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 addition 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.