Vol. 55, No. 8 August/September 2012
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive (see below) by
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
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SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
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Vol. 55, No. 8 August/September 2012
Illustration: Blind Youth on
the Fashion Runway
The 2012 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder
Presidential Report 2012
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2012 Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2012 Bolotin Awards
by James Gashel
Meet the 2012 National Federation of the Blind
The Intersection of Law and Love
an Address Delivered by Marc Maurer
An End to Legalized Discrimination:
A Demand for Justice and a Call for Action
by Fredric K. Schroeder
The Client/Career Paradigm:
An Entrepreneurial Perspective
by Anil Lewis
The Degrees of Freedom, the Organized Blind Movement: The Dynamics
of Independence and Success
by Mark A. Riccobono
by Scott C. LaBarre
The Policy of Integration Enforceable at Law
by Eve L. Hill
Leaving No Blind Person Behind
by Sharon Maneki
The 2012 Resolutions of the National
Federation of the Blind
Convention MiniaturesConstitution of the National Federation
Copyright 2012 by the National Federation of the Blind
One of the events at this year’s convention was a fashion show held on Saturday afternoon. Twenty contestants ranging in age from seven to twenty came to demonstrate that one can look good without looking. The event was hosted by Kim Cunningham, the second vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and pictures were taken by her husband, who runs their small business, Gulf Images Photography.
Picture one is of Abigail Duffy, who is walking with her cane extended in front of her and wearing a blue, pink, and orange D-squared dress, brown flip-flops, three-quarter sleeve cardigan, necklace, and pink hair clips. She is eight years old; is in the third grade; lives in New Hampshire; and loves reading, riding bikes, and kayaking with her daddy. She wants to be a princess, race car driver, or engineer when she grows up.
The second picture shows Daniel Kay with his cane by his side. He is wearing blue-and-white-striped denim engineer's overalls over a white T-shirt with a matching engineer’s hat. He has on blue Croc shoes and a red bandana around his neck. He is seven years old, is in the second grade, and is attending his first convention. Daniel loves reading, playing the piano, and tae kwon do. As you might expect, he wants to be a train engineer when he grows up.
In the third picture MarChé Daughtry is walking forward with her white cane in hand. She is wearing brown capri pants; a cream, brown, coral, and peach blouse; coordinating necklace and earrings; and brown wedge sandals with cork heels. She is fourteen years old, lives in Virginia, is an avid Braille reader, and plans to major in psychology. This was her sixth NFB convention.
Next is seventeen-year-old Bree Lillyman walking with cane in hand. She is wearing a grey sleeveless shorts romper with teal and yellow flowers, tan platform sandals, and bangle bracelets. She is a freshman at Loyola University in Chicago, where she plans to earn a degree in publishing. Bree is from Illinois and enjoys theater and figure skating.
In the last picture Tatum Lewis poses with arms at her sides and hands bent outward. She is wearing blue jeans tucked into knee-high boots, a white T-shirt with butterflies layered under a pink and black plaid shirt. She is nine years old, is in the third grade, and is from Indiana. This was her first convention. She hopes to be a fashion designer or pop star.
by Gary Wunder
When the woman at the airport check-in desk says, "I've been seeing your friends all morning," when the gate agent asks, "Are you traveling with them?" and when the man at the cab stand says "Hilton Anatole, right, sir?" you can bet it is once again time for the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Convention seminars and other activities this year began on Saturday, and, as we have come to expect, the halls were filled with children ready for a day full of activities planned and executed by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Presentations covered everything from social skills and age-appropriate expectations to choosing the right technology and how to get it.
People looking for employment or wanting to help those who are seeking a job could attend a job-seekers seminar. People hoping to replace their old cell phones could attend a presentation entitled "Smartphone Showdown: iOS and Android (which device is best for you, and how do the two compare on features and apps)?" And, for those of us who still cling to the familiar desktop, there was "The Best of Both Worlds: Windows on Mac (advantages and disadvantages, and how to make it work)."
Because the Anatole is known for its beautiful art, we scheduled guided tours allowing hotel guests to examine and ask questions about the treasures on display. For newcomers Saturday evening featured a Rookie Roundup coordinated by Pam Allen and attended by President Maurer and other leaders. For those wanting to sing out and show their stuff, BLIND, Inc., hosted karaoke night, and so it went, event after event, packing the most into seminar day.
Sunday started with registration, a process that has truly gotten so fast that registered attendees had merely to walk to the table, take their packets, and move along so the next person could get tickets and an agenda. Because it had been so widely distributed ahead of time, fewer copies were picked up, and many used their iPhones or notetakers to follow the agenda, having marked the items of most interest to them.
Since social media are playing a bigger part in the lives of blind and sighted people, NFB 2012 TweetUp introduced the uninitiated to the world of Twitter and explained how the NFB is using this resource to communicate among our members and reach out to newcomers. Those who wanted more physical activity could learn about self-defense, sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division, and the Travel and Tourism Division hosted a panel of travel professionals to discuss the travel challenges and opportunities available to blind people.
As always happens on registration day, 1:30 found most convention attendees waiting for the gavel to fall convening the meeting of the resolutions committee. After all of the intellectual heavy-lifting in considering our policy direction, Federationists by the hundreds attended the fifteenth annual mock trial, where the term “blind justice” was once again redefined with levity and good cheer.
Convention activities continued throughout the evening with a meeting of the National Association of Blind Veterans to talk about how we can best serve returning service men and women; a showcase of technology for those in the exhibit hall to advertise their products and services; and a meeting to discuss how to find, recruit, and grow new members so they can be a part of our dynamic social movement.
Among the convention presentations mentioned in the Roundup, some will be reprinted in full, some will be covered in detail, and some will get only a mention. All of them are available in full at <www.nfb.org/convention-highlights>, and many of the on-stage presentations will shine through their recordings in a way that cannot be captured on paper. Even Federationists who were in Dallas will be surprised at how much they get from hearing some of these presentations without the distraction of noise and other interruptions that make up the convention experience.
On Monday morning the meeting of the board of directors commenced promptly at 9:00 a.m. with all members present. The gathering took time to remember those we have lost in the past year: Art Dingus, Don Galloway, Thelma Godwin, Ed Lewinson, Ray Marshall, Joie Stuart, Margaret Warren, Levada Kemp, and Frank Lee were mentioned by name. For the first time in many decades, longtime Federation leaders Don and Betty Capps were not with us. Both were unwell, and their inability to come to Dallas marked the end of 56 consecutive conventions for Don and one shy this number for Betty. Leaders Jim and Sharon Omvig were in attendance, and the convention enthusiastically echoed its best wishes for both couples, who have played a vital role in building the Federation and helping the blind.
President Maurer announced that all officers would stand for election this year: Marc Maurer, president, Maryland; Fred Schroeder, first vice president, Virginia; Ronald Brown, second vice president, Indiana; James Gashel, secretary, Colorado; and Pam Allen, treasurer, Louisiana. In addition, board members Amy Buresh, Nebraska; Patti Chang, Illinois; Mike Freeman, Washington; John Fritz, Wisconsin; Carl Jacobsen, New York; and Alpidio Rolón, Puerto Rico saw their current terms coming to an end.
The convention was welcomed to Texas by our state president, Kimberly Flores. She told us to get ready for a lively convention, some good Texas barbecue, and a strong dose of Texas hospitality second to none. Barbie Elliott, a chapter president and member of the state board in Utah, came to the platform to sing an original composition entitled "I can do anything."
Our focus on literacy means that Braille is an important part of the work we do and support. The American Action Fund operates a free Braille books program that will give any blind child a Braille book to keep. Children interested in the books offered by the Action Fund can go to the website <www.actionfund.org> or can contact Mrs. Patricia Maurer at (410) 659-9314, extension 2272.
Carl Jacobsen chairs the Imagination Fund committee. In addressing the convention he talked about the imaginative programs of the Jernigan Institute, the grants that have been given to affiliates, and the way we turn our dreams into programs. This year Carl introduced the dream machine, a 21st-century marvel with a fully accessible interface consisting of two slots: one for the cards containing dreams the Jernigan Institute will figure out how to implement and the second for the fuel to make the dreams in the dream machine come true. With the insertion of every dream came an audible confirmation worthy of the finest science fiction sound effects.
René Smith, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada, came to the podium to make an affiliate contribution to the national treasury in the amount of $563,721.50. She brought more than a promise; more than a pledge; she brought a check.
Julie Deden and Scott LaBarre presented a check to the national treasury in the amount of $100,000 and noted that in the last year and a half the NFB has gotten donations from Colorado in excess of $2.5 million. Julie told the assembled that a generous bequest has allowed the Colorado Center for the Blind to purchase apartments for its students. The name of the building that now houses those apartments is the McGeorge Mountain Terrace, named after longtime Federation leaders Ray and Diane McGeorge. Patti Chang of Illinois reported that her affiliate will be receiving a bequest in the amount of $85,000, of which $42,500 will come to the national treasury.
The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award was presented by committee chair and national board member Cathy Jackson. The award and a check for $1,000 were presented to Casey L. Robertson of Mississippi. The presentation of this award is reported in full elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer announced that he is now accepting the names of those wishing to serve on Federation committees. In addition to the names submitted at the convention, those interested in serving should write to him at the national office by sending an email to <[email protected]> or by writing him at 200 E. Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230.
Scott LaBarre encouraged participation in the Preauthorized Contribution Plan, listed the top twenty states contributing to the program, and challenged us to reach $415,000 by the end of the convention.
Dr. David Ticchi came to the platform to present the Blind Educator of the Year award. This year's recipient is Catherine Mendez. A report of this presentation and acceptance can be found elsewhere in this issue.
Some time ago the Federation established a savings account to be used in hard times. It is called the SUN (Shares Unlimited in the NFB) fund, and it is chaired by Sandy Halverson. The fund had somewhat over one million dollars coming into the convention, and the goal was to raise that to one and a half million dollars before convention end.
The thirty scholarship winners were introduced, and each was given thirty seconds to tell the board and the convention about himself or herself. A full report of this presentation is found elsewhere in this issue. So impressive were these winners that the board voted unanimously to sponsor the scholarship program in 2013.
Scott LaBarre was once again called to the platform to introduce Justin Hughes, a professor at the Benjamin Cardozo school of Law and the chief negotiator representing the United States in treaty negotiations at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The U.S. copyright exemption created for the blind by the Chafee amendment in 1996 is by no means universal around the world, and under existing law it is illegal to share accessible materials across national borders. Mr. Hughes said that one of the things he admires about the National Federation of the Blind is that its leaders strike the right balance between idealism and realism. He said, “The only way one gets things done is by having both a broad vision and a commitment to detail…. A change in the law is sometimes mistakenly believed to be a change in reality, but it is only the first small step…. In terms of books, we want to get people to follow the law--that part which is mandatory and then the part that is permissive.”
The twenty-six teachers in our Teacher of Tomorrow program were next introduced to tell the board what they had learned as a result of their experience. Their statements make it clear that they have come to a different view of blindness: one they will share not only with their students but with the world.
For the first time in anyone's memory and certainly for the first time since Dr. Maurer has been president, the meeting of the board of directors adjourned before its scheduled time of 11:30.
The afternoon brought meetings of divisions, committees, and groups, representing the diversity of the professions in which the blind are found and the numerous interests we share. Reports from a few of these divisions, committees, and groups will be covered elsewhere in this issue.
When the Tuesday morning session was gaveled to order, Tom Anderson, the president of the National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith and pastor of the chapel at Littleton Pentecostal Church in Littleton, Colorado, gave the invocation. President Maurer reported that so far we had forty-three visitors representing fifteen foreign countries in attendance and that registration as of the close of business on Monday was 2,241. Texans were rightfully proud to be number one in registration and vowed to take home the attendance banner at the close of the convention.
Kimberly Flores welcomed us to Texas by beginning her remarks: “I stand before you and all of the incredible energy in this room; I stand before you in anticipation of the great themes we are going to see this week; I stand before you in comfort, because I am wearing cowboy boots…. One of the things we are proud of in Texas is our rich music history, from Willie Nelson to Stevie Ray Vaughn. We have a diverse musical tapestry. The Grammy-winning musical act we are presenting this morning is no exception."
An introduction of the performers was given in Spanish by the first vice president of Texas, Jose Marquez. It was then given in English by the band Los Texmaniacs featuring Max Baca and David Farias. Max played the bajo sexto, a twelve string guitar-like instrument, which customarily provides rhythm accompaniment for the button accordion, thus creating the core of the conjunto sound. David plays the accordion. Their sound energized those in the hall, whether their preference was classical, pop, folk, or country.
Dwight Sayer came to the stage to conduct a ceremony honoring veterans who are members of the National Federation of the Blind and to honor the United States of America on her 208th birthday. He began by presenting to President Maurer a flag-draped cross with a scroll of the Pledge of Allegiance in the center of the cross. The most senior veteran to appear on the stage was recognized individually. Tech Sergeant James Hunter was discharged in 1946 and is ninety-one years old. After each veteran gave name, rank, and service, the colors were presented by American Legion Post 21 from The Colony, Texas. The ceremony concluded with the singing of the National Anthem, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and “God Bless America,” led by Father John Sheehan.
The roll call of states found all fifty-two affiliates present, with many offering tidbits to spice up the mandatory information gathered in this segment. Elsie Dickerson of Idaho asked that we keep Shelly Newhouse in our prayers as she battles a flesh-eating disease that has kept her hospitalized since April. Debbie Brown of Maryland asked the convention to do a shout-out to Melissa Riccobono, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, who was listening to the convention stream as she recuperated from the birth of Elizabeth, Melissa and Mark's third child. The convention sent greetings to both Melissa and Elizabeth.
Gary Ray of North Carolina said, "Last year at this time North Carolina had a number of tremendous governmental and legislative reverses. Our school for the blind was going to be closed; NEWSLINE® funding was in jeopardy; the governor had issued executive orders to merge our VR agency into a super agency and had put one of our critical committees on a hit list. In North Carolina we have run the table since then. The Governor Morehead School has been unclosed; NEWSLINE has been funded for another year; the legislature blocked the merger of our VR agency, and the legislature has blocked the dissolution of the Consumer and Advocacy Advisory Committee for the Blind." These victories briefly halted the roll call with applause from the convention and the drawing of a door prize.
Alpidio Rolón said: "When the National Federation of the Blind was organized in Puerto Rico, many thought that we would be just one more organization of blind people. Twenty years later a white cane law, a Braille literacy statute, and a law giving us the right to vote independently show that we are here, alive and kicking."
When South Carolina was called, affiliate President Parnell Diggs asked that the convention remember Don and Betty Capps. With the hope that Don and Betty would hear their love and enthusiasm in the convention recordings, those in the hall roared their appreciation for the tireless service the couple has given.
The last item of business in the morning session was a presentation entitled “Access to the Internet for the Blind,” presented by Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque Systems, Inc. Deque was the Web Accessibility Champion sponsor for the 2012 convention, and, as the sponsorship implies, this company and its director have an abiding interest in access to the web and in working with the blind to get it. They believe that accessibility isn't about technology; it's about making sure that the most amazing information resource in human history is open and available to every person on the planet. The concept of accessibility can be abstract, but a life story is concrete and personal. Accessibility Stories is an online project for sharing individual anecdotes to highlight the difference accessibility has made in the lives of blind people, and at its booth in the exhibit hall Deque Systems used an entire evening to film the stories of those who use this resource for employment, recreation, and fuller participation.
Many accessibility challenges exist from the jobsite to the social media site. Amaze is a program developed by Deque to bring accessibility to all kinds of websites, even when site owners show little if any interest in making what they offer available to the blind who use assistive technology. The program is installed as an extension or plug-in that will work with a web browser, and one of the plug-in's functions is to make the Facebook site completely usable by the blind. This offering from Deque Systems is free to members of the National Federation of the Blind. Anyone wanting to obtain it should go to <www.deque.com/nfb> to complete a form to request the plug-in.
In adition to this program, Deque is creating the Amaze Accessibility Center, a team within Deque that will work actively to ensure that customer sites are accessible, to identify accessibility problems before they affect users, and to empower customers so the company can guarantee accessibility in the same way they now guarantee security and privacy. "We are committing today to hire and staff the Amaze Accessibility Center with as many new employees who are blind as we are able to find and train."
The falling of the gavel on Tuesday afternoon introduced the annual Presidential Report. In just over an hour President Maurer touched on the dreams that bring us together, the obstacles we face that bring out our collective creativity and resourcefulness, and the commitment we make to one another in turning those obstacles into opportunities. The president's remarks are reprinted in full immediately following this article.
In remarks titled “Video Description Research and Development Center, Descriptive Video Exchange: Enhancing the Experience by Empowering the Consumer,” Joshua A. Miele, director at Smith-Kettlewell discussed the exciting new possibility of more descriptive programming for video-based educational materials. The goal is to include an audio track to describe scenes that are not clear from the dialogue and other audio. The creators of television shows, movies, and educational videos have been slow to embrace the cost of adding an audio track, and volunteer groups have had to get permission before adding to and thereby modifying material covered under copyright law. While descriptive video has traditionally been used for entertainment, technology is changing the building blocks of education, and even the textbook is becoming an experience involving audio-visual material. The concept behind the Descriptive Video Exchange is that the audio description will be generated apart from the material being described and accordingly will require no modification to the original material. Anyone may upload audio descriptions, and the player the blind person will use can find the video for anything that has been described. Alternatively, when a blind person encounters a presentation, software running on his mobile device can listen to the audio and search to see if an audio description exists. If it does, the mobile device can sychronize playing the audio description with the program.
The thrust of this initiative is to take description out of the hands of content creators and place it in the hands of consumers. To this end the National Federation of the Blind has partnered with the Smith-Kettlewell Video Research and Development Center to train blind people to do video description. The blind can write the narrative; read it into the descriptive service; or coordinate the efforts with others who wish to view and describe a documentary, a television show, or a movie. When professional video describers are needed, we will have them available, and videos, whether in a textbook or a movie classic, will be usable by everybody.
“The Degrees of Freedom, The Organized Blind Movement: The Dynamics of Independence and Success” was presented by the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, Mark Riccobono. Mark wisely observed that every time we work to change the lives of blind people, we increase the degree of freedom that others have and in turn improve our lives. His presentation is reprinted elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer next introduced Rob Sinclair, director of accessibility and chief accessibility strategist at Microsoft. While we have not always been happy with the accessibility of Microsoft products and have wished for a stronger commitment from the company, what is accessible is largely due to the efforts of Rob and his team, and for this Mr. Sinclair was welcomed with warm applause. In Windows 8 Microsoft has a built-in screen reader that will allow a blind person to use Windows out of the box. This is quite different from other Windows releases, in which any significant use of the computer would require the purchase and installation of third-party screen-reading software. Narrator, Microsoft’s screen-reading solution, will not only be accessible through the keyboard, but will offer a touch-screen experience similar to that found on many smart phones and tablets. Microsoft has completely rewritten its accessibility standard with the requirement that all of its new products be accessible. When longtime technology users hear or read this statement, we feel much like former President Ronald Reagan speaking about the former Soviet Union when he said, "Trust but verify." Technically it is possible and very desirable that all new products be accessible; Microsoft and other companies have a talented group of people dedicated to access; the real issue becomes whether, when a new product is introduced, the team dedicated to accessibility will be on the bus that brings an accessible product or will be thrown under the bus that brings one that is not.
Microsoft is also building better customer support through its accessibility team, by focusing on social media sites and other channels to get better feedback in building products and better support once those products hit the market.
Finally, a number of companies would like to create accessible products but have no idea how to do it. Microsoft has pledged to increase its effort to reach out to these businesses with programs to help train them and provide tools they can use to evaluate their progress.
“Minar Directae” was the title of the next agenda item, presented by the president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, Scott LaBarre. For all of the antidiscrimination laws on the books, one argument that is still used against blind people and others with disabilities is safety--safety to ourselves or others. Scott's moving remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
“Accessible Travel and a Safe Environment for the Blind: A Commitment from the Secretary of Transportation” was delivered by the Honorable Ray H. LaHood. When Secretary LaHood was a member of Congress, he was helpful to us in getting the leadership to take seriously our need for digital books from the National Library Service. He has been helpful in supporting the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act and now heads the agency responsible for drafting regulations to implement it. His job is also to ensure that, not only is it safe for the blind to travel, but it is easy and convenient. He is engaged in the challenge of getting the airlines to make their websites accessible and to make the kiosks used to check in at airports usable by the blind. "Like all of you I believe it is important that we work together to make transportation accessible for every American. Everyone deserves safe and reliable access to his or her job, to schools, to stores--everyone deserves the right to pursue an education and live independently...That's what transportation is all about. It's more than a way to get from one place to another; it's the means by which we lead our lives...President Obama and the Department of Transportation are committed to giving all Americans the opportunity to achieve their dreams, and we are especially committed to providing accessible transportation for blind and low-vision Americans.”
On Tuesday evening, following adjournment, the Texas affiliate hosted a real Texas barbecue, with music provided by JP Williams. The Performing Arts Division provided people with a chance to make a demo CD, the Louisiana Center for the Blind welcomed a gathering of its alumni, the Colorado Center for the Blind had an open house for those wishing to learn about its services, and the employment committee offered its expertise to anyone who wanted tips on finding a job and to employers wanting people to fill them. Bookshare, an innovative service that gives blind people access to books for education and recreation, celebrated its tenth anniversary, while members of our strategic initiatives staff offered a seminar on how to promote national legislation. Parents had the opportunity to learn about the basics of the individual education plan, while their children could learn more about the Nemeth Code. A grant-writing seminar for chapters, divisions, and affiliates was available later in the evening.
Wednesday morning began with an invocation delivered by a high priest and bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Bruce Gardner. President Maurer recognized our sponsors for the 2012 convention. Those businesses helping us in our work as White Cane sponsors included the Sendero Group; Southwest Airlines; eBay; Independence Science; Scripts for JAWS.com; HIMS, Inc.; Bookshare; Learning Ally; Sprint; and Envision America. Our Bronze sponsors were IBM; Research in Motion; Vital Source Technologies; Adobe Systems; and C&P, Chris Park Designs. Our Silver sponsors were Freedom Scientific and FoxKiser. Gold sponsors were Google, Market Development Group, and Vanda Pharmaceuticals. Platinum sponsors were Oracle, UPS, and Humanware. Our Web Accessibility Champion sponsor was Deque Systems.
President Maurer reviewed the finances of the Federation, and affiliates were given copies of the annual report. While fundraising at a level necessary to support all we must do is always difficult, the economy in 2012 has made this a particularly daunting challenge. The organization must live within its means, and this it has done, but there may be difficult times to come, and the president warned that we should be prepared to make changes in the coming year if we cannot figure out a way to generate more income.
He briefly reviewed some of the policies and procedures to see that our money is spent as expected. The president is the officer who approves all expenditures. All checks written are reviewed by the treasurer at least quarterly. No check is written without a written authorization, and no check is released unless two people have looked at the check and the authorization. The person who authorizes a check cannot sign it, so two people must review each check we write. Any check in excess of $10,000 must be signed by two people, who also review the authorizations that were required before it was written. The auditors are then allowed to look at anything or everything they want, and, if they find any systemic problems, these findings are reported and addressed.
Following the Honor Roll Call of States, we conducted the election of officers and six board positions. All current members were returned to office, and the commitment of those elected and those who elected them were evident in the remarks offered and the applause received.
Mike May, the chief executive officer of the Sendero Group, addressed the convention to discuss “The Seeing Eye App: GPS for the Blind on the iPhone.” Mike and his company have created a number of products that have provided the benefits of the global positioning system to the blind. He got into this work, not only to make a living, but to create something useful for himself and have fun doing it. It was not his love of gadgets but of adventure that caused him to work on harnessing the power of this new technology. Current versions can determine one’s location, accept an address, and create a pedestrian or vehicular route to it. Points of interest can be labeled, searched, and shared with others--favorite restaurants, grocery stores, or the home of a friend. The first incarnation of Sendero's software ran on a laptop; the latest will soon run on an iPhone. Sendero has partnered with the Seeing Eye with the mission of developing a system which is both small and useful. The iPhone version may have fewer features than currently available on notetakers, but it will be powerful and will meet the special needs of blind travelers, whether pedestrians or navigators.
“Inspiring Independence for the Blind through Faith and Service: from New York to the Vatican” was delivered by the chairman of the Xavier Society for the Blind, Father John Sheehan. His call to serve blind people was not one he chose but accepted, and what he has found in this work convinces him that God knows best what we need and how we can be of benefit to Him and mankind. Before coming to the Society, Father Sheehan knew little about blind people, and his experience daily confirms how little most people know about us. He said that we may mistakenly believe, because of our life experience or because of our association with people who are blind, that the general public knows about our capabilities, but, only if we go beyond our comfort zone to engage them will we really teach and thereby change the public's attitude and the lives of blind people. The troubled economy means that there will be changes in the programs of the Society, but it will remain a positive force in work with the blind, and Braille will remain a fundamental part of its programs and services.
We then moved from national programs to the international scene. Maryanne Diamond, the president of the World Blind Union, and Arnt Holte, vice-executive director of the Norwegian Association of the Blind, addressed the convention on the subject of the Federation in the World. The problems faced by the blind of the United States are shared by others in the world, but the problems in other countries are often more severe, and the tools for finding and implementing solutions are fewer.
As President Maurer noted, the National Federation of the Blind's role in world affairs is threefold: to help support international programs where we can, to be an example of what the blind can do through self-organization and concerted action, and to learn from others who must achieve freedom against substantial odds and to be inspired by them. The NFB, through the work of our founding president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, was instrumental in forming the International Federation of the Blind. We have been active in the World Blind Union since it was conceived. The relationship between the NFB and the World Blind Union must be one in which the Federation both gives and receives. We are active in seeking cross-border sharing of books that have been converted into Braille, audio, or large print. We work cooperatively to solve the problem of cars too quiet to hear. In the effort to change the State Department's initiative to give the inaccessible Kindle to developing countries, we have been joined by organizations from other nations and by the World Blind Union. This is the way we help and why we participate.
The afternoon session began with President Maurer reporting that the morning session had been heard by people from twelve countries. The newest version of the PAC song rang out through the hall and throughout the world as Richie Flores played the guitar and more than two-thousand people in the hall joined in singing the modern melody to inspire donations to the Preauthorized Contribution Plan.
Of course, after one packs, the next step is to travel. Accordingly, “Equal Access for the Blind; Airfares, Hotels, Cruises: Savings with Travelocity” was presented by Steve Dumaine, senior vice president of global strategy and product innovation from Travelocity. The philosophy at Travelocity is that "Life isn't about acquiring possessions; it's about collecting memories." The NFB and Travelocity have been working to enhance the travel experience for blind people. Travelocity has found its relationship so important that it has already committed to be a Platinum sponsor in 2013. The remarks of Mr. Dumaine will appear in their entirety in a future issue.
A well-known and much loved developer of technology, Deane Blazie, next came to talk about “The Affordable Powerful Notetaker for the Blind.” He was joined by Brian Mac Donald, who serves as the president of National Braille Press. Deane and Brian are a part of a team composed of some twenty-five individuals and organizations concerned about the declining literacy of the blind. Developing and manufacturing more affordable devices that produce refreshable Braille output will make a significant contribution to the effort to reverse this crisis. The first result of this collaboration between the NFB and other organizations is the Braille 2 Go, a Braille notetaker with twenty cells, GPS, built-in WiFi, a 4G cell phone that can be used on the AT&T or Verizon network, and an audio player. The unit is expected to cost between two-thousand and three-thousand dollars and is expected to be available before next year's national convention in Orlando.
With the thought of more Braille dancing under our fingers, Jim Gashel was invited to make an introduction, whereupon he announced he would introduce Steven King. Larry King--we had him before, but Steven King--well now, somebody worth reading. Though the topic had everything to do with reading; it was not the well-known author who came but the president of the DAISY Consortium. DAISY is an acronym for the Digital Accessible Information System. If you read audio books from the National Library Service, you use DAISY books. The goal of DAISY is to make electronic books both accessible and navigable for blind people. Mr. King's presentation was “The DAISY Consortium Global Partnership: Working with the NFB to End the Book Famine.” So important were Mr. King's remarks that they will appear in an upcoming issue.
The Strategic Initiatives team of the National Federation of the Blind is headed by John Paré. His team oversees NFB-NEWSLINE®, public relations, and the governmental affairs activities of the organization. In the past year NFB-NEWSLINE has added nine state newspapers, eight international newspapers, and four magazines. The service offers readers the option to read their favorite material using the telephone, computer, or iPhone. Newspapers and magazines can be read using any number of portable digital book readers, the NLS Talking Book player, or an MP3 player. Subscribers can have their favorite publications sent through email or can read them with the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. These options mean that newspapers and magazines are no longer publications that leave the blind out but are available in any format we desire.
This year the National Federation of the Blind appeared in more than three-thousand articles covering everything from how we read to the unfair, discriminatory, and immoral practice of paying the blind less than the minimum wage. To address this issue, Anil Lewis came to the microphone to talk about our effort to do away with the law that permits payment of less than the minimum wage. He said that, while many have actively supported our efforts to make these payments illegal, some have called to say they would like more data. He was glad to oblige and said, "Thirty-three percent of people K-12 with disabilities have segregated sheltered work employment as their vocational goal; we've given up on them, even before they've had a chance to get an education. I think that's wrong; it's unfair, discriminatory, and immoral. Ninety-five percent of the people employed in these segregated work environments will never transition to other employment. This is the lie, the lie that these facilities are places of training and transition: they are stuck there for the rest of their working lives, and that's unfair, discriminatory, and immoral. Fifty percent of those employed under special wage certificates make less than half the minimum wage; that's ridiculous but beyond that it is unfair, discriminatory, and immoral. Twenty-five percent of these people make less than a dollar an hour: a dollar--that's not a job; that's unfair, discriminatory, and immoral. We have found documentation of people making as little as three cents per hour--ridiculous! This is unfair, discriminatory, and immoral. Forty-six percent of the revenue of sheltered workshops comes from public funds. These facilities are not run from money made by engaging in good business practices; almost half of their money comes from the federal government....Because of our education and because of our commitment to do what is right, we have been able to get eighty-two cosponsors of H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.”
Lauren McClarney coherently, intelligently, and spirititedly addressed another of the Federation's legislative initiatives: the Home Appliances Accessibility Act. Its intent is to see that home appliances sold in this country are usable by the blind. Congress has thus far refused to endorse the Act, agreeing that something must be done, but opining that this proposal is controversial. As Lauren says, "I think congress needs to redefine the word `controversial.’ Congress passes resolutions all the time: naming post offices and other benign things, but, when it really matters, when it comes to civil rights, when it comes to telling a company or an institution to rethink its business model, it's a challenge, but it's one the National Federation of the Blind is willing to face and one that the Congress should embrace as well."
Fortunately, better news is found in the area of transportation and the decision of the Department of Transportation to update the Air Carrier Access Act regulations to cover airline websites and automated airport kiosks. Other regulatory changes we support will ensure that audible signals emit tones and vibrations that truly benefit blind travelers.
Finally, we are involved in discussions about updating regulations to implement Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act that require equipment purchased or developed by the federal government to be usable by the blind. While Section 508 has been law since 1998, the Act has served more as a goal than as a guide for action. The new regulations are intended to see that the intent of the Act is translated into products that expand opportunities in the federal government and to create more accessible technology by harnessing the purchasing power of one of the largest purchasers of technology in the world.
In 1997 we managed to get language placed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act saying that Braille shall be the presumed reading medium for blind students. Despite this unabiguous language, educators have still denied Braille to blind children, and in many areas of the country schools have continued to insist that children use print they can barely see. The results are what one would expect: reading is slow, reading is painful, and reading is seldom appreciated for the transformative role it can play in the lives of blind children. A poor education in the classroom leads to no opportunity in the board room and continues to send the message to blind children that they cannot keep up in a sighted world. Some members of Congress have recognized the problems but have said we should wait until the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is reauthorized. In the best of times this would be five years away. Fortunately Senator Patty Murray of Washington State understands that denying Braille to blind students has the same result that denying print to sighted students would have--the result would be nothing less than an illiterate population. She was joined by Senator John Boozman of Arkansas in writing a Dear Colleague letter that urges the Department of Education to issue new regulations to carry out the intent of Congress that blind people shall receive Braille instruction and that the burden of proof must fall, not on the parents who request Braille instruction, but on the IEP team to show that Braille will not be useful for that student. As a result of this letter signed by twenty-six Senators, the secretary of education has agreed to meet with the National Federation of the Blind, and it is clear that we will settle for nothing less than Braille for the blind students who attend our nation's public schools.”
Often we help to create and support legislation, but sometimes working on behalf of blind people means we must oppose it. Last year a proposal to amend the Rehabilitation Act by adding Section 511 was proposed. This section would have incorporated references to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act that permit payment of less than the minimum wage to the blind. We opposed its inclusion, and Section 511 died.
Similarly, Senator Robert Portman of Ohio proposed that vending opportunities offered to the blind on our nation's highways be given to commercial enterprises. Since highway vending provides hundreds of jobs to blind people and much needed revenue for business enterprise programs throughout the country, the National Federation of the Blind asked the Senator to withdraw his proposal. He did not. In fact he recruited the National Governors Association to help in the effort. We asked the Senate leadership to block the amendment, and Senator Portman said that, unless his amendment was considered, there would be no action on the Surface Transportation bill. The leadership allowed it to move forward. We then contacted every United States Senator, emphasizing the value of highway rest areas to the livelihoods of many. When the vote was taken, the blind won the day with eighty-six Senators voting to preserve our business opportunities.
After the rousing presentations given by John Paré, Anil Lewis, Lauren McLarney, and Jesse Hartle, the convention turned its attention to twenty-six resolutions. A complete report from the resolutions committee and the texts of the resolutions adopted are found elsewhere in this issue.
Thursday morning began with an invocation given by David Stayer, a cantor from Young Israel of Myrick New York. David's prayer, which always concludes in song, drew a round of applause from the audience, and our spirits were raised even higher by the announcement of Renè Smith, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada, that NFB-NEWSLINE® was coming to the state.
The first official presentation of the morning, delivered by Kevin Carey, the chairman of the Royal National Institute for Blind People, was entitled “The Democratisation of Braille.” He began his presentation by saying: "Braille is on the verge of a global catastrophe as great as that which the music industry faced in the 1990s and as great as that now facing book, magazine, and newspaper publishers. If we don't do something radical to save it, we, the baby boomers, will be the last generation to take Braille seriously." With these provocative remarks as backdrop, he presented five reasons why Braille is in trouble and focused on how we might address them. His presentation will appear in full in a later issue.
“The Client/Career Paradigm: An Entrepreneurial Perspective” was presented by the NFB Director of Strategic Communications, Anil Lewis. He exercised a bit of personal privilege by acknowledging his fourteen-year-old son Amari, his brother Rafael, and what he alleged to be the best scholarship class ever, his class of 2002. His remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
Since employment is a major key to independence, integration, and financial security, the presentation that followed was of particular interest. Its title was “State Programs to Encourage Independence for the Blind,” and it was presented by Larry E. Temple, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission. Like anyone else looking for employment, blind people must look at the job market to determine what is needed, what education is required, and whether they have an aptitude for the work being sought. In the 760 jobs tracked by the Census Bureau in its survey of American communities, blind people in Texas were represented in more than two-thirds of those jobs. Nationally the unemployment rate is 8.8 percent. In Texas the unemployment rate of blind people actively attempting to find jobs is 6.8 percent. This is counterintuitive to the commonly quoted statistic that the unemployment rate of the blind is seventy percent, and in fact the unemployment rate of blind people in Texas is actually lower than that of the general population, 6.9 percent. The problem is that a number of blind people aren't working and, for whatever reason, are not actively seeking work. Some are retired; some are stay-at-home moms or dads; but too many have just given up looking for a job.
Employers say they want someone who is trained or who is trainable, that they want someone who knows what it means to come to work on time every day, and that they want someone who is able to get along in an increasingly diverse workforce. Employers want problem-solvers: people who can identify a problem, analyze it, come up with options, bring them to management, and then act on whatever decision management makes. Finally, employers want people who can communicate both through the written word and orally.
Blind people bring much to this employer wish list. Dealing with blindness makes us problem-solvers. Getting the information we need makes us good communicators. The first job one takes may be quite different from the job one wants, but it is always critical to get that first job. A first job generally leads to a second job, and that second job and those that come after are what lead to a career. Start in high school and college to get that all-important work experience; employers identify the single most important item missing on most résumés as a good job reference. The reference is less important for what it says about what you know in order to do the job you want than it does about your ability to be trained to do the job your next employer wants done.
In his closing remarks Mr. Temple expressed gratitude for being invited to present and explained why he was honored to be at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind: "Two years ago I was sitting in the back corner over here to the left, and there was a young couple who had a little boy who was about seven who was blind. It was their first NFB conference, and they had two other kids who were sighted. The father could almost not talk--he was breaking up because he was so happy. For the first time, at this conference, he realized that he could have the same expectations for his son who was blind that he had for his other two children. I just want you to know that you have my commitment and that of my people to push that same expectation in our One-Stops and, to the degree that I can, to influence it nationally." Those interested in finding employment and those of us desperately searching for ways to help them would do well to listen to this complete presentation at the link listed earlier.
Moving from work to entertainment, Richard Orme, head of accessibility and digital inclusion at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), addressed the convention with the catchy title "Accessible Television Equipment: the United Kingdom Scoops the U.S." In the UK there are more televisions than people, and the average citizen watches more than four hours of it per day. Though blind people are too often counted out because television is considered primarily a visual experience, they too like television for both information and entertainment. The two challenges that present problems for the full enjoyment of television are knowing what is happening on the screen and being able to take advantage of the many options now available only through visual menus on the device.
In the UK audio description is very popular, with 80 percent of totally blind people and 40 percent of visually impaired people using the service. Currently the UK has sixty-nine channels carrying audio description, and these are among the most popular channels in the country. Part of the license requirement is that at least 10 percent of programming be audio described. Several years ago industry leaders volunteered to double their output of described content. Many broadcasters now produce more than a third of their programming with audio description. Interestingly, many of the American shows run in the UK are broadcast with audio description because British broadcasters produce the audio description track before they are aired.
Of course, having this content available has little value if you are unable to navigate the many channels and options required to enjoy the rich tapestry of programming. Mr. Orme said that, though many politicians talked about the desirability of this access, initial contact with manufacturers suggested that the challenge was impossible to meet. Even after working with universities to develop prototypes, the industry was still not convinced, and nothing was available for the purchasing public. As a result of a lot of work with television manufacturers, products that are available to the general public and are not blindness-specific now have accessibility features allowing them to be used by the blind. This includes set-top boxes, digital video recorders, and the televisions themselves. The result is a fully talking television experience.
In addition to products that are born accessible, the RNIB has also developed technology that will make existing devices such as satellite receivers and digital video recorders speak. The audience was asked whether it would like some of this television accessibility in America, and the response was a resounding yes.
The good news is that, while much of this technology is currently designed for television systems in the United Kingdom, some big-name players are becoming involved, foremost among them Panasonic. Since the television industry is highly competitive, when one company introduces a feature, others often follow. A tremendous spinoff from this initiative to make television more accessible is that big-name players who manufacture televisions also make other consumer appliances into which this technology can be easily integrated. With the mass deployment of speech technology, it is quite reasonable to hope that the cost of text-to-speech equipment will drop dramatically and thereby increase its prevalence in devices which will offer an out-of-the-box experience for the blind.
“Implementing Accessibility for the Print Disabled at the University System-Level” was presented by Dr. Gerard Hanley, the senior director of academic technology services and the executive director of Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching at California State University (CSU). The system Mr. Hanley represents graduates more students than any other institution of higher learning in the U.S. In this system more than ten-thousand five-hundred students are registered for disability services. As with other public institutions, finances are difficult, and this system educates one-hundred thousand more students than it did in 1999, while receiving the same state contribution it got at that time. More than a billion dollars of state funding has been lost, and the challenge is to handle the issue of accessibility in these difficult financial times.
A key element in CSU’s success has been achieved by letting the faculty, instructional designers, academic advisors, and procurement officers know what to do to make accessibility real--what the procedures are for implementing it, and know what the consequences are if they get it right or if they get it wrong. The commitment must come from the top, but it must extend to all campus units and not just the disability service programs. Responsibility must be embraced system-wide, but responsibility must filter down to identifiable individuals because it takes a community of people to implement policy. That community must have a voice in the way decisions are made, and those with that voice will feel a deeper commitment to the mission. An institution must not be defensive; it must admit that it is not fully accessible and develop policies to find out where it falls short and how it will address the problems it has identified. A key stakeholder in this process is the blind consumer, and we must bring our expertise and commitment to this process for it to be successful.
“An End to Legalized Discrimination: A Demand for Justice and a Call for Action” was the title of the next presentation, which was forcefully and passionately presented by Dr. Fredric Schroeder, NFB first vice president and a research professor at San Diego State University. In his remarks Dr. Schroeder discussed the dead-end roads traveled by too many blind people because sheltered work facilities seek to place these men and women in jobs in which their disabilities are exacerbated by the physical work they are asked to do, when the solution is to look at their assets and design jobs that make the most of their talents and abilities. Dr. Schroeder's remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
The next presentation entitled "Equal Access for the Blind to Education," was introduced by President Maurer as follows: "How long and how hard have we worked on this topic? Sometimes, when we address the topic of education such as in Baltimore, Maryland, we find that 133 students are in the school district, and only six of them are learning Braille. This means that about a hundred-twenty-five are not, and we are told there's no way to change it. We then find that inaccessible technology is deployed in the school systems, and some of the people from the Department of Education tell us that it's all right to have inaccessible technology there because, if there comes to be a blind person, we'll get one piece of accessible technology; it will be separate; it won't be equal; it won't be the same; but there's no way to change it. That is what the Department of Education tells us. So we want equal access for the blind to education, and we have the deputy assistant secretary for policy from the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education to come tell us how to get at it. Here is Deputy Assistant Secretary Seth M. Galanter."
Mr. Galanter said that President Obama has set a goal that the United States of America will lead the world in college graduates by 2020. Secretary Duncan has interpreted this to mean that every single American, regardless of income, race, background, or disability, must be helped to reach his or her potential. To this end the administration has increased both the number and cash value of Pell grants available to students.
While applauding these increases that have been supported by the Administration and passed by Congress, we made it clear that blind people continue to be held back by the insistence of officials in the Department of Education and elsewhere that the provision of an individualized education does not permit the mandatory inclusion of Braille in the instruction plan for each student who is blind. Dr. Schroeder made the observation that what goes down on an IEP is what is readily available to a school district and nothing more. This is not the law and not the way it is supposed to be, but, when thirty or forty children are spread out over a large geographic area, the school district won't provide the service they need unless it is clear by law that they must. He said that the department should view the issue of Braille, not as an issue of education, but as one of civil rights and that the letter from Senator Patty Murray and twenty-five other Senators should show there is plenty of concern in the Senate about this and that the Department should change its policy about Braille.
President Maurer said it is obvious that Secretary Galanter is a brilliant guy, that he no doubt understands our concerns, and he asked if he wished to offer any closing remarks. The assistant secretary made it clear that he appreciates being considered a brilliant guy, that he understands our concerns about Braille and the Individualized Education Plan, and that this issue is being dealt with at the highest levels in the Department of Education. He said that he has no power to alter the policy but that he will certainly take back the message we have sent about Braille. "My ears are burning," he said, good-naturedly, and, though his message and ours were quite different, he left the stage to cordial applause.
Perhaps no agency in the federal government can equal the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) at the Library of Congress when it comes to the number of blind people who turn to it for service. For this reason NLS is featured prominently each year on our convention program. This year has seen the appointment of a new director, Dr. Karen Keninger. Though we were pleased she was in the audience, we heard from Dr. Roberta Schaffer, the associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress. Her topic was "Pursuing Policies and Practices that Meet Needs." President Maurer indicated in his introduction that Dr. Shaffer has been of assistance to us in making important library contacts throughout the country, and the warmth of his introduction was returned in kind in the remarks Dr. Shaffer made.
First and foremost she made it clear that the Library of Congress wishes to be the gold standard when it comes to books and publications for the blind and physically handicapped. It has a commitment to use existing and yet-to-be-developed technologies in the service of making reading easier and more books available. The goal of upgrading the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) site to make it more robust, making the WebBraille service a part of it, and making locally produced materials available through NLS was reiterated, but she offered no firm timetable for when these changes would be implemented and no explanation why the previously promised enhancements remain unfulfilled.
Dr. Shaffer said that the Library of Congress gets it that Braille is critical and that it cannot be put on the back burner when it comes to library service. As a result of this commitment, the Library is holding a symposium in 2013 to focus on Braille production. Not only is it desirable to get more Braille from the major production houses who emboss Braille, but it is also important to take advantage of technology and accept contributions of Braille from other sources.
Dr. Shaffer ended her remarks by indicating that the Library intends to take a much more active role as both the convener and a conversation facilitator so that the NFB can speak to a variety of library groups and library associations to share its philosophy about blindness and what blind people need.
Once again spotlighting employment, the president introduced Kevan Worley and Mark Jones to address the convention on the topic of “Blind People at Work.” Kevan Worley is the owner and CEO of Worley Enterprises and owns Roosters Men’s Grooming Center franchise in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mark Jones is the owner of Owensville Communications, which owns and runs several radio stations and holds licenses for three more which will begin broadcasting in the near future.
Mark began his presentation by saying that he did two monumental things in 1972: one was that he got his first job in radio, and the second was that he joined the National Federation of the Blind. His love of radio began at four years of age when he realized he wasn't limited to the records his family owned but could listen to all kinds of music with this magic device called a radio. Not only did he love the music, he was intrigued by the faraway stations he could hear. He learned about geography by tuning the radio dial, listening for distant stations, learning their location, and then asking his father to show him on a tactile map where those stations were.
When Mark landed his first on-air job, it was doing the news from his little town in Mississippi, and, since transportation was difficult, he did his report by phone. He soon realized that, though radio brought news and entertainment, to advance he needed to sell advertising and generate the mother's milk of broadcasting: money.
Mark's experience is that, when blindness throws him a challenge, he uses his brain to figure out a way to overcome it. For him success is more about how much he wants something than it is how much or little he sees. After good interviews that sometimes went nowhere when people learned he was blind, Mark decided he not only wanted to talk on a radio station but wanted to own one, so he did. He commented, "I wanted to get into a position where I could hire and fire myself," and with hard work, significant financial risk, and no guarantee he would succeed, he has continued to persevere and now owns a thriving communications business.
Kevan Worley echoed many of the themes in Mr. Jones’s remarks and talked about how badly one must want something to risk moving beyond his or her comfort zone. His remarks will appear in full in a future issue.
Scott LaBarre was next recognized for a PAC update and in closing told the convention that Jim Pilkington, a member of the NFB of Colorado, had come to convention feeling a bit under the weather, and that it appears he had pneumonia. At the time of Scott's report Jim was in the hospital, sedated and on a respirator. Scott asked all of us to keep Jim in our prayers.
Kareem Dale, special assistant to the President for disability policy, came to the platform to speak on the topic “Disability Policy from the White House.” Mr. Dale observed that our country is nearing a time of decision about the role of the federal and state government in the lives of citizens. As blind citizens we have a special interest in what happens. On election day the blind and the rest of the voting public will determine our direction.
Mr. Dale said that President Obama is committed to seeing that everyone gets a fair shot while doing their fair share, and he believes this is also what characterizes the National Federation of the Blind. He said that, beyond the rhetoric that fuels the speeches, we need to know about policies and ask, "What does this mean in my life and yours?"
In an attempt to balance the budget, Congress and the president have agreed to binding across-the-board budget cuts that will take effect unless they are able to map out a plan with equivalent savings. Two competing plans are under consideration. Under the plan drafted by Rep. Ryan and supported by Republican members of Congress, federal support for Medicaid is slated to be cut by 34 percent. Large cuts are also envisioned for education and rehabilitation services. Mr. Dale emphasized that the choices we have are clear, that we need to decide what we want and need; and, based on those decisions, we must exercise our votes at all levels of government to support the president, who is fighting for us.
He said that the president has indicated by proclamation, and will continue to support with policy decisions, his belief that blind children should be given Braille. Dale related his own story, in which his parents demanded he learn the skill because his prognosis was clear, and for them there was no choice but to raise a son who was literate. On the subject of technology the president supports modifications to create regulations for Section 508 that will ensure that people who work for the government have technology usable by all, including the blind. So that we will know about updates pertaining to people with disabilities, Mr. Dale suggested we subscribe to a mailing list that can be reached by writing to <[email protected]>.
Eve Hill, a well-respected lawyer and advocate for blind people, who now works as senior counselor to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, stepped to the podium to deliver remarks entitled "The Policy of Integration Enforceable at Law." Her remarks are printed elsewhere in this issue.
Henry “Hoby” Wedler is a PhD candidate pursuing a degree in computational chemistry. This past spring he was given a Champions of Change award by President Obama. Hoby was in the first Rocket-On! Camp, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind and NASA in 2004, and has since established a chemistry camp in California, where he teaches blind high school students about science and the way they can flourish in its study. "Making Chemistry Accessible to the Blind One Atom at a Time" was his topic, and the clear message he sent was that observations may be visual but science is not and that with different ways to observe come boundless possibilities. His parents played a pivotal role in seeing that he was treated just like his sighted brother, and, without their expectation that he achieve, he might be living a life very different from the challenging one he enjoys today.
Hoby’s first obstacle in chemistry was to convince a skeptical teacher that he loved what she was saying about chemistry, that he understood it, that chemistry is a cerebral not a visual subject, and that no one, blind or sighted, has ever seen an atom. This teacher he credits with being his strongest ally in the honors classes in chemistry in high school and the person who strongly encouraged him to pursue it in college. Because he was not certain, even with all this encouragement, that he could really perform competitively in the field he loves, he also majored in United States history. Because he liked the mathematics used in his chemistry classes, he minored in math.
In sharing his love of chemistry with blind students, he was dismayed to learn that, of the twenty students he had mentored, none had any experience in the kitchen. They and their parents believed the kitchen would be unsafe for them, but now many of the graduates from his camp have taken to cooking at home, and some now regularly participate in meal preparation. Hoby ended his inspirational remarks by saying, "Imagine big! I challenge all of you to go home, work hard, and know that your hard work and high expectations for yourselves and the blind people around you are what is changing what it means to be blind."
Jim Gashel came to talk about the newest technology in reading for the blind, technology invented by K-NFB Reading Technologies. The Blio System is used to purchase and read the same books at the same price and at the same time for blind and sighted readers alike. Now it is possible not only to buy books using Blio but to borrow them from the library. The audience was impressed with the responsiveness of the system, the clarity of the speech, and the sheer number of books now available that were heretofore beyond the reach of blind people. Blio allows access to these books from traditional desktop and laptop computers, from tablet devices, and from the mobile phones many of us carry.
Monitor readers will have no trouble guessing the name of the next presenter when they read the title “Inventions That Alter Thought.” Ray Kurzweil, the inventor of the first reading machine for the blind, came to share with us some of the information that has gone into his book on the functioning of the human brain. The book, entitled How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, will be out in November and will, of course, be available on the Blio reader. Mr. Kurzweil related the discussion about the anatomy of the brain to the National Federation of the Blind's attempt to change how people feel about blindness and what they think a blind person can do. Not only must people be persuaded to accept the possibility we offer, but they must then begin the process of incorporating this new and revolutionary idea into their many impressions about blindness, about equality, and about opportunity. Complicated concepts are found in millions of places within the brain, so it is no surprise that minds are not easily changed. The good news is that they can be, and a brief look at history reveals the extent to which social attitudes can be altered with good information and persistence.
The last agenda item of the afternoon was devoted to the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards, and a full report is found elsewhere in this issue.
The annual banquet began at 7:00 p.m. with Dr. Fredric Schroeder acting as the master of ceremonies. Father Gregory Paul began the evening with an invocation thanking God for all He has done for the blind of the country and the world, one blessing certainly being the self-organization of the blind through the National Federation of the Blind.
After food and fellowship the banquet was treated to a performance by Jessica Bachicha Ewell of “Martern aller Arten,” from Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. Jessica’s accompanist was Brian Bentley, music director at the Dallas Cathedral.
The highlight of the evening was the annual banquet address delivered by President Maurer entitled “The Intersection of Law and Love,” in which our president captured both the spirit of the Federation and the necessity to trust in the goodwill that is felt for the blind in the general public. Love and trust are two essential elements of our struggle to be understood and to realize the same hopes and dreams as our fellow citizens. President Maurer’s speech appears in full later in this issue.
The thirty scholarship winners of 2012 came to the stage to receive total awards ranging from $4,500 to more than $13,500. A report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue. Ramona Walhof came to the platform to present the Jacobus tenBroek Award, the highest honor the National Federation of the Blind can bestow on one of its members. Her presentation and the remarks of the winners, Pam and Roland Allen, appear elsewhere in this issue.
Each year we come to the convention wondering what theme will characterize our gathering. Some things we know: people of like minds when it comes to changing the world for the better will share their hopes, dreams, strategies, and successes. People from outside the organization will be invited to talk about what they do and to hear from the blind directly about what we need. Beyond this, was there something special about this year, one consistent message that emerged? I suggest that there was and that the message was about keeping promises, the ones made yesterday and in the yesterdays before it. It is not enough to proclaim we will change conditions for those making less than the minimum wage; not enough to express our intention to get the same books at the same time and at the same price; not enough to declare, however boldly, that we will have access to the technology that makes up so much of what the world has to offer in the twenty-first century. Our statements about what we believe and what we want are only a start, for what we seek are not words of comfort but change. Change takes time; change takes effort; change requires intelligently focused action, taken always with the promise and the goal uppermost in our minds. Our convention in 2012 demonstrated the staying-power and the unwavering commitment of our members to keep the promises we have to honor the blind of yesterday, support the blind of today, and make a brighter future for the blind of tomorrow.
An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 3, 2012
When the National Federation of the Blind came into being in 1940, blind people faced almost total exclusion from meaningful participation in society. We formed our Federation with the previously unknown proposition that we could change these conditions—that we, blind people, could become an integrated part of our culture through our own efforts, and we have been pursuing this objective ever since. This past year the speed of our progress has increased, the number of our activities has expanded, and the complexity of our programs has become greater than ever before in our history.
Blind people are thought to be musical, and a few of us are. Jessica Bachicha, now married to Jason Ewell, has been blind since birth. She met Fred Schroeder, our first vice president, who was then directing programs for blind students in the New Mexico public school system, when she was five. Dr. Schroeder taught her how to be an accomplished student, and he also helped her to know that she could follow her dreams. She has become an accomplished opera soprano. She has performed with a number of symphonies, and she was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall earlier this year. I was privileged to be in the audience, I heard her hit the high F from an aria in The Magic Flute five times, and I understand that she came to the stage proudly carrying her white cane. Dr. Jessica Bachicha will be offering us an aria at the banquet later this week.
In an effort to gain greater access to information, we established in 2003 a project with Ray Kurzweil to build a portable reading machine, the K-NFB Reader Mobile. Although this reading machine is currently available as a program that operates on a number of cell phones, and, although it is the best portable reading machine that has been developed, the project has shifted its primary focus to an electronic book reader, the Blio, that can be used by blind or sighted people to read digital information. Blio is a program which runs on computers (desktops, laptops, and notebooks), on iOS devices (iPods, iPhones, and iPads), and potentially on other types of hardware used for reading books, magazines, or other digital content.
K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., which owns Blio, has entered into a cooperative relationship with Baker & Taylor, a distributor of books from many thousands of publishers. One of the markets served by Baker & Taylor is libraries. Baker & Taylor’s digital library system, called Axis 360, uses the Blio reading program to give patrons access to digital books. Axis 360 is an accessible library system offering blind and other print-disabled people the opportunity to read books as effectively as sighted people do. Using the Blio bookstore, blind and sighted people have access to three hundred thousand books. The Axis 360 library system has only half this number, but the program is growing, and it will soon offer as many as can now be purchased in the bookstore.
In 1990 we attempted to create a partnership with the Association of American Publishers to obtain equal access to the printed word. The person then serving as its president said to our convention, “We are not in the charity business,” and he walked out of the convention hall. We have been taking steps since that time in the legal arena, the political arena, and the corporate arena to try to change the perception that equal access to information is a matter of charity.
We have been urging companies to adopt systems to provide equal access to information. Sometimes our advocacy efforts are successful, but sometimes they are not. To promote equality of access to information, we have, through our involvement with K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., assisted in the creation of the Blio reading system. If others will not promote equal access to information, we will do it ourselves.
In September 2011, we co-hosted our second Web Accessibility Training Day with the Maryland Technology Assistance Program. Those showing their work in accessibility included Oracle, Adobe, the United States Access Board, the World Wide Web Consortium, and AOL. I am not saying that all of these entities know how to provide accessible content, but we have insisted that they try to do so, and they were demonstrating what they know.
On December 6, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind hosted a symposium on accessibility in publishing, and we cohosted an event on inclusive publishing and e-book distribution with the DAISY Consortium six months later. We became a part of the DAISY Consortium some time ago to establish a standard which can be used to ensure equal access for the blind and print-disabled. This standard, EPUB3, has been created, and the Internet tools to implement elements of the standard are currently under development. With the implementation of this standard, we will reach the objective of the same book, at the same price, and at the same time for print-disabled customers.
We have also conducted a two-and-a-half-day “Train the Trainers” event. The training provided hands-on involvement with screen-access software, Braille, DAISY e-books, and other tools. Furthermore, we have conducted numerous other training programs in such widely separated venues as the University of Toledo, the California State University at Northridge (CSUN), and the Consumer Electronics Show.
At a hearing held by the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in February 2012, entitled “The Promise of Accessible Technology: Challenges and Opportunities,” Mark Riccobono presented the point of view of the National Federation of the Blind. An equal opportunity to education requires access to books, course materials, research articles, and other digital material. Access to information is nothing less than a fundamental civil right, and we insist that the blind have as much opportunity to get it as anybody else. This is what Mark Riccobono declared to the Senate of the United States.
Equal access to the same corpus of materials used by all other scholars is the goal for us. Imagine a day when any blind college student can have the same independent access to the entire library’s collection that a sighted student has. Imagine a day that a blind student can independently search the collection for the right materials. Imagine a day that a blind student can independently perform data mining of the library collection. That day has arrived at the University of Michigan. However, access to this extraordinary quantity of information for us is under attack.
A number of years ago the Google company decided to make digital copies of books in dozens of university libraries. A consortium of these universities established the Hathi Trust to hold and manage the digital copies of books that came from the Google Books Library Project. The Authors Guild has sued the Hathi Trust, and we intervened to assist in protecting this material. The Authors Guild wants the universities to give up the scanned material or to agree never to use it unless a court order permits this use. However, we believe that the universities have an obligation to provide it to students and professors who cannot read print, now that the material has been put into accessible form. The University of Michigan has declared that blind students and professors have access to this digital treasure trove, and we believe that other universities will soon follow suit. I remember standing in the library when I was in college wondering how I could learn all that the books had to tell me. Now, after decades of effort, the promise of equal access is becoming a reality. Our participation in the lawsuit will demand energy and financial commitment, but what an opportunity has come to be almost within our reach!
The Barnes & Noble Nook is a convenient, inexpensive e-book reader, but it is completely inaccessible to the blind. When we asked Barnes & Noble to change this, officials from the company responded with numerous excuses but no program to provide access to books. Now libraries are buying them. Because they acquired inaccessible Nooks, we have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against the Sacramento Public Library and a suit in federal court against the Free Library of Philadelphia, the nation’s oldest public library. We hope that these two actions will be enough to change the behavior of libraries and the behavior of Barnes & Noble. However, if more complaints are needed, we know how to create them and where to have them filed. We must have books, and we will take every necessary step to get them. Our right to an equal education and equal access to information may not be compromised, and we are the people to ensure that it will not be—not today, not tomorrow, not anytime.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits the federal government from acquiring inaccessible technology, but the government routinely ignores this federal law. More than 90 percent of the federal agencies examined within the last few years have failed to demonstrate complete accessibility of their web presences, and many federal agencies buy office machines, computer programs, and even telephones for disabled employees that are completely inaccessible.
A few days before this convention, we learned that the State Department is attempting to purchase thirty-five thousand Kindle book readers to be distributed in libraries throughout the world. According to the publicity these inaccessible products will cost the government over $16 million. We have sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to protest this violation of the law, and a number of other actions are underway to ensure that the State Department does not use its power to promote the interests of those seeking to prevent disabled citizens from having equal access to information. The Amazon Kindle has been the subject of at least half a dozen legal actions in which we have taken part, and, although we do not fight unless we must, if the State Department insists, we will meet them in the court. Officials at the State Department cannot tell us that vital American interests in international relations require this type of discriminatory behavior; precisely the opposite is true. Our vital American interests must be protected, and we will take every step to see that they are.
On December 6, 2011, Congress received the Report of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities, which had been authorized by amendments that we had sponsored to the Higher Education Act. Mark Riccobono served as our representative on the Commission. It will not amaze you to learn that the Commission found that educational materials for blind students in college are inaccessible and that it would be helpful if they included accessibility. If accessibility of such information for blind students and professors is not achieved in the near future, the Commission report recommends that Congressional action be taken. We concur with this idea, and we will write the legislation.
On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Senator Patty Murray from Washington and Senator John Boozman from Arkansas circulated a Dear Colleague letter in support of Braille instruction for blind students. This letter, addressed to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said in part:
In reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, the intent of Congress was for Braille instruction to be presumed appropriate for all students with blindness or a visual impairment. However, current regulation [of the Department of Education] does not provide school districts adequate guidance in developing, reviewing, and revising the IEP. It has come to our attention that in some circumstances parents and advocates request Braille instruction for their child with blindness or low vision but meet resistance from a school-based IEP team member. We believe this is due in part to a misunderstanding of the needs of some students with low vision. Regardless of the reason, Braille instruction is a crucial literacy skill which should be provided to students with blindness or a visual impairment who would benefit from learning Braille.
We strongly urge the U.S. Department of Education to develop new regulations and provide additional guidance to school districts to ensure students with blindness or a visual impairment are provided Braille instruction when the student will benefit.
Twenty-six members of the Senate signed this letter. Although the amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act seemed clear to us, they have not always seemed as clear to the Department of Education or to the school districts where the education takes place. We considered yet additional legislation to let the educational community know how important Braille instruction is, but Senator Murray proposed an alternative, which may speed the process substantially. Her message is clear—Braille must be taught. She says so, the Congress said so, the members of the Senate say so, and we will get Braille for the students who need it.
Our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Program has expanded to eleven affiliates in twenty locations. Our Braille Reading Pals Club introduces Braille to families of very young blind children. Participants (356 of them) from forty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico receive information about early Braille literacy. Parents get a monthly newsletter and activity sheets about learning Braille. The kids get a Braille birthday card, a new Braille book periodically, and a Braille Pal—a stuffed animal who likes to listen while the children read. The Braille Reading Pals Club is part of our Braille Readers Are Leaders effort, which is now twenty-nine years old. We will be adding elements during our thirtieth anniversary year, such as encouraging blind children to write their own books.
In the winter we launched a new program called Early Explorers. This early childhood program shows parents that their young blind children can learn to travel with a cane. Blind children become much more excited about movement and much more interested in exploration when they learn that it is preferable for the cane to run into the wall or the door rather than having their noses do it. The program serves children ages 0-7. We currently have over a hundred families enrolled from thirty-five of our affiliates.
Our science training initiatives continue. At Youth Slam 2011 we had 133 students from forty-one states and one U.S. territory. The education included chemistry, robotics, space science, biology, engineering, journalism, computer science, nanoscience, forensics, and geoscience. In addition we conducted a teacher track for teachers of the blind to learn how to teach science to blind kids. Students made ethanol and built fuel cells, constructed robots, tested phosphorescent bacteria, conducted an experiment using a nanoscale mechanical beam with a nanophotonic cavity sensor, and assembled skeletons.
In January of this year we conducted the NFB Teacher Leaders Seminar. Infused with a positive philosophy of blindness, this seminar presented best practices in teaching Braille, technology, cane travel, art, tactile graphics, science, and methods for teaching blind students who also have other disabilities. Some educators tell us that teaching blind students is hard and that teaching blind students who also have other disabilities is even harder. Such educators are correct in their assertions when they don’t know how to do it. When the educational methods are at hand, educational programs become much easier. This is what we demonstrated at our Teacher Leaders Seminar.
In 2011 we conducted the first public demonstration of the blind drivable automobile. On July 22, 2011, following the conclusion of last year’s convention, our blind drivers navigated the streets around our headquarters building in Baltimore, providing rides in our vehicles to blind students attending the NFB Youth Slam. We continue to seek university and industry partners who want to work on nonvisual interfaces for blind drivers, and we met with the product manager for Google’s driverless car last spring. In June, less than a month ago, the National Federation of the Blind participated in the 2012 Driverless Car Summit conducted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. By special invitation the event included a presentation by Mark Riccobono about the blind drivable car. In addition Mark Riccobono and Anil Lewis were featured on February 28, 2012, as experts in blind driving technology, on the Discovery Velocity Channel’s AutoWeek’s Vinsetta Garage program.
In April 2012 we welcomed 158 participants to the fifth annual Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. This gathering, named after our founding president, who was a Constitutional scholar and among the first to write on the subject of disability law, brings together the people with the best minds on the subject of disability rights. The theme this year was “Disability Identity in the Disability Rights Movement.” Over eighty academic, government, corporate, and advocacy organizations were represented at the symposium, and students from a number of universities attended. United States District Judge Donovan Frank, Wisconsin Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard Brown, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chief Administrative Judge Francis Polito provided their perspectives on how to educate judges and attorneys about disability rights.
We have also pursued a number of lawsuits. Henry (Hank) Miller is a blind student living in New Jersey, who has completed the fifth grade. When he was in second grade, his mother asked officials in their school district to give him Braille instruction. However, the school district denied this request. As an element of the process in appealing the denial, the New Jersey Commission for the Blind evaluated Henry Miller. The Commission for the Blind sided with the school district. After three years of argument a hearing occurred before an administrative law judge that lasted nine days. The decision of the judge covered more than sixty pages. The judge agreed with the parents and their experts that the presumption in the law in favor of Braille instruction means what it says. Officials of a school district cannot refuse to provide Braille instruction to a blind child just because they do not think he needs it. We will hold the school districts accountable for their actions. We have a zero-tolerance policy for people who try to deny us our education. Henry Miller gets his Braille.
The Miami Public School District summarily concluded that a blind child matriculating there would never be able to benefit from instruction in Braille or in cane travel. The parents of this blind child fought the Miami School District for two years without success. We are now providing legal assistance, and the school system has backed down. This blind girl is now getting the education to which she has always been entitled, and she is eagerly learning the skills that the school district thought she could never acquire.
Last year I reported to you that we had filed a complaint against Penn State University for its widespread use of inaccessible educational technology. In October we reached an agreement of historic scope. Not only is Penn State required to make its course management software, library search software, and millions of pages on its eight thousand websites accessible, but it must do an audit of all of its educational technology and develop a remediation plan. In addition it must institute a buy-accessible procurement policy. Penn State has been working hard to meet its commitments, and we hope it can become a model for the country in providing equal opportunity to blind students.
Last year we filed suit on behalf of two Florida State University students, Chris Toth and Jamie Principato, against the university because these students were required to take and pass digital math courses that were inaccessible. We reached an agreement that requires the university to make the math curriculum accessible, to adopt a buy-accessible educational materials program for mathematics, and to create and implement accessibility standards for classes in chemistry and physics. In addition Florida State University paid each of these students $75,000 and reimbursed the National Federation of the Blind for costs of $209,519.
This spring we learned that Sebastian Ibanez, a student at Mesa Community College in Arizona, was kicked out of a counseling class because he is blind. Registration forms at Mesa Community College are inaccessible, financial aid forms are inaccessible, the login process for the computer registration form for student aid is inaccessible, materials for many of the classes are inaccessible, and other elements of the educational experience are inaccessible to the blind. Personnel in the financial aid office at Mesa will not even speak to a student who has not logged onto its system, and they will not help a blind student log on even though the system itself is inaccessible. We have filed suit on behalf of Sebastian Ibanez. Mesa Community College is reported to be the largest community college system in the United States, and it systematically excludes blind students from the education it offers.
Just how systematic is this exclusion? Wink Harner is not blind. Until recently she was the manager of the Disability Resources and Services office at Mesa Community College. When she helped Sebastian Ibanez file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Education, Mesa removed her from her job. Wink Harner cannot use her hands. Many people with this disability use a computer system that responds to voice commands. However, Mesa has assigned her to be a secretary, giving her a computer that does not respond to voice. Even though she cannot use her hands, and even though Mesa Community College knows she cannot use her hands, Wink Harner is expected to perform her work using a keyboard. Mesa wanted to make her pay for helping the blind seek justice. Officials at Mesa Community College may think that it pays to bully the blind, they may think that it pays to bully those who seek to help the blind, and they may think that the laws requiring equality of opportunity may be ignored with impunity, but we think that the payment should go another way, and we are demanding that they pay for what they have done.
The battle against the National Conference of Bar Examiners to require it to allow blind applicants to take the multistate bar examination with screen-reader software continues. Last year, when I reported that Stephanie Enyart had won her case against the bar examiners in the Ninth Circuit, I indicated that the matter had been appealed to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court declined to take the case. These cases are very expensive to bring, but we have been awarded fees and costs. In Tim Elder’s case the Bar Examiners beat us in Maryland, but we were victorious in California, and we were awarded fees there. In the Cathryn Bonnette case we won in the District of Columbia, and we received a fee award. In the Deanna Jones case we were successful in federal court and in the Court of Appeals. Deanna Jones is a member of ours from Vermont, and she is both blind and disabled from a learning disability. Once again we received a fee award. The National Conference of Bar Examiners has now lost in four cases, and it has had to pay us nearly $1.5 million. However, the Bar Examiners appear to be willing to continue the fight. Let me say it this way: do we ever have plans for them!
The Law School Admission Council controls both applications to get into law school and the Law School Admission Test. We have demanded that accessibility elements be added to the LSAC website, that applicants for the Law School Admission Test be permitted to take it using screen-access software, and that the application process to seek admission to law school be made accessible. Although officials of the LSAC have been willing to make changes only after bitter confrontation, many of the alterations we have demanded have taken place.
In the meantime we have asked the American Bar Association to help. In February 2012 Scott LaBarre, our president in Colorado, traveled to the convention of the American Bar Association to propose a resolution in support of disabled Americans having equal access to the Law School Admission Test. Although spirited testimony was offered to the effect that equality of opportunity in taking the LSAT did not serve the interests of American justice, our lawyers Scott LaBarre, Charlie Brown, and Dan Goldstein were eloquent in the defense of equality for the blind. The House of Delegates of the American Bar Association adopted the proposed resolution unanimously.
In 2004 Aaron Cannon, a blind person living in Iowa, applied to the Palmer College of Chiropractic to become a chiropractic doctor. After accepting him for study, school officials refused to let him graduate because they said he did not have a “sufficient sense of vision” to be a chiropractor. In 2005 he appealed to the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, and the Commission ruled in his favor. Palmer asked for an administrative hearing, and the judge ruled in favor of Aaron Cannon. Palmer appealed to the full commission, and in December 2010 the Commission issued a thorough decision upholding all the previous rulings. Palmer appealed once again to Iowa state court, and the judge reversed all the previous rulings, saying that a chiropractor must be able to see. I have met a medical doctor who is blind and who practices in Iowa. I have met more than one blind chiropractic doctor practicing in Iowa. Did the court consider this evidence? Of course it did not. We have appealed the Aaron Cannon case to the Iowa Supreme Court. We know the evidence is clear, we know the law is sound, and we believe that the Supreme Court will vindicate the right of Aaron Cannon to practice—he will become a chiropractor.
Lonnie Swafford, Charla Shown, Heather Abercrombie, and Byron Sykes are members of the National Federation of the Blind living in Louisville, Kentucky, who work for the Veterans Administration. In the fall of 2005 the VA decided that three of these people would be fired and one would be limited in work assignments because the VA wanted to use technology inaccessible to the blind. We filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, and after years of negotiations I am happy to report a settlement has been reached. The VA will make all of its equipment accessible, and the government will pay monetary damages and attorney fees.
Vicki Hodges is a blind leader of our Arizona affiliate who has been working as a librarian assistant. When the City of Phoenix Library Department decided to close the assistive technology center where she had been working, it offered all other assistant librarians transfers. Vicki Hodges got a cut in her hours and pay because the library said she could not perform any other job because of blindness. When she filed a complaint with the Arizona Civil Rights Division, she received a decision indicating that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred based on blindness. The Arizona Attorney General has filed a lawsuit on her behalf, and we have joined in the action. Vicki Hodges is a tough-minded, capable human being. Blindness cannot stop her, but, unless we are willing to help, misunderstanding in the form of discrimination might. We expect to secure a position for Vicki Hodges in the Phoenix library.
When we built our new building, we established our Jacobus tenBroek Library to house Dr. tenBroek’s papers, given to us by his widow, Hazel tenBroek. During the past year we have initiated the Hazel tenBroek research grant program. One winner of a grant is Sushil Oswal of the Seattle chapter of the NFB of Washington. He has already begun research work on Jacobus tenBroek and the origins of disability rights law. Another is Selina Mills, a blind British journalist writing a book on the history of blindness around the world.
One of the most important assets we have is our membership. This year we established the National Federation of the Blind Fellows Program, an engagement that lasts a year for young Federation leaders who want to deepen their commitment to the organization and their capacity for leadership. Eleven Federationists are participating as Fellows for 2012. They are learning about membership-building, fundraising, planning conventions, passing legislation at the state and national levels, and the kinds of activities that can inspire Federationists to build programs for the future. Joanne Wilson, who established the Louisiana Center for the Blind and who is serving as our executive director for affiliate action, is managing these events.
We have been as active in the Congress this year as ever before. H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, was introduced by Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida and Congressman Tim Bishop of New York on October 4, 2011. This legislation, once enacted, would phase out, over a three-year period, payment of subminimum wages and would repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which authorizes subminimum wage payments. Although the position of the National Federation of the Blind has opposed payment of subminimum wages from the time that our organization came into being, the current argument began last spring when we learned that a proposed section of the Workforce Investment Act would contain language recognizing within the rehabilitation system the practice of paying subminimum wages. At our convention last year we demanded that this proposed provision, Section 511 of the Workforce Investment Act, be dropped. Because the members of the Senate committee responsible for considering this legislation seemed unwilling to discuss the subminimum wage provisions of the proposed law, we took to the streets. On July 26, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind, along with other supporting disability-led organizations, conducted protests at the offices of members of the Senate Committee to express our vehement opposition to the proposed language. Our efforts received substantial media coverage and contributed to bringing the consideration of this legislation to a halt.
However, we recognized that stopping recognition of subminimum wage payments in the Rehabilitation Act was not enough, and we sought support for the elimination of this discriminatory law in Congress. We now have over seventy-five cosponsors of H.R. 3086. We believe that there will be a hearing on this bill soon. Currently we have forty-seven supporting organizations, and we are seeking more.
We have received documentation from the Department of Labor of wage payments as low as seven cents per hour. Representatives of many of the organizations that pay workers less than the minimum wage have told us that they support the principles in our bill, and some of them have indicated that the work we are doing has helped them to reexamine the positions they have taken and to seek ways to implement a change that guarantees every worker at least the federal minimum wage. Sometimes we are told that very few blind people are now receiving subminimum wages, and we are asked a question that goes something like this: “Why are you so adamant about this, when only a hundred and fifty blind people [or three hundred, or a hundred and twenty-five, or some other number intended to sound small] are receiving subminimum wage payments?” Such a question is not simply irritating; it is insufferable. Those who ask it might just as well say, “The few people who receive the subminimum wage are not very important; why don’t you write them off?” When I hear this question, two thoughts come to mind. First, if there are so few, why don’t you pay them? If you did, the argument would be gone. Second, before we started discussing the unjustified, immoral, outrageous practice of dividing the workforce into the class protected by law and the class faced with exploitation, there were a lot more blind people being paid less than the minimum wage. Our work has changed this, and it is going to change it further. We expect to have no subminimum wages at all, and we expect it soon.
Public education continues to be a priority for us. During the past year stories about us have appeared in such widely varying outlets as the Billings (Montana) Gazette, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, ABC News.com, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Denver Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Millions of automobiles pass our building each year. Last September we installed a new high-tech, high-definition LED sign measuring twelve feet by thirty-nine feet. This sign depicts our message to drivers along Interstate 95. Fully programmable, the sign presents our message in color with the light from four hundred forty-nine thousand two hundred eighty light-emitting diodes. When we asked the public to join us in stopping the exploitation of disabled workers at Goodwill Industries who are being paid less than the federal minimum wage, the request was transmitted in vibrant red letters on a white background.
We have collaborated at the state and national levels this year to promote programs that create opportunity. In Mississippi a piece of legislation drafted at our National Office was presented to the legislature. This proposal became law because of the extraordinary efforts of our members in Mississippi. This new law will increase education in Braille for blind students in the state.
In Michigan the governor issued an executive order declaring that the Commission for the Blind would be dismantled as a state agency. The combined efforts of Federationists at our central office and in Michigan caused the executive order to be rescinded one day before it was to take effect. A restructuring of Michigan services for the blind is still likely to occur, but vital services to blind people will remain in operation because of our combined efforts.
Our NFB-NEWSLINE® program continues to expand with close to one hundred thousand participants. Since our last convention we have developed an iPhone application for NFB-NEWSLINE, and already more than a thousand people are using it. We have added many new publications, including the Jerusalem Post, the Moscow Times, and the Reader’s Digest. Through this service we provide the greatest volume of news to blind people that has ever been available.
We continue to conduct the ongoing work of the Federation. We have held dozens of meetings, welcoming more than four thousand six hundred people to our headquarters building, serving them almost ten thousand meals and twelve thousand cookies.
Our Federation came into being more than seven decades ago with a fundamentally new idea—that blind people themselves could make a difference in programs dealing with blindness or perhaps even in the broader community. We started with nothing except a grand idea, an enormous measure of hope, and a spirit of adventure. Today we have influence in Congress, we have created precedents in the judicial arena, we have altered expectations for our participation in the executive branch of government, we have begun the process of ensuring that the recognition of our equal participation in business will occur, and we have changed our comprehension of the capacity we possess.
As I contemplate the accomplishments of the last year, I am proud of what we are and of what we are becoming; and I am proud of what we have done and what the future undoubtedly holds for us. Guts and judgment, imagination and inspiration--these are what we need along with an unshakable determination. Some may doubt that the blind of America can summon these characteristics, but I have met my colleagues in the Federation, and I know both the mental agility and the inner strength of the people of the movement. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our first great president, spoke during the course of his lifetime of the right of blind Americans to be covered by the same laws that give protection to everybody else. I have been inspired by his words, but I never met him in person. I did know Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our second great president, very well, and I was supported by his strength. He would be challenged, gratified, and uplifted by what we have done during the past year.
That we gain inspiration from those who have preceded us is true. That we have an obligation to those who come after us is equally true. Our history is a record that often contains restriction and denial, but the landscape before us is quickly becoming one of our own making. The challenges have been many, and they will not cease with the accomplishments of today. But no matter how great they may be, we will meet them. The misunderstanding of our being has been enormous, but this also can be changed, and we have the tools to do it. At one time our future was determined by somebody else, but now it belongs to us. We will shape tomorrow with the texture that gives us freedom. This is what I have come to know in the depth of my heart and the core of my being, this is what I have learned from you, and this is my report for 2012.
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors and one was presented during the banquet. In addition the Bolotin Awards were again presented. A complete report of those presentations appears elsewhere in this issue. Here are the reports of the educator awards and the tenBroek Award:
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
Presented by Cathy Jackson
First of all, I want to thank my committee. We’re like the mailman: nothing stops us. It doesn’t matter if there is a change of email address or someone’s flight is delayed and they don’t get home from vacation until a day later. It doesn’t matter; the work goes on. I need to thank Allen Harris, Carla McQuillan, Mark Riccobono, Laura Bostick (formerly Laura Weber), and Mary Willows. Thanks, guys.
“The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award is a very important award that we in the National Federation of the Blind have established because of our belief and hopes for our children. The most precious gift we have is to improve the future for our children.” This is a quote from Sharon Maneki, past president of the NFB of Maryland and the former chair of this committee. She spoke these words in 1992 at the banquet as she presented this award to Dr. Ruby Ryles.
Our recipient of this year’s award joins a long list of deserving winners. She hasn’t been in the field quite as long as some of the other recipients, but, nevertheless, she is doing a yeoman’s job. She has the education and the ability to teach, but first and foremost she has the heart, the spirit, and philosophy of a true Federationist. She is a natural TVI. Our winner is a student of Dr. Ruby Ryles. Dr. Ryles gave her a glowing report, and I believe it’s awesome to know that the winner of the award twenty years ago is still working in the field teaching and mentoring and has made such a profound impression on this year’s recipient.
So without further ado, I would like to present a beautiful plaque and a check in the amount of $1,000 to Casey L. Robertson of Mississippi. As Casey holds up the plaque, I would like to read the inscription. It says:
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND HONORS
CASEY L. ROBERTSON
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND CHILDREN
FOR YOUR SKILLS IN TEACHING
OTHER ALTERNATIVE TECHNIQUES OF BLINDNESS,
FOR GRACIOUSLY DEVOTING EXTRA
TIME TO MEET
THE NEEDS OF YOUR STUDENTS,
AND FOR EMPLOWERING
YOUR STUDENTS TO PERFORM
BEYOND THEIR EXPECTATIONS.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT.
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES.
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
JULY 2, 2012
Congratulations, Casey. [applause]
Thank you, Miss Cathy, and thank you, Federation family. As I stand here today, you are my family. Leaders are created by watching great leaders, and the leaders within the NFB have made me the leader that I am. There is a piece of each one of you in this award today. I appreciate that. I often have people ask me, “Why do you give up so much of your time? Why do you take so much time away from your family?” I just let them know that this is not taking time away. This is my life. This is living. And, my friend, if you are not doing all that you can do and if you are not inspiring the people around you, you are not living the dream that you should live.
My family is as much a part of my work as I am. My daughter has traveled to many schools with me. She believes that everybody in the world is blind and everybody can use a cane. Unfortunately, my husband is not here today. Thankfully he is serving our country with the Army National Guard today and is deployed. But he loves the Federation family just as much as I do. I want to thank each of you, and remember, as I carry on, there is a piece of you in this award and the work that I do and that you do every day. Thank you.
Blind Educator of the Year Award
Presented by David Ticchi
Good morning, board and Federationists. It is indeed a pleasure to be here and a privilege to chair this committee. Before proceeding with this award, I would like to thank my committee: William Henderson, MA; Sheila Koenig and Judy Sanders, MN; and Ramona Walhof, ID.
This award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose classroom performance, community service, and commitment to the NFB were truly notable. In 1991 it became a national award because of the importance and impact of good teachers on students, on faculty, on the community, and on all blind Americans. We present this award in the spirit of the educators and leaders who founded and nurtured our movement: leaders like Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and our current president, Dr. Maurer.
I want to tell you a little about this year’s award winner. I invite her to make her way forward to the platform, where I will present a check for $1,000 and a plaque. The winner of this year’s Blind Educator of the Year Award is Catherine E. Mendez of New York. Cayte served in the Teach for America Program, where she was placed in the Bronx in PS 69 in an integrated kindergarten class of twenty-five students. She did so well that seven years later she is still there.
Cayte is an alumna of Cornell University, where she majored in linguistics and Asian studies. She earned a master’s at Pace University in New York City, and she has done continuing education at Columbia Teachers College and Harvard University in standards-based curriculum and instructional best practices. Cayte, I spoke with your principal, and the praise and respect that she and your school colleagues have for you are truly impressive. She told me that not only is Cayte an excellent teacher, she is integrated into the whole school community. She carries a full load and is always creative and imaginative. She is always working to improve herself. In fact, this summer Cayte and her principal will be coming to the Harvard School of Education for a seminar. As an alumnus of the Graduate School of Education, I look forward to getting together with you there.
Cayte you are a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind, active at the national, state, and local levels. You are active with the National Organization of Blind Educators. She is secretary of the New York City Chapter and has presented at state parent and student seminars. Here is the text of the plaque:
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
OF THE BLIND
CATHERINE E. MENDEZ
IN RECOGNITION OF
IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION.
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE.
JULY 2, 2012
Cayte Mendez: I think I have heard it said that more than one person can’t keep a secret. But I think that has been completely disproven. I had absolutely no idea. Thank you so much. I honestly don’t know what to say. If anybody here knows me, you are probably saying, “Right.” It has been a privilege and honor working with everyone here over the last eleven years--working with Sheila and David and everyone in the educators division and everyone in my chapter and state affiliate. Carl, I can’t believe that you guys managed to bombshell me completely with this. Thank you so much. I am so proud to be here and so thankful. I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t do the work that I do if it wasn’t for the National Federation of the Blind. I was inspired to become a teacher at the Atlanta convention in 2004, so none of this would be happening without everyone here. Thank you so much.
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
Presented by Ramona Walhof
Tonight it is my privilege to present the Jacobus tenBroek Award. It is the highest award the National Federation of the Blind can bestow on one of its own. Of course it was named for our founder, Jacobus tenBroek, a much loved professor at the University of California at Berkeley and the primary leader of the NFB for more than a quarter of a century. Thus this award stands for excellence and is presented only as often as one of our members deserves outstanding recognition. Awarded sometimes to individuals and sometimes to couples, this honor is meaningful both to the membership and to those who receive it. I can testify to that, having received the award myself a few years ago.
The committee this year consisted of Joyce Scanlan, Barbara Loos, Jim Gashel, and me. We have selected a couple who you will all agree deserve to be honored in this way for their commitment to the NFB, their creativity, their love, and their support for the thousands of people they have served. They joined the NFB before they met each other. Together they are a team whose contributions no one can surpass. They live in the southern part of the country--yes, in Louisiana. [prolonged cheers and applause] Tonight we have chosen to honor Pam and Roland Allen. [continued cheers] Will the two of you come over here? [They were seated at the head table.] Pam met me at the edge of the platform on my way up here; she had no idea.
Let me review for you their contributions. Roland Allen grew up in New Orleans and was one of the early students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He joined the Federation at that time. Then he enrolled at Louisiana Tech University. During college he was a teacher in the summer program of the Louisiana Center. He has become a truly gifted travel teacher. Through the years he has taken on more and more responsibility. Today he continues to teach orientation and mobility to blind students at LCB, and he teaches degree candidates at Louisiana Tech University. He trains groups of students in fitness and weight lifting and in adventure seeking like whitewater rafting and rock climbing, and he has become a leader in building new opportunities and setting standards in teaching blind people and their instructors. For example, Roland has taught blind and sighted students wearing blindfolds on New York subways; in Washington, D.C.; in dog guide schools; and at Marti Gras—places that many consider too difficult or impossible for the blind to negotiate independently.
Roland Allen’s work is one of the reasons why Louisiana Tech graduates are offered jobs throughout the country. He has represented the Louisiana Center and the NFB by making presentations at meetings of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation (AER), the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), and two conferences for teachers and administrators of residential training centers for the blind, sponsored by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Department of Education. In such settings you will see Roland out on the streets, working out new travel routes for his students. Roland Allen’s work has resulted in today’s blind travelers and their teachers seeking and achieving a higher degree of independence and confidence than ever before. As a young man Roland served as president of the North Central Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana and of the state student division. Today he is a member of the evaluation team of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, which grants national O&M certification (NOMC).
Then we have Pam Dubel Allen. Pam grew up in New York state and discovered the NFB only after she had served in office in another blindness student organization. She first attended a seminar for blind students in Ohio. Then she did a college internship at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and then worked in LCB summer programs. Pam received the NFB’s highest scholarship of $10,000 in 1991 and graduated from Dennison University the following year. While in college Pam was elected to office in the Ohio student division and to the board of the National Association of Blind Students. After she graduated, she enrolled in the Louisiana Center for the Blind. When she completed training, she was hired as LCB director of youth services, a position she held for eight years. Her leadership made that program one of a kind in the nation. Every infant and toddler in the state is referred to LCB for consultation and assistance. She established a program to train aides who work in public school classrooms where blind children are enrolled, and she established summer camps for blind children and youth.
After Joanne Wilson departed from LCB, there was no question that her successor as director would be Pam Allen. Pam has continued to lead this important NFB program as it grows and develops innovative ways to train the blind and the sighted. She was elected president of the NFB of Louisiana in 2001 and to the national board in 2002. She has continued to be reelected every two years since. She has served as NFB treasurer since 2006. In this capacity she reviews NFB financial activity about twice a month. In addition Pam serves as secretary of the National Association of Rehabilitation Professionals. She has played an essential part in the development of the graduate program for blindness professionals in the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech. She is a member of the advisory board of the Professional Development and Research Institute. As LCB director she has served on the Ruston Chamber of Commerce. The governor of Louisiana appointed her to the state’s Rehabilitation Council. Pam is a competent, loving woman who has helped to change the lives of thousands of blind people. When she attended an NFB leadership seminar, she hunted up and thanked everyone who had helped with the event.
I have for Pam and Roland a plaque for the Jacobus tenBroek Award. I want to read what it says, and then I have just a couple more comments.
JACOBUS TENBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
PAM AND ROLAND ALLEN
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE,
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND
OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED
NOT IN STEPS BUT IN MILES,
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES
BUT BY YOUR IMPACT
ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND
OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED,
YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUES WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIENDS WITH LOVE.
JULY 5, 2012
At the bottom is the image of Whozit. I want to say congratulations to Pam and Roland. [cheers] We want to hear from both of them briefly.
Roland Allen: Wow. I absolutely love this organization, and I have been so blessed to be a part of an organization that has meant so much to me. I’ve been blessed with a job that I absolutely love, teaching our students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I am also blessed to have an extended family in all of you in the National Federation of the Blind. I want to thank Ramona and all the members of the committee and Dr. Maurer. I also want to thank Joanne Wilson, the founder of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who brought me to the NFB over twenty-six years ago now. This is my twenty-sixth convention, so I’ve also been blessed to hear twenty-six banquet addresses from Dr. Maurer. Thank you guys very much, and I appreciate you all. [Applause]
Pam Allen: Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how shocked we both are and how honored and, most important, how humbled and how thankful we are to each of you in this room. I also want to thank the committee, and I want to thank Dr. Maurer and Dr. Jernigan, whom we both had the pleasure to meet. Thanks to Joanne and Barbara Pierce, and so many people who took a chance on me and on Roland. The successes we have had we share with all of you in this room. Because of your love, your support, your belief, your desire for equality, we have had the pleasure to work with and learn from and grow as individuals. I am so thankful to have Roland as my husband and my support, [applause] and to all of our many students. I am grateful that in this room tonight at the banquet we have some of our students who were in our infant/toddler program, at our Buddy and STEP programs, and our adult and senior programs. We share this award with all of you in this room. We are so honored and blessed to be members and leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, and we look forward to continuing to make the future bright and full of promise for all. Thank you so much. [Applause]
Roland: I’m sorry. I forgot to say one important thing. I have also been blessed to have a very beautiful, intelligent wife whom I love very much. [Applause]
by James Gashel
From the Editor: Late Thursday afternoon, July 5, Jim Gashel, NFB secretary and chairman of the Bolotin Awards selection committee, came to the platform to present the 2012 Bolotin Awards. This is what happened:
Jim Gashel: The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, written by Rosalind Perlman and published by Blue Point Books, is available from the National Federation of the Blind Independence Market. Dr. Bolotin was born in 1888 and died in 1924. Just think of that: he was only thirty-six years old at the time of his death, but he achieved far more with far less than most of us could do living twice as long or even longer.
Starting as a salesman selling kitchen matches, brushes, and even typewriters door to door, Dr. Bolotin broke the mold, went to medical school, practiced medicine, and taught medicine in Chicago during his lifetime. All of this he did as a blind person and long before there was even a notion of rehabilitation laws like the ones we have today. That’s why we remember Jacob Bolotin as a person of excellence with pioneering spirit and pioneering vision. As the chairman of the NFB Jacob Bolotin Award committee, I can tell you we keep firmly in mind pioneering spirit and pioneering vision as our guidepost when we review applications for the Jacob Bolotin Awards.
Funds to support these awards are made possible through the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, which was created by a bequest to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind. The bequest was granted to us by Jacob Bolotin’s niece, Rosalind Perlman. This year we have a total of $80,000 to distribute. Each of the awardees will receive a portion of that cash along with a plaque to commemorate the award and, of course, our thanks. Here is the text of the plaque: “Presented to [the name of the recipient] by the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation, July 2012.” Then a medallion is affixed above the plaque, and on the obverse the text is “The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award,” with the logo of the National Federation of the Blind below, and below that are the words, “Celebrating achievement, creating opportunity.” On the reverse is a bust of Dr. Bolotin flanked by the years of his birth and death. Below are the words, “Celebrating his life the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust.” So that’s the description of the award. Now for the 2012 Jacob Bolotin recipients.
For our first recipient, representing organizations of excellence, we are recognizing a particular program led by blind adults to provide opportunities of special significance to blind youth. Although the program being recognized has a single purpose and mission, there are actually ten recipients sharing this award. The program they represent is Braille Enrichment for Learning and Literacy. The total amount of the award to the BELL Program is $30,000. This will be divided by ten states, who will each receive $3,000. First launched in the summer of 2008 by the NFB of Maryland, the BELL program has reached a milestone in 2012 with ten states participating and providing services at fourteen different sites. This year we will honor the affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind conducting this program in Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia [as well as Maryland, of course]. Because of the initiative of these state affiliates, blind children will learn that it is respectable to be blind and it is respectable to read Braille. Using the mentoring concept which the NFB is very good at, blind adults will work with blind youth. Throughout the day children will celebrate their successes by ringing the bell when they learn Braille characters, when they learn Braille contractions, when they learn to travel with white canes, and when they learn that alternative techniques really work. Parents of blind children will also be trained because the parents are the child’s first teacher. When you think of reaching out to blind youth and helping them achieve excellence, of reaching out to parents to set high expectations for their blind children, think of the BELL program. Here to accept the award on behalf of the BELL program --I’m not going to let them all talk; I’d run out of time--here is Richie Flores. Richie, here is your award on behalf of the states with the BELL program. The checks to the states will be in the mail. [laughter]
Richie Flores: We appreciate the opportunity to accept this award. Thank you to the Bolotin committee on behalf of the NFB of Texas and all the other states. We all have one person that dreamed of bringing it to our states. In Texas it was Louis Maher of the Houston Chapter who brought the Texas BELL Program. We thank the Jernigan Institute for creating such an awesome curriculum. In Texas we thank the teachers--Jackie Otwell, Emily Gibbs, Tony Hurt--who helped us teach blind adults to teach the BELL curriculum and spread it across Texas. We appreciate the leadership of our state presidents, my best friend, my lovely wife: you helped us get to this point. We enjoy sharing the beauty of Braille with blind children. There are twenty programs throughout the summer. We’re doing it big. It’s actually eleven states now, because Louisiana has jumped onboard. Eleven states have answered the toll of the bell, and I encourage all you guys to ring that bell for Braille literacy. We enjoy placing Braille in the hands of blind children. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Richie. For our second recipient, representing another organization of excellence, we recognize the DAISY Consortium with an award of $20,000. Founded in 1996, the DAISY Consortium maintains, promotes, and revises international standards for preparation of audio and text content, known as the Digital Accessible Information System, the DAISY standards. Although at its core DAISY makes possible the synchronization of visually displayed text with audio text, even real audio text as I was doing in Blio, I think the major contribution of DAISY has been its standards leading to adding structure to large amounts of digital and audio content. Who in this audience has not enjoyed (so to speak) trying to find your way around text from chapter to chapter, heading to heading, even page to page, when the audio content you were dealing with had no navigation built in? That was before the days of DAISY. But DAISY has brought us navigation, and in the fall of 2011 the International Digital Publishing Forum formed an alliance with DAISY so that the DAISY standards have now been incorporated in ePub 3. This is an event of groundbreaking significance in publishing because it paves the way so that every commercially distributed eBook can be an accessible eBook as well. So, when you think of tools and technology to support mainstream opportunities for literacy and learning for the blind combined with providing vision and leadership, think of the DAISY Consortium. Here is Stephen King of the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the president of DAISY to accept the award:
Stephen King: Thank you so much to the Bolotin Award committee. Together we can solve the book famine and end the book famine. This makes it just a lot easier. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: For our third recipient, representing a corporation with a vision of excellence in leadership on behalf of people who are blind, we recognize Baker & Taylor, Inc., with an award of $15,000. Many of us wouldn’t necessarily think of Baker & Taylor as a household name. Baker & Taylor is actually the world’s largest distributor of physical and digital books, movies, music, and other entertainment products. They’ve occupied this position in the industry since the company’s founding in 1828. Ask anyone in the business of publishing and selling books, ask librarians, and ask schools. They know Baker & Taylor as the industry’s leading source for books. Now in the era of eBooks, the use of warehouses and trucks to distribute physical copies is really giving way to digital content, where bookstores are online, libraries are online, and books are on servers and in the Cloud. They are available to readers on computers and portable devices.
This is a life-changing event for a company like Baker & Taylor, who have been around since 1828. They probably started with the horse and buggy moving these books around. But just consider what that means. As recently as 2008 Amazon started putting books on its Kindle, and Google was scanning the world’s books. Now this year over half of the books sold have been eBooks rather than tree books. So as an industry leader Baker & Taylor needed a new way of doing business, so rather than turning to the technologies they could have chosen, the inaccessible technologies they could have chosen, they made a very smart business decision. Arnie Wight just told you that. They chose a technology that had the capability of providing accessibility to people who are blind. They made a deliberate decision to do that. Blio is the only eBook solution for public libraries. It provides now over 300,000 (Arnie told us over 365,000 titles) in our commercial book store, far larger than any library or any bookstore operation has ever provided in books that blind people can read. In other words, this is the largest effort to make books accessible at the time they are published that we have ever seen in history. When you think of our goal--same book, same time, and same price, when you think of courage and standing up for accessibility for electronic books to be available to the blind--think of Baker & Taylor. Arnie Wight, the president and chief operating officer of Baker & Taylor, is here to accept the award. [Applause] Thank you, Arnie, and, as I told the others, the check is going to be in the mail.
Arnie Wight: Thank you, Jim. It’s a great honor to receive this prestigious award, but it’s not something that, in terms of our development of Axis 360 and the support of the Blio reader, can be done in isolation. The reason we were able to accomplish this was truly our partnership with K-NFB and our collaboration with the NFB. If it wasn’t for the crew with Jim Gashel and folks at the NFB, who were critical in giving us input into the design and being key to the quality assurance in testing to make sure we met all the requirements, it wouldn’t have been the product it is today. So I want to thank them. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: You know something, Arnie, you’re right. We would get it done without you, but you sure made it a lot easier. With friends like you, we will overcome.
Jim Gashel: For our fourth recipient, representing blind individuals with pioneering spirit and pioneering vision--this is Hoby Wedler; he’s already talked for himself. I don’t think you want me to stand up here and repeat Hoby’s bio because he did such a nice job. Hoby was the product of Rocket On!, our first science academy when we were forming the Jernigan Institute, and the rest is history. Hoby, you better step up here so we can give you a Jacob Bolotin award. [Applause]
Hoby Wedler: Thank you so very much to the Bolotin committee for this very kind award. I am deeply and sincerely honored to be here receiving it. I said in my talk earlier that really what motivated me to do the chemistry camp and to work hard for blind people is seeing how often blind people are discouraged by low expectations. Knowing that I could study chemistry and do well in chemistry made me feel passionately about allowing other blind students to do that as well. I also said that the most important thing is hard work and never giving up. I think that’s very true. Only this work that I did for the chemistry camp is something that I still enjoyed, so it didn’t feel like work at all. I also challenge you to go home, work hard, and bring what you feel is necessary and needed in the Federation, because we are all leaders. Thank you very much again. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: Hoby, when the check does arrive, it will be in the amount of $10,000.
Jim Gashel: Now, for our fifth and final recipient, representing sighted individuals with visionary enlightenment and a genuine understanding of blindness, we recognize Ann Cunningham, Denver, Colorado, [Applause] with an award of $5,000. The view that blind people cannot enjoy or create art that is visually appealing and also can be tactilely appealing as well is perhaps one of the last bastions of discrimination that we face. In fact, lots of projects do nice things for the blind around art that provide special opportunities, but the key word is “special,” because special often means separate. Working as a tactile artist, Ann Cunningham first got acquainted with blind people when she came to the Colorado Center for the Blind to teach classes beginning in 1997. Her classes include stone carving, sculpture, tactile mapping, painting, drawing, and lots more. Ann also travels with students to gardens, art galleries, and museums and helps them understand that enjoyment and creation of artistic works are reasonable and realistic expectations for people who are blind. More than that, she has mentored many blind artists and encouraged them to prove their skills while others are encouraging them to go elsewhere. Ann has also taught many sighted professionals about the techniques and tools that she uses. Her recent invention of the Sensational BlackBoard has created a sensation itself. It is a means of employing low-cost technology to create diagrams, graphs, and maps for blind people. When you think of a can-do spirit and a creative problem solver, tearing down barriers and surmounting obstacles, just saying, “Yes” when everybody else is saying, “No,” think of Ann Cunningham. Here is Ann Cunningham: As I said to the others, your check will arrive in the mail.
Ann Cunningham: Thank you so much. So little time, so many to thank. I would like to thank Mr. Gashel and the Bolotin committee, for your endorsement means the world to me. I also have to thank my husband. Everything that goes out of the door at our home, he’s helped with. Thank you, Charlie Gider. Thanks, of course, go to my NFB family. Special thanks to Dr. and Mrs. Maurer. Mrs. Maurer has been a strong voice and an advocate for accessible art for many years. Thanks also to Mark Riccobono. We have worked on many projects over the years together, and we are investigating an exciting new possibility right now. I will also always hold a special place in my heart for Dr. Betsy Zaborowski. She was a champion for the tactile arts. But where would I be without a home? And I have to thank the visionary founder Diane McGeorge and the dynamic director Julie Deden, as well as the staff at the Colorado Center for the Blind for giving me a place to live. Most of all I have to thank the students at the Colorado Center for the Blind for joining me in this adventure. Thank you.
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future.
On Thursday evening, July 5, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Chang, the chairperson of the scholarship committee, came to the podium to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships they had been awarded. This year each winner shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before they took their places across the back of the platform. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each winner also received a $1,000 check and a plaque recognizing outstanding achievement from Ray Kurzweil and the Kurzweil Foundation; an iPod Touch, which is able to run Blio, the e-book-reading software available from K-NFB Reading Technologies; and a certificate for the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems. This package of gifts added $2,500 value to every scholarship award.
The final award was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Chrys Buckley, who then spoke briefly to the audience. Her remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-eight 2012 NFB scholarship winners and two tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving their second NFB scholarships, came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Patti, who announced their home and school states after each name.
Cody Bair, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, everyone. I am Cody Bair. I currently live in Greeley, Colorado, and attend the University of Northern Colorado, where I will be a sophomore in the fall, majoring in business administration with an accounting emphasis. My career aspirations are eventually to earn a master’s in accounting and become a certified public accountant, CPA, specializing in tax, and hopefully get some experience working for a corporation and then start my own accounting firm. This is my second national convention, and I have really enjoyed getting to work with all the mentors, and I feel that they have definitely helped me develop as a young leader in the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you, everyone, for everything that you have given to me.
Kimie Beverly, Nevada, Nevada: Hello. My name is Kimie Beverly, and I am from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I will be starting law school in the fall as a public interest fellow and working full time at the Office of the Attorney General for the state of Nevada in the Bureau of Litigation, Department of Personnel. I was first introduced to the National Federation of the Blind in 2003 when I was awarded my first scholarship. Since that time I’ve become more active with the Federation by holding five positions, including state secretary, Las Vegas chapter secretary, legislative coordinator, fundraising chair, and membership chair. My career aspirations are to continue working in the Office of the Attorney General, and, after I get my juris doctorate degree, I want to become the first blind deputy attorney general for the state of Nevada and then from there become a supervising deputy attorney general, and maybe a chief of one of our departments. Thank you.
Brandon Biggs, California, California: I was told by my coach that I would never play basketball. I didn’t believe him. I was told by my theater instructor that I would never navigate a stage safely and that I couldn’t sing. I didn’t believe him. I was told by my honors astronomy instructor that I would never pass his class without help. I didn’t believe him. If somebody tells you you can’t do something, don’t believe them. I was told by a conductor that I would never sing without help in front of an orchestra. I am getting my music degree at Cal State-East Bay, and I will see you at the Metropolitan Opera.
Matthew Bowers, Tennessee, Indiana: Greetings, Federationists. I come to you all today from the Dynamical Predictability Laboratory at Purdue University, where I am currently working on my PhD in atmospheric sciences. Eventually I intend to become a research scientist and a professor of climatology. Through my research I want to deepen our understanding of Earth’s climate, how our behavior as humans affects it, and how it in turn impacts our ability to survive on this planet. I’d also like to serve as a mentor to other aspiring young scientists, blind and sighted alike. So thank you very much for this opportunity and this honor.
Nallym Bravo, Florida, Florida: Good morning, Federationists. I am so inspired and so honored to be here. I’m a student, a senior, at the beautiful Florida International University, getting my degree in English. Afterwards I intend to pursue a master’s in higher education administration and student affairs so that I can work at college campuses and work with students on their personal development, their professional development, and civic engagement. Right now I am a director for a nonprofit called Strong Woman, Strong Girls. I also work in our disability resource center on campus as a student assistant. I’ve had the honor and privilege to be trusted to be on our affiliate state board as well as my local chapter board, and also I have had the honor of serving as president of FABS [Florida Association of Blind Students]and am currently vice president. So I am inspired by each and every one in my scholarship class. I am excited for this week and congratulations to my peers.
Chrys Buckley, Oregon, Oregon: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am the president of the Oregon Association of Blind Students and treasurer of my local chapter. I studied premed at Portland State University with a minor in physics. I plan to go into an MD/PhD program and specialize in internal medicine. For work I tutor science classes including biology, genetics, and organic chemistry. In my spare time I do a lot of creative writing. I am really, really grateful to be here, so thank you.
The next gentleman suffered through a cancelled flight and arrived late, so he gets the award for starting his convention most stressed out. He is Robert Campbell, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone. I am currently a third-year law student at the University of Akron School of Law. I am getting ready to graduate, so I am happy about that. When I graduate, I hope to specialize in federal income tax or secure transactions. After I practice law for a few years, I would like to become a professor at a four-year university, where I would specialize in federal income tax and Constitutional law. I hope to become a scholar in that area, so that’s why I have authored three articles. Hopefully they will get published in the upcoming year in a law review, and that’s all I have.
Jordyn Castor, Michigan, Michigan: Hello, Federation family. I am a sophomore at Michigan State University studying computer science. I hope to be a software developer as well as to provide feedback to major companies about the accessibility of their software. This is my fourth national convention, and I am the president of the Michigan Association of Blind Students, and I am deeply honored and grateful to be here today and to have this wonderful opportunity. Thank you.
Christopher De Jesus, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. My name is Christopher De Jesus. I will be majoring in psychology and premed in the fall as a junior. I aspire to get my MD degree as well, and I hope one day to serve the military veterans coming back from active duty. On my down time I play beep baseball, so I know what it means to be part of a team, and I truly believe that, in order to change this world for the better, all of us need to cooperate as a team, and I look forward to doing that as a psychiatrist. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Michael Foster, New Jersey, Pennsylvania: It’s such an honor to be here with all of you today. I am a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, studying finance. Last summer I interned at TD Bank working as a credit analyst. This summer I am interning at Google in Mountainview, California. It’s an amazing experience. I love it so far; it’s the summer of a lifetime exploring San Francisco. It is an honor to be here. Thank you so much.
Pennsylvania has two in a row. This one is a tenBroek fellow, Harriett Go, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I enjoy teaching children. It has always been my passion. When I was an undergraduate student, though, preparing to enter the student teaching of my degree program, some people believed that, because I am blind, I wouldn’t be able to handle my duties as a teacher. They tried to take my assignment away. Both the university and the partnering elementary school wanted me not to participate, and they asked me to describe how I would handle certain classroom situations without first giving me a chance to try. However, with the support of my family and my friends in the National Federation of the Blind, I got through that difficult and discouraging time in my life. For that I will always be grateful. Today I am a seven-year veteran of the school district of Philadelphia, teaching elementary special education students. [Applause]
Sierra Gregg, Missouri, Missouri: Good morning. When I was a little girl, my mother told me, “Grab hold of every opportunity that comes your way, and never ever let it go.” Over the past few years I’ve done just that, traveling to Washington, D.C., for an internship at the National Archives two summers in a row, proposing, organizing, and promoting a disabilities resource webpage that will be uploaded on the National Archives website sometime this month. But, above all, I believe that the decision to come to my very first national convention has been and continues to be the best opportunity of my life.
Rachel Grider, California, Maryland: Hi. I am so excited to be here today. I am a master’s student at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and I am getting a double master’s in vocal performance and theory pedagogy. I am going to teach theory at a college. This is my first national convention. I am very excited to be involved with you guys. I joined a couple of committees last night of the student division, and I am excited to join more committees. Thank you for having me.
Brandon “Trey” Lewis, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Good morning. I am a student at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma. I am getting a degree in music and business to pursue a career in being a talent agent. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
ShaQuantaey Mack, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, my Federation family. I am currently a student at the University of Georgia pursuing a master’s in social work. I also serve on the Georgia Association of Blind Students board. I am here today because several members of the NFB saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and they decided to take a chance and roll the dice on me. This convention has presented several firsts for me: first time winning a national scholarship and the first time in the wonderful state of Texas; and I am enjoying myself immensely. I’m honored to be a 2012 NFB recipient. Thank you.
Alyssa Munsell, New Hampshire, Massachusetts: Good morning, everyone. I graduated from Keene State College. I have a BA in psychology and a minor in criminal justice, and I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. I am going to be going to Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, to get my master’s degree in social work, and I chose social work because I want to dedicate my life to being a strong advocate in achieving security and equality for everybody that I work with hopefully. Thank you very much. I look forward to meeting all of you.
Stephanie O’Donnell, New Hampshire, New Hampshire: I would like to thank Dr. Maurer, the board, the scholarship committee, and the NFB for having me and showing me great wisdom and leadership. I go to Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. I am majoring in elementary education. I cheerlead there. I am also a resident assistant. I hope to go on to graduate school and do either special education or higher education working in disability services, because I believe all children deserve an equal opportunity within education. Thank you.
Valeria Paradiso, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. I am attending Hunter College in Manhattan, and I am currently double majoring in psychology and premed studies with a double minor in creative writing and classical music. I hope to go on to med school. I’d like to go into psychiatry or other branches of medicine, maybe pediatrics. I’ve thought about teaching on the college level. I teach Braille. I teach Nemeth, the music code, encourage both sighted and visually impaired individuals to learn. I work closely with the chief of the NLS Library. I am very honored to be here, learning a lot, and this will certainly not be my last convention. Thank you for having me.
Emily Pennington, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, board members and fellow Federationists. I recently graduated from high school with a GPA of 4.271, and I plan on attending Xavier University to pursue a major in accounting, a masters in business administration, and ultimately go to law school. Even though I don’t have nearly the experience that a lot of my fellow winners have, because I haven’t even gone to college yet, I aspire in my academics, my personal life, and in my future career to be an ambassador to blind people and show that my disability does not limit what I do. I work very hard, and I try to do everything as best I can. Thank you all for having me.
Briley Pollard, Virginia, Virginia: Over the past year I have too often heard bright young people say to me, “I want to learn Braille, but the school system said, No.” I stand here today as a graduate student at George Mason University studying education policy because of a mother who fought for Braille; Barbara Cheadle, who taught her how; and blind people like Pam Allen who have modeled for me what it means to push for what you want, for change with dignity and grace. It is my turn to be that voice for change for children and adults who have none. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Rylie Robinson, Indiana, Indiana: Wow! I am so excited to be here. We are changing what it means to be blind right here in this room. Sometimes it is hard to define what it means to change what it means to be blind. Can it start with the individual? Well I believe that it can. I will be a sophomore at the University of Indiana--Purdue University Indianapolis majoring in secondary English education, and my goal after graduating from there is to get certification in the education of blind students. Changing what it means to be blind can start by instilling potential in the hearts of blind students. This is where my passion lies. After attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I realize that one of the many issues facing blind students today is Braille literacy. I know that working with middle school and high school students in the public schools will be difficult, but I am up for this challenge. Changing what it means to be blind is also on the organizational level. This is where I would like to thank those who made it possible for me to be here. I am proud to be a scholarship winner, and I am honored to help all of you in the NFB change what it means to be blind. Thank you so much.
April Scurlock, Arkansas, Arkansas: Good morning, guys and gals. I am currently a fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher of middle school, so yes, Riley, it is difficult, I promise you. I am working on my master’s degree to teach special ed for grades four through twelve. I’m not sure how I feel about the high school, but I will deal with that later. Yeah, I’m a little nervous. I’m a wife, a mother of two (twelve and fourteen). I am busy all the time; I don’t rest. That’s part of life, I guess, as we get older. I’d just like to thank everyone. I can’t believe I’m standing here. I’m just excited.
Jennifer Shields, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, fellow Federationists. This is my fifth national convention. I have just graduated from high school, and in the fall I will begin my freshman year at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, where I will be studying English. I hope to become a children’s book author, and I want to be an editor for a publishing company. I hope that, by doing so, I will help children understand the value and the importance of literature in their lives, whether they are blind or sighted. Thank you for this opportunity.
Michael Sipes, Missouri, Louisiana: Good morning, or as they might have said in ancient Rome, salvete. I plan to go on down to Tulane University to study law. About six weeks ago I graduated from the University of Missouri with two degrees: one in classical languages, as you might have guessed, and one in American history. I am proud to say that I graduated Summa Cum Laude, and I was also the president of a fraternity there, Delta Alpha Pi, the Beta Beta chapter, and we worked to recognize the accomplishments of all disabled students. I was also the vice president of the Mizzou Sight Club, in which we worked with local high school students in trying to steer them toward a college education. I am very happy to be here, and I want to thank you for having me. Good luck to everyone.
Rose Sloan, Illinois, Illinois: Hello, everyone. My name is Rose Sloan, and I am a senior at Northwestern University, where I study social policy. I hope to become an advisor or advocate of education policy one day. I have had many experiences with these types of things, and I just think it’s a path I want to go down. I had an internship in Washington, D.C., last summer, and this summer I will be working for a state senator in Illinois. In my spare time I love to do gymnastics. I am the president of the Northwestern Club Gymnastics team. I also serve as the vice president of the Illinois Association of Blind Students. Thank you so much for having me here. I’m having a great time.
Kyra Sweeney, California, California: Hello, everyone. It’s so great to be here at my lucky thirteenth national convention. This fall I’ll be starting my freshman year at the Pomona College in Claremont, California, where I will be majoring in English and psychology. I’m considering a career in either psychology or public interest law. My main goal is to be able to make a positive difference in people’s lives, much like the NFB has done for mine.
Brandon Terry, Utah, Utah: Good morning, my Federationist family. I stand here truly humbled in the greatness. I am so grateful for everything that has gotten me to this point in my life, the NFB being one of the very strong things in my life supporting me. Only recently I have been elected as Utah Association of Blind Students president. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and I am so grateful to serve. I’d just like to say that I am so excited to be graduating in next December and will be rolling into a career as a successful young manager in the construction industry. Thank you.
Elizabeth Troutman, North Carolina, North Carolina: Good morning. My dream is to reshape American public education so that all Americans can have the knowledge and skills they need to define their own lives. I graduated with honors from Princeton University. I’ve worked on legislation, advocated for children’s rights, and served on community boards. Currently I am second in my class at the University of North Carolina School of Law. At this same time I am pursuing a master’s in public policy at Duke University and giving my heart and patience to my almost two year old. I stand on the shoulders of those who have fought before me and those whose insights I draw on today, and I am ready to lift up the next generation on our shoulders.
Maria “Monica” Villarreal, Texas, Texas: Echoing the voice of my state president, “Howdy, Ya’ll.” I currently live in Austin, Texas, where I go to the University of Texas. Go Longhorns! I am currently pursuing a double major in political science and American studies, and I will be a junior next fall. I have a great interest in advocacy and public policy, and I am currently interning in Washington, D.C., under the director of public policy and advocacy for the nongovernmental organization called Safe Kids Worldwide. I intend to become a lawyer and pursue my interest in advocacy and public policy. I am truly honored to be here, and I thank all of those who made it possible.
Brandy Wood, Alabama, Alabama: Hello. I attend Auburn University in Alabama, and I am majoring in rehabilitation and disability services. I intend to go on to get a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and teaching. My free time? I don’t have any. I have a husband and two children also, so they are it. This is my first national convention, and I am really excited to be here. Thank you.
On Thursday evening, July 5, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Chang presented this year’s scholarships. Then Chrys Buckley, winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, came to the podium to speak a few words. This is what she said:
Hi, everyone. I want to thank everyone in the Federation and especially the people on the scholarship committee for believing in me. I feel really, really honored to be a part of this scholarship class. Everyone has been welcoming and genuine and inspiring. I think we’re all going to go on to be leaders and do great things with our careers. I’m also really thankful for all the mentoring I received this week from the assigned mentors, and also from people throughout the Federation. I feel these lessons will stay with me for a long time, and I think we’ve all made connections that will last for years to come. In the fall I will be starting my last year as an undergrad, and then this time next year I’ll be applying to MD/PhD programs, so I think this scholarship will be a tremendous help in achieving my dreams. The only thing I think of to say is thank you so much. [Applause]
Following is the complete list of 2012 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Cody Bair, Brandon Biggs, Nallym Bravo, Robert Campbell, Jordyn Castor, Christopher De Jesus, Michael Foster, Sierra Gregg, Rachel Grider, Brandon Trey Lewis, Alyssa Munsell, Valeria Paradiso, Emily Pennington, Briley Pollard, Rylie Robinson, April Scurlock, Jennifer Shields, Michael Sipes, Rose Sloan, Kyra Sweeney, and Brandy Wood
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owens Memorial Scholarship: Stephanie O’Donnell
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Harriet Go
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Kimie Beverly, Matthew Bowers, and Monica Villarreal
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: ShaQuantaey Mack and Brandon Terry
$10,000 (NFB) Marvin and Mimi Sandler Scholarship: Elizabeth Troutman
$12,000 (American Action Fund) Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Chrys Buckley
An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
July 5, 2012
We in the National Federation of the Blind have known for well over half a century that the task before us is to alter the status quo both for the blind and for the society in which we live. We can achieve equality only if we believe in our fundamental worth and if we take steps to ensure that the society of which we are a part shares this belief.
If a group of disenfranchised individuals wishes to be accepted as part of the broader culture, at least in some respects it must come to be admired, and certain representatives of that group must themselves behave in such a way that they also can be the subject of admiration. Théophile Gautier, the French writer, has said, “To love is to admire with the heart; to admire is to love with the mind.” Thus admiration denotes love. However, an added element of this admiration is a tension, an uneasiness, an apprehension that the person or organization being admired may present a challenge, a demand for altered patterns of thought or behavior, a threat to the status quo.
In 1532 Niccolò Machiavelli said, “It is desirable to be both loved and feared, but it is difficult to achieve both, and, if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer to be feared than loved.” He was speaking of the political processes required for governing a kingdom, and a substantial element of his argument was intended to avoid revolution. Such sentiments may be true to maintain the status quo, but pursuing a true equality—altering the fabric of society to accept disenfranchised groups—demands a different set of principles. Rather than relying on fear, this attempt at a recognition of human capacity and value requires the exact opposite—a reversal of the Machiavellian creed—a reliance not on fear but on love.
The United States became a nation by declaration of the Continental Congress, which stated that the establishment of our country was based upon “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” This would seem to be a very powerful combination, but it did not prohibit slavery, and the Constitution (which was written eleven years later) was itself insufficient, at the time of its adoption, to do so. Much of the argument about human equality which arose from the debate over slavery in the United States was founded upon natural law. No consistent uniform agreement exists about the meaning of natural law, but three bases for it recur. These are a comprehension of justice given meaning by experience and the nature of human beings, the development of custom over time, and the inspiration of God. The English philosopher John Locke wrote that “Man being born . . . with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature . . . hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty, and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men, but to judge of and punish the breaches of that law . . . .” Thus, according to Locke, human beings are not merely governed and controlled by law, but participate in the creation and implementation of it. A variant of the Locke assertion was incorporated in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. These documents, which are bedrocks of American law, derive their authority from “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” or from the people, who, according to Locke, derive their authority from the law of nature.
What are the natural characteristics of human understanding and behavior that underlie and support natural law? What in the essence of God creates obligation? What is the substance that makes people believe in fairness, justice, or equality? Among the characteristics that naturally occur in humanity are many that we know from personal experience—fear, greed, apathy, cowardice. However, the ones we admire have other names—courage, generosity, faith, love. No one of us can summon at will each of the characteristics in this second group, but all of us have known them at times, and most of us admire those who seek them.
Recently Pope Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical entitled “Deus Caritas Est”—God is love. The common characteristic between the laws of nature and of nature’s God is arguably the experience of love. Although the law possesses many characteristics worth criticizing, its fundamental source of power may be its reliance upon and its wish to express the experience of love. That law and love have anything whatever to do with each other is not often expressed. However the interesting parts of law deal with the nature of justice and the wish to ensure equality for all. This idea has a persistent appeal which cannot easily be justified by arguments in other realms. How the appeal is interpreted changes with time and circumstance, but the fundamental nature of the appeal remains strong. It must find its source in the human heart.
Many will offer the opinion that society is governed by aggression or a competitive spirit and not by generosity. In 1859 Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, which has been interpreted to mean that the fit survive while others die—that the principle governing social interaction or growth is competition for scarce resources—a person can win only if that person is bigger, faster, meaner, or more intelligent than all others in the competition. However, in 1776 Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations. His book recommended that recognition be given to the value of the nation based upon the productive capacity of its people and the ability they possess to cooperate with one another in creating products that are the basis for wealth. Modern game theory has supported the argument that cooperative endeavor to reach a goal is more productive than selfishness.
From the time of the beginning of the National Federation of the Blind, we have been seeking equality of opportunity. Many have believed that we, who are a minority, must gain equality by obtaining it from somebody else—by demanding that we be given this right by sighted people who are in possession of our equality and have been denying it to us. However, if justice incorporates the notion of love, we cannot get it solely by insisting that it be ours—though this may be a necessary element. Nobody gets love by demanding it. It comes to those who behave in such a way that they can interact with others in a loving spirit. It comes to those who are willing to give it to others. This means that we are not separated from the equality we seek. We are not controlled by others. We participate in the mechanism of gaining our own freedom. We are worthy of admiration, and we, along with others, have come to recognize this truth. We welcome our colleagues and friends who have joined us in celebrating the accomplishments of the blind. For those less perceptive we have a message and a challenge. We have the ability to inspire respect and sometimes emotions beyond respect. We will participate in the creation of our own freedom, and we will not let anybody forget who we are.
How easy is it to admire blind people? Some blind folk make it more difficult than it would be without them. An article dated April 29, 2008, which appeared in the National Law Journal tells the story of a blind lawyer charged with fraud for paying himself and his friends more than $6 million from a health insurance company while the company was becoming bankrupt. The story says in part:
A federal judge in Louisiana has ruled that Barry Scheur, a managed care executive who is an attorney and is blind, is competent to stand trial in the government’s case that alleges fraud and conspiracy in the management of a now-defunct health insurer. Scheur, a Yale Law School graduate and former partner at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & MacRae, along with two other former executives are charged with unlawfully paying themselves $6.1 million and misleading the Louisiana Department of Insurance into believing that the insurer . . . was operating in the black. Scheur’s attorney, James A. Brown . . . had argued that Scheur was unable to read and comprehend the financial statements that are the heart of the government’s case. “He has been totally blind since birth,” Brown said. “He is not in a position to assimilate these financial documents.”
This is what the National Law Journal reported, and, although the press sometimes exaggerates, I have reason to believe that this story is accurate. Before the case went to trial, a lawyer for Barry Scheur called to ask that the National Federation of the Blind intervene to persuade the judge that his client, because of his blindness, did not have enough on the ball to understand the documents. Can you believe it? Some lawyer wanted me on behalf of you to say that blind people (even those trained at the Yale Law School) are incompetent to understand documents. What insufferable gall! Any executive working under my direction who expresses the sentiment that the executive cannot comprehend documents essential to the business will have an exceedingly short tenure. Blindness and intelligence are not coextensive. I have met some dumb blind people, but blindness didn’t make them that way. The Barry Scheur argument is an unvarnished flimflam. The outrage is intensified by the sheer idiocy of the attempt. Those who lie should at least try to make the stories they tell plausible. Barry Scheur has been convicted. Perhaps his experience of the law does not remind him of love. If it does, it will be the sort known as “tough love.”
It may be worth reporting that, at a dinner I was hosting some years ago, Jim Gashel (then our director of governmental affairs and now our corporate secretary) invited Barry Scheur to step outside to settle an argument they were having. Although I prevented the brawl, I think Jim Gashel would have acquitted himself well if he had been permitted to address himself to the argument with his fists.
A phenomenon reappearing in the United States from time to time is currently denominated “Dining in the Dark.” Those who conduct these events bring sighted people together to enjoy a meal served in a darkened room. Sometimes blind people are invited to participate. In some formulations of the event, the blind people serve as escorts and waiters. In some events the blind people join the sighted at table to talk with sighted diners about the experience of being blind and to serve as role models. Often a considerable quantity of wine is served with much commentary about avoiding accidents such as spilling the wine, spreading the food across the table, and becoming overfamiliar in the dark with other diners. Sometimes dinner is served in a lighted space, but the diners are blindfolded. This permits sighted people to peek, and waiters to serve who are not required to learn anything about managing without light.
The notion of blindfolding sighted people so that they can learn about blindness is not new, and it is frequently a harmless novelty, although comments about alterations in the senses or sensibilities of blind people are repeated. Some folks tell us that we enjoy our dinners more than sighted people do because the lack of the visual sense enhances our taste buds. Occasionally Dining in the Dark is actually intended to expose diners to the experience of blindness. However, the name is frequently associated with fundraising conducted for the purpose of persuading sighted people that they should contribute money to research programs involving the search for cures for ailments that cause blindness. When the objective is to encourage sighted people to know about blindness and when the instruction is competent, the experience can be positive. When exploitation of the fear of blindness becomes the primary motivation, harm is the result.
The Tampa Bay Times reported on March 10, 2010, that a foundation dealing with blindness conducted Dining in the Dark to raise $100,000. Did the sighted participants learn that blind people are normal, that the experience of being blind need not be scary, and that the blind have value? Not exactly. The Tampa Bay Times said, “For those assembled, a half hour in the dark was a humbling, and bumbling, reminder of the magnitude of the gift of sight.” One of the participants who spoke to the assembled gathering is the mother of two children who have been diagnosed with an eye condition which will probably cause blindness in the future. Her message was the tragedy of blindness and the urgency of raising money for research to prevent it. She would agree wholeheartedly with the adjectives “humbling” and “bumbling” used by the Tampa Bay Times. She does not want her children to spend a lifetime with no choice except bumbling humility.
Although the occurrence of blindness can be a tragedy, it need not be. However, nobody in the room offered this point of view, spoke of the productivity of blind people, or recounted the dramatically positive experiences many of us have had. This mother came to the event, participated in it, and departed believing that the future for her children contains nothing but tragic pain.
One of our members, Nijat Worley, who is at this banquet tonight, and who decided to be a part of the Dining in the Dark experience in Los Angeles, was told that he was prohibited from bringing his cane into the dining facility where the event was taking place. Apparently he (a blind person) might look too normal or too competent to fit the distorted image that the fundraisers had in mind. They did not want our member to share the spotlight with them. They did not want a blind person to be admired. They wanted all the admiration for themselves and their so-called expertise in the subject of blindness. I did not ask Nijat Worley whether he intended to teach these people about the law. Those who deny blind people the opportunity to participate fully in a public event using their travel aids are violating nondiscrimination principles of the law. Dining in the Dark may want us to believe that our primary value consists in frightening people into digging into their wallets, but we know better. The value we possess is sufficient to inspire admiration. For those who do not recognize this truth, we have a message and a challenge. Our rights and our lives have as much value as theirs, and we will never let them forget who we are.
On March 6, 2012, Forbes magazine printed an editorial claiming that hiring disabled workers would place an unconscionable burden upon employers. Of course Forbes did not review the history of employment of such workers. When the National Federation of the Blind was formed in 1940, almost no blind people were at work. Currently the estimate is that perhaps as many as 30 percent of the blind who are seeking employment are working. However, this same statistic was often quoted in the early 1970s. Have the employment opportunities for the blind not improved in the last forty years?
In the 1950s, through action in Congress and the courts, the National Federation of the Blind caused federal employment to become available to the blind. In the 1950s and 1960s Federation principles were first applied to rehabilitation programs, which dramatically improved placement rates for blind job seekers in competitive employment. In 1973 the Rehabilitation Act contained nondiscrimination provisions dealing with certain types of employment for the first time, and in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act expanded coverage of the law to the employment of disabled workers. If the law has any power to modify human behavior, these nondiscrimination provisions should have changed employment prospects for the blind. However, the 70 percent unemployment rate remains the estimate today.
In an attempt to create a positive environment for the employment of disabled workers, the United States Department of Labor has recently issued a proposed rule to require that 7 percent of the workforce for those who are serving as contractors for the federal government must be selected from among the disabled, and 2 percent of the workforce must be selected from workers with severe disabilities. The editorial writer at Forbes magazine is outraged. He begins with the proposition that any requirement to hire disabled workers might simply be an added cost of doing business. The message of the editorialist is that disabled employees cannot be expected to be productive. Consequently, being required to hire them is just one more cost of being a federal contractor. However, the real outrage expressed in the article—the unbelievable imposition on business contained in the Labor Department proposed rule—is that the Labor Department is not willing to accept having “the handicapped” serve in make-work jobs for the purpose of satisfying the regulatory scheme. The Department of Labor expects these “handicapped” workers to be employed at all wage levels “to make sure the handicapped are evenly apportioned throughout an organization.”
I can just imagine the thought processes involved with this editorial writer and his friends as they contemplate the implications of the regulation. As I imagine the conversation, it would probably go something like this:
How awful! Employers are going to have to have some of them in the front office. If they would just stay in the low-paid dead-end jobs that make up the cost of doing business with the federal government, where they belong, the handicapped might be tolerable, but they want to come right into the front office suite. They’ll probably bring their white canes, their blind dogs, their wheelchairs, their crutches! They’ll look funny; they’ll mess up the décor. How awful!
Although Forbes magazine believes that hiring disabled people is bad for business, what is the basis for this assertion? Perhaps they should try it before they reject the proposition out of hand. They say they don’t like hiring the handicapped, but how can they tell? They have never tried it to find out.
The irony is that major employers have used the work of blind people (and those with other disabilities) without hiring the people whose work has benefited them. For example, in the early 1970s a sheltered workshop in Evansville, Indiana, had a contract to produce material for the Whirlpool Corporation. Tens of thousands of items were made effectively and competently for Whirlpool by blind people. However, Whirlpool did not pay them. Instead it employed the workshop to make the products. The sighted managers of the workshop, being given executive-scale salaries, paid some of the employees less than the federal minimum wage. Whirlpool got the work cheap, and the blind helped make the workshop bosses rich.
However, that was forty years ago. Does the exploitation continue today? As members of the National Federation of the Blind know, we have been trying to get Congress to pass legislation prohibiting payment of subminimum wages. Managers of sheltered workshops have been telling us that conditions are better today than they were in the past. Are they telling the truth? Although a number of blind people working in workshops receive wages substantially above the minimum guaranteed by federal law, this law does not apply to sheltered employment. When we asked the Department of Labor to give us detailed information about the payments being made to disabled workers, we received documents telling us that in 2011—less than one year ago—a person described as an “employee” in a workshop in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was receiving wage payments of seven cents an hour.
What is the effect of these nondiscrimination laws about which Forbes magazine makes such great complaint? Are disabled Americans becoming employed in positions of authority in which they can make policy decisions? How many people with disabilities are now serving as judges? How much effort has been made to encourage individuals with disabilities to be a part of the legal profession? When the National Conference of Bar Examiners encounters a blind candidate seeking to take the bar exam, what kind of welcome do they offer? When the Law School Admission Council learns that blind people want to apply for law school, to use its website, or to take the law school admission test, what do the officials do to make these things happen?
The number of disabled people serving in the judiciary is tiny; the behavior of the National Conference of Bar Examiners regarding applications from blind law school graduates is obstructionist; and the Law School Admission Council has effectively taken the position that no blind person need apply. However, they can’t lock us out forever. Because of our work the Law School Admission Council has changed many of its practices; and, in the confrontations with the National Conference of Bar Examiners, we have won overwhelmingly. The arguments are not yet complete, but we never give up. Sometimes we lose a skirmish; occasionally we lose a battle; but we never lose the war—because it is never over until we win.
The lawyers are supposed to enforce the law, including nondiscrimination law. However, many of them (and many of the judges before whom they appear) know nothing whatever about disability, the capacity of disabled people, or disability discrimination. When the cases involving blind people seeking employment are brought before the courts, is it any wonder that well over 90 percent of them are lost? What other reasons are there that nondiscrimination law is often ineffective for the blind? Try the attitudes in Forbes magazine. They do not want us in the front office, but we have a measure of control over the question of what we are and what we will become. Part of the time we help to create the law, and, when we have created it, we help to ensure that it is enforced. Disenfranchised groups that wish to become a part of the broader community must come to be admired, but admiration requires respect. Danger must be an element of becoming the subject of admiration, and we are creating it. We know our value, and we will never let them forget who we are.
Although some places do not welcome the blind and although some people do not value the methods we use for gaining information, some do. A story dated January 16, 2012, from the Los Angeles Times says, in part: “In South Africa, restaurant chain Wimpy is welcoming blind customers—by serving them burgers with words in Braille spelled out on their buns with sesame seeds.” Wimpy’s is using Braille for advertising purposes to promote its corporate image, to let people know that Braille menus are available in its stores, and to attract potential customers. Several blind organizations have been encouraged to let their members know about Wimpy’s Braille program, and it is estimated that eight hundred thousand blind people have learned about the Braille messages. Although Wimpy’s is advertising itself, it is also advertising us—saying that we are welcome, proclaiming its incorporation of Braille into its programs, and encouraging us and others to know that blind people will be a part of the ordinary commerce provided by Wimpy’s.
Another place where blind people are welcomed is at the Railey Field baseball stadium in Sacramento, California, home of the River Cats, a farm team for the Oakland A’s. Tiffany Manosh, one of our leaders from Sacramento, California, who is also with us at this banquet tonight, says: “On September 10, 2011, . . . the River Cats, [who had] won the Southern Division, were in the playoffs. . . . It was an event I will never forget. . . . A member of the [River City] chapter had arranged for me to throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch of the game. . . . As I walked out to the mound with a member from the River Cats organization, she asked me how she could assist me. I asked her to just walk with me to the mound and then line me up so I was straight in line with the catcher. The PA announcer announced to the sold-out crowd on hand that tonight’s Ceremonial First Pitch was from the National Federation of the Blind and then announced my name. With my cane in my left hand and the ball in my right, I threw the ball to the catcher. It made it all the way to the catcher but hit the ground as it reached the catcher. After I threw the ball, the catcher then walked out to the mound and handed me the ball I threw to him. What an amazing evening, and to top it off the River Cats won the game!”
Being admired by the announcer and by the members of her chapter, Tiffany Manosh participated in a sport she loves—on her own behalf and on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. She was not told to wait for another day or another year; she was not told that she was not good enough to share the experience; instead she was invited onto the pitcher’s mound to celebrate her team and her joy in its accomplishments, and she has the baseball to prove it.
“Love” is a word with many variations in meaning. One of them involves romance. A study reported in USA Today for January 17, 2010, declares that researchers have discovered that blind men prefer thin-waisted women. These researchers admit that sighted men also like thin-waisted women, but blind men don’t think they have to be as thin-waisted as sighted men do. The research began with the proposition that a preference for thin-waisted women is generated from the experience of sighted men looking at women. Because blind men could not appreciate this visual examination, it was supposed that they did not share this preference. The research shows that blind men like women who have waists that are thin, but not quite as thin as those preferred by sighted men.
Now I ask you, is this preference based upon the method of evaluation? The sighted men had to look, but the blind men got to touch. In pondering the enormously significant findings of this study, I find myself reflecting that those who believe that the best way to appreciate characteristics of women is by long-range visual examination lack a certain measure of experience. More ways of knowing exist than the visual. The value gained in other ways may be no less important than learning by sight.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who founded the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, was a lawyer and a constitutional scholar as well as a college professor and a social activist leader. His writings helped to change the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, and his book Prejudice, War and the Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award in 1955 for the best book on government and democracy published in that year. Dr. tenBroek, who was totally blind, began his studies at the University of California in 1930. During the years that followed he earned five college degrees and was granted other honorary diplomas.
Henry Wedler (often known as Hoby) is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Davis, in organic chemistry. He, a blind man and a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, was recently honored for his leadership at a ceremony in the White House. He was named a Champion of Change “for leading education and employment efforts in science, technology, engineering, and math for Americans with disabilities.”
The scholarship of blind people is, of course, not limited to these two examples, but they span a period of more than three-quarters of a century, and they are indicative of the intellectual capacity possessed by the blind. However, 45 percent of blind high school students graduate—55 percent do not. Why is the number so small? Only 10 percent of blind students in grade school and high school are reading Braille—90 percent are not. Why is the number so small? Are blind students in high school encouraged to excel? Does the Department of Education encourage school systems to teach Braille? When administrators in the school systems refuse to teach Braille, is this done because they don’t trust the reading medium, they don’t trust teachers of the blind, they don’t trust blind students, or they have hidden motives that create a disparate discriminatory impact upon the blind?
Henry Miller (Hank) is a blind student in Oceanport, New Jersey. His mother, Holly Miller, has become a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and she has learned that the potential for her son is greater than she had previously believed. Although Henry Miller has a small amount of residual vision and although he can use this vision for a brief period to read print, his ability to read in this way is severely limited. His mother asked that he be taught Braille.
Amendments, which became law in 1997, to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act declare that a blind student has a right to learn Braille. The implementing regulations for this statute contain the same declaration. However, the teachers and the administrators often want to avoid this requirement, and they have been given a measure of comfort by the Department of Education.
The education plan for each student is expected to be developed exclusively for that student. This requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has meant that the team of experts in the school district assesses the needs of the student and determines what the student will get. The decision made for students who want Braille is often that they do not get it because the assessment of the team is that the student doesn’t need it. Although the team is supposed to make its assessment for the best interests of the student, it frequently makes its decision for the perceived best interest of the school system, which does not want to go to the trouble to teach Braille.
Henry Miller’s mom came to me some time ago to ask that the National Federation of the Blind help in the effort to get Braille instruction for her son. She had originally asked for Braille instruction when her boy was in the second grade, at the time when learning to read is among the most important lessons that can be had in school. When Holly Miller asked for this help, it was clear that her frustration level was intense, and I wondered why. Because the Millers were living in New Jersey, this request seemed to me to be one that would require fairly nominal effort. I had been told that the education for blind students in New Jersey was excellent, and I was aware that the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired could be called upon to provide assistance in evaluating the needs of blind students. The director of this commission for the blind is himself a blind person, and he had previously declared himself to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Undoubtedly, I thought, there has been some administrative snarl that must be addressed to get education in Braille for this blind boy.
But the Commission for the Blind had decided to join with the school district to refuse to teach Braille to a blind student. The decision was made in characteristically bureaucratic language. An evaluator of Henry Miller, not from the school district but from the Commission for the Blind, said, “Braille and print are equally valuable as media for reading and writing. However, a best-practice approach encourages reading and writing methods that are least restrictive for the student.” The consequence of this so-called evaluation is: no Braille—because Braille is too restrictive. Henry Miller must hold a print book within two inches of his eyes to read it; he cannot read for more than five minutes; he can read print only if it is large and distinct; and his reading demands enormous amounts of energy so that requiring him to do it in print causes extreme weariness. Yet the Commission for the Blind in New Jersey said that he may not have Braille because it is too restrictive. The evaluator said he must read print. The evaluator from the Commission for the Blind demanded of him that he do the impossible. What kind of a person would make such a demand?
The decision of the Commission for the Blind was made to protect the right of the student to the statutorily-guaranteed free and appropriate public education. In order to provide Henry Miller an appropriate public education, they said that he, a blind student, may not have Braille. Consequently the arguments continued. We hired a lawyer for Holly Miller, a bright, aggressive woman in Dan Goldstein’s firm named Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum. We demanded Braille. After three years of argument, negotiation, demands, refusals, and bureaucratic red tape, the trial before the administrative law judge finally occurred. The proceedings lasted nine days, and the decision of the judge is more than sixty pages long. The decision of the judge says that Henry Miller gets Braille—not just a little bit but enough to try to reverse the disadvantages of being denied this training for more than three years.
Will Henry Miller be able to earn a college diploma, and will he receive an advanced degree? Will the Commission for the Blind tell him that education at the university level is for somebody else but not for him? Will he have the tools to expand the reach of his mind to the fullest extent of his capacity? The answers to these questions are clear. He will get his education because we have decided that he will, and nobody can keep us from helping him to get it. No doubt, the Commission for the Blind in New Jersey does not admire Henry Miller and his mother, but we do, and we are prepared to stand with them.
Law implies force; love signifies giving. How do these intersect? A law not inspired by love is a hollow thing, and what we are seeking is substance, not a hollow shell. What we want is to become a valued part of our society, recognized for the worth that we possess. In order to achieve this objective, we must have faith in ourselves, but we must also carry within us the faith that others also can have faith in us. This requires a substantial measure of trust.
The nature of trust and the nature of love are similar in that they cannot be had unless they are shared. A human being cannot be trusted unless that human being is willing to trust others, which demands acceptance of vulnerability. If a person or an organization is incapable of being hurt by trusting too much, that person and that organization will be tempted to trust too little and will never know the joy and peace that come from love. Consequently, we must be prepared to risk our judgments, our feelings, our hope for the future. When we do, opportunity opens before us, and we come to know the freedom that can and will be ours. We must build and enforce the law that we need, but we must do it not just with faith in ourselves but also with faith that others will join us.
Our history is filled with incidents that belittle our talent, circumscribe our opportunity, or denigrate our judgment. Some say we can’t understand documents, some tell us that our behavior in social situations is humbling and bumbling, some argue that employment is beyond our physical and intellectual capacity, some assert that we are not good enough to receive the same wages that other people get, and some urge us to believe that our appreciation of physical beauty is altered because of our lack of sight. Some people even tell us that our methods of learning are too restrictive and therefore inferior.
Although our past is filled with the pain of restriction and denial, our future will be constructed according to an expanded and inclusive standard that we will determine. It can and it will offer equal access to information presented in forms that we can comprehend. It can and it will incorporate employment opportunities commensurate with our innate abilities and training. It can and it will make education available that will take advantage of the fullest range of our talent. Our future can do these things and it will do these things because we have the energy, the commitment, the determination, and the love essential to make it happen. Others have made decisions for us in the past, but increasingly we are making them for ourselves. We must believe in ourselves, but we must also believe in others who will come to believe in us. We have the faith to do this, and we have those characteristics that can engender admiration in others. We must behave in such a way that we are worthy of admiration, but we can, and we will.
I have met the members of the National Federation of the Blind, and I have observed what we are. The traits that characterize our movement are boldness, curiosity, an indomitable spirit, and an unfailing capacity for generosity. Our judgment is not always correct, but most of the time it is. Our trust is not always returned, but in the long run and in the ways that matter, it is. The demands upon us in intellectual capacity, imaginative spirit, and faith in ourselves and others are enormous. But we will meet them. Because of our determination nothing on earth can keep us from gaining the objectives we have set. Sometimes we stand on the pitcher’s mound, and sometimes we get our Braille. Everything else that we need is within the capacity that makes us what we are. The future is bright with promise; join with your fellow Federationists, and we will bring the future to be our own!
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: On Thursday morning, July 5, NFB First Vice President Dr. Fred Schroeder came to the podium to deliver a stirring justification for repealing Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This is what he said:
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay blind workers and others with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage based on their productivity. Productivity is determined by comparing the performance of people with disabilities to that of people who do not have disabilities. For example, if people who do not have disabilities can fold a hundred packing boxes an hour and the individual with a disability can fold only fifty, then he or she is paid half of the customary hourly wage for that job.
We are asked to believe that Section 14(c) helps people with the most significant disabilities by giving them some access to work--people incapable of working in the competitive labor force--even if it is at a subminimum wage. Of course we know that there are people with very significant disabilities, but we also know that the impact of a disability cannot be objectively measured. The impact of a disability falls along a continuum from least significant to most significant, but where is the line dividing those individuals who are able to engage in competitive work from those who are not?
A friend of mine and a good Federationist, Christopher Fountain, passed away last summer. Ten years earlier Christopher contracted meningitis. As a result he became blind, lost most of his hearing, lost the use of his legs, and was left with only limited use of his hands. Given Christopher’s multiple disabilities and associated health problems, he was advised to go to work folding pizza boxes, even though he was in college at the time he contracted meningitis. Think about that. What sense does that make?
The meningitis made it hard for Christopher to use his hands. No matter how hard he worked, no matter how determined he may have been, if Christopher had gone to work folding pizza boxes, his poor hand dexterity would have limited his productivity. How much? No one knows, but it is almost a certainty that Christopher would have been paid something less than the minimum wage.
But Christopher did not want to fold pizza boxes. He wanted to be a licensed counselor. He went back to school and completed his associate’s degree with a 3.6 grade point average. He then transferred to Old Dominion University to work toward a bachelor’s degree. At Old Dominion he earned straight A’s in all of his major subject area courses and maintained an overall 3.65 grade point average.
Today most blind people earn at least the minimum wage, but make no mistake about it, under federal law no blind person or any person with a disability is guaranteed the minimum wage. On October 4, 2011, at the request of the National Federation of the Blind, Congressmen Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Tim Bishop (D-NY) introduced H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, which would phase out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, thereby ending the shameful practice of paying workers with disabilities below the federal minimum wage. But not everyone supports eliminating subminimum wages.
In its November 2011 newsletter the Missouri Association for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities posed the question: “Where will Sammy, Patti, and Becky go when you eliminate their jobs?” The question itself presumes that, if required to pay the minimum wage, sheltered workshops and other employers would have no option but to lay off Sammy, Patti, and Becky and other workers with significant disabilities. I do not know Sammy, Patti, or Becky. It is possible that they have such significant disabilities that they simply cannot work at a competitive level at any job, but I doubt it. I doubt it because I knew Christopher and many others like him who had no business working at a subminimum wage.
Of course it is not just the Missouri Association for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities that defends paying people with disabilities below the minimum wage. Just last month, in June 2012, Goodwill issued a statement saying: “Across the U.S., 79 percent of people with disabilities are not working today. The Special Minimum Wage Certificate [I feel compelled to interject here. What a euphemism! The special minimum wage certificate? It’s a certificate that allows you to pay a subminimum wage, but I suppose it sounds better the way they say it. Let me get back to the text.] The Special Minimum Wage Certificate is an important resource to employ individuals with significant disabilities. The Certificate enables Goodwill and thousands of other employers to provide opportunities for people with severe disabilities who otherwise might not be part of the workforce.” But is that really true? Assuming that people with disabilities are inherently less productive (an assumption I reject), does that mean that the cost of low productivity must be borne by the individual, or are there subsidies to offset the cost?
Of course a private employer must make a profit, or there is no reason to stay in business, but that is not the case for a nonprofit agency. Let’s assume that a private company has a $1 million janitorial contract. The company prices the contract with the intention of making a profit. Let’s assume that the profit margin is modest—say 10 percent or $100,000. Now let’s assume that that same contract is taken over by a sheltered workshop. The sheltered workshop is a nonprofit agency; but that does not mean that the sheltered workshop drops the $100,000 profit from the price of the contract. It still charges the $1 million, not $900,000. That means that a $100,000 subsidy to the sheltered workshop automatically helps to offset any additional costs associated with a less productive workforce. But there is more. The private company must pay taxes while the sheltered workshop is tax exempt. But wait, there is still more. The sheltered workshop also receives charitable contributions from the public to subsidize the cost of hiring a presumably less productive workforce of people with disabilities. And there is still more. The sheltered workshop receives money from a variety of government agencies to provide training and day-activity and other services; and, if all of that were not enough, bear in mind that sheltered workshops regularly receive municipal, state, and federal contracts on a noncompetitive basis, often at a price higher than the price charged by the private sector. But with all of these subsidies—subsidies rooted in the belief that people with disabilities are less productive and require greater care and supervision—the sheltered workshops say they cannot find the money to pay the minimum wage, much less a decent wage. Set aside for a moment the seemingly endless parade of sheltered workshops that have been found paying their executives excessive salaries, how much money do workers with disabilities in sheltered workshops actually earn?
In the 1980s sheltered workshop employees earned an average of $1.17 per hour (Lam, 1986). Today, they average $1.36 an hour (NASDDS & HSRI, 2009), an increase of 19 cents an hour over three decades. With an average hourly wage of $1.36, how much money do sheltered workshop workers actually take home? Assuming a forty-hour work week, $1.36 an hour comes to $54.40 a week. But sheltered workshop workers do not work forty hours a week. A recent annual report from the National Core Indicators (NCI) Program, a joint venture between the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services and the Human Services Research Institute (2007-2008), found that people in sheltered workshops worked an average of 18.5 hours per week. At $1.36 an hour, that equals just $25.16 a week, hardly a princely sum, certainly not enough to live on let alone being enough to support a family--and hard to swallow when there are sheltered workshop executives making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Defenders of maintaining special wage certificates argue that it is only those individuals with the most significant disabilities who are paid a subminimum wage and only after a fair and objective evaluation of their productivity. They argue that for those individuals, people like Sammy, Patti, and Becky, the subminimum wage system gives them the opportunity to earn a little money--not much but a little. But why must Sammy, Patti, and Becky prove their worth while others are guaranteed the minimum wage? [I am tempted to interject, my good friend Allen Harris would say: without putting too fine a point on it,] if we were to pay members of Congress based on their recent productivity, I suspect that a number—perhaps a large number—might find their paychecks startlingly small.
We are still left with a serious and difficult question. We do not want to take away anyone’s opportunity to work, especially that of people who have the most complex disabilities. But we are asked to take on faith that the sheltered workshops are somehow able to know which individuals are able to work competitively and which are not. We are asked to take on faith that the productivity of people with disabilities has been fairly measured. And we are asked to take on faith that the sheltered workshops would go out of business if they had to pay their workers the minimum wage. But how do we know that the people working in sheltered workshops have such limited ability that they could not work anywhere else? How do we know that their productivity has been fairly measured? And how do we know that the sheltered workshops would go out of business if they had to pay their workers the minimum wage? The answer is that we don’t. We are asked to take it on faith. We must end the practice of paying blind people and others with disabilities below the minimum wage. It is nothing less than legalized discrimination.
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act is rooted in the presumption that blind people and others with disabilities must prove their worth while others are assured the minimum wage. That is discrimination. It is based on the unquestioned assumption that blind people and others with disabilities are automatically, inevitably less productive. That is discrimination. It is rooted in the assumption that blind people and others with disabilities require the care and protection of a facility. That is discrimination. It is based on the assumption that blind people and others with disabilities can perform only low-skilled, low-wage work. That is discrimination. It assumes that blind people and others with disabilities have no hope of lifting themselves out of poverty and earning a decent wage. That is discrimination. And it assumes that the sheltered workshops would never take unfair advantage of their workers, and that is naïve, and it too is discrimination.
I ran a sheltered workshop in the mid-1980s. The day I became director, we eliminated the practice of paying subminimum wages. No one was laid off, no one was forced out, and the workshop did not go broke. It is time to stop pretending that sheltered workshops are benevolent charities that would pay the minimum wage if only they could. If they cannot pay the minimum wage given the numerous subsidies they receive but can find money to compensate senior executives with exorbitant salaries, in some cases paying their chief executives in excess of half a million dollars a year, that is abuse; it is abuse of the law, abuse of workers with disabilities, and abuse of the trust and generosity of the community.
There is no question that Christopher had serious multiple disabilities. If he had gone to work folding pizza boxes, even if he had managed to work at a competitive rate, at best he would have earned the minimum wage. You can call it ignorance. You can call it low expectations. You can call it paternalism. But it is legalized discrimination, and it must end. We must pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, and we must pass it now, and we will pass it because we are the National Federation of the Blind.
by Anil Lewis
From the Editor: On Thursday morning, July 5, Anil Lewis, director of strategic communications of the National Federation of the Blind, made the following presentation:
I want to go back to 1989. That’s when I lost my sight, due to retinitis pigmentosa. It could have been one of those moments that changed my life in a way that reduced me to less than a man, but I want to talk to you a little about this transition and what I did that I am apologizing for.
When I lost my sight in 1989, I went to a community rehabilitation facility in Atlanta. I had the privilege of talking to the blindness professionals who met last Saturday, so, if you want to know the ins and outs of that experience, talk to them. But it was a lightning-fast three-month program of blindness rehabilitation training in which I got to a rapid speed of thirty-three words per minute in Braille, became a proficient route traveler, and learned to cook my Marie Calendar chicken pot pie in a microwave oven. The frustration was that with this degree of proficiency I was labeled superior. I was super blind. Everyone was praising how wonderful I was, to the point where they actually gave me a job teaching Braille and computer skills. I wasn’t the best, and the people I taught didn’t get the best, but I did try my best with what I had.
In that program I ended up becoming the job placement person. We had an extended employment program in the back. For those of you who don’t recognize this term, it’s a sheltered workshop. We had people doing mail order and piece-rate assembly, and we were paying them per hour. We were judging their productivity based on their ability to get letters inside an envelope or to wrap metal mesh and secure it with a rubber band. I’m sorry, but I didn’t know any better. That’s the only excuse I have to offer. But in that capacity I helped a young man named Vincent. He was a young guy whom the school system failed. Great attitude, really street savvy, but he wanted to change his life, so I worked with him. He became our client; this is unfortunately how I saw him. I decided maybe I could get him a job working in a recycling plant. I went through the phone book and called all these recycling agencies. I found one that was interested. I went in and talked with them. They were interested in hiring. I took Vincent there. He worked that one day. Then he came back to me and said, “I don’t like that job. I want another job.” I was mad at him. I was really upset with Vincent, but I really should have been upset with me because I tried putting Vincent in a position when he had no blindness skills and no work skills at all. So I apologize to Vincent.
Eventually I was exposed to the philosophy of the Federation. You guys have heard the story: Jim Gashel taught me a lot about Social Security work incentives, etc. I learned about the Business Enterprise Program, Randolph-Sheppard. With that I changed my whole paradigm. I went from looking at my clients as clients to looking at them as students who wanted careers. In doing that, I met a gentleman named Harold who worked in our extended employment program. He expressed interest in working in the Business Enterprise Program, so I worked him through the program. When he got his first stand, we were all excited. I taught him mobility back and forth to work, doing route travel, trailing the sides of the MARTA Station, positioning him, angling him, not really giving him any blindness skills because I had no blindness skills. But he was successful in the BEP program. He now had a career. He wasn’t a client, and I wasn’t trying to secure him a job in a recycling plant.
As I learned more about the NFB’s philosophy, my placement rates increased exponentially because I underwent a paradigm shift. I began to look at these people as equals. I was no longer superior. I looked at them as individuals with potential, not as clients. Because of that I was able to help them enter careers. I am thankful to the Federation for that growth, but I still needed a lot of progress in doing job placement, acknowledging that people need a career. I was helpful in getting blind people jobs at the Wachovia call center. We ended up with maybe twenty-two or twenty-three blind people there. It’s interesting because such an effort sinks or swims on the experience of the first person hired. Luckily Vivian set a good example, so Wachovia then said give us some more of those blind people. I gave them more blind people. It was really beautiful because many of them started at the call center, but they ended up working in different departments in the bank. They worked in the fraud section; they worked in the sales section. That was a win-win. But again they were limited because I didn’t allow them to learn the blindness skills that would have enabled them to do customer service with the best of them. The blind workers had better productivity rates than some of the sighted people in their jobs, but they had no blindness skills.
Eventually I got tired of working at that rehabilitation facility. I wanted something bigger, wanted the opportunity to have a greater impact. Randstad Staffing Services offered me a job as the manager of the disability employment initiative during the Olympic Games. I thought, this is going to be awesome. I have the keys to the candy store. These are all the jobs. We have an Olympic contract. I’m going to put some people to work, and I did. We probably placed 500 people with disabilities through that initiative. Here again, they had no real skills, but they had jobs. Unfortunately, those jobs lasted only as long as the Olympics. I apologize.
I went to work for the Client Assistance Program after Randstad Staffing Services, and I said, “Well, now I really have to work on making sure people get skills. The way to do that is to work with the VR agencies. I will make sure that VR clients get services to get the skills they need.” I thought it was going to be easy. It was not. Georgia is kind of entrenched in a custodialistic value system, which made it very difficult to move the agenda forward to empower people with disabilities to get the skills they needed.
The big paradigm shift for me, the opportunity that really let me capitalize on my skills and my passion to work with people came about when I became the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia. I gained access to similarly committed colleagues, a resource network in the national office, and a mentoring relationship with Dr. Marc Maurer. I was infused with the ability and the desire to be an entrepreneur. I don’t mean an entrepreneur going out to make money by starting my own business. Entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do. They put in at least an 80-hour work week. They don’t get very much sleep, but it doesn’t bother them because they are passionate about what they do. I lived, slept, ate, and drank Federationism and loved every minute of it. Some members of our national office staff have that same committed passion. There are members of this audience: affiliate presidents, chapter presidents, division presidents, and board members--you guys stand up. All the leaders, presidents, division presidents, and board members, that’s a significant number in the room. I just want to say thank you for your commitment and passion. Thank you for working with me toward fulfilling the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. Please be seated, but recognize that you leave this convention with a challenge of being an entrepreneur.
As the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia president, I was able to put together a lot of revenue-generating programs--a mentoring program through a contract with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, and our NFB-NEWSLINE® service was funded through our relationship with the Public Service Commission. That allowed us to open up offices in Georgia, and maybe that’s the paradigm shift that we as an organization need to make, because in some instances we are victims of our success. Leaders in this organization are truly passionate and committed, but others could be extremely good organization leaders, but, because we were so successful creating even greater employment opportunities, we ended up with people who don’t have the time to dedicate to the organization. But, if we were able to make it more revenue generating, maybe we could bring some people with specific expertise back to the table. So I need you to work on being entrepreneurs.
I have benefitted from this organization in real ways. I love each of you. I do consider this my Federation family. I have been the beneficiary of lots of praise from many of you, and I have been the recipient of constructive criticism, and I thank you for that. I have been the recipient of some not-so-helpful criticism, but I thank you for that too, because it all goes to make me a better person. I think that I benefit by giving it right back to you. It’s that mutual benefit, that mutual support, that love in this organization that makes us grow. [Applause]
So I want to take a quick minute to thank Jim Omvig for having confidence in me and working with me and talking with me. I want to thank Kareem Dale for acknowledging the fact that I had some potential. I definitely want to thank Dr. Marc Maurer for working with me, for making me the person I am today. As an aside, I participated in the mentoring program with the BISM youth program. During one of the training sessions Amy Phelps asked, “Who in your life has been your mentor?” I got to thinking back. Those who know me know that I had a really interesting life growing up. I said to myself, okay, who were my mentors? I could remember teachers who worked to help me. I could think of family members who really worked, but nobody after that really had an impact. I rapidly surveyed my life, and I realized that my most influential mentor has been Dr. Marc Maurer. People are no doubt thinking that I am just trying to ingratiate myself with my boss but I’m not. Several times in my life I could have just given up. When I was dealing with the custody battle for my son, when I was dealing with my blindness and the death of my mother, I was grateful that I had Dr. Maurer to reach out to. Thank you, Dr. Maurer, for being that mentor, that rock, that support for me. These are the people whom I am thanking specifically.
On July 12, because of my ability to recognize that disabled people have more desire to have careers than to be clients, because of the work you have done to help me become more of an entrepreneur, I’ll be sworn in as a member of the AbilityOne Commission, the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind and Severely Disabled. [Applause] I’ll be working with members of the committee to make sure that the JWOD Program really flourishes and grows into something that is beneficial, that creates careers for people.
I’m going to be candid with you. I do understand, and I’m not fooling myself into thinking that it’s going to be an easy duty. Some people don’t want me there because I am a Federationist. As a matter of fact, I have been told that I can’t go to meetings espousing the positions of the Federation. It could potentially be criminal. The beauty is that they are my positions as well. They cannot tell me I can’t go to a meeting and express the positions that I hold. They will benefit from my input whether they like it or not. [Applause] So, I’m going to take my entrepreneurial spirit to the AbilityOne Commission, and we’re going to create real opportunities that never existed before. We’re going to turn this program into something even better than the participants recognize that it can be.
I talked to you a little about the clients I helped, and here at the open forum I am apologizing. I don’t really feel bad about what I did because, as I explained in the rehab professionals meeting, I offered them a degree of independence that they otherwise would not have received. The people who worked at Wachovia, the gentleman who ended up working as a Randolph-Sheppard vendor, and all the hundreds of other people I worked with, I provided them a degree of independence that they would otherwise not have had. They were able to earn a good income. But the reality is that I am apologetic because I have been a beneficiary of training at the Louisiana Center in 2009. As a result I recognize that skills are very important. So, although I assisted my clients to gain greater independence, I denied them their freedom. That is what I apologize for. We in the Federation know that, given the proper training and opportunity, blind people can aspire to anything they can dream. [Applause]
With this, I make the commitment to you today that there will be no more Vincents in my life. There will be no more Harolds in my life. The people whose lives I touch will receive my focus on the fact that they need to be whole people receiving the skills they need, the support they need to reach their potential.
Finally, I put this challenge out there. In acknowledgement of my failure to those people in my past, I’m giving employers out there currently employing people with disabilities at subminimum wages and in sheltered workshops a pass because maybe they haven’t heard the word from the Federation. Maybe they don’t know that people with disabilities have capacity, but we are going to shout that truth and make it ring throughout this country so no one can deny it. Once you have heard the word, we’ll hold you accountable and will put your feet to the fire. And, if you will not turn your way of operating around, supporting the capacity of your workers, then we will see that you burn in hell. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you for your time and attention. [Applause]
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: Tuesday afternoon, July 3, Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, addressed the convention. This is what he said:
In the study of science the concept of degrees of freedom is used to describe the set of variables needed to determine a current or future outcome. In statistics these are any of the unrestricted, independent random variables that constitute a statistic. In physics they are any of the minimum number of coordinates required to specify completely the motion and position of a mechanical system. In chemistry they are any of the independent thermodynamic variables required to describe a system with a given number of phases and components. A system is not adequately described unless all of its degrees of freedom are considered. And it is equally true that a system need not be limited by its current degrees of freedom.
Degrees of freedom might also be used to describe the dynamics of a group, a society, a government, or any other system that has a number of human influences upon its outcomes. We might think of each individual as an independent degree of freedom. The combination of two, five, ten, or one hundred individuals working collectively may provide more degrees of freedom than those individuals acting without coordination. In human systems the degrees of freedom may be changed but, unlike mechanical systems, they are influenced by perceived as well as real limits. If the barriers can be removed or the perceptions adjusted, the degrees of freedom will increase, the outcomes will change, and the future potential of the system will expand.
Prior to the establishment of the National Federation of the Blind, the blind had little influence on their future outcomes. During our organizing Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the National Federation of the Blind, described the new organization as “creating the machinery which will unify the action and concentrate the energies of the blind.” In forming our organization, we established a system with power, energy, determination, and resources—a system that could influence other systems and thus establish new degrees of freedom for the blind.
Each time a blind person has gained employment in a new field of study, accessed a new resource or public accommodation, or achieved influence through another position of power, the degrees of freedom for all of us were increased. Similarly, every time a new chapter of the Federation was formed, a new affiliate established, or another convention assembled, the variables changed, new potential was realized, and the ability to influence the broader society was enhanced. Out of the collective system of the Federation have come individual blind people with growing self-confidence and an empowered spirit to change the systems that had been established for us without us.
In our effort to increase our degrees of freedom, we undertook plans to build the first research and training institute developed and directed by the blind. The addition of the NFB Jernigan Institute as a variable in our movement has increased our capacity to pursue our hopes and dreams. While we have more degrees of freedom both individually and collectively than ever before, many systems outside our organization have the potential to place limits on our future. We must continue to prevent new limits from emerging while seeking to further expand our horizons.
Through our Institute we have sought to create new opportunities for the blind in science, technology, engineering, and math. We have built a knowledge base of experience and educational resources. We have observed blind youth building payloads and launching rockets, performing chemistry, undertaking engineering projects, investigating biology through dissection, touching unseen objects at the nanoscale, programming applications for work and play, driving experimental vehicles for the blind, and dozens of other previously unexplored educational activities. The first groups of blind students from our programs are now finishing college and emerging as leaders in a variety of fields, and the degrees of freedom have increased exponentially.
This summer we will pioneer our next generation of science education programs—Project Innovation. This program combines our experience during the past decade with the principles of structured discovery and inquiry-based learning. NFB Project Innovation will focus on fostering a sense of innovation and autonomy in young students by allowing them to determine their own course of study. Imagine the change when we empower blind elementary students to direct their own inquiry-based curriculum with support from blind mentors and accessible instructional materials. Imagine the growth when blind high school students take on their own investigations while mentoring the younger students. And imagine the new freedoms that will emerge as these aspiring young people inspire our best educators by exploring scientific questions for which we have not yet catalogued methods for nonvisual investigation.
The impact of a change in our degrees of freedom cannot be fully understood until it can be experienced and directed. Since the opening of our Institute we have discussed the belief that among the blind today one individual will be the first blind astronaut. As a result of our exploring the possibilities with leaders within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), I was invited by Leland Melvin, NASA’s associate administrator for education, to fly with him and other educators on the zero-G airplane.
The zero-G plane is a modified Boeing 727 that simulates weightlessness by flying a series of parabolas and placing the aircraft in free fall for approximately twenty seconds at a time. Initially the aircraft climbs at a forty-five-degree angle. The sensation of weightlessness is achieved by reducing thrust and lowering the nose in order to maintain zero-lift. Weightlessness begins while ascending and lasts all the way up and over the top, until the craft reaches a declined angle of thirty degrees. At that point the plane is pointed downward at high speed, and must begin to pull back into the nose-up attitude to repeat the maneuver. On the way down, at the bottom, and up again, the forces felt are roughly two Gs.
During the pre-flight briefing the instructor discussed the problems associated with weightlessness, including disorientation. In the zero-G airplane, orientation is important because you experience only brief periods of weightlessness—you want your feet pointed toward the floor of the plane as you come out of the fall. Would it be easier or harder for me? How would I stay oriented, and how would I find the floor fast enough to land the right way? Without the experience of the National Federation of the Blind I might have assumed it would be more difficult for me than for my sighted colleagues. However, my experience is that with training, problem solving, and confidence, the blind can compete in areas that we had previously not imagined. My Federation experience gave me comfort, but I was still nervous. It occurred to me that, if I landed on my head, they might never let a blind person on this plane again. And I shared the concern of every person on the flight—would I be able to do this without revisiting breakfast.
White cane in hand, I boarded the plane with my new zero-G buddy, Leland, who has flown on two NASA missions to space, logging many weeks of weightlessness. We entered from the rear of the plane, where it is much like any other 727 but with only thirty-five standard seats. The rest of the cabin was open with the exception of a series of six stations in the center of the floor, where the educators would perform their experiments inside glove boxes. The floor and walls were padded, and an elastic cord ran the length of the plane at about shoulder level on both sides. I collapsed my cane and slipped it into the sleeve of my flight suit. With all the concentration on the pre-flight briefing, it had not occurred to me how loud it would be inside the plane. I had planned to use an audible indicator to stay oriented, but, once we were in the air, it was clear that would not work. The cord would be my orientation point as I learned to manage this new degree of freedom.
As we prepared to go into the first free fall, I was seated on the floor with my back against the wall. My body felt very heavy under the nearly two G-forces. Suddenly the engine noise was reduced and I felt the downward pressure lift. Without effort I was now coming off the floor and feeling for the cord. I managed to stay along the wall and keep my feet in the right direction while trying to get used to the new freedom of movement. “Feet down” was called out to warn all passengers. As we continued to go in and out of weightlessness, I built a knowledge base of experience and expanded my movements. I found my natural reaction was to kick my feet in mid-air. It only took one contact between the top of my head and the ceiling, an unusual experience for a guy who is only five-seven, to change my behavior. I found a good comfort zone of movement and learned the patterns so I could anticipate when to make the right moves.
When you are expanding the horizons, it takes your own initiative and the push of those around you. Leland then said, “On this next one, curl up into a ball. We are going to pick you up and spin you around!” I thought to myself, “Sounds like a great idea, but I wonder how I will tell which way is up when it is time for my feet to be down.” Suddenly I was doing a summersault in mid-air with the support of my new friends at NASA, and with their help I was able to get my feet pointed towards the floor in the nick of time.
One flight does not make a blind astronaut, but it strengthened my conviction that we can create the body of knowledge and experience required to make it a reality. Where is that blind person today? Is she in this audience? Is he studying at a university? Are they wondering about the potential for their future and asking the questions we all considered before we met the National Federation of the Blind? I look forward to the day when the first blind astronaut sends us a transmission from beyond our atmosphere, because I know it will reveal horizons we cannot anticipate until we get the experience and learn how to direct it.
We have also committed ourselves to creating new knowledge by accepting the risks and responsibilities that come with scientific exploration. We were challenged by President Maurer to explore the potential for a blind person to use technology to maneuver a car independently. In the process we have freed our own minds of the historical limitations we had accepted, and we have adopted a more active role in determining our future. In the broader society there is significant debate about the timeline for cars that are piloted completely without human intervention. Some think we can make this a reality by 2022 while others believe it will take ten or more years beyond that point. Most believe that the technology is not the biggest barrier, but rather the legal, regulatory, and cultural shift that will be required. Many believe that the computers need to be completely capable of independently operating the vehicle before the blind can drive. We believe that a new degree of freedom can be established when we participate in building technologies that take advantage of our capacity to think and react. Our experience has taught us that our active engagement in the development of innovative technology will create new knowledge and open up opportunities that society had previously dismissed.
One of the first public visions for cars that drive themselves was presented at the 1939 World’s Fair. At our organizing the next year, we did not have enough degrees of freedom to consider how we might participate in the car of the future. Through our Jernigan Institute we have established the capacity to engage with an industry that has viewed us as only passive passengers, and we are driving the stimulation of the brightest minds to consider how we can become drivers. We recently presented at the Driverless Car Summit—a gathering of industry leaders in advanced automobile technology. Our perspective is influencing the conversation about the cars of the future and how we might be included in the design phase. We will not be content to sit and wait until the driverless car arrives; opportunity will come from helping to build our future today.
As we create knowledge, we also collect it. An important variable in our freedom was our establishment of a research library on blindness—a venue for collecting, preserving, and analyzing our history and progress. We continue to build our library collection and new forums for discourse about the future. We have been building a strong community of experts in the legal profession through our disability law symposium in order to expand on the vision of freedom that Dr. tenBroek first articulated. That the blind might lead the advancement of disability rights was a dream of Dr. tenBroek that was not easily achieved during his life. Our research library allows us to reflect on the vision of past leaders, apply that knowledge in the context of today’s variables, and carry forward the relevant pursuits that we have not yet achieved.
Sometimes we collect knowledge, other times we create it, and often we disseminate it. The National Federation of the Blind is pursuing nothing less than complete accessibility to the technologies being used to share knowledge in public libraries and educational programs. We are opening dialogue with leaders of the top technology companies, the leading publishers, and the most prestigious educational institutions in order to make our vision of equality in education a reality. We are not simply demanding accessibility—through our Jernigan Institute we are sharing best practices and assisting major companies in baking accessibility into their infrastructure. Just one example of this is the historic two-day Inclusive Publishing Forum we held at the Jernigan Institute last month. Our vision of freedom includes unprecedented access to knowledge, and we now have the tools to demand equal access and to assist the companies and organizations that can deliver that degree of freedom.
By examining the shackles that continue to limit our freedom, we find some that existed before 1940. It is no surprise that I am thinking about the persistent unfair, discriminatory, and immoral practice of paying people with disabilities less than the federally established minimum wage. Although we do not yet possess the freedom afforded by equal pay for equal work, that degree of freedom will be ours, and we will no longer allow our future to be one of exploitation.
As long as we are talking about unfair, discriminatory, and immoral, let’s not ignore the Braille literacy rate in this country. Why is the literacy rate so low? Is it that we do not possess the capacity to learn? Is it that Braille is incredibly difficult to master? Is it that the tools do not exist to teach it effectively? No, no, and no! We have been engaged in a comprehensive campaign to educate the public about the Braille literacy crisis in America, and we have a robust array of programs to change the status quo. From our Braille Pals Club to our Braille Readers Are Leaders adult program, we are promoting the benefits of Braille across the lifespan. We have been working with new teachers to ensure that they are prepared to be experts in Braille, and we are teaching it ourselves. This summer our Braille enrichment programs will make a difference in twenty locations in eleven states. Later this year we will launch a new website called Braille 360 with the goals of establishing a forum for blind children to share their love for reading and increasing their Braille and technology skills. This fall we will also convene a Braille symposium to explore the best practices in Braille instruction and to seek solutions to the barriers we face. The National Federation of the Blind leads the way in Braille literacy, but we do not yet possess the degree of freedom we need in this area.
Despite our leadership too many blind children are struggling to get access to the freedom that comes from literacy. We are all now familiar with the recent victory in the three-year battle to get Braille for Hank Miller, and we are painfully aware that for every Hank there are another two dozen or more blind children who are still waiting. How many birthdays need to pass before the gift of literacy can be revealed to these children? We can no longer wait. Along with all of the programs and policy improvements we are pursuing, we need to be more insistent in demanding Braille literacy for blind children. The more hearts and minds we can engage in the Braille literacy crisis, the more potential we have for changing the outcomes and securing more freedom.
We possess more degrees of freedom today than we could have imagined even a decade ago. What are our hopes and dreams for the next five years? How do we want to explore the opportunities ahead? What will be the result of removing the limits that have persisted since the beginning of our organization? Through our Jernigan Institute we have the ability to create, collect, and disseminate knowledge based on our experience with freedom and independence. It may take time to learn what to do with the new freedom that we gain, but we are certain that we will learn to manage it effectively. The variable that is most dynamic, has the most influence on the outcomes, and continues to grow is the National Federation of the Blind. Let us continue to discover new degrees of freedom through our effort to build a future full of opportunity.
by Scott C. LaBarre
From the Editor: Scott LaBarre is the president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and is involved in many of the high-profile cases we undertake. He made this presentation on Tuesday afternoon, July 3. Here is what he said:
Thank you, Dr. Maurer and my Federation family. Today I have the honor of standing before you and presenting on Minar Directae, my long-standing nemesis. What is it; why should we care about it; and, most important, what in the world can we do about it?
By now you have all probably hopped on one of your i-devices or similar gadgets and figured out what minar directae is. It is Latin for “direct threat.” I suppose that still may not help you. Direct threat as I am referring to it today addresses the way our law deals with safety-based custodialism against people with disabilities. The Supreme Court sanctioned this legal doctrine in a case called School District of Nassau County, Florida, versus Arline, decided in 1987. There the Supreme Court stated that an employer cannot irrationally rely on fears about a person’s disability to terminate him or her or deny equal employment opportunity. Congress expanded upon this concept while passing the Americans with Disabilities Act and made it clear that employers and many other entities may not exclude people with disabilities based on fears or stereotypes that a person’s disability might cause harm. The only time that an employer or any other institution can exclude a person with a disability because of disability-based safety concerns is when the person’s impairment truly poses a direct threat. This is defined as a significant risk to health and safety, and it must be proven by several objective factors. The law also makes it clear that it is the entity wishing to exclude the individual with a disability which carries the burden of proving that a direct threat truly exists. So that’s what the doctrine of direct threat is, and it would seem that, because the employer or other entity wishing to exclude the person with a disability has to prove that the threat is significant and do so based on objective criteria, we need not worry about unfounded safety concerns about our blindness being used against us, right? After all, it is illegal to do so.
My friends, I submit to you that, instead of a shield used to protect us against stereotypes and misconceptions about our disability, the doctrine of direct threat has been wielded against us as a weapon, preventing us from achieving true equality of opportunity and thus true first-class citizenship. This is why minar directae matters and why you should care about it.
First, we should fill out this picture with some background and historical context. There is no doubt today’s law presumes and contemplates that we will be in the workplace and otherwise out there in society. Prior to the evolution of our civil rights movement, the prevailing presumption was that we should be confined to institutions or our homes, where the state or family would take care of us. In fact, the law of the land did not recognize that we even had a right to be out in the world.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founder and first president, considered these ideas long before anyone else. His 1966 article, “The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts,” published in the California Law Review, clearly sketched the stark and bleak landscape we faced at that time and advocated a better, more inclusive reality, one that Dr. tenBroek called “integrationism” or, otherwise put, first class citizenship. As evidence that the law did not recognize our right to live in the world, Dr. tenBroek cited a number of cases and laws that codified the concept that we had no business being out in society. One of the most poignant cases is that of Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad Company v. Williams. In this case, in which a blind man sustained injuries while traveling alone through a public railroad crossing, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1896 that it was the blind man’s fault that he got hurt, saying: “It is gross negligence in a blind man to expose himself alone in any situation where he knows that the faculty of sight is absolutely necessary to the safety of life and limb.”
That case represented the law of the land some 116 years ago, a small blip of time compared with the great weight of time we humans have wandered this Earth. And in fact that case has never been overturned. If directly challenged today, I do not believe a court would uphold this ruling chalk full of misunderstandings about the alleged inherent dangers of being blind, but one never knows.
With this backdrop less than fifty years ago, it is no wonder that Dr. tenBroek advocated so forcefully for change, a new day in which we would be assumed to be part of the mainstream and protected by the law, free of discrimination. So how far have we really traveled along the path of integrationism. How far do we have left to go?
Although the law has improved since 1966, interpretation and application of the law are where we face real threats, threats to our freedom and acquisition of first-class citizenship. The problem is that what society and the courts regard as objective evidence of our blindness being a safety risk often seems ridiculous to us. Frequently people simply make the assumption that the only way you can be safe in certain activities of life is by doing them with sight. In effect, being blind makes you per se and automatically unsafe. I suspect that we have all faced this blanket assumption at one point or another.
My first significant experience with my old nemesis, minar directae, came at Valleyfair Amusement Park in Minnesota, and it occurred shortly after passage of the ADA. Eight other Federationists and I, some of whom are in this room now, including Curtis Chong, Judy Sanders, and Nadine and Steve Jacobson, went to the park and attempted to ride a number of attractions together. The park told us that it was their policy that every blind person must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Upon further investigation we discovered that a responsible adult was anyone over four feet tall who could see. As many of you know, my wife Anahit and I have two small children. By Valleyfair’s definition, both our nine-year-old son Alexander and seven-year-old daughter Emily are now responsible adults. In defending the policy, Valleyfair told us that they had hired biodynamic engineers who stated that it was unsafe for the blind to ride things like roller coasters unless a sighted person told us what would be happening on the ride. Otherwise we would lose our postural control and be injured. In a document filed with the judge in the case that grew out of Valleyfair’s policy, the amusement park’s lawyer said, "Many of the rides at Valleyfair, like all amusement parks, put the rider into very unusual positions. Some rides spin and spin and spin, some turn the rider completely upside down, some move with great speed and require the rider to brace him or herself, and some get the rider completely wet." My response to this startling revelation is, really? My Federation friends, I don’t know about you but when I go to an amusement park, I fully expect "to spin and spin and spin," "turn completely upside down," "move at great speed," and yes, even sometimes "get completely wet.” To this day I remember how astonished I felt about the depth of Valleyfair’s ignorance and how surprised I was when Valleyfair stubbornly refused to change its policy after meeting with us and being exposed to our position. Valleyfair assumed that we were so clueless about our surroundings that we couldn’t see that we posed a direct threat to our own safety. It took a lawsuit and nearly four years, but we won that case and got Valleyfair’s policy thrown out.
That Valleyfair case occurred some twenty-two years ago, while I was in law school at the University of Minnesota, and at that time, I never realized how many times I would come across my nemesis, minar directae, throughout my career. I am not sure exactly, but I have probably handled over three dozen cases where the principal argument used to exclude my blind client from the activity in question has been that the blind person is a safety risk, posing a direct threat to his or her own health and safety. According to these defendants we cannot do the following activities because we are an obvious safety risk: be a parent; run a daycare center; be a social worker; hold a job in a factory or any kind of industrial setting; work as a residential assistant at a college; be a chiropractor; be an acupuncturist; teach in a classroom; administer a nursing home; and, perhaps my all time favorite, go on a honeymoon cruise as a blind couple. Whatever the exact facts of the case are, the story remains the same--the employer or whatever entity believes that sight is mandatory for participating in the activity in question. Because of the power of the Federation, I am happy to report that we have defeated minar directae in the vast majority of these cases. Nevertheless, we often learn the most from the defeats we suffer.
One of the starkest examples of how the direct threat safety argument continues to be used against us came last year. I, along with my co-counsel Tim Elder, represented Frank Hohn from Hemingford Village, Nebraska. Frank is blind because of a severely constricted visual field. For nearly seven years Frank worked as a railroad machinist for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways (BNSF) and did so without any concern about his job performance. Even though the evidence in the case established that Frank’s coworkers and supervisors noticed that he saw things differently, no one complained about his lack of eyesight until he filed a safety complaint about a locomotive that he believed to be unsafe and that BNSF ordered him to return to service. Just a few days after that safety hotline complaint was filed, BNSF removed Frank from his job, using his eye condition as the reason, stating that they were all of a sudden concerned about his safety. Because of a number of legal rulings that were, in my opinion, incorrect, the Judge did not let any evidence about the safety complaint come to trial.
So last July 26, 2011, the twenty-first anniversary of the passage of the ADA, Frank’s trial began in Omaha, Nebraska, and my friends, at least with respect to application of the law in this case, it was not a good birthday for the ADA. After a seven-day jury trial the jury delivered its verdict against our client, Frank Hohn, and thereby upheld BNSF’s decision to remove Frank from his job for safety reasons. What was the evidence about safety that the jury heard? Was it that Frank had injured himself while performing his job, failing to see something that would have prevented the injury? Was it that Frank had injured another worker because he did not see him or her? Was it that a supervisor or someone else observed Frank almost get hurt or hurt someone else because he couldn’t see? The answer to these questions is, no, no, and no. The two key areas of evidence that BNSF relied upon to demonstrate that Frank Hohn was unsafe were: 1. Frank walked slowly; sometimes shuffled his feet; and, as one supervisor testified, it looked like Frank’s “vision was bothering him.” 2. Three medical doctors testified at trial that someone with Frank’s constricted visual field could not safely work an industrial job because the environment is far too dynamic. He must work a sedentary position, a desk job. At trial, I asked BNSF’s chief medical officer exactly what kind of job Frank Hohn could work: “Q. Ma'am, is it your assumption that, if a person has a reduced visual field like that of Mr. Hohn, they should only work in static positions, static job positions? A. Well, I don't know what you mean by static. I think they should be considered for a work environment in which obstacles are not present.” My Federation family, name me one, just one, job where obstacles aren’t present.
Moreover, did these doctors have any experience working with blind people in the workplace? Did they leave their comfortable offices and actually observe Frank at work and conduct an actual functional analysis of whether Frank could do the work that he had been performing for nearly seven years? Did they consult with any vocational rehabilitation experts who work with the blind and low vision and actually have expertise about workplace accommodations and nonvisual techniques that could help? The answer to these questions is no, no, and no. The jury returned its verdict on the evidence that Frank Hohn walked a little differently than others, his vision was “bothering him,” and the doctors said that it is impossible for a blind person to work in an industrial setting.
When the jury returned its verdict on August 3 of last year, Frank, the legal team, and I were devastated. Personally I felt that I had let down not only Frank, but all of you. How in the world could I possibly lose a case when the evidence so clearly demonstrated that our client had been a safe worker with no complaints? Once I got over the initial emotional shock, I realized that the jury believed the doctors that the blind simply don’t belong in any kind of job other than one that involves sitting behind a desk. Don’t worry. We’re not taking this lying down. We have appealed the decision, and we intend to win!
The stereotype that we can only work desk jobs leads me to this thought. As we all know, over 70 percent of the working-age blind are unemployed. If we made a trade with society and said that, ok, we believe you’re wrong, but we will stay away from any job that doesn’t involve sitting behind a desk, and you, society, will employ us in such great numbers that our unemployment rate will equal that of the sighted, maybe we would take that trade, but, when we got behind that desk, fired up our computers, and started trying to do the work, we would be likely to find that a great deal of the software we would need to use was incompatible with our screen-reading and other technology. Ah well, that’s a topic for another speech.
So we know what minar directae is and why it matters. What in the world can we do about it? The answer to this is not complicated. As some might say, we just got to keep on a truckin’, keep bringing the cases, changing the laws, and educating the public. We must transform the direct threat doctrine from a weapon used to legalize discrimination against us into a shield that protects us from unfounded fears and stereotypes about blindness. Because of the tremendous leadership of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, the many other terrific leaders who have imparted great wisdom, and the thousands upon thousands of our members who have worked hard over the years, we possess both the philosophy and resources necessary to combat the prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions arrayed against us.
As Dr. tenBroek said, the right to live in the world is more than a right just to remain in it. Because we safely and successfully pursue just about every activity known to humankind, we know our blindness does not pose a direct threat to our health or safety, but our society has not learned that lesson. Because we as a community have made great strides and the future we face is brighter than ever, sometimes it is far too easy to think that discrimination against us isn’t a big problem anymore. We must not fall into this trap and rest comfortably in blissful ignorance. We have come too far along the path to freedom and first-class citizenship to stop now. First-class citizenship is no longer just a fanciful dream. We must make it our reality. We have touched the flame of freedom, and it has ignited our hearts and minds. Nothing in this world will stop us, not minar directae, not anything. If we remain true to our philosophy and focus sharply on our objectives, we will be free. My brothers and sisters, we will be free!
by Eve L. Hill
From the Editor: On Thursday afternoon, July 5, Eve Hill, senior counselor to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, addressed the convention. She is a nationally recognized expert on disability rights law. She was senior vice president of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University and has been responsible for the Institute’s disability rights policy. Before that she was the founding director of the Washington, D.C., Office of Disability Rights, a cabinet-level office. She has been the executive director of the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles and has written extensively on disability rights. She has worked with Dan Goldstein, the NFB’s lawyer for twenty-five years. This is what she said:
In America the phrase “civil rights” evokes a powerful emotion, visions of the 1960s, Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, protestors on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, students at lunch counters and university doors; and similarly individuals with disabilities have faced every day the indignities of not being able to enter a hotel swimming pool or get on a public bus. We’ve been barred from attending school and getting jobs. Individuals with disabilities have organized to fight for our civil rights, incrementally working our way out from under the weight of immoral laws, misguided social mores, and irrational fears, facing dozens of defeats for each victory. I’ve sat in this audience and heard you sing “We Shall Overcome” to my dear friend and colleague Dan Goldstein, and you have earned that song.
The Americans with Disabilities Act literally opened millions of doors for individuals with disabilities across the country. This law has had implications no less important or far reaching than the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s, and in the two decades since its enactment the ADA has revolutionized the way the rest of society in the United States and beyond thinks about people with disabilities and the way people with disabilities live in our communities. But that doesn’t mean we’re done.
Business owners, public officials, and the media still feel free to state publicly the opinion that, because a ramp or an accessible piece of technology costs money, that is a sufficient reason to deny people with disabilities access. And they are not met without outrage; they’re taken seriously, as if even twenty-two years after the passage of the ADA and nearly forty years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act, the cost-benefit analysis were the key to a civil rights law.
In the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, we still see every single day, and I know you see it too, barriers facing individuals with disabilities that stand in the way of allowing people to maximize the contribution they make to society. And my boss Tom Perez and his boss Attorney General Eric Holder and his boss, the President, are committed to taking on that discrimination every day. [Applause]
So I want to talk to you about a few of our recent activities that particularly affect people who are blind or who have low vision. In the technology area, as Kareem mentioned, we know modern technologies pose significant challenges, and we have to ensure that technologies don’t leave people with disabilities in their wake. The underlying theory of the ADA is that we wouldn’t make the existing world accessible all at once; we would do that gradually as old things were replaced with new things. New technology is where the rubber meets the road on that theory. These are new things, and they should be born accessible. [Applause]
Technology has revolutionized our economy and our culture. It’s made communicating and obtaining information, entertainment, education, and goods easier and more efficient. But many of these technologies from websites to cell phones, from ticket kiosks to TV set-top devices are either wholly or partly inaccessible to both to people who are blind or people with other disabilities. It is the position of the Justice Department since the late 1990s that the ADA applies to websites, including websites and online services of online-only public accommodations.
Companies that do not consider accessibility in their website or product development will come to regret that decision because we intend to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to technology and the worlds the technology opens up. Most recently we pursued accessible technology through two statements of interest in National Association of the Deaf versus Netflix. The National Association of the Deaf sued Netflix to require Netflix to caption its online watch-instantly movies. We opposed Netflix’s attempts to dismiss the case. Our brief made clear that Title III of the ADA applies to online-only businesses and requires their online services to be accessible. [Applause]
We also made clear that Netflix is responsible for making its online services accessible and that the twenty-first century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, CVAA, as great as it is, does not preempt application of Title III of the ADA. The Massachusetts court twice now has refused to dismiss the case and held that Title III covers online businesses, covers online services even if they’re accessed only in your home, and that copyright doesn’t necessarily preempt Title III and that the CVAA doesn’t preempt Title III. [Applause] Now why is this important for blind people? It’s brought by a deaf group. It’s the same standard. If online-only services have to be accessible for deaf people, they also have to be accessible for blind people. [Applause]
This follows up on work we’ve done before, the 2011 settlement agreement with the law school admission council to make its law school website accessible to people with disabilities. And the department is also addressing technology accessibility in its rulemaking. We issued advance notice of proposed rulemaking on accessibility standards for websites and expect to publish an NPRM [notice of proposed rulemaking] this year.
Now we’re involved heavily in the education arena. I know you’ve heard someone from the Department of Education, Seth Galanter, speak today. But we’re exercising our expanded ability to pursue complaints about discrimination in public, private, and higher education. So in a number of contexts we’re challenging the argument that schools should have unfettered discretion to decide what accommodations to permit as long as they comply with procedures. So in K.M. v. Tustin Unified School District, we filed an amicus brief on behalf of a student with hearing impairments who asked her school for real-time captioning and was denied. The district court had said, “Well she’s getting a meaningful benefit from her education, and that’s all that’s required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” Our brief argued that Title II of the ADA applies a different and in some cases sometimes greater standards than the IDEA, and the schools have to look at both. So the ADA in this context required effective communication, not only meaningful benefit, from the education. [Applause] So again, although this case was on behalf of a deaf student, it has the same standards that would apply to blind students and other students with disabilities.
So under our approach a public school must consider, not just whether the student is getting enough information from her school materials to benefit from the education under the IDEA, but also under the ADA whether the student is getting information that is equally effective as her classmates.
In Argenyi v. Creighton University we filed an amicus brief in the Eighth Circuit on behalf of a medical student with a hearing impairment who needed captioning in class and an oral interpreter in clinics, and the school had said, “No, we don’t think that’s appropriate. We don’t need to do that.” Our brief argued that the university is not entitled to unfettered deference in determining what auxiliary aids are required. This case explores the limits on deference. Courts have traditionally given schools a lot of leeway to decide: “Well we don’t think that’s good; we don’t think that’s good; you can only have this.” And we argued that they should only get that kind of deference in making decisions about what the degree should require, what the academic requirements are, not what auxiliary aids should be provided. [Applause]
And there’s more. We are also working to ensure that admissions and license testing, whether for higher education or business certifications, are accessible to people with disabilities. To that end we are requiring testing providers to test in ways that best insure that the test measures knowledge or skill, and not disability. We recognize that this standard is not coextensive with reasonable modifications or effective communication but may require more. We had previously filed a statement of interest in a case of an NFB member seeking to take a multi-state professional responsibility exam with auxiliary aids. And just last week we filed a statement of interest in Department of Fair Employment and Housing versus Law School Admission Council in California. The plaintiff in this case claims that the Law School Admissions Council discriminates against test takers with disabilities by requiring unreasonable levels of documentation, by failing to make sure that the test best insures that it measures skill and knowledge rather than disability, and by flagging accommodated test scores. The department’s brief argues that the new ADA regulations limiting documentation are valid, that test providers can require only reasonable documentation, and the department’s brief argues for the first time that flagging of accommodated scores, which calls out people as having gotten an accommodation, is a violation of the ADA. [Applause]
We are not bored! Meanwhile we are working to end the tradition of unnecessarily segregating people with disabilities in institutions. In 1999 with the Olmstead decision the Supreme Court answered the question posed thirty-three years earlier by Dr. tenBroek in his article, “The Right to Live in the World.” He asked, “Are persons after all not to be persons if they are physically disabled. Are members of the community to be robbed of their rights to live in the community, their certificates cancelled upon development or discovery of disability?” Olmstead established that Title II of the ADA requires that people with disabilities in institutional settings must be integrated in their communities when appropriate and that it is a violation of the law to unnecessarily segregate them from society. It was the Brown v. Board of Education of the disability rights movement, and Tom Perez has led the department’s efforts in this area. The department has laid down the law with statements of interest in over thirty cases, technical assistance documents, and case after case demonstrating that people with developmental disabilities, mental health disabilities, physical disabilities, vision disabilities, and every other kind of disability, who are in or at risk of entering an institution, have rights to community-based services.
Nothing in the ADA or the Integration Mandate is limited to residential settings. The division has expanded its Olmstead work to look beyond where people live to examine how people live. Simply moving someone from an institution to a community-based residence does not achieve community integration if that person is still denied meaningful, integrated ways to spend their days and is denied the opportunity to do what we all do, work in the community.
So last week we issued a letter of findings identifying Olmstead violations in the state of Oregon’s system of employment and vocational services. We found that the state is violating Olmstead by unnecessarily segregating into sheltered workshops individuals with disabilities who could and want to work in integrated employment. [Applause] We found the state unnecessarily funds sheltered workshops, that its schools and VR systems unnecessarily place people in sheltered workshops, and that subminimum wages and discrimination unnecessarily keep people there. [Applause]
I have one more minute. I only want to say that attitudes are shifting and they have a long way to go. And, as we work to take on these long-standing barriers, we also tackle the emerging ones head on. We have no illusions about the significance of the challenges ahead, but we will move forward. Dr. King said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” So let’s all reach up, grab that arc, and pull it towards people with disabilities. Thank you very much. [Applause]
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki is the longtime chair of the resolutions committee, and her annual performance leaves no doubt as to why. Here, introducing and explaining the twenty-six resolutions presented to the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, is Sharon’s article.
During the resolutions committee meeting on July 1, 2012, Alex Castillo used the term “leaving no blind person behind” as he urged the committee to support a resolution. I believe that leaving no blind person behind is a good general description of the thrust of the twenty-four resolutions passed by the Convention this year.
In 2001 Congress passed an act to close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice so that no child is left behind. The sentiment of this reform legislation was to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity for quality education from the public school systems. The twenty-four resolutions passed by the Convention outline our current goals and policies to ensure that no blind person is left behind in employment opportunities, quality education, participation in the benefits of health care, and access to information.
I was privileged to chair the resolutions committee again this year and was delighted to work with the charming and capable Marsha Dyer, who served as secretary to the committee. We followed many of the time-honored traditions of the resolutions process such as having a large committee--thirty-four members--with broad representation from all of the states. Many of the resolutions’ proponents had firsthand experience with the issues outlined in their resolutions. The meeting was particularly stimulating because of their poignant arguments.
The resolutions committee and the process of defining our policies always include elements of surprise. The committee considered and sent twenty-six resolutions to the Convention. On July 4 the Convention, which is the supreme authority of the Federation, passed twenty-four resolutions and defeated two of them. Resolution 2012-10 was about accessibility ratings and a refund policy on the applications Apple sells. The resolution was sponsored by Romeo Edmead, a member of the board of directors of the New York affiliate, a National Scholarship winner in 2001, and a 2012 NFB Fellow. The Convention voted this resolution down because, while many applications are not accessible, many are, and we did not choose to criticize Apple at this time.
The Convention defeated resolution 2012-08 because it violated Federation philosophy by promoting the medical model of blindness. Almost 50 years ago, in a speech entitled “Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic,” Dr. Kenneth Jernigan explained that “philosophy bakes no bread, but without a philosophy no bread is baked.” Many medical professionals believe that blindness is a kind of dying. As Dr. Jernigan put it, “Blindness is merely a characteristic.” This resolution would have clarified that blindness technology and equipment such as a white cane should be covered by Medicare Part B, which covers the cost of medical equipment. Amy Buresh, a member of the national board of directors and president of the NFB of Nebraska, sponsored this resolution.
Because of its dynamic philosophy throughout its seventy-two years of existence, the National Federation of the Blind has been able to make progress in ensuring that no blind person is left behind. In a speech entitled “Blindness: Concepts and Misconceptions,” delivered in 1965 in Washington, D. C., Dr. Jernigan described our philosophy this way: “When an individual becomes blind, he faces two major problems: first, he must learn the skills and techniques which will enable him to carry on as a normal, productive citizen in the community; and, second, he must become aware of and learn to cope with public attitudes and misconceptions about blindness.…” Dr. Jernigan continued: “The first of these problems is far easier to solve than the second. For it is no longer theory but established fact that, with proper training and opportunity, the average blind person can do the average job in the average place of business and do it as well as his sighted neighbor.… In other words, the real problem of blindness is not the blindness itself--not the acquisition of skills or techniques or competence. The real problem is the lack of understanding and the misconceptions which exist.”
Because of myths and misconceptions held by child welfare workers, judges, and other court officials, blind parents, guardians, and caregivers face discrimination in adoption, custody, visitation, care, placement, and other related procedures. To combat these problems, Marsha Drenth, vice president of the Pennsylvania parents of blind children and secretary of the Keystone Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania, introduced resolution 2012-11. Marsha’s argument for the resolution was passionate because she has three children and has faced devastating custody problems. In this resolution we strongly urge every state legislature to protect blind parents and caregivers from discrimination, by enacting model legislation proposed by the National Federation of the Blind. We also call upon bar associations, the National Association of Social Workers, and other child welfare organizations and their local chapters to develop educational programs in consultation with the National Federation of the Blind to inform personnel who make child-placement and care decisions about the capabilities of blind parents, caregivers, and guardians.
Several Federationists felt compelled to write resolutions about Dining in the Dark activities and events. These activities are a modern example of the public misconceptions that Dr. Jernigan was addressing in his 1965 speech that I quoted above. Jim Gashel, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, and Kevan Worley, a longtime leader in the Federation, came up with the final draft of the resolution that the committee and Convention passed. In resolution 2012-04 we condemn and deplore the use of Dining in the Dark when it is conducted in a way that diminishes the innate normality and equal status of the blind in society.
The Convention passed four resolutions dealing with employment issues. Public attitudes still limit our employment opportunities. Our long battle to eliminate the practice by certain employers of paying workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage is not only an example of how blind people are left behind but also an illustration of the negative attitudes that are the real problem of blindness. Anil Lewis, director of strategic communications for the Federation, proposed resolution 2012-01. The resolution reads in part: “The truth is that segregated subminimum-wage work environments are not transitional job-training service providers for workers with disabilities, as shown by data from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that less than 5 percent of workers with disabilities transition into mainstream employment; moreover, research conducted by Dr. Robert Cimera of Kent State University shows that work habits learned in a segregated work environment must be unlearned in order for workers with disabilities to become competitively employed.” In this resolution we also call upon the Education and Workforce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to conduct an immediate hearing on H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, in order to separate myth from reality and to learn the truth about the employment capacity of people with disabilities.
It was most appropriate that two successful entrepreneurs proposed resolution 2012-26. The proponents were Nicky Gacos, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, and Kevan Worley, executive director of the National Association of Blind Merchants. The Javits-Wagner-O’Day act should include provisions for people with disabilities to take part in all aspects of business, including owning a business and executing contracts awarded under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act. We urge the U. S. Congress to make these changes to the Act quickly.
County and municipal governments are enhancing their services to residents through technology. These governments are creating multi-channel contact centers to give citizens direct access by 311 direct telephone support through live agents or by interactive voice-response systems or using the web. Some of the software-development companies that design multi-channel contact center technologies have nonvisual access features, but even these features are optional. Some governments, such as Montgomery County, Maryland, refuse to implement the nonvisual access features. To address this problem, Yasmin Reyazuddin, a leader in the Maryland affiliate who has firsthand experience with this problem, introduced Resolution 2012-07. In it we demand that all software development companies enhance employment opportunities for the blind by immediately discontinuing the practice of designing nonvisual access as an optional feature.
Isaiah Wilcox, a 2012 NFB Fellow, treasurer of the Georgia affiliate, and a 2008 national scholarship winner, sponsored Resolution 2012-09. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is currently revising the nondiscrimination and affirmative action provisions of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. In 2012-09 we call upon OFCCP to take swift action to implement these new regulations.
The Convention passed five resolutions to ensure that blind students at all levels of education are not left behind. Holly Miller, a member of the board of directors of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, wanted to make sure that no other parent or student has to go through the struggle for Braille instruction that she and her son Hank endured. In Resolution 2012-03, which she sponsored, the National Federation of the Blind calls upon U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to take immediate action to ensure that blind students are taught the skills of literacy.
Braille is crucial for education and for full participation in community life. In Resolution 2012-13 we call upon the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) to adopt the symbols and rules of the Unified English Braille system as the standard for general purpose, nontechnical materials. The National Federation of the Blind also expresses its strong support for the continued use of the current Nemeth Braille Code as the standard for the teaching and production of mathematical materials. Jennifer Dunnam, president of the NFB of Minnesota and the Federation’s representative on the BANA board, sponsored this resolution. As Jennifer explained, this resolution is necessary to reduce conflicts and ambiguities in the current Braille system.
Pearson is the largest publishing company in the world for textbooks and courseware designed for use in institutions of higher education. Jessica Beecham, the proponent of Resolution 2012-16, expressed her deep frustration with the lack of access to Pearson products. Part of the resolution she sponsored says that the National Federation of the Blind “condemns Pearson and deplores its discrimination against blind students and its lack of transparency in refusing to release its accessibility statement and to educate the public on the purported accessibility features of its products.” Jessica Beecham was a national scholarship winner in 2011 and currently serves as the chapter and community development coordinator for the NFB of Colorado.
Harriet Go, a tenBroek fellow who won national scholarships in 2012 and 2003 and who is the secretary of both the Pennsylvania affiliate and the National Organization of Blind Educators, proposed Resolution 2012-22. In 2008 the U.S. Congress created the Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (the AIM Commission). In part the resolution calls upon the members of the U.S. Congress to act upon the report of the AIM Commission by immediately authorizing the U.S. Access Board to establish guidelines for accessible instructional materials that will be used by government, in the private sector, and in post-secondary academic institutions.
Readers of the Braille Monitor are familiar with the Law School Admission Council’s practice of denying accommodations to applicants with disabilities who wish to take the Law School Admissions Test. Renowned civil rights lawyer and president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the NFB of Colorado Scott LaBarre sponsored Resolution 2012-25: “We applaud and commend the American Bar Association for sending a strong and clear message to the Law School Admissions Council that it must stop its discrimination against test applicants with disabilities.”
Access to healthcare is a politically charged topic for all Americans. It was most appropriate for the Convention to pass four resolutions addressing the unique barriers to accessible healthcare that blind people face. These resolutions are important goals in our quest to leave no blind person behind. Debbie Wunder, who wears many leadership hats in the NFB of Missouri including president of the Diabetes Action Network and chairman of the special projects and outreach committee, introduced Resolution 2012-21. A recipient wishing coverage under Part B of Medicare who has previously opted out is assessed a monthly penalty in addition to the premium for this service, unless the recipient can show coverage by an employer-based group health plan for the time in which he or she was eligible for this coverage. The resolution stated that: “This organization call upon Congress to amend the Social Security Act by removing the requirement to show proof of coverage by an employer-based group health plan and replacing it with a requirement to show insurance comparable to Medicare Part B coverage.”
The quality of healthcare has been improving dramatically through the use of new technologies. In the remaining three healthcare resolutions we demand nonvisual access to these new technologies. Urgent care facilities are replacing the receptionist and paper-and-pen check-in systems with touchscreen tablet computers. In Resolution 2012-17 we urge medical facilities to procure and deploy only accessible tablets so that blind patients can check in independently and have the same level of privacy as their sighted peers. Thera Morning, a leader in the NFB of Maryland, sponsored this resolution.
Mike Freeman, president of the Diabetes Action Network and the NFB of Washington as well as a national board member, and Tom Ley, former president of the Diabetes Action Network, introduced Resolution 2012-05. Since both these men have diabetes and Tom’s son is also a diabetic, access to the artificial pancreas could dramatically improve their quality of life. The artificial pancreas currently being developed incorporates an insulin pump, continuous glucose monitor, and smart controller to measure blood sugar automatically, then determine and deliver the right amount of insulin or glucose at the right time. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness. Yet the federal government and healthcare advocacy organizations make little effort to encourage the manufacture of nonvisual accessible diabetes management technologies. The resolution demands that “this organization strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration to approve an artificial pancreas only when it is fully accessible to blind and low-vision diabetics.”
Mary Jo Hartle, a new parent and a longtime leader in the Federation from first Utah and now Maryland who was a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2002 and 2004, proposed Resolution 2012-24. “Despite the availability of access technology that allows electronic and digital at-home medical equipment to provide audio output to users, infant apnea monitors, home dialysis equipment, electronic thermometers, and many other forms of at-home medical equipment remain largely or completely inaccessible to the blind.” In Resolution 2012-24 this organization demands that manufacturers of at-home medical equipment make their products accessible to blind users so that the civil right of access to this equipment is preserved.
The Convention passed nine resolutions about access to information. Two cover instructions to the federal government concerning access, two of them deal with access to library information, and the remaining five address access to specific products. Alex Castillo, an NFB 2012 Fellow and the immediate past president of the New York Association of Blind Students, who is currently living and working in Nebraska, introduced Resolution 2012-02. “The United States Department of State has announced its intention to partner with Amazon.com to create a global e-reader program known as the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative.… This organization demands that the United States Department of State refuse to procure any e-reading technology that is inaccessible and that it uphold its obligations under the law as prescribed in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.”
Kyle Shachmut, a 2012 NFB Fellow and a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts affiliate and president of its student division, is also a tenBroek Fellow who won scholarships in 2009 and 2011. Kyle sponsored Resolution 2012-12. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all electronic and information technology that is developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to disabled Americans. This organization strongly urges the Access Board to continue working diligently to refresh the Section 508 standards and finish this rulemaking swiftly so that the technical standards and accessibility guidelines under the law reflect changes in technology.
The first of the two resolutions concerning access to library information applies to all public libraries, while the second applies only to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. A number of public libraries have started to lend e-books and e-reading devices in an attempt to open their collections to a broader range of patrons. This trend promises to offer blind people unprecedented opportunities for reading books. In Resolution 2012-06 this organization calls upon all public libraries to take immediate action to provide e-books and e-reading devices that are fully accessible to blind people in order to comply with federal law and to ensure that blind patrons have the ability to use these devices and to access the information that they provide. James Brown, a 2012 NFB Fellow and president of the NFB of Tennessee who won a National Scholarship in 2007, sponsored this resolution.
Dan Hicks, president of the NFB of Florida, proposed Resolution 2012-15. “This organization calls upon the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress immediately to modify its standards for Braille and audio production of books and magazines to include portrayals or explanations of all cartoons, caricatures, and drawings included in these publications, including reading all captions, unless they are part of advertisements.”
Resolution 2012-19 is the most unusual of the five access-to-products resolutions in this article because it describes cutting-edge research. In the remaining four the methods to achieve access are known. What is missing is the will to provide nonvisual access. Automobile manufacturers are working to develop driverless vehicles, and many of them have already integrated autonomous components like automatic parallel parking and adaptive cruise control. Nevada and Florida have enacted legislation legalizing the operation of these vehicles on public roads. In Resolution 2012-19 we demand that autonomous vehicle manufacturers include nonvisual interfaces that will allow a blind person to operate the vehicle independently. In this resolution we also encourage other states to follow Nevada and Florida’s lead. Kimie Beverly, a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2003 and 2012 and is secretary of the NFB of Nevada, sponsored this resolution.
The remaining four resolutions were sponsored by ardent, articulate debaters. Corbb O’Connor, a 2012 NFB Fellow and a leader in the Virginia affiliate who also won national scholarships in 2006 and 2009, making him a tenBroek Fellow, introduced resolution 2012-20. Resolution 2012-14 was proposed by Jeannie Massay, a 2012 NFB Fellow, president of the NFB of Oklahoma, and a 2009 national scholarship winner. A webmaster and member of the board of directors of the NFB of Texas, Tom Stivers, introduced resolution 2012-18. Justin Salisbury, immediate past president of the North Carolina Association of Blind Students and a 2011 national scholarship winner, sponsored resolution 2012-23. An examination of the resolve sections of each of these resolutions illustrates the deep frustration that blind people feel toward these companies because of their blatant refusal to provide access.
Resolution 2012-20 concerning the Nook concludes in part with a resolve that “this organization urge Barnes & Noble to continue to work assiduously in providing a product line that is accessible to blind users, including an accessible online bookstore.”
The resolve in resolution 2012-14 states that: “This organization condemn and deplore Amazon.com’s repeated discrimination against the blind because it knowingly and purposely developed and launched models of the Kindle that are completely inaccessible despite its awareness of accessibility solutions and its repeatedly stated interest in meeting the needs of blind consumers.”
In Resolution 2012-18 the Convention resolved that, “This organization condemn and deplore Adobe’s complete and utter lack of commitment to accessibility.” (The Adobe suite of products includes Flash, a product for watching videos, animation, and rich Internet content; InDesign, a package for digital publishing; Dreamweaver, a product for creating websites; and Contribute, Premier, Photoshop, Acrobat, and other products used for creating, editing, accessing, and publishing content.)
Finally, resolution 2012-23 resolves that “this organization condemn and deplore Microsoft’s failure to update the Xbox 360 console so that it is accessible to blind users.” “Unlike its predecessor, which was exclusively a gaming console, the Xbox 360 is used for streaming a variety of content onto a television, including trailers, shows, music, and movies, and hosting Microsoft’s Windows Media Center multimedia capabilities and gaming; and is Microsoft’s main channel for reaching individual consumers, meaning that blind users cannot use information that Microsoft distributes over the console.”
This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By longstanding tradition the complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. These resolutions outline our commitment to make sure that no blind person is left behind. Readers should study the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects.
Regarding Support for the Fair Wages
for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011
WHEREAS, since its founding in 1940, the National Federation of the Blind has fought to repeal the unfair, discriminatory, and immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which allows the secretary of labor to grant special wage certificates to employers permitting them to pay their workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage; and
WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the FLSA is a statutory assertion of the negative attitudes and erroneous stereotypes that perpetuate the unemployment and exacerbate the under-employment of people with disabilities, based on the fallacious argument that they cannot be productive and therefore deserve to be paid less than nondisabled employees; and
WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the FLSA was to be used only “to the extent necessary to prevent curtailment of opportunities” for employment of people with disabilities, but has instead resulted in the creation of an industry of over 3,000 exploitive work environments for over 300,000 workers with disabilities being paid wages significantly lower than the federal minimum wage; and
WHEREAS, data from the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division show that over 90 percent of the special wage certificates are held by nonprofit sheltered workshop employers; and
WHEREAS, these subminimum-wage employers, having a vested financial interest in the continuation of the public and philanthropic subsidies that prop up their subminimum-wage business model, are actively lobbying against the repeal of Section 14(c); and
WHEREAS, to combat the efforts of those that would continue to exploit people with disabilities as second class workers, the members of the National Federation of the Blind will continue to raise public awareness about this issue through boycotts, protests, and educational forums to speak the truth about Section 14(c); and
WHEREAS, the truth is that segregated subminimum-wage work environments are not transitional job-training service providers for workers with disabilities, as shown by data from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that less than five percent of workers with disabilities transition into mainstream employment; moreover, research conducted by Dr. Robert Cimera of Kent State University shows that work habits learned in a segregated work environment must be unlearned in order for workers with disabilities to become competitively employed; and
WHEREAS, the truth is that the payment of subminimum wages is not an incentive for mainstream employers to hire workers with disabilities; mainstream employers want a productive workforce, and the solution is to provide people with disabilities with the proper training and support to be productive employees; and
WHEREAS, if people are too severely disabled to perform competitive work, our society can still do better for them than condemning them to drudgery day after day earning pennies an hour; and
WHEREAS, the members of the National Federation of the Blind resolved in Convention assembled the seventh day of July, 2011, in the city of Orlando, Florida, to call upon the United States Congress to introduce and pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011; and
WHEREAS, on October 4, 2011, Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida introduced H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011, to phase out the use of special wage certificates over a three-year period and eventually to repeal Section 14(c) of the FLSA; and
WHEREAS, the lead co-sponsor of H.R. 3086, Congressman Tim Bishop of New York, has been joined by eighty additional cosponsors of this landmark piece of disability rights legislation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization commend Congressman Stearns, Congressman Bishop, and all other cosponsors of H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, for having the courage, creativity, and belief in the capacity of people with disabilities to advance the legislation; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Education and Workforce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to conduct an immediate hearing on H.R. 3086 in order to separate myth from reality and to learn the truth about the employment capacity of people with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization >call upon the United States Congress to pass this legislation with all due speed, repealing Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and freeing workers with disabilities from nearly seventy-five years of discriminatory wage practices; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we condemn and deplore every entity that continues to exploit people with disabilities through the payment of subminimum wages.
Regarding the United States Department of State
and Amazon Kindle Digital Learning Initiative
WHEREAS, the right to read is critical and fundamental to full participation in society; and
WHEREAS, unlike print, the digital information in electronic books is inherently accessible to the blind and becomes inaccessible only because proprietary technology, such as dedicated inaccessible e-readers, makes electronic books inaccessible; and
WHEREAS, as the increasingly rapid transition from print-only media to digital information continues, it is critical that the blind and others with print disabilities not be left behind and excluded from accessing this information equally; and
WHEREAS, some mainstream commercial e-book reading devices and platforms, such as Apple’s iPad and the K-NFB Blio, are accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, Amazon.com’s Kindle e-readers are among the dominant dedicated e-book reading devices in the marketplace; and
WHEREAS, despite years of attempts by the National Federation of the Blind and other organizations to assist and educate Amazon.com, it has failed to make its Kindle e-book readers fully accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, the United States Department of State has announced its intention to partner with Amazon.com to create a global e-reader program known as the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative, intended to create a global e-reader program that introduces aspects of U.S. society and culture directly to young people, students, and international audiences in new ways and expands English-language-learning opportunities worldwide; and
WHEREAS, as part of this initiative the United States Department of State is pursuing a contract with Amazon.com, Inc., for the acquisition of 35,000 Kindle e-readers at an anticipated cost of 16.5 million dollars; and
WHEREAS, the State Department’s proposal for this contract contains no provisions to ensure that these e-book readers will be accessible to the blind, in direct contravention of the Department’s legal obligations under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and of the right of the world’s blind to have equal access to information: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization demand that the United States Department of State refuse to procure any e-reading technology that is inaccessible and that the United States Department of State uphold its obligations under the law as prescribed in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization condemn and deplore Amazon.com’s failure to make its Kindle e-book readers fully accessible to the blind and insist that Amazon.com immediately make its product line of Kindle e-book readers and all future e-book readers fully accessible to the blind.
Regarding the Presumption of Braille Instruction
WHEREAS, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that, when developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for a child who is blind, the IEP team shall “provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for the instruction of Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child”; and
WHEREAS, despite this clear legislative language in support of Braille literacy, current regulation does not provide school districts with adequate guidance in developing, reviewing, and revising the IEP; and
WHEREAS, parents and advocates who request Braille instruction for their children with blindness or low vision far too often meet resistance from members of their IEP teams; and
WHEREAS, such resistance causes students to be unable to access grade-level curriculum because they lack proficiency in Braille; and
WHEREAS, while this achievement gap persists, student ability to compete with sighted peers for postsecondary opportunities and employment is significantly compromised; and
WHEREAS, this literacy gap is both unnecessary and preventable; and
WHEREAS, recognizing that instruction in Braille closely parallels instruction in print, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and John Boozman (R-AR) circulated a Dear Colleague letter in the United States Senate; and
WHEREAS, this Dear Colleague letter strongly urges the U.S. Department of Education to engage stakeholder groups to develop new IDEA regulations related to the development of an IEP for a student with blindness or low vision; and
WHEREAS, new regulations should carry out the intent of Congress that students with blindness or low vision must receive Braille instruction; and
WHEREAS, this new regulation should place the burden on the IEP team to deny Braille instruction based on an individual student assessment, rather than on parents to prove that their child needs Braille: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization commend Senators Murray and Boozman for circulating this Dear Colleague letter in support of Braille literacy; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we thank the twenty-four senators that joined as cosigners of this Dear Colleague letter; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind call upon Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to take swift action to address the concerns stated in the Dear Colleague letter to ensure that blind students are taught the skills of literacy.
Regarding Dining in the Dark
WHEREAS, the real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight but the widespread public misconception that the blind are not equal to the sighted in society; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind categorically rejects the myth that the blind are not equal to the sighted; and
WHEREAS, programs of the National Federation of the Blind teach and promote a positive understanding of blindness, that the blind are normal and equal members of society, and that blindness does not mean inferiority; and
WHEREAS, an activity known as "Dining in the Dark" is being promoted and used to raise funds by having sighted people experience blindness by eating in the dark; and
WHEREAS, an article published in Time magazine entitled “Dining in the Dark” assures would-be diners that the cook “works in a well-lit kitchen”; and
WHEREAS, the Dining in the Dark website--www.dininginthedark.org--states: “you will pick from a specially prepared menu (designed by a sighted local ‘star’ chef)” and "In darkness everyone becomes equal. Our opinions can't be molded by dress, mannerisms, or makeup as none of it can be seen. You learn that without sight your other senses become more acute”; and
WHEREAS, these statements lay bare the underlying philosophy of Dining in the Dark, that sight means superior ability, and that, when sight is removed in the dark, the blind and the sighted are equal: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore the use of Dining in the Dark in a manner that diminishes the innate normality and equal status of the blind in society; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization pursue an active policy of opposition to Dining in the Dark activities and events, including use of media and public protests, whenever and wherever such activities and events exploit blindness and blind people based on a demeaning philosophy.
Regarding Access to the Artificial Pancreas
WHEREAS, health for people with diabetes has improved dramatically with the use of modern diabetes-management technologies; and
WHEREAS, the latest example of such a technology currently under development is the artificial pancreas, which incorporates an insulin pump, continuous glucose monitor, and smart controller to measure blood sugar automatically, then determine and deliver the right amount of insulin or glucose at the right time; and
WHEREAS, blind and low-vision diabetics are currently deprived of the health benefits that these technologies offer because manufacturers have not included nonvisual access features in insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, even though some of these technologies have been in existence for nearly thirty years; and
WHEREAS, government regulators and policy makers have failed to protect blind and low-vision diabetics from such blatant discrimination by not developing accessibility standards, by not tying research dollars to the inclusion of accessibility, by not establishing nonvisual criteria as part of the procurement process, and by not requiring accessibility for payment by government programs such as Medicare; and
WHEREAS, diabetes and medical organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and the American Medical Association, do not use their influence to advocate for nonvisual access for blind and low-vision diabetics, even though statistics clearly demonstrate that diabetes is increasing to epidemic proportions, so more people are experiencing vision loss; and
WHEREAS, since the artificial pancreas is currently undergoing clinical trials, the Food and Drug Administration now has the perfect opportunity to rectify past mistakes and to eliminate health inequities and barriers to independence for blind and low-vision diabetics: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration to approve an artificial pancreas only when it is fully accessible to blind and low-vision diabetics; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that government regulators and policy makers take immediate steps to require nonvisual access in all diabetes technologies; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon associations that promote quality health care for people with diabetes to join with the National Federation of the Blind so that the promise of advanced diabetes technology becomes a reality for all people with diabetes, including those who are blind or have low vision.
Regarding Accessible Reading Platforms
and Library Services
WHEREAS, blind people have historically been unable to access information contained in public libraries because library collections are primarily in print; and
WHEREAS, the only library that provides completely accessible information for blind patrons is the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS); and
WHEREAS, the NLS program is able to produce only 2,000 new audio titles each year, a number that is less than one percent of the number of new titles published each year in print; and
WHEREAS, a number of public libraries have started to lend e-books and e-reading devices in an attempt to open their collections to a broader range of patrons; and
WHEREAS, technology currently exists to make e-books and e-reading devices fully accessible to blind patrons; and
WHEREAS, despite this technology’s being available to public libraries, many continue to procure and deploy inaccessible e-books and e-reading devices; and
WHEREAS, many libraries started deploying these inaccessible e-books and e-reading devices, even after the Department of Education circulated a Dear Colleague letter and a frequently asked questions document outlining their obligations as federally funded institutions to purchase accessible e-books, e-reading devices, and other technology: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon all public libraries to take immediate action to provide e-books and e-reading devices that are fully accessible to blind people in order to comply with federal law and to ensure that blind patrons have the ability to use these devices and to access the information that they provide.
Regarding Accessibility of Local Government
Multichannel Contact Centers
WHEREAS, for many years businesses have been streamlining their customer service operations by providing technologies that allow customers to pay bills, purchase goods, ask questions, or register complaints at any time at the customer’s convenience; and
WHEREAS, county and municipal governments are following this trend by using these technologies to create multichannel contact centers to give citizens direct access by 311 direct telephone support through live agents or by interactive voice-response systems or via the web; and
WHEREAS, many blind Americans are successfully employed as customer service representatives or other highly skilled technicians in multichannel contact centers; and
WHEREAS, Oracle’s Siebel Contact Centers, an industry leader in customer-relationship-management applications, includes nonvisual access but allows the clients to customize the software, including the option to omit all nonvisual access; and
WHEREAS, many local government clients will not implement Siebel’s nonvisual access, claiming that the implementation either is too expensive or limits the call center’s ability to respond to some citizen inquiries; and
WHEREAS, nonvisual access, when properly designed, can be an integral part of the entire software package, which covers all of the features and is easy for clients to implement; and
WHEREAS, inadequate or nonexistent nonvisual access must not serve as the excuse for separate-but-equal treatment of blind employees or the denial of employment to qualified blind people; and
WHEREAS, the Public Technology Institute (PTI) is a professional organization for technology executives in local government, which according to its website “challenges local governments to achieve high standards in citizen participation, seamless service delivery, and democratic accountability by making access to government services and information available through multiple channels: web, civic media, interactive voice response, and 311 call centers”; and
WHEREAS, the PTI does not include nonvisual access anywhere on its website and presented one of its 2011-2012 Technology Solution Awards to Montgomery County, Maryland, despite that government’s blatant refusal to implement nonvisual access in its Oracle Siebel Contact Center: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization demand that all software development companies enhance employment opportunities for the blind by immediately discontinuing the practice of designing nonvisual access as an optional feature; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that every local government using a multichannel contact center stop discriminating against blind employees and take advantage of the untapped talents that they can offer by adopting available nonvisual access features; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly encourage the Public Technology Institute to adopt nonvisual access as one of the requirements for its Solution Awards programs.
Resolution 2012-08 did not pass.
Regarding Proposed Section 503 Rule
WHEREAS, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking related to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, this proposed rule would revise the regulations implementing the nondiscrimination and affirmative action provisions of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination by covered federal contractors and subcontractors against individuals on the basis of disability and requires affirmative action on behalf of qualified individuals with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, despite the requirements of Section 503, 2010 statistics from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that only 21.8 percent of working-age individuals with certain functional disabilities were in the labor force compared to 70.1 percent of working-age individuals without such disabilities; and
WHEREAS, strong actions must be taken to address this staggering disparity; and
WHEREAS, the proposed rule would require each federal contractor and subcontractor to “review its personnel processes on at least an annual basis to ensure that its obligations are being met,” “ensure that its use of information and communication technology is accessible to applicants and employees with disabilities,” “enter into linkage agreements and create relationships with the local vocational rehabilitation office” near their establishments, and disseminate reasonable accommodation procedures to all employees; and
WHEREAS, the proposed rule would also establish a utilization goal for hiring individuals with disabilities to serve as a benchmark that will help to identify which contractors are complying with Section 503; and
WHEREAS, OFCCP is also considering adding a secondary utilization for targeted disabilities to the proposed rule to ensure that these groups are not left behind by federal contractors: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to take swift action to implement the new regulations under Section 503; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge that in the final rule OFCCP establish a secondary utilization goal for targeted disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that no employee making below the federal minimum wage be counted towards a contractor’s quota to meet the newly established utilization goal.
Resolution 2012-10 did not pass.
Regarding Protection of the Right to Parent Children
WHEREAS, one of the greatest responsibilities that human beings have is the parenting and care of children; and
WHEREAS, blind people are as capable of parenting and caring for children as their sighted peers; and
WHEREAS, the myths and misconceptions about blindness held by judges, child welfare officers, and social workers frequently cause them to raise questions about the capabilities of blind parents, caregivers, and guardians, even when there is no evidence of difficulty, danger, or neglect; and
WHEREAS, hospital officials and other child welfare workers have tried to remove infants from their homes simply because both parents are blind; and
WHEREAS, blind people’s capabilities are called into question in many proceedings involving child placement, care, custody, visitation, adoption, guardianship, child welfare, and related matters; and
WHEREAS, in divorce cases in which one spouse is sighted and the other is blind, the sighted spouse frequently uses blindness as a weapon to gain custody of the child, even when the blind spouse has been successfully providing care for years, and judges and court investigators accept this specious argument because of their own lack of knowledge about blindness; and
WHEREAS, only five states have laws protecting the rights of disabled parents, guardians, and caregivers to care for children; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has an excellent record of creating model civil rights legislation and conducting public education campaigns to implement such legislation; and
WHEREAS, lawyers, judges, and child welfare professionals are required to maintain their skills by taking continuing education courses: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization strongly urge all state legislatures to adopt legislation proposed by the National Federation of the Blind prohibiting discrimination on the basis of blindness in proceedings involving childcare, custody and visitation, adoption, guardianship, child welfare, and related matters; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the bar associations, the National Association of Social Workers, and other child welfare organizations and their local chapters to develop educational programs in consultation with the National Federation of the Blind to inform personnel who make child placement and care decisions about the capabilities of blind parents, caregivers, and guardians.
Regarding the Section 508 Refresh
WHEREAS, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all electronic and information technology that is developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to disabled Americans; and
WHEREAS, Congress gave regulatory authority to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, also known as the U.S. Access Board, to update the technical standards and accessibility guidelines for electronic and information technology under Section 508 periodically so that they are current; and
WHEREAS, in March of 2010 the Access Board began a much-needed update of the technical standards and accessibility guidelines under Section 508 by issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) with proposed changes to the standards; and
WHEREAS, the March 2010 ANPRM outlined proposed changes that were partly based on recommendations made by the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee, a committee with several members from the National Federation of the Blind, that reviewed the standards and recommended changes to the Access Board in 2008; and
WHEREAS, on December 8, 2011, the Access Board issued a second ANPRM, updating its proposed changes to reflect feedback received from stakeholders after the first ANPRM and streamlining the structure of the proposed changes so that they would be more succinct and easy for stakeholders to read; and
WHEREAS, on January 11, 2012, the National Federation of the Blind and other stakeholders testified at a hearing hosted by the Access Board regarding the proposed changes in the second ANPRM, during which the Access Board heard critical feedback from the disability community and several exhortations to finish the rulemaking in a timely manner; and
WHEREAS, the current Section 508 standards are out of date, exacerbating a systemic pattern of noncompliance among federal agencies that already have conflicting priorities, limited resources, and no accountability mechanisms to meet their obligations under this law; and
WHEREAS, the disability community, technology industry, and federal government are generally united on the need for the Section 508 standards to be updated, and many of these stakeholders, particularly the National Federation of the Blind, had a favorable reaction to the proposed changes made in the 2011 ANPRM: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization strongly urge the Access Board to continue working diligently to refresh the Section 508 standards and finish this rulemaking swiftly so that the technical standards and accessibility guidelines under the law reflect changes in technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge Section 508 coordinators at each federal agency to move quickly to adopt best practices for complying with the new standards in order to protect blind people’s right of access under the law.
Regarding Braille Codes
WHEREAS, Braille has been the primary means of literacy for blind people since its invention in the 1800s; and
WHEREAS, the potential for the integration of Braille into education and everyday life is now greater than ever because of the proliferation of computers and mobile devices that can generate Braille; and
WHEREAS, the ability of a Braille user to write in Braille for instant communication and collaboration with non-Braille readers is becoming ever more essential in our digital age; and
WHEREAS, although the accurate, automated conversion of print to Braille (forward translation) and from Braille to print (back translation) is possible, inconsistencies within the current Braille codes, as well as changing print conventions not effectively addressed in the current literary Braille code, serve as significant roadblocks to translation; and
WHEREAS, these underlying difficulties may be exacerbated by continuing efforts to tweak the current system; and
WHEREAS, the adoption of a more systematic symbol set providing for greater flexibility and fewer exceptions to rules would increase the accuracy of forward- and back-translation and would also enable Braille transcribers to focus attention on issues of formatting and representing graphics or other essential visual elements; and
WHEREAS, since 1992 the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) and later the International Council on English Braille have been engaged in the development of a single system called Unified English Braille (UEB) to reduce conflicts and ambiguities by unifying some of the current multiple Braille codes; and
WHEREAS, UEB has been developed with input from many people with the intention of achieving an optimal balance among many factors, including keeping our current general-purpose literary code as its basis, enabling Braille to convey the same information as print, allowing for the addition of new symbols not currently available in literary Braille, providing flexibility to change as print changes, reducing the complexity of rules, and allowing greater accuracy in back-translation; and
WHEREAS, the use of some dedicated Braille codes for specific subjects, which permit the flexibility to represent those subjects fully, continues to be necessary and desirable; and
WHEREAS, the current version of the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, implemented in the United States forty years ago, has been widely recognized as an ingenious, powerful, and efficient system for representing mathematics and scientific notation in Braille; and
WHEREAS, the wholesale adoption of UEB would bring about relatively few changes from current methods of representing literary materials but would cause radical changes to Braille for technical materials; and
WHEREAS, a solution involving the adoption of UEB along with continued use of the current Nemeth Braille Code, while not fully unifying all codes, would improve the utility of Braille in the digital age and increase flexibility for both technical and non-technical uses: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon the Braille Authority of North America to adopt the symbols and rules of Unified English Braille as the standard for general-purpose, non-technical materials; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization express its strong support for the continued use of the current Nemeth Braille Code as the standard code for the teaching and production of materials that are primarily mathematical in nature; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon BANA to work with all stakeholders to develop a gradual implementation plan that brings about a minimum of disruption to the education of blind children, takes into account the needs of Braille users of all ages and in all walks of life, and provides clear guidance to educators and Braille producers about when to use which code.
Regarding the Inaccessibility of the Kindle Fire
WHEREAS, on September 28, 2011, Amazon.com released the Kindle Fire, a touchscreen tablet designed to read electronic books, access applications, and perform other functions; and
WHEREAS, the Kindle Fire is the sixth inaccessible model of the Amazon.com Kindle; and
WHEREAS, an accessible touchscreen tablet is completely achievable, as demonstrated by Apple with the inclusion of VoiceOver, its text-to-speech function included in the company’s iOS operating system on all models of the iPad; and
WHEREAS, Amazon.com itself demonstrated that the Kindle could be made accessible when very basic text-to-speech functions were added to the Kindle 2 and 3, but a blind user had no way to access the text-to-speech feature independently; and
WHEREAS, when the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers objected to inclusion of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2, Amazon.com specifically sought out and requested the help of the NFB to advocate for text-to-speech, promising continued accessibility improvements in the Kindle product line but then allowed authors and publishers to block text-to-speech on their books and did not follow through with the promised accessibility improvements; and
WHEREAS, Amazon.com has repeatedly assured the National Federation of the Blind during the development of three different models of the Kindle that the upcoming model would be accessible by the blind and then released an inaccessible model, illustrating a lack of respect for the elected representatives of blind Americans, an inconsistency in Amazon.com’s policies, and general lack of reliability, if not outright disingenuousness; and
WHEREAS, Amazon.com’s failure to include accessibility features in the Kindle Fire and its previous choice to curtail the text-to-speech functions on the Kindle 2 and 3 were clearly, not a lack of innovation, but strategic and calculated decisions that flew in the face of fair and equal access for all; and
WHEREAS, blind people deserve access to the same books at the same time and at the same price as sighted users, the ability to read and navigate these books, and the other features available on the Kindle Fire: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore Amazon.com’s repeated discrimination against the blind because it knowingly and purposely developed and launched models of the Kindle that are completely inaccessible despite its awareness of accessibility solutions and its repeatedly stated interest in meeting the needs of blind consumers.
Regarding Cartoons in NLS Publications
WHEREAS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) is a major source of reading materials for the blind of America such as books and magazines; and
WHEREAS, magazines are a very important way for all Americans to keep up to date with current events, politics, public opinion, and ideas about the modern world; and
WHEREAS, cartoons are included in print magazines and books, not merely to provide humor, entertainment, and satire, but also to provide pointed opinions on the vital issues of the day to the print-reading public; and
WHEREAS, NLS offers its readers such important opinion-building publications as The Week, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, National Review, and Rolling Stone in recorded or Braille formats; and
WHEREAS, books and magazines produced by or under the direction of NLS omit citations to or descriptions of cartoons, depriving the blind of valuable information; and
WHEREAS, National Braille Press successfully describes cartoons and illustrations in its Braille publications, demonstrating that such information can be provided to blind readers; and
WHEREAS, the American Printing House for the Blind, which produces the recorded editions of Newsweek and Reader’s Digest, routinely includes audio description of the cartoons in these publications, demonstrating not only that such content adds value, but that these audio descriptions can be included without affecting the timeliness of distribution: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress immediately to modify its standards for Braille and audio production of books and magazines to include portrayals or explanations of all cartoons, caricatures, and drawings included in these publications, including reading all captions, unless they are part of advertisements.
Regarding Accessibility of Pearson Products
WHEREAS, Pearson is the largest publishing company in the world of textbooks and courseware designed for use in institutions of higher education; and
WHEREAS, MyLab and Mastering are Pearson programs offering customized online solutions for learning, studying, and evaluation in multiple subjects, and the overwhelming majority of the subject courseware programs are inaccessible to blind students; and
WHEREAS, despite the inaccessibility of Pearson’s courseware, the MyLab and Mastering programs are being implemented in many institutions of higher education and in lab-based, hybrid, fully online/distance-learning, and traditional educational environments across the country; and
WHEREAS, MyMathLab is the only product with which Pearson has made any progress on improving accessibility, yet the MyLab products for science, engineering, computer science, humanities, social sciences, world languages, careers, health sciences, nursing, economics, information technology, and business disciplines all remain inaccessible to blind students; and
WHEREAS, Pearson falsely claims to have incorporated accessibility features into all textbooks and courseware, and the company refuses to make public its accessibility statement, providing no way of learning about the supposed accessibility of its products; and
WHEREAS, having access to instructional materials such as textbooks and courseware is a civil right of blind students, and a company as large as Pearson has not only the resources but the obligation to make its products usable to the blind so that the company can truly claim that its products provide solutions for all students: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn Pearson and deplore its discrimination against blind students and its lack of transparency in refusing to release its accessibility statement and to educate the public on the purported accessibility features of its products.
Regarding Tablets Used in Urgent Care Medical Facilities
WHEREAS, once considered an “emerging technology,” tablet computers are becoming more popular with both private users and businesses; and
WHEREAS, the tablet market is expanding rapidly, with T-Mobile, Sony, Toshiba, Motorola, Dell, and other manufacturers developing or releasing tablets to compete with the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, and Samsung Galaxy, among other popular devices; and
WHEREAS, CareFirst, Patient First, and other urgent care medical facilities are implementing a touchscreen-based patient check-in system to replace the traditional receptionist/pen-and-paper check-in system, requiring patients to input their personal information and medical history using a tablet; and
WHEREAS, while the traditional system was inaccessible to blind patients, requiring them to share their personal information and medical history with a sighted person who came with them or with a virtual stranger, the use of tablets provides an opportunity for blind people to check into urgent care and other medical facilities independently and privately if the tablets have proper accessibility features; and
WHEREAS, a fully accessible tablet, the Apple iPad, is available, and, if businesses procuring and deploying tablet technology make accessibility for the blind a priority, their investment will provide an incentive for other tablet manufacturers to make their products accessible: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge CareFirst, Patient First, and other medical facilities to procure and deploy only accessible tablets, taking advantage of the opportunity to provide their blind patients with a private, independent method of checking in like that afforded other patients, and to provide an incentive for tablet manufacturers to make their products accessible or develop innovative new ways to meet the needs of blind users.
Regarding Inaccessible Adobe Products
WHEREAS, the Adobe suite of products includes Flash, a product for watching videos, animation, and rich Internet content; InDesign, a package for digital publishing; Dreamweaver, a product for creating websites; and Contribute, Premier, Photoshop, Acrobat, and other products used for creating, editing, accessing, and publishing content; and
WHEREAS, the interfaces of most products in the Adobe suite are inaccessible to blind users, and some products have actually lost basic accessibility that had once been built into the interface; and
WHEREAS, the products used for content creation such as Flash, Dreamweaver, Acrobat, and InDesign have rich accessibility features, not in their interfaces, but for application to the content being created, such as good alt-tag support, good style sheets, and navigational style support; but Adobe does not advertise or provide training for those features and has no accessibility checkers to make it easy for content creators to make sure the content they have created is accessible; and
WHEREAS, the Adobe Flash plugin is widely used by blind computer users for consuming video, audio, and other rich content, despite an inaccessible installer for the plugin, which Adobe has left inaccessible for more than two years; and
WHEREAS, despite an outcry by blind Americans and repeated efforts by the National Federation of the Blind to educate Adobe about the importance of accessibility, the company continues to ignore the needs of blind users; and
WHEREAS, as the popularity of Adobe products grows, the amount of unnecessarily inaccessible content being created grows as well: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore Adobe’s complete and utter lack of commitment to accessibility.
Regarding Autonomous Vehicles
WHEREAS, the Blind Driver Challenge™ of the National Federation of the Blind is an innovative research project of the NFB Jernigan Institute to create nonvisual interfaces that will allow a blind person to drive a car safely and independently; and
WHEREAS, driving does not and will never define a blind person's independence, but the ability to operate an automobile independently and safely will provide a greater degree of independent travel, affording us opportunities that do not currently exist; and
WHEREAS, mainstream automobile manufacturers are working to develop driverless vehicles, and many of them have already integrated autonomous components like automatic parallel parking, adaptive cruise control, etc.; and
WHEREAS, all autonomous vehicles currently require human operation, and regardless of the degree to which vehicles become automated, some degree of human intervention will always be required; and
WHEREAS, the convergence of nonvisual interface technology with autonomous vehicle technology promises to result in a vehicle that a blind person can operate safely and independently; and
WHEREAS, in order for the development of autonomous vehicle technology to progress, autonomous vehicle developers must be allowed to test drive the vehicles legally in a variety of real-world driving situations; and
WHEREAS, the states of Nevada and Florida have already enacted legislation making it legal for driverless vehicles to operate on their roads: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization commend those states that are forward-thinking enough to enact legislation that legalizes the operation of autonomous vehicles on their roads, and that we call upon other states to enact similar legislation; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that autonomous vehicle manufacturers include nonvisual interfaces that will allow a blind person to operate the vehicle independently; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon automobile manufacturers to work with the National Federation of the Blind to develop nonvisual driver interfaces further.
Regarding the Barnes & Noble Nook
WHEREAS, educational institutions and public libraries are deploying digital readers to students and patrons as technology transforms the way people access books and other content; and
WHEREAS, one of the most popular e-readers being deployed by these entities is the Barnes & Noble Nook, which along with its online digital bookstore is inaccessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, technology exists that would make the Nook accessible, as demonstrated by Apple’s implementation of VoiceOver, the text-to-speech function included in the company’s iOS operating system on all models of the iPad; and
WHEREAS, when educational institutions deploy inaccessible technology such as the Nook, they directly violate the federal rights of blind students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, blind patrons of public libraries should not be consigned to separate and unequal access to books when libraries have the option to deploy an accessible e-reader, providing blind and other print-disabled patrons with equal, free, and easy access to all of the books available to other patrons; and
WHEREAS, libraries and educational institutions have no excuse for such violations, since they have been duly advised of their obligations in a frequently asked questions document issued on May 26, 2011, by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides specific guidelines regarding the evaluation, procurement, and deployment of emerging educational technologies to ensure that they are accessible to the blind and other students with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, mainstream access to books for blind readers will occur only when it is demanded by educational institutions and libraries, since the purchasing power of those entities will provide incentive for Barnes & Noble to make the Nook accessible; and
WHEREAS, Barnes & Noble has expressed an intent to make the Nook accessible to blind users and is currently working on the accessibility of the next model: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge Barnes & Noble to continue to work assiduously in providing a product line that is accessible to blind users, including an accessible online bookstore; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge institutions of higher education and libraries not to purchase Barnes & Noble digital products, including the Nook, until these digital products provide access for students and patrons who are blind or have print disabilities.
Resolution Regarding Fairness in Premiums
and Penalties in the Medicare Program
WHEREAS, recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance qualify for Medicare coverage after two years as a recipient of benefits; and
WHEREAS, a recipient has the option to sign up for specific coverage offered by the Medicare program when he or she is determined eligible, with premiums deducted for the coverage chosen; and
WHEREAS, Medicare coverage is divided into four parts, each identified by letter; and
WHEREAS, Part B of the Medicare program covers office visits, outpatient procedures, and laboratory tests; and
WHEREAS, a recipient wishing coverage under Part B who has previously opted out is assessed a monthly penalty in addition to the premium for this service, unless the recipient can show coverage by an employer-based group health plan for the time in which he or she was eligible for Part B coverage; and
WHEREAS, the requirement to show coverage by an employer-based group health plan means that a recipient is penalized for periods in which he or she may have been covered by insurance comparable to Part B coverage directly paid for by the recipient or someone other than an employer; and
WHEREAS, the penalty that can be charged to a recipient is not capped and can result in hundreds of dollars per month in penalties: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon Congress to amend the Social Security Act by removing the requirement to show proof of coverage by an employer-based group health plan and replacing it with a requirement to show insurance comparable to Medicare Part B coverage; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon Congress to amend the Act further by placing a cap on the penalty for failure to participate in the Part B program so the total amount paid does not exceed double the original monthly premium.
Regarding Implementation of Recommendations
from the Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials
in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities
WHEREAS, access to quality educational opportunities is essential for success in a society that values knowledge; and
WHEREAS, institutions of higher education are implementing a wide array of technologies to facilitate instruction, deliver educational content, encourage collaboration among students, provide access to libraries and other data sources, manage student records, and provide other services to students and faculty; and
WHEREAS, blind students in higher education increasingly encounter technologies that cannot be effectively used with screen readers and Braille displays, resulting in a significantly inferior educational experience; and
WHEREAS, these technologies cannot be effectively used by blind faculty members, thus diminishing their access to the tools required to perform their teaching and research responsibilities and limiting their chances for tenure and advancement; and
WHEREAS, the United States Congress recognized the urgency of addressing and seeking remedies for the challenges encountered by students and faculty with disabilities by authorizing the establishment of the Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (the AIM Commission) under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA); and
WHEREAS, the Department of Education established the AIM Commission in the fall of 2010, and the Commission released its report on December 6, 2011; and
WHEREAS, the report provides details of the challenges faced by students with disabilities and clearly states that “barriers that would deny students with disabilities their rights to full and complete access to their educational experience are unacceptable in a society that values achievement through education"; and
WHEREAS, the report, signed by all nineteen stakeholder representatives of the Commission, provides specific recommendations for action by Congress and federal agencies: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization call upon the members of the United States Congress to act upon the report of the AIM Commission by immediately authorizing the United States Access Board to establish guidelines for accessible instructional materials that will be used by government, in the private sector, and in postsecondary academic institutions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge Congress to ask the secretary of education to address the Department’s plans to implement recommendations made by the Commission and that a timeline be established for reviewing progress; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we insist that the Department of Education take steps to implement Commission recommendations, including reestablishing an intra-agency working group on postsecondary students with disabilities, creating a cross-agency working group to provide a more unified and consistent approach to federal initiatives to provide accessible instructional materials at postsecondary institutions, and establishing demonstration projects that promote sharing best practices to provide such materials; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we demand that the Department of Education move swiftly to address the concerns and recommendations of the Commission in areas in which the general market is expected to fail in delivering accessible instructional materials in the near future, including hard-copy Braille; tactile graphics; and materials in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Regarding the Inaccessibility of Xbox 360
WHEREAS, the Xbox 360 is the second video game console developed by and produced for Microsoft; and
WHEREAS, unlike its predecessor, which was exclusively a gaming console, the Xbox 360 is used for streaming a variety of content to a television, including trailers, shows, music, and movies; and hosting Microsoft’s Windows Media Center multimedia capabilities and gaming; and
WHEREAS, the Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s main channel for reaching individual consumers, meaning that blind users cannot use information that Microsoft distributes over the console; and
WHEREAS, when other entities, such as cable service providers and satellite companies, choose to partner with Microsoft to disseminate their content over the Xbox 360 console, they are discriminating against their blind customers, who will not be able to access that content; and
WHEREAS, the 2010 passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act demonstrates that Congress believes access to home entertainment systems and television set-top boxes by the blind is a civil right and that the nation’s telecommunications must be accessible to people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, Apple has produced a similar, fully accessible streaming console used for entertainment in the home, demonstrating that completely accessible media control is achievable; and
WHEREAS, during every meeting between the National Federation of the Blind and Microsoft, the inaccessibility of the Xbox 360 has been addressed, but the company has taken no action to remedy this problem: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization condemn and deplore Microsoft’s failure to update the Xbox 360 console so that it is accessible to blind users.
Regarding At-Home Medical Equipment
WHEREAS, medical equipment designed for use in the home is a cost-effective means of self-diagnosis and allows caregivers and those with chronic illness to manage medical conditions independently and in their own homes; and
WHEREAS, infants considered at risk for heart problems or apnea are often sent home from the hospital on monitors, equipment that is not generally accessible nonvisually; and
WHEREAS, electronic thermometers, for example, have replaced traditional mercury-based thermometers as effective, easy tools for diagnosing a fever; and
WHEREAS, despite the availability of access technology that allows electronic and digital at-home medical equipment to provide audio output to users, infant apnea monitors, home dialysis equipment, electronic thermometers, and many other forms of at-home medical equipment remain largely or completely inaccessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, the development of accessible glucose monitoring equipment in 2008 demonstrates that at-home medical devices can indeed be made accessible for blind users; and
WHEREAS, incidents, such as blind parents’ having to arrange for ongoing sighted assistance in order to take a child home from the hospital when the child requires a monitor, illustrate the consequences of denying the blind access to at-home medical equipment; and
WHEREAS, Section 510 of the Rehabilitation Act, amplified by Section 4203 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March of 2010, requires that medical diagnostic equipment, such as a mobile health unit or trailer, examination tables and chairs, mammography equipment, x-ray machines, radiological equipment, and weight scales, be accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities, demonstrating that Congress believes that access to medical equipment is a civil right; and
WHEREAS, when the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, also known as the U.S. Access Board, began a rulemaking to establish standards for the medical diagnostic equipment covered under the new Section 510 of the Rehabilitation Act, the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking specifically stated that “the statute does not cover medical devices used for monitoring or treating medical conditions such as glucometers and infusion pumps”: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization demand that manufacturers of at-home medical equipment make their products accessible to blind users so that the civil right of access to this equipment is preserved.
Regarding Accommodations for
the Law School Admission Test
WHEREAS, before acceptance of a candidate, virtually every law school in the United States requires applicants to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is administered by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC); and
WHEREAS, LSAC has a long history of denying accommodations to applicants with disabilities, such as denying blind applicants permission to use their primary reading method, including screen-reading software, Braille, and/or a human reader of the applicant’s choice; and
WHEREAS, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws require that LSAC grant accommodations to applicants with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, LSAC almost always makes it exceedingly difficult to obtain necessary accommodations for the examination, and, even if a candidate is able to comply with all of the LSAC’s often unreasonable requests, the accommodation is frequently ultimately denied; and
WHEREAS, the process of requesting and obtaining accommodations often forces applicants with disabilities to do battle with LSAC until the eleventh hour before the administration of the LSAT to discover whether the accommodation has been granted, to hire lawyers and/or to pay doctors and experts thousands of dollars to document the disability repeatedly, and otherwise to waste time and money to receive accommodations, even in cases where the requested accommodations had been routinely granted when the applicant acquired his or her undergraduate degree; and
WHEREAS, LSAC also engages in the practice of “flagging” test scores for any examination that is administered to an applicant using any accommodation; and
WHEREAS, LSAC sends a letter to each law school to which the applicant with a disability has applied, stating that he or she took the examination under “nonstandard conditions” and that there is no way to assess whether the score obtained by the applicant means anything; and
WHEREAS, this flagging practice is LSAC’s way of saying that accommodations and disability skew the results of the examination and that scores obtained by applicants with disabilities are therefore meaningless and should be ignored; and
WHEREAS, the American Bar Association (ABA) is the largest voluntary professional organization in the world, with over 400,000 lawyer members; and
WHEREAS, the ABA is regarded as the leading voice in the nation calling for change in the legal system; and
WHEREAS, the ABA House of Delegates is the ABA’s supreme authority and the body which sets policy for the organization; and
WHEREAS, at the 2012 ABA Midyear meeting held in New Orleans, Louisiana, the House of Delegates passed ABA Resolution 2012-111, which calls upon the LSAC to stop its practice of denying accommodations and making it exceedingly difficult to obtain those accommodations for the LSAT, and further calls upon LSAC to cease its discriminatory practice of flagging test scores: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization applaud and commend the American Bar Association for sending a strong and clear message to the Law School Admissions Council that it must stop its discrimination against test applicants with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we join the ABA in demanding that LSAC grant accommodations for the LSAT quickly and efficiently to all blind applicants and other applicants with disabilities and that LSAC cease immediately the discriminatory practice of flagging LSAT scores.
Regarding Entrepreneurial Opportunities
for People with Disabilities
WHEREAS, the United States Congress has enacted provisions to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for businesses owned by groups that are considered to be socially and economically disadvantaged; and
WHEREAS, these provisions do not include businesses owned by individuals with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, Congress enacted the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, many disabled workers never advance to management positions in Javits-Wagner-O’Day-affiliated businesses because the nondisabled employers have low expectations for their disabled workers; and
WHEREAS, Congress has not reauthorized the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act since programs were created under the Small Business Act to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for other socially and economically disadvantaged groups; and
WHEREAS, the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act should include provisions for people with disabilities to take part in all aspects of business, including owning a business and executing contracts awarded under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2012, in the city of Dallas, Texas, that this organization urge the United States Congress to amend the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act to include provisions to increase entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Here are the results that we have received from division elections at this year’s division meetings at convention:
Travel and Tourism
Travel and Tourism officers for 2012 to 2014 are president, Cheryl Echevarria (NY); vice president, Maurice Shackelford (GA); secretary, Margo Downey (NY); treasurer, Milton Taylor (TX); and board members, Daniel Carr (TX), Amy Baron (MN), and Jemal Powell (IL).
Diabetes Action Network
The results of the DAN election were as follows: president, Michael Freeman (WA); first vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (MD); second vice president, Minnie Walker (AL); secretary, Diane Filipe (CO); and treasurer, Joy Stigile (CA); and board members, Maria Bradford (WA), Wanda Sloan (OH), Mindy Jacobsen (NY), and Jean Brown (IN).
Amateur Radio Division
The Ham Radio Division elected president, Curtis Willoughby (CO); vice president, Michael Freeman (WA); secretary, Doris Willoughby (CO); and treasurer, John Fritz (WI).
Assistive Technology Trainers Division
Following are the elected officers and board members of the Assistive Technology Trainers Division of the National Federation of the Blind: president, Michael Barber (IA); vice president, Joe Steinkamp (TX); secretary, Jan Brandt (NE); treasurer, Jeanine Lineback (TX); and board members, Nancy Coffman (NE), Richard Ring (IA), and Wes Majerus (NE).
The Seniors elected the following officers: president, Ruth Sager (MD); vice president, Art Schreiber (NM); second vice president, Judy Sanders (MN); secretary, Ramona Walhof (ID); treasurer, Diane McGeorge (CO); and board members, Margo Downey (NY) and Don Gilmore (IL).
The Krafters elected president, Joyce Kane (CT); vice president, Cindy Sheets (IN); second vice president, Laurie Porter (WI); secretary, Ramona Walhof (ID); treasurer, Cindy Zimmer (NE); and board members, Linda Anderson (CO) and Diane Filipe (CO).
National Association of Blind Office Professionals
The following officers were elected by the office professionals division: president, Lisa Hall (OH); vice president, Mary Donahue (TX); secretary, Kevin Ledford (UT); and treasurer, Debbie Brown (MD).
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
At the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, on July 2, 2012, the following were elected to the executive board: president, Carlton Anne Cook Walker (PA); first vice president, Andrea Beasley (WI); second vice president, Kim Cunningham (TX); secretary, Pamela Gebert (AK); treasurer, Pat Renfranz (UT); and board members, Jim Beyer (MT), Jean Bening (MN), Laura Bostick (LA), Wingfield Bouchard (MS), Amber Hall (IN), David Hammel (IA), Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (GA), Zina Lewis (VA), Holly Miller (NJ), and Trudy Pickrel (MD). Barbara Cheadle (MD) remains on the Board as President Emerita, and Carol Castellano (NJ) continues to serve the NOPBC as its director of programs.
The Sports and Recreation Division Report:
Division President Lisamaria Martinez reports that the Sports and Recreation Division hosted several fun-filled activities at this year's convention. From newly created disc golf to self-defense workshops, Federationists spent several days dabbling in physical activities while juggling meetings and the exhibit hall. The business meeting was chock-full of great speakers like students from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who explained the ways sports has given them the confidence they need to be successful blind people living lives to their fullest and speakers who shared their knowledge about the accessibility of sport accessories and apps. We can't wait until Orlando to share another successful convention with you.
Report on the Convention Youth Track:
This year’s Youth Track kicked off late Saturday morning with a challenging problem-solving activity that has come to be known as Balloon Build or Bust. Students are given a roll of tape and fifty balloons; they are to take these materials and build a free-standing structure within a set amount of time. Each team’s hope is that its structure will end up being the tallest. Although the lunch break occurred immediately following the kick-off activity, the enthusiasm was just as strong during the afternoon session.
Following lunch, both age groups (eleven to fourteen and fifteen to eighteen) took part in various activities that allowed them to learn about Federation philosophy in an interactive format. The younger students showed off their talents by creating art that illustrated what they wanted the world to know about blindness. The fifteen-to-eighteen crowd had the opportunity to check out Federationbook, the NFB’s social network. They learned about leaders like Dr. Maurer and Mark Riccobono by checking out their Federationbook profiles. In addition they wrote a Federationbook profile of their own. Both age groups got to make short movies telling the world what they wanted people to know about blindness. Both groups also learned more about the hotel and talked to other convention attendees as they searched for answers to Federation Trivia questions.
Saturday was our busiest day, but it most certainly wasn’t the end of the Youth Track Activities. Sunday afternoon students honed their writing skills by taking part in what has become an annual writers workshop hosted by the NFB’s Writers’ Division. Monday, following the board meeting, students attended our traditional Division Meet and Greet, where they heard short presentations from representatives of many of our NFB divisions. Monday evening, thanks to the Sports and Rec Division, we were able to offer a one-hour self-defense workshop. Self-defense wasn’t the only physical activity going on Monday night. Deja Powell, who is best known as a cane travel teacher, put on her dance-instructor hat to teach the kids some basic dance moves. Tuesday night we loaded up a bus and headed out for pizza. We had no agenda for this experience other than giving the students an opportunity to socialize with one another. Of course there were still plenty of stimulating discussions and opportunities for learning.
Youth Track activities culminated in our parallel general sessions, which took place on Wednesday and Thursday. These sessions give the students an opportunity to learn about things that happen in general session in a more student-friendly way. This year’s topics included convention highlights, the Federation and education, and entrepreneurship.
NFB Krafters Division Convention Activity:
Nancy Yeager has provided the following report of NFB Krafter activities at convention:
The Krafters Division, ably led by President Joyce Kane, began activities on Saturday, June 30, with its fourth annual craft show. As visitors entered the Anatole Hilton’s Topaz Room, President Kane greeted them with handmade roses of chocolate and peanut butter. Guests then explored the displays stationed around the room, all containing handcrafted treasures made by blind Federationists. Many of the items on display were similar to those visitors would find at any other craft show. The difference was that guests knew they were welcome to touch all of the items on exhibit.
Offerings included a variety of handmade jewelry made by several crafters, each demonstrating the crafter’s unique style. Another vender’s medium was plastic canvas woven with yarn, resulting in unique patterns and designs, many of them tactile. Products included small cases, bookmarks, and holiday ornaments. Another exhibiter offered greeting cards with singing dogs. The voice on the card was the vender’s family pet. Still another crafter offered painted figurines, fans, and small cases, some with tactile designs.
A frequent division instructor exhibited safety-pin-beaded items including baskets, candleholders, a Christmas sleigh, and a gingerbread house. In August the Krafters Division will hold safety-pin-beading classes in the construction of these Christmas items. The show’s final vender worked in leather. His hand-tooled and hand-stamped items included phone cases and other items, many with tactile designs.
In addition to the venders who were selling their crafts, a weaver demonstrated the Maystayer weaving machine to visitors. Finally, would-be crafters had the opportunity to stop by the make-and-take table where, with paper, a little glue, and help from a volunteer crafter, they learned how to make a gift bag similar to those available in stores for use instead of wrapping paper. Many convention attendees stopped by the division table in the exhibit hall and received Braille and print information about the Krafters Division.
On July 1 we held our annual meeting. We elected officers for the upcoming year listed elsewhere in the Miniatures. Other agenda items included possible classes of interest in 2012-2013, charity project ideas, and suggestions for next year’s convention in Orlando. We conducted our final division event on Tuesday evening, July 3, in which two division members held a crafting activity with younger convention attendees while their parents attended evening meetings.
Affiliate Action Membership-Building Seminar and Materials Available:
For the last few years the Affiliate Action Department has presented a Back-to-Basics membership-building seminar at national convention. This year's action-packed agenda, entitled “Spotlight on Our Federation Philosophy,” contained presentations on how to teach our philosophy through exciting activities that we can include in chapter meetings, such as writing NFB songs, playing NFB Trivia, and writing and acting out skits involving situations a blind person might encounter in everyday life.
National Association of Blind Educators:
At the seminar of the National Organization of Blind Educators, teachers from a variety of grade levels and subject areas gathered to network and share ideas and strategies to become more effective teachers. Large group presentations focused on acquiring alternative techniques and working with inaccessible websites and programs. In discussions about the joys and challenges of teaching in the classroom, panelists highlighted the importance of building community and establishing relationships with students as well as classroom management procedures.
ARTICLE I. NAME
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
ARTICLE II. PURPOSE
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two‑thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS,
AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD
Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention.
Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two‑year terms.
Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.
ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION,
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two‑thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two‑thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.
The board of directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day‑to‑day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS
This constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two‑thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the Convention.
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.