and themselves. Friendship, training, fun, growth, and interaction between blind children and positive role models are how the Louisiana Center for the Blind is “changing what it means to be blind” for tomorrow’s generation.

This year the Buddy Program will be held from Sunday, July 15, through Saturday, August 4. If you have any questions, call Eric Guillory at (800) 234-4166 or email him at <eguillory@lcb-ruston.com>. Interested families may also apply for their students electronically at <www.lcb-ruston.com>. Due to limited space, we cannot guarantee that every applicant will be granted enrollment. Please note that the fee for students not from Louisiana is $1,000, which is all-inclusive save for transportation to and from the program.

STEP 2012

Summer Training and Employment Project--Striving for Success: Since 1985 the Louisiana Center for the Blind has been changing what it means to be blind for adults from across America. In 1990 a program was created to address the needs of blind high school students. The Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP) Program is designed to introduce blind teenagers to positive blind role models and to provide participants with summer work experience.

The eight-week summer program will consist of two components. During the first part competent blind counselors will instruct the students in the alternative techniques of blindness. Classes in Braille, cane travel, computer literacy, and daily living skills will be taught by qualified blind instructors. In addition seminars will be conducted in the areas of job readiness, job interviewing skills, résumé writing, and job responsibilities. The second part of the program will continue all aspects of training and expand to include employment. Students will have the opportunity to work fifteen to twenty hours a week at a local business, for which they will receive the federal minimum wage. The staff will attempt to meet the job interests of the students. Instructors from the Louisiana Center for the Blind will be available to provide on-the-job assistance as needed.

The combination of work experience and blindness-related skills--along with fun-filled activities such as cookouts, movies, swimming, and various other excursions--will foster self-confidence and independence in young blind teenagers. Students will attend the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, Texas. This exciting conference will allow them to meet thousands of competent blind people from across the country. The students will also have the chance to participate in a wide variety of informative seminars. At the close of the program parents will be required to attend a parents’ weekend, which will enable them to discover how much their children have learned throughout the summer. The STEP program is designed to provide invaluable work experience, friendships, opportunities for personal growth, and cherished memories.

This year the STEP Program will be held from Sunday, June 3, through Saturday, August 4, including a one-week break in July following the NFB’s national convention. If you have any questions, call Eric Guillory at (800) 234-4166 or email him at <eguillory@lcb-ruston.com>. Interested families may also apply for their students electronically at <www.lcb-ruston.com>. Due to limited space, we cannot guarantee that every applicant will be granted enrollment. Please note that the program tuition is $6,500, which is all-inclusive save for transportation costs associated with getting the student to and from Ruston, Louisiana, at the start and conclusion of training. Applicants must have an open case with their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency or other entity for funding to cover costs.

Where the Blind Work:
Where the Blind Work is a program sponsored by the Jernigan Institute and the NFB Writers’ Division. Do you need to know where the blind work, what types of jobs they hold, how they do their jobs, the qualifications needed, or what helps a blind person succeed? Are you looking to find a first job or to change careers? Are you a parent of a blind child concerned about his or her future employment prospects? Are you an employer or blindness professional hoping to learn what is possible? Where the Blind Work is the employment resource you are looking for. Consult job descriptions at <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Blind_Work.asp>.

We presently have more than a hundred job descriptions and need more. We know blind workers are handling many more jobs than we currently list. The Where the Blind Work page has descriptions divided into twelve generalized categories: administrative and office; business/entrepreneurial; computer specialists; customer service; education; financial; government; human services; law enforcement and legal; media, marketing, and public relations; medical; and vocational jobs.

All job descriptions are fewer than one thousand words and follow a set format of five questions, listed below. The uniformity and predictability of the descriptions assures readers of what they will find in all the documents. Help us to expand this resource by filling out a description of your present job if you are working. If you have had successful jobs in recent years, please share those with us as well. Write your answers to the five questions below and email them to Robert Leslie Newman at <newmanrl@cox.net>.

Where The Blind Work Description Form

Give us your contact information: name, email address, mailing address, and phone number.
1. What is the title of your job?
2. What do you do on your job? (Explain what anyone in this position is required to do. Save any blindness-related specifics for the next question.)
3. To what extent are you blind, and what special adaptations do you use on the job? (Give the medical term for your blindness and extent of limitation. Give the type and name of any special low- or high-technology or procedure you use to perform your job duties, describing where and how you use them.)
4. What are the qualifications to enter this job? (any required job experience, degrees or certifications, special skills, etc.)
5. What influences along the way helped you to be successful? (mentoring, memberships or associations, etc.)

Announcing BISM Summer Programs for Middle and High School Students:
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland is pleased to announce its highly successful Independence 2012 program and its new Independence 101. Independence 2012 is an eight-week residential program for blind and low-vision high school students who will be entering or in high school in fall 2012. Students will live in apartments with blind adult instructors/mentors, where, while having fun, they will learn how to cook, clean, grocery shop, manage money, and wash clothes. Classes include cane travel, Braille, computers and technology, independent living (home ec.), and daily seminar class. In addition to learning the skills of blindness, participants will have the opportunity to gain paid community work experience during the last two weeks of the program.

Independence 2012 students and staff will attend the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, Texas, where they will meet successful blind people from around the world, attend the National Association of Blind Students seminar, learn self-advocacy, check out the latest access technology, and attend a wide array of blindness-related seminars. While attending convention, students will learn about what is happening on the national level in blindness legislation, education, and rehabilitation. During the eight weeks we will explore Baltimore, New York City, and our nation’s capital, attend an O's game, go swimming, go to the movies, visit a farmers market, attend a street festival, and--new in 2012--learn how to sail. There are also nights of playing cards and board games until the wee hours of the morning. Dates for Independence 2012 are June 17 to August 10, 2012.

Independence 101 is a three-week residential program for blind and low-vision students entering the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades in the fall of 2012. Students will live in apartments with successful blind instructors/mentors and participate in daily classes where they will learn to travel independently using a long white cane; read and write Braille; access information using computer literacy and technology; and participate actively in household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and developing and using organizational skills. While learning the alternative skills of blindness, students will go bowling, horseback riding, shopping, and swimming and will attend an O's game and visit a local festival, while learning firsthand from their instructors how to travel, shop, and generally do things nonvisually.

Parents of Independence 101 students are required to attend the Independence 101 parents retreat, which begins the afternoon of August 9 and concludes with Independence 101 graduation on August 11. Dates for Independence 101 are July 22 to August 11.

For more information about the programs, the application process, and the cost and funding resources, contact Amy Phelps at (410) 274-1647 or <aphelps@bism.org> or Dezman Jackson at (410) 737-2676 or <djackson@bism.org>. Please share this information with other parents, teachers, counselors, and students.

National Association of Blind Automobile Enthusiasts, Formerly CARS Division, Seeking Members:
The Classics, Antiques, and Rods (CARS) Division has been a part of the NFB since 2005. It was chartered in Louisville, Kentucky. The division has changed its name to National Association of Blind Automobile Enthusiasts. The mission of the division is to enable blind men and women with an interest in the automotive world to take part in building and collecting cars and to understand the mechanics of automobiles and restoring them. The CARS Division has conducted seminars at each convention since its admission to the NFB and has provided antique car shows in the parking lots of convention hotels. Current division President David Hutchins and former President Joe Naulty, who is seventy-seven years old, would like to see the division continue with new, younger members. Dues are only $5 a year. For more information about the division, contact David Hutchins at (816) 931-0091 or Joe Naulty at (321) 768-9500.

Elected:
The San Antonio Chapter of the NFB of Texas held its election Saturday, January 21, 2012. The following officers and board member were elected: president, Athalie Malone; vice president Arturo (Art) Gutierrez; secretary, Mary Etter; treasurer, Bryan Baldwin; and board member, Cindy Martinez.

New At-Large Chapter:
The NFB of Texas has just organized the Lone Star Chapter, made up of people who live in rural areas and small cities around the state. Norma Crosby reports that she is proud to serve as president. The other members of the board are vice president, Gabe Cazares; secretary, Kayleigh Joiner; and treasurer, Ann Cunningham. The group ratified its constitution and held elections on January 16, 2012. Anyone who lives in an area of the state with no active local chapter is welcome to join. Meetings are on the second Saturday of each month, beginning at 10:00 a.m. Dues have been set at $5 annually. Most meetings will be by phone because the members live in different parts of the state.

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

A Nutshell History of Diabetes:
The listing for January 23 on History.com recalls the following historical note in 1922:

At Toronto General Hospital fourteen-year-old Canadian Leonard Thompson becomes the first person to receive an insulin injection as treatment for diabetes. Diabetes has been recognized as a distinct medical condition for more than 3,000 years, but its exact cause was a mystery until the twentieth century. By the early 1920s many researchers strongly suspected that diabetes was caused by a malfunction in the digestive system related to the pancreas gland, a small organ that sits on top of the liver. At that time the only way to treat the fatal disease was through a diet low in carbohydrates and sugar and high in fat and protein. Instead of dying shortly after diagnosis, this diet allowed diabetics to live--for about a year.

A breakthrough came at the University of Toronto in the summer of 1921 when Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Best successfully isolated insulin from canine test subjects, produced diabetic symptoms in the animals, and then began a program of insulin injections that returned the dogs to normalcy. On November 14 the discovery was announced to the world. Two months later, with the support of J.J.R. MacLeod of the University of Toronto, the two scientists began preparations for an insulin treatment of a human subject. Enlisting the aid of biochemist J.B. Collip, they were able to extract a reasonably pure form of insulin from the pancreas of cattle from slaughterhouses and used it to treat Leonard Thompson. The diabetic teenager improved dramatically, and the University of Toronto immediately gave pharmaceutical companies license to produce insulin, free of royalties. By 1923 insulin had become widely available, saving countless lives around the world, and Banting and MacLeod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Let Heartsight Cards Get Special Occasion Cards to Your Family and Friends On Time:
HeartSight’s continued mission is to provide beautiful, tactile greeting cards to all blind people and their families and friends. HeartSight now offers you the ability to send a single appropriately themed HeartSight card to a loved one in the U.S. within three days to celebrate any occasion. Charges remain the same ($7); however, rush orders and expedited shipping will cost more. Contact us at (269) 779-2216 or <heartsightcards@att.net> to order. Visit our website at <www.heartsightcards.com> to see greeting card samples.

New Book about Blindness:
Pathway to Independence: A Guide for People with Vision Loss, by Rita Thomas Kersh, is a practical guide for people with varying levels of vision loss who strive to be more independent in their everyday activities. The author describes it as filled with tips and techniques to use throughout the home and in the community. She says that the book is especially useful for people who are currently experiencing vision loss, but several of the tips and hints may be new ideas for those who have been visually impaired for a long time.

You can order the book in large print (hardcover and paperback) and as an e-book by visiting Barnes and Noble <barnesnoble.com>, Amazon <amazon.com>, Xlibris <xlibris.com>. The large-print book can be ordered through the author for a reduced price of $15. Audio CDs will be available soon. To inquire about this book or place an order, contact Rita at <hoosierrita@comcast.net> or write to SCAVI, Attn: Rita’s book, PO Box 2216, Bedford, Indiana 47421.

Blind Chess Clubs and Training Available:
            If you would enjoy learning to play chess, you can take two free correspondence courses from Hadley School for the Blind. After completing them, you get a free two-year membership in the USBCA (United States Blind Chess Association) <www.americanblindchess.org>. Register online or by phone for chess for beginners, CRE-091, and chess: principles and strategies, CRE-092. You will receive a free adaptive chess set for the two courses. Visit the Hadley website by going to <www.Hadley.edu> or call the school at (800) 323-4238. Join the Blind Chess list at <www.freelists.org/webpage/blind-chess>.

Download a free accessible Windows computer chess game called WinBoard for Jaws at <www.freedomscientific.com/fs_downloads/morejaws.asp>. Scroll down to find the WinBoard for Jaws download link. Visit for the friendship, and stay for the fun.

Social Security Applicants Can Now Sign Authorizations Electronically:
Beginning in April 2012 many people applying for Social Security disability benefits will be able to sign and submit their Authorization to Disclose Information to Social Security (SSA-827) forms electronically, as the last part of the online process. Social Security requests more than 15 million medical records each year on behalf of people applying for disability benefits, and a signed SSA-827 accompanies each request. Offering the option of electronically signing and submitting the form helps the agency provide better service, reducing application processing time by up to nine days.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other applicable laws permit the use of electronic signatures, and Social Security is encouraging medical providers to treat the new electronic signature the same as they would a wet signature on the SSA-827.

How It Will Work for the Applicant
Adults applying for disability benefits will click and sign the SSA-827 as part of the online application process, immediately making the form part of Social Security’s electronic disability folder. This eliminates the need for the applicant to print, sign, mail, or deliver a paper copy to a Social Security office. Social Security will continue to take the appropriate steps to verify the identity of the signer and to protect the information and records received. Applicants will also receive a copy of the electronically signed and dated SSA-827 for their records.

How It Will Work for the Provider
Medical providers will continue to receive a HIPAA-compliant SSA-827 with each of Social Security’s requests for records. The only change to the current form will be in the completed signature block, which will indicate that the applicant electronically signed using the new process. An electronically signed SSA-827 requires no change to existing procedures for processing authorization forms.

Accepting electronic SSA-827s will help speed the application process and can result in Social Security paying benefits to qualified patients more quickly, as well as providing Medicare and Medicaid coverage faster. The electronic SSA-827 will also decrease the number of uninsured and underinsured patients served by medical providers.

Initially Social Security will offer this new process only to adults applying online for disability benefits on their own behalf, so there will continue to be wet-signed SSA-827s for other claims. The agency expects the use of this new signature process to expand over time as the number of online filers increases.

For more information about this process, go to
<http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/eAuthorization.htm>.

Hadley School Creates New Program for Veterans:
Hadley has just announced the launch of a new Blinded Veterans Initiative. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are an estimated 158,300 legally blind veterans and 700,000 veterans with low vision. In addition approximately 7,000 veterans become newly blind or visually impaired each year from non-combat-related causes. Compounding the problem is that approximately 70 percent of working-age Americans who are blind or visually impaired are unemployed or underemployed.

In response Hadley's Blinded Veterans Initiative will educate and inspire blind or visually impaired veterans to pursue their personal and professional goals and help support their families. Veterans signing up with Hadley as a result of this new initiative will be able to enroll in any of 100 plus distance education courses. Core subject matters emphasized through this new initiative include business and entrepreneurship, technology, independent living skills, adjustment to blindness and Braille literacy.

The program is tuition-free for all visually impaired veterans and their family members, thanks to the support of Goldman Sachs Gives, a donor-advised fund. The gift was made at the recommendation of John Willian, a managing director at Goldman Sachs and Winnetka native whose family has shown a legacy of support for the Hadley School. For more information about this new initiative or to enroll, visit <http://www.hadley.edu/veterans.asp> or call Hadley at (800) 323-4238.

Monitor Mart

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.

KNFB Classic Reader for Sale:
I have a KNFB Classic Reader for which I am asking five hundred dollars, negotiable. This unit has the box and all packaging. Contact Jason Teitelbaum during the day at (201) 659-1680, evenings at (201) 669-1776, or email <jasoneric1936@hotmail.com>.

Recorder Needed:
I am looking for an AIWA four-track cassette player/recorder with AM/FM and recording capabilities. Please email or call to negotiate a price: email <msrdavidv@comcast.net>, phone (706) 375-9500.

For Sale:
            This Optelec ClearView Plus 22 inch Widescreen Video Magnifier includes table. It is in like-new condition. Purchased new in June 2009 for $3,185. Asking $1,500 or best offer. Contact Matt at <matt.trianglefp@fuse.net>, or call (513) 276-0981.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

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