Vol. 56, No. 9 October 2013
Gary Wunder, Editor
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Vol. 56, No. 9 October 2013
Illustration: 2013 Convention Activities for Parents and Children
The Blind Driver Challenge™, the Quest for the Salt, and the Continued
Journey of Innovation and Adventure
by Mark A. Riccobono
Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL):
Expectations for the Blind of America
by Mark A. Riccobono, Sandy Halverson, Kayleigh Joiner, and Raveena Ali
A Teacher in the Movement Who Believed in Blind Children and
Taught the Legislature to Share Her Faith
by Casey Robertson
Another Perspective on KIDS Camp
by Sharon Maneki
Ending Legalized Discrimination in Wage Payments for Disabled Americans
by Gregg Harper
Our Efforts in Washington on Behalf of the Blind
by John Paré, Anil Lewis, Lauren McLarney, and Jesse Hartle
A Commitment to Equality of Opportunity:
A Report from the Department of Justice
by Eve Hill
The Blind at Work in an Unusual and Demanding Profession
by Cassandra McNabb-McKinney
Copyright 2013 by the National Federation of the Blind
On seminar day at each national convention the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children works overtime to host activities of interest to blind children and their parents. The day often begins with the children visiting with President Maurer and asking him questions that range from, "Do you like animals," to, "Do you really think I need Braille even though I can see some print?"
After this early morning meeting, activities split into presentations for the parents and entertaining activities for the children. These range from making their own maracas (much to their parents’ delight, we’re sure), to quieter entertainments. A variety of toys was available, including the stretchy yo-yo that Chloe Darlington is having fun with in the third photo.
But at the end of the day, you can’t beat a ride with mom back to the room for a bit of rest before rejoining the unique experience of an NFB national convention, as Kayla Hartle will agree.
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: In a world where there is always more need than resource, an oft-repeated question we must address is how best to use our limited money and talent to advance the cause of blind people. Some argue for the bold and suggest we focus on those projects others dare not attempt; others suggest that, as long as the blind face so much poverty and unemployment, we should focus our efforts exclusively on improving education and rehabilitation. Acknowledging the arguments on both sides and those arguments that fall between, we strive to meet the needs of today while looking to the future we want to see for the blind.
Mark Riccobono is the first blind person ever to drive a vehicle without sighted assistance in front of thousands at a public event. Here is his most recent experience, this time as an observer, as we try incrementally to tackle one of the most persistent barriers faced by the blind—transportation:
In 2011 we held the first public demonstration of technologies built under the Blind Driver Challenge™ (BDC) of the NFB. It took almost a decade of dreaming out loud, tolerating friendly nods by individuals who thought we were out of our minds, and overcoming our own uneasiness before we were able to secure partners to work with us on the vision for blind drivers that our president, Marc Maurer, laid out for us. When we finally had the breakthrough with bright partners who were prepared to go the distance with us, we knew we needed a place for the first demonstration that fit the significance of the moment. The famed Daytona International Speedway had the type of reputation equal to the challenge, and we prepared for a public demonstration that would help the rest of the world notice our capacity as blind people. Federationists came from all parts of the country to share the moment, even though some were still uncertain about the outcome and whether it was worth the sacrifice of resources that might be used for other important goals.
As you know, at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 29, 2011, I jumped into our NFB Blind Driver Challenge car, gave a thumbs up, honked the horn, and drove 1.5 miles of the Daytona road course. People often ask me, “What was it like to drive at Daytona?” And I still have trouble describing it exactly. Until this week I never fully understood why. This article is partially a report on the progress of our Blind Driver Challenge initiative, partially the story of our second critical milestone in that effort, and partially an open reflection of why the Daytona question has been hard to answer.
Since the Daytona demonstration we have continued to present our vision for the “intersection of innovation,” wherein blind people actively participate in building cutting-edge technologies side by side with the most creative inventors we can find. Sometimes we have discussed the next component needed to make blind driving a reality for all. At other times we have speculated about how our experience and perspective will intersect with the general direction of driving technology (both in the driverless car movement and within the traditional model of today's transportation systems). We have talked with universities, technology companies, designers, car companies, and hundreds of individuals whose perspective has been changed as a result of getting to know our blind driver work. Flying airplanes, riding bikes, and enhancing traditional navigation techniques are just some of the topics we have explored. While many ideas continue to get kicked around, some proposals slowly circulate, and an increasing number of important connections get made every month, there is not an immediate Daytona-like milestone identified in the immediate future. The true innovative nature of the Federation is that we are always seeking to expand the horizons of independence. It is our organizational readiness that allows us to quickly take advantage of the right strategic partners when they come.
Enter Dan Parker—a sighted drag racer who hit a wall at 175 MPH on March 31, 2012, leaving him completely blind, along with other significant injuries. After eight months of recuperating and lying around not knowing what he could do as a blind person, Dan made up his mind. He had been riding motorcycles since he was eight, and he had extensive experience around, on, and in cars and motorcycles. He had always had a dream of racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Dan decided that the way to overcome the fears and limitations he had associated with blindness was to pursue his quest for the Salt—to build and independently run his own motorcycle out on the Salt Flats at a sanctioned event.
Dan wrote to me because he wanted to learn more about our Blind Driver Challenge work. Before I could get back to Dan, he got in touch with Joanne Wilson. Joanne called me and asked if I would talk to Dan. Knowing that Joanne is not fooled easily, I said I would call him. Admittedly, the only thing that stuck in my head was that a guy went blind not long ago, has had no training as a blind person, and wants to race a motorcycle. I wondered to myself whether this guy was just trying to avoid the fact that he was blind or whether he really had a good plan. It did not take long during my first telephone conversation with Dan to realize that I was speaking to a guy who is humble, driven, ready to learn, and eager to give back. Since that first call I have had the opportunity to break bread with Dan, talk in depth about his quest and his hopes for the future, and speculate with him about where we might go next. Dan quickly found his local NFB chapter in Columbus, Georgia, and his spirit, actions, and words naturally resemble those of longtime Federationists even though he has known the organization for only a short time.
For true racers "running at the Salt" is a big deal. The Bonneville Salt Flats is a densely packed salt pan that sits at an elevation of 4,219 feet in northwestern Utah. The area is said to be a remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, and, at forty square miles in size, it is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake. The property is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and it was first tested for driving in 1907. The first land speed record was set at Bonneville in 1914 by Teddy Tetzlaff.
The Bonneville Speedway—as it is commonly known—is frequently misunderstood to be a space for drag racing. Since the salt is somewhat slick, maintaining traction is a major concern of every racer. Therefore, the salt surface is not ideal for the objective of drag racing—rapid acceleration over a short period of time. The objective for racers at Bonneville is tremendous speeds achieved over great distances. Cars start slower than many expect, but they ultimately achieve mind-blowing speeds. With the tremendous open space at the flats there is plenty of room to get up to speed and decelerate safely.
Five major land-speed events take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats (many other club and private events take place during the year). Three of these events welcome cars, trucks, and motorcycles—Speed Week (mid-August), World of Speed (September), and World Finals (early October). World records are contested at the Mike Cook ShootOut in September. The fifth event is the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials, which is exclusively for motorcycles. A series of timing associations organize events and certify speed records.
Dan came to the NFB Jernigan Institute to learn more about the techniques and technologies used in our Blind Driver Challenge vehicle. Dan shared his quest with Dr. Maurer, including his plan to build his own customized motorcycle (doing the design and machining himself), equipping it with a GPS guidance system allowing him to drive the two-mile course independently, and entering it into the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials. No blind person had ever entered the BUB event, and Dan had already successfully lobbied the organizers of the event to accept his application. After meeting with Dan extensively and recognizing that his quest fit within the vision for our NFB Blind Driver Challenge initiative, Dr. Maurer agreed to the NFB’s sponsoring Dan’s quest. While Dan had made significant progress on his own, he credits the NFB sponsorship for giving his quest the resources it needed to make it the final mile and giving him a support network and credibility that are unparalleled.
At Dr. Maurer’s direction I began working closely with Dan, providing him with the experience of our previous blind-driver work and receiving regular updates on his testing. About one week out from the BUB event, we all agreed that Dan and his machine were ready for prime time. I made my plans to head to the Salt Flats, along with Ilana Posner from our Jernigan Institute staff. Despite our advance work we really had no idea what to expect.
Events at the Salt are different from anything I have ever encountered. It starts with the drive to the Salt. We took Interstate 80, exit 4, toward Bonneville/Speedway. We turned left on Leppy Pass Road. Then we made a slight right onto Bonneville Speedway Road—which stretched out for five miles, at which point the ground around us was desert-like. The five-mile trip brought us to a cul-de-sac where we had to secure admission to the BUB event. At that point we were permitted to enter the Salt, which started out slightly bumpy but quickly smoothed to a relatively flat, hard surface. Ilana said she could not see anything in the distance besides the white salt stretching on for miles. The only objects visible on the surface were the orange cones that were strategically placed to guide cars to the pit area. In the middle of nowhere on the salt we found a temporary racing community.
A pit area stretched on for a mile. The tech area could be found at the end of the pits. Tech was where motorcycles were reviewed and approved to run. Beyond tech was the pre-staging area where motorcycles, trailers carrying motorcycles, chase trucks, and other support vehicles lined up before going to the final staging before their run. In the far distance a five-mile and seven-mile straight-line track was set up to accommodate one racer at a time. A short, ten-foot-high observation tower sat on the side of the track for race officials. A small food area and even a radio station booth could also be found in the pit area (event activities were broadcast on the local 89.7 FM station).
The salt itself is hard packed and gets on everything. Coats of sunscreen are needed to protect from the sun and the reflection of the sun. Lots of drinking water is required since just being out there you can taste the salt on your lips. When the wind picks up with any gusto, you can imagine what happens. Dan explained to me that, after running his motorcycle on the flats, he will have to replace all of the bolts because of the tremendous corrosion caused by the salt.
Dan's first task was to get approval from the tech officials for him and his motorcycle to run. High speed is what events on the Salt are known for, and safety is a central issue for all drivers. Having a blind man wanting to drive independently on the track raised a lot of questions. It took all of the first day (Sunday) to get the motorcycle ready and tested before the tech folks were prepared to look at it. One advantage of the Salt is that there is a lot of open space. The tech officials allowed the team to set up a temporary quarter-mile track for Dan to practice on and to demonstrate the motorcycle to the tech officials.
Dan designed the motorcycle in his head based on his experience with vehicles and after talking to experienced Salt riders. The motorcycle was a beautiful, red, three-wheel-trike configuration. Dan machined much of the frame himself. His machine included an Aprilia RS50 engine, a five-speed transmission, and all Airtech streamlining. A small disc-shaped GPS unit was mounted on the front of the motorcycle. Sponsor logos, including those of the NFB and our Blind Driver Challenge, were displayed prominently on the body of the machine. The bike is driven with the rider lying on his chest in a racing position. A chest pad supports the weight of the upper torso, freeing the rider’s arms to feel the bike’s movements for better control. Small supports provide comfort to the rider’s shins. The seat of the motorcycle is also red and in Dan’s words “is not built for comfort.”
On Sunday afternoon we observed Dan on his machine for the first time. Sporting a cool set of protective leathers with the NFB logos, including Whozit, Dan climbed on his machine and prepared to ride. This time I was the spectator, and I began reflecting upon all of my own feelings when learning to master driving with the blind driver technologies. All of us who were on Dan’s team believed in what was possible, but I wondered whether the officials would have the same faith in a blind guy. When Dan cranked up and took the quarter mile at a speed slightly better than thirty miles an hour, I knew that, if the officials were open-minded, there was a good chance Dan would be permitted to run. After he took a number of other practice rides, my excitement grew, anticipating the real event to come.
Late Sunday evening, after the official BUB events were over for the day, Dan had the opportunity to demonstrate his skill and approach. Now is the time to pause to say that all of the event staff and officials from the BUB, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), and the The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM—International Motorcycling Federation)—who interacted with the Parker team were extremely professional, helpful, and keenly interested. It was clear that some were not really sure why a blind person would want to do what Dan was seeking to do. It was equally clear that some did not know exactly how to deal with this first-ever set of circumstances. At no time did I sense that any of the race officials were reluctant to let Dan into the event based on blindness. If Dan could demonstrate that his approach worked and that adequate safety controls were in place, they would give him a chance based on a strong code of conduct among the racing community at the Salt.
Dan's demonstration runs in front of the officials had two distinct disadvantages. The first was the roughness of the Salt. While the Salt is relatively flat, it is not well-groomed like the official track area. The second disadvantage was the wind. As evening draws closer, the winds at the Salt pick up—most riders try to make their runs early in the morning to avoid wind interference with their speed-record attempts. Dan would have to demonstrate his motorcycle at 7 p.m. when a fair amount of crosswind was blowing. Despite these two disadvantages, Dan showed true Federation determination and confidence.
After explaining the system, the safety fallbacks, and the machine’s components, Dan mounted for his demonstration ride. Dan’s guidance system is comprised of a GPS unit programmed to keep him on the centerline of his track. As he veers to the left or right of the centerline, an increasingly louder frequency sounds in the left or right ear, indicating which side of the centerline he is on. If Dan drives too far off the centerline, the motorcycle automatically shuts off. The guidance approach is effectively the audio equivalent to the drive grip in our BDC car. Since Dan would have a closed course with no obstacles, his primary job was to drive as straight as he could to find a groove where he could get the speed up as high as possible.
Dan nailed the first demonstration run, and the officials asked him to do it again. On the second run Dan just tripped the outer limit of his left boundary and the motorcycle automatically shut off. It turned out that this was useful because the officials wanted to know that this safety feature worked as the team claimed. On the next run they had the motorcycle intentionally driven toward the boundary to confirm that it would again shut down automatically. Then a couple of the officials tested the bike and Dan’s navigation system. The event officials were impressed, and they quickly approved Dan to make an official pass on Monday.
On Monday the team got to the Salt early. After prepping the motorcycle and testing all of the components, the team headed to the pre-staging area. Dan would be followed on the course by a chase truck. The primary purpose of the chase truck was to deliver the motorcycle to the starting line and get it off the course as soon as the run was over. However, the chase truck also allowed the team to monitor the system for problems and to be close to the action. Dan would have to drive a two-mile-long stretch. Mile one is to build speed, while the actual speed of the run is measured based on the start and end times achieved in mile two. Plenty of room is available after mile two to come to a safe stop. During mile one the chase truck would be directly behind Dan, but the truck would have to pull to the side before mile two to avoid tripping the timing devices.
I was honored that Dan offered me a seat in the chase truck, along with Ronnie, a key team member and the driver of the chase truck; Jennifer, Dan’s girlfriend; Patrick, the engineer who built the guidance system; and Matthew and Terry, who provided support for the motorcycle. The staging area was a classic case of “hurry up and wait.” Once the line of riders in front of us began making runs, things started happening very quickly. It reminded me a lot of waiting and waiting in the pits at Daytona until 10:55 a.m. came and things moved without any time to think. The symbolism was not lost on me as the clock advanced towards 11 a.m. local time and Dan’s turn approached.
Let me return to Daytona for a moment. People often ask me about the experience of driving at Daytona. It was truly unparalleled. It was one of the most intense, yet one of the calmest moments of my life. Maybe it is hard to describe because the adrenaline was flowing so intensely. Maybe it is difficult to articulate because I had a job to do, and, while it was fun, it was also the most pressure-filled assignment Dr. Maurer has ever given me. Maybe it is hard to capture in words because it just cannot be adequately described. All of those things are probably true, but, as I sat in the chase truck, I reflected on how different the world is after Daytona. People asked me what I was going to say when I got out of the car at the finish line in Daytona, and I had a stock of great one-liners. When the real moment came and I hit the brake, put the car in park, and honked the horn, no words were equal to the demonstration itself.
As I sat with the next person to advance our blind driver work, I finally understood why I could not adequately answer that question about Daytona. The reason is that my own thinking about the world transformed in that 1.5-mile drive around the Daytona road course. When I got out of the car and met Dr. Maurer, I no longer knew what the limits are for us as blind people. My perspective on the world changed during that drive. My understanding of the capacity we have as blind people, the tremendous imagination and innovation we can harness when we work together in the Federation, and the faith we share with each other in testing those limits transformed my whole outlook on where we can go next. In fact, it focused me on what is next and how we get there. I cannot answer the Daytona question adequately because Daytona is not the biggest thing we have done. The biggest thing is yet to come, and, if we spend too much time looking back, we might miss what is coming next.
As I ran through these reflections in my mind, I pulled my Louis Braille coin out of my pocket. I reflected that, in the moments before the drive at Daytona, I was keenly aware that I was the only person that could screw the whole thing up, but that there could be no greater opportunity than to be a pioneer. That coin was with me during my drive at Daytona. I quietly handed Dan my Braille coin and asked him to carry it with him as a symbol of the bond of faith that we share with each other in the Federation.
At approximately 11 a.m. mountain time on Monday, August 26, Dan Parker kicked off from the starting line and headed off on mile one. He started at a steady pace and, as he approached the beginning of mile two, he began to find his groove. He was going fast enough that the chase truck had lost pace and needed to hustle to catch back up. Early in mile one Dan was, at most, fourteen feet off the centerline. During mile two Dan stayed within four feet of the centerline, and toward the end he began to “let it out” and push his bike to go faster. He completed the first historic independent run by a blind person at Bonneville with an officially recorded speed of 55.331 MPH.
This blind driver was inspired by what I witnessed on the Salt that day. Dan handed me my coin back, and I wondered where we might go next. Dan and I spent some time speculating about creating a Blind Driver Challenge Racing League out on the Salt, getting a junior dragster equipped with technology so blind youth could run the Salt, and all sorts of other wonderful ideas. Dan never did get to make a second run due to time constraints, and I am certain he would have bettered his speed by at least ten miles per hour on the second pass. Nevertheless, we had an opportunity to speculate about what is ahead for us as blind people and how we might get there. In Dan’s words, “We achieved what we came to do, and we can now begin thinking about what is next.”
I did not bother to press Dan on what it felt like to race Bonneville. In one sense I am certain it was one of the most thrilling experiences he has ever had in his life. In another sense I am certain that he will not be able adequately to articulate it. Dan Parker is a member of the NFB. His spirit, determination, and eagerness to give back radiate from every conversation. I am quite certain he is focused on what is next. If I were willing to bet my Louis Braille coin on it, I am certain that the blind will not be disappointed with the road ahead. Our Federation continues our journey of innovation and adventure. We can now add high-speed racing to our suite of blind driver achievements and a new Federationist ready to put his foot on the accelerator of progress. When you meet Dan Parker at an upcoming Federation event, remember to welcome him to the Federation before you press him on what it was like to run the Salt.
by Mark A. Riccobono, Sandy Halverson, Kayleigh Joiner, and Raveena Ali
From the Editor: Mark Riccobono is the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, the husband of the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and the father of three children, two of whom are blind. He was the moderator of the panel on Saturday, July 6, 2013, that discussed one of the most exciting programs the Federation has devised and run. Here is what he and other members of his panel said to the convention:
Mark Riccobono: “It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” This quote is taken from author Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist—a novel that is now described as an eternal testament to the transformative power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts. The Alchemist was first released when I was a rising senior in high school. At that time my vision was not much better than today—20/1000 on a good day in one eye—but I did not think of myself as a blind person. I did not read The Alchemist when it first came out because reading was a painful strain for me. I did not know what my dreams were because in my heart I did not believe that I had the ability to pursue them. I did not accept the opportunity to learn Braille because I did not have any idea why I would want to learn it. That year was the first time a teacher had ever raised the idea of Braille with me. The expectation was not that I would learn Braille but simply that they could teach me Braille if I wanted to learn it. Why would I want to? What would I gain? How would it help me pursue my dreams? No one presented answers to these mysterious questions. I was left with a riddle that had no obvious answer.
Three years later I found the National Federation of the Blind, and instantly I had a circle of blind friends who took the time to teach me that I had something to offer, that I could pursue my own dreams, and that there were many great reasons to want to learn Braille. In The Alchemist Coelho writes, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” This sentiment articulates my experience with the love and faith I found in members of the Federation and their expectations for me as a blind person. One of the many gifts I will always treasure from this organization is that my blind friends took the time to teach me why I would want to learn Braille and then to teach me how to read and write the code itself. Since learning Braille more than fifteen years ago, I have joined my blind brothers and sisters in seeking innovative ways to change the expectations related to Braille instruction for children and adults.
In the journey presented in The Alchemist, we find that, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” This is true of our movement as well—maybe the way to state it is “When you dream of something, all the Federation conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Members of our Maryland affiliate were tired of blind children being refused Braille instruction, and they had a dream of raising the expectations for these youth. In fact, it was Jackie Anderson, this year’s NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, and another blind mom who feared the low expectations the school system would have for their children and dreamt of building a better model for Braille literacy through the Federation. In the summer of 2008 the first Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program was held in Maryland, and it was immediately clear that this program had the potential to change expectations for the education of blind children around the country. BELL is a two-week summer program to provide young blind and low-vision children with fun, intensive Braille instruction in an environment of high expectations and positive attitudes with role models from the National Federation of the Blind.
In The Alchemist we are offered the observation that “Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.” After witnessing the impact of the first BELL Program, we brought the model into the Jernigan Institute, added some new components, hired some quality Braille instructors, and piloted our approach in Maryland and Georgia during the summer of 2009. Two affiliates were still not enough. Today we find rising expectations around Braille with the NFB BELL Program being offered this summer in almost 40 percent of our affiliates, but we will not have realized the transformative nature of our dreams until the bell rings for Braille literacy throughout every affiliate in our Federation.
This morning we offer you different perspectives on the BELL Program to demonstrate why we all should be proud of our accomplishments and committed to the progress yet to be made.
Our first presenter represents the long-time committed members of the Federation who understand the importance of Braille and who want to change the expectations. For even the most committed, the notion of undertaking the BELL Program may feel daunting. Here to share her experience, to invite you to raise your own expectations for what we can do together, and to confront your fears about leading the way with the NFB BELL Program is the president of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the lead coordinator for the NFB of Virginia BELL Programs, Sandy Halverson.
Sandy Halverson: I’m going to tell you how I went from skeptic (which I’m usually not) to sold on BELL, which I totally am now—how blind kids benefit and why your state should find ways to become a part of our National Federation of the Blind BELL ringers.
The NFB of Virginia first began to consider conducting a BELL Program near the end of 2009. After a conference call to discuss some of our concerns with the Jernigan Institute education team, we decided that we simply couldn’t afford to participate. So I was thinking we were done with all that BELL business when our president, Fred Schroeder, said, “Sandra…”—I knew what was coming because he never calls me Sandra—“I want a BELL Program in 2010, and I want you to coordinate it.”
So I said, “All right,” but I was sure he was crazy, and I was certain it would not work.
Throughout the BELL volunteer coordinator training weekend at our National Center, we talked about funding—we will never raise that much. We talked about recruiting five or six students from ages four to eleven for two weeks—we will never find them; we talked about the supplies, food, and volunteers that would be needed—not happening.
However, since problem-solving is one of my strengths, and I like the challenge of a project with lots of detail, I ditched my negative thinking and decided to act positively. After all, if I could come up with the hardcopy Braille system we have used since 1980 for tracking Washington Seminar appointment and report data collection, surely I could whip this BELL project into shape.
So what does the coordinator do? Identify members in your affiliate, including your parents of blind children division—people who are passionate about blind kids; like fundraising; enjoy being out in the community; and have good Braille, travel, and organizational skills. Someone in that group is likely to be a member of a church that has school and playground facilities that meet our needs, and lots of churches do not charge for their use, though, like the NFB, they appreciate donations. Our members who manage vending locations will often contribute water, snacks, lunch, or whatever else they can; ask them. Become very familiar with the curriculum. You won’t be teaching all the classes, but the reading, writing, blindness skills, cooking, and craft projects will determine the supplies, transportation, and volunteers you need.
Our funding comes from local Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, our local chapters, the board of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, one school district—a first-time occurrence for us—and this year for the first time a mayor's commission on the disabled has said that they will cover the participation cost of two children in one of our programs this summer, a contact made by our scholarship winner, Tasha Hubbard. I certainly had never thought of that committee, but will from now on.
The coordinator recruits a teacher of blind students and helps find parents. Before you decide you don’t know any teachers of blind students or parents with blind children, our national office maintains databases of Braille Pals families, Braille Readers Are Leaders contest participants, free white cane recipients, Future Reflections readers, and those who receive American Action Fund Free Braille Books. Your library for the blind and state rehabilitation agency will often mail to families in targeted zip codes, but you get only the names of those who choose to register or contact you directly. Our Jernigan Institute staff will also help with information about teachers of blind students.
Our first Virginia BELL Program did happen in 2010, and Virginia has been ringing bells throughout the state ever since. Jackie Otwell, whom many of you know, was a godsend to Mike Fish and me that year because Mike was a new teacher of blind students, and I was a first-time coordinator. Jackie Anderson, Casey Robertson, and Sheena Manuel are honorary Virginians and phenomenal teachers who are passionate about their work, believe in our positive philosophy of blindness, and love working with blind children.
So what did we do in our first program? None of our students had been to a library containing a large collection of children’s Braille books, so we decided to go to the Martin Luther King Library in DC. Our six kids, ranging in age from four to eleven, and lots of volunteers, one per child, used our canes to walk the two blocks to the bus stop, boarded a bus, got off at a Metro station, had lunch at McDonald’s, where our bill was so high I had to run my debit card twice, and rode the Metro. Our students used canes for the first time on escalators and walked several blocks, only to learn that we were in the wrong place. I think the adults had more trouble with the ninety-plus temperature and equally high humidity than the kids did. But retracing our steps and walking even farther was not a good option, so I started handing out money like a drug dealer, organized our crowd in cabs, and off to the library we went. The kids had a great time and were absolutely worn out by the time their parents took them home at the end of the day. Our youngest student Hannah said, “I went on a bus, the Metro, and a cab. I want to ride in an airplane.” I told her she’d have to talk with her mom about that.
One of our kids ate kosher meals and snacks, so her parents packed her lunch items separately so that she’d have to put her sandwich together like everyone else. Kosher ingredients were used in our cooking projects as well. We also went to a museum, a farmers’ market, a local chocolate shop, and a boat ride to learn about Eastern Shore of Virginia water life. One of our kids was spotted in the grocery store with his mother using the cane he had resisted at the beginning of our program. The field trips were not organized by the sighted for us; we did that ourselves. We didn’t drive the bus or other transportation, but we talked about how, as blind people, we could get the information we needed and how we would transact our business with the drug store proprietor; McDonald’s; and Wal-Mart, where we bought ingredients for our closing ceremony ice cream social using Braille cards indicating each student’s purchase. We’re teaching blind kids how to have fun and build self-confidence in their home and school lives.
So what’s in it for the kids? Karman and Jada, two of our NFB of Virginia participants, are here attending their first national convention. They do not attend the same school and never met until last year at BELL. Now they talk to each other every day, probably more often than their parents know. They will be participating in our 2013 Virginia Beach BELL Program.
Recruiting is part of everything we do. Each of us was recruited by someone to become a part of this organization, so I was pleased to recruit Diane McGeorge after our first year of BELL and have gone on to talk with folks from Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, and California, to name a few states. I cannot commend our Jernigan Institute staff enough for their commitment to this program--the curriculum and the resources are always available to us.
Coordinating a successful program takes time—talking with parents on multiple occasions until their child has been registered, recruiting volunteers, finding the location, reviewing IEPs and consent forms, resolving food and transportation concerns, and all the other stuff, but a good coordinator delegates and follows up, confirming that all tasks have been completed. You get those guidelines from the curriculum, too. Thank you, Dr. Maurer, for your support of and commitment to this program to bring our message of hope to the next generation of young blind children. Thank you, Fred, for causing me to do something I didn’t think would work, and thank you, John, for not complaining when I have one more call to return, more BELL supplies are on our front porch, and you’ll have to bring home dinner again. This is why we do what we do, and may there be more of us next year singing “Ring My Bell!” Thank you.
Mark Riccobono: Our BELL Programs create opportunities to engage with outstanding Braille instructors who had not known the Federation previously and provide a means for us to train future teachers whose broader impact on the educational system will be the change we want to see. Our next presenter is one of those future teachers who will bring the spirit and high expectations of the NFB BELL Program to her work in the field. A blind woman, who herself has had to overcome not receiving early Braille instruction in the educational system and whose mentoring and passion for Braille now helps fuel our NFB of Texas BELL Program, here is Kayleigh Joiner.
Kayleigh Joiner: Like many other students in this country, I wasn’t taught Braille because of my limited amount of residual vision. My TVI deemed me a visual learner, which made me feel like a broken sighted student. Secretly I began teaching myself Braille, through distance education courses from the Hadley School for the Blind, when I was thirteen years old. My TVI chastised me for teaching myself Braille. After a five-year battle with the school district, I finally received Braille instruction my senior year of high school. During this battle I realized that I wanted to become a TVI so that I could make sure that no other blind students would have to go through the same struggles I did. I know firsthand the challenges that come with visual learning for blind students.
In the beginning of fourth grade my mom began to doubt whether large print would be effective for me. She saw me struggle to keep up with my sighted peers. When she approached the school district about these issues, she was blamed for these troubles because she wanted me to do the same amount of work as my sighted peers. The school district wanted to exempt me from standardized testing and reduce the amount of work as a solution. They never considered Braille as an option or an equalizer. She was told, “You don’t want her to look different.” (As if having my face an inch from the book didn’t make me look different already.) In junior high and high school it would take me anywhere from four to six hours to complete my homework every day. The IEP team wanted to blame the time spent on the fact that I was taking several AP classes, instead of placing the blame where it belonged: on the choice of reading medium. This is why I am so passionate about the BELL Program.
I want to help reverse the Braille literacy crisis by teaching Braille and other blindness skills to all students, including those with residual vision. I want to ensure that our future generation of blind students is literate. I want my students to believe in themselves. I want to lead by example to show that blind people can be independent, productive members of society.
Even today blind students are being told that Braille is hard to learn. However, through activities such as Braille Twister, drawing pictures with your Perkins Brailler, and beach-ball Braille, the students in the BELL Program realize that Braille is fun and not hard to learn. Some students may be told that Braille is slow; however, in the BELL Program students hear competent blind adults reading Braille and realize that Braille is anything but slow. Through the Captain Whozit skit the students learn that the long white cane is a symbol of independence. They also learn about the positive and negative ways that blind people can be portrayed in books and other media. It is our goal for the students to leave the program with improved skills and a brighter outlook on their future.
I first got involved with the BELL Program in 2010 and 2011 when I shadowed Emily Gibbs, our lead teacher of blind students. In 2012 Richie Flores gave me the opportunity to teach at our three BELL Programs. During that summer, not only was I teaching blind students Braille, but I was also learning how to be a better teacher. This program has reinforced my belief that even students with additional disabilities can still benefit from learning the alternative skills of blindness. One student that I had last summer didn’t believe that he could successfully pour water wearing sleepshades due to his cerebral palsy. Because of my belief in him and his abilities, he was able to accomplish the task with great pride. Another student who was cutting up fruit for a fruit kabob didn’t think that blind people could be chefs. This student didn’t consider that cutting up fruit was something that a chef would do. I was proud to help broaden her mind about the jobs that blind people have.
This summer I had the opportunity to teach nonvisual skills in our two BELL Programs in Texas. During the beginning of the week I noticed that one student was showing some resistance when it came to wearing sleepshades. He was on the verge of tears. I explained to him that wearing sleepshades helps develop our other senses. Lo and behold, by the end of the week during our sound scavenger hunt this student kept his sleep shades down, and his confidence in using his cane grew. It brings me such joy to see the growth in the students from the beginning to the end of the program. Some students are using their canes more than before, while others have gone from knowing no Braille letters to learning the first five.
One aspect of the BELL Program that distinguishes it from other programs is that blind adults are teaching and modeling the skills of blindness for the BELL students. This program is different from other day programs for blind children because the staff has high expectations for the students and they encourage the students to be independent.
The BELL Program is a great opportunity for those who want to pursue a degree in education. This program allows future teachers to gain experience in working with young children, implementing classroom management techniques, and planning curriculum.
Working the BELL Program is one of the highlights of my summer. By providing these students with a foundation in Braille, we are helping to ensure that they have a bright future, full of limitless possibilities. These students are the future of our organization, and I am proud to do my part in giving them the skills they will need to succeed and live an independent life.
Mark Riccobono: My wife Melissa became president of our Maryland affiliate shortly after the first BELL Program, and Braille enrichment has been a significant part of our summer ever since. We did not know that two years later we would find an even deeper reason to build the dream of the NFB BELL Program. Our first daughter Oriana was born in May 2010, and, when the doctor first mentioned to me that her eyes did not respond as they expected, I immediately remembered the pain of my own struggle for literacy. The difference this time was that I already knew why Braille was important to learn and that the NFB BELL Program had raised the expectations for early Braille instruction. Our daughter is now three, and we are beginning to teach her the code. Next summer we expect her to be ringing the bell in our Baltimore BELL Program. Before I introduce our last speaker and our reason for building this movement, let me take a moment to thank my brothers and sisters in the Federation for giving me literacy, and on behalf of my family I want to publicly thank Jackie Anderson, Sharon Maneki, and the other members of our Maryland affiliate who have made it possible for our daughter to ring the BELL someday—you have helped ensure that my daughter has greater opportunities than I had, and that is why Melissa and I will not stop until all blind children have the same opportunity.
Now for our star BELL ringer. A rising second grader at Springdale Park Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, who knows that Braille is knowledge and knowledge is power. Here to tell us about what the NFB BELL Program means to her is Raveena Alli.
Raveena Alli: Good morning, my Federation family. Hope everyone is doing well and had a wonderful week so far. I know I did.
My name is Raveena Alli, and I am six years old, but very soon to be seven; my birthday is on July 22. I am about to enter second grade at Springdale Park Elementary, which is in Atlanta, Georgia. So in my hand I am holding a peach: can I hear it for my Georgia family please!
So, first of all, before I get started, I have three jokes to share, are you ready for this….I can’t hear you….Are you ready for this? Jokes:
Why did the boy bring a ladder to school?
He wanted to go to high school.
Why was 6 afraid of 7?
Because: 7 8 9.
Where do pencils go for vacation?
So today I am here to talk to you about the BELL Program. As you heard, BELL stands for Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning. Say it very slowly. The BELL Program teaches and supports Braille literacy among blind children like me. I attended my first BELL Program two years ago when I was four, and it was so much fun. The two-week summer program introduced me to that super heavy piece of machinery called a Braillewriter. The Braillewriter is now and will always be one of my very best friends because it has taught me how to write Braille. I also played with muffin tins and balls to help me learn the Braille cell. That was really cool. It took a little while for me to learn my alphabet, but now I have moved onto contracted Braille, and I can even make birthday cards and holiday cards with my Braillewriter.
I really enjoyed the BELL Program because, in addition to learning Braille, we did arts and crafts, a Braille dance which I would really like to show you, but I might fall off the stage, and we wouldn’t want that. I also enjoyed chatting as you can see and meeting new friends, and we talked a lot at lunchtime, and we went on field trips like to the Children’s Museum. Besides learning to read and write Braille, the teacher and volunteers taught us about confidence and making sure we use our canes at all times to get around. They said we have to be independent, independent, Independent!
At camp we also did a lot of role plays, teaching others to be polite and courteous, for example, letting people at the grocery store know that it is ok to talk directly to me. They don’t have to talk through my mom to ask about me or my cane. I can politely answer and speak up for myself. We also did role plays to teach a sighted person to ask if help is needed and not just grab my arm; that’s not really cool. I might need to take their arm, not the other way around.
Please stand up and repeat after me:
Braille is cool!
It’s a wonderful tool.
I like BELL.
Can’t you tell!
A special shout out to my Georgia president--Mr. Garrick Scott. [applause]
Mark Riccobono: There you have the journey of the NFB BELL Program. You do not have to be an alchemist to turn dreams into reality. You need the love, faith, imagination, and commitment that we find in this convention hall—the dynamic combination of elements that come together to make up the National Federation of the Blind. Let the word go out from this day forward that we will not stop until the bell rings for literacy, freedom, and higher expectations for the blind in every community in our nation. Let’s go for Braille!
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Editor’s Note: Nineteen affiliates conducted BELL Programs during the summer of 2013. Those affiliates are California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
by Casey Robertson
From the Editor: Casey Robertson is a teacher of the blind who lives in Mississippi. Active followers of our Internet mailing lists will remember the updates about the campaign in that state to pass a Braille bill and about a video generated for the Mississippi Legislature featuring young children reading Braille. Casey Robertson was a primary mover in that effort. She was slated to speak later on the convention agenda but, as happens from time to time, agenda items get moved, and she was called ahead of time to make her presentation on July 5. Here is what she said to the 2013 convention and the remarks President Maurer made immediately following:
Good morning, Federation family and friends. I am here this morning, but, if you look at your agenda, you might see 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. [applause]
I am Casey Robertson, a teacher of blind students with a master’s degree from Louisiana Tech, [applause] and I am currently a doctoral student at Walden University.
Last year a dream came true for three women in our affiliate and was backed by a great state president, Sam Gleese. We wanted to change the way blind students were taught in Mississippi. We were met with a lot of opposition. We were told, "We do not believe that blind students learn as much or as well as their sighted peers." I ask you today, do you believe in blind students? [scattered cheers] That wasn't strong enough. Do you believe blind students can learn? [applause] I thought maybe you might've been taking a drink of your coffee or something, so I was going to check by asking again.
We approached the legislature and asked them if they would work with us on a bill. The response was, "Well, we have a state school for the blind. Don't they meet our blind students’ service needs?"
Our answer was, "No, they do not, but, even if they did, what we want is to improve services for blind students in public schools." So a legislator, Tom Miles, was gracious enough to meet with us. As we sat down with him, I realized education began right there. He was not aware that we had blind students in public education, so we knew we had a challenge from the beginning. We started teaching legislators about blindness. We did this through emails, through meetings, through posts, through flyers—we taught them everything there is to know about blind students and how they learn.
One of our most successful strategies was to let blind students speak for themselves. [cheers] As a teacher of the blind I can do many things, but I cannot speak as a blind child speaks. So I gathered blind students, and we went to the state capitol. We had meetings with legislators. When they said, "But Braille is slow—your opposition is saying Braille is too slow for us to invest in," I let my students read for them. [cheers] Some members of the education committee exclaimed: "I can't read print that fast." So we killed the myth that Braille is slow, again by letting the students show their stuff. [applause]
The second argument advanced by the opposition was, "We don't have the teachers. We can't proclaim that these kids need Braille because we don't have teachers to serve them."
Our answer was "That's not our problem." That's what we were there to change. Soon the legislature began to see the wisdom of our beliefs, and I will never forget the ah-ha moment when one of them called me one night at home. He said, "Casey, I get it. I finally get it. These kids can learn; these kids are the same as their sighted peers. What have we been doing?" [applause]
Suddenly he was a man on a mission. Before our bill hit the floor, it had twenty-six bipartisan cosponsors. When it passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives the first time, the vote was a unanimous 100 percent support.
Now many of you are thinking, "Well, we have a Braille bill in our state; what makes yours so special?" Let me tell you some of the important parts it contains. Our bill now requires, just as federal law does, that all students who have 20/200 vision and are legally blind receive Braille while they're waiting on assessments. [cheers] Our teachers can no longer just give any type of assessment. They have to give a research-based assessment for blind and low-vision students. This is important because the National Federation of the Blind worked with Louisiana Tech and the Institute on Blindness to develop the very first research-based tool, the National Reading Media Assessment. I kind of knew ahead of time (but they didn't know) that we had the only research-based assessment. Now they use our assessment to decide whether students receive Braille or not. [applause]
A battle that the National Federation of the Blind has fought for many years is to guarantee textbooks on time. Our bill says that it is against the law for students not to have textbooks at the same time (on the first day of school) as their sighted peers. It's good to talk the talk, but have they followed through? I can assure you that my students have their textbooks at their home school right now, and most were delivered before school was out last year for this coming school year. We had never gotten workbooks in the state of Mississippi. I have workbooks for my students to start school with in August. [applause]
One of the greatest battles we had to fight was to require that teachers show proficiency in Braille. We actually had teachers show up and fight against the legislation by saying that they did not need to be proficient in Braille to teach blind students. We asked the teachers and the legislators, "How can you teach something that you are not proficient in?” [applause]
I looked at the legislators, many of whom had kids of their own, and I said, "Would you allow your student to be taught by a teacher who could not read?" There was absolute consensus that they would not. They expected their children's teachers to be very competent and efficient in the tasks that they were teaching, especially something as fundamental as reading and writing. So from now on, in the state of Mississippi, you cannot become a TVI (teacher of the visually impaired) unless you have shown proficiency in Braille literacy. [applause]
Because of surgery, I was unable to be there the day that the bill was passed on the floor of the house, but I made sure beforehand that our gallery was filled with blind students and blind adults. When the bill was passed, we had a standing ovation from the floor, which rarely happens in the legislature. One legislator asked to address the floor and was given permission. He looked up to the gallery, turned to the blind people, and said that, in his thirty-seven years as a representative, these were the most well-informed advocates he had ever seen, that they made it clear what they needed and what should be done, and that this was one time when it was really clear to him how he could vote to improve education. He concluded by saying that he was grateful for the advocacy, grateful he could help, and grateful that he could now say that he believes in blind children.
Unlike most bills, ours did not contain a request for money. We gave the legislature ways that they could provide students with an effective education with the money they were already spending through the state school for the blind and the textbooks they were receiving. However, because our bill was so well constructed and well received, we had members of the financial committee approach us, and through their initiative they added to our bill a fifty-thousand-dollar appropriation each year to train teachers who are in the field but who are not currently proficient in Braille. [applause]
Now let's look at what has changed for those students who gave me a reason to believe that blind children could learn: my fifteen-year-old deaf-blind child who was sitting in a public school and was illiterate because no one believed she could read—she is now reading Braille; my third grader, who was hanging in a world between print and Braille and was not literate in either one, is now proficient in Braille. Because of our bill the two sixth graders who had never had Nemeth math are now proficient in reading and are at grade level in their math classes. [applause] Our bill also requires that the state department of education recognize Braille and orientation and mobility as subjects in their core curriculum. No longer can a student be in high school and be denied orientation and mobility or Braille during the school day based on the argument that it takes away from core curriculum classes.
Many of our students are helped by the National Reading Media Assessment. Without this research-based assessment we are neglecting a lot of students who are in schools and using large print, struggling with large print, and really need to change their reading medium. The third grader I spoke of, who is now reading Braille—the school did not know what to do with her. The National Reading Media Assessment showed that she was a Braille reader, and, once we changed her reading media, she was able to become proficient and literate, where she had never been able to read before. At the time we thought that this was a very small part of our bill—to ask for a research-based assessment—but it turned out to be huge. The teachers in our state are now having to go back and retest their students with low vision and blindness to see where they fall in the reading media assessment. Our federal quota numbers are coming up because we're finding more students who were in the wrong medium and struggling, but now we can allow them to be successful readers.
A team made up of staff from the National Federation of the Blind and Louisiana Tech will be presenting the National Reading Media Assessment this July at the National Special Education Conference to teach special education leaders about how to assess a blind student properly and incorporate Braille into the curriculum.
I ask you now, do you believe blind children can learn? [loud cheers] My belief in blind children and blind people came from the National Federation of the Blind. I look at the adults here, and I see what my students need to know to be successful blind adults. I want to thank each and every one of you for being here and helping us change what it means to be blind in Mississippi and across the nation. [cheers and applause]
I also urge you not to sit still. Natalie told us yesterday about how sitting still is killing us. Well, sitting still in our affiliates is killing the chance that you can change your state law. I ask you not to wait on the National Federation of the Blind at the national level to fight every battle for us. I want you, as members of your affiliates, to get together a group to look at your Braille bill, see what needs to be changed, contact me or the Mississippi affiliate; and we can help you rewrite your bill and tell you the steps to get it changed. Don't sit and wait for someone to change what it means to be blind in your state—get moving, and make that change happen. [applause]
You might say, "As an affiliate we don't have the money to change the Braille bill." Well I can tell you that, for less than a thousand dollars, we changed the entire educational system for blind students in Mississippi. [cheers]
Our bill is not only helping blind students, it's also helping all students because they're learning more about blind people in their schools. As the result of our bill, our current school for the blind is being reorganized. Not only did we affect the public school system, we affected the state school for the blind and all blind students in Mississippi. I'm asking you to look at your state education acts as they pertain to blind people, seek out help if you need it, and make the changes that need to be made so that your students are getting the best possible instruction in Braille, large print, or whatever their reading medium is. Make reading a core curriculum subject.
Thank you today for listening to my story and to my thoughts as to how you can change what it means to be blind. I often have people ask me, "How did you learn so much about blindness?" I say, "Well, number one, I watch blind people, and, number two, I was trained by the best in the country—Louisiana Tech." I ask you to go out, believe in blind children, and make a change.
President Maurer concluded this presentation by saying: So here you are, a teacher of the blind, a parent of a deaf-blind person; you write a proposed law, and you cause it to be introduced in the legislature. You get it adopted unanimously, you get it funded, you have a standing ovation on the floor of one of the legislative bodies—we need you in Washington DC. And all of this you did because you believe in the people who needed you. I cannot but admire that kind of courage.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: In June of this year we published an article by Chris Nusbaum entitled “From Doubt to Dedication: My Journey in the Federation.” Chris’s recounting of events that happened to him when he attended a camp sponsored by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland has occasioned several responses, some from the staff of BISM, whose perception of the camp differs greatly from Chris’s. Two questions have been respectfully put to me. One is why I ran such an article without first fact-checking it. The second is whether running the article means that this is the Federation’s view of the camp and of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.
When we run an article in the Monitor that we consider an investigative piece, we do our best to determine that all of the statements made are factual. Of course only a small number of articles fall into this category. Many clearly are opinion pieces—here was my day participating in a walk to fight leukemia, and here is how it felt as a blind person; here was my trip through an airport with the reactions of one woman to my journey.
I published the article by Chris Nusbaum believing it was clear that this was an opinion piece being told from the perspective of a teenager and relating his perceptions as a child of six. Had I made this clear in the headnote, no one would have considered that this might be a Federation assessment of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland or the camp Chris attended. I consciously refrained from adding this cautionary note because my intention was to let Chris’s article be read without apology or distance. Sharon Maneki has written to provide a different perspective about the camp, and, in the interest of fairness and in an attempt to paint a clearer picture of the camp, I gladly print it here:
A competent historian tries to get as many perspectives or views as possible when writing about a particular event. When writing about specific events in the US Civil War, a historian may not limit himself to describing the perspectives of Union soldiers, but may also include those of Confederate soldiers as well as slaves and plantation owners. Although the article “From Doubt to Dedication: My Journey in the Federation,” by Chris Nusbaum, in the June 2013 issue of the Braille Monitor, was intended as a personal reflection rather than historical commentary, I would like to offer another perspective on KIDS Camp (Kids Independence Development Summer Camp) that differs from Chris’s perspective.
KIDS Camp was a one-week, overnight camp sponsored jointly by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) and the Parents Division of the NFB of Maryland. KIDS Camp began in 1996 and ran consecutively for about ten years. I believe Chris was enrolled in KIDS Camp in 2004, when he was six years old. As the president of the Maryland affiliate during the years when this program was offered, I always visited the camp to work with the children and to support camp staff. I genuinely enjoyed my time at KIDS Camp.
I was present on the night that Chris described in his well-written article. As Chris mentioned, it was the last night of the program. At that time Chris was a timid traveler, as are many six-year-old children. Chris would stand and wait for direction and was reluctant to move at all. Camp staff wanted him to walk out to the campfire on his own. Contrary to his recollection, he was never left in the building by himself. Loretta White, the director of the program, was always nearby, waiting for Chris, and other reluctant souls, to inch their way forward. I observed Loretta bringing Chris to the campfire. She knew that, even though Chris did not accomplish the task of independent travel that night, he needed his supper. She also knew how much Chris enjoyed stories read by Kit Bloom, the Children’s Librarian at the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Loretta White is an excellent teacher. She is also the mother of several severely disabled children. Because of her guidance and leadership, many blind students acquired skills and confidence at an earlier age. Today her children are remarkably independent adults despite their disabilities. The BISM staff members who assisted Loretta were top notch.
Differences of opinion about past events as recalled by a young child and a teacher are not uncommon. Some children respond to a teacher’s guidance immediately, some may remember a teacher’s actions and may benefit from them years later, and some children may never remember a teacher’s influence at all. As I look back on my KIDS Camp experiences, perhaps Chris simply was not ready for KIDS camp at that time. But we must not give in to our doubts; we must be willing to expect more from our children than they sometimes believe they can do.I am very glad that we were able to have the KIDS Camp in Maryland. I was sad to see it discontinued. I am grateful that today we have the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Programs nationwide and that BISM offers programs for older blind children. I regret that Chris feels that he had a bumpy start on his Federation journey. However, I stand by my earlier prediction that Chris Nusbaum will grow, mature, and become an effective leader in our movement.
by Gregg Harper
From the Editor: Congressman Gregg Harper is the lead cosponsor of the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013. Through the courageous act of sponsoring this long overdue reform, we see his commitment; in the presentation he made on the afternoon of July 5, we see his passion. Here is what he said to the 2013 convention:
Thank you so much, God bless you. Wow, what a great introduction and what a warm welcome. I'm so glad to be here with you today, and what an incredible group. I'm telling you—this is amazing. What a great turnout, and to be here with so many of you—I can't tell you how excited my wife Sydney and I are to be here. Sydney is seated on the front row just to my left, and she's the one in our family who always does the heavy lifting. Looking at your program, my goodness, what a great lineup it is. And to see friends around the room—this is a special time for me.
Sydney and I left this morning about six o'clock to fly here and be with you today. I have to say this: that is probably the best reception that any member of the Congress has gotten in a long time. Now this may come as a little bit of a surprise to you, but Congress is not real popular right now. It's true. In fact, I was on a flight home a couple months ago, and somebody asked what I did, and I told them I was a lawyer.
I know we've got a great group here from Mississippi, and I notice we've got people from all fifty states here—everybody's here. Is it okay if I say "ya'll"? Now some of you that don't have the privilege of being from the Deep South, I'm going to help you just a little bit, okay? If I say "ya'll," that can be singular or plural. If I say "all ya'll," that's plural. Now if I say "all ya'lls'," that's plural possessive.
You know I have to say that when I first arrived in Washington, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many organizations there are that are devoted to working on disability issues. A few organizations stand out within the advocacy community—the National Federation of the Blind is one of those groups. Now in fairness, Rev. Sam Gleese of Mississippi deserves much of the credit for making your organization's priorities known in my office. Like many of you, Sam grew up not quite understanding low vision. In fact as a child he thought that everybody had difficulty seeing. But it was only after Sam fully lost sight that he comprehended the value of encouraging others to overcome their struggles through persistence and devotion. And it is this commitment that has made Sam one of my home state's most respected and esteemed self-advocates. Ladies and gentlemen, please give it up for Sam Gleese!
I noticed on the program Ms. Casey Robertson. Is Casey Robertson here in the audience somewhere, or maybe coming in? You know, that's another great person we'll hear from from Mississippi, Hamilton, Mississippi, which is special to me because my PawPaw and MeMaw lived just north of there. My first time I ever drove as a kid, I drove his pickup truck when I was fourteen to Hamilton to get his hair cut. So I'm looking forward to that.
I've also been inspired by the selfless advocacy demonstrated by Anil Lewis; what a great friend. Many of you know Anil's story about how he has not allowed his own visual impairment to slow his goals and aspirations and how he tirelessly fights for disability issues on Capitol Hill. But you should also know that his personality and warmth are unmatched in Washington. It's quite refreshing to work with someone overflowing with optimism. Ya'll, I have to say, help me thank Anil for his great commitment.
Now, if I may, I'd like to share just a little bit about my family's story. You know there's always something personal that always drives us, isn't there? As you know, my job as a father has challenged me to help individuals living with disabilities. My son has inspired my mission as a lawmaker to promote innovative federal policies. My wife Sydney and I celebrate thirty-four years of marriage this August. We actually dated five and a half years before we got married. We would've got married sooner, but we were afraid to stay by ourselves.
I will have to tell you that we did not want children. We wanted grandchildren. We are blessed with two children: our son Livingston, who is twenty-four, and our daughter Maggie. Maggie, age twenty-one, is one of the most caring and driven individuals that I've ever known. In fact she's so motivated to begin her career that she recently graduated a year early from Mississippi State University [cheers from the Mississippi delegation]. I see we've got some Bulldog fans back there in the Mississippi section. But she's spending this summer interning at a law firm in Mississippi with former Governor Haley Barber, and in just a few weeks Sydney and I will put Maggie on a plane to France, where she'll work with EuroCopter as an intern for six months. While we're thrilled about this opportunity, like all parents we're having to adjust to the reality of her being so far away from Mom and Dad.
Now our son Livingston (twenty-four) lives with a situation called "fragile X syndrome." It's a genetic abnormality which affects over a hundred thousand Americans and is the most common inherited cause of intellectual disabilities. He recently completed his second year at Mississippi State University in a special program called the Access Program. This curriculum provides students with intellectual disabilities on-campus instruction and independent living, employment, and social skills. This summer Livingston's working two jobs at our local public library and the parks and recreation department. But during the school year he's living in the dorm at Mississippi State, eating in the cafeteria, going to classes—we think—he says he is.
In large part, our life journey of raising a special needs child is why Sydney and I are here with ya'll here today. As I mentioned, Livingston has fragile X syndrome. It took my wife and me a long time to accept the diagnosis, but, once we did, we began to see our son for who he is, for all of the exceptional qualities he holds as an individual, for the positive impact and the blessing he is to so many people that he comes in contact with each day, and for the many lessons that he has taught both of us in our journey as parents. We're taught that the Lord is no respecter of persons. I learned that from my son firsthand, because all during school, during inclusion classes—he treated the superintendent or the principal of the school the same as he treated the worker in the cafeteria.
We've come a long way—thank goodness—since the days when institutionalization was the predominant path for citizens with significant disabilities. But even today, after many advancements, additional public policy reform is required with respect to working, earning a living wage, saving for your future needs, and pursuing your own self-directed personal and professional goals that individuals without disabilities enjoy. Real transformation of publicly-financed supports for children and for people with disabilities not only requires a major shift, but it also requires bold, courageous, and innovative leadership. We must foster leaders at every level of government who not only share a common-value framework that believes in the competency and full citizenship of people with disabilities but also possess the courage to stand up to those entities and individuals who continue to perpetuate the old model of cyclical poverty and dependency. This means calling out those entities who continue to push for the preservation of their own financial self-interest at the expense of citizens with disabilities. This means making tough choices in the face of adversity. This means taking risk in order to build a better future for the next generation of citizens with disabilities. I believe that everyone—where appropriate, where it makes sense—should have the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary educational experience. Even more important, they should have a fair shot at an integrated employment opportunity as an adult.
This is why I joined the dialog on Capitol Hill about the importance of creating a comprehensive approach to the investment of public resources aimed at successfully transitioning youth with significant disabilities into adulthood. This effort has been initiated by an organization called the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, a coalition of over a dozen disability groups. And a conversation that has been taking place for three years—over three years—evolved into three pieces of legislation that I've filed that are collectively known as the Transition Toward Excellence in Achievement and Mobility, or the TEAM Act. These three bills, which separate and propose how to modernize education, employment, and empowerment, impact these disability laws, collectively seek to promote transition from secondary school to meaningful post-secondary educational and employment opportunities with an emphasis on the eventual outcome leading to sustained full-time employment in an integrated setting at a livable wage, long-term career development and growth, and inclusion in the community setting through independent living and social engagement.
Given my strong interest in ensuring that every disabled worker has the opportunity to earn fair and moral pay, I joined the NFB-led initiative to eliminate a seventy-five-year-old labor law that allows employers to pay subminimum wage. This dated waiver program has left some disabled employees making pennies on the hour. At the same time some of these companies are paying their executives significant sums. Now I don't have a problem with a company CEO making an excellent wage, but not on the backs of those who are getting paid subminimum wage. We cannot allow this confused moral perspective to continue.
Now you may be thinking, "How is that taking place?" The answer is a 1938 labor law, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, that allows employers to receive special wage certificates. These US Department of Labor waivers permit companies to pay disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage, and in many situations much less than that. Over three-hundred-thousand—approaching four-hundred-thousand—individuals perpetually depended and are dependent upon social programs. By authorizing subminimum wages, the federal government is in essence forcing the disabled to rely on public benefits.
Some of you have experienced discrimination because of low vision. I know that Sam Gleese has shared stories with us. Early in his career employers lost interest in Sam after learning about his medical history. All Sam wanted to do was to earn a fair salary; like every husband he just wanted to provide for his wife and his daughter. This discrimination is backwards. The myth that disabled workers cannot be productive employees is awful and incorrect. Congress should be encouraging independence, not forcing disabled workers into an endless cycle of government dependence. It's simple: Meaningful work deserves fair pay. This dated provision prohibits workers with disabilities from reaching their full potential, and it must be repealed!
This effort has evolved into the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, a bill that I've authored to end subminimum wage discrimination. We must shift away from the old paradigms of incapacity. Our public policies should support programs with positive, sustainable outcomes. Congress must eliminate the silos that exist within our current laws.
Now don't take my word alone. Anil Lewis, who has become a very dear friend of mine—and certainly in our office—once wrote brilliantly, "Our disabilities are neither a curse from God nor a penance for our sins. They are a manifestation of the life with which God has blessed us. And although the vessels which contain them are different, we have the same needs, desires, and abilities as everyone else." Well said, Anil, well said.
It's your needs, your desires, your abilities—for all of your strengths you deserve equal treatment. And each person in this room, every disabled worker in America, deserves a fair wage. The political will, timing, and dynamics seem to be converging in a way that makes action inevitable. True reform in this case is likely to entail not so much revolution but evolution, one that may take place over a number of years. But to fully realize our common goals, we must become and continue to be passionate advocates, both for ourselves and for our loved ones living with disabilities. This is why conventions just like this are so important. They raise our self-awareness, our visibility, and our effectiveness, and it certainly provides great, great motivation.
But search no further than my own son's experience to see the potential of individuals living with disabilities. My son's disability happens to be an intellectual disability. After Sydney and I read books and looked at all the literature on fragile X, we decided it was way too depressing, so we threw it away, and we decided that our son would live in a normal world and do the very best that he could. We've seen Livingston overcome hurdle after hurdle, and, may I just confess that many times I was the one guilty of putting a ceiling on our own son? I'll say, my wife Sydney here is the one that did all the heavy lifting. She's the one who took him to every speech therapy, every occupational therapy—all the things that had to be done. And never tell her that our son can't do something. We went through our struggles when he was little, and we were told that he had something wrong. It took us a couple of years to find out what it was. For us, much like what Anil wrote, we always claimed John chapter nine, verse three, as our promise. If you remember, that's where Jesus was going through and there was the man that was born blind, and the disciples asked, why was this man born blind? Was it because he sinned or his parents sinned? And what did Christ say in verse three? He said, "Neither. It happened so that, in him, the power of God might be demonstrated in his life." And we have seen that.
And another thing, too, is we look forward on how we change the hearts of people in the country as we work on this legislation, but we also work on how we make it better for each of us. In the last three years or so, before I came to Congress, our law office was close to the local high school, just five minutes or so away—we hired students out of the special ed department to come work part-time in my law office. When I came to DC, well they have a regular college student intern program, but they had nothing for students with intellectual disabilities. Three years ago we started a pilot program with a few offices and a few students from George Mason University out of the Mason Life Program. Three years later it's a permanent program; more than twenty House and Senate offices, Republicans and Democrats, are helping to make those options available to these students with intellectual disabilities.
I want to share a quick story, if I may. Our son Livingston, who, if he came in here you'd want to take him home with you, sweetest young man you'd ever meet—except for about thirty minutes a day--we just give him his space on that time. Livingston was the only student with special needs who sang all during junior high and high school choir. We had an incredible choral music program at our school. Livingston loves music. During his ninth-grade year of high school, we were actually watching a New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox playoff game. [Scattered cheers from the crowd] I'm not sure who was pulling for whom there, but that's a big game. So it's the seventh inning stretch, and we hear this most incredible voice singing "God Bless America," and it's Daniel Rodriguez, the singing policeman who became famous after 9/11, a beautiful tenor, who came to all the memorial services and sang different songs. We were just mesmerized by what happened. So I found out Daniel's schedule, and Livingston's surprise present that Christmas: four tickets to hear Daniel Rodriguez and the Atlanta Symphony do the Valentine's Day concert.
It was a huge arena, we had tickets on the fourth row, and Daddy found out who his publicist was and made arrangements for him to meet Daniel Rodriguez at his hotel before the concert. Guess what, I thought we'd just go in, get a quick picture, he'd sign an autograph, and we'd be done. Daniel Rodriguez sat down with Livingston for forty-five minutes, and they just talked like they'd been friends forever. We went to the concert that night, and they're two songs into it—beautiful music, as you can imagine—and Daniel Rodriguez, between songs, says, "I met the most amazing young man I've ever met today. Life had thrown him a curveball; he could have been bitter and angry, but he was the sweetest, happiest young man I've ever met, and he came all the way from Mississippi to hear me sing. Livingston Harper, where are you?” He had him stand up, and of course Sydney and I are sitting there crying; there's thirty-five hundred people in the arena, and everybody claps for my son.
Beautiful concert: We get to the end of the concert, and Daniel says, after the final standing ovation, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to sing one more song. Orchestra, relax—I don't have any more music, and I know you don't. But I'm going to sing a cappella because today, when I was talking to Livingston, he asked me if I was going to sing “God Bless America,” and I told him I would. So I'm going to sing that a cappella as we go." He walked over to our side of the stage and he said, "Livingston, I want you to remember what I told your daddy. One day you're going to let me know when you're doing a concert at Pearl High School in Mississippi, and I'm going to fly in, and you and I are going to sing together."
Two years later, Livingston's eleventh grade year, Daniel Rodriguez kept that promise and came to Pearl High School. When Livingston came out, you would have thought Elvis Presley had walked out on the stage. Fifteen hundred people in the auditorium—packed—we got to hear my son do a duet with Daniel Rodriguez, so listen to this: [The recording was played, and afterwards the convention audience enthusiastically applauded.]
God bless you. We're in this together. You inspire us. God bless each of you; thank you.
by John Paré, Anil Lewis, Lauren McLarney, and Jesse Hartle
From the Editor: On Friday afternoon, July 5, 2013, John Paré and his very competent team came to talk about advocacy for the blind and the efforts of our Advocacy and Policy Department. His presentation immediately followed the moving remarks of Congressman Gregg Harper. Here is the report from his team:
John Paré: Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. That was such a great talk we just heard. If someone could pass me a box of Kleenex that would probably be good. If we had more members like that Congressman, we’d have a better country.
I want to tell you a little bit about what we do. The Advocacy and Policy Department is responsible for NFB-NEWSLINE®, public relations, and governmental affairs. We have a great team, and I want to thank them for all of their work.
Let me talk about Newsline. NFB-NEWSLINE is the largest and most successful audio newspaper service anywhere in the world. It is available in forty-six states plus the District of Columbia. We have over 100,000 subscribers, 327 newspapers, forty magazines, TV listings, job listings, advertisements, and English- and Spanish-language content. Publications are available over the phone, through email, through an iPhone app, and for download to a variety of devices, including the NLS Digital Talking Book Player. Since the 2012 convention NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers have enjoyed over 38 million minutes of news, made over 2 million telephone calls, received over 2.3 million email messages, and had access to over 6.8 million newspapers.
On August 29, 2012, we announced a collaboration with AccuWeather to provide emergency weather alerts to NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers. This service provides emergency alerts on such things as flash floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and natural disasters, and I've heard from many of our members that they relied on this service when Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast last fall. On November 20, 2012, a new category was added to NFB-NEWSLINE called Breaking News Online. There are four publications available: BBC, CNN, FOXNews, and the Huffington Post.
Earlier this week we released information about new features on Newsline, including expanded weather information, five more newspapers, expanded national papers, and expanding breaking news. To find out more about that, please listen to Newsline, push option number one, and again option one for the weather information. NFB-NEWSLINE is expanding every day, and I really appreciate the work that the team does in that area.
I would like to mention several volunteers. We could not do the work we do without hundreds of volunteers who help us each year; many of these are in this room right now. There are four volunteers I would like to highlight at this time for answering hundreds of NFB-NEWSLINE calls and helping members all across the country. They are David Meyer of Illinois, Peggy Chong of Iowa and now New Mexico, John Glisson of Kentucky, and Michael Barber of Iowa. I would also like to thank Lee Martin from Indiana. When the Indiana legislature said that they were going to reduce the NFB-NEWSLINE budget from $38,000 to $36,000, we took action. When he was done, the legislature decided to increase the budget to $100,000 per year.
Our public relations team continues to advance our legislative initiatives, policies, and programs. The NFB has been mentioned, quoted, or featured in over 3,350 news stories over the past year; here are a few examples. On August 25, 2012, the National Federation of the Blind conducted over ninety informational protests at Goodwill thrift stores across the country. The protests were very successful and resulted in a widely disseminated Associated Press article as well as twelve other articles appearing on websites such as Yahoo, Michigan Live, and CBS Denver, and in newspapers including the Des Moines Register, and the Albany Times Herald.
The NFB has long advocated for making the World Wide Web accessible for blind users. On September 11, 2012, Computerworld magazine, at the instigation of the National Federation of the Blind, ran an in-depth report on the current status of the web and beyond. On December 12, 2012, we held an informational protest regarding the distribution of inaccessible Kindle e-books to K-12 school districts across the country. The protest occurred outside the headquarters of Amazon in Seattle, Washington. The protest included a surprise visit by the Grinch, or should I say Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. We have a short clip from the protest; let's play that:
[Those reading the audio edition heard the live feed, but for those reading using other methods, the playing of the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," was accompanied by the announcement that Jeff Bezos was coming to meet with us. This was followed by the announcement that it was not Mr. Bezos but the Grinch.]
I want to thank Mike Freeman for his work there; he was walking in with one of the most wonderful Grinch costumes and a big sign that said "Jeff Bezos." It was covered on television, and the folks there did a great job.
Prior to the protest Education Week ran a story in its publication regarding our Kindle books initiative. On the day of the protest several Seattle television stations ran stories with live video from the event, and the day after the protest the Seattle Times ran an in-depth story about what we did. We swept the media before, during, and after the protest. Since the protest Amazon has released two new versions of their iOS app. What a coincidence! The app is substantially improved, but still has some deficiencies. President Maurer, I think we might need to go back to Seattle, Washington.
The public relations team continues to work to strengthen the National Federation of the Blind's social media's presence and to drive traffic to our website. Over the past year we have increased our Facebook fans to 2,887 and our Twitter followers to 3,575. We typically have about 8,000 visitors to our website each week.
Our governmental affairs team tracks all federal legislation that might affect the lives of blind people. We endorse legislation that will improve our lives and shut down legislation that will set us back. The National Federation of the Blind successfully advocated for the passage of the Pedestrian Enhancement Safety 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 regulation to implement this critically important law, which ensures that hybrid and electric vehicles make enough sound to be safe. The National Federation of the Blind commented on these proposed regulations, and our comments were endorsed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in all areas except the stationary sound and when the sound should be turned off. Now, as you can imagine, the National Federation of the Blind is advocating for a stationary sound and for the sound to be turned off no sooner than eighteen MPH. In two weeks Jesse Hartle and I will be meeting in Washington with members of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and with members of the United Nations working on a global technical regulation.
How many people have heard about the NBC Rock Center video? [Applause] We have here Harold Leigland, and it took a lot of courage for Harold, who works at Goodwill, to get up and speak—to speak for all of us—and talk about the unfair and immoral activity that Goodwill is doing. Here, to introduce the video, please welcome Harold Leigland:
Thank you, my fellow Federationists. Good afternoon. I was quite surprised to be asked to participate in this; I want to thank Anil, and I want to thank Anna Schecter and Harry Smith from NBC. They did a marvelous job on it. The article, if you haven't seen it, is on our website, and you can sign the petition if you haven't.
In 1980 I participated in the little hubbub we had in Minneapolis [a protest on behalf of the workers and the lack of representation by blind people on the governing board of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind]. I was going to the airport on my way home, and you might remember a fellow named George Wallace, who ran for president of the United States. He said, "If you want to know what's going on in America, talk to the taxi drivers."
Well, the taxi driver I had that day said, "Why are you in Minneapolis?" I explained it to him, and he said, "You know, for six years I have taken those poor devils to work for the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, and they act like they own them—own them."
I can tell you that Goodwill Industries has much the same idea. The basic emphasis since I have been working there has been that, in a city of 60,000 people, Goodwill employees must produce not $8,000 a day, not $9,000 a day, but more than $10,000 a day in product. Goodwill Industries is competing against at least two other charities. Nevertheless, their emphasis is not on the meaningfulness of work that their employees get versus their pay; it's on productivity. So, with this in mind, very carefully watch the video, with special attention to what Mr. Gibbons has to say. Thank you.
[The Rock Center piece was shown and can be found at <http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/>. Following the presentation of the video, Anil Lewis came to the microphone and said:]
There's no better place to be than right here with my Federation family, especially around this issue. You heard about the legislation from Congressman Harper; you've heard about this issue in detail; what I need you to understand is that we don't do this alone. I am proud to be part of the governmental affairs staff under John's direction and under Dr. Maurer's leadership and to work with my colleagues, Lauren McLarney and Jesse Hartle. We work on behalf of every person in this room, every blind person in our nation, and in fact every person with a disability in this country. We are proud to do this, but we don't do it alone. This point is clearly demonstrated in the Rock Center video—you didn't see me in that video—you saw Harold and Sheila Leigland on that video, and without them our message would not be as strong.
I'm probably going to make some people upset—that's what I do, but it's all about relationships. I can't get out and meet everybody, but the people in this room can. By developing those relationships, we can make things happen. Sometimes we develop good relationships, and sometimes we develop bad relationships, but in all of the relationships we make our conscious efforts at building a coalition to positively change the life experience for blind people throughout this country. I thank Harold and Sheila Leigland for being on the front lines, putting their lives into the living rooms of US citizens so they could understand the true plight of people who work in sheltered workshops and what they have to deal with.
So I want to talk a little bit about relationship-building. You heard Pennsylvania mentioned in the Rock Center video. I don't know why Anna Schechter chose that particular state, because this is pervasive throughout the country—except for the state of Vermont, which has no special wage certificates and no subminimum wage payments. Still some people argue that Vermont is such a small state that they really can't be used as an example for the rest of the country, as though people with disabilities in Vermont are not the same as people with disabilities in Arizona, California, Washington, Georgia, or Florida. So what did we do about it? How did we effect a change in Pennsylvania? Well, we teamed with our members like Michelle McManus and Zach Brubaker, who knew that Congressman Thompson in the last Congress came on our fair wages bill and then got off our fair wages bill. They knew he had expressed an interest, and someone changed his mind—probably someone like Jim Gibbons. So we had to change his mind back. How do you do that? You do it by developing relationships. Michelle and Zach set up a meeting; I was able to fly in and meet with the Congressman. We met in front of the Workforce Investment Board, and I want you guys to get to know your Workforce Investment Boards. None of them were aware of the 14(c) provision. We convinced them that it was wrong—that wasn't easy—but we had to do it. By the time we left, they knew it was unfair, discriminatory, and immoral; the Congressman was in the room, and he signed on to the bill and Congressman Thompson is on the bill to stay.
We developed relationships in Texas. Tony Jones in Texas, I met him through José. It turns out that he has a relationship with his Workforce Board as well. Through his relationship with the Workforce Board, Tony was able to take a $50 million contract that Goodwill was getting ready to take advantage of and snatch it from their hands. Tony says they were a little upset, but I think it's time they started experiencing the anger that we feel about this exploitive provision. We'll continue to hit them where it hurts.
I love the irony—it's ironic that these entities who say that they are doing a good thing take the wages they should be paying people with disabilities and instead pay lobbyists to come to DC to continue this exploitative provision. That to me is a sad irony, and I love the fact that we’re engaging in poetic irony, because we're engaging in a thrift store program that is going to take even more money from Goodwill Industries and put it into places where it can remove this discriminatory provision for everyone. They will wake up, and they will understand.
Tony also told me something very interesting in a phone call I had with him over lunch. It appears that God loves the Federation. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is going to be meeting sometime soon. I don't know how he did it, but this is going to be part of their agenda—ending subminimum wages has become a part of the Catholic agenda.
So we'll continue to develop relationships, but there are relationships that are still pending. We don't know if they will be good or if they will be bad; we are friends with everyone who wants to be friends with us, so let's see if the members of the US HELP Committee want to be our friends and develop good relationships or bad relationships. They are at it again; they are reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act. They are putting together Section 511, which we believe is a prescription for rehab professionals to employ people with disabilities at subminimum wages. We won't tolerate it; we want to be your friend; we want to develop good relationships, but we will use the tools that we have to use. We may not have the money to pay lobbyists in the way Goodwill Industries does, but we can put our members on your front steps to see that the world knows that this is wrong. So, here again, they're not going to know me, but we’re going to get them to come to know the Federation.
After enthusiastic applause following Anil's speech, John next introduced Lauren McLarney. Here is what she said:
Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. I'm really happy to be here, but let me ask you, are you having fun? As I said on Tuesday in our legislative seminar, this is a legislative presentation, not a vegetative presentation, so let's keep the energy up throughout.
Before I get started on TEACH, I wanted to talk a little bit about missed opportunities. With technology in the classroom we know that blind students have always faced unnecessary barriers to education and were segregated from mainstream students, partly because of misconceptions and low expectations, and partly because the print world is just inherently different, separate, and inaccessible for blind students.
But now the intersection of technology and education has created this opportunity to expand the circle of participation and allow universal access to mainstream products for everybody, for all students, disabled or not. Curricular content that was once available only in textbooks and during lectures can be disseminated through electronic books, web content, digital library databases, advance software, and mobile applications. But, instead, inaccessible technology has permeated the classroom, segregating blind students more now than ever before. That opportunity has been missed.
Rather than leveling the playing field, technology has created a whole slew of challenges to replace the old ones. The mainstream students use one type of technology, and then the blind student has to go to the office of disability services to explain that it's inaccessible, and then that technology is modified or the student is provided with some accommodation or separate, accessible device. The sad thing is it doesn't have to be this way. There have been many more opportunities to fix this oversight, and those opportunities have been missed too.
In 2008 NFB went to Congress and we said we were noticing a problem, that instructional materials were increasingly digital and that those materials were inaccessible to blind students. They commissioned the Advisory Committee on Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education, and that was five years ago. Since then not much has happened. So that's five years of missed opportunities.
In 2010 the Department of Education and the Department of Justice sent a Dear Colleague to presidents of institutions of higher education clarifying their obligation under the law to provide equal access to blind students. That was three years ago. Since then only a handful of universities have stepped up to the plate; only a handful are investing in accessibility. That's three more years of missed opportunities.
In 2011, just to set the record straight, the DOE (Department of Education) released a follow-up to the Dear Colleague, a Frequently Asked Questions document, and that was two years ago. Technology has evolved exponentially in those two years, but we still aren't seeing accessible technology in the classroom. Two more years of missed opportunities.
In late 2011 the AIM Commission published its report. That report said blind students face overwhelming barriers to their education across the board because of inaccessible instructional materials and that opportunities to succeed in college are undermined and missed because of inaccessible technology. The burden to fix that falls on the blind student; it doesn't fall on the institution, not the manufacturer, but the student. The report also gave recommendations for exactly how to fix the problem. That report was issued two years ago—two years ago. Nothing has happened. That's two more years of missed opportunities.
A Supreme Court justice said, "It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity...is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." He concluded that "in the field of public education, the doctrine of `separate but equal' has no place." Same rhetoric as the AIM commission's findings, as the Dear Colleague, as the FAQ, only the justice’s comment was said sixty-five years ago.
Now I ask you, how fast does technology evolve? How many innovative, revolutionary changes have we seen in the last five, three, two, one, or sixty-five years? After being presented with this great opportunity and all this time to take advantage of it, why is the majority of digital instructional material still inaccessible to blind students?
This is why we drafted the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act, a bill that calls on the Access Board to develop accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education so that those materials are fully accessible to disabled students. The bill also calls for those guidelines to be adopted as standards, providing direction for schools on how to meet their legal obligation to provide equal access under the ADA.
If TEACH passes, 1) Institutions of higher education will no longer put emphasis on modifying and accommodating for disabled students. Instead they will have clarity for what mainstream accessibility looks like. Since all institutions will be following the standards, the availability of accessible products will increase and the cost will decrease. 2) Manufacturers will have incentive to embrace accessibility solutions. 3) The burden will no longer fall on blind students. Students will be able to use the same materials, the same content, and get the same access as mainstream students. Blind students are and will be mainstream students.
Since Washington Seminar we have been working hard behind the scenes to get this bill introduced. First, we have the endorsements of the Association of American Publishers (who we are partnering with on this bill, and you'll hear from their CEO tomorrow), AAPD (Association of American People with Disabilities), the Hearing Loss Association of America, National Association of the Deaf, NCIL (National Council on Independent Living), and tons of other groups who have endorsed this bill before it's even dropped. We are also getting a lot of press, something very unusual for a bill that hasn't even dropped. There have been two articles in the online newspaper Inside Higher Education, and I just got an email before I came up here that USA Today plans to run an article on the TEACH bill.
As Dr. Maurer said in his presidential report, Congressman Petri will likely drop the bill in the next month or so, and we are optimistic. We are working on finalizing language and negotiating with stakeholders. This critical, yet kind of cringe-worthy task is slow but important. Sometimes the power of the Federation is loud and pushy, bringing surge to a bill after it has been dropped. Other times it is subtle and firm, building relationships (Anil's favorite thing) and closing deals with players behind the scenes. So we want to drop a bill that has widespread support, that says exactly what we want it to say, and that we know will pass. That's what we're working on right now with TEACH.
When talking about this bill, we will always get the same two questions, and we have two good answers. First, is it even possible to make that stuff accessible to blind students? I get asked that a lot. Well, I can ask a two-by-five, eight-ounce robot to find me a restaurant, give me directions, call the restaurant to make a reservation, tell me what's on the menu—if phones can give you the weather in Texas while you play Tetris, it's not that outrageous to expect technology to be accessible to blind users.
The other question is, why should everybody be denied use of a product just because the blind student can't use it? I get that one probably even more. Well, first, it's discrimination. It's morally wrong. And, second, because it doesn't have to be that way. Blind access and mainstream use do not have to be mutually exclusive. As a society we have collectively decided that we philosophically and fundamentally believe that education is only good when it is fair and equal and that discrimination because of inaccessible technology just isn't necessary. Most people don't realize how bad this situation is, and it’s prime time we fix it. We have the data to back this up, we have industry support, we have a thoroughly developed bill. The tide is turning.
Now let me ask you, are we willing to wait any longer for technology to be accessible? Now let me ask you, can I count on the full Federation gusto when TEACH is finally introduced? [strong, affirmative applause]
Dr. TenBroek pointed out that some problems inherent in blindness are "to some extent increased, to some extent diminished, by the structures and conditions of modern urban life and activities." Modern urban development of technology in education is an opportunity to diminish any problems created by separate but equal education, and this is an opportunity that we won't miss. Thank you.
Jesse Hartle was next introduced to talk about the Space Available Act and other legislation that must be passed to ensure that we may live on terms of equality with the sighted. Here is what he said.
Good afternoon. I want to take just a brief moment to recognize the fifth member of the advocacy and policy team. Last fall Kristian Kuhnke left the National Center for the Blind to pursue her education at the University of Maryland, and she left behind some very big shoes. Those shoes have been filled by Taeler Lottino, who keeps Anil and Lauren and John and me straight, and I want you to recognize her work. [Applause]
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith in the allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me according to regulations and the uniform code of military justice, so help me God.” This is the oath of enlistment for individuals entering into the military service of the United States of America. It was taken by those who went to Baghdad, Falluja, and Nasiriya. They took it before serving in Kamdesh, Mazari Sharif, and Takur Ghar; in the Gulf of Tonkin, Long Khanh, and Long Tan. On the ground of Inchon, Pusan, and Seoul. They were at Guadalcanal, Manila, and Omaha Beach to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Many brave men and women lost their lives defending our rights, and many more became disabled doing so. Today I'm going to address the concern raised by the National Association of Blind Veterans. Last fall Dwight Sayer, the president, brought to our attention the Space Available program operated by the United States Air Mobile Command. The Space Available program allows active duty members, some members of the reserve component, family members, emergency workers, and retirees to fly on military transport flights if there is space available. It does not allow currently those individuals who were disabled in the service of our country. One hundred percent disabled veterans cannot benefit from this program.
At the Washington Seminar many of you came to me and said, "This is going to be a slam dunk issue for the Congress. Who can say no to disabled veterans?" Well, in the 110th Congress the late Senator Inouye of Hawaii introduced a bill to allow service-disabled veterans to participate in the space available program. That bill went nowhere. In the 111th Congress the late Senator Inouye introduced a bill to allow 100 percent service-disabled veterans to participate in the Space Available program. The bill went nowhere. In the 112th Congress Senator Daniel Inouye introduced the bill to allow 100 percent service-disabled veterans to participate in the Space Available program and he did it early in that Congress. At the end of the 112th Congress, that bill had two cosponsors.
On January 4, 2013, at the very beginning of the 113th Congress, Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida introduced H.R. 164, a bill that would allow 100 percent service-disabled veterans to participate in the Space Available program. That bill has the support of 169 members of the House of Representatives. We have heard from two of them today. On June 13 H.R. 164 was amended into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act H.R. 1960, and on June 14 H.R. 1960 was passed by the entire House of Representatives with the language of H.R. 164 included.
In the United States Senate, Senator Jon Tester of Montana introduced S. 346 on June 14. This is a companion bill to H.R. 164. Senator Tester's bill currently has fourteen cosponsors, and Senator Tester has already agreed to offer an amendment to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act when it comes to the floor later this year with language identical to the amendment offered by Congressman Bilirakis in the House bill.
We must now work to increase support on S. 346 in order to ensure that the Senate leadership will allow this bill to be offered as an amendment during Senate consideration. If anyone is wondering what changed from the last three sessions of Congress to today, look around this room. The organization that changes what it means to be blind stood up and pledged to support and defend the rights of blind and otherwise disabled veterans. Fellow Federationists, this issue has become a slam dunk for Congress for one reason: the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind have made it one. The exclusionary policy is going to be changed, and it's going to be changed soon. One hundred percent service-disabled veterans will take their seats on Space Available flights because of your work.
Mary Jo and I had our lives changed on April 7, 2011. At 1:05 in the afternoon we welcomed Kayla Elizabeth Hartle into our lives. She was 21 1/2 inches long, and she weighed just over nine pounds. This was one of the greatest days of our lives, and later this year we’ll have another of these life-changing experiences as we will welcome our first son into this world. While the birth of any child should be a cherished day for the parents of that child, we know that is not always the case. Today, twenty-two years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States of America, the misconceptions about the blind continue to be used as a weapon to deny blind individuals the right to be parents. We have seen it in Missouri; we have seen it in Maryland; we've seen it in Texas. Two thirds of state laws allow for disability to be used as a reason to deny custody or to terminate parental rights of blind Americans.
Disabled parents often find it difficult or impossible to adopt because of discriminatory practices of adoption agencies. They tell us we cannot be competent parents; after all, how would a blind parent know if his/her child was in danger? How would we know if our child was hungry or a diaper needed to be changed? They say the blind cannot be competent parents; I say, tell it to the Carranzas, to the Bureshes, to the Maurers, to Anil Lewis, to the Riccobonos, Lisa Maria Martinez, to the Fredericks, Pierces, Diggs, Worleys, Schroeders, Changs, Wunders, Browns, Elders, and Wilsons. The list of blind parents goes on and on. We in the National Federation of the Blind know the truth about blindness, and the truth is that blindness does not prevent a person from being a competent parent. It is time that we deal with the issue of discrimination against the rights of blind parents—and we do it now—there is no other organization that can lead the charge for equal rights for blind parents like the National Federation of the Blind can.
If a state law needs to be changed, let it be the National Federation of the Blind that changes it. If the federal law needs to be amended or passed, then let the National Federation of the Blind march on Capitol Hill and put that legislation on the president's desk. You can rest assured that, wherever discrimination appears against the blind, the National Federation of the Blind will be there, and we will win.
Many individuals seem to think that the blind should just be allowed to exist in the world. We will not just exist! Fellow Federationists, the blind have a right to live in the world, to live on equal terms with our sighted peers, to live with equal pay for equal work performed, to live with equal access to educational information, to live without the threat of our parental rights, or any other rights being denied on the grounds of blindness. This right will be achieved and it will be achieved through the collective action of the National Federation of the Blind. Our cause is just; our cause is right; and our cause goes marching on. God bless you.
by Eve Hill
From the Editor: Eve Hill is the deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Federationists first met Ms. Hill when she worked for Dan Goldstein at the law firm of Brown, Goldstein, and Levy, and she has addressed our convention several times. She is a champion for civil rights, and here is what she said to the 2013 convention:
Thank you all so much for having me here today. That was the first time my new title has been announced in public, and it sounds good—I like it. It is really an honor for me to be here today; I'm only disappointed that my friend, Dan Goldstein, is unable to join us this year, but I think he's listening, so I want all of you to join me in a shout-out to Dan. [Applause]
Despite being entitled "A Report from the Department of Justice," I'm really going to talk about the theme "The Tyranny of Low Expectations." For many people with disabilities, including people with vision disabilities, the tyranny of low or no expectations has cut off the opportunity to work, learn, play, and contribute alongside those without disabilities, and that tyranny of low expectations is something we in the Civil Rights Division see every single day: in the assumptions often written into law that tell people with disabilities what they can't do and that they can't participate in the world, in the so-called special programs that are described as opportunities or preparation for full participation, but then become permanent, segregated prisons, and in the barriers that stand in the way of allowing all people to maximize the contribution they can make to society. So we're working very hard to change those expectations, open up full participation, and break down those barriers that stand in the way of people with disabilities.
Just this last year, just in FY [fiscal year] 2012, the Disability Rights Section alone filed twelve lawsuits and twelve amicus briefs and entered into fourteen consent decrees, forty-nine settlement agreements, and 162 informal resolutions under the ADA, and we're well on our way to beating those numbers this year.
The Division's disability rights work is not done just by the Disability Rights Section. The Special Litigation Section, the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, the Voting Section, and the Educational Opportunity Section also do disability rights work. This crosses all of our sections more than any other area of our civil rights work. I want to talk today about a couple of the things the federal government has been doing recently on behalf of people with vision and other disabilities to combat the tyranny of low expectations.
I'm following a lot of great technology speakers today, which is a little intimidating for me—just a lawyer. We know that modern technologies can pose significant challenges, and we must ensure that those new technologies don't leave individuals with disabilities in their wake. One underlying theory of the Americans with Disabilities Act was that we wouldn't make the existing world accessible all at once, but, as new things replaced old things, the new things would be accessible, and gradually everything would become more accessible. New technology is where the rubber meets the road for that theory [applause].
Technology is revolutionizing our economy and culture, making communication and getting information, entertainment, education, and goods easier and more efficient. But many of these technologies from websites to cell phones, from ticket kiosks to TV set-top devices are either wholly or partially inaccessible to people with vision impairments. The current transition from printed materials to digital materials creates incredible opportunities for people with visual disabilities finally to use the same products as their peers at the same time and for the same price as everyone else.
The emergence of electronic book readers holds huge potential to place students with disabilities on an equal footing with other students. But our traditional approach to the effective communication obligation under the ADA has been a one-at-a-time, on-request approach. That one-at-a-time, on-request approach we're finding isn't working in a number of contexts; so, if governments don't design our zoning laws or our parking lots from the beginning with room for people with disabilities, if schools and restaurants and doctors don't already have a contract with a sign language interpreter, and, if theaters and stadiums and playgrounds don't already build in accessible seating and features, then, when a person with a disability asks for an accommodation, it won't happen, either at all or on time. This is really true in the area of technology. Providing special electronic texts or captioning or retrofitting technologies to work with screen readers takes too long or doesn't happen at all when it's not built in from the beginning. Even when it does happen, it requires a level of begging or confrontation that people with disabilities aren't comfortable with and shouldn't have to go through.
In keeping with the disability community's movement away from charity-based thinking and towards rights-based thinking, we're seeing more and more demands to require covered entities to be prepared for people with disabilities to be their customers, their employees, and their constituents all the time. Proactive digitization, proactive arrangements to buy accessible technology are more and more called for in order actually to achieve the ADA's goal of equally effective communication, and DOJ is working to make such proactive accessibility the norm [applause].
I think you've heard me talk about websites probably every time I've been here, and I'm still not sick of talking about it, so I'm going to. Website accessibility is now a central and standard requirement of our Project Civic Access investigations and settlement agreements. These are compliance reviews of local governments that look at a variety of accessibility needs. For example, just this year, in May 2013, the department reached a settlement with the city of West Columbia, South Carolina, that requires the city of West Columbia to make its web content accessible to people with vision disabilities. That's the third of those agreements that we've reached in 2013 to require city web content to be accessible. In fact, since 2008 the Justice Department has reached Project Civic Access agreements with fifty jurisdictions to remove architectural barriers and make their online content accessible for people with vision impairments.
We're still fighting over accessible websites, particularly to online-only businesses. We recently pursued two statements of interest in National Association of the Deaf versus Netflix. The National Association of the Deaf sued Netflix to require captioning on its online watch-instantly movies, and our brief made clear that Title III of the ADA applies to online-only businesses and requires their online services to be accessible. Netflix is responsible for that, and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act doesn't preempt the ADA. The Massachusetts District Court agreed and held that Title III covers online-only businesses, covers online services even if they are accessed only from people's homes, that the copyright law doesn't necessarily preempt Title III, and that the CVAA doesn't preempt Title III. This case recently settled with an agreement that Netflix will make 100 percent of its streaming videos accessible by 2014.
Now moving to education: many colleges offer degree programs online, some schools exist only online, and massive open online courses are increasingly prevalent. Today colleges rely on the Internet and other technologies for course assignments, discussion groups, and a variety of administrative functions. Schools are starting to offer online document sharing, web conferencing, streaming video, social networks, and even virtual reality programs—can you imagine the virtual campus? And accessibility of those technologies to students with disabilities is essential. We're looking right now at accessibility of those educational technologies, and you can expect to hear more from us pretty soon.
As you know, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal government technology to be accessible, and I'm not afraid to talk about our own obligations in the federal government. Despite a requirement that a survey of federal agency compliance be conducted every two years, that survey had not been done since 2003. But early last fall the Department of Justice published the results of the survey, and we're now working with other agencies to implement cross-agency-consistent practices, as well as working with other agencies to develop shared tools and best practices to increase our ability to meet our Section 508 obligations consistently, all the time.
We're also engaged in rulemaking—I know you've been hearing about this since 2010—but we really are. There are a variety of technology rulemakings upcoming. We issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on accessibility standards for websites and expect to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking this year. We also published an ANPRM for accessible movie theaters, including both captioning and audio description at movies, and we expect an ANPRM this fall.
Now my most recent piece was very much responsive to what you specifically have asked for. You, advocates for people who are blind or have vision impairments, have demanded an end to the book famine, and, thanks to the efforts of advocates like your Scott LaBarre and Fred Schroeder, we're going to do just that. Just last week I was honored, unbelievably honored, to work with Justin Hughes, Terry Ray, and Sherea Purlmutter and others from the Patent and Trademark Office, as well as the Department of State, the copyright office, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the US trade representative to negotiate the Miracle in Marrakesh. President Obama, in April 2012, expressed the United States' commitment to a treaty that ensures that copyright is not a barrier to equal access to information, culture, and education for visually impaired persons and other persons with print disabilities—and just last week we made good on that promise. This World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty, negotiated by over 150 countries—picture 150 countries trying to negotiate over the word "this" or "that"—this treaty will expand the availability of accessible works worldwide, while staying true to basic international copyright norms. Under the treaty, ratifying countries will ensure that their copyright laws domestically allow the creation and distribution of accessible books without prior authorization of copyright holders and will allow cross-border exchange of accessible books without prior authorization by copyright holders. The treaty will become effective when twenty countries ratify it, so we've got to get started on that. This is a real step to ending the book famine for some three hundred and forty million people across the world who are blind, have vision impairments, or have other print disabilities, but it's only one step. We get to celebrate, and Stevie Wonder got to give a concert, which was great. This is an accomplishment. But it's one step on the road to ensuring that people who are blind have a chance to get the information and education they need to live independently and function as full citizens in their communities. In the US the treaty will go into effect only when the president signs it and it is ratified by the Senate. So now we know where our efforts are going.
And even then there's more. Even once member states ratify the treaty, additional authorized entities will have to be established and build their capacity, and confidence in cross-border exchange of accessible format copies will have to increase as the new standards set in. People with print disabilities will have to raise their expectations and demand access to every book, from See Spot Run to Harry Potter to my book, Disability Civil Rights Law and Policy (I know you're all running out to buy that). We are looking forward to working with all of you to accomplish these next steps. Only then will we have moved closer to a future for persons with print disabilities in which, as Jacobus tenBroek said: "The aspirations and achievements of each of us are to be limited only by the skills, energy, talents, and abilities we bring to our communities."
As you know, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was not ratified last winter. However, the administration remains committed to ratifying the convention because it's important. US ratification will make clear that the United States supports inclusion and nondiscrimination and that it supports our over fifty million Americans who have a disability, who want to serve, study, work, travel, or retire overseas. Right now that kind of living overseas or traveling overseas is simply not a realistic option because we can't take advantage of those educational, economic, and cultural opportunities because the accessibility is not similar to ours or not up to par. Ratification will help ensure that Americans with disabilities have equal access throughout the world, and that will change the low expectations of the entire world.
Now you've probably also heard me talk about Olmstead. We are continuing to work to end the low expectations that result in people with disabilities being unnecessarily segregated in sheltered workshops and other institutions. I know you all are doing this work too. In 1999 the Supreme Court recognized that the ADA creates a right not to be forced to live in an institution but instead to be integrated into our communities whenever it's appropriate. It was called the Brown vs. the Board of Education of the disability rights movement. Three weeks ago we showed once again that separate is not equal and separate employment services cannot be the expectation for people with disabilities. We announced a landmark, first-of-its-kind settlement agreement between the United States, the State of Rhode Island, and the City of Providence that vindicates the rights of approximately two hundred people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Our investigation found that for too long the state and the city had allowed their low expectations to create a system that left people with disabilities no choice but to enter sheltered workshops. As a result one of the largest employment providers for people with IDD in Rhode Island, called Training Through Placement [TTP], grew fat from state payments and the work of about a hundred people with disabilities who were paid on average $1.57 an hour, and one as low as fourteen cents an hour.
We also discovered a sheltered workshop in a Providence high school called Birch, where students with IDD worked one to two hours a day, every day, from age fourteen to age twenty-one. They were paid between zero and two dollars per hour, regardless of what they were doing or how productive they were at it. They were doing the same tasks, often even subcontracting for the adult sheltered workshop. So—no surprise—when they graduated, they went straight to TTP and stayed there for decades. Under our settlement agreement both the school and TTP have stopped sheltered workshop operations, and both will dedicate themselves over the next year to providing all two hundred people with supported employment placements—real jobs, at or above minimum wage. Those jobs will average at least twenty hours a week, and, when they're not working, they'll be in integrated day activities; no longer playing cards or coloring or talking to their coworkers with disabilities at the same facility where they worked. The students at Birch will now receive transition services that are designed to prepare them for real jobs, including internships and trial work experiences and placements when they graduate.
We were not alone in this. The Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor is demanding back wages for the workers at TTP for wage violations under Section 14(c). Meanwhile our investigation of the state-wide system as a whole is continuing.
Now we'd all like to think that exploitation like this is an anomaly—just a rare bad apple—but it's not true. The same low expectations, assumptions, and prejudices that led to the creation and continuance of TTP and Birch underlie similar sheltered work systems all across the country. That's why we've also issued a letter of findings and intervened in a lawsuit in Oregon, challenging its overreliance on sheltered workshops to provide employment services to individuals with disabilities. I'm incredibly proud of this work. I'm incredibly proud to be part of this very powerful disability community. So my expectations are high and keep rising. I know you have high expectations of me and of DOJ, and we don't plan to disappoint those expectations. Thank you very much.
by Cassandra McNabb-McKinney
From the Editor: On Saturday afternoon, July 6, Cassandra McNabb-McKinney captivated the audience with her remarks. In introducing her, President Maurer said: "Blind people work in unusual professions. We have one today who is in just such a profession, which is also a demanding one. She is a funeral director and embalmer, and she is also president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Hampshire. Here is Cassandra McKinney”:
Good afternoon, fellow Federationists. I'm glad that you're all here—alive and breathing—and enjoying this convention. Before I begin my talk today, I'd like for you to do an activity. It's a hands-on activity. I'd like for you to take your index finger and place it at the top of your nose, and then take your thumb and place it under your nose. And then I would like you to keep your fingers right as they are and move them over to your ear, and it should be the same length. If it's not, well, nobody's perfect. I'll be sharing some more interesting facts about landmarks on your face a little bit later in my presentation.
In order to tell about my unique career, I think it's important that I tell you two stories. The first story is how I came to the Federation, and the second story is about the day that changed my life, the day I became an embalmer.
I came to the Federation in 2003 at eighteen years of age. I had never been around a group of such enthusiastic, encouraging blind people. It changed my life. At that time I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I started as a chemistry major at a college in Tennessee, because that's my home state. I soon found out chemistry was not for me because calculus was just not my friend. I decided to attend mortuary school and to pursue a career in something I felt strongly in my heart. It wasn't about being a part of something that was unique as a career, but it was about following my calling.
The journey through mortuary school was difficult. It was full of challenge because I was the first legally blind student to attend John A. Gupton College of Mortuary Science. I remember the first day of embalming class; my professor and I were having a conversation about adaptation, and I asked him, "How close am I going to be able to get to these people that I'm going to be embalming?" I wanted to make sure I'd be able to get close. His response shocked me. He said, "Well, Cassie, you can get as close as you can handle." I learned in my first day of clinicals how close that was. It wasn't as close as I originally thought.
I went on to graduate second in my class, and, following graduation, the real work started. Where does a young woman in a career that is not really open to women, who is also blind, find a job? My pursuits led me to a friend who owned a corporation of funeral homes. I sent my resume to him, and he offered assistance. He said, "Are you willing to relocate?"
I said, "Sure." A week later I received a call from Mr. Robert Di Luzio in Keene, New Hampshire. I didn't even know where New Hampshire was. I grew up in west Tennessee; it was hard enough to figure out where Nashville was, much less another state. So I got on an airplane, and I flew, for the first time, to New Hampshire. I started working there two weeks later, and I've been there for six and a half years.
Now I guess I should get back to the Federation part of this story. In 2009 I had been an apprentice for two-and-a-half years. Apprenticeship is a difficult challenge; every funeral director must serve an apprenticeship before being licensed to serve families. It had been two-and-a-half years of tears and struggle.
There were accomplishments along the way. That summer, in July, I got up early. We were going to march in Detroit. We marched for independence that day. For me it wasn't just a march for independence; it was a march for self-knowledge. During the march I received a bell; I have it with me today. I don't think there were very many of these bells made, so I count it as a very special symbol. When I returned home to New Hampshire, I placed the bell on my desk, and many people would ask what it stood for. I said that it stands for independence. My boss, Mr. Di Luzio, heard this so many times he was starting to tell people this story. When I would have a bad day, when the struggle of the apprenticeship would get too much, I would go to my desk and pick up the bell and ring it. I could remember the sound of them ringing that hot July day. The work that we were doing in the Federation, the inspiration of the people who had come before me--it helped me go on.
Now the second story: it was January 29, 2010. This is a special day for two reasons: first, it was my birthday; and second, it was the day I became an embalmer. In the state of New Hampshire you have to perform a practical exam in front of a board member for the New Hampshire Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, and they examine every process that you do in embalming a body—no pressure. So I got up in the morning, and I knew that this was the day: I knew that it was going to be a day that would change my life. I arrived at work, I made all the proper phone calls to notify the board member that I had the gentleman to embalm, and she informed me that I should go ahead and do the first steps of the process. I want to explain to you, very briefly, what those processes are. [nervous laughter] This is what you've all been waiting for, right—and right after lunch.
Okay, so, nonvisual techniques of embalming: here we go. I had never shaved a man before I became an apprentice embalmer. And so I thought, Oh my goodness, sharp object, a person that everybody's going to see; this could be interesting. I learned that gentle strokes are best, and I also learned that, after you've finished, if you gently run your hand across someone's face, you can tell if you missed anything. This is what I do to this day—I do it this way. So I did this portion: I closed the person's eyes and mouth (I won't tell you how we do that—many of you probably don't want to know). This is all part of the beginning processes to make them appear as they did.
Then comes the surgical portion. Now, I'm only going to tell you a little bit because it's important. When doing the surgical portion, there are two main vessels that you have to locate: the carotid artery and the jugular vein. They are identifiable by touch. For those of you who have never felt an artery, it feels like a large rubber band, and the only way I can describe how you know where the vein is to say that it is colder than anywhere else that you're touching. See, that wasn't too bad, right?
So the board member watched. I remember that, as I was doing the exam, we were talking about how to make chicken and dumplings. I explained that my mom owned a restaurant. Most of you might not know my mom, but some of you do—her name is Sharon Treadway. She is a Randolph-Sheppard vendor and also a member of the board of directors for the National Merchants Division. So she taught me how to make chicken and dumplings.
At the end of the exam I thought it went very well. At the end of the exam the board member doesn't tell you if you passed. You either get a "you've passed," or "we'll see you in six weeks." So she had Mr. Di Luzio come down and they walked out—didn't say anything.
People always ask me, "Do you ever talk to the people?" And that day I did. I remember saying, "I think we did pretty good."
So Mr. Di Luzio came back. He had been working with me for three years. He walked across the room, and he gave me a hug. I was crying, of course, overwhelmed. And he said, "You passed." I got even more overwhelmed then.
After I collected myself I looked at him and I said, "You know we just made history, right?"
And he said, "We did."
It wasn't that I was doing something extraordinary; it was that I was doing something as a pioneer, that there weren't other embalmers in New Hampshire who were legally blind. Now this knowledge of being a pioneer—I think of it as a responsibility. I have a responsibility to the generations after me to show them that anything is possible, that you might not become an embalmer, but you can do anything that you can imagine.
I also want to speak for just a moment to the parents who are here. I am blessed with parents who supported me, who never told me that my dreams were impossible. The fact that you are here for your children shows that you believe that their dreams are possible. My father is sighted. He knew when I was born that the world would be different for me. But he didn't let that stop his dreams and his aspirations for his little girl. I have one short story that deals with my dad, and then I'll conclude.
When I was three, we lived in west Tennessee, and in our backyard was a swamp. There were these turtles that would come up, and my father thought it would be awesome if his little girl could see what these turtles look like. So he caught one one morning, put it in an old swimming pool, and charged my mom with the job of making sure it didn't leave the pool. Then he got me up—it was probably like eight o'clock in the morning—he got me up and he brought me outside to the pool. He was so proud. And he showed me the turtle. I was able to see what it looked like; I was able to touch it, and I still remember what it looked like.
My father didn't know about the Federation until almost twenty years later, but he had the philosophy—both of my parents did—and I don't think that I would be the young professional that I am today if it hadn't been for my parents.
I promised you that there'd be some more landmarks. In the geography of your face your face is five of your eyes wide if you measure from left to right, and you are exactly six-and-a-half heads tall. That's just Jeopardy information for you.
I am honored that Dr. Maurer has asked me to speak to you today. It is an honor to stand here and be able to tell you my story. I hope that it is a positive influence; I hope that it inspires you to pursue your dreams, to go out and do whatever it is that you would like to do with your life. Dream big, work hard, and someday maybe you can say that you've made history. Thank you.
This month’s recipes come from members of the NFB of Nebraska.
by Nancy Oltman
Nancy Oltman currently serves as second vice president of the Nebraska affiliate. She also sits on the board of commissioners for the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She is an award-winning cook and baker, and her cakes bring high-dollar during our annual auction at state convention.
She says, “Since I am working with home-grown peaches this week, I will submit one of my favorite peach recipes. I do tend to use only two jalapeno peppers and increase the honey to 1/4 cup.”
6 cups (3 pounds or 12 medium) peaches, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 1/4 cups red onion, chopped
4 jalapeno peppers (or less) to taste
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed, finely chopped, fresh cilantro
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons honey (or more) to taste
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Method: Blanch, peel, pit, and chop peaches. Measure six cups fruit and combine with onion, peppers, cilantro, vinegar, honey, garlic, and cumin in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Boil, gently stirring frequently for five minutes. Cool and chill in the refrigerator. Great with tortilla chips or as an accompaniment to grilled chicken. Salsa can be cold packed about twenty minutes for pint jars or ten minutes for half-pint jars.
by Glenn Ervin
Glenn Ervin is a longtime member who submits a family favorite. He works as an orientation counselor and home teacher at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. This is a recipe he often uses with clients.
2 pounds hamburger
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cups shredded cabbage or bag of coleslaw mix
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tubes of refrigerator crescent rolls
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 pound Monterey jack cheese, shredded
Method: Brown hamburger and onion; drain. Place cabbage on top of meat and cover pan with lid to steam for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper. Using one tube crescent roll dough, arrange dough pieces over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan, pressing edges of rolls together to make a solid sheet. Spread the hamburger and cabbage mixture over the crescent rolls. Add a layer of cheese. Using the other tube of crescent rolls, form a top crust over the cheese, using the same method. Bake in 350-degree oven for thirty-five to forty minutes, covering with foil the last ten minutes to soften the crust.
by Audra Kramer
Audra Kramer is the treasurer of the Lincoln chapter. She enjoys fundraising and is employed at the Department of Labor.
3 cups Jonathan apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup quick oats
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Method: Mix apples, sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, 1/3 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and put in a 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Mix remaining ingredients until crumbly, and pat over apples. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Double ingredients for a 9-by-13-inch pan.
by Karen Anderson
Karen Anderson is the president of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students and vice president of the National Association of Blind Students. Karen enjoys baking in her spare time. Here’s a yummy fall/winter treat.
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice-cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon peppermint extract, to taste
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Butter for coating baking dish
Method: Place a half cup very cold water in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over the surface; don't mix yet; allow gelatin to soften while you prepare sugar syrup.
In a small saucepan combine remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Cover saucepan with lid and heat mixture over medium heat for three to four minutes. Uncover saucepan and cook mixture, without stirring, until mixture reaches exactly 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Once mixture reaches 240 degrees, immediately remove from heat.
Turn stand mixer on low speed, and, with mixer running, slowly and carefully pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the mixing bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once all the syrup has been added, increase mixer to high speed (I set mine on level 8 of the KitchenAid stand mixer) and whip mixture until it is lukewarm, very fluffy, and very thick, about twelve to fifteen minutes.
Add the peppermint extract during the last minute of mixing. While the mixture is blending, in a small bowl whisk together powdered sugar and cornstarch, then run a stick of butter along the bottom and edges of an 11-by-7-inch baking dish (making sure you coat all areas, including corners, to prevent sticking). Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture over the buttered baking dish and tip dish back and forth to coat evenly, then shake off excess.
Coat a rubber spatula with butter, then pour whipped mixture into prepared baking dish using the coated spatula to scrape mixture out. Spread mixture into an even layer in baking dish using butter-coated spatula. Sprinkle top lightly and evenly with powdered sugar mixture, reserving remaining sugar mixture. Allow marshmallows to rest uncovered at least four hours or up to overnight.
Turn the set marshmallows out onto a cutting board (you will likely have to run something around the edges and slightly along the bottom to help the marshmallows drop), and cut marshmallows into squares using a pizza wheel dusted with powdered sugar mixture (I cut mine into eight rows then each row into four because I wanted them tall for dipping, but you could cut them smaller if you wish). Place cut marshmallows in powdered sugar mixture and turn to coat all sticky sides, dusting off excess (dust them off well if dipping/spreading with chocolate, or it won’t stick well). Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks.
If you are making marshmallows to dip into hot cocoa, I would recommend the full 1 teaspoon peppermint extract; if you are making them just to eat on their own, I suggest using 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract. You can add 1/2 teaspoon first, then taste a bit, and, if you want a stronger peppermint flavor, add another 1/2 teaspoon.
Peppermint Bark Marshmallows
by Karen Anderson
12 ounces chopped chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate chips or almond bark
3/4 cup crushed candy canes
1 recipe peppermint marshmallows, earlier (store-bought marshmallows would work fine too)
lollipop sticks or straws
Method: Spread a sheet of wax or parchment paper on counter (this is where dipped marshmallows will set). Melt chocolate in microwave on 50 percent power in thirty-second bursts, stirring after each interval until melted and smooth. Spread a layer of melted chocolate over bottom half of marshmallow, then dip chocolate-coated portion in crushed peppermint. (Alternately, you can dip the marshmallows in the melted chocolate. I found spreading it on worked better for me. It seemed too thick and messy, so I just used an icing spatula to spread it on instead. Almond bark may work better for dipping because it is thinner.) Then place each coated marshmallow, chocolate-coated side down on wax paper. If desired, insert a lollipop stick through the top center of each marshmallow. Then let rest at room temperature until chocolate has set, about one hour. Store in an airtight container.
Stephanie’s Get Lucky Beef Jerky
by Stephanie Wagle
Stephanie Wagle is a college student attending the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She serves on the board of the Lincoln chapter and the board of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students.
5 pounds top round, trimmed of fat and sliced by the butcher (You can choose a higher grade beef, but this works fine.)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 teaspoons cumin
3 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Buy a dehydrator. I have a Ronco brand dehydrator that I purchased at Wal-Mart. It is important to follow the manual for your brand of dehydrator, but I don’t see why my recipe shouldn’t work or couldn’t be altered slightly to work using any dehydrator. But I’m not a dehydrator maker, so please read your manual. This recipe will make a one-gallon Ziploc bag of jerky. You can substitute raw roast beef instead of top round, but keep in mind that it is more expensive. I slice each slice into strips. Combine all marinade ingredients and meat into a large covered bowl and refrigerate for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. I recommend forty-eight hours, but, if you are pressed for time as I was the first time I made jerky, twenty-four hours makes tasty jerky.
When the marinade stage is complete, sprinkle cracked black pepper evenly over each side of jerky and drizzle honey evenly over both sides as well, before placing strips onto the trays.
What makes my jerky so lucky? After the meat has marinated for forty-eight hours, I twist two pieces of beef together before putting them on the trays, and they dry out in tight little curly q’s. These are my two lucky pieces. Whoever gets either of these twisted pieces will be lucky all day long. If you get both pieces, you have two whole days of good luck.
Arrange strips on the trays of the dehydrator, not letting the strips touch each other. Dehydrate for twenty-four to forty-eight hours, rotating trays every one to two hours as consistently as possible. The tray closest to the bottom will receive the most heat, so rotate the trays to distribute the heat evenly. I leave my dehydrator on overnight, obviously not rotating the trays in my sleep, so, when I am home during my waking hours, I turn the trays every two hours or as needed, checking the meat and rotating more often nearer to the end of the drying time.
Italian Love Cake
by Jeff Altman
Jeff Altman is the first vice president of the Nebraska affiliate. He is NOMC-certified and employed as the cane travel instructor at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
1 package chocolate cake mix
2 pounds ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cups sugar
1 (4 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding
1 cup cold milk
1 container whipped dessert topping
Method: Prepare cake mix according to package directions and pour into greased 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Mix cheese, eggs, vanilla, and sugar; pour on top of cake batter. Do not mix into batter. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour, checking frequently near the end to be sure that it does not overbake. Cool and refrigerate; best overnight. Prepare pudding according to package directions and mix all topping ingredients together before frosting cooled cake.
White Chocolate Cherry Banana Cupcakes
by Bridgit Pollpeter
Bridgit Pollpeter is a member of the Omaha chapter and an accomplished writer. She has her own blog at <http://blogs.livewellnebraska.com/author/bpollpeter/>.
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour
1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a twelve-cup standard muffin tin with muffin papers. In a large, heavy saucepan melt the butter over medium heat and remove from heat. Add the sugar, vanilla, and bananas, and mix together, mashing the bananas with the back of a fork until mostly incorporated. Stir in the sour cream and eggs. Add the baking soda and baking powder in pinches, breaking up any lumps with your fingers. Stir in thoroughly. Stir in the flour, just until blended. Stir in the chopped cherries and the chips. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each cup almost full.
Bake for fifteen to eighteen minutes, or until the cupcakes are springy when gently pressed and fully puffed. Cool on a rack for five minutes. Lift out the cupcakes and cool on the rack for at least ten minutes more.
Note: If you're feeling especially decadent, top these with white chocolate cream cheese icing.
Five Minute Cranberry Walnut Cobbler
by Barbara Loos
Barbara Loos is a longtime leader in the NFB. She has been president of our affiliate and now serves as president of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.
2 and 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup plus 3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a nine-inch pie pan combine cranberries, walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar; toss until coated. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, melted butter, remaining sugar, and almond extract until blended. Fold in flour and salt until combined. Pour the batter over the cranberry mixture. Bake for forty minutes, until crust is golden and fruit bubbles. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serves six to eight.
News from the Federation Family
First Annual Bid for Equality Online Auction:
It is time to get ready to celebrate the holidays and reflect on your accomplishments over the past year. This year you can enjoy the holidays and continue to contribute to the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) powerful cause by joining us in our first annual Bid for Equality online auction. This exciting new online auction features several unique packages from our extremely dedicated affiliates. The items range from paintings and gift baskets with unique state-specific items to helicopter tours, airline tickets, and weekend get-aways. What a great way to show the special people in your life that you care, while supporting the NFB at the same time! Get excited, the auction will begin on Black Friday, November 29, 2013, and conclude on Giving Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
The future is in your bid. We appreciate your support.
Please contact Ilana Posner at the National Office at (410) 659-9314, extension 2283, for more information about the Bid for Equality online auction or with any questions.
Another Kernel Book in the Works:
Starting in 1991, the NFB began producing paperbacks of less than one hundred pages relating the experiences of blind people in their own words. The goal was to create something small enough that people would carry it and interesting enough that they would read it. We have published thirty of these, and, to commemorate our upcoming seventy-fifth anniversary, we are going to publish another.
So what is a Kernel book? As Dr. Jernigan said in the first one: "We wanted to go to the very heart of blindness, trying to show our readers what it's really like; and, for that matter, what it isn't like." He went on to explain that many times we are asked about our lives as blind people, but, in the short conversations we have on the bus or while boarding an airplane, we usually can’t do a very good job of explaining it. The Kernel Book gives us this opportunity. To understand the Kernel Book series, look at the thirty we have at <https://nfb.org/kernel-books>. Then think about your story, think about the part the NFB has played in your life, and think about writing your story or an anecdote about how the Federation has shaped your outlook for our seventy-fifth anniversary Kernel Book.
Submissions should be sent to Gary Wunder at 3910 Tropical Lane, Columbia, MO 65202 or sent by email to <[email protected]>. This is a wonderful opportunity to explain what it means to be blind, the challenges we face each day, and the way we overcome them. Be a part of history, and tell us about your life.
Where the Blind Work:
The Jernigan Institute, the Employment Committee, and the Writers' Division have a joint project, and we need your help. We are building an employment resource of job descriptions and how the blind compete within them. Where the Blind Work is a great informational resource to assist youth to plan for future employment and for adults hoping to change jobs or careers. We would be happy to accept a description of your present job, one you had recently, or both.
The collection of descriptions is divided into twelve categories: Administrative and Office Careers; Business/Entrepreneurial Careers; Computer Specialists; Customer Service; Education Careers; Financial Careers; Government Careers; Human Services; Law Enforcement and Legal Careers; Media, Marketing, and Public Relations; Medical Careers; and Vocational Jobs.
Your description must be fewer than 1,000 words and must follow the five-question format below. When completed, please email them to <[email protected] >:
(* indicates a required field.)
1. Personal information:
*Industry in which you work (example: financial services)
Your street address (work or home)
City, state, zip code
Phone number (work, home, or cell)
Email (work or home)
*2. Please explain what any worker would do on this job. (Specialized blindness alternatives will appear in the next question.)
*3. To what extent are you blind, and what special adaptations do you use on the job? (Give the medical term for your blindness and extent of limitation; list the type and name of any special low- or high-technology equipment or procedure you use to perform your job duties, describing where and how you use it.)
*4. Please let us know of any required special training, education, certificates, or experience needed for this job.
*5. Please tell us about anyone or anything that aided you to be successful.
Note: To aid in the construction of your description, read several of the earlier postings from the Where the Blind Work page: <https://nfb.org/wtbw-main >.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Maps of Kansas Available:
The Princeton Braillists have recently completed a volume of maps of Kansas. This single volume includes an overview of the state, followed by individual maps showing cities, rivers, counties, highways, farm and mineral products, and yearly precipitation. A more detailed map shows the vicinity of Kansas City.
The package comprises eleven maps, forty-two pages total. The price is six dollars, and we use shipping by free mail where eligible. To order, please send check or purchase order to the Princeton Braillists, 76 Leabrook Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540. For further information contact Ruth Bogia, (215) 357-7715, or Nancy Amick, (609) 924-5207.
Former NLS Librarians Nussbaum and Lewis Receive ASCLA Awards:
Ruth J. Nussbaum, retired reference librarian, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, and Jill Lewis, retired director of the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (MDLBPH), an NLS network regional library, are recipients of two Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) awards.
ASCLA, a division of the American Library Association, selected Nussbaum for the 2013 Cathleen Bourdon Service Award and Lewis for the 2013 Francis Joseph Campbell Award, which recognizes a person or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of library service for the blind and physically handicapped.
The Cathleen Bourdon Service Award, formerly the ASCLA Service Award, was renamed in 2007 in honor of the departing ASCLA executive director Cathleen Bourdon. It is presented to an ASCLA individual member for exceptional service and sustained leadership to the division. This includes participation in activities that have enhanced the stature, reputation, and overall strength of ASCLA and have also cultivated the division’s relationship with other appropriate organizations, institutions, or government agencies.
Nussbaum worked as a reference librarian at NLS from 1987 to 2012. An ASCLA member since 1990, she has been chair of the Librarians Serving Special Populations Section of ASCLA, a member of the Century Scholarship committee, a representative to the ASCLA Board of Directors, chair of the Francis Joseph Campbell Award Committee, a member of the ASCLA Awards Committee, and representative to the ASCLA board. Nussbaum also served as an ALA councilor-at-large from 2004 to 2007 and has long been involved in the American Indian Library Association. She has made significant contributions to professional documents and guidelines, including accessibility policies for both ALA and ASCLA, fact sheets, bibliographies, and other publications addressing library services for people with disabilities.
The Francis Joseph Campbell Award was named after Campbell (1832 to 1914), an American who lost his sight at the age of five. He was the music director at the Wisconsin School for the Blind and the Perkins Institution for the Blind and was also instrumental in the founding of the Royal National College for the Blind.
The award, which consists of a citation and medal, is presented to a library or person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of library service for the blind and physically handicapped. This contribution may take the form of an imaginative and constructive program in a particular library; a recognized contribution to the national library program for blind persons; creative participation in library associations or organizations that advance reading for the blind; a significant publication or writing in the field; imaginative contribution to library administration, reference, circulation, selection, acquisitions, or technical services; or any activity of recognized importance.
Lewis served as the director of the MDLBPH from 2003 to 2012. Under her leadership the library developed partnerships that provided a community center for library users with print disabilities. The center includes adaptive technology, cultural programs, and an interactive children’s reading center. She previously worked as a reference librarian for NLS, where she conducted a study of educational reading services for individuals with print disabilities and prepared publications for the Reference Section. In 2012 Lewis was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and presented with a Governor’s Citation for Outstanding Service. She has been active within ALA and ASCLA since the 1990s and serves on the board of the Montgomery County Public Library in Maryland.
Both women were presented their awards during the ALA 2013 Conference at the ASCLA/COSLA reception on Saturday, June 29, at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago.
NLS administers the Braille and Talking-Book Program, a free library service available to US residents and American citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, or disability makes reading a regular printed page difficult. Through its national network of regional libraries, NLS mails books and magazines in digital audio and Braille formats, as well as digital audio equipment, directly to enrollees at no cost. Selected materials are also available online for download, and music instructional materials are available in large print, Braille, and recorded formats. For more information visit <http://www.loc.gov/nls/> or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).
Tape Discussion List Available:
Cassette tapes may have been invented in the 1960s, but people still use them, even today, especially the blind and visually impaired. Though Braille is very useful and popular among the blind, audio books are also prevalent and useful. Though the Digital Talking Books program exists, there is still an audience among blind audio book listeners for cassette tapes. Did you tape fans ever want a discussion list to talk about tapes with other tape users, especially blind ones? Well, that's Prosomawi Media's latest endeavor: TapeVille.
So what is TapeVille? Simply put, it is a blind-accessible forum where people who like tapes chat with other people who like tapes. All cassette-related topics are allowed, including the conversion of cassettes into digital format. Send an email to <[email protected]> with the word “subscribe” in either the subject or the body of the email. If you ever decide to leave TapeVille, do the same, just replace the word "subscribe" with "unsubscribe," though we really hope you don't.
When you're ready to introduce yourself, post a tape question, tape information, tape news, etc., send an email to <[email protected]> with your message.
HAI Describe—Live Audio Description in NYC:
If you like Broadway and Off Broadway shows, but have crossed them off the list because of a visual impairment, you’re going to love this. Check out Describe from the Healing Arts Initiative.
The Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) is a New York City non-profit committed to making art and culture accessible to blind and visually impaired residents and visitors. Describe is a service offered by HAI that provides live professional description services to blind theater-goers. Trained describers speak live through a small ear-piece and offer blow-by-blow description of stage settings, live action, costumes and scenery.
Anyone interested in getting more information on HAI’s Live Describe program can call or email to be added to our mailing list and learn about upcoming performances. If you would like to learn more or be added to our mailing list, please send an email with your contact information to <[email protected]> or call (212) 575-7660 and ask about our Describe program. You can also visit us on the web at <www.hainyc.org>, like us on Facebook at <www.facebook.com/hospitalaudiences>, or follow us on Twitter <@hai_nyc>.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
I have a Permobil C300 model power wheelchair for sale. The seat depth is seventeen inches, back to front; the seat is fourteen inches wide. The seat can be raised or lowered. The system has a caretaker control box on the back, with the same control on the front left side, plus a joy stick. It also has a laser locator that sounds an alarm when it detects obstacles in front of or behind the chair.
The chair is about five years old, but has been used only about ten times, all inside the house. It is in excellent condition, and the gel battery has been replaced once. I am asking $1,500 or best offer, and transportation of the chair must be covered by the new owner. For more details call Carol (610) 734-1037, or email <[email protected]>
I am selling a HIMS Braille Sense Plus qwerty notetaker. It is rarely used and comes with original packing materials, manuals, and a leather carrying case. The unit is in like-new condition and comes with the latest version 8.0 firmware and a 32 gig flash drive already installed. I am asking $2,000. Contact John by phone at (903) 285-2519.
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.