Braille Monitor

Vol. 60, No. 5                                      May 2017

Gary Wunder, Editor

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

The National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

telephone: (410) 659-9314
email address: nfb@nfb.org
website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFBnet.org: http://www.nfbnet.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300
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Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to gwunder@nfb.org.

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

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


        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


Vol. 60, No. 5                                      May 2017

Illustration: Teaching Designers About Nonvisual Access

A Window into KNFB Reader: An Evolving Project, a New Platform, and New Horizons
by Joel Zimba

The State of Amazon Device Accessibility
by Karl Belager

The Tools of Self-Advocacy for Airline Passengers with Disabilities
by Parnell Diggs

Uber and Lyft Agree to Improving Service for Riders with Service Animals:
We Need Your Help with Monitoring Their Progress
by Valerie Yingling

How Do You Work This Thing?
by David Andrews

A Legislative Update and a Call to Action
by Parnell Diggs

From the President’s Inbox: The Mail Must Go Through
by Mark A. Riccobono

Blindness: Showing Up for Parenthood
by Noel Nightingale

There Is a List for That!
by David Andrews

Independence Market Corner

Dots from Space!: Inching Towards Understanding


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind


Teaching Designers about Nonvisual Access

One of the reasons why technology is so seldom created with accessibility in mind is that too many developers simply cannot conceive of blind people using the mainstream products they design. A superb way to demonstrate the interest of blind people in this technology to those who will be designing it in the future is to talk with them when they are in the process of getting a degree, and there is no better ambassador than Jonathan Lazar, a professor at Towson University in Baltimore, when it comes to connecting blind people and soon-to-be computer scientists.

On February 24, 2017, Jonathan and his students visited the International Braille and Technology Center at the Jernigan Institute to see the technology blind people use, the things it allows us to do, and the things that are made difficult or impossible because of shortsighted design. The staff of the International Braille and Technology Center demonstrated screen-reading programs, Braille displays, 3D printing, tactile graphics, and even how low-tech solutions can be used to demonstrate meaningful concepts. One example was the use of LEGOs to show the layout of the Windows desktop.

This is a tremendous beginning and one we should work to expand throughout the country. Not every computer science major can visit our Jernigan Institute as the students in the Human and Computer Interactions class were able to do, but many of our chapters can get invited to classes and teach soon-to-be designers that there should always be a nonvisual alternative in the toolbox of every program they design.

A Window into KNFB Reader: An Evolving Project, a New Platform, and New Horizons

by Joel Zimba

From the Editor: Joel Zimba is the reading project innovation manager for the National Federation of the Blind. One of his major responsibilities is to supervise the innovation of the KNFB Reader, a dream come true for those of us who want to be able to read print with a device small enough to fit in our pocket. Joel and Jim Gashel recently had the opportunity to introduce the groundbreaking program to the wider tech world at the largest assistive technology conference on earth, hosted by California State University, Northridge. Here is what he has to say about that experience:

I am taking the stage with Jim Gashel, vice president of business development and product evangelist for KNFB Reader, LLC, and Jenny Lay-Flurrie—the chief accessibility officer for Microsoft. The room full of onlookers quiets as she approaches the podium. It is the first day of the thirty-second annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, and we are launching a new product.

After over a year of development, a project I was introduced to on my first day working with the National Federation of the Blind is being presented to the world. I man the controls and demonstrate the capabilities of KNFB Reader for Windows, while Jim describes the history as well as the globe-spanning collaboration that led to this moment.

I can remember sitting in the audience of the 2014 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, when Jim Gashel first demonstrated the modern incarnation of KNFB Reader for the iPhone. You can read Jim’s perspective on those events in the December 2014 Braille Monitor article, “A New Era in Mobile Reading Begins: Introducing the KNFB Reader for iOS.” In that article Mr. Gashel details his first meeting with Ray Kurzweil. He discusses events leading to the creation of the first reading machine for the blind, resulting in the KNFB Reader Mobile line of products. Finally these collaborations bring us to the indispensable KNFB Reader app so many of us carry everywhere and use every day. On that July afternoon, I never imagined I would be part of the team that would keep KNFB Reader evolving, much less metaphorically cutting the ribbon on an app that brings the power of KNFB’s text recognition to Windows 10-powered desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones.

The launch event, held in the Microsoft area of the CSUN conference rooms, is not the end of a story but the beginning of an ongoing tale. It consists of three madcap days of networking, demonstrating KNFB Reader on three platforms and multiple configurations, and promotion of the KNFB Reader technology, which is the most widely available, efficient, and powerful text recognition solution available to date. By night I am mingling, recruiting distributors of our multi-platform Enterprise product, and talking with researchers and other app developers.

I am no stranger to conference exhibit halls. Since 2011 I have demonstrated various forms of assistive technology for both professionals and end users at dozens of such events. None compare to the size and scope of the CSUN exhibit hall. If you have attended a national convention, you will have some idea of the frenzy of such a loud, busy, and heavily populated space. Hundreds of vendors both intentionally and unintentionally competing for the attention of passersby with their colorful displays, video presentations, and of course the talking, beeping, and otherwise calamitous technology itself.

On the second day I am already losing my voice from trying to be heard over the call of the great blue whale echoing from the Touch Graphics booth next door. Behind me President Riccobono announces the debut of KNFB Reader for Windows in our own multimedia promo created just for CSUN, while I demonstrate the stand mode feature of KNFB Reader, which takes pictures automatically as you turn the pages of a book. The gentleman I just met had not yet ventured into the modern era and still uses a desktop-based, stand-alone device from the last decade. My new friend will likely purchase his first smartphone just for KNFB Reader, which is not an uncommon situation.

On Friday morning a visitor to our booth had a question about using KNFB Reader on her BrailleNote Touch from HumanWare. In November of 2016 all users of the BrailleNote Touch received KNFB Reader free of charge. The device I am now holding in my hand is the first product of its kind which can turn printed text into Braille with a single command. This makes good on the promise Jim Gashel made in the final lines of his 2014 article, when he teased the KNFB Reader expansion to the Android platform. I battle the typically congested conference WiFi to configure cloud synchronization using Dropbox for her.

This is my job: to know the intricacies of our products on all platforms, to work with our engineers to squish bugs, and to provide support to KNFB Reader customers. I usually do this from behind a desk or at the end of an often-tenuous telephone connection. Meeting so many KNFB Reader users from all over the world face-to-face reaffirms my goal of improving this powerful tool that increases the independence of blind people worldwide, enabling them to live the lives they want. This is the mission of the National Federation of the Blind, and I am honored to play my part.

Perhaps my favorite question comes from the sighted person being introduced to KNFB Reader for the first time. “How do you take a picture if you’re blind?” Of course, I was wrestling with this question myself before the release of the app in 2014. When I demonstrate the program’s Field of View Report, which details how much of the printed page is visible to the camera and how that can be coupled with tilt guidance to help keep the device in the horizontal plane, incredulity gives way to surprise and then often unease. No longer is this seemingly fundamentally visual activity solely the domain of the sighted.

I now know that this is only half the story. The part we benefit from, but never directly observe, is the powerful KNFB image pre-processing system, which can turn a picture that would otherwise be unsuitable for recognition into a document that is read nearly flawlessly. I am often cavalier when I throw a piece of paper under a document camera at a rakish angle. I know I will soon be navigating the recognized output with ease. Some of the algorithms developed by Ray Kurzweil forty years ago are still alive and well in KNFB Reader. We use them every day. This is how that crumpled receipt still gives up the telephone number of the restaurant where I left my hat.

I am not alone in representing KNFB Reader at CSUN. I am joined by Jim Gashel and William De Prêtre. William is a chief software engineer with our partner Sensotec NV located in Belgium. He, very nearly single-handedly, coded the Windows version of KNFB Reader. Every morning we gather for a working breakfast to assess any new developments from the Twittersphere, take on long-standing challenges in real time, and plan for where we are going next. In addition to the pleasure of having a colleague become a good friend, I have the opportunity to personally express my appreciation to William for his herculean effort over the past year: deadlines, unexpected dead ends, and undocumented interfaces—he faced them all; developers all-too-often never meet the happy customers who benefit from their work every day.

In the launch event speech, Mr. Gashel stressed the importance of partnerships. Indeed, I would say that is the thread which unites all of my experiences throughout the CSUN conference. Our ongoing partnership with Microsoft, which certainly shaped KNFB Reader for Windows, also led to changes and improvements in Microsoft products, especially with regard to accessibility. While I was acquainted with many of the Google contingent attending CSUN, many more of them were familiar with KNFB Reader and certainly with Ray Kurzweil, who is now a vice president at Google devoting his time to the arcane art of machine learning and artificial intelligence. A gathering composed of thousands of people from all over the world very quickly came to feel like a community.

A three-day conference is never all business. Several of us spent the entire day wearing Cat-in-the-Hat-style hats in celebration of Read Across America Day—March 2. Several Dr. Seuss books were on hand for reading with KNFB Reader. Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904. Every year the National Federation of the Blind marks this auspicious occasion and promotes literacy—especially Braille literacy—and access to books for all.

Speaking of community, our Federation family was well represented. Dozens of us descended upon a nearby restaurant early in the week. Before I knew it, I had plenty of volunteers for the exhibit hall booth. I am especially thankful for the help I received from Lisa Irving, Nahrain Spurlock, and Ali Farrage, intrepid members of the San Diego chapter who took on the duty of breaking down the booth and shipping everything home on the last day.

The launch was not the end, and CSUN was not the end. The Windows product will establish a foothold, and it will grow and change. KNFB Reader will continue to become more robust and powerful. Very soon another of Jim Gashel’s promises will come to pass; Chinese and Japanese will make an appearance. This will put KNFB Reader into the hands of countless more of the world’s blind people. Soon a document recognized on your home computer will appear, ready for reading on your mobile device with no effort on your part. A separate multi-platform product called KNFB Reader Enterprise now brings our software to all of your devices at one low price. Looking ahead, major new developments are underway which will begin to reveal themselves at our National Convention this coming July. Stay tuned.

To learn more about KNFB Reader and KNFB Reader Enterprise, go to www.knfbreader.com or call (347) 422-7085. You can also email support@knfbreader.com. To obtain a quote for volume purchases of KNFB Reader Enterprise or a site license, contact enterprise-info@knfbreader.com

The State of Amazon Device Accessibility

by Karl Belanger

From the Editor: Karl Belanger is an access technology specialist at the Jernigan Institute. He has worked for the National Federation of the Blind for more than two years, coming to this position after working as a consultant for web accessibility and access technology training. In this piece he provides some history about the accessibility of products made and sold by Amazon and chronicles significant changes in accessibility that have resulted in some very exciting products for the blind. Here is what he says:

Amazon sells a number of devices, from dedicated Kindle book readers to Fire tablets and the new and popular Alexa devices. Historically, many of these have had limited to no accessibility for blind users. Fortunately, with some involvement from the National Federation of the Blind, this is changing.

Amazon released the first E Ink Kindle in November of 2007. It was wildly popular with the sighted public, but this device did not contain any accessibility features that could be used by a blind person. It was quickly replaced by the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX, which added text-to-speech for reading of some books, but could not be independently operated by a blind person as the menus were not spoken.

Shortly after the Kindle 2’s release, the Authors Guild, which is the largest national organization representing the interests of writers, protested Amazon’s deployment of text-to-speech on the Kindle 2. Viewing this feature as a potential threat to the audiobook market, the Guild argued that the automated reading aloud of a book is a copyright infringement unless the copyright holder has specifically granted permission. Any agreement of this nature would be against the interests of blind people, since it would set a precedent equating the very different formats of text-to-speech rendering and audiobooks. The NFB worked to oppose any such restrictions and stood with Amazon in opposition to the Author’s Guild.

Amazon ended up removing text-to-speech from titles whose authors or publishers were opposed to its continued availability, but did compromise in as much as they would only turn it off if explicitly requested instead of only turning it on with the publisher’s express permission.

Around the same time, the National Federation of the Blind also began to ask for increased accessibility because Amazon had become the world’s largest eBook store and access would represent an enormous benefit for blind and otherwise print-disabled users.

In 2009 Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin was the first Kindle reading platform that offered enough features for blind users (and many print-disabled people) to use books from the Amazon ecosystem at all, and its features were, like those on the hardware players, very limited. Many blind people began to read novels and other non-intensive text with this platform, but it could not be used for more active reading. Books could not be read with Braille because they were self-voicing, and the smallest unit a user could navigate by was the sentence, so it was not possible to spell words or use any of the study tools available to other users.

The Kindle Keyboard (sometimes known as the Kindle 3), released in 2010, offered the first usable, if rudimentary, accessibility features for this population on an Amazon hardware device. Shopping, web browsing, and many of the reading functions were disabled, and navigation was limited to moving through the text in read-all mode or by page, but it was now at least possible for a blind person to make some use of it. The situation on Fire tablets was initially not much better. Upon launch, the first of the Android-based Fire tablets did include TalkBack, but the Fire OS had not been built to support it. Even basic features like the keyboard could not be used by a blind person when the device was first available.

Despite the marginal level of accessibility in the Kindle platform, Amazon began to push into both K-12 and higher education with their books and devices. With the devices crippled by a lack of fundamental accessibility and restrictions on the titles that could be accessed using text-to-speech, the NFB became an adversary instead of an ally to Amazon. This resulted in a number of legal challenges in schools that used Kindle materials with blind students and a protest highlighting the lack of access in Amazon’s tools at their headquarters in December of 2012.

In May of 2013, Kindle for iOS gained VoiceOver compatibility for most books and immediately became the favored platform for blind Kindle users. Likewise, Fire OS gained further accessibility support in the next couple of years, and at the time the Fire Phone was released, it had reached a point where for a time it surpassed the accessibility available on traditional Android devices.

These improvements were critical and welcomed by blind users, but Kindle continued to fall short of the robust accessibility required to read academic textbooks, and August of 2015 saw Amazon and the NFB in conflict once again. The New York City public schools were considering a large contract with Amazon based around the Kindle and Whispercast ecosystem. The National Federation of the Blind, aware that the partial accessibility of books on the platform would continue to put blind students at a serious disadvantage, prepared for a public protest of the meeting where the fate of the contract was to be decided. The buses were ready to roll, the signs were printed, and the Federation was loudly and publicly denouncing the partnership, when suddenly—at the eleventh hour—the meeting was canceled and the contract shelved.

Not long after this very public conflict, Amazon and the NFB sat down to discuss opportunities to partner on the accessibility of the Kindle platform in order to ensure that blind users could derive as much benefit from its ecosystem as sighted users. The National Federation of the Blind has been working with Amazon on the quality of their educational content ever since.

In the last year or so, we have begun to see the earliest fruits of this partnership. As of mid-2016, Amazon has begun rolling out its VoiceView screen reader to all its Kindle readers, tablets, and TV devices. It has taken steps to make its Alexa app for controlling the Echo devices mostly accessible. Finally, they retired the old “Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin” and have replaced it with a fully integrated version of the Kindle for PC software. This now works with NVDA to allow for much more robust accessibility in most Kindle texts.

This brings us to the present day. Amazon is still working toward further accessibility on many of their products, but we have seen such rapid improvement that it is a good time to discuss the experience a blind user can expect today.

Current Accessibility of Amazon Devices

Kindle Readers

Amazon sells four different Kindle devices, which all have some level of accessibility. These are, in ascending order of price and specifications: the Kindle, the Kindle Paperwhite, the Kindle Voyage, and the Kindle Oasis. The most basic model, just called Kindle, is relatively inexpensive and has the most basic feature set. Each additional model adds higher quality screens, better lighting, etc.

Activating VoiceView

How you activate VoiceView changes somewhat depending on the model of Kindle you have. The basic Kindle uses a Bluetooth headset or speaker to transmit the audio. The Kindle Paperwhite uses an audio adaptor that plugs into the micro USB charging port. Both these methods have their benefits and drawbacks. The Bluetooth method means that the device can be charging while VoiceView is active. However, there is no immediately obvious indication how to pair a headset when a user first gets the device, without looking up instructions online. For the Paperwhite, the obvious drawback is that the audio adaptor takes up the charging port, so you will always be running the device on battery power. For the basic Kindle, to pair a headset the power button is held in for seven seconds once the Kindle has fully booted. Then, hold two fingers near the center of the screen for a little over a second. At this point the Kindle will begin trying all Bluetooth devices it can detect. Once the device you want begins to broadcast an audio message, press and hold with two fingers again until the Kindle confirms VoiceView is on. For the Paperwhite just plug headphones into the adaptor and then plug the adaptor into the Kindle, and VoiceView turns on within a second or two.

Basic Gestures

As with other mobile screen readers, the most basic gestures are flick left, right, and double-tap. Moving your finger around the screen to explore by touch is also possible. Page changing and scrolling is done with two fingers. Swiping left and right with two fingers will flip pages in a book or move through multiple pages of content in other areas. Slowly swiping up or down with two fingers will scroll through long lists or any other content that doesn’t all fit on one screen. Much like on iOS, it is possible to flick up and down to move by a selected granularity, and the gesture to change granularity is to flick up then down or down then up in one motion.

Reading Books

The process of reading a book on the Kindle is straightforward. From the home screen, find and double-tap on the book you want to read. If the book supports the screen reader, the book will start reading automatically. If the book is not supported, you will receive a message to this effect, but the book will still open. Once a supported book is opened, a two-finger flick down from near the top of the page will start the book in continuous reading mode. While the book is shown, it is possible to flick left or right with two fingers to go to the next or previous page. To access the reading bar where it is possible to navigate through the book or go back to your library, simply double-tap on the text while reading. It is possible to select text and highlight or add notes, but the initial step of this is somewhat clunky. To select text, move your finger around the screen to try and find the word you want to select. After this is done, double-tap and hold on the word to be selected. This will bring up an interface with buttons to adjust the selection, define a word, highlight or annotate the selected text, etc., which works quite well.

Limitations with VoiceView

VoiceView on the Kindle has a number of limitations that significantly affect how useful the device is. There are many features that simply state they are unavailable when focusing on the button to activate them. The first instance of this a user may run across is when initially setting up the device. While signing into an account is accessible, creating an account directly on the device isn’t currently possible with VoiceView. Probably the most significant of these missing features is the Kindle FreeTime kids section. This is where a lot of content for kids resides, and parents can also set up reading lists, goals, time limits, and book restrictions for their children. Not having this feature means the Kindle readers are much less useful for a blind child whose parents want to get them into reading by using this service or to blind parents having no access to the parental controls. The Kindle’s integration with Goodreads, (an online site where people can share the books they’re reading, reading lists, and reviews of books they have read) is also disabled with VoiceView.

Fire Tablets

Amazon’s Fire tablets are a series of relatively inexpensive tablets that run Amazon’s Fire OS. The current tablets include a basic, seven-inch tablet simply called Fire, plus the Fire HD6, HD8, and HD10 which have six, eight, and ten-inch screens respectively. These tablets all come with Amazon’s VoiceView screen reader, which has a few additional features over the version on the Kindle devices.

Activating VoiceView

Several different ways to activate VoiceView are available, depending on what state the tablet is in. VoiceView can always be activated under Settings > Accessibility. For a brand-new or freshly reset tablet, press and hold two fingers on the screen to start VoiceView. In addition, the user can hold down the power button from anywhere in the system until a sound is heard, then hold two fingers on the screen until VoiceView starts. To turn off VoiceView, go into Settings > Accessibility and turn it off.

Using the Fire Tablet

VoiceView on Fire OS is very similar to the version on the Kindle, with a few added gestures. As is the case in TalkBack on Android, the angle gestures are present, such as swiping right then down to access notifications, or up then left to reach the home screen. One unique gesture that VoiceView has is the “jog wheel” gesture. To use this, swipe up then down or down then up to choose the granularity you want to use to navigate. Then, double-tap and hold, then draw a circle on the screen without lifting your finger. As you continue going around, VoiceView will scroll through items on the screen matching that granularity quite quickly. Draw a circle in the other direction to go back.

VoiceView can handle the built-in apps on the Fire tablet, plus many third-party apps such as Audible or BARD Mobile. The responsiveness is very good, though gestures need to be fairly precise; the double-tap action needs to be quick, and these default controls cannot be customized. It is possible to navigate through web pages, but the granularity options are limited to sections (what other devices call headings) and lists. Reading books works just as it does on the Kindle.

Braille Support

There is a version of BrailleBack currently available for the Fire tablets. This version, like the Android version, lacks many necessary features such as contracted Braille input, word wrap, and consistent and complete sets of commands across displays. Amazon has stated publicly that they are working on a better, more integrated version of Braille support, but no other details or release date have been provided as of this writing.

Current Limitations

VoiceView and Fire OS accessibility in general do come with some limitations. As mentioned previously, the navigation in web content is extremely limited, which can make navigating larger pages awkward. Similarly, there are no headings or other navigation elements in the App Store, Kindle Store, and other stores, again making navigation difficult. The gesture recognition, especially on the lower-end devices, can also be somewhat picky, resulting in failed angle gestures, occasional misinterpreted flicks, and fast double-taps that make using the tablet occasionally frustrating.

Alexa Devices

Alexa, Amazon’s personal assistant service, is on an increasing number of devices, both from Amazon and other companies. The devices that are most associated with Alexa are the Echo devices, which will be discussed here. Alexa devices work through the Alexa app, which acts as a hub for configuring, monitoring, and adjusting aspects of your experience.

The Hardware

There are three Echo devices in the line. The Echo is a stand-alone speaker which was the first device to have Alexa. It has a decent speaker, 360-degree microphones, and connects to your WiFi to provide access to Alexa. The Amazon Tap is a smaller Bluetooth speaker. Until recently the Tap could not listen for the Alexa command, rather requiring a button press to cause it to listen. Now the Tap can listen, thanks to a software update. It is also the only battery-powered device in the lineup. Lastly, the Echo Dot is a much smaller version of the Echo, which is primarily designed to connect to other devices. The speaker on the Dot is fairly weak, but good enough for a small room or bedroom. All three of these devices serve different purposes depending on where and what the device is used for.

The App and Web Interface

There is an Alexa app for both iOS and Android, as well as a web interface. The setup is basically the same whichever platform you’re on. In the app it opens a home screen which shows your recent requests along with more information about them. These might be additional details about sports- or weather-related requests, information on the song playing, or other possible information. The app is also where it is possible to search for and enable skills, connect smart home devices, and configure or set up other Echo devices. The app is very accessible on all platforms, though it can be laggy on mobile. There are also some unlabeled links, mostly in the section at the bottom of every screen that shows what your devices are currently playing.

General Usage

To use an Echo device, simply say “Alexa,” and state your request. “Alexa, what’s the weather in Baltimore?” “Alexa, play the Nation’s Blind podcast from TuneIn.” There are a vast number of things it is possible to do with the Echo. You can ask for the info on most professional and college sports teams, play music and stations from TuneIn radio, read some Kindle books, and listen to content in your Audible library. If you are a Prime member, it is also possible to listen to music from Prime Music and even order products directly through the Echo. There is also an ever-growing number of skills which will be discussed further in the next section. If you’ve connected a smart home device, the Echo can also be used to control your thermostat, lights, connected switches, and many other types of devices.

Smart Home and Skills

The number of Alexa skills is varied and growing daily. From simple trivia games to recipe databases to controls for your security systems—you can find almost anything in the skills section of the Alexa app. To enable a skill, simply find it in the Alexa app and tap the enable button. Or, if you know the name, simply tell Alexa to enable the skill. Some noteworthy skills include Jeopardy, AllRecipes, and Uber/Lyft.

Another growing area of Alexa is smart home devices. Many devices including thermostats from various companies, lighting from companies such as Philips, smart door locks, and even whole home security systems can be controlled through an Echo device. Generally the device must be set up either directly on the device and/or through its connected app, which may or may not be accessible. Once the smart home device is connected to your WiFi, it can be connected to Alexa. This is done in the app, generally by enabling a skill and connecting either directly to the device or by signing into the related account.

Reading Kindle Books on Other Platforms


Reading Kindle books on the PC has traditionally been a less than enjoyable experience. The book could only be read by the system’s text-to-speech voice, and navigation was minimal at best. Very recently, Kindle for PC version 1.19 paired with NVDA has enabled much more granular navigation of Kindle books. It is possible to navigate by chapter, by page, right down to character-by-character navigation. However, only Kindle books that support enhanced typesetting will work in this version. Unfortunately, the only place this information is located is in the product details on the Amazon site, and no warning is given when opening an incompatible book other than it not being possible to read the book using the arrow keys. Highlighting and attaching notes is completely accessible with NVDA, and it is also possible to navigate by link or graphic on the current page. Currently, the best results are with NVDA, though JAWS does provide a reduced level of access, but selecting text and the associated functions are not compatible.


Kindle for Mac is, unfortunately, completely inaccessible. The login screen is unusable with VoiceOver. While the menu bar is accessible after logging in, none of the content can be used or interacted with in any way.


Kindle for iOS is very accessible. The login process, book selection, and download are all very usable with VoiceOver. Once in a book, a two-finger swipe down starts continuous reading. A double-tap on the screen shows the menu bar, where it is possible to navigate to different parts of the book, share the book, or return to the library.


Kindle for Android is also very accessible with TalkBack. When loading a book, simply swipe right to start continuous reading. Just as with Kindle on the Fire, it is possible to drag a finger around the screen to find a word to start a selection. Once the start of the selection is found, a double-tap and hold brings up the usual selection options, though once something is selected, when returning to that location later, there is no announcement from TalkBack that something is there.

Amazon’s devices have come a long way since the original Kindle for PC was released in 2009. The Fire tablets and Fire TV are becoming increasingly viable entertainment devices for the blind and low vision. The Alexa devices are very popular, thanks to their ability to provide access to smart home products that may not be natively accessible. Even the Kindle reading apps mostly continue to show improvement. Amazon has made significant strides in accessibility in nearly all their products, and it will be exciting to see what new developments arise in 2017 and beyond.

At the time of writing in March 2017, the products mentioned in this article are commercially available at the following prices:

Kindle E-reader: $79.99
Kindle Paperwhite: $119.99
Kindle Voyage: $199.99
Kindle Oasis: $289.99
Fire Tablet: $49.99
Fire HD 6: $69.99
Fire HD 8: $89.99
Fire HD 10: $229.99
Amazon Echo: $179.99
Amazon Tap: $129.99
Amazon Echo Tap: $49.99

The Tools of Self-Advocacy for Airline Passengers with Disabilities

by Parnell Diggs

From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is the director of government affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, a former president of the NFB of South Carolina, and the previous owner of a law firm in that state which bore his name. One of his talents is translating the technicalities of the law into prose that laypeople can understand. Here is what he says about the letter of the law:

The general rule is simple enough: carriers are admonished that “You must not discriminate against any qualified individual with a disability, by reason of such disability, in the provision of air transportation” (14 CFR 382.11). But the pleasantries very often deteriorate from there, as many people with disabilities (including those who are blind) have experienced while flying the not-so-friendly skies.

The stories are all-too-familiar for members of the National Federation of the Blind who travel to the convention, Washington Seminar, or on other Federation business throughout the year. The purpose of this article is to flag some of the regulations passengers can cite en route to the Orlando national convention, for example, if confronted with an awkward situation at the airport or during flight.

Where appropriate, I will also give you citations to the Code of Federal Regulations, which will make your self-advocacy more effective and hopefully improve the flying experience. In this case, the origin of most of the regulations cited in this article are promulgated in the implementing regulations adopted by the United States Department of Transportation, pursuant to the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, which protects passengers with disabilities from discrimination in various aspects of air travel.

The Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO)

Every air carrier that operates an aircraft with nineteen or more seats must designate a complaints resolution officer. “In any situation in which any person complains or raises a concern with your personnel about discrimination, accommodations, or services with respect to passengers with a disability, and your personnel do not immediately resolve the issue to the customer's satisfaction or provide a requested accommodation, your personnel must immediately inform the passenger of the right to contact a CRO and then contact a CRO on the passenger's behalf or provide the passenger a means to do so… Your personnel must provide this information to the passenger in a format he or she can use” (14 CFR 382.151(c)(1)).

The CRO must be available at the airport at all times that a US carrier is operating flights at that airport; for foreign carriers, the CRO must be available at the airport for all flights beginning or terminating at that airport.

The CRO is intended to be a powerful individual with authority to make dispositive decisions for the carrier of all complaints and even overrule decisions made by other airline officials except where the “pilot-in-command of an aircraft” makes a decision based on safety. But, short of a safety decision made by a “pilot-in-command of an aircraft,” the CRO can address your issue.

Website Accessibility

As of December 12, 2016, airlines that operate at least one aircraft with a seating capacity of more than sixty passengers and own or control a website must insure that the public-facing pages on its primary website are accessible using World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Recommendation (11 December 2008, Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 for Level AA standards).

This means that, whether you are booking a flight, changing a reservation, purchasing additional services, or dealing with frequent flyer programs, the Department of Transportation requires that those activities and services must be available to disabled passengers if they are made available to the general public online.

The Airport

Entities which contract with airlines are also bound by the Air Carrier Access Act implementing regulations. (e.g., those who provide gate-to-gate assistance for passengers needing to make connections or for passengers arriving at the airport or departing after reaching their destination.) Contract personnel are also subject to CRO authority.

The Aircraft

Quoting the regulations, “You must not require a qualified individual with a disability to accept special services (including, but not limited to, preboarding) that the individual does not request” (14 CFR 382.11(2)). The airlines are required to offer preboarding, and some personnel take this obligation very seriously, but a blind passenger who does not want to preboard cannot be compelled to do so.

Under the regulations, airlines may offer an extra safety briefing to blind passengers, but blind passengers are not required to accept it. According to 14 CFR 382.115(b), “You may offer an individual briefing to any other passenger, but you may not require an individual to have such a briefing except as provided in paragraph (a) [referring to the general passenger briefing] of this section.”

Canes and Guide Dogs

14 CFR 121.589(g) In addition to the methods of stowage in paragraph (c) of this section, flexible travel canes carried by blind individuals may be stowed -

(1) Under any series of connected passenger seats in the same row, if the cane does not protrude into an aisle and if the cane is flat on the floor; or

(2) Between a nonemergency exit window seat and the fuselage, if the cane is flat on the floor; or

(3) Beneath any two nonemergency exit window seats, if the cane is flat on the floor; or

(4) In accordance with any other method approved by the Administrator.

Longtime Federation leader Patti Chang recently used this regulation to convince a flight attendant to allow Patti to store her cane at her seat, though she was first threatened with forced removal from the flight by federal marshals. Also, 14 CFR 382.121 requires carriers to permit passengers to bring “mobility aids, such as canes (including those used by persons with impaired vision)” into the aircraft cabin.

The final set of regulations in this article refers to guide dog users. Carriers have been making it increasingly difficult for guide dog users to travel in peace. Accordingly, the relevant regulations are being set forth below in their entirety as information for those who would like to learn and use them for future travel plans. These regulations can be found at 14 CFR 382.117 as follows:

(a) as a carrier, you must permit a service animal to accompany a passenger with a disability.

(1) You must not deny transportation to a service animal on the basis that its carriage may offend or annoy carrier personnel or persons traveling on the aircraft.

(2) On a flight segment scheduled to take 8 hours or more, you may, as a condition of permitting a service animal to travel in the cabin, require the passenger using the service animal to provide documentation that the animal will not need to relieve itself on the flight or that the animal can relieve itself in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue on the flight.

(b) You must permit the service animal to accompany the passenger with a disability at any seat in which the passenger sits, unless the animal obstructs an aisle or other area that must remain unobstructed to facilitate an emergency evacuation.

(c) If a service animal cannot be accommodated at the seat location of the passenger with a disability who is using the animal, you must offer the passenger the opportunity to move with the animal to another seat location, if present on the aircraft, where the animal can be accommodated.

(d) As evidence that an animal is a service animal, you must accept identification cards, other written documentation, presence of harnesses, tags, or the credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal.

(g) Whenever you decide not to accept an animal as a service animal, you must explain the reason for your decision to the passenger and document it in writing. A copy of the explanation must be provided to the passenger either at the airport, or within 10 calendar days of the incident.”


The regulations discussed herein would be meaningless without mechanisms to enforce them. One thing is certain: if you say nothing when you feel you have been a victim of discrimination, no action will be taken. Ideally, you should make a complaint to the CRO at the airport prior to takeoff or after landing. If you do this, the CRO will be required to act on your complaint immediately.

If the CRO agrees that your rights may potentially be violated, he/she has the authority to take action on behalf of the carrier to prevent a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act. Or, if the harm has already been done, the CRO is required to provide a statement summarizing the facts and setting forth the corrective actions the carrier intends to take.

If the CRO believes that no violation has occurred, he/she must provide a statement in writing summarizing the facts and the reasons for the determination. The statement must also inform the complainant of the right to pursue enforcement action with the Department of Transportation.

Whether the CRO takes favorable or unfavorable action on a complaint, the statement must be provided to the complainant at the airport if possible but within thirty days thereafter in any case. There is also a provision for filing a complaint directly with the Department of Transportation. This section is set forth verbatim as follows:

14 CFR 382.159

(a) Any person believing that a carrier has violated any provision of this part may seek assistance or file an informal complaint at the Department of Transportation no later than 6 months after the date of the incident by either:

(1) Going to the web site of the Department's Aviation Consumer Protection Division at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov and selecting “Air Travel Problems and Complaints,” or

(2) Writing to Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division (C-75), 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590.

(b) Any person believing that a carrier has violated any provision of this part may also file a formal complaint under the applicable procedures of 14 CFR part 302 [The Department of Transportation general administrative review process].

(c) You must file a formal complaint under this part within six months of the incident on which the complaint is based in order to ensure the Department of Transportation will investigate the matter.

While this is by no means an exhaustive accounting of the applicable regulations concerning air travel for passengers with disabilities, these are the most common types of issues brought to our attention in the National Federation of the Blind Department of Advocacy and Policy. Familiarizing yourself with these regulations and discussing them civilly with airline personnel will give you the best chance of enjoying a positive traveling experience the next time you plan to board a flight.

Uber and Lyft Agree to Improving Service for Riders with Service Animals
We Need Your Help with Monitoring Their Progress

by Valerie Yingling

From the Editor: Many blind people have welcomed the arrival of new ridesharing services with open arms, but the same cannot be said for the services, which sometimes have refused to provide rides to blind passengers accompanied by guide dogs. In this article Valerie Yingling, legal program coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind, discusses settlements between the National Federation of the Blind and the two major ridesharing services that operate in the country, Uber and Lyft. Here is what she has to say:

Within the last year, the National Federation of the Blind has resolved allegations of discrimination against both Uber and Lyft. In landmark settlement agreements, both companies have agreed to revise their policies and procedures to prevent drivers from discriminating against riders with service animals. With these agreements, the NFB has pushed back against biases and misconceptions regarding the blind and their service animals. Policy and procedure changes outlined in the Uber and Lyft settlement agreements are designed to afford blind riders with service animals the ability to travel to doctors’ appointments, school, work, grocery stores, and elsewhere, with the same ease of travel that Uber and Lyft offer to sighted customers. In short, the agreements support our living the lives we want, and the NFB commends both Lyft and Uber for instituting these changes.

As a result of the settlement agreements, both Uber and Lyft now require that existing and new drivers acknowledge their legal obligations to transport riders with service animals. Both companies have adopted stricter enforcement policies—if Uber and Lyft drivers knowingly deny rides to individuals with service animals, the drivers will be immediately terminated. Additionally, if either company receives plausible reports that a specific driver refused to transport or otherwise discriminated against riders with service animals on more than one occasion, that driver will be terminated, regardless of the driver’s intent. Uber and Lyft have agreed to improve their complaint procedures, including implementing more effective customer service responses to riders who register service animal discrimination complaints. See the agreement terms in full at https://nfb.org/rideshare.

The National Federation of the Blind will coordinate with both Uber and Lyft to gather data on the success of these efforts for the three- to five-year duration of the agreements. The NFB will gather feedback from its membership on both ride denials and the quality of rides provided for individuals with service animals. This testing will be a critical tool for measuring Uber and Lyft’s compliance with its NFB settlement agreement.

Testing Program Specifics

This is where we need your help. The Uber and Lyft testing program is open to all NFB members and nonmembers nationwide. Riders with service animals or individuals traveling with riders with service animals are asked to complete the following online questionnaire promptly after requesting and/or completing a ride with Uber or Lyft: https://nfb.org/rideshare-test. This testing tool will be used to measure not only ride cancellations and denials, but also whether a driver appeared to understand his or her obligations to provide equal access and to not discriminate as per the protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, testers will provide the following information via the online questionnaire.

Uber and Lyft Testing Questions

Please note that the Lyft agreement contemplates that the NFB will conduct targeted testing in predetermined metropolitan areas. Those areas are Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, and the District of Columbia. NFB’s testing reports to Lyft will be built around the experiences of riders in these cities. That does not mean, however, that we don’t want to hear from Lyft riders outside of those cities. The testing tool is not restricted by geographic area, and we welcome Uber and Lyft testing across all affiliates. I’m pleased to note that the testing tool will also be available in Spanish.

NFB’s testing program will open on May 8, 2017. If you are an Uber or Lyft customer who has a service animal or travels with someone who has a service animal, I strongly encourage you to participate in the testing program. Please know that the NFB’s feedback to Lyft and Uber will only be as strong as the data we gather from testers. Please plan to join us on May 8 and for the duration of our testing program!

For more information, contact Valerie Yingling, NFB Legal Program Coordinator, at vyingling@nfb.org or (410) 659-9314, extension 2440, or see https://nfb.org/rideshare.

How Do You Work This Thing?

by David Andrews

From the Editor: One of the tools most helpful to me in editing the Braille Monitor is the World Wide Web. My searches usually begin with Google and end by navigating some webpage to which it directs me. I am surprised by how often I am asked for some tidbit of information by people who don’t think I will know it off the top of my head but who believe that I have the capacity to find it for them. In their mind the key is that I know how to use the computer, and although many of them own one, they do not know how to benefit from a search engine or to navigate the webpage to which it will take them.

As a person who has worked with a lot of blind people in his career, David Andrews has a good grasp of what lots of blind folks understand and knows how to make them more independent. Here is what he has to say about the basics of navigating the World Wide Web and gaining the freedom that so many sighted people take for granted:

When we look back at this era, it will probably be remembered as the time of “the Cloud.” What is the Cloud, you ask? Well, basically, the Cloud is a place and way of doing things on the internet. Applications and data are stored on servers which are reached using the internet and a browser. This makes it easy for a company to update an application because they just have to do it in one place, not on individual computers or servers scattered around the world.

Consequently, we are using browsers like Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari to do more and more things. I order my groceries online, get taxis, use Facebook, read Gmail, etc. At work I use a browser to enter my time sheet, to approve time and expenses for employees I supervise, to recruit and hire people, and to do my taxes and banking online as well.

Consequently, it is necessary to use and learn new websites on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many blind and visually impaired computer users are not taught how to explore new websites; they are only taught how to do very specific tasks on the web. A number of years ago at a technology conference I saw a presentation from Fidelity, the mutual fund folks. They observed blind computer users and categorized their techniques for using unfamiliar sites. One of the things they said that stuck with me was that most people just know one or two commands in their browser, and they keep using them whether or not they work.

I am going to give you several techniques or strategies for exploring, learning, and navigating a new website. They will not be screen-reader-specific, that is, I am not going to list commands for JAWS or VoiceOver, but most screen readers have the same basic set of functions, and you can look up the specific commands for your particular screen-reading program.

Screen readers put a web page into a virtual buffer which allows you to freely explore it like a word processing document. If you have the time, it is generally beneficial to fully explore a new website’s home page, use your arrow keys or read all commands to explore the complete page. In this way you know what is there and have an idea where things are located.

There are a number of strategies that can be used to explore a page in addition to reading the whole thing. You can tab through the page, going from link to link. This can be a relatively quick way to see what is there, but it doesn’t give you a lot of context. A related strategy is to use a “links list.” For some reason, for a period of time many JAWS users were taught to do this, no matter what. Personally I think this strategy is only good for sites with which you are familiar. A Links List, with first letter navigation, can be quick, but is of little help unless you know the site.

Depending on your screen reader, there may also be commands to get lists of forms, tables, frames, or headings. Here again, these commands can be useful or of no help depending on your knowledge of the site and what you are trying to accomplish. Your screen reader may have commands to get other kinds of element lists as well.

Probably the most popular means of navigation and exploration besides the arrow keys is the use of headings. A heading can be made to visually emphasize something, like the beginning of a section. Headings can also be thought of as parts of an outline. There can be headings from level one through level six. A given site will only use the levels it needs, depending on its structure and organization. Headings are ideally hierarchical, that is like an outline. You have a level one heading, then one or more level two headings below that. Below each level two heading there may be additional levels. Think of it as an outline, a way to organize content. If you read DAISY books, like those from NLS, you are familiar with the concept of headings.

Good web practice says that there should be only one level one heading per page. Most sites follow this, although there is nothing preventing the use of multiple-heading level ones. The use of just one is most common, and it is generally at the top or the beginning of the content of a site. Below it will be other headings as needed. Most screen readers have commands to go to specific levels of headings and to skip from heading to heading. If a site has headings and uses them well, this is a quick way to get an idea of what is there, as well as to navigate around the site. However, not all sites use headings or use them correctly.

An increasingly popular way of orientation and navigation is the use of landmarks or regions. A landmark denotes a part of the page and is used for things like banners, navigation, main content, and footers. Most screen readers have a command to jump from landmark to landmark if they are present. This is a quick way to make big jumps to different parts of a site.

Many sites also have a “skip to content” link near the top. This may or may not be hidden from visual users and only available to screen-reader users. It is a quick way to get to the guts of a site. They can be useful but don’t always work correctly. Some screen readers also may have a command to jump to the beginning of a site’s content, but here again, they don’t always work as intended.

The Find command can also be very useful. You can search for a keyword on the site. It may be something you know is there or something you suspect is there and want to locate. Find will quickly get you to the right place.

Safari and Firefox have a “reader button” or “reader mode” on some sites. This is a button or icon that appears near the top and that skips all the header information at the top of the page and jumps to the content. The feature in Safari is available on both the Mac and on i-devices. It isn’t available for all sites but can be useful when present.

Screen readers also have commands to move to different kinds of elements on a web page such as edit boxes, forms, checkboxes, buttons, etc. Knowing these commands and using them to explore and/or navigate through a page can be very useful.

One peculiarity that crops up from time to time is links that the screen reader doesn’t identify as links. This situation depends on the screen reader/browser combination and the tools used to author the website. Sometimes you will be reviewing a page, and you will hear phrases that sound like they might be links or buttons and from their context seem like they should be, but your screen reader isn’t saying “link” or “button.” They may in fact be links or buttons; it won’t hurt anything to move to one and hit enter to see if it does something.

If things don’t work as you would like, you may want to try a different screen-reading program. Some people use NVDA, Nonvisual Desktop Access for this purpose. Also, with Window-Eyes now being free to Microsoft Office for Windows users, a second or third screen reader is available to nearly everybody. It can sometimes work to try a different browser as well.

You might not use all of these strategies on a new website, but it is useful to have as many tools as possible in your toolbox. That way you will have a wide variety of strategies which you can use to master a new website.

A Legislative Update and a Call to Action

by Parnell Diggs

From the Editor: In the March 2017 issue of this magazine we ran the legislative fact sheets distributed at the Washington Seminar. At the time of our visit some of the legislation was still being drafted, but we now have bill numbers and are requesting action. In this letter, which was circulated to members on our listservs, Parnell Diggs, director of governmental affairs, provides bill numbers and asks for our action. Here is his letter:

Dear Federation Family,

The purpose of this update is to bring you up-to-speed on legislative developments since we left the Washington Seminar two months ago and to ask you to activate on several crucial issues. Please use this information as a good reason to reach out to your two senators and your congressman or congresswoman and update them on developments since your visit to their offices. The summary of legislative developments will be followed by the call to action on three bills:

The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act, also known as “AIM HIGH,” H.R. 1772

Congressman Phil Roe (Republican, Tennessee) and Congressman Joe Courtney (Democrat, Connecticut) introduced this legislation in the House of Representatives. H.R. 1772 will promote instructional technology and content that are accessible to the blind and other students with print disabilities.

The Access Technology Affordability Act of 2017 (ATAA) H.R. 1734 and S. 732

These companion bills were introduced by Representatives David Young (Republican, Iowa) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (Democrat, California) in the House and by Senators John Boozman (Republican, Arkansas) and Benjamin L. Cardin (Democrat, Maryland) in the Senate on March 28, 2017. Please remind your senators and representative that this legislation will establish a per-person individual refundable tax credit to be used over a multi-year period to offset the cost of access technology for blind people.

The Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act of 2017 H.R. 1377

As President Riccobono indicated, the TIME Act is still a priority of the National Federation of the Blind. It just wasn't front and center at the 2017 Washington Seminar. The bill was introduced by Representative Gregg Harper (Republican, Mississippi) on March 8, 2017, to remove barriers to employment opportunities for people with disabilities by phasing out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and facilitating the transitioning of people with disabilities now working in segregated employment settings into competitive employment opportunities in their communities. There is low hanging fruit we can secure from cosponsors of previous iterations of the TIME Act. Please see if your senators and representative will cosponsor this bill in the 115th Congress, especially members of the House of Representatives who have done so before.

Call to Action

Please call both of your senators and ask them to cosponsor S. 732, the Access Technology Affordability Act. Also, please call your congressman or congresswoman and ask him or her to cosponsor the AIM HIGH Act (H.R. 1772), the Access Technology Affordability Act (H.R. 1734), and the TIME Act (H.R. 1377).

This is an excellent opportunity to circle back with your senators and representative to provide them with updates on legislation that will help blind Americans live the lives we want. The number to the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121. From there, the operator can transfer you to your desired contact. Let me thank you for the groundwork you laid at the Washington Seminar, which has led to the introduction of this legislation. Let’s build on that momentum as we turn our focus toward Orlando.

As always, thanks for all you do.

From the President’s Inbox: The Mail Must Go Through

by Mark A. Riccobono

From the Editor: One of my favorite columns in the Braille Monitor when I started reading it in the early seventies was called “From the President’s Mail Basket” and was written by then-president Kenneth Jernigan. In those days there was no President’s Notebook and no monthly Presidential Release, most of President Jernigan’s communication with the membership was done through the United States Postal Service, and these columns in the Braille Monitor spoke clearly to the issues of the day, the concerns of the membership, and the talented man who was responsible for coordinating it all. This article from President Riccobono brings some of the best of what made “From the President’s Mail Basket” special: the interaction with a member, the highlighting of an important issue, and a chance to observe the thinking and the talent of our current president. Here is his article:

We live in a communication rich world. With those rich communication tools—mobile phones, email, social media, etc.—comes a pace of activity that sometimes prevents us from taking the time to tackle the artificial barriers we face. Some of those barriers are a real nuisance when we face them, but the immediate move to the next thing makes stopping and dealing with a problem feel like more work than it is worth. A recent exchange and its outcome prompted me to take a moment to write this article. I believe this situation demonstrates the importance of individual members taking the initiative to raise their voice to activate our vehicle for collective action—the National Federation of the Blind.

As President of the National Federation of the Blind I receive a lot of correspondence—mostly via email but often via telephone. Attempting to deal with them quickly and effectively can be a challenge. Yet I am often surprised by the correspondence that does not make it to me. I try—sometimes successfully and sometimes not—to stay plugged in to social media knowing that many members of the Federation are discussing important topics in those communication channels. One day I came across a tweet from David Bouchard of Oregon. I reached out to David and asked him to send me an email to tell me more about his situation. Here is what he wrote to me on September 24, 2016:

Good afternoon, Mark,

Yesterday, at approximately 5:00 p.m. PST, I went to the Post Office at 101 SW Madison Street in Portland, Oregon, to mail a package for a friend. I purchased a box for the item, and when I asked the attendant behind the counter to assist me with filling out the shipping label, she refused, stating that she was forbidden to fill out customers' shipping labels per a USPS regulation. She asked another customer to assist me. I accepted that assistance to save time, but pressed the issue once my package was shipped. Her supervisor informed me that employees could be fired for filling out the shipping labels and that I would need either the assistance of another customer or a "caregiver." When I asked him if this was a federal regulation, he said that it was. As we both know, this is unacceptable, and I will do whatever it takes to change this outdated policy. I am still trying to find the offending regulation. Please feel free to contact me with any questions by email or at _________.

Regards, David Bouchard

I appreciated David’s email because it demonstrated that he had taken positive steps to solve this problem by himself. He had questioned the policy and pressed the local postal worker for as much detail about the policy as he could get. Furthermore, he was attempting to research whether a regulation of the type described really exists in the federal code. David’s email stands in contrast to those that simply request help from the National Federation of the Blind without demonstrating that the individual has done their part to solve the problem at hand. Often, we can get the most effective outcome when the blind individual has done all that they can to solve the problem before activating the national organization.

I asked Parnell Diggs to research this issue and draft a request to the United States Postal Service to get clarification on this regulation. Below is Mr. Digg’s letter:

October 17, 2016

The Honorable Megan J. Brennan
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
Office of the Postmaster and Chief Executive Officer
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW, Room 10022
Washington, DC 20260

Dear Ms. Brennan:

We received the following inquiry from David Bouchard, a blind gentleman in Portland, Oregon:

“On Friday, September 23, 2016, at approximately 5:00 p.m. PST, I went to the Post Office at 101 SW Madison Street in Portland, Oregon to mail a package for a friend. I purchased a box for the item, and when I asked the attendant behind the counter to assist me with filling out the shipping label, she refused, stating that she was forbidden to fill out customers' shipping labels per a USPS regulation. She asked another customer to assist me. I accepted that assistance to save time, but pressed the issue once my package was shipped. Her supervisor informed me that employees could be fired for filling out the shipping labels, and that I would need either the assistance of another customer or a ‘caregiver.’ When I asked him if this was a federal regulation, he said that it was.”

We would greatly appreciate your kindly providing us with the regulation in question. I have provided my contact information below so that we may further discuss this matter.

Thank you in advance for your assistance, and I look forward to hearing from your office in the near future.

Sincerely, Parnell Diggs, Esq.

After receiving David’s initial email, I mentioned the issue to a number of blind people and a surprising number of them told me they or someone they knew had encountered a similar situation. It got me wondering if blind people are sometimes too quick to brush off unfair treatment based on false information. Is the problem that the small incidents are too easily left behind in our fast-paced society? Is it that we believe some requests are unreasonable—even if they are small—or that we are afraid to question the officials that are directing us? Or is it simply that we face too many barriers in one day, and we can only choose so many to tackle? Whatever the case, I was surprised that the issue was known but had never been tackled in a way that would answer the question once and for all. In order to resolve the matter, I give you the response from the United States Postal Service so that you might use it whenever the question comes up in the future:

November 16, 2016
Mr. Parnell Diggs, Esq.
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

Dear Mr. Diggs,

This letter is in response to your recent inquiry to Postmaster General Megan Brennan on behalf of Mr. David Bouchard. The letter described Mr. Bouchard's visit to a Post Office in Portland, Oregon. During the visit Mr. Bouchard asked the window clerk for assistance completing a shipping label and was told "a federal regulation prohibited such assistance." Your letter asked to be provided with the federal regulation in question.

There is no federal regulation prohibiting a postal employee from providing assistance filling out a shipping label for a customer with a disability. To the contrary, it is the Postal Service's policy to offer assistance to customers with disabilities if requested.

Employees are expected to be flexible and responsive in providing such assistance.

I apologize on behalf of the Postal Service for Mr. Bouchard's unsatisfactory customer experience. The Postal Service provides training to employees about serving customers with disabilities. We want all customers to receive great service from Postal Service employees, and it is our responsibility to ensure they get it—everywhere, every day, every time.

Thank you for bringing this problem to our attention.

Samuel J. Schmidt
Managing Counsel
9350 South 150 East, Suite 800
Sandy, UT 84070-2716
(801) 984-8400

As a follow up, I wrote the email below to David on December 1, 2016:

Dear David,

As the motto says, “the mail must go through.” Your letter of September 24 pledged that you would do whatever it takes to change the outdated practices that you experienced at the Post Office on Friday, September 23, 2016. I appreciate that you recognized discriminatory practice and you activated the Federation network to resolve the issue. You could have walked away figuring it was just the way life goes. You could have decided that blind people simply had to give up some privacy to get equal access. You could have decided to never bother with that post office again. You did none of these things, and you did not expect someone else to solve the problem for you, but rather sought assistance on how you could be part of solving the problem. For that I am thankful, and I commend you on your active leadership.

I am sharing with you the response we have secured on your behalf from the United States Postal Service. I believe you will be pleased with the response. I have asked Mr. Parnell Diggs, our director of governmental affairs, to respond to the letter and invite the postal service to work with members of the Federation on their training. I suspect if they accept our offer we might call on you for assistance. Thank you for raising this issue and for helping us secure this useful response.

I am going to publish the letter and details of your case in the Braille Monitor so that others encountering this problem know the truth. The mail must go through, and the blind can expect equal treatment in the post office according to the leaders of the organization. Since your case came to my attention, I have talked with others who have experienced this problem or know people who have, and it appears as though they chose not to challenge the practice. I am glad you pushed a little further. Keep raising expectations.

If you decide to take the response down to your local post office, I will be interested to hear how they react.


Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind

There you have it, the answer to the question of whether or not the United States Postal Service will assist you with your packages. I encourage all members of the National Federation of the Blind to continue to share with each other the barriers that are encountered and work together to break down those barriers. When an issue comes up locally, be sure to share it with your chapter president and, if appropriate, your affiliate president. If you find that an issue requires the attention of our nationwide network, please be sure to call upon the national President so that we might have an opportunity to evaluate the situation. I can be reached at our national office by telephone at (410) 659-9314 or by email at officeofthepresident@nfb.org. The more that we take the time to address the artificial barriers we face rather than shaking them off as a nuisance, the faster our pace of progress will be. We might find that in many cases, like this one, a simple letter requesting clarification from the entity involved might give us the answer we seek. Then, we should find a way to share that correspondence with others within our Federation network.

Blindness: Showing Up for Parenthood

by Noel Nightingale

From the Editor: Noel Nightingale is the mother of three children who resides in Seattle, Washington, with her husband Jim Peterson. She first met the Federation when she won a national scholarship in 1991. Her work in the Federation has included service as a chapter president, a state president, and as a member of the national board of directors. By training she is a lawyer who currently works for the United States Department of Education in the Office for Civil Rights. She currently serves as a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, a division of the NFB. Here is what she has to say about deciding to become a parent and the challenges it has posed in her life:

Becoming a parent was significantly harder than becoming blind. When I became blind, other blind people taught me that I just had to acquire the skills and attitudes I needed to live well as a blind person. I already knew basic life skills as a sighted person, and I merely needed to tweak a few things such as: learning to use a long white cane; learning Braille; learning how to use various assistive technologies; and, hardest of all, truly believing that I could still do the things I wanted to do without limitations. Of course, I now knew about being discriminated against as well.

The most dramatic challenge that came with parenthood was that I had to change my perspective and priorities. I realized that neither Jim nor I came first anymore, and I sacrificed many of the things I enjoyed doing to spend time with my children. Like the rewards of having children, it is difficult to describe how the mundane aspects of parenting rule our lives. I trained myself not to use profanity anymore lest I inadvertently do it in front of the kids. Along with Jim, I adjusted my schedule around my children’s schedules, and I learned that my children’s homework was also my homework because if Jim and I didn’t nag the kids to do it or didn’t help, it may very well not get done. The list goes on and on of the seemingly boring yet enormously important and trying things we now spend time on to even reach the low bar of being adequate parents.

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 we 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 https://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.

There Is a List for That!

by David Andrews

This month we will start out our monthly column of internet mailing lists with the state of Maryland, home of the Jernigan Institute and the National Center for the Blind. And for good measure, we will throw in the state of Delaware, since it is small.

The primary list for the state of Maryland is NFBMD. You can subscribe to the list by going to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfbmd_nfbnet.org or you can also subscribe by sending email to nfbmd-request@nfbnet.org and put the word subscribe on the subject line by itself. The list contains both discussion and announcements.

Most of the chapters in Maryland also have their own lists. Below are the list names and a brief description of each. To subscribe substitute the list name in the command above for the NFBMD phrase.

Central Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland, chapter list

At-Large Chapter of the NFB of Maryland

Sligo Creek Chapter

National Harbor Chapter list
Towson/Lutherville/Cockeysville Maryland Chapter list

Two divisions in Maryland also have their own lists, Parents of Blind Children and Students. Their list names are MDPOBC and MDABS respectively and can be used in the web or email commands mentioned previously. The NFBNET server also hosts the NFB of Maryland website, http://www.nfbmd.org.

Finally, as a bonus, since it is small and close to Maryland, we will mention Delaware. Its list name is NFB-of-Delaware and you can subscribe either by going to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfb-of-delaware_nfbnet.org or by sending an email to nfb-of-delaware-request@nfbnet.org. Put subscribe on the subject line by itself.

Next month we will tell you about technology-related lists. As always, you can find all NFBNET.ORG-related lists at http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/.

Independence Market Corner

The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market is the conduit through which our organization distributes our empowering literature to our members, friends, and the general public. As a service we also operate a blindness products store, which sells mostly low-tech items, designed to enhance the everyday independence of blind men and women. With spring well underway and summer just around the corner, we want to highlight a few products that promote outdoor activity.

We carry two different ringing balls, namely a basketball and a football. These balls contain two bells that jingle while the ball is in motion. More recently we replaced our ringing soccer ball with a rattle soccer ball. The rattles in this ball make more noise than the bells do, so it is better for outdoor play. We also have a beeping Frisbee, which emits a continuous beeping sound when turned on. This Frisbee, while not quite possessing the aerodynamic properties of a traditional one, is a foam disk covered with a bright orange nylon sleeve and includes a removable sound source, which is operated by one AA battery. Since the Frisbee is soft, it is suitable for both indoor and outdoor play by children of all ages. The Beeper Box is also sold separately. One may use it as a sound source for games and training situations.

And if you want to keep track of your steps and don't have a smartphone, our basic talking pedometer may be for you. After you determine your average step length and select this number in the setup, the pedometer will keep track of your steps and convert it to miles. It also announces the time and features an alarm.

Now all you have to do is go outside and have some fun!

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 us using email at independencemarket@nfb.org or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time. Our staff will be glad to assist you.

Dots from Space!
Inching Towards Understanding

by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

Eager to learn more about the ways that the vanished inhabitants of the building dealt with blindness, the roly-poly adventurers retreat inside once more and navigate through the empty hallways until they find a metal door. Rolling forward, Lieutenant-Commander Jot presses against and twists the door handle, preparing to open it. The door, with Jot still attached, swings forward over open air. Astonished to find nothing under her mass, she emits a small yelp of surprise.

“Jot!” cries the captain.

“I’m fine, ma’am. But it looks like we’ll have to find another way down. The stairs have collapsed.”

Captain Dottie reaches out a suction cup-like appendage and pulls the hanging Jot back onto firm ground. Once stable, Jot stretches out an exploratory appendage and feels the inside edge of the hole, whereupon she discovers the still intact hand rail.

“I think we can slide down this, Captain!”

“I’m not sure we should trust it,” says Doctor Spot.

“What if one of us begins to slide down while one of the others holds on to them from behind? That way we aren’t putting all our weight on the rail at the same time, and we’ll have a braking mechanism.” Jot explains.

“Alright,” says the captain. “Let’s do it, but we’ll take it slow.”

Two by two the members of the crew begin to slide down the bannister, with each pair stretching and compressing their bodies like an inchworm as they move along. Soon they come to the door to the next level and make their way down another empty hallway to a large room.

Dotted around the vault-like room are several statues and tactile exhibits standing silently on display. Lieutenant-Commander Jot admires a primitive rocket purported to have been launched in 2004, while Captain Dottie inspects a small white cane said to have been used by an alien called tenBroek, the first leader of the inhabitants of the building.

Row upon row of shelves, some long since collapsed, wind back and forth across the dimly lit room. Countless books line the shelves, while others are strewn across the moldering carpet. Bending down to retrieve one brittle book from the top of a pile, Ensign Bean begins to carefully flip through its pages. A short while later, Captain Dottie discovers he has not moved from his spot for some time.

“Report Ensign. Have you found something of interest?”

“It’s this book, Captain. You’ve got to see this!” His voice shakes slightly as he bounces with excitement.

Squeak, squeak. “It appears that this book also uses multiple writing systems simultaneously.”

“It’s not just that, Commander. It also uses these raised diagrams on top of colored images of space phenomenon, like nebulas and celestial bodies.”

“Oh? And what’s so special about that, Bean?” Commander Point asks; a trace of sulking in his voice.

“It all makes sense now, Commander. They wanted everyone to be able to access the information regardless of their ability. If that meant using three systems of communication, then that is what they used. As long as the content, the knowledge, was available to everyone then that was what counted.”

“That’s quite a theory you’ve got there, son,” the commander says with a squeak. “But what evidence do you have to base it upon?”

Without a word, Bean hands Point a piece of paper which had been tucked into the front cover of the book. Giving the ensign a quizzical look, he unfolds the brittle paper, presses it to his chest, and begins to read.

[Note: Link to or copy text from “Access for All,” by Noreen Grice, Future Reflections, Volume 29, Number 4, https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr29/4/fr290408.htm]

Silently, the commander hands the paper to Captain Dottie.

“That’s quite the discovery, Ensign. I think you may be onto something there. Access to information is one of the most basic rights of sentient life. It seems that these aliens understood this concept quite well.”


As many schools begin to adjourn for the summer, we at the Monitor thought we’d pull together some fun and kid-friendly recipes to make for and with your kids over the long break.

Ants on a Log

Ants on a Log is an old scout standard snack, and incredibly flexible in flavors. Easy and quick to make any time, this recipe is perfect for an afternoon snack after running around.

1 bunch celery (the logs)

Filling options:
Peanut butter
Cream cheese (plain or flavored by preference)
Ricotta cheese
other vegetable spreads

Ants options:
Dried currants
Miniature chocolate chips

Method: Wash and dry celery. Cut celery into snack-length pieces (two to three inches, usually). Fill celery pieces with one of the fillings, whichever you prefer. For Ants on a Slip-n-Slide, drizzle honey first, then fill with cream cheese or peanut butter. Place a line of “ants” down the log, usually three or four depending on size of ant and length of log. Enjoy!

Indoor S’Mores

Everyone thinks of s’mores as a camp treat—marshmallows roasted over an open fire. But when your camping trip gets rained out, or your seasonal allergies make spending hours in the great outdoors not an option, there’s no reason to entirely miss out on this summer staple.

1 bag miniature marshmallows
1 box Golden Grahams, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, or similar cereal
1 bag chocolate chips
1 box large paper clips
1 unscented candle

Method: Set up candle in holder on table or kitchen counter. Each person making s’mores will need a large paper clip. Straighten the paperclip, leaving only the smallest inner loop folded to create a handle, this is your roasting stick. Light the candle. Lay out two pieces of cereal and one chocolate chip in easy reach. Stick one marshmallow onto the end of the paperclip wire. Hold marshmallow over flame to toast. There are two schools of thought on the proper technique to roast a marshmallow: one says you hold the marshmallow slightly above the flame, turning slowly to allow the marshmallow to toast to an even golden brown. The other says to stick the marshmallow into the flame, then lift it out. Allow the marshmallow to burn briefly, creating a black crust around it before blowing the flame on the marshmallow out. Place the chocolate chip onto one piece of cereal, then rest the marshmallow on top of the chocolate chip. Place the other piece of cereal on top of the marshmallow, then pinch the cereal together and use it to pull the marshmallow off the paper clip. Repeat until candle burns out, you run out of ingredients, or get sick of dessert, whichever happens first.

Bird Seed

This recipe is a great way to practice using measuring spoons or cups as well as fractions, and allows for great personalization in this heathy snack mix to allow for picky eaters who disagree to exist in harmony on family road trips, sporting events, and other outings. Because there is no chocolate, this recipe is great for taking along in the summer heat without as much worry about mess.

1 Ziploc bag per person
Toasted corn kernels
Sunflower seeds (hulled)
Chopped nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, pecans, or mix)
Plain granola cereal
Dried fruit (banana chips, raisins, currants, bananas, etc.)

Method: Each person measures 3 tablespoons of each ingredient into their Ziploc bag, shake to mix.

Breakfast Cookies

Early morning marching band practice, summer school classes, or day camp? These breakfast cookies are easy and fun to make, then fast to grab and eat on the way out the door later.

1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
3 cups multigrain cereal flakes with blueberries

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray or cover with parchment paper. Place butter in a medium mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer for thirty seconds. Add brown sugar and baking soda, beat until mixed. Add the eggs, then beat until mixed. Add flour and beat until the mixture no longer looks dry. Stir in the cereal using a wooden spoon. For each cookie, pack the mixture into a 1/4-cup measuring cup, using a rubber scraper to get it out of the cup and onto the cookie sheet. Press mound of dough with your fingers to flatten it slightly. Repeat with remaining dough, leaving about three inches between cookies. Bake cookies for eight to ten minutes or until edges are golden brown. Let cookies stand on the cookie sheet for one minute before transferring to wire rack to let them finish cooling. Makes twelve cookies.

Bug Juice

A fun and funky punch mixture that produces unusual colors and flavors to experiment with.

1 package of Kool-Aid or other non-sweetened drink mix powder per child, different flavors
Sugar in quantity required by drink mixes

Method: Combine drink mix packages and sugar as directed by mix packages in large pitcher, bowl, size of container determined by size of group. If group is large enough, mix packages in twos or threes in multiple gallon jugs. Add water as directed. The combinations of two to three flavors give that odd “byproduct of bugs” appearance.

Aquarium Jell-O

This cool treat is a cool treat for a hot summer, whether for a birthday party or just as a fun family dessert.

1 package blue Jell-O
1 package Swedish Fish
1 Package Life Savers Gummies

Method: This can be made in one large container, such as a glass fishbowl, or in smaller individual servings in a clear plastic punch cup or smaller glass drinking glass. First use scissors to cut Life Savers Gummies into smaller pieces to make the pebbles the bottom of your aquarium (bowl or cups). Judge the depth of the pebble layer for your own preferences. Mix Jell-O according to package instructions. Pour over pebble layer. Place Jell-O into refrigerator for several hours to set. Once Jell-O has set, use a long, thin knife to cut a slit in the Jell-O to the depth you want your fish to “swim.” Poke Swedish Fish into slit, using knife to push fish down into position. Repeat to populate your aquarium with as many fish as you like. You can sometimes also find gummie sharks or other creatures to populate your aquariums with.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Braille Book Fair Volunteering:
The Braille Book Fair has become one of the highlights of the convention for many teachers, parents, blind kids, blind parents, and adult beginning Braille readers. But the event could not take place without the help of many dedicated, talented volunteers. And that's where you come in. As a past worker, or simply interested supporter of the Braille Book Fair, I hope you can either volunteer, or give me the contact information for someone that you recommend.

We need people from 9:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 12. You do not need to work the entire afternoon or evening, but I do ask that you try to work an entire shift, and we prefer a two-hour shift. We especially need for people who help customers to come before we open the doors at 5:00 p.m. and to commit to staying until at least 6:30 p.m. Book lovers are great for this shift, as you will assist visitors in book decisions/selections.

Thanks so much for taking time to consider this request, and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

If you can help, please contact Sandra Oliver, NOPBC Board Member at (713) 825-4573 or Sandra.Oliver@ey.com. If emailing, please provide the following information:

Note: If you are a parent of a blind child under the age eighteen (or still in high school or below), we know that you will want to attend the NOPBC Annual Meeting which takes place just before the BBF, but we would welcome you to work either during the event or on the clean-up shift after the event.

On Saturday, April 8, 2017, the Chicago Chapter held its annual election for all officers and board members. We elected the following: president, Steve Hastalis; first vice president, Patti Chang; second vice president, Jemal Powell; secretary, David Meyer; treasurer, Marco Gianotti; and board members Denise Avant, Gina Falvo, Howard Wilson, and Melissa Fuller.

Kernel Books Available to All:
In 1991 the National Federation of the Blind began publishing a series of small volumes called Kernel Books. The books contained stories written by blind people about our lives, designed to show that they are not much different from the lives of our sighted friends, family members, and peers. We called them Kernel Books because each story contained a "kernel," such as an incident or a challenge that revealed a truth about blindness and blind people. We encouraged the sharing of these volumes with the public to increase understanding and combat low expectations and misconceptions about blindness.

The Kernel Books are a valuable part of our organizational literature and heritage. As an organization, we deeply value and treasure the real-life stories of hope and inspiration contained in our Kernel Book series. But the way that the public acquires information has changed, with more and more people reading and consuming information in a digital form. While the stories in the Kernel Books are timeless, the paperback volumes that contain them are not. Consequently, we are planning to repurpose these stories to make them more widely available in digital formats. At the same time, we would like to get many of the existing paperback Kernel Books in our storage facility out into the world and into the hands of those who would benefit from reading them. To that end, we are offering free cases (a case contains fifty books) on a first-come, first-served basis of the following Kernel Books published after 2000:

We are making these cases of books available so that chapters, affiliates, and divisions can distribute them within their local communities or to new members and supporters. You might donate some books to your local library, distribute copies to senior centers, take some books to church or to meetings of community organizations with which you are involved, give the books out as free literature at community festivals and events, and more. If you are interested in receiving a free case of any of these titles, please contact Ellen Ringlein in the Independence Market at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, or at independencemarket@nfb.org.

We hope that many individuals, chapters, and affiliates will take advantage of this opportunity to spread our message of hope, love, and determination far and wide. The Kernel Books show how blind people live the lives we want and invite others to understand and support our work for the full and equal integration of the blind into society. Let's make sure that all of the copies of these books we can get into circulation are distributed before we transition these stories to new platforms and formats oriented towards reaching a new generation of readers.

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.

NYSSB Alumni Association to hold Annual Reunion:
The members of the Alumni Association of the New York State School for the Blind will gather for their annual reunion from Friday, June 9, through Sunday, June 11, at the Quality Inn and Suites, 8250 Park Road, Batavia, New York. Activities will include:

Annual membership dues are $15.00 with multi-year plans available. Our association began in 1918 and was incorporated in 1924. We will be celebrating our centennial and the 150th birthday of the school at our 2018 reunion.

Membership is open to anyone at least eighteen years of age who either attended the New York State School for the Blind or has a substantive relationship to or is recommended by a member in good standing of the Association. If you wish to become a member or have questions about the reunion, please call Diane Scalzi at (586) 337-5226 or email dscalzi@comcast.net or send using postal mail to 21621 Briarcliff St., Saint Clair Shores, MI 48082.


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.