Vol. 57, No. 7 July 2014
Gary Wunder, Editor
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Vol. 57, No. 7 July 2014
Illustration: Standing Against Discrimination: Educating the Educators
Growing Up Fisher: What Should We Expect from Blind Characters in Situation Comedies?
by Gary Wunder
Breaking the Mold: From Clienthood to Citizenship
by Mary Ellen Gabias
Perspective on Philosophy
by Eric Duffy
Introducing Your Blind Child to Miniature Golf
by Mark Riccobono
Reflecting the Flame
by Marc Maurer
Blindness and Social Change: What Is My Duty?
by Everette Bacon
Jean Dyon Norris Dies
by Gary Wunder
Braille Isn’t “Embattled”—We’re on the Cusp of a Golden Age for Blind People
by Ian Macrae
Sexual Misconduct Results in Prison Sentence for Teacher of the Blind
by Gary Wunder
Advances in Technology Can Leave Some Behind
by Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt and Michael L. Stack II
Copyright 2014 by the National Federation of the Blind
Members of the National Federation of the Blind and its New Jersey affiliate held a protest at the Mays Landing campus of Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC) on Thursday, April 17, 2014. The protest was held to combat discrimination by ACCC against Anthony Lanzilotti, a blind student studying criminal justice and cyber-security there. Mr. Lanzilotti has been denied even the most basic accommodations and at times has not been allowed on campus or to use campus facilities unless he is accompanied by a sighted person. He has also been prohibited from using campus laboratories because ACCC claims that this violates the fire code. ACCC has also refused to procure or create accessible copies of Mr. Lanzilotti's textbooks and course materials, a service routinely provided to blind students by other colleges and universities. If he wants his print textbooks to be scanned and converted to electronic files that can be read aloud by text-to-speech software or on a Braille display, he must do the scanning himself, and he cannot use campus facilities to do so unless he meets the requirement of having a sighted person with him. This will not stand, but the National Federation of the Blind has and will. We will continue to stand for Anthony Lanzilotti and other students until Atlantic Cape Community College changes its illegal policies.
by Gary Wunder
One of the primary objectives of the National Federation of the Blind is to change how the public thinks and feels about blindness and to convince them that our lives can be as full as theirs if we are given proper training and opportunity. Our goal is to have them think of blindness as one of many characteristics: not a tragic condition dealt to the unlucky, not a miraculous condition that makes one super-human—a characteristic not to be ignored, but one that is far from being the most dominant in our lives.
Most members of the public do not know a blind person, so what they hear and see in the media often provides their first impression of what life is and can be for blind people. All too often portrayals of blind people by Hollywood have left us feeling angry, used, and further isolated in a world in which we seek full integration with our sighted neighbors. When a character is portrayed as bumbling, loud, and obnoxious and when the reason is presumed to be that he is blind, we protest to the producers and the broadcast network and take our concerns to the public. When we do so, a few of the questions are difficult to answer. Does bringing attention to the show help or harm it? Will viewers stay away from it because we've said we don't like it, will they watch to see what we find objectionable, or will they do whatever it is they would have done, with or without our protest? Does our protest educate the public about the lives of real blind people, or do we come off looking overly sensitive? Are the answers to these questions as important as our promise to speak the truths about blindness as we know them and to combat the negative portrayals, regardless of the outcome?
In the case of the sitcom Good and Evil and the movie Blindness, we protested and our concerns were publicized nationally. But not every show in which a blind character appears merits a response, pro or con. How do we decide? We start by asking questions. Is the blind character realistic? Is he or she likely to make people think more or less about the capabilities of blind people? What leeway do we offer the writers when their objective is to create a comedy? When a humorous incident happens and the character involved is blind, when is it funny and something to which we can relate, and when does it play on the stereotypes of blindness and retard the integration we seek? Are there incidents caused by blindness that we who are blind can share among ourselves with amusement but that are inappropriate to share with the sighted public? All of these figure into the judgments we make as we evaluate a show in which blindness plays a part.
In early 2014 the National Broadcasting Company began advertising a soon-to-be aired television show called Growing Up Fisher. At first all we knew was that it would feature a blind father. Then we learned that it was loosely based on the life experience of DJ Nash, the producer of the show, whose father is blind. In addition to the blind character, Mel Fisher, the cast consisted of Mel's wife Joyce, his teenage daughter Katie, and his eleven-year-old and soon-to-be twelve-year-old son Henry. Henry's birthday plays a major part in one of the episodes when we learn that he fears becoming blind when he turns twelve, the age at which his father lost his sight.
Before the show aired in late February, I received frantic calls and emails warning that a network show involving a blind character was in the making and offering to write articles about it. That we would be interested in a show featuring a blind character did not surprise me, and I appreciated the information. But those offering to author an article were unanimous in their conclusion that the show would be harmful to the blind and that their contribution would be the first step leading to demands that the show be cancelled, with a public protest to follow. Granted, we have seen some pathetic portrayals of blindness, the two mentioned being good examples. But the question I asked myself and my colleagues is whether our mindset that Hollywood will never get it right and that their laughs will always come at our expense is healthy or productive? Our perception of the general public is at the very least complex and possibly contradictory. On the one hand we believe that they want to accept us as equals and can understand that, though we need special training and equipment, we can compete with them as equal participants in society. On the other hand we are constantly on guard, believing that the general public has many misconceptions that retard our progress and that they are highly susceptible to those who will play on our limitations, real or imagined.
This having been said, what about the eleven episodes of Growing Up Fisher that aired before the show's cancellation? Wanting more than my own perspective, I wrote to people who subscribe to listservs run by the NFB. My request went to members and nonmembers alike, and it didn't matter whether their list participation was for the purpose of discussing the joys and sorrows of being a webmaster, learning how to do arts and crafts, or exploring the way to become better writers. Some who responded said they thought television a trashy waste of time, did not watch situation comedies, and therefore could not compare what they saw in the show against contemporary offerings. A few wrote to say that their lives were much too busy to bother with television but that they would be interested to see what the Monitor had to say about the show. Still others wrote saying that they had not watched the show but would love my views on it. I did my best to respond to each person who wrote to me, without putting so much energy into the responses that I would find myself with nothing to say here.
The response to the show from those who actually discussed it was overwhelmingly favorable, and many asked if there was a way to keep it on the air. I confess that I was surprised by this, not because I disliked the show, but because human nature often finds us writing first about those things we don't like and later taking the time to say thank you for those we do. Many letters started tentatively with the lines "I don't know how you feel about the show, but," or "Perhaps you will disagree with me, but I liked the show." This happened so frequently that I went back to look at my note, fearing I had somehow signaled that I was only looking for those who found the show objectionable. My conclusion is that I did not reveal any such bias and that the only tipping of my hand was to say that I had an opinion but was interested in the thoughts and feelings of others before crafting an article.
Perhaps it is not surprising that those who didn't like the show watched few episodes before concluding it was ridiculous and just another attempt by Hollywood to use blindness for a quick laugh at our expense. Several objections were common. They should have used a blind actor. It reinforces the stereotypes that we are helpless when the boy's job is to take care of his father. It was wrong to show the little boy using his father's guide dog to get girls. Scenes showing the guide dog on the bed, eating table food from the floor, and barking all sent the wrong message about how guide dogs behave and what is expected of them by their owners. Interestingly, I got more negative comments about the dog than I did about the blind character or the rest of his family. I have omitted comments in which the focus was objections to a discussion of sex, drugs, or the misbehavior of adolescents. Comments commending and condemning the show on these points were received but have nothing to do with blindness.
Here are some heartfelt and well-stated quotations that speak directly to the dissatisfaction some felt:
“I have watched it a couple of times, but personally I think it is ridiculous and that they overplay everything. I think it is a disgrace to the blind of America. We don't need anything else to make sighted people think stupid things about blind people.”
“So he gets a guide dog in the first episode, and it wanders out of the house somehow and is found. That was enough for me. I could not bear to watch any more of it.”
“As a sighted person I thought that the most glaring offense was having the blind character's blindness exhibited by the wide-open stare.” I interject here that interpreting Mel's appearance, his movements, and his facial expressions have proven to be the most challenging part of writing this article. I am totally blind and have been so since birth. Trying to figure out whose perception of Mel’s facial expressions is correct reminds me how, as a child, I remember being puzzled by the way the dead appeared to the sighted prior to burial. This was not so much from a morbid curiosity but because opinions about the subject vary widely and much of my family’s discussion during these trying times focused on what they saw in the casket. In saying good-bye to grandparents, I would hear how this one looked thirty years younger, the way she did in old pictures. Some would say, “He just looks like he is sleeping, very calm and peaceful.” Mark Twain described his just-departed daughter as an angel whose beauty in death could never be matched by those experiencing the stresses and strains of life. On the other side were those who were adamant in saying that the dead look nothing like their former selves and that to suggest they look like they are resting or fast asleep or are in some blessedly tranquil state is utter nonsense.
Critiques of the actor playing Mel were just as varied: He stares. He keeps his head in one place. He is remarkable in imitating the gestures and facial expressions of blind people I know who have previously had sight. He does a good job of impersonating a blind person searching for objects.
Several who strongly objected to the show didn't even make it through episode one. Having seen what they expected to see, they drew conclusions far from what was intended by the writers as the show makes clear.
Early on in the first episode the children are told by their parents that they are getting a divorce. While it is obvious that they still love one another, are glad for the family they have created, and are committed to remaining united in caring for their children, Joyce feels so overshadowed by Mel that she is looking for a way to live her own life, find herself, and capture elements of her youth she missed by marrying so early and becoming a mother. Up to this point Mel has been quite dependent on his family and with their help has carried on a more or less successful act in which he has pretended to be sighted. Only his family and closest friends know that he is blind. This is a highly unlikely scenario given that Mel has been blind since age twelve, but it is hard to dismiss completely the premise, given that all of us have a story or have heard stories about the futile effort to pretend to sight we do not have and to avoid the pity we fear will come from admitting we are blind.
When Mel's impending divorce leads him to move out, he is forced to confront his overdependence on family to get around and gets a guide dog from the Guide Dog Foundation. The family's youngest child, Henry, seems more upset about being displaced as his father's eyes than he is about the separation of his parents. In an effort to make his son feel that he is still useful, Mel pretends to lose his new guide Elvis and calls on his family to help. When Mel is in the process of calling the Guide Dog Foundation to tell them about the loss, Henry finds Elvis in the pantry. Several who responded to my inquiry about the show had enough at this point, because the idea that a competent blind man could actually lose his dog confirmed their worst fears about what the show would be. Immediately after the find, soon-to-be ex-wife Joyce confronts Mel about the absurdity of pretending to lose his dog but compliments him on trying to help Henry recover his fragile self-esteem.
Those who responded positively to the show were eloquent as they described their fears about what the show might be and their gradual conviction that, for a comedy, it did a good job of concentrating on family issues. Blindness was only one element in understanding the dynamics of this family, and it grew to be less important as the plots explored the problems of the newly divorced, how to date, how to handle the teen who wants to date, how to handle the issue of trust between children and parents, how to teach a teen to drive, and how to convince a son that he is not forever condemned to live in his father’s shadow. Here are some of the gems:
“When I first heard about the show, I was quite skeptical of it. I didn't think it would be an accurate portrayal of blindness and didn't even want the show to air on television. I saw the first episode and was disgusted. What kind of show features a guide dog handler feeding his dog raw meat? Who showcases a blind man ramming himself into a coffee table several times? After that first episode, however, the show began to grow on me. It was after all a comedy that was not meant to portray an accurate representation of blindness. I began to feel that the show was not all that bad and actually came to love it. I am now sad that the show is cancelled. It was not really focused on a blind man, but on a family man who is going through a mid-life crisis and who just happens to be blind.”
“I have to say two things up front. First, I am not a fan of the sitcom format, which in many cases takes the cheap shot. On the other hand, I am not opposed in principle to someone doing a comedy based on a real blind man, and I don't expect any work of art or literature which includes a blind person to tackle every issue facing the blind or conform to any standard presentation of blindness. That would be impossible. We are perhaps the most diverse group of people there is—a true microcosm of humanity, with a continuum of vision loss, adaptability, intelligence, and humor.”
“I am disappointed with the decision to take it off the air. I related so much to the character of Mel and found myself commenting frequently that I had done or said something just like him. The positive way in which this blind man is portrayed and his family's love and support relay important messages; blind people are just like everyone else—we just do things a little differently.”
“The first scene of the first episode immediately had my wife roaring with laughter. This was the scene where the boy was guiding the father as he prepared to cut down a tree with a chainsaw. Yep, been there and done that. As we watched the show each week, my wife commented that they were doing the show about me. I still tend to do everything that I once did as a sighted person—yes, including taking my daughter out for driving lessons. And the `finger juice’ did not go unnoticed in my house.” [I interject that “finger juice” is the term used to identify how Mel placed his finger over the side of a cup when he was pouring juice so he could tell when the glass was full.]
“I was actually able to focus on the quality of the show instead of focusing on whether or not I felt misrepresented as a person with a disability.”
“I've watched eight episodes so far, and a friend is sending me the rest. At first I thought the show silly. Then I genuinely came to enjoy it. I've had my daughter look at a few and, she likes it immensely too and says that the actor has done an excellent job of getting `blind’ right. Nothing is perfect—including this show—but there is an honesty here that I've never seen in any blind portrayal on film before, and that it is mixed with so much lightheartedness makes it work for me.”
One of the most thought-provoking comments I received came from a blind woman who says that, for all the good and the bad she sees, her deepest feeling is summed up by the statement: "When we've had enough decent blind characters in dramas and other shows, perhaps we can afford to smile at sitcom goofiness." Stated differently, I think she is saying that we have not traveled far enough on the road to public acceptance to tolerate portrayals of blindness that may be perceived as negatively reflecting on our basic normality and competence.
So much for my compilation, editing, and inserting the comments that were shared. What is my view of the show, and what has compelled me to write about it? I believe that this show, while far from the kind of educational documentary we would produce and different from a drama we might write, has much to recommend it. The father cutting down a tree using a chainsaw or installing a satellite dish on his roof could be taken directly from our Kernel Books or the pages of the Braille Monitor. When Mel runs into other people because he doesn't hear them and says they are as quiet as a Prius, that indicates some familiarity with current-day issues blind people consider important. When his daughter asks why he must inject himself into every situation involving his family, never watching from the sidelines as they solve their own problems, Mel relates a heartfelt story. In high school he is told by his rowing coach that, though he can’t throw him off the team, the coach doesn’t want a blind fellow getting in the way and crashing his oars into the oars of others. Mel decides to quit. Having felt the pain of rejection and having silently walked away, Mel’s decision never again to sit quietly by and let someone else determine his opportunities and his future should strike a chord that resonates with all of us who are Federationists. The show goes one better when, after letting the audience absorb the unfairness and regret generated by this life-changing moment, Katie acknowledges the importance of her father’s story but makes it clear that this is no reason to continue doing what he is doing, thereby creating similarly uncomfortable life stories that will shape her life.
One wonders how many issues might have been explored had the show continued for another season: Mel’s going back to school and having to deal with problems involving access to books and other materials; Mel’s being reported to the local social service agency for failure to supervise his son who is caught engaging in a juvenile and dangerous act; during the divorce, having a guardian ad litem appointed to act in the interest of the children who decides Joyce should be the parent who is given primary custody. The possibilities are numerous, but little reason exists to wish or speculate.
The guide dog behaviors some found so offensive are ones I have personally observed many times as students leave guide dog facilities with specific rules and admonitions drilled into them that they have already or will soon decide to abandon as overly restrictive. As one commenter said, "I know some people who give their dog a little steak once in a while and allow them to sleep on their beds, and how many times have we seen blind people allow others to walk with their dog in harness to see what it's like?"
I return to the question of whether some things we know to be true we are willing to discuss among ourselves but feel inappropriate to share with the sighted public. If this is the way we feel, do we presume to say to the entertainment industry that these concealed truths are not for public consumption? I think we must always stand against the shameful portrayal of blind people and that the decision to be heard trumps considerations about whether we help or hurt the activity to which we object. But I think we dare not try to declare blindness to be off limits to those who write situation comedies, dramas, and documentaries. All of these afford us an opportunity to speak to those who might otherwise not hear from us. All give us the opportunity to be seen publicly for the people we are. Sometimes we are bright, articulate, kind, perceptive, and model citizens. Sometimes we are weird, bizarre, lazy, disrespectful, and obnoxious. These characteristics, the good and the bad, must be ones that we help the public to see as separate and apart from the fact that we do not see and to understand that they represent what we have often proclaimed: that the blind are a cross-section of our society, with all of the virtues and vices shared by the rest of humanity.
Growing Up Fisher has performed a service, albeit brief and abbreviated. It has given the public a glimpse of a family in which one of the characters is blind, educated, employed, and revered and respected by those he loves. He is also pushy (he would say assertive,) controlling, and a character who seldom sits on the sidelines watching as those around him make decisions about their lives and his own. Growing Up Fisher has also provided us with an opportunity to look at how a blind character can and should fit in the give and take of the modern situation comedy and has given us some hope that, the next time we hear that a blind character will be featured on television or the movies, we will be a bit less apprehensive and a bit more willing to accept the entertainment for what it is: a diversion from our own workaday worries, our bills, our fears for our children, the future of the country, and all of the other things we use books, movies, television, and the situation comedy to escape from for the brief respite we all require. Growing Up Fisher gave me a brief opportunity to laugh and to cry, and I did not feel as though I needed to apologize or explain away the role that a blind character played on primetime TV. This is part of becoming a member of the broader society, and this is a testament to the progress we have made in changing the face of blindness on television.
by Mary Ellen Gabias
From the Editor: Recently I had the pleasure of traveling to Canada to attend the convention of the Canadian Federation of the Blind. Unlike America, where government is involved in the rehabilitation of the blind at the state and federal level, English Canada has traditionally relied on a charity, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), to provide all of the major services received by adult blind Canadians. The Province of Quebec is the only place in Canada where government takes direct responsibility for services to blind citizens. Over time this centralized approach through the CNIB has seemed less responsive to the needs of blind Canadians and has focused more on its own corporate interests.
In a presentation made to the convention of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, Mary Ellen Gabias shows how reliance on a charity model versus a human rights model sells short those who need and expect services. The parallel in America is clear; our citizens must keep in mind that our needs and aspirations are not always the same as those of the charities that serve us and the government agencies that use tax-payer money to perform a similar mission. Here, with her insights and warnings, is what Mrs. Gabias said to the CFB on Saturday, May 24, 2014:
"It ain't easy to break out of a mold, but, if you do your work, people will ultimately see what you're capable of. Too often, people find it easier to make assumptions and stick with what they believe. They put you in a place, and it makes their job easier." Christopher Meloni, television actor
We in the Canadian Federation of the Blind work to break the mold that binds and constrains our opportunities. We understand the ways old patterns harm us. We have examined our past and recognize that we have sometimes failed to challenge people when they make assumptions and stick with what they believe. If we don't speak out with courage, unflinching honesty, and compassion, we will not be able to chart a better future.
What forces have molded the climate in which blind Canadians find themselves? How have governments, the public, and the monopoly elephant in the room called CNIB contributed to the current situation? Above all, what responsibilities do we, the blind people of Canada, bear; and what can we do to break the mold that does us harm?
Much as we dislike it, the history of blindness in Canada is bound up with the history of charity. In its most profound sense, charity is a loving and personal means of sharing time and resources. One individual has a need; another individual with personal knowledge of that need does whatever can be done to alleviate it.
In the small self-contained communities of the past, person-to-person, heart-to-heart charity worked well. The giver and the recipient were accountable to one another. The increasing size and complexity of society during the reign of Queen Victoria resulted in the depersonalization and corporatization of charity. Just as the industrial revolution caused immense increases in the efficiency of the processes of manufacturing, the development of corporate charities brought economy of scale to the processes of generosity. By giving money, donors could provide service far beyond their personal presence. Specialized staff could be hired to spend full-time on charitable endeavors. Effort could be laser focused; the same charitable individual no longer needed to be concerned with poverty, the aged, disability, orphanages, and disaster relief.
Despite its obvious advantages, corporate charity broke the bond of mutual accountability. In the corporate model a charitable individual donates to an organization based on its emotional appeal and its reputation. Rarely does the giver experience the charitable corporation's actions firsthand; the funds are given, and the professional staff is entrusted with achieving the hoped-for results. Career charity workers frequently came to think of their corporate employer's aims as indistinguishable from or, far worse, more important than the needs of those receiving charitable service. Recipients too were often tainted by the charity process. Rather than viewing themselves as temporary beneficiaries of assistance to meet a pressing need, they came to think of themselves as permanent clients. They stopped wanting a hand up; they didn't even content themselves with a hand out; they wanted their hands held for life.
In 1918 Colonel Baker brought corporate charity for the blind to Canada. In 1918 blind people were scattered, isolated, bereft of hope. In 1918 a strong, centralized organization focused desperately needed national attention on blindness. In 1918 bylaws requiring the titular head of the charity for the blind to be a blind person seemed to guarantee that the organization would remain true to its mandate to serve the blind. Less than a decade ago it took one vote of the sighted people who actually call the shots to show how flimsy that protection really was. In 1918 charity existed to be the face of the invisible and the voice of those who could not speak for themselves. The phrase, "nothing about us without us,” had not even been conceived. Yes, Colonel Baker brought about changes that moved blind people forward in 1918, but it isn't 1918 anymore.
In his book The Politics of Blindness, Graeme McCreath explained the history of blindness policy since the 1918 founding of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Any attempt to telescope his carefully researched and written arguments into one short synopsis would do a grave disservice to his work. Needless to say, he discussed charity to parity in blindness policy. He showed how our issues are part of a broader context.
Madame Justice Louise Arbour, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has eloquently articulated that broader social and political context. In an interview with Paul Kennedy on the CBC Radio program Ideas, she described the shift in thinking concerning charities over the past century. She talked at length about the differences between the charity paradigm and the paradigm of defining social and economic justice as a human right.
Describing circumstances in many underdeveloped countries, she quotes the leaders of those countries: "We want the right to food, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to development." She contrasts those aims with the emphasis on political and civil rights in more developed countries. ". . . certainly human rights theory says there are no such divisions. Human rights are by definition universal and indivisible. You cannot segregate them. ...When I come here (to Canada) and I go to a lot of other western countries, I have to try to persuade them to abandon their reluctance to recognize social and economic rights as rights. I need to urge them to get out of their charitable disposition and to acknowledge that this is a matter of human dignity, and it should be grounded in legally binding obligations."
The CFB agrees with Mme. Arbour. We are pressing government to recognize that we too have a right to food (a standard of support for those without employment that meets basic nutritional and housing needs), education (for blind children, but also for adults who become blind or who haven't received the education they needed when they were children), and development (the chance to gain skills and attitudes leading to employment and full participation as equals in the economic and social life of Canada). We too are asking that our country "get out of its charitable disposition." Put another way, blind Canadians are no longer willing to lead third-world lives in a first-world country.
CFB values the legitimate role charities can play in innovation and service provision. It can also be legitimate for government to contract with private entities, whether charity or for-profit, when doing so serves the public interest, provided that the funding public retains genuine control. Any arrangements need careful, ongoing scrutiny to prevent the public purse from being raided by unaccountable entities such as CNIB who have cloaked themselves in the mantle of philanthropy. Governments across Canada have not held CNIB to account because it has been perceived as in charge of the blind people it purports to serve. In effect, government has believed CNIB is serving blind people effectively because CNIB has said so. Unless we want 2018, the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of CNIB, to be a national year of mourning for opportunities lost and lives of blind people wasted, we must put aside the charity paradigm of 1918 and replace it with a rights-based service model.
Socrates said: "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” For far too long blind Canadians have focused their efforts on criticizing CNIB or attempting to gain influence within CNIB in the hope of reforming it. We open ourselves up to conflict, frustration, and bitterness when we try to apply twenty-first-century participatory democracy standards to what is at heart a Victorian enterprise. CNIB is controlled by a self-perpetuating governing body. It is not a participatory democracy, has never claimed to be one, and has no interest in becoming one. It is long past time for us to accept that reality.
For far too long blind people have behaved as if we are CNIB's customers. Unhappy customers ask for improvements and expect to get them. We must face the fact that CNIB's real customers are the giving public. The product the public buys is the sense of well-being that comes from being told they've helped to meet the needs of the blind. So long as the public feels good by donating to CNIB, the corporation will have satisfied its customer base. Nothing will change unless the public learns that money is being sucked into an administrative black hole; we aren't getting what they're paying for.
If we are not CNIB's real customers, where do blind people stand in relation to the charity? CNIB needs blindness, but it doesn't have to deal with blind people on our terms. It needs for us to appear needy enough to justify its ongoing requests for charitable dollars. It needs for us to appear reasonably content, or at least not to be too vocal about our discontent. Above all, it needs to retain its perceived position as arbiter and articulator of our neediness.
CNIB will work tirelessly to serve us, provided that serving us also serves its corporate agenda. All one must do is recall the history of the Bowen Island Lodge to know what to expect when CNIB's corporate interests conflict with the expressed desires of blind people. Compare Bowen Island camps during the last few years CNIB ran them with the upbeat work of the blind people who have created the Bowen Camp Society for the Visually Impaired to understand how much better off we could be if CNIB's monopoly came to an end.
James Allen wisely said: "A man has to learn that he cannot command things but that he can command himself; that he cannot coerce the wills of others but that he can mold and master his own will." Blind Canadians would be wise to take Mr. Allen's advice, and stop attempting to mold CNIB into something it was never intended to be. When it comes to CNIB, we know our place. We are not citizens of CNIB; CNIB is not the "country of the blind." If we choose to deal with CNIB, we are clients, always and forever clients. To the extent that CNIB offers services we value, we should avail ourselves of those services and do so with appreciation and without hesitation. But we should never forget that we are only clients.
Though the appearance of client-agency interaction is different from interactions of the Victorian era, the underlying assumptions are the same. If it serves the corporate agenda to listen to clients, CNIB will listen. If it doesn't, clients cannot expect to be heard. Pretending otherwise sets everyone up for fruitless dialogues reminiscent of Charles Dickens. Blind Canadians must stop playing Oliver Twist to CNIB's Mr. Bumble. If we do "want some more," and we most decidedly do, we do not want more from CNIB. We assert that CNIB's structure is no longer suitable. It is right and fair that we express sincere gratitude for the evolutionary role CNIB has played in our history. We harm only ourselves if we feel rancor at the corporation because it remains what it has always been. We value what we have learned from our past; but right here, right now, in 2014 we declare that it is time to move on.
Developments in the area of library services over the past five years demonstrate once again that there is no hope that the charity and rights-based models can coexist harmoniously. CNIB's actions towards libraries clearly demonstrate that the charity corporation will not hesitate to pursue its quest for funding and control, even when that effort is in direct opposition to the blind community's clearly expressed desire for integration and full inclusion.
In the ongoing struggle over library services, CFB has always aimed to promote a publicly run, publicly funded, and publicly accountable service. Our advocacy has put us in direct confrontation with CNIB. The struggle is a sad but unavoidable byproduct of our determination to promote a new idea that threatens old patterns. No matter how clearly we remain focused on what we hope to create, we run the risk of being disparaged as haters who want only to destroy.
Rollo May said: “Freedom is man's capacity to take a hand in his own development. It is our capacity to mold ourselves.” We intend to mold our future by engaging government, the public, and blind Canadians in conversations aimed at fostering human-rights-based approaches to rehabilitation and public services. All blind Canadians as individuals are by right a part of the discussion. CNIB as a corporate entity carries so much baggage and wields so much illegitimate financial and political power that any discussion including CNIB is effectively over before it begins, no matter how much consultation or how many advisory boards are part of the window dressing. The discussion required is a discussion between blind Canadians and our public servants. We will not let public officials off the hook by allowing them to insert the charity paradigm represented by CNIB between blind citizens and their elected governments.
Sighted Canadians don't ever have to doubt that they have the right to become literate and to move freely on the streets and sidewalks of their country. Our schools and our highways are paid for with public money. We defy anyone to explain to us the moral justification for failing to fund our equivalent services publicly—training in Braille, the use of the long white cane, and other confidence and blindness skills. How dare governments in this country declare that we do not have a right to acquire the skills we need, that the prospect of government funding our training is an optional "nice thing to do," but only when public coffers are full!
The people who run our governments are not cruel. They are conforming to the role they have been molded to occupy. Without consciously intending to do so, blind Canadians have helped create that mold. It is our responsibility to break it. We have always had articulate and fearless advocates among us. To the enduring shame of our community, those advocates have far too often stood alone. Our numbers are tiny in comparison with other interest groups. We have behaved as if tiny were synonymous with insignificant and have assumed that nobody would listen because we could not muster thousands to march for our cause. Government processes are complex and confusing. We have felt intimidated and left the work to people we believed were more expert.
Legislators are called on to deal with hundreds of issues. We have not wanted to appear too demanding. Secretly fearing that our deepest desires for full economic and social equality might be impossible dreams, we have sought small concessions instead. Legislators have told us that they find differing points of view among blind people confusing and that they'd be glad to help us when we can all agree. We have allowed ourselves to be bullied into settling on compromise positions that aren't what we truly believe for fear that publicly expressing honest disagreements will leave us with nothing. We have not had the courage to ask the legislators who insist that we must all agree why they don't expect the Catholic Women's League and the National Action Council on the Status of Women to agree on reproductive issues. What about the Sierra Club and the Gateway Pipeline promoters? Since when have blind people been the only Canadian group that is not allowed to speak with a multiplicity of voices?
To our legislators we say, "We have more faith in your capabilities than you seem to have. You were elected because the people in your district believed you are capable of discernment. We are your constituents, and we expect you to exercise that discernment and evaluate the matters we bring to your attention. We will do what we can to ensure that our arguments are clear, reasoned, factual, and complete. You're being paid to be perceptive; if you take the time really to think about what we have to say, we trust your capacity to make wise decisions. When you decide instead to give us the you-must-all-agree speech, please realize that we aren't buying that baloney.”
To ourselves and to all blind Canadians we say: "We are all very, very tired of being patronized by those who still believe that our only authentic faces and voices are the face and voice of charity. Sometimes the task we have undertaken feels too formidable and the results of our efforts too minimal. At one time or another, every one of us has wondered whether the results justify our effort. We do not have the power to mold others; but we can educate and inspire new patterns of belief. We do have the power to mold ourselves through our courage to dream, our capacity to care, and our determination never, ever to quit. Whether we win on the policy issues quickly or with painful slowness, we stand tall as equals in the civil life of Canada. As we work to break the mold that has restricted us to the role of passive charity recipients, we gain personal strength and freedom. That's a new mold we can grow into with joy.
by Eric Duffy
From the Editor: This article is reprinted from the Spring 2014 Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. It was originally entitled “From the President’s Desk,” but it is much more than a way to open a newsletter; it is an honest reflection on what it means to deal with the realities of blindness beyond those we are comfortable with advocating. Here is what he says:
We in the National Federation of the Blind talk a lot about our philosophy of blindness. One definition of philosophy is a belief or system of beliefs accepted as authoritative by a particular group. On a personal level people also have a philosophy about how to live. This can include a philosophy about how to live as a blind person. Just because one says he or she believes in the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, the NFB philosophy does not necessarily govern all aspects of his or her life. There are many reasons for this.
One is that we are all a product of the society in which we live. Sometimes no matter how long we have been active in the Federation, we find ourselves falling victim to one stereotype or another about blindness. It is also possible to apply our understanding of the philosophy to a given situation in such a way that we are contradicting that actual philosophy.
For many years I have struggled with a serious sleep disorder. When I was in college, a psychology professor told me that research indicated that many people who had little or no light perception had sleep problems. Although I heard no more about this research, I continued to battle erratic sleep cycles. I went to a sleep medicine clinic and tried various drugs. None of them worked, and some of them had negative side effects.
Much later in life my family doctor told me that my body was most likely not producing enough melatonin, and therefore my body clock was out of rhythm. For some time I experimented with taking melatonin but achieved no satisfactory results. I was delighted when about four years ago I learned that Vanda Pharmaceuticals was researching this problem in hopes of developing a drug to treat it. The problem is known as non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder (non-24). Those who have the non-24 sleep wake cycle often find it difficult to get to sleep at night. Our sleep is often interrupted by long periods of wakefulness. As a result we often find ourselves falling asleep or very tired during the day.
I know this problem has affected my life in negative ways. On the other hand it does not affect many people with no light perception. The drug, Hetlioz, was approved by the FDA earlier this year, and it will be available sometime this spring. I have long said that I will absolutely be one of the first people in the country to get it when it comes to market. My doctor says he will prescribe it as soon as we know it is available.
What I have found surprising is the unwillingness on the part of several very bright blind people to acknowledge that non-24 even exists. These same people become upset when it is linked to blindness. I know that all too often doctors and other professionals want to attribute every problem in life to blindness. We certainly must do all that we can to resist this temptation on the part of society. But we must also be careful to acknowledge things that can be fairly and accurately attributed to blindness.
If the ability to see light triggers the production of melatonin and if the production of melatonin helps to control our circadian rhythm, it stands to reason that for those of us who have non-24, a drug that helps us produce melatonin might be beneficial. My blindness is the only reason I do not see light. I don’t want to have non-24, but neither do I want to be blind.
No, don’t think I am depressed, or that I hate my life as a blind person. That is far from the truth. I have learned how to live a productive and full life as a blind person. I could have chosen to feel sorry for myself and live a life of doom and gloom. Had I done so, most of society would have been none the wiser, for that is what much of the world still expects of us today. But the National Federation of the Blind gave me a different prescription, and I was eager to have it. It is our positive philosophy of blindness and a group of supportive like-minded Federationists who have changed how I deal with blindness. I have heard blind people say they don’t want to have to take a drug to deal with non-24. I wonder how that differs from those who say, “I don’t want to have to use Braille, a cane, a dog, or a magnifier”?
I don’t write this to promote Hetlioz. I do not benefit from the sale of the drug in any way. I am simply saying that it is okay to be blind and that, if non-24 is a part of blindness for some of us, that is okay as well.
Some people have been upset because they believe that the radio commercials sponsored by Vanda portray blindness in a negative light. I disagree. The commercials present a problem that is connected to blindness and tell those who are interested how to get more information. Non-24 is not a condition that we should hide from; it is one for which we should acknowledge and embrace a possible treatment.
by Mark Riccobono
From the Editor: In celebration of Father’s Day, National Braille Press asked Mark Riccobono to share his experiences playing miniature golf as a child. His article, “Introducing Your Blind Child to Miniature Golf” was mailed along with a print-Braille edition of “Froggy’s Day with Dad,” an appealing story about father-child relationships. This article and many other book-related activities are part of a Great Expectations program NBP is launching this summer with Bridge Multimedia of New York <www.nbp.org>. Here is what Mark has to say about being a blind golfer:
When I was asked to offer some tips for parents of blind children to initiate a game of miniature golf, it reminded me of the fun times my friends and I had at the local driving range and putt-putt course where I grew up in Milwaukee. Now, as the blind father of three beautiful children, I look forward to sharing this same experience with my kids—when they are old enough to swing a club—especially my youngest two who have vision loss.
Until then, allow me some vicarious pleasure in sharing these tips with you. The key is to remember that vision is not a requirement for success and to use nonvisual cues. I might add that “putting makes perfect.”
Here are seven general guidelines to engage your child in a game of miniature golf:
In closing I want to encourage you to reach out to blind mentors in your area who could join your outing. Certainly, if you live in the Baltimore area, I would be pleased to participate <email@example.com> or contact your local affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind <https://nfb.org/state-and-local-organizations>. Blind mentors offer a great opportunity for blind children to build valuable relationships that can last a lifetime. There is a national association of blind golfers <www.usblindgolf.com> that I’m not personally familiar with, but their website says they have sponsored five thousand junior blind golfers since 1998.
Let the games begin. Just writing this reminds me that I need to get the kids ready for some summer outings. And the good thing is everyone can hit a hole-in-one at the ice cream store afterwards!
From the Editor: When many of you read this, it is likely you will have just returned from the seventy-fourth convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida, and witnessed the election of a new president. Unless something quite unforeseen happens, Marc Maurer will have concluded his tenure as the longest-serving president in the history of the Federation and will have done so by delivering his final banquet speech in that office. But, for those who were not yet members and those whose memories will be stretched a bit, what was his banquet speech twenty-two years ago, a speech in which he talks about the necessary ingredients for mounting and sustaining an effective movement, one in which he discusses the attitudes of the public as espoused in the professional literature by scientists, physicians, and the reporter working his beat? All of these are relevant as, in this issue, we look at the role of the media in shaping attitudes about the blind, the role of the National Federation of the Blind in putting forward our message, and the role of a leader and the organization he or she leads in creating better lives for the blind. All of this and more is contained in President Maurer’s speech. Here is what he said:
"Human history," said H. G. Wells, "is in essence a history of ideas."
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., declared that "Men may come to believe that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market."
In 1644 John Milton wrote, "Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"
At the beginning of the sixteenth century Erasmus stated, "Time reveals all things."
Such eminent scholars have believed that a new idea—one which expresses perceived reality more exactly than its predecessor—is, in and of itself, imbued with sufficient power to banish error. According to these philosophers, the innovative thought (once formulated) will inevitably, in the course of time, replace the old. However, the record of events in our own century fails to substantiate this hypothesis. We have seen the most generous and benevolent of creeds and the most despicable and tyrannical of practices exist in the same country at the same time without any indication that either was unalterably fated to triumph. The assertion of individual freedom and the toleration of slavery have occurred side by side in modern civilization—and racism (of both kinds, incidentally) is still with us.
If the objective in seeking the truth is to achieve fairness and decency—and I believe it is—time and a new idea are not enough. Within the framework of time there must be at least three components that come together. First, an idea must be conceived which contains an element of understanding that has not previously been reached. Second, a proponent of that idea must arise—a leader with the capacity to articulate the nuances in a way that will compel recognition. And finally, there must be a group of individuals prepared to defend what has been propounded. Such concert of effort is essential not only to protect the new thought but to give it body and substance, to explore its full meaning and implications.
In a fireplace one log by itself, regardless of how big, will almost certainly fail to burn. There must be at least two. The flame from one is reflected by the other. The brightness and heat come from the space between the logs, the reflection of the flame.
As it is with flame, so it is with ideas. A new idea has only a limited time to take fire, to catch the imagination of the public and burn. And if the flame is to be reflected—the kindling point sustained—more than a single person is required. There must be two, five, ten—at least a handful—to build the heat and speed the process. Regardless of its merit, if an idea (once ignited) fails to reflect the flame of group interaction, its time will soon pass, and it will disappear into insignificance and be forgotten. Of course, an idea can be revived (many times, in fact, if the need is sufficiently urgent), but the process must always begin anew. And if the idea is to live and prosper—if it is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of people—all of the elements must be present: the idea, a leader, and at least a handful to reflect the flame.
And what of the blind—what of us? Time and time again throughout our history one or another of the elements has been present: the idea of a better life for the blind; a leader, like Zisca, the blind fifteenth-century general and statesman from Bohemia; or a group of blind people, like the medieval guilds, prepared to take collective action. But in each instance, there was something lacking. However, in 1940, all of the elements came together—a new idea; a vibrant, inspiring leader; and a dedicated group of blind persons prepared to help each other in shaping the future. In that year Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and a handful of others from seven states gathered in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to inaugurate our movement, which has changed forever the expectations and aspirations of the blind.
When the National Federation of the Blind was founded, the prospects for the blind of this country were utterly desolate. There was little education, almost no hope of a job, and virtually no chance for meaningful participation in other activities of life. Books for the blind were few and very difficult to get. Communication among blind people (at least on a nationwide basis) was almost nonexistent. The guarantee (or, for that matter, the recognition) of meaningful civil rights for the blind was a matter for the distant future—if anybody thought about it at all. Sometimes there were dreams of a home, a family, and the duties and privileges of citizenship; but these dreams rarely came to fruition. From such unpromising beginnings almost no one (no one, that is, except the founders of the Federation) believed that a dynamic national movement could arise. But look about you! We are here in our thousands—we who embraced the new idea, hoped and fought for a brighter tomorrow, and stayed to become the most powerful force in the affairs of the blind in the nation—the National Federation of the Blind.
Tonight (over fifty years after our founding) as we gather from every corner of the country, our record of accomplishment spans the years for all to read. Indeed, not all of our problems have been solved—but many have. And those that remain appear more glaring and unrelieved because of the distance we have come from the beliefs and general climate of the 1940s. To confirm this fact, compare the conditions of our first decade with our situation today. How do the general public, the agencies for the blind, and the media view us—and, for that matter, how do we view ourselves? How have we fared in half a century?
Attitudes today are so much better and more realistic than they were during the first years of the Federation that we tend to react with outrage and resentment when we find instances of what would have been commonplace in our first decade—especially when the outmoded ideas come from supposedly enlightened quarters.
Consider, for instance, one treatment of the blind by the medical profession—generally regarded as among the most scientific of the disciplines. Although these statements were made only four years ago, they are reminiscent of the attitudes which predominated when the Federation came into being. In an article entitled "Identifying and Treating the Client with Sensory Loss" (which appeared in the Summer 1987 issue of Physical & Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics) the argument is made that decreased visual function causes decreased cognitive function. In other words, if you can't get information from your eyes, your capacity to think diminishes. Perhaps it is obvious that if there is no stimulation whatever from any sensory organ, there will be no raw material to use in the thinking process. If this were all that was meant, no one could quarrel with it. However, the article demonstrates unmistakably that the claim being made is much broader. As you ponder this so-called scientific treatise, keep in mind that the grammatical construction and usage are those of the author—not mine. And also keep in mind that the author is talking about you and me. Here are quotations from the article:
“Impaired vision can result in a person behaving as though they were demented. Low vision decreases an individual's social interaction due to the inability to perceive non-verbal cues such as smiles, frowns, gestures, and even recognition of faces. Snyder, Pyrek, and Smith found a direct inverse relationship between vision impairment and mental acuity.”
I remind you that this is not a passage from an ancient, hoary work of mysticism. It is less than five years old. And I must say that this supposedly objective author packs a lot of prejudice (and a good deal of ignorance) into a very few words. In this one brief excerpt she says that the blind may exhibit the behavior of the demented, that we are unable to interact socially, and that the less we can see the more we can't think. And in case there is any doubt about the attitude of the writer toward the blind, consider this recommendation from that portion of the text containing so-called "strategies to help." Remember that the person about whom this advice is being given is blind—not emotionally traumatized, not mentally unhinged, not psychologically deranged—just blind.
“It is important” [the author says] “to avoid moving personal belongings and furniture without the consent of the visually impaired client, especially in the client's home.”
A brief quotation, not dramatic—but examine the nuances. Do the medical professionals you know come to your residence to rearrange the furniture? Is it assumed that one of their responsibilities is to decide what pattern should be established in your home—presumably, of course, just for your own good? Or is this simply another variation of the ancient myth not only that we who are blind memorize the location and arrangement of all items in our homes but also that movement of anything will visit disorientation and danger upon the unfortunate automatons who live there?
Such fables and stereotypes (even when surrounded with the trappings of science) are still only fables and stereotypes. Their placement in the literature of the medical profession does not change their pseudoscientific nature. They are as ridiculous and as devastating to the future of the blind as any of the misbegotten, benighted theories of the Middle Ages—or the 1940s—or, for that matter, last week or yesterday. They are not a description of reality but a reiteration of ignorance. Blindness does not mean that we have lost our sanity, our ability to think, or our interpersonal skills. Let those who doubt our capacity come to this convention. We will interact socially with the best of them; we will continue to think for ourselves; and we will make the plans and take the actions to determine the shape of our own tomorrow. We have the ideas; we have the leadership; and we have the people. Nothing can prevent us from going the rest of the way to freedom, for we will not let it happen. We have reached the kindling point, and we absolutely intend to reflect the flame.
As members of the National Federation of the Blind know, an increasing number of our experiences with the scientific community are not negative but positive. In fact, many of us work as members of the scientific establishment. There are blind physicists, blind chemists, blind electrical engineers, and blind computer scientists. Then, too, there are the mathematicians.
The cover story of the May 13, 1989, edition of Science News describes the work of Bernard Morin at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, France. One specialty of mathematics is topology, the study of the relationship of shapes. A classic problem in topology is how to reverse the surface of a sphere (turn it inside out) without permitting it to crease. The solution to this (and other abstruse conundrums) has helped resolve problems in disciplines outside mathematics—such as molecular biology, particle physics, and cosmology. Although it has been theoretically possible to perform this sphere reversal (known as an eversion), nobody has been able, until recently, to describe the concept in three-dimensional terms. However, the problem has now been solved. And how do you suppose the solution was reached? Here are excerpts from the Science News article:
“Morin” [the article tells us] “starts with a cuboctahedron, which looks like a cube with its corners lopped off, [and] transforms the cuboctahedron into a curiously shaped figure, which he calls the "central model," with only twelve faces. A sequence of six elementary moves carries the central model through the tricky stages of the eversion. A final flurry of moves produces an octahedron again, now turned inside out.”
Quoting the scientist George K. Francis the article continues:
“Bernard Morin is not distracted, like the rest of us, by pencil and paper and the business of drawing and looking at pictures. He is blind. With superb spatial imagination he assembles complicated homotopies [transformations] of surfaces directly in space. He keeps track of temporal changes in the double curves and the surface patches spanning them. His instructions to the artist consist of a vivid description of the model in his mind.”
This report in Science News illustrates the fundamental proposition that understanding is not a matter of visual acuity—but even in doing this, it shows the power of the outmoded stereotype. Morin, we are told, is not distracted like the rest of us by pencil and paper and the business of drawing and looking at pictures. He is blind—and so, presumably, in a rarefied inner world of his own, not troubled by the humdrum images of everyday life. Nonsense! If he is intelligent, he is intelligent. Blindness has nothing to do with it.
Most of us do not know and could not imagine why the topological problem of the French mathematician is important. But we can readily understand that the blind are as capable as others of addressing and solving complex questions. The factor limiting our progress is, as it has always been, the failure of society to believe in our ability. It is not the absence of the visual image that stifles growth, but the failure of imagination. Not all of us are scientists, but some of us are. Not all of us aspire to study mathematical relationships, but all of us insist that those with the talent and desire to participate in this exacting discipline should be able to do it. With such commitment we will expand our horizons and create greater opportunity. With such dedication we have built the National Federation of the Blind. With such determination we reflect the flame.
A recently published collection of character sketches by Amy Hempel entitled At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom contains a one-sentence description of an encounter with a blind man. Apparently without giving it a thought, the author reinforces the belief that the blind are incompetent, that we are very often lost, that we do not have the ability to perceive our surroundings, that it is customary and decent to give preference to the blind, that very often the primary interest of our lives is food, and that we are pathetic. It is all accomplished in a single sentence, done with fewer than twenty-five words. Here they are: "Today, when a blind man walked into the bank, we handed him along to the front of the line, where he ordered a BLT."
Dramatic? No, of course not. In the story the incident is unemphasized, routine, taken for granted. A blind man walks into a bank, is automatically moved to the head of the line, and then is so disoriented that he orders a sandwich instead of money. If we aren't careful, the significance is so astonishing as to be lost in the shuffle of the everyday. The author finds this occurrence so commonplace that it is unemphasized, routine, taken for granted. That is precisely the point. More often than not our road to hell has been paved with things which have been unemphasized, routine, and taken for granted. But no more! We have the idea; we have the leaders; and we have the drive to work together, to support each other, and to advance our movement. We have reached the kindling point, and we intend to reflect the flame.
In the spring of 1990 Newsweek magazine reported in an article entitled "Making the Most of Sight" that, "After AIDS and cancer, the medical crisis Americans fear most is blindness. Not being able to see the stark outline of a winter tree," the article tells us, "or the final scene of 'Casablanca'—the loss is almost unimaginable." When I read this item from Newsweek, I was struck by the contrast contained in those first few lines. AIDS and cancer kill. Blindness does not. So what is the almost unimaginable loss? Is it really so bad to be without the visual impression of a tree in winter? Is it truly of vital importance to observe visually the final scene in a movie? Does blindness mean that we cannot enjoy art or appreciate the experience of nature? Many (far too many) of the sighted would say yes, but we who live with blindness every day emphatically say, no! After all, we are the ones with the data to know. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that there is (at least for this blind person) much joy to be gained from a brisk walk in a winter wood. Is the joy as much for me as for my sighted neighbors? One is tempted to ask, "Who cares?" The experience is exhilarating, fulfilling. That is sufficient. When our lives are diminished, it is not our blindness that does it but the misconceptions and oddball notions we face. It is not the failure to see the stark outline of a winter tree that gives us trouble but some of the stark attitudes we have to deal with.
Let me be clearly understood. I am not saying that sight is not useful. Nor am I arguing that it is wrong to try to improve one's ability to see—quite the contrary. However, I am saying that sight is not a requirement for a good life—not the beginning and the end of existence. We who are blind are not automatically prevented from having joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment; and those who believe otherwise are simply misinformed.
An advertisement published in the Guy-Gannett newspapers in Maine about a year ago says: "Illiteracy is a little bit like blindness. Both are handicaps. And both mean you can't see everything. A person who can't read can't really see the morning paper or a child's report card, a street sign or a prescription. Fortunately, illiteracy is a handicap one can overcome." Implied in this advertisement is the notion that both blindness and illiteracy make a person unable to function but that although both of them are bad, at least illiteracy can be changed. For the blind, apparently, there is not much hope.
What a distortion! To be blind is not to be ignorant, and we are not prepared to permit such a portrayal of ourselves. Federationists in Maine took the newspaper to task. Rank-and-file members communicated their indignation to the newspaper's management—and the combination worked. Within a few days a retraction appeared. The blind are capable, and we intend that the public shall recognize this fact. Newspapers, some of the most powerful shapers of public opinion, often reflect the misconceptions that are a part of the public image of blindness. But when it comes to blindness, they are not the authorities. They must learn from us. In half a century we have gained more knowledge and experience about blindness than anybody else, and we know how to apply the lessons we have learned. Regardless of the source, we simply will not accept ignorance about blindness without protest. We have a right to expect a public image that will not stifle our hopes or limit our opportunities, and we have formed the most powerful organization that the blind have ever known to get the job done. You know the name of that organization as well as I do—the National Federation of the Blind.
There are a number of university programs which attempt to instruct teachers of the blind. Some of the most obnoxious presentations about blindness may be gathered from the literature being disseminated in these academic settings. Consider a description of the blind contained in course materials currently being distributed at San Francisco State University. An article by Mary Morrison entitled "The Other 128 Hours a Week: Teaching Personal Management to Blind Young Adults" asserts that many blind adults do not know how to make a peanut butter sandwich, have not learned to pour cereal into a bowl, have not been taught to purchase items from the grocery store, are unable to handle money, cannot boil water on the stove, are unfamiliar with the location of the refrigerators in their own homes, and are so weak that they cannot lift a pitcher to pour water. Unless you study some of this material for yourself, you will have difficulty believing that the prejudice can be as pervasive and deep-seated as it really is. Perhaps the segment of this article which begins with the caption "can openers" will illustrate the point. Notice the folksy manner of speech used to help persuade the student that the statements being made are accurate. Here is what the author says:
Now, I believe, we are up to the can openers. Each can opener seems to have a special trick to operating it. And, nearly without exception, the blind young person is not even allowed to try to use it. In any event we turn to the manual can opener that mother finds in the back of some drawer, and then we run into the "strength" problem. Opening a can requires strength.
I can immediately think [the author continues] of five young people on our caseload who are not considered to be handicapped other than by their blindness, who cannot lift a full two-quart pitcher to pour from it. I first learned this when I naively asked a twenty-one-year-old college student to pour a cup of coffee from a fresh pot on his stove. Not only did the heat terrify him, he actually could not lift the coffee pot off the stove! Why? He and the others never lift anything! They do not exercise. They do nothing but go to school (which exempts them from physical education), go to church, and watch television. Their arms are limp. So we have to go back to the beginning with pitcher, partly full, with cool water, and learn how to pour.
That is what the author says, and one is tempted to pass off such drivel with the remark that no serious-minded human being could be taken in by the idiocy. Of course, there are occasional blind people who cannot find the stove or tie their shoes. However, to generalize from these isolated cases that the blind are incapable of a wide array of the simplest daily chores is, to put it mildly, utter nonsense. But those who would dismiss these course materials have not reckoned with the pedestrian nature of certain professional educators who teach the teachers of the blind. Along with the article I have quoted are included separate evaluation sheets constructed so that the person teaching the blind client can record the progress of the student. One of the categories to be registered in these evaluations is—if you can believe it—pouring. The evaluation sheet for Level I contains the category "Pouring—Cold liquids." In Level III the student has progressed to "Pours hot liquids." In Level IV the entry is "Pours (advanced)." What, one wonders, is included in the arcane science of "advanced pouring"?
The insufferable arrogance inherent in these writings is epitomized in the explanation of the title, "The Other 128 Hours a Week: Teaching Personal Management to Blind Young Adults." The underlying premise of this outline of teaching techniques for instructors of the blind is that almost all of the schooling for blind recipients of rehabilitation has been directed toward the skills needed for sedentary employment and that it is the job of the rehabilitation counselors to teach them how to manage their leisure and personal activities. In each week there are seven 24-hour days. Forty hours are used for work. So what do the blind do with the other 128 hours a week? The bombastic conclusion is that without the ministrations of the so-called "professionals" of rehabilitation, we might be faced with the prospect of sitting around doing nothing. As the author says, we just mostly go to school, go to church, and watch television. Don't you believe it! Those who have been to this convention could tell her otherwise.
I have been reading documents from the "professional literature" about blindness for more than twenty years, and I cannot remember ever running across one which contained so little discernment. Where do such people get these ideas? Think about it. Do you have the strength to operate a can opener? Can you make a sandwich or pour a cup of coffee? They are writing about you and me. They tell us—and anybody else who will listen—that they have come to help. But we don't want such assistance—and we don't need it. Of course, like anybody else, we need education; and we also need training in the skills of blindness—but in matters such as those described, we can and we will do for ourselves. The description of the blind by this author as little more than basket cases is among the principal obstacles preventing us from becoming successful, competent people. But we are changing the image. We have reached the kindling point, and we intend to reflect the flame.
One Friday evening a few months ago, I reached into my mail basket and found a letter from a man from New Jersey. If his story were unique, it would be poignant enough—but it is not unique. It is an everyday occurrence in the lives of tens of thousands of the blind of this country, underlining with grim insistence the need (yes, the necessity) for the National Federation of the Blind. The details, reported in an article published in an Atlantic City newspaper, show once more why we have organized and what we must do. Here, as told by the reporter, is the saga of Bill, whose real name, for obvious reasons, I have not used:
What happens to a man who suddenly loses the tools he used to measure his worth in the world?
What happens to a man when he turns to those whose very job it is to help him, and he is ignored?
This is what happened to one man.
On a Saturday morning in the summer of 1988, he woke up blind.
At once he denied what was obvious.
He washed and dressed and picked up the morning paper—a habit as fixed as pulling on his pants.
He couldn't read it. He put it down, said nothing, and left the house.
He drove to the office, slowly, deliberately, guessing at the traffic lights he could not see.
When he arrived at the office, he was alone. He sat down at his computer terminal, and there confronted the cold fact that he could not see the copy he was supposed to type.
Bill started to come undone.
He had no idea what would happen next. He had worked as a typesetter and computer operator all of his adult life. What could he do now?
Bill saw the publisher of the paper. When he explained to her what had happened, she offered him a handshake and two words: "Good luck."
The next day, Bill registered for state disability payments. He would receive less than half of his old salary.
He doesn't sit still well. Retirement was never part of his life's plan. Work was all. He needed to regain his workday world. He needed a start.
It was October when he called and spoke with a receptionist [at the New Jersey Commission for the Blind]. She said a representative of the commission would get in touch. Soon afterward a caseworker called to make an appointment.
He arrived full of assurances.
Bill told him what had happened. He spoke of his work as a computer operator and supplied the caseworker with his medical history. He also spoke of the long and lonely days he had been living through.
"I told him I was going nuts. He asked me what I liked to do, and I said, 'read—but I can't even do that.' I told him, 'I need to find a job.'”
He said, “You have been paying into the system all of your life, now it is time to reap the benefits."
The caseworker was sympathetic. He said he would provide a cassette player for Bill and arrange for him to receive books on tape from the library.
Bill was led to believe that the commission would help him return to work. He was told he would need a medical examination. He was told the commission would pay the doctor's bill and instructed to wait until the appropriate forms were assembled. The caseworker said he would call when everything was in place to make the appointment.
The commission appeared to be a godsend. Here, Bill thought, was more than a promise to help; here was the way back into the world.
During the weeks that followed that first meeting with the caseworker, Bill grew anxious. He made several calls to the commission's offices. None was returned.
November turned into December. Bill had been out of work for more than three months, a fact made all the more harsh when he realized that his [medical insurance] coverage had been cut off on September 1.
It was early in December when the caseworker called again with the go-ahead to schedule a medical exam. Bill was told to call back with the date arranged so the forms for payment could be forwarded to the doctor. He did, and on December 7, Bill saw his doctor.
Bill left the doctor and stepped up to the receptionist's desk. He asked her about the forms. She said they had received no forms. He paid for his visit. A few days later, the caseworker called to arrange another meeting.
"He was here for maybe ten minutes. I told him I went to the doctor, but they didn't have any forms from the commission so I had to pay for the visit. I showed him the receipt and he said okay. I expected him to say that I would be reimbursed, but he didn't. He said the commission's doctor would review the results of my exam. I told him I never received the cassette player. He said he would check on that when he got back to the office and call me."
A few weeks later, Christmas arrived looking like just another day. No word from the caseworker.
In January, 1989, the state disability payments stopped and Bill became eligible for Social Security. His income dropped again.
He made more phone calls to his caseworker. None was returned.
The cold bound him to the house, and it was easy to ride out the day on the endless stream of daytime TV. One day turned into the next, each the same, as empty as the slate-gray winter sky. January eventually became February.
By March, 1989, Bill had been unemployed for more than six months. More than three months had passed since he had heard from his caseworker.
Phone calls to his caseworker at the commission's office in April were never returned.
This is a tiny part of what the extensive newspaper article tells us about Bill's story. It goes on to say that a friendly newspaper reporter called the Department of Human Services on Bill's behalf to complain.
The next day [the paper continues] Bill got a call from his caseworker.
When [the commission staff member] arrived at the house, there was no mention of his nearly five-month absence, not a word about all of the phone calls that were never returned. Instead, he announced that the commission had reviewed the medical exam performed in December, [remember that we are now in April] and was now prepared to address the problem.
In August Bill was given a series of oral and written examinations by a psychologist at the commission's office. He was told the tests were part of the process that would return him to the workplace.
In September he received the results of the exams. He was weak in mechanical skills, but sharp in computer-oriented skills. The psychologist noted that he was suffering a lack of self-worth. He was depressed.
In October his caseworker brought him a typewriter. He should refresh his typing skills, he was told. The caseworker said he had also arranged for an instructor to come out to the house to help.
Bill thought it was an odd gesture. Had he been waiting a year for a typewriter?
"I was desperate. I'm sure I sounded like I was begging. I said to him, 'Listen, in the beginning I told you I wanted to work to get out of the house, to have something to do. But now,' I said, 'there isn't any money left. It's a necessity. I need work. Any kind of work.'"
Before the month was out Bill met the typing instructor, a young woman, who is blind, who showed him how a blind person becomes acclimated to a keyboard. But Bill knows the keyboard. Bill thought the session pointless.
In November his caseworker called him to the commission's office. [By this time Bill had been blind and out of work for well over a year.]
And that day, for the first time, there was talk of a job.
"The caseworker said, 'I'm going to Atlantic City tomorrow to see about getting you an appointment at Bally's Grand.' I said, 'great.' I was ecstatic. This was just before Thanksgiving. After the holiday he called to say we had a tentative meeting on Friday. He would call back with a definite time."
The week faded into the next. The caseworker never called. Bill felt conned.
[This is the story of Bill as reported in the press. Do you know Bill? Do you recognize him? How many of us here in this room find ourselves painfully reflected in the details?
The article goes on to describe a series of telephone calls made by the reporter to state officials. Then it continues.]
It was now December, 1989. The client service representative, who is blind, and his driver arrived at midday. He sat down with his laptop computer in a chair near the Christmas tree in the living room. His driver sat in the kitchen. Bill spoke.
Why were his phone calls never returned? Why didn't his caseworker ever call to say what happened to the interview? Why didn't he get the cassette player? Why were his hospital bills still not paid? What was he supposed to say to the collection agencies that were now hounding him? Why, after a fifteen-month relationship with the commission, was he no better off than the first day he found himself out of work?
"I never asked you people for a handout," Bill said. "I asked for help. I need help. I'm fifty-eight years old, and I'm not going to just sit around this house waiting to die."
The client service representative called Bill on December 20. It was a short one-sided conversation. "The deal with Bally's fell through," he said. "Your caseworker will be in touch with you soon."
Three weeks later, Bill received a letter from his caseworker dated January 16, 1990. It read in part: "This is to inform you that the paperwork is now being generated so the [medical] bills you incurred can be paid. I will be contacting you shortly to discuss your status with the commission and other related items."
In February, Bill received notice that a registered letter had arrived for him at the post office. It was from his caseworker. The first sentence of the letter, dated February 6, read: "On Wednesday, February 14, 1990, I will contact you via telephone between 9:00 AM and 12:00 noon."
Bill was dumbfounded.
"Who sends a registered letter to a blind man. I had to get a neighbor to drive me down to the post office to get it. It cost two dollars to send it. For what? To tell me he would call me?"
On February 14, the caseworker called at 1:45 PM to say he would come out to see Bill on Wednesday the 21st. He would have forms to fill out.
On February 21 the caseworker called to say his secretary had not finished typing the forms. He said he would be out to see Bill the first thing the next day.
On February 22 the caseworker did not show. He did not call. Dumbfounded was no longer an adequate word to describe Bill's state of mind.
On February 27 when the caseworker did call, a new date was set for the appointment.
"In all of this time they couldn't get me even an interview?" [Bill questioned,] "Not one interview? Is there nothing? Is this it? Look at me. I clean the house. I make lunch at noon. I start dinner at five. This can't be it.
"And yet, here I sit. I'm no better off today than I was the day I first called the commission."
That was eighteen months ago.
I got Bill's letter last year just after the occurrence of the events I've been relating to you. I tried to call him, but I couldn't find a number listed in his name. I telephoned the reporter and eventually tracked down the information. I spoke with Bill and invited him to join the Federation. We talked about the work that blind people are doing all over America. I asked Bill to believe that there is more for those who are blind than the papershuffling and dreariness of some of the agencies for the blind. There is the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind—a spirit that springs from a joint effort to achieve fully productive lives, the commitment of mutual support, and the enthusiasm of the discovery that blindness need not mean helplessness or hopelessness. All of this is a part of the organized blind movement, our movement, the National Federation of the Blind.
How long does it take to extinguish the spark of initiative—to kill the spirit and crush the dream? For Bill it takes more than eighteen months. He has joined our movement, and he is once again employed as a computer operator. I suppose I need not tell you that he found the job without the help of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind.
Yet, there are those who tell us that we are harsh and unreasonable in criticizing some of the governmental and private agencies established to help the blind. Let them call us what they will and say what they please. We have the idea of freedom; we have the leaders; and we know how to work together and support each other. We have reached the kindling point—and we intend to reflect the flame.
There was a time when it was accepted that the blind would be on the fringe of society—a burden to be carried—unproductive, unwanted, shunned. There were occasional individuals who fought this common perception, but they were generally defeated by the force of so-called "common sense." But then there came together the essential elements for change. It cannot happen in a moment, but the process is thoroughly under way. Much that is written and thought about blindness is as fraught with misunderstanding as one could possibly imagine. The experts in gerontology tell us that visual acuity and intellectual capacity are linked. Newspaper editors declare that blindness, like illiteracy, indicates ignorance and incapacity. The weekly news magazines suggest that being blind is almost as bad as suffering from AIDS or cancer. The educators in the universities who are supposed to bring enlightenment to instructors of the blind disseminate the view that we have difficulty opening a can or pouring water. The agencies established to provide service to the blind direct us to wait patiently and reap the benefits of a welfare check.
Nevertheless, conditions for the blind in the 1990s are dramatically and enormously different from those that prevailed fifty years ago. Despite the litany of problems I have recited, our prospects are better than they have ever been. Our present is more fulfilling. Our future is more promising. Blind mathematicians astonish their colleagues with their innovative solutions to the most difficult problems. Despite the laziness and befuddlement of certain segments of the agency establishment, the tide is turning the other way. Increasingly the agencies are working with us, and the momentum is building. New fields are being entered, new employment and independence achieved. And of course, a growing number of agencies are managed by Federationists and operated with Federation philosophy—with dramatic results. Although the literature often contains references which belittle the capacity of the blind, there are also (and ever more frequently) the positive images—and we are not without our own capacity to write.
A powerful new spirit now moves in the blind of the nation—and also in growing numbers of the public. The vital elements for an alteration in the pattern of our experience have come together in an energetic and forceful mixture. We in this room tonight are the force which will propel our movement through the last decade of the twentieth century and into the one beyond. We are the components—the leaders from throughout the country, the rank-and-file members, the new inspiration. We will make the difference, for we must. Our record of achievement during more than half a century will be remembered with pride, but it is only the prelude. Each generation must do for itself and build on the past. We have learned that lesson well. We have learned it from each other and from our own experiences. In our yearning for freedom, others can go with us, but we must lead the way. We have not only reached but gone beyond the kindling point. We are the blind who reflect the flame. No organization on earth that deals with blindness has the strength, the determination, or the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind. My brothers and my sisters, come! Remember those who have shown the way, and those who will come after. We will believe in each other—and with joy in our hearts, we will go to meet the future!
by Everette Bacon
From the Editor: Everette Bacon is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, a lover of the written word, and a man who can use it to add his significant reflections to what we know about being blind. The NFB of Utah has been selling a flash card filled with Federation speeches and other documents, and this library is what Everette credits for providing him the material he discusses in this article. Here is what he has to say:
Let me first say that, if you have not acquired an NFB Library Card, you are truly missing out! I would like Dr. Norm Gardner to stand up and be recognized publicly for putting together one of the most important and educational collections of materials and publications about blindness and the NFB ever made! Thank you, Norm.
I have been studying Dr. Jacobus tenBroek as of late and have really come to appreciate his teachings and how relevant they are in today’s society. His most significant works were written and presented over sixty years ago, but, when I examine myself and reflect on where blind people in Utah are today, his writings are pertinent in so many ways.
All of you here today have assembled because you either recognize that you are blind or have low vision, or you are a sighted person who is married to or related to a blind person, or your profession involves the blind and low vision. I include the term “low vision” because there are people in this room who do not yet recognize themselves as blind. And why would they? According to Webster’s Dictionary the word blind has several meanings. 1) Sightless, 2) lacking discernment, unable or unwilling to understand or judge as blind to faults, 3) made without reason or discrimination as a blind choice, 4) apart from intelligent direction or control as blind chance, 5) insensible as a blind stupor hence drunk, 6) made without knowledge or guidance or judgment as a blind purchase. After reading those definitions, I think I’ve come to find that many of us are blind in a multitude of ways. All kidding aside, it is certainly understandable after hearing the definition that one might decide that he would prefer not to be called blind.
Many of you know that I grew up in a small Baptist church and that my grandfather was the preacher of that church for over thirty years. He is gone now, but I still think of him fondly, and, when he was in the pulpit, he enjoyed and encouraged the congregation to interact with him whenever he would make a point of conviction. Many church members might say the word “Amen” after such a point. I hope you might do the same after I make the next statement: it is indeed respectable to be blind! (This is the point where you people say “Amen.”)
At this convention you will see and hear from a lawyer, a chemist, a chaplain, a bronze medalist, a dancer, a professor, a coordinator, a director, a counselor, a military leader, a policy and legislative analyst, a mother and father, a student, an intern, and on and on and on! And every single one of them is blind. The fact that we are blind does not mean that we lack judgment or we lack balance or we lack common sense or we lack the ability to reason or any other ignorant comparison to which our disability label is attached.
Is it our responsibility or duty to help continue this movement of changing what it means to be blind? Yes, it is our duty. I ask you, if we are not willing to organize and advocate for ourselves, then who will?
I grew up with hereditary blindness. My great-grandmother was blind and ran a vending stand at the Oklahoma federal courthouse. She used a guide dog for all of her adult life. She raised and maintained chickens, and she was proud to state that she outlived six husbands! She had a brother who was also blind, whom I never met. He had a blind son (my great uncle) who is a farmer in Oklahoma. My grandmother who was blind was a USO volunteer in Oklahoma; she met my grandfather while he was serving in the Navy during World War II. They were married just two weeks after meeting each other. After he finished his military service, he went to seminary and was ordained as a Baptist minister. My grandmother understood her role and willingly became the matriarch of every church he pastored throughout his career. She was always considered the most beautiful woman in the church. She dressed with style and grace, and her hair and makeup were always perfect. She was a true Texan debutant! They gave birth to two daughters who were both blind. My mother had more vision than my aunt when they were younger, but they both eventually went completely blind. My aunt graduated from the University of California and became a rehabilitation professional. She has worked in both vocational rehabilitation and independent living. In California she ran a center that helped disabled people find affordable housing. She was recognized by Governor Jerry Brown for the success of this organization. My mother worked with my aunt part-time, and she also was a proud homemaker. My aunt had a daughter who is blind, and my mom gave birth to me. My cousin is also a mother of two blind daughters.
I tell you my family history in blindness because I am not ashamed of where and who I come from. Blindness is such a part of my existence that I really do not think I could ever understand what life would be without it. Unfortunately, I did not grow up with the NFB. My family certainly knew about organizations of the blind, but they rarely ever got involved. I was never told that I could not be successful as a blind person, but I was told that I would have to settle for a certain kind of career, and I was never told to accept my impending blindness. I was taught to hold on to my decreasing vision for as long as I could. For this reason I never learned Braille as a kid or young adult, I never used a cane, and alternative techniques were reserved to figuring out how to see it with my limited vision. The first person in my life who made me understand and comprehend that I was going to become completely blind and that I better start planning and accepting it was my wife Angela. She is a medical professional who just so happened to be working with a geneticist that was studying my family history, and she realized that my family and I were in denial about me. She was the one who lit the fire from within me to go and find out more. In many ways she led me to the NFB, and I thank her for that. If I could have found the NFB when I was a child or as an impressionable teenager, I wonder how different I would be today? My family did not realize or understand the important work of the NFB. They never learned how the NFB was working to change the social definition of blindness.
That is the difference between what our children and young people have now. They have what many of us did not growing up. They have you. They have someone who knows what you know. They have someone who can light the fire from within them. As blind people we must continue this important work. We must continue to advocate and organize. It is our duty to change the social stigma attached to being blind. We must be the ones to light the fire from within those who don’t know they have the fire now.
If there is anything that I hope the NFB has taught you, it is that you have ability—the ability to be whatever you want to be without settling for something less. You have the ability to do whatever you want to do without being worried that you are not equipped to do it. What I know the NFB has given each of you is the spark…the flicker…the flame. The NFB lit your fire, baby!
I guess I should ask if any of you are old enough to remember The Doors. I’m not sure if I’m sad or just old—but can you believe there are people walking around today that have no idea who The Doors are? Well, I am going to wildly misquote them and use the lyrics of arguably their best known song to inspire you to do for someone else what the NFB has done for you:
The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now—we can only lose
And our cause will become a funeral pyre
Come on baby, light someone’s fire!
Come on baby, light someone’s fire!
Try to set the world on fire!!!
Okay—maybe the words of Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger may not be classy enough for some—but it all boils down to the same thing. We need to be inspired, and we need to inspire others. That is the whole reason we are at this conference. We are here to be inspired—but this conference is a failure if we do not then go out and inspire others. We need our fires lit, and we need to light the fires of others. Come on baby, light some fires.
I want to leave you with a quote from Cesar Chavez, a civil rights activist: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
Come and be active in your local chapter meetings, help strengthen a division. Join this movement—for we are the blind, and our social change will not be stopped!
by Gary Wunder
How would the person most responsible for conceiving of, creating, and overseeing the production of the Twin Vision book describe her introduction to the blind people she would give so much of her life's energy to helping? There is no need to guess. Here is what she said about her reaction when seeing a notice in the newspaper about a rummage sale sponsored by the blind: "I had never known any blind people, but I decided to gather up some rummage and go help. I discovered a group of normal folks whose only problem was that they could not see."
Jean Dyon Norris says herself that she had no experience with blindness, no reason to become interested in learning Braille. But from that first rummage sale she made friends, and when she heard a friend saying how hard it was not to be able to read her children a bedtime story, she took on her friend's problem, and she found a solution.
The LA Times obituary of Jean Norris quotes Laurie Rubin, an acclaimed mezzo-soprano and author, who received her first Twin Vision book in the 1980s at the age of five. "It was so nice that I could read along with my parents or brother. It made it a very normal experience. It didn't make me feel isolated." That was all Norris had set out to do, to give blind parents with sighted children and blind children with sighted parents the opportunity to do what any other family could—read together.
It's no wonder that framed newspaper articles about her accomplishments hung on almost every wall in her house. She had goals and the determination to see them through. Norris says, "The woman at the publisher of the Charlie Brown books told us that she liked the idea but could not give us any books. We kept going back. On the third contact we got six thousand books."
Jean doesn't embellish the tale of getting permission to create Twin Vision versions of several Charlie Brown books, but took pride in what she had been able to accomplish. Last year, when she sent in her article, "My Historic Recollections of the NFB" (printed in the May 2013 edition of the Monitor), she enclosed a stack of photocopies which included pictures, awards, and articles about herself, the Twin Vision project, and NFB members she had known. In the two large envelopes she sent was a copy of a letter she received from Charles Schultz, thanking her for the sample book she had sent him and pointing her to Determined Productions, the publisher who owned the rights for the Charlie Brown books. The first letter she received from that publisher gave her permission to make the Twin Vision books but said they could not give her copies. The second letter accompanied an invoice documenting the first donation of five hundred copies of Happiness is a Warm Puppy.
The project director at Determined Productions was not the last to meet the kind but unstoppable force that was Jean Norris on a mission. Norris okayed transcribing Sea Shells, by R. Tucker Abbott, an authority on shells. Someone saw the book and notified the author, who wrote to Norris. He was very upset and wanted to know for how much they sold their version of his book. She responded, explaining that the book was loaned free of charge and that it was being used to teach blind children about sea shells. She received a second letter in which the author displayed a much different attitude: "How wonderful! How many copies of the book do you want? Could I please have one for my library?" After she sent him a copy he wrote again, praising the Twin Vision version.
Of course that determination was sometimes tested when Jean Norris decided to make things happen. It took a visit to the federal building in Los Angeles to consult with the FBI and letters to the Treasury Department in Washington DC to get an answer other than "no" in response to the request to produce The Shape of Things—Coins, a book representing, not surprisingly, the shapes of coins. Government agencies, always reluctant to take the lead on things never done before, ducked responsibility and jointly told her, "We won't say yes, but we aren't saying no." That was all the answer she needed, and The Shape of Things—Coins was soon to be found under the fingers of blind readers. But the payoff from that effort was greater than the trooper for Braille and Twin Vision could have anticipated. The appeal of the Twin Vision book wasn't limited to blind children. A review of The Shape of Things—Coins appeared in a 1970 issue of Coin World, a magazine for numismatists (coin collectors.) William Pettit, president of the Chicago Coin Club, governor of the Central States Numismatic Society, and member of the education committee of the American Numismatic Association, wrote to Norris with a request for a copy of the book. "Because I am a frequent speaker in this area on coins, their history and uses, it would be of great interest to have a book showing the efforts made to acquaint the blind with coins and the apparent pitfalls to be encountered."
Of course, sometimes getting permission and donations of books was much easier. Golden Books were in high demand, and when Norris found out that the publisher had an office in Beverly Hills, she took a Twin Vision book and paid them a visit. She talked to a man named Robert E. Callender and began by pointing to the Braille and asking him if he knew what it was. Not only did he know, but he told Norris that his wife was a transcriber. He donated fifty books immediately and later donated over one thousand more. He and his wife personally donated a check for $1,000 to support Norris's work.
But it wasn't just creating Twin Vision books that gained her the respect of blind and sighted people alike. Norris had a long-time friendship with William Goetze, who repaired Braillers. When he decided to clear out his collection of Braillers—some very old, some from other countries—he called Norris first. She sent volunteers to pick them up and established the Goetze Museum. After William Goetze died, his son asked Norris if she would like to have his father's memorabilia: awards, pictures, letters, and other things he had treasured. She accepted and added them to the Goetze Museum, the contents of which she eventually donated to Dr. Maurer, who had them moved to the tenBroek Library.
With the determination she had used in her work with Twin Vision books and many of the programs of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, Jean Norris lived a long and fruitful life. She died on April 30, 2014, several hours after turning ninety-six. She died at her home in Reseda, her son David by her side. She had served as the head of Twin Vision until her retirement in 2013, and her passing has been felt around the world. Not only has she had tributes from her home state of California and from the National Federation of the Blind, but her passing has been mentioned from as far away as Britain, where her many contributions made the news on the website of the Royal London Society for Blind. Jean Dyon Norris's legacy lives on in the thousands of Twin Vision books that currently exist and the thousands more that have yet to be published, all because she sat down at her kitchen table with a slate, a stylus, an encyclopedia to show her the shapes of Braille letters, and a few of her sons' old picture books. She started out to help one blind woman and ended her life with tens of thousands of blind and sighted people in her debt. Her work made it possible for families to share in the beauty of literature, whether perceived by the fingers or the eyes, and she helped countless men and women experience the joy of being read to and being able to read to others. One life does make a difference, and what a blessing God gave to the world when Jean Dyon Norris came into it nearly a century ago.
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind
Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB
Your Gift Will Help Us
Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!
by Ian Macrae
From the Editor: This article was brought to our attention after it appeared in the British newspaper the Guardian. Ian Macrae is the editor of the United Kingdom-based website Disability Now. The website’s mission statement resonated with us at the Monitor:
Disability Now is the UK's leading website for, about, and by disabled people. We aim to accurately reflect and present the lives, experiences, views, opinions, and lifestyle choices of disabled people, which are often misrepresented in mainstream media.
We're also here to call to account those whose actions and policies have an impact on disabled people.
Finally we provide freelance opportunities and access to the media for disabled journalists and writers whose voices would otherwise go unheard.
Disability Now--Our voice, our lives.
This is their statement, and here is the article we are pleased to reprint:
Imagine a situation where you walk into your favorite restaurant and ask for the menu, only to be told it isn't available. Chances are it wouldn't stay your favorite for very long. As a Braillist—someone who uses Braille—the dream for me is when the opposite happens. A small number of chain restaurants offer menus in Braille; sometimes they're even up to date.
It is difficult to over-express the sense of liberation at being able to browse and choose your preferred pizza independently. And in Co-op supermarkets, where some of the own-brand labels feature Braille, there is pride in being able to identify a bottle of wine from a label that few if any other people in the store are able to read.
All too often, though, finding anything in shops is a matter of random selection, peering in earnest, or asking for help. And, just when it seemed the situation couldn't get any worse for Braillists, along come headlines suggesting the end is nigh for Braille, that this communication lifeline is about to be cut off.
This week, Dr. Matthew Rubery, curator of an exhibition on alternative methods of reading for blind people, described Braille as "embattled." He went on to say its biggest threat "is computer technology, which makes it much easier not to have to learn it. A lot of people fear Braille won't survive because it will be read by so few people. The use has declined, and there are concerns about funding to keep it going."
This seems to me a rather glass-half-empty view, although there is some evidence to support his argument. Anecdotally, it is claimed blind children are no longer being taught Braille. This is said to be owing to sighted teachers who believe computer technology, and in particular synthesized speech, has rendered it redundant. Therefore the teachers don't need to learn Braille either.
If this is true, and no other factors were to come into play, then the outlook might really look bad. But, like print, Braille has gone through a process of evolution. It started out in classrooms as the equivalent of the slate—my five-year-old hands punched out each dot individually through a sheet of thick Manila paper. We learned to write it backwards and read it forwards.
Then Harold Wilson's "white heat" age of technology ushered in the mechanical era. Classrooms echoed to the deafening collective rattle of fifteen or more Braille machines—the Stainsby, the Perkins, the Lavender—pounding away at dictation or composition.
And now, like print with its tablets, Kindles, and touch screens, Braille has gone digital. And it is my belief that this could well mean it becomes more widely available and infinitely more useful. This is important because it means all children in future will be able to enjoy the same degree of literacy, not to mention the same levels of liberation and pleasure, as I do now.
Think of this: I am writing and editing this piece on an Apple computer using Braille from an electronic display that drives pins into the correct shapes to form a line of Braille text. Once the piece is published, I will be able to go to the Guardian website on my iPhone or iPad, use Bluetooth to connect a portable Braille device, and read it along with you. The main problem currently is the cost of the Braille-reading equipment: the cheapest is £900 [at today’s conversion rate, roughly $1,500.]
But, fellow reader, we are now in the age of the app and of haptic technology, which communicates through vibration and touch. It is already possible for me to download an app that will create on my touch screen a virtual Braille keyboard on which I can compose texts, emails, and Tweets and Facebook updates in Braille.
Meanwhile, the search is already on for the Holy Grail of Braille—a means of creating dots without using expensive mechanical cells that make the shape of Braille characters using pins. Then the world would truly be at our fingertips.
What is needed is an app that would turn digital text on your device into electronic impulses in the shape of Braille characters, transmitted by the screen of your iPad or other tablet, to be read by touch. To go back to my restaurant quandary, all I would need to do would be to call up the menu online, put it through my haptic Braille app, and read it on my screen. Add into that mix a scanning app, and I could point my device at what was on the supermarket shelf and have the haptic Braille app produce the package information.
And if you think this is hopelessly optimistic pie in the sky, it's worth remembering that less than five years ago 96 percent of all books produced would never be turned into forms accessible to blind people. But, with the advent of e-books and existing technology, I am now able to read pretty much any book I want to in electronic Braille.
So, rather than seeing the end of Braille, we could be entering a golden age of access and communication. Here's to more pizza, more wine, and more Braille.[To learn more about Disability Now or to read some of the blogs hosted there, visit the site at <http://www.disabilitynow.org.uk>.]
by Gary Wunder
As its name implies, the Braille Monitor has as one of its major roles that of watchdog to ensure that blind people are treated fairly, respectfully, and with dignity. When an individual or organization does something that makes life better for the blind, we trumpet it; when the opposite is true, we embrace the more difficult task of exposing the wrongdoing, endeavoring to report without ourselves throwing stones.
It is with sadness that we must announce the conviction of Mr. Albert (Al) Lovati for having sexual relations with a minor who attended the Indiana School for the Blind, where he worked as a teacher. On learning of the charge of sexual misconduct and confirming it with Lovati and his victim, the Indiana School for the Blind immediately dismissed him.
Lovati was a winner of a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in 2010 for helping to build a bridge between the Lions Club, the Indiana School for the Blind, and the National Federation of the Blind. His work enriched the lives of many blind students by introducing them to role models and assisting them in getting training leading to education and employment.
Lovati has received a sentence of six years, two of which he will serve in prison. Having sexual relations with a minor is, by any standard, an action deserving of punishment. We feel great sorrow for the victim, for her family, for the family of Mr. Lovati, and for all of those who trusted him by lending their names to his work. Programs sponsored jointly by the Lions Club and the National Federation of the Blind continue, with a fishing derby scheduled over the Father's Day weekend. It is our fervent hope that the partnerships established for blind students will not be counted among the victims of this criminal act and that together we can continue to provide blind students with the education and training that will help them become happy, responsible, contributing adults.
by Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt and Michael L. Stack II
From the Editor: This article is reprinted from the spring issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. Here is how it was introduced by Editor Barbara Pierce:
Editor’s Note: Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt, the director of advocacy and assistant executive director at Disability Rights Ohio, is an Ohio attorney with over ten years of experience advocating for the civil rights of all individuals. Michael Stack, a graduate law clerk at Disability Rights Ohio, is a recently minted Florida attorney currently pursuing his Ohio license while participating in a fellowship program created by his law school.
Imagine you’re sitting down for the first time in a pre-calculus or calculus class. Imagine the fear you feel as you read concept material that is supposed to be written in English but appears to be ancient Greek combined with Egyptian hieroglyphics. As you tell yourself that advanced mathematics is an academic field fraught with mental hurdles and the bane of most high school and college students, you start to feel a little better. Now imagine that in addition to the difficulty of the subject matter itself, there is another hurdle your sighted peers do not experience: you are blind and need to have math problems read to you by screen-reader software. But instead of reading the problems to you in a coherent manner, parts of the equations are read out of order or with unfamiliar code for math symbols or are simply missing information altogether—making it impossible for you even to figure out what problem to solve, let alone learn the material.
This is the kind of obstacle that Aleeha Dudley, a twenty-year-old junior at Miami University, faces every day as she vigorously pursues an undergraduate degree in zoology. Dudley, current vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio’s student division, has hopes of becoming one of the nation’s few blind veterinarians. Because Miami has failed to make necessary modifications to its course materials that would allow equal access to the electronic and tactile materials used in and out of the classroom, Dudley has not had the same opportunity as her sighted peers to learn, and her grades do not reflect her actual capabilities. As her grades continue to suffer because of inaccessible course materials, her dream of being accepted into veterinary school and practicing equine medicine suffers along with them. Dudley’s struggle is only part of a problem that is persistent throughout Ohio and the rest of the country: equal access to technology in the digital age.
For years organizations like the National Federation of the Blind and Disability Rights Ohio have been fighting to promote equal access for all blind people. In the past most barriers that resulted in the denial of equal opportunity in education, employment, community life, transportation, and recreation were barriers of a physical nature. For instance, there has been an incredible amount of litigation over the last few decades related to physical access to buildings, such as construction of sidewalk cutaways and access ramps. Given the rapid advance of technology used in everyday life, inaccessible digital content is a relatively new barrier to equality for blind people. Just as missing signs, unnecessary steps, and false walls would make it difficult to navigate a building, accessibility problems with technology make navigating, searching, and reading even the most basic digital content extremely difficult and in some cases impossible.
For Dudley, who filed a lawsuit against Miami University in January for discrimination based on her disability, the lack of accessible course materials and educational technology has denied her an equal opportunity to learn in an effective and integrated manner alongside her sighted peers, which is required by both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Not only does Dudley have issues accessing Miami’s educational material (for example, her online homework,) but simple daily activities such as doing laundry and ordering food at the cafeteria are also being hindered by Miami’s use of touchscreen devices that are inaccessible to blind students. While lack of access to technology is a problem afflicting students from schools around the country, several universities are making huge strides to provide equal access through comprehensive plans and initiatives, such as Oregon State University, Florida State University, and the University of Montana. In March, for example, the University of Montana and the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reached a collaborative agreement highlighting the need for policies and procedures to ensure that all students, faculty, and staff, including those with disabilities, can independently use electronic and information technologies.
Not only do inaccessible technology and communication affect the education system, but they also create frustrating and unnecessary barriers to the provision of basic necessities like housing. Renee Jordan, a resident of Dayton, Ohio, has recently filed a lawsuit against Greater Dayton Premier Management and its predecessor, Dayton Metropolitan Housing Authority, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jordan, who is blind, cannot read written correspondence related to her participation in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is administered by the local housing authority and funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Because a participant who fails to keep appointments or complete necessary paperwork on time may be terminated from the Voucher Program, Jordan requested that all correspondence be sent on microcassette tape so she could independently access the correspondence and respond appropriately. The housing authority refused, claiming the request was unreasonable and an undue financial and administrative burden. On March 28, 2014, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted Jordan’s motion for preliminary injunction and ordered the housing authority to provide her all correspondence on microcassette tapes while litigation proceedings were ongoing. The court recognized that federal law “guarantees not only equal access to information about a program, but equal access to the program itself,” and the only way a blind person has an equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the benefits of a federal program is when “all communication affecting continued participation in the program is provided in an accessible format.”
Many universities, housing authorities, and other public and private entities argue that limited resources prevent the provision of accessible technology. While limited resources can be a concern, especially given the ongoing budget cuts facing many public and private entities, a shortage of resources is not sufficient justification for a blanket denial of equal access for people with disabilities. In Jordan’s case the court recognized that the cost of providing reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act is a concern that all federally-funded and public programs face. The court held, however, that “[a]ccommodating the needs of individuals with disabilities in order to provide them with equal access . . . is a cost that must be borne” unless it creates an undue burden that severely harms the program.
In an age where cell phones talk to you, cars drive themselves, and thermostats are practically self-aware, technology should benefit the blind, not create new barriers. While advances in technology have the power to make adapting to visual impairment immensely better, certain technology actually creates greater inequality when that technology is inaccessible to people with disabilities. As technology becomes more and more integrated into our society—relied upon in the everyday world for even the most rudimentary tasks—we must fight even harder to provide equal access to people with disabilities. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired have the same right as a sighted person to full access to technology, and we should not ignore the effect the digital world has on how we access information today.
This month’s recipes are offered by members of the NFB of Oklahoma.
Easy Teriyaki Chicken
by Sharon Wolf
Sharon is a relatively new member of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma. She lives in Bartelsville, Oklahoma, which currently has no chapter, but Sharon and others are working to organize a chapter within the year. Sharon will attend her first national convention this year. Here is what she says about her recipe: “The following is my favorite recipe to cook because it's fast and uses the microwave.”
1 bag of frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast (thawed), cut into one-inch pieces
1 bag frozen Oriental vegetables or California-mix vegetables
3/4 or less cup soy sauce
3/4 or less cup sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon minced or fresh ginger powder
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Method: In a bowl combine the last six ingredients and mix well. Add to the chicken and toss gently. Cook six minutes in microwave on high heat and stir. Then cook another four minutes on high heat. Cook frozen vegetables as directed. Pour the teriyaki chicken on top of the cooked vegetables and serve.
by Jedi Moerke
Jedi Moerke is the president of the Brady District Chapter in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and serves as a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma board of directors. Currently she is interim secretary of the affiliate. She is a long-time Federationist; the only blind orientation and mobility instructor in the state of Oklahoma; a proud vegan; and, not only by her own claim, a great cook.
Vegan cooking spray (I prefer canola or coconut-based)
Whole wheat tortillas (burrito size is fine)
1 14-ounce can of whole black beans, drained
1 12- to 14-ounce can or 1 1/2 cups frozen whole-kernel sweet corn, drained
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes, drained (optional)
1 cup raw onion
1 cup raw spinach
Your favorite red or green salsa
Several spoonfuls of vegan sour cream
Vegan cheese shreds to taste (I prefer the Daiya Pepperjack Style Shreds)
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl except the tortillas. Make sure to drain the beans and the corn; otherwise the enchiladas will be rather soupy. Be sure to drain the Ro-Tel if you use that, too. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole pan. Place the mixed ingredients inside the tortillas. Stuff the tortillas as though you were making little burritos. Leave one end of each enchilada loose and tuck in the other. Place the enchiladas in the pan, seam-side down. You should be able to get about six enchiladas into the pan. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of the vegan sour cream on top of the enchiladas. Make sure that the enchilada tops are fully covered. Spread some salsa over the sour cream. Sprinkle some more vegan shreds on top of the salsa and sour cream. I usually prefer a small handful. If you have any diced onions left over from the enchilada preparation, add these to the top as well.
Bake the enchiladas for about twenty minutes. The enchiladas are done when the cheese on top has melted and the insides are warm when poked with a toothpick or fork. One dish full of enchiladas serves two people. It is likely you will have additional ingredients mixed to make more. This recipe is excellent and can be used to serve non-vegans.
Mark’s Broccoli Slaw
by Jeannie Massay
Jeannie is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma and a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what she says about this recipe:
This recipe is one of my favorites during the summer. My husband is a fantastic cook. He often serves this with barbecue or burgers in the summer.
1 bag of sliced fresh broccoli slaw or 1 head fresh broccoli sliced into bite-size pieces
2 medium-size red apples, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 can bite-sized pineapple chunks in natural juice (drained, reserve the juice)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup mayonnaise
Juice from can of pineapple
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Method: Combine slaw ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl combine dressing ingredients and whisk until blended. Drizzle dressing over slaw mixture, then toss to coat entire batch of slaw. This recipe can be eaten immediately but is best if allowed to soak up some of the dressing and mature the flavors. Great for something different at a picnic or barbecue.
Sweet Potato Casserole
by Glenda Farnum
Glenda is a dedicated Federationist. She is a board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma and serves as the legislative director for the affiliate. She is the daughter of blind parents, a blind woman, and the parent of a now adult blind child. It took a while for her to come around to the Federation, however, she has now jumped in with both feet. We are proud to have her as a part of our affiliate.
4 cups sweet potatoes (baked, peeled and mashed)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons and 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons and 3 teaspoons butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl mix together the sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Transfer to a 9x13-inch baking dish.
Topping: In a medium bowl, mix the sugar and flour. Cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse. Stir in the pecans. Sprinkle the mixture over the sweet potato mixture. Bake in the preheated oven thirty minutes, or until the topping is lightly brown.
by Glenda Farnum
3 cups sugar
2/3 cups water
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
1 cup oil
3 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts
Method: Mix sugar, water, pumpkin, oil, and eggs in large bowl. In another bowl combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Add dry mixture to pumpkin mixture and stir. Add vanilla then add nuts. Mix well. Pour into three loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for forty-five to fifty minutes. Yield: three loaves of bread.
Grandma Joyce's Pecan Pie
by Audrey T. Farnum
Audrey is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma and the chapter president of the Central Oklahoma Chapter. She also serves as vice president on the National Sports and Recreation board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind and as a board member of the newly formed Oklahoma Sports and Recreation Division. Audrey is an attorney and an avid rower. She recently rowed in her first single race and won the heat. By her claim she is a better eater than a cook, but these recipes tell a different story. Here is what Audrey says:
Here are a couple of my favorite recipes from my grandmothers. These were two of my favorite treats growing up, then later I learned they were both super easy to make. Enjoy.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup melted margarine
3 eggs, well beaten
1 cup pecans
1 pie shell
Splash of rum or pinch of cinnamon if desired.
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine sugar, syrup, and melted butter. Add beaten eggs and pecans to syrup mixture, mixing thoroughly. Stir in a little rum or cinnamon for an extra twist if desired. Pour into a nine-inch pie shell (store-bought or your own recipe) and bake forty to forty-five minutes.
by Audrey T. Farnum
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup nuts
Method: In large bowl combine oil and sugar and beat well. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until well blended. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa in medium bowl and combine. Add dry mixture to wet ingredients, mix until blended, add nuts and stir. For thicker brownies pour batter into a 13-by-9-inch pan coated with cooking spray. For thinner brownies pour batter into a 15-by-11-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for thirty to thirty-five minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
News from the Federation Family
The National Federation of the Blind of Illinois Chicago held their elections today. Results are as follows: president, David Meyer; first vice president, Patti Chang; second vice president, Jemal Powell; secretary, Robert Hansen; treasurer, Steve Hastalis; and board members, Howard Wilson, Debbie Pittman, Jina Falvo, and Denise Avant.
The following officers were elected by the Greater Portland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maine: president, Diane Anderson; vice president, Leroy “Bud” Buzzell; secretary, John Lee; and treasurer, Raymond Dupuis.
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.
The National Rehabilitation Association Gets a New Director:
Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, one of the most prominent advocates for blind people in the world, has been hired as the executive director of the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA). Founded in 1923, and taking its current name in 1927, the NRA has long been an advocate for individuals who are blind and organizations serving them.
Dr. Schroeder's credentials and advocacy are well-known to our readers and to members of the National Federation of the Blind. He is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, is the first vice president of the World Blind Union, is in charge of coordinating events to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, and was the former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration under President Clinton. He was the first blind person to be trained as an orientation and mobility instructor and the first to fight the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired when they refused to certify him as an instructor because he could not see. We wish Dr. Schroeder the best in his new position and have every confidence he will bring the same vision and energy to it that he has to his other endeavors.
Maps of Michigan Available:
The Princeton Braillists have available a single volume with fifteen maps of Michigan, including an overview of the state, followed by individual maps of cities, rivers, counties, highways, farm and mineral products, and climate. A more detailed map shows the vicinity of Detroit.
The package comprises fifteen maps, forty-one pages total. The price is $8, and we use shipping by Free Matter for the Blind where eligible. To order, please send a check or money order to: The Princeton Braillists, 76 Leabrook Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540. Credit card and fax service are not available. For more information contact Nancy Amick at (609) 924-5207.
New Braille Technology – Cosmo and BERT
Here are two interesting inventions for teaching and writing Braille from inventor and entrepreneur David Pillischer. He says the following:
Now as never before a blind student using a Braille typewriter in the classroom can be as quiet as a sighted student writing with a pencil on paper. The non-disruptive, patented Cosmo Braille Writer is a classroom-friendly Braille education system and a quiet embosser. The Cosmo Braille Writer is easy for children and adults to use, economical to run, and easily maintained.
A blind student can input his document into the Duxbury application using Cosmo’s Braille keyboard. When he is finished, he can back translate the Braille to text, then print the document to paper using a standard inkjet or laser printer. The blind student can submit his printed document to the teacher along with the rest of the class and have a Braille copy for himself. $2,495 with A/C power supply and manuals. Inquire about shipping costs.
For the first time in the history of Braille, Braille can be taught over the Internet. BERT, an acronym for the “Braille Education Remote Tool,” enables both the teacher and student to communicate by voice and keyboard in real time during a remote teaching session. Any keys depressed by the student on the Cosmo (using the Braille keyboard and BERT software) will be immediately recognized by the blind teacher reading a Braille display or by the sighted teacher on a computer screen. BERT enables real-time interactive communication between teacher and student, creating a “side by side” mode of working together. BERT requires the purchase of the software and a license for one or more students. Electronic Brailler LLC, phone: (585) 413-4401, <www.ebrailler.com>.
Michael Collins and Newel Perry to be Inducted into the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field in 2014:
The following press release was circulated by the American Printing House for the Blind, and we gladly carry it here:
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to preserving the tradition of excellence manifested by specific individuals through the history of outstanding services provided to people who are blind or visually impaired in North America. It is housed at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky, but belongs to all.
The ceremony to induct Collins and Perry will take place on Friday evening, October 17, 2014, in conjunction with APH's 146th Annual Meeting of ex officio trustees and special guests, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Joining the fifty-four outstanding legends previously inducted, are these two remarkable figures who changed lives around the world. Their stories of accomplishment are powerful.
Mike Collins dedicated thirty years of his career to Perkins; first as supervisor of the Perkins School for the Blind’s campus-based Deafblind Program and then as founder and director of the Hilton/Perkins International Program, with the mission of training teachers to teach children who are deafblind with multiple disabilities in developing countries. Collins received the distinguished Perkins' Annie Sullivan Award and Deafblind International’s Lifetime Achievement Award and its Distinguished Service Award.
"His love for children with multiple disabilities and his deep understanding of their needs was evident when he visited programs and dangled children on his knee." Nandini Rawal, project director of the Blind People's Association in Gujarat, India.
Dr. Newel Perry was called the father of the modern civil rights movement of the blind. According to Matson (1990), Perry "presided as mentor and godfather to the [organized blind] movement," spawning the California Council of the Blind (1934), and the National Federation of the Blind (1940). In 1912, Dr. Perry took the post which would define his career, Director of Advanced Studies at the California School for the Blind, and was in this position until retirement in 1947. He is best known for having mentored "Perry's Boys (and Girls)," a group of talented blind young men and women who would, with Perry's assistance, begin the organized blind movement of advocacy and civil rights.
Honors include: California Council of the Blind, Hall of Fame, 1996 (original member), California Council of the Blind’s Newel Perry Endowment Trust, the National Federation of the Blind’s highest award--named for Newel Perry, and, within NFB's Jacobus tenBroek Library, the Newel Perry Conference Room, appropriately named for tenBroek's beloved mentor.
"Newel Perry educated, indoctrinated and persuaded a distinguished group of cohorts to join him in carrying on the struggle and carrying out its goals. Those whom Doctor gathered around him were other blind men and women, mostly former students whose special talents and professional positions uniquely supplemented his." Jacobus tenBroek, 1961
When asked what was his most important work, Dr. Perry answered, "Oh, my most important work was my dragging the blind out of their sleep, stirring them up, putting some ambition into them, and then helping them." For more on these inductees, please visit: <www.aph.org/hall/news.html>. Additional information regarding the 2014 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will soon appear on the APH website, <www.aph.org>. Visit the Hall of Fame website at <www.aph.org/hall/index.html> for information on the Hall and those inducted.
The Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is now on Facebook! "Like" the page to learn more about this year's inductees, Michael T. Collins and Newel Perry, as well as updated information on the 2014 induction ceremony, and items of interest on the other fifty-four Hall inductees. The URL is <http://www.facebook.com/BlindnessHallofFame> or you can search Facebook for "Hall of Fame for the Blindness Field." Also visit the Hall on our recently launched YouTube channel—click on "Playlists" to watch the inspiring Hall of Fame induction ceremonies!
eBay and the National Federation of the Blind Team to Optimize Accessibility of Site, Apps:
The following is a reprint of a June 6 press release by eBay about this partnership:
eBay has teamed with The National Federation of the Blind in a Web 2.0 Sustainable Accessibility Partnership Agreement that will enhance the accessibility of eBay’s website and mobile applications.
Through the new partnership blind buyers and sellers on eBay who use technologies such as text-to-speech screen readers and Braille displays will have even greater access to eBay’s website and its applications for smartphones and tablets.
“This is about reinforcing and enhancing our commitment to accessibility and making eBay’s global marketplace available to everyone,” said Devin Wenig, President Global eBay Marketplaces. “Ease of use and universal access to the Marketplace is a priority for eBay as a company and as a brand.”
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to continue our partnership with eBay. This landmark agreement sets forth a proactive strategy that will enhance the accessibility of eBay’s online marketplace, allowing blind buyers and sellers to use this groundbreaking platform in all the ways that sighted users can. We commend eBay for its industry leadership in adopting this comprehensive Web 2.0 accessibility plan and look forward to working together with the company to implement it,” Maurer added.
Study About Perception of Legal Blindness Seeks Participants:
My name is Bobby Dixon, and I am a legally blind graduate student at Southeastern Louisiana University as well as a member of the National Federation of the Blind. I have been legally blind all of my life due to an exceptionally small optic nerve. I have lived for forty-five years with this condition and have quite a bit of experience involving how we are treated by society in education, in employment, and in everyday life. These experiences inspired me to study others to see if they too have had similar experiences in these situations and to find out if the way society treats other legally blind people may be affecting our self-confidence and well-being and to promote more awareness
The participants in this study will be contributing to a larger body of knowledge and awareness of what legally blind people are truly capable of. The data gathered in this study will not only be used to help legally blind people reach their true potential; they will also be used to help sighted people realize that legally blind people are just as capable as they themselves are.
NOTE: 1) Only people aged eighteen and older may participate in this study. 2) legal blindness covers all people with a visual acuity of 20/200 to those who are totally blind.
This survey is designed to measure how legally blind people feel they are treated by society. The study also examines how legally blind people feel about themselves and their perceptions of beliefs others have about them.
The survey can be found at <https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Wc2wSKnne2-RRcMgsGgKJRwgGrkgNfLGZQ9Wx4Ngf50/viewform?usp=send_form>.
Study Participants Wanted:
My name is Tali and I am a PhD student at the University of Groningen the Netherlands. I am collecting survey data for my dissertation on the highly relevant topic of dealing with visual impairment in different areas of one’s life—home, work, and friendships, just to name a few.
The purpose of the current study is to obtain more information on relevant issues in the life of a person losing eyesight such as the implications of concealing or revealing your identity as being visually impaired to others and the importance of your social surroundings in coping with vision loss.
Data collected from this study will be kept anonymous, and only the key researchers on this project will have access to these data (myself, Tali Spiegel, and my supervisory team, Rafael Wittek and Nardi Steverink). Your identity will be kept entirely anonymous in future publications, and you at no point will be asked to reveal your identity. The data will be kept in a secure location on a Groningen University hard drive.
You are eligible to participate in this study if you: 1) have a degenerative eye condition, 2) are above the age of eighteen, and 3) are currently living in the USA. I will be more than grateful if you would be willing to follow the link below and fill out the questionnaire (it should take about forty minutes): <https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HKPHW3R>
If you are unable to complete the survey online, I can also send the survey to you using email. The survey can come either as an attachment (in a word document) or in the body of the text. If you have questions, please email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For more information go to <www.rug.nl/staff/t.spiegel>.
If you decide at any point during filling out the survey that you do not wish to answer a particular question, you have the option to skip it. If you want to terminate the questionnaire, that is also possible, however, after completion of the questionnaire you will no longer be able to withdraw from the study.
Your participation is pivotal for the success of this project. Many thanks in advance.
New Talking Infrared Thermometer Available:
The Talking Infrared Thermometer (model IRT-1) can measure the temperature of a wide variety of objects without contact and has a special scan function to help a blind person quickly locate hot items such as a burner on a flat cooktop stove or to ensure a pot or pan is centered over a burner. My motive for developing the IRT-1 came from a blind friend who was badly burned while teaching a newly blind student to cook. Had there been the means easily to determine the cooking oil temperature, the accident could most probably have been prevented. The IRT-1 of course can be used to measure the temperature of many other things as well: the refrigerator or freezer, coffee, bath water, food temperature, etc. With only three buttons the IRT-1 is super easy to learn and use and has a built in talking tutor! And finally, the IRT-1 can be set to speak in English, Spanish, or French, and to say the temperature in centigrade or Fahrenheit too. For much more detailed information, a user manual, speech samples, and images please visit my website: <brooks-technology.com>.
About myself and my company: I'm located in Morgan Hill, California, about thirty minutes south of the so called Silicon Valley area. I've been an electronics engineer and programmer for many years, the last twenty as a design consultant to other organizations. I love to get involved developing new products! Over the last six years I've worked with James Kubel of Access Solutions in Sacramento, California, on several projects, including the PumpMate, a talking remote control that provides access for insulin pump users. Recently I've decided to develop accessibility products to market as my own, the first being the IRT-1 Talking Infrared Thermometer.
The thermometer is now available, and I've completed an initial production run. The price is set at $119.95 and can currently be purchased directly from my site at <http://www.brooks-technology.com>. I'm actively seeking re-sellers, for whom discounts would apply. Both the Sacramento Society for the Blind and the Lighthouse have indicated they will carry it.
If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to call me at (408) 781-4577, or email me at <email@example.com>.
Monthly Training Subscription Available:
The Windows Department at Blind Access Training is offering affordable monthly training support for a charge of $44.95 monthly. No longer does one need to search for cost-effective training support or say the dreaded words, “I can’t afford it.” With our monthly training support, use the time to brush up, learn, and immerse yourself in your Windows OS and Office applications to build a solid foundation and understanding to set yourself on a path to success. Lessons will be provided, and the goal in offering the subscription is to have students working in their operating system and applications comfortably and independently.
You may read about and subscribe to the service at the link below; if you would rather speak with someone from the Windows Training Department to answer your questions, we invite you to call (877) 774-7670 and press 3. We take calls Monday through Friday between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM pacific time. You may read more about our service and subscribe at <http://blindaccesstraining.com/subscribe-to-our-windows-training-subscription/>.
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.