Vol. 59, No. 4 April 2016
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, with the audio version being available in both Spanish and English (see reverse side) 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
Please register online at www.nfb.org/preregistration or complete all requested information on this form. Print and mail form to the address below.
State: ________________________________________________ Zip: _________________
I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Please register only one person per registration form.
One check or money order may cover multiple registrations.
Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration form(s).
Number of preregistrations x $25 = _________
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All convention preregistration and banquet sales are final (no refunds).
Mail to: National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Preregistration
200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Vol. 59, No. 4 April 2016
Illustration: Jernigan Institute Hosts Local Political Debates
Where is the Ladies’ Room, Anyway?
by Deborah Kent Stein
The Lobby of the Anaheim Hilton: The Third Dimension of the National Convention
by Mary Ellen Jernigan
On Careers in the Blindness Field and the Freedom to Choose
by Geerat J. Vermeij
When Assertiveness and Confidence Made All the Difference
by Ever Lee Hairston
An Introduction to Diabetes and Insulin Pumps
by Mike Freeman
Accessibility of Insulin Pumps in 2015
by Veronica Elsea
Business and Being Blind: One Man’s Winning Combination
by Gary Wunder
How Life Influences the Daughter of a Federationist and What She Tells the World about It
by Ann Sywensky
A Matter of Justice: Our Fight to Obtain Braille Instruction
by Holly Miller
Driving a Nail
by Dan J. Hicks
by Danny R. Robinson
A Thank You for What You Are Giving to Our Grandson
by LaVonne Butler
Amazon, Blind Federation Reach Agreement on Accessibility
by Mark Sherman
The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund
by Allen Harris
Copyright 2016 by the National Federation of the Blind
Since a part of the job of the National Federation of the Blind is to let the public know that we are invested in civic responsibility and interested in political events and the way they influence the future of our country, we have recently offered the Jernigan Institute for two major public events in Baltimore. The first was a debate held on February 11 between four candidates seeking to be the council member from District 11. The second debate to help determine the next mayor of Baltimore was held on March 3, with twelve candidates participating. Topics covered were education, employment, public safety, housing, taxes, and disability. On this latter issue all of the candidates were asked this question: one in five Baltimore city residents has a disability and face barriers to education, inaccessible technology, and an unemployment rate of over 70 percent. What will your guiding principles be when determining disability policy for the city? Although President Riccobono had opened with welcoming remarks describing the purpose of our organization, some participants were shocked to get a question on disability. As one source said, "Four had the 'deer in the headlights’ look, four gave somewhat coherent answers, and four evidenced an understanding of what the Federation works to do through doing away with subminimum wages, making technology universally usable, and seeing that everyone gets a fair shake when considered for hiring and promotion.”
One hundred and twenty people attended the council debate, and more than 320 were present to witness the mayoral debate. The Federation was given high marks for the greeting we gave to each member of the community and for the organizing that went into these most successful events. We were assisted by the Baltimore City League of Women Voters and the six neighborhood Peninsula associations who helped in drafting questions and urging the community to attend.
by Deborah Kent Stein
From the Editor: This story was originally run in the Fall 2014 issue of Persimmon Tree, an Online Magazine of the Arts by Women over Sixty. Deborah Kent Stein is the writer of many children's books and the editor of Future Reflections, a magazine which is used as a source of information and encouragement by parents of blind children in the United States and beyond. She lives in Chicago with her husband, and together they have one adult daughter.
In this article Debbie describes the thrill of becoming a published author, but soon discovers that her new-found success is not enough to shield her from the perception that being blind means she is helpless and in need of special care. Here is what she says:
Some life events are so momentous that you know you will be transformed forever. That knowledge buoyed me along as I boarded a city bus to have lunch with my editor at The Dial Press. I was twenty-eight years old, and my first novel had just been accepted for publication.
"Please let me know when we get to Forty-sixth Street," I told the driver. I felt tall and proud, and my voice radiated confidence. Of course the driver would let me know when we reached my stop. This was going to be a perfect day. I had stepped into the winners' circle.
My earrings swung lightly as I followed my guide dog, Yulie, a four-year-old German shepherd, down the narrow aisle. I slipped into a seat, and she curled up at my feet. The bus ground forward through the city traffic. We were on our way.
What would my fellow passengers say if they knew they were sharing their morning commute with a genuine author? Of course, I was the same person I had been last week, before that resounding acceptance letter arrived. But now, finally, I had achieved a version of myself that the world would recognize and respect. People would know I wasn't simply that blind woman with the beautiful dog. I was a woman who signed literary contracts and rushed off to lunches with editors.
Several publishers occupied the third floor of the vast office building at 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a prestigious address right next to the United Nations. After three conflicting sets of directions from strangers, I arrived at The Dial Press suite. I introduced myself to the receptionist and told her I had an appointment for twelve noon. I was fifteen minutes early, and she invited me to wait on the vinyl-covered sofa.
"First," I said, "could you tell me where the ladies' room is?"
There was a stunned silence. "Oh, no! I'm afraid not!" the receptionist stammered. "It's way down the hall—you'll never be able to find—there are obstacles—"
What obstacle did she think could possibly stand in my way? I asked again, a firm, no-more-nonsense request for information, but she refused to give even a hint.
I considered returning to the corridor and seeking out a few more sets of directions. The minutes were fleeing, though, and I might not get back by twelve. I couldn't risk being late.
"Never mind," I said. "I'll wait." Surely my editor would have no trouble explaining how to get from Point A to Point B. She was in the business of language, after all.
I settled Yulie at my feet and thought about the meeting ahead. I had an idea for my next book, and I wondered when would be the ideal moment to raise the topic. Getting a first book published was wonderful, but I didn't want to stop there.
Suddenly I heard the receptionist saying my editor's name. "Your twelve-o'clock appointment is here," she reported in a clipped, professional tone. Then her voice dropped to a stage whisper. "She has to go to the bathroom," she hissed, "and she's blind!"
A rush of heat flooded my face. To the woman behind the desk I was not a triumphant new author. I was merely blind, with all the liabilities that blindness entailed for her. I was an irresponsible, oversized child, and at any moment I might pee on the furniture.
Seconds later an inner door flew open, and my editor dashed out to avert disaster. After a quick exchange of pleasantries, she offered to show me to the ladies' room. She was abundantly gracious, and we went on to salvage our meeting, despite the awkward start. Over coffee and dessert I brought up my new book idea, and she invited me to submit a proposal.
Publishing my first novel changed my life. I left my career in social work forever and became a full-time writer. But my first meeting with an editor was not the transformative event of that long-ago day. My pivotal moment came when I heard the receptionist's announcement over the office phone: "She has to go to the bathroom—and she's blind!"
Blind since birth, I grew up having to prove myself to others. My family believed in me, but beyond the safe sphere of home the world was full of doubters and detractors. Teachers offered to lighten my assignments; Scout leaders discouraged me from going on field trips; at the amusement park a manager refused to let me ride the rollercoaster. "You better not try that, dear," I heard again and again. "Wait over here ... We'll do it for you ... That will be easier ... safer ..." Past success and present abilities counted for nothing. The refrain was endless: "You can't do that. It's not for you. You're blind."
Achievement was the key, my parents assured me. If I studied hard and seized every opportunity, I would carve a place for myself in the world. I came to believe that, if I was enough of a success in life, someday people would see me fully. They would know that blindness did not define me, that it was just one aspect of who I was, like being female and American. The receptionist showed me that no achievement would ever free me from the humiliations of prejudice.
As a student on a liberal campus in the 1960s, I answered the call to collective action many times. I marched on the Pentagon with a placard that demanded: "BRING THE BOYS BACK HOME!" I tutored underprivileged children and visited patients who languished on the state psychiatric wards. I knew I was blessed to have grown up with a loving family in a clean, comfortable suburb. Out in the Real World were millions who did not enjoy my good fortune. My generation was committed to change all that. We would shatter the bulwarks of inequality and create the world that ought to be.
While I sang "We Shall Overcome" and added my voice to the chorus that called for "PEACE NOW!" I was fighting an endless series of lonely private battles. An art professor barred me from his studio sculpture course; a doctor in the campus clinic refused to sign my routine health form for a trip overseas; I was turned down for participation in a winter term project. It was because I was blind, they said. That was all the reason anyone needed.
Those moments of exclusion folded into a predictable pattern. Each fresh incident evoked the memories of a lifetime, and each struggle honed my skills at fighting back. I learned to bargain, to build an argument, to go over heads. In the end, after varying degrees of stress and psychic pain, I usually prevailed. Doors opened—tentatively, grudgingly—but once I crossed the threshold I had another chance to prove myself capable.
Though I won countless battles, the war dragged on. Sometimes I was forced to concede defeat. I had to take a different class or find an alternative winter term project when those in charge refused to yield.
It never occurred to me that the roadblocks I dealt with were symptoms of a pervasive social injustice. Terms such as “racism” and “capitalist exploitation” were part of my vocabulary, but I knew no word for the exclusion I encountered because of my blindness. It seemed deeply personal, a shameful burden unique to my own experience. All of my friends were sighted. I had never had a blind mentor. In all my life I had never met a blind teacher, a blind shopkeeper, a blind banker, or even a blind homemaker raising children. As far as I could tell, blind people vanished into the stratosphere when they grew up. I was determined to share in all the challenges and bounty of life. I wanted to make meaningful contributions in the world. But I felt that I was embarking upon a solo journey. Whatever I chose to do, I would be a pioneer.
After I graduated from college I earned a master's degree in social work. I had built a strong résumé, laced with volunteer work and summer internships in addition to my graduate training. Nevertheless, when I set out to find a job, the doors were bolted shut.
My résumé won me a series of job interviews. Over the phone prospective employers were cordial and enthusiastic, but the tone turned cool the moment I walked through the door. Sometimes a position that was available that very morning miraculously had been filled at noon. Sometimes the interviewer served up advice. At the large agencies I was told to try a smaller place where the staff could give me the special attention I surely would need. At the small agencies I heard, "You should apply at one of the big places that have a lot of different programs; maybe they can fit you in somewhere." The social work director at a renowned private hospital declared, "Because of your handicap I'm not about to hire you. Why should I hire someone with a problem? I have dozens of other applicants to choose from."
As the months passed, all of my classmates found work. They became self-supporting adults, respectable members of the community. I was still living at home, sending out résumés, and growing more and more desperate. I began to understand that the treatment I received had nothing to do with my personal failings. It was a generic response to my blindness, not unlike the rejection African Americans historically experienced when they applied to an all-white college or sat down at a whites-only lunch counter. I was dealing with blatant discrimination. Surely there were people who could help me. I called the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union].
The woman who answered the phone listened carefully, then passed my call to someone else. "We've never had a situation like this before," I heard, and my heart sank. I hung on as my call was handed on yet again to "someone who will know."
"I'm sorry, but we can't help you," the voice of authority told me at last. "If it was discrimination because of race or religion or gender, we could take it on. But there aren't any laws about discrimination on the basis of disability. If you want help from us, you'll have to change the law first." I went back to my résumés and my interviews. I was a pioneer, braving the roadless wilderness.
After months of searching my persistence was rewarded at last. I found a position at a community mental health clinic in a settlement house on New York's Lower East Side. It was an ideal job for me, allowing me to work with a wide variety of clients. My colleagues were warm and welcoming, and I quickly became a full-fledged member of the team. I rented an apartment in the city and flung myself into my exciting new life. But I couldn't forget the ordeal of discrimination that I had endured. When a financial crisis threatened to close the settlement house and throw me back into the job market, I felt a clutch of dread. I had been lucky to find a place where I was accepted and valued, but I knew what the world could deliver.
I had been living in New York for two years when I crossed paths with a blind acquaintance from my childhood. We had attended the same summer camp for blind children, and now she too was living in the city. Like me, she had encountered a wall of discrimination when she looked for a job after college. Now she had banded together with a group of other young blind professionals to write an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Act so that it would cover disability as well as race, religion, and gender. I remembered my call to the ACLU and pitched in to help. Here was my chance to change the law!
It was thrilling to work with others who shared my perspective. Inspired by the spirit of the Sixties, we had joined forces to make a difference. Our amendment passed in the legislature and became part of the law in New York State. A few months later, the state law was superseded when the US Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Its groundbreaking Section 504 forbade discrimination against people with disabilities in any program that received $2,500 or more per year in federal funds.
What had happened was extraordinary. Hundreds of people with disabilities—blind people, deaf people, polio survivors, people with cerebral palsy—had pooled our strength and changed the world. We had won legal protections that never existed before. I stepped back in relief. I didn't want disability rights to become my life’s work. With the passage of the new laws I felt free to move on.
Of course, it was naive to imagine that Section 504 would vanquish discrimination. Yet I believed that change would be powerful and clear. Blind students would no longer be forbidden to take the classes they wanted, and blind job-seekers would have recourse if a prospective employer said, "Because of your handicap I'm not about to hire you." Busy with my career and my circle of friends, I didn't try to learn whether the law was having an impact. I wanted to believe in good news.
Eventually I left my social work job and moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico to try my hand at writing. I would stay for a year, I told myself, but I stayed for five years altogether. I wrote a young-adult novel, Belonging. I sent it off to make its way in the world, and one day I received a letter saying that it had been accepted for publication. I went to The Dial Press to have lunch with my editor.
The women's movement of the early Seventies coined the phrase, "The personal is political." What could be more personal than the desire to visit the ladies' room discreetly and with dignity? In that moment with the receptionist at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, my dignity was stripped away. The receptionist's assumptions about who I was and how she should treat me sprang from cultural beliefs about disability that stretch back before the dawn of history. I came to understand that every minute of every day, far worse scenes played out all over the nation and across the globe.
The truth did not come to me with a blare of trumpets and a crash of cymbals. It seeped in drop by drop as the years passed; everyday life brought reminders and reinforcements I could no longer ignore. I realized that laws were a splendid beginning, but they were not enough to change people's minds and hearts. Neither could achievement free me or any other person with a disability from the clinging web of prejudice. Discrimination would persist in myriad forms unless we worked together and assailed it with inexhaustible resolve.
I never wanted to make disability rights my life’s work, but step by step I waded into activism. Turning away was no longer an option. There was so much to be done that it would take millions of people and more lifetimes than I could count.
I became a committed member of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization that advocates for the full participation of blind people in all aspects of life. We fight for equal opportunities in education and employment, for access to technology, for the right of blind parents to raise their children, for accurate portrayals of blind people in the media. We work to educate the public about the abilities of blind people and the contributions we can make when we are given a chance. To me one of our most crucial activities is the mentoring of blind young people. We try to teach them that they can walk with confidence, that they can grow up to carry all the privileges and responsibilities of adulthood, that it's perfectly respectable to be blind.Discrimination still stalks the workplace, but opportunities have opened in fields as diverse as teaching, chemistry, and computer science. Little by little, anti-discrimination laws and public education are making inroads. And today when I visit the offices of a publisher, I don't have to ask where the ladies' room is. On the wall outside each restroom door is a Braille sign clearly marked "MEN" or "WOMEN." Discreetly and with dignity, I can choose the right door.
by Mary Ellen Jernigan
From the Editor: Mary Ellen Jernigan joined the National Federation of the Blind in the decade of the 60s. She began her career in the field of blindness by working for Dr. Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission for the Blind and rose to become its assistant director. She moved to Baltimore in 1978 and has worked for the NFB since that time handling everything from the minute details of accounting and auditing to the planning for the computer infrastructure at the Jernigan Institute. She is best known to many for the miracles she performed in coordinating our national conventions, but she is most loved for the insight and commitment she reveals when she puts pen to paper and reveals her intellect, heart, and spirit in her infrequent speeches and presentations. One of the things I love about her personality is that she is strong and at the same time flexible; certain of her basic philosophic and ideological beliefs and at the same time reflective enough to examine them. We wish to thank her for all of the years of hard work, intelligence, and creativity that have made this address possible. Here are the comments she made to a seminar focusing on convention planning held over the weekend of February 19 and 20, 2016:
When President Riccobono opened this conference yesterday afternoon, he said that each of our conventions has two dimensions—the logistical and the political. He told us that we must learn to manage both of those dimensions, making them work together seamlessly, to create a convention experience that amplifies the characteristics inherent in the promise and power of the Federation.
Then he described that experience as it first hit him twenty years ago: “I entered the lobby of the Anaheim Hilton, carrying my rickety fold-up white cane….and just being in that space, I felt joy and hope and power and love falling all around me. Listen to that one more time: Just being in that space…
Although he didn’t name that experience for us yesterday, I want to name it for us tonight. It is the third dimension of the convention. I call it the Spiritual dimension. A little more elusive than the other two dimensions—the logistical and the political. But just as real. And we have been talking about it yesterday and today—or at least nibbling around its edges without quite bringing it straight out into the open.
Let me go back to our president. About six months before he became our president, when he was directing the Jernigan Institute, he spearheaded a branding exercise: very expensive, time consuming, headed by outsiders, and heavy on following a canned set of procedures dictated to us by our assigned facilitators.
If you are getting the impression that I was less than excited about the whole project, you would be right. Let me just say here that I have learned not to underestimate the wisdom of our President.
During the first session as we started through the canned process, all of us were describing proudly the wonderful programs and activities of the Federation—especially the ones to which each of us felt some pride in our own contributions. Suddenly, our facilitator interrupted us and said with some exasperation, “No, No, No! Stop talking to me about what you DO. I want you to talk to me about who you ARE.” That was when I stopped sulking about the process and began to listen.
Many of you know that I have been involved in managing the logistical details for our national conventions for the last forty-five years or so. This has meant that for several months of each of those years the planning of those details has taken much of my energy and attention. So, obviously I don’t think such details are unimportant.
But, they are important only in the context of how and whether they contribute to who we are.
The things we do—our favorite programs and our cherished projects—are not who we are. The two are not independent of each other—they are most certainly interconnected, but they are not the same.
All too often, for many of us, our tendency is to focus mainly on the tasks themselves—getting whatever it is done efficiently and competently—planning the agenda, selecting the speakers, confirming that they will remember to show up, selling the banquet tickets, printing the badges, making the restaurant guides, whatever.
Just as the convention should not be about its logistics, it should not be primarily about more information. Information has its place; we have many avenues of getting it out, and we are good at doing so.
We invite speakers to our conventions and then suffer through program items filled with facts, figures, and statistics—how many books in which formats did the library distribute, how many closures of which kind did the rehab agency rack during the year, what field trips did the students at the school for the blind take?
But ask yourself. When you go home from convention, what do you take with you? What makes you anticipate the next one? What makes you save your money and your vacation days so that you won’t miss it? I doubt that it’s those facts and figures.
At its best the convention is about what we create when we come together. It’s about something no one of us can do without the rest of us.
To me this means that we should be able to take each and every part of our convention—from the seemingly insignificant act of working at an information table to inviting speakers and planning the program agenda—and relate that act to who we are. And if we can’t do that, or don’t like what we see when we do, then it is something we shouldn’t do—or we should at least evaluate how we are doing it.
How does including this specific activity in the convention transform dreams into reality? Does it reflect respect? Is it inviting? Does it encourage participation? Does it raise expectations? Does it encourage people to know that their contributions make a difference to themselves and others? Is it inspiring? Is it filled with love? Does it offer hope? Does it create something that did not exist before we did it?
If you can’t answer yes to at least some of these questions, then ask yourself another question: why are you planning to do it at all?
At their best our conventions are alive with the vibrant energy of who we are at our deepest level. Though conventions are not the programs and activities that we undertake, they most certainly create them.
Let me give you an example. I started teaching cane travel at the Iowa Commission for the Blind in 1966, and I was good at it. Joanne Wilson was one of my students, so was Patricia Maurer, and for a brief period, Marc Maurer also. I was trained by a sighted travel teacher who was there before me, and when I left, I trained another sighted person to take my place.
Dr. Jernigan was director of the Commission. He had hired all three of us. He was proud of the Iowa travel program. It was part of cutting edge Federation philosophy—what could happen when rehab programs were run by people who believed in blind people. And yet he, Kenneth Jernigan, our leader and president, hired only sighted travel teachers.
He took our students with their exceedingly long white canes to NFB national conventions, where they showed off their exceptional skills—to the envy of many and the irritation of others. Soon the Iowa students began showing others how to use a long white cane to travel more effectively.
Our Federation training centers still offer cutting edge cane travel training, but today most of our travel teachers are blind, and it took our coming together in convention to make it happen. It came about because of relationships and factual observation. It came about because of a shift in our collective thought processes that something was not quite right in our thinking. It came about because of an openness to change.
Today there are specific elements that give a unifying dimension to our conventions: renewal of commitment, the incorporation of rookies into the body of the Federation, the mentoring of scholarship winners, the reaching out to parents of blind children, the hammering out of policy—sometimes confirming, sometimes changing our direction—the giving of hope to the hopeless, the sharing of resources—financial and emotional—the love falling on all who care to receive it. Through all of this mingling and melding, something new and precious emerges—something that manages somehow to be collective, and yet very personal to each of us. When we do it right, this is true for longtime members and new recruits alike.
So, I would say that the primary function of our conventions is to tend and nurture our own integrity as a life-building movement in a self-renewing way. Not in a static way that carves into stone what was done in the past or believed to be “right,” but in a way that is right for the times in which we live now.
When we do that, the future form of the ever-changing “what-we-do” at the tactical and strategic levels will be merely a new expression of the unchanging “who-we-are” at the inner spiritual level.Joy and hope. Power and love. Falling all around us. Or we might simply say it this way: “The lobby of the Anaheim Hilton.”
by Geerat J. Vermeij
From the Editor: Dr. Vermeij is a scientist of considerable fame, and the Braille Monitor is blessed by the fact that he is a reader of the magazine and sometimes writes articles that add significantly to discussions featured in these pages.
In the January 2016 issue we featured an article by Justin Salisbury entitled "Keeping Some of the Good Oranges," making the case that we cannot send all of our best people to other fields and that some need to stay in work with the blind to help others. Dr. Vermeij offers the perspective that having highly qualified people in work with the blind is a good idea, but not at the expense of doing what one’s heart, head, talent, and inclination indicate he or she should do. He also argues that integration means going beyond the blindness field and demonstrating our abilities in diverse areas where people come to know us as competent colleagues, valued mentors, and trusted friends. Here is what Dr. Vermeij has to say:
It was the last day of the fourth International Paleontological Congress, held in late 2014 in Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina. Miguel Griffin, one of Argentina's foremost paleontologists, was about to introduce me as that day's plenary speaker to an audience of some 1,200 colleagues from all over the world. For years I had been studying the circumstances that permit and compel some lineages of animals and plants to evolve to gigantic sizes. I measured specimens in museums and in my own collections, read hundreds of scientific papers, and spent many hours reflecting on the results; and now it was time to bring all this work together into a coherent story, with wide-ranging implications for how we interpret the history and future of life on our planet. It was thrilling to communicate my findings and thoughts on this widely discussed topic to a receptive audience of exclusively sighted scientists. Together with the scientific paper that I subsequently published on the subject in the journal PLoS One, this event was one of many in my professional life that fulfilled my aspirations to participate and play a leading role in the global scientific enterprise. Following the congress, about a dozen of us went on a field excursion to Patagonia, led by Miguel Griffin and Alejandra Pagani. We visited fossil sites, drove over thousands of kilometers of washboard roads, ate delicious meat-heavy dinners in which the principal vegetable was wine, and ended with a visit to the spectacular Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio in Trelew, home to the largest (and still unpublished) dinosaur ever discovered.
I am one of those supremely fortunate blind people who, thanks to a wonderful family, the gift of Braille, and a first-rate education in two countries was given the opportunity to enter the profession of my choice. From a very young age, I yearned to be a scientist. With my love of shells and of the natural world generally, I gravitated inexorably to biology and the earth sciences. Flexibly minded mentors, an incredibly smart and supportive spouse, accommodating employers, and talented students and assistants enabled me to become a competitive scholar-scientist, one who continues to live a full life of field and museum research, writing, reading, university teaching, journal editing, reviewing papers, and engaging with the blind and sighted public through lectures, presentations, media appearances, and service on commissions and as a museum trustee.
Two motivations power this trajectory. First is an immense, all-encompassing curiosity about how the world works and about the principles underlying its history. I have a passion for science, the most reliable way we have of uncovering empirical truths and exploring natural phenomena. Second is the expectation and hope that what I do benefits society in a meaningful and lasting way. The work may be academic and curiosity-driven, but it bears directly on the world's current and future environmental crisis as well as on the application of evolutionary principles to understand human economic structure and behavior. To be sure, a career at a premier research university comes with a certain status, but that by itself would never be enough to sustain an active engagement with the facts and ideas of science.
Why, the reader may ask, has blindness figured so little in my life's work? Do I not feel an overwhelming responsibility to dedicate my energies to teaching other blind people or to expand my efforts into advocacy for issues that matter to the blindness community? Could I not be accused of ignoring the problems faced by my fellow blind humans in favor of selfish scientific interests? Does a career like mine, in which involvement with the blindness community is well-meaning but incidental, reflect the destructive attitude that work in the blindness field is somehow unimportant or inferior? The answer to this question, according to Justin Salisbury in his article "Keeping Some of the Good Oranges" (Braille Monitor, January 2016), is yes. According to Salisbury, a second-year graduate student, blind people who insist on working and staying in fields outside the blindness field harbor unwarranted feelings of smug superiority.
Let me deal with these issues in turn. The first question concerns a sense of obligation to the blindness community. The honest answer in my case is that, although I find it important to give back, this sentiment extends broadly to the academic community and the scientific enterprise in which I was raised, and is not limited or primarily focused on the blind. I can only hope that, by being the best scientist I can be, I might be seen as a respectable and desirable role model by aspiring blind scholars and by anyone else with the drive and wherewithal to enter the competitive but immensely satisfying world of science. This role is ideal for one who, like me, is not enough of a people person to become deeply involved in worthy political causes or with extensive outreach. For better or worse, my talents and interests lie elsewhere. Reflection persuades me that fulfillment in one's work and in one's life as a whole comes by acting on unvarnished self-knowledge, a combination of responsibility, and of knowing who we are, what we are good at, and what our passions are. Integrity, it seems to me, derives from being honest about ourselves, being open to others, and being true to our ideals.
As to the second question, the choice of one career over another does not mean that the other is less important or less worthwhile. Having been the recipient of some superb teaching, I am fully convinced of the crucial place of education in shaping people and of the central role that talented blind people can play in it. Likewise I value and admire an effective, levelheaded political leader, a benevolent and flexible administrator, a competent plumber, and a farmer who sells the finest locally grown California oranges at the Davis farmer's market. This does not mean, however, that I should be the one to do what these people do, nor does it imply that those pursuits carry less prestige. Regardless of what we do for a living, we develop a legitimate sense of self-worth and honor and meaning when we carry out our responsibilities well. Status and respect flow from our accomplishments, not from either good intentions or from job descriptions. We must in any case avoid conflating the importance of our work with the passions that motivate it and the talents and skills that enable it.
One of the most enduring goals of the National Federation of the Blind is to ensure that blind people have the same range of opportunities as their sighted peers. Some of us will choose to work in the blindness field, where great talent and passion are most certainly needed; whereas others, like me, will find other ways to contribute to fields and causes where talented blind people can also make a difference. As blind people living at a time of unprecedented opportunity, we should celebrate the freedom that comes with greater choice. Knowing what the options are and how our interests and abilities mesh with them is a key ingredient in fashioning a productive and rewarding career.
by Ever Lee Hairston
From the Editor: Ever Lee Hairston is a member of the national board of directors, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of California, and the author of a newly released book entitled Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. Here is her story about what should have been a quick trip through the airport that was turned into a test of will and a race against time:
I arrived at the LAX Airport at approximately 11:15 p.m. and was scheduled to depart on the 12:40 a.m. flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. I booked this flight only a few hours prior to arriving at the airport in view of the fact that my mother’s vital signs indicated that she was in critical condition, and I was making every attempt to get to the Alston Brook Nursing Home in Lexington, North Carolina.
Upon arriving at terminal seven at the airport, one of the American Airlines agents approached me and stated, “Due to the mass construction at the airport, all flights are departing from terminal four.”
I asked her what the fastest way to get to terminal four was. She stated that a bus for disabled persons would come soon, and I should sit and wait. After sitting for fifteen minutes, which seemed like hours, I told her that I would walk to terminal four. “But you are blind, and you can’t,” she said.
I found the exit door by using my long white cane, and I started walking toward terminal four carrying a heavy handbag and a backpack. At the bus stop I got on, and the driver drove past terminal four without alerting me. Therefore, when I got off the bus, I had to walk back in the opposite direction, still with my heavy bags and time that was passing by and lessening the chances I would make my flight.
When I got inside terminal four, I yelled for help. It seemed as if no one was around. Finally, an airline agent approached me and asked if she could help. I asked for directions to security. She told me to have a seat, and she would get someone to help me. Feeling desperate, I explained why it was so important for me to get on the 12:40 a.m. flight. I then asked her to direct me to the quickest way to security.
“The steps are here, but you are blind.” I ran up the steps and was prepared to go through the security process when she held onto my back, which set off the metal detector. I asked her not to touch me, and she said she was afraid that I might fall. I was really losing my patience at this point.
“You watched me run up the steps, and now you think it is necessary to keep me from falling on a flat surface?”
After going through the metal detector, I asked the officer to direct me to my gate. Then I heard my name being called over the paging system. By this point I was very nervous and desperate, so I began to run as fast as I could. Finally I got a break; an agent at the gate saw me and yelled, “Stop, I see you, and I will not close the door.”
I sat on the plane realizing that, if I had not used my skills, I would have missed my flight. I thought about how often, in the kindest tones and probably with the best of motives, we are asked to sit and wait for someone to help us. I thought of former President Maurer’s statement at the March for Independence where John Lewis appeared. Dr. Maurer said that we are tired of being told to sit down and wait, that we spend too many hours waiting, and that we intend to take control of our own lives. It isn’t always easy to disobey an order, especially one that is in all likelihood made with the best of intentions, but sometimes it is necessary to be assertive, confrontive, and to do what needs to be done. Very often we feel the need to be unassailably kind and courteous, thinking of ourselves as ambassadors of goodwill and the educators of sighted people. But there are times when one has to prioritize, and for me the priority was getting to my mother’s bedside.
This phenomenal trip had an extraordinary ending because I arrived at the Alston Brook Nursing Home shortly before my mother expired. What a difference it made knowing that I was independent enough to travel on my own. What a difference it made knowing that I could refuse help when it wasn’t needed and direct those to give me the help I really did need. To the people who encountered me in the airport that day, patiently waiting and meekly obeying their requests might have made me a more pleasant passenger in their eyes, but my more important mission was to say goodbye to my mother. I thank God for the tough-minded independence I have learned throughout my life and which has been supported by my brothers and sisters in the National Federation of the Blind.
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
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by Mike Freeman
From the Editor: One pledge we have made is to use the pages of the Braille Monitor to keep people up-to-date on one of the most significant health issues affecting the blind—diabetes. Mike Freeman is the president of the Diabetes Action Network, and he does a stellar job of scanning the literature and bringing information to the division and this magazine. Sometimes what he offers are articles synthesizing what he has learned. At other times he recommends that something he has read be reprinted. This time he has done both because of the complexity of the subject being discussed and his attempt to explain alternative ways to treat diabetes, the role of technology, and the barriers to blind people wishing to use it. Here is what he says:
Diabetes mellitus (the full medical term for the disease we usually call diabetes) is a metabolic disease characterized by an insufficiency in the production of the hormone insulin or the inability of the cells of the body to efficiently use this hormone. Insulin is normally produced by the pancreas, a small gland located behind the stomach. When we eat, our digestive system breaks down the food into its components—protein, fat, carbohydrate, and trace minerals. The water-soluble carbohydrate is in turn broken down into its components, principally the simple sugar known as glucose. The cells of the body then take in this glucose to meet their energy needs. The protein and fat are also broken down and sometimes also are converted into glucose for energy. The glucose that isn't needed for current energy is stored in the liver as what is known as glycogen; the liver may be ordered later to release this glycogen if the body detects that the level of glucose in the blood is getting too low. The water-insoluble carbohydrate is called fiber, and the body gets rid of it as waste.
All of the cells of the body need insulin in order to process glucose with the exception of brain cells that can use glucose directly. Thus, if there is no insulin being produced by the pancreas (Type 1 Diabetes) or there is less insulin being produced than is needed or the cells of the body don't respond to insulin very well (both conditions are called Type 2 Diabetes), the cells can't get enough energy, and the level of glucose in the blood rises to dangerous levels. Over time, high levels of glucose in the blood often lead to damage to other systems in the body, resulting in such complications of diabetes such as heart disease, arterial disease, diabetic retinopathy (damage to the nerves in the eyes), and diabetic peripheral neuropathy (damage to nerves of the hands, feet, and possibly nerves controlling other functions such as digestion). Thus, diabetic complications are serious and are to be avoided if possible. The way to do this is to control the level of glucose in the blood, keeping it as close to the normal level for people who do not have diabetes as possible while avoiding the side effect of blood glucose getting too low.
For people with Type 1 diabetes, this means supplying insulin artificially to replace that no longer being produced by the pancreas. This may also be the treatment of choice for people with Type 2 diabetes. Some people with Type 2 diabetes are able to control the disease through diet and exercise alone (exercise makes muscle cells take up blood glucose for energy). In addition, there are a number of drugs available that do things like getting the pancreas to produce more insulin, lessening the amount of carbohydrate being absorbed into the body, lengthening the amount of time it takes carbohydrates to be absorbed so that the level of blood glucose in the blood rises more slowly than might be expected, and, finally, making the cells use insulin more efficiently (we call this last phenomenon "lowering of insulin resistance"). All these medications can be administered by mouth except for insulin; the digestive system would destroy the insulin, so it must be injected under the skin. People with diabetes can inject themselves directly by shots or by using insulin pumps. In either case, these people with diabetes must balance the amount of carbohydrate they eat with the amount of insulin they inject to process this carbohydrate.
From the foregoing it should be clear that diabetes is not one of those diseases about which the doctor says: "Take these pills and come back in two weeks to see if you're well again." Diabetes involves a fair amount of effort from the person with the disease; blood glucose levels need to be checked from once a day to as often as ten or twelve times a day, depending upon the person; meals must be planned so that the amount of nutrients they contain are known or the amount of these nutrients must be guessed at and medications must often be taken in order to deal with these nutrients. Between finger sticks, giving oneself shots, and learning all the terminology to begin to understand and manage the disease is a challenge to say the least.
There are two blood glucose meters fully accessible to the blind: the Prodigy Voice® and the Solus V2® (only the last ten readings from memory can be reviewed using the meter alone with speech, although all the readings are available on the visual display). Insulin stored in "insulin pens" is easily controlled since pens click for each half-unit or full unit of insulin one desires to inject (100 units equals one cubic centimeter or one milliliter). There is also a device known as the Prodigy Count-a-Dose, which allows insulin dose amounts to be selected accurately using insulin vials and syringes.
Now we come to insulin pumps, discussed in the article that follows. These are microprocessor-controlled machines which inject insulin under the skin using cannula and tubing or, in one instance, a small reservoir taped to the skin with a small tube sticking into the skin. The insulin dose administered by the pump is controlled by the program running in the machine's microprocessor or by the person wearing the pump. Insulin pumps are all the rage among diabetic endocrinologists today because they have the potential to give better control over the amount of insulin in the body, thus potentially allowing the pump-user to more closely approximate the way the pancreas would normally secrete insulin into the body during the day and night. Insulin pumps can also be beneficial for those squeamish about injecting themselves using needles (although needles are disposable, much smaller, sharper, and thus, less painful than in the past). The kicker is that the insulin pump requires the person to know more about diabetes and pay more attention to control than might be the case were a pump not used. Depending upon the person, injections might be preferable since the person is not attached constantly to a machine. It's very much a case of "different strokes for different folks."
The article below also discusses “continuous glucose monitoring systems" (CGMS's). These are blood glucose meters that, rather than assaying a sample of blood directly, report the amount of glucose in the blood inferred from a censor placed under the skin and transmitted to the meter wirelessly. The censor is replaced every few days. The meter usually records the glucose reading every five minutes, displaying these readings as a graph or by time and date and setting off an alarm if the readings it sees are below or above thresholds set by the meter user. Finger-sticks are not gone completely, though. The meter and censor's readings must be calibrated using the results of blood glucose readings taken using a conventional blood glucose meter at given intervals, perhaps once every day or two.
Ideally, the CGMS and pump should talk to each other, allowing the pump to infer how much insulin it should give or not give depending upon the CGMS reading it sees. This would, in effect, amount to an artificial pancreas. There are some such systems in clinical trials, but none have been tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and therefore are not available for purchase. So people with diabetes who use pumps still must control blood glucose levels themselves.
Certain terms used in the article that follows may be unfamiliar:
If this article and the one that follows leaves the reader with questions, please contact Mike Freeman, president of the Diabetes Action Network, by writing to him at <[email protected]>.
by Veronica Elsea
From the Editor: What does it mean to say that a particular piece of equipment is accessible, and does what that equipment is used for change the standard? The reader will notice in this article how resourceful Veronica must be in counting beeps and in pressing a button in the hope that she will be placed on the desired screen. It is one thing to say that an oven is accessible if a person can adjust its temperature in five-degree increments by counting beeps. If the oven starts at 325, setting the temperature to 450 is certainly doable. If one is off by a single press, either through difficulty in counting or a button press that doesn’t register or beep, the chances are that the food will still be edible. But if miscounting beeps or not getting a confirmatory tone changes how much medication one gives, the consequences may be very different.
Veronica Elsea is a music business owner living in Santa Cruz, California. She has produced several albums to date including "Diabetes Melodious," using her music to help others live with the day-to-day challenges of diabetes. Blind since infancy, she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in her thirties. After three years of less-than-ideal control using regular and NPH insulins, she began using an insulin pump in 1991 and continues to rely on the pump's benefits today. Since being diagnosed she has taken advantage of living close to many of the companies that manufacture diabetes management equipment, sitting down with engineers and educating them on how their equipment could be made accessible to those who are blind and visually impaired. In the early nineties she worked intensively to help persuade medical professionals that people who are blind can successfully manage insulin pumps without constant assistance from a sighted person. Over the past twenty-five years, she has offered support and encouragement to others who are blind who wish to know more about using an insulin pump through the Diabetes Action Network and personal contacts.
Today she continues to find contacts among diabetes equipment manufacturers, medical professionals, politicians, and people living with diabetes in order to educate, engineer, and advocate for improvements in equipment which would allow those who are blind and visually impaired to make use of modern equipment in gaining or maintaining optimum diabetes control. Here is what she has to say:
I have been attached to an insulin pump since September of 1991. My first pump was the H-Tron V100 from Disetronic. For the past ten years I have been using the Deltec Cozmo from Smiths Medical. Neither of these pumps are currently available. Disetronic has been purchased by Roche, and Smiths Medical is no longer in the diabetes business. Since my current pump is long out of warranty, I am quite concerned about what I'll do when it stops working.
On Saturday, March 7, 2015, I attended the day-long seminar organized by Taking Control of Your Diabetes. In lieu of attending some of the workshops, I spent most of my time in the exhibit hall visiting with all of the insulin pump manufacturers who chose to attend. I was able to spend some quality time with all of the pumps, gaining hands-on experience with each. I tried out the Medtronic MiniMed 530G, The Animas Vibe, Animas Ping, Asante Snap pump, Insulet Corporation's OmniPod, Tandem Diabetes t:slim, and the Roche Accu-Chek Spirit.
In the early nineties pumps were designed with convenience and easy access through clothing in mind. Hence, they had large, easy-to-find buttons, simply designed functions, beeps to guide the user through all processes, and only a few different functions available. With today's smart pumps, the devices take on more of the work such as figuring out carb counts, more alarms, connecting with meters and continuous glucose monitors, offering more programming options for the users. This increase in functionality has led to an increased reliance on complex menuing or "wizards" which bring up varying screens depending on the user's responses to questions. Since users are now expected to be looking at the pump screen or that of a connected meter, the easily found buttons are disappearing, and the manufacturers no longer see any need for keypad beeps, so those have all been removed.
These changes pose a considerable challenge for those of us who are blind or visually impaired because we have lost significant access to information and functions provided by the pump. As a totally blind pump user, I will begin my review by explaining what I can and cannot do with the Cozmo 1800, which I am still using.
Things I can do very easily on the Cozmo pump:
Things I can do very carefully or with a bit of verification by a sighted person:
Things requiring initial assistance that helped:
Things I can do easily on the computer with CoZmanager software:
For me one of the most important benefits of using an insulin pump is taking advantage of the "insulin on board" feature, especially when correcting for high blood glucose readings. Here's a description of how I do this on the Cozmo:
I've programmed a target BG level into my pump at 100. Let's say I do a finger stick, and my reading is 180. In the Cozmo I'd do the following: hit the next button once to wake up the pump and hit it again to get into the menus. Hit down-arrow once for the correction bolus screen and press next to select it. The screen shows 100, and I must hit the up-arrow until I reach 180. So I'm listening for the keypad beeps as I count to 80.
Then I hit next to continue. At this point the screen displays either how much insulin I need or how much is being subtracted if I still have insulin remaining in my system from a previous bolus. I can't read this display, but if I hit the up-arrow and hear no beep, it means that the pump doesn't think I need any more insulin. I hit "next" again, and here I can override the pump if I choose by hitting the up-arrow till I've added the amount I want. I then hit next again to finish. This feature would not be available to me at all without the keypad beeps as feedback during the process.
On the Cozmo being able to separate the correction bolus from the meal bolus means less opportunity to forget which screen I'm on. No pump currently on the market comes with software which allows the user to program the pump from the computer using a screen reader.
Some studies were begun to develop speech output for this pump. Unfortunately Asante has gone out of business as of May 15, 2015, and this pump is no longer available. Customers are being referred to Animas.
This pump comes with an integrated continuous glucose monitor and connects through Bluetooth to the Bayer Contour meter. During my demo it was difficult to get the representative to discuss any method of doing anything that didn't involve making use of the remote features.
Unfortunately the rep was so intent on telling me what was wrong with all of the other pumps that it was difficult to get some questions answered. The rep could not seem to grasp that simply using the accompanying meter and sending a blood glucose reading to the pump was not acceptable because we still need to know what our readings are.
The Animas Vibe includes the Dexcom G4 continuous glucose monitor while the Ping includes a meter which serves as a remote. The meter is not accessible although those who can work with a high-contrast device may find the Animas to be a satisfactory choice.
This pump has no tubing. Insulin is stored in the "pod," and communication occurs with a remote. Because insulin is stored in the pod, not in the main pump, this pump is not currently covered by Medicare.
The remote contains a FreeStyle meter which is not accessible. Both the pods and the remote have gotten smaller since this pump first came on the market.
This is a touchscreen pump. Unfortunately the icons on the screen do not land in the same area for each page so a usable template could not be created to aid in locating items.
The pump can be controlled on the unit itself or via a remote.
The unit itself is not accessible when setting alarm ranges. High and low alarms do sound different, but alarms such as problems with transmitter or receiver do not stand out. BG readings appear on the display every five minutes along with a graph which shows how rapidly the user's BG level is rising or falling.
On the unit itself, I could silence an alarm even though I couldn't identify the cause of some of them. Calibration required concentration but was possible. Dexcom SHARE™ no longer requires the user to purchase a separate receiver. The SHARE app for iDevices and Android allows the Dexcom display to be seen on the device containing the app. Screenreaders may read the most recent number, but there is no representation of the graphs. The Apple Watch is simply considered another external device and does not behave any differently from an iPhone or iPad.
I found the CGM felt like a lot of work for someone who does not have hypoglycemia unawareness.
In conclusion, I have no idea which pump I'd purchase if my Cozmo reached the end of its life today. I hope that as long as some pumps and other medical devices still rely on buttons for their operation, companies can be convinced to return keypad beeps as an option for all users. I certainly hope that the current fascination with touchscreen devices does not preclude those who are blind from obtaining the same standard of care afforded to those who are sighted. But for now, a serious gap remains.
by Gary Wunder
As we navigate the job market of the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is clear that small businesses are coming to play an ever-increasing role in the workforce of our country and that many of us who once would have worked for someone else will have to create our own businesses to thrive in this economy. A number of people have speculated about this change, opining that it is a good thing for blind people because they believe we will encounter less discrimination in working for ourselves than in trying to work for someone else. Still others say that the same kind of discrimination that keeps us from being hired in private- and public-sector jobs still exists when we go to look for bank loans, try to network to create business associates and a customer base, and strive to work with technology which is either inaccessible or at the least inefficient.
This article focuses on the former view, and the business we will highlight is Commtech LLC and its founder and owner-operator, Gabe Vega. Gabe created his company in 2008. But before we talk about his business, let’s focus first on the man.
Gabe was born in 1985, and from the first he was considered precocious. He graduated from high school at sixteen, went to a community college to study computer and information science, and at eighteen he became certified by the A+ program run by CompTIA, the Computing, Technology, and Industry Association. This means he can build, repair, install, and troubleshoot hardware. He is also certified in computer networking, meaning he can implement, design, and repair network computers in a corporate environment.
Though he finished with honors, getting a job was difficult. "I found that the attitude was that disabled people were less valuable than others. No matter what I said, no matter what I could show on paper, no matter what I could demonstrate, I never felt as though I was being treated as a first-class citizen." Beyond the issue of poor attitudes, Gabe realized he was living in a part of California rich with computer talent. At nineteen he decided to move to Phoenix and soon found a job working for the state of Arizona. He was a technical support specialist, a job in which he provided both remote and in-person repair. "It was a very rewarding job for one so young. I had a decent salary, got the opportunity to travel throughout the state, and was able to work with both state and federal computer systems.” He loved the technical challenges, loved exercising the analytical skills required to diagnose problems, and enjoyed the feeling that came with making the systems perform as expected. Of no small benefit were the learning and confidence that came from each success he could claim as his own.
But not all was rosy when it came to feelings about his job. He was feeling stressed and eventually realized that it was not the technical demands of the job but the interaction with fellow employees that was the source of his discomfort. "I found that I have no patience with office politics. I can follow directions as well as the next person, but I can't go in multiple directions at the same time. I would get one directive one day, a different one the next, and six different demands on the day following. I kept asking myself why I was putting myself through this. I concluded that I was too good at what I did to let stress get the better of me and that there must be a way to do what I enjoyed and was good at without suffering the slings and arrows of those who were intent on power games and turf battles."
To his surprise and relief, Gabe found that as a vendor/contractor he could do the same work that he was doing as an employee of the state. “There was no going to the office, no office politics, just doing the work I loved and thrived on completing."
Being an independent contractor meant that it was in Gabe’s best interests for him to get the simplest form of business incorporation, and he became incorporated as DBA (doing business as). With his own small business, he did the same technical work he was doing before and avoided the turf wars and office politics that had for some time been the major source of his stress.
Starting in 2005, things went well. Income was up tenfold, stress was down to an acceptable level, and Gabe felt as though he had found the ideal job. But with the downturn in 2008, many of the state and federal customers that had relied on him for service found their budgets cut. "When the bottom fell out in 2008, I found myself scrambling. It was quite a shock. All of a sudden those four-figure monthly checks began to fall, and I knew I had to do something in addition to contracting with the state and federal governments."
Eventually Gabe decided he had to change his business model. While he would continue to market his services to large customers, he knew he must include other groups who could benefit from his expertise and could pay for it. A change in corporate status was required for him to operate the kind of business that was taking shape in his head, and incorporating took considerable time and money that he was hard pressed to find. So too did finding office space, finding people, and putting in the telephones and servers required to conduct a nationwide business. In changing its focus to meet more needs from the private sector, the new business found that some of its contractors stayed and others left. The same was true with staff—some easily made the change, while others decided to go elsewhere. The new business focused less on big state, federal, and corporate customers and more on business-to-business services, as well as direct service to consumers.
For businesses, Commtech USA, which has become his brand name, provides website development, accessibility consulting, user experience evaluations, and accessibility checking to ensure Section 508 compliance. Commtech USA also provides computer network installation and troubleshooting services for businesses both large and small.
Despite his success, Gabe confesses blindness is still an issue in his mind, a fear he must work to overcome. "Sometimes my fear is still blindness. When I have a meeting with five important people (business owners, executives, and high-ranking board members), my fear wants to take control, and I start asking myself, ‘Will they take me seriously, and will I be convincing?’ But when that meeting comes the next day and I hit it out of the ballpark, the gratification I feel from that is wonderful.”
A big part of Commtech USA's business has evolved to serve consumers. One service is selling and exchanging cellular phones, a process many of us would consider visual given that most of the phones on the market today do not talk or have any nonvisual interfaces. Gabe has learned the menus for the phones he sells, and, by repeating the keystrokes necessary to navigate menus and choices, he is able to configure the phones, change SIM cards, and update settings required by the carrier his customer chooses. "Mostly phones are pretty similar. All of them have a menu key, a settings menu, a tools menu, and a call log. I rely on my memory, and, on the rare occasions when that fails me, I can always rely on Google if I know how to ask it the right question. If in doubt, as a last resort I can ask the customer in front of me to confirm that I am where I think I am by having him or her read me the screen.”
Gabe uses a screen reader to set up accounts, accept payments, and help customers choose plans that best meet their needs. "I don't depend on sighted people, but I do have them on call for the times when they are needed. I try to use only tools that are accessible or at least as accessible as they can be. This is my business, and, though sight is sometimes indispensable, it is important that I do as much of this work as I can.
“You wouldn't believe how gratifying it is to interact with the sighted public on a day-to-day basis in the consumer market and to know that they could not care less that you are blind. I tell them I am blind if we meet in person, and most generally they say, ‘Okay, can you do what I need done?’ I tell them yes, and they watch as I help them pay their bill or set up their phone. They may see me feel around my desk or hear my computer talk, but what is important to them is that they are the customer, and I can do what they are paying me to do. Blindness is off the table. To them the important fact is that money changes hands, and they leave with what they came to get or to do."
Whether blind people want to learn about assistive technology or learn to use office products, Commtech USA has a plan to fit their needs. For $60 a month a consumer can get training and technical support by telephone, and, for those times when there is no substitute for vision, the plan includes three sessions in which a person with sight connects to a customer’s machine, sees what is being displayed, and uses the mouse and keyboard to perform the inaccessible functions required.
“I’m an NFB member, and I’m on a number of our listservs to talk about jobs, rehabilitation, education, and how to train the trainers. I see the questions being asked: ‘Will they hire me? Will they accept me? What kinds of things can I do if I’m blind?’ I think we have to get out of this state of mind. The things I have accomplished as a blind man have exceeded my wildest dreams because, after all the questions, all the anxiety, and all the self-doubt, I just went out there and did it, keeping in mind that I am Gabe Vega, I am a technician, and, as long as I can do a job that satisfies my customers, my blindness isn’t going to hold me back.”
by Ann Sywensky
From the Editor: Ann Sywensky is the mother of two children and the daughter of Tom Bickford, a well-known Federationist whose convention presentation during our seventy-fifth year celebration was featured in the August/September 2015 issue of the Braille Monitor. She credits her father with teaching her to think as a feminist and as an advocate. Ann is a non-traditional student pursuing a master’s degree in education at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. This paper, written for her class “Special Education Process, Transition and the Exceptional Child,” demonstrates what she has learned through her contact with the National Federation of the Blind and through the example of one of its staunchest members. Here is what she says:
For homework this week I was asked to research and find a landmark special education court case that has informed the public on how to deliver special education services. Here is my submission:
The court case I chose is J.M. and H.M. v. Oceanport Board of Education. This case took place in New Jersey in 2011 with a decision handed down in 2012. Hank is a child with a disability which renders him legally blind, even though he has some sight. In 2008, as Hank entered second grade, his mother and father noticed that he struggled with reading. The longer he read, the more his eyes bothered him. In addition his fluency and comprehension decreased the longer he read. The parents approached the school district and asked them to provide Braille instruction for Hank. Hank was evaluated by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NJCBVI), the agency contracted by the school district to assist with visually-impaired students. The NJCBVI did not recommend Braille instruction because they said Hank was better off in the "sighted world." The school asked the parents why they wanted to "do that to him," as though teaching him Braille was harmful, or negative.
Hank's parents continued to request Braille instruction over the course of the next three school years. They had Hank evaluated by other experts and presented that data, but the school district still refused. Finally Hank's parents got assistance from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB helped the family file a due process hearing in 2011. The hearing lasted nine days in court, but the days were staggered across seven months. Finally, in 2012 the court declared that the school district must provide Braille instruction for Hank. They found that the evidence brought by the family was more research- and data-based than that of the school district.
I am disheartened that it took such a long battle for this family to ensure functional literacy for their son. Having a small amount of sight does not always mean that the use of that sight is the best way to do things. With good instruction Hank should be able to read better and faster with Braille than with print. Educators must take a family's requests seriously and must look at good data and recommendations to ensure proper placement and services for blind students. Cane travel instruction and Braille materials are two very important tools that can be used by people even if they have some sight. Through the efforts of the NFB, IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was amended in 1997 to state that schools must provide Braille instruction and the use of Braille to blind children.
Thank you NFB for help with my homework!
by Holly Miller
From the Editor: This article appeared in Future Reflections Summer 2012 issue, and describes with more detail the battles between the Miller family and the school and the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. This was how the article was introduced the first time: When news of the judge's ruling in the Hank Miller case leaped over the internet, Federationists applauded across the country. Holly Miller's story is one of conviction and perseverance. Because his family refused to have low expectations, Hank Miller will get the chance to live up to his full potential. You can read the Miller case online or download the judge's 69-page ruling. However, URLs are subject to frequent changes, and often you must pay a fee to download a case from a website. To download a free copy of this case, enter the case name (J.M. and H.M. v. Oceanport Board of Education) in a Google search box or similar program, then from among the answers, tap on the link from <www.special-ed-law.com>.
Holly Miller is a member of the board of the Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey as well as a member of the NOPBC board. In addition to Hank and a seventeen-year-old son, Red, she has a greyhound named Louie who is blind from birth.
On August 18, 2008, I sent an email to the special services director of our school district, suggesting that our son, Hank, might need Braille. Hank was getting ready to enter second grade. I'll admit that at that point my husband and I weren't 100 percent convinced Braille was the answer for him, but we saw signs that Hank was having trouble reading print, and we felt he should be evaluated.
Hank had enough vision to see large print, but eye fatigue limited the length of time he was able to read. It was a physical effort for him to see words on the printed page. The longer he had to read, the less he understood what he read.
Two months after I sent our original email, we were granted a meeting, at which the state-employed teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) gasped, "I'd hate to do that to him!" By that she meant Braille, of course.
Undaunted, we pressed for a learning media assessment. The assessment was done, but the results were not presented to us until February. Even though the reading stamina portion of the evaluation was left blank, we were told that Braille was not appropriate for our son.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) presumes Braille to be the primary reading method for legally blind students. Yet, although Hank is legally blind, we were forced to prove that Braille was appropriate for him.
Over the following months, we sent countless emails and letters and attended one meeting after another. We prepared for each meeting carefully, bringing articles and advocates. We secured an attorney. We switched attorneys. Evaluations were done by both sides.
The school personnel and the professionals at the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NJCBVI) were immovable. Nothing we did, said, or presented swayed their firmly made-up minds. They told us that Hank was a sighted reader, that he was better off as part of the sighted world. They insisted that Hank's wonderful approach to learning would be thwarted if we forced him to learn Braille. "Why would you want to make him more blind?" they demanded. They seemed to believe we were trying to do something to him instead of for him. We jokingly called it Munchhausen by Braille—a reference to Munchhausen by proxy, the phenomenon by which parents deliberately cause their children to become ill.
As the months—then years—went by, we emphasized repeatedly that our concern was Hank's inability to handle sustained reading tasks. We were assured that sustained reading wasn't a problem, even though the district never tested it. During this time, Hank was kept in the resource room for reading, five days a week, ninety minutes a day. He spent 25 percent of his school day in the resource room. When we asked why, we were given a multitude of reasons, but we were skeptical about all of them. The fact that Hank's eyes couldn't keep up with the regular classroom workload was never on the list.
The testing done by the school district showed that Hank had no reading disability on a cognitive level. However, when we asked the district to evaluate his sustained reading, the evaluation never took place. Our own experts did sustained reading evaluations, and we shared the results with the NJCBVI. These tests all showed that Hank did very well on short reading tasks, but when he read for longer periods of time (ten to twenty minutes), his speed, accuracy, comprehension, and retention fell significantly. These results clearly illustrated that Hank's vision was the problem, not his mind.
Despite our findings, the school district and the NJCBVI still declared that Braille was inappropriate for Hank. It became apparent that nothing we could do would change their thinking. The only way Hank would ever get Braille instruction would be through a court order.
By this time our story had caught the attention of Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). With the might of the NFB behind us, we filed for due process in June 2011. Our legal team consisted of Jayne Wesler from Sussan & Greenwald in New Jersey and Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum and Jessie Weber from Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore. The hearing lasted nine days, but those nine days were spread over seven months. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but turn they did. On May 3, 2012, we received the decision from the administrative law judge. Hank would receive Braille instruction!
The judge found our evidence to be more research- and data-based than that presented by the NJCBVI and that it was supported by evaluations geared toward Hank's specific disability. She found that both the district and the NJCBVI had a bias against Braille. "The comment that H.M. has to stay in a sighted world shows a bias against Braille because it infers that Braille is a lesser medium than the technology that she recommends," the judge said in her ruling. "H.M. is a legally blind student who has functional vision. He can live in the sighted world, learning and using Braille as an alternative reading tool, along with assistive technology. It is more logical that doing so will enhance his learning rather than thwart it."
The ruling ordered that Hank receive Braille instruction ninety minutes per day, five days a week. This is very important, because studies show that frequent and intense Braille instruction is critical for a student to master the code. Hank will also receive three years of compensatory education. This will take the form of summer instruction, including attendance at the Buddy Program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
On July 10, 2012, nearly four years after we made our initial request for Braille, Hank had his first official Braille lesson. We cannot wait to see how his reading takes off from here. He is such a smart, inquisitive boy, and it was terrible to watch him avoid reading because it hurt his eyes.We cannot begin to express how deeply thankful we are to everyone involved in Hank's case. Even though we knew we were right, we did not have the resources to prove it on our own. Without the NFB behind us, Hank never would have gotten Braille instruction. It is our greatest hope that other families can use our case as an example with their schools, avoiding the need to bring legal action.
by Dan J. Hicks
From the Editor: Dan Hicks is the immediate past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, and he and his wife Gloria have long been strong and articulate Federationists. Here are remarks he made at the 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida:
It has been said that if you give a person a hammer, every job will look like it needs a nail. It has also been said that ideas are like genes: they travel from mind to mind, propagating in something like the way genes travel from generation to generation. Genes that help to make an organism stronger and able to survive to pass the genes on will be more common, maybe even prevalent. Ideas which prove beneficial to one mind will be passed to other minds. Hopefully, good ideas will drive out bad ideas. It doesn't always happen this way, but when it does, it can benefit everyone, and real progress can be made. Thus does cultural evolution take place.
More than thirty years ago, biologist Richard Dawkins used the word "meme" to refer to an idea which spread from mind to mind in this fashion. When I was about nine or ten, my father gave my younger brother Dallis and me each tool kits, complete with kid-size tools, for Christmas. He wanted us to learn to use and take care of tools, and I think he wanted to make sure we would keep our hands off his own adult-size tools. In the metal boxes were screwdrivers, a tape measure, a level, a saw, and a hammer. The saws were the weakest of the bunch, being small even by our standards. Neither were they very sharp, fit only for cutting small pieces of the softest woods. But all of the other tools were quite serviceable.
Mostly we used the hammers. It was made quite clear that we were not to use them on each other.
And, although these hammers were smaller than their full-sized counterparts, they were far from light, capable of doing real work—and smashing fingers and thumbs. So, before we were allowed to use the hammers for the first time, my dad gave us a lesson on how he used one to drive a nail into a piece of wood.
We scrounged the field in back of our house for scraps of wood, debating on just what we might build out of the mismatched pieces we found. The only thing that I can recall completing was a strange kind of box—which we used to hold other scraps of wood.
My dad had always been legally blind, and his vision worsened as he became an adult. Although Dallis has perfect vision, I have always been legally blind. My dad possessed a great technique to avoid hitting one's fingers while driving a nail. This is the technique he showed us: position the nail where you want it to go. Tap it gently several times with the hammer to get it started. When you feel the nail is in far enough to stand on its own for a moment, take your hand away and give it a good whack with the hammer—just one. Feel the nail with your fingers to make sure it is going in straight, and give it another tap. This will reorient the head of the hammer with the head of the nail. Take your fingers away and give the nail another good whack!
Repeat these last couple of steps until the nail is just about in. You can finish with a few hard whacks once you are sure the nail will end up exactly as you intended, but for most of the nail pounding, your motions will be an alternating tap whack, tap whack, tap whack!
I have always done it this way. It works well if you have no vision, low vision, or very good vision. I have shown this method to sighted friends and found them instantly adopting it as their default method of driving a nail. One guy told me his buddy looked at him strangely once when he was using it, and he explained that he has never hit his thumb with the hammer since he started using the hammer that way. His friend was convinced and immediately adopted the technique. So the meme has spread.
Still, I know there are other methods of driving a nail, and they must work for those who use them. Whatever works is best for each tool user.
My wife and I recently moved from a residential area where, on just about every block, houses had been torn down, and new, larger, more expensive homes were being built in their place. It gets hot here in Florida. Builders often start work quite early in the day.
On many mornings as I walked to the bus stop, I would pass by construction sites where workers would be hammering. I would listen to them. Often I heard the crack of nail guns or the steady bang-bang-bang of nails being pounded in with steady, equal strokes. But, on more than a couple of occasions, I would hear what sounded like tap whack, tap whack, tap whack.
I wonder—did the person hammering in such a way pick up that meme from someone who picked it up from someone, who picked it up from someone … who picked it up from my dad, or was it from someone who taught the technique to my dad? Did that particular carpenter happen to come up with the technique on his own? It's not a particularly radical idea. I could see it being invented many times over by people who don't like the feel of hard steel impacting their fingers and thumbs.
Or could it just be the sound of two workers who happen to have their pounding oddly synchronized, one of them hitting the nail much harder than the other? I prefer the other possibilities.
My dad is now totally blind and doing more woodworking than ever before, usually by himself. When I have visited my parents, I have been astounded and impressed by the quality of the workmanship in some of the pieces he has completed.
He says he can't imagine hammering a nail any other way than that which he showed my brother and me more than forty years ago. I can’t imagine doing it any other way either.
by Danny R. Robinson
From the Editor: Danny Robinson lives in Oklahoma and has recently taken advantage of the push to get blind people in Oklahoma to embrace intensive training in the skills of blindness. What makes this article so compelling is his honesty. Before training he thought he understood blindness, reconciling himself to limitations he thought reasonable for a person without sight. To his credit, when offered a different perspective, he did not get defensive, did not tell those trying to help him that he had been blind long enough that he already knew everything significant there was to know about it. No, he listened to what they said and was brave enough and sufficiently excited to see if what he was being told could change his life. He risked to touch a dream, gave the time it required, and now has quite a story to tell. Here it is:
I would like to start this by thanking Mr. Doug Boone for allowing me the opportunity to make the choice to go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana (LCB). I was certainly apprehensive about making the decision to leave my wife, children, and the many duties on the farm. I was also concerned about leaving a newly acquired position in the agency. While I knew the day-to-day operations would continue without me, I wondered if any of the ideas I had about change would truly be effective. It wasn't until later that I would realize that I had just begun to think about a term that Mr. Boone introduced me to called "possibility thinking."
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services supports participants in programs called long-term training; I would argue that the name or phrase should be "skills for the long term." The skills and abilities that I worked on during my thirty-day experience there could not have been gained and were not mastered in the previous sixteen years of my acquired blindness. One of the reasons for this was because the skill of independent travel by way of structured discovery was not offered in my area. Honestly I was too busy focusing on work, family, and other distractions to have learned it anyway. To me this is the beauty of being able to go away to learn without having to worry about outside factors; that is certainly not to say I was able to turn off my concern for what was happening while I was gone: it just was not right in front of me to stumble over.
Another of those skills that I was able to really work on in a short period of time was the acquisition of Braille skills. While I know I did not come out as a proficient reader of Braille, I can certainly now read a basic book or letter.
The experience that I had personally—and please understand that I am not saying this is true for everyone—showed me that the majority of the barriers that I faced both personally and professionally were placed upon me by none other than myself! I began to see that these barriers existed due to my lack of skills to operate independently and to use what already existed physically. What do I mean by this: I would not travel independently using all the transportation available to me: bus, train, plane, and other ways. I would not use these without having either my wife or a driver to take me. When someone asked if I had a pocket knife, I used to joke that my wife would not let me play with sharp objects. Honestly it was my fear of cutting myself that caused me not to have one. It is truly these small things that determine our level of independence, and without gaining the skills that I did during my time there, I would still be locked in the warp of thinking I was independent, not knowing there could be more.
I can honestly say that it was not until my second week of training that I began to see what the term "possibility thinking" was all about. I began to understand that travel, Braille, and independent living skills were based in problem solving and thinking ahead about what could happen if I learned to use the techniques being imparted to me by the staff. I personally was too afraid and frustrated at times to figure this out in the first week. By the third week I was traveling most places under sleep shades by myself without the staff having to look over my shoulder. I was so proud of my accomplishment in this area that I made a special effort to travel to and from the stores by myself. I can say that the feeling of empowerment is almost unexplainable to anyone who has not faced all of the fears of blindness internally and those fears placed upon us by others.
Most people want to keep a blind person safe, so they tend to remove all of the responsibilities that might involve something considered dangerous or a task that they would not consider blind-friendly. The tasks I did in my life prior to training were those that society believes a blind person could do. I would add that I have been amazed through the years by how many professionals I have worked with who always ask "What can a blind person do?” I would have to step back and laugh because I thought I was actually being an example.
Today I have the privilege of saying that I am as independent as I want to be, not limited by the lack of skills and the limited perception of my abilities, but by the choices I make to learn as I go. I choose when I want to go somewhere, not allowing the lack of skills to hold me back. I thought my life was over when I gave up the keys to my car; now I realize that you can take my keys, but you cannot take my skills away. Please let my experience and my life speak to you about what it is to wake up to the idea of "possibility thinking" and go to bed knowing that you are doing everything you can to make it your reality.
I would like to leave everyone with a short poem I wrote years ago for a class in my undergraduate program, not knowing then what it would mean to me now:
Lonesome, like blind, is a mere state of mind,
You are lonesome if you choose to be,
You are blind if you choose not to see,
If you open your mind, you could never be blind
And lonesome you will never be.
by LaVonne Butler
From the Editor: The work we do at NFB training centers is, to say the least, transformative. Here is a letter from a grateful grandparent that speaks to what contact with positive blind people can do in the life of a young person trying to find his way. Julie Deden is the executive director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and it is to her that this thanks is directed:
March 1, 2016
Colorado Center for the Blind
John and I came to Littleton this past weekend to visit Alex. We were so very pleased. There is an expression about watching your prayers be answered, and we felt like we were doing that in the time we had with him! He is happy, confident, and more content then we have ever seen him. His friend Shelby came to lunch with us Saturday, and it was so delightful listening to them talk of their time there at the center.
I do not even know where to start sharing it with you. I guess first was the way they discussed how familiar they were with the area. They talked about their favorite places to eat. We would say, "How do you get there?" The answer was the bus or the light rail. They used their canes so comfortably. There was no reaching for someone to offer support and direction! I could not believe it when they were talking about being at the bus stop at 7:00 AM to catch the bus to go to class. When we walked into the apartment Alex shares with Alex Garcia, we were thrilled with how spotless it was. Alex was invited to dinner the night we were there and invited to a friend’s place for a card game. He seems quite social and confident. They discussed their classes. They talked enthusiastically about skiing. Shelby had a fantastic video someone had taken of her skiing, and it was put to music. Alex says he loved skiing. He discussed his math tutor and how surprised he had been to find out he really liked math. She has volunteered to be available to him when he goes to school by Skyping.
During one conversation we were having with Alex, he mentioned that actually he found that he was quite charismatic. He is, and it is nice he is developing in a way to be aware of it.
I want to compliment you Julie on how comfortable he feels with your open door policy. A couple of times he mentioned that if he needs to, he can walk in and see Julie. He feels secure that he is welcome to come in and speak to you about any issue he is dealing with. But, most importantly, he knows that you care sincerely!
I feel I am not adequately putting into words the sincere feelings of appreciation and happiness for all you have done to help not just Alex but all of these individuals who have come to your center for training. One memory I will always carry with me is the happy, excited faces of Alex and Shelby as they shared with us the adventures they were having at the center. They were alive, they were living their life, and they felt confident this was just the first step toward the independent, fulfilled future that is waiting for them.
Julie, please accept my sincere and deepest appreciation for what you and the center are doing!
LaVonne L. Butler
by Mark Sherman
From the Editor: This article first appeared in Special Education Today on March 8, 2016. It is gratefully reproduced with the permission of the publisher.
For several years, the National Federation of the Blind has been on Amazon's case for e-books and e-book distribution systems that are not fully accessible. In 2013, for example, it wrote to state education departments, saying, "The inaccessibility of Kindle e-books will grossly inhibit blind and print-disabled students from attaining the goals set forth in the Common Core State Standards. Moreover, school districts in your state that introduce Kindle e-books into the curriculum will, as explained below, be violating federal law." Likewise, NFB protested last year when the New York City Education Department was considering entering into a contract with Amazon.
"Amazon's lack of regard for accessibility when creating Kindle e-book content would leave blind students and teachers far behind their sighted peers if NYC DOE chooses to proceed with the proposed contract with Amazon," it said in a letter dated Aug. 13. On March 2, however, NFB announced an agreement under which it would help the company avoid such problems going forward.
"Amazon and the National Federation of the Blind will collaborate on improvements to Amazon's education content, platforms, and applications, and will meet on an ongoing basis to review progress and exchange ideas and feedback," it said. "Initial results of this collaboration are expected this year and beyond."
Amazon welcomes the agreement, according to spokeswoman Stephany Rochon. "We are seeing more educational institutions embrace digital learning, and this shift provides a great opportunity to improve accessibility for blind students," she said in an email. "We look forward to collaborating with the National Federation of the Blind to work together on Amazon's education content, platforms, and applications for the blind." Rochon did not discuss the contract with New York City except to say, "We look forward to working closely with NYC DOE to serve the educational needs of all their students."
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 Centre 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:
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. (Note: This is not refundable if you do not attend convention. You may want to register between May 15 and May 30.)
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 sent 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.
This month’s recipe comes from the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama, proudly showcasing one of their members who has built his own business.
Chef Ivan's Chicken Tetrazzini©
by Ivan Walker
Chef Ivan Walker is a blind chef and owns Southern Fusion Catering in Mobile, AL. He's also a personal chef, and offers private cooking classes. Chef Ivan is an active member of NFB's Mobile chapter, a graduate of The Art Institute of Atlanta, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
1 whole roasted chicken (medium diced)
1 box linguine pasta (chopped)
1 fresh green bell pepper (medium chopped)
1-1/2 cups fresh mushrooms (sliced)
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup French's Crispy Fried Onions
1/2 tbsp. roasted garlic
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt or seasoning salt
New Federation Book Available:
The Power of Love, How Kenneth Jernigan Changed the World for the Blind has been published recently by iUniverse.com and is available in electronic format and in paperback from several online sellers. Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Googlebooks.com, and several less-well-known sellers are all selling the electronic book for ten dollars or less, and paperbacks for somewhat more. This book includes twenty-nine chapters written by students and associates of Dr. Jernigan. It was edited by Ramona Walhof. For those who knew Dr. Jernigan, it will bring back fond memories. For those who did not know him, this book will offer insight into his activities and techniques that were so effective for the blind and for the Federation. Dr. Jernigan served as President of the Federation from 1968 until 1986 with only one year interruption in that service, and he enjoyed working with people in many capacities. Both Federationists and nonmembers have learned from him directly, from his writings, and from his students and associates. We urge you to read this book and tell your friends about it. Go ahead and announce it on social media!
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.
Vacancy at Oklahoma School for the Blind:
Job Announcement # 16-108 RE-ANNOUNCEMENT OF 16-047
Position Title/Level/Code: School Superintendent, 1825
Location: Oklahoma School for the Blind, Muskogee
Number of Positions/PIN: (1) – Unclassified / 80500604
Annual Salary Range: $80,600 to $93,600
On-campus housing will be provided to the selected candidate.
Beginning Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Ending Date: Open until filled
Essential Functions: Under administrative direction of the Director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, the incumbent plans, directs and coordinates all program activities at the Oklahoma School for the Blind. The duties include planning, directing, and coordinating the educational, recreational, vocational, and residential programs; developing, preparing and monitoring the annual budget and supervising professional staff. Previous applicants will need to re-apply.
Education and Experience Requirements: A master’s degree from an accredited college or university, an Oklahoma School Superintendent Certificate (or proof of application for an Oklahoma School Superintendent Certificate) and minimum of four years of experience, of which two years must have been as a teacher and two years as a school supervisor or administrator, or an equivalent combination of education and experience. NOTE: An Oklahoma School Superintendent Provisional or Emergency Certificate must be obtained prior to employment from the Oklahoma State Department of Education for those candidates that do not possess an Oklahoma School Superintendent Certificate.
Method of Application: Résumés or vitae and an Oklahoma School Superintendent Certificate (or proof of application for an Oklahoma School Superintendent Certificate) will be accepted and must include educational and work background listing places of employment, beginning/ending dates of employment, and description of duties performed. Please submit references along with résumé. Information should include a telephone number where you can be reached during office hours, your mailing address, and the announcement number and position for which you are applying.
Send to: Department of Rehabilitation Services, Attn: Human Resources, 3535 NW 58th Street, Suite 500, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73112.
If you have any questions regarding this position or the application process, contact Calvin Small at (405) 951-3527 or Stephanie Roe at (405) 951-3454.
An Equal Opportunity Employer
The Hadley School for the Blind Gets a New Name:
To better reflect the diversity of students it serves and how it has evolved over the years, The Hadley School for the Blind announces that it has changed its name to Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Founded in 1920, Hadley remains the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind and visually impaired worldwide.
“Nearly a century after our founding, Hadley serves a broad spectrum of individuals with vision loss, including those with low vision. Although we will always support people who are blind, there is an ever-growing population of older adults experiencing age-related vision loss who may never become fully blind. As part of our evolution, we are expanding our programs and services to meet their needs,” said Hadley President Chuck Young.
The name change also better informs the public that Hadley’s programs and services are geared to individuals ages fourteen and up.
“The word ‘school’ implies a brick-and-mortar facility for young children, whereas the word ‘institute’ speaks to education, but defies space and place. The term ‘institute’ is broader and more appropriate for a distance education organization serving 10,000 students in more than 100 countries,” said Hadley Board of Trustees Chair Dewey Crawford.
The term “institute” also provides an umbrella with which to discuss the many programs and services Hadley offers and the many audiences Hadley serves: people who have long been visually impaired and those new to sight loss, families of persons of all ages with varying degrees of vision loss, and blindness service providers.
In tandem with the name change, a catchy new tagline, “Educating—for life,” will be used to highlight Hadley’s mission to promote independent living through lifelong learning, as well as its dedication to educating students on life skills and helping them reach their full potential.
“We love the double meaning in this tagline,” adds Young. “It concisely says what we do and why we do it.”
A more contemporary logo was developed, as well, to illustrate how Hadley has changed, while remaining true to its roots. The graphic represents the Braille letter h, honoring Hadley’s longstanding commitment to Braille excellence. The graphic also is reminiscent of stained glass in prairie architecture, a homage to the North Shore of Chicago, where Hadley’s offices are located.
“As we approach our Centennial in 2020, we want everyone to know just how far we have come,” says Crawford. “It’s indeed a brand new day at Hadley.”
International Group for Parents, Teachers, and Others Interested in the Blind:
Adrijana Prokopenko writes to say: I recently created a Facebook group for teachers and parents of blind children and for university students who are studying to become teachers of the blind, as well as professors, psychologists, counselors, doctors, volunteers, or anyone else who is connected to them in some way. They should feel free to join no matter if they are blind or sighted. The group can be found by searching “Students, teachers, and parents of the visually impaired.”
New State Resource Handbooks Available:
I have created twelve 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 specific states and includes the many organizations for the blind and visually impaired covering areas such as employment, housing, transportation, and more. Currently the handbooks are for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Texas, Oregon, Ohio, and Illinois.
The handbooks include 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 by visiting <http://www.in-sightful.com/orderpage.html> for more information on pricing, formats available, and state resource handbook order form.