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Braille Monitor

Vol. 60, No. 1                                       January 2017

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the

The National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

telephone: (410) 659-9314
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Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to gwunder@nfb.org.

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.

        ISSN 0006-8829


Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.

You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with the drive when you return the device.


Orlando Site of 2017 NFB Convention

The 2017 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, July 10 to July 15, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Shingle Creek staff only. Call (866) 996-6338.

The 2017 room rates are singles and doubles, $83; and for triples and quads $89. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $95-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2017. The other 50 percent is not refundable.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2017, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.

All Rosen Shingle Creek guestrooms feature amenities that include plush Creek Sleeper beds, 40" flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed internet service, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and hair dryers. Guests can also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site spa. The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort has a number of dining options, including two award-winning restaurants, and twenty-four-hour-a-day room service.

The schedule for the 2017 convention is:

Monday, July 10         Seminar Day
Tuesday, July 11         Registration and Resolutions Day
Wednesday, July 12    Board Meeting and Division Day
Thursday, July 13        Opening Session
Friday, July 14            Business Session
Saturday, July 15        Banquet Day and Adjournment

Contents

Vol. 60, No. 1                                      January 2017

Illustration: Connecting Blind People and Jobs

Belief
by Jonathan Mosen

Answering the Spelling Conundrum
by Gary Wunder

Breaking the Glass Ceiling for Blind Actors
by Gary Wunder

In Hollywood, People with Disabilities are Almost Nonexistent
by Alyssa Rosenberg

In Hollywood, Diversity Tends to Ignore the Disabled
by Tre’vell Anderson

Let’s Dance: How I Dealt with Choreography
by Kelsey Nicolay

The Otherness Factor
by Alex Lester

Addressing the Needs of Seniors
by Barbara Pierce

Dots from Space!: A Mysterious Quest Begins
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

Assuming They Know What I Want
by Justin Salisbury

Reflecting the Flame in Utah Rehabilitation for the Blind
by Brian Dulude

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund
by Allen Harris

Independence Market Corner

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

 

Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind

Connecting Blind People and Jobs

In Missouri the state agency for the blind is Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. It believes its most important goal is to get blind people working, so it helps by sending people to training centers; helps with the cost of training schools, colleges, and universities; and generously helps in the equipment it provides. But the agency shares a frustration with many state agencies: helping people jump from being ready to be employed to having that first job.

The NFB of Missouri hosted an employment seminar called Empowering Yourself to Success, and from Friday evening to Sunday at noon students participated in mock interviews, learned about writing cover letters and resumés, discussed filing online applications, and strategized about how to learn about companies where they would like to work. Students learned how to mingle while using one hand for cane or dog while carrying food and drink in the other, and practiced juggling all that while introducing themselves, shaking hands, and making small talk. Students and presenters alike were treated to table etiquette for fine dining and learned about traditions and manners we had never heard of before. The event drew thirteen potential employees, and we are hopeful it will live up to its title.

 

Belief

A keynote address delivered by Jonathan Mosen
to the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
November 3, 2016

From the Editor: Dan Frye edited the Braille Monitor before me, and this magazine is the beneficiary of things he sees, hears, and sometimes writes. Dan currently directs the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and recently he called on Jonathan Mosen to deliver a speech to the commission’s staff. I will let Dan introduce Jonathan in the memo the director sent to his staff to commemorate Thanksgiving and to express his gratitude for their service and accomplishments. Here is what Dan said:

From the Director’s Desk

The season of Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday of the year) is again upon us this November. During the late autumn I generally try to find time to reflect on those achievements (both professional and personal) for which I am grateful. This year represents no exception to this practice on my part, and fortunately again this year we enjoy an abundance of accomplishment that may be celebrated by us all.

Instead of focusing on the array of programmatic and strategic progress that we have realized at the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI or Commission) during this last year, I want to offer to our readership the text of the keynote address that Jonathan Mosen, owner of Mosen Consulting, respected international leader in the field of Assistive Technology, and recognized broadcaster and thought-leader among the world’s blindness community, delivered during CBVI’s second biannual State-Wide Staff Development Seminar on Thursday, November 3, 2016. Jonathan’s focus on the concept of belief and his charge to our professional community to lift up the consumers that we serve represents the essence of why the Commission exists. This call, animated by his personal life experience, is at once a classic and definitive piece that describes our responsibility to our constituents and urges us to meet these professional obligations with a positive and transformative spirit. I am grateful to Jonathan for his insightful perspective, conveyed in a creative, entertaining, and inspirational fashion.

As we move forward with concerted momentum to fulfil our organizational mission and deliver high-quality services to our consumers, I feel confident that the text of his keynote address will remind us of our commitment and duty. For those of you who were privileged to be present for our State-Wide Staff Development Seminar, I invite you to re-read and digest Jonathan’s message; for those of you who were not able to be with us, I am pleased to be able to share with you a remarkable and moving address. Here it is:

It’s an honor to be with you today, to be in the presence of so many people who are changing lives and facilitating opportunity.

I’m mindful that there’s a lot going on as I visit the United States this time. As I talk with taxi and Uber drivers, listen to the conversations at restaurants, and spend quality time with friends, it’s clear that some have been experiencing very tense times of late. Some people who usually get on with one another are finding that their friendship is strained almost to the breaking point. The process of finally determining the outcome seems to have been going on forever. But I’m confident that the wounds will heal, and people will be able to move on and reunite—now that the world series is over.

But I promise not to talk about any contentious current events in the news during this address. Sadly, I’d have to sit down pretty quickly if this address were about baseball, since I have only fractionally more knowledge of baseball than I have sight. Instead, I want to say thank you for the difference you make.

I used to be a frequent international traveler. A long time ago I sat next to a fellow passenger on a twelve-hour flight, and we got talking about our work. It turned out that he was an executive for one of the most successful fast food chains in the world. He said to me, “What business do you consider us to be in?” I was beginning to wonder if I was sitting beside one of those people who conclude that because your eyes don’t work, you’re also cranially impaired. But I decided to play along and said that obviously the company was in the fast food business. His reply caught me off-guard. He told me that everyone says that, but in fact their primary business was real estate. What made the company successful, he said, was the prime real estate it owned around the world, and the fast food was a means to that end. So it wouldn’t be an inaccurate statement for this executive to tell people he was in the fast food business, but he was looking deeper, perhaps searching for more meaning in his life given the harm a lot of fast food is causing.

When you provide education and rehabilitation services to blind people, it’s true that the practicalities of that involve assisting someone to travel safely, perform household tasks well, read using the priceless gift Louis Braille left us, and so much more. All of those things are worthy vocations in themselves. Every night you can end another precious day on this planet knowing you did something to change a life for the better. Not every profession offers that satisfaction. But, in my view, there’s one prerequisite without which none of these specific tasks would be possible—belief. It may be that someone comes to you with a well-grounded sense of belief in themselves, perhaps due to positive parenting, the support of fellow blind people through a consumer organization, or simply because the person is inherently optimistic by nature. But self-belief is often hard-won, fragile, and easily lost. How you as blindness professionals deal with that challenge of instilling self-belief can fundamentally set the direction of someone’s life for better or worse.

When I was twelve years old, a group of blind students of which I was a part met with a vocational guidance counsellor from our blindness agency in New Zealand. We were all asked to talk about what options we might be considering for a career. I didn’t hesitate. The answer was the same as it had been since the moment I could talk. I wanted a career in radio. This meeting predates the wide availability of the internet; we’re talking the early 80s, so networking with other blind people overseas who were in broadcasting was difficult. Yet I was determined to make my dream a reality, and I knew that there were indeed other blind people out there doing radio successfully.

To my disappointment, the counsellor was discouraging. He told me he’d recently been into some radio stations and that they were starting to move to systems that were visual and inaccessible in nature. Not only did this meeting take place before the internet, it took place even before computers were accessible for most jobs. Perhaps I was just an arrogant kid who wouldn’t accept reality from a grownup who knew, or perhaps I was showing a determination to succeed at whatever I put my mind to. But I refused to be told it couldn’t be done. To help make sure it could be done, when I was seventeen I set up a radio station staffed by blind people which broadcast for two weeks during one of our breaks from school. The station had city-wide coverage. We sold ads to pay for hiring the broadcast equipment and the construction of the tall AM transmitter mast. When it was up and running, I phoned the manager of every radio station and all the popular radio personalities of the day, inviting them out to look at what we were doing. That way, I instantly established my own valuable network of contacts in the industry, and I helped change their expectations. Sure, you can wait for opportunity to knock, but there’s no harm in putting a neon sign on your door to make it harder for opportunity to miss you.

I was assisted in that endeavor by the principal of the school for the blind, who would take a bunch of us in his car to attend meetings. He’d encourage us, clearly taking pride in the initiative. I have never forgotten the attitude of the counselor who may have derailed my dream. Because, had I not been as resilient, maybe the discouragement I received would have prompted me not to follow my dream. But I don’t think of him often. Instead, I think far more often, with considerable affection and gratitude, of the principal who believed in me: the man who went out of his way in his free time to show me that I could do anything I put my mind to; the man who, as I navigated the bureaucratic minefield of obtaining a radio license, reminded me that investing in hard work pays dividends, and that few things worth having come easy.

It worked. I worked in commercial radio for a number of years. In that role I frequently had to be my own advocate, assuring potential employers that I could work in their studio without sight.

So sometimes a professional may inadvertently discourage, when encouragement is appropriate. But it’s not as simple as that. Because sometimes blind people can stomp on the dreams of other blind people too. At that same meeting, when the counselor was going around the table asking the kids present what they were considering as career options, one of the kids said he wanted to be an astronomer. This comment was greeted by the rest of us twelve-year-olds present with howls of derisive laughter, and I was laughing as hard as anyone. You’re blind! You can’t look at a telescope! How on earth do you expect to be an astronomer! And for weeks and weeks we laughed at this kid—we teased him mercilessly about wanting to be an astronomer. Kids can be cruel sometimes.

I didn’t really think about this much after we’d all moved on to other things, until a few years ago, I met a blind man, Kent Kullers, who’d worked for NASA. Now obviously he hadn’t been looking through telescopes, but he had worked in some fascinating areas, including the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He talked knowledgably and fascinatingly about stars and black holes and the wonders of the universe. I don’t know whether anyone ever laughed at him when he set out to be an astronomer. But it’s a cautionary tale, because sometimes it’s other blind people who seek to stop one of their own from reaching for the stars.

When I was in my late teens and still determined to achieve my radio dream, someone told me about an ad in the paper they’d seen for a broadcasting course run by professional broadcasters. I thought that having a piece of paper to say I’d done the course might help me, so I did what the ad said and sent them a demo tape. They called me back in short order, offering me a place on the course. They also told me the price tag, which was way beyond my abilities as a penniless student. On that basis, I declined. But to my astonishment, they called me back again. The man from the course said that my tape was so good that they would offer me the course for half price, because it was in their interests to have me graduate from their course. They were sure I would be going places in radio, and they wanted to be able to say that Jonathan Mosen had graduated from their course. So I said, cool! I’ll pay half price, and can I come in a little early as I want to get familiar with the equipment and put Braille labels on the media being used. And the attitude instantly changed. He asked me what I was talking about. I told him that I was blind, so I’d just make a couple of simple modifications, and I’d be up and running. He said, look, really there’s no point doing the course, since a blind person could never have a future in radio. I never did the course, and a few years later I became his boss.

I tell this story because this incident would have been enough to break some people whose self-belief was at a low ebb or nonexistent. One of the saddest things I come across is someone who has had one setback too many and is finding it hard to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep trying. Blind people like me will face ignorance and discrimination; it goes with the territory when you’re a member of a minority. Where appropriate, of course, we should fight it with litigation. But mentally we need to fight it with determination, education, and belief.

It is never, never too late to give your attitude a software upgrade. It’s easy for us to become angry with the world. But anger is a choice. Viewing something as a setback or a challenging learning experience is a choice. Taking steps to become more employable, more presentable, more capable is a choice. Thinking that opportunity will simply fall into our laps is a choice, albeit a foolish one.

The praise and feedback we get influences our aptitude at something. If someone is told or tells themselves that they aren’t good at something, chances are they won’t be. If some event causes them to revisit that same thing with a different attitude, the results can be very different. Blind people are exposed to a lot of negativity. No doubt many of you have seen the literature indicating that more people fear becoming blind than acquiring any other disability. Sight is a dominant sense, so if you have it in full measure, of course it’s natural to use it and depend heavily on it. But that’s quite a different thing from concluding that one can’t function effectively without it, a conclusion many simply believe to be a truism. It’s a conclusion sometimes reinforced by people and organizations who should know better, making the work of rehabilitation and education professionals like you more difficult.

Only recently, a US organization raising funds to research cures for various eye conditions asked people to record videos of themselves performing common tasks while blindfolded and upload them to YouTube. Now if you’re suddenly deprived of a valuable faculty on which you depend and have had no instructions about how to perform tasks in an alternative way, you’re going to function as well without that faculty as I’m going to do if I talk at length about baseball. So most people walk away from a simulation experience like that frightened about blindness and misinformed about how a blind person who has received appropriate training can function in the world. It’s a serious matter, because some of those people will be employers who eventually encounter a blind job applicant. They’ll instantly recall their own experience of blindness, and that may contribute to their assessment of the blind job applicant’s skills.

Let me be clear, as someone whose blindness also comes with the added limited time bonus of a degenerative hearing condition included absolutely free—I understand the insidious nature of degenerative conditions. Something that was once easy gradually becomes tougher. It’s horrible, and its demoralizing. Blindness has been my constant reality all my life. I’m used to it, and I personally have no desire for sight, although many other blind people feel differently. But I’d give anything to have my hearing restored to normality, and I know that’s exactly how many people with degenerative eye conditions feel about their sight. I strongly relate. But it’s foolish to put our lives on hold or sabotage public perception while we await a cure that may or may not ever come. That’s a recipe for a wasted life, one full of missed opportunities and regrets.

There are little proverbs, aphorisms, and clichés that are so ingrained in our culture that few people seem to question them. My favorite is this little piece of absurdity: “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” This one was triumphantly proclaimed to me by a supposedly learned lawyer who was on a nationwide TV show with me back in New Zealand to justify why no blind person should ever be allowed to serve on any jury. The origins of this phrase are unclear. Some attribute it to Erasmus of Rotterdam, a 16th-century Dutch Renaissance humanist, but there are variations of it in numerous languages. Another variation, translated from the French, is “When a blind man bears the standard, pity those who follow.”

These antiquated little pieces of ablest nonsense put forward the view that disability in and of itself makes you inferior, and further, the more disabled you are, the more inferior you are. But I sometimes find myself wondering, what would the kingdom of the blind actually look like? I mean if everyone were blind other than a single one-eyed person, or even a minority of one-eyed people, we’d have a very different world. So please accompany me for just a little while to the kingdom of the blind.

Welcome! Vehicles provide a lot of auditory and tactile information here, so a blind person can drive them—we are the majority in this kingdom after all. Normal drivers, they being blind, are concerned about their safety because one-eyed people are being distracted by all the auditory and tactile feedback the vehicles are offering. On radio (there is no TV in the kingdom of the blind of course) debate is raging about whether it’s safe for one-eyed people to be given driver’s licenses.

An organization has recently been formed, the National Federation of the One-Eyed, to champion the rights of this minority.

Over a century ago a new form of writing using symbols was developed by a clever one-eyed inventor. He says it’s more efficient for one-eyed people to use this new form of writing called print. A limited supply of print books are available, and recently an agreement was reached to transcribe standard Braille books into print without first having to seek the permission of the copyright holder.

In recent years computer and smartphone manufacturers in the kingdom of the blind have, as a matter of human rights, added a new accessibility feature to their devices, known as a screen. Sure, all the computers talk and come standard with full-page Braille displays, but the National Federation of the One-Eyed have been fighting in the courts, where blind justice is practiced faithfully, for the rights of this minority to be accommodated. And this thing called a screen is seen to be essential assistive technology. Since the cost of production has to be spread across a very small user-base of one-eyed people, screens are hideously expensive. There’s a long way to go before screens are affordable to everyone and work equally well across platforms, but a start has been made, and the one-eyed just need to be patient and grateful for what they have.

I could go on, but let me try and sum up on this point: “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king?” Seriously? Poppycock. It is society and its majority that disables us with attitudes and decisions, not the disability itself.

But these outmoded and misinformed attitudes all make your job as rehabilitation professionals and educators more challenging. They eat away at the very core of what is required for success—belief. No one says it’s easy or that it doesn’t require some grit and determination, but plant the belief, and with the training provided by teams like this one, blindness is not the end of the story; it’s a new beginning.

In my view, exposing blind people to adult blind mentors from an early age is a must. But equally, I think parents of blind children need adult blind role models in their lives too. Many people have had little to no meaningful interaction with a blind person before. Then they find themselves a parent of a blind child with the questions and grief that that often brings. What can I expect of a blind child? How should I treat them differently? What’s going to become of them when they’re grown? As a father of four children myself, I know that it’s instinctual to try and keep our kids from harm, and for many, those emotions are super-charged when they have a blind child. I grew up with kids who were wrapped in cotton wool, mollycoddled, not allowed to just be a kid who happens not to see. It was done with love; yet some of them are still paying the price as adults. When I was a kid, I was fortunate. I had an older brother who was blind and through him had access to a lot of great blind role models. Also, my parents let me be a kid. I rode bikes and even a skateboard. I had more than my fair share of bruises, just like any other kid. So parents and children alike need to meet blind people who are just getting on with life and successfully doing what people do. It all fosters belief.

I don’t know whether this is a uniquely New Zealand thing, but when I was the chairman of New Zealand’s blindness agency, I came across this term super blind. As far as I can tell, it seems to relate to any blind person who doesn’t conform to the expectations the user of the term has of what a blind person should do or how they should act. I gave an entire address to a group of parents in New Zealand about the importance of parents setting up mentoring programs both for their benefit and the benefit of their blind children. When I checked in afterwards to find out how the speech was received, the president of the group said that one of the agency staff present said that I had set unrealistic expectations and that we can’t all be super blind. So I had to explain that blind people are a microcosm of society as a whole. You name it, we’ve got it: blind people doing a wide range of professions, some of us nicer than others, some more ethical than others, and with a wide range of skills. In some cases our professions or attributes will gain us more attention than others. But sighted people are no different. If someone eventually becomes chief executive of their company or president of the United States, I’ve never heard them described as super sighted.

We must believe in our kids. In the United States parents tell their children: This is America; you can be anything you want to be, even president. Blind kids need to believe that as well, because it’s true.

Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of parenting, when my first child was born, a daughter, I had lots of people asking me, in sort of hushed, whispering tones, “Is she, you know, like you?” This was an odd question to me since I’m clearly male, and she wasn’t dressed in pink to make any kind of political statement or anything. But then I realized that they wanted to know if she was blind. When I’d answer the question straight, that no, she was sighted, they’d sound relieved and say that that was great and she’d be able to look after me. And of course, once I retire, I hope she will help keep me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed, since she’s now an electrical engineering student and I hope will earn lots of lovely money. But I realized that if I could just find a way, there was an educational opportunity here. There had to be a way for me to gently point out that actually, blindness is OK. So I began answering the question by saying, actually she’s sighted, but we love her just the same. And that seemed to make the point to most people.

We’ve come a long way. New Zealand, like the United States, now has legislation making discrimination on the grounds of disability illegal. The incident I described with the radio course couldn’t happen now. Of course, sometimes this causes the discrimination to go underground, and it’s harder to prove, but for the most part it’s great news. Yet such legislation is no panacea. It legally protects our right to equal consideration and reasonable accommodation. But in a difficult job market, we have to be prepared to put the work in. If we write poorly crafted job applications riddled with spelling mistakes because we haven’t used a spell checker, why are we surprised when nothing ever comes back? If we turn up to a job interview and we’re not well presented, we don’t make an effort to try and look at the person we’re talking to, we’re not ready to educate and try and put people at ease, our hygiene is poor, then we can’t expect jobs to fall into our lap and aren’t entitled to get frustrated at the world when nothing happens.

I’m sorry for the use of what is clearly a buzz word, but when you believe in yourself, it really does affect your personal brand. If you can imagine yourself in a role you really want, then you start to act the part: you write more professionally, you conduct yourself better. It’s hard to maintain that level of self-belief when the rejection letters keep on coming in: sometimes because you were legitimately beaten by a more suitable candidate, sometimes undoubtedly because you’re a victim of inaccurate stereotypes. But, if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to believe in you? People who live life boldly and daringly will fall short and make mistakes sometimes. But personally, I’d rather go to my grave having made mistakes and learned from them than be tormented with a series of “what if” questions. The letter you don’t write, the chance you don’t take, the phone call you decide not to make could be the one that changes everything. The Beatles felt they were out of options; then an obscure record label took them on, and the world changed forever. A penniless single mother wrote a book, sent it off, and was rejected by twelve publishers until one company finally took her on and published the first Harry Potter book. Thomas Edison had many more failures than successes. What kept them going? Belief. A belief that they had something to offer, even if others couldn’t see it yet. And in the jobs that you do, you’re uniquely positioned not just to provide valued essential blindness services. You make sense of the need for such services by fostering belief.

So when the admin seems unconquerable, you’re dealing with someone with whom you’re having difficulty establishing a rapport, and it all starts to feel like a daily grind, take some time to give yourself a pat on the back. You may sometimes feel like you’re knocking your head against a brick wall with all the bureaucracy and some difficult people, but you’re making a difference and changing lives. It’s up to each individual blind person to make a go of their own lives in the end. Agencies and the people who run them can only be facilitators. But when you believe in a client and you demonstrate that belief, you can help plant the seed of self-belief, or reinforce it when it’s at a low ebb. When you can have that kind of impact on the world, it’s a very special thing. Thank you for all you do.

Answering the Spelling Conundrum

by Gary Wunder

Back in June of 2016 we discussed problems some blind people have with spelling. A main cause of this problem is that the majority of our reading is done using audio, a wonderful way to get information and entertainment but a poor way to observe spelling, punctuation, and formatting to communicate headings, paragraphs, subordination in an outline, italicizing, bolding, underlining, and other attention-getting information. The question posed was how blind people deal with this deficit and what suggestions they offer to others.

The Monitor received about ten responses, for which we are grateful. Not surprisingly, the advice in many of these can be distilled into the recommendation to read all the Braille one can. Several observed that they have heard Braille used as an excuse for being a poor speller. Certainly there are some words for which Braille allows the use of a sign, a letter, or a letter preceded by prefixed dots. As far as we can determine there are 148 words one must learn for which contracted Braille would give no clue. One would think that in any instruction in Braille and spelling would place such words on a spelling list and test, the rule being that any answer is always written letter for letter. Certainly most words can be deconstructed by looking at the signs used to write them. Congratulations is written as the con sign, the letters g r a t u l a, and the sign for the letter combination tion, and s, but is easily understood to be the letters c o n g r a t u l a t i o n s. Most of us carry around a memory of what words feel like in the same way print readers say they often spell words by visualizing them.

All of this advice for readers of Braille is of no value to the person who doesn't know it, isn't proficient in it, or cannot read it because of physical problems. So, while Braille is a very helpful tool, lacking it does not condemn one to remaining a poor speller. The suggestions that did not rely on Braille were:

  1. If you use a word processor or an email client with a spell checker, use it as more than a tool to ensure your latest document has no misspellings. Don't just search for and accept the right word and move on. Write the words it corrects and practice them like you did when getting a spelling list on Monday and preparing for the test on Friday. Mrs. Smith won't be there to grade you, so your success won't mean a good grade or a treat. Instead, your vocabulary will grow with each new word you master, your confidence in writing a quality document will increase, and your reliance on there always being a high-tech device at hand will diminish.
  2. When reading with audio using a screen reader, concentrate not only on the content but do a mental check to see if you know how to spell the words being heard. If not, use your screen reader's review functions to spell the words you are unsure of and add them to your list. Note that not everyone who writes to you is a good speller, so before adding his or her word to your list, verify it is spelled correctly with a spell checker or a dictionary. This will increase the time it takes to read some of your email and other materials, but the benefit in what you learn is well worth it. Many blindness products have a built-in spell checker, and there are several dictionaries available to use online, including dictionary.com, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary, the Oxford Dictionary, and more.
  3. For words encountered while reading a book from NLS, Learning Ally, and other audio sources, here are some strategies for learning the spelling and meaning of a word. Most online or electronic dictionaries allow the partial entry of words and special characters for those letters one doesn't know. Suppose one knows the meaning of miraculous but doesn't know the spelling. If only one letter is in doubt, most online dictionaries will allow the substitution of a question mark and will return the word. So, entering m i r ? c u l o u s will return the correctly spelled word and reveal the mystery letter to be an ‘a.’ If you only know that the word miraculous begins with an ‘m’ and ends with an ‘s,’ you could enter ‘m*s.’ The star indicates one or more letters which are found in the word being sought. Given the number of words which begin with ‘m’ and end with ‘s’ (819, in case you were wondering), the more letters you know, the better.
  4. For those with iPhones, when coming across a new word, tell Siri to spell the word you hear. If you are unsure about the definition, Siri can also be asked to define the word. If the word in question is catastrophe, say, "Spell catastrophe." If you want the definition, say, "Define catastrophe." This is a fantastic feature, but it is only a crutch unless you take the extra step of keeping a list and learning what you have heard.
  5. One person recommends using the web to improve spelling, and a simple Google search of “learn to spell” will turn up a number of sites to visit.

Another word of caution about learning words from emails from others: there are some spelling pitfalls that print and Braille readers struggle with together, so they are worth keeping in mind when reading emails or looking up words that your screen reader has told you: words that are spelled similarly regardless of how they are pronounced, and words that sound very similar but are spelled differently. Some common examples are loose and lose, accept and except, recent and resent, there/their/they’re, to/too/two, and your/you’re. When you use an online dictionary to check a spelling, glance at the definition of the word, and make sure that you have the correct word for the meaning you intend. Though these are common mistakes, they can have a dramatic impact in a professional setting.

Remember that learning anything challenging takes time. Becoming a better speller takes time, but that time is rewarded with new-found confidence, one less thing to be defensive about, and feeling good about exercising a part of one's mind that has been shown to forestall the onset of age-related brain problems. The goal is not to become the next champion at the spelling bee nationals but to feel more confident in what you write, to lessen the apprehension when you do, and to better represent the thoughts and experiences your intellect and drive have provided. With patience and perseverance, you can hear or quote Thomas Jefferson's quip: "I have nothing but contempt for anyone who can spell a word only one way" and can smile, remembering the day when you spelled words many different ways.

Breaking the Ceiling for Blind Actors

by Gary Wunder

As you can tell from the table of contents, a number of articles in this issue deal with blind performers and how little visibility we have on television and in the movies. When blind people are featured, too often our characters do not represent life as we know it. Characters are obnoxious dolts who represent people most would rather avoid. When blind characters do appear, seldom if ever are they played by blind actors.

As with so many issues in our lives, those of us who are blind have to determine why we do not have the same opportunities as others. Generally we find that lack of opportunity springs from low expectations and significantly wrong perceptions on the part of the public and occasionally by the blind. Of course, sometimes obstacles we face are caused by the physical lack of sight and situations when there is no substitute for it. The glass ceiling faced by blind performers is but one example of how difficult it is to make this determination and how broadly to apply it. Should blind people be cast in roles in which the characters are blind? Should blind people appear on screen more than they do given the percentage of the population we represent? I suggest that the answer to both of these questions is yes. Can blind people act in roles in which the character has sight? This is a harder question and one that leads to so many others that it could certainly merit an article of its own.

It is our hope to run an article later this year which represents the views of the National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division on these and other issues. For now, here is what two mainstream magazines and a blind performer have to say about the issue of people with disabilities in movies and on television. After you have had time to think about the opinions expressed here, share how you feel with the readers of the Braille Monitor. Collectively let's figure out how to meet yet another challenge and the strategies we will use in doing it.

In Hollywood, People with Disabilities are Almost Nonexistent

by Alyssa Rosenberg

From the Editor: This article first appeared on September 7, 2016, in the Washington Post. The National Federation of the Blind does not believe that blindness is the characteristic that defines a person, but it is one of a number of characteristics that work together to form a person’s identity. There has been a lot of discussion so far this year about mainstream Hollywood’s diversity, or its failures in that department. But the controversies over the all-white slate of Oscar nominees, or the casting of white actresses as characters of Asian descent or origin, does not address the full range of diversity. Alyssa Rosenberg brings up a very timely reminder that diversity is not just about race but also includes disability as well. Here is what she has to say:

I didn’t need a study to tell me that people with disabilities are woefully underrepresented in the entertainment industry, but a new report from Stacy Smith and her colleagues at the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative casts a dispiriting new light on just how badly Hollywood is doing. And Smith’s latest deep dive into whose stories get told on screen offers us an important reminder: fewer stories about people with disabilities mean a narrower vision of life in general.

Smith and her coworkers have been tracking who appears and who gets to speak in the most popular movies released since 2007. In 2015, the first year Smith analyzed movies for the representation of people with disabilities, she found that just 2.4 percent of characters in the top one hundred movies who spoke or had actual names had disabilities. That’s a significant gap between fiction and reality, since the Census Bureau has found in 2010 that 56.7 million people, or 18.7 percent of Americans, have disabilities.

Characters with disabilities appeared in fifty-five of those one hundred movies. And of those characters, 61 percent had physical disabilities, 37.1 percent had mental or cognitive disabilities, and 18.1 percent had communicative disabilities. Characters with disabilities were overwhelmingly male; just 19 percent of characters with disabilities were female. Characters with disabilities were likely to be relatively marginalized in the movies in which they did appear: ten of the one hundred top-grossing films from 2015 featured characters with disabilities as leads or co-leads. Of the eleven movies that Smith and her colleagues classified as ensemble, two featured characters with disabilities as part of the core ensemble.

As Smith and her co-authors put it, tartly: “Overall, the vast majority of characters with disability were featured in supporting (54.3 percent) or inconsequential roles (32.4 percent).”

Some of the consequences of Hollywood’s exclusion of people with disabilities are obvious. The entertainment industry’s lack of interest in these stories makes disabilities seem less common than they actually are. And its tendency to tell stories that emphasize the struggles associated with disability limit the range of things that people with disabilities get to do in fiction. The result is not merely a limited number of roles available to actors with disabilities, but a limited range of roles.

Smith’s report also points to other troubling signs in Hollywood storytelling. Of the already small number of movies that feature characters with disabilities, just 2 percent of those characters appear in animated movies. In other words, Finding Dory, Pixar’s movie about a fish with a cognitive disability, may be a smash hit, but otherwise “content targeting the youngest viewers all but erases this community.”

And the paucity of images of people with disabilities interacts with other ways in which Hollywood is profoundly and persistently unequal.

Take, for example, gender. Women are already underrepresented in the movies: of the top one hundred films of 2015, just 32 percent had women as leads or co-leads, and 31.4 percent of characters overall were female.

As I noted earlier, those proportions get even more skewed when it comes to characters with disabilities. As Smith notes, “For females, it is clear that Hollywood’s preference skews toward youth, beauty, and ability.” The lack of female characters with disabilities reinforces the pernicious notion that women with disabilities are somehow not young, beautiful, or capable. And the general exclusion of female characters with disabilities contributes to Hollywood’s already narrow definition of what women are, what we look like, and what we can do.

Similarly, the authors wrote, “For individuals who are LGBT and/or living with a disability, film is also a representational wilderness,” in a year where no movie character with a disability was also anything other than straight. And 71.7 percent of characters with disabilities were white.

These skewed statistics work in two directions. When it comes to sexual orientation, a lack of LGBT characters who also have disabilities contributes to a vision of the world in which disability is not part of the LGBT experience and where people with disabilities are often presented as sexless. In a similar way, the overwhelming whiteness of fictional people with disabilities suggests both that people of color do not have disabilities and that people with disabilities are not affected by the many issues that also face people of color in the United States.

Stories about people with disabilities aren’t just about one community or employment for one group of people. As Smith’s report points out, these portrayals have implications for all of us.

In Hollywood, Diversity Tends to Ignore the Disabled

by Tre’vell Anderson

From the Editor: This article first appeared June 15, 2016, in the Los Angeles Times and is gratefully reprinted with permission. Here it is:

The story at the heart of Warner Bros.’ recently released film Me Before You is what fairy tales are made of. An adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ 2012 book of the same name, the movie follows the relationship between a young banker (The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin) left paralyzed after an accident and his caregiver (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke). But to some, the choice of the able-bodied Claflin is yet another example of the film industry limiting the roles actual disabled actors get to play. 

Diversity has been the talk of Hollywood, but for the most part, the conversation has centered mostly on race and gender. Some have brought in issues of sexuality, but many feel the discussion should expand to include the disabled. 

“If you’re going to discuss diversity, it has to be completely inclusive of the groups that really define diversity, not just a select group that is popular,” said actor Danny Woodburn. “It’s popular to say LGBT groups, women, people of color define diversity. It’s not so popular to say people with disability define diversity. But the reality is that disability puts the ‘D’ in diversity.”

Hollywood has long received criticism over its lack of diverse representations of people in front of and behind the camera. The most recent critique came earlier this year when the film academy announced an all-white slate of acting nominees for the second year in a row. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, created by April Reign, immediately trended on social media. In an interview with the Times, Reign verbalized her stance on what she called “the erasure of marginalized communities” and posited a definition of diversity that included differently abled people. Most of the advocacy thus far, however, has centered on women, people of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Even when the film academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, announced the organization’s commitment to diversity post-#OscarsSoWhite, only women and people of color were singled out. Additionally, the Times’ list of one hundred people who could help broaden diversity in the academy—and in Hollywood—was focused on race, gender, and sexuality. 

To Woodburn (Jingle All the Way, Seinfeld, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), who as a little person counts himself as a person with a disability, such an exclusion puts forth “dangerous rhetoric” that ignores a significant group of people.

According to the US census, about 19 percent of the population identifies as differently abled—that’s 56.7 million people. Their conditions range from intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome to physical disabilities such as paralyzation or cerebral palsy. Others’ sensory perceptions could be affected, such as those with autism, blindness, or hearing loss. A 2012 census report noted that this community has a lower likelihood of being employed and a higher likelihood of experiencing persistent poverty. As such, any diversity conversation that doesn't make room for disabled people is “dangerous,” Woodburn said, considering the economic and policy-oriented ramifications.

One way policy is affected by such exclusion can be seen in New York, where the Writers Guild of America East has endorsed and lobbied for modifications to the Empire State Film Production Tax Credit to include television writers and directors who are women or people of color. Woodburn, as vice chair of SAG-AFTRA’s Performers With Disabilities Committee, is working to get disability added to the potential list of supported diversity.

“It’s that same separate but equal phraseology of the 1960s, that it’s not your turn yet,” he said. “It gets my ire up. It gets me activated.”

Gail Williamson, a talent agent at Kazarian, Measures, Ruskin and Associates, has been advocating on behalf of the differently abled for more than twenty years. With 120 disabled clients on her roster, she believes a number of them could have easily taken on the Me Before You role. 

“We refer to it as cripface, as in blackface or painting Italians to look like American Indians,” said Williamson. “We’re hoping in the future that these films would hold up more if they indeed had an actor with a disability.”

Preempting retorts that disabled people don’t have the talent, training, or experience necessary to take on major roles—a similar refrain used to justify inadequate representations of women, people of color, and LGBT folk—Williamson, whose son is an actor with Down syndrome, echoed the words of winner Viola Davis’ speech at the 2015 Primetime Emmys about just needing the opportunity.

“We’ve got them waiting, people who are trained, have done their homework and have credits, but they won’t open up the doors for them,” Williamson said. “But my guys are never going to be able to come into the room with the experience that these other guys have, because it’s not awarded to them. Someone is going to have to see it in them.”

Marlee Matlin, who as a deaf actress was cast as the lead in 1986’s Children of a Lesser God, won an Oscar and instantly became a star for the role, her first credited gig ever.

As for people the industry should be paying attention to, Williamson and other community advocates highlight Ali Stroker (Broadway’s Spring Awakening, Faking It), Jamie Brewer (American Horror Story), JLouis Mills (Heartbeat, The Tribe) and Robert David Hall (the CSI franchise), among others. 

But as Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA’s national director of equal employment opportunity and diversity, added: “Not only do they not have the opportunity for anything that is specifically written about [disabled people], but when [the story does have disabled characters] they don’t get the chance to even compete for those jobs more than half of the time.”

Moore likened the situation to casting experiences of people of color where roles are slated for whites unless otherwise stated.

“It also means nondisabled, unless otherwise labeled,” he said. “[Disabled people] are excluded almost from the beginning because stories aren’t being thought of to be told in these ways.”

Furthermore, Moore cautioned, the experience can be doubly or triply oppressive for those living at the intersections of other identities disadvantaged in the industry, such as a disabled woman of color. But this is why disabled people need to be included in the industry’s definitions of diversity, Woodburn said. They too should be able to see themselves reflected in society’s cultural productions. “I don’t want disabled people to be a footnote in this discussion,” he said.

Let's Dance: How I Dealt with Choreography

by Kelsey Nicolay

From the Editor: Since we are focusing on the blind in performance, it is good to go beyond philosophizing and noting the poor state of the representation of the blind. In addition, we should focus on the performing opportunities blind people have had, and here is one as it was reported in the fall issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. Here is how it was introduced by Editor Barbara Pierce:

Editor’s note: Most of us know Kelsey from the Ohio listserv. She lives in Medina, so she has no chapter near her. Here is a chance to get to know her a bit better:

I have been singing in choir since the fourth grade without much difficulty. However, one day in my freshman chorus the director gave us the music we would be performing at the end-of-year show with choreography. I was nervous about how it would go. How would I remember the moves? How would I move around without my cane? What about getting on and off stage? My choir director assured me that I would dance and participate like everyone else and that they would find ways to make it happen. We ended up having someone come in to help me. The choir director chose someone who was in show choir and had more dance experience. It worked out really well once the choir director found someone. The person the director found seemed to know instinctively that I could do the moves on my own once I learned them and made sure that, as soon as she felt I was ready, she insisted that I do as much as I could without her holding onto my arms. After about a week she said, "I'm not going to help you too much today because I want you to be able to do it on your own during performance." I didn’t do the moves perfectly the first few times I did them alone, but I knew that with repetition I would learn them, and I did. By two weeks before performance, I could do almost all of it alone, and she could simply watch from a distance and correct me if necessary. Performance weekend went pretty well.

While the first show time was mostly successful, I had a few setbacks. For instance, like most students, I chose to take part in my grade's student-led ensemble. We auditioned for the show and were one of the groups selected. When it came time to learn our choreography, the choreographer made a comment that he tried doing the ensemble's dance steps with his eyes closed, and he couldn't do it, so he concluded that I couldn’t either. I felt devastated because I had been working hard in choir, and then he told me I couldn't perform the student ensemble choreography. The choir director decided to let me perform anyway and just sing the number with the ensemble. I was grateful he let me do that, but at the same time I felt robbed of an opportunity to prove myself. From this experience I learned that it is important to stay positive and keep working at your dream and trying to change minds even if others don't believe you will succeed.

My sophomore and junior years, however, the performances were not as successful. Again the choir director found someone to work with me. However, this person did not have the same expectations that the former student had had. Instead of encouraging me to do the moves on my own, she stood behind me and moved my arms. It took a lot longer for me to learn the choreography, and on stage during performance she had to help me with most of it. The choir director allowed her to be on stage with me, but he overlooked the fact that she was practically doing it for me. My teacher of the visually impaired, family, and friends all commented that there was no reason for her to be on stage helping me. My TVI helped me with costume changes for one show so that my family could watch the performance. After both my numbers she told me that I could have done most of that myself. The same thing happened both years. My junior year I participated in the student ensemble again. It was comprised of the people I had been in the freshman group with, but they were all in higher choirs than I was. They were familiar with my blindness, and it didn't seem like a big deal to them until it was time to learn the choreography. The group leader chose to make up the choreography herself instead of having our choreographer do it. When it came time for dance rehearsal, no one bothered to teach me until the week of performance. My choir director told me one person was teaching me, my assistant told me something different, and another student in my choir said she was teaching me. I finally decided to call one of the members whom I knew from freshman chorus and who had helped me in that group as well. Luckily she agreed to teach me the next day. However, because it was so close to performance, I ended up dropping the group at the last minute because I could not learn the arm movements in time.

My senior year I was determined to make this the best performance since it was my last one. I told my director that I wanted an assistant to help me learn the choreography but that I did not want him on stage with me. The director had a hard time finding someone who was free during the first period of the day, but she eventually found someone, and, once she did, it worked out fine. This person seemed to know instinctively that I could do the moves by myself. Once I felt confident, I did everything by myself. He was right there, but he never helped me when I didn't need it. It also helped that my sister was in the same choir as me, so she sometimes worked with me at home to correct my mistakes. I also participated in senior ensemble since it was my last performance. That started off shaky, but, once I was taught the dance, I was ok. One of the girls in my choir was also in the group, so she started teaching me. However, this person seemed to have the expectation that I needed constant help and therefore stood behind me and moved my arms. Two students whom I knew from middle school told me that they had decided to teach me instead. I met with them one-on-one, and we went through it. I learned the routine in about an hour, and by the end of our time I was doing pretty much all of it with very little assistance. The performance went really well, and my family told me that I fit right in, which is what I wanted.

Based on these experiences, I have several suggestions for students dealing with a similar situation. The most important piece of advice is to be confident. It may be difficult at times, but try to stay positive through performance. Second, self-advocacy is critical. If you feel you are not getting the help you need, speak up. Try to talk to the person helping you and let him or her know that you want to do the moves on your own. It may be uncomfortable to bring this up with the student, but as long as you do it tactfully, there should be no problem. You can also ask your orientation and mobility instructor or TVI for help. She may be able to help if there is a particular dance move you are struggling with. Either way, speak up if things aren't going the way they should. Finally, show appreciation. For example, giving the people who helped you learn the choreography a gift card to their favorite restaurant or just some flowers go a long way. People will be more likely to help you in future ensembles if they know their work is appreciated.

Leave a Legacy

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:

Plan to Leave a Legacy

Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit <www.nfb.org/planned-giving> or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.

The Otherness Factor

by Alex Lester

From the Editor: Alex Lester was the tenBroek Library’s first intern during the summer of 2016. He is now a senior studying psychology and ethics at Misericordia University near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the NFB. In exchange for course credit, living quarters, and a stipend generously provided by Misericordia, Alex spent six weeks working on preservation projects with NFB archivist Anna Kresmer. His dedication to the work of the library, as well as his positive attitude and enthusiasm, were appreciated by all. However, the space where Alex truly excelled was in embracing the history and philosophy of the NFB and applying it not only to his own life, but to his research and thought processes as a philosophy student. As part of the requirements for his internship, Alex was asked to submit this article, which perfectly reflects his absorption of the Federation’s philosophy. We gladly welcome Alex to the Federation family and wish him continued success as vice chair of the Human Relations Commission of the City of Scranton. Here is what he has to say: 

“Television could perform a great service in mass education, but there's no indication its sponsors have anything like this on their minds.” – Tallulah Bankhead

Television is a part of millions of Americans’ everyday lives. In fact, “According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, the average American watches more than four hours of TV each day (or twenty-eight hours per week, or two months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a sixty-five-year life, that person will have spent nine years glued to the tube,” according to an article by N. Herr. That’s a lot of time to influence what everyday people are exposed to and how they behave. However, this puts producers in a position of great power and creates a moral dilemma since they are able to either inspire equality for all or create divisions where there aren’t any. This also creates a specific issue for the viewers. How should one hold content creators accountable for their actions, and do we have an obligation to only view projects that promote equality? To wrestle with this issue, we must look to ethics. Ethics is the philosophical study of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, and is concerned with how one should act.

In ethics there are many different theories, but I want to focus on only one. This is a theory that Americans unknowingly use to judge daily actions. It is called utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics (the branch of ethics that focuses on how we should act) which holds that the best moral action is the one that maximizes utility. Utility is defined as what will cause the least amount of suffering and promote the most happiness. How does one measure utility? Utilitarianism is in a category of ethics known as consequentialism, which simply means that you can only judge an action’s morality by the consequences it produces. There are two types of utilitarian ethics practiced but here I am just focusing on one, and it is called Act Utilitarianism. Act Utilitarianism requires that for a person's act to be morally right, it must produce at least as much happiness as any other act that the person could perform at the time of the action.

Instead of using this system of mass media influence to promote people with disabilities as equals to their nondisabled counterparts, television and film producers constantly find new and creative ways to depict people with disabilities by employing something I call the “Otherness Factor.” The Otherness Factor is where a character with a disability is only represented via an archetype character (1) who is somehow “othered” or different in some way. An example of this would be if a character is blind, they either have a super power that romanticizes their disability as something mystical (such as the superhero Daredevil’s radar sense), or they are represented as something undesirable or evil (such as the bumbling idiot or a serial killer). There are no depictions of an average blind person. The one unifying trait of the Otherness Factor Character (OFC) is that each and every OFC is defined by their disability and lacks any sense of being a well-rounded character.

Now knowing what the OFC is, we must ask what the effects of the Otherness Factor are. Quite a few studies have been done on children’s exposure to unhealthy food television advertisements and children’s food choices, ultimately showing that “considerable scientific evidence establishes a link between unhealthy food marketing and children's food choices, purchases, and consumption,” according to a 2016 article in the American Journal of Public Health. If advertising food to children can have such an impact on their actual behavior, what effects do depicting people with disabilities as othered and ultimately advertised as a person’s defining factor have on both the disabled and the general public? With a lack of role models, disabled people are missing out on psychological benefits that their nondisabled peers have. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people with role models who exhibited certain traits (traits that are not depicted in an OFC) were likely to enhance motivation in a person.

The continued reinforcement of the negative and misguided stereotypes of disabled people starts to become applied to the disabled community as a whole, not just to a person who has the disability with the promoted stereotype. For example, people with disorders that are not severe developmental disorders are treated as if they had them anyway, like a waiter asking a sighted or hearing person what the blind and/or deaf person wants to eat.

In addition to these two negative consequences, the focus of over- or underachievement means that disabled people are exposed to rhetoric that they can never be who they are without striving to overcome their impairment. However, disability across the board does not have to define a person. The National Federation of the Blind’s one-minute message states that, “We know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.” I think that in the one-minute message, the word blindness could be replaced with the names of other disabilities. People are more than just their disability. It can be hard to believe that when the rhetoric is discouraging you from separating truth from fiction; when the distance placed between disabled people and the intended audience (nondisabled people) reinforces a socially constructed gap between disabled and nondisabled people. That gap creates stress not just for the disabled person, but also for the nondisabled person who then doesn’t know how to treat a disabled person when they encounter them in the real world. The distance makes it hard, if not impossible, for them to interact with them as regular people.

An Act Utilitarian would say that Americans and content creators would act morally if they snuffed out the Otherness Factor Character archetype from all films and television shows and replaced it with complex, well-rounded characters who promote the positive representation of disabled people. The Golden Girls is one example of a past production whose social influence was so great that it “inspired older women to dress and behave in a way they have always felt inside,” by representing older women in a way that was unheard of during the 1980s according to Rue McClanahan in an interview in 2000. If a new show could pull off a similar stunt with its depictions of blind or disabled people, we would no doubt see a change in how disabled people are treated as whole people in real life, resulting in both disabled and nondisabled people becoming happier. This happiness would be greater than creating content that ignores an entire group of people and causes stress for another. Creating more complex disabled characters is the moral thing to do. Although Act Utilitarianism states that the act must create the most happiness at the time, their past actions cannot be condemned as non-moral unless they were aware that the project would cause such harm. One case where filmmakers can be held accountable with this theory would be when the filmmakers of the 2008 film Blindness, which contained a gross depiction of blind people, were made aware by the NFB that it would cause damage in representing blind people the way it did. Still they chose to release the project and by doing so perpetuated a non-moral representation of disabled people.

Knowing that the moral thing for content creators to do is to create complex disabled characters and get rid of the OFC, what should viewers do to encourage moral representation? Act Utilitarianism also has something to say about this. The theory says to act only in a way that will create the most happiness, which means that viewers have a moral obligation to not purchase or watch films that feature OFCs, thereby using one’s money as a means of social pressure. Political action is also extremely important; organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind lobby and engage in discourse with the local, state, and federal governments, production companies, and anyone who needs to be educated to advocate for just treatment of the disabled.

It’s important to understand that cutting off funding to these projects by not watching them and by advocating for equality by writing letters and starting discourse with friends, family, film producers, and the government—be it through an organization or on your own—will help millions of people benefit by getting rid of negative representations and an increasing positive representation. These actions will encourage positive depictions and a better understanding of what people with disabilities are capable of doing. Using Act Utilitarianism as a way to judge morality and conduct behavior can cause both great and tangible change as well as promote a great happiness for all of humanity.

Footnote:

(1) Although the Otherness Factor Character may be recognizable, it is an archetype character and not a stock character.

References:

Bankhead, T. (n.d.). Tallulah Bankhead Quotes. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/tallulahba393219.html

Herr, N. (n.d.). Television & Health. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from https://www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&health.html

Jordan, C. (2002, November). Motivation by positive or negative role models: Regulatory focus determines who will best inspire us. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4): 854-64. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from http://www.psych.utoronto.ca/users/lockwood/PDF/Lockwood 2002 Motivation.pdf

Kelly, B. (2010, September). Television Food Advertising to Children: A Global Perspective. American Journal of Public Health, 100(9). Retrieved July 26, 2016, from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2009.179267

Rue McClanahan [Television series episode]. (2000, June 19). In Intimate Portrait. Lifetime. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLmMZZrFGCw

Addressing the Needs of Seniors

by Barbara Pierce

From the Editor: No name is likely to be more familiar to Monitor readers than Barbara Pierce, she having served longer than any editor in the history of this magazine. She now edits the Buckeye Bulletin, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. It is always a pleasure for me to read what she writes, and I think what she has to say about addressing the needs of senior citizens is both timely and important. Here is what she says in an article entitled “Editor’s Musing,” which appeared in the fall issue of the newsletter:

On September 1 Bob and I celebrated our first year of living at Kendal at Oberlin, a residential community for seniors. We have a lovely, air-conditioned cottage and one delicious meal a day in an upscale dining room. The tradeoff is that we spend most of our time with senior citizens, thinking about issues of interest to them. One of these is vision loss.

Recent statistics suggest that 6.8 percent of people over sixty-five are losing vision. That is from the NFB website. The AFB says that 12.2 percent of people between sixty-five and seventy-five report vision loss while 15.4 percent of those over seventy-five are losing sight.

Not surprisingly a number of people here are struggling with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Also not surprisingly people watch me very carefully. They are always worrying that I may trip someone with my white cane. They also want to know how I do things, and they worry about how I am going to get where I am going.

I am also president of the NFB of Ohio Seniors Division. I am sorry to say that I have not done much with this job this year, but I have been thinking about the NFB’s general responsibility to reach out to seniors losing vision. This is or should be a concern for every chapter across the state. All of us have competent people in our communities who are losing vision and who could be helpful members of our chapters. Retirement centers are a good place to search for these folks and recruit them to join us.

In August I spoke to the Vision Support Group at Kendal. This is a group of people who meet monthly, mostly to learn about cutting-edge research in their particular type of blindness. Once a year they have Magnification and More come out to show them technology, and they are linked with an international group addressing senior low-vision issues. I have not attended a single meeting of this group this year because none of what they were doing was of any interest to me. But the guy who runs the group asked me to come in August and talk to them, and it seems to have been a great success. They had twice the number of people attend the meeting as the previous record, and they were quite interested in what I had to say. My title was “Exploring the World of the Other Four Senses.” I began by suggesting that focusing intensely on what they could see had disadvantages. Their vision was failing, so they necessarily got less and less satisfactory visual information. I also told them that they were always getting information from their other senses but that their brains could concentrate only on a certain amount of data at once. If they were busy concentrating on vision, they did not have brain power left over to assess the other, more useful information coming in.

I went through what they could learn from touch, hearing, smelling, and the kinesthetic sense of where their bodies were in the world. I covered what one can learn through feet on the ground, what temperature changes or sunshine or the breeze on a cheek can tell you, how to use the balance and weight of what is on the fork to help you eat efficiently, and how the weight and balance of papers can help you find things that are buried in a pile of junk. We talked about marking things with rubber bands or safety pins. I told them about listening for walls, doorways, bushes, and wide open spaces. I answered lots of questions and talked them through how I find my luggage on a carousel at the airport. I also put in a word for accessible voting machines. They asked good questions and begged me to come back again next summer, when I suspect they will have forgotten everything I talked about, so I can easily do it all again.

I have bothered to describe all of this because I hope to inspire some of you to go and do likewise at retirement facilities near you. One could have done a lot more of course. This is a great opportunity for mentioning the NFB’s vehicle donation program. One could urge them to come to chapter meetings or events or join even if they don’t want to come to meetings.

I also want to urge members who are seniors to join the Seniors Division by coming to our meeting at convention Saturday at lunch. Susan Day will be talking with us about how to stay safe in our homes. We will also be planning activities for the coming year. It would be great to hear that some new folks have made arrangements to talk with seniors in their communities. Seniors too can live the lives they want; blindness is not what holds them back.

 

Dots from Space!
A Mysterious Quest Begins

by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

From the Editor: At the 2015 National Convention a new activity was introduced: the NFB Quest. It was designed to be a fun game that would challenge Federationists to learn more about the organization and help break the ice between members who had never met in person before. It made the players active participants rather than passive observers of articles and speeches. Monitor readers who did not have the opportunity to attend the 2016 Convention don’t have to feel left out, however, since the Monitor will be running a serialized version of the NFB Quest from this year. Here is how Amy Mason, access technology specialist, and Anna Kresmer, archivist for the tenBroek Library, introduce it:

Dots from Space! was the second annual NFB Quest. The quests are built to encourage both newcomers and Federation veterans to experience our national convention in a whole new way. They incorporate puzzle-solving, trivia, social challenges, and travel to many of the beloved events and locations that are integral parts of the national convention.

Lisamaria Martinez, co-winner of the inaugural “NFB Diamond Quest” in 2015 said that the coolest part of playing “was that it got people up and moving, talking to each other, and learning really neat things in order to move on to the next round. I found myself visiting the Presidential Suite for the first time in seventeen national conventions. My husband talked to many blind people to ask them questions about trivia or to ask them to read something in Braille for him. We had a blast!”

For its second iteration, the game wizards hoped to see the convention quest participants boldly go where no Federationists had gone before. This meant creating a bigger game with new challenges that would appeal to more players while weaving in a greater opportunity for collaboration. As part of this expanded game universe, we introduced the Dots from Space, a friendly and curious alien race. The story of these intrepid explorers allowed us to present the Federation philosophy in a refreshing new way while highlighting some forgotten gems from our history.

In order to share some of the fun with members who were not able to participate in the game, the Braille Monitor will present the storyline of Dots from Space! as a series of articles over the next several months. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it, and we welcome you to participate in next year’s NFB Quest!

To read more of Lisamaria’s blog post on winning the first NFB Quest with her husband Joe Bakker, visit <https://nfb.org/blog/vonb-blog/>.

Here is the first episode:

 

It is the year 2525. The Earth lies abandoned and still. A spacecraft, lured by the silent monuments of Washington, DC, looks for a landing spot on the edges of the Chesapeake Bay. The terrain is rough and uneven, with the remains of empty buildings partially submerged in the frigid water. The large, flat roof of one building in particular seems to provide a good spot, and the ship touches down.

Later, inside the scout ship known as the Particle, the officers prepare to investigate the planet’s surface. Captain Dottie orders a survey of the surrounding terrain, and the ship’s computer instantly produces a 3D model of the immediate environs. Intrigued, the science officer rolls forward and flattens himself over the model like a giant ball of silly putty. Reforming into a ball, he exclaims, “Fascinating.”

“What is it, doctor?,” asks the captain.

“Most interesting, captain. It appears that the majority of the structure is still intact. I would recommend that we begin our investigations with the very building upon which we have landed.”

The captain considers for a moment before saying, “Very good. Let us proceed.”

The crew begins to prepare to disembark from the ship by running additional scans of the interior of the building, checking the atmospheric conditions, and readying their gear. Suddenly, one of the spherical aliens conducting one last scan cries out, “Captain! We’ve found something!”

The captain sighs gustily, “Yes, ensign? What is it now?”

“A game!”

Assuming They Know What I Want

by Justin Salisbury

From the Editor: Justin Salisbury is now an orientation and mobility instructor with Ho`opono Services for the Blind. He graduated from Louisiana Tech University in March 2016 in the first cohort of the Rehabilitation Teaching for the Blind master’s program and the first cohort to receive the National Certification in Rehabilitation Teaching for the Blind (NCRTB) in addition to the NOMC and NCUEB. His experiences in the states of Connecticut, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Louisiana have helped prepare him to empower blind people in Hawaii. Here is what he says:

The Walmart near my apartment faces into its parking garage rather than facing the street. In order to enter the building, I climb a short flight of stairs and then follow a zigzag sidewalk past a Starbucks and a few other restaurants built into the side of the Walmart until I finally get to the door. Without fail, after I finish climbing the stairs, I get a few steps before I hear, “Sir, you’re about to run into a wall.” If I’m lucky, I even get to hear it again for one or two of the other walls in the zigzag pattern. I usually ignore it, but the other day I stopped and asked, “Have I walked anywhere that sighted people don't normally walk?” The man replied, “No, you're doing fine. It's just that you were about to run into a wall.” I was not sure how he reasoned that I got myself all the way to the Walmart from wherever I had been only to risk it all by potentially running into a wall. I told him that it was actually not normal for people to run into walls, and I left him with that bit of genius.

As blind people we often have experiences where we are out traveling, just going through our normal day, when well-meaning sighted people jump in to rescue us with an important piece of information to which they assume we are completely oblivious. They mean well, and their hearts are in the right place. Their expectations of us, however, bear a noteworthy degree of room for improvement. It can be valuable for us to take a moment to reflect on the foundations, shaky and inaccurate as they may be, and the consequences of these acts of kindness.

When I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the doctoral students were always included in the Friday faculty coffee hours, and I grew a lot from those experiences. Sometimes the coffee hours were shared between two colleges, which generally meant more serious catering and a wonderful array of dessert items. One day, when we shared coffee with the College of Human Ecology, I met a faculty member who took particular interest in my blindness. In these gatherings, it was quite customary for people to talk about research interests, publication efforts, travel destinations in faraway places, and the newest fun things to do in Madison. In the general public, blindness is usually the first conversation topic most people try to breach with me, but this gentleman actually stood out for that in this setting. After we introduced ourselves, he jumped right in with a question.

“So what should I do when I see a blind person?” His question was very simple. It was well-intended, and it even demonstrated an eagerness to learn about blindness and the needs of blind people. If anyone has a question like that, I want them to feel comfortable asking me. Why do so many members of the public, including some blind people, believe that blind people need something special? I suppose it helps if communication is nonvisually accessible, rather than just a wave or a peace sign, but what really makes us so different that we would need anything beyond that? I asked the professor what he meant when he asked what to do.

When he would see a blind person on campus, he would often feel the urge to help the blind person, but he never really knew how, so he held back. He was generally uncomfortable with blind people. I told him that he ought to just do whatever he would do if he saw a sighted person. It would probably be a good idea to say hello, just as it would be for anyone else, and carry on as he would naturally. It is perfectly acceptable to approach a blind person to ask a question about something he or she is wearing or to introduce yourself for any of the normal reasons. It is not beneficial, however, to approach the person to offer help just because the person is blind.

There is a common presumption that the sighted bear a responsibility or even a sense of authority to know what information a blind person needs and lacks. Even though that professor meant well and even made an effort to become more educated about blindness and the needs of blind people, he held the belief that he needed to be ready to do something for the blind people he encountered.

In Honolulu people with low expectations for blind travelers have implemented the installation of an auditory traffic signal that we unaffectionately call “clickers.” The button to push for the crosswalk signal emits a soft and slow clicking sound. Once pushed, and when the traffic light changes appropriately, the clicking becomes much faster and louder on both sides of the street. Custodial orientation and mobility specialists will teach students to choose their placement, alignment, and time to cross the street based entirely on these clickers. I have to teach my students how to ignore the noise pollution that they create and to refute the low expectations that their implementation demonstrates. My students aim to cross based on the sounds of traffic, which is, of course, safer and more reliable than audible crossing signals. When approaching the streets, we are often greeted by well-meaning sighted people who think they are helping us by telling us that we are about to cross the street. It must not occur to them that this might be our intention. Many times, when we are standing at an intersection waiting to cross, well-meaning sighted people will walk up or get out of their cars just to push the button for us to initiate the clicker crossing signal. They take time out of their day to do something that they think will help us get what we want and that they think we cannot do for ourselves. They assume that we want the button to be pushed and that the problem is that we are unable to push the button ourselves. They assume that we want to cross the streets using the audible traffic signals. Instead, we are then faced with the choice of either crossing with the distraction of all the noise pollution created by the clickers or to wait for a future cycle without the clickers. When they push the button for us, they make it harder for us to pursue our own objectives, even though they think they know what we want.

When I was leaving a state convention of the National Federation of the Blind, I arrived at the airport about two hours and fifteen minutes prior to my departure, thanks to absolutely no traffic delays. As I was approaching the security checkpoint, a TSA agent decided to walk with me up to the podium where another agent would check my identification and boarding pass. I let her know that I didn’t expect to need any help but thanked her for her kindness. She followed me anyway, marveling at how independent I was. I am not accustomed to custodial members of the general public mentioning independence on their own. After the man at the podium had returned my boarding pass and identification, the female agent told me to come with her. Now, I was at the back of a line which seemed to be about twenty feet from the conveyor belt, so I asked her where we were going. She told me that she was going to take me to the front of the line so that I could go through security. I had plenty of time, so I decided to take advantage of a teachable moment. I explained to her that I did not mind waiting in line, that I had plenty of time to catch my flight. She persisted, and the man at the podium asked what the problem was. They expressed to each other that they could not believe that I did not want to go to the front of the line, that I actually wanted to wait in line. Even though they each had jobs to do, they decided to focus themselves on talking to me about this seemingly irrational decision that I was making. If we blind people want to have rights equal to those of our sighted counterparts, we must bear equal responsibility, and this applies to waiting in line. I explained this to them. Then, we discussed how the members of any minority, if they wish to achieve rights equal to those of the majority, must bear responsibility equal to that of the majority. They informed me that they were both black, and that they knew very well that, as a minority, they must each take every special opportunity they could get. I told them that I did civil rights work for the blind for my career and that I was not going to contradict my job while on my personal time. “I'm going to bring you to the front of the line, and then I'm going to treat you equally,” she said. I explained to her that equality is not something that can be switched off while cutting the line and then switched back on once I’m at the front. She finally let me go so I could stand in line like everyone else. She had been so sure that she knew what I wanted, but she made it harder for me to do what I wanted. I cannot think of any other subset of the population, except maybe children, who might have their priorities questioned to that degree.

They think that they know what we want. They assume that they know our priorities, our hopes, and our dreams. If they try to act in pursuit of the priorities that they assume that we have, this takes our plans and our dreams out of our hands. In the National Federation of the Blind, we work to support the self-determination of blind people, which enables us to live the lives we want. The Federation continues to teach me that I should be able to pursue my own goals, which starts with being the one who knows what I want. Many well-meaning sighted people have attempted to help me while assuming they knew what I wanted, but the messages they sent in the process told me that they thought they were the ones with the capacity to know and pursue what I wanted. If I walk up to a street, it just might be intentional. If I walk up to a wall before turning, I might mean to do that, too. If I wait in line, it just might be that I am content there. My priorities, just like those of anybody else, can be more complex than what people who do not know me can perceive. The National Federation of the Blind is teaching me that I am the keeper of my own priorities, that I can live the life I want.

Reflecting the Flame in Utah Rehabilitation for the Blind

by Brian Dulude

From the Editor: Dr. Brian Dulude is a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind who currently serves as the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. He can boast of a number of educational accomplishments including a PhD, CRC, LVRC, and NOMC. Before leaving Utah to work as the assistant director for BLIND Inc. he worked as the vocational rehabilitation coordinator for the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Utah. Here is what he says about trying to improve the state agency and the efforts of other like-minded men and women, many of whom are a part of the NFB:

In 1991 Dr. Marc Maurer gave a banquet speech entitled “Reflecting the Flame.” In this speech, Dr. Maurer pointed out that three things are needed for an idea to move forward and not die: it requires an idea, a leader to promote that idea and defend it, and it finally requires others with the same idea to reflect the flame so that it continues to burn. I listened to this speech recently, and I felt I needed to tell my story of working in blind rehabilitation here in the state of Utah and how the blind of our state have endeavored to reflect the flame.

Our blind rehabilitation program is a combined agency under the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation. Our title is the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We have a blindness training center, low vision services, deaf/blind services, an older blind program, vision screening for young children, and, until recently, vocational rehabilitation services.

I started working for the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DSBVI) in May of 2010 in the blindness training center as a cane travel instructor. I had previously worked for the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston for over five years. Ray Martin is a long-time Federationist and had the dream of developing a training center that had the same philosophy as the NFB training centers. This philosophy centered around teaching the structured discovery method of training.

As director, Ray experienced strong staff resistance to training under sleep shades, using the long white cane, and using the word blind. As director of the center, however, he hired many qualified blind instructors who had the same philosophy and dream that he had.

When I started working at DSBVI, Ray had already hired Deja Powell as a cane travel instructor. He experienced staff criticism and hostility for hiring a person who is blind to teach cane travel. He also hired Brook Sexton as a cane travel instructor. Brook is a longtime Federationist, and she, as well as Deja, had been trained at Louisiana Tech University’s master’s degree program. Previously Brook had been working in Hawaii in the training center there and had seen a training center change its philosophy of blindness.

Fellow Federationist Everette Bacon was an employee in Assistive Technology Services. At that time he was chapter president of the Salt Lake Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. Later he became president of the affiliate. Adam Rushforth was also working in the training center when I started. Adam was chapter president of the Utah Valley Chapter. He was also treasurer of the affiliate and director of our Project Strive program.

So, as you can see, Ray had a dream of developing an effective training center that would change the lives of the blind of the state. He was a leader who promoted that dream along with Everette Bacon, me, and others that I have mentioned and many whom I have not mentioned.

I feel it is important that I point out here that I have not mentioned the division director at the time as one of the leaders who held the same dream as Ray. The director at the time was Bill Gibson. Ray received no support from Mr. Gibson. In fact, he went so far as to remove Ray from being director for a period of four months in the later part of 2010. It was only the intervention of the National Federation of the Blind to the state administrators that made them reverse their decision.

As I stated earlier, Ray and those of us who believed in structured discovery training were resisted at almost every turn from staff who did not believe in sleep shades, using the long white cane, or using the word blind. We would develop policies regarding these topics but were never fully supported by Bill or his supervisor, Don Uchita.

I finished my doctorate in rehabilitation education from the University of Arkansas in 2011. I was certified as a rehabilitation counselor in the fall of that year. In 2012 DSBVI had an opening for a transition vocational rehabilitation counselor. I applied for the job and was hired. Later that year the vocational rehabilitation coordinator resigned, and I was asked to fill the position. I directed vocational rehabilitation for the blind for four years.

During this time Ray still had the dream and continued to hire qualified employees who had the right philosophy of blindness. Some of these included Marla Palmer, a longtime Federationist in the Parents of Blind Children Division for the state of Utah. Amber and Chase Holiday were hired from Louisiana. Mike Harvey and Jim Reed were also hired.

For the first two years as rehabilitation coordinator I had the privilege of being part of a management team alongside Ray, and I listened to him and supported his dreams for an effective training center. One of Ray’s triumphs was incorporating cross-training or immersion training for newly hired employees of the training center. This was met with resistance by Bill and Don, but we were allowed to train our staff for those in the training center. Ray was permitted to have his staff trained for over three months. New vocational rehabilitation counselors and low vision specialists could train for only six weeks, and support staff could train for only two weeks.

For those two years we battled regularly with staff who did not share our philosophy. Everette Bacon became a member of the management team near the end of that two-year period. Ray Martin retired at the end of my second year as supervisor. He felt he had fought the good fight, and he passed the torch to Everette and me to continue the dream. He had hope that we would receive more support from his supervisor than he had received.

What did Ray accomplish in his tenure at the training center as director? He had hired enough staff with the right philosophy that the dream would not die with his retirement. Adam Rushforth was hired as the new blindness training center director. We now had three members of the management committee who had a good philosophy of blindness. We continued to try to be the leaders that Ray was and continued to hire counselors and training center staff who had the proper philosophy. These staff were reflecting the flame to their students.

Jennifer Kennedy from Virginia was hired as a cane travel instructor. She is a former national scholarship winner and another graduate of Louisiana Tech. We also hired Barbara Elliott as home management instructor. When she was a blind homemaker, she was elected as chapter president of our Weber Davis chapter.

Although Everette, Adam, and I were on the management team and could express our opinions on critical hiring and administrative policy, we were never fully supported by Bill Gibson or his supervisors. In November of 2014 the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation (USOR) realized that they had mismanaged the budget and needed to make drastic changes. One significant change was for vocational rehabilitation to go on an order of selection. This included vocational rehabilitation for the blind as well.

Federation membership and leadership represented themselves well in public meetings that were held by USOR. Although it was pointed out that DSBVI was not the cause of the shortfall, because we are a combined agency, we were lumped together with the general agency. The director of USOR resigned during the legislative session in which USOR had to ask for six million dollars to cover the shortfall. Bill Gibson retired in the middle of that year.

During the first six months of the implementation of the order of selection no clients were removed from the waiting list. Word spread among the blindness community that there was an order of selection, and applications for services declined. As a result, caseloads for the blind declined. As part of conditions from the legislature for the six-million-dollar bailout the legislature required USOR to be audited. DSBVI was specially targeted for this audit based on reports from angry clients or staff who left messages on a recently developed hotline for the agency where individuals could report fraud, misuse, and abuse of public funds. Many of the targeted client files which were audited for DSBVI were found to be out of compliance with USOR policy. In nearly every instance Bill Gibson was involved in the rehabilitation decisions that were out of compliance or an exception to policy. Some were due to counselor error, for which I take responsibility.

Based on the results of the audit, USOR decided to consolidate blind vocational rehabilitation into general rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation counselors who were under the supervision of DSBVI would now be supervised by a general rehabilitation supervisor in their geographic area. I was reassigned from being a supervisor to working as a rehabilitation counselor for a general caseload.

Public meetings were held at DSBVI explaining the decision. Members and leaders of the NFB of Utah gave public comment expressing their displeasure over the decision and the effect this would have on blind services. They also wrote a resolution which was passed by its state convention.

Ray Martin had the dream of good rehabilitation for the blind of Utah. As a leader he hired us to reflect that flame. Although Ray has retired, I have been reassigned, and vocational rehabilitation for the blind has been consolidated into general rehabilitation, we who have the right philosophy will continue to reflect the flame. As members of the National Federation of the Blind, we can do nothing less. Rehabilitation for the blind here in Utah has had some setbacks, but there are still many employees who will continue to reflect that flame and change the lives of the blind of Utah.

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund

by Allen Harris

From the Editor: Allen Harris is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and was one of the people who came up with the idea of honoring our former president and longtime leader by establishing a program to promote attendance at the national convention, where so much inspiration and learning occur. Here is Allen’s announcement about the 2017 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Program:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando, Florida, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Last year most of the sixty grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

1. You write a letter giving your contact information, and your local NFB information, your specific amount requested, and then explain why this is a good investment for the NFB. The points to cover are listed below.

2. You contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the president when to expect your request letter by email, and mention the deadline.

3. You (or a friend) send your letter by email to your state president. He or she must add a president’s recommendation and then email both letters directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee. Your president must forward the two letters no later than April 15.

Your letter to Chairperson Allen Harris must cover these points:

Explain how much money you need from this fund to make this trip possible for you. We suggest you consult with other members to make a rough budget for yourself.

The body of your letter should answer these questions:

How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive; what can you share or give? You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances you hope they will take into consideration.

When will I be notified that I am a winner?

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen.

1. Make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel the reservation. (Yes, you may arrange for roommates of your own to reduce the cost.)

2. Register online for the entire convention, including the banquet, by May 31.

3. Find someone in your chapter or affiliate who has been to many conventions and can answer your questions as a friend and advisor.

4. If you do not hear from the committee by May 15, then you did not win a grant this year.

How will I receive my convention scholarship?

At convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we sent you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.

What if I have more questions? For additional information email the chairman, Allen Harris, at <kjscholarships@nfb.org> or call his Baltimore, Maryland, office at (410) 659-9314, extension 2415.

Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Orlando.

Independence Market Corner

The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market is the conduit through which our organization distributes our empowering literature to our members, friends, and the general public. As a service we also operate a blindness products store, which sells mostly low-tech items, designed to enhance the everyday independence of blind individuals. We plan to publish regular updates about what the Independence Market has to offer.

This month we focus on Braille since January 4th is Louis Braille's birthday, and Braille is such an important tool for blind people to function independently at home, in school, and on the job. We sell various types of Braille paper and notebooks as well as a large selection of slates and styluses for writing Braille. The newest slate we just started carrying is the thirty-two cell Write and Read Slate, which allows the user to write from left to right with a special stylus which pushes paper over the pins in the Braille cell. This means that one forms Braille characters the same way one reads them. And, if one advances the paper with the roller, one can read what one just wrote. Those who have struggled to master a traditional slate may wish to try this writing tool.

We also carry a variety of Braille labeling supplies so one can stay organized. Our transparent labeling tape and labeling sheets with a self-adhesive backing make it easy to label many things around the house and at work from spice containers to file folders. Our magnetic labeling tape for cans and our Brailleable food labels, which attach to cans and packages with an elastic and work well on frozen items, are truly useful in the kitchen. We also offer different sets of metal Braille clothing labels, which are sewn or pinned into garments.

Of course, Braille is also fun and makes many games accessible. We sell various card games which have been labeled in Braille from a regular poker deck to Uno, Phase 10, Pinochle, Quiddler, Rook, and Skip-Bo. We also have some Brailled board games such as a Sudoku Board which enables one to solve Sudoku puzzles using magnetic Brailled tiles, and Megaword, a word game similar to Scrabble. Many of these games come with Brailled instructions.

And if someone would like to learn Braille, we can help there as well. We carry The McDuffy Reader: A Braille Primer for Adults by Sharon Monthei, which was the first Unified English Braille curriculum for adults available in the US. If one wants to learn to write with a slate and stylus or simply wishes to sharpen one’s skills, The Slate Book by Jennifer Dunnam contains many helpful tips and ideas for writing practice.

For more information about the products discussed here or to request a catalog in Braille or in print, visit us online at https://nfb.org/independence-market. You may also contact the Independence Market using email to independencemarket@nfb.org or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time. Our staff will be glad to assist.

Recipes

In the twenty-five years that the Monitor has been running groups of recipes monthly, hundreds of delicious ones have been printed. And we’ve decided to take another trip to the archives to bring up a few recipes we think are too appetizing to let them be forgotten.

Baked Pineapple
by Ada M. Stokes

This recipe first appeared in December 2000. Here’s what we had to say about Ada at the time: Ada Stokes is the wife of Ed Stokes, a lifetime member of the NFB of Delaware. Cooking is one of her favorite hobbies.

Ingredients:
3 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple with syrup
4 slices bread, diced
1 stick margarine, melted

Method: Beat eggs thoroughly. Add flour and sugar, mixing well. Stir in pineapple. Pour into 1-1/2-quart baking dish and place diced bread on top. Drizzle with melted margarine. Bake at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes.

Dudley's Doggie Donuts
by Betty Walker

This recipe first appeared in July 1994 and was provided by Dave and Betty Walker, active Federationists in Missouri who are now deceased. They loved giving this special treat to their dog.

Ingredients:
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons oatmeal
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg, slightly beaten
2/3 cup boiling water
1 bouillon cube, any flavor

Method: Dissolve bouillon cube in boiling water; set aside. Mix together dry ingredients and stir in egg. Stir in bouillon with fork until dough forms a ball. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; roll or press to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with donut cutter. Gather together donut holes and scraps, flatten again, and cut more donuts. Place in microwaveable baking dish; cook on high for ten minutes. Donuts will harden as they cool. Makes twenty donuts. If all donuts will not fit in baking dish, place half in dish and microwave on high for seven minutes; repeat with remaining half.

Spiced Beef
by Linda Snider

This recipe first ran in October 1999. Linda Snider was a member of the Masonic Square Club, a division of the National Federation of the Blind.

Ingredients:
1 8- to 10-pound round of beef
1 gallon water
1 teaspoon saltpeter
1/2 box allspice
2 sticks cinnamon
1 dozen cloves
1 cup sugar
1 quart salt

Method: Bring all ingredients (except beef) to a boil and cook for ten minutes, then remove from heat. When cool, add round of beef and store for two weeks. Weight it down. Turn meat over after first week. No harm will result if it remains in the mixture longer. To cook, place beef in stout kettle with lid and cover with liquid consisting of half spice mixture and half water. Cook slowly fifteen to twenty minutes to the pound or until thoroughly tender. Serve cold, carving in very thin slices. I recommend serving with thin slices of homemade white bread, although biscuits or rolls may be used.

Cheesy Spinach Pie
by Eileen Rivera (Ley)

This recipe first ran in the April-May 1989 issue. It was introduced at that time like this: Eileen Rivera is a former NFB scholarship winner and is now a resident of Maryland, where she actively participates in Federation work and holds (see elsewhere in this issue) a responsible position with the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins.

Ingredients:
1 single pie shell
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar and/or swiss cheese
1 chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 packages frozen spinach
2 tablespoons crushed oregano
1 teaspoon each: pepper, sweet basil, salt
3 beaten eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup cottage cheese

Method: Prepare pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for twelve minutes. Remove shell from oven and spread grated cheese in the hot shell. In a large sauce pan, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Next add the defrosted spinach and spices. Stir the mixture over medium heat for about five minutes. Then combine the eggs, milk, and parmesan and cottage cheeses in the pot. Stir until mixture thickens. Pour filling into the pie shell and bake for thirty to forty minutes. Great with a crisp garden salad and warm rolls.

Pasta Fagioli
by Madeline Moreno

This recipe first ran in March 2003 with this introduction: According to Joe Ruffalo, president of the NFB of New Jersey, Madeline Moreno is the "label lady" and ultimate volunteer; she is always ready to help. She and her husband Jerry are members of the Northern New Jersey chapter and dedicated Federationists. Madeline says that this dish is often pronounced "Pasta Fazool" (fa zool). Some make it more liquid, like a soup, but she makes it more like a pasta dish. If you like it soupier, don't drain the beans.

She and Jerry are now active in the NFB of North Carolina.

Ingredients:
1 16-ounce box elbow macaroni
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
16 ounces water or chicken broth
1 16-ounce can cannellini beans or chick peas (drained)
Garlic cloves (as many as you dare)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Pinch of basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Cook macaroni according to package directions. While you are waiting for the salted water to boil, place olive oil in a three-quart saucepan on medium heat. Brown garlic (some prefer to mince it finely). When the garlic is browned, add the can of tomato paste to the pan. Occasionally stir for a couple of minutes, then add water or chicken broth. Bring liquid back to a boil, add beans and remaining ingredients, cover pot and lower heat to simmer. Cook for about twenty minutes. Serves three to four.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

New Mexico Affiliate Holds Leadership Conference:
he NFB of New Mexico held a full-day leadership conference on Saturday, October 30, 2016, in Albuquerque to set priorities for the upcoming year. Fred Schroeder, a former New Mexican, was on hand to speak to the fifty affiliate members who, by attending, committed themselves to taking a leadership role in our affiliate for the upcoming year. Fred recited some history about the NFB and in particular the accomplishments that enliven our past and make our present a better place to live. He recognized with pride past leaders and hard-working members who made many of the accomplishments possible.

During the afternoon session, four working committees were formed. Each committee set its goals, assigned tasks, and set timelines to hold each other accountable for making the progress we want in 2017.

At the conference, we had our current president, Adelmo Vigil, and all of the past affiliate presidents who served during the last thirty-four years. Pictured are Fred Schroeder, 1982-1986, Joe Cordova, 1986-1996, Art Schreiber, 1996-2008, Christine Hall, 2008-2012, and Adelmo Vigil, 2012 to present.

Elected:
At their September meeting the National Federation of the Blind of Montana Electric City Chapter elected the following officers: president, Sheila Leigland; vice president, Harold Leigland; secretary, Ted Robbins; treasurer, Joy Breslauer.

Elected:
The Kansas City Chapter is excited to announce our 2017 Board of Directors: president, Ruby Polk; first vice president, Daniel Garcia; second vice president, Jeff Giffen; secretary, Ben Blagg; treasurer, Jeff Wright; and board members Sarita Cann and Willa Patterson.

Elected:
The Greater Portland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maine would like to announce the following election results: president, Walter Woitasek; vice president, Bud Buzzell; secretary, Mark Hodgdon; treasurer, Randy Bellavance; and trustees John Lee and Gerard Landry.

Elected:
On Saturday, November 19, 2016, the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri Columbia Chapter elected officers and board members for 2017: president, Debbie Wunder; vice president, Dacia Cole; treasurer, Carol Coulter; secretary, Gene Coulter; and board member Brittany Berk. The board and the members who elected us have much work to do and are determined to get it done.

Elected:
The following people were elected at the 2016 National Federation of the Blind of Washington convention: president, Marci Carpenter, reelected; first vice president, Mike Mello, reelected; second vice president, Maria Bradford, reelected; secretary, Andrea Travis, newly elected; treasurer, Corey Grandstaff, newly elected; and board members Noel Nightingale, reelected, and Doug Trimble, newly elected.

We had 111 people in attendance at our convention this year. We are building the Federation in Washington state!

Elected:
At their November meeting the Mineral Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri held their election for the new slate of officers: president, Roger Crome; vice president, Bob Stamm; secretary and treasurer, Wendy Crome; and board member, Donald Goosens.

Elected:
The members of the board of directors of the Iowa Affiliate were voted in at our business meeting on Sunday, October 9, 2016, at our convention in Urbandale, Iowa: president, Jerad S. Nylin; first vice president, Karen Clayton; second vice president, Darrel Kirby; secretary, Scott Van Gorp; treasurer, David Hammel; and board members Cindy Ray, Tai Tomasi, Donna Prime, and Michael Barber.

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

DOT and Southwest Airlines Reach Historic Agreement:
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today that it has reached an agreement with Southwest Airlines in which the airline will ensure that at least 50 percent of its kiosks at US airports are accessible to passengers with disabilities by September 30, 2017. In addition, any automated kiosk that Southwest installs after that date will be an accessible model, so that in the future, 100 percent of its kiosks will be accessible to passengers with disabilities.

Kiosks installed at US airports are used for a variety of functions, such as printing boarding passes and baggage tags, scanning passports to check-in, and canceling or rebooking tickets.

“This agreement will enable people with disabilities to travel more independently by ensuring that there are significantly more accessible airport kiosks available for their use,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The Department is committed to ensuring that our air transportation system is accessible for everyone. We commend the efforts of all airlines that are actively working to ensure that they meet the Department’s accessibility requirements for automated kiosks, and credit Southwest for instituting additional measures under this agreement to improve accessibility for its passengers.”

The agreement is available at <www.regulations.gov>, docket DOT-OST-2016-0202.

New Way to Use Uber and Lyft Without a Smartphone:
GoGo is an automated hotline that lets people use Uber and Lyft without needing a smartphone.

Uber and Lyft are available nationally; when you use GoGoGrandparent, we'll send you whichever one is cheapest at the time that you make your request for a ride. Their prices are typically up to 40 percent less than the cost of a cab.

Using GoGo is simple: callers call from a number they have registered with us and hear a menu of options. They can press 1 for a car to be sent to pick them up from their home, 2 for a car to be sent to pick them up where we dropped them off last, or 0 to speak with an operator for a custom pickup location. Once the driver arrives, they tell the driver where they want to go. When you make a request, a car shows up at your door within fifteen minutes, typically less. 

To register free of charge, please call (855) 464-6872 or visit <gogograndparent.com/register>. 

 

NFB Pledge

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.

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