Vol. 59, No. 1 January 2016
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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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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The 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, June 30 to July 5, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Shingle Creek staff only. Call (866) 996-6338.
The 2016 room rates 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 13.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $95-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before May 27, 2016. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before May 27, 2016, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
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 also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site spa. The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort has a number of dining options, including two award-winning restaurants, and twenty-four-hour-a-day room service.
The schedule for the 2016 convention is:
Thursday, June 30 Seminar Day
Friday, July 1 Registration Day
Saturday, July 2 Board Meeting and Division Day
Sunday, July 3 Opening Session
Monday, July 4 Business Session
Tuesday, July 5 Banquet Day and Adjournment
Vol. 59, No. 1 January 2016
Illustration: The NFB of Pennsylvania Convention Then and Now
Statewide Blind Group Meets at Birthplace
by Eric Mark
When History Repeats Itself, Why Must Blind People Be the Victims?
by Steve Jacobson
Keeping Some of the Good Oranges
by Justin Salisbury
Low-Tech Solutions for Employment for the Blind
by Jan Bailey
People, Power, and Pelf
by Ed Vaughan
A Matter of Dignity: How Minnesota is Failing the Disabled
by Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt
In Their Own Words: The Historical and Rhetorical Significance of the Annual Banquet Address at the National Federation of the Blind Convention
by J.W. Smith
Senior Citizens Take on Senior Challenges
by Ken Cary
The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship
by Patti S. Gregory-Chang
Class Action Lawsuit Against Redbox Has Proposed Settlement
Copyright 2016 by the National Federation of the Blind
In mid-November of 1940 the Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind held its fifth annual convention in Wilkes-Barre. Gale Burlingame, president of the organization, invited representatives of other organizations of the blind to attend that meeting, which was to be held at the Reddington Hotel. We all know that in the late afternoon of Saturday, November 16, the National Federation of the Blind came into being with Jacobus tenBroek as its first president. Gus Genetti, son of the original owner, explained that the room where that historic meeting took place at the Reddington Hotel was damaged by fire, but the Genetti Hotel, which was expanded and occupies the same property, has continued to serve the community.
It was at the Genetti that the NFB of Pennsylvania conducted its 2015 convention November 13 to 15. NFB President Mark Riccobono was the national representative, and a number of other state presidents were also present: Pam Allen of Louisiana, Carl Jacobsen of New York, Eric Duffy of Ohio, and Jennifer Dunnam of Minnesota. Other notables included Marion Gwizdala, president of NAGDU; Barbara Pierce, longtime president in Ohio and former editor of the Braille Monitor; and Julie Deden, director of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Dutch tenBroek, the tenBroeks’ eldest son, and his wife Kathy were also in attendance throughout the weekend.
Friday was filled with parent and legislative seminars and an exhibit room. The students met that evening. One of the highlights of the day was a fundraiser for the Keystone Chapter, a game of Jeopardy featuring NFB trivia questions with Carl Jacobsen, Julie Deden, and Barbara Pierce as the contestants. Carl wiped up the floor with the two women. An auction that evening raised a good deal of money for the affiliate.
Many of the presentations during the convention session contrasted life and prospects today with life as it was lived in 1940. After lunch on Saturday participants congregated outside the hotel to take pictures before a bronze plaque at the entrance of the hotel. This plaque displays the NFB logo and the words “Birthplace of the National Federation of the Blind November 1940” both in raised letters and in Braille.
This was a truly memorable convention. Dutch tenBroek’s recollections of his family and especially his father were unforgettable. A champagne toast was offered by President Riccobono at the banquet using commemorative wine glasses for each attendee. No one who was present will ever forget the convention.
by Eric Mark
From the Editor: This article comes from The Citizen’s Voice and its web version citizensvoice.com, originally published November 15, 2015. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher and shows what citizens of Wilkes-Barre heard about the organization that was born in their community:
The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of the Blind held its annual convention this weekend at the spot where the organization was born in 1940: Best Western Genetti Hotel & Conference Center.
In November 1940, a group of sixteen advocates for the blind from seven states gathered in Wilkes-Barre at the hotel that is now Genetti's. They formed a constitution that created the National Federation of the Blind, or NFB, which grew to be the largest organization led by blind people in the nation. To mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Federation's founding, the Pennsylvania chapter chose Wilkes-Barre as the site for this year's state convention, said Lynn Heitz, the chapter's first vice president. "The national organization was founded right here," she said Saturday afternoon, outside a spacious meeting room where most of the 120 people who attended the convention gathered for lectures and seminars on a wide range of topics that affect the visually impaired.
Blind and low-vision people of all ages walked confidently into and out of the room with the help of long white canes. One of the seminar topics was "Technology for the blind and how it has changed.” Mark Riccobono, the national president of NFB, had some thoughts on that, as he stepped out of the meeting room to speak with a reporter. He called technological advances "double-edged" for the visually impaired community. On the upside, there are useful technologies such as voice-activated personal assistants available on computers and smart phones. Riccobono demonstrated an app he recently installed on his iPhone, called KNFB Reader, that can take a picture of printed text and read it aloud to a visually impaired person. He pointed his phone toward the program for the convention, clicked a button, and a mechanical voice started to recite the convention schedule listed in the program.
On the other hand, the push for technological solutions to replace Braille, a writing system for the blind that uses raised letters and characters, has left some blind people struggling, especially younger ones in school and college, Riccobono said. "A lot of technology is not built with accessibility in mind," he said. He cited his own experience growing up as a legally blind student in Wisconsin, where his teachers, in line with the educational philosophy of the time, tried to get him to read and study as much as possible the conventional way and use Braille only as a last resort. "I faked it all the time," he said. "I had to memorize things.”
There were lots of positive stories at the convention, which draws a dedicated core group and some newcomers each year, according to Heitz, who described the gathering as "a family.” Liliya Asadullina, twenty-two, said being blind has not stopped her from a rewarding and enjoyable college career at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "They have a really good public transportation system," she said, adding that she has no qualms about taking a bus or train on her own. She credited the local chapter of the NFB near Philadelphia, where she grew up, with helping her to develop that confidence. "They showed me you have to be independent," she said.
The NFB has led the push for civil rights for the blind, which has helped raise awareness for all special needs groups, Riccobono said. As traffic drove by on East Market Street outside the hotel, he gave an example. In 1940 when the Federation was founded, if a car jumped a curb and struck a blind person on a sidewalk, the blind pedestrian was considered partly culpable, according to Riccobono. Blind people and others with challenges or special needs were expected to basically stay out of sight and mind in those days, he said. Today, through educational efforts and legislation such as "white cane laws" that require motorists to stop and allow blind pedestrians to cross the street, things are different, Riccobono said. "Blind people have the right to be in the world," he said.
by Steve Jacobson
From the Editor: In the December 2015 issue of the Braille Monitor, we talked about the rollout of Unified English Braille and the decision made by the Braille Authority of North America, the National Federation of the Blind, and the American Council of the Blind to continue using Nemeth Code for mathematics in the same way that we continue to use music Braille for that very specific notation. Every organization that debated this issue was reluctant to change Braille, but all of them decided that, in the interest of allowing it to represent print symbols that are more commonly used in our more technical society, in an effort to produce better materials which are translated from print to Braille and from Braille to print, and in an effort to create a code which could more easily be expanded as changes in notation would require, we would make the difficult transition to Unified English Braille for the literary code. However, because of many concerns raised about the use of Unified English Braille for mathematics, a decision was made that we would continue to use the Nemeth Code for mathematics.
In this article Steve Jacobson discusses policy positions taken by the Braille Authority of North America and examines the implications of letting the choice of Braille instruction be individualized. I observe that the word “individualized,” like the word “choice,” seems to be the buzzword of the day. The question we must ask ourselves is whether words in common usage represent the goal being sought when they were adopted or whether their invocation too often represents just the opposite. Because individualized education is a part of the law, some claim there can be no requirement that blind children be given Braille instruction, that no test can be used to determine a child’s optimal reading method, and that, in essence, individualized means that what a child gets or does not get is dependent on his or her individualized education team, a team all too often composed of people who lack a strong understanding of (or often even basic exposure to) the efficient use of blindness techniques. Since so many in the field proclaim that we are interested in seeing more blind people enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, isn’t it reasonable that we point out that the argument is rarely if ever advanced that the answer to a scientific problem or a mathematical answer is individualized or a matter of choice? Arguing for a teaching style that embraces many different learners is commendable, and offering informed choice to the person who is most affected by decisions is unquestionably worthy, but I believe these words have been taken far beyond their intended meaning and have been used by those who want to avoid facing the making of sound, scientific decisions that lead to quality education and employment. Here is what Steve has to say about the recent debate over using the Nemeth Code:
During the past year, and particularly after BANA's fall meeting, some confusion has arisen regarding exactly where we are with respect to how to Braille math and scientific materials. As a result, there are several new issues we need to resolve with associated questions that must be asked.
As a starting point, let's take a look at the entire series of BANA (Braille Authority of North America) press releases to understand where we are now. We will start with the press release issued in 2012:
"... The most prevalently-used of these, the Nemeth Code, a Braille code for mathematics and science notation, has been widely recognized as a powerful and efficient system for representing these subject areas in Braille. Therefore, it is moved that the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) adopts Unified English Braille to replace the current English Braille American Edition in the United States while maintaining the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, 1972 Revision; the Music Braille Code 1997; and the IPA Braille Code, 2008. The official Braille codes for the United States will be Unified English Braille, Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, 1972 Revision and published updates; Music Braille Code, 1997; and The IPA Braille Code, 2008; . . . "
This press release continues with references to formats and tactile graphics guidelines, but we have not included that here:
In 2013 BANA issued a press release after their November meeting, setting the implementation date for UEB, and once again they referred to the motion passed in 2012.
In 2014, a statement approved at the BANA board meeting in November says: "As of the implementation date in 2016, UEB, Nemeth, Music, and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) will be the official codes for use in the United States. BANA is providing guidance on how to incorporate the Nemeth Code into UEB context with the intent that the Nemeth Code will continue to be integral to Braille in the United States."
Now we come to November 2015 and the following statement:
"The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) recognizes and appreciates the genuine concerns from the Braille community regarding the transition to Unified English Braille (UEB). BANA stands by our original motion to adopt UEB as a complete code as well as the implementation statement issued in 2014 in which we expressed that the Nemeth Code remains integral to Braille in the United States. The Board of BANA could not reach consensus regarding the establishment of a single standard code for technical materials for Braille in the United States. The decision to use UEB or the Nemeth Code within UEB context for technical materials should be made based on Braille readers' individual needs."
Although those of us who believe for a number of reasons that adopting UEB while maintaining Nemeth Code for math and science have reason to be disappointed in this statement, it also provides us with an opportunity to try to understand some of the various views on this subject. It also demonstrates the need to establish exactly how we approach changes to Braille in the future.
First, note that the word “standard” was not used in any of the press releases except for the most recent one. The word to describe the various codes was “official.” Given that past statements continue to be supported, Nemeth Code is still considered an official math code by BANA. This is further supported by the fact that BANA has implemented changes to the Nemeth Code during the past year. Some argue that by virtue of UEB being an official code, since UEB includes mathematics, it should have the same status with respect to math in the United States as does the Nemeth Code. Certainly many mathematical symbols will be used in materials that are not considered mathematical or technical.
Without repeating the consequential arguments already put forth by the National Federation of the Blind on this matter (see Resolutions 2012-13 and 2015-29), there are a number of questions that follow from the November 2015 statement that must be explored. What makes a student better suited to one code or the other? Are the two choices equal choices when viewed in a historical context? What do decisions today say about future decisions about Braille codes?
During the long debate regarding this issue, it has been difficult to document which approach, Nemeth Code or UEB, is clearly superior for the representation of mathematics and technical materials in Braille. Arguments show that there are strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Given that the decision as to which code to teach a student is in reality made by a teacher and not by a student, there is legitimate concern that what we are facing is the expression of a preference by an educator for a particular code rather than the application of an objective process to determine which code should be used by a student. Many educators have long expressed the opinion that Nemeth Code is difficult to learn and use. There is even a mistaken notion held by some that, since mathematics is already part of UEB, mathematical symbols (and thus mathematics itself) will be easier to learn if only UEB is used and not the Nemeth Code. In reality either code requires a good deal of effort to learn if one sets out to learn the entire code all at once as is the case for transcribers or even teachers. A student will generally not learn the entire code, whether Nemeth or not, all at once. Rather, a student will learn the elements that are required at a particular time. The challenges of learning a mathematical code will be different depending upon which code is learned, but it is difficult to see a clear advantage of either code in this regard.
In other aspects of education, there are usually characteristics of a student that can be used to make decisions about his or her education. Which characteristics would be used to determine which code to teach? How will the benefit of choosing UEB instead of Nemeth Code for math for some students be measured to insure there is a significant advantage when weighed against the fragmentation of resources and the other disadvantages of supporting two approaches?
Another concern raised regarding UEB/Nemeth is the fact that some UEB math symbols will be present in general non-technical material. This raises the question of whether learning two separate sets of symbols is a reason to avoid teaching Nemeth Code. It needs to be understood that what we used to think of as higher or more advanced mathematics is becoming more and more common at lower grades. The use of equations in math and science occurs earlier than ever before. Delaying the teaching of Nemeth Code will increase substantially the number of symbols that have both Nemeth and UEB representations that will need to be learned all at once, creating confusion rather than avoiding it. There is, of course, a downside to being required to learn separate representations of the same symbol, but there has been a very strong belief in the United States that moving away from the established Nemeth Code simply does not offer the same advantages as does moving to UEB for literary Braille. To a large degree, we have been learning multiple representations of the same symbol already, so this isn’t really new.
So have the waters just been muddied by the above? Is the choice of a math code strictly an "A" or "B" choice between equal alternatives? As has been written elsewhere, we have an infrastructure and experience in the United States with the Nemeth Code that we simply do not have with math and science using UEB. This includes trained transcribers, a certification process, and the refinements and supports that come from the decades of experience of Braille readers doing math. In addition, the retention and integration of Nemeth Code has been an essential part of gaining support for the adoption of UEB by consumer organizations and others. To use Nemeth Code allows us to continue down the path that BANA defined in 2012 and mostly still supports today. Not to use Nemeth code for mathematics undermines this position, fragments our ability to produce timely Braille, and requires that we develop a second set of transcribers and a new certification process. We have not been shown with clear evidence that there is truly an overall advantage in changing our approach to Braille math in the United States.
Finally, are we entering a new era that requires 100 percent agreement before we regard any choice of a standard code to be the preferred choice? Are we turning the clock back one hundred years to a time when the Braille code is defined in part by geographic boundaries within the United States or the school attended, just when mathematics and science are gaining an increasing importance in education? To move in this direction requires that there be a real advantage clearly demonstrated, and that simply has not been done. Until it has, and until the voices of consumers come to echo this, Nemeth should continue to be the code use for mathematics.
by Justin Salisbury
From the Editor: Justin Salisbury is a second-year graduate student in the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. He was working on his dissertation in agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when he changed directions and decided to pursue a career as a teacher of the blind.
In this article he discusses a long-running debate about blind people pursuing careers working with the blind and exposes interesting contradictions in what we say and feel about the value of the field and the motivations of those who work in it. Is educating and rehabilitating the blind important enough that this is where we should direct some of our most capable people, or do we reflect the widely held view in America that "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." In addition, we are similarly divided when it comes to when people should enter the field. One line of thought has been that blind people should first work in a field that has little or nothing to do with blindness, show that they can be successful, and then come to work with the blind. In this way they can speak with authority to say that blind people can compete in the private and public sectors. The argument on the other side is that teaching is a learned skill and that one can't just transition into the blindness field without specialized training, the kind that is usually gotten by young people who select the field when deciding a college major. Here is Justin's perspective on this issue:
Many of us may think that, if we want good oranges and can go anywhere to buy them, the place to go is Florida. However, in agricultural economics the "oranges principle" teaches us that high-quality products are disproportionately shipped out of the regions where they are produced. The price of shipping a high-quality orange is the same as the price of shipping a low-quality orange. The price to the consumer has to absorb the cost of the shipping; if people have to pay more for any orange because of shipping costs, they might as well buy high-quality oranges. In the namesake example we learn that the high-quality oranges, relative to the low-quality oranges, are disproportionately shipped out of Florida.
Today, young people in the organized blind movement have a culture discouraging the most competent among us from entering careers in the blindness field. I knew this to be the case long before I chose to enter the field, and I must admit that I was a part of perpetuating that culture at one time. My fellow Federationists were consistently thrilled to learn that I was studying in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) area and were always willing to support me. I had become socially conditioned so that, when I met young blind people interested in working in the blindness field, I quickly asked if they had considered any other opportunities outside it. In mainstream society, if we meet someone who plans to get a job at McDonald's, we do the same thing: we ask if they have any bigger plans. If we meet someone in medical school, we don't ask. We are not nearly as compelled to push that person to fulfill a greater potential. This demonstrates some widely held value judgments about working at McDonald's and working as a medical doctor. It was not so long ago that I was telling other blind students that they could do better than becoming a Braille teacher.
I knew that this cultural phenomenon existed, but I had to face it myself when I transitioned into the blindness field. This prompted my investigation into the causes of that culture, and I have written this article to outline the results of my investigation. I must thank Dick Davis and the Employment Committee of the National Federation of the Blind, a committee on which I am proud to serve, for acting as a solid sounding board and providing me with some of the concepts I describe today.
We have gone through several historical phases in employment for the blind. At first we had blind people living in blind guilds, doing all we could to survive together, maybe caning chairs or singing to make a little money. The concept of blind people holding competitive, integrated jobs was nowhere on the horizon. Then we went into the sheltered workshop era, where blind people were often employed in facilities with other disabled people, frequently making subminimum wages and being supervised by the sighted. Opportunities for advancement were almost zero, and the thought that this should be otherwise was ridiculed as fanciful if not downright foolish. As bad as it was, blind people at least had jobs.
Then we started seeing blind people working as the greeters at the state agencies serving the blind. Blindness did not need to be hidden anymore, and people entering the agency buildings could feel good to see a blind person doing something. Soon enough blind people began holding jobs as assistants to blindness professionals and then as low-level human service professionals. Here we were able to say that we were working in the blindness field, though we were not the highly skilled blindness professionals that the National Blindness Professional Certification Board certifies today.
After this phase we began seeing an increase in the employment of the blind in many fields, though technical ones like engineering and medicine still saw smaller gains than fields such as social work or education.
We now live in a time in which a blind person can realistically pursue a career doing just about anything. There are challenges to get the education, secure a job, and deal with the inaccessible technology that so often comes with it, but blind people have more opportunity now than we have ever had before. No longer should we feel forced into work in the blindness field, but neither should we be so focused on running away from the past that we fail to consider careers on an old but still-to-be-conquered frontier.
When considering careers with the most occupational prestige, many require rigorous training beyond the skill sets that people already have prior to beginning training for them. For example, medical school and law school are rigorous preparation programs, giving aspiring lawyers and doctors the skills that they did not have prior to attending those programs. It is generally assumed that people know how to ask, "Paper or plastic?" prior to becoming employed to bag groceries. Similarly, a properly trained blind person can read Braille and walk with a cane, as well as function with a strong sense of self-efficacy; these are fundamentals of daily life. Those who do not fully understand the duties of a good teacher of the blind mistakenly believe that possessing those basic fundamentals is all a person needs in order to teach blindness skills to others. But that assumption overlooks how much work a teacher of the blind may have to do to give a student self-confidence, self-worth, and a healthy attitude toward living with blindness. In this devaluing of teaching and the art of motivating people to become all they can, we diminish the respectability of the blindness field and categorize some of our more energetic members in the movement as poor performers or those who just couldn't compete.
In our society we assign value to opportunities based in part on how exclusive those opportunities are. Part of how we assess the prestige of a university is based upon how hard it is for someone to gain admission to it or how selective or exclusive it is. If an opportunity appears to be off-limits and restrictive to many members of our community, we assess that opportunity to be more valuable than those opportunities which are more widely available. Scarcity drives up the assessed value. Becoming a teacher of the blind is not off-limits to most blind people who wish to become one. What we do may be a lot of work, but it is not rocket science, and the discrimination that blind people face in the job market is lessening with each new CBP (certified blindness professional) entering the field. Though the shortage is immense and the need is great, the ability to access the opportunity somehow makes that opportunity less appealing.
Our goal is to help every blind person become well rehabilitated, but often this term is defined more by contrasting him with others who lack the skills or confidence we want every blind person to have. Many of us have encountered a teacher of the blind who was dependent enough that she or he did not serve as the kind of role models we wanted them to be. Maybe it was the Braille teacher who was led everywhere by a sighted assistant. Maybe it was the blind rehabilitation counselor who would talk to himself during important meetings. Since many supervisors and decision-makers in the blindness field have low expectations of blind people, they may fall victim to accepting a lower standard of performance from these employees. If we know that blind people can occasionally keep jobs in the blindness field without performing competitively, we are tempted to associate that career field with blind people who have not yet acquired good training. Would we make the same generalization when encountering an ineffective lawyer, a doctor lacking bedside skills, or a teacher who didn’t relate to her students? If we generalized this freely, soon we would come to feel that all fields were safe havens for incompetents, and indeed some who are less than competent are found in every field.
The flipside of the argument that people who work in the blindness field are incompetent or have to meet a lesser standard is also in evidence. The blind people who work outside blindness in the more prestigious career fields are most often thought to be independent and well rehabilitated. We therefore strive to work in these fields, not just because they might interest us, but as a way of affirming our own independence. We seem to believe that, as with oranges, the good ones get shipped out. The assumption is that those without the best training and attitudinal adjustment are less able to compete in the cutting-edge frontier job fields, which leads to their disproportionately staying in the blindness field. The same logic holds that well-rehabilitated blind people are disproportionately entering frontier job fields. I doubt that statistics exist to show that these assumptions are true, but perhaps this is research I will one day do.
The idea that becoming a teacher of the blind is a less valuable career rests upon the assumption that blind people are not important. Ultimately, we prioritize what we identify as most important. When we tell a young person that he or she can do better than a certain career, we are saying that the career itself is not important. When we devote our career to helping a certain group of people, assessing the importance of the career inherently requires a value judgment on the importance of the population being served and of the service being provided to them. As a parallel, we too often tell a woman that she should not become a stay-at-home mother because she can do better for herself and for the broader population of women by pursuing a financially-compensated career. As stay-at-home fathers become more common, the same message will likely emerge for men. This bias and consequent push inherently carries with it the message that children are not important and that caring for their health and safety and fostering their intellectual and personal development is not important. If by the will of God I become a parent one day, I do not plan to undervalue the importance of caretaking, and I am grateful for the benefits I experienced because my mother kept herself available to her children most of the time.
When a person encourages blind students to consider other options over teaching the blind or talks about the career as if it is a less-appealing option, that person is telegraphing the message that this career is less important and not quite worthy of a truly capable and competent blind professional. Maybe the person persuading blind people to go in a different direction does not understand the life-changing effect that a good teacher of the blind can have on a blind student. Maybe that person has been affected by the low expectations in society and considers blind people to be less important than sighted people. Maybe the person who believes these things has never taken the time to consider the contradiction in saying how important it is to get quality training and opportunity and at the same time devaluing those who provide just that. We can all fall victim to these messages, and the National Federation of the Blind is what inoculates us against them. Part of the emotional adjustment which occurs at our training centers is learning to believe at the deepest levels that blind people are equal in value to our sighted counterparts. After all, we are.We need good blind role models working in the blindness field. It is only because of the good blind role models in my life, whom I found through the National Federation of the Blind, that I am on the path to self-actualization and living the life I want. Good sense ought to lead us to ensure that good blind role models are working in the blindness field. Every blind person deserves an instructor who can put on a pair of sleepshades and do exactly what he or she is telling the blind student to do. As President Riccobono reminded us in his first national convention banquet address, diamonds must be cut by other diamonds. The lesson is clear: we must not ship out all of the good oranges.
by Jan Bailey
From the Editor: This article is gratefully reprinted from the fall 2015 issue of the NFB of Minnesota’s quarterly publication, the Minnesota Bulletin. Here is how Editor Tom Scanlan introduced the article: Editor’s Note: Jan is a retired counselor for State Services for the Blind. She serves as our Rochester Chapter president and a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors.
There is a plethora of technology in our world today, and it is certainly important in helping blind people to become employed, but often the simple low-tech solutions are never thought of.
When I got my first job, I was a college student, and the job was splicing movie film in the darkroom. I was one of the first people hired, so we started out working on fake film to practice, but when the real film came in we had to prioritize the processing of the film, first doing the one-day film, ending with the film that would go back to a small town drugstore where they promised the customer to have their film back to them in a week.
These films were labeled on a card on the inside of the box of film, and my boss soon called me in. He said they liked me, told me I did a good job, but said they would have to let me go. When I asked him why, he explained that they couldn’t ask another employee to get my film for me, and that the A film had to be done first, then the B film, and then the C film. Since I couldn’t read the cards, I had to go.
On my own I had begun to realize this was going to come up, so I started thinking about a solution in advance. I explained to my boss that the system he had in place was time-consuming and ineffectual, but I told him that in a nice way. I explained that, since we were in the darkroom, a blindness technique would work much better. I told him people were wasting a lot of time taking film off the conveyer belt, going to the front of the room, removing the card, picking up the flashlight, moving away from the film, turning on the flashlight to read the card, and then, if the film wasn’t an A film, they would have to turn off the flashlight, put the card back into the box of film, put down the flashlight, pick up the box of film, and try to remember where they got it off the conveyor belt. I told him it would be much easier if he would buy three one-hole paper punches for the people out front who prepared the trays of film for us. They could write on the card for the people out in the light, but for us they could punch holes in the card: one for A, two for B, and three for C. I suggested they make a space between the punches so that people who weren’t used to doing things tactually could easily feel these holes. He loved it, adopted my technique, and I kept my job. My technique was faster too, because we could just go up and down the conveyor belt, feeling the cards without removing the trays of film. It was a major time saver, and everyone continued to use it long after I left.
The next job I had was as a social worker in a nursing home. One of my jobs was to make quarterly case notes on all the residents in the nursing home. At that time I used a typewriter since this was in the late seventies and before the advent of the personalized computer or word processor. I knew I could type the notes, but I had to figure out a way I could recognize my own sheet in the chart and how I would know where I had left off in my typing. I did a search and found some paper that was perforated in four places. I simply put this paper into the typewriter, typed the first quarter’s notes, and put it in the chart. When it was time to do the next quarter’s notes, I put the same piece of paper back into the typewriter and went down to the next perforation. The charts were in numerical order at the nurse’s station, so I never had a problem finding the correct chart. Since this paper was perforated, I was able to find my sheet very easily, because I could easily feel the perforations.
My next job was as a rehabilitation counselor at State Services for the Blind, where I worked for thirty-one years. I had a client who wanted to be a dishwasher, but after his work evaluation his job coach told me that he couldn’t be competitive as a dishwasher because he wouldn’t be able to walk across the room carrying a stack of clean dishes to put them away. I suggested that he place all the dishes on the cart (probably more than the average person could carry) and then pull the cart behind him as he walked across the room using his cane. He was successfully employed as a dishwasher at a large hotel.
I had another client who was going to work as a station aide in a nursing home, and he too was working with a job coach. He filled water pitchers, made up and delivered bedding packets, and took the residents down to their meals. They were going to let him go because they wanted him to signify that each resident had eaten their meal by marking their names off a printed list they gave him. He couldn’t read this list, and no one could figure out a solution. We met, and I asked him how many tables were in the room. He said there were fifteen tables. Four people sat at each table. I asked him if he knew who sat at each table and where they sat, that is, what side of the table they sat on. He said he did. He could read very large print and could read Braille, but not fast enough. I asked him if he could read very large numbers. He said he could. So I suggested his wife could make up fifteen cards on 5-by-8 cards. She would number these cards one through fifteen, then draw four circles in magic marker on the card, and then fill in the names of the residents. She would put these fifteen cards in order on a large ring. Then, since he knew where each person sat, he would simply make an X on each of the four circles and hand them in. After three days of this they said he didn’t have to keep doing that, but it saved his job.
Too often I see people deciding that a blind person can’t do a job because of one small thing, when just a little ingenuity could save the job. In the lingo of the day they call this thinking out of the box, but in my day we called it using your brain and being flexible enough to come up with alternative techniques.
by Ed Vaughan
From the Editor: Ed Vaughan is professor emeritus in sociology at the University of Missouri Columbia. He has been a Federationist for more than thirty years and has written extensively about blindness in academic publications and in books he has authored and co-authored. He is also a frequent contributor to the Braille Monitor, and here is his most recent offering:
Throughout my academic career and personal life, I have been concerned when individuals are exploited. Concerning blindness, I was always angered when I encountered educators and rehab workers with low expectations for blind people. This becomes worse when low expectations are embodied in the culture of agencies and organizations. Pelf is the Middle English word for wealth ill begotten. Does this idea apply to people who make their money and careers while diminishing the life prospects of the people they are supposed to be serving?
In the January 1985 Braille Monitor in the article “Bringing Conflict into Focus” I described some of the sources of conflict between consumers and the providers of rehabilitation services. I observe that there is no necessary unity of interest between consumers and providers. Many of the sources of conflict are rooted in the organizational work settings of rehab and education professionals.
From the organization’s point of view, regulations, budget matters, and procedures are both necessary and important. Throughout the resulting procedures, the blind person is a case to be processed by the various workers involved. The client may spend many hours doing nothing while awaiting events scheduled for the convenience of the organization. The person seeking rehabilitation may be anxious, uncertain as to how he or she is being perceived, and aware that the process is the “only game in town.” Quite normal and ordinary procedures from the point of view of the organization may appear to the client as himself or herself continually being considered as a category of a problem rather than as a whole person. The notion of “red tape” is used universally to describe the frustrations ordinary citizens feel in dealing with bureaucratic requirements, and there is a full measure of it here.
Over the past thirty years some conditions are definitely improving. However, a great many blind people still experience unnecessary frustration and difficulty in using rehabilitation and educational services. The persistence of needless barriers to progress is rooted in the organizational and bureaucratic inertia of many government and private agencies.
Since the Middle Ages the most common form of large scale social organizations is rational bureaucracies. More than any other social scientist, Max Weber described their characteristics. Such organizations concentrate power and economic resources to achieve goals. Power is from the top down—everyone has a boss. People are employed for their specialized competence—you only do your carefully defined job. Typically employment leads to careers, and loyalty to the organization is presumed. Information comes from the top down, and you are extremely disloyal if you are a whistleblower.
Organizational goals are important but not crucial. For example, when the March of Dimes helped defeat polio, it dramatically reached its goal. However, the organization continues adopting more general goals such as fighting birth defects. If you have an effective fundraising organization with good salaries, who wants to quit?
Such organizations are thought to be more efficient, thus linking the most effective means to reach goals. These organizations are the most dominant forms of employment in modern societies. However, they are value neutral—they can be efficient in organizing mass murder or raising money for the Red Cross.
Blind people of necessity interact with large organizations when they seek education or rehabilitation services. This circumstance is more complicated than simply dealing with a bureaucracy. We must deal with workers who claim to be professionals. What does it mean to be a professional? These are workers who claim specialized knowledge to deal with specific problems. In terms of our concerns the first professions dealing with blindness were medical. Early in the twentieth century physicians got legal control of the medicine/drug prescription process, and they also became gatekeepers for determining blindness. If you claimed blindness or visual impairment, you had to have a physician document your condition. Subsequent medical groups evolved under this medical umbrella, including nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, social work, and several want-to-be professions relating to blindness. Each profession claims specialized knowledge about a problem they have defined. They control entry and claim legitimacy by being licensed by the government or seeking certification from standards created by their own organization. No longer are professionals solo practitioners. Overwhelmingly they work within rational bureaucracies such as state governments, hospitals, and Lighthouses. They are now legitimated by socially powerful organizations, and they work within bureaucracies with all the characteristics mentioned above.
When we encounter a problem with education or rehabilitation services, we are not merely dealing with a specialized geek in a bureaucracy; we are dealing with workers who think they possess scientifically-based knowledge on any problem we present. They know what is wrong with us and what we need. Many of them insulate themselves from consumers. Professionals working in the field of blindness frequently give as reasons for not participating that they must keep a professional orientation, that they cannot be advocates for groups, that conflict situations are harmful to agencies.
Why are these professional groups and their organizations so resistant to consumer input? Why are some sheltered workshops so resistant to paying the minimum wage when it is almost certainly not an economic issue? Why did professional organizations so long resist the idea of blind mobility teachers? Why in the 1930s and 40s did the developing profession of workers for the blind eliminate itinerant blind teachers?
All of us continue to be concerned about the needless dependency creating aspects of many rehabilitation programs. Increasingly the NFB has confronted the inertia of private and state agencies as well as corporations whose products are not accessible to blind people. Why the inertia and resistance to change? Administrators obtain social prestige, economic power, good salaries, and long-term career security. The field of work for the blind is not a large profession, and these professionals often have limited mobility opportunities. In many cases these administrators and professionals have no interest in seeing their boat rocked.
“There is a crack in everything—that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen frequently discusses freedom and social change in his music. Max Weber was also concerned about freedom and individual responsibility. In the modern world these are experienced in social organizations. As Weber observed, charismatic leaders emerge as they challenge present arrangements, and their followers sometimes become involved in social movements. This is how we got the National Federation of the Blind—charismatic leaders and a strong social movement.
However, the NFB is also a rational bureaucracy. How has it avoided bureaucratic inertia and stagnation? First, it has kept a constant and clear focus on the organization’s goals. Through this focus it has avoided being co-opted by other social movements. Second, through its constitution it is a tightly knit organization from the top down. This permits prompt correction when things go awry at local and affiliate levels. Third, there is circulation within the elites. Individuals with talent can move up through the organization, becoming board members, national staff leaders, and holding leadership positions in the numerous special interest groups. Fourth, four decades ago when I first encountered this social movement, I was impressed by the ethnic and gender diversity. This again brings new leadership, talent, and energy. Finally, through careful selection there has been remarkable continuity at the presidential position, providing organizational stability and continuity.
As an example, I was at first skeptical when the NFB created three residential agencies in Minneapolis, Denver, and Ruston, Louisiana. Did this social movement need three agencies that might become similar to the numerous existing centers? After twenty years these centers have continued to embody the values that characterize their founding. They continue to change attitudes and lives by expanding opportunities and horizons. There are no low expectations here.
Why the title—“People, Power, and Pelf”? Pelf is ill-begotten money or wealth. What kind of people would be characterized as earning ill-begotten gains? If a rehab organization is not rehabilitating, is this not pelf? If organizations are not changing with new human developments—not providing more options for clients—is this not pelf? If an organization does not welcome consumers as partners, is this not pelf? Such organizations should not be controlling, but liberating. “Oppression, however well intended, is evil.”Through its continual development of national leaders the NFB has liberated or at least greatly improved many state and private agencies. In the many decades ahead we can hope that pelf will be largely eliminated in agencies and institutions that provide rehabilitation services.
by Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind’s fight to do away with subminimum wage payments in America is well known and long-standing. The following article describes the plight of people who work in subminimum wage environments and their desire to be paid a living wage. We thank the authors for writing this, and their newspaper for allowing us permission to reprint it. (Copyright 2015, Star Tribune, republished with permission.)
In a field on the outskirts of town, a man with Down syndrome is spending another day picking up garbage. He wears faded pants, heavy gloves, a bright yellow vest, and a name tag that says “Scott Rhude.” His job is futile. Prairie winds blow debris from a landfill nearby faster than he and his coworkers can collect it. In the gray sky overhead, a turkey vulture circles in wide loops.
Rhude, thirty-three, earns $2 an hour. He longs for more rewarding work—maybe at Best Buy, he says, or a library. But that would require personalized training, a job counselor, and other services that aren’t available.
“He is stuck, stuck, stuck,” said his mother, Mary Rhude. “Every day that he works at the landfill is a day that he goes backward.”
Rhude is one of thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities who are employed by facilities known as sheltered workshops. They stuff envelopes, package candy, or scrub toilets for just scraps of pay, with little hope of building better, more dignified lives. Many states, inspired by a new civil rights movement to integrate the disabled into mainstream life, are shuttering places like this. Not Minnesota. It still subsidizes nearly 300 sheltered workshops and is now among the most segregated states in the nation for working people with intellectual disabilities.
The workshops are part of a larger patchwork of state policies that are stranding legions of disabled Minnesotans on grim margins of society. More than a decade after the US Supreme Court ruled that Americans with disabilities have a right to live in the mainstream, many disabled Minnesotans and their families say they still feel forsaken—mired in profoundly isolating and sometimes dangerous environments they didn’t choose and can’t escape.
Records examined by the Star Tribune bear them out. Minnesota pours $220 million annually into the sheltered workshop industry, consigning more than 12,000 adults to isolating and often mind-numbing work. It also relies more than any other state on group homes to house the disabled—often in remote locations where residents are far from their loved ones and vulnerable to abuse and neglect. And when Minnesotans with disabilities seek state assistance to lead more independent lives, many languish for months—even years—on a waiting list that is now one of the longest in the nation.
“We have entire communities of people with disabilities in this state who have zero choice,” said Derek Nord, a University of Minnesota scholar who specializes in disability policy. “They live in closed systems with no obvious way out.”
State officials defend Minnesota’s record, saying it led the nation in closing large institutions for people with mental impairments and that it ranks high in the generosity of its disability benefits. But in interviews with the Star Tribune, they acknowledged that people with disabilities deserve more control over their lives and said they are taking significant new steps to give them more choice in work and housing.
“Today, too many families believe their child or their loved one only has one option—a sheltered workshop,” said Jennifer DeCubellis, assistant commissioner at the Department of Human Services. “So we have to undo that, and make sure they understand there are other options. We have not done such a good job connecting people to those options.”
Other states are far ahead of Minnesota. Vermont has abolished sheltered workshops and moved most of their employees into other jobs. States across New England place nearly three times as many disabled adults in integrated jobs as Minnesota. Washington offers disabled workers nine months of vocational training and career counselors.
“Nationally, the big river of change is flowing … toward increased integration,” said Pamela Hoopes, legal director of the Minnesota Disability Law Center. “Sometimes it appears that we [in Minnesota] are meandering along the bank and getting hung up on the weeds.”
The segregation starts early. As a boy in special education classes, Scott Rhude showed talent with computers and photography. But once he graduated from high school, his mother says, he bounced from one segregated workplace to another, never quite escaping a system that has sometimes amounted to little more than what she calls “babysitting.”
Away from his job, Rhude has built an independent life. He pays his own rent and shares a house with three friends in Willmar, a town of 19,600 west of the Twin Cities. He sings karaoke, goes on double dates, and started his own book club. His bedroom is packed with trophies from Special Olympics events. “I’m not afraid of anything,” he joked recently, flexing his biceps under a poster of a professional wrestler in his bedroom.
But Rhude’s pursuit of independence ends each morning when the city bus drops him off at West Central Industries, a sheltered workshop on the edge of town. From here, a van takes him to the Kandiyohi County landfill, where he spends the next five hours collecting trash on a hillside as big as two football fields.
Mary Rhude says she and her son hoped the roving work detail would broaden Scott Rhude’s skills and give him exposure to other employers in Willmar. Instead, she says, it has become a “suffocating” experience that keeps her son isolated from the community.
Kristine Yost, a job placement specialist for people with disabilities, calls this system “the conveyor belt.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, “but time and again, young people get pigeonholed as destined for a sheltered workshop, and then they can’t get out.”
In 1999, the US Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling, known as Olmstead, that prohibits states from unnecessarily confining people with disabilities in special homes or workplaces. In a broad reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the court said that fairness demands not just access to buses and buildings, but to a life of dignity and respect. People with a wide range of disabilities—including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism—call it their “Brown vs. Board of Education.”
In the ruling’s aftermath, many governors closed state institutions for the disabled and the US Justice Department sued Oregon and Rhode Island to close sheltered workshops. But, sixteen years later, the movement has yet to take hold in Minnesota.
Under sustained pressure from a federal judge, Minnesota this fall became one of the last states in the country to adopt a blueprint—known as an Olmstead plan—to expand housing and work options for people with disabilities. County officials and social workers have begun consulting disabled clients about their goals and interests. By 2019 the state expects counties to complete detailed, individualized plans spelling out work and housing options for thousands of disabled adults.
Yet even if it is executed successfully, the state’s plan calls for only modest increases in the number of disabled adults living and working in the community. It makes no mention of phasing out segregated workshops and group homes. Its employment targets, Hoopes said, are “woefully inadequate” and a “lost opportunity.”
Some families defend sheltered workshops, saying they provide a safe place and a sense of accomplishment for young adults who cannot hold competitive jobs. Minnesota has a high overall employment rate for adults with disabilities, in part because of its sheltered workshops. Others say the state is clinging to an obsolete and paternalistic practice.
“We have this mindset in [Minnesota] that says protection trumps everything else, and we have to keep people in these isolated bubbles to keep them safe,” said Mary Fenske, a disability rights advocate from Maple Grove who advises employees of sheltered workshops.
Sheltered workshops were designed after World War II to prepare people with disabilities for traditional employment. They caught on in Minnesota, and between 1970 and 1984 the sheltered workforce increased from 700 to 6,000 workers, including thousands of people who needed daily activities after the closing of state mental hospitals. Today, state policy perpetuates the segregation.
Each year, Minnesota pays more than $220 million in state and federal Medicaid funds to scores of sheltered workshops and training programs, which have become a large and self-sustaining industry. They operate fleets of vans, partner with local group homes, and use a federal loophole that exempts them from minimum-wage law. Most of Minnesota’s sheltered workshops are nonprofits, but many hold business contracts with companies such as 3M to assemble or package products, while others provide janitorial services to local businesses. Even though they pay, on average, just $4.05 an hour, most could not survive without state subsidies to cover the cost of supervision and other services.
“If not for the government money, a lot of these [sheltered workshops] would be starved out of existence,” said Jim Clapper, board chairman of Midwest Special Services, Inc., a sheltered workshop and day training provider in St. Paul. Clapper's son works at a sheltered workshop.
From a taxpayer’s perspective, the workshop model is highly inefficient. It costs roughly $52,000 to create a sheltered workshop job that pays at least minimum wage, state records show. That’s nearly ten times the $5,300 it costs to help a disabled worker get a job in the community, according to a 2010 survey by the Department of Human Services.
“This all comes down to funding,” said John Butterworth, director of the Institute for Community Inclusion, a research and training center at the University of Massachusetts. “If Minnesota spent this money on competitive employment, you would see more people working in typical workplaces earning typical wages.”
If sheltered workshops prepared their clients for better jobs, they might justify the huge investment. But academic research and state reviews suggest they do not. When Minnesota’s legislative auditor studied the industry in the 1980s, he found that only eighty-three of three thousand sheltered workers graduated to competitive jobs. Today, research places the share at about 5 percent.
In fact, sheltered workshops can actually impede clients’ progress by training them to be compliant and settle for mundane tasks, said Bryan Dague, a University of Vermont researcher who advises states on disability employment. “All too often, a job in a sheltered workshop is a dead end,” Dague said.
Early one morning last spring, at a warehouse set amid cornfields near Fairmont, Minnesota, more than thirty workers with varying disabilities stood quietly in line, clutching their white time cards. A few checked their watches nervously. At 8:15, a clipboard-wielding supervisor shouted, “It’s time to get rollin’! Time to get rollin’!”
With its clockwork precision, this workshop operated by MRCI Inc. of Mankato shows how the industry has developed a keenly efficient model—but also why many of its employees find it suffocating. Over the next eight hours, employees filled 3,600 plastic tubes with patriotic red, white, and blue gumballs for Memorial Day sales at big-box retailers. They also arranged more than 50,000 cans of chicken into tidy piles as they tumbled down a fast-moving conveyor belt known as the “T-Rex.”
Apart from managers occasionally yelling orders, the sprawling room was quiet but for the steady rat-a-tat of gumballs pouring into twelve-inch tubes and the hum of a machine wrapping plastic around cans of chicken.
“Our workers are very well-behaved and task-focused,” said Ramona Harper, the workshop’s manager, as she walked the plant floor. “This is the best-kept secret in Martin County.”
Next to many workers were small white sheets to track their productivity. Every so often, a manager stopped by and jotted down how many tubes each employee had filled with gumballs. Pay is calculated using the prevailing wage for similar work: A disabled worker who pours gumballs half as fast as a non-disabled person makes half the prevailing wage for light manufacturing, or about $5 an hour.
At noon, workers rushed into the cafeteria for plastic-wrapped sandwiches waiting under a heat lamp. On this day, the room buzzed with talk of two colleagues who “made it to the outside.” One landed a job at Walmart, and the other was bagging groceries at a local supermarket for $9 per hour.
“It’s the success stories that give us hope that someday we can make it out of here,” said Dustin Leibfried, 42. “Because there are some days when you feel like you’re just racing, racing to catch up. Most of us want out.”
John Wayne Barker was working his way through the brightly lit lunchroom of Merrick Inc., where he has been executive director for the past seventeen years. Every few steps, a worker stopped him for a high five or a hug. Barker is a vocal defender of sheltered workshops, and his expansive facility is considered a model for the industry. It operates an assembly line where about one hundred workers perform tasks like inserting greeting cards into envelopes for sale at grocery stores. But it also offers an array of “life enrichment” services, from music and pet therapy to yoga and gardening, for people who may be unable to work.
If the workshop closed, many of its employees would be “at home, staring at the wall,” deprived of their sole source of wages and social interaction, Barker said. “Without our program, virtually nine out of ten people we’re serving would have no consistent daytime activity,” he said. “Nobody [here] is trapped or unhappy.”
Some parents agree. Ivan Levy said his twenty-six-year-old son, Jason, who has autism and a developmental disability, has improved his social skills and self-confidence since coming to work at Merrick five years ago. After years of job coaching, he earns minimum wage in Merrick’s recycling center. “If you closed the workshop, Jason would go from being in an environment with a lot of support and a lot of interaction to one with zero support and zero interaction,” said Levy, an attorney in St. Paul. “He’d be sitting at home, watching television or playing video games all day.”
But for a large share of Minnesota’s disabled workers, that’s simply not true. At sheltered workshops subsidized by Minnesota’s state workforce agency, as many as 45 percent of employees simultaneously hold other jobs in the community for at least minimum wage, according to an internal analysis. When Vermont closed its last sheltered workshop in 2002, social workers found jobs for 80 percent of the workers.
“The numbers show that a lot of people [in workshops] can do real work for real wages if given the opportunity,” said Jon Alexander, a supported employment provider in Little Canada. That includes people like Larry Lubbers, 61, who made $15 an hour moving shopping carts at a Rainbow Foods until he suffered a back injury. Unable to find other work, Lubbers, who has an intellectual disability, said he didn’t object when the county suggested a sheltered workshop.
Yet Lubbers says he remains shocked by his low pay. He now makes less than $30 a week doing menial tasks such as inserting straws into plastic bags. “It’s out of sight, out of mind,” Lubbers said one day as he waited for a van to work from his home in Inver Grove Heights. “Once you walk into a sheltered workshop, you become invisible.”
Breaking out of the system can be extremely difficult. Because their wages are so low, many sheltered workshop employees can’t afford their own apartments or transportation. A 2010 state survey found that nearly 80 percent rely on their employer as their primary source of transit. In fact, a half-dozen sheltered workshops also run their own group homes; at least one, Functional Industries in Buffalo, Minn., shuttles people to its sheltered workshops from its group homes in its own vans.
“It’s a closed system,” said Mary Kay Kennedy, executive director of Advocating Change Together, a disability rights group in St. Paul. “It’s so safe and predictable that a lot of people never get to explore other options and realize their true potential.”
Kenisha Conditt, twenty-seven, who has a developmental disability, went straight to work at Midwest Special Services in St. Paul after graduating from youth vocational training. For the past five years, she has been assigned to a cleaning crew that collects trash, mops floors, and cleans toilets at area businesses.
On a recent morning, Conditt’s team marched in a line through the parking lot of an industrial park in Minneapolis, carrying large plastic jugs in one hand and long-handled pincers in the other. With a supervisor watching, they plucked plastic bags, cigarette butts, and shattered glass from the blacktop.
“You missed one, Kenisha!” the supervisor called, pointing to a rusty nail.
After dumping her last bucket of trash and mopping the entryway of a bus terminal, Conditt returned to Midwest’s gated campus in St. Paul, where she spent the next several hours killing time before a Metro Mobility bus arrived to take her home. Sitting with a group of coworkers on a row of plastic chairs, she stared ahead stoically as a woman with an accordion played “Goodnight Irene” and then the workshop’s special song, “Midwest Special Services is where I like to be … ”
When the song ended, Conditt and the others filed quietly back to a row of desks full of puzzles and games. “Five years of this, and I’m ready to move on,” she said. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life cleaning toilets.”
A few days later, Conditt seemed transformed. On Sundays she helps teach children at Christ Temple Apostolic Church in Roseville. She laughed, sang, and read children’s books as toddlers crawled over her lap and shoulders.
“Kenisha has gifts that people at the workshop never see,” said her mother, Antoinette Conditt. On the drive home from church, they spotted an Old Country Buffet with a “Help Wanted” sign in the window. Her mother pulled over. Conditt darted across the parking lot.
Stepping into the restaurant’s lobby, she smoothed her blue skirt, smiled broadly, and asked if she could speak with the manager. In one of her hands Conditt held tightly to a folder filled with copies of her résumé. She takes them everywhere she goes.
by J. W. Smith
From the Editor: Dr. J. W. Smith is an associate professor teaching communications studies, focusing on rhetoric and public address and political and cultural contexts. He teaches at Ohio State University in Athens, Ohio. He is the Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, a gospel singer who had a CD or two to his name, a family man, and a Federationist who loves good speeches.
JW joined the NFB almost a quarter of a century ago and has long been moved and fascinated by the annual banquet speech highlighting our national conventions. This article represents interviews that he did nearly twenty years ago, so the reader will observe that Dr. Maurer is referred to as president, and Dr. Jernigan is sometimes referred to as the past president.
Here is what he has to say after talking with two dynamic speakers and one very observant, reflective, and articulate member:
I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1990 when I was a young professor of communication studies at Indiana University, South Bend. As it happens I was invited to a chapter meeting as a result of someone seeing a story that had been done on me by the South Bend Tribune. As you might expect, my life was never the same after that first meeting. I remember listening to Dr. Jernigan and President Maurer on the Presidential Release and, as a professor of what was called speech communication at that time, I was mesmerized by their rhetorical style and delivery.
I was fortunate to attend my first national convention in 1992 in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was an overwhelming and exhilarating experience overall, but the power of the banquet speech was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Since that speech I have not missed a convention to date or a banquet address. When I attended the 1993 convention in Dallas, Texas, and after leaving the banquet that year, I made up my mind that I would write a critique of the historical/rhetorical significance of the banquet address itself. I decided that it would be helpful to interview Dr. Jernigan, President Maurer, and perhaps several other Federationists who had been longtime members of the movement to ascertain just what this event and that speech meant to them.
I had just missed the 1990 banquet address delivered by Dr. Jernigan, which had commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the NFB. Although I was not in attendance at that convention or banquet address, it was a desire of mine to do a rhetorical analysis of that speech. In a paper entitled “In Honor of Kenneth Jernigan: Argumentative Functions of History in the 1990 Banquet Address to the National Federation of the Blind” presented at the Central States National Communication Association Meeting in April 2012, my colleague Dr. Jerry Miller and I sought to analyze that speech from a particular communication perspective. In part we wrote:
“Routinely honored and recognized for his achievements and dedication throughout his tenure as the leader of the NFB, Jernigan accepted an invitation to deliver the 1990 banquet address. In reality no other member of the NFB had the knowledge and respect comparable to that of Kenneth Jernigan. Jernigan’s address serves as a defining event for the NFB, as it simultaneously chronicles the historic journey of the blind movement, challenges the audience to accept his historical account of the NFB, and motivates the association and its members to take responsibility in securing their rights. Jernigan’s address permitted his listeners to become part of one-man’s lived experience and perceptions of truth that, in turn, serve as argumentative proof for his audience, particularly members of the NFB. Jernigan’s efforts motivate his audience to take action and embrace their identities.
As Kenneth Jernigan delivers the address, he establishes the importance of such a speech and outlines what is needed in a successful address. He accomplishes this lesson by quoting an excerpt from a letter shared with him by his mentor, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. In this letter Dr. tenBroek is inviting Professor Kingsley Price to deliver the 1949 banquet address:
“The banquet address is a kind of focal point in which the problems of the blind, their peculiar needs with respect to public assistance, employment, and equal opportunity are formulated and presented both with an eye to rededicating and stimulating the blind persons present and an eye to enlightening and possibly converting the many sighted persons who have been invited to attend. For me, this has always been a job of rehashing and repeating certain central ideas. My imagination and new methods of statement have long since petered out. The next alternative is to get a new ‘stater.’ This is what I would like you to be.”
Jernigan reflects on a passage from another of tenBroek’s letters in which he admonishes Professor Price for declining the invitation to deliver the banquet address. “We are desperately in need of new voices and a new brain to do this job, and a man from New York has geographical advantages as well.” This strategic use of direct quotations and “report speech” by Kenneth Jernigan accomplished the task of calling the membership to action. Although Jernigan provides his own set of guidelines for a successful banquet address earlier in the speech, it is his reflection on the words of his mentor that allows him to call others to action, while admonishing those who fail to step forward when called. As the longest serving leader of the NFB and one responsible for much of its organizing, Jernigan argues that it is fundamentally important to become familiar with their history. As he writes, “In considering our past I am mindful of the fact that except for inspiration, perspective, and prediction, there is no purpose to the study of history.” Jernigan’s ironic phrase draws humorous attention to the importance of history and the instruction such information provides.”
I have listened to that speech many times, and it never fails to encourage, inspire, and motivate me as a member of this movement.
The purpose of this article is to bring to light interviews that I conducted over twenty years ago from those most responsible for the creation of this phenomenon known as the annual banquet address. I was privileged to speak with Dr. Jernigan, President Maurer, and the longtime editor of the Braille Monitor, Barbara Pierce. I want you to hear in their own words their thoughts about creating such addresses and their rhetorical and historical significance for both members of the movement and the general public.
I approached Dr. Jernigan in the fall of 1994 and requested a phone interview. As you might expect, he graciously agreed, and on a cold October night I called him, and even though he was tired after a long day, he took time to answer my questions and to provide me an extraordinary experience. I recorded this interview on a small tape recorder, and I maintained that small cassette for approximately twenty years before getting the interview itself transferred to a CD version. There were times during those years when I feared I had lost the cassette or that it had worn out, and I would never be able to get the valuable information from it for this purpose. You can only imagine how elated I was when I was able to get it done, and, in fact, the quality of the interview is still amazing even to this day. Here is what Dr. Kenneth Jernigan had to say on that late October night in 1994:
JW: This will be in essence a historical/rhetorical analysis of the NFB banquet address over the first forty-four years of our movement.
KJ: All right.
JW: And I have a rare chance to talk with a person who has—let me see, how many of them have you heard?
KJ: I've heard all of them since 1952, so I've heard forty-three.
JW: That's right, and do you know how many you've actually done yourself?
KJ: Well, I could count them. I did the 1963 banquet speech, and I did the 68, 9, 70, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 80, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 90.
JW: And 90
KJ: So I've done twenty-one of them, I guess.
JW: Wow. All right, talk to me then a little bit about the banquet address and its present-day impact on the blind of this country.
KJ: The banquet address is meant to be a statement of principles and also a philosophical guidepost for our future. It is meant to be a summing up of where we've been and where we’re going. It is now regarded by everybody as the high point of the convention. I would say the banquet speech constitutes a psychological—it certainly is the key statement of philosophy during the convention or is meant to be.
JW: Tell me about your best and worst memories of the banquet addresses you've heard and you’ve done. It sounds like a strange question, but what is your best, and what was your worst experience with it?
KJ: Let me say that my banquet addresses have been meant to address given things. One time we dealt with the history of blindness, one time with what blindness was like in literature, and another with what kind of relations we have with the public. One time I gave a banquet address called “Blindness: The Patterns of Freedom,” which talked about what the principal elements are that go to make up the pattern that you have to have coming from second-class to first-class status. I would think that my best banquet speeches have been, at least from my point of view, the 1973 speech, which is “Blindness: is History Against Us;” ’75, “Blindness: is the Public Against Us;” ’76, which would be “Blindness: of Visions and Vultures;” and ’85, which is “Blindness: The Pattern of Freedom;” and the 1990 one, which is the fiftieth anniversary speech. I regard those as the five best banquet speeches I've made.
As to my most difficult experiences with the banquet speeches, they had to do with one of those very five. In 1985, in Louisville, when we were just starting, we were a minute or two in and apparently some wires got hot, and the people got all panicky—the hotel people—and jerked all of the video wires and lights. So everything, the sound system and everything, went down, and we had to start the banquet speech over.
JW: Oh my goodness—[laugh], I didn’t know that. Moving on, how in the world does one prepare for such a speech? Talk to me about that—how do you put it together?
KJ: I think that what you have to do in preparing a banquet speech is quite different than what you do in preparing a letter or even an article. In the first place let me say to you that when I have written banquet speeches, I've put in an average of eighty working hours on the banquet speech. Now that is so because every sentence, every comma and period, every word gets careful examination and scrutiny. The banquet speech essentially—it seems to me that the ones that I've given—the pattern I've developed for a banquet speech is you pose a problem or you state a proposition, and then it seems to me you talk some about the historical roots of it all, and then you give illustrations and examples, and ultimately you come to the place where you're going in the future with it and you say some concluding propositions. That's about what a banquet speech is, the patterns that I would use for a banquet speech.
JW: I have read the entire book Walking Alone and Marching Together in Braille. I have a Braille copy. I am now going through the taped version of it, and I must say that I am not finished. I'm at the point where you did your 1986 speech, the last one as president. In my observation you sounded—I don’t know what the word is—you sounded very introspective. What were you feeling during that speech?
KJ: Well, of course that speech represented what I viewed to be a major milestone in my life because, although I had stepped aside from the presidency in 1977 for a year, I did not know whether I would come back as president. I suspected I might if things so indicated—if my health improved, and it did. But in 1986 I knew that, barring a tremendously unforeseen circumstance such as the death of the person coming in as president or some other fantastically unlikely situation, that I was not going to be president of this organization anymore, and therefore I of course reviewed in my own mind my time in the federation as well as many other things in my life.
JW: It came through [laugh]; it really did. I don’t have the chance to talk with Dr. tenBroek, but you were one of his principal lieutenants in those early years. Did you have much discussion with him about the banquet address? How did he feel about it? Do you have any memories about his involvement in it?
KJ: Yep. I think that his own banquet addresses, as I’ve read them, underwent a change also. He was from first to last quite a scholar, a legal scholar, but he was interested in—after studying the philosophical tone of the movement in several of his earlier speeches—he was interested in making a more—I don’t know how to put it, speeches that were immediate-issue-oriented. The earlier ones were also issue oriented, but they were more heavily philosophical--rallying cries as opposed to the heavily issue oriented ones of the latter stage.
JW: What would you say was his best in your mind of the ones that you heard?
KJ: I believe “The Cross of Blindness” was the best that he gave from my point of view.
JW: What year was that? Do you remember the year?
JW: Six, okay.
KJ: No, 1957, take it back. ‘56 was “Within the Grace…”
JW: “Within the Grace of God,” yes.
KJ: Now I regard some of his earlier speeches as perhaps better to read and study than some, and “The Cross of Blindness” was a prime example of one that was better to listen to.
JW: Well, my final question for you, and then I'd like for you to have the opportunity to say anything else you’d like to say about this whole issue. My final question goes something like this: I heard you say at this year's meetings that if things work out and you attend your—I believe it's your fiftieth convention—or is it 2000 that you and President Maurer said that you would do the banquet address is that…
JW: Uh huh
KJ: It will be my fiftieth banquet in a row.
JW: I'm asking you to take out your crystal ball now. What do you see as possible primary concerns for that banquet address? Where do you see the blindness movement, and what do you think you might say?
KJ: Well, of course it is natural to look back over a century or a half a century and to look ahead. We’ll be halfway toward our century mark, so you're really talking about what will be more than fifty for me. This will be the sixty-first convention—or the sixty-second—I guess sixty-first for the NFB. We’ll be into our second half-century; we’ll be into a new century, and this country is bound to have undergone considerable change by then. The first Clinton administration will have come and gone, and there'll either be a second or a Republican administration, and then we’ll be into still yet another administration down the line. There are tremendous changes now coming in the social fabric of this country, and so the blind naturally look to accommodate to those changes and to try to make those changes accommodate to them. All of that will need to be considered.
JW: Yes. Any final comments you could tell me about the banquet address—something that has not been addressed in my questions—observations that come to mind? I mean, I think I've captured the essence of a once-in-a-lifetime experience here.
KJ: I think that the banquet address does many things. For the brand-new Federationist, the banquet address is an experience that brings that convention together. It cements Federationism into the whole of the individual, almost. It is, for the person who has been there five, ten, fifteen years who is in mid-stride in the Federation—I think the banquet address renews; I think it encourages; it gives a shot of energy for the coming year. I think for the person who is a longtime veteran in the ranks that the banquet address has nostalgic overtones to it. I think it also makes one think of generations to come. It tends to expand the sweep of one's thinking forward and backward. It, I think, impresses and invigorates all of us, but it does different things for people, depending on how long they've been coming to conventions.
JW: Yes, as I said, this is the third one that I've actually heard, and, uh boy, I remember that first one in ‘92, and it did all those things that you say.
That was the interview, and even as I write and listen to this recording now, I am struck by its power, focus, and sincerity. Dr. Jernigan’s graciousness and love for this movement was as genuine as it could be, and as a young member then, I could not believe that he was allowing me this amazing opportunity.
In the winter of 1995 it was quite obvious that I should interview President Maurer, and once again I was afforded extraordinary access and genuine graciousness. I conducted this interview by phone as well, and I am indebted to Sarah Parsloe, a graduate student at Ohio University, for her willingness to transcribe these recordings. She captured the essence of the interviews, allowing me the editing license necessary for these finished products.
In the Maurer interview I was struck by the candor and conversational quality of the interviewee. This was 1995, and by that time President Maurer and Dr. Jernigan were functioning as a well-oiled team. In fact, their tag-team approach to everything really did seem to give us double for our admission at the conventions. I think you can also read and hear the genuine love and respect that President Maurer has for his mentor and friend, Dr. Jernigan. For me to be able to interview both of them on this topic provided some profound insights and revelations that I think worthy of future research and study. Here is the Maurer interview:
JW: Marc, could you first talk with me about the historical significance as well as the contemporary significance of the banquet address.
MM: Well, the banquet address is a document which intends to put, at the time that we are having the convention, into perspective where the blind of the United States and—for that matter, in a sense, the blind of the world—are. In fact I think the blind of the United States, at least at the moment, are ahead of the blind of the world and developing the opportunities for independence, and I think that's the objective involved—for blind people to exercise their talents to the extent that we who are blind have them, and therefore that tries to put into perspective at the time it is delivered where we are. Now, it also intends to have a sweep which is broad enough to show that what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve as a movement is a part of the broader perspective of history so that the banquet speech is timely when delivered, but is also in a sense timeless because it will show, in one facet or another, one element or another of the greater society, why this particular movement matters, and what difference it is making to the broader arena or the broader community in which blind people live.
JW: I talked to Dr. Jernigan about this, but I really want your input on this: How do you prepare for such a speech? Walk me through that.
MM: Well, I look for speech ideas all the time. I know that speeches will have to be written. I look for ideas, and I try not to use up ideas when they are of special significance. There is one speech that I have written and delivered which might have been a national convention banquet speech, but was not. Well, no, there are two. One of them became a Monitor article, and it might have had enough importance to be a banquet speech. I know it wasn't developed enough to be a banquet speech, but a Monitor article. It’s a good Monitor article, and it has an important nugget of an idea and reality about it which might have been significant enough to be a banquet speech. See, the sun will rise in the east—that is true, and it is important. It is very important because if the mangy thing does not rise, you'll freeze to death after a while, and a while won't be long, and so will the rest of the world, and so it's important. But, since you can't do a thing about it, it wouldn’t make a good banquet speech. The speech has to be something that you can do something about. It has to be a message showing that the individual action of the human being will matter and can make a change, which is important both for the blind person and to the world at large. So, with that in mind, I look for ideas that can be made into banquet speeches, and I look for them all the time. An idea—it has to be important, and it also has to be one which not everybody in the world already knows so it has some freshness about it, and it has to be an idea which has an element in it which means that a person can do something to make some change which will make a difference to bring greater cohesion, conformity, and a brighter and better world. So that’s the idea I’m looking for. I never know what it is before I see it, and sometimes even then I'm not sure it's good enough.
JW: I see.
MM: So I'm looking for that. Then, once you have that idea, it has to be presented in a package which is understandable. Two or three years ago—I forget which one it was now—there was an idea, the mysterious 10 percent. It said that education happens—that you have to know 90 percent of what you are presented, and the new stuff can be about 10 percent, and that 10 percent is all important. Well, I think this has an element of truth about it, but you have to present this idea in a way which is understandable. It can't be so different and so new that nobody gets it, so it has to be presented in a way that people will understand.
This means that the banquet speech can't be written all at once—100 percent, you write those words, and they take a long time. And then you go over them, and that takes a long time. My experience is that I write the introduction to the banquet speech and then throw it away and start over. And then, after I've written it the second time, usually I like it well enough to keep it, except that it gets massaged—probably anywhere from a dozen to twenty times before it's finished.
JW: By you?
MM: By me.
JW: Do you have other official or unofficial editors, people you’ve trusted over the years look at it?
MM: I went to Dr. Jernigan on them.
MM: But I don't show it to anybody else.
JW: I see. Let me ask you: I have read the Braille issue of Walking Alone and Marching Together. I am now listening to the tape issue. I am now at 1987.
MM: You have the one with the voices?
JW: That's right. I'm in 1987 now. I'm about to listen to your first banquet address. Talk to me about what it was like getting ready for that and how you felt delivering that if you can remember.
MM: Well, there was only one real question. Everybody has a speech in them—one. Your own story is a speech if you know how to write it.
MM: So everyone has one speech, and the question was could I deliver it.
JW: Uh huh.
MM: There are two speeches that the president gives as a matter of tradition although it hasn't always been that way, and I don't guarantee that it always will be. Dr. Jernigan and I have agreed for example that in the year 2000, he's going to give the banquet speech—which is a nice thought—I won’t have to write it if I'm around.
MM: There are two speeches: one is the presidential report, and one is the banquet speech. I had delivered the presidential report by the time we got to the banquet in 1987, and the presidential report went all right. You could offer criticisms of its delivery, but it went all right—people liked it, at least. When Dr. Jernigan ceased to be president, as you will remember from this year’s banquet, there were many people that weren't sure if that was a good thing to have done. I believe Dr. Jernigan wasn't sure, although he never said so. I wasn't entirely sure myself. He asked me once upon a time if I wanted to be president of the organization, and I told him I did. He said “That's just as well, because you can't be president if you don't want to be.” So we talked about it, and I became president. Whether it was a good thing to have done, a lot of us were wondering about. I was wondering, he was wondering, although he didn’t say so. The question was whether or not I could carry what the organization had already done. Dr. Jernigan makes great speeches, so the organization cannot have somebody who can’t make pretty good speeches as its leader because it will look like second-rate and second best. Say what you will about the organized blind—we’re not prepared to have second rate by and large. On occasion we might take second best for some specific purpose, but it will have to be to achieve a different end. We’re not prepared to have it overall, and I'm one of the ones that isn't. So, with that in mind, the question was whether or not the speech could swing at all, and it went all right.
MM: And it's hard—with that kind of understanding behind you, it makes a person moderately uneasy.
JW: Yeah [laugh]. Let me ask you about the audiences you have to address. I’ve sat through three banquet addresses now live and in person, and probably just about all of them or most of them on tape. Talk to me about—as you prepare that speech and as you deliver it, what are the audiences you are addressing, and what—you know—how do you get at meeting their needs?
MM: The Federation is a good audience, a very good audience. When the then president comes to the microphone to speak to the Federation, the president knows that the Federation is friendly to begin with. It is longing for whatever is being done at the podium to be successful and is willing to empathize with the person making the address. All of that is good. But the Federation is a very knowledgeable audience. It knows what good speeches are like. It recognizes a flimflam, and it's not willing to tolerate one. Consequently, you have to give it to the audience straight, and it has to be of good quality. The audience knows when it’s not going to have good quality. It's willing to tolerate people who aren’t top quality, but it's been through enough of the good quality stuff that it's perfectly well aware of when it's not getting the best. So with that in mind you’ve got to prepare for the people who are out there. Now, who have you got: you’ve got the guy who is on the line in the factory; you've got the unemployed person who didn't get much education; you’ve got the fellow from the hills who didn't get much chance; you've got the college professor and you’ve got the lawyer and the engineer; you’ve got people who didn’t find a way to go and be a part of the broader society too much, so they’ve spent a lot of time listening to the talk shows, they are aware of what's happening on the talk show circuit. You’ve got all those people. And you’ve got all of the ethnic backgrounds, and you’ve got all of the religious backgrounds. There are some people in the audience who will be—probably there aren’t many who are anti-religious—but there are many who don't have religion as a high priority, but there are some who wouldn’t miss a Sunday at church. And you've got to know that.
MM: It's a very broad range of individuals.
JW: If you had to highlight two or three key things or issues that you try to bring out within this address, what would they be?
MM: Well, individual responsibility and individual power. If you don't have individual responsibility, individual power doesn't make any sense. If you don't have individual power, neither does individual responsibility. The fact that anyone can, with the right motivation, the right persistence, the right understanding make a significant difference sufficient that it will change the fabric of society at least in the area where that individual is—that is part of every single banquet speech.
JW: Okay, well this is fascinating, you know. I’m going to write an article about the banquet address. I’ve spoken with Dr. Jernigan, but you had a chance to work closely with Dr. Jernigan, and you had a chance to hear a number of his banquet addresses. Tell me how you felt as an audience member listening to his banquet addresses.
MM: Oh, my. I don't know whether your experience was the same as mine, but the first banquet address I heard was the 1969 banquet. I was in the audience, and Dr. Jernigan got up there and began to talk, and in a minute I knew he was talking to me. I think that most of the people in the audience felt the same way: he was speaking to me individually. He was saying these things that would make a difference to me in my own life, and it was positively magic.
JW: Oh yeah, yeah. My first one was yours in Charlotte, and I'll never forget it. I was hooked from then on. Let me ask you also, then, what do you think was the best Jernigan speech you’ve heard? I've already asked him what he thought was his best. What would you say was his best?
MM: I don't know.
JW: So you haven't singled out one in particular?
MM: Well, I could tell you some I liked. I could tell you some I liked for different reasons.
MM: Banquet speeches are supposed to be timeless, and mostly they are. But some, it seems to me, came at a particularly good time. I think that the 1990 speech was one like that. The 1976 banquet speech had a magnificent power, too. But then maybe the 1985 banquet speech does. Anyway, I don't know which one I liked better.
JW: Yes, yes. Well, how about you personally? You've done seven of them. Which one would you say has been your best or worst, and why do you think so?
MM: Well, I think that I'm not in a good position to answer that question. I think that one of the more interesting banquet speeches was the first, and yet I don't think it was as well delivered as I would have hoped. The 1994 banquet speech may have been delivered better than any of the others. It had an interesting idea in it, but it’s not the idea that I would regard as the most interesting of any of my banquet speeches. Last year's banquet speech I found interesting. I don't know whether other people did or not, but I did.
JW: Well, my final question to you, President Maurer, is very simple, and it is related to the banquet address. What is the future of the banquet address, and what are some of those future themes. Let's say it's ten or perhaps fifteen years from now—look into your crystal ball, and tell me what that banquet speaker is talking about.
MM: Well, the Federation has changed over the years. The position that we now have is different from the position that we had twenty-five years ago. The National Federation of the Blind is more powerful. It has a larger membership; it has many successes to its credit. It seems to me that one banquet speech will need to focus on something which Dr. Jernigan talked about a little bit two years ago. There will be two things that I think will occur that will have to be addressed in banquet speeches, and one is that we have to find a way to know how to manage the power that we possess with understanding and restraint. Most countries that have gained independence have fought hard to gain it, have had a period of time that was relatively peaceful, and then have gone into civil war and civil strife either for longer or a shorter time because they didn't know how to govern internally. The failure to know how to manage the power that they had attained caused conflict, disturbance, and destruction. We must prevent that. We have to be able to use the power that we gathered together to make the society better. We have to find a way to become truly integrated, and that means to interact with other outfits around the world or at least around this country. That has to be done without strife.
The second thing that is important, it seems to me, is that as you gain a measure of success and as people grow up not facing the stark reality of nonparticipation, then they begin to believe that there isn’t anything important for the organization to do, and they may not join it. Especially is this so if they think they've made it on their own, so why bother. We have to address that. That is occurring right now, in fact.
MM: I think that the number of people who have that feeling may increase. A sense of history must be a part of what we are, and a sense of history must give us a sense of community, so we have to address that in times to come. If we don't address it now, I think it will be a greater phenomenon in the future.
Just imagine having had the opportunity to speak with the two men who had delivered the banquet addresses from 1968 to 1995. It seemed to me what was left for me to do was to find a unique audience perspective—and did I ever with Barbara Pierce.
My original plan was to interview several longtime Federationists and then take themes from their responses in reference to their recollections of the banquet addresses. After thinking about it, I thought that interviewing the then-editor of the Braille Monitor would be sufficient and provide a sort of insider/outsider perspective on the topic. Unlike the two previous interviews, this one was conducted in my hotel room at the 1997 convention in New Orleans. Of course, Barbara Pierce was my affiliate president at the time, and she was her usual professional and confident self during the interview. Her unique take on the topic is timeless and instructive even today.
JW: Ok, I have Barbara Pierce here and Barbara, first of all, two-part question: how long have you been with the NFB, and what is your role in the organization?
BP: I joined the Federation in January of 1974 and have been active in the organization ever since. I have organized a chapter and become that chapter’s president (that was back in the 70s). I've been a state board member and a state officer. Since 1984 I have been president of the NFB of Ohio. I have been the director of public education for the national organization since about 1980, or maybe ‘78, to the present, and since 1988 I have been first associate editor and now editor of the Braille Monitor magazine, the house organ of the Federation.
JW: As you know, this interview is about the banquet address. Now I say that to you as someone who knows what that means, but what does that mean to you?
BP: I have been present at twenty-three consecutive banquets of the National Federation of the Blind. The banquet address, as an element in the organization—it’s certainly the high point of the convention, and the convention is the high point of the Federation's year. For me the banquet address is the focal point of the magnifying glass; all of the rays come together and focus on one point. It is an articulation of the philosophy as it is manifest in the lives of blind people. It is a way of saying to ourselves over and over again, “Here's who we are; here's what we struggle against; here is the victory we define for ourselves.”
JW: Now that’s a twenty-three-year-old answer, and that’s good. I want to ask you something else: can you remember your first banquet address, and can you take yourself back to how you felt, talk to me about the atmosphere; put me back there.
BP: Okay, now first of all, my first banquet was 1975, and as it happens that was the third in a series of three banquet addresses: “Is History Against Us,” “Is Literature Against Us,” “Is the Public Against Us.” So in fact, I had heard recordings of the first two elements before I went to the 1975 address, but there was something electric in the air about being present for that address. Dr. Jernigan is a powerfully eloquent speaker, and his delivery is nearly flawless. I could hear that on the recordings before then, but there is something about being in the room and sharing the experience with over 1,500 other people. Somehow sharing such an experience with 1,500 people has in itself a powerful effect, and I can remember sort of reaching and pinching myself. Am I really here? Having heard the speeches, suddenly to be present and to have this speech laid out before us, which was, “Here are all the ways in which in a sense it feels as though public attitudes are so piled up against us, and yet the public isn't really against us. We must see that people understand and come to the realization of blindness that we have,” and it was like being hurled out into the world on a catapult. I think nothing will ever be as exciting to me again. I have heard better banquet speeches since, but the impact will never be the same because nothing like that will ever be like the first.
JW: I know, it’s kind of like your first love, your first whatever.
BP: First baby, yeah, [laugh], that’s right.
JW: Of the twenty-three you’ve heard, what was your favorite and why?
BP: Hmmm, well, 1976 “Of Visions and Vultures” has a special place in my heart, partly because I was sitting there in all innocence, and suddenly a letter that I wrote got read in the banquet address. That was a pretty astonishing experience suddenly to make it into the banquet address—it sort of felt like I had achieved a little piece of immortality, but that banquet address is certainly the articulation of a lot of our perceptions of what it is like to live out the Federation’s philosophy. We must keep our eye on what it is that we're doing; we must not be distracted; we must move forward in absolute focus and attention. It was laid out in intimate detail, anecdote by anecdote, letter by letter, personal crisis by personal crisis, so that one was a very powerful one.
I really like—and I'm going to have a hard time getting it right—I think it's 1985, it’s Dr. Jernigan’s “The Patterns of Freedom.” I personally find that a very powerful one because it goes to the heart of what constitutes freedom, and it seems to me this is absolutely essential for blind people to understand. No one can give us what it is we must have. We must take it; we must deserve it; we must maintain it, and I think that is such a fundamental truth, and he managed to find ways of saying it. There are so many wonderful quotes through the ages that he pulls together and puts into a blindness context; I love that speech.
JW: You know that Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer have done the majority of the speeches since the founding of this organization. You’ve had the privilege of sitting through that transitional phase of Dr. Jernigan to President Maurer. Talk to me about that.
BP: Of course, in the structure and evolution of the organization that was a very important speech because the question in everyone's minds had to be, can President Maurer deliver a speech of the force and caliber that we have been used to hearing. If this is the single experience that is going to galvanize an entire organization for a year, it is fraught with a great deal of importance, so everyone, myself included, came into the banquet that night with a profound question on our hearts: Can he do it?
JW: No, no pressure on him!
BP: No, none whatsoever—I mean, you know that was just astonishing, astonishing how he did it, and I suspect he will never work on a banquet speech as hard or as long as he must have worked on that one. I don't know that for a fact, but I believe that is in fact the case. “Back to Notre Dame” was the name of the speech, and it was his thinking about his own evolution and how far we have to come by looking at his experience as a student at Notre Dame, and it worked. So there was this great euphoria for that that all of us were caught up in because the magic was there. You know, we’re looking at a young man just beginning, taking over for a man seasoned and experienced, who had an impeccable ear for the language, and so it’s not the same. It’s a different voice. The great sophistication and sensitivity to nuance of the language that Dr. Jernigan has, Mr. Maurer didn't have in 1986. But, but, it was clear that it was going to be all right and that the nurturing, the feeding, the food, and the energy were all there. We were still capable of sending people out into the world, marching together, and we were capable of going out to walk alone, and that is so essential for us in this organization. So much of the time each of us labors in a little part of the vineyard where we’re the only person.
JW: Do you have a favorite part, a favorite segment?
BP: Of the address?
JW: Of the address itself, of the oration?
BP: I have never really looked at it in that way before.
JW: See, I like introductions. I like the introductions of those presentations.
BP: When introductions are done well, I agree with you. I think that the introduction is probably the hardest thing to do well, and I think that as we plow this particular field it gets harder to find a way into the material. Certainly, historically, the most fun part of the banquet address is the middle part where all of the examples such as the putting sponges on blind people’s heads and twenty-seven steps and teaching a blind person to clap and all of the nonsense, the nonsense that so much of our lives leads to such painful frustration, and suddenly, for one glorious moment together, we laugh, and that is so healthy for us to be able to laugh about it together. I think that is such a creative, energizing, and frustration-letting portion for the group to experience together that that I find that great fun. So, in sum, in many ways I think that's my favorite part.
JW: And your laughter—it does stand out, as does your clap. I have a couple more questions, and I have one specifically for you now as an editor—you know as an editor of this journal/magazine. Do you listen differently to these addresses—as both a Federationist and as an editor—does the job ever enter in?
BP: The job enters in as I note how things will go, because, of course, in our journal we have both a print and a Braille version, and that's just text. That’s set because the speech has been typeset, and he's reading a copy of it. That's it, you know: that's cast in stone.
But the recorded version—we will tape, but we roll cleaned up tape. There was the year that the fire department came rushing in, and we had a ten-minute hiatus in the middle of the banquet address because they pulled the plug on the microphone. Of course we clean up little things that go on, so I'm always listening to see how much of that kind of thing has to be done and to note the places where I want to make sure that the technician has, in fact, done it correctly. My goal is to see that the person in Dubuque who didn't get to the convention has the sense of magic that we had in being there, that he is swept along, at least to the degree that we can get it onto the tape. At the same time I want to work to see that the person is not distracted by the little things in the banquet room that didn't matter with all the emotion and everything there working together, but which, if you just listened to the tape recorder at home, would get in the way. So it's more of the technical things that I pay attention to as I'm listening and to see where I’m going to have to polish the mirror to make sure that the reflection comes up accurately.
JW: I see. What advice would you give to potential banquet speakers for this occasion in terms of preparation?
BP: Of course I do banquet speeches because I go around the country and do state banquets. So the banquet address as an art form is something I agonize over quite a lot. I am deeply grateful that I will never have to give a banquet address of the significance and with carrying the freight that this one has, because it is an awesome responsibility to have. Anyone who is giving a banquet address to an organization doing the kind of work that is done in our Federation has to take it seriously. You need to give more than just a delightful, lively, interesting after-dinner speech that will keep the folks awake. You have to think hard about your message and how you will deliver it when you really want the banquet address to work and when the work that has to be done is serious work because it has to kindle people and unite them and send them out reenergized to lift their weight in wildcats.
I think that you cannot just stand up—or it takes many years before you can stand up and do that kind of speech off-the-cuff and have it work right. So you have to decide what mechanism you're going to use to try to accomplish what needs to be done. Are you going to try humor? Are you going to try to do it with tight logic? Are you going to try to do it with just inspirational words? Or, if not just one but several, what is the mix you’re going to try to use? How much are you going to try to make this a personal expression, and how much are you going to try to take material that you come across and shape that into to a fully developed argument of the kind that you want to make? Different people in this organization have different styles. Some of them are very personal and idiosyncratic, some of them depend absolutely on ideas that they play with and develop, and some of them roam around and pick up a lot of anecdotes and pieces of literature and leave their speeches at that. You’ve got to decide what your way is to do that.
It seems to me the other thing that one has to decide is whether you are going to do a speech that you're going to read and deliver sentence by sentence, carefully crafted as Dr. Jernigan's and Mr. Maurer’s speeches are always done. They are reading a speech that takes about eighty hours to put together, and they read the speech almost exactly as written. In many ways I think that is extremely hard for most people to pull off because it is so hard to project one's personality into that kind of crafted prose and not have it sound as though you're just reading the text. You have to project so that you are speaking to them and ensure that you really are bringing your audience along.
I've tried delivering speeches in which I've read the whole text, but I have settled more or less on extensive notes so that I've got my focus very carefully honed. I’ve plotted my path, my map is very clearly defined of where I’m going and how I'm unfolding it, but I depend on the energy and the hormones at the moment to give me the actual sentences and the words to convey the ideas. But it seems to me that you have to find your own personal style, whatever it is that is most successful for you, the most successful mechanism for you to use in conveying your ideas. Then be comfortable with that choice, and don't eat your heart out because you can't do it some other way. The important thing is to develop your own style, and then go on about your business.
So there you have it—the words of three giants in our movement, and my extraordinary interaction with each of them. I don’t know why it took me twenty years to do this article, but in some ways it seems timely and appropriate for the 75th year of our movement. Little did any of us know that Dr. Jernigan would deliver his last banquet address in 1997 and pass away in 1998. Hearing his voice in this recording continues to inspire and encourage me, and I hope it does the same for you. I could feel the emotions of President Maurer as he prepared to bring the gavel down on the convention with President Riccobono at the banquet last year. Thus, hearing his voice from 1995 and watching his efforts to build the Jernigan Institute and lead this movement into the twenty-first century, has been quite amazing as well. And I never would have thought that when I conducted that interview with Barbara Pierce in 1997 that I would follow her as the President of the NFB of Ohio.
Perhaps twenty-five years from now someone will write a similar piece albeit probably much better than this one, and it will be fascinating to see what the story of our movement is then. I am confident that the banquet address will continue its historical and rhetorical significance for us, and although the audiences will change, the message will only get more clear, necessary, and focused.
by Ken Cary
From the Editor: This article is special to me because it comes from an unexpected source and offers thanks to someone who is a longtime personal friend of mine, a friend I once doubted when she said she was going to become a mobility instructor. I have several times apologized for doubting and do so yet again.
Turning to the author, it is fascinating to observe how people age and how they view new life opportunities. Many say they are too old to learn and shutdown when people talk with them about mobility, technology, learning once again to read, and engaging in new adventures. Ken Cary has been blind just over ten years, and at seventy-five he should give all of us pause who say "I can't," or "I am too old."
Ken wrote this story for the Braille Monitor both to motivate other blind people and to thank someone who has played a very special role in his life—both very laudable reasons to embrace the task of writing, even when it is not one's normal activity. Here is what he says:
My name is Ken Cary, I'm seventy-five years old, and I'm deaf and blind. I have neuropathy in my hands and feet, and I suffer 25 percent memory loss because of a stroke in 2003.
In 2007 I went to Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center (CCRC) in Austin, Texas. There they taught me the computer. They taught me daily living. I couldn't do Braille because of the neuropathy. They taught me industrial arts, and what I think is the most important thing they taught me is mobility.
About six months ago I went to Leader Dog in Rochester, Michigan, to be trained to receive a dog. I had just undergone five weeks of radiation, coupled with a sinus condition that torments me 24/7. They weren't aware of these things when I arrived, which affected my performance. They had a video of me which was taken at home before my illness, and they said that a different person came down to the school. They had already trained a dog for me. I told them that earlier I had walked fast. But in the condition I was in when I arrived for guide dog training, I couldn't keep up with the dog that they trained. After three days they decided the best thing was to just send me home and have me come back later when I was in better shape.
Before I left they got a lady from DARS to come over and check my mobility skills. The people with leader dog weren't with her. She did this independently. She took me through alleys and pastures, down highways, and on streets where I did curb travel and shoreline. She took me to places where there were trees I had to navigate around. When she got through, she said, "Mr. Cary, I want to know who taught you how to do this because you have excellent mobility skills, and I think you could go all over the United States and the world, as far as that goes, and you could do it by yourself. My opinion is that you don't need a dog. Who was your instructor?"
Now we’re getting closer to the lady I want to talk about. At Criss Cole my first mobility instructor was Marion Small. She was an excellent instructor, but she taught me the basic things, and I wasn't with her but for about three months. She was a character; I called her Showbiz Small because she liked to dance with you out there and get you mixed up to see if you could cross the road and line up to the street. She was real outgoing, altruistic, and had a positive mental attitude.
Then I was moved to another team and got Jane Lansaw as an instructor. Jane was the total opposite of Marion. At first I didn't like her. She was all business, and her goal was to teach me everything about mobility. She told me to carry a bag and always have a raincoat in it because we didn't come in for rain, snow, or windstorm. Our sessions were for two hours. There would have to be severe lightning for us to come in before the two hours were up.
Not many deaf-blind people go to Criss Cole. There are only legally blind and totally blind people who are there. Consequently a lot of instructors there didn't have an opportunity or didn't know how to train mobility trainers for the deaf-blind. Jane really got interested in this. To help me and others, she had to come up with some new techniques she didn't use with her regular students. She made signs for me that I could use when I would go on a travel lesson using the bus. I would hold up a sign saying "Bus 5," and then another one that said "Bus 38," which I used a lot. She got hooked up with our deaf-blind specialist, Kathy Young, and she had a bunch of knowledge that Jane didn't have. Jane also got a lot of stuff from Helen Keller [the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults] with techniques that Ann Sullivan used, and these she used to train me. She also made a sign that said "taxi" that I would hold up when trying to get a cab. Another sign that I carried said, "I am deaf and blind, and I have trouble crossing busy, high-traffic streets. Would you help me cross the street by touching my left shoulder?" I carried these signs wherever I went, and I had some cards made up that I gave the bus drivers that said the same thing. They also told the drivers I was hard of hearing and instructed them to talk really loud to me when I needed to get off the bus.
I spent hours with Jane Lansaw in training. I didn't know it, but she was sharing techniques with interns from out of town so they could learn by seeing how I was performing. Often I would get mixed up, disoriented, and she would let me mess up, even if it took hours. She would stay with me until I figured out where I was supposed to be going. It was unbelievable the patience that she had.
One time I was having trouble finding the warehouse, the place at the center where we would sometimes meet and where we could buy supplies. It was simple for everyone else, but I was having a terrible time finding it, so I had a digital recorder, and she dictated the instructions on it. I was following those instructions the best I could, but I still crossed the road where I wasn't supposed to and rewound the recorder to read the instructions again. I realized I made a mistake and corrected it. I would go forward several blocks and would then decide that I needed to go back. I was going back and forth, constantly going back to my recorder, and I finally got to the warehouse. Of course, Jane had enough confidence in me that she remained at Criss Cole, believing I could and should go by myself.
When I got to the warehouse, I made them sign a letter saying that I made it there, because I didn't think she would believe that I did it. When I finally got back, she could see me coming, and, when she saw that letter from the warehouse, we both started jumping up and down, and she was hugging me, and we were acting like two crazy people out there, because this was a major accomplishment for me.
She liked to make me go to the University of Texas and walk the main drag. There are thousands of students there, and Jane would give me addresses of businesses that I had to find. It was either north or south of where I was. I found out that, when I went inside a business, most of the employees didn't even know their street address, which really complicated it.
One time she and one of her interns were in a business that I was supposed to find. I walked by it three times and thought about stopping, but I said to myself that “No one would stop at this place.” So I just went about my business and went back the other way. I went into a building, and for some reason my arm started to bleed really badly. I take Plavix and aspirin, and if I hit something, I really bleed. The manager said, "You are losing blood," and gave me a paper towel and said, "You need to leave our business and go clean yourself up somewhere." So I knew I had to go back home because I was going to have sunstroke I was so hot. There was no way I could get in touch with Jane, so I went back to the center, and after about an hour and a half she called in and said, "Has Ken Cary checked in?"
"Yes he has. He checked in, and he checked out again, and he's going to the warehouse by himself.”
She said, "Well you tell him I'm going to wring his neck when I get in." When she came back and got all the information, she knew I had made the right decision.
In my team at Criss Cole they were always inviting people they thought were the best mobility people to walk to the Capital, which was four miles, and they had to wear a blindfold. They never thought I was good enough to do that, so one Saturday I did it on my own. I recorded every step on my Milestone digital recorder. After about two hours I got to the Capital, and a guy had been watching me. He said, "You finally made it to the Capital." I guess he was surprised. I went over and had a lady that worked there stamp a piece of paper saying that I had been to the Capital. After I had gone there, I had a friend that took the information off the recorder and put it on a disk. I waited for about a week and gave it to Jane. She couldn't believe it and mentioned it in the auditorium at the center. I got the Traveler of the Week award.
On bad weather days Jane would take me in a room and explain how Austin was laid out. She explained that there is a river that runs through Austin so you kind of keep up with Austin by how many roads are north or south of the river. What she explained seemed to me to be kind of a complicated process, but after you studied it, it would help you find addresses better. She would send me out on drop-offs, sometimes out in the middle of Austin, and say, "Get home." Supposedly they would go back to the center, but I think they were watching me from far away with binoculars to see if I was heading the right way to get back. When on these trips, you could ask people, "Where is the closest bus station," and if they wanted to help you, you could let them help you get there. We did these drop-offs several times, and one time I lucked out and just got on the right bus and beat them home. I was sitting, waiting on them, and they couldn't believe that I got there first.
Jane Lansaw loves to work with deaf and blind people. When new deaf and blind people come into Criss Cole, she gets them, and she tells them about me. It encourages them because Jane knows that, since I left Criss Cole, I have been to Detroit, Michigan, by myself. I've been to Disney World in Florida four or five times by myself. I have been to the Chicago Airport, Denver Airport, Atlanta Airport—you name it, I've done it by myself. To accomplish this I have had to ask a lot of questions.
I live in a small town, and I go to the post office by myself about once a week. I have to travel by the schoolhouse to get there. It's about four blocks down to Highway 69, and there are 150,000 cars that pass by there every day both ways. It is a very dangerous road. When you are deaf-blind your primary travel problem is not jumping out in front of traffic; it is the turning lanes that you can't hear as well, and you've got to be sure that you don't jump out in front of a car in a turning lane. If I'm not sure, I will use my sign for asking someone to help me. I am not going to do something stupid.
Once I cross the street heading to the post office, I go through parking lots; I pass a couple of small, narrow alleys that could be roads; I walk through grass and finally find the post office. Of course I have to come back home after I go to the post office. This requires a lot of mobility skills that I learned from Jane Lansaw. I just want to say thank you, Jane. You gave me my life back, so I don't have to sit down and watch TV all day and be afraid to go anywhere.
Since working with Jane, I have gone to skydive in San Marcos, and I jumped out nine times to beat former President George H. Bush's tandem jump record. I took jumps eight and nine the same day to accomplish that. Fortunately, President Bush has quit jumping. During the process, every time I thought I had him beat, he would go jump out again, and I had it in my head I was going to break his record. I started jumping at age sixty-seven, did my most recent jump at seventy-four, am now seventy-five, and I will not quit jumping. When I die, I want it to be when I’m swinging a cane while jumping out of an airplane. Thanks, Jane.
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.
by Patti S. Gregory-Chang
From the Editor: Patti Chang is the chairman of one of the most important committees of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her committee are charged with advertising our scholarship program and choosing thirty students who evidence academic success, leadership, and a demonstrated commitment to helping others. Here is Patti’s announcement about the 2016 scholarship program:
Each July at our national convention the National Federation of the Blind gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. We offer thirty scholarships, and all are substantial and prestigious enough to warrant any student’s time to complete and compete. Our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply.
I am sometimes asked what the secret is to winning an NFB scholarship. I am going to tell you the secret. First of all, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships must be legally blind; must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall academic year; and, if chosen as a finalist, must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship activities.
Many think the key to becoming a winner is a high grade point average. Others believe it is based on participation in extracurricular activities. Still others think it is one's level of commitment to the NFB. While grade point average is important because it demonstrates the ability to learn and be successful academically, it is not the only attribute that influences the scholarship committee. Participation in extracurricular activities is important in portraying oneself as a well-rounded person; it is not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Committed members of the organization recognize the attributes that are important to committee members when determining who wins a scholarship.
The scholarship program is a tremendous tool for us to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are not restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind people. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships. When you check the lists of past winners, you will see that students of all ages and in widely differing fields have won over the years. The class of 2015 included students entering their freshman year, as well as older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. Past winners are working toward credentials for employment in diverse fields.
There is truly only one way to win an NFB scholarship: that is to apply. Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the Web at <www.nfb.org/scholarships>, along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The application form for 2016 is already online. It will remain up until March 31. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can ask for a print application by contacting our scholarship office at <[email protected]> or by calling (410) 659-9314, ext. 2415.
A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with the president of the applicant's state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors must also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams.
Unfortunately, some applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly. Applicants must ensure that all of the required information and supporting documentation have been received by our scholarship office either online by midnight EST, March 31, or by mail postmarked by March 31. Students should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letters of reference. Letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen. Students can write their essays using word-processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting it into the online application form.
In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe one's personal goals for the future. Information about positions of leadership is especially helpful. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.
The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people, who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants for the scholarship class of 2016. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty finalists from all applications received. These thirty scholarship finalists will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1.
Finally, during the annual convention held June 30 through July 5, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner. Attending and participating in the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize.
The National Federation of the Blind’s national convention is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the world each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship finalists will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they had ever imagined.
Often students apply more than one year before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if their scholarship and leadership merit another award. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows. The secret, if there is one, to winning an NFB scholarship is to read carefully the application on our website, and then provide all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31. However, I actually maintain that there is no secret. The only way to win an NFB scholarship is to apply.
From the Editor: As a service to our readers, the Braille Monitor from time to time publishes class action settlements so that those who wish to object to them or those who may benefit are made aware of them. Below is a summary notice of the proposed settlement of the class action lawsuit against Redbox, the popular video and video game rental kiosk company. Included is contact information for the law firm handling it and a link to the full notice describing the settlement. We have not done the editing that the Braille Monitor normally does to ensure compliance with the NFB Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style.
SUMMARY NOTICE OF PROPOSED SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT
Jahoda, et al. v. Redbox Automated Retail, LLC,
No. 2:14-cv-01278-LPL (W.D. Pa.)
ATTENTION: ALL LEGALLY BLIND INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE
ATTEMPTED, WILL ATTEMPT, OR HAVE BEEN DETERRED FROM ATTEMPTING TO ACCESS RENTAL SERVICES AVAILABLE AT REDBOX
KIOSKS IN all 50 states and the District of
Columbia except California
YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO OBJECT TO THE SETTLEMENT DESCRIBED BELOW
READ THIS NOTICE AND INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY
This notice is to inform you about the proposed settlement that would resolve the class action lawsuit Jahoda, et al. v. Redbox Automated Retail, LLC, Case No. 2:14-cv-01278-LPL (W.D. Pa.). The lawsuit asserts that Redbox violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., by offering video and video game rental services at self-service, touchscreen Kiosks that are not fully accessible to, and usable by, blind individuals. Redbox believes that the Kiosks are compliant with the ADA and denies all liability. The settlement, which must be approved by the Court, would resolve the lawsuit.
CLASS: Solely for purposes of effectuating this settlement, the Court has certified a settlement class of all legally blind individuals who have attempted, will attempt, or have been deterred from attempting to use Redbox Kiosks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia except California (because of a separate settlement in California) (the “Class”).
PROPOSED SETTLEMENT: The settlement requires Redbox to modify at least one of its Kiosks at each retail location where kiosks are located in all 50 states except California so that they are fully accessible to, and usable by, blind individuals. The modifications will include the addition of a standard headphone jack which will provide access to audio instructions regarding how to call a specially-trained Redbox customer service representative who will remotely assist the consumer. The settlement imposes certain other requirements, which are set forth in detail in the Settlement Agreement. All Class members will be bound by the terms of the settlement relating to the accessibility of Redbox Kiosks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia except California if the settlement is approved by the Court.
The District Court has appointed Carlson Lynch Sweet & Kilpela, LLP, as class counsel to represent the named plaintiffs and the interests of the absent class members. Class Representatives will receive the following single Plaintiff incentive payment: $2,500 to Robert Jahoda and $2,500 to April Nguyen. Class Counsel will be paid $397,000 for all attorneys’ fees and litigation costs and expenses.
OBJECTIONS: Class members can object to the proposed settlement by filing a written objection by March 15, 2016 either in person or by first-class mail to:
Clerk of the Court, U.S. District Court
700 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
All written objections must include: (i) the name of this litigation; (ii) Class member’s full name, address, and telephone number; and (iii) specific reasons for objecting and evidence or legal authority in support thereof.
FAIRNESS HEARING: The Court will hold a hearing in this case on April 27, 2016 at 10 A.M. in Courtroom 7B to consider whether to approve the Settlement. Class members may appear at the Fairness Hearing by filing a Notice of Intention to Appear with the Court, postmarked no later than March 15, 2016.
FURTHER INFORMATION: This is only a summary of the litigation, claims asserted, Settlement and related matters. A Full Notice describing the Settlement is available online at <www. redboxadasettlement.com>.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS, ADDRESS ALL INQUIRIES TO CLASS COUNSEL: Benjamin J. Sweet, Esquire, [email protected], Carlson Lynch Sweet & Kilpela, LLP, 1133 Penn Avenue, 5th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, www.carlsonlynch.com, or at 1-800-467-5241.
This month’s recipes come from the members of the NFB of Wisconsin.
by Chad Nelson
1 box yellow or white cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 can pie filling, (apple, cherry, or blueberry works best).
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium mixing bowl mix together melted butter and box of cake mix, making sure cake mix is well blended with the butter. Grease bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch pan thoroughly. Firmly pat cake mixture into bottom of pan. Pour pie filling evenly over top of crust, bake at 350 for approximately twenty-five to thirty minutes.
Crock Pot Beer Brats
by Chad Nelson
1 24-ounce can of beer
1 package brats
Sauerkraut (if desired).
Method: Pour beer into crock pot, place brats into beer, and cook on high for six hours or medium for eight hours. Add sauerkraut one hour before serving, or if desired heat separate on stovetop. Serve with raw onion and potato salad.
Best Baked Beans Ever!
by Chad Nelson
2 28-ounce cans of beans
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp mustard
3/4 cup ketchup
4-5 sliced natural casing hot dogs
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together ketchup, mustard, beans, hot dogs, and brown sugar in medium casserole dish. Bake one and a half to two hours. Serve with potato salad and beer brats.
Chorizo [pork sausage] Vegetable Soup
by Ericka Short
1 box of chicken broth
1 pound of chorizo—best if it is what your butcher makes at your grocery store
1 to 2 cups of cooked rice
1 can of diced tomatoes with chilies—do not drain
1 large or 2 smaller green peppers chopped
1 onion either sliced or diced, whichever you prefer. Pick your favorite variety.
1 can of whole kernel corn drained, or 1 bag of frozen corn, thawed
1 can sliced black olives
Dash of following spices: nutmeg, paprika, cinnamon, and cilantro, or preferred herbs
Note: You definitely can experiment with things like mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables if you like. This is a basic recipe. Before you do so, try the original.
Method: In a large soup kettle, break up your chorizo and brown. Sometimes it is easier to roll the chorizo into little balls than to have it look like hamburger bites. This ensures things are cooked evenly. Do not drain grease. While chorizo browns, chop vegetables. When your meat has browned completely, pour broth in with meat. Turn heat to high, bring to boil. Let boil for two minutes and stir. Make sure the seasonings from the meat are mixed with the chicken broth. Add vegetables. Turn down heat to medium high. Pour in diced tomatoes with chilies. Stir. In about five minutes add spices, then turn down to medium or medium low and let simmer. You can also add cooked rice if it is not fully cooked like wild or brown rice. Let sit and simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rice in last ten minutes if you didn't add it earlier.
There is no real timing to this, and as with most soups it tastes better the longer it sits. I suggest you make it the night before. This is a nice alternative to chili when the weather turns colder. Makes at least eight servings.
Autumn Cranberry Pie
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar, separated
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups fresh, whole cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, butter, one cup sugar, eggs, and almond extract in a bowl. Mix well. Spoon into a greased ten-inch pie plate. Combine cranberries, walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl; mix well. Spoon into pie plate on top of crust mix. Bake for thirty-five minutes. Do not overbake, crust should be like a moist cookie.
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
2 cups blueberries
2 cups raspberries
3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 stick butter
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put berries in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl combine flour and sugar. Remove three tablespoons of flour mixture and gently toss with berries. Place berries in an 8-inch square pan. To make topping, add melted butter to remaining flour mixture, combine well. Crumble little bits of topping over berries. Bake until berries just start to bubble, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Chicken Enchilada Soup
by Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas
1 pound cooked chicken breast, shredded
1 10-ounce package frozen corn
1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, smashed
1 4-ounce can green chilies
1 10-ounce can enchilada sauce
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
7 corn tortillas
Mexican blend shredded cheese
lime juice (optional)
Method: Place your chicken in the bottom of your slow cooker, then put in all other ingredients. My slow cooker is a three-quart, and the soup fills it to the rim. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.Garnish: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush tortillas with olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake ten to fifteen minutes. Take them out of the oven; when cool enough to handle, crumble them over your soup. Or if you're like me and want to save time, Tostitos tortilla chips work just as well. Garnish with cheese, sour cream, and lime juice.
News from the Federation Family
Help increase donations to the National Federation of the Blind by signing up on Smile.Amazon.com and identifying the National Federation of the Blind as the charity you would like to receive the donation. We will receive 5 percent of every purchase made at Smile.Amazon.com. More information can be found at <http://smile.amazon.com/gp/chpf/about/
For an Amazon customer to identify a charity: go to Smile.Amazon.com, type in “National Federation of the Blind, Inc.,” find your charity’s name in the list and click select button.
The National Federation of the Blind, Inc. is the first charity listed when searching using this name; if you search using National Federation of the Blind, we are the forth charity in the list since many of the state affiliates have registered and are in the list under National Federation of the Blind.
In order for us to get a percentage, you need to be logged into and shop at <Smile.Amazon.com>. If you shop at Amazon.com (instead of Smile.Amazon.com), no donation is made. Products, reviews, and prices are the same between Amazon.com and Smile.Amazon.com for those products sold through both sites; sometimes Smile.Amazon.com will not have a product that can be found on Amazon.com.
At-Large Chapter Gives Another Reason to be Thankful:
What’s cooking in Oregon? Well, Thanksgiving dinner for an individual who may not have had anything to cook. However, the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon At-Large Chapter is not only thankful this year, but giving as well. They sponsored a family by providing $100 toward their Thanksgiving dinner.
The individual we helped is blind and currently unemployed. She lives with her daughter and two granddaughters. She was a former vendor in the Business Enterprise Program and moved to Tennessee to care for her father. After his passing she moved back to Oregon, only to find out her husband was ill. She cared for him for two years before his passing. She then decided to take some college courses to brush up on her skills. She said, “I could never stop thinking about the Business Enterprise Program and how happy it made me.” She loves cooking, being creative, and customer service. She trained for the last nine months to get her license renewed in the Oregon BEP and is now awaiting an opening.
NFBO At-Large Chapter members are thankful that their fundraisers were successful this year and allowed them to sponsor a family for Thanksgiving. They plan on sponsoring a family next year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. ‘Tis the season to give back, after all.
New Functions in the KNFB Reader:
The KNFB Reader app for the Android platform is now available. In addition, both versions (Android and iOS) are now integrated with the popular file storage, sharing, and collaboration platform, Dropbox. When users scan a document with the KNFB Reader, it can be instantly saved in a Dropbox folder tied to the user’s account. Users can even retrieve documents from Dropbox after they are deleted from their smart phone or other device. For more information go to <www.knfbreader.com>.
Chapter Expands Membership and Gets Creative in its Assignments:
The week after hosting the NFB Indiana State Convention in South Bend, the NFB Michiana Chapter added seven new official members, expanding our membership roll from eight to fifteen. We also added two new members to the board—and instead of making these at-large positions, we are grooming these two new ladies to play specific roles on our board that previously were not defined.
The other three board positions remain in the hands of those who held them prior to November 2015, but all positions will be up for election this coming August. The NFB Michiana board consists of: president, Matthew Yeater; vice president and acting treasurer, Kane Brolin; secretary, Jeanette Shown; marketing coordinator-in-training/new board member, Edie Leemreis; digital information outreach coordinator-in-training/new board member, Daphne Tinder-O'Brien.
At the 2015 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania the following officers and board members were elected: president, James Antonacci; first vice president, Lynn Heitz; second vice president, Connie Schwarzfeld; secretary, Harriet Go; treasurer, Antoinette Whaley; and board members Emily Angelcyk, Liliya Asadullina, and Denice Brown.
Pen Pal Wanted:
Kathy Alverson would like Braille or cassette pen pals. Her interests include TV, bowling, swimming, going for walks, and meeting new people. You may write to her at 545 Public Ave., Apt. 425, Beloit, WI 53511.
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.
2015 Advent Booklet Now Available:
Message of Hope is a Unity outreach program. Funded solely by donations, Message of Hope shares the assurance of God's love and grace by providing free spiritual materials to those in need. Unity extends support to individuals in various care settings and to those experiencing hardship. Message of Hope also serves persons with blindness or visual impairments, offering free spiritual resources in Braille, on CD, in digital format, and an online Braille library.
The 2015 Unity Advent booklet is now available online. Visit <http://www.unity.org/braille/> to download your copy.
Computers for the Blind:
Computers for the Blind (CFTB) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization located in Richardson, Texas. We receive donations of no-longer-needed computers from businesses and individuals. Our volunteers wipe the hard drives clean, refurbish the computers, and install the assistive technology that make them accessible to persons who are blind or have low vision.
We ship these computers throughout the United States to persons who cannot afford a new computer and the expensive assistive technology. Depending on donations, we ship Pentium 4 or Dual-Core two GHz computers. The minimum configuration that is shipped is:
Optional add-ons available through the manufacturer
Descriptive movies are available on loan in VHS and DVD formats for a $25 lifetime membership. Titles can be found at <https://www.computersfortheblind.net/movie-list.html>
Prescription Labeling Expanded:
ScripTalk audible prescription labels are now available nationwide at all local Rite Aid and Walmart pharmacies, as well as at several national mail-order pharmacies. Rite Aid and certain mail-order pharmacies also offer large print and Braille prescription labels. Be aware that you may have to educate your local Rite Aid or Walmart pharmacist that their employer is actually offering accessible prescription labels. These companies are very large, and it can take time for local pharmacists to become aware of new company initiatives.
If you are a Walmart customer and your local pharmacist is not yet familiar with the availability of accessible prescription labels, just tell the pharmacist to "Search for ScripTalk on The WIRE." The pharmacist will know to search Walmart's internal communication system to find instructions on how to get ScripTalk implemented locally.
If you are a Rite Aid customer and your local pharmacist is not yet familiar with accessible labels, ask the pharmacist to call their corporate support number for more information, or you can also call EnVision America for assistance at (800) 890-1180.
Accessible prescription labels are also available through mail order from the following national mail-order pharmacies:
Camp Siloam 2016:
The Gospel Association for the Blind is pleased to announce our fourteenth Bible Camping session. Camp will take place from Saturday, May 21 through Saturday, May 28, 2016, at the Golden Cross Ranch in New Caney, Texas.
The morning Bible teacher for the week is Brother Bruce Coonce. The evening services will be conducted by Brother George Gray as well as a guest preacher. The theme for the week of camp is "For Such a Time as This."
Some of the activities planned for the week are a shopping trip; two Christian films (to be announced); swimming throughout the week; a special meeting for camp ladies; a trip to a local carnival; horseback riding; and riding the zipline, to name just a few. We also look forward to two talent nights, two hayrides, and a closing campfire. We hope you will come and enjoy the tremendous food, terrific fellowship, and a top-notch fun-packed week!
A $25 deposit is required for ALL campers; however, if you are a first-time camper, your remaining cost for the week of camp and transportation will be covered by the Gospel Association for the Blind. Send check or money order to: The G A B, PO Box 1162, Bunnell, FL 32110. You will then receive a camp application, which you need to complete, as well as a medical form for your doctor. These forms are to be returned to the GAB by Friday, April 8, 2016.
For further information you may call the GAB at (386) 586-5885 or email Camp Director George Gray at <[email protected]>. We encourage you to visit our website <www.circleministries.com> for photos and more info on past camping sessions, as well as a host of other information on blind programs, etc. We look forward to having you with us for an exciting, fun-packed week of camp!
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.