From the Editor: Recognizing the work that is accomplished on behalf of blind people is a critical part of the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. For this reason we present a number of awards; some are presented annually; others are presented only as often as the Federation determines that a deserving candidate merits the presentation. This year awards were presented to agencies and organizations who represent the life’s work of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, to a leader in the Federation who has performed exemplary service, and to a person who is not a member but who has made a significant contribution to improving the opportunities for the blind. Here are the presentations as witnessed at the 2015 Convention:
presented by Jim Gashel
From the Editor: The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are always presented late on the last afternoon of the convention, and given that the banquet follows, it is not possible to extend the session, no matter how important the program item. For this reason the chairman of the committee and those who accept the Bolotin awards are always under considerable pressure to move things along, and references to this need are found several times in the remarks that follow. Here is the presentation, beginning with introductory remarks from Chairman Gashel:
Thank you very much, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. We’re going to set a record this year for how quickly we can get the Bolotin Awards out. Let me just ask all of the Jacob Bolotin Award winners to join me here at the podium—that means you won’t have to walk very far when you get your award.
So again it’s my pleasure and privilege on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind to present the Jacob Bolotin Awards this year. You know the story of Jacob Bolotin’s life defines living the life we want. He was born in 1888, he only lived thirty-six years, but in that time he accomplished twice as much--as much or more than twice as much--than most of us do in living twice as long trying to live the lives we want. Funds to support the Jacob Bolotin Awards are provided in part through a bequest left to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind by the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. The other funds come directly from the National Federation of the Blind. The award includes a plaque and medallion, which each winner will receive, along with a cash award which I will specify.
Now for the Jacob Bolotin Award winners for 2015: the United States Association of Blind Athletes, $5,000 award recipient. Now, you know some of the things the USABA does, but one thing you may not know that they’re going to do: they set up the world’s first training center for goalball athletes. This is a professional training center, and USABA is preparing these athletes to win the gold in 2016 at the Paralympics. You know, the USABA, following in the footsteps of Jacob Bolotin, thinks big and plays to win. Join me in saluting the USABA and Mark Lucas, its executive director. And Mark, how fast can you say “thank you?”
Mark Lucas: I’m supposed to say “thank you and done,” but this is truly a tremendous honor for the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and we absolutely look forward to collaborating with the National Federation of the Blind in the future. As Dr. Maurer has said, the future is ours. Thank you very much.
Jim Gashel: The next recipient: Nicolaas tenBroek, $5,000. Now I know you don’t think you heard me right, but you did. Nicolaas tenBroek is Dr. tenBroek’s grandson. He’s also a professor of computer science at Heartland Community College. If you’ve ever found an app that is labeled right and the buttons are logically organized, it’s probable that Nicolaas tenBroek was that app developer’s professor. He’s developed an app accessibility training curriculum, and it’s part of the computer science curriculum at Heartland.
You know, Dr. Bolotin didn’t confront apps that didn’t work, but he did confront massive discrimination. He would be proud—in fact, let’s put it this way—both Chick (that’s Jacobus) and Nick tenBroek, Dr. Bolotin would be proud to know either one of these gentlemen. Please join me on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and its founder, Jacobus tenBroek, in saluting the grandson, Nicolaas tenBroek, here to receive the award.
Nicolaas tenBroek: Okay, I have to say thanks really quick. But I do want to thank Cary Supalo and Independent Science for all their support in this, and we will donate these monies to continue offering this course. Thank you.
Jim Gashel: University of California at Davis and the Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics: joint award of $10,000: These folks have developed not just an app, but a whole technology that makes it possible for blind people in a fully accessible way to create 3-D models of any molecule imaginable. It makes it possible for blind people to compete and succeed in advanced scientific fields. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, these award winners are making it possible for blind people to succeed in careers never before dreamed of. Success in advanced sciences will be the norm rather than the exception. Please join me in saluting CAL Davis and the Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics, represented by Tim Newman, the chief of this program. Say thanks quick.
Tim Newman: Thank you for having me here, fellow Federal—woah, look at me, little nervous here—fellow Federationists. On behalf of the AsteriXBVI team I’d like to thank you for this generous acknowledgement. It’s been a great honor working with Hoby Wedler over the last few years; I assume you’ve all heard about this man by now—you know about his personal accomplishments. Now being his tactical assistant through his graduate career has truly been a rewarding experience. I’ve learned first-hand, not only how often the abilities of the blind are misunderstood, but also how blind people are very capable when given the equal right to succeed. Thank you very much, sir.
Jim Gashel: Brevity is a virtue here, Tim. Let me just announce our next award recipient: Seedlings Braille Books for Children, $10,000. Seedlings was started by its founder, Debra Bonde, in 1984, and let’s just look at the vital statistics: over 400,000 publications created since that time and over twenty million pages of Braille material developed since that time, and more every single day. Anybody who knows the NFB BELL programs knows Seedlings. Following in Jacob Bolotin’s footsteps, Seedlings is removing barriers and helping blind people live the lives they want. Seedlings knows that literacy is the key to success, and they also know that Braille means literacy. Please join me in saluting Debra Bonde, executive director and founder of Seedlings, and Debra, brevity is a virtue.
Debra Bonde: Thank you so much. We are so deeply honored to be a recipient of this prestigious award, and we hope and believe that it comes with some of Dr. Bolotin’s drive, tenacity, and compassion for others, that we will combine with our own and infuse into the books, which will make them extra special for those who receive them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Jim Gashel: Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired: this is our final and highest award this year, an award of $20,000. Now SAAVI is an agency for the blind, but that certainly wouldn’t get them the Bolotin Award. You got to do more than just be an agency to get the Bolotin Award, that’s for darn sure. They’re an agency that represents and is modeled on a consumer-empowerment mission, and that’s SAAVI. So it’s a long, long way from Southern Arizona to central Florida, but let’s just hear from the folks from SAAVI, a big, loud Federation cheer [cheers, noisemakers]. They’re all over the room! Rather than peaceful—yeah, I know, you’re taking my time. SAAVI, hold it down—rather than peaceful coexistence with the blind, SAAVI embraces our mission of living the lives we want. SAAVI executives and staff know that they succeed when their blind students live the lives they want. So please join me in saluting SAAVI and its executive director Mike Gordon for the Jacob Bolotin Grand Prize this year, $20,000. Here’s Mike:
Mike Gordon: Where’s JAWS when you need it? Quickly I want to thank first of all RSA from Arizona Blind Services for their flexibility, which has allowed us to be creative, think creatively in our programming. Secondly the Federation’s Arizona chapter and in particular Bob Krezmer, the president. Thank you, Bob, thank you, Lynn. And finally I want to thank the SAAVI staff, both past and present, and our students, for without them none of this would be possible. Now I’d like to introduce Amy Porterfield, our associate director.
Amy Porterfield: So I think you all know that SAAVI is committed to building the Federation; let’s hear it for the Federation and all our students! [cheers]
Jim Gashel: Thank you very much. So now, Mr. President, I also have a thank you, and that is to you for appointing us to be part of the Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. I want to thank Ron Brown and Mary Ellen Jernigan for reviewing the applications this year; let’s hear a cheer for Ron and Mary Ellen [cheer]. Mr. President, this concludes my report and the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2015.
presented by Marc Maurer
Our founding president is Jacobus tenBroek. Dr. tenBroek was a constitutional scholar, a lawyer, a professor, a blind person. And he thought that blind people were not strange, but normal. And he thought this in the 1930s, at a time when nobody thought it but a few radical malcontent types. The crowd of radical malcontents has increased. And we have awards that we give, a number of them are for people in our movement who have similar views about our work. But the one that we give to our own members, the one that we use to honor those within our ranks who have carried the flag and kept the faith and believed, and been the right kind of radical malcontent, this is the Jacobus tenBroek Award. And we have such a person tonight.
It has been my responsibility for some time to appoint the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee; this last year, I myself was appointed to chair it by our president. And I’m honored to do it. I never met Dr. tenBroek, but I have a firm belief that I would have admired him and liked him, and I hope he would have liked me, but I kind of think he would. I knew his student, Dr. Matson, very very well, and I liked him and he liked me. And I knew his other student, Dr. Jernigan, and we had both love and affection for one another. Consequently I think it’s a good likelihood that we would have found each other of interest, Dr. tenBroek and I. I’ve certainly been impressed by his writings, and I’ve certainly been impressed by his work, because much of his work is here.
The person selected by the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since the time of the 1970s. He’s been a leader, he’s a president of a state affiliate, he’s provided leadership not just on a state basis or a regional basis, but on a national basis as well. He’s brought inspiration, not just because of his work, but because of his personal activities and behavior. And because he has inspired not just with words, but with deeds. Some of them have been challenging to others, many of them have been enormously generous.
And the tenBroek Award which we have prepared, which I will now read to you, reflects the kind of life that he has. We show our logo, then we say:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
[name of recipient]
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE,
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND
OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED
NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES
BUT BY YOUR IMPACT
ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND
OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED,
YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 10, 2015
I ask that our recipient join me here at the podium, please if you would: our second vice president, Ron Brown! [cheers, applause]. Richly deserved, here is your plaque, I have read the text, here is the Braille version of it. Congratulations to a man who deserves it.
Ron Brown: Wow. This—to my Federation family--this is the most humbling experience I have ever felt. I am usually not at a loss for words, but I cannot believe this. I thank you all so very very much, I love my Federation family. I will continue to do the work without being asked; you know you can call on me, and I’ll do it with love, with kindness, and to the best of my ability. Thank you all.
As the last order of business on Friday afternoon, President Riccobono said, “This is an unusual circumstance. We typically present (outside the Bolotin Awards) our awards during our banquet, however, there is an individual who is deserving of one of the highest awards available in the Federation, and we believe that her work is so important that we should acknowledge it here in the convention because this talented lady is not able to stay for our banquet. She’s not able to stay for our banquet because she’s going back to Massachusetts, presumably to defend somebody’s civil rights.
So I now ask the Honorable Attorney General Maura Healey to step this way. We have a number of awards that we give, and the one that we give to those who are not members but who carry the spirit and the courage and the determination of our organization is our Newel Perry award. Newel Perry was a mathematician, a teacher, but, most importantly, he was the craftsman who gave shape to the leaders of the organized blind movement. He was the teacher who gave shape to our first president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Newel Perry taught at the school for the blind in California for over thirty-five years—teaching and shaping blind people so that they could live the lives they want. He instilled in them the notion that blindness is not the characteristic that defines them, that the biggest barriers we face are public attitudes, and also that giving back is tremendously important. I believe it was clear from the attorney general’s presentation earlier today that she carries that understanding and those characteristics.
Now we didn’t give the attorney general any warning that we were doing this, but we did want to catch her before she left. We gave this award for the first time in 1955, and since then we have given it twenty-seven times. To my knowledge there is at least one recipient among us, and that is Ray Kurzweil. So, for the diamond presentation of our Newel Perry award, I give to you Attorney General Maura Healey. This plaque says:
NEWEL PERRY AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
In recognition of courageous leadership
and outstanding service.
The National Federation of the Blind
bestows the Newel Perry Award
the Honorable Maura Healey
our sister on the barricades;
You champion our progress;
You strengthen our hopes;
You share our dreams.
July 10, 2015.
Let’s hear it for the Attorney General.
Maura Healey: Thank you so much, Mr. President, Dr. Maurer, and all of the folks here. I am moved to tears by this—deeply humbled—but, more importantly, more inspired than ever. So I will get on that plane, go back home, and get ready to get after it on behalf of all of you and all of the great things you do and fight for. Thank you so much, NFB.”