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Braille Monitor

Vol. 60, No. 2                                      February 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

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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. 2                                      February 2017

Illustration: Art Symposium

Ensuring Our Children Are Literate and Using Reliable Indicators
to Determine Their Optimal Learning Medium
by Carlton Walker

Remembering Mike Freeman
by David Andrews

The Quest for Normal Independence
by Chris Nusbaum

Challenges of Aging
by Annie Schlesinger

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship
by Patti S. Gregory-Chang

Dots From Space!: Where No Dots Have Gone Before
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?

Undefined by Blindness: Seeking Employment and Financial Literacy Opportunities for the Blind
by Kathy Martinez

Independence Market Corner
by Ellen Ringlein

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind

Art Symposium

The National Federation of the Blind considers appreciation for and enjoyment of art as part of living the life we want as blind Americans. To help break down the barriers that result from the stereotype based on low expectations that “blind people don’t do art,” the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute collaborated with tactile artist Ann Cunningham to host a tactile art and tactile graphics symposium, "Putting More STEAM in STEM” at our Baltimore headquarters on December 9 and 10, 2016. With the thirty artists, educators, and art enthusiasts who attended this symposium, we began the creation of a community of supporters around tactile art and tactile graphics through education and the sharing of resources.

Part of the symposium was devoted to the examination of tactile art and discussions among the participants on how to get museum curators, art collectors, and members of the general public to view art that is meant to be touched as serious art. To help facilitate this change in attitude, the Jacobus tenBroek Library was transformed into an art gallery for a public exhibit of tactile art by artists such as acclaimed blind sculptor Michael Naranjo, Ann Cunningham, Debbie Kent Stein, and Jenny Callahan. The sense of excitement of being able to fully experience an art exhibit that was felt by the blind adults and children who attended was palpable.

Ensuring Our Children Are Literate and Using Reliable Indicators to Determine Their Optimal Learning Medium

by Carlton Walker

From the Editor: For far too long determining whether a blind child will be taught Braille, print, or both has resulted in a tug-of-war between parents and school administrators. Sometimes it is the school which suggests Braille, but the more likely contest has the parents pulling for Braille and the school district resisting. Like so many issues we tackle in work with the blind, the root of the problem is low expectations and the deep-seated yet often unspoken assumption that to be blind is to be slow, to be unable to compete, and to just make it through whatever the immediate challenge is with little thought as to how what is being learned or not learned will affect the student for the rest of his or her life. Is being a slow reader a natural consequence of visual impairment? Is being unable to read for an extended period of time the unavoidable result of being legally blind? Will the world make allowances for blind women and men when they compete for a job or start their own business? The answer to these questions is an emphatic no. The failure to determine early on the techniques that will make letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs a friend for life too often comes too late, if at all, and the cost is paid by blind people who have missed their greatest window of opportunity for learning to read and write with speed and ease.

One difficulty facing combatants in this tug-of-war has been that no validated and standardized test has existed to determine whether a child’s vision dictates he or she should read print, Braille, or both. Too often schools have relied upon the gut feeling of their professionals or have tried to use the fatally flawed Learning Media Assessment, a test which simply does not meet federal law in determining the appropriate reading media for a child. Without a reliable instrument to measure vision as it relates to reading, this most crucial decision is made by the side which has the most power; frequently this means the school. To create a test that would help parents and others who participate in the construction of a child’s individualized education plan, the National Reading Media Assessment was created. Because the National Federation of the Blind was the prime mover in constructing the test and seeing that it conformed to the traditional standards that indicate whether a test is both valid and reliable, some organizations have taken the position that the test is biased toward Braille, ignoring the fact that one of the test’s recommendations may be that a child learn print or even that both print and Braille are appropriate. Some have taken the position that individualized education as mandated by the law means there is no room for applying a standardized test to blind children. Still others have gone on record opposing the test with the argument that the National Reading Media Assessment is the only standardized test available and that blind students, their parents, and those who teach them should have more than one test from which to choose. If having another standardized and validated test is the answer, one would think it better to create that test than to oppose the use of an instrument which is already available. The need to determine whether Braille, print, or a combination of both is critical given what we know about the limited window of opportunity which exists not only to give students the ability to read but the ability for them to do so rapidly and to consider the reading experience second nature.

Carlton Walker is a first-rate lawyer, a stellar educator, and a mother who is committed to seeing that her daughter can read and write competitively. Carlton is also the manager of Braille education for the National Federation of the Blind, and all of her training and life experience make her the ideal person to explain the law, reading assessments, key words we too often hear but do not understand, and the undeniable requirement that our children leave school armed with the tools and techniques that will let them compete in twenty-first-century America. Here is what she says:

Literacy serves as the foundation for education at all levels. Independent reading and writing allows people to interact with and compose text so that they may more fully and comfortably understand information they receive and may more easily and effectively express their thoughts in written form. Most people use print to meet their literacy needs. These sighted people can easily access print in a variety of lighting situations, can read it at efficient rates, and do not experience physical pain (in eyes, neck, shoulders, or back) as a result of reading for one to two hours at a time.  

However, print is not consistently effective and efficient for everyone. For years, blind people were forced to use raised line print letters to read, and there was no means of independent writing available. Luckily, Louis Braille created a tactile code which provides full and rich literacy without the use of vision. Though it took some time, sighted educators of blind students eventually realized the power of Braille to enrich the educational opportunities and enhance the quality of life for blind people. Schools for the blind began to teach Braille to blind children, and those Braille readers began to succeed in life. Unfortunately, many of the schools still forced students with residual vision to use enlarged print rather than Braille. When blind and low-vision students began attending their neighborhood schools, this avoidance of Braille instruction intensified.

Advances in technology and the increased availability of audio information led some to believe that Braille was no longer needed. They believed that it was reasonable to withhold Braille literacy from blind and low-vision students, even though sighted students are still offered access to print literacy despite audio options in this technologically-advanced world.

Members of the National Federation of the Blind have long understood the vital importance of access to efficient and effective literacy for students whose vision was impaired enough to require special education through an individualized educational plan (IEP). In 1997 the US Congress amended federal law to require that all these students receive Braille, “unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child” 20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii). This section of federal law is commonly referred to as the “Braille Provision” and will be so referenced throughout this article.

While the wording of this law is clear, few schools follow its dictates. In reality students do not receive Braille instruction upon identification as a student with the disability of “visual impairment, including blindness.” Schools refuse to provide federally-mandated Braille instruction until after an assessment is performed. Worse, the assessment that schools used for this purpose, the Learning Media Assessment (LMA), was not appropriate for this task, as discussed more fully below.

In view of this discrepancy between legal requirements and educational practice, the United States Department of Education (USDOE) issued a “dear colleague letter” on June 19, 2013, clarifying that the law is to be followed and that the Braille Provision is the right of every child with the disability of “visual impairment, including blindness.” For those who wish to read the letter in its entirety, it is available at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/brailledcl-6-19-13.pdf. The USDOE noted that the law requires that, “evaluation of vision status … should be thorough and rigorous, include a data-based media assessment” (Id. at 3.) and specifically highlighted the law that non-student-centered concerns, like the availability of qualified personnel, large print, and audio materials, “may not be used to deny Braille instruction to a child.” (Id. at 4.)

The development of the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA) provided the field of blindness education a much-needed tool for assessing Braille appropriateness. The NRMA was designed to adequately, specifically, and objectively assess whether instruction in Braille would be inappropriate for the student.

The Learning Media Assessment

After field tests in 1992 and 1993, the text Learning Media Assessment, by Alan J. Koenig, EdD and M. Cay Holbrook, PhD was first published by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in October of 1993. Its second and most recent edition was published fourteen months later and will be the document discussed below. That text set forth an assessment, also called “Learning Media Assessment,” which will be referred to by its acronym for the remainder of this article.

While the LMA was developed before the Braille Provision, its text acknowledges that, “students will be provided Braille reading and writing instruction if they will benefit from such instruction.” As noted above, current federal law requires Braille use and instruction unless the IEP team finds, based upon an assessment of current and future reading and writing needs, that Braille use and instruction are inappropriate for the student. Despite the fact that this wording has been federal law for almost two decades, the LMA has remained unchanged and has never been updated to comport with the requirements of the Braille Provision. Additionally, the LMA exhorts teachers to continually monitor literacy appropriateness, but current federal law requires further assessment only when an IEP team seeks to withhold from a student the right to learn and use Braille. However, failure to keep up-to-date with federal law is not the only shortcoming of the LMA.

The developers of the LMA acknowledge that literacy media is a part of the overall umbrella of learning media (Learning Media Assessment at page 1 and 7), but the LMA undermines access to literacy for blind or low-vision students by mixing non-literacy factors with literacy indicators. For example, if a child recognizes others using primarily visual means, that is considered an indication that the child’s primary literacy medium is visual (Learning Media Assessment, page 187). Similarly, a child’s visual exploration of a toy or object, visual identification of objects, and exhibition of interest in pictures primarily using vision are all considered indicators that the child’s primacy literacy (reading and writing) medium is visual (print), (Id.).

Using vision to identify individuals is in no way an indicator that a child will be able to read print for hours on end as an adult. Visual identification of people is a relatively short-lived activity and does not necessitate the rapid discernment of complex shapes which is required for print reading. People do not utilize fine details to visually identify people they know. Instead, shapes, body movements, and hairstyle or outfits are often clues blind and low-vision children use for identification. More than once, my daughter ran up to men with beards and moustaches calling them “Daddy,” and she failed to identify me at four feet when I had changed clothes in the middle of the day. Yet her first LMA reported that her primary use of vision to identify people indicated that she did not need Braille instruction.

By equating the use of vision with print use, the LMA ignores the very real impact of behavioral imprinting upon children. Most blind children with residual vision grow up in homes, or at least communities, with typically-sighted adults and peers. These children see adult’s and peer’s visual behaviors and, not surprisingly, imitate them. Moreover, many of these children receive little to no modeling of tactual exploration of objects. Thus, it should come as no surprise that most blind children with residual vision use their residual vision—even when it is not efficient to do so.

The LMA does recognize this lack of opportunity to learning tactual skills to an extent and warns that the number of visual behaviors is not dispositive. However, the direction in such a case is to consider providing “diagnostic teaching” of tactual skills to determine if the child will develop tactual skills rather than to simply begin teaching the child Braille (which should have happened the day that child was identified as needing special education for “visual impairment, including blindness”).

The LMA also fails to compare the visual behaviors observed with those of typically-sighted children. Exploring a toy visually within a few inches of one’s face provides no information as to whether print (of any size) will be an efficient and effective means of reading and writing for a lifetime. In the LMA example for “Initial Selection of Literacy Medium,” the LMA proffers a child, “Kevin,” who uses the following viewing distances:

Identification of objects:
            Accurate visual identification of objects:
                        Object size: greater than two to three inches
                        Distance: about two inches
            Accurate tactual identification of objects:
                        Object size: objects identified visually
Normal Visual working distances:
            Classroom materials (such as wall clocks, calendars): no greater than six inches
            Reading/looking at pictures: two to three inches
            Writing/drawing/coloring: two to three inches

Additional observations (include implications of visual condition and additional disabilities): Kevin relies heavily on vision to accomplish near tasks but is accurate in use of tactual skills when requested. He has had little experience with Braille or tactually interesting materials. He would tactually explore if requested; accurate identification of objects when tactual exploration occurred.
Learning Media Assessment, page 46.

Kevin used a working distance of two or three inches in almost every task where typical working distance would be ten to fourteen inches. Two to three inches is an exceptionally short working distance, and its use can lead to eye strain, eye fatigue, and neck and back problems. Also, Kevin exhibited competence with tactual tasks, even though he had no experience with them.

When I read this assessment, it was clear that this student would absolutely benefit from Braille instruction and that Braille instruction was not “inappropriate” for him. In fact, my experience as a teacher of blind students and as the parent of a blind child have taught me that Kevin will almost certainly need Braille in order to keep up with reading tasks, even in first grade. Nevertheless, the LMA developers indicate that it is not clear whether Kevin would benefit from Braille instruction. They advise as follows:

The decision to begin reading instruction in Braille or in print is difficult in this situation and, indeed, cannot be made at this time. Kevin will need continued diagnostic teaching in reading to evaluate his use of visual and tactual skills before the most efficient reading medium for him can be determined. He should receive instruction to increase his sensory skills and learn to apply them in both print and Braille reading readiness activities. Following diagnostic teaching emphasizing sensory development, a clear pattern may emerge that will indicate Kevin’s most efficient reading medium. It is important to allow enough time for a preferred sensory channel to become evident, even if he is older when a determination is made. If a clear pattern of preference has not emerged by the end of the first semester of first grade, the educational team may wish to consider emphasizing print, with the option of providing supplemental instruction in Braille reading in the future, if indicated during continuing assessment.
Learning Media Assessment, page 48.

Reading this, I was flabbergasted. A two- to three-inch working distance with toys (which, as noted above, are far less visually complex than are print letters) is a strong indication that print will not be an efficient literacy medium for this student at any grade level, and it certainly is not evidence that Braille instruction is “inappropriate” for Kevin. However, the developers of the LMA simply cannot accept that Braille is appropriate for Kevin, and they even advise concentrating on print instruction if Kevin does not pick up tactual skills quickly enough. It is notable that these developers provide no research basis for their assessment or the conclusions they draw from it. They reference a case study, but there is no evidence that Kevin was able to use print to efficiently and effectively perform all of his educational and employment tasks.

Luckily, the Braille Provision does not force children to earn the right to Braille instruction. By including in the assessment factors which are irrelevant to current and future reading and writing needs, the LMA renders itself inappropriate for use as an assessment required by the Braille Provision.

Unfortunately, despite the significant shortcomings of the LMA and despite its failure to adhere to federal law for almost two decades, most teachers in the field of blindness education rely on it to provide information required by the Braille Provision.

The National Reading Media Assessment

The National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA) takes an entirely different approach to the assessment required by the Braille Provision. The NRMA focuses upon visual tasks which are relevant to reading and writing.

First, the NRMA seeks information about a student’s visual functioning compared to typically-sighted students. Significant departures from visual performance indicate that vision may not be an efficient tool for the student. The developers of the NRMA recognized that children will use vision even when it is neither as efficient nor as effective as alternative methods. They recognized that children might choose inefficient vision because they grow up in a visual world and may not have mastered more efficient nonvisual techniques. Thus, by seeking information about the efficiency of vision, the NRMA more accurately assesses whether print will be able to efficiently and effectively serve the current and future reading and writing needs of a student.

Next, the NRMA utilizes five different answers for the reporting of statements concerning observed behavior: always, usually, sometimes, rarely, and never. Developers of the NRMA discarded the binary yes/no answer system in favor of this reporting scale based upon information gathered in the first pilot study of the NRMA. Edward C. Bell, PhD, Jessica V. Ewell, and Natalia M. Mino. "National Reading Media Assessment for Youth with Visual Impairments: Research Report." 2013. The research can be found at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir13/ jbir030201.html. This answering scale eliminates the subjective determination of the nature of an act and simply requests an estimate regarding the behavior’s frequency.

Samples of the observational questions, which should be answered with one of the five frequency statements, include the following:

Child “leans in or bends over, in order to view near objects?” “Do you have problems seeing the cursor on the computer screen if you are sitting up straight (not leaning in)?” “The student shows signs of fatigue, such as a decrease in reading speed, tearing eyes, etc., the longer he/she reads?” and “Student writes legibly in manuscript, cursive, or both, depending on the child’s age, using standard ink pen or pencil commensurate with sighted peers?”

Additionally, the NRMA requires standardization of environment for assessment. As its developers point out, “Standardized conditions (i.e., eighteen-point font, normal lighting, and good posture) are to be used throughout the assessment process in measuring the youth’s visual reading efficiency to insure that appropriate accommodations and/or interventions may be recommended. It becomes counterproductive to allow extra bright lighting, magnification, high contrast, and similar accommodations to be employed during the assessment process as these interventions cloud a clear understanding of visual reading efficiency and prevent accurate assessment results. Providing standardized conditions ensures that the assessment results will provide the student’s educational team with the information they need to make crucial decisions about the child’s educational needs.” As stated in the NRMA “Quick Start Guide,” available at https://www.nfbnrma.org/admin/users/nrma-quick-start-guide-accessible.pdf.

The NRMA is easy to administer, requires standardized (reliable) conditions, and, unlike the LMA, is available free of charge. The NRMA employs observational questionnaires, using the frequency scale noted above, which are tailored to parents/guardians, classroom teachers, students, and educators of blind students. Results of these objective questionnaires are combined to produce a score indicating whether the student’s literacy medium should be Braille, Dual Media (Braille and print), or print. This recommendation is then added to information regarding the student’s visual ability, eye condition, stability of vision, and other factors to help the IEP team meet its duties under the Braille Provision.

Attacks on the NRMA

This summer, two organizations, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), passed resolutions openly attacking the NRMA. The common basis of their attacks is the growing movement in many states to require research-based, standardized assessments under the Braille Provision. These proposed state laws seek to provide students who receive special education services based upon identification of having the disability of “visual impairment, including blindness” the same access to high-quality assessments that every other child in this nation, both typically-developing and those with disabilities, have.

ACB’s resolution is titled, “Appropriate Learning Media Assessments,” and AER’s resolution is titled, “Advocacy for Appropriate Learning Media Assessments.” The titles of these anti-NRMA resolutions underscore the fundamental misunderstanding of these groups about the subject matter of their resolutions. As noted above, the Braille presumption found in federal law requires evaluations of current and future reading and writing media. Nowhere in federal law are “learning media assessments” referenced or condoned. Instead, federal law calls for evaluations of literacy media, not learning media. For some reason, the proponents of these resolutions wish to abrogate federal law. Their failure to understand the requirements of a federal law which has been in effect for almost two decades indicates that one may not feel comfortable relying upon their conclusions. Indeed, one might reasonably conclude that either they do not understand what is clearly articulated in the law or that their judgement is clouded by other matters, which may include political considerations and an attempt to maintain their status quo in which print is presumed to be the preferred media. It would be quite unfortunate and unsettling if they are willing to stand in the way of accepted and time-tested principles recognized by the rest of the education community for purposes unrelated to preparing blind and low vision students for education, employment, and life.

Opponents of the NRMA also claim that the standard conditions it requires prove a fatal flaw. In making this claim, the ACB and AER show that they fail to understand basic special education law. Federal law instructs us that: “Assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this section . . . are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis; . . . are provided and administered in the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is not feasible to so provide or administer; . . . are used for purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable; . . . are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and . . . are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of such assessments;” 20 U.S.C. section 1414(b)(3)(A)(i)-(v). The NRMA meets each of these five criteria, but the LMA, at best, meets only three of them.

If we were to accept the NRMA’s opponents’ flawed requirements for accommodations for evaluations, there could be no valid evaluations. Imagine the standard vision examination by an eye care professional. These evaluations are performed under standard conditions in the office, using controlled lighting and controlled distance. Would an eye care professional allow a patient who said, “I can’t really see that big letter on top. Let me get a little closer, or let me get my magnifier. Then I can tell you.”? Of course not. The entire concept of acuity (20/20) has to do with what every typically-sighted person sees at twenty feet. A person with decreased acuity of 20/200 (meeting the definition of legal blindness) needs to be no further than twenty feet away from an object to see it as well as a typically-sighted individual can from two hundred feet away. As a society we accept and demand standardized conditions in virtually all situations. It is puzzling and distressing that the ACB and AER do not feel that our children with visual impairment, including blindness, are worthy of benefiting from these practices that are intended to measure and through measurement to enhance the chances for one to be competitive and productive.

Under ideal circumstances, the LMA meets the first criterion (non-discriminatory administration), the fourth (trained administrators), and the fifth (administered according to directions). As shown above, the directions for the LMA are flawed and significantly biased against Braille, but following those directions would technically meet these criteria.

The standardization of environmental conditions required by the NRMA meets the second criterion of the law—its requirement for the evaluation to be administered in a manner most likely to yield accurate information on what the child can do. The LMA’s acceptance (and even encouragement) of using non-standard environmental and testing conditions fails this requirement. The ACB and AER opine that students are entitled to individualized accommodations in assessments, so non-standard conditions should be permitted. However, the individualization of accommodations is predicated upon a documentation of the accommodation needed. Such documentation is garnered through standardized evaluations as set forth in federal law. Non-standard conditions prevent the acquisition of reliable information regarding a student’s abilities in the area of evaluation and subsequent need for accommodations. In other words, without a standard assessment, how can we know what individual accommodations a student will need?

The individualization lauded by the ACB and AER is not present in the evaluation of students with other disabilities. Again, federal law requires the five criteria listed above for all evaluations which are performed to determine if a child has a disability covered by IDEA at 20 U.S.C. section 1414(a)(1)(C)(i)(I) and “to determine the educational needs of the child” at 20 U.S.C. section 1414(a)(1)(C)(i)(II) and section 1414(2)(A). For example, students with suspected specific learning disabilities in the area of reading are not offered the “individualized accommodation” of having a reading passage read aloud to them. While the student might need that accommodation on state assessments, the IEP team will not garner useful information about the student’s possible disability in reading if the student receives an accommodation which masks the impact of the disability in the evaluation process. Federal law ensures that all students with suspected disabilities will be evaluated on matters relating to those disabilities with instruments designed to yield accurate information. For some reason the ACB and AER do not believe that blind/low vision students deserve this same protection.

The NRMA also meets the third criterion for evaluations under federal law, that they be valid and reliable, but the LMA does not. As noted above, the LMA has been in use for more than two decades (since 1994). However, in that time period, the LMA has not been shown to be either valid or reliable in determining whether Braille use and instruction are inappropriate for children with the disability of “visual impairment, including blindness.” In stark contrast, the NRMA has met these requirements.

Reliability describes an instrument’s ability to provide the same results based upon similar input or its consistency. For example, a scale is reliable if it indicates the same weight every time a particular item is placed upon it. The weight shown may be wrong, but the answer is consistent (reliable). The NRMA meets this test of reliability; the LMA has not.

Validity refers to the ability of an instrument to accurately measure that which it purports to measure. Of course, the instrument must be reliable in order to be valid, but validity goes further than mere consistency. The NRMA has demonstrated content validity (it measures functional vision for the purpose of reading and writing), concurrent validity (the result of the questionnaires corresponds to the final recommendation), and construct-related validity (the NRMA yields results which are equally valid regardless of student gender, race, age, grade level, or presence of a specific learning disability). (NRMA citation noted earlier.) Again, despite being used for almost a quarter of a century, the LMA has not been shown to be a valid evaluation of whether Braille is inappropriate for a student with visual impairment, including blindness.

The ACB and AER complain that more than one instrument should be used for evaluation purposes. I could not agree more. However, the fact is that the field of blindness education currently has only one instrument to evaluate whether Braille use and instruction are inappropriate which meets the requirements of federal law.

Through their resolutions, the ACB and AER have demonstrated that they want to turn back the clock and rob our students of their federally-protected rights to quality evaluations and to Braille instruction and use. They try to obfuscate the issue by waxing poetic about individualization, despite the clear federal mandate that evaluations of disability must be standardized, reliable, and valid. One hopes that their positions evince a fundamental misunderstanding of federal law and professional standards in educational evaluation and not purposeful avoidance of the rights of blind children. Regardless, we must not allow our children’s opportunities for success to be derailed by actors trying to strip them of their federal rights.

Remembering Mike Freeman

by David Andrews

From the Editor: Mike Freeman was a member of the National Federation of the Blind for whom I had tremendous respect. I loved his remarkable intellect, his friendliness, and his willingness to debate philosophy interminably. He was a staunch Federationist, who thought that one of his responsibilities as a fully engaged and participating member was to be able to debate both sides of any issue, sometimes making me wonder whether he agreed with the Federation’s position until I challenged it and found him to be not only a proponent for it but a defender of the process that caused us to arrive at it.

About the only thing that Mike Freeman and I could never come to agreement on was his conviction that the world was rapidly going to hell in a handbasket and that the use of the graphical user interface and all its accompanying visual prompts were nothing more than eye candy to placate sighted people who, like the blind, were suffering their own kind of literacy crisis.

I have tremendous admiration for David Andrews and appreciate his authoring of this article. As the longtime moderator of NFBNET, David Andrews, assisted by Mike Freeman and Steve Jacobson, has spent countless hours reading hundreds of thousands of messages and trying to represent the views and the accomplishments of the Federation. It is with tremendous gratitude that I received Dave’s article and feel the same pleasure in presenting it for the benefit of readers. Here is what Dave says:

On the morning of Monday, December 26, 2016, I checked my email, as usual, to make sure that everything was going well on our many internet mailing lists. I was shocked to see the following message on NFBWATLK, the mailing list for the NFB of Washington state:

It is with a heavy heart that I write to share the news that our friend and longtime Federationist Mike Freeman passed away last Saturday. As many of you know Mike had been diagnosed with terminal cancer last summer and had been undergoing treatment. In the last few weeks his spirits had been high, his treatment had been going pretty well, and he was planning to attend the NFB Washington Seminar next month. In the end it was his heart that gave out. Mike dedicated his life to helping blind children and adults realize their dreams. Mike requested that there be no service, so we will respect his wishes. I will forward more information when I have it. Please keep Connie and Shanti in your thoughts and prayers.

Marci Carpenter, President
NFB of Washington
mjc59 at comcast.net

The previous Tuesday, December 20, I and most of the other members of the NFB Research and Development (R&D) Committee had participated on a conference call with employees of HIMS Inc. to discuss the future development of their notetakers. Mike had participated actively and sounded good. Further, I hadn’t known about his cancer diagnosis or treatment, so Marci’s message came as quite a surprise!

I feel like I have known Mike forever. This is in part because of his work as a “human sign” at national conventions. I can still hear his extraordinarily deep voice intoning “This way out” in the registration area.

Mike was always there for me. He was an active user, supporter, and promoter of NFBNET from day one back in June of 1991. Around 2002, when my life became busier with marriage and the adoption of two kids, Mike and Steve Jacobson stepped in to help me with the monitoring of our lists. We split up the work as volunteers until 2009 when I took it over completely again. Mike and Steve still helped after that, watching a few lists each and substituting for me when I traveled. Over the years Mike probably read hundreds of thousands of messages and responded willingly and knowledgeably to many of them.

In 2005 when I had some difficulties in my personal life, Mike was there as a friend. Recently when I slipped over the borderline and was identified as a type 2 diabetic, Mike was there with advice and support.

Mike, who was sixty-eight at the time of his passing, grew up in Washington, attended Reed College, and got a master’s degree in physics from New Mexico State University. This is also presumably where he developed his love of Mexican food.

Mike worked for many years for the federal government as a computer programmer, being quite proficient in assembly language programming, which is just one level removed from being able to speak in the ones and zeroes that constitute machine talk. He was musically accomplished, playing many instruments; read voraciously; and was a die-hard baseball fan. Mike held his ham radio license for more than fifty years and was an active member of the Clark County Ham Radio Club. He also spoke multiple languages, at least three in addition to English.

Mike was the president of the NFB of Washington for many years, serving first in 1996 and 1998 and from 2003 to 2014. He was also on the national board of directors from 2009 to 2014. As proud as he was of these jobs, he enjoyed a special sense of accomplishment in his work with the Washington state legislature, serving for much of his Federation career as the NFB of Washington’s legislative chairman.

When Mike took something on, he dug in, did his part, and became an expert. A number of years ago, Mike found out that he was a diabetic. He buckled down, learned about his new condition, and was soon the president of the NFB’s Diabetes Action Network (DAN). He was well informed, practical, and helped many of us deal with diabetes.

Gary Wunder, Editor of the Braille Monitor, had this to say about Mike: “He was a man terribly gifted with a good IQ, well read, a big heart, and whose biggest stumbling block was that he not only enjoyed but embraced being a curmudgeon. I found him a visionary whose self-concept often found him saying that we should be careful about too easily looking to someone else when the solutions might lie within our grasp, that they might not always be the easy ones, but if we could handle them independently, we would spend far less time worrying about the responsiveness of others, and, after all, they were our needs to meet.”

Personally, I don’t think Mike was a curmudgeon to be difficult—at least most of the time—but because he believed in self-reliance and the power of the individual. He thought people should just get on with it, take care of business, and he was there to help you if you needed it. He also staunchly believed in the power of collective action through the NFB. While he worked with technology in his career and was a longtime member of the NFB R&D Committee, he never lost sight of good basic alternative techniques. I can’t count the times on our lists that he urged people to use a human reader, or an “amanuensis” as he called her. While he embraced technology and was as good with it as anyone, he knew that it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. His fear was that we would become so reliant on technology that we would overlook other means to get the job done and thereby pass up many opportunities which often are far too limited for people who are blind.

I, for one, will miss Mike and his deep rumbling voice. Thanks for all you did!

The Quest for Normal Independence

by Chris Nusbaum

From the Editor: This was the keynote presentation made at the 2016 meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) meeting held at the 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Chris Nusbaum is no stranger to those who regularly read these pages, but Melissa Riccobono’s introduction serves well to refresh our memories.

Introduction by Melissa Riccobono: I met Chris Nusbaum years ago at an NFB of Maryland convention. He was a little boy, full of questions about everything. I remember he was very curious about my guide dog.

Chris's parents had been involved with the NFB from the time he was a baby. But it was when Chris attended an NFB program called the LAW program, Leadership and Advocacy in Washington, that he actually began to learn about NFB history and do some advocacy on our issues. That was when the NFB became Chris's NFB. It wasn't just for his parents anymore. He transitioned to become a full member of the organization. He realized what the NFB could do for him, and he understood that it could be more powerful if he became part of that building process.

Chris now is a high school graduate. He is on the board of the National Association of Blind Students, and he is president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students. In the fall he is not going to go straight to college. First he is going to get some quality training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I would like to introduce to you Chris Nusbaum:

Thank you, Melissa, and thank you to the leadership of the NOPBC. It's a great honor to speak with you today. I've been asked to talk with you about my educational journey and transition into adulthood. Those of you who know me well will know that I am hopelessly devoted to our NFB history. Forgive me for giving in to temptation and referencing my favorite speech from one of our former presidents, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.

In his 1993 speech "The Nature of Independence," Dr. Jernigan proposed that there are three stages through which a blind person must travel in order to become truly independent: fear and insecurity, rebelious independence, and finally, normal independence. Not everybody reaches the third stage. Each stage is inevitable for a blind person's evolution from helplessness and despair to confidence and hope.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with education and transitioning into adulthood? I can answer by pointing out the number of times we hear the word independence when we talk about parenting and educating blind children. Independent travel. Independence in daily living. Improving independence in the classroom. IEP goals talk about independently completing this or that task at school. The word is pervasive in the blindness field, even at this very convention!

Since independence is the primary topic of concern related to transitioning into adulthood, I think it is imperative that we begin with a workable definition of the term. Dr. Jernigan's three stages are the best definition I can find.

So at the risk of stealing an idea from a much better speaker than I am, I'd like to expand on Dr. Jernigan's theme as I talk about my own educational journey. I want to touch on how I have gone through each of these three phases in my life so far.

I am totally blind and have been since birth. Naturally, my journey in the world of blindness education began at a very early age. I had what all the other blind kids had at that time: infant and toddler services, a special ed-affiliated preschool program, a TVI and cane travel teacher, and all the rest. I also was blessed with some benefits which, unfortunately, many blind children do not have. I had supportive and determined parents, a TVI who also served as an advocate for higher expectations, and a one-on-one aide who used her position to encourage my freedom rather than to stifle it. Most importantly, through my family and my teacher, I had an early connection with the National Federation of the Blind.

I didn't think about blindness much in those early years. When I did, I knew one thing for certain: I knew that it is okay to be blind! I didn't know it then, but I know now that even in kindergarten my parents were teaching me the philosophy they had learned from the Federation.

Then school began. I have always been mainstreamed, and I am thankful for that every day. But I remember learning in school that I was somehow different. All the other kids talked about what they could see, and for some reason I had no idea what they were talking about. But that was okay, I thought. I had already learned from my parents that blindness wasn't going to stop me from achieving my dreams.

In the summer after first grade, when I was six years old, I went to my first blindness-related camp. It was a now-defunct program that sought to teach the basics of independence to blind elementary students. This was my first time living away from home. Though I was excited about the experience, I was afraid to do most of the things they asked me to do. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that I ended that week more afraid and insecure than I was when I began. Not only did I feel unsure of my capabilities as a blind person; I also felt that I was a failure, that I couldn't live up to the standards of independence that were expected of me.

Looking back, I think the people who ran that program had their hearts in the right place. However, they may not have had much experience teaching young children. They didn't know how to meet me where I was and gently guide me toward independence. When I heard their claims of adherence to NFB philosophy, my six-year-old mind was made up. I wanted nothing to do with that organization, and I had no intention of doing anything with its people ever again!

I continued with this mindset through elementary school and into middle school. I was content with who I was and where I was in terms of blindness skills. I didn't expect that I would make much more progress. My teachers seemed to think of me as a pretty bright kid. I was into acting and music and other extracurricular activities, and I had a tightly knit circle of friends. As far as I was concerned, I was doing pretty well.

Adults and students alike started to call me amazing and inspiring. I bought every word, basking in the glory of being that courageous blind kid. Still, lurking beneath that contented façade was that same underlying fear and insecurity—fear of failure, fear of frustration, fear of the future. These fears kept me complacent, and they resigned me to the status quo. After all, if I could be amazing without even trying, why waste the effort of raising the bar?

As adolescence approached, I began to yearn again for a community of blind people who would understand the unique problems I faced. Yet, in all my stubbornness, I was determined that that community would not be found in the National Federation of the Blind.

All that changed in the spring of seventh grade. For four short days I participated in my first Jernigan Institute youth program, the LAW Program. It changed my life! There I met mentors who showed me for the first time how I, too, can live the life I want. They gave me a reason to raise my expectations of myself. Most importantly, I met the Federation for what it truly is—a family that loves each other, encourages each other, and works together toward a common goal. I knew then that my passion is for the work of our community. That passion has fueled much of my energy for the past five years. I will confess, however, that I returned from my NFB LAW Program experience with a little bit of rebellious independence.

Armed with the new skills I had learned, along with the brashness of a teenager, I wanted to prove to the world that I could do absolutely everything on my own! I think during this period I could be likened to a toddler who, faced with a challenging task, proclaims, "I do it myself!" [Laughter]

Fortunately, this attitude changed as I went through high school. I learned even more skills at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the Buddy and STEP programs. I learned that the can-do attitude with which I had been instilled in the LAW program is just as applicable to me as it is to anybody else.

Most importantly, my parents and my Federation friends taught me to make my own decisions. This may seem strangely simple, but it is crucial. For the first time I learned that I could choose for myself what my independence would look like. I learned that it is okay to have my own informed opinions, even if those opinions differ from those of my parents or my teachers.

By learning this essential skill, I have been able to serve as my own advocate, making it clear to my sighted teachers and peers what I can do and what I truly need. In short, I am now able to say with confidence, "I can do this, and here's how I'd like to do it." To me, then, this ability to make choices is the best indicator that I have reached the stage of normal independence.

So as I stumble my way into adulthood, I reflect that I'm about as ready as I'll ever be. There are certainly many perks to childhood, and no longer having them will take some getting use to. However, because of the skills I have learned, the confidence I have gained during my educational journey, both in and out of the classroom, I know I can meet the challenges of adulthood with confidence, determination, and optimism.

There is still a great deal of work to be done, but I'll get through it, even if it takes nine months in Louisiana. There is still much to learn, and I'm eager to learn it. Above all, I know for certain that I can live the life I want and that I have a nationwide family that will be with me every step of the way.

In closing, what advice can I offer you as parents to help your blind child make a smooth transition into adulthood? When you get right down to it, it's really quite simple. First, come to know for yourself that it's okay to be blind, and show your child that positive attitude by word and by example from a young age. Second, start teaching the skills of blindness at home from the beginning. Nurture at home the skills that are taught at school throughout the childhood years. Third, teach your child to make his or her own decisions. Allow your child to succeed or fail on his or her own merit. This will help your child develop the decision-making skills that are essential for full, normal independence. Finally, and most importantly, get connected and get your child connected with the loving, supportive, edifying family that is the National Federation of the Blind.

As many of you already know, the Federation and our philosophy have the power to change lives. Let your kids experience that change for themselves. When we commit ourselves to these core principles, I believe you and I, working together through the collective action of this great movement, can and will ensure that the next generation of blind people can live the lives they want.

Challenges of Aging

by Annie Schlesinger

From the Editor: For far too many seniors, blindness becomes the ultimate assault on their independence and the ultimate insult as life takes away things that once made it meaningful. Annie Schlesinger doesn’t intend to let it do that. She knows what problems aging may send her way, but she knows how to think, knows how to plan, and knows how to ask those who can help her with strategies and inspiration. Although I interviewed Annie with an eye toward writing this headnote, I think that I can do no better than Bob Kresmer in what he says about her. “Annie Schlesinger is a long-time member of the NFB of Arizona and has served on the board of the Tucson chapter. She is very active in the chapter and is a leader of a vision loss support group in her retirement residence, where she has lived for five years. She is also involved in community activities and keeps her mind and body in tiptop shape. She is a well-kempt woman who dresses in a very nice hat for every occasion. She is a real friend!” Here is the candid and inspirational article she has asked the Braille Monitor to consider publishing, and we are honored that she wrote and submitted it:

Two years after Arthur died I, at age seventy-five, moved into a large senior retirement complex. I love it! We have transportation to stores and to medical care, fifteen meals included per month, activities, and more.

Now at age eighty, retinitis pigmentosa leaves me with a small circle of hazy but still useful vision. I am preparing for when it is gone. As a member of the NFB I pride myself on being independent, but, as total blindness approaches, I am anticipating difficulties coping with blindness and consequences of the aging process I see going on around me.

Being in a senior development is both inspiring and scary. Many residents are active and independent; some volunteer here and at outside facilities. We shop, go to appointments, and enjoy playing cards and entertainments. But I observe changes in my fellow residents and me. Forgetfulness has a huge impact: forgetting to take medications, forgetting appointments, even forgetting to drink enough water affects health. We become hard of hearing and must manage hearing aids including changing batteries. Hearing aids require dexterity in inserting them. No one told me constipation (or colonic inertia, as my brother correctly called it) could be an ongoing problem that must be managed. I may be faced with urinary incontinence; the Depends are ready!

I am a competent cane traveler. When I moved here, I admired the ubiquitous rollators and walkers that are used for balance. As I watched them I wondered how I could use a walker with my long white cane if my balance gets bad. An O&M instructor told me some end up in a wheelchair when balance becomes unsafe. No no no! But I know that some use a support cane along with the long white cane. Now I have had training in using the canes together. It takes practice and slows my walk, but I hope it will enable me to keep on the go.

The thought came to me that it might be possible to use my four-wheel cart to help my balance, the one I pull behind me to carry groceries to my apartment. Bob Kresmer, past president of the Arizona affiliate, told me that there is a technique developed to use a walker and the long cane, which I will investigate.

Our complexity of life seems to increase. I use the iPhone, but will I be able to adapt as the system changes? Older brains are less efficient in areas of learning, memory, and problem solving. From learning psychology I remember, "You can teach an old dog new tricks; it just takes longer."

Motivation is key to learning; many of my neighbors are content in their niche. Some who used a computer have given it up. I am motivated to adapt now, but will this continue?

I am pursuing two paths to keep track of appointments and maintain lists. Along with using the iPhone, I am looking at low-tech methods such as Braille tape on a magnetic board. I have used a digital recorder for notes. I journey on, and look forward to tomorrow's challenges!

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 Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship

by Patti S. Gregory-Chang

From the Editor: Patti Chang is the chairman of one of the most important committees of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her committee are charged with advertising our scholarship program and choosing thirty students who evidence academic success, leadership, and a demonstrated commitment to helping others. Here is Patti’s announcement about the 2017 scholarship program:

Each July at our national convention the National Federation of the Blind gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. We offer thirty scholarships, and all are substantial and prestigious enough to warrant any student’s time to complete and compete. Our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply.

I am sometimes asked what the secret is to winning an NFB scholarship. I am going to tell you the secret. First of all, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships must be legally blind; must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall academic year; and, if chosen as a finalist, must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship activities.

Many think the key to becoming a winner is a high grade point average. Others believe it is based on participation in extracurricular activities. Still others think it is one's level of commitment to the NFB. While grade point average is important because it demonstrates the ability to learn and be successful academically, it is not the only attribute that influences the scholarship committee. Participation in extracurricular activities is important in portraying oneself as a well-rounded person; it is not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Committed members of the organization recognize the attributes that are important to committee members when determining who wins a scholarship.

The scholarship program is a tremendous tool for us to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are not restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind people. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships. When you check the lists of past winners, you will see that students of all ages and in widely differing fields have won over the years. The class of 2016 included students entering their freshman year, as well as older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. Past winners are working toward credentials for employment in diverse fields.

There is truly only one way to win an NFB scholarship: that is to apply. Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the Web at https://nfb.org/scholarships, along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The application form for 2017 is already online. It will remain up until March 31.

The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can ask for a print application by contacting our scholarship office at [email protected] or by calling (410) 659-9314, ext. 2415.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, one letter of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with the president of the applicant's state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors should also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams.

Unfortunately, some applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly. Applicants must ensure that all of the required information and supporting documentation has been received by our scholarship office either online by midnight EST, March 31, or by mail postmarked by March 31. Students should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letter of reference. A letter should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen. Students can write their essays using word processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting it into the online application form.

In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe one's personal goals for the future. Information about positions of leadership is especially helpful. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants who will become the scholarship class of 2017. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty finalists from all applications received. These thirty scholarship finalists will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1.

Finally, during the annual convention to be held July 10 through July 15, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner. Attending and participating in the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course, attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize.

The National Federation of the Blind’s national convention is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the world each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship finalists will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they ever imagined.

Often students apply more than one year before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if their scholarship and leadership merit another award. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows. The secret, if there is one, to winning an NFB scholarship is to read carefully the application on our website, and then provide all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31. However, I actually maintain that there is no secret. The only way to win an NFB scholarship is to apply.

Dots from Space!
Where No Dots Have Gone Before

by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

From the Editor: This is episode two from our serial “Dots from Space!” If you missed episode one, refer to the January 2017 issue.

A short time later, Captain Dottie and the five other crew members in the away team surround the edges of a large glass skylight. On closer inspection a loose panel is discovered and gently lifted clear.

Motioning to those around her, the captain says, “Team, we don’t know what we will find in this structure. I will go down first. Cover me and follow after I give the all-clear signal.”

As the crew stands back, Captain Dottie rolls to the edge of the opening. Quickly, while grasping the edge of the metal frame, she begins to lower her body down into the hole. Stretching out, she touches down on the floor, twenty-five feet below, before releasing her hold on the skylight above.

Rolling across the smooth marble floor, the captain quickly confirms that she is alone in what appears to be a reception area. As she explores, a small blinking light appears on the surface of her body, and a voice can be heard to say, “Captain, is everything all right down there?”

“Yes, yes, Commander. I’m fine. Judging from the height of this front desk alone, I’d say it’s pretty safe to say that the creatures who inhabited this building were close to our size and stature.”

After a brief pause, the commander tries again. “I’m glad to hear that, captain. Does that mean we can come down now?”

The captain gives her approval and within moments is joined by the other members of her away team. They find her standing motionless before a small statue of wood. Atop the statue is the chiseled likeness of one of the aliens who previously called the planet their home cast in bronze, while a long, slim wooden pole extends down along one side to the floor. Curious, the crew members all move in closer to get a better look.

The first to act, Captain Dottie reaches toward the statue, enveloping it in the folds of her clay-like body. “There is an inscription,” she murmurs in a thoughtful voice as she passes a hand-like appendage over the engraved print and embossed Braille. “Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. He told us it is respectable to be blind.”

“Blind?” the young ensign asks. “Our translator has no equivalent word for this? What do you think they mean, captain?”

“I’m not sure, Bean. I’m just not sure. What do you make of this, Doctor Spot?”

“Well, captain, it appears that we now have three mysteries to solve: What is ‘blind’? Why is this message written in two codes? And why was this place abandoned?”

“All good questions, doctor. Let’s go find out,” calls Captain Dottie as she leads the team through double doors and down the dark hallway.

Having made one last circle of the room Counselor Mote rolls toward the open double doors and picks a pamphlet up off the floor by mistake as she passes over it. Curious about the paper stuck to her body, she begins to read…

[Note: If you wish to read “The Pitfalls of Political Correctness: Euphemisms Excoriated,” by Kenneth Jernigan, Braille Monitor, August 1993, you may find it at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/
publications/ bm/ bm09/ bm0903/bm090308.htm
]

Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?

From the Editor: Though brief profiles of the members of the current board of directors can be found on our website at any time, we periodically revise and reprint in the Braille Monitor a compilation we have used for years. It includes profiles of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and members of the current NFB board of directors. It is high time to provide it again, so here it is:

Introduction

The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most significant force in the affairs of the blind today, and its actions have had an impact on many other groups and programs. The Federation's President, Mark Riccobono, radiates confidence and persuasiveness. He says, "We seek to set the pace, determine our own direction, build our own dreams, and expand the boundaries of independence—we know that together we have the power to turn dreams into reality, and it is our goal to go to the places and do the things that have not yet been done to create equality of opportunity for the blind. We recognize that it is not enough for one blind person to have training and opportunity. If one blind person faces low expectations, misconceptions, and artificial barriers based on his or her blindness than it inevitably holds all blind people back. Together we raise expectations, build opportunities, explore new horizons, celebrate new achievements, and knock down barriers in order to make sure that each of us has the opportunity to compete on terms of equality and live the lives we want.”

The National Federation of the Blind is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies. The blind are a minority in American society, and we face the same problems that other minorities must address: misconceptions as to our capabilities, our aspirations, and our ability to assume the responsibilities that go along with the rights we demand.

Although many organizations and agencies for the blind exist in the United States today, there is only one National Federation of the Blind. This organization was established in 1940 when the blind of seven states—California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—sent delegates to its first convention at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Since that time progress has been rapid and steady. The Federation is recognized by blind men and women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint expression; and today—with active affiliates in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico—it is the primary voice of the nation's blind.

To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and answered: (1) What are the conditions in the general environment of the blind which have impelled them to organize? (2) What are the purpose, belief, and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind? (3) Who are its leaders, and what are their qualifications to understand and solve the problems of blindness? Even a brief answer to these questions is instructive.

When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the blind was anything but bright. The nation's welfare system was so discouraging to individual initiative that those forced to accept public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again, and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the professions found most of the doors barred against them. The universal goodwill expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome goodwill of respect felt toward equals; it was the misguided goodwill of pity felt toward inferiors. In effect the system said to the blind, "Sit on the sidelines of life. This game is not for you. If you have creative talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them." The Federation came into being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new ways of thought concerning blindness. Although great progress has been made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done.

The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. Legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished, and equal opportunity must be made available to blind people. Because of their personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general public should be invited to participate in finding solutions. Upon these fundamentals the National Federation of the Blind predicates its philosophy.

As for the leadership of the organization, all of the officers and members of the board of directors are blind, and all give generously of their time and resources in promoting the work of the Federation. The board consists of seventeen elected members, five of whom are the constitutional officers of the organization. These members of the board of directors represent a wide cross section of the blind population of the United States. Their backgrounds are different, and their experiences vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met blindness individually and successfully in their own lives and by their united desire to see other blind people have the opportunity to do likewise. A profile of the leadership of the organization shows why it is so effective and demonstrates the progress made by blind people during the past half-century and more—for in the story of the lives of these leaders can be found the greatest testimonial to the soundness of the Federation's philosophy. The cumulative record of their individual achievements is an overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable conclusion.

Jacobus tenBroek
Founder of the National Federation of the Blind and First President
Author, Jurist, Professor, and Father

The moving force in the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, and its spiritual and intellectual father, was Jacobus tenBroek. Born in 1911, young tenBroek (the son of prairie homesteaders in Canada) lost the sight of one eye as the result of a bow-and-arrow accident at the age of seven. His remaining eyesight deteriorated until at the age of fourteen he was totally blind. Shortly afterward he and his family traveled to Berkeley so that he could attend the California School for the Blind. Within three years he was an active part of the local organization of the blind.

By 1934 he had joined Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the California Council of the Blind, which later became the National Federation of the Blind of California. This organization was a prototype for the nationwide federation that tenBroek would form six years later.

The same year the Federation was founded (1940), Jacobus tenBroek received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of California, completed a year as Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School.

Two years later he began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, becoming a full professor in 1953, chairman of the department of speech in 1955, and professor of political science in 1963. During this period Professor tenBroek published several books and more than fifty articles and monographs in the fields of welfare, government, and law—establishing a reputation as one of the nation's foremost scholars on matters of constitutional law. One of his books, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association in 1955 as the best book of the year on government and democracy. Other books are California's Dual System of Family Law (1964), Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind (1959), The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment (1951)—revised and republished in 1965 as Equal Under Law, and The Law of the Poor (edited in 1966).

In the course of his academic career Professor tenBroek was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto and was twice the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1947 he earned the degree of SJD [Doctor of Juridical Science] from Harvard Law School. In addition he was awarded honorary degrees by two institutions of higher learning.

Dr. tenBroek's lifelong companion was his devoted wife Hazel. Together they raised three children and worked inseparably on research, writing, and academic and Federation projects. Until her declining health prevented travel, Mrs. tenBroek continued as an active member of the organized blind movement. She died October 7, 2005.

In 1950 Dr. tenBroek was made a member of the California State Board of Social Welfare by Governor Earl Warren. Later reappointed to the board three times, he was elected its chairman in 1960 and served in that capacity until 1963.

The brilliance of Jacobus tenBroek's career led some skeptics to suggest that his achievements were beyond the reach of what they called the “ordinary blind person.” What tenBroek recognized in himself was not that he was exceptional, but that he was normal—that his blindness had nothing to do with whether he could be a successful husband and father, do scholarly research, write a book, make a speech, guide students engaged in social action, or otherwise lead a productive life.

Jacobus tenBroek died of cancer at the age of fifty‑six in 1968. His successor, Kenneth Jernigan, in a memorial address, said truly of him: “The relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man.

“For tens of thousands of blind Americans over more than a quarter of a century, he was leader, mentor, spokesman, and philosopher. He gave to the organized blind movement the force of his intellect and the shape of his dreams. He made it the symbol of a cause barely imagined before his coming: the cause of self-expression, self-direction, and self-sufficiency on the part of blind people. Step by step, year by year, action by action, he made that cause succeed.” 

Kenneth Jernigan
President Emeritus
Teacher, Writer, Administrator, and Father

Kenneth Jernigan was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for more than forty-six years. He was president (with one brief interruption) from 1968 until July of 1986. Even after Jernigan ceased to be president of the Federation, he continued as one of its principal leaders until his death on October 12, 1998. He was loved and respected by tens of thousands—members and nonmembers of the Federation, both blind and sighted.

Born in 1926, Kenneth Jernigan grew up on a farm in central Tennessee. He received his elementary and secondary education at the school for the blind in Nashville. After high school Jernigan managed a furniture shop in Beech Grove, Tennessee, making all the furniture and operating the business.

In the fall of 1945 Jernigan matriculated at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Active in campus affairs from the outset, he was soon elected to office in his class and to important positions in other student organizations. Jernigan graduated with honors in 1948 with a BS degree in social science. In 1949 he received a master's degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed additional graduate study. While at Peabody he was a staff writer for the school newspaper, co-founder of an independent literary magazine, and member of the Writers' Club. In 1949 he received the Captain Charles W. Browne Award, at that time presented annually by the American Foundation for the Blind to the nation's outstanding blind student.

Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the Tennessee School for the Blind. During this period he became active in the Tennessee Association of the Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee). He was elected to the vice presidency of the organization in 1950 and to the presidency in 1951. In that position he planned the 1952 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which was held in Nashville, and he then planned every NFB national convention through 1998.

In 1952 Jernigan was first elected to the NFB board of directors, and in 1953 he was appointed to the faculty of the California Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played a major role in developing the best program of its kind then in existence.

From 1958 until 1978 he served as director of the Iowa State Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for administering state rehabilitation programs, home teaching, home industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped. The improvements made in services to the blind of Iowa under the Jernigan administration have never before or since been equaled anywhere in the country.

In 1960 the Federation presented Jernigan with its Newel Perry Award for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind. In 1968 he was given a special citation by the president of the United States. Harold Russell, the chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, came to Des Moines to present the award. He said: “If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world. This statement,” the citation went on to say, “sums up the story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the Jernigan years and more pertinently of its director, Kenneth Jernigan. That narrative is much more than a success story. It is the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished—of an impossible dream become reality.”

Jernigan received too many honors and awards to enumerate individually, including honorary doctorates from four institutions of higher education. He was also asked to serve as a special consultant to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies. The most notable among these are: member of the National Advisory Committee on Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed in 1972 by the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare); special consultant on services for the blind (appointed in 1975 by the federal commissioner of rehabilitation); advisor on museum programs for blind visitors to the Smithsonian Institution (appointed in 1975); special advisor to the White House Conference on Library and Information Services (appointed in 1977 by President Gerald Ford). In July of 1990 Jernigan received an award for distinguished service from the president of the United States.

To date he has been the only person ever to be invited to deliver keynote addresses to the primary gatherings of the two worldwide blindness organizations in a single year. He spoke at the fourth quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union in August 1996 and the annual meeting of the International Council for the Education of the Visually Impaired in spring 1997. In 1998 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the first ever International Leadership Award from the American Foundation for the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Winston Gordon Award for his leadership in establishing NEWSLINE for the Blind®.

Kenneth Jernigan's writings and speeches on blindness are better known and have touched the lives of more blind people than those of any other person writing today. From 1991 until his death he edited the NFB's immensely popular series of paperbacks known as the Kernel Books. On July 23, 1975, he spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and his address was broadcast live throughout the nation on National Public Radio. Through the years he appeared repeatedly on network radio and television interview programs.

In 1978 Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become executive director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) and director of the National Center for the Blind. As president of the National Federation of the Blind at that time, he led the organization through the most impressive period of growth in its history to date. The creation and development of the National Center for the Blind and the NFB's expansion into its position today as the most influential voice and force in the affairs of the blind stand as the culmination of Kenneth Jernigan's lifework and a tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation.

From 1987 to 1997 he played an active role internationally as president of the North America/Caribbean region of the World Blind Union. He traveled widely and spoke frequently before international groups about blindness and the NFB's positive philosophy that changes lives and society.

Jernigan's dynamic wife Mary Ellen remains an active member of the Federation. She works with dedication in the movement and is known and loved by thousands of Federationists throughout the country.

Speaking at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Jernigan said of the organization and its philosophy (and also of his own philosophy):

“As we look ahead, the world holds more hope than gloom for us—and, best of all, the future is in our own hands. For the first time in history we can be our own masters and do with our lives what we will; and the sighted (as they learn who we are and what we are) can and will work with us as equals and partners. In other words we are capable of full membership in society, and the sighted are capable of accepting us as such—and, for the most part, they want to.

“We want no Uncle Toms—no sellouts, no apologists, no rationalizers; but we also want no militant hell‑raisers or unbudging radicals. One will hurt our cause as much as the other. We must win true equality in society, but we must not dehumanize ourselves in the process; and we must not forget the graces and amenities, the compassions and courtesies which comprise civilization itself and distinguish people from animals and life from existence.

“Let people call us what they will and say what they please about our motives and our movement. There is only one way for the blind to achieve first-class citizenship and true equality. It must be done through collective action and concerted effort; and that means the National Federation of the Blind. There is no other way, and those who say otherwise are either uninformed or unwilling to face the facts.

“We are the strongest force in the affairs of the blind today, and we must also recognize the responsibilities of power and the fact that we must build a world that is worth living in when the war is over—and, for that matter, while we are fighting it. In short, we must use both love and a club, and we must have sense enough to know when to do which—long on compassion, short on hatred; and, above all, not using our philosophy as a cop-out for cowardice or inaction or rationalization. We know who we are and what we must do—and we will never go back. The public is not against us. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it.” 

Marc Maurer
Immediate Past President
Attorney, Executive, and Father

Born in 1951, Marc Maurer was the second in a family of six children. His blindness was caused by overexposure to oxygen after his premature birth, but he and his parents were determined that this should not prevent him from living a full and normal life.

He began his education at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, where he became an avid Braille reader. In the fifth grade he returned home to Boone, Iowa, where he attended parochial schools. During high school (having taken all the courses in the curriculum), he simultaneously took classes at the junior college.

Maurer ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother. This last venture was so successful that his younger brother took over the business when Maurer left home.

In the summer of 1969, after graduating from high school, Maurer enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and attended his first convention of the NFB. He was delighted to discover in both places that blind people and what they thought mattered. This was a new phenomenon in his experience, and it changed his life. Kenneth Jernigan was director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind at the time, and Maurer soon grew to admire and respect him. When Maurer expressed an interest in overhauling a car engine, the Commission for the Blind purchased the necessary equipment. Maurer completed that project and actually worked for a time as an automobile mechanic. He believes today that mastering engine repair played an important part in changing his attitudes about blindness.

Maurer graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. As an undergraduate he took an active part in campus life, including election to the Honor Society. Then he enrolled at the University of Indiana School of Law, where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1977.

Maurer was elected president of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind in 1971 and reelected in 1973 and 1975. Also in 1971 at the age of twenty he was elected vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. He was elected president in 1973 and reelected in 1975.

During law school Maurer worked summers for the office of the secretary of state of Indiana. After graduation he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to accept a position as the director of the Senior Legal Assistance Project operated by ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality).

In 1978 Maurer moved to Washington, DC, to become an attorney with the Rates and Routes Division in the office of the general counsel of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Initially he worked on rates cases but soon advanced to dealing with international matters and then to doing research and writing opinions on constitutional issues and board action. He wrote opinions for the chairman and made appearances before the full board to discuss those opinions.

In 1981 he went into private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where he specialized in civil litigation and property matters. But increasingly he concentrated on representing blind individuals and groups in the courts. He has now become one of the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in the country regarding the laws, precedents, and administrative rulings concerning civil rights and discrimination against the blind. He is a member of the Bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Maryland and a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Maurer has always been active in civic and political affairs, having run for the state legislature from Baltimore. Through the years he has also served on the board of directors of his apartment complex's tenants association, the board of his community association, and the school board of his children's school. In 1981 Maurer was elected president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and served in that office until 1985. From 1984 until 1986 he served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.

An important companion in Maurer's activities and a leader in her own right is his wife Patricia. The Maurers were married in 1973, and they have two children—David Patrick, born March 10, 1984, and Dianna Marie, born July 12, 1987.

At the 1985 convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Kenneth Jernigan announced that he would not stand for re-election as president of the National Federation of the Blind the following year, and he recommended Marc Maurer as his successor. In Kansas City in 1986 the Convention elected Maurer by resounding acclamation, and he served for twenty-eight years until July of 2014. From 1997 to 2000 he also served as president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, and he chaired the WBU Committee on the Restoration of the Louis Braille Birthplace in Coupvray, France. In 2004 he became vice president of the World Blind Union North America/Caribbean Region, and in 2006 reassumed the presidency.

Maurer was honored with the Maryland Black Caucus's Leadership Award in 1985, the United States Presidential Medal for Leadership in 1990, the 1990 Heritage Award from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and the Baltimore Business Journal's 1999 Innovation Award for Excellence in Workplace Technology. Recent honors include the 2002 VME Robert Dole Award and the Daily Record's 2002 Innovator of the Year award. He joined President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in July of 2001 to celebrate the success of the NFB Everest Expedition and once again when President Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002. He received honorary degrees from California's Menlo College in 1998 and the University of Louisville in 1999. In 1987 he delivered an address at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and in 2000 he was invited to deliver addresses on civil rights at Oxford University and Birmingham University in the United Kingdom.

In his tenure as president of the National Federation of the Blind, Maurer has boldly led the organization into a new test of its resolve, beginning with the visionary expansion of the National Center for the Blind—the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, which was completed in the spring of 2004. The facility, located on the grounds of the National Center, has added more than 170,000 square feet to the NFB's headquarters. The Institute, which is the first of its kind, conceived and built by the blind for the blind, is developing innovative education, technologies, products, and services that support independence for the world's blind. One of the early products of the Institute was the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind handheld reading machine, produced in conjunction with the noted futurist and inventor, Raymond Kurzweil. Maurer's unswerving determination to succeed and his absolute conviction that the organized blind are the best-equipped people to solve the problems facing them have set the tone and are guiding the organization into this exciting new period of growth and accomplishment.

Mark Riccobono
President
Educator, Leader, Visionary, and Father

Born in 1976, Mark Riccobono is the only child of two hard-working parents of modest means. Both were high school graduates, and, although they encouraged their son and gave him an example of what persistence and hard work could do, they had no experience of higher education and no familiarity with blindness. Riccobono was diagnosed as legally blind at the age of five, glaucoma being the disease that took his sight. Although he knew he had a vision problem, as a child he never felt limited in what he could do. Being an only child just meant he relied more on friends, and his elementary years have left him with good memories. He benefited from going to his neighborhood school because his contact with children was not just at school but in play, birthday celebrations, and school holidays. His low vision meant he sometimes had to work harder, but the print was large, he got a seat in the front of the room, his teachers did what they could to help, and his friends were comfortable with their buddy who didn't see quite as well as they did. “I was comfortable in my own skin, and that made others around me comfortable as well.” The obstacles he faced and the fact that he had some limitations simply emphasized that he should do what his parents did when things got tough: they just worked hard and powered through, and powering through became an indispensable part of his personality.

Riccobono got a very good elementary education, but found himself in a rough middle school. It was probably what would be called a failing school today. Many of his elementary school friends went to other middle schools, so his social network began to evaporate. Now there were new friends to make and already established groups who had reservations about adding new members to their circles, and this further added to what was already a difficult transition. The year before he entered the school there had been a stabbing, and little emphasis was placed on academic success. This was the place where he learned to stay under the radar, to isolate himself from others, and to decide his place was in the back of the classroom, where he was less likely to be noticed or called on. There were no services to deal with vision loss, and the only accommodation he can recall receiving was a special lock for his locker that he could operate.

Without a good way to read and to see the blackboard, he learned to rely on memory, but even a good memory could not consistently deliver good test scores, and he believes that sometimes he was simply passed.

Riccobono remembers that he was sometimes challenged to do better and that often it was the math teachers who would ask more of him. But he was all too frequently allowed just to exist there in the back of the room with the students least likely to raise their hands, shout out answers, or be called upon by the classroom teacher. Riccobono describes this as learning to “be a passenger in my own life.”

To add to the difficulty of middle school, surgeries for glaucoma in eighth grade not only caused him to miss school, but eventually cost him a significant amount of the little vision he had. An uncle who observed these futile attempts asked his nephew, “What are you going to do if it doesn't work? What will you do if you don't get vision back?”

“I began to ask myself with each surgery whether we might not be chasing the unreachable dream,” Riccobono said. A surgery performed to burn off some of the scar tissue proved to be too effective, destroying the vision in his left eye and eventually causing it to shrink.

So Riccobono went into high school totally blind in one eye and with little vision in the other. In Milwaukee one could choose a high school based on its specialty, and Riccobono chose the one that emphasized business and becoming an entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to him when he made his choice, this school had a resource room for blind students. This was the first time he had considered that there might be others facing the challenges that made school difficult.

Riccobono is glad he chose to attend the high school emphasizing business. The teachers saw potential in him, and, for the first time in a long time, he found himself surrounded by people who believed he had capacity. “High school was better than middle school had been; it had some very good teachers who believed in my capacity, and it had people who worked to mentor me. They didn't understand where blindness fit into my career possibilities, but they knew how to teach, saw potential in me, and were determined to cultivate it.”

He joined DECA, an association founded in 1946 to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs. In this organization he engaged in competitions in public speaking, marketing, and creating a business plan. As a high school senior he was involved in statewide competition, where he won first place in public speaking and earned himself the opportunity to compete in national competitions representing the state of Wisconsin. During that same year he started a school-based business selling sports cards based on a business plan he developed the previous year.

After high school Riccobono arrived at the University of Wisconsin with a folding cane, a laptop computer with no screen-reading or screen-enlargement software, and a closed circuit television to enlarge paper documents. “I had to study a lot because I read slowly, and memorization was the key to any success I might enjoy.” But even with the extreme focus he placed on academics, Riccobono hit the wall in his sophomore year and almost failed a computer class because he had no access to the machines. Eventually his rehabilitation counselor sent him for a technology evaluation, and the use of speech and other technology was recommended. At this point Riccobono started reaching out to other blind people, knowing that, if some of them were successful, they had to be doing something he was not. He knew that the barriers he was facing were real and that he was making a significant effort to overcome them, but he was learning that effort alone was not enough: he needed techniques, strategies, and building on the experiences of others. So it was that he came to find the National Federation of the Blind, won a state scholarship, and attended the national convention in 1996. “A lot of what I heard at the convention resonated with me—gave me real hope—but I wasn't sure it was real because I hadn't had the chance to test it myself. But whatever skepticism I had, the truth is that my predominant emotions were excitement and hope that what these people were saying was true. For the first time in my life it was clear to me that in this group it didn't matter how much or how little I could see. In this group no one ever asked or tried to limit where I could go. For the first time I didn't feel as though I had to decide what I would or would not do based on my vision.”

In the summer after he found the Federation, Riccobono learned Braille, started using the white cane, and came to understand that blind people used other techniques that might help him. He immediately began testing what the Federation said about blindness and encouraged other students to do the same. In the fall of 1996 he founded and became the first president of the Wisconsin Association of Blind Students (a division of the NFB of Wisconsin). He also began rebuilding his dreams. He secured employment with the disability resource center on campus and coordinated the delivery of accessible materials to other students. Riccobono also began expanding his participation in the campus community, knowing that blindness was not the thing that held him back but rather his own low expectations learned over many years. Among his new activities Riccobono became the first blind person at the university to be certified to independently sail one-person sail boats in the Hoofers Sailing Program on Lake Mendota.

Riccobono finished college in May of 1999 with a degree in business administration, majoring both in marketing and economics. He interviewed with Sears in his senior year of college and already had a job offer in hand when he graduated. While attending the Washington Seminar, people asked what he intended to do between his graduation in May and the start of his new job in August. They suggested he use this time for training. Finding the advice sound, he attended the Colorado Center for the Blind. There he worked on attitudes and skills and had a chance to test some of the Federation ideas he had thought about with such hope. He found they had verity in his life.

After training with Sears, Riccobono moved to Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where he rented an apartment about three blocks from where he had grown up. At this point he was feeling good about himself: a college graduate with a job, living on his own, and the recently elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, having won that post in 1998. Before his election a proposal had been advanced to close the state's school for the blind. Riccobono was appointed to serve on an advisory committee charged with transforming the institution from a school to a center where ten programs serving the blind would be housed, one of them being the school for the blind. Riccobono learned from the Federation that his true passion was not necessarily business (although he exhibits the thinking of an entrepreneur in everything he does) but rather education and building innovative educational programs. When the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired was established, Riccobono was hired as its director shortly before his twenty-fourth birthday. He headed an agency with a budget of six million dollars and began to implement programs that required more of staff and students, consistent with the expectations of blind people he found in the Federation. He worked at the Wisconsin Center for three and a half years, and an audit ordered by the implementing legislation gave the new center good marks and was the best the school had received in over a decade. But Riccobono found making changes at the center painfully slow and thought that his focus on improving education would be better served by working on a national level. Having concluded that Riccobono possessed some skills that would be valuable at the Jernigan Institute, President Maurer hired him. Mark and his wife Melissa (a strong leader, advocate, and educator in her own right) moved to Baltimore. Given his interest in education, he took a master’s degree in educational studies from Johns Hopkins University. After working for some time in education, he became the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, a position he held until his election as President of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 2014. In his Federation work he has led a number of critical initiatives including establishment of the National Center for Blind Youth in Science, building a national mentoring program, expanding Braille literacy programs (including the NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning program), development of cutting-edge technologies (including a car that a blind person can drive—the NFB Blind Driver Challenge®), many advocacy priorities, affiliate-building projects, and serving as a point person for key relationships with NFB partners.

Mark and Melissa have three children: Austin born in December 2006, Oriana born in May 2010, and Elizabeth born in June 2012, all of whom are growing up in the Federation. Their daughters both carry the same eye condition that Mark has, but they will have greater opportunities than their dad because of their connection to the National Federation of the Blind. With the emphasis on social media, YouTube, and communication that goes beyond the written word, his family and their activities have been more visible than those of earlier leaders. “While as a family we draw some lines, we are generally pretty comfortable with letting people know what we are doing, the message being that we lead normal lives and do the same things others with children do. We try to show people what we have learned—that blindness does not prevent us from being the kind of parents we want to be and from living the lives we want.” Riccobono is always building—his social media presence frequently shows him engineering new creations out of LEGOs with his children.

When asked about his responsibilities as the newly elected President of the National Federation of the Blind and whether it is scary trying to fill the shoes of Immediate Past President Maurer, Riccobono says, “It isn't so much trying to fill someone's shoes as building on a foundation. It is a tremendous responsibility to figure out how to go farther, to strengthen the movement, to lead in such a way that we go forward and build on what we have been given. My challenge is to meet the expectations of folks who have given a lot and have been around a long time, to meet their expectations and let them know they are still wanted, valued, and needed, while at the same time recognizing that the world is changing, that the organization must continue to evolve, and assuring people that these requirements are not in conflict but a part of continuing to exist and thrive. I worry less about the shoes I must fill or the comparisons that will be made than I do about figuring out how to lead us in the miles we must go, preserving the resources we have, while spending enough of them to make the world what we want it to be. I feel grateful that Dr. Maurer recognizes my challenge—he has had to face it in his own transition and presidency, and I feel confident that most of our members understand this too. The nature of this office demonstrates daily just how far we have to go, and, although we have a tremendous organization and significant resources, we have just a fraction of what we need to do the work that remains.

"In accepting the Presidency of this organization, I pledged to give all of my energy, my creativity, and my love to our movement. This is how I intend to pay it back, pay it forward, and make a future full of opportunity for blind people. I have no illusions that this will be easy, but I have every expectation that it will happen when all of us pull together to create the kind of future in which we truly live the lives we want.”

Pam Allen
First Vice President and Board Chair
NFB of Louisiana President
Nonprofit Agency Administrator, Advocate, Community Leader

Pam Dubel was born in 1970 and grew up in Lancaster, New York. She became blind when she was approximately two years old as a result of retinal blastoma, a type of cancer. Although her parents were shocked by her loss of sight, they fortunately realized that she was still the same child except that she could no longer see. Through love and high expectations, they instilled in Pam a sense of pride and confidence in her ability to succeed. They constantly taught her that her blindness was not a limitation to achieving her goals and dreams. Growing up as the youngest of six children also helped her learn to be independent. Since she was the youngest, nobody, especially the brother a year older than she, let her get away with anything. Pam attended a private Catholic school, where she was the only blind student. Her itinerant teacher provided a sound foundation in Braille, which helped her excel in academics. Her parents expected her to do her best and to engage in activities that would make her a confident and well-rounded person. She participated in horseback riding, skiing, and cheerleading during elementary school. During high school her interests shifted to performing in chorus, doing community service, and having fun with her friends.

While growing up, Pam had limited contact with other blind people her age. In general she had no desire to associate with other blind people. She understood that every high school senior experiences some trepidation about the transition to adulthood and independence. However, as high school graduation approached, she began to grapple with questions that her sighted peers couldn't answer. She planned to attend college, and she hoped that she would eventually find a job, but she secretly wondered if she would truly be able to obtain employment. After all, she had had difficulty finding part-time work during high school. Her loving family and friends encouraged her, but she had questions that went unanswered. Although she entered college with some apprehension, she was determined to achieve her best. Her small liberal arts college provided an exciting environment in which to learn and grow. But those unanswered questions continued to nag at her. If people were amazed that she could accomplish the most insignificant tasks, would they ever treat her as an equal? She realized that she had to meet other blind people with more experience than she who could serve as role models.

Her search exposed her to a wide variety of groups and organizations of and for the blind. However, not until she attended a student seminar hosted by the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio did she begin to find the answers for which she had been searching. Although she didn't realize it at the time, that seminar marked the beginning of a new chapter of her life. She met Barbara Pierce, president of the NFB of Ohio, who told Pam about the Louisiana Center for the Blind. More than that, she spoke with Joanne Wilson, its director, who arranged for Pam to complete an internship at the center the following May. As soon as that was completed, Joanne invited her to work as a counselor in the children's summer program that year.

Pam was a 1991 National Federation of the Blind scholarship winner when she was a senior at Denison University, where she majored in psychology and minored in women's studies. She served as vice president of the Ohio Association of Blind Students and as secretary of the National Association of Blind Students, and throughout college she worked summers for Joanne Wilson at the Louisiana Center for the Blind with the children's program.

After graduation from college Pam decided to become a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She recognized that she still needed to gain some confidence in her skills and in her ability to be a successful blind person.

Since 2001 Pam Allen has served as the director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, one of three NFB adult rehabilitation centers. Prior to becoming the director, she served as the director of youth services, working with blind infants and toddlers and their parents, supervising the training of classroom aides to teach Braille throughout Louisiana, coordinating summer camps, and developing innovative programs for blind children and teenagers.

People often ask her what makes the Louisiana Center for the Blind such a special place. Pam responds, “What sets our alumni apart from those of other kinds of rehabilitation facilities? The answer is that, by attending our center and the other centers conducted by Federationists, students are exposed to the National Federation of the Blind and its philosophy. The NFB is more than an organization; it is a loving family. Regardless of where you are, you can find members of the NFB who can give you support and encouragement when you need it. The NFB also provides a constant supply of mentors and role models who challenge you to set goals for yourself. Lives are positively changed every day at the Center because of the philosophy of the NFB.”

Allen recalls that she used to believe that she did not need other blind people. She thought that being independent meant succeeding without the help of others. Her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind has taught her that this is not true. She has learned that she needs reinforcement from her blind colleagues and friends.

Pam lives in Ruston, Louisiana, with her husband Roland Allen, a dedicated Federation leader and a gifted orientation and mobility instructor at the center. She is currently the president of the NFB of Louisiana and vice president of the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals. In July of 2002 she was elected to the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. Four years later, in 2006, she was elected to serve as treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind. In 2012, Pam and Roland received the prestigious Jacobus tenBroek Award in recognition of their distinguished service in the Federation. In 2015, Pam was elected as first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. Allen is also involved in a variety of community and professional organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and as a gubernatorial appointee to the Louisiana Rehabilitation Council. She says, “Being elected to the national board has allowed me to give back and to spread the message of our movement. It is an incredible honor and privilege to serve!”

Ron Brown
Second Vice President
NFB of Indiana President
Businessman, Advocate

Ron Brown was born in Gary, Indiana, the first of eight children, to Marzette and Myra Brown on May 15, 1956. When he was a senior in high school, he became blind after he was shot on his way home from a basketball game. At the time he knew nothing about blindness and was overwhelmed by the feeling that his entire life had been radically changed in an instant. One of the first painful lessons he learned was that many of his friends could not deal with his blindness and stayed away from him. Luckily he began to make new friends, members of the National Federation of the Blind. They became inspiring role models for Ron, teaching him that it was respectable to be blind and that he could continue to strive for the goals he had set for himself.

Armed with this newfound freedom, Ron graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor of science degree in health science. He then went to work at Tradewinds Rehabilitation Center in Indiana, where he met his wife Jean, who was on the staff. Eventually he was offered a job in the Business Enterprise Program. He had always wanted to own his own business, and this gave him the opportunity to do so. He has now been in business for himself for thirty years. Recently Ron returned to school and earned a master's degree in educational psychology with a certification in orientation and mobility from Louisiana Tech University. He now owns a second business, Cane and Able Orientation and Mobility, teaching cane travel to blind people in the state of Indiana.

As Ron Brown has developed and matured in his personal life, his commitment to and service in the National Federation of the Blind have deepened as well. In the early years he was a chapter president and was then elected to the NFB of Indiana's board of directors. He was first elected president of the affiliate in 1996 and has been reelected every two years since. In 2001 he was elected to serve on the NFB board of directors, and in 2008 he was elevated to the office of second vice president. He was the recipient of the prestigious Jacobus tenBroek Award in 2015.

Looking back, Ron Brown says, “Becoming a member of the national board is the fulfillment of a life dream. I have been an advocate for blind people for more than twenty-five years, and with every passing year my commitment to serving the blind of this nation increases. My life indeed changed the night I became blind, but with the perspective I now have, I must say that it was for the better.” 

James R. Gashel
Secretary
Advocate, Ambassador, Executive, and Father

Jim Gashel was born in 1946 and grew up in Iowa. After his early introduction to the National Federation of the Blind as Kenneth Jernigan's student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the 1960s, he has been devoted to serving the blind community in various capacities. A 1969 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with work toward a master's degree in Public Administration at the University of Iowa, Jim started his career teaching speech and English for one year in Pipestone, Minnesota. He then accepted a position as assistant director at the Iowa Commission for the Blind in Des Moines. With that move he found his calling is working with the blind and finding ways of solving the problems that face them as individuals and as a minority.

On January 1, 1974, Jim joined the staff of the National Federation of the Blind as chief of the Washington office, where he became one of the best known advocates for the blind of the United States, combining his commitment to blind people with his interest in the political process. As the Federation's scope and influence evolved, so did his roles and responsibilities. In his professional career of almost thirty-four years with the Federation, he held the positions of chief of the Washington office, director of governmental affairs, and executive director for strategic initiatives. Jim's Federation work has led to significant changes in virtually every law directly affecting blind Americans: the Social Security Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Randolph-Sheppard Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Copyright Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Help America Vote Act. In addition to championing these causes, Jim has won the love and respect of the thousands of blind men and women across America who have directly benefited from his informed and effective personal advocacy. No matter what his position, through his drive and devotion to Federationism, Jim has earned the informal title of the organization's non-lawyer lawyer.

With his first wife Arlene, Jim is the father of three adult children and the grandfather of nine. His daughter Andrea and her husband Jeremiah Beasley have four children, daughter Valerie and husband Sam Costanza have three, and his son Eric and wife Miranda have two.

During Jim's service at the NFB, he received the Commissioner's Award for Outstanding Leadership in Rehabilitation Services to the Disabled, the highest honor presented by the commissioner of the United States Rehabilitation Services Administration. He is also a recipient of the secretary of labor's Outstanding American Award. In 2001 Jim and his second wife, Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, jointly received the NFB's highest honor, the Jacobus tenBroek Award, honoring them for their achievements through decades of leadership in work with the blind.

In November, 2007, Jim and Betsy moved from Baltimore to Denver, Colorado, but Betsy soon died after a recurrence of the condition—retinal blastoma—which had caused her blindness from childhood. In September, 2012, Jim married Susan Kern, now Susan Gashel. Their marriage occurred a few months after Susan had returned to Colorado after retiring as an assistant attorney general in the state of Hawaii. Beyond continuing Jim’s active work on behalf of the blind through involvement in the Federation, and Susan’s work to uphold rights and opportunities for blind Randolph-Sheppard vendors, Jim and Susan are passionate about downhill skiing and all the Rocky Mountains have to offer near where they live in the Vail valley of Colorado.

Beyond his volunteer activities, Jim serves as vice president of business development and product evangelist for KNFB Reader, LLC, where he works to develop and promote the NFB’s KNFB Reader technology. While serving as the Federation’s executive director for strategic initiatives, he led the public introduction and launch of the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader, the world's first truly portable text-to-speech reading device for the blind. As part of this effort he raised and administered the funds necessary to support pre-release beta testing, product announcement, and public promotional efforts to bring the product to market in 2006. Jim's work with KNFB brings him full circle in his career since, after first meeting Ray Kurzweil in April 1975, he also organized and raised the funds necessary to test and launch the original Kurzweil Reading Machine, released in 1977 as the world's first text-to-speech reading system for the blind.

Jim was elected to the NFB's national board of directors in 2008 to fill an unexpired term and was reelected in 2009. Then he was subsequently elected to the position of national secretary, a position he has held since 2010. Serving in each of these capacities, he brings to the board both expertise and contacts in the blindness field and an abiding commitment to the work of the NFB. In accepting his 2001 Jacobus tenBroek Award, Jim offered comments that remain relevant today and reflect his approach to our mission. “All I would ask is that all of you remember that it's all of our responsibilities to go out and work for the movement. We can't all go out and climb a mountain like Erik [Weihenmayer] did, and we can't all do the wonderful things that every one of you do all the time, or raise five or six million dollars like Betsy did, but we can all work for this movement. We all have a place in it.” Jim's place is absolutely unique.

Jeannie Massay
Treasurer
NFB of Oklahoma President
Counselor, Advocate, and Leader

Jeannie Massay was born in 1968 in Oklahoma City, the youngest of three children and the only girl. She said she was blessed to be a daddy’s girl, with brothers who did whatever she told them to do. “They always had my back and were loving and supportive,” she said.

Jeannie had good vision for the first thirty-seven years of her life, though she did suffer from severe astigmatism and wore strong glasses to compensate for it. She attended Windsor Hills Elementary School because her mother was a teacher there. “I have been an avid reader all of my life, and because my mom was a reading specialist who worked with sixth-graders, after school I went to her classroom to learn about Pompeii, the pyramids, and all kinds of things younger children didn’t normally get to read about.”

In junior high she attended Leo C. Mayfield. As a student she was involved in competing in intermural basketball and softball. She was also involved in the Pep Club and Student Council. In ninth grade Jeannie had unexplained weight loss and severe abdominal cramping, but soon the symptoms went away. They would return every couple months, and initially she was diagnosed with hyperglycemia. When she was sixteen the cramping, weight loss, and lethargy caused the doctor to do a blood glucose tolerance test, revealing a blood sugar level as high as 900. A normal blood sugar is considered to be around one hundred, and one is considered to be a diabetic if blood sugar levels exceed 140. She was hospitalized for a week to learn to manage her diabetes.

Jeannie attended Putnam City West High School, where she played competitive softball and performed in the band for three years. She was on the debate team and managed to get A’s and B’s, which kept her on the honor roll. “Although I didn’t do badly, I wish I had done better. I was pretty social and liked to talk to people. I was a pretty well-rounded kid, but it was tough being a diabetic and wanting to eat like a teenager. Since I wanted to fit in and do what I thought was normal, at times I went to the pizza parlor and the hamburger joints.”

After high school Jeannie attended the University of Central Oklahoma, living at home until her senior year. She thought she wanted to be a lawyer until her first political science class and then decided this was not what she was meant to do. Instead, she began studying psychology, and in 1990, during a two-week period, she graduated, got married, and watched her husband leave for active military service. Jeannie got a job selling cosmetics in a department store. When her husband Mark was transferred from Fort Knox to San Antonio to go through medical training to be a dietitian, she moved to be near him. After his training was completed, Mark was stationed at Landstuhl General Hospital in Germany, the largest military hospital in the European Theatre.

When Jeannie was eventually able to go to Germany, she loved it: the people, the food, and the opportunity for travel. She taught at a department of defense dependent school, providing instruction in reading, math, and language arts. She also worked with a behavioral management specialist, which led her to think at the time that she did not want to work with children—all the funnier because she eventually came to realize this was her calling and now part of her practice is counseling children and teenagers.

Jeannie and her husband were in Germany just over three years during the first Gulf War. When the military began downsizing, Mark was offered early contract closure and both returned to the States. Jeannie went back to selling cosmetics, working at Estée Lauder. She started by working behind the counter, then became counter manager, and then assumed the job of account coordinator, managing seven counters around Oklahoma. When Mark received a promotion, both moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he managed Marriott contracts for Georgetown University. Jeannie was able to continue her work with Estée Lauder, but now she was back to working on the counter. Soon that counter was bringing in $1 million a year.

Yet another promotion for Mark found the couple moving to Jackson, Mississippi. Estée Lauder helped Jeannie find another job, this time managing multiple counters. The couple was in Jackson for two years, but a merger sent Mark to St. Louis, where he ran the food and conference center for Boeing. Jeannie went to work for a subsidiary of Estée Lauder, Origins, where she worked as the coordinator for eight stores in Missouri and Indiana. While in St. Louis the couple lived in an old Jewish Temple which had been renovated into an apartment. This she loved. Soon she was given the opportunity to interview as an account executive for Origins, flew to New York for the interview, talked with Mark, and was gratified to learn that his reaction to making a move that would further her career was unequivocal: “You have followed me around for ten years, so now I will gladly follow you.”

The couple moved to Memphis, and Jeannie was responsible for the states of Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. In this position she managed eighteen counters for Dillard’s stores and for other retail establishments. She supervised eighty people and loved the job.

Even the jobs we love the most come with significant drawbacks. Jeannie was traveling more than three weeks each month, and this was tough on her marriage and tough on her physically. “Sometimes I would work so hard that I would forget to eat. I got really skinny and sickly. So, after close to four years of this kind of life, Mark and I agreed that something had to change.” She chose to resign her position with Estée Lauder because she could not keep up with the demands of the job without continuing to damage her body. They decided to move back to Oklahoma to be closer to family and friends, drastically improving their quality of life.

Her next job was with the Oklahoma Blood Institute doing public relations and helping to run blood drives. She realized she liked working in this nonprofit organization because she believed in its mission, liked helping people, and felt she was doing something good for society. She worked there for two years before she had a hemorrhage in her eye. When she woke on a Friday morning and found that everything she saw was pink, she thought she was having a problem with allergies, because it had happened before. When the problem had not improved on Monday, she went to the doctor and on that day received 1,000 laser shots in both eyes. Problems with her vision would consume the next year of her life. Every two weeks she was having eye surgeries, procedures, and experimental injections. The frequent laser treatments on both of her eyes meant that she missed a lot of work, and the director of public relations called her in to ask why. No doubt feeling the need to expose her repressed inner doctor, the supervisor suggested Jeannie “get an eye transplant.” In the quest to save her vision, she could not assure her supervisor that her attendance would improve, so she resigned.

Four times during that year of struggle to save her sight, she lost all of her vision. Each time it would return, there would be less of it. Emotionally she tells the story of traveling to a 7 AM Rotary Club meeting and finding that, on that day, she had so little vision that her usual ten-minute trip took forty-five minutes. “I freely gave up driving because I was terrified that I was going to hurt someone else.

“I went through the next six months of surgeries and injections and finally came to the realization that I was mostly blind and it was going to stay that way. I couldn’t see to read or to sew, and at that point I had difficulty figuring out anything I could really do. Part of my self-concept is that I am a strong-willed person, but I couldn’t see how that strong will was going to save me.”

Mark was initially terrified by the onset of her blindness and for a time was very overprotective. Neither of the Massays knew a blind person, and the only thing Jeannie knew was that blind people carried long white canes. The rehabilitation agency had not offered her one, she had no idea where a cane for the blind could be had, so she began using a three-foot carved walking stick her father had used. “Mark and I moved in with my mom because I was familiar with the layout of her house. I started receiving library services for the blind but was on so much medication that I really couldn’t read or enjoy the books they sent. I signed up for rehabilitation services and tried to learn something about assistive technology, but only once did a rehabilitation teacher come to my house for fifteen minutes. Not knowing what else to do, I went to the Library for the Blind in Oklahoma City and spent hours there. They offered no formal training there, but I observed other people, listened to what they were doing, and came to understand a bit about the assistive technology used by blind people.

“The one thing I got from the rehabilitation agency that did seem to help was orientation and mobility services. I appreciated my instructor because she showed up for appointments and was the first person I could clearly see who wanted to give me back my independence.”

When Jeannie decided that she would need more training than she could get from an occasional home visit by the Oklahoma agency, she looked at residential rehabilitation centers. She considered attending the Colorado Center for the Blind and was given a long white cane, but the information she had heard about the National Federation of the Blind and the rigor of CCB training, along with biased information and the opinions of her counselor, convinced her that she should attend the Carroll Center for the Blind. She was at the center about six months, and in addition to personal adjustment to blindness training, she also went through an office skills program so that she could learn enough assistive technology to go back to school and get her master’s degree. As she gained confidence and a working set of blindness skills, Mark once again saw in Jeannie the fiercely independent woman he’d married. After her time at the Carroll Center, Jeannie went back to school to become a therapist. Working in the cosmetics industry had always been lucrative, but it had never been her passion. Mark also made the decision to go back to school, and both graduated with their master’s degrees at the same time.

After graduating in May of 2011, Jeannie set out to begin the supervision process, part of the requirements for licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Oklahoma. The requirement consists of working for a minimum of three thousand hours under a counselor who is already licensed. Jeannie encountered discrimination when seeking a job to complete the supervision required for her to pursue licensure. “Although I was equally qualified and had a high GPA, many people saw my cane and assumed that I wouldn’t be able to do the job,” she said. After going on lots of interviews, Jeannie finally found a job in October of 2011. She began counseling children, adolescents, and their families who deal with ADHD depression, and anxiety disorders. Jeannie completed the state and national exams in November of 2013 after having had issues gaining appropriate and desired accommodations. She passed both examinations and was fully licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor on January 31, 2014. Jeannie has been in solo private practice since that time and has most recently been certified to work as clinical supervisor for LPC candidates working towards their licensure.

Jeannie’s first association with an organization of the blind came when she joined the Oklahoma Council of the Blind, the state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. Although she liked some of the people in the organization, she became concerned with how much time they spent complaining about this radical and militant organization known as the National Federation of the Blind. She did just enough research to realize that the NFB gave state and national scholarships, decided that she was as competent and capable as anyone else, and even decided that crazy, militant money was still spendable. She did not win a national scholarship but was invited to attend the 2008 state convention in Oklahoma. There were fourteen people at that convention, and, to her surprise, Steve Shelton nominated her for a board position. During the luncheon speech presented by the national representative from the Federation, Jeannie was touched by the idea of finding something larger than oneself and reaching out to help others.

Although the Oklahoma affiliate did not award her a scholarship in 2008, it did provide resources she could use to attend the national convention. “I was a bit overwhelmed by the three thousand blind people in the Hilton Anatole,” she said, “but once I heard the gavel drop, I knew we had to bring this kind of enthusiasm and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind home to Oklahoma. I felt a duty and an obligation to organize a chapter in Edmund, so Steve Shelton, Dick Morris, Selena Crawford, and Dan Frye worked to make the first meeting possible. We had four people attend, and I thought this was great! I told myself we would have an awesome chapter, but at our first regular meeting only the officers showed up. I was disappointed but resolved. The chapter kept growing and pretty soon it came to have twenty and then thirty people on average. We kept at it, and at the same time we worked on developing the affiliate.” Jeannie won a national scholarship in 2009, was invited by President Maurer to attend a leadership seminar, and at that time she told him that, when she graduated with her master’s degree, she would run to be the state president in Oklahoma.

Jeannie says she has never had problems believing in the teachings of the National Federation of the Blind regarding the need to learn blindness skills. She says that, after her initial loss of vision, what she can see has varied so much that she has never been tempted to put down her cane. “My vision isn’t what I use to live—it is helpful and icing on the cake, but it cannot meet my daily needs for travel and other activities.”

Jeannie Massey was elected to the national board of directors in July 2013, and advanced to the position of treasurer in 2015. “When I was growing up, and to this day, my mother used to ask me ‘What are you?’ She taught me to respond in the following way, ‘I am intelligent, capable, beautiful, and lots of fun to be with.’ This was our way of affirming who I wanted to be and who I could become, and blindness hasn’t changed any of it. This is the message I want to share with blind people: that our hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations are no less real simply because we do not see.” 

Everette Bacon, Board Member
NFB of Utah President
Rehabilitation Professional

Everette Bacon was born in Huntington Beach, California. At the age of five he was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a condition which had run in his family on his mother’s side for thirteen generations, causing rapid-onset blindness primarily in female family members. Despite the diagnosis, Everette’s family took the advice of teachers and medical experts, believing (or, more accurately, hoping) that since Everette was male and his vision was not deteriorating rapidly like that of other family members, he was unlikely to go blind. As a result, Everette did not learn Braille or other alternative techniques during his school years. Looking back, Everette says, his mother and other family members wish that they had encouraged him to learn Braille and other blindness skills.

When Everette was around eighteen his entire family moved to Texas. Everette pursued a degree in church music at Dallas Baptist University. He jokes that he was pushed toward music because “you know, blind people sing.” His first job was teaching a seventh grade choir, but he found it not to his liking. Searching for other employment in order to earn money to help his wife through medical school, Everette ultimately accepted a management position with Blockbuster Video in 1997. He was very successful in this position, winning several awards and steady promotions. By 2004, he was managing ten stores in the Houston area.

Everette’s eye condition began to worsen, and instead of giving up, he adapted by using alternative techniques. “I started carrying a cane, mainly for identity, but I was using it when I felt I needed it.” “I was never embarrassed or ashamed about becoming blind, because I grew up around blind people, adapting was something you just became accustomed to doing.” However, when he asked for reasonable accommodations from his employer, instead of granting these accommodations, Blockbuster terminated his employment despite his outstanding record. The company even went so far as to describe Everette’s conduct as “fraudulent,” implying that he had deceived the company about his capabilities, even though he had previously been praised and awarded for his work.

This experience traumatized Everette and his family. His wife, mother, and other family members sent angry emails to everyone they could; urging readers to avoid shopping at Blockbuster based on discrimination against the blind. One of these emails found its way to Scott LaBarre, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a successful disability rights attorney. Scott took Everette’s case, and ultimately Everette received a settlement from Blockbuster. More importantly, though, he learned about the National Federation of the Blind and the many battles the organization has fought in the effort to advance and protect the civil rights of blind people. “I had heard of the Federation and been told that they were militant,” Everette says, “but my experience taught me the importance of our advocacy.” There are so many reasons to be proud of who we are as blind people, and the Federation has paved the way for our climb to the top of the mountain of civil rights!

In 2004, Everette and his wife, Dr. Angela Peters, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. Everette became involved in the Utah affiliate and developed what he describes as life-changing relationships with dedicated Federationists like Nick Schmitroth, Karl Smith, and Deja Powell. These friends helped Everette improve his blindness skills and grow in the movement. Everette was also looking for new employment opportunities in Utah and heard about a job opening as a blindness skills teacher at the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Everette remembers speaking with Ray Martin about the fact that he knew nothing about teaching blind people. Martin told him that being blind was the most important qualification. The agency supported Everette in his pursuit of a master’s degree in rehabilitation. He went from teaching technology to supervising the technology staff and now serves as the agency’s field services coordinator, overseeing all of the agency’s technology and employment services and supervising a staff of nine.

Everette began advocating for Utah’s blind residents with an effort to encourage a prominent local cinema chain to incorporate audio description technology into its theaters so that blind people who wanted to experience movies with audio description could do so. An avid movie fan with an extensive collection dating from his Blockbuster days, he believes that audio description can enable blind people to connect more easily with their sighted peers when discussing entertainment. “One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the NFB is the understanding that blending into society is an important skill. Being able to relate to our sighted colleagues about movies, television, politics, and sports are excellent paths to opportunities that help change common misconceptions about blindness.”

In 2012 Everette was elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. He is proud of the affiliate’s successful advocacy for a state “mini-508” law requiring accessibility of new state websites and procurement of accessible electronic and information technology, with agencies being subject to fines when they fail to comply. His advocacy for accessibility made him an outstanding candidate to serve as the Federation’s representative on the Disability Advisory Committee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He was nominated for appointment to this committee by President Riccobono and duly appointed to serve by the FCC in 2015. Everette is chair of the Utah Library Advisory Board. He also sits on the Utah Assistive Technology Council and the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind’s Audio Equipment Advisory Committee (Western Region). He was unanimously elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind at the organization’s 2015 convention. He and Angela and their two dogs live in Salt Lake City, but Everette still roots for his beloved Dallas Cowboys. 

James Brown, Board Member
NFB of Tennessee President
Father, Highway Administrator, and Leader

James Brown was born in 1974. "I sometimes wished I had brothers and sisters, but, being an only child, I just went out and got me some. I’ve always been good at making friends, so being an only child didn’t mean I was a lonely child.”

Brown started school with a vision problem but was not declared legally blind until the age of nine. No one really appreciated how difficult it was for him to read print, but reading would send him home at the end of the day with frequent headaches and migraines. “Vision simply wasn't talked about at my house, even though my mother suffered significant vision loss while pregnant with me.” Brown says that she continued to drive on a limited basis, and never did she acknowledge that he might have trouble with his sight. He was always told to “look over there,” or “read that,” so "blindness" was the secret word never spoken.

It is not surprising that Braille was never suggested or offered to Brown. He began his education at Lighthouse Christian, a private school he attended through the seventh grade. His need for large-print books that the private school didn't have eventually pushed him to go to public school for two years. As his vision continued to decline, Brown transferred to the Tennessee School for the Blind to finish his high school education. He was never encouraged to learn Braille, and, when he asked about it at the school for the blind, he was told that it would be inappropriate for him because he would end up reading it with his eyes. Interestingly, Brown went to school with Kareem Dale, a former official in the Obama Administration. Dale and Brown were the same age and had about the same amount of vision. Dale also asked for Braille and was granted it. Brown believes this is because Dale's grandparents were actively involved in their grandson’s education and a part of the IEP process, while Brown’s parents were not very involved. Both young men lost their remaining vision about a year after graduating from high school; Dale had a way to read—Brown did not.

Brown found his time at the private school challenging, the years in public school less so, and his time at the school for the blind did not begin to challenge or stimulate him academically. When asked about his strengths in school, Brown says, “I was never exceptional at anything—maybe some of that was because I was trying to act sighted when I just didn't have the vision—but, while I wasn't outstanding in anything, I was fortunate to be good in just about everything. I didn't really take school as seriously as I should have, and I was not an honor roll student until college.”

Given these experiences, how did Brown decide to pursue a higher education? “Neither of my parents had a college education, and they really regarded it as something that only the exceptional could do or expect. Eventually I came to see that any real advancement for me meant schooling, and that meant going to college,” Brown said.

After high school Brown says he was ready for a little bit of life without school, so he worked at Custom Craft Cabinets. But after two-and-a-half years of sanding, wood planing, and attaching knobs, he realized the job would not pay enough to support him and his growing family. At this point he was a married man, having taken Crystal as his wife, and at that time they had one child, Christopher, who was born in 1994. They would also have another child, Joshua, who was born in 1996. “I was making about $9 an hour, and, although $9 meant more than it does now, it was clear to me that I could not raise a family on that kind of money. I figured out that the only way I was going to move up was by going to college, but, before I could do that, I had to learn some skills—how to use a computer, do word processing, and take advantage of the internet. My grades in college were good, but I had trouble with math. I was always good at it when I could see a little. Having no way to write down the problems, I could do only what I could keep in my head, and college algebra produced the only D on a transcript that was otherwise composed of A's.

“My original goal was to attend law school, so I majored in political science. Before I graduated and applied to any of them, my cousin, who was then in law school, told me I better be prepared to go for a year or a year and a half without seeing much of my wife or my child. I decided that was not acceptable, given that I was newly married and had a young child, and that, if law school was to be something I did, it would have to come later.”

Given his change in career goals, Brown graduated from college and began applying for every job he could. The job he landed was as a transportation tech for the Tennessee Highway Department. He has since been promoted and now serves as a transportation specialist planner 3.

In his job Brown conducts road safety audits. This involves analyzing safety data (the number of fatal crashes that occur on a given segment of highway) to determine their cause. If the analysis concludes that corrective action can be taken to eliminate or reduce the problem that contributes to the crashes, Brown must then determine how to fund the repairs. “If you look at the data and you see that most crashes happen when the road is wet, the corrective action is to add a high-friction surface to that part of the road. If you see a road which is well-traveled during the day but the majority of the fatal crashes happen at night, you then have to assume that night and the lack of light are playing a part in the fatalities. The answers are all there in the data, and my job is to figure them out.”

Brown came to know about the National Federation of the Blind when he won a scholarship in 2007, but winning didn't mean that he immediately became active in the organization. He relates that one of his first reactions when arriving at the convention in Atlanta was to observe to himself that “God didn't make three thousand blind people to be together. There were all these canes and dogs and people heading toward one another.” At the same time he was thinking all of this, he couldn't help being impressed by all that the blind people who came to the convention were doing. At the bar where he sat, there was a lawyer sitting to his left, a television producer on his right, and next to him a scientist who was working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. All were blind. But, no matter how impressed he was by the national convention and the leaders he met, the weight of home life, work, and his participation in a graduate program meant that it took him more than a year to connect with the Federation. “Because of problems going on in Tennessee at the time, I wasn’t really too impressed with becoming a part, but the Affiliate Action Team kept me involved and kept showing me that what was happening nationally could and should be happening in my state. Going to the Washington Seminar was one of the ways they kept me involved, and the first one I attended in 2009 happened to involve our work with the quiet cars—the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act—something I felt I knew a little about.”

When Brown earned a master’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, he decided he had more time for outside activities, and what he saw in the National Federation of the Blind helped to convince him that the work of the organization was worth his time and talent. “I liked what I saw in these people—they didn’t hide from blindness, weren’t ashamed to be blind or to say the word. The thing I appreciated most was that many of those I met walked the talk—they were real.”

Brown became the president of the Tennessee affiliate in March of 2012 and was elected to the national board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind on July 5, 2014. “I was extremely honored to have been elected, and I'll do my best to honor the trust that has been placed in me.”

When asked what he sees as the most important challenge facing the Federation, Brown says: “I think our most immediate challenge is to recruit young people and to train them to be leaders. Young people respect those who are older, but they also want people their own age. We have to let them know that the Federation is just as important for their generation as it was to those who created it and to those of us who work to sustain it. It takes work, persistence, and targeting our efforts, but we will persuade young people in the same way we were persuaded. They will become invested and committed, and all blind people will be the better for our ongoing work. I am proud to be a part of this organization and to see to this transition.”

Amy Buresh, Board Member
NFB of Nebraska President
Rehabilitation Counselor, Advocate, and Mother

Today Amy Rut Buresh says, “My blindness is simply another of my characteristics like my auburn hair.” She didn’t always feel that way. Amy Rut was born prematurely June 4, 1974, in Fairbury, Nebraska, and has been blind since then from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). When she was five, her family moved from their farm to Nebraska City so that she could attend the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped (NSVH). Her parents made the difficult decision to relocate to a new community far away from family, friends, and all they knew so that Amy could continue to live at home during her school years rather than in a dormitory. Young Amy received a solid education and had a normal family life, complete with two pesky little brothers, family campouts, picnics, dress-up, and backyard sports. Amy has said her family’s sacrifice was crucial to her peace of mind in her formative years, and she has always been grateful her parents made the choice they did.

While a student at NSVH, Amy received training in many blindness skills, the most critical of which was Braille, which helped her to excel academically. She participated in countless musicals, the track team, cheerleading, and speech competition. In her freshman year Amy began taking classes at the public school in Nebraska City. Although she was active in extracurricular activities, including “swing choir” and president of her school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Amy found it hard to make friends. She recalls that throughout her public school years she sat through many lonely lunches. With an outgoing personality Amy easily made acquaintances, but no one invited her to parties or asked her to go to the movies.

Amy took piano lessons from kindergarten through her sophomore year and voice lessons from her freshman to her senior year. She still sings at churches, banquets, and karaoke as often as she can. She taught summer enrichment courses on the basics of Braille to school children in her hometown. Through the Nebraska Human Resources Department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Amy also participated in a Big-Sister-style program, in which she was paired with a blind elementary school student whom she continued to mentor well after the program’s conclusion.

Growing up, Amy had few positive blind role models and limited contact with her blind peers. During her teenage years she first participated in youth programs sponsored by the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI), where she gained many valuable skills and met her future husband.

For several summers Amy worked as a volunteer counselor at the Summer Kids Independence Program (SKIP) Camp, a program for children ages five to twelve, sponsored by NCBVI. She wanted to share with other blind youth the things she had learned during her high school journey: which plans had worked for her, and which hadn’t. She believed then and believes more absolutely today that mentoring is important in improving one’s attitude toward blindness and a great way to learn how to handle being different in our society.

Whether at home or at school, participating in music, academics, or athletics, Amy was successfully working and competing with her sighted peers. She was even named second runner-up in the 1990 Nebraska City Miss Applejack Pageant. Yet in addition she had to face another, deeply personal aspect of life. As a senior in high school she began wrestling with life questions that neither her family and teachers nor her sighted peers could answer. Could she really be successful as an independent blind adult? Would she ever marry and have a family? What about employment? Could she get a job and do it well?

Following graduation, Amy began conquering her fears and seeking answers to these nagging questions by attending the Orientation Training Center of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Lincoln. There she was first introduced to the underpinning philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and, equally important, to kind and inspirational Federationists.

Armed with newfound confidence and skills, Amy enrolled in Peru State College, graduating with a BS in psychology, sociology, and criminal justice. Throughout her time on campus she was active as a peer mentor, in student senate, and in residence hall government. She also soloed and toured with the concert choir. She helped found and held several offices in the Association for Challenged and Enabled Students (ACES), a group dedicated to breaking down stereotypes and eliminating discrimination against those with disabilities. ACES sought to educate the non-disabled public about the challenges people with disabilities face. During the years at Peru State College Amy began working with women and children who experience domestic violence, a field to which she still devotes time when she can. She served as a volunteer counselor for a nonprofit in Southeast Nebraska and other agencies. She has worked tirelessly as an advocate, role model, and leader for both women and the blind. She attributes her success with blind people to her discovery of and involvement in the National Federation of the Blind.

In 1993 the NFB of Nebraska established a scholarship program, and Amy won that first scholarship. With this award she faced a turning point in the evolution of her personal philosophy and in her affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind. Growing up, she had been warned that the NFB was an organization of militants whom she should avoid. Thanks to the scholarship program, Amy attended her first state convention in the fall of 1993, discovered the warmth of the members of the NFB and the important work we are doing, and hasn't looked back since.

In fact, the very next year, in October of 1994, Amy and a handful of other concerned blind Nebraska students were granted the charter for the Nebraska Association of Blind Students within the Nebraska affiliate. She was elected president of the student division, an office she held for two years.

Since those early days in the Federation, Amy has held a number of chapter and affiliate positions in Nebraska. In 2003 she was elected to serve as affiliate president, and in the summer of 2006 she was elected by the national convention to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

Amy and her husband Shane (a leader and dedicated Federationist in his own right) live in Lincoln with their son Noah (born May 2, 2006) and daughter Sarah, (born February 14, 2014). She is employed as a rehabilitation counselor with the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“My ordinary life, juggling family, Federation and work commitments, struggling to keep all the balls in the air—this is the life I’ve chosen—the life I’ve created. My life as a blind woman is ordinary, not extraordinary. Therein lies its beauty.”

Shawn Callaway, Board Member
NFB of the District of Columbia President
Social Worker, Community Activist, and Father

Shawn Callaway was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland. When he was a sophomore at South Carolina State University, a classmate was playing with a gun and accidentally shot Shawn in the temple. The accident resulted in the detachment of his optic nerves, which caused total blindness. Shawn returned to the DC area and received blindness training at the Workforce Technology Center in Baltimore. He credits a blind man named Lou Smith with providing his training and being an early mentor. He also credits his parents for encouraging him throughout his transition to life as a successful blind person. After his rehabilitation training, Shawn earned his associate’s degree in psychology from Essex Community College in 1995, his bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland in 1997, and then his master's in social work from Catholic University of America in 2000. He began his professional career working with the homeless at Catholic Charities and then went on to counsel children in the Washington, DC, public schools system for the city's Department of Behavioral Health. He now works as a program specialist for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, specifically in programs of the Administration on Community Living and the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. In 2005 he married Latonya Rollins of Cleveland, Ohio.

Shawn had heard of the National Federation of the Blind in the mid-1990s but was initially convinced by a friend that the organization was too radical for him. In retrospect, he believes he was given bad information and wishes that he had become a Federationist earlier. After being invited to a chapter meeting by Linda Black-White, Shawn finally joined in the spring of 2009. He found himself leading the Washington, DC, affiliate when longtime leader Don Galloway died in 2011.

Shawn already had confidence in most of his blindness skills when he joined the National Federation of the Blind, but he says that he was still apprehensive about becoming a parent. The opportunity to observe and talk to blind parents like Mark and Melissa Riccobono and Tracy Soforenco, as well as a DC Federationist named Vicky Smith, gave him confidence that he could be a successful blind parent. He is now the proud father of his daughter Camille who was born in 2014.

Shawn also credits participation in the NFB with opening up other leadership and community involvement opportunities for him. He has served on the boards of the DC Center for Independent Living and the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind and has chaired the DC rehabilitation council. He currently co-hosts a community radio program called “Open Our Eyes” on a local station. In addition, Shawn serves as the president of the DC Friends of the Talking Book and Braille Library and is a member of the DC Blind Bowlers Association. Shawn says, “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the NFB board of directors, both to give back to the organization as a whole and because so many past and present board members like Dr. Fred Schroeder, Anil Lewis, Dr. Joanne Wilson, Sam Gleese, Pam Allen, and Ever Lee Hairston have inspired and mentored me. I will strive to fill the same role for other leaders and members of our great movement and devote every ounce of my energy to building the Federation and advocating for all blind citizens.”

Norma Crosby, Board Member
NFB of Texas President
Mother and Businesswoman

Norma Beathard was born on January 25, 1956, in Conroe, Texas. She was the first of five children born to Robbie and Joseph Beathard. Norma was born legally blind because her mother contracted rubella during her pregnancy; however, Norma’s blindness remained undetected until she began walking. At that time her parents began to notice that she seemed to bump into things that a sighted child should see, and they had her vision tested. A determination was made that she was blind when she was two years old. Years of surgery followed with no improvement.

Norma was an active child. She joined her siblings in most of the games they played, and her blindness was not a real obstacle when she was small. But she couldn't read the blackboard when she started school, and she experienced a number of problems related to her vision as she grew older.

Norma always attended school in rural communities, a circumstance which she describes as “both a blessing and a curse.” Because no one in her life knew anything about blindness skills, she wasn't able to learn Braille or cane travel. She used large print books, which were bulky and heavy for a tiny girl. Since her vision was extremely limited, she had to read with her nose practically touching the pages of her books, even though the print was enlarged. Despite the lack of training in blindness skills, Norma feels that she received a quality education because she had caring teachers who always found ways of making it easier for her to learn. She was fortunate to have the same teacher from her first grade year through her third grade year, and that teacher was determined that Norma would be included in everything the class did. Her name was Jean Todd, and she spent countless hours offering Norma one-on-one instruction. Other teachers with similar attitudes were a part of Norma's life throughout her K-12 experience.

Professionals in the field of work with the blind were not as helpful. When Norma asked for Braille training, she was told by a rehabilitation professional that she was wasting his time, and she was made to feel guilty because, according to him, she was depriving a “real” blind person of the opportunity to learn by making this frivolous request. Eventually she was able to convince him that he should provide her with training, and he traveled to her small town and spent two hours with her. This was woefully inadequate, but it did allow her to learn the alphabet, Braille numbers, and some punctuation symbols. Her experience with inadequate Braille training has made Norma a strong advocate for providing Braille education to children with low vision.

After completing her education, Norma found herself living in a small community with no opportunities for a blind person. She knew she had to leave her rural home if she was to become successful. Her father was opposed to her leaving, but her mother understood that a different environment would provide Norma with a better chance of living the life she wanted to live. So she took the unusual step of going against the wishes of Norma's father; drove Norma to the bus station in Lufkin, Texas, and purchased a ticket to a better life for her daughter. Norma traveled to Austin that day, and although she had no idea what she would do to become successful, she was confident that she would be able to make a life for herself.

Norma began her working life as an employee at the Travis Association for the Blind. That employment did not last long because Norma found that she couldn't live on the $1.05 an hour that the sheltered workshop was paying its trainees, and her questions about how to make a higher wage went unanswered. In fact, it became clear that she was unlikely to be paid the federal minimum wage anytime soon, so Norma began to look for other work. She also married during this time and began a family. Her first son was born on March 10, 1976, and her second son was born on March 10, 1978. Once her children were out of diapers, Norma started work at the Texas School for the Blind. She worked as a dorm parent at the school from 1979 to 1982.

After a divorce Norma found the National Federation of the Blind and became an active member in 1983. By 1985 she was living in Houston, and she was an important part of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas leadership. She didn't hold elective office in the Federation, but she worked hard to help the affiliate president and other leaders to carry out the organization's mission. She became president of the Houston Chapter in 1989, and she continued in that role for eight years.

When Norma joined the Federation, she met Glenn Crosby. Glenn was serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, and as the two worked closely together, a personal relationship developed. They were married on April 15, 1989. Each of them had two children, and the two families have blended into a harmonious group. Glenn and Norma are now the proud grandparents of seven grandchildren, ranging in age from four to twenty-one.

Four years before they married, Glenn asked Norma to begin managing the office for his food service business, and they became professional partners. The Crosbys owned five food service locations during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they sold all but two of the locations and were operating those two locations when they retired in 2013.

Though both Norma and Glenn grew up in Texas, they decided they wanted a change in 2001, and they spent about a year in South Dakota. Then they spent several months in Ajijic, Mexico. Ajijic is near Guadalajara, and, while they enjoyed their time there, they needed to be closer to home for business reasons. So in 2005 they moved to Ruston, Louisiana. Shortly after arriving in Ruston, Norma was elected to serve as president of the North Central Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana. She remained in that position until January of 2009, when she and Glenn made the decision to move back to their native Texas. They now live in Alvin, near Houston, on four acres of land and have a few cows.

In 2012, Norma was chosen to serve as the first president of the Lone Star Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. Then, at the affiliate's 2014 convention, she was elected to serve as the state president. While Norma believes strongly that it is not necessary to hold an office in order to be an effective leader, she is honored to serve as both the president of the NFB of Texas and, since her election at the 2015 National Convention, as a member of the organization's national board of directors.

John Fritz, Board Member
NFB of Wisconsin President
Business Owner, Advocate, and Father

John Fritz was born in September of 1966. He was raised on a family dairy farm in southwest Wisconsin, the oldest of five children. He was lucky enough to have parents who made him learn the value of hard work early on. “We were a farm family, and I was the oldest son. I was expected to help with the chores and work outside with my dad.” He was born legally blind but had some sight. This diminished to light perception by the age of three. He believed at an early age that sight was not a requirement to be successful.

John attended the Wisconsin School for the Blind from kindergarten through the seventh grade, primarily because the public school didn't believe a blind child could be served in his hometown. In seventh grade he was able to persuade the school counselor to allow him to transfer back to his local public school. He remembers this being a very difficult adjustment. Having lived at the school for the blind for seven years and being away from his siblings, he found it hard to return and take his place again. Everyone had to get to know each other again. “I realized how much I was missing out on at home,” he said.

John graduated from Fennimore High School with honors in 1985. Before and after school he was responsible for milking cows and helping with general farm work during high school. He earned his letter in wrestling and played trumpet in pep band, marching band, and concert band. His most significant accomplishments came in Future Farmers of America (FFA). John was involved in an extemporaneous-speaking competition, the Creed Speaking Contest; dairy judging; and parliamentary procedure. He placed fourth in the nation in computers in agriculture and achieved the American Farmer Degree and served as president of his FFA chapter for two years.

John attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he graduated with honors in 1989 with a major in animal science, emphasizing dairy management, nutrition, and reproduction. He also earned a minor in computer science. While in college he participated in the academic decathlon in agriculture and in seven academic clubs and organizations.

In these years John got his first dose of the low expectations many professionals have for blind students. When he told his Department for Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) counselor that he wanted to be a veterinarian, his counselor informed him that, if he pursued that career, DVR wouldn't fund him. The counselor announced that a blind person wouldn't be able to be a veterinarian. So John told the DVR counselor to leave. That day he learned quickly that, if he wanted to pursue his goals, he needed to find a way to pay for college himself. He found part-time jobs, work-study assignments, and scholarships to pay his way.

“The most significant event of my life occurred the summer of my sophomore year at a national convention when I won a National Federation of the Blind scholarship in Phoenix, Arizona,” John said. This was his first exposure to the NFB. He was relieved to find peers doing similar things and blind people with the same philosophy. He realized during that convention that he had finally found the biggest and most reliable source of information any blind college student could ever have—other blind people. While attending college, he continued to work on the farm on weekends. College provided him the opportunity to advocate for himself and become a self-sufficient person.

John started working on the family dairy farm right after graduating from college. By this time he had decided that the dairy farm was the immediate need, and veterinary school would have to wait. He was responsible for the day-to-day operations and management of the farm, where he milked sixty-five registered Brown Swiss cows. In 1991 he started working part-time for a local computer store as a computer technician. His main responsibility was repairing computers. The next year he became store manager, where his responsibilities included the day-to-day operation of the store, sales, and service. He left the farm and moved to town. He continued at this job for six years. In 1995 he married Heather Ross. They met during the 1992 NFB convention in Charlotte and started dating after running into each other again during the Dallas convention in 1993. In 1997 he accepted a job with the Louisiana Center for the Blind as the computer instructor. He describes it as a very rewarding experience because it provided the opportunity for him to fully absorb and live the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind each day. While in Louisiana, John and Heather Fritz started their family. Lindsey was born in 1998, Christina was born in 1999, Mark was sponsored from Korea in 2001, and Andrew was born in 2002.

In 2003 John made the difficult decision to leave his job and friends at the center and return home to Wisconsin with Heather's parents, who had just retired to Wisconsin from California, to begin his own vending business with the Business Enterprise Program. This is what he continues to do today. In 2005 the Fritzes adopted their daughter Katie from China at the age of six. In 2006 John and Heather built their dream home for their growing family on fifteen acres in Kendall, Wisconsin. He also built a warehouse for his business, J&H Vending, Inc.

John says that he was honored to be elected president of the NFB of Wisconsin in 2006. He has enjoyed working with the affiliate, divisions, and the blind of Wisconsin. In 2008 he was elected to the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. He remains very busy with the state affiliate, along with being a member of Lions Club, the local Ham Radio Club, and various other clubs and organizations. He also likes to do woodworking, grilling, fishing, and hunting large game with his kids.

As busy as he is, and as many activities as he pursues, nothing is more important to John than spending time watching his children grow—all seven of them! Child number six, a four-year-old boy from India they named Jacob, was adopted in May of 2009. The Fritz family has also been joined by a seventeen-year-old daughter named Anna, who was originally adopted from China by another family when she was nine years old, but became part of the Fritz clan in the summer of 2009.

Reflecting on his life and work, John says, “The National Federation of the Blind doesn't prescribe what a blind person should do or even what he or she can do. It merely invites every blind person to dream and work to achieve those dreams. Its members blaze trails for one another and cheer each other along the way.” 

Sam Gleese, Board Member
Businessman, Ordained Minister, and Father

In 1947 Vicksburg, Mississippi, was not an ideal place for a black child to be born with congenital cataracts. For years no one even noticed that little Sam Gleese had difficulty seeing, least of all Sam himself. He simply assumed that everyone else saw things with the hazy imprecision that he did.

One day when he was in the second grade, the teacher in the segregated school he attended sent a note home asking his mother to come to school for a conference. To the Gleese family's astonishment she told them that Sam had significant difficulty seeing to read and do board work. By the fourth grade the bouts of surgery had begun. Glasses (which Sam hated and forgot to wear most of the time) were prescribed. But none of this effort enabled young Sam to make out much of what his friends could see. Then in 1962, when he was fifteen, Gleese underwent surgery that gave him enough vision to show him by comparison just how little he had seen until that time.

He graduated from high school in 1966 and enrolled that fall at Jackson State College, where he majored in business administration. Looking back, Gleese is sure that he was legally blind throughout these years, but he never considered that he might have anything in common with the blind students he saw on campus. His struggle was always to see, and that made him sighted. Occasionally he was forced to deal with his difficulty in reading, particularly when a fellow student or teacher pointed out what he seemed to be missing, but for the most part he denied his situation and resented those who tried to make him face his problem.

After graduation in 1970, Gleese joined a management training program conducted by K-Mart. Everyone agreed that he was excellent on the floor and dealing with employees, but, though he did not realize it, he was extremely unreliable in doing paperwork. He consistently put information on the wrong line. His supervisor confronted him with the problem and told him he had vision trouble. He hotly denied it, but within the year he was out of the program.

During the following years Gleese applied repeatedly for jobs that would use his business training. When he supplied information about his medical history and his vision, would-be employers lost interest. Finally in late 1972 he got a job as assistant night stock clerk with a grocery chain. He had a wife to support—he and Vanessa Smith had married in August of 1970—and he needed whatever job he could find. Gradually he worked his way up to assistant frozen food manager in the chain, though it wasn't easy.

Then in 1979 his retinas detached, and within a few weeks late in the year he had become almost totally blind. For a month or two he was profoundly depressed. His wife, however, refused to give up on him or his situation. Gradually Gleese began to realize that she was right. He could still provide for his family and find meaningful work to do. He just had to master the alternative methods used by blind people.

Early in 1980 he enrolled in an adult training center in Jackson, where he learned Braille, cane travel, and daily living skills. He is still remembered in the program for the speed with which he completed his training. By the following summer he was working as a volunteer counselor at the center, and in the fall, with the help of the state vocational rehabilitation agency, he and his wife Vanessa were working in their own tax preparation business.

It was difficult, however, to maintain a sufficient income year round, and the Gleeses had a daughter, Nicole, born in 1976, to think about. In 1983 he decided to try taking a job making mops in the area sheltered workshop for the blind. He worked there for two years until a staff member pointed out that he could do better for himself in the state's Randolph-Sheppard vending program, which had finally been opened to African Americans in 1980-81.

In January of 1985 Gleese was assigned the worst vending stand in the state of Mississippi. Because of his degree in business administration, his phenomenal record in personal rehabilitation, and his work history in the grocery business, officials decided that he needed no training but could learn the program in his own location. He spent two years in that facility, mastering the business and improving his techniques. Then during the next several years he had somewhat better locations. But in 1992 he bid on an excellent facility and then appealed the decision that awarded it to another vendor. Though the appeal decision, which eventually came down, did not give him personal redress, it did correct unfair practices that had plagued many vendors in Mississippi for years. In April of 1994 Sam, with the help of his wife Vanessa, became the manager of one of the largest food service operations in the state vending program.

Gleese has always been active in the Missionary Baptist Church. From 1973 to 1990 he taught the adult Sunday school class in his own church, and in 1980 he became a deacon. He was ordained to the ministry in November of 1992 and is now senior associate minister at the College Hill Baptist Church. He headed the scouting and the taping ministry. Currently he heads the members’ ministry and works with several other ministries.

Gleese first heard about the National Federation of the Blind in the early 1980s and attended his first national convention in 1983. He reports that from that moment he has been a committed Federationist. Vanessa has worked steadily beside him through the years as he has struggled to improve the lives of Mississippi's blind citizens. He became president of one of the state's local chapters in 1985, and the following year he was elected state president. He continued to serve in that office until 2016. Under his leadership the number of chapters in the Mississippi affiliate nearly tripled.

In 1992 Gleese was first elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, where he continues to serve with distinction. He has dedicated his life to educating the public, blind and sighted alike, about the abilities of blind people. According to him, too many people in Mississippi believe—as he did for many years—that blind people can do nothing and belong in rocking chairs and back rooms. Sam Gleese is making a difference everywhere he puts his hand.

In May of 1999 the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, chose Sam to serve as chairperson of the newly formed Mayor's Advisory Committee on Disabilities. In September of that year he was appointed and confirmed by the city council of Jackson as the first blind person to serve on the Jackson-Hinds Library administrative board. This board oversees the services of public libraries in each of the seven towns in the Hinds County area.

In August of 2000 Gleese retired from the vending program for health reasons. He served one year in the AmeriCorps volunteer program. The project with which he was associated encourages and enables people with disabilities to become fully involved in the community. The program is the only one of its kind in Mississippi and is staffed by disabled people. Sam explains that other AmeriCorps programs are designed to assist in education—tutoring and the like—but this program allowed him to increase his outreach to blind people and the general disability community. It provided yet one more way of living his Federationism and ministering to the people he has been called to serve.

In August of 2001 Gleese accepted a position as an independent living specialist with LIFE (Living Independence for Everyone) of central Mississippi. This position provided opportunities to work with adolescents with special health care needs between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one in Mississippi. The project, called Healthy Futures, was funded by a four-year grant through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In January of 2002 Gleese became the statewide project director for the Healthy Futures grant. This position enhanced his opportunity to serve all adolescents with special health care needs, including blind people.

On October 1, 2007, Sam was employed by the City of Jackson as its ADA compliance coordinator. In considering the position with the city, Sam saw an opportunity to have an even greater opportunity to positively influence the lives of the blind and other people with disabilities in Jackson. “I believe that the energy and commitment I bring to this job will set a benchmark for other cities to strive for and meet.”

In 2014, Sam received the prestigious Jacobus tenBroek Award in recognition of his distinguished service in the Federation. He makes it clear by word and action that each advancement he has made through the years has been in large measure the result of the hope and determination the NFB has instilled in its members, and he makes it clear that he will do what he can to see that others enjoy a quality of life as good as or better than the one he has been privileged to live. 

Ever Lee Hairston, Board Member
NFB of California President
Mentor, Advocate, Motivational Speaker, and Mother

Ever Lee Hairston was unanimously elected to the board of directors at the 2010 National Federation of the Blind (NFB) convention on July 6, 2010, in Dallas, Texas. She brings considerable experience to this position, having served in various capacities with the NFB over the years—including nineteen consecutive years of service on the NFB Scholarship Committee and a fourteen-year stint as first vice president of the NFB of New Jersey. Ever Lee founded and served as the president of the Garden State Chapter of the NFB of New Jersey from 1991 until 2005, and for many years she was the coordinator of the LEAD Program, a mentoring program for blind and visually impaired teenagers. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Louisiana Center for the Blind and as president of the NFB of California.

Born to Arizona and Clarence Hairston on the Coolemee plantation in Mocksville, North Carolina, Ever Lee is the third of seven children. She grew up and attended schools in the segregated South. “I felt like a second-class citizen, using hand-me-down books in school; and, due to unexplained vision problems, I had to struggle to read from the bulletin board,” Ever Lee noted. In spite of the challenges of growing up in the segregated South and continuing visual problems, Ever Lee had a strong desire to become a nurse. Ever Lee’s parents simply could not afford to send her to college; so after high school, Ever Lee went to New York City to earn money for college by working as a live-in maid. She returned to North Carolina at the end of the summer anxious to pursue a nursing career. However, she failed the required eye examination and was told that she would not be suitable for admission to Duke University Nursing School. “I was heartbroken but refused to be defeated,” she said. She was accepted at North Carolina Central University, where she earned a teaching degree.

After graduating from North Carolina Central, Ever Lee taught high school business courses in New Jersey. While working as a high school teacher in New Jersey, Ever Lee’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. She finally sought answers and medical care. Ever Lee, along with three siblings, were diagnosed with a genetic eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa (RP). And, four years after starting a challenging teaching career, Ever Lee was forced to resign from her position because of her impending blindness.

At the age of twenty-nine, facing total blindness, with a failed marriage, a child to raise alone, and uncertainty about future employment, Ever Lee admitted to being devastated and feeling sorry for herself. However, she held on to the hope that a better way of life was in store for her. Ever Lee admits to believing in the old adage that “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” She began looking for the window.

After inventorying her strengths, she stepped through a window of opportunity at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, where she took graduate courses in counseling. In 1983 she landed a counselor trainee position with the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services. But, as Ever Lee explains it, “With no blindness skills, I was faking my way through.” She notes that she relied heavily on sighted people to read to her and to act as guides.

In 1987 Ever Lee received a call from Jackie Billie inviting her to an NFB convention in Phoenix, Arizona. At first she made excuses because she was afraid of requesting the time off from her job. Jackie was persistent, and Ever Lee finally agreed to attend the convention.

Ever Lee describes arriving at the hotel in Phoenix to the unfamiliar sound of canes tapping and the unsettling feeling of dogs licking her legs. The most profound experience, as Ever Lee explains it, came when she started through the registration line. She remembers being asked, "Would you like a Braille or print agenda?" She could no longer read print and did not know Braille. It was then, according to Ever Lee, that a light bulb went off.

“I am illiterate,” she thought. She talked to as many people as she could at that convention in Phoenix and learned about the NFB centers. From then until 1990 she continued to function without blindness skills but worked on a plan with Joanne Wilson to get to Louisiana where she could be trained.

Ever Lee attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind from October 1990 until April 1991. She learned to read Braille, mastered cane travel and independent living skills, and learned to utilize adaptive technology. She returned to New Jersey, after the Freedom Bell rang for her at the Louisiana Center, with a confidence she never had before, integrating blindness skills into her everyday life.

Ever Lee credits her training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind with enabling her to succeed at her chosen career. After twenty-six years holding many successive positions with the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program in New Jersey, Ever Lee retired from the position of program director in 2006. In July of that year she moved to California.

She continues to devote tireless hours mentoring and advocating for the blind, as well as delivering inspiring speeches to blind and visually impaired audiences and educating the sighted public about blindness. Ever Lee is blessed with one son, Victor; a wonderful daughter-in-law, Brenda; and three energetic grandchildren: Briana, Kendall, and Jasmine. She enjoys traveling, reading a good novel, and spending time with family and friends. She was elected as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of California in 2016. In July of 2015 Ever Lee became an author with the publication of Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. 

Cathy Jackson, Board Member
NFB of Kentucky President
Advocate, Braille Specialist, and Mother

Mary Catherine Brothers (Cathy) was born on October 25, 1949, in Louisville, Kentucky, to Charles and Catherine Brothers. She is the third of nine children, four girls and five boys.

Cathy was born with congenital cataracts. In 1949 few resources were available to parents of blind children. The National Federation of the Blind was only nine years old, and the Kentucky affiliate was only two years old. The Brothers family had not heard of either. Her parents had never known any other blind people and couldn't imagine what the future might hold for their daughter. However, they decided that a commonsense approach was their best avenue. Luckily for Cathy, they never considered any approach to raising their blind daughter other than the methods they were using to raise their two older boys.

After several eye surgeries Cathy gained some usable vision in her right eye. At age five she was enrolled in a Roman Catholic school. Her parents chose this educational setting since the school offered a sight-saving class, where she would have access to large-print books and other materials that would make classroom work easier. Then in the fall of 1960 Cathy was enrolled at the Kentucky School for the Blind, where she remained until graduating from high school in 1967. Her parents and teachers decided that it would be more beneficial for her to attend school where she would have access to all of her textbooks in large print and, perhaps more important, where she could learn Braille.

This was Cathy's first exposure to totally blind peers and adults. Although she had been around other visually impaired students at her elementary school, the majority of them could see considerably better than she. Cathy and her parents soon learned that blindness was simply a physical condition, certainly not one that would keep her from achieving whatever goals she set for herself. During these seven years while attending the Kentucky School for the Blind, she began to learn not to be ashamed of her blindness. She learned to advocate for herself and others. Being student council president during her junior and senior years launched her political career.

During the summer of 1967 Cathy attended the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. An ill-advised rehabilitation counselor thought this training would be the crowning touch to prepare her for college in the fall. That summer school Lighthouse class of 1967 was comprised of very bright, outgoing, normal young adults, who turned the tables on the Lighthouse staff and teachers. As Cathy remembers the experience, the adults were the ones to get the education when the students refused to be bound by the low expectations and negative attitudes of the staff. At this point in her life she still had not heard about the National Federation of the Blind but was already preaching and practicing NFB philosophy.

Upon graduation from high school Cathy attended Spalding University, formerly Catherine Spalding College in Louisville, Kentucky. She majored in psychology, minored in sociology, and took an active part in academic, student government, and social organizations. The blindness skills and attitudes she had learned at the Kentucky School for the Blind and even the negative attitudes she had been exposed to at the Lighthouse the summer before college were beginning to pay dividends. Cathy was growing into an adult with increasingly resolute convictions and positive attitudes.

In 1972 Cathy met Betty Niceley, the longtime leader of the Kentucky affiliate and for many years a member of the NFB board of directors. The rest is history. This friendship began her formal Federation education. Although Cathy was slow to join the Federation, Betty never gave up on recruiting her. In 1975 Cathy became a member of the Louisville Association of the Blind, the former name of the local NFB chapter. Through the years Cathy eventually served as secretary, vice president, and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Greater Louisville. She was also treasurer of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille of Kentucky. In the Kentucky affiliate she has served as board member, treasurer, first vice president, and now president. At the 2002 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind held in Louisville, she was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

Cathy has held a variety of jobs through the years. During college she was employed at the Kentucky Industries for the Blind (now LC Industries for the Blind) to do seasonal contract work. For a short time after college Cathy worked for the state of Kentucky as a social worker in the Food Stamp Office. After staying home to raise her daughter, Cathy has worked successively as the program coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky Braille Service Center, a clerical support staff member in a law office, and the Braille clerk for the Jefferson County school system. But her favorite job of all was stay-at-home mom to her daughter Dana Nicole. She volunteered as a classroom aide, did substitute teaching, and worked as a secretary in the principal's office. She served as president of the school Parent Teacher Association, secretary of the athletic club, and member of the parish council. In addition she coached both the peewee basketball team and the cheerleading squad.

In June of 2010 Cathy joined the ranks of the retired. She is enjoying retirement to the fullest. She says it affords her more time to concentrate on her NFB obligations. She is also enjoying spending precious time with her family, especially her two granddaughters, Hana and Haley.

Cathy has received a number of awards for academic and athletic achievement, but the awards she cherishes most are the Susan B. Rarick, Harold L. Reagan, and T. V. Cranmer awards presented to her by the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky. Cathy commented that her roots and commitment to the NFB go deep and that the past thirty-eight years are just the beginning.

Carla McQuillan, Board Member
NFB of Oregon President
Mother, and Executive Director of Main Street Montessori Association

Carla was born and raised in Southern California in the early 60's, the youngest of 4 children. In the summer before fifth grade, Carla lost a great deal of vision but did not notice it until she started school in the fall and was unable to read the chalkboard from the front row. A few years earlier, her older brother had been diagnosed with a rare genetic eye condition called Stargardt's disease, which resulted in the loss of central vision. It was soon confirmed that Carla had the same condition. She was diagnosed legally blind in 1971.

Because of her remaining peripheral vision, Carla did not “look blind,” so she was not taught Braille or any other alternative techniques of blindness. She had very little experience with blind people. The only blind person she knew was her brother, and he was forever using his blindness as an excuse for standing on the sidelines. Carla knew that this was not the life she wanted and was determined to do everything in her power to convince the world that she was not blind.

After high school Carla went to Humboldt State University in Northern California. There she met her husband Lucas. They were married in the summer of 1981 and moved to San Diego for Lucas's master's degree program. Though Carla had not completed her bachelor's degree, she was more than happy to put her college career on hold and work to support the couple. Her one year of college had not been very successful. Without the ability to read Braille and eyesight too poor to read print, Carla, who had been an A student in high school, saw her grades drop.

She got a job as a Montessori preschool teacher in San Diego while Lucas completed his master's degree. Their daughter Alison was born in 1983. In 1985 the family moved to Illinois. Lucas enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Illinois, and Carla decided to complete her bachelor's degree. With Lucas' encouragement, Carla asked for accessible textbooks and decided to learn Braille. The staff at the university’s disabled student's services office told her how difficult Braille would be to learn and how inefficient it would be. Discouraged and defeated, Carla wondered if there was any hope for her future. Fortunately she learned of a scholarship program through the National Federation of the Blind. She won a scholarship from the organization’s Illinois affiliate in 1988. The state convention changed her life. Her negative attitudes about blindness and about her own potential to be a successful professional were replaced by confidence and self-assurance that remain a hallmark of her character today.

After both graduating with high distinction from the University of Illinois in 1988, the McQuillans completed their family with the birth of their son Duncan. They moved to Oregon to be near Carla's family. Carla started her own Montessori preschool, which later expanded to include three schools and a Montessori Teacher Certification Program. Carla served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon from 1992 until 2006, when her business responsibilities became too demanding. She also served on the NFB's national board of directors from 1998 until resigning from that position as well in 2006. She was re-elected president of the Oregon affiliate in 2012 and still serves in that capacity. She is the director of NFB Camp, the program that offers child care during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Carla was again elected to the national board of directors in 2016.

“I had such horrible misconceptions about blindness for most of my childhood and early adult life,” Carla says. “I thought I knew what blindness meant, and I didn't want any part of it. The National Federation of the Blind taught me that blindness was only as limiting as I allowed it to be. My friends and colleagues in the movement have been more than ideal role models; they have saved me from a life of regret and underachievement.” 

Joseph Ruffalo, Jr., Board Member
NFB of New Jersey President
Mentor, Community Leader, Activist, and Family Man

Born July 6, 1949, in Montclair and raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Joseph Ruffalo, Jr., had already graduated from Bloomfield High School, attended Montclair State College, and served America in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star, before he learned in 1976 that retinitis pigmentosa would slowly claim his vision. For six years he continued his work as a manager in a Thom McAn shoe store, but by 1983 he began looking for guidance about how to achieve greater proficiency and control over his life as a blind adult.

The staff at the Joseph Kohn Rehabilitation Center (JKRC), then located in Newark, told him he should not learn to use a cane, read Braille, or master any adaptive devices because he still had enough vision to do without them. Though eager to obtain the necessary skills, at the time Joe believed he had no recourse but to adhere to the advice of the only professionals he knew. Not until 1986 did he learn to use a cane, and he accomplished that by teaching himself. While at JKRC, Joe discovered a talent for baking, which led to a successful nine-year career as the owner of a pastry business.

In 1988 Joe tentatively attended his first NFB chapter meeting in Newark. He reports that after ten minutes he knew that his life was about to change dramatically. Realizing that the NFB was a place of fraternity and empowerment, empathy and accomplishment, Joe says, “I saw blind people doing things I wanted to do. They were holding jobs, volunteering, and achieving in every pursuit.” This was the beginning of Joe's own growth and achievement. In 1990 he became second vice president of the New Jersey affiliate; two years later he was first vice president; and by 1993 he was president of the NFB of New Jersey, a position he maintains to this day. The members of the NFB of New Jersey honored Joe at the fortieth state convention on November 12, 2016, with the Raising Expectations Award. “It is a tremendous honor and responsibility to promote positive attitudes about blindness and the abilities of blind people,” Joe comments.

But Joe's community involvement has not been limited to the National Federation of the Blind. He has been a leader in the Lions Club for over twenty-nine years, serving as president for three. He has also held positions as zone/regent chair and serves on the district cabinet. In over twenty-eight years with the Knights of Columbus, Joe has held the positions of guard, warden, and deputy grand knight. He also was an active member of the Boy Scouts of America for over fourteen years, serving as cub master for four years. As past president of the Special Education Parent and Professional Organization for thirteen years and past chairman of the board of trustees of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, he has further worked to assure the full integration of people with disabilities into society.

Joe attended the Therapeutic Massage Center to obtain certification in massage therapy and from 1998 to 2001 provided massage for staff, patients, and visitors at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville before moving his practice to a private office. He has served as a consultant to the Somerset School of Massage, making recommendations to staff and students and answering questions about training methods for blind students.

Joe also worked to smooth others' transitions from dependence to independence as a leader in two programs sponsored by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He was previously employed by the First Occupational Center of New Jersey and the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development as a program manager in the Senior Community Independent Living Services (SCILS) program, which identifies people over age fifty-five in Essex and Ocean counties who have experienced vision loss, with the goal of teaching independence skills so that these seniors can remain active in the community and independent in their homes. As state program director and northern region coordinator of the Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Determination (LEAD) program, administered in partnership with Heightened Independence and Progress, Joe provided mentoring activities for blind teenagers and their families. Unfortunately, the LEAD program was terminated as of October 1, 2013. However the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired established the Employment Development Guidance and Engagement (EDGE) Program, where Joe provides his experience as a mentor to raise expectations of blind and visually impaired teenagers and their parents. His goal is to help them transform their dreams into reality and to live the lives they want.

Joe’s many contributions to the community were recognized in November 2000 when he was honored with the Partnership for Progress Award at the New Jersey Commission's Believe and Achieve ninetieth anniversary celebration. In July 2001 his leadership in the blindness community was again acknowledged when he was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. In October of 2002 the State of New Jersey honored Joe by presenting him with the New Jersey Vietnam Service Medal.

Joe has always been encouraged and supported by his wife of thirty-nine years, Judy, and his two sons, Joseph and James and his two daughters-in-law Bettina and Kelly. In his spare time Joe likes sports of all kinds, especially baseball and basketball, and recently experienced surfing at Asbury Park in New Jersey. For nearly ten years he enjoyed hosting Thru Our Eyes, an Internet radio program www.thruoureyes.org that highlights blindness issues, discusses technology, and promotes positive attitudes about blindness.

Joe’s life and work express his commitment to the blind and their struggle for equality in society. His achievements stand as an example for others, like those of the Federationists who deeply impressed him at his first chapter meeting. He achieves and grows, facing every challenge with energy, enthusiasm, and common sense. In so doing, he exemplifies his belief that “One of the most important things for members of the blind community to do is to teach the public that blindness is only a characteristic. With the proper training, skills, attitude, and techniques, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance.”

Adelmo Vigil, Board Member
NFB of New Mexico President
Educator, Rehabilitation Professional, and Father

Adelmo Vigil was born in the small community of Amalia, New Mexico, in 1951. He was adopted as a baby by his aunt and uncle and raised as an only child on their small ranch. Although it was clear very early that he did not have normal vision, his parents expected him to handle his share of the chores, which included caring for the horses, cows, sheep, and goats. At the age of five Adelmo received the official diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa. He began his education in the local public school, but no one there had any expertise in the needs of blind students. Adelmo was not taught Braille, could not read the print that he was expected to use, and therefore did not read or write well. In 1964 when he was thirteen, his parents decided to enroll him in the New Mexico School for the Blind. Although the family did not wish to be separated, it was their hope that Adelmo would receive a better education at the residential school.

Adelmo's first two years at the school for the blind were no different from his public school education—he was still encouraged to use his limited vision. He remembers that each weekend he had to write an essay for his English class to be submitted and read aloud on Monday. Adelmo would write the piece and memorize it because he could not read his own writing. But, after two years of struggling, he went to an eye examination and was told by the school nurse who had accompanied him to the appointment, “I have some bad news for you. You're going to have to learn Braille.” The relieved Adelmo responded, “That is the best news I've ever heard. Maybe I'll learn to read now.”

Passionate about mentoring and teaching young people, Adelmo pursued a degree in elementary education at Western New Mexico University. There he met his wife Soledad, who was also pursuing a teaching career; they were married in 1975. When he began to seek employment in the Silver City area, where he had been a successful student teacher, Adelmo encountered discrimination for the first time. None of the local schools could hire him, because his name was not on the list of teachers available for hiring provided by the district administration, even though he had completed his student teaching at one of the district schools. Fortunately, his student teaching supervisor, Travis Columbus, believed in Adelmo's capabilities and helped him file a complaint against the district with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. Ultimately, in 1977 Adelmo applied for a position in Shiprock, New Mexico, and began his teaching career. The principal at Adelmo's first school in Shiprock would not assign him to some of the routine responsibilities expected of other teachers, such as supervising students during recess. But when Adelmo transferred to a different school, the principal there was eager to have him not only assume all the duties of other teachers, but also to serve on the curriculum committee and in various other roles. Adelmo gained a reputation of being gifted with difficult students, and parents were asking for their children to be in his classes. He also coached junior high and high school wrestling.

Adelmo's experiences teaching sighted students and combating discrimination earned him an invitation from Joe Cordova and Fred Schroeder to speak at the 1982 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico in Albuquerque. That convention and his first national convention a year later were revelations to Adelmo. “I realized that I was not alone in facing challenges and discrimination and that I had the Federation family behind me. I also learned that the progress I had been able to make and that other blind people were making was due to the work that the National Federation of the Blind had been doing since its inception,” he says. Adelmo immediately became involved in the affiliate and has served in various roles since that time, culminating in his election as affiliate president in 2012.

Adelmo's passion for helping his blind brothers and sisters also led to his second career. In 1989 he was appointed to the Board of Regents of the New Mexico School for the Blind, a position from which he helped engineer the school's dropping of its NAC accreditation. In 1993 he moved to Alamogordo to take a position as director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind's orientation and adjustment to blindness center. In 1997 he became deputy director of the Commission and continued to serve in various roles there for the next ten years. He was particularly passionate about working with young adults in the commission's summer programs. He retired in 2007 but jokes that he has retired three additional times since then. In 2009 he received training as an orientation and mobility instructor through Louisiana Tech and has received the National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) from the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. He went on to supervise and mentor other blind travel instructors.

Adelmo was elected to the NFB Board of Directors in 2016. He says, “I am honored and humbled to serve on the board and to give back the encouragement, support, and love that I have received from my Federation family. I remain passionate about helping the blind live the lives they want, particularly young people, and will do my utmost to build the National Federation of the Blind and to advance our goals.”

Adelmo and Soledad live in Alamogordo. They have two sons, Adrian and Gabriel, and six grandchildren so far.

Undefined by Blindness: Seeking Employment and Financial Literacy
Opportunities for the Blind

by Kathy Martinez
 
From the Editor: Kathy Martinez is the people with disabilities segment manager at Wells Fargo. She has appeared several times on our convention agendas, at least one of those times in her capacity as assistant secretary in the Office of Disability Employment Policy in the United States Department of Labor. She is a blind person with a diverse resumé, and her can-do message is always a welcome addition to our convention agenda. Here is what she said at the 2016 National Convention:

My Federation family, I'm so happy and thrilled and honored to be able to actually spend a good chunk of time at this convention. At my previous job I was not able to do that. I would come in and say hello and would have to leave again. As Mr. Riccobono said, I am now working for Wells Fargo. Some of you remember me from the Department of Labor, and I will say, given that it has been more than a year of separation, I am so happy that you guys are collaborating—let's say—with AbilityOne and pushing them to new heights, which I'm sure they're capable of reaching with your help. Congratulations to you guys [applause].

I was asked to talk a little bit about my story, and then I want to talk about Wells Fargo, but I will say again that we are very, very proud to sponsor the BELL Academy. We meet with Carlton once a month to hear about the amazing progress that you all have made. We are encouraging our team members to volunteer so they can learn from the kids—that's really the goal. And I'd like to give a shout-out to some Wells Fargo colleagues who are also members of the National Federation of the Blind, and that's Jennifer Westbrook—I don't know if she's here, oh she is here, yay!—and David Tem, who I know is here—there he is. That's important to know, that I'm not the only blind person at Wells Fargo. There are many talented folks there, and we intend to hire more [applause].

Just a little bit about me: you know I'm always really inspired to hear the work that the Federation is doing, and I'll say that the Federation played a big role in my life in shaping me. I would say that I was also very lucky, because I had parents who expected a lot of me. Dr. Maurer talked about expectations and the impact that the tyranny of low expectations can have. Fortunately, I am one of two blind people in my family, and I say fortunately because I'm very lucky to have a sister, Peggy Martinez, who many of you know. She's the smart one, and she and I really served as touchstones for each other growing up. We're the middle two of six kids, nobody knows why we're blind, and frankly nobody should care at this point, but we do get asked quite a bit. We grew up in a big family—six kids, two parents, lots of pets—so we were kicked around a little bit, which was good; we kicked back, too. But we were not special, and believe me, special is not where we want to be in any part of society. We lose the quickest if we're considered special. So let's get disability off the special shelf and weave it into every part of life.

We were mainstreamed, but we also were very lucky in that we had a recreation program for the blind that was in the days where you actually were not afraid—we didn't have to sign anything. We got hurt, we climbed mountains, we did a lot of things that I just don't know—I hope blind kids are getting experience like that, because it really helped us grow up.

I went to the orientation center for the blind in the late 70s—I'm pretty old, by the way—and I was bored on the weekends, I was bored to death. So one of the things I did was I read almost every book in the library that they had, but I also found a pile of flexible disks with the speeches of Jacobus tenBroek, and I listened to every single flexible disk. It was like this treasure, this goldmine of brilliance, right? And in that same time, I don't know if anybody is old enough to remember the takeover of the Federal Building to strengthen the ATW regulations, which ultimately ended up with 504. Well, I'm old enough to have gone to that demonstration. I didn't go inside because I was told I would be kicked out of the orientation center if I actually helped take over the building, but I met a man named Muzzy Marcelino [applause, cheers]. Now I'm dating myself. But he really was an inspiration and a help, and he strongly encouraged me to dream my dreams and dream big. So I went back to Southern California where I grew up, and I wanted to work. Because I saw what poverty could do to people, I didn't want my goal to be an SSI check. I went to my rehab counselor, and he was very happy I wanted to work, but I didn't want to be a rehab teacher or a PBX operator or any of those things. So he very proudly—in his mind—placed me as a punch press operator in a lock factory. When that happened, I was very grateful at first, but then about nine months into it I thought, gosh, this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. He closed my case, so he was very proud of himself. I came back, asked him if I could go to college, and he said, “No, we closed your case. You're a twenty-six, you're great, we got you a job.”

I just want people to know that we all grow up in different ways, and college does not have to be a four-year experience. It took me thirteen years to graduate [applause] from college, and I was well into my job with the World Institute on Disability. I worked there for eighteen years, and then I got a call in January of 2009 from John Lancaster, who used to direct NCIL, the National Council on Independent Living, because my work had primarily focused on financial impairment.

As a kid I saw what poverty could do. I saw how my mother was often treated badly because she was a woman—you know she couldn't even get a credit card without my dad's signature. I just really wanted to have money, so I worked from a pretty young age. I also moved to Mexico, where I adopted my son. So it is possible to be a competent blind parent [applause, cheers]. All of that, just the work that I had done, living abroad, living in a developing country, just really made me hone in on financial empowerment, meaning financial literacy and employment. That has really been my life's work.

In January of 2009 I was called by John Lancaster, and he said, “Are you interested in being the assistant secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy?” And I said, “Yeah, I am, actually.” So it worked out that I was able to serve this administration for about five and a half years. I’m really proud of the work that we got done—especially 503, which is really allowing companies like Wells Fargo to scour our resumé banks for competent people with disabilities. I can say we're doing really well; our hiring has definitely increased.

I was hired last year by Wells Fargo to drive the disability strategy. We have four pillars: customer experience, team member experience, philanthropy, and supplier diversity. We are very intent on becoming the bank of choice for people with disabilities and also the workplace of choice. It is a big ship to turn around.

I am not the only one doing good work there. You know we were sued—that kind of pushed things along [laughter]. But there really is a commitment now to accessibility. We've hired a brilliant blind woman, Dina Wainwright. She's our online and mobile accessibility manager. She's really done a lot to get the bank in shape, meaning that every single line of business now has an accessibility liaison. We've just established third-party vendor requirements, so even though a lot of our vendors are not brick-and-mortar establishments, they can't say, “We're not covered by the ADA.”

I really think that by doing this, we are preparing for the future. We know that 10,000 people a day are turning sixty-five, and the senior market is a big market, and we are a bank after all. But we see the advantage of making ourselves as accessible as possible and really looking at banking and the opportunity to manage one's money not as a disability issue but as a usability and accessibility issue [applause].

I want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for being so central and crucial in my life at very critical points. And I'll say: together we'll go far and live the life we want, how's that? [applause] Thank you.

Independence Market Corner

by Ellen Ringlein

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 people.

Gaining access to print is an ongoing need blind people face. Since the early 2000s the National Federation of the Blind has been involved with developing a portable reading solution known as the KNFB Reader. These days the KNFB Reader is an easy-to-use app that runs on an iOS- or Android-based device. The app enables one to take a photo of printed text, which is then read aloud in clear synthetic speech almost instantaneously. One can either listen to the text or read it with a connected Braille display. The app makes it super easy to independently access print on the go. Use it to read mail, both letters and bills; restaurant menus; receipts; class handouts; medical reports; legal documents; food package labels; owner's manuals; books; and much more. The app has built-in features, making it easier for the user to take the best photo such as viewfinder assist, tilt assist, and auto text detection. Moreover, the app can read multiple pages, image-based PDF, and JPEG files. Some low vision users will find the synchronized-text-highlighting feature very helpful. The app also supports multiple languages. With the KNFB Reader app you can make the print yours and live the life you want.

The KNFB Reader app has been available in the Apple App store and the Google Play store for some time. Now, with the new KNFB Reader Enterprise product, one can have access to the KNFB Reader app on multiple devices across multiple platforms. Two-, three-, and four-device versions are available for purchase from the Independence Market for $99.99, $139.99, and $169.99 respectively.

For more information about the KNFB Reader app visit https://nfb.org/knfbreader. You may also contact KNFB Reader technical support through email at [email protected] or call (347) 422-7085. To purchase a version of KNFB Reader Enterprise visit https://nfb.org/independence-market and click on “Our Products.” You will find all versions under “KNFB Reader Licenses and Accessories.” You may also purchase KNFB Reader Enterprise by calling the Independence Market at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216.

For more information about the products and literature available from the Independence Market 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 by email at [email protected] or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, from Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Our staff will be glad to assist.

Recipes

This month’s recipes come from the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut.
Rice Pudding

by Gary Allen

Gary Allen is president of the Connecticut affiliate and a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University. He hopes to graduate this year with an MS degree in counseling with an emphasis on rehabilitation counseling.
Ingredients:
2 cups cooked rice
4 cups of half-and-half
3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of raisins
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method: Combine rice, eggs, sugar, salt, milk, raisins and vanilla flavoring. Mix all ingredients well. Bake in greased baking dish at 350 degrees for sixty to eighty minutes. Turn the rice pudding in the oven once or twice to make sure it cooks evenly.

Slow Cooked Beef Stew
by Gary Allen

Ingredients:
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into one-inch cubes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 cups beef broth
3 potatoes, diced
4 carrots, sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped

Method: Place meat in slow cooker. In a small bowl mix together the flour, salt, and pepper; pour over meat and stir to coat meat with flour mixture. Stir in the garlic, bay leaf, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, onion, beef broth, potatoes, carrots, and celery. Cover and cook on low setting for ten to twelve hours, or on high setting for four to six hours.

Roasted Garlic Potatoes
by Gary Allen

Ingredients:
3 pounds small red or white potatoes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Method: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into one layer. Roast in the oven for forty-five minutes to one hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning. Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.

French Toast
by Robert Palaski

Rob Palaski is first vice president of the Connecticut affiliate and vice president of the Central Connecticut Chapter. He works as a massage therapist and is involved with the Sports and Recreation Division.

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 slices challah, brioche, or white bread
1/2 cup maple syrup, warmed

Method: In a small bowl, combine cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar and set aside briefly. In a ten-inch or twelve-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk together cinnamon mixture, eggs, milk, and vanilla and pour into a shallow container such as a pie plate. Dip bread in egg mixture. Fry slices until golden brown, then flip to cook the other side. Serve with syrup.

Banana Nut Loaf
by Shirley Lebowitz

Shirley Lebowitz was a charter member of the Hartford Connecticut Chapter. She was employed at Services for the Blind. These recipes were submitted for a cookbook that was never finished. Shirley passed away in June of 2011.

Ingredients:
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease eight-by-five-inch loaf pan. Mix and set aside flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Beat together oil, eggs, bananas, and vanilla with electric mixer. Stir in dry ingredients and beat well. Stir in nuts. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake forty-five to fifty minutes. Cool thoroughly before slicing.

Peanut Butter Brownies
by Shirley Lebowitz

4 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 sticks margarine
1 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup peanut butter, smooth or creamy
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease nine-by-thirteen-inch pan. Melt chocolate and all but one tablespoon margarine together. When completely melted, stir all but two tablespoons sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Stir in flour until well blended. Fold in nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan; set aside. In small bowl melt remaining butter. Stir in remaining sugar. Blend in peanut butter. Drop mixture by spoonful onto batter. Swirl with knife to marbleize. Bake thirty to thirty-five minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. Do not over bake. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares.

Sausage egg and cheese casserole
by Justin Salisbury

Justin Salisbury grew up in Connecticut and has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since he lost his vision. He graduated from Louisiana Tech University in March 2016 and is now an orientation and mobility instructor with Ho`opono Services for the Blind in Hawaii.

Ingredients:
8 slices of bread, cubed
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese grated
1-1/2 pounds ground sausage
4 to 6 eggs
2-1/2 cups of milk
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup of additional milk
1 cup mushroom soup
 
Method: Place the bread cubes in a nine-by-thirteen-inch casserole dish. Brown and drain the sausage. Put the cheese on the bread then add the sausage. Beat the eggs with mustard and milk, then pour over the casserole. Refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to bake, dilute the soup with 1/2 cup of milk and pour over the casserole. Bake at 300 degrees for one and a half hours.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Take the Lead:
Every month the Braille Monitor begins with an illustration, a few paragraphs to go along with three or four photographs. Sometimes it’s from a program that happened at the Jernigan Institute, sometimes it’s a BELL Academy, and sometimes it’s a chapter activity. While we hope that our readers enjoy this regular segment, we would also like to ask our readers to help us out.

We can only run the pictures that we have about the programs that we know about. But all across the country there are events and programs put on by state and local chapters about which we may never hear. Undoubtedly these events were fun, informative, and helped to build relationships with the communities in which our Federationists live. Today, when almost everyone has a smartphone with a quality camera, the odds of having at least two or three decent photos from an event are pretty good.

So if you have a karaoke night fundraiser at the local VFW Post or spend a Saturday at your local Barnes & Noble reading to kids or hold a seminar about Social Security at your local library that was attended by members of the public, let us know! Send us five or six photos from the event (preferably with the names of the people in the pictures) and a paragraph or two about your event. It doesn’t have to be a lot: the when and the where, what the event was, how it went, that sort of thing.

To submit your event, email either Gary Wunder at [email protected] or his sidekick/minion Grace Warn at [email protected]. Please send your photos as attachments to the email, rather than in the body of it, because we need the photos as large and high-quality as possible for the Monitor.

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.

2017 Bible Conference:
Camp Siloam 2017 Bible Conference and Camping session for blind adults will be held at the Golden Cross Ranch in New Caney, Texas, from Saturday, May 20, through Saturday, May 27. New Caney is just twenty-five miles north of Houston. We will be celebrating our fifteenth year in Texas.

There is a morning and evening Bible study, and this year's theme is “Conformation or Transformation.” Besides the morning and evening Bible studies, there are a host of other activities to enjoy such as horseback riding, swimming, a shopping trip, two hayrides, the zip line, and much more! Because of limited space, camp fills up fast. Why not come and enjoy the Bible studies and tons of fun? For any questions or further information you may email the camp director at [email protected] or you can call our updated voicemail number at (866) 251-5165, then enter mailbox 7128. Leave your name, address, and phone number, and someone will get back to you.

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.