Vol. 59, No. 2 February 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.
Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.
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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. 2 February 2016
Illustration: NFB BELL Academy December Seminar Highlights
Brad Smith’s Address at the 2015 Accessibility Summit
A Modern-Day Pioneer in Our Midst: An Attempt to Say Thank You to a Civil
Rights Leader for the Blind
by Gary Wunder
The Blind in the World: From Paternalism to Self-Determination
by Fredric K. Schroeder
NAC: What Price Accreditation
by Kenneth Jernigan
Introducing Braille: Begin With a Positive Experience
by Doris Willoughby
Blindness: The Pattern of Freedom
by Kenneth Jernigan
How the First Self-Advocacy Organization of the Blind Met the Challenge of
Social Security, 1940-1950
by Anna Kresmer
Making Diversity Work
by Elaine Warn
The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund
by Allen Harris
Copyright 2016 by the National Federation of the Blind
Each year, state coordinators and teachers from around the nation gather to discuss upcoming Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) programs that will be conducted in their states. Teaching Braille to young students in a two-week program can be challenging, and especially when the students range in age from four to twelve years old. Since there is no requirement that students come, at least part of the success of the program must be in making what is done not only educational but fun.
At this year’s BELL Academy, where the job was to train the trainers, fifty-seven participants from thirty-one states and the District of Columbia joined in the learning. Lodging and meals were provided for all, and travel costs for one person from each state was provided. Twenty-eight hours of training helped to fill a busy three-day seminar. But it isn’t just about the scheduled training. BELL Academy gives BELL coordinators and teachers from across the country a chance to mingle, sharing experiences, tips, tricks, and support as they prepare for the 2016 BELL sessions. A single session was devoted to letting veteran BELL teachers and coordinators share their experiences, while other sessions covered topics like training for Facebook novices, specific strategies for using social media to advertise BELL, grant writing, insurance and liability, and many other topics.
Attendees got a chance to practice actual lessons and hands-on activities from the curriculum including Braille Twister, UEB or Not To BE, Cane Walks, Stick Out Your Braille Tongue, Splash Words, Drawing With Your Perkins Brailler, Slides and Mountains, Frogs Do Jump High, Spreading 101 and All About Spreads, Pouring Practice, Beach Ball Braille (Letters, Contractions, Nemeth, and Words), and making homemade scented play dough.
If the teachers got to have that much fun, just imagine how interesting, amazing, and exciting the summer of 2016 will be for those states lucky enough to have a BELL Program.
by Gary Wunder
In the June 2013 issue of the Braille Monitor, the lead article was “The Rehabilitation System in Oklahoma: Progress, Setbacks, and the Hope for Greater Opportunities.” It revealed that two leading rehabilitation officials were fired or resigned three days apart, and the article discussed the reasons for their severance. More importantly, it discussed the progress that had been made in providing rehabilitation services to the blind of Oklahoma and expressed the hope that it would not be derailed by the inappropriate behavior of its previous rehabilitation officials.
The fear that elected officials in Oklahoma would retreat from the task of improving their rehabilitation system by promoting low-profile bureaucrats and ordering them to keep rehabilitation services below the radar was unfounded. Oklahoma moved boldly to hire Joe Cordova as the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (ODRS) in December of 2013. His work in the field is well known to members of the National Federation of the Blind and professionals in the field of rehabilitation, having distinguished himself throughout the country as an innovative and hard-working leader in getting services leading to employment. He has been the assistant commissioner for services for the blind in New Mexico, headed the Division for the Blind in the Rehabilitation Services Administration, became a regional commissioner in that agency, and then moved to Hawaii to head their general rehabilitation agency. “We want people to have good jobs at good wages, and we want to avoid providing the kind of minimalist service that leads to them coming back to the department again and again because they don’t make enough money or the employment doesn’t represent something they really want to do.” Cordova is emphatic in his conviction that the bar for his agency is not met or exceeded by helping clients secure entry-level employment and then walking away with the agency feeling satisfied that it has a case closure. The agency should feel that it has been successful only when it has helped one of its consumers to find employment where they make a good, sustainable living wage. Cordova believes that achieving this goal can often require several years of hard work to produce these results, but he notes with pride that the wages of disabled customers in Oklahoma went up by 5 percent this year. This is happening in a state that is currently suffering significant financial difficulty as a result of lower oil prices and the need to dramatically cut government expenditures.
Many of the changes brought by Cordova have been warmly welcomed, and as we detail those that deal specifically with rehabilitation for the blind later in this article, it is easy to see why blind residents of Oklahoma are embracing the changes. One change, however, that has generated some controversy is the replacement of the superintendent of the Oklahoma School for the Blind, a department which falls under Cordova’s jurisdiction. Cordova says that the decision to dismiss Dr. James Adams was difficult and that he made it after it became clear that he and Adams did not share the same vision for student success. Cordova says that Adams did a good job in coordinating the day-to-day activities of the school, but his expectations of students and the careers that might be theirs were not consistent with Cordova’s. “We need a long-term vision for people at the school. Our data for a six-year period clearly demonstrated that graduates of the school performed below blind students who attended public school. I believe that the expectation for students should be that they will get an education beyond their post-secondary experience.” But Cordova said this was not what Dr. Adams envisioned. Cordova says that Adams believed that the superintendent should not be encouraging students to go to college and that their demonstrated failure to thrive in this environment was an indication that they could not. Cordova believes that the more appropriate view for the school and the rehabilitation agency to take is that the failure of the students is more likely the result of deficiencies in training that the school should identify and address. He believes that the school needs to assess how it’s doing in providing academics, independent living skills, and extracurricular activities and to use these assessments to improve the ability of the school’s students to face the challenges they must meet to succeed in the world today. “If we aren’t producing successful students, either something in the curriculum needs to be changed or maybe we need to give them some remedial courses, tutoring, and other support services that will help them get to that place.”
The charge has been made that changes at the school for the blind have occurred in an attempt to eliminate the residential school. Cordova says this couldn’t be further from the truth. “As a former blind student who has attended a school for the blind from age five until graduation in my home state of New Mexico, I believe I can speak from personal experience as to the many benefits of attending a specialized residential school for the blind, benefits which are not always readily available in regular public schools. I attribute much of my success over the years directly to the programs and services offered in a special residential school for the blind, and I want future blind students to have the same opportunity to benefit from those types of programs and services here at the Oklahoma School for the Blind.”
Cordova removed Adams in June of 2015, having made the decision earlier but not wanting to disrupt the school year. He was replaced by Christine Boone, the wife of Douglas Boone, who is the director of Visual Services. This sparked charges of nepotism, but, in fact, these have no legal legs. Neither of the Boones supervises the other, both reporting directly to Cordova. Cordova says, “I have worked with Christine for more than thirty years, and I trust her to implement the policies that I believe will lead to better outcomes for students. I appointed her to serve as the interim director while we do a nationwide search. Finding a qualified superintendent is a difficult task, and I cannot think of one blind person who currently serves in that capacity in the United States.” As this article is being finalized, interviews are currently being conducted to find a full-time superintendent.
On the subject of rehabilitation services for blind people, there are many positive accomplishments to report. Cordova hired Doug Boone in January of 2014 to head the blindness agency, a unit that is strangely named Visual Services. Boone says that when he was looking for a house and told people where he would be working, they wanted to know how many different kinds of glasses the agency provided and what a person had to do to get services. He says they never once assumed that the agency was set up to serve blind people, and both he and Cordova are proposing a name change for the blindness unit. There seems to be good support for changing the name to Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the name change is expected to be finalized at the end of 2016.
Boone said that when he came to Visual Services, the definition of blindness being used by the agency often resulted in ambiguity in who would be served and the services the agency could provide to them. The agency has now updated its definition of blindness so that it is less confusing and unambiguously complies with federal regulations. It clarifies that the agency serves the legally blind, the visually impaired, those who have a progressive condition which is certain to lead to blindness, and those who are functionally blind—people who are photophobic and cannot see during the day although at certain times and under certain lighting conditions may have 20/20 vision. He says the agency has also addressed training for its counselors in the area of low vision. “Sometimes there is this perception that our state services for the blind discourages the use of vision. If one’s vision is dependable and makes one competitive, that is good, and we try to make the most of it. But, if it works now, but it won’t work at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, that’s a problem.”
One of Boone’s concerns has long been that people who are newly blinded have their first meeting with the agency and after two hours are left with a mountain of paperwork that they have no idea how to process. “For many of these people print is no longer an option, but we were leaving them all of this paperwork and actually contributing to their sense of defeat about what it means to be blind. Signing up for services to address blindness is an emotional time, and, when I was a counselor, I often felt frustrated at that first meeting, knowing that a client could only retain about 20 percent of what I told him. We have created a much better system, and it is one that is long overdue.”
The agency has developed an information cartridge that is readable using a National Library Service (NLS) book player. The cartridge includes a document detailing the rights and responsibilities of applicants, information about how to contact the Office of Disability Concerns (known in many states as the Client Assistance Program), a pamphlet on library services and how to use them, information pamphlets about and from both consumer organizations, and a list of out-of-state training centers with whom the state agency contracts. The cartridge also includes information about the Oklahoma Rehabilitation Council, and this is critical because agency consumers need to know how to contact those who are responsible for overseeing the program that gives them service.
“By the time we leave their house, we have delivered them an NLS machine, and they are signed up for library services and shown how to use the machine. Not only do we leave them with critical information, but by signing them up for library services, we once again open to them the wide world of information and the stories and adventures that literature can bring.”
Boone believes that there must be stronger relationships built between the staff of his agency and the consumers they serve. To this end his division is encouraging staff members to attend state conventions of the National Federation of the Blind and the Oklahoma Council of the Blind. “We can’t serve people well if we don’t know them.” So that staff are aware of the broader issues faced by blind people, they are invited to attend national conventions of the two major organizations in the country. The agency will pay their expense to attend the convention of the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind. “If you attend the convention of the National Federation of the Blind one year, you are obligated to attend the convention of the American Council of the Blind the next. Likewise, if your first convention that the agency pays for is the American Council of the Blind, you are obligated to go to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind the next year. We will pay for our staff to attend two conventions, and if they choose to continue going to one or both, we will grant them leave time to do so. Our division’s impartiality has to be above reproach.”
Under Boone’s leadership the agency has placed increased emphasis on immersion training in blindness. This can only be received at a residential rehabilitation center, and no such center for the blind exists in Oklahoma. The division therefore maintains contracts with six agencies around the country from which its consumers can choose. Boone feels that residential training is so important that he has created a contest funded from his pocket to encourage the division’s staff to send clients for training. If a staff member gets three students to attend intensive rehabilitation training, Boone will give that staff member a hundred-dollar bill. “I have put my money into this because I think people need to know that this is where my heart is and that I am committed to quality training. Money is a great motivator. I think the effectiveness of the contest can be seen in the figures. In 2014 we sent twelve people for center training. In 2015 there have been twenty-six people participating in intensive training.”
With the passage of the most recent amendments to the vocational rehabilitation act, known as the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, tremendous emphasis is being placed on providing transition services for people ages sixteen to twenty-one. For the first time the division sponsored the Transition Independence Program. This two-week course gave blind students an experience in which they lived in a dormitory, learned to travel from the dormitory to the cafeteria, learned to do some light cooking, received additional training in orientation and mobility services, went on community trips, received daily instruction in Braille and assistive technology, and got some technology they could take home as their own. The program purchased an iPod Touch, and with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Council of the Blind, iTunes cards were provided so that each student could purchase a copy of the KNFB Reader and thereby have access to the printed page. The program concluded with a cookout, giving many of the students their first opportunity to grill their own hamburger and hot dogs. “Several of our students had never worked around a fire, and one was deathly afraid of it. This meant that we had to do lots of preparation with a cold grill so students could see the layout of everything in a cool, touchable environment. It was so exciting to see a seventeen-year-old in the program lighting her first match and starting our fire. I have never seen anyone as excited as she was, and this is what we are all about.”
Visual Services has recently advertised a transition facilitator position. The person hired will help young people ages fourteen to sixteen to acquire the skills of blindness and will work with their parents to make sure that other soft skills are acquired. The person filling this position will also work with students from ages sixteen to twenty-one, the focus being on transitioning from high school to college or some other program oriented to training one for employment. Since parents are key, the agency is developing a video that shows successful blind people working and participating in their communities. The agency will also set up periodic meetings across the state so that parents can meet blind people and have their questions addressed.
The agency has added an assistive technology coordinator to improve services to clients and to do outreach to potential employers. The coordinator doesn’t do placement but does try to plow new ground in getting employers to see that the jobs they have to offer are ones that can be done by blind people. “Our hope is that when they have job openings, they will think about blind people to fill them. What we are trying to create is a no-pressure environment where an employer has a license to ask questions in an honest way.”
Expanding assistive technology services to make sure that the agency is providing quality instruction and follow-up is important to Boone. The agency is adding a toll-free number its customers can use when having problems with technology, be it hardware or software. Division staff can either talk them through their problem or can connect to their computer to provide direct assistance. “Training will continue to be in-person, but the phone can be used to refresh what you already know but have kind of forgotten,” says Boone. The division has always had an assistive technology lab, but nothing has existed for people in the eastern part of the state. The agency now has a building in Tulsa and is waiting for furniture. The building will house a technology lab, but, more importantly, it will allow all of the staff in Oklahoma City to function under one roof, increasing the coordination of services that the division provides. In addition to the training provided by agency staff, the division has contracted with Langston University to teach keyboarding, JAWS for Windows, and mainstream applications. “Our intent in working with the university is to increase the computer literacy of our clients and to get people job-ready,” says Boone. As an added benefit, the university can work with staff members to enhance their training on the technology that is so important in the workplace. There is a lot of it out there, and it is no small task to stay current.
In addition to the consolidation taking place in Tulsa, the agency is working on bringing staff together in Oklahoma City. Library services will be moving from a mall into a state-owned building. All services provided by staff in the Oklahoma City area will also be under one roof. This building will house an access technology lab, a kitchen for training, a washer and dryer, and administrative offices. “Our goal is to get people in Oklahoma City to see the library as a central place to go to get services,” says Boone. Given the downturn in Oklahoma’s economy as a result of low oil prices, one significant benefit is that this move will eliminate some rental fees and will also bring federal dollars to the library because vocational rehabilitation programs have to pay rent somewhere.
Changes in the business enterprise program are ones Boone sees as particularly exciting. The agency is upgrading requirements to enter the program and offering those who think they are interested in food service the opportunity to have extended visits at business enterprise facilities. “This business is not for the faint of heart,” said Boone. “There is a lot of standing, a lot of dealing with growly customers, but the business opportunities represent a significant shot at advancing, and we strongly support the program.” People who decide they want to go into food service will attend a training center and, while learning or refreshing one’s skills of blindness, the business enterprise program trainee will be taking a training course offered by the Hadley School for the Blind to learn about food preparation, running a small business, and other job functions required to be a successful business person. “Our expectation is that when they get back to Oklahoma, they will be very close to bidding for and getting a facility.”
With all of the emphasis on employment that is required by the Rehabilitation Act, some have speculated that it is the intent of the agency to do away with homemaker services. Boone says this couldn’t be further from the truth and that, when asked to provide comments on the latest revisions resulting in the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, he wrote unequivocally supporting the retention of the homemaker status. What he does object to is the practice previously followed in Oklahoma of automatically placing people fifty-five and over into homemaker status, noting that the consumer should always be asked what he or she would like to do, regardless of their age. He notes that a woman who was seventy-nine years old resumed her work as a tax preparer after she received services from the agency. Boone believes this is how it should work and that informed choice doesn’t mean that only young people have the right to exercise control over their lives.
Overall Boone is happy about the progress made so far. He says that standards and indicators are up, wages are up for people who have received training and are being placed, and good things are being done as the agency works diligently to better serve its consumers.While the controversy surrounding the Oklahoma School for the Blind is regrettable, it should not overshadow the significant work being done to help the blind of the state. Neither should it obscure the commitment of elected officials in Oklahoma to take the high road, offering to the blind of Oklahoma a chance for the education and training that leads to gainful employment and a major step toward the full integration of the blind and the sighted. While the innovators in Oklahoma should be given due credit for their forward-thinking attitudes and programs, I unashamedly express my hope that other agencies will follow suit and that what seems spectacular today will become commonplace throughout the nation. Of course, the chances that this transformation will occur are directly proportional to how much we in the National Federation of the Blind press for it, and I hope that the pages of this magazine can chronicle such changes until they no longer are newsworthy but are so commonplace that they are simply expected.
From the Editor: From November 17 to 19, 2015, representatives from the National Federation of the Blind participated in an accessibility Summit sponsored by Microsoft. Present were representatives from the World Blind Union, the American Council of the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The keynote address was delivered by the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith. The remarks he made were moving, especially coming from someone of his rank in one of the major technology companies in the world. Not all that he said can be related here because the technical groups in which we participate often require the signing of nondisclosure agreements, but what we can print does represent a significant commitment by Microsoft.
Here is a brief introduction written by Microsoft’s public relations department, followed by a reconstruction of President Smith’s remarks:
On November 17, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith kicked off the 2015 Accessibility Summit. In his remarks he provided an overview of the company’s approach to accessibility, outlined steps Microsoft is taking to improve the accessibility of products and services, and closed with an assurance that this is and will continue to be a top priority for Microsoft. In December, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella followed up on these remarks, citing accessibility as a “top of mind” issue in his year-end memo distributed to all Microsoft employees.
Below are key excerpts from Brad’s remarks at the Accessibility Summit:
I want to provide an overview of how Microsoft is thinking about accessibility to you today. We are at an interesting moment in time in our company, where the height of our ambition to make our products accessible is exceeded only by our humility about the work yet to be done to accomplish this. We have high ambition because the world demands that of us, and we are listening to what you and other organizations have told us about where we need to improve. But this ambition is also rooted in our mission as a company. In his twenty months as CEO, Satya Nadella has developed our new mission statement, which is “To empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.” This mission statement speaks to who works at Microsoft and why they work here. That mission statement speaks to what we are about as a company—enabling people, through technology, to lead richer lives. We are there to reach every person in every country, which helps us think beyond the US. It also speaks to what technology can do for people of all abilities.
We know that there are many people with many kinds of disabilities. Nearly every one of us deals with disability in our daily lives, whether it is our own or a friend, family member, colleague, or a neighbor with a disability. This helps us appreciate the importance of accessibility in a concrete way. We also understand that people are defined by what they can do, and people with disabilities are capable of doing all kinds of things. Technology can empower people, which is why it is imperative that Microsoft does a great job of creating technology that empowers all people with disabilities. That is our ambition. But it must be coupled with humility. We did a great job at accessibility in the early stages of Microsoft, and we want to be great again—but we are not there yet. We need to stay humble to understand the opportunity and seize it.
There are a few core areas that we are focused on to address accessibility. The first is engineering capability. We are moving quickly to enhance our engineering capabilities as a company and in the accessibility space, and our senior leadership team has ensured that our teams have the appropriate resources to meet our ambitions. It’s important that our words are backed up by this investment—words are cheap, but technology is expensive and difficult to produce, but we are. Part of this shift is helped by having an engineer as CEO; leadership really flows from that office across the company. Second, we are working to provide greater clarity around our goals through product roadmaps. These roadmaps articulate our goals, which allow our engineers to go forth and build them into products. Third, we are also focused on accountability. Even with engineering capability and goals, if we lack discipline, then we are likely to miss meeting these goals. That requires us to find a way to measure success and progress, one that is robust but also not too complicated. The cross-company accessibility team has created a good measurement system so we can better monitor and grade ourselves on our progress. We will be taking stock of our products throughout the development process, including a review prior to release with accessibility in mind. Fourth, we are taking steps to evolve our culture, both in our engineering approach through inclusive design and also in our hiring practices. This “one Microsoft” approach is breaking down silos and embedding accessibility in every department of the company.
Finally, we need partners who will keep us honest and humble and also help us learn. We hope along the way to earn your trust and respect, and we will do this by backing up our good intentions with actions. Right now we are trying to catch up to meet the basic needs of people with disabilities in the marketplace. But we have the opportunity to dream bigger dreams. We are thinking broadly and creatively about how technology can create new opportunities to empower people and enrich their lives. The very best ideas have probably not yet been found—but, working together, I believe we can move this innovation agenda forward.
From the Editor: The commitments made in the foregoing remarks are significant, and they expand on remarks made by Microsoft’s chief executive officer Satya Nadella in December of 2015:
As I think about living our mission, top of mind for me heading into 2016 is how we must make Microsoft products accessible to the more than 1 billion people globally of all abilities. This is a shared goal. Universal design is central to how we realize our mission and will make all our products better. Along with our Senior Leadership Team, I will continue to devote my time and passion to this priority.
Specifically, we will do three things: First, be transparent in sharing our goals and plans to ensure our products are accessible. Second, be accountable, which means engineering leads will prioritize universal design in the development of all products and services going forward. Third, continue to make this part of our work on building a more inclusive culture, including efforts to expand our existing accessibility hiring and awareness training initiatives and programs.
From the Editor: As a result of our meeting in January of last year with Satya Nadella, our work with Microsoft has taken place on several levels. One of the benefits of contact at the highest levels of Microsoft is that we can go beyond specific technical problems with their products and join with them in bringing about systemic change in our nation. Microsoft’s intention to partner with the National Federation of the Blind in going outside its company to press for significant technological change is evidenced in the following letter which is signed by Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, and Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft:
SENT VIA EMAIL
January 14, 2016
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
Over five years ago, an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding website accessibility was issued by the United States Department of Justice. The ANPRM reflected your administration’s recognition that the internet is an essential part of American life; among other things, a quality education and a desirable employment outcome are virtually impossible to achieve without accessing it.
The issue of equal access to websites is therefore of critical importance to blind individuals as represented by the National Federation of the Blind, to technology companies like Microsoft, and other online businesses. Yet the release date of the NPRM for revising the Title III regulations of the ADA, originally scheduled for January of 2012, has been extended no less than five times. Most recently, it was postponed until 2018, eight years after this regulation process started.
The need for a regulation providing accessibility guidance for public accommodations doing business on the internet is even more urgent today than it was five years ago. In 2014, Cisco Systems released the results of a study of white collar workers from around the world, which found that 57 percent of the Americans surveyed between the ages of eighteen and fifty look at their smartphone before anything else every morning, and 39 percent had never made it through a full day of using their smartphone without accessing a website. Regulations from the Department of Justice (DOJ) are needed to provide companies with clear and meaningful guidelines so they can serve their clients and customers with disabilities. Thus, as you said on July 26, 2010, these rules are “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment.” We agree, and urge you to release the NPRM for Title III of the ADA without further delay.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
Brad Smith, President
by Gary Wunder
One of my jobs as the state president in Missouri has been to deliver eulogies for Federationists whose long service and love of the organization deserve a tribute. I have written them for two past affiliate presidents, several other leaders of prominence, and many friends. The honor in being asked to deliver a eulogy is that you may be saying the most important words that have been or will ever be said about someone's life. The sadness is that it isn't being said to the person we are honoring. At best one must take on faith that the remarks will be heard, felt, sensed, or known by the one being honored, and at worse the comments come too late to matter to that person.
What a pleasure it is when sometimes we are able to say thank you to a gem while he or she is still around to appreciate it, correct us when we don't quite get it right, and tell us just a bit more that we don't quite know as we write the remarks to share their lives with those who may not have known them as well as their family and friends. So it is that I have drawn an ace from the deck and have the honor of putting down some part of Jim Omvig's life story: an inspiration, a tribute to what can happen when one works hard, meets the right people, is encouraged, and takes advantage of the opportunities offered.
Jim was raised in Slater, Iowa, and for a time attended the public school there. Though he tried hard, much of his effort focused on using vision he simply didn't have. Eventually he went to the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton. While competing academically and athletically was made easier by the lack of emphasis on vision, the school brought with it other difficulties. Foremost among these was the attitude held by the school about its blind charges. Those with the most sight were the most blessed: those called upon for giving the school tours, for pitching the tents during scouting events, and for looking after “the totals” (those without any usable vision). The school believed the blind could be educated, but the fields in which they could participate were quite limited, and, given this philosophy, the school provided vocational technical training in the few jobs they believed their graduates could do. The staff members were good, honest people, but they saw their calling to be to teach the blind some academic skills, help them compete with other blind people athletically, and acquaint them early on with the limitations of blindness. These would not have been the words they used, but certainly the attitude they conveyed to Jim and his fellow students.
After high school Jim lived at home almost eight years. Most of his days were not so much living as existing, always waiting for that piece of medical news that would change his life. His mother so wanted him to see that she went to eye doctors, offering one of her eyes if only they could give it to Jim so that he might have vision. Since no operation, regardless of the sacrifice, could give him the vision he would need to be a productive citizen, he and his family lived from day to day, with Jim doing what little he could to help with family chores. Occasionally he got work in a local creamery, where his strength could be used in moving butter and loading trucks with products bound for the city. This was not the kind of work that could provide a real income, but any extra money was helpful, and so too was any reason to get up in the morning. This was not the life he wanted, but it was the life he had been given, and people from Iowa knew there was only so much time that could be given over to grief about what one had lost and wanted back.
Jim lived what he now regards as an isolated life. Though tall and good looking, he decided early on that it would be irresponsible to get involved with women. In his mind a man's role was to be the provider, the leader in his home. He believed that being blind precluded this, so there was no reason to offer his heart or to ask for the heart of another.
When he was twenty-five, Jim was contacted by the Iowa Commission for the Blind and invited to go to Des Moines to tour the agency. His sister Jan was then a student and encouraged him to come. He figured he already knew much of what there was to know about what blind people could do and become from his time at the school in Vinton, but he agreed to visit if for no other reason than for the brief change in daily routine the visit would afford.
Mr. Omvig remembers his first interview with agency Director Kenneth Jernigan and the questions that set him on a path he never thought possible. The first question was whether or not he was blind, and Mr. Omvig gave what he regarded as a cutesy but accurate answer. "I am hard of seeing," he said, at which point Mr. Jernigan asked "How many fingers am I holding up?" and then told Jim unequivocally that he was blind. Jim remembers that this answer cut deeply and stung bitterly. Mr. Jernigan asked Jim his age. When Jim said he was twenty-five, Mr. Jernigan said, "My, my, twenty-five. So a man your age can expect to live for another fifty years. Jim, what are you going to do for the next fifty years?" As he considered his answer, he remembers feeling sick at heart. Fifty years was more a sentence than a promise. Jim's reply was that he didn't know, but what he feared was that he did and that those years would be spent doing just what he had done since high school graduation.
But the very asking of the question hinted that there were possibilities beyond returning to Slater and living out his life as the dependent son and brother. Kenneth Jernigan suggested that Jim come to the Orientation and Adjustment Center for training and told him that a man with some motivation and brains could be a productive citizen. Jim wasn't sure he believed it, but he could clearly see that the man offering the opportunity did. What was the risk? Unrealized hopes would hurt, but so would returning to Slater, where nothing was happening or likely to happen for a blind man named Omvig.
Although Jim agreed during his visit to come to the center for training, he still had one hope—that he might regain his vision. Friends told him about a doctor in South Dakota doing miraculous work, so he took all of his money, got a friend to drive him, and once again got the sad news that vision was not in his future.
Jim spent nine months at the center: learning Braille, cane travel, typing, wood working, and engaging in challenge activities he had previously thought to be well beyond what blind people could do. Nearing the end of his training, Jim was asked what he would like to do with his future—what he might like to do for a living. Full of enthusiasm for what he was experiencing, he replied that he would like to run a training center and do what Mr. Jernigan was doing to help the blind.
Mr. Jernigan responded with a question: "Mr. Omvig, do you want to go into work with the blind and run a center because you think you would truly love it and be good at it or because you really believe you can't succeed at anything else and that getting into work with the blind will be easy?" When Jim said that he didn't know if he could answer the question honestly, Mr. Jernigan suggested that he consider another career.
What Jim had considered foolish and impossible only a year before was reshaping his life. Those crazy people from the commission were offering him the chance to go to college and promised financial support that his family could never hope to provide. Beyond the financial support, they convinced Jim that they believed in him, let him observe a few blind people who were successfully pursuing careers and raising families, and suggested to him that he could do the same. What he came to understand later was that he was being given the opportunity to be a modern-day pioneer, to assume a special place as part of a social experiment to determine if the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind was simply a fine-sounding theory or whether it would prove to be true and could change lives in the way its proponents proclaimed.
Jim finished his training at the commission, went to college, and was the first blind person to attend and graduate from the Loyola University of Chicago's School of Law. He recalls that 144 students entered the school, and of those only thirty-six were granted law degrees. Having this degree meant that the man who once had nothing to do and plenty of time to do it in would find himself busy for the rest of his life, taking his place as a senior warrior in the civil rights struggle of the blind and eventually appearing before the justices of the United States Supreme Court to be granted the right to practice law before that august body.
But, after graduating in 1966 with good grades and a degree from a prestigious law school, Jim had to arrange and participate in 150 interviews before he landed a job. Even this took some political intervention from his friend and mentor, Kenneth Jernigan. Mr. Omvig moved to Washington, DC, and became the first blind employee of the National Labor Relations Board. Although he was admired and well-liked by his fellow employees, several did try to convince him that his long hours and prodigious output raised the bar for them and let it be known that they were none too happy about this. Jim told them that they were free to work as much or as little as they liked, but he was there to do more than earn an income and provide for himself: he was there to convince the world that blind people could do high-quality work and do it as well as their sighted coworkers. His fellows saw the logic in this, and it added to their respect for him. But the secretary who had been assigned to him said, "Mr. Omvig, you are a damned workaholic, and you're not going to make one out of me." Given the friction, Mr. Omvig asked for a different secretary and got one, and his former employee was transferred.
While rewarding, his job in DC primarily involved doing administrative research and paperwork. But Jim wanted real courtroom experience and requested a transfer. It was granted, and he moved to New York to continue his work with the agency. He found the work more rewarding, but it posed some challenges he had not faced in DC. He had relied primarily on volunteer readers in his first appointment, but when, as a field attorney, he began serving as a hearing officer, there were times when he was presented with written material and required to decide whether or not it should be admitted into the record. In these cases it is traditional for the hearing to be recessed while the hearing officer studies the material. It was not practical for Jim to send the material out for recording or to expect a volunteer to sit with him throughout his workday. The solution he arrived at was ideal: he asked that the stenographer, who was already being paid, act as his reader during the recess, and in this way he had access to printed documents without incurring additional cost or inconvenience to himself or his employer.
As he settled into his job, Jim began to be asked by President Jernigan to visit state affiliates as a national representative. He appreciated being asked, thrived on being able to serve, and gladly took up the task. What he found surprised him. At some level he knew that Iowa represented something tremendously different in rehabilitation than could be found in the rest of the country, but knowing this wasn't quite the same as seeing firsthand the denials that blind people were facing when they sought to become self-sufficient and to exercise some control over their education and careers.
Jim recalls meeting a woman from New Hampshire who had always wanted to be a teacher. Having gone blind in her teens, she approached the rehabilitation agency there and was told by her counselor that her goal was unrealistic and that certainly he would not approve the college education that teaching would require. Having read in the Braille Monitor about Judy Young, a blind teacher in Iowa, the woman in New Hampshire took her case to the agency director. He agreed with the counselor, telling her that a college education was unrealistic and that any thought of landing a teaching job was foolish. When she told him about the article she had read in the magazine of the National Federation of the Blind, he said that he knew about that Jernigan guy, a crazy man who was setting blind people up to fail. He, the agency director, would have none of it, and he suggested that she continue at the workshop, where she was making twenty-four dollars a week. In this case, like so many, Jim knew that the answer was not for everyone to move to Iowa, but to build and strengthen the Federation in each state and then to bring about the changes that the National Federation of the Blind and the Iowa Commission for the Blind were proving possible. Encounters such as these pushed Jim in the direction of trying to answer the question Mr. Jernigan had posed to him on his graduation from the orientation center.
Eventually Jim gained enough self-confidence to say to Mr. Jernigan that he really did want to learn to direct a training center, that he had convinced himself and others that he could cut it alongside his sighted colleagues, and that his turning to the blindness field for employment was not to hide but actively to contribute to what had so changed his life and the way he would spend the most productive years of it. Jim wanted to be a part of encouraging blind people to dream and to see those dreams become reality. Mr. Jernigan agreed, and Jim moved back to Iowa, first to work as a rehabilitation counselor and later to head the orientation center.
While in training to become a counselor, Jim accompanied coworkers to learn the ropes. Knowing that his primary job was to observe, Jim nevertheless wanted to become involved in the sessions so clients would come to know him. One day he asked a client how long he had been blind. The newly blinded client was angered and put off. On the drive to their next appointment, Jim learned from his coworker that coming to understand that one is blind is often a gradual process and that asking how long the client had been having trouble with his vision would have been more appropriate. Coming to understand and admitting that one is blind is crucial to acceptance and getting on with one's life, but for some people the subject should be approached with gentleness and understanding. Jim took the advice as sound and has tried to be mindful that the journey to accepting one's blindness and a new understanding of what it means to be blind sometimes takes a firm, direct approach and that sometimes it takes time, patience, and gentleness.
Although Jim's return to Iowa put the right man in the right place, the transition was not without difficulty. He had decided that he could be a provider and that risking to become involved with another was not precluded by being a blind man. He married Jan, a fellow Iowan, and together they brought Jamie Omvig into the world in 1966. But their marriage ended in 1972, and the door that closed led to the opening of one that would lead James Omvig and Sharon Lewis to find that they were soul mates. Meeting for a casual drink one evening in the fall of 1973, they found that their talking kept them for hours. Sharon describes their courtship and marriage this way: "It may not have been the love story of the century, but I'm sure it was the love story of the decade." On January 31, 1974, Jim and Sharon Omvig were united in marriage, and since then they have been inseparable in their faith, love, and work. From the time they became two hearts beating as one, any mention of Jim could, if not for the cumbersomeness of the construction, be Jim and Sharon or Sharon and Jim.
The man who once believed that he could never share his heart not only has enjoyed a wonderful marriage but has composed two songs in honor of his soulmate. One of them, titled, “She’s My Wife,” says:
Before leaving the National Labor Relations Board, Jim learned from a colleague that a decision of the NLRB made in 1960 declared that blind people did not enjoy the same rights as other workers when it came to organizing and being represented by a union. He highlighted this unfair segregation of the blind in a speech delivered at the NFB convention in 1969. Appearing with him were prominent members of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) who agreed, after some tough questioning from President Jernigan, to help the blind change laws forbidding blind people from organizing.
Have you seen her?
She's the loveliness of spring.
Have you seen her?
She's the song that I sing.
With her tender lips and her glowing eyes,
Her smile is a wondrous thing.
And her arms can make a man a king.
You should know her.
She's an angel from above.
With a heart that's filled with love.
Oh, you should know her; she is my life.
She's my lady, she's my lover, she’s my wife.
Work started that year to build a Sheltered Shop Division in the NFB and to find blind people who wanted to be represented by a union. Mr. Omvig warned that gaining the right to organize and be represented would take a long time. A request to organize had to be made and rejected, and an appeal would have to be made to the members of the National Labor Relations Board. It took more than half a decade, but in 1976 the NLRB reversed itself and said that blind people, like other workers, did indeed have the right to be represented by a union if they chose. This delightful news came the day before Jim was to attend the national convention in Los Angeles, so he hurriedly constructed and delivered a speech at the convention.
The Federation knew from long years of experience that blind people were the victims of discrimination in the sale of insurance. Deciding to test the waters for themselves, Jim and Sharon went to the ticket counter prior to their trip to the Los Angeles convention, purchased insurance for Sharon in the amount of $350,000, and then tried to purchase insurance for Jim. To his surprise, Jim learned that he could purchase insurance, but the maximum amount he could buy was $20,000. The ticket agent could offer no reason for the rule, and arguments that Jim did not want to fly the plane but only ride on it were wasted. Rules were rules.
On his return from Los Angeles Jim contacted the insurance commissioner for the state of Iowa, Herbert Anderson, and convinced him to accept a charge of unfair discrimination against the blind using the Iowa Unfair Trade Practices Act. The commissioner conducted a survey of all insurance companies doing business in Iowa, and the findings were so disturbing that he caused regulations to be created prohibiting discrimination against the blind by any company licensed to do business in the state. Mr. Anderson then took his findings to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and that organization passed a resolution condemning such discrimination. Just as it did with the Model White Cane Law, the national body of the Federation drafted a model insurance regulation and encouraged its enactment by state insurance regulators. Jim was extremely helpful in providing guidance to state affiliates and even testified before state insurance commissions in support of the prohibition.
As Fredric Schroeder observes: "Today, we do not think much about the ability to purchase life insurance, and that is due in large part to Mr. Omvig. In the 70s and 80s, many blind people were denied life insurance on the assumption that blind people were more likely to die as a result of accidents. Mr. Omvig understood that assumptions about blind people were at the heart of lost opportunities: lack of access to a good education, lack of access to employment, lack of access to renting hotel rooms, and lack of access to buses and trains. In short, Mr. Omvig knew that discrimination was the major barrier facing blind people, and discrimination in all its forms had to be opposed."
After nine wonderful years working at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, Jim accepted a Federation assignment and moved to Baltimore to work for the Social Security Administration. At the time about 150 blind people were working for the agency, but they were limited to answering telephones and fielding questions from the public. James Gashel, the head of the National Federation of the Blind's Washington office, was instrumental in convincing officials of the agency that the way to greater employment opportunities for the blind and avoiding a lawsuit from the Federation lay in hiring someone who could look at the procedures of the agency and figure out how to open other employment opportunities. It seemed to President Jernigan and Mr. Gashel that Jim would be the perfect fit, being a lawyer and having previous experience in the federal government.
Jim was hired, and in 1981 the glass ceiling preventing blind people from accepting other positions within the agency was shattered. Nearly three years of work resulted in the following policy statement being read by the newly appointed director of the Social Security Administration: "Today, I wish to announce a clarification of the policy which affects employment and promotional opportunity for otherwise qualified partially and totally blind SSA employees. I have determined that there are no significant factors which make it impossible for blind persons to perform the full range of the GS 10 claims representative (CR) position. Therefore, it is SSA policy that otherwise qualified partially or totally blind individuals may be promoted to the journeyman GS 10 CR position within the standard CR position description . . . . I am committed not only to providing equal employment opportunity for blind persons, but also for all qualified handicapped individuals." This breakthrough was significant not only for the Social Security Administration but for other agencies in the federal government that had good, quality jobs blind people were capable of performing.
In the late 1970s the National Federation of the Blind found that regulations which had been passed to assist the blind and otherwise physically disabled in air travel were being used to limit them. Many Federationists were arrested for insisting on their right to use and keep with them the canes that provided independent mobility. Some of us were asked to sit on blankets, the logic being that some handicapped people had accidents and soiled airline seats. Mr. Omvig was one of those who were arrested, and he and many others testified at hearings sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result of those hearings blind people can now travel with their guide dogs and canes; there is no limit as to the number of blind passengers who can fly on an aircraft; there is no requirement that we sit on blankets or other items used in dealing with incontinence. We are prevented from sitting in exit rows, but the frustration we encounter with airlines today is far less than it was, and this is due in no small part to the work of Mr. Omvig's talent in writing, speaking, and developing important relationships with the policymakers of that era.
After five years working for the Social Security Administration, Mr. Omvig once again returned to the pursuit of his dream to direct an orientation and training center. This took him to the state of Alaska in the fall of 1984. When he arrived, he found himself in charge of an agency that was housed in a World War II Quonset hut. Bleakness and despair were in evidence in the blind people seeking services. In January of 1985 Mr. Omvig went to the governor and the legislature, and the funds to run the agency were doubled. A new five-unit apartment building was purchased and remodeled to become a residential training center for blind adults. It contained sleeping rooms for twelve residents, one staff apartment, and administrative offices. Putting the building into service as a training center required asking the city of Anchorage to rezone the property, which they did. In the spring of 1986 governor Bill Sheffield dedicated the Alaska Center for Blind Adults. Though the willingness of state officials to purchase and remodel the center was commendable, they did not provide funds to furnish the building. To Mr. Omvig and other leaders of the NFB in Alaska fell the task of going to Lions Clubs with the request that they help in furnishing the center. Through the work of individual clubs and the statewide body, the center was furnished and began serving students.
In 1987 Jim found himself troubled with bad health, and by the end of that year his doctor told him that he had no choice but to stop working. It would take several years for Jim to be diagnosed with a rare condition known as porphyria. Jim and Sharon moved to Arizona, and both became active in the affiliate, assisting significantly and advancing its legislative agenda for providing better services to blind people. He continued writing about the value of separate agencies for the blind and what proper training in those agencies could do, and, as he began to exert better control over his health, he was asked to visit many states to evaluate their programs and make recommendations for improvement.
Although one of the goals of the Federation is to see that quality rehabilitation is available to all blind people regardless of where they live, the reality is that not all rehabilitation centers are equal, and not all of them are guided by the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. In 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act were passed and signed into law. One of those amendments introduced the concept of informed choice into the act, providing in federal law the opportunity for recipients of rehabilitation services to decide where they would go to receive service. In theory this would mean that a person living in Montana could go to a rehabilitation center in Louisiana, or that a person living in Maryland could go to Colorado or Minnesota. Practically speaking, however, rights guaranteed in federal law have been slow to be implemented in the states, and they have strongly favored either rehabilitation centers that they fund or centers with which they have done business in the past. Implementing informed choice in practice has often meant finding people who want to go to a center outside their state, helping them to appeal the denial of the rehabilitation counselor, and getting and winning a fair hearing. Mr. Omvig has used his skills as a lawyer and an advocate in helping to draft these appeals and has traveled extensively to participate in these hearings.
In all of the assignments he has been given as a Federation member, none was more difficult than the one that brought him to work to advance the rights of blind people working in sheltered workshops. President Maurer and other colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind believed we needed someone to work from the inside to make changes in the system that employed thousands of blind people at wages that were far below their productive capacity. Mr. Omvig was persuaded to apply for and was appointed by President George W. Bush to the President's Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. He was initially appointed in 2003 and was reappointed in 2007. During his tenure Mr. Omvig served on a number of important subcommittees and task forces and was elected as vice chairman of the committee.
When accepting his newest Federation assignment, Jim knew that there was little the National Federation of the Blind and what would come to be called the AbilityOne Commission had in common. Certainly each group had little respect for the other. What the organizations knew about one another they didn't like. The committee viewed the NFB as a group of malcontents and rabble-rousers who knew nothing about running businesses that employed the blind. The NFB believed the committee to be composed of self-serving agency directors who cared less about uplifting the blind people they were to serve than they did about increasing their own prestige and income. In the opinion of the Federation, these were people who may have come to do good but who stayed to do well. Their salaries and their place in the community came on the backs of hard-working blind people, who got little from their effort in money, benefits, or their productive work.
When Mr. Omvig began his work with the committee, he followed a strategy that had evolved from a question Dr. Jernigan had once asked him and his fellow students: "What is the purpose of a speech?" The answer was "To get people to love you. If you can't get them to love you, they won't pay much attention to what you have to say." This became Jim's compass. He would not go to make war—soldiers on each side knew full well how that could be done. Instead, he would go as an ambassador, a man in search of friends, a human face that would go the first few steps in dispelling the myths about Federationists as unreasonable, militant, and foolish dreamers who believed in a future the blind could never have because they weren't capable enough to earn or retain it. Jim would build relationships based on common traits and would show that this commonality could be used as a foundation to build trust. On that trust he and his new-found friends could begin to make change that might one day revolutionize the sheltered workshop system where thousands of blind people worked and sometimes lived.
But the Omvig strategy was not obvious to some of his Federation colleagues and disappointed more than a few of his friends. He had gone to the committee to represent the Federation, so where were his protests? Why wasn't he using his seat to make changes so long overdue? Because Jim was a part of the Federation family, some who loved and cared about him and who cared deeply about rights for shop workers came to him with their concerns. Although he appreciated the chance to clarify his strategy, to explain his understanding that most fundamental changes take time, and to show the incremental changes his participation was having, the idea that he might not be trusted hurt, and carrying out this work proved to be one of the hardest assignments he ever undertook. He gave nine years of his life to traveling, negotiating, and trying to change how those in the system felt about blind people.
Even with his sadness at having his motives—or at least his strategy—questioned, Mr. Omvig is proud of the change in workshops he has witnessed over the past forty years and is proud to count among his friends people who once thought that he and his fellow Federation members were meatheads—people who were dead from the neck up. He is proud of the expanded employment opportunities that have resulted from his service on the committee, and he is proud to have played some small part in National Industries for the Blind paying at least the minimum wage in all of its sheltered shops having AbilityOne contracts and requiring that any agency doing business with it do likewise. In its most recent move, National Industries for the Blind has decided that no person affiliated with a workshop that holds a section 14(C) certificate can hold a position on its Board of Directors.
Jim has been active in a number of other efforts to help in the education and rehabilitation of the blind. He has served on the board of directors of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. This is the first institute of its kind to implement the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind in teacher-training programs. In addition to needing better teacher training, Jim and other Federation colleagues realized that the certifying authority for providing training to the blind often used vision as a requirement for certification. And so was born the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), whose purpose was to develop standards that did not discriminate against the blind and which also emphasized competence in teaching the skills that were most likely to lead to an education, a job, and a life equal to those enjoyed by sighted Americans. He also served proudly on this board and has also been instrumental in helping to develop the policies and standards of the body.
Increasingly over the last two decades Mr. Omvig has turned his attention from writing articles to writing books. Freedom for the Blind: The Secret is Empowerment has won widespread praise in the field of rehabilitation, and many students credit this book with encouraging them to go into the field. The Blindness Revolution: Jernigan in His Own Words has also figured prominently in documenting the challenges and triumphs of what many have called "the miracle of Iowa," but Mr. Omvig concludes that there was no miracle there, only the application of good, solid attitudes and the willingness to believe in blind people.
One of the things Mr. Omvig is most proud about is that his service extends well beyond organizations of and for the blind. He became the founding president of the Des Moines East Town Lions Club and was elected as president of the congregation of the Grant Park Christian Church in Des Moines. He was vice president of the Catonsville, Maryland, Lions Club and was a deacon (which came with the job of serving communion) and a member of the board of trustees of the Christian Temple in the Disciples of Christ Church in Baltimore. He has also served as the president of the International Air Crossroads Lions Club in Anchorage, Alaska.
Of all the honors and awards Mr. Omvig has received, none has touched him more deeply than the Jacobus tenBroek award in 1986. He received this award for helping gain the right of blind shop workers to unionize, for leading the effort to eliminate insurance discrimination against the blind, for helping to end discrimination against blind air travelers, and for his writings on how to provide quality training to vocational rehabilitation clients.
No single article can do justice to the life's work of Jim Omvig. Thankfully there are others who have committed his story to paper and places where he gives first-hand accounts of what it has been like to be one of the pioneers in the civil rights movement for the blind. I can think of no better way to conclude this article than with comments made by two of Mr. Omvig's finest friends and admirers. Not surprisingly both have given a significant amount of their energy to the field of rehabilitation, taking the improvement of it as one of their Federation responsibilities and assignments. About her friends, the Omvigs, Joanne Wilson says: "Jim and Sharon worked with a tireless passion to give back to the movement what they got from the NFB. They worked on systemic problems that would make the lives of the blind better, but they also spent hours and hours talking with individuals, both blind and sighted, over dinners in their home, at conventions, on a plane, in a discussion group, and anywhere they were—sharing the truth about blindness. They have truly dedicated their lives to giving back what they learned about blindness so others could have more enriched lives. Thanks for asking me to be a small part in giving them this tribute."
And Fred Schroeder says: "When I think of Mr. Omvig, I think of kindness; I think of a man with tremendous ability and one blessed with the power of persuasion. Mr. Omvig knows how to lead, knows how to inspire others to do more than they believe they are capable of doing, and knows what it means to share the disappointment of exclusion and heartache that come from society's low expectations. He is not a man to live according to the assumptions of others; he is not content to build a life just for himself and his family; he is a man who gives all that he has on behalf of blind people. He is a role model, a mentor, a leader, and, most of all, a friend."
Seize the Future
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:
NFB programs are dynamic:
Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further information or assistance, contact the NFB.
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: In 2016 the General Assembly of the World Blind Union will meet in the United States of America. This meeting will be hosted by the National Federation of the Blind and will take place in late August. So that Federationists and other readers of the Braille Monitor know about and understand the reason for this meeting, we intend to run several articles about the World Blind Union, starting here with its history as featured in chapter seven of the book entitled Building the Lives We Want, an e-book detailing the first seventy-five years of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what Dr. Schroeder wrote:
“Could not blind persons from Asia and Africa speak for the blind of their countries? . . . Four-fifths of [the estimated blind population] lived in rural areas, but that need not preclude their leaders from attending a world conference to discuss, compare, and counsel. But did they have leaders, I wondered. That was the pivotal question, and as yet it was one I could not answer.”
— Isabelle Grant, 19591
The history of the blind throughout the world is bleak. It has been characterized by low expectations, paternalism, poverty, and isolation. It is also the story of human resilience and the unquenchable drive for freedom. It is the story of marginalized people rejecting the role defined for them by society and demonstrating their ability, drive, and determination to live and work as others.
When blind people appear in ancient literature, they are usually described as beggars, helpless beings who seek alms from passersby. During the Middle Ages in Western Europe, the church began to provide for the blind by establishing homes, called hospitals, where the blind and other indigent people could live. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, local governments in Europe and the United States took over the task of creating institutions to educate, care for, and employ the blind. Work was poorly paid and rudimentary, and it was completely controlled by private or public agencies (see Chapter One).
Early in the twentieth century, blind people in the United States began to form local and statewide organizations to fight for better working conditions and opportunities. Seven state organizations formed the nucleus of the National Federation of the Blind in 1940 (see Chapters Two and Three).
The service agencies for the blind did not welcome the emergence of representative organizations of blind people. They regarded blind people to be as helpless as two-year-old children, incapable of taking charge of their lives and exploring the extent of their abilities. They viewed the Federation as little more than a forum for the ungrateful and maladjusted. The NFB threatened the institutions established to govern blind people’s lives.
In 1949, representatives from blindness agencies throughout the world gathered in Rome to establish the World Council on the Welfare of the Blind (WCWB). As its founding president the nascent organization elected Colonel Edwin Albert Baker. At that time, Colonel Baker was one of the world’s best-known blind leaders, heading the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).
During its early years the WCWB was dominated by powerful service agencies for the blind: the CNIB, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) of the United Kingdom. Agencies for the blind had total control over the organization. The few existing organizations of blind people were viewed with suspicion and hostility. Nevertheless, the WCWB claimed to represent not only the governmental and private agencies, but also blind people themselves.
Despite the agency domination, the NFB felt somewhat hopeful about the WCWB. The fledgling WCWB was headed by a blind person, Colonel Baker. Perhaps, under his leadership, the new organization might work to improve the condition of the blind of the world. In a letter dated July 17, 1952, NFB President Jacobus tenBroek advised the leadership of the WCWB that on July 15, 1952, at its national convention in Nashville, Tennessee, the Federation’s membership had voted to join the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind.2
It did not take long before the Federation realized that the WCWB would not open the way to a progressive future for the blind. It would simply further paternalism and agency control. From today’s perspective, words such as subjection, domination, and control in regard to agencies for the blind may seem exaggerated. The quotes below convey the thinking of those times in all of its chilling reality.
In the mid-1950s a well-known and respected educator of the blind wrote, “With many persons there was an expectation in the establishment of the early schools that the blind in general would thereby be rendered capable of earning their own support, a view that even at the present is shared in some quarters. It would have been much better if such a hope had never been entertained or, if it had existed, in a greatly modified form.”3 At about the same time, the director of a prominent rehabilitation agency wrote, “After he is once trained and placed, the average disabled person can fend for himself. In the case of the blind, it has been found necessary to set up a special state service agency which will supply them not only rehabilitation training but other services for the rest of their lives. The agencies keep in constant contact with them as long as they live. So the blind are unique among the handicapped in that, no matter how well-adjusted, trained, and placed, they require lifelong supervision by the agencies.”4 The agencies did not view their role as one of supporting the move of the blind toward full and equal participation; the idea of protecting and guiding the blind was unquestioned and universal. It was assumed that the blind needed care, and even more important, needed direction, supervision, and control. They had no hope of integration and certainly no hope of equality.
In the United States, the struggle for self-expression was contentious and bitter, and its success was by no means assured. (See “Telling Our Story through Legislation in Washington.”) Yet many joined the struggle, and it was clear that the movement needed to spread across the world. If the blind of the world were to achieve true independence, the effort must be led by blind people themselves.
Never a truly representative organization, the WCWB sought to suppress the voice of the blind on the international stage. In 1962 the WCWB president used a sleight-of-hand parliamentary maneuver to strip the National Federation of the Blind of its seat on the Executive Committee. Then Federation President Perry Sundquist advised the WCWB that its ongoing attempts to suppress the blind were awakening a growing worldwide sentiment that a new and truly representative international organization of the blind was needed. The will of blind people to achieve full integration could not be extinguished. There was no money to build representative organizations of the blind throughout the world, and there were few individuals to help; but the need was great, and the spirit of the blind was unquenchable.
In 1959, Dr. Isabelle Grant, a talented blind teacher from California, launched a one-woman crusade to expand education and training for blind people internationally. On a one-year sabbatical from her teaching position, she visited twenty-three countries to study the education and rehabilitation of blind children. She understood the importance of representative organizations of the blind and worked tirelessly to spread the Federation message of self-determination and hope.
Dr. Grant’s views on the education of blind children were nothing short of revolutionary. At that time, nearly all blind children in the United States were educated in special schools for the blind. In the United States and throughout the world, Dr. Grant was an early proponent of integrated education. If blind children were educated alongside their sighted peers, she believed that they could learn to compete in an integrated world.
Dr. Grant’s views on education fit well with her interest in expanding opportunities for the blind worldwide. Poor countries had no money to build special schools for the blind. Integration (later to be known as mainstreaming and eventually as full inclusion) offered a cost-effective way of educating the blind. The resources were meager and the obstacles overwhelming, but Dr. Grant did what she could to make a difference. Her example illustrates the power of blind people working together to change their own condition.
The impact of the WCWB was insignificant. From its inception, it had lacked the will and the structure to represent the interests of blind people. At the 1964 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Phoenix, Arizona, the problem was discussed in detail. As President Sundquist had predicted, the WCWB’s efforts to suppress the voice of the blind only made the blind more determined to govern their own lives. Later that summer, in New York, the International Federation of the Blind (IFB) was born. Dr. tenBroek became its first president, and Dr. Kenneth Jernigan drafted its constitution.
The IFB had a promising beginning. Organizations of the blind began to emerge throughout the world, and a convention was planned for 1969 in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. But in 1968 Dr. tenBroek died. He had been the driving force behind the IFB. After his death the IFB languished, along with many of the hopes and dreams of blind people throughout the world. By the early 1980s it seemed clear that the IFB would fade away unless it joined with the WCWB. Once again there would be one international organization to speak for blind people and for the agencies that served them.
In 1984 a joint meeting of the IFB and WCWB was held to merge the two organizations, leading to the creation of the World Blind Union (WBU). The founding general assembly of the WBU met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October 1984. Since then, general assemblies have been held once every four years: Madrid, 1988; Cairo, 1992; Toronto, 1996; Melbourne, 2000; Cape Town, 2004; Geneva, 2008; and Bangkok, 2012. The next worldwide general assembly will take place in 2016 in Orlando, Florida, USA.
The WBU is organized into seven regions: North America/Caribbean, Africa, Asia, East Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Each region has a president and executive committee to coordinate the work of its member organizations. To ensure the representative nature of the WBU, the president, both vice presidents, and the secretary general must all be blind people. The only exception among the executive offices is the position of treasurer, which on occasion has been filled by a sighted person.
From the outset, the NFB was an influential force in the WBU. The Federation’s long-term leader, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, understood that, if the WBU was to succeed and make a real difference in the lives of the blind, organizations of the blind must lead the way. Dr. Jernigan became a powerful political and philosophical force within the WBU. By 1987, he had become president of the North America/Caribbean Region, a position he held until the fall of 1997 when ill health forced him to resign. During his tenure, Dr. Jernigan advanced the foundational principle that the blind must be the ones to lead the blind. Others can and do help, but it is up to the blind themselves to determine their own future. Dr. Jernigan understood that self-determination was not simply a good idea, but a foundational and enduring truth. The spirit and experience of the NFB has been critical to the WBU. The NFB’s positive and progressive influence continued, even after Dr. Jernigan no longer held a leadership position.
Dr. Marc Maurer, who succeeded Kenneth Jernigan as president of the NFB, recognized the need for the Federation to remain active in the affairs of the blind of the world. In his 2004 Presidential Report, Dr. Maurer said,
The National Federation of the Blind is an active participant in the World Blind Union. For ten years Dr. Jernigan served as president of the North America/Caribbean Region, and I have also held that office. The World Blind Union brings together agencies for the blind and organizations of the blind. Because within the entities that make up the organization there are strikingly different approaches to the subject of blindness, this amalgamation of groups sometimes creates frustration. However, we learn much about programming for the blind from throughout the world, and we have an opportunity for interaction with leaders of the blind in other countries.5
The NFB stands as a beacon of hope for the blind of the world, and the Federation is a living testament to the power of collective action. At the opening session of the WBU’s 2008 Quadrennial General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, NFB President Marc Maurer gave the keynote address, entitled “Breaking the Mold: The Power of the Unpredictable.” He said, in part,
The beginning of the possession of power is the assertion that it belongs to us. I want us to have power. Furthermore, in my own country I face challenges that cannot be solved within the borders of my own nation. I need the cooperation and the power of others around the world to bring equality to the blind of the United States, and I believe that those of us in the United States can help bring equality to the blind of the world.6
Today the WBU is widely recognized as an effective international advocacy organization. It represents 285 million blind and partially sighted people in 190 member nations. The WBU has consultancy status as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) with the United Nations.
The WBU is the international voice of the blind, speaking to national governments and a wide range of United Nations agencies. It works to address the human and civil rights of the blind. It brings organizations of blind people together with service organizations to work on issues affecting the quality of life for blind people. In its relatively brief history, it already has made a difference.
In 2008 the international Free Matter for the Blind mailing privilege came up for review by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), an agency of the United Nations. The WBU launched an effort not only to preserve the Free Matter privilege, but to broaden its scope. Since Free Mailing was established in the 1950s, the exemption applied only to “literature for the blind,” covering little more than Braille books. The WBU pushed to expand the international mailing privilege to include items such as talking watches, digital audio equipment, and other devices for the blind.
At the October 2012 UPU Congress in Qatar, the WBU succeeded in pushing through changes that would modernize the international mailing privilege for the blind. Accordingly, the UPU amended the international convention that governs the exchange of international mail. Article 7 defines the “Exemption from postal charges” for the blind. The amended article reads in part, “3.1 Any item for the blind sent to or by an organization for the blind or sent to or by a blind person shall be exempt from all postal charges.”7
In addition, the WBU has worked to secure the rights of blind people and others with disabilities. The WBU was actively engaged in crafting language for inclusion in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the first human rights charter of the twenty-first century. At the time the treaty language was being negotiated, there was a strong move to keep all references in the treaty general to persons with disabilities and to refrain from identifying any particular disability group or services that applied to a specific disability type. Many delegates objected to any mention of blindness, Braille, or any service specific to blind people. The WBU pushed hard on these issues and was successful in getting language included that recognized Braille by name. Article 2 (Definitions) of the Convention reads,
For the purposes of the present Convention: ‘Communication’ includes languages, display of text, Braille, tactile communication, large print, accessible multimedia, as well as written, audio, plain-language, human-reader and augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, including accessible information and communication technology.
Through the efforts of the WBU, Braille is also referenced in Article 9, Accessibility; Article 21, Freedom of Expression and Opinion, and Access to Information; and in Article 24, Education.
The mere mention of Braille may not in and of itself appear to be significant. Indeed it may be viewed as simply symbolic or hortatory, with no real meaning or impact. Nevertheless, Article 24 on Education is an example of the true impact of the work of the WBU. Initially, the delegates insisted on integration as an absolute principle in the Convention. Yet for many blind children, schools for the blind remain the best, and in some cases, the only option for attaining an education. Through the efforts of the WBU and of deaf and deaf-blind advocates, the language of the Convention was modified. Language was removed that would have established an absolute requirement that all children with disabilities be educated in integrated settings. In its place, the language of the treaty now says that no child should, by virtue of disability, be excluded from integration. That compromise left the door open for specialized training. Specifically, Article 24, Section 3c, states:
Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.8
On Thursday, June 27, 2013, a diplomatic conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) adopted the Marrakech Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. The Marrakech Treaty includes two major provisions. First, it calls on nations to produce more books for the blind; and second, it authorizes nations to share accessible books across national borders.
For many years United States law has allowed books to be produced in Braille and other accessible formats without first having to obtain the permission of the copyright holder. This authority, known as the Chafee Amendment, has been the law since the late 1990s, and it has worked very well.
As of 2015, fifty-seven nations around the world have copyright laws similar to the US Chafee Amendment. The Marrakech Treaty will expand this authority. As each WIPO member nation ratifies the book treaty for the blind, it agrees to change its national copyright law to permit books to be produced in accessible formats without having to seek the prior permission of the copyright holder. This will greatly increase the production of accessible works around the world. But that is only the first step in ending what many have called the “book famine.” For the first time, the Marrakech Treaty allows WIPO member states to share copies of accessible works across national borders.
At present, the WBU, together with the NFB, is working to address the danger electric and hybrid electric vehicles pose to all pedestrians, and in particular to blind people traveling the streets and byways of the world. The WBU is working with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) to develop international standards to require electric and hybrid electric vehicles to emit a minimum alert sound. The international effort will build on the work undertaken in the United States. In 2010, the NFB led an effort to persuade the United States Congress to adopt legislation mandating a minimum sound standard for hybrid, electric, and other quiet vehicles. The US law, known as the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, is the first, and so far, the only national legislation mandating a safe level of sound to be made by these very quiet cars.
The WBU’s many successes highlight the critical importance of an international organization to address the chronic and emerging barriers to social and economic participation faced by blind people throughout the world. The WBU works on increasing access to literacy, education, and employment, all well-known, pervasive, and persistent barriers to full participation. It is also addressing new challenges brought about by advancing technology. Most important, the WBU is a vehicle for collective action.
The continued success of the WBU will depend on the degree to which it values and retains its representative nature. The service agencies must never seek to overshadow the rights and aspirations of the blind themselves. This is not to disparage the agencies for the blind; it is not to ascribe dire motives, hubris, and ill will. Rather, it is a recognition that the progress of the blind is a direct outgrowth of the will and determination of extraordinary blind people, people who faced discrimination and the damage of low expectations but managed to forge new frontiers, beyond the established norms of the day.
The WBU is a forum, an organization, a means of advancing the integration of the blind. It helps to continue the movement of the blind toward full equality. Progress will come, quickly or slowly, but it will come because the will and spirit of blind people cannot be forever suppressed by the misunderstanding of others. The challenge of the WBU is our individual and collective challenge. If we give of ourselves and encourage and support one another, we will replace the heartache of nonparticipation with hope and the realization of our dreams.
The history of the blind is bleak, but our future is bright. We can work together to shape the future for ourselves. Whenever one of us succeeds, whenever one of us refuses to accept a life of diminished opportunity, our collective future is forever changed. Together we can and will hasten society’s recognition of our ability to live and work as others.
“Withdrawal from International Federation of the Blind.” (1984) Braille Monitor, November. Internet Archive (2010)
Jernigan, Kenneth. (1988) “North American/Caribbean Regional Report,” Braille Monitor, November. <https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm88/brlm8811.htm#14>
tenBroek, Jacobus. (1964) “The Parliament of Man: The Federation of the World.” Banquet Speech, National Federation of the Blind National Convention, Phoenix, AZ. Audio, MP3 format. <https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Audio/BanqSpeech/bsp-1964.mp3>
3. tenBroek, Jacobus. (1956) “Within the Grace of God.” Speech, National Federation of the Blind National Convention, San Francisco, CA, July 1. <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/
5. Maurer, Marc. (2004) “Presidential Report 2004.” National Federation of the Blind National Convention, Atlanta, GA, July 2.<https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/publications/convent/
6. Maurer, Marc. (2008) “Breaking the Mold: The Power of the Unpredictable.” Braille Monitor, November. <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm08/bm0810/bm081003.htm>
7. World Blind Union. (2012) “Universal Postal Union Rules Updates Regarding Free Post for the Blind.” News release, October. <http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/news/Pages/Universal-Postal-Union-Rules-Updates-Regarding-Free-Post-for-the-Blind.aspx>
8. United Nations. (2006) Article 24, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. <http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml>
by Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind
From the Editor: In the early 1960s the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped was formed, its major purpose being to thwart the legitimate concerns of consumers by waving the banner of accreditation in defense of agencies providing poor service to the blind. The battles between NAC and the Federation are legendary, but to many new Federationists, the reason for NAC’s creation and why we fought its attempts to thwart the will of the organized blind are the stuff of myth and history, lacking any reality or the need for action today. The assumption has been that NAC is dead, and the threat is gone. Would that it were so, but it is not. The state agency for the blind in Florida requires that any agency for the blind there be accredited by NAC in order to use state money to provide services to blind Floridians. The consortium that binds together small service providers for the blind in the state of Pennsylvania also strongly encourages NAC accreditation. NAC is actively encouraging guide dog training schools to affiliate with it, and one prominent school has unfortunately lent its name and quality services to an accrediting body which is widely frowned upon by involved and informed blind people.
It seems time that we reeducate ourselves about NAC and prepare once again to demand that any accreditation be meaningful and that it involve the voice of the organized blind. Following is a speech delivered by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan in 1971 when he was the president of the National Federation of the Blind and a member of the NAC board. This speech has appeared in the pages of the Braille Monitor at least one other time, that being in 1991, and here is the way Dr. Jernigan introduced it when he was serving as the editor of this publication.
Kenneth Jernigan’s Headnote: I delivered this address at the 1971 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Houston. NAC's president and executive director had come to discuss what NAC was doing and why. My remarks were meant to set the tone for the debate. In the context of NAC's current maneuvering I think this 1971 analysis is still pertinent. Here it is:
When the Commission on Standards and Accreditation on Services for the Blind (COMSTAC) and its successor organization, the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC), came into being during the 1960s, the leaders of the organized blind movement sounded the alarm. It was pointed out that the American Association of Workers for the Blind had unsuccessfully tried, during the 1950s, to gain control of the field of work for the blind by instituting what it called a "seal of good practices." Of the several hundred agencies and organizations in this country doing work with the blind only twenty or thirty ever applied for and received this "seal." Several of those which did were not regarded by the blind as either very effective or very progressive. As the decade of the '60s approached, the proponents of rigid agency control apparently decided to change tactics. The American Foundation for the Blind and certain other leading agency officials adopted the idea of establishing a so-called "independent" accrediting system for all groups doing work with the blind. Although individual blind persons who were agency officials were involved in the establishment and development of COMSTAC, the blind as a group were not consulted—that is, the representative organizations of the blind were not given a voice, except occasionally as a matter of tokenism. Thus, the consumers of the services were not heard in any meaningful way, and they had no part in developing or promulgating the standards to govern the agencies established to give them assistance.
Profiting by the earlier failure of the AAWB [American Association of Workers for the Blind] "seal of good practices" experiment, the authors of COMSTAC built more carefully. The American Foundation for the Blind appointed an "independent" commission—the Commission on Standards and Accreditation for Services for the Blind (COMSTAC). The full-time staff consultant for COMSTAC was a staff member of the AFB, on loan to the group, purely as a means of demonstrating the Foundation's concern with the improvement of services for the blind. To add respectability, people of prestige outside of the field of work with the blind were placed on the commission—public officials, business executives, the dean of the Temple Law School, etc. These were people of good will and integrity, but they were not knowledgeable concerning the problems of blindness. Obviously they took their tone and orientation from the Foundation appointees on COMSTAC. All of these appointees, it must be borne in mind, were high-ranking officials doing work with the blind. Not one of them represented the blind themselves. Not one of them came from a membership organization of blind persons.
As its work developed, COMSTAC divided into subcommittees, involving hundreds of people throughout the country, since the subcommittees further subdivided into smaller groups. Again, the pattern was followed. The subcommittees, or the subcommittees of the subcommittees, had, in every instance, at least one of the COMSTAC agency officials as a member, plus people of prestige and ordinary rank and file agency workers or board members. In fact, at the sub-subcommittee level a few members of the organized blind movement were even added.
The American Foundation for the Blind and COMSTAC were later to proclaim with pride that they had sought and achieved a broad consensus throughout the field of work with the blind. However, the method of arriving at that consensus was, to say the least, novel. At Denver in the summer of 1965, for instance, the AAWB convention was largely taken up with a discussion of the COMSTAC standards—to gather opinions and achieve consensus, it was said. Only the discussion leaders had copies of the standards (there had been a delay in mimeographing), and any touchy point which was raised was answered either by the statement that it was covered somewhere else in the COMSTAC standards or that another group was discussing that matter and it was not properly the concern of the group in which it had been raised.
Home teachers from throughout the country were present and were considering the standards affecting their specialty. The overwhelming majority apparently disagreed with a particular item in the COMSTAC document and suggested that a vote be taken to determine the sentiments of the group. They were informed by the discussion leader that a vote certainly would not be taken but that their views would be reported to COMSTAC, which had the sole responsibility for deciding such matters.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1965 promises were repeatedly made that copies of the proposed COMSTAC standards would be made available. They were forthcoming, hundreds of pages of them—three days prior to the final conference in New York City, which brought together hundreds of agency representatives for the announced purpose of arriving at a final consensus. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and I attended that conference. Again, the democracy and fair play with which it was conducted were novel. One had to indicate in writing ahead of time which particular group discussion he would like to attend. There was no assurance that his choice would be honored. He might be assigned to another group. He could not move from group to group at all. If he had not received a special invitation, he could not attend the meetings. COMSTAC appointees were stationed at the door to check credentials, and I personally witnessed the turning away of one agency director who had been critical of COMSTAC.
It is no wonder that the blind people of the country felt apprehensive. What type of standards were likely to emerge from a commission so appointed and so conducted? Not only the blind but also many of the agencies expressed concern. Many felt that the AFB and federal rehabilitation officials (unwittingly aided by people of prestige in the broader community) would impose a system of rigid controls—which would stifle initiative, foster domination, and take the emphasis off of real service and place it on bureaucracy, red tape, and professional jargon. It was further felt that what purported to begin as a voluntary system would (once firmly established) become mandatory. The AFB and other proponents of COMSTAC and its successor organization, NAC, vigorously denied these assertions. COMSTAC and NAC were to be truly independent. Their very watchword was to be objectivity. They were to be the means of improving services to blind people throughout the country and the vehicle for progressive thought and constructive change.
Readers of the Braille Monitor will remember that from 1965 through 1968 a detailed analysis was made of the COMSTAC and NAC reports and activities. The fact that the Federation has not called attention in recent months to COMSTAC and NAC should not lead the blind to believe that the threat has passed or the situation improved. Quite the contrary is the case.
The question of NAC's independence, for example, is no longer a matter for serious debate. The Scriptures tell us that "where a man's treasure is, there will his heart be also." In an official NAC document entitled "Budget Comparison—1968 and 1969," dated April 15, 1968, the following items appear.
"Total approved budget calendar year 1968, $154,034; total projected calendar year 1969, $154,000. Estimated income 1968: grant from American Foundation for the Blind $70,000; grant from Department of Health, Education, and Welfare $75,000. Estimated income 1969: grant from American Foundation for the Blind $70,000; grant from Department of Health, Education, and Welfare $70,000."
Today (in 1971) the overwhelming majority of NAC's funds still come from HEW and the American Foundation for the Blind. Many of the NAC meetings are held at the AFB building in New York, and the executive director of NAC is a former Foundation staff member, the same one who was on "loan" to COMSTAC. When the first annual NAC awards were given, in 1970, it may be of significance that two recipients were named: Mr. Jansen Noyes, President of the Board of Directors of the American Foundation for the Blind; and Miss Mary Switzer, the long-time head of rehabilitation in the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Even more to the point may be Miss Switzer's comments upon that occasion as reported in the NAC minutes of April 24, 1970: "She predicted that difficult times might lie ahead if agencies accept the idea of standards but do nothing about them. The expending or withholding of public money can provide the incentive that is needed."
Thus spoke Miss Switzer, confirming what Federation leaders had predicted and COMSTAC spokesmen had denied a decade ago. The full meaning of Miss Switzer's statement was spelled out by Alexander Handel, Executive Director of NAC, as reported in the NAC minutes of April 25, 1970: "Mr. Handel reported a new and important step in encouraging accreditation. The Council of State Administrators has passed a resolution that by July 1, 1974, state rehabilitation agencies will require that agencies from which they purchase services be accredited." The use of the word "encouraging" in this context is almost reminiscent of George Orwell's double-think and new-speak of 1984—only thirteen years away, at that. Perhaps sooner. The "encouraging" of agencies to seek accreditation from NAC will probably be called by some by the ugly name of blackmail. The pressure for conformity and the concentration of power could well be the most serious threat to good programs for the blind in the decade ahead.
Federationists who attended the 1966 Louisville convention will remember that a report on COMSTAC and NAC was given at that time. I had been officially asked to serve on the NAC board. The offer was, of course, tokenism of the most blatant sort; and the question was whether to accept, leaving the Federation open to the charge of approving NAC actions, or to reject, exposing us to the charge of non-cooperation and leaving us with no means of observing and getting information. Federationists will remember that it was decided that I should accept the invitation. Thus, I have been a member of the NAC board since its inception. In the spring of 1970 I was elected to another three-year term. There are more than thirty NAC board members, of whom I am one.
While expressing my minority views, I have tried to be personally congenial and friendly with the NAC board members. Nevertheless, tokenism remains tokenism. The other members of the board not only seemed unconcerned with but unaware of the non-representative character of NAC. It is as if General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and American Motors should set up a council and put six or seven officials from each of their companies on its board and then ask the UAW to contribute a single representative. What would the unions do in such a situation? What would racial minorities do if their representative organizations were offered such tokenism in the establishment and promulgation of standards affecting their lives? I think we know what they would do. They would take both political and court action, and they would instigate mass demonstrations. Perhaps the blind should take a leaf from the same book. We cannot and should not exhibit endless patience. We cannot and should not forever tolerate the intolerable. I continue to sit on the NAC board, but I often wonder why. It does not discuss the real problems which face the blind today or the methods of solving those problems. In fact, NAC itself may well be more a part of the problem than the solution. I repeat that tokenism by any other name is still tokenism. In May of 1969, for instance, I received a document from NAC entitled "Statement of Understanding Among National Accreditation Council, National Industries for the Blind and the General Council of Workshops for the Blind." This document was sent to all NAC board members with the request that they vote to approve or disapprove it. It contained six points, of which one and five are particularly pertinent. They are as follows: "1. By June 30, 1970, all NIB affiliated shops shall have either: a. applied to NAC for accreditation and submitted a self-study guide (or) b. applied to the General Council for a Certificate of Affiliation with NIB and submitted a self-study guide. 5. Certificates of Affiliation with NIB entitle shops to membership in the General Council and to access through NIB to: a. Government business allocated by NIB, b. Commercial business allocated by NIB, c. Consulting services of NIB, d. Any and all other benefits of NIB affiliation." In other words if a workshop for the blind wishes any contracts from the federal government, it had better get into line and "volunteer" for accreditation by NAC. No pressure, of course, merely a system of "voluntary accreditation!" As you might expect, I voted no on the NIB agreement. Along with my ballot, I sent the following comments:
"I do not approve this statement because I do not believe government contracts and other benefits to workshops should be conditioned upon their accreditation by NAC. Rather, receipt of government contracts and other benefits should depend upon the quality of performance of the workshop in question. Does the shop pay at least a minimum wage? Do its workers have the rights associated with collective bargaining? What sort of image of blindness does it present to the public?
"Prior to NAC (in the days of COMSTAC) many of us said that NAC would become a vehicle for blackmail—dressed out nicely, of course, in professional jargon. It would appear that the prophecy is beginning to come true, earlier assurances to the contrary notwithstanding."
As I say, I voted no. What do you suppose the final tally of the ballots indicated? Twenty-seven yes votes and one no vote. How different the results might have been if there had been equal representation of the blind themselves and the agencies! Yes, tokenism is still tokenism.
In order that my position cannot be twisted or misinterpreted I would like to say that the quarrel is not with the concept of accreditation itself. Rather, we object to what is being done in the name of accreditation. Proper accreditation by a properly accredited group is a constructive thing. What NAC is doing is something else altogether.
There is, of course, not time here to go into the details of all of the standards originally developed by COMSTAC and now being fostered by NAC, but a brief sample is sufficient to make the point. Federationists will remember that the Braille Monitor for February, 1966, carried an analysis of the COMSTAC standards on physical facilities. That analysis said in part:
“The standards [on physical facilities] are perhaps notable chiefly in that they are so vague and minimal as to be equally applicable to office buildings, nursing homes, or universities by the simple substitution of the names of these other facilities....”
Perhaps a brief run-down of the standards themselves would serve as the best and most complete illustration (headings theirs).
The preceding is an inclusive summary! One can imagine the breadth of interpretation that can result from application of these standards. One can also imagine the range of individual whim and axe-grinding, not to say blackmail and favoritism, that can enter into the proposed accreditation of agencies for the blind based on such vague and capricious requirements. The danger to be anticipated is the possibility of varying application of standards to friends and foes when "accrediting" agencies....
One is tempted to dismiss this entire report of "Standards for Physical Facilities" with the single word, "Blah!" But more intensive study indicates otherwise. Tucked away among the platitudes and the generalities are the age-old misconceptions and stereotypes.
What, for instance, is meant by the requirement that a facility for the blind be located near to shopping and other community interests, and that it be in a location reasonably safe, with hazards minimized? The exact words of the committee are, "Where undue hazards cannot be avoided, proper measures are instituted to assure the safety of all persons coming to the agency. (For example, where an agency is on a street with heavy traffic, a light or crosswalk or other means is available for safe crossing by blind persons.)"
If this standard is simply meant to express the general pious platitude that everybody ought to be as safe as possible, then what a farcical and pathetic waste of time and money to assemble a committee to spell out what everybody already knows. On the other hand, if the standard means to imply that the blind are not able to live and compete among the ordinary hazards of the regular workaday world and that they need more shelter and care than others, the implications are not only false but they are insidiously vicious.
Of a similar character is the committee's statement that the grounds must "provide pleasant and appropriate surroundings, and be free of undue nuisances and hazards." Surely we do not need a special commission on standards and accreditation to tell us that people should live in pleasant surroundings that are free of undue hazards, if this is all that is meant. If, however, the committee is saying that the blind require surroundings that are more "pleasant and free from hazards" than the surroundings required by other people, one cannot help but be unhappily reminded of the 19th century concept that the blind should be entertained and provided with recreation, that they should be helped in every way possible to "live with their misfortune."
If this type of analysis seems blunt, one can only reply that this is no time for nice words and mousy phrases. The people who were formerly the Commission on Standards, and are now the National Accreditation, hold themselves out to the public at large as the qualified experts, the people who have the right to make standards and grant or refuse accreditation to all and sundry. These are not children indulging in the innocent games of childhood. They are adults, playing with the lives of hundreds of people.
Federationists should review the Braille Monitor from 1965 through 1968 to study the COMSTAC reports in light of present developments. I have not tried here to analyze the content of those reports. Mostly it is bad, and the standards and rules established by COMSTAC and NAC harmful. Let anyone who doubts this assertion read the COMSTAC reports and the Monitor analyses. They speak for themselves.
One final matter requires comment. At a recent meeting of the National Accreditation Council I was telling a new member of the board (a prominent businessman totally uninformed about the problems faced by the blind) that I thought most of the actions of NAC were irrelevant. He seemed surprised and said something to this effect:
"If you think what we are doing here is not relevant, what is relevant?"
To which I said, "Last fall a blind man in Minneapolis (a person who had worked for several years as a computer programmer at Honeywell and was laid off because of the recession) applied to take a civil service examination for computer programmer with the city of Minneapolis. His application was rejected, on the grounds of blindness. The National Federation of the Blind helped him with advice and legal counsel. As a result, he took the examination, and he now has a job with the city of Minneapolis as a computer programmer.
"How many of the people who are on the NAC board," I asked, "are even aware that such an incident occurred? How many of them think it is important?"
"Or," I went on, "consider another incident. A few weeks ago in Ohio a blind high school senior (duly elected by her class) was denied the right to attend the American Legion Girls' State. The story was carried nationwide by United Press, and the matter is still pending. Do you see any of these people here today concerned or excited about this case? Do you see them trying to do anything about it?"
"Well," my companion replied, "your organization seems to be working on matters like this. Maybe NAC is doing good in other areas."
"The difficulty," I told him, "is that the actions of NAC are helping to create the kind of problem situations I have been describing to you."
"How?" he asked me.
"NAC," I said, "accredits workshops, for instance. What kind of standards does it use in determining whether a shop should be approved and presented to the public as a worthy and progressive institution? NAC is concerned about whether the workshop has a good accounting system. It is concerned about good pay and good working conditions for the professional staff (almost all of them sighted). It is concerned with the physical facilities and (perhaps) whether there is a psychologist or psychiatrist available to minister to the blind workers. But what about minimum wages for those same blind workers, or the right of collective bargaining, or grievance committees? On such items NAC is silent. It will accredit a sheltered shop which pays less than fifty cents an hour to its blind workers. By so doing, it puts its stamp of approval on such practices. It helps perpetuate the system that has kept the blind in bondage and made them second-class citizens through the centuries. It helps to slam the door on the computer programmer in Minneapolis and the high school student in Ohio. Worst of all, perhaps, it reinforces and helps to continue the myth that blindness means inferiority, that the blind are unable to compete on terms of equality in regular industry or the professions, that the blind should be grateful for what they have and stay in their places. The workshop example is only that, an example. The same theme is everywhere present in NAC's action and standards—and, for that matter, in its very makeup."
As we talked, my businessman companion seemed shocked that there were sheltered shops paying less than the minimum wage to blind workers. Yet, he is on the NAC board, lending his name to the accreditation. I pointed out to him a variety of other ways in which the work of NAC is helping to promote misconceptions about blindness and add to our problems. I can only hope that the seeds I planted will bear fruit.
To round out the picture we are considering today, one further item might be mentioned. The April 25, 1968 minutes of NAC report as follows:
"Over thirty agencies and schools have indicated, in writing, an interest in applying for accreditation. Official applications have been received from six agencies. Some of these have already paid the application fee. The American Council of the Blind is the first membership association to apply for membership in the National Accreditation Council."
In a letter dated July 11, 1968, from Alexander Handel, Executive Director of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped, to members of the NAC Board of Directors an article is discussed which appears in the July, 1968, issue of the Braille Forum (the official publication of the American Council of the Blind). The article says in part:
"It should be emphasized, however, that from the first, ACB officers and members actively consulted with the various committees developing the standards, and ACB was the only national organization of the blind which both participated in and financially supported the National Conference on Standards which led to the formation of the National Accreditation Council."
I give you this quotation without comment. It speaks for itself. So do the actions of NAC. I presume all of you have read the exchange of correspondence concerning the appearance of NAC representatives at this meeting today. The contempt and condescension inherent in NAC's bland assumption that it was proper to reject our invitation to appear at this convention because a debate might occur are clear for all to see. Likewise, the agreement just concluded between NAC and the American Foundation for the Blind whereby the Foundation will work with agencies and help prepare them for accreditation is equally revealing.
In any case the one central point which must be repeatedly hammered home is the total irrelevance of NAC as it is now constituted and as it is now performing. What we need today and in the years ahead is not more detailed standards but a real belief in the competence and innate normality of blind people, a willingness on the part of agency officials to help blind people secure meaningful training and competitive employment, a recognition that the blind are able to participate fully in the mainstream of American life. We need acceptance and equality, not shelter and care.When seen in this light, NAC must be viewed as one of our most serious problems in the decade ahead. The blind of the nation should thoroughly inform themselves about its activities and should insist upon a voice in determining the character of programs affecting their lives. We should insist that state and federal governments not delegate their powers of setting standards for state agencies to a private group, which is not responsive to the needs or views of the consumers of the services. It is true that many of the agencies doing work with the blind need to be reformed and improved, but NAC is not the entity to do it. We the organized blind intend (in the best tradition of American democracy) to have something to say about the scope and direction of the reform and the improvement. We are not children, nor are we psychological cripples. We are free citizens, fully capable of participating in the determination of our own destiny, and we have every right and intention of having something to say about what is done with our lives.
by Doris Willoughby
From the Editor: Doris Willoughby has provided a number of articles for the Braille Monitor about the education of both sighted people and blind people. This topic has also caused her to write several books that are fixtures in many classrooms in which teachers of blind children toil daily. In the article below, she and her sister describe examples of positive introductions to Braille and to blindness:
Ever since I met my husband Curtis, who is blind, and ever since I started teaching blind children, I have observed that when people are shown the Braille alphabet, they tend to react by saying, “Wow! That looks hard!”
I wished for a way to illustrate that Braille is no harder to learn than print. While the whole Braille alphabet may seem daunting, it can be learned in a measured and organized way.
Now, when I speak to a group about blindness, I like to give out cards that display just a few symbols that are very different from each other. Each card only has one symbol on it. Good examples are the letter “a” (one single dot), the letter “g” (four dots together in a square), and the letter “l” (three dots aligned vertically). I make sure that participants rely on their sense of touch when they examine the dots.
My sister, Margery Herrington, who is a volunteer Braille transcriber, has provided a positive introduction to Braille to many people through the college anatomy classes she taught. Here is her description:
In the seventeen years I was on the biology faculty at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, I taught over 2,000 anatomy students to read the Braille letters “a,” “g,” and “x” by touch as part of one of the laboratories for the course. I got many positive comments such as “This is really cool,” and “This is easy; I thought it would be a lot harder.”
At the beginning of the period I gave a short introduction to Braille and wrote the patterns for “a,” “g,” and “x” on the blackboard. The dark dots indicate raised dots.
I gave students three-by-five-inch cards with two rows of Braille letters that I had made using a slate. The upper row had four a’s, followed by four g’s, and four x’s, with a space after each letter. The lower row had a total of ten letters (a’s, g’s, and x’s) in random order with spaces between the letters. Each Braille letter had the corresponding print letter written below it.
Students used the top row of letters and their fingers to learn how the letter patterns felt. They then used touch but not sight to read the second row, while their laboratory partners checked their accuracy. After recording the number of right answers (usually ten out of ten), the students read the second row again, using their elbows instead of their fingers (remember that this was an anatomy class) in order to compare the sensitivity of different regions of the body. Students recorded the number of correct answers for the elbow (usually zero, one, or two) and then wrote down some possible reasons why the fingers were easier to use than the elbow. Typical answers were that the elbow had rougher skin, fewer nerve endings, and a larger surface area.
Before students could turn in their laboratory reports with results from all the activities done that day, I had them take an exit test using a card with four Braille letters on it (for example, agxg, gaax, or xgax) with spaces between the letters. Students enjoyed showing that they could read quickly and accurately, and most of them got the required grade of 100 percent on the first try. A few students missed a letter and needed to try again on a different version of the test, but I never had a student who had a difficult time passing. After a student had read the four letters, I made a comment such as “One hundred percent! You’re an efficient Braille reader.” A number of students also did the optional Braille activity during the laboratory, writing their names in Braille on cards using a slate and stylus with minimal guidance.
So there you have my sister, teaching anatomy, and finding yet another use for Braille. Unfortunately, in contrast to the above examples, people often “simulate blindness” through an exercise that actually is much more harmful than helpful. A person is given a challenging task such as eating an entire meal in complete darkness or navigating a complicated path while blindfolded without adequate instruction or meaningful practice. This actually tends to mislead people about blindness and to make attitudes worse instead of better. Arielle Silverman discusses this problem in detail in her article in the Journal on Blindness Innovation and Research.*
Exercises that incorporate mastery of blindness skills can be helpful in showing the way alternative techniques provide effective ways to do things that are usually done visually. If you have wished you could help give sighted students a positive introduction to Braille, you might want to do an activity similar to the ones that my sister and I have used.
*Silverman, Arielle. The perils of playing blind: problems with blindness simulation and a better way to teach about blindness. Journal on Blindness Innovation and Research, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2015.
by Kenneth Jernigan
From the Editor: Last month the Braille Monitor ran an article by Prof. JW Smith in which he discussed the importance of the banquet speech delivered annually to the national convention of the Federation. In that article he interviewed Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Dr. Marc Maurer, and the longtime editor of the Braille Monitor and a former president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, Barbara Pierce. When each participant was asked to identify their favorite banquet speech, the one given in 1985 was mentioned. It seems appropriate here to reprint that speech, and to enjoy what three people who have closely followed the literature generated by this organization believed to be one of its major works. Here is what Dr. Jernigan said to the 1985 convention banquet:
When the playful dawn came down to the sea,
I ruffled its hair with gladness.
I saw the waves and flexed my soul in freedom.
Humanity comes through the optic nerve, And justice lives in the eye.
Not creed or law or politics
But curvature and the nature of light.
The blind man yearns in a land apart,
Slave though richest king.
Not for him the full broad sweep of mind and spirit
Dark the channel, nerve and tissue;
Long eternal through the night.
Day comes down to touch the ocean,
And I stand up to look and live.
Books of science unromantic—freedom's passport to the soul. [ 1. ]
When I first read that poem, I thought how literate, how polished, how skillfully written—how absolutely gross and totally false. Poetry is the art of saying so much in so few words that prose will not work as a means of expression. It does for language what the computer does for science and what the aerial photograph does for a landscape. On nothing more than a sheet of paper you can do any calculation which the most up-to-date computer can do, but if the problem is complex, you will do it more slowly—so much so that you will never live to finish it. You will not understand the patterns and relationships—or, for that matter, even know they exist. They will be buried in minutiae and lost in delay. Likewise, you can walk the earth and map a continent, but you can never see its patterns and perspectives. There is too much detail, and it will take too long to put together.
Poetry (properly used) cuts through verbiage and speaks to the soul. Like the computer and the aerial photograph, it condenses time and reveals patterns. But we must not be bamboozled. There is no magic in sophisticated tools. They are only as good as our understanding. Ancient astronomy predicted quite accurately the course of the stars and the date of eclipses, but it was based on the mistaken notion that the earth is flat and the center of the universe. In the absence of understanding a computer would not have brought enlightenment. It would only have reinforced the misconceptions. Aerial photographs are equally subject to misinterpretation. They give us data but not the wisdom to comprehend it.
Poetry is the same. It does not live in a vacuum but is built on a frame of accepted values and assumed truths. Therefore, when the poet tells us that humanity comes through the optic nerve and justice lives in the eye—when he speaks of freedom as a product of sight—he is not proclaiming new discoveries but repeating old superstitions: our common heritage—man's ancient fear of the dark, the equation of sight with light and light with good. He is doing what the perceptive poet always does. He is resolving contradictions and distilling (whether true or false) the essence of cultural consensus. He is going to the core of our inner being and making us face what we truly believe.
But, of course, an increasing number of us do not believe it. In fact, it is not a question of belief. As we go about our business from hour to hour and minute to minute, we know from personal experience that it is false. Blindness does not mean dehumanization. In our homes and our offices, in factories and laboratories, on farms and in universities, in places of recreation and forums of civic accomplishment we live the refutation of it every day. While it is true that 70 percent of us do not have jobs and that all of us are routinely treated like children and wards, it is equally true that 30 percent of us do have jobs and that all of us are coming to realize that the problem is not blindness but mistaken attitudes. If even one of us can be a scientist (and many of us are), that does not prove that if an individual is blind he or she can be a scientist, but it does prove that blindness will not prevent a person from being a scientist. In short, it proves that blindness is not the barrier.
Sight is enjoyable; it is useful; it is convenient. But that is all that it is—enjoyable, useful, and convenient. Except in imagination and mythology it is not more than that. It does not have mysterious psychological implications; and it is not the single key to happiness, the road to knowledge, or the window to the soul. Like the other senses, it is a channel of communication, a source of pleasure, and a tool nothing less, nothing more. It is alternative, not exclusive. It is certainly not the essential component of human freedom. The urge to liberty and the need to be free are commodities of the spirit, not the senses. They divide civilization from savagery and human beings from animals.
Liberty has been the focal point of more study and comment than perhaps any other idea which has ever troubled, motivated, and inspired mankind. It is the stuff of dreams, not optic nerves and eyeballs. The effort is always to understand and, by so doing, make life better and more in tune with ultimate reality—a combination of bread and the prayer book, food for the body and food for the soul.
Liberty and freedom. Two words, one concept. Always noble, always imposing—ever the dream, ever the mover of nations. And while we cannot capture freedom in a rigid cage, we can describe it, seek it, and recognize its transcendent power.
Harold Laski said: "We acquiesce in the loss of freedom every time we are silent in the face of injustice."
Daniel Webster said: "God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it."
Benjamin Franklin said: "They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Samuel Adams said: "If you love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace."
John Dewey said: "Liberty is not just an idea, an abstract principle. It is power, effective power to do specific things. There is no such thing as liberty in general; liberty, so to speak, at large.”
Cicero said: "Freedom is participation in power."
Herbert J. Muller said: "Freedom is the condition of being able to choose and to carry out purpose."
Herbert Spencer said: "No one can be perfectly free until all are free. No one can be perfectly moral until all are moral.”
The nineteenth-century German writer Max Stirner said: "Freedom cannot be granted. It must be taken."
Walter Lippmann said: "Men cannot be made free by laws unless they are in fact free because no man can buy and no man can coerce them. That is why the Englishman's belief that his home is his castle and that the king cannot enter it, like the American's conviction that he must be able to look any man in the eye and tell him to go to hell, are the very essence of the free man's way of life."
So the tapestry of freedom is constantly being woven, and we are part of the fabric; but there is something beyond. There always is. Each minority has its separate pattern, its road to freedom, its task to be done. And for the blind that task is monumental. It is nothing less than the total redirection of society's effort and perception—for we are not patients, and (contrary to popular belief) our problem is not lack of eyesight or inability to perform.
What we need most is not, as the professionals would have it, medical help or psychological counseling but admission to the main channels of daily life and citizenship, not custody and care but understanding and acceptance. Above all, what we need is not more government programs or private charitable efforts. Instead, we want jobs, opportunity, and full participation in society. Give us that, and we will do the rest for ourselves. Give us jobs, equal treatment, and a solid economic base; and we will do without the counseling, the sheltered workshops, and the social programs. We will not need them. We have the same medical, vocational, social, and recreational needs as others; but our blindness does not create those needs, and it does not magnify or enlarge them. It does not make them special or different. We are neither more nor less than normal people who cannot see, and that is how we intend to be treated. We want no strife or confrontation, but we have learned the power of collective action, and we will do what we have to do to achieve first-class status. We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens.
When the National Federation of the Blind came into being in 1940, the means were limited and the numbers few, but the goal was clear. Today (almost fifty years later—when we have tens of thousands of members and are the strongest presence in the affairs of the blind) the purpose is unchanged. It is exactly what it was in 1940. It can be told in a sentence. We want freedom—jobs, homes, the chance to succeed or fail on our own merit, access to places of public accommodation, interdependence with our neighbors, and full participation in society. The words are easy, but the fact has been long delayed. From the dawn of history blind men and women have worked and hoped and waited, but only in recent years (only with the coming of the National Federation of the Blind) has our dream approached reality. And now the waiting is over. Yes, we have waited—oh, God, how we have waited!—but never again! No more! In this generation our time has finally come—for we are determined at long last to live the truth of what we are, and not what others think we are or try to make us become or believe. As Cicero said: "Freedom is participation in power." And as Max Stirner said: "Freedom cannot be granted. It must be taken."
There are four essential elements in the pattern of our freedom. Each has a different part to play, and each is necessary. They blend to form a tapestry, which can never be finished without the composite.
The first and most important of these elements is internal. It is what we believe and become within ourselves. The second is public education. The third is the law. The fourth is confrontation. Other people tend to treat and value us as we treat and value ourselves. In matters of the spirit, before a thing can become reality, we must believe it; and before we can believe it, we must say we believe it.
We say we are as good as the sighted, able to compete with them on terms of equality. We say that we deserve all of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship and that we are capable of exercising them. We say that it is respectable to be blind. When the time comes that a majority of us know for a certainty within ourselves that these things are true (know it so surely that we act and live it every day and do not even need to think about it or question it), our battle will largely be won.
Dr. Walter Stromer is a blind professor. He lives in a small town in Iowa and teaches at the local college. He is thought of by his colleagues and students as successful, quite successful—and he doubtless shares that opinion. But do his associates think of him as successful measured by others on the campus, or only by the standard of what they think a blind person can do and can be expected to do? Which standard does Dr. Stromer use? For that matter, does he even know that there are different standards? Does he perhaps enjoy being thought of as remarkable, unusual, inspiring, and brave—failing to realize that he has made a bad bargain and that the eye is not freedom’s passport to the soul?
A number of years ago Dr. Stromer appeared on a panel to discuss the meaning of blindness, and as a result he published a paper entitled "One Day in the Life of Me." Speaking of his early morning radio listening, he says: "Fortunately the station I listen to most is near the end of the dial. Finding stations in the middle of the dial can be a problem unless you know exactly what program to listen for."
Progressing to the time of departure for work, he says: "Just before I leave for class I remember I forgot to have my wife record the grades for the speeches made yesterday. I could do it in Braille, but it would be most tedious and time-consuming."
In further reference to Braille he says: "Looking for one sheet of paper in a stack is not bad when you can see; it's maddeningly slow when you have to run your fingers over the first dots of every sheet to figure out what it is."
As he leaves the house, he says: "But finally I'm off to school, after pausing in the door for a minute to try to remember if I've got everything. Others do that, too, but they can see things lying on the chair or table, to remind them to take along; with me it has to be a more conscious mental effort. Which explains of course why I'm so alert, because I have to use my brain more, which is what keeps it sharp, or wears it to a frazzle."
His thoughts as he goes from home to campus are in the same vein: "Walking to school is fairly relaxing," he says. "At least once a week I try to remember to be grateful for not having to fight the noise and congestion of the city." What a melodramatic piece of self-pity! Many people prefer small towns to cities, but I wonder how many of them are able to work blindness and pathos into it. After all, the city has advantages, too—and you could probably get blindness into that as well if you put your mind to it.
And how does Dr. Stromer feel about his teaching? He says: "In a few minutes I'm in class. After twenty-two years I'm fairly comfortable."
After all of this tension and heavy introspection, it is only natural that Dr. Stromer feels tense and a little weary. A counteractant might be in order. "Home to lunch now," he says. "Just a good eight-minute walk, downhill all the way. A small glass of wine, a short nap, maybe only five minutes, and then lunch and I'm ready for the afternoon.... I stretch out for a nap before supper. I wonder if all blind people need those naps as much as I do. I think I'm fairly relaxed, but I'm sure an average day takes more nervous energy out of me than it does out of somebody with good vision, because so many things that sighted people can do without thinking, I have to do with a good bit of conscious effort."
Stromer is not a phony. He believes it—and his associates believe it. But it is false to the core. It is what I call "The Stromer Syndrome." His neighbors think (within the limits, of course, of common sense and what they believe a blind person can do) that he is wonderful. They make of him a conversation piece. They tell him, each other, and anybody else who will listen that he is witty, accomplished, and inspiring. He uses the same words we use—independence, understanding, realistic approach to blindness, full participation in society, and all of the rest—but he does not mean what we mean.
In his daily life and thinking he exemplifies almost every misconception about the inferiority and helplessness of the blind that I have ever heard: Blind people have difficulty tuning in radio stations. Braille is tedious and ineffective. It cannot be scanned. Blind people have more trouble than others remembering what to take to work. This makes their minds alert. They meet their problems with humor. They are grateful to live in a small town to avoid the congestion of cities. After twenty-two years they are fairly comfortable teaching. They have more tensions than others and, therefore, require more naps, and a little wine.
Dr. Stromer undoubtedly feels that his attitudes and behavior are a plus in the struggle of the blind for advancement, but every day his influence is negative. Society (knowing nothing about blindness) has made him what he is and taught him its values. Now, he returns the compliment. He reinforces the misconceptions and teaches society. If his situation were unique (if the "Stromer Syndrome" were personal to the man), it would hardly be worth our attention. We would simply turn our heads in pity and embarrassment and let it go at that. But it is not personal. It is endemic and generic. It has dogged the heels of every minority that has ever walked the road to freedom.
How many blacks in the early part of this century tried to straighten their hair and look white? How many laughed, shuffled their feet, and played Amos and Andy to fit the mold of the times? Even more to the point, how many secretly thought the role they were given was just and proper? All of them some of the time, and some of them all of the time. The incentive to believe was overwhelming. Every day they were rewarded for conforming and punished for objecting. Believing, they lived the myth and helped it come true—and both they and society were diminished accordingly.
As Herbert Spencer said: "No one can be perfectly free until all are free. No one can be perfectly moral until all are moral." Only when a majority of the blacks came to realize that no imagined advantage, no immediate gain, and no avoidance of punishment could take the place of the privileges and, for that matter, the pains and responsibilities of first-class status did they begin to experience fulfillment—and, then, the world changed.
As it was with the blacks, so it is with the blind. We are part of the general culture, and the pressure to believe and conform is constantly with us. It all comes together in a single sentence in a letter I recently received from a man in Ohio. After telling me that he was losing his sight, he said: "I believe I would rather be dead than blind." Consider the capacity for enjoyment and productive work and the level of daily activity of the average member of the National Federation of the Blind, and ask yourself whether you believe this man's opinion results from dire predicament or cultural conditioning.
Sometimes, of course, the blind person's acceptance of the stereotype is not just conditioning but an attempt (whether conscious or otherwise) to use it for advantage. Phillip Mangold is a blind man who lives in California. In 1980 he wrote a booklet called: The Pleasure of Eating for Those Who Are Visually Impaired. We do not have to go beyond the title to find the problem. There is pleasure in eating, and those who are blind eat; but to imply that there is a connection is a distortion and a disservice. It plays upon the notion that the blind are mysteriously different from the sighted and that we require expert help (presumably from Mr. Mangold) to do the simplest task. His appeal to the public's fears and misconceptions may sell his booklet and promote his employment, but (whether he knows it or not) the price is too high and the bargain bad.
When we consider public education (the second of the four essential components in our pattern of freedom), we are reminded again that none of the four stands alone. They overlap and interweave to form a composite. What the blind believe about themselves, they teach to the public; and what the public believes conditions the blind. Not only individuals but also organizations may have negative impact and mistaken attitudes. The American Council of the Blind is a prime example.
Its state affiliate, the Missouri Council of the Blind, plans to hold its 1985 convention in St. Joseph. Carolyn Anderson, Secretary-Treasurer of the local chapter of the Missouri Council of the Blind, talked to the St. Joseph News-Press about the matter last fall. In an article appearing October 28, 1984, she says: "We have a commitment from Boy Scouts who are working on merit badges to serve as volunteer guides when needed by a delegate. Free transportation from both bus stations to the hotel has been arranged. And, since there is no day or night for the blind, the hotel is even providing for food service in case someone decides it's breakfast time at two in the morning."
If we did not know the philosophy of the American Council of the Blind, we might be astonished. As it is, we accept this statement as standard procedure—simply another obstacle to overcome on our road to freedom. In an article captioned "Blind But Not Dumb" which appeared in the St. Joseph News-Press of November 20, 1984, Beryl Gordon (our local NFB president) tried to mitigate the damage. He said:
"Often I am asked, 'Why can't organizations of and for the blind get together? They are all working toward the same thing, aren't they?'
"This is a very hard question to answer in one short sentence, and until you see something in the newspaper such as I have recently read you don't even try.
"A member of the Missouri Council of the Blind was quoted as saying that since there is no day or night for the blind, the hotel where they will be holding their 1985 convention will be providing food service in case one of them would decide it was breakfast time at 2:00 a.m.
"Can you just imagine what life would be like for the blind if all of us believed something this ignorant? Can you imagine what potential employers might think when reading something this degrading about blind persons' intelligence?
"It's no wonder we can't find jobs. It is no wonder public facilities do not want us to come in. It is no wonder others have the attitude that we need to be taken care of."
In case you think Ms. Anderson was misquoted by the reporter, listen to her answer in the News-Press of November 29, 1984. She says: "As usual, the National Federation of the Blind misinterprets and twists things for their own purposes. We believe the NFB confronts everything with rudeness, abruptness and single-mindedness. Such negative reactions make it more difficult for those of us trying to work in a positive way. We try to deal with local businesses, officials and the public without considering them to be our enemies. Focusing our efforts on the good and the positive and remembering with gratitude the help we get from the sighted in our community, we have improved our outlook. We try to keep a sense of humor and look at life's inconveniences with some amount of laughter. Perhaps the NFB should try this and not be critical of other people and their efforts."
Whatever else may be said, Carolyn Anderson and Beryl Gordon are not working for the same thing. In one sense, of course, she is right: We could laugh at ourselves, be grateful for whatever we get, and accept the stereotype—but the price is too high. Such conduct translates into exclusion from employment, custodial treatment, and second-class status; and it also blights the spirit and shrivels the soul—for whatever we live and believe, that we surely become.
And we are not just dealing with generalities. It is not simply a matter of being nice or saving feelings. To the extent that we fail to find a way to educate the public, lack the courage to provide that education even in the face of hostility, or are unable to understand our true potential, we and all other blind people suffer. I recently received a letter from the sighted mother of an adopted blind child expressing appreciation for our literature and encouragement: "My daughter Shelly," she said, "is now eleven years old. She is fully integrated in a local school and has learned to read and write Braille.
"Six years ago, when we adopted her, she was a 'potential unknown,' high-risk adoption case. We took her out of a small institution, where she had lived all of her life. She had spent most of her time confined to a large hospital sized crib, with no stimulation and little human contact. She was in diapers and ate only pureed baby food, which had to be fed to her. In the past six years this same child has become bilingual, is in her third year of piano lessons, skates, swims, rides a double bike, reads and writes, and is no longer a 'potential unknown' but rather a child of great potential."
So writes this sighted mother, and her words give us perspective. It is not pleasant to disagree with others and take public stands, but sometimes the alternative is worse. We do not regard our neighbors as enemies, but this does not mean that we are willing to submit to diapers and pureed baby food. It does not mean that we are willing to accept slavery—even if the slavery is gently offered, kindly meant, and well intentioned. As John Dewey said: "Liberty is not just an idea, an abstract principle. It is power, effective power to do specific things." And as Benjamin Franklin said: "They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." We want no strife or confrontation, but we are not willing to give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety. We have learned the power of collective action, and we will do what we have to do. We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens.
The need for public education is everywhere apparent. The fact is typified by an article appearing in the Omaha World-Herald of December 5, 1984. Headlined "Donations Pay for Glasses for Needy During the Year," the article says: "Detecting and solving vision problems are important in the proper development of children, said Dr. Matilda Mclntire, director of community pediatrics at Creighton University. That is why the cooperative effort of the World-Herald Good Fellows and Creighton is valuable to the community, she said. 'We feel very strongly that a child cannot learn if he cannot see.'" To which we reply, thousands of us grew up as blind children and have achieved a moderate degree of literacy and success. If Dr. Mclntire is right, I wonder how we did it.
Early this year I received a letter from one P. F. Membrey, who described himself as the director of CAPEX, a product consulting and export firm from London, England. He said, concerning a new Braillewriter which he wished to sell: "Following its recent introduction to the United Kingdom market, CAPEX have been appointed sole distribution agents for this unique product. Accordingly, we are now able to supply the Braillewriter to those institutions or individuals who work with or have care of blind or partially sighted people."
Mr. Membrey, Carolyn Anderson, and Dr. Stromer would probably say we are nitpicking, but people usually say what they mean even if they do not mean to say what they say. The orientation which (whether inadvertently or not) leads to talk of selling a product to "institutions or individuals who have care of blind or partially sighted people" is destructive and damaging. We must observe it, reject it, and attack it—not only for public enlightenment but for our own self-respect. As Harold Laski said: "We acquiesce in the loss of freedom every time we are silent in the face of injustice." We want no strife or confrontation, but we are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens.
The need for public education about blindness is repeatedly demonstrated. Emotional newspaper articles appear telling about sighted people who blindfold themselves to know what it is like to be blind; the National Geographic talks about an inchworm "groping along slowly, reminiscent of a blind man with a cane," [2.] and in a descriptive brochure Ewing Mays (the founder of Mays Mission for the Handicapped) says: "Every day there are handicapped people here training handicapped people ... one amputee working with another amputee, one deaf person training another deaf person, and even a blind person guiding another blind person." The operative word, of course, is "even." Why "even?"
In that one word is summed up the prejudice of centuries—a way of life and a system we are determined to change.
And we are changing the system. We are heightening our own self-awareness and conducting extensive campaigns of public education—but this is not enough. We must deal with the legal system and the law. Again, let us consider the blacks. Before they could begin to achieve equality, they had to build an image within themselves. That was the first and most important thing. Then, they had to educate the public, for they could not exist in a vacuum or live what the culture would not accept. But they also had to do something else. As long as the law made it impossible for them to buy or rent certain property, required them to attend segregated schools, made them ride in the back of the bus, and even said they must use separate water fountains and bathrooms, all of the self-belief and public education in the world would not be sufficient. They had to change the laws and the interpretation of the laws, and they did change them.
Our situation is parallel. We must fight in the courts and fight in the Congress. Judges order children to be taken from blind parents on the ground that the blind cannot raise them; airline officials tell us we cannot occupy exit row seating and that we must sit on blankets for fear we cannot control our bladders; insurance companies deny us coverage; amusement parks refuse to let us ride; health clubs decline to let us in; and employers routinely discriminate. Unless we can move toward equal treatment under the law, self-belief and public education will not be sufficient and cannot be sustained. And, of course, we are making headway. Through court action we have repeatedly restored children to their blind parents. We have persuaded Congress and the state legislatures to expand opportunities and remove discrimination—and we currently have at least a dozen lawsuits under way.
Let anyone who believes we can live with the law as it is presently written consider the following section of the Tennessee Code: "Section 22-1-102. Incompetent persons.—Persons convicted of certain infamous offenses specially designated in this code, persons of unsound mind, persons not in the full possession of their senses of hearing and seeing, and habitual drunkards are incompetent to act as jurors."
That section of the Code is the law in Tennessee at this very moment. John Robb, a blind Tennessean, served on a jury in Nashville last year, but he did it on sufferance and at the whim of the judge. The Tennessee jury law is not only degrading—it is false in its premises. Today we are striking down such laws in state after state, and an increasing number of us are proving their absurdity by serving on juries. I did it myself last year.
As we make progress in reforming the law and getting new interpretations by the courts, we strengthen our self-belief and educate the public. Self-belief, public education, and the law—these three elements intertwine and overlap. But something else is required—the fourth element, confrontation.
What minority has ever gone from second-class status to first-class citizenship without it? What minority could? As we come to feel that we deserve equality, we increasingly resist coercion. But it goes beyond that. Unless we are willing to be absolutely docile and totally self-effacing, confrontation is inevitable.
In this connection our experience with the airlines is instructive. They deal with us in an arbitrary, capricious, and custodial manner. If we are willing to be humiliated publicly and handled like children, airline personnel will generally treat us fairly well. Otherwise, we are likely to be subjected to anything from a tongue lashing to a trip off the plane with the police.
A few months ago a blind woman in the state of Washington was plopped down on a blanket in an airplane seat, told by airline personnel that she must sit there, and loudly and publicly informed by the flight attendant that, as the attendant put it, it was not because she might "wet" her "pants" but so that in case of emergency she could be quickly lifted onto the evacuation slide. Explaining that she was quite mobile and unwilling to endure such treatment, the blind woman vocally refused to sit on the blanket and pushed it onto the floor. Later she brought a legal action against the airline and was given monetary damages and an apology. But if she had meekly followed orders, the lawsuit would never have been filed. She would have been humiliated and "put down," and her self-esteem and the public image would have suffered accordingly. But in objecting she created hostility and might have been arrested. If we intend to stand up for our rights at all, we can simply not avoid a certain amount of confrontation.
Mike Uribes is one of our members in Fresno, California. Not long ago his chapter president had occasion to write the following letter to a Fresno business establishment:
"On December 19, Mr. Michael Uribes, a blind Fresno resident, while shopping in your mall, was approached by one of your security employees, Mr. Tim Levinson. Mr. Levinson asked Mr. Uribes if he needed any assistance. Mr. Uribes responded that he did not. However, Mr. Levinson proceeded to follow Mr. Uribes through the mall and a couple of times even put his hand on Mr. Uribes' arm. Again, Mr. Uribes stated that he really did not need any assistance and thanked Mr. Levinson for his offer. Mr. Levinson walked away indignantly saying, 'Those damned blind people! They sure are arrogant.'
"If Mr. Uribes had been a sighted person, this incident would not have happened.
"Mr. Uribes has lived in Fresno all of his life and has been shopping without aid in your mall for at least twelve years. He travels independently.
"Mr. Uribes is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Fresno, which is affiliated with a state and national organization of the same name. Blind persons have the same rights and responsibilities as the sighted and wish to be treated as first-class citizens."
In writing that letter our Fresno president undoubtedly created hostility, but what was she to do? For that matter, what was Mike Uribes to do? He could have avoided confrontation by meekly doing as he was told and allowing himself to be led around the store at Mr. Levinson's whim. By taking Mr. Uribes' arm when he was asked not to do so, Mr. Levinson committed a battery and violated the law; but public sentiment being what it is, he was probably never in danger of being prosecuted. However, what if Mr. Uribes had responded in kind? What if he had showed as much bad temper as Mr. Levinson did? Can we always be sure that the blind person will be cool, polite, level-headed, long-suffering, and patient—even if the sighted person is not? In fact, is that what we want?
As Walter Lippman said: "Men cannot be made free by laws unless they are in fact free because no man can buy and no man can coerce them. That is why the Englishman's belief that his home is his castle and that the king cannot enter it, like the American 's conviction that he must be able to look any man in the eye and tell him to go to hell, are the very essence of the free man's way of life."
Is that sort of thing all right (in fact, praiseworthy) for the sighted but not all right for the blind? And what does Lippman mean when he says that no man can coerce you if you are truly free? Does he mean that it is all right for the sighted to resist coercion—even if it means looking somebody in the eye and telling him to go to hell—even if it means using necessary force—but that it is not all right for the blind? Is Lippman's pronouncement meant only for everybody else—or does it include us, too? Can blind people hope to be free Americans? We gave our answer to that question almost fifty years ago. We formed the National Federation of the Blind—and it is still here, stronger and more active today than ever before in its history.
It is not only the "Stromer Syndrome" which is arrayed against us. It is also the "be grateful and do as I tell you, or I'll call you militant" syndrome. Let those who oppose our march to freedom call us what they please and say what they like. We will not grovel; we will not pretend that right is wrong; and we will not turn back from the course we have set. No, we do not want strife and confrontation—and yes, we prefer peace and reason. But we know the power of collective action, and we will do what we have to do. We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens.
Self-belief, public education, the law, and confrontation—these are the elements in the pattern of our freedom, and each is necessary. They overlap and interweave, and if any one of them is omitted, all of the rest become meaningless and impossible. Because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind, we who are blind have it better today than ever before in our history, and the hostility we face is not a cause for dejection but an omen of victory; for until a minority is close to its goal, confrontation is neither achievable nor useful. Earlier it is impossible, and later it is unnecessary.
The beginning strands of the pattern of freedom are always woven by slaves, and we have known slavery. Some of us still endure it, and none of us has totally escaped it. A few of us are so immersed in it that we even say we like it and do not know another way exists. But the National Federation of the Blind is abroad in the land, and the blind are learning new ways. We hear the statements of freedom, and they call to our souls and quicken our dreams:
"If," said Samuel Adams, "you love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace."
"They that give up essential liberty," said Benjamin Franklin, "to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"Freedom," said Max Stirner, "cannot be granted. It must be taken."
We hear, and we understand. We know what we must do, and we have counted the cost. We fight not only for ourselves but also for those who went before us, for Dr. tenBroek and the other founders of our movement—and for those who come after, the blind of the next generation, the children and the children to be. And we will not fail. The stakes are too high and the alternative too terrible. Tomorrow is bright with promise.
We go to meet it with gladness: And we take with us all that we have—our hopes and our dreams, our will to work and our knowledge of deprivation, our faith and our purpose, and our heritage of slavery. And this also we take—our trust in ourselves, our love for each other, and our belief in the ultimate goodness of people. My brothers and my sisters, the future is ours! Come, join me—and we will march together to freedom!
1. This poem was copied from a wall in New York City in 1985.
2. National Geographic, August, 1983, page 222.
by Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: There are many blessings for which we in the National Federation of the Blind are thankful, and one of them is the caliber of the staff who come to work with us and who decide to become a part of us. Anna Kresmer is just such a person, working to share with all of us the treasures that are to be found in the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library. In this article she discusses one of the reasons we formed the National Federation of the Blind and our first effort to confront head-on a new federal bureaucracy that threatened to erode our hard-won gains for a secure income and the opportunity to go beyond government assistance. Here’s what she says:
For seventy-five years, the National Federation of the Blind has strived to achieve first-class citizenship for all blind Americans through collective action and self-advocacy. Over the years, the Federation’s focus and energy have shifted to address the most pressing problems of the day, from the right to organize in the 1950s, to the fight against NAC in the 1970s, to the ongoing mission to make the internet and technology accessible. Some long-standing challenges have proven to be stubborn and the battles rage on, such as the mission to end subminimum wage, while other challenges have been met and relegated (at least for the time being) to the annals of history. Each of these issues, and the many others not mentioned here, have confirmed the continuing need for an organization like the NFB, but one issue in particular is directly responsible for the formation of the Federation in 1940.
In the first few decades of the twentieth century, aid to the blind was primarily treated as a local or state-level concern. Organizations formed to meet that concern were mainly charities ran by sighted people, sheltered workshops, social clubs, schools for the blind, and the occasional state-run pension plan. The populations they served were generally limited by geography and could, therefore, reasonably be addressed by organizations of the blind of similar size and scope, like the Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind or the Central Committee of the Blind of Illinois.
But all that changed in 1935 with the passing of the first Social Security Act (SSA). Its aim was to protect segments of the population at risk of poverty including the unemployed, senior citizens, needy families with children, and the blind. It is unsurprising that blind people were included in this landmark legislation, since they were seen by society as generally uneducable, unemployable, and in need of custodians. This view is clear even in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who remarked on the third anniversary of the SSA’s passing in 1938 that now, “…forty thousand blind people are assured of peace and security among familiar voices.”i
The Social Security Act of 1935 was the first federal legislation to address the poverty faced by most blind people. Before the SSA, aid to the blind was spotty, unregulated, and varied wildly from state to state. Some states did not even have a pension program, while others set their rates so low that blind pensioners could not afford to feed themselves. The SSA sought to impose standards in welfare and to share the burden of supporting the “needy blind” by supplementing state funds with federal contributions.
On the surface it sounded like a wonderful idea to the politicians who voted for it and to the sighted agencies that lobbied for it, and the bill was enacted on August 14, 1935. However, not everybody was so thrilled.
From the start blind Americans found problems with Title X, the portion of the law which handled aid to the blind, and with the way that it was administered. The problems mainly stemmed from the concentrated decision-making power placed in the hands of the appointed Social Security Board, who set aid rates low and eligibility criteria high. States were required to adopt these standards if they wanted to receive the federal contributions, which meant that some state programs actually improved. However, in other states where larger organizations of the blind had already worked hard to get better benefits, the Federal regulations threatened to roll back their hard-won gains.
Perhaps the biggest objection, though, was that the original bill was passed largely without input from the people it was meant to help. Representatives from seven different organizations for the blind came to testify before the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committees, including the American Association of Workers for the Blind, the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness, and several state commissions and agencies for the blind.ii The only actual blind person to testify before Congress concerning the proposed bill was Robert Irwin, representing the American Foundation for the Blind and advocating for a smaller pension program than was eventually passed into law. So why were these custodial national and state organizations of sighted workers for the blind the only voices heard in Washington in 1935? The answer is simple: There was no national organization of the blind which could address Congress on behalf of all blind Americans.
The National Federation of the Blind was founded in 1940 by Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and blind representatives from seven state associations of the blind. It was the first national organization created by blind people and led by all blind officers with a primarily blind membership. Their goal was to promote the economic and social welfare of the blind by securing access to three basic rights: security, equality, and opportunity. However, looking at the speech given by Dr. tenBroek at the founding meeting, there can be little doubt that the NFB’s founding focused on the first of these rights—security—and that their first mission was to lobby the federal government on Social Security.
In his speech at the founding meeting, Dr. tenBroek called to the blind of the nation, saying:
There are many goals upon which we can unite: the ultimate establishment of a national pension which will eliminate the diversities of treatment of the blind among the states and insure an adequate support to all; the correction of the vices that have crept into the administration of the Social Security Act by seeking its amendment in Congress… governmental recognition of the fact that the blind are not to be classified as paupers and that they have needs peculiar to and arising out of their blindness… adequate methods for restraining the influence and defining the place of the social worker in the administration of aid laws… legislative and administrative encouragement of the blind who are striving to render themselves self-supporting… [and] governmental recognition of our inalienable right to receive public assistance and still retain our economic, social, and political independence…
In 1997, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan succinctly explained why the Federation’s initial focus rested squarely on security, specifically on the need for government aid, saying that, “When the National Federation of the Blind came into being almost six decades ago, our problem was simple. It was to find enough food to keep body and soul together—not for all of us, of course, but for many. If you are hungry, it is hard to think about anything else. And the blind were hungry.”iii
To satisfy this hunger, the NFB immediately began its campaign to turn Social Security into a program that truly benefited all blind people. As early as 1941, they began sending representatives to urge Congress to amend the act. They submitted memoranda and testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee and repeatedly called on their growing membership to write to Congress in support of their legislative proposals. Also during this time, the NFB attempted (not always successfully) to create legislative proposals in collaboration with other blindness-related organizations and lobbied the labor unions to support their cause.
Initially, all this hard work seemed to result in not much of anything. Aside from a pair of federal $5-a-month-increases to aid benefits passed in 1946 and 1948, the SSA saw little change regarding aid for the blind throughout the 1940s.iv
All this changed on August 28, 1950, when President Truman signed the Social Security Amendments of 1950 into law. This was the first major overhaul to SSA that affected blind people receiving aid. The changes seem basic today, but they clarified much of the vague language in the wording of the act. Beyond the usual increase in aid rates, the act now stipulated that aid applications had to be processed by state agencies within a reasonable amount of time, fair hearings had to be provided when claims were denied or not acted upon quickly, and aid had to be furnished promptly to all eligible individuals.v
Undeniably though, the greatest change for blind people realized by the 1950 amendments was that state aid programs were now required to exempt up to $50 a month in earned income when calculating aid payments. According to an NFB legislative bulletin, dated May 6, 1950 (when the provision was initially passed by the Senate):
These changes represent a forward step of the utmost importance. They firmly establish the principle of exempt earnings as a mandatory requirement on all of the States. They thus completely reverse the policy of the Federal Security Agency by which blind recipients of relief suffer a deduction of one dollar in their public assistance for every dollar earned by them. By accepting the principles of exempt earnings and making it a mandatory requirement on the States, the Senate Committee is reorienting the whole system of public assistance away from pauperism and permanent dependence and towards rehabilitation and opportunity.vi
The 1950 amendments are arguably the first, although by no means the last, major victory in the NFB’s campaign to amend Social Security. Over the years, the Social Security Act would be amended many more times and other laws affecting the livelihood of the blind would be proposed, passed, and amended. But as the urgent threat of poverty receded and more blind people joined the employment rolls, the Federation began to shift its focus to the other two rights that it had championed since its inception: equality and opportunity.
by Elaine Warn
From the Editor: In these pages we feature a number of articles written by blind people giving their perspectives on the world, what it is like to be misunderstood, the difficulties in getting an education, and the barrier that one must overcome fully to be a part of his or her community. Rarely do we get the perspective of someone who can tell us their experience when first meeting a blind person and who can demonstrate that the same common sense approach works in getting information about blindness as it does when trying to learn something about any group different from our own.
Elaine Warn is the mother of Grace Warn, a woman who assists me in getting a draft of each month’s publication to our proofers. She was the Girl Scout leader who needed information about teaching blind people when a young Dacia Cole, now the recording secretary for the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, wanted to be a part of her Girl Scout troop. Here is what Elaine says:
Once upon a time I worked with girls in a youth organization. At our largest, there were twenty-nine in the troop. To say that we were a diverse group is an understatement. Over time our membership included girls from different ethnicities and religions, a variety of family settings, a wide spectrum of economic situations, and a number of different countries. Several girls spoke very limited English. There were girls who had asthma, two who had seizures, one with a severe skin condition, one with Down syndrome, and one who was blind.
What I learned early on was that I was not alone and that there was a wealth of information out there to help me when I had questions. First and foremost, sit down with yourself, and get an idea what questions/concerns you have. The internet can help with this process, but be aware of the limitations and that not all websites are created equal. While searching for information on religions, I found that I could learn much about the history of a religion and much in general about a faith, however, none of it told me exactly what the specific family in my troop believed/practiced. In fact, when I met with the father of a girl from Saudi Arabia, I came with a large stack of information—books and pamphlets with post-its marking things that needed clarification. It took some time, but when we were done, I had a clear idea of what his sect practiced.
I found that the school was also a wealth of helpful information as long as I asked questions that weren’t specific to my girl. Example: I could ask for suggestions for working with a blind student for activities. I couldn’t ask how the school did activities with Dacia. I was given contact information for someone who worked for the state of Missouri who gave me some wonderful suggestions that made things easier.
Obviously, you need to talk with the parents; sometimes that can mean having two separate conversations if the parents are divorced and not speaking to each other. Parents should have a lot of the answers and suggestions. For Dacia I needed to know about mobility. She used a cane, however, I was clueless as to whether we should offer an arm, elbow, hand—which arm—and whether it is better to assist from the right or left. Alternatively, is it better not to touch and just talk a lot.
The troop did crafts and camping. I needed to know her skill level using scissors, knives, etc. All of the girls packed their clothes in large zippy bags with one day’s outfit in each bag. It made getting dressed quick and kept their clothes dry should it rain. For my blind girl this was perfect; her parents just needed to affix a Braille label so she could find the right bag. All of the activities and adventures we did were possible with the right planning and information, and she wasn’t even the most dangerous one with a flaming marshmallow when it came to making s’mores.It all comes down to knowledge and taking a moment to think. You have to sit down and figure out what you don’t know or when what you do know will need altering to work for everyone. From there, it’s a question of deciding what questions you need to ask, who you need to ask, and finding answers. With those answers you can make adjustments to activities so they will be accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Whether the adjustment is tracing the lines on a paper with a crayon so that Dacia can feel them to cut the craft out herself, changing the menu of a troop campout because it’s over Lent and one girl can’t eat meat, or buying all-beef hotdogs so that your Muslim girl can enjoy them too; or knowing exactly which parent is picking up from the meeting this week according to the custody agreement. The answer may not be immediately apparent, but with a little thought and open communication between everyone involved, you can make it happen.
by Allen Harris
From the Editor: Allen Harris is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and was one of the people who came up with the idea of honoring our former president and longtime leader by establishing a program to promote attendance at the national convention, where so much inspiration and learning occur. Here is Allen’s announcement about the 2016 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Program:
Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando, Florida, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.
The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Last year most of the sixty grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.
We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.
Who is eligible?
Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.
How do I apply for funding assistance?
1. You write a letter giving your contact information, and your local NFB information, your specific amount requested, and then explain why this is a good investment for the NFB. The points to cover are listed below.
2. You contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the president when to expect your request letter by email, and mention the deadline.
3. You (or a friend) send your letter by email to your state president. He or she must add a president’s recommendation and then email both letters directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee. Your president must forward the two letters no later than April 15, 2016.
Your letter to Chairperson Allen Harris must cover these points:
Explain how much money you need from this fund to make this trip possible for you. We suggest you consult with other members to make a rough budget for yourself.
The body of your letter should answer these questions:
How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive; what can you share or give? You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances you hope they will take into consideration.
When will I be notified that I am a winner?
If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:
1. Make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel the reservation. (Yes, you may arrange for roommates of your own to reduce the cost.)
2. Register online for the entire convention, including the banquet, by May 31.
3. Find someone in your chapter or affiliate who has been to many conventions and can answer your questions as a friend and advisor.
4. If you do not hear from the committee by May 15, then you did not win a grant this year.
How will I receive my convention scholarship?
At convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.
What if I have more questions? For additional information email the chairman, Allen Harris, at <[email protected]> or call his Baltimore, Maryland, office at (410) 659-9314, extension 2415.Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Orlando.
Over the course of the past year, because of various projects relating to the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, we at the Monitor found ourselves looking back in the archives at old issues for various reasons. As we looked for other articles, we noticed that there were quite a number of delicious-looking recipes hiding in the past. So, instead of waiting for someone to write in and request that we reprint a specific recipe, we decided to showcase a few of the recipes that we felt deserved another look.
by John Halverson
This recipe first appeared in the October 1998 Monitor with this introduction: Dr. John Halverson is the president of the Public Employees Division and a longtime leader in the NFB. He is the Regional Manager, Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Region VII, located in Kansas City, Missouri.
1 pound mild Mexican Velveeta cheese with jalapeño peppers
1 large jar picante sauce, medium
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
1 4-ounce can green chilies
Method: In a large bowl microwave spinach and break into small pieces with a fork. Add picante sauce and chilies (including liquid) and microwave for two minutes more. Cube the cheese, add to mixture, and return to microwave for four minutes or until cheese is completely melted. Mix thoroughly and serve with blue corn chips. To increase the heat, substitute hotter picante sauce or hotter cheese.
Island Fruits with Cottage Cheese Honey Lime Dip
by Nani Fife
This recipe first appeared in the March 2001 Monitor and was offered by the NFB of Hawaii president, Nani Fife.
1 platter of fresh fruit (sliced melon, strawberries, pineapple, etc.)
4 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup honey
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup raspberries
Method: Beginning with the cottage cheese, combine all dip ingredients in a blender until smooth. This fruit platter is an ideal dessert for a party buffet.
by Debra Smith
This recipe first appeared in the June 1993 Monitor and was submitted by Debra, an active member of the Black Hawk Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa.
15 ounces uncooked spaghetti noodles
1/2 cup skim milk
10 1/2 ounces mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 ounces ground beef
2 15-ounce containers Weight Watchers spaghetti sauce
Method: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook spaghetti according to label directions and drain. Beat eggs. Add milk and four ounces of cheese. Add spaghetti. Spread on jelly roll or pizza pan covered with cooking spray. Form an edge. Bake fifteen minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Spread sauce on crust. Sprinkle surface with garlic powder. Top with ground meat and remaining cheese. Bake thirty minutes. Serves ten.
by Betty Capps
This recipe first appeared in the April 1996 Monitor. Betty Capps was the first lady of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina at the time, and the recipe ran with this introduction: This recipe could hardly be simpler to prepare. The chicken gets a wonderful tangy taste, and no one will know you used convenient ingredients like a bottle of salad dressing and onion soup mix unless you tell them.
1 16-ounce bottle Russian or Catalina salad dressing
2/3 cup apricot preserves
2 envelopes dry onion soup mix
16 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Method: In a bowl combine dressing, preserves, and soup mix. Place chicken in two ungreased eleven-by-seven-by-two-inch baking pans, top with dressing mixture. Cover and bake for twenty minutes at 350 degrees. Baste, and bake uncovered twenty minutes longer or until chicken juices run clear. Yields sixteen servings.
Wild Rice Casserole
by Corinne Whitesell
This recipe first appeared in the February 1992 Monitor. Corinne Whitesell was the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Alaska at the time, and she had this to say about the casserole: This recipe is a favorite in the North and goes well with wild game. For the folks in the lower forty-eight, chicken or turkey can substitute for wild game.
1 cup wild rice
1 stick butter
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 pound fresh mushrooms
1 bunch green onions
3 cups chicken broth
Method: Chop the green onions and mushrooms and sauté together. Combine with the rest of the ingredients and bake for 1-1/2 hours at 350 degrees in an oven-proof casserole dish. Fluff rice with a fork before serving.
Run For the Roses Pie
by Mary Heaven
This recipe first appeared in the April/May 1985 Monitor, and included this introduction to the recipe and the person who submitted it: Mary Heaven is one of the leaders of the NFB of Kentucky. Since we are holding the national convention in Louisville this summer, her recipe seems particularly appropriate. She writes: "Dear Monitor readers: Here is a recipe to start you thinking about your trip to the Derby City for our national convention this year. The recipe has many variations in name and content and is often served at festivities during derby week."
1 cup chocolate chips
3 eggs slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine (melted)
1/2 cup flour
1 cup walnuts coarsely broken
1 tablespoon vanilla
9" unbaked pie shell
Method: Mix flour and sugar; add eggs and butter; fold in nuts, chocolate chips, and vanilla; pour into shell and bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Best served warm with whipped cream.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
by Betty Bowman
This recipe appeared in the May 1990 Monitor in a collection of strawberry-themed recipes. Betty had this to say about her recipe: While we were collecting these recipes, I promised several people that a strawberry rhubarb pie would be included. Someone even promised to send me a favorite recipe for one, but, of course, I have forgotten who that kind soul was, and no recipe appeared. I do not make this pie because my husband does not care for rhubarb, but I love it. This is my mother's version, and I can attest to its excellence. As a child I considered that the risk of encountering snakes was well worth the anxiety when strawberry rhubarb pie was the reward.
pastry for a 9-inch double crust pie
2 cups of washed, hulled, and sliced strawberries
2 cups of sliced rhubarb stalks
1-1/3 cups sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/3 tablespoons butter or margarine
Method: In a large bowl combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, and orange peel. Stir well to spread the flour through the sugar. Add the fruit and stir to coat rhubarb and strawberries with the dry ingredients. Line a 9-inch pie plate with rolled pastry and fill with the fruit. Dot the top with butter or margarine. Then roll the top crust and slash the center several times so that the steam can escape. Carefully lay the crust across the top of the pie and seal the edges. Bake for forty to fifty minutes at 425 degrees.
Writers’ Division 2016 Writing Contest:
The 2016 writing contest has gotten under way. Sponsored by the Writers’ Division of the National Federation of the Blind, it is a contest for writers of all ages of youth and adults, with the youth contest being done to promote literacy in Braille. There are two new things to be aware of for this year: one, members of the Writers’ Division will have discounted entry fees; and two, there is a new category in the youth contest.
This new category is called Federation History. Entries can be written in any form or genre, but must pertain to the history of the National Federation of the Blind. The best of this category will have the chance to present their piece at the National Convention in Orlando this July to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. In the youth contest, there are still the traditional categories of poetry and fiction, all of which are broken down by grade level.
In the adult contest, there are four categories: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and stories for youth. Be sure to read through the guidelines for all specifics. These can be found at <http://writers.nfb.org/ContestPage.html>. And remember, the contest closes on April 1st so that the results can be announced at the July business meeting in Orlando. If you have any further questions, contact Eve Sanchez, president of the Writers’ Division at <[email protected]>.
Now go put on your thinking caps and limber up your fingers to start writing the words you want. We cannot wait to read them all.
Circle City Chapter Celebrates Twelfth Annual Angel Child Gifting and Service Award Banquet:
On December 5, 2015, The Circle City Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana celebrated its twelfth annual Angel Child Gifting and Service Award Banquet. This program assists qualified families coping with blindness to overcome some of the holiday obstacles and also honors members in the community with twenty-five years or more of service while raising the expectations of blind citizens.
This year's honorees were Mr. William (Bill) Powell, director of assistive technology of Bosma Enterprises; Mrs. Brenda Jinks, orientation and mobility instructor; and Miss Nancy Ford Winters, social worker/Social Security advocate. Each recipient has thirty-five years of service and continues to strive in their specified careers.
This year’s keynote speaker was Mr. James Michaels, vice president of programs, Bosma Enterprises, and his speech was "Keys To Success and Happiness."
Free Braille Books Available:
Great news! Every blind or visually-impaired child (ages zero to twenty-one) in the US and Canada may now get three free books from Seedlings Braille Books for Children! Seedlings has expanded its Book Angel Program for 2016. The program was originally called "Anna's Book Angel Project" in memory of our Director's nineteen-year-old daughter who was killed by a drunk driver in 2001. Each year, every blind child registered received one free book in Anna's name, but thanks to Seedlings' generous donors, that number is now three! Just register your child or student by going to <http://www.seedlings.org/bkangel2009.php>.
For more information about the program, or about Seedlings Braille Books for Children in general, check out our website at <www.seedlings.org>, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@SeedlingsBrlBks).
KNFB Reader App Wins Golden Apple:
Since its launch in 2012, the AppleVis Golden Apple Awards have afforded blind and low vision users an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the hard work and dedication which developers have put into making great and accessible iOS and OS X applications during the given year.
To be shortlisted for this year's Golden Apple Awards, apps must:
Candidates for Developer of the Year must:
The 2015 AppleVis Golden Apples consist of awards in five categories:
For the Best iOS App of 2015, the AppleVis community chose Workflow: Powerful Automation Made Simple. Perhaps not surprising as Workflow has already won an Apple Design Award this year for its VoiceOver support and been rated an App Store Best of 2015. 1Password - Password Manager and Secure Wallet took second place, and Overcast: Podcast Player came third.
In the closest ever vote in the history of these Awards, Dice World - Dice with Friends! took the Golden Apple for Best iOS Game of 2015. A Blind Legend followed as a very close second, and Blindfold Bowling was just a handful of votes further back in third place.
Kid Friendly Software (Creator of the ‘Blindfold’ series of iOS audio games) was voted as the Developer of the Year, with MIPsoft (Creator of BlindSquare) and DeskConnect, Inc. (Creator of Workflow - Powerful Automation Made Simple) rounding out the top three.
Robert Vick Wins Another Award:
Lifetime-member of the NFB of New Mexico Robert Vick won the US Food's Food Fanatic Hero Award for the menu in his restaurant, Vick's Vittles Country Kitchen, but also for his generosity and employment of disabled people. Earlier this year, Robert also won the New Mexico Restaurant Association's Restauranteur of the Year award, during the organization's Hospitality Industry Awards September 14, 2015.
The NFB of New Mexico's Albuquerque Chapter meets each month at Vick's Vittles Country Kitchen for our local chapter meeting. Many of those nights, Robert is on hand greeting his guests as well as chapter members to his place of business. The chapter has been meeting at Vick's free of charge for the past several years.
The year 2015 has been full of ups and downs for Robert. We in the Albuquerque Chapter thank Robert for his generosity and congratulate him on his latest honor.
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.
Three New Courses on Unified English Braille:
The Hadley School for the Blind's UEB Braille classes have been the most popular of any of our course offerings since our inception ninety-five years ago. We are pleased to announce two new Braille courses:
UEB Braille Literacy 3: Uncontracted Braille available February 29, 2016:
Increase your ability to read and write Braille by learning uncontracted Braille in which every word is written out letter for letter (often called grade one Braille). The course covers the Braille alphabet, numbers, punctuation, and some special signs. Directions for using the Braillewriter as well as the slate and stylus are included.
Prerequisite: “Braille Literacy 1: Tactile Readiness” and “Braille Literacy 2: Learning the Braille Alphabet,” or the ability to read all letters of the Braille alphabet by touch.
Course ID: EBR-923, Media: DTB [digital talking book] with UEB workbook; Lessons: nine.
This tuition-free course is designed for Hadley students who are blind only—not for sighted family members in our Family program or for sighted blindness professionals in our HSPS program.
UEB Contracted Braille available March 31, 2016:
The Braille code used for most written material is contracted Braille. Being able to read and write in contracted Unified English Braille (UEB) will enable you to assist your family member or client who is blind. After attaining this goal, you may decide to advance your Braille skills by enrolling in a professional transcriber course or other advanced Braille and Braille teaching courses.
Prerequisite: Completion of Hadley’s "Introduction to Braille" within six months prior to enrollment in "Contracted Braille" and with a grade of B or higher OR adequate competency as determined by Hadley’s "Uncontracted Braille Assessment."
Course ID: CBR-213, CBR-223, Media: OL [online] or P [print]; Lessons: twenty-five
This course is designed for sighted students in either our Family or HSPS (blindness professionals) programs.
An Uncontracted Braille Assessment is also available on March 31, 2016. Here is some information about it:
Have you learned uncontracted Braille in another setting, or has it been over six months since you completed Hadley’s “Introduction to Braille” or "Introduction to Braille, UEB Edition" course? Enrollment in “Contracted Braille, UEB Edition” requires a certain level of proficiency with uncontracted Braille. This short assessment measures your ability to read and emboss letters, numbers, and a variety of punctuation marks in uncontracted Braille. The results determine which Braille course is appropriate for you.
Assessment: UBA-010, Media: LP [large print] or OL [online]; Lessons: 1
This assessment is designed for sighted students in either our Family or our HSPS (blindness professionals) programs.
Prospective and current students should call Toll Free: 800-323-4238 to ensure course availability—enrollment dates are subject to change.
Norwegian Cruise Lines Demonstrates Continued Commitment to Accessibility:
Norwegian Cruise Lines recently christened a new ship, Escape. The christening was a special two-day event, open only to those agents and press personally invited to attend. Because of all the work Cheryl and Nelson Echevarria have done with Norwegian Cruise Lines, they were part of the select crowd at this event. It wasn’t all champagne and Pitbull concerts, though. Cheryl got the chance to speak to Cathy Vazquez, access manager of Norwegian Cruise Lines and Mr. Andrew Garnett, president and CEO of Special Needs Group. There were three specific topics that Cheryl addressed with Ms. Vazquez and Mr. Garnett: the Norwegian Cruise Lines app, the KNFB reader, and the introduction of Braille onboard Norwegian Cruise Lines ships.
The Norwegian Cruise Lines iConcierge app is free to download on Apple or Google Play Store, but unless you are booked on the cruise line, you do not have access to it at all. The app is to help you make dining reservations, spa reservations, and find out about activities going on across the ship. Some of it worked, and some did not. Ms. Vazquez took notes on the problem areas of the app to pass on to the appropriate people.
The KNFB Reader app for Android had just come out the week before, and Cheryl took the opportunity to demonstrate how the app could be used to read a print menu. Both Ms. Vazquez and Mr. Garnett were impressed and interested in how the app would make cruising easy and accessible for their customers.
The final bit of business they discussed was about Braille. Currently Norwegian Cruise Lines is offering Braille menus produced through Special Needs Group. The company also handles guide dog relief boxes, wheelchair and scooter rental, and many other services and products. But Ms. Vazquez told Cheryl that Norwegian Cruise Lines is testing and learning to use Braille embossers so that, when they have a customer who reads Braille, all of their printed materials can be offered in Braille for the customer’s convenience. The ultimate goal is to have the Braille materials ready and waiting for the customer in their cabin upon arrival.
New State Resource Handbooks Available:
I have created ten screen reader-friendly Resource Handbooks containing resources pertaining to the blind and visually impaired, for use by consumers and professionals. This handbook is for the residents of those states and includes the many organizations for the blind and visually impaired covering areas such as employment, housing, transportation, and more. Currently available are handbooks for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Ohio, and Texas.
The handbook includes contact information on the local, regional, and national level.
For more information on pricing and formats please contact Insightful Publications by email at <[email protected]>, by phone at (808) 747-1006, or visit our website at <http://www.in-sightful.com/orderpage.html>.
UEB Course Offering for People Who Want to Read Braille Visually:
Want to read Braille visually? This introductory course provides the tools for those interested in learning to read and write Braille, so they can communicate with family members who use Braille. It presents the fundamentals of the Braille code, including the letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation. The goal is to enable you to read and write uncontracted Unified English Braille (UEB). The course includes nine lessons and is available in print and online. A slate and stylus is mailed to the student. Interactive programs that simulate the Braillewriter and the slate and stylus are included in the online course only. These programs are for practice purposes and cannot be used to produce Braille.
For more information contact Sheryl Bass, Hadley School for the Blind by writing to <[email protected]> or by calling (847) 784-2751.
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.