Vol. 59, No. 7 July 2016
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
The National Federation of the Blind
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Vol. 59, No. 7 July 2016
Illustration: National Federation of the Blind Honors Award Winners with
New Exhibit in the Jacobus tenBroek Library
New Ideas and Technology Make Transportation More Accessible
by Gary Wunder
A Matter of Attitude
by Glenn Moore
Under New Legislation, Proof of Child-Care Abilities Shifts for Blind Parents
by Leo Traub
TIME to Act on Real Employment for People with Disabilities
by Tom Ridge
Just Saying No to Reading Braille
by Sheri Wells Jensen
When New Laws Change Old Rights: What is Being Lost in All the Media Hype?
by Brian Buhrow
Running Out the Clock on Regulations Release
by Parnell Diggs
Throwing Away the Road Map
by Sheila Koenig
Copyright 2016 by the National Federation of the Blind
The Jacobus tenBroek Library is pleased to announce the unveiling of our newest exhibit, which honors the Federationists and outside partners who have received the NFB’s highest awards since 1955. This exhibit not only celebrates the important work of those who have received these awards—a notable list of politicians, philanthropists, teachers, inventors, and Federation leaders—it pays tribute to the respected pioneers they are named after.
Each award display consists of one description plaque which features an engraving of the NFB’s current logo and explains the qualifications for receiving the award, who it was named after, and when it was established. The description plaque is then followed by a series of larger plaques containing the recipients’ names and the years that they received the award. All text is produced in both print and UEB Braille on handsome brass plaques mounted on dark brown wood. These plaques will be updated as new awards are granted to worthy winners. The tenBroek Library would like to thank the team at the National Braille Press for their fine work on the production of these beautiful awards.
by Gary Wunder
Technology and new business ventures are always bringing new words into our language, and one that has emerged in the last few years is Uber. It is most easily thought of as an alternative to taxicabs, but at a deeper level it is a transportation service, and this entails a somewhat different relationship between drivers, passengers, and the company.
Traditional taxi services purchase vehicles and hire drivers to work specified shifts. Usually the company is required to have insurance, and there is little question that how a taxi driver behaves and what he says reflects on the company that employs him and that he is subject to that company's policies. In turn that company is responsible for enforcing those policies and for following any regulations that pertain to its business.
By any measure running a taxi business is difficult. If a business employs too few people, passengers do not like the wait. If a business employs too many people, the drivers make less than they need, turnover is high, and the result is still a poor experience for many riders. Getting the balance right takes skill, experience, and good luck, and there is no question that this new paradigm and the use of technology makes the task of managing supply and demand much easier for Uber than for most traditional taxi services.
Uber owns no cars and does not hire its drivers as employees. Instead, a man or woman with a vehicle, a smart phone, and the Uber app signs up to be a driver. These drivers are considered independent contractors by Uber. They do not have shifts or a certain number of hours they are expected to work. Rather, Uber offers drivers increasing financial incentives based on the amount of work they complete. If they want to work fulltime hours in a busy location, they can earn more than many entry-level wage positions. If they simply want to supplement their income, they can turn on the app and accept ride requests while they are out running errands or have free time and then turn it off again when they wish to stop working. Drivers encompass a wide range of individuals: everyone from grandmothers driving while waiting to pick up a grandchild from school to former fulltime taxi drivers working well over forty hours per week.
Unlike summoning a taxi cab, one does not call a dispatcher or worry about having enough cash to make a trip. Before using the service one must download the Uber app, install it on the smart phone, and then register with Uber by setting up an account and providing a valid credit or debit card which the company will use in billing for each ride. For simplicity in describing the process for summoning a ride, I will use the word "display" to describe what appears on the screen of one's smart phone. What is spoken will depend on what the screen reader is focused on, and some of the information the blind user will need must be accessed by swiping through the available information on the screen.
When a ride is wanted, the Uber app is activated and uses GPS to determine what is assumed to be the pickup location. If the phone displays the desired pickup address, the next step is to enter the destination address. This can be done either by typing or dictating an address or by entering a business name. A list of choices is displayed, and the user selects the preferred location.
Once the pickup and destination have been entered, a fare estimate consisting of lowest and highest fare is displayed. From this screen one can either request the ride or cancel the request. When demand is high, the Uber system will include a multiplier with each fare. This is done to provide incentives for more drivers to make themselves available; they will earn higher commissions in exchange for meeting the local increased demand. In order to get a vehicle during these peak times (which Uber refers to as Surge), one must agree that his or her fare will be increased by 1.5, 2, or some other multiple of the base fare. The system is actively responsive to major shifts in supply and demand and can account for the fact that some passengers will pay more for the instant convenience while others will wait for the price to normalize. The rules for the fare calculation do not change once the request has been made and accepted, so there is no fear that a multiplier will be added if the service gets busier while one is waiting for the requested ride or is in transit.
Once a request is made, there is a slight delay while the system offers the ride request to Uber's drivers. When accepted, the name of the driver, the make and model of his or her car, the number on the license plate, and the expected arrival time (ETA) are displayed. This screen also presents a button labeled "trip options" and if pressed can be used to call or text the driver to help in making contact. Unlike a traditional taxi, in which the dispatcher can give one only an approximate ETA for his or her cab and the rider has to remain vigilant to know when the cab arrives, with the Uber app the ETA is displayed on the screen, and if focus is set on this control, it is spoken. Whether the ETA is actively tracked or not, when the driver is about a minute away, an alert is sounded, and a message indicates that the car is about to arrive.
Once in the car, the driver will usually confirm that the destination previously entered is the one desired. If it is, the driver will be guided using the GPS which is a part of the app. If the passenger believes he or she has a better route, either because of distance or traffic, he or she is free to direct the driver.
At the end of the trip the app presents the rider with the fare and asks the rider to rate the service received on a scale from one to five. The rating can also be accompanied by comments to describe one's experience: "The driver was great, but the car smelled of smoke." "The driver was friendly, and I really liked his music."
The rider is then sent an email receipt of the transaction. Riders can reply to this email to request corrections to a trip charge, and Uber customer service staff can retroactively recalculate the amount charged or resolve other customer service concerns.
So beyond explaining this flexible and efficient transportation service, why is the Braille Monitor running this article? The problem that blind people are having is that Uber drivers are sometimes passing them by when they realize that their customer is accompanied by a guide dog. Currently drivers who do not wish to transport a service animal have felt free to decline on the grounds that they own the vehicle they are using and are free to choose based on whim, allergies, or religious preference whom and what they will transport without any consequences from Uber. Although failing to serve people who are accompanied by guide dogs and other service animals is a clear violation of the law, Uber has previously claimed it is not bound by state and federal laws on the theory that it does not provide the service; it merely makes available the technology for drivers to provide service. Its argument is based on the fact that it owns no vehicles and hires no drivers. It has argued that it is only the mechanism through which drivers and passengers are connected. A similar argument was made by Napster, the music service that helped millions of users get songs they did not buy. Napster claimed that it had no music and that it was merely a connecting point where people who wanted music could meet people who had it. The argument was challenged and soundly defeated, and Uber, perhaps because of this case law or perhaps wanting more favorable press and better community relations, has begun to alter its position.
In a proposed settlement now under consideration by the court, Uber has agreed that it will obey state and federal civil rights laws regarding the transportation of people with disabilities and their service animals. The proposed settlement will require that drivers sign a statement agreeing to comply with these laws, and they are warned in this document that failure to transport a human-dog team will result in termination of the driver's contract with Uber. Drivers may still demand that the service animal they transport be kept under control, and they are free to charge a passenger for any damage done to their vehicle beyond that which would be expected through normal wear and tear.
So why wouldn't Uber drivers want to carry passengers who have service animals? Some say they fear dogs; some say they are allergic; but overwhelmingly the opposition that seems to come from the small number of Uber drivers who object to a service animal in their car springs from the desire not to dirty their new vehicle. Uber encourages its drivers to have newer cars with clean interior, and the desire to protect that car, to keep it looking new, and to treat it as a valuable and significant asset seems to be the biggest objection Uber has found from its drivers. None of these concerns, however, relieve the driver of carrying out his duty to transport people with service dogs, and the failure to do so will result in termination.
Those wishing to learn more specifics about the proposed settlement and read the legal documents should go to <http://www.trelegal.com/blog/>.
It is hard to know how long the rates of this new company will remain substantially below those of competitors who drive taxicabs. Uber is currently subsidizing some of its transportation in getting its business recognized and used. Many of us have observed this technique when it comes to air travel; a new airline comes to town with prices that the old one cannot match, and when the competition is gone, rates begin to return to where they were before the upstart business came on the scene. In fairness we should note that airlines already serving an area may cut their rates, and, because they have established more capital, will sometimes drive the new providers out of business.
In an effort to be innovative and to keep prices down, Uber is actively looking at expanding into other areas of service. Can it be used to supplement or replace paratransit systems around the country? Will users be interested enough in saving money that they will carpool with strangers traveling in the same direction? The proposed settlement addresses the issues around driver preference and remains flexible so that the lawyers for the class can negotiate additional fixes as new problems arise from Uber's rapidly evolving business model. This flexibility will ensure that the solution to currently unknown problems can be resolved even where the normal legal system of litigation cannot keep pace with Uber's further innovations.
Like other companies that use advanced technology, Uber sometimes does not put accessibility front and center in its concerns about serving passengers. More than once it has deployed a new version of its app which is less accessible than the previous one. Sometimes the accessibility only poses an inconvenience, and at other times the changes are so significant that users of the service are urged not to update. As we continue to work with Uber, we believe that accessibility will become a more integral part of their process just as meeting the special needs of blind passengers is now very much on their radar.
The National Federation of the Blind has been a strong advocate in this case, and we have been ably represented by Tim Elder of the TRE Legal Practice, Michael Nunez and Michael Bien of the Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld firm, and Larry Paradis and Julia Marks of the Disability Rights Advocates firm. Uber is a transportation service with tremendous potential, and the National Federation of the Blind is committed to seeing that it is one we can use easily and efficiently.
Because the matter is a proposed nationwide class action, it must be approved by the court. The parties have requested that the court approve the settlement within the next six months. The settlement terms will not go into effect until the agreement is finally approved. Keep following these pages for further news on the progress in seeing this settlement through to policy.
by Glenn Moore
From the Editor: This article is gratefully reprinted from the Illinois Independent, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. How appropriate is the title of this newsletter given the subject Glenn Moore addresses: what does it mean to be independent? How should we react when others question our independence and think we are going too far in trying to demonstrate it? How do we turn our understandable frustration and irritation into meaningful public education? Here is what Glenn has to say:
It started last February, when a Federationist posed a simple question on the IL-Talk listserv. "How do you react when someone says that you spend a lot of time proving you can do things in spite of your blindness?" The question sparked a lively discussion. I suppose any answer to this question depends on what the comment meant in the first place. It also depends upon one's own disposition, attitude, and philosophy about blindness and living.
I think one first wonders, "What was meant by that type of comment?" I find that usually people accuse me of trying to prove myself when I insist on doing something that makes them uncomfortable. I think this is often the case when people call attention to a blind person who is doing day-to-day things. Sometimes the person making the comment seems to think the blind person needs help but, out of stubbornness or an unwillingness to face his or her need, won’t acknowledge it. I wonder if this belief comes from a subjective tendency to focus on the familiar.
At an NFBI convention a couple of years ago, Parnell Diggs related an encounter with a law professor. The professor told him he had no trouble imagining what it is like to be blind; he simply closed his eyes. Why do many blind people find such a remark to be offensive? The professor defined the experience of blindness literally, based strictly upon his own experience of vision. He understood blindness in negative terms as merely the absence of sight, and he reduced the blind person’s life, ambitions, and capabilities by neatly fitting him into the category of a person lacking sight.
I think a lot of sighted bias against blindness is based upon the idea that blindness is an absence of sighted experience. People who think this way focus on the fact that blind people do not gain experience through vision, the sense most sighted people rely on and assume is needed to gain knowledge of the world. The truth is that, while sighted people have plenty of experience with being sighted, blindness is not an absence of experience and knowledge. It's a parallel experience of its own.
If I speak French in a country of English speakers, at times I'll miss something and will want to have it explained to me. However, it would feel insulting to be treated as though I have no language of my own, let alone the ability to comprehend the concepts that can be explained in either language. Blindness has a life and functionality just as sight does. For example, Braille is not an absence of writing; it's a writing system that is not visual.
A common reply to the query about proving oneself was that sighted people sometimes imply, or flatly accuse, a blind person of having an attitude. Some members of the sighted public certainly have attitudes, so why wouldn't some of the blind public have attitudes, too? However, what sighted people tend to perceive as an attitude in the blind may simply be the refusal to fall into expected roles. One lister commented, "There's a basic expectation that we should be grateful for any and all assistance and that we should not be assertive." Another lister noted, "Some of us seem to be more passive than is needed."
Though a comment from the public may actually be on target, it also reflects something about the speaker, who may react for lack of knowledge about blindness. "We blind often expect the sighted to somehow intuitively know what help or non-help to provide," one lister wrote. "We get upset when we feel aggrieved by the ignorant sighted. In the absence of actual knowledge, people invent knowledge in its place."
Another commented, "They see a blind person, and somehow the idea that the situation calls for new rules and exceptional behaviors kicks in." These comments make me consider that it's important to engage people with things they don't understand. If the unique and uncommon become rare and mystical, the word "attitude" may mysteriously appear.
The speaker who claims you're busy proving something may have yet another meaning, and it's not a very flattering one to himself or herself. Suppose the blind person is doing something appropriate, and the sighted person offers intervention that clearly is not helpful, wanted, or needed. The reason the sighted person finds fault may, in fact, have to do with his or her own convenience or agenda. Recently a friend of mine was waiting to board a bus with her guide dog. A woman next to her complimented the dog and asked the dog if she could pet it. My friend politely refused, saying that the dog was working. "Well," the woman replied, "I'm gonna pet you anyway," and so she did.
By addressing the dog while ignoring the owner and dismissing the dog's purpose for being there, I believe the woman expressed her contempt for what she saw as my friend's unacceptable privilege to have a dog in a public place. Her interference with the dog's work was a way to defeat that privilege and passive-aggressively claim her own privilege instead. Though this behavior was not an offer of help, it is not unlike accusing a blind person of copping an attitude for not accepting help that is "for your own good."
Sometimes a person who says you spend (or waste) time proving yourself because of blindness really expects to be inconvenienced if you are left on your own. The person offers help for his or her own convenience and then claims you have an attitude for refusing.
Besides exploring what may lay behind certain comments made to blind people, I also want to consider what it means to prove oneself as a blind person. Some of our listserv members expressed that they were not trying to prove anything or gain attention, but they felt that they were always being observed. One post reads, "Whatever we do in our lives, we are proving ourselves ... as blind people. That's just life."
Another list member wrote, "I feel I'm proving that I can do things all the time ... Maybe I have an attitude. I think it's a healthy attitude for a blind person." Others agreed. "It is a positive attitude that I have. And it is an attitude that keeps me going on a daily basis," said one.
Another commented, "It's that attitude that has got me where I am today." These quotes tell me that proving oneself as a blind person is not an attempt to affect others negatively, but rather a lifelong determination to be unaffected by obstacles.
Most of the varied listserv responses fit under the umbrella of the philosophy belonging to the organized blind movement. Most posts acknowledged that there are times during interactions when blind and sighted people, all of us with our own shortcomings, just don't get it right. "One should endeavor to never lose one's temper," one lister wrote, "but I also think we have to forgive ourselves if we are imperfect."
This comment fits well with another lister's observation that "if we spend time worrying about others' perception of us and try to please others ... we would never be able to live the lives we want. Life is too short."
One safe and winning bet that helps hedge uncertain situations is respect. A sighted person, or anyone offering advice or help, should be honest about why she or he is reaching out. Certain behaviors, such as putting hands on someone, are never appropriate unless it's necessary to protect a person from real danger.There is more to know about blindness than what law professors imagine when they close their eyes. Many sighted people may feel frustrated or unsure about what is best to say or do when a situation seems not to be going as it should. As blind people we can teach them, as long as they're respectful. At the same time, they may know things about a given situation that will be useful to us. It's worth being open-minded without needing to give up being strong-minded.
by Leo Traub
From the Editor: This article originally appeared in the Capital News Service, operated by University of Maryland journalism students.
At just past 11 AM on a Thursday, Melissa Riccobono sits at her computer while her three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, plays on the floor next to her with a pillow and some toys.
Using a Focus 14 Blue keyboard with Braille display and text-to-speech readout, Riccobono scrolls through her contacts, searching for a friend’s email address. Suddenly, seemingly unprompted, she turns to her daughter and says, “Elizabeth, I think your bus is here.”
Sure enough, idling in the street outside their Baltimore home is a big yellow bus, waiting to take Elizabeth to a city nursery school for blind children. Reluctantly, Elizabeth finishes her game and stands up. Riccobono helps her daughter into her coat and school backpack, and the pair move to the front door, collecting their long white canes from the umbrella stand in the corner.
The rumbling sound of the bus was subtle, nearly imperceptible. Did Riccobono, a woman blind since birth, use some sort of superhero-like heightened sense to hear it pull up outside? Sensitive though Riccobono’s hearing might be, she is a parent, and at just past 11 AM on Thursdays, she knows to expect her daughter’s school bus.
These sorts of assumptions about blindness are common, said Sharon Maneki, president of the Maryland chapter of advocacy and support organization, the National Federation of the Blind.
Sighted people, even courtroom judges, often resort to “what ifs” in evaluating blind people’s parenting abilities, she said.
Under a bill passed by the Maryland legislature on the last day of session, in cases assessing parents’ ability to care for their children, judges and claimants will need to follow new procedures before introducing a person’s disability in court. Originally written for blindness, the bill was later amended to include all disabilities, physical or mental, and covers only private cases that don’t involve public agencies, such as custody or visitation, as well as adoption or guardianship cases.
“The bill provides a lot more protections for disabled parents that we’ve never had before,” said Riccobono.
Riccobono and her husband, Mark, president of the National Federation of the Blind, as well as Maneki and other advocates, have spent years working to create legal parity for blind people. This legislation is an important step in protecting the blind from being pre-judged for their disability, she said.
“As a blind person, you’re always thinking, what if this (situation) is blamed on my blindness?” said Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind.
One of the bill’s key provisions is placing the burden of proof on the person making a legal claim against a disabled parent, Maneki said. In past cases, blind people were required to prove that they were capable of caring for a child, she said. “This has been a long-standing problem that we’ve had,” Maneki said.
In 2007, Michael Bullis was sorting through a difficult divorce and custody proceeding over his then-five-year-old daughter, Julianna. A Baltimore County court had ruled Bullis, a blind man, was not fit to be left with Julianna without supervision. So for almost two years, Bullis said, he only saw his daughter in public places with either his ex-wife or one of her parents there.
“Needless to say, it was pretty humiliating,” he said.
What bothered him the most, Bullis said, was that the court had determined his visitation rights based on a prejudiced assumption: that he was not a capable parent because he was blind.
“They say things such as, ‘The blind person can’t do anything, and they’ve never been able to do it,’ even though they’ve been doing it for years,” Maneki said.
He fought the decision in court, and the judge called for social services to conduct a home study to determine whether Bullis could provide appropriate care for his daughter.
After performing the study, the social services caseworker said he would have approved the home for a sighted parent, Bullis said, but he was hesitant to clear it for a blind person. So Bullis spent the next hour addressing all of the caseworker’s concerns and questions, demonstrating everyday tasks around his own house.
With Bullis’ explanation, the caseworker filed a positive report that did not express any concerns about disability, and in 2008, the judge granted Bullis unsupervised visitation rights of his daughter.
“I wasn’t going to let him go until he heard everything I had to say,” Bullis said. “His report could have killed me.”
The caseworker submitted the proper report, Bullis said, because the judge’s letter only asked social services to evaluate his abilities, not his blindness.
“For some reason, with disability, you could bring up imaginary subjects and the court listened to it.”
While his own case was ongoing, Bullis joined the National Federation of the Blind in pursuing state legislation to ensure other blind parents would not have to face the same uphill legal battle he faced, he said.
In 2009, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill limiting the way courts consider a parent’s disability in custody, visitation, and Child in Need of Assistance cases. Under the law, disability is only relevant if a court finds it affects the parent’s ability to care for a child.
Sighted people sometimes forget how much experience the blind have with their disability, Riccobono said, and that they are not newly blind before becoming parents.
“Not every blind parent is perfect because not every parent is perfect,” Riccobono said. “I always say, blind people don’t keep emergency rooms open all by ourselves. There are plenty of sighted parents who have accidents, and that’s why they’re called accidents.”
This year’s original bill also set new rules for social services’ treatment of disabled parents in Child in Need of Assistance cases. These are brought when the agency tries to prove that a person is not fit to be a parent, whether because of abuse or neglect or simply because they aren’t capable of caring for a child. But after pushback from the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the social services cases were excluded to ensure a bill was passed this session, Maneki said.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees social services in the state, felt that the new rules would place an extra step in removing children from situations of neglect and abuse, Maneki said.
If a court finds a parent’s disability does affect the best interest of the child, the bill also introduces supportive parenting services as an alternative to limiting custody or visitation rights. A person will have the opportunity to show that with these services, their disability would not impede their parenting abilities. Supportive services could include parenting classes, skill-building, and connecting with other people who have the same disability, Riccobono said.
“Why reinvent the wheel if there are other parents out there who are doing it, and doing it well?” Riccobono said.
As president of support organization, Maryland Parents of Blind Children, Riccobono is accustomed to educating others about blindness and parenting. Two of her three children are legally blind, and she has used some of these parenting techniques with her own family. Some blind parents use noise-making tricks as ways to keep track of their children in busy areas. When Riccobono takes her young children to the playground or the mall, she sometimes attaches bells on zip ties to their shoes so she can follow the ringing sound. Other parents have their children carry Tic Tacs in their pockets or wear shoes specially designed to squeak, she said.
The National Federation of the Blind may also be able to provide support, Danielsen said. Products like the KNFB Reader, an app that converts printed text to audio, and services like the NFB-Newsline, a free phone line that reads newspaper articles to subscribers, are available through the Federation’s website. And if the National Federation of the Blind cannot provide the support, they can help others find the services they need, Danielsen said. In some cases, the organization has taken on legal representation of blind people, he said.
However, supportive services do not have to be limited to resources provided specifically for people with disabilities, Riccobono said. Any skill-building class that helps a blind person could potentially work in court, she said.
“Not all issues have to do with blindness,” Danielsen said. “But where blindness has to do with it, the National Federation of the Blind can help.”
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit <www.nfb.org/planned-giving> or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2371, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
by Tom Ridge
From the Editor: This op-ed is reprinted with the permission of The Hill. It appeared on May 19, 2016, and it makes a strong case for the payment of at least the minimum wage to people with disabilities.
Tom Ridge is a former member of Congress and a former governor of Pennsylvania, who served as the first director of the Office of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. Here is what he has to say:
In 1990, Congress passed and President George H. W. Bush signed into law the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I have always supported the ADA and other laws designed to increase the participation of Americans with disabilities in our society because I believe that these Americans, like all other Americans, should have the opportunity to pursue the American dream. The ADA sought to achieve this goal by bringing Americans with disabilities out of the shadows and allowing them to compete, on a level playing field, with their non-disabled peers. The law was also intended to combat the discrimination born of misconceptions, stereotypes, and paternalism that Americans with disabilities face every day.
More than twenty-five years after its passage, the ADA has at last begun to accomplish many of its goals. But policies remain that undermine the vision of fairness and equal opportunity enshrined in this landmark law.
One of those policies is buried in the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938. While that law created better wages and working conditions for most Americans, it contained a provision that excluded people with disabilities from its protections, especially the minimum wage. Nearly eighty years later, the law still contains that provision, known as Section 14(c).
The provision allows employers who hold special wage certificates issued by the Department of Labor to pay workers with disabilities a "commensurate wage" that, generally, is less than the federal or state minimum wage. Some people working under special wage certificates earn mere pennies per hour.
Back in 1938, everyone assumed that a worker with a disability was less productive than a "normal" or "able-bodied" worker. Today, we know that workers with disabilities, given equal opportunity and appropriate tools or technologies, can perform as well as their non-disabled counterparts. Just ask employers like Lowe’s or Starbucks, outstanding companies that have partnered with the National Organization on Disability to find job opportunities for talented men and women with disabilities, and they’ll confirm this to be true. But despite that knowledge, Section 14(c) remains in force.
Some argue that the "commensurate" or subminimum wage is necessary to provide employment for some people with severe disabilities, and that merely giving these individuals something to do each day provides them with dignity and pride. This argument does not make sense to me. Americans with disabilities want the things that all other Americans want: homes, families, and the freedom to do with their lives as they wish. They cannot have any of those things on pennies per hour. If an American with a disability can't even buy a meal with his or her paycheck, he or she is likely to feel demeaned and insulted rather than dignified and proud.
This system sends the message to Americans with disabilities that they are not worth the same as other Americans, that society values them less. It traps them in tedious jobs with no prospect of advancement. Finally, it leaves them in poverty, dependent for survival on overburdened federal benefit programs like Social Security Disability Insurance. Some of these Americans remain in the care of family members, but what happens when those family members are gone? Other safety net programs must then fill the gap.
The subject of the minimum wage is a hotly debated matter. Much has been said about whether it should be raised, and to what level. But that question has no bearing on the plight of workers with disabilities who are currently not receiving it. Receiving the minimum wage, at whatever level it is set, is a matter of basic fairness. In 2016, there is no excuse for treating an entire class of workers differently from others based solely on the characteristic of disability. Such treatment is discriminatory, just as it would be if applied to individuals of a specific race, gender, or religious affiliation.
I support legislation filed in the House of Representatives by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) and in the Senate by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that would phase out the Section 14(c) program. This legislation, the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act, would rightly refocus efforts to employ Americans with disabilities on helping them train for and find jobs in the mainstream economy. This is not an impossible goal; Ayotte's home state of New Hampshire has already eliminated subminimum wages without adverse consequences for workers with disabilities, as has the state of Vermont.Much work needs to be done to give all Americans, including those who have disabilities, a chance to have the financial freedom and security we all desire. Repealing Section 14(c) is an easy step that we can take right now to move closer to that goal. I urge the House and Senate to pass the TIME Act with all deliberate speed. It is long past time to take this fair, commonsense step in the march to freedom for Americans with disabilities.
by Sheri Wells Jensen
From the Editor: Last month we ran an article discussing how absurd it would sound if all the arguments used against teaching and learning Braille were made against print. The article made good points, pointed up some ironies, and pretty much confirmed for most of us who read Braille that it is a skill we could not conceive of being without.
What the article did not answer was the question of why some people don’t choose to learn a reading and writing system that is so effective and, for many of us, so essential. In looking back over past issues of the Braille Monitor, we came across an article written by Sheri Wells Jensen which appeared in two segments during 2002 and 2003. We thought it worthy of reprinting, because it presents us with arguments we don’t normally consider, gives voice to people we don’t generally listen to, and helps us find a path to better persuade those who might benefit from what we so enjoy when words appear under our fingertips. What Sheri said more than a decade ago has as much relevance today as it did when she wrote it. The introduction to her article was written by Barbara Pierce, and here is what she said:
Dr. Sheri Wells Jensen teaches in the English as a Second Language Department at Bowling Green University in Ohio. She is interested in psycholinguistics and language preservation. As a Braille user herself she thought that Braille Monitor readers would be interested in her observations and reflections on Braille literacy from a somewhat unusual perspective. This is what she says:
Growing up in the Midwest in a middle-class home, I took reading for granted. Everyone around me read. My girlfriends read love stories; my brothers read dopey boys' stuff like motorcycle and car magazines; my father read the newspaper; my mother read everything (lots of it out loud to me); and I read all the science fiction I could get my fingers on. The fact that my books were larger than theirs simply meant I had more trouble climbing the maple tree in our front yard while carrying one of mine.
Learning to read was neither optional nor especially interesting. It was just a thing you did as part of the natural order, like learning to ride a bike or to cross the street. It was so woven into the fabric of my culture that as a youngster I never imagined there were people in the world who could not read at all. When I did find that out (probably sometime in late elementary school) I had trouble imagining how exactly you could manage a happy, efficient life without writing things down and reading things other people had written for you. I could never have imagined deliberately choosing illiteracy, but this is exactly what I found more than once after graduating from college. It was a shock that took me awhile to get over.
Undergraduate diploma in hand, I went off to join the Peace Corps. After the initial three months of training, I was thrilled to find myself in a tropical coastal city (a twenty-five-minute, hair-raising bus ride from the best beaches you could ever imagine), working at a small girls' high school. Since many of these young women were the first in their families to get a high school education, they were eager students. They were being trained to take their places in the emerging Ecuadorian middle class and would probably get jobs as secretaries or clerical workers of some sort in small businesses. They'd make enough money to live comfortably in the city. One or two of them might even go on to college. For many of their families it was like a dream coming slowly true around them.
My job was to teach them enough English to answer a telephone, take simple messages, make an appointment, or at least apologize nicely for not being able to do these things and then pass the call along to someone who could. It was good work but not wildly exciting. So I was delighted a few months later to find that we would be putting English lessons on hold for a while in order to participate in a national literacy campaign.
The implementation of the campaign struck me as tremendously clever. It took advantage of the enthusiasm and energy of students like my girls, children of the relatively wealthy. Although poor by US standards, the young women at my school had enormous advantages by local standards. After all, they were well fed and secure and were going to graduate from high school in a country where many country people (campesinos) never made it past grade school.
All high school students in the country were placed in pairs. The government plan specified that each pair be matched with a campesino who could not read. In order to earn that prized high school diploma, they would teach this person to read and write, sharing their knowledge, passing on the gift of literacy.
The high school students were trained in the basics of reading instruction and sent on their way. My girls joined the campaign with a particular mission. I had taught them the basics of Braille and techniques for getting started, and they were matched with blind campesinos. Except for the fact that they were teaching Braille, our girls received the same training as the other high school students.
It was person-to-person, Ecuadorian-to-Ecuadorian, making connections across class and lifestyle. I thought the plan was brilliant, and I sent my girls out with high hopes.
Then I heard a disturbing story. It seems that a pair of high schoolers (mercifully not mine), armed with their picture books and alphabet cards, went out into the countryside to meet their assigned campesino. Most likely they'd had to travel for an hour or more on a jouncing, jolting, open bus, hanging on for their lives as the driver gamboled his way along the hills on the less‑than‑adequate roads. They probably arrived hot, dusty, and tired. Then they were introduced to their campesino as planned. They were told that the farmer would be happy to learn to read. He was ready to start right away. He was eager. He'd be delighted, in fact, assuming the kids would pay him. He was willing to accept payment in cash or in chickens, but he did expect to be fairly reimbursed for his time.
Yes, you read that right. The illiterate campesino was charging for his services as student. You might think of it as sort of a reverse tuition. If the privileged city kids wanted to graduate from high school, he figured they'd fork over the money straight away.
As you might imagine, I was appalled. I started making a list of names I would like to call the campesino if we ever met: crass . . . ill‑mannered.... mercenary . . . I stopped making the list when I got to the word "ungrateful." I'd certainly heard that one before. It forced me to consider the situation with more care. What was up with this guy?
Campesinos are smart. They may not have formal education, but they know the land in all its phases and seasons. They have a savvy survivor's grasp of economics too. They know what to plant and how to sell it and how much they need to produce to feed their families. And they work hard. Their land is relatively poor and their equipment meager. They make up for this with sheer investment of sweat. They are rightfully proud too. At the end of each day they see what they have accomplished and know their children will eat. Still, why would such a person be indifferent to the gifts of literacy?
There are several reasons. First, his realistic grasp on reality tells him that he has no immediate use for such things. He has no letters to write, no books to keep, and no street signs to read. He gets the news he needs from passersby or from the radio. There is no public library from which he can check out books. If he had money for books, he has nowhere to buy them in his little village. He doesn't need to keep a calendar; his schedule is not that tight, and he can keep track of the birthdays or religious festivals important to him. In a small village everyone knows everyone else's business; if he forgets something, his uncle or sister or neighbor will remind him. He doesn't have to read recipes; he knows how to cook the simple food his family eats. There is no need for academic work or note-taking. If he wants to write a poem or a story, he simply makes it up and tells it to someone. If he or his audience remembers it, it was a good story, and it will be told and retold.
Second, he has a real appreciation of his free time. After a hard day of work, he wants a cool drink and a hammock to stretch out in. He wants to spend time joking with family and neighbors, catching up on the day's events, playing with his children, enjoying the sunset, or staring out across the ocean or up into the mountains. Why would he want to use this precious time learning to read when he feels no need for it? His life is complete and satisfying.
Finally, in his village there is no social expectation that he learn to read—no stigma for illiteracy. He is not ashamed of not reading. It would be like you feeling ashamed that you cannot ride a unicycle. You might grant that unicycle riding would be interesting, but you probably don't feel bad that you can't do it: nobody else does, after all. I could point out to you that there are hundreds of jobs in circuses for good unicycle riders and that you could entertain yourself and your family, but you're still not going to dash out and sign up for lessons even if they're free. On the other hand, if I (for my own twisted reasons) want to pay you to be my unicycle student, why not? You probably aren't vehemently opposed to the idea, just indifferent.
As an educated middle-class American, it took me awhile to get used to this idea. But, when I finally began to be truly comfortable with the fact that not everybody wants what we think they should want, many things about living in Ecuador began to make more sense to me.
A few years after I returned from Ecuador, I was reminded of this experience by a conversation with a friend. I was talking to him about why as a blind person he should learn to read Braille. Like the farmer he simply did not feel any lack. His affairs were in order and his life full and productive. From my perspective I could clearly see how his circumstances would be improved by learning to read, but he did not and does not live in my world.
I began to think about Braille literacy campaigns in a new way after that. I wanted to find out how a person lives so that Braille is not missed and what perceptions, assumptions, and coping techniques make it seem reasonable to go without reading. I thought, and think still, that understanding these things would make it easier for us to promote Braille to nonreaders.
In an attempt to find these things out, I spent a few months of spare time talking with readers and nonreaders alike. I learned some very interesting things.
To be honest, it took me a good while to get over my shock at how Braille (and reading in general) were perceived in Ecuador. I'd always gone with the mainstream flow: it's clear and obvious that reading is good and therefore not reading is bad. I was slow to learn what the Peace Corps teaches: other people in other contexts lead perfectly reasonable lives. We have to work our way past pre-set, culturally imposed ideas about what "reasonable" means so that we can meet as human beings without prejudice. What may at first appear strange or even outrageous becomes sensible when we begin by assuming the people in question are intelligent, sensitive human beings making rational choices.
So I decided that I'd be wise not to decide anything about the attitudes and motivations of non‑Braille-reading Americans. I still believed (and continue to believe) that knowing how to do something (reading, knitting, carving a duck out of a hunk of wood) is better than not knowing. But it became clear to me that this very conviction could get in my way, preventing me from understanding what I wanted to understand. Once I work my way past my own idea that not reading Braille is an inherently bad choice, I could begin to listen more openly with an attitude of respect and appreciation rather than judging nonreaders out of hand. I vowed that I would try to begin with humility and curiosity and see what others could teach me.
The usual approach would be to ask a series of questions, each one designed to elicit part of the data. But inevitably each question I create is tinged with my own perspective. We give ourselves away at every turn, revealing what we think good or right answers might be. Asking questions almost always sets up the kinds of answers we will get; that's why prosecutors, looking for a fatal flaw in a story, guide witnesses carefully through a series of interrogatives rather than saying, "So, Mr. Jackson, tell us all about it, Dude!" We set up our questions so that one answer is easier to give than another. We can even make it almost impossible for a person to answer genuinely.
I wanted to create a context in which a person could talk to me about Braille, a topic which might be sensitive, without feeling judged by me. I also didn't want to guide my interviewees too much, perhaps missing something important by not asking the right questions. There might well be reasons for not being a Braille reader that I haven't imagined yet so wouldn't ask about. Better to let people express themselves with as little guidance as possible, building up their own picture of reading and literacy and the interconnections between those things and identity.
Borrowing from the methods used by linguists and anthropologists to get at internal attitudes toward different languages, I decided simply to provide a topic, start a tape recorder, and let people talk.
I recorded conversations with four blind Braille readers and three blind people who didn't read Braille. Partly just for kicks and partly to make sure I wasn't missing anything, I then interviewed three sighted people both about print literacy and about Braille. All of these speakers were college-educated, some pursuing advanced degrees. Everybody had a lot to say once they got started. I began the conversation with a very general prompt such as, "Tell me all about Braille." Then I just let them carry on.
After my first couple of interviews, I had some idea of what kinds of things surfaced in these monologues, so I began to use those ideas as springboards for later subjects. When, for example, a Braille reader said that Braille equated in her mind with freedom, I might mention to the next interviewee that the word "freedom" had been used by a previous subject (without saying whether it had been a reader or nonreader) and ask him or her to respond to that idea.
After the interviews I listened repeatedly to the tapes, checking for common themes and beginning to make myself a list. Here are some of the things readers and nonreaders had to say about Braille literacy, along with some of the more interesting quotes. Much of what they have to say will seem controversial: there is no doubt something in these quotations to offend everybody; so brace yourselves! I take this as a sign that people were genuinely speaking their minds without worrying about being judged and that they take the topic quite personally.
To protect the anonymity of my interviewees, I've numbered the quotes rather than using initials. Quotes from nonreaders are labeled with an "A" and those from Braille readers with a "B." I've also made no real attempt to balance the number of reader and nonreader quotes used here in response to each topic. I've simply included the best quotes wherever they seem appropriate. Each one, though, represents a theme found in the data.
Reading speed and difficulty with the system itself: Although these are almost always the first issues mentioned by experts as contributing to low Braille literacy rates, neither readers nor nonreaders had much to say about reading speed or the complexity of the Braille system. Braille readers, both fast and slow, prefer Braille. Nobody mentioned how hard it might be to learn to perceive dots with the fingers or complained about contracted Braille (what we all used to call grade II Braille) being just too hard to learn. The conclusion here seemed to be that, if you wanted to learn Braille in the first place or had learned it as a child, these problems were no big deal. If you did not perceive a need to learn Braille in the first place, you didn't have to think about its being either slow or difficult to acquire. Such issues were irrelevant. This, by the way, was the only way in which both groups of blind people differed significantly from my sighted interviewees, most of whom were quite unsure whether they would be able to learn Braille at all, based on its perceived difficulty and strangeness. Reading speed and difficulty were among the first things mentioned by sighted folk when talking about Braille.
Independence and Privacy: Braille readers volunteered that they felt access to Braille was key to independence. Nonreaders also valued independence; they simply did not equate learning Braille with substantial increases in independence. They possessed the means to accomplish the same goals as sighted and Braille-reading peers, so their overall sense of mastery remained intact. One nonreader in particular expressed a sense of community and interdependence as opposed to what he sees as counterproductive rugged individualism of both his sighted and Braille-reading colleagues. Note, however, that he by no means lacked a strong sense of self‑determination as evidenced by his vehement reaction to a local rehabilitation agency that he viewed as overly paternalistic.
B1: "It's that independence that it [Braille] gives you to do your job as well as a sighted person."
B2: "I put labels on papers and stuff. I don't want to depend on people or wait and wait. I hate having other people read my mail, having someone I don't know know my damned business. I like to depend on people as little as possible. It's less frustrating."
A1: "I maximize the amount of control I can have . . . There's a lot of people who treasure what they think is their independence. What I think they're missing is they don't see how dependent they are all along. Do they grow their own food? Kill their own prey? There's a whole network of thousands of people."
A2 (referring to a local rehabilitation agency): "They like totally revamp you, and it's kind of despicable. They don't have any provision for somebody working [blindness] into their life plan. They want to totally remold you. It's infantilization. [They] think of you as a child who has to be retrained like potty training, how to cook and take care of your clothing. It's so patronizing in its fundamental attitude."
Negative Stereotype of Blindness: Readers of Braille feel that the ability to read Braille works to counteract negative stereotypes of blindness. Some expressed this as being more like sighted people and some as being efficient and graceful. Nonreaders on the other hand feel that Braille increases the gap between them and the sighted world, evoking (rather than counteracting) unflattering stereotypes of blindness, which they too reject. Both groups were quick to judge the other. Based on their own inexperience with the other's method, they were willing to draw quite dramatic conclusions and call names. These were the most difficult passages to work through since I kept stopping to wonder if this is a division within our community that we can afford.
B3: "I suppose Braille does make me feel more like a sighted person in a sighted culture. This is in part, I think, because reading is reading, whether it be Braille or print. I view feeling like a sighted person in a sighted culture positively, though I know some would disagree. This is not because I want to deny my blindness but because I don't feel a need for my blindness to be a primary identifier. If I'm not wasting time wading through a bunch of cross‑cultural dynamics pertaining to being blind, I can spend more time dealing with professional concerns, making friends, just going about the business of life. I guess I think that I want to minimize the time that I and others have to spend paying attention to blindness as difference. Also there are times when it's important to pay attention to the ways in which blindness makes us different, so it's kinda nice, I suppose, that reading doesn't have to be one of them."
B4: "If I had to do it from memory or from a tape prompt . . . I just think that'd be kind of klutzy. That's what concerns me a lot. They'll [nonreaders] be with an earphone or headphones and the tape might have their outline on it, and they'll be speaking, but you could tell. It's very obvious. There's a break in the flow. Some of those things are kind of obvious in some people."
B5: "Before my life here I was in law school. I took a course called Trial Technique, where our final exam was we had to try a case in front of a group of jurors, and I had my Braille notes there, and I was giving my opening, and it was smooth because I had read it over. I had rehearsed it in my mind. I had practiced it before. And I think, if I had to rely on a tape recorder, there would've been a lot of stops and starts. It would have been jerky, and I would have lost the jury's attention."
B6: "And also to a sighted audience, I think that would be a distraction if they see somebody fiddling with a tape machine or listening or knowing that they have an earphone in. I mean, to me that would be obvious. If you're reading from a card, that would look a little bit more natural, even though you've got one hand on the card."
A3: "It is true that I have an image of Braille as making me more like a blind person: ugly associations that are standard. From when I was sighted and younger and saw how some blind people acted. It seemed kind of pathetic, some of it. Barely progressing along, tapping clumsily, and . . . unclean and . . . who knew what, and I think I associate Braille with some of those negative images."
A4: "It's true that I tend to think of thick, funny-looking books as part of a negative gestalt image of blindness. Braille is a musty old-world image about blind people stuck away, and that sort of thing . . . [Tape] seems more sleek and high-tech.
“Braille equals adjusted to blindness? In general, many readers believe that a blind person's failure to learn Braille reflects an underlying lack of adjustment to the loss of sight. Nonreaders, understandably, object to this interpretation, seeing the issue of reading media as a choice between valid alternatives. Braille is simply one method of accessing the printed word—not necessarily the best one—and it has nothing to do with lurking, unconscious maladjustment."
B7: [in response to the question of why a particular person didn't learn to read Braille] "Maybe that person wasn't comfortable with their vision loss."
A5: [in response to the statement above] "Sounds like someone's got some kind of schoolmarmish . . . . It reeks to me of some kind of Protestant, ethicky, prejudiced way of thinking . . . . It's a normative way of thinking. They like their blind people to be a certain way . . . . They like their blind people to be nice, disabled persons."
Definition of Literacy and Need for Reading: Again, understandably, the groups differ dramatically in their functional definition of literacy. Readers often take the hard line, equating literacy with unmediated visual or tactile reading. Some characterize voice synthesizers and tape recorders as props: only finger-reading is reading. Only finger-reading is sophisticated enough to give you flexible access to literature. Nonreaders take a more complex, cognitive/social stance. They tend to define literacy in terms of the ability to manipulate text or to freely use the register of written English. They emphasize intellectual ability to do the job over direct perception of written characters as a defining feature of literacy.
B8: "If you don't have vision and don't read Braille, you're illiterate."
B9: "Not only is speech slower when you want it to go faster, but you have less flexibility in varying the speed with which you read a given bit of text, and to control the speed, you can't simply let your hands or eyes stop or slow down, but you have to begin pushing buttons and changing knobs. When a word is spoken, it evaporates into the air and is forever gone. One can linger over a written word, savoring it, pondering it, fitting it into context, and so on. While one can go back and replay a tape, this involves added activity and repetition rather than contemplative pausing.
"Perhaps this is a literary thing, but often when reading a text, I will be struck by the author's choice of a given word, and sort of hang there for a moment, thinking about why she or he might have chosen that particular word or phrase."
A6: "I come on the scene at a time when I can leapfrog past Braille."
A7: "I don't need it to take notes with because I've got that covered with my little tape recorder. I don't need it to read because now I have a scanner and one of those Kurzweil things . . . and tapes and talking computers. I just don't need it. I sort of need it for labeling things. I wish some technology could leapfrog on that, too . . . ."
A8: "Do I feel illiterate? It's an interesting, funny question. Hmm. I don't feel illiterate because I . . . can manipulate text. I guess the feeling is that there's such an easy connection between manipulation of keystroke on computer and doing things with words and letters. Of course I'm not illiterate; I type."
A9: "How does that apply to reading? I'm so skilled at manipulating the reading aloud of the words: I can go one word at a time and have it spelled. The connections between doing that and the visual process of reading are so strong that it feels like literacy."
A10: "I manipulate tapes so easily. I can pause over the word that way. I've been known to replay a phrase five times if I want to get exact words. I can slow down. Some people are natural musicians. They just meld or merge with their instruments. They don't experience the barrier that they're working with bulky, mechanical objects. Their own energy flows and continues on over the instrument . . . and I feel relatively like that with cassette recorders."
Interpretation of and Distance from Texts: In addition to objecting to the barrier of the tape recorder, Braille readers express the idea that silent reading puts them in a more intimate relationship with the text and its author. Nonreaders either welcome the narrator's interpretation or ignore it without noticing.
B10: "To me there is greater distance between text and reader; there is a go-between, the person reading, or the speech output software. Some of those readers are dreadful . . . . I guess that's part of it too; speaking implies at least some level of interpretation. I have refused to read [i.e., listen to recordings of] certain books just because I didn't like the tone of a reader's voice or the way she or he dealt with questions of phrasing. But when I'm reading, I'm the one in charge of interpreting, and the only voice I have to deal with is the one inside my own imagination."
A11: "I find it enriching. There's enough room in my mind to accommodate both the author and reader as people I'm visiting. Whatever the reader is doing doesn't affect my interpretation of what the author is saying. It adds a dimension. I can extrapolate from the reader what the author is saying, including punctuating it differently. I'm doing an extra thing in my mind. Sometimes I get the same book read by the Library of Congress and by RFB or—you know the way RFB books are typically read by a string of readers. It's fun to have them switch."
Readers and nonreaders have more in common than we might have thought. Both groups have thought through their choices with some care. Both presented themselves as confident, adjusted, articulate adults who value independence and self‑determination. Both were ambitious, organized, strong-willed, and hardworking.
Upon honest reflection, none of the non-Braille readers felt that they were missing anything. Nor did they seem especially defensive or shy (an attitude frequently evidenced by sighted people who are unable to read print.) They weren't especially hostile toward Braille; it just wasn't in their game plan. When I asked if they would be willing to find out more about Braille or take a preliminary lesson just for fun, nobody reacted with hostility or resentment. Their responses reminded me a lot of my own usual reaction when a salesperson tries to interest me in the latest, hot new mobility gismo: say a curb and flagpole detecting gadget. I think, sure, I could have a look, but lacking any evidence at all that I need it, the idea slowly slips lower and lower on my list of priorities until it quietly disappears off the bottom. I never quite get around to it. The salesperson stops calling eventually, probably with a sigh, thinking how much better off I'd be if only I weren't so closed-minded. By that time I've completely forgotten about it, feeling not one bit worse off.
So where does this leave me as an advocate for Braille literacy? It leaves me squarely where I started in Ecuador years ago, but now a bit wiser for having made the journey. No marketing approach or set of pointed questions or line of persuasive rhetoric can lead a person who is comfortable with his or her lifestyle to change approach radically. Why change when everything is already fine? That doesn't mean that I give up. I acknowledge that the charge-straight-in approach is not the best way. There is a way to affect even long-standing habits, but it's subtle and requires both more work and more self-examination and discipline than most public relations campaigns.
The only way I can see to effect what amounts to a cultural shift for nonreaders is to live a viable, better alternative. I didn't say present, demand, or preach; I said live. I can change my community only through gentle, joyful action, becoming the change I wish to see. Advocating that other people learn Braille is a less effective way of spreading Braille literacy than allowing everyone, blind and sighted, to see through our daily actions just how damned terrific, beautiful, and useful Braille is in its own right. It's not a second-class substitute for print that I can take or leave; it's our community treasure. Our collective understanding of these facts will shape the way we live, play, and work, and eventually it will shape the way Braille is perceived.
After all, the evidence that I need to go out and buy that curb and flagpole detector comes not in the form of the brochure from the salesperson but rather in the form of blind people I respect who quietly use their own as a matter of course and clearly benefit from it. Only then can I see that I may need one too. It doesn't do the salesperson any good to keep calling, and if I'm constantly harangued by users of the device saying that I must have one or I'm some kind of pathetic, dependent loser, my desire to go out and buy one evaporates completely.So at its heart this isn't about what nonreaders think or about what readers say. It's about what readers do and about the way we treat one another. We can't coerce or convince nonreaders to take up Braille or force newly blinded folk to learn it, but we can, through our own consistent joyful use of Braille, make it practically irresistible.
by Brian Buhrow
From the Editor: Sometimes one wonders whether what we hear and see in the news is a genuine attempt to cover the things that shape and mold our country or whether some of it is an attempt to dodge broader and more important issues. No matter how you come down on the issue, every legislative body should ensure that the bills it passes contain provisions directly related to the topic it is meant to address. If the bill is addressing the safe operation of motor vehicles, it should not be used to institute a new leash law or implement a food safety regulation.
Brian Buhrow is best known for his work as an engineer involved in the field of communications, but he was also an English literature major, and when we need someone to combine issues of the heart and issues of the head, it is hard to find anyone better. Here is what Brian has to say:
With all the noise recently in the news about the trans-gender issue and making sure they have equal and unimpeded access to restrooms and changing areas, there's been some discussion of North Carolina's new H-2 law which says that state entities don't have to provide access to general restrooms for trans-gender folks. However, were you also aware that this same law repeals the right of individuals who may be terminated from their jobs or denied access to state services because of their race, sexual orientation, or disability to seek redress in the state courts for the discrimination practiced against them? When the governor was asked about this, his response was that, because he didn't have line-item veto and because he had to pass the H-2 law, he felt it was an acceptable tradeoff to sacrifice fifty years of civil rights gains for entire classes of people in order to address this hot button issue. He vowed to correct the injustice but was unapologetic about his action.
I am reminded of the Social Security laws of this country and the linkage that was lost between the blind and seniors when the earnings limits were raised for seniors but not for the blind. This happened about twenty years ago. When we went to Congress, we were assured this was a mere oversight and that it would be easy to fix with the next round of Social Security legislation that would come before Congress. Today, twenty years later, the issue is still unfixed, and every year we go to Congress and ask for this injustice to be corrected. By now, the earnings limits for seniors have been raised so high above those of the blind that Congress is telling us it would be too expensive to make the change now.
How ephemeral our rights really are when they can be wiped out with the stroke of a pen for a law that ostensibly doesn't have anything to do with us. We're a small minority in comparison with other minorities in North Carolina, but if other states draw up laws similar to North Carolina's and use their language, we'll find ourselves back in 1960 before we know it.
I think we are well-served by letting our membership know about the insidious side effects of these laws so that they can contact their state legislators and make it clear that we're not in favor of any law that abrogates our rights as blind people, whether or not it is an intentional effect of the law or not. For my part, I think this change in North Carolina is entirely intentional, and legislators were hoping to slip this nuclear option under the radar of their citizenry. How shameful!
by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is the director of government affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. Before taking his position in 2015, Parnell was a member of the national board of directors. He also served for more than fifteen years as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. Here is what he has to say about the interminable delay in issuing regulations that are so important to blind people wishing to participate fully in the commerce of our nation:
I was a huge basketball fan growing up. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina (and raised by parents who had lived in North Carolina all of their lives), I was imminently familiar with four universities in the state which made up half of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which at that time was comprised of eight schools. I was always partial to the North Carolina teams.
One of my fondest basketball memories is of watching an ACC tournament game with my dad on a weekend afternoon as the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Virginia Cavaliers were involved in a game which had national implications because both teams were ranked high in the polls. I have not investigated the accuracy of my memories of the game (which are now approaching thirty-five years on), but here is the gist.
The Tar Heels had the ball and a one-point lead with thirteen minutes remaining—an eternity in college basketball, especially in a game that close. Tar Heel coach Dean Smith instructed his team to run the “Four Corners” offense, which arguably was actually no offense at all. The players spread out (using all four corners of the court) and passed the ball to each other without taking a shot until the end of the game.
It was only a few years later when men’s college basketball rules were amended to implement a shot clock. There was already a shot clock in the women’s game. I had forgotten about the old “Four Corners” offense until recently, when I read the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) on web accessibility, which is a right already protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In July of 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) leading us to believe that much-needed guidance for state and local governments and places of public accommodation on how to insure that their websites were accessible to blind consumers, as required under Titles II and III of the ADA, was forthcoming. For six years we waited with great anticipation.
At the time President Obama called the forthcoming regulations, “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment.” The ANPRM was published on July 26, 2010, the twentieth anniversary of the ADA. On July 20, 2015, President Riccobono invited me to be part of a delegation to the White House to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA. Nearly five years after the ANPRM, we were hopeful that an announcement would be made regarding the web accessibility regulations. We were disappointed.
No such announcement was made at the White House ceremony commemorating the ADA despite the President’s earlier observation of the monumental importance of the web accessibility regulations. As 2015 drew to a close, we were again disappointed when DOJ announced that, in fact, the regulations regarding websites of public accommodations would not be released until 2018 at the earliest.
Then, as if that wasn’t disappointing enough, on April 29, 2016, we were advised that DOJ would be issuing the above mentioned SANPRM, further delaying the release of the Title II regulations as well, which are applicable to state and local government websites.
In a press release issued at the time, Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "This deplorable announcement by the Department of Justice is another example of inexcusable foot-dragging on the issue of web accessibility, which is critical to the education, employment, and daily life of blind Americans. Delaying the equal access of the blind to American society by failing to provide clarity in technology accessibility is inconsistent with the administration’s goal of full participation by people with disabilities. This failure also puts public entities seeking clear guidance on how to meet their obligations to consumers and constituents with disabilities at a severe disadvantage, with no direction on how to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the provision of information and services over the internet. The questions that DOJ raises in the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking did not newly arise in the six years since the original Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, nor is the continuing evolution of technology an excuse for revisiting them. The National Federation of the Blind unequivocally condemns today's action and urges the administration to issue proposed rules with regard to equal access under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act without further delay. We further urge all political and civic leaders to join with us in calling on this administration to fulfill the promise made and bring clarity to the accessibility of public information, commerce, and education in the twenty-first century. Let’s #UploadTheRegs.”
The current status of the web accessibility issue is best summed up in our June 2016 edition of Imagineering Our Future, which reads as follows: “The need for access to public websites continues to be an area of critical importance to the NFB. Though the courts have increasingly identified that websites fall within the intent and scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act and cannot be vehicles of discrimination and exclusion against blind citizens, the federal government has yet to confirm regulations that would require websites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The NFB’s advocacy for such regulations cannot stop until websites are accessible.”
In May the US Department of Justice published its Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking titled Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities in the Federal Register. In response to the new SANPRM, the NFB is gathering comments and stories from members to highlight the importance of access to state and local government websites. We need your stories, both positive and negative, regarding the importance of accessible state and local government websites—websites for voter registration, applying for a state or local government job, appealing a property tax assessment, renewing a library book, requesting food stamps, registering for a class at your local state or community college, or any other state or local government service. Visit <www.nfb.org/TitleIISANPRM> for steps on how you can help the NFB advocate for accessible websites, and/or contact Kyle Walls at (410) 659-9314, extension 2223, or <[email protected]>. We will be gathering member stories through July 15. Those who are reading this article later in July should know that, while we would like your input by July 15, the DOJ deadline is August 8, 2016. Please get in touch with Kyle Walls if you would like to help, and he will tell you how to do that.
I know that President Obama is a big basketball fan. He would no doubt be familiar with the expression “running out the clock,” as his time in office draws to a close over the next six months. Clearly, the most important updates to the ADA since their enactment will have to wait until a new administration is in place. The danger is that we do not know how important web accessibility will be to the next president.
While talking about the desire to provide guidance, it seems that the current administration is engaging in the old “Four Corners” offense when it comes to the release of the web accessibility regulations. I wonder if we need a shot clock.
by Sheila Koenig
From the Editor: Sheila Koenig is a blind teacher of sighted middle-school students in Minneapolis. She is lively and energetic and has many interests. One of them is testing the boundaries that are often assumed to come with being blind—traveling known routes, being accompanied by someone with sight when venturing to new places, and doing extensive planning before taking a trip. Here is Sheila's story about going beyond these boundaries in her quest for choice and spontaneity:
It began as a seed planted in my writing and Zen class. In talking about being attached to plans, Ted (the instructor) mused that, whenever we have road maps, we ought to throw them away. Thus began the thread of thoughts: I like getting lost. I like the adventure. I like the stories. I like bonding with my companion in our shared lostness. But, I wondered, what if I was alone? Would I still enjoy getting lost? Would I embrace adventure and novelty, or would I confine myself to my own comfort zone? I decided there was one way to find out.
Without a road map and by myself I ventured to Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing is a community of about 16,000 people located in the southeastern part of Minnesota along the Mississippi River. I chose it because I wanted to go to a small town, a community where I could hear stories and meet people. I simply wanted to follow where the moments led.
A few days before my trip, I discovered a new journaling app called Zentries. Each time the app is opened, a new quote appears. When I opened the app to journal the night before my trip, the quote read, “The lesson is letting go. The lesson is always letting go. Have you ever noticed how much of our agony is all tied up with craving and loss?” by Susan Gordon Lydon. We live in a society that clings to security and certainty. Though taking various forms, consciously or unconsciously, we grasp for things to steady us, for permanence. For me this quote was emblematic of my trip. I was letting go of expectations, letting go of plans, and letting go of the known.
The avenues of the trip were fascinating. In my first conversation with Lauren, the concierge at the St. James Hotel, I learned about a new bookstore. “I don't know why,” he said. “But you look like someone who loves books.” Amusedly I told him that I teach English. And I set out to find the bookstore. I learned about a sailing group in the Twin Cities, met a man considering a career change to education, met a kayak guide with a connection to the meditation center I attend, and learned about a science/art charter school in Napa, California. From my kayak guide I learned about a local bakery, and at the bakery I learned they made the crust for the pizza at the local brewery. The crust is outstanding!
My blindness mattered very little on this trip. I hired a driver to take me from Minneapolis to Red Wing. I knew that most of Red Wing could be accessed by foot, and I felt that part of embracing this journey was letting go of having all of the answers. Sometimes I think anticipating potential roadblocks can keep us from fully experiencing life. I could not have planned, for example, that Broken Paddle Guiding Company would offer to pick me up from my hotel because we were near the launch site of my kayak tour. I had kayaked only once before, on a small lake at a relative’s cabin, but I was determined to feed my sense of adventure without worrying about the details. As it turned out, I was the only tourist signed up for the tour. After a quick lesson on land of basic paddling strokes, I set out in my own kayak. My tour guide accompanied me in his. We paddled the backwaters of the Mississippi and navigated the flooded forest successfully. I did get tangled in some branches, but his directions guided me out of the tangle. We talked about turtles, education, and meditation. My blindness was never an issue for me or for those I encountered.
Looking back on this trip nearly half a year later, I marvel at the joys I found. I had no expectations or preconceptions. In throwing away the road map, I was able to be present with the moments that evolved along the way.
It is always a pleasure to hear from people who read the Braille Monitor, and the occasional thank you can often make my day. Even the questions and criticisms are often blessings in disguise, because they cause me to look outside what I have traditionally thought of as suitable material for this publication.
One of the more persistent questions I have received in the last year or so is why I have decided to discontinue the Miss Whozit column. The simple answer is that I have not. The idea of the piece, which started in 1989, was to answer questions that came from readers with the hope that we would both encourage questions some might feel embarrassed to ask of friends and family and that we might, through pooling the expertise of our membership, come up with good answers that would serve well if only they were shared widely.
Three of the questions that have appeared in the Miss Whozit column have come from me. When I asked them of those I loved and trusted, I felt they were ducked. Either I was told that they were not important, that they did not happen in my life, or that there was nothing I could do about them. I thought that the Braille Monitor might give me a better answer. It did. With the knowledge that it can and the hope that it will, we are reprinting some examples from the column. Enjoy.
Dear Miss Whozit,
I did not have enough proper blindness training when I was young, so I’m never sure when it is appropriate for me to touch food when I’m eating food on my own plate or serving myself from a buffet. Can you help?
You have asked a good question. Miss Whozit believes that two basic considerations determine appropriate handling of food: sanitation and the rules of etiquette. Some foods are appropriate for touching: fried chicken on the bone, French fries, breads, and most relishes (celery, radishes, olives, carrot sticks, etc.), as well as cookies, candy, and small tarts and quiches.
However, it is Miss Whozit’s firmly held opinion that most other foods should not be touched but maneuvered with knife, fork, or spoon. You should never touch food being passed until you have served yourself. If you’re unsure what is on the platter or in the bowl being passed, quietly ask the person who passed it to you.
Miss Whozit is painfully aware that some blind people have not learned to serve themselves. She suggests that, if you can’t do so confidently, you should ask a person near you to place a serving on your plate rather than skipping the item altogether.
You can eat the food on your own plate quite easily without inordinate touching by using a dinner roll or biscuit to stabilize what you want to slide on to the fork. The same thing can be accomplished using the European method of using the knife in the non-dominant hand to cut and stabilize food while wielding the fork in the other hand in the usual way.
Miss Whozit insists that everyone—and she does mean everyone—needs practice in handling table etiquette gracefully and competently. It is a necessary art if one is to be accepted socially, and like all others the skills must be mastered.
Miss Whozit has heard the rumor that the NFB argues that blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance, and she believes that it is a nuisance—nothing more—for a blind person to go through a buffet line. Because it is never acceptable to put your fingers in someone else’s food, the blind person must accept the nuisance and learn how to cope with it.
Miss Whozit finds two ways acceptable: If an attendant is staffing the table, ask that person to assist you by telling you what is in each bowl and on each platter so that you can find the serving piece and serve yourself. Or, alternatively, simply have someone serve your plate for you.
When all is said and done, Miss Whozit dreams of a world in which all blind people are properly trained and graciously accepted by others.
Dear Miss Whozit:
Over the years, even at NFB conventions, I have observed people, particularly those born blind or without families who taught them how to handle themselves in public. I have just enough vision to notice inappropriate behavior and sometimes correct myself when I observe the way sighted people behave. I can then ask for advice about how things should be done. It is often embarrassing but also rewarding.
One thing that should be addressed when people are ready for employment after going through our training centers is habitual rocking or other repetitive motions. Several sighted friends who have worked in the corporate world have asked me about this behavior, and frankly I cannot think of an adequate answer.
Why do people who are blind, particularly those who have been in residential schools, rock? I was helping in a booth in the exhibit hall one year, and my partner was sitting Indian fashion on a folding chair, rocking back and forth, swinging a keychain from side to side in front of his face and shaking his head. I do not know how he kept from falling out of the chair. In the course of conversation I discovered this man had been to college and had several degrees but had been unsuccessful for years in finding a job. I asked him if he had figured out why, and he said that he did not know. He said he wore clean jeans and t-shirts to the interviews and made sure he had showered that morning. I asked if he had ever taken a job-readiness class in college, and he said that he didn't need one. All he had to do was present his résumé and recommendation letters. Setting aside the question of inappropriate dress for an interview, he is not the only person I have seen rocking or exhibiting unusual behavior.
Should I have tried to say something direct enough to make him recognize his unacceptable behavior without making him angry or embarrassing him? Whether we want to admit it or not, the majority of people in human resources are sighted and extremely dependent on first impressions. I worked in an office for almost thirteen years and had to maintain a certain level of decorum. Aren't these subjects addressed at our training centers? What about the importance of good posture and appropriate body language?
Dear Decent Impression:
You have raised a very important yet sensitive issue that often falls into the category of the elephant in the living room that everyone studiously avoids mentioning. It falls into the broad category of behavior often called "blindisms"—idly or vigorously rocking front to back or side to side, twisting the head from side to side, rubbing the eyes, fluttering fingers in front of the eyes to make sure they still work, twisting hair, and other equally odd mannerisms. The second part of the equation is the reaction of sighted people to any unusual, different, or even unacceptable human behavior.
Miss Whozit wishes to begin by pointing out a truth which should be self-evident but nevertheless needs occasional repeating: sighted people can see! Strange as it may seem, some blind people apparently forget this reality from time to time and engage in activities in public which are disgusting or embarrassing to those watching. Any human being, blind or sighted, may well engage in activities in private which are simply unacceptable when the behavior is or may be observed by others. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan wrote extensively on this topic in his article "The Barrier of the Visible Difference" in the Kernel Book Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses. Blindisms have been discussed and written about widely. Miss Whozit is sad to report that some people propound deep psychological and philosophical foundations to explain this phenomenon, and perhaps they are right. Unfortunately such explanations do not provide an excuse that lets the blind person off the social hook. Miss Whozit is convinced that the reasons for such behavior are simple. All small children engage in a variety of behaviors that are universally unacceptable. If little Suzie is sighted, her parents and other relatives will say, "Stop picking your nose [or whatever]! You may not do that. That is a nasty habit." Moreover, the concerned adults will keep at it until the habit is broken.
If little Suzie is blind, however, many parents and other adults seem to be reluctant or even afraid to hold the blind child to the sighted standard. When the parents listen to the faux experts in the field rather than the authentic experts (the organized blind), the expectation for normal and appropriate behavior becomes obscured. When this happens, what begins as a petty little habit eventually becomes a hard-wired characteristic which is nearly impossible to reverse.
These unacceptable mannerisms then run headlong into the social expectations of sighted society and reinforce the minority-group status of the blind. If a sighted person engages in some activity which is not the norm (some do), those around him or her dismiss the undesirable habit as the actions of a weirdo. Other sighted people are not tarred by the weirdness brush and are certainly not placed in that category just because of the odd behavior of one weirdo. When, however, a blind person exhibits such behavior, many in society judge all blind people by the unacceptable or bizarre behavior of the one. Like it or not, we blind people are already thought of as different and are scrutinized more closely. Adding the unacceptable behavior compounds the novelty of blindness and the attention it draws.
In his book Freedom for the Blind, Jim Omvig devotes an entire chapter to the topic of blending in and endeavoring to behave in such a way that one is acceptable to others. Miss Whozit pleads with parents of blind children to read this chapter and also to be relentless in their effort to stamp out overtly bizarre behavior or even silly little habits. What can and should adults do to combat such behavior in themselves or those they care about? If one recognizes personal blindisms, he or she should ask friends and family members to offer quiet, private reminders when the old habits surface. If friends or family members care about a person who is not aware of blindisms, they should go quietly to that person and ask if they can help. In either case a private plan should be devised to give a signal to the blind person as a reminder that he or she is engaging in the activity and should stop.
The sad truth is that until and unless the blind adult with such habits recognizes them and wishes to be rid of them, no one else can help very much. What we can do is to make clear to these friends just how much of a problem the behavior is and at what a disadvantage it will put the person socially and professionally. We do nothing but harm our children or friends by pretending that everyone else will understand or that the peculiar behavior will not be as much of a roadblock to social acceptance as poor grooming or disgusting table manners.
Dear Miss Whozit,
Lately it seems that all of my girlfriends are dieting or at the least hyper-conscious about their carb count. For this reason we constantly seem to have lunch at salad bars. Another frequent occurrence is my family's visits to all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants. Both of these restaurant choices make for uncomfortable dining experiences for me. "Why?" you may ask. "Don't you enjoy salads? Or is it that you simply don't have enough room in your stomach for all that's available to eat?"
The answer is neither. Rather, when I go out to eat, I am unsure about how to identify salad dressings and the like at the salad bar. And I consider buffets simply nightmares waiting to happen. How do I handle these social situations? Eager for your response,
Learning to maneuver through a buffet line with grace and ease can feel overwhelming, but, once armed with accurate information and good skills, you too will be able to take advantage of the convenience and selection provided by this vast array of dietary indulgences. Remember that anticipatory anxiety of the unknown is often more unpleasant than the actual event.
We live in an interdependent society. Sometimes asking for assistance is necessary or prudent. As Federationists we have learned the truth of Dr. Jernigan's speech, "The Nature of Independence," in which he defines independence as doing what we want to do when we want to do it without inconveniencing ourselves or others. In that speech he also spoke about the importance of accomplishing tasks efficiently rather than always insisting on doing them alone. Going through a buffet line is one instance in which these two concepts merge.
Once you have made the decision to navigate a buffet line, it is essential to request assistance from someone. If others in your party are going through the buffet line, you can ask one of them to provide the visual information and any necessary assistance, or you can ask your server if an employee is available to assist you. Which decision you make depends on the circumstances. If you are the only one in your party going through the buffet line, solicit the assistance of someone on the restaurant staff. If you feel at ease asking a member of your party for assistance, it is quick and easy to adopt that solution.
Once you are ready to make your selections at the buffet, instruct the person providing assistance about your preference of the best way to move through the line. If you know ahead of time that you are looking specifically for salad items, provide this information. If you decide that life is really too short and you want to eat dessert first, say so. Let the person providing assistance know how you would like the items identified.
If you plan to plate your own food, ask that the items be identified in a column format going from back to front so you know where each item is located when you serve yourself. Be sure when serving your own food to keep extra napkins handy to wipe your fingers if you accidentally come into contact with stray food items or sauces. It is important to maintain good hygiene when handling serving utensils in a public place.
Miss Whozit wants to emphasize at this point that you are responsible for carrying your own plates, glasses, or bowls. You have requested assistance learning what items are on the line and perhaps placing the food on your plate, not providing service as a personal butler, carrying your selections from the line to the table.
One gentle reminder, if you are dining during peak customer hours and you realize that a line is forming behind you, make your selections as quickly as possible and keep moving. The beauty of a buffet is that you are often allowed to return for seconds. So be sure to ask your server ahead of time whether you are dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Miss Whozit recommends that for your first attempt at negotiating a buffet line you go at a time when you will feel at ease so that you will begin to gain confidence in the techniques you devise. If you have a blind friend who is comfortable handling buffets, you might invite him or her to go with you so that you can ask for advice along the way. Remember when embarking on any new challenge, the most important thing is to believe that it is possible and gather as much information ahead of time as you can. Then just do it. As J. Laing Burns says, "You've got to believe if you want to succeed."
This month’s recipes come from the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas.
by Terry Sheeler
Terry Sheeler is the state president for the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas. Tony and Terry and their girls are all proud members of the NFB of NWA chapter. Terry has made these recipes for Tony and the girls for many years and now that the girls are grown and starting their own lives, it is fun to reflect back and see the girls making these family recipes that they have enjoyed for many years.
8 ounce container of chive and onion cream cheese
2 bags of frozen tortellini
2 pounds of hamburger meat
4 green onions, chopped
2 family-size cans of tomato soup
2 cans of beef broth
2 cans diced tomatoes with oregano/basil/garlic
Garlic to taste
Onion powder to taste
Salt to taste
Cumin to taste
Pepper to taste
Splash red wine vinegar
Method: Cook beef and season with garlic, onion powder, a small amount of cumin, salt, pepper and a small splash of red wine vinegar and set aside. In large pot combine tomato soup, beef broth, diced tomatoes with oregano/basil/garlic and chopped green onions. Stir constantly until it comes to a boil, add the chive and onion cream cheese, stir well so that it melts into the soup base.
You can either cook the tortellini separately and drain/add separately when cooked or add the tortellini to the soup base and let it cook in the soup base until done. Once tortellini and soup base are done, add the beef mixture.
Added suggestion: add real shredded parmesan cheese to the top of soup when ready to serve. This recipe makes a large pot and is great for families and group gatherings. If you don’t need a large amount, you cut the recipe in half.
by Donna Walker
Dick and Donna Walker live in Malvern, Arkansas, about forty-five miles south of Little Rock. Donna is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas, secretary of the state’s chapter at-large and secretary for the board of the Friends of the Arkansas Information Reading Service for the Blind Network.
2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 medium onion, chopped
4 15-ounce cans pinto beans with jalapeño peppers
4 15-ounce cans chili hot beans
1 or 2 10-ounce cans original diced Ro*Tel tomatoes
1 pound Velveeta cheese
1 to 2 cups heavy cream
Method: In a skillet brown ground chuck and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drain off excess grease. In a six- or eight-quart crock pot (or eight-quart stockpot) combine beans (do not drain), Ro*Tel tomatoes, and browned meat. Cover and cook together until simmering, stirring occasionally. Use high heat in slow cooker or on very low heat if you use stock pot on top of the range. Add cheese and cook until nearly ready to serve. Stir in cream to get desired thickness.
Serve over mini Tostitos, Fritos, or Nacho Cheese Doritos crunched in bottom of bowl. We like the Nacho Cheese Doritos best.
Jalapeño Corn Bread
by Donna Walker
2 cups self-rising corn meal (I prefer yellow but white will work as well)
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 15-ounce can creamed corn
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cups grated cheese
12 to 15 jalapeño slices, chopped
Method: Grease ten-inch iron skillet with shortening or cooking oil. Combine corn meal, eggs, milk, cooking oil and creamed corn in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in onions, peppers, and grated cheese. Transfer to skillet and bake at 350 degrees for forty-five to fifty-five minutes. Outside edge and top should be slightly crispy. Loosen outside edge with butter knife and cool a few minutes before serving.
Country Cold Slaw
by Nella Foster
Nella Foster lives in Northwest Arkansas. She is involved with the state affiliate and the at-large chapter. She owns and manages a small goat dairy, but still has time for hobbies like gardening, crafts, and baking.
4 cups finely chopped cabbage
1 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons salt
Pinch of dried mustard
Pinch of black pepper
Method: Mix together carrots, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Pour over cabbage and mix well. I think this tastes better if it chills in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight. You can garnish with a ring of green pepper if you wish. This makes six servings.
Best-Ever Peanut Butter Cookies
by Donna Walker
Donna says, “A lady I worked with for years used to make these—they are wonderful. I got her to give me the recipe when I retired because my husband loves peanut butter cookies. Her aunt got it off of the commodity peanut butter can back in the 1960s.”
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter or shortening
2 eggs, beaten
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside. Mix together peanut butter, eggs, and fat. Add both white and brown sugar and blend with electric mixer. Add in dry ingredients. It makes a stiff dough. Drop by teaspoonful, or roll into that size balls, and flatten on cookie sheet. Bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until slightly browned on edges. Makes four to five dozen cookies, depending on size of cookies.
Almond Short Bread
by Nella Foster
1/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup almond slivers
1 teaspoon almond extract
Method: Melt butter and blend with sugar, add egg and beat well. Sift dry ingredients together and then add to butter mixture. Stir until blended and then add almonds and almond extract. Mix thoroughly and spread into a greased eight-by-eight-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 for thirty minutes. Cut the shortbread into squares while it is still warm. It should make sixteen to twenty squares. If you toast the almonds first they will have more flavor.
Punch Bowl Cake
by Terry Sheeler
While there is cake involved, this isn’t the kind of cake you bake. Instead this treat is created by layering the ingredients into a fresh and cool dessert, perfect for summer.
2 angel food cakes
1 large box of vanilla instant pudding
6 large bananas
2 pounds fresh or frozen strawberries
2 16-ounce containers of Cool Whip, thawed
One large clear punch bowl
Method: In separate bowls break angel food cake into bite-size pieces or a little larger. Follow directions for vanilla pudding; pudding will be soft-set. Slice bananas. Quarter the fresh strawberries or thaw frozen strawberries and drain.In the large clear punch bowl, layer the following: angel food cake, vanilla pudding, sliced bananas, sliced strawberries, and Cool Whip. Repeat all the layers until your punch bowl is filled and you have ended with your fifth layer of Cool Whip. Top with fresh strawberries if desired. Keep cake chilled until ready to serve and, when ready to serve, dip with a large spoon.
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I have an Index Basic V4 Braille printer, with Duxbury Program. This two-year-old Braille printer is in excellent condition and has never been used. This is a small compact Braille printer that fits nicely on a desktop; menus are navigated by speech output so it is easily used by both sighted and blind individuals. All the original cables are included as well as the Duxbury Program which is needed to translate the information into Braille. I also have a case of Braille paper for the printer. I’m asking $2,900, but I’m willing to work with you on a price that is fair to the both of us. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions by email at <[email protected]>.