Vol. 59, No. 8 August/September 2016
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
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Vol. 59, No. 8 August/September 2016
Illustration: Muscling Our Way to Equality
The 2016 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder
Presentations Made by the Hosting Affiliates
Presidential Report 2016
by Mark Riccobono
Awards Presented at the 2016 Convention
Meet the 2016 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
The Understanding of Fear and the Power of Progress
by Mark Riccobono
Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Equal Opportunity and Discovering Talent: A Journey from Discrimination to
Particle Astrophysics Research
by Jamie Principato
The Law of Disability, Special Treatment, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, and the Constitution
by Marc Maurer
Advocacy and Policy Report
by John Paré, Parnell Diggs, Derek Manners, and Gabe Cazares
The Blind in the World: Leadership, Philosophy, and Action on a Global Scale
by Fredric K. Schroeder
Slam That! Living the Life She Wants Begins with the Federation
by Jordyn Castor
The 2016 Resolutions: A Declaration of Independence for the Blind
by Sharon Maneki
National Federation of the Blind Resolutions for 2016
Copyright 2016 by the National Federation of the Blind
We are an organization focusing on greater opportunities, but to take advantage of most of them we must be physically fit. Recognizing this, we have been encouraging blind people to look not only at our education and training, but to be honest about our physical health. Obesity can be a killer, robbing us of life. First impressions can also be a killer, robbing us of opportunity. But more important than the negative reasons to exercise, consider the positives: the joy in physical movement, the exhilaration in pushing oneself, and the high one feels when we are really working hard.
For many of us the question hasn't been whether we should exercise but how to do it. Outside jogging or cycling isn't practical for most of us, and tennis with a friend is out of the question. But there are alternatives, and they can be fun. The NFB Sports and Recreation Division and WE Fit Wellness proved this, and the pictures we show here feature people of all ages and abilities in fun, body-building activities. As helpful as they are, no longer are we limited to the exercise bike or the treadmill. If we find these monotonous, there are alternatives, and they are ones in which we not only can become more physically fit but can enjoy ourselves while doing it.
by Gary Wunder
When I was a young boy, no part of the year was more exciting than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holiday season. The music changed, and the TV movies were more about families reuniting to help one another overcome struggles. We were moving toward the celebration of the birthday of the Holiest of Holies, and, if that weren’t enough, we were all going to give and get gifts. It just didn’t get any better.
But the day after Christmas was a different matter in the head and in the heart of the young boy who, two days before, couldn’t wait for the big event. December 26 was the day when we were furthest from celebrating another Christmas, and the magic that had been so long in the coming had disappeared. My father went back to work; the radio played commercials selling Chevrolets and cigarettes. I might not know the color blue, but the feeling was one I well understood.
Although I am more mature and now know better how to appreciate the holiday season, some of the same anticipation, excitement, and letdown still lives in me. So it is with conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. With our celebration of the magic seventy-fifth anniversary, what would seventy-six be like? What would make it stand out, make it special, make it memorable, make it more than second best to what we experienced in 2015? But, the world being what it is, the past isn’t the last word on the best, for the future always has a special promise to be discovered, experienced, enjoyed, and rejoiced in.
The 2016 convention was an amazing mixture of the familiar and the not-so-familiar. We were returning to a familiar city, Orlando being our travel destination with one exception since 2011. Our convention would be familiar in its daily routines, beginning with seminar day, then registration and resolutions day, then board meeting and division day, and finally the dropping of the gavel and the beginning of the three days in which we hold our official convention sessions.
This was the traditional, but what about the new and different? Our hotel was the Rosen Shingle Creek and not the Rosen Centre, which for three years was our convention home in early July. Our 2013 and 2014 conventions were leading up to something—our seventy-fifth anniversary celebration, but this convention was not about leading to something or looking back to celebrate; it was about something infinitely more important—taking stock of our present and deciding how we will shape the future. Celebrating lets us share an emotional high, but bringing it about, defining the problems, strategizing about how to solve them, finding the people who care enough to put their hearts and minds into it, and watching them grow in this process—this is the real bread and butter of the Federation, and this is what the 2016 convention was all about.
This year the convention was hosted by four states: Louisiana, Oklahoma, Utah, and New Hampshire. This dynamic team staffed the host convention suite, welcomed the convention to Orlando, sponsored a well-attended concert, and provided a tremendous door prize at the convention banquet.
The Federation’s commitment to blind children is second to none, the logical consequence of realizing that early contact with positive blind people is essential and that every blind child is indeed our future reflection. Activities for the parents of blind children began on Thursday, June 30, and continued until the adjournment of the convention on Tuesday, July 5. The parent agenda was fifteen pages in length and included spectacular general sessions and in-depth workshops on topics for parents and children of all ages and abilities. The first breakout session was “Essential 411: What You Need to Know to Optimize Your Convention Experience.” A second was “On the Go: Transitioning to and Encouraging Independent Movement in Young Blind Children.” Since many blind people are not totally blind, a big question many parents and their blind children must address was answered by the workshop entitled “Where do I fit in? Transitions for children with low vision.”
To live the lives we want, we must be able to travel independently, and being out in the community means knowing the risks of interacting with the public and being able to defend oneself when threatened. This is the reason the Sports and Recreation Division has for several years sponsored the 1Touch self-defense class, and it continues to win rave reviews among attendees.
Since employment is closely tied to integration and first-class citizenship, an offering that figured prominently in preconvention activities was the job seeker seminar sponsored by the NFB Employment Committee. In addition to helping people learn about how to participate in job interviews and construct a resumé, this committee also hosted a job fair with twenty-four employers in attendance. At least five of those were Fortune 500 companies: FedEx ground, UPS, Target Corporation, Oracle, and Wells Fargo. Though not a Fortune 500 company, the job fair was strengthened by the presence of the American Heart Association, which has more than three thousand employees. At least three hundred blind jobseekers were also in attendance to learn about job opportunities, drop off their resumés, and participate in the all-important process of networking.
The Jernigan Institute continued its tradition of sponsoring educational seminars, the first being on accessible equation creation, followed by a session on academic ebooks, followed by a WordPress boot camp, which featured instruction for using this popular web authoring and content management system. After training and the job that will follow, one needs to know how to manage money, so a session was held on software tools for keeping a checkbook, financial planning, and committing to implementing at least one financial goal arrived at during the seminar.
Even more important than financial health is one’s physical health. Recognizing this, the Sports and Recreation Division partnered with WE Fit Wellness to sponsor a hands-on health and exercise experience which included sword fighting, cardio drumming, and goalball. One could check out accessible activity trackers and other health devices, learn about one’s health, and even give blood to help meet the extreme need posed by the recent shootings in the Orlando area.
Preconvention sessions are also a wonderful opportunity for vendors of assistive technology to spend time with consumers and would-be buyers of their equipment. The VFO Group, formerly Freedom Scientific, conducted a three-hour seminar at which representatives discussed updates to be found in the soon-to-be-released Job Access with Speech version 18, convention specials for purchasing software and maintenance agreements, and a prototype of a Braille notetaker that will run on and give access to many of the programs available on Windows 10.
HumanWare displayed its newest notetaker, the BrailleNote Touch, which relies on the KeySoft system familiar to BrailleNote users. The notetaker has moved from the unsupported Windows CE operating system to the Android platform created and supported by Google. The machine will not only be a notetaker but will allow access to any accessible program found in Google’s online store since the machine is a tablet with a Braille display.
For mainstream developers of technology with a commitment to making their products accessible, none was more visible than Microsoft. Starting on June 30 and continuing throughout the convention, Microsoft sought input from blind users on their experience with Office 365, including Word, Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, OneNote, and other products used with the Windows operating system.
On Thursday evening the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee gave all interested exhibitors a few minutes to talk about what they were selling in the exhibit hall, any convention specials they were running, and products that were on the horizon.
Since the convention has so much happening, we again conducted our rookie roundup for first-time convention attendees, and these first-timers were met by President Riccobono and others who were anxious to answer their questions and ensure that their convention experience would be all it could be.
As we would expect, the students were busy on seminar evening with a meet-and-greet social. BLIND Inc. sponsored the ever-popular karaoke night, and in a separate event those wanting to meet the fingers behind the tweets had a chance to visit face-to-face.
Those who contributed to the 2016 convention as convention sponsors were:
ELITE: Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc.
PLATINUM: Cardtronics Inc.; Delta Air Lines; Google Inc.; Oracle; Target; UPS; VFO (Freedom Scientific/Optelec)
GOLD: Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Market Development Group, Inc.; Microsoft; Sprint; Uber Technologies, Inc.
SILVER: Amazon.com, Inc.; AT&T; Dropbox Inc.; HumanWare; Pearson
BRONZE: Facebook; IBM; National Industries for the Blind; VitalSource Technologies
WHITE CANE: Ai Squared; BAUM (USA) Inc.; HIMS Inc.; Learning Ally; OrCam
Friday was registration and resolutions day, and the lines for those who preregistered and those wanting to register were models of efficiency. No longer is registration a thirty-minute meet-and-greet to get an agenda and a name badge. Thirty minutes has been reduced to thirty seconds, just one of the many benefits when most convention-goers preregister. On Friday morning a special exhibitor opportunity was held for exhibit sponsors of our convention. The Independence Market did a brisk business, and the exhibit hall was filled with audible advertisements for everything from suntan lotion to umbrellas, snack foods to trail mix, foldable scissors to the most complicated hardware and software found anywhere. In addition to exhibitors whose names we have come to know and whose presence we have come to expect, a few new names were added. One exhibitor was Aira, a company planning to offer a subscription-based service providing both visual assistance and the power of artificial intelligence to solve problems blind people confront daily. Using special electronic glasses and a smart phone, Aira intends to combine augmented reality and artificial intelligence with trained agents to provide assistance ranging from telling a blind person the color of a garment to helping him travel through an airport, look for signs, screens, and food locations. This company is especially interested in the Federation’s input so that it meets real needs and advertises itself in a way that promotes dignity and independence.
Vanda Pharmaceuticals offered a session about Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder, its symptoms, impact, and prevalence in the blindness community, and the way one can treat it using Hetlioz, the medication manufactured by Vanda.
The KNFB Reader, the cool tool for work and school, conducted a number of sessions throughout the convention, introducing those who wish to read print to the most powerful, portable reading machine on the market and showing current users new features that have recently been or will soon be introduced in the product.
On Saturday, July 2, the gavel fell at 9:00 AM calling together the meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors. President Mark Riccobono began the meeting by asking for a moment of silence to honor those lost in the last year. Members recognized were Burnell Brown, Shirley Morris, Matt Lyles, Eliza Brown, Cynthia Cross, Heidi Van Gorp, Jack Hemphill, Geraldine Croom, Jim Daley, Rick Reed, Tom Ferry, Kristina Wadia, Margaret Williams, Karen Walston, Jim Valliant, and William Owens.
President Riccobono announced that again this year we would be providing Spanish translation of the board meeting and general sessions of the convention. In addition those who have difficulty hearing can check out a receiver and will get information directly from the podium.
Board members standing for reelection at the 2016 convention were Mark Riccobono, president; Pam Allen, first vice president; Ron Brown, second vice president; James Gashel, secretary; Jeannie Massay, treasurer; and board members James Brown, Amy Buresh, Patti Chang, John Fritz, Carl Jacobsen, and Alpidio Rolón. Those positions not up for reelection are currently held by Everette Bacon, Norma Crosby, Sam Gleese, Ever Lee Hairston, Cathy Jackson, and Joe Ruffalo.
Carl Jacobsen asked for the floor and said it had been his honor to serve as a member of this body since 2004. He believes that after twelve years of service it is his duty, in the name of continuing to grow the organization and see it evolve, no longer to run for a board position. “I think it is time for me to help the transition; that doesn’t mean I’m leaving; that doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere; that doesn’t mean I will ever shut up. However, it does mean that somebody new should be taking my chair while I can still stand behind them and whisper in their ear about what they should be doing.”
In response, President Riccobono said: “Thank you very much, Carl, for your tremendous service to the National Federation of the Blind. You are a leader who has raised many people in the organization, and we know that you’re going to continue to make our New York affiliate stand up and be one of the loudest and most boisterous ones in the nation. So we appreciate it, and we love you. Thank you very much.”
Alpidio Rolón next asked for the floor. Alpidio said that he would not stand for reelection but that he would continue to be a militant rank-and-file member of the Federation. “When I came to the Federation in 1992, I said that I had found my way home. I plan to stay here.”
President Riccobono thanked Alpidio for his service, said that he knew there would be many battles ahead in which Alpidio would be needed, and thanked him for his leadership and love of the organization.
Patti Chang next asked for the floor. She said that she has enjoyed her service as a member of the board of directors but also believes that this opportunity must be given to others. "With immense gratitude and sincerity, I ask the convention not to put my name in nomination."
President Riccobono thanked Patti for her service, including her shepherding of the scholarship program, one of the most important we run in the organization. He again offered thanks to all of those who have chosen to relinquish their positions, expressing his gratitude and confidence that they will continue to serve with distinction in the Federation.
Our former president announced that this was his forty-eighth convention, a record to be proud of but one that he points out falls short of some, such as Mrs. Jernigan celebrating her fifty-first convention. He notes that at his first convention the agenda was several pages in length, and now it extends to 117. He said that frequently he is asked why he is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and at least part of the answer is that he is annoyed with conditions in the world as he finds them and needs help to change them. One such condition is the payment of what is called a special subminimum wage, though he notes there is nothing special about it. It is simply a subminimum wage paid to people who are mistakenly believed to be incapable of productive work. Of course, as our former president notes, there is more to being a Federationist than being annoyed and finding colleagues to help; part of being in this organization means having fun, and this we certainly did at the convention.
Former President Maurer concluded by observing that the United States of America is the host for the 2016 meeting of the World Blind Union, and the National Federation of the Blind is making arrangements for it, with him in charge. This is a wonderful way to help the blind of the world see what can be achieved through self-organization, discipline, and commitment, and our former president hopes to see many of us at the meeting in August.
John Berggren now serves as the chairman of convention organization and activities. He spoke briefly at the board meeting, discussing banquet details and other logistical matters of interest. Though he never gets much time on the microphone, his kindness, sincerity, and dry wit always leave the audience glad that he is one of us and remind us that we are blessed to have him on our staff.
The President announced that registration at the beginning of the board meeting stood at 2,220, with representatives from all fifty-two of our affiliates as well as representatives from fourteen countries.
Although the NFB does not support individual candidates or parties, the organization is extremely interested in our members being politically active. To this end the President announced that we would hold a voter registration drive, which would run from noon until 5:00 PM. Charlie Brown was in charge of the activity, and many people were registered to vote in the November elections.
Everette Bacon addressed the gathering in his capacity as the chair of the Imagination Fund. This fund is used to support the innovative programs conducted by the Jernigan Institute to support people in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In the coming year we will be looking at new ways to raise funds for this program, and Everette welcomes people with good ideas and the energy and enthusiasm to implement them.
Carla McQuillan was introduced to present the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award, previously named the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. The presentation made by Chairman McQuillan and the remarks of the winner will be found elsewhere in this issue.
The President reminded those assembled that much of the work of the Federation is done through its committees. All committees are appointed by the President, and he wants to hear from anyone interested in serving. Write to him at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or contact him by writing to the national office at the address listed on the front page of this magazine.
It is a hallmark of wisdom to save for the future both individually and organizationally. For this reason the National Federation of the Blind has established the Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) Fund. The chair of the SUN Fund committee is Sandy Halverson, and she reported that at the beginning of the convention twelve states were not participants in the program. The District of Columbia decided it did not want to be one of the twelve and enlisted in the program with the contribution of $300. The bottom line is that contributions to the SUN Fund were up by almost $2,000 this year, a far cry from where we wish to be, but certainly an indication that we are moving in the right direction.
Unquestionably the most successful membership-funded program of the National Federation of the Blind is our Preauthorized Contribution Program, and its chairperson is Scott LaBarre. Scott told the audience that the National Federation of the Blind has a tremendous philosophy, a tremendous corps of volunteers, and more than our share of expertise on many issues, but, in order to take advantage of these assets, we must have one essential tool in our toolbox—money. We started this convention with annual giving on the PAC Plan of $480,000, and the goal during convention was to raise our contributions so that we are able to sustain a giving level that meets or exceeds half a million dollars annually.
Before Scott left the stage, the President announced that both our PAC chairman and Everette Bacon, a member of the national board of directors from Utah, were celebrating birthdays. Naturally the convention serenaded both on this special occasion.
The Kenneth Jernigan Fund was created in 1998, its purpose being to help first-timers attend the national convention. Allen Harris chairs this effort, and he came to the dais to report on awards made this year. The Jernigan Fund awarded grants to fifty-five people from around the country to attend. This is in keeping with the average number of awards the committee has made since 1999. Asking for a shout-out of those present who have been recipients of cash from this fund revealed the significant role it has played in building our movement. Chairman Harris explained that the Jernigan Fund gets its money in two ways: an annual raffle is held in which 1,000 tickets are printed and sold for five dollars each. The winner of that raffle splits the proceeds from the sale with the Jernigan Fund. A ten-dollar ticket is also sold to anyone who wishes a chance to receive an all-expense-paid trip to the convention. The winner receives round-trip airfare for two, payment of hotel, banquet, and registration, and $1,000 in cash. This is a fantastic program for helping Federationists get to and observe for themselves the magic that is the national convention. “The way we get people here fifty times is by getting them here for the first time," Allen reminded us, and with that he ended his report.
As a former President of the National Federation of the Blind, Kenneth Jernigan is widely regarded as the most consequential figure in the fields of rehabilitation and civil rights in the twentieth century. The impact of his life and work has been discussed in much of our literature, but only recently has there been a book about his impact on the lives of others, it being edited by Ramona Walhof. She came to address the board about The Power of Love: How Kenneth Jernigan Changed the World for the Blind. She said that the goal in writing this book was to offer to those who did not have the opportunity to learn from Dr. Jernigan that part of the experience which those who did could pass along. The book has been published by <http://iUniverse.com> and is available at <http://www.barnes&noble.com>, <books.google.com>, and in the Apple Store as an iBook. Ramona reviewed the table of contents, encouraged the purchase of the book, and asked that those who read it provide feedback on the site where they made the purchase since this will encourage others to read and learn about the work of this outstanding man.
Following Ramona’s presentation the board of directors adopted a motion retiring the Newel Perry Award and putting in its place the Kenneth Jernigan Award. This motion takes effect at the end of the 2016 convention.
Dr. Edward Bell was invited to address those assembled to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award. His presentation, the name of the award recipient, and the remarks the recipient made are found elsewhere in this issue.
Patti Chang came to the podium to introduce the 2016 scholarship finalists chosen by the Federation. The remarks which each of the thirty winners made to the board appear later in this issue. Following the presentations from the scholarship finalists, the board of directors voted to continue the scholarship program in 2017. Given the caliber of the class and their diverse fields of study, it is not surprising that the vote was both unanimous and enthusiastic.
Dr. Fred Schroeder is currently the first vice president of the World Blind Union, and at its meeting in August he will be a candidate for president. He talked about the importance of our hosting this meeting and the role we can play in showing the world how much can be accomplished through self-determination and collective action. He emphasized that, by working together with the World Blind Union, we can make great strides in improving the lives of blind people not only in this country but throughout the world.
President Riccobono called on Bob Kresmer in recognition of donations that have been received through bequests made to the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona. President Kresmer said that one of the projects in his state was to distribute Federation literature and donor cards to every funeral home in Arizona and that this project was spearheaded by Sharon Omvig before she and Jim returned to Iowa. Although Arizona has not been the recipient of bequests in the recent past, in this year they received checks for $88,000 and $187,000, and soon they expect to receive a check for $145,000. By long-standing policy and with the goodwill and concurrence of members of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona, 50 percent of all bequests were and will continue to be shared with the national treasury.
Parnell Diggs addressed the crowd to talk about the need for regulations clarifying the role of the Americans with Disabilities Act as it pertains to the internet. It is important that we participate in the regulatory process, and announcements about how this may be done will be widely distributed.
In order to stimulate greater activity and coordinate our efforts on behalf of blind parents, the Federation has created the Blind Parent’s Initiative, and Melissa Riccobono was called to the stage to discuss it. One of the goals of this initiative is to demonstrate how blind parents perform childcare tasks that are normally assumed to require vision. Short videos describing and demonstrating these techniques are being solicited, and those wishing to learn more about the videos or contribute to them should go to the website <www.blindparents.org> for more information.
Following the adjournment of the board meeting, Federationists had more than thirty opportunities to participate in meetings of divisions, committees, and groups. The diverse interests of those who met on Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening took six printed pages and seventeen Braille pages to capture in the agenda, and in most of these gatherings one could find a multipage document listing the issues that needed to be discussed and addressed. One could attend a meeting of the Sports and Recreation Division; the National Organization of Blind Educators; the Deaf-Blind division workshop; and a meeting sponsored by the NFB Seniors Division entitled “Knowledge is Power: Be a Powerful Senior.” There were meetings for lawyers, diabetics, computer scientists, people in the performing arts, merchants, writers, rehabilitation professionals, human service workers, workers in the sheltered workshop system, and many others. For a complete list of activities that took place on Saturday, July 2, refer to the convention agenda found at <https://nfb.org/convention#main-conte>.
When the gavel fell on Sunday morning bringing the first official session of the 2016 convention to order, it was very clear that the blind people in Orlando were alive, well, and ready to get about the business of making policy. President Riccobono's "Good morning, Federationists,” was greeted with enthusiastic applause, but the reaction was decidedly different when he announced there would be no door prizes for the morning. But those groans quickly turned to joy when it was revealed that the door prize to open the convention would be $201.16.
Conchita Hernandez came to the microphone to talk about services offered to people who have special needs in order to enjoy the convention session fully. The convention provides audio devices for those who are hard of hearing, and Spanish interpretation is also provided using a headset that operates on a different frequency.
The host committee was introduced for the opening ceremony and began by conveying the way Federationists go about living the lives we want. Jeannie Massay says that the state motto in Oklahoma is "Labor conquers all things." Pam Allen says that in Louisiana living the life you want means “Laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll." Cassie McKinney said that in New Hampshire the state motto is "Live free or die." Everette Bacon said that in Utah "The worker bees love our industry." The full comments each affiliate made about its Federation history appear later in this issue. To enjoy the songs interspersed in the opening ceremony and the audio of these affiliate histories visit <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2016_convention_highlights/
President Dwight Sayer of the National Association of Blind Veterans asked that all of those who had served in the Armed Forces of the United States come to the stage. Each passed a microphone and introduced him or herself, and First Lady Melissa Riccobono presented thirty-eight ribbons of appreciation to the brave men and women who risked their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. The ceremony continued with a marching band, the Impact Drum and Bugle Corps of Orlando, coming through the convention hall and serenading us with a medley of military songs. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and dismissing the color guard, Miss Devon Sauer led us in the singing of the National Anthem.
Beginning the roll call of states, Joy Harris, the president of our Alabama affiliate, announced that Alabama now has a new training program which emphasizes structured discovery. It is called the Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind. From the state of Idaho, president Dana Ard announced that Jan Gawith was attending her fifty-fifth consecutive convention, an enviable record to say the least. The Nebraska affiliate was able to boast forty rookies in its delegation, and a commendable number of staff from the Nebraska Commission for the Blind, and its governing board were also present. Of course the roll call of states is used as an opportunity for each affiliate to brag about its state, and sometimes in addition to the traditional comments about the Show-Me State, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and the Empire State, we get something that is truly clever and original. South Dakota wins the prize this year as Ken Rollman commented, "Good morning, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. I'm Ken Rollman from the great state of South Dakota, the sunshine state of the north, the home of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Wall Drug, of course, where you can get free ice water and a nickel cup of coffee."
When the morning session was recessed, people could visit the Independence Market and the exhibit hall; attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind alumni reception; or, for those arriving late, register for the convention.
One of the high points of the convention occurred on Sunday afternoon when, after gaveling the convention to order, the President began with the Presidential Report. In his remarks President Riccobono reviewed cases won, new challenges undertaken, and ongoing programs of the National Federation of the Blind that create opportunity where none has existed before. President Riccobono's remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
After his report the President introduced the next agenda item in this way: “We met with the CEO of Microsoft in the early part of last year, and we have been engaging with Microsoft in trying to move accessibility in the work they have been doing. We have engaged with Microsoft at many levels. As you heard in the Report, we were invited to speak on accessibility at Microsoft's Envision conference in New Orleans. Here to speak to us from Microsoft is the director of program management for Microsoft. He has responsibility for many of the Microsoft projects, and he has been a true champion for accessibility, grabbing hold of the spark that we have been able to light with both the CEO of the company Satya Nadella and the president of the company Brad Smith, who signed a letter with us about the ADA regulations. Here to talk with us about product progress at Microsoft is John Jendrezak.”
Mr. Jendrezak began his presentation by saying, "I believe our company mission and the direction set for our employees is truly in line with that of the Federation. That hasn't always been apparent, though; we know that firsthand … Our services, our apps, and our operating system over time degraded, and that impacted you. We understand that and are taking this as our responsibility … The work that we've done and are planning to do represents a small step in our journey to make our products better for you. This is work we have to do for the rest of our lives. In my experience at Microsoft I've heard countless personal stories that have provided indelible and incredible motivation to me as an employee and as an advocate. I learned that personal experience, passion, and understanding are crucial for our journey and to ensure that this is an enduring attribute of our culture. I want to thank the leadership of the Federation and the membership of the Federation for helping build this awareness in me. Thank you.”
One new addition this year was the insertion of fit breaks in our convention sessions. The first of these took about three minutes and involved standing on one foot, the claim being that doing this was equivalent to about forty minutes of exercise. The stretch was welcome, the enthusiasm was extraordinary, and the message that the National Federation of the Blind is committed to enhancing body, mind, and soul was made evident.
The next item on the agenda was entitled “The Law of Disability, Special Treatment, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, and the Constitution.” It was presented by Immediate Past President Maurer, and he spoke directly to the way the word “special” is used to denote the blind and the otherwise disabled as a class really does not mean special but inferior, different, a reason to separate the class of the special from those rights that are supposed to be afforded to every citizen of the United States. Dr. Maurer's remarks will appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
Kathy Martinez came to the dais to speak on the topic “Undefined by Blindness: Seeking Employment and Financial Literacy Opportunities for the Blind.” Ms. Martinez works for Wells Fargo in an executive position, blazing trails in American corporations where blind people have held few executive positions. A goal of Ms. Martinez and of Wells Fargo is to make that institution the bank of choice for blind customers and the bank of choice for blind employees. Her remarks will appear in the Braille Monitor later in the fall.
The last presentation of the afternoon was entitled “National Industries for the Blind: Continuing to Raise Expectations and Create Opportunities.” It was presented by Kevin Lynch, the president and chief executive officer of National Industries for the Blind. Mr. Lynch said that of the sixty-five agencies that are affiliated with National Industries for the Blind, only two currently pay less than the minimum wage, and no agency that pays less than the minimum wage can have a member sit on the board of directors of NIB. Mr. Lynch's remarks will appear later in the fall.
With the last presentation of the first day’s session concluded, the Nominating Committee met to propose a slate; a seminar was held on self-advocacy in higher education; Target discussed its accessibility efforts, demonstrated the results of its work, invited user testing, and gave away what they called “some Target swag.”
The Colorado Center for the Blind conducted an open house, members of our Help America Vote Act staff conducted a seminar on how to hold a voter registration drive in six easy steps, and the Careers in Automotive-Related Specialties group discussed how blind people can excel in the automotive repair industry. The exhibit hall was once again open for business, and a KNFB Reader liaison marketing meeting was held to discuss the most effective ways to get out information about and to sell the KNFB Reader. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children held concurrent sessions on adaptive games, an IEP workshop, and one on basic IEP advocacy. These were for parents, but the youth track activities included “Deal Me In: Learning Poker and Other Card Games,” as well as a children’s craft show.
But even with all of these educational opportunities placed before us, a number of my colleagues chose to attend the concert sponsored by the Federation's four host affiliates, and I confess to being one of those in attendance. The concert started shortly after 7:00 PM with Marion Gwizdala conducting the warm-up for JP Williams of Nashville, Tennessee. I don't think any of us who sat in that air-conditioned room spent much time mourning about not being able to enjoy the Orlando rain and humidity that were very much in evidence Sunday evening, which had necessitated moving the outdoor concert into an indoor venue. Those attending were also grateful to Aira for donating $4,000 to help with concert expenses.
When the President dropped the gavel on the morning of the fourth of July, the first order of business to come before the convention was the presentation of the consolidated financial report. Although fundraising through the mail continues to pose a significant challenge, requiring greater investments and less return on them, the National Federation of the Blind did finish the year in the black. It is important that we continue to work hard to provide funds for the general treasury. The grants we secure from time to time are very helpful, but they are specific to a project or a program and do not give us the flexibility we need in meeting the day-to-day challenges that face the blind.
After the reading of the 2015 financial report, Dr. Maurer rose to indicate that he thought it was a fine report and moved that it be adopted. There was a second by many in the convention hall, and the motion passed unanimously.
President Riccobono then turned his attention to income and expenses for the first five months of 2016. In keeping with the general fluctuation of the stock market, the losses that we showed in 2015 show signs of recovery in the first five months of 2016, and again we currently find ourselves in the position of having slightly more assets than liabilities, with no debt whatsoever on our books. Organizationally this is an enviable place to be but one that we will continue to occupy only if we remain as dedicated to funding our organization as we do to making the promise that it will be there for blind people when they need it.
With the report being read for the first five months of 2016, the same motion was made, seconded, and passed unanimously, the President and all of those who helped in our fundraising activities receiving a tremendous vote of thanks from the convention through the applause that was given.
The honor roll call of states was our next order of business, and in this portion of the program affiliates, divisions, committees, and groups are encouraged to make pledges or donations to the national treasury, Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund, Kenneth Jernigan Fund, Imagination Fund, and SUN Fund.
Following the roll call of states, Pam Allen, the chairman of the Nominating Committee, rose to deliver the slate the committee has proposed. The committee recommended for the office of president, Mark Riccobono, Maryland; first vice president, Pam Allen, Louisiana; second vice president, Ron Brown, Indiana; secretary, James Gashel, Colorado; treasurer, Jeannie Massay, Oklahoma; board position one, James Brown, Tennessee; board position two, Amy Buresh, Nebraska; board position three, John Fritz, Wisconsin; board position four, Adelmo Vigil, New Mexico; board position five, Shawn Callaway, District of Columbia; and board position six, Carla McQuillan, Oregon. A motion was made and seconded to approve the report of the Nominating Committee, and it was accepted without dissent.
Pam Allen conducted the election for president, and Mark Riccobono was elected by acclamation. He said: "Thank you very much, my Federation family. When I first came to this family twenty years ago, I was inspired by the qualities that were reflected in my brothers and sisters in this movement. I was also humbled by the love and faith that were offered to me in the space that we create with each other. Today I feel the same way—inspired and humbled. The commitment and energy that you give to this organization continue to shape and inspire me on a daily basis. The trust and confidence that you place in me are truly very humbling.
“This morning I was reflecting on why I ever started to think that I, a kid from the Midwest who spent almost all of his time before coming to know this family faking it—I wondered what it was that made me think I could help out in this movement, and in reflecting I decided that it was the fact that this organization opened its collective heart to me and taught me that blindness would not be the characteristic that would prevent me from being successful and more importantly that blindness should not be the characteristic that should prevent me from loving myself. I want you to know that you have blessed me with the opportunity to share myself and whatever I have to offer with this organization, and for that I'm truly grateful.
“With the completeness of my heart I thank you for the honor of being able to serve as your president and will continue to give all that I can offer from the inspiration and the humility that you give me in this organization. In this moment I have to also acknowledge the woman who keeps me grounded, kicks me in the back now and then to keep me moving—my wife Melissa Riccobono, who, in the way she lives her life, reflects everything that this organization is about. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.”
The nomination of Pam Allen to be the first vice president of the Federation was made by the committee, was seconded, and she was elected by acclamation. In accepting the office, Pam said: "Good morning and thank you. Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible. Each day in the National Federation of the Blind we strive for excellence, we push the boundaries, we encourage and love each other, and we raise the expectations and shatter misconceptions about blindness so our dreams are transformed into reality. It is so fitting too that we gather today on the Fourth of July to remember and celebrate those who fought for our nation's independence as we work together for freedom for our blind children, adults, and seniors. Freedom from complacency, from fear, from low expectations: imagine how different our lives would be today if those original Federationists who came together in 1940 had not organized, risked, and dared to dream and believe that blindness would not hold them back. Every day the National Federation of the Blind demonstrates the power of collective action. When people come together for a common purpose, the world is forever changed. We have been nurtured and taught by our leaders like Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, and now by President Riccobono, who shows us each day—along with his wife and their beautiful children—through their example and words, his love for each of us and his unwavering dedication to this organization. As we come together this week, I am inspired and motivated, and I also take away a challenge, a call to action that I ask of each of you: to give more, to dig deeper, to dream bigger, to fight harder, to love each other, to build our Federation family by sharing our message that we can live the lives we want as blind people.
“Thank you to each of you and to our thousands of members listening in around the world who share and live our message each day. Thank you for your love, your trust, your support, your sacrifice and enthusiasm, your imagination, and your commitment. Thank you also to my incredible husband Roland, a leader in his own right, for his love and support. I am truly honored and humbled to serve as your first vice president. Each day I learn from you, my Federation family. Together we stand, united we cannot be defeated. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind."
The name of Ron Brown was presented to the convention to serve as second vice president. A motion was made and seconded to elect him, and it passed by acclamation. He thanked the convention for reelecting him, said what an honor it was to serve as its second vice president, and noted that our conventions are so much fun that his granddaughter asked that she be allowed to attend.
For the office of secretary the Nominating Committee recommended James Gashel, and the convention made, seconded, and approved a motion to elect him by acclamation. He was unanimously elected. He said: "Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, fellow Federationists. I first joined the National Federation of the Blind fifty-one years ago right about this time of the year. Now a lot of you weren't even born yet; in fact a whole bunch of you weren't even born yet. This is the fiftieth convention of the National Federation of the Blind that I have had the honor to attend. There have been a lot of honors and privileges that I have been able to participate in during all of those years. I attended our twenty-fifth anniversary convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Washington, DC in 1965, where 100 members of Congress, the House and Senate, participated in the banquet, and we let them all speak for a minute. That was quite an experience for a kid right out of high school to sit in an audience like that. I attended our fiftieth anniversary convention in Dallas in 1990. I attended our seventy-fifth anniversary last year here in Florida. I worked in the Federation under our President Jacobus tenBroek when we formed the national students division, and I was the first president. I worked under Dr. Marc Maurer when I served as director of governmental affairs and other names of that position—strategic affairs—and our national office for thirty-three years and six months. I was first elected to the board of directors in 2008 and have subsequently been reelected to the board and as secretary several times since, and I've had the opportunity to help out in advancing our efforts in reading technology for the last several years, including the KNFB Reader—which is my commercial.
“Now in all of those experiences, none of them attaches a greater sense of honor and responsibility than standing before you to accept election to the board of directors and to an officer position in this organization. As has been said by others, this is a position of sacred trust, of great responsibility, because we are changing the future for blind people in the United States and really all over the world. We set the standard. So I am humbled to be here—I am—and I hope you will keep electing me for a while, but you don't need to: I will be here because forever I will help to build the Federation. Let me just say that, while we are recognizing spouses, I'm joined here today by my wife Susan Gashel who, in the great tradition of the Federation as she works on blind vendor cases under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, hasn't lost a case yet. Thank you very much."
The committee recommended Jeannie Massay to serve as treasurer, and she was elected unanimously. In response she said: “Thank you, President Riccobono and my Federation family. One thing that has been common among each of the acceptance speeches of my fellow officers has been that we want to thank you for the trust and confidence you have placed in us, and I definitely want to thank you for that as well. I said it last year, and I will say it again this year, sir—that my most important role as a Federationist is as a member, because without our members we are nothing.
“When I first lost vision, I thought that I was alone. In finding the Federation, I unequivocally know that I am not. In a recent podcast I heard a really great description for what a family of choice is, and that is the discovery that you are not alone. So to you, my Federation family, thank you. I hope we can help other people find that they are not alone and that they never will be again, and that they can contribute and participate in helping us to change the world as we know it. Thank you, my family. I love you."
The nomination of James Brown of Tennessee was next considered for board position one, and he was elected by acclamation. "If there is one word that expresses why I am here today, it is love. I love so many of you all. I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, a year or two ago doing a presentation, and at the end of the presentation I had an opportunity to do a mobility lesson with the young girl who wasn't being taught the way she should have been taught in school. She asked me, ‘Why are you here? Why are you here helping little ol’ me?’ The answer was pretty easy; I told her that I wanted her to grow up and be able to live the life she wants—that's right. And so, I'm going to tell you the same thing here today.” With that James broke into song and ended his remarks by telling his wife that he loved her and appreciated all she did to make his work possible.
The committee placed in nomination the name of Amy Buresh for board position two. After three calls for nominations, a motion was made and seconded to elect Amy to the board of directors by acclamation, and it passed unanimously. Amy accepted the board position to which she had just been elected by suggesting that it is no coincidence that the blind of the nation meet annually to express our independence on the same day that our nation's forefathers did the very same. She said that declaring independence took courage, fighting for independence took courage, and retaining that independence has taken vigilance, courage, and a lot of work. She said that the same is true for the independence we seek in the National Federation of the Blind: the necessary ingredients being courage, hope, vigilance, and the willingness to exert the energy that transforms our ideals into action.
The name of John Fritz was next placed before the convention, and a gentleman from Ohio nominated himself from the floor for the position. After three calls for nominations, nominations were closed, and each candidate was invited to make a brief presentation. Both men shared with the convention a brief biography and his desire to serve the Federation. A voice vote was held to determine the winner, and John Fritz was reelected to the board to fill board position three.
In remarks made after his election, John thanked all of those who had voted for him, his wife, his children, and the scholarship program that brought him to the National Federation of the Blind. He promised to continue to blaze new trails for blind people and asked that all of us join him in this noble work.
The name of Adelmo Vigil was recommended by the committee to fill board position four. There being no nominations from the floor, a motion was made and seconded that Adelmo be elected by acclamation, and he was. In his remarks Adelmo said that he has been a Federationist since 1983, has been privileged to work hard in his home state, and has enjoyed working with Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and now President Riccobono. He thanked the convention for the confidence demonstrated in him, thanked his wife for her continuing support, and pledged to do his best as a leader in this organization.
Shawn Callaway was nominated by the committee to fill the fifth board position, and he was elected by acclamation. Shawn lost his sight in 1991, and, although he felt he possessed tremendous confidence in himself, confidence that extended to competing in education and employment, he lacked real confidence in his ability to be a parent. He says it is through the National Federation of the Blind that he gained his confidence, and that, through the magic of the Federation and his mentors, his reservations were transformed from "How can I?" into "How can I wait?" “When I hold my daughter, I feel the confidence in her that she knows Daddy is going to take care of her. So, ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much, and God bless the Federation."
For the final board position to be elected in 2016, the name of Carla McQuillan was placed before the convention. Carla was elected by acclamation. In addressing the convention, Carla said, "Thank you, sir, and thank you, my Federation family. I was first elected to the national board of directors in 1998, and I was so excited to serve under the only President in the Federation that I had ever known, Marc Maurer. It was in 1998 that a Federationist from Oregon called to ask me for advice on a political matter. It seems that he had moved to the state of Wisconsin, and a good friend of his was seeking to run against a well-founded, longtime leader in the Federation. He wanted to know how they should go about it. It turns out that that twenty-two-year-old upstart was Mr. Mark Riccobono. Apparently some good advice was given, because he won that election, and I don't need to tell you where he is today. So I am honored that you have had the confidence in me to serve under President Riccobono, and it seems we have come full circle as the teacher becomes the student. I am truly looking forward to serving with you, Mr. President, and I hope that I will meet the expectations that all of you have of me and will try to the best of my ability. This is truly an honor."
After sitting through the financial report, the roll call of states, and the election, it was time for a fit break. This fit break began with some neck rolls, then exercising the shoulders, and eventually moving the right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, and to conclude the session we did some body stretching. Although I suspect that I would have regarded the fit breaks as silly were I simply to read about them, as a participant it is clear to me that they are quite helpful in providing a little exercise, muscle stretching, and increased concentration thereafter.
The next order of business to appear on the agenda was entitled “A Community of Practice: The Federation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math,” and it was ably presented by Natalie Shaheen, project director, National Federation of the Blind. Using a grant provided by the National Science Foundation, the Federation has conducted a number of STEM programs throughout the country, and in this session Natalie describes how a grade of C in a chemistry class, which she considered a humiliation, actually opened a new career for her and new career possibilities for all of the students she touches. Natalie was joined by students from across the country relating how their experience with STEM2U has opened new career possibilities. This panel’s presentation will be covered in full later in the fall.
Following the morning recess, conventioneers were offered their last opportunity to visit the exhibit hall and the Independence Market. Those wishing to learn how to get more mileage from their conventions both in terms of publicity and fundraising were invited to visit the Cash and Caring Network, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children invited participants to be a part of a brainstorming activity to plan for the future, and registration was once again open for those running late.
The afternoon session began with President Riccobono asking that a moment of silence be observed in memory of recent tragedies befalling Orlando. After a reverent pause, the convention next received a presentation by Fredric Schroeder, first vice president of the World Blind Union, entitled “The Blind in the World: Leadership, Philosophy, and Action on a Global Scale.” Dr. Schroeder's message was simple yet profound: an individual action may not seem to have an impact, but, when followed and compounded by other actions, the result is significant change, the kind of change we have seen in America because of the National Federation of the Blind. We must share this change with a shrinking and ever more interdependent world. Dr. Schroeder's comments appear elsewhere in this issue.
"The Roots of the Federation in the World: The Isabel Grant Story in Her Own Words” was next presented by Deborah Kent Stein, the editor of Future Reflections, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, and a gifted and thoughtful author. Dr. Grant was a world traveler at a time when women did not travel alone, and especially not if they were blind. Isabel Grant rejected the limited view of who she should be and where she should go, and Debbie Stein has chronicled these adventures in a book. Debbie’s remarks and the list of places where the book can be purchased will appear later in the fall.
John Paré and his capable team came to the dais to deliver the annual Advocacy and Policy Report. He and his team discussed the legislative proposals and regulations which are now receiving much of the Federation's attention. Many of the remarks made during this session will appear in significant part later in this issue.
The convention next turned its attention to what is unquestionably the most important business it does each year: deciding on the policies of the organization by the passing of resolutions. An article by Chairman Maneki and the complete text of all of the resolutions passed by the convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
When the general session on Monday afternoon recessed, there was still much daylight to burn for those of us interested in getting more done before we visited, partied, and went back to our rooms for a little badly needed sleep. Amazon Devices and Education Accessibility was a topic discussed for three hours by those interested in learning about VoiceView, Amazon's new screen reader for its Fire OS and Kindle E-readers. Some chose to attend a ninety-minute session on advocacy skills for blind parents, which covered family law proceedings, interactions with the department of social services, and participation in the K-12 public school system. One could attend a session on Braille proofreading or a simultaneous session focusing on “Social Security and SSI: What You Should Know in Order to Be an Advocate.” Of course there were the “Sixteenth Annual Showcase of Talent” for those wanting to witness a night of great performances and salsa night, which ran from 8:00 PM until midnight.
On the third and final day of the convention were a breakfast sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind, devotions, and the last chance to register for the convention. When the President gaveled the Tuesday morning session to order, the first agenda item was "Putting News First: Breaking Down Stereotypes as a Blind Journalist.” Its presenter was Gary O'Donoghue, a reporter for the BBC who serves as its Washington correspondent. His presentation focused on the importance of journalism in a free and open society and stressed the competitive nature of the business and the way blind people wishing to work in the field must bring skills, a can-do attitude, and a mindset accustomed to solving problems and delivering the news in a timely and professional manner. Mr. O'Donoghue's remarks will appear in an upcoming issue of this magazine.
"Engaging Blind People in the Real Problems of Blindness: A Report on the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute” was presented by Anil Lewis, who serves as the institute's executive director. He was joined in his presentation by Lou Ann Blake and Clara Van Gerven. Anil expressed his appreciation to Lou Ann for her superb skills in time management, setting goals, and tracking their progress, and he said this is especially valuable to him given that these are not the assets he brings to the important job of leading the institute. Lou Ann is best known for her work in overseeing the Help America Vote Act and in seeing that its lofty provisions to guarantee blind people the right to cast a secret ballot independently are actually implemented on Election Day. The Jernigan Institute has developed accessibility and usability guidelines for voting systems, and the guide we have created has been included in a best practices document distributed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The institute has also developed “Voting Guide for Young People who are Blind or Visually Impaired” so that they know what to expect when they go to the polls for the first time, and in addition we have developed “The Blind Voter Experience” video which is available on YouTube.
Lou Ann said that, while the percentage of blind voters who are going to the polls and using accessible technology has increased, the number of blind voters who are able to vote privately and independently has decreased. "This we cannot stand for; this cannot continue.” She says that the Department of Justice has failed to enforce the Help America Vote Act, and election officials have become complacent. When we go to the polls and are told that the accessible voting systems we need have not been set up, we must insist on being able to use them, and, failing that, we must vote the best way we can and then register strong complaints with the DOJ.
For the ninth year in a row the National Federation of the Blind hosted the Jacobus tenBroek Law symposium. The theme this year was "Diversity in the Disability Rights Movement: Working Together to Achieve the Right to Live in the World." What better organization than the Federation to show the value of disabled people organizing to improve their lives, what can happen when hearts and minds are united in a goal, and the value of diversity from an organization that features a rainbow of people working together to achieve the right to live in the world.
The last item Lou Ann focused on was our scholarly journal, The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. This is the first scholarly journal created and managed by the blind to address the real problems of blindness. "We publish research manuscripts, professional practice articles, and opinion pieces that talk about how to increase the self-respect, the self-determination, and the independence of blind people." She urges that we share the expertise we have so that professionals in work with the blind are clear about what blind people need and the ways to provide services that make a difference in our lives.
Lou Ann ended her presentation by introducing Clara Van Gerven to talk with the audience about access technology. Clara observed that web accessibility affects almost everything we do, and, although there is a significant body of expertise in the Jernigan Institute, we need more help from members. Businesses and other entities that generate content on the web need our help not only in learning how to make their content accessible but also in testing the results of their coding. To meet this need, the institute is reaching out to our membership with the request that they become more involved in web testing and reporting.
One of the access technology team’s greatest strengths is being a connector: bringing together those who have products and services with those who have the interest and expertise to help create an accessible product. Our work with Target and Pearson shows what can happen when the blind and leaders in education and retail marketing collaborate to create products and services we can use.
In addition to helping the developers of technology in creating accessible products, it is vital that we help in sharing with the community of blind people what these technology innovators have developed and how we can make use of it. In October the institute will hold a three-day workshop to highlight the work Google has done in making its products accessible, and our goal is to train the trainers so that this technology is more widely understood and used by the blind.
Anil wrapped up this presentation by asking "What is the purpose of the Jernigan Institute?" He answered by observing that through our projects and programs we are bringing together the brightest minds and engaging in potential partnerships that help us expand our footprint in this world. As an example he says we are developing what we call the accessibility switchboard to help those who are creating websites to become WCAG [Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] compliant. Many who develop web content currently lack a component which we know to be essential to success in accessibility, and that is consumer involvement. He went on to say that we are changing the strategy used to bring about web accessibility from a process where we check the results of an organization's work to one in which we encourage that web accessibility be a part of the culture. The retailer Target is our first strategic nonvisual access partner. It has demonstrated to us that its websites are WCAG [Web Content Accessibility Guidance] compliant, but beyond that the company has adopted a culture in which a product isn't developed and handed to an accessibility team but instead is developed with accessibility built-in.
Perhaps the most intriguing title on our convention agenda was "Slam That! Living the Life She Wants Begins with the Federation,” and the presenter was Jordyn Castor, a software engineer for Apple Inc. This was a remarkable presentation that began by chronicling the birth of a child weighing less than two pounds, described the role of wonderful parents and teachers, discussed the significant difficulties in finding friends and being accepted in middle school, described the experience of contact with the National Federation of the Blind through the Youth Slam program, and discussed the exhilaration felt when graduating with a degree in computer science and landing a job at Apple. Even the word “spectacular” does not convey how moving this presentation was to those of us in the audience, and I trust that readers will feel much of this same emotion when they read it in this issue. After a tremendous response from the convention, President Riccobono asked Diane McGeorge if she had a door prize, and she said that she didn't know if she had one big enough to do credit to the speech just given.
The President introduced the next topic in this way: "On reflection the topic of taxes might not have been the best agenda item after Jordyn's presentation, but of course we want to be employed, and Jordyn is going to learn the joys of taxes very soon. ‘Participating in the American Dream Means Paying Taxes: the Innovation of Accessible Financial Tools at H&R Block’ is our next topic. This actually is a very important agenda item because getting access to the tools that are needed to file our taxes and independently manage our finances is an important topic, and over the last few years, through our work and cooperation, H&R Block has come to be a model of moving accessibility within an organization. Here to talk with us about the work of H&R Block, where over the last year 23 million people have filed their taxes online, is the technology manager who leads a team of accessibility experts in changing the paradigm of accessibility and improving the tools at H&R Block. Here to present to us is Bret Reimer.”
Bret's presentation focused on the tremendous task faced by H&R Block in changing the thousands of webpages and forms that previously made up its offerings, putting in place development and testing procedures to ensure that H&R Block's products are accessible, and allying the company with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that what appeared to be accessible was also usable. Mr. Reimer’s remarks will appear in a future issue of the Monitor.
Jon Twing came to the dais to discuss the topic "Educational Assessments, Math Innovations, and Real Accessibility: Progress at Pearson." Mr. Twing is a psychometrician. He explained how the subject of assessments can easily be thought of as boring, stressful, and punitive, but when they are used as a guide for teaching, when they are constructed properly so that they measure what a person knows, and when they are developed and validated by and for the people who will use them, they can be a very constructive part of the learning process. These remarks will be reprinted in these pages later this year.
When the presentation was concluded, President Riccobono said: "Thank you, Jon. We appreciate Pearson's commitment to mammoth innovations in this area. We definitely appreciate the continued work on the Pearson team, especially through Jon's leadership, to make accessibility the rule rather than the exception."
After a fit break, the convention turned its attention to "Bringing the Braille Commitment to New Heights: The Transformation of the BrailleNote." This presentation by HumanWare was begun by Gilles Pepin, its chief executive officer. He started by saying, "I am really happy to be here again this year. I believe this is my tenth time to have the honor to talk with all of you from this podium, and I want to tell you that you are a very important group of people for HumanWare. Every time we come here we get your feedback, your comments on our products, and suggestions for new products to come. We really appreciate this relationship and this partnership we have with the NFB and its members, so thank you for supporting us and being there with us."
Mr. Pepin said that a change is coming about in the assistive technology industry, that change being to merge with larger companies. He described his meeting with the chief executive of Essilor, a company that makes eyeglasses, and he convinced that executive that the company's mission statement, "To improve life by improving sight" was not complete. He told the CEO that it would not be complete unless they could address the 2 to 3 percent of the population whose vision could not be restored and that they needed to offer products for people who are blind and visually impaired. The head of Essilor agreed, and Mr. Pepin believes the result has been that HumanWare now has more capital and can make an even greater commitment to products and services to benefit this population.
Gilles invited Greg Stilson, the manager of low vision and blindness technology, to discuss the BrailleNote Touch, but Greg noted that the mission of HumanWare goes far beyond discussing products: it goes to the very heart of discussing literacy, Braille, and the freedom that comes with being able to read and write efficiently. He said that for far too long one had to choose between the efficiency of assistive technology and the power and universal design of mainstream technology. He said that at HumanWare they believe they can blend the best of both worlds and make the most powerful productivity devices ever built. To fully appreciate the presentation made by the HumanWare team, listen to their live presentation. It can be found at <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2016_convention_highlights/tuesday_july_5/06_bringing_the_
Jim Gashel came to the platform with more good news to announce about Braille. The many doors that refreshable Braille displays offer are closed to those who simply can't afford them, the cost of most Braille cells being as much as eighty dollars apiece. At this price the cost of the forty-cell Braille display already starts out at at least $3,200, not including the computer, software, buttons, switches, and labor which must go into constructing a unit. Mr. Gashel's message was that the Transforming Braille Project was begun in 2012 with the goal of lowering the cost of Braille cells, and this it has done. The result is the Orbit Reader 20, a new, low-cost and feature-modest Braille display. Not only has this project resulted in a product that should be available in October, but we and the ten other organizations that came together to fund it have reduced the cost of a Braille cell from eighty dollars to twelve dollars, opening the door for other products that heretofore would have been economically impossible.
Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), followed Jim Gashel to the stage and talked about the future she sees for library services and particularly those offered by the NLS. She believes in libraries—the repository of knowledge made available to young and old, rich and poor, and she believes in the provision of library services to those who cannot read standard print. The National Library Service has a wonderful program for the distribution of audio books that are easily navigable by part, chapter, and section. Although WebBraille represents a significant effort on the part of the NLS and a tremendous resource for Braille readers, the ability to navigate using the service is far too limited. Books are not formatted for Braille displays but are produced for reading in hard copy Braille. Ms. Keninger hopes to supplement this hardcopy reading experience through legislation aimed at allowing the NLS to distribute affordable Braille displays and to create material in such a way that one can easily jump by sentence, paragraph, page, section, chapter, and part. There is no doubt that the National Federation of the Blind will support this legislation and that it will pass once Congress understands the transformative power of electronic Braille.
At the conclusion of the morning session, chapters, affiliates, and divisions that had sold raffle tickets conducted their drawings, the NLS conducted a question-and-answer session, and the restaurants were crowded with those determined to get some lunch before the gavel dropped on the final working session of the convention.
When the convention was gaveled to order at 2:00 PM, the first order of business was the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. James Gashel is the chairman of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee, and his presentation along with the remarks made by the winners can be found later in this issue.
“Living the Life She Wants: Rehabilitation Professional, Community Leader, and Mother” was the next topic on the agenda, and it was movingly presented by Amy Buresh, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska and a member of the national board of directors. What is it like to grow up as a blind child, pass through the education system, get what is offered through rehabilitation, get a job, get married, have children, participate in one's community, and be an advocate helping one's fellow blind? In one speech Amy Buresh captured it all, and hers is a presentation you will not want to miss when it appears in an upcoming issue.
"How Exponential Technologies Will Impact Disabilities" was the next item to come before the convention, and the presentation began with a demonstration of the KNFB Reader—not on the iPhone, not on an Android device, but on a Surface Pro 4 running on the Windows 10 Operating System. Although the software is not yet ready for release, in its beta version it demonstrates the extraordinary speed and accuracy we have come to associate with the KNFB Reader product.
Following Mr. Gashel's demonstration, Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, came to the podium and announced that this was his forty-second consecutive convention and that it continues to be the highlight of his year. Without becoming embroiled in the political controversies of the day, Dr. Kurzweil says that the common perception that the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be simply is not supported by available data, but a remnant of our evolutionary survival causes us to believe that the more we hear about a thing, the more dangerous it must be. He notes that, despite all of the inequality in the world, there is also a greater emphasis on justice and civil rights and the sharing of information and knowledge on a scale unparalleled in human history. He talked about some of the changes for the better that have come about in his own life, describing the efforts of his family to work for the equal treatment of women through the establishment of a school in 1868, his own acquaintance with a civil rights movement nearly 100 years later as he was present to watch and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the pleasure he has derived from knowing the great civil rights leaders for the blind he has met through his association with the Federation. He said that he was warned not to get involved with the NFB because it was something of a radical organization, but those warning him did not understand that he considered this an asset rather than a liability. He wryly observed that, while others were polite to him, wished him well, and characterized us in terms they viewed as unflattering, we were the people who came up with the money and the scientists when he needed help developing and distributing prototypes of the first Kurzweil Reading Machine.
President Riccobono introduced the next agenda item in this way: "We've already talked quite a bit at this convention about the Amazon Corporation and our relationship with them. There's a lot I can say about our next speaker, but I want to tell you this: when we met to talk about what Amazon needed to do in New York, I said to this gentleman that the problem is we only have two choices. We can either figure out a way to work together on accessibility, or we have to slay the dragon—that's it, we've only got two choices. He agreed that we only had two choices, and we agreed on all sides that one route was preferable to the other. In our speaker this afternoon we have found someone who I believe shares our vision for the future, does believe that making equality in education is a priority, and has been authentic in negotiating for what Amazon can do now and going forward in a meaningful way that will drive success rather than keeping us chasing the dragon. So here to talk about educational leadership at Amazon is the general manager for Amazon K-12 education, Rohit Agarwal.
Mr. Agarwal said that we are in the midst of a great revolution in education, one in which information presented digitally is transforming the way students learn and helping them learn concepts rather than memorizing phrases and sentences. As important as this digital transition is for everyone in raising educational outcomes, it is of tremendous importance to people who are blind. Mr. Agarwal says that the goal of Amazon is not just to create hardware and software that will allow the blind to read but to deploy systems that allow students to highlight a word, ask for a meaning, understand and interact with graphics and tables, and even share notes among their peers and teachers. He said that any product that is built for the K-12 educational sector will have accessibility built-in from day one. “It will not be an afterthought, it is not a remediation where you have to talk to us about slaying the dragon—we are not the dragon—we are a friendly face trying to do the right thing, and proof of that was that, since our agreement with the NFB, our first product that my team released was last week at the technology conference in Denver. It is called Amazon Inspire, and, though it is still in beta, from the time we made it available for anybody to use, it has had accessibility built-in in many different ways."
Eve Hill has been on our convention agenda for many years, and the quality of her presentations leaves no question why. This year her topic was “Eliminating Artificial Barriers: Civil Rights and Disability at the United States Department of Justice,” where she serves as deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division. In her presentation Eve Hill made it clear that she understands the broad array of legal challenges that face blind people and expressed how the Department of Justice is doing what it can to help address them. Ms. Hill's remarks will be reprinted in full in an upcoming issue.
Jamie Principato followed Ms. Hill to the stage, and her presentation was entitled “Equal Opportunity and Discovering Talent: A Journey from Discrimination to Particle Astrophysics Research." “Educational,” “motivational,” and “inspirational” are all fine words, but they only scratch the surface when used to describe this presentation. It will appear elsewhere in this issue.
The final presentation of the afternoon was “Leading the Nation in Systemic Accessibility: The Tennessee Commitment to Equal Access.” Its presenter was Tristan Denley, vice chancellor for academic affairs, Tennessee Board of Regents. Dr. Denley’s presentation was cut short due to the need to clear the meeting room at 5:00 PM, but the full text of his remarks will be reprinted later in the fall.
When the banquet commenced at 7:00 PM, the master of ceremonies, Dr. Maurer, delighted in giving away a number of door prizes, introducing divisions to do likewise, and inviting to the stage sponsor-level exhibitors who had collected names at their booths and who gave significant prizes at the banquet.
Scott LaBarre was introduced to talk about our progress in raising contributions to the PAC Plan, and the monthly amount pledged has risen by more than $25,000, meaning that we are leaving the convention with the new pledged amount of $507,504 annually. With our final registration being 2,368, this has certainly been a most impressive gathering.
The highlight of the banquet finally having arrived, Dr. Maurer introduced President Riccobono for the annual banquet speech, which centered on discussion of what is perhaps the greatest impediment to the progress of the blind, that being fear. Most would assume that our greatest stumbling block is fear of the dark, but fear manifests in many less visible ways, and the banquet speech masterfully demonstrates how fear can be acknowledged, embraced, and owned. These remarks appear in full later in this issue.
After rousing applause and ongoing chants, the banquet was next addressed by President Riccobono to present our first-ever award in the name of Ray Kurzweil. The official name of the award is the Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award. The presentation of this award and Dr. Paul Albrecht's remarks are found elsewhere in this issue.
The award ceremony was followed by yet another which has great significance in the Federation, that being the presentation of scholarships to the thirty most deserving blind students in the country. A list of the scholarship finalists appears in a separate article along with the remarks made by the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship.
Allen Harris was the chairman of the Newel Perry Award Committee. As it happens this was the last presentation made in the name of Dr. Perry, the board of directors having voted earlier in the week to rename the award in honor of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Allen asked that James Gashel handle the ceremony. His presentation of this award and the remarks of the recipient can be found elsewhere in this issue.
The master of ceremonies next introduced Mary Ellen Jernigan to present the Kenneth Jernigan Award. The presentation made by Mrs. Jernigan and the award recipient’s remarks appear later in this issue.
When the master of ceremonies again took the microphone, he did so with the purpose of presenting the Dr. Jacobus tenBroek Award. As with other awards presented at the 2016 banquet, his remarks and those of the winner are found elsewhere in this issue.
The last item of business to come before the banquet was the drawing of a door prize in the amount of $2,016. With one happy door prize winner and 2,000 people cheering his good fortune, President Riccobono took the silver gavel given to Dr. Maurer on his twenty-fifth anniversary as President and used that gavel to signal the end of the 2016 convention.
After a week that was jam-packed with education, fellowship, and fun, members left the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel physically exhausted but mentally recharged, tired in their bones but inspired in their hearts, depleted in the soles of their feet and delighted in their eternal souls. Indeed enthusiasm, creativity, and celebration did not stop at seventy-five or seventy-six, but are evidenced in even greater measure as we meet the challenges faced in the seventy-seventh year of our commitment to one another. What we have done is worthy of celebration for the lives it has changed, but what we will do is even more important, for it is the promise we have made to those who have not yet had the kind of future they can look upon years from now and say they were able to live their lives to the fullest, dared to dream their dreams, and found a way to realize them. With our work well defined and our commitment to it as solid as the most precious diamond, we left Orlando to continue the work of delivering brighter tomorrows for our brothers and sisters who are blind.
From the Editor: Each affiliate on the hosting committee told the convention about its state and affiliate history. Here is what they said:
Of the thirteen original colonies, New Hampshire was the first to declare its independence from Mother England—a full six months before the Declaration of Independence was signed. When these Colonials are ready to make a stand, people better take notice! In 1956 blind members of the Granite State joined a movement that was sweeping across America, the National Federation of the Blind. Franklin Van Vliet became the first state president, and in 1961 was elected to the position of treasurer of our national board of directors. Twenty years later another New Hampshire delegate, Theresa Herron, was also elected to the NFB board of directors. Theresa also received a prestigious honor from the New Hampshire State Senate for her work as president of the NFB of New Hampshire. New Hampshire is also home to many firsts! They are the first state in all of America to grow the potato! They are the first state to open a public library, and the first ever alarm clock was invented in New Hampshire. Ten Hampshirites have attended a leadership seminar, and the most famous NFBNH member also happens to be an undertaker! Don’t worry, President Cassie McKinney promises never to embalm anyone unless they really need it!
Last year Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire sponsored the TIME Act, and New Hampshire is proud to state that there are absolutely no discriminatory 14(c) waiver certificate exceptions in the Granite State! The state bird of New Hampshire is the purple finch, and the blind members of the NFBNH are singing a proud song and living the life they want!
Utah is known for its pioneer spirit. This was never more evident when in 1919 a statewide consumer advocacy organization, the Utah Association of the Blind was formed twenty-one years before the NFB. In 1949 a dynamic young blind man, Jesse Anderson, moved to Utah from Idaho and immediately became active in the Association. He soon became its president and spearheaded our becoming the forty-fourth affiliate of the NFB in 1957.
Jesse, a natural leader, was elected to the Idaho state legislature in 1938 while still a university student and to the Utah legislature in 1956. In his freshman legislative year Jesse facilitated the passage of three bills directly affecting the blind of Utah including adding services to the commission for the blind, improving access to property tax exemptions for blind home owners, and funding for purchasing materials for the workshop in Ogden. He also helped block a budget cut planned for the Utah School for the Blind. He went on to serve three terms on the Utah Board of Education and as a member of the NFB board of directors.
Utah became more locally focused after the NFB civil war and much less active nationally in the 1960s. Things began to change in the 70s, and at the 1975 national convention then President Milton Taylor accepted our new charter renaming our affiliate the National Federation of the Blind of Utah.
In the 1980s and early 90s Utah operated a free Braille transcription service, producing more than 150,000 pages including manuals, schedules, the BAR exam, and more. Membership increased, and more members attended conventions and Washington seminars and worked with Utah's legislature resulting in 1994 with the passage of the Braille Literacy Rights and Education Act guaranteeing Braille instruction to blind K through 12 students. In 2010 Utah sponsored our first BELL program and has continued to do so through this year. We also operate project STRIVE, providing job and skills training for high school and college-bound students.
Fifty-four Utahns have attended leadership seminars, and approximately twenty Utah students have won scholarships, including three top winners and several tenBroek Fellows. This year is no exception with Utahn Kassidy Wilde in the class of 2016.
Utah Federationists also demonstrate their leadership outside the NFB. Former president Ron Gardner and Sachin Pavithran were appointed by two different US presidents to the United States Access Board, and Sachin served as chairman. Kristen Cox now serves as the head of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
Arriving in Utah in 2005, Everette Bacon became active in the NFB of Utah, becoming Salt Lake chapter president after the untimely death of Nick Schmittroth. Everette was elected president of the NFB of Utah in 2012 and through his dynamic leadership continues the long tradition of positive action in Utah and the nation. He was elected to the NFB board of directors in 2015. Together with all of you Utah is helping the blind live the lives we want.
In 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte sold the Orleans territory to the United States, and in 1812 the great state of Louisiana was formed. Blind people in Louisiana were active early on, and in 1952 the Louisiana Association joined the National Federation of the Blind. A convention was held in the parish of New Orleans in 1957, and this would be the first of four national conventions held in the Pelican State.
A category five hurricane swept away those crawdads from our national organization in 1958, and for many years Louisiana was separated by Old Man River. But in 1972 blind people could be heard singing the state song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine;” and the NFB membership were so happy to accept the NFB of Louisiana back into our family.
There were many great leaders that helped develop the Louisiana territory into a powerful state affiliate. Members like Don Banning were helpful in recruiting new members. Then came along Joanne Fernandez Wilson, who blew into the state like an Iowa tornado! She brought with her the energy of an entire hurricane season and was able to bring about the Louisiana Center for the Blind [LCB] in 1985. This great training center has produced over 1,200 graduates, and LCB has become the gold standard of blindness training programs recognized around the world. Joanne Wilson went on to represent Louisiana on the national board of directors, and in 2001 she was appointed by President Bush to be the RSA Commissioner. That same year another hurricane hit, but it was not Katrina! It was Hurricane Pam Allen who became the new director of the LCB and is still to-date the president of the Mardi Gras State. In 1997 the largest convention of the National Federation of the Blind took place in New Orleans, where over 3,300 blind saints were marching down Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.
Louisiana Tech University’s Institute on Blindness now produces some of the most well-respected cane travel teachers and blindness professionals our country has ever known. There are longtime members like Jerry Whittle and Eric Guillory who are now helping to build on the affiliate’s awesome growth which includes sixty-two Louisiana Seminarians! Pam and her husband Roland are leading the way to taking LCB and the NFB of Louisiana to even greater heights than ever before, and Pam is now the first vice president of our National Organization. So when you hear the phrase “who dat?” Well you know it is the NFB of Louisiana!
OHHHHHHHHH Klahoma! Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain! Where the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain! We know we belong to the land and the land we belong to is grand!
In 1945, just five years after the National Federation of the Blind was formed, the great state of Oklahoma joined the Federation family. In 1951 the eleventh national convention was held in Oklahoma City. At that time equal pay at sheltered workshops was on the collective mind of the NFB of Oklahoma. In 1958 they passed a resolution calling for fair pay from their state sheltered shop. Sooners are known to have a stubborn streak, and during the civil war in 1960, Oklahoma left the NFB, and for many years the NFB missed those fiery Boomers! In 1974 there was a whirlwind of activity beginning to swirl, and a new affiliate was formed. Since that time the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma have been actively living the lives they want and fighting for others to do the same.
Over the years seventeen members of the Oklahoma affiliate have attended a Leadership Seminar. In the past decade or so, Oklahoma has really experienced a tornado of growth and leadership in President Jeannie Massay. In 2013 Jeannie was elected to the national board and last year was elected to serve as our national treasurer. The Boomer Sooner gang now consists of some of the most experienced and enthusiastic members in any affiliate! There are grizzled veterans like Steve Shelton and Cordelia Sanders, while Audrey and Glenda Farnum know how to bring the thunder. Then there are the newbies and those who have come home, from home-grown Okie’s like Rex Schuttler and Cammie Loehr to returning Okie’s, Mike and Fatos Floyd along with Oklahoma transplants like Jedi Moerke and Mike Harvey. Oklahoma is on the move!
A couple of interesting little-known facts about the state of Oklahoma: the world's largest concrete totem pole is in Foyil. It is sixty-feet tall and thirty feet around at its widest point. Edward Roberts, a 1968 Oklahoma State University graduate in electrical engineering, is credited with inventing the personal computer—and he gave software giant Bill Gates his first job in the industry. And finally, “Oklahoma!” became the state song in 1953.
All Federationists know how to live the lives they want, so when you hear Oklahoma Federationists say Yippee Ki-yay, you know that the NFB of Oklahoma is OK!
An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 3, 2016
During the past year, our movement has made progress at an ever-increasing pace and has forged connections with growing strength. On July 8, 2015, 2,480 individual members of the National Federation of the Blind from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, with diverse backgrounds and varied talents, joined together to share a mosaic with the world. This mosaic, formed by thousands of umbrellas raised in unison, represented our collective intention to live the lives we want and to transform our dreams into reality. On that morning we not only set a new Guinness Book World Record and demonstrated that we are “officially amazing,” we once again confirmed in our hearts our commitment to secure first-class status and our unwavering determination to achieve equality in society. From the individual stories of many, we create a hopeful mosaic that expresses action, imagination, power, influence, diversity, and determination—we are the National Federation of the Blind.
One story of determination is that of Yasmin Reyazuddin, a member of the Federation from Maryland. Yasmin is a talented and articulate woman who uses screen access software to manage information on the computer. In May 2008, she was working as an information and referral specialist in a call center for Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services. When she learned that her work would be consolidated into a new Montgomery County 3-1-1 call center, she inquired about the accessibility of the software for the new location and offered to assist in testing for accessibility barriers. She was told repeatedly and confidently that county officials would work it out. Yasmin continued to perform her job and carefully escalated her concern to more people, but the answer was always the same, “we will work it out.” Yasmin steadily received less work and was increasingly isolated from other employees—including a ten-day period in December when she was required to report to an office with no other employees and no heat. The new call center software was not accessible, and Yasmin was left with nothing to do despite continuing to be paid by the county. Yasmin wanted to work, she wanted to earn her pay, she wanted to add value to the county’s services, but all she was permitted to do was wait. The county never did work it out. Eventually they told her that providing accessibility would be an undue hardship to the county’s $3.73 billion budget, but Yasmin knew where to turn to work it out—the National Federation of the Blind.
We first filed suit in 2011 for Montgomery County’s violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Over the past five years there have been many ups and downs, and Yasmin could have walked away, found a different job, or settled for a second-class solution, but Yasmin is a Federationist. Last year I reported that the court of appeals reversed an earlier decision and ordered a new trial that was scheduled for February of this year. The resulting jury trial was a hard-fought, three-week battle that was followed by four days of jury deliberation. I am pleased to report that on February 26, 2016, the unequivocal decision of the jury was that Ms. Reyazuddin's employer had failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation, as required by law, and discriminated against her by not transferring her to the new telephone call center because it failed to make workplace technology accessible. This ruling is a significant victory for Yasmin and for all blind employees who experience discrimination from employers who believe their workplace technologies need not be accessible to blind people. We are now supporting Yasmin in seeking an order that Montgomery County update its call center software for accessibility and transfer her to that location. Although the road may be long and filled with setbacks, the National Federation of the Blind will not stop until the artificial barriers are eliminated and every blind person has equality of opportunity in the workplace.
A number of years ago the general rehabilitation agency for the state of New Jersey implemented an inaccessible case management system and used a statewide time and attendance system that was similarly unusable by the blind. It did not matter how effective blind counselors were or how often they were at work—they could not log their notes or account for their time in the established systems. The very agency responsible for managing plans to get people with disabilities into successful employment was preventing people with disabilities from being successfully employed. The National Federation of the Blind believes in the full capacity of blind people, and we do not take lightly the unequal treatment of the blind, especially by agencies claiming expertise in employing the disabled. We entered into negotiations with the agency, and we can now report that this matter has been settled. The State of New Jersey has made its time and attendance system accessible and will maintain accessibility going forward. Similarly, the agency has replaced its inaccessible case management system with one that all employees can effectively use. For this lesson in equal treatment, the State of New Jersey has paid $285,000 in damages to the individual clients and in fees to the National Federation of the Blind.
Often the barriers arise before we even get to the workplace. Eric Patterson began applying for customer service positions through an employment agency. One of the requirements he encountered was a series of computer-based job assessment tests. The assessments were developed by Kenexa, a subsidiary of IBM, and they were inaccessible to a blind person. With the support of the National Federation of the Blind, Eric successfully engaged the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which got Kenexa to successfully make all of their tests accessible. While the EEOC is continuing to work to resolve issues with the employment agency, this case represents an important step forward in protecting the blind from being shut out at the application phase.
Each of us, regardless of our work, needs access to quality healthcare and deserves the protections of privacy for our health information. The increasing negative impact of inaccessible electronic health records and health-related kiosks is a growing concern for blind employees and blind patients. Manny Morse is a dispatcher for the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts. When his employer purchased and installed inaccessible software, he found himself unable to perform his job. The National Federation of the Blind has come to his aid, and we have filed suit against the employer. Recognizing that the broader problem is the lack of care taken by technology companies that sell these systems, we have also sued the creator of the software, Epic Systems, for aiding and abetting the employer’s violations by developing and marketing an inaccessible product. Similarly, last summer we learned that the Department of Defense (DOD) Healthcare Management Systems had issued a contract for the design and implementation of an electronic health records program for both the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that will be used by employees and patients and that should, according to the law, be accessible. The contract was awarded to Cerner—the primary competitor to Epic Systems and a company that has already installed dozens of inaccessible systems that have adversely impacted blind people across the country. We have proactively reached out to both Cerner and the Department of Defense to raise our concerns and offer our expertise. To date, the response—when we have received one—has been cordial but without commitment. Despite their deepest hope, we are not going away. More broadly, we are investigating and testing healthcare kiosks placed in hospitals and urgent care facilities. We are currently negotiating with one of the kiosk manufacturers, and our plan is to visit others very soon. It is not permissible to shut out blind employees in the healthcare industry, nor is it permissible to shut out the patients. If the government and other health providers continue to ignore their responsibility, and if our prescription for equality continues to be unfilled, we have no choice but to offer a visit from the doctors of jurisprudence to cure the disease of inaccessibility.
Our nationwide network of advocates has been hard at work moving our policy agenda. The commitment and determination of the National Federation of the Blind was never as strongly in evidence as it was during the 2016 Washington Seminar when even a record-setting snowstorm would not stop Federationists from taking extraordinary steps to meet the call to action. The snow was a suitable symbol for the difficult and long-fought battle we have been engaged in to secure equal protections for the blind under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Through our commitment, the barriers to equality are melting faster than any time in our seventy-six year history. Since the 1930s, federal law has permitted employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage guaranteed to others, but only if the lower wage is necessary to ensure employment opportunities. The law contains a little-known provision allowing workers with disabilities to petition the United States Department of Labor for an administrative review of their wages in an expedited process. After working for an average of $2.50 an hour for more than three years, three employees with disabilities—Joe Magers, who is blind; Pam Steward; and Mark Felton—sought fair pay from Seneca Re-Ads, a sheltered workshop run by the County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Seneca County, Ohio. It took tremendous courage for these individuals to be the pioneers who stepped forward to use the petition process to challenge their unequal wages, and the National Federation of the Blind stood with them in the fight. The lead representative for the complainants was the director of legal policy and Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind, Marc Maurer. In January of this year, after a week-long trial, an administrative law judge issued a precedent-setting decision awarding the workers minimum wage going forward and back pay from their prior work. This decision is one more signal to employers that the unequal pay system for the disabled is out of date. Although the matter has been appealed we are confident we will win this fight and we will teach others how to leverage the petition process. Let there be no doubt that we will put an end to discriminatory wages paid to workers with disabilities.
Our progress in wage equality can also be observed in legislative bodies at the federal and state level. We have doubled the number of cosponsors in the United States House of Representatives who are supporting H.R. 188—the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act—which sets a timetable for ending the wage exemption under the law. In August 2015, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire—whose state was the first in the nation to completely outlaw the wage exemption at the state level—introduced a version of the TIME Act in the United States Senate (S. 2001). And on May 19, after successful work and partnership building by Federation members, Maryland’s governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that starts the clock on phasing out the unfair wage exemption in Maryland by the year 2020.
Another focus for raising expectations in employment has been the federal procurement contract program branded as AbilityOne. Under the program two central nonprofit agencies are responsible for coordinating contracts: National Industries for the Blind (NIB) for agencies that employ blind people and SourceAmerica for agencies serving those with other disabilities. In October, with growing concern about the abuse of AbilityOne contracts by SourceAmerica, the National Federation of the Blind led the disability community in developing a platform of seven principles for reform of the AbilityOne program. Implementation of the reform principles would strengthen accountability, raise the expectations for people with disabilities, and further promote integrated and competitive employment opportunities. As a result of our collaborative reform agenda, SourceAmerica finally agreed to engage in dialogue with us after more than a year of avoidance. Although a number of honest conversations took place, we could not secure agreement from SourceAmerica on any of our seven principles, including elimination of the special wage system for people with disabilities. In contrast, National Industries for the Blind demonstrates increasing sincerity in addressing our concerns and seeking collaborative opportunities. NIB has eagerly endorsed introduction of the TIME Act in the United States Senate, and their organizational commitments over the past few years leave them with only two small NIB-associated agencies that still utilize the special wage exemption under the law. NIB is here at this convention, we will hear from them later in the program, and we will continue to work closely with them to raise expectations and find new employment opportunities for the blind.
Anil Lewis, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, serves as a presidential appointee to the AbilityOne Commission representing the general public. With his leadership and the foundation first laid by Jim Omvig, the AbilityOne commission issued, for the first time ever, a statement declaring the goal of the program to be that all people with disabilities receive the prevailing wage for the work they perform. Members of the National Federation of the Blind continue to seek policy opportunities, at all levels, to bring the disabled into the protected class of workers who are guaranteed fair wages, and we will not stop until we have equality in employment.
A central component of participation in our society is the right to vote, and we continue to provide leadership in all aspects of the voting process. Through our advocacy work we provide information to the blind regarding voter registration and expectations for casting a ballot privately and independently. We also work closely with election officials, researchers, and developers of voting systems. When we must, we engage directly in combating discrimination against blind voters. Last year I reported that we had secured a ruling from the federal court in Baltimore requiring the State of Maryland to provide an accessible ballot-marking tool for absentee voting. The state appealed that ruling, but the appellate court soundly rebuffed their claim in favor of equal access. Our victory in Maryland stands, the Federation will receive nearly a quarter of a million dollars in compensation for attorneys’ fees, and we now proceed to other states. We are currently fighting for justice in Ohio where some of the state’s voting services are not accessible, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And just last month we sued the New York State Board of Elections, whose website has many inaccessible forms, with the hope that we can resolve the barriers prior to the November election. We will have equal access to voting, and we will be recognized as an important constituency by the elected leaders of our nation.
In 2010 the president of the United States called the release of web access regulations under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment.” Nearly six years later—a couple of generations in terms of technology development—the most important update is left undone and has been deferred for reconsideration to sometime approximately, possibly in 2018 or thereabouts. While the government bureaucrats sit on their keyboards, the blind of America continue to find a path forward. We have held a number of information briefings to demystify accessibility among key officials in the administration, distributed our views in publications such as the Huffington Post, hosted training for web developers, and gathered support from a broad range of allies. Businesses, even more than the blind, need the regulations in order to clarify how they satisfactorily meet their accessibility obligations under the law. We have asked many of the major technology companies to join with us in urging the government to release the needed regulations. To date, all but one has turned us down—although the one is significant. Earlier this year, a letter co-authored by the President of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of Microsoft Corporation was sent to the White House urging the president of the United States to act swiftly on internet regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Subsequent to that letter, Microsoft invited me to give a presentation on accessibility at Microsoft’s Envision Conference—the premier gathering for chief information officers and other business executives responsible for large-scale implementation of technology. As we continue to build our team of supporters for the regulations, Microsoft should be recognized for its leadership in firmly standing with the blind of this nation on this issue.
While the marketplace awaits clarity on accessibility from the government, we continue to forge the legal framework in the courts. After a preliminary court victory, we resolved our precedent-setting litigation against Scribd, Inc.—an online subscription reading service. The settlement agreement requires the company to make its subscription content available and its website accessible to blind users by the end of 2017. We look forward to Scribd’s more than sixty million works being available for all readers; and, without the regulations, we have no choice but to continue to pursue those who bar us from access to the benefits and services available on the internet.
Equal access for the blind also extends to transportation. A frequent barrier is the refusal of drivers to take passengers who use dog guides. I most recently experienced this myself when my wife Melissa (who uses a dog guide), our three children, and I were denied a ride by an Uber driver just outside the gates of the White House. In April, the National Federation of the Blind, our California affiliate, and a number of individual dog guide users offered the court a first-of-its-kind class action agreement with Uber that requires Uber to take affirmative steps to prevent discrimination against blind riders in its transportation network across the United States. Under the agreement, pending approval from the court later this fall, Uber will require drivers to confirm their legal obligation to transport riders with dog guides or other service animals, will implement stricter enforcement policies and terminate drivers for discriminatory actions, will enhance its response system for complaints, and will track detailed data on all allegations of discrimination against the blind. Over the next few years, the National Federation of the Blind will deploy testers to evaluate Uber’s compliance with the settlement. We will continue to work toward equal access with other transportation services and their technologies, including Lyft, Greyhound, and the major airlines, and we will hold all transportation services accountable for discriminatory actions against the blind in any aspect of their services.
Our action to protect the bonds of love between blind parents and their children is one of our most important initiatives. Our work in the state of New York, where a trial has recently begun, is a good example. For over two years, a blind father of very young children has been unfairly restricted by a court order that requires him to have a sighted person present whenever he is with his children. Although the court has now lifted the order for nighttime hours, we are fighting for this father to have fair custody and visitation rights without the discriminatory requirement of sighted supervision. In this case, we are providing legal expertise, skilled blind parents as witnesses, and members of our organization who attend court hearings in order to support the parent and to acknowledge that discrimination on the basis of blindness impacts all blind parents. Other efforts this year in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, New York, and Washington have been instrumental in protecting the rights of blind parents who have faced hostile and discriminatory presumptions about their ability to parent due to their blindness. We have drafted model legislation for desperately needed changes in state laws to prevent systemic discrimination in both public welfare proceedings and family law custody disputes. In Maryland we recently secured many of these legal protections, and a number of other states have had legislation introduced. After learning about our efforts on behalf of blind parents, a group of parental rights advocates came to meet with leaders of the Federation and, as a result, they have changed their proposed amendment to the United States Constitution intended to strengthen the rights of all parents to unambiguously state, “The parental rights guaranteed by this article shall not be denied or abridged on account of disability.”
We recognize that the most powerful change comes from within us as blind people. This is why we have significantly increased our investment in building our resource network to empower blind people planning to become parents and to connect them with our Federation family before they face discrimination. We have launched blindparents.org as our central home for resources; we have laid the plans for new educational programs; we have begun building a network of blind parent mentors; and, as a result, we have been found by an increasing number of blind people seeking parenting resources. We will continue to fight until we eliminate the discriminatory assumptions that others make about our capacity to serve as caretakers for our loved ones, and we will continue to build resources with the hope that through our litigation, legislative, and educational efforts we can find blind people and empower them with the understanding and support that protects us as members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Custody is not the only issue faced by blind parents. Noel Nightingale is an attorney, the mother of three children, and a member of the National Federation of the Blind. She became increasingly frustrated with the number of inaccessible online resources that she was expected to interact with to track the progress of her children in the school district, including helping them with their homework online. We filed suit on her behalf against the Seattle Public School District, and last fall we secured a wide-ranging consent decree that should serve as a national model for equal access for blind parents and students in districts across the country.
For more than a decade, we have had a strained relationship with Amazon regarding the accessibility of its products and services. When the New York City Board of Education announced plans to have Amazon create a virtual bookstore for its schools, we knew we had to act. The lack of alt tags in Kindle books, adequate navigation, Braille support, access to footnotes and tables, and other barriers would leave the one thousand blind students and any blind educators in the district at a disadvantage. After successfully and indefinitely delaying the vote to ratify the contract, we met with Amazon and agreed that together we could accomplish something truly innovative. We have been clear and firm that we will not settle for second-best for blind children or blind educators anywhere in this country. Amazon has been clear and firm that they share our point of view, and although they will not get there tomorrow they intend to exceed our expectations. We told Amazon that we intend to hold them accountable, and they responded that they would expect nothing less from the National Federation of the Blind. We now have an agreement with Amazon that provides the roadmap for accessibility improvements in Amazon’s educational products and services and sets an expectation for equality in the future. We will hear from Amazon later in this convention, and we have great hope for the accessible educational tools we will engineer together through this new partnership.
Raising the expectations for blind students in this nation’s education system is one of the more frustrating and complex problems we face. Whether the barrier is systemic or one faced by a single blind student, the remedies are extremely limited, and every day that a child waits for her education is a real loss. Take, for example, our work in the state of Virginia where we are in negotiations with the Chesterfield County Public Schools regarding the inaccessibility of its online delivery system, where students access most if not all of their daily curriculum. The barriers are so bad that at least one of the district’s blind students is now being homeschooled. Dozens of other complex individual cases of young blind students receiving unfair treatment, inaccessible materials, and artificial limits on their opportunities require thousands of hours of advocacy from Federation members across the country. Despite the challenges and the resources required, we will continue to find ways to make educational equality for the blind the rule rather than the exception.
We also continue to seek systemic change in institutions of higher education. Whether the technology that the university is using and continues to purchase is inaccessible or the procedures for securing accessible materials are completely inadequate, the result is the same—a frustrating and unequal education. We have recently met with university officials at Harvard, Southern Oregon University, and Wichita State where we believe progress will be made. In other cases, we continue to fight for equality through the courts. In order to build our own capacity, in January we launched version 1.0 of our online Self-Advocacy in Higher Ed Toolkit available at nfb.org. This resource, developed with the help of our national students division, provides blind students with an overview of their legal rights and tips on how to self-advocate for accessibility. In order to accelerate institutional change, we have just launched an online higher education resource guide to help university leaders understand the steps institutions should take to ensure accessibility for blind students and faculty, and to demystify accessibility.
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute—the national headquarters for our organization—occupies one square city block in Baltimore, Maryland. During the past year we have hosted 3,805 individuals at our building for individual tours, strategy meetings, affiliate-building gatherings, training seminars, and conferences. In addition to participation from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, we hosted visitors from at least seventeen foreign nations. Among the significant gatherings we have hosted this year are meetings of disability advocates, technology business leaders, international digital publishing experts, regional employment and transportation specialists, web accessibility consultants, and the International Council on English Braille. We continue to make improvements to the physical facilities and the technology assets that support our organizational objectives. We have installed a new three-ton chiller on the roof of our building to replace outdated equipment and gain greater energy efficiency. We have installed nine emergency evacuation chairs to improve safety for our visitors that might have difficulty using stairs in an emergency. We have improved aesthetics and energy efficiency by upgrading to LED lighting in key parts of the building. We selected and implemented use of the web-based Paycom platform for fully accessible management of employee data and payroll processing. And we launched the new Connections database for clearer tracking of the impact of our work on the blind and for more effective facilitation of communications among Federationists.
Through our national education, technology, and research programs we are changing lives faster than any time before. We give blind children a jump-start on literacy through our Braille Reading Pals Club which reaches nearly five hundred families annually. Through our investment in projects like the Transforming Braille Group, we are making it practical for refreshable Braille devices to be more widely available at an affordable price. With the National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy, we are completely changing the expectations for the education of blind children. With support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, we have expanded the NFB BELL Academy lesson plans offered to teachers, including more math- and science-related content; we are aligning the curriculum to nationally recognized standards; and our reach will grow to forty-seven locations this summer. We have developed a curriculum that is worthy of the high-quality instruction blind students deserve to receive, and we make it available to them in the summer. We will now seek new ways to give them this quality of instruction every day of the year.
Our National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative continues to open doors to science, technology, engineering, art, and math in ways that are unparalleled. During the past year we have initiated a new hands-on, inquiry-based, engineering design program known as NFB EQ. This program challenges blind students to design a water craft and successfully float it on a river while performing a series of tasks. We know that vision is not a requirement for success, but the blind students who come to our programs have rarely been taught the techniques that blind people need to use to perform math, draw designs using tactile drawing tools, or independently measure and cut materials. We have hosted two engineering programs with a third planned for later this summer. In addition, we have now completed work with six museums around the country through our grant from the National Science Foundation. We will take what we have learned from combining our expertise in blindness together with the expertise in science education from Baltimore, Columbus, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, and we will now engineer new programs to further expand the opportunities for the blind to excel in science- and math-related subjects and careers.
We have focused our technology expertise in our Center for Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. With partial support from the State of Maryland through the Maryland Department of Disabilities, our Web Accessibility Training Day, accessibility evaluation training for blind testers, and a series of intense accessibility training seminars, have contributed significantly to the growing community of individuals seeking to make accessibility a built-in feature in all digital products and services. We have begun development of an Accessibility Switchboard—an interactive online accessibility information resource for consumers and a compliance information portal for organizations. Through our switchboard we will increase the communication channels between blind consumers and web developers, increase the sharing of best practices, and develop new tools to further our mission of built-in accessibility.
We put blind people at the center of innovating new tools to access information and to solve the real problems of blindness. We held the first meetings for the National Federation of the Blind Indoor Navigation Challenge—a research initiative to foster the development of systems that the blind can use to obtain access to information about indoor environments. We continue to expand our NFB NEWSLINE system, which is available at no charge in forty-seven of our state affiliates and serves more than one hundred thousand subscribers with 343 domestic newspapers, 20 breaking news sources, 16 international newspapers, 51 magazines, shopping ads, television listings, and hundreds of thousands of job listings through USA JOBS and CareerBuilder.com. More significantly, later this year we will exponentially increase the amount of content available to the blind when we launch our new book portal that will provide blind people with free web-based access to the more than fourteen and a half million digital works available in the HathiTrust Digital Library.
We cannot discuss access to information without mentioning our work on the KNFB Reader—the fastest, most accurate, capture-and-read application on the market. Developed by blind people for blind people, the KNFB Reader continues to improve. In October the KNFB Reader for Android was released, and we began working on development of a Windows version of the app that will be available on devices running Windows 10, including tablets, phones, and desktops. The user community for KNFB Reader continues to grow, and we continue to rely on blind users as the designers for future enhancements of the technology. KNFB Reader is ours, it belongs to the National Federation of the Blind, and we need to dream of what more we want it to do and develop the partnerships and resources to make those dreams come true. As you know, we have been urging Google to make accessibility a priority. Google has been making steady progress in improving accessibility on the Android platform and they want to distinguish Android from other mobile platforms used by blind people. It is fitting that Independence Day is tomorrow, as Google and the National Federation of the Blind will be boosting independence through increased distribution of the KNFB Reader beginning tomorrow. I am proud to announce that through a development agreement between Google and the National Federation of the Blind, we will be offering a limited number of fully licensed downloads of KNFB Reader for Android in the Google Play Store at the unheard-of cost to users of $19.99.
In all that we do, we seek to connect with blind individuals and to bring their unique stories to the family that is the National Federation of the Blind. Through training for affiliate and local leaders, development of new membership outreach tools, and new communication channels like our Nation’s Blind podcast, we are strengthening the connections between us and growing our ability to help more individuals fit into the network of the Federation. Our growing outreach is a sign of the health and strength of our movement. One example is our work to develop a Spanish version of our monthly message shared at every chapter meeting in the nation—our Presidential Release. Although the message comes from me as your President, we could not make it available without the support of many dedicated Federationists who work to help make sure the message is accurate when provided in Spanish. Thank you to the Federationists who help expand our reach every day, and to those who are new and have not yet found their place in our movement, we say, “¡Bienvenidos! Estamos contentos que están aquí, esta también es su familia, y juntos podemos vivir la vida que deseamos.” “Welcome, we are glad you are here. This is your family, and together we can live the life we want.”
There are more stories to tell about the struggles we have faced, the barriers we have knocked down, and the achievements we have made during the past year. The lives that have been changed from our work together are represented in this report and in this room today by each of us. Although from day to day it might be difficult to recognize the progress we are making, an examination of the scope, depth, and complexity of the activities of our movement reveals that we are better today than we were a year ago, and that has been our pattern since 1940.
Although we face discrimination that gives us real pain, it is not the misconceptions of others that define who we are. Although we must confront obstacles between blind people and our dreams, those artificial barriers do not define the limits of our future. We bond together in the National Federation of the Blind to define for ourselves the height of our dreams and to strengthen our hope for the future.
I first came to this convention twenty years ago, and the experience changed my life. I have come back every year because the experience continues to improve my life. My story, like yours, is to be counted in the mosaic that is our Federation. From a distance the stories cannot be differentiated from the overall impression that the mosaic reflects. Our mosaic reflects love, hope, and determination.
It has been my deepest honor to serve as your President. It has challenged me in ways I had not expected, and I have given fully to meet those challenges. It has blessed me in ways that I had not expected, and I have tried to pay those blessings forward to others. It has energized me in ways that I had not expected, and I will continue to use that strength to make our mosaic shine brighter every day of my life. Your commitment has challenged me to live up to the powerful message and high expectations of our mosaic. Just as you have challenged me, I reflect that challenge to you. Our mosaic cannot be the symbol of one; it must be the reflection of the strength of many that we share in this grand movement. To live up to the reflection of our mosaic, I will never expect from you what I do not demand of myself. Your heart, imagination, and energy must also be reflected in our work. The stakes are too high and the future too promising to let it be any other way. That is the love you have shared with me, and that is the equal commitment I pledge to you. As I come to the close of my report for 2016, I acknowledge our bond of faith and call us to action—together with love, hope, and determination, let us transform our dreams into reality.
From the Editor: Recognizing the work that is accomplished on behalf of blind people is a critical part of the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. For this reason we present a number of awards; some are presented annually; others are presented only as often as the Federation determines that a deserving candidate merits their presentation.
This year awards were presented to recognize the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students, the Blind Educator of the Year, the Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award, the Newel Perry Award, the Kenneth Jernigan Award, and the Jacobus tenBroek Award. Here are the presentations as witnessed at the 2016 Convention:
Presented by Carla McQuillan
In our efforts to ensure the success of our blind children through their lives with Braille literacy and the skills of independence, the National Federation of the Blind recognizes teachers who are leaders in the field of education of blind students. This award recognizes and honors the best of the best.
I'd like first to thank the members of the committee. We had Laura Bostick, Michelle Chacon, Dan Wenzel, and Mary Willows. It was a very difficult decision, we had many highly qualified applicants, but one stood out above the rest. This year's Distinguished Educator of Blind Students has spent thirty-nine years in the field of education of the blind. She received her certificate of teachers of blind students from Florida State University, her bachelor of science from Louisiana State University, and a degree in low vision therapy from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. She began her career in 1977 working with preschool students who are blind. Throughout her thirty-nine years she has worked with children from birth through high school in many different settings: in home settings as an itinerate, in the classroom, and now she serves as an educational consultant for the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
Pam Allen says that she is passionate about Braille literacy; Eric Guillory, who as a child was a student of this distinguished educator, remembers that she said that her students needed skills, not sympathy. He also says that she is a full-blown parrothead Jimmy Buffet fan. And, while this was not one of the criterion for our decision, it doesn't get much better than a cheeseburger in paradise.
To put it in her own words, [in a Southern accent] "I can stand my ground with those professionals who say that this student doesn't need Braille because he is keepin' up just beautifully with his sighted peers. Well, as you might guess, of course he is in kindergarten. I've had to battle with administrators, teachers, and even parents, but I always advocate for the children."
I have with me a check, and it reads $1,000. I also have with me a plaque that reads:
OF THE BLIND HONORS
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND STUDENTS
FOR YOUR SKILLS IN TEACHING
OTHER ALTERNATIVE TECHNIQUES OF BLINDNESS,
FOR GRACIOUSLY DEVOTING EXTRA
TIME TO MEET
THE NEEDS OF YOUR STUDENTS,
AND FOR EMPOWERING
YOUR STUDENTS TO PERFORM
BEYOND THEIR EXPECTATIONS.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT.
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES.
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
JULY 2, 2016
Janet Bernhardt: Thank you so much, board of directors, President Riccobono, the awards committee, and especially the people who nominated me: Pam Allen, the director of the greatest center for the blind in the world, the Louisiana Center for the Blind; and Eric Guillory, my dear friend, colleague, and yes, former student—sorry if I embarrass you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. This is the most prestigious award in the world that any teacher of blind students could receive, and I want you to know that it means the world to me. It means that after working most of my life now and helping children, it has made a difference. I believe that's what all of us want is to make a difference.
When I started teaching, I never intended to work this long. I was waiting to get married, have babies, and be a stay-at-home mom. And yes I knew about Gloria and her bra-burning friends, and I liked her very much, but I wanted to be a mom, and I wanted to stay at home and raise children. But God always knows exactly what I need and when I need it. I became a teacher before I became a mom, and something wonderful happened. I went in that classroom, and I fell in love with my students. I fell in love with your children. I considered them my kids, and I was an old mama hen back in my twenties, and you better not ruffle my feathers too much, because I was willing to fight for them. So if a teacher told me, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I've never taught blind children. He can't come into my class; I teach science." I would just, in my very nice way, would say, "That's okay. You don't have to know about teaching blind children; that's my job. Your job is to teach science." [applause]
Now I was very fortunate because I worked for directors of special ed who believed I knew what I was doing. They thought I was the expert—dear God I was a brand-new teacher; I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Now I knew the Braille code; I knew it backwards and forwards. I passed the Braille transcribers course—that was my final exam at Florida State. But not once did anyone tell me how to teach a child how to read Braille. So what I did my first day in teaching first grade—I went to the lady next door who happened to teach first grade, and I said, "What are you teaching your kids this week?" And she shared her lesson plans with me. She and I became great friends. All through that year all I wanted for my students—I just thought it was real simple—he's in first grade, he needs to learn what the first grade kids are learning. I kept my kids until they knew how to read, and they knew how to compete academically before I threw them in the classroom. Yes—I mainstreamed back in those days; we call it inclusion now. But I sent them in for things they could succeed in. I would send them in for spelling first, and then in second grade I sent them in to reading because they were reading on second-grade level, and then I sent them in to math in third grade because they could complete all of the math assignments given Braille textbooks. That's kind of how I did it; I loved it, and it worked.
I was also allowed to do things that I thought were important: today we teach to the test, and I'm so sick of teaching kids what they are supposed to pass on the test [applause]. I guess if I would have had a better vocabulary or if I'd have been better at explaining things to children, they probably wouldn't have had as many good experiences as they had. Because I couldn't explain what skis were and or how you went downhill on a snow-covered mountain in skis. The more I tried to explain, the more they got confused, and I said, "Okay, field trip." We went to Lafayette, Louisiana, where they had a simulated mountain, and they learned how to snow ski. And one day the instructor said, "Oh my God, they're naturals. I'm so sorry that they'll never get to go skiing." I said, "Well, they probably won't." And then I thought, well why not? Why don't we raise the money and go snow skiing? [applause] I did not want my children growing up thinking that "I'm blind and I don't have to work; I'm going to get a check." That is not my philosophy, and it's not your philosophy, NFB. So we sold Braille jewelry, we had garage sales, we sold pickles—you'd be amazed at how much an elementary school kid will pay for a pickle! We raised the money, and we went snow skiing.
I also did things like hatched chicks in an incubator so they could feel that egg and feel that little chick peck out of the shell, and they could hold it in their hand. One day I did the entire life cycle of a chicken in one day: we hatched it, we raised it, we loved it, we killed it [laughter]. We didn't mean to kill it, but one of my little kindergarten students who loved them so much wrapped them very tightly before we went to lunch in a towel, so when we got in the room and we did not hear those little cheeps after we got back in, we were like, "Uh-Oh." I try to teach that all life is valuable, so you can't really flush a chick like you can a goldfish, so what do you do? I went and found a janitor and borrowed a shovel, and we buried the chick.
Those are things that teachers don't have time to do today because they're too busy trying to save their jobs by making sure that their students can pass the test. I tested all the time. I tested because I wanted to know what I needed to teach. Is there something they don't know that they should know? Let me find out.
This has been a long five minutes, I'm sure, for me if not for you. This award not only belongs to me; this award belongs to each and every one of you, my NFB family. Because if I'm an outstanding educator, it is because you taught me. You taught me how to teach.
When I started teaching I didn't have a clue. I called Joanne Wilson, I called Don Banning, I called Warren Figaro, and today I call Pam Allen and Eric Guillory. You know, you never stop learning, or at least I hope I never stop learning. They teach me today, but you have taught me how to be a teacher, and I humbly share this award with you. Thank you, thank you.
Presented by Edward Bell
Thank you, Mr. President and members of the board. It is an honor and a privilege to be here. The Blind Educator Award was designed to recognize individuals who have made strides in the teaching profession. I want to thank the committee for helping us to select this individual this year. As noted, last year we did not select someone for the award. We only select someone for this award when there is a person who is deserving of the award, and I believe that there definitely is this year.
The profession of teaching goes back decades, and it is a very noble profession. But, like so many professions, it is one that the blind have often been shut out of. Because of low expectations and discrimination, the doors of opportunity have often been closed. And yet a number of individuals have been able to fight through the system and to become teachers across this country and have taught in the public classroom—sighted children—safely, effectively, and efficiently.
Among those individuals some have excelled and achieved beyond just teaching the class. Like our recipient this year, they've gone on to work with other teachers to help train them, to help and educate not only the children but others in the community. This individual works to train teachers around the state, doing workshops and in-services. She has a blog, makes other presentations, and has even written a book. Perhaps, most notably, however, she is the 2015 Teacher of the Year in the great state of Indiana [cheers]. Now I didn't say the blind teacher of the year; I said the Teacher of the Year, because her work has put her head and shoulders above all of the teachers in the entire state of Indiana, all of the sighted teachers included. Which goes to show not only what we as blind people have achieved and can achieve, but what we are doing given the hope and opportunity that have been given to us.
So please help and give a warm congratulations to Ms. Kathy Nimmer from Indiana. Along with the award comes a plaque, and I'm going to ask my lovely assistant, Ms. Beth Braun, to read the text of that plaque for me:
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
OF THE BLIND
IN RECOGNITION OF
IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION.
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE
JULY 2, 2016
In addition to the plaque that you will receive, you will also be getting a check in the amount of $1,000. Perhaps more importantly than that, by receiving this award you also receive the esteem and respect of the members of the National Federation of the Blind, for the work that you do helps children and others to live the lives they want, and that is our goal and our mission. Thank you for all you do, and thank you for being the 2016 Blind Educator of the National Federation of the Blind.
Kathy Nimmer: It is such a privilege to be here with you and to receive this award. I remember when I first decided I wanted to be a teacher; it was when I first received the diagnosis that my vision would be deteriorating. Before that point I had no idea that visual impairment would be part of my world. But the minute that came into my life, teachers came into my life in a very intense and personal way.
As I grew up and lost vision, I worked one-on-one with such amazing teachers in public school and then at the Indiana School for the Blind who gave me my desire to be a teacher, who would have that kind of impact.
By the time I was hired as an English teacher at a public high school in West Lafayette, Indiana, I was totally blind. I had an idea of what kind of teacher I wanted to be, and yet, not a clear path of how to be that teacher. I was so conscious at the beginning that my blindness would be such a big factor in the classroom that I tried to minimize it by lecturing instead of talking to the kids because I didn't want to mistakenly call somebody by the wrong name. I didn't want to move around the room and bump into something, so I stayed behind the podium. I did all of these things to try to minimize my disability, and instead I was magnifying it. My classroom was chaotic and out of control, culminating in a student throwing a bookbag that shattered the classroom window.
When that happened, I wanted to quit, and I knew that my private humiliation and failure was now public. But I knew, too, that I could be the kind of teacher that had touched my life, and I wanted to do that for all of these sighted students. So I threw away all of the fears about my blindness being an issue in the room, and I just became myself and laughed and joked and desensitized the students to being conscious of my blindness because I was just being a teacher, not being somebody who was afraid of having a disability in front of them, and success happened.
When I was named Indiana Teacher of the Year, I was away from my classroom for a year, traveling the state and nation and speaking to groups all around, of all sorts. Every time I spoke at a public school, I met the blind and visually impaired students who attended those schools. In reconnecting with little children just beginning their lives with blindness and visual impairment, I was brought right back to my initial diagnosis and the teachers who touched my life.
It is such a privilege to be a teacher. It is such a privilege to succeed at the thing that I love. And it is such a privilege to help young people find that thing that they love, whether they are sighted or whether they are blind, and pour themselves into that passion so that they can find success. Thank you so much for promoting that constantly in your organization and for this award. Thank you.
Presented by Mark Riccobono
From the Editor: This is a new award, and Marc Maurer introduced it in this way: Forty-one years ago, back in 1975, we welcomed to our convention an inventor named Ray Kurzweil. Last year we inquired if we could establish an award in his name as the premier inventor of blindness-related technology, and he agreed. This year we offer the first of those awards, and here to make the presentation is our president, Mark Riccobono.
Mark Riccobono: Thank you, Dr. Maurer, and I'm going to invite Ray Kurzweil up here also to make some remarks about our recipient this evening. Dr. Maurer has given you the history of the award already, and since we established it at our diamond anniversary banquet last year, we haven't had the opportunity yet to give the National Federation of the Blind Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award. The Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award is intended to honor an individual or organization whose innovative development of technology, outstanding integration of accessible design, or ingenious method of leveraging existing technology to solve access to information barriers has or will have a significant impact on the blind. The recipient should also exhibit the spirit of partnership with the blind that has characterized Ray Kurzweil's work with the National Federation of the Blind.
Both the names on the award and the selection criteria make this a pretty high bar to jump over. The person we are recognizing tonight meets this standard. In fact, when someone was needed to lead the development and engineering effort for the world's first handheld reading machine for the blind, Ray Kurzweil personally found this year's awardee and put him in charge of the project. That was thirteen years ago, but Dr. Paul Albrecht, the first recipient of the Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award, is still on the job. As director of engineering for our KNFB Reader project, Paul Albrecht has been—and still is—the principal individual responsible for making our mobile reading technology the gold standard that it is, better than anything else on the market.
I have quite a lengthy resumé here about Dr. Albrecht, and I could read it, except we have a lot of other things to get to tonight. Let me just give you a few highlights, and then I think it most fitting to turn the presentation over to Ray for some personal comments before we give the award.
Paul has served as the technical lead and founder of Cambridge Heart, managing development and the FDA approval process of a medical device used to predict the potential of sudden cardiac death. He has served as technical lead in three medical company acquisitions, including a 2 billion dollar deal with WebMD. In 2009 he won the Nokia Technology Showcase first prize for mobile applications. And most importantly he has been the lead engineer for all three generations of our KNFB Reader mobile products.
Paul has received degrees from MIT and Harvard, and he has a thirty-year track record of technology innovations. But simply having accomplishments in technology is not enough to win the Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award. You must exhibit the enduring commitment that Ray Kurzweil has had to users, an enduring commitment to blind users of technology. While Paul's work and his technologies that he's developed represent achievements, the qualities of those technologies reflect his enduring commitment to the users—to blind users—of the technology. Before we invite Paul up to receive the award, I'd like to offer Ray an opportunity to offer his thoughts about the first recipient of the Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award. [applause]
Ray Kurzweil: Thank you, President Riccobono. It's a great honor to have this award named after me, and it will only reinforce my lifelong commitment to the ideals of this organization. Before I comment on Paul, who I've known for fifteen years, I just want to share a couple of thoughts I had about President Riccobono's inspiring address. I've had the opportunity to hear more than forty inspiring addresses by three great presidents, and it really forms the high point of my year. President Riccobono talked about fear. I found particularly moving his reference to fear from love. Mourning for a loved one who is passed is the price of love—that's always been my feeling. He talked about the fear of blindness, and the only inability to see that we should fear is the failure to see opportunity, to see hope, to see the potential of every individual, and these are qualities the NFB sees very well. [applause] I thought of this quote (and if you saw me writing during the address, it's not because I wasn't paying attention), it comes from someone who's always sure to have a poignant quote for any situation, but I think it describes our President of this great organization and the organization itself. It's from Winston Churchill, in my view the greatest European leader of the twentieth century. He said, "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force, never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the forces arrayed against you." [applause]
I think that quality also describes my colleague Paul Albrecht. I met him fifteen years ago. I was looking for someone who could help with our artificial intelligence efforts, and unlike many of the resumés that I looked at, his view was that the essence of intelligence was being able to see the pattern of information—I actually wrote a paper fifty years ago that said that, and that paper got me the chance to meet President Johnson, and I've pursued this view for half a century, that the essence of intelligence is seeing the patterns around us. Dr. Albrecht, unlike a lot of other artificial intelligence researchers who were trying to define intelligence in terms of logical rules, was devoted to pattern recognition. As you heard, he was able to see the very subtle patterns that might lead to sudden death from a heart attack. That was his first contribution.
Being of like mind, we formed a union. I found him to be a brilliant researcher in artificial intelligence, and most importantly, when I brought up this opportunity to advance the state of the art in reading for the blind which involves understanding patterns of printed letters and also patterns of sound in terms of synthetic speech, he jumped at the opportunity and was very excited about it and has remained completely devoted to this mission for the last fifteen years. As President Riccobono mentioned, he worked tirelessly to develop the first handheld reading machine for the blind and has continued to work on that. The only reason that this technology is the best in the world is because of the devotion of Paul Albrecht and the other scientists and engineers that he has held together. It is my honor to see this award go to my colleague Paul Albrecht.
Mark Riccobono: We'll have Dr. Kurzweil stay close to help—this is a heavy award. You might need a cart to get it out of here. I'm going to read the inscription. This is a piece of glass, and it is inscribed this way:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
RAY KURZWEIL INNOVATION AWARD
FOR YOUR DEEP COMMITMENT TO
OF BLIND PEOPLE IN TECHNOLOGY DESIGN
AND FOR APPLYING YOUR INNOVATIVE GENIUS
TO RAISING EXPECTATIONS FOR THE BLIND.
YOUR EXAMPLE INSPIRES OTHERS,
YOUR INVENTIVENESS IMPROVES
THE WORLD, AND YOUR IMPACT
CONTINUES TO GROW THROUGH
THE LIVES OF THOSE TOUCHED
BY THE SKILL OF YOUR CRAFT.
JULY 5, 2016
Now this is an award, but the Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award also comes with a check for $10,000 [applause]. I now turn it over to Paul Albrecht.
Paul Albrecht: Thank you very much. So much has been said; I've got to look at my notes and see what's left. Thank you. It's not often that one gets the chance to work with an inventor and visionary as renowned as Ray Kurzweil or an organization as passionate, an organization as bold as the NFB. For the last fourteen years it's been my privilege to work with these two partners to create technology that some users have told us is life-changing. Feedback like that has been so motivating in causing us to reinvest and make it better for all of you. Along the way there have been a number of memorable events; I just want to share a couple of them. I remember following Mr. Gashel around the halls of Congress when we sought funding for the first generation of KNFB Reader. If you want to see something, you should see Mr. Gashel speeding through the halls of Congress, tapping furiously, forcing me to have to keep running to keep up with him. It was an interesting thing and also showed me the other side of NFB—the organized, focused advocate.
Then there were times when it looked like we had reached the technology end, and there was no suitable technical option for the reader, only then to have Ray's exponential technology prediction come true and come to our rescue. In all it's been a terrific and rewarding experience, and I want to thank you for letting me be part of it and for letting me be part of the NFB family and team. Thank you.
Presented by James Gashel
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, and thank you, Federationists. Tonight I have the honor to present the Federation's Newel Perry Award. This is an award that we present to an individual, blind or sighted, who has demonstrated courageous leadership and outstanding service on behalf of blind people, especially in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind. By policy and practice we've not been obliged to give the Newel Perry Award every year, but only when we find some particular person who has met the standard to earn the award. That standard was set by Newel Perry himself, and it's a very high standard because he set high expectations for blind people in an era when the lowest expectations prevailed.
On Saturday the board of directors decided that we would retire the Newel Perry Award since we want to focus on the Kenneth Jernigan Award in the future. So tonight this will be the last time the Newel Perry Award is presented, therefore I would just like to spend a few minutes to remind everybody about who Newel Perry really was to our movement and how his life helped to form the National Federation of the Blind.
Newel Perry was born in 1873 and died in 1961. As a boy in high school at the California School for the Blind, Perry told officials at the school that he intended to graduate from the public high school in Berkeley, and he also intended to proceed on to attend the state university when aspirations to do anything like that were considered to be absolutely unrealistic for a blind person. But in the face of initial opposition from the superintendent and the teachers at the school, Newel Perry persevered. He met every educational expectation and goal that he set for himself. In fact the superintendent of the school, Warring Wilkinson, eventually became a convert to Perry's tenacity and provided him with a princely sum of $500 a year as a scholarship (I guess it was pretty good back at that time). [A bit of research shows that Dr. Maurer is correct: the contribution was equivalent to a $13,000 contribution today.] This was to enroll at the University of California at Berkeley, where Perry graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1896.
During his time at Berkeley, Perry also founded the Alumni Association for the Self-Supporting Blind. It focused on employment and the self-sufficiency of blind people. Membership in this association was opposed by people at the school, but in the late 1890s twenty-five to thirty independent-minded blind people were attending the association's regular monthly meetings in Oakland, California. Now does this sound familiar—attending regular monthly meetings? Go to your local chapters, now. Following this pattern, wherever Newel Perry went throughout the rest of his life, you would find him at the forefront of working to organize the blind. Although our history shows that the National Federation of the Blind was founded in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in November 1940, you can also say that it first took root in Berkeley, California, with Newel Perry at the helm.
After he earned his PhD in mathematics in Germany at the University of Munich in 1901, and then lived in New York City near Columbia University, Perry returned to Berkeley in 1912 and took a teaching position at the California School for the Blind, where he remained for thirty-five years. There he met and mentored Jacobus tenBroek. And now you know the rest of the story.
In 1955 the NFB convention adopted a resolution directing the Federation officers to establish an award for distinguished service and work with the blind called the Newel Perry Award to be conferred by the Federation's executive committee. Although the award was established sixty-one years ago, we've only given the Newel Perry Award twenty-seven times. Tonight will be number twenty-eight and the last time, as I've said.
In the early years the Newel Perry Award was made to individuals either inside or outside the Federation. But in the years since we established the Jacobus tenBroek Award, only people—let's say our friends and fellow travelers outside the Federation—have been considered. Past winners include: Edwin C. Johnson, governor of Colorado; West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph, author and backer of the Randolph-Sheppard Act for blind vendors; Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our past president and principal leader of the blind from the 1950s through most of the 1990s; Hubert H. Humphrey, vice president of the United States, from Minnesota, and a great, great friend of the National Federation of the Blind; US Representative James A. Burke from Massachusetts for sponsoring Federation legislation in Congress to improve Social Security programs affecting the blind; Dr. Andrew S. Adams, commissioner of the US Rehabilitation Services Administration in Washington, DC; Representative Barry M. Goldwater Jr. from California for sponsoring Federation legislation to correct exploitation in sheltered workshops; Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress for many years; and, of course, our dear friend Ray Kurzweil, inventor of reading technology for the blind and an exalted and most awesome friend of the National Federation of the Blind.
Now compared to these past winners and others that I haven't been able to mention here tonight, the person we recognize this year is actually a relative newcomer to our Federation extended family. But he is no less deserving and no less devoted to our cause. You heard from him this afternoon—that narrows the target, doesn't it? Here you go: Tristan Denley is vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Tennessee Board of Regents in Nashville. He has served in that capacity since August 2013, but before Dr. Denley got to Nashville, he was the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Austin Peay State University. He originally comes from Penzance, England. Dr. Denley also got his PhD in mathematics; I guess he was following Newel Perry's example. Aside from his education in England, Dr. Denley has held positions in Sweden, in Canada, and at the University of Mississippi—it's a long way from Sweden to Mississippi—and then he moved to Tennessee.
Testifying to his leadership, Dr. Denley received recognition from EDUCAUSE®, from Complete College America, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and from President Obama, all for his work to establish Degree Compass. Now some of you may know what that is. I'm a long way from knowing what Degree Compass is, but it's a course recommendation system that successfully pairs current students with courses that best fit their talents and program study for upcoming semesters. I know all of that is pretty cool, but the thing you really need to know about Dr. Denley is his leadership on behalf of digital accessibility in higher education affecting blind people.
Not only is Dr. Denley an outspoken advocate for digital accessibility, but he is in a position to enforce binding requirements, and he's in a position to enforce binding requirements at every single one of Tennessee's forty-seven post-secondary institutions under the Tennessee Board of Regents, and it's the sixth-largest system in the nation. Every other system take notice: according to James Brown, president of our Tennessee affiliate, Chancellor Denley told his staff that if a document found its way into his office that was in any way inaccessible, there would be a very strong price to pay. According to Dan Goldstein, who sues a lot of these institutions on our behalf, the Tennessee system is a model for the nation. He refers people to their website and to them to confer about doing the right thing.
Now more than all of this—and all of that's really, really good—Dr. Denley and his team get especially high marks for working constructively with the NFB of Tennessee to support the Teach Tennessee Act, modeled after legislation that we have pending in Congress. Through the work he is doing to advance equal opportunities for blind higher education students and to have a constructive partnership with the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee, please join me in recognizing Dr. Tristan Denley with the Federation's highest honor, our Newel Perry Award [applause].
He's got his plaque, and he's holding it high for the pictures. The plaque he's receiving says:
NEWEL PERRY AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
IN RECOGNITION OF COURAGEOUS LEADERSHIP
AND OUTSTANDING SERVICE.
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
BESTOWS THE NEWEL PERRY AWARD
DR. TRISTAN DENLEY
OUR BROTHER ON THE BARRICADES;
YOU CHAMPION OUR PROGRESS;
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES;
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
JULY 5, 2016.
Tristan Denley: I don't know what to say. I'm just absolutely bowled over. I'm so humbled by this award. I'm so surprised that I could be chosen—what an amazing list of people to follow in the footsteps—actually, even as you were telling the story of Newel Perry, as a fellow mathematician I was just stunned by all that he'd achieved. You know, it's been a tremendous pleasure to do what we've done in Tennessee, to see the progress that's been made in a short time. But what I know (and I'm even more inspired after what I've seen today)--I know that there is much more to be done, and you have my commitment today that more will be done in Tennessee, that we can march forward together, because I know that the limits are far from being satisfied yet. Thank you for your support, and I look forward to working together on more. [applause].
When Dr. Maurer took back the microphone, he said: Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was my teacher, my leader, my friend, my unfailing supporter, my President. We also have an award in his name, and to present it here is Mary Ellen Jernigan.
Presented by Mary Ellen Jernigan
In establishing the Kenneth Jernigan Award, the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind noted that Kenneth Jernigan's influence had touched the lives of millions of blind people throughout the United States and the world. Many of those whose lives he touched are present in this room tonight. I might add to the board's comments that one need not be blind to have been touched deeply by his life and work. The board stipulated that this was not to be an annual award. It was to be presented at the annual convention, but only so often as a suitable candidate emerged. There has been only one recipient of the award to date: Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, whose work as director of the National Library Service for the Blind enriched the lives of generations of blind people.
Tonight, a suitable candidate having emerged, the second Kenneth Jernigan Award is being bestowed. As you would expect, this individual's work has had a profound effect on the lives of blind people. 1986 was a pivotal time for this man. It was in this year that his education, his years of training in the law, his interaction with Dr. Jernigan, his own passion and dreams came together with a need and an opportunity that launched him on a new path. Although all these things might be said of a number of people, they can most definitely be said of the second recipient of the Kenneth Jernigan Award. They can be said about our friend and colleague, Daniel Goldstein [applause, cheers]. For it was thirty years ago that Dr. Jernigan met and hired Dan Goldstein of the Brown, Goldstein & Levy law firm to represent the National Federation of the Blind. This set in motion a relentless campaign through the courts to bring reality to Dr. tenBroek's declaration that the blind have the right to live in the world. Today both the law and the actual lived lives of blind people reflect that right more strongly than they did during Dr. tenBroek's lifetime. Dan bought into our work all the way, bringing with him his superb legal skill, his keen intellect, and most of all his generous heart. He rapidly became a trusted advisor, a principal architect, and the courtroom face of our legal strategy. For thirty years, in actions far too numerous to call out by name, Dan and his committed colleagues at Brown, Goldstein & Levy have executed a carefully crafted legal strategy, which agonizingly slowly, bit by bit, case by case, decision by decision, has chipped away at the ignorance, discrimination, and blatant disregard of the law enshrined in the functioning of our corporate, educational, professional, and governmental institutions of our country. Target; Cardtronics; Apple; Amazon; Florida State University; New Jersey Ocean Port Board of Education; the Law School Admissions Council; the Author's Guild; the United States Department of Education; the United States Department of State; the Seattle Public Schools; Montgomery County, Maryland. These entities and dozens upon dozens more have all been brought to a new understanding of the meaning of Dr. tenBroek's declaration fifty years ago in the California Law Review that the blind have the right to live in the world. It is a tribute to Dan's commitment to our cause that his work has been about more than achieving a legal victory. It is not unusual for courtroom opponents to become staunch allies of our work. Apple's deployment of VoiceOver as an out-of-the-box accessibility feature of each new iPhone and the establishment by Cardtronics of its accessibility center of excellence are lasting results of Dan's effort to use the law to create understanding and build relationships, rather than merely to vanquish a foe.
One final thing connects Dan to our movement and to Dr. Jernigan himself in a very personal way. All of this has never been about Dan or his personal legal triumphs. Dan has been a teacher and a mentor to others in the growing community of disability law professionals. His firm offers quality internships to young blind lawyers. He was a moving force in the establishment of the Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium. He has been a principal factor in making that symposium and the Disability Rights Bar Association which meets in conjunction with it, the preeminent event for the advancement of disability law. So, it is with pleasure and enormous gratitude on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind that I present the Kenneth Jernigan Award to our friend and colleague, Daniel Goldstein [applause, cheers].
The inscription on this massive slab of glass—I said I wasn't going to say that, but I did—the inscription on this beautiful, massive slab of glass reads:
KENNETH JERNIGAN AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
FOR YOUR DEDICATION TO THE HIGHEST IDEALS
FOR YOUR COMMITMENT TO EXTRAORDINARY SERVICE
FOR YOUR IMAGINATIVE LEADERSHIP IN EXPANDING EQUALITY
FOR THE BLIND UNDER THE LAW
WE, THE ORGANIZED BLIND MOVEMENT, CONFER UPON
THE KENNETH JERNIGAN AWARD
YOUR HAND ASSISTED IN EVERY CHALLENGE
YOUR HEART RESPONDED TO EVERY NEED
YOU ARE A TRUSTED COLLEAGUE AND A VALUED FRIEND.
JULY 5, 2016
Dan Goldstein: Well, if I have some reputation for being articulate, I'm about to blow it completely. I am absolutely stunned and overwhelmed by this award. By getting it from Mrs. Jernigan, it's very special. I had no idea in 1986 that the life I wanted to live was as counsel for the National Federation of the Blind [applause]. I assure you, you have given me more in friendship and support, and you've taught me so very much, lessons that I'm very glad to know and that have made my life so much richer. There are so many of you who are as dear to me as my family, and it has just been such a privilege to do this work. Thank you, not just for the award, but thank you for this opportunity. It has been an honor [applause].
Presented by Marc Maurer
Our founder was Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. He was born in Canada. He was blinded as a child. He, along with his family, moved to California because they'd heard there might be some place to get an education, and they didn't think there would be any good place to get an education in Canada on the western prairies. It was never my good fortune to meet Dr. tenBroek, but I've met his writing, and I've heard his irrepressible voice. And that voice said to me, "It's your life to live, you can do it, don't give it up." And it said to me, "The law is with you; the society is with you; all you have to do is find a way to make it real." I met Dr. Matson, who was a student of Dr. tenBroek, and I heard hundreds of stories, and I met Hazel tenBroek and I heard dozens of other stories. But I missed the man, and I'm sorry that I never got a chance to meet him, but I've met his ideas, and I've met his spirit, and it is my honor tonight to give another award which is named after our founding President. Dr. tenBroek served from 1940 to 1961 and again from 1966 until his death in 1968. Until I had the temerity to serve longer than he did, he was our longest-serving President. He crafted the nature of the organization that we inherit, and he found the followers, the students, the people who would come after him who would carry the imagination, the effort, and the energy into the generations after him—principally, of course, Dr. Jernigan, who as I've said, was my teacher, my leader, and my President. That spirit and that energy are embodied in the award that we give tonight. It also is not given annually, but only as often as we find a suitable recipient. We have such a recipient tonight.
We give this award to a worker within the movement, a person who has been a soldier carrying the day-to-day tasks, standing on the barricades, lifting the necessary weights that must be moved, inspiring individuals who have need of a voice that will tell them, "You have the ability; the capacity is yours." Two people will get this award tonight. They have been leaders of ours for more than thirty years, and they come from Louisiana [cheers]. You will know them from the work that they have done to stretch the potential of blind people and also from the writing that has come from Louisiana. Jerry and Merilynn Whittle [loud cheers, whistles, applause]. You might make your way up here [crowd chants "LCB"].
Now I'm going on memory, which is not always accurate, but I'll do the best I can. I think I met Jerry in South Carolina, and I believe that was before the establishment of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and he was a leader in South Carolina even then. When he got to Louisiana, he became a teacher, and he taught many things, but largely he's known for teaching Braille [applause]. Of course he wrote about blind people (many plays), and he's written some published books now.
Then, of course, there's Merilynn. Merilynn was a teacher too [applause]. She taught in the kitchen in the home economics department, and she helped even some of our most difficult students—people like Anil Lewis [laughter]—find out how to make banana bread. He learned that if you make it properly it rises up right there, and you can slice it up, and eat it personally.
So Jerry and Merilynn did their teaching and helped people to know that the future could be brighter for them than they knew. But the teaching of the skills was only one small part of it. They also taught that there was joy in life and friends and love and a family to support one another, and that in time of need we could carry one another's burdens, and in time of joy we could share the delight of knowing one another.
So tonight we have our prestigious honor named for our founding President: the Jacobus tenBroek Award. We have a plaque—now Jerry I'm going to give this to you, but I want you to share it—which says:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
JACOBUS TENBROEK AWARD
JERRY AND MERILYNN WHITTLE
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES BUT BY YOUR IMPACT ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED, YOU HAVE ANSWERED. WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUES WITH RESPECT. WE CALL YOU OUR FRIENDS WITH LOVE.
JULY 5, 2016
Here are Jerry and Merilynn [applause, cheers].
Jerry Whittle: I don't think I've ever been so surprised in my life. Now I was trained that when you start getting emotional, you're supposed to think of unpleasant things, [laughter] so right now I'm thinking about snakes and lizards just to try to get me from getting too emotional. A long time ago—I'm getting old enough everything's a long time ago now—unless Mr. Kurzweil can come through for me with that longevity and everything. I'm in my last quarter, I know that. Jesse Stewart, Kentucky writer, a country boy, said about teaching that one of the secrets is to make work like play. So I've had fun. I've had the joy of teaching over one thousand students [applause]. Merilynn and I, in the spirit of Mr. Capps, are like a team, like Mrs. Capps and Mr. Capps, who is my Federation father. I wish he could be here tonight; my prayers are with him.
One more thing I want to say: I owe my life to the NFB. Someday I'll have the courage to tell the whole story, but Mr. Capps sent two really cute girls up to my part of the country in South Carolina to organize a chapter, and I said, "This is the organization for me." But I didn't realize at that time how very wonderful it would be. Anything I've done, I've done it because I love everybody, and I love Jesus, and he would want me to do it that way. So I want to thank everybody. Thank you, Dr. Maurer, my good friend. My goal with Dr. Maurer is always to try to make him laugh, and a couple of times I got him to laugh right out loud. I was kind of proud of that.
Speaking of partners, my precious wife, my treasure, Merilynn Whittle, has driven us and hauled us all over this country by herself. Eighteen students and staff in a sixteen- or fourteen-passenger van, so canes were sticking out the windows, and we were going everywhere, and Merilynn Whittle took us everywhere. She's given more—she didn't have to give. She wasn't blind, and she joined up with me, and I probably aged her twenty years from this experience, but Merilynn gave because she wanted to, not because she had to. That's the kind of person she is—the sweetest person I know [applause].Merilynn Whittle: Well it all started when I went back to school, and I found this guy holding a door for me, and he said something about "I'll hold the door for you." I was going to see my advisor, and from then on I got into trouble [laughs]. I've had the most wonderful, adventurous life being in with the NFB, and it has provided me all kinds of experiences, but most of all meeting the students and having fun in the kitchen. I've done different things at the school: one of the things, of course, is driving, another thing is typing, then beginning computers, and then finally I did some travel also. I can remember crossing streets and stuff like that under sleepshades, and I remember if I had a tail I would have pulled it between my legs. I've certainly enjoyed working with the center, and I still—as long as I can—I'll try to do some things indirectly and always be a part of it and a part of the NFB. Thank you so much. I appreciate it [applause, cheers].
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future. This year’s class had three tenBroek winners, meaning that they have been previous recipients of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship.
In keeping with tradition, the first appearance of the class at a convention session occurred during the meeting of the board of directors. Members were introduced by Chair Patti Chang, who gave their names, their home states, and their school states. Here is what Chairman Chang said just before she introduced them, followed by their remarks:
I won a scholarship way back in 1985 in Louisville, and in fact some of the mentors who mentored me are still on the committee. I intended to take the money and run as fast as I could, so I hope that this year's class is just as successful at doing that as I was.
With that preamble, Patti Chang introduced the scholarship class of 2016:
Tara Abella, Indiana, Indiana: Thank you, Patti Chang and board of directors. I am so honored and humbled to be here today. I will be a senior at Ball State University, double majoring in elementary education and special education. One of the reasons I wanted to go into education is that I believe that there needs to be reform in education. I want to work with students from low income families in an inclusive setting. Through the convention I've realized that reform needs to take place here, too, in the policies, in the attitudes that affect people who are blind in order to reach equality. I want to give my leadership and my mentorship and my heart to all of my students and to the National Federation of the Blind so that we can attain the dignity and respect that we deserve, as well as live the lives we want. Thank you very much.
Justine “JJ” Aragon, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, everybody. Thank you, Patti Chang, thank you, board of directors. I am a senior at the University of Northern Colorado. I'm studying human services with an emphasis on rehabilitation. I also hold minors in English and special education. I serendipitously joined the NFB in 2013 after not winning an NFB national scholarship, and the last three years have taught me so much. I have learned what amazing opportunities I have had in my life that not all blind people had, number one being that I learned Braille when I was four. I have also learned how many opportunities that there still are to come in my life that I intend to take full advantage of. I am so excited to continue to work in the NFB, and my passions within the NFB are membership and outreach. I want to bring more people in and bring those opportunities to our nation's blind, so thank you.
Deniz Aydemir-Doke, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Hello, and thank you, Ms. Chang and board of directors. It is an honor to be here. This is my third time at the National Convention, and it is my third year in the USA. I am originally from Turkey. I am studying counseling education and supervision at Penn State. This is going to be my third year in my program as well. I am interested in my research, and I am interested in post-secondary transition of blind youth so we can lead the lives we want. I am also interested in microeducation in daily living and counseling settings. I am an advocate for a long time both here in the USA and back in my country, back in Turkey. I continue to be an advocate with my Federation family through my research and daily living as well. I am grateful to be here; I love being part of this family, and I hope you have a great convention.
Samrawit “Sam” Biyazin, Oregon, Oregon: Hi, all. My name is Sam from Oregon. I am originally from Ethiopia. This is such a privilege to be here, standing in front of you guys, and thank you so much to the committee for choosing me. Back home I was a lawyer, and now my goal is to become a CPA and treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind. This will happen only if you guys will remember to vote for me when the time comes. Until then, I'll keep learning. Thank you.
Megan Borella, California, California: Good morning, everyone. First I would like to thank the scholarship committee and the National Federation of the Blind for giving me such an amazing opportunity. It is such an honor and a privilege to be here with you today. I am from California, and I am going to be a freshman at UCLA. I am currently majoring in business economics, and I hope to take classes in computer science and learn more about programming. In the future I hope to go into business, potentially with an emphasis on programming and coding and computer science. Thank you all.
Riki Danielle Burton, Kentucky, Kentucky (tenBroek Fellow): Good morning, fellow Federationists. It's a pleasure to be here this morning. I want to say thank you to the scholarship committee for having me here today. I am currently a senior at Morehead State University. I'm majoring in elementary and special education with an emphasis in moderate to severe disabilities. Then I will continue on to get my certification as a teacher of the blind and visually impaired. I love teaching blind children how to be independent and that nothing can stop them and not to let anyone hold them back. Thank you again to the scholarship committee for having me here. Thank you.
Brennan Carman, New York, Connecticut: Hello, everyone, I'm Brennan. I'm going into my freshman year at Yale University, and I'm studying biochemistry. Hopefully one day I will do translational research to help address upcoming medical issues like antimicrobial-resistant diseases. This is my first experience with the Federation, and it's been really amazing so far getting to meet all of my fellow scholarship finalists and all of my mentors so far and all of you, and it's been really amazing and one of the most inspirational experiences I've ever had, actually. So I wanted to thank the Federation and the scholarship committee in particular for giving me that opportunity.
Merry-Noel Chamberlain, Nebraska, Oregon: Hello, everyone. I am so happy to be here with my NFB family. My daytime love during the week is being a teacher for students with visual impairments and an orientation and mobility instructor outside Omaha, Nebraska. My evening and weekend love is working on my doctorate degree through Concordia University in the area of educational leadership, and my dissertation is focusing on orientation and mobility. My all-time love is being a parent of a blind teenager, who I just found out is helping out in the Independence Market. I thank everybody for being here today; I'm so excited to be with my NFB family, and I'm happy and honored that I am here today as a scholarship winner. Thank you.
Nathan Clark, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning. My name is Nathan Clark; I am from Maryland. I am attending Towson University in Towson, Maryland, majoring in criminal justice, sociology, and anthropology with a goal to be a juvenile probation officer working with at-risk youth in the juvenile justice system. I am currently the vice president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students and the legislative chairman for that committee for the division. I am also a proud graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and this is my eleventh National Convention. I want to thank the scholarship committee, my mentors, and my fellow scholarship winners for an awesome experience so far this week. God bless the National Federation of the Blind.
Elif Emir Öksüz, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everybody. I'm so glad and honored to be here as a scholarship finalist. Thank you to all of the scholarship committee and NFB. I am a mental health counselor, and I am a counselor, education, and supervision PhD student at the University of Cincinnati. I am coming from Ohio, but I am from Turkey originally. I would like to be a faculty member and educate counselors—mental health and school counselors—to work with people with disabilities when they need counseling from a multicultural counseling perspective. Hopefully I will be able to do that, and I will be able to practice as a mental health counselor. My journey with the NFB started four years ago. As soon as I arrived in the United States, I reached out to the Cincinnati chapter of Ohio, and I would like to thank Ohio and Cincinnati for making my adjustment very smooth and easy. NFB as a family has motivated me to learn Braille. I'm still in the process, but the more I become involved the more I strongly feel that I need to do it as soon as possible. Thanks for the motivation and support to everybody, and have a great convention.
Laura Etori, New Jersey, New Jersey: Hello, everybody. My name is Laura Etori, and I'm from Kenya, but I live and study in New Jersey. I go to Rutgers University Newark, and I'm majoring in finance and actuarial science. I want to be an actuary. My vocational goals are to be in consultancy and eventually teach actuarial science to blind and visually impaired students because we need more blind actuaries. I would love to give a big thank you to the scholarship committee for giving us this chance. I would like to give a big thank you to the NFB and also my scholarship finalists; I would love to congratulate all of them. I know I might have a bit of an accent, but I'd love you to listen to what I have to say next very carefully: for those of us who are here I would love to challenge you: think of the people who have come ahead of you. Because, if it were not for them, we wouldn't be here. And we all have to learn how to give, because that's the message I'm getting from this board meeting today. We all learn how to give; that's the only way we can grow and become better people. So thank you once again, and I hope you all enjoy yourselves. Have a good day.
Jameyanne Fuller, New Hampshire, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone, my name is Jameyanne Fuller. I am from New Hampshire. I graduated from Kenyon College in 2014. I spent a year teaching English in Assisi, Italy, on a Fulbright scholarship, and then I spent another year volunteering for the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center. This fall I will be a 1L [first year law student] at Harvard Law School. I am very interested in studying and hopefully practicing in the area of disability law and policy. This is my very first NFB convention experience. I want to say thank you so much to everyone who has welcomed me so warmly and enthusiastically and a huge thanks to the scholarship committee for giving me the opportunity to meet the NFB and explore the NFB. I've personally faced discrimination in academics, in my daily life here in America, abroad in Italy, and others have advocated for me, and they have taught me to advocate for myself. Now I am aiming to advocate for others and pay it forward so that everyone can achieve their dreams. Thank you.
Deanna Greco, New Jersey, District of Columbia: Hello, everyone. I'm very excited to be here. This is my first convention, and I swear that by the end of the week I will be saying "live the life that I want" in my sleep. But honestly that sleep doesn't sound like too bad a thing because I am exhausted. I recently graduated from Camden Catholic High School in my home town of Cherry Hill. I was in every academic honor society, I was president of the French Honor Society, and I graduated fourth in my class, which I see as a big accomplishment—I'm proud of myself. This fall I will be starting at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I will be studying biology on the premed track. My ultimate goal is to go to medical school and become a neurologist. I want to practice neurology as well as conduct research on diseases such as Alzheimer's. I find it very important that diseases that have memory loss get treated, because the one thing nobody can take from you is your memories, and I want to help prevent those diseases. Lastly, I would like to thank the scholarship committee for giving me this wonderful opportunity. Thank you.
Maria “Conchita” Hernandez, District of Columbia, District of Columbia (tenBroek Fellow): First I want to thank the members of the scholarship committee, members of the board, and President Riccobono for believing in me and selecting me as a scholarship finalist. I'm a teacher of blind students in Washington, DC, and I'm tired of professionals telling us that our blind students will not get Braille because they have too much vision. In the Federation we know that Braille is vital and leads to success. They say there is no research that proves we need it. We know what we need, and as Dr. Maurer said today, we will not wait for it. We will conduct our own research that will lead to the independence of our blind students. That is why I am pursuing a doctorate degree at George Washington University to do research on learning media assessments for blind and low vision students. I could not do any of this without my Federation family, who taught me Braille when no one else would, and now I hope to pass this on to others. Thank you.
Nazanin Mina Heydarian, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everyone. My name is Nazanin Heydarian, and I'm a PhD student at the University of Texas at El Paso. I have a master's degree in clinical psychology, and I'm working toward a PhD of health psychology. I am interested in conducting research to improve the communication between health care providers and people with disabilities from the perspective of people with disabilities. My career goal is to become a research scientist at a medical school, where I will pursue my research interests in the applied setting. This is the second day of my first NFB convention, and I have already learned so much from mentors, other finalists, and convention sessions. I will bring back these learnings to my community back in El Paso, Texas, and my work as a researcher. I'd like to congratulate the other finalists, and I'd also like to thank the scholarship board and the funding mechanisms that make this opportunity to support blind scholars in a significant way possible. I am humbled to be here, thank you very much, and enjoy your convention.
Sharon Jose, Virginia, Virginia: Thank you, Ms. Patti Chang and the board of directors for allowing me to speak here. I just graduated from high school and will be a freshman at George Mason University this fall majoring in computer science. I have had the opportunity to work in the neural engineering lab at GMU for the past two years. I would like to continue interdisciplinary research in neuroscience and artificial intelligence, and I hope to pursue a career in the computer science and engineering fields. I heard about the NFB through this scholarship program, and this is my first convention. I am truly grateful to the scholarship committee and the Federation for selecting me as a finalist and welcoming me into the Federation family. Thank you so much.
Matthew Miller, Illinois, Michigan: Hello, my name is Matthew Miller, I have just graduated high school, and I'll be beginning my first year at Michigan State University this coming fall, studying actuarial science. I would also like to thank the NFB. While this is my first convention, I attended several programs when I was younger that encouraged me, such as the STEM EQ program, which really encouraged me to pursue a STEM field, even when people—even my own parents, in a loving way—were discouraging me, because they worried about whether it was possible. The program showed me it was possible, and part of the reason I plan to join the ever-growing population of blind students and blind employees in STEM fields.
James Garret Mooney, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, everyone. First I would like to thank the committee and the Federation for awarding me this scholarship. I am a senior at Arizona State University, where I will attend law school in a year and hopefully practice family law. Being a scholarship winner has been one of the most rewarding opportunities I have ever had. Being mentored by this committee has shown me that the Federation does exactly what it says, and it changes what it means to be blind. And we show everyone here that we can live the lives we want. Thank you.
Kathryn “Katy” Olsen, Iowa, Iowa: Hi, everyone, my name is Katy Olsen, and I'm from Granger, Iowa. I'll be entering my junior year of my undergrad this fall at Central College. I'm a double major, majoring in kinesiology and psychology. After my undergrad I hope to attend physical therapy school to get my doctorate in physical therapy and hopefully work with children. I also do a lot of mission work, and I'm really passionate about that. I'd really love to do something involving that, maybe going over to Haiti—it's one of the locations I do most of my mission work in. I would love to go over and empower blind people overseas. I really want to thank my scholarship mentors and the scholarship committee for this great opportunity. I'm looking forward to a great week. Thanks.
Chelsea Page, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning, Federation family. I would like to first thank the members of the scholarship committee, as well as the NFB board and the NFB as a whole for allowing me to have this wonderful opportunity. I am attending Louisiana Tech University, at which I am attaining my masters of arts in teaching blind students, where I want to work in particularly with blind infants and toddlers and their families to ensure that they get the services they deserve so that the blind students can live the lives they want and compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.
Precious Perez, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone. I am thrilled to be here today. I will be starting my freshman year at Berklee College of Music in the fall, and I plan to pursue a double major in music education and vocal performance in the hopes of changing what it means to be blind by living the life I want and teaching others to do the same. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Patti Chang, thank you to the scholarship committee, thank you board of directors, and to my Federation family; I love you all so much. Thank you.
Donna Lynn Posont, Michigan, Michigan: Hello, Federation family; I'm really glad to be here. Yesterday I realized that this is not my first NFB scholarship. I remembered that, in 1974 when I graduated from high school, I was given a scholarship by the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia to attend college in the fall. The reason I have that to be quite so memorable is because I was going for a degree in biology. But one week into school my dreams got rerouted because no one knew how to teach a blind girl about biology or chemistry, and I sure didn't know how to learn, because I had no skills of blindness. I graduated with a degree in social work and headed off to Philadelphia to have a job there, but thankfully the greatest thing that happened was that I met the National Federation of the Blind and attended my first national convention in 1979 in Miami Beach. Fast forward thirty-four years later, after rubbing shoulders with many blind people, especially blind parents and blind vendors. I still wanted to learn about the science stuff, so I went back to the University of Michigan, where last year I graduated with a degree in environmental studies. I started a Birding by Ear and Beyond program in the environmental center. After I graduated I was hired to continue that work there with the university, and I am so thankful to have gotten this scholarship so I continue and will be able to continue to be a graduate student while I'm working at the university. Thank you so much.
Syed Rizvi, Massachusetts, Texas: Brought to the United States by my parents, in part to escape genocide but also in the hopes of seeking a bright future, to our dismay the streets were not paved with gold. Blindness began to consume my life, but luckily I was found by the Federation, and they guided me to put on hold my undergraduate education, quit my job, and move two thousand miles away to LCB. There I not only gained the tools I needed to live the life I wanted, but also learned from mentors like Pam and Roland that blindness didn't have to dictate my happiness. With newfound vigor I threw myself into work for the Federation. I currently stand as the MASSABS [Massachusetts Association of Blind Students] president and now the NABS [National Association of Blind Students] second VP. I'm working this summer for the Massachusetts State House in Boston to enforce ADA compliance. In the fall I continue my college education at the University of Texas at Austin. One day I will be the best civil rights lawyer in the world, fighting for all underrepresented minorities. Thank you.
Joe “Dexter” Rowell, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hey, everybody. First off I'd like to thank the NFB Scholarship Committee for giving me this opportunity. I'm a rookie at convention, and the time I've spent has been really, really inspiring. I graduated in 2014 from Northeastern University, and in the fall I'll be a 1L law student at Northeastern School of Law. One of the things that my blindness has taught me is something about social alchemy. What that means to me is taking resources and things that have been underused and overlooked and turning them into gold. I hope to use my skills that I learn as a lawyer to bring economic development and food justice to those areas most in need of social alchemy. One of the things I'd like to close with is that one of the other things my blindness has taught me is about patience. Through that, I've learned that life is about who makes it, not about who makes it the fastest.
Kartik Sawhney, California, California: Good morning, everyone. My name is Kartik, and it's a pleasure and an honor to be here. Thank you, scholarship committee and the NFB, for not only the scholarship but for my first—but definitely not my last—convention. I will be a senior at Stanford University majoring in computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence and human/computer interaction. I grew up and spent most of my life in India, where I personally faced several challenges, especially studying sciences. I also saw many of my friends facing the same challenges, and that was when I decided that things had to change. So I developed technology that can empower blind students across the world to truly live the lives that they want, and with the Federation I think we definitely will be able to achieve a day when all blind people around the world can live the lives that they want. I am looking forward to getting to know you, learning from you, and working with all of you. Thank you.
Kennedy Stomberg, Minnesota, Iowa: Good morning, everybody. I am going to be a junior at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I am studying neuroscience, and after my undergraduate I would like to pursue some sort of research, because I am really, really fascinated and interested in learning how biology and chemistry affect the way that we think and behave. I really love being here at convention, and I am super grateful to the committee and happy for my fellow scholarship finalists. Thank you.
Corgan Waters, Tennessee, Tennessee: Hi, my name is Corgan Waters. I am from Dayton, Tennessee. This fall I will be attending the University of Tennessee as a biology major on the premed track. I will be working toward becoming a pathologist, and I would like to eventually work in regenerative medicine with stem cells. I think that medicine has come very far, but it has a very long way to go, and I would like to be a part of that. Ghandi did say, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," and that's exactly what I want to do. I would like to thank the scholarship committee and the entire Federation for giving me the opportunity to be here. This is my first time at convention, but it definitely won't be my last. Thank you.
Kathryn Webster, Connecticut, North Carolina (tenBroek Fellow): Good morning, my Federation family. Thank you, President Riccobono; Chairwoman Patti Chang; the scholarship committee; and the entire National Federation of the Blind for providing me with this incredible opportunity. I am a rising senior at Wake Forest University studying statistical business and computer science. I would not be and could not be succeeding in these courses if it was not for the National Federation of the Blind. This organization has taught me and continues to teach me the necessary tools to advocate, educate, and compete on an equal playing field with our sighted counterparts. Let us continue to change and to challenge our limits as proud members of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Kassidy Wilde, Utah, Utah: Hello, Federation. I will be attending the University of Utah for the fall semester, majoring in psychology. I have a passion for helping people, and I want to become a life coach so that I can help others to live the lives that they want to live. I'd like to thank the scholarship committee, the National Federation of the Blind, and President Riccobono for this opportunity and for letting me be a scholarship finalist. I'd like to say that you will not regret this, and I will be paying it forward and helping others in my career. Thank you.
Johna Wright, Georgia, Georgia: Hey, everybody. First I just want to say thank you to Chairman Patti Chang, the scholarship committee, and the entire Federation for giving me this opportunity. I never thought growing up as a kid in small-town Georgia that I would be at the National Federation of the Blind convention, but it is amazing. I will be attending Mercer University this fall as a double major in psychology and holistic education to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a teacher of the visually impaired. I believe that all children should have access to equal education and not feel excluded or alienated in any way. I love to advocate, so that's why I plan to be a TVI [teacher of the visually impaired], and I also plan to maybe hold a leadership role in the NFB one day. Again, thank you so much for having me here today.
At the banquet Conchita Hernandez won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what she said:
Thank you, Federation family. Thank you, Patti Chang, members of the committee, President Riccobono, every single one of you that believed in me. Before I joined the Federation I didn't have a horrible life, but I settled. I settled for having a less independent life. I settled for not doing everything for myself. I settled for not achieving the best that I could achieve. You all believed in me; the National Federation of the Blind does not settle. We tell parents, "Do not settle for less than the ultimate, excellent education for your children." We tell students, "Do not settle when your materials are not accessible, and you cannot get your textbooks." We tell parents, "Do not settle when you are being denied the right to parent as a blind individual." We tell our children, "Do not settle when you are not allowed to participate in activities." And so I just want to say thank you for teaching me not to settle.
I'm a teacher of blind students in Washington, DC, and every day I see how students are settling and parents are settling. I plan to do research on learning reading media assessments so that we can prove that our children do need Braille. Because we will not settle until we get it. Thank you so much, and we can all live the lives we want.
Following is a complete list of 2016 scholarship finalists and the awards they received. In addition to the awards listed below, each finalist also received: $1,000 and additional prizes personally donated by Dr. Ray Kurzweil; $1,000 from Google and the newest Chromebook; and a $1,000 certificate to the purchase of Independence Science technologies, specifically the new Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest.
$3,000 NFB Scholarships (15): Tara Abella, JJ Aragon, Deniz Aydemir-Doke, Danielle Burton, Nathan Clark, Deanna Greco, Nazanin Heydarian, Matthew Miller, Katy Olsen, Chelsea Page, Donna Posont, Dexter Rowell, Kennedy Stomberg, Corgan Waters, and Johna Wright.
$3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Samrawit Biyazin
$3,000 Expedia Scholarships (2): Megan Borella and Kartik Sawhney
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Merry-Noel Chamberlain
$3,000 NFB Science and Engineering Division Scholarship: Kassidy Wilde
$3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Sharon Jose
$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Garret Mooney
$5,000 NFB Scholarship: Brennan Carman
$5,000 Pearson Scholarship: Elif Emir Öksüz
$5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Jameyanne Fuller
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Precious Perez
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field: Laura Etori
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Syed Rizvi
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Kathryn Webster
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Conchita Hernandez
An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono, President
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
July 5, 2016
I am seven years old. I sit at the window of my bedroom in the early evening. The Midwest air is a beautiful balance of refreshing and warm. Listening to the sounds of summer, I contemplate my own hopes and dreams. The uncertainty of life comes to mind, and it sends shivers through my entire body. All I feel is fear. Do I run, or do I stay? Do I engage the fear, or do I let it shut me down? Does fear own me, or do I own it?
American author H. P. Lovecraft said, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," while First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt gave us the more actionable advice, "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
What is fear? Is it positive or negative? Why does fear matter and what, if anything, does it have to do with blind people? At its basic level, fear is a physical and emotional response to some external stimulus. Sometimes the stimulus is known—like a loud, unexpected crash in the middle of the night—but often the trigger for fear is subconscious and is not easily traced. Science tells us that some aspects of fear are evolutionary, a hardwired set of autonomic responses that have been critical to our survival. There is debate about the number of evolutionary fears but two are commonly referenced—the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds. Evolutionary fears may also be the root of other fears—consider, for example, the fear of heights—but there are many fears that do not show evidence of being hardwired into our brains.
Scientists categorize fears that are not evolutionary as conditional. Conditional fears are developed through a complex set of interactions with the world and often through observing the behaviors of others. One of the best-known psychological projects producing empirical evidence of the conditioning of fear is the “Little Albert” experiment that was performed by John B. Watson and his graduate student, Rosalie Rayner, at Johns Hopkins University. These researchers presented an infant child named Albert with fuzzy things that would not have otherwise been scary and, at the same time, they produced a loud sound triggering the evolutionary fear. The result was that poor little Albert was conditioned to fear the fuzzy things every time he saw them, even without the noise. While most of the conditional fears we develop are not as explicitly established as were little Albert’s, you can probably think of a number of circumstances in your own life that created conditional fears. I am certain that you can also recall instances where fear was used to alter your behavior. The biological fear response is most often triggered by very stressful circumstances that create a negative association with the feeling of fear.
Not all aspects of fear are negative. Nelson Mandela said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Examining the definitions of fear in the American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, we find another aspect of fear: “To be in awe of; (or) revere.” Baltimore-born author and poet C. JoyBell C. advises, “Don't be afraid of your fears. They're not there to scare you. They're there to let you know that something is worth it.” The other side of fear—the positive power to stimulate action and unlock potential—is generally underestimated. If we resolve ourselves to face our fears, respect the power within those fears, and turn that power into action, we can take control of our own destiny, diminish the negative fears of others, and raise our expectations.
Blindness persists as being one of the most feared situations in the world. It is a fear as old as mankind. It has been passed down through centuries of tragic stories and by self-appointed caretakers who have utilized the fear of blindness to generate funding for their sheltering programs. Despite the conditioned fear associated with blindness, blind people have come to face the fear and have proved it to be unfounded. Not just one, or two, or ten extraordinary blind people but thousands of blind people from diverse backgrounds and with varied talents have made the case for seventy-six years that it is not blindness that is to be feared but rather the low expectations and misconceptions about blindness. We have walked alone and marched together; we have tested the possibilities, and we have not found the limits; we have faced the fear, and we have transformed it to hope—we are the National Federation of the Blind.
One of the significant ways that people have been conditioned to fear blindness is through literature that perpetuates misconceptions about the blind. In his 1974 banquet address to the National Federation of the Blind, President Kenneth Jernigan examines the nine blindness-related themes in literature, which he describes as "blindness as compensatory or miraculous power, blindness as total tragedy, blindness as foolishness and helplessness, blindness as unrelieved wickedness and evil, blindness as perfect virtue, blindness as punishment for sin, blindness as abnormality or dehumanization, blindness as purification, and blindness as symbol or parable.” These themes can be further collapsed into the two sides of fear—creating a sense of anxiety or a sense of awe. It does not matter which side of fear is triggered, as the biological reaction cannot be differentiated by most individuals. Most sighted people do not have experience with the blind, and this feeds the fear of the unknown. For these individuals the conditioned fear of blindness is based on the perceived difference between the sighted and the blind. The themes of blindness in literature gain their power through the biological triggers that take place when the fear instinct is evoked. In our current society we have many forms of media that can be used to exploit these themes and trigger fear. Consider the pending release of a new thriller by Sony Pictures, Don’t Breathe, in which a blind man—who is assumed to be an easy target, always locked away in his house—terrorizes some would-be burglars who seek to take advantage of his perceived limitations. While playing on the conditioned fear of blindness might be a good plot for a horror film, it only works because of the low expectations that exist. The filmmakers are betting that the audience will understand that a blind person will not be able to perceive the threat coming, will certainly not be able to put up a fight, will not have much need for his fortune, and will not be expected to be evil. When things get really tense, we can predict that the plot twist will turn to total darkness—that mysterious land where the blind, through their super sensitivity (don’t even breathe or we will hear you), are perceived to have a slight advantage. The impact of this film on society will be to perpetuate the perceived differences between the sighted and the blind and deepen the conditioned fear—even if it does make this Halloween really interesting for us.
It is easy to imagine how blindness has come to be such a powerful trigger for fear. Any sighted person at any time can create the mental illusion that they know the experience of being blind. I would assert that blindness above any other characteristic is so easily simulated in those who do not live with it daily—a sighted person need only close their eyes—that many sighted people establish a subconscious view of blindness without much intentional effort. In fact the temptation is so subconscious that I suspect a number of sighted people in the room tonight just closed their eyes for a brief moment. How many times have you been told by someone that they tried to spend an hour with their eyes closed or they were temporarily blinded by something, and how it resulted in fear? Although those of us who understand the truth about blindness and live with it every day recognize that those brief experiences do not reflect our lives, we can appreciate how easy it is to establish the link between fear and blindness. The perceived knowledge of what it is like to be blind and the link to the fear trigger is what makes the conditioned image of blindness a powerful literary and marketing tool, and it is the formula that perpetuates the myths generation after generation.
Although we in the National Federation of the Blind have made tremendous progress in breaking down the misconceptions about blindness, much of the society around us continues to fall for the trap of conditioned fear. Unfortunately, some of the most harmful contributions to the fear come from individuals and organizations closely associated with the blind—often packaged as an attempt to validate the need for greater funding and research. The combination of the perceived expertise of individuals working with the blind and the use of triggers for the conditioned fear of blindness is one of our greatest barriers to full integration into society.
Consider a recent study commissioned by the Association for Research and Vision in Ophthalmology (ARVO), which says it is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. In September 2014 they held a press conference detailing the findings of a poll that was conducted to examine the attitudes of people about blindness and the perceived value of research funding. Among their findings they show that blindness ranks among the top four "worst things that could happen to you" for all of their respondents. Although this research illuminates how powerful the fear factor of blindness continues to be today, it also exploits that misunderstanding to promote the need for more funding for prevent-blindness research. The public message is that blindness is most feared but the actual data collected tell a slightly different story. The poll administrators asked the question, “Which of the following diseases or ailments is the worst that could happen to you?” Respondents were given five choices and the order of the choices is notable: blindness, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and not sure. While the public spin is that blindness was most often selected, the researchers do not emphasize that “not sure” ranked higher than blindness for every subgroup of individuals sampled. Since the selection of blindness fits the desired result, there was no attempt to explore whether the selection of “not sure” told us anything different about the understanding of blindness. To further emphasize the fear factor, the respondents were asked—presumably regardless of how they answered the previous question—“Which of the following would concern you as a consequence of losing your vision?” The choices of response were limited to independence, productivity, quality of life, other, and not sure. Not surprisingly, independence and quality of life were top responses in the face of an existing fear about blindness and no information about the tools and techniques that blind people use to live the lives we want. The researchers then predictably turned their questions to the importance of funding for research to prevent blindness. Responses were collected to the statement: “The federal government spends an average of $2.10 per person each year on eye and vision research, would you say that is…” and the respondents could choose, “not enough, enough, too much, or not sure.” The reported finding—that illuminates further the fear of blindness—is that the majority of people feel that there is not enough money spent on research. The insightful finding that is not emphasized is that among the subgroup that was least likely to choose blindness as their top concern, only 35 percent said that the funding amount was not enough. It seems like common sense that those who fear blindness will want more research to be a priority, but why do the researchers fail to highlight the priority of those less likely to fear blindness? The entire poll is designed to amplify the conditioned fear of blindness for a political purpose. No discussion of rehabilitation training is included in this survey. No examination of misconceptions about the capacity of the blind is explored. No data is collected about experience with successful blind people. The entire promotional package of the survey findings serves to further deepen the conditioned fear of blindness. Fear has the power to generate action, and the researchers want to mobilize support for more funding.
The conditioned fear of blindness goes well beyond surveys. Many people have internalized the fear and project it onto blind people in ways that significantly limit our lives. This most often surfaces in the form of safety concerns. How many times have you been walking down the street using a long white cane, when suddenly a kind and mysterious stranger takes it upon themselves to be the guardian angel that makes sure your cane touches nothing in the environment, because that would simply put you too close to danger? “There is a pole ahead.” “You are coming up to a street.” Or my personal favorite: “You are getting ready to run into a wall.” Although most of these incidents are annoying, they can be shrugged off or used as opportunities to educate our fellow citizens and demystify blindness. The problem comes when the conditioned fear of blindness results in actions that have far more painful consequences. What impact is there on the blind mother who is denied custody of her child because there will not be a person with vision to protect the child in the home? What options are there for the blind young man who is let go from a job installing technology in an environment where his presence is perceived as a safety issue? What message is sent to the military veteran who goes blind later in life and is advised to retreat to a care facility rather than live in his own home? How painful is it when every career dream a blind person has is extinguished by an unimaginative rehabilitation counselor? Where are the opportunities for the blind student who is barred from physical education, math, or dozens of other academic activities? And, how does a blind child build independence when she is told she cannot use a cane without supervision because she has not yet perfected the technique and might get hurt?
Often the limits placed on us are expressed through products and services. Dozens of products in the marketplace, solutions under research, and best practice guidelines for making the world safe for the blind attempt to emphasize the differences and play on conditioned fear. A simple Google search reveals many pages with guidelines for making a home or business safe for the blind, especially the newly blind older adult. Although many of the safety tips are useful reminders for all people, the guidelines gain power when amplified by the conditioned fear of blindness, and they strengthen the perceived difference between the blind and the sighted. The fear trigger is initiated by common statements such as, “Often, it is our homes that can pose the greatest risks to our safety especially if you are blind or visually impaired.”
Apparently, blindness also limits our ability to use our arms. Consider the PUSHUP GRID™. The manufacturer tells us, “Some of the common fitness activities in which individuals who are Blind/Visually Impaired participate include yoga, stationary bike riding, aerobics, basketball, jumping rope, and weight training. With the introduction of the PUSHUP GRID™ Pushup Training and Assessment Mat, the pushup exercise can now be added to this list with very little modification.” The video demonstrating this tactile mat tells us that “after a few instructional sessions some individuals may be able to execute pushups independently.” Upon further investigation, we find that this mat simply happens to have tactile features and that the real innovation is making it easy for everyone to perform proper pushups with each hand at the same distance from the center of the body. Products that include a broad set of features for a diverse range of individuals should be celebrated for being well designed. Why must the marketers give the appearance that blind people have special difficulty performing pushups? Whether it is because they truly believe that we require special treatment to perform pushups or they recognize that a convenient marketing angle to drive sales is to play on the misconceptions, the underlying root of the problem is the conditioned fear of blindness and the action that the fear inspires.
Another popular method for triggering the conditioned fear of blindness is through the topic of food. The horrors faced by blind people in dealing with eating are discussed in podcasts, perpetuated through specialized products, and celebrated in “Dining in the Dark” activities. The Blind Abilities podcast recently shared the suggestion that one solution to eating out is to develop the courage to ask your waiter to cut your meat for you. Is that really the way we want to engage with the world? Fear feeds fear. The harmful messages sometimes reach broader than we think. Two months ago I was at a restaurant in Chicago with some leaders of the Federation, enjoying a nice meal when—without our asking—our steaks were presented already cut for our convenience. Needless to say, that steakhouse is one cut below the rest. Despite the myths, I suspect that the assembled crowd here tonight prepared for our banquet with joyful anticipation rather than fearful anxiety.
When the product inventors are blind, we face an additional challenge. Take, for example, the Stress Less Drink Holder™ for the blind. The drink holder—which consists of a plastic tray with a safety cup holder and raised edges to contain spills—was created by a retired engineer who went blind. Here is a talented man who has had a successful career and who has absorbed all of the conditioned messages of fear about blindness. He faces a real problem of embarrassment as he adjusts to his own vision loss, and he has created a product that he believes will give blind people greater independence and hope. If the product were built out of meanness or to make fun of blind people, we should be outraged. However, this product was built to solve what one person has been conditioned to perceive as a significant problem. It was built by a blind person who has not yet faced the fear with the understanding that tens of thousands of us have come to know through our active participation in the National Federation of the Blind. It was built by a man who needs us. The challenge for us is how we help this blind person channel his innate talent and potential, and similarly to help the thousands of others out there who have not yet come to understand the true impact of the conditioned fear of blindness in our lives.
We reject the persistent feeding of this fear and the real harmful impact it has on the lives of blind people every day. While there is value in medical research and the development of meaningful accessible products and best practices, they fail to provide value to society when they are built upon fear. The real value to our society comes from giving blind people access to quality training and the confidence to meet the conditioned fear of blindness and disarm its false limits. Some want the fear to own us, but we know the truth, and we own our own lives. We have walked alone and marched together; we have tested the possibilities, and we have not found the limits; we have faced the fear, and we have transformed it to hope—we are the National Federation of the Blind.
The greatest opportunity for changing the conditioned fear of blindness rests within each of us as blind people. We must challenge ourselves to recognize that we all, blind and sighted, have fears, can face those fears, and must turn those fears into a source of power. This requires each of us to have the courage and humility to go beyond the limits of the conditioned fear of blindness. It also requires us to face the fear that comes from pursuing the untapped power within us to test our own assumptions, reach for new heights, and do the things we believe we cannot do.
No blind person is immune from the conditioned fear of blindness. In the National Federation of the Blind we know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future. We also know that in order to make this statement true, we, as blind individuals, need to develop the understanding and utilize the nonvisual techniques that will allow us to take control of our lives. More importantly, we recognize that we need to face the conditioned fears and challenge them on a daily basis. For those blind people who may still be immobilized by their conditioned fears, now is the time to act. It likely means standing at a street corner for a long time until you decide to take that first step. It might mean building a hot fire and learning to grill your favorite summer meal and, like all new chefs, potentially burning it. And it almost always means talking with blind people who have fought through the frustration and anger that comes with breaking down those conditioned fears about blindness. Regardless of where you are in that process, there are thousands of others who have been there before you who are ready to support you in that journey. And once you have begun to face those conditioned fears, we need you to help teach others to do the same.
Regardless of how much training, experience, and confidence any blind person has accumulated, each of us encounters the negative impact of conditioned fears on a daily basis. By working together, we continue to remind each other that this space—the space that we create together—where we raise expectations, challenge our fears, and encourage each other to go further is the normal experience in a world where we minimize the unfounded fears about blindness. The challenge for us is neither the training nor our own internal confidence; it is the continued struggle against the impact of the conditioned fears of others. When we go out in the world, there is no way to avoid encountering the impact of the misconceptions about blindness. We must recognize the fear exists, prevent others from using it to control our lives, and find new ways to overturn those fears. This demands us to be firm but also loving with those who act with sincerity. It also demands that we face outright cases of discrimination with action. We must have the courage and the maturity to be honest about the difference. We must also guard against accepting second-class treatment out of convenience to ourselves. For example, each of us knows that the airport is one of the places where the conditioned fear of blindness is going to be in evidence. It is sometimes tempting, especially after a long and intense convention, to simply go along and not challenge the low expectations that others wish to force upon us—constantly asking us where we are going, trying to get us to ride the electric cart or not to ride the escalator, pushing and pulling us, insisting that we pre-board, offering to walk us down the jetway so we do not get lost, attempting to take our canes away, inviting us to stay seated in an emergency until someone comes to help, serving us drinks with a lid and a straw, and the list goes on. The decision for us is whether we choose to contribute to the conditioned fear of blindness by giving up control, or to work actively to eliminate the fears by using our full capacity. Each of us has the opportunity, and I would argue the responsibility, to take the unrestricted view of blindness and to spread it broadly through our actions. If we do not take control of it, over time it will slowly gain more and more power over us. This requires us to constantly review our own actions, challenge our own assumptions, carry our portion of the responsibility, and never settle for second best.
We cannot stop there. If we truly desire to live the lives we want, there is one more powerful step we must take. We need to learn to positively harness the power of fear in our lives. Those who claim that they have no fear in their life are failing to utilize their potential to live their life fully. Consider love for example, which I believe to be more powerful than any other influence. It is impossible to love without feeling some degree of fear. That is the fear my wife and I faced when we held our first child, our second child, and our third child, and the fear that we continue to face when considering their future. Positive situations also create uncertainty and trigger the fear emotion. If we act in awe of fear rather than acting in fear of fear, we can unlock the power that fear gives us. Fear gives us the awareness that we are getting outside of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves to go beyond the previous limits. When we choose to face fear and recognize that fear represents our own power to act, we take greater control over our own lives. As individuals we can choose to own the power and command our destiny; as a movement we must dare to focus the power and use it to create hope and opportunity.
Imagine how the world will be different because the blind resolve to conquer fear. Imagine what we can do for society in a world where the conditioned fear of blindness does not exist. Imagine a world where the conditioned fear of blindness is so diminished that it no longer ranks in the surveys, generates the sales, or captivates the filmmakers. Imagine not just the impact on you and me; imagine the enormous benefit to every individual on this planet in the future. The conditioned fear of blindness and so many other conditioned fears significantly and artificially limit the human race. When we succeed in lifting one more fear from the consciousness of humanity, there will be more space for the power of potential that exists among us. Imagine the hope that grows when fear no longer flows.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND Inc.)—a training center affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. At BLIND Incorporated blind individuals are challenged daily to break down their conditioned fears about blindness and to face the fears they will have from pursuing their dreams. During a seminar that I was honored to lead with the students and staff, I was asked to describe my top fear for the National Federation of the Blind. I answered by saying that my greatest fear is that we as blind people will get too comfortable with the progress we have made. Today is the best time in history to be a blind person. We have made tremendous progress. We have more opportunities than at any time before. Some might be tempted to get comfortable with the illusion that we have equality in society. Some might fear that we cannot reach any higher for blind people. Some might have bought into enough of the conditioned fear of blindness to believe that we no longer need the National Federation of the Blind. However, our experience over seventy-six years gives us the perspective to know that we have not reached the top of our climb, and an honest assessment of our lives reveals that we are not yet fully accepted in society without the artificial conditions that others place upon us. The society around us is advancing, and our failure to continue our march for independence would result in our steadily losing some of the ground we have gained. My fear for our organization is that our success will condition us to believe that the benchmark is based on how far we have come rather than on where we can go. My fear is that we will get comfortable, we will fail to face the fear that comes from testing the limits, and we will settle for second best.
When I was seven and sat at the window contemplating my future, I was afraid of the life questions that did not have answers. The fear was not related to blindness but to the uncertainties and struggles that come with the human experience. I am now thirty-nine and even though I better understand how to conquer fear, certain things remain true. The emotion is uncomfortable, the uncertainty pushes me toward feeling powerless, and my hardwired instinct is to run. But I have found there is value in that fear, and the opportunity comes in the chance to stay to face the fear and reveal its other side. The other side of fear is power, and the truth of our power generates hope. When I face the fear of what we might be in the future, I think about a gathering of Federationists like we share here tonight. The thought fills me with hope, energy, and love, and I am in awe of what we will do together. For seventy-six years we have continued to raise expectations for the blind. We have diminished the false limits that the conditioned fear of blindness has artificially placed upon us. Despite my fear that we might get comfortable and the many opportunities for our power to be displaced by complacence, we demonstrate only forward progress at an increasing pace. We have not settled for second best, and we will never be conditioned to do so. We have faced our own fears, and we will never give control of our lives to others. Although we have fears, they do not come from blindness but from the power of our desire to complete our march to first-class status. Although we have challenges, they do not come from within us, and they are no match for the love, hope, and determination that keep us together in the National Federation of the Blind. We will not be defined by the prevent-blindness researchers and their agenda to expand the conditioned fear of blindness. We will not be defined by the unfounded safety concerns of others who do not know the real, lived experience of blind people. We will not be defined by the marketing experts who seek to trigger the fear response in order to sell products that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.My brothers and my sisters, we are the masters of our own future. The power to make change and to cultivate hope is within each of us. We bond together in the National Federation of the Blind to face the uncertainty of the future, to challenge ourselves to expand the horizons, and to take ownership of living the lives we want. Society’s fears of blindness will not stop us. Facing our own fears will make us stronger. And the power of our unwavering love, hope, and determination will lead us through uncertainty to new heights. Let us break down the conditioned fears of others. Let us challenge ourselves to conquer the fears that stand in our way. Let us overwhelm fear with our unstoppable engine of hope. Let us build the National Federation of the Blind.
Presented by James Gashel
Thank you, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. You know, I've noticed in addition to the shifting numbers by the decades that this convention seems to be—if you could believe it—more spirited and lively than many. In fact, I noticed this particularly during the presentation of the financial yesterday, where there was a lot of applause at different parts of the financial. Back in the day of the 1960s, we used to go to sleep during the financial. It's a different crowd−maybe they're more business-minded.
You know, the presentation of the Jacob Bolotin Awards is a high honor that I have on behalf of this organization, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. A biography entitled The Blind Doctor: the Jacob Bolotin Story by Rosalind Perlman is a must-read for all of you. It really should go down among our Federation literature. It is available in the Independence Market. Get it, and read it by next year, okay?
Jacob Bolotin's story defines what it means to live the life you want. He was born in 1888, and he lived to be age thirty-six. But during that short life, he fulfilled his dream of becoming the first blind doctor—blind since birth. And he wasn't just a psychology doctor; he was a heart and lung doctor. Nothing wrong with psychology doctors, now, but this guy got right into it.
After graduating from the Illinois School for the Blind, Bolotin supported himself and his family as a door-to-door salesman in Chicago. He sold kitchen matches, brushes, and typewriters. The hours were long and the work was hard, but Bolotin persevered, and he even saved up enough money to put himself through medical school. There wasn't any vocational rehabilitation back then; there wasn't any section 504 or ADA back then. In the spirit of Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and Mark Riccobono, Jacob Bolotin was, in fact if not in name, a Federationist.
Supported in part with a bequest left to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind, the awards we give include money which each recipient will get. They also include an engraved plaque and a medallion. Here's the text on the plaque:
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
The text on the obverse side of the medallion suspended above the plaque says this: "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award" with our logo under that, and it says immediately below the logo "Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." Now the reverse side of the medallion says "Dr. Jacob Bolotin," and then there's a depiction of his bust below that text. Below the bust are the years of his birth and death, with this text below: "Celebrating his Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."
And now for the 2016 Bolotin Awards.
Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement (ABLE), $5,000. Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, ABLE started more than fifty years ago, mostly as a Braille transcription service, but audio services were added soon thereafter. In 2013 the service was further expanded to fill requests from teachers for more than just textbooks, including accessible Braille versions of daily math and science materials; Spanish and German materials for foreign language classes; assessments, quizzes, and exams were included; books and short stories for literature classes are now included; and raised line drawing of charts, graphs, and pictures are done by ABLE. With a sound studio that is now equipped for the NLS program, ABLE now produces audio books by Wisconsin authors that are not included in the national NLS program. If you want to visit a museum exhibit that's accessible, visit Crossroads of Civilization at the Milwaukee Public Museum. It was made fully accessible by ABLE.
Meeting the standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, ABLE is providing services of the highest quality. Excellence is only the floor, not the ceiling at ABLE. Here to receive the award is Sheryl Orgas, executive director of ABLE.
Cheryl Orgas: Good afternoon. As executive director of a creative and innovative volunteer staff team at ABLE, I am deeply honored to receive this Jacob Bolotin Award. From creating quick-turnaround materials such as hundreds of math and science tactiles for a rising junior in his international baccalaureate program, to those books that you can download on BARD [Braille and Audio Reading Download] not only all of you in this room—not right now, though, but after sessions—to those 550,000 individuals and organizations that are a part of the program, to our signature relationship with the Milwaukee Public Museum. Yes, Crossroads is accessible, but we're moving on to the butterfly exhibit and to the dinosaurs, but even bigger than that, what ABLE has done in partnership with the Milwaukee Public Museum is we've changed their paradigm from "just look, don't touch" to "how can we make exhibits accessible from the ground up?" And I can tell you we are not stopping there. We've moved on to the Urban Ecology Center. And because of our work at ABLE, and because of our passion and commitment, blind people are going to be able to live the lives they want. My deepest gratitude to James Gashel, Ron Brown, and Mary Ellen Jernigan for this wonderful gift of money, and may I also say the greater gift of having ABLE associated with such a great man, such an exemplary leader as Dr. Bolotin. And my family, Bill Meeker, Christopher our son in Utah fighting fires right now, because as blind parents we taught him to live the life he wants, and our great friends and leader President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer, and all of you, my family, thank you.
Jim Gashel: Oskar and Klaus Publishing, $10,000. Now you say, "What is Oskar and Klaus Publishing?" Well, I'm going to tell you. Mick Szydlowski and his wife Bethany adopted a six-week-old blind kitten named Oskar. This was five years ago, and Oskar was adopted to join their other adopted cat named Klaus. They didn't know what to do except just to stay out of the way while Oskar basically found his way around his new home, and he was fearless running around the place, navigating through. And Klaus didn't know what to do either, so he just stayed out of the way. Compared to Klaus, Oskar was the first one to show up at mealtime. He was climbing Bethany's leg as the cans of cat food were being opened, while Klaus just sat back and watched. Oh, Klaus accepted his new companion. Through their play and wrestling about, it was clear that Oskar was in charge and Klaus was just following along—that's the way it ought to be. Mr. President, the blind should be in charge. Yeah, let's hear a Federation cheer for the blind being in charge!
Fascinated by the antics of their blind cat and their much more timid sighted cat, Mick and Bethany started posting pictures and videos on the internet, and the thing just went viral. That's when they called on their friend Travis Bossard to help out, so Travis is now part of this business to manage the growing social media. This includes not just appearances at the local pet shelter, which they've had, but on national television like Good Morning, America, Ellen, Fox and Friends, and others.
Now the adventures of Oskar and Klaus are being recounted in books. Two books are out, and a third one is in process. You can get these books at <https://www.oskarandklaus.com/>, just follow the link for books, or you can order them on Amazon.com. An audiobook of the first book, which is Oskar & Klaus: the Search for Bigfoot is available, and a Braille version of the second book, The Mission to Cataria is at the same price as it is in print, and that is supported by the American Action Fund. Barbara Loos, president of the Action Fund, is consulting on the text.
Now meeting the standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, Oskar & Klaus Publishing is reaching a worldwide audience of adults and children with a positive image of blindness. Just imagine that: the fun and frolic of their fearless blind cat Oskar and his timid sighted companion Klaus, the world is learning that we can live the lives we want. So here to accept the award on behalf of Oskar and Klaus is Mick Szydlowski, father of Oskar and Klaus.
Mick Szydlowski: Thank you for this incredible honor. I stand before you today as one man, but I'm also accepting this award on behalf of my longtime friend and partner in Oskar & Klaus Publishing, Travis Bossard, who is unable to be here today. We are grateful to have been recognized by the awards committee and thankful for the opportunity to attend the National Convention. Our time in Orlando has only strengthened our commitment to creating a book series that aligns with the goals of the Federation by challenging readers to live lives full of limitless adventure, free from the burdens of society's prejudices, misunderstandings, and low expectations. Although we would love to think of the Bolotin Award as the prize at the end of a long journey of self-publishing, we know that it serves as the milestone marker to celebrate our first steps. It's both a signpost that shows that we are traveling in the right direction and a gust of wind at our backs pushing us forward. Travis and I both read the biography of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, and we understand that it is the power of will that propels one to achieve great things in life. We shall thus carry on writing and take comfort in knowing that the NFB is by our side. Thank you again for this honor; we are moved, we are encouraged, and we are very proud to be part of your family.
Jim Gashel: Winston Chen, $15,000. Winston Chen may not be a household name, but perhaps you'll know our next awardee if I just say "Voice Dream Reader." Winston Chen is the father of Voice Dream Reader. If you're blind and have an iDevice—like an iPhone—you probably already have Voice Dream Reader—I do. If you don't have it, you're definitely missing out.
Here's just a few details about Voice Dream Reader. In text-to-speech it has one premium a cappella voice, your choice of several other free a cappella voices, and thirty-six iOS voices in twenty-seven languages; in-app purchase of 200+ premium voices in thirty languages; a corrections dictionary so you can correct pronunciations (like I'm having trouble with); all voices play in the background, and even when the screen is locked—do you like that? I like that. And, by the way, it's optimized for VoiceOver. Supported file formats include: PDF, plain text, MS Word, PowerPoint, RTF, GoogleDocs, web articles, DRMfree ebooks, Bookshare books, Daisy text and audiobooks, and other MP3 and MP4 formats. Other features like text navigation and text annotation are available. In short, if you're looking for a high-quality reader, this reader does just about everything. Now the one thing it doesn't do is it doesn't take pictures and read—maybe that's coming. [laughs] We have another one that takes pictures and reads—KNFB Reader—let's have a shout-out to KNFB Reader—not to steal Winston's thunder.
You know Winston is truly an interesting guy. In 2011 he was firmly established in a software company as an executive in Massachusetts, but Winston and his family decided to take a year off from this great career in the United States, and the entire family moved for a year to a remote Norwegian island north of the Arctic Circle. There in the dead and dark of winter, Winston had to have something to do, so he created Voice Dream Reader. Really an interesting guy—you've got to meet this guy. Meeting the standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, Winston Chen has raised the bar in accessible reading for blind people. Through his single-handed efforts in creating the Voice Dream Reader app, Winston Chen is making lives better for all blind people so we can definitely live the lives we want. Here to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award is Winston Chen.
Winston Chen: Thank you, Jim, and thank you NFB. You know I feel really lucky. I get to wake up every morning and work on products that really make a difference in people's lives. When customers email me, "My life has changed because of your products." When I think about it, it's not luck. Thirty-two years ago I immigrated to the United States from China. America welcomed me with open arms, gave me a terrific education in a public high school and a public university, and that's how I learned how to write software. Then you have the Apple ecosystem, where one guy can make products, and everybody in the world can enjoy and benefit from his work. And because of that, I can make sure that the products are affordable, and also I can support my family.
Voice Dream exists because of America's generosity towards immigrants and exists because of this global economy. Now these things are increasingly becoming contentious around family barbeques and in ballot boxes around the world. I would just like to add that hopefully my personal story will add a perspective to it, that there are a lot of benefits that come from these things. Thank you, thanks everyone. I feel like I haven't earned this honor, and I promise to work hard and make the products better and earn this honor. Thanks.
[From the applause it was clear that the audience believed Winston Chen most certainly deserved the honor and recognition bestowed by this award.]
Jim Gashel: For our fourth and final (this is a group) award: we call them the Semitic Scholars, $20,000. Now, Jacob Bolotin knew that blind people can compete on equal terms, given the right tools and given opportunities. If you've ever considered becoming a biblical scholar, then you would have already found that understanding the Semitic languages like biblical Hebrew, classical Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Akkadian, and Ugaritic—I can't even pronounce these languages—it's a real challenge. And it's especially a challenge if you use Braille. So the group we call the Semitic Scholars includes three very bright, very creative, and very devoted blind people: Sarah LaRose, Dr. Raymond McAllister, and Matthew Yeater. Through their combined efforts, and with help from David Holliday and Caryn Navy at Duxbury Systems, the Semitic Scholars have built the tools needed to convert ancient languages and ancient content into Braille.
Sarah LaRose graduated from Anderson University with a master's degree in divinity and developed the Braille tables for using JAWS with biblical Hebrew, Syriac, and polytonic Greek. Dr. Raymond McAllister earned his PhD in Hebrew from Andrews University, and he discovered how to make ancient texts accessible by opening the text in Microsoft Word and then converting the ancient characters into modern characters, and then opening this hybrid file in a BrailleNote. So consequently he could read hundreds of ancient documents in ancient languages on the BrailleNote—never been done before. Matthew Yeater built on these accomplishments by creating the code to access primary source materials for both the Old Testament and the New Testament. He worked with McAllister further to develop the code for three strands of ancient Syriac. Through contacts with a publisher, he then made it possible for downloadable files of these Braille materials to be available so blind students anywhere can study along with their sighted colleagues [applause]. This is ground-breaking stuff these guys have done. Meeting the standards set by Jacob Bolotin, all three of our Semitic Scholars have demonstrated pioneering success in breaking down barriers and opening new fields of study for blind people, both today and tomorrow. Through their combined contributions, these three scholars are walking in the footsteps of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, and they are helping to make it possible for all blind people to live the lives we want. So I have the first of the Semitic Scholars, Sarah LaRose.
Sarah LaRose: Hi, guys. I want you all to imagine receiving emails that say, "Is it possible for a blind person to succeed in biblical studies?" And another email that says, "My college exempted me from this subject and suggested that I change my program to a master of arts in ministry because I cannot take biblical languages." That's the type of emails that I used to receive from people who wanted to study biblical languages. That is why I do this. I want to say thank you to the NFB for this tremendous honor. And we will not stop this work, because there should be no more exemptions for anybody who wants to study these languages.
James Gashel: Next is Dr. Raymond McAllister.
Dr. Raymond McAllister: When I wished to work on my PhD, I had to use technical documents with a lot of symbols in them that aren't in your usual Braille Hebrew Bibles. So I used these computer code texts that are really a pain. That's what I had to do to read my Bible the way I wanted to. Well now we've got better texts, we got them in Braille, and I helped code the Hebrew accents so they can be readable, and they're being distributed to the blind who get ahold of these organizations. And what we want to do with this award is make more ancient Semitic documents and more ancient languages digitized so that they can be converted into Braille. I want to thank the NFB for helping us to be able to push this vision further, I want to thank my wife Sally for supporting me, and I want to thank God for making all this possible. I'm going to leave you with a hardy thank you very much in Hebrew. Thank you very much in Hebrew is "todam ode."
Jim Gashel: The last of the three Semitic Scholars is Matthew Yeater. Matthew, here is your plaque, and you're going to say thank you very fast please.
Matthew Yeater: Thank you. The beauty of the biblical language profile found on Duxbury (it’s available there) is access to the critical apparatus and biblical scholarship. The critical apparatus has a bunch of weird symbols that stand for abbreviations, and it has a multitude of languages on the same page. What’s really cool is that through this project we can have a multitude of ancient languages on the same page and convert them all into Braille at the same time. And it’s available in 147 different languages. Thank you, National Federation of the Blind for pouring into me your philosophy; thank you Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; Paul Kine; Lauren Johns for helping us write the code; Duxbury, David and Caryn—you guys are the greatest; Brent Graber—you guys are awesome; thank you, Bolotin committee. God bless you.
by Jamie Principato
From the Editor: In January of 2015, this magazine ran an article about Jamie Principato and her struggle to fight for accommodations from Florida State University. Jamie has moved on from her legal battles, and she brought to the 2016 national convention one of the finest speeches about the need for access and the transformative part it can play in one’s life that I’ve ever heard. Here is what she said on Tuesday, July 5:
Hello. I’m in the business of sharing ideas, and I have a big idea for you today. But before I get to that, there’s a story that I need to share that I’ve been learning this week is very important. It started not at Florida State University, but when I was in the eighth grade. It was the end of our semester, and my teacher asked me to stay after class. She asked me to stay because I am failing eighth grade algebra. Up to this point I had never used a math book, and I’d never been able to write math my teacher could read. I also could not read or write in Braille, and any work I did in math had to be done verbally.
As many of you I’m sure understand, if you’ve been to school and you are blind, it’s very difficult to simplify an equation if what you’re hearing is: “Two squared plus six over x divided by three squared plus two x squared plus the square root of five, all divided by three.” I’m a mathematician now, and I don’t know where to begin with that.
But my teacher had good news for me. She told me, “I’m not going to give you an ‘F’ and prevent you from going on to ninth grade with your classmates, because I understand what you’re going through.”
“Really,” I said.
She said, “Yes, I do. You see, my daughter has intellectual disabilities, and she can’t solve for ‘x’ either.” [groans] I was crushed. And I realized that I had two options: I could correct my teacher, and I could tell her that I am intelligent, I can learn math, but I can’t learn math if I can’t read a math book or access your notes when you’re giving lecture. Or—I’m fourteen years old, remember—I could walk away and never have to come back to that classroom again. I walked away.
Fast forward now to entering college. Somehow—I don’t really know how this could have happened—when I entered Florida State University, I managed to pass my placement test and be placed into college algebra. Meanwhile, up to this point I still can’t solve for ‘x’, and I can barely multiply numbers greater than seven. But I’m placed into college algebra, and there happens to be another student in the class with me who is blind. We decide to go to class together that morning. And when we walk in we are immediately stopped by the professor at the door. And she tells us, “You guys shouldn’t be here.” What do you mean? She tells us that, “None of the materials in this department can be provided to you in Braille or in large print.” I remember telling her that shouldn’t be a problem; Florida State University has a disability resource center, and if you send them your materials, they can help you prepare them for us. She told us, “Oh, no, no, no, we don’t do that here.”
“What? You don’t do that?” She told us that it was somehow against department policy to release any of their materials to disability resources, and it had always been so. We proceeded to attempt to take the class. They weren’t going to make us leave because other departments were putting pressure on us to complete our college algebra requirement. It was either complete the requirement or be unenrolled in the institution, so we had to find a way to do it.
Meanwhile, at every turn there is something new stopping us: there are tests that we cannot take, homework assignments that we cannot complete, study materials we have no access to, and even when we go to our instructor’s office to ask questions or to seek assistance, she insists on tutoring us using pen and ink, barely describing anything she’s doing verbally. Needless to say it was impossible to pass college algebra, and soon after this first semester my fellow student and I, with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind, entered litigation against Florida State University on the grounds that their programs were inaccessible to us and that they were engaging in discrimination on the basis of disability [applause].
Something that a lot of students don’t realize when they enter into something like this is that litigation is a messy process. It’s time-consuming; it’s stressful. I ended up spending more time working with Brown, Goldstein & Levy during discovery, helping them get information about my school, trying to understand the law myself so that I knew how to communicate to people at my school when questioned—I spent more time working on these tasks than I spent on my studies. It was like a full-time job, and it lasted for more than three years. And when it ended, I burnt a bridge at my university and could not go back.
I moved to Colorado shortly after, and it was time for me to start over. It took a long time before I was ready to go back to school because at this point I wasn’t really sure if my teacher in eighth grade was right or not. Maybe I am stupid; maybe I can’t do math. Almost every career I could possibly go into is going to require mathematics; math is everywhere. So maybe I’m just not cut out for college. They told me at Florida State that their programs simply were not for everybody, that there were some people they could not serve, and maybe I would be better off trying to find a school that served “my kind.”
But eventually I worked up the courage to return to school. I started at a community college—Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado. I decided that I would start slow and that I would only take math courses in the beginning. Math was going to be the hardest thing for me to conquer, so it seemed like a good place to start. I didn’t want my instructors having any assumptions about what I could do as a blind person, so when I entered my college classroom on the first day of school and my professor asked the students to share with the class how they felt about math and what kind of experience they had had in the past, I lied through my teeth, and I told my instructor with a straight face—a smile, in fact—that I was excellent in math and that it had always been my best subject. “I’m only taking this class because I’m twenty-three—I’ve been out of school for a while, I need a little refresher in algebra, but I am confident I can get a perfect A in this class.” I spent the rest of the semester trying my hardest not to get caught in the lie. I have to say that it was not my own ability that made that possible. My school was incredible in terms of accessibility. Anytime I needed help, anytime I found materials that I could not access or information I could not read, there was somebody at my school, either in the math department or in the disability services office, who was willing to help me. They didn’t doubt that with the right access I could be successful in math, and sure enough they were right, and I was right, and I pulled off an A in that class [applause].
I continued in mathematics at Arapahoe Community College (ACC). I wanted to try trigonometry, and when I finished that, I wanted to go into calculus. I ended up being the first blind student at ACC to progress through all of the math courses that that school offered, and I succeeded [applause].
I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. When I was at Florida State I majored in psychology, not because I was particularly thrilled with psychology—it’s a great field—but I was doing it because it seemed like the only likely science a blind person could be successful in. But now I was being successful in things I thought I could never do, so I started rethinking my career choices. I remember one night a friend of mine who was a sighted mathematician was sitting with me, going over a problem I found particularly interesting from class that day. I started telling him about my dilemma, about how I wanted to do science; it was all I really ever wanted to do. “I just want to understand how the universe works.”
He looked at me, and he said: “Well then, why don’t you major in physics?”
“I’m blind; physics has a lot of math, a lot of labs, and all kinds of equipment and technology that I’m not used to.”
I started panicking, and he looked at me and said, “I’m not joking; you can do math, so you can do physics.”
So I thought about it, and it occurred to me that there’s really nothing to lose in trying, just like I tried algebra. So I went to school a few months later when the new semester was starting, and I changed my major to physics. From that point on, doors were opening for me. I met with the chair of the physics department, and I told him that I was a little concerned about the laboratory component of his classes. He said to me, “I don’t understand why.”
I said, “Well, sir, I’m blind.”
He said, “Sure, but sighted people can’t see radiation or electricity or momentum. You can do math, so you can do physics.”
He was right. With the tools that my school already provided to their sighted students, the LabQuest system in particular for collecting data in laboratories, I was able to compete with my sighted peers in the laboratory, and pretty soon I had the opportunity to start doing my own research. I joined a team of researchers who were sponsored by NASA through the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. We began building instruments that would fly through the stratosphere and even into space, and my focus became instruments that would allow sighted people to see things they can’t even see, things like radiation, things like cosmic rays and subatomic particles, things like the molecular composition of the atmosphere that you can’t see even with a working eye, and I as a blind student, just an undergrad, was building the tools that scientists could use to visualize these things and that I could use to visualize these things [applause].
Only two weeks ago I was at Wallops, Virginia, at the Wallops Flight Facility at NASA, integrating a device that I built that allows us to see when the sensor collides with subatomic particles from a cosmic ray from the radiation produced when stars and distant galaxies explode. We launched this device on a rocket. From 1,000 feet away my teammates and I recorded the launch, and I’d like to share that with you now. Can we cut to the video?
[The tape commences with a countdown starting at ten, nine, eight, and when the countdown reaches zero and the word mark is spoken, one can hear and see the rocket lifting off. On the recording one can hear the cheers of excited participants, and in the background one can also hear the excited cheers of those of us in the audience.]
This is what can happen when blind people have access to math and science. Since then I’ve also found a talent for teaching, and I’m a tutor now to many sighted students in college-level math. However, I am most proud of my students in the college prep program at the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB).
Now I want to come to the idea that I promised I would share. Teaching math to students who want to pursue college, I started noticing some very interesting patterns. With the permission of my students I started collecting data and keeping track of things that we talked about, things that we worked on, and the patterns that I perceived. A very common pattern: virtually 90 percent of my students would come to me and tell me in the beginning of our sessions, “I can’t learn math; I had a teacher in middle school who told me that I was intellectually disabled there, and I just can’t do it.” And my students really believed this, that somehow because they were blind, there was something else wrong with them that made it impossible for them to learn about math.
In the short time I’ve been teaching—the longest duration has been four months, and the shortest has been one month—my students go from believing that they are incapable of learning math—from exactly where I was, feeling that they can’t even multiply numbers together if the numbers are greater than seven—to performing at a perfectly acceptable precollege level, some even testing not just into but beyond college algebra. This is simply because they have been given access to mathematical information at CCB [applause]. Once a student has access to the information, a mentor who can show them how to use it and who believes that they are capable of using it, they can do tremendous things. They not only can reach their grade level but exceed it.
So this is my idea: we are a large organization with a lot of resources. There are people here with many talents ranging from music to science and mathematics. We also have many children in the organization who are blind, who are entering school, or who are already in school and finding that when they reach a certain grade level they no longer have access to the information their peers can use. I propose that as a Federation we start paring talented adults and professionals—college students and professionals—who have succeeded in science and mathematics with the families of children who are struggling, with the families of children whose teachers believe that they are cognitively delayed and cannot possibly learn math because they are blind. I want the students to have access to a network of people who not only know the skills of blindness but also know the skills of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [applause].
I’m in the process of collecting the data I compiled at the Colorado Center for the Blind, and I’m trying to find ways to make a program like this a reality. I would not be where I am right now if not for the mentorship and encouragement I received from my friends in the field and my friends in the Federation. I want every blind child who needs to learn math for their career to have the same opportunity to find their talent. In addition, I would not be where I am if it were not for somebody who showed me how to build tools that could go into space. The Colorado Space Grant Consortium has a program called RockSat-C. This program allows students to purchase space through their institutions on a suborbital sounding rocket and do exactly what I did: launch an experiment. I was recently given the opportunity to participate in this program again and asked what kind of payload I would want to design. My response was that I want to design a workshop payload. I want to dedicate my half canister of space to blind children between the grades of six and twelve so that I can help teach them the skills that they need to put an instrument at the edge of space and beyond. Soldering, programming, building circuits, reading schematics, interpreting their data, designing an experiment, thinking like a scientist: none of these are things a blind person cannot do, and I know because I’ve done them. I want to make sure that my peers can do them too, because it’s a much more interesting field when I have competition.
We can do amazing things when we have access to information. When we don’t have access to information, we can start thinking some pretty terrible things about ourselves. I thought I was stupid; I thought I would never learn to do math and should avoid it like the plague. I thought there was something wrong with me, that somehow when people told me that “No, you should not be in our classroom; you do not belong here,” it was my fault. I had done something wrong. I’ve learned since then that that is not true. I can do anything I set my mind to, and so can the rest of us. I really hope the Federation can help me in these endeavors so that I can bring access to mathematics to everybody in this room and beyond.
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:
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: Former President Maurer needs little introduction to readers of the Braille Monitor. His long and distinguished service as the President of the National Federation of the Blind means that anyone in the blindness field knows his name, but what may be less well-known about him is that he is a lawyer whose thoughts often turn to the rights of blind people as granted in the United States Constitution and interpreted by the courts of our land. It is not surprising that from time to time he takes issue with the way a court has interpreted our place in society, and when he takes issue with a thing, often people come to know about it. Through his writings and speeches, Former President Maurer reveals hypocrisy for what it is, lays bare the fallacies he finds in legal assumptions about our inferiority, and makes clear the imperative of changing these laws which separate us from first-class citizenship. Here is what he said to the 2016 convention:
Are you the right kind? Do you possess the characteristics that make you a part of the society in which you live? Can you expect the same rights, privileges, protections, liberties, dignity, and legal guarantees that others in this society may expect? As I once overheard one of my children ask a child from a neighboring family, “Are you allowed?”
One important function of the government is to create categories of human beings. The category to which you are assigned determines the rights you have. One of the categories created by the government is currently named “disability.”
What is disability? The Americans with Disabilities Act contains a definition which says in part “the term disability means with respect to an individual . . . a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.” One of the major life activities is seeing, which indicates that the blind are part of the definition. Does this mean that you have rights? If you do, how extensive are they, how closely do they resemble the rights that others may take for granted, and how broad is the category that specifies what you get? What is the source of these rights?
The design in the United States is that laws adopted in our country protect people. The most important of these laws is the United States Constitution. Congress may adopt any law that it thinks is necessary for the country if the Constitution authorizes Congress to exercise this power. State legislatures may adopt any law they please unless the law violates the state or the federal constitutions or a federal statute Congress adopted under the authority of the federal constitution.
Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first President of the National Federation of the Blind, was a constitutional scholar. In 1956 in a speech delivered to the National Federation of the Blind banquet, he made the following observation:
The Constitution of the United States declares that all persons born in the United States or naturalized are citizens. There is nothing in the Constitution or in the gloss upon it which says that this section shall not apply to persons who are blind. If born in the United States or naturalized, whether before or after blindness, blind persons are citizens of the United States now and are now, not merely in some future generation, possessed of the right to be citizens and share the privileges, immunities, and responsibilities of that status. Moreover, the bounty of the Constitution extends to all persons, whether citizens or not, rights to freedom, equality, and individuality.
As citizens, then, or as persons, who happen to be deprived of one of their physical senses, we claim, under the broad protection of the Constitution, the right to life, personal freedom, personal security; the right to marry, have and rear children, and to maintain a home; and the right, so far as government can assure it, to that fair opportunity to earn a livelihood which will make these other rights possible and significant. We have the right freely to choose our fields of endeavor, unhindered by arbitrary, artificial or man-made impediments. All limitations on our opportunity, all restrictions on us based on irrelevant considerations of physical disability, are in conflict with our Constitutional right of equality and must be removed. Our access to the mainstreams of community life, the aspirations and achievements of each of us, are to be limited only by the skills, energy, talents, and abilities we individually bring to the opportunities equally open to all Americans.
Finally, we claim as our birthright, as our Constitutional guarantee and as an indivestible aspect of our nature the fundamental human right of self-expression, the right to speak for ourselves individually and collectively. Inseparably connected with this right is the right of common association. The principle of self-organization means self-guidance and self-control.
These words spoken by Dr. tenBroek sixty years ago are for me a ringing declaration of the independence of the blind. They mean that we have a right to expect from our government the full protection of the law. Congress must respect our abilities; agencies of the government must treat us with equality; and the courts must accord us the dignity granted to all others. Does this happen? Are we categorized with the honor that is due to all citizens?
Dr. tenBroek, in addition to being a constitutional scholar, was a teacher. He asked his students to read a number of decisions adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States. One of these, Buck v. Bell, which was adopted in 1927, declares that people with certain disabilities do not have the same kind of legal protection available to all others. A woman aged eighteen, Carrie Buck, was determined by an agency of government in Virginia to be mentally disabled, in the words of the Supreme Court, feebleminded. She was placed in the “State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded.” Prior to her placement in the institution, Carrie Buck had been raped, and she had given birth to a daughter. Prior to these events, officials at the institution had declared that Carrie Buck’s mother was feebleminded. Subsequent to Carrie Buck’s institutionalization these same officials declared her daughter to be feebleminded, although at the time of the determination her daughter was but seven months old. According to one account the baby’s feeblemindedness was determined by looking at her. Because these officials worried that Carrie Buck might have other children who they thought might be feebleminded, they decided to perform a sterilization operation on her without her consent. A statute authorizing this procedure had been enacted in Virginia in 1924, less than a year before the decision to perform the operation. The government officials who ran the institution for the feebleminded wanted to test the constitutionality of the law, and they decided to use Carrie Buck for their experiment.
In 1859 Charles Darwin had written his book on the origin of the species, which asserted that the evolutionary process has been a part of the development of plants and animals and probably human beings. Heredity came to be known in the latter part of the 1800s, and it was widely accepted in the early part of the 1900s. One line of argument which came from this is the eugenics movement, which asked that hereditary characteristics of human beings be taken into account to improve the race. This concept was carried to its extreme in the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. However, the concept that some people are fit and others not, some people are the right sort for breeding while others not, that positive traits may be promoted and negative ones stamped out, became for a time a part of science and a concept reflected in law. Today some doctors are reasserting the concept with the idea that examination of a fetus for potential disabilities before it is born can be used to decide whether it shall live or die.
However, the Constitution guarantees to persons in the United States rights of life, liberty, and property that they may exercise freely. In the case of Carrie Buck, who brought her suit to challenge the Virginia law, these rights were denied. Rights of life, liberty, and property appear to mean that she has a right to her own body—it belongs to her. She may reasonably expect to have the right to establish a home and a family. However the brief opinion of the Supreme Court (only five paragraphs) held that her constitutional rights were not violated by the decision of the state to take from her the ability to bear children. Her disability—one which later examination casts in doubt—was sufficient, said the court, to authorize the state to penalize her severely. The only basis of the decision is that according to the court she possessed a disability.
The opinion declares that Virginia “is supporting in various institutions many defective persons who if now discharged would become a menace but if incapable of procreating might be discharged with safety.” The court found that the plaintiff “is the probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring” and that the purpose of the statute is “to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, [said the court] if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” In the last sentence of the text, the court refers to the inmates as people “who otherwise must be kept confined.” Is this confinement protective custody or penal servitude? When the judge speaks of continuing their kind, does this indicate that the court believes there are two types of individuals—one known as persons who have constitutionally guaranteed rights of liberty and property and another known as individuals who somehow by the possession of disability alone have lost the status of personhood? The Buck v. Bell case would seem to make this assertion. It has never been explicitly reversed although the Supreme Court has twice considered similar cases, once in 1942 and once in 1978. The court has declared the right to establish one’s own family to be fundamental and consequently entitled to substantial protection under the Constitution. However, the statute authorizing involuntary sterilization continued in Virginia into the 1970s.
When I was wondering about this case, I could not imagine what circumstances came together to bring the facts before the Supreme Court within three years after the statute became law. A person who is placed in an institution alleged to possess mental disability does not ordinarily have financial resources or political connections that would make the appeals process readily available. How could this have happened? A review of the record shows that the lawyer representing Carrie Buck, the plaintiff in this case, had been one of the directors of the institution where she had been confined. The record shows that he never called Carrie Buck to testify on her own behalf, and he never called any other witnesses to testify for her. Another interesting fact is that the superintendent of the institution where she was confined paid the lawyer’s bill. This young woman never had independent counsel, and she never got her day in court. She was betrayed, and the system of American justice did nothing to prevent it. Certain disabled individuals in the United States have been classified in a category which says that they do not have constitutional rights ever since that egregious decision was made.
In 1938 Congress adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act, which offered American workers a right to receive a federally-established minimum wage. However, the handicapped did not enjoy the same benefits. They were classified in 1938 as not worthy of the same protections available to the able-bodied, a classification which persists today. However, in 1986 a provision was written into the law granting disabled workers a mechanism to challenge the subminimum wage. Because the payments to be received from such a challenge are severely restricted, this form of challenge has almost never been used. However, in 2016 three workers from a sheltered workshop in Ohio, Joe Magers, Pam Steward, and Mark Felton, brought such a challenge with the support of the National Federation of the Blind and others.
The administrative law judge who heard the case decided in favor of the workers, saying that their disabilities had not prevented them from performing the tasks they had been assigned in the workshop. The judge said that the classification which had been imposed on these workers of incompetence was not justified. Although the decision does not state the matter with the simplicity that it might, the judge appears to have come to the conclusion that the workers in this case do not appear to be substantially different from other workers in similar jobs. Because these workers appear to be regular workers doing regular work, they get the regular protections that all other workers get. If the workers are to be treated as an inferior class with inferior protections, the law requires the employer to demonstrate this inferiority and to show that disability is the reason for it. Because the employer did not make this demonstration, the so-called special minimum wage (read “subminimum” for that word “special”) does not apply.
The Buck v. Bell decision was made by the Supreme Court. The Ohio minimum wage case was decided by an administrative law judge. The first classifies persons with disabilities as incompetent. The second classifies workers who incidentally have disabilities as regular productive people. The contrast is striking.
What the judges think disability means makes all the difference. The tyranny of low expectations diminishes productive capacity. Those who are told that they do not have ability modify their behavior accordingly. When disabled workers are classified as incompetent, training programs to teach competence become unavailable. Both the training in the skills to do the work and the attitude of managers and employees come together to assure that nonproductive behavior is the norm. But the exact opposite is also true. Those who are challenged to produce superior work very often do exactly that. The expectations determine the outcome.
An article that appeared on the Forbes website on May 19, 2016, tells us that disabled people receiving subminimum wages cannot possibly deserve better because they are incompetent—incapable of earning the $7.25 an hour currently guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The author of the article, Tim Worstall, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, declares that disabled employees receiving subminimum wages have their jobs as a matter of charity. The incompetent disabled workers get to remain at their work because of the benevolent generosity of the bosses that hired them. Of course, the bosses do not receive subminimum wages, not even close. Some years ago the head of Goodwill Industries International, which pays many of its disabled workers less than the minimum wage, was being paid more than half a million dollars a year, and some Goodwill executives were getting more than a million dollars a year.
The subminimum wage jobs being performed by disabled workers do offer benefits, says Worstall, something to keep the disabled busy during the day, a feeling of self-worth, and a little pocket money. What would the disabled do all day without this charity? Among the many bombastic pronouncements of Mr. Worstall is the assertion that the National Federation of the Blind is “remarkably silly” for promoting minimum wage protection for disabled people. However, as we have said for more than half a century, we will speak for ourselves, and we will not permit any self-important uninformed bigot to represent our interests. He tells us that nature has been unkind to us—we have disabilities after all. It would be even more unkind to give us the protection of the law. Protect us from the so-called kindness of strangers.
What does all of this mean for us, for the members of the National Federation of the Blind? How do we respond to the prejudice expressed by the Supreme Court or by major news outlets? At the outset we must assess the damage inflicted by these institutions. The story that appeared on the Forbes website got there because we are making significant headway in bringing the exploitation of the subminimum wage law to the attention of the public. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the principal democratic candidates for president in 2016, have both indicated that the subminimum wage authorization must be eliminated. When in the past have two declared candidates for president taken such a strong position to protect the rights of the disabled?
On the other hand, the Supreme Court has the power to insist upon a classification of disabled people that denies us the same rights that other people are granted routinely, but it also has the power to recognize our value and our fundamental rights. Almost nobody has ever heard of the Buck v. Bell case, and the Supreme Court itself rarely remembers the decision. Although not as well-known as constitutional rights, disability rights have earned a place in the lexicon of the legal profession. Many law schools teach the principles and disciplines involved. Seminars on the topic occur, and we ourselves conduct one of the most well-known. Beyond all of this, disabled people have heard of disability rights, and we are more active than we have ever been.
Judges who sit on the Supreme Court are an elite group. They have not generally faced the challenge that disability demands, and they have not found the strength to make this challenge an asset. However, we have done both, and we must teach them what they need to know to recognize that all of us have the right to participate in the promises of equality and freedom that make our nation what it is.
What we say to the Supreme Court is this. No more Buck v. Bell. No more will we be known as a menace to society. No longer will we be known as socially inadequate. No longer will we tolerate the accusation that we sap the strength of the state or that our presence will cause it to be swamped with incompetence. We will not tolerate the accusation that we are degenerates, more likely to commit crime than others, or “manifestly unfit” for a place in the society of which we are a part. Those who can say without doubt or hesitation that three generations of imbeciles are enough may justly be subjected to scrutiny regarding their own knowledge or moral rectitude. The problem with the decision in Buck v. Bell is that those who made it possessed a colossal ego and an equally colossal ignorance. They did not know what they were talking about. Furthermore, they were careless about the nature of the law they were expected to enforce. The strength of our nation, the strength of our system of government comes in substantial part from the guarantee that such classification cannot be made.
To ensure that such classifications do not happen again, we have set about a plan to assist disabled individuals in becoming part of the elite. We have decided to help them become judges. We have decided to help them find their way to participation in the decision-making process. We will not be shut out of the protection of the law. Instead, we will become a part of it. As this program comes to fruition, we will be an important element of creating the legal structure that defines our rights. This is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.Are we allowed? What an impertinent question! Who on earth could have the immortal gall to suggest that such a question is proper? Decisions about our lives must not be made by others; they belong to us! With time and work we will bring about the understanding we need. The government and the public will support us, but we must make the choices and take the risks. In the long run the government reports, the history books, and the legal treatises will reflect the reality of what we are, and our freedom will be won!
by John Paré, Parnell Diggs, Derek Manners, and Gabe Cazares
From the Editor: One of my favorite parts of the convention has always been the report from the policy and advocacy team, for in one presentation I am able to feel pride in all of the things we do and at the same time figure out what I am to do to further our work in the halls of Congress and the offices of the administration. What follows is a report on the legislation we support and how those of us can, from our homes, reach out to public officials and make a difference in policies regarding blind people.
John Paré: Why is the National Federation of the Blind so successful with advocacy? Why do some members of Congress call us “the most effective advocacy group in Washington”? Why are we able to get so much done when other, larger groups are doing so little? I believe that the answer to this question is that what we do is personally important to each one of us. We fight to raise expectations for blind people because every day every one of us experiences the consequences of low expectations. Whether it is inaccessible technology, barriers to education, discrimination in the workplace, denial of the custody of one’s own child, or even something as simple as crossing the street, we have all been personally affected by society’s low expectations and misunderstandings of what it is like to be blind.
Here is a recent experience of my own: on May 6 I traveled to south Florida to visit my mom for Mother’s Day. My sister and brother-in-law picked me up at the airport. On the way to my mom’s, we stopped at a restaurant for dinner. I had not seen either of them for quite a while, and we were immediately immersed in conversation. Suddenly a man approached the table and asked if I was blind. Before I could answer he announced to the restaurant that he wanted to touch my eyes and pray for the return of my eyesight. I have no objection to prayer, even publicly. But I was irritated that this man felt the need to interrupt my family dinner because he perceived me as less fortunate than himself. I cannot help thinking that he saw me as someone who was defined by my blindness, someone who could not possibly be happy unless I could see, someone who was broken and sick, someone who needed to be fixed and returned to good health.
Unfortunately incidents like this one are not rare. We have all experienced low expectations, not only from random strangers, but from our teachers, our coworkers, and even our own family members. These low expectations are pernicious—not only because they upset or embarrass us. They affect our education, our employment, our wages, and much more. We know from everyday experience that these low expectations are not figments of our imagination and that they are deeply hurtful and harmful. When we don’t get fair wages, that’s personal. When we can’t access our coursework because of inaccessible technology, that’s personal. When a website is inaccessible and our government tells us to wait—now six years and counting—before it will even issue regulations, that’s personal. I know how personal it is because I have felt the hurt and humiliation of low expectations in my own life. When I speak to members of Congress, I draw on your energy, your passion, your determination, and your experiences. I tell them that we will not accept low expectations and second-class citizenship anymore [applause]. I tell them that we will not accept the second-class citizenship, and that we will work to eliminate the barriers of pity erected by low expectations. And they believe me because they have met all of you, and they know that we share a common determination and a common effort. Because for all of us, it’s personal.
Speaking of personal, let’s talk a little about NFB-NEWSLINE®. NFB-NEWSLINE is what first introduced me to the National Federation of the Blind. NFB-NEWSLINE is the largest, most effective accessible newspaper service for the blind anywhere in the world. It was conceived, designed, and implemented by the blind, for the blind. NFB-NEWSLINE is available in forty-six states plus the District of Columbia. It has over 112,000 subscribers, 343 domestic newspapers, sixteen international newspapers, twenty breaking-news sources, and fifty-one magazines. Over the last year NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers have enjoyed over thirty-seven million minutes of news, made over two million phone calls, received over two million emailed messages, logged on to our web portal over three million times, and accessed our mobile app over 332,000 times [applause]. NFB-NEWSLINE now has all of the jobs in the USA Jobs database. This database includes thousands of job opportunities across hundreds of federal agencies and organizations. We’ve added a new NFB National channel. Offerings on the NFB National channel include: the Braille Monitor, Future Reflections, and the Presidential Release. We have improved our Target advertisements, which now include all of the information in Target’s print advertisements. We have also improved our NFB-NEWSLINE app. Enhancements include a new global search feature, improved weather alerts, and streamlined TV listings.
The Department of Advocacy and Policy is also responsible for our public relations efforts. I am proud that public relations and media strategy are effective tools for us; here’s one example: on August 20, 2015, we put out a press release saying that we would protest a meeting of the New York City Department of Education because it planned to enter into a contract with Amazon for the purchase of inaccessible educational content. On August 25, the day before the planned protest, New York City school officials announced that they planned to postpone the vote on the contract [applause]. Coincidence? I don’t think so, and neither did the media. Chris Danielsen, our director of public relations, got a call from the New York Daily News wanting to know what happened. The next day the paper reported that the contract had been delayed due to accessibility issues. Not only did we get the attention of the New York City Public School System; we also got the attention of Amazon. Now Amazon is collaborating with us to make all of its educational content accessible [applause].
People sometimes ask me, “When will the National Federation of the Blind say that its work is done?” I tell them: as soon as every blind child is taught Braille. As soon as every website is accessible. As soon as every blind person is being paid at least the prevailing wage. As soon as every blind college student has full access to their course material. As soon as every blind person has access to a fully accessible voting process. In short, as soon as every blind person has the opportunity to live the lives we want on terms of equality [cheers, applause]. I tell them that each one of us is prepared to work every hour of every day of every year for the rest of our lives. I tell them that we do not approach these objectives as a job, but as a mission, and that this mission is personal [applause]. I tell them that we intend to live the lives we want and that we will never stop advocating, never stop working, never stop protesting until we have achieved these goals for every blind person in America! Let’s build the Federation!
Now we have a really great legislative team who’s now going to go through and give you more detail about some of the great legislative work that is occurring and a lot of the work that we’re doing directly with every single one of you in this room. I want to begin with our director of governmental affairs, here is Parnell Diggs:
Parnell Diggs: Thank you so much for that warm welcome. Mr. President, fellow Federationists, let me begin by thanking you, my Federation family, for the work that you do each day to move our legislative priorities forward. Your advocacy sounds a tone that resonates in the halls of Congress throughout the year. Of course it begins with the Washington Seminar, but it is your vigilance week after week and month after month, long after we depart from the Washington Seminar which drives our work on Capitol Hill. Before I ask Derek and Gabe to discuss our legislative priorities, I want to give you a glimpse of Federation advocacy across the spectrum of federal and state government.
As we gather here in Orlando, for example, the Department of Transportation is considering regulations related to the operation of autonomous vehicles. The Department of Transportation has announced that it wants to reduce the number of traffic fatalities, 94 percent of which—according to recent statistics—are attributable to human error. If the government intends to reduce driving to the mere act of typing in coordinates, shouldn’t blind people be able to drive as well? In April President Riccobono asked me to represent us at a hearing conducted at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Their proponents argued that the proliferation of autonomous vehicles will be wonderful for people with disabilities. If benefiting people with disabilities is going to be a talking point for manufacturers of autonomous vehicle technology, shouldn’t the technology be accessible to blind people as well? We have done more in this space than anyone else in the world, and we intend to remain out front in this dialogue.
Yesterday President Riccobono reported on the development of a new model parental rights bill. Under our new model legislation there are three layers of protection, three procedural safeguards which apply if a court is inclined to deny custody to a blind parent or a prospective blind parent: first a party suggesting that blindness is a factor in the ability to provide appropriate parental care—that party must show by clear and convincing evidence that somehow the blind parent is not fit. But even if that standard for some reason is met, we move to the second layer of protection: the blind parent has the opportunity to seek supportive parenting services such as training at an NFB center [applause] to address any concerns that the court or others may have. And finally, if the court still thinks that the blind parent is unfit, then the judge—and this is the third procedural safeguard—must set forth in writing why the provision of supportive parenting services is not a reasonable accommodation. I want you to learn about those procedural safeguards, I want you to get a copy of that bill off of NFB.org, I want you to get it introduced in your state legislatures across the country, and I want to protect the rights of blind parents all across America on this very day [applause]! And by the way, a shout-out to the state of Maryland and President Sharon Maneki for passing a version of our model legislation. Congratulations guys, I know others will be following soon as well.
I have one final item that I want to talk to you about. We’ve been talking during the course of this convention about our efforts, our organized response, to the recent announcement by the Department of Justice that intends to delay further the release of technical standards about internet access regarding state and local government websites. If you have attempted to acquire a state ID, register to vote, or if you’ve tried to sign up for classes or check grades at a public college or university website, I need you to visit NFB.org. Under the “What’s New” follow the links there right to our easy-to-complete, very accessible web form. I need you to tell us your story, good or bad. It might be a good experience, it might be a bad experience, but we need to show the Department of Justice that we the blind do care! We the blind do care about internet access and engagement in public activities and taking an opportunity to participate in the programs, services, and activities available on those websites. President Obama called it, “the most important updates since the enactment of the ADA itself.” Yet, we’ve waited six years, and the Department of Justice has told us that we need to wait even longer. It is time for us to respond—now. Upload the regs now, upload the regs now, upload the regs now! [applause]
I’m going to introduce my good friend now, who has been working for us as our advocacy and policy analyst at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. He’s going to talk to you about a few legislative issues, and then he in turn will introduce another very good friend of mine, Mr. Gabe Cazares. But for now, ladies and gentlemen, would you give a warm Federation welcome to Mr. Derek Manners.
Derek Manners: Howdy, fellow Federationists. Many of you may not know me, but I want to briefly share with you a little of my life story. When I was in high school, I was placed in a subminimum wage job by my guidance counselor because she thought that I, as a blind person, would not be able to compete with my sighted peers for competitive employment. I was paid $2.25 an hour while my sighted peers were paid $8 an hour. After three months my employer made me the manager and gave me the ability to hire and fire these same people who were making almost four times more than me [applause]. I subsequently graduated high school and recently graduated law school. I will be joining a DC law firm in September, earning a competitive wage with other first-year lawyers. I’m sure this story doesn’t surprise anybody in this room. The National Federation of the Blind has always known that we can compete with our sighted peers and that Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938, is based on the same antiquated notion that allowed my first job to directly discriminate against me and has allowed discrimination against many others in this room here today. This is why we’ve been fighting this practice for decades. While we continue to urge Congress to pass the TIME Act [Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment], action is happening across the country. Massachusetts just finished their phase-out of the subminimum wage last month. Maryland signed into law a statewide phase-out similar to that one passed in New Hampshire last year. I believe that we have the momentum on our side, and with your continued engagement we will see this unethical and discriminatory treatment of the nation’s blind end all across the United States [applause].
Speaking of momentum, we’ve got a ton of that in our effort to ensure that all disabled veterans have access to the Space Available Program. For those of you who don’t know, only veterans injured on or after September 23, 1996, can participate in the Space Available Program, which allows qualifying veterans to travel on unused seats on military operated or chartered flights. Our blind veterans who have fought against Hitler, the spread of Communism, and Saddam Hussein’s aggression in the first Gulf War are currently excluded because of a technical error. Because of your tremendous support for our heroes, the House passed section 1046 in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA], which would allow all veterans medically discharged due to a disability the ability to have the same honor that only some of those brave men and women have today. The only thing standing in our way for passing this law is Senator John McCain. For some reason he and his staff so far have been unwilling to allow all disabled veterans the benefit they have earned through their tremendous sacrifice. That’s why I’m asking each and every one of you to call Senator John McCain’s office tomorrow when they open up for business from the July 4 holiday. The phone number is (202) 224-2235. Don’t worry, I know most of you aren’t taking notes; that’s okay. We will send out an email tomorrow with this included, but please make this call. We are asking him to include section 1046 of the House NDAA in the final NDAA passed by both chambers so that all disabled veterans can be honored for their sacrifice to keep us free [applause]. Our veterans have our back every day; it’s time for us to return the favor. We, the National Federation of the Blind, will not rest until there is not a single worker with a disability working in a subminimum wage job, and every veteran discharged due to a disability is treated with the same dignity and respect as their fellow veterans. I have more faith than ever that with love, hope, and determination we will transform these dreams into reality. Thank you, Federation family.
Now I would like to introduce my buddy Gabe Cazares.
Gabe Cazares: Howdy, fellow Federationists [cheers]. Now everyone knows where the Texas delegation is. Today being Independence Day, I am reflecting on some of the words the framers of our more perfect union penned in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” As members of the National Federation of the Blind, we understand first-hand the fight for equality, whether that be fighting for an equal educational opportunity or fighting for equal access to the printed word. Last year the national convention passed resolution 2015-02, calling upon the Obama administration and the interagency working group to wrap up its work and transmit the Marrakesh Treaty, along with its ratification and implementing legislation packages, to the Senate with minimal or no changes to existing law. Thanks to hundreds of tweets, emails, and phone calls from you to officials in the administration, the administration did just that in February of 2016 [applause]. Now, as we usually do, the National Federation of the Blind is leading the way to ensure that the United States Senate promptly provides its advice and consent for ratification. By ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty, we will be expanding the availability of accessible published works, both here in the United States as well as around the world. However, our work is not done. I know that no one moves a policy agenda like members of the National Federation of the Blind, so I am confident that we will get the job done.
Equal access to educational opportunities level the playing field for our blind students. Ensuring that institutions of higher education deploy only technology that is inclusive and accessible to all students, including those who are blind, has been a top priority for our organization for a number of years now. And let me tell you, Federation family, having been on the front lines of these discussions for a year now, no one is doing more to protect the rights of blind students than the National Federation of the Blind. We are leaders in this space, and don’t ever allow anyone to tell you otherwise. At last year’s national convention, I told you that the higher education lobby was at the table but they were not hearing us. Now I can tell you that not only are they still at the table, they are hearing us loud and clear [applause]. Approximately two weeks ago we reached an agreement with the higher education lobby as well as other industry groups representing developers and manufacturers of post-secondary electronic instructional materials on legislative language. Congressman Phil Roe from Tennessee’s First Congressional District has agreed to sponsor our Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act [applause].
This victory would not be possible without President Riccobono’s steadfast commitment to digital accessibility, his guidance, his leadership, and his willingness to apply pressure on the higher education group when it was necessary. But he can’t do it all alone, and that is the beauty of our movement: he doesn’t have to. The National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee and its president, James Brown, is also playing an integral role in this process by building and maintaining a relationship with Dr. Roe and his staff and by steadily encouraging the congressman to take the lead on this legislative initiative. The higher education lobby and the representatives of developers and manufacturers are engaged, the bill language is done, the sponsor is lined up, and our bill will be introduced very soon, but there is still more work to be done.
Other groups who have been on the fringes during this process have criticized our work, saying that we gave too much, that we aren’t getting anything in return, and that we should sit quietly and wait for future regulations. And I suppose that’s an easy view to have when you have no skin in the game, when you are not leading in this space, when ensuring blind students’ digital accessibility is not your top priority. But that is not the Federation way. The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future, and we refuse to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to do the hard work [applause]. Armed with the stories of the National Association of Blind Students, our experience as blind people, and the power of collective action through our Federation, we are changing the paradigm of digital accessibility for blind students in the United States, and we’re doing it now. Will it be easy? No. Will there be obstacles along the way? Absolutely. But with love, hope, and determination we will transform digital accessibility into reality. Thank you for giving me the privilege of working for our movement. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you very much [applause].
by Fredric K. Schroeder, PhD
July 4, 2016
From the Editor: Fredric Schroeder is one of the most dynamic and thought-provoking people I have the pleasure to know, and it is a delight when he comes to deliver an address to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. He made an address in 2016, and here is what he said:
We often find wisdom in the most unlikely places. Recently, I came across the following: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” These words, spoken by the famed children’s author Dr. Seuss, capture a simple yet profound truth. The actions we take today may not seem earthshaking or even important, but it is the collective impact of action upon action, moment upon moment that shapes history, forces social change, and moves mountains.
No class of people has faced greater, seemingly insurmountable mountains of marginalization, mountains of exclusion, mountains of lost opportunity than have we, the blind. The mountains we face are formidable, but we know with certainty and in our hearts that our cause is just and our goals achievable, if only we take action; or, as Dr. Seuss puts it: “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so... get on your way!”
For most of our history, our efforts have been directed toward making change within our own country, but the world is getting smaller—more interdependent—a process known as globalization; and nothing has contributed more to economic and cultural globalization than the exponential development of technology; and that is true for the blind as well as the sighted.
While technology has made access to print greater than at any time in history, still it is estimated that fewer than five percent of published works are available to the blind—fewer than one percent in developing countries. For many years we in the National Federation of the Blind and blind people around the world have worked to modify national copyright laws to permit production of books into Braille and other accessible formats. Still, with globalization we recognized that, while an important start, country-by-country solutions were not enough to end what has come to be known as the book famine facing the blind.
This is why the National Federation of the Blind worked actively with the World Blind Union and its Right to Read Campaign. The Right to Read Campaign called on the United Nations to adopt an international treaty to allow accessible books and other materials to be shared across national borders, and our efforts have been dramatically and profoundly successful. As you will remember, on June 27, 2013, the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization adopted the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.”
Before countries could begin sharing accessible books, the Marrakesh Treaty had to be ratified by twenty countries, and just four days ago, on June 30, 2016, we reached that magic number when Canada deposited its Marrakesh Treaty ratification documents. Now that twenty countries have ratified the treaty, it will go into force in three months, September 30, 2016. Sadly, the United States is not among the twenty countries that have ratified the treaty. That means that, even when the treaty goes into force, we in the United States will be left out—unable to import or export accessible works until or unless the United States Senate ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty. That is why we must work together to convince the Senate to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and to ratify it now. Will we succeed? Well, as Dr. Seuss reassures us: “Yes you will indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”
Another example of globalization is the steady increase in the number of hybrid and electric cars. As we well know, hybrid and electric cars are essentially silent when traveling at slow speeds, thereby posing a significant danger to blind and other pedestrians. As a result of our advocacy in the United States, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act was signed into law on January 4, 2011. The Act requires hybrid and electric vehicles sold in the United States to emit an alert sound. Still, with globalization we knew that the danger posed by hybrid and electric vehicles was not limited to blind people living in the United States. If a quiet car is deadly here, it is just as deadly somewhere else.
This is why, on February 20, 2008, then Federation President Dr. Marc Maurer traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to call on the United Nations to establish an international standard requiring hybrid and electric vehicles to be fitted with an audible alert warning. As a result of Dr. Maurer’s presentation, titled "The Dangers Posed by Silent Vehicles," the United Nations World Forum on Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) established a technical working group to develop a minimum sound standard for hybrid and electric cars.
Over the ensuing years, John Paré has represented the National Federation of the Blind, and I have represented the World Blind Union. We have fought hard for what we believe are essential, commonsense requirements for a pedestrian alert device, but the negotiations have not always been easy. Since the majority of the members on the working group are sound engineers, they have been concerned that the alert sound not add unnecessary “noise” into the environment. In other words, they want the sound to be just loud enough and no louder. By contrast, we believe the sound must be sufficient to enable a blind pedestrian to identify the approach of a hybrid or electric vehicle in approximately the same time as the blind pedestrian can identify the approach of a vehicle that has an ordinary internal combustion engine. This has been a much more contentious issue than you may imagine.
At one point in the discussions, a member of the working group said that in his country the law requires drivers to be alert to the presence of pedestrians. He said that the alert sound does not need to be loud enough to enable the blind pedestrian to make a safe crossing decision, only loud enough to prevent a blind pedestrian from stepping out into the road without giving the driver enough time to stop. Not wanting to put my life in the hands of a driver who may or may not be paying attention, who may or may not be texting, who may or may not be daydreaming, I finally said I do not want my tombstone to read: “He had the right of way.”
Believe it or not, another major issue has been whether to allow the installation of a switch that would enable the driver to turn off the alert sound whenever he or she wishes—yes, you heard correctly: a switch that would allow the driver to turn off the alert sound. The logic is that the sound may be annoying to the driver. In another fit of pique, I once said, “I would find being run over by a quiet car quite annoying, and I suspect other blind people would as well.”
Still, we have made progress, dramatic progress, progress worth celebrating. As a result of our efforts, in March 2016, a limited international regulation was formally adopted requiring hybrid and electric vehicles to be equipped with an alert sound device. While a very good start, it is only a start. The regulation is only binding on fifty countries around the world. Now we are focusing on developing a treaty that will cover many more countries through what is called a Global Technical Regulation.
As we work toward developing a Global Technical Regulation, the regulations implementing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act here at home take on even greater importance. With globalization, countries look to the work of other countries when developing their own standards. This is why it is vital that we redouble our efforts to get the US Department of Transportation to publish the long overdue regulations implementing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. It is up to us, and will we take action? As Dr. Seuss advises: “Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.” The regulations are vital to the blind of the United States, and they are vital to the blind of the world. And there is more.
Access to the web is rapidly becoming a daily necessity—perhaps it already is. Six years ago, at a ceremony commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), President Obama announced that he had directed the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to update the ADA regulations to reflect changes in technology, especially as they relate to web accessibility.
Incredibly and inexplicably, on April 28, 2016, after a nearly six year delay in publishing the ADA web accessibility regulations, the DOJ announced that it was starting the process over, stating that it intended to “refresh” the regulatory process. The DOJ explained that it needed to collect more information on the “costs and benefits” associated with making websites accessible. “Costs and benefits?” Really? What a sad and disappointing commentary. Today web accessibility is essential in virtually every aspect of life, but the DOJ wants to make sure that requiring websites to be accessible to the blind does not cost too much; protecting our civil rights does not cost too much; giving the blind access to public services available to others does not cost too much. DOJ’s announcement that it is “refreshing” the regulatory process by considering the “costs and benefits” of web accessibility can only be seen as a retreat—no, more than a retreat—a betrayal of the ADA’s promise of equal access; and not just for the blind of America.
While the ADA Title II web accessibility regulations will only apply to public entities in the United States, given globalization, our ADA web accessibility regulations will have implications for other countries as they develop their own web accessibility standards. Web accessibility is vital to us, the blind of the United States, and it is vital to the blind of the world.
In spite of the progress we have already made—perhaps because of the progress we have already made—we must not weaken in our determination to continue chipping away at the mountain of exclusion that separates us from society, separates us from full participation and equal opportunity. The responsibility is ours. As Dr. Seuss tells us: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” And he says, “With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”
We must call on the United States Senate to ratify the Marrakesh treaty; we must call on the United States Department of Transportation to release the regulations implementing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act; and we must press the US Department of Justice to publish the ADA web accessibility regulations and to publish them now.
We face many challenges, many problems, some would say many troubles, but as Dr. Seuss says: “Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!” We will not give up—we will not give in. It will take hard work; it will take commitment and energy; and most of all it will take imagination, and that is something we have plenty of. Dr. Seuss says: “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”We know the truth about blindness, and it is an immutable truth, yes, distorted by misconception, clouded in prejudice and tradition, but the truth, nonetheless. We will surmount the mountain of exclusion that stands between us and our dreams, between us and full participation, and we will live the lives we want. We will surmount the mountain of exclusion the same way we have defeated countless barriers throughout our history: by standing together; by working together; by uniting our ability and energy; by caring deeply and sincerely about one another; and by recognizing that the future is up to us—up to us collectively, and up to us individually, up to me and up to you. So, let me end as I began, with Dr. Seuss’s words of quiet wisdom: “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” And “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” So: “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so... get on your way!” Because: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.”
by Jordyn Castor
From the Editor: One of the most moving presentations at the National Convention came from a person who was a student in our Youth Slam programs. In this presentation she manages to discuss the triumphs and heartbreaks found in traveling through the education system, the encouragement that can come from meeting blind people who believe she had talent, and the joy one feels when graduating from college and landing a job in a company as prestigious as Apple. Here is what Jordan said:
Good morning, Federation family! It is such an honor and a privilege to be speaking with you today. I’ve been dreaming of this day ever since I attended my first NFB convention in 2009 in Detroit. The first time I heard Dr. Maurer speak at the March for Independence I became so empowered and excited about joining the Federation that I was in tears. I knew from that moment forward that I would be a Federationist for life [applause].
Being a member of the Federation has shaped and molded me into the person I am today, and I’d like to share a bit of my journey with you. I was born in the lovely state of Michigan, fifteen weeks early, weighing only one pound, nine ounces. The doctors told my mother that I had a slim chance of survival. They said if I survived I would have many disabilities and my quality of life would be poor. I was so small my grandfather could hold me in the palm of his hands; his wedding ring could fit around my arm and slide all the way up to my shoulder. But my family believed in me from the start. They knew I would overcome any challenges I faced. When they asked my mother what she wanted to do, her answer came without any hesitation: save this child [applause]. And with that statement, my mother gave me my first opportunity: the opportunity of life.
Now I was the first child, and my mom was determined to treat me as she would any other child without a disability. My parents were always pushing me to learn new skills and had really high expectations for me. I had a lovely and fun childhood, participating in many activities such as goalball, bike riding, and rollerblading. I was always very curious, wanting to touch and play with anything I could get my hands on. I loved reading, and before I learned Braille or had any experience with technology, I would memorize my books page by page. When I entered elementary school, I loved it. I had amazing teachers and many friends.
From the beginning my teacher for the blind emphasized the importance of learning Braille [applause]. She helped me to understand that Braille is the key to literacy and employment for the blind and would not allow me to use any technology in the classroom until I was proficient in grade 2 and Nemeth Braille [applause].
Although I didn’t use technology heavily in the classroom until about the fifth or sixth grade, my love of technology started in the second grade when my family purchased our first desktop computer. I was fascinated with what the computer could do for me and others like me and had dreams of inventing a computer that could produce Braille someday. My teachers would hand me a piece of technology and they’d say, “Here, play with this. Figure it out, and then show us how to use it.” I would spend hours playing with applications on the computer, looking at my email, and IMing [instant messaging] my friends. Little did I know the enormous role technology would play for me in the coming years.
One of my most treasured experiences in elementary school was participating in the Buddy Program. My friend and I would play with children on the autism spectrum at recess, and I realized then that these children wanted what every other little kid wanted—a friend; someone to share cookies and chips with at lunch; someone to slide down the twisty slide with while it was covered in snow, because, well, that made you slide down faster. Through those three amazing years, I watched my friends’ lives change and transform. And with that my teachers gave me the opportunity to learn that giving back and helping others with disabilities was what I wanted to do as a career for the rest of my life.
But my childhood wasn’t always a plethora of treasured memories and experiences. Around the age of thirteen I began to experience a feeling of isolation and loneliness I’m sure many of us know very well. When I attended middle school, I started to realize something was different about me. My elementary school friends no longer thought it was the cool and popular thing to do to hang out with the blind kid. Teachers and others treated me differently. I found myself alone at the lunch table, excluded from groups at school, and with no one to talk to in class. I was the only blind student mainstreamed into my particular elementary and middle schools, so most students and teachers had never seen or worked with a blind person before. My knowledge of other blind students and adults in the area was extremely limited, and I felt as though I was the only blind person in the entire world—it was so tough.
However, my life, my views, and my attitudes towards blindness began to change in the summer of 2006 when I attended a games and technology camp at Camp Tuhsmeheta, affectionately known as “Camp T.” This is a camp specifically for blind students run by blind staff. Camp T was where I first encountered the NFB philosophy and where I was influenced by successful blind adults like J. J. Meddaugh and George Wurtzel, who showed me that everything would be just fine and that blindness did not have to hold me back from pursuing my dreams [applause]. Having blind friends and mentors is crucial to success. The individuals that I met at camp that summer are still great friends and mentors to this day, and I’m so grateful for everyone that I met that summer because they helped pull me out of the darkest place I’ve ever been. When I went back to school that year my confidence was completely restored, and I knew that everything would be all right, no matter what battles lay ahead.
In the summer of 2007 my perceptions and expectations of what a blind person could achieve as a career were absolutely shattered as I attended a STEM academy known as the NFB Youth Slam! [applause] I participated in the computer science track, where I wrote my very first computer program. I wrote a chatbot that could look up weather, news, dictionary definitions, and even play fun games such as Simon Says. Having instructors such as Jeff Bingham, and successful blind independent mentors such as Lindsay Yazzolino who believed in us and our ability to program was so empowering because it showed me that computer science was a possible career for me. I absolutely loved programming and was hooked. I was very emotional when I had to leave because I felt that the opportunity to program a piece of software was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I might never have again.
One of the key phrases at Youth Slam was “Slam that!” Every time people said that blind people couldn’t participate in STEM-related activities we’d say, “Slam that!” Throughout the week, whether it was dissecting sharks, programming chatbots, or launching rockets, we realized that no dream was too big for us to achieve. Blindness did not define us [applause]. With the right tools, technology, resources, and support from our friends and family in the NFB, we could go anywhere and do anything we set our minds to.
Throughout the remainder of high school, I participated in other NFB programs, including a second Youth Slam and multiple leadership academies. At the 2009 Youth Slam, I participated in the astronomy track, where we touched space equipment in Shuttle Discovery in 2011 and felt tactile graphics of images taken from space telescopes—I still actually have my tactile graphic of Jupiter. At the NFB leadership academies, we learned about NFB philosophy and were empowered by blind mentors. At one particular leadership academy we had the choice of doing a variety of evening activities such as: learning to play goalball, taking apart a computer, and applying makeup. Now the class that I chose was not the class for applying makeup, but the one for learning how to operate a chainsaw. My instructor was Mark Riccobono [applause], and we all wore sleepshades as we sawed logs and broke down the barriers of blindness. Participating in NFB activities has shattered even my own perceptions of what a blind person can achieve, and my NFB family continues to challenge, push, and inspire me beyond what I even thought was possible.
After graduating from high school, I attended Michigan State University [cheers] where I chose to receive my degree in computer science, but I faced many challenges along the way. Professors would say things like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” And I’d think to myself, “Slam that!” They’d say, “Isn’t there a field that’s more suited to you?” And again the only thing running through my mind was, “Slam that!” I had to develop strategies with my professors to make seemingly-visual projects accessible to me. For example, we had to create an aquarium and software to animate cartoon characters, and the tools that we used to write our software were not always the most accessible. So I found myself memorizing my code files and the locations of my various functions and classes, just like I would memorize every page of my books when I was younger. Even though there were some individuals who did not believe that I could achieve my dream of becoming a software engineer, many people did. The Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at Michigan State was instrumental to my success in college as they helped by providing Braille math and science textbooks as well as 3-D printed models for calculus and physics. I leaned on my NFB family and friends when the challenges seemed to be greater than I could handle. Being a part of the NFB has allowed me to connect with members all over the world, to share tips, tricks, and advice for navigating the world of college—and not only that, but life as a professional as well. And this, coupled with my desire to help others with disabilities, got me to keep going, even though sometimes I wanted to give up.
I had internships helping to make software accessible at USAA in San Antonio, Goldman Sachs in New York City, and Apple in Cupertino [applause]. Last December I became the first totally blind undergraduate student to receive my degree in computer science from Michigan State [applause]. After graduation I moved to San Francisco to start my career as a software engineer. I now work at Apple full-time on the Accessibility Team [applause, cheers]. My job is incredible. I work with a passionate team of individuals dedicated to ensuring the accessibility of all of our products and features for everyone. Through my work enhancing the quality of features such as VoiceOver, I am able to give back to the blindness community that has given so much to me, as well as to make technology more accessible than ever for the future generations of blind people. I am so blessed and grateful for this opportunity.The author Tasha Hoggatt says, “You must never doubt your ability to achieve anything, become anything, overcome anything, and inspire everything.” I would not be where I am today without the encouragement and support of my family, friends, and NFB family pushing me to strive for greatness and never to give up. Thank you to my mom for believing that I had a fighting chance and that I would overcome any obstacles placed before me even though the doctors felt otherwise; to my instructor Mrs. Curtis for her steadfast commitment to teaching me Braille as I now use a Braille display every time I write a piece of code [applause]; to my teachers, friends, and playground buddies for showing me that giving back and helping others is one of the greatest feelings in the world and that it’s okay to get a little snow in your snow pants every once in a while; to Jeff and Lindsey for empowering me and showing me that I could achieve my dreams of becoming a software engineer; to this guy right here, Mark Riccobono, for helping me to step outside my comfort zone and try dangerous things I never knew were possible [applause]; and to everyone else who has inspired me to never give up, strive for greatness, and let nothing stand in the way of where I want to go in life. The future of the NFB is so bright, and I look forward to all we will accomplish together as we continue to shatter the misconceptions and perceptions of blindness, while providing the opportunities, resources, and support to show the future generations of blind people that they, too, can turn their dreams into reality. Blindness does not define us and will never hold us back [applause, cheers]. When times get tough, when people say you can’t do something because you’re blind, and when it seems like everything is falling apart, remember the phrase, “Slam that!” And rise up, rise up unafraid. You can live the life you want. Thank you so much.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: The supreme authority of the National Federation of the Blind is its annual convention, and the way it most directly decides the policies of the National Federation of the Blind is through resolutions it passes. Sharon Maneki was the chairman of the 2016 resolutions committee, and here is her report of the committee’s activity.
It is appropriate to reflect on the sixteen resolutions passed by the 2016 Convention as a declaration of independence for the blind, because these resolutions were considered on July 4, Independence Day. The most familiar part of the United States Declaration of Independence is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Prior to 1940 and the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, most blind people did not believe that these rights applied to them. Thanks to the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, the world for blind people is very different today. We know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future and that blindness is not what holds you back. We also understand that we must raise expectations because low expectations keep us from achieving our dreams of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In 2016 how do the blind intend to achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
In order for a resolution to be considered by the Convention, it must be passed by the resolutions committee. The thirty-member committee, comprised of people throughout the nation, met on July 1. Many thanks to the committee members and to Marsha Dyer, and Anne-Marie Laney, who served as secretaries to the committee, and to our national staff who did research and put the resolutions on the web for making my job as chairman easier.
Like our colonial forefathers, members of the National Federation of the Blind do not sit and wait for something to happen. We take control of our own destiny. The common theme of the resolutions this year was access. The underlying principle in our demand for access is equality. To achieve independence, blind people must have access to education, employment, and information. The resolutions committee considered and passed sixteen resolutions, and the Convention did the same. Let us examine these resolutions which are our Declaration of Independence.
The quest for equality has always been a fundamental principle of the Federation’s philosophy. Three resolutions express this demand in terms of the twenty-first century. These resolutions concern equal treatment for disabled veterans, the right to parent children, and eliminating health inequities for blind and low vision people with diabetes. “The budget-neutral Space Available program, operated by the Air Mobility Command, allows members of the active military, retirees, and others to fly on military aircraft if space is available.” In Resolution 2016-02, “The National Federation of the Blind demand that the conference committee end the unequal treatment of our nation’s blind or otherwise disabled veterans in the Space Available program by adopting the language in Section 1046 of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in the House.” Dwight Sayer, president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, sponsored this resolution.
One of the most formidable challenges that blind people face in our quest for equality is the right to parent our children. Melissa Riccobono, the First Lady of the Federation, introduced Resolution 2016-08. In this resolution we “call upon state legislatures across the nation to enact laws that establish procedural safeguards to protect the right of blind people to be parents and prohibit discriminatory presumptions of manifest unfitness solely because a parent (or prospective parent) happens to be blind.”
Tom Ley, president of the Louisiana Center for the Blind Board of Directors and a longtime leader in the NFB Diabetes Action Network and the Maryland affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2016-16. In this resolution we adopted the Technology Bill of Rights for Individuals with Diabetes and Vision Loss. These rights include true independence, meaningful access, and identical devices. True independence means the right “to manage our diabetes independently, with dignity, and without requiring assistance from sighted individuals.” Meaningful access is the right “to access the same life-changing diabetes information, diagnostic tools, and treatments as are available to others.” Identical devices means the right “to benefit from the same (not inferior, antiquated, or less effective) diabetes devices at the same time and price as our sighted peers.”
The Convention passed three resolutions regarding access to education. “The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM HE) Act will authorize a purpose-based commission comprised of representatives from all relevant stakeholder communities to develop voluntary accessibility guidelines that will be beneficial to both developers and manufacturers of postsecondary electronic instructional materials and related technologies.” In Resolution 2016-01, we “commend Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee’s First Congressional District for recognizing the importance of digital accessibility by championing the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act in the United States House of Representatives.” We also “call upon the United States Congress to act swiftly to provide consideration and a floor vote to the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act, thereby ensuring that blind, and otherwise print-disabled, students are afforded the same educational benefits provided to nondisabled students so that they can live the lives they want.” Danielle Burton, a senior at Morehead State University in Kentucky and who serves as secretary in our National Deaf-Blind Division, sponsored this resolution. Danielle is also a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2013 and 2016.
Penny Duffy, a member of the board of directors of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and president of the New Hampshire Organization of Parents of Blind Children introduced Resolution 2016-11. According to the implementing regulations of IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], visual impairment, including blindness, means “an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” Many visually impaired students in grades K-12 are being denied special education services because their state uses a more restrictive definition than that found in the IDEA regulations. In Resolution 2016-11, we “call upon the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs to audit each state’s definition of the disability of ‘visual impairment, including blindness’ to ensure that a child’s eligibility for special education is not dependent upon that child’s state of residence.”
Some students are having difficulty reading their math and science textbooks. Unnecessary confusion abounds because some states are using the Nemeth code for mathematics and science notation while other states are deciding to adopt the UEB [Unified English Braille] code for technical materials in place of Nemeth. In Resolution 2016-14, “…this organization call upon the Braille Authority of North America to state unequivocally that the Nemeth code, with the guidance for Nemeth in UEB context, is the only standard for mathematics Braille in the United States.” Conchita Hernandez, chairman of the National Spanish Translation Committee and a member of the board of directors in the DC affiliate, sponsored this resolution. Conchita is also a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2010 and 2016.
Cammie Loehr, president of the Oklahoma Association of Blind Students and a member of the board of directors of the Oklahoma affiliate, was the proponent for Resolution 2016-05. More and more college and university programs are requiring students to complete internships. These internships are not only an education requirement but also can assist a student with future employment. In this resolution “we demand that colleges and universities implement procedures, train employees, and otherwise take active measures to ensure that educational internships are fully, equally, and independently accessible to blind students.”
Many blind people have been successfully employed in the Randolph-Sheppard program for decades. On June 7, 2016, the United States Department of Defense issued proposed regulations that will seriously limit opportunities for blind vendors. In Resolution 2016-10 “…this organization demand withdrawal of the Department of Defense proposed regulations pertaining to military dining services, recognizing that the currently effective regulations of the Department of Education pertaining to the award of cafeteria contracts supersede those of any other federal department.” Susan Gashel, a longtime defender of the rights of blind vendors, proposed this resolution.
Access to information remains one of the greatest challenges faced by blind people. The Convention passed three resolutions concerning access to specific types of information. The Convention also passed five resolutions about technology platforms and tools that provide access to information. Michael Ausbun, first vice president of the NFB of Nevada, and a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute, sponsored Resolution 2016-03. The Marrakesh Treaty, which will facilitate access to published works across the globe for over three hundred million blind, low vision, and print-disabled people has been ratified by twenty countries. Sadly, the United States is not one of these countries. In Resolution 2016-03, “…this organization call upon all relevant stakeholders to make a good faith effort to encourage the US Senate to consider the Marrakesh Treaty.”
Deepa Goraya, a member of the board of directors of the Potomac Chapter in the Virginia affiliate and a scholarship winner in 2010, introduced Resolution 2016-06. In 2010, the US Department of Justice promised to issue guidance on how to comply with web access requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Obama Administration continues to delay the issuance of these regulations. Consequently, blind Americans are denied access to information, goods, and services that are available on the web. In this resolution we “condemn and deplore the Obama administration's repeated delay tactics in issuing the much-needed guidance for public entities and public accommodations with respect to the information, goods, and services that they provide via the Internet.”
All too often, blind people are denied access to mathematical information on the web because there are no standards for how the MathML programs should present the material. Screen-access technologies are inconsistent in the way they interpret MathML, and some access technologies fail to even implement MathML. Students who are studying math and employed mathematicians and engineers are faced with problems that could easily be corrected. In Resolution 2016-07, “we call on manufacturers to standardize the features of MathML.” We also “encourage all access-technology manufacturers to implement MathML support.” Julie McGinnity, who recently received her master’s degree, sponsored this resolution. Julie is the president of the Performing Arts Division and second vice president of the NFB of Missouri. She is also a tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2011 and 2013.
The remaining four resolutions deal with access to software and hardware. This access will make more information available to the blind. These resolutions are necessary, not because access is not achievable, but because technology developers and leaders do not make access enough of a priority. Although we call many companies to task, we also recognize and appreciate businesses that do the right thing.
Jerad Nylin is a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute. He also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Iowa affiliate and is the president of the Cedar Rapids Chapter. Jerad introduced Resolution 2016-13 in which we commend “Target on the excellent quality of its website's accessibility and on its continued efforts to make its site and services fully usable and accessible for all users, both now and in the future.”
Resolution 2016-04, which concerns software releases by Apple Inc., was sponsored by Francisco Salvador Crespo, Curtis Chong, and Fredric Schroeder. Francisco Salvador Crespo lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He graduated from the Colorado Center for the Blind in March of 2015 and comes to National Conventions frequently. Curtis Chong is an access-technology expert who also serves as treasurer for the NFB of New Mexico. Fred Schroeder is a longtime leader in the Federation and currently serves as the first vice president of the World Blind Union. When a significant software update for one of Apple’s products is released “there are often accessibility bugs that impact the usability of the product by blind users, causing them to lose their productivity or their ability to perform certain job duties when the use of Apple devices is required.” As an example, recent software updates have been released in which blind people have been unable to answer or hang up the phone using VoiceOver. In this resolution, “…this organization call upon Apple to make nonvisual access a major priority in its new and updated software by improving its testing of new releases to ensure that nonvisual access is not limited or compromised.”
In Resolution 2016-09, we “strongly urge developers of integrated development environments and other development tools to build and expand their products with blind developers in mind.” Kathryn Webster, the newly elected president of the National Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution. Kathryn is another tenBroek Fellow who won national scholarships in 2013 and 2016.
Sachin Pavithran, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Utah who won a national scholarship in 2007 introduced Resolution 2016-12. Self-driving cars have been of interest to the blind for many years. Our organization has been a leader in promoting nonvisual access to these vehicles. In this resolution we urge all stakeholders to work toward the enactment of national nonvisual access standards for these autonomous vehicles.
In Resolution 2016-15, “…this organization strongly encourage health clubs, hotels, universities, workplace fitness facilities, and other fitness facilities open to the public to provide full and meaningful access on a nonvisual basis to fitness and exercise equipment, thereby complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s general prohibition on discrimination.” Jessica Beecham, president of the National Sports and Recreation Division and secretary of the NFB of Colorado, proposed this resolution. Jessica won a national scholarship in 2011.This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By long-standing tradition, the complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. When the US declared its independence in 1776, it took time to actually achieve it. The US did not achieve its independence until 1783. The Declaration of Independence for the blind, stated in these resolutions, will also take time to achieve. With love, hope, and determination we will achieve our dreams of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the United States, has made access to all aspects of the educational experience for blind students a priority and since 2013 has actively sought congressional support for digital accessibility legislation that will expand the circle of participation to fully include students who are blind or print disabled at institutions of higher education nationwide; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has led efforts to bring about consensus among all relevant stakeholders to support such legislation by engaging in negotiations with the Association of American Publishers, the American Council on Education, EDUCAUSE®, and the Software and Information Industry Association, while also seeking input from other disability organizations; and
WHEREAS, these negotiations have culminated in the successful drafting of the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM HE) Act, which will authorize a purpose-based commission comprised of representatives from all relevant stakeholder communities to develop voluntary accessibility guidelines that will be beneficial to both developers and manufacturers of postsecondary electronic instructional materials and related technologies, as well as to the institutions that procure such materials and related technologies; and
WHEREAS, the purpose-based commission will also develop an annotated list of existing national and international IT standards as an additional resource for institutions of higher education and companies that service the higher education market to provide information about the applicability of such standards in higher education settings; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Phil Roe from Tennessee’s First Congressional District has recognized the importance of digital accessibility and has demonstrated a commitment to equal access by agreeing promptly to introduce the AIM HE Act to the United States House of Representatives: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee’s First Congressional District for recognizing the importance of digital accessibility by championing the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act in the United States House of Representatives; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the United States Congress to act swiftly to provide consideration and a floor vote to the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act, thereby ensuring that blind, and otherwise print-disabled, students are afforded the same educational benefits provided to nondisabled students so that they can live the lives they want.
WHEREAS, the budget-neutral Space Available program, operated by the Air Mobility Command, allows members of the active military, retirees, and others to fly on military aircraft if space is available; and
WHEREAS, Congress recognized that servicemen and women who became disabled fighting to protect the homeland deserve the same benefits as retired members of the Armed Forces and therefore classified anyone discharged from the service due to disability from a combat-related injury occurring after September 23, 1996, as medically retired; and
WHEREAS, Congress failed to make this re-categorization automatically retroactive to include disabled veterans discharged due to an injury occurring prior to September 23, 1996, thus preventing these heroes from participating in the Space Available program; and
WHEREAS, the National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, believes that all disabled veterans discharged from the military due to disability should be allowed to participate in the Space Available program; and
WHEREAS, the House Committee on Armed Services staff met with the National Federation of the Blind in person and maintained an open line of communication while they crafted the National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas included H.R. 2264 in the base House National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, on May 18, 2016, the United States House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, Senators Ayotte and Hirono fought for the inclusion of the Equal Access to Air Travel bill, S. 2596, into the Senate National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, Senator Bob Dole wrote Senator McCain on multiple occasions urging him to allow all medically discharged veterans the right to participate in Space Available; and
WHEREAS, Senators Heller and Tester offered a floor amendment, Senate Amendment 4235, to the National Defense Authorization Act, which would have included the same language from the House National Defense Authorization Act in the Senate version to end the unequal treatment of disabled veterans based on when they were injured; and
WHEREAS, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Senator McCain, and Ranking Member Reed refused to include S. 2596 into the base bill and refused to allow a vote on the amendment or allow its inclusion in a manager’s amendment; and
WHEREAS, the House and Senate will appoint conferees later this year to conference and combine their respective bills into one: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend the Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, Congressman Mac Thornberry, the House Committee on Armed Services staff, and Congressmen Bilirakis, Nugent, and Moulton for their efforts to end the unequal treatment of medically discharged disabled veterans in the Space Available program based on the date they were injured; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind commend Senators Heller, Ayotte, Hirono, and Tester, as well as former Senator Bob Dole, for their efforts to include S. 2596 in the National Defense Authorization Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind demand that the conference committee end the unequal treatment of our nation’s blind or otherwise disabled veterans in the Space Available program by adopting the language in Section 1046 of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in the House.
WHEREAS, in June 2013 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) convened a diplomatic conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, in order to deliberate on a treaty to address the book famine plaguing over three hundred million blind, low-vision, and print-disabled people across the globe, who are denied access to more than 95 percent of published works; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind was one of the key negotiators in Marrakesh, expressing strong support for the treaty, which was signed by the United States on October 2, 2013; and
WHEREAS, after more than two and a half years of subsequent deliberation and negotiation among the members of the United States intergovernmental working group tasked with developing the Marrakesh Treaty’s implementing legislation, President Barack Obama submitted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled ratification and implementing legislation packages to the United States Senate for its advice and consent on February 10, 2016; and
WHEREAS, since its transmission to the US Senate, six additional countries have succeeded in ratifying the treaty within their borders, bringing the total number of countries ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty to twenty, and twenty are required to bring the treaty into force: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the United States Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide its advice and consent for the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled without delay; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all relevant stakeholders to make a good faith effort to encourage the US Senate to consider the Marrakesh Treaty before the conclusion of the second session of the 114th Congress.
WHEREAS, Apple Inc. has made VoiceOver, a free and powerful screen-access program, an integral part of many of its products, including the Apple Macintosh, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple TV, and iPad; and
WHEREAS, when a significant software update for one of these products is released, there are often accessibility bugs that impact the usability of the product by blind users, causing them to lose their productivity or their ability to perform certain job duties when the use of Apple devices is required; and
WHEREAS, recent updates have included a large number of serious, moderate, and minor bugs that have made it difficult or impossible for blind people to perform various tasks such as answering calls, browsing the internet, entering text into forms, or adding individuals to the Contacts Favorites list; and
WHEREAS, for example, after iOS 9.0 was released, some iPhones running VoiceOver occasionally became unresponsive when getting a phone call, and there was no way to choose any option on screen; and
WHEREAS, although this issue was fixed in a new release of iOS, it would not have occurred if Apple had conducted more thorough testing with VoiceOver; and
WHEREAS, another example of inadequate testing by Apple involves VoiceOver failing to render the contents of the screen when a user attempts to add a contact to the Favorites list in the phone app and has multiple contact groups from which to select; and
WHEREAS, because Apple products and its accessibility tools are built by the same company, there is no need to share confidential information with partners that may affect the normal development of the software; and
WHEREAS, we recognize the efforts made by Apple to inform developers about the accessibility features built into Apple products and encourage the company to keep working in that direction; however several accessibility issues still appear with new software releases even when they have been reported during beta testing; and
WHEREAS, it is vital that Apple give priority to addressing bugs that have an impact on accessibility before releasing software updates: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon Apple to make nonvisual access a major priority in its new and updated software by improving its testing of new releases to ensure that nonvisual access is not limited or compromised; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Apple to work actively to incorporate feedback from testers who use VoiceOver during the beta testing phase of software development to ensure that accessibility for blind individuals is properly and fully addressed.
WHEREAS, educational internships are often a curricular requirement for graduation from a college or university; and
WHEREAS, educational internships can provide graduates with invaluable experiences and training that enhance graduates’ likelihood of being hired in their chosen career fields; and
WHEREAS, Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit colleges and universities from discrimination against and disparate treatment of individuals with disabilities, and ultimately mandate the provision of equal access to opportunities for such persons; and
WHEREAS, Americans with Disabilities Act protections include off-campus educational internships offered as a part of a school’s programs, services, and benefits; and
WHEREAS, blind students regularly face discrimination by college internship coordinators who fail to coordinate auxiliary aids for off-campus internships and mistakenly believe that blindness will limit a student’s ability to perform an internship: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization hereby condemn and deplore the actions of colleges and universities that have restricted blind students’ participation in educational internships, required blind students to complete internships only with assistance from sighted peers, or denied accommodations within these internships; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we demand that colleges and universities implement procedures, train employees, and otherwise take active measures to ensure that educational internships are fully, equally, and independently accessible to blind students.
WHEREAS, President Barack Obama called the release of web access regulations under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment”; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on July 26, 2010, putting the public on notice that DOJ intended to issue guidance to state and local governments as well as places of public accommodation on how to comply with web-access requirements under the ADA; and
WHEREAS, a proposed rule with respect to public entities covered by Title II of the ADA was submitted to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on July 9, 2014, leading state and local governments and consumers to believe that much-needed guidance in the area of web accessibility was imminent; and
WHEREAS, subsequent to the release of the proposed Title II rule, and despite the need for guidance from DOJ and the rising number of lawsuits from around the nation resulting from the absence of such guidance on how to comply with Titles II and III of the ADA, DOJ announced that it had decided to delay the release of regulations under Title III of the ADA (which governs places of public accommodation) until an unspecified date; and
WHEREAS, on April 29, 2016, DOJ announced that it was also withdrawing the proposed Title II rule, thereby further delaying regulatory guidance on how to comply with web accessibility requirements for state and local governments; and
WHEREAS, while blind Americans remain unable to access many of the websites offering information, goods, and services that are available to the general public, DOJ has issued a Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and requested further comments with respect to Title II regulations, propounding questions that have already been asked and answered since the ANPRM was first announced six years ago: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the Obama administration's repeated delay tactics in issuing the much-needed guidance for public entities and public accommodations with respect to the information, goods, and services that they provide via the internet; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the administration to release the regulations that will provide guidance on web accessibility as authorized under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act without further delay; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we 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.
WHEREAS, MathML is increasingly used for coding and presentation of math web content; and
WHEREAS, MathML can be interpreted by screen-access technology; and
WHEREAS, different access technology packages choose to implement and rely on different methods of interpreting MathML, and not all technologies even implement MathML; and
WHEREAS, this inconsistency causes problems for web developers when developing accessible web content: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization encourage all access-technology manufacturers to implement MathML support; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on manufacturers to standardize the features of MathML that will be relied upon and the methods in which the content will be accessed, so as to provide a consistent experience for users and web developers alike.
WHEREAS, protecting the rights of parents with disabilities is a notion that, incredibly, was rejected by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Buck v. Bell 274 U.S. 200 (1927), in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind”; and
WHEREAS, this insulting and unjustified view that people with disabilities, including blind people, are somehow “manifestly unfit” to be parents (or otherwise to live the lives they want and to participate as members of society with all rights and privileges associated therewith) has too often continued to prevail in the courts even as we move further into the twenty-first century; and
WHEREAS, this bias is reflected in matters involving adoption and guardianship and in contested child custody proceedings, because blind parents have been perceived by the courts, child protection agencies, guardians ad litem, hospital staff, and others as incapable of caring adequately for their children’s needs, which has resulted in blind parents routinely being denied the right to be parents without unfair bias or unnecessary overreach by government entities; and
WHEREAS, for most people a fundamental aspect of living life to the fullest includes the joy of being a parent and sharing in the nurturing, growth, and development of a child; and
WHEREAS, being a parent and raising children is a fundamental right which is protected under the Constitution of the United States of America by the First and Ninth Amendments thereto and under the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to the states; and
WHEREAS, in the case of blind parents, there is a need to protect this fundamental constitutional right; yet nearly forty states have no laws at all to protect the right of blind citizens to be parents and raise their children without being fearful of discriminatory treatment or unnecessary inquiries of fitness solely based on blindness: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon state legislatures across the nation to enact laws that establish procedural safeguards to protect the right of blind people to be parents and prohibit discriminatory presumptions of manifest unfitness solely because a parent (or prospective parent) happens to be blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge state attorneys general, in protecting the best interest of the child(ren) in each proceeding, to use their good offices affirmatively to protect blind parents in every state against discrimination and bias based solely upon blindness and to urge the courts, guardians ad litem, and officials of child protection agencies to base decisions about what is in the best interest of the child on issues regarding fitness to parent, not on blindness.
WHEREAS, development environments in principle offer an equal footing to sighted and blind developers; and
WHEREAS, many integrated development environments (IDEs) are largely accessible to blind developers, as is the case with Microsoft’s Visual Studio; and
WHEREAS, many prominent IDEs and tools such as Sublime Text and the Arduino IDE remain closed to blind developers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge developers of integrated development environments and other development tools to build and expand their products with blind developers in mind.
WHEREAS, in 1974 Congress expanded the priority for blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property under the Randolph-Sheppard Act by specifying that the priority applies to contracts for cafeterias, subsequently interpreted to include military dining halls; and
WHEREAS, as stated in the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress defined food service contracts to include “full food services, mess attendant services, or services supporting the operation of all or any part of a military dining facility”; and
WHEREAS, on June 7, 2016, the Department of Defense issued proposed regulations which, if implemented, would disregard the law defining food service contracts, and limit opportunities for the blind to contracts for dining hall management rather than giving priority to the blind under food service contracts as defined in the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act and to all contracts pertaining to operation of cafeterias, as specified in existing regulations of the Department of Education issued to implement the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act charges the United States Department of Education, not the Department of Defense, with prescribing regulations to assure that licensed blind persons are given priority in the operation of vending facilities and cafeterias on all federal property, stating unambiguously in the Randolph-Sheppard Act that any limitation on the placement or operation of a vending facility must be fully justified in writing to the Secretary of Education, who shall determine if such limitation is justified; and
WHEREAS, the professed authority relied upon by the Department of Defense to promulgate regulations is merely a statement signed by the Chairmen of the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively and was never voted upon by Congress or any committee within Congress; and
WHEREAS, by restricting the priority for the blind to contracts for food service management only, the proposed regulations would eventually replace approximately forty-five blind vendors who now have military dining service contracts with contracts awarded to the Source America/AbilityOne Program, a program that is being investigated by a federal grand jury for corruption, fraud, and failing to hire and maintain the number/percentage of disabled workers required by law: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand withdrawal of the Department of Defense proposed regulations pertaining to military dining services, recognizing that the currently effective regulations of the Department of Education pertaining to the award of cafeteria contracts supersede those of any other federal department; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist that the Department of Education clearly instruct the Department of Defense that the Department of Education’s regulations mean that a current non-blind-operated contract for military dining services cannot be entered into or renewed unless a contract opportunity has been offered to the blind as provided by the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
WHEREAS, in 1966 the United States Congress recognized the importance of educating children with disabilities in the regular education classroom by amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to include Title VI—Aid to Handicapped Children, which provided grant funding for schools serving disabled students; and
WHEREAS, in 1974 the US Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which expanded the initial grant funding and required public schools to allow students with disabilities to attend their institutions; and
WHEREAS, nineteen years ago, in 1997, the IDEA was amended and the implementing regulations issued pursuant to this amendment defined “visual impairment including blindness” to mean an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance and the term includes both partial sight and blindness and subsequent amendments to the IDEA and its implementing regulations have retained this definition in its entirety; and
WHEREAS, states are required by IDEA implementing regulations to determine whether the child is a child with a disability, as defined by the statute; and
WHEREAS, twenty-three states have created eligibility criteria in addition to those set forth in the federal definition of “visual impairment, including blindness,” and these additional eligibility criteria exclude some children who otherwise meet the federal definition from receiving special education services to which they are entitled under federal law and violate the state’s duty to use the definitions issued pursuant to the IDEA to make eligibility determinations: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon each state department of education to ensure that its special education regulations define the disability of “visual impairment, including blindness” using the definition issued by the implementing regulations pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and eliminate any additional eligibility criteria; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs to audit each state’s definition of the disability of “visual impairment, including blindness” to ensure that a child’s eligibility for special education is not dependent upon that child’s state of residence.
WHEREAS, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), seven jurisdictions—California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington, DC—have enacted legislation related to the operation of autonomous vehicles since 2011; and
WHEREAS, while most states to date have not enacted autonomous vehicle legislation, NCSL statistics reveal that such legislation was introduced in six states in 2012, nine states in 2013, twelve states in 2014, and sixteen states in 2015; and
WHEREAS, recent congressional hearings and proceedings before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) clearly indicate that the United States government also intends to consider potential legislation and regulations related to the design and operation of fully self-driving automobiles; and
WHEREAS, the Honorable Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), in an announcement made at the North American International Auto Show in January of 2016 in Detroit, Michigan, committed nearly $4 billion over the next ten years to the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation and updated NHTSA’s policy on autonomous vehicles to include plans during 2016 to propose guidance to industry on the safe operation of fully autonomous vehicles; and
WHEREAS, proponents of autonomous vehicle technologies have testified at congressional hearings and administrative committee meetings, offered comments at public forums, and explained in the press how the advent of fully self-driving cars will be most beneficial to people with disabilities who are not now permitted to drive on our nation’s roads and highways; and
WHEREAS, despite this advocacy by manufacturers and organizations that support the proliferation of autonomous vehicles, most autonomous vehicle technology being deployed today, ironically, is in fact not accessible to people with disabilities or to blind people; and
WHEREAS, early intervention is absolutely necessary in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicle technology because the seven jurisdictions that have adopted autonomous vehicle legislation so far require that a licensed driver be present while the autonomous vehicle is in operation, which defeats the purpose of having a truly self-driving car in the first place; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has done more to promote nonvisual access to all types of technology (including the operation of motor vehicles) than any government entity, manufacturer, or advocacy organization promoting the proliferation of autonomous vehicles or the rights of people with disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization reaffirm its position as a stakeholder in the proliferation of fully self-driving cars, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the private sector, as well as government entities at all levels, to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create nonvisual accessibility standards for all technologies related to autonomous vehicles; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon national associations that support the proliferation of autonomous vehicles, as well as organizations promoting the rights of people with disabilities, to join with the National Federation of the Blind to advocate for nonvisual accessibility in all autonomous vehicle technologies so that all people, including those who are blind, may benefit from these technologies.
WHEREAS, accessible websites allow blind and other disabled users a greater measure of independence and convenience than inaccessible websites and offer the same convenience accorded to sighted users who do not wish to travel to brick-and-mortar locations; and
WHEREAS, Target has formed a longstanding partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that its products and services are accessible to disabled customers, particularly those who are blind; and
WHEREAS, Target has proven its commitment to creating websites and applications that conform to the leading industry standard for web accessibility, WCAG 2.0 Level AA; and
WHEREAS, Target is the first organization to partner with the National Federation of the Blind in its Strategic Nonvisual Access Partnership Program; and
WHEREAS, Target shows every indication of continuing its commitment to the accessibility of its services in the future: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Target on the excellent quality of its website's accessibility and on its continued efforts to make its site and services fully usable and accessible for all users, both now and in the future.
WHEREAS, the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) passed a motion on November 12, 2012, adopting Unified English Braille to replace the current English Braille, American Edition, in the United States, while maintaining the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, 1972 Revision and published updates; the Music Braille Code 1997; and the IPA Braille Code, 2008; and
WHEREAS, BANA has issued “Provisional Guidance for Transcription Using the Nemeth Code within UEB Contexts,” which sets forth the minor changes needed to incorporate UEB as the literary component of mathematics and technical materials to replace the function formerly performed by the English Braille, American Edition (EBAE) code; and
WHEREAS, each state was tasked with creating a customized plan for implementation of UEB, and while all states have adopted UEB to replace EBAE as the literary Braille code for students in elementary and secondary schools, there is a split with regard to Braille code for technical materials (mathematics and science); and
WHEREAS, this split has emerged because BANA has failed to confirm unequivocally its 2012 motion to retain Nemeth Code for use in technical materials and now opines that it cannot “reach consensus regarding the establishment of a single standard code for technical materials for [B]raille in the United States,” leaving the decision to use UEB or the Nemeth Code within UEB context for technical materials up to each individual state; and
WHEREAS, while the majority of states, including textbook leaders California and Texas, are implementing the 2012 BANA resolution and retaining Nemeth Code, a few states are deciding to reject portions of the 2012 BANA resolution and are adopting UEB for technical materials; and
WHEREAS, there is no certification for the transcription of technical material into UEB technical materials, yet despite the lack of qualified, certified transcribers, states choosing to utilize UEB for technical materials and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) are producing curricular material in UEB for technical materials; and
WHEREAS, the fundamental differences between Nemeth Code and UEB for technical materials create time-consuming reinstruction for both students and teachers when switching between Nemeth Code and UEB for technical materials, and producing the same curricular material in two different codes is an inefficient use of limited educational resources; and
WHEREAS, the concurrent use of two different Braille codes for technical materials creates unnecessary barriers for students and teachers moving from one state to another and also produces inefficiencies in the preparation of teachers of blind students by requiring the teaching of both codes in order to prepare all teachers properly to serve all blind students; and
WHEREAS, the concurrent use of two different Braille codes for technical materials generates additional need for professional development of teachers of blind students, which unnecessarily reduces time available to keep up with technology and other emerging trends in the education of blind students; and
WHEREAS, since 1952, the use of the Nemeth Code in the United States has been beneficial to and supportive of blind students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields; the Nemeth Code is more efficient than UEB for technical materials in terms of writing math at all instructional levels; and the Nemeth Code is more efficient than UEB for technical materials in terms of using technology for writing math: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the Braille Authority of North America to state unequivocally that the Nemeth Code, with the guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, is the only standard for mathematics Braille in the United States; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon each state legislature, should BANA continue to neglect its duty to establish a single standard code for Braille technical materials in the United States, to require its state department of education to eliminate needless confusion and unnecessary cost by unequivocally adopting the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, with BANA's guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts as the standard for math Braille; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon each university preparation program to eliminate needless confusion and unnecessary cost by unequivocally adopting the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, with BANA's guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, as the standard for math Braille.
WHEREAS, the fitness industry is on the rise with over thirty-four thousand health clubs across the United States and with countless more hotels, universities, and workplaces offering consumers and employees access to fitness facilities; and
WHEREAS, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines, and the United States Access Board guidelines specific to sports facilities seek to provide guidance so that places of public accommodation, including stand-alone fitness facilities or fitness facilities in hotels, universities, or places of work, are approachable, functional, and usable by persons with disabilities in a safe, independent, and dignified manner, which includes their facility access, membership, and access to exercise equipment;
WHEREAS, the current Access Board standards are primarily focused on rendering the built environment accessible and say very little about accessibility of fitness equipment for people who are blind;
WHEREAS, the 2015 “Standard Specification for Universal Design of Fitness Equipment for Inclusive Use by Persons with Functional Limitations and Impairments” created by ASTM International, Subcommittee F08.30, an international standard-setting body, is designed to provide manufacturers the tools they need to produce accessible equipment but does not provide purchasing guidance for fitness facilities; and
WHEREAS, many fitness facilities contain equipment that must be operated with a flat screen, touch screen, or other technology that has not been made accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services publication Healthy People 2020 and numerous other scholarly publications, individuals who are blind are twice as likely to be obese as individuals in the general population, leading to increased instances of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, sleep apnea, certain site-specific cancers, and osteoarthritis; and
WHEREAS, significantly limited access to fitness facilities due to inaccessible exercise equipment makes it increasingly difficult for individuals who are blind to meet the surgeon general’s recommendation of one-hundred fifty minutes of moderate physical activity weekly to help reduce obesity and offset other negative health consequences: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly encourage health clubs, hotels, universities, workplace fitness facilities, and other fitness facilities open to the public to provide full and meaningful access on a nonvisual basis to fitness and exercise equipment, thereby complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s general prohibition on discrimination; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon fitness facilities to work directly with the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and the National Federation of the Blind Sports and Recreation Division to ensure that exercise and fitness equipment is accessible to the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization, in an effort to provide clarity to those who operate fitness facilities regarding what their obligations are under the ADA, urge Congress to give the United States Access Board the authority to write standards to make all fitness equipment fully accessible so that the blind can use such equipment on an equal basis with the sighted.
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind and the NFB Diabetes Action Network advocate for the rights of an ever-increasing population of blind and low-vision people with diabetes; and
WHEREAS, the NFB Diabetes Action Network has created and adopted the following Technology Bill of Rights for Individuals with Diabetes and Vision Loss, which proclaims that all people with diabetes have a right to technology that is thoughtfully, collaboratively, and inclusively designed, and that we who have diabetes and are blind assert the following rights: (1) true independence—to manage our diabetes independently, with dignity, and without requiring assistance from sighted individuals; (2) meaningful access—to access the same life-changing diabetes information, diagnostic tools, and treatments as are available to others; (3) identical devices--to benefit from the same (not inferior, antiquated, or less effective) diabetes devices at the same time and price as are available to our sighted peers; (4) direct control—to operate these devices directly, through flexible and inclusive nonvisual and low-vision features, rather than relying upon smartphones or apps for access; (5) full participation—to participate fully in planning, pre-market testing, clinical trials, and evaluation of these technologies, their user interfaces, and related apps; and
WHEREAS, low vision and blindness complicate diabetes self-care; and
WHEREAS, for the past thirty years diabetes technologies have failed to include essential usability features (audio, high contrast, large print) that make independent diabetes self-care possible; and
WHEREAS, increasingly powerful and life-changing diabetes devices are emerging, many with high tech user interfaces such as onscreen menus and touch screens that create unintentional digital barriers that make the devices difficult to use without good vision; and
WHEREAS, this lack of access disadvantages users with visual disabilities and causes serious health inequities; and
WHEREAS, all diabetes devices can be designed to be fully accessible out of the box for little or no extra cost using existing technology; and
WHEREAS, audio features are already enhancing functionality and user experience for all consumers in other technologies such as GPS systems, elevators, ATMs, and Google Maps, not just for blind or low-vision consumers; and
WHEREAS, in some products simple tactile buttons and audible tones or vibrations may make devices fully accessible, while in others text-to-speech and zoom features can make user interfaces more inclusive: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization adopt and affirm the Diabetes Action Network’s Technology Bill of Rights for Individuals with Diabetes and Vision Loss; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization pledge to work toward establishing and securing these important rights until all diabetes devices are fully accessible out of the box; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge other diabetes advocates, technology developers, and federal policy makers to affirm these rights and join with us to work to end these unjust health inequities.
ATTENTION: ALL BLIND OR VISUALLY DISABLED INDIVIDUALS WHO USE SERVICE ANIMALS WHEN TRAVELING AND WHO HAVE USED, ATTEMPTED TO USE, OR HAVE BEEN DETERRED FROM USING TRANSPORTATION SERVICES ARRANGED THROUGH THE UBER RIDER APP.
THE SETTLEMENT DESCRIBED BELOW MAY AFFECT YOUR RIGHTS.
READ THIS NOTICE AND INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.
This notice is to inform you about the proposed settlement that would resolve the class action lawsuit National Federation of the Blind of California, et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 3:14-cv-4086 (N.D. Cal.). The lawsuit alleges that Uber Technologies, Inc., and its subsidiary and affiliate entities (collectively, “Uber”), violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., by failing to take the necessary steps to ensure that transportation providers using the Uber mobile software application (“Drivers”) do not discriminate against blind or visually disabled riders who travel with service animals (“Riders”). Uber denies all liability in the case and asserts that its current practices do not violate applicable federal, state, and local law. The settlement, which must be approved by the Court, would resolve the lawsuit.
Under the settlement, Uber agrees to take additional steps to inform Drivers of their obligations to transport all Riders. Uber will require that new and existing Drivers expressly confirm that they understand and agree to these obligations, through a pop-up interactive questionnaire in the Driver mobile software application and changes to the technology services agreement. In addition, Uber will send quarterly email reminders to Drivers.
Uber will also adopt a new enforcement practice. If, following a complaint from a Rider, Uber determines that a Driver knowingly refused to transport a Rider because the Rider was traveling with a service animal, Uber will terminate that Driver’s contract and permanently remove the Driver from the Driver platform. In addition, if Uber receives plausible complaints on more than one occasion that a Driver denied service to a Rider because the Rider was traveling with a service animal, Uber will terminate the Driver’s contract and the Driver will be permanently removed from the Driver platform. This second basis for contract termination will apply where Uber was unable to determine whether the first denial was a knowing violation.
Under the settlement, Uber will also enhance its response system for complaints that a Driver denied service to a Rider because the Rider was traveling with a service animal, and will provide greater transparency to Riders regarding what action has been taken in response to a complaint about a Driver. Uber will also limit the circumstances in which a Rider can be charged for cleaning issues related to his or her service animal.
Additionally, Uber will record each allegation that a Driver is alleged to have denied service to a Rider, or otherwise discriminated against a Rider, because the Rider was traveling with a service animal, and will report aggregated data to Class Counsel. The National Federation of the Blind and its California affiliate will administer a testing program, through which blind individuals request and take trips to evaluate the effectiveness of the settlement. A third-party individual will monitor Uber’s compliance with the settlement as well.
The settlement also provides that the three named individual plaintiffs who served as class representatives will receive payments of $15,000 each in return for their release of their individual damage claims. In addition, the National Federation of the Blind will receive three annual payments of $75,000 during the term of the settlement, and a fourth payment of $75,000 if the term of the settlement is extended. These payments are intended to support the Federation’s testing program.
Finally, Disability Rights Advocates, Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, and TRE Legal Practice (collectively, “Class Counsel”), the attorneys who represent the class, will have the right to seek attorneys’ fees and costs for their work on the case. Class Counsel will file a motion asking the Court to award reasonable fees and costs for work on the merits phase of this case. The Court must approve the amount awarded even if the parties reach an agreement on the amount. This motion for fees and costs will be available on <www.nfb-serviceanimal-settlement.com> on September 21, 2016. Class Counsel will also be entitled to seek reasonable fees and costs for their future work monitoring compliance with the settlement and enforcing the agreement. Uber retains the right to contest the amount of any attorneys’ fees requested by Class Counsel.
All blind or visually disabled individuals nationwide who travel with the assistance of service animals and who have used, attempted to use, or been deterred from attempting to use transportation arranged through the Uber rider app.
All class members will be bound by the terms of the settlement relating to access to transportation services arranged using the Uber app for blind or visually disabled persons who use service animals, if the settlement agreement is approved by the Court. If the settlement is approved, all class members will release and forever discharge all claims for injunctive relief under all federal, state, and local laws related to alleged discrimination by Uber against blind or visually disabled persons who use service animals that arose before the Settlement Agreement becomes effective. Class members, other than the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, are not releasing any claims for monetary damages.
You can ask the Court to deny approval of this settlement by filing an objection with the Court. You cannot ask the Court to order a different settlement; the Court can only approve or deny this proposed settlement. If the Court denies approval, any settlement changes necessary for approval may not be made, and the lawsuit may continue. If this is what you want to happen, you must object.
If you wish to object to the proposed settlement you must object to the proposed settlement in writing. You may also appear at the fairness hearing for final approval of the settlement, either in person or through your own attorney. But if you wish to appear and present your objection orally at the fairness hearing, you must first submit a written objection and in your written objection you must indicate your intention to appear and be heard at the fairness hearing. If you appear through your own attorney, you are responsible for paying that attorney. All written objections and supporting papers must (a) clearly identify the case name and number, National Federation of the Blind of California, et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc., et al., Case No. 3:14-cv-4086 (N.D. Cal.), (b) be submitted to the Court either by mailing them to the Clerk of the Court for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, 280 South 1st Street, Room 2112, San Jose, CA 95113, or by filing them in person at any location of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, and (c) be received on or before October 13, 2016.
This notice summarizes the proposed settlement. For the precise terms and conditions of the settlement, please see the settlement agreement available at <www.nfb-serviceanimal-settlement.com>, contact Class Counsel using the information below, access the Court docket in this case through the Court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system at <https://ecf.cand.uscourts.gov>, or visit the office of the Clerk of the Court for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, 280 South 1st Street, Room 2112, San Jose, CA 95113, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding Court holidays.
To obtain a copy of this notice in alternate accessible formats, contact Class Counsel using the information below.
Please do not contact the Court, the Court clerk’s office, or Defense Counsel with questions about this settlement. Any questions must be directed to Class Counsel at the numbers and addresses below.
Disability Rights Advocates
2001 Center Street, Fourth Floor
Berkeley, CA 94704
Timothy Elder, Esq.
TRE Legal Practice
4226 Castanos Street
Fremont, California 94536
Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP
50 Fremont Street, 19th Floor
San Francisco, California 94105-2235
The following divisions have notified us of the results of elections conducted during the 2016 national convention:
Human Services Division:
The Human Services division’s secretary resigned this year, and Jonathon Franks (TX) was elected to fill out the remaining year until regular elections in 2017.
National Association of Blind Merchants:
The following were elected to serve a two-year term: president, Nicholas Gacos (NJ); first vice president, Harold Wilson (VA); second vice president, Edward Birmingham (IL); secretary, Sharon Treadway (TN); treasurer, Pamela Schnurr (IN); board members, Debra Smith (AZ), Lewanda Miranda (OR), Melissa Smith (TN), and John Fritz (WI).
National Association of Blind Office Professionals:
The following were elected to the National Association of Blind Office Professionals: president: Lisa Hall (OH); vice president, Nancy Coffman, (NE); secretary, Christy Lynch, NJ; treasurer, Debbie Brown, MD.
Anyone needing more information about the division can contact Lisa Hall at the following address: Lisa Hall, President, National Association of Blind Office Professionals, 7001 Hamilton Avenue, Unit 2, Cincinnati, OH 45231. My home phone is (513) 931-7070, and my cell phone is (513) 550-5155. You may reach me by email by writing to <email@example.com>.
National Association of Guide Dog Users:
The following were elected to the National Association of Guide Dog Users Board of Directors: president, Marion Gwizdala (FL); secretary, Sherrill O’Brien (FL); and board members Aleeha Dudley (LA) and Jessica Snyder (OH). All seats were filled by incumbents.
National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals:
The following were elected for a two-year term at the meeting at the national convention in Orlando: president, Melody Roan (VA); first vice president, Pam Allen (LA); second vice president, Dan Wenzel (MN); secretary, Amy Porterfield (AZ); treasurer, Amy Buresh (NE); and board members Shirley Robinson (GA); Julie Deden (CO), Jennifer Kennedy (UT), and Nikki Jackson (MD).
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children:
The following were elected: president, Kim Cunningham (TX); first vice president, Laura Bostick (LA); second vice president, Holly Miller (NJ); secretary, Pamela Gebert (AK); treasurer, Sandra Oliver (TX); and board members Carol Castellano, (NJ), Penny Duffy (NH), Jean Bening (WI), Joy Orton (AL), Corbb O’Connor (KY), Melissa Riccobono (MD), Dorian Tuminello (LA), Kimberly Banks (FL), Frances Hammond (NM), and Tabby Mitchell (VA). Executive board member terms are two years; board member terms are one year.
National Association of Blind Students:
The results of the student elections are as follows: president, Kathryn Webster; first vice president, Bre Brown; second vice president, Syed Rizvi; secretary, Michael Ausbun; treasurer, Luke Schwink; and board members Vee Gaspe, Tarik Williams, and Bryan Duarte.
Community Service Division:
The results from the election of the board of directors of the Community Service Division which took place at our annual meeting on the evening of July 2, 2016, are as follows: president, Darian Smith (CA); vice president, Dacia Cole (MO); secretary, Chris Parsons (CO); treasurer, Johnathan Franks (TX); and board members Tara Abella (IN), Ronnie Bellomy (TX), and Kyra Sweeney (CA).
NFB in Computer Science:
At its 2016 meeting, held on Saturday, July 2, the division made a change in the composition of its board of directors. Curtis Chong, its longstanding president, was elected treasurer, and Brian Buhrow, formerly a board member, was elected president. Our officers and board members are as follows: president, Brian Buhrow; vice president, Steve Jacobson; secretary, Louis Maher; treasurer, Curtis Chong; and board members Jim Barbour, Jeanine Lineback, and Lloyd Rasmussen.
Science and Engineering Division:
The following were elected to the board of the Science and Engineering Division: president, John Miller; vice president, Kassidy Wilde; secretary, Louis Maher; treasurer, Al Maneki; and board members Donna Posont and Kristen Johnson.
Diabetes Action Network:
The following were elected at the 2016 meeting of DAN: president, Mike Freeman; first vice president, Bernadette Jacobs; second vice president, Debbie Wunder; secretary, Mindy Jacobsen; treasurer, Joy Stigile; and board members Juan Figuerroa, Jean Brown, Margo Downey, and Julie Philips.
National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education (PIBE):
The following members were elected to the board of directors: president, Eric Guillory; first vice president, Denise Mackenstadt; second vice president, Jackie Anderson; secretary, Emily Gibbs; treasurer, Krystal Guillory; and board members Michael Harvey, Robert Hobson, Casey Robertson, and Carlton Walker.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.