Vol. 60, No. 6 June 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: (866) 504-7300
Like us on Facebook: Facebook.com/nationalfederationoftheblind
Follow us on Twitter: @NFB_Voice
Watch and share our videos: YouTube.com/NationsBlind
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 email@example.com.
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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.
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. 6 June 2017
Illustration: Show-Me Earth Day
Disability Simulations: What Does the Research Say?
by Arielle Silverman
The Perils of Playing Blind: Problems with Blindness Simulation and
a Better Way to Teach about Blindness
by Arielle Michal Silverman
The Mechanics of Meeting One’s Financial Obligations Without Sight
by Gary Wunder
There Is a List for That!
by David Andrews
From Helplessness to Independence: A Philosophical and Practical Overview
by Maurice Peret
Audible Pedestrian Signals, Tactile Graphics, and the Need for the Blind to Get Involved
by Ben Vercellone
by Peggy Chong
Do You Dream in Color?
by Ellen Sullivan
Dots From Space!: Getting in Touch with Braille
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer
My Free White Cane
by Heather Bird
Independence Market Corner
Playing with Clay
by Deborah Kent Stein
by Jennifer Dunnam
Watermelons, Sharp Knives, and Peace
by Bruce Gardner
How to Pay for Your Hotel Stay in Orlando
by Tony Cobb
Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind
In April the Monitor ran a lead playing off April’s Earth Day. But in all seriousness, Earth Day festivals are a great opportunity for chapters to get out and spread the message of the National Federation of the Blind. The Columbia Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri has been attending Earth Day for more than a decade, and this year was no different.
The chapter puts out literature for passersby to pick up, including Kernel Books. They bring a Braillewriter and write children’s names and eco-friendly messages or names of flowers and trees on index cards and challenge people to pick up one of the Braille alphabet cards and translate the messages. They put up a posterboard with the national legislative agenda because Earth Day is one of the few times that members of the public will ask about the legislation that the Federation is working on, and chapter members have had great discussions about why the TIME Act [Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment] or AIM HIGH Act [Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education] are necessary.
This year a new chapter member appeared at Earth Day. In sunglasses, a dress printed in panels of DC comic book characters, and her own to-scale aluminum cane, Dottie was ready to enjoy the festival to the fullest. Chapter member Grace Warn and her stepfather worked to create the cane for the eighteen-inch doll, making sure that it was sized correctly for her and would be collapsible just like a real cane.
by Arielle Silverman
From the Editor: Dr. Arielle Silverman is an independent consultant who has spent more than ten years doing research to better understand the disability experience. She has studied approaches to educating the public about disabilities as well as positive adjustment to disability. She offers disability research and training services to organizations nationwide. She received her doctorate in social psychology from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2014. Arielle has been an active member of the National Federation of the Blind for fourteen years and previously served as president of the National Association of Blind Students and the Greater Seattle Chapter of the NFB. Here is what she says in a follow-up article to one written by President Riccobono which appeared in the April 2017 issue:
Disability simulations are one of the most popular activities used to teach about disabilities. They generally involve having people perform everyday activities with a temporary disability, such as a blindfold, earplugs, or a wheelchair. Notably, they are popular with educators, but highly controversial among disability activists, including members of the NFB. As blind people we are deeply concerned about how these simulations affect public attitudes about blindness, for better or worse.
Recently President Mark Riccobono wrote about the possibilities and pitfalls of simulations. He distinguished between simulation-based activities that invoke fear versus activities that give people useful information about alternative techniques and accessibility barriers. He argues that the former kind of learning activity can worsen public attitudes about blindness, while the latter can help improve public understanding. I want to describe some initial research that supports this argument. I also want to emphasize that more research on this topic is badly needed.
In the past I have written about my own research with blindness simulations. In brief, my colleagues and I conducted several experiments in which sighted college students performed simple activities either with or without a blindfold on, depending on the flip of a coin. Minimal instruction in alternative techniques was given. Afterward, they answered questions about how well they thought blind people could perform particular activities and how well they thought they would adjust if they became blind themselves. Consistently, the blindfolded students said they thought blind people couldn’t perform activities as well as the un-blindfolded students. For example, about half of the blindfolded students thought that blind people have trouble “living independently, in their own house or apartment,” but only about a third of the un-blindfolded students expressed this view. Further, when asked how well they would adjust to being blind themselves, the blindfolded students predicted that it would take them longer to adjust and that they would be more limited by blindness compared with the un-blindfolded students. It is clear that the blindness simulation focused attention on the initial hardship of becoming blind rather than the successful adjustment process.
Just this month my colleague Michelle Nario-Redmond published two studies of multi-disability simulations (Nario-Redmond, Gospodinov, & Cobb, 2017). In the first study college students went through stations where they had to read someone’s lips with earplugs in, pick up their lunch in a wheelchair, or read text written backwards (a crude dyslexia simulation). In the second study students read driving directions using low-vision goggles, read them backwards, and then listened to them read aloud with earplugs. Again, no instruction about alternative techniques was offered. Before and after each study, the students reported their moods as well as their comfort level interacting with disabled people. Dr. Nario-Redmond and her colleagues compared the students’ moods and comfort levels before versus after the simulations. They found that after the simulation activities, the students felt more confused, embarrassed, helpless, and (especially after the wheelchair simulation) more anxious than before. They were also more likely to agree with statements like “I am grateful that I don’t have such a burden” (of disability), and “I dread the thought that I could someday end up like them” (disabled people). In the second study, the students also reported feeling less comfortable interacting with disabled people in the future. Thus, the simulations not only made people feel negatively about disability but could also hurt their future interpersonal interactions.
Again, both of these research projects used the traditional type of disability simulation, which thrusts people into disability without any training in alternative techniques or changeable environmental barriers. Such simulations are designed to produce fear and distress to play up the plight of disability. As the above research suggests, they do a good job of that. Perhaps a different kind of learning activity, one that instructs people in useful alternative techniques, could have a different effect.
Recently, I tested this question by designing an activity for occupational and physical therapy students (Silverman et al., 2017). The students learned and successfully performed two activities: first transferring from a chair to a manual wheelchair and wheeling across the room, and then making a sandwich using their non-dominant hand and a variety of assistive aids. We deliberately set up the activities to expose the students to alternative techniques, without being so difficult that novice students would have a hard time completing them. Before and after the activity, we asked the students to rate how happy and healthy people feel who have paraplegia (unable to walk) or hemiplegia (unable to use their dominant hand). After the learning activity, the students thought that people with both disabilities see themselves as happier and healthier, compared with their views before the activity. The brief encounter with effective alternative techniques gave them a more positive sense of what life can be like with a disability.
It is evident that experiential activities need to include a clear teaching component with instruction in specific alternative techniques in order to have positive results. Disability simulation without instruction may intensify people’s preexisting fears and misconceptions about disabilities. But direct instruction, along with exposure to competent blind and other disabled role models, may be an effective way to promote accurate understanding and positive attitudes.
Other types of learning activities, as President Riccobono mentions, warrant further study. For example, President Riccobono suggests that observing a blind person navigating both accessible and inaccessible web content or dealing with custodial attitudes at the airport could be a positive learning experience. This is likely true but warrants further research to determine the most impactful ways of teaching about environmental barriers. Additionally, the long-term effects of disability education activities in general are unclear and deserve further study. Finally, as President Riccobono points out, simulations are often used for fundraising purposes. There is a need to think carefully about alternative fundraising strategies that don’t rely on fear and pity.
In conclusion, there is reason to advise caution when designing learning activities for sighted people that include blindfolds or other simulation equipment. The benefits of such activities may not outweigh the fear, discomfort, and doubt they can instill. Educators should be mindful of the learning objective for any activity and provide appropriate guidance to help reach that objective. In the NFB we know from our collective experience that teaching by example can be a powerful change agent in the minds of the sighted public. Regardless of the equipment used, our leadership in designing lessons about blindness is an important ingredient for their success.
Nario-Redmond, M. R.; Gospodinov, D.; & Cobb, A. (2017, March 13). Crip for a day: The unintended negative consequences of disability simulations. Rehabilitation Psychology. Available online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/rep0000127
Riccobono, M. (2017). Walking a mile: The possibilities and pitfalls of simulations. Available online: https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm17/bm1704/bm170402.htm
Silverman, A. M. (2015). The perils of playing blind: Problems with blindness simulation and a better way to teach about blindness. Available online:
Silverman, A. M.; Pitonyak, J. S.; Nelson, I. K.; Matsuda, P.; Kartin, D.; & Molton, I. R. (2017). Instilling positive beliefs about disabilities: Pilot testing a novel experiential learning activity for rehabilitation students. Rehabilitation Psychology. Available online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2017.1292321
by Arielle Michal Silverman
From the Editor: In the article that precedes this one Arielle tailored for the Braille Monitor a piece less technical and academic. In reading the references she provided in that article, the Braille Monitor thought there was so much good information in what she wrote for the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, Volume 5, Number 2 (2015) that our readers should get to see it as well. Here is what she said to her fellow researchers and academics:
People often blindfold themselves to try to understand what it is like to be blind. Though this “blindness simulation” can trigger empathy toward blind people, it can also mislead people about blindness, because it highlights the initial trauma of becoming blind rather than the realities of being blind. In this article, I review disability research and scholarship on the positive and negative effects of disability simulations, showing that such simulations promote empathy but can also promote discrimination. In order to accurately teach about blindness, teaching exercises should incorporate mastery of blindness skills and meaningful contact with other blind people. More research is needed to determine how blindfolded learning should be best incorporated into the curriculum for training teachers of the blind.
Keywords: Blindness, simulation, attitudes, discrimination, professional development
In a banquet hall, the lights are turned out and attendees struggle to serve themselves a meal in the dark. Sponsored by a fundraising organization, this dinner culminates in an appeal for donations to support medical research on the elimination of blindness. Meanwhile, at a Girl Scout camp, children are paired off, and one child in each pair closes her eyes while her partner leads her about. The exercise is intended to help the Girl Scouts build trust and learn how to depend on one another for help. Finally, in a classroom, blindness professional trainees wear low-vision simulator goggles. They are asked to walk from one side of the table to the other, a task they find daunting. All of these are examples of “blindness simulations” critiqued by blindness activists (French, 1992; Maurer, 2012; Willoughby & Duffy, 1989).
Disability simulations are active learning exercises in which people use props to temporarily adopt physical impairments—such as using a blindfold or low-vision goggles to temporarily obscure their sight. They are often used to educate schoolchildren about disabilities, to help train professionals who work with the disabled, and even to foster interdependence and teamwork (for a review, see Flower, Burns, & Bottsford-Miller, 2007). Blindness simulations often appeal to educators because they involve and engage students, and they motivate students to empathize with blind people.
However, if not done carefully, blindness simulations can give a distorted impression of blindness, reinforcing misconceptions about the capacities of blind people. These problems can occur if the simulation is focused on the first moments of blindness rather than everyday life after adjustment to blindness. These risks have long been apparent to disability activists and, more recently, to experimental psychologists.
In this article I review research and commentaries on the effects of disability simulations. I will argue that blindness simulation is beneficial only if it (a) includes hands-on training in the skills of blindness and (b) involves meaningful contact with blind people. More research is needed to investigate how existing simulations and other teaching exercises influence practitioners’ attitudes toward blindness.
Disability simulations are often intended to promote empathic concern and a desire to help and accommodate people with disabilities. There is evidence that simulating disability can indeed increase empathy and helping. In an early experiment (Clore & Jeffery, 1972), college students were randomly assigned (by a coin flip) to navigate their campus either on foot or in a wheelchair for twenty-five minutes. Afterward, the students who had used the wheelchair reported feeling more empathy toward people with physical impairments, reported liking the researcher (who visibly used a wheelchair) more, and indicated more interest in donating funds to accessibility-related groups than the students who had not used the wheelchair. Even four months later, students who had used the wheelchair were more likely to volunteer to assist a disabled person when asked. In another study (Wadlington, Elliot, & Kirylo, 2008), student teachers expressed more sympathy and desire to accommodate dyslexic students after they simulated dyslexia by attempting to read degraded print. Finally, rehabilitation professionals expressed more empathy in qualitative comments after participating in a multi-impairment simulation (Wilson et al., 2009). These simulations not only prompt a desire to help, but also promote student enjoyment and positive assessment of them, making them attractive to instructors.
More generally, when people simulate other people’s experiences, they tend to judge those others more kindly. In one study, research participants watched a video of a man wolfing down cheeseburgers. They judged the man less harshly when they were themselves feeling hungry (Nordgren, Van Der Pligt, & Van Harreveld, 2007). Participants expressed stronger anti-torture views after receiving brief bursts of pain which simulated torture (Nordgren, Morris McDonnall, & Loewenstein, 2011). Psychologists have theorized that people base their judgments of others, at least in part, on how they think they would react themselves to the other person’s situation (Van Boven, Loewenstein, Dunning, & Nordgren, 2013). Simulations can give people an evocative “taste” of what it is like to be in a particular physical or emotional state—such as a physical impairment. People can then use this information to help them relate to affected others.
In sum, disability simulations can pull on people’s heartstrings, open their wallets, and encourage them to be lenient and kind toward people with disabilities. Sometimes this is a desirable outcome. However, I will argue that this comes at a price. Of the problems that blind and disabled people face, many can be traced to pity and paternalism rather than callousness (e.g., Ferguson, 2001; Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002; Nario-Redmond, 2010; Omvig, 2002; Wright, 1983). If not done carefully, simulations can mislead people about the realities of blindness, which can contribute to paternalistic discrimination.
People often believe that they are discovering what it is like to be blind when they are briefly blindfolded, but this is not entirely true. Being blindfolded parallels the experience of first becoming blind, not the experience of being blind for many years. Typically, disability simulations are quite brief, lasting mere minutes or hours (e.g., a twenty-five-minute wheelchair simulation). Participants are thrust into blindness and immediately confront the challenge of attempting routine tasks nonvisually, often without effective guidance. While the onset of blindness can indeed be traumatic, it is very different from the reality of living with blindness after many years. People adapt to new disabilities over time by mastering alternative techniques, building support networks, and focusing their attention on areas of their lives that are unaffected by the disability (Ubel, Loewenstein, & Jepson, 2005). Furthermore, people who are congenitally disabled never experience the trauma of disability onset at all. Correspondingly, the simulation may barely have any connection to their experience. Simulations cannot capture these nuances and long-term effects. Consequently, simulations can give the mistaken impression that the entirety of being disabled is marked by loss, frustration, and incompetence.
Indeed, disability simulation participants often report experiencing frustration and distress, even while rating the activity positively overall. For example, in the wheelchair simulation described earlier (Clore & Jeffery, 1972), participants most often reported feeling “weak, bad, anxious, and empathic” while in the wheelchair (p. 110). In another study, after a blindness simulation, participants reported loneliness, fear, and helplessness as “new insights gained into the life of the disabled” (Wilson & Alcorn, 1969, p. 305-6). In contrast to this, however, people with long-term disabilities frequently report high happiness and quality of life (e.g., Albrecht & Devlieger, 1999; Bonanno, Kennedy, Galatzer-Levy, Lude, & Elfstom, 2012; Quale & Schanke, 2010). For example, in one recent survey of 500 blind adults, participants averaged well above the midpoint on a well-validated scale of life satisfaction (Silverman & Cohen, 2012). Thus, the negative tone of simulations differs markedly from the emotions that people with disabilities actually experience.
Disability simulations are also misleading because simulated impairments are escapable. A simulator can remove the blindfold or leave the wheelchair at any time whereas someone with a permanent impairment cannot. Furthermore, while simulations tend to over-emphasize the physical trauma of disability, they can also under-emphasize the impact of social discrimination and accessibility barriers, which become apparent only over time (French, 1992).
For this reason, disability scholars have cautioned that simulations could unwittingly mislead participants about the realities of living with a disability. Wright (1978) argues that simulation “can enhance, not only understanding of some problems, but also pervasive pity and devaluation” (p. 178), and that “the main danger of role-playing is that the essence of life of people with a disability will be perceived in negative terms” (p. 182). In her critique of disability simulations, French (1992) quotes disability activists who contend that simulations not only represent disability as tragic, but also as an individual defect rather than a consequence of social barriers. Instead of simulation, French recommends “disability equality training” workshops conducted by disabled people which emphasize strategies to ameliorate the social inequalities disabled people encounter.
The above analyses suggest that disability simulations tend to be “outsider-driven,” favored by non-disabled people peeking into the disability experience. However, disability activists, “insiders,” express concern that such simulations capture their experience in a biased manner. These biased perceptions can promote discriminatory treatment toward disabled people, including the blind.
Recent research suggests that simulating blindness can reinforce stereotypes about blind people. Silverman, Gwinn, and Van Boven (2015) examined how a brief blindness simulation influences how sighted people judge blind people’s capabilities. In two experiments, they randomly assigned some college students to complete a series of tasks while blindfolded for about thirty minutes. The tasks included pouring water from a pitcher to a glass without spilling, sorting coins, and navigating a complex path around the university’s psychology building. Other control students were randomly assigned either to complete the tasks with their sight unimpaired, to view videos of the simulation, or to merely hear an explanation about what the simulation involved. Afterward, all the students were asked to estimate how well “the average blind person” could perform at a series of professions (e.g., chef, schoolteacher) compared with the average sighted person. They also rated how well blind people could live independently and walk around downtown, again relative to the sighted. In both experiments, blindfolded students rated blind people’s capacities significantly lower than did students in any of the control groups. For example, averaged across both experiments, 52 percent of the blindfolded students rated the average blind person as less able to “live independently in their own house or apartment” than the average sighted person, but only 32 percent of students in the other conditions made this judgment. This pattern is concerning, given pervasive employment discrimination and common doubts of blind people’s capacity for independent living and travel (Ferguson, 2001; Omvig, 2002).
These results are not surprising once process variables are examined. In post-experimental comments, blindfolded students described their experience as being very difficult, frustrating, confusing, and frightening. In fact, a few students spontaneously uttered remarks such as “thank God I’m not blind” upon removing the blindfold. The students also projected their negative experience onto blind people. Compared with control students, blindfolded students estimated that blind people experience more fear, anger, confusion, and distress on a daily basis. Further, when asked to draw graphs showing how quickly they would be able to adjust to new blindness, the blindfolded students predicted a slower and less complete adjustment process than the control students (Silverman, Gwinn, & Van Boven, 2015; Silverman & Van Boven, 2012). It is evident that the blindness simulation gave students a sour impression of blindness, portraying it as an enormous physical and emotional burden. Thus, when the students considered how well someone could live on their own without sight, their recent struggles to pour water and navigate the halls while blindfolded colored their judgment.
A few other studies have uncovered unwanted consequences of disability simulation. Brown (2010) had participants listen to intrusive sounds for fifteen minutes in order to simulate schizophrenia. Afterward the participants expressed more distant attitudes toward people with schizophrenia and more endorsement of forced treatment, than they did before. In another line of research, Nario-Redmond and Gospodinov (2015) had college students read driving directions while wearing low-vision goggles, listen to the spoken directions while wearing earplugs, and read the directions written backwards to simulate a learning disability. After the simulations, the students reported feeling more vulnerable to disability, less comfortable interacting with disabled people, and more pitying toward people with disabilities.
Collectively, these findings underscore the importance of personal experience in shaping people’s beliefs about conditions like blindness. If people are given a blindness experience marked by fear, frustration, and incompetence, they will be apt to conclude that blind people’s lives are similarly marked by fear, frustration, and incompetence. This could inspire low expectations of blind people, or inspire paternalistic actions to ease the blind person’s fear or protect the blind person from his/her own helplessness.
If such beliefs are mistakenly taught to teachers of the blind, the consequences could be particularly dire for blind students. As an illustrative example, a preschool aide simulated wheelchair use to better understand the needs of her young student with cerebral palsy (Wright, 1978). Following the brief simulation, she began to assist him with tasks he had already demonstrated he could do without help (e.g., pushing him in his wheelchair). Unsolicited help can prevent children from developing skills and confidence, and it can also harm self-esteem (Gilbert & Silvera, 1996; Schneider, Major, Luhtanen, & Crocker, 1996). Furthermore, it is clear that low teacher expectations can directly restrict student performance. In classroom experiments, teachers who expected some students to perform less well in class paid less attention to them and gave them less challenging assignments, artificially limiting their learning and performance (Rosenthal, 2002).
Nevertheless, this theorizing also suggests the potential for positive blindness experiences. If people are given experiences with blindness marked by mastery, pride, and joy, they should form high expectations and a full understanding of the methods that blind people use to interact with their environment. In the following sections, I will propose two conditions that, according to disability scholarship, should characterize positive blindness training activities: mastery of blindness skills and cooperative contact with blind people. Research is urgently needed to evaluate how specific training modules affect people’s attitudes and actions toward blind people, such as blindness immersion training.
Notably, the simulations I have described in this paper are a very specific type of experiential exercise. Sighted individuals are blindfolded briefly and asked to complete activities. Typically they receive little instruction in nonvisual problem-solving techniques, and blind individuals are absent. However, experiential exercises need not be conducted this way. They can include opportunities for skill mastery, and they can incorporate contact with blind people.
Sighted students can be exposed to effective nonvisual methods. For example, an instructor can teach students to distinguish Braille letters while blindfolded, to eat a simple snack, or to navigate a simple path using a cane and appropriate auditory cues during a brief session (Castellano, 2005; Willoughby & Duffy, 1989). Over an intensive course or two, sighted students can master Braille reading, cooking, and cane travel under blindfold. The key is that blindfolded experiences lead to skill mastery and confidence rather than bumbling frustration. In order to achieve this goal, blindfolded experiences should be guided by knowledgeable instructors and allow enough time for repetition and practice.
Educational exercises about blindness will have a much more positive impact if they incorporate contact with blind people, “insiders,” who intimately understand the complexities of blindness (Wright, 1975). Personal contact can go a long way toward the reduction of prejudiced attitudes (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008). In order to effectively reduce prejudice, contact should be one-to-one, equal-status, and cooperative. Unfortunately, blindness professional trainees may only interact with blind people in a helping role, as their student teacher or camp counselor, for instance. In contrast, optimal contact is equal-status; that is, both the blind and sighted partners have equal standing in the relationship, and neither has authority over the other (Allport, 1954).
Personal contact with blind people can be a useful teaching tool, either with or without a blindness simulation component. For example, in one exercise students played goalball (a sport that has been adapted for the blind) alongside blind people, while all players wore blindfolds. The exercise helped build cooperative relationships between blind and sighted people, and combined with similar exercises involving other disabilities (e.g., wheelchair racing), it improved attitudes toward people with disabilities more than did a simple lecture-based lesson (Krahe & Altwasser, 2006). In another exercise not involving simulation, blind and sighted college students were paired, and the sighted student was asked to suggest activities for the two of them to enjoy together. The blind student then provided guidance as to how he or she could participate and what, if any, accommodations needed to be made. The purpose of this exercise was to replace stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness with the blind person’s expert understanding of blindness (Wright, 1975).
We can follow the above principles when training sighted students to become blindness professionals, such as teachers of blind students, orientation and mobility professionals, and daily living skills instructors. One example is the immersion component of training for the master’s degree accompanying National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC). Students must receive at least 400 hours of blindness immersion training before beginning coursework for the NOMC and typically complete 500-750 hours of travel training under blindfold by the time they are certified (Aditya, 2004). During immersion training, students receive intensive instruction in cane travel and other skills while under blindfold. In most cases they receive this training alongside blind students at a rehabilitation center for the blind. Thus they are “immersed” both in the skills of blindness and the blindness community. They not only master the skills of blindness by completing rigorous assignments, but they also learn these skills on an equal level with the blind students at the center.
In the above sections, I have presented a critique of traditional blindness simulations and proposed some positive alternatives. While these alternatives hold theoretical promise, their impact has not been assessed empirically. Research is needed to identify the best educational interventions for promoting positive beliefs and attitudes about blindness among blindness professionals and in the general public.
Sound evaluation begins with valid and relevant outcome measures. For classroom activities, it makes sense to assess change in students’ knowledge or new competencies gained. In the past, disability awareness activities were often deemed “effective” if participants enjoyed them or if they triggered empathy for people with disabilities. However, as I have discussed, common negative attitudes about disability tend to reflect pity and presumed incompetence more than callousness and avoidance. In my view, an attitude-change intervention can reasonably be considered “effective” if it moves attitudes away from the prevailing biases held by the public. The Social Responsibility about Blindness Scale (SRBS) is one good example of a measure of common misconceptions about blindness (Bell & Silverman, 2011; Rowland & Bell, 2012). Both quantitative and qualitative data should be gathered to assess how an intervention influences people’s beliefs, feelings, and expectations about blindness.
A researcher can most rigorously evaluate an intervention by comparing outcomes between randomized groups of people who do versus do not receive the intervention. In classroom and field settings, however, this can be impractical. One alternative is to randomly assign half the students to an intervention and the other half to no intervention, take measures, and then give the intervention to the other half of the students, a “waitlist control” design. If this is also impractical, a simple pretest-posttest assessment may be most reasonable; that is, comparing students’ knowledge, attitudes, or competencies before versus after the activity. By following students longitudinally, researchers can also assess the long-term effects of interventions. These data are relatively inexpensive to gather and can be analyzed with only basic statistical expertise.
There is a great need to empirically evaluate the existing blindness training modules that are based on simulations. A 2007 meta-analysis revealed that only a modicum of rigorous studies exist, and most of those reveal null effects of disability simulation (Flower, Burns, & Bottsford-Miller, 2007). More alarmingly, simulations could have unexpected negative effects that could be missed if they are not rigorously evaluated. On the other hand, practices like immersion training could have unanticipated positive effects persisting over time. Through rigorous evaluation, educators can identify the teaching approaches that lead to the most positive training outcomes. The field would be enhanced by convening dialogue between educators, research and evaluation experts, and blind people—groups which each offer a unique perspective on these issues.
A final research question concerns the effects of “low-vision” simulations in which participants use goggles to simulate partial vision loss. On the one hand, low-vision simulations could help sighted people to better understand the limitations of low vision and the need to supplement low vision with nonvisual techniques such as Braille and the long white cane. On the other hand, like blindfolding, low-vision goggles could give an exaggerated impression of the hardships posed by partial vision loss. Like blindfolding, low-vision simulations could be improved by incorporating skill mastery experiences and involving people with low vision in their execution.
The research reviewed here has important implications for the training of incoming teachers of the blind. First and foremost, it suggests that any blindfolded or low-vision training experience needs to be constructed and managed carefully so as to give trainees a balanced, accurate impression of blindness. This is best achieved when the trainees master the blindness skills they will be teaching. For example, future Braille teachers should receive enough Braille instruction and practice time so that they can not only teach Braille competently to their students, but also have positive feelings toward Braille and high expectations of their students. The same can be said for the nonvisual travel skills of O&M instructors and the nonvisual daily living skills of rehabilitation teachers. Additionally, blindfolded exercises should be supplemented with opportunities for trainees to interact one-to-one with blind people as equal partners.
Additionally, teachers of blind children should be cautious about using blindness simulations to educate a blind student’s classroom teachers or sighted classmates about blindness. Instead, they can teach about blindness by demonstrating assistive technology, inviting blind guest speakers to address the class, or guiding the students and classroom teacher through basic Braille exercises. Blind students can also participate in educating their peers about blindness without relying on blindness simulation.
The same principles apply to teaching parents of blind children about blindness and low vision. Traditional blindness simulations could give parents a distorted perspective on blindness that could foster pity and low expectations for their children, placing artificial limits on their children’s potential independence. For parents of congenitally blind infants, simulations can be especially misleading because it is virtually impossible for a fully sighted adult to accurately simulate the experience of someone who has never had sight, particularly a young infant. Instead, it would be more helpful for parents to observe how blind adults perform tasks.
Above all, any exercise that teaches about blindness should incorporate the lived experiences of blind people. As stated by Carrie Ann Lucas, a disability rights blogger who uses a wheelchair:
Placing a person who has not adapted to wheelchair use in a wheelchair is an exercise in frustration. It is far better to pair the non-disabled person with an actual disabled person who can teach about our culture, the fun parts of disability, and, yes, even frustrations at societal barriers. We can show how we can pop wheelies, how our kids can ride on the back of our chairs, and how we can keep up with our kids riding skateboards and bikes. (2015, para. 11).
Imagine what a prospective teacher of the blind could learn from a blind child talking about reading her favorite Braille books in the dark, or a blind adult celebrating his first successful bus trip using a cane, or a blind couple bringing their kids to the playground. Such observations can truly show blindness professionals what is possible for blind people to accomplish and how they can become part of changing what it means to be blind.
Editor’s Note: For the full list of references cited in this article, check out its original publication in the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir15/jbir050201.html.
In mid-April I received a letter from Anna Kresmer, our librarian and archivist at the Jacobus tenBroek Library. For some time she had been trying to find articles in the Braille Monitor or other publications that would discuss how a person who loses vision handles incoming mail and particularly how they deal promptly, accurately, and securely with their finances. The person making the inquiry assumed that such information was readily available, and so too did Anna. I did a brief Google search and couldn’t find anything, so I jotted the note which appears below and was then encouraged to put it in a place where it could be easily found. I urge some of you who know more about this subject than I do to use this article as a springboard for a better one: what alternatives did I fail to provide; which are out-of-date, and which would better serve blind people trying to wrestle with their incoming mail and the bills that make up so much of it? Here is my letter:
Hello, Angela. I have your letter from Anna, and as I said in our call, like her, I don't know of any articles that discuss this in any detail. Let me see what I can do in a letter to you, and perhaps it can someday be worked into an article.
Many bills that come to us have traditionally been delivered by the United States Postal Service. With few exceptions these are presented in standard print, and the question for a blind person is first how to read them and second how to pay them. The traditional answer has been the use of a human reader who could read the bill aloud, write a check at the instruction of the blind person, and, if necessary, write out an envelope to return it. Just how someone gets a human reader varies. Some people will pay an hourly rate for the service they need and schedule it one or more times weekly. Some will arrange to trade services, doing babysitting, housecleaning, or some other task for the reading they need done. Some people will actively look for volunteers from their church or a civic group to which they belong, and, in addition to being a friend, will compensate the volunteer reader with an occasional meal, a night out with the dinner and a movie, or some other arrangement that will let the reader know that he or she is appreciated.
If you are going to use a human reader, it is essential that you find someone you can trust, and let them know that the work the two of you are doing together is strictly confidential. It is likely that I do not want to advertise how much money I spent at Best Buy last week or how many times we went out to eat despite the sizable grocery bill that is evidenced by my check register. If I get a notice in the mail that says Uncle Harry has left me $10,000, this is something I want held close. Building a good relationship based on trust and shared respect is absolutely essential, but it is also rewarding. One of the people who works for me uses the money I pay her to buy groceries. In the past I have had people who were able to make their student loan payment because of our work together. People who need money are extremely reliable, loyal, and the mutual need that we have for one another not only makes us a good team but often generates a tremendous friendship.
As reading systems for the blind have evolved, a number of people have found that the printed page no longer presents the same kind of barrier it once did. We are able to read most of the correspondence we get, but there is still some difficulty in writing a check and returning it to the company or person we owe. There are computer programs that will print checks and some that will allow one to affix his or her signature to them. Many of us have adopted a nationwide service offered by most banks called Bill Pay. The Bill Pay system is tied directly to one's bank account, and a list of payees is entered into the system. In my own case Bill Pay is aware that I have an account with the electric company, the gas utility, and many of the major credit card companies in the country. It is also aware that I sometimes need to send money to people in the form of a check because they will not have a way to receive electronic transfers. Bill Pay will allow me to set up monthly payments when I have a bill with a fixed amount and a definite due date such as my house payment or my daughter’s car loan. I can make payments at any time by going into the system, finding the name of the company or person I want to pay, and entering a manual payment. Not everyone is comfortable using a computer, and not everyone has the computer skills necessary to navigate the website operated by Bill Pay. For many of us, however, it is a dream come true.
Although I enjoy using technology, have several products that can read printed material to me, and am quite able to use my computer to keep track of my bank balance and to pay bills with Bill Pay, I still use a paid reader at least once a week and sometimes twice. I do this because I know of no other way to handle incoming mail that is as flexible as a person who can both read and write directly on information I received. No technology-based system I know does as good a job at helping me fill out a form or review a financial document to see if all of the information on it is current. No technology-based system gives me the pleasure I get when I interact with a human being who needs the money I pay as much as I need the service he or she offers. No machine I can access has the ability to quickly sort my incoming mail into organized stacks I can process. I usually have a stack each for bills, advertisements, charitable solicitations, NFB material, and lastly the letters and cards that congratulate me on another birthday, express their sympathy on the death of a loved one, or otherwise convey something personal to me.
I think the key to adequately handling one's finances is knowing how to keep track of the money you have on hand and the things that are likely to come along and claim it. A person who is blind must have a good way to communicate with herself. Memory simply will not do the trick. A good calendaring system is also helpful, for without some reminder about a bill I can't pay today but intend to pay in a week, I will find myself constantly facing delinquency notices and their accompanying fees.
This is all I can think of at the moment that may be helpful to you in figuring out how blind people handle financial matters. If you need more information, please let me know.
by David Andrews
This month we will continue our monthly column of internet mailing lists with technology-related offerings. If you are a regular user of our lists, you will know they are a great source of technology news and information. They are also a great place to get your technology-related questions answered. But which list should you join? Read on and see what is available.
The original technology list we offered is called GUI-Talk. The GUI, pronounced “gooey” stands for the “graphical user interface.” This includes Microsoft Windows, iOS, Android, and any other graphical interface you can shake a mouse at. You can subscribe to the list by going to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/gui-talk_nfbnet.org, or you can also subscribe by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put the word “subscribe” on the subject line by itself. This is the best list to ask general technology and software questions related to the graphical user interface.
Electronics Talk is for the discussion of home appliances and electronics. It is also a place where you can ask questions about the accessibility of consumer-oriented electronics. The discussion of phones is also permitted, although this is not the primary purpose of the list. To join either go to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/electronics-talk_nfbnet.org or send an email to email@example.com and put the word “subscribe” on the subject line.
Two NFB technology-related divisions also have lists: the NFB in Computer Science, and the Science and Engineering division. The Committee on the Promotion and Evaluation of Technology also has a list. Their list names are nfbcs, nfb-science, and promotion-technology. Subscribe by going to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/listname_nfbnet.org or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “subscribe” on the subject line. Listname is the short name given above for nfbcs, nfb-science, or promotion-technology, respectively.
The KNFB Reader, an important technology for many of us, also has a support list. To join either go to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/reader-users_nfbnet.org or send an email to email@example.com and put the word “subscribe” by itself on the subject line.
Blind Math is a list for the discussion of mathematics and how blind or visually impaired people can function in this area. Some of the world’s leading experts in math and blind people are subscribed to this list, so the advice can be quite good. To subscribe go to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/blindmath_nfbnet.org or send an email to blindmath-request
@nfbnet.org and put the word “subscribe” on the subject line.
A somewhat related list which we host as a service to the blind community is the Blind R Users Group, blindrug. R is open source statistical software, and according to the list's founder Jonathan Godfrey, is the most accessible option available for screen reader users. To subscribe go to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/blindrug_nfbnet.org or send email to blindrug-request
@nfbnet.org and put the word “subscribe” on the subject line.
Two states also have lists for their technology divisions. They are Kentucky and New Jersey. The listnames are nfbktad and njtechdiv.
Finally, there is nfb-web. This list is for webmasters of NFB-related websites. This list also supports the NFB Webmasters Group. To join go to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfb-web_nfbnet.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month we will tell you about lists in the Golden State, California. As always, you can find all NFBNET.ORG-related lists at http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/.
by Maurice Peret
From the Editor: Maurice Peret is the chairman of the National Federation of the Blind Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety and makes his living as the talent recruiter in the Human Resources Department at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. This committee has a listserv, and what follows is one of the gems extracted from it discussing how one applies Federation philosophy and the choice that each individual must make in his or her life about when and to what degree they will apply it. Flexibility is the key, and Maurice does a fantastic job of expressing this. Here is what he says:
Sometimes the most poignant analogies are those that appeal to our most primal impulses, survival instincts, and basic human senses. Thus the historic inception of the consumer-based model of rehabilitation can be likened to beggars at a feast of plenty. Gratitude and even reverence was expected of the blind for the voluntary charity of crumbs once in a while tossed their way. But, as is the pattern of the struggle of oppressed peoples, those crusty morsels merely triggered and amplified the growling pangs of hunger and discontent, giving voice to the growing demand for a place at the table. For a while a “highly functioning” token few were invited to sit quietly at table, preferably not to be seen nor heard. But the crescendo of voices gave way to the collective expression of dissatisfaction with having to wait to be served; after all, the palate must be cleansed, primed, and prepared to welcome the cacophony of textures, aromas, and flavors of variety in the dining and not just the feeding experience. It was not enough for the blind to simply wait to receive the fruits of those who knew what was best for their charges. They wanted to know ahead of time what was for supper. They desired access to the same information availed other feasters, to be able to make their own choices from a menu of options. The development of this new force grew to insist not only to be seated, not only to docilely accept what was given, but to have equal say in the decision process to determine what would be offered. Their efforts propelled them beyond the table and into the kitchen, accepting responsibilities according to their abilities, ranging from rolling silverware to washing dishes and even to performing light food preparation tasks which, after all, were recognized as well suited to tactile methods.
But the blind must acknowledge their natural limitations, it would be said. The kitchen was replete with danger for the functionally disabled consumer. There existed extremes in temperature, slippery surfaces, sharp-edged and pointed implements, and all manner of mechanical and electric food appliances to negotiate, a veritable labyrinth of hazards for the blind who found themselves quite out of their element. Nonetheless did the powerful and diverse organized throng press their insistence on being present at and involved in all levels of the meal management process until they purchased a controlling share in the marketplace. And so it followed that the mere need to survive, to nourish body and mind, gave way to the full appreciation of the culinary experience, not just to taste but to savor, not only to shovel in but to enjoy and to articulate the finer dimensions of nuance, blended flavors, bouquets and hints of vegetable, mineral, animal, ferment, and hues of color, all by which the gourmet experience is described in fanciful and sometimes curious fashion. The highly refined palate draws upon integration of all sensory stimulation: visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and of course, taste. And so it is in the development of human navigation and movement.
Traditional rehabilitation models have historically operated predominantly from a behavioral psychology and visual-centric foundational approach, with nonvisual techniques and strategies often presented as methods of last resort. This seemed to imply an inferiority of alternative techniques to often inefficient low-vision strategies. The nonconventional or Structured Discovery Learning Method derived from the cognitive learning theory challenged the prevailing practice through immersion by visual occlusion to prove not only the viability of but often superiority of alternative techniques of independent travel. This, combined with confronting social and attitudinal misconceptions about blindness and about the capabilities of blind people, represented a paradigm shift within the field of work with the blind.
In my many years as a rehabilitation professional, I have found the Holy Grail lies somewhere in the gray area between dogma and capitulation or selling out to mediocrity.
I came to our NFB philosophy through its manifestation in the Structured Discovery Cane Travel or (SDCT) professional practice. I remember vividly back when I first heard about the National Orientation & Mobility Certification (NOMC) in an article written by our beloved James Omvig, “A New Certification,” I was thoroughly driven to obtain it for myself. I was very much like a new convert to religious faith, more youthful vigor than knowledge.
I recall, for instance, jumping in full tilt to the raging debate on the O&M listserv, predominantly populated by traditional practitioners. I innocently spread our Federation philosophy as it was emerging in the O&M field, this at a time when active debate still raged about the wisdom of blind cane travel instructors. Of course, that question has since been settled by incredibly talented blind professionals practicing their trade all over the country.
I have long defined the concept of longtime experience as having made the same mistakes newbies make, only a few thousand more times. Isn’t that what they say: that success is built upon a mountain of failure? Anyway, what years of working with actual blind people has taught me is that strict formulaic strategies rarely succeed when they are easily sniffed out by the newly often frightened and skeptical trainee.
An example I will share is in working with a very new and very frightened student. She told me repeatedly and vociferously that she did not need to learn to cross the street downtown since she had no intention of ever traveling there by herself anyway. My answer was “Okay, fine. You don’t have to cross the street at all, but let’s just go stand on the corner and listen.” Naturally from there my student gradually learned to cross the street with the light and admitted that it was nowhere as scary as she expected it to have been. She remained immovable, however, in her reticence to venture out on her own in that way. It was just too far a leap for her at the stage of life she was in. Beginning to see some possibilities to achieve some independence, however, especially to meet basic needs like making doctor’s appointments, she wanted to learn to access the local paratransit system on her own. We discussed this from every possible angle, and in the long run we worked with her to apply her newfound confidence to independently use paratransit.
The question is, was she more independent? Were her expectations of herself raised to a level worthy of our positive self-determinist philosophy? At what point do higher expectations intersect with informed consumer choice? How often have graduates of our NFB training centers reverted to some of those “more convenient” accommodations or to that short, rollerball-tipped cane they used prior to receiving SDCT training? For that matter, how many consumers having undergone full blindness emersion training but who retain functional vision put the white cane aside?
When I accepted an O&M position at a conventional state agency, I was asked by the director if I really believed that the safety of my students was not my responsibility. Clearly, this director had been exposed to our philosophy and possessed fairly definite opinions about it. I carefully explained that while my job was to work with students to develop safe and effective self-monitoring techniques, naturally in the early stages of instruction I would be in close proximity, monitoring their safety to the extent of being able to react quickly enough should a harsher unintended lesson be learned.
The point of all this is to say that the National Federation of the Blind exists as a collective vehicle, based upon our individual experiences, to identify problems, discuss and debate possible solutions, and finally arrive at a democratic consensus on how to carry out the work to address these issues. These decisions have and do change over time as society, technological advances, and social attitudes evolve. That is why we meet regularly to reexamine, if necessary, previously agreed-upon policy in the form of resolutions. I am reminded of a story told by Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder that there was a time when the idea of putting Braille signage in elevators was scorned by the Federation as an unnecessary adaptation imposed upon the blind by otherwise well-intended sighted folks. Blind people had used the elevator for years prior to that, after all, and did not need such gadgetry. Can anyone remember the last time they were on an elevator that did not have Braille signage? If so, I’ll bet it stood out quite a bit as unusual. For my part, I certainly appreciate having Braille signage in public spaces and use it all the time.
We live in an exciting and historic period as technology advances in unimaginable ways right before our eyes, seemingly at lightning speed. Our approach to ever complex smart streets, shared spaces, and autonomous vehicles must keep up with these changes so that we don’t get left behind. We have to be flexible in our examination of these changes to adapt to them as we increasingly perfect our skills and abilities to accommodate them. After all, don’t we say that it is not society that must adapt to the blind but the blind, ourselves, who, given proper training and opportunity, can and must adapt to the ever-evolving changes?
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit <www.nfb.org/planned-giving> or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
by Ben Vercellone
From the Editor: Ben Vercellone is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri Springfield Chapter. He is employed as a mobility instructor for Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, the state agency serving the citizens of Missouri. Ben is tremendously interested in the independence of blind people and the safety of all pedestrians.
The history of the National Federation of the Blind and audible pedestrian signals, or what we once called audible signals, is long. When these audible signals first made their appearance, many of us were critical of them, believing that we could easily tell the color of a light by the traffic flow and that judging traffic flow was much more important than the light the audible signal was telling us about. Because blind people were not initially involved in the design of audible signals, very often they were too loud and too long and actually impeded our ability to hear the traffic. Many of us reasoned that it did not matter whether the traffic light was on our side or not; if we were hit by a vehicle weighing several tons, what the audible signal said was irrelevant.
Over the years the position of the Federation has changed in keeping with the ever-evolving traffic patterns pedestrians face as well as the improved quality of audible pedestrian signals.
At many intersections the choice is no longer to walk when the parallel traffic is moving and to wait when the perpendicular traffic is passing. Some intersections are so complicated that the signals will allow some lanes to go while others are stopped. Some have crossing times for pedestrians that depend on time of day, traffic flow, and whether or not a special pedestrian button has been pressed. For this reason our discussion of audible pedestrian signals is necessarily complex and nuanced. Here is what Ben has to say about audible pedestrian signals, not to be confused with iOS and Android applications of the same name, as daily he teaches people how to safely navigate the streets in Southwest Missouri:
Audible pedestrian signals (APS) have both intrigued and frustrated me since I first encountered them. I cannot remember the time or location where I first crossed an intersection with operating audible pedestrian signals. To date I have only experienced APS at a limited number of intersections. My goal is to provide my opinions regarding what I know from my experience, which has almost completely been limited to Springfield, Missouri. I do not know how many intersections in Springfield currently have audible pedestrian signals. When I recently walked a 3.5-mile route for exercise and exploration, about half of which I had not previously traveled by foot, I learned that there are many more intersections with APS than I had thought.
In my opinion the audible pedestrian signals in Springfield need significant improvement before they will be thoroughly helpful and meaningful for blind pedestrians. I plan to use and analyze APS in other cities as opportunities arise. I expect that there are some differences in the APS from one city to another but that this technology could benefit from improvements in most cities. If the APS in Springfield receive the improvements that I believe are necessary, I will welcome the expansion of this technology and may even advocate for them.
Aside from using a cane or guide dog properly, I generally group the necessary skills for initiating street crossings into three categories. My categories are placement, alignment, and timing. For placement the pedestrian must make sure he or she begins each crossing from an appropriate location. For alignment the pedestrian must insure that he or she is facing the direction of the intended crossing. I believe that alignment is often one of the most challenging aspects in this list, but I will touch more on this again shortly. Finally, for timing, the pedestrian must determine a safe time to cross, and this depends on the type of intersection he or she is negotiating.
Springfield has many lighted intersections with buttons that allow pedestrians to request the right of way and lengthen their time to cross. Sometimes there is only one of these buttons at a corner, and sometimes there are two. This obviously has a lot to do with the busyness of the streets and the way that the city decided to do things. When there are two buttons at a corner, they may be on one pole or on two. It is obviously the blind pedestrian’s responsibility to gather a lot of information independently, and much can be learned through simple and sometimes diligent exploration. The simpler intersection technology just described is much more common in Springfield than the APS.
The audible pedestrian signals in Springfield include recorded human speech, as well as beeps. Assuming the APS were installed according to the rules and regulations, a user presses the button that is directly off his or her shoulder when he or she is facing the direction of the intended crossing and when the pole with the button fixture is between his or her body and the parallel street. Each button has a raised arrow that is easy to feel. The arrow on the appropriate button should point in the direction the pedestrian desires to cross. So far I have only found one instance of what appears to be an inconsistency or a violation of the rules in which a button fixture seems crooked. Still, anyone with good O&M skills can work through this annoyance. When one presses the appropriate button, the voice portion begins. If it is not time to cross, the voice says, “Wait,” and it will say this repeatedly, with an interval of several seconds, until the pedestrian has the right of way. When the pedestrian has the right of way, the awaited voice announcement occurs. I will give an approximate quotation of one announcement I recently heard. "Campbell Avenue. Walk sign is on to cross Campbell Avenue. Have a nice day.” The last sentence in the above quote is not spoken at every intersection with an audible pedestrian signal. But the announcements in the APS in Springfield are otherwise similar in their form.
As mentioned, the APS here make a beeping sound. I have been schooled in the Structured Discovery Methodology, and I could not have received better O&M training. Also, I strongly believe that the audible pedestrian signals in Springfield need a lot of work before they will consistently bring new and helpful information to blind pedestrians. For these reasons I do not use them very much at this point. However, I believe I would use the APS more if this technology is improved.
Back to the beeps, they all sound the same to me in their pitch and volume, regardless of which corner they are coming from. Sometimes the beeps even seem to occur at the same time. These characteristics make the beeps nearly useless when it comes to alignment. So far I have not been able to hear the beeping from the corner I am crossing to until I am at least halfway across the perpendicular street. This makes the audible pedestrian signals useless for my alignment. Obviously I can use the sound of traffic for nearly all aspects of my decision-making at intersections, and this is what I have done for many years. But my point is to explain how I believe APS can be improved.
I am not trying to generate social friction, but I have heard many times that the APS are not necessary for safe independent travel. This may be technically true in many instances. But since we are more than halfway into the second decade of the twenty-first century, and since technology is almost everywhere, I would rather focus on improving the APS technology than tuning it out. The technology is most likely here to stay, and our involvement can only help its development. Sighted pedestrians visually focus on both the traffic and the traffic lights. With no APS, or with APS that are not built well, blind pedestrians can only find thoroughly and consistently helpful information from the sound of the traffic. The fact is that hearing traffic but not having audible information that reflects the signaling of the traffic lights is comparable to visually perceiving only the traffic at a lighted intersection but not seeing the traffic lights. Sometimes we do need to analyze things in this quantitative way, regardless of whether we would personally use improved audible pedestrian signals.
I strongly desire that the APS in Springfield and similar ones in other cities be improved regarding the tones they emit. I absolutely believe that for the APS to be anything more than half-baked, they need to provide helpful information regarding alignment. With an effective system of audible pedestrian signals, a blind traveler with normal hearing must be able to hear the sound coming from the corner he or she intends to cross to before he or she begins to cross.
I do not specialize in acoustics or audiology. However, I know that if the beeps from multiple corners occur at the same time, pitch, and volume, they will not be helpful. In other words, the APS in Springfield need a lot of work before they can help with alignment. I am not sure how important the factor of volume is, but I know that the factors of pitch and timing are extremely important. In fact, there are critical factors in addition to those I mentioned, such as what sound is used in the first place, as well as the tone, timbre, etc. As I stated, I am not an audiologist, but simply a concerned and analytical blind pedestrian. But when this dilemma is eliminated, I will complain much less about APS and will probably use this technology on a weekly basis.
I recently listened to an “Accessible World” Tek Talk episode from January 23, 2017, in which Mike May listed and described some technology he observed while attending the Consumer Electronics Show. The link to the audio file is http://www.accessibleworld.org/sites/default/files/tt-01-23-17-features-mike-may-consumer-electronics-show.mp3. About nineteen minutes into the presentation, Mr. May briefly discussed a particular narrow beam speaker. I have yet to hear sound emanating from a narrow beam speaker, but from what I have heard, this technology allows sound to travel from a speaker in a very tight angle, even as small as five degrees. A person can listen to his or her audio content from a narrow beam speaker without anyone hearing it from outside the narrow beam. This usually means that anyone to the left or the right of the listener will hear nothing. The last time I did any research, it seemed that narrow beam speakers are largely meant for people who want to privately listen to media in vehicles, office spaces, and elsewhere without needing headphones. Mr. May said that he believes that narrow beam speakers may be helpful when installed at audible signal lights. I am assuming what Mr. May calls audible signal lights are the same as what I refer to as audible pedestrian signals. Mr. May stated that a narrow beam speaker may help blind pedestrians stay in the crosswalk, and I could not agree with him more. If a blind pedestrian can keep the sound from a narrow beam speaker centered, this technology may significantly help him or her prevent, detect, and correct any veering. Assuming the audio technology in narrow beam speakers can be installed in APS, this may constitute one of the best methods for a blind pedestrian to determine and maintain alignment.
If the improvements that I believe are necessary in audible pedestrian signals are made, I would feel increased safety when crossing quiet lighted intersections. I am an orientation and mobility specialist and hold the NOMC certification. I work with Rehabilitation Services for the Blind of Missouri in the Southwest District. I was recently working with a client who told me that he has interacted with some lighted intersections where there is barely any traffic. This client and I agreed that with barely any traffic at an intersection, it would be easier to cross if it was a two-way or four-way stop than it would be if it was a lighted intersection. Unless one is willing to break the law and risk life and limb, one cannot simply cross at a lighted intersection when it is quiet. I am making the case that if some quiet intersections are still designed with traffic lights, they would be easy to nonvisually navigate if they had effective audible pedestrian signals. Furthermore, this improvement in the APS would help greatly when one desires to cross a busy street but has insufficient parallel traffic to reliably make decisions regarding both timing and alignment. At least in the United States, the difficulties arising from little to no parallel traffic may be more common when the parallel street is on the right side of the blind pedestrian. A well-designed APS system could eliminate this difficulty.
Next, I want to address the topic of remaining time for pedestrian crossings. I am almost certain that some APS in other cities provide spoken feedback regarding the remaining time the pedestrian has to cross. However, I have not found this feature in any APS in Springfield. This topic is a no-brainer, so I will move on very shortly. I will reiterate the obvious fact that a blind pedestrian should be able to hear any relevant information from the APS even before he or she begins to cross the perpendicular street. I have the right to know how many seconds remain for me to cross, and it is not good that the technology to provide this information is lacking in the Springfield APS.
I will now briefly discuss quiet cars. I am thrilled that the National Federation of the Blind and other organizations have done the grunt work to pass legislation that will insure that new vehicles emit a minimum level of sound. Still, until all the current quiet cars are either re-outfitted or scrapped, we will unfortunately have to deal with some quiet cars. I believe that well-designed audible pedestrian signals may help blind pedestrians overcome challenges posed by these vehicles. I believe that the only exception to this would be the factor of irresponsible driving. Honestly, we all take risks each day, from the moment we get out of bed, if not earlier. I frequently tell my clients that we must walk defensively, which obviously has a lot to do with environmental awareness and good O&M skills.
Now I will address the topic of intersections with turn lanes, which are an occasional challenge for me and at least a few other blind pedestrians. My challenges are with alignment, and not so much with timing. I specifically have challenges in the beginning of such crossings, when crossing from the corner to the island. As may be expected, I love when islands are raised and have curbs. This 3D nature is not necessary, but is helpful. However, even before I reach the island, I need to be sure that I am headed in the right direction to get there. I admit that this is usually quite doable, though it is challenging at times. The one common thing for intersections with turn lanes, at least in my experience, is the frequent necessity to listen to the traffic of both streets, sometimes for multiple cycles. The purpose of this is to draw a right angle in my head, and go to the inside corner of this angle, where the island will be. This process is time-consuming for me and detracts from my enjoyment of independent travel. Furthermore, it would be unnecessary to spend this much time preparing to cross a turn lane in 2017 if appropriate technology was developed and implemented.
I am aware that for crossing turn lanes, some people just face down the ramp and go straight. I would do this too if I knew that every person always did their jobs perfectly, especially those installing ADA accommodations. But since ramps are not always aligned perfectly, I will never use this technique the first time around and will rarely use it in general. I will only orient myself based on ramps and cut-outs on a case-by-case basis, and this is after I have previously confirmed the straightness of these man-made accommodations by using more reliable methods at these intersections.
It would be quite helpful to have audible pedestrian signals at both ends of the crosswalk for each turn lane. I know that the sounds in APS are every bit as man-made as the ramps and cut-outs. But it is more helpful for a blind pedestrian to have a sound coming from the direction he or she intends to walk than to rely on dead reckoning after lining up with his or her tactile starting point. A basic understanding of geometry will make the validity of my statement obvious, assuming the APS are not placed where the cars travel. Since the APS are mounted on poles, and since these poles are located in pedestrian-safe zones, a blind pedestrian does not need to worry about the APS being placed where the cars travel. To conclude the topic of turn lanes, I will state that having high-quality APS would significantly help when the islands are not raised but are painted.
Generally, I believe that the complexity of lighted intersections is a more important factor than busyness when discussing the benefits of audible pedestrian signals. One occasional exception to this, as previously mentioned, is when the parallel street is quiet and does not provide much auditory information, which can make even a less complex lighted intersection more difficult. I recently crossed a very large and busy intersection in Springfield without the help of APS. This intersection is busy, but not particularly complex. Furthermore, at the time I crossed, both streets were busy, which meant that I had adequate auditory information regardless of which street I intended to cross. If a blind pedestrian has good skills and adequate information, and if anxiety is not an issue, busy intersections are not very difficult to navigate without the help of APS. However, some lighted intersections are so complex with their traffic patterns that a person with no usable vision will have difficulty knowing when to cross and may even have difficulty with alignment if the intersection lacks APS or well-designed APS. Knowing when to cross and exactly which way to travel are critical, and well-designed APS could help greatly with this process at complex lighted intersections. I can already cross complex lighted intersections in Springfield more easily with the help of audible pedestrian signals than without this technology, so long as I can glean the necessary information for alignment by listening to traffic—though I do hope that this technology improves significantly.
One type of intersection that would especially benefit from well-designed audible pedestrian signals is the diverging diamond interchange. According to Wikipedia, the first diverging diamond interchange in the United States was in Springfield, Missouri. It is a radically new type of intersection and still confuses many people, both blind and sighted. I have had at least two O&M specialists describe diverging diamond interchanges to me. I still only have a very basic understanding even after many words and after some personal on-the-ground exploration with one O&M specialist. I am certainly not ready to teach a client how to navigate a diverging diamond interchange, and this concerns me. I traveled through one of these intersections in Springfield, and with one in a different city in Missouri, each on different dates. On both occasions, I received some instruction from an O&M specialist. There were buttons to press that would request the pedestrian’s right of way. But, to the best of my memory the technology in the buttons at these diverging diamond interchanges did not include verbal information and did not have the other characteristics of the APS in Springfield as previously described.
I am reminded of the APS at Walnut and Campbell in Springfield. This intersection is a simple lighted one and in my opinion does not need this level of technology. It would be much more helpful for this technology to be installed at diverging diamond interchanges! I fear that at least some of the time it is simply assumed that blind people cannot and therefore will not cross these intersections. One blind O&M instructor has written in detail about how she negotiates diverging diamond interchanges. However, each of us has strengths and weaknesses, and one of my weaknesses is absorbing new and complex information solely by literary or linguistic means. Though I have not yet found the opportunity, I would be more than willing to negotiate a diverging diamond interchange with the help of the blind instructor I mentioned. Regardless, I believe that diverging diamond interchanges should include audible pedestrian signals that are the cream of the crop! It may also be helpful to use 3D printing technology to create replicas of diverging diamond interchanges. I know that this would benefit me greatly, especially since each of these intersections may be different from the next and since 3D printing is becoming increasingly available.
I must become involved in making the changes I want to see, because complaining is not even at the 101 level, so to speak. Still, my desire is to point out the serious need for improvement. I believe that the APS in my city are half-baked, but that they can be improved. I also believe that once this improvement occurs, APS will make diverging diamond interchanges more manageable without vision. If audible pedestrian signals are designed better, and especially if competent blind travelers participate in this improvement, this technology will grow up to be what it should be in 2017 and beyond.
I am finished discussing audible pedestrian signals. To wrap things up, I will briefly share my thoughts regarding refreshable tactile technology and why this arena deserves our attention and involvement. Interestingly, the most meaningful bit of information I received regarding diverging diamond interchanges was from a very basic tactile representation created by one of the O&M specialists who tried to help me understand this type of intersection. This representation did not answer all my questions, but it was somewhat helpful. Though it was simply made from paper and tape, it is still the most helpful piece of information I have received to date regarding diverging diamond interchanges. I will not get much into this topic, but I encourage people to go to the website of the American Printing House for the Blind (www.aph.org) and learn about the Graphiti digital tactile graphics display that is being developed. I believe that many things will be possible in hardware Version 1.0, so to speak. However, I am also incredibly excited about what almost certainly will be possible in future hardware developments.
I sincerely believe that a picture is worth a thousand words for the blind as well as the sighted. I am not a neuroscientist, but I am nearly certain that the senses of touch and sight are more similar than are touch and sound or sight and sound. Furthermore, much of the information provided to the blind through sound is linguistic, even with most of the latest assistive technology that I know about. In other words, someone must observe an area or setting and put his or her understanding into language. Then the blind person must decode and integrate the linguistic information and hope that his or her understanding matches that of the sighted person who provided the linguistic information. I do not believe I need to explain to other blind people how difficult and inefficient this can be at times. I agree that linguistic descriptions of things are very important, but I believe that this is only one of many tools in the toolbox. I also believe that this tool has been overused in the absence of more creative development.
In my opinion the best assistive technology in the O&M arena is that which is multimodal, such as the Nearby Explorer app for Android and iOS, developed by the American Printing House for the Blind. I have greatly benefited from this particular app. The linguistic information is not the only component of it. The synergy in it amazes me, and I use the app quite frequently. I have quickly learned a significant amount of information at four college campuses in Missouri with no help from a sighted person other than a couple questions asked of strangers along my way. If the Nearby Explorer app only had linguistic information, it would not have been anything new for me as far as learning new places. Even so, refreshable tactile technology alone can bring much needed information to the table and should be promoted and embraced. I expect that the Graphiti, as well as other tactile technologies, will help blind people to understand environmental information in a radically more meaningful, dynamic, and spontaneous way. I can hardly be more excited. This new level of information would be especially helpful with diverging diamond interchanges.
I have heard several blind people say that they do not benefit from tactile graphics. I respect their feelings, but I feel it is important to remember that tactile graphics proficiency requires practice just like Braille proficiency. In the past Braille information has not been as readily available as print information, though with changes in refreshable Braille technology this is changing. Just as important is working to drastically improve the technology for tactile graphics to catch up. When this happens, it will be possible for blind people to become much more fluent in tactile graphics and expand the options for how information is presented to them. At the moment, the Graphiti and the possibilities it offers won’t be available until at least the end of this year, but I look forward to seeing it.
Back to diverging diamond interchanges, I know that refreshable tactile graphics technology may provide significant assistance for many blind pedestrians such as myself. This would be optimal when these graphics can be generated on-the-fly and quickly, such as with a camera connected to the Graphiti or a similar device. When tactile graphics hardware has an instantaneous refresh rate and can show multiple frames per second, this will allow blind people to have a video that can be felt. I know this may be years away, but I want to share this hope and perspective. When blind people can spontaneously gather necessary and meaningful information by touch, we will circumvent many of the obstacles we currently face when sound is not available, not helpful, or too loud. I believe that advances in tactile graphics technology will be extremely helpful for the deafblind as well.
With all of the emphasis I have placed on technology, I want to emphasize that personal competence, good skills, and a positive attitude about blindness are absolutely essential to true independence. Technology is not the foundation of our independence but can make life on the upper floors much more convenient and enjoyable. Rather than taking a hands-off approach to audible pedestrian signals and their tactile counterparts, let us be the movers and the shakers that we are in other aspects of blindness, and let’s change the built environment so that we may more fully live the lives we want. Let’s make certain that the audible signals that have been installed for our safety and convenience are giving us the most accurate information in the most usable methods available.
by Peggy Chong
From the Editor: Peggy Chong is affectionately known to many of us as the Blind History Lady. Her obsessive hobby and sometimes vocation is to track down little-known blind people from the thousands of sources she reviews and to put their stories into places where they can be appreciated for the pioneers they were.
It is clear from the articles we have run this year that the Braille Monitor believes blind people should be seen more in television and movies, but what Peggy makes clear in this article is that a number have already appeared who have mostly been unsung in their own time and forgotten in the world of today. Here is how she takes a major step in putting things right for those who early on appeared on stage and in film:
In the January 2017 Braille Monitor, several articles were highlighted regarding the lack of people with disabilities in Hollywood, the lack of opportunities for them, and the lack of characters that portray people with disabilities in a normal, positive light. As was amply observed, it is not for lack of trying on the part of the blind or others with disabilities.
Through my research and stories presented by The Blind History Lady, I have found several blind men and women who worked hard to fulfill their dream to become movie or television stars. Most did not succeed, not for lack of talent or drive, but because their opportunities were tied to the era in which they lived and its attitudes about the blind. How they dealt with their blindness varies, and we can only guess how things would have worked out for them if they had handled it differently. Although there has never been a disabled actor on the "A-list,” there have been some who have made a good living in the movie/entertainment industry.
We should remember that the people I am highlighting rarely had an opportunity for blindness training. It just was not available for most of them. Talking about any disability was taboo. Yet we do have a legacy in the films if we know where to look.
Sammy Brooks, a silent film actor who began his career at the age of fifteen after leaving New York to chase a dream in Hollywood, would today be considered disabled. He was featured in over two hundred films, working with stars such as Will Rogers, Vic McLaglen, and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. By 1920 he was actually credited for his small roles in the films and according to a few websites, may have been taking home over $1,000 a week during the late 1910s and 1920s. Sammy was sighted for most of his comedic acting career. Depending on what one reads, Sammy stood between three-foot-one-inch or as tall as four-feet-five inches.
Many of the silent film stars did not transition well into talkies, yet Sammy got many small parts in many films during his twenty-four-year career. When Laurel and Hardy cast for their 1936 film The Bohemian Girl, they remembered their friends from the silent film days and asked Sammy to take a role in their film. The newspapers called Sammy and the others, "Comedy Stars of Yesteryear.”
Sometime during the early 1930's Sammy began to lose his sight. Still, Laurel and Hardy wanted Sammy and his comedic talent for their film. Hal Roach, who Sammy worked for on many films, kept him in the studio extra crew, knowing he was blind. While filming Captain Fury, Sammy got better acquainted with the lead actor, Vic McLaglen. Mr. McLaglen was so moved by the blind actor that he bought him a seeing eye dog and presented it to him in the spring of 1939.
Don Mahoney was also a child who had dreams from age four of being a cowboy movie star. In his lower-middle class family, several of his siblings began to lose substantial vision in their early teens. Don was no exception. You can read his life's story in my eBook, The Blind History Lady Presents; Don Mahoney, Television Star available through www.smashwords.com.
When Don finally got some small parts in Hollywood, most of his vision was gone, and it was quite noticeable. When Don was honest with the studios about his blindness, the parts he was offered were slapstick roles such as in the proposed film, Blind Cowboy and his Seeing-Eye Horse. He wanted to be a serious entertainer, not a comedian.
Don went back to Texas in 1949 and reinvented himself. This time he decided to keep his blindness to himself. That would not be part of the Don Mahoney brand. For almost ten years he kept his blindness a secret from the television stations he contracted with while he rose to be one of the biggest kiddie show hosts in the state of Texas. He built up a photography business, restaurant chain, and a small recording studio. Don Mahoney toys and products were licensed under his name. Acting was not where the money was, but acting was what marketed the other ventures. For a time, he relaxed on his 8,000-acre ranch.
When Paul Lees, a blinded World War II soldier was recovering in the military hospitals, he was sent to Hollywood to an eye specialist. While out there, the military asked Paul to appear in some military-sponsored films. When he was well enough, before his discharge he traveled the country promoting the military films. He now had the Hollywood bug.
After his discharge he thought he would have an easy time getting into the movies as a war hero. Approaching influential people, he often did get a referral, but as he quickly found out, more often than not he was the butt of a joke.
Paul kept on trying and honing the blindness training skills he learned while in the military as well as creating a few of his own. He found that making friends with the set crew made life for him much easier. The set crew often came up with ideas for scenes for markers on the floor or within the scene itself to mark where Paul needed to come in, stop, or the direction to walk off.
In 1946 he was uncredited in the film O.S.S. In 1947 he finally got a credited role in Smooth Sailing. Paul worked with many stars such as Peggy Lee, Richard Webb, Marlene Dietrich, Alan Ladd, Donna Reed, and many more. The next four years were good to Paul in Hollywood. But by the early 1950s his war hero edge had worn off. America had put the Second World War behind it. Although Paul continued to act in Hollywood films through the 1970s and local New Mexico theaters, his attentions turned elsewhere. With his brother-in-law he became wealthy, building new homes for the growing post-war population in the southwest—Texas and New Mexico.
Paul taught filmography classes at the Albuquerque YMCA for underprivileged children. He taught university classes on several subjects relating to filmography and had his own freelance film company that did well making documentaries.
Elena Zelayeta already was famous in the western part of the United States in the 1950s when she began her fifteen-minute weekly television cooking show, It's Fun to Eat with Elena on Channel 5 in the Bay Area in California. Elena had been blind for many years by this time. Her cookbooks were a way for her to support her two sons after the death of her husband. No one would hire the blind widow, so she hired herself.
Before the death of her husband, she had gone to the San Francisco Institute for the Blind where she learned some Braille and soon became a volunteer instructor. After the first cookbook was published, she spent hours and hours on the telephone reaching out to the women's clubs, merchants, libraries, churches, Lions Clubs—anyone who would give her a chance to come and promote her books. Her will-do attitude gave little opportunity to refuse the short Hispanic woman with the big smile.
She too worked with the set crews to develop a way for her to know what camera was on her by tying a string to her ankles. A slight tug on the appropriate string would tell Elena the direction to face. She went on to begin a Mexican frozen food company that her sons ran for decades after her death.
We can all think of a few other blind actors in more recent years who have tried to break the Hollywood glass ceiling. Yet we need to have a better, more diverse voice on the small and big screens, representing real America. We need to be shown doing not only the heroic or the dastardly; we need to be shown taking our place as children in schools, adults making a living and raising our children, and as people who take life’s ups and downs, blindness not being the focal point of our existence.
by Ellen Sullivan
From the Editor: Ellen Sullivan is the secretary/treasurer in the National Federation of the Blind of Delaware. At a seminar for communications directors held in February of 2017, Ellen saw the documentary she reviews. Here is her description of what she saw, along with the insights she brings about blindness and the way blind children are too often treated by the education system in America:
Sitting in the film auditorium of the Jernigan Institute, I was waiting for my exhausting day to end. Chris Danielson stepped up to the podium and told us about these California film students, Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy, who had made this documentary film in order to graduate from college. My reaction: oh no—another amateurish attempt to capture the lives of blind people—but it was anything but that.
The documentary takes us into the lives of four blind teenagers whose hopes and aspirations are frustrated by the persistent failure of the education system to provide them with the tools they need and have a legal right to in order to succeed as blind people.
First we meet “Skateboarder Connor” who glides down the sidewalks of his town with an amazing sense of rapture and freedom. He sneaks into his school grounds with his friend Mira to practice some stunning feats with his skateboard. What does Connor want? He wants to be accepted by the town’s elite skateboarding club.
Next we meet Sarah “Destination Portugal.” Sarah excels in school especially in her Spanish class. Sarah, whose Portuguese mother died when she was five years old, longs to visit her mother’s homeland. Sarah wants to study overseas in Portugal during her senior year in high school, and she has all the right credentials, but she is blind.
Carina “the prom queen” is a lovely Hispanic teenager who wants to graduate from high school and attend college. When her public school fails to live up to its commitment on her IEP (Individualized Education Plan) her mother, an undocumented immigrant, is afraid to fight the system for fear she will lose Carina in the process.
Lastly we meet rock star Nick, who wants to be an “awesome drummer” and part of his own band and is thwarted in his aspirations by a school system that fails him when he moves from middle to high school. They don’t want a blind child in their high school and thus force his mother into a court battle while Nick waits it out on the sideline—literally—he is not allowed to attend school for months.
These riveting stories let us know that sighted people just don’t believe in the true capabilities of blind people. They continuously underestimate the abilities of blind students and fail to accept that blind people have dreams too, just as full of depth and color as those of the sighted. Equally unfortunate is the realization that with opportunity the dreams of blind people can come true as often as the dreams of their sighted friends and neighbors.
While I doubted the filmmakers early on, they honestly and openly captured the emotional turmoil many blind students experience. These students see themselves and their hopes and dreams as “normal” and attainable with passion and hard work. It was heartbreaking to watch their struggles and inspiring to see their determination.
This is a great film for both blind and sighted people alike. It demonstrates to sighted parents, friends, and teachers how human and capable their blind counterparts truly are. For sighted people who may be unintentionally holding blind students back, this film serves as a wake-up call for the way they can support, enable, and inspire blind students to live their dreams.
The movie ends with a poignant scene of Sarah standing at the edge of the ocean with her arms spread saying “I can see everything; I just need to be up close to feel it.”
Editor’s Note: It is clear from this review that many of us should see the movie and should view it as a call to action in reforming the education systems where we live. Screenings are available on request. Contact Chris Danielsen at email@example.com. We should take this opportunity to show this movie to friends and relatives and to recruit large venues where chapter members and their friends can see it.
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer
Curious to see what other secrets the building holds, the six Dots dash down another hallway and make their way through some of the oldest parts of the building. Unlike the rest of the building they had encountered so far, this area has undressed walls, bare wooden floors, and the stacks and stacks of boxes made it clear that this area had been used for storage. Continuing on, the group rolls up to the open doors of an elevator shaft. The elevator car is nowhere to be found. Thick metal cables stretch into the darkness below.
As the more mature members of the crew begin to confer on the best way to descend, the young ensign impetuously reaches out to the nearest cable, wraps himself around it, and disappears into the darkness with a joyful, “Wheeee!”
“Ensign! Report! Are you injured?” calls Doctor Spot.
“I’m fine, Doctor!” The crew can hear the excited ensign bouncing below. “The doors to the next level are open! I can’t wait to see what else is down here!” The ensign’s voice fades as he bounces away from the elevator.
“When I catch that kid, I’m going to court-martial him, Number One.”
Squeak, squeak. “I’ll handle it personally, Captain.”
“Now, now, Commander. We were all young once, and this is Bean’s first away mission,” soothes Counselor Mote.
“Well, at this rate, it’s going to be his last!” grouses Captain Dottie.
“Shouldn’t we go catch him, Captain?” Jot asks.
A few minutes later, the rest of the team enters a long, rectangular room. Standing over in the corner, next to a large and unfamiliar machine, is the still bouncing Ensign Bean. Barely containing his excitement, he calls to the others to join him next to the strange contraption. “I found out how they make the dots!”
“I’m going to dot you, Ensign, if you don’t learn to listen to orders from now on!” snaps the commander, for once his beard forgotten.
“Commander Point, it is unwise to waste time on demerits during the mission. Discipline can be better handled on the ship.” Doctor Spot brushes him aside. “The dots, Ensign?”
Bean hands him an embossed booklet from a stack nearby. Intrigued, the doctor immediately begins to read aloud, “Braille: What It Is and What It Is Not…”
[Note: Link to or copy text of “Braille: What It Is and What It Is Not,” by Sister M. Elaine George, IHM, Future Reflections, Volume 28, Number 1, https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr28/
Most of the crew listens attentively as the doctor reads the short article out loud. However, Lieutenant-Commander Jot, being more interested in how the machine actually works than the end result, has moved in closer to inspect the massive embosser that had printed the Braille document. Producing a couple of tools and a battery pack that had been secreted on her person, she begins to fiddle with the apparatus. Then at the touch of a button, the dormant machinery roars to life and resumes its task as if it had never stopped.
Marveling at her own work, Jot leans in with a soft, “Ooh…” While simultaneously Counselor Mote, startled by the loud noise of the machine coming back to life, takes a step backward and bumps into the lieutenant-commander. Unable to stop herself, Jot pitches forward and is caught by the paper-feeding mechanism, which flattens and sucks her into the inner workings of the ancient machine.
As she silently disappears from view, the embosser begins to make strange popping noises, as if someone is bursting bubble wrap, which attracts the attention of the rest of the crew.
“Jot!” exclaims Counselor Mote. “Where are you?”
Jot’s muffled voice can be heard from the inside of the machine, but her crewmates can’t make out what she is saying.
“What’s happening, Lieutenant-Commander? Jot? Report!” yells Captain Dottie.
Suddenly, at the far end of the embosser, Jot’s voice begins to ring out clearly. “I’m fine, Captain! In fact this is quite invigorating. Even better than a massage!”
Doctor Spot speedily rolls around to find the flattened edge of Lieutenant-Commander Jot, which had first entered the machine, slowly falling down into the waiting paper tray, hundreds of Braille dots now embossed across her skin. A mouth forms and cheerfully says, “You guys really should try this!”
Bang! Crash! Boom! The room is filled with even louder noises as the machine grinds to a screeching halt. Silence descends upon the crew.
In a quiet voice, Jot says, “Oh! That must have been my wrench… I wondered where that had got to.”
“Jot! Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Bean asks.
“I’m fine, Bean,” Jot said, her voice as chipper as ever. “But I think this machine has embossed its last dot… And I appear to be stuck.”
by Heather Bird
From the Editor: Heather Bird is the president of the Rochester Chapter of the New York state affiliate of the NFB. Quite often I telephone those who submit articles to discuss changes I want to make or when I think their article may run. In this case, I called because I wanted to meet Heather and to verify that what she had written about the canes she was provided really reflected how she felt. This was not intended as an article, but as a thank-you letter in response to our free white cane program. Sure enough, the enthusiasm I saw in the letter was reflected in our conversation. So it is that we proudly run this piece:
First of all, I would like to thank you for the two white canes that I received, one for myself and one for my older son, Gustave Jeremy Jonas.
I understand the value as a guide dog handler of going out to keep my cane skills sharp a few times a month, and I also know the value of taking time to learn some routes with my cane prior to working them with my Seeing Eye dog. However, I have been remiss about doing so on a logistical and practical level, even though I know on an academic and cognitive level that this is something I should be doing regularly. This disconnect between best practice and real action is due to my very heavy, too short, collapsible cane from Ambutech. I am on the tall side for a woman and knew that I could benefit from a somewhat longer cane, but I just couldn't cope with the added weight that a longer, more appropriately-sized cane would entail. Using my previous cane hurts my right wrist with touch-tap or tap-and-glide techniques. Resting my wrist by employing purely diagonal technique or a constant-contact sweeping technique resulted in the cane constantly getting caught in cracks in the sidewalk, grass edges, and obstacles, which would jar my wrist or worse, jam the cane into my stomach or ribs, which obviously left me frustrated and only able to walk at a half to a quarter of the speed I can with my guide dog. However, this cane has made such a difference. It is so much lighter that I was able to walk one of my longer 2.5-mile-long routes with absolutely no pain or discomfort in my wrist. I was able to walk at a much more comfortable pace, perhaps 75 to 85 percent the speed I walk with my guide, because I wasn't constantly getting the clunky collapsible cane caught in cracks and my wrist action allowed me to easily transition between touch-tap and tap-and-glide techniques at considerable speed, but still with safe reaction time for changes in elevation and obstacle clearance. This cane is so much more responsive.
With the old cane the truncated domes at the edge of a curb felt like rough pavement, but with this cane I can actually feel the individual bumps that make up the indicator. I accidentally ran this cane over my preschooler's leg, and I could tell that his father had changed him out of the blue jeans I had put him in and into corduroy pants.
Crawling along the ground or having a five-foot-long arm that could sweep the ground ahead of you would be the equivalent of reading Braille with the fingertips. Using the old cane I had would be like trying to read Braille through a woolen sock placed over the hand. Using this cane is like trying to read Braille through a thin rubber glove or plastic wrap, because it just gives me so much more information.
I am very fortunate in that I have had access to moderately to very good O&M and white cane instruction for my whole life. I got my first cane at age two, but I want to know why the heck no one ever gave me a cane like this to try. I still would have gotten a guide dog, but my childhood and teenaged years of grudging acceptance and sometimes real hatred of my cane would have instead been matter-of-fact use and sometimes enthusiastic appreciation of my cane. I honestly feel cheated at all of the awkward, clumsy, and frustrating cane travel I have embarked upon prior to getting my first guide and when in between guides with a cane ill-suited to me or my needs. So, in a roundabout way I am saying thank you very very much, and also why the heck don't sighted professionals get it and make a more concerted effort to help their blind students and clients?
My eight-year-old son, Jeremy, had this to say about his new NFB cane, "This cane is so much better. My O&M instructor always gets mad at me and tells me to quit complaining that my arm is tired, and I really didn't like using my cane, even though I know I need to use it to be safe and stuff like that. This one moves where I want it to go and doesn't get stuck on things. I can feel more stuff too and tell what it is—easier than with the old cane. I can't fold this one up, but that's OK ‘cuz the old one kept pinching my fingers when I had to fold and unfold it anyway. This cane feels like just a body part or something, like an ear or a hand or a nose or something. The old cane felt like I was just swinging a stick around."
The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market is the conduit through which our organization distributes our empowering literature to our members, friends, and the general public. As a service we also operate a blindness products store, which sells mostly low-tech items, designed to enhance the everyday independence of blind people.
Often blind people can easily tell their clothes apart by noticing some distinguishing characteristic such as the type of fabric; the cut of the sleeves, collar, or neckline; the shape and number of buttons; and so on. But sometimes this method does not work, and you need another solution. If you are looking for tools to identify your garments and manage your wardrobe, the Independence Market may be able to help.
We sell aluminum Braille labels which can be sewn or pinned into clothing to help identify garments. Two different styles are available: colors and numbers. In the color style we carry two different sets, one with a larger color palette and fewer individual labels of each color and one with a smaller color assortment and more of each specific color. There are one hundred tags in the color sets. The number style contains twenty-five tags (the numbers one through twenty-five). The number tags might work better for ties or other clothes that aren't identified enough by a color. For example, you could use the numbers to match the jacket and pants or skirt that are part of the same suit. And, of course, the tags are suitable for items that are either laundered or dry-cleaned.
In a recent issue of the Braille Monitor we highlighted the PenFriend Audio Labeling System. This device allows the user to associate an audio recording with a sticker. One can purchase specially designed laundry labels for the PenFriend. This labeling technique gives one the flexibility to record not only a description of the item of clothing and what matches it but also any care instructions. Please note that these labels are not suitable for garments which need to be dry-cleaned.
If you are not the type of person who wants to go to the trouble of labeling your clothing, then a color identifier may be the right tool for you. We carry both the SpeechMaster and the Colorino Color Identifiers. These devices enable the user to detect the color of clothing and other items. However, they are not ideal for matching clothes. You are better off asking a friend or family member with a good eye for colors to assist with this task. Once you find out what goes together, and you may have to keep notes until you know this information by heart, then the color identifier or the Braille tags can assist you in identifying a specific garment.
We also carry two different types of sock locks. Never wear mismatched socks again. Simply insert a pair of socks into a Sock lock, and your socks will stay paired up while in the washer and dryer. The square sock locks are more suitable for thick athletic socks, while the round ones are better for more delicate trouser socks.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
by Deborah Kent Stein
From the Editor: This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Illinois Independent, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. Deborah Kent Stein is the editor of Future Reflections, and her name is quite familiar to readers of the Braille Monitor. Her insight and her ability to so movingly convey her life experience make reading what she writes a real joy. Here is what she says:
When I was four years old, my mother set up a child-sized table in the corner of the kitchen. On the table she put some plastic forks and knives, a few aluminum dishes, and a box of Plasticine, a brand of modeling clay commonly sold in toy stores. She explained that while she was cooking dinner I could make believe I was preparing a meal, too.
I was the oldest of three children, with two noisy, rambunctious little brothers. My mother hoped the clay would keep me occupied while she juggled between cooking and caring for the younger children. As far as keeping me busy, the plan exceeded her expectations.
I didn't care about pretending to cook, but I loved playing with clay. I rolled long coils between my hands and twisted them into snakes. I learned to make a ball by rolling the clay between my palms. If I pressed a smaller ball onto a big one, I had the basis for a variety of animals. I could add long ears and a tiny tail to make a rabbit, or I could stick on short ears and a snake of a tail to create a cat.
Plasticine came in sticks, each one a different color. I was totally blind, and at first I didn't care whether I made a green dog or a red banana. My mother used my interest in clay to help me understand the role of color in the world. When I unwrapped a new package of Plasticine, she showed me which stick was blue, which was red, which was green, and which was brown. "Brown is a good color for a dog," she told me. "You can use green and blue and red for birds." Soon I was interrupting her dinner preparations to ask, "What color is a rhinoceros?" and "What color is a sea monster?"
Over the years I acquired more clay, more tools, and more space, with my own table in the basement. I made towns with cardboard houses and clay people. I made clay forests filled with multicolored birds. I made a castle with clay walls, a drawbridge of popsicle sticks, and tall clay watchtowers.
One summer day my family visited the boardwalk at Asbury Park on the New Jersey shore. We kids stuffed ourselves with saltwater taffy, shrieked our way through the funhouse, and visited the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. My cousin gave me lurid descriptions of the two-headed calf, the tentacle of the giant squid, and the baby with transparent skin, all out of my reach in glass jars.
At last we came upon an object that was out in the open, something I could experience for myself. It was a life-sized, sculpted head. I studied the regular features, the thick, curly hair, and the intricate whorls of the ears. What was this head doing here, among the oddities of nature?
My cousin read the printed caption. "This head was fashioned by a man who was totally blind," it stated. "He made this likeness using only his sense of touch. Believe it or not!"
I wondered how the nameless blind man felt about having his piece on exhibit in the Ripley's Museum. Did people really think a blind artist was as bizarre as a two-headed calf?
On my thirteenth birthday my grandfather gave me six big blocks of clay—not from a toy store, but from a store that sold real art supplies. He explained that this was an oil-based clay that never dried out and could be used over and over again. If I took care of it, he promised, it would last as long as I lived.
A few months later my mother and I visited a local art gallery. Without hesitation, the proprietor allowed me to touch all of the pieces on display. I studied life-sized ceramic heads, bronze nudes, and an assortment of animal figures. I discovered that art was not confined to realistic forms, and I found that artists worked in media as varied as balsa wood, paper-mache, plaster, brass wire, and welded steel.
Inspired by a series of animal sculptures I'd seen at the gallery, I went home to my blocks of birthday clay. Night after night I rushed through my homework, eager to get back to my work in progress. It was the detailed figure of a lion, its head lifted above its outstretched front paws. When it was finished, my mother set it on a shelf in the living room and showed it proudly to any friends who dropped in.
One of the family friends who saw the lion was a professional artist named Don Miller. To my amazement he offered to buy the lion from me for five dollars. A few weeks later he returned with a plaster cast of the original clay figure. It resided on top of the television for the next twenty years.
Don Miller's interest transformed the way my family and I thought about my hobby. No longer did I play with clay. From that time forward, I did sculpture!
At college I majored in English, but for one of my electives I signed up to take a studio sculpture course. I looked forward to exploring fresh possibilities and learning new techniques. When I arrived at the first class, however, the instructor, Mr. D., announced that I would have to drop the course. "Sculpture is very visual," he explained. "You won't be able to participate. It would be a waste of your time and mine for you to enroll in this class."
I was shocked by Mr. D.'s narrow perspective. He utterly dismissed the idea that anyone could create or appreciate sculpture without eyesight. Even when I showed him some of my previous work, he insisted that there was no place for me in his class.
I was so angry that I refused to give up. I was determined to take the class, even if Mr. D. made me hate every moment of it. I went to the head of the art department, who sent me up the ladder to the dean. The dean ruled that I could take Mr. D.'s class, with the condition that I would have an assistant with me at all times—essentially a classroom aide. According to the dean, the assistant would help me find the art supplies in the classroom. In reality, he was there as a buffer between me and Mr. D. The instructor and I barely spoke to each other all semester.
Despite this unpromising arrangement, I learned a great deal in Mr. D.'s class. I experimented with wood carving and made mobiles with dangling wire figures. Most important of all, I gained an invaluable lesson in self-advocacy. I learned not to give up when a person in authority told me no. I discovered that I could fight my way past barriers to education and experience.
My interest in sculpture has never flagged, though I've encountered plenty of believe-it-or-not reactions along the way. I create three-dimensional works with my hands, yet vision-oriented friends and strangers often find it amazing and inexplicable. I strive to be judged not as a blind sculptor, but as a sculptor.
In my study of sculpture I always felt that blindness posed one insurmountable obstacle. My fellow students worked by looking at live human models. The only way I could use a model was through touch, and I couldn't conceive of touching someone's nude body in order to make a clay figure. I worked from imagination or used plastic models that I found in art supply stores. I studied a human skeleton to learn about structure and proportion. Nevertheless, I knew I was missing an aspect of training that is critical to most serious students of art.
In 2011 I enrolled in a sculpture class at the Palette and Chisel, a long-established art school in Chicago. Ralph Cossentino, the instructor, had taught other blind students, and he welcomed me into his class. I began by sculpting the head of Michelangelo, basing my piece on a large plastic model that belonged to the school. From there I moved on to a self-portrait, exploring my own face and using myself as a model. But Ralph was determined that I should have the same opportunities as his sighted students. He asked me if I would like to work with a live model.
I was stunned by the question. On one hand I was thrilled to find an instructor so eager to broaden my learning opportunities. On the other hand, I felt apprehensive and uncertain. Society has strong prohibitions against touching other people. Artists' models are very comfortable with being observed visually, but touch would cross a boundary that, under most circumstances, is strictly forbidden. I worried about how both the model and I would feel, no matter how professionally we treated the situation.
In spite of my reservations, I knew this was a chance that might never come to me again. Ralph talked with the model, a young woman named Jessica. He suggested that I begin by doing a hand study, and Jessica said that would be fine with her. As I worked with the clay, I paused frequently to examine Jessica's outstretched hand. Step by step I worked to replicate the complex mechanics of muscle and bone. Yet a precise reproduction wasn't enough. The idea was to convey some form of emotional expression, the subtle difference between anatomy and art.
I sculpted another hand piece, followed by a foot study. Then I did a sculpture of Jessica's head, complete with her magnificent braid. At last Ralph suggested that I was ready to attempt a full, seated figure. By that time Jessica and I were very comfortable working together, and we both said we were ready to give it a try.
As it turned out, Ralph was more nervous than Jessica and I. He confessed later that he was worried about the administrators of the Palette and Chisel. What would they say when they found out that a student was touching the nude model in one of the sculpture classes? To his relief and mine, the director of the school had no objections. In fact, he commended Ralph for his flexibility and spirit of innovation.
I have now worked with several models, both female and male. Each has been generously receptive to working with me. The models have always approached our work together as experienced professionals, and I owe them my deepest appreciation.
I have met many blind people who are convinced that they do not understand sculpture or raised-line drawings. They are intimidated by the thought of working with clay or other art materials. To my delight, a growing number of people in the National Federation of the Blind are working to break down the notion that art is out of bounds for us as blind people. Some have even suggested that we expand our efforts in the STEM fields to include art. STEM could become STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Few people, blind or sighted, ever become professional artists, but art can enrich life for us all.
When my mother set up that little table in the kitchen, she couldn't have imagined where my love of clay would lead me. And my grandfather was right about that oil-based clay he gave me for my thirteenth birthday. I still have a three-pound package of it, carefully wrapped, and it is as moist and moldable as ever. It looks as though it will last for as long as I live.
In the May issue of the Monitor we announced that the Federation would be repurposing older Kernel Book stories to be more widely available in digital format. To that end, we will be sprinkling some of these wonderful kernels into the Monitor for the next several months. These stories will run with the original introductions that accompanied them in the Kernel Books they were published in.
by Jennifer Dunnam
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind operates a number of training centers for blind youth and adults. One of our most effective training techniques is to teach a student to do something he or she believes to be virtually crazy for a blind person even to try. Success at something truly unthinkable causes the student to begin to re-examine all that was previously thought to be impossible. Jennifer Dunnam is a teacher in one of our centers, and one of the things she teaches is rock climbing. Unthinkable? No, not really. Here is her story:
One of the many joys of being an instructor at BLIND, Inc. (one of the National Federation of the Blind’s training centers) is that the students and staff have the chance to participate in rock climbing several times a year. Not all of us look forward to ascending walls of rock with equal eagerness, but I, for one, am energized every time I do a climb or work with someone else who is climbing. Sometimes I am reminded of my early childhood, when I was willing to try climbing on just about anything taller than I.
My parents did not learn that I was blind until I was seven months old, by which time I knew how to crawl and could pull myself into a standing position. The doctor told my parents that since I was blind, they would need to keep me in a playpen and do everything humanly possible to protect me from harm.
Despite their disappointment upon learning of my blindness, they saw no reason to follow the doctor’s advice since they had so far treated me as they would any other child. I also believe that, by that time, my parents already had a pretty good idea that trying to keep me in a playpen would probably not have accomplished the protection that the kind but misguided doctor had intended.
One of my earliest memories is of climbing a chest of drawers. I am sure I remember hearing the half-open drawers call out to be climbed like a ladder; being a most agreeable child, I obliged—my fingers gripped the top of the upper drawers as my feet stepped on the lower ones.
I almost made it to the top before the chest and all its contents fell on top of me. My fingers still smart whenever I think about it. My pain and humiliation were sufficient to ensure that I did not try climbing on drawers again; my parents could see that I had been well-taught and did not need them to put any additional restrictions on my movement.
During most of my childhood, my family lived in a house located on property owned by the natural gas transmission company that employed my father. My two younger sisters and I had twenty-seven acres of land at our disposal for play—including such useful structures as trees, a pond, an empty house similar to our own, and the compressor station where my father worked. We children were disappointed that we had no stairs inside the house, but we were delighted when we discovered them on the sides of the compressor station.
We (or at least I) could spend hours just running up and down those metal stairs—a pastime to which my mother never expressed any objection. It seemed very natural to my sisters and me, therefore, to entertain ourselves in a similar manner the day we discovered stairs during a visit to the home of a friend of our parents. My mother did not see the connection at all, but she couldn’t stop us quite in time to prevent my sister Becky from somehow breaking an expensive statue that stood near the stairs.
At a very early age I graduated from stairs to the monkey bars in our backyard. I got to be rather good at climbing on them and was thrilled on my first day of school when I found out there were higher monkey bars on the playground. What a shock I got during that first recess when I tried to join the other kids who were climbing on the bars! As I approached, the children jumped off as fast as they could, screaming, “Don’t touch her! You’ll go blind!” It felt as though the floor had been pulled out from under me. Was it so bad to be blind?
Fortunately, when I went home that evening (and every evening after), I found my world was still normal, my family didn’t think I had suddenly gotten a terrible disease, and, best of all, my sisters were still willing to join me on the monkey bars.
My family did their best to help me keep my expectations of myself high despite the misconceptions of many others around me. That basic support was invaluable to me as I went back to school each day and gradually made friends and acquaintances who, even if they did not always treat me as an equal, were not afraid of me and would share the monkey bars with me.
At home, we had a swing set, which, together with several trees perfect for climbing, consumed much of my free time. My sisters and I, like most kids, were pretty good at thinking up alternative ways to use the swing set, like walking up the slide or standing in the seats of the swings while swinging. The caps had long since fallen off the ends of the crossbar at the top of the swing set, so we liked to climb up the side poles and use the long pipe as a communication device.
Other creatures apparently made use of the open-ended crossbar as well; on at least two occasions, bees came out to express their anger at me for disturbing their home. The bee stings were nothing, however, compared to the time I put my mouth up to the pipe, and a little frog took the opportunity to jump in. All I can say is that a frog—at least in living form—most assuredly does not “taste like chicken.”
When I was about twelve, my sisters and I began incorporating the huge pipes behind the compressor station into our games. They were several feet in diameter, and some of them slanted upward from the ground at angles that were deliciously dangerous if you were trying to walk up them. (Oh, and did I mention that we were expressly forbidden to go near them by my parents?)
For months and months my sisters and I enjoyed the pipes; they could not be seen from the house, so we could play without any annoying interference.
Or so I believed, until the day my father suddenly hauled us all into the living room and yelled for what seemed like hours about how we should never, never play around those pipes. How he could have found out was beyond me, especially since we had not been near the pipes since the week before, when we took all those pictures of each other . . .
Sudden dread shot through me as I racked my brain to recall what we’d done with those newly developed pictures.
It wasn’t long before that question vanished into irrelevance; my dad held up an envelope, from which he removed a series of indisputable photos of his three daughters in various poses on the pipes behind the compressor station. He stopped yelling, and fortunately for us, his amusement at our humiliation tempered his anger somewhat.
As the years went by I became far too cool and mature ever to think about such childish exploits as climbing. Then, when I was fourteen, I joined the National Federation of the Blind—one of the best decisions of my life. I found new friends and learned that I did not have to be alone in dealing with the problems blind people face in our society.
It was with a group of Federation friends that I had my first experience with rock climbing and immediately abandoned my notion that climbing is for kids. Here was something much more real and challenging than monkey bars or natural gas conduits!
Now, as a teacher, I am pleased to have the chance to help students believe in themselves and their abilities as blind people. Rock climbing is one of the ways in which our Center challenges students to go beyond what they believe is possible. I treasure the time spent in such productive fun!
by Bruce Gardner
From the Editor: As readers of previous Kernel Books know Bruce Gardner spent a good bit of time as a boy trying to convince himself and others that he was not really blind. He did so because he did not believe that it was respectable to be blind. In this current story he reminds himself that although success can be measured by many outward signs, for it to be real there must be inner peace. Here is what he has to say:
What is success and how is it measured? Is one a success by being a senior attorney with a major corporation, president of his home owners’ association, precinct committeeman for his local political party, High Priest and member of the High Council at his church, and scout troop official?
Should one be considered successful if he lives in a nearly five-thousand-square-foot house on a gentleman’s farm with a citrus orchard, pasture, and barn with horses, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens, and other farm animals?
Or is success being happily married to a wonderful wife and having six bright, healthy, well-mannered, and well-adjusted children (three of whom are now teenagers)?
Perhaps. But it is hard to feel successful unless one is at peace with one’s self. As one who grew up blind in a predominantly sighted society it was not easy to imagine being successful or easy to find that peace. The blind are generally regarded as incapable of doing much of anything.
I certainly grew up with all the same negative misconceptions about blindness, never mind the fact that I was blind. It was not until I found the National Federation of the Blind that I was able to begin making significant strides on the road to success.
I remember several years ago when I was the scouting coordinator between our church and the Boy Scouts of America. We had a youth swimming party for all of the youth at our church including the scouts. All of the kids were having fun ganging up on their leaders and throwing them in the pool. The teen-age girls were ganging up on their women advisors, and the boys were ganging up on the men. All except for me.
As scouting coordinator I had been with the twelve- and thirteen-year-old scouts at most of their weekly activities and on a number of outings and hikes, and was a full participant in all the physical activities and roughhousing, yet no one grabbed me and tried to throw me in the water.
I began feeling very left out, so I left the pool area and decided to get some watermelon. Because we were running low on sliced melon I decided to cut some more. A good friend of mine walked up and would not let me cut the watermelon. He said, “Here, let me do that.”
I said, “That’s okay. I’ll do it; I slice watermelon all the time.”
But he insisted, saying, “No, I’d better cut the watermelon. That knife is sharp.” With that, he took the knife from my hand.
I was already feeling very conspicuous because I was the only youth leader there who had not been physically gang tackled and thrown into the pool. When my good friend refused to let me slice more watermelon, that was all I could take, so I left the party.
I was so angry and hurt that I could not think straight. When I finally cooled off a few days later, I was disappointed that I had allowed myself to be affected that way.
The next day I sent my friend a letter and tried to explain why his attitude about my cutting the watermelon had bothered me so much. My friend called to apologize and say that he was genuinely touched and impressed by my letter.
By then I had cooled off a little, and I apologized for allowing myself to get upset. After all, I had spent years selling myself short and assuming I could not do many things. Why should I expect my friend to act any differently?
I have tried to learn from these experiences and not allow others’ attitudes and actions to affect my attitude. In small ways I think I am progressing on the road to success. For example, my law office is on the eighteenth floor of a twenty-story building in downtown Phoenix. A few weeks ago as I stepped into the elevator along with an acquaintance from the building, he commented that the light was out in the elevator. When the doors closed it was pitch dark inside.
The other man in the elevator then said, “Now we’re equal.” I considered saying that there were a number of things besides the ability to see that would have to be considered before that judgment could be made. But I didn’t. I just politely laughed and said, “Right.” It would have done no good to get upset or offended.
One does not have to be an attorney, president of an organization, or live in a big house in order to be successful. But regardless of how one measures success, one can hardly truly feel successful if little things in life get him angry.
I am grateful to the National Federation of the Blind for giving me the confidence to know that I can be a successful, productive member of society, and I am particularly grateful for the realization that in order truly to progress on the road to success, I must also be at peace with myself and the world and not let negative misconceptions about blindness affect me in my own heart.
by Tony Cobb
From the Editor: For a long time Tony Cobb was a fixture in our national convention hotel lobby, and his kindness, wisdom, and experience helped to make the convention better for all of us. Here is a reminder we try to run each year to prevent the heartache that comes from an overdrawn checking account when one is not familiar with the practices of major hotel chains. The words below come from the wisdom of those years of service, and it is with gratitude that we reprint them:
Here is some advice about paying for your hotel stay: every year at our national convention we have serious trouble with use of debit cards or cash payments at hotel check-in, and, having worked to solve these problems for years, I can tell you they can nearly ruin the convention week for those experiencing them. Planning to attend our national convention should therefore include thinking seriously about how to pay the hotel, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to avoid using cash or a debit card as your payment method. Doing so may seem convenient, but you should not do so. If you do not have a credit card of your own to use, prevail upon a close friend or family member to let you use one just for convention. Here’s why:
If you are paying in actual currency, most hotels will want enough cash up front at check-in to cover your room and tax charges for the entire stay, plus a one-time advance incidentals deposit to cover meals, telephone calls, internet service, and other things you may charge to your room. The unused portion of the incidentals deposit may be returned at check-out or by mail after departure. Understand, however, that, if your incidentals charges exceed the incidentals deposit credited, you are responsible for payment of the full balance at checkout. The total can end up being a very large sum indeed.
If you use a debit card, however, you are really at a potentially painful disadvantage. The hotel will put a hold on money in your bank account linked to the debit card to cover the estimated balance of your stay—that is, for the entire week’s room and tax charges plus a one-time incidentals deposit to cover meals, movies, and so on charged to your room. You should be aware that the hold can therefore be a considerable amount of money and that you will not have access to that amount for any other purchases or payments with your card. (Hotels sometimes also put authorizations on credit cards, by the way, but those are not often a problem unless they exceed your card’s credit limit.)
Holds can remain in effect for three to five days or even a week after you check out. If you have pre-authorized payments from your bank account, for example your monthly mortgage payment, or if you try to make a purchase with your debit card and it's refused, the hold from the hotel can cause you trouble or result in very large overdraft fees for payments you thought you had money in your account to cover. I have seen this hit some of our members in the form of hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees.
This means that, if you use a debit card, you would have to be certain you have a high enough balance in your checking account when you come to convention to cover any debit card holds. This is a perilous practice since charges may exceed your estimate by a considerable amount. (Some frequent travelers even open a separate checking account used only for debits like these.) Remember, a hold is going to be placed on your debit card regardless of how you end up paying the bill, and the hold is not necessarily released right away, even if you pay with a credit card or cash when you check out of the hotel.
Planning ahead in this area can ensure an untroubled week at convention, leaving you free to enjoy fully the world’s largest and most exciting meeting of the blind. Come enjoy this fine hotel—using a credit card, I hope.
This month’s recipes come from the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia.
Oven-Fried Whiting Fish
by Dorothy Griffin
Dorothy Griffin is the president of the Atlanta Metro Chapter of the NFB of Georgia.
Bag of whiting fillets (thawed or fresh)
1 10-ounce bag of Louisiana New Orleans Style Fish Fry
Oil of your choice: olive, coconut, almond, etc.
Method: Preheat oven to 430 to 450 degrees. Rinse fish in cold water. Pick up individual fillet using thumb and index finger; press out excess water by running your fingers down the fish from top to bottom. Place on plate, set aside. Lightly oil cookie sheet and place aside. Pour approximately one cup of New Orleans Style Fish Fry into the gallon bag (mix is highly seasoned already so no need for extra seasonings unless desired). Place one fillet at a time into the gallon bag of fish fry mix and shake over fish to cover. Remove from bag and place on oiled cookie sheet skin side down. Repeat for all fillets. Pour some oil into the oil bottle cap and drizzle lightly over the exposed skin side up of fillets; use as much of the oil as is needed to complete each fillet. The fish will create its own oil so drizzle sparingly. Place cookie sheet in oven uncovered, let cook for about twelve to fifteen minutes and then check on it. If golden brown on the underside, flip over and let cook for another twelve to fifteen minutes. Flip as needed until golden brown on both sides. Once fish is golden brown on both sides remove cookie sheet from oven. This mix is good for diabetics or individuals that don’t or can’t eat deep fried but want that crispy taste. Please Google the nutrition facts; you will be surprised.
by Allen Griffin
Allen Griffin is a member of the Atlanta Metro Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia.
1 rabbit, cleaned and washed
1 cup buttermilk
Salt, pepper, or your choice of seasoning
Hot sauce (if desired)
Method: Cut rabbit into sections (legs, breast, etc.), and set aside on plate. Dip pieces one at a time into bowl of buttermilk, season with salt, pepper or seasonings of your choice. Place in flour and cover all over. Place in hot skillet of heated cooking oil (about 400 degrees), and do not overcrowd. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove from skillet; drain on paper towel to absorb excess oil. Shake on hot sauce and eat as desired.
News from the Federation Family
Resolutions for Convention:
Here is a message from Sharon Maneki, who chairs the NFB Resolutions Committee:
Do you think we should change a government policy, take a stand concerning an agency for the blind, or create new regulations? If you do, consider writing a resolution. At the 2017 National Convention the resolutions committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 11. The committee will debate and discuss resolutions on a wide variety of subjects. If passed by the convention, these resolutions will become the policy statements of the organization.
To ensure that your resolution will be considered by the committee, please send it to President Riccobono or to me by June 27, two weeks before the committee meeting. If you send a resolution to me by email and do not receive a response acknowledging your email in two or three days, please call or send it again. If you miss the deadline, you must get three members of the committee to sponsor your resolution and then get it to the chairman before the meeting begins. I will be pleased to accept resolutions by email, email@example.com; or snail mail, 9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, MD 21045.
New Text-to-Give Campaign:
Our Imagination Fund Committee is pleased to announce a text-to-give campaign that we will kick off at our national convention. Text-to-give allows anyone to make a $25 donation to the National Federation of the Blind with a simple text message from his or her mobile phone. Anyone who can text can give easily, and thanks to AT&T covering the cost for a limited time, the National Federation of the Blind will receive 100 percent of each contribution. Contributors can make a gift regardless of which phone carrier they use. This is an opportunity for us to identify those individuals who are not members of the organization but want to support the good work that we do. We need your help identifying individuals in your extended network of family, friends, colleagues, and service providers. Their gift will assist a newly blind person with independent travel through our free white cane program, help a child to learn to read through our Braille Reading Pals program, assist blinded veterans to regain their independence, and so much more. Please take the time to share the names and email addresses of potential supporters by visiting https://nfb.org/text2017. When the campaign starts we will send an email inviting all of these individuals to share in the great things we do every day to help blind people live the lives they want.
Announcements from the NFB Cancer-Survivors Group:
The NFB Cancer-Survivors Groups' purpose is to help all cancer survivors get well, stay well, provide preventive measures, create a platform for cohesive dialogue, and help provide accessibility to information that may enhance the lives of cancer survivors. Our primary goal is to make sure that blind cancer survivors have information in an accessible format—Braille, large print, or electronic.
Join the NFB Cancer-Survivors Group for a commemorative celebration of life dinner at the Cafe Osceola Restaurant inside the Shingle Creek Hotel, Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. We will commemorate the lives of our three Angels: Marie LaFargue, Julia Rembert, and Denise Shaible. This will be followed by "Why I am Thankful" tribute and a Commemorative Gift to registered NFB cancer survivors only. To secure your seat by June 23, call (803) 735-0821.
Smile: NFB Cancer-Survivors, join us for a Cancer-Survivors group photo on Friday, July 14, at 6:30 p.m. inside the front lobby of the Shingle Creek Hotel. Be sure to wear your NFB Cancer-Survivors T-shirt. Don't have yours yet? Place your order by calling (803) 735-0821. T-shirt sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large are $18.00; 1X, 2X, 3X are $20.00.
You are invited to join the NFB-Cancer-Survivors mailing list. This list is sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind. To join the list go to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfb-cancer-survivors_nfbnet.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “subscribe” on the subject line.
STEM Tutorials for Blind Students to be Offered at the 2017 NFB National Convention:
Are you a blind student interested in studying science, technology, engineering, or math? Do you feel daunted by the prospect of doing lab work in a chemistry class or producing visually readable results in a math class? Perhaps you're a professional in a technical field who finds it challenging to produce graphs and charts for sighted colleagues? If so, then come to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind and plan to arrive in time for Seminar Day on Monday, July 10. The NFB in Computer Science, the NFB Science & Engineering Division, and the NFB National Association of Blind Students Division will host the STEM tutorial workshop. STEM educators and technologists will come from around the world to help blind students and professionals learn to use a variety of tools to assist them in excelling in their chosen technical field. Best of all, individual tutoring sessions will be offered throughout the week for those folks who want one-on-one training from experts who are familiar with the access technology they're teaching, as well as the technical field it's being used for. The topics to be discussed and for which tutoring will be available include accessing math in electronic materials directly or to convert it to Braille; writing math in formats directly accessible to sighted people; reading STEM graphs, charts, and diagrams, and creating simple graphics; and participating in chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering labs.
There is no charge to attend either the seminar on Monday or the tutoring sessions throughout the week. The seminar on Monday will give an overview of the technologies to be taught, as well as an introduction to the tutors themselves. It is strongly recommended that folks who are interested in being a part of this invaluable opportunity plan to arrive at the convention in time to begin participating in events on the morning of July 10.
For more information, contact: John Gardner, STEM tutorial coordinator, at email@example.com.
Sharon Maneki, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland writes: Join me in welcoming the newest division of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, the Maryland Association of Blind Merchants to our Federation family. The new officers of this division are: Melba Taylor, president; Patti Hollman Eitington, first vice president; Steve Brand, second vice president; Tassi Thompson, secretary; and Andre Sconion, treasurer. The three board members are: Don Morris, Mike Bullis, and Dr. Michael Gosse. At its creation on May 6, twenty-two people joined the division. I am sure we will be hearing more from this division in the coming months. Congratulations and welcome!
The Columbia Fireflies baseball team kicked off their opening season on Tuesday, April 25, highlighting the work of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. This served as the perfect opportunity for one of the Federation’s leaders, Isaiah Nelson, who is a blind cancer survivor and serves as the second vice president of the Columbia Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, to have the honor of first pitch. Isaiah said, "This was a historic moment and a great early birthday gift," since Isaiah's birthday is in August. The moment came: Isaiah, with a baseball in hand, reared his arm back to the right, slightly bent his right knee, lifted his left leg, and pitched the ball. In his own words, “The crowd cheered, and I felt invigorated. It was one of the most exciting times of my life and will be forever cherished. Since my favorite sport is wrestling, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try something different, and it was awesome!”
Live the Life You Want Senior Retreat:
The National Federation of the Blind Senior Division will sponsor a retreat.
When: October 8 to 14, 2017
Where: Rocky Bottom Retreat and Conference Center. This is a rural setting, a camp owned and operated by the South Carolina affiliate of the NFB. It is a beautiful location in the mountains.
Cost: $325 per attendee. This does not include transportation to and from Greensville, South Carolina, the nearest airport to the camp. Transportation will be provided from Greensville to Rocky Bottom. Cost includes room, board, training, and any activities during the retreat. Applicants are encouraged to look for sponsors from service organizations, state agency, or to fundraise if necessary.
Who Is Eligible? Legally blind seniors age fifty-five and older with a strong desire to learn alternative, nonvisual techniques taught by blind instructors. One must be responsible for taking all medications independently and have the stamina to be actively engaged for five full days of activities.
Classes Taught: cane travel, daily living and cooking skills, computer and other technology such as using digital recorders, PenFriend; discussions on adjusting to blindness with family, community and social interaction, self-advocacy, confidence-building, and leisure activities.
How Do I Apply? Send a letter requesting a retreat application to the attention of Mr. David Houck, 119 South Kilbourne Road, Columbia, SC 29205. Send the completed application back to the above address. All applicants will then have a telephone interview with officers from the Senior Division so we can learn more about your needs and desires. You will be able to ask your questions and learn more about what the retreat entails. The deadline to apply is August 1. Space is limited, so if you are truly interested, don't wait until the deadline. Applicants will be notified by August 15 if accepted. Monies are due at the very latest by September 1, 2017, and payment can be made to the NFB Senior Division, c/o Duncan Larsen, Colorado Center for the Blind, 2233 West Shepperd Avenue, Littleton, CO 80120. For further information contact Ruth Sager, president, Senior Division of the NFB at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.