Vol. 60, No. 7 July 2017
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
The National Federation of the Blind
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Vol. 60, No. 7 July 2017
Illustration: Nielsen Cares and a New Partnership is Born
Need Vision on Demand?: There’s an App for That
by Chancey Fleet
New Bill Seeks to Raise Wages for all Workers, Including Those with Disabilities
by John Paré
Is Braille on Life Support?
by Kane Brolin
Dirigibles, Blimps, and Looking Around
by Justin Salisbury
Dots From Space!: A Bunch of Cut-Ups
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer
There Is a List for That!
by David Andrews
Anthony Don’t: On Blindness and the Portrayal of Marie-Laure in All the Light We Cannot See
by Sheri Wells-Jensen
How I Live the Life I Want as a Sports Fan
by Jonathan Franks
Independence Market Corner
by Ellen Ringlein
What Do They Say?
by Lauren L. Merryfield
Editor’s Introduction to Celebrate
by Marc Maurer
Swabbing the Deck
by Mary Ann Lareau
Here’s the Proof
by James Gashel
Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind
Many of us have heard of the Nielsen ratings and have probably been disappointed when a favorite TV show has been cancelled, and the excuse for taking it off has been the rating provided by this company. It turns out that Nielsen does much more than watch people watch television: its mission is to collect and analyze data, and television is but one of its markets.
To help employees and to help the community, Nielsen has employee resource groups. Lou Ann Blake, Jenivieve White, and Anna Adler attended two meetings to learn about Nielsen and to help it learn about the Federation. The company has a program called Nielsen Cares, and at least once each year employees can decide to help an organization they select. The result was the Baltimore group choosing to help us on May 11, Global Impact Day, by sending nine employees to the Jernigan Institute. They helped reorganize the storage of our educational material, assisted in doing a Braille Pals mailing, and later participated in our Six Dot Dash race to raise funds for the organization. The Nielsen family is interested in expanding its involvement with us to include participating in state conventions and other activities in our local chapters. What a wonderful way to get to know our neighbors and to get them to know us.
by Chancey Fleet
From the Editor: Many of us who are blind have learned to do most tasks in our life without the aid of vision. We know that there are alternative techniques, we are proud to use them, and we treasure the independence they give us. Even so, there are times when we find the services of someone who can see very helpful. Maybe we need that vision for five seconds or for two minutes or for two hours.
Traditionally we have met this need in several ways. Sometimes we wait until we have enough tasks in which sight would be helpful and then pay or get a volunteer to help us. Some of that waiting can seem long when we want what we want or actually need it sooner than the next scheduled visit from a person who can see. Even if we have someone with sight living in our house, we get tired of asking, and they get tired of all the questions, so some mutually-acceptable asking and granting must be agreed upon.
Chancey Fleet offers an answer to this dilemma, which she calls visual interpretation. She is a tech educator for a New York City library and understands as much about technology for the blind as anyone I know. She knows most of the apps that can help us and has a gift for explaining what they are and what they do. Here is her brief overview of some of them:
If you’re a blind person with a smartphone or tablet, you can use it to get visual information on demand. This genre of service is relatively new and can go by many names: you might hear it called remote visual assistance or crowdsourced vision. Personally, I prefer the phrase “visual interpretation” because it precisely names the process of turning visual information into something more useful and because the concept of an interpreter is familiar to people in many walks of life.
Working with a remote visual interpreter can be liberating: you decide what your interpreter can see, when the interaction begins and ends, and whether you need a second (or third, or tenth) opinion. A virtual interpreter can’t touch anything in your environment, so you can’t be tempted to abandon a task that is “too visual” to someone else’s hands. Remote visual interpretation can be an empowering option when you’d rather limit the extent of your interactions with the public, avoid turning friends and colleagues into de facto describers, or when no one around you is available to give you the information you need.
A variety of apps provide remote visual interpretation. Although they vary in price, functionality, and whose eyes are on the other end of the connection, there are some things you’ll want to consider when you use any of them.
Know your camera: it’s important to understand how lighting conditions, glare, angle, orientation, and distance affect your camera. If you’re not familiar with these concepts, Judy Dixon’s National Braille Press book Getting the Picture is an excellent introduction. You can even use remote visual interpretation apps themselves to get feedback about how effectively you’re using your camera.
Think about how you want to listen: these apps are going to talk to you, whether using voice-to-voice connection or text and audio messages. If you plan on using them in public, invest in comfortable headphones. Unless you’re an EMT or a trucker, two-way speakerphone interactions are almost never OK in shared spaces, and you do not get a pass on this article of the social contract just because you’re borrowing some eyes. Besides, headphones will help you hear more clearly. If you’re traveling outdoors, attending an event or tour, or otherwise engaging with these apps in a context where it makes sense to stay maximally aware of the soundscape around you, you can use a single Bluetooth earpiece or go with the timeless budget strategy of just wearing one earbud. If you like balanced sound and prefer nothing blocking your ears, check out the AfterShokz line of bone-conduction headphones (available in wired and Bluetooth models). They rest on the bones just in front of your ears and let you hear your phone or tablet’s audio without blocking what’s going on around you. Whatever you do, read some online reviews before you buy, or take a friend’s headphones for a test drive: people tend to feel deeply about their audio gear, and no one choice is right for everybody.
Don't run out of gas: live video connections and multimedia messaging will drain your battery and deplete your data plan. If you’re counting on all-day access to your tablet or phone and plan on using these apps, carry a backup battery. Once you’ve started using apps that involve multimedia messaging or live video connections, check your phone or tablet’s data usage statistics on a regular basis to make sure that you’re not approaching your data limit; and, when you can, save your data by connecting to a wireless network.
Free your hands: if you’ll be sorting things, assembling something, or taking your own picture, check out your environment to see if you can use a box, a ledge, or some other stable resting place to set up your phone so that its camera covers the area you need. Depending on your typical workflow, you may consider investing in a document camera stand, clip case or tripod case to keep your phone where you want it.
Protect your privacy: even premium apps that rely on paid interpreters might be subject to unsecured networks, data breaches, or human error. Think critically before exposing sensitive personal information to any internet-connected camera, ever.
Work smarter, not harder: take a moment to reflect on what you want to accomplish before you start, and make a little bit of a plan. If you’re looking out for some spices or sorting the mail, having a Braille labeler or some other system on hand will help you capture the information you receive so you won’t have to ask for it again. If you’re learning something complicated (like what button does what on the office copier, the layout of a new neighborhood, or a thirty-step origami project), taking notes or making a recording will empower you to read or hear the information whenever you like until you have it by heart.
Look past the marketing: blind and sighted people are still learning how to talk about these apps, and you are guaranteed to come across marketing materials and news stories that don’t exactly strike the chimes of freedom. When that happens, I’d recommend constructively engaging with the content, whether by posting a comment, dropping a line to the developer, or using social media to tell your own story about visual interpretation. Don’t abandon the tool just because you found it in a tacky package.
As with any technology, apps for visual interpretation come and go. Here are my top four sighted sources right now.
How it works: snap a picture or upload one from your camera roll, and a combination of machine vision and crowdsourced web workers will send you a quick description. Typically, your answer arrives within twenty seconds and is short enough to fit on a fortune cookie.
When it shines: for the simple things. TapTapSee is great at identifying products and describing photos in brief. I use it on a daily basis to sort and label mystery items in my home and office, get real-time feedback about the photos I’m taking, and double check that my pen has ink and my handwriting is legible. TapTapSee descriptions are text-based messages that can be read with magnification, speech, or Braille.
How it works: take one or more pictures, or upload them from your camera roll. Type or record a question, and listen for text and audio replies to come rolling in from sighted volunteers over the course of twenty minutes or so.
When it shines: for rich detail, diverse opinions, and a nuanced understanding of what different people notice when they look at an image. I use BeSpecular to ask for detailed descriptions of clothing and jewelry, ideas about what to wear with what, guidance in picking the “best” photo from a set, and impressions of photos and objects that are important to me. Once I’ve heard five or six different takes on the same image and question, I can find the patterns of consensus and divergence among the responses and arrive at my own informed understanding of the image. BeSpecular finds a happy medium between the brevity of TapTapSee and the live connection used by other apps. There’s something special about BeSpecular’s format of long-form questions and answers. Outside the rhythm of a live conversation, BeSpecular answers almost feel like postcards from a sighted correspondent passing briefly through your life. They’re often full of detail, personality, and emotions like surprise and humor. Once, while delayed on a train at Union Station in Washington, DC, I asked BeSpecular to relieve my boredom by describing the scene outside my window. One respondent sent me an audio reply that explained, in a tone that was equal parts delighted and chagrined, that I had unfortunately sent her the most boring view she had ever seen. It was one train car, an empty John Deere forklift, and a cloudy sky.
How it works: connect to a sighted volunteer who speaks your language and have a conversation about what they see through the lens of your camera.
When it shines: for exploring, sorting, and troubleshooting. Every time I arrive at a new hotel, I check in with BeMyEyes to take the decaf coffee pods out of play, sort the identical little bottles in the bathroom, and learn the thermostat and media controls. I also use it to find out which food trucks are parked on the streets near my office, decipher mystery messages on computer screens, and grab what I need from my local bodega. Since BeMyEyes is powered by volunteers, I try to make the interaction upbeat and fun and let the person I’m working with decide whether they’d like to bow out of a long task after a certain amount of time. There are just over a half a million sighted volunteers and about 35,000 blind users currently registered with the service, so you can call as often as you like without fear of bothering the same person over and over. The system will always connect you to someone for whom it is a reasonable hour, so Americans calling late at night or early in the morning will be connected to wide-awake people in Europe and Australia. Since the volunteer base is so large, you’re likely to get through to someone quickly even when lots of other blind users are connecting.
How to pronounce it: it’s a hard I, so pronounce it as “Ira.”
How it works: use your phone’s camera or a Google Glass wearable camera to connect with a live agent. Agents can access the view from your camera, your location on Google Maps, the internet at large, and your “Dashboard,” which contains any additional information you’d like placed there.
When it shines: for tasks that are long, context-dependent, or complex. An Aira agent can start from any address, use Google Streetview to find a nearby restaurant, glance at online photos to clue you in to whether it’s upscale or casual, suggest and explain the best walking directions to get there, read the daily specials when you arrive, and show you where to sign and tip on the check when you’re ready to leave. Agents have watched and described completely silent YouTube videos with me so that I could learn origami models, counted heads in my local NFB chapter meeting, described 20 minutes of nothing but socks until I found the perfect sock souvenir, read online guitar tabs for me so I could write them down in my own notation, helped me pick out nail polish, and taken spectacular photos through my camera for my personal and professional social media accounts. Aira agents are great at reading handwriting, diagrams and product manuals that seem to have as many pictures and icons as words. When I can’t read something with OCR, Aira can almost always help.
Aira agents are paid, trained professionals. Most of them are unflappable, effective describers who are up for any challenge. Since you pay for their time, you should feel comfortable about asking for what you need, being assertive about the type of descriptive language that works for you, and calling whenever the need arises.Like any new technology, remote visual interpretation solves old problems and creates new ones. To use it well, we need to understand what it requires in terms of power, data, planning, and effective communication. We must employ it with sensitivity to our own privacy and to the legitimate concerns that people sharing space with us may have about cameras. Just as each of us makes different decisions about when and how to use a screen reader, the descriptive track of a movie, or a sighted assistant in daily life, each of us will have our own ideas and preferences about how visual interpreters fit into our lives. Blind and sighted people working together are just beginning to discover how to use language, software, and hardware in ways that employ visual interpretation to our best advantage. Collectively, we still have a lot to learn. The journey is long, but the view is phenomenal.
by John Paré
From the Editor: John Paré is the executive director of strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind. Although he is responsible for many program activities, he is best known for his focus on government affairs. In this article he tells us about new and exciting developments regarding our quest to see that blind people are paid a fair wage. Here is what he says:
On Thursday, May 26, 2017, Senators Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray, and Congressmen Bobby Scott and Keith Ellison introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2017. This legislation would increase the federal minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 per hour to $15.00 per hour by 2024. While similar legislation has been introduced in the past two Congresses, this version included, for the first time, a provision to end the payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities. This is unquestionably due to the tireless and determined advocacy of the National Federation of the Blind.
In a press release issued by the National Federation of the Blind on the day of the legislation's introduction, President Riccobono said, "The National Federation of the Blind has advocated for the elimination of the subminimum wage since our founding. The recognition of this issue by leaders in both houses of Congress and both parties confirms that the time has long passed to eliminate the unfair and separate wage system for people with disabilities. Time and time again, we have demonstrated that the idea of people with disabilities being less productive is simply an antiquated misconception that has been allowed to permeate throughout society. This wrong and harmful notion has resulted in multiple generations of disabled Americans being grossly underpaid and overly reliant on government assistance programs to survive. We want to work. We want to rid society of these low expectations. For those reasons, we applaud the promotion of economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities set forth in the bill."
The press release further explained that under current law there is no minimum as to how little an employee with disabilities can be paid. Some workers earn merely pennies per hour, wages that were considered below average more than one hundred years ago.1
Section 6 of the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 would implement an immediate minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for all workers classified under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This absolute minimum wage rate would increase by two dollars per year until it matched the minimum wage earned by the rest of the American workforce, at which point employers would no longer be permitted to pay employees with disabilities a subminimum wage.
It is important to note that raising the overall minimum wage is a highly partisan issue. As of the writing of this article, not a single Republican in either the House or the Senate has cosponsored this legislation, making it extremely unlikely that it will ever pass through either chamber of Congress. Furthermore, while the National Federation of the Blind firmly believes that Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act must be phased out, the level at which the federal minimum wage should be set is not a blindness issue. Therefore, we do not take a position on the bill's primary purpose, which is to set a higher minimum wage rate.
We can justly celebrate the great progress we have made by getting this issue included in such mainstream legislation. But the best vehicle for phasing out and repealing Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act continues to be the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act, H.R. 1377. The TIME Act is sponsored by Representative Gregg Harper of Mississippi and enjoys solid support from both Republicans and Democrats. While the Federation is certainly gratified by the language included in the Raise the Wage Act, our efforts must remain laser-focused on passing the TIME Act. Therefore, we need to continue to urge our Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 1377. With our trademark love, hope, and determination, we are sure to make subminimum wages for people with disabilities a thing of the past.
by Kane Brolin
From the Editor: Kane is the president of our Michiana chapter which encompasses the states of Michigan and Indiana, as one might guess from the name. Kane is a financial analyst and works very hard to see that what is said about blind people and the techniques we use is accurate and reflects the views of the Federation. Here is what he wrote in response to a segment that aired on National Public Radio:
It has to be an unnerving experience to learn that some in the press are reporting one’s death, even though it hasn’t happened yet. “In May 1897, the great American humorist, novelist and social critic Samuel Clemens—best known by his pen name, Mark Twain—was in London. It was one of the stops on a round-the-world speaking tour he’d embarked on in 1895. He hoped to use the fees from speaking engagements to pay off the considerable debts he owed in the United States, due to a series of unsuccessful investments and publishing ventures. … While Twain was in London, someone started a rumor that he was gravely ill. It was followed by a rumor that he had died. … It is true that in late May of 1897 the English correspondent for the New York Journal, Frank Marshall White, contacted Twain in London to inquire about his health. … The next day, White wrote an article that quoted from Twain’s letter. On June 2, 1897, the article was published in the New York Journal. It said, in part: Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London... The great humorist, while not perhaps very robust, is in the best of health. He said: ‘I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. … The report of my death was an exaggeration.’”1
For Mark Twain, premature reports of death were annoying but correctable. But for the Braille code, which has enabled nearly eight generations of blind people around the world to have access to the written word, a consensus opinion about its demise would result in nothing short of tragedy. Unfortunately, multiple reports about the impending death of Braille are issued each year and disseminated by the mainstream media as well as spread across the World Wide Web. We in the National Federation of the Blind must be vigilant to spot and correct them.
I found out about one of the more recent mainstream media reports of Braille’s doomed future from a friend while he and I were talking in the hallway after the conclusion of a church service a couple of weeks ago. My friend, who is sighted, was telling me about a story that had aired on National Public Radio during his drive home from work a few weeks before. My friend had some questions: “So why are they saying Braille is almost dead, even though I’ve seen you using it every day? They say it’s the young people who don’t want it anymore. Is that true?”
I found the report my friend had listened to: “As Braille Literacy Declines, Reading Competitions Held To Boost Interest.”2 It was filed by Blake Farmer, news director of NPR affiliate station WPLN of Nashville. The piece went national when producers for the iconic public radio program All Things Considered picked it up and aired it on the evening of March 13, 2017.
On first hearing, it seemed to me as though this reporter was defending Braille, even romanticizing it. The setting was the Tennessee School for the Blind, where students at the school were competing for a shot at prizes and nationwide recognition in the Braille Challenge. It is a contest sponsored each year by the Braille Institute of America, a not-for-profit organization based in Los Angeles, California. The atmosphere captured in Mr. Farmer’s soundscape was upbeat, as several students were heard clacking away energetically on PerkinsBraillers. A retired teacher from the Tennessee School, Joanne Weatherall, even had come back to the school to encourage students to take part in the Braille Challenge and to judge that part of the competition that the Tennessee School was hosting.
But then, I took another listen and took more careful note of what some of the participants were saying. Of course, the statistic that “Braille literacy has fallen to about 10 percent for children” was featured front and center. Although this retired teacher Ms. Weatherall is blind herself, and although she remains personally enthusiastic for Braille, she concluded, “The kids are not wanting to do it (Braille) because it takes extra time, and it’s harder…” Why is it harder?, she was asked.“The only thing I would think is because kids that start out in school very young learning technology—it's very easy for them," she says. “It's faster than reading and writing in Braille because that can be very slow and cumbersome.”
So there is a divide between people who use Braille and people who use “technology?” And what exactly is the difference between “Braille literacy” and just plain literacy?
“What to do to really get the kids really charged up about Braille, I don't know because many of them hate it, which just makes me crazy," she (Weatherall) says.
Even for those Tennessee School students who were competing in the Braille Challenge, this feel-good story expressed doubt as to whether it really mattered. At one point Farmer narrates as follows: “What makes Weatherall grin are Braille lovers like Marcus Johnson, who plans to attend a local university in the fall, though he says Braille will not be particularly useful in his college classes.” Farmer never goes on to question the truthfulness of this assertion, but just seems to take it for granted: Braille serves as a nice-to-have tool now that might win Marcus Johnson some limited glory in this year’s Braille Challenge if he is fortunate enough to be among the fifty finalists who get to go to LA, but at the end of the day it will prove irrelevant to his life in the real world.
The more I reflected on this story, what bothered me most was what it had left unsaid: nothing about electronic, refreshable Braille; nothing about the usefulness of Braille for the expression of math, scientific, or musical notation; nothing about the recent project to keep Braille up-to-date through the widespread adoption of Unified English Braille as a standard; nothing about Braille’s application to professional careers in STEM fields; and not even a cursory mention of the National Federation of the Blind or the work the Federation has been doing to qualify and certify new teachers of Braille. Most disturbing of all was this reporter’s lack of discernment about the nature of literacy. Without the ability to see well enough to read print efficiently enough to meet the demands of today’s world, doesn’t a lack of Braille in a blind person’s life make him or her illiterate? The question never was asked.
So I decided to write to Blake Farmer myself. I did so in an email sent on Monday, May 8, 2017—just one day after listening to his story about the presumed obsolescence of Braille. My appeal was rather quickly written, so I am sure it is imperfect. But I just felt that something needed to be said. When confronted by a world that misunderstands and sometimes even now still ridicules blindness or legitimately proven blindness skills such as Braille, I believe it is imperative that I take a cue from the biblical Apostle Peter and “always be ready to give a defense” for my faith in the proven power and simple elegance of the Braille code. Here is what I wrote:
I am pleased to make your acquaintance, even if just via email. I think your story set in the Tennessee School for the Blind . . . was well-meaning, and I know you made a valiant attempt to be balanced in your approach. But because many persons who occasionally do journalistic coverage of blindness have never knowingly met a blind person prior to their going out on the assignment, I wish to present you and your colleagues with another perspective . . .
Having been a lifelong, totally blind person who learned to read at age five or so (in the early 1970s), I feel very strongly that in my own case, if it weren't for Braille, I would be illiterate, regardless of how much I could remember from oral learning. Among the blind who are advanced students or who work in the professional world, Braille is making a comeback—especially as we learn how to utilize it rapidly, digitally, and noiselessly while connected to postmodern, commercial devices like mobile phones and tablets via Bluetooth. After all, it looks a lot more respectable for me to be in a meeting and taking notes in Braille or reading Braille while interacting orally with someone seated in my office than it does for me to have earbuds attached to my head while acting as though I'm listening to my client.
But this is not about just me and my own story or conditioned preference. Since I now serve on the board of directors for the Indiana State Affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, I encounter a lot of situations in which a parent or guardian is referred to me, not knowing what to do after receiving a medical diagnosis saying that his or her child is "visually impaired" or "sight-challenged." What you should know is that, even though your retired (TSB) teacher Joanne Weatherall is excited about kids wanting to learn Braille, this seldom is an opinion shared among newer teachers of the visually impaired who are entering the field today unless those teachers happen to be blind themselves. A lot of the opposition to Braille comes from the sighted professional community tasked to serve the blind as teachers, school administrators, or vocational rehabilitation counselors, because they find it hard to locate individuals qualified to teach or proofread Braille, and they consider Braille expensive to obtain and to store. Even more of a factor than this perceived need for cost containment, though, is the stereotype that blindness is a fate worse than death in the mind of many persons who have never encountered it before, and they are particularly scared if it is their children who must suffer this unthinkable fate. Blindness is so frightening to so many that otherwise rational and well-educated adults when confronted with blindness will freak out and go with whatever the first so-called "professional expert" tells him or her. All too often, that advice sounds like "saving eyesight," "taking advantage of all usable vision the child has left," and trying "not to make him or her look blind." All too often, this well-meaning attempt to help a young student keep fitting in to his or her social environment in the classroom proves ineffective and ultimately harmful to the child's academic achievement and future prospects, and sometimes harmful even to the child's brain health.
It is true that, according to statistics published by the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky, only about 10 percent of American blind children learn Braille. It also is true that some people who are blind are also people who hate Braille—because they don't like reading by touch, or because they believe the embossed books are too bulky or heavy to carry around usefully if living a mobile lifestyle, or because diabetic neuropathy in some individuals just makes it next to impossible for them to pick out nuanced shapes with their fingertips. I respect someone's decision not to learn or read Braille if it is a consenting adult who makes that decision for him/herself. Unfortunately, though, the question of defending Braille or heralding its imminent death is one that has been used to divide the blind community, and much of the time it is children who get caught in the crossfire. The National Federation of the Blind, which is the organization I have chosen to represent voluntarily, is a fierce defender of Braille. But other organizations—and quite a few sighted professionals in the fields of educating disabled children and rehabilitating disabled adults—push back against Braille, claiming that synthetic text-to-speech and/or magnifying technology in a digital world is all one really needs. Some make the claim that the NFB's defense of Braille amounts to little more than a branding distinction used to market and fund the National Federation of the Blind. I quite disagree with this cynical and narrow-minded conclusion.
So what I wish to do is to present my pro-Braille argument from another angle, drawing from sources outside the Federation. First, I refer you to an article entitled “Is Braille Relevant?” It was posted by a blind working woman named Neva Fairchild; it appears as a blog entry on the website of the American Foundation for the Blind. Of her childhood, Ms. Fairchild writes: “As the print in books that I wanted or needed to read got smaller, my ability to read diminished. By fourth grade, I was listening to Talking Books for pleasure unless I could get my hands on the rare large print book. I was not always able to complete reading assignments in school because the amount I needed to read took too long and caused severe eye strain. Somewhere around eighth grade, I noticed that teachers told us the important content from the textbook during lectures, so finishing my reading was less and less attractive to me. I made passing (although not stellar) grades, and that seemed adequate at the time. I wish that someone had pointed out that I was selling myself short, settling for less, and not living up to my full potential. I also noticed during this time that my spelling ability was declining because the majority of written words that I read were written by me, and therefore, spelled by me. Would you agree that my literacy was suffering?” Note that the writer of this testimonial was not encouraged to read or write Braille in school whatsoever; but she has adopted Braille because she found it essential later in life as a productivity tool in the workforce.
And there is a statistical correlation between those who read Braille and the higher likelihood of such persons to gain and keep competitive employment. It's documented in The Impact of Braille Reading Skills on Employment, Income, Education, and Reading Habits by Ruby Ryles, PhD.3
Blake, you also need to understand the changing face of Braille, one you might not have seen at the Tennessee School for the Blind when profiling those contestants. Braille in the year 2017 is not just about carrying around a bunch of heavy, bound volumes that cost hundreds of dollars and hundreds of human-hours to produce. And it's not about just reproducing rows of dots by punching them mechanically into paper with a hand-held stylus or on a heavy, metal, nine-key manual typewriter. See Braille technology moves into the 21st century, available online from rawstory.com.4
Anyone who spends time in my office or who attends public events at which I speak—or who even comes into the room where I teach Sunday school at a local church—will observe that most of the Braille I use is refreshable Braille that pops up on a little, one-line, electronic display that literally is small enough to fit into my breast pocket. I can use this both to read output from and to control my laptop, iPad, or iPhone. I even know of a couple of new devices that are stand-alone Braille computers: a fully Braille-enabled Android tablet that can run Google Books, Google Docs, and Google sheets, and can interact with the Internet;5 and a Windows 10 tablet PC that also is fully empowered to interface with the user via Braille output and input.6 Both the BrailleNote Touch and the ElBraille described here have synthetic speech built in, but either can be fully operated without synthetic speech, if the user wants Braille only. I don't own either the BrailleNote Touch or the ElBraille, but I could gain access to a unit temporarily and demonstrate their use in public if called on to do it.
As for what you can do on paper, a variety of methods are being perfected that will allow for a standard commercial printer to be adapted so it may produce Braille hard copy output using touchable ink, not requiring embossing in the traditional manner and thus being far less expensive and far less labor-intensive than the embossed Braille available from specialized libraries for the blind today. Perhaps the code used for touchable ink printing wouldn't have to be Braille in the strict sense, but the basic principle is the same, and there is the possibility that this would make a gigantic difference as it enables blind people affordably and quickly to reproduce graphical material used in mathematics, science, and even the visual arts, or even to make their own graphs that could be accessed in real time equally well by blind and sighted project collaborators. Some of this R&D is happening in Bangkok, as outlined in a video from the international marketing company J. Walter Thompson.7
And while on the topic of the sciences, you should know that a blind man named Dr. Timothy Cordes, a board-certified psychiatrist working in Madison, Wisconsin, says Braille played a large role in his passing prerequisite math and science courses as he prepared for medical school.
Yes, Dr. Cordes is an MD and PhD who did a full medical residency at the University of Wisconsin.8
The problem with all this? Electronically produced Braille is still far too expensive for most individuals to afford, especially if they live below the poverty line. But solutions are being worked out: including H.R. 1734 the Access Technology Affordability Act, which has been introduced into the House Ways & Means Committee in the 115th Congress.
Last but not least, as my kids love to point out, Braille gives me a hidden advantage in life: being able to read in the dark. As my highly observant, seven-year-old, sighted son Max said one time, "Being blind in the desert wouldn't be hard. All you'd need is food, water, and Braille."
I welcome your response.
Since writing that letter to Mr. Farmer and a shorter version to the producers of All Things Considered on the same day, no response from anyone in public radio has been received. The battle for Braille continues.
by Justin Salisbury
From the Editor: Justin Salisbury is a former scholarship winner who often offers his opinions about issues relevant to the blind and particularly ones involving the adjustment to blindness. Sometimes he reflects on his own adjustment: the denial, the hiding, the frustration, and the stages he has gone through on his way to acceptance. At other times he talks about his hopes and fears for blind people who do not get good adjustment to blindness training. Occasionally he talks about all of these, and in this article he does. Here is what he says about the words that people use, the guesses about their motives and intentions, and the way he should react:
While teaching cane travel, I sometimes tell my students to look around and see what they find. One student recently became frustrated with me and said that he cannot see anything with sleep shades on and that looking around is a visual activity.
It is entirely possible to argue that our vernacular has commonly evolved so that our concept of experience or awareness has many descriptions involving the sense of sight. We will regularly say that it was good to see someone. It helps to shed some light on the subject. Let us not keep them in the dark about this. If you don’t want it to come out in the light, don’t do it in the dark. She had been seeing this guy, but she had not foreseen that he was looking for a wife. We use these expressions every day.
It is just as possible to argue that these references to the sense of sight reinforce or give rise to a belief that vision is the primary means to do many things. To be honest, I believe that it is the primary means employed by many sighted people. This, by itself, is not harmful in any way that comes to my mind. If they have the sense in its full form, they might as well use it when it is efficient.
I worry sometimes that universal access is overlooked because of a lack of expectation that blind people will use a product or service. Someone might think that blind people are not living on their own and watching television on a Thursday evening when an emergency alert flashes across the screen. Since blind people could not be in a position to need equal access to that information, that equal access may not be pursued and created. Thankfully, because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind, equal access is being discussed in productive spaces. Equal access to instructional materials in higher education is a discussion topic only because the organized blind movement decided that separate but equal instruction would not suffice for blind students. We will continue to work to raise the expectations of blind people because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
There is also a problem, though, when blind people come to internalize the idea that visual means of experiencing or doing something is the primary or best way to go about it. I was one of the best disciples of this belief, and I even used to surround myself with other blind people who thought the same way. This way of thinking was so imprisoning. I cannot claim that I am perfectly immune to this belief, but I am grateful to the many blind role models in my more recent years who have taught me that this is not the case.
It is easy to slip into a feeling that, when people use vision or eyesight in their daily expressions, they are rubbing our blindness in our face. Maybe they did not mean to do it. If we let that affect us negatively, it dooms us to a sustained onslaught of pain and a long hallway of closing doors. It may not be harmless, but it may not be intentionally harmful. I believe that perhaps the best thing I can do is change the way I look at it when people use these types of expressions.
Back to my student’s frustrated assertion that looking was a visual activity that could not be done with sleep shades on. I didn’t want to get into a deep philosophical discussion about the nature of sight during our travel lesson, but I needed to answer him. And I love that my job requires me to think on my feet and be ready at all times with an answer. My first response to try to change his mind was to ask him, “Do you know what a dirigible is?”
He cautiously answered, “A blimp?”
“Well,” I said, “blimps are only a subset of dirigibles, but they are the only ones that most of us ever discuss. Looking visually is only a subset of looking, but it’s the only kind we often consider until we go blind.”
Maybe I should curtail my speech so that I avoid telling students to look around. Maybe it taunts them with the thought of being asked to do something which they can no longer do. I think, though, that it might be a disservice to my students. Instead of changing my individual speech and hoping that others will follow suit, maybe I should help expand my students’ understanding of these expressions so that, when they encounter them, they do not consider them to describe activities outside the domain of blind people. If they do, there is some risk that these thoughts could erode their confidence or feelings of normality. In a long-term way, I want blind people, whether they are my students or not, to be able to truly feel normal, at least as it relates to their blindness. Just because our way of efficiently searching our environment often does not involve eyesight does not segregate us from the standard speech of our society.
Even up until I finished college, I used to feel very awkward about my blindness. Carrying a cane was not a completely ridiculous idea, but I was not consistent about it. Daily physical pain from straining my eyes and neck was apparently better than looking weird by using a cane. I would have been using different means of gathering environmental information while traveling, but it would not have made me that different. To be honest, the lack of comfort in my own skin and occasional missteps while traveling without a cane were probably what did the most to make me different. Sometimes, I would be at a party and meet somebody I might like to see again. If I had my cane, it was easy to explain that I wouldn’t be able to just spot them across a room and find them again. If I did not have my cane, they were rarely receptive to my explanation that I was actually legally blind and needed a little more than a wave from across the room. I tried to function like a sighted person, but I was no longer a sighted person. I was limited, not by blindness, but by the walls that I was putting up for myself by refusing to function as an independent blind person and by the walls put up for me by not being given good adjustment to blindness training.At work, when I meet a blind person, I am pro-consumer organization, meaning that I encourage them to explore organizations of blind consumers. When I am off the clock, I encourage blind people to take one of the most important steps which I have ever taken in my life, to join the National Federation of the Blind. I have been a member of a few different blind organizations over the course of my life, but the National Federation of the Blind is the one which has taught me the most genuinely empowering things about myself. The Federation has taught me that, if I am abnormal, it is not a direct consequence of blindness. If I cannot do something, aside from seeing clearly, it is not a direct consequence of blindness. Often I need to remind myself or someone else that blimps are only a subset of dirigibles. Through the National Federation of the Blind, I have been blessed to surround myself with good blind role models who have taught me that I can still live the life I want and that blindness is never what holds me back. It is in the Federation where I am constantly re-inoculated against the low expectations and misperceptions in society so that I can keep moving forward on the right path. Without the National Federation of the Blind, I could very easily have relapsed after training and gone back to using my residual sight for just about everything. I do not know of anywhere else that blind people can gain this level of strength and hope, so I point others in as clear a direction as I can. I hope all blind people look around, and I hope we all find the National Federation of the Blind.
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: Since January the Monitor has been running a serialized version of the NFB Quest from the 2016 National Convention. The NFB Quest was designed to be a fun game to break the ice between Federation members meeting in person for the first time and to make Federationists active participants rather than passive observers of the presentations and speeches. This is the final installment of the adventures of the Dots from Space crew, just in time for those Federationists attending the 2017 National Convention to embark upon the new NFB Quest. And now we return to the adventure with Lieutenant-Commander Jot trapped in an ancient device as the crew searches for a way to rescue her:
After a fruitless hour spent attempting to extricate Lieutenant-Commander Jot from the ancient device, Captain Dottie called for a new plan of action.
“All right, people! This is obviously not working, and there doesn’t seem to be anything in this room that can free our shipmate. We need a new plan—and we need one now! Any suggestions?”
“Well, Captain, as you say there is nothing in this room, so logically we should begin by searching some of the other rooms.”
“Excellent suggestion, Doctor Spot,” replies Commander Point, stroking his beard meditatively. Squeak, squeak.
“Yes, but I don’t like the idea of leaving one of our members behind, even in this seemingly abandoned place. Just look what happened when we were all together!” the captain laughs sardonically.
At this, Counselor Mote perks up, “I’m happy to stay with her, Captain. You should take the rest of the team on ahead. If anything happens, I’ll contact you.”
“Very well, Counselor,” she says. “The rest of you, come with me.”
Leaving their teammates behind, the rest of the crew begins to search the other areas of the floor, but finds nothing except offices filled with more obsolete technology once used by the previous inhabitants. Undaunted, they decide to expand their search to the floor below them.
Reluctant to trust the tiny elevator that they encounter in the hallway, they choose instead to take the stairs. Rounding a bend at the bottom of the steps, they encounter yet another locked door. Still riding high on his boundless enthusiasm, Ensign Bean charges ahead, reaching for the door handle.
“Hold it right there, Ensign!” the commander barks. “Charging ahead without waiting for orders is how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place!”
“You’re quite right, Commander. We should pause and look at the situation logically. What do you suggest we do?”
“I think the ensign should be the one to hold this position while we ensure that there are no more surprises in the room beyond.”
Young Bean, drooping a little, begins to complain, but is brought up short when Captain Dottie nods approvingly and says, “Excellent idea. Make it so!”
The junior officer steps forward, with a resigned sigh, and leans into the doorknob. Finding the door to be locked, Bean extends a thin filament into the lock, feeding more of himself in until all the internal nooks and crannies of the mechanism are filled. With a twist, he turns the knob, pulls the door back, and stands aside as the others file past him.
Upon entering, they discover another storage room filled with rusty metal shelves. Aging Braille and print documents, covered with a fine layer of cobwebs, still stand in stacked piles on many of the shelves. In other areas of the room the floor has deteriorated and left gaping holes. The sound of dripping water can be heard, and the musty air is humid.
“Fan out! You, too, Bean. See if you can find anything useful,” Captain Dottie commands. “But be careful! That floor looks unstable!”
The Dots search the room in silence, only the creaking of the floor and the rustling of pages marking their passage.
“Captain, I believe that I have found something.”
“What is it, Doctor Spot?”
“If I am reading this correctly, there’s a tool somewhere in this building that may help us to free Jot.”
“In this building? How do you know?” Squeak, squeak.
“Simple. The author of one of the stories in this small book that I have found—a Dr. Maurer, I believe—mentions a device for cutting wood and other hard surfaces that was stored in what they called ‘the Center.’ I think that may be one of the names they called this building.”
“Well, what is this strange device, Doctor?”
“I believe it was called… a chainsaw.”
[Note: Link to or copy of “Children and Chain Saws,” by Marc Maurer, To Touch the Untouchable Dream, the Kernel Books, https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/books/kernel1/kern1503.htm]
After searching for a few more minutes, they discover that the shop is next door and contains precisely the tool that they are looking for. Hopeful that this is the solution to their problem, they return to their trapped teammate in the technology room. As they near the open double doors, they hear the soft voice of the counselor say, “Okay, here’s another one! Why did the sun go to school?” Silence fills the room. “Oh come on! You know this one. Just take a guess!”
In a deadpan voice, Jot says, “I don’t know, Mote. Why did the sun go to school?”
“To get brighter! Get it? Why aren’t you laughing? Isn’t that one funny?”
Jot sighs gustily.
“Okay, try this one for size. How do you organize a space party?”
“You planet!” Bean bounces into the room followed by the rest of the team.
“You got it!” the counselor exclaims.
“Yeah, yeah, Mote. That’s great. Captain! Tell me you’ve found a way to get me out of this thing!”
“Yes, Lieutenant-Commander, I believe we have. But it may be dangerous.”
“That’s okay, Captain, I’m ready now!”
“What can you tell us about the inner workings of the machine? Are you near the top?”
“No, Doctor, I’ve been trying to work myself free since you left. Most of my body is now wrapped around some of the rollers near the base of the machine. Something is still caught, and I can’t get out, but I’m clear of the top third of the box.”
“Excellent. Brace yourself, Lieutenant-Commander,” the doctor instructs her.
Stepping forward, he pulls a cord, and the chainsaw splutters to violent life. Laying the edge of the idling blade against the side of the embosser, he waits for the captain’s signal. “At your command, Captain.”
Having freed their compatriot and feeling that they have now learned all they could from the long abandoned building, the six Dots (in two columns of three) make their way back to their ship, the Particle, which is still waiting for them on the roof.
“I wonder what happened to them all…”
“The people who lived on this planet, Captain, but especially the ones who lived here. With all that we have read about them, I feel almost as if I know them.”
“We may never know, Ensign, but I remain hopeful that we will find answers elsewhere.”
Later that week, as the Particle wings away from the lonely planet, Lieutenant-Commander Jot sits in engineering. She is surrounded by mountains of ancient hard drives and other media storage which the crew pulled from what they now called the Center. Grabbing a drive from the top of the nearest stack, she instructs the ship’s computer to scan the device. The computer analyzes the contents and informs her that, “83.2 percent of the unique content on this drive refers to something called ‘K-N-F-B Reader.’”
“Computer, stop!” Jot cries. “I wonder, could it be?”
Growing increasingly excited, she peruses the documents on the drive in much greater detail. Finally, several hours later, she calls the captain to report her findings.
“Captain, you’ll never believe what I have found! I was looking through the data we collected from the aliens at the Center location. I think they may still be out there somewhere!”
“What makes you think that, Jot?”
“Shortly before they disappeared, they had released a program for scanning and interpreting text that could not be read tactually. They called it K-NFB.”
“That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that name before, Lieutenant-Commander?”
“It should sound familiar, Captain! The new translation devices we recently purchased in the previous sector, which we just so happened to be using while we were exploring that planet, were built by an organization which goes by that name!”
“You don’t suppose?”
“Yes, Captain. I don’t know how, but I think they are still out there. Living the lives that they want!”
by David Andrews
This month we will continue our monthly column exploring internet mailing lists with the Golden State—California. The main list for the state of California is NFBC-Info. You can subscribe to the list by going to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfbc-info_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. The list contains both discussion and announcements related to the NFB of California and its chapters and activities.
A number of the chapters in California have their own lists. Below are the list name and a brief description of each. To subscribe substitute the list name in the command above for the nfbc-info phrase.
NFBSF: NFB of California San Francisco Chapter list
NFB-River-City: NFB of California Sacramento Chapter list
NFBC-SFV: NFB of California San Fernando Valley Chapter list
Two divisions in California also have their own lists: students and community service. Their list names are CABS-Talk and CACommunity-Service respectively and can be used in the web or email commands mentioned previously. You can also locate all the California lists just by going to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/ and searching for the word “California.”Next month we will tell you about guide dog-related lists. As always, you can find all NFBNET.ORG-related lists at http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/.
by Sheri Wells-Jensen
From the Editor: Sheri Wells-Jensen is a professor of linguistics at Bowling Green State University. She wrote this book review for Interpoint, the blog of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. It is gratefully reprinted with the permission of the author and the Lighthouse. Here is what she has to say about the novel:
When I think of All the Light We Cannot See, the latest, most popular portrayal of blindness, there are many scenes that run through my head. Here are two, summarized, for your consideration:
In 1940, under the imminent threat of German invasion, a middle-aged locksmith and his twelve-year-old blind daughter are fleeing Paris. Everything happens quickly, and their escape is urgent. The locksmith is working furiously, but, short of running her hands over a toy model of the city, the blind daughter does nothing. Her father asks nothing of her except that she use the bathroom, and so she waits, passive as an upholstered chair, while he assembles their possessions, packs their food, then buttons her into her coat, and leads her out the door.
Why isn’t this adolescent girl participating in her own escape?
Four years later, the locksmith is drawing his now-sixteen-year-old daughter a bath, despite the fact that there is a decidedly maternal female character just downstairs. The locksmith washes his daughter’s hair, and she is docile as he explains that he is leaving. At the end of the bath he hands her a towel and helps her climb onto the tile.
Why is a middle-aged man bathing his sixteen-year-old daughter, even if he does step outside while she puts on her nightgown? Who is this girl? Is she the heroine or the victim of the story? Does she get to be both?
This helpless, sexless child is the blind girl who is one of the main characters of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a book which first enraged me, then began to haunt me and fill me with a kind of appalled despair. The book has raised neither widespread outrage nor offense in most readers. People love it. It won a Pulitzer [in 2015]. Book clubs are gobbling it up. Every morning, on my way to work, I hear ads for it on my local NPR station. And every morning, I feel the same gut-deep sense of despair, a kind of a mental nausea, as Marie-Laure begins to slide into her place in the public consciousness as a reasonable representation of what it’s like to be blind.
Marie really doesn’t do much for herself in the novel, and when she does, her methods are decidedly strange, the reception she receives even stranger. She doesn’t put on her own shoes, button her own coat, or help out around the house. Her ability to find her way around her own neighborhood is constructed and controlled by her father, who builds obsessively detailed models, accurate down to the last park bench, for her to use in navigation. Until the model is complete, she does not leave the house alone. He watches over her as if she were made of spun glass and sugar. When, one evening, she dances in the attic with her agoraphobic uncle, we are told that “her two eyes, which hang unmoving like the egg cases of spiders, seem almost to see into a separate deeper place, a world that consists only of music … though how she knows what dancing is he can never guess.”
In case you don’t know, not a single blind person I have ever met would count thirty-eight storm drains on a walk downtown. We walk to work, to the bakery, and back home again and manage this without the benefit of a single 3D model of the park benches we pass. We can also tell night from day. We carry our own luggage. We don’t need to use a rope tied from the kitchen table to the bathroom to navigate the inside of a house. And all of us know what dancing is.
But I am not here to complain about misrepresentations of adaptive techniques or tired blindness stereotypes. I honestly don’t care if Marie-Laure counts her steps, reads Braille with her thumbs, hears the ocean from her sixth-floor window, or can detect the scent of cedars from a quarter-mile away. The assault on the dignity of blind people is not that this character has strange adaptive techniques, or even that there are so many things she does not do for herself; it is that she is utterly without agency as a character.
Marie does not even pack her clothes, not because she can’t find her bedroom or doesn’t know her socks from her pantaloons, but because she is simply not expected to do that sort of thing. She’s not especially timid or excessively shy. She is, in fact, intelligent and reasonably charming. But she is not the agent of her own life. Isolated, apparently friendless, she is led through her life by the hand and accepts everything that happens to her with dystopian magnanimity. She is moved about, remarked over, and admired, and she spends the majority of the novel in the apparently courageous and all-involving activity of simply staying alive while blind. She expects nothing—not praise, not condemnation, not challenge—and the people around her are glad enough to oblige. Even when she does manage to do something—to cast away a particular gemstone, or run an unsupervised errand downtown for the French Resistance—it changes nothing in her life, except that she eventually asks permission to go to school. Nothing really changes. She resists nothing. She asks for little.
She is my nightmare.
All the Light We Cannot See is historical fiction, and Mr. Doerr says in his numerous interviews that he did endless research while writing. You can tell he did read about blindness: He read about Jacques Lusseyran, a blind man who took part in the French Resistance in World War II; and apparently also about Geerat Vermeij, a blind evolutionary biologist now at UC Davis. You should take the time to learn about these two men; their stories are about active, joyful, curious, hard-working blind people, quick-witted and ready for a challenge. After reading their memoirs, you might think Mr. Doerr would create an engaged, vibrant main character who is blind.
In what feels very much like a betrayal of the lively spirit that inspired and motivated M. Lusseyran and Dr. Vermeij, all Marie inherited from these successful men was a degree of composure and an innocuous predilection for mollusks. Blindness is Mr. Doerr’s metaphor. Real living human beings—caring, active, blind human beings who are parents and teachers and artists and scientists—are not relevant in his story. And I can’t tell from his prose if he cares about that or not. [Editor’s note: Doerr first achieved notoriety with his portrayal of a mythical blind character in “The Shell Collector.”]
His defenders might object that Mr. Doerr’s depiction has nothing to do with modern blind people—he was creating a historically real picture of a young blind girl seventy-five years ago in a European war zone when circumstances were different and women of any sort had less power and less autonomy than we do now. Similarly, you could argue—and friends of mine have—that Mr. Doerr, as an artist, can and should create as his muse prescribes. I’ll happily grant that, too.
But art, whatever its genesis or intent, flourishes or fails in a social context. We decide—by what we read, what we watch, and what we buy–if the muse is worth it. And the fact that this book and its blind heroine won the Pulitzer says something not just about Mr. Doerr’s knack as a storyteller, but also about what sighted people expect from blind people. The fact that most people do not notice any problems at all with the depiction of Marie is sad to me.
Many a friend, perhaps in an effort to redeem something from the uncomfortable hour of discussing this book with me, has implored, “Yes, but other than Marie-Laure, didn’t you like the book?” I think they must want to preserve something of the glow they felt while reading. It was a pretty story, well told, right?
Well, no. Not at all. Asking if I liked the book in spite of the portrayal of the blind character is like asking, “Except for the dog turd, didn’t you enjoy that piece of cake?”
So why, you might ask, did I read this book? I have started and discarded dozens of books—some slightly better, some worse—because of their depictions of blind characters. It just isn’t generally worth my time to read insulting or stupid depictions of blind people. All things being equal, I’d rather clean the catbox. But I made myself finish this one, hoping for some resolution. I kept reading because this one will not quietly go away.
I am an associate professor of linguistics in the English Department at Bowling Green State University, where Anthony Doerr received his Master’s degree in creative writing in 1999, the year before I arrived on campus. I understand that he was quite well regarded at BGSU, and has since been named among our 100 top alumni. Although we have never met, he is respected by my colleagues and liked by many of my friends. And because of this book, he will most likely return to BGSU someday, probably to give the commencement speech, and then I’ll have to decide what to do. (My choices range from confronting him angrily in the East Hall lounge to hiding under my desk for the duration of his stay. Both options have their appeal!) Would meeting a real, competent, employed blind person change his approach to writing blind characters? Would that make a difference? Or are the cultural stereotypes—and the permission to use them—just too powerful?
The answers to those questions, although fascinating to me on both a personal and a professional level, don’t matter. And my inclination to spit fire or curl up under my desk is not as important as the conversation we, as a society, should be having about what matters to us and how what we see in the media impacts our lives. Art is important. It is an echo of the real world, capturing our perceptions and reflecting them back to us. And what do we discover reflected in the story of Marie-Laure? A well-crafted homage to destructive stereotypes about blindness, softened and made pretty by artful prose.There’s nothing pretty about the reality of prejudice, and there’s nothing soft about the lives of disabled people who have been taught that they have neither the right nor the power to run their own lives. Art does matter because it not only reflects what we believe, it also helps establish those beliefs. And if an artist is unsure how to authentically portray blind people, then it falls to the community to begin the conversation, because we do not have “eyes like the egg cases of spiders,” we can put on our own shoes, and we do, in fact, have reason to know what dancing is.
by Jonathan Franks
From the Editor: Jonathan Franks is a member of the National Federation of the Blind who lives in Austin, Texas. What he writes about is the simple pleasure of being a sports fan and his fear that the loss of sight would mean losing one of his favorite pastimes. But what makes Jonathan’s story interesting is that he is blind, goes to the sports stadium alone, and doesn’t think much of it. In the Federation we have plenty of sports fans and plenty of chapters that go to sporting events, but very few blind people who are willing to attend a game alone. Here is Jonathan’s story:
Since I was four my father has gotten me involved in sports in one way or another. I played soccer for eight years and even won first place on a number of teams. My father and I would go to the park and play football, basketball, baseball, or soccer. I had always wanted to play for the teams at my high school; however, my grades were not up to par.
I grew up in San Jose, California, and we would often travel to Oakland or San Francisco to attend the Oakland Athletics or San Francisco Giants games. I have also had the pleasure of attending a New York Yankees game in New York and a Houston Texans game versus the Indianapolis Colts in Houston, Texas. My next goal is to attend a San Antonio Spurs game in the near future.
Every Sunday and Monday during the football season, my father and I would watch the games on television. I started to lose my sight in December of 2005, and all of my vision disappeared ironically on White Cane Day, October 15, 2006. This was due to diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. At the time I was very concerned that I would lose my love of sports and particularly my enjoyment of games on television because I could not see. My father convinced me not to give up watching, and he sat with me on Sundays and would describe to me what was happening during the games I chose to watch.
In 2007 and 2008 I attended a local training center, where I learned a number of skills that included Braille, screen reading technology, daily living skills, and, perhaps most important of all, orientation and mobility. One of my assignments was to attend a WWE Monday Night Raw event. This is the professional wrestling program that many of you watch on television. At first the tasks seem daunting; however, I was up for the challenge. This really brought to the forefront my concern about not being able to enjoy a sporting event independently. To my surprise I was able to enjoy myself. This was to be the start of something big.
Since I have moved to Austin, Texas, I have been a major fan of the Texas Longhorns. For those of you who do not know, the Texas longhorn is the mascot of the University of Texas at Austin. I became a loyal fan when I moved here and even a more ardent fan when the team won the national college championship in 2006. But it wasn’t until one day when my father and I went to get some dinner that I found that the Longhorn football games were on the radio. I was amazed by how descriptive the play-by-play announcer was in bringing the game to life. After that experience I decided to abandon television and listen to radio broadcasts. In 2015 I actually met the man who is known as the voice of the Longhorns, Mr. Craig Way. I told him how he had once again brought vitality to the game for me, and I do believe he was flattered.
In 2011 my significant other at the time and I bought tickets for a Texas Longhorn football game. I had always wanted to attend one of the games, and in preparation I bought a handheld radio so that I could listen to Craig Way’s broadcast. The announcer gave me all the play-by-play action, and I was thoroughly captivated by being able to witness the power, the tradition, and the excitement of being at the game. After that I was hooked.
In 2013 I was accepted into the University of Texas at Austin, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in social work with a minor in psychology. There was a sports package available to students, and I bought what was called the Big Ticket package. This gave me access to all of the Texas Longhorn sporting events for only $250. While a student I attended as many football, basketball, baseball, soccer, softball, and volleyball games as I could. During the games I was attending I would post on Facebook, and word got around. Many of my friends were simply amazed that I went to the games and asked me how I could enjoy them given that I was blind. I would happily reply, “I have my radio. It costs me a fortune in batteries, but it is worth it.” I explained that I follow the crowd noise, and if I am unsure about what is happening, I will ask a fellow fan.
The second most frequent question I receive is, “Why do you go to the games alone if you cannot see?” I reply that my blindness does not limit my ability to enjoy the games, and neither does it require that I be accompanied by someone. The event staff will help me locate my seat at the stadium, but by now I have learned the layout and know exactly where to get my food and how to get my ride at the completion of the game.
Even after graduating from the University of Texas in 2016, I still continue to attend as many sporting events as time will allow. For the last two years I have purchased alumni football season tickets, and being a loyal sports fan is one of the most exciting things I do. I have been an avid sports fan for nearly twenty-five years now. The National Federation of the Blind says, and I have affirmed through my own experience, that my blindness does not limit what I can enjoy or dictate my life choices. I live the life I want, including enjoying sports, and I hope that my story encourages all of you to do the same. Hook ‘em Horns!
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.
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. A donation to the National Federation of the Blind allows you to invest in a movement that removes the fear from blindness. Your investment is your vote of confidence in the value and capacity of blind people and reflects the high expectations we have for all blind Americans, combating the low expectations that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
In 2015 the NFB:
Just imagine what we’ll do next year, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Below are just a few of the many diverse, tax-deductible ways you can lend your support to the National Federation of the Blind.
The NFB now accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call (855) 659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation—it doesn’t have to be working. We can also answer any questions you have.
General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit www.nfb.org/make-gift for more information.
Even if you can’t afford a gift right now, including the National Federation of the Blind in your will enables you to contribute by expressing your commitment to the organization and promises support for future generations of blind people across the country. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.
Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdraw of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, visit www.nfb.org/make-gift, complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.
by Ellen Ringlein
The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market is the conduit through which our organization distributes our empowering literature to our members, friends, and the general public. As a service we also operate a blindness products store, which sells mostly low-tech items designed to enhance the everyday independence of blind individuals.
The staff of the NFB Independence Market has been busily gearing up for our national convention, which will be held this year in Orlando, Florida, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort from July 10 through 15. In preparation for the convention we are adding new items to our stock and are updating our catalog. At the convention itself almost all our sales products and much of our free literature will be available in the exhibit hall. Convention attendees will have a chance to examine demo items of our products, including the new ones. Check the convention agenda to learn when the Independence Market will be open in the exhibit hall. We will share information about the new products in later issues of the Braille Monitor. If you would like a sneak peak of what's new, visit the https://nfb.org/convention page and follow the links for the exhibit hall and the Independence Market.
Many volunteers will help staff our store at convention to assist with demonstrating products to our customers and processing the resulting purchases. Thank you to all of you who are helping out in some capacity. We would not be able to run the Independence Market at convention without you.
We hope to see many of you in Orlando. If you are not able to join us at our convention, check out the Independence Market online or contact us by email or by phone.
Please note that the Independence Market operations in Baltimore will be suspended while we are in Orlando. We will not be able to process any online or telephone orders while we are away at convention.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 email@example.com 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 Lauren L. Merryfield
From the Editor: Lauren Merryfield is a long-time Federationist and intermittent contributor to the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections. Her article “What Color Is the Sun?” was the title article for the first Kernel Book. Her book There’s More Than One Way to Be Okay: A Blind Woman’s PURRspective On Life is available in audio at www.audible.com. Lauren has served as secretary in several chapters of the NFB. Because she moves around, she has been involved in helping to resurrect or establish several new chapters. She currently lives in Carmichael, California, with her three cats: Maryah (Mariah with a Y), Tobias (Toby), and Lelaynya (Laynie). Lauren is an online pastor and Jesus follower. In addition, she has earned an MSW degree and certification in pet loss and bereavement. She counsels people online and has held pet memorial services using Skype.
Lauren does not like getting old but is not ready for the alternative, stating that she would rather be over the hill than under the hill. She says she will never be an “old fogy,” intending to remain young at heart. In this article Lauren discusses the almost-universal problem blind people encounter when receiving health care; the staff see our blindness and secondarily the condition we expect them to treat. Although they know quite a lot about their area of expertise, they often know little about how to treat a well-adjusted blind person, and our compromised health can limit our ability to do much to educate them. Here is what Lauren has to say about her recent health experiences:
When I was young, I strongly believed that once blind people demonstrated to the sighted world that we could do a thing, we would be believed, and we could live the life we want without constantly having to confront doubt. It is many years later, and I feel quite disappointed that we too often find ourselves dealing with the same issues we did back when we were young. Though the NFB certainly helps the public make progress, there is still a long way to go for some of us.
Each time we push the envelope so that we can more readily live the life we want, we help make it better for the next blind person coming along. I might not say much if an incident or set of incidents affected only me, but when I know how they could affect other blind people, I am less likely to be quiet about the situation. A case in point:
For the last two years I have had the misfortune of living with what the medical people call "venous insufficiency" in my legs. My legs and feet swell up—at times like balloons—and they occasionally develop wounds and cellulitis. It has been necessary on far too many occasions for me to be hospitalized in order to be given IV antibiotics to combat the cellulitis.
Being a patient has been stressful for me, mainly because, overwhelmingly, staff insists that I be treated like a two-year-old just because I am blind.
The last two times I was hospitalized, the staff kept repeating, "Now don't get up unless there is someone in the room." One nurse wanted me to pee into pads on the bed. I felt embarrassed about that. She said that if I needed anything from my suitcase, she would get it for me.
I, not being the most obedient person to such demands, would sometimes get up on my own to visit the restroom or retrieve an item from my suitcase. I was told later that when I did this sort of thing, a report was written up on me. I was not particularly taken aback by that.
However, as one shift followed another and one day and night followed another, I got tired of this treatment. Over and over again I would say that I was ambulatory and that I could find the restroom and my suitcase by myself. However, they kept insisting that I use my call button to have someone else help me with these things.
During my second hospitalization, I had three separate roommates who stayed overnight following surgery. In each case not only were these women allowed to get up out of bed; they were practically forced to do so as part of their recovery—quite a contrast from how it was for me. When I would point this out to the on-duty nurse or CNA, I was always confronted with the argument that, "Well, they can see."
When it came time for discharge, I was invariably confronted with the argument that "We can't discharge you to go home, living alone blind. That is too much of a risk. You could fall. You can't handle your medications." They rarely asked me if I often fell or if I had difficulty managing my medications; they stated these things as facts. I would correct them at every possible opportunity, but it was like they just did not hear me.
When I would finally make it home, without falling and without having any problems with my medications, I would be barraged by the home health care nurses who continued the same litany.
About a week ago a social worker visited me. Although I have a master's in social work myself, I still tread on thin ice when a social worker comes to visit me. I never know which side of the fear-mongering they will be on. The latest visitor had heard from the home health care nurse that it was dangerous for me to live alone because I could fall, the reason being that I have quite a lot of stuff in my apartment. She also informed the social worker that I had difficulty with my medications because I couldn't tell them apart and could take the wrong ones. The nurse had written in print the names of my medications on the top of the bead box that I keep them in. The social worker laughed, stating that this was not exactly helpful to me. I said that if I needed to write them down, I could put Braille labels on the top of the bead box; however, I was the one who placed each medication into each receptacle, so I knew where my medications were located. I further was aware by the shape of the pills which one was which. For me there was really no problem. The social worker asked me when last I fell. It had been a year ago when my office chair dumped me out—forward. It had absolutely nothing to do with blindness, and I was not hurt.
We decided that since I was not constantly falling due to blindness and was not having difficulties with my medications because I am blind, that she would report to the nurse—what do they say?—if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I have subsequently filed a complaint with the hospital because it is obvious that its staff is not trained in how to treat blind people. It has been suggested that the floor on which I was a patient and could be again will undergo training. I suggested that, while they were at it, it might be a good idea to train all of the units in the proper way to treat blind patients. I am hoping that this will be accomplished soon.
Before Easter I was quite insistent about my discharge from the hospital. My doctor understood my strong desire to be home with my cats, plus my desire to attend my church. She was able to make arrangements for me to have IV antibiotics only once a day as an outpatient. This arrangement meant that I could not leave town for Easter; however, I was able to attend church and experience the freedom of being at home. I am hoping that this kind of arrangement can be made again if or when I am dealing with another bout of cellulitis.
Ironically, in the place I live, I am on the independent living side so that getting help is not all that easy. Therefore I am not smothered, and the staff is aware that I come and go on my own. This is quite a contrast from my hospital experiences. I realize that the hospital staff believe they are protecting themselves from liability. The problem is that there is no evidence that blind people fall more often than sighted folks or that they mess up on their medications more than sighted patients do. So, as far as I am concerned, they are barking up the wrong tree.
I am further aware that many of the blind patients with which the staff interacts are people who are in the process of losing their vision or who are newly-blind. When they are met with someone like me, blind since birth, they see me through the lens of someone newly-blind, which is quite inappropriate.
Fortunately I have not had as much trouble as an outpatient. In the infusion clinic I was just another patient who was a hard stick who needed IV medication. I am hoping and praying that this will be the route I go for any further IV treatment.
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: As President Riccobono has noted on his monthly presidential release and in the President’s Notebook, we are making a significant effort to distribute the Kernel Books published by the National Federation of the Blind. These books provide wonderful messages to the public about what it really means to be blind and are ideal when local chapters and state affiliates do public events and offer our literature.
This month we will republish several articles that come from one of these books, its title being Celebrate. What follows is the introduction that Immediate Past President Maurer wrote, along with two articles from it. Here’s what he says:
Just a few months ago we in the National Federation of the Blind celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute—the magnificent research and training facility which you, the readers of this Kernel Book Series, have helped us to create and build. Indeed, as I write the introduction to this twenty-eighth book in the Kernel Book Series, I take great pleasure in the knowledge that we have much to celebrate, and I am keenly aware of the part you have played in making this so.
It has now been fourteen years since we published the first Kernel Book, and six million of them have been circulated. As we add this new volume, Celebrate, to the Kernel Book collection, I want to tell you that the progress we have made together in those years—in understanding, partnership, and increased opportunity—has been a joy and a wonder to me personally and to the tens of thousands of blind men, women, and children who make up the National Federation of the Blind. We give you our thanks and our gratitude for your continuing care and concern.
As I have said repeatedly in the pages of the Kernel Books, understanding blindness is more a matter of understanding what it is not rather than what it is.
It is not lack of capacity to live a life filled with adventure. I tell you more about that in my story about “The Airplane, the Cobra, and the Lighthouse.”
As John Paré will tell you, it is not lack of capacity to ride a unicycle. Nor is it the inability to tour Greece and visit the Parthenon, direct a children's playground, serve as foreman of a jury, rake the leaves in your yard, teach your daughter to ride a bicycle, have a passion for astronomy, or cut your five-year-old niece's pancakes.
So, if blindness is not these things, what is it? To state the obvious, it is lack of physical eyesight. But more important than that, is what all of us—blind and sighted alike—think about not being able to see. For it is only what we believe about blindness that can make it the tragedy that it sometimes becomes.
But the theme of this book is not tragedy, but celebration. The blind men and women you will meet in these pages are not filled with doom and gloom. They are filled with hope and belief.
We Celebrate the progress we are making toward the day when blindness does not limit our opportunities. We Celebrate the power of partnership with ever-growing numbers of Kernel Book readers and others in the general public who are joining with us in our work. We Celebrate the goodness of life and invite you to join with us to make it even better.
by Mary Ann Lareau
From the Editor: Here is how this story was introduced when it appeared in the Kernel Book Celebrate: Mary Ann Lareau is an officer in the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts and is president of the Suburban West Chapter—one of our newest local chapters in Massachusetts. She is the mother of two daughters and is active in her community. On a daily basis she works to change what it means to be blind. In "Swabbing the Deck," she relates a simple incident that opened the heart and mind of a stern Navy captain. Here is what she has to say:
In the summer of 1980 I was the mother of two daughters, ages eleven and thirteen. I was appointed the first director of a new neighborhood playground.
Being the president of the playground board, I wanted this new park to be a success. We didn't have the funds to pay a highly trained director, so we decided to run the playground ourselves.
Since I was a Campfire Girls’ leader of three troops, I was urged to take charge of the task. We were supported by the city with a lunch program site, a few paid teen-aged staff members, a twice-a-week swimming program, some arts and craft supplies, and three trips with busses to transport the kids away from the city. The youngsters all seemed to have great fun each day.
The arts and crafts program was my primary function on a daily basis. Many of the items we produced were made from materials that you could find around the house such as milk cartons, egg cartons, coffee cans, popsicle sticks, etc. Numerous things were assembled: sit-upons, trinket boxes, drums, birdcages, and much more.
The final trip of the summer was scheduled for Battleship Cove at Fall River, Massachusetts, where there are two historic ships—the U.S.S. Massachusetts and P.T. 109. The latter vessel was made famous during World War II by the courageous feats of John F. Kennedy.
The kids were excited for the final trip of the season. Three busses were loaded with lunches, kids, parents, and staff. The usual singing and jokes amused all during the hour ride to the Cove. Upon arrival the rules for good conduct were again given just to remind the kids of what they could and could not do.
We all decided to tour the P.T. 109 and were to assemble in the mess hall at 11:30 for lunch. All parents and staff members had assigned numbers of kids for which they were responsible. I supervised four youngsters, because it was my responsibility to ensure that all went along smoothly.
My oldest daughter and I were having fun lifting my guide dog, Koko, a forty-two-pound silver shepherd, up and down the ladders of the P.T. boat. My daughter would climb the ladder; I would pass the dog up to her and then climb up after. Koko was a lot of help because some of the passages had low entrances, and sometimes there were huge, unexpected steps.
As lunchtime approached we all made our way to the mess hall. The box lunches were passed out, and all the kids were starting to eat when the captain made his first appearance. He inspected the scene and immediately came over to me.
"I need to have a word with you," he declared in a firm tone. "I must ask you to leave this ship." I was very surprised and asked, "Why?" He replied, "Because of safety considerations we do not allow blind persons aboard."
I struggled very hard to contain my initial anger but eventually informed the captain that I was the person in charge of the three busloads of children that were thoroughly enjoying their field trip to see the historic vessel so closely associated with the memories of the late President Kennedy. I made it clear that if I were being ejected from the ship, the entire group would have to join me.
Just at that moment there was a great deal of noise behind us. Spinning around rapidly, I shouted out, "Peter and John—stop it at once!" As a milk carton came whizzing by my head, I shouted to those responsible for the disturbance that they would be responsible for the cleanup of the mess hall. We were not leaving until the area was as clean as it had been upon our arrival. I asked the captain if his men could provide the boys with the necessary equipment to clean up the hall.
The captain kindly offered to have the mess cleaned up, but I insisted it was the responsibility of our youths to do so. He seemed rather impressed with this response and began conversing in a much more pleasant tone: "How did you know which youngsters were causing the problem?" I explained, "I know the kids by their rather distinctive voices, and I can generally assume which ones are causing the trouble."After the lunchroom was all cleaned up, and all the mess was taken care of, we all finished touring the ship and spent money in the gift shop. Just as we were about to depart the captain came over to say, "Blindness does not seem to be as much of a handicap as I believed it to be." "No," I replied, "but sometimes it is a nuisance."
by James Gashel
From the Editor: This is how this story was originally introduced in the Kernel Book Celebrate: James Gashel lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. He has been a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for more than three decades and in that time has seen marked progress in the way blind people are perceived by members of the general public, and his story is one that relates that advancement. Here is what he has to say:
I have been blind all my life, and I grew up in Iowa where Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was my teacher on matters dealing with blindness and life in general. He taught us that it is respectable to be blind. This is the most important lesson I ever learned.
Knowing that blindness is respectable leads to self-confidence. I still see blind people holding back on trying things they could do if they only had the confidence to try. More than loss of eyesight, this is the real problem of blindness. Dr. Jernigan taught us this too.
During the time I was in college in Iowa and starting to think about such things, I knew blind people who were told they couldn't take certain classes or be hired for certain jobs, for example as teachers. I knew this was wrong, and this is why I joined the National Federation of the Blind.
I learned that a form of discrimination occurs when blind people are denied jobs or other opportunities based on misconceptions. Not all denials are discrimination, such as refusing to issue a blind person a driver's license. Denials based on incorrect facts or false reasoning are discrimination, but are almost never mean-spirited as we sometimes think of with racial or ethnic prejudice. Still, even if kindness is the reason, blind people do face discrimination in the form of exclusion from opportunities.
In the National Federation of the Blind we share stories with one another about the successes we have and the barriers we still face. This is how I first learned that blind people were being excluded from jury service. I knew that blind people were working as lawyers, so I couldn't figure out why we couldn't serve on juries.
Who would think that the legal system would discriminate against blind people? None of this seemed right, and it wasn't right. I wondered what would happen if I was called to serve. On whom can you count for justice when the law enforcer has already made up his mind against you?
Many years went by, and I was never called for jury duty. Then it happened. I now live in Baltimore, Maryland, where the circuit court has a "one trial or one day" rule. This results in being called for jury duty as often as once a year and certainly within two years, but many more people are called than actually serve on a jury.
The first time I was called the day was uneventful, but the second time was different. My summons number was 14, so if a judge needed a jury, I was certain to be in the group called for screening. In fact, this is exactly what happened as soon as we had received the general "pep-talk" about the importance of jury service.
The announcement made by a court official instructed anyone with a number between 1 and 100 to report to one of the courtrooms in the building across the street. Using a long white cane, which I do, no one could miss that I am blind, but nobody mentioned it either. So, off to the courtroom I went where the judge told us the procedures and started asking questions to select the jury.
This was a civil dispute. The plaintiff was an older gentleman, and the defendant was a young man in his early 20’s. These two had been involved in a traffic accident, and the issue was over who caused it and who would pay.
According to the instructions we were supposed to stand up if we had to answer "no" to any of the questions. I kept my seat since I had no reason to give a "no" answer. Then the judge started calling numbers, and what do you know, number 14 was the very first one called.
When I rose, white cane in hand, the judge told me to take the first chair in the jury box. Actually, I had no idea where the jury box was, let alone the first chair, but I walked confidently toward the bench to an area where I assumed the jury would have to be seated to view the attorneys, the witnesses, and the judge.
With two rows of chairs there, it turned out that I was right. I proceeded to the first chair at the end closest to the judge in the front row, figuring that this was the one intended for me. This view was confirmed too when the judge called the next juror's number as I confidently took my seat.
Finally we were all seated, and the trial commenced. At noon we took a break, and a court employee escorted all of the jurors to a room where we were told to reassemble after lunch, after which we were dismissed for lunch on our own. I'm not sure when we were told that the juror in the first chair is the foreman, but I remember feeling a great sense of responsibility as I left the courthouse for lunch. Here I was, the foreman of a jury at the Circuit Court in Baltimore.
Some time after 1:00 p.m., when everyone was back, the trial resumed. We listened to testimony for the next two and a half hours, nothing like the O. J. Simpson trial that lasted several months. Anyway, the judge started to read instructions to us at about 3:30 p.m., and we filed back to the jury room to deliberate. It was close to 4:00 p.m.
The judge's instructions included three or four questions that we were specifically directed to answer. I wrote these questions down on a Braille device I use, and read my Braille notes to direct the jury. The crux of the case was who caused the accident? Did the older gentlemen fail to see the car driven by the younger man before he pulled out, or was the younger driver speeding out-of-control as the older gentleman alleged?
All of the sympathies were with the plaintiff (the older gentleman) who had been seriously injured in the accident, but my responsibility was to lead the jury to evaluate the proof. With four years of intercollegiate debating and subsequent work as a high school forensics coach, I was probably the best-qualified person in the room to explain the burden of proof to the others. Emotions were running high as we argued the merits of each side, but no one mentioned that I am blind and cannot drive a car. If they had, I would have argued that this would leave me free from preconceptions that drivers might have in evaluating the facts of this case. Knowing about evaluation of evidence and burden of proof were more important in that setting than knowing about driving, so no one challenged me on that point.
Anyway, when all was said and done, the jury reached a unanimous vote that the plaintiff had not established the defendant's fault. I directed another juror to complete the printed form for the judge, and we returned to announce the verdict. The day was almost over. It was now my responsibility to speak for the jury to confirm the decision, which I did. At that point we received the judge's thanks, and the trial was over.
As I left the courthouse it struck me, blindness had not come up all day. I had gone to the bar of justice and been treated as a first-class citizen. There was no need to argue or persuade anyone that as a blind person I could still judge the facts of a traffic accident. No one seemed to doubt my ability. The message of the National Federation of the Blind is really getting through. Here's the proof: there was no discrimination at the courthouse.
This month’s recipes come courtesy of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii.
by Kyle Sabrina Laconsay
Kyle is the affiliate treasurer of the NFB of Hawaii, and the personal home management instructor at Ho'opono, the only Structured Discovery center in Hawaii. A past pastry chef at Alan Wong's Restaurant in Honolulu, she still loves to bake at home and at work, teaching the New Visions students.
2-1/2 cups of Bisquick flour
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1 can pineapple tidbits, drained
Method: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place flour into a large bowl and using a butter knife or pastry cutter, cut butter into flour until the mixture becomes like large pebbles. Add sugar, then whipping cream. Knead dough until a ball forms in bowl. Fold in coconut flakes and pineapple tidbits—mix in well. The mixture should still be a little crumbly. Transfer dough onto a marble slab or cutting board, and shape it into a flat circle, using a light pressure with your hands or a rolling pin. With a dough cutter or long knife, cut circle into eight pieces. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place scones evenly on top of pan. Bake at 425 degrees for twelve to fourteen minutes. Meanwhile, make icing.
1 cup powdered sugar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Method: Mix powdered sugar with lemon juice. Add just enough juice to make the icing smooth and silky, not too runny. If icing is too sweet, add more lemon juice, or if too tart, add more powdered sugar. Using a fork, dip into the icing and sprinkle over scones when just taken out of oven. Enjoy! Aloha!
Kale with Raisins and Nuts
by Debbie Gabe
Debbie has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind Hawaii Affiliate since 2006. She originally joined the Honolulu Chapter but currently participates with the Anuenue Chapter (anuenue means rainbow in Hawaiian.) She was born in Hawaii, was raised part in Honolulu and part on the Mainland, and then returned to Honolulu in 1980. She’s been married for 34 years and has two grown daughters. She worked for thirty-five years as an audiologist, the last twenty-six years working with deaf infants and children. In 2006, she went through Ho’opono Services for the Blind New Visions Program to learn blindness skills, after not acknowledging her retinitis pigmentosa for thirty years. While she was a student there she attended her first NFB National Convention. She was so inspired and moved by what she learned and witnessed that she decided to change careers at the age of fifty-six. She retired early from her audiology job and took a job teaching cooking and home management with Ho’opono in 2007. Two years ago she switched to the Braille instructor position. About this recipe she says, “This recipe is husband-tested. It’s the only way I can get my husband to eat kale.”
2 cups chopped fresh kale
1 big handful of raw walnuts, chopped (you can use any other nut you like)
1 small handful of raisins, my favorite is golden. Or you can substitute any other dried fruit, chopped if pieces are large.
Method: In a skillet on medium heat, lightly roast the nuts with a tiny bit of oil of your preference. Cook until you smell the nuts. Add the raisins and sauté for a few minutes until soft and plump. Add the washed, chopped fresh kale and turn off the heat. Sauté until kale is just beginning to soften. Do not overcook the kale. Combine everything in a bowl and add the dressing of your choice. I have found the best dressing is a very light one. I make a dressing with a little bit of rice vinegar, a little bit of roasted sesame oil, and a small pinch of salt and pepper.
Blueberry Wild Rice
by Justin Salisbury
Justin Salisbury is a mobility instructor at Ho’opono Services for the Blind. He’s an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii, thriving after transplanting from the East Coast. So, mixing in with recipes that showcase the tropical tastes of coconut and pineapple is a traditional food of the Algonquian-speaking indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes and northeast region.
1 cup wild rice
1 cup blueberries
3 cups water
Method: Put all ingredients in a saucepan. Boil on high heat. When the mixture starts to thicken, reduce heat to medium-low to finish cooking. Serve hot or cold. This dish is a great summertime breakfast but can be eaten at any time of day. It can be enhanced by adding honey, maple syrup, pecans, walnuts, or using a different type of berries. If you use a wild rice blend including conventional rice, use less water proportionately.
by Debbie Gabe
Debbie says, “This is another of my favorites that I don’t eat very often anymore. But I continue to make it for my family and guests. Shoyu is the Japanese word for soy sauce.”
5 pounds chicken pieces (can be thighs or breast meat, cut into large bite-size pieces)
1/2 cup shoyu
1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar is best, but white sugar and even coconut sugar works fine
1 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Method: Put everything into a pot with a 1/2 cup of water. Bring it to a boil, and then immediately turn down the heat to low. Simmer for about forty-five minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how much chicken you are cooking and how big the pieces are. Every once in a while, stir the pot so that all the pieces of chicken get all the flavors. Serve with rice.
by Kyle Sabrina Laconsay
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated carrots (about 7 medium-size carrots)
1 cup diced canned pineapple
Zest of one orange
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a thirteen-by-nine-inch cake pan. In a medium-size bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Zest one orange and set aside. In a small bowl, pour pineapple out of can and drain juice. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, and sugar. Add orange zest to egg mixture. Fold in flour mixture, about one cup at a time, thoroughly mixing after each addition. Add carrots and pineapple and mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake cake at 350 degrees for approximately forty-five minutes. Cake is done when toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before icing.
1 8-ounce block cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Zest of one orange
Method: Zest one orange and set aside. Insert paddle in electric stand-up mixer. In the mixer's bowl, cream butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Mix well until smooth. Add orange zest and vanilla. Cream all together until smooth and silky. Ice cake and enjoy! Aloha!
Chocolate Haupia Pie
by Debbie Gabe
She introduced this recipe saying, “This is a recipe that I don’t eat often, but it is my favorite. It’s an easy recipe even though it seems to have a lot of steps. Haupia is the Hawaiian word for coconut pudding.”
1 9-inch prepared pie crust
1 can coconut milk
1-1/4 cup sugar or you may substitute coconut sugar
1 cup whole milk, but you can use skim or low fat milk, or non-dairy milk such as almond milk
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or pieces
1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, or you can substitute non-dairy whipping cream
Shaved chocolate for garnish
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake prepared pie crust until golden brown, about fifteen to twenty minutes. In a sauce pan, whip together coconut milk, one cup sugar, and milk. In a separate bowl, dissolve cornstarch and cup of water. Bring the milk mixture to a boil in the sauce pan. Reduce to a simmer and whisk in the cornstarch mixture until thickened. You need to keep whisking constantly until it thickens to prevent any lumps from forming. Microwave the chocolate pieces or chips for thirty to sixty seconds until melted. Pour half of the haupia mixture into a bowl and set aside. Mix the chocolate with half of the thickened haupia and pour into the cooled pie crust. Layer the remaining haupia on top. You can use the back of a spoon to evenly pour it out. Cool the pie in the fridge for a minimum of one hour.
Using a mixer, whip heavy whipping cream with the 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Garnish the pie with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Chill for another hour.
Daniel Goldstein Receives Lifetime Achievement Award:
The Daily Record is an old and respected Maryland newspaper that launched the Lifetime Achievement category for the 2016 Leadership in Law program. This award recognizes an attorney or judge whose body of work over their career makes them stand out. This person should be well respected in their profession, active in their community, and dedicated to growing the next generation of legal leaders. The Lifetime Achievement award honoree each year will be selected by the Leadership in Law judging panel, comprised of past winners. One of the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement award this year was Daniel Goldstein of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. The following is the profile the Daily Record published on May 16, 2017, about him:
Most people take for granted the privilege to browse the web, read books, and make use of everyday items such as ATMs. However, those everyday tasks can be hard to accomplish for the blind, and Daniel Goldstein has dedicated his career to making access to these kinds of public resources more equitable.
Take for example the case Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust, which Goldstein considers the most important of his career. “The case arose from the Authors Guild’s challenge to a number of universities who had allowed Google to digitally scan their entire print library collections and, in exchange, [gotten] back a digital copy of those scans,” Goldstein said.
“The court held that it was a fair use to allow unfettered access to the digital scans of these copyrighted works to blind and other print-disabled scholars.” (In addition to blindness, other conditions that can make it hard to access printed text include dyslexia, arthritis, and cerebral palsy, among others.)
The ruling also allowed non-disabled scholars to search and compile data based on the scans, Goldstein said. This created a compelling incentive for more collections to be scanned in the future, “thereby incidentally throwing open still wider the doors for those with print disabilities,” he said.
As counsel for the National Federation of the Blind, Goldstein initiated a national legal campaign to ensure equal access to technology. “Today, most ATMs can be used through voice guidance and a pair of earphones by blind consumers, because, in part, of a series of pioneering lawsuits,” he said. “We have made the internet a more blind-friendly place, with successful resolutions with AOL, Amazon, Target, eBay, Ticketmaster, Scribd and many others.”
Goldstein has also been instrumental in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education that requires the online forms and notices associated with the student loan program to be equally accessible to blind students and in litigation to ensure blind people are granted the right to vote independently and privately.
What is a key decision you made in your career that made the difference?
“It was not a decision that I made that changed the course of my legal career. It was the decision made by the National Federation of the Blind to engage me as their lawyer that refocused my career and led to thirty years of exciting and meaningful work that brings me joy every day. Having learned so much from my mentors in the National Federation of the Blind and having been so supported by my friends in the blind community, I thank them for the extraordinary honor of representing them.”
On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, the Yellowstone County Chapter of the NFB of Montana held elections. The results are as follows: president, Jeff Haworth; vice president, Kristin Byram; secretary, Clayton Kuntz; and treasurer, Pam Haworth.
NFB of Missouri Steps up to the Challenge:
Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri are currently participating in the fifth iteration of the National Fitness Challenge (NFC), sponsored by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Anthem Foundation. The challenge started in March and runs through the end of November. Twenty-five members of the NFB of Missouri were given a Fitbit Flex 2 and agreed to achieving various goals including walking at least ten thousand steps a day and being physically active for at least thirty minutes every day. The NFB of Missouri is one of thirteen organizations nationwide participating in the challenge and the only blind consumer organization. The first full month of the challenge was April, during which the NFB of Missouri had the third highest number of steps. Though this is certainly a good beginning, members of the National Fitness Challenge in Missouri are encouraging each other and pushing their own personal limits with the aim of ultimately winning the challenge.
In addition to the personal daily goals, the affiliate agreed that members of the NFC would participate in an organized 5k run. To fulfill this pledge, NFC members from across Missouri were in St. Louis on May 7 to run and walk to benefit the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments. This was the twenty-fifth annual fundraiser for the group, and the weather couldn’t have been better.
As a part of our participation, the affiliate will sponsor a Paralympic Day and will hold regular meetings to support and encourage all of our participants. Besides the obvious health benefits for those involved, the NFB’s participation in this event shows both sighted and blind people alike that blindness does not hold us back from being physically active, something which is crucial if we are to live the lives we want.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
New Titles for our Children:
Seedlings adds three brand-new titles in UEB to its big-kid book collection!
Seedlings Braille Books for Children has just added three new titles to its all-Braille collection for independent readers: A to Z Mysteries: The Kidnapped King by Ron Roy, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, and Magic Tree House 48: A Perfect Time for Pandas by Mary Pope Osborne. All are in contracted UEB!
Seedlings has also made two more of its big-kid books available in UEB: Holes by Louis Sachar and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. That brings to sixty the number of big-kid books Seedlings offers in contracted UEB! Order today at http://www.seedlings.org/browse.php?cat=12
Seedlings' nearly 300 print-and-Braille books for babies and toddlers and beginning readers are already in UEB. Order at http://www.seedlings.org/order.php
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
En-Vision America is a pioneer in the assistive technology industry offering accessible products for the visually impaired and blind. En-Vision is the inventor of the ID Mate talking bar code scanner; Galaxy is the latest version which has a brand-new price check feature. We also offer accessible prescription labels through participating pharmacies. Formats include ScripTalk audible labels and prescription readers, large print labels, and Braille labels. These labels are available in seventeen languages. En-Vision America has partnered with pharmacies across the US and Canada, absorbing the cost of accessible labels so that the service is free. We are very excited to be able to offer this service to those who need it most. We strongly believe our product enhances the quality of life for blind and visually impaired people, and it is our great pleasure to be part of that process.
For more information contact us at https://www.envisionamerica.com/ or call us at (309) 452-3088.
You Sit, I Get:
At our national convention do you ever find yourself resting in your room and decide you want some ice cream from downstairs? Do you want something from the gift shop but hate the thought of putting your shoes back on to get it? If you have cash for your item, for a $3 get-and-deliver charge, you've got it. The Grab It Guy is your man!
To use my service simply send a text message to (573) 355-0907 or call at this number. My name is Ethan, and I'll be glad to help in any way I can. My goal is a new guitar, so text or call, and I'll do my best to help.
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.