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Braille Monitor

Vol. 58, No. 11                              December 2015

Gary Wunder, Editor

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

The National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

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

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

        ISSN 0006-8829


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Contents

Vol. 58, No. 11                                       December 2015

Illustration: Opening Museums to the Blind

Convention Bulletin 2016

Building from the Outside In
by Barbara Pierce

A Cry for Unity in Creating Textbooks for the Blind
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

Protecting the Bonds of Love: Progress in Defending Our Right to Parent
by Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum

The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act
by Gabe Cazares

The Rights of Guide Dog Owners in British Columbia under Attack
by Mary Ellen Gabias

Longtime NFB Member Gives Leadership Service in Her Religious Congregation
by Gary Wunder

And the Winner is . . . ?
by Andrea Jenkins

On Structured Discovery
by Jeffrey T. Altman

Bringing Hope to Hope
by Rick Reed

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2016
by Parnell Diggs

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
by James Gashel

My Adventurous Commute to Work
by Syed Yousufuddin

The 2016 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by Edward Bell

Ladder Desk—A Creation Story
by Joe Schissler

The 2016 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award
by Carla McQuillan

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

 

Copyright 2015 by the National Federation of the Blind

Opening Museums to the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind, in partnership with museums and science centers, continues to facilitate regional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. NFB STEM2U is an extension of the NFB ’s National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative in local communities. This program expands on the exciting and innovative work conducted by the National Federation of the Blind in the area of informal STEM education through previous National Center for Blind Youth in Science programs such as the NFB Youth Slam, NFB Project Innovation, and NFB STEM-X. NFB STEM2U participants will have the opportunity to engage in accessible STEM learning at some of the country’s largest museums and science centers. Students will also have the opportunity to provide feedback to staff and educators about how the museum could better meet their nonvisual learning needs. In this way, participants will act as both learners and teachers. In the NFB STEM2U learning community, there is an understanding that no one person has all of the answers, but together we can overcome any barrier that we may encounter. 

Convention Bulletin 2016
Rosen Shingle Creek Resort

It is time to begin planning for the 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We will again meet in Orlando, this year returning to the beautiful Rosen Shingle Creek Resort where our national convention was held in 2011. The dates for the 2016 convention are June 30 through July 5.

Our hotel rates are enviably competitive for a resort hotel such as Shingle Creek. For the 2016 convention they are singles and doubles, $83; and for triples and quads, $89. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.

For 2016 convention room reservations you can call the hotel at (866) 996-6338 after January 1. You may also write directly to the Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. The hotel will want a deposit of $95 for each room and will want a credit card number or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $95 check. If a reservation is cancelled before Friday, May 27, 2016, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

All Rosen Shingle Creek guestrooms feature amenities that include plush Creek Sleeper beds, 40" flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed internet capabilities, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and hair dryers. Guests can enjoy four outdoor swimming pools, a full-service spa, and fifteen dining/lounging options from fine-dining and elaborate buffets to casual dining both indoors and poolside.

The 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Thursday, June 30, and adjournment will be Tuesday, July 5, following the banquet. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up for those who preregistered will begin on Friday, July 1, and both Friday and Saturday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Saturday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

General convention sessions will begin on Sunday, July 3, and continue through the banquet on Tuesday, July 5. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Sherri Brun, 1719 Baldwin Drive, Orlando, Florida 32806; phone (407) 898-6024.

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2016 national convention. We'll see you in Orlando in July.

Building from the Outside In

by Barbara Pierce

From the Editor: Barbara Pierce is a person who needs no introduction to readers of the Braille Monitor. Even so, I owe her so much for teaching me some of the rules of grammar I understand that I dare not short her an introduction.

Barbara is the mother of three, who lives with her husband Bob in Oberlin, Ohio. She is an accomplished woman who worked for Oberlin College and later as the longest-serving editor of the Braille Monitor, the flagship publication of the National Federation of the Blind and the largest circulation magazine in the field of blindness.

Barbara did not begin with good techniques or role models who could help her learn about blindness, but she took good advice where she found it, learned to work hard and make the most of what she had, and was receptive enough to take in outside information that would eventually lead to the confident, committed, and philosophically sound woman who has guided many blind people to lives of progress and independence. Here is her story:

I was twenty-nine before I learned anything about the National Federation of the Blind. But when I began reading Kenneth Jernigan's speeches, I felt that I had come home. I knew immediately that I was where I belonged, fighting for the rights of my brothers and sisters and reconsidering the limitations that I had set for myself.

I had been legally blind all of my life, though I had been gradually losing sight through my childhood. My parents made the mistake that many parents of blind children make. When I entered school, I could read the print in the first-grade primer. I read with one eye and needed bright light to decode the words one at a time. But because I could make out the text, they rejected the idea of sending me to the school for the blind across town. They preferred to work with me at home while sending me to my neighborhood school.

I struggled with that print. As the years went by, the print got smaller, the pictures were fewer, and the other students got the hang of reading better. All these things resulted in my losing ground as a reader. I thought I was getting dumber. It never occurred to me that I was losing vision and working at a greater and greater disadvantage. I was fitted with an expensive lens for my good eye, and that certainly made it possible for me to read for a year or so longer.

But gradually my teachers and I worked out a series of accommodations that allowed me to avoid reading. They recognized, though I did not, that I was bright and that it was unfair to hold me back at my reading level. My parents gradually assumed the responsibility of reading my history, geography, and science assignments to me. They wrote down the answers to my arithmetic work, which I did in my head. In reading class I was paired with a bright child, who would read the assignment and then write down my answers after she had finished writing her own. Working with me became a reward to other smart kids. It was a crazy way to acquire an education, but it seemed to work.

My parents were adamant that I would do all the work that other students did, and they made sure that my teachers kept me honest. But there was never any talk of teaching me Braille or expecting me to do the reading assignments myself. This was before the days of recorded textbooks or cassette players to record answers. I deeply regret the decision to avoid Braille, but I count myself lucky that we were not tempted to cut corners on homework or group assignments. My friends and I worked out ways in which I could carry my share of the responsibility. I was not much good at art work or coloring in figures on murals, but I could do research and come up with ideas of what to draw.

In elementary school I did not realize that I was smart. I got C's and, in one grim reporting period, a D. That was in penmanship. The C's were in art and gym. These teachers had no idea what to do with me, and they certainly got no help from school or rehabilitation officials, so they graded me according to what they expected of all their students.

Seventh grade was an awakening for me. Penmanship dropped out of the curriculum. The art teacher liked me and concentrated on finding projects that I could actually do. The gym teacher worked to involve me in the activities, and I think she was pressured into giving me good grades for trying. In any case, I opened my first report card that fall to discover that I had straight A's. I was stunned. My parents paid a teacher that year to teach me to type. The summer after seventh grade I traveled downtown to learn Braille, and I mastered almost the entire code before school began in the fall.

This turned out to be another missed opportunity. I was told to read a lot of Braille, and my father even bought me a subscription to the Reader's Digest in order to provide me with interesting material to read in Braille. But I didn't really understand the importance of practicing. I knew only that my Braille teacher was not a rapid Braille reader. She told me that her husband was really fast, but I don't think I believed her. I did not understand that it takes time to sharpen the sensitivity of one's fingertips and that, if I would just practice, I could read Braille as rapidly as my friends were reading print. I was given heavy oak tag [oak tag is the type of paper used to make file folders, also commonly called manila tag] as Braille paper and told to use a slate and stylus to take notes in school. This was exhausting to use even after I had formed calluses. The result was that I used Braille enough to keep the code fresh in my mind, but not enough to become proficient. My junior year I finished learning the Braille code.

My senior year I took physics. The school system went to great expense to have my physics textbook transcribed into Braille for me. No one considered that the Nemeth Braille code used for writing mathematical equations was completely foreign to me and therefore unintelligible and that physics was not designed to inspire me to keep reading Braille. It would take me ten to fifteen minutes to read a Braille page, and reading assignments were twenty to thirty pages long. It is not surprising that I found it easier to have my parents, my brother, or my boyfriend read the text to me.

That was also the year that I had sixteen lessons in how to use the long white cane. By this time my vision was poor enough that I really could not travel independently. I had been depending on friends to help me find my classrooms for several years. I was excited at the prospect of independent travel. The problem was that the lessons were postponed because the cane that was made for me to use was given to a blind professional in the city who needed it to travel in his job. I understood about this delay, but I have always wondered how I would have felt about those cane lessons if they had begun when I was excited about them.

While I was waiting for them to begin, I became aware that my mother was deeply distressed about the prospect of having me wandering around the community using a white cane. It was a combination of worry about my safety and embarrassment at having me identified as blind. I know now that, to be successful at mastering the white cane, one must use it all day, every day for months. Ideally the teacher should be a person who has great confidence in the efficacy of this mode of travel. The state gave me two two-hour lessons a week for eight weeks. I arrived home after each lesson to find my mother in bed with a sick headache because of her fear for my safety. I got very good at hiding my cane and smuggling it out of the house when I had to take it to school. It never occurred to me to use the cane any time but during my lesson. It was remarkable that I did as well as I did with the cane.

I was looking at colleges during this time, and I had fallen in love with Oberlin College in northeast Ohio. I was accepted early decision, so I knew halfway through my senior year where I would be going to school. How I would do the work and get around the campus was not anything that I remember worrying about.

That summer the state of Pennsylvania arranged for me to talk with a blind counselor who worked for the rehabilitation agency to ask him any questions that I had about college. I remember only one question and answer. I asked him what his advice was about using the long white cane. My cane was made of aluminum. It had a crook covered with leather at the top, and it came to my diaphragm. I hated that cane. I felt that people were staring at me when I used it, and I was not confident with it. Unfortunately he had a definite opinion, and it was about the worst advice I could have received. He recommended that I ditch that long cane and replace it with a folding cane, which did not need to be anywhere near that long. A folding cane, he assured me, need come only to my waist. That advice made no sense. If you need length to know what is in front of you when you are using a long white cane, you need it to provide the same information when you are using a folding cane. I did not stop to consider this obviously fallacious reasoning. He was telling me what I wanted to hear: you can fold up your blindness and put it away the minute you find a sighted person to hang on to. I was delighted. I don't think I even took my long cane to college with me. I got a short folding cane, and I considered that I was good to go.

I went to college in the middle of September. I had been assigned a single room because, they explained to me, they did not want me to become dependent on a roommate. I was very disappointed at this news, but I am sure that they were absolutely right. We arrived on a sunny day, and I unpacked and became acquainted with the women in my section and my junior residents. My father described the streets around my dorm, and then it was time for my parents to leave.

I was alone. I knew no one on campus. I did not know much about the geography of the college, and I had done my academic work depending on my parents, who were on their way home. I sat down in a panic. I decided that the only way I could survive was to pretend that I knew what I was doing. I would have to be honest about what I needed in the way of information, and I would have to pretend that I was completely comfortable talking about my blindness. One of my junior residents worked with me to learn the geography of the campus. I began recruiting readers for my various courses. I decided that I could not cope with the heavy Braille paper. Instead I would get the same spiral notebooks that everyone else used and write Braille notes in those. This meant that the Braille was easily squashed. I knew that my Braille was inaccurate enough that I had to come back from lectures and transcribe my notes onto open-reel tape so that I would have an audible record of my notes. This had the added benefit of making me review the notes while they were fresh in my mind and while I could straighten out any confusion that I had been left with in class. These notes became a hot item in my dorm after people noticed that I was making A's on my exams. They would borrow my notes after I went to bed the night before the test.

That first semester was not easy. It was exhausting to pretend all day every day that I was happy and in control of my life and work. I made some wonderful friends who went out of their way to assist me and help me learn my way around campus. One of them even taught me how to knit, which was a wonderful outlet. I felt like a hypocrite much of the time. But gradually I discovered that I was crying less, that I was managing to supervise my reader pool efficiently, and that I was picking up my short cane and getting myself independently to class and meetings of the organizations I had joined.

I was not at ease traveling, and I certainly was not a fast Braille reader or writer, but I made those tools work. I was not a well-adjusted blind person, but I was successfully pretending to be one. It was not a great solution, but it worked well enough to get me through.

I completed college and married one of my professors. We settled in Oberlin, where we have lived for the past forty-seven years. When I was a young wife and mother, I found that my old trick of building from the outside in still worked. I could still not read Braille well, but I had Braille recipes and cookbooks. I was not a comfortable traveler, but I could use a cane well enough to get my children and me to piano lessons, the dentist, and the doctor. That was my attitude and outlook at the time when I found the Federation. The NFB finished the job of making me a complete person. I met people who could read Braille flawlessly and rapidly. They traveled where and when they wanted to and didn't think anything of it. I suddenly understood that confidence was all that I had been lacking. By the grace of God I had obtained the skills that I needed to live a full and satisfying life, though my cane needed to grow, and I needed to learn to trust it and the information it gave me. I have discovered like thousands before me that you must acquire the skills to give you competence, and you must learn to claim your freedom even when you are unsure of yourself if you are to become confident. It is all well and good to build from the ground up if you have the support and expertise to do so, but it also works to build from the outside in, as if you were pouring concrete. When you take the form away, you are left with a strong and solid creation.

A Cry for Unity in Creating Textbooks for the Blind

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

From the Editor: Carlton Anne Cook Walker is the manager of Braille education programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. In this capacity she writes to express the concern of the National Federation of the Blind about the lack of standardization in the states in mathematics textbooks. Here is how she recounts the issue of the Unified English Braille Code and the Nemeth Code:

As you may know, Unified English Braille (UEB) is set to replace the current literary Braille code (EBAE—English Braille, American Edition) on January 4, 2016. The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) resolved to take this action but to retain Nemeth Code for all Mathematics and Science-related texts. BANA has not wavered from this position, as evidenced by its publications on this matter in 2012, 2013, and 2014. This course of action was most recently approved by the National Federation of the Blind in Resolution 2015-29. The American Council of the Blind also passed a resolution in 2012 supporting UEB only if Nemeth Code is retained.

As the January 4, 2016, deadline approaches, the change from EBAE to UEB Braille in the literary context has proceeded rather smoothly. While some have expressed regret at one or more of the nine contractions eliminated in UEB, the transition to UEB for literary documents is a relatively minor one. Many believed that updating Nemeth Code to include UEB rather than EBAE for its literary content would present the same orderly and nationally-cohesive transition. Unfortunately, this was not to be so.

At some point in the process, a few individuals began advocating for the complete abandonment of Nemeth Code in favor of “UEB Maths” contrary to the wishes of both blind consumer groups in this country and counter to the unwavering guidance from BANA. By way of background, “UEB Maths” is a term (used in “All UEB” countries, by the way) which refers to the numbers and mathematical operations included in UEB. Please note that UEB Maths uses raised (literary) numbers only. This use of numbers in the upper portion of the Braille cell creates the need for numerous and duplicative number indicators and letter indicators in many mathematical equations.

Unfortunately, some states have taken the position of the “All UEB” abandonment of Nemeth Code splinter group under advisement—despite clear opposition to such a plan by the NFB and the ACB and despite BANA’s position on this matter. In response to the movement to remove Nemeth Code and use only UEB for all literary, mathematical, and science purposes, the NFB membership adopted Resolution Number 2015-29 at the 2015 NFB Annual Convention in Florida. This Resolution (1) urges state departments of education across the United States to follow the BANA guidelines regarding the use of Nemeth Code for mathematical documents and (2) urges BANA to clarify that, "Braille code standards are not set by individual states,” and, “to indicate unequivocally that the Nemeth Code, with the guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, is the standard for mathematics Braille in the United States.” I urge you to again review Resolution 2015-29, for it sets forth the issue of concern in a clear, logical, and concise manner.

On August 24, 2015, NFB President Mark Riccobono sent a letter to each department of education in every state. In his letter, President Riccobono sets forth the issues involved with this matter and provides guidance to the educational professionals, “The differences between the presentation of mathematics in Nemeth Code and math using UEB symbols are so fundamental that a blind child moving to a state with a different math standard could find his or her math books and tests inaccessible even though they are in Braille.” President Riccobono urges each state’s department of education, “to eliminate needless confusion and unnecessary cost by using the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, with BANA's guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, as the standard for math Braille.” A companion article, “Talking Points,” sets forth a brief history leading up to the current situation. “Talking Points” contains links to the referenced files.

A May 2006 Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB) article, “Studies of Braille Reading Rates and Implications for the Unified English Braille Code” reports, “the mathematical computational format, algebra, and calculus were 21 percent to 54 percent longer in UEBC, linear arithmetic was only 1 percent longer, and computer code samples were 1 percent longer to 4.5 percent shorter.” As noted in the article, this significant increase in the length of equations in the higher-level math areas of mathematical computational equations, algebra, and calculus cause grave concern about the potential negative impact upon Braille readers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. “Nemeth Code’s use of lower cell numbers allows the upper part of the Braille cell to be used for mathematical functions, critical to the overall successful use of the code for mathematics,” observed Dr. Cary Supalo in a presentation at the Spring Meeting of BANA on April 28, 2012.

“UEB versus Nemeth States” lists the public positions taken by various states with regard to plans regarding the implementation of UEB and how it impacts Nemeth Code. At this point, fourteen states (California, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) have indicated that they will follow BANA’s guidance to retain Nemeth Code. Two states (North Carolina and Utah) have indicated that the state will go the “All UEB” route, but students who request Nemeth materials will still be provided these materials, and only one state (Massachusetts) has declared that it plans to completely eliminate Nemeth Code from its training, instruction, and curricular materials. One state, South Dakota, has indicated that it will fully support both Nemeth Code and the “All UEB” option, while three states (Kansas, North Dakota, and Wyoming) have declared that the “Nemeth Code or “All UEB” question will be decided on a piecemeal, local level by each school district.

To date, the majority of the states have not taken a final position on this matter. However, many of these states have disseminated proposals regarding whether they plan to follow BANA’s guidance on retaining the Nemeth Code. We are hearing that NFB affiliates have not been contacted in many states even though other non-consumer stakeholders have received information about these proposals.

Please contact your state Department of Education regarding this matter. Please review the enclosed materials (particularly the “Talking Points”), and advocate for the retention of Nemeth Code for blind students now and in the future. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Carlton Anne Cook Walker, manager of Braille education programs, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, extension 2225, or at <cwalker@nfb.org>.

Talking Points Regarding UEB Math Versus Nemeth Issues

Current BANA Guidance on the Issue

NFB Position on the matter

ACB Position on the matter

States going “rogue” can only hurt students.

Switching to UEB Math will be duplicative and expensive.

Currently, all math and science materials are in Nemeth Code.

Adding UEB Math will erect barriers to relocation within the United States.

Families needing to move to or from different states for economic or security reasons risk putting their children behind in math due to the need to learn a new Braille math code.

There is no reason to set up a system that will automatically place Braille readers at an academic disadvantage upon relocation.

Teachers of Students with Blindness/Visual Impairment will have LESS time to instruct children

Rogue, “All UEB” state colleges and universities would be forced to choose between following the national BANA Nemeth model or taking the “all UEB” detour.

“All UEB” state high school and college graduates will be ill-prepared to enter the post-secondary workforce in any STEM field due to what will become their lack of Nemeth Code knowledge.

Abandoning Nemeth Code will create a problem with accessible math textbooks. All current math textbooks have been produced in Nemeth Code.

NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Access Center) would need to maintain two sets of each math and science textbook, one in Nemeth Code and one in “all UEB.”

There is no certification for “all UEB” transcription in the US.

Poor quality textbooks violate FAPE and place school districts at risk for litigation based upon the poor quality of textbooks Braille readers receive.

Protecting the Bonds of Love: Progress in Defending Our Right to Parent

by Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum

From the Editor: Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum is one of the most tenacious, committed, and articulate attorneys in the country when it comes to issues of parental rights for people who are blind. We are blessed to have her as one of the people who work on our cases from Brown, Goldstein & Levy. Here is what she said on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 8, 2015, at the seventy-fifth annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind:

Good afternoon, proud and dedicated members of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you, President Riccobono and Dr. Maurer, for giving me the honor of speaking to this incredible audience. I feel passionate about the issue that I will be talking about and saddened and angry about what I have seen. I speak to you today from the perspective of an attorney and a parent.

Let me start by saying that I am tired of hearing judges, caseworkers, psychologists, and lawyers ask whether my client is capable of taking care of his child merely because he is blind. This question is loaded with societal biases and incorrect assumptions regarding the capabilities of blind people. Those asking this question generally hold a tremendous amount of power and are wreaking havoc on blind parents and their children. When this question is asked and discriminatory decisions are made without any underlying factual basis, we have no choice but to push back on every possible front, including legal advocacy in the courtroom, legislative initiatives in our state capitols, in Congress, and continuous education with state government executives and the judiciary leadership.

It should not surprise you when I tell you there is a constitutional right for parents to be able to raise their own children. Although at times this fundamental liberty interest must be balanced against the health and safety of a child, a parent with a disability should never be deprived of her child because of her disability. Sadly, too many times this has been the outcome. Let me tell you about some of the people I have had the privilege of representing because of the advocacy efforts of the NFB.

My client was a young single mom with two children. Life was difficult for my client, but not because she was blind. When she found herself struggling, she contacted her local department of social services for assistance. She thought this was a good idea, and many people might have agreed with her at the time. Although the department initially provided her with the support she asked for, the worker assigned to her case could not fathom how this blind mother could take care of her two young children by herself. The caseworker grilled my client with question after question about how she could be certain that her children would be safe. These questions put my client totally on the defensive and ultimately resulted in her young children living in foster care for two very long and painful years. Those with the power could not conceive of how my client could take care of her children.

Thanks to the NFB and the advocacy and education that we provided to the caseworkers, lawyers, and judge, these two beautiful children are back with their mom, but only after hundreds of hours of visits where a sighted supervisor was watching my client's every move and scoring her on her parenting abilities. Had I as a young parent had someone watching me every time I bathed my children, prepared their meals, played with them, and put them to sleep and then scrutinized how I did each of these tasks with a scorecard and expected me to perform with complete perfection, I could never have passed this impossible test. But this became the expectation and requirement of those who held the power. Although this mother is strong and her children are thriving now, the painful absence of her children for those two years will always be a cruel memory.

My client Pedro wanted his three-year-old daughter to come and live with him after her mother could no longer take care of her. The department of social services had to decide whether the child could move out of state to live with her dad. As is the case for any child involved in the social service system, a caseworker was asked to do a home study of Pedro's apartment. The caseworker's report was glowing. She described Pedro's excellent skills in housekeeping and his complete independence as a professional; she highlighted his superb blindness skills in mobility and use of technology. As I read the detailed report, I thought, how refreshing that the biases that one generally sees are not here, that is, until I got to the last paragraph of the home study report. The caseworker concludes her glowing report with something close to the following: because this father is blind, his young daughter will not be able to articulate whether she is being abused—therefore, placement denied.

Pedro was furious and called the NFB; he spoke to Dr. M, who then called me. It took several months of legal advocacy to convince the department that its report was discriminatory and must be changed. Finally, they sent the same caseworker back for another home visit. Her second report was identical, word for word, with one change—the worker deleted the last sentence about the three-year-old not being able to report abuse and instead wrote—placement approved.

Pedro's beautiful little one now lives with her father. Pedro is here in this hall and looks forward to meeting you this week at his first NFB convention. Pedro: could you please stand up so that we can salute your advocacy and determination to make a home for your little girl and stand up for your rights as a parent; could you stand up?

Let me also tell you about another client and the infuriating and discriminatory actions that are taking place as I stand here today. In a private custody battle, a judge for the past fourteen months has allowed my client (a blind father) to be with his two little children only if there is a sighted person present. There is no factual basis for this requirement. It is based only on the judge's fear that somehow it would not be safe for the children to be alone with their dad without a sighted person present. This requirement is incredibly insulting and demeaning, is unnecessarily expensive, and serves to limit his time with his children when he cannot find someone to be present. We are vigorously fighting this requirement, but the legal system moves slowly and, in these types of cases, very unfairly.

And all of you know about the family in Missouri whose baby was taken from them at birth because people did not think this blind couple could parent their infant safely. And what led to this: a hospital employee who thought that the mom was having difficulty breastfeeding her newborn. How could this be? I personally remember crying all night long in the hospital the first time I tried to breastfeed my first child. No one called in protective services for this sighted mom; instead they brought in people to help me. Our friends in Missouri instead were told that either they needed to have 24/7 care at home or the child would have to go to foster care. That's what happened for some fifty-seven days until advocates could convince the authorities that this injustice had to stop.

It is my goal to help change the culture so that, when I walk into a meeting with government officials with a blind mom or into a courtroom with a blind dad, those in charge are not focused on the question of how is this possible but rather the truth—that blind parents can parent as well or better than anyone else.

My clients have reminded me that all parents rely on some support system to provide for their children effectively. If I ever thought that I had raised my children without the support of an army of others, I would be fooling myself. Part of the education that judges and caseworkers need is a reminder of this truth. An occupational therapist from an organization called Through the Looking Glass often reminds me that it is imperative that a parent's capabilities be considered in the context of the supports he or she uses and that there is absolutely nothing wrong if a parent chooses to have supports in place to do certain parenting tasks. All that should matter is that the parent is able with or without supports to provide what the children need. The problem is when others decide what one needs. It is appalling that someone else can decide when a blind parent needs sighted assistance.

The NFB has put together some incredibly valuable documents and videos that I have been providing to courts, caseworkers, and forensic evaluators. The publication Parents without Sight and President Riccobono's video about a day at the playground with his two little girls are impressive and incredibly helpful, but I ask you to create more. I need to be able to show how blind parents work with their children on homework, how blind parents measure out medicine when their children are sick, how you change diapers or travel on a city subway with your kids, and how you and your children do all the day-to-day fun things that you do every day. I need to show how you drop your kids off at day care and what you do in your jobs. I know it may sound lousy or even insulting for me to ask for this, but it is the best way to help educate those who are asking these questions. And this time you can control what people think about your capabilities.

There are a number of reasons why these cases are so difficult and why we must fight the current situation on several fronts. A large majority of states expressly permit disability to be considered when determining whether parental rights should be terminated. Unfortunately, in many cases the focus of the statute is the disability rather than the behavior or actions of the parent. It is up to the advocates to ensure that those proposing termination have the burden of proving that there is actual harm or a substantial risk of harm to the health and safety of the child because of the parent's actions before termination can occur. It is also critical to make sure that any determination must take into account a parent's abilities, with the adaptive services and support services he or she uses.

In child custody disputes courts must make decisions based on the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, many state laws permit the mental and physical health of a parent to be used as a proper factor to consider when determining custody without also demanding a showing of harm to the child because custody is denied.

And, when it comes to state agencies that have the responsibility of ensuring that every effort is made to maintain children with their parents, we must push hard to make sure that a parent's disability does not diminish these efforts. The Department of Justice recently issued a findings letter against the Massachusetts Department of Social Services where it said that the department violated the ADA because it failed to provide assistance to a parent with a disability to help her keep her child—something that the agency readily does for parents without a disability. Contrary to this recent DOJ letter, however, courts have routinely held that termination proceedings are not governed by the ADA, and, similarly, nor are private custody matters. Notwithstanding, I believe that the ADA can be a valuable lever with which to push state agencies and perhaps even judges to support rather than hinder the rights of parents with disabilities.

The American Psychological Association seems to understand the biases that are contributing to the injustices that we see. This national organization has issued guidelines that call for psychologists to remain aware of their own and others' biases when completing evaluations. The guidelines remind evaluators to recognize that people with disabilities have a right to a family and that many adults with various disabilities can and do effectively parent children.

The guidelines also recognize that a functional evaluation is critical because it ensures that the accommodations the person uses in his or her daily life are understood as part of the evaluation. Just last week we sent these guidelines to a court-appointed forensic evaluator who obviously had not done any of her homework before interviewing my blind client. Her questions showed absolutely no knowledge of blindness or the skills that blind people use. It appeared that her starting point was that my client could not possibly take care of his children without a sighted person present and assisting.

In the current climate the key to successfully defending against termination or supporting a parent in a custody dispute is to educate the decision-makers about the parent's functional abilities. One way to do this is by bringing in an expert who understands the nature of the disability, the accommodations or supports that the parent uses, and who clearly explains why the children will remain healthy and safe in their parents' care.

Everyone here knows that there are thousands and thousands of blind parents in this country who are successfully taking care of their children. However, when a judge asks me what that number is, I am unable to give an answer. I would like to work with the NFB to see if there is any way to figure this out. Judges and caseworkers are asking this question. For those researchers out there, although we have a few excellent research findings that demonstrate that blind mothers are just as capable of meeting their infants' needs as sighted mothers, that there are no differences in the emotional state of children raised by sighted versus blind parents, and in fact that children of blind parents may be more adaptable and have more positive peer interactions, that a parent's disability is not a predictor of problems or difficulties for children; and that separating a child from a parent is traumatic and detrimental, we still need more academic research to prove that the biased assumptions that many people are making are just plain wrong. I look to those in the audience who are connected with researchers to figure out how we can broaden both pieces of this scholarly work to help change the culture.

On the legislative front, states must put in place protections for parents with disabilities in both their child welfare and child custody statutes. Legislation must include a nondiscrimination statement; any court- or government-ordered evaluations must be done by experienced evaluators who understand the accommodations and adaptations that a parent with a disability uses; and evaluators should be required to certify that they are complying with the 2012 American Psychological Association Guidelines for Assessment of and Intervention with Persons with Disabilities. All family court professionals should receive training on how parents with disabilities parent. And, most important, statutes must require clear proof of a nexus between a parent's disability and harm to a child before an adverse action can be taken against a parent with a disability. And judges should be required to explain their reasoning and demonstrate the absence of bias through the issuance of a written ruling whenever disability is a basis for loss of custody or termination of parental rights. Congress should also take steps to protect parents with disabilities by adding specific protections for parents with disabilities by requiring that child welfare agencies provide accommodations to parents with disabilities as part of their efforts to prevent removal of a child from his family home or when providing reunification services.

Additionally, courts should give deference to the Department of Justice's interpretation of Title II and hold that the ADA applies to child welfare matters, including termination of parental rights. To ensure this occurs, the DOJ and HHS [Health and Human Services] should promulgate guidelines or regulations specifying that the ADA applies in the child welfare context and clarifying the legal obligations of child welfare agencies and the courts.

As the Supreme Court of California so wisely stated when considering the rights of a parent with significant physical disabilities, the parent-child relationship "lies in the ethical, emotional, and intellectual guidance the parent gives to the child through his formative years, and often beyond." It is our job to convince the court and others that it is the capabilities of the parent, not the disability itself, that are relevant.

I look forward to working with you on these important and profound issues. Thank you for the wisdom you have taught me and the confidence that you have in working with me. I am honored to represent you.

The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act

by Gabe Cazares

From the Editor: Gabe is a government affairs specialist for the National Federation of the Blind. This article is written in response to legislation supported by the American Foundation for the Blind which would make changes to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The National Federation of the Blind has serious reservations about claims made that its passage would strengthen the provision of Braille and other services to blind people. Here is what Gabe has to say:

The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, (H.R. 3535) for the 114th session of Congress, is a bill that purports to “strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),” and “improve results for the more than 100,000 children and youth with vision loss, including those who also have additional disabilities,” according to the American Foundation for the Blind.

First introduced during the 113th session, the Cogswell-Macy Act, according to its authors, will “expand the resources” currently available to blind students, parents of blind children, and educators, a claim that is difficult to imagine after a careful examination of this legislation.

As a leader in Braille education, the National Federation of the Blind is committed to supporting efforts to strengthen existing or crafting new policies that provide for instruction in Braille. Specifically, section 614(d) (3) (B) (iii) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA,) commonly referred to as the “Braille presumption” which currently reads: "in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, [the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team must] provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child."

As a result, the first item on our agenda was inspecting the proposed changes AFB and its co-authors had crafted. The results were surprising and disappointing. Rather than strengthen the already sturdy language provided by the existing Braille presumption, the proposed text would weaken it by shifting the focus of administrators and educators, who are the individuals tasked with the responsibility of implementing these policy changes, from Braille, to a host of other options. AFB’s proposed language reads as follows:

SEC. 204. CONSIDERATION OF SPECIAL FACTORS.
Section 614(d) (3)(B)(iii) (20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii)) is amended by striking the semicolon and inserting the following: “and provide instruction meeting the child’s unique learning needs, including instruction which may be needed by students without disabilities or with other disabilities but which must be specifically designed, modified, or delivered to meet the unique learning needs of students with visual disabilities. Such instruction includes assistive technology proficiency (inclusive of low vision devices); self-sufficiency and interaction (including orientation and mobility, self-determination, sensory efficiency, socialization, recreation and fitness, and independent living skills); and age-appropriate career education;”

According to the 2014 annual report of the American Printing House for the Blind, there were 60,393 blind students enrolled in elementary and high schools throughout the United States. However, of those, only 5,147 were identified as using Braille as their primary reading medium; that is only 8.5% of blind elementary and high school students across the country in 2014.

Confronted with these alarming numbers, it is difficult to understand why the American Foundation for the Blind is seeking to divert the focus of the Braille Presumption to include other alternatives. It is also difficult to understand the fact that their proposed legislation makes an extra effort to highlight low-vision devices, as well as diverting attention from Braille use and instruction with the inclusion of other areas of the ”Expanded Core Curriculum.” Instruction in the alternative skills of blindness is an integral tool in ensuring that every blind student may live the life she wants. The NFB has consistently led the field in this area through our many student-oriented programs which help blind youth develop blindness skills for independence, including the NFB BELL Academy for young students, our STEM programs for blind youth, and the independent living summer programs provided by our NFB training centers.

Ensuring that dual-media students receive all the services they need is also a priority, which is why the National Federation of the Blind has been a leader in calling for and assisting in the development of an independent, research-based reading media assessment, the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA). The NRMA remains the only research-based, standardized assessment tool designed to identify the proper reading medium (or media) of students. The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University states that the NRMA will, “reduce the possibility that a student's academic success is hindered by incorrect reading and writing medium.”

In an open letter dated October 21, 2015, Mark Richert from the American Foundation for the Blind told our state presidents that “As someone who has been a life-long Braille reader, I can tell you on a personal note that I would never tolerate any attempt to weaken the existing Braille requirements.” However, the undeniable effects of AFB’s proposed language, as currently written, are hard to ignore. The Braille presumption will be weakened if this language were to be incorporated, and as a result, the National Federation of the Blind cannot support this legislation.

The Rights of Guide Dog Owners in British Columbia under Attack

by Mary Ellen Gabias

From the Editor: The Model White Cane Law was drafted by Jacobus tenBroek and set in motion the adoption of state statutes throughout the nation to enshrine in law the right of blind people to public accommodations. Every state in the union has some form of this model on the books, and the Americans with Disabilities Act also seems quite clear on the subject of the right of blind people to be accompanied by guide dogs.

Even so, recently we have seen an alarming increase in the number of blind people who are being refused transportation because they are accompanied by a guide dog. Our friends to the north in Canada find themselves in a position of having to fight a recent ruling in British Columbia in which a civil rights tribunal has rejected a claim of discrimination, even though the facts and the case are undisputed, and the law seems unequivocal. We reprint here a request from Mary Ellen Gabias, the president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, as the organization seeks to raise money to fight this most disturbing ruling. I will include a postscript after her remarks to suggest differences and precedents that might make US law a bit stronger, but these observations should not cause us to be apathetic about the rights of guide owner teams everywhere or to ignore the increasing problems that confront us as users of guide dogs. Here is what Mary Ellen says:

Without your immediate help, three quarters of a century’s work establishing the access rights of guide dog teams may be casually swept away in British Columbia!

Discrimination by the taxi industry is just fine, a minor inconvenience, no more, according to Jacqueline Beltgens of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

We need your help to raise fifteen thousand dollars to fight for legal redress of a tribunal decision that gives more credence to hearsay about a taxi driver’s unproven dog allergy than to the rights of a person with a guide dog.

Please go to <https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/b13jT2> to make your cry for justice heard. As you read Graeme McCreath’s story, consider the implications for guide dog teams everywhere.

Graeme McCreath just wanted to go out for a casual evening with a few friends on July 15, 2014. He never intended to walk into a humiliating bureaucratic nightmare. The story is all too familiar to anybody who cares about guide dogs and human rights. A friend phoned a taxi. When it arrived, the driver, Bruce MacGregor, announced, “I can’t take the dog. I’ll get you another cab.”

The refusal of service was a public humiliation. It was also a direct violation of British Columbia’s Guide Animal Act. British Columbia has two laws that are supposed to protect people who travel with guide dogs. The Guide Animal Act says: “A person with a disability accompanied by a guide animal has the same rights, privileges, and obligations as a person not accompanied by an animal.” The British Columbia Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

The law seemed extremely clear. Graeme McCreath sought justice from the Human Rights Tribunal. After a year of filings and discussions, the matter finally went to hearing on July 14, 2015. Graeme McCreath, Bruce MacGregor, and Sean Convy (the manager of Victoria Taxi) had nearly a year, more than ample opportunity to produce evidence. The only documentation the taxi company produced was a vaguely worded slip from a walk-in clinic that didn’t mention allergies and an internally produced document noting that MacGregor had been given an “exception.” Both were dated months after the 2014 incident.

Graeme McCreath and three witnesses to the event testified at the hearing. Bruce MacGregor didn’t even bother to attend. Sean Convy, the manager of Victoria Taxi, represented his company, since the human rights complaint named Victoria Taxi because the company’s policies allow MacGregor and other drivers to refuse service.

The facts are undisputed. Graeme McCreath is blind and was accompanied by his certified guide dog. Bruce MacGregor gave no reason for refusing to transport Graeme when the event occurred, but Sean Convy later claimed that MacGregor has both a dog phobia and a dog allergy. Since MacGregor wasn’t there, he never verified Convy’s claim.

This is how the tribunal described Graeme McCreath’s assertion that he had suffered discrimination: “[28] Mr. McCreath has established a prima facie case of discrimination. He has a physical disability, he suffered an adverse impact when he was denied a ride by the Taxi Driver, and he was denied the ride because he was accompanied by his guide dog.” Yet the tribunal dismissed Graeme McCreath’s case! The tribunal ruled that denial of service by one driver was a minor inconvenience since another cab arrived within a few minutes. One wonders how the tribunal would have responded to Rosa Parks. After all, it is also only slightly more inconvenient to walk a few extra steps to the back of the bus.

Since MacGregor didn’t bother to appear at the hearing, he never had to explain his actions or answer a single question about his reason for refusing to transport Graeme McCreath. Nevertheless, the tribunal ruled that MacGregor had a “disability” that entitled him to an “accommodation” from the company. Beltgens referred repeatedly to MacGregor’s “disability” due to an allergy based on hearsay testimony from Sean Convy. Without documentation, Beltgens voided MacGregor’s responsibility to obey the law. No proof was required; a claim with no substantiation of the severity of the alleged allergy was enough.

We’ve all met people who say they have a “vision impairment” when what they mean is that they wear reading glasses. Their “impairment” exists, but it doesn’t constitute a disability as the term is generally understood. Anyone who wants to establish blindness medically must be seen by an ophthalmologist, a physician with the highest available credential for treating eye conditions. The tests are exacting; all available corrective measures must be undertaken before certification of blindness can be made.

The word “allergy” also has variable definitions, ranging from mild sniffles to anaphylactic shock. Clearly anaphylactic shock is disabling; sneezes are not. Yet the tribunal did not require that MacGregor’s claim of a disabling allergy be documented by a physician specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic conditions. She specifically and categorically ruled out any finding that anyone claiming an allergy exemption from transporting guide dogs should undergo treatment, calling the suggestion “untenable.”

Ms. Beltgens writes: “The Tribunal has determined that an allergic reaction to animals can constitute a physical disability under the Code.” She behaves as if it not only can, but that merely asserting the presence of an allergy is sufficient to claim disability status, even though the presence and severity of the allergy is unproven.

Graeme McCreath’s case uncovered disturbing evidence of systemic discriminatory practices on the part of Victoria Taxi. Beltgens writes: “He (Mr. Convy, the manager of Victoria Taxi) says that, in addition to taxi drivers, the owners of a particular taxi are also entitled to place an exception to having animals in a car. He says that five of the owners of taxicabs have also placed exceptions on their cars preventing the transport of animals.” Refusing to take pet dogs is an owner’s right. However, the tribunal never raised any issue concerning the legality of applying a no-animals policy to guide dogs, even though failing to make that distinction is clearly a discriminatory practice.

Unless we challenge this decision, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has written a manual on how to discriminate and get away with it! You drive a taxi and don’t want to vacuum dog hair? No problem. Just file an exemption so that no dogs can ride in your cab. If you want to be really sure that you can get away with denying service, go to a walk-in clinic and ask the doctor on duty to give you a note that says you have “medical reasons” for not transporting dogs.

With only a little creativity, Ms. Beltgens’ reasoning can easily be extended to include restaurants or other businesses. “I can’t serve you because I’m allergic. It’s only slightly inconvenient to go next door.”

We do not want to deny the legitimate claims of taxi drivers and other workers who genuinely suffer with disabling allergies. They should be accommodated by their employers. We know what genuine disability means, and we’re passionate about protecting all people with disabilities. That is why we are passionate about not wanting disability to be trivialized by those who frivolously and fraudulently seek to claim disability protection.

We realize this story seems nearly impossible. Human Rights Tribunals were set up specifically to put an end to unfair treatment on the basis of characteristics like disability. With that mandate, how could a tribunal rule the way this tribunal ruled? If you doubt this decision was based on hearsay and that the facts were massaged to permit a preordained conclusion in favor of the business interests of Victoria Taxi, we invite you to read Ms. Beltgens’ ruling, with all its tortured reasoning, on the BC Human Rights Tribunal website at <http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/decisions/ 2015/oct.htm>.

We urge you to go to <https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/b13jT2>, and contribute what you can. Graeme McCreath was victimized twice—once when he was refused service, and again in an even more profound manner when a tribunal, set up to protect his rights, actively engaged in denying them. If people who care about guide dogs and human rights don’t stand together, British Columbia may lead the way in erosion of our rights. If we stand alone here, we may fall separately all across North America.

From the Editor: This is what the president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind has to say about laws in British Columbia and the way they are being enforced. Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Federation of the Blind’s National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU) makes these comments about enforcement issues in the United States:

Taxicabs are especially problematic, rating among the top five industries with which guide dog users have issues. NAGDU has written a grant request to tackle this problem and should have an answer within the next two weeks. We have also been contacted by the DOJ seeking guide dog users to do an enforcement program somewhere in the United States.

In the United States most taxicab companies use independent contractors who lease taxicabs from the company. These companies mistakenly believe that they are not responsible for the denials because of this relationship; however, this is not true, and the courts have stated so on several occasions. The DOJ and most state laws specifically state that allergies and the fear of dogs are generally not reasons to deny access to a disabled person accompanied by a service dog, since allergies to dog dander typically do not rise to the level of a disability, and even the presence of dander on one’s clothing could be sufficient to trigger an allergic reaction such as watery eyes and a runny nose. Such reactions are not considered disabling conditions by the DOJ.

According to US law, individuals with disabilities are considered a protected class and cannot be denied access as a result of a disability. The only exception might be if there were a dispute between two individuals protected by the law, i.e., both have a disability. If, for instance, a taxicab driver were to have the rare condition of an allergy to dog dander that rises to the level of a disability (fewer than .05 of 1 percent of the US population have such an allergy), Title I of the ADA would require the company to make a reasonable accommodation for the disabling condition, provided doing so would not pose a direct threat or cause and undue burden. The bottom line is that the claim of an allergy to dog dander by a taxicab driver does not excuse the driver from carrying an individual accompanied by a service dog.  

With disturbing frequency we are encountering drivers of taxicabs and other forms of public accommodation who claim that it violates their religious beliefs to be around dogs. There seems to be little ambiguity in the law, which clearly differentiates between one’s right to maintain a religious belief and her right to act upon it.
           
Here are some relevant quotations from the United States Supreme Court differentiating between one’s beliefs and actions:

“We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

In another case the Supreme Court said: “Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities.”

“Laws, we said, are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices...Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

Longtime NFB Member Gives Leadership Service in Her Religious Congregation

by Gary Wunder

Joyce Green is well known to the National Federation of the Blind, having been a leader in the Oregon affiliate since 1971 when she was one of the charter members of the NFB of Oregon. She is a Sister of Providence (Catholic Sister), assuming that role in 1960. She was asked to serve as chairperson for their annual four-day conference in 2015 which she, with the support and aid of an able committee, successfully did in late July of this year.

Joyce’s commitment to carry out the responsibility of chairperson of this event involved appointing a planning committee, scheduling necessary meetings of the committee, preparing a meeting agenda, traveling from Portland to Seattle to chair the meetings, and maintaining good communications among the planning committee and sisters at large. It also involved arranging for speakers, presentations, reflections, and discussion times. Working out the daily schedule including timely breaks and arranging for technical support and catering were challenges that Joyce and her committee needed to meet.

The efforts of Joyce and her committee came to a joyful conclusion July 27 through 30 at the Hawley Conference Center in Renton, Washington, near the regional office of the Sisters of Providence in the Northwest. The religious congregation originated in Montreal, Canada, in 1843 to serve the critical needs of poor, aged, ill, and uneducated people. They answered an invitation to send sisters to the Northwest in 1856 to meet similar critical needs.

Joyce grew up in Missouri, received her BS degree from Southeast Missouri State, and worked in a clerical capacity in St. Louis. She then came to the Northwest, entered her religious congregation, subsequently earned her MSW from St. Louis University, and served as a professional social worker at Providence Portland Medical Center, a major medical facility in Portland, Oregon. Her service as a Sister of Providence took her to Seattle for her initial phase, down to Burbank, California, and then to Portland where she now lives and serves. The sisters belong to small local communities, and Joyce serves as coordinator of her local group.

Of her membership in the NFB of Oregon, Joyce says, “I want to be a part of bringing blind people into the mainstream of society in every aspect. The collective action of blind people working in concert with relatives and friends is the only effective way to do this, and the NFB has a philosophy which has always been my own.” Joyce has served in various capacities on the state board, including six years as its treasurer, and in her local chapter as president and as treasurer at various times.

Regarding the conference recently chaired by Joyce, other sisters had positive comments such as:

“Now you should be proud of your having been the chair of the whole affair. All is well that ends well. You did a great service for the Sisters of Providence of Mother Joseph Province, and you should be very proud that you took the risk to be the chair. I am happy for you that it is over. It really is a unique experience.” Mary H.

“By the way, you did very well being the chair of the chapter! You made the chapter very much alive because of your sense of humor! You were very organized, and I think you should chair every year! Thank you for sharing your talents in chairing and enlivening the Chapter. We enjoyed it very much.” Felma C.

“Just … read your delightful letter. You really have a great way to catch the reader's attention and tickle our funny bones as well. Great job as always. I think the sisters are going to miss your updates after July.” Barb S.

And the Winner is . . . ?

by Andrea Jenkins

From the Editor: Andrea is a young person who had a dream, but before she could fulfill it she had to believe it was possible, get the training to do it, and then summon up the courage to do it. Here is her story about her journey through training and her journey to Spain:

As a little girl growing up in the small rural town of Cairo, Georgia, I was full of dreams. “One day,” I would think to myself. “One day, I will travel the world, experience new cultures, and even speak a different language.” As I grew into adolescence, my hunger for culture and languages only increased. Throughout my childhood I would frequently check out language lessons on audio tape from the local library and absorb them like a sponge.

On graduating from high school in May 2007, I had taken every Spanish class my school could offer, and I had also learned a smattering of French. While it was obvious I possessed the brains to attend college, I knew that without proper blindness skills training I would flunk even the easiest college exam, and perhaps I would be unable to achieve my dream of traveling abroad.

From an early age I was taught a double standard of sorts. On the one hand, my mom was always telling me how proud she was of me, and I think she always believed I would go places and make something of myself. However, the messages I received from society at the time were not as optimistic. Throughout my childhood I was plagued with the fear that, as a blind person, I was not on the same playing field as my sighted peers. In my little Southern town it seemed that to many people “blindness” was an enigma.

From July 2007 to March 2008, I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana, and obtained the instruction necessary to live a normal, happy, and productive life as a blind person. After completing my training, I attended Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, where I graduated cum laude, with a BA in Spanish Language and Culture in December 2012. According to my family and friends, I had done something amazing by finishing college and learning a language other than English. But, for my part, I was not completely pacified.

For you see, there was still a fire down inside of me that had never died. My dream of going abroad and staying a while had not come to pass. So in February 2013 I applied to the Ministry of Education of Spain to serve for an academic year as an English language assistant (Auxiliar de Conversación) in the Spanish primary school system. In June 2013 I was utterly speechless when I received the response to my application. I had been chosen to serve as a language assistant in the village of Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain!

Upon my arrival in Guadalupe at the end of September 2013, I underwent some moderate culture shock, as well as three initial weeks of jetlag. However, after being in Spain for a little over a month, I began to grow accustomed to the Spanish way of life. Throughout the eight months I spent abroad, I was able to impart some helpful insight to the people around me. For example, I demonstrated some cane techniques to the children at my school and shared some nonvisual cooking ideas with a couple of my Spanish friends. Above all, I simply lived life as a normal, productive individual abroad.

Toward the end of my stay I traveled to London for five days and to France for two. These excursions only served to increase my confidence as a blind person. I felt that every time I hopped a train, walked to a café, or shopped the local markets for groceries or souvenirs, I was being a successful and productive individual. I feel it is absolutely imperative to face the world, not run from it. I chose to challenge myself, no matter how uncomfortable or scary that experience might be for me. It is safe to say that, when I returned from my eight months abroad, I was elated to find I felt more confident at that point than ever before in my life. It seemed that the world had truly opened up for me in ways I had never known.

While I most certainly have struggles in life, I consider it a great blessing to have traveled abroad and fulfilled my dream of living in Europe, at least for a time. I give credit to the Lord, my friends, and the instructors at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who pushed me to be my very best and achieve excellence. Without this support, I would have never attempted to chase my dreams.

Currently, I am serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) with Florida Campus Compact, in Tallahassee, Florida. I work with my fellow colleagues to build capacity for college access programming. As someone who has attended college and obtained a Spanish degree, I want students to understand the value of education and be inspired to fulfill their dreams, no matter the obstacles they might encounter. I believe anyone, regardless of circumstances, can achieve success.

So, to anyone out there who feels you can’t succeed or you don’t have the confidence to live life as a blind person, trust me! I’ve been there, and I can tell you from personal experience, the sky is the limit if you believe. This being said, I pray you will take my experience as a call to action. Whether you are blind or sighted, it is never too late to chase your dreams. I won the battle over fear the moment I boarded the plane to Europe. The moment you step out and take control of your life, seek the training, and do your best, you become a winner.

On Structured Discovery

by Jeffrey T. Altman

From the Editor: Jeff Altman is a proud Federationist living in the state of Nebraska. He works as a cane travel instructor for Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, and in that capacity he was asked to address a convention of the American Council of the Blind’s Nebraska affiliate to discuss the topic of Structured Discovery. These remarks explain the concept with refreshingly simple language and convey the enthusiasm many of us feel about the concept and the liberating affect it can have in the lives of those who receive it. Jeff’s presentation also underscores the need to take our message to those who may not have heard it or may have heard a distorted version of why we use Structured Discovery. Here is what he said:

First of all I want to thank all of you for inviting me to speak at your state convention this year. As most of you likely know, I am the cane travel instructor at the Nebraska Center for the Blind, which is located in Lincoln. I’ve been teaching travel in the center for approximately fifteen years, and I’ve been working in this profession for nearly twenty-five years. Cane travel instruction is also known as orientation and mobility, and I have both a master’s degree and national certification in this field. In other words, I have papers and letters after my name. Now, if you’re not impressed by letters and papers, don’t worry about it, most people really aren’t, and that’s okay, because that’s not what’s actually important about learning independent travel.

While it is important for an instructor to know how to travel, and of course, to know how to teach these skills, what is more important is knowing the best way for human beings to learn cane travel. There is a Native American saying, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may not remember, involve me and I will understand.” Almost everyone learns better by doing, and this is a key aspect of good instruction. I am convinced that the greatest respect a cane travel instructor can show his students is to expect them to be able to draw upon their existing knowledge and to independently gather information from the environment in order to solve the problems that come up when they are traveling. In the center students often joke and sometimes complain that the only thing they ever hear from instructors is, “What do you think?” Well, they’re right; we ask that question a lot, and it is because we respect them enough to expect them to be able to answer it.

Perhaps I should explain a little about the instructional methods that we use in the center. You have probably heard of Structured Discovery and the fact that we use a longer type of cane and sleepshades in our training center. Not everyone is comfortable with this approach to teaching, and, without having these things explained, they can seem a bit strange, maybe even a little scary at first. Structured Discovery isn’t just one way of teaching, but rather it is a continuum between two very different methods of providing instruction, each of which has important benefits and some limitations that can actually make learning more difficult in certain situations.

Let me begin by asking you folks some questions and have you answer by applauding. How many of you have taken a foreign language in school? How many of you would consider yourselves to be fluent in that language? For argument’s sake, let’s say it was Spanish you were learning. Let me see if I can guess what your class experience was like. You took Spanish in a classroom, along with approximately twenty-five to thirty other students. You probably had a book or maybe a workbook, possibly a few “cultural experiences,” and likely there were some quizzes and tests. You had a teacher who stood at the front of the room, and that teacher would say something in Spanish, and you’d repeat it back. Or perhaps the teacher would say something in Spanish, and you had to give the correct response. Maybe you had some conversations with your classmates in Spanish. This is called structured learning, and while it works well for some of the things you need to learn, for many things it doesn’t work well, such as learning a foreign language.

Now at the opposite end of the continuum, there is discovery learning. So, let’s say you wanted to learn Spanish through discovery learning. We’d put you on an airplane, give you a parachute, throw you out over someplace like Lima, Peru, and say “See you in a year.” If you live through the experience, well, you might just learn some Spanish!

On the other hand, if you wanted to learn Spanish through Structured Discovery, it would go something like this. You would hire an instructor who is fluent in both English and Spanish and very familiar with one of the cultures where Spanish is spoken—let’s see, maybe somebody like Carlos Serván, who might be very willing to work for you for a year in Peru with a nice salary and all expenses paid. Then the two of you would fly to Lima, and on the way your instructor would review some basic words and phrases in Spanish, just enough for you to get by the first day or so. Once you land, your instructor tells you that you are going to go to a restaurant for dinner that night, and he just happens to have a copy of the menu. He says that you and he will go through the menu together, he’ll help you to understand what the various items are, and, when you find the items you want, he will help you learn how to order them in Spanish, because you are going to order your own dinner that night. He is going to be there with you and will help you out should you run into any difficulty, but you are going to order your own dinner in Spanish.

So you go to dinner that evening, and even if you struggle and need a little extra help, you will make it through the experience. Perhaps the next morning your instructor says that the two of you need to go to the marketplace to get a few things. He tells you what the items are, how to ask for them, and how to get directions to the booths where the items are sold. He also explains how the local money works and how to bargain with the merchants to get the best price. He tells you that he will be there with you should you need some help but that as much as possible you will be doing the talking. So you go to the market together and make your purchases.

That night your instructor tells you that the two of you are going to stay in for dinner, but that you are going to walk to the local pizza parlor on your own. The establishment is a couple of blocks away, and you will order and pay for the pizza. You will then bring it back to the hotel. You go and do this on your own, even though you are a bit nervous doing it.

After dinner your instructor tells you that tomorrow the two of you will be going to a museum, and the tour will be given by docents who speak only Spanish. This is pretty complicated, so he will be there to help you out. But, as much as you can, you will be doing your best to understand the tour information with as little help from him as possible. You will need to ask some questions about the displays, so he will help you to come up with the questions in Spanish, but you will be asking them.

Each time a new experience is introduced, your instructor will be there to help you, although he will often ask you questions so that you are figuring it out for yourself, and just at the point that you are able to handle things for yourself, he will back off and let you work it out on your own. You will find that more and more he is speaking with you only in Spanish and expecting you to answer in Spanish as well. What’s more, you are now finding yourself having to go places on your own and use your Spanish to complete your assignments. You’ll be meeting lots of people who speak only Spanish, and you will be expected to start conversations with them. How do you think your Spanish would be after a year in this environment and with this instruction?

Switching from our language example now, that longer white cane tends to raise some questions for folks who are not used to this type of cane, but it’s really not all that complicated. A longer cane allows you to have the necessary preview of the environment in front of you so that you have time to react, and at the same time you are able to keep your arm in a comfortable position. The longer cane also gives you greater upper body protection when you are traveling using the pencil grip, especially in a congested or unfamiliar situation. It is lightweight and somewhat flexible, so it is relatively easy to handle, it doesn’t wear you out as quickly as a shorter heavier cane, it absorbs impacts and remains straight afterwards, and it gives you some extra reach when you need it. The metal tip provides very good tactile and auditory feedback that makes it much easier to identify surfaces and to use echolocation.

Next, what about these sleepshades? This is one of those things that can cause folks to have uncomfortable feelings about this type of training, and in my experience many times it is a matter of not understanding the reason we use the sleepshades in our program. There are many very good reasons for using the sleepshades, but for now, I’ll just touch on a few of them.

First of all, no matter how many letters you have after your name or what papers you have hanging on your wall, you simply cannot get inside another person’s head and know what works best for that individual. It is the individual who experiences a vision loss that is going to know what works best for him or her in a given situation. Our agency believes very strongly in “informed choice.” This may seem a bit obvious, but if you are going to make an informed choice, then you really need to be informed. Otherwise the only thing you have to base your decision on is an emotional reaction. If you are going to make an informed choice between using a low-vision technique and a nonvisual technique, you truly need to know how to use the nonvisual technique. Most folks are so concerned about losing their eyesight that if you introduce a low-vision technique first, they’ll likely think it is the best possible solution to their problem and be unwilling to learn the nonvisual technique. If you approach training by addressing the possible low-vision solutions first, then the folks being provided these services are not being given the opportunity to make an informed choice.

When you have limited eyesight, sometimes the best use of your vision is not to use it at all. What I mean is that, if you are truly struggling to see to do something and you could accomplish the same task using a nonvisual technique just as well or even better, using your eyesight simply isn’t the best choice in that situation. You already know what is possible with eyesight, so using the sleepshades for an extended period of training gives you the opportunity to discover what is truly possible without it. Only then can you make a genuinely informed choice.

We tend to use the term blind most of the time in our center and not visually impaired. This concerns some folks as well. We often hear from new students in the Center who say, “I’m not blind. I can see pretty good, so I consider myself to be visually impaired.”

I think it may help to understand the reason we most often use the word blind by considering how the term legally blind came to be and what it really means. Back when Congress was considering expanding Social Security benefits to help provide an income to people with disabilities, they recognized that, aside from people who were totally blind, a lot of folks out there had very limited eyesight and that they needed this help too; however, how would the law determine who was eligible, and who wasn’t? They approached the eye care professionals with this question. The professionals talked about it among themselves and realized that people below 20/200 or with a visual field of less than twenty degrees found it very difficult to function in the world if they attempted to do things using their vision, so this became the standard or what we know today as the federal definition of blindness. Now this is more important than you may realize; this meant that blindness really wasn’t about how much a person could see, but rather how that person functioned based on having a certain level of vision. In reality being blind means that you do not have reliable eyesight, to the degree that you need to develop effective nonvisual techniques in order to carry out the majority of your daily activities as effectively, efficiently, and safely as would a person with normal vision.

If you are going to function on an equal level with your sighted neighbors, you have to master the nonvisual skills you need. Yes, your vision may work perfectly fine for certain things or in the right conditions, but what about those times in which your vision can’t get the job done?

We must always train for those situations that are less than optimal. As an example, our daughter, who is not blind, has been driving for about a year now, and before she got her license, we made sure that she got lots of driving lessons. If she had only taken driving lessons on nice days with dry streets and very little traffic, what would it have been like for her the first time it rained or snowed or she encountered heavy traffic? You have to be able to function in adverse conditions, and for folks with limited eyesight this means those situations and times when their eyesight doesn’t work well. An instructor teaching the skills of blindness cannot really know or create those conditions often enough or in enough places to assure that the person with limited eyesight has enough experience with the nonvisual skills truly to master them unless the sleepshades are used as a primary tool in this training.

The fact that being blind means a person does not have reliable eyesight leads to another important reason for the use of the sleepshades, and it is directly related to learning nonvisual skills. If I never expected my cane travel students to do anything other than to sit in my office and talk with me about being independent travelers, would they learn very much about cane travel? Or suppose that on the first day of class I expected my new student to walk to the biggest, busiest intersection in town and cross it independently. What would that person likely learn? In the first case I’m obviously teaching nothing, and in the second case, I am very definitely teaching something: fear and frustration. Of course, these are silly examples at two extremes, but they demonstrate one important point: that between the point at which someone is completely comfortable and the point at which that person would be overwhelmed, there is an area in which that person will learn. If a person is going to learn, that individual has to be challenged, but not to the point where it is beyond his or her skills and ability. So as an instructor, it is my job to keep my students challenged but not push them too far, and there is some room in this learning zone to meet the individual’s unique needs. The closer the challenge is to the student’s comfort zone, the less involved the instructor should be, and the closer the challenge is to overwhelming the student, the more involved the instructor should be.

Going back to a couple of things I mentioned earlier, a blind person with some eyesight doesn’t have reliable vision, and I can’t get inside that person’s head, right? So, other than an educated guess, I can’t really know how effectively the person can use his or her eyesight, nor can I know when and for what purpose the person is using his or her vision. All I can do is observe the person’s performance, and since it is my job to keep the student challenged, based on these observations I make my decision as to how much more of a challenge the person needs to continue learning. If the student is doing well, I increase the challenge, and if the person continues to do well, I continue to increase the level of challenge. All of this sounds fine, but without using the sleepshades there is a problem. Remember that the person’s eyesight isn’t reliable, which means it doesn’t work well enough to meet the demands of everyday activities in many places and situations. Also remember that I can’t get inside the person’s head, so I don’t know when or in what situation the person is using his or her eyesight. This means I don’t have any way of knowing whether or not the student is actually learning the nonvisual techniques or simply doing what comes naturally and depending on his or her unreliable eyesight.

As I push this student forward into more challenging situations, sooner or later the student is going to run into one in which his or her eyesight cannot provide the information to effectively, safely, and efficiently deal with the challenge. In a Braille or computer class, that could prove very frustrating and might lead the student to feel that it is only possible to read or word process when he or she can see. However, in my cane travel class, finding yourself in a situation where you can’t see well enough to complete a task and discovering that you haven’t learned the nonvisual techniques that would allow you to stay safe could be a lot more than frustrating.

When it comes down to it, orientation and mobility is really about being able to get from point A to point B, and the skills a blind person develops through this training are especially important when point B is some place you’ve never been before. First of all, being highly skilled with whatever type of mobility device you choose to use is very important. Be it cane or dog, you have to be effective in gaining information from the environment and be able to avoid the possible dangers the environment can present. You also have to be able to use the information that is available to you effectively. For example, you probably shouldn’t be attempting to travel across town if you haven’t figured out how to locate curbs, cross streets at the correct time, and recognize familiar places. Once these things are in place, understanding how to use a street pattern and address system in general, as well as knowing more specific information about the town in which you are traveling, is critical. You are going to have a pretty tough time planning how to get somewhere you haven’t been before if you don’t have some basic concepts about how the world is put together. Of course, if public transportation is going to be involved, then you would probably be well served to have received some training in how to use the system. If you are going to be going somewhere new, then being able to ask relevant questions and access a variety of sources of information regarding the transportation system is vital. The good news is that, if you have ridden a bus in one town, you’ll find they work pretty much the same way everywhere else, and the same can pretty much be said for subways and other types of rail transit systems. There may be some small differences, but the basic mechanics tend to be the same. Some simple things I would tell you are: when you are first learning the system, make sure you have some extra time built into your schedule, be prepared to ask questions, and once you have become comfortable with the system, don’t become complacent. Surprises can happen, and you have to be able to respond and adapt.

When I was asked to talk with you, it was suggested that I address some of the current trends that may affect the lives of blind people, so I will attempt to give you my point of view on these issues. Some folks in recent years have been promoting the idea that orientation and mobility should be considered therapy. The proposition is that it is similar to physical therapy (PT) or occupational therapy (OT) and should be viewed in a medical context. There are even some in the field of physical and occupational therapy who believe they should be considered qualified to teach these skills and that those without their qualifications should not.

I would dispute these notions for two important reasons. PT and OT are primarily focused on human beings from the neck down. Yes, they teach some skills, but for the most part their role has to do with restoring an individual’s physical capacity. In other words, the job of these therapists is helping a person regain physical strength, reestablish normal joint movement, and promote the relief of pain to allow them to return to their previous state of health or to come as close as they can to total restoration. If that can’t be accomplished, the goal is to develop some physical techniques or use devices that will allow the person to complete the tasks that their physical limitations would otherwise prevent. PT and OT are also providing techniques that allow the individual to return to interacting with the environment or conducting tasks with which the individual is already familiar and well oriented.

Orientation and mobility, while it involves the development of some physical techniques, is primarily focused on developing skills related to orienting and interacting with the environment through a less familiar set of sources of sensory information. In other words it focuses on the person from the neck up. For example, an individual injured in a car wreck may have to undergo extensive physical therapy to restore enough movement and strength to be able to reach items stored on an upper shelf. If that individual cannot develop enough strength and movement to do so, then an occupational therapist may teach the person to change the way things in a work area are arranged or provide the person with a device that allows him or her to reach and grab things off a high shelf. On the other hand, a person who has recently become blind may not have any physical difficulty reaching items on that upper shelf; however, this person may find it very difficult to locate the shelf, the place on the shelf where the desired item is stored, and then may not know how to determine which item on the shelf is the desired one. Therefore, in terms of orientation the person must learn how to use information available in the environment to locate the shelf, locate the items on the shelf, and determine how to identify the differences among the items. She or he may even need to create a nonvisual label to identify the item. Therefore, orientation and mobility is not therapy per se, but rather an educational experience.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is emerging a class of professionals calling themselves “travel instructors.” I am a cane travel instructor or travel instructor, but that is not what these folks are talking about. As I understand it, some of the centers for independent living, (CIL’s) and some transit authorities are hiring these folks, or people with similar training, to provide orientation to blind people and other disabled people so that they can go to their jobs or use regular fixed-route public transportation systems rather than relying on paratransit. I can’t speak to what these folks are doing for people with other types of disabilities, although the whole notion seems a bit confusing to me personally. However, I can speak as a professional regarding the needs of blind people when it comes to the need for these kinds of services. Frankly, a blind person who is only dealing with mobility issues related to blindness and is relying on paratransit where regular public transportation is available has simply not received proper orientation and mobility training. Therefore, the proper person to be working with such a blind person is an orientation and mobility instructor and not somebody that has been given a brief training in a set of general travel-related skills that are apparently designed to address the needs of the full range of disabled people. I would further say that a blind person who does not have other relevant disabilities and has received proper orientation and mobility training does not need a professional at all in the majority of situations and in fact should probably not have been using paratransit to begin with. To clarify, I am talking about those situations in which a regular public transportation system is available and can meet the individual’s transportation needs. You will observe that I said I was referring to blind people who are not experiencing secondary conditions such as a physical disability that may restrict his or her mobility or a significant hearing loss or a cognitive condition that limits the ability to maintain one’s orientation and safety. In these situations, the limitations these characteristics involve may well necessitate the use of paratransit. For these people, attempting to have these individuals change to a fixed-route public transportation system may not be appropriate, and even if it is appropriate, it is certainly not something an instructor with limited knowledge of blindness should be attempting to introduce. Blind people in these circumstances are in need of very specialized skills, and they are only going to learn them from someone who knows them and how to teach them.

Of course we are experiencing a serious shortage of O&M instructors right now, and with many state governments looking to cut spending, proper orientation and mobility training can be a real challenge to obtain. The National Blindness Professional Certification Board, of which I am a member, is making a strong effort to meet this challenge, but we need people willing to make the commitment to obtain the training and education necessary to perform this important work. If you know someone with the interest and character to become an O&M instructor, please send them our way; we’d love to help them reach this goal.

I hope I have answered some of the questions you have regarding independent travel and perhaps have given you some additional understanding of Structured Discovery. Thank you again for inviting me to be a part of your convention, and I’ll be happy to attempt answering any questions you may have.

Bringing Hope to Hope

by Rick Reed

From the Editor: Rick Reed is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Wyoming, and in this story, which was originally posted on one of our listservs, he relates the transformative nature of our message and the need to be visible in our communities so we can circulate it. Here is what Rick says:

I had the amazing opportunity the other day to represent my affiliate and our national organization at the 2015 Wyoming Transitions Day. This event is primarily for high school students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing and encourages them to pursue higher education with goals of finding a career that will let them live the lives they want. It is sponsored by Wyoming Independent Living, Vision Outreach Services, and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

The National Federation of the Blind of Wyoming is an annual fixture at this event, where we provide information about our Federation and our programs. This year I was asked to give a presentation on assistive technology, where I introduced many students, parents, and teachers to the KNFB Reader app for the first time. I also presented a session on self-advocacy. During these presentations I had the pleasure of meeting a high school junior named Hope.

Hope is a blind student in Sheridan, Wyoming, a little town just south of the Montana border. She is an absolute gem of a person and just so eager to learn everything she can that it warms the heart. Hope's dream is to become a nurse. Until that day the only person in her life who had any faith in her and in her ability to realize her dreams was her TVI [teacher of the visually impaired]. She has no support from her family. They tell her that there is really not much she can do as a blind person. When she shared her dream with her family, she was told, "I would never let someone like you be my nurse.”

I was and still am enraged by this lack of familial support. I offered Hope my support in any way I could give it and promised to get her in touch with blind people who are working in similar fields with whom she can talk. I am also encouraging her to keep getting good grades and to apply for our national scholarships next year when she is a senior.

Before she left to head back to Sheridan from the event, I gave her one of the 75 in 75 Braille wristbands that I carry in my bag. When she read it and felt the "Live the Life You Want" embossed in Braille on the little piece of rubber, she broke down in tears, and I am not at all ashamed to say that I joined her. It was a very emotional moment all around.

With that story told, what I'm requesting is this: I would like to get in touch with as many blind people as I can who are working in the healthcare field. This girl needs mentors and role models who can show her that she can make her dreams come true and that she can live the life she wants, not what someone else thinks she should be limited to. If you work in healthcare and you’d be interested in mentoring her, email me at <rreed@wyoassist.com>.

Thank you for sticking with me through this tale and for whatever help and advice you can give me here. I want this young lady to succeed, and I'd love to see her on stage in a couple years receiving a scholarship at our national convention.

Seize the Future

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:

NFB programs are dynamic:

Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB.

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2016

by Parnell Diggs

From the Editor: Every December we publish the Social Security figures that have been announced for the coming year. Here is the 2016 information as prepared by Parnell Diggs, the newly appointed director of government affairs for the National Federation of the Blind:

Typically the New Year brings with it a much anticipated series of annual adjustments in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. But 65 million beneficiaries will be disappointed to learn that, when this new year arrives, there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which means that SSDI and SSI payments will not change in 2016.

The 2016 numbers appear below, and, while benefit amounts will not change, there are some changes in other aspects of the Social Security and Medicare programs (which are not linked to the CPI-W (Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers)) that beneficiaries (as well as future beneficiaries) should understand. There is also a word about the recently adopted ABLE Act, which will affect SSI resource limits. Let’s get started.

Tax Rates

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: If you have a job, you know that you do not bring home everything you earn; 7.65 percent of your pay is deducted to cover your contribution to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund and the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund. Specifically, 6.20 percent covers OASDI, and 1.45 percent is contributed to the HI Trust Fund. Additionally, your employer is required to match this 7.65 percent for a total of 15.30 percent.

For those who are self-employed, there is no one to match the 7.65 percent. Thus, a self-employed individual pays the entire 15.30 percent of her income. These numbers will not change in 2016 whether an individual is employed or self-employed. As of January 2013, individuals with earned income of more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes, not including the above amounts.

Maximum Taxable Earnings

For the OASDI Trust Fund there is a ceiling on taxable earnings, which was $118,500 per year in 2015 and will remain unchanged in 2016. Thus, for earnings above $118,500, there is no 6.20 percent deducted for OASDI. As for Medicare, there is no limit on taxable earnings for the HI Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Quarters of Coverage

Think of it this way: The OASDI Trust Fund works like an insurance policy. You have to pay a premium to participate. Therefore, to qualify for Retirement, Survivors, or Disability Insurance benefits, an individual must pay a minimum amount of FICA taxes into the OASDI Trust Fund by earning a sufficient number of calendar quarters to become fully insured; in other words, one must work enough to be eligible for benefits.

In 2015, credit for one quarter of coverage was awarded for any individual who earned at least $1,220 during the year, which means that an individual would have needed to earn at least $4,880 to be credited with four-quarters of coverage. In 2016 the amount increases to $1,260 for one calendar quarter or $5,040 to earn four-quarters of coverage.

A maximum of four-quarters can be awarded for any calendar year, and it makes no difference when the income is earned during that year. Basically the taxes you pay into the OASDI and HI Trust Funds are your premiums to participate in the Social Security and Medicare programs.

The total number of quarters required to be eligible for benefits depends on the individual’s age. The older the individual, the more quarters are required. Furthermore, a higher average income during an individual’s lifetime means a higher Social Security or SSDI check when benefits start. Remember the above quoted numbers for quarters of coverage to become fully insured are only minimum amounts.

Trial Work Period (TWP)

This concept is often misunderstood. The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is based upon the national average wage index. In 2015 the TWP was only $780, and this amount increases to $810 in 2016. If you are self-employed, you can also use a trial work month if you work more than eighty hours in your business, and this limitation will not change unless expressly adjusted.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

The earnings limit for a blind beneficiary in 2015 was $1,820 per month and will remain the same in 2016. Remember that this is not the TWP amount. This is to say that the TWP can be exhausted even if your income is well below $1,820 per month. See the above information about the TWP.

In 2016 a blind SSDI beneficiary who earns $1,821 or more in a month (before taxes but after subtracting unincurred business expenses for the self-employed, subsidized income for the employed, and impairment-related work expenses) will be deemed to have exceeded SGA and will likely no longer be eligible for benefits.

Social Security Benefit Amounts

In January 2016 the average amount of SSDI benefits for a disabled worker is estimated to be $1,166. Pursuant to the Social Security Act, a cost-of-living adjustment occurs automatically when there is an increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). If there is no inflation, there is no automatic COLA for SSDI and SSI beneficiaries. The CPI-W indicated no inflation between the third quarter of 2014 and the third quarter of 2015. Thus, there is no COLA in 2016 and no increase in monthly benefit amounts.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The federal payment amount for individuals receiving SSI in 2015 was $733 and will remain the same in 2016. The federal payment amount of SSI received by couples will also remain the same at $1,100.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

In 2015 the monthly amount was $1,780, and the annual amount was $7,180. These amounts will not change in 2016. The asset limits under the SSI program will also remain unchanged at $2,000 per individual and $3,000 per couple.

ABLE Act

Signed on December 19, 2014, the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act will have a significant impact on resource limits associated with the SSI and Medicaid programs for those who were blind or disabled by the age of twenty-six. Traditionally SSI beneficiaries have been required to adhere to strict resource limits: such as a maximum of $2,000 in the bank for an individual receiving SSI benefits. Under the ABLE Act, however, the amount on deposit in an ABLE Account can be much higher.

ABLE Account contributions must be designated specifically for purposes such as education, housing (with a cautionary warning to follow), employment training and support, assistive technology, health, prevention and wellness, financial management, legal fees, funeral and burial expenses, and other purposes which may be set forth in the implementing regulations.

As to the warning about ABLE Account contributions for housing, it is important to note that SSI beneficiaries may still face the traditional $2,000 resource limit for ABLE Account funds designated for housing. Thus, SSI beneficiaries should consider the many other purposes not subject to the traditional resource limits when making ABLE Account contributions. Because there are also tax advantages associated with ABLE accounts, both SSDI and SSI beneficiaries are strongly advised to consult the financial institution of their choice about establishing an ABLE Account.

Medicare

On November 10, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services released updated information regarding deductibles, coinsurance amounts, and premiums for 2016.  Since there is no COLA for 2016, the law contains a “hold harmless” provision that will protect more than 70 percent of beneficiaries from paying a higher premium. This provision is meant to protect beneficiaries from a reduction in net Social Security benefits that could occur when an increase in Medicare Part B premiums occurs without any change in benefits.  Those not protected by the “hold harmless” provision include higher income beneficiaries subject to an income-adjusted Part B premium and beneficiaries who become entitled to Part B in 2016.  Beneficiaries whose Medicare Part B premiums are paid by state medical assistance programs will see no change in their net benefits because the state will be required to pay any premium increases, should they occur.  But for the relatively few beneficiaries who do not fall within the “hold harmless” provision, the Medicare Part B premium is increasing to $121.80 in 2016, as calculated in accordance with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 signed by President Obama on November 2.

Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance amount is the hospital charge to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's coinsurance amount.

The Part A hospital inpatient deductible was $1,260 in 2015 and is increasing to $1,288 in 2016. The coinsurance charged for hospital services within a benefit period of no longer than sixty days was $0 in 2015. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day, the daily coinsurance amount was $315 per day in 2015 and will rise slightly to $322 in 2016. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days that may be used after a ninety-day benefit period has ended. Once used, these reserve days are no longer available after any benefit period. The coinsurance amount paid during each reserve day used in 2015 was $630 and in 2016 will be $644.

Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days following a three-day in-hospital stay within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one hundredth day in a benefit period, the Part A daily coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility was $157.50 for 2015 and is rising just slightly to $161 in 2016.

Most Social Security beneficiaries have no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for SSDI can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for at least ninety-three months after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2015 was $407 monthly and will increase to $411 in 2016.

The annual deductible amount for Medicare Part B (medical insurance) in 2015 was $147 and will rise to $166 in 2016. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate for 2015 was $104.90 per month and will not change in 2016 for those protected by the “hold harmless” provision since there was no COLA increase as discussed above. For those receiving Social Security benefits, this premium payment is deducted from your monthly benefit check. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social Security benefits due to work activity must directly pay the Part B premium quarterly—one payment every three months. Like the Part A premiums mentioned above, Part B is also available for at least ninety-three months following the trial work period, assuming an individual wishes to have it and, when not receiving SSDI, continues to make quarterly premium payments.

Programs That Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for assistance through four Medicare Savings Programs. We will discuss three of them here and leave the fourth one alone because (to qualify for it each year) you must already be on it, and you know who you are. We begin with the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program (QMB) and the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program (SLMB). To qualify for the QMB program in 2015, an individual’s monthly income could not exceed $981, and a married couple’s monthly income could not exceed $1,328. To qualify for the SLMB program in 2015, an individual’s monthly income could not exceed $1,197 and a married couple’s monthly income could not exceed $1,613.

Under the QMB program, states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium. Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.

Both the QMB and SLMB programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the states. The rules vary from state to state, but the following can be said: As of 2015 resources (such as bank accounts or stocks) could not exceed $7,280 for one person or $10,930 per couple. The third program, known as the Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program, pays Part A premiums only and has resource limits of $4,000 for one person and $6,000 for a married couple. As to these programs, resources are generally things you own. However, not everything is counted. Examples of things that don’t count include the house you live in, one car, a burial plot (or $1,500 put aside for burial expenses), and furniture.

If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay the following: Medicare's hospital deductible amount, the daily coinsurance charges for extended hospital and skilled nursing facility stays; the Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) premium, the annual Part B deductible; and the coinsurance for services covered by Medicare Part B, depending on which doctor you go to (these services include doctor services, outpatient therapy, and durable medical equipment).

If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the monthly Part B premium, depending on your circumstances.

If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number (800) 772-1213.

Remember that only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program and also that the income and resource levels listed here are general guidelines, with some states choosing greater amounts. Therefore, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the Public Aid Office or the Public Assistance Office) to apply. For more information about either program, call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on its toll-free number (800) 633-4227, or visit <Medicare.gov>.

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

by James Gashel

From the Editor: James Gashel is secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and chairs the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. Here is his announcement about the 2016 Bolotin Awards program:

The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These prestigious awards, granted each year as funds permit, recognize individuals, corporations, organizations, or other entities for outstanding work of excellence on behalf of the blind in the United States. The public recognition ceremony will be held during the 2016 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida. Each recipient will be given a cash award in an amount determined by the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee and will also be honored with an engraved medallion and plaque.

Dr. Bolotin was a pioneering blind physician who practiced in the early twentieth century, and the awards which bear his name are made possible through the generosity of his late nephew and niece. Their bequest, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, allows the National Federation of the Blind to recognize and support the most outstanding individuals and projects working to improve opportunities for blind people in the United States, consistent with Dr. Bolotin’s pioneering example.

As chronicled in his biography, The Blind Doctor by Rosalind Perlman, Dr. Bolotin fought ignorance and prejudice to gain entrance to medical school and the medical profession. He became one of the most respected physicians in Chicago during his career, which spanned the period from 1912 until his death in 1924. He was particularly known for his expertise in diseases of the heart and lungs. During his successful career Dr. Bolotin used his many public speaking engagements to advocate for employment of the blind and the full integration of the blind into society. Interested in young people in general and blind youth in particular, Dr. Bolotin established the first Boy Scout troop consisting entirely of blind boys and served as its leader.

Jacob Bolotin’s wife Helen had a sister whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise a son, Alfred Perlman. The Perlmans moved in with the Bolotins when Alfred was eleven, and for four years (until Jacob Bolotin's untimely death at age thirty-six), "Uncle Jake" became Alfred's surrogate father. Alfred later married Rosalind, and the couple worked on a book about Dr. Bolotin's life. After Alfred's death in 2001, Rosalind dedicated the rest of her life to completing and publishing the book. Then, upon her death and as part of her will, Rosalind left a bequest to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind to produce Dr. Bolotin's biography and establish the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award program. Her book, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, has been published by and is available from Blue Point Books <www.BluePointBooks.com>.

Award Description

In 2016 the National Federation of the Blind will again recognize individuals and organizations that have distinguished themselves in accordance with the criteria established to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. The committee will determine both the number of awards and the value of each cash award presented. The Federation determines the total amount to be distributed each year based on income received from the trust supporting the award program. The award categories for each year are blind individuals, sighted individuals, and organizations, corporations, or other entities. Individuals may apply on their own behalf or may submit a third party nomination, or the committee may also consider other individual or organizational candidates.

Who Should Apply?

Individuals: Only individuals over eighteen years of age may be considered for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. Applicants must demonstrate that they have shown substantial initiative and leadership in improving the lives of the blind. Examples of such initiative include but are not limited to developing products, technologies, or techniques that increase the independence of the blind; directing quality programs or agencies for the blind; or mentoring other blind people. All individual applicants or third-party applicants nominating other individuals must demonstrate that the work to be recognized has been conducted within the twelve months preceding the application and/or that the work is continuing. Applications by or on behalf of individuals must include at least one letter of recommendation from a person familiar with or directly affected by the work to be recognized.

Organizations: Organizations may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in order to further programs, services, technology, or techniques of unique and outstanding merit that have assisted and will continue to assist the blind. Applications from third parties nominating an organization will also be considered. The organization category includes corporations, nonprofit organizations, or other entities, such as a specific division within an organization. Organizations or third-party applicants must demonstrate that the programs or services to be recognized include substantial participation by blind people as developers, mentors, administrators, or executives, and not merely as clients, consumers, or beneficiaries. For example, an organization operating a program for blind youth might demonstrate that a substantial number of the counselors, teachers, or mentors involved in the program are blind. The organization or third-party applicant must demonstrate that it has substantially aided blind people within the twelve months prior to application and that an award would support efforts to build on previous successes. The application must also include at least one testimonial from a blind person who has benefited substantially from the programs or services.

To qualify for an award both individuals and organizations must be headquartered in the United States of America, and their work must primarily benefit the blind of the United States.

Procedures

More information, including an online application, can be found on the National Federation of the Blind website at <https://www.nfb.org/bolotin-award-main>.

Online submission of nominations, letters of support, and other relevant materials is strongly encouraged, but applications sent by mail and postmarked by the deadline will also be accepted. The 2016 deadline for application submission is April 15. Recipients chosen by the committee will be individually notified of their selection no later than May 15. Receipt of all complete applications will be acknowledged; only those applicants chosen to receive an award will be contacted by May 15. All decisions of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee are final.

The awards will be presented in July during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Individuals selected to receive an award must appear in person, not send a representative. Organizations may send an individual representative, preferably their chief executive officer. Recipient candidates must confirm in writing that they will appear in person to accept the award at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention. Failure to confirm attendance for the award presentation by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the award.

Ineligible Persons

Those employed full-time by the National Federation of the Blind may not apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for work performed within the scope of their employment. Students may not apply for both a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award and a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in the same year.

My Adventurous Commute to Work

by Syed Yousufuddin
           
From the Editor: Syed is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois who commutes daily to work. In these commutes he meets more people than many of us who have limited our transportation to personal vehicles, hired cars, taxicabs, or paratransit. In this article he explores the attitudes of those he meets and wrestles with how to deal constructively with them. Here is his article:

One of the great advantages of a big city like Chicago is the public transportation. People can get virtually anywhere by using the services of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). As a blind person I don't drive, so I rely entirely on public transportation for getting from one place to another.

Surprisingly, I didn't use public transportation to get to and from work during the first ten years of my employment. My first job was within walking distance of where I lived. When my office moved to the suburb of Lincolnwood, my boss arranged a ride for me. Apart from business-related travel out of state, I worked remotely much of the time. All of that changed recently when I took a job as a customer care representative for the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Hospital.

Now that I have become a regular on the CTA buses and trains (and since I am working I gladly pay full fare), I am trying to get the most out of my travel experiences. I take two buses and two trains, requiring three transfers, in order to get to and from work. It's a long and adventurous commute.

By now I am so used to being blind that I often forget all about it. I take public transportation to and from work like thousands of other commuters. What is the big deal? I think I possess good travel skills, and most of the people who know me agree. The people who travel with me and watch me every day—my fellow bus-mates and train-mates—should recognize this, too. They see me every day, and they ought to realize that I do not need any assistance. But unfortunately a lot of people seem to lack common sense.

Why does one man (I call him Uncle Joe out of respect) consider it his responsibility to grab my arm and guide me from the bus to the Brown Line Station on Western Avenue every morning? Uncle Joe and I ride the same bus every day. He has been watching me get on the bus independently for the past two months. Nonetheless, he refuses to realize that I do not need his assistance. I don't know how to tell Uncle Joe that I am fine. I politely refused his assistance in the beginning, but he religiously insisted on helping me. If it makes you happy, Uncle Joe, I am not going to protest.

Uncle Joe sends me off at the entrance to the train station, and from there I begin my solo journey. After seeing me for just two days, the CTA employee on duty was smart enough to realize that he didn't need to grab me and drag me from the turnstile to the platform. Now he greets me every morning with, "Hey Buddy, how are you?" I like him. I like smart people.

After I climb the stairs or take the escalator, I walk a few meters along the platform to reach the spot where I need to stand in order to get on the second car. But I don't walk the platform without some shouts of, "You're too close to the edge!" and "Stay to your right!" Again, these are people who watch me every day. Every day they see me use my cane to locate the edge of the platform and make sure I am safe. Come on, people! I understand your concern, but stop thinking I'm a misguided missile! I appreciated their concerns—rather, their shouts—with a smile in the beginning, but I don't pay attention to them anymore.

Like everybody else, I board the train with ease and find an empty seat. I have to admit here that it is tricky to find a seat once the train starts to move. It is hard for me to keep my balance with a cane in one hand while I'm searching with the other hand for a bar to hold onto. The key here is to move fast and settle down before the train picks up speed; otherwise you will end up hugging a stranger or sitting on someone's lap.

I would like to share one incident with you all. One day as I was riding the Brown Line, the train stopped at a station in the Loop. Some people got off, and some got on, and the train started to move. What happened next knocked the living daylights out of me. Out of nowhere, a beautiful young woman (yes, I have a beauty detector!) crash-landed on my lap. It was a shock and awe moment! Honey, I know I am irresistible, and I know you love me, but there is an empty seat right next to me! The whole mishap lasted only a few seconds, but it was an embarrassing situation for her—she apologized multiple times. Definitely it was not her fault; she simply lost her balance, and the people who witnessed the mishap realized that.

Now reverse the situation. Imagine for a minute that she was in my place, and I landed on her lap. The reaction would have been totally different. If a blind person loses his balance, it will become a blindness issue. "Oh, poor blind guy," people whisper. The whole car sympathizes with me, though losing balance has nothing to do with blindness.

Okay, let's move on. Let's take the Roosevelt bus. Did you know that there is a pre-recorded announcement on route twelve? "Blind person coming!" This announcement starts as soon as I board the bus. The bus operator makes this announcement, and the front end of the bus echoes it, amen. I am greeted as a superhuman being. People want to give up their seats for me. They inquire about my destination. They try to hold my arm even when I am seated, and they perform all sorts of other antics.

The story continues as I get off the bus and walk toward the Red Line train at the corner of State and Roosevelt. As I write this article, a construction project is underway on Roosevelt Road. Construction barriers stand along the street. It becomes a bit challenging for me to navigate the barricaded, narrow sidewalks and deal with the arm grabbers at the same time.

One fine evening, as I was cruising along toward the intersection of Roosevelt and State, I heard someone call, "Sir, you are running into a barrier! Come on, hold onto my arm."

I respectfully declined by saying, "Thanks, ma'am, I am fine."

I started walking a little faster, but she was determined to grab me. I could almost hear the words in my head: “Say what you will, baby, I'm coming for you!” She literally started running in order to get her hands on me. "Sir, sir!" she yelled. "Hold on!"

I managed to outrun her by using my cane to good effect and walking really fast, but she didn't give up. She caught up with me as I was waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street. "Don't put your life at risk!" she scolded. "That was dangerous. You almost ran into that fence."

I smiled and responded, "I told you I will be fine."

One day on that same block, I heard a little boy ask his mother, "Mom, what is that?"

"It's an aid that helps him to see," his mother responded. I figured by her response that the little boy was pointing at my cane. Apparently this woman was educated, and she showed that she had common sense. She was teaching that common sense to her son.

One evening I decided to take a different route on my way home. I walked an extra two blocks and boarded the Pink Line train. I found an empty seat and was trying to get situated, when someone remarked, "You look very confident with your cane."

I turned my head and thanked the woman who was standing next to my seat. She extended her hand and introduced herself to me. "I am Jackie," she said.

Interestingly, it turned out that Jackie also works for the UIC Hospital. She told me that she knows some other blind people, but they lack confidence. She was floored to see me so confident in my cane technique. I explained to her that, with proper training and opportunities, blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance.

As we talked another woman chimed in, "You are brave."

I couldn't agree with her more! Do I sound conceited? "Yes, ma'am," I replied, "and fortune favors the brave." They both concurred as I disembarked from the train.

We are indeed changing what it means to be blind, especially when it comes to training. I am fortunate that I went to BLIND Inc., the NFB training center in Minneapolis, where I gained my blindness skills. I stayed there for only six months, but those six months changed my life. We are changing, but a vast majority of the blind community is not. One example of a person without skills and confidence becomes the norm for the public and tarnishes the image of what blind people really can do. I feel bad whenever a paratransit driver drags a blind person into his car. I want to go and liberate that helpless blind individual. I am willing to liberate him, but first he needs to stand up for himself.

I see an urgent need for us to undertake more educational/awareness projects. We in the NFB have been on the frontline when it comes to educating sighted people, but I believe it is equally important for us to educate our fellow blind. We need to help them understand that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future, and that blindness should not hold you back. You can live the life you want.

Oh, did I tell you that I got a speeding ticket for walking fast at my workplace? And I had a cup of coffee in one hand! No way!

The 2016 Blind Educator of the Year Award

by Edward Bell

From the Editor: Dr. Edward Bell is an experienced educator in his own right. He was named Blind Educator of the Year in 2008. He chairs the 2016 Blind Educator of the Year Award Selection Committee. This is what he says:

A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the educators division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. The change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the impact an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.

This award is presented in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and Immediate Past President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance, advocacy, and love. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000.

Nominations should be sent to Dr. Edward Bell, director, PDRIB, by email at <ebell@latech.edu>, or post mail to PDRIB, Louisiana Tech University, P.O. Box 3158, Ruston, LA 71272. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee's current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 1, 2016, to be considered for this year's award. For further information contact Edward Bell at (318) 257-4554, or <ebell@latech.edu>.

Ladder Desk—A Creation Story

by Joe Schissler

From the Editor: Joe is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and actively participates in the activities of the Central Maryland Chapter. He is a former student at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland and a senior citizen who retired after a productive life of forty-one years from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County, Maryland. There he worked on the Navy’s Tomahawk Weapon System. He became blind after a bicycle accident, but it is clear that his motivation and creativity were not diminished by it.

In the National Federation of the Blind we are always encouraging blind people to expand their horizons and to take on tasks that go beyond the traditional roles usually assigned to us. Woodworking is one of the things we teach at our NFB training centers, but seldom do we get articles that discuss the way in which complicated projects are done, the specific challenges we have as blind people in doing them, and how the end product fares in competition with things built by people with sight.

In this article Joe provides enough detail to show every challenge he faced, how he met it, and the results of his work. We have tried to include many of the pictures Joe has provided, but the appendices are so detailed that we have decided to provide them only to those who write requesting the full article. If you wish to try building the desk or want more detail than we provide here, please write to me at <gwunder@nfb.org>. Here is the article. Enjoy!

This is the story of the creation of a desk that I built for my daughter Erika. I am writing this to show others, both blind and sighted, that it is possible to safely build a fairly complex piece of wood furniture without seeing what you’re doing. I also want to leave a record of how I did it, in case anyone in my family cares a few years from now. (I probably will have forgotten by then.)

I have been doing amateur woodworking for most of my adult life, and when I totally lost my vision in February 2009, I thought that hobby was over. My basement workshop sat idle for about three years. Then I enrolled in a rehab program for seniors who have lost or are in the process of losing their vision. This program is run at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), where they have, among many other things, a full-blown woodworking workshop equipped with all the professional power tools and equipment anyone would want, most of which I do not have at home but learned to use. I quickly realized that I can continue my woodworking hobby.

My first project at BISM was a small decorative table, which I built there and in my shop at home. It was also the first project I ever built using only hardwoods. It won a first-place ribbon at the Howard County Fair in 2014. This confirmed my belief about continuing my woodworking. Erika and my wife Eleanor helped me clean up and reorganize my workshop, and I have been in there almost every day since.

After the fair in 2014 I asked myself what I was going to build next. Then Erika asked me to build a ladder desk for her. My response was, “Okay, but what’s a ladder desk?” Erika had seen a ladder desk somewhere before and was able to describe it in general terms, and apparently the internet has lots of photos of them. Of course I couldn’t see them, but she and Eleanor talked me through the general characteristics. I now describe a ladder desk, which resembles a step ladder with the steps being replaced by shelves and the main shelf being the working surface of the desk. The back legs are vertical rather than slanted as in a stepladder, so the frame of the desk consists of two triangles, one on each side, and the shelves are supported by the frame. In our initial discussions Erika asked that it be made of cherry and maple and finished with tung oil and paste wax.

With this understanding I asked her to do the basic design of what she wanted, and I suggested that she sketch it out to get a feel for the proportions that she thought were correct. She responded by drawing the desk and defining the height, width, the number of shelves, and where they would be placed. She also explained the sizes of wood to be used. She emailed me a preliminary set of measurements, which we discussed and refined. The result of all this was a final design that is very similar to her first definition but had many minor modifications. I do not mean to imply that this was a quick process. The whole thing took place over several months, and the design was not really settled until the project was complete, as has been the case for all my woodworking projects.

As the building progressed I found I had to figure out how I was going to accomplish each step in construction and finishing. And, since I am totally blind, I frequently had to find new ways to do things. This is not a complaint, because this is the part of woodworking that I enjoy the most, although I have to admit that the challenges are a little greater now that I have to do things without seeing what I’m doing.

Foremost amongst the issues I was faced with, the fifteen-degree angle that permeates the design was the most interesting. This reminded me of mathematics that I hadn’t thought about much since high school. I found myself using algebra, geometry, and trigonometry to work out some of the design issues and cuts that had to be made. Many decisions as to the construction details were made during December. Among other things I had some concerns about constructing the fifteen-degree angle. In addition I had made the decision to use edge-to-edge joints at the top where the vertical and diagonal frame members meet and overlapping joints where the frame members meet at the bottom. An overlapping joint involves removing one-half of the thickness of each board to be joined so that the two boards fit together perfectly. In referring to several woodworking books that I have in my library, there seemed to be no real consistency as to the names for these overlapping joints. I’ve seen both “cross lap” and “end lap” used, depending on where the joints fall on the boards. So I will just call them lap joints. At the bottom, the two lap joints between the vertical and horizontal frame members are ninety-degree angles, but the two lap joints between the diagonal and horizontal members are seventy-five degrees.

So I made test cuts using some old three-quarter-inch pine boards that I had in my shop. My wife helped with the first cut, which cut a wedge-shaped piece at the top of the board that simulated the vertical frame member. We used a woodworking protractor that I had, and she sighted along it to get as close to fifteen degrees as she could, and I made the cut. I verified the angle using the trigonometry described in Appendix A at the end of this paper. I also realized that I could have used trig to make the first cut without any help. I remembered some geometry that said that that wedge could be used to set any later fifteen- or seventy-five-degree cuts. These test cuts turned out perfectly and are shown in the photos below. For better understanding, the first two photos show the cuts unassembled, and the third photo shows the bottom joints assembled. They are shown as viewed from the left side as seen facing the desk so that the front of the desk is on the right and the wall is on the left.

As I started construction the desk design looked like this: the frame consists of three boards on each side. Each board is one inch thick by three inches wide. On each side the vertical board is sixty-four inches long, the horizontal board is about twenty inches long, and the diagonal board is about sixty-seven inches long. The horizontal board is joined to the other two using lap joints, and the vertical and diagonal boards are joined edge-to-edge at the top and may use a screw from the back. The angle used for all the angular joints is about fifteen degrees.

All shelves are twenty-four inches long by three-quarter inches thick and are joined to the frame using three-eighths or one-half-inch deep dadoes. The top two shelves should extend to the outside edge of the diagonal frame member and be beveled to the correct angle to be flush. All shelves will have a two-inch high backstop. The top shelf is about four-and-a-half inches deep, and the bottom of the top shelf is six inches from the top of the frame. The second shelf is about seven-and-a-half inches deep, and the bottom of the second shelf is seventeen inches from the top of the frame. The desktop (shelf) is about twenty inches deep, and the bottom of the desk is thirty-five inches from the top of the frame.

The desk dimensions are twenty-four inches wide by twenty inches deep, but there will be a three-inch border of a wood different from the center. So the inner square dimensions are eighteen-by-fourteen. At this point the details of the desktop remained to be determined.

The horizontal frame member will be joined to the other members a couple of inches above the floor. This will make the bottom of the vertical and diagonal members the legs of the desk. A brace will join the bottoms of the two vertical frame members at the back for stability. It will be three inches by three-quarter inches by twenty-four inches and will be joined using three-eighth-inch mortice and tenons. In addition, I also saw the need for a cross brace at the bottom rear of the desk; this will provide more lateral stability. The details of this were to be determined later.

The above is a good description of the desk at this point in the process. The major change was in the thickness of the boards that composed the frame. I recommended increasing them to one inch from the three-quarter-inch. Cross bracing was added for better stability, and some of the joinery details changed.

Next came the calculation of the lumber needed and the actual purchase at Exotic Lumber in Annapolis, Maryland. Both Erika and Eleanor joined me in making that purchase. The following is a list of the material we wanted to buy. What we did buy changed based on the reality of what they had available at the time. For clarity it is noted here that the thickness of the rough boards purchased are expressed in increments of fourth of an inch; this is described in detail in Appendix B.

For the frame we needed to buy three six-and-a-half-foot rough cherry boards. Two are about seven or eight inches wide, and one is about four or five inches wide, either five-quarter or six-quarter inches thick. For the shelves and such, and assuming eight-inch widths, we needed four cherry short boards, which are six or seven feet long and four inches thick. We also needed to look at what they had available to do the design for the desk shelf, either soft maple or exotics in one quarter thickness or something else. For those readers who are not familiar with but are interested in the details of how to buy wood for woodworking projects, I have incorporated some of these details in Appendix B at the end of this paper.

Although we had been there before to see what they had and how it worked, we finally made the buying trip to Exotic Lumber on January 2, 2015. Using Erika’s initial specification and the modifications we agreed to, the final list of the boards we needed for construction follows.

The frame required five six-and-a-half-foot pieces of cherry, each three inches wide and one inch thick. Four pieces would be used for the vertical and diagonal members of the frame, and one would be used for the two horizontal members. The rough boards should be five-quarter cherry six feet long. These will be planed to one inch and ripped into five three-inch wide boards. The shelves, including the desktop, the backstops, and brace at the bottom are all three-quarter-inch cherry. These can come from several of the four-quarter rough cherry “shorts,” which are six feet long. We needed a total width of at least forty-two inches of thirty-six-inch long boards, all three-quarter inches thick. This would determine the number of cherry shorts we should buy.

At the lumber yard we found that the five-quarter cherry boards were not to my liking, so I asked to look at the six-quarter boards. These were very nice, so I paid a little extra for the better boards. My original plan was to buy these rough boards and take them to BISM to plane and rip them myself. Then I accidently found that Exotic Lumber would do all the planing and ripping for me at a cost of $25 for all the boards—both the six-quarters and the four-quarters. It would have cost me that much just to get the boards to BISM, and then there is all the time and effort to do the work, while the lumber yard could do it while we waited. So we came home with six six-foot boards planed to three-quarter-inch and various widths, mostly five and six inches wide. And six pieces of three-inch-by-one-inch by six foot boards, all cherry.

The only fly in this ointment was that Exotic Lumber’s planer had a couple of slight chips in the blade. I didn’t notice it at the time, but when we got the boards home, I found a couple of slight ridges running the length of each board. They all had to be sanded smooth. This wasn’t hard to do, but it took a fair amount of time.

Erika also requested a decorative inlay of maple on the desk surface itself. We purchased a half-inch thick piece of hard maple that was about four feet long and four inches wide for this purpose. It turned out in the end that I couldn’t figure out how to use it in a pleasing way for this project, so it has been used to good effect in a jewelry box I recently made for my granddaughter Kailey. So my wife and I later returned to Exotic Lumber for a rough board of soft maple, which they planed to three-quarter inch. Its use will be described later.

The first step in construction, after sanding both the three-quarter- and one-inch boards, was to cut and build the two frames. Before proceeding with this description let me give a brief overview of the tools I have in my basement workshop, which is shown in the photo below.

The shop includes a ten-inch, two-horsepower Craftsman radial arm saw that is at least thirty-five years old; a small, portable ten-inch table saw that is fairly new; a six-inch band saw several years old; a three-eighth-inch power hand drill that I bought in 1970; several kinds of sanders; and numerous hand tools including many chisels, rulers, and clamps of various sizes. I also have a very nice, sturdy and fairly large workbench with a good wood vise. The only saw I used for this desk was the radial arm saw. For a discussion of the three power saws I own and their attributes and pros and cons, see Appendix C at the end of this paper.

One of the key tools for my projects since I lost my sight is a Click-Rule. It allows me to make measurements accurate to one-sixteenth of an inch and one-thirty-second if I try hard. I used it for almost all the measurements for this project. I purchased one from the Independence Market at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore. It is the only tool that I use that is designed specifically for use by blind woodworkers; all my other tools are of standard design for general use.

The Click-Rule has tactile markings to enable blind users to tell where a moveable shaft is set. Moving the shaft in or out makes a clicking sound—hence the name. One click represents a movement of one-sixteenth inch. My Click-Rule is shown in the photo below—with the movable shaft extended two inches of a maximum extension of six inches. The Click-Rule as shown can measure from one-sixteenth of an inch up to one foot, but it comes with three twelve-inch extension rods to expand its capability to four feet. The leading edges of the two flanges are exactly six inches apart, so the ruler as shown is set to measure either two inches or eight inches, depending on which flange is used for the measurement. And the flanges are each exactly one-quarter-inch thick, which can be used to accurately position cuts. (See the discussion on cutting dadoes later in this paper.) I found this to be tricky, and I made a few errors at first. I still have to think carefully to get it right.

For approximate measurements I sometimes used a wooden folding rule. I know how long it is for any number of open segments, and I could get within a few inches with that. I also cut several strips of wood to lengths that I frequently had to measure, in particular the twenty-five inches for the distance between the two frames.

The very first cut for the desk was at the top of the first vertical frame member, using the aforementioned pine wedge to set the angle, and the resultant cherry wedge is shown in the photo below. This was used for the second vertical member and for all subsequent angular cuts. This was done for consistency. Using this wedge often required thought, creativity, and experimentation to get the required angular cut. I had to use the radial arm saw’s fence, which runs perpendicular to the saw blade, and/or a right angle square to create a fence parallel to the blade. Then I used the wedge to get the desired angle.

Another problem that had to be solved was how to make a cut on the end of a six-foot-long board using a radial arm saw with a three-foot wide table. The end not being cut had to be supported, and I don’t have any sky hooks in my shop. Nor do I have any of the adjustable supports made for this purpose. These have a height-adjustable roller so the board can be supported and moved, but they aren’t cheap. So I made a substitute using a stepladder, a support that fits over one of the steps, and some of my wife’s sewing magazines to adjust the final height to the height of the radial arm saw’s table. One end of the board sits on the saw’s table, and the other sits on the jury-rigged stepladder—problem solved. It’s crude, but it works. I used this device many times in building this desk. Again, this is a part of woodworking that I really enjoy.

As described above, the first two cuts for the desk were to create the angled surfaces at the top of the two vertical frame members. Later, these angled surfaces would be glued (and screwed) to the top edges of the diagonal members. Then one of the uncut six-foot one-inch cherry boards was cut in half to become the two horizontal frame members. At this point, all these boards were cut longer than required to allow for mistakes and “final tuning.”

Next came the four lap joints that would join the two horizontal frame members to the vertical and diagonal members. This required removing one-half-inch thickness from each board involved in each joint. There are four joints, so there were eight areas where wood had to be removed to a depth of one-half inch, and each area was about three inches wide.

In woodworking terms, a dado cuts across the grain of a board, so all these lap joints require making dadoes, while a groove is a cut that runs along the board. There are circular saw blades for just this purpose called dado blades. They consist of multiple blades that can be stacked together to make a wider cut on each pass. In Appendix D I have included many details about dado blades and making dadoes, including ensuring their accurate placement on the board.

There is an old and very true saying in woodworking: measure twice and cut once. For all my recent work I always expand this saying to include the setup for the cut and I increase the “twice” to three or four times. For all woodworkers, and particularly for the blind woodworker who can’t see what he or she is doing, the setup must include the placement and any needed movement of hands. I am right-handed, and I usually used my left hand to hold the wood and my right to pull the saw blade, and I always made very sure that my left hand was not where the blade was going to go. Making one wrong cut can lead to one or both of two results: one can remove fingers, and the other will lead to lots of extra work to either fix the piece or do it again.

Next came the gluing and screwing required to assemble the two frames. For each frame the first joint that had to be done was the one at the top—the edge-to-edge gluing of the top of the vertical and diagonal pieces. Because of the fifteen-degree angle at the top of the vertical piece, the problem here is that there were no parallel sides to make a good clamp that would not slip as tension was applied. This was exacerbated by the fact that liquid glue is actually a lubricant until it sets up, and the joint has to be held motionless until that happens. I used Elmer’s Carpenter’s Wood Glue throughout this project. In many of the joints I also used either wax paper or plastic wrap to protect surfaces I did not want to get glue on.

To glue this joint I decided to use a single screw to hold the two pieces together until the glue was completely dry. I used a large wood screw about four inches long, and I drilled holes from the back through the vertical member into the diagonal front member, such that, once the glue was applied, the screw would pull the joint together as it was tightened. Once the screw was in place, I was able to apply pressure over the length of the joint. This same procedure was used on both frames, and in the end I decided to leave the screws in place. These screws are the only metal objects in the desk. In trying to countersink the screws, I inadvertently chiseled a gouge around the head of one screw. I was told that the county fair judges took points off for this.

Once these joints were done—and I was mildly surprised that the joints were solid and the angles of the two frames were virtually identical—the horizontal member had to be attached near the bottom of the vertical and diagonal pieces. I left one inch of these pieces extended to become the legs of the desk. Also, the lap joints at the back had to allow for the brace board to fit into that joint along with the horizontal frame member. It was in making these lap joints that I made a somewhat serious mistake. I failed to get one of the angular dadoes in the correct place. I missed by about a quarter inch. This led to making the dado wider on one side and filling in the gap with a slice of cherry on the other. I did it the best I could, and after the sanding, it didn’t look (feel) too bad. If you are not looking for it, you might not notice it. However, the judges at the county fair did see it, and this, together with the aforementioned gouge around one of the screws, may have cost me a first-place ribbon.

At the same time I was working on the frame, I was also cutting several pieces of three-quarter-inch cherry, each about thirty inches long. These were for the two top shelves, the three backstops, and the braces at the bottom in the rear. The boards for each shelf were edge-glued to appropriate widths, sanded smooth, and set aside for later use. The only noteworthy issue with the shelves was the actual gluing. This required applying the glue to both edges of each board and clamping them together so as to minimize the sanding required. I have done this many times before, but I had never had to glue boards this long when I couldn’t see what I was doing. It had to be done by feel and fairly quickly. This initially led to much glue on my fingers, but I figured it out without too much mess.

Once the frames were complete and sanded, dadoes had to be made in the inside edges of the vertical and diagonal members to slide the shelves into. These dadoes were three-quarter-inch wide and about three-eighths-inch deep. While different from the original specification, my plan at this point was to make the width of the desk twenty-seven inches as measured from the outsides of the frame. This made the width as measured between the frames twenty-five inches. (This choice would turn out to be fortunate, as will be seen later.) Of course, the dadoes had to be at the correct height, as specified in the desk descriptions above, and the dadoes had to be aligned so that the shelves would be level when the desk is upright. The last point was easy since the dadoes could be cut in both the front and back members at the same time, with the vertical frame member against the fence on the radial arm saw. This is another situation in which I could have used sky hooks, but I had to use my jury-rigged stepladder to support the end of the frame. The only problem here was that the dadoes had to be on the correct side of the frame, and this required putting the stepladder on different sides of the saw for each frame—not hard to do, but it took a while to get it set up right.

What has not been discussed yet is the third shelf—the working surface of the desk. This is the twenty-inch deep shelf that Erika wanted to be a decorative desktop, one that has a pattern of maple incorporated into the cherry. We tried many variations using the hard maple that we bought on our first trip to Exotic Lumber. These included cutting the maple into rectangles that could be pleasingly inlayed in a solid cherry surface. To make a long story shorter, none of us could come up with a design that made anyone happy, and I had reservations about doing inlays since I don’t have a router that I would trust to remove one-half-inch of the cherry so that the maple pieces would fit tightly. I also did some research on the hardness of hard maple versus cherry. I was concerned about having to sand the finished surface and the problem that might result using two woods with very different hardnesses. (See Appendix B for a discussion of the Janka hardness scale.)

So we did a reset and looked for other ideas. Erika was busy at the time with her job and said “surprise me.” I had decided that soft maple would be a much better hardness match with the cherry, and my wife and I made another trip to the lumberyard. We bought a piece of rough four-quarter soft maple that they planed to three-quarters inch.

Then Eleanor came up with the idea that is reflected in the final product. We talked through it and, when we visited her sister Rosalie in Jupiter, Florida, in late February and early March, I sat down with Rosalie to make a scale drawing of the pattern so we could see what it would look like. With my help Rosalie was able to do it using PowerPoint software, and we all liked it.

Then, the next challenge was to build it, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. It required a lot of cutting thin strips of both maple and cherry and lots of gluing and trimming and sanding. And I had to keep the maple separate from the cherry.

I first calculated the appropriate sizes of each piece and started from the center and worked out. The rectangle of maple was easy. Then I built the cherry surrounding it: four strips of cherry glued on one at a time. I glued the first strip, cut and sanded it to length, then repeated it three more times until the cherry ring was complete. Repeat for the maple ring. Then the result had to be surrounded by wider pieces of cherry, and the width of each piece had to be carefully calculated to ensure that the final desktop was exactly twenty inches deep by the twenty-five-and-three-quarter inches wide required to fit in the frame’s dadoes. The final step was to sand the whole thing and make sure it was both smooth and flat. The result is shown in the photo.

Next came the assembly of the desk. This took a long time and was rather frustrating, but it was fun because it took a lot of imagination and figuring things out. I started this process without any glue, a technique called dry-fitting. I was dealing with the two very large frames, three shelves, and a lot of smaller pieces. During these many dry runs, I felt like I needed several extra hands. But, after much trial and error and the use of several measuring sticks and clamps, I was able to figure it out.

All these pieces had to fit together and in a very specific order. If the order wasn’t right, I could get to a point where I could not fit in a piece, and that would be a huge problem once I got to the point of actually using glue. I can’t count the number of times I put it together and took it apart. These dry runs were rehearsals to get the order of assembly correct and to do a lot of fine-tuning of the individual pieces. I did all this with the desk lying down—sometimes on its back and sometimes on its front. On its back, it was easier to fit the shelves, and on its front, it was easier to work on the braces that fit on the back.

The only part that hasn’t yet been discussed is the cross brace that provides lateral stability. This was done by using two pieces of three-quarter-inch cherry that fit in an x-shape between the frame members on the sides and the bottom of the third shelf (the desktop) and the top of the horizontal brace that fit in the dadoes that also held the horizontal frame members. It turned out that that rectangle was actually a perfect square—twenty-five inches by twenty-five inches. This made the construction of the lap joint easy; the two pieces crossed in the middle of each, and the angle was exactly ninety degrees. These pieces were added last, and I was concerned about how tightly they would fit, which was important for the stability of the desk. But they went in very tightly, to the point that I did not use any glue in the lap joint itself. The result as installed is shown below.

As an afterthought, I used some of the leftover maple and cherry to make two desk accessories: a small, tall box to store narrow and long objects, such as pencils and pens, and a small, shallow box for other desk-related accessories, such as paper clips, erasers, etc. These small boxes required the use of thin pieces of wood, and this allowed me to explore the world of resawing. Resawing is a technique of cutting a thick board into thinner boards; in this case cutting a three-quarter-inch thick board into two one-quarter-inch thick boards. This is usually done using a band saw, and I have one in my shop. I had used one at BISM for this purpose with less than satisfactory results, but I had no trouble using mine at home. I used the resulting pieces to construct the two boxes shown in the photo below.

Now the desk construction and assembly was complete, and the last step was to apply several coats of tung oil and two coats of paste wax. Erika had specified both, and I had done some of each on my previous project, the small table. But this was a much larger task. At BISM I had used the easily available product called Tung Oil Finish before, but I wanted to do some research to find out if that was the best thing to use.

It turns out that this product is not really tung oil. It may contain a small amount of tung oil or it may not, but the rest is chemicals that are added to speed up the drying time. On the other hand, pure tung oil is a natural product that comes from the seeds of the tung tree, which is found only in China and in some areas of South America. It is a nontoxic vegetable oil and can be used on surfaces that are used for food preparation. It cures rather than dries over time to bring out lots of rich color and grain patterns that my wife says makes the wood “pop!” It does take a long time for each coat to cure before applying the next coat. It is rather expensive and cannot be found in any hardware store, but my favorite woodworking supplier, Lee Valley, carries pure tung oil, so I bought some.

Before starting to apply the oil, I spent some time raising the grain. If this is not done, some bad things can happen, as was the case for the first top I built and finished for the small table. I had perfectly sanded the glued-up top and followed that with tung oil and wax, just as I was instructed to do at BISM. A couple of days later, I noticed with much dismay that I could feel the seams of the top’s surface. For several months nobody could explain what had happened. I ended up making a completely new top.

When I read the directions for the pure tung oil, they reminded me that the oil will raise the grain if it is not already done. I knew this but had forgotten it. It turns out that a wood surface will become slightly rough if it gets wet. The water causes the grain of the wood to stand up, and it has to be sanded again to get it smooth. Later applications of water will not affect it nearly as much, and one time is usually enough. The technique is simply to use a fairly wet sponge (you really can’t get it too wet) to wipe all the wood surfaces, let them dry, and sand. When I used the wet sponge on the desk, I was surprised to find that the tiny ridges from the chip in the lumber store’s planing saw reappeared—not as much as before, but it was pretty noticeable, especially on the desk frame. So I had to resand all those surfaces. Then I raised the grain again, and sanded again, just to be sure.

Once all that was done, I used a small pump-style plastic bottle to help in the application of the tung oil. This was the first large piece of furniture that I had the pleasure of putting pure tung oil on. The oil actually smells rather nice; even my wife agreed. And there are no warnings about ventilation, as exist with many other finishing products. I simply pumped a small amount onto my fingertips and rubbed it on, spreading it out as far as I could, which wasn’t far for each pump. I then spent a few seconds rubbing it in. The pump bottle made this task much easier than it would have been without it, and I soon got the hang of it. It took about ninety minutes for each coat. I did a reasonable area (about one-fourth of the project), then went back to wipe off the excess, and continued until that coat was done. Then I came back about an hour later and wiped again to get up any resurfaced excess. Note that tung oil is an oil, and rags that get damp from wiping off any excess oil should be properly handled. They are susceptible to spontaneous combustion and should be spread out to dry and disposed of properly.

I found no consistent directions as to how long to wait between applications and how many coats to apply. I waited at least three days for each coat to cure and put three coats on the frame and four on the shelves. The Lee Valley directions recommended up to ten coats on surfaces such as the top of a desk, but it gave no explanation of what the value of this many coats is. No one said anything about putting furniture paste wax over tung oil, but I did it.

The final result is shown in the two photos below. Erika saw her desk for the first time at the Howard County Fair, and I believe she was surprised.

Now this project and story are finished, but the life of the desk has just begun, and the benefits in my life and in the expanded vision of what I can do will extend far beyond the pages of this article.

The 2016 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award

by Carla McQuillan

From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, a former board member of the national organization, and the owner and executive director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating three Montessori schools. Most recently she has accepted an appointment as the chairman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award Committee. Here is the announcement she has written, seeking applications for the 2016 award:

The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind students at our 2016 annual convention, June 30 through July 5, in Orlando, Florida. The winner of this award will receive the following:

The education of blind children is one of the National Federation of the Blind's highest priorities. We are committed to offering and supporting programs that enhance educational opportunities for this group. Please help us recognize dedicated and innovative teachers who provide quality education and meaningful experiences and opportunities for their blind students.

Q: Who is eligible for this award?

A: Anyone who is currently a teacher, counselor, or the administrator of programs for blind students.

Q: Does an applicant have to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind?

A: No, but attending the national convention in Orlando is required.

Q: Can I nominate someone else for this award?

A: Yes. Applicants can be nominated by colleagues, parents, supervisors, or friends who have first-hand knowledge of the individuals work with blind students.

Q: How would I apply?

A: You can fill out the application at the end of this article or find it on our website at
www.nfb.org.

Q: What is the deadline to submit an application or make a nomination?

A: All applications must be received no later than May 1, 2016.

Please complete the application and attach the required documents specified in the application. If you have questions, contact Carla McQuillan at (541) 653-9153.

National Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
2016 Application
Deadline: May 1, 2016

Name: _______________________________________________________
Home address: _________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: _________________________________________________
Phone: (H) ____________________ (W) ____________________________
Email: ______________________________________________________
School: ______________________________________________________
Address: _____________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: _________________________________________________
Use a separate sheet of paper to answer the following:

Email is strongly encouraged for transmitting nominations; letters of support and other relevant materials should be included as attachments. Applications sent by mail and postmarked by the deadline will also be accepted. Send all material by May 1, 2016, to Carla McQuillan, Chairperson, Teacher Award Committee, <president@nfb-oregon.org> or by mail to 5005 Main Street, Springfield, OR 97478; (541) 653-9153.

Recipes

As a special holiday treat, the Monitor put out a call on the Nfbnet-members-list for holiday recipes. And the members responded with a variety of the most delicious recipes, from the classic and traditional holiday favorites, to more unusual choices for holiday fare, from breakfast to dessert. But whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice, or just having friends and family together, you’re sure to find something to tickle your taste buds in these amazing recipes.

Breakfast Delight
by Yvonne Garris, Pennsylvania

Yvonne tells us why this is her favorite holiday recipe: “My mom use to always make this for Christmas morning, and now I make it. Since you make it the night before you have a stress-free Christmas morning with breakfast in the oven. It makes me think of my mom and makes Christmas a little warmer.”

Ingredients:
1 loaf of bread, cut into cubes
1/2 pound shredded cheddar cheese
1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled (cubed ham or sausage work as well)
12 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 stick butter, melted

Method: in a nine-by-thirteen-inch pan layer half of the bread, cheese, and meat. Repeat layers. In mixing bowl beat eggs together with butter and milk, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour egg mixture over layers in pan. Set pan in refrigerator to sit overnight. In the morning preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove pan from refrigerator, cover with aluminum foil. Bake covered for fifty minutes, remove cover, bake additional ten minutes.

Stuffed French Bread Casserole
by Linda Coccovizzo, Missouri

Linda says: “I’ve been doing Christmas at my house for the last seven or eight years, playing Mama Santa. I do everything I can to make sure there is either a present under the tree or a stocking for anyone there, especially if you’re a kid. Sometimes I have people in early, and there is a need to put together a large breakfast. This is an overnight, quick, but awesome dish that will have your family and friends convinced you are the bomb in the kitchen!”

Ingredients:
20 slices French bread (one-inch thick)
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
12 eggs
2 cups milk

Method: Arrange ten slices of bread in a thirteen-by-nine-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Spread each slice with cream cheese. Top with remaining bread. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together; pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from the refrigerator thirty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes or until top is lightly browned.

You can use flavored cream cheese or flavor it yourself with fresh strawberries or preserves. You can go the fat free or sugar free route if you like. Add flavoring to your egg mixture with maple syrup or cinnamon and sugar and maple extract. Leave the cream cheese plain and top with preserves, syrup, or whatever fits your fancy. Change it up however you want. I serve this with ham steaks for a quick, easy breakfast for a crowd.

Egg Drop Soup
by Una Lau, Texas

Una has this to say about her holiday recipe, “My father was a professional chef from China. We owned Chinese restaurants, and he gave me his recipe, which is a favorite among my friends when they come over for dinner.”

Ingredients:
1 can of premium chicken broth
1 can of premium cream corn (has to be creamy)
1 cup cubed pork or ground pork
Green onions, minced (optional)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
1 egg
Oil to cook meat (Canola, peanut, or non-extra-virgin olive oil all work well)
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
           
Method: Season cubed pork with salt, sugar, soy sauce and cornstarch. This is a traditional Chinese seasoning method: get one pork chop and slice into strips and put in a bowl. Put a pinch of salt and sugar on top. Then pour in soy sauce. In a separate bowl, put cornstarch and mix with water to make it into a glue-like consistency. Wear a disposable glove and mix the cornstarch with the meat. Now use your gloved hand to squeeze and massage the meat so that the seasoning is well mixed in with the meat.

In a deep soup pot, pour in oil and pan fry the pork until half cooked. Pour in the cans of chicken broth and cream corn; bring everything to a boil. Add the white pepper and salt. Very slowly pour in the eggs in a steady stream. To make shreds, stir the egg rapidly in a clockwise direction for one minute. To make thin streams or ribbons, gently stir the eggs in a clockwise direction until they form. Garnish with green onion and serve.

Egg Drop Soup is frequently thickened with cornstarch in restaurants. To add a cornstarch thickener, mix two to three tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/2 cup water. Just before adding the beaten egg, stir in the cornstarch/water mixture, remove the soup from heat, and then add the beaten egg.

Sweet Potato or Yam Casserole
by Mary Ellen Gabias, British Columbia

Mary Ellen says, “In our home we celebrate Thanksgiving twice—Canadian Thanksgiving on the weekend of the second Monday in October and American Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. My children tell me that neither Thanksgiving feast is official unless this casserole is on the menu. It’s the only sweet potato or yam casserole I’ve ever found that has no added sugar, yet it tastes dessert sweet.”

Ingredients:
6 to 8 large yams or sweet potatoes
1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon almond extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or you can use 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice)

Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a small slit lengthwise in each yam and bake until soft, about an hour and a half.

When potatoes have cooled enough to handle, slice them in half lengthwise. Scoop pulp into mixing bowl. If you choose, you can save the skins and make “twice baked” potatoes; otherwise, discard skins. Add the rest of the ingredients to the potatoes and mix thoroughly using electric beaters. For twice baked, spoon mixture into reserved shells; otherwise, put mixture into casserole. Whichever you choose, return to oven at 350 degrees long enough to heat through, between fifteen and thirty minutes.

Killer Mac ’N Cheese
by Beth Taurasi, Colorado

Beth says, “I'm a graduate from the Colorado Center for the Blind from the class of 2011. This particular recipe is a huge hit especially with my friends. This is a really good treat for Christmas.”

Ingredients:
1 package pasta, whatever shape you like
1 pound Velveeta or other processed cheese
1 3/4 cups of whole milk or 2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk,
2 cups or 1 8-ounce bag of your choice and the of cheddar cheese, white or sharp
2 cups or 1 8-ounce bag of any other cheese (Monterey Jack, Fiesta blend, taco cheese, etc.)
3/4 cup egg whites/egg substitute in cartons
1 whole stick of butter

Method: Cook pasta according to package directions, but for best results do not completely cook the pasta. Strain the pasta, then place it in a slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients, usually I do liquid ones first, to the slow cooker and cook on low until cheeses are melted through. You may serve this as soon as all of the cheeses melt, stirring occasionally. The total cooking time is only one to one-and-a-half hours maximum.

Bruce’s Rigatoni
by Claudia J. Combs-Wise, Michigan

Ingredients:
1 pound Rigatoni (brand of your choice)
1 large sweet onion
1 green pepper
Olive oil
6 cloves garlic (plus or minus to taste)
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 pound ground sausage (as mild or spicy as you like)
2 to 3 tablespoons oregano
2 to 3 tablespoons basil
Salt and pepper to taste
A few flakes of red pepper (if you like heat)

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil pasta in salted water and drain. In a saucepan add tomato sauce, paste, and spices, heat to simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning while cooking. In a skillet, brown sausage, crumbling sausage as it cooks. Chop onion and garlic and sauté in olive oil until light to medium brown, and then set aside. Chop green pepper and sauté in olive oil until it starts to brown and set aside. Combine all ingredients in ovenproof pan, stir, cover, and bake for ten minutes.

Peanut Blossom Cookies
by Linda DeBerardinis, New Jersey

Linda says,I am an active member of the NFB of New Jersey.  I’m on the board of directors for the state and on the scholarship committee, plus I am the treasurer for the Garden State chapter. This recipe has been in my family for as long as I can remember. If you follow these directions, you will have baked what others have only tried! They are delicious!”

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
30 to 35 Hershey’s Kisses

Method: in a bowl mix butter, peanut butter, sugar, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla with a spoon. In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients together. Slowly stir dry ingredients into wet, mixing evenly. Eventually you may need your hands to knead the mixture. Shape dough into small balls, using rounded spoon. Roll balls around in additional granulated sugar on wax paper.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees for six to eight minutes.
Remove from oven and place one Hershey’s Kiss on top of each cookie, pressing down firmly. Return to oven and bake for three to five minutes longer. Note: It’s wise to unwrap all the chocolate kisses before the cookies first come out of oven.

Swedish Twists                                                   
by Maureen Pranghofer, Minnesota

Maureen says this is her favorite holiday recipe. It is an old family recipe brought to the United States by her great-grandmother from Sweden.

Ingredients:
1 cake yeast or one packet
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3-1/2 cups sifted flour
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shortening
3 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 cups sugar

Method: Soften yeast in lukewarm water. Sift flour and salt, and cut in butter and shortening. Blend in eggs, sour cream, one teaspoon of vanilla, and softened yeast to flour mixture and mix well. Cover and chill for two hours.

After two hours, mix sugar and remaining vanilla. Sprinkle board with one-half of sugar/vanilla mixture. Roll out one-half of dough into a rectangle (approximately 16” by 8”). Sprinkle some sugar/vanilla onto rectangle and roll again the width way of the rectangle. Fold one side of dough over to the center; repeat with the other side to make three layers. Put some more sugar/vanilla on top and roll just enough to have the sugar/vanilla set in dough or about one-quarter inch thick. Cut into one inch strips. Twist each strip two or three times and place on lightly greased cookie sheet. If strip is too long, cut in half and continue with twist. Repeat for rest of dough. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes.

Christmas Pretzel Salad
by Barbara Pierce, Ohio

Ingredients:
3 cups pretzel crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup sugar (I use 2/3 cup)
1 small tub Cool Whip
1 large box strawberry Jell-O
 20 ounces frozen strawberries
1 cup water

Method: Mix first three ingredients and press into 13-by-9-inch dish. Bake for ten minutes at 425 degrees; set aside to cool. Beat cream cheese and sugar till smooth. Fold in the Cool Whip. Carefully spoon it to the edges of the crust. Dissolve Jell-O in water that has come to a boil. Stir in the frozen berries and their liquid. Pour over the cream cheese layer and chill till set. In recent times I have spun the berries in the food processer to make the Jell-O part smoother, I leave a bit of texture.

Crock Pot Candy
by Arlene Hill, Louisiana

Arlene says, “This is a recipe that I have found to be wonderful tasting, easy, and fun for children to help out with. I unfortunately didn't have it when my kids were little but have had fun doing it with grandchildren, almost always at Christmastime. It makes a lot and can be given to neighbors and friends.”

Ingredients:
1 jar unsalted peanuts
1 jar salted peanuts
1 18-ounce package chocolate chips
1 4-ounce plain chocolate bar
2 packages chocolate bark

Method: This must be done in exact layers. First layer unsalted peanuts on bottom of crock pot. Next salted peanuts, then chocolate chips. Break the chocolate bar into pieces, sprinkle over layers. Finally, break chocolate bark into pieces, sprinkle over top. Do not stir, cover and place crock pot on low, mine cooks a bit high so I put it on keep warm or it scorches on the bottom. Leave alone for three hours. Remove lid and stir, drop by table spoon full onto waxed paper and let cool. Package as you wish for gifts or have your family enjoy.

Peanut Butter Balls
by Melissa Riccobono, Maryland

A collection of holiday recipes from the Federation just wouldn’t be complete without one from the Federation’s First Family. Federation First Lady Melissa Riccobono offers this memory of her recipe, “I have fond memories of making these with my mom and older sister. First of all, the dough by itself is delicious, so I know we ate our fair share while we worked. Our job was to roll the balls and put them on wax paper. After all of the rolling was done, we had to carry the balls, one at a time, to my mom at the stove. My mom would say "plop" each time she put a ball into the chocolate. My sister and I thought this was hilarious when we were young and loved the sound effects. I now love making these with my own kids. It's a great way to pass the time on a cold winter afternoon. Warning! These peanut butter balls look to have no nutritional value at first glance. Remember however, there is protein in peanut butter, and if you use dark chocolate you will reap the health benefits from it as well!”

Ingredients:
1 pound butter
1 pound crunchy or creamy peanut butter (I prefer crunchy)
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 to 2 pounds baking chocolate (I prefer a darker chocolate, but I am sure any type would work. Even melted chocolate chips might work in a pinch.)

Method: Melt butter and peanut butter together. Stir until well blended. Add powdered sugar, stirring frequently to mix into dough. Roll dough into small balls—a bit smaller than golf balls will probably work best—and put balls on wax paper. Allow them to cool a bit while you prepare the chocolate. Melt chocolate on stove or in microwave. Start with one pound of chocolate; you can always melt more if needed. Carefully dip balls into chocolate until coated. Put balls on wax paper to cool and harden. Store in a cool place. You can refrigerate, but it is not absolutely necessary. Makes many servings!

Bourbon Balls
by Shelia Wright, Missouri

Shelia Wright has been a member and leader in several states. She currently serves as the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, and she has a good sense of chapter history. Here is how she introduces this recipe: “I remember one of the longtime traditions at our Kansas City Chapter Christmas parties was the Bourbon Balls made by Bill Simms, Jana Moynihan’s father. Because they were quite potent, he always made a special batch to go on the front edge of the tables for the kids, but he would monitor the buckets to be sure that no young hands reached into the adult bucket.”

Ingredients:
Box of vanilla wafers
1 16 oz. pack of chocolate chips (semi-sweet)
2-1/2 cups of chopped pecans
1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar
3 tablespoons of light Karo syrup
1/2 cup of bourbon
Powdered sugar for rolling

Method: Melt chocolate in double boiler. Crush wafers and nuts. Combine granulated sugar, bourbon,  syrup, and  melted chocolate. Add crushed wafers and nuts. Stir  all together. Shape into balls and  roll in powdered sugar. Store in tins. 

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

A Brief Report from the National Organization of Blind Educators:
At our national convention, we were privileged to hear from several successful blind educators from a variety of fields. Sheila Koenig shared her experiences as a ninth grade English teacher, Carla McQuillan described her journey from the classroom to an administrative position, Mrs. Patricia Maurer gave us insights into her days as a substitute teacher, and Dr. David Ticchi passed along his expertise in creating an ethical and respectful classroom and schoolwide community.

In addition to the opportunity to hear this fantastic panel, the division took time to network in small groups by grade and subject level and to plan for future outreach and fundraisers on behalf of the division.

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

Information Available on NASA Internships:
If you would like to subscribe to an announcement-only list about NASA internships for people with disabilities, please send an email to <nasainterns-request@freelists.org> with “subscribe” in the Subject field, or by visiting the list page at <http://www.freelists.org/list/nasainterns>.

Coloring Books and More from New Business:
Ambron Products is a newly formed business whose main purpose is to produce and sell books and other items that can be shared by the blind and the sighted in the community. The company was started by two members of the Colorado Center for the Blind Senior Support Group.

 Our first product is a Braille and large print coloring book with tactile pictures for blind and sighted children and adults to share. The book is: I am a Crayon. What Color am I? by John Batron. John has been an active member of the NFB for many years. Part of his inspiration for this book was his desire to share with his five grandchildren.

 We are also offering a 2016 calendar, produced by Tactile Vision Graphics Inc. The theme of the calendar is the history of the automobile. Each month has the Braille and large print name and date of a different car, with a tactile representation of the car. The dates on the calendar are in Braille. After the first of the year, the price of the calendar will be discounted. We will also offer discounts for quantity purchases.

If you would like more information or are interested in purchasing one or more of these items, please contact Estelle at Ambron Products: (303) 789-7538 or by emailing <ambronproducts@gmail.com>. Blessings, and thanks for your interest and support!

Monitor Mart

The notice in this section has been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.

For Sale:

I have a PowerBraille 40 with cables in good condition and a Perkins Braille Writer also in good condition. Both are for sale, either together or separately. Call Vincent Tagliarino at (716) 681-1645 to make a reasonable offer on one or both items.



NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

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