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].