Vol. 56, No. 8 August/September 2013
Gary Wunder, Editor
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Vol. 56, No. 8 August/September 2013
Illustration: Braille Book Fair
by Gary Wunder
Presidential Report 2013
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2013 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind
The 2013 Bolotin Awards
by James Gashel
Meet the 2013 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
The Power of Belonging
by Marc Maurer
Themes in History and the National Federation of the Blind
by Raymond Kurzweil
Reinterpreting and Expanding “The Right to Live in the World”
by Adrienne Asch
Literacy for the Blind Without Borders: Ending the Book Famine
by Fredric K. Schroeder
Literacy Without Borders: The Road to Marrakesh
by Scott C. LaBarre
Perseverance, Progress, and Possibilities: The 2013 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
The 2013 Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind
Copyright 2013 by the National Federation of the Blind
One of the highlights of the national convention for parents and children alike is the Braille Book Fair. Each year the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille collect donations of gently used Braille books of all genres and age levels. New (to them) books encourage young readers to learn and use Braille, while donating books they’ve outgrown creates room on the shelf to buy newer and more advanced works. Volunteers at the fair will box up and ship your purchases home to you, so travel space is no limit to how many new books you can find a home for.
Business is brisk as parents and children search for just the right books. Joey Niebrugge and her son Teague debate choices in the first photo. In the second photo, Bryan Alli and his daughter Raveena glance over a find. There’s quite a crowd at the Book Fair, as Taengkwa Sturgell from Indiana can confirm. In the third photo, she’s browsing a table as parents reach for books all around her. The last photo is Alyssa Mendez from Georgia, triumphantly carrying her three new books away.
by Gary Wunder
I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1972, but it was not until 1977 that I was able to attend my first national convention. That year we met in New Orleans, and I believe my roommates and I had to save long and hard to pay the ten-dollar-a-day fee for our hotel room.
Those were exciting times for me: making my airplane reservation; thinking how much fun it would be to fly; realizing I had never stayed in a hotel for a week and looking forward to it with great anticipation; planning to meet the president of the National Federation of the Blind, Kenneth Jernigan; and shaking the hand that was attached to that voice who told me there was no shame in being blind and that the blind could be educated, articulate, and, when we needed to be, forceful.
Since 1977 I have missed two national conventions, one to care for an ill loved one, and the other to fill my responsibilities as a project manager when my employer decided to implement a financial accounting package at the beginning of the fiscal year. Missing those two conventions was very difficult for me, and I spent my days at home and at work tracking what would be happening in Baltimore and in Dallas, respectively. I was missing the meeting of the Resolutions Committee; President Maurer was giving the Presidential Report; I was at home watching Thursday evening television, but I should be in the banquet hall listening to the banquet speech. Those experiences have helped me to appreciate national convention in the same way that a person appreciates being pain-free after a migraine or healing from a painful bone break. Still, the repetition of thirty-four years does tend to dim what was exciting and make it routine and even a bit burdensome. "I'm going to make my first airplane reservation" can easily turn into "I have to book another flight." "I'm going to make a reservation at a fancy hotel" can easily become "I'm not sure if my credit card can afford it, but I better book a room before rooms in the main hotel are gone."
This year something special happened to me that once again transformed the mundane and routine into something extraordinary and almost magical. After leaving my grandson at home for the 2012 convention, we promised he could join us in Orlando in 2013. We would fly on an airplane, go to a big hotel, meet lots of influential people, and perhaps set aside a couple of days to do some touring in Orlando. When the spring came round and July became more than a far-off promise, every week or so my grandson would burst into the room and ask, "Are you excited, Grandpa?" Now Grandpa isn't always too quick on the uptake, so the first time this happened I asked, "Excited about what?" His reaction was typical of the eleven-year-old who can't believe that a grandpa can get so old and still be so unaware of the important things in the world. "Our trip to the convention,” he said. Then I got it: it isn't just the going that is wonderful but the thinking, the planning, and the countdown to making the dream reality.
"Are you excited" became the $64,000 question around our house, but if this had been the experience of only one grandpa, grandma, and grandson, I wouldn't have used it to introduce our convention roundup. No, excitement wasn't just in the mind of a little boy named Ethan Perry Sutton and his grandparents; excitement was what I observed everywhere at the 2013 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, and excitement is what I have read in the many emails that have come from convention attendees who want to share what they experienced this year.
This was the Federation's second visit to a Rosen property. In 2011 we stayed at the Rosen Shingle Creek, and this year we savored the experience of staying at the Rosen Centre. Often the large facilities we use are a uniquely challenging travel experience for me. Gone are the lower ceilings, close walls, and ninety-degree turns that normally give lots of clues in maintaining good orientation during indoor travel. By contrast, the Rosen Centre was easily learned; we came armed with good written instructions about the layout of the hotel, and within two days most of us were going from point A to point B without the irritating exits and detours we have come to expect.
The weekend of June 29 and 30 found the hotel lobby full of dogs, canes, and happy shouts of "Hello, friend; good to see you. We'll have to get together for a meal." But for all of the longtime convention goers who crowded the lobby and elevators, a really exciting part of this year's convention could be heard in the enthusiasm of those who were attending their first national convention. At check-in time some of them were overwhelmed: "I've never been around so many blind people. How in the world am I going to find my way?" By the time convention got into full swing, it was more common to hear "I've never been around so many blind people. This is really cool. They just pick up their canes and go, and I can do it too."
Although the convention is officially in session for only three days, anyone familiar with our work knows that it begins long before the fall of the gavel on convention opening day. This year activities started on July 1 at 7:30 in the morning with the meeting of the Amateur Radio Division and continued late into the night with the NFB's version of American Idol in the form of karaoke night. In between there were meetings of blind students, blind professionals in rehabilitation, parents of blind children, a meeting of those seeking employment who attended an employment seminar, a job fair, and a training session held by the largest online job service in the world, Monster.com. The Jernigan Institute was busy with technology training sessions, and many of the major vendors selling technology for the blind hosted sessions devoted to training and to advertising the features that would soon be found in their newest incarnations of products. The problem for convention attendees was not "Can I find something of interest to attend?" but "How can I decide what is of most interest to me, and can I find people who attended the seminars I couldn't and get them to tell me what was covered?"
As video presentations become more important in the classroom and as television shows and movies become ever more visual, the need for descriptive video becomes critically important. For this reason the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center and the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute have partnered to train video describers. On Monday morning participants tested the system and their skill in using it by recording their own descriptions of selected videos from YouTube and other sources. Technology used to communicate with the deaf-blind was demonstrated by the Jernigan Institute. Blind youngsters could attend seminars on everything from learning appropriate social skills to creating and reading raised line drawings. Pearson, one of the largest educational publishers in the world, was present to invite students to test its MyLab products. In this presentation students were encouraged to have a hands-on experience in learning math, English, information technology, and business courses.
Of course, by far the most active division of the National Federation of the Blind on seminar day is the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Readers of the May 2013 issue will remember the fourteen-page agenda filled with activities for parents and children of all ages, and those parents and children were very much in evidence in the halls and meeting rooms of the 2013 convention.
But we know the convention isn't just about young people; our seniors are the fastest-growing segment of the blind population, and part of our job is to introduce them to the growing array of senior services available to them and to show through example the coping strategies that work for us.
One of the most meaningful pieces of legislation passed thus far in this century is the Help America Vote Act. Through technology usable by the blind and sighted, the blind are able to cast a truly secret ballot. Several machines are now used throughout the country, and several more are under development. The Dominion Voting Hospitality Suite gave voters an opportunity to see the ImageCast Evolution Tabulator, a precinct-level optical scan ballot counter, which provides all voters an opportunity to vote privately and independently. The company not only got valuable advertising for its product but learned from the blind themselves exactly what blind people like and do not like in an electronic voting machine.
Monday evening saw meetings of the National Association of Guide Dog Users; the National Association of Blind Office Professionals; the Living History Group, dedicated to recording, preserving, and appreciating the Federation's history; and the Community Service Group, created to demonstrate that blind people not only need help and support from our communities but are active contributors to the places where we live and work. Traditional meetings such as the White Cane and Affiliate Finance Committee, the Rookie Roundup, and the first meeting of the scholarship class of 2013 helped to round out our first day of convention activities. For many this day started early and ended late—a practice that would continue until the adjournment of the banquet on Saturday evening.
Activities began promptly at 9:00 AM on Tuesday morning with convention registration and banquet ticket sales. At one time standing in the registration line provided an opportunity to visit with old friends, make new ones, and speculate about what would be found in the agenda handed out at the end of the registration process. But the days of the registration line are gone. Now registration and banquet ticket sales involve walking up to a table, giving your name, being handed your registration packet, and hearing "I hope you have a wonderful convention" from a member of the cheery registration staff. The Independence Market, formerly the Materials Center, opened promptly at nine, and so too did the exhibit hall, where sponsor-level exhibitors had two hours to demonstrate their products and services.
Our convention sponsors for 2013 were Accessibility Champions: Vanda Pharmaceuticals and Deque Systems Inc.; Title Sponsor: Monster Worldwide; Platinum Sponsors: UPS, HumanWare, Oracle, and Travelocity; Gold Sponsors: Brown, Goldstein, and Levy, LLP; Google; Market Development Group Inc.; Silver Sponsors: AT&T; Freedom Scientific; Pearson Higher Education; Bronze Sponsors: Blackberry; C and P-Chris Park Design; IBM; VitalSource Technologies; White Cane Sponsors: Courseload; En-Vision America; HIMS Inc.; eBay Inc.; Sprint; MegaVoice; SSB Bart Group; and Learning Ally.
At 11:00 AM the convention hall opened to all exhibitors, including NFB affiliates and divisions. Other meetings occurred throughout the day, including the Blind Musicians Group, the Travel and Tourism Division, the National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education Division, the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee, and of course the meeting of the Resolutions Committee, chaired by our most capable Sharon Maneki. In addition to these formal activities, one could attend a goalball workshop; a self-defense workshop; a presentation and training session on "Books, Music, and More," presented by K-NFB Reading Technologies; and a presentation by Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc. discussing circadian rhythm and sleep-wake disorders with expert Dr. Stephen Lockley, associate professor of medicine, Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, at the Harvard Medical School. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children held a style show, an opportunity for aspiring young models to take a walk down the runway in their favorite outfits. The Division, in conjunction with the Writers' Division, also sponsored "Writing Your Own Script," a youth-track activity for young people ages eleven to eighteen. Of course there was the much anticipated sixteenth annual mock trial, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Lawyers, and, as we have come to expect, it was a hit.
The evening session began with a meeting for affiliate presidents and treasurers, and, as the night progressed, there were meetings of the Kurzweil 1000 User Group; the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille; the National Association of Blind Students; the Public Employees Division; the NFB Krafters Division business meeting; a presentation by NFB-NEWSLINE® entitled "Taking Mobile to a New Level”; and an innovative presentation by our governmental affairs staff entitled "State and US Capitol Hills and Bills." The National Association of Blind Veterans held its meeting, as did the Library Services Committee, the Blind Parents Group, and the Committee for the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology. The Membership Committee held a seminar entitled "New Generation: Solutions for Growing Our Affiliates and Chapters — Removing Old Barriers." A special Paralympic panel presentation was held in which former and current Paralympic and international blind athletes explained how they persevered to get to the top, and a special gathering of the Spanish Translation Committee was held to discuss how best to share the benefits of the Federation with those who speak Spanish.
Wednesday morning activities began at 9:00 AM with the NFB board of directors meeting, which was open to all. When the gavel fell, a tremendous cheer erupted from the hall, and a roll call of the board found all members present. Sam Gleese was in attendance even though his wife Vanessa had, only the day before, been released from the intensive care unit of a hospital in Mississippi. A moment of silence was observed in memory of those no longer with us. Of the many who had died, those recognized by name included Lev Williams of Tennessee; Hazel Staley of North Carolina; Buck Saunders of West Virginia; Frank Lee of Alabama; Herman Gruber of North Carolina; Robert Hunt of West Virginia; Bob Eschbach of Arizona, who was formerly a resident of Ohio, a national board member, and the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio; and Joe Money of Indiana. The silence in the hall was a testament to the work of these fine men and women and the esteem in which they are held by those who, because of their example, have taken up the task they considered so dear—to carve out a better future for the blind of our nation and the world.
President Maurer took a moment to review information about convention registration. As of the close of business on the prior evening, we had visitors from thirteen other nations in attendance. There were seven from the Bahamas, two from Barbados, eighteen from Canada, one from the Czech Republic, one from India, four from Israel, ten from Kyrgyzstan, one from Nigeria, three from Panama, one from Saudi Arabia, two from Trinidad, one from Trinidad Tobago, and two from the United Kingdom. This means that at the beginning of the board meeting we had fifty-three registrants from other nations, and at the time of this meeting, 2,233 people were registered.
The president reported that the board positions needing to be filled at the convention were currently held by Parnell Diggs of South Carolina, Sam Gleese of Mississippi, Ever Lee Hairston of California, Cathy Jackson of Kentucky, Mika Pyyhkala of Massachusetts, and Joe Ruffalo of New Jersey. Other members of the board who would not stand for election in 2013 were Marc Maurer, president, from Maryland; Fred Schroeder, first vice president, from Virginia; Ron Brown, second vice president, from Indiana; James Gashel, secretary, from Colorado; Pam Allen, treasurer, from Louisiana; and board members Amy Buresh from Nebraska; Patti Chang from Illinois; Mike Freeman from Washington State; John Fritz from Wisconsin; Carl Jacobsen from New York; and Alpidio Rolón from Puerto Rico.
Mika Pyyhkala called for the floor to announce that he would not accept nomination for another term on the board. Mika is widely known for his pioneering work in bringing accessibility to cutting-edge technology, and, though he will continue to be a strong advocate in this and other arenas, he does not wish to continue the added responsibilities that come from being a member of the board. President Maurer thanked Mika for his service and especially his groundbreaking work in the area of helping to make technology accessible. He concluded by saying, "It is a pleasure to have you as a colleague and a friend."
Dan Hicks, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, was next invited to the podium for welcoming remarks to the board of directors and the convention. Given that Orlando is a magical place, boasting Disney's magical kingdom and the Orlando Magic basketball team, President Hicks began his welcome with a magic trick. His was not a visual trick or an auditory trick; instead, it was a magic trick of the mind, and we were all invited to participate. Here were his magical instructions: Think of a two-digit number. Add together the digits of your two-digit number. Take the resulting number and subtract this number from the number you started with. Take the two-digit number that results and add those two digits together. If you still have a two-digit number, add those digits, coming up with a one-digit number. NFB has three letters, so subtract three from your number. Now pick the letter that corresponds to that number—if your number is one, you would pick the letter a; if it is seven, you would pick the letter g. Now think of a state that begins with that letter. Since NFB has three letters, take the third letter of the state you are thinking of, and then think of a city that starts with that letter. Congratulations, folks: you have now arrived in Orlando, Florida. The success of this trick was affirmed by laughter and applause, and with that Dan urged that we make this the best ever convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
President Maurer announced that a newly organized group of blind people has asked for admission to the National Federation of the Blind and has submitted its constitution for approval. Having reviewed the constitution, he recommended to the board of directors that it admit and charter the National Federation of the Blind of Montana. The board unanimously approved a motion to admit the newly formed group and to charter it at the annual banquet on Saturday evening. The crowd, knowing of our long struggle truly to incorporate the Montana Association for the Blind, cheered enthusiastically when the motion was passed.
Anil Lewis has been appointed to chair our Imagination Fund Committee. He began his presentation by suggesting that, if we were not on the Preauthorized Contribution Plan, we should immediately go back to the table and sign up; if we were already on the plan, we should go back to the table and increase. He then emphasized to the group that the purpose of the Imagination Fund is not to take money from our own pockets, as we do in the Preauthorized Contribution Plan, but to solicit support from friends and neighbors who care about us and therefore care about the things important to us. When we think about the Imagination Fund, we often imagine the things we want to do and why we should raise money to do them. Anil asked us to think about the world without the Federation, what it would be like for blind people, and with that thought uppermost in our minds, to go forth and ask those with whom we have relationships to help us with this important cause. We are building a team of imaginators, people who are not afraid or ashamed to ask for donations to support our noble efforts. Let people see, through our asking and our good works, that we are about ensuring that blind children get to read Braille, that blind adults get remunerative employment opportunities, and that the world is a better place because blind people are in it and fully participating members of it. He encourages everyone to contact him at <email@example.com> or to call him at our national headquarters.
Kevan Worley and Anil Lewis have been asked by President Maurer to reestablish the Blind Industrial Workers of America Division of the National Federation of the Blind. This group will be critical in helping us repeal the laws that permit the payment of subminimum wages to blind people.
Because of our commitment to Braille, the National Federation of the Blind runs a program funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults dedicated to the creation and distribution of Braille books for children. We distribute approximately 2,000 free books each month, and anyone who knows a blind child who could benefit from a new book is encouraged to contact Mrs. Patricia Maurer at the National Center for the Blind.
President Maurer announced that the 2014 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be in Orlando. This will be true for the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 conventions as well. We may be in different hotels, and we may vary the dates of the convention, but they will be held on Rosen properties, and we will enjoy the fine facilities they have to offer.
Cathy Jackson was introduced to present the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. The 2013 winner is a deserving teacher from the state of Georgia, and the award presentation can be found elsewhere in this issue.
Scott LaBarre took the floor to talk with the board and those attending the meeting about the Preauthorized Contribution Program. While for some time now we have had an annual giving rate that was at or above $400,000, we came into the convention with annualized giving of $398,450.16. Although this is above where we were last year at this time, it does not represent the yearly high that we had in December of 2012, and it is clear that we can do much better. Chairman LaBarre suggested that we set ourselves the task of raising our annualized contribution to at least $425,000 by the end of convention.
Sandy Halverson took the floor to talk about the Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) Fund. This is a savings account or a rainy day fund to which we make contributions as a hedge against the day when we may face a substantial financial crisis. If the time comes when we are in desperate need of funds, we will spend the interest from this program. If our circumstances are dire, we will then use the principal. Currently we have over $1 million in the fund, and our hope is to get all of the states to make contributions to ensure that we can weather any financial adversity that comes our way.
Dr. David Ticchi, the chairman of the Blind Educator of the Year Award Committee, was introduced for a presentation. He presented a much-deserved award to a woman from Pennsylvania. His remarks and those of the recipient appear elsewhere in this issue.
By long-standing policy, chapters, state affiliates, and divisions share their good fortune with the national treasury. Anytime a bequest is received, half of that bequest is granted to the national body. President Maurer recognized Julie Deden and Scott LaBarre to make a presentation, and they presented a check in the amount of $750,000 to support the work of our national body. They were followed by Jennifer Dunnam, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. On behalf of her affiliate she presented a check in the amount of $205,000.
Rena Smith, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada, was introduced in recognition of previous contributions her affiliate has made throughout the year. She surprised us with the presentation of yet another check, this one in the amount of $50,000.
President Maurer concluded this part of the presentation by acknowledging a check for slightly under $200,000 from the affiliate in Connecticut. He thanked our state president, Beth Rival, and the audience showed its appreciation with a round of applause.
Joanne Wilson addressed the group to discuss our newly created Vehicle Donation Program. We accept cars, trucks, vans, boats, motorcycles, airplanes, and anything else that has wheels and can be towed. Our job is to make the public familiar with this program so that people will call our donation center when they have a beloved vehicle that can do one more good deed in its metallic life. Public donations can be taken by going to the website <www.carshelpingtheblind.org> or by calling (855) 659-9314. For their donation, donors are given a tax-deductible certificate and a letter of appreciation, and the National Federation of the Blind receives about $500 for each donated vehicle. If each of our states can generate ten vehicle donations in the course of the year, this will make a significant contribution to our effort to find new and creative means of raising money for the organization.
In addition to starting our Vehicle Donation Program, we have also made a commitment to go into the thrift store business. We will begin in the eastern states, and, when these programs are successful, it is our intention to branch out and cover every state in the country. We are working with the organization GreenDrop, and this too can be a significant source of income if we get out the word and let people know that we are looking for clothing, household appliances, and other items of value that they can no longer use.
Patti Chang came to the platform to introduce the scholarship class of 2013. This class represents one of the best we have ever had, and their remarks to the board of directors and the speech of the 2013 Jernigan Scholarship winner are found elsewhere in this issue. So impressed was the board of directors by the presentation of this class and in the success of the scholarship program that it voted unanimously to continue it next year.
For the second year in a row the board meeting adjourned on time, and the assembled prepared for an afternoon filled with division, committee, and group meetings.
Nothing is a greater testament to the diversity of interests and accomplishments of the blind than the division meetings held on board meeting and division day. There are the meetings of the Sports and Recreation Division, the Diabetes Action Network, the National Association of Blind Lawyers, the NFB in Computer Science, the National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith, the Seniors in Charge program held by the Seniors Division, the Public Relations Committee meeting, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the Performing Arts Division, the National Association of Blind Educators, the National Association of Blind Merchants, the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals, the Human Services Division, the Writers' Division, the Piano Technology Group, and the Cerebral Palsy and Blindness gathering. For those who didn't find themselves in a division or committee meeting, there was training to use the NFB-NEWSLINE® service; a session for Inspiring Artists, Beginners to Professionals; and activities sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division, which included a self-defense workshop and a fundraiser in which challengers could take on officers of the Sports and Recreation Division board in arm wrestling, push-ups, or other challenging activities.
Of course, as important as these activities were, many of the blind children who attended were not particularly interested in the division meetings that occupied the afternoon. They had their hearts set on the Braille Book Fair cosponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. In this program children can browse through a large number of donated books, choose the ones they want, and then have those books sent to their homes by volunteers who will box and ship them. This is a splendid activity which allows gently used books to find new and loving homes, is a delight to the fingers of young Braille readers, and furthers our goal of increasing literacy through Braille.
As the evening progressed, there was a meeting of blind academics; the National Association of Guide Dog Users; the Science and Engineering Division; the Assistive Technology Trainers; the National Association of Blind Automobile Enthusiasts; the Committee to Empower Underserved Populations; and the Webmasters Group for chapter, affiliate, and division webmasters’ education and collaboration. If these items didn't pique the interest of convention attendees, there was always the Daisy Book of the Holy Bible seminar at which the King James Version of the complete Holy Bible (narrated by Alexander Scourby) was demonstrated to be navigable down to the verse using a Victor Reader Stream or similar Daisy book player. At a party sponsored by Bookshare, members could connect with Bookshare staff, meet other Bookshare members, and learn about the latest news and updates available through the service. Music enthusiasts could attend the Music Tech and You Workshop to learn about composing, recording, and mixing using state-of-the-art technology. Teachers of blind children could learn about the National Reading Media Assessment, a new chapter in the story of literacy for the blind. "Self-Advocacy in Higher Education: Knowing Your Rights and Getting It Done," provided a workshop for current or soon to be college and postgraduate students, where they could learn about their legal rights and how to employ effective strategies for self-advocacy in obtaining accommodations, accessing instructional materials, and requesting accommodations in high-stakes testing.
No convention would be complete without a first run play written by Jerry Whittle and presented by the Louisiana Center for the Blind. This year the play was entitled Golden Moments, and at the end of the play its author and producer was surprised by a special party thrown in honor of his retirement and that of his wife, Merilynn. It is doubtful that one could find two finer Federationists in the country, and this recognition of their service was well deserved.
When the gavel fell on the first official session of the seventy-third convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the crowd answered with a tumultuous roar. President Maurer began by giving us a bit of history. He read from a document which began:
The Florida Federation of the Blind Preconvention Bulletin
June 16, 1960
We have set the stage for a wonderful and big twentieth anniversary convention of the National Federation of the Blind to be held at the Everglades Hotel, Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Florida, July 1 to 4. If you have not made your reservations, please do so now. The rates at the Everglades are as follows: singles, $5.50; doubles, $7.00; triples, $9.50.
This drew an envious cheer from the crowd and paved the way for Dan Hicks to welcome us to Florida. He took the microphone to offer us yet another magic trick, but, in the middle of his convoluted explanation, the stage was filled by a cast of characters who unarguably know more about magic than our esteemed state president. He was joined by Harry Potter, his friends, and a host of dignitaries from the Hogwarts School of Magic, who decided to attend the convention to learn something about the art of fundraising, their school having fallen on financial hard times. In the Harry Potter series, new students attending Hogwarts are assigned to their dormitories by a magical piece of clothing known as a sorting hat. In the Hogwarts ceremony, each new student approaches the hat, which calls out his or her name and place of residence. In the ceremony conducted in Orlando, however, students approached the hat to ask their proper role in the organization, and each was told that it was to assist in fundraising so that the Federation might continue to carry out its noble work. This introduction was nothing if not unique, and its message couldn't have been timelier.
After the magical characters of Hogwarts went off to see other sights in Orlando, the stage was taken by Dwight Sayer, who began the morning's festivities to honor our nation's veterans. This commenced with a presentation of the colors by the Air Force Honor Guard from Patrick Air Force Base. When they reached the stage, the convention joined in the Pledge of Allegiance on the 237th birthday of our nation and then joined Father John Sheehan and Dr. Jessica Ewell as they led us in the singing of the National Anthem.
Those who served our country in the armed forces were invited to introduce themselves with name, rank, branch of service, and state of residence. The first four to introduce themselves were members of the Veterans Initiative Program we created to assist in bringing them to this convention. Thirty-eight veterans introduced themselves, and all were greeted with an enthusiastic round of applause. The ceremony was concluded in song. The medley performed is captured in the audio version of this issue and may be found, along with other audio highlights of the convention, at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights#2013>. President Maurer noted that he had applied to be a member of the United States Armed Forces and was rejected on the basis of blindness. He affirmed our commitment that one day this will change.
Diane McGeorge talked briefly about our Cyber Auction, which will occur on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Each affiliate is being asked to make a pledge to the Amazing Online Auction, and it is needed by September 1. This project represents another effort to reach out to the public and to gain the support we need to fund the valuable work we do.
The chairman of the Jernigan Fund Committee, Allen Harris, explained the role of the fund in raising scholarship money and expressed his pride in our being able to help more than sixty Federationists attend the convention this year.
The next item on the morning's agenda was the roll call of states. Because illness prevented Joy Harris, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama, from joining us, Cindy Jones of Alabama answered the roll call, asked that we all join in saying good morning to Joy as she listened to the convention stream, and welcomed for the first time the president of the Alabama school for the deaf and the blind, Dr. John Mascia. Cindy concluded her remarks by chiding President Maurer on Notre Dame's football loss to the Crimson Tide of Alabama. The president emotionally opined that he had enjoyed the Notre Dame season up to that point.
Arizona came to the microphone to announce that it had in its delegation fifty-one first-timers to the national convention. This was the largest number of first-timers recorded in the roll call, but clearly evident in almost every report from the states was an impressive number of newcomers to our annual convention.
When the roll call of states reached Colorado, President Scott LaBarre recognized the Colorado Center for the Blind and said that it would soon be celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, a quarter of a century that has witnessed positive change in the hundreds of students who have passed through the Center's doors.
The president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia boasted seventy-three Georgians at the convention, with twenty-two first-time convention attendees, seven sets of parents of blind children, one Braille Challenge winner, one teacher of blind students (an award winner this year), two dogs, one goat, and a chicken. Though the Braille Monitor seldom turns away from the dirty work of investigative journalism, we made no attempt to confirm the nonhuman census provided by the gentleman from Georgia.
President Michael Barber of Iowa explained how much teamwork can do when the affiliate of his state helped secure $150,000 in excess of the governor's budget request to support the programs of the Iowa Department for the Blind.
The president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky, Cathy Jackson, announced that the prize the Kentucky affiliate would give for the Amazing Online Auction would be four grandstand tickets to the Kentucky Derby.
President Larry Posont of Michigan announced the death of Michigan's longest-serving member of the Federation, Dorothy Eagle Scott. She had been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since 1941 and was active until several months before her death.
The convention erupted in cheers when Travis Moses, the president of the newly-formed National Federation of the Blind of Montana, stood at the microphone to deliver his report. The audience was again moved to enthusiastic applause when Carl Jacobsen took the microphone as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York. In January of this year he went into the hospital with chest pain and found himself the recipient of double bypass surgery. Not content simply to be a patient, President Jacobsen put on his Federation hat and began talking to the senior vice president of the hospital about how it could improve accessibility for blind people. "He was in his three-piece suit, and I was in one of those gowns that fasten from the back, but here we were, carrying on the business of the Federation," he said. Carl concluded his report by saying that, thanks to the generosity of Cheryl Echevaria, the New York affiliate would be donating a trip with a value of at least $2,000 to our upcoming Cyber Auction.
President James Brown of Tennessee came to the microphone to say that, four days previous, a law was enacted in Tennessee to protect the rights of blind parents against seizure of their children based on blindness. The Tennessee affiliate is also being paid by the Department of Children's Services to train all of their 2,300 workers so that they know blind people are capable of being good parents.
The morning session concluded with President Maurer asking for a shout-out from those who attended their first convention in the decade of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the first decade of the twenty-first century, and finally, the most enthusiastic roar coming from those attending their very first convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
On Thursday afternoon the session began with the 2013 Presidential Report. In just over one hour and three minutes our president managed to discuss the programs of our Federation, the challenges we have faced, the victories we have won, and the commitment we have to shaping a future that holds greater opportunity for the blind of the nation and the world. He concluded his report with these remarks: "We have programs, financial resources, facilities, influential supporters, and technologies that we have built or caused others to create. But the most important thing we have is each other and the faith that we inspire in ourselves to use our strength for a common purpose and a shared goal. We have promised that we will believe in each other, and we always keep our promises. Our spirit makes us what we are, and our combined energy comes from the spirit that lives in the hearts of each of us. This spirit is unquenchable, and, because it is, our future is assured. This is what you, my friends in the Federation, have told me; this is what I have come to know in the depth of my being from listening to you; and this is my report for 2013." President Maurer's remarks will appear in full immediately following this report.
Traditionally everyone who follows President Maurer's report publicly complains about their place on the agenda, saying that he is a hard if not impossible act to follow. Of course they are correct. The Presidential Report is one of the highlights of the convention. The convention hall is uncharacteristically quiet, except when it erupts in applause for the victories we have achieved or to affirm our resolve to meet the challenges ahead.
This year the speaker who took the stage after President Maurer was our own Dr. Adrienne Asch, director of the Center for Ethics and the Edward and Robert Milstein Professor of Bioethics at Yeshiva University. Her topic was "Reinterpreting and Expanding the Right to Live in the World." She asked the convention to consider what we were prepared to do to see that the prenatal testing that is now being offered will not be used to prevent the birth of people who are blind, what we will do to see that blindness does not figure prominently in the end-of-life care we receive, and how we will make our voices heard as agencies at all levels of government consider how medical care will be apportioned to United States citizens in the event of a pandemic. Though the professor spoke at a time when many take the opportunity to catch their breath, talk with a neighbor, or run some kind of convention errand, her topic and presentation were so engaging that you could've heard a pin drop in that large convention hall. Her remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
A major focus of the Federation has always been and will continue to be employment. As President Maurer observed in his introduction of the next presenter, in order to have equal opportunity for employment, one must find a job. In the twenty-first century most job searches are conducted online, and the day of sending out hundreds of paper résumés has long since passed. Monster.com is the largest online job search company in the world, and to speak with us on the topic of "Equal Access for the Blind to Job Searches on the Internet" was Mark Conway, chief information officer, Monster Worldwide. Mr. Conway said that "Monster pioneered the notion of helping people get more out of work by showing them that there's a better job out there. We started the business of digital recruiting in 1994, and today we're the only online recruitment provider able to service customers on a global basis. Monster has an unparalleled international reach, with a presence in over forty countries in the world. And we enjoy the number one and number two positions in the major markets of the world in which we operate.... At Monster we don't just sell better jobs; we help people live better lives, we inspire people to improve their lives. Because, in the end, the better job is more than that: a better job is a better experience, an experience that leads to better possibilities, better opportunities, better relationships, and better perspectives. We have enhanced our mission through our collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind. Earlier this year in Boston we announced that, working together, Monster.com would be the first job search and recruitment website to provide blind jobseekers with full and equal access to all our products and services. Let me focus on how we got there.
"Over the past year a team at Monster has been working closely with the National Federation of the Blind to enhance our Monster.com website in a way that will provide more opportunities for blind jobseekers to find jobs. Although portions of our site were already accessible, we realized we could do more. Therefore Monster went through the process of redesigning and updating key pages and flows on the site to ensure accessibility to our site for blind seekers.... These changes allowed blind jobseekers not only to find great jobs but to engage with employers, to apply for jobs, and to leverage the full benefit of Monster services." Not only has Monster.com improved its site, but in conjunction with these enhancements Monster has also focused on the education of the blind job seeker and developed an accessibility center for its website. "To continue to enable people to find better jobs, Monster has provided the National Federation of the Blind with a five-year grant of free job postings on Monster to allow the national organization to hire the best talent through Monster.com. In addition we made a donation of $50,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to support programs to promote education and employment of blind persons and other persons with disabilities. We look forward to continuing this critical work with the National Federation of the Blind."
At the end of Mr. Conway's remarks, President Maurer said, "I was distracted during part of your presentation, so I may have missed it. I heard you talk about that gift you gave to Massachusetts, but I didn't hear you say that you gave us $50,000 to be a Title Sponsor for this convention. The idea is that we can build better things together than either of us can do alone, and this is a great thing for us—we love it, and we're glad to have you here."
As we have often noted in these pages, a significant problem for blind people is that we are told to sit down and wait. Some of this we reject, but some of it we take to heart. Like our sighted counterparts, many of us spend too much time sitting and fail to get the exercise critical to good health. To help address this issue, the next item appearing on the afternoon agenda was "The Poetry of Motion, the Grace of Movement, the Delight of Physical Expression: Blindness No Barrier." The panel was moderated by Natalie Shaheen, director of education at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Her remarks and a summary of those made by her fellow panel members will be reprinted later in the fall.
The final item of the afternoon session was entitled "The Newest Digital Book Player with Added Connectivity and Other Revolutionary Technology," and was presented by the chief executive officer of HumanWare, Gilles Pepin. He discussed the newest incarnation of the Victor Reader Stream, which is smaller, lighter, and louder than its predecessor and includes the ability to communicate wirelessly. This means that no longer must one connect the unit to a computer in order to download books, music, and other information of interest. Through an agreement with the National Federation of the Blind, the new Stream will allow information from NFB-NEWSLINE® to be directly downloaded to the player so that the blind person who owns one of these devices can wake and find his or her newspaper ready to read. With the new Stream, readers will have access to 327 national and local newspapers and forty magazines without a computer or telephone. The device will also provide access to books from the National Library Service, Bookshare, and (thanks to the efforts of Curtis Chong in his capacity as the head of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science) the Audible service will be accessible as well. Not content with providing reading material, updates will soon be provided allowing access to stock quotes, weather forecasts, podcasts, Internet radio, and other music services.
Of course HumanWare is not interested in audio only; its strong commitment to Braille is demonstrated by its extensive line of Braille products. As Mr. Pepin says, "As you know, HumanWare is all about Braille and its future. In the last twenty-five years we have been committed to Braille literacy. We've always had a complete line of state-of-the-art products, including our very popular BrailleNote and Brailliant flagship products. We are great believers that Braille is the only path towards literacy for our children. We know that Braille readers are the leaders in this community, but in the recent past Braille has been losing ground. Education budgets have been cut; the number of available teachers of Braille is decreasing; there is often an unfortunate belief that more affordable mainstream solutions based on speech are enough for our children, but they are not. These and other reasons are contributing to the decline in Braille literacy, and we must fight back! . . . At HumanWare we believe our contribution should be focused on three critical elements: we want to make Braille more affordable, more portable, and more connectable to this digital world. . . together with NFB and others, we will increase the use of Braille worldwide, and Braille literacy will prevail."
Mr. Pepin concluded by discussing the soon-to-be-announced Prodigi, a device that will bring the world of closed-circuit television technology into the twenty-first century and give those with low vision a simple, affordable, portable device. This will allow a blind person to hear the contents of a document spoken aloud, view it on the screen, or wirelessly download it for later review.
At the conclusion of the afternoon session, plenty of activities awaited the spirited and energetic crowd. There was an opportunity to record a professionally mixed and edited demo of one's favorite song; an open house sponsored by the Colorado Center for the Blind; a chance to visit the exhibit hall; and a meeting of the Employment Committee to learn about resources to help with career planning, job seeking, and getting that first job. Those interested in homeschooling their children could learn all about it from instructor Heather Field, those wanting to learn about the basics of the Individualized Education Plan could be schooled by Carlton Walker, and parents wanting to know more about the legal process could also benefit from her knowledge as a lawyer and first-class advocate. Those wanting to learn how to work with their state and local boards of elections to eliminate barriers that prevent blind and visually impaired voters from casting private and independent ballots could attend a seminar, and those wanting to know about the contribution of the National Federation of the Blind in researching and developing new technology could attend a meeting sponsored by the Research and Development Committee. Finally, those interested in a little less work and a bit more play could attend the annual Monte Carlo Night sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students.
However people chose to spend the evening, they managed to find their way back the next morning to the grand ballroom for the 9:00 AM fall of the gavel. The morning session began with a financial report delivered by President Maurer. In last year's report he told us that there had been a significant alteration in our income and that changes would have to be made. This year we find that our expenses still exceed our income by some $700,000. We have initiated a number of new fundraising activities, which were discussed earlier in this article, and we continue to look for ways to cut expenses while preserving and expanding our programs. There is reason to believe that our balance sheet for 2013 will be better at the end of the year than it now appears, but it is absolutely essential that we continue to look for ways to fund this movement.
The convention next turned its attention to elections and filling the terms expiring at the end of the convention. The Nominating Committee report recommended Parnell Diggs; Sam Gleese; Ever Lee Hairston; Cathy Jackson; Jeannie Massay, president of the NFB of Oklahoma; and Joe Ruffalo. The Convention accepted the report of the Nominating Committee, President Maurer conducted the election, and each member nominated by the committee was elected.
In introducing the next presentation, President Maurer said: "We now take up an item that we were thinking of doing tomorrow, but we are fortunate to be able to do it today. This is being presented by a teacher of blind students from Hamilton, Mississippi. This is a story worth knowing, a spirit worth feeling; this is a teacher in the movement who believed in blind children—and not only believed in blind children, but she taught the legislature to share her faith. It is my great good fortune to welcome for her presentation Casey Robertson."
Here is how Casey began her remarks: "Good morning, Federation family and friends. I am here this morning, and if you would look at your agenda, you might see that you were supposed to hear about surviving potential disaster. Well I think my story goes right along with that, because, if we do not change the way students in our country are taught, we are headed for disaster." With these attention-getting remarks, Casey went on to deliver a stellar presentation that will appear in a future issue of this magazine.
"Supporting the Blind of America in Congress" was next presented by the Honorable Daniel Webster, United States House of Representatives, from the Tenth Congressional District of Florida. Congressman Webster congratulated us on the work we do, stressed the value of not-for-profit organizations such as ours, and talked about the greatest obstacle he finds in Congress today—finding common ground, developing trust, listening, and uniting to take action. He said one of his first acts after being elected in 2010 was to call three of his fellow Congressman of the opposite party to ask that they sit with him at the State of the Union speech. The first to return his call was Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Through this encounter he learned about an annual softball game between women in Congress and members of the press. He was asked to coach the congressional team, accepted the challenge, and helped his team to a late-inning five to four victory. After his team's triumph, while walking to catch the Metro for a ride home, he began to think about how special that night was and how the unity among conservatives, moderates, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, men, and women turned out to be more important than their differences. His hope was that he could do something to try to instill this spirit into the United States Congress, and to this end he has established bipartisan dinners, which continue to grow in popularity and have, as their most important dinner activity, sharing experiences, stories, victories, and defeats, in the hope that the result will be relationships based on trust and the creation of an environment where people who share significant differences can still come together for the common good.
At the conclusion of the Congressman's remarks, President Maurer said, "Thank you for that profound message, and I appreciate the profound observations about needing to listen. I have a question for you, however. In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act was adopted. In 1938 it included a provision that said that employers did not have to pay disabled Americans the minimum wage. It still says that. We have caused a bill to be introduced in Congress—this is H.R. 831—and we are looking for people to help us get rid of this legalized discrimination against blind Americans. We'd like to ask you to do it with us."
Congressman Webster said, "Thank you for that question, and another shout out to our Florida friends: they have been in my office, they've explained this to me, and, as a matter of fact, they pointed out to me people I would've never have imagined would be a part of that conspiracy. I was shocked. I support your bill; I think that people should get just compensation for what they do, and I look forward to working with you in an even more substantive way in bringing this to the floor and making it happen."
President Maurer concluded the presentation by saying: "I said to Anil Lewis, when I asked him to go down and work on this in the Congress, to find people in Congress who have courage. I think we have one with us!"
"The Electronic Brailler of Tomorrow Here Today: Distance Learning and Braille Production in One Device" was next presented by David Pillischer, the president of Electronic Brailler LLC, and Peter Sullivan, vice president of software development for Duxbury Systems Inc. For all of the advancement we have seen in reading and writing Braille with notetakers and refreshable Braille displays, relatively little progress has been made in modernizing the traditional Braillewriter, which, by printing on paper, can make possible the reading and writing of multiple lines of Braille and thus enable its use in mathematics and in other arenas where understanding the layout of rows and columns is required. The electronic Brailler which has been produced provides the functionality of the traditional Perkins Braillewriter, along with the state-of-the-art technology to store what is written, to translate and back translate the information entered into it, and to produce Braille so quietly that it can be used in the classroom without interrupting the work of other students. Its ability to use the Internet means that a student can work with a teacher who is not physically present but can provide instruction, review the work, and even send material to be transcribed for the student.
Following these remarks, President Maurer said: "Distance education is vastly needed in this arena because there aren't enough teachers in this area, and the teaching is always interrupted by something. This is a great thing, I look forward to it, and, David, it's been great having you here." Many of Mr. Pillischer's remarks will appear in an upcoming issue.
Our next program item was entitled "Equal Access to Digital Information: Tools that Help in Getting it Done." To make this presentation we welcomed an Accessibility Champion for the 2013 convention and a longtime sponsor, the chief executive officer of Deque Systems, Preety Kumar. This company and its founder are dedicated to access for the blind and have developed an interface called Amaze, which is capable of providing quality access to Facebook for users of screen-reading technology, no matter the screen reader one chooses. For this program the company has won the Computer World Innovation Award, significant recognition by a mainstream newspaper which holds a preeminent position in the world of computing technology. Preety asked for our help in letting the world know that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to technology and that the higher-paying jobs in today's world all revolve around it.
The Friday afternoon session of the convention began promptly at 2 PM, and after a generous door prize President Maurer introduced Robert Repella, chief commercial officer and senior vice president of Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc. to discuss the topic "Exploring Pharmaceuticals in Partnership with the Blind." For some time now Vanda Pharmaceuticals has been exploring the relationship between the ability to differentiate between light and dark and the sleep patterns of blind people. They have been seeking volunteers to participate in testing to determine whether its new drug, Tasimelteon, is effective in treating sleep disturbances that appear to occur in the blind. Having successfully completed these tests, the manufacturer hopes to receive approval for its drug in six to ten months, and Mr. Repella expressed his appreciation for the help of the National Federation of the Blind in researching the issue, in helping to solicit volunteers, and in publicizing the results of the studies. His hope is that, when we next meet in Orlando, Vanda will be close to announcing something for the market to help with the sleep disturbances that have been observed.
"Ending Legalized Discrimination in Wage Payments for Disabled Americans" was the next item on the agenda, and it was presented by the Honorable Greg Harper, United States House of Representatives from the Third Congressional District of Mississippi. Congressman Harper is the lead sponsor of H.R. 831 in the United States House, and his remarks will appear in full in a later issue. Though what he has to say is impressive in written form, the audio presentation has much to recommend it. These remarks and many other audio highlights can be found at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights#2013>.
When I was a young lad in high school and the fall would bring the convention issue of this magazine, one of the highlights for me was always the presentation made by Jim Gashel, the Washington Report, delivered in his capacity as the head of our Washington Office. This is now known as the Advocacy and Policy Report and is currently presented by four articulate warriors who take our message to Capitol Hill each day. They are John Paré, Anil Lewis, Lauren McLarney, and Jesse Hartle. Their report will appear in the October issue. At the end of their presentation, President Maurer said: "As you can tell, we have a very good and very effective team working to get our legislation adopted. It is especially good and especially effective because we have members in every state prepared to do what is needed to get the work done. We are the most effective nonprofit in the nation because we have the team we do and because we have you!"
The remainder of the afternoon was spent in reading and discussing the resolutions that set the policy of the National Federation of the Blind in this and future years. Twenty-four resolutions were brought to the floor; twenty-three of them were passed. A full report from the chairman of the Resolutions Committee and the texts of the resolutions that passed can be found elsewhere in this issue.
When the gavel fell on the last morning of the 2013 convention, 2,429 Federationists were registered. Although our numbers have sometimes been higher, one would be hard pressed to find a more enthusiastic crowd than the one filling the hall and anxiously waiting for the first presentation of the morning.
"Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL): Changing Educational Expectations for the Blind of America" was moderated by Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. He was joined by Sandy Halverson, president of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the lead coordinator of the Virginia BELL Programs; Kayleigh Joyner, a junior at Stephen F. Austin State University; and Raveena Alli, a second grader at Springdale Park Elementary School. These presentations were excellent, no summation could do them justice, and therefore they will appear in their entirety sometime in the fall.
Before the days of digital deployment in the classroom, the biggest challenge for blind people in school was in getting their books on time and insuring that their instructors provided appropriate verbal feedback when drawing on the chalkboard. But now school is a different place, and much of what came from the textbook, the chalkboard, and the lecture is now gotten through what are known as “learning management systems.” They offer tremendous resources for today's students, but, as with other technology, they can present real barriers to blind people when our needs are not taken into consideration in the design and implementation of these systems.
"Accessible Education That Works: a Commitment from Desire2Learn" was presented by Dennis Kavelman, the chief operating officer of this innovative company. The creative force behind Desire2Learn was John Baker, a student at the University of Waterloo, who believed that sitting through lectures and hearing what he was supposed to have read in textbooks was a waste of time. Instead, he envisioned an environment where reading and lectures would be done before class time, allowing time with the professor to be spent in asking questions and going beyond the written and oral material. A hot topic and a current theme in education today is individualized learning, and this is greatly enhanced by software that can watch a student learn, periodically check her understanding, and reinforce those ideas which her answers indicate she does not fully comprehend.
Mr. Kavelman described his company's evolution in developing a product usable by the blind this way: "Our deep commitment and understanding didn't happen overnight. Back in 2006, like many companies in our space, we didn't really appreciate how certain coding decisions had inadvertently created barriers for persons with disabilities. We thought we were doing pretty well because we had added alt text to our images. A local accessibility consultant showed us how nonvisual access users need much more than alt text. She showed us how screen access software works, attempted a number of common tasks in the system, and really struggled in some areas. At the end of the day people had a deeper appreciation for what a good screen-access experience looked like and resolved to do better. Since then we have been working really closely with people with disabilities to refine our software. These interactions have completely changed our approach to designing and delivering products. We don't just think about `Does this have the right markup?' We go much further to ask whether our products are designed to recognize the uniqueness and dignity of our users ...We are proud to have found a partner in the NFB that is deeply committed to these principles ... Desire2Learn is proud to be the only learning management system to have multiple nonvisual accessibility certifications from the NFB. We began working with the Access Technology Team at the NFB Jernigan Institute back in 2010. They have reviewed the nonvisual experience of our learning management system based on common use cases for students and instructors such as taking quizzes, grading, and creating activities within the system. They focus on the user experience, which sets a very rigorous standard." Again, in the words of the company's founder, "Accessibility is an organization-wide mandate and is a critical element in all of our R&D efforts. We are committed to ensuring that we are the industry leader in this very important field."
"Valuing the Talent of Disabled American Workers: Ending Subminimum Wage Payments" was the title of our next presentation delivered by a panel moderated by Anil Lewis, director of advocacy and policy for the National Federation of the Blind; Sheila Leigland, a former worker at Goodwill Industries, who was being paid less than the federal minimum wage; Serena Lowe, senior policy advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy for the United States Department of Labor; and Allison Wohl, executive director, the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination. Anil asked us to recognize that for many in the world an active, thriving, and productive group of blind people runs contrary to what they believe. The idea that we could travel independently to a new city, organize this convention, formulate policy, and then see to its implementation just isn't something they consider possible. He noted that one of our greatest challenges is to recognize that we sometimes get so lost in our success that we miss the fact that there is still a fight to fight.
Sheila Leigland hails from Montana, where she formerly worked for Goodwill Industries. After taking time off for surgery, she was informed by the management of Goodwill's sheltered workshop that she could return to the facility, but her pay would be reduced to $2.71 an hour, the rate paid to all new disabled employees of Goodwill Industries. When she calculated the cost of her transportation to and from work, she decided it made no economic sense to go back. Sheila made it clear that, while Jim Gibbons, the CEO of Goodwill, may say it is all about informed choice, for her and a large majority of the labor force in the United States, it's about money. Not only is it about money, but it's about dignity: the dignity that is eroded when one enters an environment where she is told she is not productive on the line where clothes are sorted; dignity that is eroded when she is told that, despite her college education, she doesn't qualify to be a telephone receptionist or for any other job that might harness her God-given talents; and dignity that is eroded when the very people who tell her she is not productive are themselves blind and make their living by making public pronouncements suggesting they are worthy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they receive in compensation, while labeling as unproductive those who provide the direct labor that makes those salaries possible.
Speaking on behalf of the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD), Allison Wohl reminded us that "Subminimum wage on its face is a problem because it places a lesser value on the work of citizens with disabilities. There is a clear relationship between disability and poverty. For ten years in a row people with disabilities have experienced the highest levels of poverty in the United States. Three-hundred thousand Americans with disabilities are in sheltered workshops, in segregated workplaces, doing piecework for pennies a day in some cases. Between 500,000 and 600,000 people with disabilities are in nonwork settings, and, because of the many restrictions around receiving SSI and Medicaid, they are not allowed to earn, they are not allowed to save. Yet, the United States government spends about $400 million a year on disability payments with an additional 71 billion from the states. What does that money go to? Forty-one percent of it goes to cash payments, which is otherwise known as welfare or income support. Fifty-five percent goes to Medicaid, and less than 1 percent of those dollars is spent on training, education, and employment. What would happen if we turn that model around and that money and the incentives to providers would be on real work at real wages in competitive environments with nondisabled workers like everybody else? This is what we're here to do....
"I loved the Rock Center piece, and thank you to NFB for working so hard to get that piece aired. What Mr. Gibbons talked about was that it was okay to pay these folks less because it was part of their program, and to me that was one of the most hideous things he said. What he meant was that we should not pay people with disabilities more than subminimum wages because they are on welfare. That is an outdated paradigm, and it needs to change! ...CPSD's long-term goal is not just employment but economic self-sufficiency. We recognize that there will always be some dependence on public support, but we need to move from this model of cyclical dependency to self-sufficiency. Economic self-sufficiency starts with schools placing high expectations on students with disabilities and preparing them for a life of work, not segregated nonwork. We cannot force another generation into poverty, and our loved ones with disabilities will never get out of poverty under this outdated model of dependence. Laws have not kept pace with what we know about Americans with disabilities, and our system must be modernized. Seeing the repeal of 14(c) (which allows organizations to pay their workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage) and a phase-out of sheltered workshops are both obvious and powerful first steps in creating a system of economic self-sufficiency for Americans with disabilities."
Serena Lowe was the next member of the panel to take the microphone. She began by reiterating the position articulated by Anil Lewis earlier in the day when he defined the battle to eliminate subminimum wages as the great civil rights issue of our day for people with disabilities. She went on to say, "No matter who you are or where you're from, work is about some very basic things: it's about dignity, it's about respect, it's about economic stability. You can't have that if you're being paid subminimum wages. Whether or not you believe in the nation's minimum wage, the reality is that we have it, it's law, and it should be for everyone—no exceptions, no ifs, no ands, no buts. Americans with disabilities are no different from Americans without disabilities when it comes to our collective view of the American dream of wanting to pursue work, to generate an income, to earn a livable wage, to be a productive citizen in society, to contribute as taxpayers—these are all important to all of us."
She went on to note that several myths permeate society that are used to justify the payment of subminimum wages for citizens with disabilities. One is that disabled persons cannot be productive, another that employers would not hire them unless they were able to do so at less than the minimum wage. Another myth is that it is more costly for the employer to hire someone with a disability, though fourteen years of research has proven this to be a fallacy. The last myth that continues to dog our progress holds that the debate over sheltered workshop employment revolves around informed choice, the assumption being that people choose to hold jobs, knowing they will be paid below the national minimum wage. In reality there is no informed choice; the choice about what workers in the workshops are paid is being made by the managers of the workshops who benefit from the low wages they pay. Furthermore, as Ms. Lowe reminds us, "Informed choice is not limitless. If you are using public dollars, they should help you to be as economically self-sufficient as possible, not stick you somewhere where you're not being valued, you're not playing to your strengths, and you're being cyclically dependent. That's not what publicly financed supports are about! ... It's very important that I make something clear for you: government is a myriad of contradictions, and the Department of Labor is no exception. Right upstairs, four floors above us, is the Wage and Hour Division, and, as part of their many enforcement roles, they are required to enforce section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The reality is that this is the law. Just because it's the law doesn't make it right. So the Office of Disability Employment Policy says that employment, as we define it, means work paid directly by employers at the greater of minimum or prevailing wages, with commensurate benefits, occurring in a typical work setting where the employee has the opportunity to interact continuously with coworkers, both with and without disabilities, has the opportunity for advancement and mobility, and is engaged preferably full-time. That's integrated employment; that's what we support. We need NFB's help to make sure that the laws reflect that evolution in our psyche as Americans. Without your help, 14(c) still stands; it is still federal law. There's nothing I can do about that, there's nothing Wage and Hour can do about that—it is federal law, and that is why the work you are doing is so critically important."
When the panel concluded, President Maurer addressed those assembled with these remarks: "Last November I went to Montana; I sat down in a room and started talking with my buddies about how to build an affiliate of the Federation. And there were the Leiglands, and they were working for subminimum wages. Now a lot of people who deal with workshops have said, `Yeah, there aren't many blind people being paid subminimum wages; why do you care; it's just a couple of them, just a few.' I don't care if there's only one: one is too many! So I called Anil and I said, `Get hold of these guys. They've got to be on the front lines. They are the example we need.' And he and Jesse and John got hold of NBC, and pretty soon they are in our building taking film, and you know what happened next. I admire John and Jesse and especially the leader of this particular task, Anil Lewis. We're going to get it done."
"Literacy for the Blind without Borders," was the title of the next presentation, and its presenters were Frederic K. Schroeder, research professor, Interwork Institute, San Diego State University Research Foundation, and the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind; and Scott LaBarre, Esq., LaBarre Law Offices, and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Their efforts to secure the passage of a treaty allowing the cross-border sharing of books energized the crowd, and what they said appears later in this issue.
The morning session ended with a presentation entitled "Creating Opportunity for the Blind of the United Kingdom, Building Partnerships with Like-Minded Blindness Organizations Around the World," and its presenter was Lesley-Anne Alexander, chief executive officer of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). She began her remarks by saying, "Colleagues from the UK who have been to the convention before me have always come back and described the convention as awesome, and they clearly weren't lying to me. I think this is perhaps the most amazing gathering of blind and sighted people I have ever had the honor to stand in front of." Ms. Alexander explained the role of the RNIB, noting that in America we make more of a distinction than they do in Britain between consumer organizations and service providers. The RNIB is both, but it is slowly moving from service delivery to what it calls campaigning, our word for the concept being “advocacy.” One of the goals of the Institute is to change the perception about blind and partially sighted people so that government and other decision-makers absolutely understand that we have a right to things, rather than being seen simply as the recipients of the good works of others.
In closing, Ms. Alexander said, "It is genuinely an honor to be in this room with all of you, who display such fantastic and significant leadership in your own way. But it is also an honor to be in this room with some of the greatest leaders in the world of blindness. It's invidious to single out individuals, but I simply can't leave this platform without publicly thanking some of your great leaders. I'd like to thank Fred Schroeder; I'd like to thank Scott LaBarre; I'd like to thank George Kerscher; I'd like to thank James Gashel; but most of all I'd like to thank one of the bravest and perhaps most fearsome leaders of all, your own Dr. Marc Maurer."
To kick off the afternoon session, we took up the topic "A Partnership with the Organized Blind Movement: Creating Employment Opportunities in the Department of Veterans Affairs," presented by Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Acquisition and Logistics for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Frye came to know about the employment challenges faced by the blind when he met James Omvig, and, through knowing Jim and learning about our organization, Mr. Frye has concluded that blind people represent a significantly under-used pool of talent for his department and for the federal government. Not being content simply to make the observation, he has decided to do something about this. He says, "I started a three-tier plan. First, I hired blind persons to work on my personal staff. About three weeks ago Meleah Jensen and Evelyn Valdez began their work in the heart of Washington, DC.... And they are here today." One of the things Mr. Frye has learned, much to his surprise and annoyance, is that his office is not totally Section 508 compliant. Some of the equipment that should be accessible is not, and even the new telephone system that has just been installed creates problems he is committed to see his department address.
"The next step in this three-tiered program is to hire blind persons as part of our Warriors to Workforce program. This is a program we set up eighteen months ago—we already had an intern program, but I wanted to be able to bring wounded warriors in and train them to be contracting officers." Mr. Frye went on to say that the piece that is now missing involves recruiting and training blind veterans, and this he hopes to do in six to eight months. "My vision is to start training the blind to become government acquisition professionals in the VA, but I have a broader vision, and that is to take this spark in the VA and light lamps of understanding across the federal government. Blind people are capable, and they must be hired....We will not pigeonhole blind employees in positions defined strictly for blind people. Blind employees will be mainstreamed, and never will they be marginalized!...I'm largely ignorant about the issues blind people face in employment discrimination, but I know they exist. I simply have an idea and a modest plan for action; I aspire to learn quickly; I need your help. I want to take this small spark we're kindling and turn it into a thousand points of understanding across the federal government." Mr. Frye invites anyone who wishes to talk with him about improving the hiring of blind people in the federal government to write to him at<firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The next person to come to the podium was the recently elected president from New Hampshire, Cassandra McKinney. The title of her presentation was "The Blind at Work in an Unusual and Demanding Profession." Cassandra is a funeral director and embalmer, and her remarks will appear in an upcoming issue.
With all of the technology for reading books and all of the publishers seeking to make their materials more accessible, the National Library Service of the Library of Congress is still the source that most blind people turn to to meet a majority of their pleasure reading needs. In 2012 Ms. Roberta Shaffer, the associate librarian for library services, came to tell us about the library's plans for the future. This year her topic was "Access for All: the Library of Congress in the Twenty-First Century." Ms. Shaffer said that the federal government has made many cuts this year, but this has not stopped the Library of Congress from working to meet its essential goals. She said there were three new programs she wanted to discuss. The first is a program to bring readers into the library so that the staff of the National Library Service will have a better pipeline to its consumers. The second initiative is to reach out to other libraries and services to make more materials available for readers. There is a myth that the Library of Congress has everything, but the truth is that a goal of the library must be to achieve greater collaboration so that what they don't have they can help their consumers find. This commitment to collaboration also involves going beyond books, film, and recorded sound. Library services must expand to include social media and big data, and these cannot be excluded simply because they are difficult to catalog and control.
The third initiative of the Library is to digitize more material without falling into the trap of choosing quantity over quality. The Library of Congress still wants to be the gold standard for library service in the nation, and, though it expects to produce much more material through greater digitization, the result will not be a reduction in the quality we have come to expect. The work that the library is doing with publishers has, as its primary goal, bringing books to its readers as contemporaneously as they are brought to other communities.
Making NLS books available on platforms other than those specifically created for the program remains a priority, and the plan is to have software that will run on the iOS platform available before the end of 2013 and on the Android operating system in the winter of 2015.
Ms. Shaffer concluded by asking for our help in advertising the services of the National Library Service because she believes that far more blind and physically disabled people qualify for the service than are using it now.
When the NFB envisioned developing a reading machine we could hold in our hand or place in our pocket, we asked for the help of Ray Kurzweil in developing it and jointly created a company called K-NFB Reading Technologies. This company created the first handheld reading machine, then the first reading machine to work on a cell phone. It then created Blio, a piece of software that would run on many electronic devices and allow for the retrieval and reading of books. K-NFB Reading Technologies has now merged with eMusic to create a new company called Media Arc. The president of the newly-merged company is Peter Chapman, and his topic was "The Cutting Edge: Accessible Technology that Provides Greater Opportunity Than Ever Before in History." Mr. Chapman began by reminding us that K-NFB Reading Technologies is special in that it combines the engineering and technical expertise of Raymond Kurzweil with the strong consumer voice and technical advocacy of the National Federation of the Blind, together making an unprecedented commitment to accessibility. "As part of our mission we are focused on creating products to meet the needs of people who are blind and others with reading disabilities. We also encourage other companies to make their products accessible too. As an example, last year we intervened in a large sale of Amazon Kindles to the government. We did so because the Kindle device does not provide accessibility. Our intervention, combined with the complaints of the NFB, stopped the sale. Actions like these are putting pressure on these large companies to meet their legal and moral obligations to the blind.
"Very soon blind people should have access to digitized collections of eighty-four of the world's finest and most complete academic research libraries. In the future, because of the copyright laws, you might actually need to hire a blind person to do research, because you guys will be the only ones who have access to all this content.... With the partnerships being developed by Media Arc the blind should soon have access to twenty-eight million pieces of digital content: more digital content than Amazon. Every one of these will be totally accessible to blind and sighted people." Media Arc will soon have more movies and television shows than Hulu and Netflix combined. "Our goal in working with the NFB is to make `The Library Song' a thing of the past."
Jim Gashel followed Peter Chapman to the microphone to demonstrate some of the accessibility features found on the Google Nexus 7. This is one of Google's offerings in the handheld tablet market, and Jim was able to demonstrate its ability to read, download books, play news stories, and even listen to music. All of this was done using a touchscreen and was fully accessible.
Following Jim was a man who has been coming to our conventions for almost four decades. His topic was "An Alternative Method of Thought: Adding Power to the Human Mind," and no one will be surprised when I say that the presenter was Ray Kurzweil. In the last year Ray has taken a position as the director of engineering for Google Inc. In this new role he has the ability to do tremendous things to encourage accessibility and can expand on his interest in the human brain by figuring out how to replicate its extreme power and flexibility in the hardware of today's machines.
Ray has been thinking about how the human mind works for more than fifty years. He began by writing a paper at the age of fourteen that was so well received that it won him national recognition and a chance to meet President Lyndon Johnson. The theory he advanced at age fourteen was that the human brain was comprised of a series of pattern recognizers, which gave human beings, and to a lesser extent other mammals, the ability to learn how to learn. The theory he advanced then was based entirely on his observations about how he thought and the behavior he saw in others. The theory he articulates in his latest book is much the same as his original one, but now he has the benefit of science and the ability to watch the brain in action to substantiate his earlier speculation.
As powerful as the brain is, there are a number of things it does not do well. It cannot perform calculations as fast or accurately as a computer; its memory is much less reliable than the memory in a cellular phone or other handheld device. The computer is already being used as a brain extender, letting us tap into information from thousands of databases, while harnessing the power of hundreds of computers to meet our information needs. As we use computers to supplement our minds, it will be important that blind people be involved in the process of ensuring that we have access to the technology that allows this to happen.
As a final thought, Ray noted that "It's true that you are what you eat, but it's even more true that you are what you think, so be careful who you hang out with—I think if you hang out with other Federationists, you'll be doing very well."
For a long time now we have had a solid working relationship with the Association of American Publishers. As far back as 1996 we collaborated on and won the passage of the Chafee Amendment, which allows books and other printed materials to be transcribed into formats blind people can read without first securing the permission of the publisher. Since then there have been a number of equally significant victories, and, through our collaboration with the Association of American Publishers, we have been able to work together in ways that benefit both the publishing industry and the blind. This year Thomas H. Allen, the president and CEO of the Association brought us a presentation entitled "A Collaboration That Enhances Opportunity: the Association of American Publishers and the National Federation of the Blind Change Possibilities for Literacy." Mr. Allen's remarks will appear in a future issue.
The next person to come to the microphone is no stranger to the National Federation of the Blind. She is Eve Hill, and we first came to know her through our work with Brown, Goldstein, and Levy. Ms. Hill is now the deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice, and the presentation she made to the convention was "A Commitment to Equality of Opportunity: a Report from the Department of Justice." Her remarks will be reprinted later in the fall.
Our closing item of business for the afternoon was the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards. James Gashel is the chairman of this committee, and this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
On Saturday evening the banquet of the National Federation of the Blind was held, with Dr. Fred Schroeder acting as master of ceremonies. After the invocation and the drawing of some generous door prizes, Scott LaBarre was called to the microphone to discuss the Preauthorized Contribution Plan and the progress we made during the week in helping to support our movement. Scott said, "We came into the convention with an annualized pledge of $398,450.16. We're leaving this convention at $431,810.16. This is by far the largest single increase in PAC at the convention ever. Let's hear it for the largest single increase!"
Several drawings were next held by our divisions. Then HumanWare gave away four Victor Reader Streams, the Jernigan Fund conducted its two annual drawings, and Jessica Ewell led the banquet crowd in singing happy birthday to newly reelected board member Joe Ruffalo.
Following an introduction of the head table, Fred Schroeder introduced President Maurer to deliver the banquet speech with these words: "At this time in our banquet we hear from our national president. It is a time of reflection; it is a time of inspiration; it is a time to chart the future of this organization and to lay out the challenges that lie ahead. It is a time we all look forward to because it reminds us of the meaning of the National Federation of the Blind. To present this year's banquet address I present to you the president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Marc Maurer.”
In his annual address President Maurer discussed the nature of power, whether it is finite or can be expanded by the creativity of the mind and the creation of goods and services heretofore unknown. If it is finite, the blind will have to fight hard to extract our share; if it is expandable, then the possibility exists that, through our own motivation, creativity, and hard work, we can gain some of it and be respected for the people we are rather than being categorized socially and economically by the physical sense we lack. President Maurer's remarks appear in full later in this issue.
Ray Kurzweil came to the podium, and, following on the president's discussion of power and history, he offered three great themes that our country stands for. His remarks will appear in a future issue.
President Maurer returned to the podium and asked that Travis Moses, the president of the newly formed National Federation of the Blind of Montana, join him on the podium. Since the 1970s we have undertaken to have all of our affiliates incorporate the name of the National Federation of the Blind as their own. For several decades the Montana Association for the Blind refused to do this and regarded itself as only marginally involved with the National Federation of the Blind. When it became obvious that the former group would never come to see itself as a united part of the Federation, the National Federation of the Blind of Montana was created and, by presentation of this charter, was officially accepted as our affiliate in Montana.
Patti Chang came to the stage to announce the awards presented to the 2013 class. In addition to a scholarship award, each of the thirty winners received a $1,000 check and plaque from Ray Kurzweil; a Google Nexus 7 tablet which is fully accessible to the blind with the Blio e-book reader from K-NFB Reading Technology Inc.; and a $1,000 cash award from Google.
A full report of the scholarship presentation is found elsewhere in this issue.
The chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee came to the stage and introduced the winner for 2013. This presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
Dr. Schroeder invited Mr. Gashel to the podium for a joint presentation, the first of its kind. Their purpose was to present the first ever Federationists’ Federationist Award, and this presentation is also found elsewhere in this issue.
The president of our host affiliate brought the sorting hat from Hogwarts to the podium, and, to prove that it was magical, he revealed that it held $2,000, which would be our final door prize of the evening. With the winning of that door prize by one happy woman from Michigan, the president took the gavel, asked for one more victorious roar from the assembled, and declared the convention adjourned.
Sometimes a convention is remembered for its sequence and how it falls in the year of an important Federation anniversary. At other times it is remembered for celebrating the passage of significant legislation, the implementation of important regulations, or even our development of some new and important piece of technology. These, however, are not the truly important milestones we use in measuring the progress brought about by the National Federation of the Blind. The real changes we celebrate are the ones we bring about in the hearts and minds of the blind and the sighted. We celebrate when we teach a blind person who believes that a significant obstacle in his life stands between him and the fulfillment of a life goal that there are ways to surmount that obstacle. Sometimes what is needed is the encouragement to remove the obstacle, sometimes the courage to climb over it, and sometimes the wisdom to figure out a way to go around it.
In the movie Lincoln, which debuted in 2012, the president says, "A compass, I learned when I was surveying—it'll point you True North from where you're standing, but it's got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you'll encounter along the way. If, in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp—What's the use of knowing True North?”
Indeed the Federation is a compass, and it points to True Equality for the blind. But, even as it holds out the possibility of and works for true equality of opportunity, it embraces the value of thinking strategically, listens to the goals and aspirations of its members, and helps us figure out both where we are and the journey we must take to get to where we want to be. This was the promise offered to the excited first-timers who entered the doors of the Rosen Centre Hotel, and this is the promise all of us who stood and made our pledge to the flag of the United States of America and the flag of the National Federation of the Blind proudly affirmed.
An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 4, 2013
This year our progress has been astonishingly good, even though there have been a number of challenges. We continue to be the most forceful leader in matters dealing with blindness in the United States, and we are joining with others in lands beyond our borders to create a climate of opportunity for the blind.
Perhaps the most famous blind person from China is Chen Guangcheng, a man who was imprisoned for challenging the repressive patterns of government in his own country. He came to the United States seeking asylum and an education in law. With the help of the State Department and others, he has been studying law in New York.
I was invited to visit with him along with Dan Goldstein, who has served as counsel for the Federation for more than a quarter of a century, and Dan’s partner Andy Levy, who is himself disabled. During the meeting, we talked about the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, the methods we use for challenging the status quo, the techniques we employ for changing the law to recognize human rights for blind people, technology that offers access to information for the blind, and the urgent need in our country as well as others for self-organization by the blind. Freedom is gained not because somebody else gives it to us. Freedom is gained because we demand that it be our own. This was the spirit of the meeting that took place not quite a year ago in New York City with the blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng.
The Google Books Project, which began almost ten years ago, seeks to create digitized versions of books. It is estimated that more than ten million books have been digitized. The library collections from many universities have been scanned. The digital versions of books from this effort are being maintained by Google, but digital copies along with the print editions have been returned to the universities. Many of the universities have placed digital versions of their books into an entity named the HathiTrust, which is charged by the universities with the task of managing this collection.
The Authors Guild sued Google and the HathiTrust demanding that the digitized books be destroyed. However, the potential value of this collection was great enough that we felt an urgent need to protect it. The National Federation of the Blind intervened in the lawsuit as a defendant to assert the right of blind people to equal access to this information.
Last October the federal district court in New York issued a decision in our favor. Although this decision is currently on appeal in the 2nd Circuit (an appeal in which we are defending our opinion vigorously), current law states that blind students and professors at the universities holding this material have a right to equal access to the information. Furthermore, those holding material may distribute it to other blind people in the United States without violating copyright. Both we and the HathiTrust want all blind Americans to have equal access to this collection of material. We believe that we can create a mechanism to distribute the books. Blio, the accessible book reader, manages digital content very well. When we complete the plans for this joint project, every blind student in the United States, every blind professor in the United States, and every other blind person in the United States will have full access to an academic library containing the books and reference materials of the finest academic and research institutions in the world.
We may also be able to obtain books from sources around the world other than the Google Books project. We have been collaborating with others to promote a treaty proposed in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a part of the United Nations, that would authorize the distribution of books in specialized formats to the blind and print disabled across country borders. A full report of our work with WIPO will occur later during this convention, but it is worthy of note that we have met with many individuals to urge support for this treaty. The president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Senator Christopher Dodd, has crafted a joint statement with us in support of the treaty. This joint statement has been circulated widely, and it has generated substantial support for our cause. Fred Schroeder and Scott LaBarre have been managing this part of our effort, and they will appear on the agenda later this week.
With respect to books from some other sources, we have been less successful. A number of years ago we indicated to senior personnel at Amazon that incorporating voice output in the Kindle would enhance its usability for everybody and would offer auditory reading for the blind. Amazon took our advice in part. It created a text-to-speech program in the Kindle, but it neglected to make the controls operable by blind people. When we urged that changes be made, Amazon first promised, then complained, then stopped responding in any way. When Amazon introduced the Kindle onto college campuses, we filed complaints and stopped it. When Amazon made a deal with the State Department to sell the government thirty-five thousand Kindles, we filed a complaint and stopped it. Amazon has now established a digital book distribution system for grade school and high school. This distribution system cuts blind students out of education. Our protests to Amazon have met with complete silence. Amazon officials think that if they will just ignore us long enough, we will go away.
On December 12, 2012, we held an informational picket regarding the distribution of inaccessible Kindle e-books. We held it outside of Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Stories about our protest appeared in Education Week, the Seattle Times, and on Seattle television stations. Amazon remains uncommunicative, but apparently it got at least part of the message. In April 2013 I received a letter from a lawyer for Amazon telling me that Amazon’s practices do not violate nondiscrimination law and that Amazon is in the process of fixing the problems. Shortly thereafter, Amazon released an application that runs on a number of Apple products that incorporates some accessibility for blind and print disabled people. However, the Kindle remains inaccessible, and Amazon’s program to distribute the Kindle in public schools continues. Amazon may not believe us when we say these things, but we hereby make them a promise. We will find a way to challenge the discrimination—we will find a way to guarantee that blind kids in school have the same opportunity to get the same book that other people get at the same time and at the same cost.
We have also initiated talks with Barnes and Noble, and they seem to be somewhat productive. Last year we filed complaints against the Sacramento Public Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia. They were distributing books on inaccessible NOOKs to their patrons. We resolved both of those complaints with commitments from the libraries to phase out their inaccessible e-book reading machines and to replace them with reading machines that everybody can use. Because of these complaints and other efforts by the Federation, Barnes & Noble has begun working on accessibility for the blind. NOOK Books are accessible on at least one Apple application. We will be working with officials of Barnes & Noble in the upcoming months to expand accessibility of their products.
Google has several million books. At one time senior personnel of the Google Books Project responded positively to demands from the National Federation of the Blind that these books be usable by blind people. However, the Google page to get at the books no longer has accessibility built into it. Furthermore, a number of other Google applications remain inaccessible to the blind. Google Docs is inaccessible, Google Calendar is inaccessible, elements of Gmail are inaccessible, and now Google is planning to release a product for elementary and secondary school called Google Play, which remains inaccessible.
Last year the state of Colorado announced that it would be fully implementing Google Apps for Government to handle the vast majority of the information technology tasks performed by state employees. Google Apps for Government is not fully accessible. We wrote to Colorado Governor Hickenlooper. I am happy to report that Google Apps for Government has not been fully implemented, and blind employees of the state of Colorado are still able to perform their jobs independently. But it was a close shave, and in many other places Google is being used to create barriers for the blind to employment, to education, and to full participation in other activities of life. Will we be obliged because of Google to sue every state government, every school district, and every university? If Google achieves accessibility in a product, is there any assurance that the product will remain accessible?
We have been talking with Google officials for more than two years. Last fall we welcomed a Google engineer at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute for more than a week of collaboration. Last December Ray Kurzweil became a senior Google employee with the title director of engineering. The people at Google tell us that accessibility for the blind is a priority for Google. They tell us that they create interesting products and release them to the public even though they know their products are not perfect. They tell us that when they find bugs, they fix them.
Ray Kurzweil is enormously committed to the accessibility of products for blind people, and I believe that he will have a positive influence at Google. However, I believe that Google must change its policy regarding accessibility, and I call upon the company to do so. Inaccessibility for blind people of products created by Google is not a bug; it is a systemic failure. The promises to incorporate accessibility for the blind into Google products must be kept. We have exercised considerable patience with Google, but patience can run out. We cannot permit Google to take our jobs, take our opportunities for an equal education, and take our participation in other activities in society. I think the new team of experts at Google will do better than the ones that we have met with in the past, but the time for action is right now.
In 2003 we initiated a project with Ray Kurzweil to build what has become the K-NFB Reader Mobile. The company we founded together later created a reading program to serve not just the blind but all populations. This technology, the Blio, is an accessible digital reading system consisting of software running on many platforms that provides books in print, in auditory form, in Braille on a refreshable Braille display, or in all these forms. In March the K-NFB Reading Technology company merged with eMusic to form a digital content provider called Media Arc. The objective of Media Arc is to distribute books, music, magazines, and perhaps other digital content such as applications or movies to individuals throughout the world. Already this company has hundreds of thousands of books and millions of tracks of music for sale. Accessibility of the content and the distribution process is a commitment of this company, and it will remain one. Ray Kurzweil is chairman of the board, and Jim Gashel is the person with the responsibility for testing accessibility of all products at Media Arc. I serve as a member of the board of directors.
Our influence in matters involving disability has been recognized not only in the United States but in other nations as well. I was invited to deliver an address at an Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University conference entitled the “First International Conference on Technology for Helping People with Special Needs” in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The topic was technology that helps disabled people. Although tools are useful, the people who use them are more important than the tools themselves. Consequently, my inability to build technology did not inhibit the presentation significantly. If the people who use the tools will make dramatic contributions to a society, it is important to assure that those people have the best tools. Blind people are participants in our society, and we expect our tools to be top notch. This is the message delivered at Imam University.
Once again this year the National Federation of the Blind participated in the quadrennial convention of the World Blind Union. Held in Bangkok, Thailand, this meeting elected one of our own, Fred Schroeder, to serve as first vice president of the world organization. Dr. Schroeder, who has served as the highest government official in the United States dealing with rehabilitation of disabled people, had already been representing the National Federation of the Blind (and sometimes the World Blind Union) in international negotiations. Dr. Schroeder brings the spirit of independence that we know in the National Federation of the Blind to blind people around the world.
The National Federation of the Blind successfully fought for the passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. On January 15, 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its proposed regulations to implement this law, which requires that new vehicle technologies, such as hybrid and electric engines, will be audibly detectable by pedestrians. We have been working closely with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to support the proposed regulations. The manufacturers are resisting the proposal that the emission of sound remain active while a vehicle is stationary and that the sound continue until a vehicle reaches a speed of eighteen miles an hour. We believe that these regulations will remain in substantially the form they currently exist when they are finally adopted. The significance of these regulations is enhanced because they will serve as a model for similar regulations adopted worldwide when the United Nations creates a world standard governing vehicle sound to protect pedestrians. Fred Schroeder and John Paré are serving as our primary negotiators in Geneva and other parts of the world.
Several years ago, while I was planning the national convention, I asked several of my colleagues to tell me who was providing leadership in education of blind students in the United States. My question met a profound silence. Although many dramatically-committed well-educated teachers can be found, school districts where systematic top-quality education of blind students occurs are not numerous. Consequently, the National Federation of the Blind began to address topics in the area of education for the blind. We have created many programs and stimulated a lot of education since that conversation took place.
In July 2012, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute hosted a new program, NFB Project Innovation. The program served twenty junior innovators from grades 3-6 and ten senior innovators from high school. Each of the thirty students designed a science project to answer a question intriguing to the student. As a result, at NFB Project Innovation we had thirty unique scientific inquiries taking place. It's not often that blind students get to tell the teachers what they are going to learn on a given day, and it's not often that blind students get to teach others. Both things happened at our program, and the students left knowing not only that they can do science but that they have the ability to teach others to know that they (and people like them) can also do science.
Our BELL program, Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning, began in Maryland six years ago as a project of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. It has now expanded to nineteen states. We noticed that Braille is sometimes hard to get and Braille instruction is even more difficult to find than Braille. After years of demanding that the educational system give blind children Braille, we decided to undertake programs of our own. Some Braille instructors in public schools believe that learning the Braille code should require a desultory teaching schedule of two years or longer. We are not limited by the disadvantages of low expectations that some of these teachers have. We know that Braille can be learned much more quickly than some of them believe possible, and we also know that reading it can be a lot of fun. As we have said more than once, if the schools will not teach our children, we will do it ourselves, and we will do it in Braille.
Integrating Print and Braille: A Recipe for Literacy is a free electronic book for parents and teachers. Edited by Sharon Maneki, it shares practical wisdom about techniques and strategies for teaching and learning print and Braille together to achieve literacy. Two examples of chapter topics are “Enhancing Vision Through Touch” and “Creating the Dual Media Integration Plan.” We give these books away. You can get a downloadable version on our website.
In September of 2012, blind people, university faculty, teachers, and others interested in Braille instruction gathered for the NFB Braille Symposium to discuss the most innovative work being done to provide high-quality Braille instruction to blind children and adults. One of the presentations, delivered by Emily Wharton, an instructor at BLIND Inc., of Minneapolis, Minnesota, indicated extraordinary success in teaching Braille by combining Braille itself with additional instruction in technology. The techniques developed for classes directed by Emily Wharton have won an award from National Braille Press. Braille is, of course, a tactile form of reading. Other presentations during the symposium indicated that it can be incorporated into tactile instruction with three-dimensional printing. Instruction in science, in geography, or in other classes that require illustrations can be enhanced by Braille, by modified tactile forms that incorporate Braille, or by three-dimensional structures that stimulate learning in connection with Braille. As the medium of tactile instruction expands, methods for creating additional symbol sets that can be incorporated into Braille are needed. This also was a subtext for the Braille Symposium.
In April of 2013 the Federation hosted its first-ever tactile graphics conference. With thirty-four sessions and 120 participants from fourteen countries, the conference covered expanding education through tactile learning. Numerous methods for creating high-quality graphic presentations were described from three-dimensional printing systems to the creation of artifacts with milling machines. How do blind people appreciate shadows, the difference in perceived shades of color, and perspective—the change in the perceived size of an object with distance? All of these elements are important in appreciating visual illustration, and tactile graphics must find a way to reflect this knowledge. All of this was part of our tactile graphics conference. We are using what we learned in this conference to create models of claws from the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex that we will be using in science classes later this summer.
Congressman Gregg Harper, who will be with us later during this convention, introduced the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, HR 831, on February 27, 2013. This legislation, once enacted, will immediately discontinue the issuance of new special “subminimum” wage certificates; phase out the use of existing certificates over a three-year period; and repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the legal provision that authorizes subminimum wages for disabled Americans. The special wage certificate is a document issued by the Department of Labor authorizing a particular employer to pay disabled Americans wages below the federally-guaranteed minimum. We have made significant progress toward the passage of this legislation. More than three dozen members of Congress have cosponsored it. Over fifty organizations of people with disabilities support the passage of this legislation. A number of employers that formerly paid subminimum wages to workers with disabilities have also indicated their support.
Goodwill Industries is one of the largest entities that pays disabled workers less than the minimum wage. We conducted protests against this unconscionable practice in front of ninety-two Goodwill thrift stores across the country, and we called upon the public to boycott Goodwill Industries. We distributed press releases about our support for the fair wages bill to the media. We distributed press releases about the unfair working conditions at Goodwill to the media. We distributed press releases about our public protests regarding the unconscionable wage practices at Goodwill to the media. Reporters at NBC read them. NBC’s Rock Center interviewed me, other Federationists, and dozens of other people for a major story about subminimum wage payments at Goodwill in the United States. A major nationwide news story, which was also carried by numerous NBC affiliates on the nightly news, appeared on Rock Center Friday, June 21, 2013. NBC reported that workers at Goodwill are receiving as little as 22 cents an hour.
The Goodwill CEO, who was also interviewed, offered the opinion of Goodwill that wages are not the important part of employment for workers with disabilities. He said, "It's typically not about their livelihood. It's about their fulfillment. It's about being a part of something, and it's probably a small part of their overall program."
At 22 cents an hour, it must be admitted that this assessment is correct. It is a small part of whatever program these disabled workers have. A full year’s employment at this rate comes to $457.60. A story released by NBC that is associated with the broadcast reveals that the most recent public statistics indicate that the CEO received annual compensation of $729,000. This particular CEO is a blind person, but of course, wages are not the important part of employment of disabled workers.
We prepared a digital news release for a satellite tour to be presented in conjunction with the NBC story. Now it is up to us to ensure that each member of Congress is aware of this unfair, discriminatory, and unconscionable practice, so that they vote to pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is preparing to introduce legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which includes the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act. Proposed new Section 511 of this act delineates the mechanism required for rehabilitation counselors to shove their clients into subminimum wage jobs. The last time this legislation was proposed, members of the committee refused to discuss Section 511 with us. Because they would not discuss it with us, we conducted protests at the district offices of Senate Committee members to express our vehement opposition to the language in Section 511. As I was preparing for our 2013 convention, this bill was again being circulated with precisely the same language included in it. This outrageous proposal was unfair the last time, and it is just as unfair today. We are not prepared to tolerate added legal authority to discriminate against disabled Americans. We will stand in the streets if we must; we will block the corridors of power if no other way exists to get this message across; we will talk if we can, but we will fight if no other avenue exists for us to challenge a declaration in law that disabled Americans are a subclass with subnormal rights--not entitled to the same protection available to everybody else.
The United States military currently operates a program known as Space Available, which allows military personnel to fly on military aircraft if there is room. Although retired military personnel are entitled to fly on these planes, individuals who became disabled in the service but were mustered out without being eligible for retirement cannot. The National Federation of the Blind has proposed legislation to permit men and women disabled in the service to gain access to the program. The House of Representatives has adopted our proposal, and fourteen Senators are co-sponsoring it. We expect this legislation, which has been incorporated within the National Defense Authorization Act, to reach the desk of the president of the United States within the next few weeks.
In September of 2012, Federation leaders met at our headquarters to discuss education reform. One of the action items that came from this meeting was ensuring that e-books, digital libraries, websites, and other electronic instructional materials would become fully accessible to blind students. Working with the Association of American Publishers, we drafted the Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act. We have reason to believe that sponsors of this legislation will introduce it in the House of Representatives within the next few weeks. The president of the Association of American Publishers will be with us at this convention to talk about the work we are doing together to increase opportunities for the blind and print disabled.
On April 18, 2013, we welcomed to the Jernigan Institute 176 participants for the sixth Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. Over ninety academic, government, corporate, and advocacy organizations were represented. The keynote speaker, Rebecca Bond, chief of the United States Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section, indicated that equal opportunity for disabled Americans is a commitment of the Department of Justice. In interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court has stated that segregation is evidence of discrimination. The decision of the court had been applied to housing, but presentations at the Symposium indicated that it also applies to sheltered employment. Another important topic presented by Dan Goldstein, counsel for the National Federation of the Blind, and Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney at Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, concerned websites as places of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation may not be constructed in a fashion that will discriminate against disabled individuals. The first case to address the topic was brought by the National Federation of the Blind against the Target Corporation. As you know, that lawsuit was successful. All of this represents the work we are doing with our Law Symposium to expand recognition of civil rights for disabled Americans.
This year we reached an historical agreement with Monster to make its website, phone apps, and mobile apps accessible. We were assisted in our negotiations by the attorney general of the state of Massachusetts, who is most understanding of the need for equal access to information. However, I want to be clear that when the problem was brought to the attention of Monster, officials at the company wanted very much to find ways of solving the problems we had identified. You will hear the details about this agreement from Monster itself, the title sponsor of this year’s convention.
Last year I reported to you about our victory for Hank Miller. Preventing him from receiving instruction in Braille denied him a free and appropriate public education. The school district is responsible for its bias against Braille, but officials in the district were aided and abetted in their unlawful behavior by officials of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. I am glad to say that we who funded the Hank Miller case will be reimbursed for our lawyer costs and expert witness fees. The first check for $175,000 arrived earlier this year, and the total will be $300,000.
Travis Moses serves as president of the Montana affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. He was also a student at the University of Montana, where he faced numerous instances of discrimination because he did not have equal access to information. His textbooks and the learning management software used at the university were both inaccessible. Because he was not able to succeed at the university with these barriers as obstacles, Travis Moses came to us for help, and we secured an agreement with the University. He will have equal access to technology, access to digital content in all of his classes, access to course management software, reimbursement for expenses he paid for matriculation while the University was inaccessible to him, and a new advisor—one without a built-in bias against the blind. The National Federation of the Blind will receive 100 percent of the fees spent on behalf of Travis Moses. However, this is not the complete report. The University of Montana has recognized that it must be accessible to blind students. It is cooperating to complete a broad-scale agreement that addresses the systemic problems of inaccessible technology on campus. George Kerscher, a blind Montanan and member of the Federation, who was unable to get his texts at the University of Montana in 1988, has been hired by the University to offer guidance on how to remove technology barriers in Montana.
We were surprised to learn after last year’s convention that a company called Courseload, working with others, was conducting a pilot program of completely inaccessible textbooks on college campuses. The surprise came when we learned that Courseload claimed to be working with us and that officials of the company believed a pilot program is exempt from the law. We explained to Courseload, to its partners, and to the field of education that we had not been working with Courseload and that we did not believe pilot programs are exempt. Although Courseload did not seem impressed by our explanations, its partners understood what we were saying. Courseload has been replaced with a vendor whose books are accessible to the blind.
Getting a job, getting out of college and into graduate school, getting out of graduate school and into employment, all require testing. Last year, I reported to you about our lawsuits involving the bar exam. We won, the applicants were permitted to take the exams, and we received dramatic payments for our attorney’s fees and costs. The National Conference of Bar Examiners has recently announced that it will no longer oppose the practice of blind persons’ using screen readers to take its tests.
However, there are other tests. Pearson VUE provides many of them. Over the last two years, we have received a number of complaints that Pearson VUE’s software did not allow blind applicants easily to take its tests. Each one of those complaints has been resolved successfully. We have been working with Pearson VUE to remove all of the barriers in their exams.
Today most job tests are administered online, and most are offered by two companies, Kenexa, now owned by IBM, and Taleo, now owned by Oracle. Both offer inaccessible tests. We have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for Eric Patterson against an employment agency using Kenexa’s inaccessible tests, and we will be filing more of them this summer.
Kathy Roskos is a totally blind Florida student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Argosy University. She planned to take several standardized college-level examinations to test out of certain classes. When she applied to take the first examination, she was told that the exam is not offered in Braille and that she could only choose between a human reader and large print. Keep in mind that she is totally blind. She took the first exam with a reader and managed to pass. The second exam contained complex equations and charts, which the sighted reader, who had less education than Ms. Roskos, could not read. Because the information in the testing documents was unavailable to her, Ms. Roskos failed. We have assisted with negotiations with the College Board, which offers the examinations. They have agreed to provide all of the examinations to Ms. Roskos in Braille. They have also cooperated with us to improve the accommodations process for blind test takers for all of the tests they offer.
Many cities are now requiring that taxi cabs have touchscreens in the back seat so that passengers (at least passengers who can see) can pay for their rides. Some cities prohibit drivers from taking cash or credit cards from passengers. The blind passenger who enters a taxicab with cash and credit cards to pay for the trip arrives at a destination. The passenger cannot use the technology installed in the cab, and the driver is prohibited from taking the cash or managing the transaction using the credit card of the passenger. One of the largest developers of taxi touchscreen technology is CMT, which has worked with us to build an accessible solution. However, VeriFone, another developer of this technology, has refused to do so.
Last summer, the District of Columbia awarded a contract to VeriFone to install its passenger service units in every single taxi cab in the District of Columbia, some 6,500 vehicles. The contract VeriFone signed with the District stated that it would make the units accessible to the blind. However, VeriFone had no plans to achieve accessibility, and its machines failed the accessibility test. Consequently, we fought the implementation of this VeriFone contract. In November of 2012, the DC Contract Appeals Board threw out the VeriFone contract and ordered the District to seek another bid.
VeriFone has been installing thousands of inaccessible touch screen units in taxicabs in Boston. We have filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Mika Pyyhkala is one of the complainants. He will be a star witness on the side of effective accessibility.
Kenneth Agni was a student at the State University of New York–Westchester Community College, where he was pursuing his bachelor’s degree. He enrolled in an anatomy and physiology class, which included a lab that required use of a microscope. Mr. Agni requested as an accommodation a sighted lab assistant to describe the visual information displayed in the microscope. The college not only denied his request but told Mr. Agni that because he could not see the specimens in the microscope, he could not fulfill the course requirements. Officials at the college withdrew him from the class, without discussion and without his consent. Mr. Agni filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. The Office for Civil Rights agreed with the college. Blind students, they said, cannot study science because they are blind. When we heard this much, we became a part of the case. We filed an appeal. It is obvious that the Office for Civil Rights is wrong. The thousands of blind people practicing in scientific disciplines all over America demonstrate this. It is hard to imagine how the Office for Civil Rights could come to this conclusion. Did they not ask any questions about the other blind scientists working in our country? We will produce the evidence that we have the ability to be a part of this intellectual community, and we expect to win.
We continue to give free white canes to blind people in the United States—30,065 of them since the program began, and 7,226 in the last year. Many of the people who have received their canes came to our headquarters to get them. More than 3,500 visitors arrived at our Jernigan Institute during the last year.
We continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, in which we have added fifty-eight new products during the past year. The overhaul of this center is now complete, with all sixteen testing computers being replaced and the Brailling area refurbished. Our technology experts made dozens of presentations to entities as diverse as the Interactive Learning Forum sponsored by Tata Motors; the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting; the California State University, Northridge, CSUN Conference; and the M-Enabling Summit.
Our bulletin board, NFBnet.org, hosts 172 public listservs and 35 websites for divisions, chapters, and affiliates of the Federation. We manage approximately twenty-five thousand e-mails a day. Our discussion lists now live in the “cloud.” Topics covered on our lists include classic cars, blind public employees, guide dogs, blind musicians, origami for blind people, blind student matters, and quiet cars.
During the last year we have had a diminution in the amount of our fundraising, which has required reconsideration of our programs, our management, and our fund generation projects. We are doing things differently from the way we did a year ago, but we are pursuing the same goals that we had in the past with the same vigor and the same spirit. We have also initiated new programs to attempt to address the revenue shortfall. Some of these are internal, including a committee of our staff members seeking to find ways to generate funds. Some of them are external. Car donations are being accepted by the Federation through an initiative recommended by our Colorado affiliate leadership and managed by Joanne Wilson. Although many people accept automobiles in their fundraising programs, we have the significant advantage that our chapter members cover the nation. Through our own friends and acquaintances, we can stimulate the donation of automobiles and other vehicles to support our work.
Another effort recently undertaken is our collaboration with a company named GreenDrop that solicits donations for 2nd Ave Value Stores. Currently being conducted in seven states and the District of Columbia, this program is also being supervised by Joanne Wilson.
More than seven decades ago a handful of blind people brought our Federation into being. At the beginning it was tiny, and although many plans were proposed, the resources to put them into effect did not exist. Our organization advanced primarily on hope and such meager contributions as those who participated in it could afford to make. Today the difference is startling. We have hundreds of programs and the capacity to create more of them.
When I come to the convention, I know that we must find a way to cause greater opportunity to come to individual blind people than has been true for us in the past, but I also know that we will do it. We have programs, financial resources, facilities, influential supporters, and technologies that we have built or caused others to create. But the most important thing we have is each other and the faith that we inspire in ourselves to use our strength for a common purpose and a shared goal. We have promised that we will believe in each other, and we always keep our promises. Our spirit makes us what we are, and our combined energy comes from the spirit that lives in the hearts of each of us. This spirit is unquenchable, and because it is, our future is assured. This is what you, my friends in the Federation, have told me; this is what I have come to know in the depth of my being from listening to you; and this is my report for 2013.
From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors, and two more were presented during the banquet. In addition the Bolotin Awards were again presented, and a complete report of those presentations appears elsewhere in this issue. Here are the reports of the educator awards, the tenBroek Award, and a special award made to Patricia Maurer:
presented by Cathy Jackson
Good morning, fellow Federationists. If our winner will come to the stage, I would like to present this award.
This is my fourth year as the chair of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee, and I am just as excited and thrilled as I was in 2010. I can tell you the selection process does not get any easier—just ask Laura Bostick, Mary Willows, and Mark Riccobono. We certainly know firsthand the quality of teachers that we have. We gather all of the background information that gives us insight into the candidates’ employment history and educational background, and we read all these letters of support from coworkers and others who know about their field—they know firsthand what good teachers they are for our students. We read the personal essay that the teacher must submit. Then we reread all of the letters of support, the background information, and the essays. Then we go over the note cards that have been covered with yellow highlighters, and we select our winner.
I think my favorite part of the application process is reviewing the personal essay. We get to know the teachers as people, and this is a very important connection we need to make in order to arrive at our selection. This year's recipient of the Distinguished Educator Award says: “My decision to teach blind students is personal.” She talks about the many experiences that molded her into the teacher that she is. She credits both the negative and the positive in helping her become the teacher that she is today. Our winner is blind. Her daughter is also blind. She's had a lifetime to learn about this thing called blindness, beginning as an infant in Jamaica.
Our winner is a teacher in the resource room at Russell Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia. You've got to be more than a teacher to get this award. Our winner was the force behind the NFB of Maryland’s first developing the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Program, and the Maryland affiliate president, Melissa Riccobono, says, “She makes herself available to attend IEP meetings, where she can lend her expertise and make my job as an advocate easier.” I know you're sitting there saying, "Well, I thought teachers of the blind were supposed to attend IEP meetings." Well, she's attending IEP meetings for students that are not in her classroom. She is helping other students who might be struggling to achieve their goals, making sure that they have Braille and other tools they can use to become productive students.
Garrick Scott, president of the Georgia affiliate, says, "She has come in and opened up her heart to the Georgia affiliate, with her family following her lead." So, on that happy note, I am proud to present the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Jackie Mushington-Anderson. And along with this beautiful plaque that she's holding comes a thousand dollar check.
Now I want to read the inscription on the plaque; it says:
The National Federation of
the Blind honors
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
For your skills in teaching
Other alternative techniques of blindness,
For graciously devoting extra
time to meet
The needs of your students,
and for empowering
Your students to perform
beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement.
You strengthen our hopes.
You share our dreams.
July 3, 2013
I'd like to introduce you to Jackie Mushington-Anderson and let her say a few words to you.
Wow. Good morning, fellow Federationists. It is a privilege and honor to stand before you to accept this award. When I've been asked about my reaction when I received the call notifying me of this award, I have said that I was stunned and honored because I've been in this organization and have observed the many education leaders who have accepted this award and have seen and have experienced their teaching and their leadership. I am humbled to be put into such a category, so thank you very much.
presented by David Ticchi
Thank you, President Maurer. Good morning, everyone. I want to begin by saying that it is a pleasure and a privilege to serve as chair of this committee, and I want to begin by thanking members of the committee: William Henderson of Massachusetts, Sheila Koenig and Judy Sanders of Minnesota, and Ramona Walhof of Idaho.
This award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators to pay tribute to an outstanding blind teacher for his or her classroom performance, community service, and commitment to the National Federation of the Blind. In 1991 this became a national award because of the importance and impact of good teaching on students, faculty, community, and in fact all blind Americans. It's presented in the spirit of the educators who founded and nurtured our movement, educators like Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and many others who have generously given of their time to help our movement do the necessary civil rights and advocacy work that we do. That is the nature of the award.
The award is presented annually, assuming that we find a suitable recipient, and it's not an easy search, as Cathy Jackson mentioned in her presentation. It's not easy to select someone for this award, but this year we believe we have found a meritorious candidate. The winner of this year's award is Harriet Go of Pennsylvania. Harriet, please come forward.
I'll tell you a little something about Harriet, and I had to do some undercover reconnaissance work with her state president, Jim Antonacci, to get some background while keeping the secret from her and her family and friends. I hope we were successful in that endeavor. Harriet is a 1996 graduate of the St. Lucy's school in Philadelphia, where she developed terrific Braille and O&M skills. She went on to the Philadelphia public school system and graduated from Philadelphia Central High School, which is one of the more prestigious schools in the Philadelphia school system. From high school she went on to Temple University, majoring in education and special education in 2004. As part of that program she did student teaching despite some challenges. She subsequently got a job and is employed at the Richmond Elementary School in Philadelphia, working as a teacher in the resource room. She has responsibility for IEPs and administrative duties as well as teaching. While working full time, she is also earning her master’s at Walden University. As you can see, she has a very strong work ethic.
Here are a few things about Harriet’s involvement with the NFB: she is a member of the Keystone Chapter in Pennsylvania and is active in the state affiliate. She has also been active in the BELL Program and in the Youth Slam program. She attends state and national conventions and has received state scholarships and two national scholarships, which makes her a tenBroek Fellow.
Now, before I present the plaque, I want to tell you what it says:
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
OF THE BLIND
IN RECOGNITION OF
IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION.
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE
JULY 3, 2013
I just handed Harriet the plaque, and next I'm going to hand her an envelope containing a check for $1,000, and, Harriet, here's the microphone. Please say a few words.
Thank you, Dr. Ticchi. Thank you to the Blind Educator of the Year Award Committee. Thank you, Dr. Maurer, and thank you especially to my National Federation of the Blind family. I was so surprised to hear my name being called, and I am truly humbled and honored and blessed to receive this award. I started with the Federation about 2002, and I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but I'm glad I stayed. I want especially to thank the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania because you guys believed in me from the very beginning, and I could not have done what I've done and continue to do what I'm doing if it wasn't for your support. Thank you very much, and thank you to the National Federation of the Blind for this very special award. Thank you, everybody.
presented by Ramona Walhof
Tonight it is my pleasure to present the Jacobus tenBroek Award to a man whose accomplishments are unsurpassed. Yet most of you will be surprised to learn of some of them.
Our beloved founder, Jacobus tenBroek, stood for excellence in his employment for decades as professor at the University of California at Berkeley, in his writing of five books and hundreds of articles, and in his leadership of the NFB. He was our founder, our president, and our principal leader for more than a quarter of a century. We have named this award for him both to honor our founder and to honor those who receive it. Tonight will be the thirtieth time we have presented the tenBroek Award. Our honoree has been a leader since he joined the Federation thirty years ago. Previous honorees have lived in eighteen states, but tonight we have chosen a man from a new state. He has been president of the affiliate in his state and head of the commission for the blind there, as well. He has chaired the commission’s administrative board, and he has directed the programs on a daily basis. But, like Dr. tenBroek, this gentleman has had another outstanding career, both before and after blindness, one you will enjoy knowing more about.
Art Schreiber, will you please come to the platform? Art Schreiber grew up on a farm in Ohio, received a bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and continued to do graduate work at Kent State University. Later he participated in a seminar for broadcasters at Harvard University.
He began his career in journalism in the 1950s and was soon traveling with and reporting on famous people. He traveled with the John F. Kennedy for President campaign and reported on Kennedy’s election and his funeral. Art Schreiber reported on the Lyndon B. Johnson White House and on Martin Luther King Jr.’s activities as he led the civil rights movement, especially in the South during the 1960s. Perhaps the most memorable reporting Schreiber did was with the Beatles on their first tour of the United States. He spent many evenings playing Monopoly with John Lennon and George Harrison. He traveled to foreign countries and reported as he went.
In 1972 Art was one of the founders of Commuter Computer in Los Angeles and later became its CEO. It is the nation’s largest ride-sharing organization and was one of the first partnerships in the nation between the public and private sectors.
From 1960 until 1991 Art was vice president and general manager of a group of radio stations in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque. He moved to New Mexico in 1982 to manage station KOB AM and FM, and soon afterward he lost his vision. Art Schreiber credits the National Federation of the Blind with turning his life around after he became blind.
He took some time for rehabilitation then returned to managing station KOB. When the New Mexico Commission for the Blind was created in 1986, Art Schreiber was appointed by the governor to serve on its board. He retired as manager of KOB in the early 1990s so that he could run for mayor of Albuquerque. Since he did not actually become mayor, he accepted a position as director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and directed it for two years. In this capacity he was innovative and strong. Among many other things he established one of the first digital newspaper-reading systems for the blind. During the twenty-first century, although he was past the ordinary retirement age, Art continued to host a radio talk show until 2011.
Art has served on numerous boards and received many awards. Notable among these are: in 2009 he received the Lovola Burgess Lifetime Leadership Award from the New Mexico Conference on Aging. He was chosen New Mexico Broadcaster of the Year by the New Mexico Broadcasters Association in 1990. He received the DuPont Award presented by the Columbia School of Journalism; the National Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism Award from the American Lung Association. He served on the Board for Albuquerque Economic Development; the Better Business Bureau; the Coalition for Children; Crime Stoppers of Albuquerque; Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce; Natural History Museum Board; New Mexico Chapter of the American Lung Association; New Mexico Health Net; Samaritan Counseling Center, where he was president as well as board member. Art has served on the Southwest Neuro-Rehabilitation Institute board from 1998 to the present. He was United Way of Albuquerque communication chair in 1992.
Art taught at Muskingum College in Ohio and the University of Southern California and lectured at the University of Oklahoma. At age eighty-five he is cutting back. He is still second vice president of the NFB Senior Division and chairman of the New Mexico State Rehabilitation Advisory Committee and continues to serve on the board of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind.
How could we find a more outstanding leader to honor tonight? Art Schreiber (or Uncle Arthur as he is often known), we give you the highest honor we can give a member of the NFB tonight, with respect and with love. Here is the text of the plaque presented:
JACOBUS TENBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE,
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND
OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED
NOT IN STEPS BUT IN MILES,
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES
BUT BY YOUR IMPACT
ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND
OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED,
YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 6, 2013
Art Schreiber: Thank you very much. I have had many, many honors, but this is the finest and the most loved that I have ever received. And I offer great thanks to the man who first told me to get in touch with Fred Schroeder, and that is David Ticchi of Massachusetts. I got in touch with Fred, and the rest—thank goodness to him and his family and Sue Benbow—they got me into the National Federation of the Blind. It truly has changed my life. I say to all of you: I am grateful, I am honored. Dr. Maurer, I am so proud to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you all.
Fred Schroeder: Mr. Gashel and I would like to make a unique presentation. It is an award that has never been given before. We considered long and hard what to call this award, and finally we said it's the Federationist's Federationist Award. It is an award that is given in recognition of an individual who lives Federationism each and every day, an individual who encourages others, who inspires others, who is gentle and patient with others, an individual who through act and deed embodies the very best of what we are. The recipient of this award is many things. She is a mom with two beautiful adult children. She is the voice of encouragement that people hear when they call our National Center desperately seeking information and hope. She is the director of reference for the Jacobus tenBroek Library. She has been a full-time volunteer for the National Federation of the Blind for over twenty-five years. She is our own Patricia Maurer. [applause]
Jim Gashel: Fred and I have collaborated in introducing this Federationist's Federationist Award. I want to say a few things about Mrs. Maurer. I've known Patricia Maurer—Ms. Maurer—I've known you since 1968.
Pat Maurer: I was a child.
Jim Gashel: Yes, a mere child. I was a child then, too, almost. And you know, if somebody were to ask me what it means to be a Federationist, the definition I would give would begin with two words: Patricia Maurer. I mean that. We elected Dr. Maurer to be our president in 1986. He went into this job with his eyes wide open; he knew Dr. Jernigan and what demands were placed upon the president of the National Federation of the Blind. It is a sacred trust, and, if you're the president of the National Federation of the Blind, you agree to give up a major portion of your life to serve us.
Now Mrs. Maurer didn't necessarily sign up for that, and we didn't elect her. But in 1987 she left the career she had in education and rehabilitation and became a full-time volunteer, standing by Dr. Maurer's side day after day after day and serving us, and she had a family to raise too. Together the Maurers have raised a wonderful family. Not just their own family, but our whole Federation family. So, I don't know, I'm only the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, so I don't know if I have the power to propound motions or anything like that. But I would just say to you, that, were I able to do that—I know we designate Mrs. Maurer as the first lady of the National Federation of the Blind—but I'm going to suggest that we designate Mrs. Maurer as the first Federationist of the National Federation of the Blind, and here is Fred Schroeder to present the Federationist's Federationist Award to the First Federationist.
Fred Schroeder: What we have—and I'm going to unveil it right now—it is a book made of glass. It is an open book, and it has an inscription on both sides of the page in print and in Braille. The right-hand page reads as follows: “Presented to Patricia Maurer in loving appreciation for your steadfast dedication and tireless efforts on behalf of the blind. July 6, 2013.” The left-hand side of the page, also in print and Braille, has the Whozit logo and the following quote from Maya Angelou; it says this: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Mrs. Maurer, here you are.
Pat Maurer: I am not the one in the Maurer family who makes the speeches. So I will simply say I am very deeply touched and honored to receive this award. I appreciate all of you and what you do to make the Federation what it is. So next week or maybe the week after, if you give me a call, I’ll be over there on the other end of the phone. I love you all very much, and I thank you very much.
From the Editor: Late Saturday afternoon, July 6, Jim Gashel, NFB secretary and chairman of the Bolotin Awards selection committee, came to the platform to present the 2013 Bolotin Awards. Here is that presentation:
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, thank you, fellow Federationists, and thank you again for the high honor of being able to present the Dr. Jacob Bolotin award this year on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust.
A biography about Dr. Bolotin has been published by Blue Point Books. It's called The Jacob Bolotin Story, and it's available from our Independence Market. The most important thing for you to know about Jacob Bolotin is that he was born in 1888 and he died in 1924. Although he had a few short years of life, his accomplishments were many. He started off selling brushes and even kitchen matches door to door. Then he went to medical school, he practiced medicine, and he even taught medicine in Chicago. And you know what? He did all that before there was the Rehabilitation Act. There was no ADA; there was no Section 504; there was no Eve Hill; there was no NFB. We honor his memory today because he blazed a trail for us. That's why we're here and why we honor Jacob Bolotin.
Funds to support these awards are provided from a bequest to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind from Rosalind Perlman, Jacob Bolotin's niece. This year we are awarding $50,000 to these winners. Each award includes a cash award (which I will specify), but it also includes a plaque. I'm going to read the plaque; here is the text on the plaque. It says:
Presented to [name of the recipient]
National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation
A medallion is suspended above the plaque, and the medallion is a special commemorative award. The text on the obverse side reads, "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award." Then the logo of the National Federation of the Blind appears, and immediately below that logo are these words, "Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." On the reverse side of the medallion appear these words: "Dr. Jacob Bolotin, 1888 to 1924," then reads, "Celebrating His Life /The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."
Now for the 2013 Jacob Bolotin Awards. For our first recipient, representing blind individuals of excellence, we recognize James Kubel with an award of $5,000. According to the National Eye Institute, 4.1 million people aged forty and over are affected by diabetic retinopathy, so this is a significant population. Insulin pumps are needed by this population. But, if you look at the totality of all of the insulin pumps on the market today, none of them, not a single one, is fully accessible to blind people, which means that, if you use insulin and you use an insulin pump, somebody else has to help you do it. Enter James Kubel and the PumpMate. This is an audible remote control that enables a blind diabetic to administer insulin successfully using Medtronic insulin pumps, and to do it without sighted assistance. When you think of blind people who look at a problem and say, "I can solve it," when you think of creative engineering and people who say "yes," when everybody else is telling you just to give up, think of the PumpMate and its inventor, James Kubel. Here is James Kubel to accept his Jacob Bolotin Award.
James Kubel: Well, thank you very much. I'd like to thank the NFB; I'd like to thank my associate, Phil Brooks, who worked with me; and I'd like to thank my wife for standing behind me while I fought and fought and fought to get this product on the market. I will continue to fight until I do get it there.
Jim Gashel: I want to thank you for being so short and concise. Now, for our second recipient, this year we have chosen to recognize two organizations for their partnership to improve opportunities for blind youth. These organizations are the National Federation of the Blind of Utah and the Utah Department of Workforce Services, recognized jointly for their groundbreaking Project STRIVE. Let's hear it for the National Federation of the Blind of Utah and for the Utah Workforce Department. [applause]
The $10,000 cash award will be made to the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, but this joint award goes with our deepest thanks and appreciation for the leadership and financial participation of the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Project STRIVE is a mentoring program that links up blind people age thirteen to twenty-six with blind adults experienced in such things as orientation and mobility, things like Braille, things like jobs and managing homes and so forth. In other words, we teach each other how to live lives of success. When you think of reaching out to pave the way for blind youth, when you think of investing in our future, and when you think of public-private partnerships that really work to put blind people to work, think of Project STRIVE and its partners: the NFB of Utah and the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Here to accept this joint award is Adam Rushforth, director of Project STRIVE and Jeff Lanword, deputy director of Workforce Services. Gentlemen, you can take about thirty seconds.
Adam Rushforth: Thank you. As he said, this is a collaborative effort between Workforce Services and the NFB of Utah. We've been doing this for several years now, and I want to spend a second just giving a special thanks to our Project STRIVE participants, many of whom are here today, as well as our instructors: Cheralyn Creer, Barbie Elliott, Brook Sexton, Mike Harvey, Tara Briggs, and many, many others. Thank you.
Jeff Lanword: Thank you very much for this award; thank you for the recognition. At the Department of Workforce Services in Utah, we have a lot of projects and a lot of funding we put out there. Once in a while there comes one that you know can unleash incredible potential: this is it. So thank you very much for the recognition.
Jim Gashel: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Now, for our third recipient, this year we have also chosen to recognize a partnership of a prominent state agency and an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. These organizations are the NFB of Texas and the Texas Workforce Commission, recognized jointly for working to create and conduct Project CHANGE. Although the cash award of $10,000 will go to the NFB of Texas, this joint recognition expresses our deep appreciation and thanks to the encouragement, leadership, and financial support provided by the Texas Workforce Commission. In 2010 Larry Temple, the executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission, came to our convention in Dallas, and a year later Project CHANGE was created. I won't say any more. You all had a part in this by helping to create the understanding that blind people know best how to solve our problems and address our needs. Larry Temple is a believer, and the Texas Workforce Commission and the governor of Texas have helped to back the project. It's again a mentoring project, linking up blind youth ages fourteen to twenty-four with blind adults (doesn't specify what ages for the blind adults) to work in fields such as science, technology, engineering, math, education, rehabilitation, mass media communications, jobs in food service, and more. When you think of believing in blind people and creating opportunities for success, when you think of tearing down barriers and opening doors to the future, and when you think about government agencies believing in blind people and understanding that we know best how to meet our needs, think of Project CHANGE and the partnership between the NFB of Texas and the Texas Workforce Commission. Here to accept the award are Kimberly Flores, president of the NFB of Texas, and Larry Temple, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission. Kimberly.
Kimberly Flores: Opportunity is missed by many because it shows up wearing overalls and looks like work. Larry Temple is an expert in overalls of all shapes and sizes, and he loves the style of the National Federation of the Blind. Without him Project CHANGE would not have been possible. This has been a wonderful learning opportunity, we've been blessed and honored, and we are truly humbled by this recognition. Thank you so much. I would like to thank Norma Crosby for her tireless effort writing and revising this grant for us and for her love and support. I want to thank Richie [Kim's husband] for his leadership, and I want to thank Emily Gibbs for her support as well. Thank you to all of our participants who have been in attendance throughout the convention as well. Here is Larry Temple.
Larry Temple: Thank you very much. Actually, I didn't have much choice; I got outnumbered last year. Ron Gardner, Kimberly, Richie, Kristin Cox from out in Utah—they called and said, “This is a great project, and we need to work on it.” I do want to thank Kristin for introducing me to this organization, and I'm proud to be here. Come on back to Texas!
Jim Gashel: Dr. Maurer says we may do that. For our fourth recipient we turn to a corporation of excellence with leadership on behalf of the blind, and we recognize Desire2Learn with an award of $10,000. This morning we heard all about its technology. For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, the 1970s, or maybe a decade or two beyond, we used to communicate with our teachers by passing hardcopy paper back and forth. But today they don't do that in education. So we learned today that you communicate over the network, and you use systems that are called LMS systems. LMS systems are the means in education for teachers and the like to register students, to monitor their progress, to issue grades, etc. So no longer do we get to rush to the bulletin board to check our grades. We have to get onto Desire2Learn and hope it's accessible. In this case it is, although most of these systems are not accessible, and I've actually said that most of them should get a grade of F. Desire2Learn is about the only one of the group that really gets a grade of A—and not just once, but consistently. In fact, Desire2Learn has won for the last several years the NFB's gold certification for accessibility of LMS systems. Anne Taylor says it's a model of accessibility, and I believe it is. Here to accept the award is Dennis Kavelman, but I want to say first, that, when you think of modern accessible technology used in education, when you think of equal opportunity to compete and to learn, and when you think of a core company value having accessibility in that value, think of Desire2Learn. Here to accept the award is Dennis Kavelman, chief operating officer, Desire2Learn.
Dennis Kavelman: Actually, the real person who is going to accept the award is Karen Hedrick, who really led the efforts at Desire2Learn, and here she is.
Karen Hedrick: Okay, I guess the Student Division knew I was here the whole time, but now you all know I'm not just in the video. I just wanted to say it's been seven years of hard work, working with developers who have great passion for this and are extremely motivated. I wish they could all be here to just breathe in the awesomeness that is in this convention. We are going to keep it going, and we're going to make sure that it stays accessible for all blind users. So that includes blind students, blind instructors, and blind administrators. Thank you so much for this.
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Karen, and thank you, Desire2Learn. Now, finally, our fifth recipient, representing blind individuals with imagination, innovation, and just plain good sense--we recognize Emily Wharton with our highest award this year, an award of $15,000. Now literacy is, I would say, the most fundamental building block of success. Literacy for blind people means competence in reading and writing Braille. Aside from having literacy skills in Braille, no other factor has more impact on whether or not a person will succeed. Emily Wharton understands this.
It's one thing to learn Braille as a child and use it every day in school. But it's a challenge of a different magnitude to learn Braille as an adult and then try to make it relevant and useful as a tool in your daily life. Most of us understand this, and we just give up. But Emily Wharton decided to do something about it. Emily is a communications instructor at BLIND, Incorporated, in Minneapolis. So she's had a firsthand opportunity to observe her students there. And Emily observed what she came to recognize among those students as a poor “Braillitude.” She decided to help them get a good Braillitude, and she created Code Master. Code Master follows the techniques used in teaching sighted people to read, that is, to recognize not just characters but words, whole words. She has people reading within weeks of having the opportunity to learn the Braille code. Not only that, but she incorporates the use of technology into the process, emphasizing the use of Braille displays. More than that, she is making Braille relevant to blind adults, and they are learning to use it right away. When you think of innovative problem-solving, when you think of first-class training, and when you think of literacy education for all—no excuses for being a blind adult, we can learn Braille too—think of the Code Master System, and think of Emily Wharton, its inventor. Here to accept the award is Emily Wharton.
Emily Wharton: Thank you so much to the Bolotin Committee, to my Federation family, to Dr. Maurer for challenging us to think about ways of innovating Braille, to all the people along the way who've been helpful with this: Peggy Elliott; Shawn Mayo; Dr. Bell; everybody at BLIND, Incorporated: Sharon, Ryan, Helen, and Chris. If you want more information about what we're doing, it'll be on our website shortly: <www.blindinc.org>. Thank you all so much.
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Emily, and thanks to all of our award winners. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards class of 2013. I want to thank Mary Ellen Jernigan and Ron Brown for helping me out in reviewing all these applications and for their intelligent evaluation. Mr. President, this concludes my report on the Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2013, and I thank all of you for listening.
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future.
\On Saturday evening, July 6, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Chang, chairperson of the scholarship committee, came to the podium to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships they had been awarded. This year each winner shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before they took their places across the back of the platform. In addition to the NFB scholarship, each of the thirty winners received a $1,000 check and plaque from Ray Kurzweil; a Google Nexus 7 tablet for access to the Blio ebook reader from K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc.; and a $1,000 cash award from Google. This package of gifts added over $2,000 of value to every scholarship award.
The final award was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez, who then spoke briefly to the audience. Her remarks appear later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the thirty 2013 NFB scholarship winners, including five tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving a second NFB scholarship, came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. The speakers were introduced by Patti, who announced their home and school states after their names.
Conrad Austen, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning, Federation family. I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for fighting for ever-increasing opportunities for me and thousands upon thousands of other blind students to succeed. I'm a senior at St. Mary's College of Maryland studying history, and I plan on getting a doctorate in history and becoming a professor researching and teaching disability history. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible, and until then I hope you continue to have a wonderful convention. Thank you.
Patti Chang: When students win more than one of our scholarships, they are dubbed "tenBroek Fellows." The first of five this year is
Cody Bair, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, it's a pleasure to stand in front of you today as a tenBroek Fellow. I'm a student at the University of Northern Colorado, and I'll be a senior in the fall. I'm majoring in accounting, and it's my career goal to obtain my CPA and practice in tax. This summer I'm working an internship for EKS&H [Ehrhardt, Keefe, Seiner, & Hottman], which is a large accounting firm in Colorado. I'm specializing in real estate and partnership tax. This is my third convention, and I have the pleasure of serving as the president of the Greeley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, the treasurer of the Colorado Association of Blind Students, and as of last night a board member of NABS. It is my goal this convention to develop as a stronger leader because I know that, while as a Federation we have accomplished a lot, we still have a lot more to accomplish, and I'm committed to working and putting in tireless hours until what we want to accomplish is accomplished. Thank you.
Danielle Burton, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, everyone. I am a freshman this fall, and I am going to major in elementary and special education with an emphasis in moderate to severe disabilities. I plan to teach students who are blind and visually impaired. I chose to do this because I want students to have more opportunities, and I want them to have some things I did not have as a student myself. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today and this week, and I hope to meet everybody. Thank you very much.
Mark Colasurdo, New Jersey, New York: Hello, everyone. My name is Mark Colasurdo, and it is an honor to be here as a scholarship winner. I want to thank the committee for this wonderful opportunity. I first came to the NFB in 2009 during the Youth Slam event and have been a student and mentor at various other STEM events since. I am currently the vice president of the New Jersey Association of Blind Students. In the fall I will be a junior at Cornell University, studying bioengineering. This summer I am doing a research internship up there funded by the National Science Foundation, where I am doing original research studying tissue engineering. In the future I hope to be a PhD scholar and research scientist in the field of biomedical engineering and to continue to participate actively in the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Angela Dehart, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thank you, scholarship committee and board of directors. It is an honor to be here this week. This fall I will be a senior in a program leading to dual certification in elementary and special education, with an emphasis in teaching students who have moderate to severe disabilities. My career goal is to teach students who have autism. Teaching is my passion. It is my job to educate, encourage, and inspire my students. My philosophy of teaching is the same as my philosophy of blindness. If there is one thing I want my students to learn from me, it is that their disability need not limit them, and anything is possible with enough dedication and perseverance. Thank you all.
Stephanie DeLuca, Tennessee, Tennessee: Good morning, everyone, I am honored to be here as a tenBroek Fellow this year. I am currently the president of the Tennessee Association of Blind Students. I am also hoping to defend my doctorate next spring, and with that doctorate I'd like to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) policy or STEM education policy because I believe very passionately and strongly that everyone, including the blind and visually impaired who are often ignored, have the right to a quality education, and that is how we can move up in the world. So I am looking forward to learning from all of you and learning to be a trailblazer and a leader. Thank you.
Al Elia, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. Thank you to the committee, and thank you to all of you for supporting this organization that can therefore support this wonderful class that I'm honored to be a part of. I have to confess that I took for granted for many years the rights that I have as a blind person. Then, in the late 2000s, I discovered the NFB and how much I owe to this organization for all the rights that I've had my whole life. And I realized that we're still doing that work, especially Massachusetts. You know, I think a lot of people here probably have iPhones—yes? That's the NFB and Massachusetts. And the ATM machines that we all use that talk to us now? That's the NFB and Massachusetts. So I decided that, after fifteen years out of school and working as a software developer, I was going to go to law school. So that's what I'm doing now, and I hope to continue to do that sort of work, fighting in Massachusetts along with the NFB to increase our rights going forward. Thank you very much.
Molly Faerber, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: Good morning, everyone. Thank you to the members of the scholarship committee and the members of this class for giving me my first national convention. It's been astonishing so far. I'm currently a grad student at Brown University in the department of literary arts, concentrating in fiction writing. In the fall or in this upcoming academic year I'll be teaching two fiction-writing classes at Brown, and I'll also have the chance to teach a group of blind high school students a writing workshop as well. I'm going to steal something that Julie said last night that I think was really great. She said that blind people deserve to be on the stage as much as sighted people do, and I completely agree. I believe that the opinions, the experiences, and the perceptions of the world that blind people have deserve to be written, published, and read by everyone, and I am dedicated to doing everything in my power to make that happen, especially after only these few days of convention. Thank you very much.
Kristin Fleschner, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, everyone. I'm so honored and privileged to be here. I'm a third-year law student at Harvard Law School. I've been extremely privileged to have a lot of rich educational and cultural experiences along the way. I did my undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University, where I received a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science. Vanderbilt then sent me to Africa, where I researched violence against women and traveled to over eighteen countries. When I returned, I had the opportunity to work for the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, and since that time I've been a federal government employee. In that capacity I've had the opportunity to testify before Congress and brief some of our most senior policy members. But along the way I lost my vision, and I had a lot of self-doubt. The morning that I actually received my admittance letter to Harvard Law School, I wasn't sure I was making the right decision, and I wasn't sure I should even be going to law school. I actually happened to make one of my first trips to the NFB in Baltimore that day to do a training session that Scott LaBarre was putting on for blind lawyers, and I left that meeting after spending a few hours with about forty blind lawyers wondering if I shouldn't get only my JD at Harvard but whether I should also get my PhD. I think that this is what this organization has the capacity to do, so I'm here this week to learn from all of you and the rest of the scholarship team here, and I look forward to meeting the rest of you this week.
Juna Gjata, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. My name is Juna Gjata. I am seventeen years old and will be attending Harvard as a freshman this fall. I have the privilege of being here for the first time this year, and it's so exciting. Over the past four years I've interned at a law firm and an investment agency and as a research assistant, and they have only reaffirmed in my mind that I want to be a concert pianist in the future. I have been attending a conservatory for eight years now and have had the honor of playing with six different orchestras and playing Carnegie Hall and Symphony Hall, so my dream is to be a pianist without a day job—sorry Papi.
Fredrick Hardyway, Kansas, Washington: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity; this has been wonderful. This is my first convention, and I'm just so amazed. I'm going to Washington State and getting my doctorate in world history with a primary emphasis in African history. My goal is to become a professor. I guess I found out among the scholarship winners that I'm the eldest, so thank you for the opportunity.
Tasha Hubbard, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, Federationists. I am a student at Liberty University getting my masters in professional counseling and life coaching. With that I will be counseling people who have gone through traumatic experiences that left them disabled. My goal is to give them back their hope for life and to teach them that their life isn't over now that they're disabled. I am also the president of the Peninsula Chapter in Virginia. I am the coordinator for the Peninsula BELL Program. I am on the McDonald Fellowship Committee, and I will be running for a position in the Human Services Division later on today. My theme here is giving back.
Chopper Johnson, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hi, folks, it's good to hear a little bit of South Carolina in the house. After starting my undergraduate in the early 90s, I'm finally getting around to graduating with a double degree in secondary education and history in May from the College of Charleston. This is thanks to the scholarship committee. This is my first NFB national convention; it's been a long couple of days already; I look forward to a long couple of more. So that's me.
Tyler Kavanaugh, Kansas, New York: Good morning. Thank you, scholarship committee, board of directors, Mr. President, Madame Chair. It is a great honor for me to be here this morning. I'm going to be a sophomore at the Rochester Institute of Technology, studying software engineering. This is my first national convention, and I hope to become even more involved in the Federation because I only really got kind of involved with it at the state convention in New York last November.
Mi So Kwak, California, California: First of all, I am so honored and humbled to be here today. Throughout my life I have been blessed with incredible mentors and experiences: teachers in Korea who always encouraged me to think bigger, a high school teacher who opened my mind to chemistry, a guidance counselor who gave me an opportunity to speak to a local Cub Scout pack about blindness, band directors who gave me wonderful opportunities such as being a section leader for marching band performing in a concert as a member of Southern California Ambassadors of Music, and marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade as a member of Bands of America Honor Band, and finally many of my NFB mentors whom I have met throughout this week. This fall I'll be a freshman attending the University of California, Los Angeles, and am considering a double major in music history and communication, and a minor in education. Although I'm not sure about the specifics of my career, I would like to become a teacher who could open students’ minds and strengthen their self-belief, just like my teachers have done for me. Thank you.
Domonique Lawless, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning. I am very honored to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, currently living in Ruston, Louisiana, where I am attending Louisiana Tech, finishing my master's degree in teaching blind students orientation and mobility. I've been in the National Federation of the Blind for thirteen years. In 2005 I founded the Tennessee Association of Blind Students and had the opportunity to serve as its president from 2005 to 2011. I also served on the state board for the Tennessee affiliate as well as served on the National Association of Blind Students board from 2007 to 2012. Although I hold no current board positions, I love working behind the scenes in various education programs, like the BELL Program in Louisiana and soon the BELL Program in Virginia. I look forward to doing anything I can to help the Federation, and I'm looking forward to the rest of convention.
Alex Loch, Minnesota, Minnesota: Hi, everyone. My name is Alex Loch. I'm a third-year grad student at the College of St. Scholastica earning a doctorate in physical therapy. I will own my own practice—a physical therapy clinic—one day. I live in Duluth, Minnesota, and we're in the process of getting a chapter started in Duluth; so any tips are welcome. In Minnesota we have these things called "Ole and Lena jokes,” so I'm going to tell you one: Sven was walking down the street, and he noticed his buddy Ole standing by the jewelry store. He said, "Hey, Ole, Vhat you doing?"
Ole said, "Oh, it's Lena's birthday, and she asked for something with a lot of diamonds."
Sven said, "Yah? Vell, vat'd you get her?"
Ole said, "Vell, I got her a deck of cards."
Thank you all so much; have a lovely convention.
Brooke Lovell, Utah, Utah: Hello, everyone, I'm so thankful to be here today. I'm an incoming freshman at Brigham Young University, and I will be majoring in psychology. I plan to become a marriage and family counselor. This summer I'm interning at a counseling office in Salt Lake City, and I absolutely love it. I have been involved with the NFB for coming up on three years now. I had the opportunity to attend Washington Seminar, and that was right after I became involved with the NFB. Then I was on the founding board of our local chapter and served as the secretary there for two years. I am currently treasurer of our student division, and I have had the opportunity to serve as a junior mentor at the BELL Program and in Project STRIVE in our state. I'm so thankful for all these awesome opportunities that I've had to give back, because I have received so much from the NFB and from my mentors and from you my Federation family. I hope you all have a very happy day. Thank you.
Julie McGinnity, Missouri, Missouri: Hi, everyone. First of all I would like to thank Patti Chang and the rest of the scholarship committee for giving me this opportunity once again. I'm having a great time. I would also like to thank Lorraine Rovig for all the work she's doing; it can't be easy to be with us all the time. I was recently told that I could only be a blind character in an opera because I'm blind, and all the sighted people are supposed to play the sighted characters. Yeah, unfortunately this is something that we face every day. Many of us in this room have faced this attitude, and for my part I would like to become an accomplished performer and be a professor of voice. I would like to teach all kinds of students performance techniques. I would also like to advocate for blind performers because that attitude is wrong, and we need to fix it, guys. Thank you.
Mona Minkara, Florida, Florida: Hi, everyone. I'm actually originally from Boston; I moved down here for graduate school. I am a third-year at the University of Florida, part of the Quantum Theory Project. I am studying computational chemistry. I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Wellesley College in 2009 with a double major in chemistry and Middle Eastern studies. Then I was really fortunate to get a Howard Hughes Medical Institution grant to do a year of pure research, and I decided this is what I want to do with the rest of my life—I love it. Unfortunately, growing up I wasn't really involved with the NFB or anything involved with blind associations. I was not taught Braille, and I did not have enough vision to read large print. I've done everything auditorily, but, coming here, I've decided I'm going to learn Braille. Actually, Julie McGinnity—who just spoke—she just showed me the alphabet; I was able to read a couple of sentences on her BrailleNote, so I'm really excited to see where that takes me. Thank you.
Disa Muse, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Thank you. My associate’s and bachelor’s were in areas of law, and I honestly just had a mild plan of being a paralegal. But, as I was going through school during the last two years, I've faced more battles than I've ever faced in my life. It was the first time I'd gone to college blind. I battled one professor one semester. I thought, "Good, that'll never happen again." No, next semester, major battle, semester-long. Then voc rehab, and, by the end I said, "Do you know what: they don't seem to understand, I'm part of the NFB, and I don't take no for an answer.” I'm now dedicating my life to that type of service for others. Thank you.
Treva Olivero, Louisiana, Louisiana: Hello, everyone, thank you. I am very honored and blessed and humbled to have this opportunity. This is my tenth convention. In the past I haven't been able to go to school to get a scholarship, but currently I am attending the Louisiana Tech master’s program for teaching blind students. I'm very excited, and what sparked an interest in teaching was my experience with the Louisiana and the Maryland BELL programs and also the Braille Rocks Program in Maryland. I'd like to thank my mentors from the NFB of Indiana and the NFB of Maryland for all their support. Thank you so much for believing in me and giving me this opportunity so that I can go and teach future Federationists.
Steven Phelps, Utah, Utah: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a member of the Utah affiliate, and within that affiliate I am the president of the Utah Valley Chapter. I am in my final year of study at the University of Utah. I am working on two master's degrees, one in social work and the other in public administration. I'm also working on a graduate certificate in disability studies. With this combination of degrees and a certificate, I will be able to provide relief and initiate necessary changes for people with disabilities through advocacy, legislation, policy efforts, and administrative leadership. I believe that I can make a difference in people’s lives, and this belief has been furthered during recent national conventions, Washington Seminar, and activities within the Utah affiliate. I am committed to furthering the mission of the National Federation of the Blind and its programs and affiliates. Thank you.
Heather Rasmussen, Tennessee, Washington, DC: Hi. I've been in the NFB for several years, about six, I think. I owe a lot to this organization. I went to the Colorado Center for the Blind in 2009-2010. It was a truly life-changing experience. That being said, I've never been able to come to a national convention before, and I'm really truly grateful to be here; it's amazing. I have a bit of a different background; I grew up on a goat farm—yes, a goat farm—in Tennessee. I am now at American University in Washington, DC; I'm majoring in international studies with a focus in conflict resolution because it's really hard to get anything done in terms of development if you're being shot at. I’m minoring in Spanish because it's awesome and criminal justice because I have a passion for US prison reform. Coming from an under-served population—being blind—I feel empathy with that population because they're very neglected in this country. For the last year I studied abroad in the University of Ireland in Galway, and I love dogs.
Kaitlin Shelton, Ohio, Ohio: Hello, and good morning, everyone. This fall I will be a sophomore at the University of Dayton, where I am majoring in music therapy with a minor in psychology. I have yet to decide what specific population I want to work with, but I'm considering concentrating in work with teens with all sorts of disabilities; substance abuse and recovery; medical patients; or music therapy in a pediatric hospital. I've had a couple volunteer internships, including one at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and I hope to get more in order to sort of figure out my niche and see where I want to go. I'm pretty active on campus. I do several activities, including volunteer organizations, two fraternities, marching band, and a bunch of musical ensembles. As far as the Federation goes, I am active in the Ohio Association of Blind Students, where I currently serve as secretary, and the Community Service Group, and I hope to become more involved as the week goes on. This is my first convention, and I'm really excited and honored to be here. I'm really thankful for this opportunity, so thank you to everyone who's made this possible, as well as everyone here for working for a better future for blind people. Thank you.
Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez, California, California: Good morning, fellow Federationists. First off, I am very blessed. I feel very blessed to be part of the scholarship class this year, and it is with great humility that I say thank you to each and every one of you, as well as the scholarship committee. I am a graduate student at Cal State University, San Bernardino. I am earning a master’s degree in rehab counseling. I currently work as a service coordinator at the department of rehab in California. Rehab is very near and dear to my heart. But I am more than that. I am also a mother, a wife, and a Federationist. I have the privilege of working in the great state of California next to some seasoned mentors. I serve as treasurer of our student division and vice president of our diabetes division, and I am president of the Southwest Riverside County Chapter. But my privilege extends beyond the California borders. I get to work alongside all of you, and I get to be part of the difference we are going to make in this world. Again, I thank you, and I look forward to meeting more of you. Everybody have a great convention. Thank you.
Ivy Wanta, New York, Connecticut: Hi, everyone. I'm so grateful to be here as a scholarship winner. I'm starting at Yale University this fall, hoping to major in physics and planning to have a future in alternate energy sources. I'm also incredibly involved in theater. Throughout my high school career I acted in, directed, or wrote seventeen different plays and musicals. This is my first convention, and I really do feel like this scholarship has given me the gift of the NFB, and I can't wait to take that gift home and get involved in my state affiliate. Thank you so much.
Kathryn Webster, Connecticut, North Carolina: Good morning, my new Federation family. This is my first national convention, and my name is Kathryn Webster. I am originally from Florida, live in Connecticut, and will be starting my freshman year of undergraduate at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. I plan on pursuing a double major in mathematical business and economics with a minor in health and human services, hopefully. My career goal right now is to be an actuarial scientist and a motivational speaker. I am new to the Federation—fairly new—but I am looking forward to this week, and I am loving it. And I just wanted to give a shout-out to Justin Salisbury because he convinced me to highly consider going to the LCB, and he has definitely been a great mentor throughout this whole process. I can't wait to keep on being a Federationist and getting involved. Thank you.
Matthew Yeater, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning, Federationists. I, too, would like to say thank you so much to the scholarship committee for your hard work and dedication, and the board of directors. On behalf of all of us, all of you affiliate leaders, without you guys we wouldn't be where we are, so thank you very much. I graduated from Indiana Bible College last year and am a first-year grad student at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I’ve been part of the Federation for five years, recruited by Ron Brown. My first convention was part of the College Leadership Program four years ago, so this is my fourth convention. The leadership seminar changed my life, really. I went back home with a new perspective and an open understanding. During my senior year of college I started the National Federation of the Blind of Michiana, a newly formed chapter. I serve on the building committee where we're celebrating that just last week we got a building donated to us--office space--so we're really looking forward to that. We have a couple of grant writers—one of whom works with the International Rotary--he's a gifts manager, his major is corporate sponsorship—so we're excited for the new developments. Thank you guys for all that you do for us.
Stephanie Zundel, New Jersey, Tennessee: Good morning, my Federation family. I am so thankful, blessed, and honored to have been awarded one of the NFB's scholarships. I will be attending Vanderbilt University in the fall as a freshman. I will be double majoring in speech pathology and psychology. I have also just decided to minor in something that has to do with animals, since I absolutely love animals. I attended the Youth Slam in 2011, and I also just graduated from the LEAD Program, which is led by Joe Ruffalo and Jerilyn Higgins. I just have one quick story to share on why I absolutely love the NFB and why it is such a great organization. This year I was in an AP government class. All the students in this class belong to a national e-Congress, which is a website where students from all over the country create their own laws. These laws are sent to other classrooms across the country, where they either pass or fail. I made a law about how I think there should be a way that blind people can distinguish between money, other than using money readers. It is fine if people disagree with my ideas, but the way these people failed was unbelievable. They told me that blind people never go to stores without a sighted companion. This is why I do boxing--because of my anger--and also why I joined the NFB. The NFB is here to fight for our equality because we know that blind people can accomplish everything that sighted people can. Thank you.
There you have the 2013 scholarship class. On Saturday evening, July 6, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Chang presented this year’s scholarships. Then Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez, winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, came to the podium to speak a few words. This is what she said:
\I'm trying to catch my breath right now and stand at the same time, so excuse the shaking in my voice, please. Good evening, my Federation family. Words can never express the thanks or even the feelings I have right now. In 2007 I sat on the side of the road—devastated--realizing that I was blind. My car was parked; I had called my brother for a ride because I had almost hit a car. In 2009 I had the opportunity, the blessing, to attend my first national convention in Detroit. I partook in our walk, in our March for Independence. I left that convention changing the word "devastation" to "determination"--to dare to dream. It is with great humility that I stand here before you this evening, again truly thanking each and every one of you. I may not know you personally, but we are working together, and that is all I need to know. Thank you, my Federation family. It is my privilege to walk with you as we go to Washington each year and as we walk the streets and show society what it means to work together in changing what it means to be blind. Thank you.
Following is the complete list of 2013 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2013
One misunderstanding about the nature of power is that this commodity is finite, limited in quantity, and shared only by the fortunate few. To get power, it is (according to some) necessary to seize it from the hands of others.
An example of this form of thinking may be observed by contemplating the seats in Congress. There are only 535 of them. Anybody who wants to exercise power from one of these seats must compete with others to get it—often seizing the opportunity from somebody else who already has it. From this form of thought comes the concept that a society consists of people who are constantly at war with one another to get for themselves the limited resources that will never be adequate for all.
In 1851 the English philosopher Herbert Spencer said:
Pervading all nature we may see at work a stern discipline, which is a little cruel that it may be very kind. That state of universal warfare maintained throughout the lower creation, to the great perplexity of many worthy people, is at bottom the most merciful provision which the circumstances admit of. The poverty of the incapable, the distresses that come upon the imprudent, the starvation of the idle, and those shoulderings aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many "in shallows and in miseries," are the decrees of a large, farseeing benevolence. It seems hard that an unskillfulness which with all its efforts he cannot overcome, should entail hunger upon the artisan. It seems hard that a laborer incapacitated by sickness from competing with his stronger fellows, should have to bear the resulting privations. It seems hard that widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately, but in connection with the interests of universal humanity, these harsh fatalities are seen to be full of the highest beneficence—the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents, and singles out the low-spirited, the intemperate, and the debilitated as the victims of an epidemic.
It must be conceded that Spencer spoke his mind without trying to sugarcoat the message. I suspect that he would apply some of his terms to members of the National Federation of the Blind—the incapable, the weak, the low-spirited, the debilitated, the victims. As misleading and as annoying as these characterizations may be, they are a distraction from a more important observation. Spencer misunderstood at least one aspect of the fundamental nature of power itself and the character of the people who possess it. His assertion that power is limited is not only false but also an invitation for tyrannical misapplication of power by the uninformed, if not the deliberate manipulation of power against disadvantaged individuals by insidious scoundrels. These scoundrels gain economic, political, or personal advantages from a putative position of benevolent superiority. Our benevolent superiors (self-appointed, self-governing, self-important, self-willed) have determined that a wage structure in our country that offers to pay us less than the federally-guaranteed minimum wage available to everybody else has been established for our own good. They plan to maintain this structure because in their superior, benevolent wisdom they tell us that they know better than we do what our lives should be and what compensation is fair for us to get for the labor they extract from us. They tell us that our lives have been improved through this system of government-authorized discrimination, while they collect their six- and seven-figure compensation packages.
Such arguments from our benevolent superiors remind me of a statement made by Abraham Lincoln in 1865. He said:
I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
So said Abraham Lincoln almost 150 years ago, and I believe the principles he espoused should work equally well today. Those managers who want to pay wages to workers that are below the federally-guaranteed minimum should receive compensation similar to that which they pay the workers. If this kind of wage structure is good for blind workers, is it not equally good for management? Let us not keep all of the good for ourselves; let us share it with them.
However, Herbert Spencer and the managers of workshops who exploit the blind have misunderstood the nature of power itself. If power is not always a finite, limited commodity, if it can be expanded by ingenuity and industry, if its limits are imposed only by the breadth of human imagination and the determination to put that imagination to work, power itself is expandable; and it becomes available to those who seek to know it.
Inventive individuals in our own time have established companies that create technology which manages information. Some of these companies have become enormously popular and fabulously wealthy. Those who constructed them have dramatic amounts of economic power and sometimes a substantial portion of political power as well. Some of these entrepreneurs undoubtedly possess greater power than some elected officials. They took their power from nobody. The ingenuity and energy they put to work expanded the sum of the power available within our society.
In 1958 John Kenneth Galbraith wrote:
People are the common denominator of progress. So . . . no improvement is possible with unimproved people, and advance is certain when people are liberated and educated.
How many people can be improved, and to what degree? Galbraith does not say, but he offers the mechanism for advancement with two concepts, liberty and education. Through reflection upon such thoughts and observation of the activities of others, it seems evident to me that freedom creates power. My freedom, properly exercised, adds to yours—and yours to mine. Furthermore, we develop our own freedom partly through personal choice and partly through imitation of others who exemplify the characteristics that signify freedom. In developing our own freedom, we simultaneously instill in ourselves an added measure of power.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have long ago expressed the aspiration that we may participate fully in our society on terms of equality with others and that misunderstanding has kept us from doing so. We have felt that we are on the edge of society attempting to gain full participation. But this is only part of the pattern. Those who have created the systems of exclusion have erected barriers to our participation that make it virtually impossible or impractical for us to invite them to be fully a part of the society in which we live. We have not easily been able to gain access to the power that they possess, but they have not been able to gain access to the power that we possess. Often they do not know it exists. They have not understood that our equal participation enhances the fullness of their lives.
One element of the misunderstanding about blindness is that we live in a sighted society. Although many sighted people live in our society, it is more accurate to say that the society in which we live belongs to all of us, and we belong to it. Because we belong in this society, we expect to be welcomed within it. Because others belong to this society, we expect to welcome them. We do not accept exclusion from any element of our culture. We belong within the political, economic, legal, educational, and scientific arenas. We belong in all elements of our society of every kind and description. We have helped to make it what it is, and it belongs to us. We cannot be (and we will not be) extracted from it. We give this society richness, depth, and a level of experience and understanding that cannot be had without us. Some may try to shoulder us aside into low-grade, shabby lives, but this is not enough. We own our freedom; we have power; and we know what to do with it. Our society belongs to us; we will not be shut out; we belong!
A persistent rumor exists that blind people are fundamentally different from sighted people, less capable than sighted people, and affected by blindness in ways beyond just the inability to see. This assertion of incapacity is bolstered by some blind people who want to use the characteristics of blindness that they perceive in themselves to shock, amuse, or excuse bizarre behavior.
On May 18, 2012, This American Life, a program distributed by Public Radio International, featured a presentation by Ryan Knighton, a blind author living in Canada. Knighton declared that the experience of being blind places a blind person in “a completely different physical reality.” In an extensive segment, lasting more than fourteen minutes, Knighton described his experiences—among them being in unfamiliar hotel rooms.
Here is some of what was said. Note the use of slightly salacious language to attempt to make the description humorous:
And so I walk into the room and I find the bed. And then to the left of the bed, I feel along and I find this nightstand, which is where I expect the phone to be. And so I feel up the nightstand and there's no phone. Fine.
So I reach across the bed to the other side and find the other nightstand. And I feel that one up, and there's no phone. . . .
And so I turn to where I think there might be a table, and poof! There's a coffee table. So I grope this coffee table for a while and there's no phone on it. . . .
So I'm left to my last blind guy resort, which is I go back to the beginning. Back to the bed and I find the wall. And I start Marcel Marceauing the walls. I'm wiping them up and down.
And I round the fourth corner and I get to the bathroom, and I go past the bathroom and there's nothing. And I feel behind me again and the bed is back behind me again. So I've circled this room . . . .
So I circle the room two more times this way, wiping it down. And I check the coffee table again. I check the desk again. And I just figure, forget it. I'll just go to bed and try again tomorrow. . . .
[I interrupt Knighton’s description to tell you that the report indicates that the next morning, Knighton is awakened by the sound of a ringing telephone.]
And the phone [Knighton continues] is on a coffee table. Now I know I felt that thing up to an illicit degree. I mauled that coffee table, and there was nothing on that table last night.
And so I answer the phone and it's my wife. And she says, why didn't you call me last night? And I said, well there was no phone. But there is now. . . .
And so we talk. And then I hang up the phone, and I go to get back into bed, and there's now a wall there. . . .
And I'm totally disoriented at this point. Like it's funny, and it's also sort of terrifying. Because I know the bed was there, and now there's a wall.
And I keep touching the wall, thinking maybe this time it'll go away. And I go to the left, and there's another wall now. And I'm a grown man, and I'm lost in a hotel room. . . .
This is part of the description of the experience of a blind man carried on This American Life, and I wonder is this an accurate portrayal of the American life that you experience? Do your beds turn into walls? Do you keep touching the walls hoping they’ll go away?
An occasional disorientation in a strange location is part of life. Most people (maybe all people) have experienced disorientation. Even Mark Twain wrote about it—being disoriented in a hotel room—in his book A Tramp Abroad. However, Knighton’s description is nothing short of bizarre, and he attributes it to his blindness. This American Life put the description on the air. Knighton, of course, may have whatever opinions suit his convenience, but for a major media outlet to portray his opinions as reality when they are based in something quite different is the height of irresponsibility.
Why is this man’s story worth reporting? Why do millions need to know that a blind man in a hotel room could not find the phone? Why is this depiction of incapacity worth wasting one minute of anybody’s time? Do the officials who put this program together want to make fun of the blind? Is making fun of blind people good journalism? Can respect for blind Americans exist when bigotry is permitted to masquerade as journalism?
However, Knighton and his so-called friends who work for the media are not the only ones who portray the blind. We have a very personal interest in publicity about us, and we will tell the story as it truly is. We are a part of this society, and we expect to be welcomed within it, not made the butt of somebody else’s so-called humor.
Very few blind journalists work for Public Radio International. Maybe we should demand that we get an equal opportunity to write the stories, host the programs, and report the reality as we know it to be. Blind people do face problems, and they should be reported. Have the officials at This American Life taken note of the books we cannot read because they’re presented in an inaccessible format? Have they noticed the two-class system that guarantees minimum wage for some yet leaves us out? Have they any idea that many of the problems faced by the blind are part of a classical struggle for equal rights and equal opportunity? We deserve respect, but we also deserve more than that—we deserve equal time. Public Radio International must stop its practice of excluding us. We must be welcomed as part of the journalism community. We are not there yet, but we are coming. We own our freedom; we have power; and we know what to do with it. Our society belongs to us; we will not be shut out; we belong!
Another argument that occurs frequently about what happens to people who become blind is that the abilities we possess are enhanced by blindness. Among these can be found assertions that blind people hear better, exercise the sense of smell more acutely, and appreciate the world more effectively by touch than sighted people do. Perhaps we should advance the argument that blind people are more effective as wine tasters than the sighted. It is fair to say that some blind people have become quite adept in this arena.
These arguments can become complex because blind people often do hear or feel what others miss. However, I suspect that the evidence will show that the added abilities in hearing or touch are attributable to training and practice rather than enhanced capacity. However, it may be that practice offers enhancement in sensitivity.
The capacity to hear or sense objects in the path of a blind person has been called “facial vision.” A blind person can “feel” an object in space by appreciating its approach through pressure exerted upon the skin of the face.
Is it possible to hear space? Undoubtedly. A person who steps into a closet knows by the sound that it is small. The sound of a cathedral is noticeably and dramatically different. I have observed blind people walking down the street identifying parking meters and light poles as they pass them without ever touching these objects. I have done some of this myself. For me this takes quite a bit of concentration, and it is often unreliable. A cane in my hand tells me of objects in my path with much more certainty than the alteration in sound pattern or the change in air pressure. However, all three methods of identifying objects are effective to some degree, and other methods for doing so may exist.
It comes as no surprise to me that a recent study conducted at the University of Southampton and the University of Cyprus concluded that blind people can sometimes identify the distance to objects through echolocation. What did come as a surprise to me is that reports about this in the press carried statements that suggest that the National Federation of the Blind opposes research in this arena. We do not oppose competent research about blind people. We do oppose incompetent assertions about alterations in our being based upon false assumptions. Can I as a totally blind person hear the difference between a wall and an open door? Much of the time I can. When I am seeking to find my coffee cup, can I hear where it is on the table or which direction the handle is pointing? I have never been able to establish sufficient capacity to hear my cup. I am not saying that no blind person can manage this feat, but I am saying that it is outside my experience. I am also saying that additional research competently conducted in alternative methods of knowing the world in which we live is an advantage.
Furthermore, much of the foolishness that masquerades as science about the blind occurs because sighted people without experience imagine what blindness entails and design research without ever including the personal experience of blind people. Research about the blind is best performed with blind people helping to design and conduct it. However, competent research would necessarily require a certain standard of excellence. Picking only one blind person (say, for example, a blind guy who makes his living by telling others about how terrified he was in a hotel room because the bed had suddenly disappeared) will not do.
In August 2012 the online magazine of the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery, EyeWorld, published an article entitled “Ophthalmology's bright future . . . No kidding.” [This is the actual title of the article, including the “no kidding” part. I have not been editorializing.] The article describes a conference of medical professionals that focused upon regeneration of sight. To indicate the importance of the topic under discussion, the author of the article included a definition of absolute blindness. He said:
Absolute blindness—what J. Lawton Smith once referred to as not being able to see an atomic flash in a coal mine—is not a disability. Absolute blindness is life in the eternal darkness of death . . .
This definition gives the flavor of the report in this ophthalmological journal. However, in addition to comparing blindness to death, the author provides additional detail about just how debilitating blindness is. He tells us:
The demands of life, both primitive and modern, necessitate that vision keeps us informed, safe, productive, reproductive, and alive.
According to this author, writing from a scientific perspective less than a year ago, we who are blind are not informed, safe, productive, or even, in any meaningful sense, alive. He even claims to know that something in our blindness has inhibited our reproductive faculty. I believe there is adequate medical evidence to disprove the claims here presented. It seems fair to say that this doctor has permitted prejudice to become a part of his thought process about blindness. In ophthalmology there are virtually no blind people. We must find a way to become an element of the medical profession in which eye diseases are studied and treated. It is not only in other areas of scientific endeavor where we belong. Those of us who find the subject of greatest interest must also be welcomed as part of the field of ophthalmology. Our participation will add to the perspective of the profession. This, too, is a segment of society where we belong.
One observation from this author is accurate and worthwhile. Blindness [he tells us] is a topic best entrusted to the National Federation of the Blind.
A book entitled Recent Advances in Reliability and Quality in Design, published in 2008, contains Chapter 22, “Quality in Design: User-oriented Design of Public Toilets for Visually Impaired People.” In the book it is revealed that thoughts about the need for special design in public toilets for the visually impaired were generated at the 2005 World Toilet Summit held in Belfast. The World Toilet Summit is an event conducted by the World Toilet Organization, a nonprofit established in 2001 with its headquarters in Singapore. It may have been thought that an entire chapter of a book on design would be adequate to address completely the topic of publicly-available toilets for the blind. However, we now learn of a project in design from Hong Kong Polytechnic University entitled “BrailleWise aircraft toilet.” A news organization called PhysOrg, owned by Omicron Technologies of Great Britain, distributed a description of the project along with the report that the design for aircraft toilets for the blind has already won awards in China, Germany, and the United States.
What’s wrong with the toilets we have on airplanes now? What design features will offer improvement? The report from PhysOrg tells us. The professor who led the design team says:
Using the toilet in public places is not that straight-forward for the visually impaired. Finding their way around in unfamiliar territory is a big challenge for them. That's why they would usually avoid using public toilets by not eating and drinking. But it is not healthy.
The press release associated with the professor’s argument tells us:
With good bearings, one can move around freely and independently with greater confidence without relying on a guide.
A guide in an airplane bathroom, what a concept. The design of BrailleWise, this new product, consists of tactile markings that offer raised lines at a waist-high position in the bathroom. The person seeking information permits the fingers to travel along the raised line to locate arrows that point to the toilet, the sink, or the flushing mechanism. Apparently Braille is incorporated in the design to tell what each indicated item is. I admit that I like Braille a great deal, and I am pleased to have it incorporated into the design of anything. But I find it hard to fathom why a professor would believe that locating the toilet in an airplane bathroom is hard. The toilet takes up most of the space. The flushing mechanism is installed in different locations from one design to another. If a standard location for it were selected, it would be simpler to find, but even this feature has not escaped my notice so far.
Adding Braille signage to a publicly-used space is a valuable addition. Telling the airlines, the public, engineers in a school of design, and the World Toilet Organization that blind people cannot manage to get around in an airplane bathroom is not. Perhaps the designers of new technology should undertake to solve problems that we actually have, not the ones they believe we have or think they would have if they were blind.
On March 18, 2013, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the Internet entitled “When It Comes to Hiring, Blind Workers Face Bias.” The article reported that a study conducted by NIB (formerly National Industries for the Blind) asked four hundred human resources and hiring managers about hiring practices and opinions regarding blind employees. Although the title of the article suggested that bias exists against blind employees, much of the article restated the opinions of these human resource and hiring managers. It said in part:
When it comes to hiring blind employees, many employers remain skeptical.
Bosses often assume blind workers cost more and produce less . . . They also believe blind workers are more prone to workplace accidents and less reliable than other workers. . . .
Such is part of the language from this Wall Street Journal article, and although the stated purpose is to demonstrate bias, if the assertions of these hiring managers are correct (and nowhere in the article is a systematic refutation of such statements), the article leaves a different impression. Few jobs can be done by blind employees, says the article. Accommodations are expensive and very often required, somebody is essential to assist the blind person to do the work, blind workers are more accident-prone and more difficult to supervise, and besides they’re not as productive or as reliable as their sighted colleagues, and they have a higher absentee rate. What sensible hiring manager would want one? The Journal did urge people to believe that insurance rates are not automatically increased by hiring blind people and that sometimes blind workers are more loyal than their counterparts. The article also contains a statement by NIB’s president asserting that very few jobs exist that cannot be performed by a blind employee.
If an employer with no (or even very limited) experience with blind employees reads this article, I suspect that the response will not be outrage at prejudice and false statement but a sympathetic understanding of the unfortunate hiring managers who are faced with the challenge of dealing with a class of people who they believe cannot perform the work that the companies are trying to get done. Is it reasonable to suppose that four hundred hiring managers are wrong? This impression comes from an article intended to show unfairness and bias.
The president of NIB said the findings were a “terrible surprise.” But NIB permits the agencies that get contracts through NIB to pay their workers less than the federal minimum wage. This continues to be done even though NIB has adopted a policy that urges support for payment of at least the federal minimum wage. The 70 percent unemployment rate often associated with blind employees in the United States may not be attributed to only one factor, but prejudice against blind workers practiced within entities that serve the blind is certainly one element that contributes to the dramatic rate of unemployment for blind people.
In the United States we have a legal system that presumes a person is innocent of crime unless proven guilty. Our civil structure is somewhat more complex, but it presumes that all who seek retribution before the courts are treated in the same way and that a court will order money to be paid or action to be taken if those before the court can prove they deserve it. In using this system, our laws and judges have not always abided by these legal principles. The possession of a single characteristic has sometimes permitted prejudicial classification of individuals. Race classification is probably the most notorious example, but prejudice based upon gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability have been sufficiently widespread that they are addressed in the laws of the nation. It is a violation of the law today to classify a human being for certain purposes based upon blindness without additional information. The laws that have existed in many states declaring that no blind person may serve on a jury may be challenged because the possession of this single characteristic is insufficient to establish the unsuitability of a person for jury service.
In the case of employment, the principles of the law for covered entities declare that an employee may not be denied employment on the basis of disability (including blindness) if that person appears to possess characteristics indicating that the person has the bona fide occupational qualifications to do the work. Even if the person does possess these qualifications, if the employer can demonstrate that permitting that person to work would create a safety threat to that person or to others in the workplace, the employer may deny employment. However, possession of the qualifications to do the work is sufficient to require the potential employer to demonstrate by evidence that the danger exists. The assertion of danger alone is not enough. There must be evidence showing that something really is dangerous, not just a claim that somebody is worried that it could be. Well over 90 percent of employment cases brought on behalf of disabled workers are lost. Consequently, any lawyer who brings an employment case faces an enormous challenge. The statistics are sufficiently dismal that very few lawyers bring the cases.
In 2011 the National Federation of the Blind brought a case of discrimination on behalf of a blind employee, Frank Hohn, who had been fired by his employer, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways, because they said he was blind, and his blindness created a danger in the workplace. Scott LaBarre, a blind lawyer from Colorado who is a leader of the National Federation of the Blind, did the legal work. After a trial that lasted seven days, the case was lost. In the court of appeals, the case was lost once again.
The evidence in the case showed that Frank Hohn had been working for Burlington Northern doing machinist repairs on locomotives for seven years. He had an excellent safety record on the job. He did his work well and in a timely manner. However, although the trial court refused to admit this piece of evidence, Frank Hohn did disagree with a supervisor about safety. The safety he had in mind was that involving a locomotive upon which he had worked. He thought it was unsafe to be used in commerce, and he said so. He was ordered to put the locomotive into service, and when he filed a complaint about this order, the company discovered that he was blind and fired him.
No evidence came out at trial that his safety record was poor, that he had been injured on the job, that anybody else had been injured on the job because of him, or that his performance had created the likelihood of injury on the job. However, three doctors who had never observed this employee doing his work testified that it is unsafe for a blind person to do it, and the jury believed the doctors. When it came to the court of appeals, the judge who wrote the opinion said, “A reasonable jury could find that Hohn’s vision impairments precluded him not only from performing the essential functions safely, but from performing them at all.” Blindness alone can be cited, according to this court, as a valid challenge to employment—at least employment working to repair locomotives.
It is fair to presume that the judges who heard this case know relatively little about repairing locomotives, less about blindness, and nothing at all about how blind people repair locomotives. The same is undoubtedly true of the jury. The members of the jury know about doctors, and much of the time they trust them. However, although the doctors know something about diseases of the eye, they know nothing about blindness and the talents of blind people. This is not their area of knowledge and expertise. The conduct of the judge at trial was prejudicial and reprehensible. The judge should have excluded the testimony of the doctors. They did not observe Frank Hohn, and they had no basis for testifying about his work. They are not experts who can offer qualified opinions about employment of the blind. Their expertise is in some other area. Admission of their testimony was prejudicial and not in accordance with an accurate interpretation of the law. The judge should have known this and should have taken action to prevent the error. The judges in the court of appeals should also have known this and reversed the decision of the lower court. The conclusion is inescapable—the decision in the trial court rested not on evidence but on prejudice.
If this prejudicial standard of practice is followed, all the employers need to do to win their cases is hire a few of the white coats, and they know they have a fair chance with the jury. All that counsel for the plaintiff needs to do is change the prejudicial thinking in the minds of the judge, the jury, and the witnesses for the defense based upon thousands of years of misunderstanding. The challenge is an enormous one, but it must be accepted. Lawyers hate to lose. We in the National Federation of the Blind hate to lose. Employees who have a livelihood at stake hate to lose. But we are not prepared to give up without a fight. We must find a method to bring this prejudice clearly to the public mind and to the minds of judges who decide the cases we bring. If we determine that we will never challenge the discrimination, it will continue unabated. If we let the judges exercise their prejudices without challenge, they will continue to have them. A case involving a blind employee is, for many judges, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If we refuse to increase this number for the judges, they will never come to have the depth of experience that gives them adequate background to make decisions without prejudice.
We must get the judicial branch of government to know that we exist, that we have rights under the law, and that we have talent that demands to be expressed. The Law School Admissions Council has tried to keep us out of law school, but we are in the process of defeating this prejudice. Precious few of us have ever been called to sit on the bench in court, but this must change. Sometimes we will lose even when we should not, but we cannot let fear of loss prevent us from joining battle. We must accept the challenge to defeat the prejudices that lie buried deep in the minds of the judges. Beyond all of this, some of us must become judges ourselves because this also is a part of the society where we belong.
Not all cases involving employment and disability are lost. A case in Iowa was brought against Henry’s Turkey Service by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for thirty-two disabled workers. The evidence at trial showed that the employees were held in a dormitory owned by the employer, that they were picked up by the employer’s vehicle each day and transported to the workplace, that they were returned to the barracks each night, that they were prevented from determining to live anywhere except in the employer’s barracks, that at least one of them was handcuffed to his bed at night, that they were disciplined by being required for no purpose to carry heavy weights, that they were required to march around a pole while being kicked and beaten by their supervisor, and that they were paid an average of 41 cents an hour. The testimony indicated that the abuse and neglect of these disabled workers and others lasted for four decades. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can only claim damages for a period of two years.
On May 1, 2013, a verdict was returned for these employees awarding them $240 million. At the time the verdict was announced, news reports indicated that it is the largest verdict on behalf of disabled workers ever granted. However, the government has reported that it is able to seek enforcement of this judgment for only $1.6 million, less than 1 percent of the jury verdict.
The response of members of Congress to this outrageous case has been to draft a provision incorporated within a proposed reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act to specify how rehabilitation agencies must proceed when they are placing individuals in subminimum wage employment. Some members of Congress think that adding additional government regulations will protect workers from the subminimum wage abuse. Senator Tom Harkin (who is himself from the state of Iowa, and who has knowledge of the facts in this case) has refused to support a proposal to eliminate subminimum wage authorization from American law. Senator Harkin favors the approach that we should take things slowly and that we should add additional governmental regulation that might be used to protect workers from exploitation. However, the Department of Labor had known about the abuses in the Iowa case for fifteen years and had cited Henry’s Turkey Service for violations of fair wage provisions. No fines were imposed; no penalties assessed; no orders to alter conditions for the workers were presented. The Department of Labor was apparently unable to change this abuse.
Our response to the plan of members of Congress to add subminimum wage provisions to the Rehabilitation Act is a very forceful demand that additional legal authorization for subminimum wages not be permitted and that the current authorization in law be removed. What we say to the shop managers, to the Department of Labor, and to the members of Congress is stop the exploitation, stop the exploitation now, stop the exploitation 100 percent of the time in 100 percent of the jobs! Beyond that, create penalties for those who persist in seeking to pay subminimum wages. It is worthy of note that the Constitution of the United States was amended in 1865 to declare that involuntary servitude may not be tolerated in the United States.
Power is not a limited commodity, or if it is, the limit is a long way off. Knowledge and liberty combined with energy increase it. One element of this knowledge is the realization that we possess power, and that we can get more of it. We belong in our society, and it belongs to us. Part of this belonging demands that the power within our society, at least in part, also belongs to us. We must claim our property. We must take control over what is ours. We must resist those who want us to accept their formulation that low-grade, shabby lives are good enough for us.
This American Life does not believe in our power and declares that we are befuddled fools suitable for the amusement of others. But we reject this warped perspective. The Wall Street Journal, even when it is trying to help, does not believe we have power. It records statistics that challenge our capacity to be productive in the workplace. However, our productive capacity is prodigious, and we can demonstrate it. Burlington Northern denies that we have power and diminishes its productive workforce through prejudice even though we have demonstrated capacity in the machine shop. Then, there are the toilet designers and the ophthalmologists. They, too, cannot imagine our capacity to exercise power. The ophthalmologists are not sure that we are even alive.
If the civil rights struggle to bring equality of opportunity to the blind and otherwise disabled were not as exciting as it is, the summation of these presentations would be downright disheartening. However, the laws to protect our interests are better than they have ever been even though much remains to be accomplished. These laws improve when we exercise power to make them improve. The number of foolish presentations about us by the press is smaller than was true in past decades, and we are regularly challenging those who assert that we are inferior. The educational opportunities for us are greater today than in former times, and the amount of information we can obtain is expanding at an astonishing rate. We have taken a hand in developing the tools that cause this expansion to occur. Misunderstanding about us and denial of opportunity remain elements of our lives, but the countervailing currents which bring genuine understanding and goodwill are also increasingly evident.The misunderstandings about what we are signal a direction for us to take, and they create a challenge that we willingly accept. We belong within our society even though many members of it have not yet recognized that we belong. We also belong to each other—to our families and to the members of our Federation. This belonging adds to our strength and increases our power. Our talent, our power, is within our hands, and our tomorrows do not belong to the ill-informed. Rather, they belong to us. Gaining the recognition that must be ours will require all that is best within us, but we have the strength we need. With the determination inherent in our power, nothing can stop us. We own our freedom. We will achieve equality; we will win our independence. Our plans have been developed; our decisions have been made; our declarations have been proclaimed. We have the power, and we will make the joy of our future come true!
by Raymond Kurzweil
From the Editor: Ray Kurzweil is more than an inventor, more than a scientist, more than the inventor of the first reading machine for the blind. To be sure, he is all of these, but to the National Federation of the Blind he is family, one of us, and he sees the people who make up our movement as more than a market. He understands our struggles, understands and embraces our philosophical underpinnings, and often helps to put them into a broader context—what is happening in the world, where is our place in the big changes occurring in it, to what extent do we drive that change, and how are we likely to benefit from it.
Because he is part of our family, certain benefits and drawbacks come from his position in it. He isn't the president, so he doesn't give the banquet speech; he is a good speaker, however, and his ability to synthesize what the president has said and to add his own insightful remarks means he often follows the president to the podium. Here is what he said after the 2013 banquet speech:
Because Dr. Maurer is more than a hard act to follow—really an impossible act to follow—I've learned to listen carefully to what he has said for my own sake and also in trying to offer thoughts at this time. Dr. Maurer talked about equality, and he framed it in the history of our country. So I'd like to offer some reflections on three great themes that our country stands for.
The first is summed up by the statement, "All men are created equal." Now Thomas Jefferson wrote that in the Declaration of Independence almost two-hundred and fifty years ago. The statement was far from perfect at the time. We notice in the statement itself the reference to "men," and you know that sometimes people today use the word “men” to refer to people, but that was not the case in this document. Women did not have the vote, and they lacked many other rights. Even more salient, many men and women were slaves, hardly equal. Thomas Jefferson had some himself. Treatment and attitude towards the blind and towards people with other disabilities reflected thousands of years of prejudice and were far worse than they are today. But the country was devoted to this ideal; it came to symbolize the nation. Gradually we've moved towards this ideal, and we're still not there. But we had a great civil war which emancipated the slaves. We had the suffrage movement, which gave women the vote. We had the feminist movement, which gave many other rights to women. We had the civil rights movement, which, as I mentioned earlier today, I had a very small part in as a high school kid going to the South to participate in marches that have provided or have attempted to provide, and made great progress in providing, equal rights to African-Americans and to other ethnic groups. We see a movement today to provide equal rights to people regardless of sexual orientation. And there's been a great movement to provide equal rights to those with disabilities—equal access to opportunity, equal access to information. Information is opportunity.
As Lao Tzu said, "Information is power." And the National Federation of the Blind has been in the leadership, not only for those with visual impairment, but for those with other disabilities. Jim Gashel, for example, wrote many key provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The fight for equal rights for those with disabilities has been one of the great battles for achieving equal rights for all Americans. It's not finished—none of these movements are finished. But great progress has been made, and I've been very honored and proud to be part of it for these past forty years.
The second theme is the great frontier. It started as a geographic frontier as the nation moved west, but it quickly became a symbol for pioneering new ideas of all kinds: the light bulb, the airplane, the Internet. And the National Federation of the Blind has been in the forefront of this theme as well by fostering liberty; education; employment; and, as has just been mentioned, technological advancement. Take for example the idea of cars that don't require a sighted driver. Google has been experimenting with this of late, but the National Federation of the Blind thought of it and worked on this and pioneered this many years earlier.
Finally, the third theme is inclusion. This is a nation of immigrants. We understand the world's people because they're all here. That's, I think, the main reason why America is as influential as it is, why our music and our popular culture influence the world the way they do. The theme is that everyone has something to contribute, and the NFB certainly embodies that idea at its very core. It has therefore been a great honor for me to be involved with and a friend of the National Federation of the Blind for these past forty years and to have known and to work with you. It has inspiring leaders, Dr. Jernigan and Dr. Maurer. You are all part of a great movement, a movement that is at the core of these three great themes of the American Dream. Thank you very much.
by Adrienne Asch
From the Editor: Dr. Adrienne Asch is the director of the Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University and the Edward and Robin Milstein Professor of Bioethics. These are her titles and the positions she holds, but much more demands to be said about her. She has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since the early 70s, and she has lived our message and spread it to audiences who can be reached only by someone with her accomplishments and credentials. We strive for integration and seek to take our message to places where it is seldom heard and to places where it can be discussed with those who don’t agree with it. Adrienne has tirelessly done this, and the result is that Federation ideas and beliefs are topics for discussion throughout the world.
But her role goes far beyond being a spokesman for our cause because her journey into ethical discussions also gives her a message to bring to us. This is what she did in her convention presentation on the afternoon of July 4, 2013. Here is what she said:
It is a tremendous honor, privilege, and responsibility to be here with you today, following a stirring description of all that the NFB has worked for over this past year. I know that every year I have been distressed by the problems our members face and moved by the struggles NFB takes on every day to change what it means to be blind that I wind up making my way to the back of the room to the PAC and SUN tables to increase my pledges. This year will be no exception, and I'll understand if some of you are doing that now and not necessarily paying undivided attention to what I'm going to be talking about today.
When our founding president wrote his justly famous article "The Right to Live in the World," he was talking about the right to move about in the world, the right to be employed in that world, the right to have an ordinary place in the common life of the community and nation.
But what I'm talking about today is yet one more arena in which individuals within our organization and our organization as a whole may become more involved. As medical science learns about how to extend life after injury and illness or learns how to detect someone's future amount of illness or disability, we will confront ever more moments when assumptions about what blindness means for a person's future, for her or his "quality of life" will be used to decide whether that person should continue to "live in the world."
In the past forty years a host of questions have emerged for individuals, families, medical professionals, and the larger society. Here are some examples: parents of premature infants must decide whether or not their infants should enroll in a study to determine the appropriate level of oxygen the infant should receive to try preventing blindness caused by retinopathy of prematurity. How should the researchers describe the consequences of blindness or vision loss to these parents? Or, imagine that you, sometime later in your life, having been blind for many years, acquire some other set of disabling conditions as the result of a car accident or a stroke. Should you continue to receive life-sustaining treatment, or should blindness, when combined with the new disabilities, justify having family or doctors provide less treatment or different treatment than would be provided to a person with sight who sustained the same new illness or injury?
Suppose a person who has been deaf his whole life learns that he will become blind within the next few years. He decides to go to Oregon, Washington, or Montana—where it is legal for physicians to aid a person in dying—with the request that physicians give him medications that will end his life so that he doesn't have to live for years as a person who is both deaf and blind.
To take just two more situations that people already face: prospective parents, eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child, learn through genetic testing that the child-to-be is very likely to have an inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Should the parents continue the pregnancy, knowing their future child will probably be blind, or should they decide to end the pregnancy? What information will help them make a good decision?
As I said, these are questions that have come up over the past several decades. President Maurer discussed some of them during his 2003 banquet speech. Just this past April Gary Wunder wrote an editorial in the Braille Monitor suggesting that this might become a new arena for NFB discussion and action.
It was during the early 1980s that I first discovered these bioethical questions. I had been investigating discrimination cases for the New York State Division for Human Rights for ten years. I had been a member of the NFB for fourteen years when I went to my first bioethics meeting at the Bar Association of the City of New York. The topic being discussed was whether parents and doctors should be allowed to withhold life-saving treatment from a baby born with spina bifida or Down syndrome. The treatment would lessen, but not cure, the disabilities; without the treatment the baby would probably die. There were four experts speaking: two urging that the baby receive treatment over parental objection; two supporting the right of parents to make what was a life-and-death decision for their newborn child. During the question-and-answer session, I stood up and said something very close to these words: "These talks have been very thoughtful and careful. But none of the speakers here is either a person with a disability or a person who is the family member of someone with a disability. The perspective of people with firsthand knowledge of disability is absent from this conversation. It shouldn't be." I didn't have firsthand knowledge of Down syndrome or spina bifida, but I did have firsthand knowledge of one disability, blindness; and I did have years of political, professional, and NFB experience that insisted that the voices of those affected by decisions had to be present when such decisions are made.
Now I have to say that these few sentences, sentences that sound pretty obvious and commonsensical to us, made a frighteningly big impression on many of the people in the room. The next thing I knew, someone came over to me and said: “How do I get in touch with you? I need to invite you to a conference." One of the speakers urged me to contact the Hastings Center, the premiere bioethics think-tank in the country at that time, to join their project on decision-making for "imperiled" newborns. I did join the project and go to the conference. Soon I was going to more and more bioethics conferences. At those conferences I was listening to people who considered themselves "experts" say things like: "If you're paralyzed and can't run through the woods, it's worse for you and others than if you can run through the woods." "It is a tragedy to have a disease like muscular dystrophy.”
My question: "Have you ever met or spoken to anyone who has muscular dystrophy?"
"No, but I know that it has to be terrible."
"You consider yourself a scholar," I said. "You believe in making arguments with evidence. Where are you getting your evidence about muscular dystrophy?"
A few years later Dan Brock, a philosopher who writes about bioethical issues and whose ideas Dr. Maurer discussed in his 2003 banquet address, wrote the following:
The controversy concerns genetic diseases that result in serious disabilities but that still leave the persons who have them with valuable lives well worth living (Brock, 2005, 70-71).... My concern is with the middle category of genetic diseases and disabilities that most people would consider serious, but neither devastating nor minor. As examples of serious disabilities, I shall use blindness and serious mental impairment or retardation, though recognizing that some would judge blindness to be sufficiently minor to not warrant reproductive testing (71).... For example, if a person has been blind from birth, she may never fully understand the experiences she is missing from not being sighted. Nevertheless, there will be valuable human activities requiring sight that will not be possible for her, or that will be more difficult and less successful without sight, such as visual experiences and the pleasures or work or recreational activities requiring sight, and the potential loss or limitation of those activities in her life may be reason enough to attempt to prevent her disability when that is possible (72).
Now here's an interesting thing about the field of bioethics. The first philosophers, lawyers, doctors, and clergy who got involved in bioethics wanted to foster the rights of patients going through the medical system and dealing with the often patronizing attitudes of doctors. Very similar to our views in the NFB, bioethicists espouse views like "patient choice" and "self-determination" and "autonomy." They argue that no medical procedures should be done without receiving "informed consent" from a patient. So here's a little story about the collision of NFB philosophy and bioethics when it comes to informed consent. In 1993 I was attending a bioethics conference known as Bioethics Summercamp. At this four-day conference 120 bioethicists got together for discussions of emerging issues; leisurely meals; drinks by the pool; conversation; hiking; and, in this instance, whitewater rafting. About eighty of us signed up to go whitewater rafting. Now I want you to picture this scene: eighty men and women between the ages of mid-thirties to seventies. Philosophy professors aren't known for their athletic prowess. Most of us had never done whitewater rafting; most of us were both curious and a little nervous about what awaited us. How rough were the rapids? What were the chances of falling out of the raft? Would the raft topple everyone? Riding over to the rafting, we all read and signed the informed consent, assuring the rafting company that we knew rafting had its dangers, that we knew we might sustain injury in an accident, that we knew water was wet, and rafts might capsize. I read and signed the same informed consent as all my bioethics colleagues, and all of us carefully read over and criticized every word in and all the words out of the informed consent document. We discussed how we, as experts, would rewrite it. And then we got to the rafts and the professionals from the company who were going in every raft with the six aging professors. A doctor--a psychiatrist--took it upon himself to speak to the person leading our raft to call attention to the fact that I was blind, a fact that should have been obvious from the presence of my cane. "You can't paddle the raft," he said to me. “You have to sit in the middle.” I ignored these admonitions as much as I could, doing some paddling, but all I got for it was the displeasure of my colleagues, who accused me of going in the raft to prove a point, not because I was interested in having a new experience.
The next year we had another whitewater rafting session, and a colleague rushed over to me upon seeing me arrive to say: "Adrienne, you can't go in the raft! Alta fell in yesterday."
My reply: "Are you telling everyone else not to go in the raft?"
So much for autonomy, self-determination, informed consent, and the acceptability of taking risks! In all too much of the bioethics establishment, they know better than we do about how bad our lives are and how much we don't understand the ordinary hazards of life—whether it's cooking on a stove, crossing the street, or riding in a raft.
So we have a lot of work to do, and here's some of what I think NFB members, who are experts in what it means to live as a blind person, can do to educate the world of bioethics about blindness. There are medical schools throughout the country, one in nearly every state. NFB members could reach out to medical schools to offer to speak with medical students, residents, and doctors—not just in ophthalmology but in any field—about what it means and doesn't mean to be blind. Every hospital has some kind of ethics committee, where difficult cases get discussed. These ethics committees need community members, people who are not medical professionals but people who bring dedication and commitment to getting the views of the public into ethical deliberations. People who are blind or who have other disabilities have often been excluded from these deliberations; they have not been considered part of "the public." But of course, we are, and our voice needs to be heard. Similarly, a great array of genetic conditions can now be detected in embryos and fetuses. When people who are thinking of becoming parents learn that a potential child might have a genetic condition that would result in blindness, these people deserve to get information, not only about the medical facts of retinitis pigmentosa, Leber's congenital amaurosis, retinoblastoma, or some other condition. They need to know how children, adults, and their families live their lives on a daily basis. What are the resources available to children and their families? Can parents expect that their potentially blind child will have a life that will include school, friends, love, work, and life as a parent? For just the same reasons that the Federation works hard with the NOPBC, the Federation and NOPBC need to work so that genetic counselors and doctors can give prospective parents of blind children the opportunity to learn from experts in blindness what might be in store for them and their children.
Let me conclude by challenging us with some questions that are just starting to get bioethical discussion. These are questions that could provide us with plenty of opportunity for reflection and conversation.
Resource allocation in an emergency is a big topic in bioethics these days. Different states, professional societies, and the federal government are trying to decide who will get ventilators in a serious flu pandemic when there are not enough ventilators for everyone. Various allocation schemes have been discussed: only people above or below a certain age will get them, knowing that the very young and the very old might die without them; only people with dependents will get them, so that children will not lose parents, aging parents will not lose children who are caring for them, people will not lose their spouses; only people with a certain estimated quality of life before and after the ventilator use will get them; and people whose quality of life is considered lower for some reason will not get them. Again, that might be blind people, because blindness is considered a deterrent to a life of quality. Conversely, blind people, as those "worse off" should get ventilators first because they deserve compensation. Do we want to get priority for ventilators by claiming we've been "worse off" all the rest of our lives? Is that a price we want to pay for the privilege of staying alive?
As people who believe it is respectable to be blind, legitimate to be blind, we may believe that blindness should not disqualify people from the right to live in the world. But suppose genes could be modified before birth or visual implants could be given after birth or during a life to preserve or restore sight? Is blindness a characteristic that is incidental or central to anyone's self-definition? How should we help parents contemplating sight-restoration techniques for their children or people contemplating sight-restoration for themselves?
I don't know how we as individuals or we as an organization will choose to answer these questions. I do know that, just as we've worked to change laws and practices in education, rehabilitation, technology, employment, and child custody, we must take our place in the bioethics debates now and in the future. Although some of these questions may challenge us deeply to think about what it means to be blind, we are up to that task. Reread Dr. tenBroek's historic article with these questions in mind. Go back to Dr. Maurer's 2003 banquet speech; reread Gary Wunder's editorial in the April, 2013 Braille Monitor. They can guide us as we go into this new intellectual and practical territory. And, as someone who's been doing this work for about thirty years, often feeling as though I'm alone on the barricades, I'd like your company. Thank you.
Brock, D. W. (2003). "Preventing Genetically Transmitted Disability While Respecting Persons with Disability." in Quality of Life and Human Difference, edited by David Wasserman, Jerome Bickenbach, and Robert Wachbroit. (New York: Cambridge University Press), 67-100.
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: Dr. Fred Schroeder is first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and the first vice president of the World Blind Union. Following is the speech he delivered on July 6, at the NFB convention. This is what he said:
I am pleased and proud to tell you that we have an international book treaty for the blind. On Thursday, June 27, 2013, a diplomatic conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) adopted a treaty entitled the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
The treaty contains two major provisions. First it calls on nations to amend their copyright laws to make it easier to produce more books for the blind. As you know, for many years United States law has allowed books to be produced in Braille and other accessible formats without first having to obtain the permission of the copyright holder. This authority, known as the Chafee Amendment, has been the law for the past seventeen years, and it has worked well--very well--and the United States is not the only nation that has a copyright exception for the blind.
Today fifty-seven nations around the world have copyright laws similar to our Chafee Amendment. The book treaty for the blind will expand this authority. As each WIPO member nation ratifies the book treaty for the blind, it agrees to change its national copyright law to permit books to be produced in accessible formats without having to seek the prior permission of the copyright holder. This will greatly increase the production of accessible works around the world. But producing more books is only the first step in ending what many have called the book famine. The second major provision contained in the treaty is the authority for nations to share accessible books across national borders.
Before the book treaty for the blind, countries could not share books with blind people living in other countries. That meant that, if a popular book were published such as a new Harry Potter book, the United States had to record it for the use of its blind citizens and only its citizens, and every other English-speaking country that wanted the book had to record it over again—the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and so on. You may be surprised to learn that no fewer than sixty nations around the world have English as their official language—sixty countries, all recording Harry Potter books over and over again. And that is just Harry Potter. Think of 50 Shades of Gray. Now, that's a lot of embarrassed narrators. Not only did books have to be recorded over and over again in every English-speaking country, they also had to be produced in Braille, large print, and any other accessible format. What a waste. But all that will now change as a result of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
This has been a long process. For many years the National Federation of the Blind, together with the World Blind Union (WBU) and its member organizations, has been working with WIPO on the book treaty for the blind. There have been many heroes along the way, not the least of whom is our own Scott LaBarre. Scott's command of the highly technical provisions of the treaty together with his ability to articulate our position clearly and convincingly was critical throughout the treaty negotiations. In addition there are a number of individuals from the international community who stand out as deserving of public recognition and thanks.
First is Chris Friend from the United Kingdom. Chris, who chaired the WBU's Right-to-Read Campaign until his recent retirement, was an early leader in the treaty effort. Other important leaders included Dan Pescod, also from the United Kingdom, who is the vice chair of the Right-to-Read Campaign; Francisco Martínez Calvo from the National Organization of the Spanish Blind (ONCE); and Pablo Lecuona from Argentina. And then there is Maryanne Diamond of Australia. During the time Maryanne served as the president of the WBU, she made the book treaty for the blind an international priority and mobilized the blind of the world behind the effort. These individuals together with many others worked hard, and as a result of their efforts we now have an international treaty that does not just allow but encourages the production and cross-border sharing of accessible books.
It was always our intent that the book treaty for the blind respect the right holder's intellectual property. Our goal was neither to strengthen nor to weaken international copyright law. Nevertheless many right holders, including some patent right holders who produce no books at all, believed the treaty posed a threat to international intellectual property law. As a result they sought to include a number of provisions that would strengthen the protections of right holders. The problem was that these provisions would have made the book treaty for the blind so cumbersome and bureaucratic that it would have been entirely unworkable. Fortunately the right holders did not prevail, and we have a book treaty for the blind that achieves all that we could have hoped for.
After the diplomatic conference adopted the book treaty for the blind, each of WIPO's 186 member nations was invited to sign the treaty as an expression of the country's intent to seek its formal ratification. Thus far the support of the world community has been overwhelming. On the last day of the diplomatic conference, 51 WIPO member states (countries) signed the book treaty for the blind.
But why do blind people and others with print disabilities need a special treaty at all? Is it simply to cheer our otherwise desolate lives? Is it to give us a few more novels and magazines to help pass our lonely days? Or is there a more serious purpose? Of course there is. According to the World Health Organization, there are 285 million blind and low-vision people in the world, and of these 90 percent live in developing countries (World Health Organization Media Centre. (June 2012) Visual impairment and blindness. Fact Sheet No. 282. Retrieved from <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/>).
The most optimistic estimates project that today blind people have access to no more than 5 percent of books and other published works, and that is in the industrialized world. For the 90 percent of blind people living in developing nations, access to the written word is less than 1 percent. (World Blind Union, Right to Read Committee. (2011). Right-to-Read Campaign – fall 2011 update: Will the EU and USA join the rest of the world and finally agree [to] a binding book treaty for blind people this November? Retrieved from <http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/resources/Pages/General-Documents.aspx>)
You can imagine the impact this has on education. We do not know the number of blind children in the world who have access to a good education--particularly the 90 percent living in developing nations. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) does not report data disaggregated by disability type; nevertheless UNESCO reports that in developing countries 98 percent of children with disabilities do not attend school—98 percent! And, according to UNESCO, in developing nations 99 percent of girls with disabilities are illiterate (Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities Education Task Force.
(2012). Background Note for the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities Task Force on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Retrieved from <http://www.unicef.org/disabilities/files/
What a waste of human potential. Access to literacy is not something that blind people should have to request—not a gift doled out according to the benevolence of others. It is a civil and human right, and it must be treated as a right.
It is time to demand that we be taken seriously. As long as society believes that blind children cannot learn, accessible books remain an act of charity. As long as society believes that blind adults cannot work, nothing beyond kindness justifies the production of books in Braille and other special formats. As long as society believes that blind seniors are doomed to live out their lives in institutions or in the care of their families, accessible books are nothing more than a palliative to ease their suffering.
But blind children can learn, and blind adults can work, and blind seniors can continue to live full, active, productive lives. But, to do so, we must have the same opportunities as others, and that means we must have access to the written word—not just to a few of the books available to others but full and equal access.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled is a monumental step toward full and equal opportunity, but it is only a step. Now we must work on its implementation. We must put our full and concerted effort into urging the president and the United States Senate to ratify the treaty and to do so without delay. Blind children cannot wait; blind adults cannot wait; blind seniors cannot wait; justice cannot wait. We, the National Federation of the Blind, we the collective voice of the nation's blind, we who believe in blind people, will wait no longer. The treaty must be ratified.
As we have done throughout our seventy-three-year history, we will continue to press for equality—for full and equal access until the day comes when all blind people are able to live as others, able to learn and work as others, able to live as fully integrated, productive, active members of society. That is what we have always done, and that is what we will continue to do. It is who and what we are; we are the National Federation of the Blind.
by Scott C. LaBarre
From the Editor: Scott LaBarre is president of the NFB of Colorado and the National Association of Blind Lawyers. He practices disability law in Denver, and for four years now he has been working with others around the world to make it possible for blind people to reach across national borders to read accessible books. One of the most exciting presentations at this year’s convention was heard on July 6 when Scott reported on events that occurred just before the convention in Marrakesh, Morocco. This is what he said:
When I lost my vision due to a childhood virus at age ten, my life radically changed. I had always loved to read. When I first lost my sight, I thought that all the books had been cruelly yanked from my hands. Slowly I realized that, by using Braille and audio books, I could restore some access, but it was incredibly limited and slow.
What I did not know at the time was that, even though we live in one of the richest nations on earth, less than five percent of published works are available to us in accessible formats. And, as you have heard, that figure drops to less than one percent in the developing nations of our world. That is why the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty is such an historic landmark victory in our right-to-read campaign. It will not only change the lives of those blind people living in developing nations but will also help us right here in America. Soon, not only will we have access to what all the other English-speaking countries are producing in accessible formats throughout the world, but we will also be able to put our hands on hundreds of thousands of books and more publications in foreign languages. This capacity would have been very helpful to me while I was attending St. John’s University in Minnesota. Originally I had planned on a double major in government and Spanish. Ultimately I dropped that Spanish major precisely because I could not get access to Spanish novels and other materials.
The road to Marrakesh has been long and at times arduous. I suppose that the first reason for this difficult journey is that any process involving the United Nations brings with it frustrating procedures and related eccentricities. For example, matters are rarely decided on up-or-down votes but rather through consensus. I recall one meeting in Geneva where it took almost two whole business days to adopt the agenda for the meeting just because a handful of nations was resisting the order of items. I also fondly remember that the United States introduced a proposal entitled a “Non-paper,” which was handed out in hard copy and contained eleven pages of print. I felt it. It had weight and substance, and yet it was a non-paper.
The road has also been tough because this treaty represents the first time ever that an international instrument exclusively addressed exceptions and limitations to copyright law. Previously any international agreement granted exceptions and limitations only as part of a much broader scheme to protect the intellectual property rights of creators and other rights holders. As a result, you can imagine that rights holders of all kinds and sizes expressed great concern and fear about adopting a binding international instrument that did not set out to enlarge their rights but arguably to contract them. These rights holders were not so much afraid of market erosion from the blind, because we represent such a tiny percentage of the world’s population; rather they feared that this was the proverbial camel’s nose getting under the tent. Well, my friends, on the desert plains of Marrakesh, we were able to accommodate that camel’s nose, and it did not tip over the tent.
Originally the world’s largest corporations and associations either expressly opposed the treaty or offered alternative language that would have made the treaty unusable and ineffective. These entities included, but were not limited to, Exxon Mobile, GE, Caterpillar, Adobe, IBM, Association of American Publishers, International Publishers Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, and many, many others. Additionally, very influential blocs of nations like the European Union and the United States were essentially blocking our efforts. How in the world could a group of blind people fight such large corporations and strong nations? You know how. It was the hope and belief we had in ourselves, our unshakable faith in the capacity of the blind. No amount of money and power could hold us down. By the end either we had to find a way to get these corporations, nations, and associations to work with us, or we had to render them silent. We did so because of the power we possess, the power of collective action, the power of the National Federation of the Blind.
Although efforts have been made on and off for nearly thirty years to help end the book famine for the blind, this treaty campaign began in earnest during 2008 when the Federation met with the World Blind Union and Knowledge Ecology International in Washington, DC. You will be pleased to know that our very own James Gashel helped write the first draft of the proposed treaty text. When Dr. Maurer first asked me to work on this matter in 2009, I appeared at a hearing before the Register of Copyright at the Library of Congress where the US government wanted to collect the opinions of US blindness organizations about this treaty proposal. At first the United States government and the European Union attempted to convince us that we really didn’t want or need a binding international treaty. We should first pursue a “soft law,” joint recommendation, and then, some day way off in the future, seek a binding international accord. They tried to tell us that our problems would be solved more quickly that way and that treaties were difficult if not impossible to achieve. I don’t believe that these governments meant to insult us, but, when you think about it, their message was incredibly insulting and demeaning. Their message was that the blind can wait. Our problems are second-class problems and deserve second-class treatment.
Are we willing to wait? Will we be denied first-class citizenship? The NFB adopted a resolution in 2010 calling upon the US government to work hard towards the adoption of binding international norms, in other words, a treaty. Our work and our perseverance ultimately led to the United States changing its position and supporting the convening of a diplomatic conference to conclude a treaty. This did not happen out of thin air. It happened because of the National Federation of the Blind and our unwillingness, our refusal to be treated as second-class citizens!
As Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer have taught us, freedom for the blind is not granted out of charity and bestowed upon us. We must demand it and then earn it. We must lead the effort to emerge from the chains of second-class status to the unlimited liberty of first-class citizenship. If adoption of this treaty was to become a reality, it was incumbent upon us to lead the way, and lead the way we did.
Leadership requires creativity and the ability to think out of the box. As we headed towards Marrakesh, rights holders were doing their best to protect their own turf. Highly paid lawyers and lobbyists were bombarding the Obama Administration with letters and phone calls urging either outright US opposition to the treaty or the introduction of language into the text that would greatly limit its effectiveness. We knew we had to find ways to push back. That is why we called upon all of you to sign petitions and contact various legislators. That is why we ran messages on our giant 12 by 40 NFB electronic billboard calling upon Exxon and GE to stop blocking books for the blind, a billboard seen by tens of thousands of drivers each day as they headed down I-95. That is why we joined with Bookshare and worked with Stevie Wonder and his management team to get Stevie involved in these talks. Stevie is recognized as an ambassador of peace by the United Nations and originally appeared before the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) General Assembly in 2010 to call for adoption of this treaty. That is why we asked many of you to record videos explaining your personal stories about why we desperately needed access to more books. That is why we issued a joint statement with the Motion Picture Association of America calling upon international negotiators to get back to basics and get a meaningful treaty adopted.
As we started our travels to Marrakesh, thirty-seven distinct issues remained unresolved, without consensus, in the treaty text. To give you some perspective, at a diplomatic conference in Beijing, China, last year to conclude work on a treaty for audio visual performers, there was only one unresolved matter as the negotiators started that conference. As the Marrakesh Conference began, new, unresolved issues emerged, and it appeared that we were headed backward and that the conference would fail. At one plenary session of the Conference, Mustafa Kalfi, Minister of Communications for the Kingdom of Morocco, who had been elected as president of the diplomatic conference, delivered an impassioned speech urging the negotiators to get busy making decisions and to stop dreaming up new issues and controversies. He threatened to close all the airports and means of transportation out of Morocco until a strong treaty emerged. Stevie Wonder chimed in with a video message that he would come and perform for the delegates only if a strong, meaningful treaty were adopted. Of course the WBU and Federation added our voices to this chorus and urged the negotiators not to let the blind of the world down.
Late in the evening of Tuesday, June 25, we heard the words that we had all been hoping and waiting to hear. One of the negotiators from Brazil stepped out of a closed room where a small group of key negotiators had been deliberating and said, “You have a treaty.” The hallway erupted in cheers, and joy surged in our hearts. Believe it or not, my Federation friends, even I was left speechless. Words could not express the scope of what we had accomplished. The Marrakesh treaty represents the first time that a binding international accord exclusively addresses the issues faced by the blind. We changed the world! Although my body was there in Marrakesh, Morocco, my heart was home, home here with my Federation family.
Credit for this historic accomplishment belongs to many: with the WBU and its member organizations who advocated zealously with great effect; with the US government delegation who worked with us effectively and tirelessly; and with many rights holders like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Association of American Publishers, who stepped up ultimately and did the right thing. But let there be no mistake. The Federation exercised leadership at critical moments, and we changed the world. This could not have happened without all of you. Without your love and support, your collective action through a willingness to sign petitions, make calls, and do whatever it took, Fred Schroeder and I could not have achieved success in Marrakesh. We are only two individuals, and we do not possess nearly enough power or persuasion to change the world as we have for the blind. As Dr. Jernigan said, “We change what it means to be blind through individual actions collectively focused.” Similarly, Helen Keller said that “The world is not moved only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” It is only fitting that the delegates to WIPO officially adopted this treaty on June 27, Helen Keller’s birthday.
On Monday, June 24, the WBU held a press conference in front of the Palais des Congres, where the conference took place, and our very own Fred Schroeder spoke eloquently about the urgent need to end the book famine and to end it now. In front of Fred and the other speakers stood a pile of 200 books, 198 of which were wrapped in chains and secured with a padlock, the two unchained books representing, of course, the one percent of published works to which we actually have access.
The adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty represents the unlocking of the padlock. However, the chains are still there. Our freedom is still imprisoned. We must celebrate this great victory, but we must not rest. The book famine still exists, and our hearts and minds are starved for the information we need. Information is power, and we must never stop acquiring more of it. We cannot rest until every child, like Raveena Alli from Atlanta, who spoke so powerfully this morning about the importance of literacy, has access to all the books and information available. We must now redouble our efforts and get President Obama to sign the treaty and our United States Senate to ratify it. This will not be easy, but difficulty has never deterred us. We know how to cast off the chains and assume our rightful place in society. No power on Earth will bind us and keep us down. We will be free, my brothers and sisters, we will be free!
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki is the longtime chair of the Resolutions Committee, and her annual performance leaves no doubt why. Here, introducing and explaining the twenty-four resolutions presented to the 2013 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, is Sharon’s article.
Since our national convention was held in Orlando, Florida, a place that revolves around Walt Disney Enterprises, a comparison of Walt Disney's philosophy and NFB philosophy as represented by its resolutions is in order. Some lessons from Disney movies are: don't be afraid to take a stand; dream big and have goals; work hard and always persevere no matter the challenge. In the 1994 film, The Lion King, a young lion named Simba is blamed for his father's death and leaves his homeland. Simba eventually agrees to fight for his kingdom, taking a stand for what he believes. Simba battles Scar, his evil uncle, and learns his father's death was Scar's fault, not his own. Simba prevails and takes his father's place as rightful king of his homeland. The 2009 movie, The Princess and the Frog, is also a good illustration of these lessons. A young girl named Tiana loves to cook and dreams of owning and operating her own restaurant. Although there are many twists and turns in the plot, Tiana fulfills her dreams through hard work and perseverance.
Resolutions of the National Federation of the Blind represent our dreams and goals for blind people and our willingness to take a stand. Resolutions also demonstrate our perseverance and hard work. Let us examine the twenty-three resolutions passed by the Convention to see how they illustrate our dreams and the possibilities for blind people and our perseverance and progress in reaching our goals.
Unlike Disney movies, there is nothing magical about the creation and passage of NFB resolutions. Resolutions are created by careful thought about how to solve problems or expand opportunities. Debate is one of the highlights of the resolutions process. During the Resolutions Committee meeting on July 2, debate was lively and intense. Marsha Dyer, committee secretary, and I were kept on our toes, reading and rereading parts of resolutions so that the committee could determine precisely what the resolution stated or should state. As committee chairman I welcome committee discussion because it is most important to make sure that policy statements of the Federation are clear. Debate continued on the afternoon of July 5, as the Convention considered each resolution. The voice votes were so close that we needed to have two roll call votes to determine the outcome. In one of these roll call votes the Convention defeated Resolution 2013-03. The Transportation Security Administration operates a Preü program that allows qualified pre-screened airline travelers, who are considered to be a low security risk, to move through security check points more easily. In this resolution we urge the Transportation Security Administration to expand its criteria to permit qualified deaf-blind travelers to be accepted into this program. While the Convention was sympathetic to the added communication barriers that deaf-blind people face, the majority felt that deaf-blind people should use existing channels to gain acceptance into the program. Janice Toothman, secretary of the Deaf-Blind Division, sponsored this resolution.
Disney artists pride themselves on their animation skills and their ability to create just the right image. In the National Federation of the Blind, we strive to create a positive image that emphasizes the capabilities of blind people. With so many forms of communication and social media, this is a daunting task. Resolution 2013-22, regarding the portrayal of blindness, illustrates this point. The website eHow.com claims to bring together professionals to offer "expert" advice. However, as explained in the resolution, eHow.com demonstrates "its archaic and negative attitudes about blindness by featuring articles with titles such as `How to Feed a Visually Impaired Person' and `How to Set a Table for Blind People.'" Doris Willoughby was the primary sponsor of this resolution. In 1990 Doris received the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. She is a renowned author of such classics as the Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students.
Of the twenty-three resolutions passed by the Convention, Resolution 2013-23 is the best example of dreaming of possibilities for blind people. The NFB negotiators for the Marrakesh Treaty, Fred Schroeder, who also serves as first vice president of the NFB and president of the NFB of Virginia, and Scott LaBarre, who serves as president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and as president of the Colorado affiliate, proposed this resolution. The resolution reads in part: "We salute the international community of nations, the World Blind Union, and intellectual property rights holders for coming together and securing an international treaty that will dramatically open the flow of information to the world's blind."
The National Federation of the Blind began working on this issue with the World Blind Union in 2008. We passed two earlier resolutions, one in 2010 and the other in 2011. This demonstrates our perseverance and hard work. Our dream of the possibility that the worldwide book famine faced by blind people could be reduced through the cross-border exchange of accessible texts is now a reality.
Since its inception the National Federation of the Blind has been making the dream of independence a reality for blind people. We persist in our dreams and find new expressions of them each year. Among the resolutions passed this year, Resolution 2013-13 is the best example of our quest for independence. Service Support Providers enable deaf-blind people to participate in all aspects of community life by facilitating communication and by providing environmental and situational information. Only half of the states have some type of Service Support Provider program. In this resolution we strongly urge the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Congress to immediately take all necessary steps to establish a national Service Support Provider program so that deaf-blind people can maintain independence. Janice Toothman, a member of the board of directors of the Sligo Creek chapter of the Maryland affiliate, proposed this resolution on behalf of the Deaf-Blind Division.
Taking a stand is nothing new in Disney movies and certainly is nothing new for the NFB. A new problem that came to our attention this year was addressed in Resolution 2013-01, proposed by Dwight Sayer, president of the National Association of Blind Veterans and first vice president of the Florida affiliate. Veterans who have a 100 percent service-connected disability are not allowed to participate in the Space Available program because they did not have enough time in the military to reach retiree status. Congressman Bilirakis of Florida introduced H.R. 164, and Senator Tester of Montana introduced S. 346 to correct this exclusionary policy. The language of H.R. 164 was included in the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. In Resolution 2013-01 we call upon both houses of Congress to work diligently in conference committee in order to pass the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act with the language from Congressman Bilirakis and Senator Tester's bills.
Newcomers to the Federation may be surprised at some of our resolutions. Who would expect that the NFB must protect the rights of blind parents to raise their own children? Who would expect that agencies that exist to serve blind and other people with disabilities must be called to task because of their detrimental actions? Several of our resolutions describe these insidious types of discrimination.
Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, and Melissa Riccobono, president of the Maryland affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2013-09. Their sponsorship was most appropriate given that they have three children. Despite many years of education and advocacy and the passage of state laws that make it illegal for courts to consider disability in custody and adoption cases, children are still being unjustly removed from their parents' custody, and potential parents are being refused the right to adopt children solely because they are blind. In this resolution we "call upon members of the United States Congress and federal agencies to work closely with the National Federation of the Blind to take immediate and appropriate action to secure through legislation and regulation the right of blind Americans to be parents."
Actions at Guide Dogs for the Blind caused the Convention to pass Resolution 2013-24. In it we "call upon the corporate board of Guide Dogs for the Blind to require that a minimum of 51 percent of its directors be consumers and immediately establish stronger linkage between Guide Dogs for the Blind consumers and the corporate board." Michael Hingson, first vice president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users and a longtime leader in the Federation, proposed this resolution.
One of the most egregious practices by some agencies who serve people with disabilities is continuing to pay disabled workers subminimum wages. In Resolution 2013-02 we "condemn and deplore the actions of all employers that take advantage of the unfair, discriminatory, immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act." Michelle McManus, president of the Happy Valley chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania, introduced this resolution. Michelle also worked to make sure that her Congressman cosponsored H.R. 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013.
Although we have a long way to go to achieve victory in eliminating payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities, we are making progress. Anil Lewis, director of advocacy and policy for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2013-15. In this resolution we commend the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO for adopting a strong resolution supporting the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.
Given our commitment to access to employment, access to education, and access to information, it is no surprise that these subjects frequently appear in NFB resolutions. Resolution 2013-20 will help to expand entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities. Kevan Worley, executive director of the National Association of Blind Merchants, was the main sponsor of this resolution. In it we urge Congress to pass legislation that creates an entrepreneurial component to the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act.
The Convention passed six resolutions concerning access to education. Two of these deal specifically with Braille instruction, while the remaining resolutions deal with access to educational technologies.
Resolutions 2013-05 and 2013-18 cover Braille instruction. Sandy Halverson, president of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and a leader in the NFB of Virginia, introduced 2013-05, regarding literary Braille certification for professionals working with the blind. "We urge the US Department of Education, all state departments of education, all school districts, and all public and private agencies that work with the blind to adopt the National Certification in Literary Braille test as the gold standard for all those who are hired to teach Braille reading and writing, in order to provide equality, consistency, and protection to all consumers, assuring that they are receiving training by instructors who have demonstrated a consistent standard of Braille competency."
Richie Flores, an educator who directs Youth Services for the NFB of Texas and was a national scholarship winner in 2004, sponsored Resolution 2013-18. On June 19, 2013, the US Department of Education sent a letter to state education agencies to reinforce the importance of the Braille provisions in IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In this resolution we not only commend the US Department of Education for its action to combat the Braille literacy crisis, but also call on the Department to take further steps to provide training and technical assistance to educational entities to ensure quality Braille instruction for all blind and visually impaired students.
The use of graphics is becoming more and more important at all levels of education. Dr. Al Maneki, a longtime leader in the NFB of Maryland and treasurer of the Science and Engineering Division, proposed Resolution 2013-08. Now that more tools are available to create tactile graphics, students at all levels of education should be instructed in their use. This resolution encourages the development of tactile fluency skills, not only for students in educational institutions, but also for students in rehabilitation training centers.
The Convention passed three resolutions concerning education technology. In Resolution 2013-06 we urge Congress to enact legislation that will "put a stop to the separate approach to education that is continually and unnecessarily perpetuated by inaccessible educational technology." Jordan Richardson, president of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students, introduced this resolution.
In the remaining two resolutions we commend the good work of some higher education institutions and chastise others for their recalcitrance. Dr. Cary Supalo, who has been an NFB leader in every state where he has lived and who won two national scholarships, one in 1994 and the other in 2001, was the sponsor of Resolution 2013-11, which praises the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This university "delivers classroom content through eText, an accessible and interactive platform of its own making that provides textbooks and other materials to all students in the same manner and at the same time."
Kyle Shachmut, president of the NFB of Massachusetts and winner of national scholarships in 2009 and 2011, introduced Resolution 2013-04. The resolution states in part that all schools must "commit from the top levels of administration to procure, offer, and deploy only accessible educational technology and digital information...."
In February 2013 the National Parent Teacher Association announced that it had selected Amazon as the exclusive sponsor of its Family Reading Experience program. Mary Fernandez, who won a national scholarship in 2010 and has been an NFB leader in New Jersey, Georgia, and now Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2013-17. In this resolution we "condemn and deplore the actions of the National PTA for knowingly encouraging the use of a product that is inaccessible to blind students, ignoring the National Federation of the Blind's admonition that its program is discriminatory, and disregarding the right of blind students to equal access in the classroom."
The Convention passed seven resolutions concerning access to information. The refrain "When will they ever learn?" in the 1960s anti-war folk song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" expresses the sentiment in many of these resolutions. From its first release in 2006, the Sony Reader system has been inaccessible to the blind. In Resolution 2013-19 we "demand that Sony move urgently and decisively to provide access to its e-readers and e-books." Ben Dallin, president of the Nevada Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.
The Convention passed two resolutions about Microsoft. Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, proposed Resolution 2013-07. As each new version of Microsoft Office has been released, the number of keystrokes needed to perform some tasks has increased. We express our frustration and disappointment over this trend. The resolution states that "we call upon the Microsoft Corporation to move quickly to develop initiatives, approaches, and strategies that will enable keyboard-only users to use its software with the same productivity and efficiency as traditional mouse users."
The second Microsoft resolution was proposed by Bryce Samuelson, president of the Rochester chapter of the NFB of Minnesota. In Resolution 2013-21 we urge Microsoft "to make accessibility a priority in all aspects of its Windows 8 operating system and all future operating systems."
In Resolution 2013-12 we "urge Apple to expand accessibility fully to its productivity suite, iWork, and specifically to Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, so that blind students and professionals everywhere can make full use of all aspects of the Apple line of products." iWork is used on Mac computers. Everette Bacon, president of the Utah affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
Resolutions about eBooks and eReaders have become expected subjects at NFB conventions. The first resolution about Amazon was passed in 2009. This year, as usual, we have resolutions about Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google. Although the resolutions urge these companies to improve accessibility, they also recognize some progress. This is testimony to the effectiveness of our persistence. Nikki Jackson, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Georgia, introduced Resolution 2013-10. In it we commend Amazon for the improvements that it has made to its Kindle app for iOS. We also urge Amazon to broaden the ways in which blind consumers can access Kindle books.
In Resolution 2013-14, we commend Barnes & Noble for beginning to provide some access to its Nook iOS app and demand that it finish the job by providing full access. We also urge Barnes & Noble to provide access to all of its products. Gabe Cazares, president of the Texas Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.
Dee Jones, president of the Vermont affiliate, introduced Resolution 2013-16. In this resolution we commend Google for making some accessibility improvements. The resolution also resolves that: "this organization affirm its demand that Google make a serious, identifiable commitment to accessibility that includes deadlines for accessibility in all of its services and a commitment to avoid the future release of inaccessible services to its blind users."
This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By longstanding tradition the complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. These resolutions outline the possibilities that we seek and are the catalyst to make our dreams a reality. Readers should study the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects.
WHEREAS, the Space Available program, operated by the Air Mobile Command, allows members of the active military, family members of active military, members of the reserve military, emergency workers, and retirees to fly on military aircraft if space is available; and
WHEREAS, this program does not include servicemen and servicewomen who have become disabled while serving in the military because they do not have enough time in the service to have retiree status; and
WHEREAS, many of these brave individuals would have reached retiree status if they had not become disabled during service to their country; and
WHEREAS, the National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, believes that 100 percent service-connected disabled veterans should be allowed to participate in the Space Available program; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind worked to have legislation introduced by Congressman Bilirakis of Florida in the United States House of Representatives, H.R. 164, and by Senator Tester of Montana in the United States Senate, S. 346, to correct this exclusionary policy; and
WHEREAS, the Space Available program was authorized by the United States Congress in the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, on June 11, 2013, Congressman Bilirakis submitted H.R. 164, a bill supported by 169 cosponsors, as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, on June 12, 2013, the Rules Committee voted to allow H.R. 164 to move to the floor for consideration as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, on June 13, 2013, the United States House of Representatives voted to accept Congressman Bilirakis’s amendment, thereby including the bill language of H.R. 164 in the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, on June 14, 2013, the United States House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 1960; and
WHEREAS, the United States Senate is currently working on its version of the National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, Senator Tester’s bill, S. 346, has received support from fifteen cosponsors: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the United States Senate to include Senator Tester’s bill, S. 346, in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, to allow 100 percent service-connected disabled veterans to participate in the Space Available program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind call upon both houses of Congress to work diligently in conference committee in order to pass the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind commend Representative Bilirakis and Senator Tester for their leadership in support of blind and other disabled veterans.
WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), founded on the erroneous belief that people with disabilities lack the capacity for competitive, integrated employment, currently permits approximately 3,000 employers to obtain Special Wage Certificates allowing them to pay over 400,000 workers with disabilities wages that are less than the federal minimum wage, herein referred to as “subminimum wages,” some as low as 3 cents per hour; and
WHEREAS, employers who pay subminimum wages to people with disabilities, arguing that the Special Wage Certificate is an essential tool for employing workers with disabilities, threaten that an increase in employee wages would require them to terminate their workers with disabilities, but these same employers have enough revenue to pay their executives six-figure salaries and pay professional lobbyists to advocate for the perpetuation of this discriminatory provision; and
WHEREAS, other employers of people with disabilities operating in similarly situated industries, working with comparable populations of employees with disabilities, are able to maintain successful businesses without the use of the Special Wage Certificates, proving the assertions and threats of subminimum wage employers to be false; and
WHEREAS, Goodwill Industries admits that 101 (almost two-thirds) of its 165 affiliates pay their workers with disabilities the federal minimum wage or higher, while the remaining sixty-four affiliates take advantage of the Special Wage Certificates to pay their workers with disabilities immorally subminimum wages, illustrating the hypocritical and unjustifiable position of employers who pay subminimum wages to their disabled workers; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is joined by our Fair Wage partners—over fifty other national and local organizations of and for people with disabilities—in our effort to support the policies and programs that work to end the payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities and aggressively to oppose the development and implementation of policies that would perpetuate the use of this discriminatory provision; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Gregg Harper has introduced the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, HR 831, which, when enacted, will immediately stop the issuance of new Special Wage Certificates, responsibly phase out the use of the Special Wage Certificates over a three-year period, and finally repeal Section 14(c) of the FLSA; and
WHEREAS, despite substantial research validating the benefits of new, innovative strategies to train and employ workers with disabilities at competitive wages and demonstrating the waste and harm caused by subminimum-wage employment, preliminary Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization discussions propose language in Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act that links Section 14(c) of the FLSA to the Rehabilitation Act and allows the obsolete practices of employers who pay subminimum wages to be considered viable training and job-placement-service providers for people with disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that we condemn and deplore the actions of all employers that take advantage of the unfair, discriminatory, immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we continue to encourage the public to discontinue donating to, shopping at, or partnering with Goodwill or other subminimum-wage employers, until they discontinue their use of the Special Wage Certificates and pay every employee at least the federal minimum wage; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we commend all of our Fair Wage Partners, Congressman Gregg Harper, and all cosponsors of the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, HR 831, for their courage and support of our efforts to repeal Section 14(c) of the FLSA and that we call on all other members of the US House of Representatives to exercise the same courage by supporting the passage of HR 831; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on the members of the US Senate to refuse to integrate subminimum wage language in the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act that perpetuates the use of Section 14(c) of the FLSA and to work toward the introduction and passage of legislation to end the payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities.
Resolution 2013-03 was defeated.
WHEREAS, access to information is critical to education, career advancement, independence, and living a well-informed personal and professional life; and
WHEREAS, in the past decade the shift from print to digital information in educational institutions has been transformative; and
WHEREAS, digital technology and information have become an essential and integral part of education today; and
WHEREAS, unlike print, digital information is inherently accessible to the blind, and accessibility is particularly easy to achieve when considered in the design phase of the technology; and
WHEREAS, the shift from print to digital information and technology in education should therefore provide blind students with equal access to information and inclusion in education; and
WHEREAS, instead, the proliferation of inaccessible educational technologies and their adoption and use by our nation’s educational institutions have largely locked out the blind from receiving an equal education; and
WHEREAS, the civil rights offices of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter dated June 29, 2010, reminding higher education institutions of their legal obligation to procure and deploy accessible educational technology; and
WHEREAS, despite this clear message from the Departments of Education and Justice, the vast majority of educational institutions continue to ignore their obligations to procure and deploy accessible educational technology; and
WHEREAS, to ensure that they meet their obligations and provide equal opportunities for blind students, educational institutions must commit to accessibility from the top rather than delegating accessibility to a single and usually powerless low-level administrative office or position; and
WHEREAS, several institutions of higher education have become pioneers and role models in committing to accessibility and taking steps from the top levels of administration to ensure that campus-wide digital educational technology and information will be accessible to their blind students and faculty; and
WHEREAS, these institutions include the California State University, Pennsylvania State University, and George Mason University: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend these schools for their leadership in recognizing the critical importance of accessible educational technology and digital information and for taking concrete steps to ensure that blind students have equal access to education compared to their sighted peers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind condemn and deplore the actions of those educational institutions that continue to violate the law by ignoring their obligation to procure and deploy accessible educational technology, thereby excluding blind students from equality in education; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all schools to commit from the top levels of administration to procure, offer, and deploy only accessible educational technology and digital information and encourage schools to work with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that all blind students have equal access to educational technology and information.
WHEREAS, research repeatedly indicates that blind people who use Braille every day are far more likely to be successful in community life and to find high-paid employment, making an average of $11,000 more per year than employed blind people who do not use Braille; and
WHEREAS, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, only 37 percent of working-age blind adults nationwide are currently employed full time; and
WHEREAS, this dismal employment statistic is unlikely to improve because too many blind and visually impaired students exit their school systems without literacy skills, since only 10 percent of today’s blind students under age twenty-two receive instruction in Braille as their primary reading medium; and
WHEREAS, professionals employed by school districts or public or private rehabilitation agencies charged with the responsibility of teaching the reading and writing skills associated with the Braille code to either children or adults do not currently have to meet a national standard to certify that they themselves can read and write Braille; and
WHEREAS, each university professional preparatory program establishes its own arbitrary requirements for meeting levels of Braille proficiency, and, while some programs are rigorous, others are lax in their expectations of student Braille competency; and
WHEREAS, standards even within specific university professional preparatory programs fluctuate depending upon the capabilities of the individual teaching Braille courses, which results in graduates having a wide range of Braille skill levels; and
WHEREAS, the National Blindness Professional Certification Board currently administers the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) test, a five-year renewable certification; and
WHEREAS, the NCLB test is the only examination specifically designed to evaluate those who teach Braille reading and writing, and it has been independently validated by a third party to measure the competency of the test takers; and
WHEREAS, valid national standards are the only consistent means of assuring employers, school administrators, colleagues, consumers, families, and other professionals that blindness professionals possess appropriate Braille knowledge and skills; and
WHEREAS, under the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind, a group of organizations including the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Blinded Veterans Association, the Canadian Council of the Blind, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped came together and eventually developed the NCLB test: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge all university programs that prepare professionals to work with the blind to adopt the NCLB test as the exit criterion or comprehensive exam for all teachers of the blind and visually impaired; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the US Department of Education, all state departments of education, all school districts, and all public and private agencies that work with the blind to adopt the NCLB test as the gold standard for all those who are hired to teach Braille reading and writing, in order to provide equality, consistency, and protection to all consumers, assuring that they are receiving training by instructors who have demonstrated a consistent standard of Braille competency; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge that all blindness organizations that were involved in the creation of the NCLB test vigorously promote it as a necessary certification for all professionals working with blind children or adults in the reading and writing of the Braille code.
WHEREAS, the integration of technology in the educational sphere has fundamentally altered the teaching and learning processes, allowing curricular content once available only in textbooks and during lectures to be disseminated through electronic books, web content, digital library databases, advanced software, and mobile applications; and
WHEREAS, this intersection of technology and education creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation by print-disabled students and allows universal access to mainstream educational products for all students; and
WHEREAS, in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Congress authorized a commission, the Advisory Committee on Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education (AIM Commission), to look at the status of accessible educational technology in postsecondary education; and
WHEREAS, in 2011 the AIM Commission published its report, finding that manufacturers have failed to embrace accessibility solutions for their products; institutions have failed to minimize the impact of inaccessible technology on their disabled students; and, because of this proliferation of inaccessible materials, blind and other print-disabled students experience a variety of challenges including blocked access to enrollment and educational opportunities; and
WHEREAS, in the five years between the AIM Commission’s authorization and the issuance of its report, technology has evolved rapidly, creating more and more innovative solutions for accessibility and full participation; and
WHEREAS, the Commission’s findings show that manufacturers and institutions of higher education have completely failed to take advantage of this opportunity and are perpetuating the separate-but-equal approach to education; and
WHEREAS, this missed opportunity and widespread inaccessibility in the educational sphere have put huge, unnecessary burdens on blind and other print-disabled students, a fact illustrated by the findings of the AIM Commission report; and
WHEREAS, in a 2010 Dear Colleague letter addressed to all presidents of institutions of higher education, the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice asserted that equal access to technology in the classroom is a civil right guaranteed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
WHEREAS, the condition of inaccessible technology in college classrooms has not improved since the 2010 Dear Colleague letter or the publishing of the AIM Commission Report in 2011, demonstrating that more action must be taken in order to remedy this problem; and
WHEREAS, technology exists to make digital instructional materials and their delivery systems fully accessible, but most postsecondary institutions are claiming that technology is too expensive, while manufacturers are saying there is no demand for it; and
WHEREAS, the AIM Commission report recommends correcting this problem with the development of accessibility guidelines for instructional materials, which would provide guidance to manufacturers and serve as requirements for postsecondary institutions, ensuring that all products would be fully accessible to blind and print-disabled students; and
WHEREAS, in response to this recommendation the National Federation of the Blind has drafted model legislation called the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH), which calls on the US Access Board to develop accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education and then requires the Department of Justice to establish those guidelines as enforceable standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations; and
WHEREAS, the model language of TEACH has been endorsed by the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Association of the Deaf, the National Council on Independent Living, the Association of American Publishers, and seven other organizations; and
WHEREAS, senior members of the House Education and Workforce Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have shown significant interest in the bill but have yet to commit fully to being sponsors or introducing the bill: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to introduce and pass the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act to protect the civil rights of blind and print-disabled students fully and to put a stop to the separate approach to education that is continually and unnecessarily perpetuated by inaccessible educational technology.
WHEREAS, for more than a decade the Microsoft Office suite of software has been an essential productivity tool for blind users of the Windows operating system who perform tasks such as word processing, e-mail, spreadsheet creation and editing, and database management; and
WHEREAS, in many employment settings, blind and sighted employees alike are required to use Microsoft Office programs to perform their work; and
WHEREAS, blind users of the Windows operating system who rely on screen access technology for independent access to the computer use the keyboard to tell computer programs what to do; and
WHEREAS, as each new version of Microsoft Office has been released, the number of keystrokes needed to perform some tasks has increased, as illustrated by the following examples:
WHEREAS, considered individually, each task that requires an additional keystroke may not seem significant, but, taken together, all of these tasks result in an overall productivity drain for one who uses keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse; and
WHEREAS, while the Microsoft Corporation conducts extensive market research and studies to maximize the ability of traditional mouse users to be productive using its software, it has historically done nothing to develop more efficient approaches and strategies to improve the speed and efficiency of keyboard-only users of its programs; and
WHEREAS, the Microsoft Corporation, a self-proclaimed supporter of accessibility for people with disabilities for more than two decades, should have developed enough familiarity with the blind community and the screen-access technology used by the blind to understand the importance of the keyboard and the critical need to ensure maximum productivity for keyboard-only users; and
WHEREAS, as important as it is to determine what a specific object on the screen is (i.e., accessibility), it is arguably more important for a blind person to be able to use technology at a level of efficiency that is equal to if not greater than that enjoyed by sighted computer users: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization express its strong frustration and disappointment with the Microsoft Corporation for releasing versions of its software that reduce the productivity of keyboard-only users; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the Microsoft Corporation to move quickly to develop initiatives, approaches, and strategies that will enable keyboard-only users to use its software with the same productivity and efficiency as traditional mouse users; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Microsoft Corporation, in furtherance of this effort, to work with the National Federation of the Blind, an organization that has established a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area that is deeply rooted in practical experience.
WHEREAS, it is commonplace for sighted students to acquire both literacy and drawing skills through a gradual progression of improvement, beginning at the earliest possible age, resulting in adults who have developed proficiency in literacy and graphics; and
WHEREAS, in the blind population, not only is insufficient attention given to Braille instruction, but virtually no attention is given to exploring our environment by touch and representing our tactile observations in a tactile medium; and
WHEREAS, competence in tactile graphics refers collectively to the techniques of drawing raised lines, circles, and other curves; developing the ability to feel and interpret a tactile image efficiently; developing an understanding of three-dimensional objects drawn in two dimensions; and, finally, appreciating inherently visual ideas of perspective and scale; and
WHEREAS, the combination of proficiencies in Braille and tactile graphics is expressed by the term tactile fluency; and
WHEREAS, the historic lack of emphasis on tactile graphics was due partly to the general unavailability of simple devices on which tactile images could be drawn, edited, transmitted, and reproduced; and
WHEREAS, the ability of blind people to read Braille and to create and interpret tactile graphic images is highly relevant in modern society; and
WHEREAS, the widespread belief that blind people are innately less able to construct and interpret graphic images is a misconception resulting from the lack of opportunities to develop a facility with graphics, and not due to the mere lack of eyesight; and
WHEREAS, E.A.S.Y., LLC, has recently released products for sale that will facilitate the creating, editing, digitizing, transmitting, and multiple reproduction of graphic images by blind people; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind was influential in the formation of E.A.S.Y., LLC, and the development of its products: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge colleges and universities to revamp their curricula for teachers of blind students to require them to demonstrate competencies in both Braille and the graphic aspects of tactile fluency; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the instruction in tactile fluency for all blind children to begin at the earliest possible age; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge rehabilitation agencies serving the blind to provide their counselors with a thorough appreciation of the need for tactile fluency and up-to-date information about the latest tactile fluency devices and techniques; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we continue to work with E.A.S.Y., LLC, other private companies, and interested parties in the development of more advanced tactile fluency tools.
WHEREAS, more than four million Americans with disabilities, including Americans who are blind, are parents; and
WHEREAS, this number will unquestionably increase as more people with disabilities exercise a broader range of lifestyle options as a result of social integration and civil rights; and
WHEREAS, no research exists to support the proposition that children of parents who are blind or who have other disabilities are in more danger of being injured, mistreated, or neglected than children of parents without disabilities; and
WHEREAS, despite the lack of support for the proposition that parents with disabilities cannot raise children safely and competently and despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for over two decades, parents with disabilities are the only distinct community of Americans who must struggle to retain custody of their children; and
WHEREAS, research validates the experience of parents with disabilities by demonstrating extremely high rates of reported discrimination and removal of children from the home; and
WHEREAS, the legal system is not protecting the rights of parents with disabilities and their children, since two-thirds of dependency statutes allow the court to reach the determination that a parent is unfit (a determination necessary to terminate parental rights) on the basis of the parent’s disability; and
WHEREAS, since 1940 the National Federation of the Blind has provided leadership in educating both blind and sighted people about the nonvisual techniques that blind parents use to manage their households and provide appropriate care for their children; and
WHEREAS, the NFB has vigorously protected the rights of blind parents in the face of a variety of discriminatory practices; and
WHEREAS, despite this education and advocacy and the passage of state laws that make it illegal for courts to consider disability in custody and adoption cases, children are still being unjustly removed from their parents’ custody, and potential parents are being refused the right to adopt children solely because they are blind; and
WHEREAS, on September 27, 2012, the National Council on Disability (NCD) transmitted a report to the president entitled Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children; and
WHEREAS, this report further confirms that the child welfare system is ill equipped to support parents with disabilities and their families, resulting in disproportionately high rates of involvement with child welfare services and devastatingly high rates of parents with disabilities losing their parental rights; and
WHEREAS, the NCD report calls on the United States Congress and federal agencies to take immediate and strong action to secure the right of disabled Americans to be parents: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon members of the United States Congress and federal agencies to work closely with the National Federation of the Blind to take immediate and appropriate action to secure through legislation and regulation the right of blind Americans to be parents.
WHEREAS, in its release of May 1 of this year, Amazon made its Kindle app for iOS significantly more accessible to VoiceOver so that its large repository of books is now available to blind consumers who use the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch; and
WHEREAS, further improvements to the Kindle app for iOS have been implemented since that release, including some improvements to Braille navigation and the table of contents; and
WHEREAS, the current version of the app still contains many barriers to use, especially in professional and educational settings, presenting problems with functions such as text selection and not offering either speech or Braille access to the endnotes and footnotes; and
WHEREAS, the Kindle hardware remains inaccessible in its current generation as it has been in previous generations, and Kindle apps for Windows and Apple computers remain largely or completely inaccessible, excluding users who do not use Apple products or who wish to use a computer or dedicated device; and
WHEREAS, many of the Kindle devices, such as the Kindle Keyboard and the Kindle Fire, contain text-to-speech capability and could be made more accessible without requiring hardware changes simply by maximizing the availability and functionality of the present text-to-speech capability: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Amazon for the improvements the company has made to its Kindle app for iOS and urge Amazon to improve this app and to broaden the ways in which blind consumers can access their Kindle books, including on computers and Kindle devices.
WHEREAS, full and timely access to textbooks is a necessary precondition to the success of a student in higher education; and
WHEREAS, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana delivers classroom content through eText, an accessible and interactive platform of its own making that provides textbooks and other materials to all students in the same manner and at the same time; and
WHEREAS, eText offers not only accessible text, but also other tools needed for academic success, such as note-taking, highlighting, bookmarking, and glossaries; and
WHEREAS, students can customize the book display in eText in a variety of ways—such as choosing margin widths, fonts, and display colors—depending on their preferred method of access and their environment; and
WHEREAS, math equations in eText materials are displayed in text-based MathML, which can be rendered by text-to-speech applications without further intervention, and in Braille where supported—a very welcome feature that even many mostly accessible platforms struggle to implement; and
WHEREAS, eText can be used on a mobile or desktop device with an HTML5-compliant browser, giving all students a way to use this platform when and how they choose: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization highly commend the eText Group, part of CITES (Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services) at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, for leading the way in higher education by showing other institutions and learning management systems the full power of a flexible, interactive, and well-supported platform that is accessible to the blind and geared to a variety of learning styles and abilities.
WHEREAS, Apple has a proven and much respected track record in creating groundbreaking, built-in accessibility for its operating systems (both Mac OS and iOS), for use in devices such as the iPod and iPhone and the lineup of MacBooks and iMacs; and
WHEREAS, the accessibility features Apple has implemented have convinced many blind consumers to switch to Apple over the various kinds of personal computers (PCs) for their computing and mobile needs; and
WHEREAS, the core productivity software provided for the Mac in its iWork suite, which consists of Pages, a word processor; Numbers, a spreadsheet; and Keynote, a slide presentation tool, poses significant accessibility challenges, including inconsistent reporting of column and row headers in Numbers and unreliable review of formatting in Pages on both the Mac OS and iOS platforms; and
WHEREAS, the iWork suite is central to consumers’ ability to employ their Macs in professional and educational settings, and the current versions make such use very difficult and inefficient: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge Apple to expand accessibility fully to its productivity suite, iWork, and specifically to Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, so that blind students and professionals everywhere can make full use of all aspects of the Apple line of products.
WHEREAS, deaf-blind people rely on Support Service Providers (SSP’s) to reduce reliance on family members and friends by facilitating communications and by providing environmental and situational information so that they can participate in all aspects of community life; and
WHEREAS, the SSP’s are not responsible for providing personal care or serving as the interpreters required by law at legal and medical appointments, i.e., must serve only as facilitators, not decision makers; and
WHEREAS, it is estimated that there are 45,000 to 70,000 deaf-blind people in the US, a statistic that will rise because people are living longer and will experience sensory losses as part of the aging process, necessitating the need for more SSP’s; and
WHEREAS, according to a 2012 survey by the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, only ten states have state-wide programs to provide SSP’s, and only fourteen states and the District of Columbia have smaller, regional SSP programs, and the remaining states have no SSP programs at all; and
WHEREAS, in addition to the lack of availability of SSP’s in many states, the level of service in states with some programs fluctuates because the state or region determines who are eligible for the service and how many hours they receive; and
WHEREAS, since some SSP programs such as those in Louisiana, Connecticut, and Washington State, are under the jurisdiction of an office or department for the deaf, these programs frequently discriminate against deaf-blind people by requiring them to communicate by using American Sign Language, which is more visual, rather than the communication method of their choice such as oral English, English Sign Language, or tactile sign language; and
WHEREAS, since SSP’s are vital to the independence of all deaf-blind Americans, the federal government should implement a national program that will eliminate discriminatory practices and provide a higher level and greater uniformity of service: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention on this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Congress to immediately take all necessary steps to establish a national SSP program so that deaf-blind individuals can maintain independence and become productive citizens.
WHEREAS, with the release on November 26, 2012, of Barnes & Noble’s NOOK app, it became usable with VoiceOver on iOS, opening the library of NOOK Books to blind consumers for the first time; and
WHEREAS, the current version of the application does not provide access to textbooks, and the textbook platform that Barnes & Noble uses, NOOK Study, is PC and Mac only and provides no Braille support and no capacity for fine-grained navigation, highlighting, or taking notes (though all of these features are available to sighted users), making the product useless to blind students; and
WHEREAS, NOOK Study allows the publisher to disable the use of text-to-speech for its textbooks; and
WHEREAS, the NOOK readers, such as the NOOK HD and the NOOK HD+, remain inaccessible in their current versions and in all preceding versions, although text-to-speech is built into the underlying operating system, Android; and
WHEREAS, significantly greater access could be provided to the NOOK reader by using the accessibility features offered in Android, such as the ability to use text-to-speech in every area of the device: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Barnes & Noble for the improvements to its NOOK app for iOS and demand that it deepen the accessibility features in the NOOK for iOS app so that all features available to the sighted are available to the blind and that it provide access to hardware readers and the NOOK Study app for Mac and PC.
WHEREAS, the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the passage of the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011, a landmark piece of disability civil rights legislation that unfortunately did not pass before the end of the 112th congressional session; and
WHEREAS, the resolution recognized that “the labor movement must reflect the full diversity of the labor force, supporting the full and equal participation of workers with disabilities”; and
WHEREAS, the resolution describes the discriminatory nature of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which allows employers to pay workers with disabilities subminimum wages, and further states that “the ability to legally pay subminimum wages to any worker threatens the wage security of all workers, and the only method of ensuring that this regulation is not abused to the detriment of workers with disabilities is to repeal Section 14(c) of the FLSA and to revoke every special wage certificate granted under that provision”; and
WHEREAS, the Washington State Labor Council and its affiliates resolved to call upon the United States Congress to pass H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011, “which phases out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and revokes the certificates issued under that provision so that workers with disabilities are guaranteed the same workforce protections afforded nondisabled employees”; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Gregg Harper has introduced the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, H.R. 831, in the 113th Congress, which has the same language and prescribes the same remedy as H.R. 3086 of the 112th Congress: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend the actions of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and its affiliates for adopting such a strong resolution supporting the passage of the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011, H.R. 3086, and respectfully request that they continue their support of the current legislation, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, H.R. 831; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we support the efforts of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, to advance its resolution to the AFL-CIO for consideration at its national convention.
WHEREAS, Google is one of the leading technology companies in the United States and the world; and
WHEREAS, it offers many digital and electronic services, including a suite of cloud-based applications known as “Google Apps,” which replaces traditional desktop functions such as e-mail, collaborative word processing, spreadsheets, and calendars and which is available free or at low cost to businesses, educational institutions, and government entities; and
WHEREAS, Google Apps for Education is widely used by educational institutions, serving over twenty-five million students in two hundred countries across the globe, seventy-four of the top hundred universities in the United States, and many large public school systems; and
WHEREAS, Google Apps for Government is currently used by forty-five out of fifty state governments and numerous federal agencies and local governments as the primary application suite for government employees; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has for several years insisted that Google make Google Apps fully accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, in response to the National Federation of the Blind’s demands, Google has met with our organization on several occasions; and
WHEREAS, in 2012 Google’s accessibility team met with the National Federation of the Blind’s access technology team to address the inaccessibility of Google Apps and services, an effort that resulted in some improvements to the accessibility of Google Apps; and
WHEREAS, despite these efforts many of the Google Apps services continue to pose significant accessibility barriers, particularly when used outside of Google’s proprietary devices; and
WHEREAS, as more and more governments and educational institutions adopt Google Apps, the number of blind students and employees who experience significant barriers to their education and employment will increase; and
WHEREAS, Google is further expanding inaccessible technology in education with its launch of Google Play for Education, which will enable K-12 schools to offer students educational apps, many of which are completely inaccessible; and
WHEREAS, after many years of effort and demands by the National Federation of the Blind, many Google technologies continue to be inaccessible, and the accessibility of other Google services is inconsistent; and
WHEREAS, after many years of effort and demands by the National Federation of the Blind, Google has failed to exhibit an identifiable, top-down commitment to accessibility across its products and services; and
WHEREAS, Google has repeatedly failed to provide a comprehensive plan for accessibility or offer timelines, deadlines, or details regarding its commitment to accessibility: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Google for the efforts its accessibility team has made to improve the accessibility of Google Apps, while standing firm in our resolve to hold the company accountable for its failure to commit to a demonstrated policy of accessibility; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirm its demand that Google make a serious, identifiable commitment to accessibility that includes deadlines for accessibility in all of its services and a commitment to avoid the future release of inaccessible services to its blind users; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization caution all schools and governments that Google Apps have known accessibility barriers that exclude blind people and that, until Google removes these barriers, adoption of Google Apps is a violation of the law.
WHEREAS, in February 2013 the National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA) announced that it had selected Amazon as the exclusive sponsor of its family reading program, the Family Reading Experience, which allows local PTAs to apply to the national organization for donations of Kindle devices to be used at home or in local schools; and
WHEREAS, despite repeated efforts to urge Amazon to do the right thing, most Amazon Kindles are completely inaccessible, and the only Kindle that offers text-to-speech capability is not fully accessible to the blind and other print-disabled users; and
WHEREAS, on March 11, 2013, the National Federation of the Blind sent a letter to Betsy Landers and Eric Hargis, respectively president and executive director of the National PTA, informing them that Amazon Kindles are inaccessible and that their proposal unnecessarily excludes students with print disabilities from benefiting from the Family Reading Experience program’s goals, relegating them to second-class status; and
WHEREAS, the March letter also warned the National PTA that the use of inaccessible Kindle devices in public school classrooms is a violation of blind and print-disabled students’ rights to equal access under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
WHEREAS, the National PTA did not respond to the NFB’s letter with an acknowledgement of receipt, official correspondence responding to our letter, or change in policy regarding its partnership with Amazon; and
WHEREAS, the National PTA informally and indirectly responded to the NFB letter in an article in Special Ed Connection®, by downplaying the role of the Kindle in the program, claiming that it was not a requirement of the program; and
WHEREAS, this statement in no way addresses the discrimination brought to light in the NFB letter nor shows any cooperation or effort by the National PTA in making accessibility a priority in its partnerships: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that we condemn and deplore the actions of the National PTA for knowingly encouraging the use of a product that is inaccessible to blind students, ignoring the National Federation of the Blind’s admonition that its program is discriminatory, and disregarding the right of blind students to equal access in the classroom.
WHEREAS, Section 614(d) of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that, in order to provide a free and appropriate public education to disabled students, school districts in each state develop an individualized education program (IEP) for each disabled student; and
WHEREAS, an IEP is a written agreement outlining that child’s levels of academic achievement and his or her annual academic and functional goals, an agreement developed by a team of the student’s parents, regular education teachers, teachers of blind students, special education teachers, and representatives of the local educational agency; and
WHEREAS, the law specifically instructs the IEP team to consider special factors for blind students, specifically that a blind child receive instruction in Braille; and
WHEREAS, this means that all blind children will receive Braille instruction as part of their IEP by default, and Braille instruction should be removed or not included in the IEP only if an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media indicates that Braille is not appropriate; and
WHEREAS, the regulations issued by the Department of Education implementing this statute specifically repeat the IDEA statutory language regarding Braille instruction, reinforcing the intent that Braille instruction be provided to blind students by default; and
WHEREAS, despite the law and regulations, the overwhelming majority of blind students in the K-12 educational system are not receiving any instruction in Braille, and very few receive adequate instruction in Braille, resulting in less than 10 percent of all blind children being fluent Braille readers; and
WHEREAS, some members of the IEP team reject the idea of Braille instruction for a variety of inappropriate reasons, including the lack of a qualified educator to teach Braille in the district or a bias against Braille based on myths about stigma and effectiveness; and
WHEREAS, even though 90 percent of blind students are not learning Braille, 85 percent of employed blind people know the code, demonstrating a direct correlation between learning to read and write Braille and attaining and retaining employment; and
WHEREAS, after advocacy and urging from the National Federation of the Blind, twenty-six members of the United States Senate recognized this crisis and widespread violation of the law by sending a letter to the Department of Education, urging it to take action; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Education agreed that action was needed and wrote a letter to states clarifying their legal obligations under the IDEA to provide Braille instruction by default to all blind students; and
WHEREAS, on June 19, 2013, the Department of Education issued the letter, signed by Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, and Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs, reminding states of the background and statutory provisions of the IDEA that require Braille instruction for blind and visually impaired students; and
WHEREAS, the letter clarifies that the only reason blind students should not receive Braille is if the IEP team determines it is inappropriate based on results from an evaluation of the child’s current and future reading and writing needs; and
WHEREAS, the letter further clarifies that “factors, such as shortages of trained personnel to provide Braille instruction; the availability of alternative reading media (including large print materials, recorded materials, or computers with speech output); or the amount of time needed to provide a child with sufficient and regular instruction to attain proficiency in Braille, may not be used to deny Braille instruction to a child”: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend the Department of Education for taking action to combat the Braille literacy crisis and providing affirmative leadership to local education agencies through its June 19 Dear Colleague Letter regarding Braille instruction; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on the Department of Education to take further steps to provide training, professional development, and technical assistance to local education agencies, teacher preparation programs, administrators, and teachers to ensure that educational systems are adequately prepared to implement Braille instruction appropriately; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on state education agencies to take action to ensure that adequate professional development, technical assistance, and resources are available to local education agencies in properly implementing services outlined in the recent Dear Colleague letter on Braille; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization invite educators to call on members of the Federation to assist in disputes about Braille, serve as Braille mentors to young Braille readers, support training and professional development efforts, and otherwise be partners in resolving systemic issues related to educating blind children adequately in reading and writing Braille.
WHEREAS, from its first release in 2006, the Sony Reader System has been inaccessible; and
WHEREAS, Sony has released seven versions of its reader, yet the current Sony Reader still has no accessibility features whatsoever, and Sony has made no attempt to correct the situation; and
WHEREAS, even with the need for continued improvement on most platforms, usable books are now available from most major digital booksellers, including Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble NOOK, Apple iBooks, Blio, and others; and
WHEREAS, blind people deserve access to the same books at the same time and at the same price as sighted users and deserve a way of reading and navigating these books along with full access to the other features available on the Sony Reader: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore Sony’s ongoing discrimination against the blind because the company has knowingly and purposely developed and launched models of the Sony Reader that are completely inaccessible, despite its awareness of solutions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that Sony move urgently and decisively to provide access to its e-readers and e-books.
WHEREAS, chronic unemployment or underemployment is a serious problem among the disabled, denying people with disabilities the opportunity to earn a living and live independent lives; and
WHEREAS, creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities is one way to help reduce unemployment and underemployment for them; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind believes that blind people and others with disabilities are capable of owning and managing successful businesses; and
WHEREAS, except for the Randolph-Sheppard Program, not a single government program exists specifically to encourage entrepreneurship by people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, opportunities within the Randolph-Sheppard Program continue to decline because of the downsizing of government, noncompliance by federal entities, and complacency of some state-licensing agencies; and
WHEREAS, there is no requirement for the federal government or those who contract with it to subcontract with companies owned by people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, there are requirements that federal agencies contract with businesses owned by other disadvantaged groups such as minorities, women, or other groups; and
WHEREAS, the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act created what is today referred to as the “AbilityOne Program,” which requires the federal government to award contracts on a priority basis to nonprofit organizations that employ people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the JWOD Program was created in 1938 but has changed very little in the seventy-five years since its enactment; and
WHEREAS, this program has no entrepreneurial component; and
WHEREAS, the JWOD Program offers the perfect vehicle by which the federal government could set aside contracts to be awarded to companies owned by people with disabilities, including businesses owned by blind people; and
WHEREAS, adding an entrepreneurial component to the JWOD Program would demonstrate a belief in the ability of people with disabilities to do more than work as hourly workers, in some cases earning less than the federal minimum wage; and
WHEREAS, such a change in the JWOD Program would be welcomed by many organizations of and for people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has developed draft legislation that would require that a minimum percentage of new contracts awarded by AbilityOne be awarded to companies owned by people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, this draft legislation specifies that any federal contract related to food service shall be awarded to a state-licensing agency or to a company owned by a blind person; and
WHEREAS, such legislation would create new entrepreneurial opportunities for blind people and prevent the loss of gainful employment that results when state-licensing agencies fail to act on options in the law to provide employment for blind business owners: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge Congress to pass legislation that creates an entrepreneurial component to the JWOD Program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon other organizations of and for people with disabilities to join with us to work for the enactment of this important legislation.
WHEREAS, in today’s technology-based society, a computer is no longer a luxury but a necessity; and
WHEREAS, blind people have the same right as their sighted peers to access vast types and amounts of information using computers; and
WHEREAS, the Windows 8 operating system by Microsoft uses UI Automation, which limits nonvisual access by blind users because they must wait many months for updates to their screen-reader programs before they can use the new operating system; and
WHEREAS, immediate access by blind people to operating systems is achievable as demonstrated by other operating systems such as the Mac OS, which provides nonvisual access through embedded accessibility technologies such as VoiceOver: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge Microsoft to make accessibility a priority in all aspects of its Windows 8 operating system and all future operating systems; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge Microsoft to ensure that nonvisual access is incorporated into the design of its operating systems during the conception phase rather than addressed after the product is released to the public.
WHEREAS, in today’s society more and more people rely on the Internet as a major source of information for many subjects, including blindness; and
WHEREAS, eHow.com, a website now owned by Demand Media, a content and social media company, claims to be a “one-stop resource for life’s challenges” where “professionals in every field come together to offer expert advice”; and
WHEREAS, to cite one instance of unacceptable material contained there, the article entitled “Activities & Daily Living Skills for Blind People” by Sara Janis, contains a powerful statement of NFB philosophy about the real problem of blindness by “Dr. Jacobus,” but also contains nonsense such as “You can no longer make a mental map of how to get where you need to be and the mobility of getting there. Having furniture rearranged for clear paths and then practicing navigating those pathways helps”; and
WHEREAS, a review of Ms. Janis’s professional qualifications reveals no prior experience or training in blindness other than what she may have culled from random website searches, a clear violation of eHow’s claim of providing “expert advice”; and
WHEREAS, Ms. Janis’s article further demonstrates unprofessional authorship by failing to provide links to additional resources; and
WHEREAS, eHow further demonstrates archaic and negative attitudes about blindness by featuring articles with titles such as “How to Feed a Visually Impaired Person” and “How to Set a Table for Blind People”; and
WHEREAS, this negative portrayal of blindness on the Internet is extremely damaging to newly blind people and their families, who have no way of knowing how to evaluate the accuracy of the information contained on this website; and
WHEREAS, Demand Media, the parent company of eHow, exercises considerable influence on the so-called experts it selects to write eHow’s articles but is inconsistent in providing links for complaints or corrections to its articles: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge Demand Media to take immediate steps to promote modern, positive attitudes and accurate information about blindness on its eHow.com website; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge Demand Media to work with the National Federation of the Blind to remove objectionable articles on blindness from eHow.com and to develop a new set of articles that provide blind consumers with truly valuable information and the general public with a positive view of blindness; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, should our call for the presentation of more accurate and positive information go unheeded by eHow, this organization contact the operators of the world’s major search engines to urge that they emphasize other sources of information about blindness and lower the ranking given to eHow.com.
WHEREAS, the right to access information through reading is a fundamental human right; and
WHEREAS, the blind have long been significantly denied the right to read as reflected by the fact that less than 5 percent of published works are available in accessible formats in the United States and less than 1 percent throughout the vast majority of the world, creating a book famine for the blind; and
WHEREAS, it has been necessary to establish exceptions and limitations to copyright law because permission by rights holders to reproduce published works in accessible formats has traditionally been denied or has taken far too long to acquire; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind led an effort in 1996 to pass the Chafee Amendment, which allows US authorized entities to reproduce copyrighted materials in accessible formats; and
WHEREAS, only one-third of the world’s nations have exceptions and limitations to copyright law like those in Chafee, and it has been unlawful to exchange accessible format copies of works across international borders; and
WHEREAS, on and off for nearly thirty years, the World Blind Union (WBU) has called for worldwide exceptions and limitations for the blind; and
WHEREAS, most recently, in 2008, the NFB worked with the WBU to draft a treaty proposal that would create exceptions and limitations in copyright law throughout the world and allow for the cross-border exchange of accessible format copies; and
WHEREAS, the WBU secured the countries of Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay to table this treaty proposal in 2009 before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations; and
WHEREAS, the NFB has worked tirelessly with the WBU to get this treaty proposal adopted in the face of stiff opposition from intellectual property rights holders and many nations; and
WHEREAS, the WBU and the NFB scored a major victory in December of 2012 when WIPO’s General Assembly called for the convening of a diplomatic conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, to conclude and adopt an international treaty; and
WHEREAS, WIPO did in fact convene a diplomatic conference from June 17 through 28, 2013, at which the international community on June 27 formally adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled; and
WHEREAS, this is the first international instrument exclusively addressing the needs and issues faced by the blind; and
WHEREAS, the Marrakesh Treaty represents a major step forward in ending the book famine faced by the blind: now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that we salute the international community of nations, the World Blind Union, and intellectual property rights holders for coming together and securing an international treaty that will dramatically open the flow of information to the world’s blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we express our gratitude to the other members of the WBU, the United States government delegation to Marrakesh, and certain rights holders like the Motion Picture Association of America for working closely with the NFB to achieve this important victory; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon President Obama to sign and the United States Senate to ratify this treaty without delay.
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind was formed by the blind of the United States to represent blind Americans in order to secure equality, security, and opportunity for all blind people in the United States, including ensuring their full and active participation in agencies and organizations serving the blind; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest organization of the blind in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the NFB is concerned when agencies and organizations purporting to serve the blind systematically exclude blind stakeholders from true involvement and participation; and
WHEREAS, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) has recently taken actions that negatively affect its blind consumers; and
WHEREAS, GDB asserts that it has always been about relationships,
WHEREAS, its current leadership has unjustly laid off many highly respected employees whose considerable expertise and experience have provided outstanding graduate services and who deserve credit for making GDB the fine organization it is today; and
WHEREAS, the number of field area managers has been cut from twelve to six, dramatically increasing the number of graduates assigned to each, creating fewer opportunities for relationship-building with unconvincing assurances that a call center staffed by six can adequately handle the highly individualized needs of over 2,000 working teams; and
WHEREAS, the reorganization plan will decrease the time field representatives can spend with individuals in their regions because of the layoffs and early retirement of highly respected professionals who have played major roles in creating and setting high industry standards; and
WHEREAS, in the past positive staff/consumer relations have made Guide Dogs for the Blind a safe place, where clients have been able to trust that their best interests and individual needs would be respected and receive prompt attention; and
WHEREAS, the current management’s recent actions represent an unwelcome return to the paternalistic decision-making that the blind had hoped was behind us; and
WHEREAS, it is time for consumers’ points of view to be more powerfully represented, heard, and acted upon; and
WHEREAS, GDB's current leadership has demonstrated its lack of awareness of the organization's unique corporate culture by failing to address serious consumer concerns while continuing to assert that all is well; and
WHEREAS, by enacting unpopular and sweeping changes before analyzing the results of a recent graduate survey, current leadership clearly indicates its lack of understanding of and concern for the consumer point of view; and
WHEREAS, the leadership of GDB has removed blind employees from jobs they had held for more than ten years and performed well, moving them to a new backroom call center rather than allowing them to function in jobs for which they were trained while serving as visible positive role models for the blind and the general public, an act that calls into question the value GDB leadership places on blind employees; and
WHEREAS, GDB's mission is not being fulfilled when current senior management:
WHEREAS, only the board of Guide Dogs for the Blind can remedy the leadership problems that threaten the future integrity of GDB: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2013, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the actions of the current leadership of Guide Dogs for the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization call upon the corporate board of Guide Dogs for the Blind to take the necessary actions to put in place qualified, appropriate leadership to restore the trust which has been deeply eroded by unjustified layoffs and devastating cuts to consumer support services; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Guide Dogs for the Blind not only to return its relocated blind employees to the jobs they were performing until they were moved to the backroom call center but also to increase the number of blind employees throughout every department at GDB; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization call upon the corporate board of Guide Dogs for the Blind to require that a minimum of 51 percent of its directors be consumers and immediately establish stronger linkage between GDB consumers and the corporate board.
2013 Division Election Results:
The following divisions have notified us of the results of elections conducted during the 2013 national convention:
The National Association of Blind Veterans
Elected at this year’s convention were president, Dwight Sayer (FL); first vice president, Gene Huggins (SC); second vice president, Larry Ball (FL); secretary, Patty Sayer (FL); treasurer, Allen Bornstein (FL); and board members, Debi Black (AZ), Clinton Grimsley (AL), Nancy Hester (FL), Brad Loos (NE), Cory Keith (GA), and national chaplain and board member, Father John Sheehan (NY).
The Human Services Division
The following officers and board members were elected: president, Merry C. Schoch (FL); first vice president, David Stayer (NY); second vice president, Amalia Veliz (AZ); secretary, Nicole Yarmolkevich (IL); treasurer, JD Townsend (FL); and board members, Tyrone Bratcher (MD), and Denise Shaible (CA).
The following people were elected: president, Robert Leslie Newman (NE); first vice president, Chelsea Cook (VA); second vice president, Eve Sanchez (AZ); secretary, Katie Colton (UT); treasurer, Bonnie Newman (NE); and board members, Myrna Badgerow (LA), Kim Valco (VA), Antonio Guimaraes (RI), Thomas Taylor (CA), and Lori Stayer (NY).
The Travel and Tourism Division
The division elected the following officers: president, Cheryl Echevarria (NY); and new board member, Tracie Inman (FL). All other officers remain the same.
The National Association of Guide Dog Users
Elections were held for the offices of vice president, treasurer, and one board position. The NAGDU board of directors is now as follows: president, Marion Gwizdala (FL); vice president, Michael Hingson (CA); secretary, Sherrill O’Brien (FL); treasurer, Toni Whaley (PA); and board members, Margo Downey (NY), Julie McGinnity (MO), and Tina Thomas (CA).
National Association of Blind Lawyers
The following individuals are all elected to fill two-year terms expiring at convention in 2015: president, Scott LaBarre (CO); first vice president, Ronza Othman (MD); second vice president, Timothy Elder (MD); secretary, Ray Wayne (NY); treasurer, Larry Povinelli (AL); and board members, Patti Chang (IL), Parnell Diggs (SC), Noel Nightingale (WA), Randy Farber (TX), Anthony Thomas (IL), and Denise Avant (IL).
NFB Krafters Division
This year two new board members were elected: Lisamaria Martinez (CA) and Theresa Taylor (MN).
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
The NOPBC proudly announces the members of its 2013-2014 board: president, Carlton Anne Cook Walker (PA); first vice president, Andrea Beasley (WI); second vice president, Kim Cunningham (TX); secretary, Pamela Gebert (AK); treasurer, Pat Renfranz (UT); president Emerita, Barbara Cheadle (MD); and board members, Jean Benning (MN), Laura Bostick (LA), Denise Colton (UT), Bill Cucco (NJ), Rosina Foster (MO), Teresa Graham (MD), Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (GA), Belinda Martinez (NV), Holly Miller (NJ), and Sandra Oliver (TX).
The National Federation of the Blind in Communities of Faith
The division held elections, and the following officers were elected by acclamation: president, Tom Anderson (CO); vice president, Rehnee Aikens (TX); secretary, Linda Mentink (NE); and treasurer, Sam Gleese (MS).
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children:
This year the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) celebrates thirty years of service to families. The continuing hard work and dedication of past and present board members allow the NOPBC to support parents in helping their children change what it means to be blind.
At the NOPBC annual meeting on July 3, 2013, a new board was elected. The NOPBC thanks outgoing board members Jim Beyer, Wingfield Bouchard, Amber Hall, Dave Hammel, Zina Lewis, and Trudy Pickrel and welcomes six new members and our returning members to the board.
Report from the Blind Parents Group:
Debbie Stein reports that the meeting of the Blind Parents Group heard from Bookshare, explaining how parents can access Bookshare titles to read with their children. Representatives from the One-Touch Self Defense program invited parents to learn more during convention and beyond. The bulk of the meeting consisted of a discussion of strengths and challenges that blindness may bring to the parenting experience. Angela Frederick, a doctoral candidate who is conducting research on parents with disabilities, was there to listen and learn. Several parents spoke candidly of painful experiences involving child protective services that were generally triggered by a report from a neighbor or total stranger. Participants were thrilled by the NFB’s resolution to pursue passage of legislation prohibiting discrimination based on blindness that is carried out by social service agencies and in custody disputes.
Report from the National Association of Blind Veterans:
The group set up its table and banners in the exhibit hall, including a nine-foot banner over the table that was “superb and made it very impressive,” according to Mrs. Jernigan. On Tuesday night, July 2, at 7:00 PM, the division held its business meeting with many presenters as well as the bi-annual elections. The meeting closed with presentations by vendors providing prosthetics and equipment to the VA.
During exhibit hall hours the division sold NABV license plates; the 2013 patriotic pin, a gold shield with red, white, and blue drapes on either side and the words “One Nation Under God” in the center of the pin. The NABV 50/50 raffle netted $1600. The drawing took place Saturday, July 6, at noon. Harold Wilson of Baltimore was the winner of $825. Congratulations, Harold. On Thursday, July 4, was the celebration of freedom with the United States Air Force providing the color guard from Patrick Air Force Base. A big thank you goes to the men from Patrick Air Force Base for a job well done. Father John Sheehan and Dr. Jessica Ewell provided our musical celebration. There were veterans from one side of the stage to the other and wrapped around the end of the stage. All veterans were presented with a red, white, and blue ribbon to attach to their convention badges. In the center of the ribbon the word “Veteran” was inscribed. The vets introduced themselves and announced their branch of service. The division presented President Maurer and Mrs. Maurer with 2013 patriotic pins, and the celebration closed with a reminder that freedom isn't free. President Sayer reminded everyone that, while remembering the men and women of the armed forces, we must remember their families as well because they wait, watch, wonder, and pray that their loved ones will come home safe and sound.
Report of the Job Seeker Seminar, Job Fair, and Employment Committee:
Dick Davis, chairman of the NFB Employment Committee, provided the following report:
I'd like to thank everyone who participated in this year's Job Seeker Seminar and Job Fair at the NFB convention. Approximately eighty-five people attended the Job Fair. This was back-to-basics year, so we worked with attendees on knowing the fundamentals of career preparation and job-seeking skills. Many thanks to Employment Committee member Robert Leslie Newman for coordinating the Job Seeker Seminar. I would also like to thank committee members Bethel Murphy, Brenda Mosby, Dave Hyde, David Ticchi, Fatos Floyd, and volunteer Susan Clark for their work. For the first time we had a breakout session, which seemed to go very well, so that will no doubt be a feature of future seminars. The breakout presenters and attendees felt the time spent was worthwhile. One of the attendees set up a LinkedIn account for himself and discovered that it has a reference letter feature, so he immediately asked me to do one for him. To be honest, I had not known about that feature. Since a number of employers check LinkedIn before hiring a person, having letters of reference on it seems like a great idea. The one-hour walk-through of the newly accessible Monster.com by Ilya Shubik was also well received.
Well over two hundred attended the Job Seeker Seminar, where fourteen employers were present. The room was mobbed for the first two hours of the Job Fair, and one employer even ran out of business cards and brochures and had to borrow a pen because her’s ran out of ink. Every employer brought away stacks of résumés. Fourteen employers were present: Benetech; Cleveland Sight Center Call Center; Hadley School for the Blind; Industries for the Blind, Inc.; Minnesota State Services for the Blind; National Statler Center/Olmstead Center for Sight; New Mexico Commission for the Blind; all three NFB training centers--BLIND, Inc., the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind; Perkins School for the Blind; the Piano Technology Group; SSB BART Group; the US Coast Guard; Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired; and World Services for the Blind. Many thanks to Suzanne Turner, committee member and Job Fair coordinator, and the people from the Cleveland Sight Center, who held practice sessions for those needing to polish their interviewing skills. Based on the huge response from job seekers and employers in this first year, I think we will need to double the size of the room next year to accommodate the crowd.
I am sorry to report that the file we created of job fair attendees became corrupted and was unusable. We intended to get feedback from all the attendees through a follow-up survey, but that is now impossible, so I am asking people who went to the Job Fair to give me feedback by emailing me at <email@example.com>. We will still be able to send feedback forms to the employers, because we have all their contact information.
The Employment Committee meeting had around thirty attendees. This year it was more loosely structured than in the past, but we had presentations from Mississippi State University, the Cleveland Sight Center, Minnesota State Services for the Blind, Robert Leslie Newman of the Writers’ Division on “Where the Blind Work,” Clovernook, and other organizations and individuals. Jobseekers wanted to talk about what they could bring to an employer. I think I have mentioned everyone, but, if I did not, please accept my apologies.
All in all it was a great convention for NFB jobseekers. If anyone has suggestions for how we can do things even better next year, please send them to me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The National Association of Blind Automobile Enthusiasts Division:
The division had many small trucks and cars donated to it. According to Division President Dave Hutchins, the highlight of the division's activities this year was the sale of small cars for $5 each or four for $15. The division conducted its annual seminar and business meeting, with two speakers each from the Model A Club and the T-Bird Club. Having sold out of the complete inventory of model cars, the division will have a new inventory next year.
Report of the Cash and Caring Committee Meeting at Convention:
Ramona Walhof reported as follows on the work of the cash and caring committee at convention: The meeting had more than fifty people, I am sure. There was standing room only for a while, and I collected more than fifty cards with names and email addresses. Parnell Diggs, Scott LaBarre, Richie Flores, and Joanne Wilson gave talks, and of course we did not have enough time for discussion. We challenged states to establish a fundraiser with a goal of raising at least $5,000 by the third year or expand an existing effort by $5,000. Quite a number of people took this challenge. We talked about the importance of sharing income with the national treasury, and I think virtually everyone accepted that as a major need.
We will make a network of the names and emails of those who attended to provide a means of sharing experiences, successes, and suggestions. We will send the toolkit that we first distributed at Washington Seminar to everyone who came to this seminar, and we will continue to add information to it. We heard examples of events that raised $5,000 or more, talk about making state conventions into means of raising funds from nonmembers as well as members, and a list of the ways the NFB helps every blind person in the country. Hopefully, the next two additions to the toolkit will be Parnell's description of how the Columbia Chapter raises $24,000 with a chicken dinner and a contribution from Scott LaBarre on estate planning.
2013 NFB Communications Committee Meeting Highlights:
The focus of this year’s agenda was how to disseminate our message and news in changing times efficiently and affordably to membership and beyond. Each affiliate and division was asked to present and address what affiliates and divisions are doing now, why, and how. The majority present expressed problems and needs and were given useful suggestions by NFB colleagues. Concerns included lack of funding to produce multiple formats--many giving up audio recordings and several eliminating print hardcopies. All use email, most post a website version, a few still offer audio, and a Braille edition was available in half the 22 affiliate newsletters. Placing state communications on NEWSLINE is yet to be fully used by affiliates with the service available. New communications yet to be embraced more fully are Facebook and Twitter.
This committee is looking for additional members. If interested in the committee’s work, contact chairman Robert Leslie Newman.
The National Federation of the Blind in Communities of Faith:
The NFB in Communities of Faith held its meeting on Wednesday, July 3. We first listened to presentations from those who produce Christian material for the blind. Craig Leeds from Braille Bibles International and Darrel Templeton, president of Megavoice, spoke about the availability of Bibles on NLS cartridges and a player using solar energy. The King James and the New Living translations of the Bible are available on cartridges. There are five translations available using the solar energy player. These players cost $35. Father John Sheehan from Xavier Society for the Blind assured us that his organization could produce Christian materials in Braille, which could be kept by the user. He indicated that this is cheaper than maintaining a library.
We also heard from Keith Elliot, director of field services for Christian Record Services for the Blind, and from Mike Smith from the International Christian Braille Mission. A representative from Bookshare described its work in making books available for blind people. A substantial collection of Christian literature is now available through Bookshare.
Plans are in the works to organize Communities of Faith divisions in various states. Devotions were held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings one hour before the opening of the morning session of the NFB convention. We had lively music, excellent solos, and messages presented by Sam Gleese, Mike Smith, and Tom Anderson.
Report of the Human Services Division:
The meeting of the Human Services Division was held on Wednesday, July 3. During the meeting Mike Truelock, a blind massage therapist, conducted chair massages as a fundraiser for the division. The board of directors and members are very grateful for Mike’s hard work during our meeting as well as at our table in the exhibit hall. Thank you, Mike.
The division had several informative presentations:
The business meeting resulted in an amendment to the division’s constitution regarding membership dues. Elections were then conducted.
Our members range from interested high school students to seasoned professionals in such varied careers as psychotherapist, occupational therapist, life coach, speech/language therapist, massage therapist, and music therapist, to name a few. Anyone in a career track that leads to being a professional in the human services field is welcome to join our membership. Just write a check payable to NFB - Human Services Division and mail it to the treasurer, JD Townsend, 1598 Riverside Drive, Holly Hill, FL 32117.
Tidbits from the Krafters Korner:
The division celebrated its fifth year, and we are excited about the number of telephone classes that are expanding to include a variety of crafts. Classes range from knitting and jewelry making to many types of beading.
Another great event at the convention was our craft sale, held on Monday, July 1, from noon to 6:00. Quite a few people wandered through and purchased handmade items. We also had some free make-and-take items such as a pony-bead butterfly and an origami box. Krafter Korner had volunteers helping anyone who wanted to try a hand at making these items. We had visitors ranging from young children to seasoned crafters. It was a great time to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. It was also a great opportunity for parents of blind children to understand their youngsters’ potential.
NAGDU at National Convention:
The National Association of Guide Dog Users, Inc. (NAGDU) is a strong and proud division of the National Federation of the Blind. We hold our annual meetings each year over two days during the NFB convention. On Monday, July 1, after our packed room of convention delegates introduced themselves, we accepted our treasurer’s and secretary’s reports. We then read, discussed, and passed a resolution concerning Guide Dogs for the Blind. You can read this resolution elsewhere in this issue.
Access to zoos with our guide dogs is an ongoing concern for NAGDU and its members. With a wide diversity of policies among zoos in the United States, NAGDU contends that many of these policies are not compliant with the ADA. In keeping with the adage, “It is better to educate than to litigate,” we invited top officials who are in a position to help us make changes to address our membership. Among these were Mark Jones, manager of domestic services for guests with disabilities for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts; Steve Olson, vice president of federal relations for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA); and Mark Trieglaff of ACT Services, who serves as an accessibility consultant to AZA. Each panelist discussed how the organizations they represent can affect policies to comply with their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and some of the challenges zoos face with service animals on their premises. The discussion was productive and laid the foundation for future collaboration with the organizations represented.
On Wednesday, July 3, our meeting reconvened with committee reports, including updates on the NAGDU Information & Advocacy Hotline; our social networking efforts; enhancing our website; and a report on our advocacy efforts over the past year.
Each of the chief executive officers of the guide dog training programs in the United States was personally invited to attend our meeting with the express purpose of providing their comments on the Guide Dog Users’ Bill of Rights we passed during our 2011 annual meeting. We attempted to solicit these comments during our 2012 meeting; however, all the training programs avoided this request. This year we advised the training programs that the only comments we would permit were those concerning the Bill of Rights. Some of these reports were in-depth, while others could be charitably described as dismissive, evasive, and nonsubstantive. Nonetheless, the National Association of Guide Dog Users demonstrated that we are actively shifting the paradigm in the guide dog movement in the United States and around the world. Transcriptions of the training program comments, along with commentary from the NAGDU board will be made available on our blog, which you can view at <http://harnessup.wordpress.com>.
Eleventh Anniversary Meeting of the NFB Travel and Tourism Division:
The division started as a group to discuss why blind people should travel for leisure to places like Ireland or Walt Disney World or take a cruise. The division has advocated for the rights of blind people who want to cruise without sighted companions or work in the travel industry as a travel professional or an outside business development manager.
We reviewed the division’s history. Ms. Stephanie Nelson founded the division. In 2001 she talked with President Maurer about having a travel division, and in 2002 Doug Johnson of California was elected as the first division president. Don Gillmore of Illinois also served as president, and now Cheryl Echevarria from New York has been president since 2011. The other officers are currently vice president, Maurice Shackelford (GA); secretary, Margo Downey (NY); treasurer, Milton Taylor (UT); and board members, Jemal Powell (IL) and Amy Baron (MN).
Secretary Margo Downey told the division about problems she and others had with Southwest Airlines while flying to convention. The flight attendants and gate agents in Buffalo, New York, did not understand the Air Carrier Access Act and FAA regulations and tried to require passengers with guide dogs to sit in bulkhead seats. This has been an issue with Southwest Airlines for some time now. There is an Air Carrier Access Hotline. The phone number is (800) 778-4838. Anyone can file a complaint with the federal Department of Transportation by going to its website at <http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer>. There is a link giving information about filing a complaint. The only reason a passenger can legally be required to sit in a certain seat or certain type of seat is to prevent something from blocking the aisle or exits. This is an FAA regulation.
Steve Olsen from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums urged us to let his organization know of any concerns we have while visiting zoos or aquariums. The AZA has been around since 1929 and began accrediting in the late 1970s. AZA now has 221 members. President Cheryl Echevarria urged people to let her or Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, know about any zoo problems. Mr. Olsen’s association is willing to work with us to ensure enjoyable and problem-free visits to zoos, aquariums, and related venues.
The new Travel and Tourism website is <www.nfbtravel.org>. Starting in September we will hold a monthly teleconference call for members, people thinking about becoming members, and anyone else interested in travel. Please make sure you register on the nfbnet.org and sign up for the travel and tourism talk list, to keep up with information.
Jessica Snyder from the NFB of New York described her trip to China. In the 1990s China began to develop more comprehensive accessibility laws. About 60 million people are considered disabled. China does have services for blind children with mainstreaming and special classes. Elderly and disabled citizens have a right to material assistance from the state and society. Jessica had no problems as a blind person traveling in the country.
Rob Nevin from U-R-Able, a company in Canada, spoke. It is concerned about the underemployment and unemployment of blind people and seeks to make employment more accessible. Along with JAWS its product makes using software easier and more efficient with fewer steps. People can use this accessibility software in call centers. Lawyers can use it, and so can many other people. A person can use JAWS, a refreshable Braille display, and the Alt software for work acceleration. Blind people can outperform sighted people using this threefold approach and have even more chances to get the jobs we want. The Alt software uses something called “beaming.” It takes the user from where she/he is to the end destination in a single step. Mr. Nevin demonstrated the software for us.
Margo Downey presented a report on the Travel and Tourism working tour of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. We used the way-finding and description devices and were updated on Disney’s accessibility features. Disney cast members asked for our feedback in an effort to continue to improve accessibility for all.
Mark Jones, manager for domestic services for guests with disabilities at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, presented to the group. There are over 130,000 cast members (employees) at Disney properties and on Disney cruise ships. Sixty thousand cast members work at Walt Disney World. Blind people are employed at Disney. He told us about the way-finding devices that audibly update you as you walk through the parks and then describe attractions. He also mentioned that the service dog relief areas are now inside the parks and that any open grassy area can be used by service animals in the parks. Mr. Jones welcomes suggestions, problems, and compliments.
Announcement about the United Blind Industrial Workers of America:
Thomas Stivers writes as follows: It is my honor to have been elected as the chairman of the steering committee for the newly reconstituted United Blind Industrial Workers of America. We will work together to eliminate all subminimum wage payments on the basis of disability, ensure equal opportunities for advancement for all blind workers, provide adequate training to blind workers in sheltered employment who are seeking mainstream jobs, and defend the rights of blind workers who are abused by those who claim to be their protectors.
As of now the UBIWA is in its earliest stages, and we are looking for members to give of their time, talent, and eventually treasure to make this developing division of the Federation one of our strongest. Join the mailing list by sending a blank message to <email@example.com> or visit our website at <http://www.ubiwa.org> to keep up with developments as they occur.
On behalf of the committee I offer thanks to the merchants division, the Federation as a whole, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, and the lawyers division for their generous contributions, which will make this organization possible.
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.