Braille Monitor                                     February 2017

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Remembering Mike Freeman

by David Andrews

Mike FreemanFrom 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!

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