Braille Monitor                                                 June 2012

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From the NFB of Minnesota President’s Desk

by Jennifer Dunnam

Jennifer DunnamFrom 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.

 

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