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Braille Monitor

Vol. 58, No. 1                              January 2015

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive (see below) by

The National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

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and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.

        ISSN 0006-8829


Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.

You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return label enclosed with the drive when you return the device.


Orlando Site of 2015 NFB Convention

The 2015 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, July 5-10, at the Rosen Centre Hotel at 9840 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Rosen Centre staff only. Call (800) 204-7234.

The 2015 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins, $82; and triples and quads, $89. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 13.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $95-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2015. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2015, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.

Guest-room amenities include cable television; in-room safe; coffeemaker; hairdryer; and, for a fee, high-speed Internet access. Guests can also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site spa. The Rosen Centre Hotel offers fine dining at Executive Chef Michael Rumplik’s award-winning Everglades Restaurant. In addition, there is an array of dining options from sushi to tapas to a 24-hour deli. The hotel has first-rate amenities and shuttle service to the Orlando airport.

The schedule for the 2015 convention is: Sunday, July 5 Seminar Day Monday, July 6 Registration Day Tuesday, July 7 Board Meeting and Division Day Wednesday, July 8 Opening Session Thursday, July 9 Business Session Friday, July 10 Banquet Day and Adjournment

Contents

Vol. 58, No. 1                                                    January 2015

 

Illustration: #GivingTuesday Winter Block Party     

Putting Names and Faces to Fight of the Blind for Educational Equality
by Gary Wunder

The TEACH Act: Frequently Asked Questions
by Lauren McLarney

The Marrakesh Treaty: From the Visually Impaired Persons Community’s Perspective
by Scott LaBarre

President Obama Proclaims October 15 Blind Americans Equality Day

Attitudes and Expectations in Education
by Julie McGinnity

James Brown: Father, Highway Administrator, and Leader

Why Braille?
by Deborah Kendrick

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship
by Patti S. Gregory-Chang

What I Have Given and Received from the Federation
by Tom Bickford

Constitution of the National Federation of the Blind as Amended 2014

Questions from a Curious Teen
by Deborah Kent Stein

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund
by Allen Harris

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2014 by the National Federation of the Blind

 

#GivingTuesday Winter Block Party

On December 2, 2014, the National Federation of the Blind participated in #GivingTuesday by encouraging giving through a social media campaign, a leadership challenge, and a free event for the public at its headquarters in South Baltimore. Some of its top influencers, including NFB President Mark Riccobono, participated in the #GivingTuesday Leadership Challenge by calling their contacts to request donations to help the National Federation of the Blind reach a goal of 750 donations. To wrap up its #GivingTuesday campaign, the National Federation of the Blind hosted a free event at its NFB Jernigan Institute–the Winter Block Party. The Winter Block Party, held from 5 to 8 PM, offered free food, games, and music. Food and drinks were generously provided by Alex Elman Wines, Hersh's Pizza, Homeslyce Pizza Bar, Miss Shirley's Cafe, Matsuri, and Mother's Grille. In attendance were Congressman John Sarbanes and Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello. We also had a photo booth and an appearance by the Oriole Bird! It was a great way to end #GivingTuesday!

Putting Names and Faces to the Fight of the Blind for Educational Equality

by Gary Wunder

One of the most pressing issues facing the blind today is that it is difficult to receive an equal education, not to mention a quality education. This is true whether the difficulties face a blind student in elementary school trying to get Braille instruction, a high school student forbidden from taking a class because it is considered to be dangerous or too visual, or a college or university student attending a school where the instructional materials offered do not work efficiently (if at all) with screen-reading technology.

As you read the following article, hundreds of Federationists will be preparing to go to Washington, DC, to participate in meetings with members of Congress, and one of the issues they will discuss is the Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act. Articles about it have appeared in previous issues of the Braille Monitor, and more about the act is also found in this one. But beyond the abstract language of current law, the discussion about proposed guidelines, and what electronic gadgetry is and is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, who are the people really affected by all of this? By the time you finish this article, you will know two of them, and never again will an article about inaccessible technology seem distant or unrelated to upholding the civil rights of blind people and providing equality of opportunity for the blind of America. You will meet two people whose lives will never be the same because of a university's refusal to make its software accessible and to ensure that the hardware it purchased was usable by blind people. All of this happened despite the requests, the pleas, and eventually the demands of two honor students who were forced to abandon their career goals, lose merit scholarships, and endanger the funding that is their right as citizens of Florida and the United States of America. Before telling their story, I want to acknowledge that this article is comprised of passages taken from legal briefs; settlement documents; spectacular quotes from Jamie Principato, one of the complainants advocating for her rights; and my own narrative, which tries to tie all of these elements together.

In 2008 Christopher Toth, a young honors student who was the salutatorian at his high school, entered Florida State University (FSU). So outstanding were his grades that his tuition and books were covered by merit scholarships. He classified himself as an amateur computer programmer, someone who wrote programs for fun, but he realized that his success in writing useful applications might lead to a rewarding career.

To obtain a bachelor's degree, Florida law requires every FSU student to complete successfully or test out of at least two college-level math courses by the end of the student's sophomore year. Half of these credits may be through the statistics department; the remainder must be earned from courses offered by FSU's department of mathematics. FSU will not permit a student to register for classes who has not received credit for two mathematics classes before the commencement of his or her junior year.

In August 2008, as an incoming freshman, Toth met with staff at the FSU Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) to register as a student with a disability. As required, he completed an intake interview with Tim Ebener, an adviser at the SDRC. As standard procedure the SDRC developed an individual accommodation plan for Toth. In it the university was to alert his professors to the accommodations required for each class.

Toth's accommodation plan required a variety of classroom and testing accommodations, including that professors provide him with notes and handouts in electronic format prior to class sessions; copies of directions in auditory format; an in-class note taker, if requested; use of a tape recorder or laptop during class; accessible formats for tests; extended time on tests; and other accommodations. Because Toth's high ACT math score allowed him to skip more basic math courses, he enrolled in MAC 1140 (Pre-Calculus Algebra), a prerequisite for computer science courses, taught by Professor Mary Kutter. Given his previous success in this field, he anticipated no real problems with the course. He is a proficient Braille reader, and most would agree that mathematics is one course in which being able to see the problem in front of you is essential, whether that seeing is through the eyes to read print or through the fingers to read Braille. Professor Kutter announced on the first day of class that all students were to complete homework assignments and quizzes on the online eGrade system. eGrade is an online educational program used in math courses at FSU for homework, quizzes, and tests. Students solve problems presented online and submit their answers electronically. The beauty of the system for students is its ability to coach them as they learn. The advantage for instructors is that they do not have to grade each student's work. The advantage for both students and instructors is that grades are quickly available.

When Toth opened the assigned eGrade website for MAC 1140 to complete his homework, he discovered that it would not work with his screen reader. Instead of the screen reader saying what was on the screen and presenting the multiple-choice answers to him, it failed to verbalize the content of any of the questions or answers. Toth immediately sent an email to his professor explaining the situation. He also contacted Tim Ebener at the SDRC. Professor Kutter informed Toth that she would look into the situation, as did Mr. Ebener. eGrade is custom software developed by FSU, so changing it did not involve convincing a vendor or software developer outside the control of the institution to do the work required to make it accessible. Given his background in programming and knowledge of screen-reading systems, Toth could both demonstrate the problem and recommend code changes to address it.

During the first week of class Toth also requested that FSU provide him with the math textbook used by his fellow students. He asked that his copy be in Braille. FSU initially promised it but subsequently reneged. The university ultimately told Toth that, because the math textbook was not technically required for the course and because it could not easily be made accessible, he would have to do without it. The institution also breached its promise set forth in his accommodation plan, requiring Professor Kutter to provide him with notes in an accessible electronic format prior to the start of each class.

Rather than make accessible the eGrade homework, quizzes, and tests provided to sighted students, FSU proposed that Toth depend on someone with sight, who would read the materials aloud. Such a human reader is an ineffective and inadequate method for communicating this information. Jamie Principato, who would soon join Toth in the struggle for accessible instruction in mathematics, says: "The school had a testing center for persons with disabilities that had all of the accessible technology and equipment that we would need, but they didn't want us using it for math because the math department was reluctant to release any tests to the disability services department." As a result of FSU's refusal to make the MAC 1140 course accessible, its failure to provide a Braille textbook, and its failure to abide by Toth's accommodation plan, he was forced to drop the class and receive an "administrative drop."

Despite FSU's refusal to provide Toth with the necessary educational materials to pass MAC 1140, he was provided with accessible materials for his other courses, all of which he passed. In light of the lack of adequate accommodations for MAC 1140, he decided to enroll for the spring of 2009 in a less demanding class, MAC 1105, College Algebra, with Professor Penny LeNoir. Jamie Principato would join him in this class, and the treatment they received would be similar.

As soon as classes started, Toth discovered that the same textbook was used for MAC 1105 and MAC 1140. Despite his request, FSU again refused to provide him with the Braille book he needed for the course. FSU also continued to refuse to make eGrade accessible and, instead, again insisted that he use a human reader for homework, quizzes, and tests. As inadequate as this accommodation would have been, FSU even refused to pay for a reader, insisting that the expense be borne by Florida's Division of Blind Services (DBS).

By the time a reader was arranged, Toth had missed two weeks of course assignments and materials that had been available to his sighted peers. The reader FSU provided was a work-study student who had no mastery of the advanced math concepts needed to read or describe the course materials. The reader was made available for short periods only and at most came to read twice a week. When the reader was not available, Toth was forced to ask friends to log in to his account and read him the questions. As Principato observes, "When you are working with large polynomials and complex equations that the reader is trying to read to you, the outcome can be a disaster."

Because of FSU's failure to provide accessible materials or an effective accommodation, Toth had to drop the course. FSU recorded this as a "WDA," indicating that he had withdrawn from the course. Clearly this reflected negatively on his transcript and would, if unchallenged, tarnish his academic record and reduce opportunities for additional schooling and employment commensurate with his real skill and ability.

Not surprisingly, Toth grew increasingly discouraged and began to believe that he would be unable to major in computer science and would be unable to pursue the career that had long been his dream. His grades suffered, and he spent most of his time alone or talking on the phone to Principato.

Because he expended so much energy unsuccessfully on MAC 1105 and grew depressed and frustrated, his other grades suffered. The drop in his GPA meant that he lost his Bright Futures scholarship. During his freshman year DBS covered his living expenses. When his GPA dropped in the spring of 2009, his DBS counselor informed him that, unless he was able to demonstrate an ability to succeed in his courses during the summer, the agency would not fund his living expenses or provide tuition assistance. During the summer term Toth enrolled in PSY2012, General Psychology and SOP3004, Social Psychology. He received accessible textbooks and course materials for each course and received an A in each class. DBS then agreed to pay for his coursework, and Mr. Toth enrolled for the fall of 2009.

Jamie Principato entered FSU in the fall of 2009. She too had an agreement with the university's Student Disability Resource Center, but, when it came to accommodations in mathematics, the SRDC was no advocate. "I always got the impression when I talked with disability services that they weren't trying very hard. I hate to make that accusation, but they always seemed to be very passive in their communications with the math department. When I was able to read the email transcripts between them, their attitude in talking with the math department seemed to be that ‘We know you don't want to do this, but we would certainly like it if you did.’ Never did their communication say, ‘This is university policy, and we expect you to work with us to see that these blind students get the materials and instruction they need.’"

As with Toth, the mathematics department refused to honor Principato's SDRC-issued accommodation plan that allowed her to take weekly exams at the SDRC Testing Center. At the testing center she could have used ZoomText to magnify the test. Instead she was consigned either to a cramped room in the math department that was equipped with four computers that did not have ZoomText software or, in the case of the final exam, to the math department's faculty kitchen, where she attempted to concentrate while teachers ate and chatted. The mathematics department gave Principato paper copies of the tests, requiring her to use a hand-held magnifier to read the questions and record her answers. The department's testing room was poorly lit, and she had to sit and work between two computers that left her workspace completely in shadow, making it even more difficult for her to see the test questions. As a result she was unable to read many of them. In addition to the unequal opportunity they were given to take quizzes and tests, both Principato and Toth were denied the opportunity to participate with their sighted peers in quiz preparation sessions. These sessions occurred in the classroom on test days immediately before the examinations. Both were told that on testing days they had to report directly to the math department testing room. On a few occasions Professor Blackwelder [their mathemathic instructor] spent a few minutes with Ms. Principato reviewing math concepts and problems before her quiz began, but, because Professor Blackwelder used a pen and paper to illustrate the math problems, Ms. Principato could not see them, meaning the review was not effective. Professor Blackwelder also used PRS Transmitters, a brand of clickers, to take attendance for class and to award bonus points. Although another company sold accessible clickers, FSU acquired inaccessible clickers, thus preventing Principato and Toth from earning bonus points as their sighted peers could.

But Toth and Principato knew that the lack of accommodations by the university did not free them from trying to implement solutions of their own devising. "While we were in the class, we made some effort to try to fix the problem ourselves. We couldn't make the software accessible, but we tried to find workarounds. I tried, for example, to find videos on the Internet of the math concepts we were supposed to be learning in class so that maybe we could at least learn the material. I would listen to those videos, replaying them over and over again, until I could actually write a transcript that would be useful as math notes. It got to the point where I was spending something like six to seven hours at least three times a week transcribing these videos and trying to make notes that both Chris and I could read and could use to study since we could not use the software and weren't getting notes for class. I was spending more time on this than I was spending in class, and it was exhausting! It was more effort than I was putting into any of my other classes, and I was still failing.

"We tried to get materials to make the graphs in our class more accessible, because, even though they were providing readers for tests, they still didn't have a solution for the graphs and the images on them. These were just being described, and not very well at that.

"So we got to be crafty—not crafty as in scheming but crafty as in creating what we needed using commonly available things. We got some wax-covered string and Braille paper and tried to make graphs as best we could from these materials to show the people in the math department how they could do it to help us with the tests. They weren't willing to do that, so again this was money and time and resources that we were putting into this, and we still weren't getting enough out of it. We still weren't actually learning the material. We couldn't follow along in class, we were missing homework assignments, we were failing quizzes, we were not getting any of the material, and, when we would go to our professor and try to negotiate some kind of arrangement with her where we could use more of the resources from disability services, she made it clear she was not interested. The more we communicated with the department, the more hostile the communication became. Eventually we got to the point where we were going up the ladder to the head of undergraduate mathematics. We explained the issue to him; he went to the people in the department, got their side of the story, wrote back to us and said that it sounded to him like we weren't trying hard enough. He also made the point that I was not blind because I had some vision.

"Even though we could see that we were going to fail the class, dropping it would mean that we would lose funding. The Florida Division of Blind Services was paying my tuition, and they strongly frown upon dropping classes late in the semester because it meant that they would lose money. They refuse to pay for classes that a student has already tried to take once and failed or dropped." This would later be a point of contention between the legal team from the NFB and the rehabilitation agency in Florida.

"At this point I felt like I was running out of options—I was really starting to feel trapped," Principato said. "This one class was going to derail all the plans for my future and my career."

Toth and Principato each received a grade of D in MAC 1105, which is not a passing grade. "After I completed the semester I was removed from the honors program at the school," she says. "This was truly upsetting because my grades and the accompanying recognition of them were going to be my gateway into a research career. At the same time I was removed from the honors program, DBS was warning that they too would curtail my funding." The mathematics department's intentional refusal to provide accessible materials was the reason these two students found their support and career goals at risk, and this could not stand.

Failing to get any satisfaction in accommodations, Toth and Principato began looking for ways to make their plight known to others in the system. "We started looking for a grievance policy; we thought that maybe there was somebody higher up in the university or in the math department we could go to who could make them move and make them do what they needed to do. But we couldn't find anything, at least not on the university's website or in documentation available at their offices. Nothing would tell us how to deal with this issue.

“In my English class we had a project to do a research paper or an exposé on a topic, and I decided to do mine on what was going on at the math department at FSU. I figured that I was doing this research anyway and spending a lot of time trying to figure it out, so I might as well make this my English project. My thought was that in this way I would be able to draw attention to what was going on in other departments. I felt that maybe that would be a good move; maybe somebody else could give me some resources and help me figure out where to look for advice and help. I remember, when my English teacher was grading that paper, that he was really impressed with it and surprised to see what was actually happening at FSU. As part of my research for the paper, I used the lack of information that I was able to find on FSU's website about grievances. I cited disability law, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I used examples of inaccessible materials throughout the university, but especially in the math department. My English professor told me that I should consider sending it to the Tallahassee Democrat, the local newspaper, and see if they could help. I didn't do that because I didn't want to draw so much attention to myself at the time. I didn't want this to become a publicity thing; I just wanted the issues to get fixed."

Even as they tried to avoid a public relations fight with the university, Toth and Principato did start looking outside the university for ways they could make changes happen, and that's when they found the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the United States Department of Education. They learned that they could file a complaint against the governing board of FSU, and, shortly before Christmas of 2010, this is what they did.

They were soon contacted by OCR and an attorney interviewed them by telephone. They were told that they could file a class-action complaint against the university. It would be on behalf of all students affected by the lack of accessibility. They agreed to file the complaint as the lawyer suggested and hoped things would change for them and other blind students. But, as exciting as this change might eventually prove to be, the reality for Principato and Toth was still bleak: lost scholarships, no honors program, and the threat that even the vocational rehabilitation agency would abandon them.

To their shock and surprise the Office for Civil Rights told Principato and Toth that it could do nothing about the situation in which they found themselves because what they had filed was a class-action complaint that could not address individual issues. The findings could be and were used to force the university to make changes, but the OCR’s influence would not alter anything these students faced as a result of the university’s failure to make reasonable accommodations for them.

At this point Principato and Toth decided to get a bit more vocal on their own behalf. "We tweeted a lot. Chris has a lot of presence on Twitter, and I have a lot of friends on Facebook. We wrote a lot about the issues. We posted to mailing lists about the issues. We posted to the National Federation of the Blind's student mailing list. We just tried to get the word out as much as we possibly could, because the more people who knew about it, the more people who might be able to help us find a solution and help us continue with our studies," Principato said.

Through these activities the two were put in touch with Mark Riccobono and explained their situation. "We told him we had gone as far as we knew how to go, and we were still flunking out and weren't going to be able to continue because of the math class. That's when he put us in touch with the National Federation of the Blind legal defense team, and we started talking about the possibility of actually filing a lawsuit.

"Suddenly this was getting really big really fast, and, while that was scary, it was also a relief at the same time because we knew we were in the right, we knew we were being wronged by our university, we knew that we weren't being given equal access, and we knew that something had to happen if we were to do anything about it."

Toth and Principato began working with Brown, Goldstein & Levy in the fall of 2010. Getting the legal team the information they needed was easier because both students had realized early on that keeping copies of emails and other documents would be important in making their case to university officials. "We soon figured out that the professors were going to say one thing to us and something else to another department. For this reason we started saving emails and other documents. Once we filed the lawsuit, a lot of things changed for us at the university. We learned that Brown, Goldstein & Levy were going to have access to our email, and that was fine. Every time we got a message from FSU or sent a message to someone at FSU, we had to share it with them too. This was all during the discovery period. They wanted to see all of our Facebook and Twitter information because they knew we had been talking a lot about what was going on there. It got to the point where every time we would communicate with anybody on campus, we needed to take notes and contact Mr. Goldstein afterward and let him know what had happened. Every communication we had with faculty on campus was essentially related—it was always going to be about accessibility."

Officials at FSU soon adopted the posture that any meetings they would have with Toth, with Principato, or with them together would require a second party from the university to observe and relate the content of discussions. "Filing a lawsuit changes the dynamic between a student and a professor. You can't talk with your professor without somebody acting as a witness and making sure that they have everything documented on their end too. It makes things very difficult."

Soon even those who should have been advocates in the SRDC were siding with the math department. Principato says: "I would call it interesting now, but at the time it was frustrating to see factions forming within the university. I started to notice that there were people in the disability service office who were acting as though we were their enemy. They were especially hostile to us. They would try to get us into situations where we would say things that weren't true. They would try to get us to agree with them that we weren't trying hard enough. They would try to tell other people that we weren't trying hard enough and that the problems were really just us complaining too much about little things. I don't really have words to describe it—it was just terrible."

Although there are laws against retaliating against students who file complaints, there can be no question that those complaining face greater scrutiny. Toth and Principato both witnessed this when any mistake they made in working with the SRDC was documented. Bringing a document for transcription an hour late would have initially resulted in a reminder about deadlines, but, after the filing of the suit, such incidents were magnified. Not only were Principato and Toth under greater scrutiny, but being in an adversarial relationship with their school changed how they felt about it and about being students there. Principato says, "We didn't really have much of a social life on campus after the lawsuit because we couldn't really talk with our fellow students about these matters. Neither could we walk around the campus and feel proud that we were at FSU. We couldn't go out on game day and take pride in our school. We didn't feel pride in our school; we didn't feel welcome at our school.

"This got worse and worse as the discovery period dragged on. We were aware of communications our attorney had with people at FSU and with FSU's legal counsel, and all of the communication really was that we were in the wrong and that we weren't trying hard enough or that we didn't need what we claimed we needed. There was always something to try to make us look bad. But like we were being attacked from every angle: we were the plaintiffs; they were the defendants, so it was definitely not what we expected.

"As I look back on it now, I look at what we had as extra homework. At the end of the school day we'd have to go and call up their paralegals to go over documents with them; fill out forms with them; help them find documents that we mentioned but that hadn't yet been produced by FSU — documents they needed to see to start preparing an argument. It was like we were taking law classes on top of the classes we were already taking, and, looking back on it, it was a great learning experience. But it was really stressful in addition to the stress of just being in college."

Following discovery came depositions, and Principato and Toth were shocked and surprised once again. "We got to read all of the depositions that the FSU faculty and staff and the SRDC had done, and they lied. It kind of blew me away that, on top of all of these issues that we already had pretty well documented because of the findings of the Office for Civil Rights, the people from our disability services were saying they offered things they had not offered, saying we said things we did not say, and pretending we were getting accommodations we were not getting. Here we were, once again in a math class we had taken a year before, and the class notes were coming two weeks after the material we had been taught and had already been tested on. They did give us an electronic textbook, and, although this was of some help, it too came late and came in pieces, often after we had covered and been given exams on the material."

Finally there came a time when FSU wanted to discuss mediation. Toth and Principato thought this was good. "If we could stay out of the courts, I was thinking this would be better for everybody involved. We were discussing settlement terms, and the thing that was a huge issue, the thing that mattered most to Chris and me during the mediation, was that the problems would be fixed for everybody. We didn't want to settle the lawsuit and have nothing more be said about it and then have some blind student, long after us—maybe a couple years down the line—run into the same problem as though they [the school] had forgotten what had happened. So we spent something like eighteen hours in mediation discussing our terms and arguing over what had to be fixed. We were really happy that we settled on terms that resulted in all of the math classes and the materials used for them being made accessible, as well as chemistry and biology and physics classes. We worked hard not only on math but on these other classes, because eventually these were all ones we would have to take. We also insisted that the grievance policy for the university, especially for discrimination complaints, be made publicly available and easy to find. We insisted that the resources in the disability student service center be made more accessible and easier for blind students to view on the internet."

We asked Principato whether, after mediation, the university was interested in removing those failing grades from the transcripts of her and Toth. "Selectively. They did remove most of the failing grades that we received. The only thing I think they didn't remove were the withdrawals, which aren't so bad because they don't affect your GPA, but they do show that you took a class and withdrew from it. I don't think they provide any reason."

When asked if there was any part of the settlement she wished had been different, Principato said, "In the FSU settlement one of the provisions is that FSU admits to no wrongdoing. I wasn't happy about that one, but our legal counsel explained to me that, when you are settling out of court, you are not usually going to get much better than this. The defendants are willing to agree to fix it, but they are not willing to agree that they did wrong."

We asked Principato how the Division of Blind Services in Florida reacted to the settlement and whether at any point they ever became an advocate for Toth and Principato.

"No they didn't. They didn't really have a lot of interest in taking a side. They would forgive a couple of things like when we had to take a math class over again, and, with some pushing from Dan Goldstein and his legal people, they agreed to pay for me to take the class over again, even though it is their policy that a student doesn't get to retake a class. Other than that they didn't want to be involved. They didn't want to help much, and they certainly weren't an advocate. If anything, they were an external stressor in addition to FSU—just another institution we had to worry about."

When asked why she thought DBS would not help two of its students in what was clearly an inaccessible and increasingly hostile environment, Principato said, "Our Division of Blind Services counselor had an office in the university's disability services office, and she would be there a couple of days a week. When I was in there using resources or scheduling with them on those days, I noticed that she was very much a part of that office. She was very politically sensitive to the things that took place in that office, and I think she was more an ally to them than to us."

In contrast to her feelings about the Division of Blind Services in Florida and its role in events, Principato came away from the fight with a new and fervent enthusiasm for the NFB and the legal team of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. "I feel like, if not for the support I got in fighting this battle, it never would have been fought, I probably wouldn't be in school right now, and I definitely wouldn't be in Colorado living a better life. I would probably have moved back with my parents or something. I can't really imagine what my future would've been like from that point if it hadn't been for Dan, if not for the legal team, and if not for the National Federation of the Blind funding this. I can honestly say that Dan is absolutely my hero, and his entire legal team is a bunch of superheroes. They do amazing things for people, and they do it well. We need people like that fighting the good fight.

"My life is great now, and I actually attribute that to what happened at FSU, the help of the NFB and their legal team and what they gave me to take away from the whole situation. I moved to Colorado, and, though some course credits transferred to Arapahoe, essentially I found myself starting out as a freshman. At this point what really hit me was that the only reason I had originally chosen psychology to begin with was that I thought that as a blind student I was going to struggle in any science field that required a lot of math. Then at FSU I ran into a problem in psychology because it too required math. So I said to myself that if I could compromise and still run into problems, then maybe I shouldn't be compromising at all and should just take on the obstacles head on. Maybe I should do what I really wanted to do, even if that meant science and math.

"So in my first semester at Arapahoe Community College, I just took my math class to see if I would find the same problems all over again. If I did, I would get out of it quickly before I made too great an investment. Of course there was the possibility that it might be different—I hoped that it would be—and it was different. I had a lot of support from my school and from my teachers. I actually did great in my algebra class and discovered a love of math that I didn't realize I had. That made me start thinking, "If I can take on FSU and essentially win that battle, I can probably do anything, and I'd like to study math as my career, or at least physics—and that requires a lot of math." So I am a physics major now, and I'm doing really well. The attitude of those who are supposed to teach us makes all the difference. When I started at this college, they told me pretty honestly that they were willing to help me and would do everything to make sure that these classes were accessible, but straight up they said that they wanted to warn me that they had never had a blind student excel past the first calculus class. At the end of this academic year they will be telling teachers and future students that they have had a blind student take every math class they have to offer and succeed at it, and I'm really excited about that."

Principato plans to transfer to a four-year college once she has completed her associate degree. She is currently considering the University of Denver, the Colorado School of Minds, and the University of Colorado, Denver Campus.

In reading this, one might be tempted to ask what has caused us to run an article about events that happened nearly five years ago? The answer is that a recent letter seemed so compelling that we did the work you have already read and thought you would want to know how at least one of our defendants now regards what was once her most serious challenge—mathematics. Here is what she wrote to Daniel Goldstein, and, after reading it, you can see why he sent the letter with this comment: “I am sharing the email below from Jamie Principato, who joined Chris Toth as our plaintiffs when we sued Florida State. Jamie was a nineteen-year-old freshman who had the presence of mind to file a complaint with the Department of Education without assistance; the Department of Ed did nothing until we came in. When I read something like this, I think I should be paying you for the privilege of working for the NFB. What a difference we made in just one life! I am standing a little straighter and taller today after reading this.”

Here is the letter Jamie wrote to Dan:

Subject: First time looking back

Good morning, Dan,

I am on my way to the University of Denver this morning to give a talk at a conference of disability services specialists from institutions throughout the state of Colorado. The conference was arranged in light of a recent discrimination lawsuit filed against CU Boulder, and its focus is on avoiding litigation, which makes me feel a little nauseated every time I say it out loud. That said, I was invited to speak at this conference to give its attendants a look at litigation from the student's perspective, as well as to discuss ways in which a university can be proactive about accessibility (as opposed to simply reacting to the threat of legal action) and to highlight the difference that the right attitudes can make even when unforeseen circumstances do arise.

In the weeks leading up to this event, I was asked a lot about my experiences at FSU, and in preparation for today's talk I went and dug out the settlement agreement, as well as the initial complaint. It occurred to me that I haven't looked at either of these documents since they were first written, and I felt a twinge of anger more than once as I recalled conversations with faculty, phone calls to DBS, and visits to the SDRC. I remembered the events that took place at FSU very well, but forgot much of what it was like to be there. If I hadn't been there, I don't know if I would have believed most of what I read in the complaint, and this gave me empathy for the group I'll be addressing today. It's hardest to believe that these events didn't take place very long ago.

It's really strange to think back to a time when doing math meant feeling depressed and angry and frustrated; when walking around in the math department of my school meant high anxiety and a sense that I had to be on guard and defensive; when the thing I now consider to be the most beautiful thing in the universe, the stuff that holds it all together, was the stuff of nightmares for me. These days math is my deepest passion. I've been out of school for the summer, spending my break studying general relativity, abstract algebra, knot theory and multivariable calculus…for fun! I meet with my best friend and mentor, a mathematician, several times a week just to play with math and bounce around ideas. We're working together to use math to design a computer vision system that will allow a robot we've built to autonomously tend and harvest a potted plant (the application isn't important, though. We're using math to give a robot visual decision-making capabilities!). On the side, my friend is mentoring me as I try to find an algorithm that will allow a computer to recognize visually the algebraic properties of 3-D knots rendered down to 2-D photographs (this has applications in microbiology, where proteins can be identified by their mathematical knot-like qualities, and it's an open-ended problem in knot theory that hasn't been solved yet).

The math department at my school is like a second home to me, and my teachers and mentors are as far from adversaries as can be. Most notably, this subject that used to cause me the most grief and stress is now my go-to for relief when I'm stressed. I write proofs and work novel problems in the morning as soon as I wake up. If I have to be up at seven for school, I wake up at five so I have time for this. Before I go to bed every night, I read a theorem or lemma or an article in some mathematician's blog to unwind. When my computer broke the other day while I was in the middle of an important project, I did algebra to cool down before trying to find another way to finish the work. Math went from the thing I hated most for most of my life to the thing I turned out to be fairly good at, and now it's the thing I love most and couldn't do without. When I think about it like that, all that fighting and grief in Tallahassee were more than worth it.

UPDATE: I wrote this email this morning while I was getting ready for the conference, and my colleague came to pick me up before I could send it. I'm home now and just wanted to add that my presentation was a huge success. I got the impression from those who approached me afterwards that I accomplished the goal of helping them understand litigation from the student's perspective, what motivates a student to take such steps, and how the right attitude and culture within an institution can make all the difference in preventing such things. People who complained openly at the start of the conference about the cost and burden of accessibility audits to their department or of having to distribute their "intellectual property" when a student needs accessible notes were actively thanking me for helping them at the end of the talk to see the error in their reasoning. I was even invited back for another conference in October to give a more focused presentation on math accessibility in higher education.

Since I hadn't sent this message yet, I thought you'd like to hear that the talk went well. I'm doing great now, academically speaking, but I haven't lost sight of the challenges my peers still face and will continue to do what I can to educate those around me, students and faculty alike.

Best,
Jamie

The TEACH Act: Frequently Asked Questions

by Lauren McLarney

From the Editor: Lauren McLarney is the manager of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. Her passionate speeches about educational equality for blind students are always a convention favorite, and in this article she attempts to answer some commonly asked questions about the TEACH Act. Here is what she says:

The Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act, HR 3505/S 2060, is a bill designed to address barriers to success that many blind students face because of inaccessible educational technology. The TEACH Act does three major things: 1) Authorizes the creation of voluntary accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional material and related information technology used in postsecondary education; 2) Incentivizes colleges and universities to use only technology that conforms to those guidelines with a safe harbor from litigation; and 3) States that, although conformance with the guidelines is optional, schools still need to meet their obligations to provide equal access—by following the guidelines or in some other way.

For the first nine months the TEACH Act cruised along smoothly. But in September of this year controversy erupted. The higher education lobby spoke out against a provision in a bill proposed by Senator Harkin which was modeled after the TEACH Act, and a debate ensued in the press. Luckily the debate has evolved into a productive discussion between NFB, the higher education lobby, and our industry partners. We hope consensus can be reached so blind students get the relief they deserve.

As part of an effort to keep everyone informed and set the record straight, the December Monitor included two editorial pieces: an op-ed from the Chronicle of Higher Education supporting the TEACH Act, and a blog evaluating the controversies surrounding the bill. Seeing all sides of the debate makes us stronger, more capable advocates, but there is always more to learn. So below are fifteen frequently asked questions about the TEACH Act to serve as an addendum to last month's articles.

1. Voluntary accessibility guidelines...what in the world are you talking about?

Answer: Colleges and universities are required under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide equal access to students with disabilities, which means using accessible instructional material or providing accommodations that give blind students equivalent access. Unfortunately, there are no criteria defining what accessibility means, so schools have no idea what products to use, what to demand from the market, or how best to comply with the law.

Currently most schools deploy the old-fashioned, ad hoc accommodations model that was adequate in the print world but fails miserably in the digital world. The concepts of  “accommodations,” and “ad hoc” are not in dispute—everyone knows that accommodations are the way many entities choose to provide equal access, everyone knows that “ad hoc” means one at a time, and everyone agrees that that is the nature of how accommodations are provided. Therefore, the “accommodations model” generally has a positive connotation, and it is the individualized nature of accommodations that seems to be part of why everyone thinks the model is so great. But, in the context of digital technology for blind students, this system is not great, and it is the individualized nature of accommodations that is precisely why. Equal access in the digital world can only be provided when schools use mainstream, inherently accessible technology across the board—ad hoc treatment of blind students just will not do, just like temporary ramps for students with wheelchairs will not do.

Consequently, the application of the ad hoc accommodations model in the digital world cannot continue; blind students are dropping out of school, and schools are getting sued. The TEACH Act creates the missing criteria in the form of guidelines, and then rewards schools that follow those guidelines with a safe harbor from litigation. Schools can continue to deploy the accommodations model, but most will probably choose the better route and the legal protections that come along with it. The more schools that follow the guidelines, the more the market will reflect that need. The goal is to stimulate the market, reduce litigation, and ultimately ensure equal access for blind students.

2. Will colleges and universities have to follow the guidelines?

Answer: No, the guidelines are 100 percent voluntary. Offering immunity from litigation as a reward means that the guidelines will offer one path to compliance with the law, but it is not the only path. Some schools may ignore the guidelines or develop their own, but they forfeit the legal protection of a safe harbor by choosing those alternative routes.

This conversation often gets derailed by fears about a school being at risk for litigation if it does not follow the guidelines, but this is a misguided concern. Schools are already at risk for litigation because the mandate for equal access applies right now. Even after the TEACH Act passes, the mandate will apply, and it will not be voluntary.

3. Where did the idea for guidelines come from?

Answer: In 2008 the Federation successfully lobbied Congress to authorize the creation of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Material in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (AIM Commission). The AIM Commission examined the status of accessible educational technology and the impact it was having on students with disabilities and then developed recommendations for how to address the matter. President Riccobono sat on the commission, offered valuable experience, and brought influence that was instrumental in the ultimate recommendations. The final report found that students with disabilities experience a daunting assortment of challenges, including blocked access to educational opportunities and even failure to graduate, solely because of inaccessible materials. The commission also found that "there is still persistent unmet need" and that steps must be taken to stimulate the creation of a viable accessible digital marketplace. Of the commission's nineteen recommendations, the first one calls for Congress to authorize the creation of accessibility guidelines.

4. Why are the guidelines voluntary?

Answer: For several reasons: first, the AIM Commission recommended that Congress create accessibility guidelines, and "guidelines" are voluntary. Congress likes data, so we should not stray too far off course from what the AIM Commission Report recommends.

Second, voluntary guidelines are more flexible than enforceable standards. Suppose a company develops a method of accessibility that the TEACH Act guidelines did not predict: surely VoiceOver was a surprise to technology experts when it first came on the scene. By keeping the guidelines voluntary, innovation in unique accessibility solutions can still be explored. If the guidelines were mandatory, this kind of innovation might be discouraged. Worse, regulations take a significantly long time to develop and upgrade. Technology moves faster than the rulemaking process, so there is a heightened risk of harm when those standards inevitably become outdated.

Third, voluntary guidelines are more appealing to members of Congress who oppose federal regulation of education. Some members of Congress might feel differently, but even they are obligated to consider the opinion of the colleges and universities in their district or state, and many of those institutions express feeling overly burdened with bureaucratic regulations. The TEACH Act offers a voluntary solution that avoids those objections without compromising our objectives.

Finally, voluntary guidelines achieve the same outcome as enforceable standards. If the TEACH Act created regulations, a school that uses technology that conforms to those standards cannot be sued for following the law. With the TEACH Act a school has the option of following voluntary guidelines and is rewarded with a safe harbor from litigation, i.e., they cannot be sued. Looks the same, right?

5. What are the differences among criteria, standards, regulations, and guidelines?

Answer: "Criteria" are technical benchmarks that one uses to determine whether or not a product is "accessible" based on the intended function of a product. For example, criteria might designate that an e-reader is accessible only if it provides audio output, or web content is accessible only if the images are properly labeled and the page is compatible with screen-access software. Voluntary criteria are called "guidelines," and mandatory criteria are called "standards." In this context the word "standards" is also synonymous with "regulations," which are requirements/rules that specify how a covered entity must comply with a law.

6. What if the guidelines are not any good?

Answer: The only way to ensure that the guidelines align with the Federation's concept of accessibility is to write them ourselves and put them into the bill, but ultra-prescriptive bills can be problematic. Our laws are living documents, and, while technology inevitably evolves, the words in those laws remain the same. As we have learned over the last seventy-five years of advocating, changing laws can take a long time. A sound solution takes a timeless approach and uses widely applicable language, which is why the current version of the TEACH Act calls on the Access Board to develop the guidelines and then update them every three years. But regardless of who creates the guidelines, there is an inevitable risk that the group might come up with something lousy. That risk is mitigated only by making the guidelines voluntary so additional methods of accessibility can still be explored.

7. How will this work—so the guidelines will be created, and then schools will have to change all of the technology on campus?

Answer: No. The TEACH Act does not require retrofitting; in fact, the TEACH Act does not require anything. Remember: schools are currently required to use accessible material, and they will be required to do so whether the TEACH Act passes or not. If a school needs to retrofit its materials or revise its procurement policies, it is because it is not complying with that requirement. The mandate to provide equal access is not altered, strengthened, or removed by the TEACH Act.

Rather, the TEACH Act guidelines will be a tool for schools to use to identify what material is accessible and what material is not, informing decisions that should facilitate better compliance with that equal access mandate. We expect that many schools will request TEACH-Act-compliant material from vendors and that streamlined demand will be met by manufacturers. Hopefully this transformation will result in such systemic change that schools never have to retrofit materials or provide accommodations because mainstream access is built-in from the start and already deployed across campus.

8. Why can't each state or each school create its own guidelines?

Answer: Equal access mandates are national mandates, and the instructional material market is a national market. This calls for national guidelines. Every state could develop its own, but no manufacturer would make fifty different product lines, and there is no guarantee that federal agencies would even accept each state's criteria as sufficient. Furthermore, only Congress can authorize the safe harbor. Most important, blind students deserve equal access across the country, not just at a few select schools or in a few select states.

9. Aren't schools doing a good job of providing accommodations already?

Answer: In the last four years more than a dozen lawsuits have been filed over schools using inaccessible instructional materials, and the problem is escalating. This is not entirely the schools' fault; institutions of higher education were mandated to use accessible material but not given any direction for how to do so. Other than a handful of schools, the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities are still confused about how to accommodate students with disabilities in a digital world. Consequently, most resort to the ad hoc accommodations model mentioned earlier, a model that worked only in the print world. Legislators are also ignorant about the needs of students with disabilities, assuming that wheelchair ramps on campus or the extra test time given to their friend with a learning disability means that their school is doing an amazing job of meeting requirements. The AIM Commission report tells us otherwise when it comes to accessibility, and if the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, this failure is solidified by the number of lawsuits and complaints that grow exponentially by the year.

10. How much is this going to cost?

Answer: The bill currently calls for Congress to appropriate "such sums as may be necessary" to develop the guidelines. There is no dollar amount, and there is no score, which is Capitol-Hill-speak for "how much it will cost". However, the development of guidelines should not be an expensive endeavor. Not only is this a modest undertaking, the amount of money will be minuscule compared to the amount taxpayers lose to enforcement actions, investigations, and lawsuits against schools that are failing to comply with the mandate.

Worse, every time a blind student changes majors, delays his or her education, or drops out of school, taxpayers take another major hit. People with disabilities have an 80 percent unemployment rate, and many of those people rely on government assistance for survival. There is no way to measure the untapped talents and lost productivity that result when an entire population fails to reach its potential, but tangible change can be made with this small investment.

11. Does this mean schools will need to have something readily available for a student with a severe disability even though they don’t have such a student attending the school?

Answer: Schools will not have to do anything that they do not already have to do when it comes to a student with a severe disability. The TEACH Act will make it easier for schools to identify which items are accessible to that student and which are not and hopefully will shift the paradigm from the ad hoc accommodations model to a mainstream access approach. Widespread use of TEACH-Act-compliant material will create a situation in which the arrival of a student with a particular disability does not call for any reaction because the school already deploys fully and inherently accessible material across the campus.

This question overlooks something more critical: how does the school intend to provide accessible materials to this student when he or she gets there? Society would never accept temporary ramps that are deployed only when a student with a physical disability arrives on campus, and students with severe disabilities deserve the same treatment. When this question is posed, it is an opportunity to change attitudes about accessibility.

12. Will guidelines inhibit innovation? Why should schools be discouraged from using a cool piece of technology just because it is not accessible?

Answer: First, accessibility and innovation are not mutually exclusive; in fact, the very first digital book was created by a blind person! Some of the most innovative products in the market (i.e., devices made by Apple) are the most accessible, and we expect the TEACH Act guidelines to stimulate greater production of these kinds of hardware and software. Since the passage of the ADA, we have seen the mainstream benefits of universal design and accessibility. Curb cuts that were originally designed for people with physical disabilities now benefit parents with strollers and travelers with luggage. Similarly, stimulating accessible technology can only enhance innovation, because an increase in the former will generate benefits for all and extend well beyond the intended audience of the disabled.

Second, in the unlikely event that an emerging technology is totally inaccessible even after the TEACH Act passes, a school will still be allowed to deploy such material, as long as it provides equivalent access through an alternative accommodation. If an adequate alternative or accommodation cannot be found, the school is prohibited from deploying that technology—not because of the TEACH Act, but (say it with me now) because current law already prohibits that kind of discrimination. It is because of this requirement that, in the end, a decision to reject the guidelines and allow the market to stay saturated with inaccessible materials is what will ultimately inhibit innovation.

And finally, which is more important for a school to do: use cool technology or provide an education to all students, regardless of disability?

13. Who is ACE?

Answer: According to its website, the American Council on Education (ACE) represents the presidents of US accredited degree-granting institutions, and has a membership base of more than 1,700 member institutions. ACE is seen as an umbrella association, bringing together other higher education associations (community colleges, four-year public institutions, four-year private institutions, etc.) and representing the collective interests of those groups in the public policy space. When this article says "higher education lobby," interest groups like ACE are what we are referring to.

Although many schools defer to their association on legislative matters, it is not uncommon for an individual institution to take an independent position. It is critical that blind students engage their institution directly, since those in leadership positions may not be aware of the problems caused by inaccessible materials or the debates that are ensuing at the national level. Just as the Federation represents the collective interests of blind Americans, ACE represents the collective interests of schools, and just as the individual blind members of NFB are the voice behind our actions, individual schools should be engaged in these important debates.

14. You keep saying the guidelines are voluntary, so why does the higher education lobby think the guidelines are mandatory? Is that the only reason they have opposed the bill?

Answer: As stated above, the TEACH Act does three things: 1) authorizes the creation of guidelines; 2) incentivizes their use with a safe harbor; and 3) states that schools do not have to follow the guidelines, but they must still follow current law by providing equivalent access with an alternative or accommodation. The higher education lobby had concerns regarding items one and three.

Regarding item one, the higher education lobby wants to explore a mechanism for developing guidelines that has input from their community. We can explore that option as long as the voice of institutions does not drown out the voice of blind students who are the actual people depending on the guidelines to protect their civil rights.

Regarding item three, ACE feels that the TEACH Act establishes a bar for alternatives that is impossible to meet, thereby forcing schools to default to the guidelines. We profoundly disagree with this interpretation, and every major disability group and expert in the field agrees with our position. Our understanding of current law is based on the words found in that law, guidance issued by the federal government, and our understanding of the limitations of the accommodations model. But the nice thing about politics is that we can agree to disagree. There may be a way to reword that section to reflect our understanding of current law without inciting controversy.

15. Where do things stand with ACE right now?

Answer: We are in the midst of a productive discussion, with the goal of reaching a consensus. It is too soon to say if that will be achievable, but we are encouraged by the schools' willingness to come to the table and admit that they need help meeting equal access mandates and providing accessible material to blind students.

We know all too well the poor outcomes that result when lawmakers make decisions about blind people and for blind people without consulting the Federation. We practice what we preach. That is why we are leading this effort. That is also why we have reached out to ACE during the drafting of the TEACH Act, and why we hope our second dialogue will be successful. We will continue engaging in these important conversations until all blind students can freely pursue the education they need, to live the lives they want.

The Marrakesh Treaty: From the Visually Impaired Persons Community’s Perspective

by Scott C. LaBarre

From the Editor: Scott LaBarre has been a staunch proponent of a treaty granting blind people and the organizations that serve them the right to share books in special formats for the blind. He has written extensively about this issue in these pages, but what he has to say here is timely and serves to remind us that the treaty for which we have worked so hard is not yet ratified. These remarks also show that Scott is not only a significant player in his work with the National Federation of the Blind, but what he thinks is important to the blind of the world.

Presented to: Conference, Copyright Problems of Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Visually Impaired

Organized by the Copyright Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), with the participation of Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan
December 1, 2014

I wish to begin by thanking the Copyright Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Azerbaijan for inviting me to speak and offer the perspective of the World Blind Union (WBU) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of the United States on the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, and Otherwise Print Disabled.

I bring you the greetings and best wishes of WBU’s president, Arnt Holte from Norway; WBU’s immediate past president and chairperson of our Right to Read Campaign, Maryanne Diamond from Australia; the president of the NFB, Mark Riccobono; and the immediate past president of the NFB, Dr. Marc Maurer. It is truly an honor and privilege to share these remarks with you and participate in this most important conference. Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty is of paramount importance and will lead to invaluable benefits for the blind and visually impaired community.

There has been a debate for millennia regarding the essence of human nature. According to John Locke, the great British philosopher and scholar, we are born a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Locke believed that the experiences we encounter from birth forward form the essential part of who we are. Although Locke had his own spin on it, his ideas were not entirely his own. This concept originates as far back as Aristotle, who talked about the unscribed tablet. This Aristotelian notion sharply contrasted with the previously held platonic notions of the human mind as an entity that pre-existed somewhere in the heavens, before being sent down to join a body here on Earth. A derivation of Plato's perspective is that our genetic makeup predisposes us to a certain pattern of life experience. According to Plato and others, the tabula isn't so rasa. We are talking about the classic argument of nature versus nurture. As with most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in between these competing theories.

Regardless of where one’s views fall on this topic, I do not believe anyone would argue with the concept that our ability to access information plays the single largest role in developing the people we become. The greater access we have to the vast array of information available, the greater our opportunity becomes to live full, enriching lives. Of course most of our collective knowledge is stored and kept by reducing it to the printed word. Whether that printed word is displayed through hard copy, text, or computer files does not really matter. Access to the printed word is absolutely critical. For the blind access to the printed word through published works has been a monumental battle. The sighted have no barrier to reading published works that is imposed on them by any physical characteristic. For the blind our lack of vision necessitates a different strategy. We must access the printed word in alternative formats or what the Marrakesh Treaty calls "accessible format copies."

Personally, I have been involved in the battle for access since the young age of ten. Prior to losing my vision to a childhood virus, I absolutely loved reading. One of my greatest joys as a young child was going to my elementary school’s library and perusing the thousands of books available there. To this day my memories of the library at Royal Oaks Elementary School, located in Woodbury, Minnesota, USA, are vivid and ones I recall with great fondness.

When I lost my vision, I thought that the treasure trove of information available to me had been stolen, lost to me permanently. After a while I realized that all was not lost. By learning Braille, I recovered the ability to read for myself and once again go to sleep at night with a book in my hands. These books came to me through our Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. In addition to the Braille texts I had access to books in audio form. At first these books came to me on vinyl records, later replaced by cassette tapes.

Although my ability to read Braille and audio books allowed me to gain some independence back, it was not a complete solution. Even though I grew up in a wealthy nation with substantial resources, I had access to a tiny percentage of what my sighted peers took for granted. Our best estimates in the United States suggest that we have something less than 5 percent of published works available in alternative formats. In most countries the percentage of accessible works is lower, often much lower. That is why we have called this worldwide crisis "the Book Famine for the Blind." Moreover, international law has not allowed the cross-border sharing of accessible texts. This has led to duplication of effort and waste of resources by organizations that often have little in the way of resources at their disposal.

Even when I could get my hands on accessible books, it often occurred long after my sighted friends had read the same information. I was always trying to catch up and struggling to keep pace. Many times my Braille or audio schoolbooks came to me months after my sighted colleagues had plowed through the information.

Despite the barriers I faced, I regard myself as a fortunate and successful person. I am an attorney who runs and operates his own law firm. I have argued before courts all over the United States and had the privilege of engaging in international projects like the Marrakesh Treaty. We own our home in Denver, Colorado, and I have a beautiful wife and two terrific children. I attribute my success largely to my family. My mom and dad pushed the local school system hard to insure that I learned the alternative techniques of blindness like Braille and independent cane travel and to provide books in alternative formats.

The National Federation of the Blind’s positive philosophy on blindness has also been absolutely critical to helping me achieve success. Our official and heartfelt message is: “The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.”

I am fortunate because I managed to gain access to a wide array of information, but it has always been a struggle. The vast majority of blind and visually impaired individuals tragically does not even have the access to enough information to place them on a path to success. That is why the WBU initiated the worldwide Right to Read Campaign. The adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty is an historic and landmark victory in this campaign. It will change the lives of the blind all over the world.

Some in the United Sates have said to me that America does not really need the Marrakesh Treaty because we already have a well-established system for the reproduction of published works into accessible formats. Although it is true we have a good system, as I mentioned before, we have access to a tiny percentage of what the sighted population can gain instantaneously. Because of Marrakesh not only will we in the U.S. have access to what all the other English-speaking countries are producing in accessible formats throughout the world, we will also be able to put our hands on hundreds of thousands of books in foreign languages. This capacity would have been very helpful to me while attending college at St. John’s University in Minnesota. Originally I had planned on a double major in government and Spanish. Ultimately, I dropped that Spanish major precisely because I could not get access to Spanish novels and other materials.

The road to Marrakesh was long and at times arduous. I suppose that the first reason for such a difficult journey is that any process involving the United Nations brings with it the frustrating procedures and related eccentricities of the UN. For example, matters are rarely decided on up or down votes but rather through consensus. I recall one meeting in Geneva in which it took almost two whole business days to adopt the agenda for the meeting just because a handful of nations were resisting the order of items in the agenda. I also fondly remember how the United States introduced a proposal entitled “a non-paper” which was handed out in hard copy and contained eleven pages of print.

The road has also been tough because this treaty represents the first time ever that an international instrument addressed exceptions and limitations to copyright law exclusively. Previously any international agreement granted exceptions and limitations only as part of a much broader scheme to protect the intellectual property rights of creators and other rights holders. As a result, you can imagine that rights holders of all kinds and sizes expressed great concern and fear about adopting a binding international instrument that did not set out to enlarge their rights but arguably to contract them. These rights holders were not so much afraid of market erosion from the blind, because we represent such a tiny percentage of the world’s population; rather they feared that this was the proverbial camel’s nose getting in under the tent. Well, my friends, on the desert plains of Marrakesh, we were able to accommodate that camel’s nose, and it did not tip over the tent.

Originally the world’s largest corporations and associations either expressly opposed the treaty or offered alternative language to it that would have made the treaty unusable and ineffective. These entities included, but were not limited to, ExxonMobil, GE, Adobe, IBM, Association of American Publishers, International Publishers Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, and many, many others. Additionally, very influential blocks of nations like the European Union and United States were effectively blocking our efforts. How in the world could a group of blind people fight such large corporations and strong nations? It was because of the hope and belief the WBU and NFB possess in the capacity of the blind to change the world. The blind of the world were not willing to allow any amount of money or power to hold us back.

Although efforts have been made on and off for nearly thirty years to help end the book famine for the blind, this particular treaty effort began in 2008 when the Federation met with the World Blind Union and Knowledge Ecology International in Washington DC. NFB’s secretary, Mr. James Gashel, along with many others wrote the first draft of the proposed treaty text. My involvement began in 2009 when Dr. Maurer, President of the NFB at the time, asked me to appear at a hearing before the Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress, where the U.S. government wanted to collect the opinions of U.S. blindness organizations about this treaty proposal. At first the United States government and the European Union attempted to convince us that we really didn’t want or need a binding international treaty. We should first pursue a soft-law joint recommendation and then, some day way off in the future, seek a binding international accord. They tried to tell us that our problems would be solved more quickly that way and that treaties were difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. I don’t believe that these governments meant to insult us, but, when you think about it, their message was incredibly insulting and demeaning. The message is that the blind can wait. Your problems are second-class problems and deserve second-class treatment. We in the NFB and WBU were not willing to wait, and we will never be willing to wait for first-class treatment. In the U.S. the NFB adopted a resolution in 2010 calling upon the U.S. government to work hard toward the adoption of a binding international norm, a treaty. Our work and our perseverance ultimately led to the United States changing its position and its support for the convening of a diplomatic conference to conclude a treaty.

Bringing this treaty into reality required a great deal of leadership from WBU and its member organizations. Leadership requires creativity and the ability to think out of the box. As we headed toward Marrakesh, rights holders were doing their best to protect their own turf. In the U.S., for example, highly paid lawyers and lobbyists were bombarding the Obama Administration with letters and phone calls urging either outright U.S. opposition to the treaty or the introduction of language into the text that would greatly limit its effectiveness. We knew we had to find ways to push back. That is why we called upon our members to sign petitions and contact various legislators. That is why we ran messages calling upon Exxon and GE to stop locking books for the blind on our giant 12 by 40 foot NFB electronic billboard, a billboard seen by tens of thousands of drivers each day as they head up and down Interstate 95, a major freeway running along the East Coast of the United States. That is why we joined with BookShare, a leading authorized entity in the U.S., and worked with Stevie Wonder and his management team to get Stevie involved in the Marrakesh negotiations. Stevie is recognized as an ambassador of peace by the United Nations and originally appeared before WIPO’s General Assembly in 2010 to call for adoption of this treaty. That is why we issued a joint statement with the Motion Picture Association of America calling upon international negotiators to get back to basics and get a meaningful treaty adopted. We came under sharp attack by civil society organizations and some blind individuals when we did this. These entities and individuals thought that we had betrayed trust and that a blindness organization should not work with an intellectual property rights holder at any time.

As we started our travels to Marrakesh, thirty-seven distinct issues remained unresolved, without consensus, in the treaty text. To give you some perspective, at a diplomatic conference in Beijing, China, in 2012 to conclude work on a treaty for audiovisual performers, there was only one unresolved matter as the negotiators started that conference.

As the diplomatic conference began, new, unresolved issues emerged, and it appeared that we were headed backward and that the conference would fail. At one plenary session of the conference, Mustapha Khalfi, minister of communications for the Kingdom of Morocco, who had been elected as president of the conference, delivered an impassioned speech urging the negotiators to get busy making decisions and to stop dreaming up new issues and controversies. He threatened to close all the airports and means of transportation out of Morocco until a strong treaty emerged. Stevie Wonder chimed in with a video message stating that he would come and perform for the conference only if a strong, meaningful treaty were adopted. Of course the WBU and Federation added our voices to this chorus and urged the negotiators not to let the blind of the world down.

Late in the evening of Tuesday, June 25, 2013, we heard the words that we had all been hoping and waiting so long to hear. One of the negotiators from Brazil stepped out of the closed room, where a small group of key negotiators had been deliberating, and said, “You have a treaty.” The hallway erupted in cheers and joy surged in our hearts. I was left speechless. Words could not express the scope of what we had accomplished. The Marrakesh treaty represents the first time that a binding international accord exclusively addresses the issues faced by the blind. Although my body was there in Marrakesh, my heart was with all my blind colleagues throughout the world.

Credit for this historic accomplishment belongs many places: with the WBU and all its member organizations; with all the governmental delegations who found a way to work together; and with all the rights holders who ultimately found a way to advance our rights while protecting their interest.

On Monday June 24, 2013, the WBU held a press conference in front of the Palais des Congrès in Marrakesh, where Dr. Fredric Schroeder, first vice president of the WBU, spoke about the urgent need to end the book famine and to end it then. In front of Dr. Schroeder and the other speakers stood a pile of two hundred books, 198 of which were wrapped in chains and secured with a padlock, the two unchained books representing, of course, the 1 percent of published works to which we actually have access.

The adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty represents the unlocking of the padlock. However, the chains are still there. Our freedom is still imprisoned. We must celebrate this great victory, but we must not rest. The book famine still exists, and our hearts and minds are starved for the information we need. Information is truly power. We must now work even harder to get all the nations of the world to ratify Marrakesh.

The Marrakesh Treaty has sent the clear signal that access to information is indeed a fundamental human right. The treaty process has also confirmed that the blind, governments, and rights holders can work together effectively. We must now use the spirit of Marrakesh to lead us to implementation of the treaty’s goals. By doing so, I am confident that we will eradicate the book famine, which will allow the blind and otherwise print disabled to achieve their rightful place in the world community.

After all, we, the blind and otherwise disabled, have the right to live in the world. Speaking about this right, Dr. tenBroek, founder of the NFB, stated many years ago: “That right is as deep as human nature; as pervasive as the need for social existence; as ubiquitous as the human race; as invincible as the human spirit. As their souls are their own, so their destiny must be their own.”

I thank you for the opportunity to bring you our perspective. We look forward to working with all of you to bring the world’s treasure of information to all, including the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled.

President Obama Proclaims October 15 Blind Americans Equality Day:
by the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

From the Editor: In 1964 the president of the United States declared October 15 to be National White Cane Safety day, and annually some version of the message Lyndon Johnson delivered has been reworked and sent by presidents of both parties. Recently White Cane Safety Day has been replaced by the phrase Blind Americans Equality Day. Whatever the title, the message is much the same. Here is what President Obama issued to commemorate October 15, 2014, as he called on Americans to value the potential and the contributions of its blind citizens:

For half a century our Nation has set aside one day every year to honor the contributions of blind and visually impaired Americans. In that time we have built a more just and more inclusive society. We have torn down barriers to full participation in our democracy and economy—but more work remains to guarantee all Americans have a fair shot at success. Today, we reaffirm our commitment to equal access, equal opportunity, and equal respect for every person and continue our work to ensure that no one is excluded from America's promise.

All Americans have a fundamental right to dignity and respect and to fully take part in the American experience. Every day, people with visual impairments and other print disabilities enrich our communities and demonstrate the inherent worth of every person. In our classrooms, blind Americans teach history and mathematics while fostering an early awareness of the innate possibility within each person. On canvas and through music, artists with visual impairments show us the world as they know it and broaden our understanding of our universe. Across our country Americans with disabilities contribute to our workplaces and our economy while securing stronger futures for themselves and their families.

My Administration is dedicated to expanding opportunity because all people deserve the freedom to make of their lives what they will. We are building on the foundation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by strengthening the protections against disability-based discrimination and advancing programs that increase accessibility in the places we learn, work, and live. Because Braille is a key tool that unlocks learning for many blind and visually impaired students, my administration continues to support Braille instruction in classrooms throughout our Nation. We are committed to promoting access to employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, ensuring new technology remains accessible so disabilities do not stand in the way of cutting-edge innovation, and—through new protections in the Affordable Care Act—preventing health insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, medical history, or genetic information.

When our Nation is able to harness the full potential of all our citizens, we can achieve extraordinary things. On Blind Americans Equality Day, we resolve to live up to the principles enshrined in the heart of our Nation and do our part to form a more perfect Union.

By joint resolution approved on October 6, 1964 (Public Law 88-628, as amended), the Congress designated October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety Day" to recognize the contributions of Americans who are blind or have low vision. Today, let us recommit to ensuring we remain a Nation where all our people, including those with disabilities, have every opportunity to achieve their dreams.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 15, 2014, as Blind Americans Equality Day. I call upon public officials, business and community leaders, educators, librarians, and Americans across the country to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

BARACK OBAMA

Attitudes and Expectations in Education

by Julie McGinnity

From the Editor: Julie McGinnity is a graduate student in music and performance at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She is by any measure a successful student, having been a national scholarship winner and a tenBroek Fellow. In the following piece she wrestles with the questions that face all of us as we go about living our lives: to what extent is it the job of blind people to educate the educators, educate our employers, educate our public officials, and all before we can take advantage of what others take for granted? When does this need to educate those around us retard our progress and when does it strengthen us and teach assertiveness and out-of-the-box thinking that serves many of us well in this constantly evolving world? The answers are not easy, and Julie makes no pretense that they are. Here is what she says about education, what it offers, what it promises, and how often it falls short of what it can and should be for blind students:

We are amazing. That's what they say. When we walk into their classrooms, they look at our Braille, the talking technology, and the canes and dogs we use to navigate the world, and they are in awe. "How can you do that?" "You are an inspiration." These statements become familiar songs in the soundtracks of our lives.

Some of the instructors and professors we meet ask questions, and many make promises to accommodate. The world of education seems to be a place of endless possibility. We are positive that learning will occur, and it certainly does, but at what cost?

Many of the professors who promise to send documents to us, keep us aware of projects and activities in the classroom, and prepare materials ahead of time soon begin to display their human frailty by forgetting their promises and good intentions and causing us to be left out. We do not blame them, and we shouldn't. Many of them genuinely want to accommodate us, but do they understand what it's like to be unable to participate? Have they ever been there? Have they felt that wave of dread when a new activity is announced, and we are consigned to the sidelines with the hope that we will be consoled by their heartfelt apology? No, they haven't experienced this, and I sincerely hope they never do.

The experience of being overlooked in class preparation by instructors and professors requires that we learn to think on our feet, determine how a new activity can be made accessible, and have the confidence to implement our ideas on the spur of the moment. We have to be clever enough to anticipate, use our memories and listening skills to glean bits of the print documents that the other students have in their hands, and in many cases learn quickly enough to compete with and be a part of the class.

Let's step outside this mindset for a minute. What would life be like if we didn't have to do all these things? What if we had the burden only of learning from what was presented? Perhaps it may seem unrealistic, but what if the teachers were so committed to our learning that they took the necessary steps to see that we could participate in every activity, had the class materials at the same time they were available to other students, and ensured there was a way for us to answer questions and make comments that was as easy for us as for other students?

If we actually found ourselves in this situation, we would probably be confused. We wouldn't know what to do with ourselves. Willingly or not, we have accepted the double standard by which we operate as blind people. It begins with that fateful contradiction disguised as a compliment: "You are amazing." Once that idea has been put into our heads, we are condemned to live up to that belief and to be set apart from others. Many of us either feel as if we need to live up to this standard, or feel as though we need to succeed in spite of it. We reject the idea that we are amazing, but we work hard to be amazing. We embrace the idea that we are normal human beings, while simultaneously working harder than our colleagues to prove to them and ourselves that we are. We detest the unequal treatment that makes life harder, while thriving on the challenge it presents and quietly and secretly complimenting ourselves on being so resourceful.

Our lives are as conflicted and filled with contradictions as those of our fellow travelers on this earth. We try to reconcile the love and protection of God with an understanding of the terrible things that happen in the world He oversees. We all struggle with the contradiction inherent in believing that we all have an opportunity to succeed in our country, while realizing that we are far from equal in where we start and what we have to work with in our lives.

Perhaps we must distinguish between challenges and barriers, realizing that they may be different for each of us. Which of the challenges we face cause us unnecessary stress, which retard our progress, which cause us anxiety and self-doubt, and which prevent us from doing what we might to enjoy our lives to the fullest? These we must seek to eradicate from our lives and use all of our efforts to see that other blind people do not find them stumbling blocks. Should it be okay for blind students to be without Braille or materials in the classroom simply because we often surmount this inconvenience? Why are they allowing us into schools and universities and then condemning us to sitting on the sidelines or playing second chair to our colleagues? I ask you: what is the point? On the flip side, which of the challenges we face every day have served to shape us into more resourceful human beings, caused us to be less rigid in our thinking, pushed us to be more accepting of the weaknesses of others, and forced us to have greater respect for the diversity found in the world?

We need to reevaluate how we treat blindness in education. It is easy to say that classrooms must be accessible and instructors need to treat their disabled students as equals. The reality is more difficult to swallow. Many teachers have different expectations of blind students that stem from their attitudes about blindness and people with disabilities. If this is the problem, it is truly our job to educate our educators as we seek to learn ourselves. Yes we really do get used to teaching the ones who are teaching us, but I wonder if this reality is a benefit to us in our endeavors as students. Can we truly learn at our best if we are constantly living in a world of caution and uncertainty because of the multitude of differing attitudes we find throughout our educational journeys?

I am not here to convince you that the educational world is hopeless. Teachers are out there who understand—whole groups of them in fact. They can be found, and this realization, more than anything else, gives me hope. We need to identify those who see potential rather than inspiration in us so that we can finally be on an equal footing with our peers.

You are not engaged in this struggle alone to find and educate understanding teachers. I am here, standing alongside you in our efforts to gain equality in the classroom, and seeking solutions to our challenges as blind students, and I am grateful to realize that we have an organization that is dedicated to educating these educators with us. It is time that we recognize this support and stop feeling as if we were carrying so much of the weight of these disadvantages alone. The truth is that the real problems of the blind student do not lie in our inability to see; they stem from the attitudes of those who teach us and provide our accommodations. Once we realize this, we are one step closer to using our God-given potential to succeed in whatever field we choose.

Clearly there is no single path in navigating the road to education as a blind person, but at the very least we should network, strategize, and improve the maps as we continue to demand equality. We must make the best of the situations in which we find ourselves, but we must also find the energy and optimism to expect acceptance and equality.

James Brown
Father, Highway Administrator, and Leader

From the Editor: James Brown was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind at its 2014 Convention in Orlando. He also serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. Here is what will appear in “Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind” when it is next published:

James Brown was born in 1974. "I sometimes wished I had brothers and sisters, but, being an only child, I just went out and got me some. I’ve always been good at making friends, so being an only child didn’t mean I was a lonely child.”

Brown started school with a vision problem but was not declared legally blind until the age of nine. No one really appreciated how difficult it was for him to read print, but reading would send him home at the end of the day with frequent headaches and migraines. “Vision simply wasn't talked about at my house, even though my mother suffered significant vision loss while pregnant with me.” Brown says that she continued to drive on a limited basis, and never did she acknowledge that he might have trouble with his sight. He was always told to “look over there,” or “read that,” so "blindness" was the secret word never spoken.

It is not surprising that Braille was never suggested or offered to Brown. He began his education at Lighthouse Christian, a private school he attended through the seventh grade. His need for large-print books that the private school didn't have eventually pushed him to go to public school for two years. As his vision continued to decline, Brown transferred to the Tennessee School for the Blind to finish his high school education. He was never encouraged to learn Braille, and, when he asked about it at the school for the blind, he was told that it would be inappropriate for him because he would end up reading it with his eyes. Interestingly, Brown went to school with Kareem Dale, a former official in the Obama Administration. Dale and Brown were the same age and had about the same amount of vision. Dale also asked for Braille and was granted it. Brown believes this is because Dale's grandparents were actively involved in their grandson’s education and a part of the IEP process, while Brown’s parents were not very involved. Both young men lost their remaining vision about a year after graduating from high school; Dale had a way to read—Brown did not.

Brown found his time at the private school challenging, the years in public school less so, and his time at the school for the blind did not begin to challenge or stimulate him academically. When asked about his strengths in school, Brown says, "I was never exceptional at anything—maybe some of that was because I was trying to act sighted when I just didn't have the vision—but, while I wasn't outstanding in anything, I was fortunate to be good in just about everything. I didn't really take school as seriously as I should have, and I was not an honor roll student until college."

Given these experiences, how did Brown decide to pursue a higher education? "Neither of my parents had a college education, and they really regarded it as something that only the exceptional could do or expect. Eventually I came to see that any real advancement for me meant schooling, and that meant going to college,” Brown said.

After high school Brown says he was ready for a little bit of life without school, so he worked at Custom Craft Cabinets. But after two-and-a-half years of sanding, wood planing, and attaching knobs, he realized the job would not pay enough to support him and his growing family. At this point he was a married man, having taken Crystal as his wife, and at that time they had one child, Christopher, who was born in 1994. They would also have another child, Joshua, who was born in 1996. "I was making about $9 an hour, and, although $9 meant more than it does now, it was clear to me that I could not raise a family on that kind of money. I figured out that the only way I was going to move up was by going to college, but, before I could do that, I had to learn some skills—how to use a computer, do word processing, and take advantage of the internet. My grades in college were good, but I had trouble with math. I was always good at it when I could see a little. Having no way to write down the problems, I could do only what I could keep in my head, and college algebra produced the only D on a transcript that was otherwise composed of A's.

“My original goal was to attend law school, so I majored in political science. Before I graduated and applied to any of them, my cousin, who was then in law school, told me I better be prepared to go for a year or a year and a half without seeing much of my wife or my child. I decided that was not acceptable, given that I was newly married and had a young child, and that, if law school was to be something I did, it would have to come later."

Given his change in career goals, Brown graduated from college and began applying for every job he could. The job he landed was as a transportation tech for the Tennessee Highway Department. He has since been promoted and now serves as a transportation specialist planner 3.

In his job Brown conducts road safety audits. This involves analyzing safety data (the number of fatal crashes that occur on a given segment of highway) to determine their cause. If the analysis concludes that corrective action can be taken to eliminate or reduce the problem that contributes to the crashes, Brown must then determine how to fund the repairs. “If you look at the data and you see that most crashes happen when the road is wet, the corrective action is to add a high-friction surface to that part of the road. If you see a road which is well-traveled during the day but the majority of the fatal crashes happen at night, you then have to assume that night and the lack of light are playing a part in the fatalities. The answers are all there in the data, and my job is to figure them out.”

Brown came to know about the National Federation of the Blind when he won a scholarship in 2007, but winning didn't mean that he immediately became active in the organization. He relates that one of his first reactions when arriving at the convention in Atlanta was to observe to himself that "God didn't make three thousand blind people to be together. There were all these canes and dogs and people heading toward one another." At the same time he was thinking all of this, he couldn't help being impressed by all that the blind people who came to the convention were doing. At the bar where he sat, there was a lawyer sitting to his left, a television producer on his right, and next to him a scientist who was working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. All were blind. But, no matter how impressed he was by the national convention and the leaders he met, the weight of home life, work, and his participation in a graduate program meant that it took him more than a year to connect with the Federation. “Because of problems going on in Tennessee at the time, I wasn’t really too impressed with becoming a part, but the Affiliate Action Team kept me involved and kept showing me that what was happening nationally could and should be happening in my state. Going to the Washington Seminar was one of the ways they kept me involved, and the first one I attended in 2009 happened to involve our work with the quiet cars—the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act—something I felt I knew a little about.”

When Brown earned a master’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, he decided he had more time for outside activities, and what he saw in the National Federation of the Blind helped to convince him that the work of the organization was worth his time and talent. “I liked what I saw in these people—they didn’t hide from blindness, weren’t ashamed to be blind or to say the word. The thing I appreciated most was that many of those I met walked the talk—they were real.”

Brown became the president of the Tennessee affiliate in March of 2012 and was elected to the national board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind on July 5, 2014. "I was extremely honored to have been elected, and I'll do my best to honor the trust that has been placed in me.”

When asked what he sees as the most important challenge facing the Federation, Brown says: "I think our most immediate challenge is to recruit young people and to train them to be leaders. Young people respect those who are older, but they also want people their own age. We have to let them know that the Federation is just as important for their generation as it was to those who created it and to those of us who work to sustain it. It takes work, persistence, and targeting our efforts, but we will persuade young people in the same way we were persuaded. They will become invested and committed, and all blind people will be the better for our ongoing work. I am proud to be a part of this organization and to see to this transition."

Why Braille?

by Deborah Kendrick

From the Editor: This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. Here is what Editor Barbara Pierce had to say about it:

Editor's Note: Deborah Kendrick is a member of the NFB of Ohio's board of directors and president of the NFB of Cincinnati. She is also an experienced user and teacher of Braille. We asked her to summarize the arguments for Braille that the panelists gave at a recent workshop for BSVI [Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired] counselors. This is what she wrote:
 
Answers supplied by BSVI counselors recently in a brief survey regarding their attitudes toward Braille prompted me to weep. I didn’t, though. Their attitudes are misguided. But they are the misguided attitudes rooted in good intentions. We blind people have not spent sufficient time providing them with the information they need, and that is what I commit to doing until the numbers of Braille-literate (and subsequently the numbers of employed) blind Ohioans increase.

Very few counselors offer Braille to their consumers who are new to vision loss. Why? Mostly they believe it to be unnecessary due to technological advances and too difficult to learn.

These are myths rooted in rumor rather than fact, and, while directing our attention elsewhere, we have not been fervent enough, constant enough to dispel and put them to rest.

I had the opportunity to speak to Ohio’s BSVI counselors at a workshop in August (along with three other adults who use Braille), and here are some of the facts we addressed in that presentation:

Braille Means Jobs

Although 70 percent of working-age blind and low-vision adults are still without jobs, 85 to 90 percent of those lucky enough to hold jobs are users of Braille. If you doubt this, count the blind people working in any group you know, and you will find proof of this statistic again and again.

Replaced by Technology

Braille has not been replaced by “technology.” By this statement well-intentioned naysayers are probably referring to technology that speaks. While screen readers are essential to efficient management of electronic data, many blind professionals actually access that information using a combination of speech and magnification or speech and Braille. Sighted people love technology too, and they also have devices that talk. That talking technology has not replaced the need to see certain words at a glance or put down certain words in a flash for your own personal retrieval. All of those ordinary ways in which a sighted person uses print, ways as intrinsic and routine as breathing and ways not involving technology, are the same kinds of needs that spell independence for the Braille user.

Examples: Braille labels on spices, cooking ingredients, electronics chargers, hand tools, small components of an art or craft hobby, file folders, or household products. How does a blind person distinguish the file folder containing his 2014 bank statements from the file folder containing drawings made by a grandchild? How does a blind person know which bottle contains insect spray and which furniture polish? How does a blind person pull the desired size knitting needle or socket wrench from an assortment? How does a blind executive refer to his agenda? Or a blind Girl Scout leader to her song lyrics?

Braille is the answer to these and millions of other mundane situations where the only independent path to success is a few written words. Without Braille in such situations, that same competent blind person is on hold until someone else’s sight is available.

Who Can Learn?

Braille is not the rocket-science-caliber code that some fancy it to be. It is comprised of sixty-three different characters (the number of permutations available when beginning with a six-dot cell). Yes, learning to use those sixty-three symbols according to the rules takes some study, but so does learning the ABCs of print. (Some would argue that print, with its infinite fonts and styles is far more difficult. Braille, after all, has its sixty-three shapes that never change.)

I personally have taught people from the age of six to sixty-six to read and write Braille, and I have been acquainted with people both older and younger than those years who have become fluent. In approximately four months, assuming that the student is meeting with a competent instructor twice a week and given significant practice assignments between meetings, most individuals of any age can become fluent.

In half that time, an individual could at least become familiar with basic Grade 1 Braille (alphabet and punctuation marks only), which at least enables the individual to label items, note a phone number for independent access, or make a list of bullet points for presentation.

Connecting the Dots with Attitude

For many adults losing vision and wanting to work, the BSVI counselor is the first expert encountered. Attitude is everything. If you believe your life will continue and be full without sight, it will be. If you believe you can continue to work, you can. And if you believe that reading and writing now depend upon learning a new system, a tactile system of reading and writing, well then, you will learn.

If the adult in transition from sight to blindness is asked what she needs, chances are that she simply won’t yet know what she needs and certainly won’t know the power of Braille. If the new guide whom she now trusts to tell her, her BSVI counselor, presents the facts above and demonstrates a belief in Braille, she will learn.

So…Why Not Braille?

My challenge to counselors and rehabilitation professionals everywhere is this: encourage and support the use of Braille. Operate with the presumption that, if one needs BSVI services, one of those services will be Braille unless the consumer chooses not to learn it. If counselors believe that all blind people should learn Braille in the same way that sighted people should learn print, we will see those unemployment statistics plummet!

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship

by Patti S. Gregory-Chang

From the Editor: Patti Chang is the chairman of one of the most important committees of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her committee are charged with advertising our scholarship program and choosing thirty students who evidence academic success, leadership, and a demonstrated commitment to helping others. Here is Patti’s announcement about the 2015 scholarship program:

Each July at our national convention the National Federation of the Blind gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. We offer thirty scholarships, and all are substantial and prestigious enough to warrant any student’s time to complete and compete. Our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply.

I am sometimes asked what the secret is to winning an NFB scholarship. I am going to tell you the secret. First of all, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships must be legally blind; must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall academic year; and, if chosen as a finalist, must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship activities.

Many think the key to becoming a winner is a high grade point average. Others believe it is based on participation in extracurricular activities. Still others think it is one's level of commitment to the NFB. While grade point average is important because it demonstrates the ability to learn and be successful academically, it is not the only attribute that influences the scholarship committee. Participation in extracurricular activities is important in portraying oneself as a well-rounded person; it is not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Committed members of the organization recognize the attributes that are important to committee members when determining who wins a scholarship.

The scholarship program is a tremendous tool for us to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are not restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind people. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships. When you check the lists of past winners, you will see that students of all ages and in widely differing fields have won over the years. The class of 2014 included students entering their freshman year, as well as older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. Past winners are working toward credentials for employment in diverse fields.

There is truly only one way to win an NFB scholarship: that is to apply. Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the Web at <www.nfb.org/scholarships>, along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The application form for 2015 is already online. It will remain up until March 31. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can ask for a print application by contacting our scholarship office at <[email protected]> or by calling (410) 659-9314, ext. 2415.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with the president of the applicant's state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors must also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams.

Unfortunately, some applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly. Applicants must ensure that all of the required information and supporting documentation have been received by our scholarship office either online by midnight EST, March 31, or by mail postmarked by March 31. Students should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letters of reference. Letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen. Students can write their essays using word-processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting it into the online application form.

In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe one's personal goals for the future. Information about positions of leadership is especially helpful. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people, who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants for the scholarship class of 2015. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty finalists from all applications received. These thirty scholarship finalists will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1.

Finally, during the annual convention held July 5 through July 10, 2015, in Orlando, Florida, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner. Attending and participating in the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize.

The National Federation of the Blind’s national convention is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the world each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship finalists will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they had ever imagined.

Often students apply more than one year before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if their scholarship and leadership merit another award. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows. The secret, if there is one, to winning an NFB scholarship is to read carefully the application on our website, and then provide all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31. However, I actually maintain that there is no secret. The only way to win an NFB scholarship is to apply.

What I Have Given and Received from the Federation

by Tom Bickford

From the Editor: At the 2013 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, Tom Bickford, a member of the National Federation of the Blind since the 1950s, related what he has gotten through his contact with the people and the programs of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what he said:

What is it that you get in the mail the most? Bills! Bills, advertising, direct requests for money. Yeah, you guys know. It was true sixty years ago—fifty years?—I don't know. In the early 1950s I was a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles. The state of California had a program to pay people to read my textbooks to me. The man who ran that program was Bob Campbell. You'll see his name in Federation history. He was also the president of the Federation affiliate, and it was obvious that he was using his student list to send out Federation information. We'll just forgive him for that.

Toward the end of my college career I was talking with my rehab counselor, and he said, "You ought to go up to this orientation center in Oakland. They could teach you some independent travel skills." I had to admit he was right. So at the end of the school year I went up to Oakland. The most important person I met there was Kenneth Jernigan. He was still in his late twenties then. He was not the formal administrator of the program; he was the inspirational and philosophical leader, though. His ideas were what really made the program go. He taught a number of classes. Every morning he'd come over and work out with us in the gym, and I mean work! I can't name all the classes he taught. He taught a class called Business Methods and Procedures. Originally, it was just that, how to run a business. He'd done it himself. By the time I got there the class was about issues of blindness.

"How do you feel about yourself as a blind person, and what do you think you can do?" And we came in, most of us, feeling pretty insecure. And then, "What do you think of other blind people? What do you think they can do? What do you think of the sighted public? What do they think you can do?" We covered all that specifically and in general. He'd pick on a particular student he thought was in a place in the development of his confidence, and he'd say: "Now Jack, how do you think of this? I'll set up a situation here. How do you justify that? Can't you think of something else? Why do you say that? What do you think of this other factor over here?" And he worked us over. I was not exempt from those work-over jobs. He did so many things to make us think about our positioning the development of our confidence and independence.

I took other classes while I was there, one in cooking. I learned how to use kitchen equipment. I learned how ingredients work with each other. Over the years, when I lived by myself, I cooked for myself. Later on, when I got married, my wife and I had two daughters, but she wasn't always home, so I would cook for my family. And I can cook more than rum balls. There's a fruit cake over there from Barbara Pierce's recipe, and it's properly aged. It has brandy in it. That'll help it age.

The other class I took that really made a difference in my life was cane travel: formally, two hours every morning, two hours every afternoon, and that was just the beginning. Any time we were walking around the building, the community, alone, with other students, we were using our canes, and that's the way to do it.

Over the years people were asking me, "Gee, that's amazing how you travel. How do you do that?" I got tired of answering. I decided to write it down. Well, I got to writing, and I wrote this and that. After a while I realized, "I have a book here." So I sent my notes over to Dr. Jernigan (by that time we were both here in Maryland), and he said, "Yeah, go ahead and write the book."

So I'm sitting on the sofa with a Braillewriter on my lap, Braille paper on my left, Braille paper on my right. I didn't have any computer skills at that time. It pays to have friends; Lloyd and Judy Rasmussen came to my rescue. We ran off a few copies, and we gave one to Debbie Brown. Debbie says, "You didn't think about this. Why don't you include this issue?" So I did.

We sent it over to Mr. Jernigan, and his answer was, "All right, the next time you send this to me, I want a copy in Braille, a copy in print, and a copy in digital form." So we did. We did a little more editing, and now we have Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane: Instructions in Cane Travel for Blind People. The Federation made me a published author.

Now let me go back to California in the 1950s. Mr. Jernigan was also president of the local chapter of the Federation, and we learned how the Federation worked. We wrote letters to Congress. We wrote letters to our state legislature. We got involved with anyone who was blind in the Bay area. We went up to Sacramento to sit in on legislative hearings. We went to the state conventions, and we got involved in those.

Well, speaking of conventions, 1957 came along; the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind was in New Orleans, Louisiana. I couldn't find anyone to go with me, so I went by myself by Greyhound bus—three-and-a-half days. Now that's a long trip to go without a bath. I know other people have taken even longer trips and have even brought their children with them, but that was my first long trip. I learned a lot about the South. I learned a lot about the Federation. I especially learned a lot about myself, and that's another thing the Federation can do for you.

At that convention Ken Jernigan wanted to introduce an official membership pin. He had six copies with him, and he gave them out. He had three left over. Someone said, "Auction them off!" The last one went five-ten-fifteen-seventeen dollars to Tom Bickford. I have it right here on my lapel next to my Whozit pin.

My program at the orientation center was through, so I went back to my home area in Southern California. I joined the local chapter: The Associated Blind of South East Los Angeles County—what a name. I joined in and participated, and after a while they elected me secretary. I realized later that was my first office in the Federation.

In those years there was a group of people inside the Federation who wanted to get rid of Dr. tenBroek. They were jealous of his long time as president; they wanted to take the Federation off in a different direction. That was the civil war, and some of it got nasty. I was in on that, and I gave and received blows. They never did get rid of Dr. tenBroek, and, after five years of fighting it, they finally went off and formed their own organization. That was the American Council of the Blind. Yeah, they like to fight.

In 1958 Ken Jernigan went to Iowa to be the director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, and he was mighty successful. He worked sixteen-hour days, making friends here and there: with the legislators, with the Temple Sisterhood, with anyone who had any chance to help him out in his work to help the blind.

I heard about Dr. Schluntz, the blind chiropractor. By then he was already a millionaire. I thought some of those Iowans were doing pretty well. Mr. Jernigan called me up one morning from Iowa—I was still in California—and he said, "Tom, how would you like to come to Iowa and be a rehab counselor for me?" I most certainly would! So I got to Iowa in January of '59. Now I can talk Federation; I can live Federation; but I'm not the right kind of person to be a rehab counselor. It's not my nature. It became more obvious and more obvious, and we parted company on very cordial terms. We both knew it wasn't going to work, and he actually introduced me to a program at the University of Iowa that was for rehabilitation counselors. I can go to class, I can study, I can pass tests, but I'm still not a rehabilitation counselor.

All right, the next big opportunity that came along was to go to Washington, DC to study Russian language and go to work for one of the security agencies. It happened again. I can study Russian; I can learn it passably well; and I passed the tests. But I didn't pass the big test: security clearance. About half of the students did. I was in the half that did not, so I had to go off and find a job somewhere else.

While I was there, I joined the local chapter of the Federation, and I participated, and after a while they elected me president. Now I'm going to say this: I'm not the only former president in this room. Orlo Nichols was also serving his term for a while. His job moved from Washington to Baltimore, so he followed the job. That's why.

While I was there, there were two men who were refused admittance to a movie theater because they had guide dogs. Oh no. How do we fight that? They were from Arlington. I thought, the congressman from Arlington is right here in Washington, Joel Broyhill. I got a copy of the Model White Cane law from Dr. tenBroek, and I gave it to Broyhill. Well, he wasn't going back to Arlington. He introduced it into Congress. All right, I'm in the Federation. I know what to do. I got a list of the other members of his committee (the Committee on the District of Columbia), and at the next convention of the National Federation of the Blind I went to the president of each state with a congressman on that committee, and I said, "We are asking you to ask your congressman to support this bill, and here's a letter outlining what we want him to do." The Federation came through. When I got back to Washington, Broyhill was amazed: "I've got people from all across this country supporting this bill."

All right, the next step was to get members of my chapter to write up testimony. We had hearings in the House committee. We had hearings in the Senate committee. It was passed by Congress. It was signed by the president.

Now we have Public Law 92-515. It's a civil rights law for the blind and physically handicapped. Since then it has been superseded by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that's all right with me. I don't mind; that gives the whole country better protections.

I got married in 1968. That spring Dr. tenBroek died, and Ken Jernigan, as vice president, succeeded to the presidency. The national convention was in Des Moines. During that convention two New Yorkers brought in a song they wanted to be the official National Federation of the Blind song, "Glory, Glory Federation." A lot of us know that. Just as we were about to vote on that, a young woman came running up the center aisle saying, "But I have a song too!" Mr. Jernigan says, "All right, we'll have a contest. We'll have a committee. Anyone who has a song can send it in to the committee, and we'll vote on it next year in South Carolina."

My wife gave me an elbow in the ribs and said, "You ought to be on that committee." Oh well, that's what wives are for. I know what to do; I know how things go. I wrote a note in Braille and gave it to one of Mr. Jernigan's staff members I knew, and he passed it along.

Next morning from the podium: "We'll have a committee, and it will be chaired by Tom Bickford." I hadn't expected that one. We had some good submissions. We had some not so good submissions. Now we've got a whole song book. There's Mary Ellen Thompson, who worked on the song book for us.

I've come down to the end. The Federation has given me my life! What do I give in return? Money? Sure, give money. It takes money to run this thing. But how much do you give? That's between you and your conscience and your bank balance. What else do you give? Give your time. Look around this room: so many people. Half of these people are giving their time to make this program go. Give your talents. I have some. I don't have all. But give your time, give your talents, give your imagination, give your enthusiasm. I assure you that, in trying to do this, it has all come back to me—with interest. And now I'm deeper in debt than I was before. So I give more to try to pay off the debt, and it keeps coming back with interest. It's a debt that I will never pay off, but it's a debt that I will bear willingly, all my life.

Consider a Charitable Gift

Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind

Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB

Your Gift Will Help Us

Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!

 

From the Editor: At the 2014 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the Constitution was amended to create a chairman of the board of directors. So that members have the most up-to-date copy of one of our major operating documents, we are taking this opportunity to print the updated copy of this document.

 

Constitution of the National Federation of the Blind
as Amended 2014

ARTICLE I. NAME

The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.

ARTICLE II. PURPOSE

The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.

ARTICLE III. MEMBERSHIP

Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.

The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.

The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.

Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the national convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.

Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.

Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.

Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two‑thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a national convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the national convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the national convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.

ARTICLE IV. OFFICERS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND NATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD

Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.

Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a national convention.

Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the annual convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the annual convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two‑year terms. Biennially, during even numbered years, at the first meeting of the board of directors following the convention at which officers and board members are elected, the board of directors shall select a chairperson from among its members who shall not be the same person as the President and who shall serve without compensation.

Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.

ARTICLE V. POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND THE PRESIDENT

Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.

Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the national convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two‑thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two‑thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the national convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the national convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.

The board of directors shall meet at the time of each national convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.

Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the convention; conducting the day‑to‑day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.

ARTICLE VI. STATE AFFILIATES

Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.

Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.

A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.

ARTICLE VII. DISSOLUTION

In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.

ARTICLE VIII. AMENDMENTS

This constitution may be amended at any regular annual convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two‑thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the convention.

Questions from a Curious Teen

by Deborah Kent Stein

From the Editor: Deborah Kent Stein is the editor of Future Reflections, but she is best known to the reading public for her many books of children’s literature. Recently she got an email from a teenager in England and took the time to write a friendly and informative response that speaks well to who she is and to the organization she works so hard to support. Here’s how she described the correspondence:

As blind people we are frequently asked questions by friends, family members, and even total strangers. Although the barrage of questions can be annoying at times, each instance is an opportunity to reach the public with the truth about blindness. Recently I received an email from Gwen McKay, a thirteen-year-old girl in London, who is working on a school project about blindness. Perhaps our exchanges will give readers of the Monitor some ideas about responding to blindness-related questions:
 

From: Gwen McKay
To: Deborah Kent Stein
Subject: Questions
 
Hi,

I found your name on a website from the National Federation of the Blind, and I wondered if I could ask you some things that I want to know. I have a project in which I decided to write about blind people. I am thirteen, and it would be great if I could have my questions answered by someone who is blind or if I could have a blind pen pal. This would mean that, when I present this, my class would understand more about blind people. You run such a good website that I would be willing to show my class.
 
Gwen


 
Below are Gwen’s questions and my attempt to answer them:

 

Dear Gwen,
 
I’m glad to see that you and your class are interested in learning about blind people and how we live, and also that you find our website helpful. I have been blind all my life, so I will try to answer your questions.
 
1. Can a blind person dream?
Yes, absolutely. Blind people dream just as sighted people do. People who had sight and then lost it usually have visual images in their dreams. For those of us who never had sight or who lost sight early in life, dreams involve hearing, touch, and just “knowing.” For instance, I might dream of being in a cabin in the woods, but somehow I know it is the house where I grew up. I think this kind of knowing in dreams is also true for sighted people.

2. Could a blind person eventually learn to see with just their other senses? What I mean by that is that if they could use vibration and make out the objects.
I’m not entirely sure I understand your question, but I’ll try to answer it as best I can. Blind people identify objects by touch. Shape, size, and texture give a tremendous amount of information. Touch is our way of seeing, and most of us use the word “see” to describe the experience. For instance, I might say, “I saw my friend’s new puppy, and it is so cute!” It would be awkward to say, “I touched my friend’s new puppy,” and I probably would never say that.
 
3. Is it possible to draw without seeing something before in your life with just a description?
A lot of blind people enjoy drawing, and some are quite good at it. In my experience, drawing and sculpting (with clay or other media) depend on having firsthand experience with objects. It would be hard to draw a cat based purely on a description, but a blind person who is familiar with cats by touching them and who has some experience with drawing could probably draw one.
 
4. How come so many blind people can act so normal and live without aid? Do they have a secret?
No, there’s no secret to it. We live as normal people because we really are normal. The only way in which blind people are different from sighted people is our lack of sight. In every other regard we are just like the rest of the population. Some of us are intelligent, some are slow; some have a good sense of humor, others can’t get a joke; some are athletic, others are couch potatoes. We learn to live full lives by using our hearing, touch, and common sense. Nearly everything can be done in ways that do not require eyesight. It’s a matter of learning basic skills such as reading Braille, using accessible technology, and using a long white cane when traveling. It’s also important to develop good problem-solving skills.
 
5. Can they memorize a route—let’s say around a park—without actually seeing? For example, if I see something familiar, I would remember to turn or something.
Blind people may memorize a particular route, such as how to get from home to school. The person might count the number of blocks and remember where to turn. A blind person may also learn the layout of a neighborhood or town in order to go anywhere she or he chooses. We use landmarks just as you do, but ours are not visual ones. For instance, some of the landmarks in my neighborhood are the playground where I hear kids playing basketball, the house with the picket fence that runs right along the sidewalk, the bubbling fountain in front of the bank, and the lumber yard with the smell of freshly cut wood.
 
6. Do they understand what colors are?
Because I have never seen colors, I don’t think I really understand what they are. However, I know the colors of many things: crows are black, leaves are green, and hair may be blonde, brown, red, black, gray, or white, or dyed any color a person desires. I also know that colors are highly symbolic in our culture, so that under some circumstances black represents mourning or sadness, white stands for purity, and red is associated with anger. I also have learned that certain colors go well with each other while other combinations clash, which is important information when picking out clothes. People who have visual memories can still picture colors, even if they haven’t seen for many years. In that way color is still very much a part of life for many blind people.
 
7. What kind of jobs can a blind person have?
Blind people work in almost every kind of job you can imagine. There are blind lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers, architects, artists, musicians, scientists, auto mechanics, and factory workers. Many blind people work in the computer field, and many are homemakers raising children. New career possibilities are opening up all the time, and blind people are now doing lots of jobs that were once thought to be impossible.
 
8. Where do blind children go to school?
In the United States most blind children go to regular schools with sighted children. A trained teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) visits them at school and helps them with any blindness-related problems that might come up. The TVI teaches the student Braille and helps her/him obtain materials in Braille or recorded formats. Some blind children attend residential, or boarding, schools for the blind. Sometimes a child goes to a residential school for a couple of years to learn Braille and other skills and then returns to regular school.

I hope this information is helpful. Good luck with your project! You will find a great deal of information at the website of the National Federation of the Blind, <www.nfb.org>. If you have further questions, let me know.
 
Debbie
 

From: Gwen McKay
To: Deborah Kent Stein
Subject: Re: Re: Questions
 
Thank you so much for answering my questions. I am so glad that I could get all this information for my project, and it has been a great help. I'm sure all my class will be interested in this information, and I would love to show your website. I was so happy to see that you have answered me in less than a day and that all the answers are in detail. This will help everyone learn more about blind people and that they could live their lives even without sight. I think that Braille looks very interesting, and I have always wanted to be able to read the Braille on medicines and other things. For my project I am thinking about visiting the Venture Club for the Blind and Partially Sighted. For my project I am going to interview some blind people and ask questions similar to the ones I asked you. I was also thinking about seeing if they could draw objects. Do you think it is a good idea? Would they like to talk about these things, or would it be rude, I wasn't sure. Thank you sooo much once again; I really do appreciate it.
 
Gwen
 
 
From: Deborah Kent Stein
To: Gwen McKay
Subject: Your Project

Dear Gwen,
 
I’m glad you found the information helpful. Most of the time people don’t mind answering questions about blindness if you ask in a way that is respectful. It’s a good idea first to check with them if it’s okay. Some people may be open to drawing things, and some people may not. They might feel embarrassed because they don’t think they’ll do a good job. There is a very cool drawing board you can buy that lets you make raised lines. It’s called the Sensational Drawing Board, and you can buy it online. You can also make a drawing board by taping a square of window screen on top of several layers of newspaper. When you put a sheet of paper on the screen and draw with a pencil or pen or crayon, it makes a raised line that can easily be felt.

Again, good luck with your project. Let me know how it turns out.
 
Debbie

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund

by Allen Harris

From the Editor: Allen Harris is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and was one of the people who came up with the idea of honoring our former president and longtime leader by establishing a program to promote attendance at the national convention, where so much inspiration and learning occur. Here is Allen’s announcement about the 2015 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Program:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Last year most of the sixty grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

  1. You write a letter giving your contact information, and your local NFB information, your specific amount requested, and then explain why this is a good investment for the NFB. The points to cover are listed below.
  2. You contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the president when to expect your request letter by email, and mention the deadline.
  3. You (or a friend) send your letter by email to your state president. He or she must add a president’s recommendation and then email both letters directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee. Your president must forward the two letters no later than April 15, 2015.

Your letter to Chairperson Allen Harris must cover these points:

Explain how much money you need from this fund to make this trip possible for you. We suggest you consult with other members to make a rough budget for yourself.

The body of your letter should answer these questions:

How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive; what can you share or give? You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances you hope they will take into consideration.

When will I be notified that I am a winner?

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details which should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen.

  1. Make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel the reservation. (Yes, you may arrange for roommates of your own to reduce the cost.)
  2. Register online for the entire convention, including the banquet, by May 31.
  3. Find someone in your chapter or affiliate who has been to many conventions and can answer your questions as a friend and advisor.
  4. If you do not hear from the committee by May 15, then you did not win a grant this year.

How will I receive my convention scholarship?

At convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we sent you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.
           
What if I have more questions? For additional information email the chairman, Allen Harris, at <[email protected]> or call his Baltimore, Maryland, office at (410) 659-9314, extension 2415.

Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Orlando.

Recipes

This month's recipes have been submitted by members of the NFB of Rhode Island.

Broccoli Casserole
by Gail Blair

Gail Blair is a longtime member of the Greater Providence chapter.
 
Ingredients:
2 10-ounce packages frozen broccoli, cooked, drained, and chopped (I use the Asian veggie mix with broccoli, carrots, and watercress)
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 cups shredded cheese, divided
1 10 3/4-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup (cream of chicken works well too)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 sleeves of crushed Ritz crackers
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl combine broccoli, rice, mayonnaise, one cup of cheese, soup, and eggs. Mix well. Place the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top with 1/2 cup shredded cheese. In a separate bowl mix together crushed Ritz crackers and melted butter. Top the casserole with the crushed crackers and butter mixture. Bake for forty to forty-five minutes or until set and browned. If desired, add one-half to one pound diced, cooked chicken or leftover turkey to above.

Taco Soup
by Gail Blair

Ingredients:
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 jar salsa
2 cans Ro*Tel diced tomatoes with green chili
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 can kidney beans with liquid
1 can black beans with liquid
1 can corn, drained
1 can of water
1 envelope ranch dressing
1 can cannellini beans with liquid

Method: Combine all ingredients in pot over medium heat. Cook 30 minutes to heat through, stirring occasionally. If desired, add one pound browned ground beef or turkey or diced cooked chicken.

Barbara’s Fall Sweet Potato & Baked Apples
by Barbara Henry

Barbara Henry is an active member of the Mount Hope Chapter and recent LCB graduate.

Ingredients:
4 sweet potatoes, cubed
1 cup walnuts, chopped
4 red apples, sliced and cored
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Method: Grease a baking pan with olive oil by taking a paper towel and dabbing the top of the bottle, then go around the baking pan. Put apples and sweet potatoes into the pan along with spices, mix everything together with your hands, make sure everything feels evenly coated. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover top of pan with aluminum foil. Cook in oven one hour. This can be eaten as a meal or a great side dish.

Roasted Potatoes
by Grace Pires

Grace Pires is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Rhode Island. She is married and has a seven-year-old son.

Ingredients:
Red bliss potatoes
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon powdered onion
1 tablespoon garlic
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon paprika

Method: Cut potatoes into quarters. In a small bowl combine oil, salt, onion, garlic, and paprika and mix well. (Put in enough paprika to turn the mixture reddish; the amount of garlic and onion depend on the quantity of potatoes.) Toss potatoes in the spices and mix thoroughly. Put potatoes on a tray and bake at 375 for about one hour. Use fork to check when done; potatoes should be dry and slightly crispy.

Sour Cream Cake
by Grace Pires

This was one of my favorite cakes growing up.

Ingredients:
1 package Duncan Hines Classic Butter Golden cake mix
1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
4 eggs
1 8-ounce tub of sour cream

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients with electric mixer. Pour batter into a prepared bundt pan. Bake for fifty minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center of the cake.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Elected:
The NFB of Arizona's East Valley Chapter held their elections and the following people were elected: president, Megan Homrighausen; first vice president, Mark Feliz; second vice president, Debra Smith; secretary, Jenny Kasl; treasurer, Carol Scharlat; board position one, Connie Ryan; board position two, Patrick Hamblin.

Independence Market Corner:
If you have left it to the last minute to get a Braille or large print 2015 calendar, the NFB Independence Market can help. The following 2015 calendars and planners are available for ordering:

2015 American Action Fund Braille Calendar
This popular comb-bound, pocket-sized Braille calendar measures 6 by 6-1/2 inches. Each calendar page includes the days of the month and lists major holidays. A page for personal notes is in the back. This calendar is available free of charge.

2015 Large Print Calendar
This spiral-bound, large-print appointment calendar measures 8-1/2 by 11 inches with inside pockets. Each month is displayed on two facing pages and features two-inch blocks for each day of the month. The months are tabbed and include a section for monthly notes as well as a three month calendar overview. The calendar costs $10.00 plus shipping and handling.

2015 Large Print Planner
This organizer designed with low vision professionals in mind features easy-to-read large print. The spiral-bound 154-page planner with a black leatherette cover measures 8-1/2 by 11 inches. All calendar views are spread over two pages and include current and upcoming year at-a-glance views as well as twelve monthly and fifty-three weekly views. Pages for names and addresses, notes, and personal information are also included. The calendar costs $20.00 plus shipping and handling.

New! 2015 Large Print Wall Calendar
When fully opened this monthly wall calendar measures 22 by 17 inches. The daily boxes are 2-1/4 inch squares, and the numbers marking the date are 3/4 inch tall. The date markers are in the top right corner. At the bottom there are four lines for notes in between small versions of the previous and next month calendars. The calendar also includes an overview for the previous year and next year. The calendar costs $10.00 plus shipping and handling.

Products, including the items listed above, may be ordered from the NFB Independence Market. For more information visit us online at <www.nfb.org/independence-market>, or contact us by email at <[email protected]> or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216.

Blind Teacher Honored by Local Television Station:
Joe Grover is a blind teacher in the Caldwell, Idaho, Public Elementary Schools. In November he was selected by KBTV Channel 7 as the Seven's Hero. This TV station chooses a hero each week for doing community service of some kind. Joe supervises a group of boys called Guys and Ties who meet at lunch time. They are learning formal and adult behaviors and seem to be quite pleased about it. Of course, this is because Joe has the skill to help the kids enjoy what they are learning. Joe says, “It is a pretty cool program. I'm also very pleased that the focus was on the work I do instead of a blind guy doing the work.” Joe Grover is also the newly elected vice president of our brand new Canyon County Chapter of the NFB of Idaho.

Elected:
The Fairfax chapter of the NFB of Virginia elected the following officers for the upcoming year: president, John Bailey; vice president, Cathy Schroeder; treasurer, Beverly Coney; secretary, Carolena Garrison; and board members, Ashley Bramlett and Jessica Diaz. John Bailey was elected as our chapter representative for the state board; Carolena Garrison was elected as the alternate board representative.

In Brief

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.

Blind Children and Teens with Recurrent Sleep Problems Needed for Clinical Research Study and Survey:
Parents or guardians of children and teens who are blind with recurring sleeping or napping problems are needed to participate in a survey and/or take part in a clinical research study. The treatment being studied for children is approved for use in adults. For each completed survey, $24 will be donated (up to a total of $50,000) to organizations that support people who are blind.

Eligible volunteers who take part in the clinical research study will be compensated for their time and will receive all study-related investigational medication and medical evaluation at no cost.

Nighttime and daytime sleep problems occur in some individuals who are totally blind. This may be caused by the lack of light needed to reset the body clock. Survey participants need to be parents or guardians of children who are: less than eighteen years old, blind, and having recurrent trouble sleeping at night or daytime sleepiness or napping.

If you are interested, please call toll free at (844) 361-2424 Monday through Friday between 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Eastern Time, email us at <[email protected]>, or contact us online at <www.non24registry.com>.

Outreach Ministry Offers Downloadable Braille Publications:
Unity Message of Hope, a nondenominational ministry serving people who are blind or visually impaired, has a virtual library of downloadable Braille (.brf file) Unity publications, available free of charge to anyone with access to a computer, Braille notetaker, or digital talking book player. For more information call Message of Hope toll-free at (866) 421-3066, or send email to <[email protected]>. To download Unity books in .brf format, log on to: <http://www.unity.org/resources/message-hope/document-library>.

Message of Hope also offers Daily Word, a nondenominational daily devotional publication, free of charge in Braille, on CD, or by email. For more information call (866) 421-3066 or send email to <[email protected]>.

A Notice to All SSA Employees with a Disability:
Any disabled employee working for the Social Security Administration who was employed from January of 2003 to present and who applied for a promotion and was not granted it may be eligible for a settlement. Disabled employees seeking to file claims must meet the following class criteria: all current and former employees with a targeted disability as defined by the Social Security Administration, who applied for and made a best qualified (BQ) list for promotion, and were not selected at any time after August 22, 2003 and up to October 30, 2014. All claims must be submitted before February 23, 2015. While SSA is trying to locate affected SSA employees, both current and former, we need to get the word out to ensure that no affected person loses any right to a claim they are entitled to.

The settlement also calls for complete overhaul of SSA’s reasonable accommodation (RA) system to make key individuals accountable for all approvals/denials of RA requests. The settlement also calls for more career development for disabled employees and training for disabled employees as well as management.

More information about the settlement and a claim form can be found at <www.ssadisabilityclassaction.com>.

Resources in Alabama Handbook Available:
I have created a screen-reader-friendly “Alabama Resource Handbook” containing resources pertaining to the blind and visually impaired for use by consumers and professionals. This handbook is for the residents of Alabama and includes the many organizations for the blind and visually impaired covering areas such as employment, housing, transportation, and more.

The handbook includes contact information on the local, regional, and national level. For more information on pricing and formats please contact Insightful Publications by email at <[email protected]> or contact me by phone at (808) 747-1006.

Hadley to Offer Free UEB Course:
The Hadley School for the Blind is pleased to offer a new “Transitioning to Unified English Braille” course for professionals beginning in January 2015. The course will be available in print and Braille (online version is in development). Thanks to the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), this professional course will be tuition-free through the end of calendar year 2015.

“As the use of technology in education increases, Braille becomes more and more important for students who are blind,” says APH President Tuck Tinsley. “This course, `Transitioning to Unified English Braille,’ the first of two courses to be developed by Hadley focusing on the new Braille code, will meet a critical need in our field’s transition to UEB. Students, teachers, parents, administrators, university professors, pre-service teachers, transcribers, and others can be well prepared for the January 2016 UEB implementation date.”

The six-lesson course provides a structured approach to learning the difference between EBAE (English Braille American Edition) and Unified English Braille (UEB). Abundant examples and exercises will help students progress easily and transition to the new code. Prerequisites include strong contracted reading and writing skills in EBAE or SEB (Standard English Braille).

“Hadley is proud to be at the forefront of providing training on UEB,” says Hadley President Chuck Young. “Teaching the teachers Braille—to support their visually impaired clients and students—is central to our mission of promoting independent living through lifelong learning for people who are blind or visually impaired.”

“Transitioning to Unified English Braille” also will be offered to students in Hadley’s Adult Continuing Education/High School Program and Family Education Program without charge on an ongoing basis.

To pre-enroll in this “Transitioning to Unified English Braille” course due out in January, please contact Student Services at (800) 526-9909 or by email at <[email protected]>. You may also visit <www.hadley.edu/UEB>.

For more information about the American Printing House for the Blind, visit <www.aph.org>.

NFB Pledge

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.

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