Braille Monitor

Vol. 55, No. 6                                                        June 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
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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


        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



Vol. 55, No. 6                                                        June 2012


Illustration: Learning about
Braille from an Expert

Can We Erase Our Mistakes? The Need for
Enhanced Tactile Graphics
by Al Maneki

From the NFB of Minnesota President’s Desk
by Jennifer Dunnam

Braille Notetakers—Determining
Your Perfect Fit
by Amy Mason

Blind Man Experiences Weightlessness
by Mark Riccobono

Skills Lead to Service
by Darian Smith

Choices for the Future of Braille
A Comparison between Unified English Braille, the Nemeth Code,
and the Nemeth Uniform Braille System
by Antonio Guimaraes

Is Reading a Privilege?
by Ann Wai-Yee Kwong

Getting Information:
Are Human Readers Still Important?
by Gary Wunder

The 2012 Youth Track:
A More In-Depth Look
by Meleah Jensen

Wings for Our Stories
by Donna W. Hill

Blind Students Get Down to
Business with the Chamber
by Terry McElhaney

Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action
and Fairness Hearing

Living Well with Diabetes
by Mike Freeman

A Reverse Sundial
by Father Ephraim

Federation Envisions Brighter
Future for the Blind
by Steve Prisament

Featured Book from the tenBroek Library
Reviewed by Ed Morman


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2012 by the National Federation of the Blind

Learning about Braille from an Expert

In mid February the Jernigan Institute welcomed future Baltimore community leaders participating in the Leadership program, sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee. Participants learned some alternative techniques of blindness and talked to NFB leaders. Shown here is the first lady of the National Federation of the Blind, Patricia Maurer, giving basic instruction to community leaders in reading and writing Braille. Because of this and other efforts conducted during the four daylong sessions at the National Center for the Blind, participants left with a new perspective on blindness and a better understanding of accessibility.

Can We Erase Our Mistakes? The Need for Enhanced Tactile Graphics

by Al Maneki

From the Editor: Until 2007 Al Maneki worked as a mathematician with the U.S. Department of Defense. Since his retirement he has been actively involved in several projects sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute. He does occasional tutoring in mathematics and is active in the NFB of Maryland. He is an avid reader with eclectic tastes and he still finds time to dabble in mathematical problem-solving.

Ever since my childhood in Hawaii during the 1940s and 50s, I have heard over and over that blind people cannot draw diagrams. Based on that premise, everyone assumed that we could never study geometry, the hard sciences, or engineering. In fact I was told blind people shouldn't even think about entering the scientific professions.

Nevertheless, I heard occasional stories about exceptions to this rule. When I asked about these successful blind scientists and mathematicians, people had a ready answer--they must have become blind as adults. Even though they performed their work without vision, the memory of sight endowed them with the ability to succeed.

I don't know why I persisted in my study of mathematics. In part it had to do with a handful of college professors who did not want to deter me. As long as I was successful in their courses, they could simply pass me on to the next level without worrying about my long-term future. A few professors were genuinely concerned. They had no clear answers about career goals for me, but they had faith that my abilities would carry me forward.

When I needed tactile diagrams to illustrate a concept in one of my math or physics courses, someone drew them for me. For everyone, professors and fellow students who helped me with matters graphical and otherwise, I am eternally grateful. Sometimes the drawings were made on paper laid over a sheet of rubber. By running a dressmaker's tracing wheel over the paper, a reader could create a raised line, but I had to turn the sheet over to feel the raised lines that had appeared on the back.

Diagrams could also be made with a remarkable device called the Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit. Recently I searched the Internet seeking the history of this device, but I could not find the exact date when it became available. It has certainly been around since the 1950s. Instead of paper the Sewell Kit used thin sheets of Mylar plastic. The advantage was that raised lines appeared right side up, so I did not have to reverse the drawing to examine it. The limitation for blind people was that we could not create these drawings by ourselves because we had no way to erase our mistakes.

As it turned out for me and for other blind people who have pursued scientific work, the ability to draw diagrams was not essential. However, tactile diagrams were extremely helpful as we learned the necessary subject matter. It would have been useful to have the ability to render our own diagrams if and when the need arose.

Fast forward from my college days in the 1960s to 2008, a year after I retired from my work as a U.S. government mathematician. Through a fortunate set of circumstances I met Dr. Mike Rosen of the School of Engineering at the University of Vermont (UVM). His specialty is rehabilitation engineering. In a series of email exchanges we quickly discovered our common interest in enhancing tactile graphics technologies for blind people. I recognized that Mike Rosen was an exceptionally creative individual. We needed a device that would permit blind people to draw tactile diagrams and to correct their mistakes, and I felt certain that Mike would be instrumental in this work.

Mike taught a required course to engineering majors at UVM called Senior Experience in Engineering Design (SEED). The students are given problems to solve--projects posed and funded by private companies and nonprofit organizations. We outlined a possible program to build a tactile graphics device for use by blind people that would fit nicely into the SEED course if it could be funded.

I was so taken by Mike Rosen's enthusiasm and careful thought that I approached NFB President Marc Maurer. I suggested that the NFB support SEED during the 2008-09 academic year to work on tactile graphics. Recognizing the soundness of Mike’s engineering judgments and the importance of tactile graphics for blind people, President Maurer gave his enthusiastic approval. The NFB Jernigan Institute funded a SEED project during 2008-09.

As the instructor for the SEED course and the primary faculty advisor for the tactile graphics project, Mike Rosen recruited his teaching colleague, Dr. Mike Coleman, to assist in advising the team. Mike Coleman is also well suited for this work. He shares Rosen's enthusiasm for tactile graphics and brings additional expertise in rigid body dynamics, biomechanics, and robotics. The strength of the SEED course is that students are not told what to do by their advisors. As the instructor Mike Rosen attempts to provide a stimulating and creative environment in which his students can formulate their own solutions, working together to achieve a successful outcome by the end of the academic year. Often the students take approaches that are more novel than the initial ideas of their advisors.

Early in the 2008-09 academic year, the decision was made to design an eraser that would work with the Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit. One remarkable insight that emerged early on was that lines drawn on the Sewell Kit's Mylar sheets might be undone by applying the right amount of heat. Students tested this insight by heating an ordinary stainless steel table knife in a glass of hot water and applying the heated knife to the tactile drawing. As they say, "The rest is history."

At the 2009 NFB convention in Detroit, the tactile graphics SEED team exhibited the first prototype of a tactile eraser constructed from a glue gun without the glue. The device was clumsy and didn't erase as cleanly as we had hoped. The high temperature range necessary to perform the erasures clearly posed an element of risk. However, the device's potential for performing erasures on a Sewell drawing had clearly been established, and the demonstration in Detroit ensured future NFB funding.

At the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas the SEED team exhibited a smaller, improved eraser. The team also brought the first prototype of a device to produce a Sewell drawing from a digital file containing a graphic image. This device consisted of a digital tablet connected to an X-Y plotter that had been modified to produce tactile images on plastic sheets. With this success Rosen, Coleman, and their students were starting to put together an even grander scheme: tie the Sewell Kit and eraser to a digital tablet so that drawings can be digitized and sent to instructors or collaborators on the web. Drawings can be reproduced on a Sewell Kit on the receiving end, modified, and returned to the original sender.

By the time we met in Orlando in 2011, the SEED team was compiling a string of successes at an ever accelerating pace. Instead of using an ordinary pen to sketch on the Sewell Kit, we were now using a digitizing pen attached to a digital tablet. The tablet automatically stored the sequence of strokes in a file. At the remote end a software driver controlling a robotic arm attached to a digital pen created an identical drawing on a printer/plotter. This drawing could be modified and sent back. The cycle of exchanging tactile diagrams electronically was complete. This was the vision presented to us in Orlando, though the details remain to be worked out.

These successes between 2008 and 2011 led to our decision to form the enterprise EASY, LLC, which will be devoted specifically to conducting research in access technologies. Our corporate name is the brainchild of Mike Rosen. EASY is the acronym for "Engineering to Assist and Support You." President Maurer has been extremely encouraging and instrumental in getting this venture started. At its annual meeting the NFB board of directors voted to invest in EASY, LLC. Because of this action I now serve on the EASY management team. Our immediate priority is to bring our eraser to market. To this end we are sending out six prototype erasers to teachers of the visually impaired and their students for testing. EASY, LLC, will continue the work on developing the printer/plotter and digital tablet, making possible the digital storage, revision, and reproduction of tactile graphics.

Rosen, Coleman, and the SEED teams have spent considerable time in the blind community assessing the need for enhanced tactile graphics with erasers. In their interviews and discussions they have met with enthusiastic responses from consumers. Invariably people asked, "When can I buy this, and how much will it cost?"

The electronic communication of tactile graphic images produced by blind people is the logical next step in our drive to gain full access to professional opportunities. Through Braille and synthetic speech we have been able to send text messages worldwide. It will be a wonderful day when we can send tactile graphics worldwide as well. EASY, LLC, will be a vital element in this development.

We don't know exactly what impact enhanced tactile graphics will have on future professional opportunities for blind people, but it's clear that job prospects will improve for us when we have an additional medium for self-expression and personal communication. I believe I would have been a much better student in physics and chemistry if I could have constructed diagrams of lines of force and chemical bonds instead of simply picturing them in my mind. During my career, when colleagues attempted to describe problems to me in terms of flow charts, I could only respond feebly, "Flow charts don't do anything for me." Will access to tactile graphics help us in the fields of psychology, economics, medicine, meteorology, and computer-aided design? I believe it will.

I've given much thought to using enhanced tactile graphics to teach blind people about perspective and projection. According to the dictionary the term perspective refers to "representation in a drawing or painting of parallel lines as converging in order to give the illusion of depth and distance." By projection we mean "a systematic presentation of intersecting coordinate lines on a flat surface upon which features from a curved surface (as of the earth or the celestial sphere) may be mapped." To sighted viewers the value of an image on a page is derived from the fact that three-dimensional objects may be represented in two dimensions. More important, this representation is almost universal. It is understood and interpreted identically by nearly everyone in the industrial world.

Perspective and projection form the basis of the visual arts. Yet almost no attention has been given to teaching these concepts to blind people through the use of tactile graphics. Perhaps our sophistication with tactile graphics technology must progress further before blind people will be able to understand and work with perspective and projection. At this point the possibilities are tantalizing. Is it possible that someday, with the right tools, training, inspiration, and a touch of genius, blind artists may emerge who will work in the medium of tactile graphics a la EASY? Who knows!

While the talents of Mike Rosen, Mike Coleman, and the student engineers at UVM are crucial for the current developments in tactile graphics, we cannot overemphasize the importance of the NFB and the Jernigan Institute in this work. The NFB has provided the SEED program and EASY, LLC, with more than funding. Without the Federation's knowledge of marketing in the blind community and without the NFB's guidance about what blind people can do, EASY, LLC, could have ended up on the scrap heap of well-intentioned companies gone bust. Beyond Rosen and Coleman--the old guard--we are training the next generation of researchers and engineers in the field of blindness. They will work hand in hand with us to create tools that we really can use.

The SEED students have come to our conventions with enthusiasm, energy, and a willingness to learn. They joined in our March for Independence in Detroit; they have attended our general sessions and heard the presidential reports; they demonstrated their prototypes in the exhibit hall; they attended meetings of our Science and Engineering Division and the research and development committee. The NFB's investment in the UVM SEED program and EASY, LLC, is buying more than enhanced tactile graphics. It is helping to train the next generation of engineers.

The road to human progress is paved with trial and error, with mistakes and the ability to correct them. The modern computer-based word processor, with its wonderful delete key, has been a boon to blind writers like me. For the first time enhanced tactile graphics is giving us a means to erase and correct mistakes in our drawings. We have not yet transformed our tactile graphics capabilities with a delete key for the keyboard, but with the help of EASY, LLC, and the NFB, we're getting there.


From the NFB of Minnesota President’s Desk

by Jennifer Dunnam

From the Editor: The following article is taken from the Minnesota Bulletin, Winter, 2012. Its intent is obviously to get readers of the newsletter to read the Braille Monitor. Why then would we run it here—why encourage radio listeners to listen to the radio? The answer is that the article goes well beyond encouraging people to subscribe; it describes the scope of the magazine, points out topics of interest to people of any age and time in the Federation, and convincingly links the past with our future. Here is an article I wish I had been perceptive enough to write:

During one of our activities for blind children not long ago, we discovered that many of the young participants had no idea what a cassette tape was. It was amusing yet a little sobering to introduce them to this item that had long been such a staple in the lives of many of us but that is fast slipping into the ranks of artifacts of history. Now even the Braille Monitor, the flagship publication of the National Federation of the Blind, is no longer being produced on cassette. Time certainly does march on.

Of course the Monitor is still being produced in numerous other formats, and it can even be listened to by telephone using the NFB-NEWSLINE® service, so there is bound to be a format that works for any who had still been using the cassettes to read it. If you do not receive the Braille Monitor yourself each month, please see the end of this column for information on how to subscribe.

The changes related to the Braille Monitor prompt me to urge all Federationists to be sure to read the magazine regularly. The ways in which our members can be informed, inspired, and mobilized between conventions and chapter meetings are many: state affiliate newsletters, division newsletters, presidential releases, social media, email listservs, and more--all have important purposes. However, the monthly Braille Monitor is our lead national magazine and is essential reading for all Federationists, to benefit us as individuals and to benefit the organization as a whole.

I often think of the Braille Monitor as something like the Swiss army knife of the Federation in that it includes many different tools and functions inside. Here, in no particular order, are ten of them:

Stay informed about current events in blindness. In the Braille Monitor, blind people speak for ourselves, from individual in-depth knowledge, and from our collective experience. The information is pertinent not only to individual blind people of any age, but also to parents, teachers, counselors, staff and management of agencies for the blind, friends and family, and any who affect the lives of blind people. Regardless of how long we have been members or how familiar we are with the ins and outs of our organization, we all need to cultivate a strong knowledge of what issues arise and what the NFB is doing. Along with many articles on the various issues on which we advocate, the fact sheets on our legislative issues are printed each year. A further example of a particularly informative piece about current events is "Belling the Cat: The Long Road to the Passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act" from the June 2011 issue. Read about our programs--our adjustment-to-blindness training, our seminars for youth, our technology advocacy, etc. If the articles raise questions for you, ask a fellow Federationist; any will be glad to explain further or help find the answer. Our organization is much stronger when we are all better informed.

Learn about our organization's history. The struggles we have waged, the victories we have won (as a movement and as individuals) stand as a strong testament to the power of collective action. In current issues as well as the many decades worth of previously printed issues (which are available online), our rich history of accomplishment and of the development of the organization itself is written in vivid detail. To understand where we have come from is essential to be part of setting the future direction. As I was putting the finishing touches on this column, the January 2012 issue was released, which includes some organizational history as well as almost all of the other elements listed here.

Stay connected to something larger. Reading the Braille Monitor can help remind us that our movement and the issues we face are much bigger than our own situation or even the situation of our circle of blind acquaintances. The connection also opens the door for each member to lend his or her time and talents to the larger movement.

Learn about our philosophy and how it can be applied in our lives. This goes far beyond learning about our history and our accomplishments. Many Federationists have become more committed and involved because of reading the Braille Monitor and grappling with the philosophical questions. It is one thing to understand a statement of philosophy; it is another to understand how it can actually work in our ever-changing world. Reading the thought-provoking pieces can help hone our attitudes and show us new ways to put our philosophy into action. "I'd Rather Be Mugged," an edgy little piece from the May 1990 issue, may seem almost inflammatory on its surface, but a careful reading helps us think about basic and important philosophical questions. November 1997's "Delivering the Coffee" is another of the numerous examples of pieces that show how a Federationist approaches the all-important "little things" with a strong foundation of philosophy.

Learn practical skills. To read about what other people are doing can help us to fill gaps we may find in our own skills or understanding. From grilling on a barbecue to navigating an airport to shoveling snow (the latter covered in the January 2008 issue), the practical tips are plentiful in the Braille Monitor.

Get a pick-me-up. Any of us can sometimes find ourselves in environments in which our independence is compromised or our competence is questioned, or we're just plain discouraged for whatever reason. If we are visiting relatives for the holidays and find we cannot even operate the microwave because the panel is flat, or we are being treated like children, or we are underestimated, we can feel lonely and dispirited. At times just picking up something to read, being reminded that we are not alone in the struggle, can help to mitigate the sometimes overpowering effects of low expectations and can help give us the strength to act to change them.

Bring in resources and support. We need support from outside our organization to do the things that need to be done to improve opportunities for blind people. The Braille Monitor is an excellent way to help explain the purpose and activities of our organization to potential outside donors. From the stories of the everyday lives of individuals to the coverage of the nationwide programs we offer, the reader can get a picture of the power and scope of the NFB.

Spread the word — share individual articles on social media. Nowadays it is common to consume information in the form of short articles rather than reading an entire issue of a magazine. The Monitor has a strong role here, too. The web-based edition allows individual articles to be shared. If you like a particular article, why not share it with your network on Facebook or Twitter? It's an excellent way to help bring our philosophy more into the mainstream consciousness and to counteract some of the negative and harmful messages about blindness that are still seen all too frequently. What's more, there are thousands of articles to choose from for this purpose — the decades of Monitor issues are filled with timeless articles to spark discussion and make important points.

Go forth and make changes. Reading is key to building a foundation of know-how, but reading can go only so far. From our reading we can get the background to make the legislative contacts, to educate the public, to help advocate for a fellow blind person, to mentor a blind child, and all the things that make us an organization of action. The excellent May 1999 issue contains many articles about chapter building. The January 2012 issue deals with this topic as well.

Write articles yourself. Do you have a success story to share? Is there an aspect of our philosophy that you wish more people understood? Was there a noteworthy event? Is there someone else's story you wish would be told? Write it down and send it in! Writing an article is an excellent way to give back to our movement and have a positive effect--often more of an effect than you will ever know.

The articles I have mentioned here are just a small sampling. What's more, one certainly does not need to go back to old issues to find excellent articles. Each month, under the capable editorship of Gary Wunder, the Braille Monitor is filled with important and interesting reading. If you do not currently receive the Monitor, please either call (410) 659-9314, ext. 2344, or log onto <http://www.nfb.org> and type “braille monitor” into the search box to find the page where you can subscribe. The Monitor is available in Braille, in print, and by email. It can also be accessed through NFB-NEWSLINE, through your telephone, or using a portable device that accesses NFB-NEWSLINE. Since January 2012, you can also obtain the Braille Monitor on a USB flash drive so that it can be played in an NLS digital machine. It is also available for reading on the web, but members should consider subscribing in another format so that the magazine shows up in your mailbox or inbox and reminds you of its existence.

Happy reading.


Consider a Charitable Gift

Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind

Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB

Your Gift Will Help Us

Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream! For further information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer.


Braille Notetakers—Determining Your Perfect Fit

by Amy Mason

From the Editor: Amy Mason is an access technology specialist in the Jernigan Institute’s International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. As readers know, Amy does thorough product evaluations, and, given the changes in technology, this article couldn’t be more timely. Here is what she has to say:

So many options, so many features, so much money…. When choosing any piece of technology, we have a lot of options to weigh and a lot of information to consider, and with notetaker prices ranging from slightly less than $1,000 to nearly $7,500, a lot of factors must be considered. Do I want Braille, or just voice; QWERTY, or Perkins-style keyboard; what file formats will I need to open; do I care about accessing the Internet on the device; do I want to get my email on the device; will I want to play music, books, podcasts, and even FM radio; what about reading documents written using PDF; how many cells do I need under my fingertips: eighteen, twenty, thirty-two, or forty cells of Braille? How portable does the notetaker have to be? Can I connect it to my iPhone? How much storage does it have, and how does that storage translate to the number of documents, songs, and lectures I can get on the unit? It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin and long for the simpler days of the Braille ’n Speak, or perhaps even the slate and stylus.

Before we get started describing specific models and options, let’s take a minute to look at what a notetaker is and what it is not--at what it can and should do for you and where you are likely to have to find another computing option. Dedicated Braille notetakers are intended to be the equivalent of the PDA (personal data assistant) or perhaps the smart phone (without the phone capabilities). All current models allow the user to read and write files in a number of formats, keep track of contacts and appointments, do calculations, listen to media files, handle email, create voice memos, and do extremely basic Web browsing. Some offer database creation capabilities, FM radio, games, GPS functionality (usually at an additional cost), and access to social networks.

Notetakers cannot take the place of computers in most users’ lives, though they can be fantastic supplements. Computers are far more powerful and flexible than any notetaker can ever be. For instance, notetakers may allow users to open several different file types, but they do not allow a user to format text with different fonts, bold, italics, or bullets, or engage in any other advanced word processing. Computers are upgradeable and can be used for tasks that require too much power to be handled by notetakers—such as audio editing, scanning and recognizing print documents, and storing large quantities of data. In contrast, notetakers are generally closed platforms, so what you see is what you get; there is little if any possibility for the expansion of the software and capabilities of the device.

In the same vein, notetaker hardware is generally behind mainstream hardware in connectivity and interoperability with other devices. Internet browsing is limited to the type found in cell phones and is not nearly as robust as even the browser in the iPhone or Android handsets. Because of these limitations and the extremely high cost of this specialized hardware, some blind people are abandoning notetakers in favor of laptops and even iOS devices, with or without a portable Braille display.

Notetakers most certainly have a place since they have some unique advantages over other solutions. First of all, they are built to be convenient. Unlike a Braille display and iOS device or laptop, they are one single, portable unit. Their battery life is generally far superior to those of laptops or iOS devices. They are simple to use and allow for an instant-on experience. Second, they are the primary option available for people who want to read and write electronically in Braille. Notetakers generally have better Perkins keyboards than do Braille displays that allow users to write in six- or eight-dot Braille; and most back-translation-via-screen-access software, including what is available on iOS devices, introduces some level of added complexity to the process of typing Braille.

Having outlined some of the major advantages and disadvantages of notetakers over mainstream solutions, let’s compare and contrast the four families of notetakers available now.

Notetaker Family Comparison

Note: Some characteristics vary widely from one notetaker to another in the same family. Please see comparison charts within each section for more complete details.

Physical and Hardware Comparison



Braille Sense

PAC Mate





Freedom Scientific

BAUM Retec

Operating System

Windows CE 6.0 with custom firmware (Keysoft)

Windows CE 5.0 with custom firmware

Windows Mobile 6 with Pocket JAWS screen access package and custom firmware

Windows CE 5.0 with custom firmware


0.78 x 9.61 x 5.63 in.

Model specific

Model specific (See note in PAC Mate Section)

Model specific


Model specific

Model specific

4 lbs. 3 oz. with display / 1 lb. 13 oz. without display

Model specific


Freescale iMX31 @ 532 MHz

Model specific

Intel X-Scale PXA255 @ 400 MHz

Unspecified mobile processor @ 520 MHz



Model dependent

128 MB ROM/ 64 MB RAM

128 MB RAM/ 64 MB Flash

On-board Storage

8 GB Flash

Model dependent

128 MB Flash

1 GB Flash

Keyboard Style

QWERTY or Perkins

QWERTY or Perkins

QWERTY or Perkins

QWERTY or Perkins (40-cell interchangeable)


Lithium-ion (user-replaceable)

Lithium-ion (user-replaceable)

Lithium-ion (not user-replaceable)

Lithium-ion (not user-replaceable)

Number of Braille Cells

0, 18, or 32

0, 18, or 32

0, 20, or 40

0, 18, or 40

Internet Connectivity

802.11 B/G Wi-Fi (WEP, WPA and WPA2 authentication supported) Ethernet 10/100

Model dependent
-- although, at minimum, all models offer WEP/WPA/WPA2 authenticated 802.11 B/G

Via Compact Flash add-in cards -- Ethernet, Dial-up or Wireless (802.11 B/G WEP/WPA encryption)

WLAN 802.11 G-authenticated via WEP/WPA/ WPA2

Storage Card Compatibility


Model dependent

2 Compact Flash slots (Can accommodate a number of CF adaptors for other peripherals)





Via Compact Flash add-in card



3 USB hosts, 1 USB client, headphones/ microphone, VGA port

Model dependent

Infrared, USB OTG, headphone/ microphone

Serial, USB (One host, one mini client), headphone/ microphone

Navigation and Environmental Sensors

External Bluetooth GPS

Model dependent

External Bluetooth GPS

Compass, thermometer, barometer

Printer Support

Large list of HP printers, some Epson, Canon, and others

HP (Level 3 PCL) HP compatible

HP printers with “e-print” (Also possible via ActiveSync)

Not supported

Braille Embosser Support

Several models from Enabling Technologies, Index, and Tiger

Several models from Enabling Technologies, Index, and Tiger

Most major models supported

Not supported

Visual Display Support

External via PC software or VGA port

Model dependent (For models without other support, external display available at extra cost)

Via software with a PC

External display available at extra cost

Software Capabilities

Please note that, when discussing supported file types, notetakers are unable to open many files protected with DRM including M4A, WMA, EPUB, PDF, etc. Also files with supported DRM such as NLS, Learning Ally, and Audible books require having appropriate keys installed on the device before they will function.



Braille Sense

PAC Mate


File Security

Device-level encryption and password protection

Please see Braille Sense section for details

Password protection of the device and encryption of storage cards

ZIP encryption support, but not on individual files or storage media

Language Support

Several languages can be enabled at a time, but English will remain the system language.
French, German, Italian, and Spanish are also supported.

Bilingual English and Spanish
(see Braille Sense section for more details)

2 concurrent languages (English +1)
Braille: Danish, Dutch, English, French (Canadian), French (European), German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish.
Speech limited to installed voices (RealSpeak Solo or Eloquence)

Can switch among 3:
U.S. English firmware ships with English and Spanish voice options, but others can be installed.

Braille tables include Arabic, Croatian, Danish, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Kurdish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish

External Braille Display for…

NVDA VoiceOver
 (Mac) VoiceOver

NVDA (via
 BRLTTY) VoiceOver
 (Mac) VoiceOver

(See Braille Sense section for more details.)

NVDA VoiceOver

JAWS VoiceOver

Document File Support

BRF, KeySoft Braille and text documents, RTF, TXT, Word Doc 2003 or earlier, WordPerfect for Dos 5.1. (All above are Read/Write)
JPEG (can save files in this format), PDF (Read Only)

BRF, DOC and DOCX, EPUB, HBL (HIMS proprietary format), PDF, PWD (Pocket Word), RTF, TXT
(PDF and EPUB must be saved in a different format. RTF and Word documents will lose formatting upon save.)

BRF, FSEdit, Microsoft Office Mobile applications (PowerPoint is read-only; Word and Excel files (including 2007) will be converted to work from standard), PDF, RTF, TXT

BRF, PDF (Read-Only)
RTF and TXT (Read and Write)

Audio File Playback Support

Internet radio streaming (PLS) and FM radio also available

Internet radio streaming (PLS) and FM radio also available

ASF, MP3, WAV, WMA, WMP, and Internet streaming

M3U, MP3, WAV, WMA and Internet streaming

Audio Recording File Support

Customizable WAV file

MP3 or WAV

Customizable WAV file

MP3 (maximum default recording time 10 min.)

Book File Support

Audible 4 and enhanced, Bookshare, BRF, DAISY, Learning Ally, NIMAS, NLS

Audible 4 and enhanced, Bookshare, BRF, DAISY, EPUB, NLS

Audible 2 & 3, Bookshare, BRF, DAISY, Learning Ally, Net Library, OverDrive audio

Bookshare, BRF, DAISY

Supported Social Networking Services

Jabber (includes services like Google Talk, and iChat)

Google Chat (with voice and file attachments), Twitter, Windows Live

Windows Live (native)
(IM protocols via 3rd party application “Mundu IM”): AOL, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, Yahoo

Windows Live

BrailleNote and VoiceNote
Differences Between Models

The BrailleNote/VoiceNote family of devices all come in both QWERTY and Perkins-style models with an otherwise identical body, so in the table below the QWERTY and Perkins form factors will be combined to ease readability.



BrailleNote BT/QT 18

BrailleNote BT/QT 32


1.35 lbs.

1.6 lbs.

1.8 lbs.

# of Braille Cells








Product Overview

The BrailleNote and VoiceNote Apex are the latest models of the long-standing BrailleNote line of notetakers. They are based on a system of applications known as “KeySoft,” which have their own rich history in the market and are very popular and well-known devices. The BrailleNote line is a fairly long-standing and regularly updated product line, which gives it both advantages and disadvantages in comparison with other products in the market.

First let’s look at the good points. KeySoft and the BrailleNote have been around for a while, so they are well known and widely used in the community. If you have a problem, it is a distinct possibility that you can find another user who can help you, before you ever have to go to tech support. In the same way the onboard help system and other documentation is well written and logical. It has had a lot of time to mature, so there aren’t many surprises in the way the system is laid out. Another advantage of this device is that in the world of notetakers it is the simplest to learn and use for many consumers because of the very comprehensive context-sensitive help available at any point in this suite of programs. Furthermore, its functions are extremely consistent. Things work the same way from one program to the next with quite reliable functionality, which cannot always be said for the competition. It’s very popular in schools for a number of reasons, but one of the greatest is this consistency in its layout and functionality as well as its sheer longevity in the marketplace.

One of the BrailleNote’s standout features, which may not be recognized for its brilliance at first, is the book reader application. It allows a user to open a file for review and know that he or she won’t damage it. It almost always remembers the user’s place, and it allows a user to set options for reading the file that will stay with that file whenever it is opened in that application. It is that simple, which may not sound like much, but for serious readers or those who are often interrupted in their reading, it’s very convenient, and it’s pleasant to know that you will not come back to see surprises in your file because of unintentional key presses. The book reader is also the application used for reading DAISY books, and it allows a user to bookmark and even leave text notes in the book for later perusal. These features are useful for anyone, but students or others who are studying material for later examination will find it extremely useful.

The hardware is fairly competitive since it offers much of what users would expect in a modern mobile device. Wireless, Bluetooth, and compatibility with a fairly large number of third-party peripherals (keyboards, monitors for visual use, and storage cards) make it a fairly flexible device in spite of the fact that this class of devices is limited by its hardware and software.

Another feature which may be of interest to some users is that the BrailleNote offers a game application that allows users to play text-adventure games. It’s not strictly necessary, but games are certainly a nice touch, especially since notetakers are often used as much for entertainment as for educational or vocational pursuits.

Having looked at the advantages of the BrailleNote family of devices, it is time to turn our attention to some of the less positive aspects of the device. First, though the consistency of the brand is mostly positive, in one area it is less so. The BrailleNote devices are all the same shape and size. Therefore, if all you have is a BrailleNote 18, or even a VoiceNote, it will weigh nearly as much and be just as large as a 32-cell notetaker. A number of people are interested in the pocket-sized notetaker, but HumanWare does not offer anything to suit such a user. Another area where consistency can work against a BrailleNote user is that occasionally the global exit and help commands can override commands intended for the host device when the BrailleNote is being used as a Braille display. This is especially apparent in iOS devices. Next, the BrailleNote is not able to open .DOCX files. Since programs that create these files have been around for five years now, this is becoming an increasing problem for BrailleNote users. Finally, an important point to consider when purchasing a BrailleNote is the fact that as of now HumanWare is the only company still charging for software upgrades for its notetakers. This may change as the landscape shifts, but for now it is an important factor to consider. Having said this, students who need access to NIMAS files, those who wish to take notes on DAISY material, or those who have been using a BrailleNote product for a long time and who are happy with the features and functionality provided by the device will find the BrailleNote Apex a strong competitor for consideration as a new notetaker.

Final Thoughts

The BrailleNote line of devices can be loaded with a few specialty applications which will add some fairly powerful additional functionality to the device. These include the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, a Sendero GPS solution called BrailleNote GPS, and, most uniquely, a Nemeth Braille tutorial.

If you are interested in learning more about the BrailleNote line of notetakers, contact:

HumanWare USA, Inc.
1 UPS Way, P.O. Box 800
Champlain, NY 12919
Toll Free: (800) 722-3393
Email: <us.info@humanware.com>
Website: <www.humanware.com>

Braille Sense and Voice Sense
Differences Between Models

At the time of this writing the Braille Sense product line is undergoing an upgrade of the 32-cell devices. The Perkins-style U2 is already available, but the QWERTY style is not, so this table reflects the currently available models of the device and will likely be less accurate by the end of the year.


Voice Sense QWERTY

Voice Sense

Braille Sense OnHand

Braille Sense PLUS QWERTY

Braille Sense U2


8.6 x 4.4 x 0.8 in

7.4 x 3 x 0.9 in.

6.8 x 3.5 x 1.1 in.

9.8 x 5 x 1.5 in.

9.8 x 5 x 1.5 in.


0.9 lbs.

0.6 lbs.

0.9 lbs

2 lbs.

2 lbs.


Intel X-Scale PXA270 @ 520 MHz

Intel X-Scale PXA270 @ 520 MHz

Intel X-Scale PXA270 @ 520 MHz

Intel X-Scale PXA270 @ 520 MHz

Unspecified mobile processor @ 1 GHz


128 MB

128 MB

128 MB

128 MB

256 MB

On Board Storage

4 GB

1 GB

4 GB

8 GB

32 GB

Keyboard Style






Number of Braille Cells

0 (Compatible with HIMS external Braille displays)

0 (Compatible with HIMS external Braille displays)




Internet Connectivity

Ethernet / 802.11
Wi-Fi B/G

Wi-Fi B/G

Wi-Fi B/G

Ethernet/ 802.11
Wi-Fi B/G

Ethernet/ 802.11 Wi-Fi B/G/N/ Optional USB 3G modem

Storage Card Support


SDHC/ Compact Flash


SDHC/ Compact Flash

SDXC (backwards compatible with SDHC)


1 USB OTG 1 USB host headphone microphone

1 USB OTG headphone microphone

1 USB OTG headphone microphone

1 USB host 1 USB client headphone microphone

1 USB OTG 3 USB host headphone microphone

Navigation and Sensors

Bluetooth GPS (sold separately)

Bluetooth GPS (sold separately)

Internal GPS receiver

Bluetooth GPS (sold separately)

Internal GPS receiver

Visual Display

Internal LCD

External USB LCD (sold separately)

External USB LCD (sold separately)

External USB LCD (sold separately) / VGA Port

Internal LCD / VGA port







Product Overview

The Braille Sense line of notetakers has only begun to gain real traction in the United States in the last few years. They are manufactured in South Korea and were originally seen as devices with above-average hardware in comparison with the competition but somewhat clunky interfaces and poor documentation. As time has passed, however, the interfaces have largely improved, the hardware continues to improve, and the Braille Sense now offers some unique features which make it a legitimate competitor in the U.S. market.

The Braille Sense line includes a number of hardware configurations in order to meet different users’ needs. Therefore the hardware in this family of devices should be carefully compared to find the best fit, since it varies widely. The Voice Sense is an extremely small and light device. The Braille Sense PLUS and U2 lines are still quite portable (but somewhat larger because of the thirty-two-cell Braille display), while the OnHand is a smaller, eighteen-cell machine. Keep in mind some important differences when considering the options if you are interested in a Braille or Voice Sense. For example, the Voice Sense with the Perkins keyboard lacks internal storage in comparison to the other models, and only certain models offer the LCD display, which may be important to deaf-blind users or those in a training or teaching environment with a sighted instructor. Another unique hardware feature in the U2 and the upcoming U2 QWERTY which may be of interest to users is the ability to have system sounds muted in favor of a vibration feature. This is likely to make the device far more discreet, especially for those who already run the device with Braille only and will be a boon when a user is unable to listen to the device for whatever reason. The U2 and OnHand include embedded GPS, but all other models will require adding a Bluetooth peripheral if the user wants to use GPS. Most models make it simple to attach USB or Bluetooth keyboards if the user needs to use a QWERTY keyboard with the Perkins model devices, and they have a fairly wide level of support for NTFS- and FAT-formatted storage devices.

Software is a somewhat difficult topic to discuss at this time because in conjunction with the hardware refresh which is currently occurring, HIMS is preparing to launch version 7.0 of the firmware for the Sense line of devices. This changes the landscape in a number of ways, but, since the new firmware has not been available for testing and comparison, these features cannot be discussed in detail. They are expected to include IMAP mail, file encryption (per file), a Bookshare search-and-download application, and, most interestingly Google Maps integration. It is going to be very exciting to see how these features, particularly IMAP and Google Maps, will be integrated, because no other notetaker offers anything like them. Several commercial GPS solutions are presently available, but this will be the first time that a notetaker is pre-loaded with access to map information (though it will likely require an Internet connection for turn-by-turn and is very likely to require one to access the mapping feature). If the implementation is solid, it may well be a very powerful feature in the U2 line because a user could connect it to a 3G dongle and have both Internet and GPS anywhere without the added cost of a GPS application. It is not expected to be quite as full-featured as a solution like Sendero, but it may be all many people want or need.

Now that we’ve looked at what the future may hold, it is important to talk briefly about what the Braille Sense offers at present. One unique feature of the device is the ability to use it as a mass storage device. For those who aren’t worrying about syncing contacts or calendar information, it is not necessary to install ActiveSync or Mobile Device Center. Instead users can simply plug in and treat the device like a big thumb drive. Furthermore, it also supports file sharing with other computers connected to the local network.

Any device has downsides, and the Braille Sense line is not exempt from this truth. First, these devices are unable to read Learning Ally files, which would make them less ideal for some students. Language support is a good bit weaker at present than with other models, although this may be remedied in part by the upcoming firmware enhancement. Second, the settings in the word processor are not persistent unless the user sets them to apply to all files. In other words, if users set up an NLS Braille file for reading—setting the reading mode to compressed and the file to read-only—and then closed the file, the next time they opened it they would have to do the same thing again. The ability to keep a persistent set of settings on a per-file basis is something that other notetakers are capable of and would be a real boon for users of the Braille Sense as well. Finally, the manual and other documentation materials are not as clear and well written as are those of some of the competition. Although these documents have improved significantly over time, users will still have to work with a few rough patches to get a complete picture of what’s happening on the device. Finally, although it has worked with previous versions, it is important to add that the Sense devices, due to changes on Apple’s side, do not work with the most current iOS firmware (5.1). This problem should be remedied in future iterations of iOS.

Despite these flaws, all in all the Braille Sense family of products is pretty easy to recommend. With the ability to use the Braille display of the device with PC and Mac screen-access software, updates to both hardware and software coming fairly regularly, and enough options to meet most users’ needs, the Braille Sense family of products is comprised of sound machines that are likely to continue to improve.

Final Notes

HIMS offers some additional software packages for the Braille Sense line. They include the Sendero SenseNav GPS solution, which may or may not (depending on your model) require a separate Bluetooth GPS receiver to function fully. They also offer a single language or bilingual dictionary. Right now English and Spanish are supported, but with the upcoming 7.0 firmware French and Italian will also be available. Finally, HIMS offers a free program called SenseBible, which includes several versions of the Bible that allow the user to search or browse at his or her convenience.

For more information about the Braille Sense family of products or accessories for these devices, contact:

HIMS, Inc.
4616 W. Howard Lane
Suite 960
Austin, TX 78728
Toll-Free Phone: (888) 520-4467
Email: <sales@hims-inc.com>, <support@hims-inc.com>
Website: <http://www.hims-inc.com/>

PAC Mate Differences Between Models

The PAC Mate is built on a concept of modularity, so the table below represents the four modules available to create a PAC Mate. These consist of the notetaker itself, with either a QWERTY or Perkins keyboard, and a detachable Braille display with either twenty or forty Braille cells. At this time there is no price difference in buying the sections separately or together, so they will be listed separately below.




20-Cell Display

40-Cell Display


2 lbs.

1 lb. 13 oz.

1 lb. 12 oz.

2 lbs. 13 oz.


12.3 x 6.3 x 1.6 in.

11 x 4.9 x 1.9 in.

11 x 4.8 x 1.53 in.

12.5 x 4.8 x 1.53 in.






# of Braille Cells










Product Overview

The PAC Mate is unique among notetakers in the United States for a number of reasons. First, as mentioned above, it is based on the concept of modularity, so it is the closest to being an expandable platform. It uses Windows Mobile 6 as its base operating system, so any program that the user can find which is available for this platform and accessible with Pocket JAWS is available to install on the device. Users can also install drivers for certain hardware components if they wish to add them. Furthermore, it is loaded with mainstream Windows Mobile software, specifically Pocket Word, Excel, PowerPoint (read-only support), and Outlook, as well as specialty software created by Freedom Scientific. These features are unique. No other notetaker offers Excel or PowerPoint compatibility. The hardware was also built to be expandable. The basic unit can be purchased from Freedom Scientific, and, if desired, the Braille display can be purchased separately and physically connected to the device at a later time. This allows the display to be removed to lighten the load or to be used as an external USB Braille display with a computer. The display or the PAC Mate itself could even be sent in for repairs while leaving the remaining device in user hands. They could use their display with a laptop while the notetaker was in for repair or use the notetaker set to speech-only if the display were unavailable.

Another major feature that makes the PAC Mate an interesting choice is the option to have twenty- or forty-cell Braille displays as well as fairly rich embosser support. Since most Braille production is still done on pages that support forty characters across a line, it may be of benefit to transcribers who want to work on formatting of documents on the go and in fact could allow embossing simple jobs directly from the device. The PAC Mate is the only notetaker sporting this pair of features in the market at this time.

The final uniquely positive feature of the PAC Mate is the price. It is by far the least expensive notetaker on the market. The price of the hardware is directly affected by some of the limitations of the device, so it is important to look at the issues carefully before making any decision.

Speaking of limitations, the expandable nature of the PAC Mate is no longer such a benefit as it once was. The device itself has not had a hardware upgrade in years, and it is reliant upon extraordinarily outdated hardware, software, and peripherals. Ethernet, WIFI, and Bluetooth are all provided by expensive (and increasingly difficult to find) Compact Flash adaptor cards. The software is equally outdated. As previously mentioned, the PAC Mate is based on Windows Mobile 6, an operating system that is no longer supported by Microsoft and, more important, less and less supported by application developers. Several of the software packages that once made the PAC Mate more flexible than other notetakers are not being sold any longer, and even Freedom Scientific seems to have largely abandoned the device, since no new firmware has been developed since 2010 nor any sort of hardware refresh since the Omni was released in 2007. The PAC Mate is also far larger and heavier than any of its competition, and that includes mainstream devices like iPads and many notebook computers.

If, despite these limitations, you wish to consider the PAC Mate, it is useful to know that the learning curve is a bit steeper than with most other notetakers because it was built modularly, so you are dealing with software and hardware from multiple vendors to get a complete solution. That said, the manual and other help documentation are quite complete and well written. All in all, the PAC Mate was extremely powerful in its heyday and still has some unique features that are unmatched in the marketplace; but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to support as software and hardware peripherals are becoming scarcer. Sad as it may be, it may be time to retire this venerable device.

Final Notes

Freedom Scientific offers a pair of programs at an additional cost for the PAC Mate line. The first is a GPS package called StreetTalk VIP for the PAC Mate, which works with an external GPS receiver and a number of maps placed on a Compact Flash card. The second is a deaf-blind communications system that allows a deaf-blind user to communicate with another person using a computer called Face-to-Face.

For more information about the PAC Mate line of products or accessories for these devices, contact:

Freedom Scientific, Blind/Low Vision Group
11800 31st Court North
St. Petersburg, FL 33716-1805
Phone: (727) 803-8000
Toll-Free (800) 444-4443
Fax: (727) 803-8001
Website: <www.freedomscientific.com>

Pronto! Differences Between Models


Pronto! QS

Pronto! 18

Pronto! 40


9.9 x 3.6 x 0.7 in.

6.8 x 3.6 x 1.25 in.

11.7 x 6 x 1 in.


Approx. 1 lb.

Approx. 1 lb.

2.75 lbs.

Number of Braille Cells

0 (Compatible with BAUM external Braille displays)

18-cell display

40-cell display



8-dot Perkins

Hot-swappable 8-dot Perkins or QWERTY





Product Overview

Last but not least, we will look at the Pronto! family of notetakers. These devices are still fairly obscure in the United States, but they are sold here and have a few uniquely compelling features. Part of the reason for their obscurity is that they are built by the German company BAUM Retec and sold through a fairly small distributor in the U.S., Bay Area Digital. A large part of what makes the Pronto! unique is its hardware. The line consists of three devices: the QWERTY voice-only model; Pronto! eighteen, which is a compact and light notetaker; and the highly unique Pronto! Forty, which includes a forty-cell Braille display as well as an interchangeable keyboard interface so that users can change between QWERTY and Perkins on the fly.

The Pronto line has unique hardware features such as the interchangeable keyboard on the 40 and the integrated compass, thermometer, and other sensor devices. The sensors, with the exception of the compass, seem like rather unusual choices, but they may be useful to some. Furthermore, the Pronto! 18 is a physical near-match to the HumanWare BrailleNote PK, since the PK was actually a device whose hardware was built by BAUM and whose software was created by HumanWare. So those who are familiar with and particularly fond of the PK hardware would feel at home physically with the device.

The other great advantage of the Pronto! line is the extensive language support. It includes several languages not offered by any other notetaker on the market, so, if you need unique language support and are set on a notetaker, it may be worth considering a Pronto!

The software in the Pronto! is somewhat unpolished and under-localized. For the most part functions work as they should, and some rather interesting features should be noted, such as the ability to place audio tags on storage media or the option to type more quickly by striking the space bar with the last character of a word, but these are balanced by some strange quirks in the software. One notable example is the need to enter configuration files to change the default length of recordings instead of finding this option in the Settings panel with other settings. A final software concern is that it is not created especially for this market, so some features like support for Audible, NLS, Learning Ally, and other U.S.-centric content are unlikely to be present any time in the near future.

Although the Pronto! is interesting, it is not a notetaker for the faint of heart. Users are likely to have a steep learning curve because the documentation is poorly translated in places and very limited instructional information is available on the Internet. Another point that works against this line is the fact that tech support is fairly limited here, and much of the assistance available for new users comes from mailing lists, since the redistributor is quite small. They work hard to provide assistance, but they have limited resources, which will affect both training opportunities and tech support or repairs that are needed. It is entirely possible that the Pronto! line will continue to mature as a product for the United States market, and it may one day become a full-fledged competitor here; but, unless the user has very specific requirements, it may be worth holding off on this interesting but somewhat impractical line.

Final Notes

If you are interested in learning more about the Pronto! line contact:

Bay Area Digital
870 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 91402
Phone: (415) 217-6667
Fax: (415) 217-6667
Website: <www.bayareadigital.us>


This article contains a lot of densely packed information, but it’s important to add some final pieces of advice specific to making a decision on a notetaker. As with buying most other pieces of technology, first—if at all possible—do your best to touch and explore the device you are considering. You may discover that, even though the feature set sounds promising, a device’s keyboard may be too cramped, or perhaps it weighs too much or won’t be easy to carry with your other devices. It is imperative to know whether the physical aspects of a device will suit you as well as the less tangible features. If it is uncomfortable, your device won’t get the kind of use it otherwise might.

Second, it is important to look at the features offered by the hardware you are considering, since it must meet your needs not only today, but for many years to come. You don’t want to get stuck with something you can’t use in a year or two because you can’t get peripherals or tech support or can’t open files that you need to use. Remember that notetakers will be around for a while yet, and none of these options are likely to disappear from the market any time soon. Take your time and consider the choices available. You’ll make a better decision, and in the end you will be far happier with your choice.

Third, consider the possibility that a notetaker may no longer be the right answer for you. With the advent of smart Braille displays such as the Perkins Mini, the Braille Edge, ALVA BC640, and others, you are no longer limited to having to choose a full-fledged notetaker if all you want to do is read and write simple text documents and interact with other devices.

Finally, if you do choose to purchase a notetaker, take the opportunity to future-proof your investment if at all possible. It is in the consumer’s best interest to consider maintenance agreements and other such insurance on these pricy devices.

Although some general recommendations have been made in this article, it is impossible for someone to make a decision about the right piece of technology for anyone else. I hope that this article has helped you to determine what features are most important to you in a notetaker, and that the information provided is of assistance to you as you make a decision about whether or not a notetaker, or a Braille display and a computer, or iOS device, or something completely different is the right choice for you.


Blind Man Experiences Weightlessness

by Mark Riccobono

From the Editor: Mark Riccobono writes the lead article for an electronic publication from our Jernigan Institute entitled Imagineering Our Future. This month he discusses his trip to NASA, the time he spent in a craft simulating weightlessness, deciding to leave the safety of his seat to explore movement in this environment, and his hope that this is only the first of many trips blind people will take, going ever higher, until one day we reach outer space. Here is what our first blind driver has to say about taking another exciting ride:

Dear Friends,

Since 1940 the members of the National Federation of the Blind have been directing their own movements. Before that time blind people did not have that degree of freedom and independence. An essential element of that freedom and independence has been working together to direct ourselves into new realms and explore horizons that were previously unimagined.

For about a decade the NFB has been working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to create greater opportunities for the blind. I was recently invited to participate in a reduced-gravity flight along with NASA astronaut and Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin. Reduced-gravity flights attempt to simulate weightlessness through a series of parabolic dives. During our flight in early February we experienced thirty-two periods of weightlessness.

My goal in flying on this trip was to explore something of what the experience would be like for a blind person as part of NASA’s astronaut program. At the beginning of the flight I needed to learn how to manage my newfound freedom of movement in ways I had never before experienced. Like early Federationists I did not have a great wealth of experience to draw upon. My choice was simple: I could sit belted into my chair and experience weightlessness from a safe and extremely limited position, or I could be like those early Federationists (who were not content being confined to rocking chairs and sheltered employment) and venture out to learn how to be independent in the new environment.

The Federation creates opportunities for blind people to expand their horizons and provides a network of friends who provide a knowledge base from which to start. Although we have yet to go many places, the experience we have accumulated through the Federation is a tremendous guide in our new adventures. Whether it is a newly blind person learning to explore the world in a new way or an ambitious blind youth seeking to explore an area not yet well known, the Federation provides an unparalleled framework of knowledge and support.

By the end of our reduced-gravity flight I was doing summersaults and learning how to use the weightless environment to move and explore. I can’t wait until that glorious day when a blind person sits in the International Space Station and reports to us what a sustained period of time in weightlessness is like and how this learning can be applied to other domains. The power in our work comes from our individual experiences shared through a collective network for independence and freedom.

Your support of our work plays an important role in giving blind people a greater degree of freedom than ever before in history. Where will we go next, what will be the next horizon, and how will it change our understanding of hope and freedom? Our commitment and imagination will be the only limits to the answers for those questions.


Skills Lead to Service

by Darian Smith

From the Editor: Darian Smith is one of the primary people working to form a community service division in the National Federation of the Blind. He believes that service can have a transformative effect on both those we serve and members of the public who observe us providing it. Here is what Darian says:

Looking back on my time as a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB), I realize that that experience has given me many precious memories, a more positive attitude, and some valuable skills. I expected a lot when I decided to attend the CCB, but never did I imagine that the staff would expect so much of me. Never have I been challenged at such a basic level to question my fundamental beliefs about blindness and to demonstrate them, not only in the words I say but in the actions I take.

After graduating from the CCB in April of 2004, I began to see just how many doors might open for me if I dared to try walking through them. If I was willing to try, my new attitudes and skills would not only let me do something good but actually do something great--great for enhancing my experience, great for strengthening my self-concept, and great for helping the country I yearn to make a better place. These realizations came quickly; the courage to implement them took longer to develop.

In early 2008 I decided I would join the AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps is a government-funded network of service organizations and programs that engage people from diverse backgrounds, ages, and abilities in community service. Even before I attended the CCB as a fulltime student, my interest was piqued when I attended a 2002 summer program and observed a group of youth from the National Civilian Community Corps (an AmeriCorps program) working on the Braille library and doing other work on and around the building. Their friendliness and positive attitudes made such an impression on me that I hoped someday to do something as noble and inspirational to others as these volunteers were to me.

After completing programs at the CCB and growing up a bit, I decided in 2008 that I would take a good hard look at the AmeriCorps programs to see if there was a place for me. I applied and was interviewed. I talked about my background, my time as a student, the challenges I faced in learning to deal with blindness, and the lessons I had learned about helping people. I said that I thought AmeriCorps was the best way for me to turn my positive intentions into tangible action, and within two months I was accepted to serve.

In October I reported to the Denver campus, and there I met many great corps members, amazing team leaders, and an outstanding support staff. I was the first blind person to serve on the campus, and I faced questions about what a blind person could do. They ranged from the basic "How will you find the bathroom" to "How will you handle your tray in a food line?" Much of what I had to prove dealt with mobility: everyone thought I was smart and admired my motivation, but could I really get around by myself, and could I be competitive in situations where mobility was required?

My team leader for most of the corps year was Keara, who was kind, caring, patient, and socially aware. She also had a best friend who was blind, which was why she was picked to be my team leader. The assumption that someone with special experience or training would have to assist me turned out to be a problem throughout my training and service, but I can't say too much about Keara, her giving spirit, and her unflagging determination to see that I participated fully.

The first month of my ten-month term was devoted to training and team building. This is the routine for all corps members. In the training the team leader is the mentor, the disciplinarian, the coordinator, and the coworker who helps trainees on projects. In late October my class was inducted into the corps and went on to our first assignment. My team went to Boulder, Colorado, to work on an environmental project pulling weeds, working in irrigation ditches, and building and maintaining trails. This was hard work but well worth it, given the skills we gained.

My next assignment was in South Texas doing canvassing work. The team's job was to help people get aid as a result of the damage they suffered after hurricane Ike. The one thing that stands out for me is the Southern hospitality the residents showed our team and their unwavering, uncompromising spirit. Their generosity was nothing short of amazing; even in their time of need they expressed real concern and a commitment to helping their neighbors.

My third project was by far the most boring. I was in Alabama doing construction work, and, while members of my team climbed ladders and carried materials, I too often found myself pulling nails out of boards. Certainly this job needed doing, but it wasn't work that let me be very creative or helped me to feel that I was part of a team building something in which I could feel pride. The location of the assignment, an hour north of Tuscaloosa, also made it difficult for me to find after-hours activities. I spent a lot of time coordinating public relations and outreach events for my team and personally getting ready for the national convention.

The highlights of this part of my tour were working on an old school house, a nearly one-hundred-year-old structure we wanted to keep upright, and trying to make it through the rain storms that followed after the almost daily tornado warnings. In this part of my tour I applied for a team leader position on one campus. This in turn led to four other interviews. Unfortunately, I was not offered a position with any of the campuses, but I was determined not to let this disappointment detract from what I came to the corps to do.

My final project was in Denver. I was selected to be a crew leader in a Summer of Service program that engages at-risk youth in community service projects. The crew leaders make sure that structure is being maintained and that the young people are working as a team. The job also includes maintaining vital team records and a list of the team’s accomplishments while overseeing its finances. The team I led camped and worked in the local community and learned something about life for young people who are involved in gangs. We did some serious work, but we had time for fun and relaxation as well. We went to the movies and to several parks. One was the Lakeside Amusement Park, where I had my first ever funnel cake.

Graduation day was a proud moment for the youth participants in the team I headed. It was amazing to see how quickly they had bonded. We were surprised at what we felt; separation after only a few short weeks found us shedding tears and vowing to stay in touch.

A few weeks later it was finally time for my team to reflect and celebrate as our time in the program drew to a close. On July 23, 2009, AmeriCorps NCCC Class XV graduated. Again there were tears of joy and sorrow, for these ten months had forever changed all of us. Our call to serve had helped, if only in a small way, to better the parts of the world we touched, but for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and what we gave came back to us in blessings and memories we will carry throughout our lives.

Looking back, I see that my experience was not everything I had wanted it to be. Not everyone reacted to blindness as I hoped they would, but my participation did make a difference in perceptions--my own and the perceptions of others. This experience revealed things about me that have caused me to look more deeply into who I am, the service I want to give, and the person I want to become. I have had to come face to face with some shortcomings in myself, but I've also realized that I have an important asset. I am not afraid to try, not afraid to push the envelope, and not so afraid of failing that I am content to stay within my comfort zone.

Now that I've finished with the corps and have gone back to school, I've realized what a major impact service can have on others and on those who serve. Nothing is more fulfilling than finding a cause greater than oneself. I believe that our chapters can and should be involved in service and that, by visibly serving others, we will go a long way toward changing the perception of blind people. Through service we can move from being perceived as the takers who must be served to being the providers who not only do for ourselves but care enough to help in our communities. Through our words and, more important, through our actions, we will convince our fellow citizens that we have something to offer, and through service we will help to change what it means to be blind.

I'll leave you with a short reflection connecting service to blindness. When I went to the CCB, it was to learn skills and attitudes that would help me be the best I can. Service was my way of putting the theory I had been taught to the test. It was my way of figuring out whether the attitudes I thought I believed were things I could talk about and whether I believed them enough to translate them into action. Service has given me a way to show both me and the world that I can go to unfamiliar areas, meet new people, and make significant contributions. The CCB was the first step; service was the second. Both are steps on the staircase to independence and interdependence, and I commend both to all of you for the liberation climbing these stairs brings to all of us.


Choices for the Future of Braille
A Comparison between Unified English Braille, the Nemeth Code, and the Nemeth Uniform Braille System

by Antonio Guimaraes

From the Editor: Last month we published an article by Jennifer Dunnam, who represents the National Federation of the Blind on the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). BANA considers and recommends changes to the Braille code used in the United States. As Jennifer noted, four codes are currently being considered. The one we use now is called English Braille, American Edition (EBAE), and most people agree that it is in need of updating, given the role machines now play in converting print to Braille and Braille to print. The Nemeth Code is currently used in math and science to convey information the literary code was never meant to convey, and the computer code handles special symbols never envisioned when the literary code was adopted. Because of the complexity of having two different codes, one for literary Braille and one for mathematics, experts have tried for about twenty years to come up with one integrated code. The two current contenders are Unified English Braille (UEB) and the Nemeth Unified Braille System (NUBS).

Jennifer’s article suggests that the goal of unifying the codes is a noble one, but that none of the available contenders is up to the task of unifying literary and scientific material. She suggests that we might do well to recommend the adoption of Unified English Braille for literature, carry on with the Nemeth Code for science and mathematics, and continue working to develop a unified code. Antonio does not share Jennifer’s opinion, believing that the Nemeth Unified Braille System is both preferred by those who work extensively in math and science and sufficiently developed to serve those reading literary Braille. Here is what he has to say:

As Monitor readers know from reading the magazine over the last year or so, changes are inevitably coming to the Braille code in the United States. Braille experts create and promote Unified English Braille (UEB) around the world. Another alternative to this reading and writing system is not as well known. Dr. Abraham Nemeth has developed the Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS) to replace the current literary code, the Nemeth code, and the Computer Braille Code.  The technical aspects of this new system are similar to the Nemeth code in use today. 

Many teachers and other professionals who deal with the technical aspects of Braille are strong supporters of NUBS. They argue that UEB’s treatment of scientific and mathematical texts is totally inadequate.  NUBS proponents argue that those who study math may be left behind if UEB is adopted.  NUBS, they say, represents technical texts far better.

In literary texts UEB makes relatively small changes to the current code.  It eliminates several contractions such as com, ation, ally, etc.  It eliminates sequencing––involving the words for, and, the, to, into, by, etc. Most people would see little change in a switch from the current code to UEB, provided the text is purely literary.

The chief concern of the opponents of UEB involves its treatment of technical texts. Unfortunately, illustrating the differences and similarities between the code we have now, NUBS, and UEB is no simple matter. In any comparison one must understand the symbols for mathematical functions and other scientific notation. This effort will require significant study and memorization. One must then understand the mathematics and science the code is representing. Only when one knows the current Nemeth Code, NUBS, and the UEB can one make a meaningful comparison. For those interested in the endeavor (and all lovers of Braille and students of math, science, and literature should take the challenge seriously), a place to begin is at <http://www.braille2000.com/brl2000/nubs.htm>.

Braille readers should understand the choices they face. All options for change to the Braille code must be given serious consideration and respect. The impact of changes to the Braille system of today will be felt for decades. The examples given at the Website above illustrate the clarity and compact form of NUBS compared to UEB. Many of us who need and use Braille in science, technology, engineering, and math fear that the wholesale adoption of the UEB will spell the complete elimination of viable scientific Braille code in this country and could curtail our participation in some of the most vital industrial and intellectual pursuits our nation and the world have to offer. Let us do everything we can to ensure that changes in our methods of reading and writing serve to open doors to opportunity, and let us oppose with equal vigor the adoption of any code that discourages us from learning and pursuing careers in the work of the twenty-first century.


Is Reading a Privilege?

by Ann Wai-Yee Kwong

From the Editor: Ann Wai-Yee Kwong is a nineteen-year-old student who immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong in 2000 and lived in Los Angeles until this past year. She is an alumna of John Marshall High School in LA and currently attends the University of California at Berkeley on a four-year scholarship from the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. No matter how useful text-to-speech technology is for blind people, it is not the same as reading visually or tactilely—the advantages of physically reading cannot easily be replaced, however sophisticated the software or the user of audio. Ms. Kwong gives us a real-time snapshot of what it is like to be a student wrestling with the right to have Braille in places where it is needed and the attempt to make text-to-speech serve in situations in which a superior alternative exists. Here is what she says:

Have you ever considered whether reading something from a physical page is a right or a privilege? This question may not have occurred to those with sight because reading is an everyday activity. Reading is a normal part of daily life, a natural right. People with sight go to a bookstore, purchase a book, and immediately open it and begin to read. They can get the information from the page at exactly the moment their eyes move over the words. Braille readers like me are denied this right. Unfortunately, I am deprived of the opportunity to read physical print, and it is now deemed a "privilege" to read Braille.

I am diagnosed with Leber's congenital amaurosis and other causes that cumulatively result in the condition of legal blindness. My world is composed mainly of touch. I do not read print; my fingertips substitute for my eyes, and I perceive the world and obtain information using my hands.

I do not have the luxury of going into a bookstore and reading any book I desire within seconds of purchase. Transcribing literature into an accessible format is an extensive and tedious process. In order for me to read a textbook in Braille, I begin the process many months before class. I first select my courses in advance, contact the professors to obtain course syllabi and book lists, purchase and pick up the print books from the bookstore, and deliver them to the Alternative Media Center. I must then patiently wait for the staff to scan, proofread, and finally upload the material online so I can download and read the textbooks. Reciting the process alone causes anxiety and immense stress. The Alternative Media Center at UC Berkeley is short staffed, so the complete process can take an entire month; it is more difficult when professors do not post book lists until a week before class begins.

If my textbooks consist of tables, graphics, scientific formulas, or other diagrams, the difficulty of obtaining the material in a physical format increases. Textbooks for English and history courses can be read using electronic formats, but subjects that involve diagrams and formulas, such as statistics, require physical Braille books in order to understand the concepts. Normally, when I work on my assignments at home, I use my BrailleNote Apex. With the Apex I can physically read the numbers in Braille on the Braille display, and I can calculate my math more efficiently. During examinations, however, Braille students are permitted to use only Freedom Scientific's computer screen reader, Job Access with Speech (JAWS). This means I cannot physically read the exam and must instead rely on JAWS dictating it to me. When I attempt to find patterns, compute the correlation coefficient, or calculate standard deviations for a long data set, it is frustrating to have to base everything solely on listening and memory. If I would like to find the original numbers to calculate standard deviations, I must navigate word by word or number by number with JAWS to find the original list. With the BrailleNote I can scroll back more quickly to find relevant information. How I long just to read with my fingers and find the pertinent information I need expediently; these are the times when I am strongly convinced that I should have the same right to read text from a page as my sighted counterparts.

Print users can quickly draw tables and skim down or across columns and rows to obtain relevant information, while visually impaired JAWS users have to listen to the entire list of numbers before finding the necessary ones, which is exceedingly time consuming to do. Blind students like me are often forced to rely completely on auditory aids, meaning that we do not have a system of written records to help us organize information. This places us at a huge disadvantage. I have tried again and again to explain my situation, but the staff in proctoring services at Berkeley are extremely inflexible and do not listen to the needs of the students. Proctoring services have also postponed my exams on many occasions, causing other exams on the class syllabus to be delayed. The result is inconvenience and frustration for both the student and the professor. The proctoring service is unwilling to negotiate, causing many students and even some professors to believe that they should avoid the service altogether. Stresses for exams are doubled; besides worrying about knowing the material, I must consider when and how I will take the exam.

The screen reader itself is also limited in many ways. JAWS does not read certain math symbols such as delta, sigma, mu, etc. Thus I cannot read statistics formulas from my textbook. Rather than giving me insight into the world of mathematics, the limited information I do obtain flusters me because my questions are not answered. When I use the keyboard to scroll down and read with JAWS, it says "blank" when it lands on a mathematical formula, even though the notation is displayed on the screen. More complex figures are also unreadable with JAWS.

It is crucial that Braille readers be given the same opportunities to read as sighted ones. Reading tactile text is or should be a fundamental right; however, for visually impaired people it has become a rare privilege. This right of which we are deprived is a source of inconvenience and is detrimental to getting good grades. We must take action to alter such norms. If visually impaired students do not advocate for Braille literacy and stress its significance, Braille will soon become obsolete and a medium of purely historical interest.


Getting Information: Are Human Readers Still Important?

by Gary Wunder

Throughout the years the Braille Monitor has featured articles about using human readers. Sometimes we have covered the struggle to be permitted to use them; at other times our emphasis has been on how to hire, fire, and manage them. In this piece I don't intend to cover either of these topics but to deal with issues I hear discussed frequently these days: when to hire a live reader; whether it is ever appropriate given the demand that information be made accessible; whether a college or university has an obligation to provide one; and whether a human being is ever as efficient as using a computerized device of one’s choosing. Some argue these issues with passion: Technology can never do what a good reader can. Accept the fact that you live in a sighted world and hire help. Others argue with equal vehemence that in the twenty-first century there should be no need to hire someone to read aloud, that hiring people is impractical and undesirable given the electronic gadgetry we have these days, and that to continue to use readers keeps us from pressing hard to gain true accessibility.

When I think about information, my starting point is the premise that sighted people always have more of it than blind people, that in order to compete we must avail ourselves of as many resources as we can, and that, when given a choice, we must decide which technique gets us what we need most efficiently. I try to avoid the trap of deciding which method for getting information is the best and directing all my efforts to getting it in that way. Instead I consider getting information in the same way I look at other challenges, admit there is usually more than one way to meet them, and then figure out which works best for what I need.

If I want to create a program that will rely on writing precise syntax, I would rather do it without the intervention of someone who knows nothing about programming. A computer and a screen-reader give me immediate control and let me test my program again and again. The first time I tried programming back in 1975, I felt very removed from the process because we used punch cards to type information into the machine and bulky printers to see what the computer said by way of reply. Most of my initial programs would generate page upon page of output, usually conveying to me in some cryptic code what I had done that would keep my program from running. I remember being glad to finish my first class and thinking I would not willingly try another--the process seemed too remote, and I felt too dependent on the skill of someone else to find the right keys on the keypunch machine, make certain my cards were in order, feed them into the card reader, and scan my voluminous printouts for errors or the occasional success I could show to the professor. Though the live reader was not ideal and might not have been workable in getting and holding a job, two of them did help me learn what I needed in order to pass my first computer class, and that eventually led to rewarding employment.

Luckily for my career a computer terminal and an Optacon dramatically reduced my need for a live reader and increased my interest in experimenting and learning to love the challenge of programming. When I got a Braille terminal, I needed a reader only for computer magazines, internal mail, and error messages which, at the time, were contained in large manuals that would have taken a lot of time and money to Braille and store.

With the Braille terminal I could work on a problem as long as I had the energy and was therefore no longer confined to the two-hour session I had scheduled with my computer science reader. Using technology when I could and readers when necessary led me to a thirty-one-year career and a very nice living. I think about this experience when I hear students say they are not going to take a class because they can't think of a way to make it accessible. Mention using a reader, and they are shocked. They are quick to quote the law, their right to independent access, and the responsibility of the university and the rehabilitation agency to make it happen. Some institutions of higher learning and some rehabilitation agencies also recoil at the idea of hiring readers, preferring to believe that any print a student needs must be available somewhere. This is far from what we find, and a bit of assertiveness usually results in readers’ being made available.

Without arguing much about how things ought to be, I always want to make the case for how they actually are and how much better to change the system from within than to be kept out by it. I want to tell students that my observation about successful blind people is that they are flexible, innovative, and able to use many different techniques to accomplish their tasks, whether that be reading, transportation, or other challenges generally accomplished using vision.

I submit that nothing is more efficient than hiring a reader when going through a stack of mail. If I need to write a check, the person who reads can help to complete it. If I find a form to review and return, nothing is faster than a human to review and make needed changes. My reader sessions not only include paying bills, I get handwritten correspondence from loved ones. They know I can't see, but they write in the only way they know how, with a pen and paper. I file receipts, fill out warranty cards for new purchases, and change the thermostat when we want air conditioning instead of heat or when Daylight Savings Time requires a twice yearly adjustment of the time.

Some things I have a reader sort will not be read in the session. Big materials get scanned. Advertisements get tossed. Solicitations get considered and then are paid or discarded. My use of live readers has been reduced to about half of what it was ten years ago. The scanner and software I use for reading handles most things that go beyond a page, including material I consider for the Braille Monitor. Information I want to keep or distribute is also scanned. Things I once paid with a check can often be paid using online company sites or a wonderful system called Bill Pay that will allow me to pay big companies electronically or pay small businesses or individuals by check. Much of the mail I once received came in print through the postal service. Much of it today comes through email. Occasionally material that comes electronically must be printed, and someone with sight must interpret the tables and charts, but my use of a live reader has dropped from three or four times a week to once or twice.

Some people reject live readers, and some reject technology. The latter regard computers as confusers, and, though they may use them, it is always through another person. They read email with a human reader and write it the same way. The freedom to work at 1:00 in the morning when sleep won't come isn't a possibility; neither is the ability to read the thousands of books from Bookshare, Project Gutenberg, WebBraille, or the increasing number of online bookstores that make their titles available electronically. For some the change brings fear; others contend they are too old to change; still others say that, as long as their way works for them, there’s no need for them to bother to learn new ways of reading and writing.

So what about school? People help students track down accessible copies of books and in many cases school-based resources to put in an accessible format. Those who can read Braille and large print usually prefer them. For some subjects these hardcopy format documents are more crucial than others. Learning to read a language is much easier in Braille than it is using an audio text, though a skilled human reader or tutor can vastly improve one’s pronunciation. Mathematics is much easier if one can examine numbers rather than trying to keep them in one’s head. Science is usually learned more easily when read visually or tactilely, but interpreting diagrams and videos can be much easier using a live reader. Books that have been scanned or material previously recorded can be tremendously beneficial so that one reads on his or her own schedule and can reread items as many times as necessary to get the meaning.

We live in a time when relying on one method exclusively for getting information is impractical and detrimental. Relying exclusively on human readers is out of date; relying exclusively on technology overstates what is available to us in the present and probably overestimates what will be available to us in the near future. Much time and effort are going into making material accessible to us at the same time and at the same price as it is for sighted people, but too much is still beyond our reach to decide that human readers no longer have a place in our lives. Similarly, too much is available electronically for us to cling to the old ways and wait for everything to be read aloud by paid or volunteer readers. More than ever blind people must become proficient in all the ways to read and know when to apply them. One-size-fits-all doesn't work for clothes, and seldom does it work for any real-world problem. Our challenge is all about living in the second decade of the twenty-first century, dealing with the world as we find it, changing it for the better when we can, and doing everything we can to keep from being left behind in this marvelous time of transition. Maybe two decades from now talk about hiring a human reader will be consigned to the history books, but today this technique remains an important tool in our box. Like every other tool, at times it is essential and at times it is less than ideal, but useful nonetheless. Let's not confuse the objective with the tool or the goal with the technique. Employment, integration, and full participation are so vital to us that anything that furthers our having them must be called into service and valued for the good it can do in our lives.


The 2012 Youth Track: A More In-Depth Look

by Meleah Jensen

From the Editor: Meleah Jensen is a member of the Jernigan Institute education team. Here is her detailed description of youth activities during the upcoming convention:

Each year at our national convention the Jernigan Institute partners with the NFB’s National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) to offer a variety of seminars and social activities that provide a lively convention experience for blind youth ages eleven to eighteen. These activities help foster independence, raise expectations, and promote positive attitudes about blindness.

Grab your friends this summer and come join us. Whether you are a problem solver or an aspiring artist, whether you have discovered something you want the world to know about blindness or just enjoy spending time at convention with people your own age, there’s something for you.

The 2012 Youth Track kicks off on the morning of Saturday, June 30, with a problem-solving activity called Balloon Build or Bust. Students will work together to construct a free-standing balloon structure. The object is to create the tallest structure. While working together to construct their towers, students will have the opportunity to chat with peers and to begin forming new friendships and continue cultivating existing friendships. For this activity students will be divided by age: eleven- to fourteen-year-olds will be in one room, and fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds will be in a separate room. Not sure of your balloon-tying skills? Never blown up a balloon before? No worries, plenty of mentors will be on hand to show you how it’s done. At the conclusion of the morning session before we close for lunch, we will hand out agendas and discuss the rest of the week’s activities.

After lunch we will again be divided into the same age groups for all of the afternoon activities. Students eleven to fourteen will kick off the afternoon with an art activity using the Sensational Blackboard, a recently introduced tool that can be used to create raised-line drawings. Students will illustrate what they wish the world knew about blindness. The fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds will begin the afternoon by learning about the stars of the Federation and our Federation pop culture. The older students will also have the opportunity to check out the Federationbook pages of well-known NFB leaders and create a Federationbook page of their own. Both groups will go on a scavenger hunt, in which they will locate landmarks around the Hilton Anatole. In addition to the scavenger hunt, both groups will have the opportunity to communicate what they want the world to know about blindness, using video. Please note videos taken may be Tweeted, shared on Facebook, etc.; however, no videos will be released until we have secured a signed media release giving us permission to do so.

The excitement continues Sunday afternoon when students will sharpen their creative writing skills in a session with members of the NFB’s Writers’ Division. Following the annual NFB board of directors meeting Monday morning, make your way to our Division Meet and Greet. During this hour-long session, students will hear from representatives from the National Association of Blind Students as well as many of our professional and special interest divisions. Division meetings are a great way to explore potential careers or hobbies. Continue your exploration of new hobbies Monday evening from seven to nine when students can participate in two one-hour sessions in which they will learn some basic self-defense moves from members of the NFB’s Sports and Recreation Division as well as some dance moves from a blind dance instructor.

Activities will conclude Tuesday evening with an off-site dinner at Sal’s Pizza. Students must register for this activity since space is limited. Cost will be $20, which covers the cost of dinner and transportation. All students must turn in a release form to a member of the education team before boarding the bus. We will meet for boarding at 6:00 p.m. at the Jade entrance in Atrium II by the clock tower and will be returning to the same spot at approximately 9:00 p.m.

To get the necessary forms to participate in the off-site dinner, or if you would like more information about any of our other Youth Track activities, contact Meleah Jensen by calling (410) 659-9314, extension 2418, or sending an email to <mjensen@nfb.org>.


Wings for Our Stories

by Donna W. Hill

From the Editor: The following article was written by Donna Hill, an active member of the NFB of Pennsylvania. As you will see, she follows her own advice. Every affiliate should be lucky enough to have a member who makes sure that the media are well aware of the good work being done by Federationists. We can all take a page from her book. This is what she says:

The Federation is brimming with outstanding stories. Inspiring or infuriating, heart-warming or heart-wrenching, triumphant or exposing injustice, they call out to be told. They are our greatest asset--motivating, nourishing, and healing us as we take up the challenge of changing what it means to be blind.

But the opportunity is virtually untapped for these stories to assist us beyond the Federation to the world of sighted and not-yet-blind Americans, whose perspectives and prejudices are at the heart of the injustice and lost opportunities we face. Although the NFB's director of public relations continually seeks press coverage for major initiatives, programs, and issues, many newsworthy stories--often specific to local markets--remain untold.

Getting such stories to the public has been my passion since 2007 when Dennis Sumlin, president of the NFB Performing Arts Division, appointed me head of media relations. Soon thereafter Jim Antonacci, president of the NFB of Pennsylvania, enlisted my help, and last summer I also began working with the Writers' Division.

I came to this volunteer work with some media experience under my belt. When I was pursuing my career as a singer-songwriter in the '80s and '90s, I did my own PR. I regularly landed newspaper, radio, and TV stories throughout the Philadelphia area. Though it was always a treat to be interviewed, I was particularly thrilled by what happened when the Inquirer did not have time to send someone out on the story. They printed my press release verbatim--talk about controlling your message! Imagine the possibilities and opportunities if every affiliate and every division had an ongoing media relations initiative. I'm asking you to join me, and, with assistance from the Writers' Division, I've created a resource to help you.

If you've never prepared a press release, you may find the idea a bit scary. Volunteers don't need degrees in communication or previous experience to make a difference. You don’t even need to write much, since press releases are supposed to be short. Even better, they consist of a lot of boiler plate that can be used time and time again. Years ago blind people had more hurdles to overcome to get press coverage. Nowadays screen readers enable us to create, edit, proofread, and circulate documents. In the electronic age it’s common for the media to accept press releases and story ideas by email. Snail mail is rarely if ever necessary.

Here's a snapshot of what happened last summer when I volunteered to try to get publicity for the winners of the Writers’ Division’s 2011 Youth Writing Contest, an annual event promoting Braille literacy. I made things happen and learned some wonderful things about our next generation of blind kids without ever leaving my office. First I contacted the families to see if the parents were interested in participating. I then arranged phone interviews, during which I used a headset so I could type as they talked. Afterwards I wrote a brief story, including information about the NFB and the Braille literacy crisis.

Each press release contained a tidbit about the student. For instance, nine-year-old Nicky Lentz of Philadelphia enjoys using his white cane to walk solo to Starbuck's for tea. Ethan Fung (10, San Francisco) is fluent in several dialects of Chinese and enjoys speaking to the older Chinese women in his neighborhood. Ten-year-old Lindsay Adair (at the time of Friendswood, Texas,) wants to be a baker, author, and cat breeder. Lindsay, daughter of NOPBC President Laura Bostick, won first place in the elementary short story category. Nicholas took third place in the same category, and Ethan won second place in elementary poetry.

Once I completed the first press release, I had a template to write the others. The parents gave me the names of their local papers, and I used Google to find the email addresses for submitting story ideas. Of the seven families who participated in the publicity campaign, five received press coverage. Articles appeared in local papers in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The first was published within a week of sending the press release; the last coming months later. Two papers, lacking the resources to do their own story, published the text of my press release. That just never gets old.

The buzz was not limited to newspapers. Some families distributed my press releases to other organizations. Lindsay made the cover of her local community newsletter. Ethan was featured in a segment on a San Francisco Chinese-language TV station.

The new resource is something I wish I'd had years ago when I started trying to transfer the skills I'd developed promoting my music to promoting Federation issues. I mentioned my desire to share what I’ve learned on the division's email list and was soon btting around ideas with division president Robert Leslie Newman, Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter (editor of our quarterly journal, Slate and Style), and other members. Robert suggested I prepare something that we could post online.

It's done. The Writers' Division Website now hosts the "Guide to Writing Press Releases," a free, step-by-step tutorial designed to help volunteer publicists spot stories, write press releases, and understand the press. It features samples of successful press releases, a downloadable press release template, and instructions for creating a personalized template that will make the job easier when future stories arise. Check it out at <http://www.nfb-writers-division.net/education_station/press_release_guide.cfm>. We're here to help. Let us know if you have any questions, and please share your successes.


Blind Students Get Down to Business with the Chamber

by Terry McElhaney

From the Editor: the following story appeared in the April 13, 2012, edition of the Littleton, Colorado, Villager. It demonstrates the benefits that blind students receive from working relationships between NFB adult rehabilitation centers and their local business communities. Here it is:

Networking is a basic skill that most business people have to deal with, if not master, on their way to success in today’s business world. Facing a room of strangers with a pocket full of business cards and a handshake is always a little daunting for people entering the job market. Now consider the networking scenario without the ability to see who you are networking with. That’s the challenge presented to students at the Colorado Center for the Blind during their annual networking event in partnership with the South Metro Denver Chamber.

Last week sixty-five chamber investors and guests gathered at the CCB’s campus near Historic Downtown Littleton to give students a real-life situation in preparation for graduation and subsequent job search. Prior to the event Executive Director Julie Deden and the center’s Vocational Specialist Brenda Mosby prepared the business guests with an introduction to the school and its philosophies, strategies, and processes.

The group was enlightened as to the proper way to approach a blind person, not to be afraid of the cane, and basically to treat a blind person the same as any sighted person. The use of “dark shades” [sleepshades] was also presented as a tool to help persons with some sight to learn when closing your eyes and trusting your instincts is preferable to trusting bad vision.

The philosophy at CCB is that skills are not enough. The center takes students through a rigorous nine-month program in preparation for a life of independence and productivity. Daily classroom discussion of myths and fears surrounding blindness, along with exploration of real-life encounters, help students to see blindness as a mere nuisance rather than a tragedy. There’s an eclectic mix at the center, including international students. The program provides training in orientation and mobility, Braille, technology and software, and home management, which includes cooking. Their final days include planning and executing a dinner for 50 and a drop which takes students anywhere in the greater metro Denver area and requires them to find their way back without assistance.

The students were also prepared for the event with information on many of the business persons whom they would soon get the opportunity to meet. Thanks to the chamber’s use of the Meetup social media site, the center had an advance list of who would be there and some biographical information regarding many in the group. Students with specific career goals in mind knew whom they wanted to meet in advance and were ready with questions. The center also had business cards printed for sharing during the event.

There was obvious apprehension as the business leaders were led into the room with the waiting students. This quickly passed, however, as Mosby took control and introductions were given with the help of Chamber President and CEO John Brackney. Nods of approval could be seen as the students introduced themselves as well as their aspirations in turn. The business people also introduced themselves and their companies.

From there organized pandemonium broke out as the groups merged and conversations struck up between them. The students often took the lead and with a handshake at the ready used their keen sense of hearing and their ever-present canes to approach people and strike up a conversation.

CCB student Shanaia [Bethea] was encouraged by the encounters. “I was very nervous going into the event, but once John [Brackney] started asking me questions, I felt much more confident. And I even talked to a couple of people who mentioned they knew someone in journalism and were eager to put me in touch,” Shanaia said.

International student Anna [Avramenko] from the Ukraine said, “It is such a small world. I met a woman, Linda Scott, who invited me to a luncheon where she plans to introduce me to two women business owners--one from Russia and one from the Ukraine.”

Business leaders who attended the event were equally moved by the experience. Tricia Englebert, owner of 5280 Drug Testing, said, “This was one of those events that I was super proud to be a part of. What an incredible group of individuals. These students are doing amazing things in spite of their disability. A truly humbling and perspective-changing experience.”

More information on the Colorado Center for the Blind can be found at <www.cocenter.org>.


Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action and Fairness Hearing

From the Editor: We have been asked by the parties to a class action settlement to run the following Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action and Fairness Hearing. It is unlike most things we publish, but it may be of particular interest to our blind readers who may be members of the affected class. Here, unedited, is the Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action and Fairness Hearing:

This Notice has been approved by the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Be advised of the preliminary approval of the settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by Cari Shields and Amber Boggs (the “Named Plaintiffs”) against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc., and certain other Disney affiliates (“Disney”).  The Named Plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of all members of the Settlement Classes, as defined below, allege that, as individuals with visual impairments, they were denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney theme parks in California and Florida (the “Disney Parks”) or the websites owned or operated by Disney.  Disney denies the Named Plaintiffs’ allegations and denies any fault or wrongdoing whatsoever.

Under the proposed settlement, which the Court preliminarily approved on May 4, 2012, Disney will make certain changes to its policies and practices (as set forth in the Class Action Settlement Agreement and Release) in exchange for the Settlement Classes releasing claims regarding the accessibility of the Disney Parks and websites owned or operated by Disney as they exist at the time of this settlement, or as they may be modified in accordance with the Settlement Agreement.  A Final Approval and Fairness Hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for August 3, 2012, at 9:30 a.m., in the courtroom of the Honorable Dolly M. Gee, United States District Court for the Central District of California, 312 N. Spring Street, Courtroom 7, Los Angeles, California 90012.

Please read this Notice carefully.  It contains important information about your legal rights concerning the proposed settlement of this lawsuit.

1. Who are members of the Settlement Classes?

The Court has preliminarily approved the following four Settlement Classes.

(1) The Website Class:  All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be unable to gain equal access to or enjoyment of one or more of the websites owned or operated by Disney such as <www.disney.go.com>, <www.disneyland.com>, <www.disneyworld.com>, and <www.disneycruise.com> as a result of their visual disability.

(2) The Effective Communication Class:  All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks because of (i) the absence of maps in an alternative format, or (ii) the absence of menus in an alternative format, or (iii) the absence of schedules of events at the Disney Parks in an alternative format, or (iv) inadequate or inconsistent operation of the audio description service on the Handheld Device, or (v) Disney’s refusal to provide a free or discounted pass to their sighted companions, or (vi) the failure to be read, in full, the menus, maps or schedules of events at the Disney Parks.

(3) The Service Animal Class:  All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks because of (i) the fee charged for the use of a kennel for their service animal, or (ii) the absence of reasonably-designated service animal relief areas, or (iii) the absence of a location to kennel their service animal at attractions that do not allow service animals, or (iv) the lack of equal interaction with Disney employees who portray Disney characters because the individuals with visual impairments are accompanied by service animals.

(4) The Infrastructure Class:  All individuals with visual impairments who (a) have a disability, as that term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §12102, and (b) have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks because of (i) physical barriers to access, or (ii) the lack of reasonable modifications to Disney’s policies and practices to permit such equal access or enjoyment.  Among other things, the members of this class have been or will be denied equal access to or enjoyment of the parade viewing areas at the Disneyland Resort and the Walt Disney World Resort, and to public lockers or parking lots at the Disneyland Resort.

2.  What are the benefits of the proposed settlement?

Under the Settlement Agreement, Disney has agreed to enhance the services it currently offers to guests with visual impairments at the Disney Parks and on websites owned or operated by Disney.  Those changes include: updating its guidelines regarding the manner in which costumed Disney characters interact with guests accompanied by service animals; providing certain Braille schedules, menus and maps; providing additional audio description and information about facilities and attractions on the handheld device already available to guests with visual disabilities; modifying policies and practices applicable to guests accompanied by service animals, including designating additional relief areas for service animals and modifying the options available to guests accompanied by service animals when service animals cannot ride on certain attractions; providing a limited number of free admission passes to be distributed by an agreed-upon charitable organization serving individuals with visual impairments; modifying guidelines regarding the reserved viewing areas for guests with disabilities at live parades; enhancing locker and parking facilities; and enhancing procedures and standards for making websites owned or operated by Disney accessible to users who access those websites using screen reader software utilities.

3. How could the settlement affect your legal rights?

If Judge Gee approves the proposed settlement, members of the classes will release all claims for discrimination on the basis of visual disability as to any feature of the Disney Parks or websites owned or operated by Disney, or the way in which they were or are operated, as they existed at the time of the Court’s final approval of settlement or as they may be modified under the terms of the settlement.  More specifically, the Settlement Agreement provides as follows:

In consideration for the mutual promises and covenants set forth or referred to in this Settlement Agreement, Class Members who are not Named Plaintiffs, upon the entry of the Final Approval Order, will release the Released Parties from any and all claims, counter-claims, liabilities, obligations, demands, and actions of any and every kind or nature whatsoever, known or unknown, that the Class Members may have against the Released Parties for discrimination and/or denial of equal access to or enjoyment of any goods, services, facilities, websites, privileges, advantages, or accommodations based upon a disability related to visual impairment under the common law or any state, local or federal statute, rule or regulation, arising from Disney’s practices or procedures in connection with, or the condition of, the Disney Parks or websites owned or operated by Disney prior to the Effective Date, or as those practices, procedures or conditions at the Disney Parks or of the websites owned or operated by Disney are subsequently modified to comply with the terms of this Settlement Agreement.  This release includes but is not limited to any and all claims that have arisen or might have arisen that could have been asserted in the Action, including claims in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.), the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civil Code §§ 51 et seq.), the Disabled Persons Act (Cal. Civil Code §§ 54 et seq.), any other state, local or federal statute, rule, or regulation, or common law that governs, addresses or affects the rights of individuals with disabilities to gain equal or full access to or enjoyment of places of public accommodation or places open to the public.  This release includes, but is not limited to, claims for class-wide injunctive or declaratory relief alleging a class-wide pattern and practice of disability-based discrimination in, or an unlawful disparate impact associated with, access to or enjoyment of the Disney Parks or the websites owned or operated by Disney.  This release is intended to bind all Settlement Classes and Class Members and to preclude such Class Members from asserting or initiating future claims with respect to the issues in this Action or the subject matter of this Settlement Agreement.

4.   What service payments are the Named Plaintiffs seeking for the work they performed for the Class?

The Named Plaintiffs have filed a motion asking the Court to award them service payments of $15,000 each.  The Court will decide whether such payments are fair and reasonable.  You can see the complete motion for service payments at <www.pacer.gov> or <www.shieldsADAsettlement.com>.

5.   What attorneys' fees and what reimbursement of out of pocket costs are Class Counsel seeking?

Class Counsel is applying to the Court to be paid attorneys' fees and costs in the aggregate amount of no more than $1,550,000.  The Court will decide whether the fees and costs Class Counsel seeks are fair and reasonable.  You can see Class Counsel's complete application for attorneys' fees and costs at <www.pacer.gov> or <www.shieldsADAsettlement.com>.

6.   How can you comment on, or object to, the proposed settlement?

If you want to comment on, or object to, the settlement, you must mail your statement to Forizs & Dogali, P.A., 4301 Anchor Plaza Parkway, Suite 300, Tampa, Florida 33634 (1-813-289-0700).  Your comment or objection must include at least your name, address, and telephone number, a reference to the lawsuit, and a discussion of the comment or objection, and must be postmarked no later than July 6, 2012.

7.   When and where will the Final Approval and Fairness Hearing take place?

On May 4, 2012, Judge Gee granted preliminary approval to the proposed settlement.  After considering the comments and/or objections received from Class members, Judge Gee will next decide whether or not to:  (1) grant final approval of the settlement; (2) grant Class Counsel's application for fees and costs; and (3) award service payments to the Named Plaintiffs.  A hearing will be held on August 3, 2012, at 9:30 a.m., in Courtroom 7 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, 312 N. Spring Street, Los Angeles, California  90012.

You may attend this hearing at your own expense, but are not obligated to do so.  If you choose to attend, you may request an opportunity to speak or be heard, but the Court is not required to allow this.  You may retain an attorney at your own expense to represent you, but are not required to do so.  If you intend to attend the fairness hearing, you must send a written notice of intent to appear to Forizs & Dogali, P.A., 4301 Anchor Plaza Parkway, Suite 300, Tampa, Florida 33634 (1-813-289-0700).  Your notice of intent to appear must include at least your name, address, and telephone number, a reference to the lawsuit, and a statement that you intend to appear at the hearing, and must be  postmarked no later than July 6, 2012.  If you wish to speak or be heard at the hearing, you must also include this request in your notice of intent to appear.

8.   How can you get more information?

You can obtain a copy of the complete settlement agreement from Class Counsel using the contact information listed below. You may also inspect the non-confidential parts of the case file in this lawsuit by going to the website of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (<www.pacer.gov>) or at <www.shieldsADAsettlement.com>.

Andy Dogali
Forizs & Dogali, P.A.
4301 Anchor Plaza Parkway
Suite 300
Tampa, Florida 33634
(813) 289-0700

1. The “Released Parties” are as defined in the Settlement Agreement, but include Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc., Disney Online, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online, their subsidiaries and affiliated companies, and in the case of all such entities, their respective past and present owners, representatives, successors and assigns.

2.     The "Effective Date" is as defined in the Settlement Agreement, but may be summarized as the date when the Court's order approving the Settlement Agreement is no longer subject to appeal or challenge, or the last such appeal or challenge has been decided in favor of the Court's approval of the Settlement Agreement.


Living Well with Diabetes

by Mike Freeman

From the Editor: Mike Freeman, president of the NFB Diabetes Action Network (DAN) and a member of the NFB board of directors, made the following remarks on April 1 at the NFB of Missouri fiftieth annual convention. This is what he said:

Everyone here is familiar with the B-word—blindness. Today I'm going to discuss the D-word—diabetes. But first let me say how honored I am to participate in celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the NFB of Missouri. You—nay—we have accomplished a great deal during the past fifty years, and I am certain you and we will accomplish as much or more during the coming fifty years in our quest to achieve first-class citizenship for the blind of Missouri and for the nation.

I'm not going to bore you with a lengthy discussion of the causes and treatment of the various kinds of diabetes. Suffice it to say that diabetes mellitus (the technical name for the various forms of the disease) is a metabolic disorder that impairs or prevents most of the cells in your body from getting energy from the food you eat. This involves either the lack of insulin or the inability of your cells to use insulin efficiently to get energy to function. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas, a small gland in the abdomen.

I'm going to discuss how to live well with diabetes from the perspective of its social context. I believe that NFB philosophy has much to teach us about living with diabetes. We all know people who are ashamed to be blind. They try to hide their blindness, faking sight they do not have. We know that this is counterproductive. It blights the soul. There is no need for this shame. In fact, it is the essence of NFB philosophy that it is respectable to be blind.

But did you know that many people who have diabetes are ashamed of it? They suspect that having diabetes is their fault, and too many people (including some medical personnel) reinforce this notion, equating diabetes with gluttony. Many diabetics try to hide their diabetes. Worse yet, many diabetics deny (both to themselves and to others) that they have diabetes. As an African-American idiom has it, they do not "claim" their diabetes. Not only does this blight their souls, but the longer diabetes goes untreated, the more likely diabetics are to suffer the complications of diabetes—nerve damage, heart disease, strokes, and of course blindness.

Diabetes is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something with which we who have the disease must live. The only thing of which we should be ashamed is leaving diabetes untreated. All of us who are blind find ourselves euphemized to death. There are a myriad of terms for the blind and blindness, all which avoid the dreaded B-word and all of which show the discomfort of those using them rather than their sensitivity which, in reality, is not needed.

Similarly, diabetics are stuck with people-first language. We are told we are more than our diabetes (something we all ought to know anyway) and that terms like "diabetic" should be eschewed in favor of circumlocutions such as "people with diabetes." This is ridiculous. We don't say basketball players are "people of tallness," do we? Well, we do not need to avoid the word "diabetic" or the fact that we who have the disease are diabetics. We are definitely more than our diabetes. But diabetes is part of us. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of weekly news stories touting so-called cures for blindness, most of which do more for those publicizing these cures than they do for blind people. These cures emphasize the supposed tragedy of blindness rather than its normality. Moreover, most of us will remain blind despite these so-called cures.

Likewise we hear every week of new treatments for diabetes, some of which may have merit and all of which, it seems, need more funding for research and testing, especially since many of them have been tested only in mice or upon a few human subjects and only for a limited time. We cannot live on what the future holds; we must live in the here and now. Diabetes will be with us for years to come, and, if we have it, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to control it.

We who are blind are unfortunately familiar with organizations that raise money in the name of the blind. Some of this money helps us; some of it does not. But most of the fundraising is based on pity. We of the Federation deny to the core of our being this notion that the blind are to be pitied. Likewise, a great deal of money is raised on behalf of organizations dealing with diabetes. The Tour de Cure comes to mind. Some of this money helps. But it's hard to escape the notion that sometimes these organizations with their many events come to do good and end by doing well.

We who are blind are confronted by those whose notion of helping us is summarized by the slogan "fighting blindness." We of the Federation know that we don't fight blindness; we live with it. Likewise diabetics must deal with organizations whose slogan is "Stop Diabetes." While this may be laudable, it's not going to happen for most diabetics in the foreseeable future. Hence we who are diabetics must instead live with diabetes, and the good news is that we can live well with it. We can live full, normal lives.

As our DAN brochure says, life with diabetes need not be complicated. From the foregoing the connection to Federation philosophy should be evident. Federationism is a can-do philosophy that affirms the dignity of the blind. The same philosophy of dignity and taking charge will serve diabetics as well. To bring this down to a personal level, if you are blind and have diabetes, I believe it is important that you live your Federationism and that you know you're OK as a blind person by taking care of your diabetes. For, if you don't think you're OK as a blind person, it's likely you won't think it's worth it to take care of your diabetes. Don't fall into this trap. Life is an adventure worth living to the max as a blind person, as a diabetic, or as both.


A Reverse Sundial

by Father Ephraim

From the Editor: Father Ephraim is a Greek Orthodox priest and monk who has become interested in Braille and who read 7,000 Braille pages last year. Since he has come to understand the importance of effective orientation for blind travelers, he sent us the following interesting little article that those who were not born with that amazing instinct for always knowing which way north is will find useful. I had to read it several times before mastering the technique, so don’t get discouraged. This is what he says:

Knowing which way is north can be very helpful when navigating in unfamiliar places. An easy trick to determine your orientation is to point the hour hand of your watch at the sun, and south will be halfway between it and 12:00 noon on your watch (or halfway between it and 1:00 when on daylight savings time). This method works even without a watch, as long as you know roughly what time it is so that you can imagine where the hour hand of a watch would be. It is a reverse sundial because, instead of determining the time using the sun's position and a dial aligned north, north is determined using the sun's position and the time.

In the Southern hemisphere this method is inverted: Before pointing the hour hand of your watch at the sun, you need to flip your watch upside-down, so that the back side of your watch (the side usually touching your skin) is facing you. Then north (not south) will be halfway between the hour hand and 12:00 on your watch.

This method is accurate enough for most practical purposes (except near the equator or when the sun is nearly directly overhead). One way to improve its accuracy is to adjust the calculation based on your longitude. Instead of finding the halfway point between 12:00 and the hour hand of the current time, subtract from the current time four minutes for every degree longitude west you are located from the central meridian of your time zone. The central meridian in most places around the world is a multiple of fifteen (because there are twenty-four time zones in 360 degrees around the globe). For example, if you are in Tucson, Arizona, the longitude is 111 degrees west. This is six degrees west of the central meridian of the Mountain Time Zone, which is located at 105 degrees west (a multiple of fifteen). Six times four is twenty-four, so to determine south in Tucson it is necessary to imagine where the hour hand would be after subtracting twenty-four minutes from the current time, and then find the halfway point between that imaginary hour hand and 12:00. If you are east of your time zone's central meridian, you add (instead of subtract) four minutes for every degree longitude east of it you are located. In most locations in the world, however, the benefit from including this adjustment is negligible and therefore can be omitted for simplicity's sake.

A simple non-visual technique to find the sun's position with precision on a sunny day is to rotate until you feel the sun on your face. Then cover your face with your palm and gradually move it away from your face in the direction necessary to keep its cool shadow on your face. Once your arm is fully extended with your palm's shadow still on your face, you will know quite accurately where the sun is.


Federation Envisions Brighter Future for the Blind

by Steve Prisament

From the Editor: The following article appeared in the Shore News Today on Tuesday, February 14, 2012. Those who know our New Jersey affiliate president understand his commitment to service and growth. Here is how he communicates it to new people who are coming to join the Federation in Absecon, New Jersey:

ABSECON--It’s always nice to keep an eye out for your friends. That’s what the National Federation of the Blind does—and what you could do if you know a blind or visually impaired person who may not be able to read this article.

Help get the word out. A new Southern New Jersey chapter of the National Federation of the Blind will hold its first meeting from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturday, March 3 in the John D. Young Memorial Lions Blind Center at Crestview Avenue and Pitney Road. An introductory session was held Saturday, January 21, at the Center with about twenty people attending.

State NFB President Joe Ruffalo spoke about his organization’s attempts to obtain equal footing for the blind and level the playing field. Many accommodations are required by law, he said, but there are still areas that need improvement. Ruffalo said he wasn’t eager to join the Federation—he had a chip on his shoulder and pictured the NFB as a bunch of radical troublemakers. “A friend wanted me to go to a meeting, just to see what it’s all about,” Ruffalo said. “For five months I had excuses and didn’t go.” Ruffalo said he told his wife he was going to attend a meeting just to get his friend off his back. “I am not joining that organization,” he said as he left, embarking on what was to become an all-consuming quest.

He thought they would be “militant radicals,” he said. “I envisioned being greeted by people with weapons.” But that wasn’t the case, Ruffalo said. He was nicely met and directed to go upstairs for the meeting. “Someone asked if I wanted coffee,” he said. “I expected he would bring it, but he said, ‘Coffee’s in the back. Regular is on the right; decaf on the left.’ I started to like these people. The leader was talking to me--challenging members to make a difference, define a situation or question, come up with a solution, and carry it out.” Needless to say, he joined.

The state Federation has grown from two chapters in 1983. The Absecon South Jersey Shore Chapter brings the total to nine. “I offer you my friendship, partnership, relationship, and leadership,” Ruffalo said. “That’s four ships. Columbus only had three.”

Independence, he said, does not mean: “Leave me alone. I’m OK. Get lost.” “Independence means you have several choices,” Ruffalo said. “You make your own decisions.”

He said he tries to make any situation with sighted people a training moment. “One time in a restaurant a man tried to help me,” he said. “He got behind me and started pushing me like a robot. I stopped and I said, ‘Let me show you how to help me.` I held out my arm and asked him to take my elbow and direct me.” Ruffalo said that example was his model for new Federation chapters. “That’s what I want to do for you—softly guide,” he said.

Communication is the key to success for the NFB, he said. “We’re not all officers,” Ruffalo said. “Everyone has talents. I used to be a stutterer, a stammerer—no public speaking for me. But the more I did it, the easier it became. It’s the same for you. I want to encourage you to have confidence, integrity, communication, and independence.”

He said that people before him paved the way to getting laws changed to assist blind people. “We have more independence today,” he said. “And we must pave the way for the next generation. It takes years, and it’s common sense. It makes you want to scratch your head.” There were once laws that required blind people who were marrying to be sterilized, he said.

The group asked several questions including, “Why do we need another organization?” Ruffalo said the various associations have numerous functions. “We have a police department and a fire department; they’re different, but we need both of them,” he said by way of example. It’s the same, he said, with blind groups that encourage education, socialization, and other things. “We work to change laws,” Ruffalo said. “There used to be no children allowed, no federal jobs for blind people. A blind guy is now in the military. He was blinded in the service, but he was not mustered out as he would have been.”

The initial meeting was organized by Kathleen Rawa of Egg Harbor City, who works as a volunteer with the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation. She also works at the polling places on election days. “My dog, Dorito, is the first working election dog,” Rawa said. “We’re opening doors for the blind.”

Another local leader, Suzanne Woolbert of Egg Harbor Township, elaborated. “We’re changing what it means to be blind,” she said. “We’re breaking down stereotypes. But we still need to be sharing and helping each other in 2012. These are the people who are going places and doing things.”

Rawa said she expects the local chapter to do well. “We’re going to have a domino effect,” she said. “We’re going to be one big organization in New Jersey.” For more information go to <www.nfbnj.org>.


Featured Book from the tenBroek Library

From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is Librarian Ed Morman's review of a book in our collection:

Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, by Rick Wartzman, New York: Public Affairs, 2008

For decades the NFB has been fighting for the rights of blind workers and, indeed, all disabled workers. We have led the struggle against discrimination in hiring; we have encouraged the development and use of access technology; and, of course, we have never forgotten the shame of a “fair labor standards” law that permits employers to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage set for others. We must remember, though, that employers of disabled workers were not the only ones exempted from the minimum wage requirements of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. The most notoriously excluded group, in fact, was farm laborers. In the thirties there was no disability rights movement, and for that matter the organized blind existed only as an assortment of state groups, many of which were no more than social clubs. This was the time when the agencies and sheltered shops were successfully claiming to speak for the disabled, so it should come as no surprise that the U.S. Congress ignored the need of disabled people for good jobs at a decent wage.

On the other hand the labor movement was active and militant throughout the country, including among migrant farm workers. Nowadays, and for most of the past fifty years, the common image of a migrant worker is Hispanic—whether a U.S. citizen, legal immigrant, or undocumented alien. In the 1930s, though, at least in California, white migrants from the dust bowl of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and other Southern and Great Plains states comprised the bulk of the migrant work force. The term “Okie” was derisively applied to these hard-working, migratory people who picked the fruits and vegetables that landed on the tables of many Americans, and it was the Okies whom the unions tried to organize during the thirties.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that a largely Hispanic movement succeeded in creating the United Farm Workers of America and winning the minimum wage for agricultural laborers.

Shortly before the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, the novelist John Steinbeck toured the fields and migrant camps of California. In The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, Steinbeck painted a sympathetic but polarizing picture of the life of the migrants, and controversy about the book spread around the country. Obscene in the Extreme is devoted to one incident brought on by Steinbeck’s novel: the action of the Kern County Board of Supervisors on August 21, 1939, banning The Grapes of Wrath from the county’s public libraries.

Kern County is the southernmost county in California’s Central Valley. Blessed with the right climate and fertile soil, and the beneficiary of an extensive irrigation system, Kern County was (and is still) one of the most important agricultural regions in America. Owners of big farms and other leading citizens resented Steinbeck’s assertions about the migrants’ living and working conditions, and it was not hard to get the Board of Supervisors to act as it did.

The ban was a tempest in a teapot, since copies of the book could still be purchased, and the ban was rescinded in less than two years. Nonetheless, the story of the ban provided author Rick Wartzman the opportunity to write about the broader context: the development of Central Valley agriculture; the conditions of agricultural labor in California; the efforts of unions to organize the migrants; the civil liberty and free speech issues; and the general political climate of the United States on the eve of its entry into World War II.

All very interesting, you might say, but what does this book have to do with blindness, and why is it in the tenBroek Library collection? This is a good question, and we have a good answer.

One of the recurring characters in Wartzman’s narrative is Raymond Henderson, a blind lawyer whom Jacobus tenBroek hired to be the NFB’s executive director soon after the Federation was founded. Like Newel Perry a few years earlier and Jacobus tenBroek some years later, Henderson attended the California School for the Blind and subsequently graduated from the University of California in Berkeley. Unable to get a teaching job in a public school, he worked at a school for the blind for a few years before studying law and passing the bar exam. He later settled in Bakersfield, county seat of Kern County, where he supported his pro bono civil liberties and labor work by taking lucrative but less interesting cases such as defending a bootlegger or arguing for one side in a dispute over oil royalties.

Henderson was a generation older than tenBroek and unfortunately died at the age of sixty-five in 1945, but for a few years he was a key figure nursing the Federation during its infancy.  It is significant that such an important early leader of the NFB was a labor advocate and civil liberties activist for much of his prior career.  As Rick Wartzman put it in an interview:

[M]y favorite character is Raymond Henderson—the blind ACLU lawyer who battled the book ban. He was an incredibly smart, courageous soul who spent his whole life fighting for the little guy. His letters (which I found at the National Federation of the Blind, where he later served as executive director) are beautifully written and a lot of fun to read.

Henderson shows up in Obscene in the Extreme in several places, and much of what Wartzman learned about Henderson was indeed from letters found in the Jacobus tenBroek Papers, right here at the Jernigan Institute. 

Wartzman relates the story of how, twelve years before Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, Henderson had represented striking miners in Colorado.  Showing the same spirit as Federationists later displayed by refusing to change their seats on airplanes, Henderson refused to give up his efforts to free strikers who were being held in jail without charges.  He wrote to a friend:

I was threatened with arrest, having my passport revoked, and a beating.  In fact, I had a perfectly beautiful quarrel with the state police, all to myself.  It was the best quarrel I have had for many a long day . . . .  Between me and these gentlemen, a most cordial hatred has arisen.

In another case from the 1920s, of a union member convicted of “criminal syndicalism,” Henderson had the opportunity to argue an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Although he lost the case, he gained fame (or notoriety) as the blind lawyer who used Braille notes in a presentation to the highest court in the land.

In 1935 Henderson handled the appeal of several members of the Communist Party convicted of conspiracy because of their involvement in efforts to organize farm laborers, and in 1938—just as Steinbeck was researching and writing his novel—Henderson was defending striking agricultural workers, whose living and working conditions would be documented in The Grapes of Wrath.

Wartzman also writes about the so-called “anti-Okie law,” an effort to minimize the need for poor relief in California during the Depression, that made it a crime to bring destitute persons into the state.  Henderson was among the lawyers who challenged this act, a stance that may well have influenced Jacobus tenBroek.  Years later tenBroek became chair of the California Social Welfare Board and argued against state residency requirements for welfare recipients.

But back to the main subject of Wartzman’s book.  Two days after the supervisors enacted the ban on The Grapes of Wrath, Henderson represented the American Civil Liberties Union in its first attempt to get the novel back on the shelves of the county’s libraries.  As it happened, on the very same day the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression pact.  Henderson—an avowed leftist who was willing to work with Communists, but never was one himself—denounced the action of the supervisors as akin to “what they do over in Italy and Germany and Russia and Japan.”

Few people are still alive who can remember the Great Depression as adults.  Since then the trade union movement has grown and subsequently shrunk.  The demographics of agricultural labor have changed; farm workers are protected by the minimum wage, and, while some of them are union members, their living and working conditions are still not good, and the undocumented among them are subject to vilification.

The disabled are still not guaranteed a minimum wage.  NFB efforts in the 1970s to organize blind sheltered shop workers have led to improved conditions in many places, but there is still no independent voice—a union—for disabled workshop employees.

What has definitely improved since the time of Raymond Henderson and John Steinbeck?  For the blind—and for all disabled workers—the work of Henderson, tenBroek, and other early leaders of the organized blind has paid off.  The National Federation of the Blind in 2012 is, as its early leaders promised, “the blind speaking for themselves.”  And speaking as a unified movement, stronger than ever, the blind in America will continue to fight and win battles such as the one for the minimum wage for the disabled.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate a source for an accessible version of Obscene in the Extreme.  We intend, however, to acquire—or produce—a digital copy of the book, which we will make available to eligible readers through our catalog, THE BLIND CAT. <http://webopac.infovisionsoftware.com/nfb/>



This month’s recipes are from members of the NFB of Illinois.

Peanut Blossoms
by Liz Bottner

Liz Bottner serves as the current president of the Illinois Association of Blind Students (IABS) and has also been active at various times in the Delaware and Pennsylvania NFB affiliates. She just recently graduated from Northern Illinois University with her master’s degree in rehabilitation teaching of blind adults with a specialization in assistive technology. Liz has taken a job in Atlanta, Georgia, as an assistive technology instructor for the Center for the Visually Impaired. Some of her hobbies include reading, technology, traveling, and drinking tea.

48 Hershey's Kisses
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup Reese's Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar

Method: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove wrappers from chocolates. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla and beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake eight to ten minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack and cool completely. Makes about four dozen cookies.

by Liz Bottner
1 cup sugar
2 cups cornstarch
4 cups flour
pinch salt
1 pound butter

Method: Since this recipe makes a large batch of cookies, start with a large mixing bowl. The cornstarch is the key to this recipe. Combine all ingredients and beat. When you think the ingredients are well integrated, place the crumbly mixture on a baking sheet. I used a half-sheet pan (16-by-11 inches), and it worked perfectly. Bake for forty minutes at 325 degrees, then reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking for twenty minutes. When they come out of the oven, dust with granulated sugar. Wait about five minutes before cutting the shortbreads.

Pecan Cinnamon Shortbread Bars
by Constance Canode

Connie Canode is an active member of the Chicago chapter.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of 13-by-9-inch baking pan. In a large bowl combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Add flour, cinnamon, and vanilla; mix well. Stir in half a cup of the pecans. Press dough in bottom of pan. Sprinkle remaining half cup pecans over dough and press in lightly. Bake at 350 degrees for thirty to thirty-five minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Magic in the Middles
by Constance Canode

Dough Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar (and extra for dipping)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg

Filling Ingredients:
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Method: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease (or line with parchment paper) two baking sheets. You can also use silicone baking sheets. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another medium bowl beat together the sugars, butter, and quarter cup peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg, beating to combine. Then stir in the dry ingredients, blending well. To prepare filling, in a small bowl stir together the 3/4 cup peanut butter and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. With floured hands roll the filling into twenty-six one-inch balls. Break off about 1 tablespoon of the dough and with your finger make an indentation in the center large enough to press one of the peanut butter balls into it. Bring the dough up and over the filling, pressing it closed completely. Roll the cookie in the palms of your hand to smooth it out. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Dip the top of each cookie in granulated sugar and place on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Grease the bottom of a drinking glass and use it to flatten each cookie to about half an inch thick. Bake the cookies for seven to nine minutes, until they are set. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

Praline Brownies
by Constance Canode

1 (20-ounce) box chewy fudge brownie mix (like Duncan Hines)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water

Praline Topping Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom only of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Place brownie mix in a large bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, and water; mix until well combined. Spread evenly over bottom of baking pan. In a separate bowl mix together praline topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the top of batter. You may leave a small corner uncovered by the topping as a spot to test for doneness. Bake twenty-eight to thirty minutes; do not overbake. Check corner with a toothpick for doneness; it should come out clean with no crumbs attached.

Layered Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge
by Constance Canode
1 8-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup canned sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup cocktail peanuts, chopped
1 6-ounce package white chocolate squares
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter.

Method: Microwave semisweet chocolate and sweetened condensed milk in microwave bowl on high for two minutes or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after one minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in peanuts and spread onto bottom of foil-lined eight-inch square pan. Microwave white chocolate in separate microwavable bowl on high for one and one-half minutes or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after one minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Add peanut butter and stir until melted. Spread over semisweet chocolate layer. Refrigerate for two hours or until firm. Cut into squares. Store in air-tight container.

Pumpkin Bread
by Constance Canode

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon baking powder
Method: Combine pumpkin, oil, and eggs. Sift together dry ingredients. Combine the two mixtures, blending thoroughly. Pour into 2 greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pans and bake at 300 degrees for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place pan on wire rack to cool. Remove from pan after about five minutes and cool completely.


Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Philadelphia Federationists Serving Their Community:
Each year, as their contribution to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia and Keystone Chapters of the NFB of Pennsylvania collect warm winter clothing and book bags and donate them to two inner-city Philadelphia elementary schools. Chapter members and employees from local businesses participate in making this effort successful each year. This photo was taken as Federationists delivered hand-knit scarves, gloves, coats, and book bags to one of the schools.

Texas Barbeque Temptations:
For many years a cornerstone of a national convention in Dallas, Texas, has been a good, old-fashioned, all-you-can-eat barbecue with live music. I am proud to tell you that this year’s convention will carry on the tradition on the evening of Tuesday, July 3. The Texas affiliate, however, has secured some exceptional entertainment that we are excited about. Rather than sign up some local band to imitate honky-tonk sounds or top-forty hits, we have enlisted a truly authentic Nashville talent who is also a Federationist. If you have not yet had the pleasure of hearing JP Williams’ music, visit <http://www.jpwilliams.net> for a sample.

The following is from JP’s online bio:

JP Williams is a soulful-singing artist and songwriter with a T-shirt and jeans groove. His original music has scored him bookings everywhere from the Kennedy Center in D.C. to colleges throughout the Atlantic and Northeastern US, and he's opened for the wide-ranging likes of Randy Travis, Jo Dee Messina, Bruce Hornsby, Charlie Daniels, T. Graham Brown, Marshall Tucker, and Ricky Skaggs.

Though blind since age ten, JP writes and sings with incredible insight. He’s thankful for the downs and the ups, ‘cause—when you’re a songwriter and artist—it’s all material.

Give a listen. If you dig a little James Taylor, John Mayer, or Jack Johnson, JP's gonna make your next playlist.

JP has agreed to play some original songs, throwing in a nice mix of chart-toppers from the last several decades. It will be the perfect accompaniment to an evening of delicious food and fellowship. Weather permitting, fingers crossed, the event will take place under the endless Texas sky.

We urge you to join us for this unforgettable evening. Forego the cabs and hassle of a dinner reservation or long lines and a wait; walk right through the dinner buffet and find your friends at the Texas Barbeque on the evening of July 3. Then enjoy a custom concert, just for you.

Community Leaders Honored in Virginia:
Three community leaders who serve as officers and board members of the Fredericksburg Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and as board members of the disAbility Resource Center (dRC) were recognized at the tenth annual Walk with the Blind Saturday, April 21, at the city dock in Fredericksburg.

Marilee Kenlon, Angie Matney, and Mel Padgett received recognition from Mayor Tom Tomzak; Debe Fults, director of the dRC; and Michael Kasey, president of the local NFBV chapter. Certificates were presented to them noting their service and honoring their example for us all. Marilee Kenlon is a vision rehabilitation therapist at the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Melvin Padgett is a commercial loan and grant specialist for the Department of Agriculture. Angie Matney is an attorney with the firm of Hirschler Fleischer.

The Walk with the Blind is held downtown every year and promotes the businesses on Caroline Street while also serving as a fundraiser for the blind. Over sixty-five participants gathered this year to receive gift certificates from downtown merchants to encourage visits to their shops. The local NFB chapter meets every second Thursday of the month at the dRC, 209 Progress Street.

Spend an Evening with the CCB:
Have you ever wondered what training could do for you?  Meet the staff and students at the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB); pick up a Braille recipe and a Braille puzzle; draw a tactile picture; and learn all about challenge, recreation, and the latest technology. Join us for this exciting open house on Tuesday, July 3, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. For more information contact Carol Sprague at (303) 778-1130.

A Victory to Cheer About:
The following press release was circulated on May 7, 2012. It is self-explanatory:

National Federation of the Blind Applauds
New Jersey Ruling on Braille Instruction for Blind Child
After Three-Year Battle Hank Miller Will Receive Braille Instruction

After a three-year administrative and legal battle against their local school board, the Oceanport Board of Education, Jeffrey and Holly Miller obtained a ruling (docket number: 2011 17218) from an administrative law judge that their eleven-year-old son Henry “Hank” Miller was improperly denied instruction in Braille, the reading and writing code for the blind. The legal victory, obtained with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), comes on the heels of a letter from 26 U.S. Senators urging the Department of Education to take steps to ensure that blind children who need Braille instruction receive it.

Holly and Jeffrey Miller brought the legal case on behalf of their son Hank, whom they adopted from China and who is blind due to albinism and nystagmus. Hank has limited vision that allows him to read enlarged print for short periods of time, but he is unable to read for sustained periods. Although Hank’s parents continued to tell school officials that their son was experiencing visual fatigue and was having difficulty reading, the school board and its consultant, the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI), insisted that Hank was a proficient print reader, notwithstanding his continued placement in a special resource room for language arts. In a nearly ten-day hearing, held under the due process provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, Mrs. Miller testified that she watched Hank routinely struggle with his homework, suffering from eye strain and fatigue, but was unable to convince school officials or the CBVI that Hank needed Braille instruction. She also testified that Hank’s schoolwork was not of the same quantity and quality as that of his classmates. Although experts from the school and the commission claimed that Hank was a “visual learner” and should participate in the “sighted world,” experts hired by the Millers and the NFB concluded after thorough assessment that Hank could not read print for extended periods of time without eyestrain, neck and back pain, fatigue, and loss of reading speed and comprehension.

In her order Administrative Law Judge Lisa James-Beavers found that the school board and the commission displayed a clear “bias against Braille.” She found that the school board and the commission had failed to assess Hank’s “sustained reading ability” with print, relying instead on reading assessments involving only brief passages, and citing Hank’s alleged failure to complain about struggling to read print. The judge was unconvinced by the board and CBVI’s contention that Hank could rely on audio technology as reading demands increased through his school years, noting that “as pointed out by all of petitioners’ well-qualified experts, listening does not equate to reading. One does not enhance the active skill of comprehending text by passively listening, even if one is following along with the reading.” The order noted that “the CBVI failed to do what Oceanport relied on them to do, which is to help construct a program that would give H.M. meaningful educational benefit considering H.M.’s future needs.” Judge James-Beavers ordered that Hank Miller be provided with Braille instruction for forty-five minutes, five days a week, and that the school board provide compensatory instruction because of the three years that Hank was not provided with Braille instruction, in the form of intensive Braille summer programs or tutoring.

Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Based on the experience of countless parents of blind children and blind adults who had never learned Braille and have contacted us over the years, the National Federation of the Blind has consistently argued that blind children are being improperly assessed and denied Braille instruction when it is clearly appropriate. Now after a thorough and comprehensive examination of the evidence in Hank Miller’s case, an independent judge has confirmed what we always knew. We hope that school and agency officials across the nation take note of this landmark ruling and commit to giving blind children access to Braille, the true key to literacy for the vast majority of children who are blind or losing vision. The National Federation of the Blind will continue to stand with families like the Millers, who find themselves pitted against the educational establishment in obtaining the equal education to which their children are entitled and which they deserve.”

Holly Miller, Hank’s mother, said: “I am obviously thrilled with this ruling, although I am still saddened that it took such a prolonged battle to achieve it. I am stepping forward to tell Hank’s story in hopes that other parents of blind children will not have to struggle as we did. I thank the National Federation of the Blind and all of the individuals and experts who came forward to assist in this case. I plan to advocate strongly and publicly with the National Federation of the Blind for Braille instruction for blind children.”

The plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy; and Jayne M. Wesler of the Cranbury firm Sussan and Greenwald.

White House Hails Blind Chemistry Grad Student as “Champion of Change”:
The White House circulated the following press release on May 7:

Henry "Hoby" Wedler, a graduate student in chemistry at the University of California, Davis, was one of fourteen individuals honored May 7, 2012, at the White House as Champions of Change for leading the way for people with disabilities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). “STEM is vital to America’s future in education and employment, so equal access for people with disabilities is imperative since they can contribute to and benefit from STEM,” said Kareem Dale, special assistant to President Obama for disability policy. “The leaders we’ve selected as Champions of Change are proving that, when the playing field is level, people with disabilities can excel in STEM, develop new products, create scientific inventions, open successful businesses, and contribute equally to the economic and educational future of our country.”

Wedler, who is blind, is working towards his PhD in organic chemistry. Inspired by programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in high school and with encouragement from professors, colleagues, and others, Wedler gained the confidence to challenge and refute the mistaken belief that STEM fields are too visual and therefore impractical for blind people.

Wedler is not only following his own passion, he is working hard to develop the next generation of scientists by founding and teaching at an annual chemistry camp for blind and low-vision high school students. Sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind, the camp's goal is to demonstrate to these students, by example and through practice, that their lack of eyesight should not hold them back from pursuing their dreams.

Wedler was nominated by Douglas Sprei of Learning Ally, a nonprofit formerly known as Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. The organization allowed Wedler to excel in school. The Champions of Change program was created as part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week a different sector is highlighted, and groups of champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

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.

Announcing the 2012 Governor Morehead School Alumni Reunion:
Come join the Governor Morehead School Alumni Association, Incorporated, for our fifth annual reunion. As always we will have fun, food, and fellowship. You do not have to be a GMS alum; everyone is welcome to attend.

When? August 3-5, 2012.
Where? Holiday Inn Raleigh North, 2805 Highwoods Blvd., Raleigh, NC 27604.
Cost? $50 for paid members; $65 for nonmembers: after July 16 an additional $10 charge for everyone.

The room rate, which includes a full hot buffet breakfast for up to four guests per room, is $63 plus 13.75 percent tax per night ($72.69).To make your reservations call, (919) 872-3500 and ask for a room with the Governor Morehead School Alumni Association. Registration will begin on Friday, August 3, at 3:00 p.m. Other activities for the weekend include games, karaoke, a catered lunch, a talent show, a dance, and Sunday service.

Come join us and find out what we’re all about. Bring family and friends. If you need more information, forms, or help filling out your forms, contact Margaret Carter at (919) 856-0034. Send all money and forms to Margaret Carter, 1704 Picnic Place, Raleigh, NC 27603.

Old faces, come back; new faces, come join us, and you won’t regret it. See ya in August.

Carroll Center 2012 Accessible iOS App Camp:
Whether you are a new or experienced user of an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or even an Apple TV receiver, you are sure to learn new techniques and apps in the new app camp for school-aged students. During this week-long program you will get hands-on training in the use of these new and exciting devices. Join us and expand your abilities to use Apple technology. This camp is recommended for blind and low-vision students in middle or high school who use speech, magnification, or Braille to interact with technology. You need not have iOS devices to attend, but, if you do, bring them all. By the end of the week you will be an independent iOS device user.

In our iOS App Camp, you will learn to:

1. Locate, download, and install apps from the Apple App Store;
2. Use VoiceOver, the iOS screen reader to interact with your apps; and/or
3. Use Zoom, the iOS screen magnifier, and other iOS screen modifications to interact with your apps;
4. Read books from Bookshare, Learning Ally, Audible, and other loan and purchase services;
5. Locate and view or listen to multimedia content including podcasts, Internet radio, and YouTube;
6. Use some of the GPS devices to get around;
7. Use the camera to identify objects, access bar codes, scan text, and identify money,
8. Use your iOS device to play games and listen to music;
9. Get social with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube,
10. Read your mail, send and receive text messages, make phone calls, and browse the Internet.
Arrive Monday, August 13; depart Friday, August 17. For more information and an application contact Dina Rosenbaum at (800) 852-3131, extension 238, or visit the website at <http://carroll.org/>.
Announcing MSB Fun Fest 2012:
Calling all former Mississippi School for the Blind wrestlers, track members, cheerleaders, and performing arts members. Join us for clean and exhilarating fun at MSB Fun Fest 2012, tentatively set for November 9 to 11. We will turn the hands of time back a few years for the Blue and White to get together again for sister and brotherhood, to compete for excellence, and just because. This event will also give us the opportunity to memorialize some of our former MSB family members who have made an impact on our lives and for whom a salute is appropriate.

So pass the word, make a phone call, write a letter, and tell all former MSB students, teachers, houseparents, friends, and family members about MSB Fun Fest 2012. The cost of this event is $75 for adults and $40 for children sixteen years of age or younger for the entire weekend.  However, for the banquet only, the fee is $35 per ticket. Hotel rooms are available at the Cabot Lodge, 2375 N. State Street, Jackson, MS 39202, (601) 948-8650, for $94 plus 11 percent tax. Double and king beds are available. This includes cocktails between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and breakfast between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

Schedule: Friday: MSB fellowship, games, and prizes 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Saturday: MSB Homecoming at 1252 Eastover Drive, Jackson, MS 39211. Transportation will leave from the hotel at 7:45 a.m. and reload at 3:30 p.m.
Banquet: 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Sunday: Breakfast and memorial 7:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

For more information contact Kenneth Maddox at (601) 982-1713 or Robert Skillon at (662) 680-8069. All fees must be paid by August 11, 2012, for an accurate count. Mail your payment to P.O. Box 68284, Jackson, MS 39286 after April 1, 2012. Money orders only: made out to Suzanne Turner, MSB Fun Fest. Keep the copy for your personal files. No checks or cash will be accepted. See you there. Go Tigers!

New Audio Magazine Available:
The Jubilee Club Magazine is a monthly cassette produced by and for blind readers featuring messages from around the world, a travelogue, stories of triumph and tragedy, and a monthly competition. It is free of charge (British residents are asked to contribute two pounds annually); subscribers are asked to provide high-quality ninety-minute tapes to editor Malcolm Mathews, 93 Winchelsea Road, Tottenham, London, N17 6XL, England, and to wrap a rubber band around any cassette that contains a message.

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.

Keyboard Needed:
I would like to purchase an external keyboard for the Romeo Braille Embosser RB20 or RB40. Enabling Technologies is no longer making it, but I still have a working embosser and would love to have one. Anyone interested in parting with one should contact Dr. Mohammed Aziz at (858) 578-5458 or by writing to <aziz1@sbcglobal.net>.

Brailler Needed:
I am looking for a reasonably priced Perkins Brailler. If you have one to give away or sell, please contact Nichole Hughes at (609) 501-7003.

For Sale:
Selling a QX 400 PAC Mate with typewriter keys and a 20-cell Braille display. Six years old. Battery and Braille display new. Will accept best offer. Contact <erival@comcast.net>. Unit could be available for examination and sale at national convention.

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.