Vol. 58, No. 9 October 2015
Gary Wunder, Editor
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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.
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Vol. 58, No. 9 October 2015
Illustration: A Bridge to Information: NFB-NEWSLINE® Celebrates its Twentieth Year
Proving I Could Live the Life I Want
by Brian Buhrow
Preliminary Victory for New York City’s Blind Students: City School System Backs Away from Amazon Distribution and Content Deal
by Chris Danielsen
The Nature of Blindness
by Marc Maurer
Sixty Years of Living and Singing in the Federation
by Tom Bickford
Advocacy and Policy Report
by John Paré, Lauren McLarney, Gabe Cazares, and Rose Sloan
Shirley Morris: A Life Remembered
by Mary Ellen Jernigan
#NCBYS: Making the Connection and Equipping the Next Generation
by Angel Ayala
A Growing Partnership for Accessibility: Google and the Organized Blind Movement
by Kannan Pashupathy
Leadership through Law: Perspective on Advancing Civil Rights for the Blind
by Maura Healey
Copyright 2015 by the National Federation of the Blind
A lot of serious business happens at national conventions: elections are held, both for the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, and for many of the divisions of the NFB. Resolutions are proposed, discussed, and voted on during the convention. And lots of money is handed out in awards and scholarships to those deemed worthy by the committees that present them.
But convention isn't all serious business. Convention is also a chance for friends from across the country to meet in person and have some fun together. This convention will always be special to Giovanni Francese and Mary Kay Jorgensen for it was there that they became engaged. Wednesday, July 8, was an evening for such fun and social activity. The National Association of Blind Students hosted a Monte Carlo night, and the seven original state affiliates hosted the Diamond Anniversary Ball.
by Brian Buhrow
From the Editor: Brian Buhrow is a network engineer for Vianet Communications in California. He is blind, but he believes his blindness is far less significant than his ability to think, to problem-solve, and to live the life he wants.
In this story Brian recounts his adventures as a student who won the right to take classes abroad and the way his desire to see more than his classroom led to a predicament that would test his ability to remain cool while in crisis and to think his way out of a most uncomfortable situation. Here is his story:
As I stood in the vestibule of this stranger's home listening to her shouting at me though I did not understand her, I wondered how I had gotten here. The short answer was that I'd been out for the evening, and I'd taken a wrong turn getting home, but the long answer was much more complicated and interesting. It had to do with what we talk about every day in the National Federation of the Blind: how to change what it means to be blind and how to live the life we want in the world alongside our fellow human beings. This moment, alone, in a stranger's front hall was the culmination of all my work to prove that I could be truly independent and travel where and when I wanted.
So how was that moment going? Before I answer that, let me provide a bit of background. I have been blind since birth. I was fortunate in that I went to a preschool for the blind, where it was determined that I should learn Braille as young as possible. I was also fortunate to encounter teachers who stressed to my parents that I be given a mainstream education during my elementary and high school years. This meant that, while I was learning Braille and receiving mobility training, I was also attending school with my sighted peers. As a result I became used to living alongside sighted children in all aspects of my daily life. They, in turn, got some exposure to a student who happened to be blind.
I was a good student and rose to the top of my classes—not always the very top, but certainly near the top. Consequently, by the time I reached high school, I'd earned a certain amount of respect from my peers. Another change which occurred when I reached high school was that I attended a school where there were a number of other blind students. From fifth grade to eighth grade I'd been the only blind student on campus, and I'd gotten used to that state of affairs.
As it happened, most of the other blind students on campus had disabilities beyond blindness, so, instead of just being one of the blind students, I became the star blind student, the special blind student who was different from the other blind students. By the time I reached my senior year of high school, I was feeling pretty full of myself. I had good travel skills, was accepted to several prestigious universities, received a substantial number of scholarships, and was pretty sure I could walk on water! To add to my confidence, one of the scholarships I received was from the National Federation of the Blind. Barbara Pierce woke me up on a Sunday morning to tell me that I'd won and that I should pack myself off to Chicago alone and at the NFB's expense to receive my reward.
It was at this point that I began to wonder if perhaps I wasn't as confident as I'd been making myself out to be or as competent as my teachers said I was. I didn't have much experience traveling on an airplane, certainly not cross-country and by myself. Still I was "amazing," and I had no reason to doubt myself as I set out for Chicago as a cocky young high school graduate. Barbara told me everything would be taken care of, and I had no reason to believe otherwise. I'd been to conventions of the blind, and they were awash with volunteers who could help me at every turn if I needed it.
My first lesson came when I reached the Chicago airport. I expected someone would meet me at the plane, and I'd be driven to the convention hotel. Such was not the case. Instead I found myself collecting my own bag from the baggage carrousel and searching for a shuttle to take me to the hotel. Once I reached the hotel, the front desk didn't know who I was, and I ended up waking the scholarship coordinator so she could give me my room assignment.
As the week progressed, I began to understand that I was not amazing at all, but rather someone who was reasonably trained in techniques of blindness and reasonably well educated. There were blind people at the convention who regularly traveled the world as part of their jobs, others who worked for multinational companies, and still others who were doing things that I could only aspire to do. My fellow scholarship winner, roommate for the week, and now very dear friend John Miller was a mathematical genius who ran his own paper route in his hometown. And did I mention that he completed one of his Boy Scout badges by setting up and camping alone in the woods for a night? I couldn't see myself doing that in a million years. In short, I learned I was normal and that I didn't have to live up to the hype my teachers instilled in me back home.
The experience was incredibly humbling and empowering at the same time. Here were people who were pursuing their dreams and lives with skill, dignity, and independence. If I worked hard and learned my alternate techniques, I might, just might, be able to go to college, graduate, get a job, and live as a first-class citizen. For the first time I saw this as a realistic possibility. I still didn't know how I was going to do it, but at least I'd met people who were, and, if I stuck with them, they might teach me how it was done.
"Okay, okay," I hear you asking, "but what about that lady incoherently shouting at you in her house back at the beginning of this tale?" Don't worry, we're almost there. When I left Chicago at the end of the week with my scholarship in hand, I realized that I had received much more than the dollars the NFB offered to help me further my education. Just how much more, however, wouldn't become clear for a bit longer. I went to college, where I studied a combination of computer science and English literature. I liked the technical aspects of computer science, but I needed the humanity and connectivity of English lit.
As I pursued this twin course of study, an opportunity came for me to apply to the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP) as an exchange student for my junior year. Since I wasn't very good at foreign languages, I applied to study in the UK, either in Ireland or England. The competition for these countries was fierce, and I was told my chances of being selected were pretty slim. When, as part of my application, I was asked how I would function as a blind person in a foreign country, I assured everyone that I'd do it the same way I did in the US. I knew how to work with professors and lecturers to get the materials I needed for classes, and I was familiar with working with readers for getting materials "just in time" that weren't available in alternative forms. I had a year and a half of college plus summer school under my belt, and I'd lived both on- and off-campus with roommates and housemates for all that time. The selection committee for the EAP told me I had a strong application but not quite strong enough to make the initial cut. However, I was placed second or third on the waiting list, I don't remember which, and, as time went by, my name got closer and closer to the top. Finally, in August, between my sophomore and junior years, I emerged from the waiting list and became part of the 1990-91 UC Education Abroad Program class.
That summer I flew to London for our orientation and took my place as a student at Leeds University in Leeds, England. Living in England as an exchange student, especially that year during the first Gulf War, was an experience I shall treasure forever. The pace of courses at English universities was more laid back than at the UC Santa Cruz campus, where the quarters raced by in ten-week blurs. I appreciated the non-US-centric perspectives I gained from my fellow students, and I enjoyed traveling to different parts of England, so I signed up for an Interrail pass which would let me travel the trains throughout Western Europe. The Interrail pass is much like the Eurail Pass bought in the US, except it's a lot cheaper and requires that you be a current resident of the European Union. I decided I would travel during the last three weeks of June before leaving England for the US and the NFB national convention. I bought Let's Go Europe, a popular tour guidebook for Europe, and a membership in the Youth Hostel Association.
The original plan for the trip involved one of my housemates. He and I were going to travel together, staying at youth hostels in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris. Two weeks before our departure he experienced a family emergency and was required to leave for his native Malaysia immediately at the end of the school year. I briefly considered canceling my trip but decided that, since I'd already been living abroad for a year, if I really was an independent blind person, I should prove it to myself and make the journey alone. I announced this to my friend, who, after arguing with me for some time about the merits of my decision, helped me prepare by reading large swaths of the Let's Go Europe book as well as the youth hostel guidebook. And so it was that in early June of 1991, I found myself armed with endless Braille notes on where to find youth hostels in Berlin and Amsterdam and heading for the North Sea Ferry to take me to Rotterdam.
When I got to Rotterdam I took a train to Amsterdam and thence to Berlin. While on the train to Berlin, I met a group of Americans who were setting out to explore Western Europe with the idea that they'd end up in Prague in a week or two. They seemed to know where a good hostel was to bunk at in Berlin, so, rather than finding my original destination, I elected to stick with them for the three days they were going to be in Berlin.
We found our hostel, dropped our bags, and set out to explore the city. We visited the synagogue where Mendelssohn is buried and learned just how thoroughly the Nazis denuded the lands of Jewish people. This synagogue had over 30,000 members before Hitler came to power. By the time the Marshall plan was implemented, there were 1,300 people left. We spent the next two days exploring various tourist sites in Berlin, as well as sampling a few of its beer gardens. On the third day, I said goodbye to my new friends, and they boarded the train for Prague. I decided to explore the area of Berlin around the Wall more thoroughly, and I enjoyed the afternoon I spent at one of the museums commemorating the history of the Wall and what it meant for it to be torn down.
That evening I went to a small beer garden and enjoyed some excellent German beer as well as a very tasty and generous meal. I'd become familiar with the subway system in Berlin over the past few days and was quite comfortable making my way through its environs. My hostel was just a few blocks from the subway stop, and I was confident I knew where it was.
So after my meal and a pleasant walk in the fine summer evening, I boarded the subway and got off at the appropriate stop. My hostel was three blocks to the right, a left turn after crossing the third street, and the seventh house on the right. The hostel consisted of two buildings, separated by a courtyard. One walked through the first building, straight back, into the courtyard, and thence to the rear building, where the sleeping rooms were.
On all the other occasions when I'd returned to the hostel, the door to the front building had always been open. It was more of a breezeway to the courtyard rather than a building. On this occasion the door was closed and apparently locked. "No problem," I thought. I'd always returned earlier in the evening. Perhaps they had a policy of closing up after a certain hour. I rang the bell and waited. After a few minutes the door opened, and a woman asked me something in German. Now I was confused. I'd never seen a woman caretaker at the hostel before. Surely she knew I was a guest there. I tried explaining what I wanted in English, and she became even more confused. After a few more attempts at communicating, she invited me into the hall and asked me to wait. When I stepped in, I realized I'd done something terribly wrong. The hall was warm and brightly lit, and there was a cozy living room adjacent to it. None of that existed at the hostel. Soon the woman came back with a man, probably her husband, and we tried again. His English was slightly better than hers, but still not enough to tell me exactly where I was.
At some point I realized there was no way we were going to gain an understanding, and they were becoming more and more distressed by the moment. I decided the best way out of this situation was to flee! I headed for the door and quickly left, not knowing how to do anything else to comfort these people I'd so rudely disturbed. As I retraced my steps to the subway station, I reflected on the predicament I was in. Here I was in a country where I didn't speak the language, in a city where I knew no one. Nor was I quite sure of the address or name of my hostel. In those days cell phones were virtually nonexistent, and GPS technology was used only by the military. In other words, I was on my own, and I would have to get myself out of this situation. When I reached the subway station, I thought about my options. This didn't take long since I couldn't think of many. One way or another, I had to find my hostel because all my belongings were there, and I'd already paid for the lodging for the night. So I tried again.
Three blocks to the right, cross the third street, turn left, and find the seventh house on the right. This time, when I tried it, I found the door open as I expected, the front building was like a breezeway, there was the courtyard, and most important there was the sleeping room with my stuff on one of the beds. As I climbed into bed that night, I was not only extremely happy that I'd found my bed, I also realized that I had found true independence.
The next morning I awoke, made my way to Cologne, Germany, took a cruise on the Rhine River, and ended up in Amsterdam. I finished my travels in Amsterdam, where I met another American traveler who agreed to go tandem bicycling with me through the Dutch countryside. While I didn't get to Paris on that trip, I did see a good bit of Germany and got a good feel for the attractions Amsterdam has to offer, as well as what the surrounding countryside looks and feels like.
It hasn't always been easy to make my way forward in life since that nerve-wracking night in Berlin, but that night plus my continuing participation in the activities of the National Federation of the Blind and the consequent association with the brightest and most forward-thinking blind of our nation has served as a constant reminder that I can succeed even when others believe that I cannot. As a result I've had the privilege of living a full and adventurous life. I've been able to earn and retain good jobs; travel widely, participating in many adventures during those travels; and live life as a contributing member of my community and society. And to think, in many ways, it all started for me while I stood in a stranger's front hall and listened to her interrogate me in a language I did not know.
by Chris Danielsen
From the Editor: Chris Danielsen is the director of Public Relations for the National Federation of the Blind, a lawyer, and a person who is able to tell a story involving significant technical detail and keep it interesting. Here is what he has to say about our ongoing struggles to see that students get the materials they need to compete in the classroom:
On August 25, 2015, the National Federation of the Blind scored a preliminary victory in our long-running battle with Amazon Digital Services Inc., which has been trying to push inaccessible content into America’s public schools and institutions of higher education for over half a decade. Our victory came in the form of a decision by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to back away from a proposed $30 million contract with Amazon. The widely-publicized proposal would have seen the company build a digital storefront for the school system and provide the city’s schools with e-textbooks and other electronic educational materials. The DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy, which has the final say on such contracts, had scheduled a vote on the deal for August 26. But, after learning of the Federation’s long-standing concerns about the accessibility of Amazon’s e-textbooks and its touted content distribution system, known as WhisperCast, and with the threat of blind protesters picketing the meeting, the vote was very publicly postponed, with little indication of when the contract would be considered again. Federation leaders are now hopeful that this high-profile setback will finally bring Amazon to the table for discussions that will resolve the issues that currently prevent blind students from fully and equally accessing educational content provided by the Seattle-based company.
Since 2007 Amazon has been selling a family of ebook readers and applications, along with content to read on them, under the brand name Kindle. Blind Americans have been asking Amazon to make its Kindle products accessible since 2008, shortly after they were first released. Dr. Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind; Dr. George Kerscher, the creator of the first ebooks used by the blind (or anyone else, for that matter); and others met with Amazon officials to urge them to make the Kindle platform a model for equal access to ebooks so that at last the information playing field would become truly level for blind people. In 2009 Amazon did introduce the first Kindle devices with text-to-speech output, but blind users could not independently access this feature. Furthermore, under pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon allowed authors and publishers to turn off text-to-speech for specific books. When Amazon began peddling Kindles to institutions of higher education, the NFB brought suit and filed complaints against several of these institutions. These claims prompted a June 29, 2010, joint letter from the US Departments of Education and Justice warning higher education institutions not to purchase inaccessible technology. A follow-up “Frequently Asked Questions” document (known as an FAQ) from the Department of Education made it clear that the prohibition against the purchase of inaccessible technology also applied to libraries and K-12 schools.
Federation members took our concerns directly to Amazon’s door in December of 2012 with an informational protest outside the company’s Seattle headquarters. Following the protest, Amazon added some accessibility features to its Kindle app for iPhones and other Apple devices in May of 2013. Blind readers can now access Kindle content with VoiceOver on these devices, regardless of whether or not the publisher has allowed text-to-speech output. However, while the Kindle app is acceptable if one is merely reading for pleasure, its features are not robust enough to be used in the educational setting—more on the particular barriers that still remain below.
The National Federation of the Blind has made its concerns about remaining accessibility barriers in the education context clear to Amazon and to the public from the very day the more accessible Kindle for iOS app was released. Moreover, we have publicly observed many times that Whispercast, the distribution system that allows teachers to provide content directly to students’ devices—including notes, highlights, bookmarks, and other instructor- or student-created content—remains inaccessible, meaning that blind students do not have the same opportunity to interact with their teachers and peers as sighted students. The United States Department of Education affirmed in a May 2013 letter, in response to questions from attorney Daniel F. Goldstein—who has represented the Federation in this and many other matters—that inaccessible software with the feature set of Whispercast is not acceptable in the classroom under federal law. Despite all this, Amazon is still seeking to have Kindle ebooks and devices, Whispercast, and Amazon storefronts deployed in K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, and many school districts and colleges across the United States have already adopted these technologies. Indeed, Amazon boasts that its technology is in 130 of the nation’s 250 largest school districts.
Recently we learned that the New York City Department of Education was considering a contract with Amazon. The New York City school system is the largest in the nation, with eighteen hundred schools and over a million students, around a thousand of whom are blind, as well as some blind faculty members. Many other school districts would likely follow the system’s lead if it were to adopt Amazon’s technology. Accordingly, we responded swiftly. On August 7, 2015, President Mark Riccobono sent a letter to the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Carmen Fariña, and the chairperson of its Panel on Educational Policy, Vanessa Leung, outlining our objections to the proposed deal. A copy of the letter was also sent to Commissioner Victor Calise, who heads the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Three days later, President Riccobono received an email from Ms. Leung requesting further information. Here is his response:
Dear Ms. Leung, Chancellor Fariña, and Commissioner Calise:
Thank you for Ms. Leung’s August 10, 2015, email response to our August 7 letter. We appreciate that the panel is engaging in discussions and seeking additional information about the proposed contract between NYC DOE [New York City Department of Education] and Amazon prior to the August 26 meeting.
We write to clarify the specific aspect of the proposed arrangement between DOE and Amazon about which we are most troubled: the limitations of Kindle ebooks.
Increasingly, mainstream publishers deliver digital files to booksellers like Amazon in an ePub3 format that allows a print-disabled person using screen-reader software to intelligibly read tables, read mathematical symbols correctly and mathematical equations in correct syntactical order, and take advantage of markup and structural data to navigate from, say, one paragraph to the next or from one heading to the next. Unfortunately, Amazon takes ePub3 content and, due to the limitations of its MobiPocket converter, strips the ePub3 files of this rich reading experience, rendering them accessible only to the sighted reader. The upshot is that, even using an accessible device and an accessible e-reading software platform, a blind reader attempting to work with a Kindle ebook that is anything more than a simple novel will encounter significant accessibility barriers because Amazon’s proprietary process of converting the ebook file from ePub3 format to Kindle format has scrubbed the file of the meta-data needed by the blind person’s assistive technology.
The best Kindle reading experience for a blind student or teacher is using the Kindle for iOS app on an iPad. However, because of the limitations to the Kindle file format (not the app), the blind student or teacher would be unable to:
Skip to the previous or next block or paragraph of text
Skip to the previous or next hyperlink or heading
Read the “alt text” labels on photos, illustrations, or graphics, i.e., know what the photos, graphics, or illustrations in the book are
Move reliably between footnotes/endnotes and where they are indicated in the text
Barriers are explained in greater detail at EPUBTest’s “Fundamental Accessibility Tests: Kindle for iPad”.1
Unlike the ePub3 file format that publishers deliver to Amazon and other distributors, the Kindle ebooks file format does not support Math Markup Language (MathML), a markup language for mathematical and scientific content developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that, among other things, makes digital mathematical and scientific notations accessible to screen readers.2
In sum, Kindle books are wholly unsuited for the rigors of the classroom, whether in a purely verbal subject, such as English, or a STEM subject requiring mathematical and scientific notation, such as biology. By contrast, there are many other distributors that, unlike Amazon, sell digital books in the ePub3 format used by major publishers. These ePub3-formatted books provide blind and other print-disabled students and faculty the same rich reading experience as their nondisabled peers.
We trust this letter demonstrates how Amazon’s lack of regard for accessibility when creating Kindle ebook content would leave blind students and teachers far behind their sighted peers if NYC DOE chooses to proceed with the proposed contract with Amazon. We hope you will take these concerns seriously, and we remain eager to sit down with you and other panel members or other DOE personnel to discuss these issues further. Please respond to Mehgan Sidhu, Esq., General Counsel to the National Federation of the Blind, at (410) 659-9314 extension 2314 or <email@example.com>, to inform us if you are amenable to such a meeting.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
After the August 13 letter several days passed without further word from NYC DOE, and with the vote of the Panel for Educational Policy pending on August 26, President Riccobono felt that a more aggressive plan of action was needed. This plan consisted of two components: a protest outside the building where the panel meeting would take place, and direct participation by blind people, such as students and parents of blind children, in the public comment portion of the meeting itself. Email blasts went out to affiliate leaders in the New York City area and to other supporters. A social media campaign was also begun by the Federation’s new coordinator of social media and member engagement, Danielle Trevino, anchored by a blog post on the Voice of the Nation’s Blind, the Federation’s official blog. Here is the full text of the blog post:
Once again, Amazon Inc. is trying to push its inaccessible technology into public schools, despite our years of advocacy, and clear warnings against the adoption of inaccessible technology by the United States Departments of Education and Justice. In this case, blind students throughout the New York City public school system will be denied an equal education if the city goes through with a proposed $30 million deal under which Amazon would construct an electronic storefront for New York City schools and become the primary provider of electronic textbooks and related educational materials for students. Unfortunately, Amazon ebooks inhibit the ability of blind students to access complex material like tables and equations and the ability to easily navigate through a book, among other significant accessibility barriers. We have informed New York City Department of Education officials of these issues in two separate letters, sent on August 7 and August 13, but so far we have received no acceptance of our offer to meet with these officials, nor any firm indication that the proposed deal will be altered or scrapped.
Since we have not been offered a meaningful reply to our concerns or an in-person meeting with relevant officials, we have decided to take more public action. The school system’s Panel for Educational Policy, which has the final say on the deal, will meet next Wednesday, August 26, to vote on it, and blind Americans will be there in force to let the panel members and the public know that this is a bad deal for blind students and faculty and, therefore, for New York City schools. We plan to tell the panel that a vote for this deal is an outrageous act of deliberate discrimination against blind students and an equally outrageous and deliberate violation of federal law. Following the demonstration we will enter the auditorium where the meeting is taking place and participate respectfully so that we can encourage the Educational Policy Panel to do the right thing and shut down this “Amazon Fail!”
If you would like to attend the protest, you can get more details by viewing our Facebook event, which we hope you will also take the time to share with others. If you are not able to attend the protest, you can still get involved by posting on social media using the following information.
Be sure to tweet the New York City public schools (@NYCSchools), the mayor of New York (@NYCMayorsOffice), and Amazon (@Amazon) to tell them that blind children deserve equal access to e-textbooks. Use the hashtag #AmazonFail when you tweet so that our collective posts can all be found in one place.
It is imperative that we protect the rights of blind students in New York City and throughout America by stopping this deal and sending a clear message to the New York City public schools, to Amazon, and to school systems across America that we will not tolerate blind children being treated like second-class citizens in our nation’s classrooms. Help stop the #AmazonFail!
That was our blog entry. Other protest plans were made: chants were composed, buses to transport members to the protest site were arranged, and signs from previous Kindle-related protests were removed from storage. But on August 25, President Riccobono received an official response from the school system. The text of this letter follows:
Dear Mr. Riccobono,
Thank you for your letter on August 13th. We take your concerns about the accessibility of Amazon ebooks seriously. In particular, you stated, among other things, that readers with visual impairments working with an Amazon ebook containing illustrations, graphics, or mathematical notations would not have access to such information because it is not programmed to be accessible through assistive technology.
The DOE continues to evaluate the accessibility features of Amazon’s services and other contractors. Please send us your best practices on procuring and incorporating electronic and information technology in the classroom to help us with our evaluation. It is worth noting that the procurement of digital books is only one aspect of the DOE’s long-term technology vision for our schools. At the moment, DOE has no storefront for e-content, which is a detriment to our students and our learning communities. The goal of the contract with Amazon is to utilize a web platform for the distribution of e-content, including assistive technology, to schools. Regardless of which contractor creates the online distribution tool for the DOE, the DOE will retain its ability to procure content from different vendors. We appreciate any guidance NFB could share in regards to our goal.
In the meantime, the vote regarding the proposed Amazon agreement scheduled for the August meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy will be postponed while we continue to consider all our options.
We look forward to working with you.
Ursulina Ramirez, Chief of Staff, New York City Department of Education
cc: Vanessa Leung, Panel for Educational Policy Chair
Victor Calise, Commissioner, New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
This letter did not specifically respond to our request for a meeting with NYC DOE officials. However, President Riccobono judged it a sufficiently promising gesture to justify postponing the protest. He issued a statement saying as much, while making it clear that the National Federation of the Blind stands ready to take further action if needed. Quoting fully, he said, “The National Federation of the Blind is firmly committed to the principle that blind students must have equal access to the materials used by their sighted peers if they are to receive an equal education and live the lives they want. That is why we have expressed our strong opposition to the deal with Amazon as currently proposed. While we stand ready to take any and all steps necessary to protect the rights of New York City’s blind students, we are now hopeful, in light of the cancellation of tomorrow’s vote on this deal, that we can resolve the issue through an amicable and productive dialogue with school officials. We continue to urge everyone concerned about the rights of students who are blind or who have print disabilities to contact Chancellor Carmen Fariña and let her know that equal access and equal education are one and the same.”
While the picket outside the meeting location was dropped from our strategy, it was decided that a representative should still speak to the panel during the public comment portion of the meeting and that blind people from the New York City area should still attend. Maria Garcia, a Brooklyn parent of a blind child, was permitted to speak to the panel before any other business was conducted. Her prepared remarks follow:
Good evening. My name is Maria Garcia. My family and I are longtime residents of West Harlem. I currently serve as the president of the Parents of Blind Children of New York and have served on the boards of the Citywide Council on Special Education and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. I also serve on the Executive Board of the NYS Commission for the Blind as the governor’s appointee.
Most important, I am the parent of a wonderful daughter who happens to be blind and has Cerebral Palsy. Elora is 18 and attends the Bronx Collaborative High School. Both as a parent and representative of parents of blind children in New York, I have seen how critical decisions like the Amazon contract are to the academic and future success or failure of our blind children. I want to thank the commissioner and panel for postponing today's vote on the contract to investigate accessible options. My daughter, like the more than one thousand blind students in this district, has tremendous potential to live a meaningful and productive life and strong ambitions of what she might accomplish. But when a school employs inaccessible technology, the opportunities for our blind kids shrink as the hurdles to education increase. At its best, Amazon's e-content would mean a blind student like my daughter would be unable to navigate through a book and access critical information available to her sighted peers. At its worst, Amazon's e-textbooks exclude blind students altogether. When our children with disabilities are excluded, they fall behind not only in their academic growth, but in their own belief about their abilities as equal members of school and society. They internalize themselves as second-class citizens. This need not be so. The technology exists and is commercially available to make these books and technology accessible and to put our blind children on an equal footing.
New York City's DOE has the largest population of blind students in the nation. The impact of your decision is tremendous. As you consider how to move forward, this administration faces the choice to entrench barriers that push our district's blind students and other students with disabilities further behind or to choose to serve as an example to uphold the value of students with disabilities and your legal obligation to provide equal educational opportunities. I hope you will choose the latter course and be a role model to districts around the country and know the NY Parents of Blind Children stand ready to assist in that effort.
President Riccobono quickly responded to Ms. Ramirez’s August 25 letter with two detailed pieces of correspondence outlining the accessibility barriers inherent to Kindle content. Both letters are reproduced below. Please note: Both pieces of correspondence refer to a chart comparing the accessibility of Amazon’s ebooks with those of another provider. The chart was included with both letters, but revisions to it were made after the first letter to incorporate information about access to math content. Only the second, more complete chart is reproduced at the end of the second letter.
August 26, 2015
Ursalina Ramirez, Chief of Staff
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
Re: Proposed Contract Between the New York City Department of Education and Amazon Digital Services Inc.
Dear Ms. Ramirez:
Thank you for your letter of yesterday’s date. You note that the Department of Education will retain the right to order books elsewhere, but it appears to us that teachers and school administrators wishing to buy books and take advantage of deep discounts would be inclined to buy Amazon’s content through the DOE storefront. Regardless of the original source of the ebooks or econtent, if DOE distributes the book through Amazon’s current distribution software, the student or teacher will receive content with the same accessibility shortcomings as Amazon’s Kindle content.
Amazon’s distribution mechanism converts all content to Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format, including accessible ePub3 content provided by publishers or accessible instructional materials provided by a teacher. While Amazon’s converter accepts ePub and other accessible content, it locks the distributed content into the Kindle format. Unlike many other vendors, Amazon’s current distribution platform does not permit “side loading” that would enable non-proprietary formats to be presented in the reading system. As a result, otherwise accessible content, when channeled through Amazon’s distribution system, will have the shortcomings described in the attached document, or worse.
The attached document shows the problems with two Kindle formats in two charts. The first chart addresses Amazon’s Print Replica formatted ebooks, books that even when used by a blind student on the optimum device, the Kindle Fire, still have significant deficits compared to the reading experience for the sighted student. The second addresses the standard Kindle format when the blind student uses iOS hardware, the optimum device for this format, and again results in inferior access to information. To demonstrate that there are commercially available alternatives that deliver to the blind student a more equivalent reading experience, the document shows that the features unavailable to blind students in the Kindle formats are available to all students in ePub3 books on the VitalSource platform. VitalSource is by no means the only choice.
With respect to best practices, we can be of greater assistance if we have a more in-depth meeting to explore what the DOE wants to offer all students. In broad terms, ePub3, a set of HTML standards, includes accessibility standards that represent all that technology can currently offer to students with print disabilities, such as the ability to read MathML, tables, and a rich markup to allow quick navigability. There are a number of web-based readers that are accessible and can make available all of the content features present in ePub3. Some, like Kobo and the Adobe Digital Editions reader, rely on the open-source software of the Readium Foundation that fully supports ePub3. Others, like Apple, use their own distribution format, but they also support the reading of other formats such as ePub3. Apple has the additional advantage of offering an authoring tool targeted at education; iBook Author is designed to empower authors and faculty to create ePub3 content.
If you wish to learn further on this topic, I note that James English of the New York Public Library is on the Readium Board of Directors; thus, he may be able to acquaint you further with the pros and cons of various readers that use the Readium software to deliver ePub3 to the reader. I have never spoken with Mr. English, but have been advised that he is extremely knowledgeable. For more information about best practices around ePub3, you can obtain “Accessible EPUB 3, Best Practices for Creating Universally Usable Content,” a free book by Matt Garrish from O’Reilly Publishers, <http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920025283.do>.
Obviously, the web platform for ordering or selecting books must also meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards.
Finally, you raise the question of distribution. Again, there are a number of accessible choices. For example, VitalSource, a member of Readium, has a distribution system that includes the ability to share notes or bookmarks, enabling the teacher to give assignments and raise questions or comments across the class. I would also note that VitalSource integrates with other portals, such as Blackboard.
By contrast, here is what happens with content loaded on to Whispercast for distribution. NFB tried loading an accessible ePub3 book on to a Whispercast account but was unsuccessful because ePub3 is not a format supported by Whispercast. The only way to get this accessible title to read would have been to convert it into Amazon’s Kindle file format, which would have stripped it of all markup, as described in the table in the attached chart that addresses reflowable text. NFB also uploaded the attached chart as a fully accessible .docx format document to Whispercast. The result: a blind user could not tell there were tables, could not know what column and row was being read, and, since the alt tags were gone, could not know whether the cell contained a check mark, an X, or a caution sign. Finally, NFB uploaded a .pdf file that it knew to be accessible (NFB’s annual report). On an iOS device, Voiceover stated “This file format is not supported.” On the Kindle Fire, nothing was vocalized at all—it simply could not be read.
We are not endorsing any given product. To the contrary, we continue to request a true dialogue where we can give you information about the accessibility of different features that you identify as pedagogically important. I am confident that when selecting Amazon for final consideration, you were unaware of the accessibility barriers present in Kindle content—barriers that the National Federation of the Blind knows all too well. I am equally confident that a meeting would allow us to help you identify the people, resources, and products that can help you get a solution that will serve all of your students optimally.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
Inaccessibility of Kindle Ebooks
Subject: From Mark Riccobono: NFB addendum email to New York City Department of Education
Please see below and attached.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
To further elaborate on the inaccessibility of the Kindle ebook experience for blind students, the tables sent to Ms. Ramirez are reprinted here:
Compiled by the National Federation of the Blind, August 2015
Amazon currently offers ebooks and econtent in two formats: Print Replica and reflowable text. The following two charts identify accessibility barriers for academic reading.
Typically, Amazon’s electronic textbooks are only available in Kindle Print Replica format and cannot be accessed as reflowable text. The most accessible experience available from Amazon for reading Print Replica books is with the Kindle Fire. Even so, a blind student who follows the instructions provided by the Fire will be unable to read a Kindle Print Replica book at all. A technologically sophisticated adult can force the reading experience, but it is a difficult, inconsistent, and buggy reading experience that would cause a blind student to read far less efficiently than other students.
The following chart assumes that a blind student has managed to get the Kindle Fire to read the Print Replica book. The chart describes those tasks that a sighted student will be able to perform that a blind student cannot. As a point of comparison, the chart also shows how the reading experience on VitalSource’s desktop application allows both sighted and blind students to accomplish these same tasks.
Please Note: Traditionally, iOS is considered the most accessible platform for accessing Kindle books, but when a Print Replica book is loaded, a blind user will hear the message, “VoiceOver does not support this content,” rendering iOS unusable for Print Replica textbooks.
Usable by Blind Students:
Usable by Blind Students:
Look up the meaning of
Read a text description
Read by paragraph
Return to highlights and notes
Read text in Braille
Determine the spelling of
Amazon’s Kindle ebooks with reflowable text (text that can be sized independently of layout constraints) are most accessible on an iOS device. Even then, a blind student will encounter many significant barriers to having a reading experience equivalent to his sighted counterparts. The chart below describes activities that cannot be successfully completed by a blind student with Kindle for iOS and compares these activities to the experience of reading a textbook in the desktop VitalSource application, which is one of the ebook platforms the National Federation of the Blind knows to be accessible.
Usable by Blind Students:
Usable by Blind Students:
Skip to the previous or next block or paragraph of text
Skip to the previous or next hyperlink or heading
Read the “alt text” labels on photos, illustrations, or graphics, i.e., know what the photos, graphics, or illustrations are that appear in the book
Move reliably between footnotes / endnotes and where they are indicated in the text
Please Note: The preceding table focuses on the tools that are unavailable or impractical for a blind student to use with Kindle on iOS. Students are able to read basic text continuously, and by both character and word. They are also able to use bookmarks, search for terms, use the table of contents, and go directly to a specific location in the book. These features make the Kindle suitable for basic leisure reading, but without the features described in the preceding table, a blind student would be wholly unable to participate in the majority of classroom activities independently.
As mentioned earlier, the proposed deal between Amazon and the NYC DOE had attracted a good deal of publicity, owing to the size of both the deal and the NYC school system. The sudden postponement of the vote on the contract also attracted notice in the media. The New York Daily News reported on the vote’s cancellation via its website almost immediately. Although school officials had not mentioned our pending protest, we had alerted the media in the area and so the paper quickly put two and two together and contacted us for our reaction. As a result, a substantial part of President Riccobono’s statement was included in the published article, which ran under the headline “Ebooks at NYC Public Schools Leave Out Blind, Advocates Say.” Education Week, which is widely read by K-12 educators, also ran a story on the deal’s failure to sail through as expected on its Marketplace K-12 blog. Blogger Michelle Molnar wrote in part:
New York City schools delayed a vote this week on awarding a $30 million contract to Amazon to develop an online ebook storefront for educators, after advocates for blind and visually impaired individuals raised accessibility concerns.
The National Federation of the Blind is questioning whether its community would have full accessibility in the online platform that would be built for teachers and principals to order ebooks and digital content, and whether blind and visually impaired educators and students will be able to adequately use the content once it is downloaded via the Kindle file format.
"Our concern is that what we knew of the criteria for the project didn't include clear accessibility requirements in either area,” said Mark Riccobono, the president of the Federation, in a phone interview. His organization's objections to the Kindle's custom file format date to 2008, he said, because visually impaired users who access ebooks that way cannot read tables, skip around in the text, or know what illustrations are in them.
The vote on the agreement, originally scheduled to take place on August 26, has been postponed until a meeting in the fall, although no specific date has been set. "We are working closely with Amazon and community partners to ensure that all school communities—including those serving visually impaired students—will be able to take advantage of the ebook and e-content marketplace when it meets their needs," said Devora Kaye, the press secretary for the city's Department of Education, in a prepared statement.
It is unclear what will happen next in this saga, but the National Federation of the Blind remains willing to engage in constructive conversations with all parties. Watch this space for further developments.
3. Kindle Fire instructions for reading by paragraph result in a student reading by sentence fragment. No workaround strategy has been identified.
4. Because blind users cannot highlight, the returning-to-highlights-and-notes feature could not be tested.
5. Braille can only be used with difficulty. Word wrap is not supported. Navigation of text is difficult as text is interpreted as one block per page for purposes of Braille, so paragraph markers and other separations in the text are lost.
6. As students will be required to start from the top of a page when searching for each word they are trying to spell and reading commands are inconsistent, it is technically possible but very labor and time intensive for a student to learn the spelling of a term.
7. Text cannot be selected with Braille. The word that is first highlighted when a student begins to select text is not the same word as that which she had intended to select.
8. This would be available only when text has been successfully highlighted.
9. Braille navigation is limited to the ability to move page by page, or the length of the Braille display, so a user cannot move to different paragraphs in the text easily. Paragraph breaks are not clearly displayed. The ability to move only within these smaller chunks of text hampers a blind student’s ability to skim content quickly.
An Address Delivered by
Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President
At the Convention of the
National Federation of the Blind
July 10, 2015
From the Editor: We spend a lot of time at conventions critiquing our progress and planning for the future we intend to make for ourselves and those who follow. But sometimes we ask ourselves difficult questions, ones the world may think have already been answered, but which, with a bit of analysis, prove to be superficial and unimaginative. “Blindness, Handicap or Characteristic,” seemed an absurd title to many of us who saw it for the first time, but a quick read through revealed that there was more to know about this topic than we had thought, and a second and third reading revealed some of the wisdom contained in Kenneth Jernigan’s life altering article. What follows is another speech that may well change how people come to feel about blindness, and it is obvious that our former president has not stopped thinking about or exploring all of the ramifications, real or imagined, that are associated with it. Here is what he says:
What is the nature of blindness? When a person becomes blind, how does that person change? Inasmuch as blind people and sighted people do not have identical characteristics, how are blind people different from the sighted? After seventy-five years of work in the National Federation of the Blind, it may seem that these questions must already have been answered. We must already know everything there is to tell.
This speculation comes to mind because Gary Wunder, editor of the Braille Monitor, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, a former board member of the National Federation of the Blind, and a man who has been a very good friend of mine for a quarter of a century, sent me an email that he had received from Sabra Ewing dated April 29, 2014. A portion of the text in that email says:
I think someone should write an article about the advantages of being blind. You might be thinking that articles like this already exist, but the ones I have found are about people who use their blindness to avoid lines and do inappropriate things, which even if viewed as advantages, are a result of the way society views blindness rather than blindness itself.
Lots of people who were born blind, including me, want to remain that way even if given the choice to become sighted. We still want to be blind even though society sends lots of messages that this attitude isn't okay. Why do we still want to be blind even knowing that we could fit into society so much better as sighted people? In my case I don't know why I want to stay blind, but I know it doesn't have to do with fear, and it's not a coping mechanism like some sighted people would suggest. That must mean there are lots of advantages to being blind. I think it would also be good for sighted people to read the article so they can learn to avoid insulting people who are happy with their blindness.
In responding to this email, Gary Wunder said in part: You seem to hold that it [blindness] is a blessing, an unexplored territory that offers a great deal to those of us who are blind if only we would take the time to reflect upon it.
When I encountered this correspondence, I thought: fair enough—an interesting point of view, and one which suggests certain lines of thought. Maybe, Sabra, I wondered, you want to remain blind because you know quite well how to manage your life as a blind person. Maybe you are identifiably and interestingly different from people who are sighted. Maybe the thought of change, of becoming a sighted person, is challenging to you. But just maybe, being blind carries with it enough advantages to make it attractive to you.
A brief look at the internet tells us that the Yahoo company believes the three major advantages of being blind are: enhanced senses of smell and touch, an increased confidence, and a heightened capacity for sensuality. Although this list has a certain charm, I suspect that the reporter for Yahoo was not thoroughly informed. On the other hand, my own experience indicates that advantages do exist.
In 1940 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the National Federation of the Blind, said that blind people are normal, useful, and self-respecting. However, he did not attribute these characteristics to the blindness itself.
In 1963 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who later served as the second long-term president of the National Federation of the Blind, delivered an address to the banquet of the national convention of the Federation entitled “Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic.” He said that blindness is a characteristic but that it is not a handicap unless certain conditions make it one. Furthermore, other characteristics can also, under certain circumstances, become handicaps.
Dr. Jernigan pointed out that every characteristic is a limitation. He stated that ignorance and poverty are limiting, but he also asserted that the opposite of ignorance, intelligence, is itself a limitation. My daughter faced this limitation when she was urgently seeking work. When she applied to become a barista, she was refused the position because she had graduated from college. The owner of the coffee shop said that college graduates do not become baristas for very long, and she (the owner) wanted a permanent employee.
Because all characteristics are limitations, blindness is also a limitation. However, it is only a disadvantage if the activity being pursued by the person who is blind is one that requires sight. If the activity being pursued does not require sight, blindness may become an advantage. Furthermore, most activities of life do not require sight—even though many sighted people use vision to perform them. Thus, blindness, though a limitation, is not more limiting than many other characteristics.
However, we are here considering not the limitations of blindness but its advantages. What do blind people get that others do not? Blind people are free of the requirement to do things visually. I, a totally blind person, can read in the dark or perform other tasks without worrying about light. When I was working as a lawyer for the Civil Aeronautics Board, several of us visited the flight facility operated by the Federal Aviation Administration in Oklahoma. We were examining what is involved in emergency evacuations of aircraft. In one of the demonstrations, an official filled the fuselage of an airplane with nontoxic but very dense smoke. My colleagues were disoriented, but I was not. They were worried about my safety, and they offered me a great deal of advice about what to do to avoid collisions with obstacles. I had no problem finding my way, but they felt that I must be disoriented because they were.
All of the systems designed to provide illumination or present images are almost entirely irrelevant to me except when I am helping out my sighted friends. I do not need a computer monitor, a flashlight, or a candle except when the candle is being used as a votive offering or a dish warmer. Because I do not use visual mechanisms, my mind takes advantage of alternative methods of knowing about the world in which I live. When we were working on the construction of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, many of my sighted colleagues learned of the nature of planned construction by means of drawings. However, I often found myself making revisions to the plans with mental images instead of relying on paper.
This brings to mind the consideration of imagination. Inventive genius is often highly regarded. Inventions benefiting society have come into being (at least in part) to serve the blind. Thomas Edison wrote in his application for a patent on the phonograph that this product could be used to create talking books for the blind. Decades later, the long-play phonograph record was invented for the Talking Book program. The recording industry quickly adopted the long-play record which brought profound change in the music business.
Inventive genius intended to benefit the blind has been dramatically enhanced when the blind themselves have been involved. A good many of us, as blind students, invented symbols for writing concepts in Braille which had not previously existed. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek invented a shorthand system for legal writing in Braille that he used to keep notes on disability law and constitutional matters. The shorthand he devised is recognizable to me though the one I used in law school is much different.
Dr. Abraham Nemeth invented a symbol set for writing mathematical and scientific notation. The symbol set was big enough to be called a code, and Dr. Nemeth fought fiercely to ensure that it was adopted within the field of work with the blind.
When Dr. Raymond Kurzweil was inventing the Kurzweil Reading Machine for the Blind, we asked him to include blind engineers in the inventive process. Dr. Kurzweil told me later that this request was among the most beneficial he received. Having blind people work on the reading machine was useful because those who were building it could incorporate within the design the characteristics they wanted it to have.
To build a proper reading machine, Dr. Kurzweil had to invent a scanner, which came to be a necessary product for offices throughout the world. Scanning information, capturing it electronically, and making it capable of transmission by computer benefited the blind, but it also brought enormous benefit to the sighted. The reading machine for the blind changed substantially the possibilities for sighted people working in offices to gain access to information.
Those who possess disabilities know that the systems customarily used by others are not always readily available to them without adaptation. Consequently, using such systems often demands ingenuity. The necessity for imaginative thought becomes a pattern of behavior in many disabled people, and invention of systems, techniques, or products accompanies this imaginative thought. Invention is a necessity for disabled people who want to participate in society.
Can blind children play tag? Many people would think not. However, one small blind child in a schoolyard thought the answer should be otherwise. He altered the rules of the game slightly. He brought a small can to school which contained a stone. He required those who played tag and who were “it” to hold the can and to shake it as they ran. With this minor alteration, invented by a child in kindergarten, the game of tag was modified so that the blind and the sighted could play it together.
At the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Jerry Whittle and some of his colleagues invented a modified version of football that can be played by the blind. I learned of this when he asked me for some funds to obtain uniforms for the team. He told me that when you run out onto the field, smash into opposing team members, and knock your opponent base over apex, this is fun. Simultaneously an advantage and a disadvantage for the blind came into being. We can now play football, but we also know that a bunch of big ornery blind people are looking forward to smashing us into oblivion.
A common misunderstanding is that blind people have a perpetual experience of darkness, but I do not. The world I encounter contains light, shadow, and color along with occasional elements of darkness. These visual images come from my imagination, but language and literature tell me that these characteristics are essential—the world cannot be constructed without them. Therefore, the image that I project may be different from the image that a sighted person has, but I never touch anything without ascribing to it a color.
Many people fear darkness, but I do not. When I work at it, I can identify the difference between light and darkness, and I can speculate about the alterations that come with the change from one to the other. But most of the time the worry about darkness is unimportant. I do the things that I do without looking, and I regard this as natural. Perhaps this accounts for the Yahoo assertion that we who are blind have increased confidence.
Occasionally this pattern leads to unfortunate accidents. One time I invited a man into my office, a room without windows, for a meeting. Somebody had shut off the lights in my office to save money on electricity. My custom is to turn them on in the morning and to leave them that way. As I am totally blind, I did not know they were shut off. I closed the door to my office, and I discussed the business at hand. My companion seemed very tentative, but I did not know until the meeting was over that we were having our conference in the dark. Although the man with whom I was having the meeting had wanted to sell me some products, he never came back. Maybe he was afraid of the dark.
Numerous articles have been written about the plasticity of the brain. The visual cortex in blind people is not idle, they say. What are these people doing with their visual cortex? Are they thinking with it? I do not believe that blind people are noticeably more thoughtful or more intelligent than the sighted people I know, but I have never tested the hypothesis. On the other hand, I have found many thousands of blind people prepared to contemplate with equanimity altered patterns of understanding from those frequently encountered. These altered patterns of understanding provide a greater perspective than would otherwise exist, which necessarily requires a degree of imaginative work. I believe that the willingness to engage in this kind of mental exercise builds comprehension. I have also speculated that blind people, who must face challenges often not encountered by others, may be less fearful than some who have not faced such challenges. Independence for the blind demands a measure of rebellion, and rebellion cannot occur without mental effort.
One of the elements of the rebellion involves the insistence that we who are blind have the right to participate fully in our society on equal terms with others. We have demanded that systems for providing access to information be constructed such that they can be used either visually or non-visually. We have been told that this insistence limits creativity and stifles invention on the part of companies providing information. However, a senior official of one of the premier technology companies of the world expressed the exact opposite to me. He said that requiring his company’s systems to have multiple mechanisms for presentation of information helped his engineers to assure that internal mismatches between his company’s programs had disappeared. He considered that our demand for equal access to information was a significant assistance to his inventors in creating a more thoroughly integrated and manageable system of presenting information to any of the populations he serves.
Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, the former director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, told me that blind library patrons read more books than sighted borrowers. Many blind people listen to computer voices or recorded material at several hundred words a minute, faster than most sighted people can comprehend.
A good many blind people have devised mechanisms for ensuring that their socks match and that their items of apparel present a coordinated appearance without being able to look at the colors. Invention, rebellion, creativity, planning—these are words that I associate with the successful blind people I know.
What are the other advantages that come with blindness? We who read Braille can deliver speeches with the documents under our hands, which lets us “look” at the audience, but of course having your hands in one place does cut down on the gestures. We can read notes stashed in a briefcase or pocket without other people (at least most of the time) knowing we are doing so.
We are not troubled by visual appearance. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan liked very sweet bananas, and he was not discouraged from eating them by the color. When bananas are very ripe, they lose the yellow which is characteristic of them becoming brown or black. He was attracted by the taste but not deterred by the appearance. I am told that human beings who are pretty, slender, and white get more promotions than others. These characteristics, which are primarily visual, have generally not been a part of the decisions I have made. I suspect that discrimination based on visual appearance occurs less often with blind people than it does with others.
This offers a notion about some of the advantages of blindness, but undoubtedly there are others. Because some people believe that the absence of our vision causes other senses to be heightened, they suggest that we be placed in certain professions. A proposal made forty years ago recommended that blind people be employed as perfume testers because the absence of vision increased the olfactory capacity. Wine tasting has also been recommended because the taste buds of the blind are superior to those of the sighted. An article from a Hawaii newspaper offers the observation that our heightened sense of touch makes the blind better at kissing than the sighted. Could Yahoo be right after all about our sensuality? I can’t be sure, but it might be interesting to find out.
I do not really believe that blind people have enhanced senses, but I do think that blind people often concentrate on the use of some of them more assiduously than sighted people. Consequently, the experience of identifying objects by touch is probably more thoroughly developed in blind people than it is in the sighted.
How much would you pay to get your sight? The answer to this question is often a million dollars or more. When I have thought about the question, I know that I would not pay a million. The debt load I would have to carry would be just too great. If the price tag were smaller, I might think that trading the advantages I currently have as a blind person for those I would have as a sighted person would be worthwhile. However, becoming sighted would demand work. I do not know how to read print. If I became sighted, people would expect me to know this. I would also have to master all of the other things that sighted people do with sight. I believe that observing things visually is a learned experience, and all learning requires effort.
One of my good friends (unfortunately now deceased) was Ray McGeorge. He had been a blind person, and he gained his sight. He bought a car for himself, and I rode in it while he drove. One of the things he liked to do very much was read the advertising on boxes and bottles in the grocery store. The wide variety of what was available had not previously occurred to him. When he became blind again, he felt discouragement and depression, but the teachings and the experience he had obtained in the National Federation of the Blind got him through. Both in becoming sighted and becoming blind, he had no real serious problems in regaining his equilibrium.
I believe that the world is a more interesting place with disabled people in it than it would be without us. Although we in the National Federation of the Blind have emphasized how similar blind people are to sighted people—how our talents, our aspirations, and our capacity to function have not been diminished by our blindness—we are in certain ways different from sighted people, and the difference is sometimes a disadvantage and sometimes an advantage. As you know, I am not a broken sighted person; rather, I am a blind person. This expression indicates that I believe each of us has value, blind or sighted, and I believe that the value that each of us represents should be cherished.
Therefore, Sabra, when somebody wonders what there is about blindness that makes you think it is worthwhile, let your inquisitor know that the advantages are abundant. Blindness helps to teach me to know the world by touch, to read extensively in environments where others cannot, to imagine a world of possibilities that others have not attempted, to invent, to plan, to face the challenges that come, and to approach the world without the ancient fear of the dark. Let your questioner know that ours is not a restricted life but a liberated one. In the autumn when the leaves begin to fall, you may observe us chasing the pigskin. Furthermore, those of us who are blind never have to spend our hours hunting for a parking spot; well, anyway, not yet. This too is a place that will require our further thought and invention.Those who believe that we live in a constant experience of darkness and despair do not know the joy that we have found, the excitement we have created, but we will tell them. The voice of the National Federation of the Blind rises in a thunderous declaration to proclaim what we know to be true. We will determine the destiny that must and will be ours. We will imagine the future as we want it to be. We will invent the techniques, the devices, and the programs that we need. We will use the advantages, the intellect, the energy, and the spirit within us to build a life of participation, equality, and joy for the blind—and nothing on earth can stop us. Our hearts are filled with gladness; we feel the power that rises within us. When we are together, the future is ours!
by Tom Bickford
From the Editor: Tom Bickford is well known to many in the Federation both because of his tenure in the organization and his notoriety as a songwriter, singer, and as the author of The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane. Here is an amazing account of his observations about the National Federation of the Blind during his sixty years as a member:
Thank you. In the beginning there were seven states, as we know. The president of the Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind, Gayle Burlingane, invited other states to come to his 1940 convention to form a regional—or perhaps larger—organization. And larger is what happened. Six states responded: Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. I’m not going to tell you all the people who came; that’s more names than I can say. Those people got together in a separate room and organized the National Federation of the Blind. Because of the Federation you and I can live the lives we want to live. The NFB taught me what to do, how to do it, and then gave me a good shove and said, “Now go out and do it,” so I have.
The most important influence in my years of blindness has been the National Federation of the Blind. In 1955—that was sixty years ago—I enrolled in the Orientation Center for the Blind in California, where I met Kenneth Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind. And when you met Kenneth Jernigan, you for sure met the National Federation of the Blind. At the orientation center Jernigan gave of himself to the students in many ways. Here’s one example: in men’s gymnasium class, where he both taught and participated, there were several goals that he set for us to achieve in order to earn a steak dinner that he would buy for us. I got my steak dinner for 370 continuous jump ropes. No, I couldn’t do it now. A couple of years after I graduated from the orientation center, my mother said to me once, “When you came back, you weren’t the same person that we sent to that orientation center.” And I say that was good!
Live the life you want. At one time a friend of mine said to me I had taught her how to walk with a cane. That surprised me because I had never given her any lessons. She said she just paid attention to what I did, then did the same. Another time, a lady I knew who was married to a blind friend of mine said that I had helped her husband so much. Again, what had I done? I had offered him my friendship and shared experiences with him, which included taking him to some Federation meetings, and I’m sure that most of you here in the room have had this same experience: sharing your lives with other blind people and showing the Federation to the world. [Applause]
Employment is one of the areas that the Federation has worked on from the beginning. First, getting financial aid for blind people, then helping blind people to believe in ourselves and giving us the confidence and determination to find employment so we can live the lives we want. We’re not going to get tired of that phrase, are we? In about 1950 the Federation began the work to open the federal civil service to blind people. The law case of Russell Kletzing, himself a blind lawyer, was the opening battle in that war. Kletzing later served two terms as president of the National Federation in the mid-1960s.
We have the capable and eager members. We have the determination. We have a lawyer’s division of our own. We have the capable and willing lawyers to help us on our side, we just heard from one. Both Kenneth Jernigan and Marc Maurer and many others have used the word “love.” The English language is not always very specific in its usages. The Greek language has three words, all of which can be translated into English as “love.” When we say “love” we sometimes would think of what the Greeks would call “eros,” romantic love. That’s not the kind of love I’m thinking of now, although we are fully capable of that kind of love—good for us. The next word is “philia,” which is usually translated as “brotherly love.” That’s closer to my thought, but it’s still not the one I want. I think of the Federation kind of love as “agape,” A-G-A-P-E, agape: kindly concern or predetermined goodwill. Before I meet you to know you individually, I want good things for you. We want good things for each other. [Applause] Dr. Jernigan, at his last convention in 1998, said, “Why do we do these things for each other?” And he answered his own question: love. That, I think, is agape—kindly concern or predetermined goodwill.
Dr. Maurer in 2002 said, “And love, freely given, is at least as demanding as any other taskmaster.” I will say it again, “And love, freely given, is at least as demanding as any other taskmaster.” We take that seriously. Love, given to us freely, requires many things of us. Love is why we buy raffle tickets. [Laughter] Love is why we give door prizes for other people to win. Love is why we write letters to our state and federal officials and attend hearings. Love is why we go to our own meetings and greet each other.
The world changes, and so does the NFB. In 1957 we adopted the small, round membership pin with words, “Security, Equality, Opportunity.” Those words are still in our NFB pledge. In 2002 we adopted the Whozit as our logo. Last year, President Riccobono kept the Whozit and put six of them around in a circle. In 1968 two New Yorkers, Floyd Fields and Josephine Huff introduced what they wanted to be the official NFB song. Other people wanted in on the act, so we had a year-long contest. In 1969 their song, “The NFB Battle Hymn” that we know much better as “Glory, Glory Federation” was adopted as the official song. This year, for the seventy-fifth anniversary, James Brown will introduce a new song to us. It shows up on the Friday agenda. After all, musical tastes have changed in the last forty-six years, so we’re changing with the times. After the first song contest the musical ideas just broke forth; everybody wanted a song. We started hearing songs that had already been sung, and new songs appeared as the time occurred. When it was time to tell United Airlines that blind people should keep our canes with us in the plane, we gave them back their own music: [singing] “Don’t fly unfriendly skies of United/don’t take our long white canes/we have the right to be free/We take care of ourselves/we’re the NFB.” [applause]
A couple of years ago an air hostess wanted to take my cane from where I had it between my seat and the wall of the plane. I said, “No, it can stay here, that case has been to court.” She dropped the subject.
The most prolific songwriter I met was Ted Young of Pennsylvania. I met him at a Chicago convention one year, and one of the songs I learned from him had to do with getting more help than we sometimes need. Here’s the chorus: “Helping, helping, helping, helping/sometimes it’s help that I can use/but sometimes I feel like yelping/especially from a ‘helping’ bruise.” After the convention who should I meet in the airport but some Pennsylvania delegates. We were in the “helping” area where the airport had asked us to wait to be assisted to our departure gates. The dear little ground hostess would come running up in quite a dither, and she’d say, “Who’s next?” And then she’d take somebody off to their departure gate. Those of us who were still there smiled at each other and sang, “Helping, helping, helping, helping/sometimes it’s help that I can use/but sometimes I feel like yelping/especially from a ‘helping’ bruise.”
In 1990, the fiftieth anniversary, three of my Maryland friends—Debbie Brown, Lloyd Rasmussen, and Judy Rasmussen made use of their time waiting in the restaurant line to compose the “Ode to the Code”: “Going to the school/to write an IEP/the teacher says use print, because your child can see/the equipment is too big/and large print is too rare/and fifteen words a minute will not get you anywhere./Oh, Braille is here/Braille is here/Braille is here to stay/We will keep on using it/we don’t care what you say/ Braille is here/Braille is here/we will sing its praise/it’s the system for the blind/to get a job that pays.”
These songs and many more are on the NFB’s website—check them out, learn them, sing them, write some more of your own. I plan to keep coming back and singing, as long as money and health hold out. You do the same! Thank you.
by John Paré, Rose Sloan, Gabe Cazares, and Lauren McLarney
From the Editor: Before I could afford to go to the convention, the part of the Braille Monitor I most looked forward to reading was the Washington Report by James Gashel. I loved hearing about our legislative skirmishes, the arguments made against us, and the way we were so often able to prevail. Much of the Monitor was interesting, but this section was where I got my marching orders—something I could really do beyond my local chapter to help the National Federation of the Blind. It is with these thoughts in mind that I try to include much of what we now know of as the Advocacy and Policy Report. I hope you enjoy the remarks made by these dedicated men and women as much as I do:
John Paré: Good Afternoon, fellow Federationists. The Advocacy and Policy Department is responsible for NFB-NEWSLINE®, public relations, and governmental affairs. The mandate for our department is to promote equality and opportunity for all blind people so that we can live the lives we want. This is our assignment and our joy.
The problem is that society views blindness as a tragedy. Our founder Dr. tenBroek said, “The principal misconception, the one that embodies and epitomizes all the rest, is that blindness means helplessness—social and economic incapacity; the destruction of the productive powers; the obliteration of the ability to contribute to or benefit from normal community participation; in short, the lingering image of the helpless blind man.”
I know a lot about these dismal views of blindness and the hope the NFB has to offer because of the role the NFB has played in my own life. About twenty years ago I began losing my eyesight. At the time I was working for the Advanced Digital Information Corporation and was one of their top salespersons. The company would fly me all over the country and sometimes the world so I could tell prospective clients about our high-end digital mass storage equipment. While on a business trip in Chicago, I first noticed problems with my vision. My eyesight deteriorated slowly, and it took several years for a retina specialist to finally diagnose my condition as cone rod retina degeneration. The doctor told me that my condition was incurable and degenerative.
As the late 90s progressed my eyesight got worse and worse. Eventually I had to stop driving and turned in my driver’s license for a state-issued ID card. In retrospect my biggest problem was my lack of a role model. I did not understand how a blind person could be successful at much of anything, and as I became a blind person I did not think I could be successful. I progressively relinquished all of my responsibilities at work to others because I didn’t think I could do the work as a blind person. Eventually I agreed with my employer that the only option for me was to leave the company and go on SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance]. I was resigned to the fact that I would spend the rest of my life sitting at home, very busy at nothing.
In 2001 I was living in Tampa, Florida. I had learned about NFB-NEWSLINE® and spent hours listening to the service. I began to wonder: if the NFB was able to create a service as great as NFB-NEWSLINE, maybe I should learn more. One day I researched the NFB and discovered that there were hundreds of chapters and that one met close to where I lived. I went to the meeting and after all those years of feeling isolated and alone, I met another blind person. In fact, I met lots of them. But they were not sitting at home busy doing nothing. They had careers, families, and avocations. I was amazed. I was intrigued. I was motivated. I was filled with hope.
I quickly got involved in NFB-NEWSLINE at the state level and traveled to the national center for NFB-NEWSLINE administrator training. I met Jim Gashel and Dr. Maurer and others. I was even more motivated and inspired to know that I could live the life I wanted to live. I could go back to living the life I used to live, but I would simply do it as a blind person. This would require me to do a lot of things nonvisually, but I quickly learned, from my ever-increasing number of NFB friends, that I could still do what I wanted to do.
In February 2004, after attending the Washington Seminar, Dr. Maurer invited me to the national center to interview for a job. Well, as most of you know, I got the job.
At the NFB we say that our battles are not over until we win. That is because our battles are personal. At one time I perceived being blind as an insurmountable problem. I was wrong. But being blind in a sighted world can pose some challenges. I am frustrated when I encounter inaccessible websites, inaccessible apps, inaccessible kiosks, inaccessible instructional materials, inaccessible home appliances, and inaccessible technology of all types--which brings me back to the Advocacy and Policy Department. We all share a similar story: our bond is our personal journeys to conquer our blindness; not with restored eyesight, but with our shared attitude that blindness is not what holds us back, that blindness does not have to be viewed as a tragedy.
As you have heard, NFB-NEWSLINE is what introduced me to the NFB, and this year is the twentieth anniversary of this terrific service. It was conceived, designed, and implemented by the blind for the blind.
NFB-NEWSLINE is available in forty-five states and the District of Columbia. It serves over 108,000 subscribers. There are 347 newspapers, sixteen breaking news sources, fourteen international newspapers, and forty-three magazines. Over the last year NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers have: enjoyed over thirty-eight million minutes of news, made over two million calls, received over two million emailed articles, logged into our web portal over two million times, and accessed our mobile app over 260,000 times.
Over the past year several new features and services were added to the system. In December of 2014 we introduced a new continuous reading mode for the telephone access method. By simply pressing 99 at the section level of a publication, a subscriber can hear the entire publication read cover-to-cover without having to prompt the system to move to the next section or article. I love this feature.
Two of the most recent publications added to the magazines category are Braille Book Review and Talking Book Topics. Books listed in these two publications are listed as individual articles which can be emailed to you by pressing #9. These emails can then be forwarded to your regional Talking Book Library to request these books.
I still listen to NFB-NEWSLINE every day, but now I do it with purpose and pride. I am proud that the NFB could create such a valuable service for blind people. And I listen to learn how we can convince more companies to make their websites accessible, to make their apps accessible, to make their kiosks accessible, to make electronic instructional material accessible, to hire more blind people in competitive integrated employment, and to increase access to Braille. I am now part of the strongest, most effective advocacy group of blind people in America. When I go to the halls of Congress or to Fortune 500 companies or to universities, I go with my long white cane, the confidence you have given me, and the knowledge that we are all working together side by side to live the lives we want. Thank you for what you have done for me. [Applause]
Alright, we have more to go. We’re going to go through more details with each of our three specialists. The first one I would like to introduce is Lauren McLarney:
Lauren McLarney: Good afternoon, friends. I'm here to talk to you about the TEACH Act, so I want to know what that stands for: [tepid audience response] Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education. What does the bill do: it creates guidelines [slight audience response when uttering that line]. Oh, that was awful. Okay, what does the bill do? [The audience responds, "It creates guidelines."]
Okay, you guys got it. Before I get into any more details, I want to start by saying that this is my fifth or sixth convention, and the one thing that I notice is that you get to hear from us in government affairs, but there are a lot of other people at the National Center who work on these issues, particularly higher education, that you don't get to hear from. So there is Kristian Kuhnke and Mya Jones—they do a lot of our administrative support—Chris Danielsen helps with public relations. Mehgan Sidhu is our general counsel, and she has listened to me rattle on and on about the higher ed lobby for hours. Stephanie Witt is the person who did the TEACH Act video. Jen White makes me smile every day. There are tons of people at the national office who support our higher education issues, so if everybody could acknowledge their work even though they're not up here talking [applause].
Now back to the TEACH Act and just a brief reminder of what brought us here. We saw the effect of inaccessible technology on students with disabilities in college. We saw that blind students were delaying their education, changing majors, even dropping out—not because they didn't have the work ethic and not because they weren't smart enough, but because the very technology that should've leveled the playing field for them was inaccessible and creating needless barriers. We knew we had to do something to stop it, and so we initiated litigation. We went to the Department of Justice; our student division started letter-writing campaigns; we did petitions; we have done everything, but we knew that nothing would change unless the market was stimulated to include accessible things, and that meant schools needed to be told that "This is what accessibility looks like, this is the criteria you should follow, and this is what you should ask for." So that is what the TEACH Act was meant to do. We introduced it in November, and then Senators Warren and Hatch introduced the Senate companion the following February. Then we got fifty-six cosponsors in the House and six in the Senate. We had twenty-two different groups endorsing the bill. We had over 1,000 views of our video, we were on a roll, and we were feeling good! And then the higher ed lobby said "We don't like the bill." Then members of Congress said "You might want to get them to like the bill." We thought that this made sense. We don't like it when other people who are not blind people say they know what's best for the blind. We say that we know what's best for the blind, so when Congress says higher education knows what's best for higher education, go talk to them; this made sense. So we reached out to them; that was nine months ago.
I will tell you that we have spent the last nine months negotiating with them, and in that time I've had several moments of frustration. I keep hearing in my head this line from one of my favorite comedy bits, where the comedian is talking about how absurd it is when the airline tells you that when the oxygen mask drops down, you should adjust your mask before helping the person next to you. He says, "I did not need to be told that." And I have heard that in my head countless times over the last nine months.
The education people told us that they do more for students with disabilities than anybody else. I asked if they had any specifics. They said no, we have 7,000 institutions, and we couldn't possibly tell you any specifics. They told us that the experiences that our students were reporting were the exception and not the rule, that we were only hearing from students who are having problems. We said no: we are listening to the National Association of Blind Students, not the National Association of Blind Students with Problems at institutions of higher education.
They then began to lecture us, saying that they want help because they don't want to have to spend all of this money on accommodations. They say that the accommodations model, the separate but equal model, is really expensive, and again I thought, "I don't need to be told that; I know, and that's why we're here trying to help you." They told us that they wanted a new title for this bill. We said that was okay. They said they wanted a purposed-base commission instead of the access board, and we said we would be glad to think about it. Then they said they wanted a safe harbor for considering the guidelines during the decision-making process—just considering them—they should be able to buy whatever they want but should get a reward for considering buying accessible technology. This was the equivalent of saying, I sat outside the bank, and I considered not robbing it, but I decided to go in and rob it, and you shouldn't arrest me because I really thought about it. We said we would never accept that. I'm happy to report that nine months later, as of about two or three weeks ago, we have finally reached an agreement with the higher education lobby on the TEACH Act. [Applause]
So what does this agreement look like? First of all, it has a new name. It's called the SMART Act, so scratch all of that practicing about what the TEACH Act stood for. The SMART Act stands for Stimulating the Marketplace to Make Accessibility a Reality Today. The guidelines will be created by a purpose-based commission with equal representation from all of the different stakeholder groups, so there will be seven representatives from the disability community, including two students with disabilities. There will be two or three technology experts, seven representatives from institutions of higher learning—higher education, and five industry reps. There will also be a bifurcated safe harbor, which is a fancy way of saying that they didn't get what they asked for. They are going to get the safe harbor that we proposed in the first bill, and then they will also be incentivized to adopt the guidelines into their decision-making process and write down why they make the decisions that they make, what's available on the market that they're choosing to reject, and how they are going to provide equal access to students with disabilities.
So the next step is getting all of the different disability groups to join us. I thought this would be really easy, but I was on a call last week with a few other blindness groups, and it was kind of eye-opening. They had some concerns. They started out by saying, "Well, up until now we really appreciate all you have done. Up until this point NFB has done some phenomenal legal advocacy—what you have done with your litigation, those settlement agreements—those settlement agreements have changed everything, and accessibility is mandatory because of those settlement agreements." Then they said that their biggest concern was not the change in the safe harbor, not the purpose-based commission, not the new name: their biggest concern was that the guidelines were not mandatory. And I said, "The bill last year had voluntary guidelines and all of you endorsed those."
And they said, "Well, we had a different interpretation of that bill."
So I read them this line: "Nothing in this Act is to be construed to require an institution to only use technology that conforms to these guidelines." I asked them if they really thought that meant that it was mandatory. They said yes.
But, when we were wrapping this conversation up, the group said they couldn't support it. And I said, "Okay, I'll take your concerns back to the higher ed lobby." And they said, "When you go back to them, go back with strength." I did not need to be told that. What did they think we had been doing for the last nine months--and they weren't there when we were doing it!
Here is what NFB is doing: we have initiated over a dozen lawsuits; we have settled those lawsuits; the Department of Justice has intervened in some of our lawsuits; we have had the Department of Justice issue guidance that we urged them to initiate; we have conducted two or three letter-writing campaigns, we have met with presidents of institutions of higher education, we have brought the higher education lobby to the table, and they agreed to this bill. What have these other groups done for blind students? Nothing! So I'd like to have them with us, but we don't need them—they either need to steer clear of us or join our team, because we don't need anything from a group that doesn't understand this bill, the lawsuits they don't help us with, and the negotiations they don't participate in. [Applause]
So what's next? Well, we're going to pass the bill, so we have to write it. The person who is going to write it you will meet in a minute, but the reason I'm not going to write it is because I'm leaving in August to go back to school. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to say: First, don't forget me because I want to come back. Second, what has driven my career choice is a quote; it's really cheesy, but I like it. William Carey says, "I'm not afraid of failure; I'm afraid of succeeding at things that don't matter." And that has driven my choices.
The Federation is changing lives, and nothing can matter more than that. I have loved being a part of this family, so thank you!
To tell you more about the SMART Act and how important this is for students with disabilities, here is the newest member of our team. First he was my friend; now he is my colleague. Please welcome Gabe Cazares.
Gabe Cazares: Howdy to my record-breaking Federation family! It's an honor for me to address you this afternoon as the newest member of our government affairs team for the National Federation of the Blind. By way of introduction, my journey in the Federation began in the summer of 2009 when I applied for a summer work program through the school for the blind. I had the privilege of working for the National Federation of the Blind of Texas as an intern. The internship was supposed to be six weeks long that summer, but six years later here I am.
Because of the mentorship and love I received in my home affiliate, the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, and the skills and confidence I gained by attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I am now living the life I want. As a student I have experienced firsthand the barriers and frustrations that inaccessible technology pose. For instance, during the 2015 spring semester, my last semester of college, I took a math course to fulfill a core curricular requirement. The textbooks, homework, and quizzes for the course were all web-based. I'm a Braille reader, so I requested Braille copies of all the course materials since, as is too often the case, the web-based interface was completely inaccessible. However, because of a staff change in the office of disability services, my request for Braille materials was never submitted. So what did the school decide to provide me as a reasonable accommodation you may be wondering: a print copy of the textbook and a human reader/scribe. I was fortunate in the sense that the reader/scribe is also a mathematics instructor and a friend of mine who truly understands both the importance of Braille and the capacity of blind people. But stop to think about what could have happened if the circumstances had been different. What if I had been unsuccessful in completing my course assignments, my quizzes, my exams successfully because of the lack of access in the course? I would have failed and not graduated from college on time.
The frustrating reality is that I know my story isn't the only story. Hundreds of students are here this week who know what it's like to be left behind by the same technology that has the potential to level the playing field for us. When you need to sign up for a course, but you can't independently access the registration system, that is second-class citizenship. When you need to check your grades—although some of us would rather not sometimes—but you can't independently access the learning management system, that is second-class citizenship. When a professor assigns you an online reading, but the PDF file they upload is not properly tagged, making it impossible for you independently to access it, that is second-class citizenship. It's time for developers of electronic instructional material and institutions of higher education to stop thinking about accessibility after the fact. It's time for schools to stop adopting a separate but equal attitude about accessibility. We will not accept second-class citizenship in society, and we will not accept it in the classroom.
But this is what it's all about, right? This is not necessarily just about education. It's about the fact that, if we settle for less than equality in the classroom, then we are settling for being one, two, three steps behind everyone else for the rest of our lives. To those outside the Federation it's easy to assume that this second-class citizenship is just part of being blind—that technology benefits plenty of people—just not blind people, yet. And accessibility is too far beyond the horizon. We are just going to have to wait, and we should learn to live with this discrimination. But I know this is not true, and I know this is not the life I want to live. [Applause]
Students are the only ones who can change the landscape, and that is why the National Federation of the Blind has fought for the rights of the blind, and we will continue to do so until both developers of electronic instructional material and institutions of higher education understand that we will not accept being an afterthought. We are not against innovation; in fact we know the innovation is and should be there. What we are against is the deployment of technology that shuts out blind students. Because having equal access to education is not a privilege; it's our right.
In closing I'd like to address students in particular. As we move forward with the SMART Act, I call on you to be engaged and active. Passing this proposed legislation will revolutionize the development and procurement of electronic instructional materials. But we need your help. Tell your story. The National Association of Blind Students is always collecting stories about the effects of inaccessible technology. Talk to a fellow NABS member, and learn about how your story can make a huge impact in the fight for equal access. When we call for grassroots mobilization, don't sit on the sidelines. No one does grassroots like the National Federation of the Blind, and that's because our members are active, engaged, and energized.
In the last few months I've been sitting in on and participating in our negotiations with the higher education lobby. They're at the table, it's true, but they don't get it. And how could they? They haven't heard from us. They need to hear from us, and I'm calling on you students to make it happen. One of the reasons I wanted to come work at the National Center for the Blind is because I want to take my experience as a blind student and use it to bring about meaningful change for blind students across the country. I know what it's currently like to be a blind student in the United States. And let me tell you something, Federation family: it's unacceptable. However, I take comfort in knowing that with our grassroots movement, our legislative influence, and the love, hope, and determination of the nation's blind, we will see complete access to electronic instructional materials become the norm, not the exception. [Applause]
Thank you for giving me the privilege of working for our movement. I sincerely look forward to building the Federation with you.
Rose Sloan: Good afternoon, NFB family! It's so great to be here at our seventy-fifth convention. Before I begin I'd like to take a moment to say thank you to someone who has been a huge positive influence on me. And also, you might want to know who I am. I'm Rose Sloan, and I'm also a government affairs specialist at the NFB National Center. I specifically handle everything employment with regard to policy. The person who I would really like to say thank you to is someone I talked to two years ago in this very room. I sought her out because she had the type of job I wanted. Ladies and gentlemen, the person who has been such a role model to me is Lauren McLarney. Thanks in part to her advocacy on my behalf, I got a shot at working at the national office. Lauren, I, along with many Federationists, will really miss you. You've inspired and motivated us all with your never-ending determination and energy, and we can't thank you enough. I wish you the best of luck as you further your education. Can we take a moment to show Lauren our appreciation? [Cheers, applause] You'll truly be missed. I also wish to welcome Gabe to the team; wasn't his presentation great? Finally, I just wanted to say I cannot wait to start working with Mr. Parnell Diggs; it'll be wonderful.
As our one-minute message so eloquently states, we raise expectations for blind people, because low expectations create obstacles. These obstacles couldn't be more prevalent than in the employment sphere, and specifically in the jobs and wages that are assigned and paid to people with disabilities.
Passed in 1938, but practiced prior to, and even today in 2015, people with disabilities are being paid sub-minimum wages. Some of our fellow Americans with disabilities are being paid a dollar, a quarter, even zero dollars and zero cents per hour! [Boos from crowd] But although this practice may not be affecting you directly, it is absolutely affecting each and every one of us indirectly. The low expectations that society sets for us stem from many places, but the mere fact that we can be paid sub-minimum wages does not reflect our attitude of high expectations. The low wages that are paid to our brothers and sisters with disabilities are a reflection of the low expectation set for them and, in effect, for all of us. We, the National Federation of the Blind, are committed to ending this antiquated, discriminatory, and demeaning practice of paying people with disabilities sub-minimum wages. We support H.R. 188, the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act, or the TIME Act. Sponsored by Congressman Gregg Harper from Mississippi, the TIME Act will responsibly phase out section 14(c) over a three-year period. The idea of repealing section 14(c) is supported by over eighty disability organizations, and thanks to all of your hard work at and after the Washington Seminar, I'm happy to report that the TIME Act is up to forty cosponsors. And to me, the very exciting thing about these particular forty cosponsors is that there are eighteen Republicans and twenty-two Democrats—very bipartisan legislation so far.
I encourage all of you, especially if you live in districts that have a Republican representative, please to write, email, or call your national legislators, and urge them to join the forty members of Congress who already support the TIME Act. Maybe you wrote them after Washington Seminar. It's time to write them again; it's time for 14(c) to be repealed. After all, a few states in our great nation have already shown that every person, regardless of disability, is worthy of at least the minimum wage. On May 7, 2015, the governor of New Hampshire signed S.B. 47 into law. S.B. 47 says that no entity can pay a person with a disability a sub-minimum wage. Congratulations, New Hampshire!
Other steps have been taken, too. For example, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act created a committee tasked with increasing the integrated and competitive opportunities for workers with disabilities. Dr. Schroeder is a member of this committee. I want to join him in urging all of you to write emails to the committee, and now there's a simpler way to do this. To personalize a template email, please visit <www.nfb.org/ice>. ICE stands for Integrated Competitive Employment; remember ICE. The form will allow you to include your own personal reasons as to why you feel that 14(c) should be phased out. Perhaps you might explain how discriminatory and unhelpful sub-minimum wage environments are for people with disabilities. Maybe you'll remind the members of the committee that there are alternatives to 14(c) certificates such as customized and supported employment. Or maybe you'll mention that New Hampshire and Vermont have already figured it out, and there are competitive, integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities. If enough of us use our voices, the committee will recommend that Section 14(c) be responsibly phased out. Who can I count on to fill out the form at <www.nfb.org/ice>? [Cheers] That's what I thought. No other group does it like us; our voices will surely be heard by the committee.
Since I last spoke to you at Washington Seminar in January, the legislative affairs team has been working diligently on legislation that will help improve the Social Security Disability Insurance system. As you've likely noticed, SSDI is a rather hot topic right now. The trust fund will be insolvent as early as December of next year, and, unless Congress takes action, SSDI beneficiaries will see about a 19 percent cut in their benefits. As you can imagine, Congress does not want this to happen, as demonstrated by actions they are taking every day. This morning they held a meeting about this very topic. The insolvency of the SSDI trust fund is not the only problem. The work incentives currently in place for blind SSDI beneficiaries are broken. To illustrate my point and explain the need for change, I'm going to tell you about my friend, Allison Duttner.
Allison is a smart woman who loves to teach. She taught in New Mexico and now lives in California. She is an SSDI beneficiary. Because she cannot live on her SSDI benefit alone, and because, quite frankly, she doesn't want to just sit at home all day collecting money from the government, Allison works part-time as an electronic transcriber. But Allison has to be really careful about how much money she earns. Because, believe it or not, she could lose money if she works too much. And Allison isn't alone in this predicament. In fact, many blind people throughout this nation are either turning down jobs or discouraged from looking for work at all because it could cost them money. Simply put, blind SSDI beneficiaries can maximize their take-home income by working part-time and collecting SSDI as opposed to working full-time. This is backwards! Blind individuals want to raise expectations for ourselves; we want to be independent, but the system doesn't allow us to do that.
So what will the reform look like? As long as we make our voices heard, it will encompass the Blind Persons Return to Work Act, a piece of proposed legislation that will create a two-for-one phase out of benefits, eliminate the confusing and unhelpful trial work period, and expand work expenses to blind SSDI beneficiaries.Low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our vocational dreams. We want real jobs at real wages. [Applause] We want an SSDI system that encourages us to always work to our full potential. By working together as we have been doing for seventy-five years, we will be heard on Capitol Hill. We will ensure that the TIME Act and the Blind Persons Return to Work Act are signed into law. No one does it like the Federation; no one does it like us. Be on the lookout for emails that will alert you to contact your members of Congress about all of the legislative priorities you've heard about today. Have a great convention, everyone.
by Mary Ellen Jernigan
Shirley Morris passed away on August 10, 2015. An active Federationist for nearly fifty years, Shirley and her husband Don (high school sweethearts who had eloped during their senior year) celebrated their fifty-ninth wedding anniversary earlier in the year. Their life-long partnership was so complete that one rarely thought about "Shirley" or "Don." Rather what came to mind almost invariably was the unit which one thought of simply as "the Morrises." It is difficult to think about Shirley without feeling the warmth of her seemingly ever-present smile.
Shirley joined the Federation in 1968 at the time Don was one of Dr. Jernigan's students at the Iowa Commission for the Blind Adult Orientation and Training Center. Not merely an "accompanying spouse" Shirley quickly became a Federationist in her own right. Many came to know her as the capable manager of convention registration processes and the compassionate problem solver when an individual had troubles—be it a mangled spelling on a name badge, a lost banquet ticket, a lost cane, a lost wallet, or, in many a case, offering comfort to those who felt that they themselves were the "lost item" and were in need of encouragement. At the national convention (in later years often with a grandchild in tow), and at the Maryland state convention, Shirley carried out these tasks with dedication, grace, and that radiant smile for more than thirty years.
A lesser known fact about Shirley is that in the early 1970s when the national office of the Federation was located in the Randolph Hotel Building in Des Moines, Iowa, she more or less single-handedly managed what today we would call the Independence Market and the Materials Center. At that time there were very few sources where a blind person could buy such things as Braille watches, Braille playing cards, measuring devices, and so on, and Dr. Jernigan asked Shirley to help get our program underway and to otherwise manage the operation of that office.
Most often we tend to think about the value of participation in the Federation in terms of what it does in the lives of blind people. Far less frequently do we consider and recognize the very significant gifts all of us—whether blind or sighted—get from the kind of training and life experience the Federation offers. In the case of a sighted Federationist, I am talking about something more than merely having a blind spouse or sighted children who have blind parents or sighted parents who have blind children and the benefits gained by such families in their understanding of blindness.
Shirley gave deep expression to what I am describing in how she dealt with her cancer. Having fully understood and embraced the tenets of the Federation for much of her adult life, she knew the path she would take. So for eighteen years she refused to let cancer be the characteristic that defined her life. She did the things that it made sense for her to do with respect to it, making this or that accommodation in the way she did things as necessary, and then she lived the life she wanted to live. The low expectations of others never came between her and her dreams. She lived with love and joy and hope—radiating those qualities to her family and others in her wide circle of friends and admirers. She combined her very considerable natural attributes of grace and generosity with her Federation training to leave to those of us who loved her a profound legacy for living.
by Angel Ayala
From the Editor: We know that the road to success often begins with a good education, and we know how often this is where a string of failures leading to passivity, low expectations, and a poor self-concept can begin. Not only do we pledge to change that system but to work with those currently in it so that they get what they need to think of themselves as positive and productive human beings.
Angel Ayala is now a freshman in college, but at the time of his presentation he was a newly graduated high school senior. Here is what he has to say about his school experience and the part the National Federation of the Blind has played in helping him to think of himself as someone who can make a difference:
Good morning. My name is Angel Ayala, and I am honored to speak to you about the NFB STEM2U apprenticeship program. But first, I think I should tell you who I am. I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and at the time I was a healthy little boy. Blindness was the last thing on my mother and father’s minds. That all changed when I started to get sick. I was about eight months old, and the doctors were a bit confused as to what was happening to me. The only thing that was clear was that I was losing my vision. Not only were my parents extremely young, but now their firstborn was rapidly losing his vision. I took a battery of tests, and the doctors confirmed that I had a rare form of ligneous conjunctivitis. Soon after my diagnosis my parents moved us to Philadelphia. I have lived in Philadelphia ever since.
After years of checkups, tests, and different doctors, it finally occurred to me that I wasn’t getting my vision back. At first I was depressed. I didn’t think I would be able to be on the same level as my brothers and sisters. I saw them playing outside or inside on the GameCube, and I thought I was less a person, that my lack of sight was what defined me. But I eventually realized that I was wrong.
My mom enrolled me in the Overbrook School for the Blind’s early childhood program, where I started to learn Braille. That was the point at which I realized that I love to learn new things. I loved to challenge the things that I’ve read, and I love to ask questions about the things that I didn’t know. I learned about Louis Braille and Helen Keller, and this gave me the hope that I needed to challenge what I believed was a wall that I could never get past.
Fast-forward five years. I was a troublesome kid when I came to school. I would get my work done, and I was left with nothing to do for the last thirty-five minutes of the class. So I would start to joke around and mess with the other students in my class. I knew it wasn’t helpful to the staff or the students for that matter, but I was bored, and I had nothing else better to do. It was frustrating because I knew what the issue was. I was not challenged. The work was way too easy, but who was I to say that? With no one listening to what I had to say, I was labeled a bad apple, and that was pretty much it.
Two years and many middle school parent-teacher conferences later, I finally felt like someone was taking notice of what the real issue was. My IEP was restructured, and I was placed in a classroom that was challenging. For the first time in years it was great. I was challenged; I got the help I needed; I got the materials I needed to succeed.
But public school came with its own set of battles. The physical education instructor told me that I couldn’t participate in class because she didn’t want me to get hurt. [Moans from the audience] So let me paint this picture for you. There were thirty-five sighted students playing and exercising around me, and if I so much as made a move to do something productive, I got in trouble. Honestly my favorite time was when the teacher got sick. A substitute would come in who didn’t know about the regular rules when it came to me, so I was able to play basketball with my classmates; I was taught to jump rope. I was simply tired of people telling me what I couldn’t do, so I made the extra effort to prove that I could.
My mom gave me the freedom to learn whatever I wanted to do. She let me do things myself. But the independence I enjoyed at home didn’t carry over to my school environment, and that was frustrating. When I started high school, I realized that I was not prepared for the transition like I should’ve been. My O&M skills were severely lacking, and I still had some issues when it came to my visual impairment. Despite feeling unprepared, I took advantage of all the opportunities high school had to offer. I joined the swim team; I began to wrestle; I played goalball, and I did track and field. I also got involved in my community—many community service projects such as the campout for hunger, which is a Thanksgiving canned food drive. It was through community involvement that I ran across the NFB STEM2U apprenticeship program. NFB STEM2U was a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program that focused on the development and mentoring of both elementary and high school students. At the program elementary school students were called juniors, and the high school students—we were called the apprentices. Each program was run in collaboration with a science museum. This past school year the NFB STEM2U program was held in Baltimore, Maryland; Columbus, Ohio; and Boston, Massachusetts. Each program had eight to ten apprentices and twenty juniors. At the program all the students learned a lot of STEM: for example, we learned how to build racecars out of recyclable items and how to assemble circuits to power fans. In addition to learning STEM, the apprentices had another job to do. Our job was to help the younger students, if needed, to make sure they were safe and to help bring them information and knowledge throughout the program.
At the beginning of the school year in September, the apprentices from all the different regions met at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, for the NFB STEM2U Leadership Academy. The objective of this leadership academy was to teach how to be good mentors, role models, and leaders of the younger students. Among other things, we learned how to interact with the juniors and learned the nonvisual techniques for keeping track of kids. We also took time to lay down goals that we wanted to keep in mind during our regional program. We exchanged contact information at the leadership academy because we learned that we would have to have weekly meetings until the program weekend was here so that we could prepare for the activities and get the information that we needed to make a successful program.
We were responsible for completing different tasks in order to prepare ourselves for the regional programs with the juniors. For example, we figured out which students would be with which mentor, and we determined the junior-to-apprentice ratio that would be most helpful. We also planned the opening activities for all the juniors. We spent a lot of time preparing ourselves for the regional program, but we still felt a little uneasy going into it. This was a new role for all of us, and we weren’t sure how it would go.
It was finally time for the Baltimore program, which I had the pleasure to be a part of. I took an Amtrak train for the first time, and others took a plane or two to get to the NFB Jernigan Institute. We got to meet the juniors we were responsible for as well as their parents. We had to show the parents and their children how to get to the different activities. This meant posting mentors in the hallways as marshals to help participants to find their way to meals, lessons, and workshops. That weekend took a lot of teamwork and communication, not only among the mentors, but also between the juniors and the parents. During the Baltimore NFB STEM2U regional program we taught the juniors that “I can’t” is not an option. We taught them to be advocates for themselves. We had to show the juniors that the possibilities are endless and that, if you create a goal and develop ways to reach that goal in order to reach that bigger picture, you will succeed.
The NFB STEM2U program improved my self-confidence in several different areas. It made me realize that with some help I can make a difference in these young juniors’ lives. I didn’t really know how big of an impact I made on the juniors’ lives until a parent of one of the juniors for whom I was responsible reached out to my homeroom teacher and let her know that after the NFB STEM2U, she saw a boost in her son’s willingness to try new things. The mom said that the mentors took a great amount of time and patience with the juniors, and that allowed them to focus on the activities that were provided for the parents that weekend. When I learned what this mom had said about our work, it made me smile. I didn’t know if the lessons we taught that weekend would actually stick over time. This is when I figured out that I could really make a difference.
Another way the NFB STEM2U affected me was my traveling skills. First of all, I had never taken Amtrak. I had taken a plane several times by myself, but I had never taken Amtrak. It was a new experience that encouraged me to travel more and to learn everything I could when it came to O&M. I plan on taking the confidence I have gained from the NFB STEM2U mentorship program with me to community college. I recently was accepted into the honors program, and I want to get my associates degree in music production. But I am extremely scared. I’m starting to second-guess my decision. Music has always been a passion of mine that I have had since I was a young boy, but I don’t want to get a degree that I will do absolutely nothing with. Too many people achieve degrees that they do not end up using. What does this mean? Well, they have a degree, and they also have a huge debt but no way to pay it off. I don’t want to be stuck in that position, but I also don’t know what I can do that would make me happy and also pay the bills. I guess only time will tell.
You all probably know this already, but I want to reinforce what a big impact programs like NFB STEM2U have on everyone who is involved. Children are our future, and in order to make sure that they have the skills they need to succeed, we must start the learning process early in their lives. A Hebrew proverb states, “A child is not a vessel to be filled but a lamp to be lit.” NFB STEM2U has lit many lamps. I hope that we can continue to have programs like NFB STEM2U so that we can reach these children at a younger age. Programs like the NFB STEM2U allow young adults to mentor young juniors, expanding their willingness to learn new things, and I would love to remain involved in programs that help youth. I know that I am not the only apprentice who feels this way. By the time the NFB STEM2U Baltimore program was over, many of the mentors asked if we could do it again. I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed helping the young students, and I know that the other mentors did as well. I’d like to thank the NFB for hosting a program like the NFB STEM2U in order to prepare the youth for the future. I’d also like to thank Natalie Shaheen, Mika Baugh, and Ashley Ritter for being a part of our conference calls every week leading up to the program. Your insight into how to deal with our juniors was very much needed. Thank you to everyone who gave their time instructing both the apprentices and juniors. I believe it took all of us working together in order to make this program work. Thank you to my fellow mentors. There was no way I could’ve done this alone. It took a lot of preparation and teamwork, but because we all pulled our own weight, we were able to give the juniors the tools they will use for the rest of their lives. Thank you to Mr. Mark Riccobono for giving me this opportunity to speak to you about a program that has affected so many people’s lives. Words aren’t enough to show the gratitude that I feel, so I think I will just stick with thank you. If you are thinking about participating in a program involving youth, my advice is to just do it. It is an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thank you.
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:
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by Kannan Pashupathy
From the Editor: Readers of the Braille Monitor will remember that we did an in-depth article about Google in the June 2014 issue. That article began with generally accepted criticisms of productivity tools being offered by Google to state governments, colleges, and universities. It explained how this mass deployment of products would be almost irresistible to those organizations, and therefore Google’s products must meet a higher bar and be accessible since the result would be lesser opportunities for blind people if they could not be used. That article ended with a positive interview featuring Eve Andersson and Kannan Pashupathy. In it they promised many positive changes in Google products, and this report confirms that they are as good as their word and have made major strides in making their products usable by blind people. Here is what Mr. Pashupathy said:
I was really taken by deputy secretary Lu's speech, and frankly I have forgotten what I was going to say. [Laughter] Fortunately I have some written notes here.
A very, very good morning to all of you, and thank you for inviting me to speak at this gathering. When Mark sent a letter to me, he said this was the largest gathering of blind people in the United States and some people said maybe in the world. I heard that you set a record—a Guinness World Record—congratulations on that. [Applause]
As was said, my name is Kannan Pashupathy, and for the last couple of years I have had the pleasure and the honor of leading Google's accessibility efforts globally. I know that you've heard from Alan Eustace in years prior, and Alan decided that we clearly weren't making the kind of progress that we needed to make as a company and asked me to step in and take charge. This has involved ensuring that all our products work well for people of all abilities, creating a culture where designing for accessibility is baked into our DNA and engaging with organizations such as the NFB to make sure that we're meeting and exceeding your needs.
As many other speakers have mentioned, it's particularly a great time to be talking to you here on the important milestone of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the NFB. I also want to congratulate Jim Gashel on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As you all know, his role was pivotal in the creation and the passage of the ADA, and I happened to share a ride with Ray Kurzweil yesterday on the flight over from San Francisco, and he was telling me stories about back then when they used to talk a lot while the passage of the ADA was in progress.
It was two years ago, and I had just taken over this role at Google that I just mentioned. At our very first meeting Dr. Maurer invited me to the convention to experience what you all go through every year here in Orlando. So I came, and boy what an experience it was. I'd never seen anything like this before, so I went back extraordinarily inspired. I was here, of course, to learn: learn about the community, learn about your hopes and aspirations, and learn about how well we were or were not serving the community. My goodness, as I said, it was a great experience along so many different dimensions, and I was so glad to have come.
At the end of that, while I was sitting at the banquet, I resolved that I would not only work hard to make our current products accessible but that we would also undertake to make fundamental changes in the way in which we approach the notion of accessibility right from design to implementation to launch. I vowed that we would make a positive impact on the culture of the company with regard to accessibility.
To do this we started training programs in accessibility for every new engineer, product manager, and user experience designer who joined the company. As you probably know, accessible product design is not something that is taught in universities. This was a big surprise to me—I thought that this would be something that would be part of the standard curriculum in computer science, but it isn't. By the way, this is something that I'm trying to fix on the side.
We also developed programs for engineers who are already in the company and even non-engineers. We have created online courses for developers both inside and outside the company as well and have set each product area of the company on a path to address all of the critical issues, whether they be bugs to fix or features that we needed to develop.
You may not know this, but throughout this entire process we've had regular meetings with the NFB. Throughout this process we were guided by the NFB and in particular Dr. Maurer, Mark [Riccobono] here, Jim, of course, and Anne Taylor, I know is here, who encouraged us when they knew that we were trying our best to make these very large and critical changes at the company. They scolded us when they thought that it was not enough, but, most importantly, I think they inspired us to innovate in this important area, and I really feel privileged to have had a chance to work with such strong advocates for the blind and just such fantastic human beings. So thank you.
As I mentioned, we were also fortunate to have a pioneer and a friend of the NFB, Ray Kurzweil, [applause] as a key advisor to us in our efforts, along with Vint Cerf, who many of you know is often called the father of the internet. Both of these folks are Googlers—my colleagues—and people who kept us honest and played a pivotal role in making sure that what we were attempting to do was not a flash in the pan but built to last.
I recall that when I came two years ago a journalist had written at the time that Google had begun to listen but that listening was not enough and that we would be judged by our actions and our results. [Applause] While I would be the first one to acknowledge that we continue to have a lot to do, and you have my word that we’ll stay on it, I'm proud of the work that we have done so far to make meaningful improvements in our products and innovating across a number of areas to go beyond current notions of accessibility and to have fundamentally changed how Google the company now looks at accessibility. Our teams are passionate, they are driven, they are inspired to do the best for all of you. Some of them were actually here until a couple of days ago—you guys have dueling conventions, so they had to spend part of their time here and go off to the other convention that is also happening this week. I hope that many of you got a chance to meet them. One of them, Astrid, was even working hard over the last couple of days in doing user experience research with many of you on our hangouts and Google cross products. I'm here to tell you that this is only the beginning and that there's a lot more to come, and I hope that one day we will not only have earned your respect but your love of our products and our efforts. [Applause]
The product-related efforts that we're doing at the company are too numerous to mention—I won't bore you, and I believe that you're running a little late, so I'll cut it short. But, let me go through a few things—particularly those where I know you've experienced some positive changes because I've gotten that feedback and also because most of these were prioritized based on input from the NFB. To begin, let me mention the innovations and accessibility improvements in Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, including Braille keyboard input and output on Docs. I know we need to do more work here—lots of improvements coming—but we're really happy to have made the progress we have on that in the last year. We have seen lots of improvement in Google's Chrome OS Operating System (which you may know is the one that runs on our Chromebook laptops) including touchscreen gestures like you would use on a phone, Braille keyboard input, Unified English Braille support, and other features. Roger Benz, who is a blind Google employee who was here earlier in the week, has narrated many “Getting Started with Google Docs” videos that you can take a look at on YouTube. Those are a great way to get started if you haven't had a chance to see all of the improvements that we've made.
In addition, on Android we've worked on features like color inversion to help people with low vision, color correction for people who are colorblind, and something new called Switch Access to help people who have motor impairments actually use the phone effectively. Earlier this year we won the FCC Chairman's Award for advancement in accessibility for our reCAPTCHA improvements. This is one thing Dr. Maurer complained about at the very first meeting I had with him. We're actually going a step further—we've been able to replace most CAPTCHAs with something called no CAPTCHAs. This is where the user just has to hit a checkbox and say "I'm a human; leave me alone." Yes, we did test it with screen readers, and it works.
As Secretary Lu mentioned in recounting the story of the company he saw, we've also been working on various automated and manual and testing tools to allow developers both inside and outside Google to automatically test their software for accessibility issues like missing image descriptors or unlabeled buttons that I know you've been very frustrated about. These tools should really simplify how people develop and test accessibility features in their applications across all of these different platforms that I've mentioned, and these are only some of the improvements that we've made in the past year.
You may have heard that Mark and Jim were at Google I/O, our annual developer’s conference, a few weeks ago. At that meeting Mark inspired a large gathering of developers about why they should be thinking about accessibility early and often and exhorted them to innovate in this space. He even showed us a video of him driving one of the cars, which I believe is a research project that has been going on at NFB for a while. This talk by Mark was done in the context of a larger session on accessibility, where we spoke with developers about how to do a great job of making products fully accessible on all of our platforms. At this event we also launched a very important initiative which was a $20 million grant funding from Google.org, our philanthropic arm, for a first-of-its-kind Google Impact Challenge focused entirely on disabilities. [Applause] This challenge will last a year, and throughout the challenge we will identify, fund, and support nonprofits working to increase access to opportunities for people living with disabilities. We are looking for big ideas here from nonprofits with technology at their core that show serious potential to scale the impact on people around the world who are living with a disability. You can learn more by doing a Google search for Google Impact Challenge. I know the team here at NFB is working on coming up with some great ideas; I'm looking forward to hearing about them soon.
Finally, I was very heartened to hear from Jim just a few minutes ago that you've actually passed resolution seventeen this year, which acknowledges our efforts and improvements that we've made in Google Drive, Docs, Spreadsheets, and Slides. That vote of confidence is a real inspiration for me and our team, and I really thank you for your support in acknowledging that.As I've already said, I know that we have a lot more work to do, particularly on Braille support, and we will continue to work on it; you have my word. With that let me thank the NFB leaders and the members for working with us to make the internet and its vast array of products and benefits fully available to all blind people, and we look forward to a long and continuing partnership in the years to come.
by Maura Healey
From the Editor: Maura Healey is the attorney general of Massachusetts. The National Federation of the Blind has partnered with her in a number of actions which have resulted in significant advancements in access. Her commitment to civil rights and her belief in serving the public is clear. Here are the remarks she made on Friday afternoon, July 10, 2015, following a presentation by Dr. Raymond Kurzweil:
Thank you so much, Mr. President. Good afternoon, everyone. It is great to be here. I'm just reminded, Ray—see I chickened out. I was a government major in college—go figure—I stayed away from all that science, but God bless Ray and all the folks out there who take the time to do that great and important work. That was fascinating.
Happy birthday, NFB! It's so great, and indulge me: I want to give a shout-out to our Massachusetts delegation back there: David, Amy, Mika, and I've got to give a shout-out to Maryland as well. You see, I was born in Bethesda; I spent the first two years of my life in Rockville. And how about that Guinness World Record? That is so impressive: give yourselves a hand! I'm going to tweet that on our site. We're going to blast that out all over Massachusetts, and let everybody know what you did.
I got down here last night late, but I know some of you had to get up really early in the morning to do that, to make that beautiful mosaic, and to make such a bold statement. Live the life you want; you better believe it. Good for all of you; it's just great.
As was mentioned, I worked in the attorney general's office long enough that I actually became the attorney general. I started life as a young lawyer at a big firm after I hung up my basketball shoes. If you were to see me--I'm about five-foot-four; you wouldn't see that one coming--but I was a feisty point guard in college and then ended up playing ball overseas for a few years. So I was always a little bit used to being underestimated most of my life, not being taken seriously on the court, not exactly fitting the profile, not exactly fitting people's expectations. But I, like many of you, came to use that to my advantage. I ultimately decided that basketball wasn't going to be the be-all and end-all for me. At some point my knees were going to give out. So I went to law school, and I went to law school because I wanted to be an advocate; I wanted to help people. I graduated from law school, got some terrific training at a big law firm in private practice, but then followed my heart, left that to join the attorney general's office eight years ago, and had a wild ride to the point where I loved it so much I actually quit that job two years ago to run for attorney general. People thought I was nuts because I wasn't a politician, hadn't run for anything before, but I believed passionately in the power and the possibility of the law and what it could do to change people's lives and make a difference. I'm going to come back to that, because I have to tell you that I would not be attorney general of Massachusetts were it not for the NFB: Were it not for the experience that all of you in this organization taught me about the law and about how you can use it to make a difference. I am just so honored to be here; I am so privileged to be here among all of you.
Flash forward—I won the race last November, and I got sworn in in January. So we're just a few months into the work, but the work of the attorney general's office in this area has been ongoing for many years.
In my time, I want you to know that I have come to know first-hand the value and the power of this organization. I have been wanting to come to Orlando for many years, not to Disney, but to this convention. I've got to tell you: I'm so happy to be here.
So the NFB is unique. You are a remarkable organization with a dedicated staff and incredible leadership. I want to commend President Riccobono and all of your team who put on this wonderful event. It's amazing with over 50,000 members, and chapters and affiliates in all fifty states. You are such a powerful voice for individuals: pushing expectations, breaking barriers, shifting the lens in such important ways—not only to see what is possible but also what is right—what is right and what it should be. Your mission is one that I admire, that I embrace, that I support: education, empowerment, teaching people the tools to live the life that they want. This is so, whether it's ensuring access to housing; employment; transportation; education; equal access in public spaces, both physical and digital; and equal access to quality healthcare.
Now I know that equal access doesn't just happen. It takes thoughtful policy-making, strong advocacy, and aggressive enforcement. But most of all it takes people like you: the members of NFB out there every day, living your lives, telling your stories, and teaching people along the way about what is possible and what is right. The NFB has done that time and time again, from dedicated legal representation to your legislative and regulatory advocacy across this country, to your investment in new technologies and research. The NFB has truly been and continues to be a leader in fighting for equality, for accessibility, and for what is right. [Applause]
But your work goes beyond that. It's about the community that you've built together—it is inspiring. With young and old, with programs, with training, with encouragement of Braille literacy, the NFB-NEWSLINE® talking newspaper and more: in so many ways you are so remarkable.
But enough about the NFB. Let me get back to me for a minute, okay? I'm going to tell you a little story. I'll tell you the story about how I came to know the NFB. In March of 2007 I quit my job in private practice, took a big pay cut, and became chief of the civil rights division in the attorney general's office in Massachusetts—a dream job for me. I was so excited to be there and so excited at the opportunity to use the law to advance civil rights. But I didn't know a whole heck of a lot. I had the passion and the commitment, but I had a lot of education in front of me. I also had a new boss, who had just gotten elected, and we were all sort of feeling one another out.
One day in my office I got a telephone call from a guy named Dan Goldstein; have you heard of him? [Applause] Well, one of my colleagues had given me a little bit of a warning about Dan—in the nicest of ways described him as tough, persistent, the smartest lawyer I'll ever meet, and a real advocate.
I took the call, of course, and I was blown away and at that point began my education—an education that has led me to today. Dan told me a little story about one of his clients, an organization called the NFB. He told me about some of the problems that the NFB was having with a little company called Apple. Now, I'd heard of Apple; I hadn't heard of the NFB. In no time at all, Dan was offering, in his indomitable way, to hop on a plane and bring to Boston a guy named Marc Maurer. I didn't know Marc Maurer, but boy did I come to know Marc Maurer.
A few weeks later Dan, Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, and the terrific folks from Brown, Goldstein, & Levy, accompanied by folks from NFB—let's give it up again for Dr. Maurer [Applause]—how about that? [Chanting of "Dr. Maurer"] Those are better than any cheers I ever heard on any basketball arena—that's pretty good.
So they came to town. They came to Boston, and they told the story about what it was that was happening with regard to Apple. Now I have to say this was a real education. JAWS—I thought Jaws was a movie about sharks; I had no idea what they were talking about. But, as they walked me and the team in the office through the issue, demonstrating the problem with the technology, I quickly realized how Apple products were leaving students and users behind, leaving them in the dust. In the wake of incredibly interesting emerging technology, there was going to be a whole category of people in this country who were going to be left behind. I understood fundamentally as a civil rights lawyer that that was wrong.
But the story continues, and my education continued. I got an invitation from Dr. Maurer to go to Baltimore. I visited the NFB, and I toured the NFB. I went to the Jernigan Institute. I had the privilege of attending the Jacobus tenBroek program—wonderful—and learned so much from those sessions. You know what I also learned? I learned that so much of the civil rights laws and civil rights stories and speeches from people like Dr. Martin Luther King—you know who inspired that? Jacobus tenBroek. That's where so much of that began. That's something that not enough people in America know. But that is the truth, and that is a rich part of the history of this organization.
At some point I figured we had accumulated enough information to be able to go forward, and I can't say enough to you about the lawyers that you have on your staff: Mehgan Sidhu and her folks—just amazing people, and also the folks—the advocates, the lawyers that you have at Brown, Goldstein & Levy. I think they all deserve a great round of applause [Applause] because this took some work. At first when we reached out to Apple, they didn't believe it was true; they didn't think that it was a problem, and they resisted. But the NFB persisted, and ultimately we were able to reach an agreement with Apple to ensure that iTunes and iTunes U would be accessible to blind and print-disabled consumers who depended on screen-reading software. That was groundbreaking, and I so appreciate all that NFB members did to move that forward. Because it took the NFB to show Apple the way.
I remember being in conference rooms with engineers, executives, and lobbyists from Apple who just didn't understand what the issue was. It took NFB members actually demonstrating the technology and the failures—and also the workarounds and the fixes to be able to get this done. It really was remarkable and a huge credit to this organization.
I also remember the first time Apple showed up in our office, and they brought us the very first talking iPod. That was pretty cool, too. Again, all inspired by the effort and the fight of this organization. [Applause]
In this rapidly changing world it is so important that technology not leave anyone behind, particularly when it comes to educational opportunities. I learned how important collaboration is, that it's so important that we work with companies and businesses to make sure that they are incorporating accessibility into their design of software and technology. Otherwise, how else do we fulfill the promises of equal opportunity that the laws require? What this collaboration with Apple also showed me was that we have good laws on the books which promise inclusion and equal opportunity—great words on the page, but they are not self-executing. They require aggressive and creative enforcement, and this is often best accomplished through partnership. At the attorney general's office we are willing and able to bring cases to vindicate these rights. Using our experience with the NFB, we proceeded to go after movie theater chains, look at what they were doing, and ultimately reach agreements with the nation's three largest movie chains to provide more accessibility to persons who are visually impaired, blind, and deaf. [Applause] Because everybody should be able to go to the movies with their friends, their spouses, their loved ones.
In 2013 it was mentioned that we worked with the NFB to reach an agreement with Monster.com, the popular job website. This was important because it is about websites needing to be accessible, but it's also about jobs. I know how serious a problem it is when it comes to underemployment and unemployment in your community, and it's why we need to do things like take on Monster.com.
In addition to agreeing to change the website, I know we worked with NFB to make sure that Monster paid $100,000 to fund the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind's job internship program and to sponsor the NFB's annual convention a few years ago. This case illustrated to Monster and to the business community as a whole that failing to consider accessibility on the front end has significant costs. Every time we bring a case or Dan Goldstein threatens to bring a case, the learning curve for the defendant is one of the biggest challenges. But this is where the NFB comes in—in getting people up to speed. We want every business, every landlord, every municipality to think about accessibility and access up front, on the front end, when making their daily decisions. [Applause] Daily decisions, daily activities: this is about people being able to live their lives the way that they want and exercising what everybody would want to exercise in the regular course of the day. You know, that's what the Cardtronics case was all about. Again, so important: the work that this organization did. Our office was so proud to be able to partner with you on that. The fact of the matter is that so many sighted people take for granted the ability to conveniently withdraw money from ATMs. It was just wrong that for so long those who are blind or visually impaired were shut out from that. I know that we were pleased when the court approved the settlement agreement, when Cardtronics failed to comply that the court then ordered them to comply, and I know how great it was for you all to get that check earlier this week—that's terrific, $1.5 million, terrific!
Look, it would be difficult to overstate for me the important role that disability rights work has played in my career and in shaping the perspective that I now bring to bear as an attorney general. From the NFB I learned about the harm of judgements; the harms of stereotypes; the harm that is incurred when people set expectations that are unfounded, that are misplaced, that are too low. It's why in my office in a few weeks’ time we're going to do something that hasn't been done before and institute office-wide unconscious-and implicit-bias training. I want people who work for me in this public agency to understand unconscious bias, understand something about stereotypes and judgements, and I'm hoping that every agency and everybody in law enforcement and every business in Massachusetts also undergo that same training. From my good friend David Ticchi I learned the importance of educating employees and staff. David, you know, on the side works with one of the leading restaurant chains, Legal Sea Foods, in Massachusetts and teaches all of their new servers and employees about how to best interact and sort of the how-tos of engaging with customers who are blind or visually impaired. Really really important work—something we're also going to do in our office. Because this is about breaking barriers and breaking down stereotypes. It's also important as an office that we listen, that we listen to the stories like we did when we put the cases together with NFB.
We field hundreds of disability rights complaints every year from people across Massachusetts. Often after educating both parties, we've been able to mediate quick and effective resolutions, whether it's handicap parking spaces, staircase railings, restroom grab bars—we help with service animals, with changes to employer policies, and with unlawful terminations. But we wouldn't be able to do this if people didn't come forward and be willing to tell their stories. I encourage you to do that: face injustices head-on, report them to your authorities, and certainly if you're in Massachusetts (though I'll take complaints from anywhere), let your attorney general's office know. Because as attorney general, I am committed to reaching out to other attorney generals across this country. So you may be in another state, but know that I'd be the first to pick up the phone and try to work with an attorney general from another state to get at discrimination and to make things right.
I also know that when education and mediation attempts fail, the power of the law is important. I understand that fundamentally, and I want you to know that that was made clear to me and taught to me by the work that I was able to do with NFB. As Jacobus tenBroek said, "The right to live in the world consists in part of the right to live out of it. The blind, the deaf, the lame, and the otherwise physically disabled have the same right to privacy that others do; not only the right to rent a home or an apartment, public or private housing, but the right to live in it; the right to determine their living arrangement, the conduct of their lives; the right to select their mates, raise their families, and receive due protection in the safe and secure exercise of these rights." Nobody could say it any better, and that's what we strive to put into practice today, day in and day out.
Later this month we're going to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a tremendous law. But make no mistake about it: as we celebrate the anniversary of this landmark civil rights law, it's important not only to reflect on what has happened, but more important that we look ahead at where we still need to go. It's a brilliant law. It provides a brilliant framework for eradicating injustice and discrimination and ensuring equal access to the civic, social, and economic elements of our society. But we need to do more work; more work is ahead. When you look at all the websites that are out there that are still inaccessible, you know we have work to do. When we look at the lack of affordable and accessible housing, you know we have more work to do. When you look at the rates of unemployment and underemployment in this community, we have more work to do. When you look at the low rates of Braille literacy, we know we have more work to do, and that is something that I am committed to talking publicly about in Massachusetts. I want every child to have access to learning Braille at an early age. When we look at what is happening to parents when it comes to parental rights and child custody, we know we have more work to do. And we know we have more work to do when it comes to accessing healthcare. Doctors and hospitals must have the equipment they need to provide appropriate care to all patients, and all patients need to be able to easily access healthcare. This is something that is so important: no person with a disability should ever have to leave his or her dignity at the door or rely on the help of a stranger in order to receive or access necessary medical treatment or care.
So we know we have more work to do. In the area of education, with the infusion of technology into every classroom, we need to make sure that all of the technology that is available is accessible to all students. We cannot continue to allow technology to create a divide among students, and thanks to Ray Kurzweil and others, we know we won't.
I'm committed to advancing an aggressive agenda within my office and beyond on these matters. This is about civil rights. This is about human rights. And all of us benefit when those rights are advanced. Whether we're fighting about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, at the end of the day it is the same.
This morning I woke up and watched and listened to the story that was unfolding in South Carolina with the removal of the Confederate flag. [Applause] I mention that because that's what we're talking about; we're talking about persistent discrimination that exists across so many lines in our country: race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, and the like. But I'm inspired when I see something that I think many of us thought was not possible, and that should give us hope and continued inspiration and also should reaffirm that we are all in this together.Again, I want to thank you for having me here today. Congratulations to the NFB on seventy-five years. Keep up all of the great work that you do. Live the life you want, and let your own imagination be your only limitation.
This month’s recipes are from the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia.
Mama’s Easy No-Yeast Dinner Rolls
by Sandy Streets
Sandy is the secretary/treasurer of the Harrison County Chapter. Sandy is very creative and enjoys doing crafts and crocheting.
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Method: Combine all ingredients. Spoon batter into a greased muffin pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes or until golden brown. Makes five to six rolls.
Easy Potato Soup
by Charlene Smyth
Charlene is the president of the West Virginia affiliate and of the Harrison County Chapter. She has worked for twenty years as an office assistant for the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services. Charlene has a good friend, Tina, to thank for this recipe.
1 bag of frozen hash browns (30- or 32-ounce bag, the round ones, not shredded)
1 32-ounce carton chicken broth
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (not fat-free, but 1/3 less fat is okay)
Bacon bits to taste
Chopped onions to taste
Chopped celery or celery salt to taste
Method: Combine all ingredients in pot. Let cook until potatoes are tender, or throw in the crockpot in the morning. When the potatoes are done, or when you return home, slice up and add cream cheese, let melt. You can top your bowl of soup with shredded cheddar cheese if desired. I always double the recipe, so I use a combination of cream cheese and Cheese Whiz. I like the mix, although you could use Cheese Whiz instead of cream cheese.
Spicy Shrimp and Pasta
by Sheri Koch
Sheri is the president of the Kanawha Valley Chapter and the legislative chairperson for her affiliate.
6 ounces linguine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, slivered
4 mini tri-colored sweet peppers, sliced
12 ounces uncooked small or medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
Method: Cook linguine according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, sauté garlic, onion, and peppers in oil for three minutes. Stir in the shrimp and sauté for three or four minutes. Add tomato juice, tomato sauce, Sriracha and basil. (If using fresh basil, add at the end.) In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and wine until smooth; stir into skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for five or six minutes until shrimp is done and sauce is thickened. Stir drained linguine into sauce. Enjoy! Yields four servings.
by Karen Haught
Karen is the board member for the Sightless Workers’ Guild of Wheeling Chapter as well as executive director for the Seeing Hand Association.
1 pound of rigatoni
1 pound of sage or Italian sausage crumbled
8 ounces of pepperoni
1 quart of favorite marinara, homemade or jarred
2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
Grated parmesan cheese
Method: Preheat oven to 375. Cook pasta in salted water according to al dente time. Brown sausage in a skillet and drain, slightly brown pepperoni in same skillet and drain. Heat sauce together with sausage and pepperoni in skillet. Drain pasta and place in large shallow baking dish. Stir in meat sauce. Mix in half of the cheese and top with the remainder of the cheese. Grate some parmesan on top. Bake uncovered for about half an hour or until slightly browned and bubbly. For variation, add eight ounces of ricotta cheese with the other ingredients--makes it more like lasagna. Get an extra jar of sauce to top with after it is cooked if you like it saucier.
Ed and Karen’s Italian Hash
by Karen McDonald
Karen McDonald is a member-at-large of the West Virginia affiliate. She is the wife of longtime member and first vice president Ed McDonald. She has been a member of the affiliate for over twenty years, and she serves as its state secretary. She is also a musician and a partner in the couple's broadcast production business, EIO Productions.
The McDonalds put this recipe together one evening when they didn't have all the necessary ingredients for the dish they had in mind, and they ended up with a concoction that turned out to be a favorite.
2 pounds ground beef
2 or more onions, depending on size
1 28-ounce can tomatoes or two fourteen-ounce cans
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh garlic
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 box of any kind of macaroni
Method: Brown ground beef, drain. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Grease slow cooker, add all ingredients and cook for three to five hours on high or seven to nine hours on low.
Orange Cream Cupcakes
by Sheena Struble
Sheena has lived in a variety of places including Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and now, fortunately for us, West Virginia. She has a long work history as an executive with AT&T, but is now retired. Sheena is a member of the Kanawha Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia and holds our newly established office, Chef and Cook. We are fortunate to have her aboard.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
10 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
6 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
2 drops red food coloring (optional)
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pans with cupcake liners. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the eggs, granulated sugar, and butter in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes. Reduce the speed to medium low, then add the orange zest, vanilla, and orange extract. Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Then beat in the sour cream and end with the remaining flour mixture. Beat until just combined (do not over mix). Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each muffin cup about two-thirds full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about eighteen minutes. Let cool five minutes; then remove the cupcakes from the muffin tins to a rack to cool completely.Meanwhile, make the frosting. Bring the orange juice to a boil in a saucepan; reduce the heat to medium and simmer until reduced to 1 1/2 tablespoons, about eight minutes. Let cool. Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the butter, a little at a time, until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low; sift the confectioners' sugar into the bowl and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla, the cooled orange syrup, orange extract, orange zest and food coloring and beat on medium speed until combined. Refrigerate if needed until spreadable, about fifteen minutes. Spread the frosting on the cupcakes.
Wilbur Webb Dies:
We are saddened to announce the passing of our longtime leader Wilbur Webb on August 5. Wilbur had been a dedicated Federationist since the New York Affiliate was chartered in 1956. He helped build the Syracuse Chapter and was a staunch advocate for changing lives of the blind.
Wilbur participated in many NAC rallies. He was fond of telling the story of helping carry the NAC coffin through the streets of New York City in the late 1960s. He also helped remove the barriers that prevented blind people from attending college in the SUNY system simply because they could not pass the physical exam which included an eye test. Wilbur was the only person most of us know that actually knew and worked for our founder, Dr. tenBroek. He was instrumental in growing the Federation in New York, and he also went to other states to promote the NFB. He was a pioneer.
He will be missed, but his legacy lives on because his efforts will continue to positively affect the lives of all blind people in New York.
Science and Engineering Division 2015 STEM Conference Scholarship:
The Science and Engineering Division of the National Federation of the Blind is proud to announce that it is now taking applications for the 2015 STEM conference stipend award. All applications must be submitted by December 1, 2015. The award includes up to $2,000 towards attending a technical conference in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The winner of the award will attend a conference and submit receipts to the science division for reimbursement.
The science division is excited to share the accomplishments of blind scientists with other blind people. The science division asks that when submitting receipts the winner also provide an approximately 500 word essay describing the conference experience and what was learned. We will share this information on the science and engineering division listserv. The stipend award also includes up to $500 toward costs of attending the next NFB convention after attending the STEM conference.
The science division would like to send a worthy candidate to a STEM conference of their choosing. The science division also invites the selected candidate to attend the science division meeting and make a ten minute presentation on the candidate's interest in science and what was learned at the conference.
A candidate is eligible if he or she is legally blind and attending a full time college or graduate program in a STEM field in the US in the fall of 2015. A candidate is also eligible if he or she is legally blind and has received a bachelors or graduate degree in a STEM field in the spring of 2013 or later and is currently living in the US. The science division welcomes both blind students that are working toward a STEM degree and blind new STEM professionals to apply. Email your application to John Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. The application should include: proof of legal blindness, college transcripts, a personal essay, and a contact phone number. The personal essay should be no more than 500 words, describe your interest in science, and describe the blindness techniques you use in performing scientific work. The essay should also list the conference you wish to attend and the dates of the conference. If you do not know the exact conference at the time of application, then please describe the field of the conference and some candidate conferences that you are considering. You need not present at the conference in order to receive the STEM conference stipend.
As part of the application process the science division may contact you to discuss your application. The STEM stipend will be awarded by January 15, 2015. The STEM stipend is a great opportunity for personal growth in a field of science.
Buffalo Chapter Elections:
The National Federation of the Blind of New York, Buffalo Chapter, held its elections in May. Elected are Michael P. Robinson, President; Christian Minkler, vice president; Margo Downey, secretary; Jessica Snyder, treasurer; and board members Julie Phillipson; Angie Robinson; and Linda Kaminski.
Web Accessibility Training Day:
The National Federation of the Blind Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Commerce, Public Information, and Education (CENA) and the Maryland Technology Assistance Program are proud to announce that we will be hosting another Web Accessibility Training Day on November 4, 2015.
This year we are expanding both the technical and the policy tracks to pack more content that fits your needs into the day. Whether you are wondering how to implement accessibility in education, curious about the Section 508 update, or wanting to learn more about how to test for web accessibility, we’ve got you covered.
The registration fee will be $100, and the event will be held at the NFB Jernigan Institute at 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230
For more information, please visit <https://nfb.org/web-accessibility-day>, or contact Clara Van Gerven at <email@example.com>.
Come learn with us!
If you would like a print autographed copy of Jerry Whittle’s baseball romance, Slingshot, or his novel, Standing with Better Angels, about a blind minister who works in the New Orleans’ French Quarter, please send a check or money order for $20 (includes shipping) to 506 University Blvd., Ruston, LA 71270. These and other books by Jerry are available as Kindle editions at <www.amazon.com>. Ten percent of sales are donated to the NFB.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
The 2016 Ski for Light International Week:
The forty-first annual Ski for Light (SFL) International Week will take place from Sunday, January 24 through Saturday, January 30, 2016. Note that the traditional Sunday to Sunday SFL week has been shortened by one day to a Sunday to Saturday event for 2016.
The 2016 Ski for Light event will take place in Northwest Lower Michigan on the grounds of Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire, Michigan. Located just forty-five minutes from the Traverse City airport, Shanty Creek Resorts is a 4,500 acre complex containing three housing and entertainment villages, both cross-country and downhill ski trails, a tubing hill, several swimming pools and hot tubs, a fitness center and spa, and much more.
Applications are requested by November 1. Late applications can only be considered on a space-available basis. Full details about the event and the accessible online application, which can be completed on the Ski for Light website, can be found at <www.sfl.org/event>.
If you are a novice and want to learn how to cross-country ski, or if you have skied before and just want to be matched with an experienced guide and meet new friends for a wonderful week of fun in the snow, this is the event for you!
In addition to finding more details on the SFL website, information about the event can be obtained by contacting Bob Hartt at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
A Message of Hope from Unity:
Unity Message of Hope® is an outreach program sharing the assurance of God’s love and grace by providing free spiritual materials to a variety of audiences including individuals who are visually impaired. The program provides a virtual library of downloadable Braille (.brf file) Unity publications, available free of charge and accessible on a computer with Braille translation software, Braille notetaker, or digital talking book player. For more information visit <www.unity.org/Braille>, call Message of Hope toll-free at (866) 421-3066, or email us at <email@example.com>.
Envision Seeking Blind Employees:
Envision is proud to be a leading employer of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. At Envision we focus on ability, not disability. Each Envision employee comes to work driven by a sense of purpose in what they do, and they see their purpose in action through the employment opportunities, programs, and services which their work with Envision helps fuel. Each Envision employee has different roles and responsibilities, but everyone works toward the same mission: to improve the quality of life and provide inspiration for the blind and visually impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education, and research.
For more information or to apply for an open position, please visit us at <www.envisionus.com/careers>. We look forward to hearing from you.
Donations Needed for Bangladesh Library:
The Louis Braille Memorial Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides free services for all ages of blind, deaf, deaf-blind, and other physically handicapped people in Bangladesh. They are looking for donations of any used Braille materials, print books, large print books, magazines, or journals of any type, including religious materials. They are also looking for white canes, talking watches, talking calculators, Perkins Braillers, Braille writing paper, Braille slates and boards, laptops, computers, printer paper, or a copy machine.
Donations can be mailed through the post office with “Free Matter For the Blind and Physically Handicapped” on the label. Ship to: Ms. Afroza Mili, Librarian, Louis Braille Memorial Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Plot # 11/1 Road # 06 Block # E Section # 12 Pallabi, Mirpur Dhaka-1216 Bangladesh. Example label below:
DONATION OF BOOK AND EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS FOR THE BLIND AND HANDICAPPED