Vol. 55, No. 7 July 2012
Gary Wunder, Editor
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Vol. 55, No. 7 July 2012
Illustration: Highlights of the 2012 Convention of the NFB of Louisiana
Blind Mathematicians? Certainly!
by Alfred P. Maneki
My Experiences as a Blind Chemistry Student
by Cary Supalo
LaTeX: What Is it and Why do We Need it?
by Alfred P. Maneki and Alysha Jeans
Braille Comes Unbound from the Book:
How Technology Can Stop a Literary Crisis
by Saabira Chaudhuri
by Debbie Kent Stein
The Synchronicity of Braille and Technology
by Denise M. Robinson
The 2012 NFB LAW Program: Modeling Best Practices
for Incorporating Technology in Learning
by Emily Gibbs and Natalie Shaheen
My Thank-You Speech
by Yadiel Sotomayor
by Deborah Kendrick
Blindness Reframed on a Global Stage:
Peering into the Hidden World of Chen Guangchang
by Kane Brolin
A Free and Accessible Alternative to the Skype Client
by Curtis Chong
A Vote of Confidence for Isabelle Grant, Blind Teacher
by Anna Kresmer
Lawrence “Muzzy” Marcellino: A Fantastic NFB Mentor
by Pat Munson
Newel Perry and the California Council of the Blind
An Interview Conducted by Willa Baum
by Larry Sebranek
Copyright 2012 by the National Federation of the Blind
Our lead photograph this month is a collage from the most recent convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. Shown here are activities in the childcare suite; students receiving affiliate merit scholarships; a little girl examining a fish stretched across three chairs in the Sensory Safari exhibit; and, in the middle, a scene in a play written and produced by Jerry Whittle, a longtime Federationist and staff member of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Louisiana is blessed to have a strong and vibrant affiliate, excellent leadership coordinated by Affiliate President Pam Allen, and a rank-and-file membership second to none in its enthusiasm to change what it means to be blind.
by Alfred P. Maneki
From the Editor: As we encourage participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, many blind students tell us stories about being discouraged from these fields. They want to know how to do what they’ve often been told can’t be done. For this reason the Braille Monitor is devoting some space to the how-tos of successfully getting the education and becoming employed in some of the most exciting fields the current job market has to offer. Here is what a Federation leader and successful blind mathematician has to say about his training and employment:
If I date the beginning of my career in mathematics to September 1964 when I began my graduate studies at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, I can say that I have been in the math biz for forty-eight years. During those years I have studied mathematics, taught it to college students, and worked as a mathematical scientist in the U.S. government. Since my retirement from the federal government in 2007, I have devoted my time to tutoring and advising blind students, as well as engaging in the development of tools to help blind people perform tactile drawings better. After almost a half century of work in mathematics, I not only have a deeper understanding of myself as a blind person, I have also seen the changes that have taken place in this profession. I believe that I am in a unique position to help others enter and become successful in this magnificent field of study and research.
Two years ago I began my comprehensive math survey for the National Federation of the Blind. The results were quite revealing as I have reported elsewhere in NFB literature. In my initial report I asked for additional responses to my survey, especially from people who have encountered difficulties in their mathematical studies. To get to my survey and to read my initial report, go to <http://www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm11/bm1109/bm110909.htm>.
When the editor of the Braille Monitor asked me to write this article, the thought occurred to me that I was guilty of not complying with my own request of soliciting survey responses. Therefore I am writing this article partly as a response to my own survey. This may raise the eyebrows of professional survey takers, objecting to contaminating my sample data with my own biased opinions. Be that as it may, I trust that what I have to say in this article will be of value to some readers.
I have said elsewhere and should say again that my mathematical background prior to enrolling at the University of Hawaii (UH) for my undergraduate studies was minimal. My secondary school teachers did everything to discourage me from studying mathematics because they thought that blind people could never make it in this field. Needless to say, when I entered UH, I had some serious catching up to do. But, with the help of encouraging faculty and fellow students, I got by, making up for lost time with intensive summer semester courses. Textbooks were read to me by fellow students who saw this as an opportunity for additional study time to improve their understanding of the subject matter. From their reading I took Braille notes for my own review. I patiently dictated my homework assignments to these same students, who took my dictation, including all of my errors, which I asked them not to correct. These arrangements worked fairly well, especially when I received help from students who were not in my classes. My instructors administered course examinations orally, or I dictated my answers to other readers. In my day Braille textbooks in mathematics were nonexistent.
In graduate school I was fortunate to encounter the same support that I had had as an undergraduate, except that now fellow students recorded some of my textbooks. I also started to borrow audio tapes from Recordings for the Blind, today known as Learning Ally. I continued to take notes in Braille. Braille textbooks remained nonexistent. As I proceeded to my doctoral studies, I depended more on student readers to help me with library research and reading journal articles. Fortunately, the vocational rehab agency in Hawaii supported me with funds for paid readers. Rehab funds also paid for having my thesis manuscript professionally typed and prepared.
My experiences in studying math at the undergraduate and graduate levels are very much in keeping with the comments others have made in my survey and elsewhere. I quickly learned about the ambiguities inherent in spoken mathematics. Of course, to the person doing the reading, there are never any ambiguities because the reader is only reciting from written words and symbols. To the reader the rendering of that material into spoken language is always clear. If I was using a live reader, I could always stop the reading to ask for a clarification. I could insist that materials be read in a specific way. I also learned that different readers had different ways of reading similar material. As long as they remained consistent, I could pick up these particularities, and the reading proceeded smoothly.
In the case of recorded materials, the ambiguities became a guessing game. For fractions, where exactly was the break between numerator and denominator? For exponents, what specific quantity did the exponent cover, or, if the exponent was a long expression, where did it end? And, what did one do with exponents of exponents? Functions of more than one variable also presented their own difficulties, especially when the variables were themselves expressions of other variables. One instructive task in listening to recorded material is to be found in developing the ability to consider the possible interpretations of that reading and to eliminate those that make no sense in the context of the parts that make sense. This type of forced listening was excellent training for me, although it was time-consuming and often frustrating.
As I listened to different mathematical materials, it became obvious that I would have to take Braille notes for myself, since most of the calculations and proofs were much too intricate and complex to commit to memory. Initially I faced the overwhelming temptation to write everything verbatim. It soon became obvious that this was too tedious. The trick, as I soon discovered, was to distill the primary elements of a calculation or proof and to copy only those items. This forced me to fill in the gaps as I studied my notes later, again providing additional mental discipline in mastering the subject matter. While studying at UH, I picked up a copy of a one-volume guide to the Nemeth Braille Code. I realized that the Nemeth Code is extremely cumbersome because it must resolve all possible ambiguities. To save time, I invented my own shorthand Nemeth-like notation. I relied on the context of the subject matter to understand the meaning of my Nemeth shorthand. I tossed out all of my notes from those early years in my many moves to different locations. I’m sure that, if I had these notes today, I could not read them for myself; my shortcuts are long forgotten.
As for writing mathematical proofs and performing calculations, there is no substitute for hard copy Braille done on a manual Braillewriter. One then has the ability to perform operations in a non-linear order, i.e., inserting a line of Braille that is based on calculations made in the lower lines. This is exactly what happens in long division, which is still taught today. While no one has to do long division for a livelihood, it is still a skill worth having.
What if a computation or proof is too large for a standard sheet of Braille paper? In my graduate studies, when I was required to do such computations and proofs, I relied on my readers to serve as my pencil. I would have my readers write down the expressions that I needed to use. Then I would ask them to read portions of these expressions back to me in the right order so that I could do the calculations mentally and dictate these to them. Although these large computations are now done by digital devices, it is still useful to do some of this manually, if only to verify that you have given the proper instructions to your computer.
Midway through my graduate studies I found employment as an instructor in the math department at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo. I was most fortunate in coming to the job market when our nation’s colleges and universities were desperately looking for people to staff their math departments. NDSU made me an offer I simply could not refuse. I was given all the teaching help I needed, from reading course textbooks, to preparing lectures on transparencies, to proctoring tests, to grading papers, and a little time to read research materials. The early ‘70s were glorious days for academic mathematicians because state legislatures were much more generous to state-run institutions of higher learning.
As good as life was in North Dakota, I knew that other challenges and greater opportunities awaited me. In August 1974 I packed up my belongings and moved to the environs of Fort Meade, Maryland, where I had accepted a position as a research mathematician with the Department of Defense. In some ways the decision to move was an easy one. The salary was higher, and the work would be very challenging. As it turned out, I spent the rest of my career here, working on mathematical problems in cryptology; data analysis; and, later, network security. The research I did was not of the academic variety that I had previously done. It was primarily concerned with devising efficient methods for testing assumptions about digital data that were given to us. We knew very little about the underlying structures that caused statistical peculiarities in what we were observing. Looking back on my experiences here, my mathematical training was extremely valuable for this work, even though I did not directly apply the mathematical subject matter that I had learned.
A few paragraphs earlier I mentioned the need to resolve ambiguities inherent in spoken recorded mathematics and how I was able to resolve these ambiguities by judicious guessing. I’m now convinced that this mental discipline went a long way to help me in the work I did at Fort Meade. Once I worked out the problem-solving techniques I needed, the rest of my work involved programming my ideas on a mainframe computer. It was much later in my career when we began to use networked personal computers. We had synthetic speech and Braille printers. These facilitated my programming efforts immensely. When I needed to write papers for publication, the offices I worked in always provided the necessary support. Without that support it was well understood that these papers would not be written.
In the mid-90s research in cryptology and network security was coming into vogue in both industry and academia. Because of the possible implications for the federal government, we were encouraged to have greater interactions with these external specialists. Limited research collaboration also became possible. As a result of these activities, I participated in and presented papers at several conferences among government, industry, and academia.
My thirty-three years of federal government service were most gratifying. Not only was I involved in interesting research, but I worked with some of the most respected individuals in this field. Toward the end of my career I had the opportunity to mentor some of the younger mathematicians entering this field of research.
Looking back on my mathematical experiences, I would say that the primary driving force for my continued endeavors was, and still is, a consuming passion for the subject. While I was growing up, with all the discouraging remarks thrown my way about entering the scientific professions, I was forced to consider other alternative courses of study. I thought about pursuing the law or foreign languages or economics or political science. As mightily as I tried, these subjects could never ignite the same spark of enthusiasm as mathematics did for me. I believe now that my greatest doubt resulted from the failure to be seriously challenged by my teachers until I began my university studies. My first advice to anyone contemplating a mathematical career is to be sure that you are consumed by an overwhelming passion for it.
Concerning the formative years of my mathematical training, it was the worst of times and the best of times. It was the worst of times because there were virtually no blind mathematicians anywhere. Braille books in mathematics did not exist; the technology to assist with mathematical computations and the writing of proofs was still far in the future; and employment prospects for blind mathematicians were bleak. But it was the best of times because the overall job picture for the mathematical sciences was excellent; there was less need for early specialization than there is today; and vocational rehab agencies were better able to finance graduate studies for their blind clients. What is so astonishing to me now is that the rehab agency in Hawaii was quite willing to fund my graduate studies in Chicago once I established my academic record at UH. The question of what I would do professionally with my advanced degree in mathematics once I earned it did not appear to be uppermost in the mind of my rehab counselor. I guess that, once I had earned my degree, my case would have been successfully closed, job or no job. Looking back, I have no complaints. I would do it all over again if I had to.
I was fortunate to have entered government service at the time when applicants were not expected to have any background in cryptology. All of us who entered government service at Fort Meade in the mid-70s would receive the necessary training for the tasks that were assigned to us. Today I strongly recommend that those contemplating work in cryptology and network security have strong backgrounds in these subjects during their undergraduate or graduate studies.
Similar advice applies to mathematicians who wish to work in other fields. In the mathematics of finance, for example, one should have a background in subjects such as risk management, contingency analysis, stock market models, or general financial planning.
Many other fields (biology, chemistry, physics, meteorology, computer science, and electrical engineering) now require special mathematical knowledge in their undergraduate curricula. It is no longer enough merely to have a strong background in mathematics to enter these fields. As for teaching and doing research at a university, bear in mind that these positions are extremely competitive because of limited budgets.
Today, in an extremely tight job market, it is critical for blind students to have strong academic backgrounds, excellent grade averages, and related work experience as they enter the professional job market. These must-haves are not as intimidating as they were in my student days. Textbooks in properly formatted Braille, including Nemeth Code and tactile graphics, are somewhat more available today, even though automated print-to-Braille translation is still not in our grasp. Although not quite perfected yet, there are a few somewhat screen-reader-friendly computer programs to assist with complex mathematical calculations. We have tools such as LaTeX to assist us with the preparation of documents. Most exciting of all, we are beginning to see job opportunities for blind undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering.
Blind students of today enjoy the luxury of standing on the shoulders of the blind scientists who preceded them. They will already find blind people gainfully employed in mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. If you are thinking about entering one of these professions, please call upon those who are already there. The best avenue to reach these professionals is through the NFB’s Science and Engineering Division. You can go to the NFB’s website <www.nfb.org> to obtain all of the necessary contact information under Fast Facts.
As I look back on my long career in mathematics, I am pleased by the thought that those who start today will go much further in their forty-eight years than I went in mine. This is as it should be. Of course technology is responsible for some of this. But the most essential ingredient for this future progress is to be found in the vibrant way in which we as blind people have come together as an organized community in the National Federation of the Blind. By working together, we will achieve a level of success for all of us that none of us could achieve by ourselves.
I did not write this article with the intention of misleading you or frightening you. For those of you who take it, the road ahead is difficult. But I hope that those of you with the proper passion and ability will be challenged to take it. You will be well rewarded for your successes. If I can help you in any way, please contact me by phone at (443) 745-9274 or send email to <email@example.com>.
by Cary Supalo
From the Editor: Dr. Cary Supalo is no stranger to longtime Federationists. He has been the recipient of two national scholarships, has been active in all levels of the organization, has a strong commitment to contributing to the field of chemistry, and is equally committed to sharing what he knows with other blind people in the hope that they will find enjoyment studying and contributing to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Cary will begin teaching at Illinois State University in the fall and will continue to develop his business, Independence Science, LLC, to provide accessible scientific equipment that blind people can easily use.
In this article Cary describes some of the techniques he has used in getting his PhD and urges us to rethink what we have too often been taught—that blindness prevents us from being scientists because it requires sight. Here is what Cary has to say:
I am a PhD chemist teaching at a university and starting a business to help blind people who want to enter this dynamic field. I am not the only one to become a blind chemist, but I am one of only a few who have demonstrated that with hard work, persistence, and flexibility it is possible to do so. I would like to acknowledge my longtime mentor, Dr. David Wohlers, a totally blind chemistry professor at Truman State University. He and I first met when I was a sophomore at Purdue University. At that time I had a strong interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but I was not sure where I fit in. David Wohlers presented a seminar on how he conducted chemical research and how he operated as a successful teacher of chemistry. His presentation inspired me and put me on this path of study. It took time for me to realize I could enjoy this field and be successful in it, so I would say to any reader of this article that having a professional mentor in the area you are interested in pursuing is a big asset in STEM pursuits.
Mentors are not always available. However, as Dr. Jernigan taught me in my early days as a member of the National Federation of the Blind, it is always possible to find someone in our organization doing something similar to what you want to do. It is important for blind people to network and get to know those around us so we can learn from them and then advance to the point where we can develop our own tricks to flourish in our chosen trade. It then becomes our job to pass what we know along when someone else comes calling. I'm often saddened when people who do new and unusual things don't come forward to pay back and help others. They are deprived of the blessings that come from giving, and blind people are deprived of role models who can make all the difference.
For me the process of pursuing STEM started back in high school when I took chemistry class. For many reasons this was not a positive experience. One contributing factor was that I was not allowed to touch any lab equipment or manipulate chemicals. Another was that at the time I was very shy and was afraid to do any hands-on work for fear that I might hurt myself. I preferred the passive approach to learning. I was content to let my lab partners do everything and then tell me what they saw. I then took notes and helped with the calculations. This is a common experience for blind students. However, having hands-on science learning experiences can increase interest in STEM-related fields, and it is important for blind students to learn how to operate successfully in the laboratory. As part of this process the odds are that you will have to educate faculty and the classmates in your lab group.
The primary goal of teenagers is simply to complete the lab activity as fast as possible. This should be the goal of blind students as well. It is up to us to devise ways to perform lab tasks independently, successfully, and under the same time constraints as our sighted peers. Good techniques can be devised if ample time is invested in planning before the lab begins. Thoroughly reading lab procedures and having a strong understanding of the theory in advance of lab time is critical to a blind student’s full participation on a lab team. Spending time on planning how to conduct certain aspects of the lab procedure and what lab equipment is necessary will greatly aid in this process. Your lab partners don’t know what you are capable of doing in the laboratory. Successful integration in the lab experience happens when we understand the assistive technology available and when we are confident in the skills we bring to the experience. Having a good understanding of what is involved conceptually in the lab procedure and being familiar with the desired outcomes will be helpful for you and your lab team. Often students skip the homework assignments that prepare for the lab. Such shortcuts can detract from your enjoyment of STEM and may even serve to convince you and others that these fields are not for you.
Taking notes accurately is critical to laboratory participation. I recommend taking all lab notes with a slate and stylus if you use Braille. Using electronic notetakers, although convenient, can be hazardous to the electronic device. Chemicals do not care how much something costs; acids and bases will burn through anything. It is likely that damage to a notetaker as a result of a spill or other accident in the laboratory is not covered under service maintenance agreements, so take precautions to protect these devices. If you insist on using this expensive equipment in the lab, placing it on a board to raise it above the bench and keeping it away from other laboratory equipment will minimize the chances of damage.
Bench top organization is important when working as part of a lab team. It may not be possible to label all the chemicals on the bench top in Braille, so good communication skills within the lab team are important. Discussing how you will communicate and the information you expect from lab partners is critical to minimize the possibility of injury. Further, asking classmates for confirmation of a chemical before you use it is a good idea. It is better to be safe than sorry. Laboratory safety is just as important for us as it is for the sighted. We must abide by the same safety protocols as our fellow students. This includes wearing safety goggles, since chemicals can still burn our eyes and cause damage to prosthetics and tissue.
Knowing what access technology is available to interface with laboratory equipment is important. Although working with a laboratory assistant is often quite beneficial, too much reliance on this person can diminish your sense of independence and make your laboratory work seem remote and your involvement insignificant. Knowing how to use access technology along with nonvisual techniques to make observations in the lab is important. Laboratory sciences involve both qualitative and quantitative observations. Knowing how to use a text-to-speech screen reader on a computer with data-collection software can enhance your ability to participate more fully as part of a lab group. In many cases lab activities are still performed with little or no computer equipment. The use of audible lab equipment can enhance blind student involvement in the laboratory and help to level the playing field as you work with other students. Finding out what is available by going to <www.blindscience.org> and other online resources can be very useful. Online resources are dynamic and, like advances in science, always changing. It is important to keep up to date on what is going on in science access for the blind, and here your mentor may be quite helpful.
If you are a high school student, your teacher of the blind may be a valuable resource. If you are a college student, your professor may also be a big help. If so, take advantage of what they can offer. It may be, however, that your best resource is within you. Learning how to seek out what you need is a must for most successful blind students, and this is especially so for blind students in STEM.
All science teachers are necessarily concerned with safety and liability in their laboratory classes. It is therefore especially important for K-12 students and their legal guardians to insist that the blind student be allowed to participate fully and safely in lab experiments.
The partnership among the blind student, the parent or legal guardian, the teacher of the visually impaired, and the science teacher can be complicated. It is up to the teacher of the visually impaired to figure out how to make the science content accessible. It is not his or her primary responsibility to understand the science. That falls on the science teacher. While it is important for the parent or legal guardian to endorse the blind student's full participation in the science laboratory, the blind student must be an active participant who is willing to learn the skills necessary to be successful in lab, including investing any additional preparation time that may be required.
Following science lectures can be a challenge for blind students. Science teachers should use verbal description to convey what is happening and why. Start by explaining the glassware and the test equipment being used. Explain what other students are observing (perhaps a color change), and then explain what the change in color represents. Where possible, use access technology as part of lecture demonstrations. This will not only serve to communicate important information to your blind student, but will provide two sources of information to your sighted students--visual and audio.
Using PowerPoint presentations is now quite common. It is important for the science teacher to read unambiguously all of the information being presented in the slides. Indicating the numerator and denominator is quite helpful; saying "this over that," is not at all helpful. Speaking proper names of units is key to understanding dimensional analysis, not to mention the two-dimensionality of canceling units.
Using a raised line drawing kit can play a key role in a blind student's understanding visual information. This device can be used by a sighted note-taker in the class to draw the graphical illustrations used. These should be archived by date and figure number. They should then be placed in a notebook for reference when preparing for tests at a later date. Hardcopy Braille books have a significant advantage over electronic textbooks because they can include tactile drawings of visual concepts. Hardcopy Braille in the sciences can be hard to come by, so the Louis Braille book database hosted by the American Printing House for the Blind is helpful in learning what materials are available. Sometimes the complexity of information communicated by a raised-line drawing is difficult for a blind person to absorb. I used Learning Ally audio recorded books in conjunction with raised-line drawings from textbooks. While to some this may seem redundant, having both a tactile drawing and a verbal description was key to my understanding critical concepts.
Tactile graphics in science Braille books should also be provided whenever possible. This is particularly useful when working with phase diagrams, Louis dot structures, organic chemistry structures, and many others.
I used a technique in organic chemistry that may be helpful to those interested in the field. Most of what is taught in organic chemistry is done through visual images, and the challenge for blind students is to figure out creative ways to access this information. A technique that I used was to hire an art major to work with me to draw structures on 11 by 11.5 inch Braille pages. We put lots of space between the atoms and labeled each image with the page and figure number. In Braille I also included the figure title and, whenever appropriate, the caption. The art major and I would then meet, and I would stick each image into my Perkins Braillewriter and label all atoms other than carbon. In organic chemistry carbon is implied unless otherwise specified. The art student took the images and applied hot glue over the lines so that they were detectable by touch. We placed images for each chapter in a three-ring notebook in the order they appeared in the textbook. I complemented these images with an audio recording of the text from Learning Ally.
I also used a two-dimensional drawing felt board in organic chemistry. Using a series of rectangles, I represented chemical bonds. Unlabeled circles were carbon atoms. Print and Braille labeled circles represented other atoms such as sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen; and I devised a wild card shape for elements that were not commonly used. All of these shapes were labeled with velcro on the back so they could be placed where required. The base was made of a piece of felt rubber cemented to a poster board. I also employed pie-shaped wedges that had velcro on either one or both sides to indicate stereochemistry. If the wedge had velcro on both sides, it indicated the atom was below the plane of the page, and, if the pie wedge had velcro on only one side, the atom was above the plane of the page. I used this technique on homework, quizzes, and exams. I had teaching assistants or other paid readers draw my responses on all assessments. This process was very time-consuming, but it was the way I was able to conceptualize organic chemistry.
These are some of the techniques that have served me in achieving my goal of teaching chemistry as a university professor. Chemistry is innately visual; however, this need not impede our study and mastery of it. Although it is intimidating to many, the study of this mentally challenging and spiritually rewarding subject should not be any more intimidating for blind students than it is for the sighted. As I said earlier, this subject demands that we know how to communicate, know what adaptive technology is available to us, and learn to develop the habit of thinking creatively to figure out how to accomplish what others use vision to do. The more techniques we can develop to access visual information, the better off we will be, not just in science classes but in all areas of study.
A major strength of competent blind people is our ability to problem solve. We have been finding creative ways to function nonvisually since we first learned to get around our homes, dealt with the printed word, and learned to organize things at home and at school. These lifelong problem-solving skills are an asset to us in science classes and will serve us well as we move into employment in science, technology, engineering, and math.
The tips documented in this article are a small subset of many that I have used on my path to becoming an employed chemist. I am happy to share other techniques that I have used to access science content. You can also call on members of the Science and Engineering Division to add further to your toolbox of ideas and workarounds to accessing scientific content. Training in the hard sciences can open doors to some of the most lucrative and rewarding jobs America has to offer. Don't settle for less if this is where your dreams take you. What you think of today as a liability may in the end prove to be one of your greatest assets.
by Alfred P. Maneki and Alysha Jeans
From the Editor: Blind students in mathematics, science, and engineering courses encounter serious challenges as they attempt to translate complex equations from print to Braille and from Braille to print. In the following article mathematician Al Maneki and Alysha Jeans, an electrical engineer working in Virginia, draw upon their experiences as blind professionals to describe a solution that has exciting possibilities. This is what they say:
Blind and visually impaired students in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering often encounter difficulties when they need to present mathematical material to sighted instructors and classmates. Fortunately advances in digital technology offer interesting possibilities. Technology may provide new ways for blind students to solve problems and communicate their solutions to the sighted world in written form.
In most classrooms teaching mathematics, the physical sciences, and engineering relies heavily on visual representations. However, comprehension of the subject matter and contributing to the advancement of knowledge in these areas are not restricted to sighted people. Throughout history blind people have made significant contributions to these fields of study. In this article we examine a promising development that can help blind people prepare technical documents. It has the potential to permit blind persons greater entry into the hard sciences.
LaTeX, (pronounced lay-tech) or, alternatively, la (as in lava) and tech (as in technology), was initially invented as a typesetting language for mathematical notation. It is text based and nongraphical in nature. By typing standard text on a keyboard, one can represent all of the mathematical symbols, from the most elementary to the most advanced. LaTeX can even be used to draw diagrams.
A number of common items are difficult or impossible to type on a keyboard but are simple to produce using LaTeX. These include fractions, subscripts, superscripts, matrices, partial derivatives, and integrals. LaTeX gives the user extremely good control over the formatting of documents. Once a student masters the code, it can be much easier to work with than a mainstream word processor when complicated formatting is necessary. LaTeX code is typed into a text file. The LaTeX software, computer, and printer do all the work to produce a polished document containing readable mathematical notation. Although LaTeX was not created with this purpose in mind, it opens up possibilities for blind students and professionals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
The LaTeX language can be learned by anyone, blind or sighted. To submit a math assignment in print, the blind student types LaTeX code into a file and uses the LaTeX software to compile that file into a visually appealing document with standard mathematical notation. LaTeX can convert text-based code into a PDF file for the student to print or email to a teacher or professor.
Recent developments have made LaTeX especially user-friendly for blind people. The MathType software from Design Science, the DBT software from Duxbury Systems, Tiger Software Suite from ViewPlus, and various screen readers have been designed to work together so that blind users can obtain either print or Nemeth Braille from a Microsoft Word file. When MathType is installed, it can interface with Microsoft Word and either DBT or Tiger Software Suite. The blind user types LaTeX code into a Word document (this works with Word 2010 and all other versions of Word of which we are aware). When the document is completed, the user simply hits "Select All" and Alt plus Backslash. The LaTeX code is then automatically converted into mathematical symbols and notations, just as a sighted person would write them. At this point a blind user can print the math document or send it by email. The same document can be embossed in Braille using either DBT or Tiger Software Suite. Screen readers will not properly read the equations in the math document, but they will definitely read the LaTeX code. The user can "Select All" and hit Alt plus Backslash again to convert equations back to LaTeX. If the LaTeX file is written correctly, the blind user can safely assume that the converted math file will also be correct. Both DBT and Tiger Software Suite will either translate the LaTeX file into computer Braille or translate the math file into Nemeth Braille.
One problem with using LaTeX and MathType in this way is that currently there is no way to debug LaTeX code using Microsoft Word. Writing in LaTeX is akin to computer programming; strict rules must be followed about how equations are represented. If the user breaks one of these rules when typing a LaTeX equation, the process of converting the code to readable equations will be derailed. With luck, only the incorrectly written equation will be affected. However, a single error may affect the conversion of the entire document. MathType gives no indication of where or what the error is. The user can avoid such frustrations by creating the entire document in the LaTeX Editor (such as the free open source TeXnicCenter) and using it to compile the document into a PDF file. The LaTeX Editor will point to error locations and indicate what the errors are. This information allows the user to debug the LaTeX document. Using MathType and Word has the advantage of being easier to learn initially, since it requires less knowledge of general LaTeX. However, dealing with errors in the LaTeX code is a serious drawback.
LaTeX allows the blind user to access some mainstream mathematical resources on the web. Some websites have LaTeX tags for their equations. A major example is Wikipedia. Refer to Wikipedia's article on the quadratic equation at <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadratic_equation>. If a blind person reads the formulas on this page with a screen reader, she or he will hear their LaTeX representations.
LaTeX was very helpful to Alysha in school. It allowed her to gain access to homework assignments and lecture notes without having to use a reader or ask for the documents to be converted into Braille. Professors often create materials using LaTeX, so it was simple for them to send their LaTeX files instead of the inaccessible PDF files the rest of the class was using. Sometimes reading LaTeX can be tedious, because it isn't really intended for that purpose. LaTeX is no substitute for Braille. However, knowing LaTeX was beneficial to Alysha, because it gave her immediate access to these documents.
If you are overwhelmed by this discussion of LaTeX, be assured that we are here to help you. Before getting into specific details about this help, we want to point out that compiling a LaTeX document or converting it into Microsoft Word with MathType may not be necessary if the intended reader of the document is also familiar with LaTeX. If a blind student's algebra teacher knows LaTeX, she or he may be willing to read an assignment or test in LaTeX code. At the level of secondary school mathematics, LaTeX is not difficult to read and can generally be comprehended from the context.
According to its mission statement, the NFB's website <www.blindscience.org> has been designed to serve as a "national clearinghouse of resources and expertise related to nonvisual scientific exploration." With the cooperation of this website's managers and the NFB Jernigan Institute, we are preparing some simple instructional materials on the use of LaTeX. In fact the first part of our LaTeX tutorial may already be posted on blindscience.org by the time this article is published. The initial part of the tutorial will include the following:
No first draft of a tutorial is ever written perfectly. We hope that many teachers and students will use this material and send us their questions, comments, and suggestions. If there is sufficient demand, we will develop a more complete LaTeX tutorial that will include more example files and a list of LaTeX mathematical notations, together with their equivalents in Nemeth Braille and spoken math.
In our experience many college instructors, students, and researchers are familiar with LaTeX. Therefore, teaching LaTeX to blind students is highly advantageous for preparing them to enter the mainstream scientific world. As is true with the Nemeth Code for Braille Mathematics, students learn bits and pieces of LaTeX as they need them. For example, during algebra courses they will learn LaTeX only for such notions as powers and roots. In calculus they will learn the LaTeX codes for integrals and derivatives. In this way they achieve mastery of LaTeX as they advance in mathematical and other scientific training. The highly consistent and logical nature of the LaTeX syntax is similar to the structure of other programming languages and therefore provides students an excellent introduction to the general theory of computer programming.
We hope that this article has raised more questions about LaTeX than it has answered. We also hope that it will stimulate discussion in the blind community about the wise use of technology to help blind people learn mathematical subjects. If you have further questions or wish to add to this discussion, contact us by email: Al Maneki, <firstname.lastname@example.org> or Alysha Jeans, <email@example.com>.
by Saabira Chaudhuri
From the Editor: This article is gratefully reprinted from the website guardian.co.uk.com and appeared on Tuesday, February 14, 2012. It does a first-rate job of covering the importance of Braille, the Braille literacy crisis, and the positive role technology may play in enhancing literacy for the blind. Here is what the Guardian has to say:
Apple is at the vanguard of a push behind technology that's helping old-fashioned Braille replace text-to-speech audio for the blind--and it couldn't have come at a more critical time.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Chancey Fleet reads the menu of Bombay Garden to four friends gathered at the back of the Chelsea-based Indian restaurant in New York City. Although she is reading aloud there are no menus on the table. They aren't necessary, because Fleet is blind. Instead, she reads using a Braille display that sits unobtrusively on her lap and connects to her iPhone via Bluetooth, electronically converting the onscreen text into different combinations of pins. She reads by gently but firmly running her fingers over the pins with her left hand while navigating the phone with her right. "The iPhone is the official phone of blindness," she told the Guardian.
Until recently technology, especially that which converts text to audio, has been hastening the demise of Braille, which educators say is a bad thing. Students who can read Braille tend on average to acquire higher literacy rates and fare better professionally later on. But Apple's push into the field--coupled with increasingly affordable Braille displays--has the potential to bring Braille back in a big way.
Fleet's iPhone has a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver that works with all native applications. It tells Fleet what her finger is touching, allowing her to download the restaurant menu and read it, access her email, and do anything else she needs to with the phone, either by converting text into Braille on the separate display or by reading out loud to her.
Fleet also uses her display to type, rather than navigate with her iPhone or computer keyboard. It has a spacebar and with eight thumb-sized keys--one that works as a backspace key, another as an enter key, and the remainder that function as the six dot positions that comprise a Braille character.
When Apple released the first accessible iPhone in 2009, "it took the blind community by storm," said Fleet. "We didn't know, nobody knew, that Apple was planning an accessible device. The device went from being an infuriating brick to a fluid, usable, opportunity-leveling device in one iteration."
Apple has shown that "devices aren't inaccessible because they have to be, but because companies made them with a lack of imagination," said Fleet. "Apple proved that a blind person could use an interface that didn't have physical buttons."
Anne Taylor, director of access technology for the National Federation of the Blind, agrees. "Apple has set the bar very high," she said. "No other mobile OS provider, such as Google or Microsoft, has made Braille available on their mobile platform."
Apple's iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and third generation iPod Touch already support more than thirty Bluetooth wireless Braille displays. And the company's recent push into digital textbooks could greatly reduce the time it takes for Braille textbooks to be available to students, not to mention reduce their cost and size: a single print textbook must be transformed into several volumes of Braille.
"Ebooks can be a game changer if they're properly designed because it would allow us to get access to the same books at the same time at the same price as everyone else," said Christopher Danielsen, spokesman for the NFB. "Publishers and manufacturers have to ensure they are designed to be accessible to work with Braille displays. That's what Apple has done. Apple is not perfect, but they're way way ahead of everybody else in this area."
Apple's accessibility efforts come at a pivotal time. For decades now the number of Braille users has been on the decline. Data from the American Printing House for the Blind's annual registry of legally blind students shows that in 1963 51 percent of legally blind children in public and residential schools used Braille as their primary reading medium. In 2007 this number fell to just 10 percent, while in 2011 it stood at under 9 percent.
While there are many reasons for the decline of Braille, technology that converts text to speech has been identified as a major factor. In a nationwide sample of 1,663 teachers of visually impaired and blind students conducted in the early 1990s, 40 percent chose reliance on technology as a reason behind Braille's decline.
"When we experienced the tech boom in the nineties, I was led to believe speech was the way forward, that Braille was becoming obsolete," said William O'Donnell, a Manhattan-based student who has been blind since birth. But learning or reading using Braille--rather than audio--has distinct advantages, say educators.
"There's this tremendous importance to seeing the way print looks on a page, what punctuation does and looks like in a sentence," said Catherine Mendez, who works as a kindergarten teacher at Public School 69 in the Bronx. "Braille in the context of early literacy is huge. If we can get these devices into the hands of kids early, we can bolster their understanding in a way speech can't do."
There are professional benefits to learning Braille too. A survey conducted by Louisiana Tech University's Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness found that people with sight disabilities who learn to read through Braille have a much higher chance of finding a job, even more than those who read large print. And once you get that job, Braille might help you keep it. "In business meetings it's more unobtrusive to use Braille. If I want to multitask, headphones are rude, but Braille is acceptable," said Fleet. She uses Braille when writing formal letters or papers or preparing notes for a public speech or presentation.
Still, for now Braille displays can only show one line of Braille at a time and can cost between $3,000 and $15,000--depending on the number of characters they display at a time--which is prohibitively expensive for some. "For me it was not practical to continue to use Braille," said Mendez, who does not own a Braille display. How the cost will come down is a problem that scientists are working to solve. Dr. Peichun Yung, a postdoctoral research associate at the electrical and computer engineering department of North Carolina State University, who lost his own eyesight in an accident, has been working on a device that would raise dots by using a hydraulic and latching mechanism made of an electroactive polymer, which is both cheaper and more resilient than the prevailing technology.
"There is a Braille literacy crisis right now," said Yung. "Literacy is the foundation for having a job and living an independent life. For reading every day, you cannot just rely on speech."
For those who own both an iPhone or laptop and a Braille display, having to choose between audio and Braille isn't necessary. Nowadays the two go hand in hand--literally. Many of the technologies that convert text to speech also convert it into a form that can be read on a refreshable Braille display, making Braille far more accessible for those who own both devices.
"Braille has a versatility and a fluidity that it has never had before," said Fleet. While she recalls owning a pocket dictionary in seventh grade that took up "eight huge volumes," now "Braille has come unbound from the book." "Braille is portable, searchable, downloadable. You can convert print to Braille yourself," she said. "You can go to a library or use Bookshare, which is free for students, and, if you harness it, Braille is better than it's ever been."
by Debbie Kent Stein
From the Editor: Debbie Stein is a lifelong Braille reader; a leader in the Illinois affiliate; and the editor of Future Reflections, the NFB’s magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. She and her husband recently visited France. The following article is her description of an important daytrip they made while in Paris.
If you wish to learn more about Louis Braille’s birthplace or the history of the Braille code, enter “Coupvray” in the search box on the www.nfb.org home page to find approximately eighty-six mentions directing you to articles in the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections. One especially notable article from the July 1994 Braille Monitor is “A Visit to Louis Braille’s Birthplace” by Kenneth Jernigan. It is followed by “Facts about Louis Braille’s Birthplace.” In 1994 the NFB made a donation of $26,000 to help Coupvray restore the home and museum. That article is at <http://www.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm94/brlm9407.htm#1>. This is what Debbie says:
In 1819 ten-year-old Louis Braille traveled by stagecoach from the French village of Coupvray to Paris, where he enrolled at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. The twenty-five-mile trip took four hours. It transported Louis from the security of his loving family to the challenges of boarding school in a noisy, congested city.
This past May my husband Dick and I undertook the reverse journey, traveling from the din of Paris to the quiet streets of Coupvray. Our trip involved two changes on the Metro, one train, and finally a bus from the sleepy village of Esbly. With all the speed of twenty-first century travel, the trip still took four hours. The last leg of the journey was the most challenging for us. I took French for only one year in high school, and Dick has never studied the language at all. I could unearth enough words to piece a question together, but the reply generally left me shaking my head and repeating, "Je ne comprends pas."
In Esbly I asked one stranger after another where we could catch the bus to Coupvray. Unfailingly people tried to be helpful. They pointed and explained and pointed some more. Dick could see the gestures, but, without a common language, communication was fractured at best. One thing grew abundantly clear--Coupvray was not a frequent tourist destination.
At last the kindness of strangers led us to a lonely spot at the side of the road, where, we were assured, the Coupvray bus would appear. There was no sign, no bench, and certainly no hint of a bus. And of course it started to rain. I heard a Paris-bound train roar into the station two blocks away. Maybe we should scramble aboard and head back the way we had come. But I dismissed the idea in an instant. I couldn't get this close to Coupvray without visiting Louis Braille's birthplace.
For me Braille has always been a delightful fact of life. I love the patterns of dots beneath my fingertips, the way they reveal words and sentences as my hands glide across the page. Even the smell of Braille volumes--that blend of glue and paper and age--evokes a thrilling sense of possibility. Braille is empowering. In Braille I read my first storybooks, learned my lines for high school plays, took notes in college classes, and launched my career as a writer. I write Braille labels for the spices in my cupboard, the bottles in the medicine cabinet, and the CD's on the shelves in the living room, turning unknown objects into things that are readily recognized.
The year 2009 marked the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the reading code that is a basic part of my life. As people around the world joined in celebration, I pondered the story of the French teen who opened the way to literacy for me and countless other blind people. When Dick and I began planning a trip to Paris, I put Louis Braille's birthplace on our agenda. I didn't know what we would find there, but it was one place I wanted to visit.
Eventually the bus drew up in front of us, just as our Esbly friends had promised. By the time we reached Coupvray, the rain had stopped. We emerged onto a half-deserted street full of sunshine and birdsong. After still more questions to patient strangers, we reached our destination at last, the old house where the inventor was born and spent his early years.
Our guide at La Maison Louis Braille was named Stephan. He was warm, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about the house and its treasures. In his halting English he explained that the main room of the house and the adjoining workshop have been restored to look as they probably appeared during Louis's childhood. None of the original furnishings have survived, but the house has been furnished with authentic pieces from the early nineteenth century to convey the way the Braille family may have lived.
Louis Braille's father was a maker of harnesses, saddles, and other leather goods; and his business anchored the family in Coupvray's modest middle class. By the standards of the day the Braille home was comfortable and well-furnished. A massive fireplace dominated the main room of the house, which served as kitchen, dining room, and master bedroom all in one. Here the four Braille children must have gathered with their parents when the day's work was done, while a roaring fire kept the winter chill at a polite distance. Stephan showed me a row of pitchers and candles on the broad mantel. On the wall hung a metal ring a foot in diameter, used for making great wheels of Brie cheese.
In the workshop Stephan showed us an assortment of leather straps, pouches, and shoe parts, examples of the kinds of goods Louis's father produced. On the workbench lay a series of awls and knives, the formidable tools of the harness-maker's trade. One such tool played a key role in Louis Braille's story. As I remembered the tale, at the age of three Louis picked up an awl and somehow pierced his eye, an accident that led to total blindness. I had wondered how the accident could have occurred; if young Louis was trying to imitate his father, he would have punched down with the awl on a piece of leather, safely pointing the tool away from his face.
"We don't know for certain, but we think the accident happened with a knife like this," Stephan explained. He handed me a knife with a short, curved blade, pointed at the tip. "He probably saw his father use a knife like this to trim leather." Stephan held out a piece of leather the size of a saucer and demonstrated how the knife could be used to shave a thin slice from one edge. "If Louis used the knife like this," he said, sweeping the blade upward, "then you understand how an accident could happen."
I did understand. In that instant an event that took place two hundred years ago sprang into vivid focus. I stood with awe in the room where a small child had a mischance that changed the course of history.
From the workshop Stephan led us to the small museum that is also part of the Louis Braille birthplace. Among the displays are several books in raised print that were used at the Institute for Blind Youth before the Braille code was adopted. The books were very thick and immensely heavy--much bigger than the Braille volumes in use today. I ran my hands over the densely packed lines of tiny raised letters. Laboriously I deciphered the word "mathematique." I found it hard to trace the distinctive shape of each letter and to construct even that single word. Now I understood firsthand why Louis Braille's writing system was such a dramatic improvement.
After I had examined some of the museum's nineteenth-century Braille books, as well as books produced in a variety of other tactile writing codes, Stephan brought out a slate and stylus. "Louis Braille invented this device for writing," he told me, "and he used this very one himself."
Louis Braille's slate was almost identical to the pocket slate I carry in my purse every day, except that it had two lines instead of four. The paper fitted against a thin wooden board, and a light frame allowed the writing guide to be moved along the page. "Would you like to write on it?" Stephan asked.
I clamped a note card into the slate and picked up a wooden stylus. I knew the message I wanted to write. "Merci, Louis." Thank you, Louis.
At the end of our visit Stephan kindly showed us the way back to the bus stop. On the four-block walk I asked him what sort of work people do in today's Coupvray. "Some commute to jobs in Paris," he answered. "And a lot of people work at Disney."
"Yes. The French Disney park is mostly in Coupvray. They run special buses back and forth from Paris all day long." He paused, and added sadly, "All those people come to Coupvray, but they don't stop to learn about Louis Braille."
"I'm glad we came," I said. "Thank you for everything."The bus pulled up, and we clambered aboard, waving good-bye. Tucked into my purse I carried the note I had written on Louis Braille's slate: "Merci, Louis."
by Denise M. Robinson
From the Editor: Dr. Denise Robinson is a gifted and experienced teacher of blind children in Washington State, who teaches virtually around the country thanks to the miracle of modern technology. She is generous with her time and advice to parents and teachers. The following article was inspired by a post she made on an NFB listserv and, at the request of the Monitor, expanded upon for this article. Here is what she says:
Using many methods to encourage students to sharpen their blind literacy skills is vital for them to reach success. One is using the synchronicity of Braille and technology. When I set up elementary classrooms and my resource room with the necessary equipment, I arrange two desks in an L so that the child can read Braille books facing one side and then pivot to the other to type information on the computer. This is a perfect arrangement for the elementary school classroom. By the time students reach middle school and have mastered the foundational blind skills, they can read almost all electronic books except for texts using Nemeth Code, which must be in hardcopy Braille.
When beginning with preschoolers, we focus on one topic at a time--Braille lesson followed by technology--before integrating the two using favorite stories that their parents have been reading to them. If they already love the story, they will want to read it themselves, and the print/Braille books that their parents have been reading will entice them to want to read them as well. The dots will begin to make sense. In the Braille lesson they learn the contracted signs and uncontracted letters and Brailling on paper. While I teach them contractions such as “the,” I ask, “How do you spell ‘the’ on the computer?” and they answer, “t-h-e.” Conversely, when they are typing a word on the computer, I ask, “What is the contraction for `the’?” and they tell me, “dots 2, 3, 4, and 6,” and so on. If the student is fortunate enough to have a Braille display connected to the computer, this lesson is reinforced by feeling the display. If no display is available, we refer to the hardcopy Braille that we did during the Braille lesson so that the synchronicity of Braille and technology is continuously under our fingers and in our minds.
It is important for children to write Braille using hardcopy paper so they can observe formatting and can practice fluency in Braille reading. To demonstrate the concepts of bold, italics, and underlining in print, I help students write a print letter using Draftsman, a tactile drafting board from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). By going over the letter several times, I can mimic bold. Drawing the letter at a slant shows italics, and, when I draw a line under the letter, the student can grasp underlining. Since Braille represents bold, italics, and underlining with dots four and six, Braille readers need to understand how text looks in print on the computer screen so that they will be able to relate to the experience of their sighted peers. Blind children need to understand both the blind and sighted worlds. If they do, they will have an advantage over other blind students who do not, and they will achieve higher levels in school as well as get great jobs later on.
When working with elementary students, I teach Braille contractions using the books they are reading in class. I use the techniques described above, but now a Braille display is hooked to the computer, and the child moves between typing on the keyboard and feeling the display or Brailling using the Braille display (especially for math) on one hand and on the other hand listening to the screen-reading software. But I use only the material the classroom teacher is using. I do not use outside instructional materials unless the child is cognitively impaired and needs supplementary materials in order to learn. The advantage of teaching from regular class work is that the child is working on actual assignments. I no longer hear complaints about Braille instruction being additional work. My students can talk with their peers about the stories, which draws them into the social life of the class. When my students return to class, they can join class activities because they are working from the same materials. If the teacher of the blind is absent, the blind child can manage in the classroom for a day or two because he or she is already familiar with the class material from instruction in the resource room.
In my resource room the students have an electronic notetaker such as a BrailleNote or a computer Braille display in front of them along with the computer keyboard with a screen reader on one side of the L and Braille work on the other side of the L. Since this is exactly the way things are set up in the classroom, everything is familiar. The child brings the reading book from class and reads a line of Braille from the book, then Brailles it on the notetaker cabled to the computer or types on the computer keyboard, and the text then appears on the computer screen. We go over the contractions, and the student Brailles the sentence several more times on the notetaker. Then he or she moves to the computer keyboard to touch type the sentence. Students easily understand the interaction between Braille and touch typing. This is how you create a great speller. Back in the classroom, when the child takes a spelling test, he or she has an earphone in one ear to check what is being written on the computer and is listening to the teacher with the other ear. The Braille display reinforces what is being heard. When the test is finished, the student emails it to the teacher.
Students who have equipment and materials organized in the same way in both the classroom and resource room find it easy to stay organized. Each side of the L-shaped desk has slots or drawers for storing tools. Organization is key to blind students so they can find their tools when they need them. Children who are organized and ready can follow classmates and do what everyone else is doing. Since the students have and know about many tools, they can choose the best one for any task. They learn the joy of reading using Braille and the satisfaction of finishing computer work as rapidly as or more rapidly than their sighted peers. Using key commands is far faster than trying to locate a mouse visually, even for sighted people. Many of my older students are far faster on the computer than sighted kids. When the sighted students get stuck, they turn to my students, who can get them out of trouble by suggesting a keystroke. Sighted students recognize this and are very impressed with their blind peers’ speed and agility using technology, even while they watch them read those beautiful dots with their fingers.
A BrailleNote or similar piece of assistive technology is small and light enough to take anywhere, often in conjunction with a light laptop. As convenient as Braille notetakers are, they often do not allow production of complicated formats--hence the need for a laptop and its higher quality word processor. Many of my older students have their notetakers on their laps taking notes, while they simultaneously complete work on their laptops on the desk. These tools allow them to carry home classwork they must complete. They can then email their work directly from the notetaker, or, if the formatting is complex and they must include pictures, they can send the information to the laptop, use Word and other traditional tools for document creation and proofing, and then turn in the completed document from the laptop.
Today’s iPad, iPod, and iPhone are even smaller than the notetaker or laptop. Some children take advantage of the small Refreshabraille display from APH, use the built-in screen reader on Apple devices known as VoiceOver, and complete their work with the smallest tools now available. More sophisticated writing and Brailling can be done with these devices using iA Writer or Pages, two more sophisticated word-processing apps. I have a student who uses an iPod with the built-in app called Notes and a Refreshabraille that she can stick in her pocket. She can take it home, complete her homework, and then email it that evening--fast and easy--once again demonstrating the synchronicity of Braille and technology.
Every parent and teacher needs to figure out what works best for their child. If your child is just a regular kid who happens to be blind, teaching using the above method just may help him or her reach full potential faster than you would believe.
Side note: Many excellent instructional Braille materials are available, such as Building on Patterns and Mangold. If you are just starting out as a teacher and do not know how to teach Braille, by all means use these materials. I did when I started out over twenty years ago because no one in college taught me how to teach Braille—typically it is a learn-as-you-go thing for teachers of the blind. I very quickly discovered that the blind students using these materials always lagged behind their sighted peers. When I or the other teachers of the blind were out sick, our blind students would be kept in the classroom, had no idea about the stories their peers were reading, and could not join the social aspect of discussing information. The blind students understandably felt left out. They reasonably asked why they couldn’t read the same stories. They felt that they got different and more work because of learning Braille.
That’s why I changed my practice and started using the same materials the class was using and integrating blind skills into my lessons so that my students always felt that they were part of their classes. They were also able to keep up with their peers, depending on what grade they began acquiring blind skills. If they began Braille later in elementary school, it could take up to a year and a half for them to get to grade level. But that is far better than the four to five years it takes to go through the other Braille instructional programs. There are many options; find the one that works best for your child.
by Emily Gibbs and Natalie Shaheen
From the Editor: Natalie Shaheen, director of education, and Emily Gibbs, education program specialist at the Jernigan Institute, teamed up to conduct and write about the 2012 LAW (Leadership and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.) Program. This innovative endeavor serves students ages twelve to sixteen or who are in grades six to nine. Young people from throughout the country learn about the National Federation of the Blind and its role in enhancing opportunities for the blind by helping to shape the laws of our land. Program participants, each accompanied by a parent or teacher, travel to the National Center for the Blind and the nation’s capital to learn about blindness and to visit members of Congress and others who exercise the levers of power. Here is what Emily and Natalie have to say about this year’s innovative four-day experience:
In the twenty-first century, technology is everywhere, including the classroom. Educators all over the world harness the power of technology as a learning tool. Kindergarteners in large metropolitan schools who are learning about farms (something they’ve likely never experienced firsthand) communicate with real live farmers in the Midwest through technologies like Skype, VoiceThread, blogs, and social media. When teachers can’t take the students to a farm, using technology as a tool for providing authentic learning experiences is a perfect solution.
Unfortunately—as far too many blind students can attest—much of the technology used in the classroom is not accessible. It’s illegal to use inaccessible technology in schools, but clearly most educators are not familiar with the regulations that mandate accessible technology. We must continue to educate the general public about the vital importance of accessibility.
The educators at the NFB Jernigan Institute appreciate the power of technology as a learning tool as much as do other educators. The difference is that at the NFBJI we do not use a technology unless it is accessible because we know it is easy to do anything a teacher wants to do with technology in the classroom and make it totally accessible. This year’s NFB LAW Program curriculum incorporated a great deal of technology, which allowed students to work independently and at a pace that was best for them. With technology at their fingertips learning was more self-directed and could happen almost anywhere or anytime. Not surprisingly, students were so excited about what they were learning that they actually spent some of their free time learning through using technology. We hope that, by sharing the way we incorporated fully accessible technology in the curriculum of the NFB LAW Program, we can encourage other educators to make their classrooms fully accessible.
The LAW Program was a one-to-one program, meaning that every child had access to a mobile device to use as a vehicle for learning while they were in Baltimore. iPads and iPod touches were available to the students. The devices were preloaded with accessible apps that the students might find useful during the program.
The first lesson dealt with the NFB Oral History Project. After listening to segments of interviews with famous Federationists, the students were divided into groups of two. They used iPods to record the oral history interviews they conducted with each other. The students’ interviews are now part of the NFB Oral History Project; these young people have officially contributed to the history of the organization.
Sunday the students spent all day learning about the history of the blindness civil rights movement and the legislative process, information they would need to be successful during the rest of the program. The day started with students poring over primary sources from the NFB archives to discover the Federation’s constitution at work. They read the minutes of the founding meeting in Wilkes-Barre in 1940, examined antique Braille writers, and listened to “A Left Handed Dissertation,” a speech by Dr. Jernigan. All of the primary sources were available for the students to examine in the classroom, and staff of the Jacobus tenBroek Library were on hand to provide any additional information students wanted as they studied the plethora of artifacts. As in previous years, to facilitate students’ independent exploration of the archival material, hardcopy Braille and large-print copies of the texts of all primary sources were provided. This year we were also able to offer the content as an iBook, which the students could read on their iOS devices, giving the students one more way to access the curriculum in an accessible format. We capitalized on the hybrid-content-delivery model of providing hard copy and electronic materials simultaneously in a lesson later in the day when students learned about the work of the Federation in getting blind people jobs.
To kick off the “We Want to Work” lesson, students examined primary sources about the Randolph-Sheppard Act, Civil Service employment for the blind, and the NFB’s efforts to improve working conditions for blind workers in sheltered shops. A firm understanding of the NFB’s extensive work in improving employment for the blind in-hand, the students took part in several activities in which they learned about the fair wages issue. The young people participated in a simulation of a sheltered workshop in which they were required to bundle popsicle sticks. They were split into two groups, “disabled” and “nondisabled.” The disabled students were paid based on a piece rate, and their nondisabled peers were paid minimum wage—two M&Ms a minute. Students were appalled at the inequality in payment methods in this activity.
By the end the students were fired up to help ensure that all people with disabilities earn at least minimum wage. Tuesday students had an opportunity to contribute to the effort by meeting with their members of Congress and talking about fair wages. But first they needed to have a firm understanding of both sides of the issue, which they acquired by examining webpages (totally accessible) created by the governmental affairs team that presented the pro and con sides of the fair wages issue. At the end of this fast-paced two-hour lesson, students had all the information they needed to go to the Hill.
Our building contains a great deal of history important in understanding our movement. One lesson Sunday morning capitalized on the knowledge of our property possessed by Mr. John Cheadle, executive director of program facilities at the NFB Jernigan Institute. Before the program Mr. Cheadle recorded nine audio clips that included stories and facts about various parts of the building: dining room, fourth floor conference room, Harbor area, Harbor Room, lunch room, auditorium, Members Hall, the atrium, and the tenBroek Library. This audio was used to facilitate a student-directed building tour. Students moved from one location to the next in whatever order suited them. At each location they used an accessible app on their iOS devices to scan a posted tactile QR code, which was also labeled in Braille. A quick response (QR) code is a barcode in which a lot of information can be imbedded. Once scanned, the QR code played the audio clip for that part of the building. In addition to the self-guided QR code tour, students had the opportunity to talk to the real live Mr. Cheadle about the building and the blind drivable car.
These nine audio QR codes were not the only ones used in this program. Actually over seventy QR codes were posted all over the Harbor area. Instead of linking to an audio file, these codes contained embedded text. When a student scanned any QR code, facts about the NFB Jernigan Institute, the nation’s capital, and Federation leaders appeared. For instance, did you know that eight different cities have been the United States capital? Or that the NFB Jernigan Institute’s atrium has 1,486 Italian porcelain tiles lining the walls and floor? The Law Program students did! These facts were the answers to trivia questions that were asked on the bus trips to and from Washington, D.C., during the program.
The program took place April thirteen to eighteen. This year we had twenty-three students from fifteen states. Students came to the program with a chaperone, most often a parent. Six blind adult mentors—David Bouchard, Dezman Jackson, Ryan Strunk, Briley Pollard, Brook Sexton, and Karen Anderson--acted as role models for students and augmented instruction in the classroom. Parent mentors Jim Byer and Carlton Anne Cook Walker facilitated a workshop for the parents and other chaperones about how to ensure their blind children’s success.
In addition to the lessons that took place at the NFBJI, students spent a good deal of time in Washington, D.C. On Saturday the students and chaperones spent the day touring the monuments on the Mall and the other nearby attractions. They spent Monday morning at the U.S. Capitol, touring the House floor, an opportunity afforded very few people. The group spent Monday afternoon at a Federal Court House in Alexandria, Virginia. Students observed Mazen Basrawi, a blind lawyer who is currently counsel to the assistant attorney general (Civil Rights Division), conduct a live plea hearing. Afterwards Mazen spoke with the students about his job and how he does it as a blind person.
Tuesday was the most exciting day of all. Each student had a meeting with his or her member of Congress or staffer. The students spoke with their members about fair wages. They gained great confidence and advocacy skills through leading these meetings. How many middle school students go to the Hill and run a meeting with a member of Congress about a piece of legislation? Our students did, and they did it well.
The lessons in the NFB LAW Program curriculum are easy to replicate and make good standalone activities for youth programs. If you are facilitating a youth program for your affiliate (or if you think of some other way you could use these resources) and would be interested in using the lessons, please contact Emily Gibbs, <firstname.lastname@example.org>or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2407. We will be happy to pass along lesson plans and the materials needed to make the lessons a success.
by Yadiel Sotomayor
From the Editor: Frequently the onset of blindness leads to depression; sometimes it is so extreme that people actively consider taking their lives. In the following story Yadiel (pronounced Jadiel) Sotomayor briefly recounts his personal struggle and describes the way people in his affiliate offered him a way out of his hopelessness and a reason to believe he could live and thrive. Here is what he says:
In one of my classes the professor asked us to write a thank-you speech. She told us to forget about the grammar and just focus on writing. We had only fifteen minutes to do it. While trying to think about someone I wanted to thank, a very bad memory popped into my mind: the time I tried to escape from life. So I decided to write about the organization that helped me remember that life is worth living, the NFB. Here is what I wrote:
Many people deserve to be thanked. However, this thank-you speech is not aimed at one person, or two, or three; it is aimed at an organization that has helped me in more ways than I can mention. I speak of the National Federation of the Blind.
What does it take to make a person try to take his or her own life? Is it cowardice or bravery? Is it a cry for help or a last desperate attempt to try to fix something? I cannot answer that. What I can say is that it must be something bad.
During the summer of 2008 I was standing in the kitchen of my house with a knife in one hand, ready to cut my veins. What stopped me? To this day I do not know, but I do know that I was desperate. I did not know what was going on. I was losing my eyesight fast. I always knew it was going to happen. However, I thought it was five to ten years away. I was tripping and falling a lot because I could not see the floor. I could not lose myself in the lands of books and video games anymore. I had nowhere to go. I needed answers. Alternatively, I needed somewhere to escape.
A month after I stood in the kitchen with the knife, I discovered the National Federation of the Blind. At first I thought I did not belong. I thought that I was in the wrong place. However, I was mistaken. After the meeting began I introduced myself. In front of everyone the president of the NFB of Puerto Rico asked me, "Are you blind?"
I answered, "Yes."
He said, "Then you have come to the right place."
The NFB taught me the basics of cane travel so I would not fall when I walked. They taught me how to read Braille so I could get lost in the magical lands of Hogwarts, Narnia, and Middle-Earth once again. They taught me that there is nothing wrong about being blind.
In the summer of 2010, just shy of two years after joining the organization, I won a national scholarship. I went to Dallas, Texas, where I saw thousands and thousands of blind men and women living normal lives. I met and saw teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, and all sorts of blind people working in different professions, living the way I wanted to live, a normal life.
I am at present working on a second bachelor's degree. My future goals are mixed. Originally I thought I wanted to become a translator, but lately I have started to take a liking to teaching. I am currently trying to get a degree in teaching English as a second language. I am the president of our affiliate's assistive technology committee, and one of the things I enjoy is helping other blind people learn their way around a computer.
Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people have transformed me from that frightened child with a knife in his hand almost four years ago into the man I am now. Doctor Kenneth Jernigan with his teachings about what it means to be blind; Doctor Marc Maurer with his desire to improve the quality of life for blind people; Alpidio Rolón, the president of the Puerto Rico affiliate, with his guidance; Lydia Usero, the first vice president of the Puerto Rico affiliate with her kind words and encouragement; Shalmarie Arroyo with her friendship; and the list keeps growing. Instead of thanking each one of them individually, I thank the organization that brought all of them together. Thank you, National Federation of the Blind, for taking that knife out of my hand and giving me a white cane, which I will use to march with my blind brothers and sisters and spread the true meaning of what it means to be blind.
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
Seize the Future
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:
NFB programs are dynamic:
by Deborah Kendrick
From the Editor: The following column first appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday, June 5, 2011. It is reprinted from the summer 2011 issue of Que Pasa, the publication of the NFB of New Mexico. Deborah Kendrick is a Cincinnati writer and advocate for people with disabilities. You can reach her at <email@example.com>.
When meeting someone with a disability, some cross the line. There's a certain kind of assault unique to people with visible disabilities. It's an assault on privacy, an overstepping of boundaries, an occasional aberration that can ruin your whole day. "Sooo, what happened to you?" is the bluntest, most raw form of the invasion. And it usually catches you off guard. Imagine yourself daydreaming at the swimming pool or riding the bus home from work, and suddenly a stranger is in your face with such a question.
The sniper-like surprises can occur anywhere. Sometimes they're more specifically directed. In an elevator or a doctor's waiting room, a stranger might suddenly ask me, "Is your husband blind too, or what?"
Or maybe I'm at an awards luncheon, and after such getting-to-know-you topics as the salad dressing and the hot rolls have been exhausted, the guy beside me might casually inquire, "How'd you lose your sight?" It doesn't happen often, but most people with a disability that can be seen know the experience. Gripped by curiosity, complete strangers or acquaintances abruptly demand personal information in a way they would ordinarily consider unthinkable. How did disability strike? Was it accident or disease? And how do you function in such a state?
I'm not talking about the constructive curiosity that helps us communicate better with someone who has a disability. It's OK to ask how one gets the wheelchair into the car, how a guide dog knows to find the door, or if a deaf person is able to read your lips. What's not OK is to fire intimate questions of personal history at someone you barely know.
Think about it. Would you ask a black person what it feels like to be black? A white person if her spouse is white? Or a fat person how long he's been that way? One Vietnam veteran who uses a wheelchair told me that people will actually ask him if his children are biologically his own. What is it, I'd like to know, about that wheelchair that gives people the idea they have permission to interrogate a man about his sex life?
For me one of the most offensive inquiries is when I'm asked if my husband is blind too. What is the translation here? First, that I must have a husband because I couldn't possibly take care of myself? And next, if my husband has normal vision, the interloper can feel relieved that there must be, after all, someone behind the scenes to take care of me? Or, if my husband is blind or has some other disability, that we are appropriately keeping to our own kind? Marrying within the ranks?
Does this sound angry? Well maybe just exasperated, but here's the reality: People with disabilities can sometimes be angry. They can also feel humiliation, amusement, rage, and pain, just as their nondisabled peers do. People with disabilities come in all racial, sexual, and economic packages, and they have good days and bad ones. For most of us, though, a time arrives when the disability itself takes a decided back seat to life. The nuts and bolts of living take priority over specific limitations.
Don't get me wrong: It's not that we forget that we can't see or run or speak quite the same as others. You never forget entirely—because disability, like any personal trait, is a factor that, when you have it, becomes integrated into your total personality. But once the adaptations have been learned and the abilities discovered, disability generally loses its center-stage status.
People with disabilities, just like people without them, spend emotion and energy in three basic areas: our work, our play, and our relationships with others. Remember that the next time you meet someone with a disability--and, if the urge still washes over you to ask how they "got that way," ask yourself instead how you got to be so rude and find a more sociable approach to conversation.
by Kane Brolin
From the Editor: Kane Brolin is a self-employed Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner who lives and works in Mishawaka, Indiana, with his wife Danika and their two foster children. He is an at-large member of the NFB of Indiana. He hopes to organize an NFB chapter in South Bend. In 2008 he was part of a team that received a Dr. Jacob Bolotin award for developing, testing, and marketing AdapTap, a tactile lane-navigation system for blind competitive swimmers. The project was sponsored and partly underwritten by the University of Notre Dame. In addition to the CFP designation, Kane holds a master’s degree in management from the JL Kellogg School at Northwestern University.
This past spring reporters and consumers of international news sat poised on the edge of their seats wondering what would come next in the saga of Chen Guangcheng, a human rights activist and self-taught legal expert who risked his life fleeing confinement in the People’s Republic of China and who eventually won asylum in the United States. Those who covered Chen’s case often took note generally that he was blind. But they mentioned nothing about the living conditions of blind people in China, nor did they ever make any reference to whether this man interacted with or helped other Chinese blind individuals. These omissions aroused my curiosity so much that I decided to make some inquiries. What I found out—and what seems never to have been mentioned in the press—is that the highly celebrated flight he took to the United States on May 19, 2012, was not Chen Guangcheng’s first trip to this country. I’ve also discovered that, long before Chen’s case evolved into a short-term diplomatic crisis, he had already expressed interest in the organized blind movement and had made contact with the National Federation of the Blind. This article is my modest attempt to lend another perspective on the saga of Chen Guangcheng, which might still be much closer to the beginning than the end.
First I would like to give you some background on my own experience to illustrate why this Chinese dissident’s story resonated with me so strongly. I’ve always believed that many of the most important lessons learned through a college or university experience happen outside the classroom. At least this has been true for me. Raised in a mid-sized Midwestern city with well-educated, positive-minded parents and lots of access to Braille and recorded materials, I never thought myself sheltered, even though I had been totally blind all my life due to retinopathy of prematurity. But after entering Iowa State University, I gradually stretched my wings, broadened my horizons, and came to the realization that I had still seen almost nothing of the real world. Maybe it is this realization that led me to live in an international dorm in 1987, the last year of my undergraduate career, so I could meet and interact with men and women from far-away places who could tell and show me things I’d not yet experienced.
What I didn’t realize is that, in choosing to move to those surroundings, I was also opening new vistas for the foreign students who lived around me. The more I talked with my Chinese roommate Ming and his friends, the more I realized they were as curious about me as I was about them. I soon learned this was because, even though they were from free areas of Greater China such as Hong Kong and Singapore, they had never seen a blind person doing anything out in the larger world: walking with a cane, reading independently using Braille, taking classes and tests, working a part-time job, trying to get a full-time job, and presuming I would land one. Sometimes I asked these folks, “What do blind people do in your country? How do they live? How can they learn to read in a totally different linguistic system?”
I could feel the wide-eyed stares they gave me in response. “We don’t know!” they would exclaim wonderingly. “We’ve never seen a blind person before. We must have some, but … you never see them.”
When mainstream news outlets started to give airtime and space to a Chinese dissident activist named Chen Guangcheng and his opposition to governmental policy in the People’s Republic of China, I at first barely gave it a thought. While a scant amount of background material about him was present online, most of this seemed to focus on his passion to fight against the violent enforcement of China’s one-child-per-family population control policy. The New York Times did report on February 17, 2012, that “Mr. Chen is confined to his home twenty-four hours a day by security agents and hired peasant men armed with sticks, bricks, and walkie-talkies. Visitors who try to see him are physically repulsed and sometimes beaten. Blinding floodlights illuminate his stone farmhouse at night.” Chilling as this was, I could not relate strongly to this image of house arrest or to this man’s predicament and was unaware of his back story. More or less I dismissed Chen’s condition as just the unfortunate product of a struggle specific to Chinese internal policy. But then, as reports began to surface of his daring escape into sanctuary at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, it came to my attention that Chen Guangcheng was blind. I anticipated some official commentary from the organized blind movement, but I heard none. I wondered what I was missing. I assumed that others already knew facts I did not, since the community where I live and work does not as yet contain a chapter of the NFB. As I thought back to my experience in that international dorm, some questions about who Chen Guangcheng is and how he achieved what he did gnawed at my mind:
Finding direct answers to these questions in the press remains next to impossible as I write this. But I did manage to find some clues. Wikipedia reports in its entry on Chen that he was born in 1971 and that he comes from Yinan County, part of Shandong Province. This county’s population, estimated at 896,467, counts for less than one tenth of one percent of China’s overall population as reported in 2010 by The World Bank. To be sure, the fact that Chen Guangcheng has risen to world prominence as a blind man out of such a seemingly insignificant rural environment is remarkable. But the media’s frequent characterization of Chen as a lawyer is incorrect at this time. Wikipedia cites his formal education, in fact, as having been attained at Nanjing University Medical School. In an article published in ForeignPolicy.com on May 2, 2012, Isaac Fish Stone points out that Chen received training in massage and acupuncture, not unusual skills for blind people to learn in China.
Since 2005 most of Chen Guangcheng’s international attention has centered on his efforts to stop forced abortions and sterilizations that he alleged were being carried out in certain localities of China in a brutal enforcement of his country’s one-child-per-family policy. But in that same ForeignPolicy.com article, Mr. Fish points out something not emphasized elsewhere: “His first legal success came when he petitioned for and received a tax refund that his parents shouldn’t have had to pay because of his disability.” Does this point to an openness Chen might have toward advocating for the rights of the blind or for those who have other challenging physical characteristics?
While making some online inquiries about this activist to a blindness-oriented mailing list in early May 2012, I unearthed an unexpected answer. I was told that the sitting president of the Inland Empire Chapter of the NFB, serving the eastern half of Washington State, had some inside information about Chen Guangcheng. And there was more: she had hosted him in her Spokane, Washington, home earlier in this decade on a mysterious visit Chen made to the United States—a visit that has never received any official publicity that I could ever find. I was hooked.
When I connected over the phone with Maria Bradford on May 7 of this year, I had no idea what to expect. I found that she was a down-to-earth, unassuming lady who seemed well informed about the world but who had never thought to advertise that Chinese dissident activist Chen Guangcheng had come to her home sometime around 2005 or 2006. He was not alone but was accompanied by a number of handlers who helped to translate the conversation she had with him (and, presumably, who controlled the length and depth of that conversation). Maria reports that she did not know who the others who accompanied Chen were, except for an Eastern Washington University professor named Dr. Lee, whom she hasn’t been able to locate since.
“They stayed in my home for about forty minutes,” Maria says. “Chen told me he was on a short tour of the West Coast of the United States, that he and his friends were staying in the Pacific Northwest for about a week, and that they would be going to San Francisco for a week.” He wanted to know something about the organized blind movement, he said. According to Maria, Chen asked to see a sample of English Braille, which she made for him using a slate and stylus. Chen showed off a slate and stylus of his own, producing a bit of Braille for her and handing it to her to keep. “I don’t know what this Braille represented,” she said. “It certainly didn’t resemble English Braille, but it was definitely Braille.”
After their brief encounter, Maria says, her visitors disappeared as quietly as they had come. Chen had left an e-mail address, but since then Maria says she has been unable to get a response to any messages sent to it. What was Chen Guangcheng doing in the United States? Under whose sponsorship had he come? How had he been granted permission to come? Of all the places he could have come, why Spokane and not Seattle or Portland? None of the answers has yet been revealed to her.
So what impression of his character did Chen leave with Maria? “Well,” she said after a slight pause, “I could tell that his struggle—whatever it was—had already gone far beyond what any of us here in the blind community of this country have ever known. I knew somehow that this was a man who had stared death in the face and whose life had forever been defined by this.” Did she feel he would welcome being part of the organized blind in the West in the event he emigrates here? “I don’t know,” Maria said. “I would like to think so. But I also think it’s likely that Chen knows he may still be a marked man. I would not be at all surprised if he makes a very quiet entrance, gets his feet on the ground in the Chinese-American community, and shies away from involvement in anything else—for a while.”
Since my conversation with Maria Bradford, more news has trickled in. The Brian Lehrer Show On WNYC Radio reported on May 22 that Chen Guangcheng arrived at New York University (NYU), where he is beginning the formal study of law. Yet how long he will stay in the United States, what he will do here, and how he will position himself among other blind people still constitute an unsolved mystery. But perhaps even before the mystery is solved, we in the National Federation of the Blind can take into our own hearts a little bit of Chen Guangcheng’s courage under fire. What we do know is that this man, on pain of death, has refused to be confined—either by the stereotypes of his own culture or by the guards who threatened and surrounded his family home in Shandong Province and the hospital bed where he was later treated in Beijing. Irrespective of whether he ever self-identifies as an NFB member or even comes to a convention, we can say beyond a doubt that he has painted a stirring picture for the world and changed what it means to be blind in the eyes of many who, like my old roommate Ming and his friends, might not ever have met a blind person or cracked open an issue of the Braille Monitor.
Welcome to you and your family, Chen Guangcheng. May your stay in America be productive, happy, and safe. May it serve as a heartening example to us all.
by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: Many of us who have used the Internet have heard of Skype, and some may have been enthusiastically invited by their friends to join them in using it. The program is a way to talk with friends and associates free of charge, and its high-quality audio often rivals even the clearest telephone connections. Some of us have avoided plunging into Skype because it has required one to be a proficient user of a screen-reading program and even then has often required modifications to work efficiently. Curtis Chong, the president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, writes to say that an offering from GW Micro has changed the world for blind Skype users. Here are his enthusiastic comments:
In 2003 the Skype™ client was released, and since then people around the world have used this software for high-quality voice conversations between people using Skype on computers, reliable file transfers between computers, video conversations, and even telephone conversations between Skype computer users and people using conventional telephones. Over the years a lot of blind people have also used Skype, but unlike our sighted peers we have had to wrestle with the Windows Skype client to get it to do what we wanted because the Skype client has never worked very well with our screen-access technology. Also, as new releases of the Skype client have emerged, the user interface has changed so much that some people have been compelled to develop specialized scripts to improve their ability to use the program.
In 2011 GW Micro, makers of the Window-Eyes screen-access program, decided to create a simple, elegant, fully accessible interface to Skype. This was made possible because of the developer kit released by Skype. Now we have GWConnect, a program that is fully accessible to computer users running nonvisual screen-access programs. Even better, GWConnect will remain accessible, regardless of what Skype decides to do with its Skype client software; simply put, you don't need Skype software to use GWConnect. All you need is a good screen-access program such as Window-Eyes or JAWS for Windows.
What can you do with GWConnect? You can use the GWConnect program to talk with other Skype users and to make telephone calls (for a fee) in the fifty states. While engaged in a phone call, you can enter numbers with the computer's number row keys to respond to voice prompts (as in automated banking systems). In my experience GWConnect is also a great tool for reading newspapers on NFB-NEWSLINE®. For a very small fee you can use GWConnect to send text messages to mobile phone users who are able to accept them. You can also engage in text chats with other Skype users. With GWConnect you can search the Skype system for other Skype users and add them to your contact list. Everything is fully accessible as long as you are running a screen-access program. You cannot currently use GWConnect to participate in a Skype video conversation.
How much does it cost? The GWConnect program is provided as a free download to anyone who wants to use it. If you are running GW Micro's Window-Eyes screen-access program while using GWConnect, you will not receive pop-up advertisements. If you are running another screen-access program, occasional advertisements will be announced. If you don't want to hear any advertisements, you can pay $49.99 per year for a GWConnect authorization key.
Why GWConnect? As I said earlier, GWConnect works extremely well with a variety of screen-access programs for the blind. Even when updates are released, the program continues to work, and the user interface does not change. On the other hand, with the Skype client for Windows, I was extremely wary of any new updates because my past experience with the program had demonstrated that new updates would often make it less usable with my screen-access program.
I am fairly certain that my personal experience with Skype is not unique. I am also fairly certain that, once a lot of blind people begin using GWConnect, they will like it. Kudos to GW Micro for making this available to the blind community.
by Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library.
We are pleased to announce that the processing of the Isabelle Grant Collection has been completed and that the collection is now open to researchers. As Braille Monitor readers may recall, Dr. Grant (1896 to 1977) was the first blind person to work as a teacher in the California public schools, as well as an early leader in both the NFB and the International Federation of the Blind. Grant had lost her sight to acute glaucoma in 1948 while working as vice principal for girls at Belvedere Junior High School in Los Angeles. Told that her blindness required that she take an early disability retirement, she refused to give in and turned to the NFB for help. With the strong backing of the Federation she convinced the Los Angeles City School system to retain her. She subsequently served for thirteen years as a blindness resource teacher.
Grant was an early champion of mainstreaming blind children in classrooms with their sighted peers, working tirelessly to promote this idea both in the United States and in developing countries. Between 1960 and her death she made several trips overseas, twice supported by Fulbright-Hayes grants that sent her to developing nations in Asia and Africa, and generally traveling unaccompanied. On these trips abroad she assisted in the formation of organizations of the blind, helped to establish libraries for the blind, and served as an advisor to educators of the blind. She was honored many times for her work, including a nomination for the 1972 Nobel Peace Prize.
While readying the Isabelle Grant Collection for use by researchers and interested Federationists, the library staff made a pleasant discovery. In January 1949, as Dr. Grant and the NFB were fighting for her job, the entire faculty of Belvedere Junior High sent an appeal on her behalf to the assistant superintendent. Detailing the reasons why blindness did not diminish her value to the school and the district, the letter is accompanied by the signatures of over sixty faculty members. It was displays of support like this—along with the efforts of the NFB—that resulted in Grant's continued employment until her retirement in 1962. Both the letter and the signatures are preserved in the Isabelle Grant Collection at the tenBroek Library. Here is what her colleagues said in support of her effort to keep her job:
January 26, 1949
Miss Elizabeth Sands
Junior High Education Division
The Belvedere Junior High School faculty has just learned that Dr. Isabelle Grant may not return as Girls' Vice-Principal to our school.
The faculty, while fully aware of Dr. Grant's physical condition, unanimously asks that she be returned to Belvedere because:
(1) Dr. Grant's outstanding contribution to the school and community, through her sympathetic understanding of problems involved in our school and her deep affection for the Mexican-American, is invaluable.
(2) Dr. Grant possesses a rare ability to solve the teacher-pupil-parent problems to the satisfaction of all concerned.
(3) Dr. Grant's ability to speak and think in Spanish is a prime requisite in Belvedere Junior High School with its 85% Spanish-speaking enrollment.
(4) Our girls, in particular, need the guidance that Dr. Grant, with her wide experience, can give.
(5) Since the war, the tendency in industry has been to provide maximum opportunity within that industry for one becoming handicapped during his service there. (We are confident that the Los Angeles school system will do no less.)
(6) Belvedere Junior High School and the entire Los Angeles City School system would suffer a severe loss should her services be denied. However, our faculty would be very much pleased if Dr. Grant were to receive the promotion which her ability warrants.
(7) Our schools have placed special emphasis on rehabilitation—at home and abroad. Could there be a more practical application than to rehabilitate one whose twenty years of undeniably superior work have proved her unrivaled in success?
In view of all this, we request that five representative members of our faculty be granted an immediate interview with you to discuss the matter since Dr. Grant's illness leave expires January 28.
Belvedere Junior High School Faculty Club
(Signatures on attached sheet)
Identical letter to Dr. Stoddard
by Pat Munson
From the Editor: Pat Munson and her husband Jack are now active members of the NFB of New Mexico, but for years she was a leader of the NFB of California. She currently edits the newsletter of the NFB Seniors Division. The following loving recollection of Muzzy Marcellino is reprinted from the winter-spring 2012 edition of that publication. Muzzy was a contemporary of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek and Newel Perry’s student at the California School for the Blind. Here is Pat’s evocation of one of the early NFB giants:
One of the speakers at the 2011 NFB convention mentioned Muzzy Marcellino and his work; he was always working for the Federation and helping blind people live its philosophy. I first met Muzzy at the 1971 NFB convention. Everywhere I went, I encountered Muzzy. He was quietly assisting a blind person to get somewhere or helping with a meeting. Dr. tenBroek had died three years before, and Muzzy was filling in the gaps where he could, but I did not understand that at the time.
After that convention I did not see Muzzy for some time, my loss, but I did not think I needed much help. You know how young folks are: be they blind or sighted, they know everything or so they think.
In the late 1970s Muzzy called to ask me to take over the editing of a newsletter. I argued that I knew nothing about writing and editing. I was simply an English teacher. He acted as if he had not heard a word I had said. He said he would pick me up at my job and that we would take the bus to the Berkeley Hills, where Mrs. tenBroek would teach me all I needed to know. You did not say no to Muzzy, so I followed him from the bus stop up the hill and up a million stairs and then up some more steps to reach the tenBroek home. We were up in the steep hills, where stairs were used for sidewalks in places because the terrain was too steep. I figured if he could travel this territory, I could do it in my high heels, but I was very nervous that I would fall off something. He kept telling me to use that white cane, and boy did I!
I remember sitting next to Mrs. tenBroek as she criticized my writing while giving me endless suggestions. I think we stayed for dinner; Mrs. T. was always feeding anyone who came through her door, which added pleasure to an exciting work session.
At one point Muzzy said I needed to meet him in San Francisco. I simply followed him around. We went to a space he had been given by a California state legislator in his office. The secretary acted as if Muzzy was a part of the office personnel. She brought him coffee, which she did for everyone, and said his typewriter had been repaired. The staff greeted him with great courtesy. I was astonished at the respect he was shown.
We then proceeded to his place of employment--at that time he was selling insurance. When he opened the door to enter, everyone stopped working and greeted him with great affection. I sat while he carried out some business, but again I was in shock at this blind man's being treated as if he were king.
Finally we went to a restaurant, where my husband joined us for dinner. Again the staff welcomed him with great respect, showed us to the best table, and told him the freshest items on the menu. Later I told my husband that I had never met such an interesting person. I assured him that blindness had nothing to do with it, but it did.
Muzzy always dressed in a beautiful three-piece suit with a crisp white shirt and perfectly polished shoes and carried his briefcase and his long white cane. We were out doing NFB business, so we dressed in business attire.
Another time I followed him as he did his work at the California state capital. We would be walking down a hall when a legislator would spy Muzzy passing the door. The legislator would stop what he was doing and call to him. The legislator would ask him what he could do to further the work of the Federation. Again I was in shock. But I did not know about the many years Muzzy and other NFB members had worked those halls to better the lot of the blind, which included me.
The most difficult outing I had with Muzzy was the following. We met at a street corner, and he announced that after a couple of errands we were going to eat lunch at a buffet restaurant. I said that I was not going to go. I hated buffets. I had been to a good adult training center and had done a buffet line, but I still didn’t like it. He simply started walking away from me. What could I do but follow? I did not argue with Muzzy because I knew in my heart that he was right.
We got to the restaurant, and he rounded up an employee whom he instructed how to assist us. He placed my hand at the first bowl, plate, or whatever and had me run my hand around the outer edge until I found the serving utensil. He had the employee tell us what was in each dish, then we quickly took the food using Muzzy's method.
At the end of the line we picked up our trays, putting an arm across the bottom, and reached a hand up to hold the drink so it could not spill. The other hand used the cane and looked for an empty chair at the same time. We then sat and ate just like everyone else in the place. Of course he was testing my blindness skills.
As we ate, we discussed how Dr. Jernigan organized a buffet hosted by the blind. A blind person stood behind the item or items he or she was serving and told each person going through the line what he or she had to offer. Since the server knew where the tray was, it was easy for him or her to put the food on the plate, but, if it was finger food, the guest could easily pick up the food being offered. It sounded simple, but then Dr. Jernigan and his students had been perfecting these techniques for years.
Another time we were working in San Francisco. We were on a crowded city bus. By the sound of the driver’s voice, he was not happy, but, when Muzzy yelled in his polite but stentorian voice from the back of the bus that he wanted to know the name of the next street, the driver very politely told him. Later the driver stopped the bus at Muzzy's stop and patiently answered his questions. My jaw dropped. I was sure that driver would have yelled at me, and that would have been that.
I later learned that a couple of decades earlier, when Muzzy had been a rehab counselor, he gave cash from his pocket to his blind clients. He would simply say that he remembered when he was a poor student, and that was that.
Muzzy and his wife owned a three-story home. The garage was at street level with his flat on the second floor; the top floor apartment was rented. He said the rent paid for upkeep and taxes. Muzzy handled all the upkeep needs of the building, and he also did all the food shopping. He took his shopping cart, which he pulled behind him, his Braille shopping list, and his cane; and off he went. Of course he could buy only what would fit in his cart, so he shopped often. Rain or shine he walked the streets to the store with his white cane always leading the way.
Of course he knew all the folks in the neighborhood and stopped many times to chat. Taxi drivers also honked when they saw him and would stop to chat. I think he knew everyone in San Francisco because he was always out and about.
Many subjects interested Muzzy. One was the planting, pruning, and caring for roses. I told him I was interested in growing roses. He gave me detailed instructions on purchasing roses, digging the holes, and acquiring all the products to nourish the soil. When I had everything ready, I called him. Shortly thereafter he showed up at my door with a suitcase in hand. Inside were his work clothes, which he quickly changed into. Then it was out to the future rose garden, where we planted and watered those rose roots. I got stabbed and jabbed, but he said I would learn to be more cautious. Again he was right.
Muzzy showed up the following fall when it was time to prune. Again I caught my fingers in those thorns, but I was reminded how much I had loved the beautiful blooms of summer. Speaking of those flowers, Muzzy was a judge for the San Francisco Rose Society. I wonder if there was anything he could not do.
Muzzy taught many blind people that it is respectable to be blind. He carried his cane with pride and educated everyone who met him. What a mentor he was! The blind who worked with him learned more than they ever could have learned from a book. He opened countless doors for many, many blind people and showed us how to change what it means to be blind. What a gift he was to the blind of this nation!
An Interview Conducted by Willa Baum
From the Editor: Thanks to Federationist Bryan Bashin, we recently received a scanned copy of an in-depth interview with Newel Perry archived in the Bancroft Library of the University of California General Library, Regional Cultural History Project, which was conducted in Berkeley, California, in 1956. The interview is so lengthy that we have decided to serialize it. In this month’s section Perry describes his youth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Please note that the transcriber consistently refers to the California Council of the Blind as the California Council for the Blind. We have consistently made this obvious correction. Here is part 1 of the 1956 interview with Newel Perry, teacher and mentor of Jacobus tenBroek:
California, particularly the Bay Area, has been the central locale of an interesting and possibly prophetic social movement, the self-organization of blind persons to promote the idea that, given proper training and job opportunities, most blind people can become self-supporting and independent, without need for further charitable services. Institutions and agencies for the blind, usually spearheaded by sighted persons, have had a long history, which began in Europe and continued in the United States, especially on the East Coast. These agencies, either governmental or private, try to help the blind by providing a general education and educational aids such as raised-type books; by teaching handcrafts; perhaps by establishing sheltered workshops, where the blind may earn some money; and by providing recreational facilities. The blind admit these are worthy objectives, but some of the leaders have felt that these agencies are actually working places for do-gooders who are wedded to the idea that the blind are and must remain helpless and dependent and, indeed, that their very lack of sight makes them in some way less mentally competent than the rest of the population.
On the West Coast a blind mathematics scholar at the University of California, Newel Perry, was concerned about the lack of vocational opportunities for the blind and in 1898 organized a small group of alumni from the California School for the Blind to consider the problem. He became convinced that a college education was the best way to fit a blind person to compete successfully in a sighted society. Dr. Perry devoted his life to improving the economic opportunities open to the blind and especially to providing opportunities for the blind to go to college if they so desired. His alumni group was the nucleus of the California Council of the Blind, established in 1934, which has achieved to date much progressive legislation for the blind in California. One of his students, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, in 1940 formed the National Federation of the Blind, which does on a national scale what the California Council of the Blind does in the state. The National Federation of the Blind, with its affiliated state organizations, has become the chief spokesman of the active, vocal, and independent blind of the United States.
To get the story of these developments from some of the blind leaders themselves, a series of interviews was conducted in the fall and winter 1955-56 by Willa Baum as part of the work of the University of California's Regional and Cultural History Project, directed by Corinne Gilb.
The following interview with Dr. Newel Perry, chief pioneer of this movement of the organized blind, took place during several afternoons at Dr. Perry's comfortable, old-fashioned home at 2421 Woolsey Street, Berkeley, where he lives with his sister. The interviews were sandwiched in between Dr. Perry's tutoring duties--he still tutors young men in mathematics--and a trip he made to investigate conditions at the Idaho State School for the Blind.
Dr. Perry, aged eighty-three at the time of the interview, of average build and below medium height, wore a neat Van Dyke beard, dressed simply but very properly, smoked his pipe almost continuously, and often paced the floor. He talked for two or more hours at a time, and, if he sometimes forgot names or details, he did not forget the major problems that had concerned the blind nor the solutions he had proposed, and, inasmuch as these problems still exist, he stated his present opinions definitely and with the same manner of authority and leadership that had enabled him to accomplish so much. Dr. Perry's only hesitancy in telling his story occurred when the truth of the situation forced him to say something less than flattering about one of his former associates. Otherwise he was eager to answer the interviewer's questions.
An almost complete set of the California Council of the Blind's convention minutes and resolutions, collected by Dr. Perry since 1934, has been deposited in the office of the California Council of the Blind, Berkeley. Information concerning the National Federation of the Blind is available in their office, also in Berkeley. Other material relating to the blind in California and elsewhere is located in Lange Library and Bancroft Library, University of California, and a sizeable collection exists at the State Library in Sacramento.
Willa Baum, Regional Cultural History Project, University of California Library, Berkeley, California, 25 July 1956
Baum: Will you tell me a little about your early childhood?
Perry: Briefly stated, I was born in Dixon near Sacramento on December 24, 1873. We were farmers, worked in the wheatfields. Our family was rather large, and I was one of the younger ones. We left in '76 and went up to Shasta County and established a home on Cow Creek about six miles east of Anderson, near Redding.
I lost my sight in 1881. The last day that I was at all conscious of vision was my eighth birthday, December 24, 1881. The cause of my blindness was a severe attack of poison oak. I heard the doctor tell my father that I was dangerously ill and that he must choose between trying to save my eyesight and trying to save my life and that the latter would be the wiser choice. After many weeks of sickness during most of which time I was unconscious, I began to recover but with the definitely established fact that I was permanently blind. I remember clearly when the day finally arrived on which I was to be permitted to get out of bed and be dressed. Many of the neighbors came to see how I would manage. There had been quite a bit of excitement about Mr. Perry's blind boy. When I started to dress, they were all elaborating at great length on how wonderful it was that I could do this or that thing, largely, I think, to make me feel better. When they handed me my shoes, two or three said, "Oh, you mustn't do that. You'll have to tell him which foot to put that on." Of course I put it on my foot myself. Well, I was the most wonderful being they had ever heard of. How would I know which foot to put the shoe on? Why, anyone would know. However, it pleased me, and I remember very distinctly that I thought I was fooling them, and I felt pretty proud of it. I never explained how I told about my shoes. I expect I was a mystery to them, and I was quite willing to keep that up.
As for melancholy or heartaches or all that sort of stuff, I never had any. In fact, I received so much attention that I rather regretted that I hadn't gone blind before. When I got up from my sickness, I felt very fine apparently, and the only great change was that all my brothers and sisters went to school. I did not go. No one ever thought of asking me to go. I wouldn't have minded going, but I think I accepted the view that I could not conform to the requirements for learning anything in school. Now I think it would have been very much better if I had gone to school, and I think I could have learned--that's my present opinion. Before I lost my sight, I had attended a one-room schoolhouse with pupils ranging from six to twenty years of age. I was about halfway through the first reader, and I had learned to count, except I couldn't remember the number thirty. My father's business was hauling lumber. There were a lot of sawmills up in the mountains east of Redding, and the timber had to be cut, sawed up into lumber, and then someone had to haul it down to the railroad at Anderson.
Baum: With a horse and wagon?
Perry: We had two wagons fastened together and eight horses driven by a jerk line. My father was inclined to keep me with him as much as he could. When we went on these trips, he would let me go along with him. The head two horses, the leaders, had bells on their shoulders, and I can remember I used to like to listen to them. He would let me ride on one of the wheelers, one of the rear horses. I enjoyed that very much. My father passed away in July of 1883 from "galloping tuberculosis." He had heard of and corresponded with the people at the School for the Blind in Berkeley, California. He never told me anything about that. So arrangements were made to send me down. I came down in August of '83. I was not quite ten years old.
Perry: As for the school, it was up here on Derby Street. Parker Street would run right into the main building. At that time the blind and the deaf children were all in the same building. There were about sixty blind children. The school was considered a school for the deaf because they had, I guess, a couple of hundred of them there. The blind were, so to speak, permitted to stay in a deaf school. They had two or three dormitories. The blind boys had two stories in one of those buildings, and the blind girls lived about the same way over in their area. There would be deaf children in that same dormitory.
The life was very new and strange to me. My experiences had been out in the country, not in the city. I knew a good deal about climbing trees and robbing birds' nests and looking at ants and helping curry the horses--we had a good many horses--and that sort of thing. But I had never been in a city, and it puzzled me a great deal. We had two teachers for the blind, so two school rooms. A lady taught the lower grades, and a gentleman, Mr. Charles Wilkinson, taught the other. They were not trained people as we speak of trained teachers now, but for some reason they were both wonderful teachers. How these two people educated all these children varying from six to nineteen or twenty has always been a mystery to me. Mr. Wilkinson had to do a great deal of individual teaching, and yet he kept us all busy. I finally got through what you would call the tenth grade now.
Baum: Was Mr. Wilkinson a relative of the principal?
Perry: He was a brother of the principal. The principal was Mr. Warring Wilkinson. Mr. Warring Wilkinson was a much better trained and educated man, but a very different type. He was strictly the administrator. Mr. Charles Wilkinson was a boy that was grown up. He was quite boyish, and he was very much loved by everybody.
Baum: Did the blind students like Mr. Warring Wilkinson?
Perry: Some did, but they didn't see as much of him. He didn't have the time to give to us. I liked him very much, and he took a great interest in me, more than he ever had in anybody, for some reason I think because... the story is this way. They decided they wanted to have a contest in arithmetic between three deaf boys and three blind boys. They tried to get the best ones they could, and I was one of the blind boys. Arithmetic came easy to me. One of the teachers of the deaf was going to put a problem of multiplication on the board and read it at the same time and we were to raise our hands when we were ready to give the answer. He said, "Multiply 297 by 368." That quick, I gave the answer. A great many of them thought that was very strange; they began to think that I knew what the example was before I came in. It was very simple. 297 is 300 minus 3, so all I had to do was to multiply by 3 twice, first to get 300 times 368 and then subtract 3 times 368 from the right answer. Well, that not only puzzled the boys but the teachers got all excited. They all thought that I was a wonder, and I didn't tell them how I did it. I thought I was getting a lot of glory, and the less I talked, the more glory I was getting. Do you understand what I did?
Baum: Yes. I think they teach the children in school now to do that.
Perry: Yes, I've always taught them to do that way. Well, that established me as a great mathematician. Numbers did come very easily to me. I did not take much interest in English. These three or four of us who were getting along to the tenth grade used to try to figure out what we were going to do when we grew up. Older people think that children don't think very much, but I think they are very much mistaken, particularly about children who are problems like we were. How could a blind person make a living? None of us ever heard of a blind man making a living. The subject of what we were going to do was avoided, avoided by me because I knew that, if I had sprung any of the hopes I had on any of the adults, they would have at once told me that that was impossible. I knew that, so I decided to keep my ideas to myself. I didn't know what I was going to do, and I was wondering, but I never felt that my case was hopeless.
Baum: Do you remember who the other boys were?
Perry: One was Cecil Smith, the son of a very prominent lawyer at that time. The two main lawyers of California were this Mr. Smith and Judge Garber. Cecil Smith was quite a bright boy, but he had many advantages. His father was successful and considered very wealthy. He had a home here in Oakland, and everybody in his family were devoting a great deal of attention to Cecil. They evidently read to him just constantly. He knew of authors and books I'd never heard of. But he had no sense for mathematics. John Coffee was a boy who had lost his sight after he was about 14 or 15 and had come to the school rather recently. The things that I liked, he didn't, and the things he liked I didn't care for. He was very good at English, but he didn't know anything about math. So, because they were poor at mathematics, they also thought I was a wonder.
The three of us would sit up at night and talk over what a blind person could do and whether we could go to college. We'd never heard of a blind person going to college. We thought we'd get some information, so we concocted a letter and sent a copy of it to the superintendents of the state school for the blind in all the different states and told them our age and what we had done and supposed that they, being the principals of these schools for the blind, would have a good many ideas. We told them we'd thought of going to college and wanted to know if they thought it was possible and desirable. I think half of them answered, and none of them told us they thought the idea of college was good and advised us to go ahead and do it. Several said, "Don't try it." One of them said, "You would be educating yourself only for a life of discontent," meaning, of course, if we did get through the university and we couldn't do anything, we'd be in an awful fix. Maybe we'd be better off if we stayed ignorant.
Baum: What did they suggest you do?
Perry: Well, some of them said that some blind people had worked in shops where they made brooms, and the blind could do that, but otherwise they gave us no suggestions at all, and I don't think they had any. A few years after I came to Berkeley, someone had urged the legislature to create a home for adult blind people in Oakland. The idea was that they could have shops and could earn some money. A good many blind came to it, but it was run by people who didn't know anything about it. It was a state job; the heads of it had never seen blind people before. The men who came were ignorant blind people who had been wandering around the world begging. In those days most blind people had to beg unless they came from a family that could supply their means for them. Oh, if you walked down Broadway or Telegraph Avenue, there would be a blind man with a fiddle on almost every street corner and he'd play and hope someone would give him a nickel.
Baum: Did the school expect the students to learn to play the fiddle and go into that way of making a living?
Perry: No, I don't think the school thought a great deal about it. They had a good teacher in music, but what he thought they were going to do with that music later to earn a living, I don't know. They all preached that we must never beg, what a disgraceful thing it was. But they never told us what we could do outside of begging. They did not assume the task of working out the problem of what a blind man can do after you've educated him, and at that time education meant a limited education.
What they did was, when he reached the age when he was no longer eligible to stay at school, they'd accompany him down to the gate and tap him on the shoulder and say, "Good luck to you," and never hear of him again for ten or fifteen years. The schools took it for granted that their responsibility was to teach them a few academic things and then send them home, and to try to make their life while they were there quite happy, which they did. I think we all had lots of fun with one another. I don't know as we thanked the teachers particularly for it. We would play all sorts of games and climb the hills and the mountains around there.
In later years I got a bill through the Legislature creating the position of a placement worker at the School. His job, and I wanted it to be his only job because I wanted him to give a hundred percent of his time to it, was to go out and interview all sorts of businessmen and possible employers and get the employer interested in taking on a blind boy. I got it through finally, and Mr. Robert Campbell—do you know him?
Baum: Yes, I met him down at the California Council office.
Perry: He was the first placement officer. He had graduated at the school, and he took that position. He did very, very well at it. I remember, it wasn't long after that that a boy came into my class up there and said he wanted to say goodbye to me. I said, "Why, where are you going? What's the matter?"
He said, "Well, I'm leaving. I got a job. I'm going to work Monday morning." Mr. Campbell had gotten him a job, of all things, working in a garage.
Baum: You attended Berkeley High School, didn't you?
Perry: Yes. It was in 1890, I guess. Mr. Wilkinson thought it would be a good thing to try the experiment of putting a blind boy in the public high school, so he wanted to send me.
Baum: How did he decide to send you?
Perry: I mentioned that I was very good in math, and, as they only had two teachers, they had me teaching the other children in mathematics in the afternoons. I enjoyed my history, math, and chemistry, but spelling and English bored me to death. That annoyed Mr. Charles Wilkinson. One afternoon Mr. Wilkinson kept me after class and gave me quite a long lecture because I wouldn't study my Latin word roots. The principal came along and heard our discussion. Well, I got very excited and sort of broke down and said that the point was that I wanted to go to college. So the next day Mr. Charles Wilkinson said to me, "I'm very glad my brother came along and saw that scene you put on, because it made it very clear to him that you were really interested." He added that they would discontinue my helping the other children in the afternoons so that I could devote more time to my studies. Later in the term the principal asked what I would think about going down to the public high school. Of course, that's what I wanted anyhow. Then during the summer I received a notice from him saying that I should come back.
Baum: You went home in the summer?
Perry: I had no home, but I'd go up to my uncle's farm and hang around...And he said that I was to go to the school at an earlier date, two or three weeks earlier, so that I could enroll in the high school. So that's how it started. I was allowed to live at the School and go down to the high school each day. The high school was not where it is now; it was on Center Street between Oxford and Telegraph. It was very small. In 1892--I took two years there--I think twelve of us graduated. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Baum: Did any other students from the School for the Blind attend with you?
Perry: No. It had never been tried. Yet, when I went down to high school, I had no particular trouble except the first few days. I think the teachers were a little bit alarmed and uneasy.
I remember, they put me into a geometry class. The teacher just never called on me, never paid any attention. I gathered that she had thought that she would have to give a great deal of attention to me and additional work, and I think she didn't like it. I guess she thought that, if she ignored me, I wouldn't be able to keep up with the class and would give it up. I couldn't understand it otherwise. It just happened that I was good at math and knew lots more about it than the other pupils did. She didn't know very much about it. In a little while I began to interrupt them. A boy would go to the board to solve a problem. We used to call them "originals." I don't think they do so much of that anymore. If he made a mistake, I would protest. That, of course, surprised them a good deal. Then the situation changed, and they changed their attitude. We were supposed to bring in the solution to these originals every day. Geometric problems were given for us to prove, and with no proof given in the book, we had to work out the proof. It wasn't any time until the boys when I'd reach Center Street in the morning and turn that corner, there was always a bunch of geometry boys around the gate near the school, waiting there with their books out for me to come and help them. (laughter). Then the teacher became very nice to me; in fact, they all did.
Baum: Did you get any help at the school? At night, when you went back to the School for the Blind?
Perry: Not at night, as we have now. That was later. They did finally give me a reader, a man who would read a couple of hours a day to me. Giving me a reader was a sort of special arrangement. It wasn't part of the system. I think the boys that came after me, the boys and girls, got this service. I don't think they had any financial help at that time.
Baum: Did Mr. Wilkinson encourage you to go on to college? After you finished high school?
Perry: Oh yes. I was two years in the high school. I wanted to get out in one year, but I'm glad the principal urged me to take two years before trying college. Then they awarded me a scholarship. Of course I couldn't stay at the school anymore after I had graduated from high school. They gave me a scholarship of $500 a year.
Baum: The School for the Blind did?
Perry: Yes. And that meant that it was up to me to live on $500 a year. That would have been almost impossible. That meant I had to pay my board and lodging, clothe myself, and also find a reader and pay him. What would happen would be that you'd have to cut down on your reader money. The first thing I knew, I was tutoring other pupils, college students.
Baum: Professors at the University got you this job?
Perry: No, I got it on my own.
Baum: Maybe the students heard about your ability?
Perry: Oh yes, some of them. A fellow who was afraid he couldn't pass his exams would want to be coached. Finally I did too much of it. I feel it is a mistake for a boy in college to do what I did, spend so much time earning money, because he will neglect his studies. He will get less out of his college training. But with the means that I had, I practically had to tutor. I got $50 a month for ten months, and by the time I'd paid my board and bought necessary clothing, I didn't have anything left. And I enjoyed coaching very much. Everybody knew me; I even advertised. Coaching was much more necessary than it is now. I took part in most all the things that were going on with the students. I went to the "rushes." They were an old institution in my day. Every year, at the end of the year, the freshmen went through the process of burying an old mathematical book. A habit of the two classes, the freshmen and the sophomores, was for one to bother the other.
Baum: That's still a habit.
Perry: They went to extremes then. I think they have stopped that. We had fireworks and parades. The freshmen would parade, and the sophomores would try to stop them. All during the year they were doing that. Why, I've had boys come and wake me up at two o'clock in the morning and tell me to hurry up and get up; there were a lot of sophomores up on the hill near Grizzly Peak, and they were going to do so and so, and it was our job to go up there with some ropes and tie them up and pile them up in a pile, if we could, and they would try to do the same thing to the other. That was called "rushing them.” The University tried to stop it then, but it didn't succeed. I understand they practically did away with it later. It became somewhat dangerous. And they would have a mob when they had that affair at the end of the year. It would be like turning the visitors to a football game down on the campus all at once to stand around and watch the struggle. We had a lot of fun. I don't know as we hurt anyone much. I suppose there were a few cases, but it looked as though it could be dangerous.
Baum: Do you think the students in the colleges were brighter than the students in the colleges now?
Perry: Well, they worked more. Of course, some bright students in the colleges work now too, but you don't have to; you can get by without it.
Baum: But you had to work when you went to college.
Perry: We had to or they would mark us way down.
Baum: Did you have any particularly outstanding professors in the University?
Perry: Yes, the head of the mathematics department was a very brilliant man, Irving Stringham. I took a great deal of work with Stringham. And Mellen W. Haskell was a very brilliant man.
Baum: Did they encourage you to go into mathematics? Did they think that would be a good profession for a blind person?
Perry: I never asked them.
Baum: They didn't discourage you?
Perry: No. They were very nice to me. They had no idea what I was going to do. I never discussed it with them. They wouldn't have known what to tell me. Of course I was a novelty, a blind boy in college. Another professor I took particular interest in was the head of the department of philosophy, George H. Howison. A very, very brilliant man. Of course we didn't have as many professors as you have now, but we had some good men. We had the LeConte brothers, a geologist and a physicist, both very brilliant men. I didn't take much interest in their so-called courses on education.
Baum: Who were the teachers?
Perry: Mr. Elmer E. Brown; he's supposed to have been a pretty good man. I guess he was. He was finally appointed to the head of the Department of Education by Congress. Not a cabinet member, subordinate to someone who was. They used to switch them around from one department to another.
Baum: How come you took education courses? Were you planning to become a teacher?
Perry: Oh, I didn't take many. One--oh, I guess more than one--to kill time, I guess. I thought I might learn something, but I didn't. They started me out, I remember, on the history of education. It wasn't a bad course, except they could have told you in a month as much as they took the whole semester to do. That rather disgusted me, and I've never been able to work up any great zeal on this education stuff.
Baum: Was mathematics your main subject?
Perry: Yes, it was my chief interest, and I took more of it than anything else. I went to Stringham one day and thought I'd raise a question with him as to whether I'd ever get a chance at teaching mathematics. I was surprised. He said he didn't see why I shouldn't. He didn't see why there'd be any particular difficulty if I knew my math. That surprised me because I would have suspected he might be a little bit like the fellow in German that I walked in... did I tell you that?
Perry: When I was a freshman, I went in to the head of the German Department, Dr. Albin Putzker, and I said to him that I wanted to be enrolled in his German class and study German. He said, "Oh no, you are making a mistake. That would be a great mistake. A blind person can't learn German." Why, I almost laughed in his face, it sounded so utterly silly. There have been a great many blind people who have been famous linguists, and he must have known that. I think it was the same thing as the way my geometry teacher in high school thought, that he would have to give me special attention.
I just walked upstairs and walked in to another professor of German and told him I wanted to be in his class, and he said, "Sure, come along. I'll be glad to have you." I thought maybe that would be Stringham's way, but he had known me pretty well by that time. He said nothing at all discouraging. So I got playing with the idea. By that time they all knew that I was coaching, largely in mathematics. It wasn’t such a novelty to them.
When I graduated, they appointed me, and Stringham was the man who did it, a Fellow in Mathematics.
Baum: Was that like a teaching assistant now?
Perry: Yes, I had classes to teach, but I don't think they paid me anything. But separate from that they had given me a scholarship of $300, I think. When I got through college I had used all my scholarship from the School for the Blind. So my first year after graduation was a tough one for me. I enjoyed the teaching. Some other fellow was trying to get a scholarship, and he wanted me to divide mine with him.
Baum: Was he another blind boy?
Perry: No, no. He became a prominent professor at college. Well, I foolishly gave it to him. So I had only $150 a year, taught three different classes, I think, for which I received nothing. It meant, of course, that I simply had to go out and earn money, so I was forced to devote a great deal of time to tutoring--more than I should have because mathematics isn't play. You have to work or else leave it alone. But I don't know what else I could have done. Then at the end of that year they advanced me to an assistant, which was a regular job. The following year they paid me $1,000, I think, and made me an instructor, and in the last year that I was there, before I left for Europe, I still ranked as an instructor, but I remember I was admitted to the Academic Senate in '99. That was my fourth year after graduation. Of course, all that time I had to tutor and study at the same time.
Baum: Was it hard on your health, do you think?
Perry: Oh no. Didn't bother me that way. It was simply that time that I should have been spending in advancing my studies in mathematics, I was coaching somebody. Coaching was not a bad business then. It's no good now. In those days wealthy people might have a boy who didn't study in high school, and he got to be a senior and found that he couldn't get a recommendation, and of course his mama and his dad wanted him to go to college, and by that time he wanted to go too. So they would come largely to me to coach him for the examinations to be admitted. The opportunity to make money wasn't bad at all.
Baum: Did it pay well?
Perry: Yes, it paid very good. I guess I coached more than anybody else and could have, I guess, devoted my time entirely to coaching and made my living that way. I remember I went to Chicago in 1899 for a summer session. They went on the principle of four sessions a year, and the summer session was somewhat like the one here, largely former graduates who came back to the department of education to hear some more about pedagogy. At Chicago they had a very fine department of mathematics. I think it was the best in the country. I preferred it, I think, to Harvard. At any rate, I went there.
Baum: Did you know Phoebe Hearst while you were in college?
Perry: Yes. She took quite an interest in me. When I went to Europe, she gave me quite a check to meet the expenses of living over there. I had a letter from her a couple of months before she died. She was a wonderful woman.
Baum: Apparently she was interested in sending blind people to school.
Perry: I don't know how much. She got interested in me, I think, through Mr. Wilkinson. [To be continued.]
by Larry Sebranek
From the Editor: The following informal autobiography was offered at a local chapter meeting in Idaho. Members were so impressed that Larry was asked to repeat his life's story at the Seniors Division meeting during the NFB convention last year in Orlando. It was subsequently published in the winter/spring issue of the Senior Division newsletter, where we came across it and thought Monitor readers would enjoy it. Here it is:
I was born in a very small town in Wisconsin. There were over one thousand people in the area. Like many rural areas decades ago, many families were poor, including mine. Dad did many kinds of odd jobs, but fulltime work was not available.
In small towns vision problems were not noticed when children were very young. Mine was not noticed until I was in the second grade. One day my parents realized that my two-year-old sister could find the ball faster than I could; they realized something was wrong. They took me to an eye doctor, and I was given glasses. We all assumed the problem had been solved. Things move slowly, so it wasn't until I was in high school that I realized I could not see very well.
When I finally realized that I could not follow a ball, the other kids (or some of them) were very unkind. They said things like I could not even see the ball when it was under my feet. I had tunnel vision; kids would stick out their feet so I would trip, and then they would laugh.
When it came time to talk about a career, I did not have much of a problem because I could see well enough to drive Dad's tractor up and down the rows and do a good job. But, since the kids had been so mean, I had lost my self-esteem, so I decided to go out and hide on a farm some place. When I graduated from high school, Dad decided to buy a farm to provide work for him and me. It was 1961, a very bad time to start farming, but we decided to go ahead with the plan. Other farmers were going broke, but we survived.
I really did not know the extent of my vision loss until I received a notice from the draft board. I gave the notice to my eye doctor so he could write a letter explaining my blindness. When I read the letter he had written, I was shocked. It said in part that I had tunnel vision and night blindness and that by age forty I would most likely be completely blind. That ended my prospects in the military.
For the next twenty-two years I did farm, but by age thirty I had lost my reading vision. At this point my father was doing the tractor work, and I was doing the muscle work. In 1984 we sold the farm, and I got a call from the vocational rehabilitation counselor. The guy came out and talked to me because I had applied for Social Security Disability. When he arrived at my door, we had to lead him to a chair. I was not encouraged. If this was the best a blind rehab counselor could do, I had no hope for myself. His lack of mobility was not encouraging. I thought my future looked exceedingly bleak. He said that I needed to be evaluated. I told him that I was a farmer, and that was all I knew how to do.
He said that he would send out a home teacher who could help me get set up with Talking Books and teach me how to use a cane. June 6, 1984, a young rehab counselor showed up at my door. Most of you knew her as Cathleen Sullivan. She sat me down and said she noticed that I was living with my parents. She then asked what I thought I was going to do when they were too old to care for me. I told her that I had a sister who had a bedroom in her basement and that she would be glad to take me in. Cathleen asked if my sister knew about my plan. I said I had not discussed it with my sister, but…. Cathleen then said that she was going to go to a convention of blind people and asked if I would like to go. I assured her that I wanted nothing to do with blind people. About the third lesson she said that I ought to learn Braille. I told her that I had torn-up hands from farming and that, as far as I was concerned, Braille was out of the picture for my future. She did not give up even though I told her that I had recently chewed up my fingers with a table saw. I finally realized that I could feel Braille, and I learned grade two Braille in six weeks. I was motivated because I needed to know how to read and write.
As I worked with Cathy, she kept telling me about all the places she went, and that caught my attention. I finally got my courage up and took my first plane ride to attend the 1987 NFB convention in Arizona. I soon met a scholarship winner named John Fritz, who was also a farmer. Of course we really hit it off. He also showed me a computer. I had been told many times that I needed to attend a rehab center where I would learn how to use a computer, but I resisted.
Back in 1985 Cathy said she was going to take a bus to an NFB of Wisconsin board meeting and that the bus was going to go right through my town. So I did get on that bus. When I got to the meeting, I was very impressed at how serious these blind people were and how much they were accomplishing. I also met a lady named Sue, whom I married years later.
My first state convention was that year, and a guy named Fred Schroeder was the national rep. There was a discussion I simply did not understand. NFBW members were complaining about the quality of rehab services. I could not understand what the problem was because these kindly folks in rehab were just trying to help blind people. As you can see, at times I had real problems with the Federation and its expectations.
What really changed my mind was my first Washington Seminar. I could not believe that an old farm boy like me could be sitting in my Senator's office and that he was taking what I said seriously. This whole exposure to the Federation has been a mind-changing experience. After I met the Federation, my perspective kept opening to a broader and broader world. Like many of you I owe my wonderful life to the National Federation of the Blind.
Note: After he finished speaking his wife asked him to tell the story about why he gave up his driver's license. Larry said that he was driving up a hill at sunset. He was following the yellow line and at a pretty good rate of speed ran right into a county truck. His eye doctor told him that he had better stop driving before he killed himself or someone else, so he did. Judy Sanders [president of the Seniors Division] asked Larry when he first got married. He said that he was slow to catch on, so he was forty-six. Sometime after his first wife [Cathleen Sullivan Sebranek] died, he married Sue, and as seniors they really enjoy cruising.
This month’s recipes have been contributed by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho.
Italian Chicken Rice Casserole
by Sylvia Bernert
Sylvia Bernert is a member of the Snake River Valley Chapter of the NFB of Idaho.
2 cups cut up uncooked chicken breast
1 cup uncooked rice
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup boiling water
1 package Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix
Method: Wash and drain the rice. Spread in a square casserole dish. Arrange uncooked chicken over rice. Mix together soup, boiling water, and Italian dressing mix. Pour this mixture over chicken and rice. Cover dish tightly with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
Barbecue Mushroom Meatloaf
by Vickie Bateman
Vickie Bateman is a member of the Snake River Valley Chapter of the NFB of Idaho.
Meat Loaf Ingredients:
1 pound lean ground beef
1 4-ounce can mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Method: In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Pack meat mixture into a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and shape into a loaf.
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup water
Method: Mix together all sauce ingredients. Pour mixture over the meatloaf in the pan. Bake uncovered at 300 degrees until done, approximately two hours or until loaf feels firm, not wobbly when quickly touched.
Easy Pepperoni Chicken
by Vicky Bateman
4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 bottle Prego spaghetti sauce
Grated mozzarella cheese
Method: Place the chicken breasts in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange pepperoni slices over chicken. Pour sauce over the surface. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over all. Cover with lid or foil and bake at 350 degrees for sixty minutes. Uncover and cook ten more minutes. If you turn the oven to low when it's done and let it stand for fifteen to thirty minutes longer, the chicken will be more tender. This dish is good with penne pasta. We pour the sauce from the chicken over the pasta.
by Susan Ford
Susan Ford is a longtime Federation leader with distinguished service in Nevada and Missouri before moving to Idaho. She was also instrumental in the creation of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
1 cup butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups confectionery sugar
1 7-ounce package Angel flaked coconut
2 cups pecans or other nuts, chopped
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 bar paraffin
Method: Blend butter or margarine, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and confectionery sugar. Add coconut and chopped nuts. Chill several hours before shaping into balls. Chill again or even freeze for easier dipping.
Melt chocolate chips and paraffin over hot water. Keep warm while you dip each ball. I use a toothpick inserted in each ball for dipping. Set bon bons on waxed paper to dry. Refrigerate in a tightly covered container till ready to use.
Variation: Instead of nuts and coconut, use creamy peanut butter. You may have to adjust the amount of confectionery sugar in order to make the bon bons firm enough for dipping.
Double Chocolate Microwave Brownies
by Susan Ford
1/2 cup margarine
2 ounces unsweetened or semisweet baking chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup nuts, chopped
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Method: In a small microwavable bowl melt butter and squares of chocolate. This will take one to one-and-a-half minutes on high. Stir to be sure that the chocolate is completely melted. Beat eggs till frothy and pour in the butter and chocolate mixture. Be sure that you do not cook the eggs by adding the melted mixture too quickly. Add sugar, baking powder, vanilla, and flour. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Pour batter into a greased 9-inch square microwavable baking dish and microwave on high for 6 minutes, turning once. Brownies will be moist but will firm as they cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. These are yummy warm or cool.
Ham and Potato Soup
by Susan Ford
6 cups water
7 teaspoons chicken granules (I use less because it's pretty salty.)
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, cubed
30 ounces frozen hash browns, thawed (from Idaho, of course)
1 1/2 cups ham, cubed
1 1/2 cups onions, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
Method: Bring water and chicken granules to a boil and add cream cheese, hash browns, cubed ham, chopped onion, garlic powder, and dill weed. Simmer soup till veggies are done, about twenty minutes. Serves twelve.
We are delighted to report that on Sunday, June 3, President Maurer’s birthday, Elizabeth Lee joined the Riccobono family at 9:21 a.m. She weighed exactly seven pounds and was 19 3/4 inches long. Parents Melissa and Mark and big brother Austin and big sister Oriana are all doing well and are very proud of the newest member of the NFB of Maryland. Congratulations to the entire Riccobono family.
Guide Dog Association Launches Innovative Hotline:
The National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU)--the leader in service animal policy and advocacy--sponsors an innovative public service, the NAGDU Information and Advocacy Hotline, It not only offers information about the training and use of guide dogs and the legal rights of those who use service animals, it offers the option to speak with an advocate trained to mediate discrimination issues.
“Most access problems are the result of a lack of information,” says Michael Hingson, the Association’s vice president, who serves as project manager for the hotline. “This hotline is an invaluable resource for accurate information.”
The NAGDU Education and Advocacy Hotline currently offers general information about service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and specific guidance concerning restaurants, taxicabs, and health care facilities. Future plans for the hotline include summaries of each of the state laws concerning service animals, more industry-specific information, and guidance in a variety of languages, such as Mandarin and Arabic. The hotline is available any time by calling, toll-free, (888) NAGDU411, (888) 624-3841.
The NAGDU Education and Advocacy Hotline was created by a grant from the NFB Imagination Fund and contributions from the California and Florida Associations of Guide Dog Users. The National Association of Guide Dog Users is a division of the NFB. NAGDU conducts public awareness campaigns on issues of guide dog use, provides advocacy support for guide dog handlers who face discrimination, supports sound policy and effective legislation to protect the rights of service animal users, offers educational programs to school and civic organizations, and functions as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind. For more information about NAGDU and to support its work, visit its website at <http://www.nagdu.org > or send an email message to <firstname.lastname@example.org >.
The Rev. Frank Lee, past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama, a former member of the national board of directors, and a longtime member of the Federation, died on May 9, 2012. Though his calling was to preach, his leadership in the NFB was characterized not by preaching but by quietly setting an example. In the Associates Program, in which all of us were encouraged to reach out to attract new members and a monetary donation, Frank did not exhort; instead, he was the top recruiter in 1987, signing up 228 members-at-large in that year and over one hundred and eighty the year before.
Frank served on the national board from 1984 to 1988 and as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama from 2008 to 2010. He is best known in the Alabama affiliate for his stellar service as the treasurer, where his integrity and judgment won him term after term. His quiet, unassuming manner assured that when he spoke he was heard with interest and respect.
Idaho Cycles for Independence:
The following report came to us from Ramona Walhof, a longtime leader of the NFB of Idaho:
The Cycle for Independence is the largest fundraiser of the NFB of Idaho. Run by the Treasure Valley Chapter, it has three routes: ten-mile, twenty-five-mile, and metric century or sixty-three-mile. This year we had about 480 riders, about the same as last year, but we had more sponsors, largely due to the work of our new chairman, Mary Symms Pollot.
It was a beautiful day, and the cycling community in Southwest Idaho is wonderful. We always enjoy lunch--hamburgers and hot dogs prepared by the Boise Capital Lions. The Voice of Idaho ham radio club handles communications between home base and water stops. We always have a dozen or more blind people riding on the back of tandem bikes, and this year a bunch of them rode the twenty-five-mile route, including me for the first time. With Mary chairing the ride, I got to ride this year, which is much more fun.
We found four new blind people this year. One volunteered on the food line, and the other three rode on the backs of tandem bikes. People see our flyers, find us online, and see our notices on websites, but word of mouth is the best way to reach out. This was our fourteenth year, and the bike ride has done the NFBI a lot of good. Riders and volunteers received free bike socks, orange and green. We have a few left for five dollars each just in case anybody wants bike socks displaying the NFB logo. This event happens every year the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. Come join us next year; you'll love it!
Shawn Callaway, president of the NFB of the District of Columbia, reports the death on June 4, 2012, of Joie Stuart, who had been a Federation leader for forty years. At the time of her death she was first vice president of the D.C. affiliate. Her passion was working with blind children in Washington’s public schools. She will be sorely missed.
In the June issue the Capital Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania was omitted from the report of service to area elementary schools.
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.
Atlas of Western Africa Now Available:
This fourth and final volume of maps of Africa covers fourteen countries: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. Each country has an introductory section in Braille of facts and general information followed by a full-page tactile map. The maps show cities, towns, rivers, and mountains in eighty-four pages and fifteen maps. Price is $14; shipping by Free Matter where eligible. Also available at $14 each: Atlas of Southern Africa, Atlas of Eastern and Central Africa, and Atlas of Northern Africa. To order, send check or purchase order to the Princeton Braillists, 76 Leabrook Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540; phone (215) 357-7715 (Ruth Bogia); (609) 924-5207 (Nancy Amick); <mysite.verizon.net/resvqbxe/princetonbraillists>. Sorry, credit card and fax service are not available.
Attention Artists and Writers:
The Vermont Studio Center is pleased to announce two Creative Access Fellowships for month-long studio residencies to be awarded to artists and writers who are blind or have low vision. Each fellowship, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, includes a $500 travel stipend. Applications for the Creative Access Fellowships are due October 1, 2012, as part of VSC's fellowship awards deadline for residencies in 2013. For a complete list of the fellowships available with VSC's October 1 application deadline, visit our website: <http://vermontstudiocenter.org/fellowships/>.
Daily Connections by Phone:
Have you or a loved one recently experienced vision loss? If so, you are invited to the DailyConnection, a social network on the phone. It’s primarily for people who are visually impaired, but everyone is welcome. Find good, clean chat with adults who are blind or visually impaired. We understand your challenges and love hearing about your successes. All you need is a phone with a long-distance plan to call (616) 515-2848 and talk to DQ, Denise, or TJ in our welcome room, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern, or, if you are a little shy, make new friends by leaving a message on the friendship board.
Come meet our room owners, and have some fun while doing it. Bring a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy interesting conversation on every topic imaginable with Sharon in the Early Bird Coffee Klatch (8:00 a.m. in R-8). Visit Liz’s Answerarium to discuss technology or join her women’s support group (8:00 p.m. in R-3). Stop by and say hi to Duane or Tiler, who live on the Navaho Reservation, throughout the day (in R-7). Become one of Jen’s insomniacs united in her Night Owl (10:00 p.m. in R-5). If you journal or write, checkout her weekly Writer’s Corner, or you can join her afternoon Bible study group.
Don’t forget to set up your free voicemail box so you can exchange private messages with your new friends. For questions or further info, call (443) 732-0341, or visit at <http://www.facebook.com/DailyConnectionCommunity>.
A Gift from GW Micro:
Last December GW Micro announced a gift to everyone who is blind or visually impaired in the form of GWConnect (formerly known as GWSkype). This is an accessible program for your PC that is plugged into Skype™ and offers many great features including free voice calls and text chat. After the initial release GW Micro received many feature requests. They have worked hard to add many of the features that customers had been asking for and recently released GWConnect 2.0. Among its many new features and enhancements are the ability to rename contacts, create custom contact groups, send SMS messages, manage multiple live calls, set voicemail greetings, and even set privacy settings from within GWConnect.
GW Micro is able to ship GWConnect free because of the small advertisements that sponsor the program. One of the most common requests GW Micro received after its release is for GWConnect to run ad-free. Among its other numerous enhancements, release 2.0 introduces a method of running without advertisements. While Window-Eyes customers have always enjoyed a commercial-free experience, other users of GWConnect received a short advertisement every thirty minutes. By purchasing an authorization key, for either a monthly or annual fee, users of the program can enjoy an ad-free experience. The cost for a GWConnect activation key is only $4.99 a month or $49 a year. Order by calling the GW Micro Orders Department at (260) 489-3671. Or order online at <www.gwmicro.com/catalog/gw_connect>. Free technical support is available on the GW-Apps email list, which you can sign up for at <http://www.gwmicro.com/lists>.
To download the latest version of GWConnect, as well as to find out more information on all of the new features and enhancements to the program, visit <http://www.gwmicro.com/Apps/gwconnect>. Skype™ is a trademark of Skype Technologies S.A.
Materials for Blind Students Needed:
I am a teacher of English from Macedonia, and my students would welcome blindness-related items and materials like magazines and books in all formats except four-track tape. We can also use games and other useful learning materials. In addition we are also starting an early childhood program in our school, and items for this group of children would be welcomed. My postal address is Adrijana Prokopenko, bul. Jane Sandanski, 43. 5 / 6, 1000–Skopje, Macedonia. My email address is <email@example.com>. Please write to me in Braille, on two-track tape, or by email before sending anything to me so that I can reply and suggest the best way to send materials.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
I am looking for a copy of the RSV Bible read by Alexander Scourby. It was recorded in the mid sixties by the American Bible Society and was sold on 16 and 2/3 rpm records. I would like to buy or borrow a copy of this Bible to digitize for use on my computer and the Victor Reader Stream. I can be reached by phone at (701) 281-1374, by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or by mail at 301 4th Street East, Williston, ND 58801. Thank you.
I have a PenFriend Audio Labeler for sale; I bought it as a holiday gift for a friend who didn't want it. It has never been used, and it's still in its box. The labels are still sealed in their wrapping. I would like to sell it for $100. If interested, contact Audrey Joy by calling (212) 614-8764 or by emailing <email@example.com>.
I am selling an Enhanced Vision Machine by Samsung, Acrobatic, LCD. Excellent tool for those with impaired vision from macular degeneration, in excellent condition. Comes in its own carrying case on rollers. Original price was $2,500; asking $900.
Also selling a telephone for hearing and vision impaired by Freedom Spirit. Offers clear sounds amplified, large numbers, adjustable ringtones, memory buttons, and volume levels. Original price was $125. Asking $35. If interested, contact Mary Kay Gray at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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.