Vol. 55, No. 10 November 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
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: [email protected]
Website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300
Letters to the president, address changes,
subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature
should be sent to the national office.
Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also
be sent to the national office or may be emailed to [email protected].
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.
You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return label enclosed with the drive when you return the device.
Vol. 55, No. 10 November 2012
Illustration: The October-December Accessible Bulletin Board in the Betsy Zaborowski Conference
Room at the NFB Jernigan Institute
The Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium:
A Forum for Collaboration in the Struggle for the
Right to Live in the World
by Lou Ann Blake
Democratizing Braille: A World View
by Kevin Carey
My Journey to Genetics: Changing What it Means
to Be a Blind Genetic Counselor
by Ronit Ovadia-Mazzoni
The DAISY Consortium Global Partnership:
Working with the NFB to End the Book Famine
by Stephen King
The Federation in Your Journey:
The Courage to Try
by Mary Ellen Gabias
The New iBill®:
Is it Worth the Extra $20?
by Curtis Chong
A Reader Takes the Braille Monitor to Task
Working with Blind Seniors in Support Groups
by Rebecca Irvin
Learning to Use a White Cane as a Senior
by Jonathan Ice
Remembering the Nickel
by Judy Sanders
Axis 360: Making Books Accessible
at a Library Near You
by Michael Bills
Paw Prints on the Barricades
by Anna Kresmer
A Library for the Price of a Book
Newel Perry: More Profiles and California School for the Blind Politics
An Interview with Newel Perry
Conducted by Willa Baum
Playing off a popular series of children’s books (Flat Stanley), the title of the latest bulletin board is “Follow Flat Whozit,” which highlights the 2012 NFB BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) Programs.
This Whozit-color (red, purple, blue, white, and yellow) themed board is flanked by pictures created by students in the various NFB BELL Programs after reading the story of Flat Whozit. A scalloped blue border defines the top and bottom edges of the board. The title, “Follow Flat Whozit,” serpentines across the top left corner. At the end of the title is a tactile Whozit made from colored craft foam. To Whozit’s right is a craft-foam cut-out of Maryland, representing the beginning of Whozit’s journey. Observers can chart Whozit’s journey through all eleven BELL states by following the string, adorned with mini bells, which starts at Maryland and stops at each of the eleven states in the order they joined the BELL choir: Maryland, Georgia, Utah, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. Each state is made of craft foam, and above it is a list of statistics in print and Braille about that state’s programs, including location of the program(s), the 2012 dates of the program(s), the year the state hosted its first BELL program, and the number of students this year. The path of Whozit’s journey snakes across the board from right to left and back again. Scattered around the board are pictures from various BELL programs featuring children playing Braille games, learning to use the slate and stylus, and reading Braille. At the very bottom, in the middle of the board, is a pocket folder holding Braille and print versions of the Flat Whozit story the students in the BELL programs read this summer, which visitors can enjoy if they have time.
by Lou Ann Blake
From the Editor: Lou Ann Blake is an attorney and works as the HAVA Project manager and Law Symposium coordinator at the Jernigan Institute. Here is her unique perspective on our founder’s work and the role of the National Federation of the Blind in addressing the legal concerns that were at the center of his life:
For the past five years the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has hosted the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. Since the inaugural event in 2008, disability rights lawyers and advocates have traveled to the Jernigan Institute from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe to hear nationally and internationally recognized disability rights advocates discuss the current status of disability rights and how the struggle continues for the right of people with disabilities to live in the world. With planning of the 2013 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium well underway, it seems like an appropriate time for reflection on why the symposium is important, why it is important that the National Federation of the Blind host this event, and how the symposium can help facilitate change in disability law.
Why the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium Is Important
The Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium provides disability rights advocates an opportunity on a national level and cross-disability basis to gather together to discuss the status of disability law in the United States. Over a hundred-fifty advocates representing more than eighty academic, government, corporate, and advocacy organizations attended the 2012 symposium. The organizations represented included Disability Rights Iowa; the American Diabetes Association; the National Association of the Deaf; Jacksonville Area Legal Aid; Disability Rights Advocates; Yale Law School; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; National Disability Rights Network; and Google, Inc. International organizations represented at the symposium have included the National University of Ireland, Galway; the City of Paris; and ARCH Disability Law Centre (Canada).
Through the discussions that occur at the symposium, relationships are built and attendees discover that, on a cross-disability basis, we have many issues in common. When we work together on these common issues, the disability community as a whole is much stronger. The 2012 tenBroek Symposium included a workshop on litigation strategy planning among disability rights organizations. This workshop was co-facilitated by Scott LaBarre, principal of LaBarre Law Offices and president of the NFB of Colorado, and Howard Rosenblum, chief executive officer of the National Association of the Deaf. This workshop resulted in a commitment by the participants to continue the discussion on how disability rights organizations can work together after the symposium. The relationship-building that occurs at the tenBroek symposium also provides an opportunity for the NFB to foster understanding of our view on blindness-specific issues, and we gain a better understanding of issues specific to other disabilities.
Honoring and celebrating the genius of our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, is one of the primary reasons why the NFB hosts the symposium. Most members are aware that Dr. tenBroek founded the National Federation of the Blind in 1940. However, many of our members may not know that Dr. tenBroek's legal scholarship helped to set the stage for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and was instrumental in changing the treatment of disability rights to a civil rights issue rather than an issue of special privilege.
The legal scholarship of Jacobus tenBroek on the interpretation and application of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution changed the way that American courts analyze a discrimination case. In "The Equal Protection of the Laws," a 1949 California Law Review article, co-authors tenBroek and Joseph Tussman developed the analysis that is used by American courts today to determine if a law improperly discriminates by including or excluding a class of people. Coupled with the analysis of the historical origins and meaning of a law developed in Dr. tenBroek's The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment, Jacobus tenBroek's scholarship helped to establish the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as the primary tool used by the courts for remedying historical patterns of discrimination.
One of the earliest and most significant applications of Dr. tenBroek's equal protection scholarship was that of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. An August 18, 1953, letter to Dr. tenBroek from Thurgood Marshall, then the director and counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, acknowledged their use of Dr. tenBroek's scholarship in preparation for the reargument of Brown before the United States Supreme Court. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court held in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation by race in the public schools was unconstitutional because the "separate but equal" doctrine failed to meet the requirements of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus Dr. tenBroek's scholarship was instrumental in creating a new era in American civil rights.
With the publication of his 1966 California Law Review article, "The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts," Jacobus tenBroek established himself as a founding father of American disability law. In this seminal article Dr. tenBroek demonstrated that, based on the self-care and self-support provisions of the Social Security Act, the rehabilitation programs of the states, programs to educate disabled children in the public schools, and the opening-up of civil service jobs to the disabled, the integration of the disabled into the community was the policy of the United States. Therefore, Dr. tenBroek argued, the disabled had the same right to the use of public streets and sidewalks, common carriers, public buildings, and other public accommodations as their nondisabled peers. With this reasoning Jacobus tenBroek helped to shift the perception of disability rights from that of an issue of special privilege to one of civil rights.
Dr. tenBroek's analysis of state tort law in "The Right to Live in the World" revealed a wide variation in substance and in its application by the courts to the disabled. For example, Dr. tenBroek noted that the majority of courts did not find a blind person to be negligent simply because she was walking down a street unaccompanied when she fell into an unprotected, open trench and became injured, while other courts did find negligence. In response to this inconsistency Dr. tenBroek drafted the model White Cane Law, which established the right of blind and other disabled Americans to be in the world and to use public streets and sidewalks, all modes of public transportation, and public accommodations. Today most states have passed the model White Cane Law in some form. The shift to Dr. tenBroek's view of disability rights as a civil rights issue is also reflected by the passage of federal legislation such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Because of Dr. tenBroek's influence, the barriers that have prevented the disabled from living in the world are being removed, and his vision of equality of opportunity for all is closer to becoming reality.
Why It Is Important that the National Federation of the Blind Host the tenBroek Symposium
The National Federation of the Blind is a strong, national organization with resources that are unmatched by other disability rights groups. Our grassroots organization is strong, with over 50,000 members representing affiliates in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Jernigan Institute, with its large meeting space and capable staff, is an ideal setting for a disability law symposium. By bringing other disability rights advocates, both disabled and nondisabled, to the Jernigan Institute, we show them what is possible when the disabled are in command of their own destiny and expectations are high.
Since our founding by Dr. tenBroek in 1940, the National Federation of the Blind has been a leader in the disability rights movement. In the early days the fight was for the right of blind Americans to teach in the public schools, travel unaccompanied, and obtain federal Civil Service jobs, among others. Today, in addition to fighting for the rights of blind citizens to have equal access to educational materials, access to appropriate test accommodations, and access to the Internet, our battles for civil rights also include some that have a cross-disability focus. In 2009 the National Federation of the Blind played a leadership role in founding the Reading Rights Coalition, a group of thirty-one organizations representing the print-disability community, to demand equal access to electronic books and ebook readers for all individuals with print disabilities.
Our leadership role in the disability rights movement has continued in 2012 as we spearhead the effort to eliminate subminimum wages paid to workers with disabilities. The National Federation of the Blind is leading the cross-disability push for Congress to pass H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011, which would phase out the payment of subminimum wages to disabled workers, currently permissible under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Other disability organizations that have joined us in this fight include the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, United Spinal Association, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Association of the Deaf, American Association of People with Disabilities, and Little People of America.
Through our strength and leadership the National Federation of the Blind has changed and continues to change what it means to be blind in America. When we have issues in common, such as the right to read and the right to be paid a fair wage, the National Federation of the Blind also takes a leadership role to change lives in the cross-disability community. Hosting the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium is one of the ways we develop the relationships with other disability organizations that enable the NFB to take a leadership role in the disability community as a whole. This role as a leader in the cross-disability community makes us a stronger organization in our relations with lawmakers and corporate executives as we work to bring Dr. tenBroek's vision of equal opportunity for all citizens closer to its full realization.
How Can the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium Facilitate Change in the Law?
The thoughts and ideas expressed at the tenBroek symposia are made available to all for citation in court documents and in scholarly publications. Recordings of all of the plenary sessions from the first five symposia are available free of charge on the NFB website. In addition, articles based on presentations from the 2008, 2009, and 2011 symposia have been published in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, a publication of the University of Texas School of Law. Thus the ideas generated at the symposium may influence disability law and policy when lawyers and judges cite these articles and recordings in their court briefs and opinions or when legal scholars cite them in their writings.
One of the most important ways the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium can effect change in the law is through inspiring the next generation of disability rights advocates. Every year the tenBroek symposium provides a growing number of law school students with a unique opportunity to network with leading disability rights advocates from throughout the United States. An intern from Disability Rights Iowa who plans to attend law school said of the 2012 symposium, "I learned so much and met so many amazing people. It really was an inspiring event....” Inspiring law school students to become disability rights advocates with Dr. tenBroek's vision of equality of opportunity for all citizens and the NFB's example of what is possible when expectations are high will help to move disability law in a direction closer to his vision.
Continuing the Struggle for the Right to Live in the World
The sixth Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, "Push Forward and Push Back: Continuing the Struggle for the Right to Live in the World," will take place on April 18 and 19, 2013. The symposium will provide disability rights advocates a forum in which to discuss topics such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the impact of the Olmstead case on employment, litigation strategies in kindergarten through secondary education, and the International Treaty on the Right of the Print Disabled to Information. As a consequence of the leadership role of the National Federation of the Blind in bringing together the cross-disability community through the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium and the resulting relationships and collaborations, we are able to carry forward Dr. tenBroek's work toward achieving for all citizens equal opportunity for full participation in the society in which we live.
by Kevin Carey
From the Editor: Kevin Carey is the chairman of the Royal National Institute for Blind People, headquartered in London, England. He delivered a somewhat abbreviated version of the following paper on Thursday morning, July 6, to the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. His remarks were controversial if not revolutionary, but, as he points out, they arise from many years of experience, not ivory tower theorizing. We decided that what he had to say was important enough that it deserved consideration of his unexpurgated text. Here it is:
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends: First of all, let me thank you for receiving me here today. I am deeply conscious of the honor and hope that you will not mind the frankness of a guest. On a more general note, I am no stranger to the United States since I was a student at Harvard after graduating from Cambridge University in England, but I am delighted to have the opportunity to visit Texas for the first time.
Before I address my theme, perhaps a few words about myself would be helpful as background. I was born nine weeks premature at three pounds two ounces in 1951, and the oxygen that kept me alive gave me retinopathy of prematurity, blinding my right eye and leaving me with a tiny degree of residual vision in my left, which I ultimately lost in my mid-twenties. I learned to read uncontracted and then contracted Braille, going through a major code revision at the end of primary school. Over the years I acquired a knowledge of Braille codes for French, German, Spanish, Italian, two music codes, two mathematics codes, and two computer Braille codes. After university I joined Sight Savers International and worked in former British colonies designing education, training, and rehabilitation programs for incurably blind people; and the achievement of which I am most proud was the development of the first major computer-driven Braille production system outside the Western World, the African Braille Centre, which started life before the Internet couriering Braille books on floppy discs to embossers in a number of countries. During that period I worked in more than fifty countries and was involved in Braille policy and production in almost all of them. Later, after leaving Sight Savers to run my own IT consultancy, I chaired the United Kingdom Association of Braille Producers, sat on the Braille Authority of the United Kingdom, and took an early interest in the Unified English Braille (UEB) code. I also edited the UK peer-reviewed journal on blindness, the British Journal of Visual Impairment, which is very similar to your Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, which brought me into contact with many teachers of blind children, and I have taken a very special personal interest in libraries. I say all of this because, although I cannot hope to convince everybody of the rightness of what I am going to say, at least I am speaking from practical experience and not as a theorist.
Braille is on the verge of a global catastrophe as great as that which the music industry faced in the late 1990s and as great as that now being faced by conventional book, magazine, and newspaper publishers; and, if we do not do something radical to save it, we, the baby boomers, will be the last generation to take Braille seriously.
There are five major clusters of issues feeding into this crisis:
Audio: The appeal of analogue audio was obvious from the start, and to its many virtues we can now add the cost reduction and flexibility of interaction provided by TTS. The last two decades have also seen an explosion of factual spoken-word broadcasting. The problem here is that, as the result of sloppy thinking, some educators think that audio text is equivalent to the Braille reading experience. But there is something very particular in our culture about text before our eyes or under our fingers quite distinct from the audio experience. Facility with symbolic language is a basic literacy which access to audio cannot readily provide, but the initial cost differential between audio and hardcopy Braille production is now being further widened by the falling cost of TTS.
Epidemiology: In most developed countries the number of blind children with no additional disabilities is falling while the number of blind children with additional disabilities is rising. For the past 120 years the life force behind Braille has been congenitally blind children. Some adventitiously blind people have learned Braille, but many of the small number with the inclination have been alienated by the pressure for a contracted Braille default. Many blind children with additional disabilities will manage uncontracted Braille at best. This is a global trend which has begun in the West but will rapidly extend as a consequence of improved medical services in such countries as China, India, Brazil, and South Africa.
Mystification: I use the term “mystification” to cover a large and complex problem area, but let me try to separate this into the following four elements:
This has meant that the major focus of Braille advocates and Braille authorities, teachers, and publishers, has been on rather arcane coding issues when they might have concentrated their energies on:
Indeed, in recent months I have received enquiries from some of the poorest countries in the world asking if they should establish Braille authorities to deal with coding issues when most of their blind children have no access to any kind of Braille. This orientation means that the gateway to learning Braille has been operated by professionals instead of being an easy-access mass-market product.
Cost. Nobody contemplating the budgetary tribulations of California and, at the other extreme, the decision of South Korea to phase out all paper books in its education system by 2015 can doubt that the cost of Braille is going to put it under pressure with a public sector preference for text-to-speech and, exceptionally, for the use of refreshable Braille displays. Put bluntly, Braille--and particularly hardcopy contracted Braille--will be perceived to be the province of a dying elite.
My broad, conceptual proposal for saving Braille is to democratize it, to take Braille out of the hands of professionals and put it into the hands of the people, and to this end I have six proposals:
In turning to the two major contemporary issues of Braille coding, it is, sadly, necessary for me to begin with an emphatic warning. When I made a similar speech to this one in Leipzig last September, those who disagreed with me quite deliberately misunderstood what I was saying. The key words in my two proposals are, “default" and “choice.” At this point I am tempted to say, "Read my lips," but instead I will simply say as slowly and clearly as I can that I am not proposing to abolish contracted Braille or to prevent anybody who wants to learn and use it from being taught and having access to text in it! I am saying:
Code Choices: In discussing code choices, I want to use Unified English Braille (UEB) as an example. The single major virtue of UEB is that it provides a transparent, reversible relationship between print and Braille symbols. The advantages of this are easy to explain:
Braille Market: Frankly, on both sides of the Atlantic we have made fools of ourselves over these issues. We have made the mistake of the visual impairment sector down the ages, the same mistake we made over residential education and mainstreaming, the same mistake we made over sheltered and open employment, the same mistake we made over the relative merits of Braille and large print. The mistake is that advocates on both sides of the arguments have wanted a universal adherence to their point of view, so opponents have fought each other to a standstill. In spite of this, both sides have continued to behave as if an overwhelming victory and the power of imposition are possible.
How can it be in the United Kingdom and the United States, with our belief in markets and choice, that we haven't allowed the market to show us customer preference? The hand-to-hand fighting over mathematics coding in a top-down hierarchical structure makes nonsense of what technology can offer and what we all believe about choice and markets. I realize that unchecked market theory is as damaging as unchecked autocracy, so we need to achieve a balance and opt for practical, perhaps less elegant, less clear-cut solutions to our problems. In the case of UEB, for example, it might be somewhat inelegant to propose its use in the English-speaking world for all literary Braille but to allow some latitude in mathematics as a temporary measure; this will disentangle majority use from a perfectly understandable concern with an important but nonetheless minority concern. It is time for the experts to put their own concerns into the context of a broad and diverse educational and cultural ecology; it is time for the consumer voice to be heard in support of decisions which will broaden and simplify access and cut costs.
So where does this leave Braille authorities? Well, you have probably gathered by now that I am not very keen on self-appointed bodies with self-appointed powers telling me or anyone else what I can and cannot do or have. But there are still jobs to be done which Braille authorities might do better than individual organizations of or for the blind:
Underlying these proposals, I believe that all Braille authorities should be radically democratized so that consumers and those speaking on behalf of potential consumers--those who are alienated from Braille reading because of current barriers and constraints--should have strong representation. Self-appointed oligarchies of experts are not generally sensitive to either their existing or potential markets but are wrapped up in their own concerns. In a parallel proposal I believe that we should create a market in Braille products that reflects cost and quality, approximately in ascending order of price, as follows:
For half a century most alternative-format publishers in the world have offered their customers or beneficiaries a choice between very expensive and subsidized hardcopy, contracted Braille, and real audio. Digital alternatives are now possible, and the issue for most publishers is whether they are able to disentangle their book sales from their free lending model. There may still be some latitude in lending, but my own experience is that it will steadily decline in richer countries, and in poorer countries the cost of hardcopy publishing and lending has to be balanced against the Internet transmission of digital files. The fly in this lovely pot of ointment is of course copyright, but I suspect that publishers would be less hostile if the global blindness community was more sympathetic to paying publishers than paying lobbyists to get free product.
Another dimension in quality and time, again in ascending price, is:
In England, a quarter of a century after the first Braille translation software, RNIB was still offering only real audio books and proofread hardcopy Braille, delivered up to two years after print publication. Is that true here? And is it, as I suspect, true almost everywhere? Customers should be allowed to purchase on the basis of quality, price, and timeliness. We at the RNIB are also considering issuing unproofread fiction simultaneously with print publication, giving our readers product vouchers for logging errors.
Multi-Modal: I want to begin my remarks on multi-modal Braille learning, i.e., learning to read dots with simultaneous support from speech and on-screen magnified print, by telling two stories. In a small school for blind children in the shadow of the Himalayas, I saw blind children, like monks from the Middle Ages, copying old Braille texts with stylus and frame, replicating previous mistakes and adding their own new ones. Perhaps one in twenty of them would graduate to be the class teacher of the next generation of child monks. At the other end of the sophistication spectrum, somewhere in Scandinavia, I recently visited the most sophisticated rehabilitation center in the world. There I saw Braille learners studying alone from hardcopy sheets. Meanwhile, in the next room newly blinded adults with residual vision were learning how to use screen magnification on lovely computers which ironically were equipped with refreshable Braille displays. Without being explicit, Braille had become associated with failure and isolation, which might explain its declining popularity. We're selling it, not as a new opportunity but as a last resort. But the Scandinavian experience also gave me the worrying thought that teachers who self-identify through their Braille teaching somehow think that adopting a multi-modal approach is a form of cheating since it makes it easier to learn Braille. There is every educational reason why children and adults should learn Braille on refreshable displays with TTS and screen magnification so that Braille is acquired within a supportive environment.
If we look at Braille as a commodity, then we can say that it is:
This leads me to two economic recommendations:
End User Braille Embossing: one element of market choice that should be considered is end-user Braille embossing. Many Braille users have the expertise and the time to run files through their computers and send them to an embosser. This will require a heavy subsidy on Braille paper, but for books on demand with short runs, it would be cheaper to supply the file and the paper to the end user, supplying cheaper paper for products that end users say will be read only once and then recycled. Connected with this is the whole economic question of the advantages and disadvantages of libraries versus nonreturnable Braille-on-demand for certain genres. I have recently been studying this subject, and the real problem of reaching a conclusion is that many practices in Braille production are products of history rather than rational analysis. "Why do you do that?" I asked at a European Braille press. “Because we do,” is the answer.
Refreshable Braille: Apparently the single largest obstacle to providing a tactile alternative to hardcopy Braille production and distribution is the cost of refreshable Braille. I say "apparently" because, as I have just noted, extracting figures from Braille production houses about their real costs is difficult. I do know that the production of a single title in many cases can be as expensive as a 32-cell Braille display, but, if the cost of the display really is the barrier to Braille access, we need to tackle this subject as a matter of urgency so that Braille readers can take advantage of the ebook revolution, leaving specialist blindness agencies with the budget to handle more complex books with savings from supplying hardcopy light fiction.
I am pleased to say that your president and I are of one mind on this issue, and he and his senior officers are joining a global initiative to identify a low-cost solution which will form the basis of products from a very simple single line display with minimal controls to be used in developing countries and to be used by readers of straightforward text to multi-line or whole page displays for students.
This leads me to Braille as a global phenomenon. Our discussions over the English Braille Code and our efforts to attain a level of digital file interchange between organizations serving blind people have shown us that we need to pool expertise to advance the cause of Braille, particularly in:
What we don't want is a world body that replicates our historical mistakes by trying to develop global coding rules. Overall these proposals not only constitute a flexible strategy, they allow the rational allocation of price subsidy by suppliers.
That, if you like, is the nuts and bolts of my presentation, but I want to end on a higher note: freedom. I believe that Braille has been the prisoner of a congenitally blind, highly educated elite for too long and that, if it stays that way, it will die with us but that, if we are as passionate about its future as we are about its present and even its past, then we have a duty to do for Braille what the digital recorder did for music and what the word processor did for publishing. The mistake of both industries was to see the future in terms of the past rather than in its own terms, and they will recover fully only when they see the new situation as an opportunity. We should turn our tradition on its head and make Braille a consumer-focused entity, easy to learn, flexibly available, and responsive to market forces. We have spent far too long burying our heads in our code books, oblivious of the changing world which will not wait for us. In a manner which is repeated over and over again in history, we have adopted the classic defensive posture of the besieged, arguing over ever more arcane points as the enemy's grip tightens. It is time to break out. It is time to abandon old quarrels and let the citizen and the consumer decide; it is time to abandon old prejudices and read and respect research; it is time to recognize the new technologies for Braille production; and it is time to plan for an era when public sector expenditure will decrease and when philanthropy might falter. Above all, it is time to think of ourselves, not as the custodians of a precious past, but as the advocates for an exciting future.
by Ronit Ovadia-Mazzoni
From the Editor: Ronit Ovadia was a 2005 NFB scholarship winner and is a former member of the National Association of Blind Students board. She currently lives in California with her husband and son. In this article, which first appeared in the Summer 2012 Student Slate, she talks about her unique career choice and the techniques she uses to accomplish her goals.
The first question people always ask me when I tell them I am a genetic counselor is "What is that, and do you counsel genes?" The next question is "And how do you do that as a blind person?" Before I talk about being a blind genetic counselor, I'd like to give a quick description of what a genetic counselor does. We are healthcare professionals who talk to patients about genetic risks for themselves and their family members. There are three types of counseling: prenatal, pediatric, and cancer. In prenatal counseling pregnant patients are told of the risks for birth defects for their child, and, if there is a test which indicates a higher risk for a genetic condition, counselors educate them about these risks and offer further testing. In pediatric counseling children with developmental delays or medical problems suggestive of a genetic condition are evaluated and tests are offered. In cancer counseling families are evaluated for a possibility of a genetic predisposition to cancer.
I found out about genetic counseling in high school, and, after job shadowing a genetic counselor to learn more about the profession, I decided that I wanted to pursue this as a career. In college I majored in biology and psychology to prepare myself for a master’s in genetic counseling. I went to Northwestern University for my master’s and spent two years rotating through various hospitals and clinics getting my training. I then worked for two years in a prenatal clinic in southern California before deciding to take a short break to stay at home with my son, who was born last year.
So how do I perform the visual parts of my job? Actually, genetic counseling is mostly nonvisual; however, some things do make it a little more challenging. For example, genetic counselors obtain family history information from patients and are expected to draw a pedigree, which is a visual representation of this information. The pedigree has circles representing females, squares representing males, and lines connecting the people to show relationships. Text is written to describe any medical problems that may be present in the family. In order to do this, I asked my now husband, who is a computer programmer, to write me a program to create these drawings for me based on the text information I enter. The program creates a drawing which can be printed out and put in the patient's chart.
The only other issue that sometimes comes up is obtaining information from patient charts. Depending on whether the chart is electronic or on paper, I use a combination of technology, scanning, and hiring a human reader to read to me. During my two years at my first job, I hired a reader who helped me with this task. I worked at a very busy clinic, seeing twelve to fifteen patients a day, which is quite a lot for a genetic counselor.
The most challenging part of being a blind genetic counselor is not the logistics of the job itself. Rather, it is convincing others that I am capable. Disabled people who work in healthcare are not very common, so most people don't have a lot of experience with capable disabled people. In addition, the medical model is to cure disabilities, so naturally most people think that a blind person would not be able to work in a healthcare setting. In addition to wondering about how I use computers and read charts, people are always curious about how patients react to having a blind genetic counselor. This has been a positive for me because I am able to provide details from my own life which help patients realize that disabled people can live full, productive lives.
Constantly having to convince others that I am capable can get exhausting, and I often have to step out of my comfort zone and act confident even when I don't feel it. However, I always try to keep in mind a few things. First, I always have the National Federation of the Blind as a support network. Second, I never lose sight of why I entered the field in the first place: because I love science, and I want to help people understand their medical situations and make informed choices. Whenever I get frustrated, I remember that my determination has gotten me further than I ever thought possible, and I want to be a successful genetic counselor more than anything. I hope that, after reading my story, you too will have the courage to dream big and have the determination to follow those dreams because as blind people we can do anything we set our minds to.
by Stephen King
From the Editor: On Wednesday afternoon, July 4, 2012, Jim Gashel was asked to come to the national convention podium to introduce Stephen King, the president of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium. The NFB is a member of this group, dedicated to getting more books for the blind to read with our fingers, ears, or eyes. Here is what Mr. King has to say about the book famine in the U.S. and the U.K.:
Good afternoon, friends. It's great to be here in Dallas. This is my first visit to Texas, so it's fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Maurer and Jim for inviting me. What I am going to do in fifteen minutes, because I promised Dr. Maurer I shan’t be any more than fifteen minutes, is to tell you who the DAISY Consortium are. I want to bring you some good news about the book famine and tell you there's light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not a train; it's some ebooks, and it's going to load Braille on that train too. I also want to tell you about our gift to the world.
Do you remember the fountain pen? Do you remember the typewriter? Do you remember optical character recognition that Ray Kurzweil brought us? Well the ebook, the great navigable ebook, is also our gift to the world, and I want to tell you about the way the DAISY Consortium wants to make sure that Braille readers are not left behind in the ebook revolution as well. [Applause] Last, I want to tell you your support underscores your leadership team, who have been fantastic, and we really need that to continue, and thank you for your continued support.
I don't have to tell you about the reality of the book famine. Fewer than 5 percent of books are available in any sort of accessible format. Here in the U.S. that finding was based on some studies in 2004 and similar in the UK. You heard Maryanne Diamond, president of the World Blind Union, tell us we're really well off here; it's much worse elsewhere. That means that the World Blind Union set out something called the Right to Read Campaign, and here in the U.S. I believe that's called the Reading Rights Coalition. We want the right to read the same book at the same time and at the same price as everybody else. [Applause] That's what we want. [Applause]
Who are the DAISY Consortium, and what's our role in making that a reality? We're the consortium of not-for-profit organizations serving people with disabilities and their friends, and the technology companies, and increasingly the publishing companies as well. We've got worldwide membership. We have fifty countries involved in our consortium from the U.S., Latin America, the EU, China, Africa, and Asia. We've got all continents, barring Antarctica. But we do have Iceland. We're looking at Antarctica; there must be some blind people there too, but all we find is penguins at the moment. [Laughter]
Here in the U.S. the National Library Service, Learning Ally, Bookshare, the National Federation of the Blind's NEWSLINE, lots of universities: they're all part of the DAISY Consortium, and they are all using the technology and the standards that we have developed to deliver a better way to read. A better way to read is solving only part of the problem. Actually we need a better way to publish. Publishers need a better way to publish, and that is what our vision is. So the vision of the DAISY Consortium is that people have equal access to the information and knowledge, regardless of their disability, and our job is to create the best way to read and publish for everybody in the twenty-first century by delivering a global partnership. That's the official vision and mission of the DAISY Consortium.
We started with transforming talking books services, but what we realized is that these assistive services are great, but we're never going to break that 5 or 10 percent of all books available. We've got to tackle the ninety percent that are not available. That means we've got to transform mainstream publishing, and that's what we do.
First we started, as we should, by asking people with print disabilities what they wanted, and they said very straightforward things—the things you know. I want to easily find publications I can read. I want far better availability of Braille and talking books. I want more publications I can read with accessibility built in. I want a great reading experience, whether I read with my eyes, ears, fingers, or any combination of all of those. Last I want affordable reading technologies. So this is the journey we are setting out to tackle, and I'm going to tell you there is good news on that journey.
We also talked to authors and publishers, and they said to us, "Actually we want to reach a wider audience. We want to reach everybody." We talked to my namesake, Stephen King. He doesn't want you guys not to be able to read his books. He wants you to be able to buy them and read them like everybody else. Publishers: they want to sell you books too. They want to profit from you just like they do from everybody else. They're good people too, but actually they don't know the way, so they asked us to give them a way to do this.
When we talked to governments, we got the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Governments want a solution to this, and they pass inclusive laws, but actually they struggle to find a way to deliver it. They also want effective use of their funds. So everybody wants an inclusive publishing model, but how do we do it?
Well, for us the opportunity is in the ebook revolution. You may not know about it; it's happening all around us; it's happening particularly in the English-speaking countries as we speak, but, interestingly, more ebooks were sold this year than print books. So we've gotten to the stage that fifty percent of everything that's sold is already an ebook, and it's only just beginning.
Last year Dr. Maurer heard me say that in the U.K. people with print disabilities are increasingly able to enjoy the same book at the same price and place as everybody else. If you want to actually see some blind people talking about the revolution in their reading that ebooks has caused, then go and Google on YouTube, look for the terms “ebooks” and “RNIB,” and you'll find a video of them talking about their experience.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, because we've done some research. It is based in the U.K., but we're pretty similar to lots of other well-developed countries, particularly here in the U.S. That study said that the 5 percent of books that were available last year moved to 7 percent this year. But, when we looked at the top one-thousand books published in 2010, more than half were readable with your eyes, ears, or fingers. [Applause] I can tell you now that we reran that survey in January of this year, and nearly 70 percent of those top one-thousand bestsellers in 2011 you can read with your fingers. That's fantastic progress and evidence.
But there's loads more to do. There are huge problems still to solve, and that's what we're doing. The opportunity, though, is that the publishing industry is undergoing great change, massive change, a disruptive change--so now is the opportunity to help them shape their industry for the future. This includes all of us in this room, whether we read with our eyes, our ears, or our fingers. [Applause]
So we've got the attention of the publishing industry who say, "Yes, help us"; we've got the attention of governments. The really cool thing is that we've got great people in key positions in the consortium. We're led by George Kerscher, who is in this room, from Missoula, Montana. Many of you know him. He is the president of something called IDPF, International Digital Publishers Forum, and they're setting the standards for ebooks. Marcus Gylling, who is the technical director of the DAISY Consortium, is also the technical director of IDPF. We have Maryanne Diamond, whom you met this morning, who's working very hard at the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) reforming the copyright law.
We have great people in pole positions, and, last, we've got the technology that publishers need. You guys have been ebook readers for years; and you know about navigation, you know about multimedia, and you know what a great reading experience that can be. Actually the general public is beginning to wake up to that. Publishers are beginning to realize that they can deliver fantastic books with that technology.
So the fountain pen, the typewriter, the long-playing record, speech recognition, and speech synthesis--all developed for blind people--to this we can add navigable ebooks. I want to say to industry that we need to build in accessibility right now, but we need to ask the question, accessible to whom? Accessible to people who can use assistive technologies—that's great—but many people still struggle with assistive technologies, to use them and to afford them. We have to deliver accessibility to them.
I think we're still going to have what I call “customized books”: some Braille books, books with picture descriptions, books with narration—all are still going to be needed. We have to build that into our model. But we've got to put our own house in order too. We can't go on duplicating. The DAISY Consortium did a study on Harry Potter—you remember the Harry Potter books? [Yeah] Well, did you know that across the world we managed to transcribe the Harry Potter books seven times into English Braille and seven times into talking books. What a waste. We could have done it once and used all those resources to do more books. We have to solve that problem.
We also need a Braille code which faithfully translates ebooks both backwards and forwards. You heard a colleague over there say, "If I enter it in Braille, will it render properly into print?" We need a Braille code that works, and I know great leaders here are beginning to tackle that problem.
We need a low-cost Braille display that will allow people to read ebooks. [Applause] I salute the work that Deane Blazie and company have done to bring down the cost of Braille displays, but we need to bring that down from $2,500 to $3,000. [Applause] Today the Consortium is doing this as a major project, and to do that we're bringing in colleagues from developing countries as well because there are huge numbers of Braille readers in India in particular. They all speak English and use it in their education. So, by bringing them into the market and increasing the volume enormously, we think we can change the cost of Braille displays by creating a simple display, and that's our job. [Applause]
My job is to make sure that people can read what they want, when they want, and how they want, and I think it's deliverable. But the National Federation of the Blind's leadership role is vital. On the board we've got Jim Gashel, whom you heard, and I'm very grateful to Dr. Maurer and your colleagues for tackling publishers who don't think about people with print disabilities. We've got the support of George Kerscher, our secretary general, and we had Anne Taylor organizing a crucial publisher conference in New York just a couple of weeks ago. Thank you for that really steadfast support, and please help continue your support of the DAISY Consortium, because together we can actually end the book famine. [applause]
by Mary Ellen Gabias
From the Editor: Mary Ellen Gabias is a leader and a founding member of the Canadian Federation of the Blind. Before marrying Dr. Paul Gabias and moving to Canada, she was a member of the National Federation of the Blind and was employed at the National Center for the Blind. Readers of the Monitor will appreciate once again her insightful writing, her clarity, and her conviction. Here is what she says:
Journeys make me think about travel and moving around. The notion of travelling represents a metaphor for how I live my life and what the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) mean to me. Over the years I have discovered that the stories I tell myself about what has happened to me shape my destiny more than the happenings themselves.
First Paradigm: Don’t move. When I was five, a buddy knocked on my door and asked me if I could go outside to play cops and robbers. My mom said yes, but she asked me to stay in the backyard. "Don’t go near the side yard. Workers are repairing the septic tank," Mom said.
If I had listened to my mom that day, I wouldn’t be telling this story now. All I can say in defense of my five-year-old self is that, when Elliot Ness was in hot pursuit of Al Capone, he probably didn’t remember everything his mother told him either. I will spare you the details, except that, when I was running full speed ahead and suddenly there was no ground under me, it felt like I was flying--until gravity won. My mother stated the lesson from that event simply: "You pay a price when you don’t pay attention." How grateful I am that was her message. It so easily could have been "Don’t run; it’s too dangerous."
My parents encouraged me to move on my own, but unfortunately other people and several circumstances did not. My brothers usually parked their bikes in the wrong places; it is amazing how many bruises one can get from falling over a bicycle. Many people said, "Don’t worry; I’ll do it; you might fall; just sit there." So the idea that moving was scary entered my consciousness.
A long white cane would have made things easier for me, but my parents told themselves a story that, along with a tin cup and a handful of pencils, the cane was part of the beggar’s badge. So I became afraid to move because I lacked that tool.
Second Paradigm: Exploring is fun. In grade two I learned about explorers: Christopher Columbus, Magellan--those brave people who went out and discovered new continents. Our school’s acreage was relatively small, but it felt enormous. I set out to explore every inch of it--charting unknown territories. Without a cane to check out the ground ahead of me, my explorations were more arduous than they needed to be. Even so, I began to believe that life was fun; getting around was an adventure. Then home to Mom’s cupcakes--no starving in the wilderness! So the idea that exploring was a joy became part of my life.
Third Paradigm: Am I good enough? I heard the family of another blind student talking about cane travel. They said of their child, "He moves as fast as a sighted person." I wanted that. I begged for cane travel lessons and insisted that my parents change their story about what it meant to use a white cane.
I was instructed by an orientation and mobility specialist trained in Boston. She called herself a "peripetologist"--a pretentious and intentionally manufactured Greek word, meaning the science of getting around. I learned the two-point touch, three-point-touch, touch-and-slide, touch-and-drag. I learned to go with a sighted person the first time I went anywhere to make sure the new route was safe.
The third paradigm became: "Am I doing it right? Am I a good traveler or a bad one?" All of these paradigms existed simultaneously. Sometimes I was scared to move, sometimes I was excited, and sometimes I wondered if I was good enough. Then I became involved with the National Federation of the Blind--a growing, changing and dynamic organization in the U.S. My first trip to a Federation convention, where hundreds of blind people gathered together, helped me understand my paradigms better and changed the stories I told myself.
At convention in 1972 far too many people still believed that independent travel meant that not everyone had his or her own sighted guide; independence meant that one guide worked with five or six people. Groups of us travelled by train--not Amtrak or light rail--but a train in which the sighted person guided five or six blind people who hung on for dear life. Heaven help you if the trains got tangled up. The sighted people would get into arguments about who had the right of way and which train should move. The blind people stood patiently waiting, while the sighted settled the matter.
I also encountered a new and exciting spirit at that convention. Canes tapped; people walked by themselves with their heads high, with speed, with joy. Sometimes one person linked arms with a less confident colleague, or sweethearts held hands. I deliberately followed those confident travelers around the hotel and the downtown Chicago streets and imitated everything they did. I added yet another paradigm to my list.
Fourth Paradigm: "Of course, I travel; I’ve got places to go, and I’m going to get there." Blind people live with all of these paradigms of travel and life. Yes, sometimes moving seems too dangerous; sometimes it is an adventure to explore and try new things; sometimes self-doubt stops us from trying at all. But more and more, because of the Canadian Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind, blind people travel because they have places to go. The techniques are the same; the stories are different. Federation conventions change your life. You cannot imagine, until you go, the many empowering stories you will hear and the way these stories will change your life and the lives of others in many subtle ways.That day, when I was playing cops and robbers, if my mother had said, "Don’t move, it’s too dangerous," my plunge into the septic tank would not have been just a humorous story. It would have ended my desire to move and dream on my own. I would have become afraid that independent action would lead me into the mire, instead of learning that, when you pay attention, you don’t have to pay a price. I am grateful to my parents and to everyone in the Federation for helping me understand those lessons, for teaching me the way, and for sharing my journey.
by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: Curtis Chong is second to none in his knowledge of technology and his ability to write about it. He is president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science and works for the Iowa Department for the Blind as the director of field operations and access technology. Here is what he has to say about the latest incarnation of the iBill money reader:
It never ceases to amaze me how many people believe that for the blind the independent management of paper money is a daunting task. I have been totally blind since I was born, and I have been using paper money ever since I was able to scrape enough together to change ten dimes into a dollar bill. It never even occurred to me that I shouldn't be handling paper currency simply because I couldn't see it.
Of course everyone who is blind has run into those situations where someone hands you a bill, and you have no way of knowing what it is. Have you ever been standing at a bus stop and had a fellow passenger ask you if you had change for a five? Before currency identifiers came on the scene, a blind person had to trust that indeed he or she was being given a five-dollar bill.
The problem becomes more acute if you are selling items to customers over the counter. My first real job was the operation of a newsstand at an airport. People handed me paper money all the time, and there were many occasions when I had to trust that I was being given a five, ten, or twenty-dollar bill. I am happy to report that only in a very small number of cases did someone actually try to deceive me.
How is this different today? Aside from the fact that more business now seems to be conducted using credit or debit cards, a number of devices now on the market help the blind identify paper currency. Those of you who use the Apple iPhone can use the $10 Money Reader program developed by Looktel, which identifies American and foreign paper currency with incredible ease. However, if you don't have an iPhone and are looking for affordable technology to help you identify American paper currency, have you considered the iBill®, developed and sold by Orbit Research?
On September 18, 2012, Orbit Research announced the availability of the new iBill, which is priced at $119. When the original iBill was released in late 2009 for $99, I thought then that the company had a real winner. Back then other currency identifiers were priced over $300, and they were too large—so large, in fact, that they could not fit in your pocket. The original iBill, on the other hand, was light, small, and priced under $100. Moreover, it could speak, beep, or vibrate; and people who were deaf and blind could use it.
Often, when companies extol the virtues of their products, my skepticism kicks in, and I choose to wait until I can verify the company's assertions through personal experience. In the case of the iBill, Orbit Research claimed that it was able to identify paper currency in less than a second and that it was better than 99.9 percent accurate. In my experience the iBill has never misidentified paper currency; the worst thing that happens is that you get a message which says "error," which means that you should try reading the currency again, and this happens so rarely that I can't remember the last time it happened to me. For the hundreds of times I have asked the iBill to read paper currency, it has always come through in less than a second.
As good as the iBill was back in late 2009, two problems were frequently reported. First, some people thought that the iBill needed an earphone jack to support private announcements about currency denominations. Second, while it was very easy to insert newer currency into the reading slot, older paper money would often not slide in quite so easily, making the reading experience more than a little frustrating. I am pleased to report that both of these problems have been quite handily solved with the second generation of the iBill. Moreover, the new iBill comes with other improvements as well.
* The buttons on the new iBill are recessed so that they cannot be inadvertently pressed when it is in a purse or pocket.
* The new iBill has an earphone jack, meaning that you can now have your currency read out loud without other people listening (an earphone can be obtained from Orbit Research).
* A new and improved reading slot makes it easier to insert older currency.
* The volume has been enhanced so that it can speak louder than ever.
The bottom line for me is that, even though the price of the new iBill is $20 more than the original, it is still well worth the price—that is, if you are looking for a reliable, long-lasting, and durable currency identifier. I know that those of you who use the iPhone will tell me that you have an app that is far less expensive than the iBill. Yes, this is true. But, if you are not one of those people who have been fortunate enough to afford the iPhone, the iBill is there for you—and at an affordable price.
The iBill can be purchased directly from Orbit Research through its website: <http://www.orbitresearch.com>. For more information contact Orbit Research, 3422 Old Capitol Trail, Suite 585, Wilmington, Delaware 19808, Phone: (888) 606-7248; email <[email protected]>.
Comments From Orbit Research
Orbit Research would like to thank our customers for providing invaluable feedback that enabled us to make the new model even easier to use than the original one. We believe this model will also be more user-friendly for seniors. We have also made its design sleeker and rounded to make it even more convenient to carry in a pocket or purse. A ring now comes installed for attaching it to a key-ring or lanyard. A custom-designed leather case is also available, providing protection and the ability to clip on to a belt or purse strap. The unit is fully upgradable to accommodate new banknote designs. We offer a thirty-day money-back satisfaction guarantee and back the product with a one-year warranty covering manufacturing defects.
From the Editor: The public is interested in blind people. It is a good thing they are, for that interest fuels public support and offers us a listening ear when we want to tell the world that what they think about our lives doesn’t square with our reality. One unfortunate aspect of this public interest is that almost any blind person with anything to say is quoted and is often portrayed as offering the definitive word on the experience of being blind.
In 2007 a young man named Ben Underwood got significant coverage for his use of echolocation, a way many of us can listen to reflected sound and detect buildings, parked cars, and other objects that are otherwise silent. When coupled with the use of a dog or cane, echolocation can be very helpful, but most blind people cannot use it without the aid of another tool to find curbs, steps, or small obstacles such as poles or signs. It is a wonderful supplement but does not replace the primary travel tools that make independent mobility possible. When Mr. Underwood got some significant publicity for his use of the technique and was portrayed as believing echolocation made unnecessary the other tools most of us depend upon for independent travel, Chris Danielsen tried to provide some adult perspective on facing the world as a blind person. Most of us know the difficult journey we had in finding a travel tool and then in selling it to families who weren’t happy about anything that made us look blind. We remember how the blind man with the cane too often conjured in our friends and loved ones the memory of a blind beggar they had seen and their resolve to see that we would inherit a better future. Chris tried to address these concerns and in articulating them upset a gentleman who came across the article. Here is what Kai Zander wrote in an email probably intended to reach the Monitor editor--with slight editing to correct punctuation for clarity--followed by President Maurer’s response.
From: Kai Zander
Subject: Braille Monitor article "What It Means to Walk with a White Cane" by Chris Danielsen
To whom it may concern:
I am doing research for a project and just came across a 2007 article in the Braille Monitor entitled "What It Means to Walk with a White Cane" by Chris Danielsen. While this is a five-year-old article, there are comments written by Mr. Danielsen that I cannot shrug off. I am floored that NFB would allow an adult to make fun of, insult, and criticize a child in a published article.
Allow me to backtrack: I am not blind. I do not pretend to understand the struggles the blind and visually impaired must endure on a daily basis. I am not writing you today to slight those difficulties. I came across the article while doing research for a picture book manuscript that I am working on. My main character happens to be blind. As I do not wish to insult or stereotype the community, I have spent countless hours reading articles, watching documentaries and YouTube videos about the blind--specifically blind children. Unsurprisingly, I came across a few articles and documentaries about Ben Underwood, the boy who could "see" with his ears using echolocation instead of a white cane to get around. It's one of those stories that remind people that 1) we haven’t seen it all, 2) the (seemingly) impossible is possible, and 3) believing in yourself and having a positive attitude can change your world. It is a powerful lesson, and Ben Underwood is (despite his untimely death in 2009) a symbol of hope for a lot of people--blind, sighted, old, young, black, white, etc.
Because of his unique ability, Ben Underwood got a lot of attention. He was interviewed by many people and was the subject of many articles and news stories. Apparently fourteen-year-old Ben Underwood said some things that greatly offended the adult writer, Chris Danielsen, and Mr. Danielsen responded and let the world know what he thought of young Ben Underwood: "Young Mr. Underwood did not seem to have any qualms about making a show of himself or about being compared to bats or aquatic mammals" said Chris Danielsen.
Having just watched the documentary, I feel this statement is both cruel and misguided. While Mr. Danielsen also says that the general public considers blind people to be helpless and incompetent-- he bashes a kid for being independent and determined. So the kid isn't doing things the traditional way--did a child deserve such disrespect? Mr. Danielsen basically called him a cocky, uninformed teenager who will soon "have to discover for himself the limits of his own capabilities." The subtext here reeks of a desire for this kid to fail.
I am not trying to disrespect the blind community on behalf of every kid that thought the seemingly impossible, every kid who dared to see what others couldn't--why is there such an urge to take that optimism out. That optimism is one of the most wonderful things we have in this world, but according to Chris Danielsen it's wrong.
So the kid said he would never use a white cane. How is that different than Muhammed Ali saying "I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was"? If that's what it took for Ben Underwood to accomplish what he did, then who cares? I don't think he said, "Anyone who uses a cane is horrible"--he just said that HE wouldn't. Mr. Danielsen took the comments personally and reacted too strongly to a child's comments.
I'm angry that this article still stands on the bulletin. Shouldn't NFB advocate embracing all philosophies? Instead it seems you allowed an adult to target a child. In my book that is unacceptable. It would be different if the scientists who wanted to study Ben Underwood were targeted--but they weren't. It would even be different if the article was written as an open letter to Ben Underwood's family explaining (nicely and respectfully) that the white cane is not a sign of weakness, but they weren't. The article easily could've attacked the media, but it didn't. The comments targeted a minor as the problem-maker; it's a 14-year-old’s fault why people think the white cane is a sign of weakness. A part of your community that you all should be protecting the most was fair game for attacks because why? He was on Oprah? He said something you didn't like? Ben Underwood will never be able to respond to Chris Danielsen's comments as a peer, because he will never be an adult.
I get what Mr. Danielsen was trying to say, but the part about "making a show of himself" and saying basically that he's just another cocky, dumb teenager who doesn't get it was cruel. The article could have been written so much better. Educate us on the power of the stick, without needing to take away Ben Underwood's power.
I do not know the world of the blind, but I do know bullying when I see it. You all let Chris Danielsen target a kid. And three years after his death, Ben Underwood’s inspirational story is stained by this article.
South African double amputee and Olympian, Oscar Pistorius said, "You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have". Ben Underwood had an ability. Why does the community seem so determined to deny him of this?
Kai K. Zander
There you have Mr. Zander’s email. Here is what President Maurer wrote in response:
SENT VIA E-MAIL
August 17, 2012
Mr. Kai K. Zander
Dear Mr. Zander:
Thank you for the thoughts contained in your letter dated August 15, 2012. As you might expect, I disagree with many of the conclusions you reach. I know Chris Danielsen to be a gentle man and a gentleman. I don’t think your characterization of him as a bully is warranted.
One of the problems with blindness is that, unless a blind person conforms to an image of inability and isolation, it is not possible to remain anonymous. In other words, all of us who express individual characteristics are on display and under examination much of the time. Any blind person who demonstrates unusual characteristics becomes the subject of public comment. Those who make outrageous statements are regarded as setting standards that others who are blind must meet. That Ben Underwood did this made of him a public figure. He was regarded as exemplifying a standard that other blind people must emulate. Chris Danielsen disagreed with the standard, and he said so. He had no wish to do any damage to Ben Underwood, but he did wish to behave in such a way that Ben Underwood did no damage to him.
The white cane is a symbol of independence. Ben Underwood did not know this. He caused other people to believe that the white cane is a symbol of dependence and inability. This is wrong, and public comment to say that it is wrong is fair. It might be unfortunate that Ben Underwood did not have the option of anonymity, but it is nonetheless true. Because he was not anonymous and because his comments affect others who are blind, it is reasonable for others who have opinions about his advocacy to express them.
I hope one day you will have the opportunity to meet Chris Danielsen. He is generous and gentle. He also has a very good mind and a wish to be of help to his fellow human beings. He has helped thousands of other blind people to achieve opportunities that they might not have had without him.
Marc Maurer, President
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
by Rebecca Irvin
From the Editor: The following remarks were made at the 2011 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Senior Division and are reprinted from the spring/summer 2012 issue of the Division’s newsletter. Everyone understands the need to ensure that blind children get the education and services that they need to succeed for a lifetime. We recognize how important it is to make inroads in the staggering unemployment rate that plagues blind adults. But perhaps the fastest growing and least effectively addressed need the NFB faces is blind seniors’ lack of skills and increasing hopelessness. What follows is one woman’s description of what she is doing about this problem.
I lost my sight at age fifty-three. I woke up one morning, and everything had gone black. I simply did not know what to do. The only thing I saw in my blind future was death. Finally I came out of my coma and went to a blindness-skills training center. One of the most important things I learned along with the skills was that I could in turn give back to other seniors losing vision.
I tell them my story with a sense of humor and how I gave in and learned the skills of blindness. I frankly answer their questions, and I make them feel that, if I could learn, and I really resisted, they can too. I met the sister of Joe Ruffalo. She told me that I needed to meet Joe and get involved with this nationwide blind organization. Of course I was very impressed, have joined, and have started a chapter.
I go out and find older blind people who have simply been sitting around the house. I get them going again. I travel by myself, and I tell everyone I meet that it is true that I am blind, but so what? The rest of my body parts all work. I used to love reading. Now I have mastered Braille, so I have taken up reading again. Now I teach others to read Braille.
I have support groups. I let each person bring a concern to the table. We all talk it over and find a solution to the problem. At one group we talked about reading mail. Many said a family member would read the mail to the blind person only when he felt like it and would only read what the family member thought was necessary. We all decided it would be much better to find a nonfamily member to do that task. Then we discussed how to find a reader. Some have found readers who do not charge, by putting a note on a bulletin board at a senior center, a library, or place of worship.
I am thrilled to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind; others have given to us, and now we turn around and give to others. It’s a great feeling.
by Jonathan Ice
From the Editor: Jonathan Ice is a cane travel instructor with the Iowa Department for the Blind. He is a longtime Federationist and delivered the following remarks at the 2011 convention seminar of the NFB Seniors Division. They were reprinted in the 2012 spring/summer issue of the Division’s newsletter. He began by pointing out that this was the first time he had given a presentation using Braille notes. He said he had been a high partial and was just now learning Braille. This is what he said:
I am not going to make the assumption that all of you are experienced cane users. I want to talk about the value of the cane and how it is best used. I did not use a cane until I was in mid life, although my vision has not changed. Let me explain why I started using the white cane. Most of the time I could get around all right; my central vision is missing, but I can see around the periphery of my eyes. So what if I cannot see things directly in front of me.
It wasn't until I finally went to an NFB training center and used a cane under sleepshades that I realized that I had been fooling myself. I couldn't read signs, which caused me a lot of problems. I was trying to get around as a sighted person, but I had to ask questions, which confused sighted people. They thought I was really odd for asking about signs and things that were right in front of my face.
The first answer to the question of why use a white cane is for safety. If a person cannot always see stairs or curbs, the cane is a necessity. I know that I have saved myself from some nasty falls. Also, no matter how blind a person is, when you ask for help, the sighted person will usually give detailed directions instead of saying that something is over there, which has no meaning to a blind person.
Basically, the cane acts as an antenna. It alerts the blind person of a change in the space ahead, on, or near the ground. With practice the blind person learns to move into the safe space. One doesn’t want to swing the cane in too wide an arc because this provides unnecessary information and does not provide the data in front of the cane. When the cane does find something in the path, a turn or stop is essential. Besides depending on the cane, the traveler can use hearing to assist. But those who have poor hearing can touch things in the environment with the cane or even the hand to aid them. It is important to keep the cane on the ground during each step. If it is in the air, you can miss a curb or step-down.
I have been asked if I use the same methods when teaching seniors. Since I'm older myself, I realize that I have to use more repetition with older folks. I also stay closer to the senior. If I'm working with a person who is eighty and he or she falls, it might mean a broken hip. A younger person would probably get up and go on.
I teach my students that, if we make a right turn at the corner, a left turn will be required when we turn around to retrace our steps. Sometimes I notice that older people think they know something when they really don't. I just let the senior make the mistake and then figure out that it was not a good choice. When I get a new student, I realize that he or she usually has a lot of fear of being injured or simply being watched as a blind person for the first time. However, after a while these problems usually abate.
People have inquired about using sleepshades with older students. I have found that, if I don’t use them, the older person does not learn because he or she is using limited vision even though it did not work well in the past. At one point I was teaching a group of seniors. The star of the group was eighty-nine. She was safely crossing streets after only four days. She was highly motivated, but she always kept safety in mind. She told the others that, if she could do it, they could too.
I had one older person who had serious problems, and I thought she would have a hard time learning, but she proved me wrong. The part of her brain which had been injured was not involved in travel. Another of my older students was having trouble finding her way around her kitchen, and I was about to give up on her, but one day she got the hang of the layout. Then we progressed out to the porch, then down the steps and finally around the neighborhood. Visiting neighbors was her goal.
If any of you at this meeting have not used a cane before, now you have heard all these stories and might want to give it a try. Everyone I know agrees that the NFB cane with its metal tip is the best. For most seniors, using a backpack or bag with long handles is best for carrying things because they leave the hands free.
by Judy Sanders
From the Editor: Judy Sanders is secretary of the NFB of Minnesota and an active member of the Metro Chapter. The following article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota. This is what she says:
Ah, the wonders and excitement of the Minnesota Great Get-Together! I listen to the sounds—the music, the children laughing, the vendors selling, and the food frying. I smell the food—the grilling, the popcorn, and Sweet Martha's hot chocolate chip cookies. I'm happy and hungry. So I decide to venture through the fairgrounds to find one of the new food items this year sold by Famous Dave's. They're pork cheeks. I'm taking a chance that they taste better than they sound.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have a lot of work to do. Still too many blind people do not know that they can enjoy the fair by themselves. In addition, most members of the public can't imagine how we do it.
I begin by asking at an information booth about where the Famous Dave's dining area is located. I then head in that direction. Using a long white cane at the fair is very handy as it is in any other travel situation. Some people get out of the way; others don't. But everyone is in a good mood, and no one seems to mind when he or she encounters my cane. Periodically I ask for directions to make sure that I am still headed the right way. I arrive and wait in line to place my order. The paper tray in which my feast is sitting is quite heavy. Is it all the food or the stick?
I sit down and tentatively check out what I have. It is several huge chunks of tender pork with lots of gooey barbeque sauce on it. I dig in and discover that it is delicious. But I need to ask another customer where I might find a supply of napkins. Finishing all of it, I am thinking that I really should stop eating. But then I think about the roasted corn and the fact that it is the last day of the fair and my last chance to indulge.
So I reverse my steps to find the corn. I think I am close and decide to confirm my impression. An older couple resting on a bench confirm that I am heading in the right direction and offer to go with me. I tell them that it is not necessary, smile, and keep going. The corn is just across the street.
There are two lines at the corn booth: one for purchasing a ticket and one for getting the corn. I am listening to determine which line gets me a ticket when the lady from the bench comes up to me and says that her husband is getting me a ticket. I know they are trying to be kind, but I am embarrassed to accept the gift. So I ask her to tell her husband not to bother, but she says it is already done. What to do?
My initial reaction was to get three dollars out of my wallet and give it to them. But I had only a twenty, and I could hardly ask them for change. I then remembered Dr. Kenneth Jernigan's eloquent Kernel Book story, "Don't Throw the Nickel," in Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving. He talked about recognizing the right time to accept a gift gracefully that has been given in kindness. So I smiled and said thank you.
Why did they buy the corn? Did they think to brighten my day? Did they think that I could not afford the corn? Whatever their motive, it could not have been because of high expectations for blind people. The corn didn't taste as good as it might have. As I say, we have lots of work to do in the Federation.
Have we made no progress in changing public attitudes? We've made plenty. I think of the number of people I passed at the fair who felt no obligation to help me. Others were courteous when asked for directions. There were curious children who asked their parents about my long stick, and I found a teachable moment. I hope I always remember the nickel but never lose sight of the important lessons we teach and learn through the National Federation of the Blind.
by Michael Bills
From the Editor: Citizens can get books by purchasing them or borrowing them from a library. To have access similar to that enjoyed by the sighted, blind people must work on both fronts. Blio is software that works on many different machines and with many different operating systems to make books available to the book-buying public, and it is accessible by the blind. Now Blio is extending support to libraries. Here is what Michael Bills, director of sales, digital products, Baker and Taylor, has to say about the effort:
Ever since the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450, the ability to see and read words printed with ink on paper has been essential for reading books unless the books have been modified or reproduced in an accessible large-type, audio, or Braille format. Therefore people who are blind or visually impaired have had few options for finding and enjoying books and have often been forced to wait many months or even years before an accessible version becomes available. But, with modern day production of books now in an historic transition from ink on paper to digital bits and bytes, that’s beginning to change. Now libraries across the country are expanding their circulating collections with electronic books and are using technology to make their digital material compatible with screen readers so people with visual impairments can enjoy reading the newest popular fiction and nonfiction titles.
In May Baker & Taylor, the world’s largest distributor of print and digital books, released a fully accessible version of its Axis 360 digital media library, making this important ebook service fully compatible with the leading screen-reader technologies such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, NVDA, and System Access to Go. This new service provides libraries with a complete solution for patrons that meets accessibility requirements in accordance with the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state laws. When combined with the free Blio eReading app--designed by Ray Kurzweil and K-NFB Reading Technology--patrons who are blind, or those with other reading disabilities, are able to navigate the Axis 360 website and explore their library’s digital collection, easily find and borrow items of interest, and have them read aloud using Blio running on Windows PCs or on Apple or Android mobile devices.
Issuing a statement to announce the new release of Axis 360, NFB President Marc Maurer said: “We are thrilled that the Axis 360 platform will enable libraries to open up the world of ebooks to the blind and to millions of other persons with reading disabilities throughout the United States. There is no other solution libraries can offer that provides the full spectrum of content choices, tools, and ease of use for people who have difficulty reading or people who cannot read ordinary print. We are eager to work with libraries across the country to ensure that they fully exploit what Axis 360 can uniquely offer.”
The availability of new content is important to people such as Lisamaria Martinez, thirty-one, who works at the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco. Like many blind people who enjoy books, Lisamaria receives digital editions of books from the National Library Service’s Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website. She listens to three to five books a week, mostly as she rides to and from work on the bus.
“My only issue is that they don’t always have books that I want to be reading,” she says. “I’m totally about popular fiction, while they’re uploading a lot of political books or biographies. For people who like those subjects, that’s great, but for people who don’t, I think, `Please download more popular fiction!’”
She hasn’t tried ebooks from her library, she says, because she suspects librarians would steer her toward ebooks for eReading devices that lack talking menus and accessible text. But she says she just stumbled across news about Axis 360 and Blio and plans to give it a try.
George Coe, president of Library & Education for Baker & Taylor, says developing technologies for the visually impaired helps libraries ensure that they are fulfilling their charter to serve every member of the community. “We all know that interest in ebooks is surging,” he says. “But we want to make sure no one who wants to take advantage of ebooks is left behind. Now visually-impaired individuals can share in the convenience, excitement, and enjoyment of the newest and best digital content.”
For more information about the free Blio eReading software and to establish a free Blio account for use on up to five PC or mobile devices, please visit <http://www.meetblio.com/>. For more information about Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 service for libraries, visit <http://www.baker-taylor.com/axis360/>. Above all, be sure to ask your public library about plans being made to offer ebooks through Axis 360.
by Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library.
Diane McGeorge has been a fixture of the Federation for many years, during which time she has served the movement in many ways. The lengthy list of leadership roles she has occupied for over thirty years includes affiliate president of the NFB of Colorado (1976 to 1991 and 1995 to 2005), member of the NFB board of directors (1977 to 2004), NFB first vice president (1984 to 1992), and long-standing logistical overseer of the Washington Seminar. In addition to this she is the dynamic founder of the Colorado Center for the Blind, a training facility rooted in the positive philosophy of the NFB, which she directed from its founding in 1988 until 1999. These days McGeorge may be best known as the door prize maven—and President Maurer’s main competition for the microphone—during the general session of the NFB annual convention. But no matter which role she has played in your life, it is safe to say that few if any NFB members today do not know of Diane McGeorge, her bright smile, her warm voice, and her tireless work for the organized blind movement.
What newer Federationists may not know is that during the early days of her involvement with the NFB, McGeorge’s outgoing personality was at times upstaged by her faithful and precocious guide dog Pony. With a name like “Pony,” perhaps inevitably this guide dog made a big impression on people everywhere that he went, and even now the simple mention of his name calls forth fond memories. Patricia Maurer recently remarked that McGeorge has always done a wonderful job handling her guide dogs, but, “Pony once in a while was just a dog. I remember Pony eating a stick of butter from the bottom shelf on a cart during a dinner event. At a state convention Pony snatched a doughnut from a chair. After all, it was at Pony’s level.” But, in spite of these canine antics, she remembers Pony as a good, well-trained guide dog who knew how to work and was loved by many.
Even Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, known to prefer using a cane, was moved to comment about this friendly creature in the May 1976 edition of the Braille Monitor. He declared that, “[A]lthough I do not use a dog myself, (preferring a cane), I am not `anti-dog.’ Ask Diane McGeorge. She can tell you that I would fight for Pony, and (by the way) he would fight for me.” Given such a touching declaration, it wasn’t long before Dr. Jernigan received an undoubtedly unexpected response innocently tucked behind an update on the state of the Colorado affiliate from McGeorge on May 25, 1976. Now, carefully preserved as part of the institutional records of the National Federation of the Blind, here is the letter:
Dear Mr. Jernigan,
I want to thank you for being so kind as to mention me in the May Monitor as well as on the presidential release. (Bark, bark). In addition, I feel it is my duty to report on Diane’s progress as state president, so, if I say anything self incriminating, please be prepared to rush to my defense. (Lick, lick). There have been no threats of chapter dissolution, so I suppose she’s doing a fairly decent job, and, though making herself heard is the least of her problems, she relies heavily on her ghost writers to assist in correspondence etc., but please remember, all this is in the strictest confidence. After all, if I don’t stay in her good graces, she might cut down on my chow rations, and I don’t have to tell you how unbearable that would be.
I will continue in advising her on the most important issues, and hopefully she will be wise enough to follow my suggestions. I am a quiet soul, but a loving one, and it has been my experience most people respond to love. This is not to say that I would ever walk away from the barricades. I am a Federationist through and through, and I am constantly doing my best to live down my humble beginnings in that unmentionable training school [Leader Dogs of Michigan, immortalized in Federation history by inclusion of the song, “Leader Dawg,” which is often played as part of the wake-up concert at the National Center for the Blind.].
Since this is my first attempt at self expression, I’m about to drool on the paper from fatigue and excitement, so I shall close for now. I’d hate to spoil my message with paw prints.
From the Editor: Richard Seltzer’s little publishing company has been providing classic books in plain text format for the blind for nineteen years. Now they have opened a new download ebook store, Quench Editions, <http://www.samizdat.com/quencheditions/>, so you can get organized book collections directly online. Here is his description:
We have been selling books in plain text format since I met Diane Croft, then an editor at the National Braille Press, and she explained to me how important plain text books are to the blind. Rather than go through the time-consuming and constraining process of trying to set up a nonprofit company and seek grants, I simply did what I thought should be done, the way I thought it should be done, setting up a self-sustaining business that provided classic books for pennies a piece. That became part of the small publishing business that I already ran with my wife Barbara--B&R Samizdat Express. (B stands for Barbara, R for Richard [me], and Samizdat is Russian for "self-published.")
First we provided individual books on diskette; later we migrated to large, organized collections of books on CD and DVD. Now, while continuing to sell the CDs and DVDs through our Yahoo Store <http://samizdat.stores.yahoo.net/>, we offer similar collections by download. That means that the blind no longer have to deal with storing, finding, and using physical objects. With the high speed of today's personal computers and the Internet and with the huge storage space available on hard drives and other memory devices, CDs and DVDs are becoming obsolete. Downloads are now quick and easy. Many sighted people now use eReaders (Nook, Kobo, Sony, Kindle, etc.), and we wanted to serve them. But we also wanted to continue to serve the blind. And, when we asked our blind customers, they told us overwhelmingly that, despite advances in technology, plain text books are still important to them. So, in addition to selling single books and small groups of books in e-reader formats (ePub, PDF, and PRC), we converted many of our plain-text book-collection CDs to downloadable files. Over 20,000 books are available in these collections, and, if you like, you can buy all of them in a single transaction.
The customer gets a zipped file, with books organized in folders and subfolders by author or category. The file names are the book titles, not codes or abbreviations, and there's an index document, listing all the hundreds or thousands of books in that collection, with active links to every book. These books are all available free over the Internet, from sites such as the Gutenberg Project. Our value-added is in selection and organization and in editing and formatting that eliminate unnecessary characters (like underscores) and irrelevant text (like ads for other books and lists of illustrations in books that have no illustrations). All of this makes the books easier to read. The books are not encrypted. You can use them with devices that convert text to speech or to Braille. If you open them in a word processor, you can copy and paste excerpts; you can highlight and annotate them and save what you have added (for instance, a marker where you last stopped reading).
For PCs and Macs, when you unzip or extract the download, all the subfolders and files are located in the same folder, and you can use the index document to click and open the individual books, or you can browse through the folders and open the books directly using any word processor or web browser. Each book is a separate file that you can edit, print, or highlight or from which you can copy and paste excerpts; and each sub-folder has the works of a particular author or books on a common topic. In other words, you can creatively control these files. None of the major ebook retailers has offerings of this kind.
Our store uses a no-frills web design with minimal graphics (just the company logo). Payment is by PayPal®. We are not set up like the monster online stores that have millions of titles and are automated, depending on search engines and data bases. These books are hand-selected and hand organized. (My hands.)If you would like free samples, send me an email at <[email protected]>, and ask to be added to the distribution list for "Free Ebook of the Week" and/or "Free Kid's Book of the Week." We've been sending out selected classic books as email attachments for eight years. This is a labor of love. I'm an obsessive and omnivorous reader. I've read many of the books that I publish. Since I was twelve years old (back in 1958), I have kept a list of every book I have read. The complete, frequently updated list, is on the web at <http://www.samizdat.com/readall.html>. For what I've read so far this year, check <http://www.samizdat.com/read2012.html>. For a list of the downloadable book collections, with links to the complete tables of contents of each, please go to <http://www.samizdat.com/quencheditions/plaintext.html>.
Conducted by Willa Baum
From the Editor: Thanks to Federationist Bryan Bashin, we recently received a scanned copy of an in-depth interview with Newel Perry archived in the Bancroft Library of the University of California General Library, Regional Cultural History Project. Willa Baum conducted the interview in Berkeley, California, in 1956. The interview is so lengthy that we have been forced to serialize it. The first installment appeared in the July 2012 issue. The second section, covering graduate school in Europe and the New York years, appeared in the October issue. This third installment includes discussion of notable figures in the blindness field and the internal struggles in the California School for the Blind that brought Perry back to California.
Baum: Did you come into contact with Charles Campbell? I think he's the fellow who founded Outlook for the Blind.
Perry: Campbell? Oh, I know who you mean. Yes, I knew Charles Campbell very well. He was the son of a blind man. His father was an American and became quite a prominent musician, and he went on tours through England, where he would give musical performances. England wanted to do something to improve the lot of their blind, and they decided to build an institution, a school, so they asked him to take charge of it. (Francis Campbell, Sir Francis. His wife was Lady Campbell.) He was a very competent man. His blind pupils were noticeably successful. He was quite a hand at propagandizing. He told wonderful stories about his students. A great many people criticized him as being an exaggerator--he undoubtedly was very intensely interested in helping the blind, and collecting money in England was a little slow, but he did build up an institution there that was very much respected.
His son Charles grew up with an interest in the same thing, and he became a propagandist and traveled around the country here lecturing. He married a very lovely woman. She was in California when I first knew her. I was in New York when they were booming the idea of having these shops for the blind. Charles was engaged in that sort of work in Boston, but he came to New York to lecture. Charles Campbell was a very efficient man too. He was enthusiastic, a good talker, and he was very optimistic about it.
Many of the people who were connected with the blind were not optimistic. That was the one trouble with the schools that we had. The superintendents were selected, evidently, in a very careless way, and none of them were particularly men of ability, and some of them didn't have much of an education. Those men rather belittled Charles Campbell. They said he was just a hot-air artist making a big noise and that a great deal of what he said was not reliable. That's because they couldn't believe it.
You see, our schools for the blind were filled with people who didn't understand the blind and didn't believe in their capabilities at all. At that time the feeling generally was that the blind couldn't do anything anyhow, but it was very wonderfully nice of certain people to come and help the blind. The teachers of the blind were looked upon as sort of saints and missionaries, and they were quite willing to accept that admiration. But they were not progressive nor imaginative. I don't know that they are yet.
Baum: Well you must not have agreed with Charles Campbell on the shop idea.
Perry: Oh, I didn't bother much about it. I wasn't working for it in any way. I was friendly to him. I didn't mind their building shops for the blind if they wanted to, but I had the feeling that fifty years from then the people would not have acquired independence through self-support. And I don't think they have. These shops don't develop men of ability; they don't try to. They are frequently run by men who don't know anything about it. Then the blind themselves did nothing, said nothing, were not articulate--they were afraid to talk. As a result very little was accomplished. That is what we, in the past few years, have done. We deliberately and with forethought planned to make the blind assume the responsibility of bettering the condition of the blind.
Baum: Did you know Charles Campbell and his wife as personal friends, or did they ask you for advice?
Perry: Yes. Well, they did sometimes. No, I think they were possibly inclined to give me advice.
Baum: You liked them?
Perry: Yes, I thought they were very nice people. Of course, they were not interested in the subject I was interested in. You see, you can't do everything. You can't start a group of people who will devote their time to entertaining and trying to supply the blind with some amusement, take them out riding...I don't want to belittle that, that's all right, but five hundred years from now they'd be doing the same thing. Those blind people that they attend are not independent and never will be and don't particularly want to be.
Baum: Well Campbell didn't do that, did he?
Perry: No, no. Campbell was interested in helping the blind, but it was largely teaching them trades. The idea of a blind man getting an education and becoming a doctor or lawyer or something like that, that was something like a Cinderella story. He didn't take it seriously, and no one else did. When I came to New York, I could find only one blind man who had ever gone to college.
Baum: Is that right? No wonder it sounded like a fairy story.
Perry: New York is just packed full of colleges, so I thought, when I came, that there must be quite a number of blind college graduates. I couldn't find any. I'd ask about them, and no one had ever heard of one. But there was one man who had gone to college. He was a classmate of the man who was president of Columbia at that time. He tells the story that at the graduation from college this blind boy and this future president of Columbia were the two contestants for being the most outstanding student of the class, and the president got it. This blind man went into mathematics, gave lectures at Columbia University.
Baum: What was his name?
Perry: I can't think of it.
Baum: Did you know Robert Irwin then? He went to college, didn't he?
Perry: Yes, Robert was from the state of Washington, went to the school for the blind there, and later went through the university. Then he moved to New York and started the plan of sending blind children, not to residential school, but to the public schools. He then went to Ohio, and he'd get classes started in the public schools for the blind. He did that in two or three of the cities there. Then he came to New York City and got interested in starting the American Foundation for the Blind. He was quite an able man and made a real success out of the creation of this foundation. It's done a great deal for the blind, I think. Of course, they don't run shops. They try to help all the activities for the blind throughout the country. They've now gotten fairly well established. I expect their yearly expenditures run up close to a million dollars.
Baum: Did Robert Irwin favor college education for blind people?
Perry: Oh, I think so. I don't think he was as enthusiastic as I was. Many of the things that I had to work for, which were new and people couldn't understand, nowadays they just take as a matter of course. A blind boy in former days couldn't go to college, didn't have the money, and didn't think he could work his way through college. They could, I guess. I earned most of my way through college. So did Robert Irwin. He had to go around and peddle things from house to house. He had great difficulties going to college. They had no reader bill. He had to try to get people who were willing to help him a little bit to read to him.
Baum: I heard somewhere that you and Robert Irwin worked together to defeat a movement for a national college for the blind.
Perry: I don't know as we did very much about it. I guess we both would oppose it.
Baum: Did you do any work together on it?
Perry: Well, we talked about it and evidently thought about the same thing and probably expressed ourselves. I know, I wrote to some of the different people about it. The contention to have it was not very strongly pushed. It's an absurd idea.
Baum: It's an idea that has come up again and again, hasn't it?
Perry: Oh, I don't think it will come up any more, not seriously, anyhow. What would a college for the blind be? They get in college, and with their reader funds, they're just like anybody else. They are at no disadvantage. They can go to Columbia or the University of California. They can have the best of teachers. Now, if the federal government started a college for the blind, they wouldn't have men like Einstein teaching in it. It would be a mediocre, insignificant thing where they would give out degrees because they were blind people, I expect. No, I think after a blind person reaches the eleventh or twelfth grade, it's better for him to work with sighted people. He's got to live with them. He's not going to make any money off of blind people. If he's going to get ahead in the world, he wants to have the ability to approach sighted people.
Baum: I wondered what you thought of Robert Irwin.
Perry: I think he did good work. He built up the American Foundation for the Blind quite well.
Baum: Was he ever a member of the National Federation?
Perry: Oh no.
Baum: He didn't approve of that?
Perry: Well it worried him a little. He would come to the meetings, but usually just to see me.
Baum: You were friends?
Perry: Yes. But he was afraid that the Federation was going to hurt the Foundation. I don't know why it should; but they both feel that way.
Perry: Both the Foundation and the Federation. The Foundation is trying to antagonize and oppose the Federation, and the Federation criticizes the Foundation a lot.
Baum: Do you think it's a valid criticism? Of the Foundation?
Perry: I never heard any systematic criticism. Just that they don't like them. I don't know why. I don't see any occasion for them to criticize one another adversely at all.
Baum: You think the Foundation does good work for the blind?
Perry: It doesn't do the work that the Federation is doing, but it doesn't try to. Different kind of work; their policies are different. The Foundation likes to play with the agencies. It isn't built on the principle of the National Federation. The Federation says to the blind, "If you want something, it' s up to you to go and get it. You've got to quit depending on someone else; you've got to organize yourselves and go get it." And I believe that. I think that's right. The Foundation is interested in psychology of the blind, or something of that kind. Personally, Irwin was self-centered and a selfish individual. I don't know that many people aren't. He was very much interested in himself and was quite an efficient man and, from his point of view, very successful. He died a rich man. Started out as a boy with nothing. Intensely interested in his own welfare, which is all right, I guess.
Baum: Did you know Walter Holmes while you were in New York?
Perry: Walter Holmes? Very well. He wanted to start a Braille magazine. He was not blind, but he was very much interested in the blind. Wonderful fellow. We met in a library and became great friends. He got Mrs. Matilda Ziegler, a widow whose husband had been a very wealthy explorer to the North Pole, to put up the money for the magazine. Of course, now there are a great many magazines for blind people.
Baum: Is that called the Matilda Ziegler Magazine?
Perry: Yes. [Shows Braille magazines.]
Baum: Did you think this Matilda Ziegler Magazine was a good one?
Perry: It's better now than it was. It was very popular; they must have had ten or fifteen thousand readers. Holmes had been a newspaper man. He had a blind half-brother in whom he took a great deal of interest. The blind boy wasn't particularly bright or talented or trained for anything, and it used to worry Holmes. The father said, "Don't bother him; just be kind to him and let it go at that."
Holmes took out a lot of insurance on himself with the blind boy as beneficiary, but the blind boy died first, and Holmes lived to be quite old. Wonderful man. He somehow understood the blind thoroughly. While most sighted people want to be kind to blind people, they don't understand them. Holmes was a bachelor; he devoted all his life, morning, noon, and night, to helping blind people.
This Ziegler magazine was the first Braille magazine in this country. Holmes thought it was quite important that blind people have a magazine because they can't pick up as much through experience as other people. Holmes was not interested in making a profit; he just wanted to help the blind. A man once wanted him to leave the magazine for the blind and come in with him on another business. Holmes said, "I'm not interested in making money."
The other man said, "I am; I've made a whole lot of money, and I don't know what else to do but keep on making money." Holmes turned him down. So the fellow went on with his plan and made two million dollars in the next year and a half. Then he asked Walter Holmes if he were sorry he hadn't gone in with him. Holmes said no, he wouldn't know what to do with a million and a half if he had it.
Baum: Did he favor your reader's bill?
Baum: Did he give you any publicity in his magazine?
Perry: He would have, but I told him I didn't want any. I had gone before to The Outlook--that magazine has been discontinued--I don't mean Outlook for the Blind, but The Outlook, a weekly magazine. Theodore Roosevelt was the editor on The Outlook for a while. The real editor, who wrote editorials in The Outlook, was a very famous editor, Lyman Abbott. So I gave him a summary of what the reader bill was, and he wrote an editorial on it, quite a lengthy one. I gave him a copy of my letter to the governor, and he referred to that a good deal in the editorial. (Outlook, Vol. 86, p. 938, August 31, 1907) It was an extremely popular magazine all over the country....After the bill was signed, he wrote an article about it. He was a very brilliant man.
Baum: Was Major Migel working for the blind at the time you were in New York? Migel of the American Foundation for the Blind?
Perry: When I first got up that club I organized for blind people--Miss Holt's blind people--she came to the meeting (she would always bring some guests with her, society people) one time and brought Migel. Migel got very much excited. He was very much taken with me; we were great friends, for the moment, anyhow. He wanted me to come down to his office. He turned out to be a very wealthy man, a silk merchant. So he said, "If you would be interested in this--I've got to go to Europe for a couple of months--but if you would hunt out these blind people that you think are desirable for us to do something for them, educationally or otherwise, get familiar with their names, so that when I come back, we'll go over it and see what we can do." Well, that was really a wonderful proposition because he was a man who was intensely interested in the blind, and he had the money and the desire to help. So I said that I would try to, but of course I was tutoring and had limited time. But he insisted.
Miss Holt heard about this. Of course she was up in arms. In the first place she had introduced me to Migel. But, when Migel was thinking of doing something that wasn't in her line, she was worried. She was very fond of newspaper publicity and loved to read about what she had done, while Migel would just as soon his name never occurred in the paper. That wouldn't interest him at all. She was so antagonistic to him in talking to me that I could see that, if I went on with what Migel wanted, I'd have to stop doing things that I had been doing for her.
That would be a very undesirable thing, so I decided to tell Migel that I was giving all my time to Miss Holt. So I rang up one of his lieutenants and told him that I would have to postpone any work or let it go. The man said, "Of course, I have no authority in this matter, but I do know that Mr. Migel would be very disappointed if you didn't work for him."
Of course Migel didn't understand and wouldn't understand my relationship with Miss Holt particularly, so I told the man that it would be impossible for me to do it until Migel got back. When he got back and was told by his informants that I had withdrawn from that work, I suppose he just thought that was the end of it. I didn't keep up my acquaintance with him anymore. Robert Irwin came along then and got in touch with Migel, and Migel did a great deal helping him start that American Foundation, still does.
Baum: After your stay in New York you came back to the school for the blind in Berkeley. I believe about the first thing you did was to get married.
Perry: Yes, I think April 19, 1912.
Baum: How was the school in 1912? Was it improved from the time you left?
Perry: Some of the old teachers were gone, and they had new ones. Nobody seemed to be doing much work. There was less zeal in the school. The School for the Deaf and Blind had been disorganized by political interference. Dr.Wilkinson resigned a couple of years before. He had been principal for forty some-odd years.
Baum: Why did he resign? Old age?
Baum: Wasn't any political trouble, though.
Perry: Not that. Two or three of the different employees wanted to succeed Dr. Wilkinson. They had some students, too, who made trouble. There was Miss Mary White Eastman, a blind graduate of the School, who was a teacher of the blind children, little children, in what they called an "opportunity group" for retarded children. She was a woman who had never had any experience or training except that she was naturally a very good teacher. She was very ambitious and wanted to be made the head of the blind department. Then there was Mr. Douglas Keith, an Englishman, who had been the secretary to the principal for many years, and a teacher of the deaf, Francis E. H. O'Donnell, a Scotsman, who wanted to be appointed. The school was run by a board of five members who were prominent people, and they served without compensation. They were the people who would select the principal. So they appointed Mr. Keith.
Baum: Had Keith done any teaching?
Perry: He had done teaching before he came there. A good many of the teachers got playing around among the politicians, complaining about the school, that it wasn't being run properly, and so forth. Some of them got the children excited. The place was terribly demoralized.
Baum: This was after Mr. Keith had been appointed?
Perry: Yes. The people that had been disappointed were complaining. Finally the appeal was made to the Governor, Hiram Johnson, and so he ordered an investigation. I suppose it lasted for a month or two. I wasn't here then. There were also a great many complaints about Mr. Wilkinson, though he had left. The investigators came down every day and had a hearing and everybody was called in to talk, tell his story, the older boys and some of the alumni. Some of the alumni wanted jobs up there, and they didn't get them; I guess they should not have had them. They began to feel their oats.
Well, it was made very hard for Mr. Keith. He decided to resign. He sent me a telegram to come out and take the position as head of the blind department. He was going to leave on a certain day, but he stayed until he got my reply that I would come. So I simply took the train and came out.
Baum: Had you been corresponding with the school while you were in New York?
Perry: Not much. Once in a while. Mr. Keith and I had been very close friends while I was here. He was a fine man, but he got into the wrong mess. There was so much jealousy and hard feeling that it looked as if it would be a hard thing to handle. So the governor's recommendation was that Mr. Keith should be removed and that the board should get a new man. Things got hotter, with everybody trying to get the governor to get him in. The board was in favor of Mr. Keith. It didn't want to get rid of him, but the governor insisted.
When I came out, they had a teacher of the deaf as acting principal, not one who had been a troublemaker at all, but one of the head men, William Andrew Caldwell. He had been there for many years and was practically the head of the deaf department. He was a great friend of Mr. Wilkinson too. The board complained to the governor that they didn't know any good man to get. The governor said that he had received word from several men in the East that wanted the job, and he thought some of them were very good.
There was a man who had been in the Colorado State School for the Deaf and Blind. L. E. Milligan was his name. He came out and took the job. He had a good deal of trouble, too, to start with because everybody was wanting a higher position. He was very tactful in many ways. He of course got into this political mess that was going around, and there was a good deal of ill feeling.
Baum: Did the two teachers stay on--Miss Eastman and--
Perry: Yes, Miss Eastman stayed. And O'Donnell. That was a mess. Mr. Caldwell kept his position as head of the deaf department. He tried not to make much trouble. They were all very embarrassed because of the politicians.
Baum: Who do you mean, politicians?
Perry: Real politicians, members of the legislature, people who were friends of the governor.
Baum: You mean this group that had been investigating?
Perry: Yes. But Milligan kept them pretty quiet.
Baum: Was Mr. Keith still working at the school?
Perry: No, he left. When I got here, he was a man without a job. The row had spread to the Oakland Home for Adult Blind, and they investigated down there for a year or so too. The Home was run by a very capable blind man, Mr. Joseph Sanders, who became ill and died about that time. The Home was directed by a board. They came to see me to find out whom I would suggest as the new director. I recommended Mr. Keith and pointed out that he was a very capable man and that he had lost his job rather unfairly because of a political upset and [through] no fault of his own. They offered me the job instead, but I turned them down; there was nothing educational about it. So they appointed Mr. Keith, and he did a good job down there.
When they were having their investigation, the alumni split. A few were in with the politicians, but the alumni that I had organized before I left in '98 upheld Mr. Keith. So when Milligan came, of course, he had to make up his mind whether he was going to be a friend of these alumni or of the ones that had been making the trouble. He didn't want to be an opponent of the governor, for, if it hadn't been for the governor, he wouldn't have gotten his job, so he joined the wrong party, the governor's party. But all the progressive blind, whom I had organized before, were friends of Keith, and, instead of the trouble dying out, it got worse and worse.
When I got here, I tried to bring the two groups together, but I couldn't get anywhere. The other group were people with no education and no ability of any kind; they were nobodies. They had no ideas on how to improve the situation and I guess didn't particularly care. One of them, the leader, Mr. Don Darrow, wanted a job at the school. He was a man of no education beyond graduating from the school. No college. He was not esteemed by anybody. I guess Mr. Milligan would have been very glad to give him the job, but he was afraid because it would start the other blind people, my group, up in arms. The feeling between them was very intense.
We got up a club and had both groups meeting together until Darrow's group made it impossible, and so we just gave up the attempt. We were trying to help the alumni get jobs and get started in business. I remember that once the alumni wanted to have some money to do something with, so I gave them a donation, I think $100. Then when we found the two groups of alumni couldn't get along, we dropped out and didn't do anything further with Darrow's group. Next thing I heard, they had taken the $100 that was to be spent on trying to help some of the fellows get started in business and used it to give themselves a picnic and ride around San Francisco Bay.
Baum: That group didn't have any ambition for improvement!
Perry: Oh no, they didn't have any ideas. The school had run down very much. The boys grew up and were rather rough and rude and had evidently not studied anything; they had very few textbooks.
Baum: Was Mr. Milligan able to improve things?
Perry: Well, he tried to, but he...you see, the children that had been there had been under the influence of the people who had been making the trouble. They still tried to associate with the children. That caused trouble. They were in opposition to anything that I wanted to do.
Baum: Did Mr. Milligan stay on as principal?
Perry: Yes, he stayed until he died, which was quite a while later.
Baum: What did he think of your organization of alumni?
Perry: I think he thought it was a very fine thing but that the organization did not support him very strongly. I believe a lot of them thought he wasn't overly fond of me. I don't think he had any feeling against me. He simply was a little afraid to be over-friendly because he was afraid of this other mob. Since the governor had removed Mr. Keith, it looked as if Darrow's crowd was the right crowd, so I can understand how he would think that he had to line up with that bunch of people. He made a mistake because all the progressive blind were on the other side.
Baum: Was he progressive in his ideas?
Perry: Well. (hesitates) He was no great champion of anything. He was just a man who wanted to run the school and get his salary. I never heard of his springing any new ideas on anybody.
Baum: Was he aware of the problem of making a living that his students would have when they graduated?
Perry: No, I don't think so. I don't think he ever thought about it.
Baum: How did the separation of the school for the deaf and the school for the blind come about?
Perry: My old organization, which still exists, got up a plan to see if it could do something to separate the blind school from the deaf school. So we started propagandizing for it. Also there was a movement to have the school taken away from the board that governed it and have it become a part of the public school organization, be under the superintendent of education.
Baum: Did you favor that?
Perry: Yes. We all did. And propagandized for it. And eventually got it through.
Baum: How did you propagandize for it?
Perry: We wrote articles in the newspapers advocating it, and eventually we had a plan to be put on the ballot if we could get enough signatures, and have it enacted.
Baum: When did you start all this?
Perry: 1912. The movement to do away with the board--that was passed by the legislature, so the old board withdrew. That didn't happen for two or three years.
Then we worked on a plan to separate the two schools. The idea was to have the school up here where we have both of them now and build a new school for the deaf. The deaf are much more numerous than the blind. We wanted the blind to stay here. We advocated getting a big piece of land for the deaf where they could learn, in addition to academic subjects, trades and farming. It always struck me that farming was a thing that the deaf could do as well as anybody. There was nothing for them here that they couldn't get out in the country just as well. They used moving pictures; they could use them up in the country just as well. I wanted the blind to be near, where they could go to musical concerts and go to college. I thought Berkeley was an ideal place. I wanted the Deaf School to move to the country.
Baum: You weren't able to accomplish that, were you?
Perry: I got the act written, and then we had to get signatures. We had no money or any great number of people that agreed with us. Teachers at the school didn't want anything of that kind. They wanted things left alone. None of them understood what it meant, anyhow.
A few young alumni, maybe eight, went out and tried to get signatures. Ernest Leslie and Leslie Schlingheyde were among them. I'd take them down to the crowded Tenth Street Produce Market in Oakland. Then I'd address the crowd, and they would be there with the petitions to be signed. On one Saturday we got more than 11,000 signatures. We did very well, but we had no statewide team and no money. We had to hire someone to look up every signature and find out what precinct the voter came from. I used up all my war stamp savings for that purpose, and it took me two years of monthly payments to pay off the printer's bill on our advertising.
We didn't get enough signatures. We were 10,000 short of what we needed, but that was a very good showing. There was so much propagandizing along with it that a great many people had joined our idea. So I really was going to run it again, the year following, but I didn't have the time. I thought I'd let it go for a while.
The legislature was finally convinced that they should be separated somewhat. Instead of following what we suggested, they kept the two schools here but separated them administratively. They are separate but on the same ground, which I don't think is really good for the deaf, and I don't believe there's enough ground allotted to the blind. But they were separated and have separate principals.
Baum: I have a note that the separation was in 1921.
Baum: Think that was largely due to the propagandizing of the Alumni Association?
Baum: It sounds as if your alumni group was quite active.
Perry: It became very active.
Baum: Had they been active while you were in New York and Europe?
Perry: No, they had gone to sleep. But, when they understood that Keith wanted me to come, they got very active. They went to the board then and insisted that it take Mr. Keith's recommendation and have me come.
Baum: But ordinarily they didn't do anything unless you were right there keeping them moving?
Perry: Well, not very much. You had to have someone around to drive them. Of course, now things are somewhat different. Some of those boys have gone to college and have training, they have jobs, they're lawyers. Now we have lots of blind people who are holding good positions, and they are all interested in the progress of the blind. And now it's been made a national movement instead of a local one.
Baum: Now you have lots of leadership material.
Perry: Yes. Now we have clubs for the blind. My Alumni Association for the Blind was the only club that existed for a long time. Then we formed the Council for the Blind in 1934, and we encouraged the creation of local clubs of the blind to be run by the blind entirely. That was a new idea. No one had ever thought of the blind running a campaign for themselves; they always waited for someone to direct them.
Baum: Then you sort of trained the leadership that is available now?
Perry: Oh yes, they're all my boys. Dr. tenBroek, Robert Campbell, George Fogarty, Ernest Crowley, Ernest Leslie, Leslie Schlingheyde were my boys.
Baum: Is this mainly in California?
Perry: I did a good deal of that sort of thing in New York when I was there too. That's what my reader bill was supposed to do.
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind
Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB
Your Gift Will Help Us
Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!
From the Editor: We are indebted to Ed McDonald of West Virginia for this information about longtime Federationist Bob Hunt, who died on July 20, 2012. He was strong and independent at a time when blind people were expected to sit quietly and wait for someone to notice them. Ed McDonald has known and worked with everyone in the West Virginia affiliate for decades. Here are some of his memories of Bob Hunt:
Bob Hunt lost the vision in one eye and three fingers on his left hand at the age of eleven in an accident with a dynamite cap. He lost his remaining sight two years later. He earned a master’s degree from what is now Marshall University and did extensive work toward a doctorate at the University of West Virginia. As a young man fresh out of college, he earned his living as a merchant and cab dispatcher and even dabbled in the trucking business as a coal hauler. At the age of twenty-four he was elected to the first of two two-year terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates, representing his home county. Several years later he taught for two terms in the public schools of Lincoln County. Then in 1959 he joined the faculty of West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, where he served as a professor of history for nearly thirty-five years.
Bob joined the West Virginia Federation of the Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia) during the early 1960s. He was a leader of the newly formed Morgantown chapter while attending West Virginia University. He served as second vice president and then first vice president of the state affiliate before succeeding to the presidency upon the death of NFBWV pioneer Chris Cerone. He was then elected to the presidency in 1967 and held that position--except for one year--until 1979.
Since then he has remained active in the organization as a member of the board of directors, president of the Members at Large Chapter, and member of the legislative and agency relations committees as well as in various other capacities. His pioneering spirit of independence and self-confidence as a blind person; his keen sense of universal justice, equality, and human dignity; his strength as a leader; and his commitment to lifelong learning are just some of the personal qualities that made him worthy of respect and recognition--not just by the National Federation of the Blind, but by anyone who had the good fortune to know him as a student, a colleague, or a friend.
For example, consider the evolution of his spirit of independence and self-confidence as a blind person. At the time Bob lost his sight, the creation of a social action organization of blind Americans (the National Federation of the Blind) was still just a dream in the mind of a scholar and visionary named Jacobus tenBroek. Bob's parents had no National Organization of Parents of Blind Children to turn to for guidance about how to help their son who had suddenly become blind. The only blind person Bob himself had ever seen was a street musician with a tin cup attached to the neck of his instrument. Otherwise, during those pre-war depression days, opportunities for a blind person to live an independent and productive life--especially in rural West Virginia--were virtually nonexistent.
Neither of Bob's parents had even a high school diploma. Nevertheless, they recognized the importance of a good education and developing a strong sense of personal responsibility. They made sure their children did well in school and had chores to do at home. Even after the explosion had destroyed some of Bob's vision, they insisted that he remain in school and complete eighth grade. In addition, Bob's father, who worked as a coal miner, set a personal example of courage and determination by becoming involved in the labor union movement--an unpopular and sometimes even dangerous thing to do at that time.
Even after his father died prematurely in 1939 at the age of thirty-seven, his mother insisted that Bob continue his education at the West Virginia School for the Blind in Romney, the only viable educational option available to him at that time. Despite the school's strong academic program, it was at the School for the Blind that Bob first encountered attitudes of low expectations and inferiority regarding blind people--even the unspoken but very real notion that totally blind people were somehow inferior to those with so-called partial vision. But he also learned from his fellow students the many things that blind people really could do, and he discovered new and effective ways to bolster his own self-confidence. One of those techniques for building self-confidence involved what he described as "breaking the rules of the institution," a technique that he occasionally employed in his adult life as well. Things like venturing off campus without the requisite sighted guide; finding ways to buy beer at a downtown restaurant; and daring to walk across the railroad trestle that spanned the South Branch River--these activities were strictly forbidden by school rules. Nevertheless, engaging in such activities--even at some risk to one's safety--was one way for a blind teenager to assert his independence and strengthen confidence in his own inherent abilities.
Bob would be quick to remind us that behavior which others may regard as simply a display of self-assurance on the part of a sighted person may be interpreted as arrogance or conceit when displayed by a blind person. Nevertheless, this spirit of self-confidence--call it conceit if you want to--served him well after graduating from the School for the Blind. Pursuing a college education was not common among young blind people in those days, and the matter of starting a small business was even less common. But conducting a campaign, getting elected, and serving in the state legislature is still a pretty remarkable accomplishment for any young man in his early twenties--not to mention a young blind man in 1948.
In 1959, when Bob joined the faculty of West Virginia Wesleyan College, blind people throughout the nation were still struggling to secure the fundamental right to organize. Dr. tenBroek and a few others had worked their way into academia, but teaching at the college level was not, by any means, a common profession for blind people. It is therefore a testament to his persistence and determination as well as his academic credentials that Bob was able to secure such a position and make it his life's work for more than three decades.
He held his employer to the same standards of nondiscrimination that he would have expected from anyone else. Although he had not earned a PhD, he became eligible after fifteen years of teaching for advancement to the rank of full professor. Years passed, however, and he received no such advancement while colleagues in similar situations were becoming full professors. He recognized a blatant case of discrimination based on blindness and carefully considered how to respond. Finally--despite advice from friends and colleagues not to make waves, he decided to file a complaint with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, a right that had been secured several years earlier through the efforts of the Federation. The Commission ruled in his favor, and the college complied.
It was virtually inevitable that Bob would become involved in the work of the National Federation of the Blind. His father's example as a union miner taught him the value of collective action as a way to solve social and economic problems and bring about needed social change. His legislative experience taught him how to bring about change through the political system. What's more, that sense of independence and self-confidence assured him that the principles which the Federation fought for were indeed right. He led the organized blind movement well in West Virginia--expanding the membership and forming new chapters, raising the necessary funds to support the organization, raising public awareness of blindness issues and the accomplishments of blind people, and supporting the passage of vital legislation in such areas as basic human rights for blind West Virginians.
One of his crowning moments occurred when he confronted Governor Arch Moore in a public forum. While Moore addressed a statewide gathering leading up to the White House Conference on Disability, Bob challenged the governor's alleged acts of political cronyism that had seriously weakened the state's Randolph-Sheppard vending program, a major source of employment for blind West Virginians.
On a personal level, Bob and Ruth were successful in navigating the process of adopting two children. In the 1960's and even today, this is an area in which blind people often face unwarranted challenges and discrimination. Robert Hunt’s life stands as both a positive example and an inspiration for blind people everywhere. It seems almost prophetic that the letter L, the middle initial in his name, stands for Loyal. Throughout his life he remained loyal to those fundamental principles of equality and justice that sustained him and gave him the strength and determination to achieve so much.
This month’s recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.
by Sandra Ryan
Sandra Ryan is the newly elected president of the Diabetes Action Network division in Iowa. In the Ryan household Thanksgiving is not about turkey and stuffing. Our family and guests (sometimes we serve twenty or more) love roast beef with carrots and potatoes and also the following two recipes. These two are the reasons my granddaughters, Shelby and Kaylee, love us.
3 pounds ham loaf mix (1 pound each ground beef, ground pork, and ground ham)
1 cup milk
1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers, crushed
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white cider vinegar
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (not sauce)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ham ball ingredients thoroughly and form into twenty to twenty-four balls. Place in greased 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake forty-five minutes. While the ham balls are baking, prepare the sauce. Uncover pan and turn ham balls. Pour the sauce over them.
To make sauce, mix sauce ingredients and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat until sauce boils. Stop stirring and continue to boil sauce for one minute. Remove from heat and pour over partially baked ham balls.
Return ham balls uncovered to oven and bake forty-five minutes more, basting occasionally with sauce. Yum!
Easy Cheesy Potatoes
by Sandra Ryan
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 10 3/4-ounce can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cubed potatoes in the bottom of a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan or dish. In a medium bowl mix together the remaining ingredients, using only one cup of the cheese. Pour mixture over potatoes and stir to mix well. Bake uncovered for about forty-five minutes, or until edges are brown and sauce is bubbly. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with an additional cup cheddar cheese. Return to oven and bake until cheese melts.
Asian Beef Slaw
by Peggy Chong
Peggy Chong is a longtime Federationist whose interest in Iowa history and particularly the history of blind Iowans is well-known.
Ingredients for Steak Marinade:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 pound top sirloin, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes
Sesame seeds for garnish
Dressing Ingredients for Slaw:
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
1 bag broccoli slaw mix
3 scallions, sliced
Method: In small bowl combine marinade ingredients. In a large bowl cube the steak and toss with marinade. Let stand for twenty minutes. Combine dressing ingredients and pour over slaw mix and scallions, which you have tossed in a salad bowl.
Before serving, drop the meat cubes into a hot pan coated with cooking spray. Cook meat till done. Remove from heat and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Add meat to the slaw and serve.
Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus Bundles
by Peggy Chong
1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears, trimmed 4 to 5 inches back from tips
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
A few grinds black pepper
4 slices thick-cut bacon
Method: Preheat oven, if using, to 400 degrees. Lightly coat asparagus spears in extra-virgin olive oil. Season the asparagus with black pepper or lemon pepper. Take a quick count of the spear tips. Divide the total number by four. Gather that number of spears, and use a half slice of bacon to wrap the bundle, and keep those spears together. Repeat with remaining asparagus and bacon.
To grill, place bundles on hot grill and cover. Cook ten to twelve minutes until bacon is crisp and asparagus bundles are tender.
For oven preparation, place bundles on slotted broiler pan. Bake 12 minutes. Even Curtis eats these.
Cheddar Potato Soup
by Peggy Chong
4 or 5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup baby carrots, cut
1 tablespoon dried minced onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
Pepper to taste
Method: Place potatoes, carrots, onion, and salt in a large soup pot. Cover vegetables with water and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain. In a separate pan melt butter and whisk in flour, making sure that lumps do not form. Then whisk in milk and chicken broth. Cook stirring over medium heat until liquid thickens. Pour into cooked vegetables. Over low heat stir in cheese and pepper. Serve hot.
by Dolores Reisinger
Dolores Reisinger is a longtime Federationist from Cedar Rapids. She is responsible for conducting close to one-hundred Meet the Blind Month activities in her area in the past 6 years. She has also been a great fundraiser for the NFB Imagination Fund. Dolores says this pie makes a great Thanksgiving dessert.
2 cups milk
A half-stick butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups Bisquick
1 cup coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Method: Mix together all ingredients well. Pour into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for fifty minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. This pie is delicious!
Dad's Spaghetti Sauce
by Michael Barber
Michael Barber is president of the NFB of Iowa. He sends a favorite passed on to him by his father, Alex.
4 29-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 29-ounce can tomato puree
1 29-ounce can crushed D'Italia tomatoes
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound Graziano sausage (or more)
1 large onion, chopped
Salt to taste
2 or 3 handfuls of Italian seasoning from Graziano’s
Garlic powder to taste
Sugar or Splenda (when I use Splenda, I use about 8 of the individual packages or more if needed.)
Method: Sauté chopped onion with ground meat. Stir frequently until meat is browned. In a large pot combine all ingredients. Do not add mushrooms or peppers to this sauce; they alter the taste. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer it slowly most of the day. This sauce freezes well.
by April Enderton
April Enderton is the newly-elected first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa and the president of the newly-formed At-Large Chapter of the Iowa Affiliate. April also runs a business called BRL, which sells print/Braille children’s books. She is a strong advocate for Braille.
1 can pumpkin pie filling
1 package yellow cake mix
1 stick butter or margarine
Chopped nuts, optional
Method: Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pour pumpkin pie filling into pan. Scatter cake mix over pie filling. Top with pats of butter. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.When buying ingredients for this recipe, be sure to get pumpkin pie filling, not canned pumpkin. If you use the latter, you will have to add spices, eggs, and milk for this dessert to taste right. To make cherry cobbler, substitute cherry pie filling for the pumpkin pie filling.
News from the Federation Family
National Federation of the Blind Scholarships Available:
From the Editor: Patti Chang chairs the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship committee. Here is what she has to say about the 2013 scholarship program:
Are you a student in need of money? If so, you should visit <www.nfb.org/scholarships> soon. The National Federation of the Blind annually awards thirty scholarships based on merit. Applications can be submitted anytime after October 31 and will be accepted until March 31. Last year we awarded more than $122,000 in academic scholarships to blind students across the country. You can't win if you don't apply.
The National Federation of the Blind of Iowa held its annual convention September 28 to 30. The following people were elected: president, Michael D. Barber; first vice president, April Enderton; second vice president, Darrel Kirby; secretary, Scott Van Gorp; treasurer, Curtis Chong; and board members, Tai Blas, Ted Hart, Miranda Morse, and Donna Prime.
The affiliate also formed a Diabetes Action Network division and elected the following: president, Sandra Ryan; vice president, Michael Stout; secretary, Janice Borgwardt; treasurer, Mary L. McGeek; and board members, Bitrus Gwamna and Heidi Van Gorp.
Earn a Graduate Degree:
The Institute on Blindness in Ruston, Louisiana, is looking for people seeking a meaningful and rewarding career in the blindness field. We are offering a limited number of scholarships to qualified applicants for the master of arts in industrial/organizational psychology with concentration in orientation and mobility (O&M), the master of arts in teaching blind students (TBS), and the master of education in teaching blind students.
Louisiana Tech University offers the only programs in the country founded on a philosophy of personal empowerment from the perspective of blind people. We invite all qualified candidates with positive attitudes about blindness who would like to teach cane travel or Braille to blind children or adults to apply for our programs. We are also interested in speaking with anyone who may want to pursue a career teaching in the blindness field in any capacity. The Institute on Blindness does not discriminate against any applicants and actively recruits people who are blind, sighted, and of diverse backgrounds.
Contact us today to find out more about earning your master’s degree. The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness can be contacted at (318) 257-4554; email us at <[email protected]>, or visit our website at <www.pdrib.com>. You can change what it means to be blind.
Adult Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Begins:
It’s time to start reading. The reading period for the annual Braille Readers Are Leaders contest for adults begins November 1. Registration for the contest is now open. You can register at <www.nfb.org/BRAL> now through the end of the contest, January 4, 2013.
The contest is for adults who read Braille. There are categories for all levels of Braille readers, from beginners to experts. Participants read for prizes, practice, and pleasure. Whether you love the competition or are spurred on simply because it’s a great way to promote and refine your Braille skills, this contest is for you.
For more information check the website, <www.nfb.org/BRAL>. There you will find all the forms and reading logs you will need to participate. If you still have questions, contact the Braille Readers Are Leaders team at (410) 659-9314, extension 2312, or email us at <[email protected]>. Put your fingers to the paper and start recording what you are reading today. Braille rocks!
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Hadley Diploma or Credit Transfers from Hadley:
Each year students who would not have been able to graduate from high school otherwise receive high school diplomas from the Hadley School for the Blind. Students as young as eighteen and those well into their seventies have received diplomas through our school. Frustration with local schools’ not offering quality vision services or accessible course formats, difficulties passing the state-required exit exam for graduation, inability to travel long distances, or simply losing interest in high school are some of the reasons our students have given for pursuing the Hadley diploma. Our diploma program allows these students to accomplish their lifelong goal of earning a diploma at home at their own pace.
What about students currently enrolled in local schools? What do we offer to help keep them in school and on track with their sighted peers? We offer visually impaired teenagers who want to graduate from their home schools the ability to transfer high school credits to a local high school. This little-known program has helped many blind and visually impaired teens graduate with their peers. Here are three ways that blind and visually impaired teens have used our high school courses to help them cross that home-school stage at graduation:
* Transfer Credits--The local school considers many factors when allowing a transfer of credit from another school. The local school typically selects courses that are not available through its curriculum. In addition it considers the student's abilities and disabilities and his or her individual schedule for completion. It carefully considers how students can use their time productively to reach their graduation goals, such as during the summer months when some courses may not be available. The Hadley High School Program works well for these students since Hadley enrollment is open year round. The local school is required to approve the course(s) taken prior to submitting the Hadley enrollment application to apply. Courses in the areas of history, math, science, and electives are all taken by these students, and they are counted for credit at the local school.
* Preparatory Work--Students who need to brush up on some skills or want to learn the basics can take courses such as basic English skills 1 and 2, prealgebra, or technology courses. Those who want to improve their communication skills may take Braille, keyboarding, or effective listening. Most students take these courses during the summer. This way, when they start a similar course in the fall, they already know the basics and are able to excel. Some even take these courses during the school year while attending their local school. They may transfer these credits if the local school approves the course. Sometimes this allows students to take more advanced courses at their home schools after taking a basic course with us.
* Home School Opportunities--Many parents choose to homeschool their children. They may want some help teaching some of the high school curriculum or wish to provide a variety of learning experiences. The student who is blind or visually impaired may choose to take a self-paced course with Hadley. Parents and the Hadley instructors strive to ensure that high school students have the opportunity to learn, comprehend, and master the tools they need to succeed. We are very proud of our high school courses and the graduates who have taken advantage of them. The courses meet the DETC and NCA accreditation standards, are self-paced, and are taught by our well-credentialed instructors. Courses are available on DTB, online, in large print, or in Braille. All high school courses are tuition-free and are open to anyone who is age fourteen or over and legally blind.
Braille Magazines Needed:
The director of the rehabilitation center for the blind in Sofia, Bulgaria, Jordan Mladenov, has contacted us with the following request. “We are organizing English language courses for our blind and partially sighted customers. We have textbooks and teaching materials in Braille, but we need some Braille magazines in English so that our advanced students will have access to more Braille literature. We invite your readers to send us magazines they don't need any more. We are very interested in reading National Geographic, Readers Digest, and other magazines. We would be very happy if you could help us solve this problem.”
Braille magazines can be sent to Jordan Mladenov, Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration for Visually Impaired People, Ul. "Tsar Simeon" 110, 1202, Sofia, Bulgaria. For more information contact him at email <[email protected]>, or Skype reh_center_sofia.
Remote and In-Person Assistive Technology Training Available:
Blind Access Training supplies quality training to individuals, state agencies, and other institutions for PC-based assistive technology, web design, and Apple products. Our main office is in Washington state. We also have satellite offices and team members in other locations around the world.
Along with providing assistive technology, web design, and Apple products training, Blind Access Training also provides guidance and mentoring for blind and visually impaired individuals. All of our team members are blind or visually impaired and have faced a variety of challenges as a result of their disabilities. They have worked hard to become respected members of their communities and are eager to share their knowledge by mentoring other blind people. We hope to become the leading resource to the blindness community as well as to professionals serving the blind in assistive technology.
If you would like more information or would like to sign up for training, call us at (877) 774-7670 and press option 1. To read more about us, visit our home page at <http://www.blindaccesstraining.com/>.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Brailler for Sale:
Perkins Brailler, standard, brand new condition, in original packaging. Includes dust cover and manual. This Brailler has been used four times. It is in excellent condition. I thought I would use it, but I found that I don’t really need it. It retails for $750. I’m asking only $550. PayPal® available. Call Deanne at (619) 600-2501, or email <[email protected]>.
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.